Gender Neutral Pronouns.

For a long time I have had a fascination with the English language. My girlfriend is Brazilian and taught herself English in just a couple of years, yet her mastery is better than that of many native English speakers I regularly encounter. I know university lecturers that have no concept of how to use an apostrophe, which is just embarrassing. My girlfriend will often come up with a well chosen phrase that is not “correct” English but has me scratching my head as to why we do not use that particular phrase.
If anything, my interest in language has deepened and diversified during the last year. I came across the SaypYu project for a more easily learnt phonetic system which has made me appreciate just how many English words are not spelt as they are pronounced. I also came across Ogden’s Basic English system which has many interesting ideas.
Some languages, such as French, assign a gender to nouns, to the frustration and bafflement of the English-speaking student. English is thankfully devoid of most noun genders so it is perhaps surprising that the English language lacks a gender-neutral pronoun for singular individuals. To some people this is a big political issue representative of all sorts of things. There is, however a real need for a workable pronoun that can refer to an individual when the gender is unknown, indeterminate or not relevant. US Field Manuals, for example,  find it necessary to begin with a statement that “Unless this publication states otherwise, masculine nouns and pronouns do not refer exclusively to men.”
As one might expect, many invented pronouns have been proposed over the years. This article gives a good account of the practicability of some of these.
Ze/ Hir and derivatives apparently see some use in the homosexual and transgender communities. That will probably mean it is highly unlikely to find much favour with institutions such as the military who are also in need of a useful gender-neutral term. On a practical note “hir” would seem to be pronounced “hɘr”, which is the same pronounciation as “her” so the distinction is graphic rather than also being phonetic.
The best candidate seems to be Ne/ Nir. The variations are listed as Ne/ Nem/ Nir/ Nirs/ Nemself. This seems an unnecessary number of variations and I always favour simplification over unnecessary complication. The Feminine Singular pronoun makes do with She/ Her/ Hers/ Herself so I propose a similar format be followed for Ne.
“Ne” would actually be pronounced “ni” in the same way that “he” and “she” are in fact pronounced “hi” and “shi”. The last thing that English needs is more non-phonetic words. Use of the spelling “Ni” will help distinguish it from other pronouns. Implementing these ideas we have the gender-neutral singular pronoun of :
Ni/ Nir/ Nirs/ Nirself
This is used grammatically in exactly the same way that one would use She/ Her/ Hers/ Herself.
Another potentially useful but seldom used innovation is “Mx.” as a gender-neutral honorific for when you do not know if someone is a Mr, Mrs, Miss or Ms. I suspect that this is more useful for correspondence than everyday speech.
If in future blogs you come across “ni” or “nir” do not be frightened. It is just an example of language evolving in a practical direction. Feel free to use it yourself and spread the word(s)!


Cardloss Hotline Numbers and IMEIs

The other week I wrote about keeping a record of some important numbers. Chances are many of you have not yet got around to doing this yet. Some of you will have overlooked my post since it was apparently about Handbag theft and you don’t carry one.
While you are sat at the computer I want you to look up the hotline numbers for cardloss for your bank(s). Enter these numbers into the contacts of your phone and do not forget the international hotlines. If your partner uses a different bank, note the numbers for them too. If you are using your own computer save these numbers in a document file.
While you still have those numbers handy, write them down on a piece of paper. Write down your account number(s) and sort code as well. Also copy that information into your computer file
Now I want you to take your phone and enter *#06# into the keypad. The number that comes up will be you IMEI. Copy that down on your piece of paper and also into your computer file. If no number comes up then check on-line on how to get the IMEI number for your particular model of phone.
Take your piece of paper and fold it up so the writing is protected. This gives me the excuse to post a way to fold an envelope from your piece of paper. Tuck the note into your wallet or another safe place on your person. Make a duplicate(s) and place in your bag or car as you wish.
If your phone is lost or stolen you have the information you need with you. If your cards get lost but you still have your wallet, bag or phone you have the numbers you need ready to use as soon as possible.
This is a simple but very useful precaution.

