Archive for Awesomeness

TPP

Today's xkcd:

Mouseover title: "I sympathize with the TPP protagonist because I, too, have progressed through a surprising number of stages of life despite spending entire days stuck against simple obstacles."

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Epic software rant

From Dave Noon, "Christ, I hate Blackboard", Lawyers, Guns & Money 1/24/2014:

Hundreds of years from now, after disease and fire and famine have thinned the human herd to a shrunken patchwork of sagging, skeletal bands of jagged, half-mad wraiths — when the parched soil chokes forth desiccated roots and the air is a toxic brume slumping down on the arched, knotted backs of the still-barely-living — a remote spur of humanity will somehow recover the capacity to speak, an ability long since abandoned by their ancestors, who were mute-struck with the unfathomable despair of those cursed to watch everything they love die. After generations of dry-throated croaking and lung-starched wheezing, their tongues swollen with thirst and punctured with abscesses that never heal, these distant people will bring forth a new language to survey the boundaries of their pain. [...]

On the outskirts of this new language, lurking on its crimsoned frontier, will lie words that will themselves have been cast into exile – foul offgassings within a lexicon that itself stands as a towering monument to the boundlessly obscene, words that will curve backward and devour themselves, each one an afflicted universe in the process of total collapse, words that exist for microseconds before streaking, unremembered and unmourned, into the void.  

These are the words, if I could shit them into being, that I would use to catalogue the depth of my loathing for Blackboard.

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The pending demise of Facebook (and Princeton)

John Cannarella & Joshua A. Spechler, "Epidemiological modeling of online social network dynamics", posted on arXiv.org 1/17/2014:

The last decade has seen the rise of immense online social networks (OSNs) such as MySpace and Facebook. In this paper we use epidemiological models to explain user adoption and abandonment of OSNs, where adoption is analogous to infection and abandonment is analogous to recovery. We modify the traditional SIR model of disease spread by incorporating infectious recovery dynamics such that contact between a recovered and infected member of the population is required for recovery. The proposed infectious recovery SIR model (irSIR model) is validated using publicly available Google search query data for "MySpace" as a case study of an OSN that has exhibited both adoption and abandonment phases. The irSIR model is then applied to search query data for "Facebook," which is just beginning to show the onset of an abandonment phase. Extrapolating the best fit model into the future predicts a rapid decline in Facebook activity in the next few years.

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Reindeer talk

It's Christmas Eve.  Tonight Santa Claus will be flying through the sky in his sleigh pulled by nine reindeer to distribute gifts to all the good little boys and girls around the world.  The names of the reindeer, as we all know, are Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder (also spelled Dunder and Donner), Blitzen (also spelled Blixem and Blixen), and, of course, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Wikpedia informs us:

In An American Anthology, 1787–1900, Edmund Clarence Stedman reprints the 1844 Clement Clarke Moore version of the poem, including the German spelling of "Donder and Blitzen," rather than the original 1823 version using the Dutch spelling, "Dunder and Blixem."[1] Both phrases translate as "Thunder and Lightning" in English, though German for thunder is now spelled Donner, and the Dutch words would nowadays be spelled Donder and Bliksem.

Rudolph wasn't added to the team until 1939, and that was in a version of the story written by Robert L. May for the Montgomery Ward chain of department stores.

But that's not what I really wanted to talk about in this post.  Rather, I want to introduce Language Log readers to a most curious Finnish word concerning reindeer behavior.

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The ultimate earworms

From Lev Michael at Greater Blogazonia:

I was briefly excited by the title of a recent Language Log post, Earworms and White Bears, thinking it might have something to say about, well, worms that people put in their ears. However, we immediately learn that the earworms in question are simply catchy tunes that get caught in people’s minds.

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Galbraith: the secret clue

Patrick Juola's guest post on identifying the authorship of The Cuckoo's Calling (now number 1 in the Amazon hardback bestseller list) is fascinating. But I seem to be the only person in the world who picked up the secret message that Joanne "J. K." Rowling sent when she picked the pseudonym under which she would publish her first crime novel. It is amazing that no one else picked up on it, but there we are: it was just me. I saw it as soon as… well, as soon as the Sunday Times revealed their discovery of the novel's pseudonymous nature, actually, which is not quite as good as seeing it before the story was all over the newspapers, but I still think I deserve a lot of credit for my penetrating intelligence. I can't imagine why I don't do crosswords; I'd probably win prizes.

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Linguistics Goes to Hollywood

On April 19, the Linguistics Department at UC San Diego (aka the Extreme Southwest Wing of Language Log Plaza) hosted a special event as part of our celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the Department.

The event was entitled Linguistics Goes to Hollywood: Creators of the Klingon, Na'vi and Dothraki Languages, a panel discussion featuring Marc Okrand (creator of Klingon, Star Trek), Paul Frommer (creator of Na'vi, Avatar), and David J. Peterson (creator of Dothraki, Game of Thrones).

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Ayiti Pare

"MIT and Haiti sign agreement to promote Kreyòl-language STEM education", MIT News Office 4/17/2013:

MIT and Haiti signed a new joint initiative today to promote Kreyòl-language education in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines, part of an effort to help Haitians learn in the language most of them speak at home. [...]

