Saturday, 31 January 2009

apostrophe-free birmingham

Hard to believe, but it appears to be true: Birmingham are going to remove apostrophes from their street signs because they're too confusing. Madness and barbarism. Everyone's reporting it: Daily Telegraph and DT columnist; Times; Independent (which has the best headline - 'apostrophe catastrophe'); BBC.


I was at Sharp's this Tuesday and two Tuesdays earlier.

Three Tuesdays ago I sang Thomas O'Winesbury in the first half, which I pitched such that the the top note wasn't very pleasant to listen to or sing, but it wasn't quite too high enough to stop and try lowering the pitch; so I didn't really do justice to that. In the second half I sang Lightning Express, the maudlin old Everly Brothers song, which went down surprisingly well I thought, people had a laugh at how maudlin it was, which was just right.

This Tuesday I sang Haughs o' Cromdale in the first half; for some reason it always conjurs up a mental snapshot of me and Ivor in the school corridor beyond the p7 classroom, I guess we were talking about it; I remember talking about it mentioning our surnames (taking Fraser for Frater), and Ivor saying that the 'MacDonalds they returned again' meant they had run away, but of course I said everyone was returning for the second battle. I learned last year that the two battles did not happen on the same day, but decades apart, nor in the same order. In the second half I sang I Am Stretched On Your Grave - another one like Thomas O'Winesbury that I've had in mind to sing for a long time; I didn't exactly not do justice to it, but it came out very differently from what I'd expected, in trying to sing not too loudly I ended up singing very quietly and thinly indeed, virtually falsetto with my voice cracking a little, which I guess suited the song a little but wasn't what I had intended really. Oh well, nobody threw anything or booed on either occasion.

One of the chaps who was there those two Tuesdays I hadn't seen before though he was obviously known, and it turned out he was home for a short time between stretches in Cameroon, perhaps Embassy-based there. Emphasised again how little I know of the others in the motley crew like myself who go along, including what we do for a living.

Did work out that Robin was Robin Gillan, as he played on Tuesday with Donnie Scott - who I hadn't seen before - in advance of them playing together at the Cellar Upstairs in a couple of weeks,

There was a new Scottish chap there who did Peggy Gordon very like The Corries' version; I'll keep an ear out for more.

charing cross - the fading world of books

Charing Cross - the fading world of books
- Interesting interactive map- and photo-based feature from the Guardian of 31 January comparing Charing Cross Road 2009 with 1940, particularly in relation to bookshops.

conspiracy theory tv

Good Charlie Brooker Screen Burn article from 24 January Guardian on Edge Media TV.

Typical paras: 'Well here's a new one: Edge Media TV (Sky Channel 200), "a platform for alternative and suppressed viewpoints". In other words, it's chock-full of conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theorists need to believe their viewpoints are being suppressed, rather than, say, assessed and dismissed as ropey and ludicrous. Which makes a channel devoted to spreading these viewpoints a bit of a paradox. If "the system" was even 1% as efficient and sinister as they believe, their station wouldn't exist.'
These are essentially clever people gone wrong. Having learned to mistrust the powers that be, they take a giant leap, mistaking bossiness and incompetence for ultra-organised and sinister plotting - and then compound the error by mistaking themselves for journalists or scientists. The result is a depressing descent into fairytales backed with risible "evidence"; fairytales told with the defensive assertion that anyone who doesn't believe them is a shill or a sheep.
Consider Ludicrous Diversion, an Edge Media documentary which implies the 7/7 bombers weren't really bombers at all, but patsies framed by "the system". Rather than offering any hard evidence for this startling claim, it highlights minor anomalies in the official version of events, the police's reluctance to release CCTV footage, and references to past miscarriages of justice such as the Guildford Four, then expects the viewer to add two and two to make 25. It's like a lazy and badly made Power Of Nightmares, convincing only to the eagerly paranoid.

book covers; which book to read next

Book cover blog, associated with the Book Cover Archive. This Rendezvous With Rama cover is the one they used to illustrate the item in the Guardian Guide which led me here. It's not the cover on the copy by my bedside.

I've taken to keeping recent purchases by my bedside as a stock to draw on when picking a next book to add to my current reading pile - another way to choose the next book to read, recency of purchase. Last year was the first time I kept a note in my diary of the books I'd bought as well as the books I'd read in that year; I thought I'd been keeping pretty much apace until I finished off the lists at the end of the year and saw I'd bought at least twice as many as I'd read in 2008. I'm not going to get anywhere like that. And we had a sale at work of secondhand Christian books at very cheap prices in the first week of the year, and I picked up a pile there, so that's me stuffed for this year too.

Another way to choose which book to read next: read something off one of the double-shelved shelves, so there'll be one less book on it when you get rid of it after you've read it. Drawback is that you have to choose books which you suspect you won't like enough to want to keep; in which case maybe you should get rid of it without troubling to read it...

Another way: the next in the series - actual or just unrelated but chronological - from the one you've just read.


Used the BBC iplayer for the first time tonight, as we missed the start of the first in the new series of Not Going Out; it's relatively recently that it's been up and running for Macs. There's been a lot of fuss about the BBC giving away so much stuff in an anti/uncompetitive way. As someone - John Holmes? - on The Now Show said, the obvious thing to have done was to make it accessible upon typing in your tv licence number. I've got a figure somewhere for the ridiculously high percentage of bandwidth attributable to iplayer use - ah, here.

Not Going Out is an old-fashioned sitcom which we like a lot - as Bethan pointed out tonight, there were four speaking parts and two sets, so a lot depends on the writing and the delivery. It's been a cowrite between Lee Mack and Andrew Collins, but this series is mostly Lee Mack by himself it seems. It's got Lee Mack, Tim Vine and Miranda Hart, all of whom we are keen on.

Friday, 30 January 2009

aerial photos of london by night

Tipped off by the Word enewsletter, here's a tremendous set of photos of London by night from above. I have a feeling I may have seen ones like these before, possibly therefore from the previous set on that site by the same photographer, Jason Hawkes. It's a photojournalism subsite of the Boston Globe website.

definition of an economist

"An economist is an expert who will know tomorrow why the things he predicted yesterday didn't happen today" - Laurence J. Peter
- from the Word magazine email newsletter of 29 January

take bacon. add sausage. blog.

