Short Cuts, the end of 2011

With the new year having started, I’ve been too busy child minding to get anything solid on the blog recently, but here are the stories that have piqued my interest:

  • The Economist has The gift of tongues, a review of Babel No More: The Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Language Learners by Michael Erard (buy at Amazon), about hyperpolyglots. Wikipedia describes a hyperpolyglot as someone that speaks six or more languages, Erard pushes this out to eleven or more languages. Interesting points are made about the need to “prime” weaker languages in one’s repertoire before speaking in it – phase shifting has always been difficult, as translators and interpretors know well. It’s a short, interesting article, although one doesn’t get’s the feeling that the book has much more information. (edit: Unfortunately I’ve not the time or resources to read the book itself, but Michael has contacted me to say that there is much more to the book than the Economist article adresses. Of course, if I hadn’t been child minding a 30 second google search would have lead me to the book’s website,, which I have just found, and where you can find out more about the book)
  • A Slashdot post called New Online Dictionaries Automate Away the Linguistic Middleman pointed me to an interesting article about potential future dictionaries. Instead of having an edited, or pruned, list of definitions, these services – two are listed, Wordnik and The Corpus of Contemporary American English – show the word you search for in a number of contexts – dictionary definition, examples on how it’s been used recently, a word’s collocates (words usually found near the original word), related words, lists the word may belong to, tweets containing the word, sounds and visuals. While I don’t think it replaces the dictionary, these services are certainly a fascinating progression from what we grew up with.
  • I can’t remember how I got there, but the 24 Ways blog has a great article Creating Custom Font Stacks with Unicode-Range. A tutorial on how to use different fonts on the same page within HTML5 – an easy and light way to change the font for numerals or caps for instance. Using the original Use the Best Available Ampersand as a case study is fantastic – a solid use case with a simpler implementation.
  • For those still hanging on to the Academy, Slashdot makes some devestating points in When Getting Rid of College Lectures Makes Sense, but let’s cut to the chase:

    Joe Redish also teaches physics, at the University of Maryland, and says, ‘With modern technology, if all there is is lectures, we don’t need faculty to do it. … Get ’em to do it once, put it on the Web, and fire the faculty.'”

    (emphasis mine). I’ve said similar before, and I believe it. Classes need to be turned around – all the lecture watching should be happening at home – class time is for discussion, problem solving and example exploration.