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Showing posts from April, 2013

Internet vocab: What does 'ping' mean?

To ping is to send a packet of data 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 often done automatically - some sites will update a blog and simultaneously send updates to Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites.

Ping technology has been a major tool used by security services to monitor traffic on websites advocating criminal activity.

Don't confuse with Apple's ill-fated social network of the same name.

Where does the phrase 'smoking gun' come from?

Used to mean indisputable evidence 'smoking gun' was first used in the Sherlock Holmes story, The Gloria Scott (1893). 
We rushed into the captain's cabin . . . there he lay with his brains smeared over the chart of the Atlantic . . . while the chaplain stood with a smoking pistol in his hand.William Safire the identifies the first contemporary use as during the Watergate scandal in 1974. The phrase was then heavily used in the controversy regarding nuclear weapons in Iraq.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Kindle Edition $0.89)
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

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What are the most used letters in the English alphabet?

In reverse order to avoid an unfortunate acronym:
3rd - a
2nd -t
1st - e

The gold and bronze medals are unsurprisingly but did not expect 't' to be up there on the winners rostrum. E is the champion in other languages, too. George Perec famously wrote a detective novel in French without an es (as it were) La Disparition (1969. This was then translated into English by Gilbert Adair as A Void - ingenius work in both cases, though the purpose escapes me.

For more than anyone needs to know about this topic see here.

What is a hedge fund? And what does it mean to hedge your bets?

Hedge funds are companies which pool capital from wealthy clients with a view to maximising return. They invest in all asset classes - bonds, equities etc - and  because of the scale of their investments can profit from small price movements. The largest hedge funds are also 'market makers' - their investment decisions influence others.

The verb "to hedge" means to "insure oneself against loss but some successful hedge fund managers have been very aggressive in their investment strategies. The credit-default swaps market (famously described by Warren Buffett as 'weapons of mass financial destruction') is an example of this.

In general English 'hedging your bets' is to approach an uncertain situation by taking action to cover a variety of outcomes. When a bookmaker receives a large bet on a particular result, he will generally 'lay off' the bet with another bookmaker. This mean by betting a smaller amount on the opposite outcome. That way…

What is the gold standard? And gold bugs?

The gold standard is when the value of a currency is directly linked to the amount of physical gold held by a country. Britain had the gold standard until 1931 and the USA only abandoned it in 1971. They did this in the belief that the gold/currency link was too inflexible.

Some have argued that the gold/currency link was a key element in the Great Depression, forcing economic austerity in contracting economies.

So the gold standard is a recipe for trouble? Life without the gold standard is also not without major problems. The US dollar, for example, has declined in value and many libertarians (most notably former Presidential candidate, Ron Paul) have argued that restoration is essential to restore economic prosperity.

Some also argue that the gold standard is the only guarantor against long-term financial catastrophe.  Freed from restraint, governments can choose 'quick fixes' like quantative easing in difficult economic circumstances - only to create hyper-inflation further …

What are the rules for texting in English?

There are no formal rules for writing SMS/texts. There are, however, some conventions.  Texts (SMS) often
use short sentences break grammar & spelling rules contain neologisms use short forms including acroynms & abbreviations
Are ‘text words’ easy to understand? SMS short-forms are usually easy to recognise. Most take the first letter of a word or each word in a phrase e.g OMG
Some are already in general English (e.g. ASAP for ‘as soon as possible’.). Others follow the same rule AAMOF for "as a matter of fact" IMHO for "in my humble opinion," or PLMK for please let me know.
Which short-forms are most confusing? Neologisms from common words or phrases. These are usually based on the sound e.g. B4 (before), NE (any). Some are invented e.g  W? (why).
Some confusing short-forms AIGHT: Alright * GB: Goodbye * GL: Good luck * HV: Have * K or KK: Okay * M8: Mate * O\VA: Over * PEEPS/PPL: People * PLS: Please * PZ: Peace * TTLY: Totally
What are the most common short forms? H…

What is graphene?

