There go the mock exams

Here comes the marking.

The last of the English exams were sat today, and I now have stacks of papers to mark as a tsunami of banality comes rushing towards me.

I managed to plough my way through the PAL listening paper this morning so that I could try to deal with the sections of the exam which were missed out because the CD wasn’t behaving. Ironically, I had to track down the source of the exam, and then found I had a copy of the original exam disc sitting in the drawer of my desk. We hadn’t been told which exam we were using. So far I can’t say that the little darlings have done outstandingly well, and I’m already gearing up for more listening practice in spite of certain drawbacks, viz. no CD to go with the listening practice book, which means I have to do it all myself.

In fact, because there were problems with the English exams in more than one centre, we don’t have to use the official score sheet.

I made a start on AS writing which was painful in its dullness. The first task was a compare-and-contrast essay about teaching some sort of rudimentary language to chimpanzees. The notes in the paper took one point of view, while the accompanying lecture took another. All rather mechanical stuff, methinks, which required no particular mental effort on the part of exam candidates, and even less for those who copied bits of the text. The other essay was about universities spending as much on sports facilities as they do on library books. Obviously, since this is an exam, the answer can be as fantastical as the topic because a realistic answer would take 300 words to say, “With the gross underfunding of universities, there is money for neither books nor sports facilities.”

In answering the topic, I’m sure my little dears will leave no cliché unspouted.

(Cross-posted from Green Bamboo LJ with some slight alterations.)

Niuntehund glorious years

Glorious years of what, though?

About a week ago or so, part of the car park beneath the bridge was sectioned off. I thought that it might be a workers’ camp because it appears that the the jetty from which the canal tours leave is being extended, and this was to be the temporary accommodation for the men and women working on it. Instead, the artisans have been working on metal frames, which are being covered in strips of coloured paper. The first recognisable ones were dragons, but today I found one in the form of a red flag with 1921-2011 on it.

As I’ve just discovered, it’s going to be hund-nigontig glorious [If that’s not sarcasm, I’m a one-legged kangaroo. –ed.] years this year since the Party was established (with Russian funding), although the first congress wasn’t until July. According to one source of information, there wasn’t a prole present, the delegates tending to be non-managerial professionals.

I’m sure there will be plenty of special events such as even greater restrictions on the Internet, the detention of people who want others to think for themselves, and specially thick, rose-tinted spectacles to prevent reality from obtruding. Don’t expect any apologies for the gross abuses during the past neunzig years. Unexpected announcement: the emperor orders people to refer to him as the son of heaven, and doesn’t even look faintly embarrassed about making such a request.

(Cross-posted from Green Bamboo LJ.)

Upper case

Lower case.

After some more fiddling with the Draconic script I mentioned the other day [21.09.14. A D&D alphabet?], I decided to add lower case letters even although there are none and I had to create them from scratch. But that led me to hypothesise that most of the world’s writing systems probably make no distinction between upper and lower case. A character is either taller or shorter, but unlike a number of letters in the Greek, Roman and Cyrillic alphabets, there’s no difference in form.

Originally, the Greeks wrote everything in capitals (see the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum), but eventually lower case letters became the norm with capitals limited to special functions such as the obvious capitalisation of the initial letter of names in English or the initial letter of nouns in German, or the first word of a sentence.

I assume that lower case letters evolved from the handwritten form of upper case letters, which can be seen by comparing older and new forms of letters. For example, s is a very open σ and suggests that the letter was written from right to left, with the bowl being formed in a clockwise direction. (My own formation of the Greek letter the reverse because I start on the left-hand side, create the bowl anti-clockwise, and end with the stem. Possibly, the letter was formed starting with the stem and sweeping round in an anti-clockwise direction, but the way the Romans wrote the letter  (see the Vindolanda tablets for an example) suggests something that could  have easily morphed into the modern letter.

Quite why anyone started using capitals to mark nouns or proper names, I don’t know, but hazarding a guess, I suspect that the god of the Christians had something to do with it, and the likes of kings and princes.

Meanwhile, among the comments to the question why English has upper and lower case letters I find “Maybe if people become lazier, they will vanish…” Of course, “they” refers to capital letters, but the de­con­text­u­al­ised reading provides some entertainment.

(Cross-posted from Green Bamboo LJ.)

Creating fonts

Is this my second or third childhood? I’ve quite lost count.

When I was at primary school, I would occasionally design alphabets, which was a slow, painstaking job, hence I did not do a lot more of it. It wasn’t very practical either because the letters were all one-offs. Later, I also tried my hand at calligraphy using steel nibs, Indian ink, manuals which described how to draw letters in different styles. I quite liked traditional-style Gothic fonts (quite misnamed, of course) and uncial, and imitated a Roman-style uncial hand which was featured in the illustrated dictionary we had at home.

Later, when I owned my first computer, I had a program called Fontwise Plus which I used to reduplicate, rather clumsily, the Roman font. I have no clear recollection of the program, but I think you had to draw the glyphs in a 7×8 or 8×8 grid, which was slow and fiddly. My computer and I parted company before I could do much more with Fontwise Plus, although the desire to create fonts has been on a long, long sabbatical.

More recently (well, in the past three or four years or so), I was probably trying to track down some medieval-style fonts via Google, though quite why I can’t recall. It’s something I do – not recalling reasons and searching online for fonts. That led me to Pia Frauss (who I’ve mentioned before) who has created a range of fonts based on medieval manuscripts and later, and made them free for non-commercial use. From her website, I learnt about High Logic’s Font Creator software, but not having the means to buy such a piece of kit, I’ve been able to do nothing about it.

Until now.

Yes, now that I have the means to buy things online, I thought I might resume a hobby which I’ve never properly started.

Font Creator (but let’s be overly familiar about it and call it FC) offers two main means of creating fonts: images or contour editing. Thus it’s possible to turn handwriting into a font using a scanned image (or some sort of pad which allows the user to write by hand) or to be hardcore and create contours. A contour is basically a two-dimensional shape which seems to be the same as vector graphics in PaintShop Pro. Points can be added to, say, a rectangle and can either be on or off the curve. (The curve may be a straight line, which, I suspect mathematicians might tell me, is a special sort of curve; or vice versa, the curve being a special sort of line; I surmise it’s all just sophistry.) That puzzled me initially until I found that a point off the curve can be dragged around to create an actual curve. (Which may just be a special sort of straight line.)

I’ve managed to come to grips with the basics of the program fairly quickly, having progressed from points to angled guidelines to manual kerning to autometrics in a short space of time.

My first attempt at a font was using images I drew with my mouse in PaintShop Pro. The method lacks finesse and, as I discovered, my strokes were too thin. I needed to make the brush 30 units wide.

My second attempt was contour editing. From somewhere, I found an image of the Draconic alphabet, which is one of those details in D&D which is never utilised and is only good for the rendering of English because the creator has no idea of languages or linguistics and no appreciation of Appendix E in The Lord of the Rings. Anyway, the ignorance of non-linguists aside, I used Draconic as a source for creating a font manually. Fortunately, the whole thing is restricted to numbers and upper case letters or my job would have been much longer. It’ll never get out into the wild, but it’s been an interesting and educational process as I’ve turned the jagged original into a serif-style font.

At least at larger sizes, the result doesn’t look too bad even if the details don’t bear close scrutiny. I’ve been somewhat inconsistent about my placement of glyphs on the baseline or just below it. I spent much of the afternoon tinkering with the script, adjusting this and that.

However, I’m also thinking about trying to create a Chinese-style version with Chinese rather than Roman-style serifs since a lot of the characters are based on shapes like 元.

It’s early days and there’s much about FC which I don’t yet know. But as I said above, it’s taken me little time to acquire the basics of the program.

(Cross-posted from Green Bamboo LJ.)

Of things about which Mr Bamboo is ignorant

The author of Barry Lyndon.

One of the very first videos I ever saw when VCR was cutting-edge home entertainment was the film Barry Lyndon, the story of the adventures of an Irishman who manages to dodge various misfortunes (enlisting in the British and Prussian armies) to marry the Countess of Lyndon. But his luck turns sour, and after being wounded in a duel with the Countess’s son from her first marriage, he loses his leg and his wife for an annuity.

As far as I can recall, the film was so long that it came on two tapes or in two halves or something like that. It was a very lush piece of work from Kubrick even if the second half of the film was a little slow and dull.

In the past, er, th— years since I saw the film, I have occasionally recalled it, but it has mostly passed into history. I may have seen it in one of the DVD shops somewhere in the Empire. In all that time, though, I’ve never considered that it might be a book, and I’ve only just discovered that the film was based on the book by William Makepeace Thackeray.

The reason why I discovered this was that I gave the PAL classes an extract from Vanity Fair last week and interested in perusing the text, I went to Project Gutenberg where I found Barry Lyndon listed as one of Thackeray’s works.

And thus it is that I learnt something today.

(Cross-posted from Green Bamboo LJ.)

Banking Chinglish

Give us a clew.

Having been collecting 一角 coins in a plastic bag which was beginning to bulge a little, I decided that it was high time I disposed of them at the bank. At the window of each teller, there was a sign saying 银行提示 (Yínháng tíshì) and in English, “Bank’s clew”, which puzzled me, and I eventually worked out the character 提, which I knew I’d seen, but couldn’t initially remember.

According to my phone, 提示 (n) means “present the draft; presentation” (remembering, of course, that my phone is from Hong Kong), while my dictionaries translate it as “point out; prompt”. It seems to be trying to say “reminder”.

But what of the “clew” part? My immediate guess was a variation on the word “clue”, and I was right. “Clew” is an archaic  (15th century) spelling of “clue” and another tribute to the idiocy of automated translation.

(Cross-posted from Green Bamboo LJ.)

There’s wrong; there’s very wrong

And then there’s ugly pink car.

Cadillac CTS in pink. Look away, children!For a couple of days outside the car wash­ing place there was a pink Bentley, which looked hideous. Bent­leys, like Rolls Royces, never look pretty at the best of times and the colour robbed the vehicle of what little dignity it had. (Here, for comparison is the ugliest car in Most Wanted, the Cadillac CTS, which is made even worse by the addition of body kits. Knowing that some of my readers may have weak stomachs, I omitted such additions since the unaltered car, which is a frequent sight on the roads of the Empire, is quite offensive enough to the eye.

I should add – although I forgot in the original version of the post – an hon. mention for Lady Penelope’s pink Rolls Royce, FAB1, which could pull it off. I even had the Dinky toy during my first childhood.)

Cadillac CTS with pink highlights. Not quite as awful.A black CTS, on the other hand, with pink rims and vinyls, and a magenta window tint gets away with it, or would if the car wasn’t so bloody ugly that even the cool colours lose.

(Cross-posted from Green Bamboo LJ.)

A most strange and peculiar instance of time travel

Blast from the past.

The latest news is that Japan has now been hit by a very powerful earthquake (8.4-8.9) to the north-east of the country, which has triggered a tsunami. I’m watching live footage from Fukushima via BBC World News, which is a complete mess following the tidal wave which hit the area. There are pictures of cars floating in the water, washed up against a bridge, and widespread flooding. There’s a fire at an oil refinery north-east of Tokyo. I’ve now seen footage of the wave sweeping across the coast and sweeping everything aside.

The Pacific Ring of Fire has been particularly active of late, it seems, after the quake in New Zealand and now the one of the coast of Japan. I know that there’s still the potential for a major quake in New Zealand up in the Southern Alps. Also, Californians may be wondering whether the state is about to slide into the sea, and the Pacific coast of South America is also prone to quakes, I believe. The Pacific plate seems to be quite active at the moment, or at least events around it have been more major than usual.

Anyway, the title of the post is related to a curiosity on the BBC website. As Royal Watchers know, William and Kate did split up for a time a few years ago. For some reason, that headline has appeared on the BBC’s Most Popular list even although I can’t think why news which is over three years old would be appearing. I have a theory, of course. The recent “resignation” of a certain religious leader much loved by the Empire (yes, sarcasm) has vanished from the top news stories (when I’d expect it still to be listed) and doesn’t appear in the RSS feed from the Beeb either. How curious.

Meanwhile, gmail is still being contrary.

(Cross-posted from Green Bamboo LJ with some additions.)

Gmail, the story so farther

How did he do that?

Since stupidity is now the theme, I observe that 香榭街 has become a shrine to the stupidity of the Empire’s four-wheeled imbeciles (aka motorists). The street has been widened to dual carriageway, but that’s been reduced to a single lane each way because the dribbling cretins have taken to parking their cars on either side of each pair of lanes.

On either side, there is now a cycle lane, but the finishing touches have yet to be made to it. Today some workers were unloading the sections for the barrier which will run alongside it.

Anyway, one of the electric scooter people was using the section which runs behind the stadium at school. There was an old man standing on the side cycle lane nearest the stadium, but I didn’t see what he was doing. Some of the local workers live in the spaces under the stadium, and he could have been one of their number.

I was going fast enough to pass by (I was on the road), but moments after I did, I heard a bang and looked round to see that the man on the electric scooter had somehow ridden into the man standing on the side of the cycle lane. How he did that I don’t know because there was only him and the man and more than enough space for the scooter to avoid the bystander.

I can only guess that the man on the scooter saw me, and being distracted by the novelty of a foreigner on a bike, his attention wandered. Being foreign, I did not stay to watch the spectacle of the aftermath, but I’m sure it provided the dull cits with some entertainment for the morning.

The Classical World

By Robin Lane Fox.

The Classical World is the story of Greece and Rome from archaic Greece to the reign of Hadrian, who acts as a beacon throughout the book because he travelled to many of the places which had already played a part in classical history. It’s a book that’s both long and short: long at 606 pages of dense text (excluding another hundred pages of bibliographies, notes and an index); short because each chapter is, by and large, just the highlights.

As well as Hadrian’s presence in the background, Lane Fox also frequently returns to the themes of “luxury”, “freedom” and “liberty”, which all seem to have got badly abused from one age to the next and from one place to another. The classical world seemed to be a place of hypocrisy where luxury was bad, but Roman emperors luxuriated; freedom was the freedom to be told what you could or couldn’t do; and liberty appears to have meant that the Roman emperors could shag all the boys they like and commit all manner of excesses.

Having done Greek and Roman history at university, much of the tale was familiar. I remain surprised that the Greek world, the Hellenistic world, and the Roman world ever survived and thrived. How the Roman Empire lasted in spite of the large number of emperors who could not have sat squarely on a chamber pot is amazing. I also wonder how Hadrian managed to run the empire if he spent much of his reign gadding about the place. Perhaps that was the secret: if the emperor was out of the way, the Senate could get on with business.

My particular edition is part of Penguin’s 75th anniversary series and lacks the pictures which obviously appear in other editions (though the descriptive text remains).

The Classical World is, I think, a readable introduction to classical history. I’m not sure why Lane Fox finishes with Hadrian unless it is because the peripatetic emperor functions as an occasional bookmark in the way that Antoninus Pius or Marcus Aurelius do not. Nonetheless, I assume there may be a volume which fills that gap, but in the meantime, this is a good place to start.

(Cross-posted from Green Bamboo LJ.