Sociologic and Psychologic Aspects of Linguistics

I was just thinking of what fascinating areas the sociology and psychology of linguistics are.  This came to mind when thinking about idiomatic expressions and not just the implications but implicit assumptions that are made on the part of speakers regarding who is being communicated with.

For example, when a native speaker of a tongue is speaking with a non-native speaker, they may disdain from employing idiomatic expressions.  But it would be interesting to research how this occurs and why, and what attributes or characteristics of the speaker may temper or affect his or her modes of communicating.

Another interesting situation would be when there are two native speakers of a language but who speak different dialects of that language.  Depending upon how different those dialects may be, the speakers may choose to comfortably employ idiomatic expressions with an explicit understanding that, even if the other speaker might not be familiar with a particular idiom, they might be able to quickly grasp it.  It would be interesting to study situations in which these types of interactions occur and what influences formation of implicit assumptions about the other speaker that get employed when communicating.

I was searching the Internet for a definition of the idiom “to wire something” or “to have something wired”, yet could not find it listed anywhere.  I did find one site which was an ESL test supposedly about idioms, yet the “idioms” it was using were things like “to pick on (someone)”, “to pick (something) off”, “(something’s) being  picked over”, etc.  In my opinion, these are not actually idioms but actual valid definitions of the verb “pick” which, when combined with specific prepositions, have specific meanings.  In German this is the regular case as with many if not most verbs which accompany a preposition, for example the verb “aufheben”, auf (up) + heben (to lift), i.e. “to lift up”.  That is given as a separate definition in German and is not considered part of the verb “heben”.

To me a true idiom is a phrase of speech in which the grammatic elements could never reasonably be defined in a dictionary with the given meaning that is implied in the phrase.  For example, “to have the hots for (someone)” – I don’t think that the idiomatic meaning of that phrase could ever reasonably be expected to be included in a formal definition of the verb “to have” (although now that I think about it it could be listed as “hot for (someone)”).  This leads to a general case of idiomatic expressions which appear to usually  consist of the verb “to have” coupled with a noun and adjectival clause or prepositional phrase with a noun object.

Now I want to create a list of idioms.  One of my favorite that this poet guy from New York I met years ago used and which has always stuck in my mind for some reason was “to give someone the fuzzy end of the lollipop”, which basically means to dis someone…  This guy was like a walking, talking repository of the most colorful idioms I’ve ever heard in my life if also a bit crazy.  Just listening to this guy even if he was ranting about someone or something just left me feeling awe and amazement, wanting to note down everything he said.

Libraries in Windows 7 and Network Drives

Windows 7 has a new feature called “libraries” which is basically a location in the file system where you can link different files and folders from different locations together into one place.  So for example if you have photos stored in different locations and on different drives, you can list these all together under one master “Pictures” folder in your library.  Now when you want to access some pictures instead of having to wander through all the various locations that you might have them stored on different drives, you can see them all listed together in one place.

One serious flaw with this idea has been that Windows 7 doesn’t let you add folders on network drives to libraries.  As users are increasingly using network file storage and are likely to store things like pictures, music, or movies on these network drives, the inability to link them into libraries is a glaring omission.  Fortunately someone has created a fix which is free and Open-Source: Win7 Library Tool by Zorn Software.  This simple to use tool allows you to add items on network drives to libraries.

Because over time I end up having data scattered across different locations and on different storage devices, I’m starting to see the benefit of using libraries.  I tend to make mirror copies of systems which, when I upgrade systems, end up laying around on storage drives.  When I set up a new system I sometimes do not just mirror all the data back as I tend to accumulate a lot of junk and like to start fresh, copying only the data to the new system that I really want.  Its like cleaning out an old closet by basically taking everything out and putting it in storage, and then taking back only what you really need (isn’t there an axiom about cleaning to the effect that if you don’t use something you should basically toss it?).  The problem is that the “junk” still exists on the backup drives, and oftentimes I will at some point or other down the road need to access that information.

A way to start solving this is to link all these locations back together in one master location and then sort through them, index them, and remove duplicates.  So now all those old storage units where I’ve stuffed my junk, much of which is duplicate, can be symbolically put back together in one location where I can more easily sort through it and throw out more stuff.  Using libraries is a way to do this.

Gini Coefficient Correlation with Life Expectancy

According to an article(1) that just appeared today on Alternet.org:

Over 200 studies since the early 1980s have now documented that people living in societies where wealth has concentrated at the top of the economic ladder live significantly shorter, less healthy lives than people who live in societies that spread their wealth more evenly.

The Gini coefficient is an index of a country’s economic disparity that was created in the early 1900’s by italian statistician Corrado Gini.  I have always been concerned about the direction the USA is heading in in terms of economic disparity.

Beyond this though is the emotional impact it has – its truly sad to live in a society where “the dream” or whatever you call it is an illusion, something that can only be had by those who grew up in the right neighborhood, attended the right school, had the right kind of parents, did all the correct things that one is supposed to do to be “successful”, etc.

Societies which throw away human lives are at the deepest level heart breaking.  When I think of college graduation ceremonies with all their pomp and mind-programming, I am always deeply saddened because all that the system of “higher” education does in the USA is reinforce inequality.  Those who have paid the price and jumped through all the required hoops find reason to celebrate, yet to me it is truly a moment of sadness because it is a moment of separation and estrangement.

I think that the USA is broken and has to learn how to not throw away human life.  The answer involves many things that affect the basic dignity of a person.  Even basic things like enforcement of housing codes for sub-standard housing can have a massive impact upon the health and well-being of a person.  Things like environmental toxins and noise are also serious assaults against a person.  There are multiple types of assaults that one can experience just being out in the world – physical, psychological, chemical, audial, visual, etc.

I even notice when walking along the sidewalk how people unconsciously tend to start the engines of their vehicles at the exact moment that a stranger passes by.  Its actually uncanny if you pay attention to it and notice that it almost always happens.  Its subconscious fear.  Yet many car companies play directly upon people’s unconscious fears and need for security in marketing and designing car brands.  Its essentially a suicidal type of practice that is engaged in for the sake of “profit”.

Starting a vehicle engine at the exact moment that a passing stranger is in proximity is total sickness.  Perhaps the sickest thing about it is that the sickness is not recognized.  I’m not talking about anything symbolic or metaphorical here either.  I mean the actual act of what is occurring, if you simply look at it, is insane.  One human being is blasting the auditory system of a passerby with the horrific assault of sound coming from the ignition process of an internal combustion engine and all the concomitant mechanical clashing and screeching noises that are at a decibel level sufficiently high to cause trauma and stress to the nervous and endocrine systems of the passerby, whose only crime was to think that they could go outdoors freely and walk in peace without being molested.

Of course, 99% of passer’s by won’t realize that this is even happening to their body, so sickened and tuned out are they already.  Yet when they notice unresolvable, ongoing health problems like obesity that they for one reason or another are incapable of healing, they never connect it with the damage being done to them.  And if one were to actually propose doing something about for example excessive vehicle noise, these same, ill people might actually become indignant at the proposal and want to defend the “right” to make noise!  In essence, we have conditioned ourselves into a suicidal race that enforces its own “right” to kill itself.

There are many suicidal tendencies that american culture is currently locked into.   For all the things that money gets wasted on at universities conducing research sometimes into the most ridiculous things, you would think that the science of life, of being human, would be better understood.  You would think that the need to have fundamental protections of our health and well-being would be overwhelmingly apparent, that the disastrous consequences of violating health would be so well understood that there would be no question as to the overriding priority of protecting it at all costs.

To look at it on a bigger scale, the air, the soil, and the rivers and lakes are our nourishment.  To poison our source of nourishment is prime insanity.  We live in a society which is addicted to sticking a syringe of poison into its veins out of some warped delusion about what it means to be well.

(1) Pizzigati, Sam; Radical Inequality Is Literally Killing Us; Alternet.org; 27 January 2010

What happens when the Earth’s environment freaks out

The last major freakout of the Earth environment, I have just read, was in 1816, which was called the “Year Without a Summer”.

What happens during a period of unusually low solar output and then a string of massive volcanoes spewing hundreds of tons of dust into the atmosphere?  Read this article at Wikipedia.

A quote from one small section of the article:

In July and August, lake and river ice were observed as far south as Pennsylvania. Rapid, dramatic temperature swings were common, with temperatures sometimes reverting from normal or above-normal summer temperatures as high as 95 °F (35 °C) to near-freezing within hours.

Plasma instead of drilling teeth

An article in ScienceDaily.com discusses a new technology that involves using low-temperature plasma to disinfect decayed teeth instead of the current process of drilling.  This new process does not require mechanical/physical contact with the tooth!

Article: Painless Plasma Jets Could Replace Dentist’s Drill

Extremely Cool App to Improve Start Menu under Windows 7

I was recently reading through the forums at the excellent Windows 7 forum site sevenforums.com and one of the posts mentioned an amazing, open-source app called Classic Shell which “fixes” several changes in Windows 7.  From the project’s main page:

Classic Shell is a collection of features that were available in older versions of Windows but not anymore. It brings back the classic start menu that Windows 7 doesn’t support, adds a toolbar for Windows Explorer in Vista and Windows 7 like the one in Windows XP and adds couple more smaller features.

The new Start Menu in Windows 7 really got to the point that it was annoying to me.  I like to have a customized Start Menu with exactly the options I want.  I normally create my own folders for various categories of applications and then copy shortcuts for the applications into them, leaving the original menu intact.  I guess this is a carryover from my heavy use of Linux, which usually groups applications in menus based on category.  This really makes much more sense if you think about it.  Here is how I do it.

First, I make sure than there are no pinned icons in the Start Menu.  Then, I create the following folders and subfolders under:

AppData->Roaming->Microsoft->Windows-Start Menu
01 Peripherals
   Camcorder
   Camera
   Printer-Scanner
   Webcam
02 Office
03 Web
04 Audio
05 Graphics
06 Viewers
07 Games
09 Utilities
10 System & Security

After this, I move all the icons which are in the Start Menu white area above the All Programs submenu into these various folders based upon category.  This clears up the Start Menu.  Then install Classic Shell and you should see the new Start Menu and the custom folders above will be at the very top which is very convenient.  You can also put shortcuts directly under AppData->Roaming->Microsoft->Windows-Start Menu (I do this for a couple of frequently-used apps) and they will appear directly under the folders you created.

One of the rarest languages in the world

Pirahã

What I try to imagine as this man speaks this rare language is his mother speaking it to him as a child, singing it to him, and this language being like a song of the Amazon forest, being resonant with the life of the forest itself.

And here is a video in which a linguist discusses a word in the Pirahã language that means “to go in and out of the bounds of experience.”  This is truly fascinating.

Cool Commands: GNU find

A couple of days ago I noticed that my samba server running under Linux was listening on all interfaces, including the wireless interface for the public network that I share where I am, which is something I don’t want.  Why?  Because this server contains file shares for a large amount of my data.  This is not stuff I want publicly accessible.

Actually, the shares can only be accessed if a remote user authenticates against samba, which would require their credentials having been added to the samba password database with the command smbpasswd, therefore even though the server was visible, it was not actually accessible.  For security purposes however, it is better to simply not even have the server listening via the wireless interface, since I only need to access it locally through an Ethernet connection here.

Once I told samba to only listen to the Ethernet interface I noticed however that there was a large number of log files that it created since, for every host that tries to access the server, it creates a unique log file for that host in /var/log/samba.  Having sat exposed on the public network here meant that every machine that automatically browsed the network for available shares had tried to communicate with my samba server (I don’t think any of the connections were malicious attempts to access my data).  These log files for all these hosts did not get automatically cleaned up by logrotate.  I was actually looking through these logs to check on some issues I was having, and it was annoying having all these old, pretty much irrelevant log files laying around since they only contained irrelevant info about failed connection attempts.

In order to get rid of all these useless log files laying around I broke out one of the most useful command-line utilities ever made: the venerable GNU find command which is part of the findutils suite of tools.  find can usually do in one terse line what would normally take several commands patched together to do, if not more.  It has the ability to recurse through a directory and look for patterns and then perform actions on whatever matches that pattern.  This is one of those things in Information Technology which, no matter how advanced things seem to get, no matter how many great things get developed and fancy applications, it will always be useful to have because ultimately information gets stored in recursive directories which have attributes, the contents of which need to be processed in one way or another.  It simply does not get more essential than this*.

To perform my task, I simply had to run:

find . -type f ! -mtime -2 -print0 | xargs -0 rm -f

To translate this command into the English language, I simply told it to find everything in the current directory and lower (find .) that is a file (-type f) (this was a safety precaution, because it could have been possible that there were also directories under this one which met the criteria, and I did not want these deleted, only files.  As it turns out there were actually no directories.)

The next part is part of what is really cool about find, why I love it.  You can craft these cool expressions to match exactly what you want.  In this case, I wanted to match all files that had not been modified within the last three days.  Anything that samba had not needed to log within the past three days was probably irrelevant to me.  Here is the expression that did it: ! -mtime -2 Its so simple that its elegant!  In Unix filesystems mtime  means modification time, which is the most recent time that a file was changed in some way.  Any time a log file is created or written to its mtime is naturally updated.  For what its worth, there are also ctime which is creation time, and atime which is accessed time.  mtime is usually the most important one for administrative purposes.

To explain this expression, the value after mtime is a number n which is a multiple of 24 hours.  Therefore -mtime 0 means anything modified within the last 24 hours.  -mtime 1 means anything modified between 24 and 48 hours ago, -mtime 2 anything modifed between 48 and 72 hours ago, and so on.  Note that -mtime 2 does not mean anything within the last 72 hours, only within the 24 hour time period of n*24!  The expression syntax is very strict about this!  Since I wanted everything from now until 72 hours ago (n = 2), I put a sign in front of n, therefore -2, which means everything from -2 and less.  If I had put +2 instead that would have meant everything from 72 hours ago and later.

But wait a minute.  Now I have -mtime -2 to indicate everything that has been modified within the previous 72 hours.  But I actually want to delete everything that is NOT that.  Easy, just put a ! in front of the expression: ! -mtime -2 Now I have matched everything that has not been modified within the past 72 hours.

To get an idea of how useful this is, imagine if you had to perform this same task with Windows Explorer, and the directory contained hundreds of files, some of which matched, some of which didn’t.  Yes, you could manually go through and select all the candidates you want to delete, hopefully not making any mistakes, but it would be a tedious, arduous process at best.  Now imagine you have to do this on 5 different machines!  With the eminent find command we have reduced a potentially very arduous task that would be error prone and tedious to something very simple and fast.

The remainder of the command relates to the actual processing the files that match and deleting them:  –print0 | xargs -0 rm -f The print0 | xargs -0 basically get the output of find – all the files that matched ! -mtime -2 and prepares them for the action we want to perform in them, in this case deletion, which is accomplished with rm -f at the end.  Note that instead of deleting them with rm -f we could have performed any number of other actions, such as renaming them, moving them to a different location, etc.

Why print0 | xargs -0 is required is a little esoteric and not necessary for purposes of discussion now so I will let the reader find out more about this by consulting the excellent manual page for find (type man find) in a console window.

The GNU find command is so useful that I think it would be a good idea for every child to learn it in gradeschool because we are always going to have to process information and knowing how to do so efficiently is a skill that will always be valuable.

* This is also interesting from a philosophical viewpoint.  The fact that the archival and access of data electronically involves the maintaining and management of certain attributes with respect to that data almost reminds me of certain a priori types of knowledge which exist – for example in mathematics the fact that the sum of the internal angles of a triangle always equals 180 degrees.  There seem to be certain a priori aspects of information technology: no matter how certain problems are addressed or reduced, there always seems to be certain aspects associated with them which ultimately must be accounted for in order to facilitate the actual process of things like archival and access of data.

A Truly Mind-Blowing Piece of Software

I have discovered this program called Atmosphere Deluxe that is so incredibly awesome I really want to tell everyone about it.  While there may be ambient sound and relaxing sound effects CDs, this program takes the concept of ambiance to a completely new level.  Unlike the CDs where you basically get whatever is on the CD, with this program you can basically create and shape any ambient sound environment you want.

For example, if you like listening to water (as I typically do), you don’t get just one river track that you can hear.  No.   What you get are Fountain, Stream, and River all of which you can enable, disable, or blend to whatever degree you want together to get what to you is the most perfect ambiance of running water.

But this is just the beginning of this little mind-blowing program.   Would you like to add some Campfire to the mix?  No problem.  How about tempering Campfire with a little amount of randomized Crackling Fire?  Sure.  You can set the random factor of the background sounds.

Would you like some birds?   We’ve got Barn Owls, Tawny Owls, Long-eared Owls, Doves, different types of Gulls, Loons, Finches, Starlings, Larks, etc. etc.  How about rain?  Well you can choose any combination of Hail on Tin Roof, Rain on Car Roof, Light Rain, Heavy Rain, Rain on Leaves, and Rain on Pavement.  You get the idea.  This program is amazing!

Now to add to all this the latest version also incorporates this new feature called Brainwaves which basically is a sound frequency and beat frequency which can be static or change dynamically over time to induce various types of brainwave patterns.  There are many presets that can be selected depending upon the current mood you are in and the desired end-state mood.  My favorite is called Sleep Induction from Relaxed which basically gradually lowers a pitch and beat frequency over a period of 15 minutes.  I’ve tried it and I think it actually does help.  The base pitch where it ends can then play continuously (or simply be set to stop) and I find it to be very relaxing to just keep it on all the time.  You can also customize and tweak all of the settings to your heart’s content.

Given how awesome this program is, it doesn’t seem to have received the attention that it should.  I consider this application to be among the upper-echelon of  truly killer computer applications.

Importance of DHA for Human Nervous System Function

90% of the omega-3 fatty acid in the human brain is docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).  It is essential (similar to all vitamins), because the human body cannot produce it itself.  More and more research is being done which reveals how vital this compound is for humans.  For example, it is known that during pregnancy a disproportionate amount of DHA will travel from the mother across the placenta to the developing baby, indicating its vital role in the development of the fetus.

It is now believed that the evolution of the early human brain, differentiating it from that of its primate relatives at a very fast pace, was due to abundance of seafood in the diet.  I.e., early humans were not wandering around the savanna with spears killing rhinos.  They were living by the water eating seafood.  It is highly unusual for an organism to lack the capacity to manufacture a vital nutrient necessary for its survival on its own unless there exists an abundance of it in its diet.

Sciencedaily.com has an article about a new study published in Behavioral Neuroscience about the importance of DHA in human nervous system function, “New Study Links DHA Type of Omega-3 to Better Nervous-System Function“.

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