Recent quotes:

Find Innovation Where You Least Expect It

To see if generating generic descriptions bolsters creative thinking, our research team presented two groups of students with eight insight problems that required overcoming the functional fixedness bias in order to solve. We told the members of one group simply to try their best. We taught the other group the generic parts technique and then asked them to use it on the problems. The people in the first group were able to solve, on average, 49% of the problems (just shy of four of them). Those who systematically engaged in creating generic descriptions of their resources were able to solve, on average, 83% (or 6.64) of them.

Find Innovation Where You Least Expect It

We consider each element of an object in turn and ask two questions: “Can it be broken down further?” and “Does our description imply a particular use?” If the answer to either question is yes, we keep breaking down the elements until they’re described in their most general terms, mapping the results on a simple tree. When an iceberg is described generically as a floating surface 200 feet to 400 feet long, its potential as a life-saving platform soon emerges.

Use your words: Written prisoner interactions predict whether they’ll clean up their acts -- ScienceDaily

The first, called "pushups," are congratulatory notes to a peer -- something like, "Good job talking about your triggers in group today, man." The second, called "pull-ups," are meant to steer a fellow prisoner toward better choices -- something like, "Hey brother, next time try talking to me instead of getting into a fight." Once approved as appropriate for group consumption, the written notes are typically read aloud to the group during meal time or a meeting. Doogan and Warren examined how these communications changed for each of 2,342 men included in their study. They looked at pushups and pull-ups in each inmate's first two to three months in the program and held those up against the messages they sent fellow prisoners in the second two to three months. In all, the researchers analyzed about 267,000 messages. Only graduates of the program were included in the study. The more their word combinations shifted, the greater the chance the men didn't return to prison. In cases where the inmates did return, those who showed the least change in how they thought and wrote tended to return to prison most quickly. The study didn't focus on "positive" or "negative" word choice, but on change in general, with the goal of getting a handle on whether the program was reshaping the participant's way of thinking, Doogan said. "It wasn't so much sentiment, but whether we could measure some form of change in the individual," he said. The sheer number of interactions for an individual resident didn't seem to make a difference -- only the changing nature of those notes. That's important because it seems to mean that simply interacting isn't enough and that a person has to be engaged and evolve in his thinking, the researchers said. Shifts in how we put together our thoughts and express them in writing are a good indication of a true evolution in how we think, Warren said. "Learning is a change in connections between ideas," he said. "In a therapeutic community, you would hope that they are abandoning some old connections and developing some new ones." The researchers created a tool for analyzing word choices, identifying 500 words that could potentially be combined in a note to one participant from another. Doogan and Warren counted change when inmates added new word combinations or abandoned old ones. They attempted to control for variables outside of changed language including race, age and education level. Understanding -- and being able to measure -- changes linked to reduced rates of repeat incarceration could eventually help program directors refine how they approach different participants, the researchers said. For instance, if it was clear an addict's communications with others in the program were not changing in nature, it might be a clue that the individual needed more one-on-one attention, Doogan said.

Autocracy: Rules for Survival

One of the falsehoods in the Clinton speech was the implied equivalency between civil resistance and insurgency. This is an autocrat’s favorite con, the explanation for the violent suppression of peaceful protests the world over.

Lessons in the Delicate Art of Confronting Offensive Speech - The New York Times

Researchers have detailed the difficulty of confronting prejudice, but they have also found that even the politest of objections – or subtle corrections to loaded words – can almost instantly curb a speaker’s behavior. With a clearer understanding of the dynamics of such confrontation, psychologists say, people can develop tactics that can shut down the unsavory talk without ruining relationships, even when the offender has more status or power: a fraternity president, say, or a team captain or employer.

Scientists Uncover Alzheimer’s Disease in the Novels of Agatha Christie and Iris Murdoch

As Garrard explains, a patient’s vocabulary becomes restricted, and they use fewer words that are specific labels and more words that are general labels. For example, it’s not incorrect to call a golden retriever an “animal,” though it is less accurate than calling it a retriever or even a dog. Alzheimer’s patients would be far more likely to call a retriever a “dog” or an “animal” than “retriever” or “Fred.” In addition, Garrard adds, the words Alzheimer’s patients lose tend to appear less frequently in everyday English than words they keep—an abstract noun like “metamorphosis” might be replaced by “change” or “go.”

