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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Category archive: Language

Friday December 15 2017

Incoming from Rob Fisher: link to a piece in the Independent, about machine learning applied to old telescope data is finding new planets.

Quote:

A computer was trained to look through the data from the Kepler space telescope, and look for signals that might belong to planets. And it found new planets within existing systems, by spotting signals that seemed to indicate something of interest but were too weak to have been spotted by humans.

That suggests that there might be whole worlds and solar systems hiding within the data we’ve already collected, but which we had not noticed because there are simply so many signals to pick through. Kepler has collected four-years of data from looking at the sky and 150,000 stars – far more than humans could ever look through.

So, exactly what were these weak signals?

The new planets – just like all of the thousands found by Kepler – were spotted by watching the sky for light coming from the stars. When planets pass in front of their stars, scientists can register the dimming as they go, and use the speed and characteristics of that dimming to work out what the solar system might actually look like.

Much of that work relies on pattern recognition, which until now has been done by scientists looking through the data. But the new findings are the result of work between Nasa and Google, which trained machine learning algorithms to learn to spot those patterns itself and so pick through the data much more quickly.

This is good.  Keep Skynet busy with harmless hobbies.

Maybe not.  Getting Skynet to compile a huge and exhaustive list of all the places in the universe where biology-based life might be, after biology-based life on this planet has been taken care of.

This is maybe how the robot holocaust will happen.  We will have been telling them to “take care of” us and our fellow creatures.  But they’ll have been watching too many gangster movies, and ...

Wednesday December 13 2017

Today I was in central London.  It wasn’t good photoing weather.  Grim and grey and wet.  But I did take this photo:

image

At the time, I thought I was photoing an army of Santas.  For some reason I find the photoing of large numbers of similar or identical objects, in a big clump or clutch, to be rather satisfying.

But it turned out I was photoing two British Personal Brands With Huge Global Reach, namely The Queen, as performed by Elizabeth Windsor, and Mr Bean, as performed by Rowan Atkinson.

A lot of their appeal is that these are both characters who do a lot of physical stuff, rather than characters who talk a lot.  Neither Elizabeth Windsor nor Rowan Atkinson are stupid or inarticulate people.  On the contrary both are notable wordsmiths, blessed with famously subtle senses of humour.  Nevertheless, the Queen’s daily repertoire of stuff is adopting Royal poses and walking or being driven about Royally and making Royal gestures and doing Royal things like shaking hands with a line of lesser celebrities.  And Mr Bean mostly makes faces and does pratfalls.  These are things that anyone on earth can see – see - the point of with great ease.  You don’t have to know a word of English to get what The Queen or Mr Bean are all about.  And if only a tiny percentage of the world’s populace like what they see of these two characters, that is still a lot of people.

You see Queen and Bean together, in effigy, in tourist crap shops, a lot.  That I photoed the two of them accidentally is no, as it were, accident.

Despite googling it, I still don’t understand what this is about.

Friday December 01 2017

Last Saturday, a friend invited me to share some gin at The Star.  We also each had a pie, with red wine in it.  Delicious.

The Star is quite near to the junction of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road, and has a great slab of Crossrail turmoil right slap against it, which has turned the formerly busy Great Chappell Street into a poky little footway, and has for a year or three now destroyed all possibility of passing trade to The Star.  So, The Star has switched to invites and events.  It hasn’t now even got a sign on over its front door.  Where there once was and still ought to be a sign, there is, for the time being anyway, only blank blackness:

image

But inside, things liven up considerably, in particular with an enjoyably ironic display of antique signage:

image

This next one, also visible above in the general display, being a particular collector’s item, which explains why I waited until today (Friday is Cats and Other Creatures Day here at BMdotcom) before displaying it here:

image

That wouldn’t be allowed now, any more than all the tobacco adverts would be.

imageAnd since this is a Cats and Other Creatures Day, there on the right is an advert for another product from the same enterprise.  If the product had been made of budgies and canaries, I’m sure the pussies would have loved it.

We got there on the dot at 1pm, opening time, and were the first there, hence those empty tables to be seen above.  But the place was soon buzzing with happy gin drinkers.

An earlier posting, featuring a photo I took just before I got to The Star, was also naughty, in a different way.  It’s interesting what naughtiness is now and is not now allowed.

Sunday November 26 2017

Earlier today I was at a party, and sitting in on the party was Alexa, the cylindrical robot from Amazon.  So, one of us asked Alexa to tell us a Dirty Joke.  Alexa replied: “Why do you call a chicken covered in dirt crossing the road?” Answer, although I didn’t hear if Alexa actually said this or merely assumed that we’d get it: a dirty joke.

Not bad.  And funny because, although a joke involving dirt, it is not a dirty joke in the sense of there being any sexual innuendo involved.