Take Bacon. Add Sausage. Blog.
- New York Times, 27 January. I think sausage means sausage meat. The most interesting thing about the article is that it reveals that there are teams of competition barbecuers.

crown awarded 'squatter's rights'

Crown awarded 'squatter's rights': The Queen has won "squatter's rights" over large tracts of the Severn Estuary in a dispute with a controversial Cardiff businessman.
- BBC, 20 February 2008

napping: the expert's guide

Napping: the expert's guide: A short snooze during the day will boost your mood and your intelligence - but there's more to it than simply closing your eyes
- Guardian, 27 January

'burn in hell and good riddance'

Attenborough reveals creationist hate mail for not crediting God: Sir David Attenborough has revealed that he receives hate mail from viewers for failing to credit God in his documentaries. In an interview with this week's Radio Times about his latest documentary, on Charles Darwin and natural selection, the broadcaster said: "They tell me to burn in hell and good riddance."
- Guardian, 27 January. I've seen the Radio Times article now; he was interviewed by Rod Liddle, who said that after his documentary on fundamentalists, angry fundamentalists found out where he lived and the police had to get involved. That's not really the way to get your views taken seriously, or even with any kind of respect; it's hard to imagine what such people think they're achieving.

don't name that senator

Don’t Name That Senator: Now that Gov. David Paterson of New York has completed his operatic quest to fill Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat and Roland Burris, chosen by the embattled Illinois governor to succeed Barack Obama, has made it past Capitol Hill security, we can safely conclude that appointing senators might not be such a good idea. Actually, Americans came to that conclusion in 1913, when the 17th Amendment mandated regular senatorial elections. Reformers pushed the amendment as an antidote to the inevitable cronyism that surrounded the selections. In essence, however, it just allowed governors to pick replacements, as opposed to state legislatures. The very problems the amendment was meant to address persist. Consider this: Nearly a quarter of the United States senators who have taken office since the 17th Amendment took effect have done so via appointment. Once Representative Kirsten Gillibrand, Mr. Paterson’s choice, joins the Senate, she will be one of more than 180 senators named by governors since 1913. By contrast, the Constitution mandates special elections for all vacancies in the House — even though representatives are far less powerful than senators.
- New York Times, 24 January. This appointing of senators is one of the surprising things I've learned about American politics recently

black squirrels set to dominate

Black squirrels set to dominate
- BBC, 20 January

Funniest bit:
Helen McRobie and Alison Thomas, from Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, are spearheading the black squirrel research and could not agree about how the black squirrel population in the UK came into being. Ms McRobie believed the black squirrel was the result of a genetic mutation, two grey squirrels mated and produced a black off-spring which grew up and mated. Its off-spring were even darker and this continued until black became the over-riding colour.
Ms Thomas disagrees, saying: "I don't think the black squirrels we have here in the UK are the result of a genetic mutation.
"That would require too big a jump; I just don't think that's plausible at all. Such a big change just doesn't happen like that in nature."

This is what it turns out, though: 'Genetic markers were taken and compared with a British black and the result was proof that the squirrels are descendents of American blacks that escaped from zoos. It seems possible now that the grey squirrel has had its day and that black squirrels could become the dominant species across the UK.'

woolworths debt

The debt Woolworths went into administration with was £385m, less than four times what Man City offered unsuccessfully for Kaka.

religious footballers 2

Last week you may recall The Knowledge banging on about players using the platform of the football match to display their religious affiliations. Well, that wasn't the end of it, as you're about to find out.
- The Guardian Knowledge, 27 January

Thursday, 29 January 2009

email-free white house

You don't have mail: In the tech-challenged White House, the prez's BlackBerry-savvy aides feel like they've stumbled into the Carter administration.
- Salon, 27 January. Interesting impact of freedom of information type acts.

Quote: 'But the strangest adjustment for the Obama team is having to return to a time before Facebook. Legal restrictions, based on an interpretation of 1978's Presidential Records Act, forbid staffers from using outside e-mail, IM or any of the social networking tools the campaign thrived on. Suddenly, they have to relearn how to communicate, because the law has not caught up with the way people live. They are being forced to return to older technologies (or they will once those technologies start working properly), and abandon or become more guarded in their use of newer technologies.'

ian stewart

Today's We7 listening has startted me on something I've wanted to do for a long time and that's listening to The Rolling Stones albums from the beginning. Results so far are that their first four albums seem unremarkable; they're certainly not an albums band, at that stage anyway.

The part played by Ian Stewart in the group is a fascinating one. Here's his Wikipedia entry, and here's an article from the Guardian.

big garden birdwatch

Unlike previous years, we didn't manage to do the garden birdwatch in the morning at a busy bird time. We did it on Sunday afternoon, for an hour around four when it was getting dark, and all we got were two crows and a blackbird.

eu art

Czech EU art stokes controversy: new art installation going on display at the European Council building in Brussels has angered EU members with its lampoons of national stereotypes. Entropa portrays Bulgaria as a toilet, Romania as a Dracula theme-park and France as a country on strike. The Czech Republic, which holds the EU presidency, thought it had commissioned work from 27 European artists. But it turned out to have been entirely completed by Czech artist David Cerny and two associates. The eight-tonne mosaic is held together by snap-out plastic parts similar to those used in modelling kits.
BBC, 14 January. The story about the EU artwork was funny, and the art quite good. Amazing that no one realised sooner.

Mark Mardell on the BBC blog, 14 January. Begins: 'It probably says more about our perception of artists than the Czech government that no one spotted that the art installation "Entropa" was an elaborate hoax merely by reading the pretentious text attached to each art work.'

mum's the word

Mum's the word: Mums' website MumsRock was swamped when it asked what women feel about that three-letter word ... here's what our writers think
- Guardian, 14 January. Some surprisingly negative reactions to being called mum.

Sunday, 25 January 2009


I've come across someone who has come up with something I wondered about a while ago, a music system which carries online radio stations in a non-computery way - Sonos, whose main product is a multi-room system, apparently, which this comes bundled in with. Not cheap, I guess.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

religious footballers

Which footballers have displayed their religious views on the pitch?
- Guardian Knowledge topic, 21 January


I've entered a stage of life where a lot of the films I see I see in bits, out of order. For example there are bits of Finding Nemo I've seen perhaps half a dozen times and other bits I haven't seen at all; it seems like a pretty good film. That's one we've got on DVD rather than a charity shop video, of which we have a backlog of family films and old children's TV series to watch.

Until this summer the last film I had seen in the cinema was The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe at Christmas 2005 - which meant I didn't see a film in the cinema in 2006 or 2007, going a calendar year without going to the cinema for the first time for I guess thirty years.

This summer though I saw Wall-E at the cinema - which is on screen on DVD in this room as I write - which was very good, a hard-core science fiction film disguised as a children's film, especially the long opening sequence on earth which was a lot less 'cartoonish' in its design than the sequence on the spaceship (though the content of the latter was no less hard than the former).

