Friday, September 30, 2016

Friday Links!

From Wally, and I have newfound respect for Napoleon: 5 Movie-Worthy Lines Said by Real Soldiers Facing Death. This guy fascinates me: This Man Will Change the Way You Play Board Games. This is a terrific read: The Language the Government Tried to Suppress. This story will stir every conceivable emotion in you as it's read: Does Chicago hot dog king have WWII Japanese admiral’s gold tooth? This is so poignant and so very sad: In pictures: Georgia's forgotten people. This is tremendously insightful: 61 Glimpses of the Future. This is some very serious instant karma: Ouch!  This is mind-blowing: Quantum teleportation was just achieved over more than 7 km of city fibre.

From Craig Miller, and this is a great time sink: Interactive graphic: every active satellite orbiting Earth.

From C. Lee, and this is a most excellent rescue: Age no bar to rescuing a boy from almost certain death. This is such a great read: Never Underestimate the Power of a Paint Tube: Without this simple invention, impressionists such as Claude Monet wouldn’t have been able to create their works of genius. Next, and this is an excellent read, it's The Everyday Cannibals and Murderers of Los Angeles: Who needs film noir when you’ve got these insects in the City of Angels? Next, and this is stunning: Skeleton find could rewrite Roman history. This is a wild, wild story: How A Rogue 1950s Drone Fiasco Ended With 208 Rockets Fired At Southern California.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and this is very, very clever: The Captioned Adventures Of George Washington.

From Meg McReynolds, and this is fascinating: The Mad Hatter Logos (football related).

From Steven Davis, and this is amazing: 3D-printed Metamaterial Mechanisms. This is quite incredible: Gentry Stein - 1A Final - 1st Place - 2016 US National Yo-Yo Contest. This is a terrific read: Man v rat: could the long war soon be over?

From Nate Carpenter, and it's a great read: The Revolutionary Concept of Standard Sizes Only Dates to the 1920s: Nearly everything in your home is a certain size, thanks to German architect Ernst Neufert.

This is one hell of an obituary: The last hours of a legendary Wyoming alpinist.

Thursday, September 29, 2016


Ironic Juxtaposition Theater:

That reflection is me in happier, pre-ankle-broken days.

Now, the smallest cat in the world makes an appearance in a clothing bin:

I can't remember if I put this up before, so here's Eli 15.1 holding six tennis balls in one hand.

This is a way to lose confidence in your parking spot quite quickly, when there's a jerry can five feet way from your car.

Here's a picture of the delightful dog reality show that goes on daily at PetSmart. Seriously, I could pull up a chair and watch this for 30 minutes, at least.

Going out of business? I can't imagine why.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Yeah Yeah Yeah

There seems to be a language trend in Michigan (and Canada, based on my friends from Canada) that didn't exist when we were in Austin.

It's the "Yeah yeah yeah."

It's very common up here to say that to indicate that you understand something, or as agreement. I can't figure out if that's a regional thing, or if it's gone national and I just never noticed.


Sorry, this day has been a grease fire. Started rehab for my ankle and spent an hour and a half today working on it. Combine that with everything else and I've been running behind on everything all day.

We Bare Bears is now our favorite show on television. Atlanta is second. Try to figure that out before your brain melts.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Fighting Eleven #6: Big Data

I have a severe and tremendously annoying limitation to my creativity.

Here's what happens: I'm working on something, and then suddenly, I'm frozen in place. Absolutely, totally stuck, and I can't move forward.

Over the years, I've learned that this means something is wrong, or I'm doing something out of sequence.

The problem, though, is that I don't have a process to get past this point.

Instead, I could be stuck for weeks or months (occasionally, even years), and then I have an "Ah ha!" moment where I realize what's wrong.

Sometimes, when even that doesn't happen, I do something I call Nibble Around The Edges, where I will gently poke and prod and see if I can shake something loose.

I mention this because I've been stuck on the recruiting prototype for several weeks now, even though it seemed to be designed to the point where I could code it.

I was stuck, though, and couldn't figure out why.

The "ah ha!" moment didn't seem to be anywhere in sight, so I started nibbling around the edges. I thought I would put together a rankings database in all the various badge categories for about 15 teams, which should be enough to support the prototype.

I have a hard time doing vertical slices and partial functionality, though. It's uncomfortable for me mentally, if that makes any sense. I'm much, much more comfortable drilling a mile down into a tiny bit of functionality, because I know it's complete when I finish it.

It's whole.

That's what was stopping me this time. I was trying to do subset functionality, and my brain doesn't work that way.

When I remembered that, I decided to go all in. I created a database with all Division One football schools and found rankings for all of them in various categories (academics, fan support, stadium quality, head coach, conference strength).

Now, with all that data to work with, I can create a recruiting prototype that has the qualities I want it to have in the full game. Of course, that means I'm creating roughly half the game here, but that's okay. I'd rather do that and be able to work through consistently than try to create some partial thing that I'm constantly losing time on because I keep getting stuck.

Two feet in similar shoes

I took off the air cast yesterday, and it's now in the closet, where it will hopefully reside forever.

I still have quite a bit of pain, but at least I'm in a lace-up brace now. Plus I'm looking at 4-6 weeks of fairly intense physical therapy, at a minimum, but at least I'm doing something now. And I can walk around a track--or, at least I can when I'm not walking like Bela Lugosi.

For physical therapists, here's how not to talk to someone who's 55: "I think it's awesome that you still play tennis."


That would leave a mark, if I marked.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Gamer

I was still walking around in an air cast on Saturday.

There's a huge art fair in Grand Rapids, and we were already downtown because we had gone to see a good friend's son play hockey in a rink nearby.

So we walked around and looked at some art, although my range and speed was severely limited.

"Art gamer," I said, hobbling along. "Plays with pain."

"Gets to the dirty areas," Eli 15.1 said, laughing.

"Student of the game," I said. "Art teacher's son."

A Wise Answer

We went downtown for lunch on Saturday, and the pizza place where we ate had an interesting item: mac and cheese pizza.

Imagine Kraft mac and cheese stacked at least 1" high on a slice of pizza.

We both noticed someone eating it at the same time.

"Mac and cheese pizza," I said. "Forward thinking or herald of a dystopian future?"

"I'm going to say fifty-fifty," Eli said.

"Seems fair," I said.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Friday Links!

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and it's unbelievable: Archaeologists Discover Perfectly Preserved 168-Year-Old Ship in the Arctic Ocean.

From David Yellope, and what an incredible story: Frankie Dettori: Jockey recalls 'Magnificent Seven' at Ascot 20 years on.

From Meg McReynolds, and this is quite amazing: Building a 13th-Century Castle in the 21st Century.

From Nate Carpenter, and I have no words: Like ‘rugby on horses’ with a decapitated goat: Inside first U.S. team at World Nomad Games.

From 3Suns, and this is incredible: Watch This F-16’s Autopilot Save an Unconscious Pilot’s Life.

Mike G. actually sent me a different link, but on the same page was this headline, and who could possibly pass this up? Witches Allegedly Stole Penises and Kept Them as Pets in the Middle Ages.

From Wally, and these always amaze me: THE AMAZING TRIPLE SPIRAL (15,000 DOMINOES).

From Guy Byars, and this is a fascinating and muddled story: After the Vietnam War, America Flew Planes Full of Babies Back to the U.S.

From C. Lee, and this is amazing: People born blind do math with their visual cortex. Next, and I hope they do a better job, than we do, it's Scientists develop official guidance on robot ethics. Next, and this is quite a read: Survival secret of 'Earth's hardiest animal' revealed.

From Wally, and these are remarkable images: Abandoned stadiums and crumbling arenas. This next link is NSFW and also very, very funny: Seanan's Epic Owl Adventure. If you're not paying attention in Burglar Training School, this is what happens: THIEF BREAKS INTO INDIO YMCA, STEALS FAKE CASH FROM TOY REGISTER.

From Steven Davis, and this is terrific: Magnus Carlsen - Felleskjøpet commercial. Next, and this is an interesting read, it's Why Do Tourists Visit Ancient Ruins Everywhere Except the United States?

Thursday, September 22, 2016


Friends take naps together.

George 11.3 couldn't quite get up onto his window seat anymore, so we looked around and got him what we call The Senior Seat, which has easy spots to climb up on.

I'd make some long post about Eli 15.1 starting to drive, but there's just no drama to be had. He's a very sensible, careful driver, although it's still very, very strange to see him on the other side of the front seat.

