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").

Continue reading "The Tensor Explains It All, 2008"

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
03:11 PM in News | Comments (24) | Submit: | Links:

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.

Continue reading "The Tensor Explains It All, Again"

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
03:30 PM in News | Comments (9) | Submit: | Links:

Saturday March 10, 2007

Why Do I Even Bother?

Apparently, the British military can't be bothered to follow the most basic precautions.  How can I help you if you don't listen, British military?  Sigh.  (via)

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
10:54 PM in News , Science Fiction | Comments (2) | Submit: | Links:

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.

Continue reading "New Radiation Symbol"

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
09:22 PM in Linguistics , News | Comments (14) | Submit: | Links:

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.

Continue reading "The Tensor Explains It All"

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
01:50 AM in News | Comments (4) | Submit: | Links:

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?

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
06:28 AM in Linguistics , News | Comments (11) | Submit: | Links:

Thursday December 7, 2006

Japhetic Babbling?

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.

Continue reading "Japhetic Babbling?"

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
05:25 AM in Linguistics , News | Comments (10) | Submit: | Links:

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?

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
02:35 AM in Linguistics , News | Comments (17) | Submit: | Links:

Thursday September 14, 2006

Goodbye, Xena...

...hail Eris!  (And all hail Dysnomia, too.)

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?]

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
02:39 PM in News , Science | Comments (3) | Submit: | Links:

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.

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
03:45 PM in Linguistics , News | Comments (2) | Submit: | Links:

They've Given You a Number...

Former planet Pluto is now minor planet number 134340.  (That's the numbering system used for asteroids, as opposed to periodic comets.)

Lame.

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
03:26 PM in News , Science | Comments (5) | Submit: | Links:

Wednesday August 23, 2006

Defining Planet

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.

Continue reading "Defining Planet"

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
10:54 PM in News , Science | Comments (10) | Submit: | Links:

Tuesday April 18, 2006

What Would Heinlein Do?

Today on Boing Boing, Cory Doctorow wrote about John Varley's new novel Red Lightning, calling it "The novel Heinlein would have written about GW Bush's America".  He goes on to explain:

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.

Continue reading "What Would Heinlein Do?"

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
10:43 PM in News , Science Fiction | Comments (30) | Submit: | Links:

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:

Experts Suggest Spacing Pregnancies

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!

Continue reading "Experts Suggest What?"

I am The Tensor, and I approve this post.
07:27 PM in Linguistics in SF , News | Comments (9) | Submit: | Links: