Sunday, January 31, 2010
However, they had to get me approved by the client first, so they were hassling me to provide voice samples (yes, of course, this was all supposed to be happening at no notice at all, and over the weekend). So.... I frittered away a chunk of my afternoon figuring out how the Recording accessory on my new computer works. (Isn't it amazing how Microsoft manages to make such a basic utility..... a) almost impossible to find; b) extremely non-intuitive to use [WHY can you not simply delete or discard unwanted recordings?? Oh no, you must save everything - as, e.g., 'Untitled 17' - before you can delete it!]; and c) completely different in appearance and operation every year or two??)
Saturday, January 30, 2010
Other Films I've Watched Recently
The Thin Man
(Dir. W.S. van Dyke, 1934)
To Live And Die In L.A.
(Dir. William Friedkin, 1985)
(Dir. Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Bernhard Wicki, Darryl F. Zanuck, 1962)
Epic, multi-faceted account of the D-Day landings that I remember from my childhood. Probably hadn't seen it in nearly 30 years, but it holds up very well.
(Dir. Max Ophuls, 1955)
La Cité des Enfants Perdus
(Dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet & Marc Caro, 1995)
(Dir. George Stevens, 1953)
The New Legend Of Shaolin
(Dir. Corey Yuen & Ying Wong, 1994)
Singin' In The Rain
(Dir. Stanley Donen, 1952)
The Red Badge Of Courage
(Dir. John Huston, 1951)
(Dir. George Lucas, 1973)
(Dir. Steven Soderbergh, 1991)
Destry Rides Again
(Dir. George Marshall, 1939)
(Dir. Alexander Payne, 2004)
A Walk In The Sun
(Dir. Lewis Milestone, 1945)
Nanook of the North
(Dir. Robert J. Flaherty, 1922)
(Dir. Alexander Payne, 1999)
I was a little taken aback. It seemed so out of character for her. Moreover, since she is an extremely vivacious young woman, I was concerned for the monks, I feared that their asexual tranquility might be catastrophically disturbed by her presence.
Of course, it didn't help that she's a sloppy speller on SMS, and one of the messages she sent me about this actually said: "I'm going into a molestary for a few days."
I wonder if there's one of those anywhere near me?
Friday, January 29, 2010
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Oh no. Firefox's baffling refusal to download Blogger comment pages has forced to me to revert to using Explorer as my default browser.
And Explorer, as some of you may have discovered for yourselves, has this maddening habit of deciding - for no apparent reason - that you are "Working Offline" even when you are in fact still connected.
In all the vast armoury of user-unfriendly idiocies that Microsoft has visited upon a suffering world, this surely has to be one of the most pointless. Why does the browser get confused like this? Why can't it detect the actual connection state? What the hell is wrong with just going ahead and attempting to load or refresh a webpage as requested (and judging from the result of that whether the computer is in fact online or offline)?? Why must they insist on us repeatedly going back into the 'Tools' menu to manually uncheck the 'Work Offline' setting?? To me, it just makes no sense at all.
Now, this was plenty bad enough when it just happened once or twice a day - when I was resuming an earlier Web-browsing session after a spell offline, and Explorer hadn't recognised that I'd come back online again.
But over the past few days - for some reason I can't fathom - Explorer has started switching to 'Offline' status repeatedly, in the middle of a browsing session, without any break in the connection at all. It's happening dozens of times a day; sometimes every few minutes, or every few seconds. It is rendering Explorer well-nigh unusable.
Any techie types out there able to offer me any insights on this? (I do hope it's not more mischief from The Kafka Boys....)
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
While flicking through some of the stories and commentary on the Bible-bashin' nightsights story, I came upon this piece on the Huffington Post by Chris Rodda, a member of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (even some Christians are concerned about the prevalence of Christian zealotry in the US military). Her HP article from last September, Top Ten Ways to Convince the Muslims We're On A Crusade, is also well worth a look.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Speaking speed is strictly graded according to the English level of the intended audience.
Fortunately, most of the work we do is practice drills for the English listening element of the gaokao - the national universities admission exam, held each June. This is paced at a fairly normal 160-165wpm.
Materials for the final year of senior high are also paced at about that level, although - unless they are specifically for intensive gaokao practice - we usually take a little more care to enunciate each word precisely, to lengthen our pauses just slightly. Second year of senior high is about 150wpm, first year 140wpm. Middle school materials are generally in the 110-130 range.
Beginners' materials get as slow as 90-110wpm. Materials for very young learners can get as slow as 70 or 80wpm, occasionally even 60wpm - which is just painful to do, really exhausting for the vocal cords.
The only exception to this framework seems to be Guangdong province in the south, where - whether through their greater historical exposure to English speakers in Hong Kong and Guangzhou, or a natural quickfire garrulousness in the local culture and temperament, or just from a perverse desire to be a little bit different from the rest of China - they ramp up the speeds by 10-15wpm across the board. This means that for gaokao, you're getting up towards 180wpm - which is way faster than most native speakers normally speak; gabbling, in fact. (It's also really hard to do, because you don't have time to read ahead, and so make far more stumbles. We're never given any time to pre-read or rehearse these scripts; they're all sight-read, so you have to try to read a line or two ahead of what you're actually speaking in order to get a sense of the context, decide on appropriate phrasing and intonation, edit out any Chinglish mistakes, mentally prepare for any tongue-twister moments, and so on. This is the other great skill of this work, which some people never really master. Voice recording work is often derided by other expats, but to do it well actually requires a lot of concentration and experience.)
Monday, January 25, 2010
Saturday, January 23, 2010
She is quite the renaissance woman! Encouraged by her grandfather, the celebrated Italian writer Luigi Ugolini, she began writing as a child, and had a first collection of poetry published when she was barely 14; a short story of hers was taken up by Gene Roddenberry and turned into an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation; and she's written a successful sci-fi novel, Flight, an innovative, genre-defying piece she describes as 'quantum fiction'.
As if this were not enough, she's also made a name for herself in recent years as an advocate of sex in space, and to facilitate this has designed the 2suit - which uses the miracle of velcro to allow two people to get, and remain intimate in low-gravity environments.
And she's created this music video celebrating the human conquest of gravity.
And did I mention she has the most amazing eyes?
Friday, January 22, 2010
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
This was an especially prolific spell of blogging (what with the Olympics and all), so this may get to be quite a long list.
Here we go.
Pick of the Archive:
1) Chinese pronunciation classics - 2nd July 2008
Two hilarious examples of typical Chinese mispronunciation of English - really very, very funny. (And a little later there was another great one here; and an Olympic one here.)
2) List of the month - If I had a man-bag - 5th July 2008
I don't think I ever will get one of the dratted things, but if I did - it might be quite useful for carrying these daily essentials of Beijing life.
3) More Olympic "regulations" - 7th July 2008
I suffer a particularly daft example of the country's pre-Olympic anxiety.
4) My favourite book - The Wind In The Willows - 9th July 2008
An extended appreciation of my best-loved childhood read, reprinted from Moonrat's 'Celebrate Reading' Month.
5) The long arm of coincidence?? - 11th July 2008
I keep on bumping into people I know on Beijing subway trains. I mean, really, it happens a lot. This sets me off on a contemplation of the nature of coincidence and statistical probability.
6) My Fantasy Girlfriend - Daniela Hantuchova - 12th July 2008
My selection of the dazzlingly pretty Slovakian tennis player as my pin-up of the month is mainly an excuse to dilate further on my love of the game of tennis and my childhood recollections of the Wimbledon tournament.
7) A Classical Sunday - 13th July 2008
I offer my own translation of one of the best-known poems of the naughty Roman poet Catullus.
