Monthly Archives: September 2012

  • Sexist cereal

    There are naturally products directed by their use at the different sexes. However, products today are driven more by marketing than matters of gender.

    Tesco, the supermarket that ate Britain, has now come up with a new money-making wheeze: sexist cereal.

    sexist muesli
    Gender-specific cereal. How low can marketing go?

    Does Tesco’s male muesli have the ability to detect chromosomes to prevent its accidental ingestion by women? I think we should be told.

    Hat tip: Madam J-Mo

  • Sir Humphrey’s newly banned words

    The British Government has just updated its style guide for content written on the domain. It covers all aspects of writing material, including tone of voice, use of plain English, avoidance of Americanisms and the like.

    However, my eye was inevitably drawn to the proscribed bits and the style differences for Inside Government, i.e. when government department talks to government department, and in particular its section 4.1.3, entitled “Words to avoid”.

    For the benefit of passing mandarins and interested citizens, these are reproduced below, along with comment, both Sir Humphrey’s (in round brackets) and mine [in square brackets with the text in italics]:

    • agenda (unless it is for a meeting)
    • advancing
    • collaborate (use ‘working with’)
    • combating
    • countering
    • deliver (pizzas, post and services are delivered – not abstract concepts like ‘improvements’ or ‘priorities’) [I must part ways with Sir Humphrey here; services are provided, not delivered]
    • dialogue (we speak to people)
    • disincentivise [bravo!]
    • drive out (unless it is cattle)
    • empower [about time]
    • facilitate (instead, say something concrete about how you are helping)
    • focusing
    • foster (unless it is children)
    • impact (as a verb) [hallelujah!]
    • initiate
    • key (unless it unlocks something. A subject/thing isn’t ‘key’ – it’s probably ‘important’)
    • land (as a verb. Only use if you are talking about aircraft)
    • leverage (unless in the financial sense)
    • liaise [a very useful word for something non-commital, but a common spelling trap for the unwary 🙂 ]
    • overarching
    • promote (unless you are talking about an ad campaign or something)
    • robust [sometimes tough love is required]
    • slimming down (weight loss is slimming down. Everything else is probably removing x amount of paperwork, etc.)
    • streamline
    • strengthening (unless it is strengthening bridges or other structures)
    • tackling (unless it is rugby, football, some other sport)
    • transforming (what are you actually doing to change it)
    • utilise

    The banning of these words is justified as follows:

    We lose trust from our users if we write government ‘buzzwords’ and jargon. Often, these words are too general and vague and can lead to misinterpretation or empty, meaningless text. We need to be concrete, use plain English and be very clear about what we are doing.

    Will this result in more comprehensible communication from government? Only time will tell.

  • Of beards and beer

    I’ve had a beard for about and decade and drunk beer for many (over 4) decades longer.

    However, I had never expected to come across such a convergence of the two as has been achieved by Rogue Ales of Newport, Oregon, USA.

    Rogue has a reputation for seeking out new yeast strains for its brews in unusual places and one they found that was successful originated from a most unusual place: the beard of Rogue’s Brewmaster, John Maier.

    Nine beard follicles were carefully cut from John’s beard, placed in a petri dish and sent away for testing.

    Surprisingly the beard samples had a yeast strain that proved perfect for use in brewing. John’s beard has been growing continuously since 1978. The beard yeast is currently being used in test brews to determine the perfect style and yeast combination; the finished product will be released in early 2013.

    Rogue's Brewmaster John Maier
    Rogue’s Brewmaster John Maier

    This sterling work should definitely be brought to the attention of the Beard Liberation Front, the informal network of beard wearers, and their spokesman Keith Flett.

    The Beard Liberation Front is currently scrutinising candidates for Beard of Autumn 2012. I definitely think John Maier and Rogue Ales deserve a special commendation for services to pogonophilia.

    Hat tip: Julien Weston

  • Local youngsters get chance to win a Raspberry Pi

    Although my postal address says Easton, I’ve lived in Bristol’s Lawrence Hill ward for 35 years now and was delighted to see there was a competition to win a Raspberry Pi in the latest edition of Up Our Street, the quarterly regeneration and community matters magazine produced by Easton and Lawrence Hill Management.

    The Raspberry Pi is of course a small Linux computer available at pocket money prices and aimed at young people who wish to learn programming.

    Raspberry Pi in a case

    To be eligible for the competition, entrants must be under 25 years of age and live in either Lawrence Hill or Easton ward in Bristol.

    Entries stating why you would like to win the Raspberry Pi should be sent by email to stacy (at) by the closing date of 30th November and should also include your name, date of birth and address.

  • Of patricians and plebeians

    Andrew MitchellGovernment Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell has been in a spot of bother recently for allegedly saying the following – according to The Sun – to a police officer in Downing Street who refused to let him ride his bicycle out through main security gate:

    Best you learn your f*cking place. You don’t run this f*cking government. You’re f*cking plebs.

    According to his Wikipedia entry, featuring public school, Cambridge and the world of high finance there’s no doubt that Mitchell is a patrician.

    The term patrician originally referred to the elite families in ancient Rome. They were the top of the social pile and had wider political influence than the citizens and residents below them. It has subsequently become a vaguer term used for the aristocracy and elite bourgeoisie in many countries.

    Below the patricians in ancient Rome’s pecking order came the plebeians. Plebeians were defined as “the non-aristocratic class of Rome, and consisted of freed people, shopkeepers, crafts people, skilled or unskilled workers and farmers“. Over the centuries, some plebeian families in Rome nevertheless became quite rich and influential. Pleb is now used – as above by Mitchell – as a derogatory term for someone thought of as inferior, common or ignorant.

    However, the plebeians were not the lowest of the low in Rome. Below them came the “Capite censi“, i.e. “those counted by head” in the census, and slaves. The largest group of the capite censi were the proletarii, literally “those who produce offspring”. Proletarii were therefore Roman citizens owning little or no property.

    So, looking back at the origins of “plebs”, by using it, was Mitchell actually (if unknowingly) abusing the middle classes, Middle England and the bedrock of Tory support?

  • Women and politics

    The piece below is one of the 4 winning entries for a recent Labour peers’ essay writing competition for young women (aged 17-18 years) on the topic of young women and politics.

    Young Women and Politics

    by Lucy Midgley

    I believe that one of the main problems in today’s society is that women simply do not have the confidence and self esteem to state their views. In this essay I will discuss reasons why I believe that women are afraid or unwilling to raise their voices.

    Self esteem is certainly a big issue; how can women feel empowered enough to speak out for what they believe in and to make their views heard when they have no confidence in themselves? In today’s society there is far too much focus on personal image. Women in particular are targeted by society to dress a certain way. In order to feel comfortable there is a certain image that has to be maintained: it’s a pack mentality and outsiders who don’t fit in a box will be excluded. The amount of pressure on young women is so great these days to, for example, wear fake tan and expensive clothes, that these are the only things that seem to fill their minds.

    In recent years narcissism has been increasing in young people with the growth of interest in Facebook and other social networking sites. A thing that only emerged as I was growing up has been something that many are growing up already fully accustomed to. This causes many young people to become extremely self conscious and obsessed. Many teens, particularly girls, spend most of their time on Facebook, checking their pages to see what other people have written about them, posting pouty photos and reading all the gushy comments about how pretty they look. This is all they essentially seem to care about. It’s hard to believe these young women really care about anything at all, so obsessed with their own very small bubble, and yet ninety years ago these would be the women campaigning for women’s right to vote. What can have happened for there to be such a fog of apathy to have descended on the female population during these last few years?

    The problem, highlighted by the 2009 report ‘We Care, But Will We Vote’ lies within the women themselves: young women are simply not interested in politics or in having their views heard. Is this, you may ask, because they are completely content with their lot and have no issues to be raised? I believe the problem is not a lack of issues but a repressed voice. I believe that the narcissism I mentioned is not born out of an intrinsic vainness but rather an intrinsic insecurity; born out of a need to reach the ridiculously high bar set by women’s magazines and celebrities. This insecurity is an insidious thing that will only grow and grow with the daily deluge of photos showing image conscious young women impossible expectations.

    This has recently been highlighted by the media frenzy following the release of topless photos of the Duchess of Cambridge by a French magazine. The amount of media hype surrounding these photos I find to be completely ridiculous; the fact that the biggest news story of recent times about a female public figure is still to do with her image and not any of the wonderful things she has been doing.

    I’m not saying I’m surprised by this, I’m simply disappointed in the amount of interest this has garnered. People still see women, even female public figures and politicians, as objects and care more about how they look and what they are wearing than about what they have to say. It feels like a step back, with the anniversary of the death of Princess Diana so close to the release of these pictures. It seems that we still care so little about what is important and the media are still much more interested in their private lives and their body image than their positive actions. The magazine Closer, which published the photos, had no qualms about showing them to its audience; no thoughts on how this would affect image conscious young women. How are we supposed to be getting women to feel empowered and interested in politics and raising their voices when these kinds of news stories are still viewed upon with such relish?