Produce (with a side dish of sarcasm)

"I got a bag of Michigan apples at the store," Gloria said, holding it up for my inspection.

"Let me smell,"I said, smelling. "Well, they do smell like apples. Son of a gun, Michigan really does it right!"

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Why? (your e-mail, Part Three)

Steven Davis sent in a link to the history of Hangul (the Korean alphabet), and it's entirely fascinating: Hangul. Of particular note is this excerpt:
In explaining the need for the new script, King Sejong explained that the Korean language was fundamentally different from Chinese; using Chinese characters (known as hanja) to write was so difficult for the common people that only privileged aristocrats (yangban, 양반) could read and write fluently. The majority of Koreans were effectively illiterate before the invention of Hangul.

Hangul was designed so that even a commoner could learn to read and write; the Haerye says "A wise man can acquaint himself with them before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn them in the space of ten days."

That's very, very forward thinking for a ruler in the 15th century.

Brian Witte sent in a link to Quipu, Here's his description:
Quipu were a system of knotted and braided cords used for record keeping in one of the largest empires (Incas) the world has ever seen.  Most of the quipu were burned by the Spanish and their knowledge suppressed.  A few survive, though, and modern scholars think the information density in them is sufficient to be fully-fledged written language.  In other words, they may have recorded more than just types and tallies: poems and songs recorded with knots and twists (although there is no proven link between spoken language and the quipu).

They are enormously beautiful and staggering dense, as you can see here: Quipu.

Evan S. sent along an excellent read on the evolution of writing, which is titled--hmm--The Evolution of Writing. It's fairly wonky and extremely interesting, including discussing tokens as a precursor to writing.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Why? (your e-mail, Part Two)

Today we'll hear from David about a sub-topic--specifically, Japanese. He says English is not his native language, but his written English is very strong and much better than he would have you believe.


First, let me apologize for the English I am about to write, as this is far from being my native language.

About your recent post questioning why so many various writing systems exist, I’ll just tell you in a short form about the Japanese one, as it is quite recent and although Japanese history, even the most recent, is a matter darker than what constitutes a black hole, the genesis of the Japanese writing system seems to be quite documented.

To sum it up, the Japanese didn’t have (as far as is known) a way to write their syllabic language until Buddhist religion came to them through their exchange with the Chinese Empire. For some time, they even preferred to use Chinese. As is often the case, the religious cast is the literate one, and while being versed in the Chinese Buddhist literature, they started using logograms to represent the Japanese sounds (this is very important: they didn’t use them for their graphical meaning, though it can’t be ignored the Japanese scholars enjoyed resorting to double-entente). The sad part is that any religious person would use their favourite pick in the Chinese array: the results weren’t very intelligible, and to this day, those early Japanese texts are still open to interpretation as to how they should be read vocally, or even what they might mean more deeply.

A first normalization came, appointing a first try at standardizing the reading by selecting a few logograms for each syllable. Logograms are not mere pictures, but are simplification of pictures consisting of multiple parts called "keys" (you could almost say the « keys" are almost like the letters forming an ideogram word, to simplify it). By using such a single selected part from the logogram, the writing was simplified into what is known as the Katakana syllabary (still used today to write mostly foreign or scientific words). The Hiragana, the other Japanese syllabary, is a very cursive form of writing of those logograms as well, that was at first to be used by women and is now the standard writing system.

All this is estimated to have happened over roughly five centuries, in the latter half of the first millennium of our era.

Here comes the tricky part: logograms became also injected back into the modern Japanese language. Some words, purely Japanese or of Chinese Influence, can be written using single or combination of the Kanji, which actually simplifies the reading - especially in a language with so much homonymy. Those Kanji or combination of Kanji oftentimes make sense on their own, allowing you to get an idea or even understand what is meant without strictly knowing the word (the way the Greek-Latin etymology can help you with Romance languages). Some of those choices can be quite arbitrary too. Etymology of the Japanese words is a very tricky matter ironically, made even more complicate with the various writing forms and their evolution, and I won’t divulge more into this aspect. Baring exceptions or short sentences such as warning signs, you can’t make proper sentences using only Kanji; the grammar forms of the Japanese sentence are all tied to the Kana syllabary, and many, many words are written using those as well.

