Jonny Nexus

Writing, life, politics

Month: August 2010

Learning Esperanto Part III: Bits and Pieces

Okay, in no particular order…

* * * * *

I’ve created a separate Twitter account for me to talk Esperanto and follow people who are talking Esperanto. It’s @jonnonekso. (Although that’s something of a provisional user name).

I think that’s pronounced something like “Yon-no Neck-so”, with short “o”s. The two names end in letter o’s because, of course, all Esperanto nouns end in an “o”, and names are nouns.

* * * * *

I have joined the Esperanto Association of Great Britain. In April, they’re holding a congress at Eastbourne, which is pretty near Brighton. So that gives me a target – get good enough at the language by then that it will be worth me going.

* * * * *

I’ve been learning various words using the iPhone Esperanto app from uTalk. They do apps for all languages, with the basic idea that they’re for travellers, who aren’t fussed about grammar, but just want to know how to say (in broken language) basic things like: “Two beer, three wine, one coffee”, “Taxi!” and “Where is my luggage?”

(Broken, not pluralised, I think that’s: “Du biero, tri vino, uno kafo”, “taksio”, and “kie estas la baga?o”).

So I’m going through that each night on the train with the idea that it will familiarise me with the basic way things are pronounced and give me an initial stock of fundamental words.

I’m simultaneously reading through a couple of books (on iPad via Kindle) to get an idea of how the language works (like I said, the iPhone app bypasses all grammar). The best of these books is The Esperanto Teacher, by Helen Fryer.

* * * * *

The word for black is rather unfortunate. Yes, I know it’s all from a Latin root, but one does worry what might be the result of someone overhearing you using the word nigra – especially in the context of something, or someone, who is, in fact, black.

* * * * *

Old books often aren’t very good. The other book I have is Esperanto Self-Taught with Phonetic Pronunciation by William W. Mann, which was written in 1907. (I’m therefore assuming that Mr Mann is dead, and thus unlikely to be affected by any criticism I might offer.

Now I was, and still am, quite keen to use this book because of one very cool thing. It’s available as a podcast from LibriVox, thanks to Esperantist Nicholas James Bridgewater. I downloaded it from iTunes, so I can sit on the train reading the book on my iPad while hearing Nicholas reading it aloud on my iPhone.

It’s just a shame that the book is a bit strange. Maybe it’s intended more as a reference guide (although it does say that it is a practical guide for a student to learn the language) but after a quick run through the letters of the Esperanto alphabet and how to pronounce them, it then launches into section 1: The World & its Elements. This starts with Air (aero) and then leads into words like:

  • dew
  • eclipse
  • hail
  • moonlight
  • thaw
  • creek
  • flood (deluge)

…and then its on through metals, animals, and so on. So much for getting off the plane and ordering yourself a beer. There is, apparently, a section on grammar later on, but you’re supposed to memorise (literally) tens of thousands of words first.

Oh well.

Learning Esperanto Part II: Why Esperanto?

In yesterday’s post I explained why I wanted to learn a second language. In today’s post I’ll try and explain why I’ve selected Esperanto as my language to learn. Why? Well it basically comes down to three things. It’s easy. I like the ideals and culture behind it. And I love the elegance of the design.

Esperanto is an artificial language originally intended to be used as universal second language. Now I have no obvious real-world language to select. I haven’t acquired a Dutch girlfriend. I haven’t invested in a Spanish holiday home. There’s no language in particular I want to learn, so I figured it made sense to start with the training wheels on, with a language explicitly designed to be easy to learn and use.

In addition, learning Esperanto seems like a fun geeky thing to do. It’s true that there aren’t many speakers of it, but those who do speak it are scattered across the world and likely of a similarly geeky outlook to myself. So it’s a cool, sociable way of meeting like minded people.

And yes, I know that learning Klingon would be the seriously geeky thing to do, but I believe it’s both a hard language to learn and potentially wearing on the throat. (Lots of guttural shouting).

