Category Archives: Miscellany

“A” is for Apple®: Phonics for the Technological Toddler

It’s clear to most people that apples , balls, cats, and dogs are no longer the images of choice for alphabet primers. So here for the 21st century is a newer offering for your Technological Toddler.

A is for “Apple®,” whose products we need, and
B is for “Broadband” for downloads at speed.
C is for “Cursor” for drag, point, and click, while
D is for “Drop-down” with things we can pick.
E is for “Ebooks” we download for pleasure, and
F is for “Facebook®,” that most use for leisure.
G is for “Google®” a web-searching titan,
H is for “Hackers” who just love to frighten.
I is for “Ice-cream” – for Androids and toffee, and
J is for “Java™” – that’s software AND coffee!
K is for “Kindle™,” a popular reader, and
L is for “Linux™,” an Open Source leader.
M is for “Microsoft®,” still a big player, and
N is for “Nike®,” a sports goods purveyor.
O is for “Outsource” for work on the cheap, and
P is for “Playstation®,” stealer of sleep.
Q is for “QWERTY” where writing can start, while
R is for “Reading,” a fast-dying art.
S is for “Skyping” that’s video chat, but
T is for “Texting,” to type “where u @?”
U is for “Unfriend” for people you hate, while
V is for “Vote Up” for people you rate!
W for “Warcraft®,” a virtual land, and
X is for “XBox®,” a Microsoft brand.
Y is for “YouTube®” where egos are fed, and
Z is for “Zombies,” the flesh-eating Dead.

And as a special treat, you can download a FREE copy of The Speech Dudes’ Techno Toddler Abecedarium [1], a PDF version with pictures that you can print out and read to your kiddos!

The Speech Dudes’ Techno Toddler Abecedarium

Let us know what your young readers think.

Notes
[1] Oh yes, it’s a real word. An abecedarium is “an alphabetical wordbook or wordlist, usually elementary; esp. a primer for teaching the basics of reading and spelling.” It dates from 1440, along with its alternate form, an abecedary (1475). It’s one of those words that deserves its day in the sun now and again, and today is a sunny day!

Quinoa Salad and Literacy

Over the past month of so, the written word quinoa has been popping up in my life more than usual. Or should I say, in the interest of accuracy, my perception of the frequency of appearance of the word quinoa has been that its incidence has increased. For those of you who care about evidence-based assertions – and I like to think that’s almost all of you who read the Speech Dudes’ posts – there is a difference in those two statements. For example, if I mention to you now that the number 23 will haunt you mysteriously for the next few weeks, there’s a very good chance that it will. And is that because there is a spooky, paranormal force at work? No, it’s because I’ve just turned on your “Number 23 Detector” and from here on in, your awareness of it has been activated. In other words, the real frequency of occurrence of 23 hasn’t changed – you attention to it has [1].

Quinoa and alfalfa salad

Quinoa and alfalfa salad

The number 23 aside, what’s become apparent is that I’ve been able to read the word quinoa quite happily for as long as I can remember, but I’ve never made the link between how I think it sounds in my head and how it is really pronounced by the rest of the world! Up until now, I’ve imagined that the word is pronounced /kwɪ’nəʊə/ when it’s actually /’ki:nwa:/ [2]. This boils down to that other than the /k/ and the /n/ sounds, I’ve had everything else totally wrong. In my defense, the Merriam-Webster dictionary also includes the variant /kɪ:’nəʊə/, which is closer to my imagined pronunciation; but it’s still without the /w/ as part of the /kw/ blend.

So apart from learning that I’m wrong – a condition that causes me no end of shame and batters my already fragile ego – what else can I learn from this? How much lemonade can I squeeze from this mispronounced lemon?

Well, we can try to work out why I imagined the pronunciation that I did, and that goes back to the process of reading. When you see a word with which you are unfamiliar, you use your current knowledge of letter-sound correspondences to make a “best guess.” In this case, clearly when I look at the “qui…” I think of words such as quick, quibble, quiet, quirky, quins, quintuplet, quit, quip, quill, quintessential [3], quincunx, and the list goes on. In ALL of these words, the letters “qu” represent the blend /kw/, so when faced with “quinoa,” it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think /kwɪ’nəʊə/ is OK.

But this is based on an assumed etymology of “quinoa” being Latin, because in the Latin alphabet, the letters “qu” were used to represent the sound /kw/. English is heavily influenced by words of Latin origin, and its alphabet is also derived from the Latin alphabet. So if you were a betting person, when you see a word that starts with “qu,” you’d win more than you’d lose if you guessed it sounded like /kw/ at the beginning.

Unless the word comes from the South American language called Quechuan, pronounced /’kɛt͡ʃwən/ and not with a /kw/. And quinoa does.

The word quinoa comes from a grain plant native to South America and the grains from this have become popular in the Western world as a health food during the late 20th century. When Spanish colonists moved into South America in the 16th century, they not only brought with them a generous amount of guns, horses, and diseases, but their alphabet. And what’s special about the Spanish alphabet’s letter-sound correspondence it that the sequence “qu” is pronounced as /k/ and NOT the original Latin /kw/. So when they heard the word /’ki:nwa:/, it was a no-brainer to spell it using a “qui” and not a “k” at the beginning. Thus the word quinoa made its way into text along with its /k/-not-/kw/ pronunciation.

Quechuan in South America

Quechua in South America

This incidence of my public shame also serves to remind us of that the relationship between letters and sounds is not always as clear-cut as we might want or imagine. Whether the string “qu” is pronounced /kw/ or /k/ depends not just on the letter themselves but the history and origin of the word [4]. So if I’d known about the Quechuan language, my pronunciation error would never have happened [5], and servers in restaurants wouldn’t be giggling and pointing at me after taking an order.

I should have paid more attention to languages at school.

Notes
[1] This type of effect is called Selection Bias, Observational Bias, or, more memorably, Cherry Picking. It can happen both unconsciously, such as my believing that “quinoa” has suddenly become popular, or consciously, such as when I only read articles that support my long-cherished beliefs and ignore/trash those that challenge them. Only in the fruit distribution industry in “cherry picking” a good thing; in Science, it’s bad.

[2] I sometimes forget that some of the folks who read the Speech Dudes blog are unfamiliar with the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) or at least don’t use it very often. So here’s another way of writing those pronunciations using a different type of phonetic spelling: [kwih-noh-uh] versus [keen-wah].

[3] I can’t resist this but the word quintessential derives from the Latin quintessence, which translates as “the fifth element,” and which in turn is the title of a delightfully campy and visual stylish sci-fi movie with Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich. In classical and medieval philosophy, the fifth element was the stuff of stars and something hidden within all things. I guess Moby had the same idea when he produced “We Are All Made of Stars” back in 2002. Once again, you learn the quirkiest of things on a trip to the Dudes’ site!

