I'm Mike Pope. I live in the Seattle area. I've been a technical writer and editor for over 35 years. I'm interested in software, language, music, movies, books, motorcycles, travel, and ... well, lots of stuff.

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Novels could be called thought experiments. You invent people, you put them in hypothetical situations, and you decide how they will react. The 'proof' of the experiment is if their behaviour seems interesting, plausible, revealing about human nature.

— David Lodge


<June 2024>



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Updated every 30 minutes. Last: 8:16 PM Pacific

  10:20 PM

Over the Thanksgiving holiday I got another chance to eavesdrop at leisure on grandboy J’s language development. (I did part 1 in April when he turned 2.)

The tl;dr is that he’s progressing quickly, as one would expect from a kid who’s 2-1/2 years old. He talks up a storm, and he’s reached a point where you interact naturally with him using language—that is, you talk to him assuming that he’ll understand you, and virtually everything he says makes sense. Of course, he makes errors, but they're interesting because they seem to tell us something about language development.


J has trouble with unvoiced th (/θ/), which he often pronounces as an /f/ (“wif,” “I’m firsty”). I thought I detected that he can produce soft th sounds (/ð/), as in the and this. This would not entirely make sense, and it's possible that for /ð/ he's producing /v/ sounds and I just wasn't hearing it.

He also has issues with /r/, which he sometimes pronounces as /w/ (“weally” for really). I didn’t pay close enough attention to determine whether he always does this.

J has trouble with some other clusters as well. The one that struck me was “code” for cold. There must be something systematic about that one, because I’ve heard some adults do something similar, like “woof” for wolf.


Those are Triceratopses.
Generalization of -s/-es as plural.

Guys, look!
Imperative; second-person plural vocative (guys).

Opa, knock down!
Used to mean both “I am knocking you down!” and “Knock me down!”

Can you take[ ]apart it?
Not yet recognizing take apart as a phrasal verb, or just a mistake in moving the particle to the end.

I don't know what happened.
Do-negation (don’t), subordinate clause.

Can I have it back?
Yes/no question inversion, have back as phrasal verb

George wants to go on a walk by himself.
Auxiliary (wants) with infinitive (to go) that’s part of an idiom (go on a walk); adverbial prepositional phrase with reflexive (by himself).

[Adult]: Do you want some almond croissant?
[J]: I want so much.
[Adult]: How many cashews do you want?
[J]: I want so many.
Distinguishing mass and count nouns (so much/so many == “a lot”)

I ate it all gone.
all gone == all up, presumably a generalization of something like It's all gone.

I want to go see who is that.
Auxiliary (wants) with infinitive (to go see), subordinate clause. J used wh-question syntax for the subordinate clause where who is the predicate nominative—interesting error.

[Adult]: He’s going to eat you!
[J]: I don’t want to be eaten!
Passive transformation in a clause with an auxiliary verb. This one impressed me.

She did a good job giving my hair a cut.
Possibly a generalization of indirect object (give [indirect-object] a [direct-object], e.g. give me a toy). But correct use of a gerund phrase (giving) following "good job [of]."

Irregular verbs

I bit it
The dragon flew away
I ate it

Correct use of ablaut in irregular verbs. But …

I drawed it
I breaked it

Generalized -t/-d applied to irregular verbs. And …

We camed over here
Blend—ablaut and dental.


J is still learning the semantic space for different words. We mostly noticed this because he seems insistent on using (and having others use) specific terms.

[J]: This is my digger.
[Adult]: Is that a backhoe?
[J]: No, it’s a digger.

But the next day …

[J]: This is my digger.
[Adult]: Oh, that’s a front loader.
[J]: This is my front loader!

J is going to another room.
[Adult]: Bye-bye!
[J]: I'm not leaving!
Bye-bye is reserved for going home or an otherwise more permanent parting.

[Adult]: Can you help me undo the Velcro on your shoes?
[J]: Those are straps!

Polite speech

J wields a number of phrases and sentences that seem to derive from adults’ corrections for tone and politeness. He's in preschool, which is probably the source for some of these.

Can I borrow that real quick?
i.e. Can I have that?

No, thanks! No, thanks!
Asking someone to stop tickling him

How's your day going so far?

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  10:00 PM

This is my maternal grandfather, known as Opa because he was German:

I don't know a lot about this portrait, other than it was done in 1956. I guess it's done in conté, a type of artist's crayon. I suspect that the portrait was done as a birthday gift by family or by colleagues.

Ever since I was quite young, people have told me that I look a lot like my Opa. For example, when I was 14, we visited one of my grandfather's friends, and the friend couldn't stop laughing at the resemblance. To my 14-year-old mind, looking like an old guy seemed literally impossible. I imagine that it's hard for people to see their resemblance to someone else; I have never really seen it. Still, my mother shared this belief, and a few years later, she took a photo of me next to the portrait so she could show distant relatives this supposed resemblance:

Ok. About a year ago, I watched a video by the artist Eric Chapman, a time-lapse of him doing a portrait:

While I watched the video, it occurred to me that this was something like my Opa's portrait. And this led to what might have been the most vain thing I've ever done: I contacted Eric and asked about having a portrait done that was complementary to my Opa's. Sure, no problem, he said, after he'd seen a photo of the original.

