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Colin Johnson’s blog


Archive for March, 2017

The Subtlety of Prepositions (1)

Monday, March 13th, 2017

The English language is very subtle. One of the causes of this subtlety, and one of the things that makes it very difficult to go from advanced non-native speaker to native-like fluency is the influence of prepositions. Some of these are very simple—I remember years ago trying to explain the difference between “in the corner” and “on the corner” with the aid of various bits of cutlery and salt/pepper pots—but, others are much more complex. I’ve just been writing a work-related email to a colleague, and I found myself correcting “If you want to meet up to talk about this further, let me know.” to “If you want to meet to talk about this, let me know.”. Somehow, the verb “to meet up” is casual, about social meetings, etc.; whereas the verb “to meet” is about serious, work-related meetings. Not a distinction that had ever struck me until just now!

Variations on Folk Sayings (17)

Friday, March 10th, 2017

“Wouldn’t take ‘fuck off’ as an answer.”

Machine Learning with Context (1)

Friday, March 3rd, 2017

Two interesting machine learning/AI challenges (emerging from a chat with my former PhD student Lawrence Beadle yesterday):

  1. Devise a system for automatically doing substitutions in online grocery shopping, including the case which recognises that substituting a Manchester City-themed birthday cake is not an adequate substitution for a Manchester United-themed birthday cake, despite them both being birthday cakes, of the same weight, same price, and both having the word “Manchester” in the name.
  2. Devise a forecasting system that will not predict that demand for turkeys will be enormous on December 27th, or flowers on February 15th.

Both of these need some notion of context, and perhaps even explanation.