It made me want to watch Silent Running and Dark Star again, both of which I enjoyed very much when I saw them in school days but don't think I saw more than once - in fact I can't confidently disentangle them in my mind. It struck me a while ago that since I don't tend to watch films more than once it makes it hard to think of a 'favourite films' list. I'm sure that films that made a big impact on me when I saw them would be disappointing if I saw them again. These two could easily be in such a list; and I could plausibly construct a list and then watch them all again and they'd all come off my list. But a list will have to be done sometime.

But even if I missed the cinema experience for seeing films, and I do a little, the expense is a big disincentive. Especially when they come out so quickly with so many extras on DVD. I got a two-disk set of Hot Fuzz for £3 at Fopp last year; we enjoyed the film, and haven't seen the extras yet. Wall-E's a 2-disk version too. There's a lot to watch.

the curious case of masal bugduv

The curious case of Masal Bugduv: On Monday, The Times published a list of ‘Football’s 50 rising stars’. Tucked away in the rundown was this: 30. Masal Bugduv (Olimpia Balti) Moldova’s finest, the 16-year-old attacker has been strongly linked with a move to Arsenal, work permit permitting. And he’s been linked with plenty of other top clubs as well.

- a football blogger, Fredorrarci, details on 15 January someone's successful hoax, as Masal Bugduv doesn't exist

surveying london

Surveying London: Why the city, in all its oddity and variety, deserves the full encyclopedic treatment
- a review of the new edition of the London Encyclopedia in the Times Litereary Supplement, 10 December 2008

joy division, smiths, computers

By way of a change on We7, I took a break from Genesis and listened to Unknown Pleasures, Closer and Still in one run. His voice is perhaps slightly less tuneless than I remember it, but I'd still prefer to listen to versions of the records from which the vocals were completely stripped out.

This would be true also of The Smiths, actually. I got Louder Than Bombs at Zavvi (poor Zavvi - the Piccadilly Circus branch has closed now, this was the Oxford St branch) yesterday for £3.76 (this is what I went in for in particular, as I was up there; their prices in general weren't reduced to the bargain prices I'd read somewhere they were now at, 25% off but mostly off a high starting point; it's the only one I came out with, whereas I came out with quite a few from Piccadilly Circus a couple of weeks ago, mostly classical). I got it because I taped London off the radio years ago and still think it's tremendous, and wanted it on CD; it's on two compiliations, as it's a B-side, and I did some research and found this was the one to get. That's how old-fashioned I am, of course: buying a CD with one track in mind (although glad to get some of the others too, and hear some of the others for the first time) rather than downloading that track off the internet, even legally.

We recently unearthed a couple of Bethan's taped-off-the-radio cassettes from the mid-80s - I think they were in a box of her stuff at home - which were interesting to listen to. The most surprising thing was probably the number of Smiths songs on them; she's never remarked on their absence from my collection.

I still haven't got the iBook back working properly since its pre-Christmas crash - the original software reinstalled successfully but not managing to upgrade to the versions I'd had. The main implications of that being that I haven't managed to install Safari, just the old version of IE, or upgrade iTunes, or manage to get the iBook to recognise the external HD on which all the contents of the iBook were safely backed up. I've moved my documents over to the MacBook, our newer laptop which I'm working on now and which is the home of our photos, but I'm reluctant to load it up with all the backed-up iTunes material. The old iBook only has a 20GB memory, which is no bigger than most ipods now. I used the old iBook primarily for internet and iTunes (and ipod); if I were to replace it I would probably be able to do so with some much smaller handheld device - things I know nothing about - which would cover those needs. If I could plug my ipod direct into the external HD and sync with the version of iTunes there that would also solve a lot of the problem. But it certainly makes me feel better that I've got almost everything on CD still.

The We7 certainly cuts down on the wanting to buy a well-known/regarded album or an artist's other albums to hear what it's like, when you can do that very effectively for so many artists for free on We7. I also don't find the adverts that intrusive; in fact, when you're giving an album a listen to see what it's like, they're a helpful prompt, drawing my attention back a bit more to the music at the start of each track. If I enjoyed the album sufficiently to want to hear it without the adverts, I'd buy it on CD. It also reduces the need which I unaccountably feel to have something/someone 'represented' in my collection even if I'm not that keen on them. And if I fancy hearing a particular song for any reason, I can go to We7 - and doubtless many other places - and listen to it. And again I need to remind myself how many fewer albums - and books - were in the house when I was growing up. The library and the radio met most of my needs perfectly adequately.

We're all going to be in such trouble when the internet implodes.

Friday, 23 January 2009

a holiday in eagleton

Via a comment on Alex's website, I came across this photo-laden blog of a long holiday in Lewis last May-June by a retired chap who has a wodge of blogs as you discover from his profile. He had good weather. There's a link to an entry on another of his blogs about Stornoway's cast-iron railings, again with photos.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

the george w bush years in numbers

A Harper's Magazine retrospective of the George W Bush years in numbers.

Some highlights (too many good ones):
Percentage of Bush’s first 189 appointees who also served in his father’s administration: 42
Minimum number of Bush appointees who have regulated industries they used to represent as lobbyists: 98
Days since the federal government first placed the nation under an “elevated terror alert” that the level has been relaxed: 0
Number of box cutters taken from U.S. airline passengers since January 2002: 105,075
Percentage of Americans in 2006 who believed that U.S. Muslims should have to carry special I.D.: 39
Number of members of the rock band Anthrax who said they hoarded Cipro so as to avoid an “ironic death”: 1
Percentage of the amendments in the Bill of Rights that are violated by the USA PATRIOT Act, according to the ACLU: 50
Minimum number of laws that Bush signing statements have exempted his administration from following: 1,069
Estimated number of U.S. intelligence reports on Iraq that were based on information from a single defector: 100
Number of times the defector had ever been interviewed by U.S. intelligence agents: 0
Days after the U.S. invaded Iraq that Sony trademarked “Shock & Awe” for video games: 1
Days later that the company gave up the trademark, citing “regrettable bad judgment”: 25
Factor by which an Iraqi in 2006 was more likely to die than in the last year of the Saddam regime: 3.6
Factor by which the cause of death was more likely to be violence: 120
Chance that an Iraqi has fled his or her home since the beginning of the war: 1 in 6
Portion of Baghdad residents in 2007 who had a family member or friend wounded or killed since 2003: 3/4
Number of vehicles in the motorcade that transports Bush to his regular bike ride in Maryland: 6
Estimated total miles he has ridden his bike as president: 5,400
Portion of his presidency he has spent at or en route to vacation spots: 1/3
Minimum number of times that Frederick Douglass was beaten in what is now Donald Rumsfeld’s vacation home: 25
Estimated number of juveniles whom the United States has detained as enemy combatants since 2002: 2,500
Minimum number of detainees who were tortured to death in U.S. custody: 8
Number of incidents of torture on prime-time network TV shows from 2002 to 2007: 897
Number on shows during the previous seven years: 110
Percentage change since 2000 in U.S. emigration to Canada: +79
Number of the thirty-eight Iraq war veterans who have run for Congress who were Democrats: 21
Percentage of Republicans in 2005 who said they would vote for Bush over George Washington: 62
Seconds it took a Maryland consultant in 2004 to pick a Diebold voting machine’s lock and remove its memory card: 10
Number of states John Kerry would have won in 2004 if votes by poor Americans were the only ones counted: 40
Number if votes by rich Americans were the only ones counted: 4
Portion of all U.S. income gains during the Bush Administration that have gone to the top 1 percent of earners: 3/4
Increase since 2000 in the number of Americans living at less than half the federal poverty level: 3,500,000
Days after Hurricane Katrina hit that Cheney’s office ordered an electric company to restore power to two oil pipelines: 1
Days after the hurricane that the White House authorized sending federal troops into New Orleans: 4
Rank of Bush among U.S. presidents with the highest disapproval rating: 1
Average percentage of Americans who approved of the job Bush was doing during his second term: 37
Percentage of Russians today who approve of the direction their country took under Stalin: 37

