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Category archive: Language

Thursday July 20 2017

I like her:

Harmanpreet Kaur lives and swears by her idol Virender Sehwag’s mantra of ‘see ball, hit ball.’ She represents the new-age India women’s cricketer, part of a generation that has been at the center of ad campaigns, endorsements and central contracts. She’s a path-breaker too, having become the first India cricketer - male or female - to sign a Big Bash League contract with Sydney Thunder in Australia. The deal came about on the back of an impressive showing during India’s tour of Australia in January 2016, where she made a 31-ball 46 to script India’s highest-ever T20 chase. In June 2017, she became the first Indian to sign with Surrey Stars in ECB’s Kia Super League.

And I liked her before I got to the bit about her joining Surrey.

Harmanpreet Kaur will be attracting a lot more attention from now on, because today she scored 171 not out off 115 balls against Australia.  See ball hit ball indeed.  Whether India’s 281-4 will be enough to get them to the final of the ladies World Cup remains, at the time of this posting, to be seen.

Already in the final are England, featuring Natalie Sciver (pronounced “Sivver"), scorer of two centuries in the tournament already, also of Surrey, and an early adopter of a new batting shot now named after her, the Natmeg.

LATER: The Australian chase began disastrously, and although from three down onwards they never stopped swinging they fell just a bit short, losing by 36.

BBC:

It’s been a thrilling tournament - and with a sold-out Lord’s final to come on Sunday, it’s no exaggeration to say that with the interest from the Indian market, we will be looking at the biggest game in the history of women’s cricket.

For me, the moment when women’s cricket stopped being ridiculous was when they stopped wearing skirts.  Skirts and pads was not a good look.

Wednesday July 12 2017

Everything involving computers is easy if you know how to do it and you do it often.  Everything involving computers is hard, if you only want to do it very occasionally, and if you don’t know (or don’t remember (which comes to the same thing)) how to do it.  Words like “intuitive” and “user friendly” are thrown about a lot when people like me say things like this, but they are bullshit.  It’s either very easy, or nearly impossible.  “User friendly” just means being presented with an incomprehensible lump of informational overload, in prettier letters and prettier colours and more prettily designed.

Why are computer things hard?  It is because computers can do so many things.  This means that whenever you are trying to persuade your particular computer to do something in particular, that it doesn’t usually do, you have to thread your way through a multi-page questionnaire, in the course of which you tell it: no, I don’t what that, or that, or that.  I want this.  And at any point in this Q&A obstacle course, you may find yourself confronted by a page of things to pick from none of which seem to have anything to do with what you are trying to tell the damn computer to do.

In the Army, I believe, they used to (and perhaps still do) call this: dumb insolence.  Dumb insolence is the offence of taking every word in the orders you have been given with extreme literalness and just waiting, dumbly insolent, to be given different orders, and meanwhile carrying on with what you had been dumbly and insolently doing, even though you know (because of the shouting) that this is not what is really wanted.  You shout at the computer to just use a bit of common sense.  I want this, you moronic machine.  Nothing.  Just the same old screen, and if you click on any of it, you get another page of irrelevance, or perhaps the right page but the exact same dilemma.  None of it seems to have anything to do with what you want it to do.

The fact that the more computers can do, the more there need to be people around who know how to tell the computers to do whatever very particular thing is actually required, rather than all the other things that the computer is now capable of doing, bodes extremely well for the employability of humans in the months and years and decades to come.  But meanwhile, if you happen not to know how to get the computer to do what you want, you can only hope and pray that at some future moment, the answer will drop into your lap.  Someone will tell you.  Your computer will suddenly, out of the blue, volunteer something relevant.  Or, it has been so volunteering all along, but because of all the other garbage it was also volunteering, you didn’t notice, but then, miraculously, you do notice, and bingo.

What brought all this on?  Well, my computer recently had some attention from the Guru and also some upgrades, and in among all this the computer changed its way of opening photos, which for me is a big deal.  I open a lot of photos from my archives, in fact I do this every time I am doing a quota photo posting, which is a lot, and when I do this I am usually in a hurry.  So, just when I really don’t need my computer to be misbehaving, it has been misbehaving.  The problem has been that instead of using “Windows Photo Viewer” to show me a photo that I click on, it instead decided to use something called “Photos”.  Quite different and lacking one crucial ability, which is the ability to take me from a photo up on my screen in “Photos” to the directory the photo is in.  “Windows Photo Viewer” can do this.  “Photos” can’t, or not in any way I know how to make it do that isn’t immensely complicated, every time.