[4] My modest obsession with etymology as a hobby (and yes, I carry around a little notebook and scribble words down when I hear them – or use Evernote if I’m in a digital mood) is actually usually pretty helpful when it comes to deciphering new words. It’s also a source of pleasure when looking at how words evolve and change over the years. For example, did you realize that the word amazing originally meant “causing distraction, consternation, confusion, dismay; stupefying, terrifying, dreadful,” and not “wonderful and astonishing.” From 1600 to today, it’s pretty much flipped its meaning from something bad to something good. I find that amazing!

[5] In a last-ditch effort to dig myself out of the hole, I should point out that the Oxford English Dictionary does, in fact, include my [kwih-noh-uh] articulation along with the more common, “correct” version. Alas, I suspect this merely reflects that I’m not the only Englishman whose attitude to foreign language is that if English were good enough for God, it’s good enough for the rest of the world. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m only a polyglot in so far as I can speak British English, American English, and a smattering of Canadian English, Australian English, and possible South ‘Efrican and New Zealand English.

Stop With the “Change Your Password” Ritual

In the past few months, we heard over and over how big corporations such as Sony and Anthem have been hacked and customer information stolen. It’s not just information for one or two folks but thousands, even millions. And you know what? This happened regardless of what YOUR personal password was! In fact, what I’m going to suggest is that whenever someone with whom you have an account asks to keep changing your password “for security reasons,” you should change it to “Bullshit!”

Hackers are not interested in my password for the Speech Dudes site. They really are not. Any hackers who are going to spend hours and hours trying to break into this account so as to upload a picture of a skull-and-crossbones and say “Yah boo sucks, Dudes, you’ve been hacked” are one card short of a deck; two fries short of a Happy Meal; three sandwiches short of a picnic. Their lights are on but no-one’s home; their elevator doesn’t go to the top floor; and their cheese has slid so far off the cracker that their collective intelligence can only be matched by that of a shed-load of broken garden tools.

Password entry screen

Just last week I wanted to check my recent health insurance bills from United Medical Resources (UMR) only to find that before I could, I have to change my password “for security reasons.” Fair enough – except that this is the third time in a year I’ve had to do it. And what’s more, I can’t use ANY of the past 10 passwords I’ve used, which means I have to invent new ones every time.

This “you cannot use any of your previous 10 passwords” is also an irritation because it (a) forces me to create yet more mindless character strings than I need to remember and (b) tells me that the Grand Keeper of the Passwords at UMR has a list of all my previous ones. “Someone” is tracking my passwords! And if “they” are keeping my passwords, and “they” are hacked, I’ve not just lost my current password to hackers but all my previous ones – which may in turn include ones that I am still using for other accounts.

Some sites have now introduced not just the password but some stupid picture that is supposed to help; by making you now remember both a password AND a picture! And hey, hey, hey, it’s not just pictures: my friend Kara has an account where they also include what they call a “personal security phrase,” which in her case was “devoted corn.” Devoted Corn! I’d love to stuff that devoted corn down the throat of the person who came up with that idea!!! So now she has to remember her password, “devoted corn,” and her “personal image.”

All I can take from this madness is that I bet the sale and use of sticky notes has gone up significantly over the past five years because let’s get real and acknowledge what people actually do with regard to passwords:

They make a list.

Sure, you might have a list that you store in an encrypted format using a piece of software (presumably written by the folks who have developed these password/image/personal-phrase systems) but you’re still making a list. And when folks like UMR and Apple stop you using previous passwords, you can’t even have the option to have just one “open sesame” for all your accounts. Apparently that’s a bad thing. But that didn’t help all the folks who had accounts in 2014 with Sony, Target, Anthem, Neiman Marcus, AT&T, eBay, PF Chang’s…

It’s the hacking of all those big, international corporations that points to where the real danger lies. It’s not from some guy in Russia [1] trying to get MY personal password for Chase Bank, but from some guy in Russia trying to get ALL the passwords for Chase Bank at a corporate level. The personal password might make me feel safe but the evidence is that I’m no safer having the word “password” for all my accounts than someone who has “XX345Xbbg$3iOO” and anagrams thereof for every single account they use. During my recent trip the ATIA 2015 conference at the Caribe Royale Hotel in Orlando, Florida, myself and a number of other colleagues had their credit card numbers stolen, with all evidence pointing to someone having access to the desk at the on site Cafe (the only place where we all used a card). No passwords were involved, just the opportunity for someone to see numbers in a hotel system [2], and opportunist theft is something that can happen to anyone.

The Emperor's New Clothes

“But the Emperor has no clothes!”

The danger I face from having “Captain Danger” as my one and only password for all my accounts is not that some hacker will work it out. The danger is from having an account in the first place with a company whose security system is lacking. If they employ highly paid so-called “security experts” whose answer to breaches is to tell all their customers to change their passwords, I suggest they recognize them for what they are – Naked Emperors. Get them to do their job and make the system secure or sack ’em and employ some East European hacker to bolster up your website and pay them with a subscription to XBox live for a year and a free download of Grand Theft Auto 6 – although there’s a good chance they’ll hack a pre-release freebie long before the product is released to paying customers.

Yes, it's like this...I want three, maybe four, passwords for all my accounts. I want them to last forever. I want to be allowed (yes, it’s my choice, after all) to use whatever characters I want no matter how simple, stupid, or “obvious” some over-hyped security expert thinks it is. And I want my health insurance company (to whom I give lots of cash), my bank (to whom I give lots of cash), and my wireless phone company (to whom I give ever-increasing amounts of cash), to get their acts together and stop trying to blame me for being unable to handle passwords when they seem unable to protect their own systems.

Rant over. Let the flames begin!

Notes
[1] Before any Russian readers decide to hire a hacker to crash this blog because they think I’m being unkind to them, I use the example of Russian hackers because according to a 2013 article from the Gartner Group, it is “fairly well-known  by most security professionals that the best hackers on the planet often originate from Russia.” Deutsche Telekom has a fascinating little site that tracks real-time hacks across the world (http://www.sicherheitstacho.eu) and during January 2015, China took first place by a wide margin, with the US taking silver, and Russia slipping down to a mere bronze. Another fascinating “live attack” site comes from the company Norse, and if they were to create a live wallpaper based on their http://map.ipviking.com map, I’d be using it!

[2] I’d be curious to hear if any other fellow attendees experienced card theft. I wrote to the hotel to alert them to the multiple thefts but heard nothing back – which may be expected because no-one wants to admit to having lax security.

 

The Dudes Do ATIA 2015: Day 2 – Of Powwows and Portmanteaus

The day before the Dudes left for the Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) conference happened to be Lewis Carroll’s birthday. Folks who know me well – and maybe some who just happened to have heard me in presentations – will be painfully aware that I recommend Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass to anyone with the slightest interest in language. In fact, both books should be on the required reading list for all Educators and Speech and Language Therapists/Pathologists – seriously. Read the following single sentence as spoken by the Duchess in Wonderland and savor the complexity:

Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.

