Restless Nights

June 28, 2010

There has been a lot said and written about how to deal with a bedmate who snores, almost all of which is pure hornswaggle, hogwash, tosh, piffle and poppycock. “Sew a cotton reel into the back of his pyjamas,” say the grannies, to which everyone who isn’t a granny will reply, “What the hell are pyjamas?” Perhaps in some forgotten corner of the globe there is a sweatshop in which innocent polyesters are slaughtered and their remains converted into these useless garments, but I certainly haven’t seen any offered for sale for a long time. When I was a small boy at boarding school we had to wear these things, but as soon as the lights were out, I would remove mine and sleep naked as nature intended. “If he sleeps on his back, close off his nose and cover his mouth so he can’t breathe, then he’ll turn onto his side and stop snoring.” Or die of asphyxiation. Can you do all that and stay asleep, in any case? The whole point of a solution to this problem is that the non-snoring partner must be able to stay asleep while the solution is put into effect, thereby getting a refreshing night’s rest.

Scallywag, the light in my darkness and the balm of my soul, swam shnoz first into the side of a swimming pool when she was a little girl. A botched nose-straightening operation means that today she breathes through her mouth and the sounds she makes in the night closely resemble the sounds a C130 Hercules makes at full take-off power. I suffered many nights of tattered and torn sleep; nights spent in the spare room in a last-ditch attempt to stave off total exhaustion before I hit upon the solution.

I realised I had been looking at the problem from entirely the wrong angle. The snorer will snore regardless of what is done to her, short of murder. The solution lies in taking steps such that the non-snorer won’t care that the snorer snores, and there are two routes that may be chosen. The first is drugs—a narcotic of strength sufficient to render the taker insensible to the ambient uproar, or a mechanical barrier that will mute any sounds falling on the ear of the non-snorer. The first solution has obvious drawbacks in that it may cause permanent addiction, and may adversely effect performance on the following day. So I chose the second solution.

And here it is. Two small words that can save a marriage: ear plugs. These come in three types: mouldable wax, soft foam and flexible rubber. I tried the wax ones for a while, and although they have excellent sound-dampening properties, they aren’t very comfortable. Eventually I settled on the foam variety, which are so comfortable you don’t even know you’re wearing them until someone speaks to you and they look like a fish in an aquarium, mouth opening and closing, but no sound emerging therefrom. These can be quite expensive if you buy them in your local pharmacy or chemist or drugstore, but they can be ordered in bulk online for a very reasonable price. Two hundred pairs lasts me about three years because they can be used several times before they lose their elasticity and hence their effectiveness.

Scallywag is deaf, which is quite a major drawback because when we retire for the night she takes out her hearing aid and I put my ear plugs in, which means neither of us can hear very much. Robbers could break in and make off with all our treasured possessions without either of us hearing a thing. But that is a risk I am prepared to take if the alternative is a shattered relationship or being fired for sleeping at the office.

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.

ABC of Netese

June 20, 2010

A is for AFAIK: As Far As I Know. What follows is invariably false.

B is for BSOD: Blue Screen Of Death. Common on Windows systems. Those who have “upgraded” to Windows 7 may now enjoy a Beige Screen of Death. I understand that Microsoft have trademarked “Burgundy Screen of Death”, “Buff Screen of Death” and “Brown Screen of Death” to cater for future releases.

C is for Crapplet: A badly-written, buggy computer application, like MS Office.


D is for DFTT: Don’t Feed The Trolls. A “troll” is anyone who disagrees with you in any internet forum; if you can’t think of a logical response to an argument, you just label the other person a “troll”.

E is for EOL: End Of Life. In non-Netese this condition is known as “death”.

F is for FUD: Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. This refers to the deliberate spread of misinformation with a view to achieving some nefarious purpose. An example is Microsoft making vague threats of impending patent litigation against Linux businesses with the aim of dissuading people from using open source software. Uncertainty and doubt are tautological—one of them is redundant.

G is for Godwin’s Law: States that eventually, in any online discussion, someone will compare whatever is being discussed to Hitler or the Nazis. Once that happens the discussion is effectively at an end—no further useful contributions will be made.

H is for HAND: Have A Nice Day. Just as banal and meaningless on the internet as it is in real life.

I is for IANAL: This does not indicate a preference for some perverse sexual activity, it means I Am Not A Lawyer. Always followed by legal advice that is totally wrong and in some cases dangerous, such as: “IANAL but AFAIK(cf) if you plead guilty they can’t give you the death penalty.” Variations exist such as IANAD (I am not a doctor), IANACP (I am not a concert pianist) and so on.

J is for JAHOYFT: Just Ask Her Out, You Fucking Tool. What could possibly go wrong?

K is for KOTL: Kiss On The Lips. What it says, sometimes enlivened as KOTL(WT) (Kiss On The Lips (With Tongue)).

L is for LOL: Laugh Out Loud. Used by bores who enjoy laughing at their own jokes, or wish to inform their readers that their sense of humour is so deficient that they find something that is profoundly unfunny funny. Variations include ROTFLMAO (rolling on the floor laughing my arse off) and suchlike. Do not put LOL at the end of a tender epistle under the misapprehension that it means Lots Of Love—you will surely ruin the mood.

M is for MUSH: Multi-User Shared Hallucination. Netese for the phenomenon known for thousands of years as religion.

N is for NSFW: Not Safe for Work. Usually accompanies email attachments that are pornographic or otherwise iffy and that you would not want your boss to see. Or, to be more accurate, you wouldn’t want your boss to see you seeing.

O is for OMG: Oh My God. Used by those experiencing MUSH (cf).

P is for PEBKAC: Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair. A way of saying a problem is caused by user error without causing offense to the user. It assumes the user is too ignorant to know what the acronym means, which really causes offence if he does.

Q is for QFA: Quoted for Accuracy. Why?

R is for RTFM: Read the Fucking Manual. Aimed at those annoying individuals who are too lazy to figure anything out for themselves, but will expect others to go out of their way to give assistance. Yes, I’m talking about you; you know who you are.

S is for SWIM: Someone Who Isn’t Me. A short, snappy way of saying someone else.

T is for TANSTAAFL: There Aint No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. There is, you know. You just have to know where to look and hone those mooching skills.

U is for UTFSE: Use The Fucking Search Engine. This comes into its own when you have told someone to RTFM (cf) and they tell you that the answer they want isn’t in TFM, then you tell them to UTFSE, Which is when they bleat that how to use the search engine was their original question, at which point you pack your bags and leave town.

V is for VEG: Very Evil Grin. Stay away from people who perpetrate this.

W is for WUBU2: What Have You Been Up To. Almost invariably used in conjunction with a VEG (cf). The correct response to this piece of impertinence is STFU & MYOB.

X is for XIT: Exit, used by people too lazy to type the letter “E”.

Y is for YTMND: You’re The Man Now, Dog. What you say to your dog when you want him to start paying the mortgage, mowing the lawn and so on. His response is invariably to ROTFLHAO.

Z is for ZOMG: An extreme form of OMG (cf) used by Moonies, Scientologists, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Jews and other assorted nutcases.

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.

English Patient

June 14, 2010

I think that what I think is worth sharing. In order to share my thoughts I must express them with as much precision and as clearly as possible, which means I must care about the language I use. I must think about things like spelling and punctuation, and how to set out the words in a way that will make the ideas they express easily accessible to the person reading them. I am not a natural stylist like Anthony Burgess or Bernard Levin, but I work hard to make things easy for my readers.

William Shakespeare

Alas, it seems I am a member of a fast-disappearing minority. Almost no one cares about how they present themselves on paper (or, and this may be part of the problem, electronically). I read emails, blogs, cell phone text messages, online forums and even professionally produced writing in newspapers and online that show that the writer has scant regard for the language which is his medium of communication. Here are some of the things that annoy me most.

Capitalization. This isn’t hard to do. Just press the shift key at the same time as an alphabetic character and it comes out as a capital letter. It is conventional to start a sentence with a capital letter, because the full stop that ends the preceding sentence is very small, and is easily missed. The capital letter provides a visual marker to the beginning of a sentence; reading text that omits capitals is harder to do. If you are too lazy to use the shift key on your keyboard, I’m too lazy to bother to read what you have written—it’s far easier for me to hit the “delete” key.

Apostrophes. Whence comes the insane compulsion to put apostrophes almost anywhere where they aren’t required? A beautifully framed sign in the ablution facilities of a former employer of mine reads: “Please remember to wash you’re hands.” A sign expensively printed and presumably displayed in all News Café franchises tells of festivities in which women will be dressed in bikini’s. The Compass group have a world cup competition in which contestants can win flat screen TV’s. Could these organizations not have had their copy proofread by someone literate before going to the expense of having them printed? Plurals seem to be where these horrible apostrophes show up most. Apart from the examples above, in the last week I’ve seen trolley’s for trolleys, Tory’s for Tories, even kitchen’s for kitchens. One candidate’s C.V. informed me that she had passed matric math’s. Needless to say, she wasn’t invited for an interview. Please, please, stop it.

Punctuation. Do not use multiple punctuation marks!!! Unless you really want your readers to think you are a moron??? This is the sort of thing perpetrated by adolescent schoolgirls and should be done by no one else. My email spam filter is set up to scan for this sort of nonsense and delete any mail that transgresses without my even seeing it. (By the way, those stupid animated bunnies, pussies and smileys you put in your mail aren’t seen by me either—I automatically convert all emails to UTF-encoded text only.)

Spelling. Deliberate misspelling is one of the most irritating abuses of language, and is becoming extremely common. I boycott such businesses as SellFone Warehouse, Cameraz, Shatterprufe, Shoprite and so on just because they annoy me and I hope that by taking my business elsewhere they will disappear. Spelling mistakes should not occur where a spell checker is available. Not checking text for spelling mistakes is laziness, and should be rewarded with the “delete” key. That said, it is a truth universally acknowledged that any piece of writing that contains a complaint about spelling mistakes will itself contain at least one spelling mistake. To forestall any triumphalist crowing occasioned by the mistake’s discovery, I must tell you that I have deliberately introduced a certain number of mistakes into this post. There are no prizes for finding it or them.

Fad words, jargon and clichés. A problem is never a problem down at my office, it is an “issue”. Anything large must be described as “massive”, even if it is a lighter-than-air hot air balloon or a massless strike action. All dimensions must be given in units of tennis courts or football fields. A long time ago is always “time immemorial” and there was always a “primordial soup”. I hate the ugly word “functionality” to describe what a computer program does. What’s wrong with “features”?

Abbreviations. Don’t use them if at all possible. Acronyms and biological generic names should be spelled out when they are used the first time—never assume that your readers already know what they mean. Mr, Mrs and Dr are not followed by full stops in English, Prof. is. The rule is that if the first and last letters of the abbreviation are the same as the first and last letters of the abbreviated word, then no full stop is used. Americans use a full stop always.

Plurals. Apart from the apostrophe problem mentioned above, I have noticed that often mistakes are made with words of Latin and Greek provenance. The plural of virus is viruses, not virii. Also octopuses, platypuses and so on. On technical forums a lot of people refer to the plural of box as boxen. I have no idea why except that it sounds vaguely German. I have made myself quite unpopular for pointing out that in English the plural is boxes.

Netisms. Space does not permit me to treat of this here; it can be the subject of a future post. A good rule of thumb if you are thinking of including a netism in general communication is to think of what the Bible has to say on the subject of having sex with your sister: don’t.

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Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.