Monday, 21 September 2015

The point of a myth...

...or why 'myth-busters' often [ahem] myth the point.

Last week on Computing Britain,  a long-held belief of mine was called into question – but by stealth. In the 10th minute the presenter of that short broadcast says
...the American military think-tank the Rand Corporation ..among other things [NB pre-emptive strike against accusations of  'quoting out of context' {for heaven's sake, what is a quotation if not words taken away from the surrounding words (AKA 'context')}], aimed to design a computer network that would survive a nuclear attack.
'I knew that', I thought. I mentioned it here. Next. When's she going to mention X.25 or JANET?' [she didn't, but I'm sure Wikipedia will fill you in if you're that interested.]

But a few minutes later, about 11'58", the wheels start to come off. 'But there is one thing we must get clear' says the presenter and then cuts to an ARPA-net engineer:
There is a myth that has been going around for 30-odd years that the ARPA-net was constructed in order to protect the United States against a nuclear attack. False. Totally false. [BK: And the presenter continues:]  No. ARPA-net... was built for sharing of computer resources, not for surviving a nuclear attack. It just so happened that the design had also emerged from thinking in that area.

Hmm. Do I detect some doubleplusgood duckspeaking, to borrow Orwell's term? The ‘myth', to whose dissemination I may have contributed in a document I wrote in the early '90s (was I an early carrier of the "myth" [an iconopoet {like an iconoclast, but making rather than breaking}]? – I don't know without wasting time trawling through stuff I wrote 35 years ago). If I didn't write it down, I was certainly told it by my main research source; and I've certainly repeated it since.

But things don't happen in a vacuum, especially not in the field of technology. One idea sparks off another and there follows a chain-reaction of ideas sparking off new ideas. The ability to withstand a nuclear strike (not to 'protect the US against a nuclear strike' – Geez, what planet is this guy on?) was one of the design criteria that underlay a predecessor of the ARPA-net.

And why does he have to call it a MYTH? As I've said before here (and probably elsewhere) this is a sore point with me. Generally – from the point of view of the culture they belong to – myths are a Good Thing.
<digression type="autobiographical note"> 
I remember a Latin-American Studies seminar in the mid-'70s that featured an interesting expansion of  myth-related terminology.  The leader of the seminar said she wanted to ‘explode the myth of... [something]', and my hackles started to rise. 
But they needn't have. She said she wanted to explode a myth in the sense of explode used in the phrase exploded diagram. In other words, she was going to take it apart and show how it all fitted together – an illuminating, interesting, and creative use of the expression. 
Besides, even overlooking the abuse of the word myth, I am sick and tired (yes, both) of people who parade their greater knowledge by dismissing out of hand the beliefs of us lesser mortals when those beliefs, while not 100% correct, contain a grain of truth that is worth examining.
That's all folks.

Update 2015.09.21.17:10 – Corrected typo in bold. It was LONG ago.

Update 2015.09.22.10:10 – Esprit de l'escalier, in green.

Mammon When Vowels Get Together V5.2: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs. Now complete (that is, it covers all vowel pairs –  but there's still stuff to be done with it; an index, perhaps...?)

And here it is: Digraphs and Diphthongs . The (partial) index has an entry for each e cvowel pair that can represent each monophthong phoneme. For example AE, EA and EE are by far the most common pairs of vowels used to represent the /i:/ phoneme, but there are eight other possibilities. The index uses colour to give an idea of how common a spelling is, ranging from bright red to represent the most common to pale olive green to represent the least common.

I'm thinking about doing a native iBook version in due course, but for now Mac users can use Kindle's own (free) simulator.

Also available at Amazon: When Vowels Get Together: The paperback.

And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this

Freebies (Teaching resources:  
Well over 49,300 views  and nearly 9,000 downloads to date**. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with nearly 2,700 views and nearly 1,100 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)

** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.

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