book report - The Self-Organizing Economy
Krugman, Paul (1996). The Self-Organizing Economy. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell
I'm just finishing a term here, and I just taught American students from two very interesting books which I will review soon. One reason I review them is to remind myself
of the interesting ideas I encountered, that I might want to build upon in my own writing.
But before I write my final (which I should give on Mon.), I have this book (above), which I took out of the library in maybe February, and which I really should get going on, since it was, at that time, my goal to tackle the nature of self-organizing systems and apply that to language.
My first insight from the book is that the term self-organizing
is by nature better than self-organized
, since the latter implies that it's finished, done, it made itself and it's over. It's never over. As long as we're using it, it's changing. But Krugman's book is not about language; it's about economies.
There are two very inspirational characteristics of the book. The first is that it's all written in a very conversational style, as if he's sitting there at your kitchen table explaining his work. The reason this is inspirational is that it's probably the best I can do as I go about trying to explain language.
The second is that he actually does the math that is involved to determine and predict why the modern city would spread out in the way that it invariably does. Now once you start in with those sigmas and the function signs, I'm over my head, not because I can't do it, but because I generally won't. I would probably need a math textbook to really get into, and master, what he's done with his mathematical models of how businesses spread out over an area like what you have in LA, or say Lubbock. And in fact this has a lot in common with the way we do the math in order to keep producing language. My book is basically about the model we use in our heads to determine which form of a word, for example, is the "standard" or "unmarked" one. It's all in the math, I'd like to say, except that I myself can't or won't do the math. Others will have to follow upon my work and do the math themselves. I must say, however, that I am impressed that Mr. Krugman, who is essentially a journalist (I read the book because I had liked his newspaper columns), could go so far out of his way to figure this stuff out.
Here are some other interesting tidbits from the book:
He defines features of self-organizing systems as, first, order from instability, and order from random growth. In the first case, order spontaneously emerges because the system orders itself naturally, given the forces from both directions that influence it. In the second case he shows that even when the rate of growth is random, or independent of the size of the city or they system itself, the system will adapt to that growth or change in a direction toward order.
He mentions percolation theory, which is a part of self-organizing systems that has caught the fancy of researchers, perhaps because they drink a lot of coffee. This essentially seeks to answer the question: How far will water penetrate into porous rock? by showing that this theory and its derivations can be used to predict the distance that any chain reaction spreads, since the likelihood of the holes in the rock being connected, increases the likelihood of the water spreading from one side of the rock to the other.
In language this becomes a complex equation, but it might be worth looking into. Let's say you have a language innovation, so that young girls are now saying "think you" instead of "thank you" as is favored by my older generation. Let's assume that the likelihood of language change increases with the increased amount that any young girl hears the newer form. She is therefore more likely to change her speech, regardless of what her parents say or do, if the majority of people she hears has changed their speech. There's an element of "porosity" here that is crucial to language change. The parents have much less contact with the forces of change, and are left behind saying "thank you," the old fools.
But back to Krugman, who said nothing about language, by the way, but concentrated on percolation and its effects on businesses. He credited Per Bak, by the way, with coming up with the idea that "many physical and social phenomena are percolation systems that tend toward criticality" (I'll find the page).
Another interesting part had to do with phase locking. This is when two different systems get into the same phase for no other reason than being in touch with each other, or having some, however minimum, relation with each other. For example, he says that since the US and Europe don't really trade that much, it doesn't follow at all that when Europe is down, we should be down as well. If we only do say 1 or 2% of our business with each other, then why should the depression in Europe cause one here? Only this: that we lock phases, and carry on together as if we were in tune with each other.
I see that my research was actually quite poor, and that I have to go back and look up some of this stuff. I may even have to master, at least in my own shallow way, percolation theory, just for my own benefit if nothing else. It is my belief that in looking toward these mathematical models we can better understand a "non-linear" system like language.
Labels: language, languages, self-organized systems
More on self-organization
1. Wikipedia keeps updating:
Wikipedia. (n.d.). Self-Organization
encyclopedia entry. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-organizing_systems. Accessed 5-13.
2. I read the Paul Krugman book (more on this later).
3. Got my bibliography organized and in a better spot:
Language as a self-organizing system
4. Wrote this one
to put with this book
Labels: languages, linguistics, self-organized systems, wikipedia
Leverett, T. (2013, Apr. 4). Remembering the Ghosts of TESOL Past and Renewing Friendships at TESOL 2013
. TESOL Convention Blog
It turns out my blog post was a little different from the others, reminiscing about conventions, rather than giving practical advice, or telling more about what TESOL is. One challenge would be to study this situation, write truly helpful blogposts, become a regular contributor, and use it to link back to my sleepy outpost. It might not happen, though; I'm pretty busy. I wish them well though. I have the sneaking suspicion that blog posts are about as well and carefully read as, say, IS newsletters used to be. Maybe I should just rephrase that as "as carefully read by me".
Labels: bib, personal, tesol
Grammar technology: For better or worse 2013
Leverett, T. (2013, Mar.). Grammar technology: For better or worse
. Internet Fair Classics, invited presentation. TESOL Convention, Dallas, TX, USA.
This one was a little harder for me logistically, because I'd been in Illinois beforehand and had to come back to Texas in order to do it. Nearby my friend Vance was doing a webcast from that same Classics presentation. Dallas was a nice city; I enjoyed it, unexpectedly.
Reactions from teachers were interesting. One that stuck with me was a woman who wrote off use of grammar technology by students as plagiarism. I didn't want to dispute with her the subtle difference between simply copying someone else's paragraph and calling it yours, and taking some paragraph in native language, yours or someone else's, and crunching it through a machine. In this sense "plagiarism" is redefined as "getting one's English paragraph without actually constructing it in English," but it can be seen as a related form of laziness, unwillingness or inability to do the work.
It is clear to me, though, that it's not always motivated by these things, which are so familiar to teachers especially in places where students don't want
to learn so much as to survive, pass or move on to a better place. I look at it more this way: The technology is there; it's free; why would you not
use it, or at least try it, until you were told loudly and clearly that it was prohibited?
My friend told the story of how students did in fact use both kinds (electronic dictionary, one word at a time, and Google Translate, one sentence at a time), and eventually settled on one-word-at-a-time systems because of their teacher's extreme reaction to GT's garbled variants. Teachers do in fact respond negatively to big vocabulary words that you couldn't possibly have known already, put into complex native-language grammatical patterns that are difficult to decode. If the students slog through and construct sentences in their own English, they'll have better luck with this kind of teacher, though. And this is what would happen, according to her.
I spent a long time talking to a guy who saw it somewhat like I did. You have to keep your eye on this software, and learn what is available to students. You have to know what they can do with it the minute you turn your back. You have to assume that they are going to use it at every possible chance and
that they are genuinely interested in learning the language. You might as well be honest with them about the fact that it's there, that they can use it, that it will affect what they write, and that it will affect their learning, and for example that it will cause their high vocabulary to belie their true ability, and rub some teachers the wrong way. Students, incredibly enough, come away from it all with a sense of what they still need to become fluent, and are even able to talk about this and pass it along to other students.
Labels: bib, grammar, personal, tesol
Worst possible skill to lose
The problem has been around forever, said a friend, explaining how eidetic memory was the first to go; people used to be able to memorize entire books, or thousands of pages of them, like The Odyssey
, for example, but they lost those abilities when writing systems came around, then, when the printing press came around, it was curtains for that kind of skills. The phone and the calculator brought similar downfalls; the pattern is that people accept a new technological innovation, and the collective skills of the human race take a dive.
There are those who argue that it doesn't matter, because we don't need those skills anymore. So, for example, people used to remember the capital of every state, but now you can google it in minutes, and everyone has google on their phone, so people don't need to carry that information around with them now. People shrug and forget about it as if it doesn't amount to much.
The most alarming thing I saw in the pattern was that people invariably fail to question the wisdom of letting the human race lose these skills. The pattern goes like this: the innovation appears to be great; everyone adopts it; you feel ridiculous if you don't adopt it; you lose skills without thinking about it; sometimes people question what's happening but people ignore them; the human race goes on, slightly dumber, but able to use the extra space in our heads. The skills I was most interested in, of course, were the ability to spell, and the ability to remember grammatical things, but there are more: ability to drive a stick shift, ability to grow a vegetable or bake a pie, ability to perform various mathematical calculations. People have lost a lot of things.
But this, to me, is the most alarming. I said to my class the other day, you should know how to explain how to get somewhere around town, how to get to the bus station, for example, or how to get to the rec center. No, we don't need to, they said. You have to know how to get out your phone and type the place into it, you don't have to know directions
. People don't use directions
. They don't know how to tell about them, or how to follow them. Only Siri knows that, Siri takes care of it. She of course tells us, while we're in our car, how to get to the restaurant.
It took me a while to realize how profound that was. Of course, I was always big on orientation in space; it was always important to me to know where
I was and how to get back home, for example. I couldn't live with myself if I lost track of that kind of information. I guess that makes me an old-schooler, because young people apparently will do fine without this kind of skill. As long as you have your phone, who will need to know where they are, or how to get somewhere?
