• The Wug Test and Language Development in Children

    The Wug Test is a foundational study in how language develops in children. It’s also a bit cute:

    This is a WUG. Now there is another one. There are two of them. There are two ________.

    Developed by Jean Berko Gleason in the 1950s, it’s been said that the only thing with a greater impact on the field of child language research was the innovation of the tape recorder.

    Gleason’s major finding was that even very young children are able to connect suitable endings‍ to nonsense words they have never heard before, implying that they have internalized systematic aspects of the linguistic system which no one has necessarily tried to teach them. However, she also identified an earlier stage at which children can produce such forms for real words, but not yet for nonsense words‍—‌implying that children start by memorizing singular–plural pairs they hear spoken by others, then eventually extract rules and patterns from these examples which they apply to novel words.

    The Wug Test was the first experimental proof that young children have extracted generalizable rules from the language around them, rather than simply memorizing words that they have heard. […] Its conclusions are viewed as essential to the understanding of when and how children reach major language milestones.

    Browsing summaries of Gleason’s other research on her Wikipedia entry is fascinating, especially when thinking of helping my children learn language ‘routines’. It’s worth a quick browse.

  • Two Palms to a Shaftment: English, Imperial, and Customary US Units

    English units were the measurement standards used across the British Empire until 1826; it’s the system that immediately preceded and (independently) developed into today’s imperial units and US customary units.

    I never really thought about why the UK and US diverged slightly, but (obviously, in retrospect) the simple reason that imperial and US customary units differ in some significant ways is that both systems were developed after the US became independent, based on the in-use-at-that-time English units system.

    The Wikipedia diagram showing the relationship between lengths in the English unit system is a fun reference:

    And of course, no discussion on this topic can ignore this striking map of metric adoption around the world:

  • Longevity FAQ and Longevity 101: Your Beginner’s Guides

    I find the concept of longevity and longevity research fascinating, from both a scientific and philosophical perspective: it’s cool to read about how researchers have effectively reversed the ageing of some mice, and I find it endlessly curious how large swathes of society want to ‘solve’ ageing (or, maybe more accurately, the other things that kill us as we age).

    [Longevity research is] trying to figure out what kinds of damage accumulate with age, how to reverse that accumulation, and the search for switches that we could flip in human biology to increase lifespan.

    When I wanted to read more on the topic and get a better understanding of some fundamental concepts, I used and recommend two ‘longevity guides’ that are accessible and concise: Laura Deming’s Longevity FAQ and Spannr’s Longevity 101.

    The Longevity FAQ provides a simple breakdown of (very) basic concepts in ageing research, followed by two-paragraph layman-friendly introductions to the nine major research areas with the most potential to make a positive impact (see below for details).

    Longevity 101, on the other hand, takes a more practical rather than academic approach, and is billed as ‘The Ultimate Guide To Increasing Your Healthspan & Lifespan’. The site is beautiful and well researched (and referenced), providing easy reads on beginner, intermediate and advanced ‘strategies’:

    Of course, as always, take everything with the usual caution: the science on the topic is still relatively new, and both guides are written by those with vested interests in the topic (one via the VC space).

    And for interest, these are the nine major research areas from the Longevity FAQ:

    • Caloric Restriction: eating less, in a variety of ways, can make you live longer – but is your body just using number of calories as a signal?
    • Insulin/IGF: genetic pathways related to growth and insulin signaling are linked to aging
    • Parabiosis: young blood makes old mice healthier, but why?
    • Senescence: a fraction of your cells get older than the others, so we’d like to eliminate them
    • Autophagy: the garbage disposal unit of the cell worsens with age, improving it might increase healthy lifespan
    • Hypothalamus: a surprising number of things can increase lifespan when only changed in the brain tissue
    • Reproductive System: removing the ability to reproduce can increase lifespan
    • Mitochondria: mitochondrial mutations impact lifespan in counterintuitive ways
    • Sirtuins: sirtuins can change DNA and increase lifespan
  • Rules of Formulating Knowledge

    Back in 2009, I posted about the SuperMemo learning algorithm, based on the tried-and-true learning principle of spaced repetition (see also).

    I see now that, around that time, Piotr Woźniak, developer of the SuperMemo algorithm, wrote about his twenty rules of formulating knowledge.

