Individually handmade

PizzaExpress At Home pizzas are individually handmade
Pizza Express (sorry, I mean PizzaExpress) claims its pizzas are "individually handmade".

This has got me thinking: is 'individually handmade' different to just 'handmade'?

Well, yes: I suppose it is possible to make pizzas by hand but in batches.

While I'm not surprised that pizzas in PizzaExpress restaurants are made both individually and by hand, I find it harder to believe that PE's 'at home' pizzas are prepared in the same way. What, no batch operations at all? That's quite something.

PS. I know I've written a lot of food-related posts recently. Normal service will be resumed in the new year...

Gender stereotyping on the Daily Mail website

So this New Year's Eve we're staying in and cooking some nice Moroccan dishes (rock and roll, huh).

My girlfriend had been looking for a recipe for Moroccan fishcakes and found a promising-looking one on the Daily Mail website.

She noted with disdain, however, that the recipe was located in the 'Femail' part of the site - which is coloured a nice pinky-purple - "because obviously cooking is women's work".

Food and drink section of Daily Mail website

James Brown buys UGG boots

Back in September I blogged about James Brown wanting to buy a sun lounger from me. The following month the deceased entertainer was after some asymmetric bars.

Unfortunately I couldn't help him with either of these requests - but Mr Brown has made at least one purchase this year, according to a blog I maintain at work:

James Brown comments on his UGG boots
Godfather of Soul? More like Godfather of Sole...

The grill can be used as a grill

One of the Christmas presents I received this year was a fantastic Sainsbury's 'Health Grill' (an own-brand equivalent of a George Foreman grill):

Sainsbury's Health Grill
Being a thorough kind of person, I read the instructions before using the grill and was amused to come across the following sentence:

The grill can be used as a grill and can cook a wide variety of foodstuffs.

Really - the grill can be used as a grill? And here I was planning to use it as a microwave...

What's behind the 'G' door?

I was in a North London pub this afternoon when I needed the toilet so I followed the sign upstairs.

The first door I came across had a giant letter 'G' painted on it. 'Ah,' I thought, 'this must be the gents.'

I was just about to open it when I realised that while 'G' almost certainly stood for 'Gentlemen', there was a chance it stood for 'Girls' instead.

So I had to walk down the corridor looking to see what letter was painted on the next door. It was, unsurprisingly, 'L'.

For a brief moment I wondered whether this stood for 'Ladies' or 'Lads', but then I realised I was being even more ridiculous than usual, so I retraced my steps and opened the first door.

I did feel a bit like I was on a gameshow.

All butter mince pies are not all butter

Gareth has sent in a festive question to The Engine Room:

I've just bought some 'all butter mince pies' which are very tasty but clearly not all butter. If they were all butter, they'd be a block of butter. What does this mean exactly?

I have it on good authority that it means the mince pies are made with 'all-butter' pastry (the hyphen seems to be optional). This is still confusing because butter is not the only ingredient in all-butter pastry; however, it is the only fat.

In other words, Gareth, your pie pastry doesn't include any other fats, such as margarine.

Back in 2007, when The Engine Room was only a few months old, I blogged about all-butter cookies. As that was the first post on this blog to include a picture, it's only fitting that I should share with you now an image of delicious all butter mince pies:

All butter mince pies from Waitrose
I've taken this image from the brilliant Mince Pie Club website, which is the sort of website I'd like to run when I grow up.

Anyway, enough rambling - season's greetings to you all.

Evening Standard: 'Two women killed and 47 injured on trip to see Christmas lights'

Here's the front page of today's London Evening Standard:

As you can hopefully see, the subhead reads: "TWO WOMEN KILLED AND 47 INJURED ON TRIP TO SEE CHRISTMAS LIGHTS".

This subhead strikes me as strange for two reasons:

  • It seems to suggest that 47 women were injured, when in fact 47 people - men and women - were injured.

  • If two men had been killed, I'm fairly sure the Standard's subhead would have been: "TWO KILLED AND 47 INJURED ON TRIP TO SEE CHRISTMAS LIGHTS".

    So why specify in the subhead that the two people killed were women? Is it somehow more shocking when women are killed than men? Look at it this way: if the two people killed had been children, the Standard would definitely have specified that.

Here's the web version of the story: Coach horror: Driver saved us from worse injuries, say passengers

Stopping one station at a time

One of my colleagues heard this announcement when she was on the train home yesterday:

This service will be only be stopping one station at a time due to adverse weather conditions.

Only stopping one station at a time... what, instead of stopping at two stations at once?

Three steps to a better press release

You want to submit a press release to a print or web publication - but how can you make sure it stands out? I asked a friendly news editor (well, the friendliest news editor I could find) for his advice. And here it is:

  1. Keep your press release short. Magazines and websites get swamped with them. If someone is interested and wants to find out more, they will contact you.

  2. Include an image – if nothing else, it will help the recipient to understand quickly what you are talking about.

  3. Know exactly who you want to target: which individual on which publication. Most publications will have a general email address for press releases but you are much better targeting a specific, appropriate person rather than using this.

Any more words of wisdom out there?

Skin cancer caused by 'ultra violent sunlight', according to

According to an article published on today, skin cancer is caused by "ultra violent sunlight":

Screengrab from Telegraph article
This one was actually spotted by Ed Yong and retweeted by my colleague Sue Proud - I just wanted to record it for posterity.

WHSmith £5 off... but £5 off what?

When I bought something in WHSmith yesterday I was given a voucher for £5 off my next purchase. As you might expect, there are conditions to using the voucher - it's only valid between 26 December 2009 and 3 January 2010, and only "when you spend £20 or more in store".

That's fine, but the list of exclusions in small print on the back of the voucher makes me laugh. The offer excludes all:
  • Mobile phones
  • CDs
  • DVDs
  • Games and consoles
  • Stamps
  • Tobacco
  • Gift vouchers
  • Phone cards
  • iTunes gift cards
  • e-books
  • e-readers
  • Book tokens
  • Theatre tokens
  • National Lottery products
It would be easier to list everything I could spend the voucher on. Um, stationery? Birthday cards? Books?

Maximo Park singing 'Liver Salts'

This weekend I was amused to learn that my girlfriend thought the song 'Limassol' by Maximo Park was about 'liver salts' rather than a city in Cyprus.

She has given me permission to mention this on the blog as long as I also mention that she never saw the song title written down.

And now I'm pleased to introduce Maximo Park singing 'Liver Salts' (the first mention of which is around the one-minute mark):

Ambiguous BBC News headline: 'Children's boss axed after death'

I'm not sure about the BBC News headline 'Children's boss axed after death':

Children's boss axed after death

So first the children's boss died, and then someone hacked at her corpse with an axe? Wait, no - it wasn't her death, and she was only axed metaphorically.

Even changing 'axed' to 'sacked' would have made for a better headline - and it's not as if two extra characters would have caused it to bust.

UPDATE - I've just looked again at the story on the BBC News website and spotted that the headline has been rewritten since I took my original screengrab yesterday:

Salford children's director fired after toddler death
So 'axed' has become 'fired' and 'death' is now qualified with 'toddler'. In addition, 'Children's boss' has become 'Salford children's director'.

Lorem oopsum

I spotted this Kids Company advert in yesterday's City AM free paper. Click on the image to see a larger version, and then have a look at the text panel in the bottom right:

That's right, it's a paragraph of lorem ipsum placeholder text. Oops.

Circle Line becomes Lasso Line?

Neil has emailed in to say:

I see the Circle Line is extending. It doesn't go in a circle any more - surely it should now be called the 'Spiral Line' instead!

Neil's referring to the Circle Line of the London Underground, of course. And apparently (at least according to the Evening Standard) the line is now being referred to as the 'Lasso Line' - hey, at least it alliterates.

The extended Circle Line on the London Underground, or Tube, could be called the Lasso LineThe Lasso Line?

A long time ago, in an ancient time

The voiceover on the current Ferrero Rocher TV ad begins:

A long time ago, in an ancient time

Surely most ancient times were a long time ago?

And while repetition can be a powerful rhetorical device, those two 'times' don't do much for me.

Earths every minute vs Suns every year

From a science feature in yesterday's Metro:

The largest known quasar devours the matter equivalent of 600 Earths every minute; the brightest known quasars consume the equivalent of 1,000 Suns every year

Wow, those figures certainly sound impressive. But I have no idea how many Suns every year make up one Earth every minute - or vice versa. So does the largest known quasar consume matter more quickly than the brighest known quasars? I assume so, but without looking up some figures and getting my calculator out, I don't really know.

Excuse the pun, but things like this matter.

Ghost forest

The website I work for is running a story about a contract to haul dead trees from Ghana to London and then on to Copenhagen.

The trees are being used in an art exhibition called 'Ghost Forest'.

Our content editor explained this to me by saying that the contract was to haul a ghost forest. Slightly confusing!

To make matters worse, I misheard him and thought he'd said that the contract was to haul a 'ghost florist'. That's an unusual load...

Goodcopybadycopy: 'Scenes from corporate life'

Being interested in language and working for a large company, I find it easy to relate to the 'Scenes from corporate life' cartoons that appear weekly on the goodcopybadcopy blog.

This one is my current favourite:

Goodcopybadcopy: Cartoons

BBC News: 'Thousands of Vicks spray recalled'

I like BBC News, I really do. But I did spot this recently:

Thousands of Vicks spray recalled
"Thousands of Vicks spray recalled" - shouldn't that be 'sprays'?

The headline on the story currently reads "Procter & Gamble recalls 120,000 Vicks nasal sprays" - but "Thousands of Vicks spray recalled" still comes up as a result when you search the BBC website.

