Come Caroling With Me

A friend of mine invited me a few years ago to go Christmas caroling with her.  It was quite the funny invitation.  I’m not a singer.  I’m rather a person who people suggest NOT sing.  I can’t carry a tune, except for maybe at home or in the shower.  Then I’m perfect at singing.

I’ve gone consistently with my friend over the years.  This year it really hit me why I go caroling every year.  Its something that has made Boston feel like home to me.  Here I am, no longer a visitor to this wonderful city.  Rather, its a ritual, a habit, something I participate in every year.

This year I decided to turn this into a little photo essay.  I tried to capture the joy of the singers and the joy of the people hearing the singing.  All in all, magnificent:

Stop the Madness

A couple of weeks ago I come to work.  I’m a teacher in an English as a Second language program that prepares students to enter university programs.  As I have for the past seven years, I started my day’s lesson with some simple vocabulary review.  In walks an immensely intelligent student who I have been teaching for the past few weeks.  In my years of teaching I have taught maybe five other people who were as intelligent as this student.  She comes in looking upset.  She had just received her SAT score and it was not what she wanted.  By most measures, her SAT score was fine.  It was on par with the average score received by most of the country’s test takers.

I tried to console her and remind her that her score is on par with the rest of the country, not to mention she has only spent the past year learning English and that getting the score she wanted was going to take time.

Sitting in the classroom that day, I could not help but wonder why we put our young people through all of this.  What is the point of all of this?  What good was all this really for young people?  Is getting into a good college some guarantee of future success?

I thought back to my own experience with the SATs.  I took them in the mid 1990s, before my student was even born.  I also received a score that was way below what I had wanted.  Accompanying my misadventure with the SATs was a chorus of people who seem to know someone who knew someone who took the SATs when they were stoned or drunk or a combination thereof who had somehow gotten a perfect score. That made me feel yet stupider.

Ultimately, I did not choose the undergraduate college I attended.  The combination of my less than stellar SAT scores and my parents finances led me to a college that I had absolutely no interest in attending.  Less than zero.

I arrived at college beyond angry.  White hot rage was more like it.  I had always worked really hard in school, gotten good grades, taken hard classes.  In my class, I was one of two students who took physics in their senior year.  I took a bunch of AP courses and scored well enough to get college credit, but yet here I was at this institution that I considered incredibly subpar.

Yet once I got there, something rather interesting happened.  I realized rather quickly that the college offered tons of opportunities.  I became a yearbook photographer and learned things about photography that I carry on to this day.  I went to two different countries for study abroad.  I interned in Washington DC in my senior year, an internship that led to my first job out of college, covering tax legislation on Capitol Hill for a trade publication.

Somehow throughout all of that and in the years that followed, I felt I was stupid because I had done so poorly on my SATs.  No matter what I accomplished, I always thought back to my initial failure on the SATs.  It was not until a few years ago when I studying for a masters in applied linguistics that a teacher said “one test does not make you stupid.”  Suddenly I was freed of all of that baggage.

I wonder though if my student will be freed of that and what her future will be.  I told her not to think that she was stupid or not capable based on one result of a test.  People told me that over the years, but I never listened.

This takes me back to my initial question.  Why do we put so much pressure on our young people to go to these supposedly good colleges?  What is a college degree after all?  Is it meant to educate a person or is it meant as some kind of insurance policy against future incompetence?

The question of the value of a college education is one that is increasingly being discussed by all sorts of important people in all sorts of important places.  Wasn’t Steve Jobs a college dropout?  Didn’t Bill Gates drop out of Harvard to start some kind of computer company?  Mark Zuckerberg never finished college either.  These examples though are outliers.  The success of these three people who were visionaries in their respective fields does not invalidate the need for college degrees.

In this case, I like to point to the example of a professor I had when I studied at the University of Massachusetts at Boston.  As an aside, I got my masters in applied linguistics from UMass Boston and it was by far the best educational experience I have ever had.  My process in choosing the school was a simple one.  It was on the red line, convenient to my job and exceedingly inexpensive.

It was at UMass that I encountered one of the most unique and inspiring characters I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.  This was also a man who was successful by any measure but whose path to that success followed paths not neatly outlined by an undergraduate degree.

My professor Pepi Leistyna, who sadly passed away in 2015, relished telling the story of how when he was in high school, he purposely chose to be in the lowest level reading class because he was lazy.  He nearly did not go to college and only went to UMass Amherst because the school had an arrangement with his high school that they would take any graduate.  At UMass Amherst, he decided to do study abroad and tried to find a town in France that had a castle in it.  He chose Dijon, France, which while a nice town, did not actually have a castle.  Pepi sometimes spoke to us in French in class.  I usually described him as sounding like a drunk Parisian, a description I think Pepi would have enjoyed.  Upon returning to the US, Pepi started teaching French at the Berlitz school on Boylston street, with a methodology that he disliked.  He ended up taking a class in applied linguistics at Harvard University, which led to his entry into the school’s PhD program in education.  Upon graduating, he joined UMass’s faculty and spent twenty years regaling students with stories of his travels, his cats and his wife Susan.

Pepi was always the first one to say that he was not the person anyone would have tipped for success in his life.  But somehow, he became one by all measures.

An undergraduate degree is no guarantee of success.  We need to stop selling this fallacy to young people.  We need to move away from a society that makes students feel stupid for performing badly on one test.  An undergraduate degree is at best one path to success, but it is not a guarantee of success.

Anyway, this is a picture blog and if you don’t feel like reading my diatribe, you can look at these pretty photos I took recently:


The Annual Running of the Santas

Well, here we are again.  The annual running of the Santas.  Pamplona has its annual running of the bulls and here in Boston, well, we get guys (and gals) in bathing suits running through our streets.  Personally, I think our tradition is a lot better.

Let’s have a look see at this year’s lovely contestants:



The Story of Our Life

When I was a kid, I’d ride public transportation a lot with my parents.  We lived in New York and we didn’t have a car.  In fact having a car was something so crazy that I never thought we’d have one, until we actually had one.

While I was riding the bus, I’d imagine little lives for the people I saw on the bus.  What were they up to, where were they going.  I also did this when I’d go by people’s houses and look into their windows.  I mean I’m not a peeping tom, but people’s apartments just always look so nice and I try to imagine what their lives are like too.

Yesterday I went to the new Eataly location in the Prudential Center.  That place is insane.  So much food.  I don’t even know how people choose anything to eat there.  I had some above average gelato, after waiting in a very above averagely long line.  Whatever.  They just opened.

And as usual, I went around observing people like a ninja and snapped their photos.  Here are the best ones:


Trump-ish, or Maybe Trump-an-ese? I’m Not Really Sure At This Point.

Usually this is a blog focused on photos and some words, but precious few. Sometimes its focused on the things that actually happen to me and rarely it is focused on words and few photos. I try to never take a stand on anything up here but I had to on Donald Trump. That entry didn’t go viral like I wanted. Unanswered prayers.

Anyway, in my real actual life I’m a language teacher and I also have a piece of paper at home that says I’m a linguist. Just like Howard Wolowitz has a piece of paper that says he has a masters in engineering from MIT, I have a piece of paper from not as prestigious of an institution as MIT that says I’m a linguist.

So its time to use that piece of paper. A lot of people have been analyzing Donald Trump in the recent days in from many different angles. I decided to analyze him from a different angle. I’m going to analyze his language from the point of view of a linguist. Now this is arm chair linguistics. Frankly I’m too lazy to bring out the heavy duty linguistics armor.

So for Donald Trump, I’m going to analyze his choice of language, tenses, turn taking frequency and general position in the conversation. For Melania, I will analyze the number of errors she makes in a short conversation and trace the source of those errors. I’ll stay firmly away from the political in both cases.

So here’s a picture of our new first couple. I can’t believe I just wrote that. Oops, broke a rule. Either way:


Yeah, I love the Snapchat. What’s it to you?  Not to mention, it means I took this photo.  Sorta.  Just so the Trump organization doesn’t immediately sue me, this is a picture I took of a photo on my computer screen that I used a Snapchat filter on.  Yeah.

