Thursday, 14 July 2016

Jupiter And Juno

While the citizens of the United States of America* were celebrating the Fourth of July, Independence* Day, other celebrations of a more ecstatic and rapturous nature were happening at NASA*. The space probe Juno finally completed its journey of 2.8 billion kilometres (1.8 billion miles) and began its orbit around Jupiter, the gas giant of our solar system. Juno is part of NASA’s New Frontiers space exploration programme and was launched on 5 August 2011*  from Cape Canaveral in Florida at a cost of 1.1 billion US dollars* (as at that date). Jupiter is named after the chief god of Roman mythology, with Juno being his goddess wife. It is one tenth the size of the sun and 318 times the size of the Earth. It takes 12 years to go round the sun but because of its fast rate of* spin, the day is only 9.8 hours long.

* Omission phase "United States of America"

* "Independence" A well-known phrase, therefore safeto use the contraction, but could be written in full if felt necessary, to distinguish it from "independent"

* "NASA" An acronym, i.e. initial letters pronounced as a word, therefore use an outline for the spoken sound

* "dollars" You can intersect stroke D for "dollars" where convenient but not possible here

* "rate of" Not using the F Hook for "of", because it might be misread as "rotation" which also makes sense in this context

After launch Juno was placed in a heliocentric* orbit beyond the orbit of Mars and after thirteen* months it carried out* two deep space manoeuvres, then returned towards Earth for a gravity assist flyby in October 2013*  to boost its velocity, in order to* put it on a trajectory to Jupiter. After this came two years of quiet cruise and then the beginning of the Jupiter approach phase. It performed a large orbit insertion manoeuvre to place it in a capture orbit, followed by a period reduction manoeuvre in order to achieve its science orbit position. Juno will circle the planet 37 times over the course of the next twenty months, in an elliptical orbit in order to* avoid the regions of high radiation. At the end of its mission, Juno will make a deorbit burn which will result in a destructive entry into Jupiter’s atmosphere. The purpose for the planned destruction of the probe is to avoid* a possible future collision with one of Jupiter’s moons and any resultant contamination.

* "heliocentric" The outline needs a downward L, therefore it cannot have a Tick Hay

* "thirteen" Ensure the hook is clear, so it is not misread as "thirty"

* "carried out" Halving for the T of "out"

* "2013" Long slash for current century, arbitrary sign with no phonetic value

* Omission phrase "in ord(er to)"

* "avoid" Insert the diphthong, as it is similar to "evade" in outline and meaning

The spacecraft’s scientific instrument payload is as follows:

  • Gravity Science is a gravity radio science system
  • MWR* is a six-wavelength microwave radiometer for atmospheric sounding and composition
  • MAG is a vector magnetometer
  • JADE (Jovian Auroral Distributions Experiment) and JEDI (Jupiter Energetic Particle Detector Instrument) are plasma and energetic particle detectors
  • Waves is a radio plasma wave experiment
  • UVS* is an ultraviolet imager/spectrometer
  • JIRAM (Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper) is an infrared imager/spectrometer 
  • JunoCam is a colour camera that will take photos of the poles and atmosphere

* "MWR" "UVS" These are initialisms, therefore use lower case longhand letters, the others are acronyms which can be pronounced as words, like NASA in para 1

Jupiter is five times further from the sun than Earth and receives one twenty-fifth of the amount of sunlight that we do, therefore the solar panels are larger than those used on other missions. Juno is the first spacecraft to travel this far using only solar power. The three solar panels were folded into four segments in order to fit into the launch vehicle, and when the solar array is open* the spacecraft has a span of 66 feet or 20 metres. The orbit paths have been planned so that the panels are in continuous  sunlight. Power requirements are quite low, as it is only needed for approximately 6 hours per orbit, at the time when Juno is closest to the planet, in order to* power the scientific equipment. Juno has a titanium* outer shell and is carrying the first radiation shielded electronics vault, to protect the sensitive electronics, an essential feature for exploring in this heavy radiation space environment.

* "open" Ensure the P is clearly full length, as "opened" would also make sense

* Omission phrase "in ord(er to)"

* "titanium" Can also be pronounced "tye-"

Juno resumed high-rate communications on 5 July and powered up some of the scientific instruments the next day. The next close flyby will be on 27 August, within 2,600 miles of the cloud top, and scientists will start to receive the transmission of the first preliminary science data including information about the composition and temperature of the swirling gas clouds (which presently are known to be mainly hydrogen and helium), cloud movements, how much water is in its atmosphere, information about what lies beneath the cloud canopy and the behaviour of the weather systems that give the planet its striped appearance. They will be able to map its magnetic and gravity fields, and its magnetosphere and auroras at the poles and use this information to understand how the magnetic force affects its atmosphere. Forty years ago NASA's Pioneer probe gained the first close-up photographs of the striated gas clouds and the high pressure* vortex (commonly called the red spot), at a distance of 81,000 miles above the clouds.