Finally, there’s the elegance of Esperanto’s design. I’m sure the programmers among you will know the feeling of encountering a really nicely designed programming language or library, one built upon core, universal principles, elegantly expressed, and of seeing it and thinking, “That’s just nice.”

It’s like that with Esperanto. Let me give you some examples, just from the stuff I’ve picked up in the last couple of days.

Firstly, every letter is pronounced (there are no silent letters), and every letter is pronounced in the same way, all of the time. You know how in English “lute” and “but” don’t rhyme? You wouldn’t get that in Esperanto. (And let’s not even get into “tough”, “dough”, “through”, “thought”, “thorough”, “plough”, “cough” and so on).

Secondly, you can deduce the nature of a word in Esperanto from its ending. All nouns end in “o”. All adjectives end in “a”. Words are pluralised by adding a “j” (pronounced “y”) to both their ending and the ending of associated words. So you get something like:

Blanka hundo = White dog

Li hundo = He is a dog; Lia hundo = His dog; Liaj hundoj = His dogs

Numbers work in a similarly elegant way. Imagine you have the following in English:

One First
Two Second Pair/Duo
Three Third Trio
Twelve Twelfth Dozen

So what we have there is the basic form of the number, the number when used as an adjective (e.g. the third man) and the number when used as a quantity (e.g. a dozen eggs). Note that the adjectives are all different (the change from v to f in twelfth is particularly vicious), and most numbers don’t have a quantity (e.g. you’ll end up saying things like a set of nine).

In Esperanto, you get the following:

Unu (One) Unua (First) Unuo (a single item)
Du (Two) Dua (Second) Duo (Pair/Duo)
Tri (Three) Tria (Third) Trio (Trio)
Dek (Ten) Deka (Tenth) Deko (a set of ten)
Cent (A hundred) Centa (hundredth) Cento (a set of a hundred)

Verbs mostly end with something s.

-as means present tense.

-is means past tense.

-os means future tense.

-us means something that would have happened if something else had been true.

So:

mia skribas = I am writing

mia skribis = I wrote

mia skribos = I shall write.

(The exception to that rule is if the verb is being used without reference to time or subject. In that case, it ends with i. I think that means that if someone was asking me what I do for a hobby and I wanted to reply that, “I write!”, I would say, “Mia skribi“).

Obviously there’s a lot more, but that’s hopefully given you a taster of what it’s like. In programming terms, if natural languages are like spaghetti code written in legacy C, Esperanto is like a modern, high-level structured language.

Oh and yes, if you’re wondering, “Esperanto” is a word in Esperanto, and yes, it is of course a noun. It means “one who hopes”.

Learning Esperanto Part 1b: Remembered Things

Well having listed in the previous post all the German that I’d learned, I have of course spent the afternoon remembering things.

Firstly, “Wo ist?”, which I think means “Where is?”. Something is, anyway. I remember that one because of an incident that happened in my third year of German. A friend of mine was asked by the teacher to read a line of German from a worksheet or something.

He started off with “Wo ist…” as in “Woe ist” not “Voe ist”. (“W” in German is pronounced as “V”).

I remember thinking that even with the standard of teaching we were getting, it took some talent to get more than two years into learning Germany and still not know how to pronounce the letter W.

Other dirty stop-outs slinking in late with embarrassed looks are:

Du = you (unless you’re being formal, in which case it’s sie).

Mon (mun?) = one

I should know he and she, but they seem to have gone.

Danke = thank you

Bitte = please

Not that knowing the latter’s particularly impressive. You ought to know that much German just from watching war films (“passporten bitte!”), just as you learn the French word for Norway from watching the Eurovision Song Contest. (“Norveg, nul pwa, Norway, nil points”).

There are obviously some things I’ve forgotten, but there aren’t many. I’m pretty sure that at best, I knew only a few handfuls of words.