First up we have Melania Trump, nee Knavs of the Jamaica Estate Trumps. Lest she be confused with some other Trumps.

Here’s a snippet of her conversation with a reporter that I transcribed:

Its amazing what’s going on. We’re having fun. I like to keep life as normal as possible for my son Barron. I’m a full time mom and I decided not to be in the campaign so much, but I support my husband 100 percent. I grew up in Slovenia. I went to school there and I studied design. Then I moved to Milan and Paris to live there. I had successful modeling career. I came to New York 1996.

How many languages do you speak?

I speak few languages.

Tell me about your mother.

She’s with a lot of fashion and style. She was in fashion industry for a long time.

My analysis:

Melania speaks in very long utterances. Her sentences are mostly clear, but she makes some mistakes that are common to second language speakers. Leaving the “s” off the third person singular is a common developmental error, but in other snippets of conversation that I decided not to focus on, Melania does not leave it off. She does, like all second language speakers have a little trouble with prepositions. She says that she decided not to be “in” the campaign so much, which is an understandable string of words, but not exactly correct. She makes several other errors with prepositions as she goes along. She says her most was “with” a lot fashion and style. Prepositions give all second language speakers a lot of trouble since they used differently in each language and have no fixed rules in English. Having trouble with prepositions is common with second language speakers, no matter how long a person has been speaking a language.

Melania also has a few missed articles here and there. Slovenian, her native language, like a lot of other Slavic languages, does not have articles. Every grammatical element that a target language does not have requires a lot more effort to master. In Melania’s case, her second language, English, has articles, but her first language that she uses as a base for her second language does not have them, making mastery of them particularly difficult.

For Melania, I recommend studying phrasal verbs and some review of articles.

And now for the Donald.  Oops, that’s an overgeneralization error!!!!!

Interview transcript:

Donald Trump

Its enormous. I’ve done a lot of big things, but it is so big. Its so enormous.


Hillary called you. Tell us about that phone call.

Donald Trump:

So Hillary called and it was a lovely call. She couldn’t have been nicer. She’s very strong and very smart. Bill called. He couldn’t have been more gracious. He said it was an amazing run. He was really very nice.

Responding to a question about how he treats women:

Trump: Women love me.

In the case of Donald Trump, the analysis is so much less straight forward. I just used snippets of his recent interviews. I could go into what he said during the campaign, but then I’d just end up throwing the computer out the window and what good would that do any of us?

Anyway, let’s get back to what we’re supposed to be talking about. In interviews, Donald seems very calm and collected and prepared with his responses. He does not try to take control of the interview, but clearly he has all the power. He’s leading the interview obviously.

In the first conversational snippet, he uses a lot of adjectives, but repeats those adjectives and they tend to be rather flowery about people he had had quite nasty things to say about just a few days earlier. It does show some anxiety on his part. His language may be a reflection of his own lack of confidence in his words or nervousness about having just stepped into such an important role.

With respect to his comments on the women, he uses language to distort reality. Here the interviewer was pointing out what he had said previously about women and how sexist and offensive he was. There he takes control of the situation and through language is able to distort reality to his advantage. Sure, many women have come forward and accused him of being sexist, [but] women love him. Except he doesn’t use “but.” He eliminates it entirely. Women love him. No questions asked.

Well, that’s it. If you read all the way down to here, you must love Donald Trump or language or both. I’m not exactly sure.

Stay tuned Donald Trump. Watch your utterances. I might get linguistic on you once again in the near future.

Many Novembers Past

You know how a song can take you right back to the place you were when you first heard it?  Maybe its just me, but I always have a flood of memories when I hear a song again that I associate with a particular period in my life.

Recently I went spelunking through Youtube, looking for the band stylings of a former friend of mine.  It also lead me go searching for other rock band stylings and listening to the music took me back in time.  Join me my blog audience while we travel back in time.