Now parse it. There’s glory for you [1]. The books are just overflowing with words, phrases, and sentences that can provide enough material for several seminars on morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics.

Time for a Powwow

Time for a Powwow

Coincidentally, or perhaps serendipitously, on the same day a Twitter colleague, @TactusTherapy, posted that she was about to take part in an appathon, which is clearly a blend of the words application and marathon. This is commonly referred to as a portmanteau word, a term first used by Carroll in Through the Looking Glass, when Humpty Dumpty is explaining what the words in the poem Jabberwocky mean:

“Well, slithy means ‘lithe and slimy.’ Lithe is the same as active. You see it’s like a portmanteau — there are two meanings packed up into one word.”

He then gives another example of a portmanteau with mimsy, which is a jamming together of miserable and flimsy. Linguists call these blends, or perhaps more specifically lexical blends – as distinct from, say, phonological blends where two or more sounds run together to end up as one. Other examples include positron (1933: positiveelectron); guesstimate (1936: guessestimate); skort (1951: skirtshorts); modem (1958: modulatordemodulator); metrosexual (1994: metropolitanhetero/homosexual); and hacktivist (1995: hackeractivist). My @TactusTherapy colleague also pointed out that she’d just come across a new portmanteau, listicle, to refer to one of those “5 Ways to Drive Your Lover Wild” or “10 Words Guaranteed to Get You a New Job” articles, where it’s basically a list modified into prose. Hence it’s a portmanteau of list and article.

ATIA15 Powwow 1

Moving ahead to Day 2 of the conference, I spent some time over lunch with a group of AAC/AT folks who had at some time attended one of the Pittsburgh AAC Language Seminar Series, or PALSS [2]. It’s a good excuse to get together with a group of like-minded folks for an informal powwow. Curiously enough, the word powwow (or pow-wow) may be another example of a portmanteau except from a non-English source. It can be traced back to the Narragansett language and pawwaw meaning a priest, shaman, or healer. It’s suggested that this in turn came from an earlier language, Proto-Algonquian [3], and the phrase *pawe-wa, which means “he who dreams.” The two words were blended into one by the elision of the middle syllable, and became the portmanteau, powwow.

During this powwow, yet another new portmanteau made its way into the discussion: the spamference. It’s clearly derived from spam and conference, and represents a relatively new concept in the field of academia – the junk conference. Basically, it’s a conference created not for the “free exchange of ideas and research from leaders in the field” but “a way of generating revenue for conference organizers by way of inviting folks to exotic and faraway places for a good time.” The typical invite goes along the lines of:

“Dear Speech Dude

As a recognized leader/expert/authority in the field of AAC/Linguistics/Toad Husbandry, our panel of professionals invite you to chair a session at our upcoming prestigious conference in Maui/Maldives/Vegas/Fiji (insert name of any place in which you’d love to spend a week).

As a conference chair, your registration fees will be discounted by 75% and hotel rooms by 25%. You will also be acknowledged as an Editor/Reviewer in the conference proceedings.”

And so on, and so on. The first hint of bogosity is the unsolicited nature of the invitation from someone who you’ve probably never heard of, and also that slightly hard-to-avoid-but-it’s-probably-true realization that you are maybe not quite the leader/expert/authority that you’d like to think you are!

Of course, if you want to beef up your resume and can get someone to fund you for your trip to Hawaii for “the conference,” then there’s nothing actually illegal going on here. Nothing. Like the whole “Open Access Journals” discussion – where you can get published so long as you stump up some cash – it’s a fundamentally grey area with advocates both for and against.

But spamference is definitely a portmanteau.

Notes
[1] This comes from a discussion between Alice and Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass about unbirthday presents. It ends with a classic definition of “the word” that’s beloved by linguists around the globe:

“There’s glory for you!’

`I don’t know what you mean by “glory,”‘ Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. `Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘

`But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument,”‘ Alice objected.

`When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

`The question is,’ said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

`The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master – – that’s all.’

See what I mean about great seminar material?

[2] The Pittsburgh AAC Language Seminar Series is a 2-and-a-half day event run by Semantic Compaction Systems in, no surprise, Pittsburgh. It’s focus is on implementing the Unity/Minspeak language system, with each seminar having a nationally recognized guest speaker. The seminars are monthly and registration is free but there are limited numbers – only 24 folks per seminar. It’s pretty cool because food and lodging is free AND you can get $150 towards your flight or mileage. Oh, and you get to meet me on Thursday morning – and that’s gotta be worth the trip! If you’re curious, here’s the link:
http://www.minspeak.com/PittsburghAACLanguageSeminarSeries.php

[3] A proto-language is one for which there is no direct evidence but can be (re)constructed, hypothesized or inferred on the basis of the structure and behavior of words that are verifiable. Algonquian is a genus of languages spoken primarily by Native American in north-eastern regions of North America, and Proto-Algonquian is thought to be the version spoken around 3,000 years ago. Here’s a link to a map of the family of Algonquian should you be curious – and if you’re still reading, you are ;) THE ALGONQUIAN FAMILY

The Dudes Do ATIA 2015: Day 1 – Of Wealth and Water

Economics, when all is said and done, is based on some pretty simple principles, which we can summarize as follows:

1. People want/need stuff.
2. There is only so much stuff available.
3. Rare stuff has more value than common stuff.
4. Economics is about how stuff gets moved around from person to person.

I’m not sure why it took Adam Smith over 1000 pages to explain this in his canonical Wealth of Nations in 1776, or Thomas Picketty close to 700 pages in his 2014 Capital in the Twenty-First Century. I guess one paragraph with 4 bullet points wouldn’t sell as a book,

But if you want an example of simple economics, you need look no further than the price of a humble bottle of water. Here’s your “Dudes Economics 101″ courtesy of our trip to the 2015 Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) conference in Orlando, Florida.

Bottles of water

$4.98 and $5.00 water: which is which?

1. People Want/Need Stuff

Water is one of those commodities that folks need in order to live. You might think your life would come to a screeching halt if your smart phone disappeared, but surprisingly it wouldn’t because a phone is a “want” not a “need.”

