Flying a kite for philosophy

Flying a kite in memory of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s local connections

Wittgenstein flying a kite on Chunal; the Grouse Inn probably in the background
‘Students pay tribute to kite philosopher’ said the headline in the Glossop Advertiser on 20 March. It describes a celebration by ‘fine arts and interactive arts students’ at Chunal, the hill outside Glossop, flying kites to mark the centenary of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s aerodynamics experiments at Manchester University’s Kite Flying Upper Atmosphere Station. Wittgenstein would stay at the Grouse Inn near the top of the hill – and just over another hill from Literary Connection’s own home. He boarded upstairs in a room that looked out on the moors where he often walked alone. The picture shows Wittgenstein and by William Eccles with a kite in the summer of 1908. Whilst at Manchester University, Wittgenstein developed and patented a design for a rotary blade of the kind now used in helicopters – before abandoning engineering for mathematics and then philosophy. On the way he found time to fight in the Austrian army in the First World War and become a school teacher. He hated teaching but wrote a spelling manual, commenting of his students’ reactions to his classroom guide: ‘The orthographic conscience had been awakened.’ Continue reading “Flying a kite for philosophy”

Google is in the OED – again

It’s not the first time ‘google’ has been recorded in the OED

A learned letter from David Oakey of the University of Birmingham in The Guardian points out that whilst the new meaning of the verb ‘google’ appears in the 2006 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, it’s not the first time the word has been recorded. Earlier editions list ‘google’ as a verb meaning to bowl a googly (1907) and as an obsolete variant of ‘goggle’. But I don’t suppose that back then they’d thought of the Googlegänger.

Sign of hard times

‘Sub-prime’ is 2007’s word of the year

The American Dialect Society chose ‘sub-prime’ as 2007’s word of the year. Presumably it’s been made to a NINJA: ‘No Income, No Job or Assets. A poorly documented loan made to a high-risk borrower.’ Amongst the ‘most creative’ nominations was ‘Googlegänger: person with your name who shows up when you google yourself’.

Payment by results: what’s the reward for culture change?

In the last three days I’ve been on the road, meeting people, enjoying the new train franchises (up to a point) and promoting the future (cautiously). In addition, magpie-like, I’ve been picking up trifles to feather the Word of the Day nest. No new words, but reading free papers in the hotels I was delighted by two items that made me think there’s scope for a series on business and education when I run out of words for the day:

Carpetright chief piles on the incentives for academy teachersFinancial Times, 28 November 2007
“When it comes to hiring and retaining teaching talent for his academy schools, Lord Harris of Peckham, chairman and chief executive of the Carpetright chain, has got it covered. Successful applicants can look forward not only to bonuses of up to £200 under a novel payment-by-results scheme, but also 15 per cent off all their flooring needs at any one of the outposts of his carpet empire.”

The paper adds (in anticipation, I assume, of the derision of its normal readership): “The scale of inducements being considered may seem modest by City standards.” At least the FT had the wisdom to provide a little background on payment by results, including a critical comment from Headteacher – sorry: ‘High Master’ – and former English teacher Martin Stephen, of St Paul’s School, London: ‘Mr Stephen concluded: “You are actually damaging the child.”‘

Excellence, outcomes and culture change
The Independent, meanwhile carried an advertisement from The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF). (In a strange link, someone told me this week that she remembered the Department’s new initials by calling it the ‘Department for Curtains and Soft Furnishings’; are they sponsored by Carpetright too?) Anyway, DCSF have ‘launched a bidding process to award a grant to deliver the business of the Centre for Excellence and Outcomes (CfEO) in Children and Young People’s Services.’ That’s quite convoluted, isn’t it? ‘To award… to deliver the business..’. Doesn’t one ‘carry out’ a business? Ah, but the CfEO ‘will likely be a virtual body’, which explains a lot, such as the brief ‘to influence the required practice and culture change’. As if changing the culture weren’t enough (getting rid of post-modernism, perhaps, and re-introducing logical positivism?), the CfEO has also ‘to support a focus on outcomes and action’ – rather than ‘a soft focus on soft furnishings’?

