Tales From the Bitface (Posts about language)https://devilgate.org/enContents © 2020 <a href=”mailto:martin@devilgate.org”>Martin McCallion</a> Thu, 11 Jun 2020 11:57:58 GMTNikola (getnikola.com)http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/tech/rssRational? Twitter, Micro.blog and Social Engagementhttps://devilgate.org/blog/2019/06/22/rational-twitter-micro-blog-and-social-engagement/Martin McCallion<p>I had vaguely seen references to “ratios,” and was aware it was something to do with engagement on Twitter and elsewhere. But I hadn’t understood what exactly people meant by it. Then last night I saw a tweet in which someone said, “I accept I’ve been ratiod.” (Should the verb form rather be “ratioed”? Hard to say. Neither looks quite right.)</p> <p>A search for understanding led me to <a href=”https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/the-ratio”>this article on Know Your Meme</a>. It tells us:</p> <blockquote><p> The Ratio refers to an unofficial Twitter law which states that if the amount of replies to a tweet greatly outnumbers the amount of retweets and likes, then the tweet is bad </p></blockquote> <p>and goes into some detail about the origin of the term.</p> <p>It makes me sad to read that. Imagine an interaction system where, if people reply to something you say, that’s bad. Well, it seems we don’t have to imagine it: we can see it right here on the “social” web.</p> <p>I like to get replies on Twitter or elsewhere. A reply means, to me, that someone has read what I’ve written, thought about it, and found it worth responding to. I’m aware that I speak from a position of some privilege, in that I’m not in a group that is likely to experience the mass abuse that many do. But something has broken down in our systems of interaction if getting replies mean what you said “is bad.”</p> <p>I’m far from the first to have made that observation, of course.</p> <p>But consider <a href=”https://micro.blog”>Micro.blog</a>, the still-young social network based on blogs that I’ve <a href=”https://devilgate.org/blog/2017/02/02/success-for-micro-blog/”>written abut before</a>. Micro.blog has replies, but it doesn’t even have the concept of likes or retweets/reblogs. If you read a post and want to say something about it — even just that you like it — you have to reply. With words, in human language.</p> <p>It’s a much friendlier place than Twitter.</p> <p><a href=”https://eli.li/2019/06/18/i-know-there-are-some-ham-radio-folks-on-the-indieweb-and-adjacent-so-im-passing-along-this-question”>This conversation</a> from the last day or two gives a good flavour of the kind of thing you can expect.</p> <p>If you clicked through that link you’ll have seen that it appears to be — and is — on the blog of the user who made the original post. The responses appear as blog comments. But while every Micro.blog user has a blog, you don’t have to interact with it <em>as</em> a blog if you don’t want to. You can do it all through the Micro.blog app or one of the third-party clients, or just the Micro.blog website, where <a href=”https://micro.blog/eli/4107886”>you can see the same conversation</a>.</p> <p>Similarly, you can <a href=”https://micro.blog/devilgate”>see all my posts here</a>, as well as at their <a href=”https://devilgate.org/blog/”>natural home</a>.</p> <p>It’s well worth a try if you’re looking for a less toxic social-media environment.</p> commentsconversationlanguagelikesmetaratiodratioedratiosretweetstechtwitterhttps://devilgate.org/blog/2019/06/22/rational-twitter-micro-blog-and-social-engagement/Sat, 22 Jun 2019 19:12:35 GMTThe Kickstarter Corporate Communication Conundrumhttps://devilgate.org/blog/2017/10/11/the-kickstarter-corporate-communication-conundrum/Martin McCallion<p>Today I chanced to see an email in which a manager was asking his staff to work for extra hours. Well, ‘asking’ is putting it generously, to be honest. There didn’t seem to be much that was optional about it.</p> <p>The Kickstarter connection, though: you’ll be familiar with the idea of ‘stretch goals.’ If not, the idea is that the basic target is to make X amount of money, but if we make X + 10%, or whatever, we’ll be able to do these other things. Develop additional features, make the item in more colours, or whatever. My guess is that the term originally comes from sports.</p> <p>So this email included in the subject the phrase ‘stretch targets.’ Meaning we want you to do more this week/month/whatever, than we originally planned. It was clearly written by someone who thinks that the way to develop software faster is to work your staff to the bone. When in fact that’s much more likely to result in people taking shortcuts and making mistakes.</p> <p>In this team they’re <em>already</em> working weekends, and now they’re being ‘stretched’ even more. It bodes ill. But perhaps co-opting the language of positive things for something so negative is worse.</p> kickstarterlanguagemanagementprogrammingsoftware developmenttechhttps://devilgate.org/blog/2017/10/11/the-kickstarter-corporate-communication-conundrum/Wed, 11 Oct 2017 20:24:23 GMTNuts to Doughhttps://devilgate.org/blog/2017/08/20/nuts-to-dough/Martin McCallion<div><p>Just thought I should mention, <em>en passant</em>, that when I <a href=”http://devilgate.org/blog/2017/08/15/3720/”>referred to misspelled donuts</a> the other day, I was talking about the ones that can’t spell “crispy” or “cream”,<sup id=”fnref:dough”><a class=”footnote-ref” href=”https://devilgate.org/blog/2017/08/20/nuts-to-dough/#fn:dough”>1</a></sup> not the spelling of “donut” itself. I was brought up with it as “doughnut,” but I guess I’ve come round to the other, presumably American, spelling.</p> <div class=”footnote”> <hr> <ol> <li id=”fn:dough”> <p>And that don’t taste <em>at all</em> like proper do[ugh]nuts. <a class=”footnote-backref” href=”https://devilgate.org/blog/2017/08/20/nuts-to-dough/#fnref:dough” title=”Jump back to footnote 1 in the text”>↩</a></p> </li> </ol> </div></div>donutsdoughnutslanguagemetahttps://devilgate.org/blog/2017/08/20/nuts-to-dough/Sun, 20 Aug 2017 21:23:10 GMTSo, Entitledhttps://devilgate.org/blog/2017/04/15/so-entitled/Martin McCallion<p>In a <a href=”https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2017/apr/05/do-two-unpublished-books-make-you-a-failed-author-no-youre-a-quitter”>recent article in the Guardian</a>, this appeared:</p> <blockquote><p> It is no one’s “destiny” to be a published author. That implies a path laid out for us, an unshakeable future that is planned and unchangeable. And it is entitled. </p></blockquote> <p>That is a perfectly normal use of the modern sense of the word “entitled,” and it still slightly bothers me, as it has lo! these several years.</p> <p>Because what it really means is that the person isn’t actually entitled to the thing in question. The older sense of “entitle” is to have the right to something — literally to have the <em>title</em>.</p> <p>The modern meaning — the “He’s so entitled” formulation — really means “He’s behaving as if he were entitled to…”</p> <p><a href=”http://www.dictionary.com/browse/entitle”>Dictionary.com gives the definition of <em>entitle</em></a> as:</p> <blockquote><p> to give (a person or thing) a title, right, or claim to something; furnish with grounds for laying claim </p></blockquote> <p>Merriam-Webster is similar;</p> <blockquote> 1: to give a title to : designate<br> 2: to furnish with proper grounds for seeking or claiming something this ticket entitles the bearer to free admission </blockquote> <p>And neither has the modern meaning at all.</p> <p>But I’m slightly horrified to find that the built-in dictionary in MacOS <em>only</em> has the modern meaning:</p> <blockquote> adjective<br> believing oneself to be inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment: kids who feel so entitled and think the world will revolve around them </blockquote> <p>It’s interesting, though, that its definition of <em>entitle</em> is similar to the two web-based ones. And <a href=”http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/entitled”>Cambridge</a> has <a href=”http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/entitle”>both</a>. It seems the difference is whether you use the verb or the adjective. The latter is the only one with the modern meaning.</p> <p>Language changes, and that’s fine. But I wish that people who use it in the modern fashion understood what it is they’re saying, and what it can sound like they’re saying. I suspect they mostly don’t.</p> <p>They’re behaving like they’re entitled to make words mean whatever they want.</p> entitlementlanguagemeaningword-usehttps://devilgate.org/blog/2017/04/15/so-entitled/Fri, 14 Apr 2017 23:29:26 GMTLittle, Feat…https://devilgate.org/blog/2017/03/06/little-feat/Martin McCallion<div><p>Many songs these days involve one or more other artists guesting with the main one. Rappers adding a part to a singer’s track, for example. Nowadays such guests are always credited. Quite rightly: we’ve come a long way from the days when Billy Preston played keyboards on some Beatles songs uncredited (though visible in the famous Apple Records rooftop performance).