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Comment: Re:Make it easier (Score 1) 562

by Lurks (#44787327) Attached to: 400 Million Chinese Cannot Speak Mandarin

From what I've heard the Chinese have been using Roman letters to help their students learn their own language for years now, and especially use roman letters to make it easier to enter Chinese text into a computer.

Indeed! Other input systems based on radicals or even handwriting have fallen out of favor compared to pinyin (that's what Mandarin romanisation is called) schemes. Helpful because increasingly English words or acronyms (often acronyms of Chinese words!) are becoming popular among young Chinese.

If you want to see pinyin, use Google translate and hit the phonetic symbol underneath the Chinese characters. It's the A with the two dots above it. The diacritics are the tone marks. Many of the roman letters sound somewhat like English but several aren't like x, c and q. The x sound is particularly amusing given the current Chinese leader's surname is Xi. I get a kick out of hearing newsreaders mispronounce it. Childish I know but when you've spent this many years learning a language and often still not understood by native Chinese it's nice to feel superior once in awhile.

Comment: Re:Make it easier (Score 4, Interesting) 562

by Lurks (#44787305) Attached to: 400 Million Chinese Cannot Speak Mandarin
As a weird combination of techie, linguist and Sinophile, I was pleasantly surprised to see this post up on Slashdot. Sadly there's a lot of misconceptions.

Romanization systems don't work because there are too many homophones to worry about.

Bzzt! Aside from anything else, there is a standard romanisation sytem called Pinyin (), this is perfectly adequate to represent tones. It's used to teach Chinese both to kids and foreign speakers of Chinese. It's in dictionaries to tell Chinese people how to pronounce new words (since the Chinese orthography only gives you clues to pronunciation and of course no information about tones). Other tonal languages with greater tonal inventories than Mandarin such as Vietnamese have adopted similar schemes as their official orthography. There was even a substantial movement in the PRC to shift towards a roman alphabet at one point. This stemmed from the same political movement that simplified China's orthography from the traditional full form characters. Most of the arguments made about losing information in dumping Chinese characters can also be made about what has already occurred in the shift to simplified.

Even this argument premise betrays a fundamental misunderstanding about language. If you jump on a massively multiplayer game you'll find Chinese happily chatting away in pinyin without even writing the tones (you can do it in ascii by using numbers eg. ni3 hao3. That's because the act of parsing language is deeply rooted in context. Only certain words make sense in a given context or in a given syntactic position.

What most speakers of Western languages don't understand is quite how far along the explicit spectrum European languages are. An example is the English fetish on needing to specify a subject leading to bizarre constructions like "It is raining". Speakers of Chinese are much happier and skilled with the art of disambiguating not just lexical words but pragmatic intention from utterances that don't convey the full meaning in their semantic evaluation.

The high frequency of homophones is no barrier to a romanisation. I also fail to understand why anyone would think radicals are essential. They're very useful in reducing the task of memorising the character set, particularly since they have pronunciation and semantic clues that make it easier to remember how to read (and more importantly write) various words. They are actually quite a lot better at this task for the original full form () orthography because the full radicals often remain where as in the current simplified orthography of China, much has been reduced to arbitrary squiggles discarding semantic and pronunciation information in the process.

That's a circular argument though. If a phonemic orthography was used, you wouldn't be relying on clues any more. It would be enough to hear a word to be able to write it down. You cannot currently do that in Chinese except by using pinyin. I do this all the time. I write down the pinyin and then later check in a dictionary for the hanzi.

Comment: Re:Is any degree late in life a good decision? (Score 5, Insightful) 234

by Lurks (#39981879) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: Best Degree For a Late Career Boost?
"What are the odds you will make enough money so that the degree pays for itself?"

I'm a little loath to reply to this on the basis that the vast majority of posts from the Slashdot crowd on anything to do with university tend to view education as all about money. I suspect that's a heavy cultural bias from the US... anyway.

As someone who is a 40-something about to finish a degree this year, I have some experience of this but for me, at least, your question loads the dice. I was earning plenty of money doing what I was doing before, I just didn't like it. I'd be happy to earn a living, doing something I love and that is what, in my experience, most mature students are doing back at university.

Granted that might be a little skewed because useless public services like healthcare and universities cost more in the US than anywhere else in the world, and maybe you do feel some pressure to get a career result to pay back the debt. That said, there are cheap or even free ways to get educated if you're willing to move beyond the top-tier universities.

Finally, I'd add this: It's easy to make the decision to go to university to study something based on some sort of future goal. What universally happens is that by the end of the degree, you have a different idea about what that goal is. It's also quite hard to motivate yourself, do well, and even benefit particularly well from a degree if you aren't really interested in the subject.

So my advice is this: do a degree in something you're really interested in and when faced with choices, go for the flexible choices. There is every chance that you'll run into some niche off of something you're interested in which will turn out to be a gold mine. It happened to me. I found a field that blended my previous skills with what I was learning and it's the best thing that ever happened to me.

Comment: Perl has been a good last language (Score 1) 530

by ynotds (#39911731) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: What Language Should a Former Coder Dig Into?

Maybe because I got into it near the end of last millennium, or because I was well enough grounded in fundamentals from assembler days, or because I was often dealing with dirty data, Perl plus the also less than perfect MySQL have enabled me to play in several unconnected spaces.