Graphene has been called a "miracle material" and it is thought that it could become as common as plastic in a few years.
It is a single layer of carbon atoms arranged like honeycomb, but it is stronger than diamond, more conductive than copper and more flexible than rubber. Some scientists believe that graphene will be the key element in driving product innovation in the near future.



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What is a curveball?

A deceptive or unexpected action which poses a new challenge e.g.He threw a curveball by threatening to walk out of the meeting.  Comes from baseball and refers to a ball pitched to curve away from the hitter.

There are many other examples of baseball terminology entering general English - three strkes and your out, hit a home run, touch base. Interestingly these are commonly used in British English while cricket expressions sticky wicket, a good innings are unfamiliar to most Americans.

What is a Maven?

Maven comes from the Yiddish word meaning ‘expert’ or ‘someone knowledgeable in a particular subject’. Modern usage tends to conflate expertise with influence - a maven is a person whose opinion or course of action is watched closely by others

The word became widely known when it was used by Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point. Gladwell describes how a few key individuals can influence a large numbers of people. 

Obvious examples include technology pioneers like Jobs and Zukerberg but maven can be said to be present in every sphere of activity. Despite his vociferous denials, Malcolm Gladwell himself is a maven in the area of pop psychology.

In marketing, the word has a slightly different usage.
The maven can be a person, group, network, company or association that already has a relationship with the people you’re trying to sell to. Source
A version of this post is included in 50 FAQ about English ($1.75)

What is learner autonomy?

Learner autonomy is a much used term amongst contemporary educationalists. Henri Holec first used the term in 1981, broadly defining learner autonomy as 'the ability to take charge of one's learning'. Key characteristics include self awarneness, critical reflection and taking responsibility for learning.

More here

What is showrooming? Why do retailers hate it?

Showrooming is when a  potential customer  uses a store for a 'hands-on' test of a product before buying it from a cheaper online retailer. Not surprisingly shop-owners resent having their time wasted and one in Brisbane, Australia has retaliated
a speciality food store in Brisbane, Australia is charging visitors a $5 AUD (roughly $5.25) in an effort to stop them from "showrooming." Celiac Supplies, which describes itself as "Brisbane's only glutenfree and wheatfree store,".  The store ownersaid that she was forced to put up the sign after spending "hours each week" giving advice to people only to see them leave and buy a similar product elsewhere. "I'm not here to dispense a charity service for [large supermarkets] to make more money." Customers will apparently be refunded the $5 charge on making a purchasesource The Verge

What is big data? How can it save lives?

Big data analytics is the process of examining large amounts of data of a variety of types (big data) to uncover hidden patterns, unknown correlations and other useful information. source

The term which has migrated from information technology into more generalised application. The key point about Big Data is that it is
so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand database management tools or traditional data processing applications'. It is the introduction of computers powerful enough to 'process' this information which gives the data value.One of the key by-products of Moore's Law is the exponential growth in data or information recorded by computers. It has been in estimated that in the last two years alone this has doubled in size. 

The scale of this data is beyond human analysis - only massive computer power is capable of processing it. But its potential has been demonstrated by the pioneering work of Google - and it is becoming clear that …

What is a debt default? The debt ceiling?

The above video gives a very good description of the debt ceiling. But some might put more emphasis on the current scale of US debt - which has edged up towards $17 trillion at an alarming rate - see debt clock here

What brought the debt ceiling back into political play has been growing consensus that the debt is now unsustainable in the long term. What Democrats and Republicans battle over is what to do about this.

It is universally agreed debt default (see below) could have a potentially catastrophic impact on the world economy. This prospect will eventually lead to some sort of deal but the two parties will fight bitterly until the last moment.
What is a debt default?
A failure to meet a legally agreed payment. This usually means that the agreement - for example a mortgage - is no longer valid and the lender can take steps to recover the value of the loan
Why would a US debt default be a disaster? Usually the national currency falls in value and this helps to make the goods of country …