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Apple granted patent for “smart garment”

April 20, 2010 at 4:15 pm in IP Issues, Technology

Patently Apple writes that Apple Wins Patent for Smart Garment, and shows this image from Apple’s “smart garment” patent:

Apple smart garment patent

Illustration from Apple's "Smart Garment" patent

What does this “smart garment” (“true shoe”?) do? According to Patently Apple’s analysis of the patent:

A sensor authenticated to a garment transfers information, either wirelessly or wired, to an external data processing device. Such information includes location information, physiometric data of the individual wearing the garment, garment performance and wear data (when the garment is an athletic shoe, for example). The external data processing device can be portable digital media players that are, in turn, in wireless communication with a server computer or other wireless devices. In the real world, Apple’s Patent is associated with Nike + iPod – Though the detail of the running shoe illustrated below actually suggests that Apple and Nike could be working on yet a more sophisticated runner.

[Apple credits Brett Alten and Robert Borchers as the inventors of the Smart Garment (Patent 7,698,101), originally filed in Q1, 2007.]

I guess Apple is “hitting the ground running” in the new smart garment market, working from “the ground up”. So, Wordlabbers, what names would you give to this “smart shoe” (from gum shoe to smart shoe?) and other potential “smart garments”? Use the comments on this post to share your suggestions. And don’t feel under any pressure to offer only good names — the worse the better, as long as they’re funny. We could could call them, “Dumb Names for Smart Garments”. Any takers? If you’re not yet a member of Wordlab, sign up for a free account, and then you can comment here and post to the Forums. Put on your smart garment and let ‘er rip.

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Library of Congress acquires entire Twitter archive

April 14, 2010 at 12:13 pm in Culture / History

Yep, it’s true. See if you can wrap your head around this. The great institution of All Things Worth Saving will now be saving for all eternity the archive of All Things Not Meant To Be Saved: How Tweet It Is!: Library Acquires Entire Twitter Archive. Says the LOC:

Have you ever sent out a “tweet” on the popular Twitter social media service?  Congratulations: Your 140 characters or less will now be housed in the Library of Congress.

That’s right.  Every public tweet, ever, since Twitter’s inception in March 2006, will be archived digitally at the Library of Congress. That’s a LOT of tweets, by the way: Twitter processes more than 50 million tweets every day, with the total numbering in the billions.

They go on to list some noteworthy tweets that may be worth remembering in ten thousand years and beyond:

Just a few examples of important tweets in the past few years include the first-ever tweet from Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey (http://twitter.com/jack/status/20), President Obama’s tweet about winning the 2008 election (http://twitter.com/barackobama/status/992176676), and a set of two tweets from a photojournalist who was arrested in Egypt and then freed because of a series of events set into motion by his use of Twitter (http://twitter.com/jamesbuck/status/786571964) and (http://twitter.com/jamesbuck/status/787167620).

At the current rate of 50 million tweets per day, that’s 18,250,000,000 tweets per year, or 3,832,500,000,000 tweets every 210 years, the amount of time since the Library of Congress was founded in 1800. Of course, once everybody on the planet is tweeting hundreds of times per day, along with their household pets, appliances, and spambots, there could be 50 billion tweets per day. So attention LOC librarians: time to sharpen those pencils and roll up your sleeves — you’re about to get real busy chasing stray tweets.

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New Character Name Generator added

April 12, 2010 at 11:12 am in Names/Naming, Wordlab

For everyone in need of character names, Wordlab’s got ‘em in spades with our new Character Name Generator. With 379,175,790 potential names, mostly well off the beaten track, you can populate an entire country with unique character names.