Travel Journals and NuScript.

Today I will try something a little different. The past few days I have been working on some ideas about handwriting in the modern world. Since this blog is about survival and martial arts that is not really that relevant. Travelling is a relevant topic on this blog and one of the major times that I use handwriting is when I am travelling so I thought it might be entertaining to post some of my thoughts on this handwritten.

If you are interested in the article on handwriting, it can be found here.
NuScript : Clearer Handwriting for the 21st Century.

Friday 13th December

Friday 13th December : Last Chopping day before Christmas!


Never Buy Envelopes Again?

Some time back I found myself in need of an envelope. I looked all over the house and there were none in the whole place. I’d have to wait until I went into work and find one there. Then it occurred to me I had a printer filled with paper! I made an envelope out of printer paper and posted the items I needed to deliver. There is probably some moral there about thinking in terms of labels rather than seeing actual form and function. An envelope is just folded and fastened paper.
This incident got me interested in if there were better ways to construct envelopes. Given that Christmas is coming, this seems a good topic to place on the blog today.
Below is a pair of videos on making envelopes. There are many alternate ways of doing this, as you will discover on youtube. These  two are origami methods that are useful if you need something more decorative. This page on the Art of Manliness site shows a simple variation that produces an envelope that stays closed.


Theft Resistant Bags.

Those of you that have read my blog post on handbag theft may recall this photo, illustrating how a strap can be fitted around a fixture for added security. If you have not read the blog on handbag theft, I suggest you do so since it contains some useful security advice even if you do not carry a handbag. My time at universities has often involved conversations that go:
“My bag! It has gone!”
“Where was it?”
“I just left it there for a moment while I went off to…”
{Fast Forward}
“It has all my notes in it! Why would someone want those?”
“They probably didn’t, but they are gone, and you are really screwed now!”
OK, I’m not generally so callous as to say the last bit, but that is pretty much the consequence. My point is, male or female, you at some time will have a bag that contains things important to you. Even if you think those things are of no value to someone else that will not stop it getting stolen. Read the blog on bag security.
Back to the topic of today’s blog. I began to investigate the bag used in the photo that I had used. Backtracking on the search engine I discovered this was no ordinary bag, but had a number of interesting anti-theft features:

