Endless simian enclosure

If sub-tweeting is a thing, is sub-blogging? If it is, then this is it. I’ll try to keep whingeing to a minimum in these parts, but do want to share a thoughts about the radio. BBC Radio. BBC Radio 4.

That’s not sub-blogging, is it? Well I’m not going to name any particular show, but rather dress this up as a more general point in case there are other examples. I’m not aware of any, but let’s pretend there are.

Here’s the thing: I think it’s detrimental to a radio programme to shoehorn comedians in for the sake of making supposedly dry subjects more funny or accessible.

Because the thing is, people, including smart people you get on supposedly dry radio programmes, and indeed people in general, tend to be perfectly interesting and funny if you let them be.

I’m sure radio producers would disagree: not everyone’s cut out for radio. Fine, but you’ve already made your mind up that your other guests are radio-worthy before putting them on the air.

Thing is, comedians are almost universally massive egotists; while academics, or whoever else might naturally about on dry Radio 4 programmes, may not be.

So you might end up with a (totally hypothetical) scenario in which a comedian (who, hypothetically, I happen to otherwise like) might, say, interrupt someone who HAS BEEN IN SPACE to fire off a long rambling only-semi-funny monologue they can’t help but unburden from themselves.

And because Tim Pe… the someone who HAS BEEN IN SPACE is a mild-mannered, though perfectly funny, interesting and articulate someone who HAS BEEN IN SPACE, it’s quite likely that they won’t get round, or be allowed, to finish what it was they were saying.

Given that your common or garden Radio 4 progamme is likely to have someone with a comic bent presenting or co-presenting it anyway, perhaps trust them, and your other presenters, and even your non-professional comedian guests, to provide the required amount of levity.

Because even a small amount of funny is plenty. And interesting trumps funny almost every time.

A lovely thing

A journalist once asked me what I would like my epitaph to be and I said I think I would like it to be, ‘He did very little harm’. And that’s not easy. Most people seem to me to do a great deal of harm. If I could be remembered as having done very little, that would suit me.

– Paul Eddington


Tautonyms are the wonderful Latin scientific names of species where the generic name and specific name are identical words. They’re allowed in zoology but not in botany. Here are some mammal tautonyms:

  • Alces alces (moose)
  • Bison bison (American bison)
  • Capreolus capreolus (European roe)
  • Chinchilla chinchilla (short-tailed chinchilla)
  • Dama dama (fallow deer)
  • Gazella gazella (mountain gazelle)
  • Giraffa giraffa (southern giraffe)
  • Gorillia gorilla (western gorilla)
  • Hoolock hoolock (western hoolock gibbon)
  • Lemmus lemmus (Norway lemming)
  • Lynx lynx (Eurasian lynx)
  • Macrophyllum macrophyllum (long-legged bat)
  • Meles meles (European badger)
  • Mephitis mephitis (striped skunk)
  • Mops mops (Malayan free-tailed bat)
  • Rattus rattus (black rat)
  • Redunca redunca (common reedbuck)
  • Uncia uncia (snow leopard)
  • Vulpes vuples (red fox)

Many bats are named with tautonyms.

And for good measure, here are some mammal triple tautonyms, where the subspecies is also the same word:

  • Alces alces alces (the Eurasian elk)
  • Bison bison bison (the Great Plains bison)
  • Capreolus capreolus capreolus (the European roe buck)
  • Giraffa giraffa giraffa (the South African)
  • Gorilla gorilla gorilla (the western lowland gorilla)
  • Meles meles meles (the European badger)
  • Redunca redunca redunca (the Bohor reedbuck)

There is one fruit…

In Mr. Willis of Ohio (an excellent episode of the often excellent West Wing), Martin Sheen’s President Bartlet poses this teaser to his staff:

“There are three words, and three words only, in the English language that begin with the letters dw.”

With help, the staff arrive at dwarf, dwindle and dwell.

Not so, Mr. President. There are seven distinct word stems, according to Chambers (dictionary of choice round these parts). By word stems I mean that, if you count dwell, then dwells, dwelling etc. are out of the picture.

