Monthly Archives: June, 2009

On the reading of old books

C.S. Lewis once wrote an essay entitled On the Reading of Old Books, in which he argued, if memory serves, that there are far too many books published each year for anybody to even contemplate reading them, so a pretty good way of thinning them out is to pick ones that have stood the test of time.

Since coming across this in my youth, I’ve tried, very roughly, to read one book published before my lifetime for every one I read that was written during my lifetime. This still leaves me heavily biased towards the present, of course, but it does go some way towards correcting my natural reading tendencies. I guess we’ve probably reached the time, for people of my age or younger, when it would be a good rule to apply to movies as well.

Lewis could have added another benefit of old books: that they’re generally out of copyright and so freely available on places like Project Gutenberg, so can be read on your iPhone using Stanza. It’s funny that he neglected to mention that.

Take Jerome K. Jerome, for example. Everyone knows Three Men in a Boat. But I also rather like his Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow and was browsing it over a decidedly idle breakfast this morning. What a great blogger he would have been! Here’s an extract, to take you for a moment back to 1886:
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The rise of the postal code

Thought for the day:

I wish I had patented the concept of a postcode. Or had shares in a company that had.

In the last few years, the postcode has gone from being the least useful part of an address (for anyone except the post office) to the most useful. It’s pleasing, in a way, that something designed to aid postal delivery was more of a chore than a benefit for the average person posting a letter, but then became incredibly useful in the age of SatNav and Google Maps!

Friendly fire

Now, there’s nice phrase I hadn’t heard before: someone on the Today programme said that it would be bad for the Labour Party to form “a circular firing squad”.

Voice of reason

I’m sorry, gentle reader, but I feel a rant coming on…

I wish to complain about the misguided fools who try to create those blasted customer support lines which use automatic voice recognition. May your share prices collapse and your banks be forced into public ownership!!

I don’t believe I have a very unusual voice for a native English speaker, but I often get recognition rates worse than 50% when asked simple things like, “Please answer yes or no.”

Me: Yes.

Phone: I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that. Please answer yes or no.

Me (trying to speak calmly and naturally because I suspect the machine will just become bloody-minded if I get impatient): Yes.

Phone: I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that. Please answer yes or no.

Me: Argghh! Go stick your head in a pig!

Phone: I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that. Please answer yes, or press 1, or answer no or press 2.

Me: Thank God! (pressing 1)

Now tell me who, in their right mind, could think that this might conceivably be better than just pressing ‘1’?

I know what happened. Some idiot in the marketing department (who never has to use their system) persuaded management that their company would look much cooler, and that they’d have a lot more happy customers, if said customers could only get through to a support person by having a cheery conversation with a machine while they’re driving down the motorway and are unable to press a button on their phones. (As if a system that has such problems on my landline could conceivably work on a mobile in the first place).

They weren’t bright enough to realise that said customer would die horribly in a crash because their judgement would be impaired by the incredible frustration brought on by the machine, or would unleash their wrath on the poor attendant at the next petrol station and be arrested, and then how would they pay you their 40 quid a month subscription, eh, that’s what I’d like to know?!

Do these systems actually work for anyone else? Is it just me? Am I in need of elocution lessons? Please say or click ‘Add comment’…

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser