Sunday, 26 February 2012

Polite Sweary Kit

(Expand orthography and punctuation at will)

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Word Verification (cont'd)

Joking aside, this reCaptcha thing is a seriously flawed concept, even as presented by Luis von Ahn in his TED talk.

Von Ahn starts from the premise that the ten seconds taken to enter a ‘traditional’ word verification is ‘time wasted’.  Well, of course, it isn’t: it’s time spent productively protecting oneself from spammers.  He then goes from there to claim that reCaptcha harnesses this ‘wasted’ time to a productive end, i.e. to interpret words from scanned documents that can’t be deciphered by character recognition but can be by humans.

He doesn’t dwell on the fact that, by making us type two words rather than one, he has doubled (at least) the time consumed.  And with no direct benefit to us, the users – the benefits, often commercial, accrue entirely to the organisations who are, effectively, using us as unpaid, unwitting slave labour.

And that’s without mentioning Google’s implementation, on Blogger, of their own product, which must rank high in ineptitude even by their standards.  Because, as far as I’ve seen, a lot of the time it doesn’t even use real words!   At least with the old wv, though the character strings weren’t ‘real’ words, they behaved as if they were.  Now we get a random string of letters, so heavily disguised that you need a lot more than the presumed twenty seconds before getting them wrong.

And of course, that introduces the most farcical flaw.  Many people have reported that they’ve switched off wv on Blogger, out of sympathy for other people’s frustration with the advanced Mensa test it’s become.  So as a result, we don’t get the spam protection, and reCaptcha doesn’t get its translation.  Just how lose-lose can you get?

Friday, 24 February 2012

Word Verification

Please type the following three words to prove you’re not, for any reason whatsoever, exploiting my innocent efforts to keep my comments safe:

Don’t be evil

No?  Try again:

Don’t be evil

Still can’t get there?  Let’s try something easier:


Don’t be evil

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Round and round

I am indebted to the late great Richard Boston for reminding me of the word ‘anadiplosis’ whilst  searching for something else completely.  ‘Whilst searching for something else completely’ is an activity we could do with a word for, at least I could, but at least for the rhetorical device of starting a sentence with a word or phrase with which one ended the previous one, we have one.  One way of being reminded of this sort of time-wasting activity – which can be extended to reusing said word or phrase within as well as at the beginning of a sentence – is to read ‘The Etymologicon’, a book constructed entirely around loose anadiplosis, in which you will learn, on page 46, that ‘saya suka suka rama-rama rama-rama’ is the Malaysian for ‘I love butterflies’.  I love butterflies, but I haven’t seen any yet, even though the Spring seems to be unusually advanced for February.  February's ice and sleet freeze the toes right off your feet, usually.  Your feet, usually, would prefer woolly socks and fur boots to sandals at this time of the year.  This time of the year, usually, is when you wrap up, stay in and peer out of the frost-caked windows for a bud or an insect.  An insect might have been what I saw flying off over the fence this afternoon, but I can’t be certain.  Certain poets, including Shakespeare, have written merrily of the Spring, but don’t hold out too much hope.  Hope springs eternal, it’s true, and I don’t want to pour cold water.  Cold water is not useful for filling hot water bottles.  Bottles are useful defences against false hopes, and also for getting you out of the house and down the bank when the box is full.  Full circle is where this post is going, so salutations to Richard Boston and Mark Forsyth, to both of whom I am indebted.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Just thinking ...

I’ve been thinking about relocating.  Sorry, that’s a weasel word – I mean going to live somewhere else.  Why?  Well, I’ve been here in Reading, in this house, now, longer than I’ve ever been in any other town or house; is that a sufficient reason to be restless?

(I don’t know the answer to that, but one of the joys of blogging is that you can chuck thoughts and ideas out of the window and, occasionally, they will get shaped, sanded down, and drop, provoked and  purified, back in through the letterbox, unsolicited but the converse of junk.)

As this town (which I like, a bit, and which contains a lot of people whom I like, a lot, but all that’s been factored in to this blogdream) is slap bang in the middle of southern England, and given that I miss the sea and the coast, I only really have four options:  north, south, east or west.  North is out of the question.  South would mean going back to where I was born.  East is a foreign country.  So that leaves West.

West consists of Wales and the West Country.  I don’t want to live in Wales, for reasons too difficult to explain here.  So that leaves the West Country.  This consists of Devon and Cornwall.  Devon is tempting, but it’s too expensive.  So I’m left with Cornwall.

I saw a documentary the other night which purported to be about the English countryside (it looked more like a remake of ‘Coast’, but .)  One of the places it covered was the far western tip of Cornwall, with some emphasis on the tin mining.  It didn’t, as I’d hoped, feature the strange, creepy landscape of Bottalack – the abandoned working buildings and routes – but it did remind me of St Just.

No-one knows just who St Just was, but that doesn’t prevent him or her giving the name to two Cornish towns within a long spit of each other.  I’m talking, of course, not about the one that’s called ‘St Just in Roseland’, but about the most westerly town in Great Britain.  I’ve only been there a few times, but here’s a snapshot…

We’ve walked to a pub which has a Thursday folk night.  About eleven musicians are crammed onto a stage big enough for three – in fact, that’s not true, you can’t tell where the stage ends and the audience begins.  They’re playing guitars, banjos, fiddles, bongos, beer glasses, and in some cases just their own hearty voices.  I hear a suggestion that I should get up there, grab a guitar and join in, and I’m tempted; but then someone moves in beside me.  I apologise (why?), make room and look.  It’s a tall blonde girl in a black leather trouser suit, carrying a banjo case.  ‘I’m a bit nervous’, she says, without smiling.  ‘Never been here before.’  I have no reply to that.  Her minder, who turns out maybe to be her father, whispers something to one of the musicians, who nods.  The girl unpacks her banjo and sits down on a hastily vacated chair.  ‘Duelling?’ I overhear her mutter to the other banjoist.

Yes, I want to live where that kind of thing happens.  Not every day, you understand – just sometimes.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Songs with Punchlines

I’ve been working on this for ages, but can only come up with seven.  Mind you, my musical memory doesn’t extend much after 1979.  Anyway, here they are: 

The Beatles: Drive My Car
The Kinks: Lola
Chuck Berry: Memphis Tennessee
Jimi Hendrix: Red House
Ricky Lee Jones: Chuck E’s In Love
The Coasters: Shoppin’ For Clothes
Todd Rundgren: We Gotta Get You a Woman 

Here’s a Spotify playlist of six of them, see if you can guess which one’s missing: 

Oh, and as a wee extra, here’s one by me:
Sure Slept Well

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Washing Up

Big subject.

Let’s start by loading the dishwasher.

There’s a simple rule – small items take precedence.  Two simple reasons for this simple rule.  One: a small item generally takes nearly as long to hand wash as a big one.  Two: a big item takes longer to shoehorn into the dishwasher than a small one.  So, fill the machine with small items, then hand wash the bigger ones that won’t fit.  Try it: it’ll save you time and effort.

Other than that, rules can not and must not be defined.  To attempt to do so would be akin  to writing a single law governing human behaviour in Leeds, Asbakistan and Outer Space.  I will propose a bet, sight unseen, that tomorrow morning, when we each unload, neither of us will have accurately predicted the detail of the other’s dishwasher content.  Wanna play?  No.  So load it as seems best for you - but only one you!  The only ruling principle of dishwasher governance is dictatorship.

A good rule of thumb is to put the more delicate items (crystal, Dresden figurines etc) in the top tray.  I assume this is because they’ll do less damage when you drop them on to the contents of the bottom tray whilst unloading the machine tomorrow, sober. 

Emptying the dishwasher.

Apart from knowing where to put the stuff, and therefore in what order to unload (which will not in any way correlate with the loading procedure), the only universal rule here is: make sure it's clean before putting it away.  I will draw a veil over recent alleged incidents in this area.

 Hand washing.

Hottest possible water, plenty of it, thick copious black heavy duty murderer’s gloves – then just get on with it.  Glasses first (not more than one at a time in the sink, or they’ll magically break even though they don’t touch each other).

The satisfaction at completing the washing up before retiring can be added to that of not having to face it in the morning.  This total then has to be subtracted from tomorrow evening.

When cooking, as far as possible, wash up as you go.  Things like sieves, colanders, measuring jugs, saucepans in which you have just simmered the frozen peas –all of these and more can often just be rinsed off, dried and put straight away.  Seconds now – aeons of angst and stumbling incapacity later. 

Monday, 13 February 2012

My Computer

Remember that, Windows users?  (Inhabitants of the Appleocracy can look away now.)  It figured about three versions back, and I remember thinking it both sludge-brained and sinister at the same time.  The hyperactive teenage tadpoles who invent this stuff were obviously after conveying the idea that I had ‘ownership’, but got it exactly the wrong way round – they should have called it ‘Your Computer’, shouldn’t they?  As it was, the message came across, or would have done to anyone down there in the same sludge-brain swamp, as: ‘I, Microsoft, Own This Computer.  You Are My Slave And Victim.  Do Not Fuck With Me!’

Fortunately, they dropped the ‘My’ in the next version, so now it just says ‘Computer’.  Which is precisely as helpful.

