Search This Blog

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Literary Spectrometry

This has truly been the annus mirabilissimus at the EDSRF. In less than six months we had announced three astonishing innovations: the Sushing scale of celebrity; the Extensible Literary Mark-up Language (XLML); and Didactic Gradualism. And already we are announcing a fourth: literary spectrometry, a new science that will revolutionise the sale of literary fiction.
As cultured polymaths my readers will be au fait with the established forms of spectrometry: you will know especially, for example, how optical spectrometry may be used to identify the composition of materials by measuring the specific combinations of frequencies at which light is emitted, absorbed, or scattered, by the substance under observation. For me, the person who played such a major role in transforming the basic ideas of optical spectrometry to branches of physics such as reverse quantum dichotics, it was a natural instinct to extend the concept into other fields entirely, and even more natural that my chosen field should be literature.
The principles of literary spectrometry could not be more simple to understand, nor more awesome to appreciate. In brief, literary spectrometry reveals the nature of literary work by subjecting it to various forms of frequency analysis. The spectra that have so-far been experimentally investigated at the EDSRF include:

Word length, measured in characters.
Sentence length, measured in words.
Paragraph length, measured in words.
Chapter length, measured in words.

The examples below are the sentence length spectra of, respectively, War and Peace and The DaVinci Code. Note in the War and Peace spectrum the isolated spike at 18 words, which is virtually a fingerprint of the great Russian author, appearing to some extent in all his known works.

The preliminary findings are remarkable. They have shown a direct correlation between the quality of the written work and the characteristics of their spectra; and they have included correct predictions of the winners of all the major literary awards in 2013. Shortly we will be revealing the results of our most recent work, which has been to analyse the frequency of occurrence of certain figures of speech. Those results are pending peer review within the academic literary community, but the appropriate bribes and sweeteners have been  handed-over, so we hope to publish on this blog shortly. Keep watch.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

The Domestic Goddess

When I first heard of the public exposure of Nigella’s cocaine habit I must confess that I felt a pang of guilt, as it was I who had properly introduced her to the substance. Not physically, as a taker or pusher, you understand, but intellectually, as a chemist, neuropathologist, economist and social historian. We were seated together at a charity dinner, at which I had agreed to be the guest speaker, while she and Charles were hostess and host. She was a charming companion, in a simple sort of way, and evidently wired with an addictive bent, as she would root in her capacious handbag every few minutes to extract large lumps of chocolate from what I took to be a jumbo catering bar. It seemed a largely unconscious habit, as she fed the lumps into her mouth rather as an automaton might, and appeared unaware of her own compulsive actions until I questioned her about them.
‘Oh, God, sorry.’ She said. ‘Have I been doing it long?’

I thought I would let the brown smears around her mouth answer her question when she next faced a mirror, and instead I began to tell her about the cacao plant, the history of its cultivation, that its seeds are naturally bitter and must fermented to produce cocao, and how that substance had addictive properties, owing to the presence of tri-glyptotheramides. Evidently she harboured a misunderstanding that cocoa was also the source of cocaine, appearing to believe that cocaine itself was merely some purified and more intense form of white chocolate.  

Of course I put her right at once. I explained that the coca and cacao plants were quite distinct; that cocaine, or more properly benzoylmethylecgonine, acted as voltage-gated sodium channel blocker in the brain, thus priming the limbic reward pathway. I warned her that owing to these remarkable properties the substance was not to be sniffed at, but alas I fear she misinterpreted my words, and the rest you know.

Her addictive nature was revealed in other ways following our discussion. She imbibed wine in oceanic quantities, though with a surprising lack of discernment for a celebrity chef. When she saw me perusing the label of what I felt to be a rather pugnacious and combative claret she remarked that Charles had specially laid on her two favourite wines.

'Really?' I asked. 'Which are they?'

'Red and white.'

Friday, 20 December 2013

Ronnie Biggs

It is only a while ago that my chance meeting with Pope Francis caused me to write of the role that coincidence has played in my extraordinarily rich and eventful life, and already the death of Ronnie Biggs, on the very day he was due to arrive as my house guest, has furnished another example. Virtually none of the Western languages- English included- has a word meaning a coincidence of coincidences, while almost all Eastern languages do; doubtless that reflects a fundamental difference in prevailing philosophical outlook between the two hemispheres.
Ronnie I first met in 1970 when he consulted my opinion on a superficial dermal degradation that had arisen from a cosmetic surgical procedure he had endured some years earlier to affect a change to his appearance with a view to reducing the risk of recognition and capture. The consultation was a casual one at my apartments in Rio, and coincided with a regular weekly poker school which I held with some old German acquaintances. Ronnie fancied himself as a player, and inevitably he became part of the little group that met every Thursday for a high-stakes gamble. I gained the impression that he enjoyed the rush of adrenaline afforded by the games, which had been progressively more absent from the rest of his life as the risk of arrest had become more remote. For my part the sessions were a pleasant, light distraction from my intellectual labours.
In spite of his colossal gains from the train robbery, and the money his notoriety earned him through the rest of his life, Ronnie died penniless. I suspect that to be in part the result of a run of bad luck in his poker games with me, a run that went on for some time. About 43 years, I recall.
The popular press has today picked up on the coincidence between the timing of poor Ronnie's demise and his intended visit to my Mayfair home, where we had planned to be installed comfortably for the premier of  the  widely-heralded BBC dramatization of the Great Train Robbery. Some have suggested that the excitement of the impending spectacular might have been too much for Ronnie's enfeebled spirit. I can appreciate the rationale for such views; after all, it is not every day that a person has the opportunity to be my guest for an evening's TV.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Nelson Mandela

I have been musing today on the many ironies that attended the recently-curtailed life of my old friend and cell-mate Nelson Mandela. Take, for instance, his name: in the Xhosa language it means 'almond from a small town in Lancashire', yet he hated almonds and supported Yorkshire at cricket. Of such manifold mysteries is life made.
Many were the contented hours that Nelson and I spent debating ethics, politics and philosophy while incarcerated at Robben Island, he for treason, and I awaiting trial for entirely unproven charges of tax evasion, fraud, copyright infringement, money laundering, acting as a trustee for a charitable trust while disqualified from trustee-ship, dealing with intent to defraud, unauthorised currency exchange, and pyramid selling. Ours was a synergistic relationship: from me Nelson learned principles of justice, fairness, tolerance, forgiveness, and the importance of devoting ones life and abilities to the benefit of ones fellow man; while from him I learned the ancient Mpondo strategy game of Khohalai, which is played with pebbles, and how to avoid being caught by the screws with smuggled tobacco. It was sad for me, when the charges against me evaporated, to have to leave our haven, which, owing to our mutually fulfilling companionship, had felt more like a retreat than a prison. Years later he declared that he, too, felt cheated by my departure; particularly since I quite forgot to return his deposit for a rather natty pyramid in Machu Picchu, which for some reason I thought I owned at the time. That's prison for you- does your head in.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Performance Coach of the Year