8) What the Chinese complain about - 19th July 2008
Via the online Wall Street Journal comes a pie-chart analysing what Chinese netizens most often gripe about. Quite enlightening, in a depressing sort of way.
9) A new 'game' for everyone - 19th July 2008
I publicize my new 'Misheard Song Lyrics' game from The Barstool with Annie Varner's superb video montage illustrating the 'lyrics' of Christina Aguilera's Ain't No Other Man.
10) Are we feeling "Olympic" enough yet?? - 21st July 2008
My bitter summary of everything our control-freak government is doing to try to ensure a "harmonious" Olympic Games in Beijing.
11) A question of taste - 22nd July 2008
During one of my voice-recording assignments I encounter this egregious example of Chinese bad taste. (Warning: Not for the faint-hearted.)
12) Let's talk about Security (1) - 28th July 2008
On the eve of the Olympics, I was much concerned with the city's security arrangements - or rather, the lack of them. There was lots of huffing-and-puffing and looking busy, but just about bugger-all that would actually make any of us safer. This was a topic I also considered here and here, and in this bon mot (and later, here and here and here). These misgivings proved sadly prescient when a mentally disturbed Chinese man murdered an American tourist on the opening day of the Games.
13) The chai Olympics - 5th August 2008
With the help of an artist friend, I create an image of the Olympic flag with chai (the Chinese character for 'demolish') inserted into each of the coloured rings. The wild property 'boom' in Beijing - chiefly characterised by poorly planned and largely unnecessary bulldozing of large sections of the old city, a wretched act of cultural desecration in the service of blind entrepreneurial greed - is what these Olympics should be chiefly remembered, and regretted, for in years to come.
14) What if they held an Olympics and nobody came? (1) - 6th August 2008
Bizarrely enough, that was what the Chinese government aimed for with the Beijing Olympics. Ridiculous visa restrictions and accidental-on-purpose foul-ups with ticketing meant that conventional tourism in the city dropped to almost zero this month.
15) List of the Month - that Opening Ceremony, huh?! - 12th August 2008
A jokey commentary on the highlights of the Olympic Opening Ceremony (as seen from a bar).
16) Olympics round-up - Week 1 - 15th August 2008
A rundown of the most interesting news stories and commentaries from the opening week of the Beijing Olympics.
17) The great mismatch: China & the "Olympic spirit" - 16th August 2008
My take on the great age-faking scandal in the women's (girls'!!) gymnastics. (There are follow-ups here and here.)
18) An Olympic Daily Llama - 22nd August 2008
A more humorous look back on the Olympics, via one of my frivolous 'Daily Llama' pictures.
19) Ping-pong's coming home! - 28th August 2008
Although I had earlier mocked Boris Johnson's sartorial shortcomings, I had to admit that his speech launching the London Olympic bandwagon was pretty damned funny, and added the YouTube clip of it.
20) Why pandas are going extinct - 30th August 2008
Because they're wusses! I reprint a very funny photo of panda timidity.
21) What was I expecting? - 31st August 2008
At the end of the month I sum up the reasons for my disappointment with the Beijing Olympics.
22) The weekly haiku - 5th September 2008
This one celebrates the sound of mah jong parlours, one of the favourite details of neighbourhood life that I savour when out jogging.
23) We need a new chant! 6th September 2008
An observation on Chinese sporting chants; or, rather, on the paucity of them.
24) Great job titles in the film industry - 11th September 2008
On watching Darren Aronofsky's excellent Requiem For A Dream again, I discovered that the credits included a Refrigerator Puppeteer. I had hoped to kick off a new 'collecting box' for similarly bizarre film credits, but this post has been sadly neglected thus far.
25) All that glisters is not gold - 13th September 2008
A final (well, not quite...) Olympic post on the issue of 'medal tallies' and rival approaches to comparing national team performances in the Games.
26) List of the Month - 10 Things To Love About Beijing - 13th September 2008
As a counter-balance to all of my Olympic curmudgeonliness, I offer a celebration of the best things about living in this city (and, incidentally, of reasons why Beijing is better than Shanghai).
A very silly, very funny picture - from (now sadly defunct) FrostFireZoo.
28) Who are you calling a pussy? - 17th September 2008
My discovery of the - truly bizarre - Chinese transliteration of Michael Phelps' name prompts more observations on the shortcomings of the Chinese language and education system.
29) That Michael Phelps diet again - 18th September 2008
A photograph making fun of the extraordinary dietary regime of the phenomenal Olympic swimming champion (not for those with weak stomachs!).
30) The police & the law - 18th September 2008
A very funny but rather shocking true story: a journalist friend of mine loses his passport, and is reminded by a policeman of the difference in this country between what the law says and what it means in practice.
31) A missed opportunity: The Cornetto Torch - 19th September 2008
Rather belatedly, I come up with a brilliant Olympic marketing gimmick for Wall's ice cream.
32) Fingerlickin' good! - 25th September 2008
'Redneck Art' - a YouTube clip of someone doing a rather good finger-painting on a diner tablecloth..... in barbecue sauce!
33) Red sky at night - 26th September 2008
A photograph of a particularly beautiful sunset out of my kitchen window.
34) And another thing..... that bugs me about Chinese behaviour on the roads - 27th September 2008
I lose my patience with the murderously stupid propensity of Chinese cyclists to always try to cut corners.
35) Sacrilege - 27th September 2008
I have to say that, up close, I find Beijing's 'iconic' Olympic venues, the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube, to be severely unimpressive.
36) "Unffhh!" Jesus takes a hit! - 28th September 2008
Somehow or other I happen upon the you-won't-believe-it-but-it's-real http://www.catholicshopper.com, among whose stupendously kitsch highlights is this porcelain statuette of Jesus playing American football with a couple of young boys.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Monday, January 18, 2010
Saturday, January 16, 2010
What else could I have for Post No. 2,001??
Have a nice trip.
Gosh, strange to think that this came out nearly 15 years ago - when the turn of the new millennium was still five years away. Pulp's Different Class album always brings back a flood of memories from my days at law school. Jarvis Cocker was sharing a London flat at this time with one of his old school friends from Sheffield, and one of my law school friends started dating him (the flatmate, that is). I think that relationship surprisingly survived and prospered, despite her idolizing - and having a bit of a crush on - his pop star housemate. She said that she always got very bashful and tongue-tied going round to the flat, and struggled to act normally, to supress the impulse to gush excitement like a teeny-bopper - "Oh my good god, it's JARVIS!!!" He was a very big deal in the British music scene at that time. Alas, this anecdote is going nowhere: I never got to meet the man myself (although I think there were a few near-misses) - just another of those quaint one-degree-of-separation coincidences.
Friday, January 15, 2010
Mandarin doesn't seem to differentiate between several and few (there's a common word - I think it's 几, ji - that's used for both). Anyway, Chinese speakers of English never seem to differentiate between them. Certainly the Chinese-produced English teaching materials that I am asked to edit or record never do.
Both words mean an indefinite small number, but several implies a slightly greater number: whereas few strictly means only "about 3" (and is rarely used of more than 4 or 5), several tends to mean something in the 5-10 range (there is a common - though I suspect false - belief that it is related to the word 'seven', and thus originally implied "about 7"; I'm afraid I don't have an etymological dictionary available to me at the moment to look into that).
In common usage, the key distinction is that several emphasises that the number, though unknown, may tend towards a higher range, may become significant. Therefore, it is illogical to use it in combination with the limiting adverb only, which should emphasise its smallness or insignificance.
