If extraterrestrials talk to us, how will we understand them?

Monday, 31 August, 2015

There are still some ancient languages on Earth that linguists are still struggling to understand, so how would we fare if an alien intelligence tried to contact us? How might we ever make sense of what they were saying?

Yet, any carefully thought-out message sent to us may be composed in a way that we might be able to comprehend, without too much difficulty:

“If an advanced civilization did want to communicate with us, they would probably choose to base their communication on something we have in common, such as the fact that we live in the same physical universe,” says Siemion. “They might use the properties of astrophysical objects, like pulsars, quasars or the shape of our galaxy, as a first step at teaching us their language.”

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The benefits of talking to yourself, that’s right, the benefits

Monday, 10 August, 2015

Ok, so doing things – such as going to the movies – alone, is to be encouraged, we should, from time to time, do more by ourselves. It has its upsides, and accordingly we should have little regard for others might think.

Now here’s another situation to apply your stigma breaking chops to… talking to yourself. Out loud. Doing so, like going it alone at the opera, also has benefits, quite a few it seems:

What helps me the most when I talk to myself is that I’m able to organize the countless wild thoughts running rampant through my brain. Hearing my issues vocalized calms my nerves. I’m being my own therapist: Outer-voice me is helping inner-brain me through my problems. According to psychologist Linda Sapadin, talking out loud to yourself helps you validate important and difficult decisions. “It helps you clarify your thoughts, tend to what’s important and firm up any decisions you’re contemplating.” Everyone knows the best way to solve a problem is to talk it out. Since it’s your problem, why not do it with yourself?

Now all we have to do is find somewhere to talk thus, without being seen or heard by anyone else.

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Sending text messages is one thing, transmitting them another

Friday, 7 August, 2015

Text messages, just type and send, and they reach the recipient almost instantly. It’s that simple, thanks to the science behind the technology, that, needless to say, isn’t quite as straightforward. It’s fascinating though, and it all comes down to a beam of light. In a way, that is.

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Change your email font, change the way your emails are seen

Wednesday, 5 August, 2015

I had been considering changing my email app’s font, mainly because I’ve been using it for so long. Now it turns out that said font, Georgia, is one that makes for legibility, a combination of speed, comprehension, comfort, and a kind of emotional acceptance of the font.

The more popular default email fonts, generally being Helvetica or Arial, do not really fit that bill, and are therefore better used elsewhere.

While Helvetica is beloved by design nerds for its neutrality, its uniformity and lack of consistent spacing make it hard to read in large chunks of text. “The letters are too close together,” said Nadine Chahine, a type designer at Monotype. “That makes it too tight.”

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Would a language with just 123 words be easy to learn?

Tuesday, 28 July, 2015

Made up of just one hundred and twenty three words, Toki Pona, created by Toronto based linguist Sonja Lang, sounds exactly like the minimal sort of language I could get into. While communicating clearly through a language with so few words might sound like it is fraught with peril, it is still possible to express just about any concept:

While the Oxford English Dictionary contains a quarter of a million entries, and even Koko the gorilla communicates with over 1,000 gestures in American Sign Language, the total vocabulary of Toki Pona is a mere 123 words. Yet, as the creator Sonja Lang and many other Toki Pona speakers insist, it is enough to express almost any idea. This economy of form is accomplished by reducing symbolic thought to its most basic elements, merging related concepts, and having single words perform multiple functions of speech.

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Where have all the long, intimate, emails gone? Gone to work email…

Monday, 20 July, 2015

I still receive plenty of long emails, but I couldn’t quite say the same of long, intimate, messages. Fifteen, twenty, years ago, a different story though, when email had literally taken the place of handwritten letters.

Accordingly, I both sent, and received, in depth mails, though yes, rambling might be a more applicable term when it came to some of my stuff. I’m a writer though, so what would anyone expect? So what’s happened? Has email become passé? Do people use social media channels instead? Why email when you can snapchat?

