But I use spell-checker!

I’ve heard that often from people who believe that a spell check is enough to render their writing faultless.

Firstly, the spell check only catches spelling mistakes (hence the name). It doesn’t catch grammatical errors or the misuse of words, both of which are very, very common.

Secondly, it doesn’t catch inconsistencies in content or the too frequent use of a particular word or phrase.

Lastly, it doesn’t tell you if your language is fluent and the text easy to read and understand.

I’m saying this as a person who’s guilty of all these mistakes in her own writing and who, therefore, only very rarely submit text (except from this blog) to a customer or client, newspaper or the like before somebody else has been through it with the red pen at the ready. When my husband looks at my English writing I’m always grumpy at his many suggestions for improvement, but the fact is that the outcome is usually a better text.

In a Danish paper I’ve just read a critique of the Danish publishing houses that resonates deeply in me. Ask any of my Danish friends and you’ll see the whites of their eyes when they tell you how I complain about Danish translators, proof readers and most of all, publishers. Very often translations are sub-standard and you’re constantly reminded that this is a translation, the book was not written in Danish. A good translation is not like that – it is invisible, only the reviewer of the book and possibly its author will pay attention to the fact that here’s actually a job very well done. The same goes for a proof-reader. You don’t read page after page thinking, Oh, how nice, no spelling errors!

The invisible editor is a slightly different matter. Often you find that the book could well have done with some mercy-cuttings of text or some clarification of muddled sentences, etc. Also, fact-checking can be a good idea – and so much easier now than back when it involved getting out of your chair and down to the library. The good translation and faultless text is ultimately the responsibility of the editor. Nevertheless, it often seems like modern Danish editors pick writers and books and then they seem to leave both author, translator and proof-reader (if there is one) to their own devices while they rush off to Frankfurt or wherever to discover the next Stieg Larsson.

Once I left the music business it was always my dream to become editor at a respected publishing house. As in my days as a music A&R person (A&R = Artist and Repertoire), I’ve always been convinced that my talent lies more in spotting, nurturing and refining other people’s talents than in cultivating my own – if there is any.  But I’ve always been told that to become editor at a Danish publishing house you need to have at least a Master Degree in Danish, literature, art history or the like. And, as you all know, I don’t. Not least because I “know” that most editors at publishing houses have substantial academic credentials and that getting the job is allegedly a competition between literary giants, it makes me angry and irritable seeing all these books being published, seemingly without a proper editor behind them.

In the music business we did come across musicians/artists who were so incredibly multi-talented that they could do just about everything themselves. Write wonderful music, beautiful lyrics, make fantastic musical arrangements, play almost all the instruments and finally produce the album faultlessly. But they were a small, small minority. The majority of artists have one or two areas in which they are talented and need help with the rest. There’s no shame in that! Most of us have even less talent or none at all. And almost all of us need help to “kill our Darlings” as they say in Hollywood, just before the film’s most adorable scene ends on the cutting room floor because it disturbs the rhythm – or something.

Most – but not all – books I read in English are entirely without spelling mistakes and editorial blunders. There seems to be real work going on in the leading publishing houses over there. Here however, I only rarely read a book without a number of errors, some worse than others. Why is that? I refuse to believe that Danish publishers are pressed harder than their British counterparts. Go to any bookshop and ask yourself if we weren’t better served with fewer books, chosen with more diligence and edited likewise?

How is it in Sweden and Norway I wonder, and what do you think? Am I reading the wrong books?

By the way, I read Weekend Avisen (a weekly newspaper akin to, er, nothing really, but level of writing very high) and in the latest issue I read a faultless translation of the McChrystal interview from the Rolling Stone and a number of articles without spelling mistakes or other immediately evident blunders. They only have a week to do the job, so why are they so much better at it than many publishing houses?

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Waving the feminist flag again

Knowing how it upsets quite a few of my male readers I just can’t help myself. It’s Ada Lovelace day today, so we’re celebrating women who have excelled in technology.

I’ve chosen not to celebrate any woman in particular but instead to muse over why so many women still shy away from technology.

Ada Lovelace embraced technology although it hadn’t even been invented when she was around. She was guided by her curiosity combined with a brilliant brain and the financial circumstances to allow it.

I think that there’s a number of reasons why women don’t tend to embrace technology the way men do.

*disclaimer*
Please note that I use GENERALISATIONS in this post. I KNOW that not all men embrace technology or are good at it, I KNOW that there are women who excel in hardcore programming, etc. etc. But I’m sure you’ll agree that MORE women than men shy away from technology and that MORE men than women enjoy discussing Megabits of this and Gigabytes of that.
*end of disclaimer*

One of these reasons is the rather dull and unsurprising that technology has always been a male thing ever since the invention of the first technologies when women were still mostly “housewives” and dumbed down by themselves, their mothers, their fathers, their teachers, their brothers, their husbands and society in general. When computers started to be household items, everything to do with them was communicated in a special language, almost exclusive to people who worked with computers and completely unintelligible to anybody outside. But most men had to either pretend to understand or buy some copies of PC World and get an understanding quickly if they didn’t want to be out of the loop.

For women it was enough to learn the weird code language that was WordPerfect. Learning that was not at all considered a computer skill and nobody ever told any secretary that she could take her advanced WordPerfect coding skills and transfer them to other forms of computer coding – that the principles were the same even if the codes were different. So a large group of people – women – who could have become programmers and learned HTML as easy as one-two-three was completely lost. Because when Apple came with their What You See Is What You Get word processing technology and Microsoft came right at their heels and delivered Word to the world, everybody forgot all about WordPerfect and the skillset required to work it.

The language surrounding computers and other daily life technologies has certainly become a lot more accessible with the acceptance and knowledge that the target group has exploded and now includes everybody. But techno speak is still rife and you do need to learn some basics if you want to purchase some new technology and actually know what you’re buying. It’s also very helpful to know basic computer lingo when you make the inevitable call to the dreaded call centre for help. But I still think it would be really helpful if the ad said: This phone has 8GB memory. That equals x number of songs or x podcasts or x movie length films. I mean, who cares whether it’s 8 or 16GB? What you care about is whether there’s room for your entire Itunes library.

So when I talk to other women about technology and they get defensive about learning a bit of computer lingo I challenge them. Every time we enter a new chapter of our lives, we learn the language belonging to this particular subgroup without giving it much thought. You start studying law and after a year or so you’ve adopted a whole new set of words which you use effortlessly, inside and outside university. When you start cooking you learn the difference between tsp and tbsp and after the first mistake you know what “separate the eggs” means. When you first get pregnant (or your girl does) you learn a whole new set of words and phrases and suddenly know exactly what is considered a “normal” birth weight and what isn’t whereas previously you wouldn’t have batted an eyelid if somebody had told you that their baby weighed 12 kilos at birth.

I therefore challenge women to sit down and learn the basics about computers, so they can understand enough to make sane purchases, avoid viruses, guide their children and do what they want to do on their computers and smartphones. Whining that it’s “too complicated” just doesn’t cut any slack with me.

And now for the second reason why I think women are lagging behind when it comes to technology. I think they lack curiosity. Or rather, they lack the inclination to pursue their curiosity. And I think that’s with us from childhood. The further we go back in time the less women are likely to have been encouraged to act on their curiosity as children. And if you go to a toy store or a book store’s children’s department you’ll see how that’s still so very much the case. I should underline that this is a lot worse here in the UK than it is in Denmark. Can’t speak for the rest of the world. The wonderful Science Museum here in the UK has developed the most amazing series of exploratory toys and, happily, they’re on sale all over the world. However, in many a toy store or department store these toys are displayed in the boys’ section and not in the girls’. And where, unfortunately, it’s a general trend that children’s toys today don’t encourage them to think “out of the box” (Now, who is responsible for ruining that phrase? come here and I’ll spank you!) as much as previous generations’ toys, it’s much more true for girls’ toys. If you don’t believe me, go take a look. And don’t tell me that I can just avoid them. I only have boys. But then, I’m not talking about me. Keeping in mind the size of the toy departments and the amount of money spent on advertising toys every year, there CLEARLY are people who buy it, right!

I blame the mothers, particularly the ones who ought to know better, for giving in to this. Just heard this morning that some girls at son’s school were invited to a birthday party with a “Makeover” theme. That makes me want to be sick in somebody’s designer handbag.

In the teetering stack of books next to my bed is a book called Curious? by the psychologist Todd Kashdan (@toddkashdan on Twitter). I haven’t read it yet, but I bought it based on his op-eds in The Huffington Post and an article in the Guardian. I’m very curious myself and have often been told that I’m too curious for my own good. Imagine how pleased I was to read that curiosity is actually good for you and leads to much more “life satisfaction” if such a thing can be quantified. The curious are seldom bored, there’s always an avenue to explore. So what I know now, in the midst of the huge sea of things I don’t know, is that at least I’m not going to die of boredom.

***

So, what I meant to say on Ada Lovelace day, was this: Yes, ladies, there’s a historic precedence for women to not be curious and to be cr*p at technology. But that’s all it is. There are no excuses anymore. And if you can’t be bothered for yourself, then do it for your children. They deserve that you make the effort to understand the world they live in.

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Brain waves

In the car today, my youngest son (8) demanded an explanation of the word “depression”. Not sure where he’d picked it up – maybe he was flicking through a magazine at the hairdressers earlier? I tried to explain it to him as best I could and while I was at it, explained to him that his grandmother’s forgetfulness and repetitiveness through Alzheimer’s also has its root in the brain where so many things happen that we don’t yet fully understand. Of course, the connection between something tangible, our brains, and something intangible, our emotions, is very difficult for a child to grasp. But I think it’s important that we try!

Luckily, Alzheimer is now much better recognised in society than it was even a few years ago and people are beginning to grapple with the idea that, beside obesity and all the other consequences of a poor diet, Alzheimer is one of the biggest problems facing our health services today. My lovely Twitter friend Andrea Gillies is doing a great job at spreading this knowledge. She has two articles in the broadsheets today, one about caring for an Alzheimer patient at home (the Times) and one about the (lack of) care of Alzheimer patients when they are admitted into hospital wards (The Guardian). She knows what she’s talking about, having herself cared for her mother-in-law for three years. She’s written a fantastic but heart-wrenching book about that experience. I cried many times while reading it and I’m in complete awe of Andrea who stomached this without completely losing her mind.

I can only recommend it if you’re close to someone with Alzheimer or to someone who is caring for one. Also if you aren’t actually, because this is something we should all know more about!

At the opposite end of the spectre, so to speak, is happiness. As some readers will know, it’s a pet subject of mine. At the moment I’m reading a book called Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar, who teaches positive psychology at Harvard.

The theory is that we – on average – are in control of 40% of our happiness, if you can put it that way. An average person, living above the poverty limit and in a non-oppressive society, has 40% power over his or her own happiness. Of course, if we’ve just lost a child or been diagnosed with cancer, the 40% shrink rapidly, but I’m sure you get my drift. So when we’re trotting along in our normal, relatively uneventful lives, we have considerable power to heighten our general feeling of happiness. Tal Ben-Shahar tries to give us the tools to do this. For instance, he has a lot of documentation for the fact that once we’ve reached the basic levels of Maslow hierarchy of needs, we all have the same chance of finding happiness. Money has very little to do with it.

I take great comfort in this (not just the money bit…) and try to internalise some of the principles that studies have shown work. For instance, he suggests that we do the “infinitely regressive why” exercise whenever we want something more than a bacon sarnie or a cup of tea. It’s done like this: Why do I want a bigger house? Because so-and-so. Why so-and-so? Because so-and-so. Until the answer is: Because it’ll make me happier. The more “becauses” there are between the original question and the happiness answer, the less meaningful it is for your overall happiness to acquire said object.

If you question that happiness is our ultimate goal in life, then read this quote from Hume:

“The great end of all human industry is the attainment of happiness. For this were arts invented, sciences cultivated, laws ordained, and societies modeled.”

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Good taste

I read about a website and a book called Stuff White People Like in the Sunday Times. It both fascinated and irritated me and I couldn’t get it out of my head.

I believe that I have a fairly good eye for things that’ll trend, except in the world of fashion. When looking through this weeks Style Magazine in Sunday Times, I just cannot believe that anyone likes that stuff. Anyway, what I have an eye for is probably more What White People Like, or, as I’m not overly fond of the term and find it too American for us Europeans, The Aspiring Classes.

While I’m definitely not blind to the many foibles that mar us who belong to the Aspiring Classes, I’m also uncomfortable with Mr. Lander’s generalisations. For instance I don’t like his attitude towards charity – charity here means anything we do for other people in a charitable fashion. I think – and hope – that it’s not only the Aspiring Classes who feel inclined to be charitable. Actually, I find that it’s a thing that defines a, luckily large, subset of the Working Class, that they take time and money they don’t have out to help others. Just think of some of the incredible people we’ve seen on the TV-programme The Secret Millionaire. But he’s right when he says that some charities appeal a lot more to the Aspiring Classes than others. A few years ago, the ones that came with a plastic armband were top of the pops. I had one too…

The phenomenon of Good Taste is not exactly new. Neither is it new that it’s a term with special significance to the aspiring and upper classes. We’re brought up to believe that the Upper Classes (no no, not in money terms, obviously) are born with Good Taste, whereas the rest of us must strive to achieve it and some of us get it wrong. Big Time.

According to a lovely programme I heard on Radio 4, Taste, as in Good Taste, was an invention of the 18th Century, and, as it was so beautifully put in the programme, a marriage of wealth and virtue. Chew on that for a bit, will you? The reason why it’s a bit complicated and fraught with traps and pit-holes is that we’re protestants. So we can’t just lean back and enjoy all the opulence money can buy, we have to always justify the things we purchase – everything is tinged with guilt. “Residual anxiety about material things” as historian Amanda Vickery puts it.

I decided not to read through the full list of Things White People Like, because I thought It would disturb my own feeling of what the Aspiring Classes like. So I’ve wandered around my own home and taken random pictures of things that I believe belong in this category. It is very, very far from exhaustive – I’m hoping to make this into a series with pictures of my own stuff, pictures of other people’s stuff, stuff in shops and in the street and even lots of stuff that isn’t stuff at all, but more concepts and ideas. I’ll post them as I think of them. And I certainly hope you’ll find inspiration to post your own additions. I have a friend in Denmark who has a truly exceptional eye for this (you know who you are M-L!) and I really hope she’ll contribute.

We have a thermos cum cafetière. That is now old-school. The thing to have is a Nespresso machine. I try hard not to covet it. I have and love my Kitchen Aid mixer. It matches my other red kitchen thingies, but where I beg to differ from the description of Kitchen Aid owners in the Sunday Times, I actually use mine at least once a week. We use Maldon sea salt and whole spices where possible. Maybe we’re just posh, but we actually believe we can taste the difference – especially with spices like cardamom. We have two pepper mills, both with a Peugeot grinder. That should guarantee that it lasts for life. Electric pepper grinders are NOT good taste. Wasting a battery on a pepper mill?!?

We have a Philippe Starck dining table. That’s not quite good taste – it borders too much on show-off. Candles on the table however, is good taste. But one must be very careful not to go overboard and become shabby chic, which is sooo 90’s. Antique silver candlesticks with white candles on the other hand – that’s a classic :-) As are paintings, new and old, which are NOT purchased to match the curtains. The Aspiring Classes know that that’s not done. That’s something the nouveau riche do. The thought makes us shudder.

We own Apple stuff. Lots of it. Nuff said. There are quite a few magazines to read for the Aspiring, in fact Vanity Fair might be considered a tad too American and eh, aspiring. For an almost 50-year old woman, reading Wired is probably not quite the right thing either – something literary perhaps? Intelligent Life, which is not in the picture, fits the mould. And I read that too…

We believe in healthy good food and we want to cook it ourselves. Not always successful, we can always resort to M&S, where the food department caters almost exclusively to us. So nice with a shop that understands our needs!

Obviously, there are hundreds more items and it’s possible to go into nitty gritty detail. For instance, reading books is not enough. It must be the right books at the right time. And THOU MAY NOT LIKE DAN BROWN (but it’s OK to have read one, like yours truly).

I think I will come back to this…

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Like walking in water

is what my intellectual life has felt like lately. I’ve read a lot of very inspiring stuff but felt completely incapable of commenting on it in a way suitable for publication. But then I read how a children’s author found the courage to start writing: After decades of reading all the masters of both adult and children’s fiction, she’d built up a sizeable inferiority complex and felt incapable of writing anything of substance. But then she got the idea of approaching it the other way round. She went to the library and borrowed some really cr** children’s books and went home and read them. And then she read some more. And suddenly the writer’s block was gone  – ’cause anyone could write prose more engaging and interesting than what she’d just been reading.

So – after having read stuff by some of the world’s leading journalists and writers over the summer in Vanity Fair, Sunday Times, Wired etc., I’ve now stumbled around a bit and read some bits and bobs by more inferior writers and got my courage up :-)

I’ve been following the debate around Free. The debate started long before Chris Anderson’s book*, but it really took off after. And News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch has certainly stirred the pot with his claim that he’s very close to creating a pay-wall around his empire. What to think about all this? I’m still in doubt. I’m against downloading music without paying for it, but I happily use Grooveshark and Spotify to stream music. And I’m the first to say that the music industry has only itself to thank for its current predicament. I can still recall how my bosses in the Danish music industry laughed at me when I – in the very early 90ties – came home from a seminar in New York and told them that music was about to become digital and how that might have implications for copyright protection…

Would I pay for content? Yes, I think I would gladly pay for some content, if it were of high quality and delivered to me in a convenient and tailored format. I’m having news from BBC, Times of London, New York Times, The Guardian and Washington Post among others delivered to my computer and/or my phone on a daily basis. What if these could be tailored even more specifically to my needs and delivered in more reader friendly ways? Personally, I think micro-payment, as practised on Itunes and in the App store, is on the up and that our future credit card statements/phone bills will be full of miniature payments for all sorts of things, not only songs and apps, but news stories, TV-programmes, films, parking, bus tickets etc.

Anyway, if you haven’t followed the debate, here’s a few important articles on the subject: Anderson himself, Malcolm Gladwell’s dismissal of the idea, Murdoch’s vow to install a pay-wall, Andrew Keen‘s treatment of Pirate Bay and finally a summary on The Guardian’s tech pages (the best place to follow this debate, the Guardian’s online presence is by far the best on the web).

Another Big Story that I’ve been following over the summer is the story about the greatest swindler of them all, Bernie Madoff. Incredibly interesting and intriguing stuff! Vanity Fair is best for this story. Just go to their site and type in Madoff in the search field. The Guardian has collected everything about Madoff very neatly in one place if your time is too short for 3-4 VF articles…

Of course I’ve also been following the development in Iran – mostly via Twitter – and the situation in Afghanistan, which seems to deteriorate on a daily basis.

And then there’s the Birther movement and the “If Stephen Hawking had been English, he’d be dead” debate in the US. I absolutely love the latter – isn’t it just exceptional how the American right can get away with blatant lies. How can the people who work on Fox News and a whole host of other media spreading these insane rumours call themselves journalists? (Oh well, people who write about the latest shenanigans of 3rd rate TV stars also call themselves journalists – so much for that).

And I’ve been away on holiday – will not use the word st**cation – some of my Twitterfriends get sick when they hear the word – on the Sussex coast. We had a lovely totally holidayish time, kiting, crabbing, touring, playing Monopoly and Canasta, reading reading reading. Best book I read was Turbulence by Giles Foden. Absolutely brilliant – a must read. I’ll never badmouth the meteorologists again, promise! Above pictures are from holiday, inspired by Turbulence.

Finally, a recommendation. Youngest son Dane has been busy with scissors and glue since we came back. See the rather surprising results of his endeavours here.

* A funny aberdabei about Anderson’s book Free, is that it’s actually only free in the US. Over here we have to pay for it. So much for Free!

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I love this woman

Lenore Skenazy
Lenore Skenazy

Her name is Lenore and she’s a New Yorker. Some time ago she wrote a small article in a relatively obscure paper which inadvertently changed her life. She admitted that she’d let her child ride the subway alone… close your eyes and imagine the torrent of hatemail, calls etc. that landed on her. Or read her own very funny account of it all on Huffington Post. Here’s her blog – it’s all about Free Range Kids, she’s even written a book about it.

I’m completely devoid of inspiration today, so I’ll just pass you on to a handful of women, who all write very well, engaging and funny:

This one calls herself @titianred on Twitter, where she never fails to entertain. She loves Monday mornings – or so she says.

Here’s Razorkitty – an intelligent, beautiful woman, who’s comments are gold when you’re watching certain programmes on TV.

Clare is also an eminent Twitterer. She’s promised (it was you, wasn’t it Clare?) to write on her blog why it is that buying clothes at Boden is a no-go. I’m waiting in trepidation…

Last one – I’ve written about Tania Kindersley before – and her lovely book Backwards in High Heels, which you can read more about on her own blog.

Over and out from Sunny Surrey.

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Is less always more or only sometimes?

Together with a lot of other Twitterers, I’ve enjoyed this article in the New York Times. It’s written by the clearly renowned writer Pico Iyer, although I *shamefully hangs head* had never heard of him. I must read one of his books. Any of you well read, sophisticated people out there have any suggestions?

The piece is about leaving most of his worldly possessions behind him and settling in humble dwellings in Japan. How it elates him and sets him free. Even if you have no dream of being able to do such a thing or even if you’re a real materialist hedonist (can one say that??), you should still read it. His writing is fabulous and very evocative.

I have little more to say today, other than bringing you this silly picture. Notice that it’s a first for me – I usually never fall for animal cuteness on the web, but this one really got me. Maybe because of the caption. It was brought to my attention by fellow happy twitterer @Eyglo from Iceland who also writes the excellent blog Ideary.

Sourced from @eyglo on Twitter: http://tinyurl.com/n5hg23
Sourced from @eyglo on Twitter: http://tinyurl.com/n5hg23

Oh yes and this, which I took yesterday when we decided on a quick walk in a strange forest. Sheep Leas, not far from Horsley, Surrey.

Dont say an Iphone cant take a decent pic.
Don't say an Iphone can't take a decent pic.
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Religious zeal – or what's worse

Politics:

An interview with Hanif Kureishi about what has happened to the world since the fatwa against Salman Rushdie‘s The Satanic Verses. It’s very interesting and deserves to be read by anyone who takes an interest in these matters. Here’s a quote:

The Rushdie affair, Kureishi believes, transformed not just his own work, but also “the very notion of writing.” The fatwa “created a climate of terror and fear. Writers had to think about what they were writing in a way they never had to before. Free speech became an issue as it had not been before. Liberals had to take a stand, to defend an ideology they had not really had to think about before.” How have they borne up to the task? “The attacks on Rushdie showed that words can be dangerous. They also showed why critical thought is more important than ever, why blasphemy and immorality and insult need protection. But most people, most writers, want to keep their heads down, live a quiet life. They don’t want a bomb in the letterbox. They have succumbed to the fear.”

They also touch on the Danish cartoon controversy. I thought then and I still think that it was perfectly all right to publish those drawings, if they had been in some sort of context. The most controversial one, the one with the mullah with the bomb in the turban would probably had gone by quite unnoticed had it accompanied an article about one of those insane Islamic fanatics who we always see on videos thundering about the imminent demise of the Western World. But the context of the drawings, if anyone should have forgotten, was a purposeful attempt to insult Muslims. Plain and simple. Nothing else. And I find that despicable.

I’ve read several of Kureishi’s books and of course also seen the lovely My Beautiful Launderette, but bow my head and admit that I’ve never gotten around to read the Satanic Verses or any of Rushdie’s other books. I don’t like Rushdie much and, although I’m always preaching to others about not letting the artist overshadow the work, I guess that’s what’s influenced me so I haven’t read any of his books. I even have one or two on the shelf… It was the clever twitterer @howardsends who alerted me to the interview.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Here’s a video from a congressional hearing on climate change. You will have to see it to believe that so much nonsense can come out of the mouth of a grown up and totally sane looking suit-clad congressman. (notice how the girl behind him tries not to smile). Pointer (again) from Andrew Sullivan at the Atlantic.

Here’s a good, reflective piece from Time Magazine about the Earth Hour.

IQ:

Thorough and well written review of important book about IQ as being hereditary or environmental. As with almost everything else, it’s not either or, it’s AND. Of course intelligence can be cultivated. And of course black people don’t have lower IQs than whites because of their race. And of course women don’t have lower IQs than men. As with any other gift you inherit from your ancestors you can either do something with it or not!

Tech:

If the management on NYT and International Herald Tribune are this dumb, there’s very little hope for the world!

Food:

How to use chopsticks. Instructional video. 90 secs. It works. Found on this interesting looking blog via Sheamus who never fails to twitter about interesting stuff.

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A Film Meme

I’ve been tagged by my friend Gabs. She’s a real film buff and we used to go to the cinema together at least once every week…

She stole the meme from a British blogger, a Labour MP by the name of Tom Harris (can’t say I’ve ever heard of him, but then he’s from Scotland…)

It’s about the 25 films Obama gave Prime Minister Brown on his recent visit to the White House. Have we seen them? Do we own them?

Here’s the rules: Take two points for every film you own and have seen (only one if you own it but haven’t got round to watching it yet), one point if you’ve seen it but don’t own the DVD, and no points for those you haven’t either watched, purchased or been given.

Actually, I’m not keen on owning films, since I’ve noticed that I very rarely watch them more than once or twice, so I don’t really approve of the idea that owning it is worth as much as having seen it – what if you’ve seen it many, many times, but still don’t own it? When we left Denmark we gave away quite a few films and since then we’ve only bought a few, mostly for young son.

Anyway, a rule’s a rule, so here goes:

Citizen Kane – exactly as good as it is made out to be.

The Godfather – and that goes for this one as well. Btw, if you’re a fan of the Godfather films, you’ll truly enjoy this article from Vanity Fair about the making of the first film. Truly amazing!

Casablanca – this one has become somewhat iconic, so that the iconic stands in the way of our appreciation of the film, don’t you think? But heck, I like all films with good  old Humphrey in them!

Raging Bull – This one I’ve strangely managed to avoid all these years. But I will see it one day.

Singin’ in the Rain – saw it as a child, remember it quite clearly.

Gone with the Wind – this one too, and again as a young girl.

Lawrence of Arabia – great film – still good.

Schindler’s List – very touching. Pity there weren’t more good Germans around then.

Vertigo – probably my favourite Hitchcock, only surpassed by Rear Window (which I do own).

The Wizard of Oz – never saw that one.

City Lights – oh yes, still brings a tear to my eye.

The Searchers – great Western. All young people should see it. First then do they know what A Western is. You want to get a horse and ride out there with them.

Starwars: Episode IV – don’t know!? Cant’ tell one episode from the other. I’ve seen 2-3 of them??!! (just checked on ImdB – this is the first one, only later renamed Episode IV. So I have definitely seen it.)

Psycho – yes. Not a favourite.

2001: A Space Odyssey – yes. Ok. Not wild about Sci-Fi.

Sunset Boulevard – Had to check this clip from the film to see if I’d seen it. Can’t remember it, so probably haven’t.

The Graduate – well of course.

The General – not sure I ever saw this one. But since I’ve translated this brilliant book into Danish I know a lot about it – and about a lot of the other films on this list.

On the Waterfront – Shame on me. I never saw it!

It’s a Wonderful Life – If you haven’t seen it. See it. It’s just eh, just eh, hm. Rent it, buy it, whatever. See it.

Chinatown – Seen this one at least 10 times. Always good.

Some Like it Hot – saw that when I was a child. Not sure if I’ve seen it since. When MM enters the screen you know right away what made her such a superstar.

The Grapes of Wrath – yes. And read the book. Book made a huge impression on young, impressionable me.

ET: The Extra-Terristrial – quite a few times. Just said to my husband the other day that we should get it on Film on Demand for young son – he’s got just the age (7) for it.

To Kill a Mockingbird – I’m actually not sure if I’ve ever actually seen this film? It seems very familiar, but I remember the book so clearly that it may stand in the way of remembering the film – if ever I saw it. See this trailer for the film. The art of making trailers has come a long way…

Time to add up the points. I’ve seen 20 of them. So that’s 20 points. And I own On the Waterfront (which I haven’t seen, silly in’it?), Citizen Kane, Schindler’s List & Lawrence of Arabia. That’s 4. 24 points in all.

Now, who should I tag? Hm. OK:

Onesentenceafteranother – H. is a sweet New Zealand girl whom I’ve met here. Now she goes back to NZ, so I’m hoping to keep the blog-contact by harassing her like this…

And Josh Ganz – he’s also down under, an economist who writes about that (economy…) and children and has recently published a book about the combination called Parentonomics. Read his funny post about being obsesses with Amazon’s ranking.

Dorthe må lide under, at hendes blog har nyhedens interesse for mig – jeg har kun lige opdaget den og er ret begejstret. Hvorfor skriver jeg nu det her på dansk? Jamen, det er jo fordi Dorte skriver på dansk…




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Is feminism dead? Did we win?

Somehow I’m always trailing behind a bit. Yesterday was the International Women’s Day and I didn’t do a single feminist thing all day. Generally, feminism is not a popular subject, as my friend Nanna (Danish) so rightly pointed out to me recently. When writing today on Facebook about doing nothing feminist I got a reply from a (male) friend which completely sums it up; he wrote: Feminism is dead. You won. This is the opinion of most modern men. Some of them have the experience close to home of a wife, who earns more and “runs the show”, others – most – just cite the high-powered women they know and emphasise how they both cook, empty the dishwasher and pick up the kids from school. Or whatever. But this is completely beside the point.

  • Women are still trailing behind men when it comes to same pay for same job
  • Women still do the bulk of the house work in 90% of all Western households and 100% of all non-Western households – yeah yeah, guestimates, but not wildly off the mark.
  • Men are still the majority everywhere important decisions are made.
  • It’s still women who tend to the huge majority of their children’s needs, 50 p for cake day, packed lunch with love, school clothes clean, ironed, ready for next day, swimming kit ready on a Tuesday, pictures printed for showing “My Holiday” at school. Etc. etc.
  • Women in the so-called Third World are most often treated like dirt. How much is this on the agenda, when the high-powered are discussing foreign policies?
  • Young women see a distorted picture of themselves in the media.
  • Young men get a sick introduction to sex, if that introduction comes from porn (which it depressingly often does).
  • Women in power very often have to endure endless comments on their appearance, before they even open their mouths.
  • And so on and so forth.

So don’t give me that cr… about women having won. Clearly some women have come out on top, but what about the unseen bulk of the iceberg? I’m not complaining about my personal life, most of my woes are self-inflicted and I’m determined to put the rest right too.

Today I read a blogpost from a Canadian writer/feminist, who uses Gladwell’s Outliers to make her point. I agree with her, that Gladwell’s book suffers from being only about men. But the important issue here is that a whole new group of Western women now have a unique opportunity to actually get somewhere if they work really hard (Gladwell’s 10,000 hours). The Internet offers us that opportunity, because we can do this at home, in between the myriad of tasks that many of us perform each day. Read the post. Her previous post also refers to Outliers, but from a different perspective. If you have a child, who’s youngest in class, read it. She mentions a few female outliers, but I’d like to mention one more: Carla Fiorina. When, to say the least, I disagree with her political views (she endorsed McCain – imagine what went through Fiorina’s head when he nominated Palin!!??), I do admire her. Do you remember her downfall? I remember wondering why so many male commentators felt the need to gloat so much? She has just undergone surgery for breast cancer. Fingers crossed.

I recently read this lovely book review. The book in question is Backwards in High Heels and, clearly, according to the reviewer, India Knight, whom I admire greatly, is nothing like the notions you get in your head when you see the title. I have it on my Amazon Wishlist and I WILL buy it, I just don’t have time to read it right now. You should see the look on my husband’s face when another packet arrives from Amazon. And he is right – I just have to attack the stacks at hand, before I start adding more to them!

But consider this quote from the review:

It’s one of those rare beasts that you want to earmark, scribble in and rush out and buy for all your girlfriends. It contains within its pages everything an intelligent woman might want to know about the nuances of every conceivable topic: big subjects, such as love, motherhood, feminism, politics, grief, ageing, as well as what stupid people often patronisingly refer to as the “shallower” stuff. Except, in this book, as in most women’s heads (to say nothing of their lives), the demarcation between the deep and the shallow is so slight as to be barely noticeable. This is a brilliant feat of realism that hasn’t been managed convincingly in print before: with this kind of how-to guide, the choice until now was either froufrou delight or slash-your-wrists gloomfest.

Isn’t this exactly the kind of book you want to read? I often wonder why it’s supposed to be so totally contradictory to read both the business- and finance pages AND the Culture- and Background pages of the paper, read serious fiction, be good at computer stuff AND take an interest in one’s appearance, read cook books, bake cupcakes? Nobody seem to think it’s strange when male top executives spend their weekends playing golf or watching football? Read a hilariously funny but yet acutely precise excerpt from the book here.

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The perfect is often the enemy of the good

What will eventuallly become dinner
What will eventuallly become dinner

The above is a quote from this long, thorough and extremely well researched article on Mother Jones about the world’s food crisis and what to do about it.

The article details the problems facing food production in this century. It looks at the alternative farming methods that are not quite organic:

After decades as an unrepentant industrial farmer, the tall 59-year-old realized that his standard practices were promoting erosion so severe that it was robbing him of several tons of soil per acre per year—his most important asset. So in 2000, he began to experiment with a gentler planting method known as no-till. While traditional farmers plow their fields after each harvest, exposing the soil for easy replanting, Fleming leaves his soil and crop residue intact and uses a special machine to poke the seeds through the residue and into the soil.

But he still uses pesticides, only much less than he used to. The organic farmers though, turn their backs to him. And this kind of attitude is all too common in the battle for a sustainable planet. Instead of embracing every attempt to do things differently, better, wars are waged against different ideas as to how to save the planet.

The article also looks at food miles:

Consider our love affair with food miles. In theory, locally grown foods have traveled shorter distances and thus represent less fuel use and lower carbon emissions—their resource footprint is smaller. And yet, for all the benefits of a local diet, eating locally doesn’t always translate into more sustainability. Because the typical farmers market is supplied by dozens of different farms, each transporting its crops in a separate van or truck, a 20-pound shopping basket of locally grown produce might actually represent a larger carbon footprint than the same volume of produce purchased at a chain retailer, which gets its produce en masse, via large trucks.

And at the notion of only eating locally produced food:

Conversely, rural areas with good farm potential will always be able to outproduce local or even regional demand, and will remain dependent on other markets. “One farmer in Oregon with a few hundred acres can grow more pears than the entire state of Oregon eats,” says Scott Exo, executive director of the Portland-based Food Alliance and an expert in the business challenges of sustainability. “Attention to the geographical origins of food is great, but you have to understand its economic limits.”

Finally, about the need for government funding and hitherto unconsidered economic factors:

If we’re going to ask the market to pull in a new direction, we’ll need to give it new rules and incentives. That means our broader food standards, but it also means money—a massive increase in food research. (Today, the fraction of the federal research budget spent on anything remotely resembling alternative agriculture is less than 1 percent—and most of that is sucked up by the organic sector.) And, yes, it means more farm subsidies: The reason federal farm subsidies are regarded as anti-sustainability is mainly because they support the wrong kind of farming. But if we want the right kind of farming, we’re going to have to support those farmers willing to risk trying a new model. For example, one reason farmers prefer labor-saving monoculture is that it frees them to take an off-farm job, which for many is the only way to get health insurance. Thus, the simplest way to encourage sustainable farming might be offering a subsidy for affordable health care.

Discussing whether to buy organic or not, whether to buy Fairtrade or not and whether to look at food miles while shopping or not, mostly produces answers along the line of: “I read an article about how this Fairtrade operation wasn’t fairtrade at all and the workers on the tea plantation were treated awfully and underpaid, so I’m not going to support Fairtrade any longer.” Or “They can’t really check if eggs or flour is produced organically and I don’t really believe it is, so I’m not buying it – I’m not going to be fooled by that label into paying more for my foodstuffs.” Add your own answers. I find this pitiful. These people don’t stop shopping at Tesco’s just because they once in a while get a rotten tomato or meat that’s not tender. And they don’t stop dining at their friends’ house because once they got a dish they didn’t like. And they don’t stop driving their car, because they have a minor accident. But any excuse will do, to do nothing on this count. They also can’t be bothered to sort their rubbish, because so many other people don’t, so why should they?

