Archive for January, 2019

Explosive drinks

From Francis Miller in Xi'an, China:

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Chile has nuclear prunes

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Take Care To Fall Into Water

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Technical analysis

Today's xkcd:

Mouseover title: "I [suspect] that we are throwing more and more of our resources, including the cream of our youth, into financial activities remote from the production of goods and services, into activities that generate high private rewards disproportionate to their social productivity. I suspect that the immense power of the computer is being harnessed to this 'paper economy', not to do the same transactions more economically but to balloon the quantity and variety of financial exchanges." –James Tobin, July 1984

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Sinographs by the numbers

John asked:

Does the Unicode process restrict the language people use? For example, I haven't seen any requests to add any new English characters – I can write whatever I like without having to amend the base character set.

Good question and observation!

Our Roman alphabet has 26 X 2 = 52 letters, and you are right.  With them we can write any word that we can say.

It's quite a different matter with Chinese characters.  There are tens of thousands of them, only about 3,000 of which are in fairly common use (covering 99.18% of all occurrences), and about 6,000 of which are in infrequent use (covering about 99.98% of all occurrences).

Most great works of Chinese literature, both modern and premodern, are written within a range of around 3,000 characters or less.

I've never met a single person, no matter how learned, who could actively produce more than 8,000 characters by handwriting, without the aid of any electronic device (I think that there must be an upper limit to the number of different characters the human brain can keep distinct in their brain for active production, which requires intricate neuro-muscular coordination. .

10,000 characters would cover 99.9999999% of all occurrences.

[VHM:  The coverage figures in the previous paragraphs are taken from "Modern Chinese Character Frequency List" by Jun Da.]

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Making our familiars listener with the Brefit rexerendum

"Senate Finds Russian Bots, Bucks Helped Push Brexit Vote Through", NPR Weekend Edition 1/19/2019:

A recent report on Russian influence operations overseas detailed large amounts of money and effort spent to influence the referendum. Scott Simon talks with The New Yorker's Jane Mayer.

Uncharacteristically for a professional speaker, Scott Simon commits two interesting speech errors in his short parts of this short (3:44) interview.

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Listen up

My most vivid memory of being inducted into the U.S. Army in 1969 is learning a new expression. After we were sworn in, an NCO stepped out in front of us and said "Listen up!"  It was obvious what he meant — "attend to instructions from a superior" — and I heard that same phrase a thousand times over the next few months, but I'm pretty sure that I had never heard it in my life before that moment.

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Corgi fighting words

Viral video of two corgis exchanging angry barks:

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Peppa Pig uncensored — for now

Last year, poor Peppa was banned from the airwaves, online video channels, and movie theaters in China after she fell afoul of the censors for allegedly associating with gangsta characters.

"Peppa Pig has been purged" (5/2/18)

Now she's been rehabilitated, and just in time:

"Peppa Pig to celebrate Chinese New Year with special film", Kylie Knott, SCMP (1/12/19)

New characters include Dumpling and Glutinous Rice Ball, both popular Chinese New Year delicacies

The British cartoon character that fell foul with Chinese censors last year

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Ultra-polite term for miso soup

[This is a guest post by Nathan Hopson]

I just came across perhaps the strangest kanji compound in the entire 20+ years since I started learning Japanese:

御御御付 (おみおつけ omiotsuke)

Bottom line: it's miso soup.

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Slavs and slaves

I am in the Czech Republic for lectures and meetings with colleagues.  This morning I climbed up to the gigantic oppidum at the top of a steep hill outside Prague near the little town of Zbraslav.

Oppidum is a Latin word meaning the main settlement in any administrative area of ancient Rome, and applied more generally in Latin to smaller urban settlements than cities, equating to "town" in English (bearing in mind that ancient "cities" could be very small by modern standards). The word is derived from the earlier Latin ob-pedum, "enclosed space", possibly from the Proto-Indo-European *pedóm-, "occupied space" or "footprint".


After agonizing over the pronunciation of the consonant cluster at the beginning of Zbraslav, I speculated over the meaning of the second part of the name (I surmised that the name as a whole means "glory / fame / renown of weapons").  This led to a discussion with my host, Jakub Maršálek, who is well informed about the archeology and history of the region, about the connection between "slave" and "Slav".

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Babies Dismount

Anne Henochowicz spotted this sign in a shopping mall in Central, Hong Kong:

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David Bowie in 1999: The internet is an alien life form

All I have time for this afternoon:

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