Tag Archives: comment

Victoria Wood, an appreciation

Somewhere in the late 70s a young woman, usually in mannish jackets, began to make occasional appearances on tv, taking the Richard Stilgoe comedy-song-at-the-piano slot on That’s Life. She sounded like me, mirroring the speech patterns and the humour of people I grew up with. That was unusual enough to make me pay attention. And she was very funny, too. Continue reading

More than vs. more that

Recently, for the first time, I found the nerve-shreddingly illogical phrase “more that” (instead of “more than“) in a printed book. This seems, to me, the tipping point at which it has definitively crossed into the mainstream as a linguistic mutation. On p.75* of Helen Macdonald’s bestseller, H is for Hawk, is the following text:


It’s a well-written book whose author is highly educated and intelligent. There were many points at which this error could and should have been spotted. Whether it crept in from the original manuscript or during typesetting, none of the beta readers or editors appears to have flagged it for correction. Continue reading

Password Security: Tell Me About It, Please

According to recent news reports, “password” is no longer the most common password. “123456” is. A huge improvement, there, then.

Whilst that news might have security experts sighing in despair, I found myself wondering where these rubbishy passwords are actually used. On work or personal systems, predominantly, I suppose, because on internet sites there are usually quite specific criteria that have to be met by any password, and neither “password” or “123456” would pass muster. Continue reading

Communications: RIP “different from”

The death has not been announced of the phrase “different from” but it’s clearly a phrase whose time is up. In the last week alone, I’ve heard “different to” used by Radio 4 journalists and seen it in a broadsheet newspaper. I can’t even remember when I last heard or read “different from” in even the most erudite circles; it’s now on its final journey to wherever it is that dead phrases go. Unless breeding pairs of “different from” are found in the wild, or in captivity, it risks becoming entirely extinct (when did “gone extinct” gain currency, by the way? Such a horrible, clunky phrase – but I sense that’s a rant for another time). Continue reading

In praise of enthusiasm

Over the weekend, I spent an hour trying on new walking boots. One hour, one shop, one assistant who never left my side in all that time and worked tirelessly, bringing me box after box of boots until I finally found a pair I was happy with. During that hour, she explained the pros and cons of different manufacturers, boot types, sole types and so on. She never once made me feel pressured: just concerned to make sure I got the right pair in the end. And I rely on someone who understands the importance of that decision. Walking boots are absolutely key to your comfort and safety; they shouldn’t be a spur-of-the-moment kind of purchase. Get the wrong ones and you’re likely to have sore toes, blistered heels or much worse. Like her, all the other sales assistants seemed first and foremost to be outdoors activity enthusiasts, keen to get others involved and only secondarily, salespeople.

Contrast this with a high street chain shoe store, where I’ve tried really hard to buy one specific pair of shoes. I know the style, the colour, the size – all I need is to put on both shoes to make sure they’re comfortable and then hand over the money. Not so easy. I’ve been actively ignored in 3 central London branches, twice with the display shoe in my hand, once with it on my foot. Oh yes, staff have looked right at me and met my eye – then breezed on by without giving me a chance to speak (that’s when they weren’t busy dancing to impress their mates at the till, of course). The last straw was the manager who watched me, walked away, then smiled and said a cheery goodbye as I left the shop. No sale.

This isn’t a rant against retail or even lousy customer service. Rather, it’s a rant for passion, for enthusiasm, for interest. Evangelise: tell me why your socks are the best my feet will ever wear because you’ve tried them yourself on a 50-mile trek. Show me, tell me, persuade me of your point of view. If I find your enthusiasm catching, then I’m so much more likely to buy into what you’ve got for sale. But if I think you don’t give a toss, why should I?

An iPad2 won’t make you literate

I was watching a TV ad for the iPad2. It showed a small girl using the iPad with a piece of software that was clearly based on old-school methods of teaching children how to write. You know the kind of thing, there are three guide lines and children have to make the stalk of an “h” touch the top line, the tail of a “g” reach the bottom line and all the others sit somewhere in between.

Curiously, the girl in this ad was writing the word with her finger. So, there’s no way for her to understand how to hold a pen or pencil to form the letters; to feel how different that is from simply tracing the shape with your fingertips. Nor does the app seem to teach her about word formation, meanings, spellings or even as much of a reading aid, as there didn’t appear to be any context or supporting images to help with learning.

So what was the ad trying to achieve? Its takeaway message certainly seemed to be that  handwriting is really rather obsolete now that there’s all this lovely touch-pad technology. If that’s really the case, the little girl would be much better advised to learn how to touch-type on a QWERTY keyboard (or whatever is applicable in her home country). If she learned from a young age how to use a keyboard swiftly and accurately, how much more of a help would that be with homework and in later life?

I often work with IT and other technology users, who are often highly-skilled individuals, but it still pains me to watch them doing the two-finger keyboard prod when they need to type up some actual words. When I was at school, I chose to do an external typing course, which was boring as hell, but has been one skill I’ve never regretted acquiring and I’ve always been able to use. It’s long since ceased to be seen as the sole preserve of the secretary or typing pool. Most people in office work these days are expected to manage at least a portion of their own keyboard output, whether it’s emails, blogs, documents or any other kind of electronic content. Also, as our education system increasingly relies on kids having computer access, typing essays and so on, wouldn’t it make sense for proper keyboard skills to take their place alongside handwriting lessons in our schools?

Just don’t try to teach them on an iPad keypad. When it comes to keypads, iPads are much more akin to mobile phones than to standard computers. The keypads are simply not able to respond adequately to the keystroke speed of a touch-typist. Actually, all they are suited to is the old two-finger prod. So, whilst we are happy to go on expecting ever more speed and slickness from our technology, we’re equally happy not to bother learning how to use it properly, but rather to allow ourselves to jab wildly at it with our slow and stubby fingers.

Communication: Proof, if proof were needed (it was)

I took the pretty shonky little snapshot below with my phone while perched on a very narrow step outside my local branch of a well-known national bank (you know, the one with the cringe-making faux radio station tv adverts…). As you can probably work out for yourself, the picture is of a section from a careers poster. This poster has been on display for at least 6 months. I know this because I took a previous photo of it back in November that was even worse than the one I’ve included here and it’s taken me until today to get round to re-doing it & finishing this article. Continue reading