Friday, 24 July 2009

Straitjacket or straightjacket?

Straitjacket is often misrendered as straightjacket.

It's neither intended to make you sit up straight nor to scare you straight, and the wearer's arms are usually twisted up like a pretzel. The 'strait' in 'straitjacket' is the same as in 'dire straits', or, for that matter, the Strait of Gibraltar. Strait is an old-fashioned word for 'narrow' or 'confined', or, in a figurative sense, 'strict' or 'righteous'. The straitjacket was meant to combine both, confining a mental patient for his own good.


Thursday, 23 July 2009

Paraguayan Dining Etiquette

Whilst you are eating, it is more than likely that you will be offered second helpings of food. It is considered good manners to graciously accept another helping. You should also be aware that it is polite to leave a little food on your plate once you have finished. This shows the host or hostess that you have been sufficiently fed and have not been left hungry.


Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Cad, bounder, rake, heel & blackguard

The word cad is a good example. Interestingly, its history is similar to that of the word 'snob'. Originally 'cadet', this was applied to servants in the 18th Century, before universities used it to refer to the boys from the town. The meaning then drifted to mean someone from the lower classes who attempts to secure relationships with well-bred women.

A bounder is someone similar, but the term, from the late 19th Century, may be slightly less derogatory. This 'would-be stylish person' is 'beyond the bounds' of acceptability. Rotter is another word from the same era.

A rake is not quite the same thing. This is generally applied to those who act with debauchery within the upper social circles. The Rake's Progress is a well-known series of paintings by William Hogarth, completed in 1734, which chronicle the decline of a young debauched spendthrift.

Calling someone a heel or a blackguard is tantamount to calling them a criminal. 'Heel' is 20th Century American slang, presumably in the sense of the heel of a shoe being low to the ground. 'Blackguard' is 18th Century and may derive from the black livery of servants.


Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Crack on

Crack on - Continue doing something with energy

"We had to CRACK ON to get everything finished on time."


Monday, 20 July 2009

Lift/Elevator Etiquette - During the ride

It is generally believed that unless you know someone in the lift, or have been conversing while waiting, it is best to not engage in conversation while the car is in motion. Loud singing, whistling and other noises are strongly frowned upon.

Most people will keep their eyes fixed to the overhead number display rather than looking around at other passengers. However, unless there is an indication of discomfort, looking around at the others is permissible as long as you do not invade their privacy(such as looking into purses for example).

A rule that would most apply at this point, although should be attended to earlier is to reduce or preferably eliminate body odour. This applies to strong perfume as much as it does to not having showered for a week. The interior of a lift is a small space and odours travel to each individual aboard. What one considers to be a pleasant aroma is highly subjective. Similiarly, food and alcoholic drinks should not be consumed in a lift. Soft drinks are generally acceptable


Saturday, 18 July 2009

Even Homer nodded

There's an old saying, "Even Homer nodded," meaning that even the great ones could produce ordinary works.


Friday, 17 July 2009

Armstrong's 'poetic' slip on Moon

Neil Armstrong missed out an "a" and did not say "one small step for a man" when he set foot on the Moon in 1969, a linguistic analysis has confirmed.

The researchers show for the first time that he intended to say "a man" and that the "a" may have been lost because he was under pressure.

They say that although the phrase was not strictly correct, it was poetic.

And in its rhythm and the symmetry of its delivery, it perfectly captured the mood of an epic moment in history.

There is also new evidence that his inspirational first words were spoken completely spontaneously - rather than being pre-scripted for him by Nasa or by the White House.


Thursday, 16 July 2009

The sociolinguistics of English middle names

I just picked up and put away a book I'd bought in a second-hand bookstore before going to Romania in 1978, called "The Balkans in our Time", by Robert Lee Wolff, a mid-century Harvard historian.  I realized that he's yet another example of a generalization that must somehow tell us something about how language works: Anglo-elite American academic historians often use their full middle name.  Samuel Eliot Morrison and Henry Steele Commager come readily to mind, but Robert Lee Wolff fits the pattern, as does another more recent writer, Walter Russell Mead.  And Andrew Dickson White, the first president of Cornell, was a historian. It's hard to search for these on Google, but I'm pretty sure I've noticed others, and I can't think of people who use their middle name and *aren't* American academic historians, except for good ol' boys like Billy Bob Thornton and Jerry Lee Lewis.


Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Understanding Cricket

For those who will be watching The Ashes cricket series between England and Australia starting in July (2009) (or who live outside the old British Empire and wish you were):

In order to assist people who are not familiar with the game of Cricket, we offer this explanation.

Cricket is a game in which there are 2 sides - one out on the field, and the other in.

Each man in the side that is in goes out, and when he is out he comes in, then the next man goes out until he's out and then he comes in.

When the side that is in is all out, the side that has been out goes in, and the side that was in goes out and tries to get out the side that went in.

Sometimes there are men still in and not out when the side that is in is finally out.

When both sides have been in and out, including those not out and no longer in - that is the end of the game . . . .

from uk.rec.humour

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Frozen Smoke / Aerogel

Aerogel is a manufactured material with the lowest density of any known solid.

It is derived from a gel in which the liquid component of the gel has been replaced with a gas. The result is an extremely low-density solid with several remarkable properties, most notably its effectiveness as a thermal insulator and its extremely low density.

It is nicknamed frozen smoke,solid smoke or blue smoke due to its translucent nature and the way light scatters in the material; however, it feels like expanded polystyrene (styrofoam) to the touch.


Monday, 13 July 2009

Strange Puritan names

A name is sometimes a ridiculous fate. For example, a man afflicted with the name of Kill Sin Pimple lived in Sussex, in 1609.

In the spring of that year, the record shows, Kill Sin served on a jury with his Puritan neighbors, including Fly Debate Roberts, More Fruit Fowler, God Reward Smart, Be Faithful Joiner and Fight the Good Fight of Faith White.


Sunday, 12 July 2009

Charles Darwin - WereWolf Slayer?

Brian Regal, assistant professor of the history of science at Kean University, says that Darwin's On The Origin of Species was responsible for the death of the werewolf legend. You see, a monster that is half human and half wolf makes "no sense from an evolutionary point of view," says Regal.


No peace for the wicked

"Nothing ever lets up around me: things are always popping."

The saying derives from the Bible (Isaiah 48:22 and 57:21), where it appears without the modern irony: 'There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked.'"


Saturday, 11 July 2009

Types of Beer in Scotland

Another form of classifying beer has its roots in Scotland where beers are categorised as ‘Mild’, ‘Light’, ‘Heavy’ and ‘Strong’ ales:

  • Mild Ale are dark in colour, with relatively few hops, and was traditionally consumed by heavy industrial workers, such as miners. Mild beer is still enjoyed in industrial regions, despite the closure of many industries.
  • Light Ale, in Scotland, is dark in colour, bottled and of a low to medium strength. In England, the term purely denotes a beer that is bottled.
  • Heavy beers are more popular in the North of England and Scotland, and are medium in strength and pale in colour. Although the taste is ‘full’, it is not ‘heavy’ as such, being full of subtle flavours and aromas.
  • Strong Ale, thankfully, is exactly what it says, a dark and very strong beer, somewhere in strength between a porter and a barley wine, so between 6% and 9-10% volume.

Admittedly, the best way of determining the strength of a beer is to look at the label! However, the classifications pointed to above outline the changes that have occurred in the beer market in recent years. Notably, the classifications, ‘Mild’, Light’, Heavy’ and ‘Strong’ Ales were also referred to, respectively, as 60 shilling, 70 shilling, 80 shilling and 90 shilling beers - their price reflecting their strength. More notably, there are pockets of the country where the above distinctions (and their respective ‘monetary’ names) would still be recognised, although you’d have to pay a little more these days for your pint.


Friday, 10 July 2009

Answering Mobile Telephones

Mobiles are usually a work phone or a personal phone, and you can answer them accordingly. Remember that if you don't recognise the number it could be anyone on the other end.

Non-UK answering techiniques

Different countries have different methods.

  • Spanish: digame (speak to me) or just plain si (yes)
  • Russian: slooshio (listening/ready)
  • German: Answer with your surname. Anything else is considered impolite.
  • France: A quick 'allo usually suffices.
  • Italy: Pronto? or Si.
  • Japan: Use moshi moshi, which is a contraction of moshimasu, moshimasu (I am going to speak), or a simple hai (affirmative).

