Tuesday, December 03, 2002

Curious Signs

Some signs just strike me as odd. Long ago I saw a sign on a restaurant that read


Gee...if I were to take a short woman out on a date, would I go there? I think not!

More recently, signs on rest rooms are showing up that say


"Dear, we always wanted a girl...let's take little Bobby to the baby changing station!" (What's even worse is that the picture on one of the signs shows a baby elephant in diapers. You'd think Jeremy Rifkin would be protesting...)

Sunday, December 01, 2002

So, is conclusion-jumping aerobic?

Some years back--back when the intercom in the complex worked--I called out for a pizza, and then went back to reading or whatever I was doing at the time.

About a half hour later, the heart-stopping shriek of the intercom made me jump. I followed the posted protocol: I hit the "talk" button and said "Hello?" No reply, save for the shriek of the intercom signal. I hit the "talk" button again and said "Hello?" No reply...and then another insanely loud beep.

I thought some joker was trying to be funny. I hit the "talk" button and said "Look, whoever you are; this isn't funny. Hit that button again and I'm calling the police." A few seconds and sure enough, it BEEEPed again.

Enraged, indignant, and not bothering to think that anyone who would harass someone might not draw the line there, and could be waiting for me with utensils of destruction, I stomped up the stairs and opened the door...to find a young man standing there with my pizza. After a few seconds of silence, I realized that he was deaf.

I paid for the pizza, inferred that the sign he made was "thank you" and repeated it to him, and headed down the stairs--thinking that the pizza place should perhaps have let me know and established some beep pattern to indicate that it was him upstairs, but mostly abashed at having leapt to a conclusion without sufficient data. I saw him a few more times when I ordered pizzas, and I wonder from time to time what happened to him.

Since then, initially largely because my now-wife was wanting to take the lessons but was hesitant to, and now because the subject is interesting and to prove to myself that I can still learn something, I've been taking ASL lessons. It's frustrating in parts. Spoken/written languages provide one with an enormous corpus of grammatical utterances of native speakers available at any time, but we have yet to find anything at all like that for ASL. The lessons have settled into a routine of the instructor signing us sentences that we parrot back, left to our own devices to figure out what was said. The sentences themselves are written by a person who, while skilled in ASL, is a hearing person--so that ASL is his second language and we're never sure whether we're getting what native ASL speakers would say is grammatical. (Indeed, our instructor, who is deaf, has looked at some of the sentences and looked less than pleased with them.)

So...frustrating as hell...but still worth it. At then end of our second ten-lesson session, the classes had a pot-luck dinner. I'd looked stuff up, and at what seemed like the appropriate time, at the table, with two instructors seated there as well, I looked to one of them and signed "I MUST ASK B-I-L-L-I-E IMPORTANT QUESTION. PLEASE CHECK MY SIGN." She nodded, and I looked at my now-wife and signed "YOU WANT MARRY ME?" About the time I got to MARRY people were looking and saying "He didn't sign what I think he signed, did he?" The opening of the case with the ring confirmed their suspicions, and the other instructor was in tears.

I was sufficiently nervous that I didn't even see Billie sign YES in reply, even though she'd been in on the ring design--after all, she was the one who'd be wearing it--and hence there was minimal surprise involved. She turned the brightest red I'd ever seen her turn. I'm very glad I asked then and in that way.

A flashback and analogy

You've probably heard about how the notion of sum types (e.g. Algol 68 union s, Rust enum s, Haskell type s) and product types (e.g. tup...