Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Three (3) things that really irritate me ...

I already aired my views about the bastard conjunction (pace Viscount Simon LC) "and/or", and I just encountered another piece of drafting nonsense that always gets my goat. I entered a competition online, and the rules state -
Two (2) prizes are available. Prize A consists of two (2) economy return flights from Heathrow to Rome and three (3) nights accommodation in a four (4) star hotel in a double/twin room on a bed and breakfast basis. Prize B consists of two (2) economy return flights from Glasgow to Rome via Heathrow and three (3) nights accommodation in a four (4) star hotel in a double/twin room on a bed and breakfast basis.
You don't need to know whose competition it is - anyway, I don't want everyone entering and lengthening the already considerable odds against my winning. What is it with this "number (numeral)" thing? And why that way round? I recall seeing it first, many years ago, where the number was spelt out in words to avoid ambiguity. That was probably back in the dark ages when people wrote using pen and ink (as I was reminded when I wrote a rare cheque yesterday), or typed on sometimes-not-very-legible typewriters, but there is not the slightest possibility of ambiguity arising in clearly presented type on a computer screen. Why do it? There are rules - somewhat variable ones - about when to spell out and when to use numerals: the Oxford Style manual tells me that at OUP the change is at 100, which seems very high; the Economist Pocket Style Manual sets it at 11. The author of the competition rules doesn't seem to agree with either. Would Viscount Simon have called these "bastard numbers", I wonder?

My third bugbear - might as well get them all off my chest at once - is the common use of 23:59 as closing time for competitions and other matters that require precision in this regard. Fine, the promoters are at liberty to set whatever closing time they like, and if they wish to have the competition close at such an odd time of day that's their privilege. If they are potentially giving something to me for nothing, I won't quibble about the qualifying terms. If, however, they have chosen to use one minute to midnight because they cannot grasp, or fear that entrants will not be able to grasp, that the day ends at 24:00, I have no sympathy. It is not a difficult concept. It is not even difficult to grasp that 24:00 one day is exactly the same instant as 00:00 the next. To carve out a minute here and there is nothing but laziness, and a lack of intellectual rigour.

And if I were to enumerate a fourth, it would be the unbalanced parallel construction, but let's leave that for now.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Back on the road again

You might have noticed, gentle reader, that I haven't been podcasting lately. There are several reasons. My sponsorship from Olcott International ran out, too many subscribers did not renew, the SRA needed another pound of flesh, and I had taken on a part-time job at the RIBA in addition to continuing to practise law and running a legal publishing company. Something had to give, at least temporarily. At least I could draw encouragement from the fact that the non-renewals liked the product, just didn't get a chance to listen. As one of them wrote:

It's not like listening to a lecture at all, more like sitting having a conversation with a very knowledgeable (and funny) friend ... You have a very clear way of putting things and a very reassuring voice, and I like the way you maintain your enthusiasm throughout.

Now I am ready to get started again. Having a publishing company to assume responsibility for it is a big help (although it makes no difference to who is doing the work - it's still me, with help from the same group of assistants, depending on their other commitments, plus a new one I hope). On the other hand, I have also taken on some tutorial work, at the Russian Academy of Justice in Moscow. In Cheryomushki, to be precise, though it's far removed now from what Shostakovich depicted in his opera set there.

So, the hiatus is over, and I will even try to work back to where I left off - last July. Five missing programmes, if I can manage to reverse-engineer them, but I'll concentrate on getting the new ones recorded and published. I will get January done when I get back from Moscow ...

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Revived copyright suddenly becomes less of a problem

Every New Year's Day, copyright stops protecting works whose author died during the year seventy years earlier. This year, one of those authors affected by the rule - whose works (the published ones, at least) now fall into what is loosely called the public domain, is James Joyce, and this brings to an end a particularly unfortunate episode in the history of literary copyright. This article in the New Yorker by Mark O'Connell explains, and it's well worth the time of anyone interested in copyright to read it.

The coming war on general-purpose computing

That's the title of a great piece, originally a speech to the Chaos Computing Conference in Berlin last December, by Cory Doctorow. It's not as long as it looks at first glance: there are a lot of comments on it.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Bahamas remiss in making copyright payments

I'm astonished by this story from The Tribune (no, not the one with the Group, if it even exists any more) about how a fund to pay rights owners for the use of their copyright material in The Bahamas has paid out nothing in the eleven years of its existence. Not a matter of earth-shattering importance, though significant to many of those waiting for their money I dare say: but I thought it was worth passing on.

It's a long-running saga, on the theme of small country being beaten up to make it do what the US film industry wants: see this blog entry from a few years ago. Thanks to Cathy Gellis for pointing out to me this additional (predictable) dimension to the story. Still hard to see why all that money has been sitting there with no mechanism to pay it out, though!

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