* Omission phrase "high (pre)ssure"

Juno will be constantly carrying out complex manoeuvres to avoid the intense turbulence caused* by Jupiter's fast rate of spin and space debris, principally in its ring of dust and rock fragments. The engineers at NASA have an ongoing task to keep Juno safe to continue its mission, but at its end the spacecraft will itself become space debris and finally descend into Jupiter’s atmosphere. The mission will continue back on home ground, as the information that Juno relayed back to Earth is processed, enabling scientists to improve their understanding of planet formation and unravel the mysteries of a planet that has been described as a relentless unforgiving monster and the biggest baddest planet in the solar system. Once the scientists have all this data, they may find that the Jovian giant is not a baddie but more a prolific giver of valuable information that progresses our scientific knowledge and has generously repaid the daring nature of Juno's mission. (892 words)

* "caused" Special outline, to differentiate from "cost"

Saturday, 9 July 2016


A few weeks ago* I was sitting in a clinic waiting room, accompanying someone for their appointment. There was a long bookshelf containing a multitude of leaflets on dealing with health issues and how people can look after themselves to improve their health. As these were hospital publications, they advised consulting the doctor or healthcare professional before starting with the easier and gentler activities and developing* them once you become stronger* and more familiar with the exercises. Patients were invited to attend a series of exercise sessions which are supervised by exercise specialists, who can tailor the programme to individual needs and medical conditions. There were* comments from people who felt it had greatly improved* their strength and stamina, and they were very pleased with the results, which they had achieved with the support and help of the exercise specialists and instructors.

* Omission phrase "few wee(k)s ago"  "there (w)ere"

* "developing" This optional contraction is for "development" but it is safe to use it for the verb as well

* "stronger" Optional contraction omitting the hard G sound

* "improved" Optional short dash through last stroke of short form or contraction to indicate past tense

Much of the literature advised taking regular gentle exercise. Here are some of the recommendations they gave. Go for a walk, cycle to work or the shops, do some gardening or go swimming. Get off the bus one stop before your usual one, or park your car further away than usual, then walk the rest of the way. Take the stairs instead of using the lift or elevator. Anyone in reasonable health can incorporate* more of these types of activity into their daily life* in order to* improve their health. It is easy to become more physically active, but a decision has to be made* to make some changes, however small, into one's normal lifestyle. Once the benefits are felt, then increasing the activities or finding new ones becomes more attractive. According to the* advice leaflets, a moderate level of regular exercise can improve the efficiency of the heart and lungs, reduce the risk of heart disease and control blood pressure*. Muscular strength and mobility can also be improved*, stress and depression reduced, and there may be significant improvements in weight loss, with the benefit of renewed confidence and an increase in energy levels.

* "incorporate" The P stroke is the "first up or downstroke" and is therefore in position, on the line for 3rd position, as it is halved.

* "daily life" This could also be written with only one L stroke, as an omission phrase, but this version is clearer

* Omission phrase "in ord(er to)"  "according (to) the"  "blood (pre)ssure"

* "has to be made" Ensure the first circle is well above the line, as "is to be made" could also make sense in some contexts

* "improved" See previous para

In my twenties I worked in a very noisy typing pool, which was a central location in the office building where all the letters and reports were typed. We did this all day, unless there was an hour or two on the duplicating machine, which was even noisier than the typewriters. I only left the room to take shorthand in the general offices, maybe for an hour or so. Every lunchtime* I would leave the office and walk round the shops. After a morning spent typing piles of letters on a manual or electric typewriter (no computers* then), the fresh air and walking was very welcome and necessary. I would take a different route around the streets each day, regardless of the weather. I arrived back with ten minutes to spare to eat lunch. My head was clearer, energy was restored and the afternoon's work was more pleasant, having taken that break and exercised muscles other than arms and fingers. Unfortunately that was still long before I knew about improving diet and so my health was not as good as it could have been*. I had a long walk to and from the bus-stop at both ends of the day, which is an advantage when you have been sitting at a desk for most of the day.