In 2012 I'd add the disclaimer as long as you don't treat CPAN too seriously. While there are indispensable gems there, way too often it either doesn't quite do what you need or alternatively, in attempting to do so, it invokes ridiculous dependency trees where quality control collapses.

Still waiting for Perl 6.

Comment: Criminal et al use props up the dollar (Score 1) 528

by ynotds (#39151941) Attached to: North Korea's High-Tech Counterfeit $100 Bills

I've long argued that the main thing propping up the artificially way too high US Dollar is its preferencing by extralegal entities since the normalisation of white collar "work" drove most of the American economy out of inherently tradeable production into devices which must be propped up by legal fictions to acquire monetary value.

Comment: Some are (almost) but don't know it (Score 1) 474

by ynotds (#38885389) Attached to: Trials and Errors: Why Science Is Failing Us

While it isn't any area for reductionist analysis. I've long suspected that people who are surprisingly successful have some internal model which accounts for critical systems effects, though they would most likely rationalise it away if pressed. Mostly they will by like N.N. Taleb (Black Swan) in convincing themselves this is a theory-free zone. What it really is, like specialised examples from plate tectonics to biological evolution, is theory that makes sense of the world we find ourselves in with only the broadest statistical predictive capacity.

Systems are not about efficiency. They are about resilience. Cancer is efficient.

Comment: As somebody who holidays nearby (Score 2) 103

by ynotds (#38287882) Attached to: Ocean Energy Tech To Be Tested Off Australian Coast

The swells and waves have got noticeably stronger over my 50 years holidaying on the Otway coast, so I would very much welcome anything that could take any energy out of them and make it more useful elsewhere.

Then I might get back to diving more than once or twice per summer, down from better than every second day in years gone by.

Comment: Um, no. (Score 2) 214

Wolfram pushes his principle of computational equivalence which says that anything you can find in one discrete system you can find in any other (which can be shown to emulate a universal Turing machine). His preference for 1D and Conway's, my and others' preference for 2D cellular automata for exploring some of that space is much more a statement about human visual perception. He actually suggests that a simple graph (formal math term for network of nodes and links) is a more likely candidate, but they are much harder to get your head (and your algorithms) around.

Personally I find his strong notion of computational equivalence only distracts from the need to find smarter exploration strategies in a space of boundless possibility, although it has some value as a "weak" principle analogous to the weak anthropic principle.

Comment: You mostly nailed that (Score 1) 214

Wolfram's argument for exploring the space of discrete computations as a source of models richer and cheaper than continuum math needs wider endorsement. Much of the criticism is the inverse of a long recognised problem: shooting the message when you really want to shoot the messenger (and that only because you know the reputation rather than the person).

And your critique of totalising narratives has long been well understood in the postmodernist framework, but pomo too has been so badly misrepresented as to have hidden its useful contributions. It's not just the physicists who try to formulate the whole world in their terms. You should be much more afraid of the accountants and lawyers doing likewise without hint of oversight.

Comment: Re:Goedel would like to have a word with you. (Score 1) 214

If Goedel was still around I'm sure he would like to say to Wolfram what he was too polite to say directly to Wittgenstein: that while the formalism project can be a handy tool in isolated circumstances that it must ultimately fail to account for the world we find ourselves in, because there are truths formalism cannot reach before they emerge unexpectedly from expanding chaos. He might even add that you could see that all in cellular automata if you looked with better tools in more likely places. So any lifeboat needs to try to be ready for anything, not just the expected.

Comment: Better to do that at both ends (Score 2) 357

by ynotds (#38168156) Attached to: Rethinking Rail Travel: Boarding a Moving Train

With every carriage/set having its own drive power (as our V/Locity and I'm sure many others already do) and superseding driver cabins though use of remote (including onboard remote) sensing and control functions, or even fully automatic, you can have stopping services docking at the front and dropping off the back of an always moving train system.

This could even allow a return to the once very comfortable mode of separate cabins opening off the side of a long corridor rather than the current fashion of squeezing longitudinal access between open plan seats so that every passenger is disturbed by anyone walking past.

Comment: Stick around hoping that by 150 it goes to 200 (Score 1) 904

by ynotds (#37737660) Attached to: What Happens When the Average Lifespan is 150 Years?

... and on and on. By then I'll surely have even more things to leave unfinished than I look like leaving now.

One good thing serious life expectancy increase might do is help us get over quarterly profits disease, but then again I'm always too optimistic. It might also make the choice clearer between getting off planet and cutting per capita resource wastage down here.

By the time anyone dies of age-related causes they are already quite a work of art, albeit of varying quality, and something is lost when they fail to leave dense traces of at least their best bits for posterity. Yet I bet, I'll still put more effort into observing than into recording. Can't wait for a Siri descendent that will be able to tease out our stories.

I'm not convinced there are any technical obstacles to getting to a point where life expectancy increases by more than a year per year, but have no expectation that I'll find myself on the right side of that curve, so finish up thinking more about technical systems for reincarnating, systems we are surely going to need to move beyond this solar system, no matter how long we can stretch our biological span.

"Engineering without management is art." -- Jeff Johnson

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