Hmmm… Expressing the Inexpressible

Remember that video of the Google self-driving car taking that blind guy to Taco Bell?

Ok, now forget it. That was a pre-planned route driven by a mapping vehicle in advance, and there was a police escort right off camera since what they did was arguably illegal. We at ratpag just want you to know that self-driving cars are a thing. If they ever become small, cheap, and safe enough to move without a human “driver” providing oversight, what you’ll end up with is a highly-responsive lightweight paratransit system.

ratpag is closely monitoring this technology so that you don’t have to sit through adorable Google propaganda videos. We subscribe to several newsletters on vehicle automation, including Princeton professor Alain Korn’s Smart Driving Cars newsletter. Recently, though, he appears to be speaking in code. Let’s take a closer look at his letter from Friday, March 14. Don’t read, just look at it.


All of the Smart Driving Cars newsletters follow this basic format: story, then Korn’s commentary. He always, always, begins his commentary with some form of “Hmmm…”

At first we figured it was something to do with his editing system, that maybe “Hmmm…” was pre-written into the response field and he just filled out the rest. But no! It changes over the course of the newsletter. He’s actually writing out “Hmmm…” on every response!

What you see above is a 3/3 — that’s three em’s and precomposed triple-dot glyph. What does it mean? He seems critical but jocular in this response, evidenced by the awkward c’mon man reference. Perhaps the third em and dot are playful?


From the same post we have a 2/2, for two em’s and a precomposed double-dot glyph. Still with us? “This is very interesting” is probably his favorite response to a story, and this one is “VERY interesting!” Maybe he was too deep in thought for the standard third em and dot?


A neutral response here, maybe a little critical near the end, and we get another 3/3. ratpag is now thinking the 2/2 is only used when Korn is excitable.


Uh oh, we’ve got a 2/3!!! This is ground-breaking! The section from the article is incorrectly formatted in red and italicized, so maybe whatever poor grad student is putting this together had a rough night. Korn is mildly approving here, but seems non-plussed. ratpag now thinks that em’s are negatively correlated with excitement, and dots positively correlated with approval. One more to go!


The rare 3/2. He’s clearly not excited (the title is “Half-baked stuff that probably doesn’t deserve your time”), so that kills ratpag’s em-to-boredom correlation. The dots-to-approval correlation holds.

We’ve learned nothing this week, but don’t worry, this will ABSOLUTELY be a recurring post. Hopefully with charts and data and all that.

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