Thursday, 27 November 2014

Potterisation II - cliché becomes history

 Some people have said they can notice the inaccurate language and anachronisms while still enjoying films like, for example, "The Imitation Game". I can to some extent but I get annoyed because the language is just a symptom of the Potterisation syndrome. This goes deeper and involves over-simplification, sentimentalising, stereotyping and making crude.

 In this film it leads to a falsification of an important part of British and computer science history and, as several articles have pointed out, does not do justice either to a great mathematician or, indeed, to the whole Bletchley team.

Potterisation - The Imitation Game

 Why did "The Imitation Game" make me cross? I was looking forward to it and I find Cumberbatch a compelling actor. It was the American English that (no - correction) which (BrE) alerted me to what I will call the (Harry) Potterisation of British culture.

One of the Turing character's first lines is: "I could really use (something) right now." Oh no, here we go. Soon we have schoolboys at Sherborne School in the 1920s talking American English: "We are the smartest students in the math(s) class." (Ok, they drew the line at calling it "math" there and throughout.) But soon we have Keira Knightly's character saying: "I'm not going to be home all day fixing (yes, fixing!) your lamb"!

The saddest thing is (is) that most people loved it and didn't even notice that the characters spoke in a modern, americanised way in the 1920s-1950s setting. Globalisation seems to mean americanisation, starting with English-speaking countries. Vive la French attitude to culture and language: they may hold out longer.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

In Our Time - more on Melvyn

 Might have to give IOT (In Our Time) more thought. It is an important programme and MB deserves a lot of praise, in my book, for what he does. But science and maths don't really work on radio - still, history next week. Thanks for trying.

So Desperate So

  Give credit to Melvyn Bragg - he tried. To kick off the new series of "In Our Time" (BBC Radio 4) he tackled "e" or "Euler's Number". And he had three women mathematicians on his panel. But it proved only one thing to me: you can't really do maths on radio. You need a black- or whiteboard at least.

 He bravely tried to pin them down as to what "the number represented by e" was. The more they tried to explain, the more they introduced new ideas, complexities and longer equations, which we couldn't follow on radio. To cover this, they used "So" more and more often, sounding more and more concerned, if not desperate, to get the idea across and to pretend to logical argument.

 But - aha! moment - what came out was that it is all a pretence. You have to pretend certain things for maths to work. 1/3 seems exact but you can't represent it in an exact decimal: 0.333 recurring for ever! Or any number to the power of zero is one - what? Not in the real world, but you need to pretend it is true for maths to work: remember Lewis Carroll's having to practise believing impossible things before breakfast, almost like his creed?

When I suggested at school that maths might be based on pretence, I got a clip round the ear and a detention. Bertrand Russel got awed praise and a university maths professor brought in for him as a private tutor!

 Still, well done Melvyn. You did your best.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Reading Allowed

  Reading and its university must be the venue for many conferences. If there was ever one for newsreaders, I think it should be there and could perhaps be called "Reading Aloud", or "Allowed" à la BBC R4's "Thinking Allowed". I put down the poor reading for sense, and particularly word stress, to reading aloud more or less being outlawed in schools.

Reading Geographies

  Just re-Reading my friend Michael Cullup's poetry collection, "Reading Geographies". It is excellent and should be more widely known. I hope, at the very least, that every library and bookshop in Berkshire will order copies. And then beyond, the world!

Monday, 22 September 2014

Reading Poetry Festival (well, what else?)

  My nicest English teacher at school had BA (Reading) after her name. Why haven't the others got that, too, I wondered? And I applied to go there - should have, probably - they had some good lecturers, I believe.

Recently on Twitter there have been a few jokes about it and about the Reading Poetry Festival. I thought of , affectionately, starting a hashtag #universityoflyingaboutalldaywithabook. Sounds good to me but could be taken the wrong way.