the non-ironic revival of phil collins

The non-ironic revival of Phil Collins
- coincidentally, this appreciation by Alan McGee on the Guardian Music blog, 13 January. I knew he was well-respected (and sampled) in hip-hop, but there's another wave of appreciation coming his way it seems

'now you’ve tried it your way, try it our way'

Sir, As a young electronics graduate many years ago, I remember unpacking a new oscilloscope, the latest and best of its class. Several hours later, having only achieved mixed results, I decided to open the manual. The first page stated in large bold letters: “Now you’ve tried it your way, try it our way”.
- letter to the Times, 27 October 2008

what africa needs

As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God: Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa's biggest problem - the crushing passivity of the people's mindset
- striking article by Matthew Parris in the Times of 27 December

genesis on we7

I've now reached Duke on my listening to Genesis chronologically (including live albums) on We7 venture. It's the first Genesis album I've got an awareness of as having been a 'current' album in my experience rather than an 'old' album. The sleeve makes me think of the youth club at Aird School, which must mean they had a copy there. Also pretty sure I had an awareness at the time that it represented, or was considered, a change of direction or style for them, a more commercial sound. According to Wikipedia it came out March 1980, just before my fourteenth birthday; I presume that's the UK release date. Surprising to see from Wikipedia that Phil Collins' first solo album came out less than a year later, in February 1981; I'd have guessed it was a much later development than that. In the childhood years the months and years go by much more slowly of course.

Struck more forcibly than ever exactly how much like Genesis-era Peter Gabriel Fish from Marillion sounded.

Supper's Ready makes me think of the Friday Rock Show (Tommy Vance, I'm sure), where I remember it regularly came top of the annual best rock tracks ever programme based on listeners votes, despite sounding to me quite out of place compared to the kind of music usually on the programme. Length was important, I guess: if the different segments were different songs, I'm not sure any of them would have troubled the chart.

Other records I remember from the Aird youth club: Kate Bush Wuthering Heights single; Abba Knowing Me Knowing You single; Boomtown Rats Mary of the Fourth Form; a compilation album that had No Milk Today and Black is Black on it.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

woolworths cheque in charity sale

Woolworths cheque in charity sale: A cheque for more than £97,000, thought to be the last ever issued by bankrupt Woolworths, has been sold on an online auction site for charity. Telecoms support company TMTI received it in payment for services the day before the store went into administration on 26 November 2008. But the firm, based in Frome, Somerset, was told the cheque would bounce. The bidding on eBay closed at £1,080 and the money will be given to the National Autistic Society.
- BBC, 19 January

no, no other possible explanation

Standing against a tide of hatred: It is not Israel's action, but the vitriolic reaction to it that has been disproportionate. There's only one explanation: antisemitism
- Guardian, 16 January. It's always helpful when the ridiculous thesis is set out so clearly in the subhead, so that you don't have to waste time or energy reading the article.

a collision of lives

A Collision of Lives: An atheist and a pastor square off—with surprising results.
- Christianity Today Books & Culture article on a documentary on debates between Douglas Wilson and Christopher Hitchens

jeremy vine on his faith

BBC presenter Jeremy Vine has spoken about the difficulties he faces in openly discussing his Christian faith on air. In an interview with Reform magazine, the Radio 2 and Panorama presenter admitted he found it difficult to reconcile his beliefs with his job.
- Christian Today, 19 January

experimenting on your kids

Test Subjects Who Call the Scientist Mom or Dad
- New York Times, 18 January

youtube evolves

At First, Funny Videos. Now, a Reference Tool
- New York Times, 18 January, on the development of Youtube

you probably did lock your front door...

... now stop worrying and enjoy your holiday.

The atheist bus ads have hit town. A link to the Christian Today news report of the story, because I like this line from someone: '"The slogan itself is a great discussion starter. Telling someone "there's probably no God" is a bit like telling them that they've probably remembered to lock their front door. It creates the doubt that they might not have done so.”'

It's unfair to make too much sport of the 'probably', though, since they say they were advised to include that by the ASA. The poor 'Now stop worrying and enjoy your life' line (selfish, shallow, careless, unscientific), however, they seem to have no one to blame for but themselves.

That report also says Richard Dawkins 'told the BBC that the ad campaign was designed to make people think, an action he said was “anathema to religion”', which reveals a basic misunderstanding of the enemy. On the contrary, in my experience, Christians are always wanting people to think, which is why so many Christians are more than happy about this advertising campaign.

Here's a Guardian opinion article from the launch day, 6 January, by Nick Spencer, a Christian I guess, which comes with an equivalent 'probably' line ('If my pilot told me "This flight to Paris probably won't crash," I'd think about taking the train.').

I saw my first Tube version in a carriage the other day too. They come with quotations; this one was from Douglas Adams, which was mildly amusing but bore absolutely no analysis. I'll look it up to make sure I get it right: 'Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?' Indeed. But it might cause you to consider the possibility of the existence of a gardener (or Gardener, if you will).

Christian Today on 17 January, like other places, reported a bus driver who refused to drive a bus with the ad on. His conscience is his own, but it's one of the least offensive ads I've seen on a bus; if you wanted to boycott buses carrying ads which communicated sexual objectification, materialism, greed, violence and sundry immorality, you'd never get on a bus again.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

bnp membership list

The Big Question: What does the leaked list of its 13,500 members reveal about the BNP?
- Independent, 20 November

Quote: 'One woman member, who said that she was a teacher, called BBC Radio 5 Live to complain that she lived in a fascist state.'

