Monday, March 15, 2010


I think I lied in my last post about updating—so I won't make any more promises. I had some essays due in February and after that I was weary of writing words, and then I just didn't think about it for awhile. I had another essay due last week and I have another due I-don't-yet-know-when. Then I have two exams in mid-May.

I've also been pretty much assuming that anyone reading this blog also knows about Ariane's, which is another reason I haven't felt like writing, since we do lots of things together and I don't feel like writing the same things she is. Anyway, in case I'm wrong, it's here:

So the thing is that I'm done with classes. And it's still March. Weird, right? My Lexical Semantics lecturer said that he felt like we were just getting going, and I have to agree, although my other courses feel more complete. I think I may therefore continue with lexical semantics in my Div III, although pretty much every time I take a particularly interesting course I think the same about that subject. Anyway, semantics is what I'm writing in my preliminary proposal (right now).

Due to the fact that there aren't many assignments and the semester is so short, I've only gotten one assignment marked so far. I was a little annoyed because I felt that the assessment was too much like high school or standardized writing tests (emphasizing rigid, linear structure, etc.). Since coming to college (even in Smith and Mt. Holyoke classes) I've gotten used to being judged on the content of my essays, but all the comments I got on the essay were on its form. I guess I feel like as long as the essay is written clearly and fluently, it shouldn't be marked down if it fails to conform to some pedagogical standard. That was only one essay, but I feel like the university as a whole encourages this sort of marking because it gives markers very specific guidelines, ostensibly to make marking more uniform (and therefore fair), but in actuality this has the effect of emphasizing form over content, because the former (npi) is, by its nature, more straightforwardly standardizable than the latter. But anyway, though the course material is no more difficult than back home, the marking itself is, even accounting for the differences in scaling (70 is an A). So I'm don't expect to be getting as many As as usually, if any.

Apart from classes I've also been doing some things, as documented on Ariane's blog. In sum, major events include: Glasgow (slides!), Highlands, and Lily's visit last week. I still go to pubs occasionally, get ale when I can, get whisky when I can't; get lager and angry (syllepsis) when I can't get either of the first two. I decided since I'm in Scotland that I ought to develop a taste for whisky and it turned out to be not very difficult. So far I've tried the McCallan 10 year, and an Isle of Jura malt (don't remember which one). The McCallan was very strong smelling and had a lot of bite, whereas the Jura was a bit mellower and had more of an aftertaste. I won't try to describe them like a real whisky person. I also tried a well regarded blend, which was interesting. I didn't dislike it, and I can certainly see why some people like blends and some people hate them. Completely different from a malt; much more mellow and quite... earthy. Dunno. Anyway, the McCallan is my favorite so far. The only ale I've had recently was a Caledonian 80, which was excellent. It's the most popular real ale in the traditional Scottish style, and one of the mainstays of real ale pubs, along with Deuchars IPA (also brewed by Caledonian brewery). The main locally brewed lager is Tennant's, which I've also tried. It was alright, but I'm still really tired of that style. I still haven't found real cider anywhere. I think that's an English thing, mainly.

The big news is that since we now have no classes between now and our exams in mid-May, Ariane and I are doing some traveling. We're heading to Brussels on Tuesday. We'll be chilling in Belgium for the next week, staying in Brussels and Antwerp and also visiting Brugge and (possibly) Ghent. Looking forward to delicious bottles of beer and chocolate and cheese. (I really hope to eat chocolate from a bottle—a bottle made of chocolate! Likewise cheese, but most likely they will be in more usual forms.) After that we're off to Norway for five days, split between Oslo and Bergen, and then to Munich for three. We don't have any fixed plans besides the places we're sleeping, but I'm sure we'll figure it out.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Tripartite Definition of the Past Few Weeks

So it's been awhile. I'm not really a blog person. (Nor am I a bog person, which are really quite interesting; probably more interesting than me. I would recommend reading the wikipedia article on bog people ( rather than this post.)

First section of this post is about classes:


I've already written what I'm taking, I think, but now I've been in classes for a few weeks I have a sense of what they're actually about.

Figurative Language is so far really a class on rhetoric. We've been analyzing the rhetorical devices used by various texts, using traditional terminology. What this means is that we look for distinctive schemes and tropes in a text, think about their rhetorical function, and match them with traditional terms. For this last task the lecturer recommended a site called Silva Rhetoricae (, which is quite helpful.

I was hoping that this class would actually be more of a semantics class, focusing on ways to analyze figurativeness in the ways that semanticists analyze words and sentences. Rhetoric is really something quite different, in that it doesn't really probe the meanings of expressions in any real depth, but merely identifies them, gives them a fancy Greek name, and then spends the rest of its time concerned with the rhetorical function (i.e., how it relates to the text's persuasive capacity) of the expression. However, I'm still enjoying the class, because rhetoric is a significant tradition that I had almost no knowledge of, and does relate in some interesting ways to the foundations of semantic analysis. There is also a guest lecturer coming in to do the lectures on metaphor and metonymy, which I'm hoping will go into the kinds of things I originally expected.

