How do you feel about English?

influencegraph.pngThrough no more than an accident of birth, I happen to be a native* English speaker. This is fortunate for me as English is the “official” language of science communication (the vast majority of journals are written in English), as well as the major international language in many other human endeavours – including on the internet. The low-quality graphic on the left illustrates what a mongrel the English language is and takes you to an informative Wikipedia page.

My travels on the web and in the world have brought me into contact with people from many countries. We converse in English and I never give that a second thought. So I wonder – if English is not your first language, how do you feel about its dominance in communication? Is it just accepted as fact and taught to you during your science education? Does it ever make you feel a little resentful? Do you wish there were more social networks in your native language? Is there interesting science happening in predominantly non-English speaking regions that we don’t get to hear about?

* I say “native”, but people from my part of the world are blessed with a strong regional dialect (which I’ve long since lost, sadly), derived largely from Frisian and old Norse.


Suburban rainbow Non-science random thoughts this weekend:

  • On this last day of March – 16.8 mm of rain for the month. March average = 139.5 mm. See some Brisbane climate stats.
  • First weekend of the AFL season! Deep sadness as I realise that the first Swans game won’t be on TV here as it clashes with the Lions. Surely the great Grand Final rematch should be free to air in all states.
  • Wonder how the Pixies sound after all these years? Looking forward to reports from the V Festival.


Flickr is fast becoming my favourite web resource. Content and features in perfect harmony, a great interface and a collection of real web communities. We use the word community a lot in science but I can’t help feeling that the usage is not quite the same and that academia could learn a lot from resources like Flickr.

On the topic of community – one thing that I like about Brisbane is that it maintains a community feel. This manifests itself in little ways – like cheerily-painted traffic signal control boxes in every suburb. It’s the work of the Artforce project and there is of course a Flickr pool devoted to the topic.


It’s likely to be quiet round here until January 8th or so. Yes, I’m done for the year. Off to Sydney tomorrow for a couple of weeks in the lovely resort of Bundeena. There’ll be nothing to do but walk in the Royal National Park, swim, look after a couple of puppies and generally chill. There may be internet access, but who cares.

Happy holidays to you all, see you on the other side.

Unknown authenticity

Culture travels slowly to our shores, so only after watching Unknown White Male last night did I discover that the rest of the world has been discussing it for over a year. For those not in the know, it’s a documentary about a man who suffers an extreme case of retrograde amnesia. Effectively, his entire life prior to the memory loss is erased, forcing him to rediscover everything that he once knew.

I enjoyed it – but as the film progressed, I sensed more and more that something wasn’t quite right. Apparently I’m not alone in my suspicions. So on the basis that one day, truth will out, I’m going with the “it’s fake” crowd. How about you?

Just finished reading…

At Day’s Close: a history of nighttime, by A. Roger Ekirch. It’s a social history of what people did before they invented lighting, between around 1500 – 1830.
Not the sort of thing that I read normally – lots and lots of referenced quotes, more or less at random, but I found it endlessly fascinating. For one thing, it’s a great source of bawdy early modern English phrases. I also learned that before the advent of artificial lighting, most people slept in two distinct phases with a waking period inbetween at around midnight. Literature of the time refers to “first sleep”, a phrase which gradually disappears as our circadian rhythms altered.