Do we judge distance based on how a word sounds? From Floon or Fleen to NYC: Symbolic sound demystified in new study -- ScienceDaily

In a study published online April 15 in the journal, Cognition, Sam Maglio, a professor of marketing at the University of Toronto Scarborough and the Rotman School of Management, and Cristina Rabaglia, a research fellow in psychology at the University of Toronto Mississauga, demonstrate that people intuitively associate front vowel sounds -- those produced with the tongue relatively far forward in the mouth, such as the ee in feet -- with things that are close by. Conversely, they relate back vowel sounds -- those produced with the tongue far back in the mouth, such as oo in food -- to things that are farther away.

Some anti-words

The breadth and range of the terms can be astonishing; a lexicography of Boobslang reaches more than 200 pages, with 3,000 entries covering many areas of life. To be “under the thumb” is to be in love, a “double yoker” is an idiot, a “cue ball” is a skinhead and a “goodnight kiss” is a knockout punch. Outside of prison, each type of crime will have its own specialised vocabulary. A 1980s survey of American confidence tricksters, for instance, found a variety of colourful names for their intended victims – they are an “apple”, an “egg”, a “fink”, or, most innocuously sounding, “Mr Bates”.

The secret “anti-languages” you’re not supposed to know

All borrow the grammar of the mother language but replace words (“London”, “purse”, “money”, “alehouse”) with another, elliptical term (“Rome”, “bounge”, “lower”, “bowsing ken”). Often, the anti-language may employ dozens of terms that have blossomed from a single concept – a feature known as “over-lexicalisation”. Halliday points to at least 20 terms that Elizabethan criminals used to describe fellow thieves, for instance: “prigger of prancers”, “doxy”, “dell”, “counterfeit crank”, “jarkman” and “bawdy basket”, to name just a handful.

Takes a long time to form a sentence

The brevity of these silences is doubly astonishing when you consider that it takes at least 600 milliseconds for us to retrieve a single word from memory and get ready to actually say it. For a short clause, that processing time rises to 1500 milliseconds. This means that we have to start planning our responses in the middle of a partner’s turn, using everything from grammatical cues to changes in pitch. We continuously predict what the rest of a sentence will contain, while similarly building our hypothetical rejoinder, all using largely overlapping neural circuits.

Specificity and generality in relation to friends and enemies

Describing a person's behavior concretely, using action verbs -- for example, "Sam hit her friend" -- typically signals that the behavior is a one-time occurrence and not necessarily characteristic of that person. Describing someone's behavior using adjectives and nouns, on the other hand -- for example, "Sam is violent" -- comes across as more abstract and suggests that the behavior may reflect a personal trait. Prior research has also demonstrated that we tend to use these linguistic subtleties in a favorable way when we're talking about people who belong to the same group as us: We're likely to use abstract language in discussing their desirable behaviors and concrete language in describing their undesirable behaviors. If we're talking about someone from another group, however, the pattern reverses -- we tend to use concrete language to describe positive behaviors, and abstract language to describe negative ones.

Are We Different People in Different Languages?

This is part of what Mikhail Bakhtin was getting at when he wrote “…language, for the individual consciousness, lies on the borderline between ones’ self and the other… The word in language is half someone else’s. It becomes one’s “own” only when the speaker populates it with his own intentions, his own accent, when he appropriates the word, adapting it to his own semantic and expressive intention.”

Mapping with must three words (of 40k)

"Precise GPS coordinates would mean 18 digits," says What3Words' founder Chris Sheldrick, "but we wanted something that humans could actually remember. People have flawless recollection for three words. A dictionary of 40,000 words is enough to fill those 57 trillion squares with unique combinations - you can't do it any other way."

Why Some Start-Ups Are Called Tech Companies and Others Are Not

A new generation of so-called tech companies that deliver food to your door or help you get a ride in a car — but don’t look much like an operation that makes computers or phones or software — might be putting a modern spin on that old story. No doubt, they use technology in their businesses. And many of them wouldn’t exist without the development of smartphone apps and ubiquitous Internet access. But these days, every company is at least a little bit of a tech company. Some Wall Street banks employ more tech workers than all but the biggest Silicon Valley companies. And large manufacturers like General Electric are leading the way in efforts to put Internet-connected sensors on things as varied as streets and turbines.

How Many Words Do Eskimos Really Have for Snow?

The Inuit and Yupik languages are polysynthetic. Polysynthetic languages combine a limited set of roots and word endings to create an unlimited set of words. For instance from oqaq – the West Greenlandic root for "tongue" – you get oqaaseq (word), oqaasipiluuppaa (harangues him), oqaluppoq (speaks), oqaatiginerluppaa (speaks badly about him) and Oqaasileriffik (Greenlandic language secretariat). These can then be expanded with all sorts of other endings, so that a sentence like, "I hadn't planned to cause you to harangue him after all" would be expressed with one word. If these word-sentences count as words, then Eskimos don't just have thousands of words for snow, but for everything. Martin suggests that we instead ask how many roots Eskimos have for snow. In the case of West Greenlandic, the answer is two: qanik (snow in the air), and aput (snow on the ground). From these we can get derived words like qanipalaat (feathery clumps of falling snow) and apusiniq (snowdrift). There are also terms for snow that use different roots (for "covering," "floating" or other things snow does), but Pullum's essay notes a problem with the notion of counting words with other roots as "snow words": Do we count an Inuit word that can mean "snow for igloo making" as a snow word if it also just means building materials in general? To use another example, is "pack" a snow word in English, or a just a general term for tightly smushing things? In any case, there may be just as many snow words in English (sleet, slush, flurry, avalanche, etc.) as in "Eskimo" languages.

Vietnam Memorial and Woolsey Hall at Yale

The power of a name was very much with me at the time, partly because of the Memorial Rotunda at Yale. In Woolsey Hall, the walls are inscribed with the names of all the Yale alumni who have been killed in wars. I had never been able to resist touching the names cut into these marble walls, and no matter how busy or crowded the place is, a sense of quiet, a reverence, always surrounds those names. Throughout my freshman and sophomore years, the stonecutters were carving in by hand the names of those killed in the Vietnam War, and I think it left a lasting impression on me…the sense of the power of a name.

