Archive for May, 2007


May 18, 2007

A Keypal is like a Penpal but instead of using pen and paper to interact the pals use computer and keyboard, in other words email or some other form of electronic communication.

I first came across the word Keypal when I was reading How to Teach English with Technology by Gavin Dudeney and Nicky Hockly. They have a whole section on Keypal projects and they describe one in which “two groups of keypals are learning English in different countries”. They also discuss “keypal project issues” within a pedagogical framework.

The term Keypal generates over 51 thousand hits on google and many of these come from a teaching context. One of them claims to connect over seven million students from 191 countries. This site is used by other sites that produce lesson plans for tired teachers. There a Keypals lesson plan sits alongside plans for maths and computer lessons.

However, the worldwide educational community is not the only group using the term Keypal. Like the root word from which it developed (penpal) a Keypal can develop from a purely written communication to a wider relationship. The first message on the board of the site when I looked at it was: “looking for a good husband”. The other messages ranged from “hello” and “sport”, to “=)” and “waitting for true love”. Clearly pedagogical issues are not the only ones that count in the world of Keypals!

I once had a penpal. I suppose I was about ten years old and she lived in France but I lived in Scotland. We communicated for many years but we never met. Now I don’t even remember her name, but I know that the relationship was important to me, a sort of virtual relationship long before I ever heard the word “virtual” but I suspect long after I knew what the word “imagination” meant, and definitely long before I had ever ventured outside of my own country apart from in the world of my dreams. Why was my penpal from France? How did we “meet”? The answers to these questions are hidden in the mists of my memory but I imagine they had something to do with that famed “Auld Alliance” between Scotland and France, something to do with the hidden pattern of relationships whose influence remains though the original actors are long dead.

Now I have no penpals, though given the number of people who I communicate with by email it might be said that I have many Keypals. Or am I too old for that? I have not yet heard the term applied to those who are no longer young but maybe I will soon!


Pal – friend, comrade, mate, chum.
Penpal – a pen friend.
Paypal – system on the internet for paying money.

Key – we use the keys on a computer for inputting information.
Keyboard – a set of keys on a computer.
Keypad – for instance the numbers keys on the side of the computer keyboard.


May 14, 2007

I was reading the book Professional English in Use: ICT from Cambridge University Press and there I came across the word Domotics. It is a very nice book, written by Santiago Remacha Esteras and Elena Marco Fabré, and I think will be useful for anyone (including myself) who is thinking of teaching the rather specialized English vocabulary associated with ICT, computers and the internet. One of the words that I didn’t already know is Domotics. It is in the section entitled “Intelligent homes” and we are told that it “involves the use of information technology applied to domestic appliances in order to create intelligent systems inside the home.” Demotics, they tell us, comes “from the Latin word ‘domus’ plus ‘robotics’, also known as automation”.

I was slightly surprized by this word as it somehow reminded me of another word and I later realized that the other word was Demotic, which means belonging to the people or popular. Demotics also is to do with people and could be considered a form of sociology.

I looked up Domotics on Wikipedia and found it under Home automation. Seemingly it is a field within Building Automation, in other words it is a technical term. describes it thus: “(DOMus infOrmaTICS) Information technology in the home (domus is Latin for home).”

Personally I doubt whether Domotics will catch-on for the demotic population. I think the term adopted on the streets will be Home Automation and the term Domotic will remain as a specialized branch of Building Automation, only used by the technical elite. In fact perhaps more likely than either is the term Digital Home. Already there is a Digital Living Network Alliance which is described on the internet at Domotics Point.


As suggested by the other people quoted:

Domus – Latin for home.
Robotics and Informatics – giving “otics”.


May 13, 2007

My definition: Using a network of computers (the internet) to connect a network of people.

