The good, the bad, and the ugly
An old collection of opinions and rants:
I got interested in typography and fonts. Do you like this site?
I found The Trouble With EM 'n EN (and Other Shady Characters) useful (unicode punctuation codes for HTML) which is part of …
… a great site A List Apart.
I also read The Elements of Typographic Style Applied to the Web. Check out a study of the effects of whitespace.
Citeseer is an invaluable source of free academic papers. Unlike some other portals, like the ACM or SpringerLink portals, it will not attempt to charge you a considerable fee, to read an academic paper which was written for nothing. Long live citeseer, may they rank high on Google.
The Wayback Machine archives the Web from 1996. To me, this looked just moderately amusing — but if a useful link moves, or a server goes and I’m in a hurry, then it demonstrates its worth.
For innocent fun, I commend the Bulwer-Lytton writing contest to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels. Paradoxically, some of the sentences are so bad that I regret the corresponding novel does not exist.
Ctrl-Alt-Del is an online comic strip about computer gamers. I’m not one myself but I’m enough of a geek to appreciate it — and it’s very clever. For example …
I have to mention xkcd. Here are some favourites:
Congestion charges, speedbumps, Controlled Parking Zones, speed cameras, clamping cowboys, traffic wardens, and the number 73 bus.
If you want to get people out their cars, fine, but not by harassment
and fines, however profitable that may be for local government. Be
positive. Improve the bus service
(which is good and
historic, but just needs
to be even better).
So here’s my other gripe: London Buses are too big for London roads. If you think London is just like Amsterdam (or Munich, or Paris, or even Rome), just a tad larger, than you won’t get it. No. London is a monster agglomeration of roads designed for horses, serving 10 million people in cars. Driving would be a challenge even if you were the only thing on the road, and in London you never are. The routemaster was a design classic well-adapted to its environment. Its successors may look great in photos (on empty, straight, well-maintained roads, ha ha) but make sense in London like water-lilies in the sahara, strawberries and chips, or committees and common sense. By the way there’s a book on the routemaster on sale, for example here.
‘It’s’ equals ‘it is’; ‘its’ is a pronoun. The apostrophe in this case
does not indicate a genitive; otherwise you’d write ‘min’e’ and ‘hi’s’.
It can be a grave error.
Pronouns. The rule of thumb is: say ‘my dog and I’ where you could say ‘I’. As in: ‘I walk’ hence ‘my dog and I walk’ but; ‘greetings from me’ hence ‘greetings from my dog and me’.
It’s no good saying “what I say as a native speaker defines the language”; everybody used to get it right, then some people tried to make everybody else feel bad about themselves by saying ‘I’ rather than ‘me’. It’s a faux intellectualism, hlike hputting ayches heverywhere to htry to hsound hposh.
Somehow, people don’t thank me me for pointing this out. I guess it’s fear; people are afraid of what they don’t know. Sure, me too; I worry about the possibility of forces beyond my control, like ice-cream melting all over me when I only have a cheap serviette that smears sticky stuff everywhere — that’s a genuine reason for apprehension — but scared of apostrophes and pronouns? Get a grip, get it right.
While I’m at it, let me mention the difference between ‘that’ and ‘which’.
Personally, I don’t get excited about this, but people have asked and it’s quite interesting.
‘That’ adds information which restricts the class of objects to be considered.
‘Which’ adds information which does not (but may tell you something you didn’t know).
For example: ‘rivers that are in europe’, but ‘the river, which here is
narrow’, or ‘computers, which have become more powerful year by year’
and ‘computers that are second-hand’.
The simple test is: use ‘that’ if you can remove the word without changing meaning: ‘rivers in europe’, ‘second-hand computers’. Use ‘which’ if you can remove the whole clause without changing the meaning: ‘the river’, ‘computers’.
E-mail me to know the difference between ‘jealousy’ and ‘envy’, ‘fewer’ and ‘less’, or how often to use commas. See also a nice list of anti-pedantry.
I don’t like the OQO computer, it broke.
There are plenty of other sub-laptops out there; I’d buy another
I don’t like Dynamism much either — they have some cool-looking stuff on their webpage but they didn’t seem to care particularly about any of the things that are important to me, like … buying computers that don’t break, or … having my e-mails answered, or even “no more mix-ups, it really is in the post this time” meaning … no more mix-ups, it really is in the post this time.
There are other vendors, for example the splendidly-named Geekstuff4u. I’ve not done business with them but they’d be hard-pressed to do worse.
You may have sensed a disturbance in the force on 7 July 2005. Fortunately I was on my bike that day, so I got home easily enough — except that I had to cycle round an airtight roadblock stretching from Warren Street to Angel (that’s two or three miles). During my forced tour of a London in crisis I was impressed by the universal public cool-headedness. It made me proud.