18 July 2019

New word for the day: disfluency (or dysfluency)

I encountered the word in an Atlantic article about voice assistants (Alexa, Siri, et al.) -
"Duplex speaks with remarkably realistic disfluencies - ums and mm-hmms - and pauses, and neither human receptionist realized that she was talking to an artificial agent."
It's an interesting article about how voice assistants are programmed not only for content, but also for style and pronunciation and inflection and the ability to express (and detect) moods.  But back to the word, which means "not fluent" - i.e. "not flowing."  I started at Wikipedia:
A speech disfluency, also spelled speech dysfluency, is any of various breaks, irregularities, or non-lexical vocables that occurs within the flow of otherwise fluent speech. These include "false starts", i.e. words and sentences that are cut off mid-utterance; phrases that are restarted or repeated and repeated syllables; "fillers", i.e. grunts or non-lexical utterances...

Recent linguistic research has suggested that non-pathological disfluencies may contain a variety of meaning; the frequency of "uh" and "um" in English is often reflective of a speaker's alertness or emotional state. Some have hypothesized that the time of an "uh" or "um" is used for the planning of future words; other researchers have suggested that they are actually to be understood as full-fledged function words rather than accidents, indicating a delay of variable time in which the speaker wishes to pause without voluntarily yielding control of the dialogue...
And that led to "backchannel" -
In linguistics, a backchannel during a conversation occurs when one participant is speaking and another participant interjects responses to the speaker. A backchannel response can be verbal, non-verbal, or both. Backchannel responses are often phatic expressions, primarily serving a social or meta-conversational purpose, such as signifying the listener's attention, understanding, or agreement, rather than conveying significant information. Examples include such expressions as "yeah", "uh-huh", "hmm", and "right". 
- and "aizuchi" -
In the Japanese language, Aizuchi are the frequent interjections during a conversation that indicate the listener is paying attention or understands the speaker. In linguistic terms, these are a form of phatic expression. Aizuchi are considered reassuring to the speaker, indicating that the listener is active and involved in the discussion... Business relations in particular can be hampered by non-native speakers assuming that their Japanese counterparts have been agreeing to their suggestions all along, when in reality the Japanese have only been saying that they follow or understand the suggestions – "got it", not "agreed."
So much to learn.  So little time.

Image cropped for size from the original at the source.

17 July 2019

Find the sniper and the snow leopard

There are more such photos at the Find The Sniper subreddit.

Photo credits for these two to Saurabh Desai and via.

Scheendijk Islands, Netherlands

Video here.  Those interested in the topography may want to zoom in and out of this Google map.

Small farms as Airbnb hosts

Excerpts from an article in Vox:
Seren and Steve Sinisi’s livestock farm, Old Crow Ranch in Durham, Maine, touts the tagline “meat so good a vegetarian would eat it.” While meat may be their bread and butter, farm life isn’t cheap. That’s one reason the Sinisis are looking to make extra income by renting out space at pastoral Old Crow to vacationers who’d like a taste of New England farm life...

Lucky for Seren and Steve, city dwellers and suburbanites are hungry to spend their vacation time in a bucolic landscape with the promise of some wholesome downtime and maybe a locally sourced meal. They are part of a growing agritourism trend of family farmers with small to medium farms using their land, food supply, and livestock to attract guests on websites like Airbnb and VRBO, increasing their farms’ revenue and exposure.

The agritourism industry offers farmers an easy, semi-passive form of income. It’s a boon both for farms and for businesses like Airbnb, which profit from the reservations made through their websites. Airbnb recently released data showing that last year there were 57,000 rural listings on the site...

Vacationers have reported looking for more than just a hotel stay — and experiences are built into a farm’s fabric. On a farm stay, guests might have the option to stargaze, enjoy outdoor sports, or see piglets birthed. Airbnb already offers add-on “experiences” that don’t require an overnight stay but include farm events like cooking classes or a “meet the goats at a small farm.” These let farmers host one-off events on their own terms and, according to Airbnb, “create new revenue streams in a way that doesn’t require upfront costs typically associated with starting a new business.”

