September 18, 2017

Grammarly helps in three areas

Grammarly helps in three areas: basic mechanics, such as spelling, grammar and sentence structure; secondly, clarity, readability and ambiguity. Finally, an area that the company is still developing is effectiveness, which is context-specific suggestions or flagging things like gendered or aggressive language. In the future, the app could do thinks like ask if a joke in your writing is appropriate.

Behind the scenes the service is processing loads of data--in April, it suggested 14 billion improvements across its service.

The tool parses text, breaking it up into phrases and sentences. It applies various algorithms to analyze the text using technology such as natural language processing and machine learning.

August 12, 2017


Tensegrity, tensional integrity or floating compression, is a structural principle based on the use of isolated components in compression inside a net of continuous tension, in such a way that the compressed members (usually bars or struts) do not touch each other and the prestressed tensioned members (usually cables or tendons) delineate the system spatially.

Tensegrity structures are structures based on the combination of a few simple design patterns:


  • Loading members only in pure compression or pure tension, meaning the structure will only fail if the cables yield or the rods buckle
  • Preload or tensional prestress, which allows cables to be rigid in tension

  • Mechanical stability, which allows the members to remain in tension/compression as stress on the structure increases.

Because of these patterns, no structural member experiences a bending moment. This can produce exceptionally rigid structures for their mass and for the cross section of the components.

Continue reading "Tensegrity" »

July 11, 2017

Robot journalists to write up quarterly earnings stories on companies like Krispy Kreme.

Today, a handful of content mills circumnavigate the need to have any humans involved at all. These aren't backstreet backlink marketeers, either: outlets as big as the Associated Press have cut some costs by employing (or deploying) robot journalists to write up quarterly earnings stories on companies like Krispy Kreme. This kind of robotic software can take a bunch of statistics such as company results--or baseball and basketball scores--and create content. A company called Automated Insights created this automated writer fleet, and the firm's robotic authors produced more than a billion pieces of content last year (likely for a fraction of the price that even the cheapest content mill can get away with paying). Compared to the shoehorned-in keywords that sometimes cause mill writers to mangle sentences in ways Shakespeare would blench at, Automated Insights' work could be in contention for a Pulitzer.

Chris Stokel-Walker is a freelance journalist, writing features for the BBC and The Sunday Times of London. He is based in the United Kingdom.

Bonus thought: could robo-journalists avoid biased reviews such as those of June Chu, Dean of Yale University's Pierson College ?

July 8, 2017

Looking back at sportals and spamalism

search terms offer insight into both our fears ("how bad is caffeine during pregnancy") and desires ("bronies"). And thanks to thousands of poorly paid freelance writers looking to pick up some extra cash or toiling for wages, the results we're served in these vulnerable moments are often hastily scribbled, poorly written, ungrammatical filler text. This old world relic represents a time when getting to the top of Google rankings wasn't dependent on the quality of information you supplied but how many people linked to your site.

Content mills make product to fill a page
, creating the impression that something is there. It's the marshmallow fluff of content.

The differentiator is that although things move quickly in online journalism, writers (freelancers included) are given enough pay to ensure they research the story. They read academic literature; they consider their topic. The legitimacy of a news outlet allows them to call up anyone in the world and pick their brains for a half-hour. Then and only then, once a writer has the best knowledge possible, do they begin clattering fingers against keyboards.

At $2 for 300 words, you're not afforded that luxury. You can't talk to a quack doctor, never mind the person with the most knowledge in the room. In order to make the sheer volume of work you're expected to produce economical, you simply have to write. A quick glance at Wikipedia might work, but nothing more. (In fact, most writers at such content mills would probably just rather copy and paste Wikipedia content, which is why sites like MyAMS have built-in word matching software to prevent you from doing so.)

Continue reading "Looking back at sportals and spamalism" »

March 25, 2017

No time to study to be competent to judge many questions, then no time to believe.

Who among us has not shared posts without fact-checking them? Unfortunately, that doesn't make it right. Almost everything that we encounter online is being presented to us by for-profit algorithms, and by us, post by post, tweet by tweet. That fact, even more than the spread of fake news, can be its own sort of shell game, one that we are pulling on ourselves.

As the late-19th-century mathematician W. K. Clifford noted in his famous essay, "The Ethics of Belief," ambivalence about objective evidence is an attitude corrosive of democracy. Clifford ends the essay by imagining someone who has "no time for the long course of study" that would make him competent to judge many questions. Clifford's response is withering: "Then he should have no time to believe."

-- Michael P. Lynch, a professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut, is the author of the "Internet of Us: Knowing More and Understanding Less in the Age of Big Data." Twitter: @Plural_truth.

March 23, 2017

Job male applicants feminine language; upshot disconnect ?

Job postings for home health aides say applicants need to be
"sympathetic" and "caring," "empathetic" and focused on "families."

It turns out that doesn't lead very many men to apply.

Employers have something to do with that: An analysis of listings for the 14 fastest-growing jobs from 2014 to 2024 found that they used feminine language, which has been statistically shown to attract women and deter men. The study was done by Textio, which has analyzed 50 million job listings for language that provokes disproportionate responses from men or women.

Compare that with job listings for cartographers, one of the few fast-growing jobs that is male-dominated. It is 62 percent male and expected to grow 29 percent by 2024. Common key words were manage, forces, exceptional, proven and superior. These words tend to appeal to men and generally result in a male hire, Textio found.

Job descriptions for the two fastest-growing jobs that men mostly do -- wind turbine technicians and commercial divers -- also used masculine language.

Upshot's job-disconnect-male-applicants-feminine-language.

Continue reading "Job male applicants feminine language; upshot disconnect ?" »

January 27, 2017

Pussifictation of hats, Reminiscence


Are you on the side that don't like life
Are you on the side of racial strife
Are you on the side that beats your wife
Which side are you on?

Are you on the side who loves to hunt?
Are you on the side of the National Front?
Are you on the side who calls me cunt?
Which side are you on?

-- Zeynep Tufekci, an associate professor at the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina, is the author of the forthcoming "Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest."

Continue reading "Pussifictation of hats, Reminiscence" »

January 19, 2017

Hacking the news is social engineering: Clint Watts

The media is getting played, too

"The American press has focused a disproportionate amount of attention on Russian hacking and cyberattacks, and the reporting itself has only muddied the truth for most in the audience:

-- says Clint Watts, a former FBI special agent and Executive Officer of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, in an interview with CJR. Watts is now a senior fellow at the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University, where he analyzes social bots, trolls, and websites that intelligence agencies say are the foot soldiers of Russia's information war.

"The hacking generates information, which promotes Russia's influence campaign, but the end objective is to convince people to choose a candidate based on Russia's preference. This is getting confused, because people hear 'hack' and they think their votes are being changed."

It's a classic page from the Cold War playbook, says Watts, adding that Putin has brought new meaning to the Soviet-Era doctrine of using "the force of politics" rather than "the politics of force."

"The main success of this campaign is not that it took place, but the panic we are in now," Meister adds. "We've lost our self-confidence in our system, in our democracy, in our elections and in our media. That's the biggest success of the Russian campaign."

Continue reading "Hacking the news is social engineering: Clint Watts" »

June 17, 2016

The Donald is tumescent

Washington Post writer style guide to writing about President/Daddy Donald Trump.

Remember the transitive property of Trump: Whenever Donald Trump loves something, it loves him back. Donald Trump loves women. Therefore, women love Donald Trump. Donald Trump loves Hispanics. Therefore, Hispanics love Donald Trump. Any polls that obscure these truths should be disregarded.

May 11, 2016

Carl Barneyisms

The greatest tragedy in all schools today is the 'D.D.D.'" -- a dropout who is in debt and doesn't get a degree.

Many of his work ideas are cataloged in "P.D.s" (procedure directives), "D.L.s" (data letters), "I.L.s," (information letters) and "M.M.s" (management memos). "M.M. 302," for example, is titled "Student Satisfaction and Success -- S.S.S." and offers the antidote to what he calls the "dreaded D.D.D."

"If something worked, we then systematized it," Mr. Carl Barney said.

"P.D. 154 R" lays out a two-year training program for employees who want to advance to associate directors. Among other things, they will be expected to read Rand's manifesto, the 1,200-page novel "Atlas Shrugged," which depicts a rotted-out America where creative geniuses stage a nationwide strike against corrupt "moochers and looters."

Continue reading "Carl Barneyisms" »

February 23, 2016

The varied sounds of English

The Chaos" by Gerard Nolst Trenité, 1922:

Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.

I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.

Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.
Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it's written.)

Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.

Continue reading "The varied sounds of English" »

January 29, 2016

She, etc

Misgendering "isn't just a style error," Caitlin Dewey of The Washington Post wrote to describe a Twitter account she created following Ms. Jenner's coming out, to "politely" correct for pronoun misuse. "It's a stubborn, longtime hurdle to transgender acceptance and equality, a fundamental refusal to afford those people even basic grammatical dignity." (The Post, Ms. Dewey's employer, recently announced the term "they" would be included in its stylebook.)

And yet the learning curve remains.