* "lunchtime" Halving for the T of "time"

* "computers" Does not use doubling in the plural, as the U diphthong cannot be joined

* "it could have been" The "could" is not phrased with the "it", in order to show it in its true position, so it is not misread as "can"

Some people prefer a more structured time of exercising and choose to become a member of a gym or fitness centre, where they can take advantage of all the equipment, such as running and jogging machines, weight lifting and strength training equipment. They can programme in their requirements* and monitor their progress, breathing, heart rate, running speed and virtual distance covered. They do not have to concern themselves about the weather and can safely run whilst listening to their music. They may choose to buy all the specialised* clothing, such as Lycra and Spandex tops and jogging trousers, base layers that keep the sweat away from the skin, trainer shoes and footwear* that absorb the shock and protect the joints of the feet and legs from injury or strain, and various support garments to prevent muscle injury.

* "requirements" This can also be written as an intersection

* "specialised" Essential to insert the diphtong, to differentiate from "specialist"

* "footwear" Insert the vowel in this and in "knitwear", and keep the thickening clear in "underwear" as these are all similar in shape and meaning (i.e. all items of clothing)

My preference is to take exercise outdoors with the maximum amount of fresh air. I like to have a target destination in mind, as otherwise I might be tempted to hurry back to my computer and carry on sitting unhealthily for long periods, active only on the keyboard and mouse. Fortunately my computer is upstairs and so frequent trips up and down the stairs add to the daily exercise. However, no amount of incidental home exercise can compare with the more beneficial movement involved in walking and striding down the road, and going round a park or open green space, preferably keeping away from the traffic fumes near the main roads. The distances are greater and there is more incentive to walk further and investigate everything of interest.

It can be tempting to press on with the other types of exercises, those in the shorthand book, and there is a place for putting in a concerted effort for a goodly period of time. On the other hand*, one could easily decide that getting fresh air/drink/snack is overdue simply because the shorthand is getting difficult, especially when a new concept is being introduced, or a higher speed is being attempted. It seems to me* useful to decide in advance the length of the study time and break times. However hard your mind is working on the shorthand, the limbs are probably being held fairly motionless and maybe your back and shoulders are leaning over the desk, there may be the temptation to cross the feet and tuck them under the chair, thus losing some support for the back, and possibly the hand gripping the pen as the speed effort increases. It needs a conscious effort to continue to sit up straight and not slump, and if keeping a good posture becomes a problem to achieve and maintain, then the desk, chair and footrest probably need attention as well.

* Omission phrase "on the oth(er) hand"

* "It seems to me" Essential to insert the vowel in "me" as this is very similar to the phrase "it seems important"

It helps to think of the way you would sit in an important interview, which would be upright but relaxed, attentive and alert, listening to every word, and not leaning over ready to fall asleep when it all gets too much! In my teenage years, one day I realised that I was walking with a slightly stooped posture, looking at the ground before me most of the time, just like one does when walking into the wind. I made the effort to straighten* my back, raise my face and look forward when walking. This had a dramatic effect on my wellbeing, as all the muscles were now doing the activity as they should. I felt an increase in energy and actually enjoyed walking much more* instead of getting tired and wanting to reach the destination quickly. This was the first time that I found I could make an improvement simply by changing a habit and it was quite a revelation to me at the time. Up until then I did everything on autopilot without any thought. Although it was a relatively small change, this realisation, that habits can be captured, thought about and changed for the better, if done purposefully, was actually more useful than the mere physical improvement, which, although not the most dramatic, was definitely a step in the right direction: upwards, onwards and forwards. (1234 words)

* "straighten" Note that the past tense "straightened" is disjoined, as the strokes are different lengths

* Omission phrase "much m(ore)"

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Short Letters 7

All the paragraphs are 100 words

Dear Mr Andrews, Thank you for your email giving us a date when our representative may call on you to discuss the building work at your house. I can confirm that he will be arriving at 9 a.m. on Monday 21st January. He will be bringing with him the amended plans for the extension and the new layout for the landscaping work. I have attached these for your consideration so that when he comes, you and he can discuss any extra alterations you wish us to make. Please email me if you need to change the meeting date. Yours faithfully (100 words)

Dear Friends, We have now received the report from our accountants regarding the finances of the Sports Club and I am happy to attach them for your consideration. I trust that you will* find all of these satisfactory but if you have any questions*, please feel free to contact me and I will do my best to answer them. Once again* our membership has increased over the previous year and we are delighted that our financial situation has improved* greatly. We are now looking forward to being able to make improvements to our facilities, buildings and membership rates. Yours sincerely* (100 words)

*  Omission phrases "I trus(t) that you will"  "wu(n)s again"  "Yours (sin)cerely"

* "questions" Optional contraction

* "improved" Optional short dash through last stroke of contraction to indicate past tense

Dear Parents, Thank you so much for supporting our fundraising day at the school last week*. It was a great day and I am very pleased to inform you that we raised more than our target figure of one thousand pounds. As you know, this is going to be used to redecorate the play areas and update all the equipment, including the playground games. This will* take place over the summer months when the school is closed for the holidays. We hope to see you in September for our Harvest Fete and show you all the new improvements. Yours truly (100 words)

* Omission phrase "las(t w)eek"

* "This will" Downward L to make a good join

Dear Miss Wood, I am replying to the complaint which you made about the washing machine* which you bought from our Newtown High Street store. Please accept our apologies for this breakdown of the appliance. Our engineer will be contacting you very shortly to arrange a date to inspect this. If he cannot effect a repair, we will replace the machine immediately with an identical model, although if you wish this could be any model of similar price that you prefer. I trust that this action will resolve the matter for you to your satisfaction. Yours sincerely*, Customer Services Manager (100 words)

* Omission phrases "wash(ing) machine"  "Yours (sin)cerely"

Dear Sir David, I am writing to congratulate you on the success of your recent book entitled “Travels Around The World.” I really enjoyed reading about the places you travelled to and it brought back happy memories of some of the towns which I visited many years ago when I lived in the United States of America* for a year, and in Australia for two years. I wish you all the best with the next book, which I shall look forward* to reading as soon as it is available. With best wishes* to you, Mary and the family, Tom Green (100 words)

* Omission phrases "United States of America"  "look fo(r)ward"

* "best wishes" Upward Ish to make a good join

Dear Alfred*, I hope you are keeping well and that you and Anna are enjoying your retirement. I think your move to the village was a good one, where you can both relax a bit more after all those years in the city. One of our colleagues has decided to write a short history of the company and wondered whether you would be willing to answer a few brief questions. If so, I could forward them on to you to answer at your leisure, and there is no particular hurry, as it is a hobby project. Best regards, Albert* Morris (100 words)

* "Alfred, Albert" Care needed to write these accurately, as they are very similar

* Omission phrase "I (h)ope you are"

Dear Mrs Johnson, Thank you for your application form for the post of Accounts Assistant in our City office. Please attend for interview on Monday 28 July at 11.30 am, and bring with you all the certificates that you listed on your form, so that we can make a copy of these for our records. You are invited to arrive early so that you can take some refreshments before being called in. The interview will consist of a time of questions* with Mr Black and then a short written test on accountancy, office and English skills. Yours sincerely*, Personnel Manager (100 words) (700 words Total)

* "questions" Optional contraction

* Omission phrase "Yours (sin)cerely"

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Caravan Holidays

Our annual caravan holiday in the nineteen sixties was the highlight of our year, from our home in South London to the seaside towns of Clacton, Herne Bay, Seaford or Newhaven. What is now a short day trip by car was then a huge adventure by coach or train. All the luggage was carried by hand and we waited for what seemed like ages at the coach pickup point or railway station. Time was passed by playing with the Scoubidou knotting* toy which was popular at that time, consisting of lengths of plastic that could be woven into a multi-coloured chain. This would be undone and redone several times throughout the holiday, and it helped pass the time while sitting on a suitcase waiting for the coach to come into view. The coach was slower than the train but it had the advantage of a halfway break, although we children wanted that break to be as short as possible.

* "knotting" Always insert the vowel in "knitting, knotting, netting" as the outlines and meanings are all similar

On arrival, there was more lugging of suitcases and maybe the possibility* of a short bus ride to the caravan park. At the site office we collected the key which was always on a very large wooden keyring, about the size of a smartphone today, to make it impossible to lose. The caravans were all numbered* or had individual names, and the rows were marked with letters of the alphabet. There were some quite large caravans but we knew that ours was one of the cheapest, so we were not really surprised as they shrank in size as we got nearer our row. This was all forgotten as we mounted the three little steps and opened the creaking door, revealing the delightful prospect of inspecting all the cupboards. We were always very excited to find the well-used boxes of board games and a few story books. There were just enough blankets to cover us but not enough to be entirely comfortable all night. The lighting was by gas mantle which started off as an impregnated cotton globe. After its first use, it became very brittle and fragile, and we had to be very careful* not to touch or disturb it during the week.

