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2D: English’s quirks

The English language has very many strange quirks – some derived from the influence the languages of many different invaders over many millennia, others derived from rather more recent influences. I’ve chosen two articles to illustrate this.

The first is this article from BBC News which discusses the origins of one of my least favourite hackneyed metaphors: that of “battling” cancer. Their short but interesting discussion tracks this back to Richard Nixon’s “war on cancer”, but the fact that the BBC is discussing this use of language at all is almost more interesting than what they have to say.

The second article on language is almost a decade old, but only came to my attention very recently. It was written by Jack Winter for The New Yorker, and is called “How I Met My Wife“. To avoid spoiling the linguistic surprise, I’ll say no more than that!

2D posts appear on alternate Wednesdays – except the Wednesday in two weeks, which I’m skipping because it’s New Year’s Day. For 2D, I pick two interesting articles that look at an issue from two different – though not necessarily opposing – perspectives. I hope you enjoy them!

This 2,094th post was filed under: 2D.

2D: Communicating science

Communicating scientific findings to a wider audience is a tricky – but nonetheless important – business.

Writing in Prospect, Michael Billig reckons he knows why academics can’t write: it is, apparently, a problem of big nouns. I think he has a point (his comparison between academic-speak and management-speak certain, and his article is also very funny in places – it’s well worth a read.

But what’s it like if you do a good job at communicating the messages of your research, and end up being invited to do the media rounds to talk more about it? Katie Haighton’s post on the Fuse Open Science Blog gives a fascinating insight.

I think these two articles make a brilliant pair!

2D posts appear on alternate Wednesdays. For 2D, I pick two interesting articles that look at an issue from two different – though not necessarily opposing – perspectives. I hope you enjoy them!

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2D: Apple (again)

Published a fortnight ago, my last 2D post offered two articles about technology giant Apple. With an originality rarely surpassed by this blog, today’s 2D post is about… Apple.

Having come across two more brilliant articles about the company in the last couple of weeks, I didn’t want to deny you the pleasure of reading them simply because I’ve done something similar recently.

My first selection today is this recent Guardian article by their technology editor Charles Arthur. He makes the point that while the Apple Maps app is often a source of ridicule, within the US at least it appears to be winning the long-game, with Google Maps losing millions of users to Apple’s version. It’s one of those interesting articles that explains why the cultural narrative around a certain story borders on counter-factual.

My second selection is this article from The New York Times published last month, and written by Fred Vogelstein. It’s been pretty widely shared, but I only got round to reading it last week. It’s a remarkable account of the development of the iPhone, and – perhaps most interestingly – the development of the iPhone’s launch announcement, and how buggy the iPhone was at the point it was announced. It’s a remarkable tale.

Next time round, I promise you something that’s not Apple…!

2D posts appear on alternate Wednesdays. For 2D, I pick two interesting articles that look at an issue from two different – though not necessarily opposing – perspectives. I hope you enjoy them!

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2D: Apple’s tech breakthroughs

A couple of weeks ago, Apple announced the iPad Air. You probably noticed some of the extensive media coverage which always follows Apple’s carefully choreographed product announcements these days.

One thread that’s often spun after the announcement of a new Apple product is “Apple isn’t what is used to be under Steve Jobs”. I could’ve chosen any number of articles following any of Apple’s recent product launches to illustrate this point, but Hartmut Esslinger’s piece for Time magazine is a particularly fine example:

The company already has fallen back toward a marketing-driven strategy, not an innovation-driven one. What we’ve seen from Apple since Steve Jobs passed away implies that Apple largely may be done innovating in any groundbreaking fashion. It’s all been refinement since then.

But are these claims true? Amusingly, Harry McCracken in a different edition of the very same magazine says not:

The golden age of Apple never existed. Steve Jobs didn’t change the world every two years like clockwork, and he was incrementalism’s grand master. For every great leap forward Apple ever made, it accomplished at least as much through small steps that made its products easier, faster, thinner, lighter, more polished and/or more useful. Tim Cook has been CEO of Apple for only a little over two years, so there’s nothing deeply troubling about the fact that he hasn’t boiled any oceans yet.

I personally find Harry’s argument the more convincing of the two, but perhaps you will disagree. If you get chance, it’s also worth watching Doug Aamoth’s video at the bottom of Harmut Esslinger’s article – it’s a rare example of a self-consciously amusing technology video that actually made me laugh.

