etymology, Uncategorized

PPFF #169: Callipygian

Good morning,

“We didn’t shoot ourselves in the foot, we shot ourselves in the head.”

– Conservative MP Nigel Evans on 2017 UK general election resulting in hung parliament.

I’m pretty sure this is all everyone’s going to talk about throughout today; so I’ll let you all just get on with it, but leave you with a word of the day, which may or may not take your mind off of yet another election fiasco.

Callipygian – having beautiful buttocks – from Ancient Greek κάλλος (kállos) meaning beauty, and πυγή (pugḗ) meaning buttocks, referring to the Roman statue of very naked Venus Callipyge (originally Aphrodite Kallipygos).

If you’re going to be lewd and vulgar when describing someone’s body part(s), I suggest that you at least be articulate.

Have a good Friday

 

 

 

 

Current affairs, Uncategorized

PPFF #168: Star Wars

Hello,

I watched Star Wars Episode 4 for the first time in a long time. Never mind the special effects, details and intricacies of the film, I kept thinking ‘wow, isn’t this just like Harry Potter films’.

Now please, put down the stones; those of you fervent worshippers of ‘the force’. Let me explain.

Any real Star Wars fan would know that the structure of the Star Wars Ep. 4 follows that of monomyth (or hero’s journey), a highly influential concept proposed by Joseph Campbell a mythologies/literary scholar in a book called The Hero with a Thousand Faces. The theory has it that pretty much every mythical story under the sun follows the same structure, be it Jesus, Buddha or Moses. It goes something like this:

The hero in his ordinary world receives a call to embark on an adventure, accompanied by a mentor, who usually dies (Departure). He then crosses the boundary between the ordinary and the unknown world (Initiation), where he faces the central crisis of his adventure. Against all odds, he defeats the archenemy (Ordeal) and wins a reward. Then he returns to the ordinary world but nothing is quite the same (Return).

Having read about this, I was reminded of last year’s US presidential election and thought ‘That sounds awfully like Donald Trump’. Call me crazy but upon this thought, I happened to google “hero’s journey and trump”. You’d be surprised how many articles have already likened his election campaign and victory to the structure of monomyth.

Basically, Trump (the hero) is a businessman and an entertainer (ordinary world). The failing state of American politics compels him (the call) to declare his intention to run for presidential office. But in the realm of politics (the unknown world) he is ridiculed and mocked but against all predictions and odds he defeats Hilary (archenemy) wins the election (the reward) and nothing is quite the same again.

Well, Trump certainly isn’t my hero (besides his political views, I can’t get over his hair) but you could just about see the parallel in how his story unfolded.

Then I thought, ‘hang on a minute. Isn’t this how Obama’s and Macron’s election campaigns panned out? They both came out of nowhere; unexpected and inexperienced underdogs formerly outside the major political scene and against all odds they both overcame their obstacles and won a decisive victory.

So I came to this conclusion. Maybe, we’re hardwired to think this way; the hero’s narrative is what people buy into. Now, with regard to the UK general election next Thursday, the question is this; which of the two potential PMs’ campaigns resembles Campbell’s hero’s journey? May? Or Corbyn?

You decide. Literally.
Have a monomythic Friday

science, Technology, Uncategorized

PPFF #167: Minoa

Morning,

I was travelling last week. I was sitting outside this bar, having just eaten and had a couple of beers when this quite awkward looking middle-aged man approached my table sheepishly and asked if he could sit there. I looked up and as he looked harmless enough I consented with a nod. He sat down and I guessed he was travelling alone and probably looking for someone to talk to. So I struck up a conversation and went through the usual; ‘what brings you here’, ‘what do you do’ etc. He was a little reluctant to tell me at first what he was there for. Perhaps he assumed that I was being polite but would find it rather boring but I pressed on and this is what he actually told me:

The story begins in 1929 when Andrew Douglass pioneered a scientific method called dendrochronology or ‘tree ring dating’. He was the first scientist (in modern times; some say da Vinci discovered it) to discover that tree rings record time. Its concept is simple. You cut down a living tree then count the number of rings which would give you the number of years it has lived as well as from which to which years it lived. But it gets a little tricky if you don’t know when the tree was cut down. It would tell you how long it lived but not necessarily when it lived and died. But by comparing trees across the same region and climate, Douglass noticed that trees develop rings in the same patterns; hence by creating a database of trees with known living date(s), and comparing their rings to the pattern of unidentified tree samples, you could nail down the dates (in years) those trees lived in.