One of the many sources of satisfaction with which I have been blessed has been the sight of my old students and mentees achieving measures of success that would have been unattainable without my guidance. Putin, Obama, Pope Francis, Higgs, Jobs, Bacon... their names will be as familiar to you as my own. And it is pleasing to see my recent students, who have yet to attain the fame of their predecessors,  boosted into the world upon trajectories full of promise. Only this week, at a gala dinner in Mayfair, I had the satisfaction of applauding Warren Gatland as he stepped-up to receive the Performance Coach of the Year award, publically benefitting from my background role as the coaches' coach.
The glittering evening had another pleasant aspect, as I spent much of it in the charming company of the Beckhams, whose generosity and persistence at a charity auction had earned them seats at my table. Understandably, when the formalities had been completed, and I had taken too much of the superb claret, I confess I rather hogged the conversation at the table, giving David my insights into the vital role of the coach. In my defence it must be said that I was egged on by his nods, smiles, and encouraging interjections.
That's brilliant, he said to my observation that the role of the coach was a paradoxical one, bringing the team together, but at the same time giving each player enough personal space. Yeah dead right, he concurred with a nod or two, when I mentioned that all players come with baggage, and the coach needs to be able to cope with it. I've known both types in my time, was his comment when I appraised the spectrum from the austere, Spartan coach to the warm and welcoming. For sure, he affirmed, when I said that a good coach could carry a team all the way to a cup final. And so on.
Realising that I had indeed been making more than my fair share of the conversation, I asked David if there was one coach that stood out in his unmatched experience as a footballer. His answer was immediate and decisive. A Neoplan Starliner that took him to a game at Fulham in 2004. It had GameBoy consoles in the back of every seat. Magic.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

What's up with Frostrup

Mariella Frostrup is such a charming thing. I was touched when she confided to me that her favourite pleasure is to enjoy a delicious chuckle of appreciation at the crafty nuances in my subtle comedic posts while relaxing in the bath with a Babycham and a jumbo bar of catering chocolate. So I do adore her. But I have to say that she is hopeless, absolutely hopeless, as a presenter. Aside from her diversions into pretention, she is quite incapable of introducing the simplest of facts without leaving the listener quite bewildered.

Take, for example, her interview this week with Scott Turow, the American author of legal thrillers (Presumed Formulaic, etc), in which she made the absurd claim that Scott had for the last twelve years been occupied full time on criminal legal work, all 'pro' Bono.

Leaving aside the affectation of the latin 'pro', consider the what she is asking us to believe. Firstly, while we know Bono to be one of the wild men of rock, how much trouble can one man get himself into? Surely not the kind that requires twelve solid years of lawyerly intervention by Scott Turow. Secondly, if Turow's legal work really was criminal, why would Bono accept it? With his money surely he could afford a decent lawyer. And finally, if Turow was any sort of lawyer at all, why would he tolerate an accusation on air that his work was criminal? The more I think about it the crazier it seems. Absolute nonsense every word of it.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Bad with money

Let me put an end to the controversy: The Methodist Church Council was indeed right to suspend the disgraced minister Paul Flowers; there was no other choice. The illicit purchase of drugs, we could have excused: the result of an all-too-human weakness; the sudden lapse of a frail man under pressure, his God and his principles for a moment forgotten. But then came the breath-taking revelations that he- a man of the cloth- had been for months acting as THE CHAIRMAN OF A BANK (involuntarily shifts to upper case as inner rage overpowers sense of literary good taste). A cool act of premeditated and sustained cardinal immorality.

(As I proof read the words above, it is hard, even for me, to credit them.)

Alternative Bishops

Following the typically poor reporting of the topic in the media today, I have decided to clarify, for a confused public, the recent decision by the General Synod to allow parishes to choose 'alternative bishops'. As a pre-amble I should explain that the Synod is the body that makes the laws of the Church of England, and that I have been acting as a consultant to it since its failure to agree on the ordination of female bishops, my role being to facilitate a more harmonious and constructive process of decision making. Regular readers will be aware that I, virtually single-handed, brought about the revolution in British humour that subsequently became known as 'alternative' comedy. It was a simple step, for me at least, to extend that concept to an Episcopalian context, and to suggest to the lay and the clerical houses of the Synod that the time had come for a new style of bishop. Instead of the sexist stereotypes that have figured in mainstream preaching for two millennia, we would see the introduction of un-structured, 'observational' sermons, with no punch-lines as such. Already a cohort of young hopefuls, male and female, has crammed for two terms at my comedy and theology academy in Woking, which I run jointly with the Wessex Jesuit Phalanx, and hopes to pass out at the end of the comedic year with post graduate diplomas in Alternative Bishopry. It is a classic 'third way' manoeuvre, designed to end a polarised conflict by distracting the antagonists with a third option equally unacceptable to both opposing groups. Connoisseurs of my work will recognise the stratagem as being the same, in essence, as that which I used to bring together Bush and Putin, with the presence of Gordon Brown, in that case, being the unappealing alternative to their own mutual company.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Old-fashioned family doctors

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to require medical assistance on the very day on which our shambolic Government and the esteemed BMA launched the return of old-fashioned family doctors. In anticipation of the new service, I had been tucked into a Bath chair in a thick plaid dressing gown, with a warm glass of Madeira. I had been told that 'The Doctor' would arrive at 10 O'clock, and at precisely 9.58 I was alerted by the lodge porters that the gentlemen (no more of these silly lady doctors, thank heaven) had just motored through the southern gate, perfectly judging the two minutes that would be required to attain the end of the ornamental drive. I gazed through the open French windows, and was rewarded by the sight of a gleaming 1957 Alvis 3-litre coasting to a halt on the recently raked limestone chippings by the coach house. The glint of the sun off the abundant chrome trimmings, and the majestic row of dials that were momentarily revealed on the walnut dashboard as the doctor extracted his Gladstone bag from the passenger seat, were a tonic in themselves.
After the doctor had been shown into my sick room, and we had greeted each other in first name terms, he accepted a sherry and a cigarette, and for a few minutes we caught up on news of our old school and college chums. His was a vastly reassuring presence, clad in stout tweeds from which arose the mingled odours of iodine, carbolic, gun-dog, cordite, cigars and whiskey. When it came down to business, he took a stained balsa spatula from his beautifully patinated leather case, wiped it on his thigh, and inserted it into my mouth as I did my best to say 'aaaarrrrrggghhh'. His diagnosis was text-book, delivered to the point, with no intelligible details that might cause worry or concern to the patient. I was prescribed two teaspoons of the linctus three times a day, a linseed poultice for the melanoma on my arm, and was ordered to stay in bed for the next six weeks. I felt better already. Thank heaven for the BMA, I thought.
You will readily imagine my disappointment and confusion when, this morning, just a day after being promised the return of 'proper' doctors, I heard the bewildering news that the next president of the Royal College of GPs is to be a woman. Whether this is another blatant U-turn by a shameless Government, or yet more left-hand right-hand administrative blundering, I cannot say, but whatever the cause who can blame the electorate for being cynical and apathetic in the face of such monumental inconsistency? I feel a relapse coming on. Pass the Madeira.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Typhoons and triptychs

Even I, a man of worldly cynicism, was struck today by the contrasting news from the coast of the Atlantic, where millions of dollars had been spent on record-breaking bid for a painting, and from the centre of the Pacific, where millions of Filipinos were spent of starvation and exposure in the wake of typhoon 'Haiyan'. That said, I suppose technically it was three paintings, being Bacon's triptych of Lucien Freud. There's no harm now in revealing that the artist and the  sitter both were students of mine in the early sixties, when I ran an open art college in a converted convent off the King's Road. I  remember the pleasure I gained as the raw, under-developed intellects of my charges blossomed under my tutelage. Fine art, sculpture, poetry, music, theatre... I encouraged every form of expression.

And to think of those names: Finney, Hepworth, Freud, Moore, Hendrix, Bacon, Brittan, Greene. I could go on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on. Freud and Bacon were a contrasting pair in physique and temperament: one gangly, withdrawn and intense; the other a superficial, devil-may-care, squat mesomorph. Neither had a scrap of natural talent, but they were malleable enough, and hungry for the commercial success I led them to expect. While both were prepared to take risks with their art, I always knew that Bacon was cut-out to be the rasher.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Dumming Down

In times of uncertain fashions it is natural that those possessing an authoritative sense of taste should be approached for guidance by those lacking one. My mailbag has been bulging since the 'Richard and Judy' brouhaha, in which the popular book-club champs complained of criticism received from certain quarters for their promoting books written by 'authors' such as Dan Brown.

