“Stalin appeared to Putin in a dream and told him how to rule Russia. ‘Show no mercy, comrade! Slaughter all the democrats, whack their parents, hang their children, shoot their relatives, execute their friends, exterminate their pets, and then paint your Kremlin office blue.’
‘Why blue?’ asked Putin.”
This portrait of Vladimir Putin by Reuven Kuperman is part of A Russian Tale at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. The exhibition examines portrait painting by Russian-born artists of the past 120 years and includes works by masters of the Romantic, Social-Realist, Cubist and Expressionist schools, from Archipenko to Chagall to Zaritsky.
“The iPad Pro is more than the next generation of iPads.” That was written by a blogger, who does not work with or for Apple. Now, here is the sentence as written by Apple: “iPad Pro is more than the next generation of iPad”. The blurb appears on the Apple iPad Pro webpage, and what’s noticeable is the lack of the definite article at the beginning of the sentence and the use of the singular at the end. In a world beset with enormous problems, this is not a critical issue but it was important enough for Philip Schiller, [the] senior vice president of global marketing at Apple, to engage in a debate on Twitter that resulted in the issuing of the following rule: “It would be proper to say ‘I have three macintosh’ or ‘I have three Macintosh computers.'”
— Philip Schiller (@pschiller) April 28, 2016
— Philip Schiller (@pschiller) April 29, 2016
— Philip Schiller (@pschiller) April 29, 2016
According to the “Schiller Rule,” talking about “iPads” is grammatically incorrect. The correct style is “iPad devices.” As the man said, “One need never pluralize Apple product names.” Thinking of using “the” in relation to Apple products? Don’t. Delivering Apple’s results last week, CEO Tim Cook said the company was seeing very high customer satisfaction “for iPhone 6s and 6s Plus.”Tweet
The Rainy Day copy of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, the twelfth edition, dates from 2011 and it’s beginning to show its age. Take the word “singularity,” which all nerds know is the approaching era when “our intelligence will become increasingly nonbiological and trillions of times more powerful than it is today.” According to our Concise Oxford English Dictionary, however, the definition goes like this:
singularity n (pl singularities) 1 the state, fact, or quality of being singular. 2 Physics & Mathematics a point at which a function takes an infinite value, especially a point of infinite density at the centre of a black hole.
The entry on “singularity” is followed by the definition of “singularize” or “singularise”, which is a verb, “1 make distinct or conspicuous. 2 give a singular form to (a word).” Its counterpart, “pluralize/pluralise”, is defined as “1 make something more numerous. 2 give a plural form to a word.” And this brings us to GitHub, the largest host of source code in the world, with 12 million users and some 31 million repositories, where Blake Embrey has added a module titled “pluralize” that uses “a pre-defined list of rules, applied in order, to singularize or pluralize a given word. There are many cases where this is useful, such as any automation based on user input,” he says.
Who, apart from lexicographers and coders, care about such wordy matters? Apple does, and tomorrow we’ll find out why Apple is at war with the singular and the plural of its product(s). Example: “It would be proper to say ‘I have 3 Macintosh.'”Tweet
The poem Troilus and Criseyde shows Geoffrey Chaucer at the top of his game and he displays great elegance in the challenging Rhyme royal measure. The tale was old when Chaucer took it over in the 14th century from Boccaccio’s Il Filostrato, making some changes to the characters and lengthening the yarn. Boccaccio had borrowed it from an earlier Italian, Guido delle Colonne, who got his version from the French Roman de Troie by Benoit de Ste-Maure, who pretended that he got it from the Romans Dares Phrygius and Dictys Cretensis. Two centuries after Chaucer died, Shakespeare retold the story in Troilus and Cressida. For the day that’s in it (May Day), here’s Chaucer:
“But now help God to quenchen al this sorwe,
So hope I that he shal, for he best may;
For I have seyn, of a ful misty morwe
Folwen ful ofte a mery someres day;
And after winter folweth grene May.
Men seen alday, and reden eek in stories,
That after sharpe shoures been victories.”
That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.
On this day in 1936, the poet A. E. Housman died. He’s best known for A Shropshire Lad, a lyrical cycle of poems that celebrates and mourns a rural English way of life that has disappeared. The beauty of the poems is captivating; their simplicity is deceptive and Housman’s epigrammatic observations about the fleeting nature of life and love are wistful and wise. Note: The image that accompanies poem XXIII is of the painting “Haymaking” by the Irish artist John Morris.
In the morning, in the morning,
In the happy field of hay,
Oh they looked at one another
By the light of day.
In the blue and silver morning
On the haycock as they lay,
Oh they looked at one another
And they looked away.