I have this picture in my mind of someone who lost his or her phone, or was unable to recharge it, and therefore became utterly, completely lost. This would be quite tragic. No sense worrying about it, though.
Thank you, Tapped In
was probably a victim of the sequester, whatever that was, where they cut off all those government funds for useful projects. I really have no idea, but I suspect it was started from a government grant that was designed to see if academics could use an online environment, like a campus, and enter it virtually, and talk to each other, and benefit from all being in the same virtual space.
I used to meet my friends there and chat on Sunday mornings about various educational technology topics, like how to make webcasts, or use skype in class, that kind of stuff. Generally my friends knew way more than I did, and lived in places like Abu Dhabi, Ottawa, or Argentina. That's what I liked about it; I could ask them, for example, who they thought would win the World Cup. Or how was the weather way out there? There was no shortage of topics. It was like being on an international flight.
One time, a couple of people entered a room we were in and started a lightning-fast conversation in a language totally foreign to me, except that it used English letters and an occasional English word. It was just understandable to arouse my curiosity, but I never figured out what they were doing. I went back and got a record of it, quick while I could (TI made transcripts available, but it was always hard for me to figure out how to get them). Someday this could be seen as the early days of online communication. These languages can probably use their own scripts now; people have other chatrooms, and have apparently found other venues.
A couple of times, I took my classes into TI, and insisted that we talk by chatting in its virtual rooms. They were a little confused about why I'd want to do this, but I told them, and it generally worked out all right. I was kind of a pioneer that way, in using chat in classes, but I didn't perfect the process so much as just try it out and see how I could use it. I still today think it would be useful, from a writing standpoint, to lure students into just producing, spontaneously and communicatively, lots of writing, but I haven't really followed through. Once a woman from Harvard came in and observed, and we explained to her what we were doing. My students would link to their papers (which were also online) in there, and people would then go read them. Another time some people just came and joined us and they were forced to talk about their papers a little. Various memorable things happened. It was like the train station in Manhattan; you would probably never be bored, as your next visitor could be from anywhere.
Except that, at some times, the workers and volunteers probably were bored. One problem was that it ran for 24 hours, but someone had to monitor it. This I'm sure wasn't always fun. I suppose you could set your computer so that you'd be warned about anyone's arrival, then go cook dinner, but it seemed to me it would be like graveyard shift at the parking garage, lots of waiting for maybe one person, sometimes. I'm really not sure how much traffic it had on a regular basis.
I was there, though. I loved it. Its landscaping was all virtual, but I made good friends there. To BJ, and Michael W., I hope I meet you in person someday. To the government grant agency, thank you for making it possible. For me at least, it did what it was intended to do.
Labels: chat, internet, writing
I looked forward to the TESOL Convention in Dallas this year, even though I had to arrive late and in fact couldn’t get there until this morning (Saturday). By chance I walked right into the plenary, rather than the main entrance, where I could register. I finally found the Electronic Village, where my friends of many years were doing their usual things, preparing for webcasts, finding cables, trying to make things work. I love the Electronic Village; though I am incompetent at such things, they’ve always accepted me as part of the CALL-IS and as a regular presenter. I gave my presentation, which was about the influence of grammar technology (translators, grammar checkers, etc.) on student writing and learning, I felt lucky to be part of TESOL and part of this group.
In fact the whole convention seemed lucky to me in the sense that I seemed to run into the people I needed to, even in such a short time. I went to presentations on writing, one about teaching writing using Jing movie software, and had coffee with materials writers who talked about the changing world of publishing. As usual we talked about conventions of past years. This is a group of friends that I see only once a year if I’m lucky, always in various cities, always with an interesting backdrop. Baltimore one year was raining cats and dogs. In Tampa I lost my wallet, but a hotel worker sent it back to me later. In New York one year it was snowing and very crowded in the hotels. My friends are consistent though. They know me and care about my family and my general well=being. These friendships cut through the years and is the most important thing abut the convention to me.
I think of TESOL as a large group of teachers, worldwide, who gather annually, share one city for part of one week, tell stories, meet old friends, do TESOL business. Some get wrapped up in IS politics; some measure what they can take home from the sessions in very practical terms. Some take taxis and some drive to town or walk everywhere. You can spot TESOL people in the hotels and the airport, not only by their bags, but also by their character, and also because I’ve seen some of them over the years. Every once in a while you see someone famous, like Stephen Krashen, or Betty Azar. I know the organization is not perfect and has had its ups and downs. But as I look back over the years I’m still proud to be part of it, and my luck is holding up. It’s been good to me.
