What Words Would You Add to the Microsoft Spell-Checker?

The other day the Seattle Times profiled the Microsoft Natural Language team and their challenges in keeping the up with spell-checking since languages are constantly in flux.

Now the paper’s blog asks us “What words would you add to the Microsoft spell-checker?“. Here’s a few quotes:

A friend who works in the sciences said it’s difficult to trust the spell-checker in her field. “You think Bromodichloromethane or 4-Methyl-2-Pentanone are in there? Or whenever we use borehole the suggested correction is brothel…”

A man who works in Olympia had this question: “I’ve often wondered why a corporation based in Washington has a spell-checker that doesn’t include Walla Walla as an acceptable proper noun instead of insisting that it’s a repetition… Apparently, Microsoft thinks there’s a town called Walla, WA — where they grow Walla onions.” (Only half as delicious, I’m sure.)

Neal Stephenson Once Again Proves He’s the King of the Worlds

Neal Stephenson has a new book to be released Sept 3 2008 (pre-order on Amazon).

Wired.com writes about Stephenson’s motivations and where the ideas came from for this 960 page novel.

Set on a planet called Arbe (pronounced “arb”), Anathem documents a civilization split between two cultures: an indulgent Saecular general population (hooked on casinos, shopping in megastores, trashing the environment—sound familiar?) and the super-educated cohort known as the avaunt, or “auts,” who live a monastic existence defined by intellectual activity and circumscribed rituals. Freed from the pressures of pedestrian life, the avaunt view time differently. Their society—the “mathic” world—is clustered in walled-off areas known as concents built around giant clocks designed to last for centuries. The avaunt are separated into four groups, distinguished by the amount of time they are isolated from the outside world and each other. Unarians stay inside the wall for a year. Decenarians can venture outside only once a decade. Centenarians are locked in for a hundred years, and Millennarians—long-lifespanners who are endowed with Yoda-esque wisdom—emerge only in years ending in triple zeros. Stephenson centers his narrative around a crisis that jars this system—a crisis that allows him to introduce action scenes worthy of Buck Rogers and even a bit of martial arts. It’s a rather complicated setup; fortunately, there’s a detailed timeline and 20-page glossary to help the reader decode things.

A Yearn to Kern: Fonts Are the Clothes That Words Wear

Font Square

TypeCon 2008 – a font conference, or as I like to call it, a “font festival”.

It was last week and presented by The Society of Typographical Aficionados. It looks like they had a great time and some interesting sessions, wish I could have attended. Alas, I’m not that involved in Fonts, Kerning and Typefaces, but I know what I like when I see it and Helvetica is it.

The National Post has quite a humorous take on the event.

Placeholder Names

Kadigan is a term used to describe placeholder words. The ‘kadigan‘ Wikipedia page is all about placeholders.

I LOVE this page.

For instance, a few placeholders for ‘People‘:

  • Joe Blow
  • Tom, Dick and Harry
  • Joe Public
  • The Joneses
  • Buddy
  • So and So
  • John Doe
  • Frick and Frack
  • Or placeholders for ‘Numbers‘:

  • squillion buhmillion, frillion, gazillion, jillion, kajillion, hojillion, schmillion, zillion
  • eleventy-; e.g., eleventy-four
  • mumblety, used specifically to conceal one’s advanced age, as in “I shall be mumblety this year” or “mumblety-three”
  • umpteen
  • oodles
  • tons
  • scads
  • buckets
  • some-odd
  • a couple
  • a couple-few or coupla few
  • bunch
  • [expletive]-load e.g. shitload or shitloads
  • metric fuck-ton
  • 100 Best Last Lines from Novels


    American Book Review has compiled a list of the top 100 best last lines from a novel (PDF). It’s very comprehensive, here’s a few choice endings-

    #37 “P.S. Sorry I forgot to give you the mayonnaise” Trout Fishing in America (1967)

    #72 “The old man was dreaming about the lions” The Old Man and the Sea (1952)

    #77 “Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.” Gone With the Wind (1936)

    Top 10 Sci-Fi Books

    This is my top 10 Science Fiction books of all time, in no particular order. However, if I had to be marooned on a desert isle with just one of these books (including the series of books it spawned), it would probably be either the Foundation series or Cryptonomicon.

