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Category: Language

Re-experience the process of learning to read AND prevent spies from stealing your secrets!

Background:

Once you know how to read, it’s impossible to see text the same way as you did before—you will inescapably recognize the symbols as letters the instant that you see them.

The issue:

This “automatic” parsing of written language makes it easy to forget how much effort was required to initially learn how to read. This inhibits people’s ability to empathize with children and second-language learners as they acquire literacy.

Proposal:

In order to let you remember what it was like to not be able to read, this hypothetical browser plug-in will simply change all web fonts to an illiteracy-simulating “dingbats” font (Figure 1).

1-shogun.png

Fig. 1: With the “Wingdings” font replacing the standard web page font, every Internet site becomes totally incomprehensible, letting you re-experience the lack of ability to read. In order to obtain proficiency with this new alphabet, a user would need to learn 26 lower-case letters, 26 upper-case letters, ~10 punctuation marks, and 10 digits, for a grand total of ~70–80 symbols.

Note that the new “letters” actually do directly correspond to the letters of the English alphabet, so you could hypothetically re-experience the alphabet-learning experience by using this plugin.

2-japan.png

Fig. 2: Here is what a block of English text might look like to someone who is totally unfamiliar with Latin letters.

3-blue.png

Fig. 3: The importance of heraldry and easily-understood symbols is more evident when you cannot read!

4-crop.png

Fig. 4: This approximates what a medieval peasant would have experienced reading a manuscript about the Hundred Year’s War. Note how much more important the images seem when you can’t read the text.

Secret bonus feature:

If you set your browser to a “dingbats” font and actually learn how to read it, then you’ll be able to thwart spies who try to read your screen over your shoulder. The CIA should mandate that all of its laptops be set to this custom font mode.

Conclusion:

If you want to remember what it was like before you could read, you should set your browser font to Wingdings or another “dingbats” font.

PROS: Increases ability to empathize with people learning to read. Makes it difficult for spies to read your secrets.

CONS: Your browser might get stuck in this mode, and then you’d have to learn a totally new (yet almost completely useless) alphabet.

P.S. You can also experience this phenomenon by just going to a Wikipedia page in a language you can’t read. Try one of these: https://or.wikipedia.org/, https://am.wikipedia.org/ , or https://si.wikipedia.org/ (unless you somehow read all three, which is exceptionally unlikely).

Stop living in barbaric savagery with the English words “left” and “right.” Ascend to the next level of consciousness and realize your new potential with this new secret wisdom only for the most enlightened individuals.

The issue:

People often confuse the directions “left” and “right.”

Additionally, “right” can additionally mean “correct,” which leads to the exchange:

  • “Should I turn left here?”
  • “Right.”

This is stupid and must be fixed if English is going to remain competitive with the world’s top languages, like Esperanto (Figure 1) and Loglan.

 

esperanto-even-has-a-flag.png

Fig. 1: Whoa, Esperanto has its own flag, it must be pretty popular!

1-LR

Fig. 2: These words are bad for indicating directions. If you use them, please take a moment to feel bad about it.

Proposal:

Instead of using random words like “left” or “right,” let’s use some words that inherently have left-right properties to them.

In English, the alphabet always comes in this order

  • A B C D … W X Y Z

The leftmost letter (or a similar word) can be the new word for “left,” and likewise with the rightmost letter.

So “left” becomes can become “Aa,” which is actually already a Scrabble word (among other options, this one: Aa). It could be pronounced either with the a in “bat” (aa-aa) or the a in “law” (ah-ah). Or a combination, like “aa-ah.”

“Right” will then become “Zz,” which is, obviously, pronounced “zi-zuh,” as if you extended the end of the word “pizza.”

2-AZ

Fig. 3: “Ah-ah” / “Aa-aa” and “zi-zuh” are inherently superior to “left” and “right.”

Alternative option:

An alternative option would be to pick a multi-syllabic word that everyone knows, and use the left part of that word as “left” and the right part of that word as “right.”

Plenty of words would be suitable, but here are two proposals (Figures 4 and 5):

3-alfa

Fig. 4: “Alfa” or “alpha” for left and “bet” or “beta” for right might be acceptable and easy to remember.

 

4-aardvark

Fig. 5: The best word is clearly “aardvark,” which splits cleanly into “aard” and “vark.” These new words have the advantage of being extremely distinct from each other and not colliding with any existing English words.

See how difficult this ORIGINAL English exchange is:

  • DRIVER: “Should I turn left at the next intersection?”
  • PASSENGER: “Right. Then once there’s no road left, right.”

Q: Which way should the car go? But see how much clearer it becomes with our new and improved words:

  • DRIVER: “Should I turn aard at the next intersection?”
  • PASSENGER: “Right. Then once there’s no road left, vark.”

PROS: Totally unambiguous directions will now be possible, saving millions of car crashes and disasters every day.

CONS: Some old-fashioned users of “left” and “right” would need to be mercilessly ridiculed until they adopted this new system.

Erase all of written history to hide our shameful alphabet-based mistakes from the future! After reading this, you will think Fahrenheit 451 is an instruction manual.

The issue:

Latin-based writing systems—like the one your’e reading right now—have a serious problem: many letters and numbers look exactly the same!

The most obvious example (Figure 1) is probably “l” (lower-case “L”) and “I” (upper-case “i”).

Benefits:

Fixing these duplicated symbols, perhaps with the proposed new symbols in Figure 3, has a number of benefits:

  • For everyone: Prevents confusion when you wrote down someone’s email address and now can’t figure out if you wrote down a “9” or a “g.”
  • For everyone: Prevents people from trying to scam you with a fake email address from “admin@C0MPANY.COM.”
  • For people who witness vehicular crimes: Makes it easier to tell if a license plate is something like “9901IQ” or “GGO1I0.”
  • For Internet users: Prevents from picking identical-looking usernames to troll you.
  • For programmers: helps avoid errors when programming (is that variable a lower-case “L,” or is it a capital “i”).

 

 

ambiguous-1-or-L

Fig. 1: These three extremely common symbols all look identical in many fonts and styles of handwriting. Bottom: an unambiguous form of that symbol. Top: a common way of writing the symbol shown on the bottom.

 

 

ambiguous-part-2

Fig. 2: A more comprehensive list of letters that are potentially confusable (although they may have subtle distinctions). The “0” and “O” and “9 / g” are probably the next-worst offenders, after the 1/I/l triplet described in Figure 1. The “7 vs 1” confusion is regional; in some European countries: the “1” is more often written with a substantial diagonal stroke, which makes the 7’s cross-bar more important. In America, the 7 is rarely written with a cross-bar, since the 1 usually has only a minor (or nonexistent) diagonal stroke.

ambiguous-letters-fixed

Fig. 3: A comprehensive proposal for replacing potentially-ambiguous symbols, with examples.

 

PROS: Helps avoid many common errors! Maybe helps dyslexics? In order to gain traction for this plan, we shall claim that it does, without any evidence.

CONS: Requires that all old books be burned and old monuments be reduced to rubble, so no one is confused by the old letters.

The secret of SMART JUSTIFIED columns of text. This strange formatting tip will make ONE HUNDRED TIMES more employers look at your resume! Stop formatting your resume so amateurishly, and await your reward of gold and rubies from your future employer.

Background:

Columns of text in a book or newspaper are generally formatted in the fully justified style (Figure 1), where the text always lines up exactly on both the left and right edges.

justify-text-icon

Fig. 1: The “justify text” button (circled in red) can be found in nearly every text editor.

The issue:

Justified text works well if columns are wide and there are a lot of words to fill out each line.

But it becomes aesthetically dubious if the columns are narrow or there aren’t enough words, which result in either:

  • Extremely wide spaces between words if there are too few words (example: “this______column”)

or

  • Excessive spacing between letters if there is only one word (example: “c__o__l__u__m__n”)

In the worst-case scenario, a column of text may look like:

  • This____is_____a
  • n__a__r__r__o__w
  • c__o__l__u__m__n.

See figure 2 for a comparison of fully-justified text and ragged-edge (flush left) text.

justify-text-heres-the-problem.png

Fig. 2: Part A (left) shows a few problems with fully-justified text: “the age of” has excessive spacing and the between-letter spacing in “w i s d o m” is aesthetically questionable. Unfortunately, the ragged edge of the text in part B (formatted as “flush left / ragged right”) is not a huge improvement either.

Previously, a publisher would at least know how wide a column of text would be, so they could manually adjust the text to fit in an aesthetically-appealing fashion.

But with modern web pages and e-books, font sizes and column widths can be changed by the user—so there’s no way for a publisher to plan around it.

Proposal:

This problem can be fixed by using semantically-aware SMART justification to make each line of text an optimal length.

This is accomplished as follows:

If a line of text is too short, it can be lengthened by the following steps:

  • Add meaningless filler words (e.g. “um,” “like,” “basically,” “you know”)
  • Add superfluous adjectives (like “very” or “extremely”)
  • Replace words with longer synonyms (e.g. “rain -> precipitation”—this can also be used in reverse to shorten a line)
  • Replace pronounces with their antecedent (e.g. “her scepter” -> “Queen Elizabeth’s scepter”)

Figure 3 shows the performance of each method of text justification. The “meaning-aware SMART justification” is the only method that avoids ragged edges while also keeping a fixed amount of whitespace between words.

justify-text-annotated

Fig. 3: Left: a traditional example of fully-justified text. Middle: flush-left text, with an unappealing ragged right edge. Right: the vastly improved “smart” justification method, which has been recently made possible by advances in computational technology and machine learning.

Application of this method to famous books:

  • Original: “But man is not made for defeat,” he said. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” (The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway)
  • Modified with superfluous filler words and synonyms:  “But man is, generally, not made for defeat,” he stated. “Basically, a man can be destroyed but, as you know, not forced to surrender.” 

 

  • Original: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” (1984, Orwell)
  • Modified:  “War is peace. Additionally, the state of freedom is slavery. Finally, in conclusion, ignorance is strength, it must be admitted.”

 

  • Original: “In general, people only ask for advice that they may not follow it; or, if they should follow it, that they may have somebody to blame for having given it”.” (The Three Musketeers, Dumas)
  • Modified: “In general, people only make a request for suggestions, that those same people may not abide by it. Or, if they should in fact follow it, that those people may have somebody to blame or hold responsible for having given it”.” 

 

PROS: This is the ONLY text-formatting method that both 1) preserves inter-word spacing AND 2) aligns text in neat columns.

CONS: None!

Programmers love this one weird trick to handle Unicode characters without any complexity! “Visual-literation” replaces the old-fashioned way of transliteration. Watch as linguists wail mournfully at the years they wasted trying to transliterate sounds between alphabets!

The issue:

Many computers are unable to handle letters that don’t fall into the set of Latin characters used by English.

Even though the Unicode standard has greatly improved multi-character-set accessibility, problems still arise:

  • A character might not exist in a chosen font. For example, “Egyptian Hieroglyph of a bird catching a fish” is probably not available in Comic Sans.
  • Systems may be unable to cope with characters that look exactly the same (“homoglyphs”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homoglyph).
    • For example, “Latin A” and “Cyrillic A” look identical, but have different underlying Unicode codes.
    • So an email from “YOUR BANK.COM” might actually be from a different site, with an imposter letter “A” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IDN_homograph_attack).
    • (This is an issue in English as well, with 0 (zero) versus O (capital “o”) and “I / l / 1” (capital i, lower-case L, numeral 1).)
  • Systems may not allow certain letters for certain situations; for example, if your username is “Linear B ‘stone wheel’ + Mayan jaguar glyph,” it is extremely unlikely that you will have an easy time logging into your user account.

The current failure mode is usually to display a blank rectangle instead, which is unhelpful.

Proposal:

Instead, we can use a sophisticated image-recognition system to map each letter from every language onto one or more Latin characters (Fig. 1).

Usually, this is called transliteration (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transliteration). But in this case, rather than using the sound of a symbol to convert it, we are using the symbol’s visual appearance, so it’s more like “visual-literation.”

easy-vs-hard

Fig. 1: With a limited character set, it may be easy to display the “Å” as  “A”, or “ñ” as “n.” But it’s unclear what should be done with the Chinese character at the bottom, which isn’t similar to any specific Latin letter.

more-abstract

Fig. 2:

Top: Image analysis reveals that the Chinese character (meaning “is”) can be most closely matched to the Latin capital “I.” Bottom: The Greek capital “∏” (pi) is disassembled into two Ts.

Some letters actually do somewhat resemble their Latin-ized versions (like “∏” as “TT”). However, some mappings are slightly less immediately obvious (Fig 3).

highly-unrelated

Fig. 3: Many complex symbols can—with a great degree of squinting—be matched to multi-letter strings.

Conclusion:

Linguists will love this idea, which forever solves the problem of representing multiple character sets using only the very limited Latin letters.

PROS: Gives every word in every language an unambiguous mapping to a set of (26*2) = 52 Latin letters.

CONS: Many symbols may map to the same end result (for example, “I” could be the English word “I,” or it could have been a “visual-literated” version of ““).

 

letter-translation

Fig. 4: A collection of potential mappings from various symbols to an ASCII equivalent. Finally, the days of complex transliteration are over!

 

 

The secret language that they don’t want you to know: Oneglish (“1NGLISH”)—return English to its ancient roots with a new one-syllable version! Save hours every day. Also: how many syllables are in the English language, anyway? Answer: probably at least 972,465, if you believe the assumptions below!

The issue:

English has a large number of words with multiple syllables. We could save so much time if all these words were replaced with unique singlesyllable equivalents!

Proposal:

For example, in the section above, we would change the following words:

  • English -> Eng
  • number -> noim
  • multiple -> mult
  • syllable(s) –> syllb(s)
  • replace(d) -> roup(ed)
  • unique -> neek
  • single -> soing
  • equivalents(s) -> eevt(s)

The final result would be:

  • Eng has a large noim of words with mut syllbs. We could save so much time if all these words were rouped with neek soing-syllb eevts!

See Figure 1 for an illustration of how this would save time. This new language could be referred to as “Eng” or perhaps “one-glish” (or “1NGLISH”), as shown in Figure 2.

one-glish

Figure 1: The phrase “English words with multiple syllables” in normal English in blue (top) and 1NGLISH (or just “Eng”) in yellow (bottom). Note that the 1NGLISH version is approximately 25% faster to say in this totally fabricated figure.

english-one-syllable-logo-3

english-one-syllable-logo-1

Figure 2: Above: a couple of possible logos that resemble ones from a bankrupt Internet company. Effective advertisement and branding is important!

Obstacle #1: Is it feasible for large quantities of people to learn a new language?

Attempts at language reform / constructed languages have failed in the past.

For example, Esperanto (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esperanto) never really took off.

But, there are a couple of successes worth pointing out here:

Obstacle #2: Are there even enough syllables for this to work?

How many possible syllables are there in the English Language?

Answer: a lot.

Depending on who you believe, there are around ~30 distinct vowel sounds and ~60 distinct possible consonants. A list with pronunciations is, as you might expect, available on Wikipedia:

However, a lot of these are almost indistinguishable to an English speaker. I have pared a list down to:

  • 23 vowels
  • 23 consonants
  • (This doesn’t include things like “clicks” and other possible sounds that aren’t used normally in English.)

English apparently supports the following configurations of syllables: (V = Vowel, c = consonant)

Commonly supported configurations of vowels and consonants:

  • V (just a vowel sound and nothing else, like “Aye” or “Oh”)
  • Vc (e.g. “am, it, on“)
  • cV (e.g. “ma, he“)
  • Vcc
  • cVc
  • ccV
  • Vccc (“oinks“)
  • cVcc (“lamp“)
  • ccVc (“plan“)
  • ccV (“spray“)
  • ccVcc (“plank“)

There are also some more-suspect configurations that occasionally work, such as:

  • cVccc (“balks,”)
  • ccVcccc (“glimpsed“)

And things that theoretically could make words, but don’t seem to actually have examples:

  • cccVcccc (“spranksts” <– not a word, but it has a valid pronunciation)

For the sake of argument, we’ll restrict ourselves to the “commonly supported” list above.

If we make the conservative assumption that there are only 15 “valid” vowels / consonants at each position (instead of the full list of 23), we end up with the following number of possibilities for each vowel/consonant configuration:

  • V, 15
  • Vc, 225
  • cV, 225
  • Vcc, 3,375
  • cVc, 3,375
  • ccV, 3,375
  • Vccc, 50,625
  • cVcc, 50,625
  • ccVc, 50,625
  • cccV, 50,625
  • ccVcc, 759,375

Adding these up, we get a total of 972,465 single-syllable utterances that would be recognized as a potentially valid English word.

Since the Oxford English Dictionary only contains < 200,000 words that are in current use (plus another ~50,000 obsolete words), there is more than enough space for every even remotely plausibly useful English word to be replaced by a totally unique single-syllable equivalent.

This will save a TON of time in communication!

Testing: Real-world speed of English vs 1NGLISH:

The testing process is as follows:

  1. A phrase is chosen
  2. The phrase is said TWICE, with a 0.4 second pause between repetitions
  3. The total time of both phrases AND the pause is measured
  4. Example: if a phrase takes exactly 1.0 seconds to say once, then it would have a score of 2.4 seconds here (2.4 = 1.0 + 1.0 + 0.4)

Below are four totally normal sentences, before and after the 1NGLISH-ification process, along with their waveforms.

Example of how 1NGLISH shortens a sentence #1:

ENGLISH: “Observing this brutalist architecture gives me heart palpitations. Please survey the lobby for defibrillators!”

  • 10.35 seconds to say twice

1NGLISH: “Ob this brulj arzsk gives me heart paln. Please saiv the lorb for drenb.”

  • 9.03 seconds to say twice (87% as long)

1 Observing this brutalist architecture gives me heart palpitations. Please survey the lobby for defibrillators.png

Example of how 1NGLISH shortens a sentence #2:

ENGLISH: “Reprehensible scoundrels have absconded with my assortment of petit fours!”

  • 7.09 seconds to say twice

1NGLISH: “Raibl scraid have abdr with my sote of payt fours.”

  • 5.31 seconds to say twice (75% as long)

2 Reprehensible scoundrels have absconded with my assortment of petit fours.png

Example of how 1NGLISH shortens a sentence #3:

ENGLISH: “Librarian, I request the seventh treatise on philology from the bookshelf.”

  • 7.93 seconds to say twice

1NGLISH: “Laib, I rerqt the sev tront on phrend from the bornf.”

  • 6.47 seconds (82% as long)

3 Librarian, I request the seventh treatise on philology from the bookshelf.png

Example of how 1NGLISH shortens a sentence #4:

ENGLISH: “In Parliament, the foreign plenipotentiary negotiates with the defense minister.”

  • 8.01 seconds to say twice

1NGLISH: “In Parlt, the frnai plort nairt with the deif marne.”

  • 5.53 seconds to say twice (69% as long)

4 In Parliament, the foreign plenipotentiary negotiates with the defense minister.png

Conclusions:

For the four sentences tested above, we see a (roughly) 20–30% improvement in speed.

That’s called SCIENCE.

english-one-syllable-logo-2

Figure 3: 1NGLISH will need to demonstrate its superiority in order to convince people to learn it!

PROS: Speeds up your verbal communications—and perhaps also typing speed—by approximately 25%.

CONS: None! It’s the ultimate language. Learn it now!

Obsolete password requirements cost over 50 billion dollars in lost productivity per year—solve the problem forever with these new password requirements!

Background:

You’re probably familiar with web sites that have very particular password requirements:

  • “Your password must contain a number, capital letter, and special character.”
  • “Your password must contain the name of a Triple Crown-winning horse.”
  • “Your password cannot contain your username.”

The purpose of these requirements is usually to either:

  1. Require that the password not be instantly guessable by hackers
  2. Require that the password be specific to a particular web site. Although this is quite rare, it does exist. For example, a bank could require that “$” appear in a password four times, which would prevent you from re-using your other passwords. (This is the same principle used by colleges that have weird essay prompts, preventing an individual from re-using other essays.)

The issue:

There are relatively few variants of these requirements, and they are all extremely unimaginative.

For example, the password pa#ss@W0rd can probably be used on most sites—so when one of them gets hacked, your bank account will be imperiled!

Three proposals:

The following proposals are for more creative methods of enforcing unique passwords (which generally would not be usable between sites).


password-angular

Figure 1 / Proposal 1: Require that CURVED letters and ANGULAR letters alternate in the password. Very straightforward!

Font nerd bonus feature: See bonus figure A (at bottom) for more details about the degree to which this property depends on the specific font you are using.


password-symbols

Figure 2 / Proposal 2: Require that a password contain a number, letter, Chinese character (light blue), Devanagari syllable (purple) Greek letter (dark blue), and accented letter (orange). Those specific character sets are arbitrary, so different users could be given different language requirements. There is no shortage of options: there are ~32 character sets for currently-written languages in the current Unicode build plus approximately 100 historical scripts no longer in standard use.

Downside to this method: If you got really unlucky, your password might require the following: an Egyptian hieroglyph, Chinese obsolete seal-script character, Sumero-Akkadian cuneiform mark, and linear B symbol. Probably you should just register a new user account at that point. If you got incredibly unlucky, the site might even require a script that is not in Unicode yet (perhaps Maya glyphs). In that case, presumably you would have to draw (or carve) the appropriate Maya glyph and upload a picture with your cell phone camera.


password-line

Figure 3 / Proposal 3: Require that a password solve a certain type of visual puzzle. In this case, we require that a continuous line be drawn through all the symbols (this is shown as a yellow highlight).

Downside to this method: this puzzle would be extremely font-specific; the “p -> c” line and “c -> 6” line are a bit questionable even here.


Conclusion:

If you run a web site, you should change your obsolete password requirements immediately!

PROS: Makes password re-use between sites impossible.

CONS: Probably you’ll use a password manager and then it will get hacked and/or you’ll forget the master password.

futura

Bonus Fascinating Typeface Fun Fact Figure A: As a surprising feature of English typography, curved-and-non-curved letters (which are important to distinguish in the “curved vs angular” proposal in Figure 1) are consistent among nearly all non-handwriting fonts.

For example, a capital “M” is nearly always 4 straight lines, whereas a lower-case “m” is almost always two curved arches. The only counterexample I found in a non-exotic font was that a lower-case “j” is normally curved, but it is completely straight in the font “Futura.”  Futura is one of the few not-totally-a-gimmick fonts that defies the conservation-of-letter-curve.