29 January 2011

book giveaway

Update Okay, the book giveaway is over. Three books found new homes and three were unwanted.

These books were adopted:
Complete Enochian Dictionary by Laycock. Softcover.
Teach Yourself Welsh. Book and 2 CDs in plastic box.
Introduction to Pali by A K Warder. Hardcover, no dustjacket.


After reading Richard Hamblyn’s book The Invention of Clouds, which describes the life and times of the man who invented the cloud-classifying terms cirrus, stratus, cumulus and nimbus, I popped over to Google Books to look at some old weather-geek magazines.

In Symons’s Monthly Meteorological Magazine, February 1885, I found on page 8 a letter from J.H. Hill of Yorkshire announcing: “I have invented a Table of Rain which I call a Penthemeric Table, a term which explains itself.”

In a penthemeric table, rainfall amounts for the first five days of the month are added together and the sum is published as a single number. Then there is another number representing the next five days of the month, and so forth. This sort of table is more compact than a table listing the 30 or 31 days of the month separately, but gives more detail than a single number representing the whole month.

The word penthemeric seems to have vanished from the face of the earth after this one appearance in print. But I couldn’t help thinking there must be another word in English meaning “an interval of five days.” My first guess, quinquediurnal, only produced two Google hits.

And then by googling for definition ‘period of five days’ I came across the word pentad, which is widely used in connection with rainfall data.

So it seems that J.H. Hill’s idea of publishing rainfall amounts in five-day sums became popular, or perhaps it was independently re-invented elsewhere, but the word he/she coined failed to survive. How sad.

28 January 2011

Physicists call for alien comm protocol

Three astrophysicists suggest creating a protocol for contacting aliens.

No need to re-invent the wheel. We mustn't forget that Hans Freudenthal made an excellent plan for handling this in his book Lincos: Design of a Language for Cosmic Intercourse (1960). The English Wikipedia article on Lincos is a bit crappier than the German article.

update: Holy cow, I just discovered that Lancelot Hogben devised a protocol for communicating with aliens called Astraglossa.

22 January 2011

umtwrfa (days of the week)

For many years I have been interested in the topic of one-letter abbreviations for the days of the week. It's difficult to know what to do about Tuesday and Thursday, and Saturday and Sunday, since their first letters are not distinctive.

When I had to independently invent my own 7 abbreviations for a work-related task several years ago, I decided to use R for Thursday since the American R is the vowel in that word's first syllable here in the USA. My final system was MTWRFAU.

Googling around today I found various systems in use. There are "about 96" Google hits for UMTWRFA and 7 for MTWRFAU.

Some people use H for Thursday and/or use S for Sunday with A standing for Saturday. Google gives about 3100 hits for SMTWHFA.

MTWRF scores 29,600 hits and MTWHF gets 5,710. So at least we can agree that R must be the abbreviation for Thursday and those who prefer H are deviants.

This is an idea that rattles around in my head when I design conlang vocabularies: Shouldn't the words for the numerals 1 through 12 be in alphabetical order, so the names for days of the week and the months of the year could be self-sorting?

If your word for one is ban and your word for two is din and so forth, your days of the week could be bantag (Monday), dintag (Tuesday) etc and the abbreviations might be BDFJLMP or whatever.

But then your abbreviations for the first 7 months would easily be confused with your abbreviations for days of the week, so maybe that's not such a good idea.

And another thing. How long will mainstream calendar publishers cling to the custom of putting Sunday in the left-most column of the calendar? In modern Western Civilization, the weekend is a distinct cultural phenomenon that begins on Saturday morning (some would say Friday night) and ends late Sunday. Clearly Monday is the the beginning of the week; the weekend days belong together on the right-hand side of the calendar. In some industries (such as broadcasting) people use printed calendars which are organized that way. But good luck finding a rationally arranged calendar for home use.