Answering the telephone can be very important- remember it's those first impressions that really count. Make sure that you choose a formality that suits the occasion, and that your voice sounds bright, cheerful and efficient.


Thursday, 9 July 2009

Types of dice

Ordinary Standard Dice

Casino Precision or Perfect Dice

Crooked Dice

Backgammon Precision Dice

Cubic Dice Without Spots

Polyhedral Dice

Dice Alternatives and Substitutes

Novelty, Souvenir and Promotional Dice

Antique Dice


Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Actual call centre conversations

Customer: 'I've been ringing 0800 2100 for two days and can't get through to enquiries, can you help?'.
Operator: 'Where did you get that number from, sir?'.
Customer: 'It was on the door to the Travel Centre'.
Operator: 'Sir, they are our opening hours'.


Samsung Electronics
Caller: 'Can you give me the telephone number for Jack?'
Operator: 'I'm sorry, sir, I don't understand who you are talking about'.
Caller: 'On page 1, section 5, of the user guide it clearly states that I need to unplug the fax machine from the AC wall socket and telephone Jack before cleaning. Now, can you give me the number for Jack?'
Operator: 'I think you mean the telephone point on the wall'.


RAC Motoring Services
Caller: 'Does your European Breakdown Policy cover me when I am travelling in Australia ?'
Operator: 'Doesn't the product name give you a clue?'


Caller (enquiring about legal requirements while travelling in France ):
'If I register my car in France, do I have to change the steering wheel to the other side of the car?'


Directory Enquiries
Caller: 'I'd like the number of the Argoed Fish Bar in Cardiff please'.
Operator: 'I'm sorry, there's no listing. Is the spelling correct?'
Caller: ‘Well, it used to be called the Bargoed Fish Bar but the 'B' fell off'.


Then there was the caller who asked for a knitwear company in Woven.
Operator: 'Woven? Are you sure?'
Caller: 'Yes. That's what it says on the label; Woven in Scotland '.


On another occasion, a man making heavy breathing sounds from a phone box told a worried operator:
'I haven't got a pen, so I'm steaming up the window to write the number on'.


Tech Support: 'I need you to right-click on the Open Desktop'.
Customer: 'OK'.
Tech Support: 'Did you get a pop-up menu?'.
Customer: 'No'.
Tech Support: 'OK. Right-Click again. Do you see a pop-up menu?'
Customer: 'No'.
Tech Support: 'OK, sir. Can you tell me what you have done up until this point?'.
Customer: 'Sure. You told me to write 'click' and I wrote 'click''.


Tech Support: 'OK. In the bottom left hand side of the screen, can you see the 'OK' button displayed?'
Customer: ‘Wow. How can you see my screen from there?'


Caller: 'I deleted a file from my PC last week and I have just realised that I need it. If I turn my system clock back two weeks will I have my file back again?'.


There's always one. This has got to be one of the funniest things in a long time. I think this guy should have been promoted, not fired. This is a true story from the Word Perfect Helpline, which was transcribed from a recording monitoring the customer care department. Needless to say the Help Desk employee was fired; however, he/she is currently suing the Word Perfect organization for 'Termination without Cause'. Actual dialogue of a former WordPerfect Customer Support employee. (Now I know why they record these conversations!):
Operator: 'Ridge Hall, computer assistance; may I help you?'
Caller: 'Yes, well, I'm having trouble with WordPerfect.'
Operator: 'What sort of trouble??'
Caller: 'Well, I was just typing along, and all of a sudden the words went away.'
Operator: 'Went away?'
Caller: 'They disappeared.'
Operator: 'Hmm So what does your screen look like now?'
Caller: 'Nothing.'
Operator: 'Nothing??'
Caller: 'It's blank; it won't accept anything when I type.'
Operator: 'Are you still in WordPerfect, or did you get out??'
Caller: 'How do I tell?'
Operator: 'Can you see the C: prompt on the screen??'
Caller: 'What's a sea-prompt?'
Operator: 'Never mind, can you move your cursor around the screen?'
Caller: 'There isn't any cursor: I told you, it won't accept anything I type.'
Operator: 'Does your monitor have a power indicator??'
Caller: 'What's a monitor?'
Operator: 'It's the thing with the screen on it that looks like a TV. Does it have a little light that tells you when it's on??'
Caller: 'I don't know.'
Operator: 'Well, then look on the back of the monitor and find where the power cord goes into it. Can you see that??'
Caller: 'Yes, I think so.'
Operator: 'Great. Follow the cord to the plug, and tell me if it's plugged into the wall.
Caller: 'Yes, it is.'
Operator: 'When you were behind the monitor, did you notice that there were two cables plugged into the back of it, not just one??'
Caller: 'No.'
Operator: 'Well, there are. I need you to look back there again and find the other cable.'
Caller: 'Okay, here it is.'
Operator: 'Follow it for me, and tell me if it's plugged securely into the back of your computer.'
Caller: 'I can't reach.'
Operator: 'Uh huh. Well, can you see if it is??'
Caller: 'No.'
Operator: 'Even if you maybe put your knee on something and lean way over??'
Caller: 'Oh, it's not because I don't have the right angle - it's because it's dark.'
Operator: 'Dark??'
Caller: 'Yes - the office light is off, and the only light I have is coming in from the window.
Operator: 'Well, turn on the office light then.'
Caller: 'I can't.'
Operator: 'No? Why not??'
Caller: 'Because there's a power failure.'
Operator: 'A power......... A power failure? Aha, Okay, we've got it licked now. Do you still have the boxes and manuals and packing stuff your computer came in??'
Caller: 'Well, yes, I keep them in the closet.'
Operator: 'Good. Go get them, and unplug your system and pack it up just like it was when you got it. Then take it back to the store you bought it from.'
Caller: 'Really? Is it that bad?'
Operator: 'Yes, I'm afraid it is.'
Caller: 'Well, all right then, I suppose. What do I tell them??'
Operator: 'Tell them you're too stupid to own a computer!!!!!'

from uk.rec.humour

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

The Euclidean algorithm

The Euclidean algorithm is an efficient method for computing the greatest common divisor. It is named for the ancient Greek mathematician Euclid, who first described it.

The GCD of two numbers is the largest number that divides both of them without leaving a remainder.

The Euclidean algorithm is based on the principle that the greatest common divisor of two numbers does not change if the smaller number is subtracted from the larger number.

See <>

Monday, 6 July 2009

Court Card Design

The Jack of Spades, Jack of Hearts, and King of Diamonds are drawn in profile, while the rest of the courts are shown in full face, these cards are commonly called "one-eyed".

The King of Hearts is shown with a sword behind his head, leading to the nickname "suicide king".

The Jack of Diamonds is sometimes known as "laughing boy".

The King of Diamonds is armed with an axe while the other three kings are armed with swords.

The Queen of Spades appears to hold a sceptre and is sometimes known as "the bedpost queen."

From Pocket Wikipedia,

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Indictable, Either Way, Hybrid & Summary Offences

In many common law jurisdictions (e.g. the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, United States, India, Australia, New Zealand), an indictable offence is an offence which can only be tried on an indictment after a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is a prima facie case to answer or by a grand jury. In trials for indictable offences, the accused normally has the right to a jury trial, unless he or she waives that right. In the United States, a crime of similar severity is usually referred to as a felony although it too proceeds after an indictment.

In English law the term refers to either way and indictable only offences. An either way or hybrid offence allows the defendant to elect between trial by jury on indictment in the Crown Court and summary trial in the Magistrates' Court. However, the election may be overruled by the court of first instance if the facts suggest that the sentencing powers of a Magistrates' Court would be inadequate to represent the seriousness of the offence. Some offences such as murder and rape are considered so serious that they can only be tried on indictment at the Crown Court where the widest range of sentencing powers is available to the judge.

A summary offence, also known as a petty crime, is a criminal act in some common law jurisdictions that can be proceeded with summarily, without the right to a jury trial and/or indictment.

From and

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Sicherman Dice

An unusual pair of dice. One has sides 1,3,4,5,6,8. The other has sides 1,2,2,3,3,4. Martin Gardner reported on the discovery of these dice by a certain Colonel George Sicherman, of Buffalo, New York, in a 1978 article in Scientific American.

What is special about these dice? When you roll a normal set of two dice, and add up the total of the two faces, you get scores ranging from 2 (when you throw two 1's) up to 12 (when you throw two 6's). However there is also a certain probability of each score. Throwing a total of 2 has a 1 in 36 chance of happening, as does throwing a 12. Some scores are much more likely. Throwing a total of 6 has a 5 in 36 chance of happening, and can involve throwing two 3's, a 4 and a 2, or a 5 and a 1.

Sicherman Dice behave just like a normal set of dice, in that the chance of throwing a combined total of 2 is 1 in 36, and of throwing a total of 6 has a 5 in 36 chance of happening. There is no other arrangement of numbers on 2 dice that will replicate the behaviour of normal dice (excluding dice with blank or zero faces, or negative numbers!)

So any game that you can play with a normal set of 2 dice can also be played with a set of Sicherman Dice, with no difference in the outcome!

However the odds of throwing a double are not the same as a normal pair of dice. You might like to work that one out for yourself!


Friday, 3 July 2009

Toilets in Lord of the Rings

The truth about toilets in Middle-earth

I cannot understand why people keep complaining that "in Middle-earth, nobody ever goes to the loo". This presumption is simply false.

For example, there is this wonderful descriptive passage when Pippin uses one of the famous water toilets of Minas Tirith: "Pippin flushed and forgot his fear." (LotR, RoTK, Minas Tirith)

from rec.arts.books.tolkien

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Ambulance crashes on way to Ambulance crash

In a seriously bad dose of karma, a Minneapolis ambulance rushing to the scene of an ambulance crash has crashed.

The first ambulance crash involved a taxi that didn’t get out of the way at 3:15am Saturday morning. 15 minutes later the second ambulance called to attend to injuries in the first ambulance crash hit a minivan driving without its lights on.

A spokesman for the ambulance operator told local media that an ambulance accident “creates a domino effect in which medical resources are reduced and people in need of medical attention are impacted,” although I’m not sure he meant more ambulances would crash.

Three people involved in the two ambulance crashes were taken to hospital by a third ambulance that managed (third time lucky) to get to both scenes without hitting anything.


Wednesday, 1 July 2009

The Bir Tawil Triangle

The Bir Tawil Triangle is a desert of sand and rocks on the border between Egypt and the Sudan. It is also officially the most undesired territory in the world. Bir Tawil is the only piece of land on Earth (*) that is not claimed by any country – least of all by its neighbours. For either of them to claim the Bir Tawil Triangle would be to relinquish their claim to the Hala’ib Triangle. And while Hala’ib is also mainly rock and sand, it is not only ten times larger than Bir Tawil, but also adjacent to the Red Sea - so rather more interesting.

This bizarre situation started out with what is supposed to be the simplest of borders: a straight line. By the Condominium Treaty of 1899, the British drew the line between Egypt and what was then still known as the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan at the 22nd parallel north, resulting in a straight-line border of about 1,240 km (770 miles) from Libya to the Red Sea. Bir Tawil was to the south of that line, Halaib to the north.

Straight-line borders are not uncommon in the sparsely populated Sahara desert, from Egypt all the way to Mauritania. But the border between Egypt and the Sudan apparently proved a bit too straight. In 1902, the Brits amended it in three places. A small area north of where the Nile crosses the border was handed over to Sudanese control on account of the local villages being more accessible from the south. The Wadi Halfa Salient is still Sudanese, but claimed by the Egyptians, who solved most of the problem by submerging all of the villages in the salient in Lake Nasser after the construction of the Aswan Dam.

The Bir Tawil Triangle was handed over to Egypt because a tribe on the Egyptian side of the border used the area as grazing lands (Bir Tawil apparently means ‘water well’). Conversely, the Halaib Triangle (which touches the Bir Tawil one) went to Sudan because the locally dominant tribes were based in the Sudan.

Actually, Bir Tawil is less of a Triangle than a Trapezoid, its northern edge (the 22nd parallel) 95 km long and its southern edge, around 30 km to the south, 46 km long. Its total area is just over 2,000 km². The Hala’ib Triangle is about 20,500 km² in size.

De iure, the conflict between Egypt and the Sudan over Hala’ib and Bir Tawil is still unresolved, although Egypt has asserted itself as the de facto administrator of the larger of both areas in the 1990s. I have been unable to ascertain whether either country exerts any practical control over Bir Tawil, leaving open the exciting possibility that it is indeed the only officially ungoverned territory on Earth.

(*) No country officially occupies any part of Antarctica, but this is only because the 1959 Antarctic Treaty froze any existing territorial claims to the continent.