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Thu, 14th Nov. 2013, 15:49
"How's your Denglisch?" now published in Babel: The Language Magazine

[cover of the November 2013 issue of Babel: The Language Magazine]

In his recent bestselling book series, Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod, humorist Bastian Sick argues that the German language is succumbing to Sprachverfall, or language decay, and lays the blame squarely on English contamination. There is no denying that the German lexicon has seen significant influence from English since the Second World War. However, this is by no means limited to pristine transfer of vocabulary; many of the borrowings undergo what are, to a native English speaker, bizarre shifts in form and meaning.

How well do you think you can interpret the strange blend of English and German known as Denglisch? Find out in my new quiz, "How's your Denglisch?", which appears in the November 2013 issue of Babel: The Language Magazine. (Babel is a new print magazine all about language and linguistics, published by a team of world-class linguists including David Crystal. You can subscribe on the magazine's website.)

Thu, 7th Nov. 2013, 10:49
A Mozilla monument to me

So I just got an e-mail that someone is building an actual monument to me. About damn time. ;)

Text of an e-mail from Mozilla: Hi there,We are emailing you since your name is on the Mozilla credits page [1]. To show the world the thousands of people who contribute to Mozilla, we are building a monument to Mozillians that will sit outside of our new San Fransisco space [2]. Because your name is on the credits page, we plan to print your name on the monument as well.If you do not want your name printed on the monument, please send an email to sf-monument@mozilla.com by Friday, November 8. Please include your name and email address.Thank you,The Mozilla monument teamsf-monument@mozilla.com[1] http://www.mozilla.org/credits/[2] https://wiki.mozilla.org/Monument

Sun, 31st Mar. 2013, 18:50
Autocompleted British Isles

Here's another autocomplete map, this time of the British Isles. Evidently the people of Great Britain don't think much of their cities, whereas the Irish are on the whole quite enamoured with theirs.

If your browser doesn't display the map properly, or if you want to get the SVG source, visit my autocomplete maps page.

[An autocomplete map of the British Isles]

Sat, 30th Mar. 2013, 23:14
O Autocompleted Canada

I produced these maps by typing "placename is" into the Google search box and then taking the top non-tautological autocomplete suggestion which makes sense. If your browser isn't displaying them properly, or if you want to get the SVG sources, visit my autocomplete maps page.

[An autocomplete map of Canada]

[An autocomplete map of Europe]

Wed, 5th Dec. 2012, 11:33
Conference on rudeness, verbal aggression, and mock politeness

The coolest call for papers just landed in my inbox. It's for a conference on impoliteness, to be held in Bydgoszcz in May of next year. Solicited topics include "rudeness, ignorance, aggravation, offence, verbal aggression, sarcasm, and mock politeness". I suppose someone perceived a niche to fill following the shuttering of Maledicta: The International Journal of Verbal Aggression! Below is an excerpt from the CFP.

Impolin: Impoliteness and Interaction

Call for papers

The aim of the conference is to provide an interdisciplinary platform for discussion over linguistic and nonlinguistic impolite behaviour across languages and cultures. The focus of the conference will be pragmatic and sociolinguistic aspects of impolite behaviour analysed both in terms of verbal and nonverbal communication, however we also welcome presentations across a wide variety of topics stemming from neighbouring fields of research, such as social studies, political studies, psychology, intercultural communication, media studies, etc.…

The proposed topics for papers include, but are not limited to:

  • theoretical frameworks
  • Neo-Gricean approaches to impoliteness
  • Discursive approaches to impoliteness
  • Relevance-theoretic approach to impoliteness
  • Cognitive linguistics in impoliteness research
  • Corpus-based studies of impoliteness
  • Sociolinguistic aspects of impoliteness
  • Pragmatic approaches to impoliteness, etc.

Categories of description:

  • disagreement
  • rudeness
  • ignorance
  • aggravation
  • offence
  • verbal aggression
  • sarcasm
  • mock politeness
  • humour and impoliteness
  • using taboo words
  • swearing and expletives, etc.

Possible scope of empirical studies:

  • impoliteness in translation (including literary and audiovisual translation, in particular in subtitles)
  • impoliteness in computer-mediated discourse
  • impoliteness in courtship setting
  • impoliteness in educational setting
  • impoliteness in institutional setting
  • impoliteness in interpersonal setting (face-face and multi-party conversations)
  • impoliteness across dialects and genres
  • impoliteness and power
  • impoliteness and identity
  • impoliteness and miscommunication
  • intentional and unintentional impoliteness
  • impoliteness perception and interpretation
  • impoliteness strategies
  • impoliteness and rapport management
  • linguistic and nonlinguistic impoliteness
  • impoliteness and prosody
  • multimodal approaches to impoliteness, etc.

The organizers really missed the boat in not holding the impoliteness conference in Paris, where the local shop assistants would have been only too happy to show everyone how it's done.

Tue, 4th Dec. 2012, 22:35
The prodigious coach

[Photograph of Edward Bellamy]
Edward Bellamy

I'm currently reading Looking Backward: 2000–1887, an 1887 novel by Edward Bellamy. It's written from the point of view of a man who travels forward in time from 1887 to 2000. The most striking differences he notices are not technological but rather social: money and the wages system hves disappeared, and along with it war and poverty. I don't believe the utopian future society Bellamy envisages is truly workable, not least due to the lingering presence of governments, nations, credit, and religion, but also because he imposes on it a very antiquated attitude towards women's social roles and obligations.

Though his solution may be off, his indictment of the socio-economic problems of 1887 could not be more accurate. At the very beginning of the novel the narrator, introducing himself to his audience of the year 2000, describes the time he comes from as follows. Sadly it is just as applicable to our real-life society of 2012, where hunger and poverty are a fact of life for hundreds of millions.

By way of attempting to give the reader some general impression of the way people lived together in those days, and especially of the relations of the rich and poor to one another, perhaps I cannot do better than to compare society as it then was to a prodigious coach which the masses of humanity were harnessed to and dragged toilsomely along a very hilly and sandy road. The driver was hunger, and permitted no lagging, though the pace was necessarily very slow. Despite the difficulty of drawing the coach at all along so hard a road, the top was covered with passengers who never got down, even at the steepest ascents. These seats on top were very breezy and comfortable. Well up out of the dust, their occupants could enjoy the scenery at their leisure, or critically discuss the merits of the straining team. Naturally such places were in great demand and the competition for them was keen, every one seeking as the first end in life to secure a seat on the coach for himself and to leave it to his child after him. By the rule of the coach a man could leave his seat to whom he wished, but on the other hand there were many accidents by which it might at any time be wholly lost. For all that they were so easy, the seats were very insecure, and at every sudden jolt of the coach persons were slipping out of them and falling to the ground, where they were instantly compelled to take hold of the rope and help to drag the coach on which they had before ridden so pleasantly. It was naturally regarded as a terrible misfortune to lose one's seat, and the apprehension that this might happen to them or their friends was a constant cloud upon the happiness of those who rode.

But did they think only of themselves? you ask. Was not their very luxury rendered intolerable to them by comparison with the lot of their brothers and sisters in the harness, and the knowledge that their own weight added to their toil? Had they no compassion for fellow beings from whom fortune only distinguished them? Oh, yes; commiseration was frequently expressed by those who rode for those who had to pull the coach, especially when the vehicle came to a bad place in the road, as it was constantly doing, or to a particularly steep hill. At such times, the desperate straining of the team, their agonized leaping and plunging under the pitiless lashing of hunger, the many who fainted at the rope and were trampled in the mire, made a very distressing spectacle, which often called forth highly creditable displays of feeling on the top of the coach. At such times the passengers would call down encouragingly to the toilers of the rope, exhorting them to patience, and holding out hopes of possible compensation in another world for the hardness of their lot, while others contributed to buy salves and liniments for the crippled and injured. It was agreed that it was a great pity that the coach should be so hard to pull, and there was a sense of general relief when the specially bad piece of road was gotten over. This relief was not, indeed, wholly on account of the team, for there was always some danger at these bad places of a general overturn in which all would lose their seats.

It must in truth be admitted that the main effect of the spectacle of the misery of the toilers at the rope was to enhance the passengers' sense of the value of their seats upon the coach, and to cause them to hold on to them more desperately than before. If the passengers could only have felt assured that neither they nor their friends would ever fall from the top, it is probable that, beyond contributing to the funds for liniments and bandages, they would have troubled themselves extremely little about those who dragged the coach.

I am well aware that this will appear to the men and women of the twentieth century an incredible inhumanity, but there are two facts, both very curious, which partly explain it. In the first place, it was firmly and sincerely believed that there was no other way in which Society could get along, except the many pulled at the rope and the few rode, and not only this, but that no very radical improvement even was possible, either in the harness, the coach, the roadway, or the distribution of the toil. It had always been as it was, and it always would be so. It was a pity, but it could not be helped, and philosophy forbade wasting compassion on what was beyond remedy.

The other fact is yet more curious, consisting in a singular hallucination which those on the top of the coach generally shared, that they were not exactly like their brothers and sisters who pulled at the rope, but of finer clay, in some way belonging to a higher order of beings who might justly expect to be drawn. This seems unaccountable, but, as I once rode on this very coach and shared that very hallucination, I ought to be believed. The strangest thing about the hallucination was that those who had but just climbed up from the ground, before they had outgrown the marks of the rope upon their hands, began to fall under its influence. As for those whose parents and grand-parents before them had been so fortunate as to keep their seats on the top, the conviction they cherished of the essential difference between their sort of humanity and the common article was absolute. The effect of such a delusion in moderating fellow feeling for the sufferings of the mass of men into a distant and philosophical compassion is obvious. To it I refer as the only extenuation I can offer for the indifference which, at the period I write of, marked my own attitude toward the misery of my brothers.

Looking Backward: 2000–1887 is freely available from Project Gutenberg.

Tue, 27th Nov. 2012, 21:08
Þóra destroys an orange

Apparently our Þóra has some irrational hatred of clementines. KILL ALL THE CLEMENTINES!!!

Tue, 9th Oct. 2012, 17:54
RPM patent

Red Hat has apparently referenced one of my papers in a software patent which was granted a few months ago. Or perhaps it was just the patent examiner who added the citation to the patent. Either way, I'm confused as to what relevance my paper (on using RPM for (La)TeX packages) has to their invention.

Sat, 1st Sep. 2012, 23:18
Psychonaut, your go-to guy for Commodore PET issues

I just got the following e-mail from a complete stranger:

A friend of mine passed away about 3 years ago and his wife is trying to get
rid of his computers.

He has a Commodore SuperPet 9000 and (2) L8050 Dual drive Floppy disk units


Any idea where I can dispose of these articles and what value they may have?

That's it. No introduction, no indication as to why I would be the one to ask about such things—nothing. Evidently for some reason I must come up first in Google when people ask it how to get rid of obsolete educational computing hardware from the 1970s.

Anyway, I traced the domain in his e-mail address to an obscure Ontario telecom, so I referred him to TPUG (which is still alive and kicking after all these years). Glad to be of service. :)

Tue, 21st Aug. 2012, 22:21
How many movies do you think you've watched in your life?

How many movies do you think you've watched in your life?

Me, I'm not sure. In 1997, I started keeping the ticket stubs of all the films I went to see. For the first few years I dutifully entered all the information into a database: the name of the film, when I saw it, what theatre it played at, who I saw it with, the ticket price, and my rating of the movie on a scale of 0 to 10. That wasn't much of a problem when I was seeing one or two films a month, but once I moved to Toronto in 2000 I really ramped up the cinema visits. Toronto was such a wonderful city for watching films, because if you lived downtown, there were easily 15 or 20 movie theatres of all types within walking distance:

  • There were giant multiplexes like the Palladium playing the latest Hollywood blockbusters. The place was so huge and had so many screens that it was easy to slip between the auditoriums unnoticed by the staff. You could buy a ticket in the afternoon, watch your film, and then take your pick of maybe half a dozen more that were just starting as yours was ending. And then you could repeat this all day until the place closed for the night. I'd go there to watch films like the first Harry Potter movie.
  • If you were in the mood for something besides the usual Hollywood fare, lots of theatres were happy to oblige you. The Carleton and a few of the multiplexes would occasionally show the more prominent independent films, foreign films, and documentaries. At these cinemas I saw films like The Grey Zone, Mostly Martha, and Rabbit-proof Fence.
  • There were also a few second-run theatres like the one at the Eaton Centre, where you could watch six-month-old flicks for just $1.50 (and quite often have the entire auditorium to yourself).
  • If you wanted to see something even older than six months, you could visit the Bloor Cinema. This was an independent, membership-only theatre which screened films from every decade from the 1920s to the present. I remember watching Baraka, Manufacturing Consent, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Brazil, and countless other films there.
  • The University of Toronto where I was studying had an active film students' association, and they often screened all sorts of new stuff that nobody had ever heard of but which turned out to be gems. I fondly remember being introduced to American Movie and The Left-hand Side of the Fridge there.
  • If you wanted even more obscure stuff, you went to Cineforum, which was basically just one guy, Reg Hartt, who screened films in the front room of his house on Bathurst Street. Hartt was an avid collector and historian of rare films, and managed to get his hands on the only surviving copies of some of them. He would often show rare and uncensored versions of Looney Tunes and Three Stooges films, nearly forgotten turn-of-the-century silent classics like Gertie the Dinosaur and Voyage to the Moon, and surrealist flicks like Un chien andalou.
  • And of course, every September came the famous Toronto International Film Festival, where all the theatres in the city would play hundreds of new films from all over the world. It wasn't some elitist, high-priced event attended only by film critics and industry people; it was easy for anyone to get a ticket.

As you can see, I was quite spoiled for movies in Toronto, and took full advantage of the situation, often seeing several films a week. I stopped updating my viewing database, but kept saving my ticket stubs anyway, shoving them into a desk drawer with the intention of cataloguing them one day when I had the time.

Things weren't quite the same after I moved away from Toronto. It takes forever to get anywhere in London, and the selection of films is surprisingly thin. Budapest had a thriving film scene, though again transport wasn't great (particularly after late-night showings), and films tended to be dubbed into strange languages. For instance, if you wanted to see The Pianist you had a choice of Hungarian or French; no theatres were playing it in the original English. Kaiserslautern had no English-language theatres, and while Darmstadt has enough theatres, these days I don't have quite as much money or time to spend on them.

Before I moved here, I decided it was time to sort through and get rid of all the junk I'd accumulated up to and including London. This included my movie ticket stub collection, which after over a decade had grown to fill a sizeable chunk of the drawer. I took one look at them, realized I would never get around to entering them into the database, and threw them in the recycling bin. I had no idea how many tickets there were in the pile. Two hundred, I thought? Maybe three?

As events this last weekend have demonstrated, I think I vastly underestimated that number. Nadya is away visiting her family, so I decided I would find a movie to watch. I couldn't think of anything I was in the mood for, so I Googled for movie recommendation websites. Specifically, I was looking for some sort of site where you could enter your opinion on some films you'd seen, and then the system would perform some mathematical calculations on your ratings, comparing them to those of like-minded individuals or whatnot, and spit out some ideas for other films you might enjoy. After some research it seemed as though Criticker was just the sort of tool I was looking for. I signed up for a free account and started browsing for films I'd seen, assigning ratings to them on a scale of 0 to 100. When you first sign up the site tells you that you should rate at least ten films. This didn't take me too long—I entered scores for a set of about two dozen films which represented what I thought was a fairly even sample of the kinds of films I liked and didn't like.

When I asked for recommendations, though, I was disappointed: I had already seen every single film in the list of recommendations. So I rated all those, and asked for more recommendations. Again, I had seen everything in the list! So I rated again, and requested again, and rated again, and so on, until I had rated nearly 700 films. At this point the website is now giving me recommendations for films I haven't seen, which is good. But I'm more than a little surprised about the number of films I've apparently seen (and remembered well enough to assign a rating to). I think a good chunk of these 700 are films I saw in Toronto, but I'm sure that not all the films I saw there are in the list; doubtless there are dozens more I've forgotten, at least until Criticker decides to recommend them to me. Maybe I should have kept my collection of ticket stubs after all.

At the end of the day, I still don't know how many films I've watched, but I'm sure it's got to be more than 700. Is that too many for one person to have watched in 15 years? Have I wasted some 1400 hours of my life? Or is this about par for what most people spend watching TV?

How many movies do you think you've watched in your life?

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