An ice-cream maker tries to figure out what AI ice-cream flavors derived from metal band-names would taste like

Janelle Shane (previously) is a delightful AI researcher who likes to use machine learning systems to produce absurd, inhuman outputs, such as a list of AI-created notional ice-cream flavors generated by merging a list of real ice-cream flavors with a list of metal band names and pressing "go." Read the rest

How Amazonian drum communication sounds (and acts) like human speech

In the forests of the Amazon, West Africa, and Asia, villagers often beat on large drums to send messages miles away. While you may think that the patterns are similar to Morse Code, they're actually simplified versions of the villagers' spoken languages, "without consonants or vowels but with enough connection to the original language that speakers can reliably interpret what they mean." In newly published research, University of Cologne linguist Frank Seifart and his colleagues reveal how it's done. From Science:

All but one of the 20 or so drummed speech systems come from tonal languages, including Yoruba in Nigeria, Banda-Linda in the Central African Republic, and Chin in Myanmar. Spoken Bora has two tones, which are recreated using two different drums made from hollowed logs, called manguaré. The thinner “male” has a higher tone, and the thicker “female” has a lower one.

But tone alone isn’t enough to distinguish all the words a drummer might want to say. So Seifart and his colleagues looked at what he calls a “neglected” quality in linguistics—-rhythm...

The intervals between beats changed in length depending on the sounds that followed each vowel. If a sound segment consisted of just one vowel, the time after the beat was quite short. But if that vowel was followed by a consonant, the time after the beat went up an average of 80 milliseconds. Two vowels followed by a consonant added another 40 milliseconds. And a vowel followed by two consonants added a final 30 milliseconds.

These short durations are enough to distinguish the drummed messages for “go fishing” and “bring firewood,” which are identical in tone, but not in their ordering of consonants and vowels.

Read the rest

The story of Don the talking dog

In 1912, Don the dog took American vaudeville by storm. A European immigrant, Don spoke German, or at least 8 words of it. He reportedly said things like kuchen (“cake”), hunger (same word in English and German), and his own name. A celebrity and media darling, Don went from the stage to starring in newspaper ads for Maltoid Milk-Bone dog treats. Over at Smithsonian, Greg Daugherty tells the whole story of this curious canine:

Off stage, Don’s purported ability to talk was taken seriously even in academic circles. Lending some credence to the notion that a dog might actually converse, the inventor Alexander Graham Bell had once claimed that as a young man he taught his Skye terrier to say “How are you grandmamma?”

On a 1913 visit to San Francisco, Don and his handlers called on J. C. Merriam, a respected paleontologist at the University of California at Berkeley, who, if contemporary newspaper accounts are to be believed, was “astonished” and “declared his belief that the dog can reason and think for himself.”

Earlier, the respected journal Science had another explanation, based on statements by a University of Berlin professor who had also examined Don. His conclusion, the journal reported in May 1912, was that “the speech of Don is… to be regarded properly as the production of sounds which produce illusions in the hearer.”

How the hell does he know though? Did he ask Don? Read the rest

People from 70 countries imitate the sounds cats and dogs make

Not everyone around the world agrees that cats say "meow" and that dogs "woof." Watch in this Conde Nast Traveler video as 70 people from 70 countries share their interpretation of how pets sound. I feel like all these sounds should be incorporated into a song or something.

(Blame it on the Voices) Read the rest

Goob: a notional paltrovian newage woozine generated by Botnik's AI

Botnik used its predictive AI to generate a Gwyneth Paltrow-style website full of woo: goob! It's all very Poe's Law. Read the rest

"Ass" is the most complicated word in the English language

Finnish comedian Ismo Leikola makes a compelling case that "ass" is the most complicated word in the English language. Read the rest

A cybersecurity style guide

Information security firm Bishop Fox's "Cybersecurity Style Guide" is 92 pages' worth of usage notes from the confusing world of technical jargon, a combination of glossary, pronunciation guide and style manual (in the manner of the jargon file), and includes the notation that "cyber-" is an ill-advised prefix. Read the rest

Reviving the Independence of Cyberspace

In a bizarre twist of facts, the FCC has claimed this week that its annual report proves the repeal of Net Neutrality has made the Internet better for all of us. The report is an exercise in contradictions, claiming that "advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed to all Americans," and quoting the phrase "in a reasonable and timely fashion".

