Lovecraftian rant about the horrors of Blackboard

Anyone who's ever had the misfortune to attend or work at an academic institution that uses the horrible classroom software Blackboard knows that it is a worse-than-useless exercise in technological sadism that is responsible for more pain and suffering than practically any other technology in educational history. But it takes the eloquence of Dave Noon's epic, Lovecraftian rant to truly express the loathing that Blackboard inspires in its users: "After generations of dry-throated croaking and lung-starched wheezing, their tongues swollen with thirst and punctured with abscesses that never heal, these distant people will bring forth a new language to survey the boundaries of their pain."

Read the rest

Word games with the "make your own Coke label" promo


Robbo sez, "Coke has set up a web site where you can design and share your own branded can of Coke. The idea, of course, was to have people slap their own name on the iconic can image and send it flying around the net to further embellish the Coke brand. But many are making use of the web page to insert a myriad of unintended messages. Everything from 'Boycott Coke' to 'Puck Futin' - that one is because the web app doesn't allow you to use the words 'Fuck' or 'Putin'. But the English language is a remarkably wonderful and versatile thing - and it's only a matter of time before Coke realizes they've opened the door very wide for a lot of very angry people to reach their foot in and kick 'em hard in the nads. Enjoy it, and share it, while you can."


Update: Art writes, "Using the word 'gay" in your Coke label results in the following message: 'Oops. Let's pretend you didn't just type that.' The word 'straight' is, however, perfectly okay to use. Americablog has been quite vocal about Coke's hands-off policy when it comes to gay rights and the Sochi Olympics. For example, when security guards wearing Coke logos on their uniforms took down a protester holding a small rainbow flag. Coke's response was essentially 'meh.'"


Read the rest

Github seeking volunteers to translate their how-to videos with Amara


Nicholas from Amara writes, "Yesterday afternoon, the social coding platform GitHub invited their fans to collaboratively translate their how-to videos using open-source platform Amara.org. In less than 24 hours, 150 volunteers created 40 translations across 18 different languages. On their blog, Github wrote: 'We think it would be cool if people all over the world could enjoy our videos, regardless of what language they speak. So, starting today, we're inviting anyone who's interested to help us translate our videos via Amara's Volunteer Platform.'"

(Disclosure: I am a volunteer board member for the Participatory Culture Foundation, the nonprofit that produces Amara)

Crowdfunding phraseology: which descriptive words correlate with success?

In “The Language that Gets People to Give: Phrases that Predict Success on Kickstarter" (PDF), a paper for the 17th ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing, Georgia Tech researchers from the School of Interactive Technology present the results of their statistical analysis of every single Kickstarter since June 2, 2012. The study attempted to determine which words and phrases correlated with success or failure in a Kickstarter campaign, after controlling for funding goals, video, social media connections, categories and pledge levels.

They came up with a list of successful and unsuccessful phrases, and unpacked those lists, hypothesizing about why the given phrases produced their correlated outcomes. This analysis is much more useful than the phrases themselves -- after all, we don't know that people opted to fund a project because of the phrases "good karma and," "pledged will," and "also receive two," but we do know that all those phrases appeared in Kickstarters that offered some kind of reciprocity.

The paper's authors are Tanushree Mitra and Eric Gilbert.

Read the rest

Cocktailese


College Humor's Every Cocktail Bar Menu Ever pretty much nails the experience of trying to parse out fancy, overblown booze descriptions -- but for the true experience, the whole thing should be printed in tiny, low-contrast type and presented in a dimly lit room.

Read the rest

Don Martin's sound effects (alphabetical order)

It's been 14 years since MAD Magazine's Don Martin passed away, and if there's one way you can be sure he'd want to be remembered, it's with this alphabetical listing of all the weird noises that ever appeared in a Don Martin cartoon.

One of the best things about living in the 21st century is that you can own a giant, boxed, two-volume edition of the complete collection of Don Martin's work for MAD -- all 33 years' worth of it. It is my sure-fire cure for the blues.

Exciting linguistic developments of 2013


The American Dialect Society's 2013 Words of the Year (PDF) (voted on earlier this week -- "because" won, because Internet) had some fascinating entries.

I liked "Most Productive" (such as "-(el)fie: (from selfie) type of self-portrait (drelfie ‘drunk selfie,’ twofie ‘selfie with two people’)" and "Most Euphemistic" (" least untruthful: involving the smallest necessary lie (used by intelligence director James Clapper)").