Here is a batch of Character Names I just generated, fresh from the oven:

Cache Cherlin Wombatten
Nesbitt Contessa Sweet
Sleque Quincy Macropus
Delvin Umbria Snapp
Butch Tawny Logstopper
Nimon Chomsky Rugripper
Brandie Nastenka Pfinger
Froy Memora Nosewater
Xandy Zinca Black
Quiana Clishmaclaver
Bunya Sonny Wheeler
Lucifer Aglaya Jackleharp
Ally Bonner Zimley
Idalee Lesa Nickleby
Katima Opalor
Skip Tab Islip
Valterra Denver Windbottom
Velvet Lizzy Waters
Jetsam Gates
Stormy Angina Looney
Isanne Steffie Borington
Ariela Channery Bair
Zogg Tamber Spooner
Freon Brainard Graham
Phuel Trish Ding
Blaze Cloud Lockeroff
Laken Nutmeg Rhodes
Daj Randilyn Klosterfuch
Dijom Channery Eyelip
Freon Zabrina Poon
Maynard Feveria Jones
Xeno Hemp Wang
Chelsi Starr Fish
Artsie Hollie Cross
Skye Mystery Mooney
Bunt Modos Irwaks
Jimmy Pru Crampono

If you need help with specific character names and the Character Name Generator isn’t quite working out for you, sign up for a free Wordlab membership and post a New Topic to the Character Names group Forum, and members of the Wordlab community will jump in and help you out. And see all the other name generators on our Name Generators page.

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Monty Python — Rock Notes

April 5, 2010 at 6:32 pm in Art, Language, Names/Naming

Monty Python, “Rock Notes”, from the album, Monty Python’s Contractual Obligations (1980). Performer/Writer: Eric Idle. Great inspiration for anybody faced with naming their band. Also inspiring is Wordlab’s Rock Band Names List and Band Name Generator. And if you sign up for a free membership to Wordlab, you can post your band naming project as a New Topic in the Band Names group Forum.

The clip below is a more recent performance by Eric Idle, with original the transcription below that:

Eric Idle performing Monty Python

Rex Stardust, lead electric triangle with Toad the Wet Sprocket has had to have an elbow removed following their recent successful worldwide tour of Finland. Flamboyant ambidextrous Rex apparently fell off the back of a motorcycle. “Fell off the back of a motorcyclist, most likely,” quipped ace drummer Jumbo McCluney upon hearing of the accident. Plans are already afoot for a major tour of Iceland.

Dead Monkeys are to split up again, according to their manager, Lefty Goldblatt. They’ve been in the business now ten years, nine as other groups. Originally the Dead Salmon, they became for a while, Trout. Then Fried Trout, then Poached Trout In A White Wine Sauce, and finally, Herring. Splitting up for nearly a month, they re-formed as Red Herring, which became Dead Herring for a while, and then Dead Loss, which reflected the current state of the group. Splitting up again to get their heads together, they reformed a fortnight later as Heads Together, a tight little name which lasted them through a difficult period when their drummer was suspected of suffering from death. It turned out to be only a rumor and they became Dead Together, then Dead Gear, which lead to Dead Donkeys, Lead Donkeys, and the inevitable split up. After nearly ten days, they reformed again as Sole Manier, then Dead Sole, Rock Cod, Turbot, Haddock, White Baith, the Places, Fish, Bream, Mackerel, Salmon, Poached Salmon, Poached Salmon In A White Wine Sauce, Salmon-monia, and Helen Shapiro. This last name, their favorite, had to be dropped following an injunction and they split up again. When they reformed after a recordbreaking two days, they ditched the fishy references and became Dead Monkeys, a name which they stuck with for the rest of their careers. Now, a fortnight later, they’ve finally split up.

[This paragraph is in the original, in between the other two paragraphs, but not in the YouTube clip version above.] [--Divorced after only eight minutes, popular television singing star, Charisma, changed her mind on the way out of the registry office, when she realized she had married one of the Donkeys by mistake. The evening before in LA's glittering nightspot, the Abitoir, she had proposed to drummer Reg Abbot of Blind Drunk, after a whirlwind romance and a knee-trembler. But when the hangover lifted, it was Keith Sly of the Donkeys who was on her arm in the registry office. Keith, who was too ill to notice, remained unsteady during thes thrt ceremony and when asked to exchange vows, began to recite names and addresses of people who also used the stuff. Charisma spotted the error as Keith was being carried into the wedding ambulance and became emotionally upset. However, the mistake was soon cleared up, and she stayed long enough to consummate their divorce.--]

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Wordlab Name Generators

March 30, 2010 at 10:21 pm in Names/Naming, Wordlab

Wordlab’s legendary suite of name generators is back! Making the trip here to the new Wordlab are the Name Builder, the Band Name Generator, the Drug-O-Matic, the Morpheme Machine and the ACME Namemaker. Throttle away your creative blocks with these amazing naming tools, which you can find over on the new Name Generators page.

