A hilarious new Harry Potter chapter was written by a predictive keyboard

13 December 2017

From Mashable:

There’s a new Harry Potter chapter that was written using a predictive keyboard trained on the Harry Potter series. Let’s just say we’re glad it’s not canon.

. . . .

The team over at Botnik Studios, a community of creatives concocting weird project including the Predictive Writer, gave the world access to a predictive keyboard trained on all seven Harry Potter books. Botnik used those algorithmically constructed sentences to write a new chapter in the Harry Potter saga, and the results, including the name of the new book, are equally insane and hilarious.

. . . .

Within roughly three full pages of the new book titled Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash, Ron begins eating Hermione’s family, two Death Eaters kiss, Harry blinds himself, Hermione sticks a Death Eater’s face in mud, and Harry falls down a staircase for several months.

Here are some highlights of the chapter, dubbed “The Handsome One”:

“Magic: it was something that Harry Potter thought was very good.”

“Ron was going to be spiders. He just was.”

“The pig of Hufflepuff pulsed like a large bullfrog. Dumbledore smiled at it, and placed his hand on its head: ‘You are Hagrid now.'”

“Ron was standing there and doing a kind of frenzied tap dance. He saw Harry and immediately began to eat Hermione’s family.”

. . . .

The Predictive Writer takes chunks of text and examines it to find patterns in sentences, and then produces suggestions for how a sentence should continue based on what words came before it, similar to how some smartphone keyboards make suggestions based on what you type.

Link to the rest at Mashable

On the Perilous Plight of the Part-Time Librarian

13 December 2017

From The Literary Hub:

Shh. Quietly now, join me as I observe the Modern Part-Time Librarian, once known simply as The Librarian (Scientific Name: Full Timias Benefitus Pension) and seen commonly around public libraries at all hours. Now only observed evenings, weekends, and most holidays. Keep your eyes out for a classic harried facial expression, pilled cardigan (hurriedly mis-buttoned), and a name tag that reads STAFF.

. . . .

In the first semester of my third year of college, with most of a creative writing degree under my belt, I began to wonder if my liberal arts degree would pay my bills after graduation. An advisor suggested I might find taking on the additional schooling required to become a librarian (a master’s degree) worthwhile. Public librarianship seemed like a practical and dependable career, and the more thought I gave to it, the more exciting this profession started to look to me. It was everything I felt was important: being of service, engaging my community, and, let’s not forget the consummate perk for a book-lover and writer: being surrounded on all sides by reading material.

Ten years after receiving my degree in Library and Information Science, I’m still excited about being a public librarian. It remains everything I’m good at and everything I want for the world wrapped up in one job. I love helping people. I love the resourcefulness and problem-solving skills I have to use daily, and the broad scope of knowledge I acquire as a result of finding the answers to everyone else’s questions. I still get giddy when I walk through the stacks or when a patron thanks me for making their day easier. My only problem is—this steady gig I trained for? It isn’t so steady. And after years of seeking full-time employment, my pipe dream creative writing degree is subsidizing my work as a librarian, instead of the other way around.

. . . .

My personal situation may be a result of bad timing (I graduated during the 2008 economic crash) and the choice to remain in my home state of Michigan. Even so, more and more I find that I am not alone in my predicament. The growth rate for our field volleys between average and lower than average. The mass retirement of librarians promised throughout library school hasn’t been so massive. And when librarians do retire, their full-time positions may be replaced with part-time ones.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

UPDATE: PG originally titled this post as On the Perilous Plight of the Part-Tim Librarian. While that might make for an interesting book title, he thanks those who pointed out his typo.

The Secret Life of ‘Um’ – How filler words and tiny pauses keep conversations from going off the rails

12 December 2017

From The Atlantic:

When one person asks another a question, it takes an average of 200 milliseconds for them to respond. This is so fast that we can’t even hear the pause. In fact, it’s faster than our brains actually work. It takes the brain about half a second to retrieve the words to say something, which means that in conversation, one person is gearing up to speak before the other is even finished. By listening to the tone, grammar, and content of another’s speech, we can predict when they’ll be done.

