A weblog by Will Fitzgerald

Category Archives: Personal and family


A response to Mark‘s tagging me.

Seven factz about me:

  1. Will Fitzgerald didn’t use a computer until he was 23. It had cards.
  2. It is difficult for Will Fitzgerald to refer to himself in the third person.
  3. Despite his descriptivist linguistic training, Will Fitzgerald tries to distinguish ‘between’ and ‘among’.
  4. Will Fitzgerald was known as “Bill” until he was 33.
  5. Will Fitzgerald has half of a house named in his honor. He doesn’t know why.
  6. Will Fitzgerald once made his ESL class erupt in laughter by referring to ‘green Jewesses’ instead of ‘green beans’. (judias verdes vs. judías verdes).
  7. Will Fitzgerald (who has moved around a lot) has been a member or active participant of a Methodist church(United Methodist, Roseville), a Southern Baptist church (Calvary Baptist, Roseville), an independent fundamentalist church (First Church, Wellston), a Reformed Church in America congregation (University Reformed, East Lansing), an Evangelical Presbyterian church (Evangelical Presbyterian, Carbondale, now affiliated with the Presbyterian Church of America), a Spanish Baptist church (Iglesia Evangélica Bautista de Gracia, Barcelona), a Presbyterian USA church (North Presbyterian, Kalamazoo), a Christian Reformed church (Immanuel CRC, Kalamazoo), a Mennonite USA/Brethren bi-affiliated church (Reba Place Church, Evanston, now just Mennonite-affiliated), two independent Christian communities (Reba Place Fellowship, Evanston and Church of the Sojourners, San Francisco), a Canadian Anglican church (Christ Church Cathedral, Fredericton) and two Mennonite USA churches (Pine Grove, Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Mennonite Fellowship. He has more or less made up his mind.

That was fun, Mark. Rather than tag seven others, I present to you this fish tank. Click on the tank to feed the fish.


You ain't seen nothing yet

Figures from Nathan Stubblefield's patent application for a wireless telephone

Who invented the wireless telephone?

It’s been 100 years since “American inventor and Kentucky melon farmer” Nathan B. Stubblefield received the patent for the first wireless cell phone (UK Telegraph article, via Mirabilis).

Today, the company I work for, Powerset, launched its search product for general public use at powerset.com. It’s a really cool search and browsing engine for Wikipedia, with lots of information gleaned from the Freebase project as well.

Reading about Mr. Stubblefield made me want to know about other inventors who were melon farmers. Searching for “inventors who raise melons” does, in fact, return Powerset’s republished Wikipedia page about Mr. Stubblefield, with its first sentence helpfully highlighted. And, as it turns out, lots of other inventors who raised melons, including (of course) melon researchers, with nice results about watermelon, muskmelon, and galias.

Most people agree, even Peter Norvig (Google’s head of research), that search is in its early days. Google, Yahoo!, Live, Ask, and the other search engine companies have led the way, and Powerset is adding a new set of signals, based on principles from natural language understanding and knowledge representation, to the mix. (And, note, these are additional signals; no one from Powerset has ever claimed that current search signals, such as the presence of keywords or page rank, were unimportant.) These are relatively early days for Powerset, and early days for search. Early, and exciting, days.

And that makes me wonder: Who said, “You ain’t seen nothing yet?”

Canoeing the Kalamazoo River: Goose Lake to Twin Pines Campground

Bess has this Grand Plan: to canoe the Kalamazoo River from its headwaters (more or less) to Lake Michigan, and to do it in parts. Yesterday, the Grand Plan commenced. She and I drove to the Twin Lakes Campground near Pulaski Michigan, waking the attendants at 10 am, who dropped us off up river. Our river canoeing skills are rusting (well, mine were never very good to start with), but we managed to stay dry.

It was a perfect day to canoe: not too hot or cold, and early enough in the season that there were no bugs. The river at this point is technically the South Branch of the Kalamazoo River, and seemed clean and clear, and free of major snags (we did get snagged up once, and though it was touch and go for a moment, we freed ourselves and never got wet).

