Archive for December, 2010

new theme

December 28, 2010 Leave a comment

After almost a whole year of white on black I seem to have grown a bit weary of the black background and decided to change the theme.

I was partially influenced by the conversation I had the other day with a friend of mine in which we essentially agreed that black backgrounds are a bit depressing and I don’t want to be depressing any more.

Categories: Random thoughts

Why I hate Russian spelling

December 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Practically every Russian studying English considers it his/her duty to bash English spelling. People go on and on in forums and even in books about how illogical and unpredictable English spelling is and how poorly it correlates with pronunciation. There’s even a joke that in English you spell Manchester but say Liverpool. And usually when it’s Russians doing the bashing they will tell that in Russian the spelling is very easy and closely matches the pronunciation and that you essentially just say the words the way they’re spelled.

Now let me tell you that that is a bold-faced lie. Russian spelling is in many ways just as crazy and illogical as English spelling and people will often pronounce words in ways that are far removed from how those same words are spelled. In recent years, with the spread of Internet access and mobile phones, increasing numbers of Russians have been resorting to phonetic spelling which has come to be known as the Punk language. This Punk Russian is basically standard Russian only it’s spelt the way people actually speak Russian.

There’s one thing in Russian spelling, however, that really drives me nuts. It’s the letter T. It appears in a whole bunch of words such as the Russian word for ‘governmental’ and the problem with all those words is that they’re all really long and there these totally insane sequences of consonants one of which is the damn T and I just keep forgetting to insert it there, simply because there’s already several consonants too many and then MS Word or OpenOffice will underline the word in red and I still can figure out on my own where to insert the T, every time I have open up the context menu and let the software insert it for me, which takes time.

So perhaps instead of criticising English or French the Russians should do something to improve their own spelling first?

On Articles

December 1, 2010 Leave a comment

If your mother tongue is a language that uses no articles, like Russian or Ukrainian, you may often be confused about how to use them in English. In fact with some people it gets so bad that they either omit them altogether, which makes them sound rather strange, or use them seemingly at random, saying things that they don’t really mean.

Here are few pointers on how to not get lost in the world of English articles.

There are two and a half articles in English, sort of, there’s the definite (pointing out) article ‘the’ and then there are two forms of the indefinite (classifying) article ‘a/an’. The indefinite article also has another hidden form that is never heard or seen but is sometimes referred to as the ‘zero’ article.  The deal with the zero article is that the indefinite article originated from the old English word for ‘one’ and thus it can’t be used with non-countable nouns or plural countable nouns thus if you need to classify a non-countable noun or a plural noun you use the ‘zero’ article, i.e. no article at all.

The/a/zero all modify or add to the meaning of the noun you put them in front of. In languages that don’t have articles these subtle differences in meaning can usually be inferred from the context or shown by word order. In English you just have to remember that when talking about something, you can either be talking about something specific, something both you and your listener/reader know about or you can be talking about something in general, something that needs to be named or classified or put in a category.  In the former case you always need ‘the’ and in the latter case it’s always either a/an or zero.

Thus when deciding on which article to use (the/a/an or zero), the first thing to consider is always whether what you’re talking about is ‘unique’ in the given context.  If it is, then use ‘the’ (but please remember that I’m talking about common nouns here, most proper nouns don’t take any articles in most contexts unless the article (usually ‘the’) is part of their name which happens usually when you make a proper noun plural (John Smith but the Smiths) or when the name consists of a phrase with the preposition of as in the University of London). The good news here is that with ‘the’ i.e. if your common noun is ‘unique in the given context’ you don’t need to worry about whether it’s plural or singular or whether its countable or uncountable.

Examples: He is the man I told you about.  They are the men I told you about. This is the water I bought yesterday. (all unique in the given context, here I made them all unique by specifying which man/men/water I mean)

Now if you’ve established that your common noun is not unique – the next thing you got to ask yourself is whether your noun is countable or uncountable. Now it has to be remembered here that the countability or un-countability of a noun is determined by its semantics, or its meaning. For example chicken can be countable when you mean a bird (a chicken, many chickens) but it can be uncountable when it means chicken meat (then it’s a mass noun). Now if your noun is uncountable and you want to use it to classify something, then you use the ”zero article’

Examples: What is this? This is water (we simply classify the thing you’re pointing to as water) What’s that? That’s chicken (here I mean chicken meat, you’re pointing to the meat on my sandwich and you want to know what kind of mean I have on it and I tell it’s chicken – a mass noun, uncountable so zero article)

Now if your noun is countable, the next question you have to answer is whether it’s a plural noun or a singular one. If it’s plural then once again we go with the zero article.

Examples: what are those? Those are buildings. Animals are generally not as smart as humans.

And finally if our common noun is countable and singular then we ‘must’ use a or an

What’s that? That’s a pencil. What’s this? This is a pen. Is it a school or a university? That’s an apple.

Note that you use an before a vowel sound, not a vowel letter – we say a university because even though the letter u is a vowel the sound it makes in this particular word is not a vowel.  Conversely, we say, it’s an honour to meet you because the letter ‘h’ that the word ‘honour’ starts with is ‘silent’ so even though the first letter in ‘honour is a consonant, the first sound is a vowel – o.

Another thing to remember about the articles is that adjectives almost always go between the noun and the article, i. e. we say

This is an apple. This is a big apple, the apple is big. (note how when we insert the adjective ‘big’ in front of apple the article changes from an to a, because now the first sound in the noun group ‘big apple’ is a consonant). Now the reason I said that adjectives ‘almost’ always go between the article and the noun is because when an adjective is modified by an adverb the adverb+adjective group can sometimes go before the article. It’s not true for all adverbs though. People say

this is a fairly large house, but they say this is too big a house for me


everybody’s advertising everybody else

December 1, 2010 Leave a comment

How does one make money on the internet, or rather on the Web? One close friend of mine insists that the way to go is to make all content free and make money off ads included in the content. The problem I see with this approach is that if all content is free who’s going to be paying for the ads, who are going to be the advertisers willing to spend their hard earned cash to place an ad in your ‘free’ content’? The bottom line is who’s going to be footing the bill for the free ride that is the web?

The Internet is a unique communications medium that lets you, potentially, reach millions of customers all over the world, but what will you be offering them? What sort of product can you sell? Naturally if you have some sort of a real life product offering, like generic Viagra or some T-shirts or books or whatnot, the model kind of makes sense, you just create an internet presence for your company, your website becomes your retail outlet, you try and make it as easy as possible for the visitors to your site place orders and pay you and then you handle everything else in the real life back end, i.e. you actually ship the product to the customer.

But dealing with real life products is messy  and involves a lot of money, you can’t really bootstrap as you have to buy inventory which you have to store somewhere etc. Well potentially you could, for instance by getting in touch with the manufacturer of some product which you think is under-represented on the web and offering them to push their product on their behalf for commission, but that’s a different business model. (which is worth exploring btw.)

So, anyway, all those get-rich-quick books about how to make money online with no start-up capital, they basically all focus on one thing, the so called ‘information’ products. These may include e-books, or some audio seminars in other words you become a content creator and then you sell the content that you create. The web becomes your advertising vehicle and the Internet becomes your delivery system. There is one little problem with this approach and that is that with modern technology copying content is a breeze, any fool, literally, can do it and before you know it the very content that you created in the hope of making millions and that you’re charging for on your official website, becomes available for free on bittorrets or file sharing sites. I’m not aware of any research into what percentage of original digital content whose creators intended for it to be paid for actually gets consumed by people who pay for it and what percentage is used by people who simply get it free off file-sharing services or bitTorrents. My totally wild guess would be about 20% of paying customers versus 80% of free riders, I might be wrong though. It probably also depends on the price of your content and how easy it is to get it by paying a reasonable fee as opposed to spending time searching for a free download.

So if we know our content is going to get ripped off anyway, why not just offer it free of charge and pay for it by including ads in it? The problem with this approach is that if you’re a start-up, it’s very doubtful there’s going to find enough advertisers willing to pay for placing ads in your content. (well in time once your content has become really popular the situation may change of course). And then in a purely hypothetical situation where all content creators follow this route, would there be enough advertisers for everyone?

The purpose of this slightly incoherent piece is to pose some questions rather than provide ready answers