Archive for August, 2016

Trump translated

In “Trump’s Tower of Babble:  How the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis explains Donald Trump’s rantings — and why the rest of the world is so confused” (Foreign Policy, 8/30/16), Christopher M. Livaccari and Jeff Wang allege:

Questions about the meaning of Trump’s words… may be a type of category mistake. Trump and his supporters seem to be adherents to a strong version of what linguists call the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis — the idea that the language we use has an effect on our thinking and the way we perceive the world.  There’s only one thing the Trump campaign seems to sincerely believe, in other words — namely, that if it says something enough times, no matter how disconnected from truth or logic, other people will begin to believe it.

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Speak Polish and die

Arkadiusz Jóźwik, an immigrant from Poland who had been living in England for four years, decided last Saturday evening (for the first time, according to his brother) to go down to a pizzeria in a strip mall in Harlow, Essex, and collect his pizza rather than have it delivered. He stood outside with a friend eating a slice, and a group of teenage boys who often hung out there heard him speaking to his friend in Polish (he didn’t know much English). That linguistic evidence of foreignness was enough for one of the teenagers to attack him. Others joined in and savagely beat him. The friend was also attacked, sustaining fractured bones in his hands and bruising to his stomach. Both men were taken to a local hospital, but Arkadiusz had to be transferred to Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge to be treated for a head injury, and by Monday he was dead.

Such is the poisonous atmosphere that has emerged in some areas of England since the June 23 vote in which a majority of the UK’s electorate voted for leaving the European Union.

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#VeteransForKaepernick

Yesterday, #VeteransForKaepernick became the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter, with 264k tweets. (If you’re just returning from a vacation on Mars, you can read about the background here or here.)

This reaction confirmed my impression that the end of the draft might be one of the reasons for the growing polarization of American politics. And it reminded me of an experience that I posted about back in 2003. I’ll copy the anecdote below to save you all the trouble of following the link.

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Kindly do the needful

A phishing spam I received today from “Europe Trade” (it claims to be in Wisconsin but its address domain is in Belarus) said this:

Good Day sir/madam,

I am forwarding the attached document to you as instructed for confirmation,

Please kindly do the needful and revert

Best regards
Sarah Griffith

There were two attachments, allegedly called “BL-document.pdf” and “Invoice.pdf”; they were identical. Their icons said they were PDF files of size 21KB (everyone trusts PDF), but viewing them in Outlook caused Word Online to open them, whereupon they claimed to be password-protected PDF files of a different size, 635KB. However, the link I was supposed to click to open them actually led to a misleadingly named HTML file, which doubtless would have sucked me down to hell or sent all my savings to Belarus or whatever. I don’t know what you would have done (some folks are more gullible than others), but I decided I would not kindly do the needful, or even revert. Sorry, Sarah.

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Voice recognition for English and Mandarin typing revisited

In “Voice recognition for English and Mandarin typing ” (8/24/16), we took a brief look at a Stanford-University of Washington-Baidu study that showed, according to an NPR article, that voice recognition finally beat humans at typing.  The title of the original study is “Speech Is 3x Faster than Typing for English and Mandarin Text Entry on Mobile Devices”, and the authors are Sherry Ruan, Jacob O. Wobbrock, Kenny Liou, Andrew Ng, and James Landay.

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Clueless Microsoft language processing

A rather poetic and imaginative abstract I received in my email this morning (it’s about a talk on computational aids for composers), contains the following sentence:

We will metaphorically drop in on Wolfgang composing at home in the morning, at an orchestra rehearsal in the afternoon, and find him unwinding in the evening playing a spot of the new game Piano Hero which is (in my fictional narrative) all the rage in the Viennese coffee shops.

There’s nothing wrong with the sentence. What makes me bring it to your notice is the extraordinary modification that my Microsoft mail system performed on it. I wonder if you can see the part of the message that it felt it should mess with, in a vain and unwanted effort at helping me do my job more efficiently?

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“I don’t think you cannot deny someone the right”

Jamison Hensley, “Ravens’ John Harbaugh defends Colin Kaepernick’s right to protest anthem“, ESPN sports 8/29/2016:

Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Monday that he respects Colin Kaepernick’s right to protest the national anthem and cited a French Enlightenment philosopher in doing so.  

“Voltaire so eloquently stated, ‘I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend it until death your right to say it,'” Harbaugh said. “That’s a principle that our country is founded on. I don’t think you cannot deny someone the right to speak out or mock or make fun or belittle anybody else’s opinion.”

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Unicode: The brontosaurus emoji

Today’s xkcd:

Mouseover title: “I’m excited about the proposal to add a ‘brontosaurus’ emoji codepoint because it has the potential to bring together a half-dozen different groups of pedantic people into a single glorious internet argument.”

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Turkish written with Latin letters half a millennium ago

In “Türkçe’nin 500 Yıl Önce Latin Harfleriyle Yazılışı” (7/26/16), Abdurrahman Onur Çalışır presents a Turkish text written in Latin letters together with a translation into Latin:

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The new AI is so lifelike it’s prejudiced!

Arvind Narayanan, “Language necessarily contains human biases, and so will machines trained on language corpora“, Freedom to Tinker 8/24/2016:

We show empirically that natural language necessarily contains human biases, and the paradigm of training machine learning on language corpora means that AI will inevitably imbibe these biases as well.

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Tom Wolfe discovers language

In Tom Wolfe’s ‘Kingdom,’ Speech Is The One Weird Trick“, NPR Weekend Edition Saturday 8/27/2016:

One of America’s most distinguished men of letters says he believes that speech, not evolution, has made human beings into the creative, imaginative, deliberate, destructive, and complicated beings who invented the slingshot and the moon shot, and wrote the words of the Bible, Don Quixote, Good Night Moon, the backs of cereal boxes, and Fifty and Shades of Grey [sic].  

The Kingdom of Speech is Tom Wolfe’s first non-fiction book in 16 years. Wolfe tells NPR’s Scott Simon that speech is “the attribute of attributes,” because it’s so unrelated to most other things about animals. “We’ve all been taught that we evolved from animals, and here is something that is totally absent from animal life,” he says.

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Rexthor

Today’s xkcd:

Mouseover Title: “The 95% confidence interval suggests Rexthor’s dog could also be a cat, or possibly a teapot.”

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Sino-Roman hybrid characters

Founded in 1858, Keio is the oldest university in Japan and one of the best, also ranking high in world ratings.  Its name is written 慶應 in kanji.  That’s a lot of strokes to scribble down every time you want to write the name of your university, so Keio people often write it this way:   广+K 广+O (imagine that the “K” and the “O” are written inside of the 广).  That makes 6 strokes and 4 strokes instead of 15 strokes and 17 strokes respectively, 10 strokes total instead of 32.

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