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November 04, 2005

Arithmetical Poetry

One of the first teacher guides for teaching arithmetic was The Tutor's Guide by Charles Vyse, circa 1775. Although I have not (yet) seen a copy myself I have found the following extracts from it. Apparently Vyse felt that an effective way to teach arithmetic is to present worded problems via the medium of smutty and tongue-in-cheek verse.



When first the marriage-knot was tied
Between my wife and me,
My age to her’s we found agreed
As three times three to three;
But when ten years, and half ten years,
We man and wife had been,
Her age came up as near to mine
As eight is to sixteen.
Now, tell me, I pray,
What were our ages on the wedding day?
[Not original.]


Once as I walked upon the banks of the Rye
I, in the Meads, three beauteous nymphs did spy,
Saying “Well met, we’ve business to impart
Which we cannot decide without your Art:
Our Grannum’s dead, and left a Legacy,
Which is to be divided amongst three:
In Pounds it is two hundred twenty-nine,
Also a good mark, being sterling coin.”
Then spake the eldest of the lovely three,
“I’ll tell you how it must divided be;
Likewise our names I unto you will tell,
Mine is Moll, the others Anne and Nell.
As oft as I five and five-ninths do take,
Anne takes four and three-sevenths her Part to make:
As oft Anne four and one-ninth does tell,
Three and two-three must be took up by Nell.


A castle wall there was, whose height was found
To be an hundred feet from th’ Top to th’ ground:
Against the wall a ladder stood upright,
Of the same length the castle was in height.
A waggish youth did the ladder slide;
(The bottom of it) ten feet from the side;
Now I would know how far the top did fall,
By pulling out the ladder from the wall.

October 27, 2005

Francis Wheen

Writing about web page,6109,1140156,00.html

Francis Wheen is perhaps my favourite writer, broadcaster and journalist. He writes the Street of Shame column in Private Eye in which he exposes the hypocrisy and in-house scandals of stories in Britain's newspapers.

His recent book How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World makes a case for the decline of reason over the last quarter of a century. Wheen's targets include the rise of theocracy in the Middle East and, arguably, Republican America; the increasing fashionability for New-Agism in Britain, including the increase in lifestyle Gurus and alternative medicine; the sillier aspects of postmodern thinking; the unquestioning worship of lassez-faire market principles and the teaching of creation mythology as science in some British schools. The best thing about Wheen is his no-nonsense, cutting prose style – almost every sentence could act as a stand-alone quotation. It is controversial and refreshing stuff.

A brief introduction to Wheen's writing is available at the Guardian webpage Francis Wheen's top 10 modern delusions. His Radio 4 programme The History of Folly can be listened to on-line here.

October 11, 2005

Nineteen Eighty Four

Writing about web page

My favourite book is 1984 by George Orwell. When I first read it as a teenager it had a profound impact on me. At the time I was just realising that the world is a pretty screwed up place, all in all, yet my peers and most adults accepted it cheerfully and without question, or at least seemed to. In Winston Smith, the book's protagonist, I found a soul mate – another who knew something was deeply wrong but couldn't express it nor find an ally in his plight.

Particularly profound was when Winston obtains a copy of the banned book The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism by underground resistance leader Emmanuel Goldstein. Just as Winston had found a description of the true nature of reailty in Goldstein's book, so had I in Orwell's book.

I'm older now and naturally no longer have such a messianic opinion of 1984. But I have read it many times and, though I have never studied it formally, have spotted the following apparent flaws and problems:-

  • In the first chapter Winston turns down the volume on the telescreen. Why would he ever have turned it up to need turning down?
  • Why are telescreens unaffected by power cuts?
  • Why do O'Brien and others write the Goldstein book? Is it accurate?
  • Is The Times actually published and printed? If so how can it be constantly rewritten with any credibility?
  • How does Julia obtain real coffee etc? Is it from corrupt inner party members and if so does she sleep with them? – if so why is she interested in pasty outer-party Winston and his itchy ulcer? If she just buys it on the black market then how come Winston never got in on the action with all his visits to prole areas?
  • Is there a genuine affinity between O'Brien and Winston? Does O'Brien take more time and effort over winston than your average subversive?

If anyone has any solutions to these, or any problems of their own with the book, I would be intrigued to hear.

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