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The Language of the Net

languages

English is my first language, anything beyond that I struggle with.

The requirement in school to learn a second language came late for me – I think I was 11 (these days they start younger in the UK). So at that age I began French lessons, and I struggled more than most I think. I remember a school trip to France, but it didn’t help with my skills in the language.

When I moved on to high school I experienced four years of being taught by a few different teachers, with a range of experiences, from being taught by those that insisted on trying to only speak French throughout the lesson, (which left many of us very lost), to more friendly teaching techniques and even lunch time help. I still only scraped through with a grade at the end of the four years. I can’t blame teachers entirely, sure the best ones are flexible in their approach (not every student learns the same way), but I think I have a lazy brain when it comes to some things.

When I started using the internet (back in the days before you grew up with it from the start), one thing I liked was being able to chat to people from all over the world. Yahoo! Chat ftw! I loved that place and others. Most people I met online were English speakers. These days my “chat platform” of choice is Second Life.

When I ventured into Second Life four years ago I suppose I rekindled my enjoyment of talking to people from all over the world. Again, most people I meet are English speakers, even if it isn’t their first language.

I always appreciate it when someone can speak in English to me when it’s not their first language – I know many have grown up speaking and learning it from an early age and it seems no big deal to them that. It’s a big deal to me and it actually reminds me what my language skills lack. For this reason I love to make an effort, even if my efforts involve using Google Translate. Sadly I do struggle to remember any regular phrases I use – I blame my lazy brain, but perhaps their is a technique I have yet to figure out.

My efforts and interests do go beyond using Google Translate though. My interests in other countries and cultures has expanded over the years and I have read, so far, a few books about Russia, a couple about Iraq, and currently one about Turkey. In the end, I still enjoy how the internet brings so many different people together – if only I could speak all of the languages!

I should add that while I was born in England I moved to Wales over ten years ago. I did attend some Welsh lessons for a couple of years, but beyond the first year nothing more sank in. Again, I blame it on my lazy brain.

Diolch yn fawr / danke / merci :D

 
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Posted by on 22 August, 2014 in Books, Internet, Second_Life

 

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Post to your Blog… in Classic Mode

The title is a tip.

I little while ago (January 2013) I blogged about how WordPress had changed and were giving us bloggers two different ways of posting – the classic way, or what seems to be a ‘tablet-friendly’ way. I wanted to stick to the screen I was familiar with, but it was a little tricky to navigate to that screen once the new option was in place. Hence my blog.

Now WordPress has changed again. They’re still pushing the “simplified” ‘tablet-friendly”-style publishing page. I came to write my waffle, carefully navigating the menu-system to get to the page I wanted, and bam, I was landed on the simpleton’s page that I refuse to use. (I say simpleton, but I mean tablet-user who, who I assume is who the basic Editor is aimed at since they typically benefit from a slightly different interface).

post_to_blog_new

Sneakily, at the top there is a link to the Classic Mode (which I have highlighted in the illustration above), but I thought I would give the new, new version a try. The tip is in title, stick to the Classic Mode, but please keep reading.

The main issue I had with the original basic version was its lack of options, in particular the lack of ability to specify which category/categories you wanted your post to end up in. But now the options appeared to be there, just like I need from the Classic Mode. “Great, now we can use the ‘basic’ version?” Not quite.

tagsIn testing out this new screen I wrote what I wanted to write and added some pictures. That was all straightforward. Then came the final stages I go through; adding tags and categories. Then the page became cumbersome to navigate.

Each of the options are laid out down the right-hand side, similar to the Classic Mode. However, they’re all hidden away in drop-downs (to keep things looking clean – but don’t let that fool you). As I proceeded to add my tags, a list was forming, not a compact list/cluster like in Classic Mode, but a large overly-spaced-out list of tags. The page got long, very quickly. My editing window was soon disappearing off the top of the screen and I was having to scroll back up the window to refer to my post to decide which word to add next as a tag, and then scroll back down the page to add the tag in the box, each time the page getting longer.

 

new_tags

It was frustrating. And to add insult to [repetitive strain] injury, after adding my last tag, and with all of the drop-downs dropped down (because I had got distracted/curious as to what options were hidden within) I had to scroll all the way back up a very long page to find the Publish button. Admittedly one has to scroll on the Classic page, but things are a lot more compact in that version, so I had hardly noticed the effort required.

