Grammar crisis in Japan

But Asian students shine in complex maths, say researchers

Conjugation emergency

We know the English language can be challenge for speakers of other tongues, but has it really reached emergency room levels?

This sign, spotted at Japan’s Aizu University and posted on the website, has us stumped as to whether young Japanese students are really so distraught over their English that they are in crisis. Or is it just one of those strange translations one sometimes stumbles across?

But, it’s not all bad when it comes to speaking Japanese — or Chinese. Researchers have recently found Asian students are better at complex maths, and that mandarin Chinese speakers use more of the visual and spatial parts of the brain than English speakers, according to New Scientist magazine.

The surprising solution: English-speaking students should make more use of the abacus as this also encourages visual-spatial thinking. It also has the advantage of being quicker to learn.

Stepping out

Geoff Lawrie has been around the industry for a long time, so, presumably, he knows a thing or two about taking a step in the right direction. When he was about to be interviewed for his new role, as country manager of Cisco, the Auckland power-cut occurred and he had to climb 25 flights of steps to the interview. Day one in the new job and a fire alarm saw him retracing those steps down 25 flights.

Pieces of eight

The headline on a local daily paper’s website last week read: Pirates set new box office record. We clicked through, expecting, perhaps, a discussion on the role of pirate copies of movies in encouraging cinema viewing of the better quality legitimate kind. Or, perhaps, another attempt to estimate the ratio between legitimate and pirate video copies and, thus, the total number of people who might have watched a movie.

But, of course, it was merely an account of how successful legitimate showings of the movie Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest have been at raking in the dollars.

Hmmm, wonder how many pirate copies of Pirates are doing the rounds?

Incidentally, the first person known to have used the word “pirate” to describe a copyright offender was the author Daniel Defoe (1660-1731).

Biting off less than one can chew

As technology writers we get a steady supply of new acronyms. An acronym, however, is not just a set of initials; it has to be pronounceable, too. The best are those that make a real word in at least one language — even better if the word is relevant to the subject described by the acronym.

Given this, the logic behind a recent example of said that has come our way defeats us. The acronym is BITE. That’s okay as far as pronounceability and dictionary English go but it’s supposed to be an abbreviation for (deep breath) Promoting Research and Public Debate on Bioethical Implications of Emerging Biometric Identification Technologies.

Even if we take only the part starting with “bioethical” we still get BIEBIT and we can’t make “bite” without leaving some words out and scrambling the order of the others.

What were they thinking?

Ferriting out spam

An Xtra user reports that an email promotion by Ferrit, Telecom’s online shopping mall, was blocked by Xtra’s spam filter.

Oh, the irony — a case of the head and tail of the dog (or should that be the head and tail of the ferrit) not working together.

Going with the flow

Middleware company BEA used “liquid” as one of the themes for its media and analysts symposium held in Sydney earlier this month. The graphics showed data flowing smoothly through pipes, between previously isolated “silos”.

The theme flowed over to the delegates’ badges — two layers of transparent plastic with globs of blue and colourless liquid trapped between them like a 1960s disco light-show. Sadly, body heat was not enough to keep them in suspension, leading one delegate to remark that liquidity in information systems might mean “everything in, the long run, sinks to the lowest level”.

More successful was the similarly protoplasmic souvenir mouse-mat. We thought its shifting pattern might confuse optical mice; but those we’ve tried clearly focus on the mat’s stable, textured top surface and remain unfazed.

The art of punctuation

Website owners should remember that the hyphen is a permitted character in URLs and really ought to be used to separate some words.

Gems recorded by blog Independent Sources include (a web service to locate celebrities’ agents) and art director Nigel Talamo’s

And why anyone should set up a pen-selling site us, but there is one, it’s called We suspect that one was deliberate — especially as the owners claim to have temporarily run out of pens.

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