The Guardian of 19 November has an interactive map of BNP membership by constituency.

who would jesus smack down?

Who Would Jesus Smack Down?
- not-entirely-favourable New York Times article of 11 January on Mark Driscoll

Monday, 19 January 2009

rock stars and their parents

Rock stars and their parents - a photo feature in the Guardian of 17 January.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

evening standard goes russian, possibly

Three articles from yesterday's Guardian:

Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev to buy London Evening Standard: The billionaire and former KGB agent Alexander Lebedev is to buy London's Evening Standard tomorrow, in a dramatic move that would see him become the first Russian oligarch to own a major British newspaper, can reveal.

Can the Evening Standard survive under Lebedev? I wouldn't bet against it

Alexander Lebedev profile: ex-KGB agent says he will champion a free press: Former KGB man Alexander Lebedev says he will champion a free press as owner of the London Evening Standard

He used to read the Evening Standard when he was a spy in London. I might start reading it again if he does buy it; should be an interesting development.

"'War on terror' was wrong"

'War on terror' was wrong: The phrase gives a false idea of a unified global enemy, and encourages a primarily military reply
- good article by David Miliband in today's Guardian.

'War on terror' was a mistake, says Miliband: Foreign secretary argues west cannot kill its way out of the threats it faces
- this is the article on the article.

'hitler appointed me his biographer'

David Irving: 'Hitler appointed me his biographer': Hitler wasn’t anti-Semitic, and the Holocaust wasn’t his fault - David Irving’s take on Nazi Germany has made him many enemies. Johann Hari meets an unapologetic apologist
- Independent, 15 January. He's a profoundly peculiar man. The article ends, online at least, with a link to a detailed website dealing with holocaust-denying myths

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

fielding a fan

"Is there any truth in the story that Harry Redknapp once fielded a spectator during a West Ham game?" asked Terry Williams back in 2006. "Legend has it that the Hammers were having a shocker and a fan was heckling them. Harry is then supposed to have turned round and said: 'If you think you can do any better, then prove it!'"

Incredibly, the legend is true, Terry. In 1994, Redknapp was assistant manager of West Ham and his side were playing Oxford City in a pre-season friendly when ... well, we'll let 'Arry take up the tale:

"Lee Chapman was playing for us at the time," recounts Redknapp. "All through the first half some tattooed skinhead behind me was giving Lee terrible stick. At half-time I turned to this bloke who had West Ham etched on his neck and asked 'Can you play as good as you talk?' He looked totally confused. So I told him he was going to get his dream to play for West Ham. We sent him down the tunnel and he reappeared 10 minutes later all done out in the strip. He ran on to the pitch and a journalist from the local Oxford paper sidled up and asked 'Who's that Harry?' I said 'What? Haven't you been watching the World Cup? That's the great Bulgarian Tittyshev!' The fella wasn't bad - actually, he scored!"

The fella in question was a 27-year-old called Steve Davies who had given up park football six years earlier. The West Ham board were obviously impressed with Harry's idiosyncratic decision-making: they made him manager a month later.

- The Knowledge, 14 January

wikipedia to stay free as readers rush to the rescue

Wikipedia to stay free as readers rush to the rescue: Christmas appeal by founder raises $6m to save site from adverts and charges
- Independent, 5 January. Most ominous line: 'Wikipedia's founder, Jimmy Wales, took the unusual step of publishing a personal appeal for donations, warning that unless the target was reached the site might be forced to start carrying adverts, which at the moment it does not do, and even introduce a subscription fee.' Looks like someone owns, or thinks they do, all that freely-provided user-provided content.

boy guilty of shooting his mother

Boy guilty of shooting his mother: A 12-year-old boy has been found guilty in the United States of murdering his mother following a row over his household chores. A judge in Arizona ruled prosecutors had proved the boy acted intentionally when he shot his mother, Sara Madrid, eight times last year.
- BBC, 4 January. I wonder if British kids are printing this story out and leaving it around for their parents to find to let them know how lucky they are, and to ease off with the chores nagging

lack of sleep raises cold risk

Lack of sleep 'raises cold risk': Sleeping for under seven hours a night greatly raises the risk of catching a cold, US research has suggested. A team from Carnegie Mellon University found the risk was trebled compared with those who slept for eight hours or more a night. It is thought that a lack of sleep impairs the immune system and the body's ability to fight off the viruses that cause colds and flu.
- BBC, 13 January. The kind of research that proves something you thought was already well-known; it's certainly my experience.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

silversprite links

John Kirriemuir, who blogs on Berneray as Silversprite, often has interesting things to say. Three recent posts (although I had to go back three pages for the oldest one, that's how long it's taken me to get around to linking):

- a review of Berneray's demographics in 2008, most interestingly reckoning that the No1 career among its small number of residents (125 - not a declining figure, just as in fact, he says, none of the Outer Hebridean figures are declining) is teleworking. Quote:

Several of us worked out the figures last night; here is a ranking, by the number of residents in each ‘trade’ (not all trades lists), of how Berneray residents earn most or all of their income:
1. Teleworking (working from home online).
2=. Ferry crew.
2=. Education.
4. Crofting.
5. Fishing.
I thought teleworking being the “largest” industry would happen eventually, but am surprised it’s happened this quickly. (“Largest” is in quotes as we are still talking about a single digit number of people for each of those trades). That will probably surprise other people, especially as fishing and crofting are high visibility industries and working from home is practically invisible, but the math bears out. More of a surprise is how quickly the fishing industry has declined, which is really sad; the harbour, especially in summer, is now more of a pleasure boat arena.

- a post linking to stories of horrible people abusing Woolies staff in its dying days

- a post revealing that someone who works in the Solas Cooperative was from Sarah Palin's hometown (Wasilla) and was taught by her dad. I wonder if anyone from the local media picked up on that fact, whether from this blog or otherwise.

- I also discovered, through a link from a link that the winding-down BBC Island Blogging site (which had contributors variable in quality and hard to navigate) is being continued independently as Island Blogging by some of its former users (still variable, but I think easier to navigate and to link to specific blogs).

Saturday, 10 January 2009


Why Shoot a Butler? (only an Amazon link; Wikipedia has individual entries for her historical and romantic books, for which she is more famous, and none for her crime books) by Georgette Heyer was okay - again, didn't live up to the first of her detective novels which I read. The two most interesting things in it were the title - it seems preposterous to the upper-class characters that a butler would have a private life of sufficient substance to cause someone to kill him - and when the younger policeman was sick after finding a murdered body, the older policeman said something to the effect that you could see who hadn't been at Flanders.

