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Blog : Posts from August 2007 : Page 1

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Gaul

In which we study the markup on an import


This was seen in the large Parisian department store Galaries Lafayette* the other day, in the “Epicerie Britannique” section of the gourmet foodhall:

British food at Paris prices

Click on the image for an enlargement – but if you can’t be bothered, that’s a bottle of salad cream that says “99p” on the label, on sale for €3.24** At today’s exchange rate – just under 68p to the euro – that’s a shop price of £2.20. Slightly less of a bargain than it says on the label, then. The shop was also selling tins of Heinz beans originally from multipacks, singly, for about £1 per tin. Ouch. How much does it cost to import a tin of beans, exactly?

* They do apparently have an official website, which I couldn’t get to work at all.

** That was meant to be a euro sign – let me know if it didn’t work.

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Rotation

In which we crunch numbers and look at the site design


It almost slipped by without me realising: yesterday was this site’s second birthday. This is, I’m told, post number 538, which means I’ve managed to post something on average every 1.36 days. It’s been slipping recently, I know. For completeness’s sake: there are 771 comments visible,* and an inordinately greater number which have been deleted.**

After two years, is it time for a redesign? I’m not sure. I don’t believe in celebrating anniversaries for their own sake, and I do still like the design as it is. Not looking at it for a few days means I come back and look at it with fresh eyes. There’s a lot of white space round the screen; and if something is in lots of categories then the post header goes a bit ugly.*** Whether I can improve on it very much is another matter. The non-blog pages are still lurking behind the scenes undecorated – I’m tempted to use them to try some new designs out. If I can come up with some new designs, that is.

* 1.43 per post; or one comment every 22 3/4 hours.

** It’s not actually inordinate, of course – there have been around 7000 of them.

*** The list of categories wraps round beneath the date.

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Lutetia

In which FP has disappeared


I love posting-in-advance. Writing in advance, I mean: writing something now and publishing it then.

See, I’m not here right now. I’m away on holiday again. I would say “I’ll post photos,” but as things stand I’m not even sure if I’m going to pack my camera or not. I should already have posted photos of the other weekend: sitting by the Thames drinking Früli and getting sunburnt. How long it will take me to post photos of Mystery Holiday Destination #2* is anybody’s guess.

* it’s not that mysterious if you search

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Ouch

In which we wonder what happened to Big Dave


Talking of Room 3B (the IT office): long-term readers (who remember the air-conditioning fight) might be wondering what Big Dave has been up to for the past few months, since he left, and what he’s been up to.

Well, the answer is, I don’t really know. He’s popped into the office, once or twice, since then. He’s kept in touch with a few people round the building. But I don’t really know what he’s been up to. The only news I have is: Big Dave’s broken his jaw. How he broke his jaw is a mystery. It’s very possible that he doesn’t know himself, of course. So, unfortunately, no tales of entertaining-but-horrific fights outside bars. No tales of unlikely-but-possible accidents involving server racks or poorly-secured hard disks. You’ll just have to use your imagination.

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Why the weather doesn’t bother me

In which FP is remarkably un-bothered


“Ohh, isn’t it awful weather lately?” people keep saying. “It feels like it’s winter already.”

Well, the weather doesn’t bother me.

Cool days are a good thing. Summer heat is too hot. A cool grey breezy day is relaxed, the sort of day work can get done. A windier day is energetic, the sort of day you want to do work. Both are useful.

Rain is a good thing. Rain doesn’t bother me either. I don’t mind walking in it, getting slightly wet, when I can always get dry again later.

The one other reason the weather doesn’t bother me, though: I rarely see it anyway. I don’t smoke. Room 3B (the IT office) has no windows. I’m insulated. Some days I wish there was a cool grey breeze on me, instead of the standard filtered and air-conditioned air that flows out of the ceiling vent.* But, nevertheless, the weather doesn’t bother me.

* Although we had to fight to get it, if you remember back that far.

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Percentages

In which we make some numbers up


According to Martijn, 47% of all blog posts consist of links to other blogs.*

Well, according to new research by the FP Militant Invective Laboratories, an entire 0.3% of current blog posts consist of links to blog posts about the proportion of blog posts which just consist of links to other blogs.

No, really. Honest. No, I didn’t just pull that number out of thin air. What sort of person do you think I am?**

* well, actually, he made it up. But it could be true.

** Oh, OK, I did really. But you never know.

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Hurrah!

In which we prove the previous post correct


Further to Thursday’s post: Hurrah! If you read the comments, you’ll see that both Wikipedia and the BBC are both talking nonsense. The OED’s first reference to the word “botched” goes back to 1568; and Thomas Carlyle used it in its modern spelling in the 1830s. As a verb, “botch” goes back to John Wyclif, in the 14th century. Sir Thomas Bouch had nothing to do with it. Thanks to Mr Treefell – who, I believe, works at my old university library – for looking the entry up for me.