Then came the disappointment. I clicked Publish, and then nothing. Ok, it had successfully submitted my post (phew – always highlight and copy before clicking Publish/Send), but the confirmation (which I’ve highlighted in the illustration below) was very subtle and very grey and was still showing me on the Edit page.

new_post_added

taggingI opened another tab in my browser and visited my blog to made doubly-sure my new post was there. The disappointment wasn’t this though, no, this was just another annoyance, the disappointment was that I wasn’t presented with a list of my tags with the option to see what others had written on those topics – something I enjoy doing.

In conclusion, WordPress have made some headway to bring options to their basic publishing page (which admittedly I still have no need for), but the screen becomes cumbersome when using those options, and with all of those options now accessible, it makes me wonder, why not just make do with the Classic Mode, even if you are trying to blog on a tablet (which by the way, I’m not)?

 
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Posted by on 15 August, 2014 in Blogging

 

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Synchronicity and Books

I’ve just had an “Oh my God” moment, or OMGM if you will, but that acronym almost sounds like something else, so you shouldn’t.

deer_palaceI’ve just finished reading a book about the family history of a well-to-do Iraqi family, in a book called Late for Tea at the Deer Palace. From the onset, set at first in 1833, it’s a charming book. Then as times move on and the book progresses to the present it becomes, well, less charming, and more about struggles and strife. All honest stuff none the less and I found it an enjoyable read.

The family is the Chalabi family. I decided to Google “Chalabi” and the first result was the Wikipedia page about Ahmed Chalabi (or Ahmad Chalabi as his name is written in the book). Whilst reading the book I kind of glanced over the details about Ahmad, as you do when you read a part that doesn’t strike up any particular.

In started to read about him on the Wikipedia page, the opening paragraph is this:

“Ahmed Abdel Hadi Chalabi… (born 30 October 1944) is an Iraqi politician. He was interim oil minister in Iraq in April–May 2005 and December–January 2006 and deputy prime minister from May 2005 until May 2006. Chalabi failed to win a seat in parliament in the December 2005 elections, and when the new Iraqi cabinet was announced in May 2006, he was not given a post. Once dubbed the “George Washington of Iraq” by American supporters, he has fallen out of favor and is currently under investigation by several U.S. government sources. He was also the subject of a 2008 biography by investigative journalist Aram Roston, The Man Who Pushed America to War; The Extraordinary Life, Adventures, And Obsessions of Ahmad Chalabi…” – wikipedia

That last part is cited, the paragraph doesn’t quite end there but I clicked down the page to the source, following the trail of breadcrumbs as I tend to do. “The Man Who Pushed America to War; The Extraordinary Life, Adventures, And Obsessions of Ahmad Chalabi” is a book, the citation pointed to a web page that didn’t work (it’s linked to a .com address but Googling it will get you to a .org address which works but doesn’t seem relevant to the source).

prophets_of_warI looked up the book on Amazon, which it found. Then, in glancing down the list of results, the book suggested after this title is one called Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex by William D. Hartung. I was intrigued. I clicked on, into the details about the book. The breadcrumbs seemed to be to my liking – I’ve read books by James Bamford and the description of this one by Hartung seemed to be of a similar tone.

I scrolled down to the reviews. Amazon said there was one. I read it. It was helpful. I glanced at who wrote the review…

Rolf Dobelli.

thinking_clearlyAnd there it hit me, the “Oh my God” moment (the OMGM if you will, but shouldn’t). Rolf Dobelli. as I immediately recognised was the author of the book I had read prior to reading Late for Tea at the Deer Palace. His book was The Art of Thinking Clearly – the secrets of perfect decision-making.

I can see no link between these books, why a few hops across bread-crumby stepping stones, seemingly in a straight line, lead me in such a circle. As I recall, I had picked up a few books from the library on the same day which included the Deer Palace one and The Art of Thinking Clearly. I had pulled them off shelves from two different sections, with no thoughts about links between the two, but now they were, through the powers of weirdness (which I like to call synchronicity), both mysteriously pointing to this third book, which I don’t think I have heard about before, nor its author.

I will seek out a copy. One can’t let these synchronicitical moments pass us by without acting on them… or writing about them on one’s blog.

Links:

I’ve written about Synchronicity before [link], I sometimes refer to following their trails as Chasing Gooses [link].

