Society

Why do other languages sound so fast?

September 9th, 2011  |  Published in Society

According to Time, a group of researchers has brought science to bear on this. The short answer is that it is possible to calculate the information density of a given language on the level of the syllable and that density correlates inversely with the speed at which the language is spoken (so high density means low speed and low density means high speed). The interesting part of this is that the density/speed combination all seem to even out so that you are conveying roughly the same amount of information over a given period if you are speaking English or Japanese, even though they have very different information densities.

It seems like this could open up some very interesting questions about what sort of effects information density has in languages which have low density for verbal communication and high density for written communication (or the opposite). An example would be Japanese, which had the lowest information density of the studied languages (and the fastest speaking rate) but which has a very high density for written communications (Kanji are ideograms, in that each character represents not a sound but an idea, with the result that a very short sentence can have a lot of information packed in). Would languages like Japanese tend towards different preferences for communication than English (which I believe would have the opposite correlation between oral and written communication)?

Also, there is some interesting conversation going on around this study on Reddit.

Coffee Shop

May 19th, 2008  |  Published in Fiction, News, Publishing, SciFi, Society, Stories, writing

Just posted a new segment over at Uprising, Coffee Shop.  Sorry that it has taken me so long to write, but the first few attempts were . . . boring.  One of the things that I’m trying to do with this story is to simply cut out the parts that people can easily figure out on their own.  If a character needs to get from point A to point B, and one scene ends with him leaving point A and the next starts up with him at point B, then why write about the middle part?  The trouble, then, is getting something interesting into every scene, even when the scene could be extremely short.

In other news, I introduce an eye color body modification, which I call iris doping, basically injecting a colored polymer or something into the iris.  It would be really cool looking, but also be quite difficult to reverse.  If it worked well enough, I’d probably do it.

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Now I Need to Read His Books

May 18th, 2008  |  Published in News, Publishing, SciFi, Society, writing

CNN has an interesting interview with Iain M. Banks, author of the Culture series of books.  I have personally wondered about a post-scarcity world for some time (I am a socialist, after all), and someone who associates himself with Ken MacLeod sounds like a good place to start.  In any case, go read it, its short and good, I will get back to writing.

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Animosity

May 15th, 2008  |  Published in Fantasy, Fiction, Publishing, SciFi, Society

I was just browsing the scifi reddit, and I came across a comment thread titled Does it REALLY bug anyone else when they go to a library or book store and the sci-fi and fantasy sections are combined? I thought “this might be interesting” and so checked it out.  Damn.  The comments consist almost entirely of how much fantasy sucks, and how the only genre worth reading is scifi  I don’t recall ever seeing the fantasy crowd attacking the scifi crowd like this.

My theory is that the scifi crowd was simply trying to gain some legitimacy at the expense of fantasy, and unfortunately this sort of thing just reaffirms it.  Depressing.

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Power

May 14th, 2008  |  Published in Misc, Society, writing

I remember being young (no older than eleven, as my parents’ divorce was still in court) and wondering what power was.  I was thinking about it in a purely one-on-one sense, if someone told me to do something, what was it that made me do it?  This led to the question of whether someone could force you to do something.  I didn’t have an answer for it then, but while I was reading an article about the lies that we tell our children (which is a good read, by the way), something clicked.  No matter the situation, power is an agreement.  Whenever someone (or a group) instructs you to do something either directly or indirectly, you have a choice.

The parties in the agreement are not always equal, for example when the government tells you to pay your taxes, you can refuse, but you will probably go to prison.  The natural reasoning that comes out of this is that society is held together by a bunch of agreements, a sort of social fabric.  This in turn brings up several issues.  First, our society is much more stable than, say Roman society, with relatively few coups and such.  My only thought is that perhaps as society is more complex than it was then, that the social fabric is more resilient than it was back then (or possibly that the coups are simply more subtle).  The second is that there must be a limit to the resiliency of the social fabric.  For example, with measures such as the PATRIOT Act, the agreement between the government and it’s constituents has been severely altered.  The government has removed it’s responsibilities to its citizens while doing nothing to relieve citizens’ responsibilities.

The theme of power and responsibility is one that I am quite fascinated with, and that I have started to explore in Uprising, but it feels good to make it explicit.  For those of you who are more familiar with the philosophical canon than I am, I apologize for going over topics that have doubtlessly been covered at great depth by better minds than mine.

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Publicity

May 11th, 2008  |  Published in Fiction, Misc, Publishing, Society, writing

Recently I have gotten a job with a bookstore, one of the big chains.  So far, it has been great to be just surrounded by books.  On the other hand, I have been able to see first-hand how many books get sent back.  I had heard about the numbers (only 5% of published books being profitable and whatnot), but seeing the sheer volume of books that are returned is something else entirely.  Although I feel some of this could be avoided by actions on the publishers part (advertising books other than Harry Potter, for example), part of it also has to do with the shift towards digital fiction, a shift which has been suppressed by the publishers.

