Monthly Archives: August 2019

Thoughts on ecological activism

Before I return to my normal posts on Linguistics and Speech research, I have one more thought on my post-ICPhS trip to Cairns. After the dive, I went to the edge of the rain-forest on a half-day 4×4 tour. It was more sitting and less walking than I would normally go for, but the views were pleasant.

The trip showed us the amazing strangler fig, which is essentially an immortal tree that has serious ill-intent with the trees it grows next to. If you are dumb enough to grow near one of these monsters, within 100 years you are dead, dead, dead!

And the waterfall we went to at the end of the trip was stunning.

But there was one long part where the guide had us standing still for 30 minutes listening to a discussion of local wildlife mixed with the usual guilt-trip about ecological destruction. In one sense, that is fair enough. Humans have an enormous impact on this planet, and plenty of it is negative. But in another sense, I just wanted to crawl out of my skin. Not because I felt guilty for what I’ve done, but because I have absolutely no idea how this approach can help make the world a better place.

I can appreciate that the Australian government is not letting Cairns reuse brown-space for a new boat launch but instead is forcing them to tear down a valuable mangrove. But I can’t do anything about it. I am not Australian, I don’t vote in Australia, and I can’t force the Australian government to save the mangroves. Even though I would LOVE to because I want the Great Barrier Reef to keep growing spectacular fish! There was also a lot about how tourists should support family businesses over large-scale tourism businesses.

But it went to long. We had old people on this trip, and one of them had lost circulation in her legs listening to the over-long presentation. She fell trying to walk back to the vehicle after the talk. She wasn’t badly hurt, but that is the kind of thing that can break a hip, greatly shortening the life of the elderly person in question!

The guide also complained about the large influx of population into Cairns, who then demand a quieter place that involved cutting trees bats live in, and otherwise reducing the wonders of nature in the area to make the place more like the big cities they came from. Fair enough, but I heard no solutions. And I thought “stronger insulation and noise-control laws, or education about good construction standards, would end that nonsense.” I though “there are really effective solutions that we can implement ourselves, so tell everyone about them!” And as a result, I was frustrated because of the missed opportunity.

I compare this approach to that of Reef Encounters. They brought us to a beautiful place full of natural wonders. When we complimented them on their good job, they made it clear it was *nature* that did the good job, and we all benefit from what nature does. When we went diving, the guides always picked up any trash they saw on the ocean floor, and taught us to do the same. When the great food was served and the good times were had, they thanked us for supporting a local family business instead of one of the large-scale tourism businesses.

And there it is. They let nature speak for itself. They embodied solutions. They did a great job and thanked us for supporting local businesses *after* they did that great job. People who experience such things will appreciate nature, know how and engage in good ecological behaviour, and continue to make better choices for local communities.

So here is to all those who embody good ecological behaviour, cleaning up after themselves and others. Here’s to the people who build improved technologies that waste less and are more efficient. Here’s to those who keep track of nature – and trade – exposing it to the light where it can be made as good as possible, a little better every day. And yes, here’s to those who vote to preserve mangroves and re-use brown space for boat-docks.

Diving the great barrier reef

After the International Congress of the Phonetic Sciences in Melbourne, my friend Phil Howson and I went diving in the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Cairns. The trip was truly amazing. During this time, I did 10 dives, 5 of them to train for advanced open-water conditions – diving to 30 meters (100 ft).

The conditions were absolutely amazing, as you can see from the boat shots from the professional photographer (these are all Tilly’s shots, I saw similar things, but I do not have either the gear nor the eye to take shots like this!)

My friend Phil and I had a lot of fun, above and below water.

And the reef was amazing.

And that was just the coral. I most definitely found Nemo. Often. More often than Tilly photographed them.

And I might have encountered a couple of elder things. Tilly even got a shot with the face-hugger look. For me, the cuttlefish was always closed like photo 1 and 2.

I saw lots of little fish like these.

And crazy schools of fish – some even more impressive than these.

I cannot count the number of times I saw scenes like this, but with much wider views and more variety of fish.

I saw rays quite often.