But what I really wanted to talk about was my computer (small m, small c).  I know that I ask a lot of it, given its age.  Are computer years like dog years, multiply by seven?  If so, mine’s, well let’s just say, catching up with me.  But machines (unlike dogs)  shouldn’t unpredictably modify their behaviour without my telling them to.  I wouldn’t expect my car to do that.  Examples: when I double-click an icon, it has decided – sometimes – to open the same window twice.  Not always: that’s the irritating bit.  I swear I have not changed anything.    And when I ask it to stream from Spotify or Youtube it obeys submissively, whereas when I ask iTunes to do the same thing, I am solemnly informed that ‘This computer does not support streaming.’  It’s like the car telling me that it can’t run the aircon because I got in through the wrong door, or the dog not recognising the lead.

The thing is, this technology is in its infancy.  It’s all about surface.  Deep technology is totally dependable except in really dire situations.  If you don’t believe that, turn on your tap.  This is shallow technology, in its infancy; and it occasionally worries me that, if it breaks down because a tadpole failed to report in for work, then so will everything else.

I’m off down the Post Office tomorrow to buy a book of stamps.  Ozymandias rules.

Saturday, 11 February 2012


Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.

This is Chomsky’s famous example of a sentence that, though grammatically perfect, is devoid of meaning.   T S Eliot is also entitled to say ‘I think we are in rats’ alley, where the dead men lost their bones’, for the same reason: English is being used in both cases at one remove from pure meaning.  Chomsky is demonstrating the divorce between structure and content; whilst Eliot is showing us that meaning can be made to sit some way behind both.  It’s the distinction between the two functions of language: to communicate, and to convey.

Which brings me to the point: should Abu Qatada be deported to Jordan?  The arguments hinge around the use of the word ‘evidence’, and in this case, we can home in on Chomsky rather than Eliot, communicate rather than convey, because, for once, a word means something that (granted the nuances of differing legal systems) can be agreed upon to mean one thing: evidence is information or allegation that can be presented in a court of law and demonstrated to be true.

In this case (and any other), it would be for the court to establish both of these criteria.  So, in this country, we are told that he can’t be tried because the ‘evidence’ against him cannot be exposed to public view for fear of prejudicing the safety or viability of the source.  Fine.  By definition, that’s not evidence, because you’re not prepared to disclose it in court.  So there’s no case.  Similarly, in Jordan, by the same test, if ‘evidence’ has been gleaned by means accepted to be illegal, again, there is no evidence.

I personally couldn’t care less whether this bloke is renditioned to Jordan, stuck back to rot in a British gaol, tried, convicted or acquitted in either place, or set free to roam the world, pathetic but harmless as a stinking Lazarus.  I do care about my language though.

Incidentally, colourless green ideas don’t sleep furiously; and we are indeed in rats’ alley, but haven’t lost our bones.

Thursday, 9 February 2012


Bonus (n):  Something good or desirable gained or given with something else; an extra payment for reaching specified targets or at special times of the year; a bribe.

Bribe (n):  Something offered to someone to influence their judgement unduly or to persuade them to behave in a certain way; spoil, booty.
Booty (n): Spoil taken in war or by force; plunder.
Plunder (vt): To carry off the goods or possessions of by force.
Spoil (vt): To mar; to impair; to make useless; to treat over-indulgently.
Indulgent (adj): Ready to gratify the wishes of others; compliant; not severe.
Severe (adj): Conforming to a rigorous standard; hard to endure.
Gratification (n): A recompense, tip or bribe.
Recompense (n): Reward.
Reward (n): That which is given in return for good (or sometimes evil).

