Not left behind
Posted Oct 17, 2011
Well that was nice and easy. Transferring my account to the new world of h2g2 took six minutes. It would have been quicker, but I took my time to enjoy the journey.
And blimey - it's nearly seven years since my last journal entry, when I left the in-house team for this wonderful place. Let's raise a glass to the new owners.
And even more change
Posted Dec 14, 2006
Well that's that. The announcement is made so there's no going back now. As of January, h2g2 will have to do without my 'special' brand of humour as I'll be working with tapes and discs of material from the depths of the BBC Archives. It'll come as little surprise to anyone who knows me to learn that this is a pretty irresistable offer for me, so while I'll be leaving behind (officially) a site I've helped to develop during difficult times, I'm relieved it's for a project that seems speficially catered for my own rather odd obsessions.
I'm wracking my tiny brains to think of something that I can do for the Post, so I don't want to say too much here in case I can say it more economically with a cartoon.
And as I write, I can almost hear the voice of David Bowie singing 'Five Years'. I missed that particular milestone by two months. That means that from the second week of January, Natalie will be the longest-serving member of h2g2 EVER. I know I'm more the public face of the Italics, but Natalie's been at the heart of the team and helped us through some particularly tough times. I tend to get a lot of the credit (and a lot of blame, it has to be said), but we've been a brilliant team and the one consolation is that due to the unique way the BBC is desked, I'll still be sitting with the h2g2 gang for the first part fo next year, so I'll still be able to hear all the news from the site and hear her cheering on another great entry into the Guide.
The one annoying thing is that although the staff levels will be staying the same, the team won't have a permanet replacement for me (or, come to think of it, Beth) immediately so Natalie will be working with temporary team members for a while. So that it doesn't cause confusion, they'll be working behind the scenes on the editing, Scout recommendations and general feedback. It might feel like the Italics are a bit quieter for a while, but then that's also because I've tended to be a bit over-chatty at times
I've got an idea for that cartoon for the Post now...
Posted Oct 11, 2006
When I first joined the site as a member of the in-house team, we were encouraged to use our real names. As more work has been done on the perils of internet community living though, it's become clear that using a real name on a public-facing site isn't always a good idea. It can encourage stalking and even lead to your virtual self being defamed to startling degrees. Only a couple of years ago, I found myself on the receiving end of abuse from someone who'd never met me and was struggling with their own life issues when he encountered a post of mine that he took exception to. Soon, my work in-box became flooded with emails of abuse, accusations and veiled threats. A quick email to the BBC Investigation unit soon brought the matter to a close but it still left me a little chilled by the experience.
Second Life - the virtual community world - doesn't even let people choose their own surname on the site; you have free choice for your first name, but the surname comes from a list of available alternatives. It leads to an unexpected level of choices when you meet a stranger who has the same surname as you. Do you avoid them as you might at a party if you saw them wearing the same top as you (only carrying it much more stylishly)? Do you rush up and say 'hello cousin'? And how do you respond to people in real life who have the same name?
It strikes me as strange that people I work with have started to call me 'Jimster', despite the fact that it's not actually my name. I only chose that to differentiate myself from the other Jim on the team (the staggeringly talented Mr Lynn), yet now, people who've never even worked on h2g2 drop by and call me 'Jimster'.
As of today, I'm looking for a new online identity. Other people on here have done it and as a conversation at a recent meet-up taught me, it's not as if I'm spectacularly famous outside of the realms of the hardcore hootooers. So long as my name appears in bold italics, it shouldn't really matter what the actual name reads. So, here begins another experiment. See what happens now...
A Smaller Solar System
Posted Aug 24, 2006
So, scientists have decided that Pluto is no longer a planet [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/5282440.stm]. This afternoon, I edited our entry on Pluto - A387182 - and added a new paragraph to explain this foul treachery.
This ongoing battle between magic and science will never be truly resolved, simply because every time science uncovers new facts that take away a little magic from our lives, magic responds by coming up with something even better. Like why jam and peanut butter go together. Or ham and pineapple. Science can't explain that away - magic all the way!
In the meantime though, we're one planet down, when we could have been three more up. We could have all been sending in suggestions for a new name for object 2003-UB313. Personally, I would have liked to see it named 'Mavis', 'Sidney', 'Bill' or 'Sandra' - a nice, normal name that would annoy the astronomers who'd want to give it some awful portentous name like 'Icarus' or 'Ariadne'.
I do love the myseries of science and the focused dedication of scientists. I just wish, sometimes, their research could uncover something that felt more like magic for us mere mortals.
Never mind, Pluto. You'll always be a planet to us.
That and a yellow dog in Disney cartoons...
On the Art of Writing
Posted Jun 18, 2006
One of my favourite authors is the late Helene Hanff (A710056), who wrote the collection of letters '84 Charing Cross Road'. In her book 'Q's Legacy', she described her moment of revelation when she encountered the work of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, professor of English Literature, Jesus College Cambridge. His book 'On the Art of Writing' is an anthology of his lectures to his students and in one chapter, 'On Jargon', he spells out the difference between what one might subjectively call 'good' or 'bad' writing by presenting two sentences:
'He was conveyed to his place of residence in an intoxicated condition.'
'He was carried home drunk.'
The point he made in this lecture was that the first sentence was jargon and the second was good English prose.
As I read his view on the two sentences, I had to read it back again, as Helene explains she had done herself when she'd first read it. Surely the first sentence is a 'literary' sentence and the second just a bit bland? Surely the first sentence is an example of 'better' writing because more thought has gone into it?
But then Q went on to quote a former British Prime Minister who responded to a question in the House of Commons by saying 'The answer to the question is in the negative.' Quiller-Couch (known to one and all as 'Q') noted that the Prime Minister's answer just meant 'No'. Simple as that. 'Can you discover it to mean anything more.' he asked the students, 'except that the speaker is a pompous person, which was no part of the information required.'
For a project like h2g2, we encounter many writing styles. But I'd far sooner read something with the simplicity of the second sentence Q gave us than the complexity of the first. The second sentence tells us what we need to know; the first sentence tells us too much we don't need to know. Which is to say, some people are dismissive of those Researchers who prefer to write plainly and simply, but for me and the rest of the team, they're the kind of writers who reflect the style of our founder, Douglas Adams, who had the skill to write incredibly intricate sentences, but also managed to make us understand complex ideas through clear writing. His best jokes often worked through very simple use of language ('what's wrong with being drunk? 'Ask a glass of water.'). Similarly, the best h2g2 entries don't tell us more about the author than the subject; they break huge concepts down into parts, explain the issues simply, while using as few adjectives as they can get away with and only as many metaphors as are absolutely necessary.
... or even: 'Good writing should make us go "oh!" more often than 'Eh?"'