"Real Artists Ship"

Colin Johnson’s blog

Archive for September, 2013

3/5 ≠ 0.6

Monday, September 30th, 2013

Apple’s Pages word processor tries to be clever and anticipatory. When you create a table, by default cells in it are created as spreadsheet-like cells, rather than the text format that you might expect from a word processor. Furthermore, the type of the cells is “automatic”; that means that it waits until you type, and then determines what type to apply based on that.

I’ve just been using this for student marksheets. Interestingly, if I type a mark like 3/5 it “automatically” assumes that you are typing a date, and converts it to “3rd May 2013”. If you type something like “30/50” it assumes that you are typing a vulgar fraction, and converts it to “0.6”.

This seems to fit into the “too helpful” area of HCI failures.

All Aboard the LardyBus!

Friday, September 27th, 2013

Sometimes environmentalism and vegetarianism conflict:

Chip Oil + Lard -> Refinery -> BioFuel

Otter (1)

Friday, September 27th, 2013

An unfortunate fold:

Folded newspaper reveals the headline "What emails did Ed send to smear otter?"


Friday, September 27th, 2013

“Haecceity may be defined in some dictionaries as simply the ‘essence’ of a thing, or as a simple synonym for quiddity or hypokeimenon.” (Wikipedia)

Loser (1)

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

Why does this little casino around the corner from my flat advertise itself using the one number on the wheel which—unless you bet on it directly—is a guaranteed loss?

roulette wheel pointing to zero

Matchy-Matchy is so Last Season: A Review of Wolf Pack 9: News, at the Rag Factory, London, 26th September

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

What have the following got in common:

And, perhaps more interestingly how can they make a coherent concert without sounding like everyone-do-their-turn end-of-term-revues at the too-cool-to-miss-school? This is what came to mind after hearing the latest concert, entitled News, by emerging contemporary music collective Wolf Pack.

The first aspect is stage presence, which they had in spades. Not staging organisation, which could have been smoother; but, the sense of serious committment to the work and audience, whether conveyed by the devious mood changes of Rob Neumark-Jones‘s spoken word performances, or the laid back groovy-enough-to-get-away-with-sitting-on-a-beanbag cool of Danilo Borgarth‘s guitar playing.

Another aspect is coherence through theme, rather than coherence through style—what I have called elsewhere semantic mass. By choosing to base all of the performances on a single word—news—similar ideas were triggered by different pieces. Of course, there was commonality of material, too; by the time we reached the third piece with multiple people reading out news stories in some distorted algorithmic way, we were perhaps a little process-weary.

It is interesting how pieces in the concert engaged with the harder news stories. Dave Smith’s Murdoch or Fred West: Which is Best?, dating from around the time of that case, used historical depth—a comment on how, since the early days of the press, newspaper owners have grown fat on the outcomes of rape and murder, whilst those proximately responsible are thrown in jail—to make a point in a non-prurient way. By contrast, Dave Collins and Sam Goodway’s new Can You Tell What it is Yet?, reflecting on the Rolf Harris case, was slight: blockly overlapped readings of newspaper accounts of the case, together with a music box through which a tape with the words “CAN YOU TELL WHAT IT IS YET” was fed, this piece meandered and had a lightness unbecoming the material, and would have benefited from a more distilled working.

A final aspect of what makes concerts like this work is the genuine view that all music is just music. As new composers and performers emerge onto the scene (the oldest was 35 years of age), we are starting to see people who are genuinely and uncomplicatedly engaging with music from all genres.

We see this in many musicians now; Nico Muhly, Owen Pallett, Sigur Rós are three performers who come to mind who are of the generation that were not brought up on the idea that pop was trivia for small minds, and rock only suited for priapic barbarians. But, this has been a long journey and a lot of work by people who wanted their artform to be taken seriously. Only 30-40 years ago we were suffering the excessses of lumbering crossovers like Michael Tippett’s New Year and Deep Purple’s Concerto for Group and Orchestra. More recently, this has gotten better: the joints don’t creak quite as much in Heiner Goebbel‘s wannabe-a-prog-rock-star pieces, or in the London Sinfonietta doing numbers by Zappa or artistes from the Warp Records label; but it is still a meeting of minds, not a single thought. By contrast, the effortless cross-genre movement in Wolf Pack’s concert hardly needs terms like genre-switching; to these performers, the idea of musical genre itself is absent.