How to correct this?  For about a week I couldn’t.  The internet, as so often, was no help at all.  It said that this was easy if blah blah, but if blah blah blah bah, then contriving the answer I wanted was really difficult and involved blah blah blah blah blahdy blah blah blahdy blah.  If you get my meaning.  (Which turned out not only to be incomprehensible, but also wrong.  See next paragraph.)

And then, the answer dropped into my lap.  I saw a page I didn’t recall seeing, with a question that I hadn’t noticed before.  I was allowed the option of opening a photo “with” a different programme.  But then crucially, I was also presented, in a way that I either hadn’t been shown before or that I hadn’t noticed before, with the option to put a tick in a box saying: always open the photo with this progranne that you have just chosen to switch to.  Problem solved.  My computer now opens photos, just as it always did, with Windows Photo Viewer, unless otherwise instructed.  Which I now know how to do, but will soon forget.  Which won’t matter.

The idea that computers are getting steadily more “smart” is a half truth.  Yes, they can do steadily more and more with each passing year.  But the more they know how to do, the stupider they get at actually doing it for you.

And oh look.  Just before posting the above, I was checking out an SD card that I used in my camera today, having forgotten to put my regular SD card back in it.  And this irregular SD card turned out to have a bunch of photos on it that I took in the summer of 2014, in France.  And it turns out that the French also have something that sounds to me a lot like Dumb Insolence, although I think it’s more like “polite rudeness” than that in your face deadpan British sneer.  You decide:

image

Whatever the exact translation, I bet this “douce insolence” is how French personal computers behave, when you a trying to make them do something new, and they just won’t be told.

For some reason, that was on the front window of a shop, called “Agatha”, in the Rue Gustave Thomas de Closmadeuc, in the town of Vannes, on the south coast of Brittany. A perfume perhaps?

Tuesday June 13 2017

Indeed:

image

According to Laura Gibbs, this translates from Latin into this:

I am hopeful in times of danger; I am fearful when things are going well.

I love the internet.  Before the internet I would have seen this, been momentarily baffled, and would have forgotten it at once.  Now I photo it and later I learn what it means.  I then blog it and only then do I forget about it.

The building that proclaims this wisdom is now the Milestone Hotel.

Friday June 02 2017

I have lots of Daily Mailish views on Modern Art, and like many such grumblers, I thought Art ought to be more skilful.  When observing a work of Art, it ought to be impossible to say “my kid could do that”, unless one’s kid was a very talented artist.  Skill.  That is what is so often missing from Art, these days.  Grumble grumble.

Two things to say about that.  First, that the skill of persuading the world to treat your random pile of junk as Art is no mean skill.  Most people can’t do this.  I certainly can’t do this.  And it isn’t only that it wouldn’t occur to me to try.  If I did try, it would never work.

But more seriously, the skill test suggests that when something clearly is skilful - and when it is also “of something” (another Daily Mail complaint about Art (i.e. that Modern Art isn’t of anything)) – the result ought to be wonderful.  And sometimes it sort of is.  But it also, to me, often feels rather pointless.

imageThe internet site that I know about that most embodies these antiquarian, but rather beside-the-point-now, artistic virtues is Colossal.  Posting after posting there is about amazingly skilful representational art, of this or that bizarre kind.  Famous people’s faces carved out of melons.  Flowers made of different coloured paper.

Or take this latest report, of a Japanese bloke who makes bugs and beasts, out of balloons.  On the right there, his version of a house fly.  Tremendously skilful.  How does he do it?  But also, honestly, why does he do it?

If you want a house fly, or a proboscis monkey, or a crab, or anything, made out of balloons, and will pay Mr Matsumoto for such a thing, I’m very happy for you.  If you think the object in question is unquestionably a work of Art, I’ll not quarrel with you.  And maybe I would agree that it is Art.  But it is still rather peculiar, I think.  Sculptures of monkeys made in more obvious ways are surely very easy to obtain.  So yes, your monkey is made of balloons.  But why?  Where’s the logic in that?

But then, more and more, I find Art as a whole to be very peculiar.  How do you define Art?  What qualities do all the things that have been called Art possess, that other things don’t possess?  I read a book not long ago where he just said: Art is whatever anyone says is Art.  Which is just a fancy way of saying: I don’t know.  But neither, he explained patiently, does anyone else know.

Monday May 08 2017

For the last few days I haven’t been out much, and today I was confined to my barracks by email malfunction, and then by being required to wait next to my computer, waiting to be told what was what by The Guru, after I had failed to make sense of it.  If you can’t send or receive email, modern life doesn’t work and all else is insignificant.

So, once again, my posting is about remembering sunnier times, this time those sunnier times being this time last year.  In France.

And nothing says France quite like an entire shop, in an impossibly picturesque seaside town, devoted, in its entirety, to tinned fish:

image

Here, for the benefit of those who can read French, is a closer-up view of the sign:

image

Sardines, the queens of … well according to the internet, “conserverie” means: canning factory.

I bought fish paste:

image

The fish paste is long gone, but I have kept the cans as souvenirs.

Things like this are utterly ordinary, if, for you, they are ordinary, which they would be if you lived in France.  But I live in London SW1, where I cannot buy such things, and I find them beautifully exotic.  If I could buy these exact sorts of French tins in Sainsbury’s or Tesco, they wouldn’t be worth a second look or a first mention here.  But, I can’t.

Sunday April 23 2017

I love it when a metaphor gets mixed.  But here is a metaphor that is not so much mixed as turned on its head.  It’s Samizdata’s Mr Ed, commenting on this, describing how our former PM David Cameron hoped that his EU referendum would see off UKIP and stop it sucking votes away from the Conservatives.  And it looks like that referendum will indeed see off UKIP, but not in the way that Cameron campaigned for.

Says Mr Ed of this referendum:

… a chance to lance the boil ended up boiling the lance.

Patrick Crozier (a couple of comments later) liked this also.

What particularly impresses me is how Mr Ed made use of those double double meanings, both of “lance” and of “boil”.

Sunday April 16 2017

Incoming, from “Phani”, to Cricinfo, during this game:

“Raina is trying too hard. Take a cue from Mccullum, start timing shits instead of forcing them. Be there till the end, not the usual batting paradise this.”

At the end of the ninth over of the Gujurat Lions innings, if you don’t believe me.  I’m guessing it will remain thus.

It’s never good to be forcing your shits.  On the other hand, being too rigid about the timing of them is often what leads to you forcing them.  Like Raina, you find yourself trying too hard.

And a Happy Easter to all.

Thursday April 13 2017

Indeed, a decade ago to the day, on the grass outside Westminster Abbey.  The word “selfie” didn’t then exist, but that didn’t stop anyone from doing it.  It was because so many were doing it that the word was needed:

image

I like how the soles of their feet are the bit of the photo that’s most in focus.

My first use of the word “selfie” was, according to my blogging software, in this posting.  It’s all about me.

Monday April 10 2017

You hear this phrase a lot, along with its twin “No, yeah …”.  Sportsmen in particular use this phrase a lot, especially cricketers.

A couple of days ago, I was sitting having a drink with a friend, and I heard a regular human being at a nearby table use this strange expression.  And straight away, I listened to myself in amazement as I immediately explained to my companion why people, especially cricketers, say this.  I had no idea why this nearby person had said “No, yeah” - or was it “Yeah, No”? - but quite suddenly, it became clear to me why cricketers so often talk like this.

Consider the following example, from earlier today.  Gareth Batty, the captain of the Surrey cricket team, is speaking about Surrey’s fine win, completed this morning, against Warwickshire, in a four minute video that you can watch at the Surrey website, here.

Surrey’s two best players in this game were, first, Mark Stoneman, who made a big hundred which enabled Surrey to get a big first innings score of 450 odd, and second, another Mark, Mark Footitt, who wrecked the Warwickshire first innings reply, with figures of 9 overs 2 maidens 14 runs 6 wickets, which are very good figures.  Footitt in particular was a match winner.  A batsmen can make sure his team doesn’t lose the game, but a bowler can, often with brutal suddenness, win the game, and Footitt won this game, in one brilliant afternoon of bowling.  He got Bell and Trott, both recent major England batsmen, both for ducks, in one over.  Warwickshire never recovered.  Yesterday Warwickshire batted quite well in their second innings, Trott in particular, but it was too late. This morning Surrey got Warwickshire’s last few wickets and won by an innings.

So, of course, Gareth Batty was invited by his video interlocutor to agree that Stoneman and Footitt had been brilliant, as they had been.  But Batty had something else he wanted to say.  He wanted to say, and did say, that this was a team effort. Everybody contributed.  We all hit the ground running in our first game of the season.  Well done all of us.  Well done all our hard work in training, all that pre-season effort in the nets, and all that.  And when he’d finished saying all that he said how great the Surrey fans had been.  Message: we all pull together.  Not a few individuals.  The team, in fact the entire club and its supporters.

