Sveinbjörn Þórðarson


Sveinbjörn Þórðarson skrifar...

Banks and his spring-boiled ptarmigan

14.2.2018 kl. 20:26 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Who in their right mind would want to boil meat of any kind in a hot spring? Must have been an unpleasant meal.

The Sir Lawrence voyage through the Western Isles brought the travellers to Staffa, where their descriptions of what they learnt to call Fingal’s Cave were soon lapped up by audiences eager to learn of volcanic marvels. Hebrideans impressed Banks less. Nor, initially, was Icelandic hospitality better, since the expedition was at first taken to be a raiding party of pirates. But soon Banks’ group met with a warmer welcome: his servants were so gorgeously uniformed that islanders found it hard to tell gentlemen from underlings. They visited the volcano Hekla, lava samples gathered and the astonishing geyser visited, where Banks arranged for a ptarmigan he had shot to be boiled in the hot spring [emphasis mine].

Banks and the Icelanders impressed each other. There were honorific odes, feasts of cod and shark and collections of Icelandic literature and flora shipped home to London. Banks had Hekla and a map of Iceland on his visiting card and ‘Baron Banks’ became a favoured toast when Icelanders and British visitors met. During the Napoleonic Wars, which involved conflict between Denmark and Britain, Banks often recommended either the annexation of the island or its occupation. Ever since, romanticised appreciation of Iceland’s marvels has been tangled up with similarly challenging political and environmental issues.



Cannibalism in the Congo

1.2.2018 kl. 12:50 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Twenty-three-year-old Chantal Tsesi woke to the sound of pre-dawn gunfire. Soldiers marched into her home carrying machetes and told her exactly what they were going to do. "Today we are going to cut off your arm," one of them said. She feared for her six-year-old son, the only other person with her in the house. "They cut off my arm," Tsesi told The UK Independent's Eliza Griswold in 2004. "They cooked it, while they were drinking our mandro [traditional beer], and ate it with the rest of the beans and rice." She added, "They told me they were going to find my husband and eat his heart."


Value of the Lecture

19.1.2018 kl. 22:07 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Great article on the enduring value of the lecture.

But lecture attendees do lots of things: they take notes, they react, they scan the room for reactions, and most importantly, they listen. Listening to a sustained, hour-long argument requires initiative, will, and focus. In other words, it is an activity ... No matter how fast-paced the world becomes, listening will remain essential to public dialogue and debate.


Double negatives in prose

19.1.2018 kl. 21:17 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Hilarious letter from a reader to The Economist (cited in the paper's style guide):

At times just one sentence in The Economist can give us hours of enjoyment, such as "Yet German diplomats in Belgrade failed to persuade their government that it was wrong to think that the threat of international recognition of Croatia and Slovenia would itself deter Serbia."

During my many years as a reader of your newspaper, I have distilled two lessons about the use of our language. Firstly, it is usually easier to write a double negative than it is to interpret it. Secondly, unless the description of an event which is considered to be not without consequence includes a double or higher-order negative, then it cannot be disproven that the writer has neglected to eliminate other interpretations of the event which are not satisfactory in light of other possibly not unrelated events which might not have occurred at all.

For these reasons, I have not neglected your timely reminder that I ought not to let my subscription lapse. It certainly cannot be said that I am an unhappy reader.

Willard Dunning


Edward Gibbon on his time at Oxford

17.1.2018 kl. 18:51 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

To the university of Oxford I acknowledge no obligation; and she will as cheerfully renounce me for a son, as I am willing to disclaim her for a mother. I spent fourteen months at Magdalen College; they proved the fourteen months the most idle and unprofitable of my whole life...

In the university of Oxford, the greater part of the public professors have for these many years given up altogether even the pretence of teaching.

As a gentleman commoner, I was admitted to the society of the fellows, and fondly expected that some questions of literature would be the amusing and instructive topics of their discourse. Their conversation stagnated in a round of college business, Tory politics, personal anecdotes, and private scandal...The names of Wenman and Dashwood were more frequently pronounced, than those of Cicero and Chrysostom.


UI fail

15.1.2018 kl. 17:01 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Around 8:05 a.m., the Hawaii emergency employee initiated the internal test, according to a timeline released by the state. From a drop-down menu on a computer program, he saw two options: “Test missile alert” and “Missile alert.” He was supposed to choose the former; as much of the world now knows, he chose the latter, an initiation of a real-life missile alert. […]

Around 8:07 a.m., an errant alert went out to scores of Hawaii residents and tourists on their cellphones: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” A more detailed message scrolled across television screens in Hawaii, suggesting, “If you are indoors, stay indoors. If you are outdoors, seek immediate shelter in a building. Remain indoors well away from windows. If you are driving, pull safely to the side of the road and seek shelter in a building or lay on the floor.”

As John Gruber of Daring Fireball puts it, "this is just terrible, terrible user interface design."


Allt passíft í íslenskri fréttamennsku

12.1.2018 kl. 22:19 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Eitt af því sem maður lærir af enskum bókum um blaðamennsku er að góðar, vel skrifaðar fréttar segja lesendum hver gerði hvað hvernig, hvar og hvers vegna. Þessi skynsömu prinsíp virðast því miður ekki vera í hávegum höfð hjá íslenskum fréttamönnum. Í íslenskum fréttum er t.d. oft ekki skýrt hver gerandinn er. Heilu fréttirnar eru jafnvel skrifaðar í passive mode. Tökum sem dæmi eftirfarandi setningu úr nýlegri frétt á RÚV:

Greint hefur verið frá því að til standi að endurskoða innheimtu veiðigjalda.

Hver greindi frá því? Hvenær stendur það til? Hvers eðlis er endurskoðunin? Af hverju er verið að gera þetta? Hver ber ábyrgð?

Það er allt saman óljóst. Það eina sem lesandinn lærir er að eitthvað standi til, og að einhver (hver?) hafi greint frá því. Skelfilega slappur fréttamannastíll.


What kind of fantasies next?

29.12.2017 kl. 21:44 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Harari on our new fantasies:

Virtual realities are likely to be key to providing meaning to the useless class of the post-work world. Maybe these virtual realities will be generated inside computers. Maybe they will be generated outside computers, in the shape of new religions and ideologies. Maybe it will be a combination of the two. The possibilities are endless.


Íslenskumetnaður hjá EasyJet

13.12.2017 kl. 16:40 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

Í gær flaug ég í fyrsta sinn til Íslands með erlendu flugfélagi, EasyJet. Það var svosem ágætis upplifun, eins langt og það nær, en eitt vakti þó sérlega mikla kátínu hjá mér: Tilkynningar um borð í vélinni voru þuldar á íslensku jafnt sem ensku þrátt fyrir að við Drífa værum bersýnilega einu Íslendingarnir um borð. Þulurinn var samt greinilega ekki Íslendingur og við veltum því fyrir okkur hvaðan hreimurinn kæmi. Að lokum ályktuðum við að þarna væri sennilega Norðmaður á ferð, enda skoplegur sing-song hrynjandi í þessu. En getur þetta verið talgervill? Ef svo, þá er hann furðugóður!

EasyJet fær klárlega prik fyrir metnað. Þeir reyna, sem er meira en hægt er að segja um Wow Air, sem hefur gefist upp á íslenskunni. Enda ekki nógu hipp og kúl tungumál fyrir svona svakalega hipp og kúl flugfélag.


European languages - How tough are they for English speakers?

30.11.2017 kl. 14:51 - Sveinbjörn Þórðarson

This interesting map shows Foreign Service Institute estimates of how difficult it is for a native English speaker to learn the various European languages. Icelandic is way tougher than the other Germanic languages, right up there with the Slavic family. Sounds about right.

language difficulties

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