Archive for the ‘skills’ Category

Claire Quilty, on Twitter, said a while back that:

That’s relevant to what follows, so remember it; I’ll come back to it later on.

(And no, in case you’re wondering, this post has got nothing to do with antisemitism. Not directly, anyway.)


 

There’s a line that’s been used any number of times on telly, but I first came across it in, of all things, an episode of The Professionals. One of the lead characters is told

You’re not a very ‘civil’ civil servant, are you?

(I’m obliged to Mark Forsyth – who tweets as @inkyfool – for identifying the rhetorical device used therein as an “antanaclasis”.)

The past few years I’ve come to think the same about social media; i.e. it’s not very social a lot of the time, is it?

I’d say that I date the genesis of this observation to 2015 because that’s a convenient date for all sorts of reasons. For one thing…

And, for another…

 

But yeah, that’s why I date it to late 2015, although what I’m about to talk about probably (almost certainly) pre-dates that.

Social media, then.

Thing is… with the obvious exception of Facebook events, Google Hangouts, etc., it’s not very… social, is it?

And that’s leaving aside – ok, it’s not, because I’m about to talk about it… Because I’m no longer sure what qualifies as social media these days. No, not because of covid. Yes, what ‘social’ means changed during the pandemic. Changed irrevocably? I don’t know. I guess we’ll discover that together over the next few years.

But… what does ‘social’ mean?

I’m happy to reach for a dictionary at this point. (First not really about antisemitism bit; it’s my usual response when someone starts off with the ‘ah, but how do you define antisemitism, eh? Eh?’ My usual response is to point them at a reputable dictionary. Oddly, they tend to get very upset.)

But, yes, dictionary definition. Even merely as an adjective, ‘social’ has a fairly long list of definitions.

 

So… is Facebook a ‘social’ app? Sure. Even leaving aside the use of it to arrange drinkups and parties, it’s effectively a huge room, with dozens of people mingling and chatting with each other. Some stick to their own cliques, some do the rounds… and sometimes you get an idiot that no one invited standing on a table and shouting about the latest conspiracy theory doing the rounds.

Twitter? Yes, again. Same as Facebook… except that there’s a greater proportion of foulmouthed, drunk, or sleep-deprived, idiots.

Snapchat? And Tik Tok? I’ll take your word for it on both, as I’ve never been on them, and I’m pretty sure I never will be. (Actually, not quite true; I once downloaded Tik Tok, looked around for about ten minutes and speedily deleted the app.) But both are not for me.

But YouTube? How the hell is YouTube ‘social media’? If anything it’s a publishing platform, just as blogging platforms are – to me, at least – not social media.

It’s like those ‘what was the first social media platform you used?’ question that does the rounds every so often. I rarely include blogging or even livejournal/message boards because I don’t think of them as ‘social media’. However, apparently I’m wrong on that… or so I’m told whenever I express this view.

I mean – is this blog social media? (Checks my readership stats. Possibly ‘unsocial media’ would be a better description.)

But what I originally wanted to note that long ago time in the past when I started writing this post was a change in Twitter in recent years; it’s perhaps inevitable since we’ve gone through a shedload of contentious elections and votes and similar, resulting in more than a few populist governments. Add covid and 5G and any number of things tailor made for conspiracies…

At some point in the past few years the way we view ourselves and the way we view others has changed.

(And no, I’m not talking about the way we’ve gone from ‘those I’m politically opposed to are not good people with bad ideas but bad people with worse ideas’, something that’s taken over politcial discourse. Or at least I’m not just talking about that.)

As always, however, nothing is new; neither under the sun, nor on social media.

So, let me start with a friend a couple of decades back whose blog, on Livejournal, morphed over a period of a couple of years from a general ‘slice of life’ with other stuff frequently mentioned, into effectively a campaigning blog, with one sole aim: the abolition of greyhound racing in the UK.

That the sport (for want of a better word, my use of ‘sport’ isn’t meant to sanitise it, I promise) is cruel, wantonly cruel, knowingly cruel, is I think beyond doubt.

My friend, however, truly believed, and campaigned for, its abolition on the grounds that it was unforgivably cruel, irrendemently so.

And this is the change I’ve noticed taking over more and more of social media.

I came to realise then that she, through no overt ‘fault’ of her own, but in part because of her passion and campaigning, thought less of me

Not because I didn’t share her fury, but because I didn’t share her view that this was the most important thing to be angry about. Not the only thing, but certainly the most important thing.

And now we’re getting closer to what I wanted to write about, about social media.

Certainty, as I wrote about a couple of years ago, makes it easy to get angry; too easy, as it happens. And social media makes it easier than ever to do so.

With strangers. With people you don’t know.

With friends, however, it’s disappointment that leads to upset and anger. Usually, anyway.

And while in what we’re pleased to call ‘real life’ there are a variety of things you can do to express your anger, or upset or disappointment, all of them require some effort on your part.

Yes, yes, the last 18 months have shown the falsity of any distinction between ‘online life’ and ‘in person life’, but bear with me, ok?

Let’s say you fall out with a friend; ok, you’ve got to ask yourself what will be the consequences if you cut them out of your life, if you snub them, if you want nothing to do with them. What are you going to do when there’s a party, where mutual friends will want you both there. OK, they’ll want to know neither of you are going to ‘make a scene’, but they pretty reasonably see no reason why they should have to choose sides.

(In my own case, I choose not to attend such parties if someone with whom I’ve fallen out hugely will be there. I make the choice, because it’s better all around. No one feels like they’re walking on eggshells, they have a lovely time in company, and I have an ok time on my own.)

But, to be fair, if you have fallen out with, oh, I dunno, let’s call them Ethelred… it’s unlikely that your friends, even if they remain friends with Ethelred, are likely to tell you what Ethelred thinks about politics or sport or anything really. Your mutual friends may still stay in contact with Ethelred, but unless they’re completely thoughtless idiots, they’re not going to rub your face in it.

And then there’s social media. Where, among other things, they kind of are likely to do that.

Because if you fall out with Ethelred, and merely unfollow them, which is very easy to do – more about that in a moment – if your friends like something that Ethelred said online, they may repost it, retweet it, bring it, unasked, into your timeline.

So you mute them… yeah, that’s not gonna work, in most cases. So you block them.

Yes, you block them. Someone you were on good terms with, you erase them from your timeline, from your online life. (And if Twitetr could

Now unfollowing happens for any number of reasons: to be brutally honest, I usually assume that anyone who unfollows me hasn’t done it because I’ve overtly offended them… it’s because I’ve bored them. It’s a message “I’m no longer interested in anything you have to say”.

It stings if it comes out of the blue, but mostly it doesn’t, not with friends.

But one of the first online lessons you have to learn, and appreciate, is “never ever worry about who follows you, or why, and who doesn’t… and why.” Quickly followed by “learn to read fluent Tyop, and never highlight someone’s typos… unless the typo is very very funny.”

But blocking is something different., It’s final (usually), it’s an overt statement.

Tracy Ann Oberman ran a podcast entitled Trolled, wherein she interviewed celebs who’d been subject to trolling. What I found fascinating was that some, like Luciana Berger, rarely blocked, in part because she didn’t want the trolls to think they’d somehow ‘won’, that they’d upset her. Others like Gary Lineker took another view: they wanted the trolls to know they’d lost access to his feed because of their behaviour; ie that by their behaviour online, they’d forfeited the right to read his feed.

OK, coming back to what I started this blog with; now, I did say that it’d be relevant…

If I mention y = x + 2, does that ring any bells? No? Ah, that’s a pity. Well, it was when I came up with my own law.

I genuinely thought that might be it, that I’d never come up with another law that applied in all circumstances, universally.

And yet, over the past few years, I’ve blocked away racists, idiots, antisemitic fuckwits… and the occasional now former friend who stepped over a line I genuinely thought (and think) there’s no way back from. And I didn’t regret a single one of them.

And I’ve been blocked by racists, idiots, antisemitic fuckwits… and by the occasional friend where I stepped over a line they genuinely thought (and think) there’s no way back from. And I don’t regret a single one of them.

I know some regard blocking or being blocked as ‘a win’, but I never have. I’ve taken pleasure in some, and reluctantly agreed others’ necessity. But there’s not one I regret. Not really.

I wrote a post at the end of 2019 entitled Saying Farewell to 2019, A Good Thing in which I listed some good things that had happened in 2019, in the midst of what I considered a pretty shitty year all around. Among the fifteen items were these two:

So, far too long after I promised it, here’s a new Budgie’s Law:

BUDGIE’S LAW OF SOCIAL MEDIA

All blocks, every single one of them, without reservation, without
exception, for whatever reason, no matter who blocked who…

…are ‘for the best’.

I almost called it Budgie’s Law of Social Media Exclusion, but that could be confused for when social media companies show you the door… which is a whole other post. Maybe.

See you tomorrow, with… something else.

 

 

Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.


I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to ko-fi.com, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on https://ko-fi.com/budgiehypoth

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

I’ve been off wandering again the last few days, long walks that do a lot for clearing the brain and an equal amount for hurting my foot. (More details about the latter here…)

When I’m wandering I usually listen to podcasts or the radio, but sometimes I return to an old favourite. And recently, I’ve been listening again to the 2003 BBC Reith Lectures, by neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran. Now apart from challenging everyone to come up with a better name than that, he’s the Director of the Centre for Brain and Cognition at the University of California (San Diego), and he’s a man with a voice like James Mason.