</p> <p>As featured artists, such guests are nearly always credited using the abbreviation “feat.” “The Beatles feat Billy Preston,” to give an example that was never used.</p> <p>But “feat” is a word on it’s own, of course, as well as an abbreviation. Which I think may be why I always find the formation slightly amusing. And there used to be a band called Little Feat, if I’m not very much mistaken (I’ve never knowingly heard them).</p> <p>So I’ve been wondering how the modern crediting style would have worked if they had ever been guests, or had featured guests, on any of their songs. “Little Feat feat Joe Feet.” “Legs &amp; Co feat Little Feat.”<sup id=”fnref:feet”><a class=”footnote-ref” href=”https://devilgate.org/blog/2017/03/06/little-feat/#fn:feet”>1</a></sup></p> <p>Alas, it was not the way back then. Though <a href=”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Feat”>their Wikipedia article</a> suggests they’re still around, so it could happen.</p> <p>More surprisingly it tells us that they changed “Feet” to “Feat” as a “homage to the Beatles.”<sup id=”fnref:featbeat”><a class=”footnote-ref” href=”https://devilgate.org/blog/2017/03/06/little-feat/#fn:featbeat”>2</a></sup> I had no inkling of that connection when I mentioned the Beatles above.</p> <div class=”footnote”> <hr> <ol> <li id=”fn:feet”> <p>Yes, I know Legs &amp; Co were dancers. I’m just trying to make up mildly amusing names. I invented Joe Feet. <a class=”footnote-backref” href=”https://devilgate.org/blog/2017/03/06/little-feat/#fnref:feet” title=”Jump back to footnote 1 in the text”>↩</a></p> </li> <li id=”fn:featbeat”> <p>I’m assuming that refers to the story of the Beatles naming that involved them wanting an insect name like Buddy Holly &amp; the Crickets, but changing the spelling so it read as beat music. <a class=”footnote-backref” href=”https://devilgate.org/blog/2017/03/06/little-feat/#fnref:featbeat” title=”Jump back to footnote 2 in the text”>↩</a></p> </li> </ol> </div></div>languageLittle Featmusicmusingshttps://devilgate.org/blog/2017/03/06/little-feat/Mon, 06 Mar 2017 23:58:37 GMTPivoting Around Wordshttps://devilgate.org/blog/2017/03/04/pivotting-around-words/Martin McCallion<p>I should start a new category here, for word-use. In fact, having written that, I just have: <a href=”http://devilgate.org/blog/category/language”>language</a> (hopefully that link will work once I publish this).</p> <p>Today I want to talk about the word “pivot.” As you know, pivot has come, over the last few years, to mean change direction, especially in a political context. A recent example from the <cite>New Yorker</cite>: <a href=”http://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/dont-be-fooled-donald-trump-didnt-pivot”>Don’t Be Fooled. Donald Trump Didn’t Pivot</a>.</p> <p>It sort of makes sense, but like many knew usages, I can’t help but wonder <em>why</em> it has come into this use.</p> <p>And for this one I also can’t help but wonder to what extent <cite>Friends</cite> is responsible.</p> <p>You’ll know the episode I’m thinking of, if you’ve seen it: Ross is moving in to a new apartment, and being too cheap to pay the delivery charge, ropes Rachel in to help him move a sofa. Inevitably they get stuck on the stairs, and he keeps shouting at her, “Pivot! Pivot!” to try to get her to turn the sofa in an unspecified direction.</p> <p>Of course, he might have been using it quite precisely: the sofa probably needed to rotate about a fixed point, which is what “pivot” originally meant.</p> <p>What it has come to mean, in politics, is a change of direction less than a U-turn (or flip-flop); but still quite a substantial one. I suppose it has a sense of turning without moving forward at the same time. Though I may be overthinking it there. It’s quite descriptive, but it seems like it has becoming ubiquitous incredibly quickly; and is already practically a cliche.</p> <p>Of course that’s just my view of the <a href=”http://devilgate.org/blog/2017/02/08/optics/”>optics</a> of the thing.</p> friendslanguagepivotword-usehttps://devilgate.org/blog/2017/03/04/pivotting-around-words/Sat, 04 Mar 2017 23:48:27 GMT“Ping” Ponghttps://devilgate.org/blog/2017/02/22/ping-pong/Martin McCallion<p>When the <a href=”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ken_Thompson”>original Unix designers</a> (or, as it turns out, <a href=”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mike_Muuss”>Mike Muuss</a>) chose <a href=”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ping_(networking_utility)”><code>ping</code></a> as the name for the command for checking the status of a network host, it was a moment of inspired genius. The word is almost onomatopoeic in its appropriateness.</p> <p>But nowadays people are pinging each other all over the place: emails, IMs, even phone calls are “pinged” at each other. “I’ll ping you an email,” they say.</p> <p>The purist in me cringes a little each time I hear it. But it shouldn’t. The word that was so apposite for those early savants is just as suitable today: it communicates a needed concept. And English, of course, is a living, thriving language. So let people get on with it</p> <p>Just don’t expect me to use it myself.</p> computerslanguagenetworkingpingtechtechnologyunixhttps://devilgate.org/blog/2017/02/22/ping-pong/Wed, 22 Feb 2017 21:53:04 GMTOpticshttps://devilgate.org/blog/2017/02/08/optics/Martin McCallion<p>The word “optics” used to mean the science of light. It still does, of course, but it now also refers to “how things look,” in terms of public image and so on.</p> <p>And from what I can tell it has only come into this use in the last year or so. I first heard it on tech podcasts, but it was recently in a <a href=”https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/27/never-mind-the-optics-theresa-mays-us-dash-was-mortifying?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other”>front-page headline</a> (though the second story) in <cite>The Guardian</cite>. And I heard it on the telly. I think it was in <cite>Agents of SHIELD</cite>, wherein they included an explanation of what it means.</p> <p>I can see how it can be used in its new meaning, but how did it come to be used that way?</p> <p>And it seems that I’m right that it’s relatively new: Wikipedia, googling: both only turn up definitions like “the branch of physics to do with light.”</p> <p>Now <a href=”http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=optics&amp;defid=3694000”>Urban Dictionary’s top definition</a> is exactly what I’m talking about:</p> <blockquote><p> What something will look like to the outside world; the perception a public relations person would have on something. First seen (at least by me) in article by Equity Private on finance blog dealbreaker </p></blockquote> <p>Economists repurposing words from real science to dismal? Sounds entirely plausible.</p> economicslanguageopticsphysicswordshttps://devilgate.org/blog/2017/02/08/optics/Wed, 08 Feb 2017 21:48:26 GMTCriticality Escalationhttps://devilgate.org/blog/2017/02/06/criticality-escalation/Martin McCallion<p>Part of any kind of bug or problem reporting system is triage: the act of deciding how severe each report is and placing it into the appropriate category.</p> <p>Common categories in software development are things like “Critical,” “High,” “Medium” and “Low,” for example. They would usually be given associated numeric values: probably 1-4, in this case.</p> <p>I realise that I mentioned “triage,” which of course means dividing things into three; and then I’ve introduced four levels. That would be quadage, maybe? Tesserage? Anyway, three levels wasn’t enough for people: at some point “High,” “Medium” and “Low” just couldn’t cut it.</p> <p>But even the terminology is breaking down now. This snippet below is based on values from an actual document written by an actual company, for reporting problems during user acceptance testing (UAT).</p> <table> <thead> <tr> <th>Severity</th> <th>Description</th> </tr> </thead> <tbody> <tr> <td>1 – Extremely critical</td> <td>Critical problem that completely stops testing…</td> </tr> <tr> <td>2 – Very critical</td> <td>Critical problem that prevents some testing…</td> </tr> <tr> <td>3 – Critical</td> <td>Non-critical problem…</td> </tr> <tr> <td>4 – Less critical</td> <td>Minor bug…</td> </tr> </tbody> </table> <p>Imagine if they used that in hospitals: “The patient’s critical.” “Oh, not too bad, then.”</p> <p>And I love how the definition of “Critical” is “Non-critical problem…”</p> bug reportingbugsescalation.languagetechterminologyhttps://devilgate.org/blog/2017/02/06/criticality-escalation/Mon, 06 Feb 2017 21:56:27 GMTOn the Pronunciation of “X”https://devilgate.org/blog/2016/09/24/on-the-pronunciation-of-x/Martin McCallion<div><p>Now that the new version of Apple’s PC operating system has launched, some thoughts on something that’s been bugging me for a while.