Tags: culture*

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  1. Mostly EU workers on short-term contracts in fish-processing or tourism, new residents rarely need to master Icelandic, with its three genders, four cases and six verb forms. In the bars, restaurants and shops of downtown Reykjavík, it can be a struggle for locals to get served in their native language.

    Online, however, is the biggest concern. Apart from Google – which, mainly because it has an Icelandic engineer, has added Icelandic speech recognition to its Android mobile operating system – the internet giants have no interest in offering Icelandic options for a population the size of Cardiff’s.

    “For them, it costs the same to digitally support Icelandic as it does to digitally support French,” Eiríkur said. “Apple, Amazon … If they look at their spreadsheets, they’ll never do it. You can’t make a business case.”

    Where Icelandic versions do exist, said Nowenstein, they are not perfect. “You can switch Facebook to Icelandic, but it’s not good at dealing with cases,” she said. “So people get fed up with seeing their names in the wrong grammatical form, and switch back to English.”

    Max Naylor, a UK academic also involved in the study, said he had emailed and written to Apple several times but had never received a reply. “We’re not expecting a fully-functioning operating system, but the hope is that they will at least open themselves up to collaboration,” he said.

    The Icelandic government is setting aside 450m krónur (£3.1m) a year over the next five years for a language technology fund it hopes will produce open-source materials developers could use, but the challenge – from apps and voice-activated fridges to social media and self-driving cars – is immense.
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  2. Since she first started specializing in old documents, Watson has expanded beyond things written in English. She now has a stable of collaborators who can tackle manuscripts in Latin, German, Spanish, and more. She can only remember two instances that left her and her colleagues stumped. One was a Tibetan manuscript, and she couldn’t find anyone who knew the alphabet. The other was in such bad shape that she had to admit defeat.

    In the business of reading old documents, Watson has few competitors. There is one transcription company on the other side of the world, in Australia, that offers a similar service. Libraries and archives, when they have a giant batch of handwritten documents to deal with, might recruit volunteers. Even today, when computers have started to excel at reading books, handwritten works escape their understanding. Scholars who study medieval manuscripts have been working on programs that might have a chance of helping with this task, but right now a trained eye is still the best and only way to make real progress.
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  3. This precipitous collapse in trust in our political class and the vital institutions it oversees has arisen at an infelicitous time. Coupled with a global financial crisis that no one predicted, and amid the disorienting clamor of social media, it has surfaced an uncomfortable epiphany: the gathering realization that those who purport to be in control are, in fact, just powerless bystanders like the rest of us, beholden to their own personal knot of ignorance and bias.

    We have come to know, in some visceral way, that the complexity of the modern world is so intractable that everyone — no matter their status in society — is more or less playing at being sober adults, when in reality we all exist in a state of permanent bewilderment. Like the inner child in the poet Ted Hughes’ famous letter to his son, each one of us has been exposed as “the wretchedly isolated undeveloped little being” we truly are.
    Tags: , , , , by M. Fioretti (2017-12-14)
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  4. "In private, three administration officials conceded that they could not publicly articulate their most compelling — and honest — defense of the president for divulging classified intelligence to the Russians: that Mr. Trump, a hasty and indifferent reader of his briefing materials, simply did not possess the interest or the knowledge of the granular details of intelligence gathering to leak specific sources and methods of intelligence gathering that would harm American allies."
    Trump's lack of interest in details of policy is legion. We know from leaks from within the White House that Trump prefers bullet points, graphs and charts to word-heavy briefing books. A Reuters story this morning details the Trump White House's preparation for his first overseas trip set to start Friday and includes this eye-popping paragraph:
    "National Security Council officials have strategically included Trump's name in 'as many paragraphs as we can because he keeps reading if he's mentioned,' according to one source, who relayed conversations he had with NSC officials."
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  5. how to recognize the artists of paintings
    Tags: , , , , by M. Fioretti (2017-05-15)
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  6. Lord’s thesis is that the kind of art a society makes and values is joined at the hip with the kind of energy that society depends on to keep itself going. He traces the various forms of energy we have known as a species throughout our pre-history — our millennia spent in the Pleistocene — and in our recorded history — sexual energy, without which societies can’t continue; the energy of the body while hunting and foraging; wood for fire; slaves; wind and water; coal; oil; and “renewables” — and makes some cogent observations about their relationship to art and culture. In his Prologue, he says:

    Everyone knows that all life requires energy. But we rarely consider how dependent art and culture are on the energy that is needed to produce, practice and sustain them. What we fail to see are the usually invisible sources of energy that make our art and culture(s) possible and bring with them fundamental values that we are all constrained to live with (whether we approve of them or not). Coal brought one set of values to all industrialized countries; oil brought a very different set… I may not approve of the culture of consumption that comes with oil… but I must use it » if I want to do anything at all.

    (Photo via gettystation.com)

    Those living within an energy system, says Lord, may disapprove of certain features, but they can’t question the system itself. Within the culture of slavery, which lasted at least 5,000 years, nobody wanted to be a slave, but nobody said slavery should be abolished, because what else could keep things going?
    (Sébastien Bonaimé/Getty Images; Viktor Drachev/AFP/Getty Images)

    Coal, says Lord, produced a culture of production: think about those giant steel mills. Oil and gas, once they were up and running, fostered a culture of consumption. Lord cites “the widespread belief of the 1950s and early ’60s in the possibility of continuing indefinitely with unlimited abundance and economic growth, contrasted with the widespread agreement today that both that assumption and the world it predicts are unsustainable.” We’re in a transition phase, he says: the next culture will be a culture of “stewardship,” the energy driving it will be renewables, and the art it produces will be quite different from the art favored by production and consumption cultures.

    What are the implications for the way we view both ourselves and the way we live? In brief: in the coal energy culture — a culture of workers and production — you are your job. “I am what I make.” In an oil and gas energy culture — a culture of consumption — you are your possessions. “I am what I buy.” But in a renewable energy culture, you are what you conserve. “I am what I save and protect.” We aren’t used to thinking like this, because we can’t see where the money will come from. But in a culture of renewables, money will not be the only measure of wealth. Well-being will factor as an economic positive, too.

    Like Barry Lord, Morris is interested in the link between energy-capture systems and the cultural values associated with them, though in his case it’s the moral values, not only the aesthetic ones — supposing these can be separated — that concern him. Roughly, his argument runs that each form of energy capture favors values that maximize the chance of survival for those using both that energy system and that package of moral values. Hunter-gatherers show more social egalitarianism, wealth-sharing, and more gender equality than do farmer societies, which subordinate women — men are favored, as they must do the upper-body-strength heavy lifting — tend to practice some form of slavery, and support social hierarchies, with peasants at the low end and kings, religious leaders, and army commanders at the high end. Fossil fuel societies start leveling out gender inequalities — you don’t need upper body strength to operate keyboards or push machine buttons — and also social distinctions, though they retain differences in wealth.

    The second part of his argument is more pertinent to our subject, for he postulates that each form of energy capture must hit a “hard ceiling,” past which expansion is impossible; people must either die out or convert to a new system and a new set of values, often after a “great collapse” that has involved the same five factors: uncontrolled migration, state failure, food shortages, epidemic disease, and “always in the mix, though contributing in unpredictable ways–- climate change.” Thus, for hunting societies, their way of life is over once there are no longer enough large animals to sustain their numbers. For farmers, arable land is a limiting factor. The five factors of doom combine and augment one another, and people in those periods have a thoroughly miserable time of it, until new societies arise that utilize some not yet exhausted form of energy capture.
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  7. Any league table that has China at the top, Britain at 26th and America at 36th tells me something more important than merely who is good at maths. If the US and Britain – among the most vigorous economies and most successful at science – are so bad at maths, it suggests their young people are applying themselves to something more useful. Chinese students are rushing to British and US universities to join them.