This precise clockwork dance that happens when people speak to each other is what N.J. Enfield, a professor of linguistics at the University of Sydney, calls the “conversation machine.” In his book How We Talkhe examines how conversational minutiae—filler words like “um” and “mm-hmm,” and pauses that are longer than 200 milliseconds—grease the wheels of this machine. In fact, he argues, these little “traffic signals” to some degree define human communication. What all human languages have in common, and what sets our communication apart from animals, is our ability to use language to coordinate how we use language.

. . . .

N.J. Enfield: When we’re having a conversation, because of the entirely cooperative nature of language, we form a single unit. Certain social cognitions that humans have—the capacity to read other people’s intentions and the capacity to enter into true joint action—allow us to connect up to each other in interaction and ride along in this machine.

Obviously, animals communicate in a range of interesting and complex ways. But where I draw the line is the moral accountability that humans have in interaction. If one person doesn’t do the appropriate thing, for example not answering a question when it’s being asked, we can be held to account for that. We don’t see that in animals. [In humans], one individual can say: “Why did you say that?” Or “Please repeat that.” You don’t see animals calling others out for their failures, asking why did they say that, or could they repeat that. [What’s unique in humans] is the capacity for language to refer back to itself.

. . . .

The fact that this is average, 200 milliseconds, suggests people are aiming for that. So if you are late, it suggests you were not able to hit that target because of some trouble in finding the words you wanted. Or maybe you didn’t hear what was said, or maybe you were distracted in some way. That delay is caused directly by some kind of processing problem. And if you ask people difficult questions, their answers will tend to be delayed

One of the big traffic signals that manages that is these hesitation markers like “um” and “uh,” because they can be used as early as you like. Of course, they don’t have any content, they don’t tell you anything about what I’m about to say, but they do say, “Wait please, because I know time’s ticking and I don’t want to leave silence but I’m not ready to produce what I want to say.”

There’s another important reason for delay, and that is because you are trying to buffer what we call a “dis-preferred response.” A clear example would be: I say “How about we go and grab coffee later?” and you’re not free. If you’re free and you say, “Yeah, sure, sounds good,” that response will tend to come out very fast. But if you say “Ah, actually no, I’m not really free this afternoon, sorry,” that kind of response is definitely going to come out later. It may have nothing to do with a processing problem as such, but it’s putting a buffer there because you’re aware saying “No” is not the thing the questioner was going for. We tend to deliver those dis-preferred responses a bit later. If you say “no” very quickly, that often comes across as blunt or abrupt or rude.

. . . .

Beck: Maybe I shouldn’t tell you this, but one of the things that they tell you to do if you’re doing an interview is to just wait. If they’re not responding, just sit there quietly, because people get uncomfortable and then they just keep talking.

Enfield: Exactly. The interesting thing about it is you as an interviewer have to suppress quite a strong tendency to jump into that space. It’s a skill you’ve got to learn to do. I think people naturally don’t feel comfortable with that silence. Once you’ve got that one second going by, somebody’s got to do something. Unless it’s a situation where you’re with your loved ones in your house or you’re on a long car drive or something like that. Obviously, we can lapse into silence and that’s not a problem, but if we’re in the middle of a to-and-fro conversation, we’re generally not going to let that happen.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

America’s malls are rotting away

12 December 2017

From CNN:

As Macy’s, JCPenney, Sears and other major department stores close their doors, the malls that housed those stores are facing a serious crisis.

That’s because when so-called anchor tenants leave a mall, it opens the door for other stores to break their leases or negotiate much cheaper rent.

As one big store closes, it can take several smaller stores along with it like a house of cards. Experts predict that a quarter of American malls will close in five years — around 300 out of 1,100 that currently exist.

. . . .

Retailers often sign co-tenancy agreements in their leases with malls, allowing them to reduce their rent or get out of a lease if a big store closes.

That’s because the smaller retailers next to anchor stores no longer benefit from the foot traffic that the major retailers received, according to Garrick Brown, vice president of retail research for Cushman & Wakefield.

