Thursday, 31 July 2008

It's The End! Lexicographers and Linguistics Professors Alike Fall Upon Their Swords! Anarchy! Chaos! Terror Stalks The Land!

Does web programming encourage tautology?

I am currently ploughing my way through stylesheets and XHTML documents - the task: redesigning the d'Overbroeck's College website.

And as I write my tags and nest my divs, like the merry old codemonkey I am, a thought strikes me. This happens, from time to time. Like a pebble disrupting the peaceful surface of a lake.

The thought:

We web designers focus, one and all, on the holy grail of high Google rankings. When someone types into google a keyword that relates to your site, you want to be up there on the first page of results.

Easier said than done, naturally.

Google generates rankings in complex, mysterious ways. Its 'spiders' – automated program scripts that comb through websites to collect data about the web – crawl through a website's text, which is fed into the Googlebrain. If your text uses certain key words and phrases in an effective and moderately natural sort of way, Google will assume that your page is about these things. Very roughly speaking.

Now, say you had a website which was a catalogue of road signs. Your title might be, imaginatively enough, Road Signs of Great Britain

Now that's my kind of website.

But then you might start to think, "Ho hum ... what if people aren't searching for 'road signs' ... maybe they're looking for 'road symbols'? Or 'traffic signs'? Alack! Will these unfortunate enthusiasts be deprived of the pleasures afforded by my fascinating and comprehensive catalogue?"

A vexing notion, you'll agree.

The temptation - o! most insidious temptation! - might be to change the title of your page - to Road, traffic and highway signs and symbols of Great Britain, the UK (which is to say, the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland) and the British Isles.

Y'know. Cover all the bases.

Not a good idea, on so many levels. Including, quite probably, search optimisation. But the point is: if one is catering for an audience whose search terms may well be imprecise, is one not encouraged to employ similarly imprecise terminology in one's writing, to some degree?

Yes, The Intellectual Hooligan Broaches Yet Another Issue Of Momentous Importance That Possesses Devastating Implications For Us All.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

'Perfecting the Look'

... Such were the words of my wry young friend Rebecca when I sent her the following image of my charming mug.

I just received these glasses in the post from Urban Outfitters (go on, snap y'self up a pair, if you dare).

As you'll note, the black dominates my pallid features, somewhat. And they are massive.

I think - as I remarked to Rebecca - the expression on my face in the above shot eloquently conveys my feelings. Note the slightly rueful twist to the smile (and the telltale anguished finger-bending of my left hand). Embarrassed amusement. Shock, manfully contained.

And, dear reader, do you detect a hint of fear? Fear at the prospect of somebody suddenly walking into my office to find me posing in front of Photo Booth with my joke-specs.

So: thumbs up, thumbs down? Roll up, roll up, for the Intellectual Hooligan's first poll (I thought I'd start you off with an easy question ...) Oh, and feel free to debate the finer points down in the comments, won't you?

Should the Intellectual Hooligan adorn his visage in this way?
Aye! This 'perfects the look' admirably.
Nay! For shame! free polls

Sunday, 27 July 2008


My sister cut cherries
Spread each clot

Not so much bitten as crushed
In our mouths each contusion
Bled sweet

The operating table
(Cherrybloodstained) remains
Dead wood imbued
With dying juices

And I fail, but try, to reconcile
The smooth blotted board 
With the blade's
Against rough stones

Following which
All the rest
Is bland

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Giles Coren: that spectacular 'leaked' email

For a long time, I read - with quasi-religious fervour - Giles Coren's restaurant reviews. Every weekend (Saturday), in the Times magazine. For a taste (see what I did there?) of his scathing best, read Coren's review of Goodfellas in Belfast. Mole poached in Ovaltine.

Hell, when I used to buy a paper, Coren was the sole reason for my choosing the Times, rather than the Guardian or Independent.

Giles Coren is a funny man. In the years since first I read his reviews, his profile has - I observe - grown considerably. He's been Edwardian Supersized, has presented (in slightly cringe-inducing fashion) various TV shows, and has written officially bad sex scenes.

Anyhow. He is now attracting attention on the Guardian website, thanks to a 'leaked' email sent by him to Times subeditors. "Furious and foul-mouthed", we are told.

Now, it seems to me, this is one of those convenient 'leaks' that has done Mr Coren very little harm. Indeed, he comes out of it rather well. Okay, so readers of the 1,000-odd word email may (if they fail to sympathise with the man's tirade) consider its author a sarcastic, pedantic little arse. But that'll do his 'personal brand' absolutely no damage - as it's the image he's deliberately (if occasionally coyly) courted for years.

If it was indeed a genuine leak, lucky man.

If not: well played, sir.