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahmed_Chalabi

Prophets of War – www.amazon.co.uk

The Art of Thinking Clearly – www.amazon.co.uk

Late for Tea at the Deer Palace – www.amazon.co.uk

 

 
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Posted by on 15 August, 2014 in Books, Psychology

 

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Playing the ratings

ratings

I don’t (intentionally) blog for the ratings, nor am I here to make money from my blog, but at the same time I realise that if I have something to say that I’m considering posting on my blog I think, “is anyone going to want to read that?” In answering this internal question, I am indeed basing my answers, yes or no, on previous experience – which posts got a lot of views, which posts caused my visitor numbers to spike, which posts received some likes and comments. More “hits” likely means more incentive to keep posting. WordPress even has a “Trophy Case” feature for bloggers – I just looked at it for the first time now.

The previous month (July ’14) saw my highest number of visitors to my blog (yay me!), but as soon as I saw that on the graph I questioned, “what did I even blog about last month?” The answer is, “not much.”: Something about writer’s drafts [link], and something about achievements [link]. Two posts – I don’t think all the visitors came to read those. My rational thinking made me rope in the last thing I wrote in the previous month, something about Amazon Wish Lists [link]. Hardly headline-hitting stuff I admit.

Expanding my rationale I suspect that the longer you’ve had a blog, the more hits you’ll get, although my visitor’s graph doesn’t actually show a gradual increase month-on-month overall. You’ll certainly increase followers over time I’m sure, so each time you post something, chances are more people will take a gander. Plus, if you start incorporating other “social networking” tools/sites with links back to your blog, that’ll surely have an effect too.

One thing I have noticed regarding individual posts is that I never can guess what will be popular*. There have been random non-exciting things I’ve thrown at my blog and the next day I log in to discover there has been a spike in visitors, and they were all flocking to that post. The concluding point here is that certain tags will be more popular – indeed, I always like to follow the tags after I submit my post to see what other people have to say about that particular key word (I can only assume other people do the same thing and that inevitably causes certain topics to “trend”) – one could throw in some random, attention-seeking tags, but the end result in that is visitors not finding what they expected and then leaving pretty sharpish.

tagging*On my website, back in the days before I had a “blog”, I dabbled with a section about celebrities (mostly female). Visitor numbers climbed to silly numbers, all thanks to some pictures of pretty women. After a while though I questioned, “what positive input am I having here?” – my whole reason for having a website (and now a blog) is to make my contribution to the internet, not to be just a spectator logging in to use the stuff others have put here. Again, one could throw in some random-attention-seeking pictures of scantidly-clad female celebrities (non-female ones are, I’m sure, also available, but your popularity-milage may vary), but if the picture is what draws in the punters, the content will probably do little to maintain their attention for long – and what YOU write, is what you want people to read, right?

These days I think I am somewhat self-conscious about what I post online. I kind of miss the days before everyone flocked here – now I consider who might visit my website or blog, I consider who might read what I have written, from people I know, or know me, to all of the people I don’t know, and from all those camps – how they’ll judge me. And, does what I have to say even warrant being posted in the public domain, rather than on a scrap of paper for my eyes only? (This is partly the reason I wrote about Writer’s Drafts – to question why I was leaving certain blog posts in my Drafts folder and not completing and submitting them).

At the end of the day, ratings do amuse me, so I thank you for visiting and reading my waffle! Now if only I could earn £1 for each visitor who comes here…

 
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Posted by on 2 August, 2014 in Blogging, Internet

 

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Writer’s Drafts

drafts

Here on WordPress, us writers (I use that term loosely when describing myself) have the advantage of a Drafts ‘folder’. Just like with e-mails (or text messages), we can start to write something and if we get distracted or we grind to a halt, our work is safely saved for us*, so that we can return to it later and ideally complete it and Publish (or send) it. I’m adamant this wont happen with this post – I’ll write and post, no click to save to Drafts or clicking the little x before I’m done (that you’re reading this is evidence of my success).

That’s the idea anyway – the purpose of Drafts. *If you lose your internet connection by the way, then you can’t rely on this auto-Drafts feature. Drafting, as I’m sure you are aware, pre-dates the digital medium, and as Wikipedia explains:

Drafting is the preliminary stage of a written work in which the author begins to develop a more cohesive product. A draft document is the product the writer creates in the initial stages of the writing process. – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Draft_document

The ironic thing is that page on Wikipedia is itself incomplete and awaiting some citations. Not that I can mock.

In my Drafts folder here on WordPress I currently have 8 unfinished articles. These date back to February, five months ago. Glancing at the titles I actually can’t remember how far I got or even why I began writing about certain things – I guess this explains why they remain in the Drafts folder. I should delete them I suppose, but I think I’ll just leave them alone for now, I might get bored one day and decided to make a reattempt.

It’s not only within WordPress itself that I have this little hoard of unfinished articles, in fact most probably aren’t technically drafts, but little thought snippets, but I’ll continue to refer to them as drafts for the purpose of this topic. Shamefully I have such ‘draft’ files on my desktop. Some are simple Notepad text files, and some are OpenOffice documents of similarly uncompleted and unpublished work. The latter ones are generally of a more assertive attempt since I write them there to make use of the spell-checker which Notepad lacks. I have even discovered that some of the Notepad text files I have created are empty – I created a new file by right-clicking my Desktop and selecting New, and Text Document, typed in the title of a topic that had appeared in my mind and hit Return, with the intention on elaborating on that title at some point, except I didn’t.

It gets worse.

In my “Internet” directory of “My Documents” (yes I’m really this organised) I have a folder of published WordPress posts, and nearby is a folder of (I’m embarrassed now) porn. I joke, I mean, unpublished WordPress posts. In my defence, it’s easier to have a folder for my unpublished WordPress articles because some have pictures I plan to include with the intended post, so a folder keeps everything together. Nice, neat, and tidy, and out of sight. Not burning on my conscience at all. Nu-uh.

It gets worse still.

Away from my computer, well off it, but scattered round it, I have notebooks, post-it notes and scraps of paper, some are more away from my computer in other rooms of the house, in my work bag, on my memory stick in my work bag, again ranging from simple title ideas to almost complete “posts”. Actually, I try and avoid hand-writing blogable topics because I know what a chore and a challenge it is to type up the hand-written stuff, as I don’t write the same way I type. Really, try it. Write a post with an actual pen and paper, and then type it up. There will most likely be differences in the way you write. For one thing it’s not so easy to edit or backtrack as you write by hand, like using a typewriter (without major crossings out, or Tipp-ex (other brands of correction fluids are available) and arrows directing yourself to move a whole paragraph or sentence to another location later. Messy stuff. We’re aware of this, well subconsciously perhaps, and write differently. We’re perhaps more distracted in our writing/typing on a computer because there are other windows to flick to. Mid-sentence we might Google something (other good search engines are available), something we might not do so often when writing by hand. Perhaps the distractions are the killer.

Oh and I just remembered that I also have notes on my phone. It’s a simple phone, not with any capability to actually submit to WordPress, kind of pointless really, but yet another shameful method of drafting without seeing a topic through.

Actually, I’m thankful I’ve never possessed a Dictaphone (other brands of dictation machine are/were available), although I am aware that my phone has a voice-recording tool, as did one MP3 player I once owned, and there is also a microphone plugged into my computer. So I could start… but I wont. But returning to the Dictaphone thing. Thinking about that reminds me of films and TV shows where some nerdy person, like/or a scientist or crime scene investigator, uses a Dictaphone to record their findings. I probably aspired to that image, thinking it cool, yet I rarely saw them actually reviewing all the little cassettes they must create (obviously newer versions are digital and have no tape in), what a hoard they must have, just like my hoard of Drafts, so it’s surely not so bad. An example is in Star Trek with the Captain’s log (and The Big Bang Theory and Sheldon’s Log), how often are those logs played back? One counter example is in Back to the Future where the Doc and Marty record the time travel experiment (ok it was using a video camera and not a Dictaphone, but the purpose was the same, just more visual), and what was recorded was actually referred to and used later in the film (but in the past).

In referring back to the Wikipedia page I quoted before, I should perhaps work through the list it provides regarding the drafting stage… if only the drafting feature on WordPress included some additional features to guide writers through the hurdle that is “from draft to post”:

  • develop a more cohesive text
  • organise thoughts
  • explain examples/ideas
  • uncover transitions
  • discover a central argument/point
  • elaborate on key ideas

Further reading:

A couple of years ago I read the book The Shallows, which is about “How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember”. If you’re interested in how the internet distracts us, or even how we write differently with a pen and paper compared to on a computer, I recommend this book by Nicholas Carr [link].