. . . .

Many former anchor tenants are closing hundreds of stores as Amazon eats their lunch.

Sears, which had operated nearly 3,800 stores as recently as a decade ago is now down to 1,104 stores. Macy’s closed 68 stores this year, and JCPenney was set to shutter 128.

. . . .

Experts classify malls into “A” “B” “C” and “D” grades characterized in part by sales per square footage of the malls. “B” malls and below are going to have a particularly hard time with the financial burden of the changing mall landscape.

Link to the rest at CNN

You can’t build

12 December 2017

You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.

Henry Ford


12 December 2017

From National Public Radio:

Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other country in the world, with five titles published for every 1,000 Icelanders. But what’s really unusual is the timing: Historically, a majority of books in Iceland are sold from late September to early November. It’s a national tradition, and it has a name: Jolabokaflod, or the “Christmas Book Flood.”

. . . .

“If you look at book sales distribution in the U.K. and the States, most book sales actually come from a minority of people. Very few people buy lots of books. Everybody else buys one book a year if you’re lucky,” Bjarnason says. “It’s much more widespread in Iceland. Most people buy several books a year.”

Link to the rest at NPR

Although some of PG’s ancestors emigrated to the United States from Sweden (one of the Scandinavian Countries (which are grouped among the Nordic Countries (one of which is Iceland))), no portion of whatever genetic memory may be floating around his body is devoted to pronouncing any of the Nordic languages.

If you would like to pronounce Jolabokaflod properly, you can go here.

(Hint: if you are a member of the generation who was taught to sound out words when you were learning to read, that strategy has never worked for PG in any Nordic language.)

As long as we’re talking about Nordic Christmas traditions, we can’t omit lutefisk or lutfisk.

PG has no idea what the status of lutefisk is in the Nordic countries where it originated, but it’s still part of Christmas traditions among Swedish-Americans and Norwegian-Americans living in the upper Midwest (think mostly Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and the eastern parts of the Dakotas).

Among descendants of Norwegians and Swedes living in America, the origin stories of Lutefisk fall into two broad categories:

  • During the centuries-long era of Viking raids on Ireland, the Irish put lye into barrels of fish the Vikings were likely to steal in order to poison the raiders. The Vikings decided they liked the flavor of lye-poisoned fish and started soaking fish in lye without the (conscious) intent to poison anyone.
  • A Norwegian (or maybe Swedish) fisherman’s fishing shed burned down one day. In an attempt to salvage something from the wreckage, the fisherman tried eating some of the ash-covered fish and decided it tasted OK.

Here’s even more about lutefisk (the dinner is almost certainly in the basement of a Lutheran Church):


Want an Alternative to Donating Art? Open Your Own Museum

12 December 2017

From The Wall Street Journal:

What can art collectors do with a collection that has outgrown its space? Or a collection that they don’t want heirs to sell off piecemeal?

One possibility: open a museum.

The move allows very well-heeled donors to know their legacy will be kept intact, rather than split up or displayed by another museum in a way they wouldn’t like. They also get to control which works are displayed and how in their own lifetime, and to see them in an institution with their name above the door.

There’s also the financial benefit of a tax deduction, and the museums themselves are exempt from taxes. But controlling their art’s fate matters most to some collectors. “It’s really not tax-driven,” says Diana Wierbicki, a partner at the law firm of Withers Bergman, a number of whose clients have set up museums.

. . . .

Real-estate developer Martin Margulies set up the Margulies Collection in a refurbished warehouse in Miami in 1999. The collection, which consists of 3,000-plus works of modern and contemporary art, is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday, April through October. Mr. Margulies says he “did this to enjoy my collection and educate young people.”

“At an existing museum, the director may change, the curators may change, the board members may change,” he adds. “The people who promise you one thing, well, they’re gone, and new people come in. They don’t like this, they want to change that. Pretty soon, everything you donated to them is in storage.”

