I use this blog as a soap box to preach (ahem... to talk :-) about subjects that interest me.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Authors' Mistakes #30 - Nigel Cawthorne

I just finished reading The History of the Mafia, by Nigel Cawthorne.  I found it quite interesting, although after a while, the endless list of killings began to become monotonous.  There is no list of bibliographic references, which means that the book cannot be really considered a reliable source of historical information.  But it is a good starting point for learning about the Italian Mafia. Unfortunately, as it systematically happens when a non-Italian writes about Italy, it contains several mistakes.  Actually, there is also a bad mistake of English grammar...



#
Page
Description
1
6
The Mafia code of silence, "omertà", is spelled "omèrta".
2
7
The word "pentiti" means "repenting ones", not "penitent ones".
3
7
"Goodbye to the Mafia protection money" is written as "addiopizzo", while it should have been written as "addio pizzo", with two separate words.
4
7
"Organisation" is spelled the Ameriacn way ("organization"), although in the same page you can read "honour", which is a British/Australian spelling of what the American would spell "honor".  This is not a problem of Italian (and it is not the English grammar problem I mentioned above), but it is an annoying inconsistency.
5
18
"Fontana Nuova" means "New Fountain", not "New Source".
6
22
The plural of the Italian word "capo" (I.e., "chief") is written as "capos", while it should have been "capi". The same mistake is repeated on page 200.
7
27
Somebody belonging to the Neapolitan equivalent of the Sicilian Mafia is called "camorrista", not "camorristo".  It is the same with other words that end with "sta".  For example, "artista" is used in Italian for both male and a female artists (but the undefined article gives away the gender, as a male artist is "un artista", while a female artist is "un'artista").
8
37
Wrong spelling of a preposition: "di Vigilanza" (which means "of Vigilance") is spelled "de Vigilanza".
9
37
The Italian royal family was originally from the Alpine French region of "Savoy", which is "Savoia" in Italian, while "Sovoia" is not an Italian word.  Therefore, I cannot imagine that an Italian restaurant in Manhattan in 1908 was called "La Sovoia".
10
49
An error similar to #7: "another Brooklyn camorristi" is wrong because "camorristi" is plural.  It should have been "camorrista".
11
112
"Gaetono" should have been "Gaetano".
12
122
"Raimondo" is the name of a man.  It should have been "Raimonda".
13
126
The Italian for "corps" is "corpo", not "corpe".
14
132
"Borgata" is not the Italian word for "village" and it can mean "hamlet", not "slum". It can indicate a group of houses along or near a main road or, in Rome, a working-class suburb at the edge of the city.
15
133
Rebibbia is in Rome, not Palermo.
16
145
"Scarpa" does mean "shoe", but in Italian, not in Sicilian dialect.
17
148
"Corleonisi" should be "Corleonese".  The name of the Sicilian town is "Corleone", and the ending in "i" is plural.
18
149
The murdered General of the Carabinieri was "Dalla Chiesa", not "Chiesa".  The same mistake is repeated on page 150 and twice on page 180, but ion page 180 the name is also written twice correctly.
19
149
"Cessation" should be "Cassation".
20
170
Here is the mistake in English grammar: "After running his brother's campaign, John made Robert attorney general".  The subject of the main clause is John ("John made..."), but it was Robert who ran his brother's campaign.  Something like "After Robert ran his brother's campaign, John made him attorney general" would have been correct.
21
198
The sentence "Chi l'ha visto?" should have been translated as "Who ha seen him?", not "Who has seen it?".
22
201
There is no town named "Duisberg" in Germany.  Its name is "Duisburg".

When will authors who write about Italy and Italian ask a bilingual editor to check their texts?  I could do it (for a reasonable fee!)

For your reference, here are the links to all past “Authors’ Mistakes” articles:
Lee Child: Die Trying
Colin Forbes: Double Jeopardy
Akiva Goldsman: Lost in Space
Vince Flynn: Extreme Measures
Máire Messenger Davies & Nick Mosdell: Practical Research Methods for Media and Cultural Studies
Michael Crichton & Richard Preston: Micro
Lee Child: The Visitor
Graham Tattersall: Geekspeak
Graham Tattersall: Geekspeak (addendum)
Donna Leon: A Noble Radiance
007 Tomorrow Never Dies
Vince Flynn: American Assassin
Brian Green: The Fabric of the Cosmos
John Stack: Master of Rome
Dean Crawford: Apocalypse
Daniel Silva: The Fallen Angel
Tom Clancy: Locked On
Peter David: After Earth
Douglas Preston: Impact
Brian Christian: The Most Human Human
Donna Leon: Fatal Remedies
Sidney Sheldon: Tell Me Your Dreams
David Baldacci: Zero Day
Sidney Sheldon: The Doomsday Conspiracy
CSI Miami
Christopher L. Bennett: Make Hub, Not War
CSI Miami #2 (Robert Hornak)
Jack Greene & Alessandro Massignani
Peter James
P.Warren & M.Streeter

Monday, July 21, 2014

Legalise them all

For years I have been of the opinion that we should legalise all drugs, light and heavy.  I don't use any drug and only drink a little, perhaps a beer a week. That wouldn't change if cannabis, narcotics, and what-have-you became available legally.  I just don't understand why the state should prevent people from smoking or injecting what they want.  They do it anyway.  If drugs were legally available, the cost, both in terms of suffering and in terms of dollars, would be significatly reduced.  And the thefts, spreding of diseases, and violence that surround the drug trade would disappear.



What the state should do is ensure that intoxicated people do not endanger other people's lives.  And they are failing on that, because drunks cause many fatal car accidents and street fights.  The issue is not whether somebody is drunk or high on dope.  The issue is whether that person can sit behind a steering wheel or punch somebody on the nose. In this sense, alcohol is far more dangerous than, say, heroine. And yet, nobody (fortunately) is speaking of outlawing alcohol.

