Sunday, April 7, 2024

Linguistic Loot: The Secret Behind English's Global Charm

In the grand bazaar of languages, English is the shopaholic, ever eager to fill its lexical cart with linguistic souvenirs from around the globe. This insatiable appetite for loan words not only enriches its vocabulary but also cements its status as the world's Lingua Franca. As lexicographer Kory Stamper once quipped, "English has been borrowing words from other languages since its infancy," highlighting its long history of linguistic acquisition. But it's James Nicoll's observation that truly captures the essence of English's relationship with other languages: "English doesn’t borrow from other languages. English follows other languages down dark alleys, knocks them over and goes through their pockets for loose grammar."

This magpie-like tendency to collect shiny objects from other tongues makes English uniquely suited to serve as a global bridge. By incorporating words from an estimated 350 languages, English becomes a linguistic tapestry that reflects the diversity of its speakers. Whether it's the philosophical 'weltanschauung' (German) that gives us a world view, or the 'je ne sais quoi' (French) that adds a dash of the indefinable, English gleefully embraces the foreign to express the inexpressible.

So, in the spirit of celebration and a tad of humor, let's embark on a journey through time with a 'top ten' tour of English's linguistic loot. Starting with the old classics before diving into the fresh finds of the 21st Century zeitgeist:

Old English Loan Words

  • CafĂ© (French): Where one procrastinates and occasionally writes.
  • Schadenfreude (German): Feeling secretly thrilled your friend’s startup is called "Google Plus."
  • Renaissance (French): A fancy way of saying, "I’m not just old, I’m classic."
  • Algebra (Arabic): The reason why letters started invading math.
  • Sofa (Arabic): The MVP of Netflix marathons.
  • Guru (Sanskrit): What your yoga teacher calls themselves.
  • Pajamas (Hindi): Official work attire for remote employees.
  • Opera (Italian): When you want to nap in public, but with class.
  • Ketchup (Chinese): The ultimate food enhancer, originally a fish sauce.
  • Vampire (Slavic): Because "immortal nocturnal bloodsucker" didn’t fit on the book cover.

21st Century Loan Words

  • Emoji (Japanese): Because why write words when pictures of sad pizza do the trick?
  • Hikikomori (Japanese): The art of perfecting indoor hobbies, thanks to the internet.
  • K-pop (Korean): Not just music, but a global phenomenon that dictates fashion, food, and fandom.
  • Hygge (Danish): Finding deep joy in candles, coffee, and coziness. Scandinavia’s gift to self-care.
  • Sudoku (Japanese): The puzzle that proves numbers are universal, even when math isn’t.
  • Anime (Japanese): More than cartoons, it's a gateway to intricate stories and deep fandom.
  • Binge-watch (English, but reflects global digital culture): The modern way to experience TV series and films, courtesy of streaming services.
  • App (short for "application", a concept that transcends language but is deeply embedded in global tech culture): Tiny icons, endless possibilities.
  • TikTok (International, originating from China as “Douyin”): The short-form video platform that took over global social media.
  • Manga (Japanese) Graphic novels that redefine storytelling, bridging cultures with art.

In the end, English's penchant for collecting bits and pieces from other languages not only makes it a rich, evolving tapestry but also the perfect candidate for the world's Lingua Franca. It's a language that knows no boundaries, constantly evolving to reflect the global zeitgeist. So the next time you use an English word with foreign roots, remember, you're not just speaking English; you're taking a stroll through the world's largest linguistic museum. And who knows? Maybe one day, English will borrow the word for "the joy of borrowing words" from another language, because if there's one thing English loves, it's a good linguistic shopping spree.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Tyson was Under-rated

Mike was underrated as a boxer, as if his technique was simplistic and sloppy.

Boxing is a guilty pleasure for me. My dad had been an amateur boxer. Watching boxing together was 'a thing' back when Muhammed Ali was called Cassius Clay. Boxing should probably be outlawed because it permanently injures almost all fighters, but as long as it is around I will probably peek in from time to time because ‘The Sweet Science’ is viscerally compelling to someone who has thrown and taken punches.

