California DMV thinks "INFOS3C" is a dirty word


The California DMV has rejected Opendns founder David Ulevitch's application for an "1NFOS3C" vanity license plate because it includes "a term of lust or depravity." Read the rest

Computer-mining poetry from the New York Times's obituary headlines


The standard format for a New York Times lead obit headline goes NAME, AGE, Dies; STATEMENT OF ACCOMPLISHMENT (e.g. "Suzanne Mitchell, 73, Dies; Made Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders a Global Brand. Read the rest

Your In America, an anti-racist Twitter account devoted to Muphry's Law


Muphry's Law predicts that "if you write anything criticising editing or proofreading, there will be a fault in what you have written." Read the rest

Peasant meme


Doges are done; sneks are so September. What's next? @Hay_Man's Peasant Memes! Read the rest

Lin-Manuel Miranda makes a one-act musical out of a single run-on Trump sentence


It's got a catchy beat, I could dance to it! (And Peggy!) Read the rest

Pigeons can distinguish real words from fake non-words

From the study.

We know that pigeons are capable of becoming crafty drug smugglers or connoisseurs of fine art, but now we know they can kind of tell when we're making up words.

Read the rest

The Pet Dragon – A whimsical girl-meets-dragon story that also introduces Chinese characters


See sample pages from this book at Wink.

The Pet Dragon by Christopher Niemann Greenwillow Books 2008, 40 pages, 9 x 11.8 x 0.4 inches (hardcover) $16 Buy a copy on Amazon

Chinese characters are wonderfully expressive, straddling the fine line between the written word and illustration. Esteemed graphic designer and picture book creator Christoph Niemann realized as much with The Pet Dragon, a whimsical story about a Chinese girl who raises a baby dragon to adulthood. In his introduction to the book, Niemann states that he had fun imagining connections between the calligraphic characters and their meanings. Reading the book, it’s clear that the author has a love of his subject and was very much enjoying himself.

The story is straightforward. A young Chinese girl named Lin receives a baby dragon who grows too quickly to stay in her home. After breaking a vase, Lin’s father condemns the baby dragon to its cage. The wily dragon escapes, leading Lin on a quest to find her beloved pet. Niemann enriches his tale by transposing Chinese characters on top of his illustrations to demonstrate the relationship between each symbol and what it represents. A forest is shown as a series of trees with the symbol for tree superimposed on them, the curving lines below indicating the roots and the extended lines at the top stretching outward for the branches. The upraised slashes and crossed lines in the symbol for father become the raised eyebrows and nose on his face, while the character denoting mountain has its three upward prongs displayed over a towering mountain range. Read the rest

Racist trolls moot using "google" as a euphemism for the n-word


Google is downranking websites that use pejorative, racist terms like n*gger, so the awful people of 4chan and /pol/ are replacing that word with "google." Read the rest

Moist. MOIST!!!! (the science of why some people hate that word)


New psychology research explores "word aversion," or why "as many as 20% of the population equates hearing the word 'moist' to the sound fingernails scratching a chalkboard." In a scientific paper about their study, psychologists from Oberlin College and Trinity University report that for some people the word "moist" is associated with bodily functions that trigger a visceral feeling of disgust. No surprise there. But interestingly, those "semantic features" of the word may not be the only issue at play. From their paper:

A separate possible explanation not tested in the current studies, but which the author acknowledges, is rooted in the facial feedback hypothesis. This hypothesis suggests that facial movement can influence emotional experience. In other words, if facial muscles are forced to configure in ways that match particular emotional expressions, then that may be enough to actually elicit the experience of the emotion. On this explanation, saying the word “moist” might require the activation of facial muscles involved in the prototypical disgust expression, and therefore trigger the experience of the emotion. This could explain the visceral response of “yuck” people get when they think of the word. Separate research has identified the particular facial muscles involved in the experience and expression of disgust, but no research as of yet has tested whether the same muscles are required when saying “moist.”

"An Exploratory Investigation of Word Aversion" (via Scientific American) Read the rest

UK Intellectual Property Office grants trademark on "should've"

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The trademark was granted to discount eyewear company Specsavers, whose slogan is "should've gone to Specsavers." If you object, you have until October 12 to file with the IPO. Read the rest

Trump only writes the angry tweets, the nice ones are written by a staffer with an Iphone


On August 6, artist Todd Vaziri observed that all of Trump's angry tweets come from the Twitter client for Android, while the more presidential, less batshit ones come from an Iphone; Vaziri speculated that the latter were sent by a staffer. Read the rest

Watch language evolve as little sims wander around a grid of islands


Language Evolution Simulation is exactly that, showing words changing little by little as time passes in a tiny world with three islands. It's agent-based, which is to say that it models little computer folk interacting with one another to simulate the little mutations that add up over time.


If an agent intersects with another, selects a word from the own vocabulary and tells that. The neighborhood receives and adds that word into its vocabulary as

- Mutation of a vowel sound with 0.1 probability

- Mutation of a const sound with 0.1 probability

- Compounding with another word with 0.1 probability

- Without any mutation

There's nothing to do but watch words change, but it feels like the underpinning of a very strange computer game about culture.

I love agent-based models; check out this simulation of political cliques I made. It randomly generates several personalities, who then go around and bicker or flatter one another. It's very bland and primitive, made in Flash, and the "next turn" text is rather fiddly to click. But I've always had plans on expanding it into a more fully featured game. Read the rest

On the bewildering regional names for corner stores


The anglosphere has a bewildering proliferation of regional names for corner stores: "variety stores," "bodegas," "delis," "corner shops," "party stores," "package stores" (often shortened to the unfortunate "packies"), "offies/off-licenses," "milk bars," etc. Read the rest

Analyzing all known Metal lyrics with natural language processing


Iain ("an ex-physicist currently working as a data scientist") scraped Dark Lyrics and built a dataset of lyrics to 222,623 songs by 7,364 metal bands, then used traditional natural language processing techniques to analyze them. Read the rest

Black-hat hacker handles are often advertisements


When Bruce Sterling wrote his seminal book The Hacker Crackdown -- a history of the rise of hackers, the passage of the first anti-hacking laws, and the formation of the Electronic Frontier Foundation -- most of the hackers he chronicled had handles that were a combination of playfulness and menace, like Phiber Optik, Scorpion and Acid Phreak. Read the rest

Tolkien elf or prescription drug name?


I scored badly enough on this that I'm thinking that my fallback career will be raiding The Silmarillion for Elvish names to sell to Big Pharma. Read the rest

Lower-case "x" as a gender-neutral typographic convention


You can type Mx instead or Mr and Ms to denote someone whose gender is unknown or nonbinary, "Latinx" is a gender-neutral and nonbinary-friendly version of Latina and Latino -- it's part of a wider trend to backforming gender neutrality into a language that assumes gender is a binary instead of a continuum. Read the rest

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