Genre is for old people; but even old dogs (or wolves) can learn some new tricks from this attitude to performance. I look forward to their future performances.

In maths, this sort of thing is normal (1)

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

Snowclone (1)

Friday, September 20th, 2013

I wonder how many organisations have thought that “X Matters” is a really good name for a newsletter or blog? I can think of at least three. The “ah-ha” moment of realising that “matters” is both a noun, meaning “the concerns of”, and a verb, meaning “has significant influence/importance/interest” is a very powerful draw.

HFSP Matters


Friday, September 20th, 2013

It’s weird seeing things like Gluten-free products in supermarkets overseas. Of course there are Gluten-intolerant people in Germany, Spain, Japan, Bolivia or wherever. But, a little thing pops into the back of my head, just for a fraction of a second, to say “but surely they aren’t that fussy here”. It’s weird how the idea, held as truth by people of my parents’s generation and perhaps a little younger, that all food allergies were just people being “fussy eaters”, has left a little limbic trace in my mind.

Non-English English (1)

Friday, September 20th, 2013

There is an interesting document called A Brief List of Misused English Terms in EU Publications, which lists a mixture of quasi-English Eurocrat terms of art and commonly used English expressions that no native speaker would use.

This includes a number of perfectly reasonable variant usages of the English language which have a particular connotation (e.g. “adequate”, which tends to be used in native English to mean “just about okay” rather than “matching all requirements”; “Anglo-Saxon”, which has a rather pejorative sense in native English); words that have a fairly general meaning (like “agent”) which are only really used in a small number of contexts (“secret agent”, “newsagent”—a joke which my friend Matthew Jarron dined out on for years; “aids” which are only helpful inanimate objects and not helpful people or actions); grammatical formations (like “planification” and “to precise”) that could exist in English but don’t; words that sound as if they could be English but aren’t (“fiche”); and, truly sui generis examples like “comitology” for “committee practice”.

It is interesting to note such examples from day-to-day usage too. That is, not one person’s random misunderstanding, but expressions that are part of a “European English”. For example, in travelling around Europe and speaking to non-native speakers, I frequently come across the following:

  • Cocktail as the name of an event where drinks and canapés are served (often not, even more weirdly, cocktails). Almost every event that I go to around Europe has something labelled on the programme as a “welcome cocktail”, “farewell cocktail” or similar. This isn’t just the metonymic use of the drink for the event, like “welcome beer”; people say things like “Are you going to the cocktail?”, clearly using “cocktail” to denote the event itself. We usually call this a “reception” in native English; this also has the connotations of something that will be a fairly brief event, a pre-dinner or pre-departure event lasting an hour or two, contrasted with, say, “party” which could go on all night.
  • Typical (often spelled “tipical”) to mean “from the region”. “Typical buffet” or “typical specialities” are often to be found in restaurants and hotels. We don’t say this in native English, preferring “local” or the actual name of the region: “Cornish specialities” (which is still a bit naff and olde tyme).
  • Menu to imply a fixed-price limited-choice meal. We don’t really do this in England/Scotland. The main exception is in fast-food places, which adopt the Americanised use of “meal” (“I’ll have a BigMac Meal, please” (perhaps substituting “innit” for “please”)), or (in Scotland) use the word “supper” (“A haggis supper, please”), or just use the full name (“Spam fritter and chips, please”).
  • In travel to mean “travelling”. “I can’t see you next week, I’m in travel until next Thursday” is a popular sort of expression. The choice of whether to use a straightforward noun or a gerund, whether to use a preposition, and then which preposition to use, is a great challenge even for advanced non-native speakers.
  • Interessant sounds like it could be English, and is particularly confusing to speakers of lots of Euro-languages because it is used (in some spelling or other) for “interesting” in most other parts of Europe, both from the Romance and Germanic side: French, German, Spanish, (…turning to Google Translate…) Swedish, Dutch, Romanian, Albanian, Maltese, Bulgarian, …
  • Funny used as adjective to mean “creating a feeling of fun” rather than “entertaining”. “Ballroom dancing is funny” would mean in English-english “I think it is hilarious watching ballroom dancing” and never “I have fun doing ballroom dancing”.
  • ..and the idea that Handy isn’t English slang for mobile phone, despite being an English word, must be terribly confusing to native German speakers.

Any other examples?