January 22, 2015

Prosecutor’s Fallacy

Lucia de Berk

damned lies

The prosecutor’s fallacy is a fallacy of statistical reasoning, typically used by the prosecution to argue for the guilt of a defendant during a criminal trial (though some variants are utilized by defense lawyers arguing for the innocence of their client). The fallacy involves assuming that the prior probability of a random match is equal to the probability that the defendant is innocent. For instance, if a perpetrator is known to have the same blood type as a defendant and 10% of the population share that blood type, then to argue on that basis alone that the probability of the defendant being guilty is 90% makes the prosecutors’s fallacy.

Consider the case of a lottery winner accused of cheating based on the improbability of winning. At the trial, the prosecutor calculates the (very small) probability of winning the lottery without cheating and argues that this is the chance of innocence. The logical flaw is that the prosecutor has failed to account for the large number of people who play the lottery. Continue reading

January 19, 2015

Poker Tell

poker face

Hand reading

A tell in poker is a change in a player’s behavior or demeanor that can indicate the strength of their hand. A player gains an advantage if they observe and understand the meaning of another player’s tell, particularly if the tell is unconscious and reliable. Sometimes a player may fake a tell, hoping to induce their opponents to capitalize on bad information. More often, people try to avoid giving out a tell, by maintaining an expressionless ‘poker face’ regardless of how strong or weak their hand is.

A tell may be common to a class of players or unique to a single player. Some possible tells include leaning forward or back, placing chips with more or less force, fidgeting, doing chip tricks, showing nervous tics, or changing one’s breathing, tone of voice, facial expressions, direction of gaze. Other tells are associated with a player’s actions with the cards, cigarettes, or drinks, or merely by their style of play. Continue reading

January 18, 2015

Sensory Substitution

brainport

soundscape

Sensory substitution means to transform the characteristics of one sensory modality (e.g. light, sound, temperature, taste, pressure, smell) into stimuli of another sensory modality (e.g. Tactile–Visual, converting video footage into into tactile information, such as vibration). These systems can help handicapped people by restoring their ability to perceive aspects of a defective physical sense.

A sensory substitution system consists of three parts: a sensor, a coupling system, and a stimulator. The sensor records stimuli and gives them to a coupling system which interprets the signals and transmits them to a stimulator. If the sensor obtains signals of a kind not originally available to the bearer it is called ‘sensory augmentation’ (e.g. implanting magnets under the fingertips imparts magnetoception, sensation of electromagnetic fields). Sensory substitution is based on research in human perception (the organization, identification, and interpretation of sensory information in order to represent and understand the environment) and neuroplasticity (how entire brain structures, and the brain itself, can change from experience).
Continue reading

January 8, 2015

Galvanic Vestibular Stimulation

GVS

Galvanic [gal-van-ikvestibular [ve-stib-yuh-lerstimulation (GVS) is the process of sending electric messages to a nerve in the ear that maintains balance. This technology has been investigated for both military and commercial purposes, and is being applied in Atsugi, Japan, the Mayo Clinic in the US, and a number of other research institutions around the world for use in biomedical engineering, pilot training, and entertainment.

A patient undergoing GVS noted: ‘I felt a mysterious, irresistible urge to start walking to the right whenever the researcher turned the switch to the right. I was convinced — mistakenly — that this was the only way to maintain my balance. The phenomenon is painless but dramatic. Your feet start to move before you know it. I could even remote-control myself by taking the switch into my own hands.’

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December 26, 2014

Yank Tank

Yank Tank

Yank tank (or máquina) is a slang term referring to American cars, especially large models produced in the 1950s and 1960s common in Cuba today. In 1962 a US embargo against Cuba was introduced, effectively cutting trade between the two countries. This meant that the cars in Cuba could no longer receive new replacement parts when something broke. Currently, the only way to keep these cars on the road today is by using Cuban ingenuity to adapt household products and Soviet technology (such as train parts) for use in these vehicles.

