Category Archives: humour

Another course

Some years ago, I used to edit and typeset the course handbook for a three-year theology degree. This spelt out in detail the content, educational methods, asssessment criteria and so on for each module of the course. Or more accurately, each module or half module, a module being equivalent to a sixth of a year of full-time study. Course tutors would write their course outlines, which I then had to edit into a standard format agreed with the university before sending them off for validation.

The course had its own jargon and conventions. For example, we didn’t refer to students. They had to be participants. I was quite surprised that the tutors were still called tutors; wouldn’t learning enablers be more in the inclusive-language spirit?

Immerse yourself in this for weeks on end and it’s inevitable that the language starts to make its way into your brain. Everything you see around you begins to look like course outline material. The 30,000 words of Handbook start to look like five modules’ worth of assessed work at 6,000 words per module . . .

And so it was that when April 1st arrive, I felt obliged to leave copies of the following in certain tutors’ pigeonholes, together with a note asking whether it had been sent to the Board for Validation at the university.

I’m particularly proud of the assessment options.

THE APPLICATION OF DESKTOP PUBLISHING TO THEOLOGICAL EDUCATION

Five modules (100 credits)

 Aims

  • to gain a good working knowledge of desktop publishing in an educational environment
  • to apply such knowledge in a specific context

Objectives

For successful completion of the course, participants will be able to

  • recognise the circumstances under which Pagemaker 6.5 is likely to crash
  •  understand why many people ask for layouts which cannot possibly work
  • interpret such requests and produce layouts which do work but which also appear to be what was asked for
  • unravel confusing long-winded sentences written without punctuation in order to
    • identify the most likely intended meaning
    • make them comprehensible through editing and/or layout
  • with due reference to contextual factors
  • apply intelligent punctuation to hasty writing from highly qualified writers
  • understand the application of desktop publishing in a specific context, viz. the Course Handbook.

Course Content

See Educational Methods.The following areas must be included:

  • printing terminology
  • detailed knowledge of Pagemaker 6.5 or another DTP package
  • characteristics of competing typographical paradigms such as
    • the Aesthetic Model: beauty before clarity
    • the Semantic Model: structure of document content determines document layout
    • the Anarchic Model: Never Use The Same Typeface Twice
    • the Anaesthetic Model: avoid visual interest since this may influence interpretation of the text
    • the Pedantic Model: footnotes should dominate the text and booklists should include authors’ dates of birth and publishers’ full postal addresses
  • aesthetic and psychological effects of different fonts, layouts etc.
  • the course taught at this institution, with particular reference to
    • course structure
    • Major Themes
    • conventions of layout and terminology
    • standard format for course outlines.

Educational Methods

The subject will be entirely self-taught, through a combination of

  • critical assessment of existing material from a variety of sources exemplifying the typographical paradigms identified above
  • analysis of the participant’s own work to determine which details contribute to or detract from the overall effect and specific requirements of a document
  • random events such as
    • computer crashes
    • inadequately thought-out layout suggestions
    • last-minute, far-reaching changes to document specifications.

Assessment

One of the following:

  • Submit a document of at least 30,000 words which you have designed, edited and produced. This must be in our institution’s standard course format and of a quality suitable for offset lithographic printing; OR
  • a set of five shorter assessments chosen from the list below.

Note: for administrative reasons, at least one participant must choose the first option above.

For those who choose shorter assessments

Submit five of the following (6,000 words each; portfolio counts as two.) Equal weight will be given to content and presentation.

  • Some pages of the Lindisfarne Gospels contain decorative details too small to be easily seen by the naked eye. These raise questions as to how they were drawn, and are considered to be there for the glory of God. Discuss the application of this principle to a document such as the BA Course Handbook.
  • The full stop, the decimal point and the dot all look similar, but have distinct meanings. In your essay:
    • discuss the historical development of the form and use of these typographical symbols.
    • relate this to current semiotic theories.
    • explain their contemporary relevance.
  • (Alternatively you may consider the hyphen, the underline, the minus sign, the em and en rules and the dash.)
  • Essay: The application of Boolean logic and linguistic analysis to written descriptions of the criteria by which academic qualifications are awarded.
  • Show how differing theological positions lead to differing typographical paradigms, and discuss the implications for ecumenical ministry and interfaith dialogue.
  • Discuss the spirituality of document design with particular reference to Christian and Buddhist monastic traditions.
  • Printing terminology contains many religious terms such as font, chapel and chapter. Why?
  • A local Churches Together meeting is considering the design of an outreach leaflet for distribution to the local community. The only people to have turned up are
    • a newly converted, young Evangelical whose fundamentalist views are considered extreme even within his own church (he recently burnt his godchildren’s potato prints as examples of “graven images”), and
    • an Orthodox priest who is a world authority on icons and the history of liturgical calligraphy.
  • Submit a portfolio containing
    • three versions of the leaflet, all designed and produced by yourself:
      • one representing the priest’s idea of how it should look
      • one representing the young convert’s idea of how it should look
      • one representing a workable compromise acceptable to both parties
    • (vegetarians are not required to use parchment or vellum);
    • a detailed analysis of each design, showing how its features reflect the theological position of the designer;
    • an account of the likely dialogue, if any, which takes place at the meeting. Pay particular attention to any conflicts that are likely to arise between the two parties’ differing typographical paradigms.

