No one says “information superhighway” anymore, but whenever anyone explains net neutrality, they do so in terms of fast lanes and tolls. Twitter is a “town square,” a metaphor that was once used for the internet as a whole. These old metaphors had been joined by a few new ones: I have a feeling that “the cloud” will soon feel as dated as “cyberspace.”
There’s a time for linguistics, and there’s a time for grabbing the general public by the shoulders and shouting “It lies! The computer lies to you! Don’t trust anything it says!”
This piece by Giles is a spot-on description of what I do in my role as content buddy at Clearleft. Especially this bit:
Your editor will explain why things need changing
As a writer, it’s really helpful to understand the why of each edit. It’s easier to re-write if you know precisely what the problem is. And often, it’s less bruising to the ego. It’s not that you’re a bad writer, but just that one particular thing could be expressed more simply, or more clearly, than your first effort.
My talk, Building, was about the metaphors we use to talk about the work we do on the web. So I’m interested in this analysis of the metaphors used to talk about markup:
- Data is documents, processing data is clerking
- Data is trees, processing data is forestry
- Data is buildings, processing data is construction
- Data is a place, processing data is a journey
- Data is a fluid, processing data is plumbing
- Data is a textile, processing data is weaving
- Data is music, processing data is performing
How a writing system went from being a dream (literally) to a reality, codified in unicode.
This is easily my favourite use of a machine learning algorithm.
This explains rubber ducking.
Speaking out loud is not only a medium of communication, but a technology of thinking: it encourages the formation and processing of thoughts.
I saw Daniel give a talk at Async where he compared linguistic rules with code style:
We find the prescriptive rules hard to follow, irrespective of how complex they are, because they are invented, arbitrary, and often go against our intuition. The descriptive rules, on the other hand, are easy to follow because they are instinctive. We learned to follow them as children by listening to, analysing and mimicking speech, armed with an inbuilt concept of the basic building blocks of grammar. We follow them subconsciously, often without even knowing the rules exists.
Thus began some thorough research into trying to uncover a universal grammar for readable code:
I am excited by the possibility of discovering descriptive readability rules, and last autumn I started an online experiment to try and find some. My experiment on howreadable.com compared various coding patterns against each other in an attempt to objectively measure their readability. I haven’t found any strong candidates for prescriptive rules so far, but the results are promising and suggest a potential way forward.
I highly recommend reading through this and watching the video of the Async talk (and conference organisers; get Daniel on your line-up!).
When is a space not a space?
Tom talks about ogham stones and unicode.
The fascinating story of Charles K. Bliss and his symbolic language:
The writing system – originally named World Writing in 1942, then Semantography in 1947, and finally Blissymoblics in the 1960s – contains several hundred basic geometric symbols (“Bliss-characters”) that can be combined in different ways to represent more complex concepts (“Bliss-words”). For example, the Bliss-characters for “house” and “medical” are combined to form the Bliss-word for “hospital” or “clinic”. The modular structure invites comparison to the German language; the German word for “hospital ” – “krankenhaus” – translates directly to “sick house”.
Testing the theory that putting the word “total”, “complete”, or “absolute” in front of any noun automatically makes for an excellent insult.
Hui Jing describes her motivation for creating the lovely Penang Hokkien site:
People who grew up their whole lives in a community that spoke the same mother tongue as themselves would probably find this hard to relate to, but it really was something else to hear my mother tongue streaming out of the speakers of my computer.
She ends with an impassioned call for more local language websites:
If the Internet is meant to enhance the free flow of information and ideas across the world, then creation of content on the web should not largely be limited to English-speaking communities.
A really deep dive into the
lang attribute, and the
:lang() pseudo-class (hitherto unknown to me). This is all proving really useful for a little side project I’m working on.
Conceding that a typeface is a tool sounds dangerously close to an excuse: toolmakers cannot be held responsible for things made with their tools, or the tasks leading up to those things. They are only responsible for the making of the tool itself. If a person decides to use a hammer to drive home a screw, then so be it. The hammer was only designed for nails. It’s not our fault the typography doesn’t look good. The typeface is just a tool — you’re using it wrong.
Before reading this article, I didn’t understand regular expressions. But now, having read this article, I don’t understand regular expressions and I don’t understand linguistics. Progress!
Some great ideas here about using metaphors when explaining technical topics.
I really like these four guidelines for good metaphors:
The perils of self-translation.
I’m often baffled by the number of people who seem to think that you can translate from one language to another simply by pulling the words of one language from a dictionary and plugging them into the syntax of the other. It just doesn’t work that way, friends.
Read to the end for a wonderfully delicious twist in the tale.
Some of these really tickle my fancy bone.
That’s the icing on the iceberg
You let the horse out of the cart
What planet are you living under?
That opens a whole other kettle of fish
The cat’s out of the barn
Patience comes to those who wait
That’s right up my cup of tea
A fascinating look at an attempt to redefine the taxonomy of online porn.
Porn is part of the ecosystem that tells us what sex and sexuality are. Porn terms are, to use Foucault’s language, part of a network of technologies creating truths about our sexuality.
Reminds of the heady days of 2005, when it was all about tagging and folksonomies.
The project, at its most ambitious, seeks to create a new feedback loop of porn watched and made, unmoored from the vagaries of old, bad, lazy categories.