• 90s boy band gain haloes & gilt picture frame

    Today’s Bristol Live/Post has added another object of religious veneration, i.e. an icon, to the already burgeoning modern pantheon engendered by lazy modern ‘journalism‘ with news of a forthcoming gig in Almondsbury in South Gloucestershire, as shown in the following screenshot.

    Headline reads Iconic 90s boyband will play pub festival near Bristol
    I expect to find icons in an Orthodox church, not a suburban boozer…

    The boyband [sic] in question is Five, who spell it 5ive and it originated from the same stable that sired the Spice Girls, although I can’t imagine they’re doing that well if they’re gigging at a nondescript suburban West Country boozer.

    However, the band is just the latest object to be saddled with the I-word, about which your ‘umble scribe has written critically before (posts passim).

    However, your correspondent is not alone. Over in the USA, professional writer Garry Berman is equally not enamoured with the adjective, writing a post in April 2022 entitled Can we please stop describing everything as “iconic”?.

    In it Mr Berman expresses his frustration with this extensively and lazily used adjective.

    The word seems to have become the favorite go-to adjective of newscasters/reporters, commercials, documentaries, magazines, newspapers, and wherever the English language is found in our culture.

    US dictionary publisher Merriam Webster has even added the note below to its definition of the I-word.

    The original meaning of iconic was essentially “resembling an icon,” but today it often describes what is so admired that it could be the subject of an icon. And with that use, iconic has become part of the language of advertising and publicity: companies and magazines and TV hosts encourage us to think of some consumer item or pop star or show as first-rate or immortal or flawless—absolutely “iconic”—when that person or thing is actually simply widely known and—they assert—distinctively excellent.

    Many decades ago, your ‘umble scribe recalls being taught at school that one of the secrets of good writing was to have a good vocabulary. This naturally entailed having a good stock of synonyms – words having an identical or similar meaning, so that specific words do not get overused.

    Over at the Word Hippo website, there’s a wealth of synonyms for the I-word, of which a small selection is given below for the benefit of passing, journalists, reporters, broadcasters, etc.

    • archetypal
    • epochal
    • exemplary
    • quintessential
    • emblematic
    • seminal

    It is not known whether Five/5ive will be performing wearing haloes, or if the stage will be surrounded by a large gilt border reminiscent of a picture frame, now the band itself has gained the status object of religious veneration thanks to the local press. Perhaps the Reach plc ‘journalist‘ who wrote the piece or the venue itself could clarify matters in the comments below if they happen to be passing. 😀

  • German literary translators want strict AI regulation

    German news site heise reports that German-speaking literary translators associations are demanding stricter regulation of Artificial Intelligence (usually abbreviated to AI) due to its threats to art and literature.

    “Art and democracy too are being threatened.” This is being said by German-speaking literary translators associations in Germany, Austria and Switzerland in respect of the increasing “automation of intellectual work and human speech“. They have therefore collaborated on an open letter (PDF) in which they are demanding strict regulation of AI.

    Artificial Intelligence graphic combining a human brain schematic with a circuit board.
    Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

    Regulation must ensure that the functionality of generative AI and its training data must be disclosed. Furthermore, AI providers must clearly state which copyrighted works they have used for training. No works should be used for this purpose against the wishes of copyright holders. In addition to this, the open letter states that copyright holders should be paid if AI is trained using their works and a labelling requirement should be introduced for 100% AI content.

    “Human language is being simulated now”

    “A translation is the result of an individual interaction with an original work”, the translators write. This interaction must take place responsibly. How a sentence is constructed and what attention is focused on guides the inner experience of readers. The language skills needed for this are developed and honed in the active writing process. “The creation of a new literary text in another language makes the translator a copyright holder of a new work.”

    However, text-generating AI can only simulate human speech, according to the translators. “They have neither thoughts, emotions nor aesthetic sense, know no truth, have no knowledge of the world and no reasons for translation decisions.” Due to their design, language simulations are often illogical and full of gaps; they contain substitute terms and statements that are not always immediately recognised as incorrect.

    “AI multiplies prejudices”

    The translators continue by saying that When AI products are advertised, it is suggested that the AI can work independently, “understand” and “learn”. “This means the huge amounts of human work on which the supposedly ‘intelligent’ products are based are kept secret.” Millions of copyrighted works are ‘scraped‘ from illegally established internet libraries to create language bots.