But, was Alexa trying to tell a joke?  Or merely trying to do as she was told, without in any way understanding what the thing she was being told to do actually meant?  I know, Alexa never “understands” anything.  She’s a machine, with no consciousness.  But, you surely know what I mean.

Another rather perfunctory posting.  But, I spent quite a lot of my day going to a party, partying, and getting back from the party.  I may, although I promise nothing, do better tomorrow.

Sunday November 12 2017

A few weeks ago, I watched and recorded a Shakespeare documentary series, in one episode of which Jeremy Irons talked about, and talked with others about, the two Henry IV plays.  And that got me watching two recorded DVDs that I had already made of these plays, the BBC “Hollow Crown” versions, with Irons as King Henry and Tom Hiddleston as the King’s son, Prince Hal.  While watching these, I realised how little I really knew these wonderful plays, and how much I was enjoying correcting that a little.

More recently, partly spurred on by what Trevor Nunn in that same documentary series had to say about it, I have been doing the same with The Tempest, this time making use of a DVD that I long ago purchased for next to nothing in a charity shop but had failed ever to watch.

By accident, when this DVD of The Tempest began, there were subtitles to be seen, and I realised that these written lines, far from getting in the way, only added to my enjoyment, so I left them on.  And, if subtitles were helping, why not the entire text?  Maybe I possess a copy of The Tempest, but if so I could not find it, so instead, I tried the internet, which quickly obliged.  My eyesight not being the best, I beefed up the magnification of the text until it was nearly as big as those subtitles.  So, I watched, I read subtitles, and I was able to see who was saying what, and what they were about to say.  And very gratifying it all was:

image

On the telly, on the left, David Dixon as Ariel and, on the right, Michael Hordern as Prospero, both very impressive.

And here, should you be curious, is the text they were enacting at that particular moment, as shown on the right of the above photo, but now blown up and photoshop-cloned into greater legibility:

image

I think the reason I found this redundancy-packed way of watching The Tempest so very satisfying is that with Shakespeare, the mere matter of what is going on is secondary to the far more significant matter of exactly what is being said, this latter often consisting of phrases and sentences which have bounced about in our culture for several centuries.  As ever more people have felt the need to recycle these snatches or chunks of verbiage, for their own sake, and because they illuminate so much else that has happened and is happening in the world, so these words have gathered ever more force and charismatic power.  As the apocryphal old lady said when leaving a performance of Hamlet: “Lovely.  So full of quotations.”

The thing is, Shakespeare’s characters don’t just do the things that they do, and say only what needs to be said to keep the plot rolling along.  They seek to find the universal meaning of their experiences, and being theatrical characters, they are able, having found the right words to describe these experiences, to pass on this knowledge to their audiences.  This is especially true of Hamlet, because central to Hamlet’s character is that he is constantly trying to pin down the meaning of life, in a series of what we would now call tweets, and consequently to be remembered after his death.

Prospero in The Tempest is not quite so desperate to be remembered, any more, we are told, than Shakespeare himself was.  In Prospero, as Trevor Nunn explained in his documentary about The Tempest, many hear Shakespeare saying goodbye to his career as a theatrical magician and returning to his provincial life of Middle English normality. But Shakespeare was Shakespeare.  He couldn’t help creating these supremely eloquent central characters.  Even when all they are doing is ordering room service, or in the case of Prospero doing something like passing on his latest instructions to Ariel, they all end up speaking Shakespeare, with words and phrases that beg to be remembered for ever.  These famous Shakespeare bits are rather like those favourite bits that we classical music fans all hear in the great works of the Western musical cannon.

So, a way of watching these plays that enables these great word-clusters to hang around for a while is just what you want.  (Especially if, like Prospero, you are getting old, and your short-term memory is not what it was.) It also helps being able to press the pause button from time to time, to enable you to savour these moments, to absorb their context, better than you could if just watching the one unpausable performance in front of you.  Although I agree, having a pause symbol on the furrowed brow of Prospero, as in my telly-photo above, is not ideal.

I am now browsing through my Shakespeare DVD collection, wondering which one to wallow in next.

Monday October 23 2017

GodDaughter 2 has fixed for me and her to go to a dress rehearsal of Rodelinda, at the ENO, tomorrow evening, for free!

So, what is Rodelinda about?

Rodelinda is a dramatic tale of power, anguish and love. When Grimoaldo takes Bertarido’s throne, Bertarido flees abroad, leaving behind his grieving wife Rodelinda. The usurper tries to force Rodelinda to love him, but when the exiled king returns in disguise, everyone is put to the test.

One of Handel’s finest operas, Rodelinda is filled with intense drama told through ravishingly beautiful music. ...

Good, good.

But then, this:

Award-winning director Richard Jones brings his distinctive theatrical imagination to this production, which sets Handel’s bitter political drama in Fascist Italy.

