31 July 2012

Diamonds on the soles of her shoes

I had never realised that Bruce Tulloh was a pioneer (of the modern era, of course) of barefoot running, or  about his running across America, until I read this interesting article about him. But what particularly impressed me about the piece was the reference to the "souls of his feet". The feet of only the very greatest runners, presumably, have souls.

At least I could laugh at that while simultaneously groaning at the appalling standards of English among professional writers or publishers. Usually I just get irritated. The other day I began reading The Thread by Victoria Hislop, our book club's chosen work this month, and I had barely got started before I read something about sewerage flowing into the sea. An inability to tell the difference between sewage and sewerage can, I suppose, land you in deep ... well, better not to go there. Presumably Mrs Hislop is reasonably content to pay a water company for sewerage, but would be unlikely to spend good money on sewage.

It was, I thought at first, like finding a fly in a bowl of soup: it ruins one's enjoyment. But that wasn't quite right, because one would certainly not proceed to eat the rest of the soup even after the fly were removed: so finding a piece of grit in the bowl might be a better analogy. Once it has been dealt with, the remaining soup is perfectly acceptable (unless there's another piece of grit, or a fly, in it) but one is unlikely to enjoy it. I read no further. Had I bought the book myself, I would have been tempted to rescind the contract on the grounds that it was not of satisfactory quality.

This has happened with several book club choices recently. The Hare with the Amber Eyes was distressingly full of errors, and Mr Rosenblum's List used wrong words, mixed American and British English ("airplane" and "aeroplane") and committed other sins that should have been picked up by the publisher. Indeed, my own experience suggests that they may even have been introduced by the publisher ... At any rate, there is no excuse when a professional writer and a professional publisher contrive to get it wrong, no excuse whatsoever.

What a jerk (Deaf School)

A brilliant initiative from Samsung (why Samsung?) to get people to run between home and office in London, called Homerun, which validates what I have been doing for many years. It works, I suppose, on the well-known principle that you're more likely to run if you've got company, especially if you are in any way nervous about being alone on the streets. I don't think there's much to worry about in central London, where there are usually enough law-abiding citizens about to deter the bad ones, but once you head off into the suburbs there are some mean streets about. And even Hyde Park is a scary place after dark.

One thing runners can to do avoid trouble is to keep music and running carefully segregated. If you plug up your ears and blast music - whatever music it is, I'm not discriminating here - into them, you give the bad guys a better chance to take you by surprise, and cyclists a higher chance of running you down. Of course not all cyclists ride like maniacs, but pedestrians need to give even the most careful cyclists a sporting chance of not making physical contact. Yesterday evening, on the designated cycle track that brings me home, I passed a young woman running with earphones in place who failed to hear (or certainly gave no indication of having heard) my bell despite my ringing it constantly as I approached and passed her. I stopped and pointed out to her that if she made it impossible to hear cycles' bells she could easily be killed. She pulled out the earphones to hear me, and I was surprised at the volume at which the music was playing, but then she put them back and carried on, so my advice was clearly unwelcome. I'll fit the horn on my bike, I think, because there are too many pedestrians suffering from self-inflicted temporary deafness. I don't need them to get off the track, just to make clear that they know I'm there, and to give me enough space to get past.

There are also too many dog-walkers who don't think it necessary to control their animals. Most stand aside, often moving right off the track, which is usually more than is needed, and I ring my bell, slow down, and freewheel past them, thanking them as I go: but a minority see no need to make any concessions to the presence of cyclists on a piece of tarmac dedicated to them. I still ring my bell, slow down and freewheel gently past, but replace the thanks with an observation about the usefulness of a leash, especially when their dog meanders into my path (which often prompts the owner to break into an inane grin). I wonder what they do when they walk their dogs beside a road?

Give me a spanner, Ralph

In search of a solution to poor TV reception (and an antenna for the recently-repaired Quad kit, the tuner never having been used for want of an aerial), I visited the excellent ATV Aerial Sales website to which Google led me. Unsure whether I need a better aerial, a longer pole, a masthead or mains amplifier, or just a Freesat system, I spent [wasted] an hour or so reading through their website, and came to a couple of conclusions.

  • There is too much to know about television reception. The amount of information on the website is overwhelming, in a good way of course provided you have the time and inclination to get to grips with it. Personally, I don't even want to climb a ladder to the top of the chimney, where the aerial is, as I'd have to buy a ladder first and wouldn't know what I was doing when I got to the top of it.
  • However, presenting mundane technical information with wit makes for a winning website. Among other things, the table showing the relative times that it would take a combination spanner to reach the ground from the top of selected television masts is just brilliant. The table also gives terminal velocities, and provides alternative figures depending on whether the spanner falls end-first or with its flat face to the direction of travel - with the observation that relative drag and weight distribution makes it likely that the spanner will assume a ring-end-first position.

The prose is also grammatically correct, which sets this website apart from about 99.9 per cent of all sites and adds considerably to my delight. There's a note on the site saying that scholars are welcome, but much more so if they proceed to buy something rather than merely take the free information - together with a request for a link should the site prove useful. Well, it has convinced me that I should not meddle with things I don't understand, and has demonstrated my lack of understanding, so a link from this blog is well-deserved.

When I realised that reading through more information on this arcane subject was not the most profitable use of my time, I booked a professional installer to come and give me an estimate. And tomorrow I have someone who actually understands Briggs & Stratton engines to come and look at the tractors. I'm learning.

04 July 2012

The Stranger Song

Reading about the making of Trout Mask Replica in the Wikipedia article on Captain Beefheart - which once provided me with a great intro to a talk about the Henry passing-off case (Numatic International Ltd v Qualtex UK Ltd [2010] EWHC 1237 (Ch)), so this is not a waste of time, just part of my on-going search for useful trivia (an oxymoron if ever there was one):
Beefheart spoke of studying texts on brainwashing at a public library at about this time, and appeared to be applying brainwashing techniques to his bandmembers: sleep deprivation, food deprivation, constant negative reinforcement, and rewarding bandmembers when they attacked each other or competed with each other.
Why does that put me in mind of life in a law firm? The only difference is the food deprivation.

03 July 2012

Dumb waiters

When I went to my secondary school and began to learn Latin, one of the earliest lessons involved the derivation of the English word "procrastination". I was the only member of the class who knew the word  (which comes from "cras", meaning tomorrow, in case you are as ignorant - or innocent - as my classmates). I was, needless to say, prone to it.

I am still inclined to leave decisions to the last moment: I never choose from a menu until someone is hovering with a pad of paper and pencil poised over it (is this why they are called "waiters", I wonder?), though being vegetarian has the advantage that one's choice is usually pretty limited, and sometimes even made for one. I am however delighted to find that there is some sort of endorsement for this approach to decision taking, revealed in a book review by one of my favourite writers. The book in question is Wait: The Useful Art of Procrastination, by Frank Partnoy, Profile, RRP£12.99, 304 pages and the reviewer (in the FT of course) is Lucy Kellaway.

Evidently it is all about managing delay, so I do not have carte blanche to leave things until tomorrow, but at least I know what skill I should be trying to develop. I won't do it dumbly, which gives me the chance to embed James's and Andy's piece ...