"The function of words, then, is to be sensible marks of ideas." ~ John Locke

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Sensible Marks of Ideas

Wednesday, 27th Aug. 2014


12.00 pm - My tweets

  • Tue, 14:13: Fanatics often believe that if they die fighting for their beliefs, they will enter Heaven. Someone could help them test this hypothesis.
  • Tue, 15:06: The phantasmosphere is a necessary buffer between the way the world is and the way we evolved to think about it.

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Monday, 25th Aug. 2014


6.42 pm - Gaming Ithaka

[Note: This is an assignment for Jay Clayton's MOOC, Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative.]

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.

These lines from Cavafy's "Ithaka" sum up what I am trying to do with this game (though it also has an obvious debt to Joyce's Ulysses). The lusory (in-game) goal is to reach "Penelope" (actually the other player) by finding your way to "Ithaca" (actually the place where she is physically located), but the aim of playing the game itself is to enjoy wandering round a city and seeing it in a different light. I thus decided to make it an alternate reality game rather than a PC game, and to use SMS as the most convenient technology (though if I ever get my hands on Google Glass, I'd love to do a version for that!).

The two players take the roles of Odysseus and Penelope. Penelope sits anywhere in the city she likes; this is Ithaca. Odysseus starts at an arbitrary location and waits for Penelope's text message which tells him where to go (could be an address, coordinates or, for a bit more challenge, an image). When he arrives, he texts her requesting a clue, which will be a place or event in the Odyssey. Odysseus has to relate where he is to the clue. For example, the city walls would be the walls of Troy, a bar called One Eyed Jack would relate to Polyphemus the Cyclops, the opera house might be the rocks of the sirens, and so on. The clues could be straightforward and literal ("How does this place relate to Circe's island?") more riddling ("Where are the Laistrygonians?") or vague ("Where are you in the Odyssey?") depending on how well the player knows the myth. The game ends, of course, when Odysseus arrives in Ithaca.

The game could be played as a way of introducing a guest to your home-town, as a race against time, as a competition between multiple Odysseuses, or as a form of teasing on a first date, and it could, of course, be adapted to other epic quests.

Screenshot_2014-08-25-12-02-41

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12.00 pm - My tweets

  • Sun, 19:28: The means of communication determine the method of organisation.

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Wednesday, 20th Aug. 2014


12.00 pm - My tweets

  • Tue, 14:26: To those who tell me to act my age, I say: That is so unFAIR! I HATE you!!!

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Tuesday, 19th Aug. 2014


12.00 pm - My tweets

  • Mon, 22:17: I still find it scary when I try to unlock my phone and it says COULDN'T FIND A FACE.

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Sunday, 17th Aug. 2014


12.00 pm - My tweets

  • Sat, 20:39: Another confusing toilet sign: THIS DISABLED TOILET HAS RADAR LOCK. Isn't that what missiles have?

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Saturday, 16th Aug. 2014


12.00 pm - My tweets

  • Sat, 01:53: Watching Steppenwolf performing Born to be Wild - great song, terrible trousers.

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Thursday, 14th Aug. 2014


5.01 pm -

Happy birthday alsoname!

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12.00 pm - My tweets

  • Wed, 13:34: Sign in toilets: CAUTION VERY HOT WATER. Why? I'm washing my hands not making tea.

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Sunday, 10th Aug. 2014


12.00 pm - My tweets

  • Sat, 23:30: Prosecco is good for cooking. I don't mean you put it in the food; I mean you drink it while you're cooking.

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Saturday, 2nd Aug. 2014


12.00 pm - My tweets

  • Sat, 01:03: Just found out that an early meaning of "zone" was "girdle".

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Thursday, 31st Jul. 2014


12.00 pm - My tweets

  • Wed, 22:35: England - you pray for years for a sunny summer, then you get one and it gives you hay fever.

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Monday, 28th Jul. 2014


12.00 pm - My tweets

  • Sun, 15:26: One of my favourite inspirational quotes is "Don't dream it, be it." There again, that one didn't work out too well, did it?

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Monday, 21st Jul. 2014


12.00 pm - My tweets

  • Sun, 20:38: The plastic-wrapped suitcases on the carousel remind me of hobbits trapped by giant spiders.

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Sunday, 13th Jul. 2014


8.41 pm - Bringing a Knife to a Gunfight

Of all the arguments that I hear about the current carnage in Gaza, this one is the worst: "Israel has tanks, aircraft, a navy etc. and the poor Palestinans only have stones and home-made rockets." So, if you only have stones and home-made rockets, why are you attacking a country that has enough military hardware to bury you six times over and a reputation for using it at the slightest provocation? That's called bringing a knife to a gunfight. Let's not forget how the occupied territories got occupied in the first place. Unwilling to accept partition, various Arab governments decided they could walk in and be having tea in Tel Aviv in a day or two. (Note: any time a general or politician says "We'll be doing X in Y by Z," put them in a padded cell.) This was, of course, a Bad Idea, but at least those guys thought their superior numbers and moral righteousness were more than a match for Israel's superior discipline, modern military technology and the knowledge that if they lost they would be wiped out to a man, woman and child. This time round, it is sheer insanity.

