bookmark_borderPredictions for 2011

Here are my predictions for 2011:

  1. There will be a general election in Denmark. The Social Democrats and SF will form a minority government, which will quickly get into serious trouble trying to carry out their legislative programme.
  2. There won’t be a general election in the UK, but the LibDems will get more and more worried about their lack of support in the opinion polls.
  3. In Scotland, Labour will win the election but will be unable to find a coalition partner, so they’ll form a minority government.
  4. The outcome of the AV referendum will be Yes (but it’ll be a narrow victory).
  5. There’ll be snow on the ground in Scotland for most of the time until the end of March. We’ll then have a warm and sunny early summer, but late summer and autumn will be cold and wet, and we’ll have another white Christmas.
  6. Facebook will get serious competition, but they won’t be overtaken yet as the default social networking site.
  7. The best-selling tablet computer towards the end of 2011 won’t be the iPad.
  8. Economically, Germany will start pulling the Eurozone out of the slump, but there’ll be more bad news from the US. There won’t be any sovereign defaults (yet).
  9. Petrol prices will reach £1.50 per litre.
  10. Neither Denmark nor Scotland will qualify for the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship.

bookmark_borderCouncil sizes

Originally uploaded by khoogheem

My mum was reading East Renfrewshire‘s magazine last night and asked me why there were so few council members.

I hadn’t really thought of that before, so I checked the figures: East Renfrewshire has 89,200 inhabitants and 20 council members, whereas an equivalent Danish council area (“kommune”) such as Silkeborg has 88,481 inhabitants and 31 council members.

Why is there such a big difference? Have Danish councils got more tasks than Scottish ones? Are Scottish councillors busier than their Danish counterparts?

My mum also remarked that East Renfrewshire’s councillors looked remarkably old to her – is there a connexion (e.g., is there a higher workload so that it’s hard to fit in if you’re not a pensioner?), or have their ages got more to do with the fact that FPTP was used until recently?

bookmark_borderSharing a meal

I happened to watch Marks & Spencer’s new Christmas dinner ad on telly the other day (embedding it here doesn’t seem to be possible).

At first it sounds nice, but listen to what is being said: The uncle gets one starter, but the niece gets another; a turkey for one half of the family, but sirloin on the bone for the other half; two different puddings.

What has happened to the idea of sitting down together to share a meal? A meal that gives you a shared experience, a meal that brings you all together?

Has the modern concept of individual microwave meals now eroded our culture to the point where people just won’t compromise and eat anything that isn’t their favourite meal?

Sharing a meal is an ancient concept in many cultures, and welcoming guests with food (such as the Slavonic bread and salt) is widespread.

So why are we increasingly getting rid of this? I know of families that hardly ever eat the same thing or at the same time.

I find it disturbing if this now spreads even to special occasions such as Christmas.

bookmark_borderEmail in the 1850s

Google have released something called the “Books Ngram Viewer” which lets you investigate the frequency of lexical items over time (in several languages).

As an example, here is the graph it produces for telegraph (red), telephone (blue) and email (green):

As you would expect, ‘telephone’ overtakes ‘telegraph’ shortly before 1920, and ’email’ comes from nowhere around 1990 and quickly becomes a frequent word.

What really surprised me here, though, was the usage of ’email’ in the mid-19th century. It obviously must have had a very different meaning back then, but what was it? The dictionaries I have at hand here do not reveal anything useful.

The Books Ngram Viewer lets you view the actual citations, and here are a few of them:

email sums paid by some of the Presbyteries

church has been email compared with that of the females

given as a defence against the email bird

with four longitudinal crimson stripes corresponding to the angles of the email, lozenge-shaped apertures

the email traders

A email brush is the best for the purpose of applying it

Fortunately, you don’t have to trust Google’s OCR’ed version, and if you open up the actual scanned pages containing these quotes, all the usages of ’email’ turn out to be instances of the word small.

With the caveat that you have to watch out for OCR errors (especially in older texts), the Ngram Viewer is a great tool for linguists and lexicographers, and it’s great that Google have made it available to all of us.

bookmark_borderIt’s all the UK’s fault

The Salt is Coming
Originally uploaded by elgringospain

Danish media are reporting that stocks of road salt are running low:

“Britain is the big culprit. They use too much [salt]”, says Per Nygaard.

He justifies this with the country’s road network, where A roads are narrow and bad. This means that in his view, all it takes is just a little bit of snow on the roadside before they begin to use road salt.

“They pour salt on by the bucketload. Their demand is enormously high,” explains the manager of Brøste [a salt distributor].

bookmark_borderFun with maps

This morning, I stumbled upon a map generator written by NASA called G.Projector.

It’s really good fun to play with: It’s reasonably fast (especially considering that it’s written in Java), it knows dozens of different map projections, and there are lots of parameters to adjust.

As an example, I created an Azimuthal Equidistant projection (in which directions from the centre of the map are true) of the Earth centred on New Zealand, which means that Europe is torn apart and stretched around the edge of the map. That’s probably as un-Eurocentric as you can get. 🙂

bookmark_borderBack together again

the Final Merger !
Originally uploaded by v i p e z

Earlier this year, I decided to split my blog into two: One for politics in English, and one for everything else.

In retrospect, this was probably caused primarily by my focus on the general election in May 2010.

However, since then I haven’t been blogging nearly as much about politics, so the result has been having two blogs that weren’t active enough.

Because of this, I’ve just brought my two blogs back together again (or to be more precise, I’ve imported the political blog posts into the main blog).

I apologise to those of you who were only interested in my political outpourings, but I believe this will work better for me and the vast majority of my readers.