Software Musings

Sub-Primality

Posted on: 10/02/2007

It had been my intention as I awoke this morning to write a blog about the colour of my ears when a howling, glaring, unforgiveable error in my mathematics book for children was gently pointed out to me. I knew of a couple of typos but this was different. Anyway, at least that error has been corrected but I’m waiting in trepidation to hear of others. The good news about publishing through Lulu, of course, is that there isn’t a warehouse full of first editions waiting to be pulped. The next copy bought will have that error corrected. And first editions will become rare and valuable.

The colour of my ears had been my intended theme; instead I have become distracted by a depressing article in the Guardian newspaper. For those who don’t follow British newspapers I should perhaps mention that this is the newspaper, then called The Manchester Guardian, for which Neville Cardus was cricket correspondent. He joined the paper on 26th March 1917 and, although it’s a digression from the article on which I intend to comment, I cannot resist telling the anecdote of his first assignment. This was before he became the world’s best cricket writer and his very first job was to report on Mrs H M Swanwick’s talk on “Population and Militarism”. During the lecture she suffered a lapse of memory and forgot the name of the authority she was quoting. She turned to the reporters’ table and said, “Perhaps one of the Press will help me—I’m sure the Manchester Guardian will know…”. Cardus, on his first job as cub reporter, immediately responded “Malthus“. One of his first cricket commentaries included a description of Woolley which I think deserves recognition:

His cricket is compounded of soft airs and fresh flavours. And the very brevity of summer is in it too, making for loveliness.

It’s interesting that when, much later, he wrote an essay on Woolley he used the same two sentences but inserted “The bloom of the year is on it, making for sweetness.” between them.

Anyway, the Guardian newspaper still survives, although it has lost the “Manchester” from its title and the assumptions it makes about the literacy and education of its readership has dropped substantially since those days. Cardus, for example, was told by the great C.P.Scott, “Do not consider your readers. Let them educate themselves up to us.” That’s not the flavour of the month these days.

But I digress again. The depressing article to which I referred above is written by Jon Ronson. In an attempt to find out how junk mail (primarily printed junk rather than email) is generated, he invented a number of personae including: Happy Ronson, Paul Ronson, George Ronson and Titch Ronson. These characters roamed around London buying things from shops and giving their names (plural) and address (singular) freely and forgetting to tick the little boxes that said “no mail”.

In the article the real Mr Ronson gives a character study of each persona, the extremes being Paul, the successful entrepreneur and suave millionaire, and Titch an unemployed, single, 38-year-old homeowner who thinks about nothing but “pornography, his virility, Nazi memorabilia and extreme martial arts”.

Having filled in the forms, the real Mr Ronson sat back to wait for the junk mail.

What is so depressing is that Titch got the most: he was “offered loans by Ocean Finance, Shakespeare Finance, e-loanshop.com, TML Mortgage Solutions, loans.co.uk, Blair Endersby, easyloans.co.uk, an MBNA Platinum card and an American Express Red card.” This is a person who “rarely” pays off his credit cards and who normally spends twice his income monthly.

Mr Ronson then goes out to interview the people who sell these lists of names and depressing reading it makes. One could assume that Paul Ronson could cope with some unsolicited junk mail (although he doesn’t get any) but it seems that targetting the weakest members of society is much more profitable. Apparently, in the trade, people like Titch are known as “sub-prime” and are good targets.

Well, as I said in the first paragraph, I was feeling a bit sub-prime myself earlier in the week but hope not to be inundated with junk mail.

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3 Responses to "Sub-Primality"

Here’s an unsolicited junk comment: I would have thought that you could still have written on your intended theme, by expounding on how RED your ears had become after noticing an error in your book!

I once mispelled my name on a donation to a charity. With that mispelling I got huge numbers of requests for cash from a large range of charities.

On the first issue – I have two of these rare first additions and am about to give one to a 16-year-old I mentor and I’m keeping the other for Alexander. Could you send a sticker I can put in the front of each copy signed by each of the authors and an errata sheet to correct the mistake?

That last comment was by Emma – known as “gloplastic” because I’m logged in to type my own blog and I share an email address with the mysterious “gloplastic”.

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Disclaimer

The author of this blog used to be an employee of Nortel. Even when he worked for Nortel the views expressed in the blog did not represent the views of Nortel. Now that he has left, the chances are even smaller that his views match those of Nortel.
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