what's passive voice, active voice

Answer to yesterday's question is posted, at: what's active voice? passive voice?.

World of Warcraft Cataclysm + Addiction

World of Warcraft (WoW) players are all excited about the upcoming new system〈World of Warcraft: Cataclysm〉 amazon

By the way if you don't already, WoW is known as the most addictive game in existence. here's some quotes from Wikipedia:

World of Warcraft, often referred to as WoW, is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) by Blizzard Entertainment. It is the fourth released game set in the fantasy Warcraft universe, which was first introduced by Warcraft: Orcs & Humans in 1994...

The third expansion set, Cataclysm, was announced at BlizzCon 2009,[10][11] and entered into closed beta testing in late June 2010.[12][13]

With more than 11.5 million monthly subscriptions in December 2008,[14][15] World of Warcraft is currently the world's most-subscribed MMORPG,[9][16][17] and holds the Guinness World Record for the most popular MMORPG by subscribers.[18][19][20][21] In April 2008, World of Warcraft was estimated to hold 62 percent of the MMORPG subscription market.[22]

On the net, there are quite a few articles, groups, about addiction problems with WoW. Here is a YouTube video.

World of Warcraft Addict

I remember reading online that there are cases of death in China and Korea. Where, it is reported that the gamer just played non-stop, then dropped dead. There are also news about suicide. The suicide cases is not surprising and likely happens now and then, but am not sure about playing to death by exhaustion.

active voice, passive voice

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What's Passive Voice? What's Aggresive Voice?

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Xah Lee, 2010-10-02

In writing, you know that there is passive voice and active voice, right? And the writing style guilds tell us, that we should use active voice. In the following sentences, can you tell which is active voice and which is passive voice?

  • (1) At dawn the crowing of a rooster could be heard.
  • (2) There were a great number of dead leaves lying on the ground.
  • (3) It was not long before she was very sorry that she had said what she had.
  • (4) The reason that he left college was that his health became impaired.

Take 5 min to answer before you read on.

The Language Log recently has a blog asking readers to identify passive/active voice. (Apparantly, they've been beating this horse for a while, but i only started to read Language Log last month.) Before i tackle the question and post my redoubtable comment with implicit offense at grammarians, i thought to myself: it's been some 17 years when i read anything technical about passive/active voice in Strunk & White... so let me make a quick stop at Wikipedia to refresh myself just so i won't come out a fool.

So, my first stop is at: Passive voice. And WHAM! It is incomprehensible, and to ME!? To understand the article well, i'll have to delve into my brain and read it carefully about all the “subject”, “verb”, “object”, “adjective”, “adverb”, “aux verb”, and perhaps reacquaint myself with the evil “split infinitives”. Fuck that. By my mastery of info age, i took the shortcut and went directly to the article English passive voice instead. The article there is still a bit dense, but i found the above 4 examples about passive voice, quoted right from “Strunk & White”, except that 3 of them are actually active voice! The source of this is from:

  • 〈50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice〉 (2009-04-17) By Geoffrey K Pullum. The Chronicle of Higher Education 55 (32): B15. chronicle.com


The Elements of Style does not deserve the enormous esteem in which it is held by American college graduates. Its advice ranges from limp platitudes to inconsistent nonsense. Its enormous influence has not improved American students' grasp of English grammar; it has significantly degraded it.


What concerns me is that the bias against the passive is being retailed by a pair of authors so grammatically clueless that they don't know what is a passive construction and what isn't. Of the four pairs of examples offered to show readers what to avoid and how to correct it, a staggering three out of the four are mistaken diagnoses. “At dawn the crowing of a rooster could be heard” is correctly identified as a passive clause, but the other three are all errors: ...

  • “There were a great number of dead leaves lying on the ground” has no sign of the passive in it anywhere.
  • “It was not long before she was very sorry that she had said what she had” also contains nothing that is even reminiscent of the passive construction.
  • “The reason that he left college was that his health became impaired” is presumably fingered as passive because of “impaired,” but that's a mistake. It's an adjective here. “Become” doesn't allow a following passive clause. (Notice, for example, that “A new edition became issued by the publishers” is not grammatical.)

So here we are.

I pride myself as a good writer (n i'd like to think within top 100 on this earth), albeit with unique usage and style. (See: The Writing Style on XahLee.org.) I read “Strunk & White”'s The Elements of Style in the early 1990s, i think twice, among quite a few other writing guides and advices. I've seen countless advices for active voice in the past 20 years, everywhere. For example, here's quote from GNU Emacs Lisp Reference Manual: Documentation Tips. Quote:

Write documentation strings in the active voice, not the passive, and in the present tense, not the future. For instance, use “Return a list containing A and B.” instead of “A list containing A and B will be returned.”

Not until today, i realized, just how much i did not understand what is Active voice and Passive voice, and when you look into this issue, such as Wikipedia article on it, you see that it is quite technical. Unless you have a good study of linguistics, you wouldn't understand it. And of course, the common advices on “active” voice, even from professional style guides, are just totally clueless.

Today, “passive voice” simply means sentences that do not sound dynamic or in action. The word “passive” in “passive voice” just mean the opposite of “aggresive”. So, if a sentence sounds lame, it is passive voice! And, actually, for pop communication, i think i endorse this interpretation; screw linguistic history.

Here's one of the article from Language Log about this issue:

  • 〈“Passive Voice” — 1397-2009 — R.I.P.〉 (2009-03-12) By Mark Liberman. At: Language Log

PS for those you who got it wrong, don't feel bad. Few people on this earth can get it right, and most of them mob toilets at McDonalds. Just be happy that we all understand split infinitives, at least.

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Bopomofo, Pinyin, IPA, Comparison

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Bopomofo, Pinyin, IPA, Comparison

Xah Lee, 2010-10-01

Bopomofo (aka Zhuyin) is a set of symbols to indicate Chinese character pronunciation. It is used mostly in Taiwan. It was invented in 1912. It is very similar to Pinyin. Basically, symbols in each corresponds to the other.

