Archives for category: Ideas

The Good Lord Inglip knows how awful my blogging habits are these days, but I’ve been forced to create some content on a monthly basis over on the PBS Idea Lab blog. Turns out, deadline pressure makes everything better!

My latest is a (micro)manifesto about why microgrants a la the Awesome Foundation are important in the context of community revitalization, a topic that’s been continuously on the brain since we started doing fieldwork out in Detroit. While the $1000 microgrants may seem like just a junior league version of more typical grants, I’ve realized that there are actually many strategic benefits to going smaller rather than larger. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that many other organizations in Detroit had come to the same conclusion. I’m hoping, as we continue to work in Detroit, that we’ll develop strong rapport with all of these organizations, and that together we can become a microgranting ninja army that disembowels civic problems.

Here’s the post in its entirety. I hope you enjoy its smorgasbord of mixed metaphors (funding bulimia, gateway drugs to community involvement) and its unfortunate, fascist, and confusing lack of Oxford commas.

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This is what my brain is like, guys

This is what my brain is like, guys

I had a weird insight today while reading my favorite food blog. I’m not sure I can articulate it, but here’s a try…

When someone who grows up in one culture (with one language) encounters a New Word (like, say, the unfamiliar name of vegetable), a different thing happens than when someone who is bilingual encounters this New Word. Why? Because a New Word in one language is just a new word, but a new word in one of two (or more) languages could be the translation of an old word in a new language.

The difference is kind of like writing totally fresh code vs. jamming a module into a pre-existing framework, I guess.

When I see the name of a cheese I don’t know, my brain-framework goes “ooh, a new name for some type of cheese. I will map this word to the category cheese and define it as whatever contextual clues exist.” When I read a recipe for broccoli rabe pizza, however, I find myself thinking: do I know what that is? I mean, I know I don’t know what “broccoli rabe” is, but is it one of the dozens of Chinese vegetables I eat all the time but don’t know the English names of?

Dictionaries are great for some instances of this, but–usually–kind of terrible for food because of regional idiosyncrasies and other issues. I’ve found that the most reliable translation method is to look something up on Wikipedia and then see if there’s a corresponding page in Chinese; this is an act of translation more akin to what I am trying to do in my own head. Alas, broccoli rabe has no such corresponding page, so I am left to wonder.

This also points to what I presume must be a growing need–some resource 1.5 and 2nd generation immigrants can turn to so that we can finally figure out how to say * in English. It’s like we’re permatourists who need picture books to get around in our own homes…

People who are into sound AND code (Kevin, eMax, Paul, I’m looking at you), I’m making this mandatory reading. Or at least pretty please reading. With a cherry on top.

Once, while I was in the process of falling asleep in a hotel room somewhere in Appalachia, my coworker/temporary roommate Dan and I had a weird conversation about how programming would work if we were blind. We came to the rough conclusion that really, the hardest part would be digging through the massive amount of code to find the section that you need to work on. We chatted briefly about alternative solutions. I remember only this exact quote from that night, and it was for the sole purpose of mockery/humiliation:

Dan: Python is like IDM if C is classical. I don’t think I can admit that I just said that.

But anyway, the idea surfaces once in a while (usually during other falling-asleep-times) and I think it’s interesting/ephemeral enough that it’s high time to share it before I forget about it. While the specific idea focuses on the case study of helping a visually-impaired person program, it is also applicable to the problem of skimming large amounts of auditory information in general. Interested? Even if I’ve actually done no research on any of this? Read on… Read the rest of this entry »