Eightface

by Dave Kellam

The period of anger

The period is pissed. It seems that using the period at the end of text messages is starting to be seen as passive aggressive.

The period was always the humblest of punctuation marks. Recently, however, it’s started getting angry. I’ve noticed it in my text messages and online chats, where people use the period not simply to conclude a sentence, but to announce “I am not happy about the sentence I just concluded.”

January 12, 2014 ·

IGA fail commercial

I saw this commercial for IGA air during the 2nd Stanley Cup playoff game. I’m pretty sure the kid says “fail” at the end. It has to be one of the most mainstream applications of the fail meme that I’ve seen. There’s also a French version of the commercial.

Update: I realized after the post, that it was a certain kind of mainstream. Honestly, there’s a relatively small Anglo population watching CBC in Montreal, but the commercial aired… so a reasonable number of people must have seen it.

June 5, 2011 ·

Parts of brain can switch functions

MIT neuroscientists have found that parts of the brain can switch functions, and aren’t necessarily predetermined by a genetic blueprint.

The finding suggests that the visual cortex can dramatically change its function — from visual processing to language — and it also appears to overturn the idea that language processing can only occur in highly specialized brain regions that are genetically programmed for language tasks.

March 14, 2011 ·

Our new overlords?

Ken Jenning's final answer vs Watson

The recent set of Jeopardy! matches between Ken Jennings, Brad Rutter and Watson, IBM’s question-answering machine, has been entertaining. Sure, there’s a lot of self-promotion going on, but that’s par for the course with the show. As a trivia nut and computer scientist, this challenge appealed to me on multiple levels. As much as I would have loved to see our carbon-based brethren dominate, I’m not surprised by Watson’s victory. The format of the show presents some challenges. Watson bombed some questions in spectacular fashion, but for straight-up knowledge questions, the machine was dominant.

If you want to read more about the match, there’s lots of commentary, so I’ll leave it at that. However, there is a particular article that I wanted to point out. In his answer to the final question, Jennings riffed on a classic Simpson’s line in welcoming our new computer overlords. Ben Zimmer takes exception to the comment in his piece about the match for The Atlantic.

Elsewhere, Ferrucci has been more circumspect about Watson’s level of “understanding.” In an interview with IBM’s own magazine ForwardView, he said, “For a computer, there is no connection from words to human experience and human cognition. The words are just symbols to the computer. How does it know what they really mean?” In other words, for all of the impressive NLP programming that has gone into Watson, the computer is unable to penetrate the semantics of language, or comprehend how meanings of words are shot through with allusions to human culture and the experience of daily life.

We still have a long way to go before we have computers with true natural language processing.

Baker’s undoubtedly right about that, but we’re still dealing with the limited task of question-answering, not anything even vaguely approaching full-fledged comprehension of natural language, with all of its “nuance, slang, and metaphor.” If Watson had chuckled at that “computer overlords” jab, then I’d be a little worried.

After the Toronto answer to the question about U.S. cities, I remember thinking that Watson must be joking. I actually thought the machines were mocking us on national television. It concerned me. Time to figure out where I put that red pill.

February 17, 2011 ·

Using the long s

Andrew West examines the rules for long s:

It transpires that the rules are quite complicated, with various exceptions, and vary subtly from country to country as well as over time. I have summarized below my current understanding of the rules as used in roman and italic typography in various different countries.

January 2, 2011 ·

One letter Wheel of Fortune

Caitlin Burke solved a puzzle on Wheel of Fortune with just one letter on the board. Pat Sajak and the contestant beside her seemed stunned, thinking it was a miracle, but it wasn’t — she used logic.

Part of the art of designing a game show is making the basic and routine seem chaotic and unpredictable. The trick is, most people watch a show like Wheel of Fortune, and their heads begin swimming with the nearly endless possibilities: twenty-six letters and those hundreds of thousands of words. Burke’s strategy, her puzzles-within-puzzles way of thinking, is designed to narrow the range. That’s why she started with the smallest words first.

Very impressive. There’s a clip of her solving the puzzle in the Esquire article.

November 10, 2010 ·

Shakespeare in original pronunciation

Paul Meier, a theatre professor at the University of Kansas, has been researching the original pronunciation of Shakespeare, enabling audiences to hear what the plays would have sounded like in the Bard’s time.

“The audience will hear rough and surprisingly vernacular diction, they will hear echoes of Irish, New England and Cockney that survive to this day as ‘dialect fossils.’ And they will be delighted by how very understandable the language is, despite the intervening centuries.”

The clip above features an interview with Meier, and some examples from an OP production at the university. For a longer scene, check out this video for a longer scene.

November 9, 2010 ·

Oh no, words!

Nation Shudders At Large Block Of Uninterrupted Text. The Onion, spot on as usual.

Unable to rest their eyes on a colorful photograph or boldface heading that could be easily skimmed and forgotten about, Americans collectively recoiled Monday when confronted with a solid block of uninterrupted text.

Dumbfounded citizens from Maine to California gazed helplessly at the frightening chunk of print, unsure of what to do next. Without an illustration, chart, or embedded YouTube video to ease them in, millions were frozen in place, terrified by the sight of one long, unbroken string of English words.

March 11, 2010 ·