Bopomofo vs. Pinyin Initials
b八 (ㄅㄚ, bā)
p杷 (ㄆㄚˊ, pá)
m馬 (ㄇㄚˇ, mǎ)
f法 (ㄈㄚˇ, fǎ)
d地 (ㄉㄧˋ, dì)
t提 (ㄊㄧˊ, tí)
n你 (ㄋㄧˇ, nǐ)
l利 (ㄌㄧˋ, lì)
g告 (ㄍㄠˋ, gào)
k考 (ㄎㄠˇ, kǎo)
h好 (ㄏㄠˇ, hǎo)
j叫 (ㄐㄧㄠˋ, jiào)
q巧 (ㄑㄧㄠˇ, qiǎo)
x小 (ㄒㄧㄠˇ, xiǎo)
zhi 〖zh〗主 (ㄓㄨˇ, zhǔ)
chi 〖ch〗出 (ㄔㄨ, chū)
shi 〖sh〗束 (ㄕㄨˋ, shù)
ri 〖r〗入 (ㄖㄨˋ, rù)
zi 〖z〗在 (ㄗㄞˋ, zài)
ci 〖c〗才 (ㄘㄞˊ, cái)
si 〖s〗塞 (ㄙㄞ, sāi)
BopomofoPinyinExample(Bopomofo, Hanyu)
a大 (ㄉㄚˋ, dà)
o多 (ㄉㄨㄛ, duō)
e得 (ㄉㄜˊ, dé)
ê爹 (ㄉㄧㄝ, diē)
ai晒 (ㄕㄞˋ, shài)
ei誰 (ㄕㄟˊ, shéi)
ao少 (ㄕㄠˇ, shǎo)
ou收 (ㄕㄡ, shōu)
an山 (ㄕㄢ, shān)
en申 (ㄕㄣ, shēn)
ang上 (ㄕㄤˋ, shàng)
eng生 (ㄕㄥ, shēng)
er而 (ㄦˊ, ér)
yi 〖i〗逆 (ㄋㄧˋ, nì)
yin 〖in〗音 (ㄧㄣ, yīn)
ying 〖ing〗英 (ㄧㄥ, yīng)
wu 〖u〗努 (ㄋㄨˇ, nǔ)
wen 〖un〗文 (ㄨㄣˊ, wén)
weng 〖ong〗翁 (ㄨㄥ, wēng)
yu 〖u, ü〗女 (ㄋㄩˇ, nǚ)
yun 〖un〗韻 (ㄩㄣˋ, yūn)
yong 〖iong〗永 (ㄩㄥˇ, yǒng)

〖〗represents the form used in combination with other letters.

Bopomofo, Pinyin, IPA Comparisons

Vowels a, e, o, i
Vowels u, y
Non-sibilant consonants
Sibilant consonants
Tones IPAma˥˥ma˧˥ma˨˩˦ma˥˩ma
example (traditional/simplfied)媽/妈麻/麻馬/马罵/骂嗎/吗


Emacs Dev Inefficiency and Emacs Web 2.0?

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Emacs Dev Inefficiency and Emacs Web 2.0?

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Xah Lee, 2010-10-01, 2010-10-04

Xah Lee wrote:

Starting Emacs Community?


Right now xahlee.org is a static site. No forum or any type of interaction. Am not sure what technology i can use with my hosted server to make it Web 2.0. Also, i wish to keep the html valid, but i think that's hopeless. Possibly i could start a forum using WordPress.

Jonas Stein <n...@jonasstein.de> wrote:

I think the community is very spread. There are many pages and most need more manpower.

I would rather suggest to fusion some communication channels. One newsgroup with mirror to Mail (perhaps gmane?) would be fine. One wiki with easy public editing.

All services should not be bound to one individual. It should be possible to pass the admin-job to someone else, if the maintainer has no more spare time for the project.

I like your website and i am glad about your contributions, but i think you should not create another micro-forum.

Perhaps you can cooperate with the maintainer of the emacswiki? Or we could try to start a project in the wikimedia world.

But we need the support of the community.

Thanks a lot for the input.

I also like the idea.

I think that it is difficult to get these all together, precisely because one might say selfish motives, including myself. FSF has its own agenda, emacswiki too. FSF is kinda haughty in that it wants to be stand-alone and does not want to take in any other's work except subsumed into FSF/GNU. Xemacs's years of superior tech going basically away now is a good example. FSF could use emacswiki too, but it just doesn't. For example, many of its FAQ or pages and document could link to emacswiki. e.g. Emacs's Menu Usability Problem. (See also: My Experience of Emacs vs XEmacs.)

If FSF wants, FSF people could easily initiate the talk to Alex of emacswiki, so that emacswiki can function and provide many services emacs users need such as a coherent library depository, coherent online emacs interactive help center, or even a coherent emacs Web 2.0 social networking for emacs users... so many potentials.

Emacswiki has its own agenda. For example, Alex Schroeder prefers to use his own wiki software the oddmuse. He doesn't want to switch to the much widely used and far more powerful MediaWiki used by Wikipedia. The links on the emacswiki seems to want to stick to sister sites such as meatballwiki.org instead of the much better quality Wikipedia. (See: Problems of Emacswiki.)

FSF does not want to bundle Visual Basic mode into emacs, even though it is top 5 most used lang. Similar for PHP mode, or code from Lennart's EmacsW32, or the incredibly non-trivial js2-mode by Steve Yegge, and many other modes written by others... POV-Ray mode was discussed and i think paper signed perhaps 2 years ago but still not in GNU Emacs and i don't think it's even in the agenda...