Every time I listen to the lectures, and I listen to them about once a year, I am staggered by what they know about the mind and the brain, and how much they admit they don’t know.

They’re superb, and I recommend the lectures without hesitation.

BBC Link: Reith Lectures 2003

Here’s the first lecture by Ramachandran; it’ll give you a flavour of them. In it he talks about among other things about Capgras Syndrome and Face Blindness, where someone can’t recognise a face of someone familiar (in fact thinks they must be an imposter)… and even weirder, recognises them as an someone he knows when they’re on the phone…


PS For those who read yesterday’s blog and are curious as to whether I’m going to write on Israel/Gaza… I’m still thinking about it. You’ll know when I know…

Somewhere in the boxes I possess which contain the books I don’t actually have up on the bookshelves is a book entitled The Dictionary Of Misinformation. It’s a cracking book based upon the simple principle that most trivia books tell you things that, in the title of this entry, you didn’t know you didn’t know.

However, this book takes a decidedly different tack, by debunking loads of things you know… that are flat out false. Old wives tales, misquotes and the like, every incorrect item is taken seriously and the common fallacy is, for want of a better description, destroyed.

Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast? Quite possibly, but the quote actually refers to the savage breast, and it’s has, not hath. (It’s from… no, not from Shakespeare, but from William Congreve’s 1697 play The Mourning Bride, Act 1, Scene 1.)

Surely there’s no-one who still thinks the ‘wherefore’ in “wherefore art thou, Romeo?” means where? Well, yes, there surely are.

Urban myths don’t escape – the authors are merciless in describing the belief that a drowning man surfaces three times as the rubbish it is. Similarly, while they acknowledge that some people have amusingly appropriate surnames, they obliterate the concept of nominative determinism with some relish.

So, the book seems to address the idea of things you knew, but were wrong, and trivia books by the hundred tell you things you didn’t know you didn’t know, and there are more than a few volumes addressing the things you knew you didn’t know. (They’re in the non-fiction section of the library.)

You know, every so often on my blog I ask you to teach me something, to show (or tell) me something that you know about that I probably don’t. And I’ve been rewarded by lessons on cornering at speed, on how to judge wine, how to light a photograph correctly.

But I’ve never returned the favour, so what follows is something that you may have known, may not have known or might never have even thought about.

mathfun1How to tell if a number is divisible by any number between 2 and 12

I had a great maths teacher at school. He understood that to get kids interested in maths as a subject, he had to make it interesting as a subject. And to that end, he taught his class what he called the ‘tricks of the trade’.

So, for example, he taught us how to discover whether any number was divisible by any number between 2 and 12.

Some of them are, you’ll see, obvious; some of them make sense, and one or two you’ll have to trust me on until you test them out and find out they work

2: duh, the number’s even

3: if the number’s digits sum to a number divisible by 3, the number itself is divisible by 3.

4: If the last two digits of the number are divisible by 4, the whole number is. (Remember this, I’ll come back to it.)

5: the number ends in 5 or 0.

6: if the number’s even and the number’s digits sum to a number divisible by 3, the number itself is divisible by 6. (Makes sense, doesn’t it, but most people never combine them…)

7: hmm, he didn’t teach us this one.

8: If the last three digits of the number are divisible by 8, the whole number is.

(A slight bit of explanation here: Notice anything? If the last digit is divisible by 2, the whole number is; if the last two digits are divisisble by 4, the whole number is; if the last three digits of the number are divisible by 8, the whole number is. That’s because 2, 4 and 8 are 2 to the power of 1, 2 and 3 respectively, and the similar powers of 10, i.e. 10, 100 and 1000 are, respectively divisible by 2, 4 and 8. OK, explanation over.)

9: if the number’s digits sum to a number divisible by 9, the number itself is divisible by 9.

10: the number ends in a 0.

11. If the sum of every other digit, starting with the first, is either equal to the sum of every other digit starting with the second, or the difference is exactly divisible by 11, then the number is evenly divisible by 11. It sounds complicated, but it really isn’t, I promise. Couple of examples to show you what I mean.

Try 13,057. That’s 13,057. Add the bolded numbers, and then the non-bolded. So 1+0+7 = 8. Subtract the non-bolded (3+5 = 8), and you get 8 – 8 = 0, therefore it should divide evenly by 11. And indeed it does: 13,057 divided by 11 = 1,187.

Take 92,807. The bolded (9+8+7) sum to 24; The non-bolded (2+0) sum to 2. So… 24 – 2 = 22, which is divisible by 11. Therefore the ‘big’ number should divide evenly by 11. And it does: 92,807 divided by 11 = 8,437.

12: Another combination one; if the number’s digits sum to a number divisible by 3, and the last two digits of the number are divisible by 4, the whole number is exactly divisible by 12.

