So I spent the last weekend in Boston. I stayed at the very enjoyable Inn at Harvard. I was reminded several times by the women staying at the hotel of the female players in the public radio game show Says You! That was show actually one of my early influences in choosing the field of computational linguistics. At least it was the first place I heard the term. On my job search, I have been asked the question many times: “Why NLP/computational linguistics?” I try to give a short version, because I don’t want to bore anyway and I tend to ramble when my stories get too long. So here is the dirt.
I was going to school for my BS in computer science and one of the requirements was a social science elective. I thought anthropology sounded cool, or at least cooler than the sociology and psychology offerings. In the course of the class we hit on the topic of anthropological linguistics and the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. In a very succinct and incomplete nutshell, the SW hypothesis states that language shapes the sorts of things we normally think about. Not necessarily preventing us from thinking about certain things, but just changing the things that we devote the most mental resources to. I thought this was a really cool idea and decided to take some linguistics classes. After several such classes, I knew I was in love with linguistics but didn’t see a way to actually support a family on it. And by family, I mean two anorexic chipmunks through a short winter.
It was already becoming clear to me in my linguistics class that there was a lot of this stuff you could handle with a computer program. The brain is just a different sort of hardware, one possibly hardwired for language use. I figured there had to be a combination of computer science and linguistics. Right around the same time I was having that thought, I heard a letter from a computational linguist being read on Says You! (or was it a caller?). In any case, it was like a bomb went off in my head and I knew what I wanted to do. I started looking for grad schools, the best I got into was CMU, and the rest is history.
I didn’t go to any breweries in Boston, unfortunately, aside from the John Harvard’s Brew House in Harvard Square. That was decent, but nothing to write home about. Oddly, though, I did write home about it, texting and tweeting friends, my sisters, wife, and mother with pictures of the beer. Sitting alone in a bar in a strange city, what can I say. I had an offer for a tour earlier in the day, but there was the threat of rain and I fell asleep for many hours, screwing that opportunity up. The bed in that hotel had a soporific effect, which I guess should make some bedmaker somewhere happy. I also saw The Dark Knight and Wanted. The former was infrickincredible. I was blown away by the nonstop goodness of this movie. I got to see Wanted for free because they screwed up the beginning of TDK and the movie was very very slightly tilted the whole time. After a short while it wasn’t very noticeable to me. That didn’t stop me from taking the free ticket. Wanted was ok-ish. What I wanted was a less predictable storyline. The action was great, and even though it was fantastical (which I have no problem with), I once or twice couldn’t suspend disbelief.
And now for some pictures.