When you stay at a hotel, you need water, and often not just the water contained in a beer. Typically hotels provide a coffee machine in your room so you can make a hot beverage but from experience, many hotels have faucet water that tastes of chlorine, sulfur [1], metal, or anything other than the standard watery taste of “nothing.” In fact, the stuff that comes out of the tap is only “water” in the sense that it’s wet and clear (although the latter is not always the case.) Which leads us to the notion that…

2. There Is Only So Much Stuff Available.

Gold, diamonds, platinum, tigers, honest politicians; these are all examples of things that, on a global basis, are in short supply.  And in the tiny world that is the Caribe Royale Hotel in Florida, when it’s 11:00 PM and you’re thirsty, water is also in short supply. Given that the tap water is undrinkable, this means the bottle of filtered artesian Norwegian spring water [2]  lovingly provided by the hotel becomes an example of “only so much stuff is available.” And because your alternative is to go to the all-night on site store or get in a car and drive “somewhere else,” the next lesson in economics is that…

3. Rare Stuff Has More Value Than Common Stuff

If something is in short supply, it can be very expensive. Being rare in of itself doesn’t mean something is valuable – it has to be desired or necessary in order to be worth something. Diamonds are only valuable so long as someone, somewhere wants them, otherwise they are just highly compressed pieces of coal; a Rolex is worth several thousand dollars – if you like Rolexes; and a Starbucks grande non-fat latte is worth on average $3.80 – if you like coffee.

So when your mouth is as dry as the bottom of a bird-cage, $5.00 for a bottle of water seems like a bargain. In other places and at other times, you’d sooner shoot yourself in the foot than spend $5.00 for just water but in this place and at this time, the value of that colorless, odorless, tasteless liquid can be jacked up to near obscene levels.

You are probably aware of the phrase “location, location, location” as the answer to the question “What’s the most significant factor to take into account when opening a store?” or “Which factor will play a critical part in determining the price of a house?” but the same phrase applies to all economic transactions at some level. This is because…

4. Economics Is About How Stuff Gets Moved Around From Person To Person

The hotel can charge $5.00 for a bottle of water because it’s sitting there in the room so you don’t have to go anywhere or do anything other than twist off the cap. What they include in the price is the shifting of the stuff (water) from one person (themselves) to another (you).

Purely as an exercise in Economics (well, and perhaps as a demonstration of how cheap the Dudes are) on our way back from dinner at the Dakshin, a wonderful Indian restaurant, we stopped off at a Wal-Mart store and found, to our fiscal delight, that there was a special sale of Aquafina bottled water – $4.98 for a pack of 32 bottles. That’s 15 cents a bottle, and a significant saving when compared to the $5.00 hotel water – sorry, “filtered Norwegian Spring Water.” On that basis, we reckoned that if we drank ONE bottle each and threw away the other 30, we’d still be $5.02 ahead of the game! In terms of the “Dudes 4-Point Model of Economics,” we’d moved stuff ourselves (point 4) and bought from a place where stuff wasn’t rare (point 2) and so was not a premium price (point 3).

Image of economic axes

So there you have it. Proof that attending a conference can be an educational event above and beyond the overt content. Other bloggers will have details about the sessions and the exhibition and all that stuff, but only the Dudes will create a complete fiscal model based on having to spend $5.00 for water. Pedants and doryphores [5] might want to quibble with some details regarding our admittedly simple 4-Point Model of Universal Economics but we like to think that it’s in its naked simplicity where the value of the model lies. “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”

Notes
[1] I have to work hard to be able to spell sulfur like this, rather than sulphur, which is what I learned in school when I was a lad in England. The latter gets flagged as “wrong” on WordPress, and Microsoft words also gently scolds me with it little red line. It derives from the Latin sulfur(em) or sulphur(em) and is found in Middle English with a number spellings, such as sulphre, sulphure, sulfur, sulphur, soulphre, solfre, sulphyr, and others. The sulphur spelling appears to have become the more common by the end of the 17th century but other European languages opted for using an “f” (Spanish azufre, German schwefel, French soufre, and Italian zolfo). Even the American Lexicographer in Chief, Noah Webster, used sulphur, with the switch to sulfur occurring in the US relatively recently – the early 20th century. It has now become one of those US/UK differences that folks love to talk about. In a 1988 article, Mitchie and Langslow note that, “Together with driving on the left, the use of ph in sulphur, be it in acid rain or human metabolism, has remained an English prerogative.” Michie, C. A., & Langslow, D. R. (1988). Sulphur or sulfur? A tale of two spellings. BMJ : British Medical Journal, 297(6664), 1697-1699.

[2] In the world of Marketing, adjectives are important. If you want to sell a product, you can’t just offer “water” or “beer,” you have to  stick some lipstick on that pig by using adjectives. “Spring Water” sounds better than just “water,” but “Crystal-clear, Fresh Spring Water” sounds even better. “Crisp, Cold-Filtered Beer” invites you to part with more money than just “Cold Beer.” Restaurants teach their wait staff to use “suggestive selling,” which is simply having them to use adjectives whenever they recommend food; “Would you like some of our fresh, crispy fries with that?” or “We have a delicious, spicy chili that’s popular with all our diners.” Adjectives make money – and so does providing lists of these for copywriters, the best of whom will have Richard Bayan’s popular Words That Sell on their bookshelf. Actually, I would recommend this book to educators and Speechies who are teaching vocabulary because it’s chock-a-block with synonyms for many words, and the “Key Word Index” makes it easy to find them.

[3] I’ve posted this definition before but it’s worth repeating because it’s interesting: A doryphore is defined by the OED as “A person who draws attention to the minor errors made by others, esp. in a pestering manner; a pedantic gadfly.” It comes from the Greek δορυϕόρος, which means “spear carrier,” (a δορο is a “spear” and ϕόρος means “to bear or carry”) and it was originally used in the US as a name for the Colorado beetle – a notable pest. This beetle was known as “the ten-striped spearman,” hence the allusion to a spear carrier.  To then take the noun and turn it into an adjective by adding the -ic suffix meaning “to have the nature of” was a piece of cake – and a great example of using affixation to change a word’s part of speech. As always, you leave a Speech Dudes’ post far smarter than you entered it!

Scribble, Scribble, Scribble

Observant regular visitors to this blog will have noticed the recent addition of a “Top 75 for 2015″ badge, awarded to us by the nice folks at Kidmunicate. In their blurb summarizing our site – where we hit the ground running at 46th on the charts – they say;

This SLP blog is not your normal SLP blog. It’s edgy and often has nothing to do with speech pathology but when it does it is informative. They say they are going to post more this year. We are hoping they do.

Clearly they have taken the time to actually read some of our posts and not just use some slick algorithm to count hits, as evidenced by the comment about the fact that it “often has nothing to do with speech pathology,” an accusation to which we will happily raise out hands!

You see, our aim has always been to project an image of SLPs as much more than the stereotypical “twin-set and pearls” brigade, or “nice ladies who work with children.” [1] We want people who stumble across our posts to see folks who have opinions, interests, quirks, foibles [2], problems, solutions, and that whole gamut of things that make humans human. Our target readers hopefully includes SLPS but also non-SLPs who wonder what SLPs are like in “real life.”