Now, go and read Giles Coren's angry email for yourself. If you're pressed for time, though, I urge you at least to scan the more brief scribal smack dealt to fellow reviewer Feargus O'Sullivan. Rhetorically, the build is fabulous.

Friday, 25 July 2008

O Ye Disciples of The Blog

You are reading my words. A fact that gives me no small degree of pleasure.

I'd like it to stay that way. You'd better believe it.

Question is: how are you reading this? Okay, smart arse. With your eyes. But do you use your internet browser to visit the blog site itself every time you fancy a dose of prime-cut intellectual hooliganism?

Reader: there is another way. Subscribe by email. At the mere click (or two) or a button, you can receive an email version of each post, on the day I write it. Bliss.

And then there are the wonders of the RSS feed. Don't know what this is? Read this fellow's handy RSS primer. And your blogreading experience will never be the same again.

Sure, it'll be sort of similar, I guess.

But not the same.


As a male of the human species, I am profoundly disquieted by the findings of eyetracking studies carried out to measure the attention paid by site visitors to various areas of given webpages.

Before you click (with gay abandon) upon the above link, I should warn you that the article in question could itself be written and laid out with considerably greater attention to usability and reader appeal. That it has not been I take, naturally, as deliberate irony.

So I'll summarise. Basically, on the internet, people like clear, sparse, to-the-point prose.

(Basically, I'm screwed.)

Scientists (you know, Scientists ...) use eyetracking to measure the time for which site visitors' eyes rest on each area of a given page. The results of their experiments show which areas of a site are focused upon - and which are ignored.

All very interesting. If you design sites, it's certainly worth reading the full shebang.

If not, though, may I direct you simply to one section of the article, near the end. I'll quote the relevant part, magnanimous blogger that I be, to save you that scrolling.
When photos do contain people related to the task at hand, or the content users are exploring, they do get fixations. However, gender makes a distinct difference on what parts of the photo are stared at the longest. Take a look at the hotspot below.
Although both men and women look at the image of George Brett when directed to find out information about his sport and position, men tend to focus on private anatomy as well as the face. For the women, the face is the only place they viewed.
Male readers: any comments?

And, with the nonchalance that only true scientific impartiality can muster, the article goes on:
Coyne adds that this difference doesn’t just occur with images of people. Men tend to fixate more on areas of private anatomy on animals as well, as evidenced when users were directed to browse the American Kennel Club site.
Now, I really didn't want to know that.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Historian of the Self

I have been perusing the fruits of intellectual hooliganism of yore.

In my perusal, I came across the following gem of delightful post-adolescent optimism. And thought, dear reader, that I'd better share it with you. So: this is me, aged 20 or so ... 
When I first meet you, it is the perfect ice-cream-come-true epiphany: the kind about which second-rate romantic poets can but dream. We are made for one-another - yang and yin (oh - inversion. "the smooth and rough"? Cheers, Yeats, mate, but no...); two corresponding sections of the sundered circle. Alliteration not required, but pleasant enough. Maybe nobody made us; but we are made for each other.

At some point, I talk to you - perhaps "accidentally" brush your knee with my hand. Perhaps you think of Jean-Claude Brialy. Perhaps you do not. This is - relatively - unimportant. You are the first person truly to fascinate me - the first person I find harder to comprehend than myself. You are that last, unsolveable cryptic crossword clue. Baby. Hell yes. Oh... baby.

Spool time forward. Now we kiss. There's no string-laden soundtrack, swelling in the background; but nobody seems to notice. Only the Freudian analysts underline "swelling". And then whatever else seems appealing may occur. Obey the Mills and Boon stereotype. But probably with a couple of awkward silences along the way. A nod to Modernist realism. A courteous nod - as passing one's tutor on Cowley Road. As he/she ducks furtively out of the sex shop.

We become inseparable - or, as Plato might've preferred to put it (assuming, of course, that he would have cared to put it in any way whatsoever), return to the natural inseparability of our reunified whole. Whatsomever. Dude. Each of us knows how the other feels; each can speak to the other without words.

I am aware of this mutual dependency between us; this magnetic pull between two non-magnetic entities. So much for conceit. And I realise I am perhaps not so hard to comprehend after all. So much for conceit. And I realise that any conversation without you seems stilted; any social situation without you rousing within me the same nagging splinter of annoyance of a game of chess with one pawn replaced by a monopoly hotel. And I am hardly surprised at all to find, one day, that I hate you.

Soon, perhaps, the cycle will begin again.

And I can do Romantic, too.
What discoveries one makes, scouring old hard-drives, eh? Wonderful stuff.

Christ alive!

I'm sorry. But 'South Parade' is not what I'm thinking, right now.