Now moving onto radiocarbon dating – when tree ring dating isn’t possible due to lack of comparable dated tree samples, carbon dating comes very handy. A radioactive isotope of carbon called Carbon-14 or C14 is in every living organism. And since some clever chaps discovered its half-life, it’s possible to date pretty much anything within the accuracy of 50 or 100 years.

Then there is this thing called solar storm. It’s a powerful explosion on the sun, whose energy can be likened to thousands of nuclear bombs exploding at the same time. In 1989 this actually happened when the magnetic forces and a cloud of gas rushed to the Earth at a million miles an hour, and the solar flare from this solar storm shut down the entire power grid of in the province of Quebec.

Now researchers found that trees that live(d) through short term events, like solar flares or volcanic eruptions record unusually high levels of radiocarbon content up to 20 times the normal level. Long story short, through calibration by using carbon-dating in conjunction with tree-ring dating, solar flares or volcanic eruptions can act as chronological anchors to more accurately date things.

So why had this guy I randomly met told me all this?

Well, some of you might be familiar with the eruption of volcano in Thera (now called Santorini) in the Aegean Sea, which supposedly happened anytime between 1645 BC to 1500 BC, which historians suspect created large tsunamis that significantly damaged the nearby island of Crete, the then centre of the Minoan civilisation. This makes the date of this volcanic eruption a turning point in the history of Western civilisation. Depending on which year these researchers settle on, they might have to re-write a significant chunk of the history as we know it, rendering a lot of what we know rubbish.

So, this guy was an archaeologist on his way to collect a wood sample they think they found which could potentially determine this date once and for all.

Have a good Friday.

etymology, Uncategorized

PPFF #166: names, again

Good morning,

I often hear people complain. Complaining about ‘other people’. And recently I heard someone quite subtly and passive-aggressively grumble about Chinese people and ‘their’ practice of adopting ‘English’ names. They sounded almost offended by what is basically a lazy attempt at ‘cultural assimilation’ through ‘nominal appropriation’ – such that it caught my attention. But it also made me wonder, ‘English names’? What are English names? John? Kimberly? Peter? Kevin? I had to google for hours to no avail; at least as far as the origins of these common English names are concerned, I couldn’t find an English name. Not one. It turns out, a lot of the names we give to children in the UK are either Celtic or Hebrew in origin (I don’t know the respective percentage).

Take John for example, a very common English name but really how English is it, when you consider that it is an anglicised Hebrew name originally transliterated into Greek and then Latin Ioannes, meaning “Yahweh is Gracious”. Peter? Peter It’s from the Greek word ‘petros’ meaning stone/rock, a direct translation of ‘cephas’ or ‘keppa’, an Aramaic word meaning the same. Kevin? That’s just a failed attempt to pronounce and spell a common Irish name ‘Caoimhín’, by the English.

Long story short, if a Jewish singer can change his German name (Zimmerman) to a distinctly Welsh-sounding name (Dylan), and get away with it, I’d say, leave them Chinese people alone.

Have an open-minded Friday.

 

 

 

Uncategorized

PPFF #165: implicature

Good morning,

Apologies for missing in action last week. I was away (mentally) for the past couple of weeks. The good news is that little distraction is coming to an end and my attention is back where it should be; here.

There’s a scene in When Harry met Sally (old film – I know) where Harry is trying to introduce Sally to his friend Jess. Here’s how the conversation goes.

Jess: If she’s so great why aren’t you taking her out?

Harry: How many times do I have to tell you, we’re just friends.

Jess: So you’re saying she’s not that attractive.

Harry: No, I told you she is attractive.

Jess: Yeah but you also said she has a good personality.

Harry: She has a good personality.

Jess: When someone’s not that attractive, they’re always described as having a good personality.

Harry: Look, if you had asked me what does she look like and I said, she has a good personality, that means she’s not attractive. But just because I happen to mention that she has a good personality, she could be either. She could be attractive with a good personality, or not attractive with a good personality

In the last part of the conversation, Harry basically explained the concept of ‘implicature’, a term coined by Paul Grice in 1961, to describe uttered words or sentences implying a meaning beyond the literal sense of what is explicitly stated.