Nice and easy, eh? Well, easy-ish, I’ll grant you. All the numbers from 2 to 12. All the numbers from… hold it, I hear you shout. What about 7? You skipped over that one pretty bloody quickly, didn’t you, budgie?

Truth is, he didn’t teach us how to quickly find if a number was divisible by seven. I even told my lad Philip, when teaching him those same tricks, that there wasn’t a quick way.

Well, I was wrong, and it took me until well into my 40’s (25 years after I learned the rest of them) to discover an incredibly easy way… I have no idea why it works, but it does.

Take the number’s final digit and double it. Subtract that from the rest of the digits and if you end up with a number divisible by 7, you’re home and dry.

Take the number 364. Double the final digit and you get 8. Subtract that from the first two digits: 36 – 8 = 28. And what do you know? 28 is divisible by 7, so 364 is exactly divisible by 7.

903? 90 minus 6 [3 doubled] = 84, so 903 is divisible by 7.

Look, I told you I didn’t know why it works, but it does.

So, who’s still awake now? Anyone? Anyone?

Ah.

I’ve been doing some thinking today about thinking: where thoughts come from, where ideas originate, the thought processes that lead from concept to idea to practical consideration of those ideas.

And something’s been running through what I laughingly refer to as my brain, about different skills that people have, and particularly the opposite to the “eureka moment”.

Anyone, in any job, knows the “eureka moment”; it’s that split second when due to your professional expertise, or your knowledge and experience in your chosen career, something ‘clicks’: you solve a problem, you see where the error is, you come up with a solution that’s been bugging you and/or your colleagues.

It feels great when it happens, and for many folks whose primary motivation is the intellectual satisfaction they get from their work, it genuinely does make the rest of the time worthwhile.

So what’s the opposite?

It’s what I’m going to call the “naah moment”, which I’d define as that moment when you look at something and know that it’s not right, but for a second (or even longer) you don’t know why it’s not right.

It’s an accountant looking at a balance sheet and going “Naah”, knowing beyond peradventure that something’s just not quite right about it.

It’s an artist looking at an image and seeing something wrong, but it takes a moment to see why.

It’s a writer, reading a piece of prose and just knowing that there’s a better way of putting it, but not immediately being able to reword it.

It’s a musician hearing a piece of music and it being ‘off’ but for a moment, or for days, the musician can’t quite say why.

The “naah moment”.

But what’s really making me wonder – and ponder – is that if it’s true that different parts of the brain deal with different appreciations: the parts of the brain that deal with vision are different from those that process hearing, say, then does the “naah moment” originate in different parts of the brain depending upon who’s thinkin’ it?

Hmm – something to think about? Naah, maybe not.

Been a while since I’ve done this, almost a year…

Some years ago, there was a series of guide books to software entitled Tips, Tricks and Traps. Written distinctly with tongue firmly in cheek, the books purported to be merely a guide to the very important, nay vital things you needed to know in order to use a specific piece of software. Of course, the books were nothing of the sort – they covered everything from the very basic to the quite advanced.

They all ended up with three ‘lists of ten things’, which were essential reading. The first was “Ten Things you really do need to know”; the second was “Ten Things that it’s very helpful to be able to do”. The last was the genius bit: “Ten Things you’ll need beer for,” the idea being that with these things, it took too much time to learn how to do them, so it would be much easier to go to someone who really knew the software and say to them: “if I buy you beer, will you please do this for me?”

Now, I have no beer, but I sometimes get incredibly envious of the skills possessed by other people.

Time to address that envy, I think.

Teach me one thing about your job, or a skill you possess, something that the odds are that I don’t know. (Note, I’m not asking what skills you possess – I’m requesting that you teach me something about that skill…)

You want examples? OK, well, say you spend your professional life writing. Then tell me how you get over ‘writer’s block’. Or if you can touch type, what’s the hardest word to type, and how do you remember it? You’re a whiz at teaching others mnemonics? Then teach me some. Or if you write gags, how do you know what’s funny and what’s not? Or if you write web pages, did I know that by sticking <b> and </b> around a word, I’ll make it appear emboldened? (Well, “yes“, is the obvious answer to that one…)

Other examples people have taught me over the years include:
– how to feed a cat a tablet
– a sommelier explaining how he decides the description of a wine
– the key to cleaning up images for icons
– how to breed fruit flies
– the best way to corner at speed
– a teacher taking me step by step through the process of the “you’re about to be in trouble” stare
– how to design a room
– the placement of word balloons
– how to learn a really difficult piece of music
– to create a genuinely blind hem on a satin bridal gown or other formal outfit
– how to calculate the flow of bubble bath when you bathe
– how a cover teacher knows your name in class (when you don’t think they do)

Go on then – teach me something about your job, or a skill you possess.

