Why do we learn languages at school that most of us will never remember, be fluent in or use (coming from Australian education background)?

The fact that you are Australian is significant here.

Foreign languages are taught in school because foreign languages have been decided to be useful to a country’s citizens. They can be useful practically, or they can be useful culturally.

Classical languages were initially taught because they are useful practically as well as culturally. Latin was the language the European elite communicated in internationally, and classical Greek is where Latin got its culture from. When the practical utility fell away, classical languages became more of a niche, but they were still felt essential to the cultural grounding of the elite. When the culture shifted away from that, classical languages became even more niche.

There are only a few countries in which a majority of citizens don’t need to learn a foreign language for very practical reasons. And many of those countries are English speaking. In such countries, you learn a foreign language in school either because a minority still will finds it useful, or to contribute to the cultural grounding of the citizenry.

In the US, teaching Spanish makes sense for practical reasons, because a minority of non-Latinos clearly will still find it useful, whether south or north of the border. The same applies in Australia, with teaching Japanese or Indonesian or Mandarin.

The same kind of applies to Britain with the teaching of French and German. There is a bit of cultural grounding going on there, as well, given the importance of French and German culture. But those really are the two languages an educated Briton was most likely to run into.

French and German were taught in Australia, because French and German were taught in Britain. I am grateful that I was taught French and German, but I concede that the priority given to French and German until 20 years ago in Australian education was an anachronism.

Why do I keep getting 504 Gateway Timeout when I try to visit Quora?

What nicknames have you been called in your life? Where did they originate?

A2A; I’ve already listed all I could recall under Nick Nicholas’ answer to What are the funniest nicknames you’ve been given over the years? For origins, see there.

Of these:

  • Nicko. Love (so Ocker!) Never used since 14.
  • Acka Nicka. Hate. Never used since 15.
  • Nick Squared. Like. Frequent use up to 17, very rare reinvention since.
  • NSN. Indifferent (I don’t use the middle initial any more). 18–22. Is occasionally still used by people I studied with. (It’s a very computer geek thing: it was my email address.)
  • The Minoan Genius. Love. Used once when I was 25.
  • Opoudjis. Love. Used really only by me, since I was 25: it’s my self-chosen user name. (And I seem to be the only person who can spell it and pronounce it, anyway.)
  • Niĉjo/.nitcion./nIchyon. Like. Esperanto, Lojban, Klingon versions of “Nick”, each drawn from its precedent. Niĉjo: used some when I was active (13–20). nitcion: used a lot when I was active. nIchyon: used a little when I was active.

Special mention, not mentioned in previous answer:

  • Dr Nick. Love. Used when I was lecturing by my students (age 31), and intermittently since. Most recently revived by Tracey Bryan. To be delivered in Dr. Nick Riviera singsong.

Separated at birth.

What kind of reality does a piece of music have?

It has the same reality as a story does, or a theory. It belongs in the Ideosphere. Actually, the term I’ve heard used is Noosphere; but the early notions of noosphere that Wikipedia enumerates are kinda loony. But it’s a mental construct, the kind of thing that Dawkins actually had in mind when he first spoke of memes; and as such, the ideosphere is:

the “place” where thoughts, theories and ideas are thought to be created, evaluated and evolved. […] The ideosphere is not considered to be a physical place by most people. It is instead “inside the minds” of all the humans in the world.

The performance of the music isn’t the music; it’s an instantiation, and music still exists if is never performed, but is just written down on a score. The score of the music isn’t the music either. Think of the langue/parole distinction from Saussure: the music is the underlying code, the idealised mental construct, and it exists independent of instantiation.

What are the biggest challenges that Quora faces over the next couple of years?

  • Monetisation
  • Maintaining quality of contributions

Not placating those who think moderation or the UX sucks. Quora has gotten away with not prioritising that, because there’s always more users queuing up to join, and people (particularly more passive users, or more invested power users) are prepared to put up with a lot.

But online communities do tend to run out of steam after a while, and you have to find ways to keep contributors motivated and challenged. People do burn out, and people do leave in a huff, and you might want to check whether the outflow does start exceeding the inflow, either in numbers or in quality.

You also want to ensure that the contributors are still challenged to write content people feel like reading. A lot of people here decry the increase in stupid questions or gossipy content. That’s valid, and an unavoidable consequence of growth. But I for one have no desire to go back to the Quora of 2010, and I’m glad I wasn’t around for it: a site where there were no Survey Questions, no Humanities, every question was about Startups, and every user was from Silicon Valley? Pass. The growth in participation, subject matter, and yes, sociability has been a good thing. It has brought eyeballs. Quora has an ongoing challenge to keep eyeballs…

… Because Quora has to monetise; it can’t stay a Facebook alum vanity project forever. The VCs will go for the next shiny object; Quora has to find a way to keep advertisers’ interest. That means eyeballs. And yes, that means a certain amount of clickbait (which we have already), but it also means a certain amount of good authoritative content, which keeps the lucrative demographics around; and yes, it means acquiescing to the social use of Quora, which for advertisers is a feature not a bug.

Sell out, I hear you say? Suits me. A Quora pure to what it was started out as in 2010 is not a Quora I’d have invested in. It’s grown, in occasionally unexpected directions. That’s a good thing. Sometimes the market does produce good outcomes, after all.