Can you imagine how much money would be freed if we stopped preventing people from buying drugs or growing marihuana plants in the backyard?  By legalising drugs, we would undermine most of the trafficking and the associated criminality and would save the lives of those who now die for overdose because they inject badly cut drugs.  And the government could tax drugs as they do now with alcholic beverages.

Obviously, these considerations are not new, and I am sure that somebody will find counter-arguments for any argument I can bring, but we only need to look at history to know what we should do, because humans have not significantly changed since recorded history.  In fact, we only need to go back less than one hundred years.

I am reading the book The History of the Mafia by Nigel Cawthorne, and have just arrived to where he writes about Prohibition and Al Capone.  This is how that chapter begins:


         When the Volstead Act banning the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages was passed in 1919, organized crime in America went mainstream. [...] it is estimated that 75 per cent of the population of the United States became client of bootleggers. It was big business. There had been 16,000 saloons in New York before the Volstead Act. These were replaced by 32,000 'speakeasies' (illegal drinking establishments). Britain's alcohol export to Canada rose six-fold and it was said that more intoxicating liquor was sent to Jamaica and Barbados than the population could possibly drink in a hundred years. During five years of Prohibition, 40 million gallons of wine and beer were seized. In 1925 alone, 173,000 illegal stills were impounded. This did nothing to stem the supply. And with the price of alcohol first doubling and then climbing to ten times what it had been before Prohibition, there was plenty of profit for the bootleggers.

Can you imagine how much effort and money it took to discover and seize millions of gallons of beverages and to close hundreds of thousands of illegal stills?

And it didn't really work.  It only gave to organise crime a new market.

Perhaps not many know that Prohibition, besides in the USA, was tried in several countries (Russia, Finland, Iceland, Norway, to name the most significant). And it didn't work there either. It only helped organised crime.

You know what?  I am optimistic.  I believe that in a decade or two, at least in the western democracies, governments will realise that they have been mistaken in banning drugs.  Cannabis Sativa is a lovely leafy plant and I would love to grow it in my garden.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Books: Writings on an Ethical Life, by Peter Singer

I just finished reading Writings on an Ethical Life, by Peter Singer.




For those who don't know him, Peter Singer is a philosopher who has become very controversial because some of his positions, which he expressed without compromising clarity to political correctness.  This book is in my opinion a must-read for everybody who is concerned with moral and ethical issues.

In an interview conducted by Bob Abernethy and shoved on WNET-TV on 20 September 1999, he expressed very clearly the key concepts that form the basis of his positions (a transcript of the interview is included in the book).  In response to the very first question, he stated:

         First, it is important to say that in my view [...] a human being doesn't have value simply in virtue of belonging to the species Homo Sapiens.  Species membership alone isn't enough.  The qualities that I think are important are, first, a capacity to experience something—that is, a capacity to feel pain, or to have any kind of feelings.  That's really basic.  But then that's something we share with a huge range of nonhuman animals.  In addition, when it comes to a question of taking life, or allowing life to end, I would say it matters whether a being is the kind of being who can see that that he or she actually has a life—that is, can see that he or she is the same being who exists now, who existed in the past, and who will exist in the future.
        I use the term "person" to refer to a being with that kind of self-awareness—in the words of the philosopher James Rachels, a being who can live a biographical life and not merely a biological life.  A person has a lot more to lose when his or her life is ended than a being that is conscious, and can feel pain, but nevertheless is conscious of its existence only moment by moment, experiencing only one moment of consciousness and then the next, without understanding the connection between them.

One of the results of his position is that in his opinion parents should be able to choose to kill their newborn child if it was born with conditions so severe that doctors don't really try to keep it alive.  In Singer's words, "It would be justifiable to take active steps to end that infant's life swiftly and more humanely than by allowing death to come through dehydration, starvation, or an untreated infection".

Clearly, such positions have generated a lot of controversy.  But I have to ask, once political correctness and absolute truths based on faith rather than logic are left behind, how can anybody disagree with such a statement?  The sanctity of human life advocated by many (perhaps most) is based on the concept that human beings are made in the image of God and should be treated in a special way purely because they belong to the species Homo Sapiens.  But a baby, as a being, is no different from other mammals.  In fact, it can be argued that, given the choice between saving an adult chimpanzee and a human baby with spina bifida, we should save the chimpanzee.  An adult chimpanzee has a past and looks forward to a future life, why a human infant has no past and is not self-aware.

In general, I find that too often society reacts to ideas and events because it is perceived that people have to react that way, rather than because they have thought the whole matter through.  This is not the first time that I mention my hatred for political correctness (and empty politeness, but that's another matter).

Nowadays, you cannot disagree with some policies of the state of Israel or condemn some acts of the Israeli army without being accused of anti-semitism.  Well, I believe that Israel has no moral right to keep the people in Gaza captive and prevent ships from supplying them.  Hamas shouldn't send rockets to Israel.  It is, in fact, an activity that I found unacceptable and, frankly, also counterproductive.  But the Israeli government really are bullies.  And I am not for this an anti-semite!

You cannot observe that blacks and whites are different without being accused of being racist.  If you search the Internet, you will find that for decades people have argued about differences of IQ between ethnic groups.  Somebody wrote that blacks (or Africans?  I don't remember) have on average a lower IQ than European and that Asians (or Chinese?) have an average IQ higher than Europeans.  And so what?  First of all, we are talking of measurements that are not as straightforward as measuring heights of weights.  With these IQ tests, the only thing that you can be certain of is what the scores are.  Certainly not what they mean and what they exactly measure.  Secondly, there are so many factors that have an influence on the capacity to solve tests, ranging from education to nutrition, from health to how much coffee you have drunk before sitting for the test.  Even if it were true that blacks have lower average scores, very many blacks will still score better than most Europeans and Chinese!