In the last year, we’ve talked about Guns in the Clinic, Privacy, Coffee and Adjectives, and Cartography software. And for sheer off-the-wall rambling, if all you ever read were the Notes at the bottom of every post, you might be forgiven for believing that the phrase “not your normal SLP blog” accurately describes us as “not normal.” [3] But the thing about the “notes” are that these represent how people’s minds work in general, where one idea sparks off another – then another – and another…

CC license from Nic McPhee
“Scribble, Scribble, Scribble” (Image CC license from Nic McPhee)

Perhaps our most noticeable weakness – or at least noticeable to us – is that we avoid contentious issues and conflict. It’s what some might more kindly refer to as “lacking a position” or “sitting on the fence.” In private, we clearly do have opinion and positions, which would become clear to anyone who spends an evening with us in a bar after our inhibitions have been lowered by the demon drink, but we seem to be reluctant to share them publicly least we offend. And that suggests we really just want everyone to like us – and how shallow is that?! Now I’m not suggesting we go all Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly (Position: I think both are arrogant, insufferable boors with right-wing religo-fascist agendas who need punching in the face), or even Bill Maher or Michael Moore, but maybe during 2015 we should post at least a couple of articles that could have people unfriending us on Facebook or unfollowing us on Twitter. Or maybe not.

But even if we continue to sit on the fence, please continue to enjoy the Notes section at the end of the posts ;)

Notes
[1] Perhaps my choice of stereotype here is more indicative of my age and background than what maybe the current misperceptions of what we do. I’m not actually sure what the current stereotypes for SLPs might be because having been so unstereotypical for so long (dudes as SLP as still as rare as hen’s teeth and are de facto non-stereotypical) I no longer look for or notice them. So if anyone would like to share ANY of the modern-day received ideas for what an SLP is, let us know and maybe we’ll create a post.

[2] My passion for etymology spans years, and words continue to excite and entertain even as my ability to actually remember their origins fades. Foibles is a delightfully whimsical word to play with, and means “a weakness or failing of character.” For example, my wife sees my desire to track down word origins as “one of your little foibles.” Or perhaps it’s akin to an irregular noun; “I have a passion, you have a foible, he/she/it has an obsession!” It’s actually an obsolete form of the word feeble, being found as foible in Old French and deriving prior to that from the Latin flebilis meaning “to be wept over.” The Latin flere means “to weep” and is also the root for the sadly defunct but ought-to-be-resurrected fletiferous, which means “to cause weeping.”

[3] The ambiguity of the phrase “not your normal SL blog” is simply a result of being able to parse the phrase in two different ways. The first (which is the intended one, I hope) is to treat <SLP blog> as a compound noun meaning “a blog written by SLPs>, whereas the second is the have <(not) normal SLP> as an adjectival phrase that adjectivally pre-modifies the noun <SLP>. Thus we have two possible interpretation based on the following possible parsings:

(a) <(not) normal> <SLP blog>
(b) <(not) normal SLP> <blog>

For a reminder of how ambiguity in phrases and clauses can permeate even the simplest of sentences, take a look at my post from 2 years ago entitled “Baby Happy, Baby Sad” – a post that is actually also about speech pathology, unless you don’t consider syntax a part of what we do!

A Christmas Fireside Read

There’s still something magical about turning off technology over Christmas and spending time in a comfy chair with a real book watching a real fire while the scent of pine from a real Christmas tree mingles with the smell of hot chocolate in a big, red mug. If it also happens to be snowing outside and you can watch the fluffy flakes fall thickly on the garden, that’s an added bonus.

Christmas fireplace

Snugly cocooned in your own winter wonderland, the toughest chore you should need to do is ask yourself one question; what shall I read? Well, the purpose of this pre-yule article is to give you time to (a) make some decisions and (b) actually buy some real books. Now for those of you who believe that downloading is the cheapest and best way to go, I urge you to check out the “alternative formats” next time you go to the Kindle or Nook stores, because you not infrequently find that you can buy physical books for significantly less than the electronic version. Yes, that’s less as in “it’s cheaper.” And the best bargains of all are to go for the combination of “hard cover” in “very good” condition.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a few concrete examples from some of my last Amazon purchases:

Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain by John Darwin
Kindle Price – $9.99: Hardcover (Used-Very Good) – $8.10 inc. shipping.

Civilization: The West and the Rest by Niall Ferguson
Kindle Price – $9.99: Hardcover (Used-Very Good) – $5.46 inc. shipping.

Uncharted: Big Data as a Lens on Human Culture by Erez Aiden
Kindle Price – $9.99: Hardcover (Brand New) – $4.61 inc. shipping.

Men to Boys: The Making of Modern Immaturity by Gary Cross
Kindle Price – $14.49: Hardcover (Used-Very Good) – $4.12 inc. shipping.

It doesn’t take a lot of math skills to realize that you can actually save money while building up your personal library, and you also get that unique and special pleasure of having books arrive in parcels that you can’t wait to tear open and fondle lovingly while muttering, “My precious, my precious!”

So given that you might now be persuaded to try using some real books instead of their digital equivalents, here’s my recommendation for a delightful, entertaining, and stress-relieving Christmas read.

The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales by Maria Tatar

Fairy tales are not, and never have been, just for children. Classic fairy tales are called “classic” because they have a timeless appeal that transcends age. Sure, they can fulfill a critical role in the psychological development of wee ones [1] but for grown-ups they can be just as wondrous and enlightening.

The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales cover

There are 26 tales in all, which include the ever-so-familiar Jack and the Beanstalk, Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, and The Emperor’s New Clothes, and the less familiar The Juniper Tree, Vasilisa the Fair, and East of the Sun, West of the Moon. For many people, their experience of some of these fairy tales is via the Disneyfied versions, which are often bowdlerized [2] to avoid some of the scarier or darker elements of the original tales, so reading the originals can be eye-opening. For example, the cuddly, song-filled world of Ariel, The Little Mermaid, is a little less sunny in the original story, with the mermaid (who is simply called “the little mermaid” because she’s the youngest and littlest) having to endure extreme pain and suffering. The sea witch (also unnamed) doesn’t just cast a spell to make her unable to speak but cuts out her tongue![3] And the sea witch also tells her that once she has legs;

…every step taken will make you feel as if you were treading on a sharp knife, enough to make you feet bleed.

And bleed they do! Yet it’s not enough that she spends her time trying to woo the prince while suffering for the lack of the availability of a skilled podiatrist, but ultimately he dumps her for some other girl and she has to spend 300 years doing good deeds in order to gain something she has never had – a soul.

The Little Mermaid Meets the Prince

The Prince Asked Who She Was: Edmund Dulac

Another reason to buy the physical book and not the electronic version is that the stories are all illustrated by images from a number of noted children’s illustrators. These include Arthur Rackham, Gustave Dore, Edmund Dulac, and Kay Nielsen [4]. Although they are smaller than one would prefer, the pictures alone are still worth the price of admission, and there’s no shame in taking pleasure in “picture books” when the artistry is as splendid as the ones in this book [5].

