Mother tongue

30 11 2011

A modern-day Rosetta Stone. photo credit: Andrew Curtis

One of my mother’s favourite sayings as I was growing up, was “I learned my English in England – where did you learn yours?” This was rolled out whenever we had a dispute about pronunciation of words.

As ten pound POMs (a program whereby English immigrants got passage to Australia for ten pounds), my mother was vigilant to ensure that my pronunciation remained unsullied. The thick Brummy accent I had as a five-year old rapidly moderated to a relaxed Australian twang once I started school. Although being South Australian, it is a fairly clipped twang, not a broad Steve Irwin twang. But my pronunciation of certain words meant I stood out as an immigrant. I usually get picked up on “one” (I pronounce it won, not wun) and “year” (I pronounce it yerr, not yee-ar).

Several decades earlier my Irish grandparents had a rougher time in their migration to England. Grandad had to lose his accent in order to get a job. People with Irish accents could not get a job in England. My grandmother had small children and didn’t work in Britain so she never lost her accent, but her children were all brought up to have minimal and somewhat undefined accents. My grandparents were determined that their children would not be discriminated against because of the way they spoke. To this day it is difficult to pick where my mother and her brother and sisters come from – they have indeterminate accents. My grandmother meanwhile continues to have such a delightfully thick brogue that I have to translate her for my step-children. My children seem to have adapted to the brogue quite well – perhaps it is in the genes.

Learning French at school we heard about Alliance Francaise, an organisation dedicated to ensuring the purity of the French language, They were particularly vigilant against American slang creeping into the French language – weekend, hamburger – but it has to be said they are probably fighting a losing battle. Language evolves with each generation. The language of the 1920s, 1950s, 1980s and now is all quite different. As we become more globalised, languages cross borders more easily and become hybridised. And this is as it has always been. The English language is a hybrid, with words reflecting the history of the British Isles. The origins of many words come from Viking, Norman, Anglo, Saxon, Roman invasions, reflecting the stages of societal development and the inventions that each invasion brought to the Island.

Despite understanding the hybrid nature of our language, I have found myself correcting my children recently on their Americanisms (“We are Australian!”). I stress this is not about being anti-American, but it is about resisting cultural imperialism represented in Hollywood movies and television programs in an effort to maintain Australian English. We Australians like to be individuals (despite the fact we haven’t quite managed to become a republic yet.) A few of my favourites….

They are cupcakes, not muffins. (English muffins are an entirely different thing again)
They are biscuits, not cookies.
It’s Father Christmas, not Santa Claus.
It’s zed, not zee (even though it means the alphabet song doesn’t rhyme at the end)
The pronunciation of the letter “h” is aitch, not haitch.
There is no Australian translation for the word turducken, nor should there be.

My obsession has also extended to computer settings – I habitually changed the “z” to “s” in words such as socialise (not socialize). And I object to adding extra syllables to words to turn them into verbs – for instance, the word burglarise (or burglarize). It is just burgle, there is no need for the extra syllables. What does a burglar do? He or she burgles. The latest version of the Microsoft Australian English dictionary is not too bad (note to WordPress!), but occasionally errors creep in and I am vigilant!

Viva la France!





Yoga – an update

29 11 2011

Sun salutation (I believe this section is the downward facing dog - I can do this bit of it) However this is not me! Photo credit Moobs

I wrote recently about my experience as a novice in yoga. Unfortunately I have been a sporadic attendee for various reasons but managed to get there again a few times recently. I am still very much a beginner, but as well as the benefits of stretching and exercise, I am learning things about myself. What I am learning is….

1. I cannot coordinate breathing and movement. (and yes, I can walk and talk at the same time)

2. I have a two-second memory span for instructions such as “do this on the inhale and that on the exhale”. Two seconds later I can’t remember which one I do on inhale. I think this is because of the enormous concentration reserves required for me to coordinate breathing and movement (see point 1) Again, this is not what I am normally like, I hold down a good job and study at the tertiary level. Why can’t I remember when to breathe in?