</p> <p>Apple’s OS was called “OS X” from about 2000 or so. At one time it was “Mac OS X,” then at some point they dropped the “Mac” part. Now, of course, they’re dropping the “X,” (and the capital “M”) and going over to calling it “macOS.”</p> <p>In the old version, I knew that the “X” was the Roman numeral for 10. It was release 10 of their operating system, so that was fine. But I always pronounced it as the letter “X” in my mind. Not least because, as the version numbers incremented, they were presented like this: 10.2, 10.3, and so on. Or more fully, “Mac OS X 10.2.”</p> <p>So how were we meant to say that? “Mac Oh Ess ten ten point two”? Surely not. You can see why my internal monologue pronounced it “Oh Ess Ex ten point two”.</p> <p>And so it was and so I left it. I knew the “X” had originally meant “ten,” but I couldn’t imagine that anyone would still pronounce it that way. Until I started listening to podcasts.</p> <p>Wherein erudite, knowledgable Apple users such as <a href=”http://daringfireball.net”>John Gruber</a>, or the hosts of the <a href=”http://atp.fm”>Accidental Tech Podcast</a> were clearly heard to talk about “Oh Ess ten.” Though they mostly avoided saying the full, convoluted, Roman and Arabic mix of numbers. I think I did once hear <a href=”http://macsparky.com”>David Sparks</a> on <a href=”http://www.relay.fm/mpu”>Mac Power Users</a> saying “Oh Ess ten ten point eight” (or whatever minor release number it might have been).</p> <p>Still, I didn’t let it bother me. It wasn’t doing any harm, after all.</p> <p>But then people started talking about relative sizes. I think I first noticed it when retina screens were being discussed. If you’re going to provide graphical resources to support both retina and non-retina screens, you have to provide versions of the image files at different resolutions. These are referred to in writing as “1x” and “2x” versions.</p> <p>Now, it is obvious to me that that isn’t a letter “x” there (even thought that’s what I typed), but a multiplication symbol. More properly rendered as “×”.<sup id=”fnref:x”><a class=”footnote-ref” href=”https://devilgate.org/blog/2016/09/24/on-the-pronunciation-of-x/#fn:x”>1</a></sup> The idea being that you have the original file, and one at twice the resolution. The multiplication symbol is said as “times.” So we have “one times” and “two times.” Right?</p> <p>But those pesky podcasts.</p> <p>Soon they were filled with “one ex” and “two ex.” It was the OS X problem all over again — but this time in reverse!</p> <p>But I gradually realised I might be wrong in my assessment. Graphics files are complicated beasts, after all. A file suitable for a retina screen doesn’t have twice the pixels needed for an older screen, for example: it has four times as many. There are twice as many on the x-axis and twice as many on the y-axis.</p> <p>And that’s when I realised that the “x” might refer to the x-axis. Saying a file was “2x” could be shorthand for saying that it had twice as many pixels on both its x- and y-axes.</p> <p>In which case pronouncing it “two ex” would be right after all. Perhaps the terminology came from developers and designers referring to size of the files.</p> <p>Except… I have subsequently heard people say other numbers followed by “ex,” when what they clearly meant was a multiplier. Specifically, I heard <a href=”http://www.cgpgrey.com”>CGP Grey</a> saying “ten ex” when talking about a tenfold increase in something like YouTube subscribers. And he used to be a maths teacher, so he should really know better.</p> <p>Can we ever escape from this insidious invasion of “ex” into spaces where “times” belongs? Probably not. But it’s disturbing when otherwise-smart people make themselves sound so ignorant.</p> <p>(And don’t get me started on the full-stop or period character that splits up those version numbers. Hint: it’s “point”, not “dot.”)</p> <div class=”footnote”> <hr> <ol> <li id=”fn:x”> <p>That may or may not look any different from the letter, depending on the typeface you are seeing it in, but it’s a different unicode character. <a class=”footnote-backref” href=”https://devilgate.org/blog/2016/09/24/on-the-pronunciation-of-x/#fnref:x” title=”Jump back to footnote 1 in the text”>↩</a></p> </li> </ol> </div></div>languagemacOSpronounciationtechXhttps://devilgate.org/blog/2016/09/24/on-the-pronunciation-of-x/Sat, 24 Sep 2016 13:56:23 GMT