Surprisingly, this state of affairs may be down to email itself, in particular its volume, the majority likely being work-related, that also seems to keep increasing, subsequently leaving little time, and energy, for composing drawn out personal messages.

According to the Radicati Group, a technology marketing firm, business email users now send and receive an average of 122 messages per day, up from 110 in 2010. Sealing and opening all those virtual envelopes takes a toll: A 2012 report from McKinsey found that workers spent 28 percent of their day on email. While the numbers cannot account for how many emails are personal, it stands to reason that few sent on business accounts are – and that people are often too exhausted from the relentless inundation to compose meaningful letters.

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Most people are not mind readers. Most people forget this

Thursday, 7 May, 2015

Frequently we fail to articulate our thoughts fully enough, or sometimes even just merely outline them, in the belief that others already know what we’re thinking, or what we want. How’s that meant to work anyway?

It’s something called the “the transparency illusion”, and it means many of us do not realise we are not making ourselves as understood as we thought we were, says US psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson.

Most of the time, Halvorson says, people don’t realize they are not coming across the way they think they are. “If I ask you,” Halvorson told me, “about how you see yourself – what traits you would say describe you – and I ask someone who knows you well to list your traits, the correlation between what you say and what your friend says will be somewhere between 0.2 and 0.5. There’s a big gap between how other people see us and how we see ourselves.” This gap arises, as Halvorson explains in her book, from some quirks of human psychology. First, most people suffer from what psychologists call “the transparency illusion” – the belief that what they feel, desire, and intend is crystal clear to others, even though they have done very little to communicate clearly what is going on inside their minds.

Over do the communication is one solution. At least others will understand you far better that way. And people who communicate clearly tend to be generally happier as a result.

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Your mission should you accept it, speak only if spoken to for a week

Monday, 20 April, 2015

This might, I say again, might make for an intriguing personal challenge… if maybe you live alone, and likewise work by yourself from home… not talk to anyone for an entire week, unless they talk to you first. Not talking first also means there can be no instigating of communication via the likes of texting or email either.

Unless you also live on a deserted island, I think it’d prove incredibly difficult, to say the least:

I ride the train to work in San Francisco every day. I habitually say good morning to all the people in my neighborhood along my walk and politely say excuse me as I squeeze like a Tetris piece between other commuters on packed train cars. This week was different. I felt more closed off from neighbors; I couldn’t initiate conversation. I could wave, but that’s kind of awkward to do when you’re passing someone that is about eight inches away. It gives off more of a “talk to the hand” vibe than a cordial “howdy.” The commute was awkward every day of this experiment.

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On devising sign language for the new words entering the language

Friday, 6 March, 2015

With new words entering our vocabulary almost daily, those charged with devising sign language terms for the deaf community must surely have their work cut out for themselves.

Just look at the Oxford English Dictionary, who added terms like “duck face,” “lolcat,” and “hawt” to their prestigious lexicon this past December. For the English-speaking world, these additions are anywhere from ridiculous to annoying but at the end of the day, the terms are accepted and agreed upon. But how do these new, internet-laden turns of phrase enter the sign language community? Was there a way of expressing “selfie” in ASL, was there a sign for “photobomb?”

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A star symbol means that the horse prefers not to wear a coat today

Thursday, 6 November, 2014

We’ve all seen at one time or another, horses wearing what appear to be protective, or warm, coats. But how do we know whether or not they’ve been saddled with said coat? What if it’s making them too warm for instance? Problem solved by the sounds of things, it now looks like it is possible to train horses to indicate their preference in this regard.

Using a simple series of easily distinguishable printed symbols, Mejdell’s group taught 23 horses to associate symbols with certain actions. The horses learned that one symbol meant “blanket on,” another meant “blanket off,” and a third meant “no change.” Once the horses had learned the meanings (which took an average of 11 days), the researchers gave them free rein to choose symbols and rewarded them with food for their selection, regardless of which symbol they chose. The team tested the horses under a variety of weather conditions, including sun, wind, rain, and snow, in Norwegian temperatures ranging from -15°C to 20°C (5°F to 68°F).

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