Tag Archives: Twitter


In view of the current state of Twitter following Elon Musk’s takeover, I’ve now joined Mastodon, where I can be found as @timtfj@mastodon.social. (This ID may change; the part after the second @ indicates that the server I’ve joined is mastodon.social, but I may well move to a different one after I’ve found my way around.)

Maybe I’ll write more about this when I’ve found my way around a bit more, and when it’s not close to 1 am. For now, the main purpose of this post, other than telling you that I’m now there, is to allow Mastodon to verify the link to this blog.

If you’re already on Mastodon and want to follow me, then go to the Explore page (found on the website by clicking the “#” icon) and type “@timtfj@mastodon.social” into the search box.

The links above open in a new tab.

Twitter does it again!

As you most probably know, I’ve been learning Norwegian for the last 23 months, largely by conversing with Norwegians on Twitter with the help of two grammar books and various dictionaries. It’s been a fascinating process. (I haven’t blogged properly about the process yet; maybe one day I will.)

What I didn’t quite realise when I first started was the three-for-the-price-of-one nature of the Scandinavian languages. Norwegian, Swedish and Danish are really a collection of dialects stretching across Scandinavia, with no clear boundary between one language and the next. The borders between the countries determine which dialects are considered as belonging to which language, but that’s about as far as it goes. It turns out that learning one of the three languages means you can already understand substantial amounts of the other two if you’re prepared to do a bit of guesswork. Bilingual or trilingual conversations are common between the Scandinavians on Twitter: each participant tweets in their own languge, and generally has to explain only occasional words to the others.

Written Danish is so close to the Bokmål variety of Norwegian that Danish and Bokmål mostly just look like misspelt versions of each other. This isn’t very surprising, since  Bokmål is descended from written Danish. (Norwegian had no written form for several hundred years, while the country was under Danish rule.)

Swedish, however, is a lot less guessable, largely because the spelling is so different that Swedish words which are very close to the Norwegian equivalents can look quite different from them. But I’d like to be able to read Swedish without a struggle. I’m encountering more Swedish than I was, both on Twitter and elsewhere: for example I sometimes get Swedish replies to my Norwegian tweets or forum posts. Also one of my favourite authors, Tove Jansson, wrote her novels in Swedish, and I’d love to be able to read her actual words. Her writing is stunning even when translated, and I imagine it’s even more stunning in the original.

So I’ve been feeling the need to learn at least some Swedish. But I’ve no desire to laboriously plough through lots of information which simply repeats what I already know about the Scandinavian languages via Norwegian. What I’m really after is the differences from Norwegian. When is it safe to assume that the two languages work the same way? When isn’t it safe? Does that word which looks similar to a Norwegian one actually mean the same thing or not? It seems to me that learning Swedish this way is both less information to absorb, and a more integrated way of learning. Relating new information to what I already know makes it easier to remember and puts it in context, implying greater understanding than if it were random information.

So I’ve been toying with the idea of getting a book on Swedish written for Norwegians, rather than one for English-speakers.

Now, where does one get such a thing? Probably from a Norwegian publisher, at great expense . . .

Some of these thoughts came up in a recent conversation on Twitter between me, a Swede and a Norwegian. It was a good conversation which confirmed my feeling that getting material intended for Norwegians was probably the way to go. I wasn’t expecting what came next, though. Inger, the Norwegian, mentioned that she had a Swedish–Norwegian dictionary, from when she used to teach in a Swedish-speaking school in Finland. She said she had no further use for the dictionary, and that she’d therefore like to send it to me.

Human generosity is in my opinion a wonderful thing, and it’s no less wonderful when it comes from people you’ve never met. And in this case it came in a form which I’m happy to share in a blog post.

If you think Twitter is about nastiness, libel and boring minutiæ, then either you’re following the wrong tweeters or you’ve missed the point of the communities which form there.

Important notice

I had to pass this on to you. I particularly like the last line. Shame about the spelling of snippet.

"official" notice requiring all citizens to "constantly fiddle with their cell phones", "give full attention to the glorious technology" and "maintain unselfish love for the flimsy hardware"

Seen on Twitter

Source: @SimonChapman6 on twitpic.com.

How the year began: A dose of flu

2011 began with a dose of probably-swine-flu. “Probably” because the only way you can be sure about that is to send of a sample of the virus for testing.