I discovered recently that "trans*," with an asterisk, is now used as an umbrella term for non-cisgender identities -- simpler than listing them all (but still considered respectful). On a recent radio segment, I found out that a newer term for "cisgender" is "chromosomal," as in "chromosomal female," which denotes a person who identifies with the sex (female) she was assigned at birth. (Another way of saying that a person was "assigned female at birth" -- which does not necessarily make her a "chromosomal female" -- is A.F.A.B.).

As for the pronouns: "They" may or may not correspond with these identities -- which is why it's in anybody's best interest to simply ask. But when you do, don't make the common mistake of calling it a preferred pronoun -- as it is not considered to be "preferred."

"The language is evolving daily -- even gender reassignment, people are now calling it gender confirmation!" Jill Soloway, the creator of "Transparent," said in a recent profile in The New Yorker, making the case for "they."

"It's not intuitive at all," her girlfriend, the lesbian poet Eileen Myles, said in the article.

That doesn't even begin to delve into the debate about the evolving use of "woman" and "vagina" -- or, as some prefer to call it, "internal genitalia" -- which is perhaps a linguistic (and political) world unto its own. Mills College recently changed its school chant from "Strong women! Proud women! All women! Mills women!" to "Strong, proud, all, Mills!"

Meanwhile, Mount Holyoke prompted a response from the iconic feminist playwright Eve Ensler after canceling a performance of "The Vagina Monologues" last year (because of its narrow view of gender). (At Columbia, that play has been replaced by a production called "Beyond Cis-terhood.")

Even the venerable NPR host Terry Gross has struggled with the language, repeatedly using the incorrect pronoun when interviewing Ms. Soloway last season about her transgender father, upon whom the show is based.

"I think there are a lot of people who want to do the right thing but are struggling to play catch-up with this new gender revolution," said Ms. Mencher, a former transgender specialist at Smith College, which is one of a handful of historically women's colleges to begin accepting transgender students.

"I begin all my trainings with an invitation for participants to stumble over language, to risk being politically incorrect, to bungle their pronouns -- in the service of learning," Ms. Mencher said.

As for they: Lexicological change won't happen overnight. (Just look at the adoption of Ms.) But it does have a linguistic advantage, in that it's already part of the language.

December 29, 2015

Branding and the SOHO neologism: Solo District by Appia Group

'At the corner of Lougheed Hwy and Willingdon Ave, Burnaby, BC' or 'SOLO' South of Lougheed ?

Solo District by Appia Group offers aspirational branding for their planned mixed use infill community development.

Included with the first building is a Whole Foods store, which, if history is prologue, bodes well for Solo District and the surrounding area. In the U.S., they call it the Whole Foods effect: wherever the Texas-based organic food chain locates a store, prices for surrounding real estate jump. The debate continues over whether those prices rise because of Whole Foods' presence, or because the chain is good at selecting markets where the future is bright. In any case, no one questions that Whole Foods is a desirable amenity.

Continue reading "Branding and the SOHO neologism: Solo District by Appia Group" »

October 4, 2015

High spark of low skilled work

The more difficult challenge is to redefine the language and perceptions that trap large segments of reliable workers in poverty. All work can be executed with skill, but denying that fact is useful to those who justify the poor treatment of, and unfair compensation for, millions of workers.

Convincing those workers that their treatment is temporary, that if they just keep working harder, learn to do their tasks more quickly, more efficiently, more fluidly, they will eventually surpass it -- this is a myth we can't keep telling.

Continue reading "High spark of low skilled work" »

September 13, 2015

Steven Pinker's Quiz

Steven Pinker's Psychological Science.

May 20, 2015

"published" or "distributed" ?

Ms. Monroe certainly loved the camera and was known to pore carefully over portrait proof sheets. But one cannot imagine her indulging, as Ms. West did recently, in a 445-page book consisting entirely of selfies and distributed (I wouldn't go so far as to call it "published") by Rizzoli.

This book, titled "Selfish," has been heralded as "riveting" by Laura Bennett at Slate; Jerry Saltz of New York magazine compared it with apparent sincerity to Karl Ove Knausgaard's "My Struggle."

With all due respect to such critics, this is poppycock.

"Selfish" may as well be called "Surface." Like Madonna's "Sex" more than 20 years ago, which came quaintly wrapped in Mylar (and at least featured someone who went through the motions of dancing, singing and acting rather than just posing), it is a feat of packaging and persistence, nothing more. It does not so much suggest Venus as Narcissus, drowning in his Photo Stream. And it is about as engrossing, and as meritorious, as the accountant's spreadsheet it is enriching.

May 12, 2015

J. Random

In a time when "to other" has become a condemnatory verb, randos are the other. If the mores in a given ZIP code preclude snarling at people for their race, sex, creed or sexual orientation, those uncertain of their own grip on the social center can always dump on randos. It is a nice, clean slur, free of identifying social characteristics.

It refers to the extras, the spear-carriers in the background, the people who apparently have only themselves to blame for their exclusion, those you'll forget all about when you move away. Their being tagged with that handle may indeed derive, at bottom, from their race, sex, creed, sexual orientation, body shape, economic misfortune or anything else, but users always have convenient deniability at their service.

After all, there are so many people around nowadays, perhaps more than all the collected dead of ages past -- who can keep track? We rest secure in the knowledge that while those people over there represent arbitrary collisions of data, we ourselves are a result of long and careful planning.

Luc Sante is the author of "Low Life" and "Kill All Your Darlings." His new book, "The Other Paris,"

May 7, 2015


S&C New York's recent success with Hangul Typography Exhibition at the Art Directors Club last November has achieved international fame and a documentary film that features S&C New York's activities.

[다큐 공감] 뉴욕, 독도 그리고 "너 빼고 다 아는" from Stigma and Cognition on Vimeo.


May 5, 2015

Patterns in Hangul

A 15 minute tour


March 15, 2015

Light up the room -- but don't overshadow others

Speak up -- but don't talk too much. Light up the room -- but don't overshadow others. Be confident and critical -- but not cocky or negative.

Continue reading "Light up the room -- but don't overshadow others" »

November 26, 2014

"I sort of have a dream; I came, I saw, I kind of conquered"

Gabriel Doyle, who has a Ph.D. in linguistics and writes the blog Motivated Grammar, told me that "sort of"' is a "de-precision device." As Dr. Doyle put it: "The speaker is saying, 'Don't think of this as being overly accurate.' "

In other words, people throw "sort of" into their speech because they're unsure. Our language is reflecting modern life.

We sort of have stable jobs until our company outsources or downsizes. We can sort of count on Social Security in retirement. We're sort of done fighting a war in Iraq. It's my nonscientific theory that "sort of" is, in part, a linguistic manifestation of the indefiniteness we feel, a noncommittal expression for a time of rapid technological change and instability across our social structures.

September 19, 2014

Shadow price of sophistication is obfuscation

You should know the difference between sophistication and obfuscation. In sales documents, the more complicated something is, the more sophisticated it appears. In real life, the more complicated something is, the higher the fees you can get away with charging.

-- Morgan Housel

August 20, 2014

Praise of disregard

Imagine, for example, that you receive an angry email from someone and there is nothing you can do about the person's grievances. You read it. You accept your inability to change the situation. Then you delete it. Instead of leaving it in your inbox to pull your thoughts toward an irrevocable past, the symbolic act of throwing it away frees your mental energies for more worthwhile pursuits. This is a metaphor, of course. It is probably quite easy for you to delete an email that bothers your brain. But thoughts, which are as virtual as email, can be gotten rid of as well. In all their immateriality, thoughts and emails still impose an extraordinary amount of authority and influence on our actions and frames of mind. Doing away with them has the same effect as removing a concrete obstacle from sidewalk ahead of you.

Continue reading "Praise of disregard" »

August 19, 2014

Shaming hater trolls going to shaming hate troll

Criticism greater than pride ?

Nowadays one suspects that Joe McCarthy would have just accused his critics of "red-shaming."

Newer term, body-shaming, which Zimmer thinks was influenced by body-snarking as well as slut-shaming. The website Jezebel published one of the term's earliest uses in a 2008 headline: "No Celebrity Is Safe From Tabloid Body Shaming." Basically, body-shaming encompasses all words that people use and actions they carry out to make someone feel bad about their body. Since giving women a hard time about their bodies seems to be the American way, body-shaming is almost always directed at them.

And it has a number of more specific variations: weight-shaming, fat-shaming, skinny-shaming--basically no matter how a woman (or girl) looks, someone has a problem with it. As Stanford linguist Arnold Zwicky has pointed out, such usages of shaming have produced back formations, so you can also say someone has been fat-shamed or body-shamed.

Guys who are tired of being called creeps have absurdly claimed creep-shaming, for instance. Breast-feeding advocates are sometimes accused of formula-shaming moms. I've also seen social-media-shaming, tattoo-shaming, luxury-shaming, attendance-shaming, snack-shaming, bigot-shaming, privilege-shaming, salary-shaming, single-shaming (i.e., shaming the nonmarried or nonattached), fedora-shaming, Drake-shaming, and filter-shaming. This last word was used, with all apparent sincerity, in an article by an acne sufferer who felt "shamed" for her use of Instagram filters by "selfie queens" (a term someone else will have to unpack).

-- Mark Peters

Continue reading "Shaming hater trolls going to shaming hate troll" »

August 17, 2014

Flusty vs public space

Flusty believes the income inequality plaguing many American cities today is a direct result of decades of disciplinary architecture and interdictory space. By separating various economic classes in space, he says, cities and designers are both sustaining and enhancing a certain social order. A far better approach to designing public places would be creating the sort of open, democratic spaces envisioned by urbanist William Whyte in the 20th century. "Once you've got eyes on the plaza and eyes on the street and people interacting, these other sorts of threats are minimized by that," says Flusty. "That's a far more proactive and pleasant way to go about handling it."

"One thing that I think is universal about this design, no matter where you go in the world, is it has the effect of separating majorities of the population from relatively small affluent elite minorities of the population," Steven Flusty, who documented interdictory space in Los Angeles in the 1990s, tells Co.Design. "You can't have anything like a just or equitable society unless it includes spatiality."

Continue reading "Flusty vs public space" »

August 9, 2014

New York speaks

Local languages via BI and .



August 7, 2014

Saint Louis dialect

You might think your high school French or German will be enough to get you by in St. Louis, but don't bet on it. St. Louisans have their own unique local flare for some traditional French and German words. For those new to the area, consider this an unofficial guide to some local variations.


Gravois is the French word for gravel which is appropriate since Gravois Avenue runs along the gravel bluffs. Although "Grav-wah" may be the correct French pronunciation, this main street is pronounced "Grav-oy" or occasionally "Grav-oize" in St. Louis.

Creve Coeur

The city name Creve Coeur (meaning heartbreak in French) derives from Creve Coeur Lake, which was named for the tale of a lovelorn Indian girl whose broken heart led her to suicide off the famous dripping springs. While the formal french pronunciation is "Crev-Cure", a native St. Louisan know that "Creeve-Corr" is the only way to say the name of this city.

Continue reading "Saint Louis dialect" »

July 20, 2014

Chop chop

Tell someone to hurry up than telling them to "chop-chop" -- especially if the phrase is accompanied by clapping or snapping fingers.

Continue reading "Chop chop" »

April 1, 2014

Explainers explained, by 'less stupid' Awl.

The Awl's eleven questions about explainer journalism.

January 25, 2014

Confusing his verbal dexterity for moral superiority, writing blog posts marked by coruscating contempt for extremely anodyne people.

The Thought Leader is sort of a highflying, good-doing yacht-to-yacht concept peddler. Each year, he gets to speak at the Clinton Global Initiative, where successful people gather to express compassion for those not invited. Month after month, he gets to be a discussion facilitator at think tank dinners where guests talk about what it's like to live in poverty while the wait staff glides through the room thinking bitter thoughts.

He doesn't have students, but he does have clients. He doesn't have dark nights of the soul, but his eyes blaze at the echo of the words "breakout session."

Many people wonder how they too can become Thought Leaders and what the life cycle of one looks like.

In fact, the calling usually starts young. As a college student, the future Thought Leader is bathed in attention. His college application essay, "I Went to Panama to Teach the Natives About Math but They Ended Up Teaching Me About Life," is widely praised by guidance counselors. On campus he finds himself enmeshed in a new social contract: Young people provide their middle-aged professors with optimism and flattery, and the professors provide them with grade inflation. He is widely recognized for his concern for humanity. (He spends spring break unicycling across Thailand while reading to lepers.)

-- David Brooks on coruscation.

Continue reading "Confusing his verbal dexterity for moral superiority, writing blog posts marked by coruscating contempt for extremely anodyne people." »

December 22, 2013

Rap to English before English to Rap translations for lyrics

RapGenius is genius, but not first.

November 26, 2013

Technology industry shamed for one technologist's field report

A start-up founder named Peter Shih, listed 10 things he hated about San Francisco. Homeless people, for example. And the "constantly PMSing" weather. And "girls who are obviously 4s and behave like they're 9s."

September 21, 2013

Aeon magaine

People say Aeon Magazine is great.

Soon, if it's not true already, magazine brands will matter more as marks of quality or tone than they do as gatherers and arrangers of content in a unified experience. By predicating its publishing model on stories that can be pried from the bundle and whose ideas stand on their own, Aeon confirms itself as a bankable brand synonymous with quality and depth. It publishes stories based not on how many clicks their headlines might generate, but on engaging people's attention for a meaningful period of time. That is the standard to which magazines of the mobile era must aspire.

-- Pando

"The longer we can defer making any commitments to a specific business model, the better we'll be," says Paul Hains,, "because the landscape is changing all the time."

That means Aeon's stories are free, even while the publication pays its writers at rates comparable to those paid by broadsheet newspapers. (The founders won't say exactly what that rate is, but Brigid Hains says 60 cents a word is "not a bad guess.") It also means there are no ads, and the editors don't mind if you leave the Aeon website to read a story somewhere else. A link to "Read later or Kindle" is placed on the same line as the by-line and the word-count, a subtle indicator that the story is king, even if it means readers ultimately spend less time on the site.

Continue reading "Aeon magaine" »

August 19, 2013

Walker wlks: Denis the dentist part 10

Few in Los Angeles get more joy from walking than the walking activist Alissa Walker (I kid you not). A journalist by trade, she has lived car-free by choice since 2007 and is on the steering committee of Los Angeles Walks, a volunteer organization dedicated to repairing the city's image as a walker's wasteland. "The basic goal is to make people realize you can walk in L.A.," she said. Better sidewalks, signage and city policies are all part of their mission.

Continue reading "Walker wlks: Denis the dentist part 10" »

May 24, 2013

Metaphors and stories: threat or menace to explanations ?

The central role of metaphor and narrative in human thought. Professor Cowen HERE, is only the latest to build on this theme although importantly, he concentrates on the negative, blinding aspects of the tendency. Nowhere is this more clear than in the "stories" that surround investments.

Choosing a metaphor presupposes a conclusion. For instance, there's no way to hear "the Chinese economy is a bubble" without unconsciously associating the country's outlook with fragility and inevitable disappearance of a soap bubble. If we describe China's GDP as similar to a hot air balloon on the other hand, our subconscious will immediately become more suceptible to the argument that upcoming government stimulus will right the economic ship. (You see what I did there - the use of the word "ship" is insidious.)

Good metaphors are a double-edged sword and their ubiquity in stock pitches suggests investors remain on their guard, never accepting one outright no matter how successfully it seems to communicates the situation.

Via Interloping.

Continue reading "Metaphors and stories: threat or menace to explanations ?" »

December 10, 2012

Overdramatize the work of lexicographers ?

While the creators of dictionaries could certainly do a better job explaining to the public what it is they do, I have a feeling that news outlets looking to drum up outrage will continue to overdramatize the work of lexicographers. There is a ready-made audience out there for such stories, no doubt because language is something with which we are all deeply engaged. But the language-loving public deserves to know that dictionaries are not made by cloak-and-dagger cabals full of deep, dark secrets. Don't misjudge the harmless drudge.

Ben Zimmer, a former On Language columnist for The New York Times Magazine, is the executive producer of and

September 11, 2012

Amazon 2011

New features abound, of course, but they're the sort that university teachers and other white-collar workers know all too well: ways of doing more with less, by making workers (or customers) handle the routine chores that used to be done for them. Nowadays you can tag a given "product" for Amazon so that it knows what you think of a book; if you want, you can even study a tag cloud that lists and ranks the most popular customer tags, so that you'll do a better job of tagging for the company. You can enter a customer discussion or post a review.

And, of course, whenever you buy a book, you help Amazon not only gauge the book's popularity, but also identify the other books that you have bought as well. It's an efficient, thoroughly commercial counterpart to the old information system. The simple, elegant Web page that once showered discriminating customers with information now invites the consumer to provide information of every sort for Amazon to digest and profit from.

Continue reading "Amazon 2011" »

August 28, 2012

Robots score essays well

the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation sponsored a competition to see how well algorithms submitted by professional data scientists and amateur statistics wizards could predict the scores assigned by human graders. The winners were announced last month -- and the predictive algorithms were eerily accurate.

The competition was hosted by Kaggle, a Web site that runs predictive-modeling contests for client organizations -- thus giving them the benefit of a global crowd of data scientists working on their behalf. The site says it "has never failed to outperform a pre-existing accuracy benchmark, and to do so resoundingly."

Kaggle's tagline is "We're making data science a sport." Some of its clients offer sizable prizes in exchange for the intellectual property used in the winning models. For example, the Heritage Health Prize ("Identify patients who will be admitted to a hospital within the next year, using historical claims data") will bestow $3 million on the team that develops the best algorithm.

The essay-scoring competition that just concluded offered a mere $60,000 as a first prize, but it drew 159 teams. At the same time, the Hewlett Foundation sponsored a study of automated essay-scoring engines now offered by commercial vendors. The researchers found that these produced scores effectively identical to those of human graders.

Barbara Chow, education program director at the Hewlett Foundation, says: "We had heard the claim that the machine algorithms are as good as human graders, but we wanted to create a neutral and fair platform to assess the various claims of the vendors. It turns out the claims are not hype."

-- Randall Stross.

Continue reading "Robots score essays well" »

August 11, 2012


While some critics faulted Mr. Rakoff's writing as overly aphoristic, many praised his singular style, which combined an amiable dyspepsia with an almost palpable undercurrent of melancholy.