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500 Worst Passwords

March 30, 2010 at 12:31 am in Art, Language

Kate Bingaman-Burt has created a nice poster featuring the “500 Worst Passwords“, gleaned from the book Perfect Password: Selection, Protection, Authentication by Mark Burnett:

500 Worst Passwords

500 Worst Passwords, by Kate Bingaman-Burt (click to enlarge)

Be sure to check out Kate’s blog, Obsessive Consumption.

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Welcome to the new Wordlab

March 26, 2010 at 3:53 pm in Wordlab

laughing manWelcome to the new Wordlab, a full-fledged social network for naming and wordplay, collaboration and creative thinking; as such it is structured a bit differently than what you are used to if you were a user of the old Wordlab and its Wordboard forum. Here at the new Wordlab, Forum topics are associated with Groups, which are roughly what the Forum Categories were on the old website.

Before you can do anything like what is described below, however, you need to sign up for a new account, which, as always, is free, and then log-in using the form in the sidebar.

Only snark, the site administrator, can create new groups, but there is a Topic for making new Group suggestions, so any groups that make sense to add and have enough users interested in, Snark will create for you. If you are interested in a particular existing group, click the “Join Group” button associated with that group, and you will instantly become a member of that group — or just post a Topic or reply to a Forum and you will automatically be joined to the group that Topic belongs to. As a member of a Group, you will have more interaction with the Group, its Forum and its members. Think Facebook Groups – same idea here.

If you want to post a topic for discussion, first find the appropriate Group, then click the “Forum” sub-navigation button within that Group, and fill out the “Post a New Topic” fields. You do not need to be a member of a Group to post or reply to Topics belonging to a Group.

For more helpful hints, see the FAQ page. Also see the sticky topic, “Getting started on Wordlab“, to help you get going. And if you have any direct questions for me, you can send me a private message from my snark profile page.

Welcome to the NEW naming playground!”

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Mike Siwek and Audrey Fino demonstrate Google’s semantic genius

March 23, 2010 at 10:38 am in Language

Wired has an interesting article in its March, 2010 issue, How Google’s Algorithm Rules the Web, that illuminates some of the reasons why Google’s search algorithm works so well and sets Google apart from other search engines.

“The algorithm is extremely important in search, but it’s not the only thing,” says Brian MacDonald, Microsoft’s VP of core search. “You buy a car for reasons beyond just the engine.”

Google’s response can be summed up in four words: mike siwek lawyer mi.

Amit Singhal types that koan into his company’s search box. Singhal, a gentle man in his forties, is a Google Fellow, an honorific bestowed upon him four years ago to reward his rewrite of the search engine in 2001. He jabs the Enter key. In a time span best measured in a hummingbird’s wing-flaps, a page of links appears. The top result connects to a listing for an attorney named Michael Siwek in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It’s a fairly innocuous search — the kind that Google’s servers handle billions of times a day — but it is deceptively complicated. Type those same words into Bing, for instance, and the first result is a page about the NFL draft that includes safety Lawyer Milloy. Several pages into the results, there’s no direct referral to Siwek.

The comparison demonstrates the power, even intelligence, of Google’s algorithm, honed over countless iterations. It possesses the seemingly magical ability to interpret searchers’ requests — no matter how awkward or misspelled. Google refers to that ability as search quality, and for years the company has closely guarded the process by which it delivers such accurate results….

Of course, just by being written about and linked to from Wired, Lawyer Siwek’s search results have all been skewed. But no matter — that’s to be expected. What interests me is how Google is essentially playing with language, like we do here at Wordlab, in a continuous effort to break it up and recombine it to figure out contextual relationships and semantic meaning.