    No one would argue that pupils should not be able to add, subtract and multiply. But I studied higher maths, from calculus to number theory, and have forgotten the lot. All the maths I have needed comes from John Allen Paulos’s timeless manual, Innumeracy. It is mostly how to understand proportion and risk, and tell when a statistician is trying to con you.

    I agree with the great mathematician GH Hardy, who accepted that higher maths was without practical application. It was rather a matter of intellectual stimulus and beauty. A new book by Michael Harris, Mathematics Without Apologies, goes to the extremes of this stimulus, to the categorical ladder, incompleteness theory and the Black-Scholes equation, used to assess financial derivatives. It ends in the “inconsistency nightmare”, that nought might possibly equal one.

    We accept the need for maths in advanced physics and in computing algorithms, much as we accept Greek for archaeology and Anglo-Saxon for early literature. The “mathematics of finance” school at Columbia University is lavishly sponsored by Wall Street firms, for good reason. But that does not mean every primary pupil must spend hours, indeed years, trying to learn equations and πr2, which they soon forget through disuse. Maths is for specialists, so why instil arithmophobia in the rest?
    The mathematical equation that caused the banks to crash
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    Charge the maths lobby with the uselessness of its subject and the answer is a mix of chauvinism and vacuity. Maths must be taught if we are to beat the Chinese (at maths). Or it falls back on primitivism, that maths “trains the mind”. So does learning the Qur’an and reciting Latin verbs.

    Meanwhile, the curriculum systematically denies pupils what might be of real use to them and society. There is no “need” for more mathematicians. The nation needs, and therefore pays most for, more executives, accountants, salesmen, designers and creative thinkers.

    At the very least, today’s pupils should go into the world with a knowledge of their history and geography, their environment, the working of their bodies, the upbringing of children, law, money, the economy and civil rights.

    This is in addition to self-confidence, emotional intelligence and the culture of the English imagination. All are crowded out by a political obsession with maths.

    The reason is depressingly clear. Maths is merely an easy subject to measure, nationally and internationally. It thus facilitates the bureaucratic craving for targetry and control. The prominence of maths in the curriculum is education’s version of Orwell’s imaginary boot, “stamping on your face … forever”.
    Tags: , , , , by M. Fioretti (2016-08-08)
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  8. Mathematics embeds character in students

    Rich mathematical experiences are steeped in so-called non-cognitive skills (you know the ones — grit, resilience, mindset et al).

    A thesis represents the very small subset of ideas that came good. It does not include failed efforts, yet they are the ones that define much of the research experience. Those failed efforts often contain the key insights that inspired the final breakthroughs. They condition the mathematician with a mental toughness. My own results only materialised after three years of failure and frustration (which included several renewed commitments to quit the damn thing altogether).
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2016-02-18)
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  9. Researchers at Poland’s Institute of Nuclear Physics found complex ‘fractal’ patterning of sentences in literature, particularly in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, which resemble ‘ideal’ maths seen in nature
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2016-01-28)
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  10. Another linguistic bone to pick here isn’t related to the armed forces or to job titles, but it does involve the language we use when we talk about people. Remember the comment above about the standards being lowered for females? And how the male marines had to carry their packs? The commenter there is using female as a noun and male as an adjective. It’s a linguistic tic that others have noticed, and it’s especially telling in this context. It says that women are there to be something (breeders, cooks) and men are there to do something (hunt, fight, carry packs).

    This isn’t the kind of language you can change bureaucratically, but it strikes me as far more insidious to unit cohesion than the retention of airman or rifleman in Marine parlance. Yes, there’s a certain historical sexism tucked in there, but it’s also kind of cool. The way calling female superior officers “Sir” in Star Trek is kind of cool, even though that coolness factor has some sexist underpinnings. (Voyager commander Kathryn Janeway famously prefers to be called, simply and badass-ly, “Captain.”) Referring to a human woman as a female like she’s part of a marmoset breeding pair, well, it makes the speaker sound more like Worf.
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