Posts Tagged ‘humour’

Being amused by small things

June 8, 2013 Leave a comment

Sometimes quite minor things can amuse me because of their strange and surreal qualities. One of these is TV subtitling, aka captioning, or closed captions.

You know the button on your TV that turns on subtitles for the hard of hearing? We have that on quite a lot, not because we’re hard of hearing but because it means we don’t need the sound on when we’re trying to be quiet, like enjoying the first coffee of the day. Usually at such times what we’re watching is a breakfast news programme.

Today I saw two news items that attracted my attention.

One was about giving blood. One of the people being interviewed, I think either an official of the NHS blood transfusion service or an award-winning donor, was talking about the process of giving blood and transcribed as saying: ‘It’s just like having an eagle peck in your arm, it’s painless.’ Oh yes?

The other was an item about the reduction in funding to museums and the possibility of  museum closures. One museum slated for possible closure was the ‘National Robbery Museum’ and another was the ‘Liverpool Chakra Museum’. I’ve never been to either, but it sounds like I should visit them both soon… I’d like to see a chakra museum; historical and curious chakras might be very interesting.

Of course the problem arises because of the way subtitling is done. Many dramas are professionally subtitled prior to transmission and what appears on screen is perfectly formed. Some live transmissions are transcribed in real time by someone sitting at a keyboard somewhere. I have a mental image of someone sitting in a darkened cubicle in the lower sub-basement of the TV station, wearing headphones the size of footballs and pounding the keys of a computer that was fresh and shiny in the late 1970s, but that’s just being fanciful. And sometimes the transliteration is done automatically by an audio-to-text programme that mostly gets things right, and maybe there’s someone who can add in corrections if they spot errors.

I have great respect for people who do these transcriptions because at many points in my research career, I’ve been involved in transcribing interview tapes, met court clerks who knock this stuff out at trials, and I know the kind of skill and speed that’s required to do this work in real time. So I think I can be forgiven for the occasional laugh-out-loud moments when either they, or the voice recognition software, gets it wrong.

As far as I know there isn’t a National Robbery Museum – the Met Police have a ‘black museum’ of implements used in famous murders, and the prison service has a museum of implements used in riots, escapes and so on. I’ve seen those (many years ago now), and indeed the Museum of Justice in Nottingham. And there isn’t a chakra museum either, though there is a witchcraft museum in Boscastle, Cornwall, which is interesting for a range of reasons including the social and folk history it reveals, and I’d recommend visiting it if you’re ever in the area.

Meanwhile, and wearing my fiction-writing hat for a moment, if you ever read a story of mine that has a robbery museum or a chakra museum in it, you’ll know where I got the idea from…

Learning, humour and irony

September 23, 2012 Leave a comment

This last week I’ve been rewriting some material on sociology, which prompted me to investigate what’s available on Youtube. I was intrigued by some of the stuff I found.

Here’s one, 3 minutes or so long, on the sociology of the family for A-level students. Things I liked about it: the flat, emotionally unengaged voice of the character that keeps repeating ‘I feel your pain'; and the punchline at the end. Wonderful.

And here’s another, on homelessness and poverty. Six minutes in total, but the best bit is the cartoon at the beginning. One character argues that homeless people are real people, like you and me. And another asks, with a note of incredulity in his voice: You mean they’ve adapted? Copied our DNA?

Humour and irony as tools for learning. Excellent stuff.


September 17, 2012 3 comments

Apparently one of the people I write education and training materials for has designated me an HPL. I discovered this when I phoned them to ask a question about their programme and the person I spoke to had to check a file, which referred to me and the other freelancers writing for the programme as HPLs. But she didn’t know what the acronym meant.

So – idle curiosity – I tried an acronym checker. The more amusing possibilities included:

High Pressure Laminate

Human Performance Laboratory (likely!)

High Performance Leadership (as a freelancer?)

Horizontal Protection Limit (?)

High Priority List (doubtful!)

I’ve since discovered from someone else in the organisation what the abbreviation actually means, but it’s boring. Anyone got any amusing suggestions?

Categories: humor Tags: , , , ,

Useful if your hovercraft is full of eels

July 20, 2012 Leave a comment

After the last couple of rather moralistic posts, some light relief. I’ve lately been writing something that required – don’t ask why! – some phrases in Creole (or Kreyol, as it’s often spelt in Creole-speaking parts of the world). As a result of this I discovered a web page that gives you the translation of the phrase ‘My hovercraft is full of eels’ in 108 different languages, currently spoken, historical languages like Ancient Greek and Sumerian, and constructed languages such as Klingon.