…Google has used its huge mass of collected data to bolster its algorithm with an amazingly deep knowledge base that helps interpret the complex intent of cryptic queries.

Take, for instance, the way Google’s engine learns which words are synonyms. “We discovered a nifty thing very early on,” Singhal says. “People change words in their queries. So someone would say, ‘pictures of dogs,’ and then they’d say, ‘pictures of puppies.’ So that told us that maybe ‘dogs’ and ‘puppies’ were interchangeable. We also learned that when you boil water, it’s hot water. We were relearning semantics from humans, and that was a great advance.”

But there were obstacles. Google’s synonym system understood that a dog was similar to a puppy and that boiling water was hot. But it also concluded that a hot dog was the same as a boiling puppy. The problem was fixed in late 2002 by a breakthrough based on philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s theories about how words are defined by context. As Google crawled and archived billions of documents and Web pages, it analyzed what words were close to each other. “Hot dog” would be found in searches that also contained “bread” and “mustard” and “baseball games” — not poached pooches. That helped the algorithm understand what “hot dog” — and millions of other terms — meant. “Today, if you type ‘Gandhi bio,’ we know that bio means biography,” Singhal says. “And if you type ‘bio warfare,’ it means biological.”

…for the most part, the improvement process is a relentless slog, grinding through bad results to determine what isn’t working. One unsuccessful search became a legend: Sometime in 2001, Singhal learned of poor results when people typed the name “audrey fino” into the search box. Google kept returning Italian sites praising Audrey Hepburn. (Fino  means fine in Italian.) “We realized that this is actually a person’s name,” Singhal says. “But we didn’t have the smarts in the system.”

The Audrey Fino failure led Singhal on a multiyear quest to improve the way the system deals with names — which account for 8 percent of all searches. To crack it, he had to master the black art of “bi-gram breakage” — that is, separating multiple words into discrete units. For instance, “new york” represents two words that go together (a bi-gram). But so would the three words in “new york times,” which clearly indicate a different kind of search. And everything changes when the query is “new york times square.” Humans can make these distinctions instantly, but Google does not have a Brazil-like back room with hundreds of thousands of cubicle jockeys. It relies on algorithms.

The Mike Siwek query illustrates how Google accomplishes this. When Singhal types in a command to expose a layer of code underneath each search result, it’s clear which signals determine the selection of the top links: a bi-gram connection to figure it’s a name; a synonym; a geographic location. “Deconstruct this query from an engineer’s point of view,” Singhal explains. “We say, ‘Aha! We can break this here!’ We figure that lawyer is not a last name and Siwek is not a middle name. And by the way, lawyer is not a town in Michigan. A lawyer is an attorney.”

This is the hard-won realization from inside the Google search engine, culled from the data generated by billions of searches: a rock is a rock. It’s also a stone, and it could be a boulder. Spell it “rokc” and it’s still a rock. But put “little” in front of it and it’s the capital of Arkansas. Which is not an ark. Unless Noah is around. “The holy grail of search is to understand what the user wants,” Singhal says. “Then you are not matching words; you are actually trying to match meaning.”

Thanks to the Interweb, Mike Siwek and Audrey Fino (and, from the article, Garden Grove psychologist Cindy Louise Greenslade) are now cyberlebrities, endlessly spidered, SERPed, and iterated through the dreamtime that is not real, yet we think about it. Like conceptual art.

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Wordsmash #1: Remixing an article about literary remixing

March 2, 2010 at 7:18 pm in Wordsmash

James Joyce and Helene Hagemann“So much of the energy of great work to me is feeling the echo effect on every line, of not knowing where it came from.” But it has been a limited one, viewed with even greater suspicion now. “Why can’t literature catch up with the other arts?”

The news made waves in the United States with an almost novelistic kind of timing, just before the publication last week of a highly anticipated book by David Shields, “Reality Hunger,” a feisty literary “manifesto” built almost entirely of quotations from other writers and thinkers.

