Booze and sermons are why we vote on Thursdays!

Ordinary people disengaged with politics is a real concern – even Sex Pistol John Lydon has implored people to use their vote (see my blog last year).

Part of the problem is that aspects of our democracy don’t seem relevant in today’s world. Take, for example, the day on which we’re supposed to head down to the polling station –Thursday.

Why Thursday? Most of us have jobs to go to and so have to squeeze in voting before or after work. Why make it inconvenient? Most other European countries hold votes on a Sunday when there’s really no excuse not to find time to vote – simple and brilliant!

As with so much in British life, the reason why we vote on Thursday is a throwback to bygone times.

It has been suggested the tradition came about because end-of-the-week pay packets would lead to more drunken voters if a poll was held on Fridays and weekends. And having the election as far after a Sunday as possible would reduce the influence of Sunday sermons. In addition, many towns held markets on Thursdays, so the local population would be travelling to town that day anyway.

Talk about archaic!

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Weird beard fact

My wife hates chin whiskers but I don’t think she’d go as far as say she has pogonophobia: a fear of beards.

It’s just one of the phobias you can learn about at the OED’s excellent free online dictionary, Oxforddictionaries.com – my constant language tool as I try to earn my living as a wordsmith.

Test your knowledge of phobias with the site’s fun quiz.

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It’s sad but I’m a fan of the apostrophe vigilante

Proof that I AM a saddo – a little part of me thinks that the guy who creeps around Bristol after dark correcting the misuse of apostrophes on shop signs is a hero.

Find out more about him in this BBC video.

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Did St Albans invent the hot cross bun?

I grew up in St Albans so the city’s cathedral has always been familiar to me – but who knew it helped to invent one of the Easter traditions that we take for granted today?

In a piece I wrote about about the Queen of Feasts – as Easter is sometimes known – I discovered that the cathedral’s history has also interested the Queen of Cakes – TV presenter Mary Berry.

Published in Hertfordshire Life, my feature examines how the cathedral’s ancient links with Easter include a claim that the hot cross bun is said to originate there.

Brother Thomas Rocliffe, a 14th-century monk at the long-gone abbey, developed a spiced recipe to make the bun with its distinctive cross, and distributed them to the local poor on Good Friday, starting in 1361. Here’s a pdf of the feature in full. Or read it online.

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And now robot journalism…

robot-journoContinuing my recent theme of AI and automation doing the jobs formerly done by you and I, here’s a link to a story about robot journalism from the excellent journalism.co.uk

Labour-saving devices are one thing but you do wonder what’s going to be left for people to do. Stephen Hawking, no less, said back in 2014 that AI “could spell the end of the human race”.

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Sci-fi movie written by artificial intelligence

exI’m currently helping to produce glossy mags for various prestige car-makers. I shouldn’t really name the companies but let’s just say one of them uses the slogan, Vorsprung durch Technik.

Forwards with technology is one translation of that phrase and so the company concerned likes to spotlight technology in general in its magazine features, not just that which is used in its cars.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has already been used by Google as an image manipulation program called Deep Dream and Sony’s research with AI penned a song last autumn that sounded a bit like a Beatles-inspired tune.

What I didn’t know was that AI has also been used to write a sci-fi movie – my favourite film genre. Sunspring is a short film that’s amusing, surprising and even tense in places – but not particularly coherent.

The film screenplay was authored entirely by AI, using a kind of computing known as artificial neural networks. Based on how the brain and nervous system work, it’s the same sort of technology that a smart phone uses when it autofills words in a text message.

However, it doesn’t seem like AI can yet rival great sci-fi movies like Ex Machina, my favourite of recent years.

Read more in the Guardian.

 

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It’s in the script…

Happy 2017! side-view-of-mic-and-mouth_n1ofp9om__s0000I love a new challenge and recently I got the chance to help write the script for a video promoting the work of an international charity.

Writing something that’s to be spoken is not a task I’ve too much experience of. The exceptions have been best man speeches, business pitches – and, of course, the kind of stuff used to accompany Excel presentations (this last during my career’s middle management phase!).

For this charity video job, I found you really do have to say the words out loud to see if they work. I was even supplied with a recording of the voice of the actor who will be used on the video to help me develop the script.

It was all great fun – and in a good cause. The script will probably pass through several further amends before it’s used but I’m happy to have played a part.

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