I’m a Texan now; I moved to Lubbock in August and have been learning about the place as fast as I can. Texas is a place with its own music, a sense of national pride (even though it’s just a state), and wild weather. People are very friendly. I’ve been welcoming my friends here now, as a Texan. I was walking through Dallas with one friend, because we wanted to see the infamous grassy knoll; we encountered a nice old policeman with a West Texas drawl, and a kind of guide at the knoll who explained that piece of Texas history, showed us what happened and where. Dallas seemed peaceful, even though that spot itself was somewhat busy with traffic. If the ghosts of the past are still with us, then Kennedy’s would be right at that spot, I imagine. In the same way, I feel the ghosts of old TESOLs. But they have to move around, from city to city.
Labels: personal, tesol
I'm getting excited about the upcoming TESOL convention in Dallas, TX so I'm reviewing all my old stereotypes of the city so I can look around and get some idea of how they compare to reality, while I'm there. There's really only one thing I want to see - the grassy knoll - but I know that the city has a wide variety; I'll only be there for a couple of days, so I'll forgive myself if I don't get out to see it all.
Recently I relocated to Lubbock, TX, so I find myself flying into Dallas frequently, and I'm rapidly learning more about the place. It's huge, when you come at it from above; the plane cruises in over miles and miles of lakes, roads, houses, people, buildings. It stretches all the way to Oklahoma in the north, Waco to the south, and to the west is Fort Worth and yet more suburbs so that it stretches perhaps farthest to the west. They call it the Metroplex here, and generally people are more fond of Fort Worth than Dallas, but you practically can't get anywhere east, without going through it, and that's like all driving in Texas, it takes a while, might as well enjoy it.
When they made that television show I think the idea was to associate the name "Dallas" with ostentatious, arrogant wealth, the kind that makes ordinary people gloat when bad things come to very rich people. I can tell you that it would be hard to have a town as enormous as Dallas not
have a good share of that kind of wealth, but I'm also sure that there's a lot more to the place, it being as huge as it is. My favorite story about the place is of the Fort Worth newspaper owner, a millionaire himself, who, when going to Dallas, always packed a sack lunch, because he didn't want to contribute to the city's economy. So there's no question that its bustling attitude has produced a few enemies over the years. I'd like to see what this means on a practical level; to some degree, it's the capital of the Texas empire, though I suppose a lot of the oilmen, like the Bushes, called Houston home. And Houston to some degree is even worse, at least in terms of "sprawling" or "bustling" or "ostentatious." It's hard for me to even get a handle on the place.
It's kind of like California in the sense that, at first, you think San Francisco is just a big city, maybe number 18 in the nation, you can handle that, it's not too huge. But you get out there and find out, it's surrounded by dozens more, and some of them like Oakland and San Jose are also right up there, and it takes you hours to drive through the place, and pretty soon you're taking a huge breath when you finally do make it out of the place. Dallas is the same. Fort Worth is also enormous; though Lubbock is in the top hundred in the nation, it's not even in the top ten of Texas, and there are at least three or four in the Metroplex alone that are larger.
One thing I like about the place, though, is that it's developed its own brand of music. Austin is in on this, if not the center of it, but so-called 'red-dirt' encompasses all kinds of Texas music, mostly country, and it's got its own style, a kind of authentic country very distinct from Nashville country, earthy, unapologetic. Its artists are original and many live in Dallas or Austin, and play the circuit, and have plenty of work. Whole radio stations are devoted to
"red dirt"...and there's enough of it that these stations don't have to play anything else. Right now, as the world comes to Austin for the famous SXSW (South by Southwest) festival, I'm sure people are hearing plenty of it, though I'm new to the area, and am not totally familiar even with SXSW. Last I noticed, it had added an educational-technology aspect to its conference, so that people even as I write are listening to talks on the state of the art in ed-tech and tech in general; this I'm sure is to help Austin develop its computer industry (it claims to be the main competitor to the Silicon Valley in innovation and tech developments). SXSW started out as merely a music festival, only a few days; now it's music, film, and computer, and more I'm sure, and it's well over nine days. And these people, they invite everyone down to sunny Austin, which I'm sure is nice in mid-March, and they check out computer innovations and then go straight out to Austin, where it's like that other show, Austin City Limits, all night every night, and they have a grand old time. You can't argue with that.
I'm not sure if Dallas will have much red-dirt, or a night life anywhere comparable to Austin's; I'm not much of a night-lifer anyway, though I'm kind of taken by this red-dirt stuff. It's my adopted state, so my perspective has changed, and now I'm thinking of tipping a cowboy hat, and saying Howdy y'all, welcome to Texas!
Labels: personal, tesol