Monday, 27 October 2014

Sims 3

It's the world's worst kept secret that I'm no gamer. I don't "get" the appeal of the vast majority of games. I can count on my fingers the games I've enjoyed IN MY LIFE. Besides which, I really don't have time (actually that's why I never get skilled enough to enjoy anything. 30 minutes of Lego Indiana Jones on XBox and I was so frustrated I threw the controller across the room never to touch it again). So a gamer, I am not. But according to my boys, I am. Because there's ONE game I love, and that's Sims.

Sims 3 is the best of the bunch (won't be buying Sims 4, thank you) and gives me great entertainment in all the wrong ways, because it allows me to be completely warped and cause mayhem.


I hope you can click on that to see a larger version, as it's a bit dark. But essentially what happened there was that I had a neighbour who was dressed like Marilyn Manson (despite being a bedpan cleaner by profession, he's in his pink scrubs there) and thought he was all that and a bit more, so I set fire to his gazebo.

I know you shoot aliens and blow up far more, but you're SUPPOSED to be doing that, so it doesn't count.

The world is divided between those who love Sims and those who wouldn't play it if it were the last game on Earth, and that's fine, I'm not trying to recruit anyone *rolls eyes at FB game proselytizers* but I needed somewhere public to list my wishlist.

There are some things that bug me.

1. Sims should be capable of carrying more than one newspaper at a time. They can drive cars, paint portraits, repair computers, and some can even FLY. But if there are two old newspapers lying on the ground, they take two trips to the garbage.

2. It would much funnier if they fell off things, such as balconies, if there were no railings around them. Even crawling babies balk at the edge.

3. EA Games dropped the ball with its multi-cultural Sims. It IS possible to create Sims who are obviously of African or Asian origin, but none of the automatic/in-game Sims look authentic to their race. They are just dark-skinned Europeans. It's almost offensive.

4. Talking of faces, when amateur creators submit "celebrity" Sims to sites like The Sims Resource, they should not be allowed to name them. If you can't recognize them, they're no damn good and that's the end of it. Thankfully somebody made a convincing Johnny Depp. I have him chained up in my basement.

5. This list is unfinished and will be edited as I think of things.

Anyway, my main reason for posting this today is that I just found some really interesting creations on an urban decay theme, e.g. broken down old factories, railway arches etc., by an incredibly talented artist, all available for free at TSR. If you are a fan and this sounds appealing, you can find it all here:

http://www.thesimsresource.com/artists/Cyclonesue/

(You'll need to register but it's all free)

Oh, by the way. I'm getting my own back on my ISP. As they've throttled me to KB/sec, I am downloading the next Sims expansion pack. It's taken 36 hours so far and I'm only at 70%, but at least it's not coming off next month's bandwidth.........

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Curmudgeons

[Despite our best efforts to keep internet usage to an absolute minimum, we have exceeded our monthly allowance a week early again. So now we're reduced to snail speed as punishment. They won't sell me any more monthly bandwidth, don't ask me why. 100GB just doesn't cut it in this house. We have installed a new cable hoping that prevents multiple downloads from corrupt packets, at least. Anyway, the point is, I'm still not on FB, but now it's because I can't. It doesn't work at this speed. So if you want to comment on this, please do so HERE, or I won't see it for a week. Danke sehr.]

Are you a curmudgeon? Do you think it's funny?

Last night Martin was watching some classic British comedy on DVD - "Open All Hours". If you've never seen it, find it. You'll be glad you did. If you are now thinking "Ooh, it's YEARS since I saw that!" buy yourself the DVD and enjoy.

Anyway the point is, some of the characters are the most delightfully funny curmudgeons. Very BRITISH attitude. Sorry, but it is. I'm not saying there are no curmudgeons anywhere else (I have it on good authority they exist the world over) but I think there are more to the square mile there. No, I'm sure there are. And with less reason for it than elsewhere too. These are rarely/never the people with the most reason to be grumpy, it's a character/cultural trait.

