Saturday, 29 January 2011

Location, location

Earlier this month I wrote about the incorporation of the Oxford Thesaurus into The Online Oxford Dictionary. Exciting news indeed, but I omitted to mention that one year's subscription to the combined work costs GBP205 or US$295.

But it needn't cost you anything at all. If you are a true-born, full-blooded Englishman there is no problem; if you are not true-born, or full-blooded, or English, or a man (or not even a UK resident), then you will have to go to a little trouble, but of course it will be well worth it. This is what you must do:

1. Choose a town in the UK where you could bear to live. Tastes vary so much that I cannot advise on this, but there are plenty of publications which will guide you, either negatively or positively, such as Crap Towns of Southeast England, Essex for Gourmets, We Ban Members of the Bullingdon Club, No LibDems Here, The Top 100 Scottish Towns for Posh Totty, Havens in Dorset for Hedge Fund Managers, Muggers' Cumbria, Slough: The Stamp Collector's Paradise and many others.

2. Log on to the website of the town you have chosen, find the telephone number of its public library and phone to find out whether it is covered by the agreement with the Oxford University Press permitting them to enable their subscribers to access OUP online publications (most UK library authorities are) from their home computers without charge.

3. If the answer is yes, move yourself (and your family if you like) to that town and join its library. You will be given a PIN.

4. Enjoy the OED and the Thesaurus for the rest of your life or until the British government closes down all the public libraries and sells the OED to Houghton Mifflin.


Monday, 24 January 2011

Book now to survive

Earlier this month a reader's letter in Private Eye drew attention to an advertisement which had appeared in Eye 1279. It is a tiny ad and contains only a coloured picture of some sort of conflagration and the questions "Have you thought about the future?" and "Are you ready" (with no question mark). But it does give a link to the website where all is explained.

The site is well designed, though the spelling and punctuation of the text are not of the highest standard, but the welcome page advises: "If you do not have expendable liquid funds available to you, to cover as a minimum of one point five million euros for each member of your family, please do not continue". I would have to check whether I qualify, which is by no means certain, but clearly the offer is aimed at a high proportion of OMF's demographic, and in the interests of my readers I felt bound to investigate so that none of them would miss the opportunity of a profitable investment.

It is indeed a remarkable offer. Bearing in mind that "the Mayan’s
 predicted thousands of years ago that mankind as we know it would cease to exist at the end of December 2012" (cue lovely picture of a Mayan carving), that ..."the Knights of Malta, Knights of the Templar, Bilderburg group, Illuminati, and so on, Reptilian hybrids, shape shifters, etc, etc) have been living underground for thousands of years, feeding off the surface in terms of energy, food, etc etc....." and are about to emerge and take over the few humans who will be left after World War 3", plus "the well-known fact that an asteroid in the shape of the devil's head will pass near the Earth in 2012", we may well be concerned about the future.

It must be said that not everyone agrees with these predictions; my friends Septimus and George, for example, who look at the end-of-mankind thing from a more Jesus-oriented viewpoint, reckon that it will all happen
 before the end of this year, but, unlike the ArcSurvival people, have no suggestions for avoiding the unpleasantness which awaits us all.

What does the Arc (or sometimes Ark) Survival Group have to offer?

Well, this is not a flimsy plan hastily cobbled together by amateurs. For years a "highly experienced, and knowledgeable engineering team that has over 20 years average experience in all aspects of engineering, Structural, Mechanical, Advanced Engineering,... very respected and well known by their peer’s, experts in cutting edge free energy technology, of which we have perfected and have gone to great lengths to secure, in Nuclear, chemical, biological, attack survival and with advanced knowledge and expertise in natural disaster survival, including plate shifts...and with extensive knowledge in long term food and water provision and storage..." has been preparing to offer to "a handful of Elite people" a number of Ark Survival villages completely invisible to the outside world.

Each village will have some of the latest medical equipment available, and will in fact incorporate a mini hospital, while "two of the Elite members will be fully trained and qualified Doctors who can cover all aspects of health including surgical operations. Natural and homeopathic healing will play a major role, and we are already very advanced with this including treatments and cures for previously thought incurable diseases".

Security will be paramount: "We have a small number of specialists ex British SAS members who are part of our team and play a major role in member preparation, training, and state of the art security measures. This ensures that our survival village, will not only be completely stealth, but will be secure against any outside hostility".

It is good to know that "careful vetting of all who become part of this project" will be considered "of the up most importance", though presumably care will be taken not to infringe any of the provisions of the Equal Opportunities Act or relevant EU regulations. After all, being one of the Elite may involve staying underground for several years, and after paying all that money it would be distressing to find that one was expected to share accommodation with a rowdy bunch of former hedge fund managers or LibDem supporters.

We are told that: "Commissioning will commence from July 2011 through to November 2012 and planned first evacuation December 15th 2012". However, the Mayans prophesied nasty things happening at the end of December 2012 and of course the devil's head asteroid is scheduled to start upsetting everyone's arrangements in the same month, so time is getting very short.

The project sounds well thought out and attractive, though some may be doubtful about "placing funds into an irrevocable letter of credit attached to a contact agreeable to both parties, for no less than 60% of the total required amount". Still, we were warned at the outset that only those ready to contribute a minimum of one point five million euros for each member of their family should enter the website.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Fractally speaking

Maths jokes, let alone good ones, are rare, and I am indebted to my friend Froog, eminent Sinologist, former barrister and now doyen of the Beijing Bar Society, for passing on this:

Q: The great mathematician who died last year was called Benoit B. Mandelbrot. What does the B stand for?

A: Benoit B. Mandelbrot

Friday, 14 January 2011

Having a ball in Berlin, 1930

No 33 in an occasional series of extracts from The Postcard Century
May 1930   A  scene set for any amoral tale of Berlin's cabaret years. The couple occupy one of the 'postillons d'amour with curtains' advertised on the back of the card (as is table-to-table telephone). Then mood is sophisticated, liberated, modern, everything that makes Frank write My dearest Eva, Come to Berlin for a proper holiday. You cannot find the same in England. Amusement, weather, sights and all are good & I can act as guide. Was Eva (in Hounslow) tempted? Did she enter the novel whose opening lines this message could so convincingly supply?

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Anne's First Theorem

Anne teaches mathematics, and our friend Grumio gave her this Christmas present:

He had it produced for Anne by TheoryMine, whose details are here (read the FAQs). A certificate of registry was provided guaranteeing that it is unique and provable, and that it has been recorded under her name in their database.

As most readers of OMF know, a theorem is a mathematical formula for which we have a proof. Both theorems and proofs are within a theory which consists of a set of axioms. A proof is a sequence of formulae, starting with some axioms and ending with the theorem. Each non-axiom formula in this sequence follows from the previous formulae in the sequence. All the axioms in TheoryMine theories are recursive definitions.

Recursion is a mathematical technique that is much used in computer programs. In a recursive definition, the value of a recursive function is defined in terms of values of the same function applied to smaller inputs. This sounds circular, but because the function's inputs get smaller and smaller the computation eventually stops. TheoryMine also uses recursion to define brand new types of input and output for each theory. These are called recursive data-structures.

But never mind about all that; theorems are abstract objects that are not subject to wear and tear. Even diamonds will be destroyed in the heat death of the universe; theorems won't be.

So what a splendid gift they make! No-one could doubt that they are a girl's best friend.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Les Mots Justes

When people stumble across a blog which seems to have no obvious theme or purpose, they naturally wonder what it is about. What's the point?, they ask themselves...what's the fellow's game?

So right from the start I have made it absolutely clear what themes OMF conspicuously lacked, and exactly what range of purposes it was not intended to serve: the blog is basically a confused and confusing assortment of disparate bits and pieces, if you will pardon the clichĂ©, and with the help of the good Dr Roget, I compiled a list of all the words which seemed to me to describe its essence. These sixteen words are listed in ABOUT.

Now, as OMF lumbers into its seventh year, it occurs to me that this brief description of it is inadequate. By a happy coincidence, there was a historic event in the  publishing world last month which provided me with a wonderful tool to help me flesh it out: this was the incorporation into the mighty Oxford English Dictionary of the equally mighty Oxford Historical Thesaurus of the English Language (see note at the foot of this post) into the online version of the OED.

So it was the work of a moment to search for "medley" in the great thesaurus and get a list of thirty-two more words or phrases describing OMF. Here they are:

a mishmash 1475 A confused mixture or jumble; a muddle.
a peasemeal 1525 (figurative) A hotchpotch, a mess.
omnium gatherum 1530 A gathering or collection of all sorts of people or things.
a mingle 1548 A mingled mass, a mixture.
hotchpotch 1549 A confused mixture of disparate things; a medley, a jumble.
mingle-mangle 1549 A mixture, a mishmash; a confused medley of things, ideas, persons, etc.
a rhapsody 1574 A miscellany or medley; esp. a muddled collection of words, ideas, etc.
a sauce-medley 1579 A concoction, a mixture compounded by art.
a pell-mell 1586 An indiscriminate mingling, a confused mixture or throng.
a linsey-woolsey 1592 (figurative) A strange medley; confusion, nonsense.
a wilderness 1594 A mingled, confused, or vast assemblage or collection of persons or things.
a brewage 1599 (figurative)
a macaronic 1611 A jumble or medley.
an olla podrida 1635 A diverse mixture of things or elements
a consarcination 1640 Anything patched up, a heterogeneous combination.
a porridge 1642 A jumble, a mess; something without structure or substantial content; something dull or turgid.
an olio 1649 Any mixture of many heterogeneous elements.
a jumble 1661 A confused or disorderly mixture or assemblage
a motley 1698 An incongruous or confused mixture.
a capilotade 1705 (figurative) A cooked-up story, hash, medley.
a hash 1733 A mixture of mangled and incongruous fragments; a medley; a spoiled mixture; a mess
a salmagundi 1761 (figurative) A mixture
a pasticcio 1785 A confused mixture, a hotchpotch; a mess.
a macédoine 1820 A medley or mixture of unrelated things.
a job lot 1828 A motley assortment brought together (freq. cheaply)
a conglomerate 1837 (figurative) A mixture of various materials or elements, clustered together without assimilation.
a pot-pourri 1841 A diverse collection or assortment of people or things
a chow-chow 1850 A mixture or medley of any sort.
a jumbling 1852 What is produced by the action of the verb jumble
a haggis 1899 A mixture, hodge-podge; a mess.
a casserole 1930 (figurative) A variety of things cooked together.

Paradoxically, the forty-eight words together make up a precise and accurate specification of Other Men's Flowers, which is a perfect epitome of imprecision and inaccuracy.

Other Men's Flowers wishes a HAPPY NEW YEAR to all conglomerate fans, pasticcio buffs, chow-chow lovers, linsey-wolsey enthusiasts and peasemeal aficionados.

[The Oxford Historical Thesaurus is a taxonomic classification of the majority of senses and lemmas in OED Online. It can be thought of as a kind of semantic index to the contents of the OED, and can be used in OED Online to navigate around the dictionary by topic, find related terms, and explore the lexical history of a concept or meaning. Each class (a list of senses and lemmas sharing a particular meaning) is arranged chronologically, giving a historical overview of the concept represented by that class.]