There is no limit to upper Kanji usage per se, although the American-sponsored post-war constitution put a limit to the number of « regular » ones : 1945 (sic) at first, 2100-something nowadays, but you’ll become familiar with much more than that becoming fluent in the Japanese language.

Some think the Japanese writing originated to become the purest form of Buddhist writing. It was to boot both Chinese and Sanskrit out of their league (there are even some interesting, although mostly remote, ties between Sanskrit and Japanese language).

Anyway, I carefully avoided the Chinese Elephant in the room, and while this doesn’t resolve the huge split in languages and why we don’t all draw side views of angular nosed dudes instead of our silly letters, I hope this might be of a little help as to where the particular and peculiar Japanese writing form is coming from. The Japanese language is fascinating, almost philosophically so: the split in its speech and written form feeling almost like the classical Soul and Body one. It might explain why it owes so much to the Chinese language, while being absolutely distinct from it.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Why? (your e-mail, Part One)

It's "Why?" week here at DQ, where you guys answer the question I posed last Wednesday about the development of written languages.

This is a beautifully written and thoughtful e-mail from C. Lee, who has sent me many such e-mails over the years and continually amazes me with the clarity and precision of his thought. So here's C. Lee, and we're all the better for it, I think.


My short answer would be “A series of historical and geographical accidents.” My longer answer would be “It depended on the people supplying the culture to the empire that did the conquering and also on whether that empire lasted long enough to impress its writing system on the people it conquered.”

So as H.G. Wells pointed out in his “Outline of History,” (what follows is largely from Wells) most writing systems started out as picture-writing, as we can see with Native Americans, Bushmen, etc. Egyptian hieroglyphs, of course, began as pictograms, as did Chinese writing. Those pictograms eventually became ideograms, in which combinations of drawings depicted certain concepts (i.e., “tongue” and “words” combine to make an ideogram meaning “speech.”) The Chinese also used combinations of the pictograms and ideograms to make phonograms, in which a particular symbol could express concepts not so easily drawn as others, but which shared the same sound as something else – a kind of homonym, in other words.

In Sumer, writing also developed as pictograms, ideograms, and phonograms. But the Sumerian language happened to contain a lot of polysyllabic words, each made up of distinct syllables that were themselves the names of concrete things. So Sumerian writing evolved into a syllabary, in which each symbol depicted not consonants and vowels, as in our alphabet, but particular combinations of consonants and vowels, such as “ha” or “he.” (Japan’s native writing system, hiragana, which was derived from Chinese characters, is also a syllabary.) The Sumerian syllabary formed the basis of writing for the Semitic empires that conquered Sumer, such as the Assyrians and Chaldeans.

In Egypt and the Mediterranean, again, pictograms led to ideograms and phonograms. But the hieroglyphs we know came to be used for official matters like monuments and the like, whereas the Egyptian priests used a simplified version of hieroglyphs for mundane matters like letter writing and recipe writing called hieratic script. Another hieroglyph-derived simplified script was taken over by various non-Egyptian people in the Mediterranean, like the Phoenicians, Libyans, Lydians and Cretans, and that third script was used for business purposes.

In the hands of these foreigners, the writing system was cut off from its linguistic roots, losing all but a few traces of its original pictorial, ideographic nature, and becoming a purely sound-sign system, which is to say, an alphabet. For a people that traded with both the Egyptians to their west and the Sumerians or successor empires to their east, having your own writing system was particularly useful. If you had something flexible enough to depict the sounds of the Egyptian and Sumerian languages, then you could avoid having to learn to write in both Egyptian and Sumerian – two completely incompatible writing systems -- and save a lot of work. So to make a strained comparison, let’s say I developed a computer to translate between English and Chinese. The computer itself uses a machine language based on binary numbers; that intermediary language, which can depict both English and Chinese with equal ease, is analogous to an alphabet.

So we might speculate that an alphabet is likely to arise a) when a people hasn’t developed their own writing system and b) when they need to converse in a variety of highly different and incompatible foreign languages. Of course, there are other reasons you might want to create an alphabet. For example, a people might find that a writing system adopted from a neighbor is incapable of depicting the various sounds of their own spoken language; such a people would then naturally want a more flexible script, which would point toward an alphabet. Another motivation is the difficulty of learning to read and write a language with thousands of symbols, like Chinese. The relative ease of learning an alphabet is highly attractive to a government seeking to expand literacy among its people.

