Translation Software Used to Crack Old Code

Computer scientists from Sweden and the United States have applied modern-day, statistical translation techniques to decode a 250-year old secret message. According to a write-up at Ars Technica:

The original document, nicknamed the Copiale Cipher, was written in the late 18th century and found in the East Berlin Academy after the Cold War. It’s since been kept in a private collection, and the 105-page, slightly yellowed tome has withheld its secrets ever since.

But this year, University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering computer scientist Kevin Knight—an expert in translation, not so much in cryptography—and colleagues Beáta Megyesi and Christiane Schaefer of Uppsala University in Sweden, tracked down the document, transcribed a machine-readable version and set to work cracking the centuries-old code.

Some Possible Revisions to Generative Linguistics

While the Ars Technica article is rather superficial, and assumes that the work of several generation of linguists is rather easily overthrown, the research written up is quite interesting:

By treating language features like subject-verb order as a trait, the authors were able to perform this sort of analysis on four different language families: 79 Indo-European languages, 130 Austronesian languages, 66 Bantu languages, and 26 Uto-Aztecan languages. Although we don’t have a complete roster of the languages in those families, they include over 2,400 languages that have been evolving for a minimum of 4,000 years.

The results, according to the article itself: “most observed functional dependencies between traits are lineage-specific rather than universal tendencies.”

The Slow Wheel of Time

Yes, I work at an university, and so you would think that I’m some variety of liberal and that all my colleagues are liberals. At least that’s what some of the commentators on Fox News or on various radio shows would have you believe. The truth is that university faculty and staff come in about as wide a range of political persuasions as everyone else. It’s also the truth that university faculty and staff tend to lean toward what is considered the left in American politics. But that makes sense doesn’t it? Like teachers and nurses and police officers and firefighters they have decided that serving the public good is more important than making a lot of money. They have a different version of *richness* and *rewards*. That should be allowable, no?

At the same time that I don’t see the point in conservatives hectoring liberals, I also don’t see the point in liberals hectoring conservatives needlessly — in fact my chief concern with political discourse in our era is that it seems to be about winning and not governing.

Myself, I am a moderate with liberal leanings on social issues and conservative leanings on fiscal issues. After all, I don’t make that much money; I’d like to keep what little I have. (And, for the record, I think businesses, which are oriented toward a private good, should be regulated in view of the public good. That’s just plain old fashioned common sense.)

I am also more prone to patience and to objectivity than a lot of my friends on either side of contemporary politics, mostly because politics in our time is just that: in our time. What the future holds is sometimes beyond the reach of politics, political discourse, and politicians. This illustration from []( makes that case awfully well. What it reveals is that acceptance of gay marriage, even in the very historically conservative south, is inevitable in many ways. As older voters who are more troubled by it decline in terms of voting strength — which is a polite way of saying *die* — the younger voters will increasingly move to the so-called “left” on this particular issue, because, well, because they already are on the left on this issue according to the data on which this illustration is based.

a visual illustrating support for gay marriage by state and age