    Foundation Foundation
    By Isaac Asimov (1951)
    This is the first book in the Foundation series, it’s sci-fi on a grand scale; one of the classics of the field. The main topic of the series is the concept that history repeats itself, even 30,000 years in the future. It’s about the theory of science and math and predicting human sociobehavioral patterns millennia in the future so that you can set into motion events that will counteract catastrophes that had been predicted long ago.
    Starship Troopers Starship Troopers
    By Robert Heinlein (1959)
    Many consider this Hugo Award winner to be Heinlein’s finest work, and with good reason. Forget the battle scenes and high-tech weapons (though this novel has them)- this is Heinlein at the top of his game talking people and politics.
    It’s written in the first person narrative, about a young soldier in a futuristic military unit equipped with powered armor. We follow the soldier in his career from recruit to non-comm to officer. All the while there’s an interstellar war going on between ‘the Bugs’ and mankind.
    Dune Dune
    By Frank Herbert (1965)
    This book spawned 5 sequels, a big screen adaptation, 2 TV mini-series, a PC game, a board game and a handful of prequel novels.It’s Plato in spaceships meet the biggest nightcrawlers you’ve ever seen. to be honest though, I only enjoyed Dune and Children of Dune, after that I couldn’t take any more. But Dune is highly recommended.
    Enders Game Ender’s Game
    By Orson Scott Card (1985)
    Set in Earth’s future where mankind has barely survived two invasions by an insectoid alien race, and the International Fleet is preparing for war. In order to find and train the eventual commander for the anticipated third invasion, the world’s most talented children, including the very talented Ender Wiggin, are taken into Battle School at a very young age to prepare for their future as leaders of the next war.
    Forever War The Forever War
    By Joe Haldeman (1974)
    I’m into Military history and fiction. Joe Haldeman delivers war, war heroes and a command of battlefield tactical situations. This novel is perceived as a portrayal of his time in the military during the ‘Nam war but through a space opera filter. Is also considered to be a response to Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (see above).
    The story is heavy on action and contemplation during an interstellar war following an elite military unit, that because of time dilation caused by their space travel, the soldiers age months while the civilization on Earth advances centuries.
    Hyperion Hyperion
    By Dan Simmons (1989)
    This is a pretty complex novel, it features multiple time-lines and primary characters journeying together on the eve of Armageddon. Each of these pilgrims carries with them a terrible secret and hope. The most interesting aspect of this book to me is that it’s basically 7 different mini-stories as you hear each tale that led the characters to this backwater planet in search of ‘The Shrike’.
    Cryptonomicon Cryptonomicon
    By Neal Stephenson (1999)
    This long story is short on plot but insanely detailed to the point that you become deeply drawn into that story. It follows two time-lines, one is the WW II code breakers for the Axis powers and the other time is present day descendants of those code breakers trying to build a data haven but are led into a search for treasure.This book is a geek’s dream. Non-technical readers will find the book a little difficult to read.Funny note: the book describes a fictional operating system called Finux (Linus Torvalds is from Finland, get it?)
    Ringworld Ringworld
    By Larry Niven (1970)
    Spawned 3 sequels. In the year 2855 we follow 4 adventurers (made up of 2 humans and 2 aliens) as they explore a mysterious ‘ringworld’ which is an enormous, artificial, ring shaped structure that surrounds a star.This is another one of those great Science books that masquerades as fiction to get you into Math and Physical sciences again!
    Stainless Steel Rat The Stainless Steel Rat
    By Harry Harrison (1961)
    In the vastness of space, the crimes just get bigger and Slippery Jim diGriz, the Stainless Steel Rat, is the biggest criminal of them all. He can con humans, aliens and any number of robots time after time. Jim is so slippery that all the inter-galactic cops can do is make him one of their own.When I was a kid, I wanted to grow up to be just like the Stainless Steel Rat. He’s just like James Bond, but a nice bad guy. Sort of like a Robin Hood meets Luke Skywalker, only he doesn’t give to the poor, he keeps the goods for himself!
    Birthright the book of man Birthright the Book of Man
    By Mike Resnick (1982)
    All 26 chapters are essentially complete stories of themselves, similar to short stories. Each focuses on a different profession in chronological order during a timeline of 17 millennia.It describes the history of mankind’s departure from Earth, conquest of the galaxy, its treatment of aliens, internal politics, the development and growth of the human species to the decline and collapse of the race.Think of it as an ultra-futuristic version of the Rise and Fall of Rome.

    Podcast: Grammar Girl

    Grammar Girl

    I found a great Podcast the other day called Grammar Girl, created and hosted by Mignon Fogarty.

    She provides short, friendly tips to help improve your writing skills covering everything from grammar rules, word choice guidelines, punctuation and everything in between.

    Give her a quick listen for yourself, here’s an example podcast (may pop a separate media player) she recently posted on Apostrophes.

    Grammar Girl also has an interesting flickr pool of photos displaying the common errors seen in the real world of adverts, traffic signs, etc…

    Here’s the details of her podcast –

    Name: Grammar Girl
    Website: http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/default.aspx
    Podcast subscription Link: http://www.qdnow.com/grammar.xml
    Speaking ability: Clear, concise, not condescending
    Length of pods: Short, 3-5 minutes
    BONUS: She also has the transcript of the shows, here’s the text for her Apostrophes show: http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/grammar-apostrophes.aspx

    “The Linguists”: Doggedly Pursuing Languages On The Brink Of Extinction

    There are about 7000 languages in the world today. In this century, it’s estimated that roughly half will no longer be spoken, that’s about a language every 2 weeks extinguishing from our world.

    The Linguists is an Indie Documentary that played at the 2008 Sundance Festival and it focuses on this topic, visit that link to watch the trailer. After watching it, I quickly added this one to my Netflix queue, I can hardly wait.

    In this documentary, American linguists K. David Harrison and Gregory Anderson travel to remote regions of Siberia, India and Bolivia to examine the root causes behind the imminent extinction of several languages. Along the way, they face social and economic upheaval, violence and racism as they doggedly pursue their academic goals.

    How close to extinction are some of the languages they’re interested in? Take for instance Tofa, there are fewer than 30 fluent speakers in the world today.

    And then there’s Native Australian Charlie Mungulda seen below with our linguistic duo. Charlie is the only person alive known to speak the language of Amurdag.

    Charlie Mungulda

    Word Of The Year


    Oxford Dictionary word of the year is not carbon-neutral, that was last year’s, silly.

    This year it’s Locavore – "to describe and promote the practice of eating a diet consisting of food harvested from within an area most commonly bound by a 100 mile radius."

    If you want to know even more about Locavores and how they came about to create the word and this health ‘movement’ to eat locally grown produce, check out this San Francisco Chronicle article.

    Runners up to Word of the Year include:

    aging in place






    Word Of The Day: Octothorp



    Octothorp, weird yet interesting word isn’t it?

    Maybe you’ve seen it in any of these other traditional spellings: octalthorpe / octothorp / octothorpe / octatherp

    It’s just one word used to represent that symbol at top, you’re probably most familiar with it as part of the telephone number pad. In most regions of the US and Canada it’s more often called the ‘pound sign’ or the ‘number sign’.

    Little is known about this word, but two things we do know. One is that this is truly an obscure word, to the point where most dictionaries don’t even list it, including the Oxford English Dictionary. Second thing known for sure is that the etymology of this word is definitely obscure.

    There are a lot of stories that try to explain how it got its name and the experts can’t really agree on the true story. The first part of the name is not in question, ‘Octo-‘, which is Latin for eight because of the eight points on the symbol. But the second half of the name ‘thorp’ is in doubt, if you’d like to read the various stories of explanation then you should check out the article here on worldwidewords.org and this explanation by Octothorp Press on their ‘About the Octothorp‘ page.

    Further reference: