Thursday, August 19, 2010


1. The "Patel"ization of motels (via RVI): A retelling of how a small economically savvy immigrant community came to dominate the US motel industry.
While some of us were sleeping, a remarkable revolution has taken place. In the past 25 years, members of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) acquired more than 20,000 hotels with more than one million rooms. This represents more than 50 percent of the economy lodging properties in the U.S. and 40 percent of all hotel properties including many upscale hotels. If you bear in mind that Indian Americans constitute less than one percent of America's population, the achievement appears extraordinary. The market value of these hotels totals about $40 billion.

2. From Unmitigated Disaster to Merely Disaster by John Maudlin (via Joe Koster): A pdf document which seeks to explain in plain English, the confusing mess that Deepwater Horizon has become, although I must admit some unease because of excessive reliance on a single source. A nice read, however.
But here is the good news. It turns out that there are about the equivalent of two Exxon Valdezes a year from natural oil seepage from the floor of the oceans. The Gulf has an ecosystem of bacteria that eat that oil, which are then eaten again by plankton. To those bacteria, dispersed oil is filet mignon. They thrive and grow rapidly, turning that toxic waste into nutrients, which are absorbed by the plankton. The bacteria keep on growing until they lose their source of nutrition (the toxic oil) and then die out over time. Note: once absorbed by the bacteria, the oil is no longer toxic. There are no toxic minerals like mercury introduced into the ecosystem.

Scientists are somewhat baffled. There are tens of millions of gallons of oil that seem to be missing. It seems that the Gulf is providing its own (albeit chemically assisted) defense mechanism. Overton thinks that within less than five years, and maybe only a few years, the ecosystem will largely be back.

Monday, August 16, 2010

On English accents

You may have heard this before, but the great state of Arizona thinks that heavily accented teachers may be a bad influence on school kids, who are still in the process of developing their language skills. 

As an academic, and non-native speaker of English, the issue strikes fairly close to home. But the exact nature of my discomfort is somewhat indirect.

Let me explain.

I came to the United States almost exactly 11 years ago. Like almost everyone else, I was initially amused by differences in American spellings ("color" not "colour","check" not "cheque") , pronunciations ("zee" not "zed", "semi"), and syntax ("meet with me"). However, over a period of time, I internalized this "fork" of standard English, like almost everybody else around me. 

Indeed, many Americanisms felt more natural, and less contrived ("meter" over "metre").

Over the last decade, I have also noticed that my speech indeed sounds different, depending on the environment I find myself in. The amount of "Indian" or "American" accent that gets dialed in, is variable - even at the risk of sounding inauthentic or phony.

Recently, I visited my 7 year old niece, who has lived in England for the past five years. During the first 2-3 days, I was amazed that she had not yet fully picked up a British accent, since most immigrant kids of that age in the US usually do.

Then, one day we visited one of her friends, and boy, did she sound different! She spoke without the slightest trace of an Indian accent. 

Even as a kid, she was calibrating her speech to her audience!

Whether the motivation was efficient communication, or not sounding like an outsider, I still don't know.