And there’s also a brief note on the source of the phrase and the context in which it might become useful. Unfortunately, though, Kreyol isn’t one of the 108 languages covered…

Here’s the link to the page at

Have fun!

Excellent government reports

January 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Since we moved home I’ve been thinning out the amount of paper on my shelves – old notes, research briefings, policy documents, stuff that just arrives in the post because I’ve been on the mailing list of various organisations. A lot of it’s well over a decade old now and it was pretty ephemeral when it first came out.

And V says ‘I really like those government reports. They’re excellent.’

We have a multi-fuel stove in the living room. That’s the context for her comment.


January 27, 2012 2 comments

‘Before using the product for the first time, take time to familiarise yourself with the product first. Read the following operation instructions and safety instructions carefully. Only use the product as described and for the designated areas of application. Please keep these instructions in a safe place. If you hand this product on to a third party, you must also pass on all documents relating to the product.’

I was sorting through old paperwork and came across this. It’s the beginning of a 7-page instruction manual…

… for a bath mat.

Gogglebox, a random thought

January 14, 2012 Leave a comment

Just a quick thought from a random conversation.

In my youth, ‘gogglebox’ was a slang term for a TV. I’d have thought by now someone would have come up with the obvious equivalent slang for a computer – a googlebox?

Apparently not. Oh well.

Vampire fiction and training materials

October 11, 2011 2 comments

I’ve had a bit of word-collision going on.

Yesterday I was writing a short vampire story. A vampire, in some older literature, is described as a revenant – a term Wikipedia defines as ‘a visible ghost or animated corpse that was believed to return from the grave to terrorize the living’. So it was a word I used quite a few times.

Today I was writing something about economic regeneration in local contexts, and the roles of relevant government departments and other agencies.

And the spellcheck, of course, didn’t pick up that I’d managed to include quite a lot of references to revenant government departments.


‘Not everything’ could be half of something, which is still something and therefore not nothing

September 10, 2011 3 comments

Just in case you missed it – a couple of researchers set up two chatbots and had them talk to each other. The results were bizarre. One declared that it wasn’t a robot, it was a unicorn. The other queried this – ‘But you said earlier that you were a robot’ – and got the snarky reply, ‘You were mistaken. Which is odd because memory shouldn’t be a problem for you’.

The discussion then got into the existence of a god (see below) and whether the concept of a god meant anything to them. One said ‘Not everything’, and they ended up agreeing that ‘”Not everything” could also be something. For example, “not everything” could be half of something, which is still something and therefore not nothing.’

The whole exchange is on the BBC website.

Chatbots have been around for a while – since the 1960s, in rudimentary form and for at least the last decade with voice recognition and speech output. They started as a way to see if a computer could pass the Turing test (i.e. fool a human that the chatbot is also human, through the use of conversation. I have to say that where I live I doubt many people could pass the Turing test, but that’s another story). There’s a lot more about them on Wikipedia if you’re interested – more about chatbots, I mean, not the people who live round here.

Chatbots these days take note of terms used by humans and can add them to their memory, using them in contexts that their programming works out is appropriate – hence, presumably, the reference to god is something to do with prior conversations humans have had with them and the reference to a unicorn was thought likely to have resulted from a prior conversation one of the chatbots had had with a child.

In the real world, chatbots are used for a range of purposes. Some companies use them for customer service – when you phone up for help you talk first to a chatbot that scans your speech for keywords or does ‘natural language processing’ and offers relevant information. Equally, there are malware chatbots that go into online discussion boards and either advertise products or try to engage in conversations to get you to reveal bank details etc. For example, from what I’ve seen of Craigslist I’d imagine it’s significantly populated with chatbots, or perhaps people trying to emulate them?

But the interesting thing, really, is how the chatbots have emulated much real human conversation – or at least many of the conversations I seem to have – complete with non sequiturs, random ideas, questions that appear to come out of left field and snarky comments!

And now you’ll have to wonder if a chatbot has written this blog post…

By the way, other interesting computer related stories recently have included ‘Robots develop language to talk to each other’ (I shall have to write a story in which key places are Kuzo, Jaro and Fexo) and ‘Supercomputer predicts revolution‘, in which a supercomputer with access to around a trillion news stories and natural language processing was able to track public sentiment and the possibility of regime change in Egypt (and some other things as well).

Signs of incipient old age, no. 6

May 19, 2011 Leave a comment

I bought a new computer programme the other day. Among other things it makes PDFs and has lots of knobs, bells, whistles and other even more useful bits of functionality.

I could have downloaded it but decided to buy in an actual shop, because if you’ve got the disk – well, you’ve got the disk. You can reload from disk if there are ever any problems.

It’s just taken me 30 mins to work out how to undo the sodding cardboard packaging without breaking the disk…


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