Here they are:

  • dwale – Deadly nightshade / A stupefying drink (obsolete) / A black colour (in heraldry)
  • dwarf – An especially small person / A small manlike being, esp a metalworker / An animal or plant much below the ordinary height / Anything very small of its kind / A small star of high density and low luminosity
  • dweeb (if you allow US slang) – A fool, nerd
  • dwell – To abide or reside (formal or archaic) / To remain / To rest attention / To continue long (obsolete)
  • dwile – A floorcloth or mop
  • dwindle – To grow less / To waste away / To grow feeble / To become degenerate
  • dwine – To pine / To waste away (Scottish)

And there are three more if you allow Scottish and South African words:


  • dwam (or dwalm or dwaum) – A swoon (obsolete) / A sudden sickness / A dream, state of inattention
  • dwang – A piece of timber used to reinforce joists, etc, a strut (also used in New Zealand)

South African:

  • dwaal – A state of inattention or confusion

Recently listening to…

Some semi-recent musical noticings in case you’re on the lookout at the moment. It’s all electronic stuff, or at least in that ballpark, sorry, because, you know…


Boards of Canada’s old track XYZ was added to Spotify a few months back. They played this when they appeared on John Peel eons back, but it didn’t make the accompanying release because, I think, there were sample clearance issues. Lovely bit of vintage BoC, and unusually uptempo for them.

Societas X Tape

Another bit ’o BoC: Societas X Tape was their radio mix for the Warp Records NTS Radio takeover back in June 2019. This is a beautifully hypnogogic and otherworldly mix. I’ve been contemplating doing a podcast/mix, probably on Mixcloud because I’d want to use other people’s tunes, and this would definitely be a reference point, as would Blue Jam.

Random playlists

Curated Spotify playlists seem to be where Spotify shines lately. Here are some good ones I’ve noticed:

  • Relax Your Mind is lovely laidback fare assembled by Coldcut
  • WXAXRXP was put together by user Robert Bernardin, assembled from Warp Record’s various WXAXRXP radio sessions releases over the years
  • This is Plaid, being Spotify’s official best of Plaid playlist should by all accounts be an uninspired collection assembled by an intern after an afternoon’s Googling (or so I cynically imagine). But the choices are inspired. This on shuffle is my go-to listening at the moment
  • Okay, so not a playlist but a live set, but Autechre’s AE_LIVE_DUBLIN_191214 set is something a little different for Spotify

And that’s it really. Is it me or do people not talk about music as much as they’re used to?

Pinboard linkroll

Hey! Turns out WordPress’s RSS widget works really nicely with Pinboard if you want to add a sidebar of recent links. Be sure to include descriptions if you want your own added descriptions to appear with the link. I’ve added a “Recently noticed” section to the sidebar, but perhaps I’ll blog proper summaries every once in a while for the RSS Massive. Anyway, just a little parp into the ether in case it helps somebody somewhere. Ta.

CVs of failure

Came across this a month or so back, and was quite taken with the idea: a CV of failures. A number of scientists have picked up on the idea of compiling a CV of career failures to highlight for others just how much rejection seems to come bundled up with a career as a scientist.

Princeton’s Johannes Haushofer caught some media attention with their CV of failures (a PDF link, I’m afraid), which includes unsuccessful applications for degree programs, fellowships and funding. There’s also a section on rejections for paper submissions to academic journals.

But Haushofer credits Melanie I. Stefan for the original idea, published in Nature. Here’s an extract:

For every hour I’ve spent working on a successful proposal, I’ve spent six hours working on ones that will be rejected. I don’t mind the extra work — after all, if I abhorred tedious tasks with low chances of success, I would not be in research.

Even so, this means that for every endorsement, there are about six challenges to my ability, my determination and my vision. I find this harder to swallow. Perhaps this is because I have generally succeeded so far. I did well at school and later at university, earned the PhD position of my dreams, and have published several papers. This is the story that my CV reveals.

But that is exactly the problem. My CV does not reflect the bulk of my academic efforts — it does not mention the exams I failed, my unsuccessful PhD or fellowship applications, or the papers never accepted for publication. At conferences, I talk about the one project that worked, not about the many that failed.

Excellent stuff. And here’s Stefan’s actual CV of failures (again, a PDF).

And now I’m furious with myself for not bookmarking the excellent example I first came across on the very frank and funny website of a scientist that deserves repeat visits. I’ll rack my brains and come back with a link if I can.

Anyway: it occurs to me the nearest equivalent for a freelance writer would be failed pitches. I suppose it carries the risk that someone better at pitching will pinch your ideas so maybe I won’t actually do it, but I can see value: my failed pitches outweigh my successful ones by an order of magnitude, I imagine. I’m sure some writers find more success, but maybe it would be reassuring to others, and particularly brand new freelancers, to air that in public. And it would certainly be useful to me to keep a record: I’m sure your professional professionals do that sort of thing, if privately.

Otherwise I think my litany of professional failings would be unwise to share. The examples scientists pick out are from systems which have failure built in, perhaps to the point that it isn’t even failure – not really. Runners up don’t win, but we don’t call them failures after all. But I suspect the professional failings of most of the rest of us are murkier, interpersonal messes that are best simply moved on from.

But I love the idea, and applaud the people have taken the time to put a CV of failures together. You can find more examples with a search engine, I’m sure.