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Thursday, 11 September 2014

Phrases associated with the Titanic?

And the band played on
One of the most striking images from the disaster is that of the orchestra playing as the ship sank.
Survivors of the ship witnessed one of the greatest acts of selflessness and courage when Wallace Hartley and his string ensemble played music on the upper deck soon after the Titanic struck the iceberg in order to calm the passengers.
Though the ensemble did not  play the eponymous popular song, the phrase has been a favourite in newspaper headlines ever since. It was also the title for a famous book about the early history of HIVAIDS by Randy Shilts. (source)

The tip of the iceberg 

Only 10% of an iceberg is visible above the surface of the water. Used metaphorically the phrase refers to hidden danger.

Recent research suggests the phrase was unusually resonant in the disaster: 'the ship crashed because the iceberg was disguised by an optical illusion' - see here.


Women and children first

The first recorded use is in the novel Harrington: A True Story of Love by William O’Connor written in 1860. The phrase was popularized, however, by the famous order issued by the captain of the Titanic, Edward Smith.
What Captain Smith precisely meant by this order caused a catastrophic confusion onboard and probably caused at least a hundred uneccessary fatatalities.
Unfortunately for the men aboard the sinking ship, some of the officers misunderstood the order and prevented men from climbing aboard the lifeboats. The final casualties explain the cost of that misunderstanding: 74% of the women and 52% of the children were saved; however only 20% of the men survived. source
In recent years there has been a lot of emphasis on the social class element of the disaster. Were the first class passengers favoured over those travelling Second or Third?


The unsinkable ship
This marketing slogan proved tragically hubristic. No ship is 'unsinkable' and the design of the Titanic made it catastrophically vulnerable - see here.

Rearranging the deck-chairs on the Titanic

This phrase - meaning to engage in trivial actions in the face of a disaster - is first recorded in the US in the 1970s - see here. It has now become a popular cliche - particularly for British politicians.

Mary Celeste Teaching Pack (includes Titanic materials)

Thursday, 4 September 2014

What does stalwart mean? Where does the word come from?

Atticus Finch:the stalwart hero of To Kill a Mockingbird 
A stalwart person is reliable, dependable, resolute (or inflexible depending on your perspective.) The word is probably a  14th Century Scottish variant on a old English term: stælwierðe "good, serviceable,"

In the US the term acquired a political dimension with a section of the Republican Party  that refused to abandon its Civil War hostility to the south. They became known as the 'Stalwart Party', a label that stuck

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Where does the word robot come from?


A rare example of a Czech word ('robota') entering English:

robot was introduced to the public by the Czech interwar writer Karel Čapek in his play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots), published in 1920. The play begins in a factory that makes artificial people called robots, though they are closer to the modern ideas of androids, creatures who can be mistaken for humans. They can plainly think for themselves, though they seem happy to serve. At issue is whether the robots are being exploited and the consequences of their treatment. source
Kathleen Richardson points out in this BBC broadcast that our notions about robots are fanciful - they are generally clumsy, ineffective machines.

So robots are not going to rule the world any time soon. But are they going to challenging for the Marathon Gold Medal at the next Olympics? On this evidence, perhaps not:

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Japanese Androids Train for First Ever Robot Marathon

What is Moore's law?

In 1965  Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel,  observed that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits had doubled every year since the integrated circuit was invented. Moore predicted that this trend would continue for the foreseeable future source
Computers are getting faster and (relatively) cheaper with each passing year. The phones we carry in our pockets are far more powerful than the ones that sent the Apollo astronauts to the Moon.

We are now approaching half a century of the integrated circuit. Fascinating discussion about the accelerating pace of change in BBC In Business Podcast - Race Against the Machine (March 30).



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Friday, 15 August 2014

What's a humble brag? Why has it entered the Oxford English Dictionary?



“I am well aware that I am the 'umblest person going,” said Uriah Heep, modestly from David Copperfield

Humble-bragging is the art of boasting while expressing your modesty in the manner of the Dickens character.  Tim Parks recently gave this example from William Faulkner's Nobel Prize acceptance speech:

“I feel this award was not made to me as a man,” he begins with apparent humility, seemingly denying personal prowess and heading off, as Faulkner always did, the all-too-evident relations between his stories and his biography, “but to my work, a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit.” 

All the attention must be on the work, but as a manifestation of saintly human endeavour. Whose? Faulkner’s of course.

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Thursday, 14 August 2014

What is mission creep? Where does the phrase come from?



Mission creep is when an original plan or objective is progressively widened by events on the ground.

Significantly the phrase has military origin

Originating in Somalia in 1993, the modern term “mission creep” became part of official U.S. Army vocabulary a decade later. Field Manual 3-07, Stability Operations and Support Operations (February 2003) acknowledges two types of mission creep. The first occurs when “the unit receives shifting guidance or a change in mission for which the unit is not properly configured or resourced.” Lewis and Clark

In other words limited objective you start with expands to the point where it is no longer clear. 

Mission creep has also been used to describe non-military matters - financial regulation for example.

The Dictionary of Military Terms


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Thursday, 7 August 2014

Most confusing tech terms?


Even technology fans can struggle with 'geek-speak'. Here are twelve particularly confusing terms.
Apps - now used almost exclusively to describe mobile computing software. There are applications on your computer but apps on your phone or tablet - Photoshop (the application) on your iMac but Photoshop (the app) on your iPhone. 

Big Data -  the scale of the information now available is beyond the human capacity to analyse it. Step forward highly powered computers which can 'uncover hidden patterns, unknown correlations and other useful information' -  see here

Bitcoin - the most popular 'virtual' currency - see here

BYOD - Bring your own technology - see here

Cloud based/the cloud - stored online rather than on your computer. Increasingly vast amounts of data are stored by services such as Google Drive, iCloud and Dropbox. For the advantages/disadvantages of storing material this way see here.

MOOC - A MOOC is an online course with open enrolment and no fees - see here

Ping -
to send a packet to a computer and wait for its return (Packet Internet Groper). For those outside of IT that doesn't help much.

In practical terms to ping is to notify a website(s) that you have updated your site with new material. This is usually done automatically - via Twitter, Facebook etc.

SEO - search engine optimisation. SEO is the art of making your web page easier to find by the 'spiders' which crawl the web looking to recognise images and content visitors will be interested in. 

Each page has a ranking depending on the search term - the aim is to get as close to the top of the page as possible.

Showrooming - where customers use shops to investigate products they will buy online - see here.

Spoof - in general English this means to parody in an affectionate way - the Airplane films being a good example. In current IT usage the word has darker connotations - to spoof a password or user ID is to falsify, usually with the intention to defraud.

SSD - A solid state device.
An SSD is lighter and more reliable than traditional hard drive

In human English means that it does not have a hard drive with moveable parts - the Apple Air is a good example. SSDs are lighter and - in theory - less prone to crashes and the dreaded 'hard drive down'

3G+4G 
Third and fourth generation access to bandwidth - or broadcasting capacity. In practical terms this means
3G - fast internet connection for mobile phones now slowed down by weight of traffic
4G - much faster connection.
Solution: everyone moves to 4G? Only problem is that access to networks is in the end controlled by national governments. In the UK this means that licences are finally becoming available - but at a very high price. So 4G will slowly become available but cost more than 3G.

And when that network slows down - bring on 5G.


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