Especially on the web, mistakes can be pervasive.

BBC News promoting unavailable content

So I was reading a Robert Peston blog post on the BBC News website when I spotted what looked like an interesting article being promoted in the sidebar:

Link in sidebar of Robert Peston's blog

Out of curiosity, I clicked on the link only to be confronted with this:

This programme is not available to listen again

First off, it was a radio broadcast rather than a words-and-pictures article or feature. Like many people I'm much more selective about what I listen to than what I read, simply because I find that audio needs a greater investment of time and concentration. In fact, I wouldn't have clicked on the link had it been clear that it led to a radio broadcast. So I felt slightly misled.

But much worse than that was the message that "this programme is not available to listen again". Why bother promoting it elsewhere on the site, then?

In fact, all the Beeb managed to do was take me away from a blog post that I was fairly interested in reading - in order to give me information on a radio programme that I had already missed, could not catch up on, and probably wouldn't have invested the time in listening to even if I was able.

Bacon, Bean et Garlic Soup

I was looking for a nice soup recipe just now when I stumbled across this on

Bacon bean et garlic soup
Yes, that's "Bacon, Bean et Garlic Soup".

So does the et lend a certain je ne sais quoi, or is it just ridiculous? Probably the latter, in my opinion - but it's a sad day when you can't have fun with language.

Wait a minute, I've just spotted another couple of examples on the same website:

More soups with et instead of and
What's going on here then? Am I missing something obvious?

MAN + Scania = Mania (or Scam)

A story we've been covering at work recently is the possible merger of truck manufacturers MAN and Scania.

One of our writers suggested that if they were to merge, the new company could be called 'Mania' - or 'Scam'...


The London Evening Standard today ran a feature on "multi-tasking beauty treatments" ('Party Season Pit Stops', page 36). One of the crossheads was rather ambiguous:


I'm a man, and the only thing I'm likely to pick up in the Post Office is a book of stamps.

Granted, putting the crosshead in caps (a trap that the online version avoids) doesn't help, but couldn't the Standard have run with 'post-work' or 'after-office' instead?

Access was denied after it has been already asserted

So I just tried to log into a certain program and got this error message:

Hitbox error message
"Access was denied after it has been already asserted." What does this mean? I can't log in because I've already logged in?

And surely the tenses are wrong too. Access was asserted first, and then denied, so "Access was denied after it was asserted" would make more sense. Or perhaps "Access has been denied after already having been asserted".

I'm still not sure what it means, though.

I'm planing a Barking facility

A couple of snippets of raw copy for you today, chosen for the interesting images they bring to mind.

First, a simple typo:

The proposed regional distribution centre is currently at the planing stage, but Morrisons is confident that the site, just off the M5, will be operational by mid-2011.

Is the distribution centre made of wood?

And then there's this:

Since January, the company has opened a 273,000ft2 Barking facility, invested in electronic proof-of-delivery technology and won several significant contracts.

A doggone Barking facility! I think that "facility in Barking, London" would be clearer...

Scraper + scoop + ladle = scrudle

On Friday, Metro ran a story about the Scrudle, a plastic device which is "said to allow cooks to seamlessly scoop up equal amounts of ingredients without any spillages".

It added:

Scrudle, which rhymes with strudel and is a mixture of the words scraper and ladle, was the brainchild of Margaret O'Callaghan.

A mixture of the words scraper and ladle? Surely that would be 'scradle' (or 'scraple') rather than 'scrudle'? So was there a third word contributing to the name - and if so, what? 'Stew'? 'Ooh'?

Fortunately the Mail Online (also published by Associated Newspapers) had the answer:

Described as a cross between a scraper, a scoop and a ladle (hence its name, a hybrid of the three), the Scrudle was invented by middle class housewife Margaret O'Callaghan, 65, at her suburban home.

Incidentally, it's surprising just how much media attention the scrudle has received in the UK. A quick search uncovered the following (in order of Google ranking, from highest to lowest):

I love the way the threw in 'spatula'... as if three implements weren't enough.

Why is the TV show 'SMart' called 'SMart'?

There's a long-running BBC TV show called SMart. It's about art and it's aimed at children. So why the name 'SMart'?

Well, obviously, the word 'smart' contains within it the word 'art'. So far, so good. It's just that capital 'M' that bugs me.

I would have gone for 'SmArt'. I can also see the argument for 'SmART' - or even just 'Smart'. But 'SMart'?

Perhaps 'SMart' stands for 'Super Magic Art' or something similar. Wait a minute, though, that would give us 'SMArt'...

So many alternatives!

The city of Derby, Iowa: population 131

The Wikipedia page on Derby, Iowa begins:

Derby is a city in Lucas County, Iowa, United States. The population was 131 at the 2000 census.

A city with 131 inhabitants! That made me laugh. Even St David's, the UK's smallest city, has a population of 1,800 (ish).

