Blog Archive for the ‘Rosetta’ Category

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Lera Boroditsky: How Language Shapes Thought – A Seminar Flashback

Posted on Wednesday, March 5th, 02014 by Mikl Em
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In October 02010 Lera Boroditsky spoke for Long Now on How Language Shapes Thought in a talk that resonates with the Rosetta Project, Long Now’s language preservation project.

SALT audio is free for everyone on our Seminar pages and via podcast. Long Now members can see all Seminar videos in HD. Video of the 12 most recent Seminars is also free for all to view.

Twice a month we highlight a Seminar About Long-term Thinking (SALT) from our archives. Members can watch this Seminar video here, and this talk in particular is even better with the visuals.

Lera Boroditsky is a cognitive scientist at UC San Diego (and was previously at MIT and Stanford). She has been named one of 25 Visionaries changing the world by the Utne Reader; other honors include being named a Searle Scholar, a McDonnell scholar, and an NSF Career award. She is Editor in Chief of Frontiers in Cultural Psychology.

In How Language Shapes Thought Boroditsky presents fascinating insights into the relationship between languages and thought. Drawing directly from her own work and other contemporary research, the questions she addresses include: whether those who speak different languages think differently? Does learning a new language shape the way you think? Do multilingual individuals think differently when speaking different languages? Are some thoughts unthinkable without language?

From Stewart Brand’s summary of the talk (in full here):

Lera Boroditsky speaks for Long Now

Time is the most common noun in the English language said Boroditsky. (Followed by person, year, way, and day.) Time is often expressed as travel in space: “We’re coming up on Christmas.” But some languages put the future in front of us, and others put it behind us. For Aborigines that Boroditsky studied in north Australia, time and sequence gets blended into their profound orientation to the cardinal directions. They don’t use relative terms like “left” and “right,” but absolute compass terms (There’s an ant on your southwest leg), and they have extraordinary orientation skills.

She cites a wide range of languages and research from around the world in a scientific tour through cultures and cognition that includes a few experiments with the audience at the Seminar. This is a fun and accessible talk filled with 02000′s pop cultural references like Dick Cheney’s quail hunting mishap and “Freedom Fries”–Boroditsky even has some helpful tips on how to better annoy the French.

The Seminars About Long-term Thinking series began in 02003 and is presented each month live in San Francisco. The series is curated and hosted by Long Now’s President Stewart Brand. Seminar audio is available to all via podcast.

Long Now members can watch the full video of this Seminar here—you must be logged in to the site. Membership levels start at $8/month and include lots of benefits. Join Long Now today.

Reviving and Restoring Lost Sounds

Posted on Thursday, December 26th, 02013 by Catherine Borgeson
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In 02008 Kevin Kelly called for movage (as opposed to storage) as the only way to archive digital information:

“Proper movage means transferring the material to current platforms on a regular basis— that is, before the old platform completely dies, and it becomes hard to do. This movic rythym of refreshing content should be as smooth as a respiratory cycle — in, out, in, out. Copy, move, copy, move.”

Five years later, Berkeley physicist Carl Haber received the MacArthur “Genius Grant” for doing just this–moving two- or three-dimensional audio recordings on obsolete platforms and/or decaying storage media and digitally restoring them. These long-lost analog sounds can essentially be played with a virtual needle.

Haber already had the technology in place from his research on imaging radiation. He had cameras precise enough to image and measure the patterns of particles and debris that emerged from subatomic particle collisions. He and his colleagues at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory applied this noninvasive image processing to develop IRENE (Image, Reconstruct, Erase Noise, Etc.). They derived the acronym from the first recording used to demonstrate the concept of IRENE–The Weavers performing “Goodnight Irene.”

Just like the detailed technique required to measure radiation, pictures taken at great magnification are needed to map the surface of an audio recording.  One pixel is about one micron on the disc or cylinder surface, meaning in order to acquire a sufficient digital map, the camera scans the object slowly enough to synthesize a gigapixel image:

A disc or cylinder is placed in a precision optical metrology system, where a camera following the path of the grooves on the object takes thousands of images that are then cleaned to compensate for physical damage; the resulting data are mathematically interpolated to determine how a stylus would course through the undulations, and the stylus motion is converted into a standard digital sound file.

So IRENE uses image processing to take a picture and mathematically break down the information in that image to calculate the motion of the groove and determine what sound would actually be played. It’s all done with an algorithm on a computer, never having to touch the recording in the process.

Haber has collaborated with archivists and researchers around the world to test IRENE on a variety of audio recordings. The Smithsonian has about 200 experimental recordings from Volta Laboratory Associates, a collection of some of the earliest audio recordings ever made. It is “a reflection on the intense competition between (Alexander Graham) Bell, Thomas Edison and Emile Berliner for patents following the invention of the phonograph by Edison in 1877.”

Little-Lamb-glass-plate-no-3-analysis
A glass disc recording from Bell’s Volta Lab containing the audio of a male voice repeating “Mary had a little lamb.” Photo: The Smithsonian

Now, in collaboration with the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress, IRENE has started to recover these fragile recordings made out of rubber, beeswax, glass, tin foil and brass. The cryptic recordings on such delicate and damaged storage mediums can presently be heard, over a century later:

Early experimental recordings are not the only recovered lost voices. Anthropologists, linguists and ethnographers were among some of the first to use recording as a research tool and to document cultural heritage. IRENE has restored some of these field recordings, including wax cylinders from the Alfred L. Kroeber collection at the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology in Berkeley. There are over 3,000 cylinder recordings in the collection that document California Native American culture from 01900-01919. Around 300 of these cylinders are 2-3 minute long recordings of Ishi, the only surviving member of the Yahi at the time. 53 of the 300 cylinders are Ishi telling the story of the “Wood Duck” in 01912.

Earlier this month Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History received a $1 million grant from the Arcadia Fund to digitize its endangered-language materials, including the estimated 3,000 hours of sound recordings. The recordings will then be electronically available to the public through the Smithsonian’s catalog system:

Digitization of these materials within the NAA (National Anthropological Archives) will give both scholars and local communities new access to documentation of endangered languages and cultural knowledge about threatened environments around the world, ranging from southern California to small Micronesian atolls.

In September 02010, The Library of Congress released the first comprehensive study on a national level examining the preservation of sound recordings in the United States. It found that many historical recordings have already deteriorated or are inaccessible to the public due to their experimental and fragile nature.

“Those audio cassettes are just time bombs,” the study’s co-author Sam Brylawski said. “They’re just not going to be playable.”

But maybe this is not the case after all. Perhaps Haber has taken upon an archaeological endeavor that postpones the detonation of media “time bombs.” It comes back to Kevin Kelly’s idea of movage. Haber has taken big technological steps to digitally play these long-lost analog voices, now the key is to keep on moving.

Wake up, Rosetta!

Posted on Monday, December 16th, 02013 by Austin Brown
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Almost ten years ago, the European Space Agency launched a probe with the goal of approaching and studying a comet. The probe was named Rosetta because, just as the Rosetta Stone allowed historians to piece together an ancient language and unlock a great deal of human history, the Rosetta probe will give us a better understanding of comets than we’ve ever had and possibly help us unlock a great deal of our solar system’s history.

The ESA invited Long Now to include one of our Rosetta Disks (in early prototype form at the time) on the probe. The Rosetta mission, therefore, serves a second purpose (after its comet research) as an off-world archive of several thousand human languages.

In search of its target, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, Rosetta performed several slingshot fly-bys of our solar system’s inner planets, the last of which happened in 02009.

Rosetta has been in hibernation mode ever since, speeding its way toward Comet 67P. It needs to wake up in January to begin preparing for its August rendezvous and the ESA wants some help rousing it:

In a competition that opens today, ESA invites you to mark this important milestone in the Rosetta mission by sharing a video clip of you shouting “Wake up, Rosetta!”

You can upload your video clip and share it with the world via ESA’s dedicated Facebook page.

Be creative and imaginative – you can include friends, family, colleagues, members of your team, social clubs, and school groups, or even put together a flash mob to create a memorable video shout.

Creators of the two most popular videos will get to watch the Rosetta probe drop a lander named Philae onto the comet from mission control in Germany! Details and how to enter. You can keep up with the Rosetta mission on Facebook and Twitter.

The Heirlooms of Language Through Temporary Tattoos and a Nickel Disk

Posted on Wednesday, October 23rd, 02013 by Catherine Borgeson
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On Saturday October 19, 02013, Long Now participated in Exploratorium Market Days—a series of free, outdoor “mini-festivals” geared to educate the public through the science and art communities and museums. The theme of the month was “Heirlooms,” which focused on the “diverse treasures that we preserve and pass along to future generations.”

Together the Rosetta and PanLex Project staff presented the intangible culture of language in a very tangible way—the Rosetta Disk and temporary tattoos.

The PanLex Project is building an enormous database with the goal of translating all of the words of all of the world’s languages. They created an interface to this database where people could either choose from a list of commonly-used words in tattoos, such as “patience” or “victory,” or enter one of their own choice.

The next screen listed all the translations of that word in the PanLex database, sometimes for hundreds of languages. People were captivated at looking through the list and deciding which language to print their tattoo in. For some, the deciding factor was an interesting script, or because only a handful of people spoke that language. For others it was a language they themselves spoke and personally connected with.

In addition to the PanLex and Rosetta Project staff, Exploratorium Explainers helped run the booth. These are a diverse group of high school students interested in learning new things while explaining and helping others in the process.

Market Day 1

Market Day 2

Market Day 3

On a more permanent role of archiving and preserving languages, the Rosetta Disk was also on display. A steady stream of people viewed the micro-etched languages with a microscope throughout the day.

Market Day 4 Market Day 5

Market Day 6 Market Day 7

Exploratorium’s Director of Public Programs Melissa Alexander invited Long Now to participate in Market Day. She wanted people to get a sense of the vast amount of languages while understanding that like many species, languages are endangered and are disappearing from the planet regularly.

“I had a Ray Bradbury moment–I wanted everyone to learn how to say hello, please & thank you and welcome in at least one endangered language. Loved the setup and clearly our Explainers did too–if our Explainers like it, it’s golden–teenagers are great thermometers.”

Rosetta and PanLex Projects at Exploratorium Market Days 10/19/13

Posted on Thursday, October 17th, 02013 by Austin Brown
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MarketDays

This Saturday October the 19th, Rosetta and PanLex Project staff will be at the Exploratorium’s final Market Days event of this year. The Exploratorium has been holding these free, outdoor events in the spirit of “exchanging fresh ideas on local phenomena.” Saturday’s theme is Heirlooms and Rosetta and PanLex will showcase our planet’s diverse linguistic stock.

Come to the Rosetta / PanLex Project booth where you can:

  • Learn about the thousands of languages spoken around the world, why many of them are endangered, and why this is important for everybody.
  • Learn how you can make and archive language recordings that document the languages used in your family, classroom and community.
  • Use the PanLex tattoo generator to make a temporary tattoo using words from thousands of languages around the world.
  • See a real Rosetta Disk – an archive of thousands of the world’s languages that read with a microscope, and can hold in the palm of your hand.

The event runs from 11:00am to 3:00pm at the Exploratorium’s new location at Pier 15.

PanLex hits a billion translations

Posted on Wednesday, October 2nd, 02013 by Jonathan Pool
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The PanLex project of The Long Now Foundation, which is building a database of words and phrases in the world’s languages, has recently passed the one-billion-translation mark. That means there are now over a billion pairs of words or phrases, such as “clock” in English and “ঘড়ী” in Assamese, that PanLex records as attested translations of each other. The translations are derived from publications collected from around the world.

Beyond these billion attested translations, it is possible to infer others from longer paths of translations. For example, the number of pairs shoots up from 1 billion to 30 billion if we include translations at distance 2, namely translations of translations.  The longer the path, the greater the number, and the lower the reliability, of translations.

Because counting up these totals would overload the PanLex servers, we have estimated them using a random sample of 3,000 words and phrases.  The figures below show that as more words and phrases are added to the sample the estimates of distance­ 1 and distance­ 2 translations become more stable.

distance1

 

 


distance2

 

The main goal of the PanLex database is to make it possible ultimately to translate any word or phrase in any language into any other language on Earth. With about 7,000 languages, and assuming an average of 100,000 words and phrases per language, there should eventually be about 2.5 trillion translation pairs available from PanLex. Project participants don’t hope to reach this total on their own. Instead, they plan to provide their data to researchers who will develop increasingly effective methods of automatically inferring unattested translations from networks of attested ones.

Forgotten Dictionaries of Indigenous Australian Languages Rediscovered

Posted on Friday, September 13th, 02013 by Austin Brown
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Indigenous map 1940

Of the 145 indigenous languages spoken on the Australian continent, 110 are in danger of extinction, but a linguistics professor at the University of Sydney recently discovered a trove of documents that may help Australians better understand and preserve this diversity.

It started with just a pair of small notebooks from the 19th century. Michael Walsh stumbled across them in the New South Wales State Library and quickly realized they contained a handwritten dictionary of an Australian Indigenous language. The document was news to Walsh and lead him to dig deeper into the library’s archives. After two years’ worth of research, he came away with new (old) data on over 100 Australian languages, many no longer spoken. The find is a huge boon to the understanding of Australia’s linguistic history and diversity.

These documents, collected in part to harvest knowledge amid attempts to exert control on Australia’s Indigenous population, will now help to preserve that culture.

(The Guardian)

A New Dimension (or Two?) for Long-Term Data Storage

Posted on Friday, July 26th, 02013 by Charlotte Hajer
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A group of scientists at the University of Southampton is pushing the frontier of long-term data storage technology to a new level. At a recent Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics in San José, the researchers announced their success at recording data in quartz glass by using a femtosecond laser.

A femtosecond, or ultrafast, laser sends out a quadrillion (that’s a 1 with 15 zeros) pulses per second. When focused on a piece of quartz glass, these photon bullets shift the structuring of atoms in the silica, creating what are called nanostructures. The presence of nanostructures changes the way light travels through the quartz, which means they can be ‘read’ by an optical microscope.

Taking advantage of this fact, these Southampton researchers figured out how to use an ultrafast laser to deliberately place nanostructured dots within the quartz glass. A configuration of dots can thereby become five-dimensional code, conveying meaning through its spatial position within the quartz (dimensions one, two, and three), as well as the size and directional orientation of the dot (dimensions four and five). Using this ‘code’, the research team successfully recorded a 300 kb digital text file into a piece of quartz glass, in the form of a holographic ‘image’ of dots that can be read with an optical microscope fitted with a polarizing filter.

Silica quartz is attractive as a base for very long-term storage because, like sapphire or nickel, it is strong and resistant to high temperatures up to 1000° Celsius. The Southampton research team claims that quartz glass could last for a million years:

“It is thrilling to think that we have created the first document which will likely survive the human race, said Peter Kazansky, professor of physical optoelectronics at the Univ. of Southampton’s Optical Research Centre. “This technology can secure the last evidence of civilization: all we’ve learnt will not be forgotten.”

Beyond the strength of its material, the potential of this new technology lies in the nano-scale of its encoding: at that order of magnitude (or microtude, if you will), the researchers suggest, a single piece of quartz could hold more than 350 terabytes of data. If this technology can be translated into a real-world utility, the researchers claim this new form of data storage

“… could be highly useful for organizations with big archives. At the moment companies have to back up their archives every five to ten years because hard-drive memory has a relatively short lifespan,” says [principal investigator Jingyu Zhang]. “Museums who want to preserve information or places like the national archives where they have huge numbers of documents, would really benefit.”

Memory of Mankind

Posted on Wednesday, May 29th, 02013 by Austin Brown
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plakette

Among the photos on your walls, the art you’ve created, the things you’ve written or read – is there something you’d like to preserve for history? Something that you think deserves to be beheld by future generations, either for their edification or amusement?

An Austrian project is offering a means to accomplish this by way of burying clay tablets of your design into a salt mine. Memory of Mankind will etch words or photographs into clay. They produce two copies of each tablet. You get one and the other is buried inside Halstatt’s salt mine. If you’d like, your design can also be shared in the online version of the archive.

Almost half of the world’s languages are endangered

Posted on Wednesday, April 17th, 02013 by Austin Brown
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endlang

On the blog of Long Now’s Rosetta Project, intern Karin Wiecha describes the recently published findings of a major linguistics research effort:

ELCat uses the metaphor of biodiversity to illustrate the gravity of the loss of an entire language family: If we compare the extinction of a language to the extinction of an animal species, the death of a language family would equal the loss of a whole branch of the animal kingdom, for example all felines.[4] We know of a hundred language families that have gone extinct over the course of history – 24% of the world’s linguistic diversity. But the fact that 28 of them have gone extinct over the relatively short time span of the last 50 years is symptomatic of the accelerated rate of language loss we are experiencing in recent times.

The Endangered Languages Catalogue (ELCat) “aims to compile a comprehensive up-to-date catalogue on all languages considered to be in danger.” At the 3rd International Conference on Language Documentation & Conservation (ICLDC 3) earlier in 02013, ELCat’s director presented several years’ worth of research, including the above facts.

Beyond those that we’ve already lost, ELCat has found that 457 languages – almost 10% of humanity’s living languages – are spoken by just 10 or fewer people and are on the brink of extinction, while 3,176 – almost half – are endangered. In fact, ELCat puts the current rate of linguistic extinction at about one language every three months.

Learn more, including what people are doing about it, on the Rosetta Blog.