    A cancerous insecurity grows within many young women preventing them from feeling brave enough to speak out or to become politically involved. Insecurity in young women is not only caused by overexposure to stick-thin models but also to a lack of any real role models. With Margaret Thatcher the only woman in British history to become Prime Minister, many young women believe it is simply not possible to achieve a stable political career. Although the Suffragettes won the vote for women there is still a long and winding road to equality. I believe there is still a glass ceiling for women, preventing them from reaching top jobs, yet unlike the Suffragettes the problem is not mainly from authority figures but lies within. Many women believe positions in society are simply not possible for them. This is hardly surprising when you look at the statistics: the 2010 survey for women in politics worldwide found the UK in the 31st position with just 18% of female parliamentarians.

    This problem has not been improved upon by the recent cabinet reshuffle. In fact is has been exacerbated, with only four women in the whole of the cabinet, the highest in sixth position and two women extremely close to the bottom of the ministerial pecking order. Are women in Britain really supposed to believe that the political profession could be a possible path for them? Yet this creates a vicious cycle: women not getting into politics means future generations will still have few role models, so what can be done? Women need to feel that the political profession is open to them.

    One of the main causes of this political listlessness is a general feeling that society doesn’t care about young people in general. The recent rioting that occurred was a dramatic lashing out of a frustrated youth who used the anarchy to revert to primal instincts and simply enjoy the rebellion. Young people feel wronged by a government who promised not to raise tuition fees before they got into power and then broke their promises before they’d even got their foot in the door, is it any wonder young people felt frustrated? They attacked a society they believed was punishing the people that would eventually have to sort out its problems.

    The trouble is that the loudest voice is always the one that seems to be heard and the government is hardly likely to care about young people who throw a temper tantrum when they don’t get their own way, the problem is that other voices are not heard above the shouting. Young women in society today can not all feel apathetic towards political issues but many are intimidated by those with louder voices. These women should be listened to and, in order to do this, you have to engender an interest in politics for women by showing them that they can make a difference. In politics nobody cares how you dress or how loudly you speak, people only care about what you have to say.

    © Lucy Midgley, 2012. Reproduced by kind permission of the author.

    Lucy Midgley is my niece. Needless to say, I’m a proud uncle.

  • Myths about translation

    Over at the Huffington Post, Nathaly Kelly has been dispelling some translation myths in a piece entitled “Clearing up the Top 10 Myths About Translation”.

    The 10 myths as are:

    1. Translation is a small, niche market;
    2. There is a declining need for translation;
    3. Most translators translate books; most interpreters work at the United Nations;
    4. Any bilingual person can be a translator or an interpreter;
    5. Translators and interpreters do the same thing (posts passim);
    6. Translators and interpreters work in more than two languages;
    7. Translation only matters to “language people”;
    8. Crowdsourcing puts professional translators out of work;
    9. Machine translation is crushing the demand for human translation; and
    10. All translation will someday be free.

    It would be easy to go through each of the above points and comment. However, I would simply make one small remark regarding item 9: I’m so glad machine translation is so bad and likely to remain so for quite some time. I might just make it to state retirement age without having to claim benefits. 🙂

    Anyway, I recommend you read the original Huffington Post article.

  • Today is Software Freedom Day

    Software Freedom Day logoToday, 15th September, is Software Freedom Day, an annual worldwide event to promote the role that free and open source technology can play in the modern world, where our everyday lives are increasingly dependent upon technology. At the time of writing, there are over 200 teams in 60 countries putting on events of which the closest to us in Bristol is being organised by the Herefordshire LUG.

    Free and open source software gives you, the user, access to the source code. This ensures that you can know (or get checked) what exactly a piece of software will do. It avoids nasty surprises, spyware and all kinds of problems that we can’t be absolutely sure are avoided in closed software. Proprietary software keeps the source code locked away from public scrutiny, meaning that there is no way to know exactly what the software actually does and no way to trust it to safeguard your human rights. Transparent technologies are about ensuring you can trust the results and operation of your technology.

    As an increasing proportion of the world’s population starts using technology, getting online and developing the next major life-changing event of the future (such as the birth of the internet was for many of us), it is vital to ensure open, transparent and sustainable approaches are considered best practice. This is important to a future where technology empowers everyone equally, where knowledge is forever and where our basic human freedoms are strengthened – not hampered – by technology.

    Software Freedom Day is a global celebration of why transparent and sustainable technologies are now more important than ever.

    NB: This post originally appeared on the Bristol Wireless blog.

  • Gert lush

    The story that the fair city of Bristol is to see the roll-out of 4G mobile access has not escaped the eagle eyes of The Daily Mash, as the screenshot below shows.

    Screenshot of Daily Mash news piece

    4G is shorthand for the fourth generation of mobile telecommunications standards and the successor to third generation (3G) standards.

    Urban Dictionary defines ‘gert lush’ as: “The highest form of praise that can be given to anything by a Bristolian.”

    Proper job, says I. 😉

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