3. Yoga people tend to be slim because otherwise your “extra tyre” gets in the way of bending. It is more than just flexibility.

4. Yoga is much more that the pretzel-like poses that are usually advertised (thank goodness). Halfway-getting the pose has benefits as well.

5. Some parts of yoga are very similar to pilates-type exercises. It is also similar to the stretches my Exercise Physiologist recommended, and I suspect there are elements of the Alexander technique as well. Very holistic.

6. A decent pedicure is very important…. or at least fresh toe-nail polish.

7. It’s actually not that easy to empty your mind and concentrate. Given some quiet time my brain tends to mull over issues….not focus. (see points one and two above)

8. Yoga is fun when you are doing it with other people of similar age and skill level (OK, I flatter myself, they are all more practiced than me, but we are still the beginners class).

9. Not being able to do things is not a problem when you can laugh. And this is a class with lots of laughter.

10. It is possible to fall asleep during certain exercises, particularly if you had a disturbed night’s sleep the night before. However, you may not be the only one. Try not to snore.

One final last thing – I suspect I am progenitor of the most ungainly sun salutation ever seen.

Clearly I need more practice!





Food for thought: Mindfire

27 11 2011

I recently bought a Kindle and rapidly realised I needed to have a WiFi modem in order to be able to download books onto it. OOPPPSSS!!!! I don’t have one. I have a plug-in modem so I can keep tight control over who is accessing the internet when and why. Welcome to Stalag 13. (If you don’t understand that reference…..well you missed a great TV program!)

Since the Kindle has a cord that plugs into the computer, I am not sure why this is – possibly user-error. If anyone knows the answer, please leave instructions in the comments section of this blog. Thanks. Meanwhile if you see me sitting on the neighbour’s front porch with my Ipad, I am hijacking their Wifi connection.

Meanwhile, I happen to have Kindle-reader on my Ipad so I have been indulging my love of reading by purchasing some cheap Kindle books. I think it has made me more adventurous in my book-purchasing because if I buy a book that turns out to be a dud – well it was only a few dollars instead of $30, and I can always download another so I am not without reading material. (For those without Ipads, I believe you can get Kindle-reader for computer as well. Not quite the same as curling up in bed with your Ipad…sorry, good book, but an option to consider.)

I happened across one which was recommended by WordPress (the blog host).

Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds

This book, based on a blog by Scott Berkun, is really interesting. Set out in short chapters, it retains the joy of the blog – a complete thought or idea contained in a short amount of words. A thing of beauty really. (He justifies the brevity of the chapters in Chapter 6: There are two kinds of people: Complexifiers and Simplifiers. The chapter is short because he is a simplifier.)

As well as appealing to my short attention span and brief amount of reading time available, it also contains a lot of really interesting ideas.
– How to be a free thinker.
– How to detect bullshit.
– Dr Suess and Wicked Constraints.
– Why Smart people defend bad ideas.
– The cult of Busy
– Why the world is a mess.
– How to make a difference.
and loads more.

The great thing about this book is it builds on little kernels of ideas that might occurred to you but builds them into proper fully-formed logical thoughts. And it makes you think more. Chewing gum for the mind.

So if you are looking for something that is well written, easy to read, and thought provoking, maybe this is your book. It may make you thik about your assumptions.

And in my dreams, I write a blog like this. Please stay with me while I get there!

If you liked this post you might also like Read-a-holic.





Who are you?

26 11 2011

OMG - do I know you? Photo credit Polycart

I have a shocking memory for names and faces.

I can remember people in context, but out of context….welllllll……..

The worst place for this is shopping on the weekend.
1. It’s the weekend. I have turned my brain off.
2. If you are someone I know from work or from the children’s school – well, it’s the weekend, I don’t usually see you on the weekend.
3. You are probably dressed differently and somewhat less groomed (not a judgement, just a fact). You are unrecognisable (see how I turned that around and made it your fault???)
4. It’s the weekend. I probably have my children with me and am hopelessly distracted in restricting their spending habits and breaking up petty squabbles.

So there I am wandering peacefully through the shopping centre on the weekend, lost in my own thoughts…..and suddenly there is someone I vaguely recognise!