    These and other arguments are combined in a “Manifesto for Human Language”. In it the translators write as follows: “Bot language only ever reproduces the status quo. It multiplies prejudices, inhibits creativity, the dynamic development of languages and the acquisition of language skills.” Text-generating AI is attempting to make human and machine language indistinguishable. It is not designed as a tool, but a replacement for human skill.

    However, AI is not intelligence at all, since this also includes emotional, moral, social and aesthetic intelligence, practical sense and experience which arise from physicality and action. “In this respect, the technical development of language bots cannot be termed ‘progress'”, the open letter states.

  • Commemorative Carcassonne culinary cock-up

    Aerial view of medieval CarcassonneThe French city of Carcassonne in the département of Aude is best known – and rightly so – for its medieval citadel, which actually has a history dating back to the Gallo-Roman period and is on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

    However, in recent days Carcassonne has become equally well known – in the Francophone world at least – for the poor quality of the local council’s spelling and its subsequent mockery on social media and in the mainstream print and broadcast media, as Midi Libre reports.

    Like any French town or city, some of Carcassonne’s street names commemorate prominent local and/or national figures.

    Pierre Curie. Image courtesy of Wikimedia CommonsOne of those luminaries so honoured in Carcassonne is the physicist Pierre Curie (1859-1906) In 1903, Pierre was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics along with his wife, Marie Skłodowska–Curie and another French scientist, Henri Becquerel, the man who discovered radioactity, all of them being jointly honoured in that year for their contributions to science and knowledge.

    As stated by Midi Libre, the cause for the outbreak of mainstream media and social media mockery, not to mention the presence of red faces at the local mairie, can be summarised in one single sentence.

    Cette semaine, deux panneaux ont été installés sur l’avenue Pierre Curie, dans la cité audoise, sauf que le célèbre physicien a été rebaptisé… “Pierre Curry” et a donc été orthographié comme la célèbre épice indienne.

    Which is rendered in English as the following:

    This week, two road signs were installed on Avenue Pierre Curie, in the city in Aude, except that the famous physicist was renamed… “Pierre Curry” and was thus spelled like the famous Indian spice.

    Street sign for Avenue Pierre Curry

    The erroneous signs were quickly removed yesterday (Saturday). The council has stated that signs with the correct spelling will be installed from this coming Monday.

    The mockery on social media took two forms: firstly, the culinary (it is not known whether Pierre and Marie invented the radioactive tandoori. Ed.), whilst Jo Zefka provides a typical post mocking the council’s poor orthographical skills.

    Screenshot of tweet by Joe Zefka

    Zefka asks:

    “Avenue Pierre Curry, physicien”.
    Demain, la “rue Arthur Rambo, poète” ?

    English version:

    “Avenue Pierre Curie, physicist”.
    Tomorrow, “rue Arthur Rambo, poet”?

    Your ‘umble scribe is pleased to note the speed with which Carcassonne town hall will be replacing the error-laden road signs. Here in the fair city and county of Bristol, the council – which is not known for its alacrity (except when pursuing council tax arrears .Ed.) – took all of four years to replace an erroneous road sign reading Morton Road (instead of Morton Street) in Lawrence Hill, perhaps because it lacked to comic cock-up quality of its Carcassonnais counterpart.

  • Situations vacant: woodland builders

    Reach plc local titles are an excellent source of exclusives, mainly due to the poor quality English of some of their employees.

    Today’s Bristol Live/Post has one such exclusive, which also doubles up a secret classified for for very specialist workers in the construction trade, namely woodland builders, as per the screenshot below.

    Biggest woodland in a generation to be built near Bristol

    Your ‘umble scribe is glad to see that the generation of greenery has been modernised. Building woodland sounds much more contemporary and organised than just letting the shrubbery sprout naturally. It will also ensure more employment for those in the construction trade, which is always the first to suffer and the last to recover in any economic downturn. 😀

  • If you can’t contribute, donate!

    Yesterday the blog of The Document Foundation (TDF), the German non-profit organisation behind LibreOffice, published a post detailing how donations received during 2023 were used to continue development of the software and running the TDF and events

    The post included a handy graphic displaying the disbursement of funds visually, which is shown below.

    Graphic showing how donations were used in 2023
    Graphic courtesy of The Document Foundation
    Your ‘umble scribe would urge anyone who can to contribute their expertise, whether that’s writing or documentation, or helping to test pre-release versions; and if you can’t manage that, then donate! 😀
  • MO Republican embraces her inner Nazi

    Q: what links an anonymous-looking plot of land somewhere in Missouri with Bebelplatz (also known as Opernplatz) in the city of Berlin?

    A: The burning of books.