July 5, 2012

"New and improved" is another way of saying, "green and unproven."

"new and improved" is another way of saying "green and unproven."

-- Chuck Jaffe

May 24, 2012

Thinking about science

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" 50 years ago, Thomas Kuhn spent virtually the rest of his career defending -- often in vain -- its key ideas. At least, this is the story David Weinberger tells in an article on Kuhn at the Chronicle of Higher Education. Perhaps the most vexing problem Kuhn faced, according to Weinberger, is how to account for scientific progress, when concepts like paradigm shift and incommensurability seem to suggest that "progress" is at best problematic, or worse, impossible. Weinberger attributes much of the trouble to Kuhn's distaste for a straightforward correspondance theory of truth, and thinks abandoning one concept of truth means "we need another idea of what truth is and how we can ascertain if we're progressing closer to it."

May 23, 2012

Speed of change

Think for a second about the atomic bomb. There's a big, just gigantic, technological change. But when did it happen? We can argue that the "speed of change" was really slow until July 16, 1945, when the first atomic bomb exploded in New Mexico--the speed of change was super-fast on that particular day. This would be silly. So we have to average out the "speed of change" somehow. But over what timescale? So many industrial inputs (precision machining, computing and the like) and basic scientific insights (being able to calculate the likelihood that a neutron hitting an atomic nucleus will cause it to split in two) went into building the bomb that it's unclear where to start.

The claim that some forms of knowledge are fundamentally resistant to quantification (memorably described as a "bitch-goddess" by Carl Bridenbaugh in this essay) is anathema to policymakers today, who've emerged from business schools and management consultancies convinced that Excel macros will let them give reality to the shadows on the walls of Plato's cave.

How MBA-speak is hurting the scientific academy.
From: Konstantin Kakaes |Posted Tuesday, April 3, 2012

April 13, 2012

Ray Hudson, the Murray Walker of Football (soccer)

Watchers of the bilingual soccer channel GolTV are treated weekly to the cockeyed enthusiasm of the British commentator Ray Hudson. A blog, Hudsonia, was inspired by his ability to "coin phrases that defy both logic and belief" and by his unending quest to "invent a new language in English."

In Hudson's words, Hernandez has "chameleon eyes" and is as "slippery as an eel covered in Vaseline" and plays with the predatory appetite of a "zombie hunter looking for a Twinkie." Somehow, out of incomprehension comes clarity. Even poetry.

Robert Lalasz, the editor of the Web site Must Read Soccer, has assembled Hudson's verbal improvisations into verse, the way others previously did for the Yankees broadcaster Phil Rizzuto. One of the poems, "He Doesn't Live There," opened this article.

Here is another:

"Neither With Net nor Trident"

The genius, the genius of
In our modern-day life
He doesn't know
What he's going to do
So how the hell
Do the defenders
You cannot contain him
With a net
Or a trident
He's got pace
He's got power
He's got vision
And he's got
Finishing power
His cup
Runneth over ...
Magnificent Messi
Wild man
He doth bestride the Earth
Like a Colossus

April 8, 2012

Quantum Theory of Mitt Romney

The basic concepts behind this model are:

Complementarity. In much the same way that light is both a particle and a wave, Mitt Romney is both a moderate and a conservative, depending on the situation (Fig. 1). It is not that he is one or the other; it is not that he is one and then the other. He is both at the same time.

Probability. Mitt Romney's political viewpoints can be expressed only in terms of likelihood, not certainty. While some views are obviously far less likely than others, no view can be thought of as absolutely impossible. Thus, for instance, there is at any given moment a nonzero chance that Mitt Romney supports child slavery.

Uncertainty. Frustrating as it may be, the rules of quantum campaigning dictate that no human being can ever simultaneously know both what Mitt Romney's current position is and where that position will be at some future date. This is known as the "principle uncertainty principle."

Entanglement. It doesn't matter whether it's a proton, neutron or Mormon: the act of observing cannot be separated from the outcome of the observation. By asking Mitt Romney how he feels about an issue, you unavoidably affect how he feels about it. More precisely, Mitt Romney will feel every possible way about an issue until the moment he is asked about it, at which point the many feelings decohere into the single answer most likely to please the asker.

Noncausality. The Romney campaign often violates, and even reverses, the law of cause and effect. For example, ordinarily the cause of getting the most votes leads to the effect of being considered the most electable candidate. But in the case of Mitt Romney, the cause of being considered the most electable candidate actually produces the effect of getting the most votes.

Duality. Many conservatives believe the existence of Mitt Romney allows for the possibility of the spontaneous creation of an "anti-Romney" (Fig. 2) that leaps into existence and annihilates Mitt Romney. (However, the science behind this is somewhat suspect, as it is financed by Rick Santorum, for whom science itself is suspect.)

What does all this bode for the general election? By this point it won't surprise you to learn the answer is, "We don't know." Because according to the latest theories, the "Mitt Romney" who seems poised to be the Republican nominee is but one of countless Mitt Romneys, each occupying his own cosmos, each supporting a different platform, each being compared to a different beloved children's toy but all of them equally real, all of them equally valid and all of them running for president at the same time, in their own alternative Romnealities, somewhere in the vast Romniverse.

And all of them losing to Barack Obama.

David Javerbaum is the author of "The Last Testament: A Memoir by God."

Continue reading "Quantum Theory of Mitt Romney" »

March 15, 2012

Groupon hired arts majors

Ms. Handler is working on an offer for Pine River Stables in St. Clair, Mich., a place she has never been to. It is the stables' first deal on Groupon: $18 for a one-hour ride for two people, half the regular price.

It takes Ms. Handler about 50 minutes to assemble the write-up, which is a few straightforward paragraphs explaining the details with the occasional gag as sweetener (The stables are closed "on Wednesdays, in the event of bad weather and on Horse Christmas.") She puts off writing the first sentences, the ones that are supposed to seduce every Groupon subscriber in Detroit -- either to go horseback riding or at least keep reading Groupon's e-mails.

Still stumped, she browses an online thesaurus. She studies the Pine River Web site for the umpteenth time. She wishes she lived in a world without horses.

Her fingers flick on the keyboard. "Without horses," she writes, "Polo shirts would be branded with monkeys and Paul Revere would have been forced to ride on a Segway. Celebrate our hoofed counterparts with today's Groupon. ..."

Good enough. She moves the copy along to the fact-checking department.

Like many others at Groupon, the 23-year-old Ms. Handler comes from an arts background. At the University of Michigan, she studied English and global media studies, wrote TV reviews for the student paper and short stories for fun.

Groupon shuns being thought of as a marketer or, worse, an ad agency, promoting cheap pizza or sushi for anyone who wants to hire it. The hope instead is that its users will eventually perceive it as an impartial guide to a city or a neighborhood, somewhat in the manner of the local paper's weekend section. With more than 400 writers and editors, Groupon's domestic editorial staff is on the verge of eclipsing the big name across the Chicago River, The Chicago Tribune.

Funny or Die: Groupon's Fate Hinges on Words
Published: May 28, 2011
The e-mail marketer hopes that its staff of 400 writers and editors will keep it one step ahead of its discounting competitors on the Web.

Continue reading "Groupon hired arts majors" »

January 6, 2012

Wordnik super dictionary 2

Wordnik, which has raised $12.8 million in venture financing, plans to use its vast database of words and word associations at the site and in many business partnerships to be announced this year, said Joe Hyrkin, the president and C.E.O.

The products will be similar to recommendation engines, but more powerful, he said. If you like a particular book, for example, Wordnik can recommend a similar one based on its understanding of words used to describe the book, he said.

"We're not just using tags and descriptors," he said. "Our system understands and identifies matches at a concept level."

The company is already providing many other word-based services, including one used on the Web site of The Times to define words in articles. Wordnik is also providing a financial glossary for

Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, who talks about language on "Fresh Air," the NPR program, appreciates Wordnik's breadth. "There's a lot of useful information here," he said. (He has also written commentaries on language for The Times.)

But he thinks that hands-on lexicographers could fine-tune the entries.

"The idea that you can pull lexicographers out of the loop and have an algorithm to mediate between me and the English language is goofy," he said. "Without hand citations done by trained people, you get a mess."

To illustrate his point, he noted flaws in a number of Wordnik's definitions. The first definition of "davenport," for instance, in three of the fives sources used by Wordnik is a kind of small writing desk. "It hasn't meant that since Grandma was a girl," he said.

People use a dictionary to find out what is correct, and what is incorrect, he said. "If I were a journalist looking to see if a word was being used correctly," he said, "I wouldn't put my eggs in the Wordnik basket."

Continue reading "Wordnik super dictionary 2" »

August 6, 2011

Um, ah, have I got your attention now ?

Yet studies suggest that "uh" and "um" play an active role in how we learn language and communicate. A University of Rochester lab published a paper this spring showing that kids over 2 were more likely to pay attention to an unfamiliar object if the speaker said "uh" before stating its name. Presumably, this tactic gives children a leg up on parsing an adult's speech. Take the example of the mother who says to her child, "No, that wasn't the telephone, honey. That was the, uh, timer." The "uh" indicates that there's a word coming up that might be new and unfamiliar, so extra attention is required.

-- Michael Erard / Slate

Continue reading "Um, ah, have I got your attention now ?" »

June 30, 2011

Punctuation ~=, !=, /=, =/=, or <> uninformed by compsci or chess

!= is not equal, and ! is not. ?! Dubious move, NYT.

Classic style manuals generally decree that exclamation points be used sparingly. "But e-mails seemed from the start to require different punctuation," said Lynne Truss, the author of "Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation." "As if by common consent, people turned to the ellipsis and the exclamation point. There must have been a reason for this. My theory is that both of these marks are ways of trying to keep the attention of the reader. One of them says, 'Don't go away, I haven't finished, don't go, don't go,' while the other says, 'Listen! I'm talking to you!' "

"Since the advent of e-mail, I have personally started all my messages with a yell," she said. "Instead of 'Dear George,' I write, 'George!' My belief is that when we read a printed page, we engage an inner ear, which follows the sense, the voice and the music in a linear way. We sort of listen to the writer. Whereas on a computer screen, we tend to pick out bits of information and link them for ourselves. The exclamation point is a natural reaction to this: Writers are shouting to be heard."

Unsurprisingly, the literati are particularly sensitive to, or particularly defensive about, the use of the exclamation point. "I'm definitely guilty of abusing it in e-mails," said Jennifer Egan, whose book "A Visit From the Goon Squad" won this year's Pulitzer Prize for fiction. And she notes a curious rebound effect: "The more exclamation points you use, the more you need to use in order create an impression of exclamation."

"I have long tried to swear off them," said Peter Godwin, whose book "When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa" detailed life in his native Zimbabwe. "I think they are the literary equivalent of canned applause. I hate the way they jostle you, and the way they prescribe, 'Dear reader, be amazed!' And while we're on the subject, there's the '?!' one-two combo. I suppose it is trying to say, 'My question is jokey,' or 'I'm embarrassed to ask it in the first place.' "

Diana Abu-Jaber, author of the memoir "The Language of Baklava," indulges in a prodigious use of exclamation points, with a chaser of self-flagellation. "It's sort of ironic and damning, considering what a total literary snob I fancy myself," she said. "It might have something to do with my new life of texting 20-year-old baby sitters. I think there's also a connection to having a non-native-speaker parent -- that whole thing of shouting to be heard."

A sense of punctuation may be imprinted in childhood, the way the Inuit heroine Smilla has a "sense of snow" in Peter Hoeg's novel "Smilla's Sense of Snow." "I think I first got interested in the exclamation point while watching the old Batman TV show as a kid. Kablam! Kapow!" said Meg Wolitzer, whose most recent novel is "The Uncoupling." "In a way, the cartoon aspect of this emphatic spatter of punctuation has stayed with me. I still feel a little uneasy when I use it, although I sometimes do use it because it feels appropriately sprightly."

"There's a case to be made that the exclamation point is the adverb of punctuation; if you have to put it in, then maybe the sentence didn't do its job," she said. "Then again, I'm also highly uneasy about ever using italics. If the exclamation point is the adverb of punctuation, then italics are the Ambien of typography. I guess my only rule is to use the exclamation point sparingly, like adverbs, italics and cortisone cream."

Walter Kirn, author of "Up in the Air," sees no reason to curb his enthusiasm. "The text message and the exclamation point are made for each other, and I'm glad they finally found each other," he said. "They're both one-note forms of communication, without music, without connotation and atmosphere, but they do have their uses."

"To me, there's no more shame in filling text messages with exclamation points," he added, "three at a time, if necessary, than there is in using strings of expletives while arguing politics at an Irish pub."

Continue reading "Punctuation ~=, !=, /=, =/=, or <> uninformed by compsci or chess " »

February 16, 2011

Immature speech patterns used to be drummed out of kids in ninth grade

What Happens in Vagueness Stays in Vagueness
The decline and fall of
American English, and stuff

I recently watched a television program in which a woman described a baby squirrel that she had found in her yard. "And he was like, you know, 'Helloooo, what are you looking at?' and stuff, and I'm like, you know, 'Can I, like, pick you up?,' and he goes, like, 'Brrrp brrrp brrrp,' and I'm like, you know, 'Whoa, that is so wow!' " She rambled on, speaking in self-quotations, sound effects, and other vocabulary substitutes, punctuating her sentences with facial tics and lateral eye shifts. All the while, however, she never said anything specific about her encounter with the squirrel.

Uh-oh. It was a classic case of Vagueness, the linguistic virus that infected spoken language in the late twentieth century. Squirrel Woman sounded like a high school junior, but she appeared to be in her mid-forties, old enough to have been an early carrier of the contagion. She might even have been a college intern in the days when Vagueness emerged from the shadows of slang and mounted an all-out assault on American English.


December 10, 2010


Cliches: example, Tis the season.
Copydesk reads words and language.

July 30, 2010

BP concerns dominated by perception, publicity, reputation, not actual damage

BP's board is expected on Monday to name an American, Robert Dudley, as its chief executive, replacing Tony Hayward, whose repeated stumbles during the company's three-month oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico alienated federal and state officials as well as residents of the Gulf Coast.

keep in mind that this isn't exactly a model example of accountability. Hayward isn't being canned because of BP's poor safety record, which had been established long before the disaster in the Gulf.

Instead, Hayward is being canned because BP thinks he wasn't a good spokesman. In other words, BP thinks their problems have more to do with the nationality of their CEO than the consequences of their corporate policies. And with their new pick, selecting a long-time BP insider to replace Hayward, BP is signaling that they have no real intention of changing anything about how they do business. The only thing they want to change is the accent. But even if this move does end up helping BP's shareholders in the short-term, it won't make anybody safer or more secure, and it won't help stop their next disaster. It's an image move, having nothing to do with substance.

-- Jed Lewison

May 7, 2010

Literally compartmentalize

There is more room for distraction in golf, which is less reactive and more reflective than sports like football or tennis. The best players' minds are like the bags toted by their caddies. They have lots of compartments, tuck away personal matters before a round and collect them afterward the way they do their watches and wallets.

Paul Goydos, who lost to Sergio García in a playoff here in 2008 and is tied for 15th entering the final round, said, "I think most golfers, regardless of what's going on in their lives, have to be able to compartmentalize."

Continue reading "Literally compartmentalize" »

February 22, 2010

He said, she said reporting due to 'Regression to a phony mean'

This is a post about a single line in a recent article in the New York Times: Tea Party Lights Fuse for Rebellion on Right.... Reporter David Barstow spent five months--five months!--reporting and researching the Tea Party phenomenon.
Based not on a subjective assessment of the Tea Party's viability or his opinion of its desirability but only on facts he knows about the state of politics and government since Obama's election, is there any substantial likelihood of a tyranny replacing the American republic in the near future?

I think it's obvious....that the answers are "no." For if the answers were "yes" it would have been a huge story! No fair description of the current situation, nothing in what the Washington bureau and investigative staff of the New York Times has picked up from its reporting, would support a characterization like "impending tyranny."

In a word, the Times editors and Barstow know this narrative is nuts, but something stops them from saying so-- despite the fact that they must have spent over $100,000 on this one story. And whatever that thing is, it's not the reluctance to voice an opinion in the news columns, but a reluctance to report a fact in the news columns, the fact that the "narrative of impending tyranny" is ungrounded in any observable reality, even though the sense of grievance within the Tea Party movement is truly felt and politically consequential.

My claim: We have come upon something interfering with political journalism's "sense of reality" as the philosopher Isaiah Berlin called it (see section 5.1) And I think I have a term for the confusing factor: a quest for innocence in reportage and dispute description. Innocence, meaning a determination not to be implicated, enlisted, or seen by the public as involved. That's what created the pattern I've called "regression to a phony mean." That's what motivated the rise of he said, she said reporting.

-- Jay Rosen

Continue reading "He said, she said reporting due to 'Regression to a phony mean' " »

December 26, 2009

How to argue 6: not 'connecting the dots', by Hoekstra

Language skill of the day: Accuse your opponent of not 'connecting the dots':

Speculation about terrorist plots based on limited information is a fool's game. We know very little about Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab's attempts on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 yesterday, though there are some pretty obvious questions about how he got materials on board, how dangerous they were, and what his associations may be.

Responsible federal officials will wait to get a more detailed picture before popping off in the media, making reckless accusations. Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R) of Michigan, inexplicably the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, has not yet been briefed on yesterday's incident, but that hasn't stopped him from trying to exploit the Abdulmutallab matter to score some cheap partisan points.

"It's not surprising," U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, a Holland Republican, said of the alleged terrorist attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight in Detroit. ... "People have got to start connecting the dots here and maybe this is the thing that will connect the dots for the Obama administration," Hoekstra said.

#6 in the language series, How to argue (when facts and logic are against you)

Continue reading "How to argue 6: not 'connecting the dots', by Hoekstra" »

December 13, 2009

How to argue: deny anticipation or expectation

Might people start bracing or fleeing from dreaded future changes ? No according to washingtonmonthly / Steve Benen.

But Boehner nevertheless hasn't lost his unmitigated gall confidence, and has an op-ed in the Washington Post today about how right he is about the economy.