Learning Esperanto Part I: Confessions of a Monoglot

My name’s Jonny, and I’m a monoglot. I speak and write English, and that’s it. I know many non-English speakers will think I’m lazy. Stupid even. I think I’m neither lazy nor stupid, but if it’s any consolation, being unable to speak more than one language is a quite a source of annoyance to me. I’ve long been of jealous of people who can speak multiple languages. It’s not about being able to go places, or talk to people. I can can fly to pretty much anywhere in the world and book a flight, take a taxi, find a hotel room, order a meal. Rightly or wrongly, being English means not having a great need to learn another language.

I’m jealous because I don’t think you can truly understand what language is until you can speak more than one of them. How could you understand colour if you’d only ever seen the colour red? Understand what music was if you’d only ever heard one song? What does it feel like to have two languages in your head? What does it feel like to read text in a foreign language, or heard it spoken – and understand it? Does it feel different?

I did study a language at school, supposedly: German. But that just seemed like a textbook example of how not to teach a language. Firstly, they arbitarily divided the school into two halves, teaching one half German and the other half French. So my best mate Paul spent three years learning French and I spent three years learning German. So right away, those of us learning German had two big motivational issues:

1) How could the teachers claim that it was important that we learn German? After all, if it was important, then my mate Paul would be getting taught it, wouldn’t he?

2) German? That’s the unsexiest, least cool language ever! (I’m not saying it is, but it was how we felt). How come they get to learn the language of love and we get to learn the language of invading people? They get mon amour, and we get Actung! Schnell!

And then they started teaching us, and this is the weird thing. I have no recollection of what they did beyond about week three or four. This is what I remember of German, all learned in the first three or four weeks (apologies for mis-spellings, but this is all from memory, and from thirty years ago).

Ich bin Jonny. I am Jonny.

Ich heisse Jonny. I am called Jonny.

Meine name ist Jonny. My name is Jonny.

Ja. Yes. Nein. No.

Der, die, das. Male, female and neuter ways of saying the.

Eins, zwei, drei, feir, funf and so on. (I won’t bore myself by going up to neun-und-neunzig).

One, two, three, four, five and so on.

Ein, eine, einem. Three ways of saying “a” – can’t remember now which is which.

Rot, blau, braun, weisse, schwartz, gelb. Red, blue, brown, white, black, yellow.

And that’s pretty much it. I studied it for three years, eighty minutes a week, forty weeks a year, but it seemed like somewhere around week four or so we just stopped learning. I literally have difficulty remembering what we did. We must have done something. But it’s a blank.

Quite frankly, it was a pretty shit school. I don’t have exact figures, but I think the exam results for my year were something like:

40% getting at least one O’ Level or CSE (precursors to GCSE) at grades A, B or C.

8% getting at least five O’ Levels or CSEs at grades A, B or C.

6% staying on to do A’ Levels.

1% going to university or polytechnic to do a degree level course.

A lot of time in all lessons was spent going round in circles while people pissed around, but I think German was especially hard hit by this. There was homework, I think. And we had bits where we supposed to learn things. But there was never any progress. Never any sense of building on things. And we never had to have conversations. You might occasionally be asked by the teacher to saying one word or a sentence fragment out loud. But never more than that. You never actually had to talk. It was all just the occasional exercise. I think it only ever seemed to be about being given a list of words to copy off a sheet on the wall and being supposed to memorise whether or not they were male, female and neuter. I don’t ever recall being told to break into pairs or groups and try talking to each other. I don’t ever recall being told to watch a TV programme in German and copy down what they were saying, and then translate it into English, which I would have thought would be an obvious way to teach us. It was all just, copy these words off the sheet on the wall.

So after three years, I’d never actually attempted to speak German, out loud, and would probably have been very tongue tied if I’d tried. We didn’t have to study a foreign language for O’ Level, so everyone I knew dumped German after three years as soon as they had the chance. Maybe the guys who did French did better. I don’t know. After a year or so I sort of lost touch with my mate Paul.

Strictly speaking, not knowing any German has never inconvenienced me. In the thirty-seven years since I failed to learn German, I’ve spent precisely two and a half days in Germany, on a business trip, meeting a bunch of programmers who spoke perfect English. But it’s left me feeling faintly stupid when I meet people who do speak multiple languages. Learning a language seems so hard at an intellectual level that it scares me like nothing else I’ve ever encountered.

Which seems like a good enough reason in itself to learn one. So I’m going to try, and I’m announcing it here because the best way to get yourself to do something is to tell so many people that you’re going to do it that fear of embarrassment will keep you going whenever resolve might flag.

Tomorrow I’ll write a bit about why I’ve picked Esperanto.

My All-Time Favourite Media Tie-In Novel

I’ve just started reading a book called Tied In: The Business, History and Craft of Media Tie-In Writing, which is the result of a collaboration by several members of The Internation Association of Media Tie-in Writers. I bought it after Matt Forbeck (@mforbeck), who’s one of the contributors, recommended it on his blog.

What’s a media-tie in novel? Well this is the description on the IAMTW’s website:

We write science fiction, westerns, mysteries, romance and thrillers and sometimes all of the above. Our work embraces just about every genre you can think of, from STAR TREK to CSI, from GUNSMOKE to MURDER SHE WROTE, from DUNE to James Bond, from RESIDENT EVIL to Hannah Montana.

Our books are original tie-in novels, comic books and short stories based on existing characters from movie, TV series, books, games, and cartoons… or they are novelizations (books based on screenplays for movies and TV shows).

Tie-ins and novelizations are a licensed works… meaning they are written with the permission and supervision of the creators, studios, or other rights-holders of the original characters.

I’m only 17% of the way in (why yes, I am reading it on an eBook reader – why do you ask?) but so far it’s proving very interesting. However, what really got me thinking was a section where a group of the authors discuss the challenge of adapting a film script into a novel (the section entitled “Writing the Novelisation”).

The authors describe how they try to make the book more than the film from which it is derived, aiming to make it look as though the book came first, as though this was the book the film was based on. While still staying true to the film, they try to add depth, fleshing out those areas of story and characterisation that the film was forced to fast-forward past.

They also talk about the challenge of coming up with a narrative structure that suits a book; while a film can constantly cut back and forth between different scenes and different characters, a book needs a more stable structure. And they talked about how satisfying it is when you can come up with some sort of narrative scheme or angle that adds a new depth to the book that wasn’t in the film.

And it was this that got me thinking about my all-time favourite media tie-in novel.

Grease, by Ron De Christoforo.

This might sound like a bizarre choice, but you have to understand that the novel is so much more than the film. The film’s fun, I’ll not deny that. But it’s a musical, not perhaps frothy, but not that deep either. How the hell do you take an ever-so slightly camp and over-the-top musical and turn it into a novel?

Well in this case, De Christoforo took a minor character from the film, Danny’s best mate Sonny, and turned him into the engaging narrator of a gritty but fun, first-person novel. He also gave Sonny a girlfriend, Marsha, who joined the Pink Ladies, so that she could later tell Sonny things that had happened when the girls out of the boys’ sight. As for the songs, at least one that I recall (Greased Lightning) was re-imagined as an impromptu rapping sessions, with the rest just left out altogether.

Some novels draw you in, making you feel like you’re peeking into another world. That was how it was for me, with Grease: a young teenager in early 80s Britain feeling like he’d learned what it was to be a slightly older teenager in late 50s USA. It was full of detail: Polar Burgers, the pre-chain dump of a fast-food restaurant they used to eat at; the ’57 Chevy pickup Sonny borrows from his cousin so he and Danny can go and visit Sandy; the zip gun Doody makes in shop that all the others laugh at.

It’s my favourite tie-in novel of all time. But more than that, it’s just one of my favourite novels.

I loved it.

If you’re interested, you can actually read the first bit of it using Amazon’s preview feature. Just click on this link. Or alternatively, to save you doing that, I’ve taking the liberty of grabbing the first page and a half and putting it here (the preview has more pages than this).