So, before all that, by way of introduction, how did Batty react to the claim that he should be singling out Stoneman and Footitt for praise, and also be talking about a brilliant catch by Borthwick to get Bell out when Bell looked like staying a lot longer with Trott than he did and threatening to save the game, and giving Borthwick a name check also.  By saying: “Yeah, no …” You can hear him say this just over a minute into the video.

What gives?

What gives is that Batty is saying “Yeah” to the inescapable facts being presented to him.  Stoneman and Footitt did play brilliantly.  Borthwick’s catch was also superb, and a game-changer.  So he is not going to disagree.  So: “Yeah”.

But: “No”, because Batty wants to say something else instead, which he then says.

The “root cause” so to speak, of the Yeah, No, No, Yeah thing is that typically, when sportsmen are being interviewed, they are knackered, and have had no time to think what the hell to say, and in any case mostly don’t make a living doing sport after being top of their class at school in elocution, and they have to be helped.  And the way that sports interviewers help sportsmen is typically by supplying them with a ready-made answer and asking them to agree.  But often, the sportsman, while not wanting to contradict exactly, doesn’t want fully to agree either.  If he personally did brilliantly (that often being why he is picked out to be interviewed), he doesn’t want to deny that he did indeed do brilliantly, exactly, but he would rather say that it was, you know, nice to do well, and pick out a few other team-mates by name who also did quite well.  So, he starts by saying “Yeah, no”.  Yeah, he did well, but no, not that well.  He of course thinks that he did brilliantly, sure, but he doesn’t want to say it, because then everyone, and especially his team-mates, would think he’s a arrogant pillock.

Batty, today, agrees that two particular guys, whom he makes a point of not naming, did indeed do well.  “They don’t need me to tell them” how well they did, is how he puts it, and then talks about the whole team.  By saying “Yeah, no” at the beginning of all this, he is neither wholly agreeing nor wholly disagreeing with the “question”.  He is more, as it were, sculpting, modifying, diluting, shifting the emphasis of, changing the balance of, what has just been put to him.  Yeah, it’s not wrong.  But no, he wants to say something else.

Sunday March 26 2017

I just sent out the mass email flagging up Chris Cooper’s talk on the Rise of Our Robot Overlords, chez moi, next Friday.  I have asked his permission to reproduce his entire spiel.  Meanwhile, here is how it begins, which I really like:

I’ve only recently realized the staggering implications of the project of AGI, or artificial general intelligence – the Holy Grail of present-day AI research. (I prefer to talk about AGIs, or AGI systems, rather than “robots”; “robot” has tin-man connotations that are part of the problem – they suggest the possibility of fraternization.) …

Which is why the talk is now officially entitled: “The Threat to Life and to Liberty of Artificial General Intelligence”.

These robots, whose pronouncements I have been following in recent days and weeks, don’t seem very fraternal:

image

They sound more like they’re artificial general intelligence.

Saturday March 25 2017

Before we entered the Royal Opera House to endure and eventually to enjoy Die Meistersinger my friend and I wandered around Covent Garden, and chanced upon a shop selling artfully decorated skateboards, in other words looking like this:

image

As soon as I was inside this shop I asked if I could take some photos, and they said: snap away.  So I did.  I took the above photo first, which gives an idea of what it was that got my attention.  And then I took a lot more, of which the following were the least worst:

imageimageimageimageimage
imageimageimageimageimage
imageimageimageimageimage

I know.  Lots of reflections in the shiny surfaces of the skateboards.  But, you get the pictures.

A cat is involved (1.3 in the above clutch).  A rather rude cat, but a cat.  At first, I thought I ought to hurry the posting up and have this ready for last Friday.  Then I thought, no, wait until next Friday.  And then I thought to hell with that, I’ve nearly done it, I will post it when it’s done.

These artistically enhanced boards have all the relaxed and unpretentious exuberance of graffiti, of the sort I most regularly observe in Leake Street under Waterloo Station.  You don’t have to read some idiot art-speak essay to find out what the hell this or that skateboard is “about”, even though it is sometimes obscure.  “SHAKEJUNT”.  “HAND IN GLOVE”.  “FIVE BORE”.  “FLIP”.  You probably have to be a skateboarder to get what words like those mean.  Which probably explains why I like the giant TV remote the best.  That I definitely understand.

However, a magic ingredient that separates these skateboards from graffiti is that the skateboards come with added property rights.  Once you’ve painted your own particular skateboard, that’s how it stays painted.  Which means you can really go to town on it, make it really great, confident that some other artist won’t paint over what you’ve just done.