Well, maybe it’ll be okay.  Not all such productions are ridiculous.  And when it comes to Handel operas, my impression is that they are mostly pretty ridiculous to start with, wherever you set them.  This particular opera is ...:

… based on the history of Perctarit, king of the Lombards in the 7th century.

Those Lombards are:

Not to be confused with the modern inhabitants of the region of Lombardy, Italy.

The Lombards were:

… a Germanic people who ruled most of the Italian Peninsula from 568 to 774.

Blog and learn.  Or in this case, blog and go to the opera, and learn.

My worry is that although Rodelinda will be sung “in English”, it will be sung in standard operatic fashion, i.e. the words might as well be in Swahili for all the sense they will make.  But, because all this indecypherable gibberish will be “in English”, there will be no big signs, foreign movie style, to tell me what the hell they are singing about, like there are at the Royal Opera House, where they sing operas mostly in such languages as Italian or German, or they do if you’re lucky.

In short, my fear is that I will get what I pay for, although here’s hoping I get more.

GD2 will definitely get more, because she is studying to do this kind of thing for a living.  Insofar as it’s good she’ll learn about how to do it.  If it’s not good she’ll learn about how not to do it.  Win win.

Sunday October 08 2017

Yes.  I ran it by Adriana plus her Plus One (Perry de H), at that feast I reported on yesterday, and it turns out that I’m not the only one who finds the phrase “self storage” …

image

… to be rather odd.  (That’s this.)

I know what self storage is.  It’s the name given to the process of ridding your self of some of the crap by which your self is currently surrounded and impeded, without actually chucking it away irrevocably.  In particular, when your self is in between locations, or when your self has moved from a big place to a smaller place, your stuff, or your excess stuff, needs to be stored somewhere.

But self storage, taken literally, sounds like you are parking your self in a warehouse and for the duration, your life will consist only of all the extraneous crap.

You become like a zombie or something.  I can understand people wanting to put their mere selves to one side while earning a living.  That might make a rather profitable business.  But while actually, you know, … trying to live … ?

Odd.

Friday October 06 2017

Gerald Elias, in this piece linked to from Arts & Letters Daily, demolishes the claim that the use of vibrato by classical string players is only a recent thing.

The evidence against this idea is so overwhelming that the question is, why do anti-vibrato fanatics like Sir Roger Norrington get the time of day from orchestras?  Probably because, just as Leopold (father of Wolfgang Amadeus) Mozart apparently grumbled back in his time, string players now tend to use vibrato rather too much.  (As do opera singers now, in my opinion).  So, hearing some symphonic warhorse without any vibrato at all can yield otherwise unhearable felicities, however absurdly inauthentic such a performance as a whole clearly is.

But enough of vibrato.  Elias is right, and although he chooses not to name any of these fools, the likes of Norrington are wrong, and that’s that.  At which point in his piece Elias says something else that strikes me as far more interesting, if only because, unlike all the stuff about vibrato, the thought had never occurred to me before:

Sorry to go on ad nauseum about vibrato. Time to move on to a different thought. How many of you have traveled through a hilly country like England or Italy? Have you noticed the change in people’s spoken accent when you wend your way from one village to another? Hell, you go from Brooklyn to the Bronx and it’s like another language. Now, go back two or three hundred years, when the sole possible means of verbal communication was person-to-person and most people rarely left the confines of their natal valley. Just imagine how much that linguistic phenomenon would be magnified! Don’t forget, it wasn’t until Italy’s unification in 1870 that they started thinking about a national language.

My point is, do you really think that there was only one way to play music in that day and age? Do you really think no one (or everyone) played with vibrato? My guess is that the variety of techniques and interpretations was much more vibrant, colorful, and creative than it is now, when easy international travel and instantaneous mass media give us a thoroughly homogenized concept of what well-played music is “supposed” to sound like. So much for the orthodoxy of the Historically (Mis)Informed.

Good point.  You often hear critics complaining about how orchestras now all sound the same.  Well, why would we believe that this process of performance style convergence is only a very recent one?  (Any more than we would believe that vibrato is only recent?)