What I'm thinking:


In the sweet name of our Lord – what possessed the designers of this publication (which, inside advertises – innocuously enough – a variety of shops, eateries and cultural oases local to the road near which I live) – what possessed them to illustrate its cover in so monstrous a fashion?

Monday, 14 July 2008

A New Diversion

Next time you find yourself at a loss, twiddling your mental thumbs, hungry for diversion – there is a solution.

Find somewhere comfortable to sit. Make yourself a drink, if so doing lies within your power.

Close your eyes.

And call to mind somebody you know. Ideally, not too well. Perhaps a work colleague ... your landlord ... the gentleman who runs the fine shoe emporium in your town ... a former schoolteacher ...

Now, imagine this person walking along, in earnest conversation.

Really imagine this.

… Now (with a casual flick of your mind) make 'em trip over.

Hours of fun, my friends. Hours of fun.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Colours, in the wild

Dear Person Who Parked This Car Right Here,

Thank you for enriching my day to a not insignificant degree.

The Intellectual Hooligan

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Line Breaks

Here is a good poem.

The Right of Way
William Carlos Williams

In passing with my mind
on nothing in the world

but the right of way
I enjoy on the road by

virtue of the law—
I saw

an elderly man who
smiled and looked away

to the north past a house—
a woman in blue

who was laughing and
leaning forward to look up

into the man’s half
averted face

and a boy of eight who was
looking at the middle of

the man’s belly
at a watchchain—

The supreme importance
of this nameless spectacle

sped me by them
without a word—

Why bother where I went?
for I went spinning on the

four wheels of my car
along the wet road until

I saw a girl with one leg
over the rail of a balcony

It's great because of its line breaks. William Carlos Williams (to whom, in RSI-avoiding fashion, I'll henceforth refer as WCW) is writing from the perspective of one driving a car – probably, I think, at some speed.

Poets often use line-breaks rhythmically: with a view to marking out and enhancing the 'music' of the poetry. This 'unit' – the line – is the basis of all poetry. And poets typically exploit the interplay between the line and the sentence (often split across several lines or even stanzas).

WCW is clever. He uses the line as a device directly to imitate the experience he describes:
and a boy of eight who was
looking at the middle of

the man’s belly
at a watchchain—
Imagine yourself driving quickly past a scene. You're looking at the road, perhaps also keeping one eye on the rear-view mirror. Your attention is constantly having to switch.

And WCW uses his line-breaks brilliantly to convey this sense of repeated flicks of the eye – each time 'zooming in' on the interesting detail. Refining. The boy isn't looking at the man's belly: a further glance tells the speaker that he's looking at the watchchain hanging over the belly. A finer detail he at first missed.

The final stanza does the same thing, to even greater effect:
I saw a girl with one leg
over the rail of a balcony
The line-break is superbly comic. Thanks to his perspective and diverted attention, the speaker's initial impression – of a one-legged girl – is mistaken. He can only see one of her legs, as she's climbing over the balcony rail. The second line (his second glance) swiftly reveals the truth – but for that split second between lines, we (the reader) shared the speaker's slightly horrified misperception.


Tuesday, 8 July 2008

One's name, on the lips of others

One of life's simplest (free, healthy, non-narcotic) pleasures: hearing one's own name on the lips of others. Just like flattery – which we are apparently powerless to resist, even when we know it to be potentially insincere – our name has a powerful hold on us.

Shakespeare knew this. Hey, sure, Shakespeare knew everything, didn't he?

– A tutor of mine (me and my tutors, eh? Not a blog post escapes their ghostly influence), indeed, proclaimed Nuttall's Law – whereby he challenged anybody to provide a psychological phenomenon or modern philosophical concept or theory that had not somewhere been prefigured or implied in Shakespeare's work. I certainly never saw him stumped.

(RIP, Tony – an enormously clever, ceaselessly interested man. I once found myself walking into the Old Quad at New College – photo below – behind him. And, even though he'd been teaching there for almost 20 years, I watched him stop in the archway, for a good ten seconds, simply to absorb what was (I was almost guiltily reminded) a spectacular sight.)

Anyhow, yes. Shakespeare knew about the pleasure afforded by hearing one's own name. Early on in Hamlet, Claudius greets Laertes thus:
And now, Laertes, what's the news with you?
You told us of some suit; what is't, Laertes?
You cannot speak of reason to the Dane,
And loose your voice: what wouldst thou beg, Laertes,
That shall not be my offer, not thy asking?
The head is not more native to the heart,
The hand more instrumental to the mouth,
Than is the throne of Denmark to thy father.
What wouldst thou have, Laertes?
Ingratiation. Four times in one speech. Possibly over-egging the pudding, there, Claudius, old boy.

But imagine, dear reader, a scenario in which one were deprived of this simple pleasure. Imagine a scenario in which one were afforded no joy whatsoever at the sound of one's name.