Read the rest

"Content" has the stink of failure (and it's a lie, besides)

Tim Bray's "Content-free" is a great piece on why the term "content" is so objectionable. He raises some good arguments, but misses my favorite one -- one of the origins of the term "content" in technical speech is the idea that you can separate the "content" of a Web-page from the "presentation." Indeed, scripts that present "content" to users are sometimes called "decorators."

Now that the Web's in its second decade of common use, it's pretty clear that "content" and "presentation" are never fully separable. This is a lesson that was already learned in other media -- for example, when movies progressed from being a single, locked-off camera recording a stage-play and instead began to integrate the limitations and the capabilities of film into the "content" of that film.

John Perry Barlow made this point well in his introduction to my essay collection Content (a title chosen for largely ironic reasons). It's also a point that David Byrne makes very well in the brilliant How Music Works, where he discusses the move to record each musician separately and mix the "content" in the studio, and how that produced a manifestly different kind of music than music where all the musicians played together.

In other words, "content" isn't just pernicious for Tim Bray's excellent reason ("'Content' has the stink of failure; of hustlers building businesses they don't actually care about"), but because it implies a harmful untruth: that there is a clean line that can be drawn between "content" and "form." Where this untruth flourishes, people who produce "content" that is, in fact, optimized for the form of "content whose form will be determined later" go about claiming that they have found the neutral, form-free, platonic ideal of content. Instead, they've constrained their content by eliminating all the form-dependent elements, and thereby constrained their ability to communicate the full range of human ideas.

Read the rest

NewYearsResolution: Avoid InCaps


This year, I resolve to minimize my use of incaps when writing about commercial products and companies. An incap changes a word into a logo, and has no place in journalism or commentary -- it's branding activity that colonizes everyday communications. It's free advertising.

So: "Iphone," not "iPhone" and "Paypal," not "PayPal."

Read the rest

Late sixties "Internet" brand transistor radio


Mark Hill found this Internet Radio Product Ltd-branded "Internet" radio from the late sixties in a Dutch junk-market. It's an interesting find, not least because it suggests that the official etymologies of "Internet," dating to the seventies and the Arpanet crowd, is a bit muddier than previously thought.

Was ‘Internet’ First Used For A Transistor Radio? (via M1k3y)

Because is a new, Internet-driven preposition, because grammar

The English language has a new preposition, driven by Internet conventions: "Because." It's not clear where this originates, but I like the theory that's it's a contraction of "$SOMETHING is $MESSED_UP, because, hey, politics!"

Read the rest

Animated history of the English language

If you've got 10 minutes, you can learn the history of English — including some interesting background on where specific words and phrases came from. (If you don't have 10 minutes, you can also watch the whole thing one chapter at a time in less-than-two-minute segments.) Interesting note: The equal importance of both The King James Bible and early scientific publications/societies to the formation of English as we speak it today.

Video Link

Pinky and the Brain's greatest tongue-twister of all time

A reminder that Animaniacs/Pinky and the Brain were a high-water mark in kids' animation: the greatest English-language tongue-twister of all time!

Pinky and the Brain, Tongue Twister (via Reddit)

"Huh" is the universal word

"Is 'Huh?' a universal word? Conversational infrastructure and the convergent evolution of linguistic items is a new paper in PLoS One by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. The authors propose that "Huh" is a word, and that convergent evolution has driven multiple, unrelated languages to produce it. The key findings summary shows just how special and interesting this is: "Huh" is not innate (other primates don't say it), but the circumstances of its use (needing to quickly and briefly prompt another speaker to repeat herself) are universal, so languages that share no commonalities still converged on this word.

Read the rest

Explaining the banned phrases in a Chinese microblogging client

LINE is a Twitter-like service chat app popular in Asia. @hirakujira discovered that its Chinese-language client, Lianwo, had a file listing 24 150 forbidden phrases that set to trigger an error reading "Your message contains sensitive words, please adjust and send again" (though this was not yet enabled). The Blocked on Weibo Tumblr has begun a series of posts listing every one of these banned phrases and explaining their context -- for example, Zhejiang’s receipt-signing Brother (浙江签单哥) refers to an embezzlement scandal involving Zhejiang's Vice Minister of Propaganda.

Read the rest