I know that the term is mainstream when I see the Economist using it. This week it tells us that the chief executive of Yahoo “wanted a social-networking site, but couldn’t capture FaceBook and lost an advertising deal with MySpace to Google”. Out-googled

As a follow-up to the Mashup entry I will refer you to which is dedicated to Social Networking News and can no doubt give you a better feel for what social-networking is in practice than I can, though I have participated in various online networks over the years. Here you will learn about Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and Digg amongst others. It has a fun item on totally digital mother’s day gifts which, as a Mum who has always enjoyed techie (but hated domestic) presents, I found rather appealing. Mothers Day

Wikipedia explains to us what a Social Network is and gives us a list of social networking sites.


social (adj) – relating to activities involving other people, especially pleasurable activities.

networking (noun) – an activity involving meeting other people in which work related matters are discussed.

networking (noun) – the linking together of computers in a network. This can be just a few computers or a very large number of computers, as in the internet.

The internet has allowed people to interact with others on a global basis – who we interact with is no longer defined by where we live. Consequently the digital network has allowed new groups of people to connect in ways that were impossible in the past. Sometimes these people have not actually met physically, only in cyberspace. Sometimes they first meet in normal space and then in the virtual environment and sometimes it is the reverse as some virtual networks also arrange pow-wows or other such events in which people who have first met over the wires can finally meet to share a beer.

The coming together of traditional social connections and work related connections on the internet has created new forms of relationships, hence the logic of blending the terms, social and networking into one compound. I am not sure if the term is stable, as it seems that sometimes the social side is considered more important and sometimes the work side. However, if you had thought it is all about finding your old school friends or meeting the love of your life online, read this article from the Financial Times entitled “Social networking becomes work”.

However else we define this slippery term it it is certainly true that it involves using a network of computers (the internet) to connect a network of people.


May 9, 2007

My cousin, who might remember how we used to Mash Up the horses’ food in winter, a great mix of steaming hot bran and meal to fortify them against the icy Scottish weather, suggested that the word Mashup would be interesting. He sent me a link to an amazing blog where there are lots of Google Maps mashups – Google Maps Mania. Here we have the Road Rage Mapper, the Wii Friend Codes, and the Mumbai Metro Rail System, to name but a few. I searched on the blog for Horse without luck. I searched for Bran and retrieved Branch. I also searched for Potato, which is another thing we used to Mash Up when I was young, but as yet there are no potatoes on this blog. However, Potato and Mashup in Google produce 442 thousand hits. You may think this is a lot. It is not – Google and Mashup produce over 29 million hits. The Google Mashup has certainly arrived!

Susie Dent alerted us to the importance of the word Mashup in her wonderful book The Language Report of 2006, where she described it as one of the “Words of the Moment”. She says that it arrived in the late 1990’s from a musical context but that it is now used more in an information/data context.

There is a good definition of the term on Webopedia where it talks about overlaying data from one source on the internet over another, possibly competing, source. It also mentions its origin in the hip-hop music scene where different songs were mixed together.

Mixing bran and meal, mixing disparate songs, mixing competing data sources – the common elements of the Mash Mix can be clearly seen.


Mashup, also sometimes Mash up, and Mash-up
To mash up – phrasal verb, transitive.
A mashup – noun.

I can spot similarities in structure and possibly content with the following words:

Cut-up – an artistic technique used by William Burroughs and the Surrealists.

Hash-up (verb, transitive) – to do something very badly.
(Hash – a dish of cooked meat cut into pieces, a mixture, a mess.)

A word, whose name will not be spoken on this blog, because the base spammers of the internet who have already been attracted to the item on this blog that starts with Chat, I assume because of the three letter ending. The word in question, I cryptically suggest, begins in F and has four letters, can also be followed by Up so creating a phrasal verb, or it can create a noun, with or without a hyphen that means a mess or a muddle. So F234 Up leads to F234up just as Mash Up leads to mashup.

Other derivations

Masher – a fop who frequented music halls, a lady killer.
(To mash – to excite sentimental admiration in another person.)

In case you think these deriviations /connections /connotations are a bit far fetched (which I have wondered myself – am I indulging my imagination too much?) it is interesting to look at the definition of Masher given by He/it is either a man who is aggressively amorous towards women or an implement for mashing potatoes.

We have arrived back where we started. We have an aggressive mix – men chasing women in the music halls, disparate music sources being mixed, potatoes being mashed as well as bran and meal, data sources from sometimes competing environments blending in a crazy fashion on the web creating a new form of surrealist expression, or a mess or a muddle, that reflects our confused times in which even the English language cannot be expressed in a straightforward fashion as certain words must be avoided to evade the spammers.