And then, of course there is sexism.  Human females have smaller brains than males.  That is a fact.  Am I being sexist?  Probably not, unless I were than to say that women are therefore less intelligent (whatever that means) than men.  But I certainly don't believe so.  And what if I were to say that women are on average more emotional than men?  Perhaps such a statement has no basis in reality.  But would I be sexist if I were to believe it (I don't actually have an opinion either way)?  And can I allow myself to compliment the look of a woman without being accused of objectifying her simply because so many men and women are concerned with how one looks?  Whoof...

Another concept that cannot be contradicted with impunity in modern society is that everybody is equal.  Now, I believe that everybody should have the right to achieve the maximum level of fulfillment in their lives.  But to say that everybody's needs and capabilities are the same is nonsense.  We are all different!  I know, this can become an excuse for accepting or causing injustice, but by denying that we are different from each other, we run other risks.  For example, physically disabled people are different from people with fully-abled bodies.  If we were to deny it, we couldn't possibly advocate the presence of ramps in buildings, could we?  Peter Singer was accused of advocating euthanasia of disabled adults because of his position about unviable newborn babies.  Come on!

In all cases, the key is respect.  As long as I respect the people I am in contact with, regardless of their color, size, gender, and sexual orientation, I must be able to say what I believe to be true.  Or should I be denied to tell somebody that I think they are incompetent simply because he/she is black, or a woman, or gay, and my criticism might be interpreted as discrimination?  Let's face it: a stupid, as well as a genius, can come in any colour and shape!

What follows is a short section of Peter Singer's book.  The section title is Toward an Ethical Life and was first publishe in 1993 in the book How Are We to Live?

        In a society in which the narrow pursuit of material self-interest is the norm, the shift to an ethical stance is more radical than many people realize. In comparison with the needs of people starving in Somalia, the desire to sample the wines of the leading French vineyards pales into insignificance. Judged against the suffering of immobilized rabbits having shampoos dripped into their eyes, a better shampoo becomes an unworthy goal. The preservation of old-growth forests should override our desire to use disposable paper towels. An ethical approach to life does not forbid having fun or enjoying food and wine, but it changes our sense of priorities. The effort and expense put into buying fashionable clothes, the endless search for more and more refined gastronomic pleasures, the astonishing additional expense that marks out the prestige car market from the market in cars for people who just want a reliable means of getting from A to B—all these become disproportionate to people who can shift perspective long enough to take themselves, at least for a time, out of the spotlight. If a higher ethical consciousness spreads, it will utterly change the society in which we live.
        We cannot expect that this higher ethical consciousness will become universal. There will always be people who don’t care for anyone or anything, not even for themselves. There will be others, more numerous and more calculating, who earn a living by taking advantage of others, especially the poor and the powerless. We cannot afford to wait for some coming glorious day when everyone will live in loving peace and harmony with everyone else. Human nature is not like that at present, and there is no sign of its changing sufficiently in the foreseeable future. Since reasoning alone proved incapable of fully resolving the clash between self-interest and ethics, it is unlikely that rational argument will persuade every rational person to act ethically. Even if reason had been able to take us further, we would still have had to face the reality of a world in which many people are very far from acting on the basis of reasoning of any kind, even crudely self-interested reasoning. So for a long time to come, the world is going to remain a tough place in which to live.
        Nevertheless, we are part of this world and there is a desperate need to do something now about the conditions in which people live and die, and to avoid both social and ecological disaster. There is no time to focus our thoughts on the possibility of a distant utopian future. Too many humans and nonhuman animals are suffering now, the forests are going too quickly, population growth is still out of control, and if we do not bring greenhouse gas emissions down rapidly, the lives and homes of 46 million people are at risk in the Nile and Bengal delta regions alone. Nor can we wait for governments to bring about the change that is needed. It is not in the interests of politicians to challenge the fundamental assumptions of the society they have been elected to lead. If 10 percent of the population were to take a consciously ethical outlook on life and act accordingly, the resulting change would be more significant than any change of government. The division between an ethical and a selfish approach to life is far more fundamental than the difference between the policies of the political right and the political left.
        We have to take the first step. We must reinstate the idea of living an ethical life as a realistic and viable alternative to the present dominance of materialist self-interest. If a critical mass of people with new priorities were to emerge, and if these people were seen to do well, in every sense of the term—if their cooperation with each other brings reciprocal benefits, if they find joy and fulfillment in their lives—then the ethical attitude will spread, and the conflict between ethics and self-interest will have been shown to be overcome, not by abstract reasoning alone, but by adopting the ethical life as a practical way of living and showing that it works, psychologically, socially, and ecologically.
        Anyone can become part of the critical mass that offers us a chance of improving the world before it is too late. You can rethink your goals and question what you are doing with your life. If your present way of living does not stand up against an impartial standard of value, then you can change it. That might mean quitting your job, selling your house, and going to work for a voluntary organization in India. More often, the commitment to a more ethical way of living will be the first step of a gradual but far-reaching evolution in your lifestyle and in your thinking about your place in the world. You will take up new causes and find your goals shifting. If you get involved in your work, money and status will become less important. From your new perspective, the world will look different. One thing is certain: you will find plenty of worthwhile things to do. You will not be bored or lack fulfillment in your life. Most important of all, you will know that you have not lived and died for nothing, because you will have become part of the great tradition of those who have responded to the amount of pain and suffering in the universe by trying to make the world a better place.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Books: Faster, by James Gleick

I have decided that sometimes I should also recommend books, not just criticise the books I don't like.  Here is the first one.  Let's see how it goes.

The book is Faster, by James Gleick, the well known author of Chaos.




I picked up a copy of the book in a reminders' bookshop and it was a very good buy.

Gleick analyses the roots of the frenetic and ever faster modern life.  The book was first published fifteen years ago, but it hasn't aged at all.  What follows is my interpretation of the essence of the book and my reflections on its content.

The world has become very competitive.  As a result, everybody keeps looking for "an edge".  That is, for something that will give them a bit of an advantage over their competitors.  This applies to every organisation and individual living in a modern society, and especially in western-style capitalistic societies.

