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More on the NSA's weird, deceptive, indefensible definition of "targeted surveillance"

The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Mark Rumold has detailed analysis of yesterday's story about the bizarre, misleading way that the NSA uses the word "targeted" in discussions of "targeted surveillance." It comes down to this: the NSA and its defenders continue to claim that the organization only spies on foreigners when they're off US soil, and not on Americans or people in America (why this should comfort those of us who are neither Americans nor in America is a mystery to me).

But they harvest every word read and written on the Internet, including private communications, and scan it to see if it matches the name of someone they're looking at -- say, Vladimir Putin. Anyone whose communications contain the name or other details of the foreign target can also be spied upon, and the NSA says this doesn't constitute domestic spying. So they're not spying on all Americans, just every American who's ever mentioned the name of a foreigner -- and to accomplish this, they read every word everyone writes, but they're using a computer to do it, so it doesn't count.

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Making sense of "Beanish," XKCD's synthetic language


As was noted, the amazing, 3,000+ installment XKCD story Time featured a synthetic language (with its own script) created by a linguist for the story. Deciphering Beanish is a blog where the language is being slowly, surely made legible.

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Astounding backstory behind XKCD's "Time"


A week ago, Randall Munroe finished "Time", XKCD's long, running, slow-updating, 3,000+ frame comic telling the story of two people who discover an impending superflood that would destroy their society. Randall's explained in detail what was going on there, from the geology of the thing (it's set millennia in the future, amid a civilization denied the ability to jumpstart itself by the paucity of remaining fossil fuels, and the flood is modelled on a real event that sealed off the Mediterranean Sea five million years ago) to the fictional language the upland culture speaks (designed by a linguist, and still mysterious).

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NSA's new meanings for common terms

The ACLU's Jameel Jaffer and Brett Max Kaufman have compiled a NSA lexicon, listing the made-up, nonsensical meanings that the NSA has assigned to common words, in order to defend their criminality. For example:

Surveillance. Every time we pick up the phone, the NSA makes a note of whom we spoke to, when we spoke to him, and for how long—and it’s been doing this for seven years. After the call-tracking program was exposed, few people thought twice about attaching the label “surveillance” to it. Government officials, though, have rejected the term, pointing out that this particular program doesn’t involve the NSA actually listening to phone calls—just keeping track of them. Their crabbed definition of “surveillance” allows them to claim that the NSA isn’t engaged in surveillance even when it quite plainly is.

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You're vs Your song

Jonathan Mann sez, "The internet abounds with people misusing Your and You're. I wanted to write a simple catchy tune to help them remember which is which!"

Your doing important work, sir.

Your vs. You're Song (Song A Day #1655) (Thanks, Jonathan!)

Apple's mobile devices have a secret list of "sensitive" words that don't autocomplete


The Daily Beast investigated the autocomplete on Apple Ios devices (Iphones, Ipads, etc), and discovered that there was a long list of "sensitive" words that the devices have in their dictionary but would not autocomplete -- you would have to type them out in full to get them into your device. This list includes words such as "abortion," "rape," "ammo," and "bullet." They documented their methodology in detail.

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On the language of comic strips

Since moving to Fast Company's, John Brownlee's been on a roll: everything he's written for them is ace. The latest is Quimps, Plewds and Grawlixes: The Secret Language of Comic Strips, a review of Mort Walker's obscure 1980s Lexicon on Comicana.
To Walker, understanding the design language of the comics was important. Cartooning is usually one of the first means of written expression a child learns, and for Walker, understanding the language of cartooning was the key to communicating with other people in an increasingly international world.

What is a twink?

The word "Twink" used to mean something. Now it's just another term of abuse for queer men, an "easy shorthand for vicious stereotypes." [The Awl via Metafilter] Rob 25

Euphonia: a mechanical talking machine


Here's a delicious potted history of the Euphonia, a mid-19th century gadget that could simulate human speech by pumping bellows-fed air over an artificial tongue set in a chamber of weird plates and valves. It had a severe woman's face and coils of hair in ringlets, and spoke in a "weird, ghostly monotone."

By pumping air with the bellows and manipulating a series of plates, chambers, and other apparatus, including an artificial tongue, the operator could make it speak any European language. It was even able to sing the anthem God Save the Queen. The Euphonia was invented in 1845 by Joseph Faber, a German immigrant. A little known fact is that this machine greatly influenced the invention of the telephone.