    On 10th May 1933 , Nazi supporters from the German Student Association gathered in Bebelplatz to burn books. They burned around 20,000 books, including works by Heinrich Mann, Erich Maria Remarque, Heinrich Heine, Karl Marx, Albert Einstein, Erich Kästner and many other authors.

    Nazis burn books in Bebelplatz on 10th May 1933
    Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

    On 6th February 2024, Valentina Gomez, a Republican Party candidate for Missouri’s Secretary of State (the state’s public officer whose duties include the oversight of elections, running the state library and the preservation of state archives. Ed.), posted a video of herself on the social media platform formerly known as Twitter showing herself using a flame-thrower to destroy 2 LGBTQ-inclusive books, as reported by NBC.

    Post reads When I’m Secretary of State, I will BURN all books that are grooming, indoctrinating, and sexualizing our children. MAGA. America First

    Gomez’s text accompanying the post tells one all that’s needed to know about her extreme right-wing views of the “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition” variety. The books she destroyed were also taken from public libraries in the state, so she is also guilty of vandalism or destroying public property, but as the value of the books is under $750, she’ll probably escape censure under state law.

    To return to Bebelplatz, it now contains an artwork by the sculptor Micha Ullman entitled The Empty Library, which was unveiled in May 1995. The memorial is set into the square’s cobblestones and contains a collection of empty subterranean bookcases. A few metres away is a commemorative bronze plaque containing a quotation by the author Heinrich Heine, whose books were amongst those burned.

    The quotation reads:

    Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort
    wo man Bücher verbrennt,
    verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen.
    In English the quotation is equally chilling:
    That was but a prelude;
    where they burn books,
    they will ultimately burn people as well

    As to the Nazi link, LGBTQ Nation remarks:

    Whether or not Gomez understands the political and moral implications of book burning is unclear. The video could be a savvy and unsubtle reference, like Donald Trump’s use of terms including “vermin” and “poisoning the blood”, to Nazi ideology in an appeal to the most extreme of the MAGA base.

    America, history is trying to teach you a lesson. Don’t fall asleep in class or gaze out of the window.

  • LibreOffice 24.2 released

    The blog of The Document Foundation (TDF), the German-based organisation behind the free and open source LibreOffice suite of productivity software, has today announced the release of LibreOffice 24.2 Community for all major operating systems – Linux. MacOS (Apple and Intel processors) and Windows (Intel, AMD and ARM processors). LibreOffice 24.2 banner

    This is LibreOffice’s first use the new calendar-based numbering scheme (YY.M) for releases, which it hoped will help users in keeping their LibreOffice installations up to date.

    New release highlights – general
    • Save AutoRecovery information is enabled by default, and is always creating backup copies. This reduces the risk of losing content for first-time users who are unfamiliar with LibreOffice settings.
    • Fixed various NotebookBar options, with many menu improvements, better print preview support, proper resetting of customised layout, and enhanced use of radio buttons. This improves the experience for users familiar with the Microsoft Office UI.
    • The Insert Special Character drop-down list now displays a character description for the selected character (and in the tooltip when you hover over it).
    Writer
    • “Legal” ordered list numbering: make a given list level use Arabic numbering for all its numeric portions.
    • Comments can now use styles, with the Comment paragraph style being the default. This makes it easier to change the formatting of all comments at once, or to visually categorise different types of comments.
    • Improved various aspects of multi-page floating table support: overlap control, borders and footnotes, nesting, wrap on all pages, and related UI improvements.
    Calc
    • A new search field has been added to the Functions sidebar deck.
    • The scientific number format is now supported and saved in ODF: embedded text (with number format like ###.000E0); lower case for exponent (with number format like ###.000e0); exponent with empty ‘?’ instead of ‘0’ (with number format like 0.00E+?0).
    • Highlight the Row and Column corresponding to the active cell.
    Draw
    • The handling of small caps has been implemented for Impress.
    • Moved Presenter Console and Remote control settings from Tools > Options > LibreOffice Impress to Slide Show > Slide Show Settings, with improved labelling and dialogue layout.
    • Several improvements and fixes to templates: added and improved placement of various placeholders; fixed order of slides; made fonts and formatting consistent; fixed styles and their hierarchy; improved ODF compliance; made it easier to use templates in languages other than English; fixed use of wrong fonts for CJK and CTL.
    Accessibility
    • Several significant improvements to the handling of mouse positions and the presentation of dialogue boxes via the Accessibility APIs, allowing screen readers to present them correctly.
    • Improved management of IAccessible2 roles and text/object attributes, allowing screen readers to present them correctly.
    • Status bars in dialogue boxes are reported with the correct accessible role so that screen readers can find and report them appropriately, while checkboxes in dialogue boxes can be toggled using the space bar.
    Security
    • The Save with Password dialogue box now has a password strength meter. This uses zxcvbn-c to determine the password strength.
    • New password-based ODF encryption that performs better, hides metadata better, and is more resistant to tampering and brute force.
    • Clarification of the text in the options dialogue box around the macro security settings, so that it is clear exactly what is allowed and what is not.