Let me explain further.

Anna: Is he attractive?

Brown: He has a good personality.

Basically, Brown would have meant that he is not attractive. But the words in his sentence in themselves don’t mean that he’s not attractive, as Brown did not say that he isn’t attractive. He implied it i.e. Brown implicated that he is not attractive (that he is not attractive was his implicature. Another example below.

Charlie: Did you kill Brown, because he’s not attractive?

Dianna: I found him attractive.

Here Dianna didn’t really answer the question and she is misleading as Dianna is not directly confirming or denying either way. Dianna is uttering those words to lead Charlie to infer that Dianna meant she didn’t kill Brown because she found him attractive as the basis of her killing would have been whether she found him attractive or not. But Charlie’s inference would have to be accompanied with the assumption that Dianna’s reply was indeed in response to Charlie’s question in that particular context. If Charlie did assume and infer the (supposedly) implied, that would leave Dianna room to manoeuvre later and claim “I’ve never said that”, which technically isn’t untrue. It’s a great skill/trick if you know how to use it, and a huge pain if you’re at the receiving end of it. So, if you have yet to master this art,  save yourselves the trouble of inference, and be direct.

Have a good Friday.

engineering, science, STEM, Technology

PPFF #164: STEM

Good morning,
I had a somewhat less than pleasant encounter with a teacher who taught one of those STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects at a local school in London. Upon learning that I worked in engineering, perhaps to sound agreeable, she interjected with an air of pride, not dissimilar to the kind of pride displayed by those people who are (worryingly) proud of paying taxes or not littering, “I always encourage my students to go into STEM related professions. At this, I snapped if a little bit. My immediate reaction was “Um. Why would you do that? These kids can and deserve to have a bright future. Why would you actively subject young fledgling hopeful things to a life of dispiritingly, perpetually oversupplied, anxiety-infested market?” Startled and stunned like a deer caught in the headlights, and unable to formulate a quick enough response to these verbal convulsions of insanity, she had no choice but to listen to my ensuing rant. Repeatedly.

In conjunction with a few other minor indiscretions, it turned out a few minutes later that she had had enough of this ‘nonsense’ (or overwhelming enlightenment, depending on point of view); she stood up and left the table.

We often hear about shortages in the science and engineering workforce both in the UK and the US (e.g. here, and here), but I  I wonder if this is generally true at all and maybe the initiative is more about wage suppression; certainly I’ve not personally seen any evidence of skills shortage or hiring difficulties in my line of work. I won’t go into the details as there are articles available online that express this concern in a far more articulate manner (this and this), but from what I’ve read so far, at least this much is true – engineering graduates are more likely to be unemployed after graduation than average. Let that one sink in and if you’re thinking about having kids – first, don’t. If it’s too late for you and you’re already having one or have had one, make sure you keep them out of harm’s way – the STEM way.

Have a good Friday.

 

 

london, Uncategorized

PPFF #163: narrow boat

Good morning,

A: “I’m thinking about buying a live-aboard narrow boat.”

B: “Really? It looks really small and crammed.”

A: “It’s not that small. Probably not much smaller than the average one-bed flat in London.”

B:”No way.”

Recently, I’ve had this conversation with a few of  my mates – most recently, this Wednesday. The recurring incredulity in everyone’s response to my size comparison as a justification for purchase, got to me in the end and I decided to look for some solid numbers to back up my claim – and to be helpful just in case you’re also considering this option as your main home.

According to this article, the size of average one-bedroom flat in typical new build development is 500 sq ft – the article also features a website that sells ‘pocket-sized’ mini-flats whose size averages 400 sq ft (I’m in no way affiliated with this enterprise but they look pretty good. And if they offered money, I would not reject it, just to be clear).

I couldn’t find a similar article for studio flats, but I did some ‘original’ research by browsing through various studio flats’ floor plans on Zoopla, the average of which was circa 300 sq ft.

A decent live-aboard narrow barge would be 60 ft long and 6ft wide, making the average floor area a cool 360 sq ft (or take off 15% for the engine room etc., you still end up with 306 sq ft.).

In conclusion, I was right; in terms of floor area, the following is true:

  • London Studio < Narrow boat < Average UK 1-bed flat

 

Have a good Friday, preferably on a boat.