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A perfect magazine cover

Monday, 18 March, 2019

“Facebook could afford to pay its moderators more money, or hire more of them, or place much more stringent rules on what users can post—but any of those things would hurt the company’s profits and revenue. Instead, it’s adopted a reactive posture, attempting to make rules after problems have appeared.” So writes Sarah Frier in a Bloomberg Businessweek cover story about The Apology Machine.

Bloomberg Businessweek


Patrick O’Brian for St. Patrick’s Day

Sunday, 17 March, 2019

Top o’ the morning to all Rainy Day readers on this St. Patrick’s Day. We’re celebrating with a tribute to one of the many Patricks who have brought honour and glory to the saint’s chosen name: Patrick O’Brian, the author of the popular Aubrey-Maturin historical novels.

The language Patrick O’Brian uses in his Aubrey-Maturin series impresses not just because of the breadth and depth of the terminology, but because of how it’s used. In O’Brian’s hands, language paints a vivid canvas filled with nature, machines, humour, humanity and horror. O’Brian invents language and makes words do his bidding in a way that few writers have achieved. In this snippet from The Far Side of the World, Jack Aubrey, in a hurry to continue his voyage, constructs a device to raise the anchor because the usual mechanism — the capstan — has jammed:

“With scarcely a pause Jack called the midshipmen. ‘I will show you how we weigh with a voyol,’ he said. ‘Take notice. You don’t often see it done, but it may save you a tide of the first consequence.’ They followed him below to the mangerboard, where he observed, ‘This is a voyol with a difference.’ “Bonden, a fellow officer, brings the heavy sheaved block.” ‘Watch now. He makes it fast to the cable — he reeves the jeer-fall through it — the jeer-fall is brought to the capstan, with the standing part belayed to the bitts. So you get a direct runner-purchase instead of a dead nip, do you understand?'”

The Far Side of the World Do you understand? Most readers don’t, especially since “mangerboard” and “jeer-fall’ do not appear in the 12-volume Oxford English Dictionary or its several supplements. Still, most readers can see for themselves what O’Brian has left unsaid: Aubrey bent under a hanging lantern in the dappled half-light below decks surrounded by his midshipmen in their top hats, showing them an alternative way to raise an anchor.

Writing in The New York Times, Jason Epstein noted: “There is something immensely satisfying about the power of such passages to create within the reader’s own imagination the scene in question, whether the subject is nautical technology or Maturin’s rare species or Admiralty politics — advancement is always on Aubrey’s mind — or in hushed tones Maturin’s main profession, spycraft.”

Many years ago, Mark Liberman delved deeper into the etymological aspects of O’Brian’s vocabulary in a post at Language Log. Jack says that he may “perish of mere want” when his dinner is delayed and this leads Liberman to observe: “The modern accretion on mere, which typically seems to be missing in the earlier usage, is the implication that the referent of the modified noun is somehow paltry: a mere trickle, a mere drop in the ocean, a mere gesture.”

See, regardless of whether one is an escapist or a linguist, Patrick O’Brian offers endless entertainment and enlightenment.

“We will wet the swab and when it is handsomely awash, why then perhaps we might try a little music, if that would not be disagreeable to you,” says Jack to Maturin early in the first chapter of Master and Commander. What’s a swab? And why wet it? Well, when Captain Jack Aubrey returns to his Gibraltar hotel room after having spent a pleasant evening listening to a performance of Locatelli’s C major quartet, he’s presented with a letter confirming his command of His Majesty’s Sloop Sophie. Elated, he immediately orders “cold roast pollo” and “two bottles of vino.” When he wakes up the following morning the first thing he does is go to a naval outfitter’s and have a “heavy, massive epaulette” fixed on his left shoulder. That’s the “swab” and wetting it means drinking a toast to his good fortune.

Today, let us toast to St. Patrick and all the great Patricks named after him.


It’s satire. Or is it?

Saturday, 16 March, 2019

The Onion


That Lofoten football field from above

Friday, 15 March, 2019

If you’ve got a PC, you might know that Windows Spotlight is a default feature included in Windows 10 that downloads background images automatically from Microsoft’s Bing search engine and displays them on the lock screen. One of the most popular of those images is the football field on the Lofoten Archipelago in Norway, and that famous football field appears here in the first 20 seconds of “Lofoten from Above” by the excellent Polish photographer and video maker Maciej Ławniczak.


Google quietly adds DuckDuckGo as a search option

Thursday, 14 March, 2019

“Tech” is not yet a four-letter word in Washington, but it could soon become one. Following noises from the left and right about breaking up Big Tech, Google has just offered a DuckDuckGo sop to its critics. TechCrunch has the story:

“In an update to the chromium engine, which underpins Google’s popular Chrome browser, the search giant has quietly updated the lists of default search engines it offers per market — expanding the choice of search product users can pick from in markets around the world.

Most notably it has expanded search engine lists to include pro-privacy rivals in more than 60 markets globally.

The changes, which appear to have been pushed out with the Chromium 73 stable release yesterday, come at a time when Google is facing rising privacy and antitrust scrutiny and accusations of market distorting behavior at home and abroad.”

Language note: A little over a year ago, when The Economist made its predictions for “The World in 2018,” one topic that the it singled out was ‘the coming ‘techlash.'” This possible backlash against Silicon Valley giants such as Facebook, Google and Twitter, would see increasing calls for regulation and crackdowns on monopolistic policies wrote the forecaster. And now, the techlash is beginning to sting.


Diarist of the day

Wednesday, 13 March, 2019

Virginia Woolf, 13 March 1921 — “[T.S.] Eliot dines here tonight, alone, since his wife is in a nursing home, not much to our regret. But what about Eliot? Will he become ‘Tom’? What happens with friendships undertaken at the age of forty? Do they flourish and live long? I suppose a good mind endures, and one is drawn to it, owning to having a good mind myself. Not that Tom admires my writing, damn him.”


<>it all began with html 30 years ago</>

Tuesday, 12 March, 2019

The World Wide Web is 30 years old. Congrats! Its founder, the English engineer and computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee, first proposed the system that would become the WWW on 11 March 1989. To celebrate the anniversary, he’s distilled his ideas about the internet in a letter to the world titled, 30 years on, what’s next #ForTheWeb?

“Today, 30 years on from my original proposal for an information management system, half the world is online. It’s a moment to celebrate how far we’ve come, but also an opportunity to reflect on how far we have yet to go.”

This is a very positive opening message from Sir Tim. Sure, lots of bad actors have enriched themselves during the past 30 years thanks to the WWW, but the web is a world of wonders and there’s much to be grateful for. And Sir Tim is indefatigable.

In fact, last September, he announced the launch of Inrupt, co-founded with cybersecurity entrepreneur John Bruce. The goal is “to restore rightful ownership of data back to every web user.” Berners-Lee has been working on a new web platform called Solid for some time now and this will re-imagine how apps store and share personal data. Inrupt will power the development of the Solid platform and transform it to a viable infrastructure for businesses and consumers. The big idea behind Solid is that, instead of a company storing all your personal data on its servers, you keep it on your own personal data “pod” on a Solid server and you can then give individual apps permission to read and write to your pod. Inrupt plans to make money by offering products and services to businesses and individual who want to implement Solid. The company is based in Boston and is backed by the VC firm Glasswing Ventures.

“The fight for the web is one of the most important causes of our time. Today, half of the world is online. It is more urgent than ever to ensure the other half are not left behind offline, and that everyone contributes to a web that drives equality, opportunity and creativity.”

Since attending an HTML course in Dublin at the end of the 1990s, your blogger has done his best to contribute to a web that drives equality, opportunity and creativity. The road goes ever on, however.

“The web is for everyone and collectively we hold the power to change it. It won’t be easy. But if we dream a little and work a lot, we can get the web we want.”

Sir Tim


The Company of Wolves

Monday, 11 March, 2019

“You are always in danger in the forest, where no people are. Step between the portals of the great pines where the shaggy branches tangle about you, trapping the unwary traveller in nets as if the vegetation itself were in a plot with the wolves who live there, as though the wicked trees go fishing on behalf of their friends — step between the gateposts of the forest with the greatest trepidation and infinite precautions, for if you stray from the path for one instant, the wolves will eat you. They are grey as famine, they are as unkind as plague.” — Angela Carter

Wolves


The Aristocracy of Victimhood

Sunday, 10 March, 2019

Jonah Goldberg nails it when he points out that “we’ve turned victimhood into a source of incredible cultural power to the extent that some people, like Jussie Smollett, make a perversely rational choice to turn themselves into victims because they know that if they can pull it off, they’ll gain status, fame, and money as a result.” Goldberg notes that it’s not always so cynical, but The Aristocracy of Victimhood calls out this shabby racket:

“The aristocracy of victimhood can be seen everywhere if you train your eyes to see it (don’t get me started on the new push for reparations). And the corrupting power of this cultural shift is profound. Because we’re not just heaping praise on victims, we’re investing extra legitimacy to their ideas and arguments. If we as a culture want to say that the Pale Penis People can’t wear sombreros or cook Korean food, I’ll pound away at my keyboard about how stupid that is. But ultimately, that idiocy falls under the loosey-goosey rubric of fashion and manners. If we’re going to start saying that victims’ ideas are “more right” simply because the people spewing them are victims, then we are committing a kind of civilizational suicide. I don’t care if you spent your youth at the bottom of a pit putting the lotion in the basket when commanded to, you’re still wrong if you tell me two plus two equals seven.

If anti-Semitism is wrong, it shouldn’t matter how bad Ilhan Omar’s childhood was. If racism is wrong, it doesn’t become less wrong if a survivor of Auschwitz says something racist.”


Peak Australia: ‘What’s Up, Skip?’

Saturday, 9 March, 2019

“I decided to land on the concrete slab of the old Orroral Space Tracking Station. I was concentrating on the landing and didn’t notice the Kangaroo until after I landed. As it ran towards me I thought it was being friendly so I said ‘What’s Up, Skip?’ It then attacked me twice before hopping away. I packed up my paraglider and had to walk several kilometers to get phone reception and call a friend to come and collect me.”


The Gloaming: Meáchan Rudaí

Friday, 8 March, 2019

Traditional Irish music mixed with jazz, chamber, minimalist and elements of classical is what The Gloaming does for a living. Their third studio album, which has just been released, was recorded at Reservoir Studios in New York City. The opening track is Meáchan Rudaí (The Weight of Things) and the lyrics are from an Irish language poem by the late Liam Ó Muirthile. The English translation is by Gabriel Rosenstock.

Mo mheáchan i do bhaclainn sa phictiúr dínn beirt i Fitzgerald’s Park, agus mise in aois a trí. Ár meáchan araon. Ár gcómheáchan. Meáchan do hata anuas ar do gháirí. Mo mheáchan is tú dom iompar ar feadh naoi mí. Meáchan suí agus luí agus éirí. Do mheáchan féin nár ardaíos riamh ó thalamh ach chun tú a chur i dtalamh. Do mheáchan beo. Do mheáchan marbh. Meáchan na bhfocal ag éirí is ag titim eadrainn mar a bheadh sciatháin scuaine ealaí. Trom-mheáchan urnaí. Cleitemheáchan daidh-didil-dí. Meáchanlár fáinne fí na gcuimhní.

The weight of me in your arms. A photo of the two of us in Fitzgerald’s Park. Three years of age I was. The weight of the pair of us. Our weight together. The weight of your hat shading your laughter. My weight as you bore me for nine months. The weight of sitting, getting up, lying down. Your weight that I never lifted from the ground – before burying you in the ground. Your living weight. Your dead weight. The weight of words rising and falling between us, the wingbeat of swans. The heavy weight of prayers. The feather weight of lilting. The middle weight of memory, ancient spiral.