Sad Cypress (from 1940 - full plot and some interesting contemporary reviews in the Wikipedia entry) and The Hound of Death (from 1933 - very comprehensive plots in the Wikipedia entry) by Agatha Christie were okay (but not preferable to Georgette's above); as with most of her novels, I won't remember a year from now who did it in the former (this also true of the Georgettes, to be fair, and in fact most detective fiction I read); the latter, a short story collection, was more interesting, many of them reflecting the inter-war interest in spiritism and so on, and also contained The Witness For The Prosecution, which has a nice plot device and became a play and made a good film.

Not sure why I picked up Killing Time by Donald E Westlake (I think I knew his name, and it was a nice old green Penguin), but it hurtled along and I enjoyed it. First published 1961, he died on New Year's Eve. The bibliography on his personal website suggests this was his second novel under his own name. BBC and Independent obituaries. As this blog entry also says, there is a similarity to Red Harvest. And here's a mammoth blog entry from someone after his death.

Aberystwyth Mon Amour by Malcolm Pryce was mightily disappointing, as I'd read very good things about this series - as Wikipedia says, they are 'in the style of Raymond Chandler except that the stories are incongruously transferred from the mean streets of Los Angeles to the rainswept streets of an alternate universe version of the Welsh seaside resort and university town of Aberystwyth, where Malcolm Pryce went to school'. 'Aspiring to the style', maybe, but with none of the wit or charm or plotting or characterisation or use of language. He's had the jolly novelty idea, but done nothing with it, as if that was enough. I imagine I would enjoy it a little if I knew Aberystwyth, just as I would if it was a similar idea based in Lewis or London, say, but I'd still after a few pages be wanting there to be more substance than just the idea and the local knowledge novelty. I found it dull and unengaging. And I think even less of him having seen he has a 911 conspiracy page on his website.

It does confirm the tendency to avoid reading the currently-acclaimed stuff and going back to the old 'stood the test of time' stuff. Having said that, I started The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency last night and have a much better feeling about that, although it's early days.

Friday, 9 January 2009

closest football leagues ever

"Looking at the Premier League table, I realised that right now there are just four points separating Reading in 18th and Middlesbrough in 12th," piped up Erica Bland last year (2008). "Which got me wondering - which was the closest league of all time, with the smallest gap between first and last place?"

We're going to have to set some parameters on this one, Erica, as otherwise we'd end up with readers emailing in excitedly about two-team leagues such as that in the Isle of Scilly. For the sake of argument, then, we're going to arbitrarily limit our scope to leagues featuring at least 12 teams, and at least 22 games.

Which is convenient, really, since such a focus allows us to include both of our two stand-out favourites for closest league ever. First up is Morocco's 14-team Championnat National de 1ère Division, where Casablanca's Wydad Athletic Club won the league title with 57 points in 1965-66, while both Club Omnisport de Meknès and Maghreb Athletic Tetouan were relegated in last and second-last respectively on 49 points - a gap of just eight points. While a system which awarded three points per win, two for a draw and one for a loss did tend towards equality, it remains true that Wydad had won just four more games - and drawn the same number - as the relegated clubs. The gap between first and last was just over 15% of the theoretical maximum gap (52) had Wydad won all their games and last place lost all of theirs.

Arguably tighter still, however, was Romania's Divizia C, Seria a VIII-a in 1983-84. In a 16-team league, with two points awarded for a win and one for a draw, Muresul Deva took first place - and promotion to Divizia B, with 38 points, while Minerul Ghelar and Minerul Aninoasa were relegated in the bottom two spots with 29 and 28 points respectively. The league looks more preposterous still, however, if you simply ignore Muresul Deva for a moment. Second-place UMT Timisoara had just 31 points, meaning they avoided relegation by 13 places, but also by just two points. Most infuriatingly for second-last Minerul Ghelar, eight other teams finished equal with them on 29 points, yet of those sides only they were relegated; sadly that's what a goal difference of -17 will do for you.

- from the Guardian Knowledge of 7 January


I abandoned We7 for a while after they pulled up the drawbridge on the option of downloading ad-free versions of the ad-attached tracks you'd downloaded thirty days before - I did get a few albums out of it before that happened. But I've gone back to it now, because what has happened which makes it work for me in a different way is that it now has much, much more content, and it's much easier to listen to whole albums streamed while you're online, with at-the-moment tiny ads attached to each track. So what I've been doing today, for example, is listening to the Genesis albums chronologically - I skipped From Genesis To Revelation, which I picked up long ago on tape and wasn't much cop. I'm pretty sure I hadn't heard Trespass before, apart from The Knife, and had picked up Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot in Fopp online for £3 each but still included them in my listening scheme (it's a guy thing) and I'm listening to Selling England By The Pound just now (until QI comes on).

vhs era is winding down

VHS era is winding down: The last big supplier of the tapes is ditching the format, ending the long fade-out of a product that ushered in the home theater.
- Los Angeles Times, 22 December.
The most ominous line is at the end: "The DVD will be obsolete in three or four years, no doubt about it. Everything will be Blu-ray,"

We got a DVD/video combo after Christmas, as well as a Freeview Plus box - our Freeview/DVD combo had been becoming increasingly erratic, and then the video packed in completely after Christmas (as did our older Mac laptop - all backed up, happily, but a little resistant to having the software upgrades applied although the original software reinstall worked okay, and thi is mostly a pain because that was my iTunes/internet laptop, and at the moment it's on the ditched IE rather than Safari, which is preposterously slow, and I can't reinstall the music and the playlists/folders (which I'd be especially sorry to lose) from the backup because it won't recognise the backup disk; I've moved my documents to the new laptop, but am loathe to clog it up with all the iTunes material; of course a new ipod would have much more memory space than that 20GB laptop anyway, and if I could plug a new ipod into the backup disk and run it from iTunes there that would do the job really).

Both boxes were less than £90 each. The Freeview reception is much improved, and we're still discovering the wonders of the hard disk recorder, though we've successfully set up a series record, as well as pause live TV. The DVD/video box would have been at least two hundred pounds more expensive if we wanted it to be recordable, but we didn't need that. The video does record, but we probably won't have much call for that. We still have a lot of videos to play on it though, especially family videos which I've been hoovering up very cheaply in charity shops.