I was happy to discover, when I came to Canada, that there were less of them. Which again, probably isn't true, it's just the circles I move in, or rather DON'T because I have become a hermit. In Britain I lived in a village, and in various ways I ran into these types regularly, and so perhaps my lifestyle just keeps them out of my life. English village life, well..... European/old world village life...you just meet the locals more. It's just a way of life. Some people think it's quaint. I couldn't get away fast enough.

So what's my problem? "Are you complaining about people complaining again Melanie, you old hypocrite?" Oh no, don't try that one on me. We all complain, it's sometimes useful and necessary, and other times, well, it just gets it off our chests (like this). But you know exactly what I mean so don't pretend you don't.

I'm talking about people whose conversation is MOSTLY complaints. For a start they are pessimists. When they look at the sky, they'll never say "I think it's brightening up", they'll only ever say "bloody weather, miserable again". Which is exactly what they are. But it's not just a question of their glass always being half empty. These folk seek things to complain about. Watch them. They'll look around them looking for something negative to say. They are only happy when they are grouchy.

How does that work? Getting attention? Beats me.

In our modern world we tend not to call people grumpy, or grouchy, or miserable old sods. We say they are very negative. I've even heard theories that these people are "suffering", from some low-level chronic form of depression. Maybe some cases are, but what I see is a dark pleasure. They seem to relish in being negative and foisting it onto others. I envisage them secretly grinning (something we are not privy to) about how many people they've brought down today with their whining and bitching.

If they are suffering, they certainly aren't doing anything to help themselves, but no, I don't think they are suffering at all. I think they cause suffering, but I think they thoroughly enjoy it. They thrive on criticizing other people, predicting doom and gloom, and generally being a dark rain cloud in our midst.

We have two weapons. We can ignore them, which sometimes works. Give them no attention. Or we can smother them in sunshiney positivity, which drives them utterly bonkers. I switch between the two depending on whim, frankly, but I refuse to let them get me down.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Comparative Ethics

OK, so you read the previous post? Good, bear that in mind.

Just lately, probably because of the older age group of most of my friends, the highbrow level of discussions we have (because it's more interesting), and the fact that I don't suffer fools gladly (and neither do they) there have been many, many discussions where we don't agree on a point of ethics. Well, there's a shock.

We have, after all, different backgrounds, different politicial perspectives, different attitudes and beliefs to religious and metaphysical topics, and quite simply, different personalities. On the other hand we are all essentially intelligent and ethical people. How do we manage to argue so vehemently on key points?

One could ask the same thing of the greatest philosophers of the age. They get along socially but can go head to head every so often, and no compromise is possible. They agree to differ, shake hands, and pour another one. But the difference remains. I am asking why.

Let's consider a totally hypothetical example. Two people agree there is a need for more help to the poor in the area of housing. But they disagree on how it should be done. One says benefits to help pay rent should be increased. The other says private landlords should be subsidized so they can lower the rents. The end result is identical. Tax money is used to cover some of the cost, but these two ideas are argued over.

This is not a logical matter, it's based on ideologies, possibly sub-conscious, and definitely emotional. Somewhere in the head of person A is the fundamental historical idea that we should give alms to the needy. He may not even be aware of that, but that's what's going on. At the same time he sees the landlord as a priviledged person and dislikes the idea of him being assisted. Person B, on the other hand sees the simplicity in the system of making the housing more affordable. He feels this gives low income families dignity, they are simply choosing the cheaper option, and don't need a "handout".

If you were to interfere in this discussion, and point out that it makes no difference when the pennies are counted, they just move around differently, you would be roundly ignored. Perhaps even rightly so, in fact, as at least both parties in the debate are trying to do the "correct" thing. They are trying to be fair, they are trying to help. The rest is details.