I was actually curious to see what he'd come up with. After all, just over the last two weeks, Boehner has blamed job losses on policies that don't exist yet, and rejected the idea of a jobs bill as "repulsive." Boehner hosted an "economic roundtable" last week with a bunch of former Bush aides, so maybe he's come up with something specific to offer by now.

While the Republican from Ohio says the decrease in the unemployment rate is encouraging, he says "anyone who views today's report as cause for celebration is out of touch with the American people, especially when Washington Democrats' policies -- whether it's a government takeover of health care, a national energy tax, or 'card check' -- are already costing jobs and will pile even more debt on our kids and grandkids."

How to argue, the series, in Language.

December 8, 2009

Progressive polemics take on the 'he'-cession

hecession: recession where male incident unemployment overhsaddows female unemployment.

Progressive take and spin on the econonomic scene:

As women's job losses mount, some women--especially unmarried women--are facing an increasingly grim job market. Unmarried women have much higher unemployment than married women. In October, 10.3 percent of unmarried women age 20 and over (3.3 million) and 5.7 percent of married women (2.1 million) were unemployed (see figure below; all data by marital status is not seasonally adjusted). Although unmarried women represent less than half (46.5 percent) of all women workers, they account for 6 in 10 (60.8 percent) of women workers who are unemployed. The situation is worse for unmarried women who head families, most of whom are single mothers, who now have an unemployment rate of 12.6 percent, 2.4 percentage points above the national average.

Question not asked: are married women more likely to drift into and out of the laborforce, given job prospects or lack thereof ?

Continue reading "Progressive polemics take on the 'he'-cession" »

November 19, 2009

Wyatt Gallery is aptly named

Mr Wyatt Gallery has a Photography Gallery.

Notably, he received a Fulbright Scholarship to travel to Trinidad and Tobago.

-- another example of the Dennis the Dentist naming rule.

Continue reading "Wyatt Gallery is aptly named" »

October 21, 2009

Surveillance 'totally unwarranted'

Suspected of sending children to an out-of-distrct school, state collected a surveillance report and the family's telephone billing records.

"As far as I'm concerned, they're within their rights to scrutinize all applications, but the way they went about it was totally unwarranted.

Continue reading "Surveillance 'totally unwarranted'" »

September 3, 2009

Are safer smokes safer ?

The law also prohibits advertising that products carry a lower health risk than traditional cigarettes without F.D.A. approval, a provision aimed at ensuring that such claims are scientifically valid not only for individual smokers but also for the population as a whole, including nonsmokers who might be enticed to smoke if they thought a cigarette was low-risk.

Continue reading "Are safer smokes safer ?" »

August 27, 2009

Criticism is judgmental and accusatory. Feedback focuses on providing concrete information to motivate

Leon F. Seltzer, a clinical psychologist who has written extensively on this subject, differentiates between criticism and feedback. In a blog he writes for Psychology Today, he notes that:

¶Criticism is judgmental and accusatory. It can involve labeling, lecturing, moralizing and even ridiculing. Feedback focuses on providing concrete information to motivate the recipient to reconsider his or her behavior.

¶Criticism involves making negative assumptions about the other person's motives. Feedback reacts not to intent but the actual result of the behavior.

¶Criticism, poorly given, often includes advice, commands and ultimatums, making the person receiving it feel defensive and angry -- and undermines any benefits. Feedback, on the other hand, looks less at how the person should change, but tries to prompt a discussion about the benefits of change.

This last point is one that Darren Gurney, a high school teacher in New Rochelle, N.Y., has thought a lot about. Mr. Gurney also coaches high school and college baseball teams and runs a summer baseball camp that my sons love. He has found that one of the most effective ways to criticize a player is not to tell him what he did wrong, but ask him to analyze what he thinks he could have done better.

Continue reading "Criticism is judgmental and accusatory. Feedback focuses on providing concrete information to motivate" »

August 26, 2009

verdes Vadera, green shoots, he scores

The popularity of the term "green shoots" shows the kind of social epidemic underlying our changing thinking. The phrase was propelled in Britain by Shriti Vadera, the business minister, in January, and mutated into a more contagious form after Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, used it on "60 Minutes" on March 15.

The news media didn't need to change the term for different cultures around the world. With nothing more than a quick translation -- brotes verdes, pousses vertes, grüne Sprösslinge, etc. -- it is now recognized as a symbol of a revival coming soon.

All of this suggests that a social epidemic is supporting renewed confidence. This confidence can keep growing by contagion, as a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, and we may see the markets and the economy recover further.

Continue reading "verdes Vadera, green shoots, he scores" »

August 12, 2009

Death Panel non-fiction

Death Panels are Fiction, The case for, Part I

Right now, the charge that's gaining the most traction is the claim that health care reform will create "death panels" (in Sarah Palin's words) that will shuffle the elderly and others off to an early grave. It's a complete fabrication, of course. The provision requiring that Medicare pay for voluntary end-of-life counseling was introduced by Senator Johnny Isakson, Republican -- yes, Republican -- of Georgia, who says that it's "nuts" to claim that it has anything to do with euthanasia.

And not long ago, some of the most enthusiastic peddlers of the euthanasia smear, including Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, and Mrs. Palin herself, were all for "advance directives" for medical care in the event that you are incapacitated or comatose. That's exactly what was being proposed -- and has now, in the face of all the hysteria, been dropped from the bill.

Yet the smear continues to spread. And as the example of Mr. Gingrich shows, it's not a fringe phenomenon: Senior G.O.P. figures, including so-called moderates, have endorsed the lie.

Senator Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, is one of these supposed moderates


The case for, Part II

Painting the Giacometti-esque Emanuel as a creepy Dr. Death, Palin attacked him on her Facebook page a week ago, complaining that his "Orwellian thinking" could lead to a "death panel" with bureaucrats deciding whether to pull the plug on less hardy Americans. Never mind that Palin herself had endorsed some of the same end-of-life counseling she now depicts as putting Grandma down.

As the Democratic National Committee pointed out, Palin put out a 2008 proclamation for Healthcare Decisions Day "to raise public awareness of the need to plan ahead for healthcare decisions, related to end of life care ... and to encourage the specific use of advance directives to communicate these important healthcare decisions."

Consistency was long ago sent to a death panel in Palin world.

Part III:

The controversy over "death panels" is just the most extreme manifestation of this debate. Obviously, the Democratic plans wouldn't euthanize your grandmother. But they might limit the procedures that her Medicare will pay for. And conservative lawmakers are using this inconvenient truth to paint the Democrats as enemies of Grandma.

Continue reading "Death Panel non-fiction" »

July 25, 2009

Obama on red pills, blue pills

Just begging for a correction:

The pharmacists like to slice and dice our country into red pills and blue pills: red pills for Republicans, blue pills for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We get an awesome high on the blue pill, and we don't like federal agents poking around our stash of red pills.

We deal to the little league some blue pills, and, yes, we've got some gay friends hopped up on red pills.

July 5, 2009

Wordnik superdictionary

Wordnik promises to be a super dictionary, with web search driven updates of how words are used (But what does it mean to say the tool is used once per month ?) .

Better filtering tha UrbanDictionary, better page layout than most web dictionaries.

Update 2009 July 19: now with more context


June 29, 2009

Some good arguing: bad health plan is delaying your tests and denying your treatment

Some good arguing on healthcare.

Luntz also wrote: "Healthcare quality = 'getting the treatment you need, when you need it.' That is how Americans define quality, and so should you. The key opportunity here is that this commitment goes beyond what the Democrats can offer. Their plan will deny people treatments they need and make them wait to get the treatments they can actually receive. This is more than just rationing. To most Americans, rationing suggests limits or shortages -- for others. But personalizing it -- 'delaying your tests and denying your treatment' -- is the concept most likely to change the most minds in your favor" [emphasis in original].

On its "Talking Points" page, congressional Republicans similarly stated that Democrats would deny access to medical care and treatments, claiming, "The Democrats' government-takeover of health care will deny access to medical care and life-saving treatments."

May 30, 2009

Unamerican names part 3

Deferring to people's own pronunciation of their names should obviously be our first inclination, but there ought to be limits. Putting the emphasis on the final syllable of Sotomayor is unnatural in English (which is why the president stopped doing it after the first time at his press conference), unlike my correspondent's simple preference for a monophthong over a diphthong, and insisting on an unnatural pronunciation is something we shouldn't be giving in to.

Mark Krikorian, Center for Immigration Studies blogs on the Corner

April 16, 2009

Dennis the dentist, 3

The most astonishing change concerns the ending of boys' names. In 1880, most boys' names ended in the letters E, N, D and S. In 1956, the chart of final letters looked pretty much the same, with more names ending in Y. Today's chart looks nothing like the charts of the past century. In 2006, a huge (and I mean huge) percentage of boys' names ended in the letter N. Or as Wattenberg put it, "Ladies and gentlemen, that is a baby-naming revolution."

Wattenberg observes a new formality sweeping nursery schools. Thirty years ago there would have been a lot of Nicks, Toms and Bills on the playground. Now they are Nicholas, Thomas and William. In 1898, the name Dewey had its moment (you should be able to figure out why). Today, antique-sounding names are in vogue: Hannah, Abigail, Madeline, Caleb and Oliver.

In the late 19th century, parents sometimes named their kids after prestigious jobs, like King, Lawyer, Author and Admiral. Now, children are more likely to bear the names of obsolete proletarian professions, Cooper, Carter, Tyler and Mason.

