As you can probably guess from my URL and the list of links on the sidebar, you’ll quickly realize I am somewhat obsessed about disambiguating myself from the masses on the interwebs who share my somewhat common name. While, I’m no Joe Smith or David Johnson, this task still presents challenges, especially when you consider that there was a Lee Becker at in the department of Computer Science at Worcester Polytech who specialized in artificial intelligence and slavic linguistics. Further complicating matters there is another one of us just down the road at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs in the department of Psychology. If you trust my Google first-page, selection bias, you’d be convinced that the Lee Beckers of the world must all be interested in some combination of computer science, linguistics, and cognitive science. But a quick search on LinkedIn will show that we do plenty of other things. Furthermore, based on a series of wrongly addressed e-mails, I know there are one or more Lee Beckers in New York who are somehow affiliated with sports and building management.
While this task is called named-entity disambiguation in natural language processing, I like to draw a parallel to verb sense disambiguation for my own situation. With many verbs, the dominant will account for most of its occurrences. For example sense-1 of work refers to the act of getting something done, but occasionally it gives way to sense-2, to knead or fold, like with bread. My megalomania wants the Silat-loving, computational linguist from Colorado to be sense-1, but I think I’m going to need to be more prolific and more diligent before this is going to happen.
Do other people obsess about this? Perhaps this is all a byproduct of not having a middle name.
In 10th grade, my U.S. history teacher taught our class about the American Civil War by playing the Ken Burns’ documentary, frequently pausing at the salient points to interject other notes of worth. This approach often lead to digressions about the ills of drunk driving or the dangers getting married before you’re thirty, and consequently it took us nearly a month to get through these videos. While the combination of Mr. Burns’ thought provoking storytelling combined with Mr. Davis’ tirades provided an education and entertaining exploration of the Civil War, my biggest takeaway came not from the history, but from the soundtrack.
Ashokan Farewell features prominently in the documentary, getting played 25 times throughout the span of the eleven-hour series. In one segment we heard a voice reading “Grant stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk, and now we stand by each other.” over this captivating fiddle-based waltz. And then the voice signed it “William Tecumseh Sherman”. It was at this point a classmate and I realized that you could read about anything to Ashokan Farewell, and it would be automatically imbued with incredible depth and gravitas. More importantly, this could be exploited to great comedic effect. We soon began amuse ourselves during Mr. Davis’ lectures by reciting nonsensical prose, imagining it set to this tune, and closing with the all important “William Tecumseh Sherman”. Shortly after, I discovered that Conan O’Brien and his staff found similar humor, producing a short sketch wherein Conan writes letters to his parents from summer camp.
This idea sat dormant for far too long, until late 2008 year when in an e-mail thread with some friends it was mentioned that reading a heartfelt letter in a raspy voice over “That song from The Civil War” equalled comedy gold. Within a day we were producing our own takes on this theme sharing them with each other via e-mail, but just as quickly as this idea resurfaced we allowed this idea to go back into hibernation… until today, when my friend Tom had reminded us of our silliness, and now I feel the time has come to share some of this with the rest of the world. I should note that the samples below were not the first Ashokan trailers produced, but are the ones that I made. Hopefully, my friends will upload their videos, so that I can update this post with some new links.