So back to the Phoenician alphabet, which was adopted by the Greeks long after they had conceived the Iliad; it was that script and derivations thereof that they used to set it down. A further derivation of that script eventually was adopted by the Etruscans, who adapted it for their uses, and then the Romans adopted/adapted that Etruscan script, which became the Latin alphabet they carried everywhere they conquered in later centuries. Because the culture that fed into the Romans used an alphabet, that was the writing system that the Romans transmitted throughout Europe, and that’s why the languages derived from Latin, including English, all use alphabets.

So back to Asia. In India, there was a kind of syllabary called Brahmi script whose origins are now the subject of speculation. Many people think it derived from the Phoenician alphabet, or some descendant thereof, like Aramaic. This became an alphabet called Brahmic script, which eventually became the basis for a number of alphabets/syllabaries, including the one used in Tibet.

As it happens, the two conditions I mentioned before for creating an alphabet were met by the Mongols, who had conquered an enormous empire full of a Babel of languages. The Mongols didn’t have their own writing system before they set out to conquer, and they also needed to communicate with a vast range of incompatible foreign languages. The Mongols had tried adopting a number of writing systems, including Chinese and an Uighur alphabet, but neither was flexible enough to capture the sounds of the Mongolian language. Kublai Khan therefore assigned a Tibetan monk, Drogon Chogyal Phagpa, to design a unified script able to recreate the sounds of both Mongolian and Chinese. Phagpa used his native Tibetan alphabet as the basis for the 38-letter Phags-pa script that was derived from his name.

It was Phags-pa script that’s believed to have been the basis for the only alphabet that arose in East Asia, which was the 40-letter Korean Hangul script. (Japanese, as I mentioned earlier, is a syllabary.) Until that point, Koreans had been using Chinese characters for writing, but like the Mongols found that it was unsatisfactory for depicting the sounds of the Korean language. In the 1400s, a king named Sejong assigned a bunch of scholars to create a Korean script; since the Koreans, having been conquered by the Mongols, were familiar with Phags-pa, it’s likely that they used it as the basis for Hangul. Another reason Sejong ordered the new script was because Chinese script was so difficult to learn that common people couldn’t read. (This was a condition that also held true in China until the 20th century, when the Communists vastly simplified the writing system, as the Japan Times article mentioned.)

As it happens, the Mongol Empire was relatively ephemeral, and quickly broke up into separate Khanates. Because the Mongols were not under central rule for long, Phags-pa never had a chance to supplant the native writing systems of the various conquered peoples, and the Mongols on the spot tended simply to adopt the writing systems of their particular land before eventually being overthrown. The people in China, in particular, who threw off the Mongol yoke and eventually became the Ming Dynasty, were highly nationalistic and made a fetish of going back to traditional Han Chinese ways and culture, and getting rid of Mongol-imposed things, including Phags-pa.

It’s at this point that we might wonder how history might have changed had China at this point adopted Phags-pa instead and ditched their thousands of characters – a psychological improbability, it’s true, but still. Would it have meant greater literacy in China? A flowering of education and knowledge like the Northern Renaissance in Europe that was fueled by the printing press? (Note that China had printing presses for many years before Gutenberg, but that the difficulty of learning Chinese script meant no such flowering of reading occurred there among the common people.)

Then again, we can look at Korea, which had both an alphabet and printing presses, and which did, in fact, experience a flowering of learning and technological development under Sejong. But Korea was a highly caste-riven country in which the aristocracy valued Chinese culture and clung to Chinese characters and China’s literature-based Confucian educational system. That Confucian-derived education produced people highly suspicious of the corrupting influence of money and contemptuous of mercantile activities, which were not encouraged. That, in turn, meant that the money to fund learning all came from a single source: the royal court. Sadly, Sejong’s later successors were nowhere near as interested in innovation as he was (and to be fair, they may simply have been short of money, which had to be wrung out of Korea’s long-suffering peasants in taxes, a large chunk of which was going to whichever dynasty was ruling China as tribute). So we find that Korea, after being mauled by Hideyoshi Toyotomi’s 16th century invasions, sank into isolationism and stagnation. It may be that even with the adoption of Phags-pa, any Renaissance in China would have been short-lived. And yet, I can’t help but wonder, what if it hadn’t? I can’t say whether the world would have been better or worse, but it definitely would have been different.

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