Another example goes back to our old discussion about women's clothing, and modesty. No reasonable person wants a woman to suffer unwanted male attention, but only a few insist that it should be possible for a woman to walk down the street naked without receiving it. At the other end of the scale are people who think the solution is for women to be de facto invisible (burqa). In between are a wide range of levels of modesty, and everyone has their own limit. You have yours. No matter what you consider to be a miniumum level of modesty, you can find, easily, others who think it's too much or too little. All of them are doing so from what they consider to be a place of ethics, and a place of what is reasonable.

But EVERYONE has a limit, in their heads. Whether they share it or not.

It may be impacted by their own personal experience, or by religious or other beliefs. It may have changed over time. It may be influenced by what they read, even something as simple as a meme on Facebook, seriously. A little lightbulb goes on that a previously-held belief was not quite right.

And they think they are being logical. And they're not.

There's nothing logical about limits. They are personal and emotional, and they can change.

How then can we decide what's wrong and right? We can't, and that's fine. We can only ever decide what's right for us. We can then use our efforts of persuasion to come to agreements on what society will tolerate. But there's no solid answer.

That's why religions and societies write this stuff into law, to end the arguments. Obviously, it doesn't work, but that's the plan. The book (holy or legal) states that the limit is X, and it is then a simple matter to chastise those who break the rules, or blame them when their rule-breaking causes them harm.

These are not the only two scenarios (two means to the same end, or movable goalposts of reasonable behaviour) that cause ethical arguments, but they are the two commonest or biggest. If you consider most arguments that crop up you'll find the vast majority fall under one or the other.

There is no solution for this, not even harsh dogma. Because harsh dogma leads to rebellion, and eventually the rebels win.

I suggest people spend more time listening, considering, and weighing things up. I also suggest they get their heads out of their arses. Finally I suggest that where possible they mind their own business and clean their own house.

OK, Melanie has put the world to rights for a Thursday morning, I'm off to prop up the Chinese economy. Now there's an argument waiting to happen.....................



Reasonable People

I don't know about you, but if somebody tries to flatter me, their best bet is to compliment my reasonableness. I'll tell you why. Most things about me are an accident of birth. I get compliments on my blue eyes, my intelligence, my sense of humour, my artistic abilities, etc. I also get compliments on my children and my animals. All of these things are random really, and mostly luck.

But my reasonableness was hard earned. I worked on it doggedly over the years, from a very poor start. When people admire how reasonable I am, that's a true compliment because it's something I DID. Along with my cooking skills, it's really all that I can claim as having worked for.

What is reasonableness? It is the choice of listening properly to what people say, and responding (speaking or behaving) in an appropriate way. A way that is fair, kind, and sensible. It involves wisdom and compassion. It involves thinking quickly, but not knee jerk reaction. It requires considering all angles, avoiding selfishness, and being careful in choice of words, all without dithering or delay.

It's not easy, and it shouldn't be. Worthwhile things are a bit of an effort. So laziness tends to compromise reasonableness too.

Sometimes I fail. I'm only human. Sometimes I'm stubborn and my reasonableness takes a dent. That's the opportunity to reflect on why and improve. I try, always, to improve.

This is important to me. I hear others say how often they mess up in this area, then say it's OK because they mean well and they love you. That's not good enough, and they aren't trying hard enough. So yes, I want other people to be very reasonable too. But I'm reasonable enough to know it isn't going to happen.

This is how I judge people. People come in all flavours, and nobody can be blamed for the cards they were dealt. But at some point as they mature they are taught by others how to behave as good members of society, as decent human beings, and it is then a matter of personal choice how they deal with other people.

I'm either lucky or choosy, or maybe I just don't get out much. Most of the people I come in contact with are reasonable, and most of those who aren't are obviously compromised in ways I understand and make allowances for.

Still, as I'm sure you experience also, from time to time I come up against those who have had all the same options, and have chosen to be unreasonable, and to be unreasonable about being unreasonable. Even if it's only on certain topics or in certain situations. They are predictably awkward, difficult, unreasonable, and sometimes downright obnoxious. I judge those people negatively, and I don't apologize for it.