The idea that more Haitian education should occur in Kreyòl is a longtime belief of MIT linguistics professor Michel DeGraff, a native of Haiti, who has contended that Kreyòl has been improperly marginalized in the Haitian classroom. DeGraff’s extensive research on public perceptions of Kreyòl, and on the language itself, has led him to assert that its perception as a kind of exceptionally simplified hybrid tongue, in comparison to English or French, unfairly diminishes the language.

The initiative is meant not to replace French, DeGraff added, but to help Kreyòl-speaking students “build a solid foundation in their own language.”

The technology-based open education resources, he noted, are meant to promote “active learning,” as opposed to drill-based rote learning techniques.

The initiative is being funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation and by MIT.

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How many possible English tweets are there?

And how long would it take to read them all out loud?

Randall Munroe answers these questions today at xkcd's what if? page — the answer involves Claude Shannon, a rock 100 miles wide and 100 miles high, and a very long-lived bird (or perhaps a reliable species of birds). You should definitely read the whole thing.

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Signs of the singularity

I've recently learned that there's a field called "Science of Science Policy", parsed as [Science of [Science Policy]] rather than [[Science of Science] Policy]. The Wikipedia article on the subject says that

The science of science policy (SoSP) is an emerging interdisciplinary research area that seeks to develop theoretical and empirical models of the scientific enterprise. This scientific basis can be used to help government, and society in general, make better R&D management decisions by establishing a scientifically rigorous, quantitative basis from which policy makers and researchers may assess the impacts of the Nation’s scientific and engineering enterprise, improve their understanding of its dynamics, and assess the likely outcomes. Examples of research in the science of science policy include models to understand the production of science, qualitative and quantitative methods to estimate the impact of science, and processes for choosing from alternative science portfolios.

The same article also observes that

The federal government of the United States has long been a supporter of SoSP.

In other words, the federal government has a Science of Science Policy policy.

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Oldest linguistics department: research needed

Uh-oh! A friend of mine who recently looked at the websites of the Departments of Linguistics at both the University of Chicago and the University of Pennsylvania just pointed out to me that each of them claims to be the oldest department of linguistics in the USA. This is bad. Language Log is headquartered on a server at Penn. Now we don't know whether our home is the oldest department of linguistics in the USA or not.

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Just in time for Open Access Week

Today marks the beginning of Open Access Week, and last week's announcement about changes to the Linguistic Society of America's publications program was like an early OA Week present. Some highlights:

  • All content published in Language will be made freely available on the new LSA website after a one-year embargo period.
  • Authors who wish to have their content available immediately, either on the Language site or on other websites, may pay a $400 article processing fee to do so.
  • The contents of Language will continue to be immediately available to LSA members and to other subscribers of Project MUSE.

Information about more Open Access goodness to come at the LSA's Annual Meeting in January here.

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I can do pretty much whatever minus not being stupid

I just really like this sentence from the Baltimore Orioles' Nolan Reimold, who is recovering slowly from a herniated disk in his neck. "I can do pretty much whatever minus not being stupid." I find that a great sentence that could be used in a lot of situations, e.g. retirement …

No big linguistic point. Just three nice little dialectal variants in a row — that use of "whatever"; "minus" in place of "except for", and the inclusion of "not" in such a context. I think they've all been discussed in posts at one time or another, but this three-in-a-row is a gem, plus [oh, there's a 'plus'; I'm infected] I love the sentiment.

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Joint LSA/MLA Organized Session on Open Access

The 87th Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America is scheduled to be held in Boston, January 3-6, 2013. As it happens, the 128th Annual Convention of the Modern Language Association will also be held in Boston on the same dates. The LSA and MLA have planned a number of joint activities for meeting attendees.

The LSA's Committee of Editors of Linguistics Journals (CELxJ) will sponsor an organized session on Open Access publishing, to be held at the LSA on Thursday, January 3, 4-7pm. In addition to yours truly, our confirmed panelists include:

I hope that anyone planning to attend the LSA or the MLA will make time to attend this important and timely session. Building on its efforts with eLanguage, the LSA has recently committed to extend the range of the journal Language to include online-only, Open Access material; a business model for supporting Open Access publications is currently under consideration and will be available before the panel meets. The MLA Convention's Presidential Theme is Avenues of Access, including Open Access and the future of scholarly communication. The efforts on the part of both of these organizations to increase public access to scholarly work will be among the topics under discussion in this session.

Check this space soon for more/updated information. [ Update, 10/2/2012 -- abstracts for the session are now posted. ]

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The modern phonetician

I was unaware until today (thanks to Paul Carter for the link) that at the Congress Dinner of the 2nd International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, in London on the 25th of July 1935, the assembled phoneticians heard toasts to the King and to the phonetic sciences, and a recitation, and a phonetic experiment, and Daniel Jones's performance of Chaucer's "Pardoner's Tale" in the original Middle English, and a demonstration of sign language, and finally the distinguished phonetician and linguist Harold E. Palmer took to the floor and performed a spectacular song that began:

I wish to be the pattern of a modern phonetician
To know the sounds of languages, and also in addition
The sum of their varieties, ancestral or collateral
Arranged upon the triangle, the square or quadrilateral . . .

You can read (or sing) the lyrics in full on this page. The tune, of course, is Gilbert and Sullivan's "Modern Major General". I just wish I'd been there. But I was born several decades too late.

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