The push this year looks to be internationalisation, if Quora is queuing up fr.quora, de.quora, and it.quora. (No hi.quora or zh.quora, I see. Hm.) I just hope internationalisation is married up to monetisation somewhere in the plan…

Should Quora adopt Google’s new project, “Perspective”, to spot harassment and BNBR violations?

I’m so the wrong person to be asking this, Asher.

Perspective is a brand new machine learning project, to spot flames (“toxic comments”) online.

We are on a site which uses a lot of bots (bots trained through machine learning) to do things like assign topics, detect grammar mistakes in questions, and detect near duplicate questions.

Are they useful? Yes.

Are they a replacement for human intervention? As anyone who’s spent more than 5 minutes on here knows, no. They are still quite fallible, because these are AI-hard questions.

Now. Moderation is a hugely controversial topic in Quora. People are very unhappy with moderation outcomes, and protest it to the skies.

Will people be more happy if it is substantially done by bot (if it isn’t already)? No. They will completely lose their shit. You know it, I know it. If Quora is already doing it, there’s an excellent reason why they’re keeping shtum about it.

Will they be right to? We know that in some domains, robots do better than humans. Grading essays, for example. (And boy, is there a shitstorm about that in the letters pages of newspapers.)

But note that moderation is something that needs sensitivity and judgement. Note how unhappy people are with the crude decision-making of bots now on Quora—bots actually are helpful, but only to get you 80% of the way there, and people complain endlessly (and rightly) about the 20% crap that’s left over.

At best, bots would be a backup of what happens now in moderation, with community reporting. They could find more potential infractions. They would find a hell of a lot more false alarms. They would either make for much more work for human mods (because there’ll be more crap to wade through), or else they will actually replace human mods—and if you think people are unhappy now, wait till the bots start unilaterally banning people. The revolt that would trigger really would impact Quora’s bottom line, because it wouldn’t be just the odd false positive, it’d be a bot bloodbath.

You should also bear in mind that Perspective is barely out of the Google research lab; it would take a lot of tweaking to become reliable at enterprise scale. Quora is likely prone to Not Invented Here syndrome, like many a startup is. But I wouldn’t blame them in this case: if Quora know what they are doing, they have their own research lab going, looking into developing their own bot smarts. Both because they know their own problem space better (one hopes), and because that kind of research capital—and the training data we all volunteer for it—is the kind of asset they really can monetise.

Quora: Why do some topics not have a ‘Most Viewed Writers’ section?

Three classes of topic do not get MVW that I have observed:

  • Topics that are not popular enough (by some metric) to get statistically significant MVWs. How many followers does a topic need to have on Quora in order to have its own Most Viewed Writers section?
  • Adult topics: Why don’t many adult Quora topics have Most Viewed Writers despite the topic size and popularity? The presumed rationale is that Quora want to restrict distribution of adult topics, and thinks being labelled as MVW in an adult writer would be somehow embarrassing.
    • I think the block of MVW on adult topics is more embarrassing, myself, but I guess that’s why I don’t work for Quora.
  • Politically contentious topics, such as Thatcher and Theresa May. Trump and Sanders didn’t have MVWs either, as Sierra Spaulding has pointed out. If the embarrassment rationale holds there too, I will hypothesise, Quora is preemptively thinking that to be tagged as MVW in a politically partisan topic would be somehow embarrassing, or would encourage people to start attacking each other.
    • Because noone will have ever seen the partisan answers that earned them MVW in those topics to begin with, and the lack of MVWs has prevented Quorans from ever labelling each other as fascists or commies. Or something.

… No, I don’t agree with those restrictions on MVW. And no, I don’t know the official answer on why, because I’ve never seen official word on it.

Now that Quora has removed Most Viewed Writers by topic, does it actually matter if question writers bother to spend time editing topics?

It is critical. Topics are how questions are distributed to potential answerers. MVW is a motivator to answer questions (and one that I do not think should have been hidden); but without topics, your questions simply aren’t going to get distributed to those that care to answer them at all.

How do  languages other than English deal with gender-neutral pronouns?

The Swedish gender neutral pronoun hen has a lot of controversy around it, as divergent responses here on Quora show:

So: not necessarily as well as you might think. In fact, English they/them has an advantage over many languages’ attempts at gender-neutral pronouns: there’s linguistic precedent for it (though it was as a non-specific, rather than as a primarily gender-neutral pronoun)

Could someone tell how electric power resembles juice?

The analogy is not with juice as in orange juice, as suggested by Dobhran Black’s answer to Could someone tell how electric power resembles juice?. Clearly there’s an analogy with fluids to be made; but why juice and not water? Or quicksilver?

Or blood?

The analogy is with vital juices, a concept that was kicking around as a literal concept from the ancient Greeks until modern medicine, and that indeed persists even now, both metaphorically, and in reference to plants (to judge from Google Books).

Vital juices encompasses the fluids moving within a living organism, that allow it to keep living. If the vital juices are flowing through the organism, then it does things like grow (if it’s a plant) and move (if it’s an animal).

If there’s electricity flowing through a machine, then it does things that resemble life: it is animated, so to speak. It moves, it whirrs, it does things.

So, the similarity is both the fluidity of electricity, and the vitality it confers.