I got my daughter to take a series of photos, which I sent off to Eric. I had to make some decisions—size? show all the hair or not?—but those having been made, after a couple of weeks Eric was all done:

When I got the portrait, I had it framed, and now Opa and I occupy a wall together:

I had a funny moment when I finally saw the pieces side by side—I realized that I'm actually a year older in my portrait than he was in his. But no matter how old I get, I'll always think of him as the old guy.

My own kids seem to be ok with all this. In fact, my son mentioned that maybe he'd have a portrait done as well. People tell me that he resembles me, hmm.

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  10:51 PM

My grandson turned 2 today (April 12). We spent a long weekend with the family last week, so I got an opportunity to listen to his language development. I don’t know very much about stages of language development—as in, at what age a child typically grasps certain language structures—so I don’t where he fits into all this. But it’s astounding to me to see how quickly humans develop language facility, including some constructs that can be hard to explain to adults.

It’s pretty clear to me that he’s building up his vocabulary in chunks. The best example was probably please may i, which he’s quickly learned is a key to getting something he wants. But it also seems to me that he’s internalized certain structures and can create new sentences from those structures. Which of course is the coolest thing that we humans can do.

Anyway, here’s a sampling of what I was hearing, with a few jottings about why I found these particular utterances interesting. A couple of notes:
  • I’ve deliberately not capped or punctuated these in order to avoid making these look more developed than they are.
  • Opa is me (grandpa), and Oma is my wife (grandma).

i have it in my hand
Complete subject-verb-object sentence
Prepositional phrase (in my hand) used adverbially
Pronoun (it)

i want to go see my daddy
Modal verb (want) with infinitive (to go)
Possessive pronoun

this is a big pistachio
Demonstrative pronoun (this)
Understanding of antecedents (this == pistachio)
Attributive adjective

this is oma’s
Demonstrative pronoun (this)
Possessive with implied antecedent (namely, whatever this refers to)

i'm going to eat some banana
Progressive form for implied future (am going to)
Adjectival some with banana as a mass noun

opa take off your glasses
mommy sit down
i put on my shoes
Vocative (opa, mommy)
Phrasal verbs: take off (transitive), put on (transitive), sit down (intransitive)

there’s a tiny dog in the car
Expletive construction (there is)
Attribute adjective (tiny)
Adverbial prepositional phrase (in the car)

i don't want to wear my hat
i don't have a beard right now
Negation with modal (don’t want), with main verb (don’t have)
Temporal state (right now). This one seemed oddly prescient.

i want to go see uncle pete and aunt gretchen
Modal verb with infinitive
Compound object

please get out the balls and dump them
Compound imperative (with temporal order)[1]

please may i have some milk
mommy can I please have another pistachio please
Count versus mass nouns (compare banana earlier)
(He uses please may i as a stock phrase)

[1] We kept an ear out for a sentence with two independent clauses linked with and, but didn't hear one. He might be able to produce such a thing, but we don't know one way or the other.

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  12:06 PM

A day late, dang! This was 22 years ago yesterday:



  11:11 PM

Earlier this year, the Seattle P-I ran a piece about doctors who do housecalls. The featured patient was John Devine, my father-in-law. We found this amusing because John has a knack for attention.

Case in point. KING 5, one of our local TV stations, picked up the story and they sent a reporter to go tag along with Sarah Babineau as she made her rounds. The story aired today. And which patient was featured? Correct:

And this is exactly what you'd expect him to say:
If it weren't for Babineau, Devine wouldn't see a doctor as much as he should because he likes to stay right where he is.

"I specialize in inactivity," said Devine.
Once a ham, always a ham, I guess. :-)

[categories]   [tags] doctor, housecall, KING 5, news, TV


  07:45 AM

Last week, Sarah was accepted into a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. She took two classes (one after the other) this summer to fulfill a couple of requirements, which gave her -- actually, all of us -- an idea of what Sarah's schoolwork will be like for the next three years. A good sign was that she loved being back in school, and that the workload, while certainly intense, was not overwhelming, yay.

Of course, we already have a couple of college kids around here. I was talking to a colleague at work whose daughter was about to enter college, and whose son is a couple of years behind her. "Two at once!" he noted, which got me thinking. We have three at once at the moment, plus two more in the wings. Out of curiosity I charted out what us-and-college looked like for the foreseeable future. Here's a picture:

Interesting, eh? We get one year off between now (actually, between three years ago, when Zack started) and the year 2020. With, as you can see, some overlap. And this assumes that Zack does only one year of grad school, and Sabrina none, and that Sarah's girls go straight through four years of undergrad. And that I don't decide at some point in the next 12 years to enter a program.

