THE PRECISE WORDS FOR DIFFERENT KINDS OF BOGS. Tom Shippey begins his review thus: “At the heart of LANDMARKS…is the conviction that ‘language deficit leads to attention deficit.’ If you have no vocabulary for things, you notice them less.” This is an argument for Whorfianism, which I have posted on a number of times, including here. I acknowledged in that post that I have Whorfian tendencies—“It turns out that I believe that language can shape thought.”

Shippey cites two examples from LANDMARKS of different precise words for bogs used by the 500 people on the island of Lewis in the Scottish Hebrides. He gives the English equivalents of the Gaelic words: “quivering bog with water trapped beneath it” and “dangerous sinking bog that may be bright green or grassy.”

I don’t think I would notice these characteristics of bogs—but if I had learned the Gaelic words, I imagine I would.

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LOST FOREST WORDS. I posted here about an article by Robert Macfarlane lamenting the loss of nature words in English, as exemplified by the removal of words like “acorn” and “dandelion” from a new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary. In the Wall Street Journal (August 6-7), Tom Shippey reviewed a new book by Macfarlane: LANDMARKS. Macfarlane’s book is structured in the form of ten chapters on different kinds of terrain, each followed by a glossary of words on the subject.

Shippey lists some of the words from the chapter on forestry:

“cag” (the protruding stump of a branch), “daddock” (dead wood), “griggles” (“small apples left on the tree”), “spronky” (“having many roots”) and “slive” (the rough edge of a stump) and “snedding”. (“Snedding” is “shaving the branches off a felled tree so it can be snaked out through dense forest”.)

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SUBPUNCTING. Cameron Hunt McNabb had an article in Slate giving the history of ellipsis periods. McNabb traces them to scribes copying medieval manuscripts (and for whom erasing was difficult): “In medieval manuscripts, we find a mark—sometimes called subpuncting or underdotting—that is used to indicate the omission of a word or phrase, usually when that word or phrase has been copied erroneously.” The mark is a series of dots placed under the words which should be omitted.

Subpuncting in manuscripts fades away in the early part of the 16th century and the ellipsis increases in printed books toward the end of the 16th century. McNabb acknowledges that this timing could be coincidental, but suggests that the printers borrowed the dots to show omissions from the subpunct marks which had been used in manuscripts.

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CAT BONDS AND BLACK SWANS. About nine years ago I posted on two new developments—cat bonds and the phrase “black swan”. I posted here in August 2007 about “cat bonds”—catastrophe bonds—which were a relatively new financial instrument at the time.

Nicholas Nassim Taleb’s book THE BLACK SWAN was released on April 17, 2007 (wikipedia entry here). I first posted on Taleb’s concept of black swan events here in September 2007—one year before the Lehman bankruptcy. The Lehman bankruptcy was a paradigm of the black swan.

The connection between cat bonds and black swans is that cat bonds are well suited to provide protection against “black swan” events, which are events which have a very low probability of happening, but which will have a very large impact if they do. Cat bonds compete with reinsurance, which is how multiple insurance companies share risk by purchasing insurance policies from other insurers to limit the total loss exposure of the original insurer .

Leslie Scism and Anupreeta Das had an article in the Wall Street Journal (August 8, 2016) which says that: “Sales of cat bonds proceeded haltingly until the financial crisis” but that now cat bonds have “exploded in popularity”.

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THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF THINGS THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN. Kristin Romey’s article says that: “Critics attacked English Heritage earlier this year for “Disneyfying” Tintagel’s Arthurian connections after the charity commissioned a likeness of Merlin carved into the cliffs at the site.”

I disagree with the resistance of archaeologists to having their dig associated with King Arthur, even though he may well be mythical.

Romey says: “The association of King Arthur with Tintagel was already wildly popular in the 12th century.” This landscape was part of the legend of Arthur for hundred of years.

One of the things that archaeologists try to do is to get an idea of how people lived at a site. They try to form hypotheses about their religious beliefs and ways of thinking (consider the speculations about Stonehenge). Evidence or speculation about Arthur may not have a firm foundation at the Tintagel site in the period from 400 to 700, but Arthur had a strong association with Tintagel for hundreds of years after 1200.

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NOT LOOKING FOR KING ARTHUR. This article on the National Geographic website by Kristin Romey reports on what archaeologists hail as “an incredibly important find”. Archaeologists have begun a five year project near Tintagel in southwest England, on the coast of Cornwall. During the summer the archaeologists have found evidence of over one hundred buildings—one hundred!—which appear to date from the fifth to seventh centuries A D. The project has drawn attention because the legend of King Arthur says that Arthur was conceived at Tintagel.

The association of the site with Arthur is controversial. English Heritage commissioned a likeness of Merlin carved into the cliffs at the site, and this has been attacked as “Disneyfying”. Romey quotes one of the archaeologists on the site: “The Arthurian connection is a purely literary, legendary connection….There’s absolutely no way we would start a research project [with the goal of] looking for Arthur.”

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“QUITE HONESTLY, WE SEE THIS A LOT.” I came across the Roomba incident on the internet before I saw the Guardian article. I had imagined that this was a one of a kind event. Not so. Olivia Solon quotes a spokesman for iRobot, the company that makes the Roomba: “Quite honestly, we see this a lot.”

Not only that, the Guardian story reports on a family that this has happened to four times and another family it has happened to between 5 and 10 times.

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THE ROOMBA AND THE POOP. This article by Olivia Solon seems to be on an undignified subject for this blog, but it has a certain dignity because it is in the Guardian. A Roomba is a robot vacuum cleaner which follows a random path until all of your floor has been gone over by the Roomba. The article tells the story of a family which programs its Roomba to clean the living room floor in the middle of the night. There came a time when the family puppy had an accident in the middle of the living room. The Roomba proceeded to spread the poop with thoroughness all over the living room. The article is illustrated by a map that the home owner drew of the Roomba’s route. A phrase that is used in the article is: “every conceivable surface”.

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“10-TRILLIONTHS OF YOUR SUNTAN COMES FROM GALAXIES BEYOND THE MILKY WAY.” My first post on this blog was about how dust from the Big Bang, thirteen billion years ago, is still in our skies, causing static in our radios. Josh Hrala on the Science Alert website reports on recent research that has “accurately measured the amount of light that makes it to Earth’s surface from outside of the Milky Way….” (link via Instapundit)

The radiation is referred to as extragalactic background light. At any moment, “Earth is bombarded with about 10 billion photons of intergalactic light…. but the team says it would take you trillions of years of exposure for that amount of light to harm you….”

What I marvel at is that particles can reach earth from outside the Milky Way and that we can measure how many there are.

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BAYESIAN STATISTICS AND DENTAL FLOSS. Fumento raises another serious objection to excluding evidence of the usefulness of flossing. Excluding everything but randomized tests excludes “biological plausibility.” There isn’t much statistical evidence because “very few people have researched what is so very obvious: rotting food pressed against a mucous membrane or tooth enamel has got to be bad.”

In connection with the usefulness of breast self examination, I posted here on the major split between two schools of statisticians and wrote: “In conducting a statistical test, one grouping (‘Bayesians’) wants to include independent knowledge and beliefs; the other wants to start from scratch (‘frequentists’).”

Independent knowledge, which a Bayesian would use, would suggest that breast self examination might lead to earlier detection of breast cancer and that earlier detection might reduce mortality. That kind of independent evidence is excluded by frequentists.

Fumento quotes a dentist stating what a Bayesian might call “independent knowledge“: “People daily build up a bio-film on their teeth called plaque, which is a layer of organic matter that contains some 500 bacterial species, food debris and other substances….” It seems plausible that breaking up plaque build up with floss would be useful, but that kind of independent evidence is excluded by frequentists.

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