If conversation were chemistry

The Outer Hoard

Today’s blog post is for the geeks. Seriously, if you don’t think frequency analysis for its own sake can be fun, you probably won’t enjoy this much.

Stan Carey has a blog post about the length of the chemical name of the largest known protein, considered as though it were a word. It takes three and a half hours to read aloud, so it would easily be the longest word in the English language were it not for the fact that it doesn’t count.

I decided to play around, so I started by taking the chemical name, and (after removing hyphens/whitespace from raw text) ran it through a character frequency analyser. This told me that the letter L occurs 14645 times, accounting for 22.9% of the text. At the low end, the letter D occurs a measly 238 times, which is just 0.4%. Letters not present at…

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Look Who Nick Kristof’s Saving Now

Corey Robin

For the last few months, I’ve had a draft post sitting in my dashboard listing all the words and phrases I’d like to see banished from the English language. At the top—jockeying for the #1 slot with “yummy,” “closure” and “it’s all good”—is “public intellectual.”

I used to like the phrase; it once even expressed an aspiration of mine. But in the years since Russell Jacoby wrote his polemic against the retreat of intellectuals to the ivory tower, it’s been overworked as a term of abuse.

What was originally intended as a materialist analysis of the relationship between politics, economics, and culture—Jacoby’s aim was to analyze how real changes in the economy and polity were driving intellectuals from the public square—has become little more than a rotten old chestnut that lazy journalists, pundits, and reviewers keep in their back pocket for whenever they’re short of copy. Got nothing to say?

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10 Myths About Writers and Writing

P.A. Moed

In order to write creatively, we need to exercise our free-spirited and impulsive right brain.  It might take a while to “liberate” this side of the brain especially if we have worked in fields that are linear, concrete, and require rationale thought.  This is what happened to me many years ago when I switched from a career in teaching and publishing to full-time writing.   As I began my apprenticeship in the creative arts,  I had to dispel several myths about the writing process and writers.

"Incognito: The Hidden Self-Portrait" by Rachel Perry Welty, DeCordova Museum. “Lost in My Life (Price Tags) ” by Rachel Perry Welty, DeCordova Museum.

1.  Myth: Writers Are Strange.

There is an element of truth to this!  Writers (and other creative people) must be willing to look below the surface of everyday life and explore the world and relationships like a curious outsider.  This perspective sets us apart, but at the same time, it allows us…

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How the French stick changed my life

FranceSays

Creative CommonsYou are looking at one of the reasons  we moved to France. Bread, aka le pain. It’s a quality-of-life thing: we figured that even if we had to put our careers on hold, at least we’d be able to enjoy fresh bread every day. Lovely, crusty, light-as-a-feather baguette right out of the oven. Sans preservatives, as I memorably informed my late mother-in-law.

There is a boulangerie on every street corner in Paris and at least one in every village. In thousands of mom-and-pop shops from Nantes to Nice, the baker is at the ovens in the wee hours every morning, and you can buy a warm baguette from about 6:30 a.m. Such unfailing devotion is encrusted* in the very fiber* of le boulanger.

One of my first challenges in France was being able to go into the local bakery and buy what I wanted. There…

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North Korea in Hideous Distortion

from swerve of shore

DUO NORTH KOREA HOLGA-1

Never before or since my short trip to North Korea have I felt so perplexed about the realities of a country. It’s easy to know certain things: it’s a hermit nation, it’s citizens have little to no access to the outside world, it’s been run by a family of despots since the end of the Korean War, and it seemingly revels in its own bad behavior, taunting the world but stopping just short of biting the hands that feed it. But like all things worth exploring, what’s on the surface can be a very shallow reflection of the place as a whole.

During my few days in country, I met some of the nicest, most intelligent people I’ve ever had the pleasure of speaking with. North Koreans, born and raised. They would talk to me about the US’s foreign policies, about Vietnam’s peculiar brand of communism, and about many other…

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Black Versus White Boxes

Gödel's Lost Letter and P=NP

cauer

Wilhelm Cauer was a German mathematician and engineer who worked in Gttingen and the US between the two world wars. He is associated with the term “black box,” although he apparently did not use it in his published papers, and others are said to have used it before. What Cauer did do was conceive a computing device based on electrical principles. According to this essay by Hartmut Petzold, Cauer’s device was markedly more advanced and mathematically general than other ‘analog devices’ of the same decades. He returned to Germany in the early 1930’s, stayed despite attention being drawn to some Jewish ancestry, and was killed in the last days of Berlin despite being on the Red Army’s list of scientists whose safety they’d wished to assure.

Today Ken and I wish to talk about black boxes and white boxes, no matter who invented them, and their relation to computing.

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