Reading

  • Tim J (ed.) BA (Hons) in Theology, Undergraduate Diploma in Theology and Certificate in Theology Course Handbook, 1997
  • Mayes J, The Design of Instructional Text
  • The printed or online documentation of the DTP package studied

Aesthetic Model

Participants should own a copy of  one of the following, preferably in the original edition:

  • The Book of Kells
  • The Lindisfarne Gospels

Anarchic Model

  • Any document produced by someone who has just bought a computer
  • Church newsletters of appropriate style

Anaesthetic Model

  • IMPORTANT: Before You Open This Package, Microsoft, distributed free with all software
  • Conditions of Use, Barclaycard, 1997

Semantic Model

  • e. e. cummings, Selected Poems, Faber & Faber (also a good guide to imaginative use of punctuation)
  • John Cage, “Lecture on Nothing” in Silence.

How to abolish Mondays

Yesterday, Twitter was full of tweets about two vaguely interesting features of this month. One was the nice recurrence of the number 10 just after 10 am, at 10:10:10 on 10–10–10. The day was variously referred to as Binary Day; 42 Day or Meaning of Life Day; and various more suggestive names based on the idea that 10 10 10 in Roman numerals would be X X X. (I myself thought the day should be celebrated ten 99ths of a second later, at 10:10:10.10101010 . . . )

The event was disappointing, though: not only did it only last a fraction of a second, but it wasn’t even the same fraction of a second, because 10:10:10 arrived at different times according to what time zone people were in.

The other “amazing fact” was that there are five Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in the month, coupled with a claim that this only happens once every 823 years. (The claim puzzles me: it only takes a moment’s thought to realise that October does this every time it starts on a Friday.)

Sadly, having more weekends in a month doesn’t make them any more frequent. The days of the week just plod along as normal. Despite appearances, we haven’t actually conjured up any more Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays. Even worse, the week still contains its most basic flaw: the Problem of Monday. But the 10:10:10 time-zone fiasco hints at a solution.

The Problem of Monday

The Problem of Monday is simply stated:

  • Monday exists;
  • it is universally hated;
  • there is one in every week, and it lasts a full 24 hours.

Fortunately the problem is easily solved.

The solution to Monday

Why does every week contain a Monday? The answer is simple: there is a Monday in every week because we persist in living the whole week in one time zone. Yet this is quite absurd in today’s world. When I log in to Twitter, I regularly converse with people in Australia (currently something like 9 or 10 hours ahead of UK time), the US (anywhere from 5 to 8 hours behind UK time), Scandinavia and mainland Europe (both currently 1 hour ahead of UK time). When it’s midday here, it can be anything from 4 am to 10 pm for the people I’m talking to. And even when the clock says it’s midday here, it’s not really midday: we’re on British Summer Time at the moment, so the clock says midday when the position of the sun in the sky shows that really it’s 11 am.

Now, when everyone was waiting for 10:10:10 to arrive, there were 24 hours’ worth of times for it to happen. And Monday is only 24 hours long. Given the wide range of times which 10:10:10 could mean, the beginning and end of Monday should be equally movable . . . If we can move them closer together by 24 hours, then Monday will be gone. Is this achievable?

It turns out that it is. We can completely abolish Monday merely by making an appropriate choice of time zone each day. In fact there’s even flexibility to build in specific requirements such as a longer weekend or a nice long Saturday.

Below are several possibilities. They all work on the same principle:

  • Between the beginning of Tuesday and the end of Sunday, periodically move the clock back by a specified amount, thereby making some or all of the days longer.
  • Arrange for these changes to add up to 24 hours.
  • At the end of Sunday, put the clock forward by 24 hours so as to both compensate for the added hours, and remove Monday from the week.

In what follows, GMT is Greenwich Mean Time, GMT+1 means 1 hour ahead of GMT, and so on. In each case, we arrange for our clocks to be set to GMT-12 at the end of Sunday, meaning that changing to GMT+12 will put them forwards by 24 hours and thus eliminate Monday.

Basic solution: equal days

This is the simplest solution to work out, but has some disadvantages. The main one is that although it makes the weekend longer, it only increases it by 8 hours,  from 48  to 56.

All we do in this solution is move our clocks back by four hours each day. After six days, we’ve moved the clocks back by a whole day. We’ve effectively shared out Monday’s 24 hours among the other days of the week, which are each 28 hours long. Monday is no longer needed, so we simply skip over it. Here it is in more detail.

  • Our Tuesday begins at what other people think is midday on Monday. Our clocks are set to GMT+12, synchronising us with friends in the mid-Pacific.
  • At midnight (our time) on Tuesday night, we move our clocks back four hours. We’re now on GMT+8, synchronised with parts of Australia and Asia. Don’t worry about the fact that it’s still light outside; as far as we’re concerned, it’s midnight. Other people will claim that it’s only midday. They’re wrong.What’s important is what our clocks say, not what other people say. Four hours later, our clocks reach midnight for the second time, and Wednesday begins.
  • At midnight on Wednesday night, we move our clocks back another four hours. We’re now on GMT+4. Thursday starts at what would be 8 pm GMT.
  • On Thursday night, we move our clocks back again. We’re now on GMT, meaning our Friday starts at the same time as everyone else’s.
  • On Friday night we move back to GMT-4. Our Saturday starts at everyone else’s 4 am, letting us get up four hours later than them.
  • On Saturday night we move back to GMT-8. Our Sunday starts eight hours later than everyone else’s, giving us time for a real Sunday lie-in.
  • On Sunday night, we first move our clocks back to GMT-12, postponing midnight by four hours. If we left it at that, our Monday would start twelve hours after everyone else’s, at what they call midday on Monday. But this is of course when Tuesday starts. Monday must therefore end as soon as it begins, to make room for Tuesday. So when midnight arrives for the second time, we make our 24-hour jump forwards from GMT-12 to GMT+12. This has the effect of removing Monday, and we’re back where we began: 00:00 on Tuesday, with the clocks set to GMT+12.

You might think moving the clock back four hours at a time is a bit drastic. Maybe it is. But it isn’t strictly necessary; all that’s required is that by the end of each day, the clock has been moved back four hours. So maybe you’d adjust it at strategic times during the day. For example just after the alarm goes off in the morning, to give you an extra hour in bed; then at the end of lunchtime, to create a two-hour “lunch hour”; then two hours at night so you can don’t have to abandon the conversation which was just becoming interesting. Or maybe only one hour at night, so you can add an hour to your afternoon tea break. The 28 hours of the day are yours to arrange as you see fit.

The supreme advantage though—present in all the solutions I’ve considered—is the timing of Tuesday, the day after Sunday. While other people are suffering Monday morning, you’re enjoying Sunday evening; while they’re having their Monday afternoon, you’re fast asleep because it’s the small hours of Tuesday morning.

The long weekend solution

Suppose, instead, you want is a nice long weekend (and still no Monday). This too is achievable, but you’ll need to nocturnal on weekdays and able to tolerate some rather extreme clock changes. In this version the four weekdays have their normal length of 24 hours, but Saturday and Sunday are extended to 36 hours each. The time zone settings for this option are as follows:

  • Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday: these all use GMT+12. Tuesday starts at what GMT people think is midday on Monday. Saturday starts at what they call midday on Friday.
  • on Saturday night (or at intervals during the day), we have to move the clock back by twelve hours. By the end of Saturday, it’s set to GMT. Sunday starts at the same time as for everyone else.
  • on Sunday night, we again adjust the clock by twelve hours, to GMT-12. We enjoy the extra twelve hours as we see fit, then when midnight arrives again, we switch to GMT+12, skipping over Monday and arriving at Tuesday.

Our weekend is now 72 hours instead of the usual 48, and runs from what other people call midday on Friday to what they call midday on Monday.

Or maybe you don’t much like Sundays, but you do want a long Friday in which to finish off your work, followed by a long Saturday in which to relax. In this case the pattern might be

  • Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday: clock set to GMT+12
  • Friday night: move back to GMT (gaining 12 hours)
  • Saturday night: move to GMT-12 (gaining 12 hours)
  • Sunday night:  don’t move the clock back at all, but instead move it straight forward to GMT+12, thereby skipping Monday.

Clearly there are trade-offs to be made. There are disadvantages as well as advantages to each solution. But what disadvantage can possibly outweigh the complete abolition of Monday, which is achieved merely by choosing an appropriate time zone each day?

(Ironically . . . this post was written on a Monday!)

A course in unapplied procrastinology

I intended to post this a few days ago, but . . . Well, you know . . .

A few days ago on Twitter I asked a friend how she was doing, and got the reply

I’m polishing my procrastination skills!

In case you don’t know, procrastination skills can in fact be polished to a very high level, as described in this Tove Jansson quote which I blogged about a while ago.

I found myself musing about how one acquires such a high level of skill in this area. What would a course in applied procrastinology look like? Would anyone every get round to registering? I suppose someone who was good at procrastinating wouldn’t, but then they wouldn’t need to do the course, would they?

Applied procrastinology sounds like hard work though, especially applied. Surely someone advanced in procrastinology wouldn’t apply themself to anything relevant to the task in hand. (See the Tove Jansson post.)

Well, I used to edit an actual course handbook for an actual degree course, so I know what course outlines look like. In fact, after a few weeks working almost exclusively on putting lots of different tutors’ course outlines into a standard format agreed with a university, everything starts to look like a potential course module.

What I came up with looked something like this.

Unapplied Procrastinology, Level 1

Aims
  • None
Objectives
  • For successful completion of the course, students will not complete the course.
Educational methods
  • See next year’s edition of this outline.
Course content
  • Anything unrelated to the subject, at the student’s choice; at least 80 hours should be wasted.
Assessment

Avoid writing 2,000 words each on any two of the following:

  • Procrastination and the concept of infinite future time.
  • “Put off childish things”—procrastination in the New Testament?
  • Global inactivity and the procrastinometrics of climate change.
  • Procrastination and its contribution to world peace.
  • Six months after their general election, political parties of the Netherlands have not got round to forming a government. The country seems to be doing quite well. How do the merits of procrastinocracy compare with those of other political systems?
Reading list

Any book which is either

  • more interesting than the course, or
  • at least 3 weeks overdue for return to the library.
 Non-reading list (July 2012)
  • Perry, J.,  Structured Procrastination (article)
  • Recent issues of the Closed Access Journal, unavailable via their  Twitter account. You should avoid reading at least six issues of the Journal.
  •  Five or more issues of the Journal of Universal Rejection; contents of back issues are listed on their website, where you can also avoid taking out a subscription.

Note that this is only a Level 1 course (appropriate to year 1 of a 3-year degree). At this level, merely failing to submit any work would be sufficient for a pass; for Level 2, students would have to submit actual evidence of having spent at least 80 hours putting off doing any work; and for Level 3, documentation would have to be supplied showing an ability to procrastinate over something genuinely important: a letter threatening legal action over an unpaid tax demand, say.

What’s worrying me now, though, is that some of those essay titles sound like quite bona fide subject areas. For example, procrastinometrics of climate change would focus on methodologies for assessing how likely governments are to take action, how far the inaction is likely to extend, how these conclusions can be expected to impact on climate models and predictions . . . Procrastination and the concept of infinite future time would focus on the psychology of procrastination, people’s attitude to their own mortality . . . Procrastination and its contribution to world peace would consider Let’s invade them tomorrow thinking, warlike legislation which ran out of time in parliament, and so on. It’s quite possible that procrastination has made a contribution to world peace.

Hmmm, maybe I’d better stop thinking about this before it gets any more out of hand . . .

Cake Wrecks

I came across this blog yesterday. Since several of the posts reduce me to uncontrollable laughter and laughter is generally a good thing, I thought I should share it with you.

It’s about cakes. Mainly, ineptly or unwisely decorated or constructed ones. Some gems you’ll find there:

(Links go to the posts, not necessarily the specific cakes—you’ll need to scroll down in some cases.)

That’s all. Put down any hot or cold drinks, ensure your mouth is not full, and visit the site.

“Greatest Hits of the Second Viennese School”

Recently I came across this. It’s . . . Well, what it says. A spoof advert for atonal music. Much of the humour comes from picking out entirely the wrong feature of a musical passage for comment—e.g. commenting on the tunefulness of a passage which consists entirely of harmony and orchestral colour, or the tenderness of . . . Watch it and see.

As a violinist, I particularly like “the virtuoso violin writing of Alban’s Violin Concerto In case you don’t know, the concerto starts with the soloist playing the four open strings. (By the way, you can see someone performing the concerto here. Oddly, the vibrato in the audio seems not to match his hand movements in the video.)

Actually the video is rather unfair to Schoenberg. And I quite like atonal music. So, here to redress the balance is a more serious one: an interview with Schoenberg about his paintings and his music, recorded in 1949.

Follow the “related video” links for more material, both serious and otherwise.