  • The strap of the bag contained two stainless steel cables to hinder it being cut.
  • The clip on the strap has a locking device so it cannot be easily detached once the strap is a passed around a fixture.
  • The zipper pulls can engage spring clips so the zips cannot be easily opened without the owner’s knowledge.
  • The body of the bag has concealed metal mesh so that the bottom cannot be easily cut through.
  • The bag also contains a shielded compartment so that information on credit cards or passports cannot be read remotely.
An impressive range of features on a not-unattractive bag. What was also impressive was that this bag was being offered for $49.95! Could I find a similar bag in the UK at a reasonable price
A brief websearch turned up the Pacsafe Metrosafe 200 GII. At first glance this seemed to be the same bag but the actual shape of the main part is slightly different, the other design being from the same manufacturer and termed a “Bucket bag”. Both have the same security features and have two useful side pockets for a water bottle and a collapsible umbrella, for example. After I had ordered the Metrosafe 200 I realized this was not quite the same bag and did a little more research. Pacsafe make an impressively large range of bags, all incorporating these security features. There is also a Metrosafe 100, which is a smaller bag of the size that I think is easier to defend and remain aware of. The price of the Metrosafe 100 was reasonable so I ordered one of these for my lady too.
So, what are these bags like? The two I have got to examine (the Metrosafe 100 and 200) are both made from a tight-weave black nylon and are very attractive. Given the mesh and steel cable used in their construction you might expect a weight penalty but I cannot say it feels heavier than any other bag of similar size. While I have brought these bags to serve as handbags for my girlfriend the styling is attractive and neutral and I’d have no problem in carrying or using these myself.
The strap is good quality and provided with a sturdy looking buckle and slider for adjustment. The two steel cables concealed within give the strap a nice springiness. One end is securely sewn to the bag, the other attached to a sturdy ring by a clip. This clip has a sort of bolt-action lock so it can only be released if you are familiar with its mechanism. The clip allows the strap to be passed around a fixture like a chair arm or table leg. Trying to release the clip will take a couple of seconds and make anyone tampering with it conspicuous. Obviously this and all the other features of the bags are of little use if you leave them totally unattended!
Below the sturdy ring and within one of the snap pockets is a spring clip. When it is closed the specially shaped pull tab on the main zip is secured by this clip. This spring clip is my only criticism of this bag. It is set quite deep in the pocket and while it is mounted on elastic it takes a bit of effort to bring zip tab and clip together. If you are undisciplined it will be tempting to leave the zip pull unsecured.
On each end of the 200 bag there is a side pocket intended to take such items as a folding brolly or bottle of water. These are provided with press-studs on the rear side to make them fold flush when used for less bulky items. A small handle is provided at the top of the bag. On the back side of the bag is a zipped compartment. While the zip uses the same pull tab as the other zippers this one will not reach to any spring clips. Since this pocket would normally be against the body this is not a major problem. A short chain could be added to the tab, allowing it to secure to the spring clip in the side pocket.
The front of the bag has a padded flap secured by Velcro. Beneath this is a large separate compartment secured by a two-way zip, both tabs of the zip attached to a spring clip. In one corner is an opening for a headphone cable. The front compartment is divided into a number of usefully sized lightly padded pockets. One of these contains the leaflet for a five year warranty. One of these pockets is RFID safe. A plastic spring-clip is provided for hanging useful items from. The interior of this pocket is a rather nice yellow-green which will probably make the contents easier to find.
The main compartment and rear pocket are also lined with yellow green. The main compartment has a large additional pocket in it and has a split-ring suited to hanging keys on a snap link.
The 100 is similar to the 200 in shape but smaller and simpler. There is no flap and no side pockets. There are just two compartments and the zippers of each are secured by a spring clip to one side. This spring clip is easier to use than that of the bigger example. The carrying strap is the same as that of the bigger bag but has a locking clip at each end so that it can be fully detached from the bag. Pacsafe sell similar straps separately for this wishing to add them to an existing bag. The mounting rings appear to be sturdy and well anchored. A tunnel on the back of the bag allows it to be threaded onto a narrow belt for wear as a waist pack. Both compartments have the attractive green yellow lining that the larger bag has. The main compartment has a number of usefully sized sub-divisions including an RFID pocket. The main compartment is provided both with a plastic spring clip and a split ring, located on opposite sides of the compartment. A port for a headphone cable is also provided.
Both bags show an impressive care and attention to detail. All of the spring clips are swivel mounted, for example, making them less fiddly.An illustrated booklet explains the features of the bag in pictures and a number of languages and it is recommended that this booklet be kept in the bag for the eventuality that the metal elements concealed in the bag set off any security scanners.
I presented the two bags to my lady this weekend. She is very impressed with them and very pleased.