I was in Zavvi - where the administration is really kicking in, with increasingly empty stretches of shelving especially upstairs in the classical, jazz and other specialist categories - and HMV earlier this week. I was reminded of the extent to which they'd given over more of their CD space to DVDs, I guess as more people download. Perhaps we're seeing now with DVDs what we saw with CDs over the last ten years, with reissues of vast swathes of material, which has been unavailable for years, with extras, until the internet and software develop such that the DVD market is hit as badly as the CD market has been by downloads, legal or otherwise.

roland burris's mausoleum

Roland Burris has erected a grand mausoleum for himself, carved with the words "TRAIL BLAZER" and a long list of his accomplishments, with a space left for his more recent achievements. That gap could soon be filled in with "U.S. Senator."
The tomb is a monument to the ambition — some say egotism — that led him to accept what many regard as a tainted prize: an appointment to the Senate from scandal-ridden Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
"Roland wants an office. It's another thing to chisel on his Ramses II pyramid," said Judy Baar Topinka, a former Illinois state treasurer and Republican candidate for governor. She added: "His ego is huge."
The 71-year-old Burris accepted the appointment with no publicly expressed reservations, despite charges that Blagojevich tried to sell the seat. And Burris fought for the seat after Senate Democrats vowed not to allow him to take office. On Wednesday, the Senate leadership backed down, and it appears likely Burris will be seated.
Burris can fairly call himself a trailblazer. The Democrat was the first black politician elected to major statewide office in Illinois, serving three terms as Illinois comptroller beginning in 1979 and a single term as attorney general in 1991.
But to many who know him, it is no surprise he accepted the Senate appointment. Some say he has a large ego, even by the outsized standards of politicians.
In addition to constructing a big mausoleum, he etched it with practically his entire resume, recording, among other things, that he was the first black Southern Illinois University exchange student to the University of Hamburg in Germany and the first black national bank examiner for the U.S. Treasury Department.
- AP, 8 January, though I got the story from The Daily Show

polly toynbee's christmas message

My Christmas message? There's probably no God: It is neither emotionally nor spiritually deficient to reject religions that seek to infantilise us with impossible beliefs
- Polly Toynbee in the Guardian, 23 December. Coincidentally, I notice that Alex has recently linked to this article also. I'll eventually - perhaps before next Christmas - reach in my pile of cuttings (tearings, actually) some of the responses in subsequent letters pages which I think will be linkable (rather than just the long tail of comments on this page)

what obama's election means for the segregated church

Q&A: What Obama's Election Means for the Segregated Church: Michael O. Emerson on why black and white evangelicals can't believe the other voted as they did.
- somewhat depressing Christianity Today article, 19 December.
Grimmest line: 'If we are to move forward on reconciliation, it is essential that Obama not be assassinated.'

reclaiming st nicholas

Keeping St. Nick, the Man Not Myth, Alive: More and more churches are finding ways to practice the St. Nicholas story.
- Christianity Today article, 19 December

I wanna be sedated

Highest Calling: Raising children is the most important work we do for the Kingdom of God. Isn't it?
I was in the middle of an email to Leslie Leyland Fields, whose latest book is titled Parenting Is Your Highest Calling: And Eight Other Myths That Trap Us in Worry and Guilt, when I noticed it was quiet. Too quiet.
My not-quite-two-year-old son was napping peacefully, but I'd been working alongside a stream of chatter from my three-year-old daughter—and I noticed, all of a sudden, that her chatter had stopped. My fingers paused on the keys. Should I go and check up on her? Does "quiet" indicate "trouble?" Or do I assume she's all right for a few more minutes, and finish my email?
I voted to keep writing. When I was done I went in search of her, and found her sitting on the floor in the bathroom. She'd squirted out an entire tube of diaper rash ointment and smeared it all over her feet and legs—and, by extension, everything within about a six foot radius of where she was sitting.
"What on earth are you doing?" I asked.
She looked up at me, and extended a foot.
"So you can wash my feet," she said. "Like Jesus and Peter."
Like Jesus and Peter, indeed. I picked her up and washed her feet, a variant on the verse from John running through my head: Then, Lord, not just my feet but the floor, the sink, the tub, and the toilet as well! When I finished, I set her down and went back to turn off my computer, as my son had woken up from his nap in the meantime. I wasn't sure if the song I was humming as I went to pick him up was The Servant Song, or I Wanna Be Sedated.
- start of an interesting review in Christianity Today's Books & Culture, 22 December

Thursday, 8 January 2009

more ansible

Carrie Fisher's autobiography _Wishful Drinking_ includes some George Lucas/_Star Wars_ reminiscences: 'Remember the white dress I wore all through that film? George came up to me the first day of filming, took one look at the dress and said: "You can't wear a bra under that dress." "OK, I'll bite," I said. "Why?" And he said: "Because ... there's no underwear in space."' 'Among George's many possessions, he owns my likeness, so that every time I look in the mirror I have to send him a couple of bucks. That's partly why he's so rich.'
- Ansible, January 2009


The dead past. _46 Years Ago._ The BBC report that inspired _Doctor Who_ explains why Charles Eric Maine would never do for tv: '... too much a fantasist; he is obsessed with the Time theme, time-travel, fourth dimensions and so on -- and we consider this indigestible stuff for the audience.' (Donald Bull, BBC 'Science Fiction' report, 1962) [FS] Other authors who get thumbnail descriptions include Brian Aldiss, 'not a crank'; Arthur C. Clarke, 'a modest writer'; and C.S. Lewis, whose 'special religious preoccupations are boring and platitudinous'.
- Ansible, December 2008

steve mcclaren goes dutch

A YouTube clip in which Steve McClaren, now managing in the Netherlands, gives an interview in a way that suggests that English is his second language and Dutch his first. I can understand how it happens, you adapt the way you're talking to the way the people you're talking to talk, but it comes across very peculiar.

calvin chocolates

Chocolates for the elect show Calvin’s soft centre
Chocolate bon-bons have been created by a Swiss chocolatier to honour the 500th anniversary of the birth of the Reformer John Calvin The chocolates were ordered by the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches.
“It was an interesting challenge,” said Blaise Poyet of the Maison Poet company. “It’s not easy to represent theological ideas by using the taste buds,” he told Ecumenical News International. Getting the taste right took weeks of discussion and research. He has included ingredients local to Geneva which were available 500 years ago. They include lemon verbena, which was used to represent the reformer’s ability to plant new ideas and to see them flourish.
The first layer of the sweet was based on a smooth, runny praline mix. “But we have reformed it,” Mr Poyet said. He had used crunchy caramelised hazelnuts, and salt from the Alps, to make the praline slightly savoury. He also used a “chocolate grand cru from Bolivia”, made from 68-per-cent cocoa paste, to signify Calvin’s theology of perfection.
Aware that Calvinism hid a soft heart within its austere demands, he used a caramel made from Swiss cheese to suggest “in a discreet way this love for one’s neighbour”.
- Church Times story of 7 November, picked up from Private Eye's Funny Old World section, which gives this as the source but has more information. The best bit in the Private Eye version is the end: 'We take our research seriously and include only local ingredients that were used in Calvin's day. Except for the chocolate of course which was completely unknown in Switzerland at the time.'