* "possibility" Optional contraction

* "numbered" Optional short dash through the last stroke of contraction to indicate past tense

* "careful" Optional contraction

There were* no toilets in the caravans, all facilities were contained in the communal wash block. The shower water was only just warm enough and we did not* look too hard at the grimy tiled corners and pipework in case we saw the spiders. Drinking and washing up water had to be fetched from an outside standpipe and the dirty dish water went down the sink and into a large galvanised bucket underneath the caravan, which then had to be lugged to the communal drain for emptying. The grass round the bucket and under the site water taps always grew longer and greener than elsewhere. All these were not disadvantages, but added to our enjoyment and sense of achievement in surviving without the comparative luxuries of home.

* Omission phrase "there (w)ere"

* "we did not" Not phrased, to aid correct reading. If phrased it would look like "we do not" or "we had not".

Our grandparents had saved coins in a jam jar all year and so we felt like millionaires with a whole ten shillings* each to spend. This would equate to about fifty pounds* today, in terms of what it would buy in the way of beach toys, sweets and souvenirs. At the site store we bought plastic beach shoes and straw hats, and invested in a tin of chocolate drink powder that could be added to milk, which had to last all week. We children had beds that felt not much larger than a bookshelf, while our parents had the fold-down double bed that filled the centre of the caravan. We fell asleep listening to the unaccustomed countryside sounds of farm animals, seagulls and crows rather than the pigeons and sparrows that we were used to. There was total darkness outside, apart from the glowing windows of the other caravans. The day’s activities ensured that we slept soundly and by midweek we had got used to turning over in bed on the spot, without rolling off.

* "ten shillings" There were 20 shillings to the British pound pre-1972 decimalisation

* "pounds" Best to always insert the diphthong, as "pence" is similar

Mornings announced themselves through the ancient floral curtains. Anticipation of the pleasures ahead, the small size of the beds, and the desire not to waste precious minutes all encouraged us to get up as soon as our eyes opened. The door was flung wide and the fresh air enticed us outside while breakfast was prepared, along with the day’s sandwiches. The sky was studied intently for offending grey clouds and plans for the day were discussed. Time at the beach was the priority, and going round the town was reserved for later if the weather turned cooler or rainy. Rain during the evening, however, would be positively relished as it pounded on the metal caravan roof, but with the hope that it would be over by the morning and the sun shining again.

Days at the beach were unhurried* and consisted of sea, salt, sand and sandwiches. However hot the day, the sea around Britain is always cold, and so dips in the sea were only possible on a really hot day. If it was too chilly to go in, the sea could still be enjoyed by playing dare with the waves as they broke and advanced up the shingle, or bouncing flat stones off the incoming waves. The only warm water to be found would be in a shallow rock pool, with its accumulation of soft sand in which to sink toes, although the thought of a crab or two hiding did mean it had to be poked with a stick to ensure it was safe to tread in, or maybe wait for someone else to clear the way before I set my feet in it!

* "unhurried" Note the Hay stroke keeps its clockwise direction. The combination N + Circle S + Ray has an anticlockwise circle e.g. "answer, nicer"

After the evening meal, we would open the dusty and faded boxes* of Ludo and Draughts, and the packs* of playing and Snap cards. My favourite card game was Fish, but the game of Snap was not restful* at all. Games by gaslight led to an early night, as staying up late in a cramped and ill-lit caravan was out of the question*. Our activities were ruled by daylight and weather, rather than the electric light bulb and the clock. We had to be well organised with a last visit to the wash block before darkness, and once the central double bed was unfolded, there was little chance to move around the caravan.

* "boxes" "packs" Insert the vowels, as these two are similar in outline and meaning

* "restful" Omits the lightly sounded T

* Omission phrase "out (of the) question" using the optional contraction for "question"

Damp sand gradually* accumulated in bags, socks and shoes, along with the aroma of seawater and seaweed. By the end of the week we had a collection of buckets, spades, shells, and stones with interesting patterns or holes containing glistening salt crystals. The chocolate powder seldom lasted beyond midweek, and on the last day we almost convinced ourselves that we were looking forwardto the greater comforts of home. On the last day inclement weather was our friend, because we would not be looking wistfully* at a sunny beach that we were having to leave behind. The sense of adventure and discovery is permanently attached to the memories of those holidays, and, in hindsight, we now envy the easy ability to rest completely from school and work, without the intrusion of mobile phones and laptops which did not then exist. A week spent finding out that we could survive, and enjoy ourselves, without our house and possessions made us realise that home is people and enjoying activities together, and not a building. (1226 words)

