Only party X can stop party Y

Yesterday a booklet came through the post titled "Election addresses by candidates for Mayor of Lewisham".

The election address by Conservative candidate Simon Nundy says: "Only the Conservatives can stop Labour on May 6th." (From context it is clear that he is referring to the mayoral election, not the general election.)

The election address by Liberal Democrat candidate Chris Maines says: "At the last Mayoral election, it was a close finish between the Lib Dems and Labour. This time, the Lib Dems are set to win."

So - only the Conservatives can stop Labour, but the Lib Dems are set to win? How does that work?

I feel strongly that political parties shouldn't be allowed to make statements such as 'only party X can stop party Y here' or, in effect, 'a vote for party Z is a wasted vote'. Such statements only serve to reinforce the status quo - they are self-fulfulling prophecies, not statements of fact.

Terms & conditions: Lorem ipsum

So yesterday's Metro carried this advert for 'social music store' mflow. Have a look at the terms and conditions (and click on the image if you want to see a larger version):

Advert for mflow with lorem ipsum text instead of terms and conditions

Whoops! Terms and conditions are usually there because they have to be, so missing them off is worse than you might think.

An area equivalent to the size of Greece

A recent BBC News article mentions "the discovery of a vast 'microbial mat', covering an area equivalent to the size of Greece".

It's unusual to see Greece used as a unit of comparison or measurement. I find it harder to gauge the area of Greece than, say, France, because of Greece's irregular shape and large number of islands. Or are we only talking about mainland Greece?

Interestingly, the country closest in size to Greece is England, with an area of 130,395km2 as opposed to Greece's 131,957km2.

So why didn't BBC News use England as a unit of comparison rather than Greece? I'm fairly sure that a) more British people will read the article in question than Greek people, and b) British people have a better idea of the area of England than the area of Greece.

Or would using England as a unit of comparison be more confusing to readers who are neither Greek nor British? When I taught English as a foreign language in Russia, many of my students were hazy on the difference between England, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom.

Love grammar? Love Persian cats

The Engine Room has been included on a list of the '50 Best Blogs for Grammar Geeks' on

For some reason the list falls into the website's archive for October 2005 - perhaps it is an old list that has just been updated?

Other entries on the same page of the archive include 'The Top 50 Wedding Planner Blogs' and '15 Tips on Caring for Persian Cats', which makes October 2005 a great month for engaged cat-owning grammarians looking for an online university.

Temporary waiting area

Clutchslip spotted this sign to a "temporary waiting area":

Temporary waiting area
What, as opposed to a permanent waiting area?

Show business

So last week as part of my job I spent three days at a trade show - something of a novelty for me because I am usually office-based.

Another novelty was using Twitpic to share a few photos of the show on Twitter. Here's one of Bibendum - Michelin Man as he's more often known.

I also tried out TwitPict, an iPhone Twitpic client, which works well but adds '#TwitPict' to any tweets you send with it.

We had agreed on a hashtag to use before the show, but in the end it was only used by a few people on our team and maybe three non-journalists too. Not a total success. Incidentally, is a useful website for tracking the popularity of individual hashtags.

What else? We produced a video news round-up of each day of the show, although my role there was limited to uploading it to the website (and appearing in the background of one of the videos for a minute or so). We also put the videos one our YouTube channel for good measure - oh, and embedded them in one of our blogs.

I even wrote a bit of copy - well, a few paragraphs - and subbed a couple of stories for good measure. I felt like a proper journalist for almost the first time since leaving the production desk.

Don't get me wrong: I enjoy my current role, but it has a bit too much of the technical (and increasingly, the commercial) to feel much like journalism.

Still, the show must go on.

What is happening to email?

Something strange is happening to the way I use email.

Last week I sent someone a long, information-packed email that they had been expecting. I immediately followed this up with a direct message on Twitter letting them know that I had just sent the email.

Later on that evening I received a reply on Twitter thanking me for the information. There was no email reply.

Look at this another way. I have three email accounts that I use regularly: my work account, the Engine Room's own account, and a personal account I've held for about a decade. I now check the last of these around once a week, down from every day a few years back.

If I want to send a quick, casual message, I'll use Twitter; if I want to share a link, I'll use Delicious; if I want to pose an open question to some work colleagues, I'll use Yammer; if it's work-related but not pressing, I'll use LinkedIn; and so on. Email's role is becoming much more niche.

And that's strange, because email is ubiquitous: pretty much everyone who has uses the internet has an email address. Not everyone uses Twitter, or Delicious, or Google Wave, or any of these other fun forms of communication.


Body lotion is like hand cream, but not

At the weekend I met some friends in a slightly upmarket pub and was startled to see bottles of "body lotion" in the unisex toilet cubicles:

Handwash and body lotion as spotted in a London pub

Handwash I could understand. You need to wash your hands; you use the handwash. But body lotion? Who would want to apply lotion to their bodies in a pub toilet? (Rhetorical question.)

I returned to my friends and said as much; the girls in the group laughed at me, and not for the right reasons. Apparently the body lotion is to apply to your hands after washing them, to moisturise them.

Surely that would be hand cream, I pointed out. But no - hand cream is more expensive than body lotion and has a different consistency.

So are there such things as hand lotion and body cream? Are they all types of moisturiser, or is moisturiser something else again? I think I'm going to stick to soap and water...

Sophie Dahl will make your candle fizz

Visual metaphor of the week goes to the fizzing, spurting candles on TV cooking programme The Delicious Miss Dahl:

spurtinng candles on Sophie Dahl cooking show

(The candles appear at about 15 minutes, 10 seconds in on episode two, 'Romance', which is available to watch on the BBC's iPlayer for the next month.)

Thousands 'to miss out on university degree'

I thought this was a strange BBC News headline:

BBC News article and headline

First, there are two orders of magnitude between "thousands" (headline) and "hundreds of thousands" (body copy). A quick play with Firebug suggests that "Hundreds of thousands 'to miss out on university degree'" would fit - just - as a headline, although I grant you that it's not particularly catchy.

Second, the story isn't that people will miss out on degrees - it's that they will miss out on university places altogether (although one tends to follow the other). To me, the headline as stands suggests that thousands of people currently at university will miss out on a degree. And while that's probably true, it's not reflective of the story.

Jobless recovery

I spotted this on the Conservative Party website recently:

Theresa May warns of a jobless recovery

The phrase "jobless recovery" was new to me. At first I thought it was just a synonym for "return to high unemployment", but it turns out that a jobless recovery is something more specific. Wikipedia defines it as:

Recovery from a recession, where "recovery" is defined as growth in gross domestic product (GDP), which does not produce strong growth in employment

Wikipedia also points out that the phrase is "used by economists, especially in the United States" - I'm not sure whether it has entered common use in British English (although here's a Times Online article from February that uses it prominently).

Anyway, perhaps the Conservative Party article should have clarified what Theresa May meant by "jobless recovery". I certainly didn't know.

'Donate second hand clothes for food items'

"Donate second hand clothes for men and women and food items"? I didn't realise that food items needed second hand clothes...