Of course, creating a museum is a step only the very wealthy can afford. Setup can cost millions of dollars, and annual maintenance can be hundreds of thousands. Mr. Margulies estimates his annual operating budget to be $350,000. The San Antonio-based Linda Pace Foundation expects its annual operating budget, now $275,000, to top $1 million when its new space opens in 2019, says Kathryn Kanjo, a foundation trustee.

. . . .

One of the first steps in creating a museum is for donors to set up a private operating foundation to run it, and then gift their art to it. Just like other art donors, they get a tax deduction. As part of that initial gift, they often give cash to the foundation as well. The money goes toward the rental or purchase of a building in which to place the artwork, which likely will need to be refurbished, and equipped with climate controls and security, all of which can cost millions of dollars. And the artwork will need continuing maintenance and insurance. (The cash outlay is deductible at up to 50% of the donor’s adjusted gross income.)

One ongoing aspect of running a private museum is currently under debate. The Internal Revenue Service requires collectors who set up museums to allow the public to come in to look at the artwork, which requires the hiring of one or more curators and art handlers, as well as other staff. (The artwork must also be available for loan to other museums.)

But the rules don’t specify how often private museums must be open to visitors.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Some visitors to TPV might not catch the connection to writing. Allow PG to elaborate.

While most of Mrs. PG’s manuscripts have already been scooped up by a nice lady from nearby university library, PG is going to recommend that Mrs. PG print out some more copies so he can scuff them up a little bit to make them look old and stock a manuscript museum in the basement of Casa PG. (It’s strange that the nice lady never asked for any of PG’s contract drafts.)

This space occupied by the museum will be climate-controlled because PG spends a lot of time in the general vicinity.

Security for Mrs. PG’s Ms. Museum will be provided by a baseball bat which PG will lean against his desk.

“What brand?” you might ask. Since PG is a traditionalist, it will probably be a Louisville Slugger, although a friend once recommended a Cold Steel Brooklyn Crusher.

PG is a bit suspicious that the Crusher is most often used to crush something other than a baseball. Additionally, the Crusher is not allowed in a Major League Baseball game under the Official Rules of Baseball (1917 edition) because Rule 3.02 (“The Bat”) states, in pertinent part:

The bat shall be a smooth, round stick not more than 2.61 inches in diameter at the thickest part and not more than 42 inches in length. The bat shall be one piece of solid wood.

Unfortunately, the Crusher is a “nearly indestructible baseball bat, made of durable polypropylene.” PG assumes the Crusher is made of one piece of solid polypropylene, but, as Babe Ruth once said, “Close only counts in horseshoes, not baseball.”

Despite this seeming disqualification, the Crusher “can be used as competition bat, for batting practice, and even at-home self defense.” (This last quote is from the Crusher folks. PG was not able to find any similar statement in the Official Rules of Baseball, although he didn’t check any editions prior to 1917.)

So wood it must be. When you’re operating a non-profit, non-taxpaying organization, you have to pay close attention to the details. The tax man certainly will.

Back to museum security. If the Louisville Slugger doesn’t deter burglars, the youngest generation of PG offspring will drive off anyone not buttoned up inside a soundproof armored vehicle – – assuming the armored vehicle doesn’t stop. In the event of AVS (Armored Vehicle Stoppage), certain members of the PG offspring will have the wheels off within 60 seconds, armored or not, and immediately hide several wheels under various beds in Casa PG and bury the rest in the garden of the nice neighbor lady across the street, except for the one jammed into the garbage disposal.

This explanation should impress the IRS auditor that Mrs. PG’s Manuscript Museum is serious about not squandering its non-taxable money on unnecessary security frills.

One more thing – the museum will be open to the public whenever two or more PG offspring are on the premises and wearing their official Manuscript Museum Docent t-shirts. Visitors will be able to purchase their own Manuscript Museum Docent t-shirts at the Museum Store which will be located in an offspring-proof safe. In Peru.

Amazon Review Policy Change

11 December 2017

From madgeniusclub:

Since Amazon first opened its virtual doors, there have been concerns about reviews. Not just for books but for all the products sold through its site. It is no secret that authors have paid for reviews — and some still do. Or that there have been fake accounts set up to give sock puppet reviews.