It just take years for a mode to get into GNU emacs even when the mode author is fully enthusiastic about it and willing to sign the paper and FSF willing to include it. There are so much obstacles and frustrations. The primary communication for GNU emacs dev is its dev mailing list . It is very messy and inefficient. In today's twitter, instant messaging, and voice and video chat days ( Skype, gtalk, msn, yahoo, aol ...) that just about any joe uses to communicate across the globe, but gnu emacs dev stuck with the ancient mailing list software the GNU Mailman (1999), then the web version is done by using the 1999's software MHonArc, a Perl script that converts email texts to plain html the upload periodically to web server as static html pages. It doesn't have a modern web interface. No forum, no admin/management structure, no user profile, no image/file archive, no sitefeed updates, no integration with bug database, no integration with source code revision system, no who's online, etc. (See: “Free” Software Morality, Richard Stallman, and Paperwork Bureaucracy.)

In the mailing list, there's huge amounts of opinion throwing. Some appear to be from just Emacs users. People don't agree on things. Evaluation of opinions are not based on a person's existing programing work and knowledge, or established factors such as user base of his emacs mode or distro, or any scientific basis such as social research (e.g. polls) or systematic analysis. Many recognized experts such as Steve Yegge, Ilya Zakharevich, Randal L Schwartz ... or Aquamacs's David Reitter and EmacsW32's Lennart Borgman in the list all seem to have to behave very sheepishly to conform to the culture there. Constantly half of the discussion is about FSF's concept of freedom... e.g. in recent discussion about incorporating some emacs mode that hookup google services break out into tens or over a hundred messages about the cons/pro of freedom and legality issues (and that's just a recent example). Any discussion on User Interface is a immediate bomb shell.

Many bugs, suggestions, even if accepted as better, but it is tremendously difficult to get code in or contribute. The culture of the list just kills it. The FSF emacs list has a attitude... for example, say someone made a suggestion and actually submitted a patch. Instead of giving warmest welcome and spend time to help the coder to get his patch in, typically the coder has to do all the work, learn all the systems used by FSF, learn all the ways of FSF's philosophies, learn and follow the full culture of FSF's workings. Then, almost completely on his own without much verbal encouragement, the coder has to make the code work well with the whole elisp code base. The whole experience as i've observed, seems to be like this: “you want your code in gnu emacs? go spend a year learning about FSF, then if your patch passes all checks and we like it, then sign paper to give us the copyright, then it might be in, but we might change many things of your code even rewrite or not even include it if we so happens to forget or end up not using it. You'll get a ‘thank you’ mention in our acknowledgement page that contains hundred other names. Thank you for your efforts and hail to the great freedom commune. Happy hacking!”.

There's also emacser.com, a emacs wiki for serving Chinese emacs users in Asia. Although we all try to do best for the community, but there's just little chance for these perhaps largest ones to merge in some way. Similarly, there's quite a few emacs blogs: emacs-fu.blogspot.com, emacsblog.org, planet.emacsen.org (blog collection), are the better known ones, and there are several twitter ones twitter emacs (2k followers), twitter learnemacs (1.5k followers).

Similarly, GNU emacs, Aquamacs Emacs, Carbon Emacs, EmacsW32 and ErgoEmacs, Xemacs, SXemacs ... almost all are started or maintained by one single person. Merge between any two of them is just impossible for social reasons.

I really wished emacswiki could be like wikipedia so that the articles there are coherent and comprehensive but for various reasons Alex has his own approaches and ideas.

I think the practical solution is just for individuals to make things happen, especially with commercial vision, as in Stack Overflow site. Though, it takes tremendous time to make it happen.

If i am to start a emacs web 2.0 site, i'll need to register a domain name first, then figure out a hosting package that allows any of php, ruby, python, and arbitrary libraries that i can actually install, then research into software for web 2.0, features to consider (do i want it to be a lib repository like CPAN, or social network like Facebook with chats, or more as comprehensive expositions like Wikipedia, or more a efficient Questions and Answers place like Stack Overflow, or all of the above?). Then, time will be spent to admin and managing the software, and maybe coding and modifying too. Then gather community, advertise, writing tutorial... in the past 3 to 5 years am basically spending on average perhaps 3 hours a day on just writing my emacs tutorial and ErgoEmacs... and the little donation and advertisement i make out of this effort is perhaps $5 a month.

Thinking about your suggestion... if i start a site, make it full open source, no commercial backing, call for collaboration with open source spirit... it might end up just another blog/emacswiki without being high quality as it could be... when i'm out of time, some contributor become maintainers on their spare time... and it's just another wiki that lingers among the thousands. Unless me or someone have sufficient charisma to get all others to unite into a vision on a single goal, such as Richard Stallman with his GPL or Linus Torvalds with Linux. Or, with lots of money to burn as Ubuntu linux by millionaire Mark Shuttleworth.

Humm... this post started as just few word of thanks but typing and typing turned into a rant. ☺ Hope it didn't offend anyone. I hope emacs the best.

For Alex Schroeder's reply and the original thread at comp.emacs, see: groups.google.com.

If you have some ideas about improving emacswiki, Alex has opened a discussion at http://www.emacswiki.org/emacs-en/2010-10-02. (thanks Alex)

See also: GNU Emacs Developement Inefficiency.

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Taiwan, Politics, Tongyong Pinyin

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Taiwan, Politics, Tongyong Pinyin

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Xah Lee, 2010-10-01

Xah wrote:

John DeFrancis Idiot on Chinese Language

In the 1930s and 1940s, discussions on character simplification took place within the Kuomintang government, and a large number of Chinese intellectuals and writers have long maintained that character simplification would help boost literacy in China.[6]

Percival P Cassidy wrote:

Interesting. One of my KMT-supporting teachers in Taiwan insisted that the introduction of simplified characters was a Communist plot to render the people incapable of understanding their history and culture.

The issue is very political, but the degree of your friend's opinion is quite out there.

The politics of Taiwan is quite funny in the past 2 decades. When the nationalist party government the Kuomintang (KMT) was dictatorshipping Taiwain from about 1950 to 1980s. China is equated with communism and evil with big E, thanks to KMT (and USA). But since subset of native Taiwaness Party came to power in 1990s, now Evil equates both China and KMT, and the rational is kinda very complicated. This subset of native Taiwan people, hates KMT for obvious reasons of suppressive rule. But why do they hate China? That's must be because KMT made Taiwan so prosperous and independent and not hating China would mean accepting China's will to take it back.