There are plenty of reasons why what Israel is doing in Gaza is wrong, but "It's not a fair fight" certainly isn't one of them.

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5.35 pm - I'm So Excited (and/or Nervous)

Travel still makes me slightly nervous, even a day or three before the event. I have no idea why this is the case, given that I love planes and trains. I think I assume that I'm going to miss the plane, despite the fact that I have never missed a plane in my life. I recently read that saying "I'm excited" when nervous has been scientifically proven to reduce nervousness, so am trying this whenever I feel nervous by mentally singing the Pointer Sisters' "I'm So Excited". This also puts me into a goofy 1980s time-warp. OTOH, I'm pretty sure this exercise wouldn't work on Turks, who have the same word for "excited" and "nervous" (heycanlı). Just to confuse matters further, the Turkish word that translates literally as "nervous" (sinirli) actually means "annoyed" or "bad-tempered".

Anyway, everything is sorted, and I'm flying back to dear old Blighty tomorrow. Tally-ho! (Maybe that's what I should say instead of "I'm excited.")

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5.15 pm -

Happy birthday ironed_orchid!

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Thursday, 10th Jul. 2014


5.39 pm - Words you are told you're using wrong but are probably using correctly

Once in a while someone posts a list of words they think people are using wrong, often based on nothing but their own prejudices, vaguely-remembered rules from school and misused etymology. 25 Common Words That You’ve Got Wrong is a particularly egregious case. (Now tell me I've used "egregious" incorrectly.)

3. Ultimate
What you think it means: The one, the only. The best.
What it really means: The last item of a list.


"Ultimate" can mean "best, greatest, etc." given its meaning of "Lying beyond all others" (OED).

5. Peruse
What you think it means: To skim or browse.
What it really means: To observe in depth.


"Peruse" is listed in the OED in the sense of "browse". You may prefer the earlier meaning, but that doesn't mean that people who use the word in its modern sense are any more wrong than people who use the word "naughty" to mean "mischievous" rather than "amoral" (the Elizabethan sense) or "destitute" (the medieval sense).

8. Nauseous
What you think it means: To feel ill.
What it really means: To cause feelings of illness.


The OED has an entry for "nauseous" as "affected with nausea; having an unsettled stomach" but marks it as "US", which to us Brits means "wrong", so I could concede this point.

11. Terrific
What you think it means: Fantastic, good.
What it really means: Horrific, to inspire fear.


This is another case of assuming that an older usage is more correct. However, "Terrific" has been used to mean "great" since 1871, so it's hardly new-fangled; meanwhile, the sense of "causing terror" is marked as obsolete in the OED. It might fit the law of etymological parsimony (which I just invented) to try and resurrect the original sense, but I fear it is a lost cause.

12. Effect
What you may think it means: To cause something to change.
What it really means: An event that causes a change.


Now this is getting really obscure. While there is a sense of this word that means "Operative influence; a mode or degree of operation on an object" (OED again), an event that causes a change is generally known as cause, and the change that occurs is generally known as an effect. The author goes on to say "If it’s a noun, it’s an effect. If it’s a verb, it’s an affect." Apart from the fact that "an affect" implies a noun here, this is not a bad rule for the normal uses of these words, but we shouldn't forget that "effect" is sometimes used perfectly correctly as a verb (meaning to cause to exist) and "affect" can be a noun (meaning feeling or emotion). So as I somewhat sadistically tell my students, you can say "The researchers affected the effect" or "The researchers effected the affect."

20. Plethora
What you think it means: A lot of something.
What it really means: More than is needed.


Plethora can mean simply "a very large amount, quantity, or variety" (OED); it makes no more sense to limit it to an excessively large amount than it would to limit it to the original sense of an excess of one of the humours in early medicine.

23. Can
What you think it means: What is permissible.
What it really means: What is possible.


Ah yes, that favourite of sarcastic English teachers: "Yes, Turner, you can leave the room, but you may not." In fact, "can" has always been used for permission, and indeed is used in this way in many languages other than English. It makes sense, because in many situations your ability to do something depends on permission to do it.

25. Obsolete
What you think it means: Old, out of date.
What it really means: Not produced, used, or needed.


"Obsolete" really does mean "outmoded, out of date" (at least if those people at the OED know anything about English).

People who write articles on the misuse of words should read a good dictionary before publishing.

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12.00 pm - My tweets

  • Wed, 13:53: Google is uncannily accurate not because they read your email but because search results come from the Akashic records.

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Tuesday, 8th Jul. 2014


12.08 pm - My tweets

  • Tue, 11:50: Where there are two hypotheses for the same data, the simpler one is more likely to be true, and the other is more likely to be retweeted.

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