But before I do that… Have you got a favourite tie-in novel, either an original story or a novelisation? If so, please drop me a comment here to say what it was. I’d love to see if anyone else has any quirky surprises.

Click here to read more.

Analysis Of A Joke: Lazy? Offensive? Both? Neither?

A few nights ago I went to the Krater Comedy Club at Brighton’s Komedia. I’d seen other acts, the Maydays for example, at Komedia, but had thus far avoided the Krater Comedy Club, figuring its humour would be targeted at pissed-up hen and stag parties. But my brother was in town, and we wanted to see something on Saturday night, and that was what was on.

So we went, and it was okay. (In fact, the compare, Stephen Grant, was actually pretty damn good – I bought his DVD afterwards). But one of the acts came up with an anecdotal / observational sequence that I didn’t much care for, enough that it got me thinking exactly why.

It offended me, and I didn’t find it funny. But it’s not enough for me to just say that. After all, that a joke offends you doesn’t in itself make it offensive, and that you didn’t find a joke funny, doesn’t in itself mean that it’s humourless. I need to be able to say exactly why I think it’s a poor example of humour – especially given that I write humour myself. It’s not so much that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, more that if you’re accusing someone else of living in a greenhouse you really ought to check out your own accommodation first.

But rather than deconstruct that exact joke, I’m going to take a step back and work on a hypothetical example instead. So let’s come up with our own supposed anecdotal / observational joke that we can deconstruct, a joke whose bonnet we can raise and who engine we can strip down. How about this:

I often go into the gay bookshop that’s just round the corner. I don’t want to buy any books, I just like slapping gay men in the face with a copy of Penthouse. Of course, I run away afterwards. If any of them try to follow me I just shout, “That’s what testosterone smells like!” [Mimes a gay man, feebly and pathetically running after him].

Okay, I’m hoping that pretty much all of you would find that both offensive and unfunny. But why? Well the whole point of humour is that you should be coming up with, well, actual humour. Twists where you go in an unexpected direction. Insights that the audience didn’t see coming. Creating links between things that aren’t obviously links. But the key thing is that it should all be built upon clever wit and underlying truths. While the audience is laughing you want them to also be thinking, “Good point!” or “That is so true!”

So let’s look at the first element in this sequence:

I often go into the gay bookshop that’s just round the corner. I don’t want to buy any books, I just like slapping gay men in the face with a copy of Penthouse.

The core of this piece is an unexpected twist. When you say you were going into a bookshop, the audience will assume that it’s because you wanted to buy a book. When you say that it was actually because you wanted to assault one of the book shop’s inhabitants, that’s obviously pretty genuinely unexpected. But is there any cleverness or underlying truth to it? None that I can see. And the bit with the Penthouse creates a linkage between the assault and the fact that a gay man wouldn’t be terribly interested in a magazine containing pictures of naked women. But again, no real cleverness there.

How about the second half of the sequence:

Of course, I run away afterwards. If any of them try to follow me I just shout, “That’s what testosterone smells like!” [Mimes a gay man, feebly and pathetically running after him].

That section is built upon the tired, and untrue, stereotype of gay man being weak and effeminate, a stereotype that has historically been used to denigrate and marginalise them. (If your opponents’ arguments are more logical than yours, the best way to attack them is to instead turn them into figures of fun so no-one takes what they say seriously).

The key point here is that this joke will only work with an audience who have homophobic tendencies. Or to put it bluntly, you’ll only find it amusing if you find the idea of someone causing intentional distress to gay men, for no other reason than that they are gay, funny.

Tell that joke to a homophobic audience and you’re probably have them rolling in the aisles; tell it to a non-homophobic audience and you’ll bomb, very badly. Because it doesn’t actually contain any real, genuine humour; it instead achieves its laughs by leveraging prejudice and stereotype. A comedian telling such a joke isn’t providing insight or wit; he’s simply encouraging the majority to exalt in the bullying mockery of a minority.

As a rough rule of thumb, I’d say that if your joke is genuinely funny, then it should work on the people who are actually its subject. I’m not expecting them to laugh uproariously, but you should at least be getting a wry smile, a joking groan, and a roll of the eyes. But if you receive a stoney silence from them, that’s a strong indication that you’re laughing at them, not with them.

I know this kind of humour is the way it’s often been done. I just think it’s a pretty lazy way to get your laughs. I’m not saying I’ve never strayed across the line into genuinely offensive territory. It’s perhaps an occupational hazard if you write humour. But I’d rather get my laughs by coming up with something genuinely funny, rather than by telling 5% of my audience that they’re shit and getting the other 95% to laugh at them.

(It’s true that there are cases where the targets of a joke deserve to be ridiculed and insulted: nazi war criminals; Foxtons the estate agents; the man who invented indestructible clamshell packaging. But while such a joke might not therefore be offensive, if it contains no real actual humour, I’d still call it lazy. Just because it’s okay to insult someone doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t still try to come up with an actual joke.)

So what was the joke I didn’t like? And did the audience appreciate it? Well here it is (this is from memory, so it might not be word-for-word perfect):

I often go into the healthfood supermarket that’s just round the corner. I don’t want to buy anything, I just like hitting vegans in the face with a steak. Of course, I run away afterwards. If any of them try to follow me I just shout, “That’s what burning protein smells like!” [Mimes a vegan feebly and pathetically running after them]. You know Heather Mills? She’s opened a vegan cafe round here. Every time I drive past it I want to throw a leg of lamb through the door.

I’ll leave it to you guys to deconstruct this sequence. But the audience certainly loved it, if the volume of laughter was anything to go by. I’ve often said that I love Brighton because being an alternative kind of place, it’s somewhere where I feel at ease in my own skin. I didn’t feel like that on Saturday night.

Notes

While I’m actively looking for comments on all of my posts, I thought it might make sense to pre-empt some potential questions.

1.At its core, veganism isn’t about health and it isn’t a diet. While there are some people who describe themselves as vegans purely on the basis of eating a vegan diet for health reasons, veganism is actually a moral and ethical philosophy first defined in London in 1944, whose participants attempt to eliminate the exploitation of animals by avoiding as far as possible the use of animal products (meat, fish, eggs, dairy, honey, wool, silk and leather). No-one who’s seen the unhealthy shit I put down my throat on a very regular basis would ever think I was doing it because of health. I could write several pages on why I’m a vegan, but it basically comes down to this: when I think about cows going into one end of a slaughterhouse alive and coming out the other end dead I feel like crying. I’m not expecting other people to share that sentiment, but I don’t think I deserve to be publicly ridiculed and insulted for feeling it.

2. A vegan diet can include lots of protein and if a vegan is unhealthy and unfit it’s not because they’re a vegan, it’s because they’re eating unhealthy (albeit vegan) foods and not exercising. I know plenty of fit and healthy vegans, including my friend James Southwood, a two-times British champion at Savate (French kick-boxing).

3. The “heathfood supermarket” referred to in the joke is Brighton’s excellent Infinity Foods, a workers’ cooperative with a commitment to eco-friendly practices. We go there to stock up on vegan chocolate buttons, vegan cheesecake, vegan ice cream and vegan Chelsea buns. (We can buy healthy food in any standard supermarket).

You Okay Back There Gordon?

I read an article in Metro today saying that Gordon Brown’s later book wasn’t doing too well sales-wise:

Meanwhile, sales of Gordon Brown’s latest book have flopped in the four months since it was released, leaving thousands of copies in bookstore bargain bins.

The former prime minister’s speeches collection, Change We Choose, is ranked number 262,956 on Amazon’s bestsellers list.

Now I don’t often check my (well, Game Night’s) Amazon.co.uk rating – it’s the .com rating that I’m addicted to checking. (Yes, there is an app for that). But that Metro piece got me thinking on what my rating might currently be. Could it be higher? Yes it could. My book, published nearly three years ago, is currently outselling Gordon’s on Amazon.co.uk:

And it’s got higher review ratings, too.

And if you’re thinking that being published a long time ago should give me an advantage, because I’ve had more time to sell books – it doesn’t work that way. The Amazon ranking is updated every two hours, and is very heavily weighted to the most recent sales figures. What happened more than a few weeks ago has almost no relevance. So a book that’s hot and new should easily outsell a book that’s had its day.

Anyhow, it’s quite cool, although admittedly in a rather childish way.

Swiming In British Seas: A Simple Guide

A generation or two ago, foreign holidays were for the rich only. Everyone else took their holidays on British beaches and swam in British seas. Then came the advent of cheap Mediterranean package holidays and somewhere along the way a particularly pernicious myth (which I’ve been encountering recently on Twitter) grew up among the people of these islands.

That British seas are too cold to swim in.

Well that’s bullshit. I’m a wuss, and I find swimming in the sea to be an enjoyable and refreshing experience. So I thought I’d present a simple guide here.

By the way, when I say “swimming” I don’t literally mean swimming. I tend to spend most of my time wading around, just enjoying being in the sea. By “swimming”, I’m simply referring to spending some time in the sea.

WHAT YOU NEED

  • Swimming costume / trunks / shorts (unless on a nudist beach, in which case feel free to wave your bits about).
  • [optional] Plastic shoes recommended if you’re on a pebble beach.

That’s it. In particular, you don’t need a wetsuit. If you were thinking of purchasing a wetsuit ask yourself the following questions:

1) Is the weather cold? (i.e. If people are walking around the streets in t-shirts – then it clearly isn’t cold).

2) Am I going surfing?

3) Is the swimming just a warm-up activity, after which I will pull on a mask and head into the dodgier parts of town to fight crime?

Unless the answer to at least one of those questions is yes, then put the neoprene down.

PREPARATION

Before entering the sea (but after getting changed, obviously) it’s a good idea to put on some suntan lotion, particularly around the face and neck.

ENTERING THE SEA

By far the most difficult part of swimming in the sea is the transition from being out to being in. Once you get used to it, it’s lovely, but the transitional period is…

Well as Wil Wheaton (@wilw) would no doubt say (quoting from the Simpson), “I’m not going to lie to you Marge, it’s going to be bloody cold!”

When you first wade into the sea, the sensation of cold will quite literally take your breath away. This is the point at which many people, assuming it will stay that cold, give up.

Which is a shame. Because what I find truly incredible about swimming in the sea is the speed with which your body not only gets used to the temperature, but starts to positively like it. At least it will, if you give it the chance. What you have to do is this:

1) Keep wading rapidly into the sea. Do not stop or pause!

2) As soon as the water gets to a little bit above your waist, drop right down to submerge your body and arms up to your neck.

3) Start making paddling motions with your arms.

If you do that, the process will be as follows:

At 5 seconds in, you’ll be gasping with the cold.

At 30 seconds in, you’ll be starting to think that it’s not too bad after all.

At 60 seconds in, you’ll be thinking how lovely and warm it feels.

The really bizarre thing is that once you get used to it, you have to stay submerged up to your neck, because if you stand fully up and expose your chest to the air, the exposed skin feels really cold.

And when you come out, you feel lovely and refreshed.

Trust me.

Retarded? Mentally Disturbed? Evil?

These were the three thoughts that went through my mind when I read the following in a news report about Raoul Moat’s funeral in today’s Metro newspaper:

One stranger was Theresa Bystram, 45, who travelled 480km (300 miles) from Weybridge, Surrey, on an overnight coach with three of her teenage sons to be at the crematorium.

She said: ‘I absolutely loved him. I just think he is a hero and I wanted to pay my respects.

‘He kept them coppers on the run all that time. Fair enough people died but they must have deserved it.’

One of the people Moat shot was Policeman David Rathband. He was sitting in his car when Moat shot him in the face at point blank range. This wasn’t self-defence. This wasn’t even a fight. There wasn’t any dispute. This was a just a totally random, cowardly, vicious attack.

Rathband survived, but is now blinded for life.

And what about the man who was killed, Chris Brown, who Moat first shot in the legs and then executed with shots to the back and the head? His only crime appears to have been that he got into a relationship with a woman who’d previously dated a psycho. (I once did that. Don’t figure it would have justified him killing me.)

I have no problem with people expressing some degree of sympathy for Moat. He was clearly in need of psychiatric treatment, and in a more just society he might now be alive, and his victims unhurt.

But to go beyond sympathy into suggesting that his victims deserved their fate? Now that’s just sick.

I don’t know who Theresa Bystram is, but having presumably been born with at least some sort of brain she ought to perhaps start using it. And yes, I probably am being very unsympathetic to a woman who’s most likely not all there, but I think I’m still giving her more sympathy than she’s showed to Moat’s victims.

Wayfinding: The Borisbike Scheme’s Little Added Bonus

A while ago there was a series of very good articles on Slate by Julia Turner about signage, and a discipline known as “wayfinding”, which wikipedia defines thus:

Wayfinding encompasses all of the ways in which people and animals orient themselves in physical space and navigate from place to place.

That might sound a bit abstract, but it basically boils down to how we use design (layout, colour-schemes, signage and so on) to help people navigate around places. Originally, it was more about interior navigation, but it’s now being used outdoors in urban areas – which chiefly amounts to a comprehensive network of well-designed (i.e. evidence based) map boards, designed according to how people actually navigate:

Traditionally, maps on these sorts of signs offered a bird’s-eye view of the area in question, and were oriented with north at the top. Over the years, though, designers have learned that people tend to do better with maps that detail what the facades of buildings look like—a helpful feature for users who have trouble extrapolating from a 2-D map to the 3-D world around them… users consistently preferred a “heads-up” orientation that puts whatever the user is facing at the top.

I had been planning on writing a piece about wayfinding, linking to those articles, and including pictures of the wayfinding scheme that’s recently been installed in Brighton. But looking through my blog’s history, it appears that I never got beyond planning.

Anyhow, if you haven’t read the articles, I’d recommend having a read of them at some point. They’re in multiple parts (it was a six day series), and it’s really very, very good:

Part I: The Secret Language of Signs

Part II: Lost in Penn Station

Part III: Legible London

Part IV: Do You Draw Good Maps?

Part V: The War Over Exit Signs

Part VI: Will GPS Kill The Sign?

But that’s not the purpose of this post. What’s got me typing here is that I noticed something about the new London Cycle Hire scheme that no-one else seems to have pointed out, which is that it has a wayfinding system built into it.

The system involves several hundred docking stations (around 400 at launch) spread across the central area. The TFL map shows how dense they are. And the cool thing is that everyone appears to have a wayfinding-style map on two of the sides of the pillar that contains the touch-screen ordering system. The map is oriented from that location, in the direction you’ll be facing when you look at it. (i.e. It’s not just multiple copies of the same map with “you are here” markers; if there are 400 docking stations then there will be 800 different maps.)

So if you’re ever lost in central London, you now just have to look around for the Cycle Hire sign, and you know that you’ll have a well-designed map (with index) of a standardised layout, to help you find your way.

Which I think is a nice little bonus. There have been some trial wayfinding schemes in London so far, one of which was described in the Slate article. But it might have been difficult to justify putting a wayfinding scheme across 400 sites were it not paired up with the cycle hire scheme.

The picture of the docking station pillar is a bit small, so I’ve included two pictures below of some signs in the Brighton scheme. These are actually from a single sign, one view of each side. The reason the maps are different is because the one looking north has south at the top and shows what you’ll find in that direction while the one looking north has north at the top, and shows what you’ll find in that direction. (Below each map is an index, which my photos largely clip).

It will be interesting to see if pedestrians start to use the docking stations for navigation. I hope they do.

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