An edge could consist of working a little bit longer, employing a new technique or tool, optimising your time, exploiting other people's work, focussing on what counts most, or (and), effectively, anything that will increase our output, either in terms of quality or (more often) in terms of quantity.

How we use/spend/employ/waste/enjoy our time, according to Gleick (and I agree), is of paramount importance.  That's why we keep looking at our watch; that's why we are so impatient; that's why we hate queues; that's why we plan and prioritise our days.

Unfortunately, every edge we develop has already been developed by others, or soon will be.  In our attempt to emerge from the masses and be successful, we keep struggling up a downward escalator, whereby failure to become more productive means going backward.  And, to push the metaphor further, the downward escalator doesn't move at uniform speed.  It accelerates.

This is an intrinsically unstable system, in which a positive feedback leads to explosive conclusions: we work harder and faster to emerge but, as everybody else does it as well, we need to work even faster.  This has made possible incredible achievements, but we are paying those achievements with our health and wellbeing.

It wasn't always like this.  Before the industrial revolution or even just before the introduction of production lines, time was not money.  But for the past good one hundred years everything is money, including time.  Even if, contrary to money and despite colloquialisms, time cannot be gained or saved: every second spent is lost forever and cannot ever been recovered.

H.G. Wells, in his "A Modern Utopia" of 1905, described a future in which we would work five hours a week.  Modern technology might allow to do so, but the increase in efficiency and productivity generated by technology, instead of automatically resulting in a reduction of working hours, is used to a large extent to fuel growth.  The average number of weekly working hours has been steadily falling in developed countries, but we are still very far from the Utopian levels predicted by Wells.

During my working life in Italy, Germany, Australia, Switzerland, and France, I was steadily under pressure to work longer hours.  Australia was the worst offender, and I often had to work 60 h/week or more.  You might think that it was because I was slow or not good enough, but that was not the case.  Everybody around me struggled.  When I worked at Prime R&D in Canberra, we had a HR person to take care of only thirty developers.  Such a very high ratio (1/30) was deemed necessary to enable us to survive the pressure we had to endure and the resulting conflicts.  Perhaps I enjoyed reading Faster because it resonated with what I had experienced.

The book is also full of snippets of time-related information that I found very interesting.

For example, at MacDonald's, in 1997 its marketers tried to speed up [...] by offering refunds to any customer not served within fifty-five seconds (p.245).  That's what I would call a pressure-cooker environment, even if at MacDonald's everything is fried!  ;-)

Star Trek DTI: Watching the Clock - How disappointing!

In 1997 I discovered the existence of Star Trek novels.  Since then, I bought and read 146 novels, mostly in The Next Generation series.  To be precise: 97 TNG, 4 OS, 3 DS9, 26 Voyager, 5 Enterprise, and 11 New Frontier.  Very recently, I discovered that Pocket Books had started publishing a new series, centred on the Department of Temporal Investigation (DTI).  As I have always liked stories involving time travel and time paradoxes, I immediately bought the two DTI novels published so far, and started reading the first one, Watching the Clock.




At the time of writing this post, I have read 287 of its 488 pages.  I will finish it, but it has been a disappointment.  Before saying what I don't like in it, I will reproduce for you the index of major sections, chapters, and subsections of the first 100 pages:

PRESENT TIME - STARDATE 58188.4 TO 58193.8
    1  March 10, 2381 Common Era, Gregorian Calendar - A Tuesday
        DTI Branch Office - San Francisco, North Am, Earth - 18:32 UTC
        U.S.S. Everett NCC-72392 - March 12, 2381 CE (A Thursday) - 03:14 UTC
        03:21 UTC
        05:47 UTC
        06:11 UTC
        08:27 UTC
        Regulus Passenger Lines Transport Verity - 10:36 UTC
        U.S.S. Everett - 11:02 UTC
        11:37 UTC
        18:02 UTC
        18:27 UTC
DOWNTIME - STARDATE 41697.9 TO 41906.7
    2  Kartika 13, 2286 Saka Era, Indian National Calendar - A Wednesday
        Dulmur Residence - Motilal City, Nehru Colony - 05:46 UTC
        Indira City - 13:27 UTC
        Dulmur Residence - 17:54 UTC
        Vandor IV - Agrahayana 7, 2286 SE (A Friday) - 20:43 UTC
        20:52 UTC
PRESENT TIME - STARDATE 58281 TO 58365.9
    3  Julian Day 2590805 - A Monday
        DTI Headquarters - Greenwich, European Alliance, Earth - 14:11 UTC
        Julian Days 2590812 to 2590823
        Julian Days 2590825 to 2590833
        Julian Days 2590834 to 2590838
        Julian Days 2590841 to 2590849
DOWNTIME - STARDATE 42692.8 TO 42704.5
    4  Day 18 of et'Khior, Year of ShiKahr 9051 - A Saturday
        Lucsly Residence - San Francisco - 14:54 UTC
        DTI Branch Office - San Francisco - 16:14 UTC
        Shuttlecraft Deutsch - Traversing Sector 006 - 21:16 UTC
        Warlock Station - 19 et'Khior, YS 9051 (A Sunday) - 19:59 UTC
        20 et'Khior, YS 9051 (A Monday) - 07:06 UTC

What is immediately apparent from the titles of the major sections is the alternance of events in the present and downtime (i.e., in the past).

First of all, according to Wikipedia, Star Trek The Next Generation Writer's/Director's Guide of March 23, 1987 (p. 13) defines stardate as follows:
A stardate is a five-digit number followed by a decimal point and one more digit. Example: "41254.7." The first two digits of the stardate are always "41." The 4 stands for 24th century, the 1 indicates first season. The additional three leading digits will progress unevenly during the course of the season from 000 to 999. The digit following the decimal point is generally regarded as a day counter.
As the DTI series is contemporary to TNG and Voyager, stardates beginning with 58 are wrong.  Another mistake: the differences in stardates of the major sections are clearly too large.  For example, 5.4 in the first section, while everything happens between a Tuesday and a Thusday, which would imply a stardate change of 0.3.

