Archive for Awesomeness

"Reject the pernicious cult of celebrity"

"Noam Chomsky to become new X-Factor judge", NewsBiscuit 8/23/2014:

Professor of linguistics and political campaigner Noam Chomsky has been confirmed as the new judge on TV talent show The X Factor. ‘Cheryl Cole was still recovering from malaria and we needed someone who could fill the intellectual void,’ said programme creator Simon Cowell, ‘Professor Chomsky is perfect and the audience just loves him.’

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Postcard from Edinburgh

The Edinburgh Festival season is almost over. Giant tents are already being taken down at the BBC site on university land below my office window. Soon (Sunday, August 31) will come the final outdoor concert in the Princes Street Gardens, with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra sitting below a thousand-year-old castle playing dramatic music (Ride of the Valkyries, War March of the Priests from Athalie, Marche Écossaise, 1812 Overture) as hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of fireworks explode in perfect computer-synchronized time to the music.

The Festival Fringe, an enormous array of performances and events dwarfing the actual Edinburgh International Festival, turns the entire city into one huge crazy street party, with jugglers and escapologists and buskers performing in every nook and cranny of the ancient streets and pay-for-tickets performances in every rentable club or hall or church or room that can be turned into performance space. Literally millions of tickets have been sold for literally thousands of performances at literally hundreds of venues (there's a reason I haven't been writing much for Language Log this past month). The Fringe is far too big to provide grammatical advice to performers; one show I went to, a fabulous taiko drumming exhibition, advertised itself under the totally ungrammatical phrase "Japan Marvelous Drummers".

Every comedian in the country has been here this month to try out new material for the fall season in the clubs and theaters, and in consequence I can now bring to Language Log (in case you missed the British newspapers reporting it about a week ago) the Best Joke of 2014.

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CogNeuroCountry

Mariska Mantione, Martijn Figee, and Damiaan Denys, "A case of musical preference for Johnny Cash following deep brain stimulation of the nucleus accumbens", Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 5/6/2014.

Mr. B., a 59-year old married man, was referred to the department of Anxiety disorders, suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) for 46 years. He reported obsessions about fear for uncertainty and illogical things, and compulsions about seeking reassurance and hoarding. At the moment of referral, Mr. B. scored a total of 33 points on the Yale-Brown obsessive-compulsive scale (Y-BOCS; Goodman et al., 1989a,b), corresponding with extremely severe OCD. He scored 18 points on the Hamilton Anxiety Scale (HAM-A; Hamilton, 1959), corresponding with moderate anxiety and 14 points on the Hamilton Depression Scale (HAM-D; Hamilton, 1960), corresponding with mild depression. In spite of extensive treatment with pharmacotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, symptoms were still overpowering and Mr. B. remained extremely hindered in daily living.  

Suffering from treatment-refractory OCD, Mr. B., was included for treatment with deep brain stimulation (DBS) targeted at the nucleus accumbens (NAcc). After signing informed consent, Mr. B., was implanted in December 2006 with two four-contact electrodes (Model 3389, Medtronics, Minneapolis). The electrodes were connected via subcutaneous extensions to Soletra stimulators (Medtronic, Minneapolis) placed bilaterally in an infraclavicular pocket under general anesthesia. The center of the deepest contacts was positioned 3 mm in front of the anterior border of the anterior commissure (AC), 7 mm lateral and 4 mm below the line connecting the anterior and posterior commissure (PC). This was verified by post-operative CT, fused with preoperative MR.

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Editing the world

From the description of Alison Dianotto's "Downworthy: A browser plugin to turn hyperbolic viral headlines into what they really mean":

Downworthy replaces hyperbolic headlines from bombastic viral websites with a slightly more realistic version. For example:

  • "Literally" becomes "Figuratively" "Will Blow Your Mind" becomes "Might Perhaps Mildly Entertain You For a Moment"
  • "One Weird Trick" becomes "One Piece of Completely Anecdotal Horseshit"
  • "Go Viral" becomes "Be Overused So Much That You'll Silently Pray for the Sweet Release of Death to Make it Stop"
  • "Can't Even Handle" becomes "Can Totally Handle Without Any Significant Issue"
  • "Incredible" becomes "Painfully Ordinary"
  • "You Won't Believe" becomes "In All Likelihood, You'll Believe"
  • … and so on. (see the spoilers list below)

Mike Walker's "Literally, a better browsing experience" is a more tightly-focused plugin, literally just changing "literally" to "figuratively". I learned about both of these from Will Oremus, "Browser extension changes 'literally' to 'figuratively'" (The Sydney Morning Herald 4/28/2014), sent in by R.P.

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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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