It’s coming up to Passover, (it starts tomorrow night) so I repeat with pleasure the following, about the only thing that makes Pesach bearable for me, with thanks to Laura:

Laura’s Matzo Pizza
For a thin base 3-4 matzo broken into small pieces and soaked in water just long enough to soften. If you feel very hungry and want a deep base use up to 7 matzo.

In a large bowl place the matzo and beat in an egg (2 eggs for a deep base) together with salt and pepper to taste

Place a small amount of oil in a frying pan and put the matzo mixture in and cook until the mixture is firm and moves away from the sides easily.

Take off the heat and spread a thin layer of tomato paste (puree) over the pizza.

Now this is the time where you decide your filling. I usually use mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, green peppers or any vegetables that you like.

You can pre cook your vegetables if you like them soft or leave them raw and they will cook in the pizza.

Next place some grated cheese over the top of the vegetables and place under a hot grill until the cheese is melted.

Carefully remove the pizza from the pan add some salad if you want and be warned this is a very, very filling meal.

NB A while back, after I posted this, I was asked, “surely it makes more sense to use matzo meal rather than broken up matzo.” Bearing in mind that Laura’s the cook, not me, I asked her why she used broken up matzo and she said “…because I want a pizza, not a flan.

The following post has gone up at Whitechapel, the board started by Warren Ellis, but fairly recently taken over in a bloody, horrific coup by Si Spurrier, the superbly talented writer of [recently] X-Club and A Serpent Uncoiled:


You know, I was going to call this The F-art Fiction Challenge, but Si overruled me.

As some of you may be aware, I had a writing thing going for several years entitled The Fast Fiction Challenge. The rules were simple: people challenged me with a four word title and a word to use in the tale and I wrote them a story of exactly 200 words.

I answered about 500 challenges, and in 2010 wrote 150 stories in 150 days. And yes, I published a couple of collections of the stories.

Well, Si and I got together over Christmas and decided it was about time I did some more of the stories. And it felt like an opportunity to widen the spectrum of art-challenges for you guys on this board.

Hence this new challenge:

The Art of Fast Fiction

OK, THE RULES.

Monday morning, 9th January, I’m going to put up a previously written Fast Fiction. It’ll be exactly 200 words, as previously stated.

Artists here will have until Saturday evening, say midnight British time, (4pm Pacific) to put up either a one panel spot illustration or a two page comic book depiction of the entire story. Hey, I’m limited to 200 words – you’re limited to two pages. The art can be pencilled, inked, coloured, lettered… entirely up to you.

Saturday night/Sunday morning, Si and I will pick a winner and announce it. The winner gets to pick a new four word title and word (no matter how weird or mundane) and let us know, and I’ll write a new story which will go up on Monday at noon UK time… which will start the whole thing running again.

So you get six days, (Monday through Saturday) to showcase your art and/or story-telling abilities.

Something we have to be very firm on upfront: this isn’t a call for anyone else to write new prose stories here or to suggest story ideas. As has been stated here before, the moment we start inviting folks to post their own fiction we get into all sorts of trouble. So: this is ART ONLY. The only thing the winner gets is to suggest the title and (occasionally, at my whim) possibly an extra challenge to make it a bit more fun for everyone involved.

(As an example of the latter, I was once challenged to write one in the form of a Shakespearean sonnet; someone else wanted one in which more than 50% of the tale was told in dialogue, and yes someone once challenged me, entirely within the rules of the challenge, to write a 200 word sex scene.*)

OK, let’s see how this goes, yes?

See you Monday Morning.


So that’s it. This could be interesting, yes? Drop by and join in, why don’t you?

* Yeah, like I’m going to link to that one.

One of my favourite guilty pleasures recently has come on a Monday evening on BBC FOUR, a quiz hosted by Victoria Coren, entitled Only Connect, in which, as the Wikipedia page has it,

In the series, teams compete in a tournament of finding connections between seemingly unrelated clues.

Here’s a small taster of it:

Now that only covers the first half of the show, and neither the “connecting wall” nor the “missing vowels” round (although the biggest puzzle about that final round is why it’s in the show; entertaining it is, but not really linked to “connections”).

I was delighted to discover the Only Connect app (click link to be taken to iTunes app store), but Only Connect is far from the first quiz on radio or Television to deal with connections.

For a start, there’s the wonderful television entitled Connections, more about soon, I promise. There’s a reason I’ll be talking about James Burke, but I’ll write more about that in a few days…

And then there’s Round Britain Quiz, where horribly convoluted questions are linked by something that might seem obscure but is, of course, immediately obvious once explained/realised.

On the BBC, in the UK, (and, I guess, probably on World Service and iPlayer as well) Round Britain Quiz has been running for several decades. As I say, it takes minor celebrities who represent various areas around the UK and gives them the most convoluted and contrived questions in order to get several answers, all linked by a theme.

Two examples follow here.