If a car is unable to be repaired at the time, it is usually either ‘parked’ for future repair or ‘parted out’ (to produce extra income for the owner’s family) so that other cars can remain on the road. During the years of Soviet Union influence on Cuba, Ladas, Moskvitchs, and Volgas became the main cars imported by the communist regime, mainly for state use. As a result of these internal economic restrictions, to this day there is no such thing as a new or used private European or Asian automotive dealership branch in Cuba for independent purchasing by regular Cubans. Continue reading

December 26, 2014

Fenton Art Glass Company

fenton

The Fenton Art Glass Company was founded in 1905 by brothers Frank L. Fenton and John W. Fenton in an old glass factory in Martins Ferry, Ohio. Originally, they painted glass blanks from other glass makers, but started making their own glass when they moved across the Ohio river to Williamstown, West Virginia, and built a factory in 1906. The first year for glass production was 1907. Frank Fenton was the designer and decorator. From 1905 to 1920, the designs made there were heavily influenced by two other glass companies: Tiffany and Steuben. But the many different colors were the work of Jacob Rosenthal, a famous glass chemist who is known for developing chocolate and golden agate glass. Towards the end of 1907, the Fenton brothers were the first to introduce carnival glass (metallic or iridescent glass), which later became a popular collector’s item.

During the Great Depression and World War II, Fenton produced practical items (such as mixing bowls and tableware) due to shortages. At the same time, they continued creating new colors. Towards the end of the Great Depression they also produced perfume bottles for the Wrisley Company in 1938. The bottles were made in French opalescent glass with the hobnail pattern (similar to the studs on the sole of a hiking boot). In 1939, Fenton started selling Hobnail items in milk glass (opaque or translucent glass, often in white). Hobnail milk glass would become the top-selling line and allowed the Fenton company to expand. Continue reading

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December 18, 2014

Wu Wei

tao of pooh

Wu wei [woo-wey] is an important concept in Taoism that literally means non-action or non-doing. In the Chinese classic text the ‘Tao te Ching’ (‘Book of the Way and the Power’) Laozi explains that beings (or phenomena) that are wholly in harmony with the Tao (‘the Way’) behave in a completely natural, uncontrived way. The goal of spiritual practice for the human being is, according to Laozi, the attainment of this purely natural way of behaving. He likened it to the planets revolving around the the sun, without any sort of control, force, or attempt to revolve themselves, instead engaging in effortless and spontaneous movement.

Several chapters of the ‘Tao Te Ching’ allude to ‘diminishing doing’ or ‘diminishing will’ as the key aspect of the sage’s success. Taoist philosophy recognizes that the Universe already works harmoniously according to its own ways; as a person exerts their will against or upon the world they disrupt the harmony that already exists. This is not to say that a person should not exert agency and will. Rather, it is how one acts in relation to the natural processes already extant. The how, the Tao of intention and motivation, that is key. According to Laozi: ‘The Sage is occupied with the unspoken, and acts without effort. Teaching without verbosity, producing without possessing, creating without regard to result, claiming nothing, the Sage has nothing to lose.’ Continue reading

December 17, 2014

Argot

verlan

2B or nt 2B

An argot [ahr-goh] is a secret language used by various groups — e.g. schoolmates, outlaws, colleagues, among many others — to prevent outsiders from understanding their conversations. The term is also used to refer to the informal specialized vocabulary from a particular field of study, occupation, or hobby, in which sense it overlaps with jargon (non-standard definitions). French author Victor Hugo was one of the first to research argot extensively. He describes it in his 1862 novel ‘Les Misérables’ as the language of the dark; at one point, he says, ‘What is argot; properly speaking? Argot is the language of misery.’ The earliest known record of the term in this context was in a 1628 document. The word was probably derived from the contemporary name, ‘les argotiers,’ given to a group of thieves at that time.