2D posts appear on alternate Wednesdays. For 2D, I pick two interesting articles that look at an issue from two different – though not necessarily opposing – perspectives. I hope you enjoy them!

This 2,079th post was filed under: 2D, , .

2D: Religion & stuff

I think this is probably the most tenuously linked pair of articles I’ve chosen for my 2D posts to date, but both are great reads nonetheless… The link I’m claiming is that both discuss religion in somewhat unexpected places.

The first is Ian Leslie’s recent piece for New Statesman, in which he makes a somewhat convincing argument that everyone should wear a veil when appearing in court. It’s a great example of subverting expectations on a subject and revealing fresh insights in the process.

The second was written by one of my public health colleagues in the North East, Avril Rhodes, for the Fuse Open Science Blog. It describes the curious similarities between community outreach events run by the church, and those run by academics. This is a great example of an article that made me view things from a slightly different angle, and perhaps consider them a little differently.

So… the connection between the two might be stretched to breaking point, but they are both worth a read, and both tickled my brain!

2D posts appear on alternate Wednesdays. For 2D, I pick two interesting articles that look at an issue from two different – though not necessarily opposing – perspectives. I hope you enjoy them!

This 2,075th post was filed under: 2D, , , , .

2D: BuzzFeed

BuzzFeed is the incredibly popular site that combines humans and computer algorithms to curate viral content from across the web. It is not uncontroversial, receiving accusations of plagiarism on a reasonably frequent basis. But it is not the ethics of the site that my two chosen articles discuss this week.

The first article, by Eliana Dockterman at Time magazine, has the rather lovely title: How the news got less mean. It isn’t a long article by any means, but it discusses the interesting influence of social media and viral trends – as curated by BuzzFeed – on the type and tone of modern journalism.

The second article, by Mark O’connell at The New Yorker, also has a brilliant title, parodying those that often appear on BuzzFeed: 10 paragraphs about lists you need in your life right now. It discusses the impact of list articles, or “listicles” (ugh), on journalism.

So: two articles essentially discussing two different ways in which BuzzFeed affects journalism. The conclusion appears to be that the future of journalism is snappy and happy. This isn’t all bad news. But I am glad that there are those who also see the future in longform in-depth journalism, and even innovation in the sector, from approaches as diverse as Matter and NSFWCORP, and everything in between. But that discussion is probably for another day…

2D posts appear on alternate Wednesdays. For 2D, I pick two interesting articles that look at an issue from two different – though not necessarily opposing – perspectives. I hope you enjoy them!

This 2,071st post was filed under: 2D.

2D: Working late

My last 2D feature was on being late… and this one continues the theme of “lateness”. I hope you won’t conclude that I’m obsessed!

My first recommended read on the topic is “Oh, stop your whining!” by Jean Adams on the Fuse Open Science Blog. Unlike my usual 2D selections, it’s not a long article. But Jean’s reflection on her own changing perceptions around people’s work:life balances made me reflect on my attitude.

I think, like many people, this is something I struggle with to some extent. I don’t feel I overwork (at least not very often), yet I frequently stay in the office until late into the evening or arrive early in the morning, I frequently read and respond to work emails at weekends and on holidays, and struggle to say “no” to anyone offering extra work.

I don’t expect others to do the same. In fact, one of the pleasures of catching up with work out of hours is the lack of distraction, and the fact that I can reply to emails without them bouncing straight back. If everyone did the same, it would be far less satisfying!

Occasionally, I’m given cause to reflect. I recently got annoyed at someone who, when realising I was on holiday, refused to continue an email conversation. When someone called my view of time off “abstemious” – as a compliment, I think – it played on my mind. And when I saw Jean’s post, I wondered again about my work:life balance.

I rationalised, as I always do, that if I’m happy then the balance is good. But perhaps an occasional pause for reflection on the topic is no bad thing.

My other selected article on this topic looks at working “late” from a slightly different perspective: in the New York Times, Steven Greenhouse writes “Working late, by choice or not” about those working beyond the typical retirement age in the United States.

I was particularly struck by the story of Dr Rafael Garza, who is still doing ward rounds at the age of 87… having moved to a new specialty at the age of 74. I suppose that if I’ve still got (at least) sixty years to go in my present career, I’ve got plenty of time to work out the best work:life balance…!

2D posts appear on alternate Wednesdays. For 2D, I pick two interesting articles that look at an issue from two different – though not necessarily opposing – perspectives. I hope you enjoy them!

This 2,067th post was filed under: 2D, , , , .

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