November 2012 Archives

Best 20 web fonts

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The AWWWARDS site has a list of best 20 web fonts. Web typography is a little far afield from this blog's usual topics, but I figure it's close enough.

Semi-finished casting products

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In addition to being amused by the phrase “semi-finished casting products,“ I like (and hadn't encountered before) a couple of the specific names of such products:

billet
“a length of metal [like a filled-in tube] that has a round or square cross-section” that's less than 36 square inches in area.
bloom
A billet with a cross-section bigger than 36 square inches.

Typo generator

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Researchers at U. Penn have created software that generates typos. Give it a phrase, and it will generate a list of variants on that phrase, featuring things like missing letters, doubled letters, and so on. I'm not sure whether they specifically focus on typos that real people would make while typing (for example, substituting letters that are adjacent on a keyboard in a given language), but either way, I'm amused by the idea.

In addition to being cute, the code has search-relevant implications; website owners can use it to generate likely misspellings of search queries, in order to catch traffic from people who misspell their queries. I obviously don't advocate using this for black-hat SEO, but it seems to me that it has legitimate uses for white-hat SEO.

Modes of persuasion

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I have no training and but little skill in rhetoric, but I find the bits of it that I've seen fascinating, especially the names for things.

I recently learned that there are traditionally three modes of persuasion: ethos, pathos, and logos.

Every time I see that list, I can't help thinking “And d'Artagnan!”

(I now see that Vardibidian made the same joke in a blog-entry title a year ago, but subtly enough that I didn't get it at the time. I imagine there've been many other renditions of this joke over the years, but this one is mine.)

On a side note, this entry is an example of the Indexing Problem, in that if you were to do a search for [musketeers] on my site, this entry wouldn't come up. Well, now it will, 'cause I just mentioned it. Is there a name for the rhetorical device of using metacommentary about search issues to add a keyword to a page? Maybe we need a new glossary of computational rhetoric.

(“Online rhetoric” would probably be a more accurate term for what I'm talking about, but the phrase “computational rhetoric” is too appealing to pass up.)

Daisy: 50 years of song synthesis

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I got curious about why HAL 9000 sings “Daisy” (actual song title: “Daisy Bell) in 2001.

It turns out that it's because Arthur C. Clarke saw a 1962 Bell Labs demo of an IBM 704 singing “Daisy”.

That wasn't the first electronic speech synthesis; the Voder was invented in the 1930s. But the Bell Labs demo may've been the first electronically generated singing.

I wonder what led the Bell people to pick that particular song. I especially wonder whether it's because Daisy's last name in the song is Bell.

YouTube has an audio recording of the demo, accompanied for some reason by a still image made to look like an old movie. The voice doesn't start until a minute in. It's pretty good speech synthesis; not as good as, say, Siri, or Google's synthesized voices, but not as much worse as I would've expected, given that it was fifty years ago.

Speaking of which: in response to the query “sing me a song,” Siri will recite the beginning of the chorus of “Daisy”—but won't actually sing it. So fifty years on, we still don't have singing computers in daily life. Another failure of living in the future, like jetpacks and aircars. I'll have to console myself by listening to the Dictionaraoke version of “Video Killed the Radio Star” again.

(Nitpicky number details: The YouTube video says the demo took place in 1961 (rather than 1962) and was on an IBM 7094 (rather than 704). I tend to believe the Bell Labs official website over a random YouTube video, but I don't know for sure. Also, Wikipedia says that the 7094 wasn't introduced until 1962; if that's true, then the video can't be right about both the year and the model number. But I haven't actually researched any of these numbers.)

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