Under the strictest definition, an argot is a proper language, with its own grammar and style. But such complete secret languages are rare, because the speakers usually have some public language in common, on which the argot is largely based. Such argots are mainly versions of another language, with a part of its vocabulary replaced by words unknown to the larger public; argot used in this sense is synonymous with cant language, such as verlan and louchébem (similar to Pig Latin), which retain French syntax and apply transformations only to individual words (and often only to a certain subset of words, such as nouns, or semantic content words). Such systems are examples of ‘argots à clef,’ or ‘coded argots.’ Specific words can go from argot into common speech or the other way. For example, modern French ‘loufoque’ (‘crazy, goofy’), now common usage, originates in the louchébem transformation of ‘fou'(‘crazy’). ‘Piaf’ is a Parisian argot word for ‘bird, sparrow’ taken up by the singer Edith Piaf as her stage name.

December 17, 2014

Louchébem

pig latin

piaf

Louchébem [loo-shuh-behm] is Parisian and Lyonnaise butchers’ (French boucher) slang, similar to Pig Latin and Verlan. It originated in the mid-19th century and was in common use until the 1950s. Each word is transformed by moving the first consonant to the end; and suffixes such as -ème, -ji, -oc, -muche are added at the end; the letter ‘L’ is placed at the beginning of the new word. Note that spelling often becomes phoneticized.

Even today, Louchébem is still well-known and used among those working at point-of-sale in the meat retail industry. Some words have even leaked into common, everyday use by the masses; an example is the word ‘loufoque,’ meaning unsound of mind. In 1937, English novelist E.C. Bentley used the language as a plot point in his short story, ‘The Old-Fashioned Apache.’

December 16, 2014

Jargon

eric raymond

Jargon [jahr-guhn], or term of art, is ‘the technical terminology or characteristic idiom of a special activity or group.’ The word ‘jargon’ is French and is believed to have been derived from the Latin ‘gaggire,’ meaning ‘to chatter,’ which was used to describe something in which the speaker did not understand. An ‘industry term’ is jargon that is associated with one particular industry. Jargon is similar to slang, both are non-standard definitions often created by and for subcultures. It is also common for each generation to create their own jargon. Whether this is because they want to identify with each other and thus create a language of their own, or conversely, if they deliberately do not want to be understood by anybody else (e.g. texting slang used by teens to communicate messages their parents won’t be able to translate).

Philosopher Étienne Bonnot de Condillac observed in 1782 that ‘every science requires a special language because every science has its own ideas.’ As a rationalist member of the Enlightenment he thought, ‘It seems that one ought to begin by composing this language, but people begin by speaking and writing, and the language remains to be composed.’ Within each field, terms have one or more specific meanings that are not necessarily the same as those in common use. In earlier times, the term jargon would refer to trade languages used by people who spoke different native tongues to communicate, such as the Chinook Jargon, a pidgin (a simplified language) that developed among traders in the Pacific Northwest. Continue reading

December 15, 2014

Creolization

nuyorican by George Garrastegui Jr

Bastard Tongue by Serifcan Ozcan

Creolization [kree-uh-lahy-zey-shuhn] is the process of two or more cultures mixing, as happened in in the Americas between people of indigenous, African, and European descent. Creolization is traditionally used to refer to the Caribbean but can be extended to represent other diasporas. The mixing of populations creates a cultural melting pot which ultimately leads to the formation of new identities. Creolization also is the mixing of the ‘old’ and ‘traditional,’ with the ‘new’ and ‘modern.’

Furthermore, creolization occurs when participants actively select cultural elements that may become part of or inherited culture. Social scientist Robin Cohen states that Creolization is a condition in which ‘the formation of new identities and inherited culture evolve to become different from those they possessed in the original cultures,’ and then creatively merge these to create new varieties that supersede the prior forms. Continue reading

December 14, 2014

Pizza Effect

general tso

The pizza effect is a term used especially in religious studies and sociology for the phenomenon of elements of a nation or people’s culture being transformed or at least more fully embraced elsewhere, then re-imported back to their culture of origin, or the way in which a community’s self-understanding is influenced by (or imposed by, or imported from) foreign sources.