Foolish thing Taiwan in recent years did was to re-invent pinyin. Basically, they need alphabetized chinese for street signs etc for foreigners, and pinyin is already there as a international standard for several decades, but some taiwaness can't use it because that's invented by communists. So after much ado, they invented their own, called Tongyong Pinyin , by brushing up a few symbols or rules of pinyin. Because not all people in taiwan agree to this new wheel, so the law ends up that some district's street signs goes by Pinyin while others goes by Tongyong Pinyin, depending on which political party has what power in which district. Quite funny. Wikipedia quotes:

On 10 July 2002 the ROC's Ministry of Education held a meeting for 27 members. Only 13 attended. Two left early, plus the chairman could not vote, so the bill for using Tongyong Pinyin was passed by ten votes.[1] In August 2002 the government adopted Tongyong Pinyin through an administrative order which local governments have the authority to override within their jurisdiction. In October 2007, with the DPP administration still in power, it was announced that the ROC would standardize the English transliterations of its Chinese Mandarin place names by the end of that year, after years of confusion stemming from multiple spellings, using the locally developed Tongyong Pinyin.[8]

During 2008, the Kuomintang won both the legislative and presidential elections. In September 2008, it was announced that Tongyong Pinyin would be replaced by Hanyu Pinyin as the ROC government standard at the end of the year. Since January 1, 2009, Hanyu Pinyin is the only official romanization system in the Republic of China.[3][4]

The good thing is, finally this mess is done for, and taiwan officially adopted pinyin in 2008.

Thanks to the stealing Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian. (money laundering, bribery, insider trading, embezzlement... to the tune of 10 to 22 mega USD, and deposit it in Swedish bank. lol) While he's in jail in 2009, he filed lawsuit in US at president Obama and Robert Gates (Secretary of Defense) for failing to rule taiwan well by the deem of Treaty of San Francisco. (see: 陳水扁.)

LOL. He thinks Uncle Sam should come over and do him justice.

Btw, what's with Swedish bank? why's it always the destination of money of riches in James Bond et al?

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video on demand and tech progress

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Computer Tech Progress and Video On Demand

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Xah Lee, 2010-10-01

Amazon now has Video On Demand. You go to the site, find the released movie you want, pay something like $4.00, then you can watch it on your computer screen. You need a fast internet connection.

Pretty nice. Tech has advanced.

My first computer that i bought was Macintosh IIsi, in ~1991. The computer costs $2k. It got 1 mega bytes of memory, 40 mega bytes of hard disk. CPU is Motorola 68030 at 20 MHz, with Motorola 68882 FPU. (gosh, i haven't heard of FPU for perhaps 10 years.)

The monitor i bought with it is a high-end model, the AppleColor High-Resolution RGB Monitor. It costs $1k. It has a 13 inch (33 cm) diagonal. The viewable area is about 22 cm in width and height. It can display 640x480 pixels. Weights 22 kg.

Today, your iPod amazon, which is palm-sized, got 8 giga bytes of data storage capacity, and 960×640 pixels screen dimension. The storage size is 400 times larger, the screen's number of pixels 2 times more. The cost is 7%. Am not sure how much better is the computing power. Perhaps 100 times faster.

The first consumer video tech for computer, is Apple's QuickTime, released in 1991. The videos are about stamp sized, about 200×200 pixels.

This is 640×480 screen size

This is 200×200 video size

Today's video size, the DVD, is 704×480. High-definition video (Blue-ray DVD and HDTV) is 1280×720 to 1920×1080.


splitting blog vote

last week's vote result:

Do you want this blog split into different blogs by subject?

  • Yes = 1
  • No = 4
  • Undecided = 0

this week's new vote is: What content would you like to see more?

  • emacs
  • other programing/computing/webdev topics
  • math
  • random pop, social, art, sex, politics
  • more technical (e.g. emacs, comp lang tutorial)
  • more rant/essay style writing
  • prefer longer (e.g. 1 or 2 pages essay/tutorial)
  • prefer short (1 paragraph emacs tips, etc)


Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus

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Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus

Xah Lee, 2010-09-29

Research says, woman uses 20 thousands words a day, while man only 7 thousand. See:

Mark Liberman is a linguist at University of Pennsylvania.

If you don't have time to read them thru, here's a moral:

There are many questionable people, many with PhD tattooed on their heads, and prey on the ignorant masses, usually for profit, often in the form of books and lectures. So, when you see attractive titles like the following, typically pop psychology, be wary.

  • 《Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know about the Emerging Science of Sex Differences》 (2006) Leonard Sax. amazon
  • 《The Female Brain》 By Louann Brizendine. amazon
  • 《Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus: The Classic Guide to Understanding the Opposite Sex》 (1992) By John Gray. amazon

Note that in amazon they have high ratings.

In the case of John Gray, the “Ph.D.” title plastered all over his books is from a unaccredited university that the court ordered to close. Quote from John Gray (U.S. author):

Gray received his Ph.D. from the unaccredited institution, Columbia Pacific University (CPU), after completing a correspondence course.[3][6] CPU was closed by California court order in 2000.[7] The court ruled that the State of California recognizes CPU degrees earned before June 25, 1997, as "legally valid" for use in the state, but other states, such as Texas, criminalize the use of CPU degrees. This time period above included Gray's degree which he received in 1982.[7]

Here's the Wikipedia on Columbia Pacific University. Quote:

  • “One master's-degree student was given credit for “a learning contract describing how he would continue taking dance lessons and watch dance demonstrations in order to improve his skills as a Country Western dancer.””
  • “A Ph.D. dissertation written in Spanish was approved by four faculty who cannot speak the language.”
  • “One dissertation “had no hypothesis, no data collection, and no statistical analysis. A member of the visiting committee characterized the work as more like a project paper at the college freshman level.” The dissertation, The Complete Guide to Glass Collecting, was 61 pages long.”
  • “At least nine students who received the Ph.D. degree in 1994 had been enrolled less than 20 months, four of them less than 12.”[12]

Since California court ordered it to close, the guy moved about different states and countries and renamed his school several times. Quote:

Soon after CPU's closure in California, founder Les Carr relocated the school to Missoula, Montana and subsequently changed its name to "Columbia Commonwealth University" (CCWU).[15][16][17] As Columbia Commonwealth University, the school obtained approval from the Republic of Malawi to operate as an educational institution in the African nation.[16][18][19] In 2001 CCWU moved to Jackson, Wyoming,[16] and was based in Rock Springs, Wyoming until it was either unable or unwilling to comply with Wyoming law. CPU founder Les Carr still serves as president of CCWU.[20][21] In 1993 Carr established Senior University International in Evanston, Wyoming, later known as Rutherford University.

Here's a funny tidbit:

In Neal Stephenson's 1999 novel, Cryptonomicon, an American protagonist remarks to his Filipino attorney, “You know what this is? It's one of those men-are-from-Mars, women-are-from-Venus things.” To which the attorney replies “I have not heard of this phrase but I understand immediately what you are saying.” “It's one of those American books where once you've heard the title you don't even need to read it.” “Then I won't.”

See also: Neal Stephenson at Google Talk.

Charlatans vs Gullibility of the Populace?

It's all fine to talk about the charlatans and gullibility of the populace... but that doesn't seem to be the whole story.

These books on male and female, may be unscientific and even deceptive, but if you look at all the things in the world, probably most of it are mis-information. For example, you can easily see it in politics; of all the rhetoric from politicians, sold to the uninformed populous. From “economics”, “jobs”, “privacy” etc to “war on terror”. In comparison, the daily ramblings from politicians spread much more misinformation than the few pop books.

So, in looking at the issue of misinformation, fraud, criticisms, credibility, it seems much of it is more a process of life than outright deception and ignorance. In human animal societies, views change, slowly throughout the decades. In the past 5 decades, there's mass pedophile craze, obscenities/porn craze, female as rape victims craze, comics harm children craze, peace+love craze... In the process, some have made a fortune, while damaging society on the whole. There are always some fashionable thinking and trends that permeate a period.

I think the problem is the human animals. This is part of the study of social psychology. I think the only solution is massive education and keep the massive free flow of info exchange open (a open internet). If war and religion is to stop, i think each and every person should have knowledege equivalent to like 3 university degrees, 2 in social sciences such as history and humanities. (See also: Futuristic Calamity.)

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Geometric Pattern on Sphere and Torus

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Geometry: Autologlyph on Torus

Xah Lee, 2010-05-26

decorated torus autologlyph

Torus Autologlyph

You can buy it at: shapeways.com.

This is made by Henry Segerman.

There's a brief description about this at: http://www.segerman.org/autologlyphs.html.

Art of Leonardo da Vinci

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Art of Leonardo da Vinci

〈Coition of a Hemisected Man and Woman〉 (c. 1492)

Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519).

John DeFrancis Idiot on Chinese

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John DeFrancis Idiot on Chinese Language

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Amazon Kindle. Read books under the sun. Review

Xah Lee, 2010-09-28

There's a linguist, dead, named John DeFrancis (1911-2009) . He's a well known expert specializing in Chinese language.

I've read parts of his article before, perhaps the most famous one, titled 《The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy》. It contains a section titled “Six Myths”. Quote from Wikipedia:

  • The Ideographic Myth: Chinese characters represent ideas instead of sounds.
  • The Universality Myth: Chinese characters enable speakers of mutually unintelligible languages to read each other's writing. (Also, to the extent this is possible, this is due to a special property that only Chinese characters have.) Furthermore, Chinese from thousands of years ago is immediately readable by any literate Chinese today.
  • The Emulatability Myth: The nature of Chinese characters can be copied to create a universal script, or to help people with learning disabilities learn to read.
  • The Monosyllabic Myth: All words in Chinese are one syllable long. Alternatively, any syllable found in a Chinese dictionary can stand alone as a word.
  • The Indispensability Myth: Chinese characters are necessary to represent Chinese.
  • The Successfulness Myth: Chinese characters are responsible for a high level of literacy in East Asian countries. (A weaker version of this myth is simply that despite the flaws of Chinese characters, East Asian countries still have a high level of literacy.)

I won't go into detail here, because i read i think only parts, and several years ago, and don't have access to the full article or book now. But my impression of his analysis in summary is that he seems to be a inflexible, impractical, academecian, who mouths things that are half truths but incompatible with the real world.

The real juice came today when i read one of his article in full, via a linguistic blog the Language Log, at languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu.

Apparantly, DeFrancis wrote a piece titled “Homographobia”. Basically, he is saying that when a phonetic system of english alphabets, is used as a Chinese writing system (e.g. pinyin), the result of significant increase of homographs, wouldn't be a problem, if such a pinyin system is to be the sole Chinese writing system. And he said this in a attacking style, worked it right into the title “Homographobia”. Here's the full article:

John DeFrancis appears to me like a academecic idiot.

He rants on in monotone, but his writing is unclear, gramar complex, hard to read, yet sans cogency nor humour.

In a scholarly piece on Chinese, why didn't he throw in some real Chinese characters to illustrate the point? For example, quote:

  • zhanzhang “station master”
  • zhanzheng “warfare”
  • zhengzhan “go on a campaign”
  • zhengzhang “badge”
  • zhuanzhan “fight in one place after another”
  • zhuanzheng “dictatorship”
  • zhuanzhang “transfer accounts”

I have a hard time reading his pinyin adorned with english explanations. Is the target of this piece to be non-Chinese speaking plebians??