Sorry, I can’t link to the advertisement itself (when I tried the ‘Independent’ website said it was an ‘IllegalArgumentException: No bean specified’, old bean…), so those big enough for blue skies thinking on culture change need to go to the Every Child Matters site.

Stephen rightly said this kind of thing was self-parodying, so I apologise that I couldn’t resist the extra jibes.

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Blam! There goes a clanger

There’s a strange headline on the main comment piece in the Times Educational Supplement on this week (23 November, page 28): ‘Politicians, don’t play the blam game.’ I thought this was a play on some new edu-jargon, but either I’m very dense or ‘blam’ was the sound of the TES dropping a clanger. That was a pity when the comment is making the very reasonable point that for all the talk of freeing the teachers from oppressive educational establishment, it’s government edicts, tests and targets that make the real establishment – and the Tories, with their talk of insisting on synthetic phonics, reading tests at age 6 and unannounced inspections, are no better.

A few pages earlier there’s a photograph of a placard with the words: ‘CAPITOL PUNISHMENT’ – which on inspection was a call to hang Ian Brady and Maxine Carr, not to impeach the US President. I suspect the sub-editor selecting that picture felt the mistake offered a silent comment on the placard’s sentiments – a pity that the sub-ed for page 28 wasn’t so self-aware. Unfortunately you can’t see this online as the TES restricts access to a few teaser articles until a week after publication, by which time I expect they will have corrected it.

To be annoying in Internet with style

The curse of Babel Fish – or, the limitations of computer-speak

Annoying... with style!This poster is, in its own delightful way, a summary of this blog’s aim, or at least the result: to be annoying, and with style if we can possibly manage it. It is an advertisement for an Internet cafe found in the lower station of the delightful funicular railway in Montecatini Terme in Tuscany. On the left, the Italian reads: ‘Navigare in Internet con stile’, which I assumed had some relationship to ‘navigation’ – my Rough Guide phrasebook duly translates ‘navigare’ as ‘to sail’. The techno-savvy Internet Center had, however, sailed into the choppy waters of Altavista’s Babel Fish, for when I drop the Italian into the Babel Fish translation panel, it duly renders this in English as: ‘To be annoying in Internet with style’. Priceless, if also rather undermining the claim to ‘all that that others do not have’ – since there are many on the Internet, alas, who annoy. Recalling the original Babel story, we should not be surprised: ‘Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth’ (Genesis 11:9).

Just to demonstrate that the Italians can do things with style, even on a railway station, here are a couple of signs from Florence’s imposing Santa Maria Novella station – much better without translation.
Firenze: Binari Firenze: Dirigente Movimento

Cut the cruft

Crud, yes, but ‘cruft’? Another word that was new to me this week

Crud, yes, but ‘cruft’? Another word that was new to me this week, found in The Guardian: ‘Fill databases of valuable customer information with rubbish, to let the valuable names hide among the cruft.’ My big Collins dictionary (old-tech, paper and a weight), the British National Corpus and Cobuild all drew a blank (apart from the inevitable dog show), but Webcorp led first to a site which, in February 2007, still felt it needed to use quotation marks and explain the word in brackets as ‘unnecessary code’. Then the links led to the ever-useful Wikipedia, where we learn: ‘In hacker jargon, cruft describes areas of something which are badly designed, poorly implemented or redundant’. There’s an interesting suggested etymology from Harvard University’s Cruft Laboratory: ‘if the place filled with useless machinery is called Cruft Hall, the machinery itself must be cruft’. The links goes on, as the page reminds me of the term backronym – something for another time?

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Can we affordance more new words like this?

One of the features of any gathering of professionals is the way they talk in their own language – jargon, in other words. I see that the ATL Conference featured a moan about ‘Edu-babble’ yesterday. At last weekend’s NATE Conference there was some grumbling about ‘affordance’. It doesn’t even feature in the free online dictionaries I use most, such as Chambers and Mirriam-Webster. The ever-useful Wikipedia tells me that ‘an Affordance is an action that an individual can potentially perform in their environment’ and that it dates from 1977.

Do we real need this word? What’s wrong with ‘potential’?