Sunday December 21, 2008
The Tensor Explains It All, 2008
It's that time of year again! Slate's Explainer column has put up its list of unanswered questions from this year. As always, Explainer is asking readers to vote on which question should be answered, and as in previous years, I've decided to take up the slack by answering all the questions preemptively (a policy I refer to as "The Tensor Doctrine").
Thursday January 10, 2008
The Tensor Explains It All, Again
Late in 2006, Slate's Explainer column published a list of strange questions that hadn't been answered over the course of the previous year, and asked readers to pick one of them to be answered after all. As you may recall, I took it upon myself, helpful fellow that I am, to answer some of those questions. Well, Explainer has published a similar list of questions for 2007, and I decided to help out again. This time, though, I've raised the the difficulty—I'm answering all the questions this year. Nothing up my sleeves. No net.
Saturday March 10, 2007
Why Do I Even Bother?
Sunday February 18, 2007
New Radiation Symbol
The IAEA and ISO have announced an updated version of the venerable ionizing radiation warning symbol. The original was easily the coolest of the warning symbols, whose only serious competition was the biohazard symbol (though I have a soft spot for the laser symbol, myself). However, it suffered from a serious flaw. As the IAEA press release says, the original symbol "...has no intuitive meaning and little recognition beyond those educated in its significance." They have therefore designed the following supplemental symbol:
Hmm. It's not everything it could be.
Thursday December 21, 2006
The Tensor Explains It All
Over at Slate, the most recent Explainer column contains a list of "bottom of the mailbag" questions that didn't get answered. They're holding a reader poll to see which one they should write about, but that means the others will go unanswered. In the spirit of wikiality and in the best tradition of self-appointed pseudonymous experts, I've decided to help out by providing answers as best I can.
Friday December 15, 2006
Roundly Cut Short
I'm not sure if there's a name for the following journalist's writing trick, but there ought to be because it's awesome. First, an excerpt from this Washington Post article about the NBA returning to the old, leather ball:
The NBA has decided to go back to a traditional leather basketball, the league announced yesterday, ending an experiment with a new synthetic ball this season that has been roundly criticized by players.
Hee-hee! "Roundly criticized"—get it? Here's the same stunt again, this time in an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (motto: "Education? Not high enough!") about HIV in Africa:
Circumcision of adult men appears to be a highly effective method of reducing HIV transmission, officials at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases announced on Wednesday. At a meeting on Tuesday, the institute's Data and Safety Monitoring Board voted to cut short two large-scale randomized studies of circumcision in Africa.
"Cut short"—that's comedy gold. (Also: ouch.) So, does anyone know if there's a term for this sub-variety of pun often found in the first few sentences of news articles?
Thursday December 7, 2006
I don't have much to add to the news of the recent "discovery" of a universal baby language in Australia (previously mentioned on Language Log), except to point out a possible connection between the work of "researcher" Priscilla Dunstan and the theories of Nikolay Marr.
Thursday September 21, 2006
Hugo Chávez: Syntactician?
It's not often that theoretical syntax is mentioned on the world stage, but that's just what happened yesterday at the United Nations in New York. According to the Associated Press account of Hugo Chávez's speech:
At the start of his talk, Chavez held up a book by American writer Noam Chomsky ... and recommended it to everyone in the General Assembly, as well as to the American people.
"The people of the United States should read this ... instead of the watching Superman movies," Chavez later told reporters.
Here's a photograph of that historic moment:
I guess Chávez is into minimalism. Who knew?
Thursday September 14, 2006
Eris seems like a fitting name for the object that triggered the Great Planet Debate. Do you think it would be appropriate to start Google-bombing its Wikipedia page with the phrase planet Eris? Or would that be sowing too much discord?
[Update: Oh, I just got the joke. Dysnomia is named after the daughter of Eris, but the Greek word dysnomia means 'lawlessness'. How much you want to bet that's a Xena reference?]
Tuesday September 12, 2006
Cha-Cha Says "I Love You"
Today's implausible animal language claim comes from none other than veteran newsfixture Barbara Walters. Apparently, she has claimed on The View that when she told her Havanese dog Cha-Cha that she loves her, the dog replied back, "I love you".
The best part is that the illustrious Ms. Wawa plans to bring a friend who witnessed the incident on the show to back her up. I guess now I have to believe her, on account of she has an eyewitness, not to mention the keen powers of observation she's developed in forty years of
celebrity interviews hard-hitting journalism.
They've Given You a Number...
Wednesday August 23, 2006
If you've been keeping an eye on any of the wire services (or Language Log), you may have noticed that the members of the International Astronomical Union meeting in Prague have been wrangling, Vatican-style, over the definition of the word planet. Judging by the periodic puffs of contradictorily-colored smoke the meeting is emitting, it sounds like they may be getting bogged down in the details. (That's where the Devil is, you know.) Well, defining words involves language, and language is what linguists study, so that means this is a linguistic problem. Let's roll up our sleeves and see what all the trouble is.
Tuesday April 18, 2006
What Would Heinlein Do?
Heinlein was an ideological libertarian. You could call his politics right wing, and they were, on many of the left-right axes. But Heinlein never would have sat still for the Patriot Act and the daily and deep incursions on liberties that have come to characterise life in America and increasingly Britain and other parts of the world. He never would have accepted that you had to take away freedom to save liberty.
Doctorow is employing a common rhetorical device, here—asserting that some famous historical personage would surely have agreed with him on some current controversy—but what I know about Heinlein, based on his own writings, doesn't suggest to me that his positions would be as easily predictable as Doctorow thinks they are.
Experts Suggest What?
Sometimes being a long-time science fiction fan has unexpected side-effects. For example, I was just now scanning the current headlines and I came across the following:
If you haven't been soaking in SF for a few decades, you probably understand immediately what the headline-writer means: experts are suggesting that women should wait some amount of time between pregnancies—perfectly reasonable advice. But due to lexical interference from SF vocabulary, I misunderstood it to mean: experts are suggesting that women shove newborn babies out of an airlock. Don't worry, though, after a brief whiskey-tango-foxtrot moment, I deduced they weren't recommending infacticide by explosive decompression. Whew!