Tuesday 29 March 2011

Apropriate Technology

I used to have a wireless doorbell. The button and the sounder were'nt physically connected. If it stopped working, you had to try to work out whether the battery had run out in the button or the sounder. Recently, it stopped working. I tried to change the battery in the button. It was an unusually small type of battery, and fiddly to change. Afterwards, I found it impossible to put the faceplate back on the button - eventually, one of the little plastic lugs that was supposed to hold it together snapped. So I got this instead.

Why have something that needs batteries and can go wrong, when you can have something that doesn't need batteries and can't go wrong?

Monday 28 March 2011

Thirtieth Post Wordle

Wordle: Fantastical Devices 3

Yes, it's the thirtieth post, so that means it's Wordle time. It's interesting to see how themes have developed over the last 30 posts or so - at the moment, language and conlang related stuff is dominating, 10 posts ago it was AI related stuff, and earlier on my ideas for an incorporating Romlang were most significant.

Thursday 24 March 2011

versamus ; we roll: Conlanging for Fiction – Part 2 – In Creative Writing

I found an interesting post in Ben Scerri's blog
versamus ; we roll: Conlanging for Fiction – Part 2 – In Creative Writing.

One of my conlangs, Khangaþyagon is part of the background of a fantasy book I've been writing on and off (more off than on) for a few years. I wanted the magic in the book to be believable, so I thought that the spells should be in an ancient language, now known only to wizards. I wanted the incantations to be meaningful, on the assumption that readers, when coming across a spell, would be able to spot gibberish, and that that would reduce their suspension of disbelief. There's one famous fantasy series that I lost interest in partly because I couldn't suspend belief in its magic system - which was one of the things that provoked me to think "I can do better than this". I'm planning to have an appendix at the back of the book translating the spells. One thing I'd note is that it's OK to have a glossary at the back of the book, but it the reader has to consult it three times by the end of the first page, you're (a) getting a bit carried away, and (b) Frank Herbert.

The other thing I've done is that there's no "Common Tongue" in my fictional world. Wizards can learn languages supernaturally fast, but they still have to learn. My protagonist isn't a wizard (yet), and for much of the book is dependent on somebody else to translate for him. This puts him in a vulnerable position. At one point, I've also got a scene where one character tries to teach him her language. In another point, an old woman who learnt his language in her childhood mentions that she can never remember when to use a certain prefix in it, and he gets hopelessly tangled up trying to explain it. I'm trying to give an idea of the linguistic richness of the world, without the reader getting bogged down in fine details.

I'll be following versamus.

Wednesday 16 March 2011

Musical moods

Some colleagues of mine are running an experiment to find out what you can deduce about a television programme from its signature tune. The experiment is described in more detail in the BBC R&D Blog.

I had a go myself earlier - you have to listen to a number of theme tunes and then answer questions about each one. The questions change from tune to tune - quite a clever piece of experimental design, in that it prevents you from getting into a rut where you're calculating your answers before the music's finished. Hopefully, it will enable my colleagues to train an AI to recognise genre and mood from theme music.

PS - sorry for the lack of posts recently.