📺 Linguist and Cognitive Scientist George Lakoff on Tavis Smiley (PBS)

Linguist and Cognitive Scientist George Lakoff by Tavis Smiley from PBS
The esteemed academic discusses Trump supporters who stay faithful to him even when he works against their material best interests and well-being.

Dr. Lakoff does a solid job of dissecting Trump’s communication style and providing some relatively solid advice to journalists and media outlets who aim to disrupt what Trump is attempting to accomplish. The discussion of morality and its role in our political system, albeit brief, was incredibly interesting.

In the last third of the interview, Lakoff provides an interesting reframing of much of the public/private case that Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson make in their recent book American Amnesia.

Apparently there is another interview Smiley’s done with Dr. Lakoff. I can’t wait to watch it. I certainly would have appreciated an extended hour or two of their conversation.

I can see people like Jay Rosen and Keith Olbermann appreciating these interviews if they haven’t seen them.

This was so solid that I actually watched it a second time. It may also be time to dig into some of Lakoff’s other writings and research as well. Some of it I’ve read and seen before in general terms, but it’s probably worth delving into more directly.

🎧 Our Computers, Ourselves | Invisibilia (NPR)

Our Computers, Ourselves by Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel from Invisibilia | NPR.org
In Our Computers, Ourselves, a look at the ways technology affects us, and the main question is : Are computers changing human character? You'll hear from cyborgs, bullies, neuroscientists and police chiefs about whether our closeness with computers is changing us as a species.

Possibly not as interesting to me because I’ve watched this space more closely over the past 20 years or so. Still it’s an interesting episode asking some great questions.

I can’t believe I flew through season one so quickly.

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🎧 The Power Of Categories | Invisibilia (NPR)

The Power Of Categories by Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel from Invisibilia | NPR.org
The Power Of Categories examines how categories define us — how, if given a chance, humans will jump into one category or another. People need them, want them. The show looks at what categories provide for us, and you'll hear about a person caught between categories in a way that will surprise you. Plus, a trip to a retirement community designed to help seniors revisit a long-missed category.

The transgender/sexual dysphoria story here is exceedingly interesting because it could potentially have some clues to how those pieces of biology work and what shifts things in one direction or another. How is that spectrum created/defined? A few dozen individuals like that could help provide an answer.

The story about the Indian retirement community in Florida is interesting, but it also raises the (unasked, in the episode at least) question of the detriment it can do to a group of people to be lead by some the oldest members of their community. The Latin words senīlis ‎(“of or pertaining to old age”) and senex ‎(“old”) are the roots of words like senate, senescence, senility, senior, and seniority, and though it’s nice to take care of our elders, the younger generations should take a hard look at the unintended consequences which may stem from this.

In some sense I’m also reminded about Thomas Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and why progress in science (and yes, society) is held back by the older generations who are still holding onto outdated models. Though simultaneously, they do provide some useful “brakes” on both velocity of change as well as potential ill effects which could be damaging in short timeframes.

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🎧 A deep dive into cucurbit names

A deep dive into cucurbit names by Jeremy Cherfas from Eat This Podcast
Continuing the short season of bits and pieces that didn't quite fit in the year's episodes by getting to grips with the origin of "gherkin" and other names we give cucurbits.
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A Secondary Meaning for POSSE

I’d meant to document this back in November when it was discussed at IndieWebCamp Los Angeles, but it was a busy weekend.

In conversation with Tantek Çelik, I asked if a double entendre meaning to POSSE was originally intended when it was coined?

POSSE is an abbreviation for Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere (or Everywhere), a content publishing model that starts with posting content on your own domain first, then syndicating out copies to 3rd party services with permashortlinks back to the original on your site.

When I originally heard about POSSE, I considered the original post on my own site as the Sheriff or “leader” and the ensuing syndicated copies as the (literal and figurative) traditional posse which follows along behind it adding ideas, conversation, and help in accomplishing the original post’s mission.

The posse, one tough looking gang of o’n’ry corporate silos! Let’s mount ’em up!

If that second meaning didn’t exist before, it does now…

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Chris Aldrich is reading “The little-known story of how “fracking” entered our vocabulary”

The little-known story of how "fracking" entered our vocabulary by Brad Plumer (vox.com)
"True story," Matthew Lewis, a communications strategist based in San Francisco, told me recently over Twitter. "I put the 'k' in fracking." As best I can verify, he is correct. I'd always wondered how the term "fracking," which has dominated energy discussions for years, worked its way into our vocabulary. And the backstory turns out to be pretty interesting.
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Weekly Recap: Interesting Articles 7/24-7/31 2016

Some of the interesting things I saw and read this week

Went on vacation or fell asleep at the internet wheel this week? Here’s some of the interesting stuff you missed.