So treat yourself to some me-time this Christmas and snuggle up with a collection of fairy tales that will remind you all over again of what it’s like to be young and full of wonder.

Notes
[1] If you’re looking to read more than one book over the holidays, or you want to work out which to read after them, you’re in for a Freudian treat if you get hold of a copy of The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettelheim. It is unashamedly psychoanalytic in its outlook but even if you’re not a fan of Sigmund and the Analysts, the writing is fluid, the arguments persuasive, and you’ll come away with a perspective on fairy stories that you probably never thought of. It’s on my personal list of “books to re-read” since my first experience in 1978; yes, it’s that good.

[2] The word bowdlerize is an example of an eponym – a word taken from the name of a person, place, or thing. In this case, the person was the Rev. Thomas Bowdler whose singular claim to fame was to produce a version of Shakespeare’s works with all the naughty bits taken out. So, in Romeo & Juliet, the sentence “the bawdy hand of the dial is now upon the prick of noon” was altered to “the hand of the dial is now upon the point of noon.” The good reverend wanted neither ladies nor children to be exposed to any hands on pricks.

[3] In her annotations, Tater makes reference here to the much older tale of Tereus and Philomela that also includes the cutting out of a tongue. However, in the case of Philomela, it’s much more gruesome and shocking, and if you ever wanted to convince people that “the Classics” can be as raunchy, racy, and downright gory as any modern R-rated horror movie, have them pick up a copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. I suspect Brett Easton Ellis is a big fan. Of all the translation of Metamorphoses, the one I believe is most generally accessible is the version by Horace Gregory. My original copy figuratively traveled the world with me and is now so dogged-eared, beaten up, and full of scribbled notes that I had to buy a new one. In fact, Travels With Ovid is the title of a book I’d love to write!  Charles Martin’s version is next on my list, followed by Allen Mandelbaum then Stanley Lombardo.

[4] The links provided here are to one of my all-time favorite websites, Art Passions. You can spend far too much time here exploring all the works by the many artists featured, but it’s time well spent for lovers of visual imagery and

[5] Only last year I bought a copy of The Golden Book of Fairy Tales purely for the illustrations by Adrienne Segur (1901-1981), who illustrated hundreds of children’s stories, and who can best be appreciated if I send you to a page where you’ll find lots of her pictures. Adrienne Segur illustrations. You have my permission to leave this page in favor of those pictures – I guarantee it’s a pleasurable excursion.

We’ve Been Bad Boys – We’ll Try to do Better!

Let’s start with a big, big thank you to all those folks who have either nominated us or voted us as “Best Group Blog” in the 2104 Edublogs awards. Thank you! It’s not that we go out of our way to garner praise from folks, but we appreciate the support – however it may turn out.

Now, having said “thanks,” we should move on to saying “we’re sorry.” Taking a look at the total number of posts for this year is somewhat depressing. It’s not even one per month! As far as we’re concerned, that hardly deserves the title “blog,” let alone set us up for being deserving of an award. Painful as it may be to admit, we’ve been a little unproductive this year. Sorry.

CC licence from http://lambech.deviantart.com/

Bad Boys, Bad Boys: CC licence from http://lambech.deviantart.com/

Part of the reason for the limited output for the blog is due to our being busy with our lives outside of the blogosphere. Dude 1, for example, has now finished the development of an online service for analyzing data log files from speech-generating devices (SGDs) devices sold by the Prentke Romich company, which has been a labor and a half for nearly two years! It also represents, as far as he’s concerned, a significant application of corpus linguistics to the field of AAC, using a database of over 450 million words that include tags for frequency and part-of-speech. If you want to take a look at Dude 1’s efforts, you can watch a brief video.

 

Dude 2 has been focused – no pun intended – on eye-gaze systems and software, which has taken him around world; well, not all of it ;) It’s probably also worth mentioning that he’s also become a part-time racing car driver and given his insurance agent heart palpitations by explaining how fast he can drive. Given the choice between trying to blow up an engine in a sports car by hurtling around a track at velocities that typically don’t appear on a car’s speedometer or writing a blog, it’s a no-brainer.

Dude 2 racing car

So that’s pretty much our version of “what I did on my summer vacation” or perhaps an extended apologia [1]. And if you (a) haven’t voted for us but (b) accept our mea culpa on this, click on the image below to help give us the swift keep up the backside that we need to more fecund [2] in 2015.

edublog_awards_group_blog-2kmfpzr

 

Notes
[1] Like the much commoner word apology, this word derives from the Greek , ἀπολογία which means “a speech in defense of someone or something.” The first bit, apo-, means “away or off” and the second, logia means “speaking.” So you’re speaking off a charge made against you – in our case, the charge of being idle.

[2] In keeping with our aim of providing a minimum of educational content in our blogs, it’s likely that the word fecund is one you, gentle reader, haven’t used this year. In fact, according to an analysis using the Google Ngrams Viewer, it’s one of those words whose incidence is piddlingly small, having achieved a peak use at the end of the 1920’s but is now going through a slump. It comes from the Latin fecundus meaning “fruitful” and ultimately it’s likely to be related to the Proto-Indo-European word *dha meaning “to nurse or suckle.” Hey, what we lack in quantity we make up for in quality!

Tooling up for Therapy: Guns in the Clinic?

Following the recent incident in Ferguson, Missouri, where an unarmed black teenager was shot and killed by a white police officer, issues about race and gun control have once again taken center stage in the minds – and hearts – of large sections of the American public. Although the gun control topic is not the main one being discussed, its contribution to the situation was pointed out by an article in The Economist, a magazine produced in a country where gun control translates to “we don’t have any.”

First of all, the article offers some simple statistics about how the US compares with some other countries in relation to the number of people killed annually by police. The US, with a population of 315 million, saw 405 police shooting deaths in 2013; Germany, with 82 million, had 8; the UK, with 60 million, had zero; and Japan, with 127 million, had the same – zero.

But what was more thought-provoking was the following observation:

This is not because they are trigger-happy but because they are nervous. The citizens they encounter have perhaps 300 million guns between them, so a cop never knows whether the hand in a suspect’s pocket is gripping a Glock. This will not change soon. Even mild gun-controls laws tend to fail. And many Americans will look at the havoc in Ferguson and conclude that it’s time to buy a gun, just in case.

That first sentence actually makes sense. Whatever your beliefs may be in relation to gun control, it’s not impossible to be empathetic towards the notion that when you’re in a job where many of the people you come into contact with are (a) not likely to feel friendly towards you, and (b) could legitimately be carrying a gun, you might feel a little nervous. Note that this isn’t to say shooting an unarmed person is OK but that if you work in law enforcement there’s a good chance that you have learned to be more wary than most when it comes to issues of trust; and by “trust” I mean “could that person be carrying a gun?”