(Looking up spam and my three letter offending suffix I realize that a spam cryptic-123 is an email address collecting program – you learn something every day!)


May 7, 2007

Last month the Guardian published an article in its technology pages entitled Death in Cyburbia Perhaps the title was meant to bring to mind Visconti’s haunting film “Death in Venice”. Unfortunately I am old enough to remember when it first came out, but fortunately I was young enough to be spell-bound by the old man’s quest for life and ultimate unchosen death.

In the Guardian article James Harkin describes Cyburbia as a vast virtual suburbia of peer-to-peer communication, Web 2.0, YouTube and Myspace in which real life has morphed into a strange virtual reflection of reality. He describes the death of a man who hung himself in full view of the world by broadcasting his final act on his webcam.

I am glad that I did not view this so called “Death in Cyburbia”, as this was a real death of a living man. “Death in Venice” was also broadcast but Dirk Bogard was acting. That death was never Real, but it was always Art.

Cyburbia is also a word that has long been used by the Urban Planning Community but I suspect that the new virtual world meaning of the word may overtake its grounded predecessor.


Suburbia (noun) – an outlying district of a city, and its inhabitants and way of life.

Cyber (prefix)- it relates to things involving the internet and electronic communications and originated from the term Cybernetics.
Michael Quinion writes in World Wide Words about “a prefix out of control”. He discusses the many manifestations – cyberspace, cyberpunk, cyberphobia, to name but a few.


May 6, 2007

The Econonomist of 28th April in its “Special report on telecoms” in an article entitled “The hidden revolution: What you don’t see will need careful watching” uses the word Seamfulness. They refer us to Adam Greenfield’s book “The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing” in which he argues that the computing industry should not strive to make everything Seamless. The article is concerned with the oncoming revolution of RFID tags, which may soon be implanted in everything from our passports to the clothing we wear and could even be embedded within a person without them being aware of it.

Greenfield credits Mark Weiser as alerting us to the dangers of things being “without seams”, of not knowing where the borders are, and he favored “seamfulness, with beautiful seams” where the design of systems encourages users to understand them. Greenfield likes the honesty of Seamfulness – as he puts it “good fences make good neighbours.

The “New Now Know How” blog (wonderful title I think) has a discussion on the invisibility and visibility of Seamlessness and Seamfulness.
New Now Know How

There has been an orthodoxy that ubiquitous computing systems (ubicomp) should be seamless. This is questioned in an article “Seamful ubiquity: Beyond seamless integration ” by Ian MacColl ( from Glasgow University. Seamful ubiquity


Seam (noun) – a line where two edges join.
Seamless (adj.) – without a seam or seams, uninterrupted, smooth.
Seamlessness (noun) – the quality of having no visible seams. Wikipedia
Seamful (adj) – as in “Seamful design” (over 25 thousand hits in google).
Seamfulness (noun) – the quality of having visible seams.

The formal (grammatical) structure is similar to that of Joy:
Joy (noun) – a vivid emotion of pleasure.
Joyless (adj.)
Joylessness (noun)
Joyful (adj.)
Joyfulness (noun)

Nowadays Seam is also the name of a framework for building Web 2.0 applications and Joy is a program for annotating protein sequence alignments so even Joy is not free of technological connotations. However, on the whole the deriviatives of the word Seam have been adopted by the internet world as technical and design terms referring to the sometimes ubiquituous, and certainly ever present, new technologies, whereas the deriviatives of Joy do not show this tendency! The word Seam gets 11 million hits in google but the word Joy surpasses it splendidly with 130 million. It appears that the global English speaking internet community is more interested in discussing the invisible “vivid emotion of pleasure” than in understanding the visible lines where two edges join!

Joyfulness gets 216 thousand hits in google and Seamfulness gets a mere 351. However, I would bet that the word Seamfulness will overtake its grammatical sister within a few years, once the implications of the ubiquitous RFID become apparant to the public who are, at present, so blissfully unaware of its invisible presence.


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