There is also the fact that a skateboard, unlike graffiti, can be moved hither and thither, which means it can be bought and sold.  This means that politically sane people will gravitate towards decorating skateboards and political ignorami will prefer graffiti, property rights and civilisation being things that go hand in hand, as do attacking property rights and barbarism.  Sadly, this does not necessarily mean that the skateboard art will be better, because mad artists are often better than sane artists.  Plus, you can now add the magic of digital photography to graffiti, thereby preserving it.  But as art objects, these skateboards will, unlike graffiti, be profitable and permanent.

Here’s the final photo I took, complete with the guy who said I could take all the other photos, despite knowing I wasn’t in the market for a decorated skateboard, but was merely interested in an art gallery-ish way:

image

I asked this guy for a card or something, so I could put a link to the place here, as I have done, see above.  He didn’t have anything on paper.  But then he thought: have a bag:

image

And that’s how I knew what the shop was called and where to find its website.

I hope this posting doesn’t do any harm to this enterprise, for example by diminishing its street credibility.  Do things still have street credibility?  Or, to put it in more recent parlance, is street credibility still a thing? 

Friday March 24 2017

A few days back, probably because it has long been aware of my fascination with cat fascination, the Great Machine in the Sky presented me with this advertisement:

image

Click on it to get to what was being advertised.

What it is, of course, is a system for a machine to become aware of other machines in its vicinity and thereby to communicate with these other machines, and this system is the work of CAT.  But the idea that a machine might somehow learn to realise if there is a cat in its vicinity, and would then, if there is, feel compelled to alert other machines to this menace, is rather clearly suggested.

If you do click on the above piece of horizontality, you will be greeted by the following claim:

WHEN MACHINES TALK, EVERYONE’S SAFER.

In a week’s time, there will be a Brian’s Last Friday meeting at which the speaker, Chris Cooper, will be contesting this claim.

Wednesday March 22 2017

Incoming from Michael Jennings, who encountered this sign at (a?) (the?) Jodhpur Fort in Rajasthan:

image

Hm, what to do?

Easy.  Use a drone instead.

LATER: See first comment.  It’s this:

image

There can only be one fort like that.

Categories updated to include Architecture, History, Sport, and War.

Blog and learn.

Saturday February 25 2017

imageI am hopeless at drawing, as you can see.

But having been watching the Six Nations rugby tournament for the last few weeks, and having in particular been listening to the various television commentators, I feel the need to offer you all this attempt at a cartoon.

Anyone who wants to copy this, or indeed copy it and improve the graphics, is most welcome.  I am surely not the first to have thought of this particular observation.

(There was a bit of fiddling about with the presentation of this, on account of my software not actually showing me exactly how a posting like this will look.  Sorry about that.)

Thursday February 23 2017

Another drone application hovers into view:

image

Yes, it’s UPS:

“This is really a vision for the future for us,” UPS senior vice president for engineering and sustainability, Mark Wallace, said in an interview with Business Insider.

The drone will work as a mechanized helper for the driver, reducing the number of miles a driver will need to drive. According to Wallace, UPS can save $50 million a year if everyone of its drivers reduces the length of their delivery routes by one mile.

UPS sees several potential usage cases for its autonomous drones. This ranges from inventory control at warehouses to the delivery of urgent packages such as medical supplies. However, this latest test is geared towards the company’s  operations in rural areas where drivers have to cover vast distances between delivery points.

But all this is still some way off:

Currently, the technology [is] still in the testing phase and UPS doesn’t have an exact timeline for its introduction into service, Wallace said.

Timeline being the twenty first century way of saying: time.  See also learning curve (learning); learning experience (fuck-up); etc.

I once had a job delivering number plates, in a white van, all over Britain.  Much of it was lots of unassembled number plate components in big heavy boxes, to big suppliers, which we delivered direct.  And the rest of the job was one-off finished number plates to motorbike shops, which the other drivers often used to deliver by posting them.  I always went there direct, because I enjoyed the drive, but either way the economics of those one-off number plates was ridiculous.  A drone to do the final thirty miles or so would have been most handy, if it could have been organised.  (A digital camera would have been very nice also.  But alas, I had to wait a quarter of a century for that.)

The serious point: drones are useful tools for running big and visible and trustable (because so easily embarrassable and controlable) businesses, for example the big and very visible enterprise that provided this.  Drones are, basically, tools for workers rather that toys for funsters.  They may supply fun, but they will mostly be operated by workers.

In London anyway.  Things may be different out in the wilds of the countryside.  But even taking photos out in the wilds of Yorkshire involves – I bet – getting some kind of permit.  If not, it soon will.  Because there will be complaints, and drones are highly visible.

Also audible, yes?  Anyone know how noisy drones tend to be?  6K?  How noisy is your drone?