How to write a Humanities paper:

  1. Find an interesting article.
  2. Summarize it.
  3. Read all of its footnotes.
  4. Summarize the articles cited.
  5. Print out the result, without editing.
  6. Cut the paragraphs of printed text and put the scraps in a bag.
  7. Shake the bag gently.
  8. Then take out the scraps one after the other in the order in which they left the bag.
  9. Copy the contents of the scraps in that order into a new document.
  10. Add a bibliography.
  11. Your work will be like you and your infinitely original studies in Humanities.

Optional: Translate the document using Google Translate to Belarusian and then back to your language.

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Lenin 55!

I am sitting in the library of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The complete works of Lenin are on a shelf in front of me. Four shelves, to be precise: Fifty-five volumes plus a two-volume index and the selected works in English – in mere forty-five volumes. I wonder: Did the university actually buy it or did the children of a dead communist donate it to clear some space at home?

Baqlawa

I helped an Arab student who does not know Hebrew well and who is not computer-savvy to find a book in the Mount Scopus library.

The book was in Arabic and she did not know how to search in Arabic in “Aleph“, the library’s search system. In the library computer it was possible to type in Arabic, but the letters were not printed on the keys, so i took out my laptop and opened the Arabic keyboard map. We sat together, and slowly typed the Arabic names (apparently the al- article shouldn’t be typed.). At the end we found the book.

That was yesterday. Today she brought me Baqlawa to the class.

… But they say there is a war between us.

Gender Studies

In most Hebrew language courses a significant majority of students are female. The only exception is the course “Medieval Hebrew: Piyyut and Spanish Poetry”, which has 70% of male students. Calling this course “the hardest” wouldn’t be very objective, but it is safe to say that the Even-Shoshan Dictionary is not very useful for understanding the texts that we read there.

In Linguistics courses i took the ratio of male-to-female students was pretty much even. The same goes for “Spanish for beginners”.

However, in the “Advanced Portuguese” course all students are male.

(Hi, Jane.)

The Future

Where does the computing world go? I’m not talking just about Free Software, but about the whole industry. Even Microsoft is in trouble here.

What more can we do with computers? What will computers do five years from now that they can’t do today?

Writing documents and university papers can’t get much better than MS-Office, OpenOffice, TeX and DocBook. Each of them caters rather well to their respective markets (except some interoperability issues, which are really rather minor if you put the bizness bullshit aside.)

Music, Movies, Animation? You can’t improve this field much more in the home market, and the high-end market of professional artists and studios is rather narrow. (Although ideas expressed in Lessig’s Free Culture can make it wider …)

Business v1.0 software – databases, billing, CRM, ERP? It is a market of reliability, not innovation.

Websites, communications and social networks? True innovation in that area hit a glass wall long ago, if you ask me. Some websites make up nicer AJAX tricks, but that’s about it.

So i thought that the really innovative thing that can useful on a major scale may lie in the field of Linguistics (disclaimer: I am studying for a B.A. in Linguistics). Speech recognition, text-to-speech and automated translation – all of them are related to Linguistics; none of them can be done right without proper scientific Linguistic preparation.

Microsoft puts “improved” speech recognition into every version of MS-Office, but it is very far from doing it right. Xerox and IBM tried something in their respective (and respected) research labs, but it didn’t see the light of day (at least yet). Google are rumored to be doing something with statistics-based automated translation.

But no-one has anything finalized.

The first one who does it right will rule the whole market for years to come. Of the current players, Google seems to have the best chances to succeed, but it can also be a startup company created by an anonymous undergraduate Liberal Arts student in India, Nigeria or Ukraine. Or Israel?

(Originally published in Bug #1.)

¡Hoja!

This semester i finally started studying two very important languages. No, not Armenian and Irish – i’m talking about Spanish and Arabic.

Spanish is in huge demand. In fact, i’m still not officially signed up for the course. It is given in five different groups, each with its own days and hours, there’s only one that fits me and technically it is full, but the teacher agreed to accept me. This group has sixty students and it is only one of five. I’ll have to go through some more bureaucratic hoops to get an official grade too.

Our Spanish teacher gave us homework for yesterday. I didn’t do it, of course. No-one was really sure whether to hand it in. At the end of the lesson one female student asked loudly: “Do we have to hand in the homework?”, to which i immediately replied: “Shhhhhh!” Then someone told me quietly: “You should forgive her, she is an atudait.”

If you are not Israeli, this requires an explanation. Atudai (עתודאי, f. -it, pl. -im) is someone who is allowed to complete an academic degree before he is drafted to IDF service. So it means that she a). is a geek and b). hasn’t been in the army yet and hence she doesn’t know what a “kit bag question” is. In IDF slang, a “kit bag question” is a question better not asked, because the reply can be positive. It originates at a very common story – the commander tells the unit to run and some stupid soldier asks – “With the kit bag or without the kit bag?” The reply is obvious. This story is very famous, but when i was at tironut (boot camp) someone actually asked this exact question.

Another Hebrew saying goes: “Suckers never die.”