It is named after the idea that modern pizza was developed among Italian immigrants in the United States (rather than in native Italy where in its simpler form it was originally looked down upon), and was later exported back to Italy to be interpreted as a delicacy in Italian cuisine. Other culinary examples include chicken tikka masala, popularized in the UK before gaining prominence in India, and General Tso’s chicken, a dish unknown in China before it was introduced by chefs returning from the States. Continue reading

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December 13, 2014

Fortune Cookie

fortune cookies

A fortune cookie is a folded wafer cookie with a piece of paper inside with words of wisdom, an aphorism, or a vague prophecy. The message may also include a Chinese phrase with translation or a list of lucky numbers used by some in lotteries (some of which have become actual winning numbers). Fortune cookies are often served as a dessert in Chinese restaurants in the United States and some other countries, but are absent in China.

The exact origin of fortune cookies is unclear, though various immigrant groups in California claim to have popularized them in the early 20th century, basing their recipe on a traditional Japanese cracker. Fortune cookies have been summarized as being ‘introduced by the Japanese, popularized by the Chinese, but ultimately … consumed by Americans.’ In 1992, Wonton Food of Brooklyn, NY attempted to expand its fortune cookie business into China, but gave up because the product was considered ‘too American.’

Continue reading

December 13, 2014

Oyster Pail

oyster pail

An oyster pail is a folded, waxed, paper food container commonly used by American Chinese restaurants, traditionally with a handle made of solid wire (microwave-safe plastic handles are also available). In the US oyster pails are now available in standard sizes and can also serve as self-measuring containers, so that many take-out foods are sold in pints and quarts and packed into pails of the appropriate size. They can also be found in some European countries such as Germany and England, but are rarely seen in China. The container has the advantage of being inexpensive, durable, and fairly leakproof, as long as it is kept upright. The top usually includes a locking paperboard tab. The simple origami-like folded construction also allows for some escape of steam from hot food. If the sides are unfolded, the pail can also double as a makeshift plate, but it is more common to eat directly out of the container, a feat that the long reach of chopsticks makes possible.

The paperboard oyster pail was invented in the US around 1894, at a time when fresh oysters were more popular, more plentiful, and less expensive than they are at present. Since shucking oysters (removing the raw meat from the shell) can be difficult and dangerous, it was common to ask the oyster seller open them. The oyster pail provided an inexpensive and sanitary way to bring home shucked oysters. In the early 20th century oyster pails were also used to hold honey. In the mid-20th century, overfishing (and the subsequent rise in price) of oysters left manufacturers with a significant number of unsold oyster pails. However, in the US after World War II, there was a huge increase in sales of prepared foods that could be purchased from restaurants, and heated or finished at home. Chinese food proved to be a popular choice, since it was relatively inexpensive and traveled well. The oyster pail was quickly adopted for ‘Chinese takeout.’

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December 12, 2014

Knocking on Wood

Superstition by Olimpia Zagnoli

Knocking on wood, or to touch wood, refers to the apotropaic tradition (a ritual intended to ward off evil) of literally touching, tapping, or knocking on wood, or merely stating that you are doing or intend same, in order to avoid ‘tempting fate’ after making a favorable observation, a boast, or declaration concerning one’s own death or other situation beyond one’s control. The origin of this may be in Germanic folklore, wherein dryads (forest spirits) are thought to live in trees, and can be invoked for protection.

In Italy, ‘tocca ferro’ (‘touch iron’) is used, especially after seeing an undertaker or something related to death. In Iran, ‘bezan be takhteh’ (‘knock on the wood’) is said. The ‘evil eye,’ and being jinxed are common phobias and superstitions in Iranian culture. In old English folklore, ‘knocking on wood’ also referred to when people spoke of secrets – they went into the isolated woods to talk privately and ‘knocked’ on the trees when they were talking to hide their communication from evil spirits who would be unable to hear when they knocked. Another version holds that the act of knocking was to perk up the spirits to make them work in the requester’s favor. Yet another version holds that a sect of Monks who wore large wooden crosses around their necks would tap or ‘knock’ on them to ward away evil.

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