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New Twitter Study Discovers “Global Superdialects”

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Do you say sneakers, gym shoes, or trainers? Soda, pop, or fizzy drink? Your choice has a lot to do with where you’re from. Certain terms vary by region, and it should be possible to get a good picture of regional differences in vocabulary by searching for these terms on Twitter and plotting where they come from using geolocation data.

As MIT Technology Review reports, a new study did just that for variable terms in Spanish. As expected, terms known to distinguish various dialects of Spanish mapped well, in tweets, to the areas they are commonly associated with. For example, the map above shows that a computer is called a computadora in Mexico, an ordenador in Spain and a computador in Chile. The different terms for car—auto, carro, coche, concho, and movi—are also mapped. The size of the dots corresponds to the number of tweets with that term.

But researchers Bruno Gonçalves and David Sánchez also found something unexpected when they combined the data on all the words together. There were two main dialect groups, and they were divided not by region, but by population density. There were two “superdialects”—one in dense, urban centers, and another in smaller towns and rural areas. The rural areas “keep a larger number of characteristic items and native words,” while cities, more subject to the forces of globalization, tend toward “dialect unification, smoothing possible lexical differences.” The urban superdialect is a less differentiated, international Spanish, and the rural superdialect is more varied and less subject to international leveling, despite the fact that everyone in the study is using Twitter.

We don’t speak differently just because we live in different places, but because we live differently. This is something sociolinguists have known for a long time. Advances in techniques for analyzing the huge amount of language data on Twitter offer new ways to look at how our lives influence our language.

The original paper is here.

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Computer Users, Rejoice: You're Finally Allowed to Create Easy-to-Remember Passwords
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To keep your personal data secure, it’s important to craft a strong password—and for nearly 15 years, savvy computer users have heeded the counsel of Bill Burr, the man who quite literally wrote the book on password management. Now, The Wall Street Journal reports that Burr has admitted that some of his advice was flawed. While working as a manager at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in 2003, Burr wrote a primer—officially known as “NIST Special Publication 800-63. Appendix A”—that instructed federal workers to create codes using obscure characters, a mix of lowercase and capital letters, and numbers. For security purposes, he also recommended changing passwords on a regular basis. At the time, however, Burr didn’t have a ton of data to rely on, so he ended up using a paper published in the mid-1980s as a primary source for the manual. Burr’s primer eventually became widely used among federal workers, corporate companies, websites, and tech companies alike. But in hindsight, experts say that Burr’s directives didn’t actually improve cybersecurity: The NIST recently gave his primer received a full overhaul, and they opted to eliminate the now-famous rules about using special characters and switching up codes. These rules “actually had a negative impact on usability,” Paul Grassi, the NIST standards-and-technology adviser who led Special Publication 800-63’s rewrite, told The Wall Street Journal. They make it harder to remember and type in codes, plus those parties who did change their passwords every 90 days typically only made minor, easy-to-guess alterations. Plus, research now shows that longer passwords—a series of around four words—are ultimately harder to crack than shorter combinations of letters, characters, or numbers. (And at the end of the day, computer users ended up paradoxically choosing the same “random” passwords used by millions of others.) The NIST now recommends long, easy-to-remember passwords (not the “#!%”-filled ones of yesteryear) and for people to switch codes only if they suspect that their existing one has been stolen. In short, it's probably time to change your password—and this time around, you might even have an easier time remembering it.
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Hacked Rotary Phone Demonstrates How the Internet Works
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Untangling the inner workings of the internet gets complicated fast, partly because the World Wide Web isn’t a single entity. Rather, it’s a vast network of networks in communication with one another. To demonstrate this complex process at work, a group of students from Copenhagen reduced it to something most people are familiar with: a rotary telephone.

As Co.Design reports, the Internet Phone looks like an old-fashioned telephone with a rotary dial, but students at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design have modified it to function like a web browser. To use it, callers dial the IP address of whichever website they wish to visit. When the call is answered, a voice reads the text aloud as it would appear on the webpage.

If a caller wants to hear the raw HTML, they can switch the phone to “developer” mode. There’s also an “article” option for skipping irrelevant content and a “history” mode for redialing the last five IP addresses that were called.

It may be hard to connect the act of calling a website on a rotary phone to opening a site on your smartphone, but the two aren’t that far apart. The students write in the project description:

“Each step in the user experience is comparable to the process that a browser takes when retrieving a website. Looking up the IP addresses in a phone book is similar to how a browser gets an IP address from DNS (Domain Name System) directories. Dialing the twelve digits and waiting for the phone to retrieve the HTML content mimic how a browser requests data from servers. The voice-to-speech reading of the website is comparable to how a browser translates HTML and CSS code into human understandable content.”

After watching the reinvented phone in action, check out these other practical uses for retro technology.

[h/t Co.Design]

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