The lecturer is fairly engaging, and we do get to look in a new way at a lot of fun texts, such as Obama's victory speech, various poetry and prose, and in more depth at Othello and Richard II. This is also the ideal class for the development of pretentiousness, since we daily learn and use words like polysyndeton, epanalepsis, and mesarchia, all of which are characterized as being really fancy sounding words to describe very simple ideas that don't require the understanding the underlying theoretical paradigm of the discipline to nearly the same extent that most technical terms do.

Lexical Semantics is my favorite class so far. The lecturer is very funny and engaging (very fortunately, since it's a 9:00 class that sometimes lasts two hours), has a deep knowledge of and interest in the material, and doesn't use powerpoint at all (!). He writes up lectures as handouts but never closely follows them, sometimes entirely disregarding them.

I won't go into details about what we cover, since it gets technical very quickly. Suffice it to say that the class is exactly what it says it is, an analysis of word (lexeme) meaning (semantics). This is in contrast to what is known as formal semantics (which I took a class on last year at Hampshire), which analyzes the way words combine compositionally, and focuses on logical words like 'and' and 'the'. Most of the work in lexical semantics has been on verbs, since their meanings have interesting syntactic implications that other word classes lack.

My only complaint about the class is that I wish it were a bit more systematic. Lexical semantics by its nature involves a constant questioning of one's assumptions, and it can become overwhelming if you don't keep all the issues straight. But it's a lot of fun.

My last class is Knowledge & Reality, which is my one philosophy class. It's a split course, with the first half focusing on epistemology (the study of knowledge) and the second on metaphysics (the study of reality, or being—yes, it's a little nebulous), with different lecturers for each section. Having multiple successive professors for a single course is actually a fairly common practice here; some of the more general courses have a different lecturer each week.

This is my least favorite class. The lecturer is coherent, but very boring, going through the material very slowly and mostly just reading off a powerpoint that sticks very closely to the textbook. Fortunately the lectures are only 50 minutes, but take place three times a week, in addition to a once-a-week tutorial. The students don't seem particularly bright, and the material is not what I expected, or rather, is a subset of what I expected. The reason I took this course is that I felt that I needed a sounder foundation in philosophy, specifically in the modern period (Descartes through Kant, roughly), when epistemology and metaphysics were absolutely central in a way that they weren't in the 20th century. But we're not actually reading anything from the modern period; in fact, we're doing very little reading at all of primary sources. The central questions of the course so far are the questions raised by 20th century epistemologists, and most of the reading is from the book What is This Thing Called Epistemology?, which is almost as simplistic as the title suggests.

It's not all bad, though. I think the ideas we're learning are quite interesting and philosophically important, and I'm hoping that the second lecturer will be better.


I guess this is a big deal for pretty much everybody. It's not as big a deal for me as for some (I have several individuals in mind), but I do have to eat, I do eat, and I do care what I eat. So here's some info on my food situation in Scotland.

I like to cook and eat food I cook but I'm also pretty lazy about it. What this means is that I don't get around to cooking real food more than a few times a week. Usually I make enough for two or three meals, but there are inevitably gaps, so I also eat a lot of pasta and sandwiches. The most exciting thing I've made was pizza with Ariane, which had cheese, red pepper, spinach, garlic, eggplant, and caramelized onions. It was delicious, and we took a picture of it:

I've also become stereotypically British and started drinking a lot of tea. My morning routine usually involves making a cup of tea, then taking a quick shower, by which time the tea is cool enough to drink, and then eating breakfast. For breakfast I've mostly been eating muesli, which is a dense cereal/porridge of Swiss origin popular in Britain. When I get back from class I eat lunch, which is usually a turkey and cheese sandwich, make another cup of tea to keep me awake through the afternoon, and drink tea while eating jaffa cakes (the generic term for the cookie-shaped cake available in the U.S. by the brand PiM's) and doing some reading. I enjoy this part of the day very much; it's very relaxing.

I've also learned a bit about British beer, though most young people drink cheap imported lagers (Carling Black Label, Foster's, Carlsberg and Stella are particularly popular). These are the mainstays of most pubs, but a good portion of pubs also have one or more cask ales on tap. There is a movement in Britain by people who don't like mass-produced beer called the real ale movement, which advocates traditional cask ale. Pubs with cask ale are often advertised as real ale pubs. These ales generally the best things they have on tap, depending on your taste—British ales are uncarbonated and tend to be sweeter and less hoppy than American beers. Even a bitter, which is a British pale ale, or IPA will usually be significantly less bitter than an American IPA. One beer I particularly enjoyed was the Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted.

Cider is also a commonly available drink. Strongbow is the most common, followed by Magner's and Bulmer's. There's also a market among broke people for strong white cider, which is clear, around 8% abv, and very cheap. It's not very tasty, but I'd prefer it to a bad lager. And finally there's real cider, which is defined as being at least 80% apple juice and containing no artificial sweeteners, neither of which conditions any of the above meet. It's also known as 'scrumpy' for the small apples it's made from. I haven't had any of this yet, but my favorite cider so far is Bulmer's.