Gerald Elias on classical music performance style(s)
Funny words – baffling words
Un autre quota photo
An interruption ends
Horse spotted in Putney this afternoon
The Ghostbustours bus – old Routemasters – Boris buses – improved Boris buses
Malaysia crushes some real Myanmarians
The Sinatran origins of cool
A gadget that worked really well
Wonder women
Why computers are so dumb and so insolent
BMdotcom quote of the day (in three dimensional latin)
Art is strange
The queens of the canning factory
Mr Ed has some metaphorical fun
Timing shits instead of forcing them
A selfie being taken a decade ago
“Yeah, no …”
“Robot” suggests the possibility of fraternization
Slam City Skates in Covent Garden
Cat proximity awareness
Indian sign cautions against selfie sticks
My comment on the Six Nations so far
UPS drones and drone vans
And Africa’s rivers don’t help
Softening the brutalities of brutalism with colour
YPTD
Scum?
Rod Green on Boys and Men at the time of Magna Carta
What does Thames “RIB” Experience mean?
Ghost Bus
They’re back!
When welfare means lavatories
English is weird
White vans are becoming very informative
Pochards and Ibises
Toegangsbeveiligingsproducten
Drivel
Cat and cubs
The fixed quantity of laughter non-fallacy
Hemingway
A busy day and a collection of Big Things
Wainwright on facadism
Bike fishing in Amsterdam
With GD2 in Richmond Park (3): Scary names
Borats!
ShiRtstream drycleaners and a party recollection
For CAR’S read CARS
Christmas is coming and you’d better watch out
Milo Yiannopoulos
Bell end?
Architecture as modified cliché
Van Morrison
Memo to self about not letting blog postings get out of hand inside my head …
Now I know what a Mews is
Londres
Trois Citroens (et deux chevaux)
Where punctuation might have helped
Credit where credit is due (in France)
A man taking a Selfie before it was A Thing (and me taking a picture of him)
Out and about with GD1 (3): Baritone borrows my charger
Paul Johnson on Mozart and Da Ponte
OK
Another quota sign
Magic clarified
BMdotcom abusive comment of the day
Photoing the old London model
Anthrozoology
BMdotcom What if? of the day
BMdotcom (mathematical (and sporting)) quote of the day
Database blues
Early tries by my guys
Pavarotti could not read music (very well)
Fuck the duck until exploded
MicheldeMontaigne.fr
Is it practise or practice?  (And: would perfect communication actually be perfect?)
Sign with sarcastic sneer quotes
Xxxx-ie outside Xxxx-ridges
God was overheating and now needs radical transplant surgery (and Dawkins now has to do my email)
Quota selfie from 2006
What to call the sneerquote Salesforce /sneerquote tower? (plus a quite profound tangent)
TfL electronic signs (etc.)
GARBAGE SHED AND JUMP INTO THE SEA IS PROHIBITED
Emmanuel Todd talking in English (about how the Euro is doomed)
The joyful excitement of the Festival lyrique international de Belle-Île-en-Mer
Chinos?
Premier League soccer news
Two badly lit views of “Victoria Tower” and why Big Ben is not St Stephen’s Tower or Elizabeth Tower
Sorry for the outage last night
JK Rowling describes two rich girls
Boris Johnson’s London
Big Things on a better day
Comrade Blimp
Friend on telly
Sidwell (and me) on selfies
Fat bastard!
Heroes?
Hampers can be annoying
TIL
Monty Panesar: “I piss on your short pitched fast deliveries aimed at my body!”
The Alex Singleton blog
The right sentences but not necessarily in the right order
There are cranes and there are cranes
BMdotCOM mixed metaphor of the day
So painters also used to “take” pictures
The ups and downs of English
Kissa yrittää mennä laatikkoon
Literally the light switch of leadership
BMdotCOM Headline of the week
Thrashing India
Choosing a Clean Food Outlet in Lawas is as easy as ABC
Emmanuel Todd’s latest book - in English
Misspelt (correction: Italian) signs of the times
Multilingual signage
Excellent new word
Pronouncing on the Six Nations
BM.com quote of the day
More signage
BrianMicklethwaitDotCom spam comment spelling mistake of the day
The Humpty Dumpty Learning Channel
Obamanomics dod not work
English will not last for ever shock
Another strangely punctuated headline and a depressing television play
K Street - metonym - synecdoche
To Serve Man
Reading various bits of Roger Kimball
I flipping told him
Brian Sickle-feather?
Sounds like a brothel with film star lookalikes
One of the many signs of aging
BrianMicklethwaitDotCom modified cliche insult of the day
Stepping forward into the abyss!
Old-school media versus (or becoming) new-school media (again)
All your Quite Interesting questions answered
What a difference a g makes
Spelling Micklethwait wrong and Googling for Brian Micklethwaite
Inappropriate?
Long platform ticket
I am not drunk - I just didn’t know what to put so I just started
Some neologistics
Excellent mixed metaphor
I need to get out less
“I will cause a boy that driveth a plough to know more of the scriptures than thou dost.”
Metaphor muddle alert
Brought?
Today I have been blogging elsewhere and also doing other things
Computer blues
Signs of civilisation
It’s true what they say about how hard it is to pronounce Chinese – oh beansprouts!
New word alert
Robots will transform education
On the appeal or lack of it to Young Europeans of “capitalism”
When inimitable means very imitable
Today I ate something that disagreed with me
Refuting decimation