Title image was found uncopywrited, although all rights reserved as it’s from the film Back to the Future (as you likely know), bla bla bla.

 

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“You might be able to achieve something.”

This is a statement someone made to me following a brief discussion about why they thought I should take part in the Tour de France.

I chuckle now, particularly because this was the second person to make such a suggestion – the first being my brother.

On both of these occasions it seemed that, becsuse I ride my bike most days (which isn’t even techincally a ‘racing bike’), and therefore (I assume) I look super fit (this would be extra funny if I was to ever stand in lycra shorts next to an actual Tour de France winner), I would be capable of competing in such a thing as the Tour de France. Here is the point at which I laugh – I laugh at their naivety (not in a cruel way I hope) – do they not know what it takes to take part in the Tour de France, how fit those riders are, or actually how slow and, dare I say it, pathetic my efforts are by comparison. Clearly not.

As you can see, I found both occurences of this conversation to be ammusing, but I was also taken-a-back by the statement that I “might be able to achieve something.” I know full well I wouldn’t achieve anything other than (if I could take part in the Tour de France) actually completing the route. Actually, you don’t need to do the actual Tour de France to cycle the route that it takes, as I believe some cyclists do. The reason I was taken-a-back was because the comment had the implicating undertone that I’m set to achieve nothing, I am nothing, I am pathetic.

I don’t believe this, nor would I like anyone to think this way about themselves.

I’m not sure if it was intentional, but as you can see, I did ponder such an accusation.

Personally, as I am aware, I do shy away from ‘competing’ with others in a fair few aspects of my life – I actually have few friends I share hobbies and interests with – this is my life, I simply state is here for insightle purposes, not to sound depressive! I much prefer competing against myself, at least that’s what I do in the absesnse of being around others – I set my own targets and goals and I continually try to better myself in the things I enjoy doing. This includes cycling – I keep a log of each day’s journey and compare each month and year to the previous one for example – I know last year I cycled more miles than the year before and this year I’m aiming to improve on that (although I do feel I’m near to peak and wonder what effect that will have on my attitude). I have ‘competed’ against others in the past (or rather, I took part in the same events and looked at their perfomance compared to mine) and probably had no interest in putting in much of an effort to improve to the levels of others. Even with intellectual persuits I compete with myself – I keep a record of each book I read and either (consciously) improve or equal the number read year on year. I feel like these are achievements.

My arguement is that you don’t have to compete with others, and ‘win’, to achieve in life. In fact, if all the ‘competitions’ everyone enters in life are against other people, statistically speaking, not every one of those people will be winner. And who likes to come second? The only times “taking part is what counts” matters is when you’ve made a personal achievement in the process.

 
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Posted by on 16 July, 2014 in Books, Cycling, Psychology

 

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Amazon.co.uk Wish List – full name made public by default

I have a section on my website where I list all the books I have read, I also have a list of books I would like to own – a wish list if you will. Perhaps, since I buy most of my books via the Amazon Marketplace, I should use Amazon’s Wish List feature.

I activated my first list and amended the privacy setting so that I could make the list public via a simple link/URL. However, when I checked out the link using an alternative web browser, I noticed that my full name was public by default. I prefer to by known online as Brian. I could change the list title, and add a profile picture, but no where mentioned my full name (ironically, being logged in kept it hidden from me).

amazon_wish_list_full_name

A quick search online revealed various forums with posters listing the steps to take. However, it seems those steps work for Amazon.com, but not Amazon.co.uk. Hence this post.

Here are the steps:

When logged in and viewing your Wish List, click on “List actions”:

amazon_list_actions

Click on “Update list profile” (I’d also recommend checking your privacy settings too).

Amend your “Recipient’s Name”.

amazon_wish_list_recipients_name

Be sure to click “Save profile settings”

To check your settings, return to your Wish List (via the “Your Account” button) and click “Share with Friends”. You’ll be presented with your unique wish list URL/link. Copy and paste this into another web browser (or copy it, log out, and paste it into your address bar).

amazon_wish_list_share_with_friends

amazon_wish_list_secure

Here’s my Wish List: http://www.amazon.co.uk/registry/wishlist/299VZCIRK1LZC

 
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Posted by on 24 June, 2014 in Books

 

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