* "gradually" has full D, in order to distinguish it from "greatly"

* Omission phrase "looking fo(r)ward"

* "wistfully" Omits the lightly sounded T

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Pitter Patter Raindrops

Parked in the hangar
until skies clear
We have had some very heavy rain in the last few days and more is forecast for the rest of the week. We would normally expect fine weather in the month of June and thunderstorms to come in July, but they are here now. Our roads are perfect man-made stream beds, and as there are hills where I live, those roads that point downwards get the water from all the other ones, providing the spectacle of twin streams racing down the gutters on both sides, clearing out any debris and jumping over the drains that cannot handle the quantity. This is unusual enough to be interesting to watch, but not so much as to pose any threat to the residents or their property.

We have a particular liking for heavy rain, as long as we are indoors feeling safe and cosy underneath the dependable and well-built roof, behind the solid walls and on this side of the two panes of double glazing, watching the giant drops pelting the plants, jumping up off the hard surfaces and turning the pond from peacefully* smooth to a spiky confusion of droplets rebounding up from their* impact with the water. The fish love it, as flies and other critters* are washed in from the air, the* branches and the greenery along the edges, and it also adds to the aeration of the pond, as well as bringing its own fresh flavour to the pond water for them.

* "peacefully" Insert the final dot, as "peaceful" could also make sense

* "from their " Doubling for "their"

* "critters" Note the outline for "creatures" has an Ar instead of the R Hook

* "air, the" Not phrased, as there is a pause

I think our little game of triumphing over the rain started when we had caravan holidays many years ago. The caravans were very small by today’s standards, but it was a hugely exciting adventure for us children. The rain would drum on the metal roof and reverberate around the interior, but we were safe in our little wood and metal box. We could look out of the window and see through the misty glass all the other little boxy caravans with their dim lights on. Somehow we felt that if it rained at night, then the rain was all used up and tomorrow would be fine and sunny, ready for a day on the beach. If it continued into the day, then visits to the souvenir shops had to make up for the lack of good beach weather. There were always the amusement* arcades to fill any* rainy hours, or the choppy angry seas to watch, which left us wondering why we ever thought it was possible or advisable to paddle in it.

* "amusement" It is obvious that it is not "amazement" here, but the other forms of "amaze/amuse" and derivatives should always have their vowel in

* "any" Essential to insert a final dot vowel, as "fill in" would also make sense

Door in the right place - minimum of
six inches from the base to protect
the nestlings from predators
In a former house that we lived in as children, some of the boys decided to make a hut from scraps of wood. They used the existing fence as one side, and built up their hut from any spare bits of wood they could find. It was about the size and height of a telephone box and I was allowed in so that we could all huddle there against the rain, in our private self-built* bolthole. Some bread and water would complete the supplies, but most importantly* of all it had to be raining. Unfortunately one could only get in through the roof, lifting off one of the panels. I did manage this several times, although I felt it was not the best place to put the entrance. Maybe this is where I began planning what a good house ought to be like, continuing to this day, and starting with having a door in the right place. Just struggling to get in added to the sense of adventure and achievement, and I think maybe they put it there as a security measure, as no adults could climb up and get in!

* "self-built" Outlines beginning "self" are always written in 2nd position, to accord with the vowel in "self"

* Omission phrase "mos(t) importantly"

Nowadays I can sit in my greenhouse, which has seats rather than plants, and listen to the sound of the rain hitting the roof. Unlike the caravan, the rain can be seen streaming down the glass on all sides, so I feel that* I am out in it but strangely unaffected by the wet and the wind. It has a small gutter along each side and the rain shoots out of them in spluttering cascades when there is too much water for the downpipes to take. Summer rain is not particularly cold, so it is a pleasant* way to watch the pond get drilled with the watery* missiles and the fish making the occasional lunge at flies that have washed in. Getting back to the house, only twenty feet away, before the rain stops is another story though and one of my favourite nursery rhymes says it all:

I hear thunder, I hear thunder!
Hark don’t you, hark don’t you?
Pitter patter raindrops, pitter patter raindrops,
I’m wet through, so are you! (779 words)

* Omission phrase "I fee(l) that"

* "pleasant" Helpful to insert the vowel, as it is similar to "pleasing"