In what seems to be deep research, why didn't he actually illustrate examples or cite statistics regarding Chinese homographs and homophones? instead, he borrows Hawaiian and Vietnamese to prove a point, by analogy?? Quote:

The relative simplicity of Chinese will become even greater if, as many advocate, tone indication is used only when necessary to avoid ambiguity. According to Yin Binyong (personal communication 2/7/85), tests made on written materials indicate that Chinese needs to add one of its four tone marks only on one word (cir) in twenty. According to my own count, French ...

Why didn't he actually give hard points instead of waving hands with his “personal communications” friends?

A rational approach along the lines indicated above will doubtless confirm the conclusion reached by Chao (1959: 10) that Chinese as a whole is “neither much more nor much less ambiguous than most other languages.” It would logically seem to follow from this that a phonemic writing system for Chinese on the whole would also be neither much more nor much less ambiguous than other phonemic systems of writing such as English, Spanish, German, and Russian. In other words, it seems to be an elementary truism that a Pinyin orthography that is truly based on speech (of course at various levels), and that is provided with a minimum number of judiciously determined special spellings to avoid attested occurrences of unacceptable ambiguity in realistic contexts, can function as a simple and practical orthography for Chinese. The implementation of such an orthography appears to offer the best possibility for curing all but the completely hopeless cases of homographobia.

The above conclusion, is so ridiculous that it just won't fly for any native Chinese in living in a Taiwan or China who were not born imbeciles.

About Pinyin

Note: the journal Xin Tang, where DeFrancis's article is published, seems to be a journal dedicated to promoting pinyin as a Chinese writing system. All articles in it are in pinyin. And the name Xin Tang (新唐) means New China. The journal is published in USA. Possibly it's politically backed publication.

The idea and desire for Chinese writing system to change to Latin alphabet system was common at the time during early 1990s among scholars and educators. Remember, China was devastated by World War 2 with Japan and civil war between its communist party and nationalist party Kuomintang (國民黨). The thought of modernization is strong. (See: 花样的年华 (Age of Blossom))

People's Republic of China officially introduced Pinyin in 1958, and Simplified Chinese characters also happened around the same time.

Pinyin was primarily a system for annotating pronunciation, but with the thought of using it to completely replace the character system. But it never happened. Instead, simplified characters remain the writing system. Pinyin is just used as pronunciation symbols in mostly education, and it is also widely used to input Chinese on computer today.

Here's some quote from Wikipedia:

Although most of the simplified Chinese characters in use today are the result of the works moderated by the government of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in the 1950s and 60s, character simplification predates the PRC's formation in 1949. Cursive written text almost always includes character simplification. Simplified forms used in print have always existed (they date back to as early as the Qin Dynasty (221 - 206 BC), though early attempts at simplification resulted in more characters being added to the lexicon).

One of the earliest proponents of character simplification was Lufei Kui, who proposed in 1909 that simplified characters should be used in education. In the years following the May Fourth Movement in 1919, many anti-imperialist Chinese intellectuals sought ways to modernise China. Traditional culture and values such as Confucianism were challenged. Soon, people in the Movement started to cite the traditional Chinese writing system as an obstacle in modernising China and therefore proposed that a reform be initiated. It was suggested that the Chinese writing system should be either simplified or completely abolished. Fu Sinian, a leader of the May Fourth Movement, called Chinese characters the “writing of ox-demons and snake-gods” niúguǐ shéshén de wénzì (牛鬼蛇神的文字). Lu Xun, a renowned Chinese author in the 20th century, stated that, “If Chinese characters are not destroyed, then China will die.” (漢字不滅,中國必亡。) Recent commentators have claimed that Chinese characters were blamed for the economic problems in China during that time.[5]

In the 1930s and 1940s, discussions on character simplification took place within the Kuomintang government, and a large number of Chinese intellectuals and writers have long maintained that character simplification would help boost literacy in China.[6] Three-hundred and twenty-four simplified characters collected by Qian Xuantong were officially introduced in 1935 as the table of 1st batch simplified character (第一批簡體字表) and suspended in 1936. In many world languages, literacy has been promoted as a justification for spelling reforms.

The People's Republic of China issued its first round of official character simplifications in two documents, the first in 1956 and the second in 1964. In the 1950s and 1960s, while confusion about simplified characters was still rampant, transitional characters that mixed simplified parts with yet-to-be simplified parts of characters together appeared briefly, then disappeared.

Can Pinyin Practically Replace Chinese Characters?

It is a interesting question: to what degree the ambiguity of increased homograph in pinyin as a writing system, affect pinyin as a the sole writing system for Chinese. Another way of asking the same question is, if all Chinese characters of the same sound are replaced by identical characters, how would it affect the effectiveness of written communication?

Note that puns based on homophone happens daily in Chinese newspaper articles, which relies on the characters to see the meaning and the pun. Puns in shop names are very common too. If you walk around a busy street filled with shops and advertisements, you'll probably see tens of them. Many western fast food restaurants such as McDonald (麥當勞), Pizza Hut (必勝客), or products such as Coca-Cola (可口可乐), Pepsi (百事可乐), in Chinese are some sort of pun based on homophone. And person names, street names, much relies on different characters to differentiate. If we imagine that Chinese chars magically disappears in China and Taiwan and are replaced by pinyin, it will have a major impact on Chinese culture.

If you simply show a page of pinyin to a Chinese, what can be read in 20 seconds might now take 2 minutes. This is mostly due to unfamiliarity. But suppose if Chinese grew up with pinyin as the writing system, what would be affected or changed due to the increased homographs? (without spending time on this, i'd guess the homograph would increase at least 100 folds.)

DeFrancis's article doesn't provide any technical info, but only tries to mock the questioner.

Today, the China modernization crisis is gone, and the worry about the difficulty of Chinese characters for computer processing is also a thing of the past. There is no desire in China or Taiwan to replace Chinese writing system by alphabets. However, the pinyin as writing system is still a interesting linguistic question.