The Euphonia - A Marvelous Talking-Machine (Curious History via Kadrey)

Florida bans computers

Florida tried to ban Internet Cafes that were functioning as unlicensed casinos, but may have banned smartphones and computers instead, due to language that defines slot machines as "any machine or device or system or network of devices" that can be used in connection with games of chance. I question the legitimacy of shutting down all Internet Cafes in the first place, but this is clearly an overbroad definition, as has been pointed out in a suit challenging the law, brought by an Internet Cafe owner in Miami -- ironic, as Florida is the state whose law once took over 100 words to precisely define "buttocks."

German language now officially includes "shitstorm"

"Shitstorm" has been inducted into Duden, the official German dictionary. It was a favorite among linguists, who admired its applicability to the plagiarism scandal that led to the resignation of Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. Strangely, an equivalent German word was not created by stringing together 75 other German words. (via The Mary Sue) Cory 16

Website filler text based on the works of William Gibson

Need some filler text for a design? Screw Lorem Ipsum, go Lorem Gibson, "Website filler text based on the works of William Gibson." ::: smart- computer fluidity knife marketing modem apophenia faded corrupted marketing j-pop post- decay stimulate. woman fluidity j-pop Chiba Tokyo youtube corporation -space semiotics tower face forwards monofilament semiotics bomb. rebar nodal point free-market spook cardboard cartel garage futurity dead saturation point boy pen gang narrative ::: (via Bruce Sterling) Cory

The BBC discovers the Texas Germans — and a dying dialect

My great-grandmother, Hedwig Nietzsche Koerth, never spoke English. My Grandpa Gustav didn't learn the language until he entered first grade. But, by the time I was in grade school — and was going through a brief fling of learning German — Grandpa no longer remembered much of what had once been his first language. Today, nobody in my immediate family speaks any German, much less the dying dialect of Texas German that my great-grandmother spoke. The BBC has an interesting story about the history and linguistics of Texas German, which will probably die out in the next couple generations — largely because the German Germans started a couple world wars in a row and changed the idea of what was and wasn't socially acceptable speech in America. Maggie

"Citation needed"'s Wikipedia entry

Regrettably, the Wikipedia entry for "Citation needed" ("a common editorial remark on Wikipedia, which has become used to refer to Wikipedia in wider popular culture") doesn't include any actual assertions tagged with [citation needed].

On July 4, 2007, the webcomic xkcd published a comic which depicted a protestor holding up a "citation needed" sign during a political speech.[7]

In late 2010, banners with the template appeared at the somewhat tongue-in-cheek Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear,[8] and in February 2011, at a more serious demonstration in Berlin against German defence minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, who had been embroiled in a scandal after it was discovered he had plagiarised portions of his doctoral thesis.[9]

The New York Times has commented on the propensity of some "stickler editors" for adding the template to unattributed facts,[10] and has used the phrase in an online headline.[11]

Citation needed (via JWZ)

Official list of English words misused in EU documents

A brief list of misused English terminology in EU publications [PDF] is a fascinating look at the emerging dialect of English that is emerging out of the EU bureaucracy, in which odd bureaucratic language has to be translated from and to many languages. It's a good window into concepts that are common in one nation's bureaucratic tradition, but not others':

Dispose (of)
Explanation: the most common meaning of ‘dispose of’ is ‘to get rid of’ or ‘to throw away’; it never means ‘to have’, ‘to possess’ or ‘to have in one’s possession’. Thus, the sentence ‘The managing authority disposes of the data regarding participants.’ does not mean that it has them available; on the contrary, it means that it throws them away or deletes them. Similarly, the sentence below does not mean: ‘the Commission might not have independent sources of information’, it means that the Commission is not permitted to discard the sources that it has.

Example: ‘The Commission may not be able to assess the reliability of the data provided by Member States and may not dispose of independent information sources (see paragraph 39)46.’

As Bruce Sterling says, "I would not expect 'Brussels English' to get any closer to grammatically correct British English; on the contrary I would expect it in future to drift into areas of machine translation jargon, since that’s a lot cheaper than hiring human translators who are as skilled as the author of this document."

Web Semantics: Brussels English