And I played light with heaps of these little doggies of the sea. If you ever told me I’d ever play light with a shark, I’d have called you barking mad! I clearly have no actual sense! (Sharks tend to like the light as they use it to catch fish, but other fish such as fusiliers are super-keen on using your light and they will surround you like crazy!)

I swam with these turtles, but I did NOT see the one eating the jellyfish. That my buddy saw, and of course Tilly taking the photos.

And I even have some proof of swimming with the turtles.

I also enjoyed the slower creatures. Giant clams!

Unfortunately, I did not see the moray pictured here. Tilly got great shots though!

And I never saw a starfish on the trip either, though we do have shots from Tilly.

But, I did see these guys:

This trip was truly amazing. It really does look like this under the ocean at the Great Barrier Reef, and even more amazing than this. My first night-dive was a kaleidoscopic fever-dream better than my wildest imaginings. I cannot recommend diving enough.

EDIT: I now have a photo of my deep dive to 30M during dive training. The depths are an eerie place, where cracked eggs stay intact, and red tomatoes look green. They are worth a quick and carefully planned visit. Running out of air is EASY. On my training my instructors deliberately shared air with me, and I deliberately used the back-up bottle at 5M depth, as skill practice.

ICPhS 2019

The Nineteenth International Congress of the Phonetic Sciences was held in Melbourne from August 5-9, 2019. It was an amazing success with over 950 delegates, and a nearly unlimited opportunities to forge new collaborations and improve the quality of phonetic science research worldwide.

I was especially impressed with the entire science committee who organized over 400 reviewers for the conference, dealt with difficult-to-administer programme software, and kept every talk and poster well coordinated despite the inevitable last-minute changes. Paola Escudero, Sasha Calhoun, and Paul Warren are to be commended!

I also commend Rosey Billington of the social media liaison. Social media was the knife’s edge between success and failure. I’m not good at the stuff to the point of having to effectively leave facebook of late, but I admire those who can bend social media to their will – especially when their will is goodwill.

I also commend the keynote speakers. My former PhD supervisor Bryan Gick made an amazing presentation on how bodies talk. I really enjoyed seeing the old research, and seeing the new stuff I haven’t been involved with as much. It was great to see Connor Meyer is joining in on writing a new book on that same topic – I await it with great anticipation!

Lucie Menard presented on “Production-perception relationships in sensory deprived populations: the case of visual impairment”. Her talk really helped me see how seeing helps with speaking. I cannot recommend reading her papers enough.

And of course the media darling of the event was Jonas Beskow on “On talking heads, social robots and what they can teach us”.

His talk shows us some of the state-of-the-art on human-robot interactive systems, which while super-interesting, also strongly points out to me how much we can still do to improve human/computer interaction. We have only just begun to exploit such opportunities.

Visual Prosody

I also really enjoyed the visual prosody contest – the poster on the left showed a method of highlighting both pitch and intensity at the same time. Visual prosody requires innovative techniques for showing multi-dimensional information in an intuitive way that people can grasp using the built-in abilities of their visual systems. I intend to write a blog post on this topic, highlighting the incredible multidimensionality of some of the greatest visualizations used in data presentation today – weather maps. The best of these present rain, wind, maps, and pressure systems all at the same time, and in a manner nearly anyone can decipher instantly with but a little training.

The conference dinner was also fun, with really good food and a spectrogram contest with participants who were insanely fast. The winners of two of the contests had answers before I could even finish a draft segmentation. I’m not sure who taught them to read spectrograms faster than I read text, but someone did, and I was impressed!

I was glad to be a member of the organizing committee, despite being quite bad at getting corporate sponsors. I contacted over 200 companies, and got 0 sponsors. We had only a couple, mostly publishers, and mostly organized by other committee members. Only one company contacted us on their own. If I were to do it again, I would have contacted the previous delegates from 4 years before, and asked each three questions: “What research tools do you use that you like? What have you bought in the last year? What is the contact information for the salesperson who sold you those items.” With this information, it becomes possible to build a database of exactly how we as phonetics researchers can benefit companies, with contacts to those who would care the most.