In November 2007, nearly to the day of today, I sat in my absolutely giant new apartment in Stockholm.  I think my current living room is the size of the kitchen in that place.  How had I gotten there?  I had gotten a job with an international organization whose name rhymes with Surpeon Funion and I had moved there.  I mean more precisely I had gone there with some suitcases with the hope that my stuff would eventually follow me over there.

And the job.  Oh my, the job.  The cast of characters were really interesting.  There was the novelist, the non-speaking microbiologist, the deca-lingual woman and the crazy haired, cardigan wearing drummer.  Heart stopping in his cardigans may I add.  Now those were the funny parts of it.

Then there were the less good, more bad part of it.  Unfortunately the more bad parts outnumbered the good, because as it turned out I did not get along with the person who was to be my supervisor.  Rather spectacularly we did not get along.

No job is perfect.  No situation is perfect, but in this job, I think I had only one good day on the job and that was a day when my supervisor was gone.  After work everyday I’d get home and listen to this band the crazy haired drummer had given me the CD of.  Yes, we’re talking that long ago.  The band was called Willowtree and the music just absolutely captured how I felt at that time.  The first song on their album includes the words, sung to a happy tune “everything is going down the drain.”

At that point, I thought, everything was really going down the drain.  There I had moved halfway around the word to work for that Funion and it had all gone spectacularly wrong.  The job was really too difficult for me and required someone with a lot more experience.  The Funion either ignored that or didn’t care when they got me over there, not to mention it was taking a long time to just get everything off the ground with everything.  Making a social life was really difficult.  Everything bothered me including the fact that during the Swedish winter, there was daylight for about 10 minutes.  I’m kidding.  It was at least 20 minutes.

Everything came to a sudden and dramatic end.  I’d like to say that I exited the job quietly and with style, but really I didn’t.  In the end though, it really didn’t matter.  I keep in touch with two former coworkers and they might actually read this but they know the story.  If someone I did work with does find this, I can tell them that I use that experience as an example of how your past doesn’t really matter, answered prayers are the ones that cause the most heartache and most of all, were it not for that spectacular failure, I wouldn’t have gotten on the path to the job I’m in now that I thoroughly enjoy.

Now nine years later, I listen to the Willowtree album on my phone while writing this entry, on a cold November night just like the one when I first heard it recalling all of what happened to me as a distant memory.  Thank god.

Oh and here’s some photos from when I went to Canobie lake.  Because this is a picture blog so I should post some photos.  Yup.  No transition there:















A Microcosm of the World

Well, its finally done.  The Millennium Tower is finally finished in downtown Boston.  I know this is news you have eagerly been waiting for.  Why is this news up here?  Well, I’ll explain in the new few paragraphs.

For seven years, I went downtown everyday for work.  I recently and I mean in the past two weeks, changed my job.  Now I leisurely make my way down to Brookline everyday.  Before I worked on the mean streets of downtown Boston.  Well, not that mean.

But downtown was an amazingly interesting place.  Downtown Boston when I started working there was like Wall Street.  Teeming with people during the week and deserted on the weekends.  Just empty.  And why would it be full?  All it had was jewelry stores and a couple of other things but somehow it just never put itself together to be a city.

Slowly and gradually though while I was in downtown, it started to change drastically.  More businesses started to move in.  More people came.  But there was one big gapping hole.  I’m not being philosophical here.  There was an actual gapping hole in downtown.  Behind the Filene’s building there was a giant gapping home that was never filled.  It stood empty for years, but somehow I got the feeling that as downtown started to fill up more, something would happen with the hole.  And it did.

Round about 2013 and 2014, some construction started around the gapping hole.  It became the Millennium tower and with it more stores and more activity for downtown.  Very good for downtown in general.

Since I worked in downtown and generally carried my camera with me everywhere I went, I decided to start documenting the progress of the tower.  I kept the photos on a little file on my computer waiting for the day I would unleash them on the world.

Well, today is that day.  Here ladies and gentlemen is Millennium tower, from nothing to everything.  The photos present its growth in chronological order: