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Monday, April 28, 2008

Random Linguistic Fact of the Day

An affix is something in linguistics which attaches to the word it modifies. For example, the English plural suffix 's'/'es' is an affix, as shown in "books on the shelf". The suffix attaches to the word made plural - 'book'.

A clitic is something that attaches to something other than the word it modifies. An example of this in English is the possessive 's. Adding that to the previous example gives "books on the shelf's". Here, the possessive clitic is attached to 'shelf', even though the word it's actually modifying (the possessor) is 'books'.

This is the technical term for what Trique uses frequently (and I didn't know the name of until now). In Trique, personal and possessive pronouns often become clitics when following certain other types of words. Trique also uses clitic doubling, in some cases.

Friday, April 25, 2008

More Random Thoughts

Well, I've had two more random thoughts about English evolution (so far) today.

First, I realized that there is already a mechanism in common use for English to lose the past tense entirely. Figure it out, yet? I just used it. English has come to like to move auxiliary verbs ("do"/"did") before the subject in questions, e.g. "Did you figure it out, yet?" However, it's becoming common use to drop auxiliary verbs in English. This is one such case. As the auxiliary verb, not the main verb, carries the tense, this change leads to a loss of explicitly stated tense.

In the case of questions, the main verb is kept in the infinitive, which is identical in form to the present tense. Languages have a way of evolving based on analogy. It's not impossible that this could be applied to verbs in general, losing the past tense entirely (or at least a distinct form for the past tense; it's possible a periphrastic form, like "do"/"did" would then take it's place in all cases).

The third thought of the day came from me pondering the second one. This modern tendency to drop auxiliary verbs and sometimes the subject is not unique to questions. It's also applied to the perfect (e.g. "I've been" -> "Been") and the progressive (e.g. "I'm thinking" -> "Thinking"). If the latter case became the standard, the effect would basically be the same as with dropping "do"/"did". However, if the former occurred, it could result in the past participle replacing other forms, such as the perfect or past tense.

Here's where my random thought came in: the possibility of replacing the past tense is especially interesting, because it may have happened before in English. If you look back at Old English, you'll notice there are two distinct forms - past tense and past participle - for both strong verbs, which retain this distinction (verbs like "write"/"wrote"/"written"), as well as weak verbs (what became our modern regular verbs like "poke"/"poked"). The past tense for weak verbs, in Old English, was -de. Care to guess what the past participle was? It's -ed, the modern past tense suffix. In summary, the Old English part participle has become the modern English past tense form.

Random Thought of the Day

So, I was chatting with friends via instant messages, while doing some other things. I wrote the emote
*catches up on massive backlog of anime*
You might have noticed before how emotes tend to avoid the use of pronouns referring to the subject. If I had to take a guess, I'd say the reason for this is the fact that the sentence is actually first person (the speaker is also the subject), but the verb forms used refer to the third person; thus any pronoun referring to the speaker would seem out of place.

This got me thinking. While obviously omitting the subject for first-person sentences in spoken English would introduce ambiguity (as unlike in emotes, there isn't any indication that the speaker is referring to themself), in some cases, such as where the subject is the possessor of the direct object, this would not create an appreciable amount of ambiguity. Once convention takes over, you could say "He catches up on massive backlog of anime" (which is currently ungrammatical), and it would be understood that said backlog belonged to the subject. I wonder if we'll see this happen in the future.

For the skeptics, I note that this (not anything having to do with emotes, but rather the omission of the possessive pronoun) has already occurred for some nouns (especially body parts) in Spanish and Italian. For example, taken directly from one of my Spanish books, you would not say "El estudiante levantó su mano"(literally "The student raised their hand"), but simply "El estudiante levantó la mano" (literally "The student raised the hand", which is understood as belonging to the student).

Completely unrelated fact: In Indo-European languages that still have a male/female distinction for nouns, the word for "hand" is female.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Novel Method of Attack

Looks like the RIAA has just undertaken a novel new campaign against P2P.
"Are MP3s doing permanent damage to your ears?"

- sound bite in a commercial for the news, on an upcoming story. I had to stop what I was doing for a moment to convince myself that I hadn't misheard it.

Here Comes the Clue Train!

Poached from Slashdot Firehose:
Speaking at a Westminster eForum on Web 2.0 this week in London, Jim Cicconi, vice president of legislative affairs for AT&T, warned that the current systems that constitute the Internet will not be able to cope with the increasing amounts of video and user-generated content being uploaded.

"The surge in online content is at the center of the most dramatic changes affecting the Internet today," he said. "In three years' time, 20 typical households will generate more traffic than the entire Internet today."
"We are going to be butting up against the physical capacity of the Internet by 2010," he said.
Clue train says: Change happens; growth happens; why the hell have you waited this long to upgrade your network infrastructure?

Of course he then goes on to straight-out lie:
...the Internet only exists thanks to the infrastructure provided by a group of mostly private companies. "There is nothing magic or ethereal about the Internet--it is no more ethereal than the highway system. It is not created by an act of God but upgraded and maintained by private investors," he said.
The internet is paid for and maintained by the money of customers of those companies, who are the real "private investors", not the shareholders or executives like him. In some cases the internet infrastructure was even paid for directly by the government with taxpayer funds, then entrusted to private companies, who then go on to offer minimal service at maximum price by claiming they paid for what they're selling.

Q's pet peeve #5 (approximate number; lower numbers indicate higher hate): Companies who think that they can cope with the inevitable rise in demand for the internet simply by increasing overselling ratios (Comcast, etc.), blocking some types of traffic (Comcast, etc.), or charging for traffic (Rogers, etc.).

Oh, and while we're on the subject of greedy ISPs, I should note that this previous story has been recalled. The problem was found to be with a router device, not Comcast itself (this time).

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


One way of summarizing the characteristics of a given language, as well as to compare one language to another, is the index of synthesis: a measure of the degree of synthesis - the process of combining multiple units of meaning into smaller numbers of words - in a language. Thus, in other words, the index of synthesis is a measure of how much information is contained in each word.

The index of synthesis ranges from isolating to synthetic. Isolating languages contain exactly one unit of meaning per word, and adding additional meaning to some word requires adding other words that modify it. On the other end, a purely synthetic language (not known to exist), would have one word for each entire sentence.

English has been changing in favor of isolation for the last couple thousand years, and Modern English is close to the isolating end of the spectrum, with many words containing single units of meaning. Off the top of my head, I'm going to say English words other than nouns, pronouns, and verbs are isolating; for example, adjectives and prepositions contain only a single unit of meaning in each word. Verbs are becoming increasingly isolating, adding auxiliary verbs to indicate additional meaning to the base verb (e.g. 'should not have seen'). Nouns are also becoming less synthetic, as there are now only two flavors of most nouns: singular objective (e.g. 'cat'), and plural objective/possessive ('cats', 'cat's', and 'cats'', which are all pronounced the same when spoken).*

The romance languages are a little more synthetic than English. Spanish, for example, maintains distinctions between singular and plural, male and female (four forms total) in both nouns and adjectives; for example, 'gordo', 'gorda', 'gordos', and 'gordas' all mean the adjective 'fat', but they indicate singular male, singular female, plural male, and plural female, respectively. Spanish also contains more information in its verbs, chiefly the animacy level and number (singular/plural) of the subject.

Japanese is much further toward the synthetic end. In Japanese, some word types commonly undergo agglutination (agglutination and fusion are the two types of synthesis): the combining of multiple "independent" words into single words, when the context calls for it. For example, the pronoun 'watashi' ('me') can be fused with the suffix '-tachi' to form 'watashitachi' ('us'). Verbs are also fused with auxiliary verbs, commonly meaning things like the passive voice, causation, negation, or politeness; for example, the nine-syllable monstrosity 'kokoruminiawasezu' is formed from either 'kokorumi' ('trial') or 'kokorumiru' ('to test'; I'm not sure if this is the noun or verb, as they're both identical when agglutinated), 'niau' ('to suit; to match; to become; to be like'), '[sa]seru' ('cause to'), and 'zu' ('not'), from the Lord's Prayer meaning 'lead us not into temptation' (that's the popular archaic version of that line, but a more accurate Modern English version would be 'do not test us/our faith', which is closer to the Japanese version). As well, multiple types of words may be fused together, as in 'shakugan', formed from 'shaku' (this appears to be an abbreviation of 'shakuretsu', meaning 'burning') and 'gan' ('eye[s]'), from an anime called Shakugan no Shana ("Shana of the Burning Eyes").

A Turkish example from Wikipedia illustrates extreme levels of synthesis: 'Çekoslovakyalılaştıramadıklarımızdanmışsınız' (18 syllables, if I counted correctly), meaning "You are said to be one of those that we couldn't manage to convert to a Czechoslovak". Some people believe that Turkish is related to Japanese (the Altaic hypothesis), but this has not been conclusively proven.

* While English may have [sometimes large] agglutinated words such as 'antidisestablishmentarianism' (an agglutination of 'anti-', 'dis-', 'establish', '-ment', '-ary', '-an', and '-ism'), these are generally considered separate words, and so are not considered to be a synthesis of smaller words; this classification is supported by the fact that such agglutinations cannot be made freely, but must be words established through common use. In contrast, Japanese verbs may be freely agglutinated with other verbs/words that make sense (e.g. auxiliary verbs), without creating entirely new words.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Random Linguistic Fact of the Day

Indo-European languages characteristically have distinct forms of verbs such that the verbs agree with some basic properties of the subject. English has almost entirely lost this property for most verbs (third-person singular being the only form that still agrees with the subject), although 'be', the most irregular verb in English, gives you a little bit of an idea of how things used to work:

I am
You are
He/she/it is
We/y'all/they are

In Spanish, the original (more complicated) Indo-European agreement system still exists. As is tradition for Indo-European languages, Spanish verbs agree in number and person (first, second, third) with the subject. At least, that's what most speakers and Spanish teachers will tell you. Here's the full list of forms for the indicative present:

Yo [I] creo [believe]
Nosotros [we] creemos
Tú [you, familiar] crees
Vosotros [y'all, familiar] creéis
Él [he]/ella [she]/usted [you, polite] cree (Spanish does not have a neuter gender, and inanimate objects are either male or female)
Ellos [male they]/ellas [female they]/ustedes [you, polite plural] creen

Now, there's something really weird about that system; did you see it? Usted/ustedes are second person pronouns, but verb agreement indicates that they're third person. How do we explain that?

This was something that mystified me until a couple years ago, when I bought the linguistics book I use as a reference, and learned about animacy/empathy hierarchies, which I've touched on before, and had one of those 'aha!' moments. The answer is that verbs don't actually agree with the person of the subject, but rather by the empathy level of the subject. It's very common in empathy hierarchies to see "first person > second person > third person" (which makes logical sense), so it isn't surprising that Indo-European verb agreement approximates the three persons.

What's out of place - that a second person pronoun is placed in the same level as third person pronouns - can be explained by noting that you would use 'tú' with friends, while you would typically use 'usted' with people you are less familiar with. You would clearly have greater empathy for your friends than random people you meet on the street. Thus it is not surprising that the familiar pronoun is higher on the empathy hierarchy.

Thus the actual hierarchy looks like this. There are five logical divisions, and they're listed from highest empathy to lowest. These five are then grouped into three discrete empathy levels, indicated by the numbers:

1. First person
2. Second person familiar
3. Second person polite
3. Third person
3. 'Fourth person' (this is a generic pronoun where we would use 'they' or the passive voice in English, not referring to anybody specific; e.g. "Se habla Español" - "Spanish is spoken")

Friday, April 11, 2008

Exercise for the Reader

Is it wrong to laugh at your own jokes?

So, tonight a friend asked me some hackingish-related questions, and what he was trying to do reminded me of a blog post I'd written a ways back. Looking back on the blog post, I thought it was amusing how many biology references/puns I used. Can you catch them all?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

E Terra Tree / Term Project Roundup

I already discussed some about my AI class term project: a language identifier. In this post I'll describe my other two term projects some.

In game programming class, we are making a tower defense game. This was decided by vote. We're still pretty early into development (still discussing gameplay design), so there isn't much to tell right now. It will be 2.5D, meaning that the gameplay will be two-dimensional, but the graphics will be three-dimensional. We decided to write it in C#/XNA, because XNA is a very nice self-contained platform for amateur game development (if you're looking to make a small-scale game, I'd definitely recommend XNA), and most of us have used it before in the introduction to game programming class.

In graphics programming class, I'm going to be making a commercial-grade space-partitioning tree for E Terra. Games have to do a lot involving spatial searches. Collision detection, range-finding, path-finding, and view frustum culling (only drawing objects that are actually visible on screen) are some of the things E Terra needs to do.

In the very beginning, I used a simple set to hold all objects on the playing field. This was just a temporary method, to allow me to work on other stuff before creating a space-partitioning structure. This worked okay when there were only a couple dozen things on the map, but as spatial search for anything in the set is O(n), obviously this would become a bottleneck as the number of units on the map increases. That was expected, and happened after not too long.

As I still didn't want to take the time to make a commercial-grade structure, I came up with something else that was much faster, yet still didn't take very long to code: a spatial hash table. The X and Y coordinates of each object on the map were quantized, and the objects were put into buckets corresponding to regular, fixed-size squares of the map. While this was still O(n), the actual time was much smaller, as the space which was searched in each case was much smaller than the entire map (with the maps I was using, things like collision detection were quite a few orders of magnitude faster). The problem is that this structure is only optimal if objects on the map are evenly distributed, which is extremely unlikely in a game (or anything, for that matter).

I'm still not certain which type of structure I'm going to use in the end, although I have it down to two: a kd-tree and a quadtree. Both are trees that partition space, but they do not partition space in fixed-size regions like my spatial hash table does. This allows them to maintain a roughly even distribution of objects per partition even when there isn't an even distribution of objects on the map, by creating more, smaller partitions in areas where there is a high object density. Search for the object nearest a given point/object is O(log n) for both; other algorithms are harder to give a definite complexity of.

A quadtree (diagram) is the simpler of the two. It's a two-dimensional space partitioning structure that separates a given region into four equal-sized squares, which may further be split. Thus it partitions the space by recursively splitting it in both dimensions at once. Partitions that have few units can be left large, while partitions that contain many objects can be further split into smaller partitions. The three-dimensional version of a quadtree is an octree, which partitions each region into eight equal-sized cubes.

A kd-tree (diagram from here) is a binary space-partitioning (BSP) tree. It also recursively divides the space in a region (this time into two parts), but the two partitions need not be equal in size. Furthermore, each partition may be along any axis (a kd-tree is a general structure that may represent spaces of any numbers of dimensions, and the logic is the same for any number of dimensions). The standard way of building a kd-tree is to partition each region such that half of the objects in it fall in one of the sub-partitions, and half in the other, producing uniform object density.

A quadtree has the benefit of using fixed-size partitions, making it very fast to add or remove partitions on the fly; this is beneficial for a game because objects often move frequently. As well, for maximum benefit of a kd-tree, the entire set of objects must be known in advance, to produce optimal partitioning. However, there is a fairly easy solution to these issues: for kd-trees that hold a dynamic set of objects, the tree behaves similar to a quad/octree, splitting each region in half as needed. Note also that because I require support for changes to the tree, I would use a kd-trie (diagram), rather than a true kd-tree (diagram; though I've been mostly using the terms interchangeably).

I'm actually leaning toward the kd-tree for several reasons. First, the same code can be used in any number of dimensions, making it highly reusable. Second, only minor modifications are necessary to make the kd-tree implementation work optimally for a non-changing set of objects yet still perform well for sets that change frequently (about as well as a quad/octree). Of course, a kd-tree will be more complicated to code, but I don't see that as a major deterrent.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

One Year Anniversary

Dear Gord, has it already been a year since I started this project? That's even lazier than I usually am. No, the project isn't abandoned (not quite); though I guess I'm lucky the project didn't get usurped while I've been off in my own little world.

I've finished cleaning up all of the code for the patcher DLL (the core of MPQDraft) and the SEMPQ stub code, and both are now in the repository. Unfortunately, as the GUI code isn't cleaned up yet, those parts aren't particularly useful apart from simply looking at how it works. I may have to start considering uploading the rest of the code immediately, and suffering through various laughing and insults for the icky code...

I've also added MPQDraft builds made with the code in the repository now and the code that hasn't yet been added, for testing. I did a substantial amount of code cleanup, and some portions were rewritten from scratch. I did some basic testing to make sure that it seemed to be working more or less, but it wasn't exhaustive, and I've only tested it with a couple of my own plugins.

Open-Source MPQDraft

For the Love of Kaity...

Recently, it has been observed that Comcast is disrupting TCP connections using forged TCP reset (RST) packets [1]. These reset packets were originally targeted at TCP connections associated with the BitTorrent file-sharing protocol. However, Comcast has stated that they are transitioning to a more "protocol neutral" traffic shaping approach [2]. We have recently observed this shift in policy, and have collected network traffic traces to demonstrate the behavior of their traffic shaping. In particular, we are able (during peak usage times) to synthetically generate a relatively large number of TCP reset packets aimed at any new TCP connection regardless of the application-level protocol. Surprisingly, this traffic shaping even disrupts normal web browsing and e-mail applications.

New traffic shaping can disrupt a Comcast Internet connection

I think I hear the entire Comcast tech support department committing seppuku.

From a technical standpoint, there are few options that are more idiotic than sending reset packets to kill BitTorrent connections, as Comcast was doing previously. They just did one: killing ALL connections in that manner. This option is so bad, in fact, that it leads me to seriously consider the possibility that Comcast is doing this intentionally to teach the FCC a lesson: that its resetting BT connections wasn't so bad. What could/should Comcast have done differently? Let's look at a few possibilities.

The best option (excluding improving their infrastructure) would be to monitor the amount of traffic going through each modem, and if a disproportionately large amount is coming from one modem, tell the modem to limit traffic rate for that one modem. Unfortunately, I'm told Comcast modems do not have the ability to change maximum speed without a reboot, so this isn't really possible.

Failing that, there is an extremely simple yet efficient method: simply start randomly dropping packets when there's congestion. While this may sound like a sarcastic suggestion, it's not. The TCP protocol uses two pieces of information to determine how fast to send data: the amount of buffer space the receiver has (used to prevent the sender on a fast connection from flooding a receiver on a slow connection), and dropped packets. If a dropped packet is detected, TCP lowers its send rate. And if BT is a large proportion of traffic, randomly dropping traffic will result is a larger number of BT connections getting throttled than non-BT connections.

Thus this is a simple and easy way to effectively lower the amount of data being sent in a way biased against heavy bandwidth users, without interrupting any of the connections. This works even better if their Sandvine hardware can detect BT traffic and selectively drop packets only from BT traffic. As long as they weren't dropping so many packets that BT slowed to a crawl, I wouldn't mind my ISP doing this.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Sidebar Addition

For those who actually watch anime, I've added a list of the anime I'm currently watching to the sidebar on the right. I'll have to remember to update it as the info changes.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

New Job

So, with a few weeks left to the school semester, and starting to work on my three term projects, I've got a lucrative new job lined up: a reverse-engineering and programming position at MediaSentry/SafeNet. For those wondering, Q's soul is worth $140,000/year.