Archive for February, 2014

More Metadata Muddles on Google Books

Mark's discovery of a mistitled Google Books entry—a book on experimental theater filed as a 2009 book on management—is entertaining but not that unusual. Like the other metadata mixups at Google books (involving authorship, genre classification and publication date, among other things) that I enumerated in a 2009 post "Google Books: A Metadata Train Wreck," there are probably thousands of cases in which the metadata for one book is associated with an entirely different work. Or at least that's what induction suggests; Paul Duguid and I have happened on quite a number of these, some as inadvertantly comical as Mark's example. Clicking on the entry for a book called Tudor Historical Thought turns up the text of a book on tattoo culture, the entry for an 1832 work on the question of whether the clergy of the Church of England can receive tithes turns up a work by Trotzky, the entry for Last Year at Marienbad turns up the text of Sam Pickering's Letters to a Teacher, and so on (see more examples below the fold). What's particularly interesting about Mark's example, though, is that the work is similarly misidentified on Amazon and Abe Books, which indicates that for many modern titles, at least, the error is likely due not to "some (perhaps algorithmic) drudge on the Google assembly line," as Mark suggests, but to one of the third-party offshore cataloguers on which Google and others rely for their metadata.

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Charles J. Fillmore

Charles J. (Chuck) Fillmore died last week. Lily Wong Fillmore asked me to prepare some brief remarks for the press. Here they are.

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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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Bert Vaux on Here & Now

Yesterday, Bert Vaux got some well-deserved kudos on the NPR radio program Here & Now, as"The Man Behind The Dialect Quiz":

With just 11 days before the end of 2013, The New York Times posted a dialect quiz on its website that drew in millions of readers, making it the site’s most popular page for the year. The quiz is designed to pinpoint the quiz-taker’s exact region, based on the words he or she uses.

The graphics intern who created the mapping algorithm, Josh Katz, was hired for a full-time position and Bert Vaux, the linguist who created the data for the test, began to see an uptick in the activity on his website.

Vaux, a linguistics professor at Cambridge University in England, says when he started teaching at Harvard University in the early 1990s, he noticed a gradual change in the way his students spoke.

He says that for the first couple of weeks, students displayed accents and used words that originated in certain parts of the country, but within several weeks’ time they had all adopted a standard form of American English that made it hard to identify what region they were from.

So Vaux created a dialect survey that he distributed to his students where they would identify words they used in their native regions. He joins Here & Now’s Robin Young to discuss his research.


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Rates of exchange

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58 Facebook genders

Facebook Diversity 2/13/2014:

When you come to Facebook to connect with the people, causes, and organizations you care about, we want you to feel comfortable being your true, authentic self. An important part of this is the expression of gender, especially when it extends beyond the definitions of just “male” or female.” So today, we’re proud to offer a new custom gender option to help you better express your own identity on Facebook.  

We collaborated with our Network of Support, a group of leading LGBT advocacy organizations, to offer an extensive list of gender identities that many people use to describe themselves. Moreover, people who select a custom gender will now have the ability to choose the pronoun they’d like to be referred to publicly — male (he/his), female (she/her) or neutral (they/their).  

We also have added the ability for people to control the audience with whom they want to share their custom gender. We recognize that some people face challenges sharing their true gender identity with others, and this setting gives people the ability to express themselves in an authentic way.

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Another way to misunderstand headlines

MedPage Today is an excellent source for medical news — but recently their email service has started juxtaposing headline-fragments in a way that takes me aback:

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How to learn Chinese and Japanese

Some years ago (in 2008, as a matter of fact), I wrote a post entitled "How to learn to read Chinese".  The current post is intended as a followup and supplement to that post.

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Lunatics, Lovers, and Metadata

Some (perhaps algorithmic) drudge on the Google Books assembly line has a (perhaps accidental) sense of humor. Tracking down a surprising apparent antedating of a piece of managerial jargon, I found this:

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31% more meaningless: Because algorithms

In "Whom loves ya?", 2/12/2014, Geoff Pullum riffed on one of the outcomes of  "a large-scale statistical study of what correlates with numbers of responses to online dating ads", namely that "men who use 'whom' get 31% more contacts from opposite-sex respondents".

It suited Geoff's rhetorical purposes to take this number at face value, but I wondered about where it really comes from, and what if anything it means.

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Microwave display

Jim Unger recently got a new microwave oven made by Haier in China.  He soon noticed that, when the cooking is done, it displays the following notice:  GOOD.  Since that seemed a bit odd, Jim thought about it for awhile, but then realized that it must be a translation of Mandarin hǎole 好了 (lit., "has become good"), which can mean lots of things ("well; okay; all right; ready", and so forth), but in this case indicates "done".

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Led astray by the corpus of memory: a response to Hendrik Hertzberg

The following is a guest post by Ammon Shea, a researcher for the Oxford English Dictionary's Reading Program and formerly a consulting editor for American Dictionaries for Oxford University Press.

Hendrik Hertzberg has made a series of claims recently on the New Yorker web site ("Nobody Said That Then!") about the ostensible inaccuracy of the language used in the television show Masters of Sex. His main contention is that many of the characters' utterances are improbable, asserting that certain words and phrases were not in use at the time that the show takes place (the mid-1950s). One of the problems with making bold and declarative statements about the origins of specific words is that these words have a nasty habit of first appearing much earlier or later than memory or intuition would attest.

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The flood that no one has been unable to stem

That would be the flood of misnegations… John Shinal, "Analysis: Will too many cooks spoil a Microsoft revival?", USA Today 2/14/2014:

Nokia and Microsoft have both been drowned out in a market flood that neither Elop nor anyone at Microsoft, including outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer, has been unable to stem.

 [Tip of the hat to Rick Rubenstein]


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