PANIC! Should I say hello? What if I am mistaken? What if I need to introduce them? Should I just smile and nod? Anyone can smile and nod. Where the hell do I know them from?

Options are:
1. Work. Yes I have completely ignored colleagues in shopping centres because I didn’t recognise them.
2. School. Are parent of a classmate of one of my many children? Have we been to a birthday party / playdate / sleepover?
3. Are they someone who works in one of the local shops around here? Yes, some of these people are really familiar to me ….providing they are behind the counter I expect them to be behind.
4. Former schoolmate, uni-mate, workmate – the options are endless.

So we’ve covered what the hell you are wearing….but we’ve missed the other side of this.

Just to recap.

It’s the weekend. I am off duty.

This means I am not in my work clothes, and I am not in my work makeup. My hair may be somewhat different – scraped back into a pony-tail or just captured under my sunglasses.

I won’t list the types of outfits I have been known to wear to the supermarket on the weekend, but let’s just say they can be characterised by the term “casual”.

Do I want to be recognised? Perhaps it is best that we both pretend we haven’t noticed each other.

Which brings me circuitously to the next video clip of people who clearly didn’t care very much what they were wearing when they went shopping. I need to stress that none of these people is me. None of these people even vaguely resembles me. And I do not wear (or fail to wear) any of the outfits being modelled in this clip.

And many thanks to my friend Christa for bringing this to my attention. You have given me nightmares.

People of Walmart

If you liked this post you might also like Memory…something.





How to open a padlocked suitcase: A lesson in travel safety for us all

25 11 2011

photo credit: Kthread

I have always felt that the suitcase padlock was slightly over-rated since flying back to Australia from Heathrow in the mid-1980s. The baggage handlers yanked the handle right off the suitcase complete with baggage tags and flight identification tags, and hence while I happily flew on to Perth, my suitcase remained as unclaimed unidentified luggage in Heathrow Airport. I suppose I am lucky that it wasn’t post-2001 or my suitcase might have been blown up.

As it was, my only inconvenience was arriving in Perth with no change of clothes, and having to go clothes shopping on my travel insurance money (Damn!). The suitcase was eventually reunited with me a week or so later, its locks broken, the inner lining cut out and clearly every item within the suitcase had had a thorough going-over. (It was a spring-lock suitcase similar to those in the picture above.)

On our recent overseas trip I was interested to see that some people are still shrink-wrapping their suitcases before they board a plane. Slight over-kill, I thought, even though as an Australian, I am aware of the Schapelle Corby case. (For those not aware, Schapelle Corby was an Australian twenty-something who flew to Bali and was found to have about 4kg of marijuana in her boogie-board bag. She has been sentenced to 20 years in Kerobokan Prison in Bali, but claims that the marijuana was put in her bag by a baggage handler and she had no knowledge of the drugs.

So without in any way commenting on the veracity or otherwise of Ms Corby’s claims, the below video was sent to me. The ease with which this man gets into the locked suitcase, and then reseals the zip so it looks untampered, is somewhat alarming.

The shrink-wrap is looking better and better. Either that, or we need to go back to the old spring-lock bags. At least you can tell when they have been tampered with. Feel free to share this around – the more people know about it, the more of us travel safely.

If you liked this post you might also like Tom Tom Abroad





Steve Jobs’ 11 Rules of Success

25 11 2011

photo credit: Mawel

I have been given this in hard copy so I am assuming the attribution is correct! Nonetheless, interesting lessons for us all.

1. Do what you love to do. Find your true passion. Make a difference. The only way to do great work is to love what you do.

2. Be different. Think different. Better to be a pirate than join the navy.

3. Do your best at every job. Don’t sleep! Success generates more success so be hungry for it. Hire good people with a passion for excellence.

4. Perform SWOT analysis. As soon as you join / start a company, make a list of strengths and weaknesses of yourself and your company on a piece of paper. Don’t hesitate to throw bad apples out of the company. (Blogger’s note: Gotta love a pun!)

5. Be entrepreneurial. Look for the next big thing. Find a set of ideas that need to be acted upon quickly and decisively and jump through that window. Sometimes the first step is the hardest one. Just take it. Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.

6. Start small, think big. Don;t worry about too many things at once. Take a handful of simple things to begin with and then progress to more complex ones. Think about not just tomorrow, but the future. Put a ding in the universe.

7. Strive to become a market leader. Own and control the primary technology in everything you do. If there’s a better technology available, use it regardless of whether or not anyone else is using it. Be the first, and make it an industry standard.

8. People judge you by your performance, so focus on the outcome. Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected. Advertise. If they don’t know about it, they won’t buy your product. Pay attention to design. We made the buttons on the screen look so good you’ll want to lick them. Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

9. Innovate. innovation distinguishes a leader from a follower. Delegate. Let other top executives do 50% of your routine work to be able to spend 50% of your time on the new stuff. Say no to 1000 things to make sure you don;t get on the wrong track or try to do too much. Concentrate on really important creations and radical innovation. Hire people who want to make the best things in the world. You need a very product-oriented culture, even in a technology company. Lots of companies have tons of great engineers and smart people. But ultimately, there needs to be some gravitational force that pulls it all together.

10. Learn from failures. Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly and get on with improving your other innovations.

11. Learn continually. There’s always “one more thing” to learn. Cross-pollinate ideas with others both within and outside your company. learn from customers, competitors, and partners. If you partner with someone you don’t like, learn to like them – praise tem and benefit from them. Learn to criticize your enemies openly, but honestly.

And in case you didn’t see it, here is Steve Jobs’ 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University.

“Stay Hungry; Stay Foolish”

Interested in some more salient life lessons for the business world? Try….
Doing the Impossible – the Richard Branson story
The Parable of the Flying Frog
Swimming with Sharks





The saga of #qantasluxury

23 11 2011

photo credit Simon sees

I am always fascinated by how new media (Facebook, Twitter etc) is driving old media (newspapers, television and radio news) these days. And none has been as entertaining as the saga of the Qantas Luxury hashtag. This has been a massive PR fail for Qantas. And I love a good PR Fail. No-one does a PR fail on the same scale as Qantas.

A quick recap for those who may have been living under a rock over the past few months.

Qantas is in dispute with a number of unions over wage and job security negotiations. Basically the Qantas CEO Alan Joyce says that for Qantas to be competitive in the international marketplace they need to take jobs off-shore and they need wage rates that are more like those in other countries (specifically Asian countries) rather than the Australian wage rates currently enjoyed by staff. He may be right, but awarding himself a 71% pay rise (no that is not a typo) to a package of around $5million whilst crying poor for the airline was not a great PR move.

A quote from Twitter:
Captain PIREP: #qantasluxury @QantasAirways – the 5 Million Dollar Man is the luxury QANTAS can not afford. http://www.pirep.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=13033&start=45

However, a few days after receiving the pay rise he then unexpectedly grounded the entire airline citing “safety reasons”. National bad press aimed at the annoyance caused by staff and unions became instead worldwide condemnation in international media aimed at Qantas. Hard to see a win here. Rumours circulated that Qantas’ cheaper sister airline, Jetstar, had received a memo three days earlier informing them that this was going to happen. This did not improve the press.

As a result of the shut-down, the Australian Government decided to step in and refer the industrial dispute to the Industrial Relations Commission for resolution, demanding that Qantas get its planes back in the air. After seeking clearance from the Civil Aviation Authority (which wanted assurances that the airline which formerly cited safety concerns, was now miraculously OK to fly), they were back in business – CEO Alan Joyce blamed the unions for the inconvenience, an excuse which seemed like avoiding an apology. The Industrial Relations Commission gave the parties 21 days to find a resolution and outlawed any further strikes and industrial action by the staff and unions. Presumably that was the outcome Alan Joyce had been seeking in his high-price game of brinkmanship. (Meanwhile in the US, a Harvard University student called Alan Joyce was inundated by tweets from irate Qantas passengers, and dealt with them with humour and patience. Qantas could learn something here.)

My previous posting on this saga is here.

So now for the update. Unsurprisingly, they did not manage to come to an agreement within 21 days, and the dispute is back in front of the Industrial Relations Commission who will make a decision. Potentially not a win for either party.

However, Qantas, realising it has created its own massively negative PR campaign, has taken steps to improve its image in Twitter-land. It launched a competition using the hashtag “Qantasluxury””

QantasAirways: To enter tell us ‘What is your dream luxury inflight experience? (Be creative!) Answer must include #QantasLuxury. TCs http://www.qantas.com.au/travel/airlines/twitter-a-touch-of-qantas-luxury-terms/au/en

Prizes were Qantas PJs and a toothbrush. (Note to Qantas – Singapore Airlines give away toothbrushes and bedsocks with every flight) This less than a month after they inconvenienced passengers all over the world.

Hmmmm…..well, tweeters didn’t really need to be encouraged to be creative! This is now the number one trending hashtag in Australia, and not in the way Qantas had hoped. Tweeters have used their creativity and come up with a remarkably wide range of mocking tweets, videos, articles and other ephemera, as well as airing every gripe, complaint and annoyance they may have ever had about Qantas.

John Dean : I want some tips from the social media coordinator of Qantas because that #QantasLuxury tag is booming.

Tommy__MTommy :RT @prebenvision: #QantasLuxury using a platform they have absolutely no knowledge of for promotional purposes and have it blow up in…

One of the most amusing (and popular) is this one:

And of course, the massive FAIL of the #Qantasluxury campaign has reached mainstream media. Part of the issue (apart from the pathetic prizes, lack of acknowledgement about recent issues and the impact they have had on their customers) is the timing. Again, this was pulled out within days of the Qantas pay dispute being referred back to the Industrial Relations tribunal, just over three weeks after they decided to ground the airline worldwide without giving passengers any notice. Someone at Qantas has a seriously poor sense of timing.

Danae Sinclair :#qantasluxury doesn’t look like a hash tag #fail to me – too much amusement & discussion to be considered anything but a #win – for us.

71% payrise for CEO = entire airline grounded worldwide inconveniencing millions of passengers
failure to reach agreement with unions and referred back to Industrial Relations Tribunal = competition talking about the “luxury” of Qantas with (trivial) PJs as a prize.

Is there any way to pull this one back from the brink? Is there some way for Qantas to fix this? The hashtag is out there now and can’t be retrieved. It has a life of its own, being shared among Tweeters who are keeping it going. Would having a decent prize help? Would some sort of apology help? Would the resolution of the pay dispute (without screwing the Australian workers) help?

Maybe something like Air New Zealand’s flashmob safety demonstration could help:

Note to Qantas – Air New Zealand were CREATIVE, AMUSING, SELF-MOCKING……and they gave away FLIGHTS! There are a whole series of these videos on their Youtube channel.

So, back to Qantas. Maybe only time will help. But they need some better PR advice.

Newsflash: maybe this is the solution Qantas are looking for – a new scandal not involving them:
klixplus (Adam McKinnon) : Did Allan Joyce pay Kyle Sandilands to take some twitter heat off #QantasLuxury ? If he did it maybe his first smart move for Qantas!

UPDATE: 23/11/11 1751: Police have suspended investigations into alleged death threats against Qantas Management. Alan Joyce and other senior Qantas management claimed that they had death threats made against them in May this year, and again in October. Mr Joyce alleged this was related to the wage dispute, saying, “Those who are in the business of using threats, violence and intimidation to obtain their industrial ends should know this: these tactics are cowardly and deplorable. They will not work. Anyone who is caught will face the full consequences.”

Transport Workers Union national secretary Tony Sheldon said the union had believed the decision was a stunt from the beginning and claimed the police decision confirmed this. “It is a disgraceful diversion of police resources,” he said. “The truth is now out. The next issue is for the truth to come out on the dodgy claim that Alan Joyce only decided to shut down the aviation industry on October 29. That’s where the real investigation is needed.”

For the full story, click here.