Japan also has the same problem. Japanese writing system is based on phonetic alphabets and Chinese characters (called kanji). Japan also had the desire to eliminate the cumbersome Chinese characters, facing pretty much the same problem as alphabetizing Chinese. However, Japan clearly have not adopted the elimination of Chinese characters.

Similar situations happens in Korean and Vietnamese. One would be interested to know how North Korea and Vietnam solved the problem, even though they are completely different languages. For example, to what degree are the increase of homographs in these languages. DeFrancis provides no info on this whatsoever.

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math tool: hand writing recognization: detexify

Detexify is a tool that lets you draw a math symbol and it shows you the code for LaTeX. The tool is created by Daniel Kirsch. At http://detexify.kirelabs.org/classify.html.

See also: Math Symbols in Unicode.

If you are a emacs user, you can set your emacs up so that any frequently used symbols can be entered by a single shortcut key, or a abbreviation. See: Emacs and Unicode Tips.

emacs ibuffer tip: mouse click to open file

In dired and Bookmark, you can use mouse click to open a file. But ibuffer, it marks the file instead. Here's how to fix it. Put the following in your emacs init file:

(defun xah-ibuffer-keys ()
  "Modify keymaps used by `ibuffer'."
  (local-set-key (kbd "<down-mouse-1>") 'ibuffer-visit-buffer-other-window)

(add-hook 'ibuffer-hook 'xah-ibuffer-keys)

Select the above code, then press 【Alt+x eval-region】, or restart emacs.

This will make the mouse click open the file into a split pane. What if you want to open the file without splitting the window? Hint: find out the function name for opening the file in ibuffer. (use “describe-key”.)

Flatland and Ian Stewart's new book

Ian Stewart has a new book out.

  • 《Professor Stewart's Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities》 (2009) By Ian Stewart. amazon

Read 1/3 of his 《Flatterland》 amazon in ~2002.

See also: FLATLAND: A Romance of Many Dimensions, and Flatland: A Introduction (by Xah Lee) for many subsequent books and films on Flatland. It is one of my favorite book, say, in top 5, of all books in my life.

Thanks to R Michael Underwood for the tip.


emacs manual mirror

Created the emacs manual mirror, with better css and html, at http://xahlee.org/emacs_manual/index.html.

The emacs manual is pretty bad today. Too much fat. See: Problems of Emacs's Manual.

There are about 690 pages. If i spend 30 min to edit 5 pages a day, that'll take 138 days, or 4.6 months. Maybe that's what i'll do. That will be 69 hours of work.

If you like to support the site, please paylpal donate $10 (to xah @ xahlee.org), and i'll send you my complete tutorial, plus emacs and elisp manuals. Link is also much appreciated. Thanks.

firefox logo boobs

Not to risk violating Google's ad program policy, please visit here instead: http://xahlee.org/funny/FireFox_logo_boobs.html


Pattern Matching vs Lexical Grammar Specification

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Pattern Matching vs Lexical Grammar Specification

Xah Recommends:
Amazon Kindle. Read books under the sun. Review

Xah Lee, 2008-05-01

This page is a personal note on the relation of pattern matching and lexical grammar specification, and their application in formal logic. Pattern matching here can mean textual pattern matching such as regex or list structure and datatype pattern matching such as in Mathematica.

A Need For Lexical Grammar Spec Lang

In computing, there's pattern matching. e.g. those in Mathematica, for pattern matching list structure and datatypes ( Mathematica patterns ) , and those in perl, for pattern matching strings. These pattern matching domain-specific languages are designed to match patterns, but i have realized, that they are rather unfit, when used as a mean to specify textual forms. In short, what i came to understand is that pattern matching facilities (may it be regex for strings or Mathematica's for symbolic expressions), although powerful, but is not capable of specifying formal grammar, even very simple ones. (this seems obvious now, when stated as above, but it was a realization for me.)

Often, when writing doc or in verbal communication, on computer programing or doing math with Mathematica, you are tempted to use a pattern to communicate a particular form a expression may have. For example, you would like to say that email address has the form xyz, where xyz is a perl regex:


Similarly, you might use regex to communicate the form of a url, domain name, file path. In math (especially in formal logic or in computer algebra systems), i often want to say that certain function has the form xyz, where xyz is a Mathematica pattern that indicates the function's parameters, output, and their types. (For example: a computer language expression analogous to traditional notation 「f:ℂ²→ℝ³」). However, in practice, using regex or Mathematica's patterns for the purpose of specifying a form, is often unsatisfactory. Typically, using patterns only gives a general idea, but isn't a correct specification of the form. For the purpose of giving a general idea, verbal English description is almost as good. Almost.

For example, in the official doc for E-mail address (RFC 2822), it does not use a regex to specify email address's syntax. Instead, it uses a variant of BNF mixed with many pages of explanations, for human reading.

Here's the regex for email address as specified in RFC 2822, from Source:


The regex is 426 chars long and not human unreadable.

It is quite desirable to have a simple language for specifying syntax, that can be parsed by a computer, yet designed in a human-readable way, and concise. With such a language, we could use it to verify if a text is a valid form. We could use it for human communication. Conceivably, it could replace regex for string patten matching or much enhance pattern matching as used in Mathematica or other functional langs.

Pattern Matching vs Grammar Specification

Pattern matching such as regex, takes a spect and works on a given text. Grammar spec lang such as BNF goes the other way: it takes a spect to generate all possible texts.

This brings the question: to what degree, pattern matching language and grammar specification language are orthogonal? That is: are these simply two ways of looking at the same idea? Can they be unified (in theory or practice)? This question, can be considered with respect to computer science of formal languages field. And, it can be also considered with respect to practical programing, as in tools to parse languages, regex to match strings, pattenrs to match text structures, or text generator tools to generate possible strings (such as math formula syntax, email syntax, url syntax, programing lang syntax).