The perception of Mike Tyson having a simplistic and sloppy technique overlooks his genuine skill. Tyson was known for an aggressive style, power, and speed, but there was more subtlety and sophistication to his approach than he's often credited for.

Firstly, Tyson's peek-a-boo style, taught by Cus D'Amato, emphasized constant head movement and angling to make him a difficult target to hit, while simultaneously positioning him to launch powerful counterattacks. This style requires a high degree of skill, timing, and conditioning to execute effectively.

Secondly, Tyson's ability to close the distance with his opponents rapidly, utilizing his footwork and speed, allowed him to deliver devastating combinations. His skill in cutting off the ring and forcing opponents into corners or against the ropes where they couldn't escape his power shots demonstrates strategic intelligence and not just brute force.

Moreover, Tyson had a keen understanding of psychology in the ring, using intimidation and his reputation to gain a mental edge over opponents before the first bell even rang. This psychological aspect is often overlooked but is a critical component of boxing at the highest levels.

Overall, Tyson's technique was far from simplistic or sloppy. It was the product of rigorous training and innate talent, finely tuned to maximize his strengths and exploit his opponents' weaknesses. His style might have appeared straightforward to some because of its sheer effectiveness, but it was underpinned by complex strategy and technical skills.

Mike Tyson’s style in particular was devastatingly effective at a price to his opponents that I don’t think was worth paying. Below is an excerpt from a Milton Acorn poem that eloquently conveys the ultimate effect of a boxing career.

In stinking dancehalls, in

the forums of small towns,

punches are cheaper but

still pieces of death.

For the brain's the target

with its hungers

and code of honor. See

in those stinking little towns,

with long counts, swindling judges,

how fury ends with the last gong.

No matter who's the cheated one

they hug like girl and man.

It's craft and

the body rhythmic and terrible,

the game of struggle.

We need something of its nature

but not this :

for the brain's the target

and round by round it's whittled

till nothing's left of a man

but a jerky bum, humming

with a gentleness less than human.—Milton Acorn “The Fights”

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

QR Code Generator

The section below will generate a QR Code that contains the information entered in the fields below. In some browsers hovering over the QR Code will display the embedded information. A mobile device camera will display a company site URL that you can click on to visit the site. 

QR Code Generator

Skill up for the AI boom.

How can you skill up for the AI boom? Same way you get to Carnegie Hall — Practice.

Seriously, at least for the short term, it’s not AI that will be replacing people, it is other people using AI to leverage automation and amplify and refine their own skills.

Here is an article I wrote recently about how you can start right away:

As I am typing this in Feb/2024, there are a variety of platforms available that will allow anybody to do more in less time and already you can do better if you have skill with the existing AI. You will produce better images in less time (the one in this post was generated automatically as I was typing). You will answer your email in much less time, keep up with social media, etc;. 

As the rest of 2024 unfolds, AI tools will continue to improve, and they will continue to require additional learning to take advantage of them. Given how fast stuff is coming out, just learning to keep track of new things is going to be challenging. 

If you are a ‘computer guy’ like I am, you can cover more ground coding if you know how to leverage AI. It can consult with you, but you need to know how to get the best answers and how to detect when the answers are not what they should be. It can summarize technical documents, generate text, images, and even write Code. For things like code in particular you really have to get some skill in eliciting the proper responses and in detecting how and why mistakes happen and how to correct them. Despite the fact that in this regard AI is an assistant that deserves criticism, it is still useful. If you know how to use it you will beat somebody hand coding from scratch, hands-down. 

The low-level roots of current AI systems are entirely exposed for inspection and instructions and explanations are better than I have seen them for other things in the past. However, unless you need to tinker at that level, the smart money is on staying up to date with the tools that use the underlying AI. 

If you are creative in any way, you should find learning AI tools enjoyable because they really increase your ability to get things done. 