“Our would-be novelist says nothing is original, yet the passages she lifted from other books were original expressions in those books, even if the ideas were not new.” But Mr. Shields argues that blatant borrowing has been a foundation of culture since man first took up pen and paintbrush. “The test has always been in the pudding.”

The law and conventional ethics are still probably a long way from embracing the kind of world that Mr. Shields and Ms. Hegemann envision. But Louis Menand, the Harvard professor and New Yorker staff writer, suggested that, as with any creative movement, if the results are compelling and profound enough, even rigid conventions come around to making what seemed like a sin into a virtue.

“My goodness, it’s just straight out of my brainpan.”

Even the most original-seeming writing borrows from the centuries of writing that came before, so why not simply be more honest and maybe do something more interesting in the process? “We worked for years on the character development and the voice, and when we finally nailed the subtle epiphany, we cracked open a bottle of Champagne to celebrate.”

The borrowed words are marshaled to make a case against what Mr. Shields sees as boring fiction and in favor of genre-bending forms like the lyric essay. You could argue, of course, that Warhol’s use of a soup can or Danger Mouse’s use of the Beatles and Jay-Z on the Grey Album represent one thing, a re-contextualizing of cultural artifacts so well known they are a kind of shorthand. “There’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity.”

Ms. Hegemann announced that appropriating the passages from that book and other sources was her plan all along. And Terence complained in the second century B.C. that “there’s nothing to say that hasn’t been said before.”

Mr. Shields, so firmly in the camp that sees appropriation as just another kind of collaboration, laments that expressive writing has lagged behind the other arts in using appropriation as a tool. “She basically did the book I wanted to do.”

Helene Hagemann and James JoyceA child of a media-saturated generation, she presented herself as a writer whose birthright is the remix, the use of anything at hand she feels suits her purposes, an idea of communal creativity that certainly wasn’t shared by those from whom she borrowed. His manifesto and Ms. Hegemann’s novel prompted the quick drawing of battle lines.

But does lifting from an obscure blogger — or even importing a description of a sunset by Steinbeck or a suburban tableau from Updike — accomplish the same thing? The most vital artists are those “breaking larger and larger chunks of ‘reality’ into their works.” Mr. Shields, a novelist who migrated to nonfiction, has called it “far and away the most personal book” he has ever written.

Mr. Shields’s book relies on thinkers from Wittgenstein to DJ Spooky, melding them into a voice that can sound at times eerily consistent. “If something is really successful, then the law tends to get changed and society changes to allow it to happen,” he said.

And though publishing-house lawyers required him to include an appendix listing his sources (at least those he could remember) Mr. Shields asks the reader to honor the spirit of the book by taking a pair of scissors and giving it an appendectomy. Maybe that’s one reason for the flurry of attention recently about a teenage German novelist, Helene Hegemann. Think of almost any kind of cultural endeavor and then use the word “we” to describe its creation.

Tensions have probably never been higher between a growing culture of borrowing and appropriation on one side and, on the other, copyright advocates and those who fear a steady erosion of creative protections. Flarf, the experimental poetry movement in which practitioners make verse out of the results of random Internet word searches — for those times “when we are not sure we are alive.”

Appropriation has breathed life into music, art and theater, he argues, and he lines up a kind of murderers’ row of writers, including Sterne, Emerson, Eliot and Joyce (“I am quite content to go down to posterity as a scissors and paste man”) to make the case that it has been an important tradition in writing, too.

A creative culture dominated by borrowing and repurposing is a “culture that will quickly grow stale.” In a world where the death of the novel has been announced with great regularity for almost half a century, such an open-source approach is the only way to keep literature alive.

Unmix this mashup at the New York Times, The Free-Appropriation Writer.

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Virus update: one million English words, and counting

June 10, 2009 at 9:20 am in Language

The English language received its official unofficial one millionth word this morning at 5:22 a.m. ET. And, just in time for the coming Web 3.0 phenomena, the one millionth word is…wait for it…

Web 2.0.

Of course, “Web 2.0″ being crowned the One Millionth English Word, and having the coronation at exactly 5:22 this morning, is just an estimate, made buy a website called the Global Language Monitor, “a Web site that uses a math formula to estimate how often words are created.” I like that: words used to describe a math formula used to estimate how many words there are that could be put to use to describe math formulas that estimate…well, you get the picture.

According to the article today on CNN.com:

[Global Language Monitor] estimates the millionth English word, “Web 2.0″ was added to the language Wednesday at 5:22 a.m. ET. The term refers to the second, more social generation of the Internet.

The site says more than 14 words are added to English every day, at the current rate.

The “Million Word March,” however, has made the man who runs this word-counting project somewhat of a pariah in the linguistic community. Some linguists say it’s impossible to count the number of words in a language because languages are always changing, and because defining what counts as a word is a fruitless endeavor.

Paul J.J. Payack, president and chief word analyst for the Global Language Monitor, says, however, that the million-word estimation isn’t as important as the idea behind his project, which is to show that English has become a complex, global language.

“It’s a people’s language,” he said.

Other languages, like French, Payack said, put big walls around their vocabularies. English brings others in.

“English has the tradition of swallowing new words whole,” he said. “Other languages translate.”

Certainly that’s what Wordlab has always been about: swallowing new words whole…and then regurgitating them in new combinations.

Still, Payack says he doesn’t include all new words in his count. Words must make sense in at least 60 percent of the world to be official, he said. And they must make sense to different communities of people. A new technology term that’s only understood in Silicon Valley wouldn’t count as a mainstream word, he said.

His computer models check a total of 5,000 dictionaries, scholarly publications and news articles, as well as billions of Web sites, to see how frequently words are used, he said. A word must make 25,000 appearances to be deemed legitimate.

Payack said news events have also fueled the rapid expansion of English, which he said has more words than any other language. Mandarin Chinese comes in second with about 450,000 words, he said.

English terms like “Obamamania,” “defriend,” “wardrobe malfunction,” “zombie banks,” “shovel ready” and “recessionista” all have grown out of recent news cycles about the presidential election, economic crash, online networking or a sports event, he said. Other languages might not have developed new terms to deal with such phenomena, he said.

That the true beauty and power of English, and its new global function: serving as a language laboratory for the entire world. An interesting corollary question would be how many English words die out every day, week or month? None of these new words get carved in stone, and even the Oxford English Dictionary is filled with many archaic words no longer in use.

Language experts who spoke with CNN said they disapprove of Payack’s count, but they agree that English generally has more words than most, if not all, languages.

“This is stuff that you just can’t count,” said Jesse Sheidlower, editor at large of the Oxford English Dictionary. “No one can count it, and to pretend that you can is totally disingenuous. It simply can’t be done.”

The Oxford English Dictionary has about 600,000 entries, Sheidlower said. But that by no means includes all words, he said.

… Part of what makes determining the number of words in a language so difficult is that there are so many root words and their variants, said Sarah Thomason, president of the Linguistic Society of America and a linguistics professor at the University of Michigan.

… Linguists and lexicographers run into further complications when trying to count words that are spelled one way but can have several meanings, said Allan Metcalf, an English professor at MacMurray College in Illinois, and an officer at the American Dialect Society.

“The word bear, b-e-a-r — is that two words or one, for example? You have a noun that’s a wild creature and then you have b-e-a-r, [which means] to bear left or to bear right, and there’s many other things,” he said. “So you really can’t be exact about a millionth word.”

Can any of these linguists or word-counters bear to get into pun territory? Absolutely each meaning of “bear” and every other word should count as a separate word — again, multiple meanings, puns, homonyms, all are part of what gives the English language so much flavor and customizability (not a word, BTW, according to the OED). Call it Language 2.0 if you must (but really, please don’t — I’m just planting a virus here).

[Payack] said the count is meant to be a celebration of English as a global language. And, while he says other languages are being stamped out by English’s expansion, it’s a powerful thing that so many people today are able to communicate with such a vast list of words.

Here here, brother. As William S. Burroughs famously said, “Language is a virus“. And English, with its metastasizing foam of wordbirth and worddeath, is the smallpox of languages.