Blog up! (v.2!)

As trite as it is, it only feels appropriate to say, “Hello, World!” After four — yikes… four? — four long years of radio silence, I’m back online. Posts forthcoming!

Why the break? Well… I designed and ran my dissertation experiments, crunched the data, wrote the dissertation, defended it, and since then have been teaching at the University of Rochester. It’s been a busy few years to say the least!

Anyway, now seems like a pretty good time to resume my quiet corner of the Internet. So draw up a chair! Let’s chat about life and science!

Monolingual Neanderthals

This post, is, of course, not particularly serious, even though the premise might be an interesting one to see better stats on. It all centers on this article out of the Telegraph last month. Go ahead — read it. It’s short. But if you don’t want to, the basic gist is that the UK made language classes optional, and British school children don’t seem to really be all that interested in taking foreign language classes if they’re not required. Enrollments have dropped almost by half in the past 10 years to the point where the average number of languages spoken by Brits today is: 1.0. Since I assume few Brits speak fewer than one languages, this means the entire country is almost exactingly monolingual.  What’s doubly interesting to me is that most of Europe isn’t much better. The continental average: 1.4. Now, I’m going to take a wild, wild leap here, and wonder about the possible connection to other phenomena.

Continue reading “Monolingual Neanderthals”

I was wrong

In the last post I made, I gave some of my thoughts on Quentin Atkinson’s Science paper earlier this year, where he demonstrates that evidence of human migration patterns is still available in the world’s languages if you squint right.  His mechanism works on something called the founder effect, which, in terms of evolutionary genetics,  provides that new, small offshoot populations will exhibit less genetic diversity than large populations.  He assumes the same thing applies to language, and I disagreed.  Instead I argued that mechanisms of language contact (which have been observed reducing phoneme counts) would better account for his results, with some possibility that Homo sapiens may have had simplifying linguistic contact with other hominids.

Wellll… it turns out I might have been wrong on both counts.   Continue reading “I was wrong”

Posts forthcoming

I have a backlog of posts / ideas for posts that accrued during the hosting issues I recently endured. Things will probably come pretty quickfire when I get some free time. Unfortunately, with a few deadlines to think about right now, that free time might be a little longer in coming than I would like. Still — updates coming sometime fairly soon.

Traces of Pidgins Past?

palatal consonants
Various palatal consonants — some of the less usual speech sounds

In April of this year, evolutionary anthropologist turned psychologist, Quentin Atkinson, had a paper in Science titled, “Phonemic Diversity Supports a Serial Founder Effect Model of Language Expansion from Africa.” In it, he provided a mathematical evaluation of phoneme counts (phonemes are the sounds that make up speech — vowels and consonants) from a selection of the world’s languages, indicating that the number of phonemes decreases the further you get from Africa along previously proposed human migration routes. That is, languges with the highest phoneme counts were in Sub-Saharan Africa, and languages with the lowest phoneme counts were in South America and the South Pacific. Continue reading “Traces of Pidgins Past?”

Cooking with Aspirin

Sure, there’s the chance of gastrointestinal ulcers and stomach bleeding, but part of me wonders why aspirin doesn’t appear to be used in any foods. In fact a search for cooking with aspirin reveals no recipes whatsoever. This is fairly surprising to me. After all, acetylsalicilyc acid has a light sour taste that is not unpleasant, and would go nicely in certain types of sweet foods, particularly in something like these.

Now, I should reiterate — I’m not a physician, so please keep that in mind; but think of the application of pain reliever as an ingredient! Continue reading “Cooking with Aspirin”

Don’t Fear the Robots

There are too many sci-fi scenarios of future dystopias dominated by evil robots to count on one hand.  The basic thread common to most of those is that computers eventually advance to a point where the Technological Singularity is reached, sheparding in an era in which this new class of better-than-human intelligence quickly starts to despise, revile, and eventually seek to destroy all of humanity. If it should seem odd that fiction rarely portrays the robot overlords as beneficent, well, there’s a reason for that — that would largely be boring.

Anyway, I was prompted to think about the possibility of a robot takeover recently in that both my work and home computer (one mac, one pc, so don’t start getting uppity about your personally preferred brand being better than the other) have started expressing symptoms of impending failure. Continue reading “Don’t Fear the Robots”

The First Restaurant in Space will be Lousy

I work in a building that has very few windows.   On top of that, the windows it does have run floor to ceiling and therefore do not open.   This latter fact is rarely brought up, though, as windows of that type are not expected to open. However, the environmental limitations of a closed system like that became particularly clear today as I prepared my lunch.   Continue reading “The First Restaurant in Space will be Lousy”

Phantom Lunch

Heinlein - The Cat Who Walks Through Walls
Waffles. At every turn.

Over the past few days, I’ve been reading Robert A. Heinlein’s The Cat Who Walks Through Walls. In my opinion, it’s a somewhat overrated book, but I’ll admit that it makes for adequate bus reading. The plot of the book I won’t give away, but I will mention that the main characters of the book are frequently eating waffles. Now, I maintain that the waffle is a fine food — Continue reading “Phantom Lunch”

Brain Freeze

I have been thinking a lot recently about the optimal time in life to have one’s brain frozen with the hopes of having it revived in the future. Of course, the field of cryonics is still quite young, so the probability of having one’s brain revived from a frozen state any time in the near future is about as low as the detection of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe within the same limits (see this prior post, and this one), but that shouldn’t stop us from thinking about the particulars of the process. Continue reading “Brain Freeze”