But there is a more substantial problem: headings are meant to help the reader understand what's going on, but things like "Kartika 13, 2286 Saka Era" and "Day 18 of et'Khior" are at best irrelevant and at worst confusing.  Furthermore, and somewhat ridiculously, although the dates are given in a cryptic way, the hours are always given in UTC and there is always the day of the week.  Does Bennett expects us to believe that Greenwich time is used on a planet that follows an "et'Khior" calendar (whatever that is)?  Or that they have seven-day weeks?  I find it pathetic.

Before I forget, the Julian Day of January 1, 2000, was 2,451,545.  How can it suddenly be back to 2590805 in 2381?

I hate useless/wrong/confusing things only done for show!

The bottom line is that you should only look at the distinction between PRESENT TIME and DOWNTIME, consider the UTC time (which is sometimes marginally useful), and ignore the rest.

Besides the detail I have just talked about, there are two further (and, in my opinion, more serious) issues: the first one concerns the use of references to events described in the TV series, and the second one has to do with how the story flows (or doesn't).

Bennett seems to have gone out of his way to cram into the novel as many references as possible to timeflow-related incidents that occurred to Kirk, Picard, and Janeway.  For a fan, it is nice to find references, but Bennett does it excessively.  As far as I can see, he refers to all time-inversions and time-loops that occurred in the TV series, with descriptions and stardates.  After the first couple, I started thinking: Oh no...  not another one!  I'm curious to see what he will refer to in his second novel...

But I have left last the biggest criticism I have about this novel: it is full of irrelevant facts, which only contribute to interrupt the flow of the narrative.  I'm pretty confident that if we removed all Downtime sections, the main story would come out better.  Flashbacks have been used in fiction for centuries.  Some novels have even been written as single flashbacks.  But these Downtime stories are like self-contained short stories, with little or no connection to the main story.  He didn't need so many flashbacks to introduce the characters and provide context.

In general, I find the main story fragmentary and unfocussed.  It might be due to the presence of so many distracting flashbacks, but I am not sure.  Perhaps Bennett thought that the silly dates, the many references to past events, and the plethora of races new and old would keep ST fans happy.  But it is nothing more than a heap of clutter.  There is no substitute for a good plot presented in a clean, uncluttered way.  Especially when talking about time travel.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Authors' Mistakes #29 - P.Warren & M.Streeter

I recently completed reading cyber alert, by Peter Warren & Michael Streeter.  Not uninteresting and, in general, easy to read.  But several mistakes crept in.


# Page Description
1 5 "How can she allowed".  A "be" between "she" and "allowed" is missing.
2 27 "would come under attack from sustained attack from determined criminals".  One "attack" and one "from" would be enough.  The two words "attack from" between "under" and "sustained" should go.
3 28 "a person who no real proven desire".  A "had" between "who" and "no" is missing.
4 31 "take the view that - as I did - that Parliament".  It is in a quote, but it would surprise me if the first "that" was in the original text.
5 43 "the attack on the twin towers of 9 September 2001".  If the Americans did what the rest of the world does and write the day before the month, such confusions would never take place.  They could also go metric and forget gallons, inches, feet, yards, miles, ounces and pounds, but that's another story.  Then, perhaps, when they get going, they could also switch from Fahrenheit to Centigrade.  After all, Star Trek was metric!
6 57 "The work carried out at such sites as Symantec in Hampshire is just a part of the massive security effort aimed at keeping computers and the internet from being attacked by criminal and terrorists".  It sounds good, but it is impossible to prevent attacks.  All you can do is prevent the attacks from having damaging or catastrophic results.
7 61 "in spite of the avowal of government units [...] that part of their remit".  There should be an "it is" between "that" and "part".
8 95 "Such is the speed with which criminals role out new technology".  Replace "role" with "roll".
9 125 "the source's impeccable credentials [...] least raise at the very least some intriguing questions".  Replace "least raise at the very least" with "at the very least raise".
10 146 "not to reply on operating systems that worked on just once basic code".  Two mistakes in one sentence: replace "reply" with "rely" and "once" with "one".
11 152 "The Philippines did not that at the time have".  Remove "that".
12 225 "trend is beginning to merge".  With what?  Replace "merge" with "emerge".

OK.  I concede that none of the mistakes I detected are conceptual.  It is already something.  But they are still annoying, though.  For the record, I do read books in which I don't detect any mistake at all!

For your reference, here are the links to all past “Authors’ Mistakes” articles:
Lee Child: Die Trying
Colin Forbes: Double Jeopardy
Akiva Goldsman: Lost in Space
Vince Flynn: Extreme Measures
Máire Messenger Davies & Nick Mosdell: Practical Research Methods for Media and Cultural Studies
Michael Crichton & Richard Preston: Micro
Lee Child: The Visitor
Graham Tattersall: Geekspeak
Graham Tattersall: Geekspeak (addendum)
Donna Leon: A Noble Radiance
007 Tomorrow Never Dies
Vince Flynn: American Assassin
Brian Green: The Fabric of the Cosmos
John Stack: Master of Rome
Dean Crawford: Apocalypse
Daniel Silva: The Fallen Angel
Tom Clancy: Locked On
Peter David: After Earth
Douglas Preston: Impact
Brian Christian: The Most Human Human
Donna Leon: Fatal Remedies
Sidney Sheldon: Tell Me Your Dreams
David Baldacci: Zero Day
Sidney Sheldon: The Doomsday Conspiracy
CSI Miami
Christopher L. Bennett: Make Hub, Not War
CSI Miami #2 (Robert Hornak)
Jack Greene & Alessandro Massignani
Peter James

Authors' Mistakes #28 - Peter James

The blurb on the back cover of Peter James's Perfect People defines it the perfect thriller.  But I found out, as I almost always do, that a reasonably interesting story was marred by editing errors.  Not too many, but enough to annoy me (but then, I am very easily annoyed...)


# Page Description
1 2 "The deck drops away beneath him, then moment later is rising, pressing up on his feet like an elevator floor, heaving his stomach up against his rib cage".  It seems that neither James nor the book's editors have any notion of Physics.  And they have never taken a fast elevator either.  When an elevator quickly accelerates upwards or quickly stops its descent, its floor needs to exercise an increased upward pressure on the sole of your feet, which, in turn, transfer that pressure to the rest of your body.  When your pelvis pushes upwards against your internal organs in order to make it go faster upwards or slower downwards, you actually feel as if your stomach were pushed down!  It is when you quickly stop an upward movement or quickly start a downward movement that your stomach, so to speak, hits your throat.  But in that case, your feet, rather than being pushed up, might actually come off the floor.
2 16/17 The first page of a document is marked "Page 1 of 16", but after showing it to Naomi, Dr Dettore states that the document contains "another sixteen pages".  Well, are they 16 or 17?
3 140 "Just as silently as they had surfaced and struck, the Disciple of the Third Millenium seem to have faded back into ether".  Grammar mistake: "seemed" should replace "seem".
4 242 John reads and sends emails from his computer and plays chess with Gus in Brisbane, but, according to James, "he didn't leave the computer online either here or at the office".  James must know that computers can communicate with the rest of the world only when they are online.  He probably meant to say that John switched off the computer or disconnected it from the network when he wasn't there.  But it is an example of very sloppy writing.
5 263 "John, she was accusing you and I of being responsible".  Please!  Is this how we are supposed to talk nowadays?  Do we also say "she will kill I" and "she saw I?"
6 283 Phoebe was writing a Word document on her computer.  Her mother, to stop her, "walked over to the wall and yanked the plug out".  Yeah.  The problem is that Phoebe's computer was a laptop.  Laptops have batteries, don't they?
7 290 "Was this her way telling them".  The "of" between "way" and "telling" is missing.  Or do people speak like that?
8 415 While in Rome, "He walked over to the window.  It was a huge, heavy old sash, double-glazed".  Well, I lived in Rome for longer than 30 years and then visited it several times, staying in several hotels.  I can testify that sash windows, new or old, do not exist in Rome.  Actually, I never saw one in Italy.  Perhaps some Americans or British living there import them to feel at home, but I doubt it.  And in Rome I never saw a double-glazed window either.
9 416 "You have a reservation on Alitalia flight 1050 to Dubai".  But Alitalia flies (and has always flown) to Abu Dhabi, not Dubai.
10 426 "...into another elevator.  John's stomach dropped [this is right].  Then, moments later, the floor pressed up against his feet".  Again the feet pressed up?  James and the editor seem convinced than this is what happens when an upward elevator stops...

To top it off, the prose was not fluid at all.  It was quirky and dry.  It was not a pleasure to read it.

For your reference, here are the links to all past “Authors’ Mistakes” articles:
Lee Child: Die Trying
Colin Forbes: Double Jeopardy
Akiva Goldsman: Lost in Space
Vince Flynn: Extreme Measures
Máire Messenger Davies & Nick Mosdell: Practical Research Methods for Media and Cultural Studies
Michael Crichton & Richard Preston: Micro
Lee Child: The Visitor
Graham Tattersall: Geekspeak
Graham Tattersall: Geekspeak (addendum)
Donna Leon: A Noble Radiance
007 Tomorrow Never Dies
Vince Flynn: American Assassin
Brian Green: The Fabric of the Cosmos
John Stack: Master of Rome
Dean Crawford: Apocalypse
Daniel Silva: The Fallen Angel
Tom Clancy: Locked On
Peter David: After Earth
Douglas Preston: Impact
Brian Christian: The Most Human Human
Donna Leon: Fatal Remedies
Sidney Sheldon: Tell Me Your Dreams
David Baldacci: Zero Day
Sidney Sheldon: The Doomsday Conspiracy
CSI Miami
Christopher L. Bennett: Make Hub, Not War
CSI Miami #2 (Robert Hornak)
Jack Greene & Alessandro Massignani

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Blind Cut

Earlier this evening, I saw on ABC News an interview with a boy who has problems in identifying the value of banknotes.  His mother has just presented to the federal government a petition with more than 50,000 signatures to do something about it.  With so many people who have problems with eye sight, it makes a lot of sense that money bills should be easily recognisable by touch.

Canada has adopted bills that have bumps, but the concern is that, with prolonged use, the bumps might flatten out and become useless.

I have a solution that would be easy to implement and wouldn't even require to print new bills.  Here it is:

That is, cut a corner from the $10, two corners from the $20, three corners from the $50, and all four corners from the $100.  The $5 bills can remain as they are:


Nobody would confuse the bills anymore, and the current bills could be cut by the Reserve Bank precisely to spec.  The alternative of leaving the $100 unchanged and cut more corners as the value of the bill decreases wouldn't be as good because:
  • The smallest bills probably are the most widely used, while few people handle the $100 bills.  Therefore, it makes sense to apply the most severe "mutilation" to the least used denomination.
  • "More cuts, more value" is easier to remember.
Unfortunately,  the system could still be abused, and somebody might cut a corner of a small denomination and give it to a non-seeing person to get away with a smaller payment than due.  But this wouldn't be worse than what is happening now...

Saturday, February 8, 2014

CSI Miami got its Physics wrong

In the episode titled Sinner Takes All of the 10th and final season of CSI Miami, the CGI people got an animation wrong and nobody noticed.


They showed a bullet in slow motion.  The grooves caused by the rifling impression of the barrel were left-handed, but the bullet was spinning in the opposite direction, as shown in the following sketch:


That was clearly wrong.  To convince yourself of the mistake, imagine to look at the inside of the barrel, as shown in this classic image from Sean Connery's Bond films (actually, I flipped it horizontally because the rifling in the original image was right-handed):


The bullet, forced to go through the barrel, would spin in the same direction of the rifling, not in the opposite one as shown in Miami CSI.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Aborigines and the Australian Constitution

Australian Aborigines request recognition in the Constitution.  Tony Abbott, the Prime Minister, stated last August (see theguardian.com) that such a recognition would complete our constitution.  This is obviously nonsense, as our constitution is not incomplete, and any addition to it would be an amendment.

All politicians make favourable noises concerning such an amendment.  Therefore, it is almost certain that we will arrive to a referendum, so that all Australians will have their say about it.

As I don't care a little bit about political correctness, I will state straight away that I will vote against such an amendment.

I am not racist (I know: most racists would state exactly that, and you are free to think that I am one of them if it pleases you; I know I am not), but I cannot see what the presence for 40,000 years of Aborigines on this continent has to do with the Australian Constitution.  A constitution is the basic law of the country and, as such, there is no need for it to state that somebody was present before the modern state was formed.

The Aborigines were mistreated, abused, and killed.  Still today, they clearly represent a disadvantaged minority and are often discriminated against.  I consider it a moral duty of all Australians to work towards redressing centuries of injustice and to make possible for Aborigines to have the same opportunities that most Australians take for granted.  And it is not only an altruistic attitude, because there would be great benefits for the whole society.

We should also be prepared to support the Aboriginal communities for as long as necessary, but the constitution shouldn't mention any particular section of the Australian nation.  It should be equally valid for all of us.  I would rather create an Australian Bill of Rights and then focus on ensuring that all Australians, Aboriginal or not, enjoy them.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Authors' Mistakes #27 - Jack Greene & Alessandro Massignani

This time I want to report a case of appalling copyediting (and proofreading).   When I read The Naval War in the Mediterranean 1940-1943 by Jack Greene & Alessandro Massignani I couldn't believe my eyes.  An otherwise interesting and obviously well researched book was spoiled by so many mistakes that I almost gave up marking them.  But I didn't, and you will find their list below the cover image.