What do I do and is it enough? To take the last first, NO, of course it’s not enough. I’m such a slave to convenience that there are endless things I could do, but don’t. What I do do, however, is to buy mostly organic – I guess that about 50-65% of what we eat is organic. Everything that can be bought Fairtrade, we buy Fairtrade. When we were in Costa Rica last year, we visited some fair trade coffee farmers and if we hadn’t been convinced before, then that visit convinced us for good. I’m also trying to look at food miles. Oh, but it’s so difficult! Yet, sometimes it’s easy, like when the choice is between American and British apples! And I’ll choose non-organic British apples over organic American apples. We should of course forego our beloved blueberries, when you can’t buy British, but I admit that I still buy them. From Chile or Argentina. And what about coffee? Should you buy African rather than South American, because there are fewer airmiles? I don’t really like African coffee :-(   What I’ve started doing lately, after reading Mark Bittman‘s book Food Matters, is to use less meat. Husband doesn’t favour a lot of no-meat days, so instead I just use less meat and more veg, beans, lentils etc. in each meal. So far it’s worked fine and I’ve found that my “I don’t like beans” standard reply to such recipes, shall now change to “I’m not too keen on kidney beans and I don’t like baked beans”. It was on Mark Bittman’s blog I found a reference to the above article.

I believe, that just because something is not THE ANSWER to a burning question, it doesn’t mean that we have to scrap that notion entirely. Because the Perfect is often the Enemy of the Good!

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Incentives for children & something about books

This discussion is probably eternal and will never be solved. I was deadset against that kind of thing – until I got my own children… I just don’t have the necessary parental skills to motivate my youngest to make an extra effort with his homework without using incentives. I see the point many people make, that once the job is done and the incentive is received, the child might slump into a stupor and the end result will be even worse. But I’m not quite sure that fits all age groups – I believe that incentives when they are young and learning all the basic stuff they’ll need to proceed successfully in the educational system can be good. Then comes the teen years, where the wiring is awry anyway. And – at a certain age, which I believe varies greatly from child to child, they will begin to understand the value of learning without incentives provided by us, the parents. Check out this story about a young Pakistani student.

The inspiration for this came out of this article in the New York Times. Not unusually, the pointer came from Marginal Revolution.

Here in the UK, incentives for children – also the very little ones – are all over the place. Gold stars and stickers are in every learning book for younger children – my young one loved and to a degree still loves it! In his school they get stickers for everything, which are put on their clothes so that everybody else can see. It’s for good behaviour, good spelling, strong effort, etc. etc. And there’s a weekly ceremony where the deserving children get a Certificate in front of the whole of the rest of the school. I don’t know that this works for all children – because the teachers try hard to give an equal number of certificates to all children. So some children, who don’t achieve very highly, will typically get a certificate for an effort or for good behaviour, while the high achievers get certificates for multiplication, reading, writing or whatever. But it most certainly works for mine!

Not exactly related, but I just stumbled over this on the School Gate blog on Times Online. It’s a Top Ten over books people lie about having read. Ha, that’s funny! I highlighted the three I’ve read. Cross my heart & hope to die. I HAVE read them!

If you also think that’s funny why don’t you make it into a meme and do the same thing on your blog and refer back to me. That would be interesting!

1. 1984 by George Orwell (42 percent) <Wonder what it would be like to re-read it now>

2. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (31 percent) <so far I’ve downloaded it to my Iphone…>

3. Ulysses by James Joyce (25 percent) <tried several times and gave up>

4. The Bible (it doesn’t say which testament! 24 percent) >read a chapter a day for a couple of years>

5. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (16 percent) <it’s good!>

6. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (15 percent) <haven’t even considered reading this>

7. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (14 percent) <it’s on the bookshelf…>

8. In Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust (9 percent) <never got into Proust somehow?>

9. Dreams from my Father by Barack Obama (6 percent) <a neighbour has promised to lend it to me>

10. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (6 percent) <haven’t considered reading this either, don’t like Dawkins>

I wonder why people lie about the Orwell book (more or less understand the rest). It’s so short and so easily read?!? And yes, I actually read it before 1984.

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Procrastination

is another word I like a lot. My dear old Dad, bless him, has often said that the word procrastination defines him. I think that’s rather unfair, really. Except for the Mr. & Mrs. Perfect out there, we all do it! So there goes, Dad, I never bought it!

Although I in fact have been really efficient today I started the day procrastinating. While David took Dane to school, I browsed through the news over coffee and stumbled over a couple of odd pieces. I managed to control myself and NOT start blogging about them first thing, but to DO WHAT I HAD TO DO first. Which was homework for my last course of this my last semester of my BA in library- and information science. The course is about building large websites (=corporate portals) and is quite techie, which suits me just fine. But because academia is academia (can’t think of a better explanation, sorry!) most of the texts are 7-8 years old. Which is perfectly OK if your subject is ancient runes or hieroglyphs or even if it’s WWII. But I just find it very, very hard to believe that the best stuff available about the building of portals and content management was written 7-8 years ago!

However, it’s done and my conscience is clear! So now, off to the odd pieces. There was this good one about how to tackle a project and get it over with, quickly. I needed that one! And this sad article from Washington Post about how Bush has rewarded his cronies:

Less than two weeks before leaving office, Bush made sure the senior aides shared a new assignment, naming them to an obscure World Bank agency called the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes.

One of the Guardian blogs has a very thought provoking post about what to do with that Afghan fellow, who’s clearly guilty of something, but who’s been tortured so badly that he’s been reduced to a head-case? The post is by seasoned Guardian journalist Michael White.

Those of you who know me personally will probably know that I was always a fierce advocate of the MMR vaccine. A “scientist” published a paper linking the MMR vaccine to autism. It was just the one paper, but it had all the ingredients of A STORY in the press. And it became huge. Suddenly everybody knew a child with autism who’d had the MMR vaccine. The fact that ALL children back then had the vaccine, also children with autism didn’t get in the way of this scaremongering story. When it was revealed that the “scientist’s” data were falsified and that there is NO link WHATSOEVER between the MMR and autism, this wasn’t at all A STORY. So there was nothing, or almost nothing, about this in the media that people actually read or watch. Which led to a huge drop in children who’d had the MMR. And now we see the result. A veritable measles epidemic. Try reading about measles and think that if it hadn’t been for that “scientist”, but primarily if it hadn’t been for the media who never seem to take responsibility for anything, all these children and teens wouldn’t have to suffer the dreadful complications to measles. The illness would most likely have been extinct! Here’s the story from the Sunday Times.