Activities, or, Everything Else

I'm not super busy but I do do some things (infantilism not intended). I've started going to lectures and meetings of both the Philosophy Society and the Language and Linguistics Society of the University of Edinburgh. In addition, I've spent several nights exploring the city. There's a wonderful street called Grassmarket at the foot of the castle; I've also been up to the castle, though not inside. On Saturday, Ariane and I went for a walk up to the Royal Mile, which is the main touristy stretch of Edinburgh. I even took some pictures!

Old College, now mostly University administration (on the way to the Royal Mile):

The Royal Mile:

St. Giles Cathedral:

Adam Smith:

David Hume (I'm pretty sure he was a good deal fatter than this statue—but then again, he didn't wear togas either):

We saw a street performer:

One of the neat things about the old part of Edinburgh is all the little alleyways (aka closes):

Ariane made me pose for this picture. (Then she dropped her zombie figurine in poop.)
By late afternoon Ariane had gotten very cold so we walked very quickly back to duvets.

On a practical note, the Edinburgh Bargain Store is not actually a bargain. It made me angry. Poundstretchers is much better price-wise, though farther away.

So hopefully this entry was long enough to make up for the long interval. It may or may not be as long until I write again. (At the very least, I promise to write again before the month is up.)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

First Few Days

Been pretty busy and very not sleep adjusted. Here's an update.

My flight was cancelled due to snow in London, so I switched to a flight through Newark. I arrived in Edinburgh at 8:00AM on Saturday. It was snowing when I left Boston and snowing when I arrived in Edinburgh. I took an airport shuttle to Waverly Bridge in New Town, which is a couple of miles from my flat. My first mistake was to assume that the roads would be all on the same level; in this particular area it is rarely the case. I ended up going under the road I wanted to get on the first time I tried. Then I dragged my suitcase down a long main drag that changes its name every few blocks: I travelled North Bridge, South Bridge, Nicolson Street and South Clerk street, all in a straight line. My main problem was that the inch of new snow on the sidewalks kept clogging the wheels of my suitcase, but I eventually made it to my flat.

My room is oddly shaped, like an L-room in Merrill, except more so. Even if I propped my door open I couldn't see out of my room from my desk or bed. The kitchen, which you don't have to go through in order to get to any room, is also behind a door that closes mechanically. As a result, I don't often see my flatmates unless I hang out in the kitchen for awhile. They are as follows:

Tijmen is Dutch but speaks with a perfect (to my ears) British accent, and has reddish-brown hair and blue eyes. He plays guitar and is a bit of a joker. His friend Hugo lives next door and hangs out here a lot. Hugo is blonde and posh; he arrived at university with quail that his grandfather had shot on their estate.

Clément is French and has black hair. He likes sports and is fairly serious.

Daniel is from Belarus. He has brown hair and a beard. He is quietly friendly and smokes hand-rolled cigarettes (but not indoors).

I was supposed have my first course on Monday, but it was cancelled because the lecturer was stuck in the States due to weather. Then I was supposed to have my second course on Tuesday, but I didn't set my alarm because I didn't think it was necessary—somehow I ended up sleeping for 14 hours and waking up five minutes after it began. So I actually started my courses today. This morning I had Lexical Semantics at 9:00 and then Figurative Language (which is really a course in the study of rhetoric) at 11:10. The classes are small by university standards, with only 40-60 students in each. Both lecturers seem quite good; my Lexical Semantics lecturer in particular is quite funny. I'm very excited about these classes.

Between classes I went to register with the University. The registry is located in Old College, which is a quad of very old (I believe 16th century) and beautiful grey stone buildings (most everything pre-19th century in Edinburgh is grey stone) enclosed on its fourth side by a giant arch and gate. In order to get my university ID card I then had to get passport-size photos taken, which I did in a photobooth in Potterrow, which is a sort of student center.

I've been to a couple pubs: Brass Monkey, which is just off Nicolson street, serves a nice local pale ale and has strange seating in the back room where you take your shoes off and there's a cushioned floor and pillows around the edges. The Library Bar is a University pub in Teviot House; it has cheap drinks and old books behind glass on all its walls.

And that's about all I can think of.

Monday, January 4, 2010

In Advance

So I ship out on Friday night. Due to the spherical nature of the earth, my six hour flight to Heathrow will cost me a deposit of an additional five hours, meaning that I leave at 8:20PM and arrive at 7:40AM the next day. Then I grab my bags, wiggle through immigration, and take another flight from Heathrow to Edinburgh. Here's what I know:

I'm staying in Sciennes 1, flat 3, room 3. Pronounced "sheens", Sciennes is a neighborhood just south of Edinburgh center, separated from it by East Meadow Park.

I'm living with three other people. I don't know their names.

I'm taking three classes (the normal course load at Edinburgh), namely: Lexical Semantics (linguistics), Figurative Language (linguistics), and Knowledge and Reality (philosophy, specifically epistemology).

I will be eating free pizza at a welcoming party for international students. Some things, I guess, don't change.

To come: everything else.