OK here’s one of them, one of the easier variety:

Three have vanished, one remains and three are gone, but still with us in a manner of speaking.

OK, I’ll pause while you think about that…

[pause…]

OK, got it?

The three that have “vanished” are The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, The Temple of Artemis and The Statue of Zeus.

The one that remains is The Great Pyramid at Giza.

The three that are gone but remain with us “in a manner of speaking” are…

  • The Tomb of King Mausolus at Halicarnassus, which gave us the word MAUSOLEUM
  • The Colossus of Rhodes, which gave us the word COLOSSUS, and
  • The Lighthouse of Alexandria which gave us the word PHAROS, used to describe a lighthouse.

They are, of course, The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Clever, huh?

Here’s another one that you probably won’t know, since it deals with UK politics, but it’s a better example of how tricky the questions can be and how every word in the question is important.

The first was a Scot who founded the party. The second was a Scot who split the party 31 years later. The third is a Scot noted for his prudence. Who are they and what’s the nominal connection that isn’t obvious, but is there all the same?

The three men are obvious, to anyone who knows their UK political history. It’s the “nominal connection that’s not obvious, but is there all the same” that’s the kicker.

The connection the question is looking for is that the men all have the same first name (nominal, remember), but didn’t use it in public life.

The party is the Labour Party.

(James) Keir Hardy (1856-1915) was one of those who formed the Labour Party.

31 years later, in August 1931, (James) Ramsay MacDonald (1866-1937) split the party, when he formed a coalition government that was chiefly supported by Conservatives and Liberals.

And (James) Gordon Brown, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, was, of course, noted for his obsession with “prudence”.

All of them had the first name James, and none of them used it in public life…

As with many such things, the listener sometimes thinks, “well, I could do that…”

So I did – I sent in a question ad it was used in the following series.

Here’s the question:

Why would the reduction of what we can see of the moon and what Eskimos wear be signalled large in Canterbury, and be reported in a humorous volume?

OK, so what’s the answer?

No idea? Oh, good. That’s the plan.

You want to know the answer?

Naah – think a bit… now think a bit more…

Ok then, since you insist:

Answer:

  • the reduction of what we can see of the moon is wane, yes?
  • and that coat the Eskimos wear, that’s called a parka
  • now “signalled large”… well, a large sign could be a banner, couldn’t it?
  • and, of course, Canterbury, is in Kent.

Hmm: Wane, Parka, Banner, Kent.

Hmm even more: (Bruce) WAYNE, (Peter) PARKER, (Bruce) BANNER, and (Clark) KENT.

And by now, you’ll have realised the reason they’d have been in a humorous volume, or a COMIC BOOK.

I thangew.

More tomorrow.

A number of things

Posted: 29 October 2011 in personal, skills
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Skip this if you’re not fascinated by numbers.

I’m serious – this subject has been known to have a more soporific effect than laudanum.

OK, still with me?

I was talking with (isn’t that a great way of being polite, instead of saying “I was having a small argument with…”?) a friend last night about something and as part of it, said I’d prove that 1 = 2, and proceeded to so so, but more about that in a moment.

But it started me thinking about mathematics and the tricks those of who have a grasp of it use. Of course, I use mathematics and arithmetic synonymously, and they’re not the same, at all. But forgive me for using them this way, just this once? Thanks.

Now, I had a great maths teacher at school. He understood that to get kids interested in maths as a subject, he had to make it interesting as a subject. And to that end, he taught his class what he called the ‘tricks of the trade’.

So, for example, he taught us how to discover whether any number was divisible by any number between 2 and 12.

It remains a mystery to me how everyone doesn’t know this, but:

2: duh, the number’s even

3: if the number’s digits sum to a number divisible by 3, the number itself is divisible by 3.

4: If the last two digits of the number are divisible by 4, the whole number is.

5: the number ends in 5 or 0.

6: if the number’s even and the number’s digits sum to a number divisible by 3, the number itself is divisible by 6.

7: hmm, he didn’t teach us this one.

8: If the last three digits of the number are divisible by 8, the whole number is.

9: if the number’s digits sum to a number divisible by 9, the number itself is divisible by 9.

10: the number ends in a 0.

11. If the sum of every other digit, starting with the first, is either equal to the sum of every other digit starting with the second, or the difference is exactly divisible by 11, then the number is evenly divisible by 11. Try 13,057. 1+0+7 = 3+5, therefore it should divide evenly by 11. And indeed it does: 13,057 ÷ 11 = 1,187. Take 92,807. (9+8+7) – (2+0) = 22, therefore it should divide evenly by 11. And it does: 92,807 ÷ 11 = 8,437.

12: if the number’s digits sum to a number divisible by 3, and the last two digits of the number are divisible by 4, the whole number is exactly divisible by 12.