    A full description of all the new features can be found in the release notes.

    Contributors to LibreOffice 24.2 Community

    There are 166 contributors to the new features of LibreOffice 24.2 Community: 57% of code commits come from the 50 developers employed by three companies on the TDF Advisory Board – Collabora, allotropia and Red Hat – or other organisations, 20% from 8 developers at The Document Foundation; the remaining 23% originated from 108 individual volunteers.

    An additional 159 volunteers have committed to localisation in 160 languages, representing hundreds of people providing translations. LibreOffice 24.2 Community is available in 120 languages, more than any other desktop software, making it available to over 5.5 billion people worldwide in their native language. In addition, over 2.4 billion people speak one of these 120 languages as a second language.

    Interoperability with Microsoft Office

    LibreOffice 24.2 offers a number of improvements and new features aimed at users who share documents with or migrate from MS Office A few of the most significant improvements are as follows:

    • Writer: improved first page headers/footers OOXML import by using the first page property in the existing page style instead of creating a new page style just for the first page.
    • Writer: templates optimised for Japanese text added to the Localisation category to improve interoperability with Microsoft Word for Japanese users.
    • Writer: import of “drawing canvas” from DOCX documents, with connectors no longer imported as simple shapes but as true connectors, primitive shapes like ellipses imported as OOXML shapes (text inside the shape can now wrap), and multicolour gradients, theme colours and glow effects for shapes.
    • OOXML: support for the SVG OOXML extension, which imports the SVG image (svgBlip element) instead of the fallback PNG, and exports the SVG image in addition to the fallback PNG image used when the svgBlip element is not supported (older MS Office versions).

    Download LibreOffice 24.2.

    Your ‘umble scribe is not using the latest official release, but an as-yet unreleased development version. If you would like to help out with LibreOffice testing and development, visit the pre-release versions server and download a development package for your particular operating system.

  • Mozilla release new version of Firefox, sets up Debian repository

    Firefox logoVersion 122 of the free and open source Firefox web browser was released last week and duly reported by the tech media, including The Register.

    Furthermore, El Reg also notes that Mozilla, the organisation behind the browser, has set up its own deb package repository, the software package format for the Debian GNU/Linux distribution and its derivatives such as the Ubuntu family and Linux Mint.

    The installation instructions page on Mozilla’s website now contains specific instructions on how to access the Firefox deb repository, from downloading the repository’s OpenPGP keyring, to adding the repository to one’s own APT list of trusted sources from which to download software.

    Also included are instructions for how to download the version specific to one’s own language, if that just happens not to be EN-US, as well as such vital stuff as importing one’s profile from an old installation to a new, shiny browser from the Mozilla repository.

  • And now, a message about the prime minister…

    As seen yesterday on the fringes of Bristol’s Broadmead shopping ‘quarter’.

    Sticker reading Rishi Sunak is a pussy hole.

    As it bears no imprint, your correspondent doubts this is official party political campaign material.

    However, it is on a par with former Scottish First Minister Nicola Surgeon’s assessment of one of Sunak’s predecessors in the post, namely disgraced former party-time prime minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson.

    Further less than complementary appraisals of senior Tory politicians, including one comparing lettuce shelf-life prime minister Mary Elizabeth Truss to a marzipan sex toy, were subsequently revealed to be spurious.

  • More writing on the wall

    Yet more Bristol street art, this time from the wall of the Coach at the junction of Braggs Lane and Gloucester Lane in the St Jude’s area.

    Aeroplane with weapons plus the wording Stop Killing People You Tucking Fwats

    Your ‘umble scribe is unaware whether the Twats being referenced are involved in Israel’s latest slaughter in the Gaza Strip, the Russian invasion and occupation of Ukraine, the US and UK attacks on Yemeni Houthis for their targeting of Red Sea shipping or any one of the manifold armed conflicts – whether international or internal civil wars/insurrections – which seem to afflict the world at any given moment.

    Perhaps the artist Merny would like to comment below as to her/his motivation.

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