All drawn, selectively, from The Chambers Dictionary, 2003

Wednesday, 8 February 2012


The following is reconstructed  from first-, second- and third-hand reports during and after the event, so I can’t vouch for the details.  But it seems it went roughly like this:
Just to recap, a lot of snow fell over the Peak District last weekend as people were trying to make their way to Buxton for the wedding.  I was lucky, or skilful, or both, enough to get across from the M6, via England’s most dangerous road, ahead of the worst of it.  Others were less so.
The bridegroom’s uncle R and his family had driven up from Brighton.  They hit the High Peak at about six, two hours later than me.  By then the snow must have been four or five inches deep on the road, and staying frozen as it settled.  As R described it, 4x4s were struggling.  A Jaguar didn’t stand a chance.  I don’t know anything about his snow-driving skills or experience (I learnt mine on Italian mountain passes back in the sixties), but in the event it was the car that let them down.  For some reason, the transmission locked itself in ‘park’ and refused to let go.
The groom’s brother (who I’ll have to call E because  he’s actually another R) volunteered to go and fetch them.  It seems that a decision was reached, up in that icy wasteland, that R and S would stay with the car and await the rescue services, while E ferried the two kids back down to Buxton.  Probably a bad decision with hindsight, they should all have gone.  A good decision, however, made twenty four hours earlier, now emerged:  the daughter, L, had taken it upon herself to load some blankets and sleeping bags into the car – ‘Just in case,’ as she put it later.  Wise girl.
By now, the snowplough had been through, and the road would probably have been passable, if the car had been capable of movement.  R and S wrapped up and waited.  At one point, she had to get out for a pee – ‘That slowed some of the passing cars down,’ she told us next day, ‘but they didn’t offer us a lift.’  After about an hour, the rescue man turned up.  (To be slightly fair, he’d probably been quite busy.)  He took a look at the shift lever, went off to his vehicle and returned with a screwdriver, which he proceeded to apply to something invisible to the non-technical naked eye.  It didn’t work.
‘Have to call technical support,’ he announced.  This took some time, after which he returned with a bigger screwdriver.  That didn’t work either.  Rescue man announced that there was nothing more he could do, and prepared to leave.
‘Well, can you drop us off in Buxton?’ asked R.  ‘Please?’  Rescue man shook his head and said – and this is a verbatim quote – ‘No.’  And drove off.
They got there in the end, of course  – because E, another true hero, went out again – again!  There were complications even at this stage, but I lost track.  The wedding was attended by R and S, who both eventually got thoroughly and appropriately … rescued, is that a useful new euphemism?   And the car got recovered and repaired on Monday, I’m told.  So it all ended well.  (Except for that rescue man, of course, who broke down on his way home and caught pneumonia … No, I made that bit up.)

Monday, 6 February 2012

White Wedding

The dress code, as some of you will know, was ‘Dress to Kill’.  I received much-welcomed advice, ranging from ‘full fig’, via ‘SAS uniform’, to ‘green loon pants and tie-dye T shirt’ – thank you all!  But in the end I decided my upstaging days were over, and settled for L’s advice: dark suit, blue shirt, polka-dot tie (white on darker blue as it turned out).  Boring; but most of the men of my generation went for white shirt and paisley tie, so I was actually quite outragous.  (And you haven’t seen my belt!)  There were in fact two kilts, both on men; I wondered, given the code, whether this was some kind of Scots Nat statement about Bannockburn.  They looked good on the dancefloor though.

I’d set out for Buxton about one o’clock on Saturday.  (The wedding, by the way, was on Sunday, the bride’s family being Jewish.)  Snow started around the M42, and was pretty significant once I turned off the M6 for Congleton and the A54 across the Peaks to Buxton.  This was once voted the most dangerous road in England.  It certainly looked that way on Saturday.  Apprehensive doesn’t begin to say it.  BMWs are not famed for their prowess in these conditions.  But the new ‘winter tyres’ proved their worth –  I found myself overtaking wheel-spinners up hills – so a heartfelt thanks to BMW for their brilliant £1,200 correction of their own design flaw!  It was five inches deep by the time I got there.

That evening, a few of us dined at a Thai round the corner from the hotel.  Most Thai restaurants rightly pride themselves on their presentational skills, a meal being to them an aesthetic as well a culinary experience.  But they were completely upstaged by the vehicular cabaret taking place on the street outside, the high spot being a bus, at the third attempt, succeeding in skidding into the bollards lining the pavement.  We were concerned about R and S, whose Jag had conked out on that same road I had managed to transverse three hours earlier.  There’s another story there, which I’ll probably tell in the future; for now, suffice to say they made it in the end.

I won’t say too much about the actual wedding, because all weddings are alike whilst being uniquely different.  Also because this isn’t The Tatler (not that I know what a Tatler is).  It was in the hotel where I was staying.  They got married, beautifully; there was champagne (well, Prosecco actually) by the gallon; there were speeches, ranging from long and funny to short and, er, funny; delicious food, free bar, disco (my dancing days may be dwindling, or my ‘Get fit, Tim!’ days approaching); and an after-hours pay bar which went on a lot longer than I did.

Heroism In The Face Of Adversity Spot: I banged my wrist against something on Sunday morning after breakfast, resulting in a small wound which was bleeding, so I went to Reception to ask if they had a plaster.  The nice lady explained that they did, but weren’t allowed to give them out to guests (‘Health and Safety – you might be allergic to them’ – oh yes, that’s why I asked for one), but heroically gave me one anyway.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

How to be a politician 2012

  1. Think of something your advisors say people might believe.
  2. Say it.
  3. Say the opposite.
  4. [optional step] Claim to have been quoted out of context.
  5. Accuse your opponents of having said it first.
  6. Accuse your opponents of having said the opposite first.
  7. Think of the worst joke you can.
  8. Say it.
  9. Deny that it was a joke.
  10. Deny that you said it.
  11. [optional step] Claim to have been quoted out of context.
  12. Wait until the last possible moment before press time.
  13. Think of something else your advisors say people might believe.
  14. Return to step 2.