There is a theory out there that we are all doing our best with the experience, character, and skills we each have available to us. I believe this is only true of reasonable people. That is to say, there are those who knowingly and deliberately do not do their best. They do not listen to reason. They do not listen to good advice even though they secretly recognize it as such. They do not care if they harm others as a result. I will not be tolerant of such behaviour, I call it out, and I will avoid those people if necessary.

Life is too short to have that sort of negativity poison it, and if you choose to be an arsehole, you should expect cause and effect to come into play. It is a choice. There is no excuse. It's not funny, it's not clever, and you can do better.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

TSIPGTL: Just A Dipthong At Twilight

So having messed with your head on the previous chapter of this series by telling you that you have up to 20 vowels, I'm now going to confuse you completely by telling you that you don't. Many of them are in fact dipthongs.



OK, a dipthong is a vowel sound, but it's actually made up of two - or more - vowels (although strictly speaking if it's 3 its a tripthong).

You are used to dipthongs. They are often written using multiple letters. You may or may not have ever thought much about this but there are plenty of examples.

The word "eye" is a good example. And indeed, the word "I". Two ways to write a well-known dipthong. If you say it very slowly you'll find that it actually begins, briefly with the sound "ah". It ends with the sound "ee". In the middle, when the the former slips into the latter you can definitely hear that yod sound ("y").

And curiously the letter y, pronounced why, is a tripthong. Say it very slowly.

oo-ah-ee

Do this and be aware of the shape of your mouth.



This is why w can actually be considered a vowel, and is in some languages.

Later I'm going to throw in two more letters that you think of as consonants, that can be vowels, but let's look at dipthongs a bit more first.

Depending on your accent (there it is again) you may pronounce some of your vowels as dipthongs, or pure vowels. It isn't that accent A has more dipthongs than accent B, it's just a pick and choose thing. Scottish, for example, is often said to have pure vowels, but it also has plenty of dipthongs, just said so quickly that only an obsessive language geek can hear them.

In other accents it's really easy to hear them.


There's a sterotype, in fact, that certain accents (such as Cockney) is full of dipthongs, but perversely it also changes some "normal" dipthongs into pure vowels, which is why a Londoner can live in an ass. Many a confused American has been asked to "come rand my ass lighter". I daresay few actually arrived.

But it's this switch from pure vowel to dipthong that has caused Americans to talk of Hairy Potter, and taking their car across to the island on the fairy.


(OK, that's a fairy on a car, but it was the closest I could find).

So what is a pure vowel? It's when no matter how much you slow it down, it stays the same from beginning to end. Some of the purest vowels in the world can be found in South Africa, or perhaps I should say Suth Efrica. There are a few dipthongs there, but you'd hardly notice them. This is possibly why it's one of the nicest accents to listen to, and I could listen to Trevor Noah all night (I wonder if he's done any audio books).

This brings me to an interesting fact.

People really do feel strongly about accents. They have preferences and find some soothing, some grating. And accents revolve around vowels and dipthongs. On the whole, the accents with a lot of dipthongs are the ones we see as less "educated". Why? Because prestige accents in most parts of the English speaking world tend to have more pure vowels.

(This won't embed, but do watch it:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0OFXL0jIMR4)

And Cockney, with its many dipthongs is the accent of the common people.

What you won't find in Cockney, or in the poshest London accent, is a rhotic vowel. Not even among pirates.



There isn't full agreement among linguists about this (just in case you thought this was an area of study which was cut and dried, thankfully linguists argue, just like all experts) as to whether such things as rhotic vowels exist. There is another term - the R-Coloured Vowel, which is another way of looking at it.