Except… he didn’t teach us how to quickly find if a number was divisible by seven. I even told Philip, when teaching him those same tricks, that there wasn’t a quick way.

Well, I was wrong, and it took me until the age of 40 to discover an incredibly easy way… I have no idea why it works, but it does.

Take the number’s final digit and double it. Subtract that from the rest of the digits and if you end up with a number divisible by 7, you’re home and dry.

Take the number 364. Double the final digit and you get 8. Subtract that from the first two digits: 36 – 8 = 28. And what do you know? 28 is divisible by 7, so 364 is exactly divisible by 7.

903? 90 minus 6 (3 doubled) = 84, so 903 is divisible by 7.

Look, I told you it was boring; don’t say I didn’t warn you. Be grateful, I could have taught you a quick way of working out the two-digit cube root of any number between 1,000 and 970,299.

Anyway, that proof.

I have no doubt that some of you will spot the flaw in this fairly quickly, but it’s genuinely astonishing to me how many people don’t.

(1) Let a = b

(2) Multiply both sides by b… ab = b²

(3) Subtract a² from both sides… ab – a² = b² – a²

(4) Factorise… a (b – a) = (b + a)(b – a)

(5) Divide both sides by (b – a)… a = b + a

(6) Since a = b… a = 2a

(7) Divide by a… 1 = 2

Ta-da!

Yeah – I know, but be fair, I said there was a flaw…

The write stuff

Posted: 27 October 2011 in personal, skills, writing
Tags: , ,

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing recently.

I’m about to be pretentious and precious, both at the same time. Now I know you can cope with me being one or the other, but if both at the same time is too much, feel free to entirely ignore this entry if you wish.

So, yeah, I’ve been thinking about writing.

Not merely considering writing as in “I think I’ll do some writing”, but also, and perhaps more importantly, about the mechanics and craft of writing. This was started off by me reviewing some old writings of mine, and some unfinished works. I’d started making some notes on the uncompleted work when – as so often happens – I found my mind going off in various directions, and I found myself effectively scribbling down lines that were almost a philosophy of writing. Now, it could be said that I’m being, as I suggested earlier, both pretentious and precious, but what the hell. When has that ever stopped me ?

It strikes me that there are two things that I’m trying to get the reader to do when they read something I’ve written. The first is that when you’re writing a story, the whole point (other than telling the tale you wish) is to get the reader to read the next word… or the next panel.. or the next line.

And despite my oft-stated belief writing for broadcast and writing for print are about as different as you can get, both are obviously an exercise in the creative tension of suspense.

As with broadcasting, when you’re trying to get someone to read or experience something you’ve written, everything comes down to a that simple aim: to get the reader to want to know… what happens next.

It was pointed out to me some time ago – and I sometimes find it a useful analogy when considering dialogue – to think of the analogy of table tennis.

Yes, table tennis.

What’s the hardest thing in table tennis? To get the ball over the net and on the table… ONE. MORE. TIME.

That’s what you’re aiming for when you want someone to read something you’ve written… to get them to read the next word/panel. And the next one. And the one after that.

The other thing, almost equally important (arguably more important if you’re more interested in the aesthetics of writing rather than getting people to read it) is to provoke an emotional response in the reader. And we’re back to the concept of a game again. If you provoke the reaction you want, you’ve won. If you provoke a different reaction, it’s certainly not a win, but arguably not entirely a loss. However, provoke no reaction – that’s a cold, hard defeat.

Fear, laughter, anger; it doesn’t matter the reaction you’re aiming for. If the reader reacts the way you as a writer wish the reader to, you’ve won. Simple as that. It’s important, though, to get the reader to feel involved with the story, which leads straight back to the point I made a moment ago: to get the reader to care about what happens next. If the reader doesn’t give a shit about the characters, then he won’t carry on reading, no matter whether or not an individual passage in the story provokes the reaction you want.

Lord of the Rings? Reputed to be one of the greatest books published in the 20th Century, yes? I read 100 pages and genuinely couldn’t give a shit what happened to the characters. So I stopped reading it.

First Among Equals? Complete trash, written by a hack. I was gripped right the way through the book, because I genuinely cared about what happened to these characters. And wanted to know what happened to them.

Some time ago, I started a second novel. I deliberately tried to change my previous style of writing, to concentrate on plot, to make every line have something happen in it. I knew going in that there was a danger I’d sacrifice the depth of character that I’d enjoyed writing previously, but that was a risk I was prepared to take.

I got 12,000 words through the story when I stopped, and offered what I’d written to some friends to read and comment upon.

One particular comment hit home, hard. Without doubt the slight sacrifice I thought I’d made in character depth was far deeper than I’d realised and as writers far more experienced than I know, poor plot will survive good characters easier and better than a good plot will survive poor characters.

So I need to do some more writing. And rewriting.

Because… writing is rewriting.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot as well.

