Dear Microsoft: A capital J does NOT equal a smiley!

Old Skool SmileyI don’t know about you but I’ve been wondering why people now and then have been putting a capital J at the end of their emails. It got to the point where I became so bemused that I thought I’d Google it.

What’s the juice J?

Whaddya know!? – Microsoft in all their pseudo-omnipotent arrogance decided that the good old : ) (the punctuation marks of a colon and a right parenthesis – otherwise known as a “smiley”) were no longer acceptable to convey a smile in character form. Instead MS software automatically replaces the straightforward, universally recognised and platform independent, two ASCII character smiley with their WingDings font version – which for anyone not using Outlook / Microsoft email systems translates as a capital “J”. Well done! [slow hand clap]….

Yet again Microsoft have taken the view that EVERYONE uses their software (sorry to report guys, your market is receding) and have actually put a “stick in the spokes” of what was already a perfectly acceptable means of communicating within email that something was a joke or lighthearted. Let’s hope nothing too inflammatory is sent from a Microsoft email system – the presence of a capital J is not going to water down the message that was originally intended as a joke!

😉     <— I wonder what they’ll do with the winking smiley!?

English is tricky (aka “The Unconscious Customer” or “Are you conscious of your conscience?”)

I was reading about H&M’s environmental and socio-economic awareness (steady on!) which they’re running under the banner H&M Conscious. The first heading of their “Conscious Actions Highlights from 2012” PDF (found in their “highlights from 2012” link) reads: “Commitment One: Provide fashion for conscious customers” – see below:

H&M banner title reads "Commitment One: Provide fashion for conscious customers" - I find conscious customers are always far more likely to buy than unconscious ones...

I find conscious customers are always far more likely to buy than unconscious ones…

Immediately it struck me (as it would most native English speakers) that they were using the wrong word! The majority of people will understand ‘conscious’ as “to be alive”, whereas ‘conscientious’ (the adjective of ‘conscience’) as meaning “done according to one’s inner sense of what is right” (which is what I think they were getting at). Replacing “Conscious” with “Conscientious” throughout their copy would not only be more accurate but also convey far more commitment to the central theme of sustainability. I realise that conscious can also mean “to be aware of” but it generally infers far less concern than conscientious does. Perhaps H&M wish to infer more of a “lighter touch” to the subject matter and distance themselves from too much of a commitment? Reneging on the published mandate would be disconcerting – according to the mighty Wiki H&M aren’t out of the woods when it comes to controversies (sadly some of them relate to the very subject that this “Conscious” promotion addresses).

Now my Swedish (H&M’s home country) is not too hot either so I’m certainly not going to ridicule H&M for their faux pas (fashion-wise or not). But it got me thinking as to how much of a minefield the English language is. If you look up the meanings of conscience and conscious the definitions do get close to one another (e.g. conscious: fully aware of or sensitive to something / conscience: an inner feeling or voice viewed as a guide) so it’s not just a matter of using the right word, it’s also a question of context. The only effective way context can be fully understood is by speaking and reading English regularly – as it’s also a language that is constantly evolving.

A prime example of this “word evolution” is the word gay – very few people will now use it to talk about the prettiness of a flower or the vibrant colours of a dress yet those meanings still exist in the dictionary – though very much lower in the definitions order from the more recognised meanings pertaining to homosexuality. I wonder if this redefining of a word’s meaning occurs in other languages?

And then there’s spelling – a pet subject of mine. Someone pointed out a really great example of how the English language flagrantly disregards rules that have been created to help de-mystify it:

I before E….

…except when you run a feisty heist on a weird beige foreign neighbour.

Again, only learning these spellings (or relying on spellcheck) will ensure that you get it rite – and an example there of why you shouldn’t rely on spellcheckers 😉

As a language English is tricky and I have the greatest of admiration for those learning English as a second language – it’s such a “twisty turny thing” (© Black Adder – BBC TV comedy, uniquely British in content – Google it!). If you are a student battling your way through English Language studies I have no better suggestion for improving your vocabulary and use of it other than reading and viewing English publications / productions whenever you get the opportunity and talking to as many English people as you can! I’m not going to address the whole English / British vs “American English” subject as that would take up a whole post on its own – suffice to say that England invented the language and America “tweaked” it (mainly on spellings and “inventing” words). Through watching BBC (and other UK production companies’) programmes you may NEVER understand the “British humour” (which is not just Monty Python) but you will gain a method of keeping up with the evolving language and hopefully be entertained on the way 🙂

“Thatch” – The Iron Lady

Margaret Thatcher's Spitting Image PuppetI was never a “Thatcherite” (as was the term back in the 80’s). Ben Elton, popular “alternative comedian” (another dated term) at the time used to call her “Thatch” in his winding spiel – which was supposed to be disrespectful but actually over time sounded more like a chirpy nickname. Russian media came up with the term “The Iron Lady” – which she apparently was greatly fond of. I certainly wasn’t a fan of many of the policies that came about through her term, however now she has departed this mortal coil the tributes are being published and I for one was not aware of this interview she gave in 1987. It certainly rings extremely true for our current “society” and says a lot about personal “self-worth” and responsibility. Anyway enough of my rambling, read the interview below:

Interview from 1987

“I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand ‘I have a problem, it is the government’s job to cope with it!’ or ‘I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!’; ‘I am homeless, the government must house me!’ and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society?

“There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families, and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first.

“It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour and life is a reciprocal business and people have got the entitlements too much in mind without the obligations.”

Margaret Thatcher

Now don’t get me wrong – I believe there IS such a thing as society, it just needs to be worked on and not relied upon – we all share that responsibility and we make it what it is.

The erosion of accountability

Now, let’s get this straight from the outset – I am not a politically motivated person. I do however have a strong sense of what is right and what is wrong. When I see someone being bullied my pseudo “spidey sense” (© Spider-Man) kicks in and I do my utmost to stop it (the bullying that is). In the tricky task of serving cake I take great care in distributing it evenly amongst the cake-indulging participants.

Let’s (hypothetically) say I’ve signed a contract to supply torches. If I have agreed to sell 15 torches at £1 each then I’m due £15 once I have supplied the torches. But what if I can only manage to supply 10 torches – how much should I be paid? That’s right – £10.

Let’s extrapolate that very basic (and fair) concept. G4S (the resultant security company from the merger of Group 4 and Securicor) won the contract to supply security services to the London 2012 Olympics. This contract is reported to be worth £284m (that’s Two Hundred and Eighty Four Million pounds – a great deal more than Dr Evil’s ‘One Million Dollars’). You may well be aware that G4S failed to supply the 10,400 security personnel it promised through this contract. When the proverbial hit the fan they confessed that they had only recruited 4,200 staff. They grovelled to the UK government, LOCOG, and probably Zeus on Mount Olympus promising to provide a revised figure of 7,000 guards…. they managed to scratch up 6,000 (I don’t know about you but I always find it prudent to under-promise and over-deliver or at least set achievable targets rather than disappoint my clients).

So let’s apply the model. £284m for 10,400 security guards, that works out at £27,307.69 per guard (though I’m sure the guards themselves don’t get anything like this wage).

G4S: (on phone to LOCOG) “Whoops we seem to be short by 6,200 people! We’ve got, hmmm (calculator keys tappity tap tap) 4,200.”
LOCOG: “Aggh! ((aside, cupping hand over phone): “Quick, call uncle David we need help”) OK, so how many can you rustle up before the games?
G4S: “Oooh, 7,000?
LOCOG: “Yes? 7,000?”
G4S: “Yep, defo.”

….three weeks later

G4S: (back on phone) “Erm 6,000”
LOCOG: “Whaaaaat!?”

Now applying our very basic economic model what should G4S receive for 6,000 ‘yer name’s not down you’re not coming in’ (sorry, couldn’t resist) staff? Well we’ve already established that each G4S guard has a distributed value of £27,307.69 –

thus 6000 x 27307.69 = 163846140

Yep, G4S should be paid £163,846,140 – One Hundred and Sixty Three Million, Eight Hundred and Forty Six Thousand, One Hundred and Forty pounds. Which is £120m (plus a hundred thousand or so – but what’s that between friends!?) less than the contract total value.

How much is G4S reported to likely lose from their contracted total payment?

“Up to” £50m

How is that fair? How can a company under-deliver on a contract and yet not receive a proportional payment for services / goods supplied?

In the current economic climate (don’t get me started about “the erosion of the UK summer”!) we are all told to “Keep Calm and Carry On”, to make cuts, reduce profit margins etc. Whilst the everyday populace seem to take this on-board and plough on there seems to be a layer of the UK’s inhabitants with total disregard for this and who seem to have undergone a moral and ethical lobotomy. This “looking out for number one” mentality has gone beyond self-preservation and descended into blatant greed and disregard for anyone else. Now don’t misunderstand me – I’m equally not advocating a lazy, feckless (definition: no sense of responsibility), welfare dependant population. Everyone should just pull their weight and do their best at their given task (see the fourth paragraph of my post Thank You Steve (#ThankYouSteve)).

I’m not sure what the answer is to those who choose not to care – apart from maybe wandering down the yellow brick road to see if the Wizard of Oz can provide them with a heart. At the end of the day it boils down to accountability – but when the moral compass has become so badly bent (ahem, banking industry) it’s going to take a fair bit of time to straighten things out. Let’s hope some bastions of ethical business can rise from the mire and lead the way soon.

The genesis of words.

“Oh bonks!”
This is my eldest daughter’s (she’s 4) current exclamation of dismay, frustration or disappointment. It sounds worse than it reads but it got me thinking.. Who chooses what words are “bad” – there’s the obvious stuff where it’s offensive in a racist, sexist or other “-ist” way. However there are other words that are just “bad”. All of these words would at some point have been uttered for the first time by someone – did they know it was destined to be blacklisted? Who decides which words are to be regarded as “bad”? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a potty-mouthed individual and I’ll be one of the first to be upset by a verbal tirade of publically unacceptable words, but when were they added to the rude list and who wrote it?

I’m confused – oh bonks!

Road Trip

It always makes me smile when you talk to people from “large land mass” countries (USA, Australia etc). They think nothing of driving many hundreds of miles. In the UK travelling over 200 miles is viewed as a BIG TRIP. It’s just such a densely populated little island with LOTS of cars. So no matter how many lanes are added to a motorway (“freeway” for my American readers) traffic still runs like honey through a straw (unless you travel at 2am – but then WHO does that!?)

To maximize the perceived time it takes to travel such a distance (over four and a half hours – traffic dependant) – just add two grizzly toddlers. MAN we thought we were on a rolling road at some points – the time was drifting by merrily but we weren’t seeming to go ANYWHERE! Our trip up started at 10am and we got to the hotel at 9pm (yes 11 hours!!). OK so we stopped for food and drinks and toilet breaks and food but WOW.

Anyway we made it there and back in three days – seriously though we found it easier flying to Australia with the children than making this “short” journey.