Thursday, July 14, 2005

Etymology for fun and profit

I got to wondering why the currency of the United Kingdom of England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, &c. was a "pound sterling".

The answer is debatable, but there are (apparently) three main theories. What's not under debate is that originally it was "a pound of sterlings", and a "sterling" was the coin.

i) It's from "easterling money", since that's where the Northmen came from. (Yes, the Northmen came to these isles from the east.) This theory comes via Holinshed, so possibly should be taken with several pinches of salt.

The Collaborative International Dictionary of English v.0.44 (web1913)
Sterling \Ster"ling\, n. [OE. sterlynge, starling, for easterling, LL. esterlingus, probably from Easterling, once the popular name of German trades in England, whose money was of the purest quality: cf. MHG. sterlink a certain coin. Cf. {East}. ``Certain merchants of Norwaie, Denmarke, and of others those parties, called Ostomanni, or (as in our vulgar language we tearme them), easterlings, because they lie east in respect of us.'' --Holinshed. ``In the time of . . . King Richard the First, monie coined in the east parts of Germanie began to be of especiall request in England for the puritie thereof, and was called Easterling monie, as all inhabitants of those parts were called Easterlings, and shortly after some of that countrie, skillful in mint matters and allaies, were sent for into this realme to bring the coine to perfection; which since that time was called of them sterling, for Easterling.'' --Camden. ``Four thousand pound of sterlings.'' --R. of Gloucester.] 1. Any English coin of standard value; coined money. [1913 Webster]

ii) It's a derivation of "stater". Personally, I find this one too implausible to consider for long.

iii) It's because some of the early Norman pennies had a little star on them.

Personally, I prefer an interpretation none of the sources I've seen have given, which is simply that the tiny, shiny silver things looked like little stars. Given the society of the day, what else would most people have had to compare coins, especially silver ones, to?

Besides, it's a lovely, poetic explanation, and therefore possesses the other kind of truth.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

MMO: story, game, world

Story happens in worlds, it's an emergent consequence of having multiple actors interacting. Some of these interactions (and some of these actors) may have to be simulated or stagecrafted, if you want to work back from the story that you require.

Games are what people play.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Science 1

I've been a scientist ever since I could be, I always knew it was what I wanted - till I got there. My performance at my degree (four-year integrated Master of Chemistry) got worse and worse. At the time, I put it down to depression from my mother's death and a very nasty and fucked-up first relationship doomed to failure, but looking back, it was probably more that I really didn't get on with the atmosphere.

I liked the Chemistry department at York a lot, lovely place, a lot of good people, but I was never even slightly interested in the chemical industry in any of its manifestations, and they kept trying to make me commit to specializing in one kind of chemistry.

I did modules in environmental chemistry, computational modelling, management in industry (run by a former ICI troubleshooter and professional strikebreaker), materials science, energy generation & policy, and postmodern sociology, in addition to the core chemistry content in three areas (physical, organic, and inorganic chemistry). The sociology was because I really didn't like the core-content options they gave me for the fourth year, which were all aimed at prospective ivory tower denizens - advanced quantum, advanced chemistry of natural products, and a similar course in the inorganic area.

(I dropped inorganic chemistry as soon as I possibly could. Hated it.)

What I'd wanted to do - and expected to have as an option in my department - was to learn more about science, as opposed to how to do science, to learn about the philosophy and sociology of science, how to be a scientist and what being a scientist meant. But we didn't have one single lecture course on professional ethics, on the relations of science to the rest of society, on the history of science or the history of error. I had to go find all that out for myself, in bits and pieces over the years, chasing down references and waiting for serendipity to decide she'd spread for me at last.

So I tried to take a course in the sociology of science, but it wasn't being offered that year - so I ended up with Postmodernism instead. Which proved to be absolutely fascinating and completely infuriating. Now, many postmodernists are smart and interesting people, full of insights and theories about how things work. But it all depends on the conviction that, in the end, nothing matters, and probably doesn't exist anyway, if the term 'exist' can be said to have any meaning. Or, indeed, if there is such a thing as 'meaning' outside its cultural context.

I'm an Eng. Lit. geek from way back when, and a Kipling fan (I've got a nearly complete set of editions published during his lifetime, tucked away safely but where I can't get at it) so that was another hookup to think about postmodernism, and looking at postmodernist architecture got me into design & usability, and the overarching idea that no matter what's there, it's a) interesting and b) optimizable.

(And deconstructionalism. What you see there is what is there. Cuts both ways.)

I'm getting off the subject, though, so I'll leave you, O my reader, with a promise to carry on rambling on both themes some other time.

Sunday, June 05, 2005


I'm ambivalent about making a blogroll.

Partly because I'm always reluctant to obtrude myself on people like that - but it's hardly an imposition, is it?

Partly because I don't want to see myself standing next to the cool kids in the hope some of it will rub off on me.

Of course, I do want it to rub off on me and I'm not going to pretend otherwise... but then again, I don't want that to be stronger than I am. So I'll just have to try and write something worth reading in the first place.

Intercontinental differences...

...have apparently turned me into a Virgo instead of an Aries.

I'm British, so of course the 9th of April, 1977, is 09/04/1977.

I think I'll stay a Virgo for awhile.

And why blog?

Well, that's easily answered.

Ready for it, O my probably nonexistent reader?


Alright, so you want the not-so-easy answer. I don't know, some people are never satisfied.

The plain truth: I kept thinking about blogging and deciding not to. Then I looked at just why I was deciding not to, and that wouldn't do.

Because I wouldn't have anything to post? Well, we all know how that one turns out. Back to the old self-fulfilling prophecy, the anodyne certainty of failure. I have quite enough of that already, thank you very much.

Because I already have a LiveJournal and use that? I end up locking most of the posts. I have a very nice and friendly clique there, but it's always the same set thereof.

Because all the cool kids are doing it? Bah. Self-parodying evasion of perceived coolth is so 2002[1]. Or, indeed, whenever.

So, let's see what we can do with this.

Oh, and the choice of a minimalist black theme? It probably won't stay that way, but it's functional, it's neat, and I really don't feel like messing around with pleasant eye-soothing greys and browns at the moment.


[1] I've been doing too much LPC coding recently, I read that as an array index. But I can assure you, O my reader, that this is in fact a footnote, and the purpose is to mention that the year 2002 was pulled purely from the aether. I've been doing that much longer.

[2] This is a footnote attached to nothing, because footnotes look really odd with nothing to go beneath.