Dang. Good thing that we're all in favor of higher-educatin' around here, coz obviously we're going to be involved in it for some time to come.


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  02:41 PM

Local and family interest. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran an article on Thursday about the new-old practice of house calls by physicians. The reporter followed Dr. Sarah Babineau around as she visited patients, many of them in facilities.

The story appeared below the fold on the front page of the Thursday edition. It focused on a particular patient, which turns out was my father-in-law, whom the article called "a small, spry man with a Scottish brogue and a mischievous smile." That would be him.

The print version was illustrated with a photo of the doctor visiting a patient. Here's a not-so-great scan of the photo:

This is not so surprising. Somehow John always manages to be the center of attention no matter where he ends up. :-)



  02:41 PM

Christmas is kind of complicated around here (four kids, three families), but dang, it's fun. There are up to four Christmases. The evening of the 23rd, there's the pajama exchange. On the morning of the 24th, gift exchange number one with Sarah's kids. In the evening of the 24th, gift exchange number two with my kids and Sarah's kids. Then the various kids go to their respective other families and have yet another gift exchange! All accompanied by staggering quantities of food, heavy on the sweets, omg.

Today, the 25th, is comparatively quiet around here. But to make up for that, we're having a white Christmas, at least up here in the Renton Highlands:

We were planning on heading out for a mini movie marathon, but the weather might turn that into a mini DVD marathon instead. That is, if we can take out noses out of many new books we seem to have acquired, including for me two new noun books:


... among others.

Or in my case, if I can stop playing with my newest toy, courtesy of Sarah:

Oh what fun.

Hope your holiday celebration(s) are enjoyable this year as well!

[1] This is a continuation of a booze-themed reading list, which started with And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails.

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[2] |

  01:16 PM

We have a little whiteboard on one of our cupboards that was originally intended to be a place to write notes ("Dogs are fed") or stuff for the grocery list. However, it's turned primarily into a place where we scribble doggerel on familial themes. (Altho people are inclined to name anything with meter and rhyme a "poem," it seems a little grand to grace our efforts with that name.)

Limericks are the most popular, being a form that sometimes seems to write itself. Haiku has made an appearance. In one case, a "dogs are fed" message went up to the tune of "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean":

The doggies, they do like their feedings
The doggies, they do like their chow
But should you encounter their pleadings
Ignore them, I fed them just now.

No food, no food
They've snarfed up their breakfast and all the crumbs
No food, no food
At least until dinnertime comes.

We sometimes use unnamed forms, as in this excuse for not doing the dishes:

Against my best wishes
I left all the dishes
(Though I did have to empty the sink)

It's the girls' night for chores
Which of course each abhors
(Though it's good for the soul, parents think.)

Below which appeared in childish hand the comment "Nope."

At times the muse stays away, and at one point after a period of blankness on the board, someone posted the forlorn message "Poem goes here."

Not long ago, Sarah spotted in Poetry magazine a triolet by A. E. Stallings that delighted her, so she clipped it and taped it on the whiteboard:

Triolet on a Line Apocryphally Attributed to Martin Luther

Why should the Devil get all the good tunes
The booze and the neon and Saturday night,
The swaying in darkness, the lovers like spoons?
Why should the Devil get all the good tunes?
Does he hum them to while away sad afternoons
And the long, lonesome Sundays? Or sing them for spite?
Why should the Devil get all the good tunes
The booze and the neon and Saturday night?

This decorated the white board for a while until the morning when E got her braces off. That day, hopped up on coffee, I was re-reading the Stalling for the unpteenth time, a line popped into my head, and I dashed off (speed of which should be obvious) the following:

Triolet on a Visit to the Orthodontist

Now that young E has a mouth free of tin
The bands have been broken and she is now free
Her pearly-whites sparkle with every grin
Now that young E has a mouth free of tin
Let revelry, apples, and popcorn begin
Childhood is finished by dental decree
Now that young E has a mouth free of tin
The bands have been broken and she is now free.

As noted, poems these ain't. The real problem, tho, is that we never write anything down for the grocery list:

We once had a quite useful whiteboard
On which all our lists we could record ...


[1] |

  04:47 PM

Perhaps a deceptive title. I spoke with my son the other day, who's off at college studying that physics stuff. This quarter he's taking his required programming class, which is C++. (Is that really the best choice for a beginning programming class? Never mind, it's a rhetorical question.) For tools, they're using ... Visual Studio 2005! An unexpected familial connection. Zack being, you know, a 20-year-old guy, he immediately took an interest in pimping his IDE.

I had predicted that he'd find programming to be a lot of fun. He told me that after they got their first assignment, he went home and did it immediately. (Possibly a first.) So far, it seems, my prediction is proving true.

In other VS news, I'm going to be attending DevConnections in Las Vegas November 5-8. As always with these things, there are all sorts of conflicting sessions that it will be painful to choose among. But it all looks great, so I can't wait. Maybe I'll see you there!

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