Yet it’s that final sentence that is something of a litmus test for determining people’s perspectives. Basically, what is says is that the answer to having lots of guns in the hands of people is to have more guns in the hands of more people. So you have to ask yourself; do I think having easier access to guns makes my life safer or more dangerous? For members of the National Rifle Association [2], the answer is “safer;” for supporters of gun control, the answer is “more dangerous.”

Gun culture and gaming

Gun culture and gaming

The gun-owning culture in the US is, quite frankly, very hard for folks who live in non-gun-owning cultures to understand. For example, when 20 children and 6 adults were shot at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December, 2012, there was, as you might expect and hope, international outrage and grief, with many countries citing the ease with which people in the US can get guns as being a contributory factor. Yet bizarrely – to the rest of the world – one of the corollaries to the shooting was an increase in gun sales! And the other was the promotion of the idea that teachers should be allowed to carry guns in schools.

Both these things make some sense within the framework of US gun culture. The simple equation is more-guns = more-security. The oft-quoted trope of “if we outlaw guns only outlaws will own guns” is a variation on that theme. As is the idea that “the answer to bad people having guns is to make sure more good people have them.” The latter sounds appealing for a few seconds but defining who “good people” are is much more difficult: ask some of the people of Ferguson if the police are “good people” and their response may be pretty vocal.

So does “good people” include Speech and Language Therapists? Special Educators? Educational Psychologists? Not all of us work in idyllic Norman Rockwell Mayberry’s next door to Mr. Rogers, where trips to the Malt shop are followed by an afternoon of baseball followed by an evening’s barbecue with friends from the neighborhood. Some of us may have “interesting” tales to tell of visits to and from clients that turn out to be less than the perfect therapeutic experience. And perhaps carrying a gun to work is not necessarily as bad an idea as some might think.

Take our poll and see how you match up with other Speech Dudes readers!

For those who demand that a blogger have a “point of view,” this Dude [3] is in favor of gun controls. It’s perfectly possible to support the Second Amendment (and more important to support the First) while simultaneously wanting some modest controls over how guns are handled within society as a whole. There’s no likelihood that America can become a “gunless society” and the suggestion that we should somehow lose the Second Amendment is just plain silly. However, to simply do nothing because someone thinks gun control won’t work is tantamount to saying things are OK. And isn’t stupidity defined as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting things to change?” If I buy a car, I have to go to the DMV to register it; if I want more than one car, there’s nothing to say I can’t; the government is not trying to take my car away from me; and if I want to hang out with other car enthusiasts, I’m free to do so. If we’re OK with this modest controls for cars, why not guns?

Notes
[1] Here in sunny Cleveland, Ohio, Mayor Frank Jackson is trying to introduce a bill that would include some of the following rules: you can’t take a gun onto a school campus; if you are a convicted offender, you have to register ownership of a gun; you can’t buy more than one gun every three months (i.e. you can only add four guns per year to you collection); if your gun is lost or stolen, you have report it to the police. Put it another way, here’s what you currently CAN do; take a gun to campus (Ohio lets you carry a gun as long as it’s concealed); buy as many guns as you want; lose a gun and not care who finds it; let your kids use guns. But so ingrained is the gun culture mentality that there is actually lots of opposition to these control. To folks outside the US, what might seem like fairly reasonable controls (and no-one here is suggesting that folks can’t own guns or that “someone” is going to “take your guns away”) are, in fact, perceived by a section of the US community as a deeply intrusive attack on a fundamental human right – the right to bear arms. And it’s this perspective that makes any talk of gun control so contentious and explosive within the US yet it’s so hard for folks outside the US to really understand how emotional it is.

[2] For our readers outside the US, the National Rifle Association (or NRA) is a non-profit organization that promotes itself as “proud defenders of history’s patriots and diligent protectors of the Second Amendment.” The Second Amendment says that “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The NRA interpret this as meaning that the word “people” implies “individual,” and therefore the individual has a right to bear arms – and in states with Concealed (or not-so-concealed) Carry laws, this is figuratively the case, where folks walk around with holstered guns just waiting for someone to “make my day, punk.”

[3] “This Dude” is Russell, who, to help put things in perspective, was born and raised in the north of England and didn’t move to the US until I was 35. It’s taken almost 20 years for me to appreciate the Gun Culture perspective. I’ve handled and shot a number of different guns (including Dirty Harry’s “most powerful handgun in the world, and it will blow your head clean off”); live in a hunting/fishing/shooting community; have a son-in-law who’s an ex-soldier who  only gave up his gun collection when his first child was born; and have a daughter who once received a pink Smith & Wesson handgun as a Christmas present. I mention all this to illustrate why it is that I can be a supporter of the right to bear arms yet still support the idea of gun controls.

Dude 2, Chip, would probably shoot me for this stance :)

Privacy: Your Choice of Dystopias

The ongoing kerfuffle about Google Glass is certainly one to follow if you’re at all interested in the notion of what constitutes privacy, and how much accommodation we’re prepared to make in order for people to have a reasonable “freedom of choice.” And I purposely put quotes around “freedom of choice” because that phrase in of itself is worthy of a book let alone a mention in a blog. It’s not always obvious to some people that one man’s freedom is another man’s restriction, and individual freedom is a social contract and not an absolute.

privacy

Democracy, as a political and social system, suffers great anguish and soul-searching in trying to constantly balance individual freedom and social responsibility. The law says I cannot smoke a cigarette in a public place. Why? Because the effects of second-hand smoke are alleged to be directly injurious to the health of other people. My “freedom” to choose to smoke is a “restriction” on many other people’s’ choice to live a longer life [1]. On the other hand, the link between CO2 emissions from cars and the potential death of everyone on the planet as a result of global warming is also seen by  some as a “restriction” on everyone’s right to live a longer life – but we don’t (yet) ban driving. Freedom is always a grim balancing act.

Google Glass – the wearable spectacles that include both a tiny screen for viewing and a camera for capturing images – represents another stage in the constant struggle to determine how “free” we are to do what we want in a diverse society. As with all technology, it’s not the thing in of itself that is the issue but its application in the real world. For what it’s worth. my experience using Google Glass has left me feeling a little “so what” in that there’s nothing about the use of this tech that yet makes me want to perch the glasses on my head for longer than a few minutes. It’s “interesting” but not “compelling.” [2]

On the other hand, the social questions that the use of Google Glass raise it much more interesting – and compelling. You don’t have to be paranoid or a conspiracy theorist to be concerned about the privacy issues related to the fact that in principal, there’s a piece of technology here that could be worn by millions and millions of people, which could be recording images of the world – including you, dear reader – that can be shared with anyone. We know, of course, that folks with smartphones can already do this but that isn’t an argument for accepting a more widespread and covert method of collecting pictures.

Which brings me to a quick detour into the idea of a choice of dystopias [3]. Back in 1931, Aldous Huxley wrote his classic novel Brave New World about a future in which the population are controlled by drugs, psychology, and technology. Some 17 years later, George Orwell wrote his great work, 1984, which has a different future where people are controlled by a dictatorship based on power and manipulation. Both of these are called dystopias [4] – the opposite of utopias or perfect worlds. Although for many people, the latter vision is frightening because it is so overtly violent and marked by a political dictatorship – a form of government that is so antithetical to the democratic sensitivities of North America and Europe – the former is far more scary because it is a vision of voluntary acquisition to control rather than a seizing of control by force. In 1984, people don’t read books because they are banned and burned by the state, but in Brave New World, they don’t read books because they no longer want to.

Huxley’s future is the one into which it is much easier to slide. If the President of the USA decided to impose his or her will on the populace by turning the troops loose on dissenters and creating a “secret police” to spy on everyone, there would be some resistance. In fact, there would likely be lots of resistance. It’s a feature of any dictatorship that those in power are constantly under threat from dissidents, and the people might be acquiescent but they are still aware that they are under the yoke of tyranny. But not so in a brave new world where freedoms are not taken but given away, piece by piece. And there are two phrases that are used all the time to encourage people to do this; “It’s for the safety of the people” and “It’s for the welfare of our children.” The latter is, to me, the more egregiously hypocritical in that it seeks to turn dissenters into seemingly uncaring and callous child haters.

So how unreasonable is it to install cameras in malls to prevent child abductions?[5] How unreasonable to have them installed along roads to protect public safety? How unreasonable is it to have cameras in ATM’s to prevent theft? All of these things are now a feature of everyday life that we were never “asked” to approve but were simply added, slice by slice, to the point that it is now possible to not only prevent abductions (possibly), catch speeders (and fine them), and photograph debit card thieves (who always seem to wear hoodies), but for law enforcement and hackers to track an individual’s whereabouts. [6]

Surveillance

We have already surrendered a level of privacy by letting this happen. A 2011 report said that the UK had over 1.85 million cameras across the country, which works out to about one camera for every 32 people. That’s a lot of eyes. Yet this has now become a part of the norm – knowing that you might be being watched or recorded. Of course, supporters of CCTV will always trot out the tired cliché of “but if you’re innocent, what have you to worry about?” I worry about the interpretation of “innocence;” I worry about who is making that call; and I worry about how my non-criminal behavior can be tracked and shared with people.

It’s 3:00 am and I’m drunk and walking home. I cross the road when there’s no traffic in sight. I take a pee against my front fence (hey, we’ve all been there, right!). Finally I get through the door and go to bed. Two days later there’s a knock at the door and I’m being charged with public intoxication, jaywalking, and indecent exposure. Now ask yourself – is that just? I guess if I’d stopped for a minute to have a quick smoke within 25 feet of a school I’d have another charge dropped on top!

So remind me again about how “innocence” inoculates me against being sanctioned in some way by “The Others.”

It’s not, therefore, much of a surprise to find that there are people who find the idea of Google Glass becoming a significant part of society somewhat troubling. In a recent poll by Toluna, a market-research firm, 72% of Americans put privacy concerns at the top of the list for why they won’t be wearing Google Glass. And in the UK, a blog post by the government’s data privacy watchdog agency, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) says that use of Google Glass for anything other than “the collection of personal information for domestic purposes” could lead to prosecution under the Data Protection Act. It’s also worth noting that we already have the derogatory word glasshole used to describe wearers of this technology, and glassing-out to describe prolonged staring while wearing the glasses.

Perhaps it’s true after all that there is no longer any such thing as privacy. In our rush to make the world safer, nicer, and easier, we’ve allowed the genie to slip out of the bottle and we can’t stuff him back in. Or maybe we worry too much, like the writer of this passage:

Instantaneous photographs and newspaper enterprise have invaded the sacred precincts of private and domestic life; and numerous mechanical devices threaten to make good the prediction that ” what is whispered in the closet shall be proclaimed from the house-tops.”[7]

The surprise – this is from a Harvard Law Review paper written in 1890! Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Notes
[1] It’s worth mentioning here that I don’t, and never have, indulge in smoking. For the life in me I’ve never seen the value in setting fire to rolled up plants and sucking up the burning smoke in to my lungs. However, I can empathize with those who do, bearing in mind that I frequently drink alcohol – a drug that, in contrast to nicotine – is currently legal. My vaguely Libertarian sensibilities therefore generally come down in favor of acknowledging an individual’s right to smoke, even though I don’t do it myself. And provided it’s done in an environment that doesn’t significantly damage my health, so be it. But should the government ever decide to make alcohol illegal, they’ll have to pry the Whie Russian from my cold, dead hands.

[2] One of the “reasons” put forward by proponents of Google Glass or body-mounted cameras is so that you can record your life. If that’s the case, at what point do you actually stop and look back at what you’ve recorded? Logically, your life is halved because you need to spend 50% of your time recording it and leave another 50% open for you to watch what you’ve recorded! And if you’re response is that you’ll only watch the best bits of your life, how much time are you then going to want to spend editing you thousands of hours recorded data?

[3] This sounds to me like a perfect names for a band, or an album, or even a book. I’ll therefore take the opportunity to copyright the phrase right now as “A Choice of Dystopias” just in case.

[4] The word was coined by Sir Thomas More as the title for his 1516 novel Utopia about a place with a perfect social and legal system where everyone is happy. He took it from pieces of Greek: eu- (εὐ) meaning “good” and “topos”(τόπος) meaning “place” i.e. a good place. You might think there was an actual Ancient Greek word εὐτόπία but apparently not! A good example of an invented Greek word ;)

[5] On a side note, it’s always struck me that if the answer to school shootings is to arm teachers and install metal detectors, we’ve never really understood the question in the first place. I suppose once we can sneak in “owning your own tank” under the cover of the 2nd amendment, then even that solution will need revising!

[6] On the trivial and personal side, because of the ease of online banking – and the speed at which transactions can be made – my wife often knows exactly where I’ve been and what I’ve spent before I get home from a night out. Sure, she can’t track the dollar bills I’ve slipped into a stripper’s garter but if I use my debit card to pay for the food and drink tab, my night at “Naughty Nancy’s Nudey Saloon” is easily tracked! It also makes it really hard to buy anything as a surprise because we have a joint account so she sees instantly if I buy something – or of I take out cash to buy it. It’s a minor thing but it is, in fact, just one more slice taken out of the privacy salami.

[7] Warren, S. D., & Brandeis, L. D. (1890). The Right to Privacy. Harvard Law Review, 4(5), 193-220