A.E. Housman (26 March 1859 – 30 April 1936)
The state-run China Daily, which has the largest print circulation of any English-language newspaper in the People’s Republic, has come up with one of the great headlines from the front-lines of the Fourth Industrial Revolution: “Robots must do more than just playing sports.” They’re slacking already!
What’s intriguing is that the story, however, is that it contains nothing to support the demand asserted in the headline. “Premier Li Keqiang visited a town in Chengdu, capital of Southwest China’s Sichuan province, on Monday, during which he played badminton with a robot,” is how it begins, and the final paragraph is a classic example of socialist-realist reporting:
“Early in 2011, Zhejiang University developed Wu and Kong, two special sporting droids, which could play table tennis with each other and with human players. In that sport, the robots need to recognize the ball more precisely than in playing badminton. Instead of a technological breakthrough, the droid that plays badminton in Chengdu can be better called a good, practical model that uses these technologies.”
For those interested in how robotics and artificial intelligence are viewed in Beijing, China Daily is required reading. It informs us that on Tuesday President Xi Jinping visited the Institute of Advanced Technology in University of Science and Technology of China in Heifei, and was greeted by a pair of human-like robots developed by the institute. “The two life-like robots named ‘Xiao Man’ and ‘Jia Jia’ interacted with Xi when he approached them during the inspection,” we learn. “‘Hello Mr. President. I am Xiao Man. We have been looking forward to your visit,'” Xiao Man said. “‘I’m very happy to see you, dear President, I wish you happiness every day,'” said Jia Jia, who has been dubbed ‘robot goddess’ for her good-looks.”
This is all to the good, but they must do more than just playing sports.Tweet
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was…” So begins A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, and while it would be bordering on the sacrilegious to compare the fates of Facebook and Twitter to the epochal events that took place in “the year of Our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five,” the rise and fall of the great (social media) powers is the stuff of which history will be made. The fact that the tumbrels are virtual these days, makes the digital revolution less gruesome, for which we should be grateful.
Yesterday, Facebook exceeded Wall Street forecasts on almost every critical metric. The social network made $5.38 billion during the first three months of this year and grew its base to 1.65 billion monthly users. Profit was 77 cents a share, which blew away the 63 cents analysts had been expecting, and the the stock jumped nine percent in after-hours trading. During his conference call with investors, CEO Mark Zuckerberg noted: “Today, people around the world spend more than 50 minutes a day using Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger. That doesn’t even include WhatsApp yet.”
COO Sheryl Sandberg put her finger on Facebook’s success secret when she said the company is on a mission to help marketers adapt their ads for a mobile world — where messages must be shorter and often without sound. The auto-captioning feature, she added, has led people to spend 12 percent more time with an ad.
Contrast all this with Twitter, which has disappointed investors yet again with first-quarter results that showed stagnant revenue growth. Twitter, simply, doesn’t have the scale to compete with Facebook. It’s 320 million monthly users are no match for the 1.65 billion Facebook bring to the game. So, what’s the strategy? Twitter’s answer is the same that everyone else on the web has: We’ll fix it with video. That’s what Peter Kafka says in Twitter is going to have a hard time fixing its ad problem. Snippet:
“The company says it wants to convince its advertisers to upgrade their old text+photo Twitter ads with video ads, which sell at higher prices. This sounds like a good idea, but then again, it’s the same idea everyone else has — and Twitter’s already having trouble competing with everyone else.”
In Your Media Business Will Not Be Saved, Joshua Topolsky, co-founding editor of The Verge and recently head of digital at Bloomberg, pours a big bucket of water on the notion that video will fix it. “Video will not save your media business. Nor will bots, newsletters, a ‘morning briefing’ app, a ‘lean back’ iPad experience, Slack integration, a Snapchat channel, or a great partnership with Twitter.”
To paraphrase Dickens, all these things, and a thousand like them, came to pass in and close upon the dear old year two thousand and sixteen.Tweet
On 12 December 1980, the Apple IPO saw 4.6 million shares being offered at $22 each. Steve Jobs made $217 million that day, and when the closing bell rang on Wall Street, the stock price had jumped 32 percent to $29, giving the company a market value of $1.7 billion. Lotsa bubbly. Champagne times.
Fast forward to this day, 27 April, in 1997, and sobriety had set in. The Apple share price closed at $17 and the doomsayers were so emboldened by this decline that Wired magazine published a famous cover story in June urging distressed Apple fans to Pray. The company needed divine intervention due to “a confusing product line, little inspiration from the top, software developers fleeing.” 101 solutions were offered, starting with, “1. Admit it. You’re out of the hardware game. Outsource your hardware production, or scrap it entirely, to compete more directly with Microsoft without the liability of manufacturing boxes,” and ending with, “101. Don’t worry. You’ll survive. It’s Netscape we should really worry about.”
In between, there was “27. Relocate the company to Bangalore and make it cheap, cheap, cheap,” “52. Return to the heady days of yore by insisting that Steve Jobs regrow his beard,” and “81. Merge with Sega and become a game company.”
All of this is by way of background to the news that Apple has reported a fall in quarterly sales, the first time its revenue has fallen in 13 years. Apple shares were hovering around $104 when the company released its report yesterday. Half an hour later, the stock price had declined eight percent to under $97. For those prone to panic, it’s worth noting that Apple has a cash hoard of $233 billion, which is more than all the foreign currency reverses around the world, and with a market capitalization $575 billion, it’s the world’s most valuable publicly traded company. Hold those tears.
People have become impatient with Apple because it doesn’t produce something amazing every 12 months. The reality, however, is that major technological innovation is the exception, not the rule. Iteration of the existing product line is the pedestrian norm. Apple has some big cards up its sleeve, however. The company is said to be working on an electric car, stealing engineers from Tesla and looking for test locations in California. It is also filing patents that suggest it’s toying with some kind of a virtual reality device. There’s no need to cry or pray for Apple.
“What a nice barbed wire.”
“Thank you. I knitted it myself.”
While that’s the kind of surreal exchange one could imagine happening in a bar on Mars run by Salvador Dali, it’s actually an example of conversational English as presented by English Vocabulary Not on Any Test, a book that’s big in Japan. And that’s not just an idle phrase, either. The Twitter account has 88,000 followers. The book depicts ordinary people doing ordinary things, using English and Japanese. The target market is Japanese speakers who want to learn English as it is used in conversation across the Anglosphere. Well, an Anglosphere where HR managers convey the bad news by saying, “I’m afraid to say this, but you are passed your best-before date.”
Note: “octopus wiring” is authentic Japanese English and the term is used internationally to described hazardous arrangements of electrical cables.
There’s a synonym for infobesity doing the rounds and it’s infoxication. If neither makes sense, here’s the older version: information overload. For those who think infobesity and infoxication are silly abuses of medical terminology, Stewart Butterfield has two words: cognitive diabetes. And he should know. Stewart Butterfield is the CEO of Slack, a cloud-based teamworking tool with some three million users and a value close to $4 billion. When he raises a red flag about messaging addiction, it’s time to listen.
Speaking at the Bloomberg Businessweek Design Conference earlier this month, Butterfield compared our obsession with Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and, yes, Slack, to the diabetes epidemic, when “suddenly, as a species, we got infinite, free calories,” he said. Now that we have “infinite, free communications,” the messaging addiction has become a form of “cognitive diabetes.”
None of this is new, of course. Early in the 20th century, the poet and critic T. S. Eliot worried that the “vast accumulations of knowledge — or at least of information — deposited by the nineteenth century” were creating “an equally vast ignorance.” In his essay, “The Perfect Critic,” for the literary journal Athenaeum in 1920, he put it like this:
“When there is so much to be known, when there are so many fields of knowledge in which the same words are used with different meanings, when every one knows a little about a great many things, it becomes increasingly difficult for anyone to know whether he knows what he is talking about or not.”
When every one knows a little about a great many things… Must put this post on Twitter, Kik, Whatsapp, Skype and Facebook now.Tweet
Terence Kilmartin and C. K. Scott Moncrieff translated À la recherche du temps perdu, Marcel Proust’s masterpiece, in the 1920s. In need of an English title, they found inspiration in Shakespeare, in Sonnet 30, which begins: “When to the sessions of sweet silent thought / I summon up remembrance of things past.”
Remembrance of Things Past is a work about time, memory, the past, the present and loss, as is Sonnet 30. When Shakespeare talks of “precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,” does he mean that our departed loved ones are buried, like treasure? Or are they hidden from us in some way we cannot perceive? Despite the ache of loss, what shines through the sonnet is our lifelong longing for friendship, for spiritual and emotional support. As we mark 400 years of Shakespeare, the brilliance of his writing continues to illuminate. Some things might have been lost in interpretation down through the centuries, but what this astonishingly gifted witness of the human condition observed in Elizabethan England continues to echo around the globe. In Shakespeare, we find our remembrance of things past, of lost friends, princes, lords and ladies.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unus’d to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe,
And moan th’ expense of many a vanish’d sight;
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restor’d, and sorrows end.
William Shakespeare (26 April 1564 – 23 April 1616)