Wattenberg uses her blog to raise vital questions, such as should you give your child an unusual name that is Googleable, or a conventional one that is harder to track? But what's most striking is the sheer variability of the trends she describes.

Naming fashion doesn't just move a little. It swings back and forth. People who haven't spent a nanosecond thinking about the letter K get swept up in a social contagion and suddenly they've got a Keisha and a Kody. They may think they're making an individual statement, but in fact their choices are shaped by the networks around them.

Furthermore, if you just looked at names, you would conclude that American culture once had a definable core -- signified by all those Anglo names like Mary, Robert, John and William. But over the past few decades, that Anglo core is harder to find. In the world of niche naming, there is no clearly identifiable mainstream.

Continue reading "Dennis the dentist, 3" »

January 22, 2009

Parking no parking

Can you park here now ?


Posted in NY transit language.

January 14, 2009

Environmental impact of environmental events

The New York Times looks at the impact of gathering at Sundance to watch environmental films.

Still, a stroll here this week down Main Street -- where a dozen idling trucks were unloading supplies and equipment, while an oversize band bus, with trailer in tow, spewed fumes outside a soon-to-be-busy party site -- framed the obvious quandary: how can you cram some 46,000 people, roughly equivalent to a fifth of Hollywood's total work force, into a pretty little mountain town without contributing mightily to the problems your films hope to solve?


Utility officials said there was no way to determine how much extra wattage was being poured into the valley for the festival's spotlights and the strings of colored bulbs lining Park City's streets. "Pinpointing use for one city," said Margaret Oler, an information officer with Pacificorp, which provides power to the area, "can be pretty difficult."


Most electrical implements, bulbs included, have power consumption in Watts printed right on them.

The Films Are Green, but Is Sundance?
Published: January 17, 2009
This year's Sundance Film Festival has a schedule that's greener than Fifth Avenue on St. Patrick's Day, but what's the environmental impact of the festival itself?

Continue reading "Environmental impact of environmental events" »

December 26, 2008

The rise and fall of Svetlana Egorova

New York is city of excitement and dream-making. Nice American Agency introduce this girl to many nice and sexy American men of wholesome goodness with upper east side doorman buildings. One day, the girl goes to drink with George, a business man of hedgefunds who is getting in on bottom floors and is also liking of back doors. She is so nervous before date, she does the bronze of herself twice in tanning booth. Ha ha! Is not matter, George likes very much what he sees and offers her highest of compliments, she is like the Barbie Doll that is come to life!


December 24, 2008

Mathew Yglesias

Mathew Yglesias gets some attention this week.

What makes Matt worth noting ?

He's mildly ingratiating, sometimes merely diplomatic; and he shows the education and writing ability to articulate the practical consensus of his readers.

On the downside, he moves is blog every six months, to the American Prospect, Tapped, Atlantic, to ThinkProgress; maybe he should just park it on Xanga.

Continue reading "Mathew Yglesias" »

December 21, 2008

Today's rich don't exploit the poor they just outcompete them.

Looking at upper-middle-class homes, Lareau describes a parenting style that many of us ridicule but do not renounce. This involves enrolling kids in large numbers of adult-supervised activities and driving them from place to place. Parents are deeply involved in all aspects of their children's lives. They make concerted efforts to provide learning experiences.

Home life involves a lot of talk and verbal jousting. Parents tend to reason with their children, not give them orders. They present "choices" and then subtly influence the decisions their kids make. Kids feel free to pass judgment on adults, express themselves and even tell their siblings they hate them when they're angry.

The pace is exhausting. Fights about homework can be titanic. But children raised in this way know how to navigate the world of organized institutions. They know how to talk casually with adults, how to use words to shape how people view them, how to perform before audiences and look people in the eye to make a good first impression.

Working-class child-rearing is different, Lareau writes. In these homes, there tends to be a much starker boundary between the adult world and the children's world. Parents think that the cares of adulthood will come soon enough and that children should be left alone to organize their own playtime. When a girl asks her mother to help her build a dollhouse out of boxes, the mother says no, "casually and without guilt," because playtime is deemed to be inconsequential -- a child's sphere, not an adult's.

Lareau says working-class children seem more relaxed and vibrant, and have more intimate contact with their extended families. "Whining, which was pervasive in middle-class homes, was rare in working-class and poor ones," she writes.

But these children were not as well prepared for the world of organizations and adulthood. There was much less talk in the working-class homes. Parents were more likely to issue brusque orders, not give explanations. Children, like their parents, were easily intimidated by and pushed around by verbally dexterous teachers and doctors. Middle-class kids felt entitled to individual treatment when entering the wider world, but working-class kids felt constrained and tongue-tied.

David Brooks

Continue reading "Today's rich don't exploit the poor they just outcompete them." »

November 13, 2008

Snowclones idiom warehouse

Modern folklore holds that Eskimos have a huge number of words related to snow, but it's just not true--they use no more such words than we do. Still, the factoid continues to spin off phrases on the general format of "If Eskimos have N words for snow, X have Y words for Z." For example, a 2003 article in The Economist declared, "If Eskimos have dozens of words for snow, Germans have as many words for bureaucracy." On his blog, Agoraphilia, Glen Whitman coined a snappy name for the category to which this formula belongs: the snowclone. Of course, he was punning on the snow cone, which is shaved ice flavored with syrup and carried in a paper cone. Other bloggers have since identified more members of this lexicographic species, and one of them, Erin Stevenson O'Connor, is compiling them at at

Many snowclones are firmly entrenched in mainstream culture. For example, I'm not an X, but I play one on TV has been around for more than 20 years. It comes from a 1986 ad for Vicks Formula 44 cough syrup, in which an actor said, "I'm not a doctor, but I play one on TV."

Links: Snow Clones.

Continue reading "Snowclones idiom warehouse" »

November 12, 2008

Bush in 1978: before playing country cowboy

"Kent Hance was a down-home boy, real homey, and George W. wasn't homey like Kent," recalled Johnnye Davis, a Republican leader in Odessa. "He didn't come across to the voters as well as Kent did, with the little jokes that Kent told."

While Mr. Bush now is sometimes mocked for an ignorance of policy details, back then people thought he had the opposite problem: a tendency to drop references in his speeches that baffled audiences, like a discussion of anti-inflationary economic policy.

"He was quick, a bit too quick, so that people didn't always get it," Mrs. Davis said. "He was so darn intelligent that a lot of what he said went over people's heads. He's learned to explain things a little better since then."

Another problem was that while Mr. Bush never really had a clear campaign strategy, Mr. Hance did: he focused his campaign on emphasizing local ties and on casting Mr. Bush as a carpet-bagger from the East. One of Mr. Hance's most effective radio spots was this one, read by an announcer:

"In 1961, when Kent Hance graduated from Dimmitt High School in the 19th congressional district, his opponent George W. Bush was attending Andover Academy in Massachusetts. In 1965, when Kent Hance graduated from Texas Tech, his opponent was at Yale University. And while Kent Hance graduated from University of Texas Law School, his opponent" -- the announcer's voice plunged -- "get this, folks, was attending Harvard. We don't need someone from the Northeast telling us what our problems are."

Continue reading "Bush in 1978: before playing country cowboy" »

October 22, 2008

Paradoxically ?

The laid-back, noncompetitive and bohemian ambience of these new coffee shops has, paradoxically, limited them almost entirely to the very neighborhoods that welcome those qualities: Greenwich Village, Chelsea, and Williamsburg and Park Slope in Brooklyn.

Like flames, paradoxically limited to fires ? More in words and language.

Continue reading "Paradoxically ?" »

October 20, 2008

Middle class: only up to $250, 000 annual income ?

The definition of middle class is in flux. Many try to quantify and specify it in income terms.

Here's Charles Gibson of ABC (Via Paul Krugman): suggested that $200,000 a year was a middle-class income.

July 29, 2008

Explaining vs Stigmitizing

Conservatives believe that once you name something as evil, there's no further explanation. (Either it can't be explained, because evil is an irreducible mystery, or there's just no point in explaining it.)

Liberals believe that once you explain something, it can't be named as evil. (Because true understanding banishes the mysteriousness that makes something hateful.)

[ Via unfogged ]

June 22, 2008

How to argue part 3: complaining means losing

"When you are crying foul in a presidential campaign, it usually
means you are losing."

-- Mr. Chris Lehane, the Democratic operative, pronounced himself
that the McCain campaign was feeling victimized.

How to argue (without facts or logic), the series.

May 12, 2008

How to argue, part 8

Yglesias' argument is emphatically about a practical,
politically feasible Democratic foreign policy, and not
about seizing the quasi-pacifist moral high ground.

-- CC@unfogged.

July 20, 2007

Myalgic Encephalopathy is the new yuppie flu

Many patients point to another problem with chronic fatigue syndrome:
the name itself, which they say trivializes their condition and has
discouraged researchers, drug companies and government agencies
from taking it seriously. Many patients prefer the older British term,
myalgic encephalomyelitis, which means “muscle pain with inflammation
of the brain and spinal chord,” or a more generic term, myalgic

Continue reading "Myalgic Encephalopathy is the new yuppie flu" »

June 17, 2007

Bed Stuy, txt or die

Virgin mobile's copywriters phone it in.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard ‘Murray Hill’ and ‘Rule’ used in the
same sentence before,” he said. “The copywriters certainly
deserve some credit for this. It’s not that easy to go from
bashing Sutton Place to selling prepaid phone service in
less than 50 words.”