    The below seven really stuck out to me, with all of them explained in detail in his blog post.

    1. Do not learn if you do not understand
    2. Learn before you memorise
    3. Build upon the basics
    4. Stick to the minimum information principle
    5. Cloze deletion is easy and effective (I see cloze deletion as, effectively, self-testing via spaced repetition)
    6. Avoid sets and enumerations
    7. Combat interference [from similar things]
  • Studying and Learning: What Works, What Doesn’t

    Self-testing and spaced repetition are the “two clear winners” in how to study and learn better. That’s from an informal meta study conducted by six professors (from fields such as psychology, educational psychology, and neuroscience) when they reviewed over 700 scientific articles to identify the ten most common learning techniques and which are the most effective (pdf, web).

    The requirements of their literature review:

    [A learning] technique must be useful in a range of learning conditions, such as whether a student works alone or in a group. It must assist learners of various ages, abilities and levels of prior knowledge — and it must have been tested in a classroom or other real-world situation. Learners should be able to use the method to master a variety of subjects, and their performance should benefit no matter what kind of test is used to measure it. The best approaches also result in long-lasting improvements in knowledge and comprehension.

    The authors of the article go into great detail on how and when to use the different methods effectively, so check out the article from Scientific American. but to summarise:

    • Self-testing and distributed practice (spaced repetition) are the two stand-out methods, shown to be “robust, durable and relevant in many situations”.
    • Elaborative interrogation (asking ‘Why?’), self-explanation (‘How do I know this?’) and interleaved practice (mixing up the learning topics) are also recommended methods, but come with reservations.
    • However, the ever-popular methods of highlighting, re-reading, imagery for text learning (making mental pictures), summarisation, and keyword mnemonics are simply: “not advised”. Some do work, but are time consuming and effective only in limited circumstances, while others lack any evidence of effectiveness

    via Nicky Case

  • International, Multilingual Eye-test Chart, 1907

    At the turn of the twentieth century, in San Francisco, German optometrist George Mayerle created and published the “international” eye-test chart: “an artifact of an immigrant nation—produced by a German optician in a polyglot city where West met East (and which was then undergoing massive rebuilding after the 1906 earthquake)—and of a globalizing economy”.

    Running through the middle of the chart, the seven vertical panels test for acuity of vision with characters in the Roman alphabet (for English, German, and other European readers) and also in Japanese, Chinese, Russian, and Hebrew. A panel in the center replaces the alphabetic characters with symbols for children and adults who were illiterate or who could not read any of the other writing systems offered. Directly above the center panel is a version of the radiant dial that tests for astigmatism. On either side of that are lines that test the muscular strength of the eyes. Finally, across the bottom, boxes test for color vision, a feature intended especially (according to one advertisement) for those working on railroads and steamboats

    This beautiful bit of design is highlighted by the Circulating Now blog from the Historical Collections of the National Library of Medicine. The post also tells us a bit about Mayerle himself, who sounds like an interesting character, considered both scientific practitioner, but also being “right at home in optometry’s peddler tradition” selling tonics of all sorts.

    via @[email protected]

  • The Two Words for Tea: “Tea if by sea, cha if by land”

    The World Atlas of Language Structures (WALS) chapter on Tea tells us that the word you use for ‘tea’ is highly influenced by ancient trade routes. Specifically, whether your country first got tea via the Silk Road (by land, originating from inland China) or from sea imports (by sea, originating from Dutch ports in the coastal province of Fujian).

    The WALS chapter is a bit academic, so I recommend this summary article from Quartz on the origins of ‘tea’ vs ‘cha’.

    With a few minor exceptions, there are really only two ways to say “tea” in the world. One is like the English term […] the other is some variation of cha. […]

    Both versions come from China. How they spread around the world offers a clear picture of how globalization worked before “globalization” was a term anybody used. The words that sound like “cha” spread across land, along the Silk Road. The “tea”-like phrasings spread over water, by Dutch traders bringing the novel leaves back to Europe.

  • Subway Maps of Roman Roads

    Sasha Trubetskoy is a “geography and data nerd” who makes data visualisations and maps. His Roman Roads project styles the Ancient Roman road network as modern transit maps.

    That’s the full Empire, as of ca. 125 AD. Trubetskoy also made similar maps for Britain, Italy, Gaul and Iberia. I recommend clicking through and reading about the process, including how he developed a framework for choosing twenty colours at various levels of contrast and accessibility.

  • The Three Important Response Time Limits

    There are three important response time limits in user interface design, and this has remained constant since 1968, says usability guru Jakob Nielsen. Those three time limits?

    • 0.1 second is about the limit for having the user feel that the system is reacting instantaneously […] for users feeling that they are directly manipulating objects […] as opposed to feeling that they are ordering the computer to manipulate objects for them.
    • 1.0 second is about the limit for the user’s flow of thought to stay uninterrupted. […] The limit for users feeling that they are freely navigating the command space without having to unduly wait for the computer. […] Users notice the delay and thus feel the computer is “working” on the command.
    • 10 seconds is about the limit for keeping the user’s attention focused on the task. For longer delays, users will want to perform other tasks while waiting for the computer to finish. […] More than 10 seconds, and you break the flow.

    Chess, anyone?

    It’s worth also looking at Nielsen’s Powers of 10, detailing further time scales of user interaction. My summary:

    • 1 minute is the limit in which users should be able to complete simple tasks.
    • 10 minutes is a long visit to a website.
    • 1 hour is the limit for completing most web-based tasks.
    • 1 day is the maximum turnaround for (good) customer service and the start of habitual routines.
    • 1 week is another common time frame for habitual routines or complex tasks requiring extensive research.
    • 1 month is the time it might take for business processes, as various people need to be involved in decisions.
    • 1 year is the time it takes for organisational changes to start taking place, and is how long it takes to nurture experienced users (for whom interfaces can be more complex).
    • 10 years is how long it takes deep expertise to develop for a complex system.
    • 100 years is sufficient for complex social changes to take place.
  • “If you like to play [computer game], then try [book]”

    If you like to play [computer game], then try [book].

    That’s the simple premise of a post from the imitable Powell’s Books, back in 2018. In Console-free camping, for a bunch of popular computer games, they recommend a book you might like.

    The list, for posterity (non-commission, non-tracking links to Powell’s):

    • If you like playing The Last of Us, then try Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry
    • If you like playing Beyond: Two Souls, then try The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
    • If you like playing Call of Duty: Black Ops (Zombies), then try World War Z by Max Brooks
    • If you like playing Grand Theft Auto, then try American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
    • If you like playing Sid Meier’s Civilization, then try A Game Of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
    • If you like playing Final Fantasy, then try Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa
    • If you like playing Mass Effect, then try Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
    • If you like playing Alice: Madness Returns, then try Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis
    • If you like playing Halo, then try Starship Troopers by Robert A Heinlein
    • If you like playing Portal, then try House Of Stairs by William Sleator
    • If you like playing Mario Kart, then try The Lovely Reckless by Kami Garcia
    • If you like playing Dark Souls, then try Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake
    • If you like playing Life Is Strange, then try We Are Okay by Nina Lacour
    • If you like playing Stardew Valley, then try How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
    • If you like playing Fable, then try Young Elites by Marie Lu
    • If you like playing Borderlands, then try Velocity by Chris Wooding
    • If you like playing Dishonored, then try Airman by Eoin Colfer
    • If you like playing The Oregon Trail, then try Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
    • If you like playing the Elder Scrolls series, then try The Naming by Alison Croggon
    • If you like playing Red Dead Redemption, then try Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman
    • If you like playing Bioshock, then try Dark Life by Kat Falls
    • If you like playing Fallout, then try Razorland by Ann Aguirre
    • If you like playing Assasin’s Creed, then try The Way of Shadows Night by Brent Weeks
    • If you like playing Dragonage, then try Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
    • If you like playing The Legend of Zelda, then try Graceling by Kristin Cashore
    • If you like playing Until Dawn, then try Ten by Gretchen McNeil
    • If you like playing Sonic, then try Maximum Ride by James Patterson
    • If you like playing Overwatch, then try Bluescreen by Dan Wells
    • If you like playing Uncharted, then try Passenger by Alexandra Bracken
    • If you like playing Pokemon, then try Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them by JK Rowling, and Newt Scamander
    • If you like playing Mario Party, then try Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins