164 Articles


8 years Ago

The United Kingdom, Great Britain and England Explained

Published by marco on

The video below[1] explains the difference between the various political and geographical entities that are still or have historically been associated with England. Below the video is a summary with links and a screenshot of the final graphic, which is a nice Venn diagram of all of the various entities.

The Difference between the United Kingdom, Great Britain and England Explained by CGPGrey (YouTube)

  • The United Kingdom is a political entity that comprises England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
  • Great Britain is a geographical entity and is the largest of the British Isles and is a... [More]

Ordering Train Tickets

Published by marco on

Imagine, if you will, that you would like to take a trip from Zürich (to pick an arbitrary starting point) to Copenhagen (to pick an equally random destination).

Imagine further, if you will further indulge, that you would like to take the train in order to see Germany along the way instead of flying over everything. Imagine that you have a vague notion of nobility in doing so because of the ghastly wastefulness of flying, as far as carbon footprint goes.

You will be surprised—and not just... [More]

9 years Ago

Plastic comments

Published by marco on

The venerable is closing its doors for good this weekend. I’ve been a member for about a decade and contributed sporadically throughout. I saved my comments from the site before it goes dark and included them below. The context is often not there, but it’s an interesting compendium of issues from the last decade.

My stats were as follows:

  • name: dur
  • member since: Tue 23 Oct 2001
  • karma: 8 (astute scholarly underrated succinct)
  • favorite words: countries(16), already(10),... [More]

Askers vs. Guessers

Published by marco on

From the article This column will change your life by Oliver Burkeman (The Guardian):

“[…] when an Asker meets a Guesser, unpleasantness results. An Asker won’t think it’s rude to request two weeks in your spare room, but a Guess culture person will hear it as presumptuous and resent the agony involved in saying no. Your boss, asking for a project to be finished early, may be an overdemanding boor – or just an Asker, who’s assuming you might decline. If you’re a Guesser, you’ll hear it as an expectation. This is a spectrum,... [More]”

South Park 14.05_200 & 14.06_201

Published by marco on

Season 14, episodes 5 (#200 overall) and 6 (#201 overall) have been pulled by Comedy Central because of vieled death threats made by proprietors of a purportedly Islamic web site. The site—called[1]—supposedly peddles Osama bin Laden support and celebrates 9–11. It’s hard to tell because they’re down right now and showing no signs of coming back up anytime soon. The proprietors of the site live in New York City and claim to be devout Muslims, though they are more likely... [More]

How to pronounce “Eyjafjallajökull” in Icelandic

Published by marco on

Alternate title: Why Reddit is so awesome.

 The post “Eyjafjallajökull” isn’t as foreign to English as it sounds (Reddit) is in the linquistics Reddit (to which I am subscribed, natch) and is treasure-trove of crowdsourcing goodness vis-à-vis the etymology, pronunciation (OGG file[1]) and unique linquistic characteristics of spoken Icelandic. There is no way I would have guessed the pronunciation from the spelling; the native Icelander seems to elide quite a bit, but what do I know about Icelandic... [More]

Tasing to Force Compliance

Published by marco on

At the end of last year, a bit of very good news emerged from the otherwise increasingly draconian U.S. As detailed in the article Did a Court Just Deal a Fatal Blow to Tasers for Police? by Raj Jayadev (AlterNet), the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals made what appeared to be a landmark decision that, in cases where officers used tasers, “[t]he objective facts must indicate that the suspect poses an immediate threat to the officer or a member of the public.”

Unfortunately, this sounds much better than it is, because of the... [More]

10 years Ago

Englisch wird die Arbeitssprache

Published by marco on

The article, «Westerwave» ist talentiert im Vergleich (Tages Anzeiger) (“Westerwave” is talented compared to this), is about the EU commissar Günther Oettinger, who has deemed English to be the language of the future. He has often said in interviews that everyone will have to know English, from newscasters to construction workers. His own spoken English is abysmal, which earns him ridicule. Why is it, though, that he must himself be a master of English in order to promote it as the language of the future?... [More]

The Felton Report 2009

Published by marco on

The fifth Nicolas Felton Annual Report (2009) is now available for purchase. Each year, Mr. Felton, a graphic designer in New York City collects a ludicrous amount of information about himself and publishes it in an attractive, elegant and eminently readable format on some yuppie paper with yuppie fonts. This year, he enlisted the help of all of the people he encountered:

“Each day in 2009, I asked every person with whom I had a meaningful encounter to submit a record of this meeting through an... [More]”

Two Men of Lebowski

Published by marco on

There are many admitted fans of The Big Lebowski and many of them are dedicated to the point of obsession. Into that category squarely falls Two Gentlemen of Lebowski by Adam Bertocci, which is the entire script of the film rewritten in the style of William Shakespeare.

This first sample is the first scene in the bowling alley where Smokey steps over the foul line and Walter takes offense.

“Smokey, this be not the foul jungles of the darkest East Orient. This be ninepins. We are bound by laws.

“O unrightful... [More]”

On Bowling by Walter

Probability for Dummies

Published by marco on

The first terrorist attempt in eight years means that everyone at the Department of Homeland Security has gotten their knickers in a twist…again. However, they should instead be delighted with the extraordinarily good numbers favoring the good guys. The good guys being those people who don’t want to blow up metal canisters full of innocent people just to prove a point.

The post, The Odds of Airborne Terror by Nate Silver (, crunches the flight statistics for the last decade and comes up with “one terrorist... [More]”

Well-Worn Grooves

Published by marco on

We all do it. We all commit certain behaviors to habit so that we don’t have to think about them anymore. We don’t think about how we get to work in the morning or home again in the evening. We just take the right exit, the right stairway or get on the right train without a second thought, our bodies taking us where we need to go without any intervention from the brain.

So we all have these well-worn grooves along which we coast, using the energy we spare for other things—perhaps thinking... [More]

Critiquing the Phantom Menace

Published by marco on

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace came out years ago and stunk up the place big time. Most of us just agreed that it sucked and that it spent way too much time on the stupid little kid and the even stupider Jar Jar Binks. The movie below builds a 70-minute thesis on the suckiness of SW:TPM with copious examples of how the older movies did everything better and a startlingly insightful analysis of plot devices and movie-making, in general.[1] You almost have to feel sorry for the older Lucas, because... [More]

Dumbing it down

Published by marco on

The New York Times thinks we’re mentally challenged; from today’s NY Times Front Page podcast:

“The MTA will be eliminating the W and Z lines.”

So far, so good. That’s the informative bit. They followed up with:

“As a result, some commuters will have to wait longer for trains.”

With a bit of editing, they could chop the podcast in half without losing any information at all.

DFW Grammar Quiz

Published by marco on

The post Grammar Challenge! by Amy McDaniel includes a quiz written by David Foster Wallace that she obtained during a writing course many years ago. Each of the sentences has one major fault—not necessarily a grammatical one—though there may be other, smaller ones as well.

The full text of the quiz is included below; the footnote for each line links to its answer.

25 February 2004


America’s Child Soldiers

Published by marco on

The following picture is from a photo essay, Ian Fisher : American Soldier (Denver Post) following a young American from his initial recruiting to deployment in Iraq and return to America.

 Child Soldiers

The picture of the four recruits during basic training makes them look remarkably young, far less than the 18 years each of them must be. The two to the right—with Ian, the star of the essay, on the far right—really look like they dressed up in Daddy’s war togs.

To be honest, Ian’s story is neither particularly... [More]

Catholic Church Late-night Commercial

Published by marco on

Psst, Anglican clergy!

Listen up.

Is your church way too liberal for your tastes?

Are you tired of the homos and broads cluttering up your ranks?

Are you tired of having to live in a world run by liberals with their annoying need to make everything equal for everyone even though everyone knows they’re not?[1]

Well, has the Catholic church got an offer for you!

Act now and you can get back into the good graces of a real church; one that has no room for homos or broads and with the added bonus... [More]

Daily Show Full Episodes Complaint

Published by marco on

In early September, the Daily Show and the Colbert Report made a triumphant return after a hiatus of a few weeks. They unfortunately dragged some obnoxious commercials with them, so I wrote the following note to Comedy Central:

“I just checked out the first show for this fall and noted that the commercials are back. That’s cool, you guys gots to get paid; however, is there any reason you need to run the same pair/trio of commercials in four, two-minute blocks during about 20 minutes of content?... [More]”

Drawing from a Russian Soldier

Published by marco on

The web page, Ballpoint Afghanistan (EnglishRussia), includes images of artwork created during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. These are purportedly the work of a soldier and were done primarily with a ballpoint pen (and colored pencils, apparently). There’s some really cool stuff in there for fans of line-drawing and doodling. I particularly liked the drawing of a soldier gazing out over mountain ranges (reproduced below; click to enlarge).

11 years Ago

Old Growth Forests

Published by marco on

Stop wiping your ass with them.

According to this article, Mr. Whipple Left It Out: Soft Is Rough on Forests by Leslie Kaufman (NY Times), “[a]lthough toilet tissue can be made at similar cost from recycled material, it is the fiber taken from standing trees that help give it that plush feel.”

Regrettably, America manages to stand pretty much alone in demanding super-soft toilet paper for home use, although even in European countries, recycled paper makes up only 20% of paper intended for home use. That’s still ten times... [More]

Geekamania: social networking so you don’t have to

Published by marco on

The article, I Twitter for you! by Mark Morford (SF Chronicle), is about a great new service called Geekamania. This site takes mechanical turking to a whole new level by providing a service unique to the new millenium: integrating you into the online world in a “cool” way.[1]

Here’s the sales pitch:

“We design, set up and maintain as many hip social networking pages as you want, spinning off the information you provided but also totally rearranging it and making it up at will, all to make you sound exactly as... [More]”

The Worst American Fast Food

Published by marco on

The 20 Worst Foods in America 2009 (Men's Health) catalogs exactly that. The listings are nearly unbelievable, especially the number one entry. It is the Baskin Robbins Large Chocolate Oreo Shake, which boasts the following characteristics:

  • 2,600 calories
  • 135 g fat (59 g saturated fat, 2.5 g trans fats)
  • 263 g sugars
  • 1,700 mg sodium
  • 73 ingredients (or more)

That’s a whole day’s worth of calories and three days’ worth of fat in a container that can be slurped empty in less than ten minutes. Not that 263g is... [More]

MLK Day, 2009

Published by marco on

The following radio address is the speech given by Martin Luther King at Riverside Church in 1967. The full transcript is available from the UC Berkeley archives. In it, he talks for twenty-three minutes—at times employing exacting historical detail—about the Vietnam War and its effects on the Vietnamese, Americans and the U.S. role from the very beginning. This was back in ‘67, when many Americans were barely aware of the conflict in the first place. Listen to the speech below and hear a... [More]

One Small Note About Shoes

Published by marco on

The following post was written about a month ago and never published. The context is that of the show-throwing furor that has ebbed somewhat lately.

For a solid week, at least half of the political cartoon output of the world has involved shoes. It is well-known that the media suffers from a severe dearth of imagination but there is no reason to display this deficiency with such pride.

As far as shoes go, this author had two immediate thoughts on seeing the video footage:

  1. Bush is pretty... [More]

Commonly Misspelled Words

Published by marco on

Check out the The 25 Most Commonly Misspelled Words quiz (for English, of course). I went in with an obnoxious braggadocio and walked out with a sobering 22 out of 25. Here are the words that I have newly learned how to spell:

  • consensus (I chose “con[c]ensus”)
  • perseverance (I chose “perse[r]verance”)
  • supersede (I chose “super[c]ede”)

The title of the quiz is a bit misleading, as it’s not clear to what the word “commonly” refers. While the words are not extremely rare, they also don’t come... [More]

Teaching Kids to Write

Published by marco on

826 Valencia is “dedicated to supporting students ages 6–18 with their writing skills, and to helping teachers get their students excited about the literary arts.” They’re in San Francisco and take advantage of the strange work hours and free time of the average freelance writer to provide afternoon tutoring to students who need more one-on-one time. The “store” that they run doesn’t look like a tutoring center; instead, it’s a pirate supply store. There are similar venues in Brooklyn... [More]

Going to America

Published by marco on

The years since 9–11 have seen U.S. border policy become increasingly hostile, with an entire new department of the U.S. government having been conjured out of thin air, complete with its own $50 billion budget. Various measures and overtly hostile attitudes as well as an egregiously cavalier attitude toward civil rights—for American and non-American alike—have prevented many people from even venturing into the veritable no-man’s land that is the modern American international airport.
... [More]

I’m a Postman, Not an Athlete!

Published by marco on

The article, Union claims Royal Mail postmen are being told to walk faster, clears up the confusion surrounding the claim that the Royal Mail in England will be “requiring delivery staff to walk at four miles an hour”. It’s amusing that the claim is taken at all seriously. People are notoriously bad at judging numbers. They hear the claim and think nothing of it, thinking that the number—which a “new software system, Pegasus” calculated is anything but a complete fairy tale. It may also show that... [More]

Definition: To Beg the Question

Published by marco on

The phrase “to beg the question” has become much more popular outside of philosophical circles. In almost all cases, it is being used incorrectly. When you hear someone say the phrase, then follow it with a question, they are doing it wrong. Consider the following cartoon about Obama’s involvement in the Blagojevich scandal:

 Stuart Carlson − Obama, Republicans and Blagojevich

In this case, the reporter actually means, “which raises the question”. It is common practice for people to dress up their language to make what they’re saying sound more... [More]

Heath Ledger’s Joker

Published by marco on

Much has been said of Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight. Many have drawn parallels between elements in the movie and the recent history of the United States, from the attacks of 9–11 to the ensuing war on terror and its effects, both foreign and domestic. The Joker is chosen as the terrorist and the only way to stop him is to be just as lawless, to forsake all that you are defending—if only for just a little while, until order is restored—before everything you hold... [More]