#
Page
Description
1
8
"then vice-versa" should be "than vice-versa"
2
18
"Britian" should be "Britain"
3
26
"Baleri" should be "Baleari"
4
26
"ot" should be "of"
5
35
"Pri-colo" should be "Pricolo"
6
36
"hangers" should be "hangars" (we are taking about airplanes, not wardrobes!
7
44
"Albatross" should be "Albatros", because it refers to the name of an Italian ship.  This mistake occurs twice.
8
45
"lead" shoul be "led"
9
46
"diffrence" should be "difference"
10
54
"would named" should be "was named"
11
72
"from in Sicily" should be "from Sicily"
12
74
"Boliano" should be "Bolzano"
13
77
"a air" should be "an air"
14
93
"decided inside" should be "decided instead"
15
96
"maiali was" should be "maiale was", because "maiali" is plural
16
104
"the two of" should be "two of"
17
117
"mading" should be "making"
18
121
"crusiers" should be "cruisers"
19
127
"While touring the port large crowds had turned out" should be "while he was touring the port large crouds had turned out", because it was Cunningham who was touring the port, not the crowds.  I would have also inserted a comma after "the port", but let's not be too picky...
20
131
"withdrawl" should be "withdrawal"
21
141
Very bad grammar.  It could be fixed for example by replacing  "and they promised the Italian" with "and their failed promise to the Italians to provide"
22
144
"Marinkommando" should be "Marinekommando"
23
156
"It has always taken" should be "It has always been taken"
24
159
"commision" should be "commission"
25
165
"approachs" should "approaches"
26
170
"Calcutta, Calcutta and Carlisle" should be "Calcutta and Carlisle"
27
192
"Guilia" should be "Giulia".  This is an example of the common mistake made by English speakers when they write "Guiseppe" instead of "Giuseppe" and "Guilio" instead of "Giulio" (my name...  sigh...)
28
199
"They was" should be "They were"
29
200
Bad, bad grammar: "Four freighters were at sea, three in a convoy escorted by six destroyers that had left Taranto on the afternoon of the 16th, and the other by a destroyer and a torpedo-boat."  Grammatically, this sentence means that the six destroyers escorting three of the freighters had left Taranto, leaving unclear where the three escorted freighters were coming from.  But I believe that the intention was to say that the three freighters had left Taranto together with their escort of six destroyers.  At the very least, the sentence is tortuous and ambiguous.  I would have said: "Four freighters were at sea.  Three had left Taranto on the afternoon of the 16th with an escort of six destroyers, and the fourth freighter was escorted by a destroyer and a torpedo-boat."  Or something like that.
30
204
"nearly being colliding" should be "nearly colliding"
31
204
"such just an attemp" shoud be "such an attempt"
32
204
There are two consecutive "that"s, one before a quotation and one at the beginning of it.  One of the two should not be there.  I'm not sure whether the quoted text contained the opening "that", but I would have removed it anyway.  it doesn't seem nice to start a quotation with "... that".
33
204
The authors inserted a "[sic]" within a quotation after the word "neutralising".  They should have not, because they were quoting admiral Cunningham, and in British English "neutralise" is correct.  It is only in American English that the word would have been spelled as "neutralize".  They were not quoting Nimitz, were they?
34
206
"try and convince" should be "try to convince".  To use "and" after "try" is a colloquialism and should have no place in a History book.
35
206
"Ricarrdi" should be "Riccardi"
36
206
"shipbuilding capacity was not sufficient to replace losses of warships and particularly merchant ships which were being sunk by the Allies in increasing numbers".  First of all, "particularly" is out of place, because "merchant ships" are not a subset of "warships".  Secondly, which should be preceded by a comma.  I would have said: "shipbuilding capacity was not sufficient to replace losses of warships and of merchant ships, which were being sunk by the Allies in increasing numbers".  It would still remain a somewhat awkward sentence, but at least it would be correct.
37
206
"liaision" should be "liaison"
38
207
"the supply situation to North Africa" should be "the supply situation in North Africa"
39
210
"the need to chose" should be "the need to choose"
40
211
"took place at Bremen" should be "took place in Bremen"
41
211
"(known as Ra.Ri from Radiodetectortelemetri)".  First of all "Radiodetectortelemetri" is not Italian.  This term refers to rangefinders that Ugo Tiberio developed for the Regia Marina, but it was written "Radio-Detector Telemetri", or "RDT".  The abbreviation "RaRi" (without any period in between) was used to abbreviate the word "Radiotelemetri", which was introduced later.  Unfortunately, I have not been able to determine the meaning of "Ri", although I suspect that it might refer to "Ritorno", which means "return".  "Radio Ritorno" would make sense, as a radiotelemetro measures the distance of an object by determining how long it takes for a radio wave to come back to the generating antenna after being reflected by the object in question.
42
212
"would be pass" should be "would be passed"
43
213
"Ammirglio" should be "Ammiraglio"
44
227
"less agricultural land then" should be "less agricultural land than"
45
235
"Stormos" should be "Stormi".  The authors built the plural of the Italian "stormo" as if it were an English word.
46
236
"Gioherti" should be "Gioberti"
47
240
A "pearl" of grammatical beauty: "The German 3rd Motor Torpedo Boat Flottilla under Lieutenant-Commander Kemnade operating against the retreating British fleeing Tobruk and sank the South African minesweeper Parktown and some small craft."  MMmmm... "operating and sank"?
48
240
"'Fingerspitzengefühl' ('gut feeling')".  Here there are two mistakes.  First of all, Fingerspitzengefühl literally means "feeling with the tips of the fingers" and is used in German to indicate an attention to a finely tuned intuition.  I would translate it as something like "finely tuned intuition".  The translation ("good feeling") would be in German the simpler "Gutes gefühl".  Secondly, "gut" is not English, is it?
49
241
"on other hand" should be "on the other hand"
50
262
"Of these, 10,932 of them" should be either "Of these, 10,932" or "10,932 of them"
51
263
"'Soldatis'" should be "'Soldati'".  "Soldati" means "soldiers" and is already plural ("soldato" being the singular form).  In any case, the plural in Italian is not done by appending an 's' to the singular.  "Soldati" was the name of a class of destroyers.
52
268
"had to taken" should be "had to be taken"
53
269
"took nearer 60 seconds" should be "took close to 60 seconds", or perhaps "approximately 60 seconds"
54
269
"also played apart" should be "also played a part"
55
273
"they was" should be "they were"
56
273
"but they along with Vichy were fooled".  OK.  Commas are out of fashion, but if they didn't want to write "but they, along with Vichy, were fooled", they could have said "but they were fooled along with Vichy".  Or not?
57
278
"MFP of 200 tons (there were three types, A, B, and C)".  they should have said that MFP stands for Marinefährprahm (naval ferry barge).  Also, there were several types of MFPs, not just three.  And, in any case, why write a comma after "types" instead of a colon?
58
281
"losees" should be "losses"
59
284
"were the PT boats which" should be "were the PT boats that"
60
285
"attack transports which" should be "attack transports, which"
61
288
"Pantellaria" shoul be "Pantelleria"
62
289
"partol" should be "patrol"
63
290
" the where" should be ", where"
64
294
"afetr" should be "after"
65
294
On the same line: "oi" should be "of"
66
294
Again, a few lines below: "oi" should be "of".  How can it be?  'I' and 'F' are not even close on the keybord...
67
296
"as these" should be "these"
68
298
"south of the Appenines".  Two problems here.  Firsly, "Apennines" is the correct spelling in English.  Secondly, the Apennines are a mountain chain that stretches from the Ligurian Alps in northern Italy to Reggio Calabria, at the tip of the Italian peninsula.  Therefore, "south of the Apennines" is close to meaningless.
69
303
"disagreeded" should be "disagreed"
70
306
"Abdeil" should be "Abdiel".  The Royal Navy had over the years three ships named Abdiel.
71
306
"Guilio" should be "Giulio".  Again...
72
307
"It flys" should be "It flies".
73
309
"the Germans had effectively air superiority" is preceded by a comma.  It should be preceded by a full stop or, at least, a semicolon.
74
311
"and were often had not been" ???
75
312
Another "try and" that should be "try to"
76
314
"which was within their means" should be ", although it was within their means"

To top it off, there are even two mistakes in the captions of the images inserted in the middle of the book: Another occurrence of the infamous "Guilio" instead "Giulio" and a wrong date (they wrote 1950 instead 1940).

Almost a mistake every four pages of text.  Even MS Word would have detected many of them.  And what I have is the 2011 edition, not the original edition of 2002.  There has also been a US edition...

Now, I have probably made mistakes in this article.  But this is just bloody me, not the Frontline Books in London.

This is a real shame.  I'm seriously considering sending the list of mistakes to the publisher...

For your reference, here are the links to all past “Authors’ Mistakes” articles:
Lee Child: Die Trying
Colin Forbes: Double Jeopardy
Akiva Goldsman: Lost in Space
Vince Flynn: Extreme Measures
Máire Messenger Davies & Nick Mosdell: Practical Research Methods for Media and Cultural Studies
Michael Crichton & Richard Preston: Micro
Lee Child: The Visitor
Graham Tattersall: Geekspeak
Graham Tattersall: Geekspeak (addendum)
Donna Leon: A Noble Radiance
007 Tomorrow Never Dies
Vince Flynn: American Assassin
Brian Green: The Fabric of the Cosmos
John Stack: Master of Rome
Dean Crawford: Apocalypse
Daniel Silva: The Fallen Angel
Tom Clancy: Locked On
Peter David: After Earth
Douglas Preston: Impact
Brian Christian: The Most Human Human
Donna Leon: Fatal Remedies
Sidney Sheldon: Tell Me Your Dreams
David Baldacci: Zero Day
Sidney Sheldon: The Doomsday Conspiracy
CSI Miami
Christopher L. Bennett: Make Hub, Not War
CSI Miami #2 (Robert Hornak)