Car driver has stroke. Arriving police taser him in the face and pepper-spray him.

"The Fredericksburg [Virginia] Police Department released this body camera video of Officer Shaun Jurgens. Jurgens used a stun gun and pepper sprayed a man who was having a medical emergency May 4. Some audio was redacted to protect personal information of the driver."
Here's the local newspaper's report of the settlement of the case:
Washington was unarmed, but police considered him a hit-and-run suspect after his car allegedly struck another vehicle and knocked down a road sign before coming to a stop at the intersection of Cowan Boulevard and Powhatan Street. ..
Washington’s lawsuit claimed he was in “obvious and critical need of emergency medical care” and never gave police a reason to believe he posed a threat. It lists the city, Jurgens, and Officers Matt Deschenes and Crystal Hill as defendants.

The suit claimed Deschenes and Hill held Washington at gunpoint for several minutes as he sat unresponsive in the driver’s seat of his stopped car. The officers asked him to show his hands and exit the car, but Washington could not do so because he had suffered from a stroke while driving.

According to the lawsuit, Jurgens arrived several minutes later and fired a Taser at Washington with no verbal warning, striking him in the face. Deschenes then holstered his firearm and opened the driver’s side door of Washington’s car, “further confirming” the suspect had no weapons. The suit said Jurgens sprayed a can of pepper spray into Washington’s face, drew his gun and shouted: “Get out the car or I’m going to [expletive] smoke you!”

The lawsuit says after Deschenes pulled Washington from the vehicle, the car rolled backward and a tire struck Washington in the foot as he lay handcuffed on the road. Hill then drove the vehicle off Washington’s foot, the suit said.
Discussion thread at the Bad Cop No Donut subreddit.  The YouTube discussion thread is even more critical.

U.S. government running out of money

Faster than expected.
(CNN)  Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Friday issued a warning Friday that the US government is at risk of running out of cash sooner than expected. 

In a letter to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Mnuchin wrote that the US might default on its obligations as soon as early September, before Congress returns from its summer recess. 
"Based on updated projections, there is a scenario in which we run of out cash in early September, before Congress reconvenes," Mnuchin wrote in a letter.
The federal government has not been able to borrow money since March, when congressionally-mandated borrowing limits went back into force. The US Treasury, which is facing a growing deficit thanks in part to President Donald Trump's 2017 tax cuts, had said it had enough cash to last until the fall. 
The deficit widened to $747.1 billion, versus $607 billion last year, from October through June. Federal spending rose to $3.36 trillion in that period, while revenue increased to $2.61 trillion -- both records. 

Ahead of her time

Via the OldSchoolCool subreddit.

Urban Tree Alliance provides free trees

"Founded in 2011, the Urban Tree Alliance is a non-profit organization serving the greater Madison, WI area.  Our mission is to preserve and grow the urban forest canopy in a sustainable and innovative manner in partnership with the public.

Most trees are privately owned, but they provide deep and lasting benefits to the community as a whole.  Each time a homeowner cares for a tree, they give a gift to us all: shade on a hot summer day, improved air quality, food for wildlife, relief for our stress, an intimate connection with nature, and a myriad other benefits.

The Urban Tree Alliance is committed to providing Madison-area residents with the knowledge, skills and resources they need to grow and maintain a healthy, resilient urban forest.  We support homeowners in caring for trees on their property, and we empower groups to tackle community forestry projects.

We are currently offering one or two free trees to residents in eighteen Madison and Fitchburg neighborhoods (info at the link)."

A reminder that there is no "away"

15 July 2019

Using a neural net in everyday life

From xkcd.

Career advice

Discussed at the WhitePeopleTwitter subreddit.

About those fish in isolated lakes and ponds

Think of an isolated lake, located in the middle of proverbial Nowhere - doesn't matter exactly where.  Surrounded by miles of forest, taiga, prairie, desert, savannah - whatever.

No river leads into it, no river drains from it; there is no underground spring connected to a larger aquifer.  The water is replenished by rainfall and snowmelt.

And it has little fish in it.  How did they get there?  Naturalists and biologists have speculated about this for ages, but the Ecological Society of America has now published the first scientific proof of a plausible mechanism, as explained at Hakai magazine:
This idea that birds transport fish eggs became embedded in scientific knowledge. But as recently as 2018, whenever researchers searched the peer-reviewed literature for solid data supporting the hypothesis, they came up short. Except for a few anecdotal accounts, they could not find any evidence of birds carrying fish eggs.

But this long-lived hypothesis, so recently put to bed, has been given a second chance thanks to Giliandro G. Silva, a doctoral student at the University of the Sinos Valley in Brazil. In 2017, Silva inadvertently found a single killifish egg in the droppings of a wild coscoroba swan. “I was not looking for a fish egg. I was looking for other groups, like plants and invertebrates,” Silva says. That serendipitous discovery sparked a deeper investigation.

To definitively determine whether killifish eggs can survive digestion by birds, Silva and his colleagues fed eggs from two killifish species mixed in corn feed to captive-born coscoroba swans. Rummaging through the birds’ poop, they recovered five live killifish eggs. While four succumbed to fungal infections in the lab, one hatched into a tiny fish after 49 days. This egg had survived 30 hours inside a swan...

“If you just want a proof of concept, then one egg is enough,” says Benedikt Schmidt, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Zurich in Switzerland who was not involved in the study. Other life forms, including snails and aquatic leaf beetle eggs, are known to survive being eaten by waterfowl. Now, Schmidt says, we have evidence that a fish egg can do the same. 

$1 worth of Venezuelan bolivars


The Minnesota State Fair will NOT offer "doughnuts with syringes"

[from 2015]:

The Minnesota State Fair has announced its new foods for the 2015 season.  Personally, I would favor the Walleye Stuffed Mushrooms (above).
Jumbo mushroom caps stuffed with flavored cream cheese spread, walleye, three cheeses, red pepper, panko breadcrumbs and a special sauce.
I'd also be tempted by the Minnesota Wild Rice Benedict Muffin (right)
A wild rice English muffin cup with sliced ham and a soft-cooked egg, covered with hollandaise sauce.
Or perhaps the Breakfast Burger (below):
Seasoned sausage and hamburger on a corn-dusted bun with applewood-smoked bacon, caramelized onions, melted provolone cheese, fried egg and a tomato slice.

Reposted from 2015 to add news from 2019:

One of the new foods for 2019 has been drawing mounting controversy since it was announced last month, thanks to an unusual accessory to the dish. The Wingwalker Donut Flight of fill-your-own doughnut holes comes with three fillings: Bavarian cream, chocolate custard and Minnesota lingonberry jam. Each of the fillings was to be served in a plastic syringe.

“Incredibly wasteful,” “a gimmick,” and “gross” were some of the comments on the Minnesota State Fair’s Facebook page. Both the environmental impact of single-use plastics and the optics of drug paraphernalia littered on the ground at the fair drew complaints...

Today, the fair announced, the syringes are no more, and the doughnuts have been dropped from the Official New Food List (with a new replacement).

"We understand the impact food packaging has on the environment, and The Hangar, along with the fair, has decided that plastic syringes will not be used as part of the Wingwalker Donut Flight," the fair said in a statement.

Instead, the cake doughnut holes will be served in a compostable tray with three compartments holding the different fillings. Instead of filling the doughnuts, customers can now dunk them.

Additionally, the vendor is "changing all of their food service trays and boats to 'eco trays,' a post-consumer recycled paper product; utensils made from wood will be given to guests instead of plastic forks and knives; and they will continue to use eco-friendly napkins made from recycled paper products."

The "Gates of Heaven" don't look like this

Tourists visiting Bali have been "shocked" to discover that the reflecting pool effect is created at the site by the strategic placement of a mirror in front of the camera, and that one needs to wait in line for hours to use the mirror.  Details at the New York Post.
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