+++*

Symbolic Forest

A homage to loading screens.

Blog : Posts from August 2007

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 Parisian prices

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.

** Frankly, I was quite surprised that a shop in Paris was willing to let people know that salad cream exists.

Lutetia

In which we disappear

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 look at the big clue in the post title.

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.

Why the weather doesn't bother me

In which I am remarkably unbothered

“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.

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.

Hurrah!

In which the previous post is proved 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.

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.

Update: in the comments on the original post, Greig left the following comment:

Does this help?

botch, n.2 SECOND EDITION 1989

(b{rfa}t{sh}) [f. BOTCH v.1 (Sometimes indistinguishable from fig. use of the prec.)]

  1. A botched place or part, a flaw or blemish resulting from unskilful workmanship. 1605 SHAKES. Macb. III. i. 133 To leaue no Rubs nor Botches in the Worke. 1645 MILTON Tetrach. Wks. 1738 I. 244 Let it stick as a notorious botch of deformity.

  2. fig. a. A clumsy patch; a meaningless or unsuitable word added for the sake of rime or metre. 1693 DENNIS Impart. Critick iii. 25 Every Epithet is to be look’d upon as a Botch, which does not add to the thought. 1707 SWIFT On Union Wks. 1755 IV. I. 283 By way of botch She piec’d it up again with scotch. 1780 WESLEY Wks. (1872) XIV. 341 In these Hymns there is no doggerel, no botches. 1861 A. BERESFORD-HOPE Eng. Cathedr. 19th C. 220 The difficulties of accommodation are honestly recognized and boldly grappled with, not by botches and makeshifts.

{dag}b. A mark like a clumsy patch, a blotch. Obs. 1715 Lond. Gaz. No. 5365/4 The other 4 [Sheep] cropt on the Right Ear, and a black Botch on the Left Hipp.

  1. a. A bungled piece of work. So botch-work. 1648 HERRICK Hesper. I. 104 Learne of me what woman is, Something made of thred and thrumme; A mere botch of all and some. 1845 LD. CAMPBELL Chancellors (1857) III. lvi. 130 When the writer tries to be light and airy, we have such a botch as might have been expected. 1870 HAWTHORNE Eng. Note-bks. (1879) I. 187, I have made a miserable botch of this description. 1876 HAMERTON Intell. Life II. ii. 406 Vastness of the interval, that separates botch-work from handicraft.

b. fig. 1864 E. A. MURRAY E. Norman I. 159 The men were not to be trusted, most of them being convicts, or ‘botches’ of one kind or other.

  1. a. = BOTCHER n.1 dial. 1855 Whitby Gloss., A Botch, a cobbler.

b. = BOTCHER1 3. dial. and colloq. 1829 J. KENNEY Illust. Stranger II. i. 24 Some botch of an embalmer, who had not done justice to Your princely remains. 1868 J. C. ATKINSON Gloss. Cleveland Dial. 59 He’s nobbut an aud botch. He’s mair lahk t’mar an t’mend.

botch, v.1 SECOND EDITION 1989

(b{rfa}t{sh}) Also 4 bocchyn, 5-6 botche. [ME. bocche-n, of uncertain etymology: having apparently no original relation to BOTCH n.1, though the words may have subsequently influenced each other. Prof. Skeat suggests for the vb. a LG. origin, comparing MDu. butsen, (1) to strike, beat, (2) to repair (Oudemans), app. related to Du. botsen to knock, dash, Ger. dial. butschen, butzen to strike, knock; according to Franck an onomatop{oe}ic word of echoic origin. But the sense ‘repair’ in Du. butsen seems to be recent, while in English it appears in Wyclif: also there is no sense ‘knock’ in English, so that connexion with the continental words is very doubtful. Perhaps the Eng. word is an onomatop{oe}ia related in its genesis to ‘patch’; cf. Ger. batzen to patch. See BODGE.]

  1. trans. To make good or repair (a defect, damage, damaged article); to patch, mend. Now only: to repair clumsily or imperfectly. Often with up. 1382 WYCLIF 2 Chron. xxxiv. 10 That thei enstoren the temple, and eche feble thingus thei bocchyn [1388 reparele alle feble thingis]. 1530 PALSGR. 461/1, I botche or patche an olde garment..I have botched my hosen at the heles. 1551 ROBINSON tr. More’s Utop. (Arb.) 69 Sicke bodies..to be kept and botched up. a1680 BUTLER Rem. (1759) II. 200 He does not mend his Manners, but botch them with Patches of another Stuff and Colour. 1863 FAWCETT Pol. Econ. IV. ii. 535 Botching and patching each single tax.

b. absol. To do repairs; to patch clumsily. 1580 TUSSER Husb. (1878) 166 Cobble and botch, ye that cannot buie new. 1730 SWIFT Dan Jackson’s Pict. Wks. 1755 IV. I. 249 At last I’m fairly forc’d to botch for’t. 1815 SCOTT Guy M. xxi, I labour and botch..and produce at last a base caricature. 1865 [see BOTCHING vbl. n.2]

  1. To spoil by unskilful work; to bungle. 1530 PALSGR. 461/1 To botche or bungyll a garment as he dothe that is nat a perfyte workeman. 1663 PEPYS Diary 26 Apr., Tom coming, with whom I was angry for his botching my camlott coat. 1850 BLACKIE Æschylus I. 293 This chorus seems hopelessly botched..and all attempts to mend it are more or less unsatisfactory. 1858 HAWTHORNE Fr. & It. Jrnls. I. 292 The greatest bungler that ever botched a block of marble.

  2. fig. trans. To put or stitch together clumsily or unskilfully; to construct or compose in a bungling manner. Often with up, together. 1561 T. NORTON Calvin’s Inst. III. v. (1634) 319 Augustines booke of repentance..botched of good and bad by some scraper together. 1678 CUDWORTH Intell. Syst. I. iv. 411 An ill-agreeing Drama, botch’d up of many impertinent Intersertions. 1768 TUCKER Lt. Nat. II. 124 One or two of Horace’s purple rags botched together with coarse seams of abuse.

b. To add as a patch. 1589 Pappe w. Hatchet (1844) 39 Botching in such frize iestes vppon fustion earnest. 1656 [see BOTCHING vbl. n.]

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. Which, technically, is right.

** 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

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, get in touch. It does all fit together, I promise.

The weather

In which we can see the weather coming

You know it’s going to be hot and sticky when it’s still only half-seven in the morning and you can already see the inversion layer.

Inversion layer: when warm air gets trapped under colder. It lies, stagnant. You can see it, because it fills up with trapped smoke and muck and pollution. Even in the countryside, it sticks like a brown haze.

When you see that, you know it’s going to be a nasty, sticky day.