If your boss tells you he needs to talk to you "for several minutes" , it means that the conversation is important and may drag on to take up quite a chunk of your time. If he says he needs you for "a few minutes" (or "just a few minutes" or "only a few minutes"), he is emphasising that it should be a very brief chat, reassuring you that it won't be an inconvenient imposition on your time. In practice, such a conversation might well take about five minutes, regardless of whether the boss has suggested it would take "a few minutes" or "several minutes": it's not the actual length of time of the meeting that matters so much as the attitude and expectation surrounding it - is it an important or difficult topic, is it possible that the conversation could take longer than you'd planned or hoped?
Occasionally, you get several used in an inappropriate situation, even without the rogue only. The other day in the recording studio I came upon this example: "My father is much better now. He will come home from hospital in several days."
You just wouldn't use several in an instance like that. It doesn't matter how many days it will actually be (unless you know precisely, in which case you'd say so: "in a week" or "in three days" or "next Friday"); if you want to say something positive, to emphasise how agreeably short the timeframe (or how small a number) is, you'd say "only a few". "My father is making a quick recovery. He should be out of hospital in a few days."
If it's definitely going to be a fairly small number, and it's good that it's going to be a fairly small number, say a few (or only a few or just a few). If it might be a slightly bigger number, and it's bad that it could be a slightly bigger number, say several. NEVER use only with several. Simple enough, surely?
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Monday, January 11, 2010
Sunday, January 10, 2010
There's a certain Slant of light (# 258)
There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons —
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes —
Heavenly Hurt, it gives us —
We can find no scar,
But internal difference,
Where the Meanings are —
None may teach it — Any —
’Tis the Seal Despair —
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air —
When it comes, the Landscape listens —
Shadows — hold their breath —
When it goes, ’tis like the Distance
On the look of Death —
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
Saturday, January 09, 2010
Friday, January 08, 2010
I have, for example, added a few new photos to The Cast List, my frivolous attempt to find actors or other celebrity lookalikes to represent all the people who figure in my blogs; and I've also supplied a - long promised, long deferred - list of who those celebs are (in case you didn't recognise some of them).
I've added a new postscript to my comprehensive post on Beating Internet Censorship - to reflect the fact that since the Tibetan riots in March '08, the censorship regime in China has got so tough that just about all of the web-based proxies and the other cunning little workarounds (and even some of the less robust VPNs) that we used to rely on have now been snuffed out, and we really don't have much choice any more but to employ a subscription VPN service like Witopia.
There's been a similar update to my Where To Dine In Beijing post - noting, sadly, that a number of my recommended restaurants have closed down this year.
Earlier this week I posted a new, improved set of New Year's Resolutions for 2010 (an addition to, rather than a replacement for, the old faithfuls that I've been pursuing, valiantly but with limited success, for the past two years).
Also, of course, last week saw the major event of the Barstool year, the publication of my 2009 Froog Bar Awards - a comprehensive rundown of the best (and worst) places to drink in Beijing.
Finally, I have begun once more to update the sidebars to each of my blogs with a Pick of the Month 'random recommendation' from my early archives. (This month's selections I think I have in fact nominated before, so perhaps it's not as 'random' as all that! However, that just goes to show how good these two posts are.)
And, ah yes, the dratted sidebars. Oh dear. You might not be seeing them at all at the moment - try scrolling down to the very bottom of the page. Are they hiding there, underneath all the posts?
I think this problem is caused by the fact that for three months or so I was writing all my posts via e-mail, and somehow or other this managed to scramble the HTML so that the font sizes occasionally became ENORMOUS - hence, I suppose, leaving "no room" for the sidebars (even though the fonts are displaying as normal size on the blog) and causing them to be bumped to the bottom of the page, at least in certain browsers under certain conditions. I seem to have managed to restore Round-The-World Barstool Blues to normality by painstakingly resizing the text in all the afflicted posts, but I haven't got around to Froogville yet - it's a terribly slow and tedious process. Bear with me.
Remember, if you crave a peek at my sidebars (and why wouldn't you?), they're probably hiding at the foot of the page.