The enquiries fall in two perfectly orthogonal categories: those from everyday members of the public, worried they might have to stop reading Dan Brown; and those from high-brow types, worried they might have to start reading Dan Brown.

Let me say at once: both concerns are equally understandable.

Let me say next: worry not. There is no need to change your settled reading habits, however mean, shallow, low-brow, contemptible, vacuous, pretentious, overblown, arcane, puffed-up, self-important, affected, showy, fustian, or otherwise Austentatious they might appear to me.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Operation Yewtree

I am ordinarily a placid old gentleman, emotionally unruffled by the strongest storms of life; but you find me today quaking with rage at the unspeakable tabloid calumnies which this morning attempt to link my name with the police enquiries known as 'Operation Yewtree', as if I were an object of those enquires, when in all truth I am the pre-eminent facilitator of them. The seeds of the outrage were planted some weeks ago, when the head of Yewtree, Commander Spindler, rather naively allowed himself to be trailed to my spartan Mayfair apartments by representatives of the gutter press. The consequences were inevitable.
My life has been one not without a certain degree of controversy. I am frank by nature- some might say outspoken- and it has been my duty at times to make public observations to prevent mis-understandings in my areas of especial expertise, such as business, the arts, pharmacology, linguistics, computer science, literary theory, economics, education, capital finance, architecture, medicine, archaeology, plate tectonics, string theory, quantum gravitation, law, genetic engineering, ethics, cybernetics, neurology, global warming, politics, semiotics, and so on, and so on, and so on. As a result, I am not a stranger to the courts in which cases of libel are heard and, in my cases, won; and many are the Fleet Street editors with old scores to settle. Through bitter experience these hacks have developed a cautious guile, and their attacks upon me have become more subtle and nuanced. This morning's case is classic. I am described in front-page articles as 'helping the police with their enquiries', an exact literal truth camouflaged beyond recognition by resentful insinuation.
I may say that Commander Spindler's visit was to learn of the exemplary system of checks and balances that I designed and implemented to safeguard the innocence of the young ladies that are schooled at my Academy of Lap-dancing, which has been operating without incident for almost 15 years in a renaissance mansion in Tuscany.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Trouble brewing

Fewer than 36 hours have elapsed since I revealed to a scandalised public that, with one notable exception, none of the big names touring the UK comedy circuit writes a scrap of their own material, and that they have been passing-off my work as their own. In that short time there has been an explosion of legal activity directed at preventing any further disclosures by me. The names of the so called 'comedians' concerned have not featured in any of the writs issued so far, doubtless from the hope that their anonymity might still be preserved if enough of their ill-gotten earnings is stuffed into the maws of their legal advisers. Instead the cases have been brought by professional intermediaries,  physiognomically paradoxical characters, faceless and hard-nosed. Quite why they are trying I cannot fathom. To think that I, the pre-eminent legal mind of our any generation, would be in the least concerned by their manoeuvres in the courts. It's entirely ridiculous.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Cutting out the middle men.

Just between you and me: you know all the big comedy stars on the UK circuit? You know who I mean. Gagging clauses in contracts prevent me from actually naming them, but go on- take a guess. (Nods head in encouragement.) Yes he’s one. And him. Yes, and her. And them as well. Yep, you’re getting them. Yes, she’s another.  Well like I said, for legal reasons I can’t actually name them, but you know who I’m talking about. Well guess what- what would you think if I told you that they don’t write any of their own material? That’s right, not a shred, word, jot. And how much are you paying for their DVDs and stadium tickets? A fortune, that’s what. Well here’s some other news. Who do you think does write all their material? Let me give you a hint. Imagine what criteria such a person would have to satisfy: prodigious work ethic; prepared to work anonymously; extraordinary powers of imagination; an ability to switch effortlessly from one comedic style to another, and another, and another, and another, and another, and another, and another, and another, and another, without repeating themselves; regular volcanic eruptions of comedy output; extreme creativity; profound scientific and artistic insights; intellectual giant, and so on, and so forth. Ring any bells? Anyway, I’ve decided to stop doing it. And they can see me in court if they want. I can’t imagine they will, as that would just make the whole thing horribly public, and they’d have to admit that they’ve been fleecing you for years by passing off my work as theirs. But don’t worry; you won’t have to give-up your comedy favourites, because I’m going to do all the gigs myself from now on.  Keep watch on the blog for details.

Monday, 28 October 2013

The Pope- meeting His Holiness

Coincidences.  I could write a blog about them. Take yesterday. I'd been in Valparaiso for a week, on business I couldn't possibly describe in a popular blog.  Sitting in the lounge at Benitez Airport, waiting for the flight home, I was leafing through 'The Mercury' looking for the Sudoku. The first few pages were dominated by pictures of Pope Francis in the streets, schools, and churches of Santiago at the end of his tour of Chile. Good for him, I thought. I'd known him as a young and somewhat light-hearted novice (him, that is, not me), at a seminary in San Paulo where I'd been lecturing on comparative theology. Anyway, I leafed through another few pages when blow me down wasn't the man himself coming through the automatic doors with his passport and tickets in one hand and a drink in the other. He recognised me at first glance, and came striding over with that lovely smile of his lighting up the place. I put the paper to one side, stood with open arms, and we met with a strong warm hug of genuine affection. The words that followed were more formal than the spontaneous gesture they affirmed:

'What an exquisite pleasure after all these years to meet your supreme holiness once again.'

I acknowledged them with a humble shrug.

Friday, 25 October 2013

The American Spying Outrage

Don't let Merkel's reaction fool you- that was all just for show. She's had the facts and figures of the American spying business for over a year. I know because I gave them to her. She thought I was pulling her leg at first (the price I pay for some earlier practical jokes at her expense), and when she realised I wasn't kidding it was all I could do not to blush at the resulting storm of uninhibited self-expression. You'd think she'd been a Hamburg docker in a former life. Fierce is not the word for it. Mind you, after she'd calmed down we had a few practical jokes of our own at Obama's expense. Spoof calls between her and me. Had she seen Obama on the news channel last night. Wasn't he the biggest ****. Did I know about Putin and Michelle. No, please explain in colourful detail. Didn't think Vlad went in for that kind of thing- good job none of it was videoed. Who said it wasn't. And so on and so on. It was a red-faced mumbling chief of staff who had the unpleasant job of introducing that particular recording to his supreme boss in the Oval Office. A nice surprise indeed.
I had a surprise of my own when I told Putin about his fictional affair. I'd expected him to laugh himself sick, as he's a demon for the practical jokes (click here). Instead he had a shifty guilty look. Who'd believe it?

Monday, 21 October 2013

The Snap-lock Golf System

Wolf-Garten is a company rightly famed for its ‘Snap-lock’ range of garden tools in which a variety of implements may be interchanged on a single handle at the push of a button. The EDSRF and Wolf-Garten are now pleased to announce the extension of this convenient idea to the world of golf, with the launch of Snap-lock Golf Concept.

Initially available only with Titleist D3 woods, the Snap-lock Golf Concept allows a single shaft to be used for a complete set of heads, interchangeable at the push of a button. Subject to the completion of IPR licencing arrangements, the concept is expected to be available from all major club manufacturers by the end of the year.
Aside from the obvious advantage of reducing weight in the golf-bag, the Snap-lock Golf Concept exploits a loophole in the rules governing the number of clubs that a player can use in competition. Under those rules, which are maintained by the R&A and the USPGA, a ‘club’ is taken to mean a head and shaft together, ie a single entity capable of hitting a ball. With the Snap-lock Golf Concept your bag contains, technically, only one club. With as many interchangeable heads as you please, you can assemble the club for any situation, and gain strokes on more-conservative competitors who insist on struggling with conventional clubs. Shorter shaft lengths can be effected by choking the grip to any degree.