14 January 2011

Microsoft taunts Google with Esperanto comparison

In a fit of pique Microsoft has hurled a snarky insult at Google, satirically likening Google's WebM video codec to Esperanto. The story is at PCMag.com and CNET News among hundreds of other sites.

In fact this story was published on so many websites and blogs that the Esperantists haven't been able to catch up; I only saw the obligatory "no you've got it all wrong, Esperanto is really popular and useful" responses on one of ten sites I checked.

monk-scribery vs. printing press

One of the web comics I read regularly is Wondermark, and its creator David Malki has written an interesting blogpost. Fifteenth-century abbot Johannes Trithemius wrote a tract called De laude scriptorum manualium — “In Praise of Scribes.” Trithemius was "a lexicographer who was also deeply interested in cryptography and steganography" -- probably a conlanger too, I would wager.

Trithemius wrote in praise of hand-copying scriptures and holy texts rather than mass producing them with printing presses. Malki's commentary and the responses from his readers are worth a look.

11 January 2011

prosecuting a language-less man

According to this article, the court system is having a hard time prosecuting a man who has little or no ability to communicate in any known language.

The comments posted by readers raise some interesting questions. How could he drive from Las Vegas to Philadelphia if he could not read highway signs? And here's a question from myself: Why don't they try drawing cartoons or using computer animated images to communicate with him, instead of insisting that manual sign language is the only option?

05 January 2011

random flashcards in a blogspot blog

There's a blog that serves up random Sona radicals with their definitions in English: sonarads.blogspot.com …How does that work?

03 January 2011

ULD 3 update

I’ve been merrily lexicographizing version 3 of the Universal Language Dictionary.

Now planning to publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike 3.0 License.

I’ve been forced to scale back my plans for the initial publication. I was originally planning to include 20 languages, then 16, then I whittled the list down to 12. Now that I have seen how much time it takes to look up each item in “reliable sources,” sometimes checking two or three sources for confirmation, I realize I will never get the first pass completed with that many languages.

Also, writing clearer definitions for each of the concepts can be time consuming. I have to narrow down a lot of the entries and focus on the most universal (easily translated) senses. This is very contemplative work.

So I’m going to start out with just seven tongues: English, Papiamentu, Japanese, Indonesian, Lakota, Esperanto and Tango. I am vaguely familiar with 5 of the 7 languages so I am fairly confident that the entries will be as qualitiferous* as I want them to be.

After I get the first pass through the lexicon done I will invite comments and see if anybody wants to add more languages. Although a few people have occasionally offered to type in the vocabularies of the their native languages, I don’t think it would be a whole lot of fun to key in 1,800 or more dictionary entries. Seriously, it gets tedious after the first 200 or 300 items. The rapid progress we made on the early version of ULD back in the early 1990’s was done before the graphical worldwide web existed, before Facebook and YouTube were entertaining people to death. I have some doubts about being able to achieve such rapid completion under current conditions.

*Qualitiferous (kwal-ih-TIFF-er-us): an unforgettable (to me) word coined in an awkward moment in 2005 by a weird acquaintance of mine.

02 January 2011


I’ve been using a service that might be useful to you. It’s called Dropbox. Basically it is online ‘cloud’ storage for some of your computer files.

If you install the software on more than one computer, it will synchronize your files on all of the machines. In other words, if you edit your conlang vocabulary file on your desktop computer at home, the changed version will be stored on the Dropbox servers and then copied to any other computers on which you have installed Dropbox.

Even if you only run the software on one computer, you can log into Dropbox via the web and grab a file if you suddenly need it when you are at work / school / whatever.

I used a vaguely similar service called box.net for a while but I am finding that I prefer the Dropbox software. (It is available for Mac, iPhone, Linux other operating systems whose names I refuse to type.)

You can read about Dropbox on Wikipedia or visit their website.

01 January 2011

Russian cursive alphabet

Idle curiosity department: The Russian cursive alphabet is interesting. Several surprises in there.