And lots of wildlife: lots of deer (technically the South Branch of the deer–mostly we saw their white tails as the ran away); nesting geese and goslings including several pairs of domestic geese gone wild; an owl (that we think later was being attacked by a murder of crows); yellow warblers;a very flashy redwing; turtles; and (we think) muskrat dropping to the water from their sunning spots.

A day off

I have a couple of days off, so I’m writing a bit on ‘a simple desire’, hanging out with Bess and Jane, uploading MP3 of the afternoon session of the 2008 Golden Gate singing to my website, and watching a waterboarding video.

Foul shots

I talked to my brother Dave on the phone today, and we agreed that we haven’t played basketball in 300 years. But we have a hoop in the backyard, and I’ve decided to try to get ‘good’ at shooting foul shots. The advantage of foul shots, of course, is that you don’t have to move very much.

My first try was abysmal: 11/50. Yesterday was worse: 10/50. Today, almost, but not quite, not terrible: 19/50.

This is the sort of thing Twitter was invented for.

Happy 77th Birthday, Dad

It was my father’s birthday today, and we visited him at the nursing home this evening. We called several of my brothers and even got through to them. Steve complained that I haven’t been writing much in my weblog–guilty as charged, but more than you write in yours, Steve!

Dad has swallowing problems, so we couldn’t bring him cake, but he’s recently been able to eat toast, so we brought our toaster and home made flax bread. Dad loves his toast, so this we a good present. Unfortunately, he did have trouble swallowing it, and he coughed a lot.

Well, I love my toast, too, and I decided today that that’s how I want to go, so I give you my obituary template:

William Fitzgerald, age XX of Kalamazoo, Michigan, passed away yesterday after a long and valiant battle with toast.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, where-ever you are.

Christmas 2007 newsletter

In case you’d like to read our Christmas 2007 newletter

Traveling kindness

I had a short article published in our local paper, the Kalamazoo Gazette:

It was New Year’s Eve, and things were finally starting to go right. Our car had broken down outside Forsyth, Ga., on Christmas Eve, and we had had to hitchhike to northern Florida to visit my mother, leaving our car at a garage for repairs.
When we got back to Forsyth, the repair shop declared even more repairs were necessary, and we had to ask my wife’s parents to wire us some money. The closest Western Union station was in Macon, Ga., though, and we had to hitch rides to pick the money up.
According to Bess’ watch, we had just enough time to get the money, rush to the bus stop and catch the last bus back up to Forsyth.
We ran to the bus station with just a few minutes before the bus was to leave.
It looked like things were finally getting easier. But the bus had already left. Bess’ watch had stopped, and it was actually later than we thought. It was a low point of a very difficult trip.
Looking around, I noticed a large number of church buses were revving up. Apparently, there was a Baptist youth convention going on. With faint hope, I stepped into one of the buses.
“Is there any chance you all are going to Forsyth?” I asked, and then explained our predicament.
“No,” said the bus driver, “it’s out of our way. But wait. Hey, kids!” he shouted. “Should we take this couple to Forsyth?”
The children all screamed “Yeah!”
We got on the bus, and the kind Baptists of Georgia carried us to our waiting car.

RIP, David G. Lockwood

David G. Lockwood has died, reports the Linguist List.

David Lockwood was one of my professors when I did my degree in linguistics at Michigan State in the 70’s. He was (and remained, I think) an adherent of “stratificationalism,” a kind of constraint-based network theory of language. His classes were the closest I had to mathematical (remember, this was in the heyday of symbolist linguistic theory). I also took historical linguistics, structural (descriptive) linguistics and phonology from him. I never took any Slavic language or linguistics classes from him, mores the pity.

Lockwood was quirky and interesting. He cared deeply about his research; he was, perhaps, the first professor I knew who ‘had a view’ with respect to theory, and cared that that theory be expanded upon and ‘win’ in the marketplace of ideas (I met many others later on, of course). I think, too, using his Intro to Stratificational Linguistics and his edited Readings in Stratificational Linguistics was the first time I knew the author of a non-introductory textbook. (My first linguistic professor, Julia S. Falk, wrote the Introduction to Linguistics we used; but it was an overview book). I really wish I’d had a chance to talk about computational linguistics with him, and how stratificational theory fits into that.

I learned a lot from David Lockwood, and I’m grateful to have known him.