Monday, February 26, 2024

Javascript webp to png converter

[Done with programmer's assistants: Gemini, DALL-E]
OpenAI's DALL-E produces images, but as webp files which can be awkward to work with. I have code here below for a web page that you can save locally that will allow you to select and convert a webp file. Meantime, here's the working conversion routine:

Convert WebP to PNG

OpenAI should fix this (as well as the response issues which has me using Gemini and Poe more often than not). Having to convert the image is a dumb workaround, but that is what you are left with. I have, in the past had to do various things with images, and although it can be a bit awkward if you are not familiar with it, ImageMagick is surprisingly competent with conversions and a vanilla type conversion is intuitively simple. Confusingly, the ImageMagick executable is 'convert'. To convert a webp to a png: 

magick convert WhyThis.webp WhyThis.png

** With some installations, convert can be called on its own: convert in.webp out.png

You can find ImageMagick here.

Note: I took a look at the files output as webp, gif, and png . The webp savings in size are considerate: 

657,688 in.webp

1,247,110 Out.gif

3,391,612 Out.png

If I were in charge, I probably would have gone with the webp as well, but I would have made it clear it was happening, and why, and I would have provided a tool to at least convert that locally. 

HTML Page -- Convert WebP to PNG

Monday, February 19, 2024

Fake is the New Black

I am overdue writing up the fact that rapid AI advances have now made scammers much more dangerous. People don't seem to realize that things we thought were off in the future last year are here already and becoming so sophisticated so quickly they are, and will be, catching people off-guard. Until we have much better safeguards in place everywhere, you need to be very much on guard. Update passwords and put in place 2 factor authentication everywhere. A video call of a loved one can and eventually will be faked.

If you don't know for sure that it's real, assume it's fake. This year you will have a very hard time knowing it's real.

Unless you are expecting a contact from some source, you should start with a default condition that it is a scam. Scammers can now easily fake the voice of a person sufficiently accurate and undetectable that they can get into banking systems that use voice recognition as a security measure.

An AI system can now tell if you have type 2 diabetes just by listening to about ten seconds of your voice. A scammer's business is to know how to dupe people into lowering their defenses. They can now be aided by AI for working out a particular strategy tailored specifically to fool you personally. That could include AI recognizing from your voice what strategy would work best on you. They can fake any person's real-time moving image as well as their voice.

The link below describes a scam that was successful in fooling someone that they were in a group meeting with their Chief Financial Officer and other employees. All except the employee being scammed were deep fakes and they were convincing enough that he released more than 25 million dollars to the scammers. 

Sunday, February 18, 2024

AI is Smarter Than You, But That’s Not Saying Much

AI is Smarter Than You, But That’s Not Saying Much

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has achieved remarkable feats, from passing bar exams and medical boards to acing SATs and scoring like a genius on IQ tests. However, it’s important to remember that AI doesn’t think the way we do. In fact, for some definitions of ‘think’, it doesn’t think at all.

The Limitations of AI

AI can make unexpected mistakes, such as adding extra limbs to animals in generated images or hallucinating facts and supporting references. These are errors that a human or even an animal with lived experience would never make. In the three-dimensional real world, objects cannot pass through each other like ghosts. While an AI can tell you this in text, it often violates this rule in practice because it doesn’t understand it holistically the way we do.

The Risks of Relying on AI

As AI continues to improve in areas like text construction, photorealistic image generation, full-motion video, invention, and other tasks we consider requiring intelligence, the danger of relying on its ‘common sense’ and the facticity of its output rises. Imagine an AI designing a nuclear facility with a perfectly operating emergency ‘off button’. However, the AI also constructs a robot that, although it looks human, has a hand constructed so it cannot push the button. Despite testing every other conceivable thing in simulation, missing that one vital point could spell disaster.

The Subtlety of AI Mistakes

We can spot many of the mistakes that AI makes, but some strange ones can slip past us. For instance, an AI company recently released dramatically accomplished 3D videos wholly generated by AI. One of the videos, which many were particularly impressed with, had a brief section where a cat had a third arm. Its manifestation was subtle enough that nobody caught it until it was in wide distribution.


As AI continues to get better at things, the danger that things will both slip past and be problematic when they do increases. Don’t be fooled by the impressive achievements of AI. It’s smarter than you in some ways, but that’s not saying much. Always remember that AI, no matter how advanced, lacks the holistic understanding and common sense that come naturally to humans. 

Linguistic Loot: The Secret Behind English's Global Charm

In the grand bazaar of languages, English is the shopaholic, ever eager to fill its lexical cart with linguistic souvenirs from around the g...