70 Comments
Mar 10, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

UK English teaching was awful in the '70s & '80s. Your Dad was right, Mr Dabbs. I know loads of people who had to re-educate themselves later on. To catch up on all the stuff they failed to tell us about! I learnt more about English from my French tutor than from 10 years at school. Bs for Eng Lang & Eng Lit 'O' Levels meant NOTHING.

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

I was lucky enough to have a family which loved the English language. Once a couple of them found out that I thought only French and German had nouns, verbs, and grammar (because those terms were never used in English lessons), they undertook to at least fill in the most egregious of 1960s/1970s English-language teaching failures....

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

I was at school in the 60s and 70s - normal primary followed by normal (tough) comprehensive - and I was taught English grammar and proper punctuation at both of them.

I've related the story before, but in my last or last but one year at primary school, the teacher asked me to show one of my classmates how to use full stops and commas, because...

"he'd written. A story and, had randomly. Inserted them. All over, The place."

To be honest, though, it would have been very easy to have left school and forgotten all about it - which I think might have been what happened with many people back then (certainly, with many of my old classmates).

Expand full comment
author

I was taught everyday English grammar and punctuation at primary school but I can't say we did much afterwards. I learnt more about grammar in Latin lessons.

Plenty has changed since the 1970s, of course. In particular, I remember being taught to insert a comma to indicate a pause when reading something aloud - as if commas were intended as some sort of respiratory instruction rather than a method of listing things or grouping subclauses that might otherwise be ambiguous.

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

Although I think I was well-junior-schooled in spelling, grammar and punctuation, I had no idea about a noun, verb, adjective until I was taught a bit of Latin at Grammar School. I scraped through Latin 'O' Level but I did pass and I am grateful because it helped me understand my native language (for the avoidance of doubt: English) and also French and Italian in diminishing order of ability. The pinnacle of this linguistic fluency arose in assisting a remote Greek restaurant in translating their menu into multiple languages. I will admit my wife helped a bit.

I also think that Latin logic helped me subsequently to code because of the benefit in getting clauses in the right/write order.

For some reason, probably associated with a similar upbringing by the cruciverbalist, Latin is also very useful in solving crosswords.

Expand full comment
author

Exactly. How can you get through life without knowing how to apply the ablative?

Expand full comment
Mar 12, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

I'll give you your ablative and raise you a gerund.

A noun I still don't understand.

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

Comprehensive in the 70s and 80s and I didn’t learn any grammar or punctuation… or anything else… but I have a strange fascination about repeating the same word in a sentence.

Imagine a pub called called the ‘highway man’ was taken over and the new owner researched the history and found out that the brigand was actually caught at the pub by a local boy called Andy. So the landlord decided to change the name of the pub to the ‘Brigand and Andy’ and commissioned a new sign. The job wasn’t great and he asked for a few changes, namely, “more space between brigand and ‘and’ and ‘and’ and Andy” - that’s 7 ands in a row! Sod the grammar and punctuation!

Expand full comment
Mar 11, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

I too was taught grammar and punctuation; semicolons hold no fear for me. We were even taught what an Oxford comma was.

I remember someone who had suffered through a school which used a "simplified" version of spelling, probably the "Initial Teaching Alphabet".

They said that things were mech easier when it came to learning French. The words in this fresh language matched the ones in books at home.

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2023·edited Mar 10, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

As a product of the English Public school system I must say our education in the English language was pretty good, however our foreign languages were atrocious, having 'learnt' French, German, Latin and Greek it came as quite a surprise to realize that a native speaker could not understand a word I said because I had not been taught the correct pronunciation. Unsurprisingly my grasp of Latin has stood me in good stead for learning the other Romance languages.

Expand full comment
Mar 11, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

What worries me is that you found a _native_ Latin speaker to talk to. Perhaps the Ouija board has an accent of it own?

Expand full comment
author

There are plenty of these in the Vatican. You can even withdraw money from a cash machine in the Vatican on which you can choose 'Latin' as one of the UI languages.

Expand full comment

Are there kids growing up with Latin as their native language, for real?

I always thought it was completely dead language, even in Vatican City... They really didn't teach me anything at school!

Expand full comment
Mar 12, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

From 'English Pubic School'..... to 'realize' ...... Please stand outside the Headmaster's Office.

There's a wonderful section in 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin' (the book) where a British secret agent parachutes into Cephalonia during WWII, clothed in traditional dress but speaking unintelligible classic ancient Greek.

Expand full comment
Mar 12, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

And therein lies the rub.

The more we rely on technology, even for such small things as a spelling check, the more we relinquish control, usually to our detriment.

I would never have made such an obvious error using pen and paper.

Expand full comment

Z vs S is more complex than the former being a US version and the latter being UK.

Often the use of Z is the only correct spelling in American, whereas both are actually acceptable in (British) English.

Z is the older spelling (often from the Greek roots), S is a Frenchified version.

Expand full comment
author

American spelling is how Brits used to spell in the 18th century before the revolution. The American 'z' is an enormous help for pronunciation. Non-native English speakers in the UK have great difficulty in knowing whether to pronounce a British 's' as 's' or 'z'.

By the way, Dabbs is pronounced Dabbz. I prefer the latter spelling too. Is it too late to get it deed-polled?

Expand full comment

The French use Z. A lot. Where it shouldn't be.

I always coach them to use V or D instead of Z for TH.

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

Some of my younger colleagues could read a long technical article on a screen with comprehension, whereas I had to print it out and scribble on it. OTOH, they were old enough to be impressed when I told them I started doing serious computing on a VAX running BSD UNIX bearing license number 2. FWIW, I had my first greengage experience a year or so ago, from a jam in a jar. I still don't know what they look like in the immature state.

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

Long chunks of code are a lot better printed especially when noting where problems are, if you are ever in a comms room look for the person with the notepad as they are the best for tracing things….

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

All too true, but maybe only for old farts like me (and you?)....

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2023·edited Mar 10, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

Young ones probably never had to review assembly code....

Expand full comment
Mar 11, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

No, but they had to go deep into CUDA...

Expand full comment
Mar 11, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

In Ye Olden Dayes, I was responsible for a product where the assembler source code was a pile of fanfold paper a yard deep, when printed at 8 lines per inch.

Grab the relevant module listing and a handful of 80-column cards to use as bookmarks as I coded changes in pencil on the listing.

Then go through and punch up the editing pack to apply to the source.

Once everything is working, apply the set of edits to the master and produce a fresh module listing to go into the pile.

Expand full comment
Mar 11, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

And of course you sported a slide rule on your belt (K&E or P&E) as you went through those motions. And hopefully a pocket protector on your shirt filed with pens and pencils of different colors.

Expand full comment
Mar 12, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

Nah. Just a pencil or two.

When it comes to coloured pens, I once did an experiment.

The support job involved multipart forms. Customer kept the top copy, so I didn't care what colour I used. I bought 4 pens of the same type - black, blue, red and green. Stuffed them in my inside pocket and pulled one out at random.

The black and the blue disappeared inside the week, "borrowed" and never returned.

The red and the green lasted me another six months.

Expand full comment
author

When I was sub-editor in the 1980s-90s, we carried not just 'depth gauges' to estimate the number of words in a column but also circular slide rules for calculating the enlargement/reduction of photos and illustrations.

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

They look like green plums - they are a type of European plum.

Expand full comment
author

They look like green plums. If you're not sure, pop in to a Waitrose.

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

…if I had green plums, I’d pop to the doctors not Waitrose!

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

And your local Waitrose is how many 100's km away?

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

Well, mine's about 5500km away....

Expand full comment
author

I just looked this up on Google Maps and discovered that my nearest Waitrose is in St Saviour, Jersey. Just under 900km away.

Expand full comment
Mar 12, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

Hah, you got me beat, apparently Waitrose products are widely available a mere 420km from me, in Gibraltar. I shall put Greengages on my shopping list for the next time I happen to be passing.

Expand full comment

My local Waitrose is about 500 years away from me in Norfolk

Expand full comment
Mar 13, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

They're not necessarily green...

Green, yellow or red. There's something wrong about a red greengage.

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

I remember a few years ago we had a power problem and ended up with all the doors to the building infrastructure open, the number of apparently intelligent people who were shocked to find that huge wiring cabinets allowed them to work, even worse was when we opened up the floor to find a faulty connector.

Mind you about 7-8 years ago I had a manager say they wanted the building without any wired infrastructure we had to explain that the ip phones didn’t work without power and certainly not over wireless…..

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2023·edited Mar 10, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

Ah, Alistair, you really do know how to press all of the right buttons for those of us 'who were there at the time'

It would appear that alongside not learning reading, writing and arithmetic, not learning how to use Google et al has become 'the next big thing' for the yoof of today. It will be interesting to see how LLM systems cope with people that can neither read, write nor speak in sentences.

The upside of this is, of course, that our talents (being able and willing to think) and knowledge (actually knowing stuff without needing an internet connection) will be eminently marketable commodities well into our dotages should we so wish, which is no bad thing considering the parlous state of our pension plans.

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

You're opening up a different can of worms with that Google comment 😁

I find that a huge number of people have 'heard' that Google is bad, and so refuse to have anything to do with it (at least two I've spoken with have tried to finger Bill Gates for it). So they apparently use social media to find things out instead.

And we all know how reliable that one is.

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

Gotta love Social Media, the blind leading the blind in the best of cases

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

B.t.w. Alistair DSOM is the best album of all time. bar none.