With digital fiction, the means of publication is very simple, just about anyone can create a text file, a PDF, or an e-book (although that takes slightly more work).  The means of distribution is also very simple, once its on the net, anyone can access it.  The problem now is the means of publicity.  It matters not how good your fiction is if no one can find it.  Personally, I envision a dedicated Reddit style site that people submit fiction to, but right now there isn’t one (the best that I have been able to find is the scifi subreddit for genre works).  The other side of this is that authors need to start making an effort to read fiction online, to help bootstrap things.

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Exercise Your Brain

May 3rd, 2008  |  Published in Misc, News, Society

Although I am a huge proponent of reading as a way of improving brain functioning, I am also a geek, so I think that you might as well leverage whatever technology is out there. Last week, NewScientist had an article about a simple exercise that could make you smarter. Sounds pretty cool (and it can’t hurt), right? Well someone went ahead and implemented it in Flash. Who knows, maybe at sometime in the future our schools will have an entire class devoted to thinking skills (like this, or chess, or go). I know, expecting our schools to teach people how to think better may sound crazy, but its crazy enough that it just might work! So go ahead, play, and get smarter! Today, remember what happened two iterations ago, tomorrow, the world!!! (the extra exclamation points are to ensure that you know that I am indeed serious)

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Moore’s Law to Continue Until Further Notice

May 1st, 2008  |  Published in Misc, News, SciFi, Society

EETimes has reported that Hewlett Packard Senior Fellow R. Stanley Williams has invented a memristor (which is sort of like a transistor, but . . . not, more info in the article).  As a result, it appears that Moore’s Law will continue unabated into the foreseeable future.  Excellent news for those of us who want to have computers installed in our heads.

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The Purpose of Speculative Fiction

April 28th, 2008  |  Published in Fiction, Misc, Rant, SciFi, Society, writing

I honestly started this with the intention of writing about Google Analyzer, but by the time I got to the end, I realized that I was talking about something else altogether. So I apologize for any meandering or lack of structure, but at the same time hope that you enjoy it.

It seems like I’ve been spending a lot of time recently talking about information overload, if not here, then in comments and other miscellaneous places. My take on it is that the human brain is an excellent filtering device – every instant that we are conscious, we filter out a good deal of sensory information. This isn’t a bad thing, as the alternative would be paralysis due to a tidal wave of trivia, and after all, it happens on a subconscious level, so we are never even aware of it.

Why does this matter? Because, much of technology today is all about bringing us more information, not necessarily better information. Take the internet, if you break it down, it’s probably something like 75% porn, 24.9% other irrelevant crap, and .1% useful information. That we can get anything useful out of it is in itself a wonder. We are in a process, however, of increasing the amount of raw data that we have access to, mainly through things like cheap cameras and automatic recording systems (every time you purchase something with a credit card, it creates a massive paper trail, or rather, data trail, it is only a matter of time before we do that for everything). This isn’t necessarily bad, but it does stem from the way we approach technology.

Currently, if you want to solve a computational problem, you simply throw processing power at it until you solve it. Very little resources are spent trying to improve the process, only trying to ensure that Moore’s Law will continue to hold true. So how do you improve the process? I’m not precisely sure. Improving processes is something that happens in non-intuitively connected leaps, and as such is something that is difficult to focus on. What I can say, though, is that the one area that will always pan out is basic research. By this I mean research that isn’t meant to solve a specific problem, that isn’t there to create a product, stuff that simply says, “we need to know more about . . .” and goes from there. There are two reasons for this. The first is that the more basic the question, the more we will have to be creative to answer it (read the analogy of the cave a couple of times and you’ll understand). The second is that Descartes was right, from every premise comes other premises. Every time you learn something new, when you connect it to the rest of your world-view, you can learn even more.

Unfortunately, it seems that basic research is not exactly a priority. Who would have said, a hundred years ago, that man would make it to the moon only to lose interest? Why don’t we have more large colliders? The list of questions is endless. Unfortunately, it seems that our curiosity as a species has been smothered by bureaucracy and self-interest (which is another discussion altogether, I’m afraid). I am hopeful, though, that our curiosity can and will be rekindled (as the alternative is extinction). The reason that I say this is that so long as people ask “what if?”, so long as people continue to read (or otherwise experience) speculative fiction, there will always be hope.

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Gin, Television, and Social Surplus

April 27th, 2008  |  Published in Misc, Society

Just found an interesting article that discusses where our society might be headed in terms of a cognitive surplus.  Fascinating read.

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