A sign language that defies our understanding of their development

Tuesday, 30 September, 2014

Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language, or ABSL, is a form of sign language that has emerged in recent years among the deaf inhabitants of a village in a region of Israel’s Negev Desert. What is particularly fascinating to linguists here however is the structure of the language, which differs somewhat from many others:

ABSL provides fodder for researchers who reject the idea that there’s a genetic basis for the similarities found across languages. Instead, they argue, languages share certain properties because they all have to solve similar problems of communication under similar pressures, pressures that reflect the limits of human abilities to learn, remember, produce, and perceive information. The challenge, then, is to explain why ABSL is an outlier – if duality of patterning is the optimal solution to the problem of creating a large but manageable collection of words, why hasn’t ABSL made use of it?

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On texting in the movies, not at the movies

Thursday, 28 August, 2014

The characters of films communicating with each other via text messaging is one of the more recent challenges to confront filmmakers… specifically, what is the best way present this interaction to audiences?

It is a subject that San Francisco based film aficionado Tony Zhou explores in his short documentary, A Brief Look at Texting and the Internet in Film.

I don’t see all that many stage productions, but now I’m wondering what happens with texting in live performances and the like.

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OMG, we don’t curse in public like we used to

Tuesday, 26 August, 2014

I’ve tended to regard the phrase “Oh My God” as more an expression of shock or surprise than as an expletive, but apparently as a cuss-term it is more popular – among women anyway – than a certain word that starts with the sixth letter of the alphabet. Men however still favour that word over any other profanity.

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Reports of the death of email have been greatly exaggerated

Friday, 22 August, 2014

Despite talk – over what, the last ten years now – of its impending demise, email is still very much with us. A system of written communication that trumps email may come along one day, but what other electronic messaging system about at the moment otherwise ticks all of the boxes that email does?

Email is actually a tremendous, decentralized, open platform on which new, innovative things can and have been built. In that way, email represents a different model from the closed ecosystems we see proliferating across our computers and devices. Email is a refugee from the open, interoperable, less-controlled “web we lost.” It’s an exciting landscape of freedom amidst the walled gardens of social networking and messaging services.

If you ask me, much of the talk of email’s so-called end of days is simply an excuse to continue talking about email.

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If you go to Japan be sure to send someone a telegram

Friday, 22 August, 2014

How to describe telegrams when there may be people here reading, who have no idea what they are? A text message that can only be sent in print format, perhaps? In earlier days much of the world’s communication was carried out by way of telegrams, but not any more obviously.

Unless you are in Japan, that is, where the mode is still in use, for a variety of reasons:

Japan is one of the last countries in the world where telegrams are still widely used. A combination of traditional manners, market liberalization and innovation has kept alive this age-old form of messaging, first commercialized in the mid-19th century by Samuel Morse and others.

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Mobile phone tower says you were there, so you were there

Thursday, 3 July, 2014

I’d be concerned if prosecutors were securing convictions against alleged wrong-doers based solely on mobile phone tower data, backing their ascertain that a person on trial was at a certain place at a certain time, but that appears to be the case.

If I make a cell call from Kenmore Square, in my home town of Boston, you might think that I’m connecting to a cell site a few hundred feet away. But, if I’m standing near Fenway Park during a Red Sox game, with thousands of fans making calls and sending texts, that tower may have reached its capacity. Hypothetically, the system might send me to the next site, which might also be at capacity or down for maintenance, or to the next site, or the next. The switching center may look for all sorts of factors, most of which are proprietary to the company’s software. The only thing that you can say with confidence is that I have connected to a cell site somewhere within a radius of roughly twenty miles.

I think anyone who peruses their phone bills will realise they were no where near some of the places they supposedly made some calls from.

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The horror, the horror, old school telephones

Wednesday, 2 July, 2014

Our children will no doubt laugh at us when we tell them what telephones – you know, those devices you Snapchat and Instagram with – used to be like in “the olden days”. I baulk when I remember how… cumbersome the old rotary dial models especially, used to be.

Once upon a time, you couldn’t fit a phone in your pocket or purse. You couldn’t use it to play music, take pictures, shoot video, or check the Internet. You couldn’t select your ringtone or customize your desktop image – because your phone didn’t have a desktop, and its tone was predetermined, for many decades, by Ma Bell, and then, after deregulation, by the manufacturers of budget-priced, cheaply-made phone sets. You could, starting in the late 1980s, speed-dial the last number you entered, and program up to seven or eight others; but your phone probably still needed a wire to work, and woe unto you if your emergency situation didn’t occur in close proximity to a wall jack.

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Might fake followers make your signal heard over the noise?

Friday, 20 June, 2014

It’s not so easy to be heard out here online anymore. Almost everyone, or so it seems, has a presence, whether it be a website or a social media channel, and maybe it is getting to the point where we’re all drowning each other out.

So what to do? Run faster? Shout louder? Or create the impression you are a true “online influencer” by buying up a stack of social media followers, and seeing if the perception of popularity garners a few retweets, or page views?

Buying your way to status on social networks has become standard practice. From Instagram likes to Twitter followers, there’s a growing number of services that promise to bump up your numbers. And they’re quite affordable! What used to be completely frowned upon, is now, effectively considered an act of social media optimization. Just like choosing the right keywords when optimizing for Google search, can the purchasing of fake followers or likes boost one’s standing in social networks?

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Giving the internet a human face, a talk by Maciej Ceglowski

Thursday, 5 June, 2014

The Internet With A Human Face, the transcript of a recent talk given by US computer engineer Maciej Ceglowski. Thought provoking to say the least.

I’d like to start with an analogy. In the 1950’s, the United States tried a collective social experiment. What would happen if every family had a car? Eisenhower had been very impressed with the German Autobahn network during the war. When he was elected President, he pushed for the creation of the Interstate Highway System, a massive network of fast roads that would connect every population center in the country. Over the next 35 years, America built 75,000 kilometers of interstate highways. If you want to be glib about it (and I do!), you can think of the Interstate as an Internet for cars, a nationwide system unifying thousands of local road networks into an overarching whole.

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The internet shall give me my opinion when I ask for it

Tuesday, 3 June, 2014

It’s probably never been so easy to form some sort of opinion on whatever is making the headlines, regardless of how little we actually know about said subject, thanks to the almost instant access we have to trending topic discussion, by way of various social media channels.

It’s never been so easy to pretend to know so much without actually knowing anything. We pick topical, relevant bits from Facebook, Twitter or emailed news alerts, and then regurgitate them. Instead of watching “Mad Men” or the Super Bowl or the Oscars or a presidential debate, you can simply scroll through someone else’s live-tweeting of it, or read the recaps the next day. Our cultural canon is becoming determined by whatever gets the most clicks.

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