One grammar specification lang is BNF. There are various (incompatible) versions and extensions of BNF, and BNF is mostly used for humans reading, in the same way that traditional math notation is a language for human consumption, not for machine to process. The machine readable versions used by parsers each has its own ad hoc incompatible extensions. As a human-to-human lang, it is imprecise and filled with errors. Is there a general purpose, widely used, BNF-like language that is designed to run as executable program, but also has qualities for human reading?

If we look at the top 20 most popular computer languages used today (e.g. Java, Perl, Visual Basic, SQL, ... lisp), most of them do not have a language specification or anything close to a published grammar. For those that have some form of spec, perhaps 95% of them are specified in a form for human to read (as opposed to machine readable parser lang), and are extremely complex and imprecise. For examples: Java with Java Language Specification, Python with its “The Python Language Reference”, Perl, PHP, have no grammar spec. Even the functional lang Haskell, does not have a formal grammar spec.

Take HTML for example, and even the much simpler XML's official specifications of its syntax by W3C at http://www.w3.org/TR/xml11/, are wildly complex with dense and verbose descriptions, in tens of pages. (as far as i know, there is no parser based specification for as simple a language as XML.)

The grammar of XML is conceptually very simple. It seems something is lacking, by the fact that its Lexical grammar is not specified by a computer language. Conceivable it would be within 50 lines of such a language, the essence would probably just 10 lines.

The above issues in computer science are roughly in the fields of parsing, pattern matching, formal language theory.

I don't have any experience nor had any study of parsing. It appears that Yacc and Flex lexical analyser is something i'm looking for.

I'll be spending time studying parsing in the near future to fill my void in this important topic. As of now, my impression of yacc and lex is that they don't seem to be the system i'm looking for. For example, apparently, SGML, XML, do not use them to specify the grammar. Nor, most languages i know of. They seem just to be a very technical tool and not something general enough to be used for human communication as well in wide number of computer languages.

Parsing Expression Grammar!


I have found what i wanted!! See Parsing expression grammar.

Apparently, it's still not in wide use. There are one or two implementations in languages like Haskell and Perl6. I would like to see this in perl, python, php, javascript, and most of all, emacs lisp.

There are 2 Emacs Lisp implementations:

Study Notes

Some Wikipedia learning and notes:

BNFs, CFL, Generative Grammar

The Backus–Naur form has several variants used today. The original BNF discussed in 1959 is hardly used today. Major variants are, perhaps in order of popularity:

BNF and variants are so-called Metasyntax. Metasyntax means roughly a syntax that is used to describe the formal grammar of other langs. In particular, the BNF (and variants, henceforth BNFs) are used to describe a class of language called Context-free languages (CFL).

Context-free langs are those can be described using Context-free grammar, and context-free grammar is roughly those that can be described by a set of certain transformation rules (often called production rules). BNFs are syntaxes for these production rules.

A grammar (formal grammar), is a high-level (typically human-level) spec that describes a language's possible strings (i.e. the source code). There are many classes of grammars. One classification is whether they are context-free. And, of the context-free ones, there are few ways to describe them. One way, by listing several transformation rules, is called Generative grammar. Another way, by mathematical qualifications, is called Analytic grammar. (So, for example, BNFs are used for generative grammar.)

BNF Examples

As far as i know, none of the following examples are written for machine to parse. Also, the BNF extention is non-standard.


parser flow

Parsing can be broken down to few steps.

Lexical analysis, which breaks the text stream into tokens. Then, syntactic analysis organize the stream of tokens into a parse tree.

In lexical analysis, it can be separated into 2 steps: scanner and tokenizer.

Algorithms for parsing can be grouped into types, based on their approach. In one classification, there's Top-down parsing and Bottom-up parsing.

formal language

formal grammar specifies the all possible string of a language.

Lexical grammar specifies the syntax of tokens. For example, XML is specified in lexical grammar. (since here is not one specific language, but a lexical structure that can spawn off new langs)

Once a formal grammar is given, the reverse problem of determining whether a string belongs to that lang, is theoretically studied in a field named Automata theory, which is how regex originated from.

Some links to check out:

Origin Of My Interest

PS what lead me to wrote this article, is this: i was study algebraic curves 《elementary geometry of algebraic curves》 amazon , by C G Gibson. While reading the book, in conjunction of working on my Visual Dictionary of Special Plane Curves website, and also my long time interest in formal mathematics (see The Codification of Mathematics), i wanted to express the definition and theorems of algebraic curves as a sequence of symbols. (and hopefully show proofs as derivation of these symbol strings according to some given rules. In other words, my wish is to put the human element out)

In other words, i was foraging into formal systems. This is when i EXPLICITLY realized a long experience, that pattern matching as by regex or Mathematica isn't sufficient to specify even simple forms (i.e. grammar). This got me started to study formal languages, grammar, BNF, CFL, PEG, parsers, automata, etc. I have actually never studied these subjects. (I recall, back in 1997, i was naively trying to devise production rules for the Mathematica language. I was, effectively, devising BNF for Mathematica's FullForm (which is just nested list like lisp).)

Another reason that i dived into the subject, is that for the past 2 or so years i've been wanting to have a lisp source code reformatter in emacs based on a lexical analysis. (See: A Simple Lisp Code Formatter.) Getting acquainted with parser theory will help me.

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lisp logo

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Xah Lee, 2007-12

Here is a logo for the LISP programing language.

LISP logo big

SVG version: LISP_logo.svg.

Here are smaller sizes:

LISP logo mid, LISP logo small, LISP logo tiny.

The image is copyright © 2007 by Xah Lee. Feel free to use the logo for LISP language promotion.

Note: This logo is a redrawing of a image found on the web. This one: Lisp Logo. I do not know who is its copyright owner. It appears to be a logo originating from http://wiki.alu.org/ (Association of Lisp Users). If you are its copyright owner, trademark owner, or designer, please contact me.

New lisp logos

New lisp logos:

CLforJava logo

CLforJava logo.

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Clozure Common Lisp logo.

For a gallery, see: A Lambda Logo Tour.