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Yonatan Zunger
Distinguished Engineer on Privacy at Google
Distinguished Engineer on Privacy at Google

Yonatan's posts

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We can learn a lot from a skeleton: diet, work, daily life, and even what a man's face looked like, seven hundred years ago. 

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A great map of the relationships between languages in Europe. It uses the amount of shared lexicon as a measure of mutual comprehensibility, and thus "closeness." Some of this closeness comes from linguistic relatedness - you won't be surprised that Macedonian and Bulgarian are virtually identical - while some comes from geographic proximity and shared history, as when Basque and Spanish have a significant shared lexicon despite being linguistically completely unrelated. 

Interconnectivity & Language

This linguistic map paints an alternative map of Europe, displaying the language families that populate the continent, and the lexical distance between the languages. The closer that distance, the more words they have in common. The further the distance, the harder the mutual comprehension.

The map shows the language families that cover the continent: large, familiar ones like Germanic, Italic-Romance and Slavic; smaller ones like Celtic, Baltic and Uralic; outliers like Semitic and Turkic; and isolates – orphan languages, without a family: Albanian and Greek.

Obviously, lexical distance is smallest within each language family, and the individual languages are arranged to reflect their relative distance to each other.

Take the Slavics: Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian and Montenegrin are a Siamese quartet of languages, with Slovenian, another of former Yugoslavia's languages, extremely close. Slovakian is halfway between Czech and Croatian. Macedonian is almost indistinguishable from Bulgarian. Belarusian is pretty near to Ukrainian. Russia standa a bit apart, is closest to Bulgarian, but quite far from Polish.

Italian is the vibrant centre of the Italic-Romance family, as close to Portuguese as it is to French. Spanish is a bit further. Romania is an outlier, in lexical as well as geographic distance. Catalan is the missing link between Italian and Spanish.

The map also shows a number of fascinating minor Romance languages: Galician, Sardinian, Walloon, Occitan, Friulian, Picard, Franco-Provencal, Aromanian, Asturian and Romansh.

Latin, mentioned in the legend but not on the map, although no longer a living language, is an important point of reference, as it is the progenitor of all the Romance languages.

Lots of coldness in the Germanic family. The bigger members English and German, each keep to themselves. Dutch leans towards the German side, Frisian to the English side. Up north, the smaller Nordic languages cluster in close proximity; Danish, Swedish, Norwegian (both the Bokmal and Nynorsk versions).

And look at the tiny Icelandic, Faroer and Luxembourgish languages.

The Celtic family portrait is a grim picture: small language dots, separated by a lot of mutual incomprehension: the distance is quite far between Breton and Welsh, a bit closer between Irish and Scottish Gaelic, and further still between the first and second pair.

more, and additional charts & images at link...

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A clever little device: An "assassin's teapot," containing two chambers which can hold different liquids. Depending on where you put your fingers as you pour (to cover different holes, and thus create a vacuum which would hold one liquid or the other in place) you can cause either to come out. The perfect tool with which to serve yourself and your enemy.

Unless, of course, you don't get that seal perfectly right. But to cope with such cases, it's always wise to have been building up an immunity to the iocaine powder ahead of time anyway.

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I know that, if you release a bowling ball and a feather from the same height in a vacuum, they will hit the ground simultaneously. That their difference under normal conditions comes entirely from the air resistance which a feather experiences. And that people have understood this for centuries.

I know that everything about spacecraft propulsion and routing depends on this fact, and that this has been verified over and over again by the fact that we can, for example, land on the Moon or Mars.

But still, watching it be done from a height of several stories in the world's biggest vacuum chamber, it's still kind of amazing that it works. And apparently the people doing the test, experienced scientists and engineers all, find it kind of amazing too.

h/t +Rick Mann

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This is an extremely thoughtful article about the underlying political dynamics which shape the debates over health care in the US, and it's helping me understand many things going on in our country today; as the author says, "When it seems like people are voting against their interests, I have probably failed to understand their interests."

His key point is this: "[T]he bulk of needy white voters are not interested in the public safety net. They want to restore their access to an older safety net, one much more generous, dignified, and stable than the public system – the one most well-employed voters still enjoy."

That is, the US has had a social safety net for a very long time, a very generous one, publicly funded through various tax subsidies, and giving people a sense of having earned those things as well, through individual work. But unlike most countries' safety nets, the American net was never intended to cover everybody – a fact which is ultimately tied to the fact that America never viewed itself as a single polity, but rather as a collection of racial polities whose natural relationship was hierarchical. That is, what we had in the US was "white socialism" – and this is what many people want back, although they don't realize exactly what it was.

Very worth reading and thinking about.

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At first I thought this was just an amusing infographic, but it's actually the header to a fascinating essay, which in turn is an excerpt from a book, all of which contains quite a few more such graphics, and more importantly, a discussion of the cultural boundaries within Europe and how they got there.

I have to say that Tsvetkov's map of "The World According to the Ancient Greeks" seems quite on point, up to and including its description of which domesticated animals they consider each of their neighbors to prefer fornicating with.

h/t +Lucas Appelmann

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Subtleties in data analysis: "Special K" being a common nickname for ketamine may have slightly skewed its popularity in searches.

Via +Lucas Appelmann​

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This is a slightly amusing, but interesting, bit of data analysis. Bernhardsson searched for articles of the form "Why our team moved from [programming language] to [other programming language]," to get a picture of trends. He ended up with the big matrix shown below.

Now, if you view the frequency of these articles as indicating the probability with which people actually move from one to the other, you end up with a big matrix of transition probabilities. And if you have a matrix of transition probabilities, you can compute the equilibrium distribution: in this case, what programming languages people end up using after a long time. (That assumes that the probability distributions stay fixed for long enough to reach equilibrium, but interestingly, it doesn't depend on what distribution of languages you started out with.)

In case you're wondering, the present future of programming languages is: 16.4% Go, 14.3% C, 13.2% Java, 11.5% C++, and 9.5% Python. This actually doesn't entirely surprise me: C and C++ continue to be the backbones of infrastructure and embedded systems; Java and Python remain the "generic default languages," and every other language people use for development tends to bounce back and forth between that and those standards; and people seem to be transitioning to Go a lot more than they transition away from it.

Of course, this assumes that the sort of things which people generate articles about is actually indicative of real life, which probably grossly overrepresents certain kinds of team.

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Our infrastructure is not maintained by Lin-Manuel Miranda :-)


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There are a few parasites which are known to affect the higher functions of the mind - rabies making dogs vicious, parasitic wasps which commandeer orb spiders, flatworms which make ants commit a strange sort of suicide atop blades of grass, where they can be eaten by sheep. And, of course, there's toxoplasma gondii, whose primary habitat is in the intestines of cats, and which can be responsible for "crazy cat lady syndrome."

But while we usually think of this as being a rare, acute condition affecting only a few people, it turns out that infection rates may be far higher than we imagined - 10-20% of Americans, and over 50% of Europeans - and that even these low-level infections may have subtle but significant effects on our personalities.

We may well be, in short, under the effect of mind-controlling parasites right now. And things as fundamental as our introversion or extroversion, or as seemingly arbitrary as our fashion sense, may be affected.

Via +A.V. Flox​
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