Chunking makes writing hard

Scholars lose their moorings in the land of the concrete because of two effects of expertise that have been documented by cognitive psychology. One is called chunking. To work around the limitations of short-term memory, the mind can package ideas into bigger and bigger units, which the psychologist George Miller dubbed "chunks." As we read and learn, we master a vast number of abstractions, and each becomes a mental unit that we can bring to mind in an instant and share with others by uttering its name. An adult mind that is brimming with chunks is a powerful engine of reason, but it comes at a cost: a failure to communicate with other minds that have not mastered the same chunks. The amount of abstraction a writer can get away with depends on the expertise of his readership. But divining the chunks that have been mastered by a typical reader requires a gift of clairvoyance with which few of us are blessed. When we are apprentices in our chosen specialty, we join a clique in which, it seems to us, everyone else seems to know so much! And they talk among themselves as if their knowledge were conventional wisdom to every educated person. As we settle into the clique, it becomes our universe. We fail to appreciate that it is a tiny bubble in a multiverse of cliques. When we make first contact with the aliens in other universes and jabber at them in our local code, they cannot understand us without a sci-fi universal translator.
“Making a living is nothing,” the novelist and critic Elizabeth Hardwick wrote in an essay titled “Grub Street: New York,” first published more than 50 years ago in the inaugural issue of The New York Review of Books. “The great difficulty is making a point, making a difference — with words.” She might just as well have said with images, sounds or the movement of bodies; words just happened to be her chosen medium. And her words in this case still stand as a concise, slightly scolding credo for the creative class. Nobody cares how you pay your rent. Your job is to show us something we didn’t know we needed to see.
At Vogue one learned fast, or one did not stay, how to play games with words, how to put a couple of unwieldy dependent clauses through the typewriter and roll them out transformed into one simple sentence composed of precisely thirty-nine characters. We were connoisseurs of synonyms. We were collectors of verbs. (I recall “to ravish” as a highly favored verb for a number of issues, and I also recall it, for a number of issues more, as the source of a highly favored noun: “ravishments,” as in tables cluttered with porcelain tulips, Faberge eggs, other ravishments.) We learned as reflex the grammatical tricks we had learned only as marginal corrections in school (“there are two oranges and an apple” read better than “there were an apple and two oranges,” passive verbs slowed down sentences, “it” needed a reference within the scan of the eye), learned to rely on the OED, learned to write and rewrite and rewrite again. “Run it through again, sweetie, it’s not quite there.” “Give me a shock verb two lines in.” “Prune it out, clean it up, make the point.” Less was more, smooth was better, and absolute precision essential to the monthly grand illusion. Going to work for Vogue was, in the late nineteen-fifties, not unlike training with the Rockettes.
I spent some time this week trawling through customer reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, in order to look for trends — paying particular attention to the scathing one-star reviews that inevitably warn all other readers against buying or reading the disliked book. Starred reviews affix to all works of literature a kind of efficiency rating, which over time average out to a meaningless valuation somewhere between the middle threes and the low fours. King Lear is valued at 3.87; Paradise Lost at 3.74; The Divine Comedy at 4.0. Although there is a great deal of variation in the five-star reviews, the one-star reviews are overwhelmingly alike, even across genres and styles of literature. I noticed the recurrence of three principal objections: (1) this book was confusing; (2) this book was boring; and (3) this book was badly written.
I’m so so missing Tony. Because he is so so charming and his clothes are so good. He has such good body and he has really really good legs Butt . . . And he is slim tall and good skin. Pierce blue eyes which I love. Love his eyes. Also I love his power on the stage . . . and what else and what else and what else . . .
Women can buy badges with the "mademoiselle" option crossed out and are encouraged to download a letter to their electricity provider or bank informing them why wish to be called "madame".
Like ripples around a stone, influential circles appear seemingly wherever he dips his toe.
He had the band add "(I Can't Get No)" to the title of the song that was originally called simply "Satisfaction," to more explicitly broadcast its darker theme. He also added a seemingly random comma to the song title on the single for "Paint It Black"—making it "Paint It, Black." That was a sly publicity move, too. "I think this is a throwback to my admiration for Saul Bass," said Oldham. "I just put a comma in there because I knew I would get calls from the record company saying, 'Are you sure about this? There's a comma there.' And that would make them notice us. If they're releasing 10 or 12 or 20 records a week, it would make them notice us."
As Geoffrey Hughes noted in his excellent Swearing: A Social History of Foul Language, Oaths and Profanity in English, the more charged a swear word is the more susceptible it becomes to grammatical transformation.[*]​* This means that the boundaries between nouns and adjectives and adverbs can all get completely fucked up by swear words, and before you know it the little fuckers are everywhere. At first swear words are used just on or just over the usual limit of propriety. Then they become a bit more common (in the sense of frequent; they may also come to be regarded as less ‘common’ in the social sense). They do so because they can perform so many social and grammatical functions. They can fill in pauses, establish gender identities, build a group, or serve as all-purpose markers of emphasis. Once they spread they have to be used in increasingly inventive ways to recreate or sustain their emotive force. At about that point in their life cycle their flexibility can be comically tested in public and in fiction – as in the scene in The Wire when the detectives McNulty and Bunk Moreland spend four minutes reconstructing a murder scene, during which every word uttered is a variant of ‘fuck’ or ‘motherfucker’. Then a swear word burns itself out and gets superseded by something else, ruder or different, more energetic and more adaptable.
The literary world is tiny. The subgroup represented by novelists is even tinier. If you’re an author who regularly reviews other authors, the chances of running into a person whose novel you have criticized are fairly high. (All the higher, if you happen to live in New York City or some other center of ambition.) It may not be the worst thing in the world to find yourself side by side at a cocktail party with the angry man whose work you described as mediocre in last Sunday’s paper, but the threat of such encounters is not a great spur to critical honesty. Membership in any small, somewhat beleaguered professional community engenders not just social anxiety but also collegial loyalty and empathy. A novelist can avoid literary functions, but not his fellow feeling for other novelists.