Imagine, indeed, a scenario in which one might be just as accustomed to seeing one's name on the lips of others as to hearing it.

Surreal? Yes.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you possibly the most unfortunate first-name I have yet encountered:


What a lovely name for a little girl.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

A crushingly embarrassing memory

In a gutsy spirit of nonchalant masochism, I propose to tell you a crushingly embarrassing memory.

And enumerate the reasons for which it is so crushingly embarrassing.

I'll have to give you a bit of background. There is a former university tutor of mine for whom I have a great deal of respect (indeed, there are two, but that doesn't matter). We'll dignify him with a pseudonym, shall we? Let's call him Albert. This is a man of considerable wisdom in a number of arenas, whose positive influence upon me I would openly acknowledge, and whom I admire in many respects.

Now, dear reader, picture me – your antihero – confiding earnestly in a trusted companion. Whom we'll pseudonymically call Gabrielle. Speaking in tones heavy with self-revelatory significance:

THE HOOLIGAN: ... Albert actually said something that I found incredibly moving. It was when we were at our end-of-university dinner, and the conversation had alighted upon the subject of children.

GABRIELLE: Right ...

HOOLIGAN: I think someone had said that they'd never want to have children. And Albert heard this. And came out with an incredibly moving response.

GABRIELLE: Uh huh?  [Gabrielle gets all the best lines. Just you wait.]

HOOLIGAN: Yeah. He said something like ... "Having children is incredibly difficult. You go through all these things ... You argue, fail to understand one another. They grow up – and sometimes you feel as though you've lost them ... But then you're talking to them. And you realise: these are the most fascinating people I will ever meet."

[Considerable pause]

GABRIELLE: ... Um ... Isn't that from Lost In Translation?

Some kind of uber-resonant gong should have sounded, at this point. Or perhaps some kind of 'comedy' duck noise, at very least.

This episode – and I cannot stress this enough – devastated the Intellectual Hooligan. To the core, my friends, the very core. And on such a multiplicity of levels.

Level 1: Oh Christ, I have just made an incredibly embarrassing error.

Level 2: Jesus, but I actually still can imagine those words coming out in his voice.

Level 3: How horrendous! I'd built this up as a searing revelation – a moment of true value; a treasured memory of pivotal significance to me at a defining point in my life – and come out with a line from a popular film. And I truly believed this to be genuine, with all my heart.

Level 4: Oh crap-in-a-blender ... Does this mix-up not afford – in a nauseating, insomnia-inducing fashion – a deeply worrying insight into a series of buried mental associations?

Level 5: How many others amongst my treasured array of oft-recounted anecdotes might in fact involve transplanted dialogue, lifted wholesale from the scripts of mainstream-indie movies?

Level 6: May this kind of thing, in fact, have happened before, in a situation in which everyone was too polite to point out said transplant?

Level 7: I would like, so very dearly, to forget that this ever happened.


Friday, 4 July 2008

A Cornucopia of Blogs

Like a sweaty-palmed youngster of dubious moral stance, unsupervised in a sweet shop, I've been helping myself to fistfuls of free blog space. Thanks, Blogger.

Why, after all, keep just one blog when you could have four? To whit ...

The Majestical Blogroll of Billicatons
  • The Intellectual Hooligan - ephemera, soapboxing, vitamin-enriched trivia
  • Cogwheelblog - happenings that relate to the band in which I play electric [laser-]cello
  • d'Overblog - the blog I recently established to record news and events at the College by which I am currently employed
  • MOGblog - whereat I review albums and gigs and spout musical opinions
... And I am pleased to announce [amidst trumpet fanfares, drum rolls, dancing pumas and some misguided bugger playing the bagpipes] – the addition of yet another blog:

Since I spend so much of my time thinking about how best to communicate with other human beings – whether via the written word, graphical images, musical sounds or inept blathering – I thought it might make sense to chronicle my thoughts as they related to the business of communications and marketing.

So that, dear blogtrotter, is what I shall do.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Dirty in the right places

I'm currently re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird. And was just brought to a halt by the following:
Atticus left us on the porch. Jem leaned on a pillar, rubbing his shoulders against it.

'Do you itch, Jem?' I asked as politely as I could. He did not answer. 'Come on in, Jem,' I said.

'After while.'

He stood there until nightfall, and I waited for him. When we went in the house I saw he had been crying; his face was dirty in the right places, but I thought it odd that I had not heard him.
This is an absolutely brilliant piece of writing. As I read, I am reminded just how well Harper Lee - without even an ounce of sentimentalism - deals with these simultaneously weighty and insubstantial episodes - charting her protagonist's transition from childhood. How incredibly well her economical, unpretentious prose frames this all.

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