But then I dug around on Wikipedia a little more and discovered this: "In Oregon, Kansas, Kentucky, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa, all incorporated municipalities are cities."

So that explains it.

'No More Big Gaps'

No More Big GapsThe company behind the adhesive 'No More Nails', UniBond, also makes a foam filler called 'No More Big Gaps'. What a great name.

However while 'No More Nails' is a substitute for nails (in certain circumstances), 'No More Big Gaps' is not a substitute for big gaps.

Looking at it another way, 'No More Big Gaps' eliminates big gaps, but 'No More Nails' does not eliminate nails. It only eliminates the need for nails.

EastEnders and the 'Beale-L-T'

It looks like the Eastenders EastEnders crew has been having some fun with language.

The cafe in the BBC soap opera is owned by a character called Ian Beale. And instead of the traditional BLT, Ian's cafe offers a 'Beale-L-T'.

I've even managed to get a screengrab from the BBC's iPlayer as evidence:

Beale L-T

The Beale-L-T seems to include a burger, but I can't quite read that first word in brackets. Anyone?

Art criticism from Metro

According to Metro, a paper not renowned for its understatement, this portrait of Gordon Brown's wife Sarah "would struggle to make it on to the fridge door if it was painted by a three-year old".

Portrait of Sarah BrownI'm fairly confident that any three-year-old producing art like this would be acclaimed a genius.

(The portrait is taken from Carla Bruni's website, and was not created by a toddler.)

'On a scale of 1 to 10 where 0 is poor'

I've been on a training course called 'Managing High-Performing Teams' for the past couple of days. I've enjoyed it, and maybe I'll write some more about it tomorrow, but for now I just want to share this extract from the course materials:

Scaling: On a scale of 1 to 10 where 0 is poor and 10 is world class, where would you put performance today?

Is it possible to have 0 in a scale of 1 to 10? Or is it just that I'm not allowed to choose 'poor' as my answer?

Google Wave, turbulence and Serenity

So I'm all signed up with Google Wave after wangling an invitation out of one of my senior colleagues. It's fun to play with but I'm getting a bit tired of seeing this error message:

Google Wave error message about turbulence and exploding
Apparently the wording is based on a quote from the Joss Whedon sci-fi movie Serenity (which I haven't seen).

If you're on Google Wave too, you can wave to me at

Update 23/11/2009: And here's another Google Wave error message I've encountered, again inspired by Serenity (apparently):

Everything's shiny Google Wave error message

Headlines: 'Major massacres'

On Friday, I walked past a folded, discarded copy of Metro and caught the first deck of its two-deck front page headline. It read: "Major massacres".

This left me wondering what massacres it was referring to, and when exactly a massacre became a "major" massacre.

Later, I picked up a copy of Metro for myself and saw the full headline. It was:

Major massacres
11 at top US base


How long ago is 'a long time ago'?

How long ago is 'a long time ago'? The answer, my friends, is 2006 - at least according to my PC.

I've been uploading some video files to our publication's YouTube account. The videos are show reports dating from 2008, 2007 and 2006 - here's the full list:

So either 2006 is 'a long time ago' or my PC just can't count up to three...

'Nick Griffin, you f****** w*****'

Replacing swear words in a news story with a string of asterisks may protect the sensibilities of easily offended readers but it doesn't always aid understanding. For example, Metro's front page lead today begins:

British National Party leader Nick Griffin found himself in the centre of a racism court case today - in which he claimed to be the victim.

The far-right leader and North West MEP alleged he was racially abused by a driver who made threatening 'gun gestures' towards him and called him a white 'b*****d'.

But, while defendant Taquir Khalid admitted being at the scene of the incident, he insisted he shouted only 'Nick Griffin, you f****** w*****' and flicked a V-sign.

It's that final asterisked word that caused me problems. When I first read the paragraph I took it to mean that Khalid had called Griffin a 'whitie' - after all, it's an offensive term that begins with 'w', has six letters, and ties into the story's theme of racial abuse.

Of course, calling someone a 'whitie' would be as as racist as (or possibly even more racist than) calling someone a 'white b*****d', so admitting to it wouldn't be much of a defence against a charge of racial abuse.

Within a few seconds my brain had done the processing and come up with 'wanker' instead.

Incidentally, if Metro can give the first and last letter for 'b*****d', why can't it do the same for other swear words?

Grammar Girl: Swear Words in Text

Spelling: 'Sameday disptach'

At the weekend I went to order a particular product from the Amazon website. But I hit a problem: the product in question was available from a number of sellers, all of whom had almost identical prices, ratings and returns policies. I'd never used - or even heard of - any of the sellers before either. How to choose?

Well, the seller that was advertising its "sameday disptach" service ruled itself out of the running:

Company offering 'sameday disptach'
After all, if it can't spare the effort to spell correctly, how can I be confident that it will spare the effort to send me the right product, on time and in good condition? It's like the Panasonic logo says: "Everything matters".

Even the best finishers...

Frank Lampard Change 4 Life advertFootballer Frank Lampard recently appeared in an anti-obesity advert (pictured) with the caption "Even the best finishers need someone to start them off".

At a party yesterday, someone pointed out to me that this caption could be taken as rather rude. And yes, I believe it could.

Any other unintentionally smutty ads out there?

Wikipedia vandalism and old folks in Tolworth

I use Wikipedia quite a lot, and only occasionally spot acts of vandalism. But here's one possible example, from the entry on Tolworth (check out the final sentence - and click on the image to see a larger version):

Yes, it says: "I have been here and its not all that to be honest just a bunch of old folks".

Wikipedia defines vandalism as "any addition, removal, or change of content made in a deliberate attempt to compromise the integrity of Wikipedia". However on the same page it also makes reference to "unintentional vandalism". Huh?

Anyway, I'm not sure whether the Tolworth edit is deliberate or unintentional vandalism - or whether, in its own way, it actually adds to the article.

'I assumed that it was a suicidal note'

BBC News is running a story today about a French love letter in a bottle that washed up on a Cornish beach.

The man who discovered the bottle, Martin Leslie, is quoted as saying: "I assumed that it was a suicidal note that we came across."

Suicidal note: a note that tries to kill itself...

Bags of fun at Marks & Spencer

So Marks & Spencer charges 5p for each of its regular carrier bags, partly "to encourage customers to reduce the amount of bags they use".

Today I bought a few groceries at Marks & Spencer, and the cashier persuaded me to pack them in two small carrier bags "because they're free" rather than in one regular bag.

Go to Marks & Spencer and use more plastic bags!

Image courtesy of

My metrics tool is feeling optimistic

So the tool we use at work to track our website's page views is feeling wildly optimistic today (click on the image to see a larger version):

Click to see a larger version of the image
There's a clear weekly pattern, and when I took the screengrab at 3pm today we were on track to hit (or slightly exceed) the average for a Monday. Where the forecast of 50,000+ page views came from I don't know. Not least because it would be 14,000 page views above our site record...

Nihari is best eaten

So my local Indian takeaway has an interesting item in the 'specials' section of its menu:

Nihari £9.95

Lamb on the bone is slow cooked to release all its flavours making a rich, very distinctive curry. Best eaten.

"Best eaten"? Does that mean that the other dishes are best avoided?

Funny, but I've found a very similar description on another restaurant's menu - only this one ends with "Best eaten with garlic naan"...

A Generation Hat is Ignored and Scorned

I did mention this great typo on Twitter yesterday but I think it's worth recording for posterity on the blog. You never know, the Daily Express might get around to fixing it at some point:

Headline reading 'A Generation Hat is Ignored and Scorned'

Daily Express: A Generation Hat is Ignored and Scorned

2000A post may have at most labels.

Two things have annoyed me recently.

Firstly, the discovery that Blogger blogs can only have a maximum of 2,000 tags (or 'labels', if you prefer).

Secondly, the error message that Blogger gives you when you exceed that number:

2000A post may have at most labels.
"2000A post may have at most labels." Very clear.

Free translations, guides, books and, er, sex

I've been meaning to share these links for a while: Phrases: translations of useful phrases to and from any two of 14 languages - with a special focus on formal writing (business and academic). is also offering downloadable travel survival guides - but they don't contain any information on pronunciation, so in my view their use is limited.

Lit Drift: a website about fiction-writing, notable for its 'Free Book Fridays' - "the best titles in indie publishing for the low low price of nothing". Oh, you can also follow Lit Drift on Twitter. Somewhat surprisingly, the site is blocked at work:

The Lit Drift website is blocked because it falls into the category of 'sex'

Photo special: infer / imply

Today I took an online course on competition laws ('antitrust' to some of you), and I was pleased to see it contained this example of infer/imply confusion:

Caption reads: You should avoid using terms that infer power

Great photo too.

Workplace outing

Recently I overheard this piece of office humour:

Colleague A: "We need a workplace outing."
Colleague B: "OK - your magazine's gay!"

(For those who don't get the joke - 'outing' can mean either "an excursion" or "the disclosure of the undeclared homosexuality" (both OED). I'm not sure whether the former meaning is widely used outside British English...)

Leona Lewis attacked by fan / buck-toothed nut

So singer Leona Lewis has been punched in the head at a book signing. Here's the BBC News headline and intro:

Even if the man who attacked Lewis bought a copy of her autobiography and queued up nicely for a signature, I still think it's a bit of a stretch to assume he is a "fan".

The Sun, on the other hand, calls the attacker a "geeky bumpkin", a "maniac", "warped" and a "buck-toothed nut".

Cambridge: Home of Anglia Ruskin University

I spotted this sign while on the train to Ely recently:

Sign reading Cambridge: Home of Anglia Ruskin University

Cambridge, home of Anglia Ruskin University.

