Mark Liberman grew up in Mansfield Center, Connecticut. After being expelled from Harvard for anti-war activities in 1969, he was drafted and sent to Vietnam. He got a PhD from MIT in 1975, and worked at Bell Labs until 1990. Since then, he's been a faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania, where he teaches linguistics, cognitive science and computer science, directs the Linguistic Data Consortium, is faculty master of Ware College House and director of College Houses and Academic Services, and does research in phonetics and computational linguistics. Mark blogs at Language Log.
Why do you blog? > Blogging is a new and interesting kind of conversation - or maybe an old and interesting kind of conversation on a new scale - and I'm a talkative person.
What has been your best blogging experience? > Corresponding with people that I've never met.
What has been your worst blogging experience? > Our failed experiment with comments at Language Log. We found that it was hard to keep the signal-to-noise ratio up without more editorial intervention than I have time for. This is in contrast to our email correspondence, which has almost always been interesting and well informed.
What would be your main blogging advice to a novice blogger? > Work in a fixed amount of time - say 45 minutes a day - and try to improve what you can do in that time. A woman who taught me piano-tuning, long ago, said: 'Do the best you can quickly and you'll gradually get better; try to be perfect and you'll never get faster.'
Who are your intellectual heroes? > Isaac Newton, Hermann Grassmann, Alan Turing.
What are you reading at the moment? > William Clark, Academic Charisma and the Origins of the Research University.
What is the best novel you've ever read? > Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series.
What is your favourite movie? > The African Queen. Or maybe Sergio Leone's 'Dollars' trilogy, especially For A Few Dollars More. But let me say that 'What is your favourite...' is a question that I find it very hard to answer, in general.
Who is your favourite composer? > J.S. Bach. Or maybe Robert Johnson.
Can you name a major moral, political or intellectual issue on which you've ever changed your mind? > It's harder to name one on which I haven't.
Can you name a work of non-fiction which has had a major and lasting influence on how you think about the world? > Steven Levy's Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. It helped me to understand my generation.
Who are your political heroes? > Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Edmund Burke.
If you could effect one major policy change in the governing of your country, what would it be? > Right now: an unequivocal renunciation of torture. There are lots of more positive changes that are needed - it's shameful that this one even has to be mentioned.
What would you do with the UN? > Although it's sclerotic, hypocritical, mostly useless, and apparently unreformable, I guess that it's better to leave it in place than to abandon it.
What do you consider to be the main threat to the future peace and security of the world? > Kleptocracy.
Do you think the world (human civilization) has already passed its best point, or is that yet to come? > As a matter of principle, we ought to believe that the best is yet to come; and the story is a plausible one.
What would be your most important piece of advice about life? > If you persist in working hard at something you care about, opportunities will probably come along. If not, at least you will have put your energy into something that matters to you.
Do you think you could ever be married to, or in a long-term relationship with, someone with radically different political views from your own? > Sure.
What do you consider the most important personal quality? > Citizenship.
What personal fault do you most dislike? > Self-satisfied incompetence.
Do you have any prejudices you're willing to acknowledge? > British radio and television newscasters, interviewers and their guests all sound to me like Monty Python or Fry and Laurie out-takes. This is completely unfair.
What is your favourite proverb? > 'Truth can never be told so as to be understood, and not be believ'd.'
If you were to relive your life to this point, is there anything you'd do differently? > Yes.
Where would you most like to live (other than where you do)? > Oceania.
What talent would you most like to have? > Time travel.
What animal would you most like to be? > A bird.
[The normblog profile is a weekly Friday morning feature. A list of all the profiles to date, and the links to them, can be found here.]