* "watery" Insert the vowel, as "water" would also make sense

Monday, 13 June 2016

We Like To Abbrev

Pen shorthand is often described as requiring the learner to memorise vast quantities of arbitrary abbreviations and so dismissed as unwieldy, unreasonable and outmoded. As a shorthand student* or writer, you now know that this is not true. Pitman’s, Gregg and Teeline* have a small number of* strokes and signs to learn, and like longhand, these are combined in a logical manner, with various other shortening devices, to form the words. Pitman’s and Gregg follow pronunciation, for example omitting the silent K in "knife" and writing “cough” with just three symbols. Some outlines depart from the rules in order not to clash with others but these are a minority. Teeline, although largely based on spelling, also finds it convenient to avoid these inconsistencies of normal spelling, but writers can include as much or as little of each word as they wish. All these systems are capable of representing the whole word and all its sounds, but find it more useful to abbreviate the more common ones, or those that would be awkward or too lengthy to write in full. This is nothing new as everyone already does this with their longhand.

* Omission phrase "shorthand s(t)udent"

* "Teeline" Insert the dot vowel, as this has the same shape as "outline", although the caps marks helps it to be read correctly

* "number of" This is the same outline as "brief" so always insert the vowel in the latter

With these systems, the shorthand is not really a means of abbreviation in that they do not require every word to be reduced down to a barely recognisable fragment of the original, hence the misconception that everything must be* memorised individually. The symbols for each sound are very much simpler than letters of the alphabet, and this is why they are faster to write, straight lines and curves in different lengths and orientations. Teeline uses cut-down versions of longhand letters and so is more familiar for the learner, but slower to write as the outlines are longer.

* Omission phrase "mus(t) be"

In Pitman’s there are only two signs that are not based on a consonant or vowel sign that matches their sound and these are “and” and the downward thick dash for “he” which is only used in the middle or end of a phrase. The short form “why” is written with a variant of the semicircle W sign, and the short form “beyond” uses the Y diphthong. Both of these marks were replaced early in the development of Pitman’s in favour of the full Way and Yay strokes to begin* a syllable. So these latter two do have a phonetic rationale, although not obvious to the beginner. The majority of words are written with all their sounds represented* in the outline, with true abbreviation (cutting out some of the sounds) being reserved for the very commonest words. These are called short forms and contractions. A short form is like writing the longhand letter B for the word “be”. A contraction generally uses the first syllable of the word, which is exactly what we do in longhand to save writing time, but all these could be written in full if the writer preferred.

* "to begin" Based on the phrase short form "to be" therefore through the line

* "represented" Optional short dash through last stroke of a contraction to indicate past tense

The most compact and efficient shorthand that everyone uses without a second’s thought or hesitation is numbers and other mathematical* symbols. The signs for plus, minus, times or multiplied by, and divided by (called an obelus), are all shorthand for these words. There are signs for “the squareroot* of” (a tick with a horizontal line extended over the number), a superscript two for “squared”, and a superscript three for “cubed”. The list goes on and on, and complicated equations can be written over a page which would take many pages of text if they were being described in words. It looks to me like a map or a timeline with all the relevant points, actions and results marked along the way in simple symbols, until you arrive at the destination, the final outcome of the calculations. Because numerals are so quick to write, it is preferable in most cases to use them rather than their equivalent outlines.

* "mathematical" Note that this contraction is on the line. With a circle S it becomes "mathematics". The shortened words "math" (US) and "maths" (British) are normal outlines written above the line, and should have their vowels inserted so that they are not misread for the contraction.

* "squareroot" Note that Ray is never halved when it stands alone

Throughout the history of writing, scribes have used abbreviations in order to* get as much text as possible on their expensive and scarce writing surfaces. Texts and books were not produced to be read by the general population but by the elite few who were literate, such as royalty, the nobility, priests, officials and administrators. In religious texts, abbreviations were sometimes used to replace the direct use of words and names considered holy, to maintain respectfulness and avoid any semblance of irreverence or worldliness. Heavy use of abbreviations had the effect of restricting readership to those with appropriate training, and so the contents would only be available to others through the spoken word, which would be accompanied by an authorised interpretation of the text. This is a world away from our present-day experience of the publishing and sharing of information, sometimes ad nauseam if one does not control one’s internet surfing time.

* Omission phrase "in ord(er to)

Many of the abbreviations are still with us. The ampersand is derived from the Latin “et” which means “and”. The percent sign is derived from the numerals for one hundred. The British monetary pound sign is an embellished capital L, from the Latin word for scales “libra”. The number or hash sign, two vertical lines and two horizontal lines, is a simplified form of a ligature for the lower case letters L and B, for the same Latin word. The dollar sign is derived from P written through S for peso. Diacritics (marks over the top) were also used as a shortening device, such as a plain or curved line, or extra flourishes attached to one or more of the letters of the shortened word, but these are now used to convert an existing letter of the alphabet into a slightly different pronunciation.

The variety of abbreviations used by scribes and copyists have mostly* disappeared into the mists of history, but new ones are being created all the time for similar reasons. The most obvious is texting “shorthand”. Its origin was to save on the cost of sending the phone message by reducing the number of characters it contained, and later on to save time and effort* entering the text on the early phone keypads (before the arrival of touchscreens and text prediction). The initial flurry of texting inventions has now slowed and it seems to have settled down to a handful of universally useful terms to be used in informal settings, such as comments and forum conversations.

* "mostly" Omits the lightly-sounded T

* Omission phrase "time (and) effort"

Our diverse collection of common abbreviations, and the earlier shorthand systems with their arbitrary signs that must be* memorised en masse, have got our present systems of shorthand a rather bad press. This is only dispelled when you actually begin learning it, although if interest is weak or enthusiasm absent, then any system, however simple, is likely to appear unacceptably complicated when compared with the ingrained longhand that has been learned and used since childhood. Speaking for Pitman’s, I hope you have now discovered that it is a well-designed logical system that reflects the sounds, syllables and phrases of normal speech and, when written with reasonable neatness, may be read many years later by the writer, and by others who know the system. (1171 words)

* Omission phrase "mus(t) be"

Tuesday, 31 May 2016


We have two very beautiful and demure collared doves in our garden. Their plumage is all shades of delicate grey, they are shy and retiring and have only just learned that it is safe to land in the garden, as long as we are standing around and not making any sudden movements. They have been lured down by little treats on the lawn, small pieces of bird feeding pellets. They will sometimes take crumbs if they are broken very small, as their beaks are fine. Crushed peanuts are also acceptable, but a whole one will be taken if it fits the mouth. They cause no problems and do not seem to multiply out of hand like some other* birds do. We started paying them attention some time ago* when one of them was limping, but in time his injury healed, and so they became welcome visitors, and since then different pairs have visited us.

* "some other" Doubling for "other"

* "some time ago" Halving to represent the T of "time"

Also in the garden are some wood pigeons. They are big and bulky when compared with the collared doves. They sit at the top of the nearby trees, and more recently on the greenhouse roof, and watch proceedings. Then they come down for the doves' food. The have learned to run all over the lawn, as fast as their little legs will take them, gobbling up everything as quickly as they can, starting with the largest lumps if it is bread, and leaving the smaller pieces until last. Then they wander in zigzags, behind flower pots, under the shrubs, to clear up any missed pieces. I am grateful for this service so that nothing is left over. They are quite flighty when disturbed but soon return once all is quiet again.

Eyes on the window,
wings at the ready
These wood pigeons are really shorthand students in disguise. They might appear to be voracious opportunists, taking on board everything that is put before them, but they are not averse to working a bit harder to find it. They don’t mind what they do as long as there is something they can grab that will help them in their goal of endless increase and getting ahead with their life. They are alert and attentive, waiting for the action to begin*, and have no thought other than to get down everything that is put before them in the shortest possible time; after all, who knows when the next chunk is coming, so best get this one down sharpish. When they have cleared it all up, they are still expecting more. Their quest is never ending, although when the offerings are good, they do have to spend some time digesting it all before they can enter the fray once again*.

* "to begin" Based on the short form phrase "to be" therefore through the line

* Omission phrase "wu(n)s again"

Hey it's me, remember,
your favourite!
The doves are the reporters in disguise. They are sleek, smart and well dressed. They are well mannered, quietly spoken and polite. They are really outsiders and not part of the general melee, and although they do their best to blend in, they often walk around the outside, taking a studious and accurate note of everything that occurs. When there is danger, they will remove themselves temporarily but keep watch in order to return a little later. Their eyes and ears are their most important assets, in order to* always be in the right place at the right time, and definitely not in the wrong place at any time. They like to position themselves in a prominent* place so that they can see all that is going on and decide if it is worth their while swooping down and taking advantage of any situation for their own purposes. Unlike the woodies, their eyes are at all times on the lookout for happenings other than the current one, so that they can change their location and tactics to suit. It is clear that a quick and alert mind is their most valuable tool, without which they would not be successful in what they do. Although they are not the big players on the scene, it is certain that they will be in the business for a long time to come. (672 words)

* Omission phrase "in ord(er to)"

* "prominent" Helpful to insert the vowel, as "permanent" is similar