. . . .

Amazon now requires you to purchase a minimum of $50 worth of books or other products before you can leave a review or answer questions about a product. These purchases, and it looks like it is a cumulative amount, must be purchased via credit card or debit card — gift cards won’t count.

Link to the rest at madgeniusclub and thanks to Nate at The Digital Reader for the tip.

Edward Garnett, an ‘Uncommon Reader’

11 December 2017

From The Wall Street Journal:

The honor roll of truly great modern literary enablers is a short one. T.S. Eliot had Ezra Pound, who cut “The Waste Land” down from a flabby hodgepodge into the allusively lean masterpiece we know. Samuel Beckett, teaching English in Paris, was inspired to try his hand at non-academic writing by another Irish iconoclast, James Joyce. William Faulkner had Sherwood Anderson to convince him to stop wasting time on poetry and start writing novels about his native Mississippi. Well before that, though, Joseph Conrad, D.H. Lawrence, John Galsworthy, May Sinclair, Sarah Orne Jewett, Edward Thomas, T.E. Lawrence, Arnold Bennett, E.M. Forster, H.E. Bates, Liam O’Flaherty and Sean O’Faolain all had Edward Garnett, a talent scout with an almost unerring nose for what we now recognize as the modernist note. Never before or since has one mentor been so influential in shaping the direction of English letters—not just for his own age, but beyond.

. . . .

Born in 1868 into a bookish middle-class Victorian family (his father was a librarian at London’s British Museum), Garnett had an extraordinary influence upon the creation and reception of some key works of the next century. Though Garnett started out with his own literary aspirations—he attempted both novels and plays, all daringly experimental and each an unmitigated flop—what allowed him to make his mark on English literature was his day job as publisher’s reader, first at T. Fisher Unwin, and later at Heinemann, Duckworth and Cape. In this capacity, Ms. Smith reports, he assessed about 700 manuscripts submitted for publication each year.

. . . .

In the days before professional literary agents had become commonplace, Garnett served many authors as promoter—bullying magazines to take their work and placing puffs in the national press—and as agony uncle and writing coach. Two of Ms. Smith’s chapters are called “Rescuing Conrad” and “Fishing Out Lawrence” (D.H., not T.E.).

. . . .

Ms. Smith notes wryly that as an editor Garnett adapted his approach “to the temperament of the protégé, reassuring the timid, cajoling the reluctant and bellowing at the bloody-minded.” Joseph Conrad, whom Garnett met when the sailor-novelist submitted the manuscript of his first book, “Almayer’s Folly,” to Unwin in 1894, needed to be constantly reassured and cajoled. Garnett saw that the highly strung Conrad, though still actively seeking a new berth on a ship, really “desire[d] to be encouraged to write.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Here’s a link to An Uncommon Reader: A Life of Edward Garnett, Mentor and Editor of Literary Genius

Why is it so difficult to the make the case against counterfeiting

10 December 2017

From IPKat:

Why do there seem to be so many willing purchasers of counterfeit goods? After all, counterfeiting is a business and it works only if there are willing purchasers. Unless one is prepared to believe that all purchasers of counterfeit products do so on an innocent basis, then the reasonable conclusion is that at least some of them are complicit.

. . . .

Moral arguments, equating counterfeiting with stealing, do not seem to go very far with swathes of certain populations (have you had a talk about counterfeiting with a millennial lately?). Criminalizing counterfeiting, and the penal sanctions that go with it, may carry some weight, especially against the middlemen who import and then distribute the counterfeit goods. But the criminal sanction reaches only a small number of offenders.

. . . .

Ball’s primary argument focuses on the claim that counterfeit goods are “dangerous” and “pose a serious threat to consumers and businesses alike”, with special emphasis on product safety. The second line of attack is that counterfeiting contributes to economic hardship at the aggregate level, affecting innovation, stealing from legitimate companies, evading the payment of taxes, assisting illicit trade and even terrorism.

Link to the rest at IPKat

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