Thursday, December 08, 2005


Asterisk not Asterix

Normally I refrain from correcting other people’s (spoken) grammatical errors. I think it is very rude to point out mispronunciations, incorrect usage of words, phraseology faux pas and sloppy syntax. However today I had to draw the line. I happened to overhear my boss, whilst talking on the phone, make a mistake I couldn’t ignore. Instead of saying “asterisk” she said Asterix. I think this is one of the most widespread grammatical mistakes made in the English language today, the majority of people who I happen to hear attempt the word asterisk erroneously say the name of the fictional comic book character from ancient Gaul created by Albert Uderzo, thereby instantly rendering the sentence complete gibberish and showing themselves to be well below average in the linguistic competency department.

So why is this? Can it be that these people have been exposed to the Asterix comic books but failed to take any notice in their English classes at school? Well that’s understandable I guess, but what happened after these people left school and had to make their own way in the world? Have they not heard of the word asterisk? Have they never read it? Did they not grasp the primary wordplay joke of Uderzo’s Asterix comics (the taking of everyday words and changing them into Gaulish and Frankish sounding names by suffixing them with the letters ix)? Have they never written it in a word processing program and seen the red line beneath it telling them there is no such word and the one the want ends in ‘isk’. I personally think the whole thing is self-perpetuating. The more people hear others say it the stronger their belief in their own misguided mispronunciation is, and so they continue the propagation of this widespread error. I wonder if when these people hear the correct pronunciation of asterisk they think the person they heard say it, mispronounced it themselves?

* Asterix (and Dogmatix)

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Posterior numbness. What can we do about it?

My two weeks off now seem a distant memory. It didn’t take long to fall back into the habit of the daily commute to and from the office. However it is the small things that you notice after any time away from the usual routine, and I found reacquainting myself with the seats on the new trains here an unpleasant experience. Melbourne’s suburban train fleet is an interesting collection of train types. The most recent additions date from 2002 to the present and these are clean (as clean as you can keep public transport) well air-conditioned and quiet. Then there are the old refurbished trains that date from the early 1980’s these were refurbished about five years ago, but are still leave a little to be desired. The third type is the oldest, dating from the 1970’s – these are not air-conditioned (they have windows that passengers can actually open, unlike the other types), they are exceptionally noisy and smell like the inside of a kennel that houses a particularly aromatic dog. However, whilst most aspects of passenger’s comfort has improved with each generation of train, the quality of seating has taken a drastic step backwards. The powers that dictate the choice of new train have gone with seats that have become less and less padded. The oldest trains have relatively luxuriously padded and contoured foam cushioning to ease the journey of all but the widest or most fatigued of rears, not even the faded and ripped tartan fabric design cannot detract from the relative softness of the seat compared to the new models – it’s just a shame about the rest of the train.

Prior to their refit the early 80’s trains had cushioning levels of not much below that of their predecessors – but after the refit for some reason the seats were given cushioning of less than half the depth of the previous cushioning.

Then three years ago two new types of train were introduced (only one of which I catch as the other isn’t used on my line) and the bottoms of Melbourne were introduced to a whole new level of posterior discomfort. No doubt chosen due to financial dictates, the padding for these seats would make a slab of marble seem like a preferable option for the passenger (I have actually seen a bottom weary traveler slip their very own marble slab on top of the ‘cushioning’ in an effort to improve the discomfort of the trip). At the end of every trip I am often on the verge of requiring medical attention. I find vigorous thigh massage helps, especially when done in conjunction with squats and stamping of the feet (all of which encourages improved blood flow to the near necrotic tissues of the legs).

At least the leg room has not been whittled away over the years as has the cushioning levels. I am able to report that the legroom available to the traveler today remains as it was when initial measurements for passenger leg space were taken in 1854, when the average traveler was five foot five and malnourished. Now of course this is woefully inadequate, requiring persons sitting opposite one another to intertwine their legs and knees in such away that doesn’t allow a quick exit from the carriage in event of an evacuation (or if the traveler has slept up to their stop and only realizes he or she has to get off as the doors begin to close). I have observed some particularly nasty (if amusing) scenes due to the dangerously high levels of leg entanglement when this happens.