Sunday morning I read an article (no, not an article, an excerpt from this book) that truly scared me. The writer James Lovelock states that we’re too late to save the planet, so all we can do – as Brits – is to save ourselves from the hungry hordes, fleeing their over-heated or flooded homes! It came much too close to the article about the honey-bee I read only a week previously. Have we really come to the brink of our own extinction? And why are we all sitting back doing next to nothing? Probably because it’s just too much for our brains to handle! What I found even more scary than the prospect of living on a diet of strictly local produce and not enough of it in 2030, was his suggestion that we need a “strong leader” like Churchill to guide us out of this mess – democracy is no good in such dire straits. I shiver to even write it!

On a less dire note, here are some recent tech news. Amazon has launched a new version of the Kindle. I still want one and I still can’t have one. There’s no news about when this lovely gadget will be available in Europe. It’s something to do with the difficulty of finding an agreement with our multiple phone companies. Hmfff. I want it soon, and so, I think, does my husband. Look here how many books I’ve bought inside the last 3-4 weeks. Admittedly some of them are for course work, but as you can see, not all of them!

Which one should I start reading first? Dont say Jakob Nielsen, please!
Which one should I start reading first? Don't say Jakob Nielsen, please!

Here’s a funny one – I bet my oldest son will like it. It’s about bragging of your World of Warcraft skills in your resumé… I would say it depends on the job, really, if it’s a good idea or not!

Speaking of games, here’s an odd piece. I don’t play myself, so the thought hadn’t even occurred to me. But of course – in games that are so life-like there would have to be pregnancies. And it’s fun to read how they go about the deliveries etc. Thanks to Torill for the pointer.

Oh me, dinner is served, says husband. That’s so nice, I have to go! Sorry for this messy, messy post…

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Serendipity

I just love that word, don’t you? Always looking for a chance to use it and tonight, while the boys were watching football, it presented itself. We’d just been watching episode five (on the wonderful BBC IPlayer) of a marvellous TV-series called Victorian Farm. Once the football started I looked around on my Iphone to find BBC’s page for the programme with some info about the three people who “star” in the programme. And huge was my disappointment when I couldn’t find any such page. What I did find – hence the serendipity – was a blog. As previously mentioned I’ve been looking for British blogs of interest, but have only found very few. This one, however, looks SO promising. The woman has a sense of humour, she can write and she has something to write about. AND – she’s a geek! And why did I find it – well of course because she’s written a lovely post, describing the Victorian Farm programme in detail. I’m thankful, because then I don’t have to – it’s a bit cold and I’d much rather be in bed! If you haven’t seen this programme – hurry up and do so. It’s SO good. It can still be seen for a short while on the Iplayer. And there are many other great programmes to be watched there – if you’re Danish or another kind of non-Brit, you can watch it on your computer or even on your Iphone, in astonishingly good quality. Public Service at its best! Victorian Farm has also been made into a book. It looks good.

About serendipity – my friend Gabs sent me a great link the other day, to a Wiki-type dictionary. One of the more unusual features in this dictionary is “The 100 most beautiful words in English” and Serendipity is on it. check it out – I’ll try to memorise some of the words in the list I didn’t already know. Quite a few – English is a rich, rich language!

As a non-Brit I often meet words that I’d really like to start using myself, but then hesitate because I don’t have a clue how to pronounce it. But there’s help, did you know? On Dictionary.com (and other online dictionaries) you can click the little speaker-icon and have a nice man or lady say the word out loud for you. As many times as you like. That’s nice.

Finally, we’ve been to the British Museum today. Dane has a thing a bout Egypt, pyramids and mummies, so we journeyed through the Egyptian section of the museum. I haven’t been there for a very long time, but have visited their absolutely fabulous website a number of times. Have a look and see what a museum website should REALLY look like. Here’s about the Egyptians. Read about the visionary director Neil MacGregor and his plans for the museum here.

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I want to go to the library

but I never seem to get down there! One reason is that the nearest library is in Woking, our local town, which I’m not particularly fond of. Another is that I’m never encouraged to go! I’m all the time searching for books for the courses I attend and of course some of them are not your average bestseller. I’ll always start by just plain Googling the author/title to see what comes up. Then I search specifically in Google Books, because some publishers are actually nice enough to allow Google Books to scan AND publish books that are out of print. But most publishers are not. Before Christmas I wanted a book, which has been out of print for a long time. And there’s no reason to believe that it’ll come up for a new edition any time soon. But it was only available to peek at. If I wanted to buy it, I’d have to buy it second-hand at a rather steep price for such a boring text-book. But – supply and demand, you know! Then I searched the library catalogue for Surrey, but no luck there either. That meant that either I had to go through all the hassle of getting it from outside Surrey or from British Library or just buying it. So I shelled out and have now added a book to my collection that I didn’t even want.

With good reason you might now ask: “What is she getting at?” I’ll tell you – I’ve often wondered why, when you Google a book, you don’t get a result saying “Click here to see the nearest library that has this book”. There’s a bit of it in Google Books, but it doesn’t work all that well – and only a fraction of the world’s books are at Google Books yet, although they are working on it!

A snapshot of my phone, open on the tech news page.

Today I read in The Guardian’s excellent tech-news, delivered directly to my Iphone, why that is. It’s of course governments who are dragging their feet. Nothing new in that. But apparently the guilty party is a cataloguing company called Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) in Ohio… So all the eager modern-day librarians out there who so want to share their collection of great books with the wider public just aren’t allowed. That’s really, really sad. I hope – but am not counting on – that whoever in Obama’s administration this thing sorts under will do something and break the monopoly of this kill-joy in Ohio. Read the whole article, it’s not that long and it’s interesting. There’s more in it than just the above.

Oh, and if you’ve never checked out Google Books you should. It’s a great place and it’ll only get greater! I just made a search for a book that’s on my reading list for the next course I’m taking. As you can see, if you click here, the publisher does not allow browsing, not even a few pages. If you look at this other book, you can see an example of a publisher who allows you to have a peek at the book and finally here, you can see an example of a whole book, ready to read, if you can be bothered to read it online. For non-fiction, where you’re not planning to read the whole thing like the one I’ve chosen (it’s Plato’s Republic if you were too lazy to click through), it’s very practical with the search function, which they still haven’t invented for printed books.

See the right hand side of the page
Search results on the right hand side of the page
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