Saving Money in the Winter

I hear people complaining about fuel bills this year from as far away as Malaysia. Today’s blog will have a couple of suggestions on saving money. If you wish, think of it as economic survival tips
You probably use more hot water than you need. When I was in Brazil one of the things I noticed was that most household sinks only had a cold tap. Hot water was often only found on baths or showers. When I got back to the UK I found I had got out of the habit of automatically running the hot tap when washing my hands etc. It turns out you don’t really need hot water as much as you think. I still like a hot bath or shower, but for general hand washing cold water is just fine. Supposedly razors shave sharper if you use cold water (although that may be just straight razors since I saw that on a gangster film!). My girlfriend claims washing with cold water is better for the skin. Don’t know if this is true, but I have noticed using more cold water has been very good for my heating bill.
While in the general area of the bathroom, have you ever thought about how much time you spend in the bathroom and how much time you spend heating it? Unless I am in the bath or shower I am seldom in this room for more than a couple of minutes, so why heat it for hours at a time? If I am in the shower or bath, I am warm anyway! Turn off the radiator in your bathroom. The heat from the rest of the house will keep it at a temperature comfortable enough for the time you spend in there. If you have a particularly cold bathroom or spend a long time in one consider a heater that you can turn on only when you need it. If you are the forgetful type who would leave such a heater on consider fitting it with a time switch, similar to the light switches beloved by many landlords.
Many days it is just me in the flat, so unless it is really cold there is little point in heating the entire place. Before you crank up the heat try putting on a jumper or throwing a blanket over your legs as you lounge around watching the TV.
One thing I would have thought is self-evident, but apparently is not is that if no one is in a room you do not need the lights on. Perhaps this is a product of all those movies and TV shows where every lamp in the house is always on, even if it is mid-day and a character is telling us “the place evidently hasn’t been occupied for months..” My insistence that unnecessary lights be turned off got me accused of being obsessive when my girlfriend and myself were first together. Then she had to live in a place where she had to feed the meter and turning lights off suddenly changed to being called “Being clever like Philip”. In Rio de Janeiro we stayed at a place where the corridor lighting was linked to motion sensors, which was quite a smart idea and one I’d like to see more widely used.
When I first moved into my current flat the local 99p store was selling hot water bottles and knitted covers. Quite possibly the best £1.98 I ever spent. When the night is cold I simply boil a kettle, tuck the bottle under the duvet and sleep snug and warm. The trick to keeping a hot water bottle serviceable is to not fill it with boiling water. Click the kettle off before full boil, or add a cut of cold water to the bottle before you pour the boiled water in. Only fill the bottle two thirds full and squeeze out some of the air before plugging. Don’t leave water standing in the bottle for any length of time. Empty the bottle and place it to drain first thing in the morning. I used to use the still warm water for my morning shave, but I grew a beard so don’t need this anymore. The beard is a different sort of energy conservation. I get an extra five minutes in bed because I don’t have to shave.

Weapons All Around You!

Some time ago I offered my services to a video game developer. Nothing came of that but during the process I did create the following list of commonly found everyday objects that could have been used as weapons within the game. Some of them are household items while others are more likely to be encountered in certain environments such as hospitals, marinas and so on.
You are never far away from things that can harm you or that you may use to defend yourself. For more about defending yourself and your loved ones please buy my books.
hand axe/ hatchet
spanner/ wrench
awl/ gimlet
bricklayer’s trowel
lead pipe
hedge trimmer
nail gun
wood axe
fire axe
garden fork
axe handle
long billhook
garden shears
gas can
sledge hammer
meat hook
butcher knife
kitchen knife
bread knife
carving knife
ice pick
frying pan
rolling pin
meat tenderiser hammer
fire extinguisher
golf club(s)
hockey stick
baseball bat
oar/ paddle
boat hook
pool cue and balls
bowling ball
bowling pins/ Indian clubs
crochet mallet
ice axe
small tables
pencils/ pens
household chemicals: caustic, inflammable, poisonous
household sprays and hairspray
bottles -broken or clubbing
soda can
cables, scarves, clothesline for garrotting
ornaments/ ashtrays/ paperweight
fireplace poker
chair/ table leg
rocks/ bricks
crockery, plates, cups, saucers
heavy books
typewriter/ printer/ portable TV
walking cane
burning brand
garbage can and lid
tire iron/ jack handle
lug wrench
knitting needle
chains/ bike chain
flare gun
burning toilet paper
candles (fire source)
bucket/ wastebin

Games Are Bad! They Make You Mad!

How many video gamers are there in the world? Hundreds of millions, certainly. Yet despite this, video games continue to be used as a scapegoat for those who sell newspapers and those that want to appear in them.
How often do we still see a headline such as “Killer liked violent video games!!!” Most games can, by some definition or another, be classed as violent. A notable case occurred several years back. Two teenage boys murder a third boy and the press had a frenzy that these boys played a certain video game. Why I remember this is that I recall the young mother of one of the boys being interviewed and saying “They were always playing that game”. I have a copy of the same game and it is very clearly labelled “18” and “Suitable only for persons of 18 years or older”. Perhaps if the same young mother had actually paid some attention to her child and his interests he might not have grown in to an immoral little dirtbag? I’ve that game myself and other than some uncharitable thoughts about programmers that don’t include enough save-points, it has not inspired me to any violent behaviour.
Let us put things in perspective with a quick thought experiment. Look at the cases of many of the great mass murderers and serial killers of the past century and what do many of them have in common? Most of them were church-goers or read the Bible! Some were even religious leaders, and some claim that their actions were inspired or even condoned by the Bible. If we follow the logic of the anti-video game lobby we should be banning Bibles and closing churches. I am not suggesting that, of course. Christianity may have inspired some terrible acts but it also inspires a lot of good things too. I am illustrating the point that a much better case can be made for banning the Bible for inspiring violence than for banning video games.
Such stupidity and scaremongering is not limited to our age. A recent broadcast of “QI” had an item on how the violence in Grimm Fairy Tales was blamed for Nazism!
Next time you read a headline blaming a video game, Heavy Metal, the Internet, martial arts, gun ownership or any of the other common scapegoats that get pushed at us just remember the tens or hundreds of millions of other people who did the very same things and manage not to hurt anyone.
I suggest you then vote with your wallet and leave any publications that indulge in witch-hunts and scaremongering on the newsstand.

"but I know it to be true in my heart…"

The recent death of the actor Paul Walker has thrown up an interesting event. The post below has been doing the rounds on facebook. Funny but also very illuminating. Whether this is genuine or not is irrelevant since the attitude being displayed is regrettably all too common.

A friend of mine recently complained that too many of the reviews and critiques boil down to “uhhh, I didn’t like this” with no rationale for such a conclusion. I theorised that the reason may be the deterioration in scientific education. The inability to logically structure your argument and to process and prioritise relevant evidence is obviously a hindrance. An even greater fault is confusing belief or desire with reality. In a previous post I have commented on the apparent inability of many individuals to distinguish between their wants and desires and what is actually needed or available.
Movies and other entertainments constantly tell us “You must have faith”, “You have to believe in something” and so on. A few months back I finally got to watch the movie “Prometheus” and I found it a huge disappointment, mainly because of the stupid dialogue. Most of the characters (some of them supposedly scientists!) constantly make statements that can be paraphrased as “It will be there because I believe it will” ; “They must be able to do this because I want them to”. Can you really be a billionaire industrialist in the future without any grounding in reality? Will people really commit to two-year deep space expeditions on no other justification than “I want this to be true!”
Let us look at the statements above again. Saying “I don’t trust Google” is like saying “I don’t trust libraries”. Google (or any other search engine) will bring you a broad range of information, some of which may be false, erroneous or misleading. Plagiarism on the internet does some times mean false information propagates further than actual fact. If a score of hits tell you this is a picture of Vin Diesel and searches for Paul Walker consistently throw up pictures of the same other individual, that is an indication that something may be amiss and that you might be advised to check a more authoritative and reliable source such as IMDB or reading the cast list of your DVD.
I recently googled “Harvey Keitel Duelists” and “Peter Cushing” and got these images. I don’t think that is them. Perhaps they are the two individuals in the other hundred pictures?

“I know it in my heart” does not make anything true, ever! Yet too often we hear this statement used as a “proof”.
If we are going to progress both as a civilisation and as individuals, we must learn to distinguish between what we want to believe and what is true, between our desires and what is attainable.