Science & Math


Indieweb, Internet, Identity, Blogging, Social Media


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The emotional arcs of stories are dominated by six basic shapes

The emotional arcs of stories are dominated by six basic shapes by Andrew J. Reagan, Lewis Mitchell, Dilan Kiley, Christopher M. Danforth, Peter Sheridan Dodds (arxiv.org)
Advances in computing power, natural language processing, and digitization of text now make it possible to study our a culture's evolution through its texts using a "big data" lens. Our ability to communicate relies in part upon a shared emotional experience, with stories often following distinct emotional trajectories, forming patterns that are meaningful to us. Here, by classifying the emotional arcs for a filtered subset of 1,737 stories from Project Gutenberg's fiction collection, we find a set of six core trajectories which form the building blocks of complex narratives. We strengthen our findings by separately applying optimization, linear decomposition, supervised learning, and unsupervised learning. For each of these six core emotional arcs, we examine the closest characteristic stories in publication today and find that particular emotional arcs enjoy greater success, as measured by downloads.
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Devastating News: Sol Golomb has apparently passed away on Sunday

The world has certainly lost one of its greatest thinkers, and many of us have lost a dear friend, colleague, and mentor.

I was getting concerned that I hadn’t heard back from Sol for a while, particularly after emailing him late last week, and then I ran across this notice through ITSOC & the IEEE:

Solomon W. Golomb (May 30, 1932 – May 1, 2016)

Shannon Award winner and long-time ITSOC member Solomon W. Golomb passed away on May 1, 2016.
Solomon W. Golomb was the Andrew Viterbi Chair in Electrical Engineering at the University of Southern California (USC) and was at USC since 1963, rising to the rank of University and Distinguished Professor. He was a member of the National Academies of Engineering and Science, and was awarded the National Medal of Science, the Shannon Award, the Hamming Medal, and numerous other accolades. As USC Dean Yiannis C. Yortsos wrote, “With unparalleled scholarly contributions and distinction to the field of engineering and mathematics, Sol’s impact has been extraordinary, transformative and impossible to measure. His academic and scholarly work on the theory of communications built the pillars upon which our modern technological life rests.”

In addition to his many contributions to coding and information theory, Professor Golomb was one of the great innovators in recreational mathematics, contributing many articles to Scientific American and other publications. More recent Information Theory Society members may be most familiar with his mathematics puzzles that appeared in the Society Newsletter, which will publish a full remembrance later.

A quick search a moment later revealed this sad confirmation along with some great photos from an award Sol received just a week ago:

As is common in academia, I’m sure it will take a few days for the news to drip out, but the world has certainly lost one of its greatest thinkers, and many of us have lost a dear friend, colleague, and mentor.

I’ll try touch base with his family and pass along what information sniff I can. I’ll post forthcoming obituaries as I see them, and will surely post some additional thoughts and reminiscences of my own in the coming days.

Golomb and national medal of science
President Barack Obama presents Solomon Golomb with the National Medal of Science at an awards ceremony held at the White House in 2013.
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Collective learning has potentially been growing at the expense of a shrinking body of diverse language

Big History may indicate why we're losing diversity in the number of languages on Earth.

Yesterday, I saw an interesting linguistic exercise:

Short activity to show how flexible our language is and how difficult collective learning would have been for our non sapiens ancestors.

Step 1: As a class, choose 200 random words. (I had 15 kids choose 14 words each)

Step 2: Answer the following questions using only the words listed:

  1. How should we try to kill that mammoth?
  2. Explain why you should marry me.
  3. Give directions for a simple task.
  4. Come up with a plan to improve our cave.
  5. Describe a physical landscape.
  6. Come up with your own question!
Chris Scaturo
on February 3 at 8:44am in Yammer Group on Big History: Unit 6 – Early Humans Group

I have to imagine that once the conceptualization of language and some basic grammar existed, word generation was a much more common thing than it is now. It’s only been since the time of Noah Webster that humans have been actively standardizing things like spelling. If we can use Papua New Guinea as a model of pre-agrarian society and consider that almost 12% of extant languages on the Earth are spoken in an area about the size of Texas (and with about 1/5th the population of Texas too), then modern societies are actually severely limiting language (creation, growth, diversity, creativity, etc.) [cross reference: A World of Languages – and How Many Speak Them (Infographic)]

Consider that the current extinction of languages is about one every 14 weeks, which puts us on a course to loose about half of the 7,100 languages on the planet right now before the end of the century. Collective learning has potentially been growing at the expense of a shrinking body of diverse language! In the paper “Global distribution and drivers of language extinction risk” the authors indicate that of all the variables tested, economic growth was most strongly linked to language loss.

To help put this exercise into perspective, we can look at the corpus of extant written Latin (a technically dead language):

“It is a truly impressive fact that, simply by knowing that if one can memorize and master about 250 words in Latin, it will allow them to read and understand 50% of most written Latin. Further, knowledge of 1,500 Latin words will put one at the 80% level of vocabulary mastery for most texts. Mastering even a very small list of vocabulary allows one to read a large variety of texts very comfortably.”

with data from Dickinson College Commentaries

These numbers become even smaller when considering ancient Greek texts.

Another interesting measurement is the vocabulary of a modern 2 year old who typically has a 50-75 word vocabulary while a 4 year old has 250-500 words, which is about the level of the exercise.

As a contrast, consider the message in this TED Youth Talk from last year by Erin McKean, which students should be able to relate to:

And of course, there’s the dog Chaser, which 60 minutes recently reported has a vocabulary of over 1,000 words. (Are we now destroying variants of “dog language” for English too?!)

Hopefully the evolutionary value of the loss of the multiple languages will be more than balanced out by the power of collective learning in the long run.

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A world of languages – and how many speak them (Infographic)

An infographic from the South China Morning Post has some interesting statistics about which many modern people don’t know (or remember). It’s very interesting to see the distribution of languages and where they’re spoken. Of particular note that most will miss, even from this infographic, is that 839 languages are spoken in Papua New Guinea (11.8% of all known languages on Earth). Given the effects of history and modernity, imagine how many languages there might have been without them.


A World of Languages

Source: INFOGRAPHIC: A world of languages – and how many speak them

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Lecture Series Review: “Augustine: Philosopher and Saint” by Phillip Cary

Augustine: Philosopher and Saint (Great Courses, #611)Augustine: Philosopher and Saint byProfessor Phillip Cary, Ph.D., Eastern University (The Learning Company, 1997)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This series of 12 audio lectures is an excellent little overview of Augustine, his life, times, and philosophy. Most of the series focuses on his writings and philosophy as well as their evolution over time, often with discussion of the historical context in which they were created as well as some useful comparing/contrasting to extant philosophies of the day (and particularly Platonism.)

Early in the series there were some interesting and important re-definitions of some contemporary words. Cary pushes them back to an earlier time with slightly different meanings compared to their modern ones which certainly helps to frame the overarching philosophy presented. Without a close study of this vocabulary, many modern readers will become lost or certainly misdirected when reading modern translations. As examples, words like perverse, righteousness, and justice (or more specifically their Latin counterparts) have subtly different meanings in the late Roman empire than they do today, even in modern day religious settings.

My favorite part, however, has to have been the examples discussing mathematics as an extended metaphor for God and divinity to help to clarify some of Augustine’s thought. These were not only very useful, but very entertaining to me.

As an aside for those interested in mnemotechnic tradition, I’ll also mention that I’ve (re)discovered (see the reference to the Tell paper below) an excellent reference to the modern day “memory palace” (referenced most recently in the book Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything) squirreled away in Book X of Confessions where Augustine discusses memory as:

“fields and spacious palaces” “…where are the treasures of innumerable images, brought into it from things of all sorts perceived by the senses. There is stored up, whatsoever besides we think, either by enlarging or diminishing, or any other way varying those things which the sense hath come to; and whatever else hath been committed and laid up, which forgetfulness hath not yet swallowed up and buried.”

Those interested in memes and the history of “memoria ex locis” (of which I don’t even find a reference explicitly written in the original Rhetorica ad Herrenium) would appreciate an additional reference I subsequently found in the opening (and somewhat poetic) paragraph of a paper written by David Tell on JSTOR. The earliest specific reference to a “memory palace” I’m aware of is Matteo Ricci’s in the 16th century, but certainly other references to the construct may have come earlier. Given that Ricci was a Jesuit priest, it’s nearly certain that he would have been familiar with Augustine’s writings at the time, and it’s possible that his modification of Augustine’s mention brought the concept into its current use. Many will know memory as one of the major underpinnings of rhetoric (of which Augustine was a diligent student) as part of the original trivium.

Some may shy away from Augustine because of the religious overtones which go along with his work, but though there were occasional “preachy sounding” sections in the material, they were present only to clarify the philosophy.

I’d certainly recommend this series of lectures to anyone not closely familiar with Augustine’s work as it has had a profound and continuing affect on Western philosophy, thought, and politics.

View all my reviews

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Meaning according to Humpty Dumpty

Humpty Dumpty (in a rather scornful tone): When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more or less.
Alice: The question is, whether you can make a word mean so many different things?
Humpty Dumpty: The question is, which is to be master – that’s all.
Alice: (Too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again)
Humpty Dumpty: They’ve a temper, some of them – particularly verbs, they’re the proudest – adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs – however, I can manage the whole of them! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!
Alice: Would you tell me, please what that means?
Humpty Dumpty (looking very much pleased): Now you talk like a reasonable child. I meant by impenetrability that we have had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you’d mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don’t mean to stop here all the rest of your life.
Alice (in a thoughtful tone): That’s a great deal to make one word mean.
Humpty Dumpty: When I make a word do a lot of work like that, I always pay it extra.
Alice (too much puzzled to make any other remark): Oh!
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