An example would be my poor husband's name - Martin. Most people here in Canada call him Mrtn. No traditional vowels at all. The R becomes the vowel. How can that be? Well, if you slow it down, you'd be hard-pressed to pick out which vowel came before it. I think it's a schwa (an unstressed vowel, i.e. "ugh"), if at all, but it's also possible that R really can be a vowel.

What it certainly CAN do, for non-Rhotic speakers (most of England, and parts of the Southern US, as well as Boston) is affect the vowel before it. Again, with Martin. The way we (non-rhotic speakers) say it, it sounds like Mahtin. The R has lengthened the A. Without it, it would be Matin. But we don't pronounce the R itself.


How did the R become - well - silent?

Because German is non-rhotic. It has been for a long time, nobody really knows how long, but it was certainly non-rhotic by the time Hanoverian kings arrived in London in the early 18th century. It's widely believed than their pronunciation was at first copied as an affectation by the elite at court, spreading quickly as a trend through the aristocracy, down through the gentry, and reaching the lowest social groups well before Dickens' time. It also spread out to other cities, and beyond, albeit slowly. 50 years ago there were still plenty of rhotic speakers in the countryside in Southern England, but they are rare today and it's a generational thing in some places.

But Londoners are very creative people and have managed to turn L into a vowel.

I've spent most of my life trying to deliberately refine my accent, but unless I'm really, really careful, I still do this. Milk? Mee-awk. Walk? Wawk. Etc. Still, my Canadian kids say WAHK for walk, so maybe it's not just Londoners.

And there, of course, H becomes a written vowel, even GH, sometimes, or at least part of one. Can you think of any more?


Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Alternative Therapies vs. Mainstream Medicine

I am not a medical professional. I am an intelligent and well-read woman who has a basic understanding of "how things work", including human bodies, and I grew up in a home where vitamin and herbal supplements were used, with common sense, and I have never taken a "cold cure" in my life, because it was explained to me at a very young age that colds are caused by viruses, something your body has to deal with.

As an adult, especially as a mother, I have taken a great interest in the human body, and its care. I have provided, I hope, and encouraged a healthy lifestyle without becoming a fanatic. I believe very much in balance in all things.

I was a bit ahead of my time, and frequently derided for it, as I avoided antibiotics with my children unless absolutely essential. I used garlic oil for ear infections, which always worked. For example, Tom had his first antibiotic prescription at the age of 20 when he crushed his finger in a log splitter. He has grown up seeing doctors only for his autism, and injuries.

We vaccinated, but carefully. Balance.

For me it goes like this - if a medical issue is potentially life-threatening, or causing discomfort that interferes with the quality of life, then you need to see a doctor. If you have a cold or a clean wound, then you don't, and in between those extremes various decisions are made on a case by case basis.

I have tried White Willow Bark for headaches, and it didn't work. So I stick to Tylenol.

Homeopathy is a scam.

But we swear by Echincea and Vitamin D.

If it works, it works. If it works and there are few side-effects or risks, so much the better, but you still have to go with what works first. If a drug saves your life but makes your skin dry, big deal. If a drug gets the fungus off your toenails, but could kill you, forget it.

In order to make informed decisions you need information. Hearsay, gossip, guesswork, and pseudo-science is no way to learn whether a remedy is safe or efficacious. Reading independent reputable research reports, and plenty of them, is the way to go.

You don't have time? Then leave the decisions to somebody else.

But there's one small and simple fact that should be obvious to everyone.

A remedy cannot be both efficacious and harmless.

If it is taken at the correct dose, and all other precautions are observed (e.g. interactions with other substances) then the harm will be fleeting, minimal, and no big deal. This is what we aim for. Morphine will constipate you horribly, but after surgery you will be bloody miserable without it. Nothing a bit of romaine lettuce can't fix.

But if you were to eat 5 romaine lettuces (i.e. a food, not a drug) you'd get diarrhea you could spray paint a car with. This is simple cause and effect. Everything you ingest has an effect on your body.

The more powerful the effect on your body, the more risk of side-effects, expected or otherwise.

I repeat: A remedy cannot be both efficacious and harmless.

Inert substances will never relieve or cure anything.

So, it is utterly ludicrous to suggest that any treatment, mainstream or otherwise is harmless.

And that, dear friends, is my position in the entire debate.


Tuesday, 30 September 2014

TSIPGTL: Part Two: Vowels

How many vowels are there?

5?

6?

11?

21?

ARGH, I hear you say, I thought I at least knew the answer to THAT one. I learned it when I was small.


But no.

These are simply the letters used to write vowels sounds. They are not really vowels. Vowels are sounds. They are phonemes, see previous blog. You're all grown up now, so you can cope with this concept, oh yes you can!

One letter can represent several different vowel sounds. Why? Good question. That was a choice made by persons unknown long ago. What I can tell you is that English is not a phonetic language, so the written form is very little help much of the time as a guide to pronunciation. 

Was there ever a time when one letter equalled one sound?

POSSIBLY.



Some experts believe that the alphabet we use - the Latin alphabet - was phonetic in Latin, in Roman times, at least to begin with. Unfortunately this theory cannot be proven, because we cannot hear the Romans speak. Latin as it spoken today in churches, etc, is not necessarily the same, and most likely isn't. Of course, there are other languages, known as Romance languages, some of which have fairly easy-to-guess vowels because they descend from Latin (the obvious ones being Italian and Spanish) but then there's French, which has deviated about as far from "pure" Latin vowels as it is possible to go. So, what do we know?

All we can do is learn our language as it is and suck it up, frankly. Children seem to cope, sooner or later, with all the quirks. 



So let's look at each vowel individually.

What does A represent?

It can be the A in cat.
It can be the A in man.
It can be the A in late.
It can be the A in father
It can be the A in all.

So there's 5 vowels already, with just one letter.

Already, I see some hands raised. Yes, you at the back, You are saying that two of these are the same. Say it out loud, I dare you. Oh, now look, that guy to your left, he's telling you that you are wrong. Oh dear, now a fight has broken out.



You're both right. Depending on your accent (see previous blog) you'll have a different quantity of vowels. There simply is no right and wrong about this, but it's another reason why phonetics don't work. It's also why there is no simple answer as to how many vowels there are. Americans have about 15, depending on region. Australians appear to have the most, up to 21. I have counted 20 in my London accent. How many do YOU have?



Vowels are made in different parts of the mouth. Experts talk of front vowels and back vowels, they also talk of high vowels and low vowels, which refers to where your tongue is. Totally deaf children can be taught to speak simply by learning how to shape their mouths. Actors who wish to accurately recreate other accents must pay close attention to this too. The main reason why people "doing" accents get them wrong, is failing to shape their mouths as a native speaker would. 

In fact the bulk of differences between accents is the vowels. This applies to learning other languages too. 

An example is the French word mais meaning "but". Some of you recognize this. You probably have a vague memory of it being pronounced "may". But it isn't. There is a difference between the correct pronunciation of mais and that of may. Knowing that difference, and of course, most of all, being about to pronounce that difference, is all about accent, and is all about getting it right. You will be understood if you say may, but you will sound as bad to the French as a bad English accent sounds to us. 



To hear an English speaker totally insult the French language, please watch this:


(For some reason it won't embed.)

The problem is that some people simply can't hear the difference. This goes back to my previous blog about James and his poor phonemic awareness, almost certainly due, at least in part, to having parents with a different accent. He learned to ignore it, and ended up struggling then to deliberately tell the difference.

Test your phonemic awareness.

You're presumably familiar with the Harry Potter movies. You've heard the actors say Harry in several different accents.

Tell me, do any of them rhyme it with Hairy?







NOTE: One of my friends, who I was hoping would participate in this discussion, due to his perspective from having English as a 2nd language, died suddenly yesterday. Just found out, and such a shock. Treasure your online friends. They are REAL.