The worst experience though was had by me this morning. I had the misfortune to travel briefly between city stations on the new type of train that doesn’t travel on my line. I boarded and observed the differences between the carriages - especially the relative variance of the foam padding on the seats. Instead of foam this seat design appeared to simply use fabric over the hard plastic itself. I sat down to see what it felt like and it realised the designers had indeed decided to do away altogether with the foam cushioning and feel the fabric itself afforded the required cushioning for the traveller. Suddenly I realized my 6mm of foam cushioning was not that bad at all…

Well I guess foam is expensive these days, especially when examined in relation to the manufacturing cost of a train.

Friday, October 21, 2005

I have been on holiday now for nearly two weeks. The whole time has been spent at home, I haven’t gone anywhere for any length of time but I have been lapping up the fact that my time is mine at last, just how it should be. No working for the boss just to earn enough to pay my way in the world, but doing things I want to do when I want to do them. I am beginning to feel human again after the long period between holidays which turns me into an automaton – going through the motions with little thought – living by the alarm clock and the work clock.

I find a large amount of people say of their holiday (if they don’t actually go anywhere that is) that it was good but they were bored by the third day and to be honest, they are glad they are back at work. What kind of moronic thinking is that? I cannot imagine that the prospect of getting up early day after day to commit oneself to the drudgery of another working day is in any way preferable to doing what you want, when you want to (within the bounds of your financial abilities of course). I understand some people have exciting dynamic jobs that have a certain allure (James Bond for example has such a job), but for the average run of the mill shop or office worker there is no reason why the prospect of repetitively dealing with recalcitrant customers or sitting in front of a computer all day possess any form of allure whatsoever. How can this be better than doing your own thing without any form of management constantly demanding more, more, more? Do these people have so little imagination they require constant outside stimulation in order to be happy? That the fact this stimulation comes in the form of repetitive and boring tasks for someone else somehow means little to them, and that this is better than having to search their own brain to find a reason they should exist outside their small and usually insignificant job role. These people need structure and routine to survive. Ok, I can understand that, but the fact they fail to create a structure or routine by themselves and have to rely on employers to do it for them I just don’t understand. There is more in this world to discover than anyone could fit into one life, so why would anyone waste that life sitting behind a desk pushing papers and answering the phone?

I dread the fact that come next Monday morning I will have to heed the call of my alarm clock and revert to automaton mode, a dark cloud descends and my stomach muscles tighten just contemplating the idea. But until then I will continue to sit back and enjoy the fact I can stop and actually hear myself think for at least another few days.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Last week I made myself immortal. Yep, you read that correctly. I submitted my name to the list that will be aboard the NASA mission to Pluto, the Kuiper Belt and beyond named New Horizons, due for launch in early 2006. My name, along with a select few (hundred thousand), will be put on a disc and placed upon the spacecraft whose primary mission is to observe at close range the planet Pluto, it’s moon Charon and later, objects in the Kuiper belt. It will arrive at Pluto in 2015 and the Kuiper belt in 2020.

But what after that? Where will the craft go? Where in the boundless, unimaginable depths of the universe will my name end up? Well, like it’s famous predecessors, Voyagers 1 and 2 which have already left the Solar System, nothing much should change on the craft unless there is a nasty collision with an asteroid or errant star – but the chances of that happening are relatively small given the great distances between objects in space. Long after I have faded from existence, after mankind has ceased to be and the sun has consumed the inner planets of our little solar system, the chances are the spacecraft, by now long cold and dead, will still be spinning through interstellar space towards infinity – and my name will still be on it. The Earth and everything upon it created by the hand of man will be gone, the only lasting epitaph of humanity will be the little band of untouchable spacecraft sent out into the void by us, silently and eternally hurtling headlong past stars and nebulae. I think that’s as close to eternity as I can get.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

What is it with loud people?

Through no fault of my own I work in an office. In fact I have worked in various offices for a number of years and without exception there has been a loud voiced person in every one of them. Usually these obnoxious individuals sit well away from me where the volume is almost tolerable, but sometimes, like now, I have the bad fortune to be located within earshot of a personage who rabbits on like a trashy talk show on a TV with a broken volume control. Why do I have to listen to every detail of their working day as it is broadcast across the office? They seem oblivious to the fact that everyone on the whole floor can hear them. Perhaps though they are aware that this is case, but just have no care that they are embarrassing themselves. I take offence at listening to the minutiae of their daily duties, every phone call, every discussion with work mates, every time they loudly announce their intention to go to the toilet or take their lunch break – I just don’t need to know! If it was always confined to work related shouting it would be almost ok, but there is a hardcore of this type of ‘less than subtle’ person who simply cannot refrain from regaling the happenings in their personal lives as well. At best this drivel is banal, at worst it is offensive.

Considering the above observations (and, of course, in my entirely subjective opinion) there are two types of loud people:

Type A: The sad ‘haven’t got a clue’ type, people who just don’t quite get it – they laugh at jokes they don’t quite understand and tell you just a bit too much detail about their unusually dull personal lives, even when you are quite obviously uninterested, and sometimes even when you are sitting on the other side of the office. They have loud conversations on mobile phones on the train whilst commuting, ensuring the whole carriage understands exactly what he or she will be doing over the coming days/weeks, with whom and when; sometimes, unbelievably, including details such as addresses and phone numbers. Now I understand that details such as these are occasionally required to be communicated over the phone – but not for the surrounding fifty or so fellow travellers to easily hear surely?

Type B: These are the self-obsessed egocentrics with a passion for their own voices and no concept of other people’s perception of them. Then again, perhaps they are well aware of their habit of forcing their personalities onto innocent bystanders, but just have no care for the aural rights of others. This is by far the worst type. Their boorish conversation inevitably revolves around themselves and their self perceived (and utterly non existent) brilliance. They think everyone within a ten-metre radius desperately wants to hear their witty repartee, and dry, superior put downs, which, in reality, are as puerile and unsophisticated as those heard in the schoolyard. Their arrogance is at stratospheric levels, matched only by their inflated self-opinion.

It is this type I now have the bad luck to be sitting near in my office. I’m surprised you can’t hear him from where you are…

Friday, August 19, 2005

Adjective abuse and redundant verbiage.
Like, what’s the point of prefixing every statement with an adjective (as opposed to it’s verb form in this case) such as like? Like, it’s completely pointless. Like, it’s either like it, or it is it! I dislike unneeded suffixing of statements too, like, you know what I mean?

Friday, July 08, 2005

This morning, through the grime of the train window I saw a fiery sunrise. It lit the sky with a cleansing brilliance so at odds with what lay beneath. Upon the ground was the usual scattered confusion of humanity who, automaton like, thronged towards their workplaces. Some clasped steaming Styrofoam cups of coffee, some were connected to their personal musical worlds, all looked as if they would prefer to be somewhere other than where they were. I gazed at the burning sky and was reminded of the nobler aspects of travel. How I have seen similar illuminated skies from the small windows of airliners as a foreign sun slowly rose from beneath a foreign horizon. How I have seen dawns banish the dark from the windows of unfamiliar airports to unveil new and unexpected vistas of life outside in a land new to me, whilst the unmistakable smell of aviation fuel wafts at intervals through the terminal halls. However no such exotic promise was allowed me whilst sitting in my crowded train this morning. In place of aircraft fuel was the smell of overly applied perfumes and aftershaves overlying the natural train carriage aroma of ground in human indifference and desperation.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Life is like lying in bed after you hit snooze on the alarm clock. You know the end is coming soon, but you hang in there until the last possible second.