Not just the sentiment but the simplicity of “doing it”.

Easy to say, harder to achieve.

More thinking required… as long as it leads to doing.

Donger, Wil Robinson! Dinger!

Posted: 21 October 2011 in skills, writing
Tags: , ,

Typos.

Ah, the cures of online communication. Dammit, the curse of online communixation.

A few years ago, a columnist, bemoaning the apparent lack of knowledge of proper grammar and punctuation among the British public, wrote a column in which he challenged his readership to discover the three grammatical errors which he’d deliberately inserted into the column. Of course, his readership found two of the errors. They didn’t find the third… However, they did find nine additional errors of which the columnist was entirely unaware.

That episode mentioned, I’ll apologise in advance for any unintentional typos in this piece…

I’ve thought for some time that in addition to the languages written, spoken and understood by those communicating online, there should be a new language deemed to exist, the language and practice of Tyop.

(And before anyone answers with the infamous ‘study’ from Cambridge that demonstrated that the order of letters within words is unimportant to reading comprehension, might I direct you here? Thank you.)

Nowadays, I’m coming to believe that learning to read Tyop is, and will be, as important a language to understand and read fluently, as English, and every student should certainly receive training in it.

Now while, in the early days of online communication, typos merely referred to unintentionally incorrect spelling of a word wrong, I think the language of Tyop extends to, for example, hitting “Reply All” on an email instead of “Reply”.

Also to un-noticed predictive text or auto-correct screwing around with the word you intended to use, to texting someone in error because their name is next to someone else’s in your address book, and, especially on Twitter, sending what’s meant as a Direct Message (i.e. a private message intended for one person) out into the world as a public tweet.

(And, seriously, if you haven’t visited damnyouautocorrect.com wherein people have posted screen dumps of examples of predictive texts/ autocorrect going wrong, you really should…)

I’m pretty sure I’ve done all of those, and unless you’re not on one of the aforementioned services, you’ve probably done it as well.

It can be horribly embarrassing, depending, obviously, upon the content of the message. Or it can be amusing.

But usually embarrassing.

A boss of mine, replying to an email to me at work, once hit “Reply All” instead of Reply. The resulting reaction from pretty much every recipient was… “ah well, it happened to him, welcome to the club.” It would have been far more embarrassing had the boss included, as he’d intended to but changed his mind at the last minute, a request for my opinion as to a senior person’s request for a pay increase, complete with the numbers involved.

The world, I seriously believe, is divided into two types of people: those who’ve hit the wrong button when sending a message and posted something public that should have been private, etc. and those who haven’t… yet.

If you’re in the second group, don’t worry, you’ll move across sooner or latr. Damn, I meant latter. Or latté.

Oh, you know what I mean.

Teach me…

Posted: 13 October 2011 in skills
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Some years ago, there was a series of guide books to software entitled Tips, Tricks and Traps. Written distinctly with tongue firmly in cheek, the books purported to be merely a guide to the very important, nay vital things you needed to know in order to use a specific piece of software. Of course, the books were nothing of the sort – they covered everything from the very basic to the quite advanced.

They all ended up with three ‘lists of ten things’, which were essential reading. The first was “Ten Things you really do need to know”; the second was “Ten Things that it’s very helpful to be able to do”. The last was the genius bit: “Ten Things you’ll need beer for,” the idea being that with these things, it took too much time to learn how to do them, so it would be much easier to go to someone who really knew the software and say to them: “if I buy you beer, will you please do this for me?”

Now, I have no beer, but I sometimes get incredibly envious of the skills possessed by other people.

Time to address that envy, I think.

Teach me one thing about your job, or a skill you possess, something that the odds are that I don’t know. (Note, I’m not asking what skills you possess – I’m requesting that you teach me something about that skill…)

You want examples? OK, well, say you spend your professional life writing. Then tell me how you get over ‘writer’s block’. Or if you can touch type, what’s the hardest word to type, and how do you remember it? You’re a whiz at teaching others mnemonics? Then teach me some. Or if you write gags, how do you know what’s funny and what’s not? Or if you write web pages, did I know that by sticking <b> and </b> around a word, I’ll make it appear emboldened? (Well, “yes“, is the obvious answer to that one…)

Other examples people have taught me over the years include:
– how to feed a cat a tablet
– a sommelier explaining how he decides the description of a wine
– the key to cleaning up images for icons
– how to breed fruit flies
– the best way to corner at speed
– a teacher taking me step by step through the process of the “you’re about to be in trouble” stare
– how to design a room
– the placement of word balloons
– how to learn a really difficult piece of music
– to create a genuinely blind hem on a satin bridal gown or other formal outfit
– how to calculate the flow of bubble bath when you bathe
– how a cover teacher knows your name in class (when you don’t think they do)

Go on then – teach me something about your job, or a skill you possess.