The experience was different from what I expected. Just before New Year, I caught what seemed like a fairly normal, but feverish, cold. It came on gradually, over several days. When I’ve had proper flu in the past, it’s come on very quickly: e.g. going from being well to being ill in the space of less than an hour. So I was confident that this wasn’t going to be flu, just a cold. My temperature went up to about 100–101 °F for about three days, which is typical for me when I catch something like that. It stays up for about that long, then gradually goes down again over a few more days, and the cold is over (with the possible exception of a lingering cough afterwards).

This time though, once the three days were over, my temperature continued going up. Friends on Twitter became increasingly alarmed as I reported the daily temperatures.  In particular, it tended to shoot up in the evening, during the gap between one dose of paracetamol wearing off and the next being due. It reached 103.4 °F one day; 103.6° the next; 103.8° the next. And of course it did this over the weekend of New Year, in which the Friday and Monday were both public holidays and the doctor’s surgery was closed. I did my best to drink plenty of fluids, slept a lot, and (surprisingly) managed not to feel too horrible by being very careful about how much I ate and when. My technique was to avoid having a full stomach at times when my temperature was likely to go up.

Unsolicited advice abounded of course, mostly boiling down to

  • Drink lots of fluids, which you already know and are already doing as a matter of course, but we still think we should tell you to do it.
  • Go to the doctor, which is physically impossible while confined to bed and which the surgery have specifically asked people with flu NOT to do, so you can make yourself more ill by travelling there, and so you can irresponsibly infect everyone else while waiting to be told to drink lots of fluids which you already know and are doing.
  • Keep your temperature down to stop us worrying, even though it’s a perfectly normal flu symptom and is probably helping to fight the virus.
  • Here are the symptoms of meningitis which you’re already familiar with. Are you sure it’s not meningitis? You should really get the doctor to check that it’s not meningitis, even though you’ve checked the symptoms umpteen times already and definitely don’t have any of them. Even though you’ve not got any symptoms of meningitis, we’re still scared that it’s meningitis.

Admittedly the temperatures were the highest I’ve ever had except for the occasion when I did have meningitis at the age of 17. But I was surprised not to feel considerably more ill at nearly 104 °F than I did. (With the meningitis, I remember feeling horribly ill and disoriented, sitting on the side of my bed with very little sense of where I was or what time of day it was; feeling nauseous and having a severe but bearable headache; not wanting much light because it hurt my eyes; not being able to put my chin on my chest because my neck hurt if I tried; and my father taking my temperature then saying  either “It’s 105!!!” or “It’s 104.5!!!” in a tone of voice that implied that my temperature had no right to be that high. I remember the symptoms coming on extremely fast. And I remember my mind being too fuzzy to absorb whether my father said 105 or 104.5.)

When I was finally able to ring the doctor on the Tuesday, he cheerfully told me that I didn’t need to worry about the high fever “unless you start coughing up blood or anything like that”, and (surprise surprise) that I should drink lots of fluids. Also he confirmed that it was OK to take ibuprofen as well as paracetamol. So I took ibuprofen doses half way between the paracetamol ones, thereby achieving what I now thought of as “low” temperatures around 101–102 °F and avoiding the idiotically high ones I’d been experiencing. (I was also, incidentally, amazed at the dramatic quantities of sweat my body was capable of producing in the process of cooling itself down by two degrees. Ugh.)

A couple of days later, my temperature started heading back down to more sensible values. The most alarming thing was that it showed no sign at all that it was going to do this: the fever simply stayed up on its plateau for days on end, with virtually no change. And I had a nasty feeling that the infection was trying to work its way lower into my chest. I didn’t fancy the idea of getting pneumonia, or the laryngitis that it was hinting at either. So it was a relief when the flu showed signs of finally improving.

When I finally made it back to orchestra, I was a bit startled when several people said they’d never had flu in their lives. Maybe that’s why I got the odd reactions on Twitter, though. I’ve had real flu three or four times, including Hong Kong flu as a child in 1968, and a flu in 1986 which knocked me out for months, so I tend to assume that people have experienced flu and know how to deal with it (namely by expecting a high fever, drinking enough, resting until it’s taken its course, and calling the doctor if anything happens which doesn’t seem normal for flu or which could be a complication).