Wait a minute - isn't there another university in Cambridge too? I can't for the life of me remember what it's called...

The Nordics - and Scandinavia

A recent email from our CEO talked about "plans to sell our businesses in the Nordics". The Nordics?

I'd thought that 'the Nordic countries' and 'Scandinavia' were synonyms (if I'd thought about it at all), but it appears that the former term almost always includes Finland and Iceland, while the latter term often doesn't.

As Wikipedia says (referencing the brilliantly named Kenneth R Olwig):

"Scandinavia" has no official definition and is subject to usage by those who identify with the culture in question, as well as interpretation by outsiders who attempt to give the term their own meaning. The term is, therefore, often defined according to the conventions of the cultures that lay claim to the term in their own usage

The OED Online defines 'Nordic' (adjective) as "of or relating to Scandinavia, the Scandinavian people, or their languages", which doesn't really clarify the matter. I'm sure my Concise OED gives different definition, but I'll have to check when I'm back at work.

James Brown's latest request

As regular readers of this blog will know, a couple of weeks ago I received an email from James Brown wanting to know if I had sun loungers for sale.

Undeterred by my lack of response, Mr Brown has written to me again - and now he's after some asymmetric bars:

Spam request from James Brown

I'm surprised he isn't asking for a brand new bag to put them in...

Headline: Grant seals return to Portsmouth

Grant seals return to Portsmouth
I first saw this headline out of context - in a giant news ticker in the window of my local Sainsbury's supermarket. It left me wondering what Grant seals were, and why they had abandoned Portsmouth in the first place. Perhaps the water was too polluted?

It was only when I got home and Googled 'Grant seals return to Portsmouth' that I discovered the headline was from a BBC Sport story about Avram Grant's return to Portsmouth FC (as you can probably tell, I'm not much of a football fan).

The Turner Prize and Enrico David Enrico

On Monday the London Lite ran a short piece on the entries for this year's Turner Prize. Here's part of it:

Clipping from the London Lite
I feel sorry for the caption-writer on this one. David Enrico sounds a more plausible name than Enrico David (in my opinion).

At least the London Lite is less critical of the Turner Prize than the Daily Mail...

Word of the day: microperfed

The notebook I use at work is "microperfed", which I assume means it has tiny perforations.

To my surprise, the word throws up a respectable 25,400 results on Google (and that's not including variations such as "micro-perfed").

It's not only paper that can be microperfed - plastic bags and shoes are also microperfable. And, er, shapes.

I've just checked again and my notebook is actually a "jotta". That's the description, not the product name...

JD gets Wired

Wired magazine coverFor the first time since I was at school, I'm a magazine subscriber. I've been bought a subscription to Wired UK as a birthday present, and my first issue dropped through the letterbox today. I haven't read it yet, but it does smell nice.

Incidentally, the magazine (or rather, comic) that I subscribed to during my schooldays was Eagle. It folded in 1994. I hope I have a better influence on Wired...

It's 0 Aug 2009

Pete Docherty Doherty sang about the 32nd of December, but my web mail seems to be inventing dates of its own:

Website Failure Alert (NSFW?)

More correspondence, this time an email I received in my official capacity as web production editor. It was from our, um, "obscenity checker" at work. I'm assuming that's a program rather than a person.

Anyway, under the heading Website Failure Alert (in red, with initial caps), the email warned me:

Obscene Word: A word contained in our library of obscene words has been found on your web page.

The word found is bollocks.

Made me laugh certainly. It turned out that one of our reporters had used the word on Twitter; it had then made its way into an aggregated feed of all our staff writers' tweets and then on to our website's homepage. Whoops.

Or should I say, bollocks.

Press office

At work today I received a letter addressed to my publication's press office.

Press office? The website only has a dedicated editorial staff of two. Mind you, we're both press (technically) and we work in an office...

James Brown wants to buy a sun lounger from me

The Engine Room has received a great bit of what I can only assume is spam email:

I am Mr. James Brown and i am contacting you to know if you do have sun loungers for sale?I will like you to email me back if you do with the types and prices of the sun loungers you have,Also do you accept credit cards as form of payment?

I am looking forward for your mail.Thank you very much.

My Regards..
Mr. James Brown

The Godfather of Soul isn't dead - he's alive and well and wants to buy a sun lounger. From me.

And this isn't the first time I've blogged about sun loungers either...

BBC finally assumes people know what Twitter is

A few weeks ago the BBC News website ran a story entitled Hundreds on Armstrong Tweet ride. It began:

About 300 people have joined an impromptu bike ride with cycling legend Lance Armstrong after he issued an open invitation on a Twitter post

Interestingly, the story doesn't say what Twitter actually is. Until now, the Beeb seems to have felt the need to explain that it is a "micro-blogging service" (as in this story from April), a "social messaging network" (as in this story, from the same month), or a "social networking website" (as in this story, again from April).

So does the Lance Armstrong story mark a change in house style? Without trawling through dozens more stories on the BBC News website - which I may do if I get bored - it's difficult to tell...

Vetchlings, must and a bain-marie

I'm currently reading the historical novel Imprimatur, by Rita Monaldi and Franceso Sorti. It's enjoyable, but rather hard going in places. Here's an extract in which the narrator, a serving boy at a tavern, describes a meal he has rustled up for the guests:

I made a special effort and prepared a little broth with eggs poached in bain-marie, together with vetchlings; to which I added an accompaniment of croquettes of soft bread and a few salt pilchards minced together with herbs and raisins; and, to complete the meal, chicory roots, boiled with cooked must and vinegar. The whole I sprinkled with a pinch of cinnamon; the precious spice of the wealthy would surprise the palates and refresh the spirits.

'Vetchling' is "a plant or species of the genus Lathyrus; the genus itself" (OED). This genus includes the sweet pea.

I'm not sure what 'must' is in this context; possible contenders (again from the OED) include "the juice of freshly pressed grapes before or during fermentation into wine" and "any of several varieties of apple used chiefly for making cider".

I didn't know what (a) bain-marie is either, but I imagine that most of the readers of this blog will do.

Headlines: 'Brown book breaks record in hours'

The ninth headline down in this BBC News 'Most Popular Stories Now' widget caused me some confusion:

BBC News widget including ambiguous headline
What was this brown book, and why was it breaking records?

After a moment's thought, I came to the conclusion that it must be a book about (or possibly by) prime minister Gordon Brown.

Obviously, I was wrong: the book in question was Dan Brown's latest novel, The Lost Symbol. The cover does look fairly brown, though.

If the BBC cares about SEO, it really should include the title (or at least the name of the author) in the headline of an article about a book.

BBC News: Brown book breaks record in hours

Sky's professional standard install

Satellite TV company Sky had a promotional van parked in my local town centre today. Among the services and products being promoted was a "professional standard install". This could mean:

a) The standard install(ation) is professional. In which case, are the other installations unprofessional?

b) The install(ation) is of a professional standard. In which case, why is it not simply a professional install? Perhaps it's carried out by amateurs but to a professional standard...

What not to say in a meeting

At work, whenever I want to use an image on a web page, I first have to upload it to the database - at which point it becomes known as an 'asset'.

Recently I've been experiencing a frustrating delay between uploading an image and being able to place it on a web page. So today, at a meeting with the other web editors and some of the developers, I decided to get to the bottom of the issue.

It came round to 'any other business', and the woman chairing the meeting asked if there was anything that anyone would like to raise.

"Yes," I said, rather indignantly. "I'm having trouble with my assets."

I'm sure you can imagine everyone's reaction...

From the sublime to the Mr Pricklepants

News stories, in print and online, can catch your eye for all sorts of reasons. Absurdity is one of them:

A colleague of mine called me over to his desk just to share this Empire headline (and strapline/standfirst?) with me. I'm glad he did.

We didn't feel any need to read the full story, though.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee and me

I didn't blog yesterday evening because I was at the Science Museum here in London, listening to a talk by Sir Tim Berners-Lee - the inventor of the World Wide Web.

I've written about it for one of the Computer Weekly blogs, if you're interested:

Sir Tim Berners-Lee on the Web (past, present and future)

Overheard in the Newsroom

So I've fallen in love with a website: Overheard in the Newsroom. Unsurprisingly, it's a collection of "the best quotes overheard in the newsroom".

So many of the quotes I can relate to:

Reporter talking about the copy desk: “Has this desk ever seen this much action?”

Copy editor: “Last time there was cake… ”

I'm definitely going to be contributing, and hopefully making it slightly less US-centric.

Oh, here's the OHNewsroom RSS feed and here it is on Twitter.

Unforeseen circumstances beyond our control

An Indian restaurant near my office has closed down "due to unforeseen circumstances beyond our control and the current economic climate".

That suggests to me that the owners of the restaurant either foresaw the recession or have it within their control (or both). I just hope they've left the restaurant business to become economists.

Headlines: Gordon Brown ordered mission...

R Mason spotted this poorly written headline on the Times Online website:

Times Online screengrab showing amibiguous headline
She writes:

When I first read this, I wondered: why would a mission hold a journalist? Why would Gordon Brown give it orders?

(If you can't see the picture, the headline reads: "Gordon Brown ordered mission to free kidnapped reporter Stephen Farrell")

England is a place next to the Wirral

Here's a Multimap screengrab I took today:

Is it just me, or does this map make it look like (the) Wirral and England are two neighbouring places? You can find the town of England just east of the Wirral...

(For those who don't know, the Wirral is a peninsula in England, albeit close to Wales.)

Stammering and stuttering

I've just started reading David Mitchell's novel Black Swan Green, and already I've found a passage I'd like to share. The voice is that of 13-year-old stammerer Jason Taylor:

Most people think stammering and stuttering are the same but they're as different as diarrhoea and constipation. Stuttering's when you say the first bit of the word but can't stop saying it over and over. St-st-st-stutter. Like that. Stammering's where you get stuck straight after the first bit of the word. Like this. St...AMmer!

Is this really true? Maybe - but even if it isn't, it should be.

Juxtaposition: cocaine deaths / adult cot death

Sarah pointed out this recent Metro front cover to me:

Metro front cover from 27 August

The lead headline reads:
Cocaine deaths jump by a fifth

The headline above the photo of the teenage girl reads:
'Angel' who died in her sleep at 16

At first glance, Sarah assumed that the girl had died after taking cocaine. However the copy alongside the photo begins:

This is Kelly Blair, a bubbly teenager whose life was cut short when she died in her sleep. The 16-year-old, described by her parents as their 'special angel', is thought to have been a victim of adult cot death, which kills around 150 people in Britain a year.

In other words, the picture caption is entirely unrelated to the cocaine story.

Sarah would like to know whether the juxtaposition of the two stories was intentional or unintentional. I'm not sure. What do you think?

Names: Joy Rider

A couple of years ago, Apus wrote about one of our colleagues who had uncovered some interesting names while working on her family history: notably, Arthur and Walter Bottle.

That same colleague has continued her research and she recently stumbled across another great name: Joy Rider.

Interestingly, the Joy Rider in question was born in Kent in 1939, while the first recorded usage of the word 'joyriders' (or in this instance, 'joy-riders') dates from back in 1908 - according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The definition it gives is: "A pleasure trip in a motor car, aeroplane, etc., often without the permission of the owner of the vehicle."

The word originated in the US and I'm not sure whether it was widely known in the UK by 1939. I would suspect not, judging by this evidence.

Greetings to any Joy Riders reading this post!

Cook for 12-20 minutes. Maybe

Cooking instructions for a Morrisons 10" fresh vegetable pizza:

Cooking appliances vary. These instructions are given only as a guide.

Make sure that the food is piping hot throughout before serving.

Place pizza on a baking tray and cook in a pre-heated oven at 200°C, 400°F, Gas Mark 6 for 12-20 minutes.

The pizza is handmade and so probably doesn't conform to a precise shape or thickness - but 12 to 20 minutes? An instruction such as "cook until the cheese melts and starts to brown" would be more useful (to anyone unsure of how to cook pizza, that is).

Twitter evidence that GCSEs are easy

Evidence from Twitter that GCSE exams are easy:

Twitter trending topics from 27 August 2009
Among Twitter's trending topics a few hours ago were GCSE, A's, B's and C's - but not D's and E's.

Or it could be that there's a correlation between Twitter use and academic excellence...

Partner with Verizon. Why aren't we?

Slightly clunky wording in this advert for Verizon, as seen on

Computer Weekly advert for Verizon
'Partner' is being used as a verb here, so I would have opted for 'why don't we?' rather than 'why aren't we?'.

I wonder whether the fact that 'partner' can be a noun or a verb caused some confusion. Or was the confusion over tenses: present simple ('partner') followed by present continuous ('why aren't we [partnering])?

Lamb rag out

While I'm on a food theme, I thought I'd share with you an email that dropped into the Engine Room inbox a while back (OK, March 2008):

I was looking at our work menu today and found 'lamb ragout'. I was like: "Lamb rag out? That sounds awful - what's that?"

I was promptly advised it was pronounced 'ragoo' and I felt a bit stupid. Why ragout is spelt with a T I don't know - it's a waste of a letter and only causes confusion.

I suppose the 'T' helps differentiate ragout from RagĂș pasta sauce. Or Raghu, the Hindu King.

Cockney cash machines in East London

I was amused to read a news story today about cash machines in East London programmed to display messages in Cockney rhyming slang.

It's disappointing, though, that the cash machines give the entire rhyming phrase rather than just the first part of it: 'sausage and mash' for 'cash', for example, rather than just 'sausage'.

Mind you, dropping the first part of the phrase would make some of the messages indecipherable to the uninitiated. But isn't that part of the point?

The company behind the initiative, Bank Machine, "hopes to follow the Cockney cash machines with Brummie, Geordie, Scouse and Scots ATMs" and "keep these dialects alive in Britain", according to the Times article.

There's a lot more to a dialect than a few hand-picked, money-related phrases...

Savoury cheese on a soft white bap

As you can see, we have here a savoury cheese bap:

Savoury cheese on a soft white bap

Presumably it's savoury primarily in the sense of "pleasing to the taste; appetizing; agreeable" (OED).

For me, though, the first meaning of savoury is 'the opposite of sweet' - and as I would always expect a cheese bap to be savoury rather than sweet (without the need for it to be stated), the label made me do a double-take.

That probably says more about me than the bap, though.