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2023·edited Mar 10, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

"Other tasks they find overwhelmingly challenging"

Hey, don't get me started on having to set up a Ring doorbell system (again).

It all began when I disabled UPnP on my router, because (I think) it kept telling the ports I'd forwarded to close down for some reason around the same time every day, and so my streaming birdbox camera stopped... well, streaming. That prompted the Ring system to go offline.

I was dreading it, because of how much of a faff it had been the first time. God, how I hate Wi-Fi devices. And I wasn't disappointed, because it was an even bigger faff this time, letting you get about 9/10ths of the way through the ten-minute long process (for each of the doorbell, and two chimes), before throwing up one of those chintzy 'Ooops' messages favoured by the modern generation that don't actually tell you what went wrong, just that something did. About eight times, in total, across three days because I couldn't be arsed and didn't want to be tempted to smash the thing with a hammer.

Simply hitting 'reconnect' is as useless as the 'Ooops' message, as it fails every time anyway, which is why I went for a complete reinstall.

FINALLY, the doorbell connected with no problems, the first chime after only four failed attempts, and the last one first time.

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

Been there, done that, albeit with security cameras, a PI ZeroW mesh network is your friend

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

I used to see the current Viscount Gage quite often when I was a teenager in the 1970's . At that time he was the Honourable Nicky Gage and was a slightly disheveled character, very posh but rather poor. He had a long time to wait before inheriting his title. His ancestor William, 2nd Viscount Gage bought the greengage to Britain.

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

My mum (mid-80s), my children (nearly 7), and my wife (somewhere between the two😁) are all terrified to do anything with devices for the same reason - ot might not do what's expected. Mum and wife (to a lesser extent) I can understand - they grew up with switches that did just one thing. There was a certainty to what would happen (light-switch in one position - off; opposite position - on). Now, with switches that do something different depending on how long you press them - some periods being very small (Kobo, I'm looking at you...), have no tactile feedback, do completely different things if another button is (or isn't) pressed, need constant monitoring of a screen to know what's happening, etc, they are afraid to break something if they venture outside the half-a-dozen basic things they always do.

(Maybe I don't help as much as I should - I've thought once or twice that "<Sigh> what have you done this time?" isn't the best way to build confidence!)

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

I say that to my mum and dad all the time, because they usually HAVE done something 😁

My dad is 94 and almost blind, but even when he wasn't, anything more complex than a toggle on/off switch was a challenge. Things got rather more complicated with the Tivo box and the remotes that come with those, what with dad's tendency to mash multiple keys at a time, and all.

As for my mum, I got her Sky Multiroom. It took years to get her to be able to use it, and then I upgraded to Sky Q - and it uses a totally different user interface.

Neither of them can get their heads around the idea of voice control (in dad's case, finding the button, and keeping it down while talking, then letting it go).

And mum somehow manages to change the TV input channel with some regularity by pushing THAT button on the TV remote by accident.

The irony is that when something goes wrong, they usually ask me what I HAVE DONE to cause it.

I often tell them I believe I must have been adopted 😊

Expand full comment
author

Ah, now: voice control. I cannot get this to work, in any system, on any device. It is available on all the computers, phones and tablets in the house, not to mention the Devialet smart speaker under the telly - but none of them will respond to my voice.

Except... when I am NOT speaking to it. I will be talking completely normally to someone or presenting online or whatever and kapow! one of the above-mentioned devices will spring into life and shout back at me unbidded that it did not understand my query and would I repeat it please.

On several occasions my iPad Pro has woken up when Mme D mentioned the name of our newspaper delivery man. Apparently, when she says "Cyril", it must sound like me saying "Dis Siri..." But of course if I actually say "Dis Siri", I can get fuck all response out of the fucker.

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2023·edited Mar 10, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

I have a similar problem with those stupid call handling menus that banks use.

The slightest draught of air over the microphone seems to make it hear something else, even if it understands me. I hope they never listen to any of my recordings, because there are quite a few profanities in there, believe me.

Expand full comment
Mar 11, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

Whatever you do, don't get a new car then!

Cascaded voice control.

e.g.

"Hey Jeep! ... Alexa ... play 'The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte' by Sparks."

What dystopian world have we created?

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

Youths seem to have lost curiosity about how things work. My eldest - still teen - daughter works part-time as 1st-line IT support for a big company that gave her specific training and is quite proficient in helping users doing their jobs, knows how to handle VPN errors, ActiveDirectory configurations and whatnot.

But outside work she couldn't even use our home networked printer without my help... it just needs connecting without additional authentication!

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

"I had, myself, been born in the official final year of the Baby Boom" ah me too... My dad was an English major, and French minor at University. I may not know all of the names for all the tenses and corresponding rules, but I sure as hell know when someone "got" a "klinker" in their sentence🙄

My boy is going on 13, (don't get out your calculators, I was 46 when he was born) and was the one to show me how to make a new folder in iOS... Perhaps he'll not contract the Why Syndrome?? And I doubt he's heard a song that was released after 1990...

Expand full comment

Hah. I made a point of introducing mine to Flanders & Swann at an early age...

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

If you have young children and have not introduced them to the wonders of Pink Floyd you are doing them a disservice

Expand full comment
Mar 11, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

He's quite versed in PF... And the Eagles, Creedence and he loves the Blues Brothers Movie!

Expand full comment

My granddaughter wandered into their kitchen singing "...and squeeze you, Till my arms fall off"

Her mother asked what the song was:

"John Lee hooker".

"Your grandfather's influence, I suppose?"

I feel so proud.

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

Recently, I was helping a young ("less than 25-year-old") colleague by means of a remote Teams session and I realised (heard) she was typing capitals using the Caps Lock as a toggle, i.e. <Caps>A<caps><Caps>L<caps><Caps>P<caps>ha to get ALPha.

I was shocked/surprised/bemused in equal measure. So I asked how she entered ! $ % and she explained that she used the 'big key' on the right of the keyboard, i.e. the right shift key. A quick explanation later and she was blaming the keyboard for not having Aa Bb written on the keys to help her! But ultimately happy to have learnt this 'new hack' from me....

On reflection, it is not surprising if you've grown up typing on an 2" wide iPhone keyboard. The idea of pressing two keys together even with the dexterity of small fingers (let alone touch-typing!) means tapping 'lock-letter-lock' is much easier and more reliable and something I should use....

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

I grew up in Scotland and being called ‘a tube’ was an insult (I think it had something to do with a man’s dangly bits), we’d shout, ‘Oi, you tube!’

When my boss asks me to watch some patronising micro learning training video, which I know I won’t learn anything from, I still go “you tube!” …but he thinks it’s a question and replies, ‘no it’s on our LMS’ - the tube!

Expand full comment
Mar 10, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

Oh hell. By the time I’ve explained that in my day I’d buy hardware and physically assemble it into a working system with nothing more than a Philips screwdriver and a few hours of time required to setup the operating system it’s clear that the dumbification (yes, I’m making up a new word aged 52) of IT has a lot to answer for.

‘Friendly’ error messages on the screen, user interface decisions that change physical layouts into similar but dissimilar layouts of physical keyboards, or Sky Q and Powerline devices that take my 30+ years of experience and make me feel like that ‘It’ll just work’ statement I made just before I started setting things up wasn’t the smartest thing I’d said that day.

To generations of users who just buy a new phone when they run out of room for their 100’s of apps, or can’t devote time to cleaning up their 9,000 photos, or understand the difference between free 5GB storage in Apple iCloud and your local phone storage which has 25GB free space but cannot send more photos to iClouds because it’s full. These are the people who haven’t had to make do and mend, or deal with hours of troubleshooting, so their attention is drawn elsewhere and their knowledge is more Love Island than WiFi standards, or unclear understanding why an iPad stops syncing with a Fitbit even when they are within feet of each other.

Expand full comment
Mar 12, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

You say "Subsequent updates on the Xerox Alto concept over the remainder of that decade added a mouse as a pointing device ..." but https://history-computer.com/xerox-alto-guide/ and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xerox_Alto agree with my recollection that it had one from the start. I'm interested if you're sure? PS The Ethernet might well have been an add-on.

Expand full comment
author

I am not convinced that the 1973 original Alto had a mouse or a GUI. But I may be conflating the two, not really imagining why anybody would invent a mouse to use with a command-line computer.

Expand full comment
Mar 12, 2023·edited Mar 12, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

According to Wikipedia the mouse actually predates the '73 Alto by at least 5 years so it's not outside the bounds of possibility that the Alto had one on release although that is not specifically stated in the article.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computer_mouse

Expand full comment
Mar 13, 2023Liked by Alistair Dabbs

It wasn't a command-line computer. It was famously the first WYSWIG computer. There's another description at https://www.righto.com/2016/06/y-combinators-xerox-alto-restoring.html of the restoration of an initial model. It also includes a link https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/research/publication/why-alto/ to a memo written in 1972 by Butler Lampson that explains how graphics is important.

Expand full comment

Got to agree about Printers being the worst, they always have been. Great honking dot matrix ones that you had to feed paper (or payslips, carbon paper) etc

Inkjets that continuously block.

Modern ones that do absolutely everything, except you need to login to the damn things with your very long user name and password to "pull" the document from some cloud, even though you only sit a few feet away from.

The only ones I liked were the mid-era LaserJets (4, 5) that just got on with doing the job, relatively quickly and quietly.

Expand full comment