Poking around, though, I discovered that my local library subscribes to the Oxford English Dictionary. Most do, in fact – and they let you use it from home! So I can look up anything I like in the OED, so long as I can remember my library card number to sign in with. Hurrah!

I knew about the OED online service, but I had no idea that virtually any public library user in Britain could use it for free from home. It’s a wonderful idea, and a wonderful resource. I’m going to resist turning this into an etymology blog completely – but it’s going to be hard.

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Etymology

In which we discover something wrong on the Internet


Last night, on TV, I was idly watching a documentary, Real Men, about the maintenance of the Forth Bridge. Rather interesting it was, even if the risks were a bit overstated sometimes.* One thing, though, puzzled me. It started off, as you might expect, with the history of the bridge: in the 1870s construction had begun on a Forth Bridge designed by Sir Thomas Bouch, previously responsible for designing the train ferries the bridge was to replace. In 1879, though, Bouch’s Tay Bridge collapsed catastrophically, so work on his Forth Bridge was stopped.

What puzzled me was: according to the narrator, the collapse of Bouch’s bridge is the origin of the phrase “a botched job”. Now, surely, that can’t be true. It has to be nonsense. According to my copy of the Concise Oxford, “botch” goes back to Middle English. It’s always meant roughly the same thing, I assume. There’s no way an event in 1879 can have created a phrase, when the word itself had been around for several hundred years beforehand. Can it? Wikipedia, and an awful lot of other websites, say that “bodge” and “botch” are both derived from Bouch’s name, even though “bodging”, as a type of carpentry, has been around for centuries. Does anyone have a copy of the full Oxford Dictionary to hand?

* “with High Speed Trains thundering past them” said the narrator. Well, yes, technically – but as far as I remember, from when I was a Fife commuter, they’re not going any faster than 50mph as they go across the bridge.

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The Diagram

In which we study some design history


I’ve recently been reading a book about design history, about the design of an icon. Mr Beck’s Underground Map, by Ken Garland. It is, as you might imagine, about the London Underground Map, concentrating on the period from the 1930s to the 1950s when it was designed by Harry Beck. In many ways it’s a sad story – Beck, throughout his life, felt that he had paternalistic rights over his map;* London Transport disagreed, treating the map as its own property. Which, of course, it was. In the 1960s, when London Transport turned to alternative designers, he became obsessed with producing his own versions, in the hope that London Transport would take his design up again.

Nowadays, Beck is always remembered as the map’s creator; his map was the first in Britain to abstract the network and present it topologically. The modern map, though, isn’t really based on his. It’s based on one of its 1960s successors, by Paul Garbutt; it was Garbutt’s first design that settled on black-and-white interchange symbols, and the modern proportions of the lines.

Design archaeology is hard, sometimes. There aren’t any old underground maps on display at stations, because they’re all outdated. Sometimes, though, you can spot things still lurking from days past. Some of the Phase One Victoria Line stations still have signs unchanged since they opened, in the days of the first Garbutt map. The northbound platform at Green Park, for example, has what looks like an original line diagram on the wall: it has a dotted-circle for National Rail interchanges, a characteristic of that time;** and Highbury and Islington is shown as a Northern Line interchange. It’s interesting to see. There aren’t any Beck-era signs anywhere on the underground, as far as I know, which is something of a shame; but it’s good that there are still examples of old designs surviving. It’s good to have history around us.

* or “The Diagram” as the book calls it throughout.

** The modern double-arrow “main line railway” symbol was introduced in 1964, off the top of my head, but didn’t become widespread for a few years

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A quiz of my own

In which we set a test


Every year at Christmas I read the King William’s College General Knowledge Paper, try to solve it, and score about 10%. Which is, let’s face it, pretty poor.

I’ve mentioned it before, I think; it’s basically a general knowledge quiz. An incredibly difficult one. It has 100 questions, divided into ten sections. Each section has a theme, but you’re not usually told what the theme is; you have to work it out from the answers. The questions, too, are extremely terse indeed.

It’s hard to answer, but I had a feeling it must be pretty damn hard to write, too. So I thought I’d have a go at my own: a quiz, in the style of a King William’s College section. Ten questions. See if you can answer any of them, or work out what the connection is.

(the worrying thing is, I know exactly which regular readers have a chance of getting any of them)

Who:
1. starred in an Office training video
2. later moved to the Yorkshire Dales
3. might have had a band in the family
4. collapsed when connected to the Matrix
5. later had a lottery-winning wife
6. built steam engines
7. was James Kent-Smith
8. went through a film without being named
9. couldn’t believe what happened to his patients
10. had travelled before, inside his own head.

If you have any idea of any of the answers, pop them in the comments box. It does all fit together, I promise.

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