It’s amazing how much difference small changes in an environment can make. Today Chris and Mattie and I turned the desk in my study 90° — orienting it along the wall, beneath a window whereas before it had been perpendicular to the wall with the window. The operation was surprisingly complicated — one of the drawer-sides of the desk doesn’t connect physically to the pedestal on which it sits, and neither of the pillars is attached to the desktop. And when you see the desktop without any of the clutter with which I ordinarily festoon it,the size of the thing strikes you. You could use it for billiards or snooker.

The study itself feels very much larger — there’s a markedly greater area of contiguous open space. I can face people in the sitting area of my study just by rotating in my office chair, instead of having to get up and walk around to find a chair on the free side of the desk. If I need to show someone my computer screen, it will be very much easier so to do.

In all, I expect it will be a much more comfortable work environment.

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Phishing For Me

I spent much of the morning borderline-verklempt, and the middle of the day doing bits and bobs of work, and the end of the day being fussy and tired, so I almost missed out on anything to blog. Thankfully, however, I was provided an amusing item to call to readers’ attention:

Alleged Apple Email, with incoherent composition and a link to a non-Apple website

This is like one of those “How many things are wrong with this picture?” puzzles from Highlights For Children, waiting for you in the dentist’s office. How many glaring clues are there that this is not an email from Apple? Well, first there’s the “Dear (e) client (e).” Second, it’s addressed not to my Apple ID account (formerly, formerly, currently It offers a link to an unidentified (and non-Apple) site. But the prize-winner does have to be “why this electronic courier you he was sent ?”. I take some satisfaction in imagining a nefarious internet phisherman who didn’t realise that this construction would be a dead giveaway — and sympathising with said malefactor’s English As A Second Language teacher.

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All Over But The Dusting

This afternoon, our house painter turned in his keys — as far as he’s concerned, he’s through with us. He spent most of his day dusting and re-oiling the woodwork, adjusting things that had gone awry, and so on. There’ll be a lot more wiping down to do, some rearranging furniture, but the house will be in its newly-resplendent glory when Margaret gets home next week. I’d post some pictures, except why post pictures before it’s all tidied up at least a bit tidier?

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Now Understands The User

My trusty old graphics tablet can no longer cooperate with contemporary operating systems — alas! — so I splashed out on the cheapest plausible current model I could find. Unfortunately, the Amazon page did not include a screenshot of the helpful directions

Because the hardware different, Understands the hardware each place representative function

or I might have recognised that this was perhaps not the bargain it presented itself as being. Oh, well, I’m getting by with it.

And the house painter says he’ll be done tomorrow, so that’s good.

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Breaking Up and Starting Over

Yesterday I was writing my weekly note home to my mother, and the pen — my jade Sheaffer Flat-top with a stub nib — started scratching as thought it were out of ink. But I knew that couldn’t be the problem because I had just filled it from my new bottle of Diamine Ancient Copper ink a couple of days before.

I discreetly gave the section a twist to look at its innards, only to discover that the sac had disintegrated, and the pen hadn’t filled at all; the feed was holding a little ink, but the appearance of having filled was all illusion. This might have dismayed some people, but it delighted me: This was a problem I could repair on my own, as soon as I got home!

Sadly, when I got home I discovered that all my pen repairs tools are up in my clothes room, covered by a vast dropcloth. Repairs will have to wait.

At the same time, this week marked a different turning point for me. I’ve been a long-time lover of J Herbin inks. “Ambre de Birmanie,” “Eclat de Saphir,” “Larmes de Cassis,” all captivated me with rich, saturated colours and gentle shading. Their reputation as an ink that treats pens gently, and (I must admit) the French naming and the pen-holder bottles sealed the deal.

J Herbin colour swatches

But the last few bottles of Herbin ink that I’ve bought have developed SITB, and I’m getting weary of having to throw out the remainder of a bottle of ink when I see the tell-tale string of ink clinging to a nib. I returned one bottle, but I’ve had two more go bad. (Word on the street has it that they had problems with EU chemical regulations and that everything’s OK now — perhaps I bought my ink at the wrong moment, or I’m storing it especially badly — but with all respect to the centuries-old Herbin firm, I’m backing away.

I’m switching to another brand with a good reputation, Liverpool’s Diamine. It’s their Ancient Copper I had just ordered, and they have some handsome alternatives to the Herbin colours I love. And my Herbin bottles won’t run out right away (I’ll keep using them till I detect a problem). But now I have some exploring to do with even more new options from Diamine.

Diamine Colour chart

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Lovely Day

Today was sunny, mild, and relaxing. I fulfil my discipline of posting every day solely by noting this.

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New Horizons in Marketing?

What Is Postmodern Biblical Criticism?

Courtesy of the Pulp-o-Mizer
Hat tip to David Weinberger

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Last But Two

Mark the House Painter is wrapping up his work on our home. He finished the dining room first; it’s easiest, and made a convenient alternative room for any other ground-floor impedimenta. Then he finished the halls and stairwell and top floor room, for similar reasons.

Eaves Room (Bluebird paint)

Then from that base, he branched out to the first-floor guest room (Margaret’s bookcase room) and the small WC (AKMA’s shaving room, since the larger, more elegant bath doesn’t have a mirror over a sink).

Guest Room

Small WC

Now the kitchen is done, and the lounge as well (I don’t have a photo of the lounge with the furniture moved back into position).

Kitchen Painted

Today Mark begins painting our bedroom and the small room where I hang my clothes. It won’t be long until he’s all finished — he estimated Tuesday. Then all I have to do is move everything into its proper place, and wipe down every surface thoroughly with wet cloths to clean away the paint dust. Meanwhile, I’ll be sleeping in the guest room and marking essays.

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We Started Something

Last night I saw the “This Day in blogging History” post on Boing Boing, reminding us that ten years ago yesterday, Larry Lessig turned loose his book Free Culture on a drowsy world. Lessig’s vision of the riptide where digital communication and copyright law converge clarified a great deal of what we saw going on around us, and predicted even more of what we’ve leapt/stumbled/been pushed into — between his book and his famous lecture-presentation of this and related topics, he redefined the terms for informed public discourse on copyright and digital media. Thank you, Larry!

Cover of Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture

The day after his book was released under a Creative Commons license, I mused to myself and my blog, “What if a bunch of ordinary people just read the chapters aloud into whatever digital recording device they have, and shared the results as an open, Common, audiobook?” Over the next few days, readers and supporters from around the world cheered, contributed time, effort, recordings, storage, bandwidth, editing and remastering skills, and in very short order a crowd-sourced (I don’t think we had that word yet) audiobook was freely available on the Web. Bingo. (Here’s the version of the audiobook.)

I retrieved the original post, as I say, and reposted it on this blog, added in the comments one by one; I’ll fix up links and names and so on eventually. Some of the original files are still hosted where the original page linked to them; others are gone. Some of the people involved are still in contact with us day on day; others I’ve lost track of.

When I read the “ten years ago” entry at Boing Boing, I looked back at my original post (retrieved from for the first time in ages. There’s so much I didn’t remember from those days, so many people who got involved, even if only to cheer us on. And Doug Kaye and Eric Rice and Scott Matthews pitched in their capacities, Dave Winer put his energies behind it, and my dear pals from olden blogging days got aboard. In the aftermath, Hugh McGuire founded Librivox on the same principle. I teared up a little when I read through everything and remembered.

I’ll put out word on the social networks, and invite more prominent names to amplify the signal — it would be great if anyone who was associated with that effort, anyone who downloaded those first crude files or who has benefited from the smoothed-out versions that you can find now at, or anyone who participated in Librivox, or anyone who remembered those wild days, cold just stop by and leave a comment. Greater things than these we are now doing, indeed; but for a few days in 2004, making a crowd-sourced audiobook of Free Culture seemed like about the greatest.

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Can’t Look Away

From Steve Himmer’s blog:

Jacques Tati traversing a block of flats

Because I love Jacques Tati, and my Dad loved Jacques Tati, and when my family watched Mr Hulot’s Holiday, Pippa shouted out “Dog!” every time she spotted a canine in the scene.

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Passivity and Pædagogy

HoopoeIf you have encountered me in a pædagogical situation, you have probably heard me moan about the general quality of student writing. If you are a student about whose writing I have moaned, you have probably heard (or “read”) me complain about passive constructions.

Now, I must at this point note that the linguists over at Language Log have a lot to say about the passive voice and passive constructions. In their on-going struggle against Prescriptivism, and especially against its woebegone cousin Uninformed Prescriptivism, they inveigh against the advice always to avoid the passive voice (OK, “to always avoid,” since they inveigh against avoiding split infinitives, too). They point out first that passive constructions serve entirely respectable syntactic purposes, and they’ve been an integral part of expressive English composition for as long as we’ve had expressive English composition. They are correct. Second, they point out — often with considerable glee — that most people who denounce the passive voice in print are themselves quite confused, if not ignorant, about what constitutes a passive construction. Language Log is correct about that, also.

I do know what the passive voice is. I agree that good writers use the passive voice often, to positive effect. I do not spend much time dealing with elegant stylists, though; more of my marking time involves people who could write better essays with a few clues and a little more effort. I offer them some clues, in relatively simple versions, one of which urges them to avoid using the passive voice and passive constructions as a default mode of composition — but I do not say “Never use the passive voice.” (If I did, I would illustrate my mandate with a proper example, but since I don’t, there’s no need.)

Catherine Fox’s recent Lent Talk for the BBC cites Microsoft Word]s annoying “grammar check” function as an example of indiscriminate animus against the passive as the lead-in to her reflections about Christ and power. The column rightly reflects the rhetorical importance of writing deliberately; Fox contrasts the MS Word anti-passive function with the words of the Creed, “He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate.” The Conciliar Fathers set these phrases in the passive voice (presumably) because Jesus ought to be the subject of the sentence, the most prominent syntactical figure; and the phrases are set in the passive, precisely because Jesus is not the active agent in these events. That, and the Creed is written in Greek, which introduces different colourations of voice anyway. But the broad point remains: the passive voice isn’t bad in itself — the Creed uses the passive properly and effectively — but it is very often used badly by poor writers. The target of our clean-up efforts should be those weak, confusing, vague, colourless uses of the passive.

So by all means use passive constructions, where they work well for the rhetorical effects you have in mind. And avoid passive constructions when you aren’t sure why you’re using the passive rather than an active alternative. (Even then I said “avoid,” since sometimes the passive will be preferable even when you can’t articulate a reason. But usually not.) When it comes to passives, as Jesus says in a famous textual variant to Luke 6:4, “Man, if thou knowest what thou doest, blessed art thou; but if thou knowest not, thou art accursed and a transgressor of the law.”

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The Colour of Progress

There is no question regarding the relation to our front room and Carolina Blue:

Mimosa paint, front room


If I remember correctly, the front room (and the upstairs guest room, currently being finished — the bookcases got in the way) are coloured “Mimosa”; the top floor room is “Bluebird,” as the dining room is; and a couple of rooms will be “Champagne.” At least one of those colours looks more yellow than they seem in the samples, but there are many variables involved, from the ambient light to colour matching in digital applications. All is fine.

The front room had its first encounter with Mark the House Painter today; the kitchen is preparing for a skirmish. The guest bedroom is nearly done, and the smaller WC and the hall and stairwell are set to go. The master bedroom and the wee room in which I hang my clothes are thus far untouched.

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