Why swearing can be a good fucking way to sound convincing

Emma Byrne, a science writer and artificial intelligence researcher, has just published a new book called Swearing is Good for You: The Amazing Science of Bad Language and it sounds fucking great. "If you ask people what they think about swearing, they tend to insist that it diminishes the speaker’s credibility and persuasiveness—-especially if the speaker is a woman," Byrne writes. But actually, a presenter's swears can sometimes make them damn more convincing. From Smithsonian:

In the book, Byrne cites one study that examined the rhetorical effects of swearing on an audience that was already sympathetic to the speaker’s message. For the study, psychologists Cory Scherer of Penn State University and Brad Sagarin from Northern Illinois University showed videotaped speeches to 88 undergraduate students. Participants listened to one of three different versions of a speech about lowering tuition rates at a university—one with no swearing, one that had a “damn” thrown in the middle, and one that opened with a “damn.” The rest of the speech was unchanged.

“The students who saw the video with the swearing at the beginning or in the middle rated the speaker as more intense, but no less credible, than the ones who saw the speech with no swearing,” Byrne summarizes in her book. “What’s more, the students who saw the videos with the swearing were significantly more in favor of lowering tuition fees after seeing the video than the students who didn’t hear the swear word.”

Byrne delineates between what she calls propositional swearing, which is deliberate and planned, and non-propositional swearing, which can happen when we’re surprised, or among friends or confidants.

Read the rest

The Germans have a word for all your hard-to-process Trump emotions

Behold, the glory of the compound noun: Fernweh ("the feeling of wanting to be elsewhere, anywhere but where you are at this moment"); Weltschmerz ("the state of weariness one feels at the state of the world"); Fuchsteufelswild ("a state of unfiltered, primal rage"); and of course, the indispensable Backpfeifengesicht. Read the rest

The NSA's new "core values" statement no longer includes "honor," "honesty" or "openness"

Ironically, the most honest thing the NSA has done since its founding might just be deleting the word "honesty" from its statement of core values, in January 12th's revisions to the earlier version that also once included "openness." Read the rest

"Whatever" tops list of annoying words

The Associated Press reports that the classic "whatever" was the most annoying word of 2017, though "fake news" gave it a run for its money. Whatever.

The recent addition "fake news" was slightly ahead of "no offense, but" for second place, 23 percent to 20 percent. About one in 10 found "literally" to be most grating, as did a similar number for "you know what I mean."

Read the rest

Sexysenator.com, americanjerks.com, toddlerjail.com and other unregistered domains

"Still Not Dotcom" is Brian McMullen's annual catalog of unregistered .com domains -- as found poetry goes, you'd be hard pressed to find anything funnier. You can also listen to it as a free, unabridged audiobook thanks to KCRW's The Organist. Read the rest

The BBC has a pidgin service

The BBC's pidgin service is aimed at West African audiences; it is a pure delight. Read the rest

The brewing crisis over the pile of poo emoji

An excellent post to the ISO/IEC JTC1 SC2 WG2 mailing list sums up critical feedback over recently approved emojis, including a fierce denunciation of the (IMHO) excellent "frowning pile of poo" emoji, which is viewed as a slippery slope to an entire "a range of emotions to PILE OF POO." Read the rest

Khaled Ipsum: uplifting dummy text from the wit and wisdom of DJ Khaled

Lorem Ipsum is the not-really-meaningless dummy text used by designers when they need to "greek" some type into a template. Read the rest

Horses' facial expressions similar to those of humans

Horses use 17 discrete facial movements in communication, compared to 27 for people, 16 for dogs, and 13 for chimpanzees. University of Sussex researchers determined this by studying the musculature under a horse's face and watched videos of horses of all ages and multiple breeds. This enabled the scientists to create a catalog of facial behavioral sequences named EquiFACS (Equine Facial Action Coding System.) From National Geographic:

Jennifer Wathan, the study’s lead author, says the similarities between horse movements and human ones are striking. They include raising inner eyebrows (“puppy-dog eyes”) to show fear, surprise, or sadness; pulling back lip corners (smiling) in greeting or submission; and opening eyes wide to indicate alarm...

Her team’s research, which is already helping veterinarians and trainers, could also connect facial expressions to emotional states. “We don’t know much about the emotional lives of animals,” she says. “What does a positive emotion look like? This tool could help us see it.”

"EquiFACS: The Equine Facial Action Coding System" (PLOS One) Read the rest

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