William Tyndale: A hero for the information age: Subversion, espionage and a man who gave his life to disseminate the Word

An emerging nation looks increasingly confident as a player on the world stage, thanks to a mixture of commercial prowess and deft diplomacy. In its capital and in coastal cities, you can feel the excitement as small manufacturers, retailers and middlemen find new partners across the sea. But the country’s masters face a dilemma: the very technology, communications and knowhow that are boosting national fortunes also threaten to undermine the old power structure.

China in the 21st century, contemplating the pros and cons of the internet? No, Tudor England, at the time when a gifted, impulsive young man called William Tyndale arrived in London—not to make his fortune, but to transform the relationship between ordinary people and the written word. As he soon discovered, London in 1523 was a city where ideas as well as goods were being disseminated at a pace that frightened the authorities, triggering waves of book-burning and repression.
- interesting article continues in Economist, 18 December

with god's army

With God's army: The Salvation Army might seem like a throwback to the Victorian age, playing carols in military uniform. But it is now the largest provider of social care after the government. Stuart Jeffries joins its members for the day
- Guardian, 17 December

Wednesday, 7 January 2009


Interesting Straight Dope article on why Chicago's airport is called O'Hare.


They're having a prog season on BBC4 for some reason which is interesting. The Prog Britannia documentary particularly good; lots of good-humoured old proggers, Rick Wakeman always good value and Mike Rutherford sounding rather like Prince Charles. Most interesting thing learned was that Mike Oldfield heard that Paul McCartney was in the studio next door playing all the instruments himself and he thought, he'll be listening to the ones he's recorded already while recording another one on top of them, I could do that on my album (as it would obviously be a faff trying to tell people to play it how he played it when they couldn't do it the way he did) - that being Tubular Bells.

Was also reminded that Pete Sinfield, lyricist for King Crimson (and Greg Lake's I Believe in Father Christmas, Wikipedia tells me), went on to write pop lyrics like Buck's Fizz's Land of Make Believe.

Also, I'd like to introduce the Saxon singer, the Yes drummer and the Granta editor: Bill Buford, Bill Bruford and Biff Byford.

aborigine/aubergine and cupertinos

Interesting item on Language Log on the misuse of aborigine when aubergine is meant, concluding that it's a spelling thing rather than a meaning thing (which you can see if you pronounce the end of abo- as the end of aub- is.

They picked it up from the World Wide Words newsletter (I'd recommend you subscribe, if 'you' existed), and this came in the following week's newsletter (13 December):

Q. In last week's issue of your newsletter, you gave a link to an article by Arnold Zwicky at Language Log. He writes "there's a
remote possibility that some of the hits for aborigine on its own are Cupertinos." What's a Cupertino - and why? [M Nease]

A. I had a feeling this might come up. This answer is based in part on Benjamin Zimmer's discussion of the topic, also in Language Log.

An automated spelling checker attached to a word-processing program is one of the curses of our age. In the hands of an inexperienced, over-hasty or ignorant user it readily perpetrates dreadful errors in the name of correctness. One example appeared in a piece in the New York Times in October 2005 about Stephen Colbert's neologism "truthiness": throughout it instead referred to "trustiness", the first suggestion from the paper's automated checking software. In September 2006 an issue of the Arlington Advocate included the sentence, "Police denitrified the youths and seized the paintball guns." The writer left the first letter off "identified" and the spelling checker corrected what remained.

In 2000 the second issue of Language Matters, a magazine by the European Commission's English-language translators, included an article by Elizabeth Muller on the problem with the title Cupertino and After.

Cupertino, the city in California, is best known for hosting the headquarters of Apple Computers. But the term doesn't come from the firm. The real source is spelling checkers that helpfully include the names of places as well as lists of words. In a notorious case documented by Ms Muller, European writers who omitted the hyphen from "co-operation" (the standard form in British English) found that their automated checkers were turning it into "Cupertino". Being way behind the computing curve, I'm writing this text using Microsoft Word 97, which seems to be the offending software (more recent editions have corrected the error); in that, if you set the language to British English, "cooperation" does get automatically changed to "Cupertino", the first spelling suggestion in the list. For reasons known only to God and Word's programmers, the obvious "co-operation" comes second.

Hence "Cupertino effect" for the phenomenon and "Cupertino" for a word or phrase that has been involuntarily transmogrified through ill-programmed computer software unmediated by common sense or timely proofreading.

A search through the Web pages of international organisations such as the UN and NATO (and, of course, the EU) finds lots of examples of the canonical form of the error. A 1999 NATO report mentions the "Organization for Security and Cupertino in Europe"; an EU paper of 2003 talks of "the scope for Cupertino and joint development of programmes"; a UN report dated January 2005 argues for "improving the efficiency of international Cupertino". And so on.

Other notorious examples of the Cupertino effect include an article in the Denver Post that turned the Harry Potter villain Voldemort into Voltmeter, one in The New York Times that gave the first name of American footballer DeMeco Ryans as Demerol, and a Reuters story which changed the name of the Muttahida Quami movement of Pakistan into the Muttonhead Quail movement.

It could be worse. Leave out one of the "o"s from the beginning of "co-operation" as well as the hyphen and you might be offered not "Cupertino" but "copulation". Now that would be an error to write home about. Or perhaps not.

Thursday, 1 January 2009


Today of course the 90th anniversary of the Iolaire disaster. Just reading the latest Rudhach today, which lists the dead and survivors from the Point district, and struck by the Sheshader list in particular: Norman from No 3, Donald from No 5, Murdo from No 7, William from No 11, Donald from No 13, Murdo from No 15, two Johns from No 20, Donald from No 22 and Norman from No 23, all died. The older you get the more you realise what an appalling tragedy it was, on top of the war losses already incurred.

Some links from the first page of a Google search: a BBC news item from today; Wikipedia. Tourist Board info page. A nicely put together page, with photos, on someone's personal site. STV story, with video (which seems to be the second of two - ah, this seems to be part one, looks like a full 30-minute documentary, with some old interview footage - ah, having watched it I see it's from 1989, topped and tailed and rebroadcast last month; I wonder how long it will be at the end of this link; and here's a videoless news story). A BBC Alba page on a programme about it, broadcast today.

It's not that many years since we were driving back in the road from Fivepenny to granny's when my father indicated the man up a ladder on the thatched roof of a barn we were passing and said that he was on the Iolaire. It may be an embellishment of my memory that he said that he was the man who had hung on to the top of the mast through the night. Ah, having watched the STV documentary now I think I must be remembering rightly as that must be him being interviewed on it.