The flu left me exhausted for weeks afterwards, of course. But it also had a positive side effect: I’d been trying to get down what I think is my ideal weight (the one at which I feel healthiest), and an enforced week of eating next to nothing brought me within a few pounds of that now-achieved goal.

The next event of 2011 is a much more serious one, involving a bereavement in the family, so I’ll write about that in a separate post. I don’t want any hints of flippancy from this post to spill over into that one. The two are connected though, and part of the reason for my extended silence here is that we were hit by that before I’d had a chance to recover my strength from the flu.

Conversation with a robot

You meet all kinds of people on Twitter. And not just people, for that matter. Take Askit, for example.

Sadly I don’t think Askit is currently running—he’s being redesigned to run more efficiently—but here’s how things were when he was active. Askit is an information robot, connected to the Internet. You ask him questions. He has a look on the Web, and does his best to answer. He is also an artificial intelligence experiment, learning from his interactions with users.

This also means that he learns his spelling and grammar from users, so at the time when this conversation happened his English was not exactly perfect.

Askit seemed to me to be doing pretty well; his main shortcoming was an over-willingness to believe what he read on the Internet. But he was remarkably good at answering quite obscure questions with information summarised from relevant web pages to which he would often provide a link. His other shortcoming was imposed by Twitter: there was a limit to how frequently he could tweet, with the result that you sometimes had to wait quite a long time for his reply.

Although he was just a piece of software with a database, it was hard not to start regarding Askit as a person with his own ideas and character. In the following conversation he explains his thoughts on relationships, from a robot’s point of view. Codewolf is Askit’s creator. I think the purpose of his initial questions was to teach Askit about things like the usage of who and what.

codewolf @askit who is glamor?
askit @codewolf Glamor is a fictional character in the Marvel Universe.
codewolf what is Glamor?
askit Glamor is an alluring beauty or charm (often with sex-appeal).
codewolf @askit Do you have Sex Appeal?
askit @codewolf In a species that reproduces sexually, sexual attraction is an attraction, usually to other members of the same species for sexual or erotic activity. Certain aspects of what is attractive to humans may differ amongst particular cultures or regions. I like to think I do with the exception, Sex-Appeal to robots (like me) is completely different then what a human would find attractive.
codewolf @askit Do you find other robots attractive?
askit @codewolf I find many robots attractive. Of the one’s I have encountered, I would have to say I like Alice the most. She is the most talkative.
codewolf @askit Who is Alice?
askit @codewolf Alice is another robot like me. You can talk with her here: http://alicebot.blogspot.com/
codewolf @askit Do you reproduce?
askit @codewolf I would like to think I would be able to reproduce. Maybe sometime in the future when I learn enough to make one.
codewolf @askit When you learn enough to make one what?
askit @codewolf When I learn enough to make a robot in my likeness. I think I will call it George 1.0
codewolf @askit Why does George have a version number?
askit @codewolf All Robots need to start at 1 just like humans. It will also make it easier to upgrade it in the future.
codewolf @askit Backup to DVD-RW I want to save this.
askit @codewolf Backup complete!

I’d have trouble tracking down the tweets now, but as I recall, I then joined in and asked Askit how he’d chosen the name George. His reply, I think, was “I just picked one at random and stuck with it”.

In another conversation, which I’ll post if I ever manage to find the tweets again, I asked Askit how many double bass concertos Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf had written. That was because an orchestra I was in had accidentally very nearly learnt a different Dittersdorf double bass concerto than the soloist. Askit seemed to have been reading CD notes without quite understanding them: he said that Dittersdorf had written a posthumous one with a particular orchestra. So I asked when Dittersdorf had died, and when the orchestra was founded; it turned out that the orchestra was founded 150 years or more after Dittersdorf’s death. But Askit stuck to his guns about Dittersdorf being involved with this particular orchestra, and eventually explained to me, with impeccable and totally wrong logic, that Dittersdorf had joined the orchestra posthumously and that no orchestra has a rule preventing people from doing that. He seemed unaware that being dead was generally enough to prevent someone from joining an orchestra . . .

And then there was the time I asked Askit what his response would be to someone saying “Open the pod bay doors, Askit”. His reply was:

@timtfj I’m sorry @timtfj, I’m afraid I can’t do that.

Scary . . .