The unique locking mechanism that holds the head firmly to the shaft is protected by world-wide patents, and has been thoroughly tested, both by leading professionals ‘on the course’ and almost a million swings by ‘Iron Byron’, the club testing robot.

To learn more about the Snap-lock golf concept, or to reserve a place in the queue for the first issue, leave your contact details as a comment below.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

The Return of Kierkegaard

Familiar as I am with Wrawsley's English translation and D'Aubin's French, I still found Kierkegaard's 'Either Or' a profoundly challenging work upon reading it today in the original Danish. I was reminded again of how difficult it is to achieve a true appreciation of great literature- particularly of its philosophical messages, its philological constructs, and its aetomorphic semiological inter-mutualities- when you can hardly make out a word of it. Happily there's a very liberal and human returns policy at

Oh ja, quite alright. Quite understand. Can't be easy if you don't speak Danish. Here's your fifty krone. Come back when you need more Lego. Passe og alle de bedste.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Exorcist

It appears that the NHS is now embracing 'alternative' medicine, although 'bizarre', 'ill-conceived' and 'counter-productive' would be more apt  if my experience today be representative. The GP phoned and left a message reporting results of recent routine physical with  practice nurse. Systolic BP up. Nothing to worry about. Quite normal in middle-aged gentlefolk of sedentary habits and gross epicurean tendencies. However, I should consider exorcising more.
Not the advice I would have given in far off days when still practicing medicine; but times move on. Old habits have to be purged. One has to accept, if only on a provisional basis, the new ideas and theories. Give them a chance, and so on.
To domestic staff were therefore relayed instructions concise and specific. And upon my return home the ritual robes and other exorcismal paraphernalia- the battered missal, smouldering incence burner, holy water in ancient thracian crystal phial, selection of crucifixes in a variety of materials and sizes, the matyr-teeth rosary beads, fragments of sacred wafer, and so on-  were found displayed in the dressing room ready for my immediate use; everything, I was pleased to see, that one might need for an exorcism.

Well not quite everything. It was after I had donned the robes, and brought the ancient thracian phial to the pursed lips in a text-book gesture of veneration, that the absence of any nearby consenting possessee interrupted my devout thoughts and immediate intentions. Bloody doctors. And there, in a nutshell, is the 'problem' with alternative medecine. There is simply not the infrastructure to support it. Had I been advised by gormless GP to conduct a double-blind clinical trial to take my mind off the pressures of life and thus provide a calmer mental equilibrium condusive of lowering BP, then a path would have beckoned trodden smooth straight and broad by $multi-billion pharmaceutical industry. Established database of volunteers. Ready supply of authentic placebo treatments. Vast international network of fellow professionals to peer review outcome of work, etc etc. But where the equivalent support infrastructure for the exorcist? Where the accepted ethical protocols? Where the established table of rates for the reimbursement of volunteer possessee travelling expenses? And so on and so on. What utter half-baked nonsense the whole scheme. Absolute madness from start to finish. No wonder NHS running out of money. I will have strong censorious things to say about this, you mark my words. In the shoes of the Secretary of State for Health I would not want to be when the next scorching post hits the blog.It makes my blood boil. So much much for lowering the systolic BP. 

Sunday, 13 October 2013

The Higgs Boson

Peter Higgs is such a gentleman. It was so like him, I thought, to make that frank public acknowledgement of my crucial role in positing the existence of the particle that now bears his name. (I say nothing of the corresponding silence from Englert.) But while we celebrate Peter's triumph, a mood of introspective melancholy pervades the mind. Fame is so transitory, so ephemeral. Who now remembers dear old Bose, the man after whom all bosons are named?  Indeed, what tiny fraction of the public today would know the profoundly mystifying differences that set bosons apart from fermions, or would understand that we and the entirety of our universe are composed of just those two families of particles? I wonder what it says of our values, that we drum into the heads of our children random religious ideas, partisan interpretations of history, and all sorts of other nonsense, leaving them ignorant of the splendours of the fundamental properties of matter.

I am often asked whether 'Higgs-Sushing' would be the rightful name for the boson that has been so recently identified by the physicists at CERN. And always a plain 'No' is my inscrutable answer. I could explain further, but it's better leaving things as they stand, however unjust that might be. 'Sushing-Higgs' is such a mouthful.

Friday, 11 October 2013

That Snowden business

One of those head-scratching days today. The first call came before I’d even looked at the crossword. Sir David Omand for you, Professor.
Omand I met on a leadership course. I always tell my trainees they can call me any time, and some do. Like Putin and Obama, who've been driving me nuts (click here).  So after the usual preliminaries- how are his kids, shame about the fraud charges, sure the jury will see sense, count on me to help with an appeal if they don’t, and so on- I ask him straight what he wants, and poof it’s like a cork popping. And it’s all about Snowden. Snowden this, Snowden that, Snowden, Snowden, Snowden, Snowden. So I put him on the loudspeaker and look at the crossword for a bit while he rants on.
‘Some betting is corrupt and contemptible (11)’. Anagram of some betting obviously. Probably begins IN, or maybe MIS. Think a bit. Chew pen. Write the letters MISBEGOTTEN in the little boxes. Meanwhile he’s still ranting Snowden, Snowden, Snowden, Snowden. So I nudge him along a bit and he gets to the point: ‘Had I seen anything unusual in the China traffic?’  
I’ve made no secrets about my war of nerves with the Chinese government hackers. They’ve only got themselves to blame. A couple of years ago they tried that cyber attack on the website I do for the parish council, so I bring down one of their systems every now and again just to remind them not to be so stupid in future. I’ve also planted some eavesdropping code in their intelligence network, the output from which is what Omand means by the ‘China traffic’. No, I tell him. Nothing to suggest that Snowden’s leaks have set hares running in Beijing. So in the end he says thanks, I promise to tell him if I hear any news, and we sign off.
So far so good. Back to the crossword you’d think. But I’d hardly read another clue when the phone goes again. A Mister Edward Snowden for you, Professor.  For a minute I thought it was a wind-up. Unbelievable. Ok, put him on.

Introduces himself. Got number from Russians.  Needed someone with influence. Heard that might be me. Putin's suggestion. Had I seen Omand's comments.  Was it hopeless case. Could I oil wheels, open doors, smooth a way. Might bridges be built. Russians supportive. Would offer money, but know I don't need it.  Pentagon over-reacting. Public duty to expose truth. Guardian bungled. Dropped him in it. And so on, and so forth.
In the meantime I've got most of the top left corner of the crossword done. I tell him I'll see what I can do. Effusive thanks follow. I say it's nothing, least I can do, give regards to Putin, and so on, till the phone goes down. What is it with people nowadays? They all seem to think you've nothing better to do with your time than sort their problems.
Anyway. Third letter M. 'Spooner's misandrist prefers Eros to Narcissus (8,5)'.

Inventing the i-phone

Another conversation with Steve Jobs...

Diary Entry: 24 May 2001

Steve’s stopping for the weekend. He’s over for some conference and hates hotels so I’ve put him up. He’s a bag of nerves because he’s so stressed about Gatesy grabbing such a big share of the market, and he can’t stop fidgeting and interfering with stuff when I show him round the lab. A machine is coating glass with a semi-conductive film, the resistance of which changes with pressure. The process is unbelievably sensitive, with the machine fixed to a 9 ton slab of granite floating on pneumatic pillows to dampen vibrations from the floor, so when Steve clumsily yanks up its lid to see what’s happening inside I can’t stop myself walloping him. Of course he’s instantly winey and remorseful, which makes me feel guilty, so to compensate I say let’s go to the bingo. I’ve never figured out why, but Steve’s mad for the bingo, and we always go when he needs cheering up. On the bus he’s asking how I get the money for the lab, and when I tell him about the big grants he starts slagging-off governments for throwing cash at ‘pointless’ research, going on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on, until in the end I’m glad we’re at the bingo even though it bores me to death. Steve’s hopping with excitement though, and when he gets a full card he screams ‘house’ and leaps up, knocking his bottle of Pepsi all over my crossword and his new Nokia 568. I mop up the mess and apologise to the other people nearby. Then it’s the end of the world, because Steve finds the dousing with Pepsi has broken his phone. We take it to the gents and hold it under a drier until the Pepsi’s all evaporated.  Then everything seems to work again until suddenly the ‘5’ button falls off in his hands. Steve’s inconsolable. ‘See’, I say. ‘That’s why you need research. That glass I’m making back at the lab- you could use that for a touch-sensitive screen on a phone, and if you’d spilt your Pepsi on that you could just wipe it off.’ Of course he’s so slow, I end up having to explain what touch-sensitive means. I love him, but sometimes he drives me nuts.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Bye bye Dr Who

This time-travel drivel has to stop. I can put up with the Doctor Whos, and the Back to the Futures, and all the other innocent fantasising, but a line has to be drawn when so-called ‘serious scientists’ start making fools of themselves.

I suppose I’ve the four-year-old granddaughter to thank for bringing the nonsense to my attention. She’d asked my opinion on two Wikipedia articles, respectively about the ‘grandfather paradox’  (appropriately enough) and the so-called ‘Novikov self-consistency principle’. Regrettably  I had no sphygmomanometer in contact at the time with any suitable portion of my body, but I would estimate that my blood-pressure doubled from my starting to read the first of the monstrous articles to my finishing the second. 

For those of you blessedly unfamiliar with the nonsense, let me just say that there are people whose free time is so capacious and whose intellect so in-capacious that they can happily waste both on misguided speculations on the nature of time travel. And what really lit my blue touch-paper was to see that even Hawking has been daft enough to join in. Go back in time, they say, and what is to stop you murdering your grandfather, or performing any one of a million other activities that might have changed the course of history to the point of preventing your own birth. There the supposed ‘paradox’.

Let me make it perfectly clear. Travelling back through time might or might not be possible. Who knows? I think it isn’t, but I might be wrong and that’s beside the point anyway. Let’s suppose it is possible. Let’s further suppose that you travel back to the 14th November 1858, or any other date you care to imagine. What do you think you will find? I can tell you: nothing. Because all of the stuff of the universe (grandfather included) that once existed on the 14th November 1858 is no longer there- it has gone forward in time to now; it is all still where you left it when you pressed the big red ‘go’ button in your time machine or held your nose and jumped down the wormhole or did whatever to trigger your reverse temporal transit.

There's nothing left back in 1858 for you to interact with, and so no paradox.

For those of you still struggling, perhaps a nice analogy will do the trick. Imagine the universe to be a cruise ship heading west across the illimitable ocean of time.  You jump into a helicopter on the ship and head back east a hundred years. What do you see? Nothing, because the ship’s still in the future where you’ve just left it.

So, I’ve had my say. You can carry on with the Doctor Whos etc but on the strict understanding that it’s made-up entertainment. I don’t want to read a single other ‘serious’ word about it.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

PQM Postbag

Readers' Letters

In last month's Practical Quantum Mechanics we showed readers how to use self-consistent LAPW calculations to diagnose problems with LED torches. That sparked a flood of letters with related queries.

Mrs Jane F from Dungeness writes:

Our local Woman's Institute is running a campaign against the extension of the operating licence of a nearby nuclear power plant. We've heard that the fuel rods at the plant are sheathed in zirconium, which is susceptible to embrittlement owing to the absorption of hydrogen at interstitial sites. We're running a series of coding bees to develop a suite of FORTRAN programs to perform LCAO band-structure calculations to model the risk of embrittlement, so that we can present persuasive evidence at a forthcoming planning enquiry. Do you think that the calculations need to be self-consistent? Also, how should we model the screening potential in the vicinity of the interstitial impurities?

Dear Mrs F,

We think it would be a picky planning inspector indeed who would insist on self-consistency for the type of calculations you have in mind, so don't bother with it. I'm sure your coding bee members will have enough on their hands as it is. A simple screened-coulomb potential should be fine for modelling the potential around the adatoms.

Lucasian Professor Stephen H from Cambridge writes:

Does it matter which way round the batteries go? I can't get the torch to work at all.

Dear Professor H,

Yes, the batteries need to go in a particular way, otherwise the electricity particles won't flow correctly. One end of each battery should have a pimply bit, and that goes where you see a little cross embossed in the battery compartment of the torch. If you get stuck, there should be people at the Cavendish Physics Laboratory in Cambridge who can help.

BANDIT- Ban Driers in Toilets

One of the many lamentable excesses of our so called 'civilisation' is the use in toilets of electrically powered machines to remove water from freshly washed hands. Research by the EDSRF suggests that the net environmental impact of this gross indulgence is an annual consumption of 9.3 terawatts of power, and the annual emission of 6.8 trillion tonnes of CO2, all to avoid the momentary discomfort of wetness on the hands pending natural evaporation.

I am today launching a new campaign to bring this shameful profligacy to an end: BANDIT, or Ban Driers in Toilets. While the initial focus of the campaign is the elimination of electrical driers in public toilets in the United Kingdom, its longer term goal is to eradicate drying accessories of any sort, including cloth or paper towels, world-wide. Of course, a regime of exclusions will be contemplated to cater for those with exceptional needs, such as registered aquaphobics, who are expected to represent less than 0.00037% of annual visits to washroom facilities.

My launch of BANDIT is, I freely admit, a measure I have adopted only as a last resort. I can reveal now that I have spent much of the last four years, on an entirely pro-bono basis, acting as strategy advisor to the World Federation of Washroom Facility Providers (WFWFP), at the plenary meetings of which I have used all of my considerable oratorical talents to urge moderation and restraint in the face of mushrooming consumption of washroom power. But all has been in vain, and I have washed my hands of them. Without subsequent drying assistance, I need not add.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Disorganised Crime

I hear today the announcement of a new 'National Crime Agency', heralding a changed emphasis in UK policing to focus upon 'serious organised crime'. Since the announcement the gormless media pundits have been spouting their inane opinions on the NCA while entirely missing the key question about this disturbing development: where does it leave the victims of risible disorganised crime?

Only yesterday I myself was a victim of such an outrage. Footage from the security cameras outside the leisure wing of my Belgravia pied-a-terre revealed a haphazard attempt at a break-in by a pair of bungling would-be burglars, showing all the comedic qualities of an early Laurel-and-Hardy film, as one was brained by a falling finial dislodged by the end of a ladder incompetently wielded by the other.  I can now hardly imagine the level of apathetic uninterest with which this evidence will be greeted at my local police station, where no doubt some locum civilian will take cursory details while the officers for whom they are substituting attend briefings about the NCA. I can scarcely believe what this is all coming to. You couldn't make it up.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Practical Quantum Mechanics

Project: LED Torch Repair

Difficulty: Beginner

Techniques: LAPW Band Structure Calculations, Muffin-tin Potential.

For this month's Practical Quantum Mechanics project we investigate poor performance of an LED torch. We'd bought the new Deben 'Huntmaster' torch from Amazon, and were disappointed to find that its beam was only just reaching 5m, when the product literature claimed 75m or better (See Fig 1). Given the significant disparity between the actual and expected beam-length, we decided some DIY diagnostics were in order.

The first step is to determine the theoretical brightness of the galenium-arseninde LED that features in the 'Huntmaster'. That depends on the density of states in the p-band of galenium, since the beam is formed when excited electrons drop back from the p-band to the k-band. For this you'll need an ab initio self-consistent band-structure calculation. We went for the tried and trusted LAPW method of Anderson, with an 'N=3' implementation. If you don't have time to write your own code, the University of Gotlingen has a suite of LAPW programs to download free.

The LAPW method considers a one-electron Schrodinger equation, with the effects of the lattice ions and valence electrons modelled as a background potential V(r). The 'self consistent' part just means that the output from one run of the LAPW calculations is used to generate the background potential as input for the next, and you keep repeating that until the calculations converge. But to kick things off you need a starting potential, and that's straightforward to produce using the 'muffin tin' model, where the potential is assumed to be flat in the interstices between adjacent spherical potentials of the lattice nuclei, just like in a real muffin tin (see Fig 2).

Again you can download a program to calculate a muffin tin potential. For galenium-arsenide use an HCP (hexagonal close-packed) lattice setting, with a spacing of 0.238 (using natural units).

Running the calculations will take about 2 solid years on an I-Phone 5, but you can speed things up by booking time on a supercomputer (check it's got floating-point acceleration capabilities). We used the cloud service provided by the Berkeley IT group, and finished all the calculations in an overnight run. Note that to start the LAPW program you might need to click the 'yes' option in a pop-up dialogue box as shown below...

If you've got things right the calculated energy density of states ought to look something like Fig 3.

To calculate the brightness of the beam, just integrate the number of states over the width of the P-band, and multiply by Avogadro's number and the mass of the LED in Kilograms. The result in our case was around 6,283,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Allowing for dispersion, that should easily give a 75m beam with an excitation current of around 50mA, which should be well within the theoretical capabilities of the three AAA batteries that power the torch. And therein lay the clue to the poor performance of our Huntmaster. A quick check with a multi-meter confirmed that its batteries were almost flat, so we inserted new replacements and the beam was every bit as bright as Deben's claims in the literature.

So the lesson here is that so-called 'new' batteries supplied with torches need to be checked.

New month we investigate annoying crackles in MP3 playback on an iPhone 5s. A loose headphone jack, perhaps, or could it be something more sinister? We'll show you how to run a self-consistent Hartree-Fock calculation to rule out the possibility of Block-wave scattering by evanescent phonons arising from interstitial impurities in the silicon lattice of the i-phone chip-set.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

The Common Touch

How dare he.

How dare he.


Teeth clench in rictus of rage. Head oscillates axially in frisson of unbridled wrath. All blood is squeezed from ivory fists by clenching spasms of  unparalleled umbrage. At last anger abates sufficiently to allow the resumption of typing...

I won't stoop to name the muck-raking, moronically opinionated, scumbag journalist who triggered the outburst; suffice it to say he is the supposed 'society editor' of the New York Times, on the cheap, sullied pages of which he this morning declared me to be 'out of touch with the common worker'. Me. Me, out of touch with the common worker. I... I... words fail me.

I know what you are saying. It's not like him. He's not himself. Why isn't he making a joke of it like he always does? And you are right to be shocked. Ordinarily, as you well know, I laugh at these things. Who are journalists, after all, but mediocre talents, tainted with resentment of real writers, typing whatever fanciful notions best serve their embittered fantasies of avengement. In my lofty and prominent station, the flaccid arrows of a spiteful press are an environmental constant, like the very air itself, and I am usually numb to them. However, this morning's poisoned barb has hit my one psychologically sensitive spot- my working class identity.

Was I not born of a poor family in the 'north end' of Mayfair, virtually the epitome of a working class community? Was I not driven to school in an old hand-me-down Daimler? Have I not reached my position of eminence by struggling against every disadvantage of class? Naturally, I am set apart from  'the common worker' in attainment, but in all other respects we are the same. Don't I rise each day at 6, just like the common worker? Don't I leave for work at 8, just like the common worker, after the shower, the swim, the sauna and the massage? Don't I do the Sudoku, just like the common worker, as I'm driven to work? Don't I stand patiently in my private lift, as I rise to my office, just like common workers in lifts and elevators across the world? Don't I suffer the same petty frustrations as the common worker- tedious clients, like Obama and Putin, the queried expenses for the fortnight in Acapulco.

Journalists. I sometimes wonder how they make it all up.

Monday, 30 September 2013

The Celebrity Party

In Britain over my short life there has been a gradual, continuous, and now near-complete erosion of political idealism. Where sixty years ago were entrenched left and right positions, with a wide no-man's-land between them, there is now an overcrowded centre in which the political ground is trampled indiscriminately by all comers. The effects of this degradation include an apathetic electorate, and a new army of political tacticians inventing here-today, gone-tomorrow policy gimmicks to differentiate their party from the rest. In the absence of any material differences of principle the voter must now fall back entirely on the public image of the candidates to direct their vote.

A political Canute might lament this change, and squander nostalgic energies on futile efforts to  return to the golden times.  A leader of action, resolve, and vision will surf the tsunami of opinion as it sweeps away the ramshackle sprawl of decades of political opportunism.

Today I unveil the blueprint for a new force in British politics: the Celebrity Party. No longer will the political landscape be littered with the corpses of failed short-term initiatives. This new party will eschew all policy tactics, and rely entirely on the fame, charisma and trustworthiness of its candidates to bring about an entirely necessary and overdue sea-change in British politics.

I expect to confirm the key positions in the Celebrity Party ahead of its inaugural conference at Acapulco in December.

The creation of the party is not the only significant innovation being announced today. I can also confirm that the following areas of entirely new ground will be broken:

All ministerial posts will be held by two people, one of each gender. Aside from ensuring a perfect 50/50 representation of the sexes, this arrangement will allow one minister to cover when the other is away for filming, cosmetic surgery etc, while also providing a continuous 'will they, won't they' romantic suspense, thus guaranteeing prominent and persistent coverage in the popular press.

There will be no re-shuffles. Read my lips: no re-shuffles.

Unlike all other parties, we will not announce policies as faits accomplis. Instead options will be published, together with a balanced assessment of their pros and cons. The dual-ministers will use their celebrity communication skills to explain the relative merits of the options while motivating and engaging the electorate. There will then be a telephone vote to identify the most popular option. In the event that no option receives more than 50% of the initial telephone vote, then the least popular option will be dropped and the vote re-run, if necessary iteratively, until an option is found having an absolute majority.

As a consequence of holding polls for every policy, the role of Her Majesty's opposition will become largely redundant. All the other current parties will wither, to be replaced, if at all, by single-issue parties promoting niche interests, none of which will have the critical mass to mount a serious electoral campaign. The result will be a prolonged period of electoral contentment, with a benign and glamorous government, the envy of the world.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Time to Barrack Obama and Putin

Obama and Putin. I won't be blamed for blowing my top with them. That pair would try the patience of Job's favourite saint.  I think of them as two of my boys, although technically they're clients of a sort; I give each of them advice now and again, in return for a token retainer from one and free supplies of Ketraskin vodka from the other.

Anyway, over the last few weeks they'd been separately calling me on and off, each cribbing and moaning about the other. I hardly had time to do the Sudoku with the phone going every five minutes, so in the end I got fed up and had both of them on a conference call together.

Will one of you explain what's going on, I said, or some such thing. So Barack starts on with that portentous way of his that's guaranteed to light my blue touch-paper, and off I went. Very disappointed. Expected more from them. Hadn't I coached them over the years. Hadn't they been listening to a word I'd said. Never thought I'd see the day. Sick to death of pair of them. Could expect it from Blair and Brown, but not from them. Should be ashamed. Like kids. Time to grow up. In bad books. What sort of example was it. Where did they think it would get them. What were they playing at. Reflect badly on me. Selfish behaviour. Letting themselves down. Letting me down. Need to think of others. Didn't want another word from either of them. Last time they get my help. Sorry not good enough. Get act together. Pull socks up. Etc etc.

They were contrite enough, I suppose. Hopefully something good seems to have come from it where that Syria business is concerned.

Obama I've known since '81, when I did that spell as guest professor at Harvard (a favour for Sacks). As a student he was bookish, introvert, polite, earnest, well-intentioned, a bit slower than his class-mates, and completely lacking a sense of humour. Putin was the other side altogether: not a qualification to his name (that wasn't fake, that is) sharp as a tack, rude, and a laugh a minute. He's been a regular client since seeing what I pulled-off coaching Gorbachev, although most of our time together is purely sociable, usually blind drunk and hatching new scams. He's a great one for the practical jokes- I dream them up and he takes them on. The bigger the better. What was the best of them? I suppose it was getting Yeltsin elected- we laughed ourselves sick at that.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Didactic Gradualism

I have not a neuron of doubt that nurture trumps nature in the intellectual development of the mind. The evidence is indisputable. Take my own case. My recent experiments with proton polarisation scanning suggest that my brain has around 27% more synaptic connections than the average, by which measure I am within the top 0.03 percentile of humans. Impressive you might think. But when you consider that 2.5m other humans share my level of synaptic capacity you will realise the statistic is quite incapable of explaining my unique level of pansophic development. Ergo some other factor, that we may label nurture, must account for the gigantic difference in intellectual attainment.Today, however, I am announcing what may prove to be a revolution in teaching methods that will allow all to maximise their intellectual potential, notwithstanding their inherited cerebral constraints.

It is known by every schoolteacher that pupils best digest new concepts if fed in nibbles. Attempt to force down too big an idea, and the brain gags.The result is intellectual malnourishment, and loss of educational appetite. Now, after years of experiment and research by the EDSRF, that simple notion has been developed to a remarkable extreme: the principle of Didactic Gradualism. Plainly put, the principle asserts that ideas should be fed to the brain by the smallest possible increment.

The first practical public application of the principle of Didactic Gradualism is embodied in my newly published book 'Quantum Theory in 66,261 Easy Steps', in which you, the fortunate reader, are introduced to quantum theoretical concepts in such imperceptible steps that by the end you hardly realise that you've understood it at all.

My development of Didactic Gradualism is itself an illuminating example of the power of nurture. I am convinced that it has sprung from an example subconsciously digested during my childhood holidays in the Pravakesh area of northern India, where my enlightened step-parents encouraged me to learn the techniques of Vadeshni yoga. I remember seeing a farneshki guru who had a needle penetrating entirely through his skull from one side to the other without suffering any deleterious consequences, other than some additional complexities to explain at the barbers.  I learned that his remarkable, if pointless (pun strictly intended), outcome he had achieved by inserting the needle over thirty seven years through an incomprehensible number of atomically small increments, so that his scalp, skull and brain were able to accommodate the penetration through a natural relaxation of cellular structures. An inquisitive nine year old, I was frantic to question the guru closely about his extraordinary experience, but I was unable to speak at the time, being about half way through swallowing a forty metre strip of muslin for the 'kraveshdu' ritualistic cleansing of the colon. You know how it is.

Monday, 23 September 2013

XLML: eXtensible Literary Mark-up Language

It could be conceived only from the fused perspectives of a founding father of computer science, and a towering giant of post modernist literature. And conceive it I did. Before reading more of this historic post, note the date, the time, and your immediate personal circumstances, so that years hence you may tell family and friends exactly where you were when eXtensible Literary Mark-up Language (XLML) was announced to an unsuspecting world...

Whatever one might think of the theoretical attributes of literature, it is hard not to be ever conscious of its main practical shortcomings: inefficiency and ineffectiveness. To see this, let us follow the path of Schell and others, and consider a simplification of literature as a parallel with painting.

When we thrill at a still life by Monet, Picasso, Van Gogh, or Rubens, it is the style of the artwork that we appreciate, not the subject. It is not a case of  'Ooooooooh look, grapes!' Instead we admire the miraculously evocative way in which the grapes have been depicted.

Likewise with literature. To follow again Schell's simplistic model, all literature is a story (the grapes) depicted with literary style (the painting technique); and it is the style that differentiates literature from simple story-telling. Indeed, Schell would say that the purpose of the grapes is to provide a bland form upon which to drape the glittering embroidery of style. With this in mind, let us go on to model in a simple way the intended transaction between author and reader as follows:

1 The author has a story.
2 Consciously or otherwise the author's mind picks literary techniques and devices to depict aspects of the story: autoclesis, asyndeton, asteismus, and so on.
3 The author agonises over the words to convey the selected literary effect.
4 The reader reads the words.
5 A warm appreciation of the literary technique is triggered in the reader's mind.

This simple model makes stark the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of literature, since at Step 3 the author may struggle for hours to achieve the intended effect, while at Step 4 the reader may in seconds allow the intended effect to pass right over their head. Surely an inventive mankind can find a clearer way from Step 2 to Step 5.

Indeed. I have found it.

XLML, as its name suggests, is a development of the ideas of computer science brought to solve the problems of literature. Thanks to HTML, when I write this blog post I need not struggle to render my ideas in different presentational styles such as bold or italic print. Instead it is sufficient for me to mark the text as being intended to be rendered in that way, using the tags <b> or <I>. Likewise XLML. If I wish that an aspect of my story should be understood to be expressed with alliteration say, I don't struggle for hours to craft an alliterative phrase, I simply write whatever comes most naturally into my head and mark it with the alliteration tag <Alit>. Because the style is now rendered explicitly, the reader cannot overlook it, and the triggering of warm appreciation of the style is now guaranteed.

The further development of XLML will require the establishment of a standards body in the world of literature, akin to the W3C organisation which develops and defines standards for the Internet. I have today instructed the EDSRF to set aside a fund to cover the anticipated operating costs of such a standards body for the first five years of its existence. Nominations for the board of the body are now invited. Please use the comment facility at the foot of this post.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

2013 International Keats and Chapman Contest

Entries are now invited for the 7th Annual International Open 'Keats and Chapman' Competition. The first (and only) prize of £50 will be awarded to the most convincing, contrived and corny pastiche of a Keats and Chapman tale in the style of Miles na gCopaleen.

The rules remain substantially as in previous years, but have been tightened somewhat by the Supervising Committee to stress the importance of avoiding offensive language, particularly in relation to the protected characteristics of age, gender, religion, race, disability or sexual orientation. This follows the furore at last year's shortlisting of the 'chink in the armour' tale of the jet-lagged somnambulistic Chinese diplomat who failed to appear for a ceremonial dinner at a stately home and was found, by Chapman, asleep among suits of chain mail.

Entries must be received by midnight (GMT) on the 24th December 2013, and may be submitted via the comment facility at the foot of this post. The winner will be announced at noon (GMT) on 31 December 2013. The decision of the Awarding Committee will be final.

Entries must be original unpublished work, presented in English, and must comply in all respects with the 2013 Eligibility Criteria, which may be found, together with the full 2013 Rules at the following address

The Honours System

It's about time someone sorted out this honours adverbs business, and I suppose it might as well be me, given that I've had more of them (honours that is) than most.

You know how it is; hardly a day passes without some society, association, institute, establishment, hall of fame, order, academy, college, club, guild, party, movement, faction, business, federation, league, alliance, group, fraternity, sorority, trust, syndicate or what-not writing to convey some award, membership, qualification, prize, medal, favour, trophy, decoration, accolade, title, diploma, or what-not. And then arises the blessed difficulty of how to acknowledge the said honour to an appropriate degree. Lest you are struggling to keep up, let's consider concrete cases...

Suppose the Sudoku's done, the crossword has lost your interest, and you're opening the morning's mail. In among the junk, the begging letters, the subpoenas, the fan-mail, the cranks looking for endorsement, and what-not, there are letters from: the Nobel Prize Committee, offering, for the first time, a combined award for physics and economics; the Chief Equerry of the Inner Privy Council inviting one to accept adjoint membership of the Order of the Garter; and the Parish Council announcing that ones name has been engraved on the new bench by the shop.

Now you'll have to get round to the thank you letters, and if you have a scientific bent and a strong sense of fair play you will wish each letter to convey a degree of gratitude that is in direct linear proportion to the significance of the honour to which it applies.

And here's the nub of the gist of the crux of the kernel of the essence of the problem. You see, the expected formula is one in which the conferee describes  his or her self as x honoured to have received the award from the conferrer, where x is some adverb, typically one from the list below.


However, a glance at the list is sufficient to show that its range is not in the least sufficient to span the spectrum of occasions for which it is expected to serve. The problem is one we have brought on ourselves, of course, by shrinking from the hurtful truth. In receipt of some paltry token of recognition we never feel it right to declare ourselves 'hardly honoured at all', or 'imperceptibly honoured' even when that is the absolute literal truth.

Through years of mealy mouthed tradition, we can no longer use adverbs in a literal sense to reflect the grade, rank, quality, rarity, or significance of an honour, and we have created an unholy mess in which no conferee has any idea of what adverb to use, and no conferrer has any real idea of the degree of thanks being offered by the random adverbial selection that results. It follows, therefore, that what is now needed is a non-literal, synthetic, idiomatic scale of appropriate adverbs.

I have today instructed the EDSRF to put aside a fund to provide a doctoral bursary to suitably qualified individuals to research the use of adverbs in the recognition of honours, with the goal of proposing a formal conventional scale of honours for ratification by the appropriate international standards bodies. Interested applicants should make contact via the comment facility below.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Rules of the 2013 International Keats and Chapman Award

Entries are now invited for the 2013 International Open Keats & Chapman award. A first prize of £50 will be award to the entry that is, in the view of the Awards Committee, the most convincing, original, well-written and corny pastiche of a 'Keats & Chapman' tale in the style of the late Myles na gCopaleen.

In addition to the lavish financial award, the winning entrant is likely to benefit from enhanced celebrity status through promotions via the EDSRF marketing affiliation programme. So don't be shy- have a go!

The rules are substantially the same as in previous years (see below), and may be waived in their entirety on the slightest whim of the chairman or in return for a bung, bribe, tip, sweetener, etc.

The Supervising Committee

Entrants should note that the Committee will accept entries submitted via the comment facility at the foot of this blog post.


1              INTERPRETATION

1.1          The Rules means the rules defined herein under.

1.2          In The Rules, unless the context otherwise requires:

1.2.1         the singular includes the plural and vice versa;

1.2.2         reference to a gender includes the other gender and the neuter.

1.3          The headings in The Rules are for ease of reference only and shall not affect the interpretation of The Rules.

1.4          Queries relating to the interpretation of The Rules should be submitted to the Rules Interpretation Sub-Committee of the Rules Committee. Suggested additions to the rules should be submitted via the comments facility at the foot of this blog post.


2              ELIGIBILITY

2.1          The contest is open to any person who is not a member of the Supervising Committee, the Rules Committee, or the Awards Committee.

2.2          Entries must:

2.2.1         Be the original unpublished work of the entrant (team efforts are allowed provided that all members of the team are acknowledged;

2.2.2         Be presented in English;

2.2.3         Be written in prose form (quotations in verse permitted).

2.2.4         Contain no fewer than 200 words and no more than 900 words.

2.2.5         Be set at any time between 1/1/1800 and the Closing Date, unless a time-travel machine or space-time wormhole features to justify some other temporal setting.

2.2.6         Be submitted before midnight (GMT) on 24 December 2013.

2.2.7         Not have been submitted in connection with any other formal contest or award.

2.3          The Entrant shall not unlawfully discriminate within the meaning and scope of any law, enactment, order, or regulation relating to discrimination (whether on grounds of sex, age, race, gender, religion or belief, disability, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, maternity, pregnancy, marriage, civil partnership or otherwise).

2.4          Entries will be scrutinised by the Supervising Committee to ensure compliance with the Eligibility Criteria. Non-compliant entries will be disqualified.

3              Scoring

3.1          Each compliant entry will be scored by the Awards Committee in accordance with the Scoring Protocol.

3.2          Up to 100 points may be awarded to any given entry as follows:

3.2.1         Up to 20 points may be awarded for literary style

3.2.2         Up to 20 points may be awarded for the plausibility of the scenario.

3.2.3         Up to 50 points may be awarded for the corniness of the punch line.

3.3          At the sole discretion of the Awards Committee, bonus points, up to a maximum of 10, may be awarded for:

3.3.1         Entries of exactly 200 or exactly 900 words (i.e. at the extreme limits of the eligibility criterion relating to entry length).

3.3.2         Attempted puns of a superordinate Degree of Difficulty

3.3.3         The graceful and unobtrusive inclusion of any one or more of the following: anaphora, chiasmus, anadiplosis, syllepsis, autoclesis, zeugma.

3.3.4         Apt and humorous neologisms.

4              Award

4.1          Subject to Clause 5, the Prize will be awarded to the highest scoring entry.

4.2          In the event of a tie, where the highest score is earned by more than one entry, the Tie Breaking Protocol will be invoked.

4.3          The decision of the Awards Committee will be final, unchallengeable, irrevocable, absolute and binding in all possible respects. No correspondence will be entered into.

5              Roll-over

5.1          The Committee reserves the right not to award any prize in the event that: a) entries do not meet the reasonable expectations of the Committee in relation to quality; or b) there is one or fewer entries in total. In such a case the prize fund will roll-over in full to the next annual contest.

6              Licences

6.1          Each Entrant will be deemed to have granted to the Supervising Committee a royalty-free, non-exclusive, non-transferrable, perpetual, eternal, non-time-limited licence to publish the Entry.

6.2          The Supervising Committee grants the Winning Entrant a licence to publish or promote the fact of their win, provided that such publishing or promotion does not in the reasonable view of the Supervising Committee bring the award into disrepute. Where such publication or promotion includes the use of the International Open Keats and Chapman Award Logo (The Logo), then the Entrant warrants that The Logo will be displayed in accordance with International Open Keats and Chapman Award Logo Display Standards.


7.1          The Entrant shall not:

7.1.1         offer or agree to give any person working for or engaged by the Committee any gift or other consideration which could act as an inducement or a reward for any act or failure to act connected to the Rules; nor

7.1.2         enter into the contest if it has knowledge that, in connection with it, any money has been, or will be, paid to any person working for or engaged by the Committee, unless details of any such arrangement have been disclosed in writing to the Committee before such entry is made.

7.2          If the Entrant breaches Rule 7 then the Committee may disqualify the Entrant with immediate effect, and the Entrant will forfeit all cumulative rights under the Rules.