Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for May 25th, 2020

Language and machines, we and AI

leave a comment »

Written by Leisureguy

25 May 2020 at 8:39 pm

Posted in Software, Video

Would A Long Journey Through The Universe Bring Us Back To Our Starting Point?

leave a comment »

Ethan Siegel writes in Forbes:

If you were to set out on a journey from anywhere on Earth’s surface, and traveled in a straight line for far enough, you’d eventually wind up right back where your journey began. After traversing approximately 40,000 kilometers (25,000 miles) — crossing mountains, oceans, deserts, etc. — you’d have completed one entire journey around the surface of our planet. The eventual destination you’d arrive at would be unambiguous: it’s the same as your starting point.

Could it work the same way in space? If you got into a starship, set off in one direction, and traveled as far as you liked, would you eventually return to your starting point? It’s a fascinating question to explore. Even though all signs seem to point towards “probably not,” there are actually two ways that the answer might turn out to be yes, after all.

When we step out of our homes and look at the Earth around us, it generally appears to be flat. For as far as we can see in every direction, from everywhere human beings exist on Earth’s surface, we cannot directly detect the curvature of the Earth. This doesn’t mean that the Earth isn’t curved; it means that if we want to detect and measure exactly how the Earth is curved, we need to look at it on larger scales than our eyes can perceive from a single vantage point.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways we can effectively gather the information necessary to demonstrate the curvature of Earth. We can measure astronomical sights from different latitudes and longitudes. We can perform triangulation measurements from different locations at the same time. Or, most directly, we can travel to a high enough altitude so that we can view our planet’s curvature directly.

When it comes to the Universe, the situation is only a little bit more complex. From our perspective in the Milky Way, even with all the probes we’ve sent out across (and even out of) the Solar System, we cannot directly measure whether the Universe is flat or curved.

What we can do, however, is measure the light that comes from distant sources that are millions or even billion of light-years away. If the Universe were curved, those light paths would be curved in a very particular way; if the Universe were flat, those light paths would exhibit different patterns. From galaxies, galaxy clusters, and even the leftover light from the Big Bang itself (the cosmic microwave background), we’ve indirectly determined that the Universe is flat. Or, if it’s curved (like Earth is), the radius-of-curvature is at least hundreds of times larger than the size of the observable Universe.

On the surface, this seems to imply that the Universe is flat rather than curved. At least, on the scales at which we can measure our Universe — about 46 billion light-years in all directions from our vantage point — there’s no indication that the Universe is curved. But being positively curved so that parallel lines converge, the way that parallel lines (e.g., of longitude) drawn on the surface of the Earth eventually meet, isn’t the only way our Universe could be curved.

You could imagine, instead, that our Universe were shaped like a torus: a long cylinder whose two ends are connected to form a donut-like shape. Along the surface of the torus, parallel lines never meet and the measured distortion of distant light would be perfectly consistent with a flat Universe. But if you traveled far enough in any straight line, you would eventually return to exactly where you set out from. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 May 2020 at 8:32 pm

Posted in Science

Not in Spanish

leave a comment »

I am interested in becoming bilingual, something I’ve not yet accomplished but am interested in. [Full disclosure: The Wife is totally bilingual: English and French with a Parisian accent.] My study of Esperanto is specifically aimed at inducing bilingualism, and I truly believe it will happen. Duolingo will do it. I currently have a 37-day streak and probably in the neighborhood of 40-50 hours — really, just one long work week, but stretched across 37 days with a little over an hour each day. I supplement Duolingo with Anki to ensure I acquire vocabulary efficiently, but I am surprised by how much I already have gained. And I’m not even in level 3 yet.

If you are monolingual and want to experience bilingualism, I highly recommend Esperanto as a relatively easy solution. See the Esperanto section on the “Useful Posts” page for more info.

Michael Hoffman writes in the London Review of Books:

This​ is the first and only book on bilingualism I have read, but before coming to that there are two other things worthy of mention.* The first is the author’s biographical note. Albert Costa, a research professor at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona who specialised in neurocognition and language processing, died in 2018, at the age of 48. The second is the single modest line on the copyright page, where no one looks, crediting the translation to John W. Schwieter. Schwieter also appears in the brief list of Further Reading, as the editor of the Cambridge Handbook of Bilingual Processing (2015). He is, as some of us would say, vom Fach.

The Bilingual Brain is the product of equal parts personality and intellectual curiosity; it reads like a book of lectures (it isn’t), complete with attention-grabbing tics and posers, provocative understatements and iron logic, curious factoids and handsomely signalled changes of direction. The ‘popular’ and the ‘science’ parts of ‘popular science’ achieve a kind of maximum separation. Costa speaks to the reader in a way that he and we are equally helpless to resist – unmannered, natural, charismatic. He is obviously in love with his subject, taking it everywhere with him, seeing it wherever he goes. ‘Most of the people I know are bilingual’ is his delightful shrug. He sounds at times like an amateur, drawing materials from the breakfast table, and at others like the gifted neurologist or psycholinguist he was, advancing provisional conclusions, to be overturned by the research of others or himself. There were moments when I didn’t understand him, moments when I wasn’t interested in what he was telling me, moments when I wished he had gone further, but I suspect that the fault was all on my side. I felt like someone unexpectedly in receipt of a partial brain scan he is probably holding upside down.

Costa’s treatment is both hard (too hard for me) and oddly soft. He has no interest in saying what bilingualism is (‘I prefer to avoid giving prescriptive definitions’) and, besides identifying technical features (‘tonal languages, like Mandarin Chinese or Vietnamese’), none in delineating the specific character of this or that language, its historic or sociopolitical formation, its advantages and drawbacks, its current market rating. He doesn’t really distinguish between the individually-formed bilingual, handmade by circumstance, and those who belong to groups historically or geopolitically tending to bilingualism – Catalans, for example, like Costa himself, or Belgians. Sometimes ‘bilingual’ for him seems to mean little more than someone with a very good grasp of a second language. Perhaps, in the broadest sense, he is simply exclaiming at the wonder of human speech (‘We are all talking heads,’ he begins) and, en passant, praising the social-scientific method, the fantastically resourceful experiments that have been undertaken on the human animal.

Costa is interested in both qualitative and quantitative results, though the latter type tends to dominate his analysis. Numbering trumps mere description. (Something that can’t be made into a plural is of less use and less worth, packs less punch.) The main idea is to extrapolate and sweep and generalise, not to specify. The Bilingual Brain has Conrad – almost the only literary writer – in the index, but not Beckett or Nabokov or Brodsky. It dives into the brain, not into words. Ideally, I think, Costa would number the bilingual’s languages #1 and #2, for maximal theoretical applicability, not name them, as he gamely does, with his Korean French speakers, his Catalan Mexicans, his Zulu and Hindi English.

Hard cases make bad law, but perhaps they make good science. The opposite ends of life feature more prominently in The Bilingual Brain than the muddled middle. There is much play in the book with ‘bilingual babies’ and the almost brutally ingenious experiments aimed at gaining and evaluating their attention. Newborns ‘show a preference for words spoken by their mother compared to those uttered by a stranger’. Two-day-old babies take in more oxygen to their brains when listening to a recording of their mothers reading a story played forwards rather than backwards. Four-month-old bilingual babies can distinguish (already!) their two languages; on hearing them, they take longer to respond than monolingual babies, possibly, Costa conjectures, because ‘evaluating which of the two languages is the one being heard … would take additional time’. Costa’s second focus is on strokes or brain injuries as they affect bilingual individuals: what happens to their languages, do they both disappear, and from the same places in the brain? Is one damaged while the other remains unimpaired and is there an observed order? It’s an uncertain, contested area, with one scientist defining five distinct types of linguistic recovery, though it seems to be accepted that ‘there are quite a few people who after brain damage have more problems processing nouns than verbs.’

The brain parts of Costa’s conclusions largely

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 May 2020 at 8:21 pm

Cooking in cast-iron, stainless steel, and Teflon

with 2 comments

I got rid of all my Teflon pans some time ago. I now cook mostly in cast-iron and otherwise in stainless steel (the latter for cooking, say, beans and grains). The contamination of seafood is interesting (and depressing):

Written by Leisureguy

25 May 2020 at 10:03 am

A perfect shave for Memorial Day

leave a comment »

I continue to be flabbergasted by the high quality and great luxury of Declaration Grooming’s Milksteak shaving soap line. IMO this is one that you really should get. At the very least, with Father’s Day just around the corner, I think heavy-handed hints would not be amiss.

The great lather this morning was created with Mühle’s Gen 2 synthetic brush — and I found that the fragrance of th soap has improved, or I have tuned in to it better: extremely nice today.

Parker’s Semi Slant is an excellent slant, here mounted on a Yaqi handle (the Parker handle being a bit long for my taste), and certainly the extreme smoothness of the result is in large part due to this razor (and also to the fact it was shaving a two-day stubble, for reasons I still cannot fathom).

Three passes to a smooth, supple, soft-skin outcome, to which I applied a splash of Pashana.

Written by Leisureguy

25 May 2020 at 9:59 am

Posted in Shaving

%d bloggers like this: