Archive for April, 2010

Google stuck in NLP uncanny valley

Google Maps (China) tries automated toponym translation and fails.

Putting aside the question of how useful street-level translation really is for tourists rather than, say, conquerors (if you can’t read local language maps, how will you read the street signs?), this is actually 80% of the way there for pure transliteration items (a bit stilted). The main problems, in red circles, come from compound toponyms with attached literal meanings (X Pond, X Hill, X Course, Old X, etc.) or with target-language conventions already (Massachusetts X, Oxford X, etc.). Those require translation rather than transliteration, and there the Google bot enters uncanny valley with its vain attempts, which bothers people a lot.

All in all, there were only a few true full-blown errors. One was “Boston College”, which got translated as the phrase used for “Boston University”. Another was “Fort Independence”, which was just wrong to be carried with no syntactical change into Chinese. “General Edward Lawrence Logan” was parsed very badly, resulting in a transliteration of “General” as if some kind of Hispanic first name.

what’s the point

The universe may or may not end at some point. If it doesn’t end, then what’s the point of life since any lifetime is finite and hence negligible? If it does end, then even more so, what’s the point of progress and advancement? What’s the performance objective of life, if there is implicitly one?

Could it be that the objective is to maximize the perturbation to the universe, through some combination of genetics and memetics, in case it doesn’t end? More offsprings, more perturbation through biology; make more “difference” to the world, more perturbation through culture? That would be one secular response in favor of the here-and-now, compared to the alternative, somewhat ascetic objective of seeking inner satisfaction.

some science

Big bang an exploding white hole, opposite of a black hole? (paper) This sounds interesting and somehow satisfying.

LED light bulbs coming, but incandescents being phased out by mandate in January, 2012? What?! Time to stockpile bulbs. I like my black-body radiation.

Speaking of black-body radiation, suppose I have an enclosed system with a single aperture for light and only light to pass through. Do I now have a system for converting heat to light, and therefore to electricity via bandgaps? Doesn’t that violate some law of thermodynamics?
(Read the article)

algorithm for common goods cost sharing

In situations where the cost of common goods or utilities is shared, such as the roommate situation, usually several algorithms are used. Sometimes people take turns bearing the cost of new purchases or renewals. Sometimes people split the cost per head. These are more convenient and efficient than each person acquiring a copy of such goods for oneself. But it isn’t necessarily fair due to usage differentials, although people tend to live with it.

It just occurred to me that a perfectly fair and distributed algorithm is for the person who happens to exhaust a unit quantity of a common good to replace it with a new unit, at own cost. This shares cost proportional to actual use (probabilistically), but doesn’t require any coordination or accounting.

East Asian migration and the Sino-Tibetan homeland

The migration and settlement history of East Asia has been mired in confusion for a long time due to the complex interactions that have gone on over tens of thousands of years. Archaeological evidence has been sparse until more recent times and linguistic studies have lagged much behind Indo-European studies, due to a variety of reasons. However, recently (last 10 years, basically), genome sequencing has provided a much clearer picture of the principal East Asian migration routes between out-of-Africa and the written record. Some literature (below) now try to combine all the evidence, and it may be reasonable to put forward a rough diagram of what they suggest. By doing so, one reaches a conclusion similar to this article published in China. Notice that the Sino-Tibetan speakers (in blue) have ultimately displaced the first wave (in red) within most regions of China in the last 3000 years.