-- John Reardon.

BedStuy Blog

March 3, 2007

How to argue, part 2: My view

You are doing what you accuse older feminists of doing
-- declaring your views unassailable simply because you
have them.

They say,"You weren't there,"
You say, "You aren't here."

Okay, but you still have to make your case -- plenty of
young women, including young feminists, don't share
your POV. Your real beef with Ariel Levy, for example,
is not that she's too old and out of it to understand
young women (she's only in her early thirties).

It's that you don't agree with her view that today's
sexual culture (girls gone wild, hooking up etc) is
basically exploitation and exhibitionism packaged
as feminism. I'm not saying she's right or wrong,
I'm just saying that "Female Chauvinist Pigs" presents
an actual argument, not a mindless ignorant diss
of young women by some old fussbudget who
knows little about them.

Katha Pollitt, in response to The Feminist Sorority.

How to argue (without facts or logic), the series.

November 4, 2006

Squabbling vs assessing the alternatives

We, we are assessing the alternatives. The other guys,
they are divided and squabbling.

Continue reading "Squabbling vs assessing the alternatives" »

September 21, 2006

Separated by a Common Language

Separatedbyacommonlanguage compare US English to British English.

September 19, 2006

City on a Hill

On how Freedom became central to the Republican party's
campaign for word domination.

Nunberg notes there are lots of metaphors for the state
—a ship adrift, an actor on the world stage, a city on a
hill, a house with crumbling foundations—and there is
simply no reason to think one of them structures our
political thought. We should all thank Nunberg for
suggesting that there is no thread, metaphorical or
logical, that runs through the contingently evolving
packages of partisan commitment.

-- WW

September 14, 2006

Urban Dictionary

urbandictionary is looking good.

Collaborative nature compels user contributions
and feedback, thumbsupping or thumbsdowning
competing definitions on clarity, detail, and
plausibility (for the zero information set) or
accuracy (for those in the know.

The freshness of the content poses a challenge
o the traditional dictionary.

Its information architecture lists adjacent and
related words, and offers endless serendipity.

Example: garaigo.

Continue reading "Urban Dictionary" »

September 7, 2006

Dictionary with completion by ObjectGraph

Dictionary with completion as you type, by ObjectGraph.
-- updates.

July 31, 2006

How to argue, part 1

How to argue without facts or logic:

The Casey campaign has portrayed Mr. Santorum as far
too close to the K Street lobbying community and far
too devoted to a national conservative agenda.

Too close: how is this measured ?
K street: what is this, why is it 'bad' ?

"At some point, he began to spend a lot more time on
Washington politics and Republican Party politics and
ideology than on Pennsylvania's priorities," Mr. Casey
said. "In a nutshell, he's gone Washington."

Washington politics. How are these irrelevant ?
National issues. How are these issues not material ?
Ideology. Why is his ideology bad ?

Continue reading "How to argue, part 1" »

July 18, 2006

Bobo's two types: purity vs pragma

Not a fight between left and right, a fight about
how politics should be conducted. On the one
hand are the ...

Update: for the 'How to argue...' file
How to introduce evidence you don't have:
So these days, for example, one hears that Lieberman is a

true believersquasi-independents
fundamentalistsheterodox politicians
party disciplinedistrust ideological purity
passionrebel against movement groupthink
orthodoxyJohn McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Hillary Clinton
clear choicesJoe Lieberman

Continue reading "Bobo's two types: purity vs pragma" »

May 17, 2006

Sommelier smackdown

Sommelier smackdown, amused by guy who conflates
take-out and take-in outcall and incall.

Blackpepper nuances' that `explode on the back palate
supported by fine grained tannins and long plum and spice

April 20, 2006

LEET Sp3ak,dudz. !!!

LEET Sp3k via Boing.

March 16, 2006

McMansion congratulations

When neighbors return, after having moved out temporarily to
have one of these steroid palaces built for them, I'm at a loss
for what to say.

Nice house seems insincere.

Where the hell did you get the money ?
would be aggressive and intrusive.

But it seems as if you should say something, right?
I want to say,

Why ? or,

You expecting quintuplets ?

I settle for

Looks like it's really coming along.

March 4, 2006

George W Bush, comforter.

George W Bush, comforter.

BUSH: When I saw TV reporters interviewing people
who were screaming for help. It looked the scenes
looked chaotic and desperate. And I realized that our
government was could have done a better job of
comforting people.

Americans should find comfort in knowing that millions
of their fellow citizens are working every day to ensure
our security at every level -- federal, state, county, municipal.

The more people learn about the port deal and the
government's scrutiny of it, the more they'll be comforted.

January 24, 2006

Tonight, it's happening live !

It's a tough job, making broadcasts filled with canned fluff and
hours-old taped packages seem up-to-date. So, starting way
back in the nineties, I chronicled the practice at NBC NIghtly
News of inserting the word "tonight" into the copy more than
a dozen times per broadcast. My theory: it made the newscast
seem more newsy.

Now comes Marvin Block, who deconstructs a recent Anderson
Cooper script to find similar topical weaseling afoot.
At this moment, this is what's going on, tonight.

Continue reading "Tonight, it's happening live !" »

January 5, 2006

idiom: stick to your knitting

Stick to your knitting means continue to do what you have always done
instead of trying to do something you know very little about.

December 27, 2005

Hanzi smatter

hanzi smatter or hanzis matter ?
Proofreads tatoos, ex post.

勢 (power; force; tendency) and 夢 (dream).

November 3, 2005

Rhetorica: propaganda, spin, journalism and politics,

Rhetorica Network offers analysis and commentary about the rhetoric,
propaganda, and spin of journalism and politics, including analysis of
presidential speeches and election campaigns. [*]

Shows that the Show ME state is still home to touchstones of
journalism since Network.

October 30, 2005

Who needs Prop 79 for drugs in California ?

Proposition 79 would use the purchasing power of the State of
California to negotiate the best price for up to ten million
Californians, who now pay more than anybody else in the world
for prescription drugs.

* Prop. 78 is completely voluntary for drug companies: they
are free to choose whether or not to offer discounts.

* Prop. 79 has an enforcement mechanism. If a drug company
refuses to provide discounts, the state can shift business away
from that company and buy more from other drug companies that
offer discounts.

Above is from the so-called Better California campaign site for
Prop 79 *.

Klingian Question of the Day:
What is preventing buyers from comparison shopping
between drug companies, either now or under Prop 78 ?

October 16, 2005

Explain ia: An Exercise in Clarity

What exactly is an “Information Architect” or “Information Architecture” ?

Explain it in 10 words or less. And then, take all the words you
need to explain the difference between an information architect and
a designer (not an artist, but a designer).

-- 37signals

September 19, 2005

Rumsfeld speaks

Well, you know, you have to remember that in every war, a battle plan
doesn't survive first contact with the enemy. This is in history. Why?
Because the enemy has a brain and they're constantly adapting, so we're
constantly adapting. Every time there's an adaptation, someone says,
"Oh, there's a mistake." It isn't a mistake. It's just reality. ...

-- Donald Rumsfeld

June 25, 2005

Deep Throat unknown to Big Mouth

Essay:The Secret That Didn't Reach Washington's Lips
By Sally Quinn

No. I did not know who Deep Throat was. And no. I never asked
my husband, Ben Bradlee. Why not? For several reasons. I have too much
pride, to begin with. I knew perfectly well Ben wouldn't tell me and I
didn't want to be refused. Secondly, I . . . how shall I say this? ...
have a big mouth. It would have been a huge responsibility to know.
It was also clear that if somebody else spilled the beans, fingers
would be pointed at me.

Continue reading "Deep Throat unknown to Big Mouth" »

June 8, 2005

traffic in disenfranchisement

It's not that writers in this country don't have their work
judged on literary merit; it's that we are not judged exclusively on
these grounds. The writer's biography is also examined, his or her
stats plugged into an authenticity equation to determine, once and for
all, how real the work is. There are many reasons why this is
self-defeating, and many reasons why we should not play along. When we
should be judged on the basis of our ability to imagine worlds and
empathize with our characters, we are instead reduced to merely
representing that which we must surely know firsthand. When we allow
ourselves to be praised for "being authentic," when we traffic in
biography, we are complicit in our own disenfranchisement: Suddenly we
are dismissed as serious artists. It's no longer art; it's reportage
and facsimile. It's real.
-- Peruvian guy

Continue reading "traffic in disenfranchisement" »

May 5, 2005

Man Date

Dinner with a friend has not always been so fraught. Before women
were considered men's equals, some gender historians say, men routinely
confided in and sought advice from one another in ways they did not
do with women, even their wives. Then, these scholars say, two
things changed during the last century: an increased public awareness
of homosexuality created a stigma around male intimacy, and at the
same time women began encroaching on traditionally male spheres,
causing men to become more defensive about notions of masculinity.

-- 8.

And so, man date joins the lexicon.

Continue reading "Man Date" »