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It wants to change "To treat an overdose, it is important to know the drug taken" to "...to know the drug was taken". Well, yes, that too, but...

It wants to spell crystallise with an S, but recrystallize with a Z. I'm guessing it was originally written with Z spellings, and has a British English word list which tries to list all the words we spell with an S, but missed some of the more obscure ones?

"Low interest rates can also encourage consumers to buy goods on credit" gets corrected to "low-interest" - low-interest rates, like low-energy light bulbs!

It changes "Many people would argue that it is unethical to market sugary cereals" to "Many people would argue that it is unethical to sugary market cereals" - presumably some kind of heuristic about adjective order, not realising "market" is a verb here?

In "Which signals will be present?", Grammarly wants to invert signals and will. I'm not sure what its underlying rules are here. Clearly some questions do begin "Which will...?" Maybe its reasoning is something like: signals is a verb, so this is a sentence like "Which will win the prize?" - but not realising that, even though signals can be a verb in sentences other than this one, "Which will [verb]?" needs to be in the infinitive and so not have an S added.

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In my food poll, when I asked if (people thought) it was a medical problem, I didn't mean "am I ILL and OMG am I gonna DIE?" I meant "Is this something I shouldn't have to just put up with, but might be able to fix?"


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Last night at GamesEvening we played A Fake Artist Goes to New York, which is like Spyfall but with drawings instead of conversation.

(Quick description of Spyfall for those who don't know: All players but one know a location where we supposedly are (e.g. supermarket). The remaining player is the spy. The players all ask each other questions. The non-spies' aim is to find out who the spy is. The spy's aim is to remain undetected and/or figure out the location. (The location comes from a list of about 30.) As a non-spy you have to say enough to make it clear to the other non-spies that you know what you're talking about and are not the spy, but not so much that you give the answer away to the spy. As the spy you have to bluff and try to talk as if you know when you don't. I like it a lot.)

Fake Artist is very similar but with drawing. The players are collaboratively drawing an object, taking turns to draw one "mark" (e.g. line, curve, zigzag, etc) on the paper. It's an interesting idea, but badly executed. Each player draws two marks in total, so with 5 players, you get 10 marks in total, which seems too many IMO - for most objects, 10 marks will be plenty to draw it recognisably, so the fake artist will guess what it is.

Unlike Spyfall and many party games, there isn't a set of objects given. Each round, a Question Master just chooses any object they like, tells the players the category, and then sits out the rest of the round.

We played six rounds, and each time the FA won, and I think on four rounds out of six the FA got a "double victory", i.e. they remained undetected *and* guessed the object. I scored a "double victory" as the FA even when I was drawing first.

One really major flaw is that the QM is on the FA's team, and wins if the FA wins. This incentivises the QM to come up with an easy object, which makes the game less fun. (But I don't think it would help if the QM was on the other team, because then they'd pick a really obscure and unguessable object, which would also be unfun.)

I went to look on BoardGameGeek to see if other people had the same issues, and was surprised that lots of people said the game worked well, and I even saw one commenter saying it's too hard for the FA to guess. I guess it varies a lot with the group you play it with, although I can't imagine how that would play out.

It could be that other groups are ignoring the incentive structure and just having the QM pick something to try to be interesting. But I resent that in a game. Sometimes a game is fun and you basically ignore scoring (Humm Bug; Concept) but even in those games, you don't have to go out of your way to act *against* your scoring incentive to make it fun. If you need to do that, the game is flawed. The game designers should have made fun and scoring incentives line up.

Also, a superficial flaw: The QM writes the object on all but one of a set of tiny drywipe boards and gives one to each player. In the first round, the QM wrote on the boards, put them face down on the table, slid them around to shuffle them - and that rubbed the writing off! You have to be very careful handling the boards between writing them and handing them out.

One thing that was kind of interesting about Fake Artist was the way that even the artists who all know what they're drawing can fail to coordinate, and one can misinterpret a mark drawn by a previous one. This reminded me of Inspeaquence, which we used to play at GamesEvening ages ago, but haven't played for about 10 or 15 years! The other Fake Artist players liked the sound of it, so we had a game of that, which was excellent!

Inspeaquence is like Articulate, but each team has only one guesser and several describers, and the describers have to describe by taking turns to say one word each to try to construct a sentence to describe the thing on the card to their team-mate. (Like Cheddar Gorge.) Fake Artist reminded me of it because in Inspeaquence one describer can fail to pick up where the other is trying to go with their sentence, causing the sentence to be pulled in multiple directions.

You can get some fun, convoluted, circuitous sentences. The other team had a nice one in "Jumping... in a place... which... is... Australia." (Kangaroo.) My teammate and I had "Richard Burton", and neither of us had heard of him, so we kept passing the buck: "He... is... a man... who... is..." and then gave up.

While I'm blogging about games, I want to mention Outfoxed. It's a kids' game which Alex and I bought the girls for Christmas. They love it and have played it lots. It's co-operative, which is good for kids who sometimes squabble over games, and it's kind of a cross between Cluedo and Guess Who. There is one fox who is the thief, and over the course of the game you discover clues (like "the thief has a hat" or "the thief doesn't have glasses") and eliminate suspects, and identify the thief before they get away. It's more fun than a lot of kids' games, in that you're making genuine decisions, and flavour-wise it feels quite fun and exciting. It successfully captures the thrill of the chase and the sense of time running out, and the narrative element: sometimes you have one prime suspect against whom the evidence is stacking up, and sometimes it is them, but sometimes you find something at the last minute which reveals it's someone else.

It says "age 5+". Zoe, at 3, is rock-solid at the deduction element: she'll confidently state "the thief has a hat, and that one doesn't have a hat, so she can't be the thief." The bits she struggles with are the bits which seem easier to me, like the roll-and-move mechanic (like in a boring decision-free game like Snakes and Ladders). She doesn't quite get that you don't count "1" on the square you're starting on. And she hasn't mastered path-finding: there isn't a linear track to move along like in Snakes and Ladders, but a grid of squares, and you're trying to get to the squares which allow you to turn over more clue tiles. If there's a clue square two spaces down and two spaces right from her, and she rolls a four, she often won't be able to figure out how to get there, and will move three-and-one and end up somewhere else. It's interesting from a child development POV: I'd have guessed that the logical deduction part was harder than the path-finding part.

Anyway, definitely recommended to ghoti and anyone else who plays board games with young children.

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Eating a largeish breakfast at 8 or 9am (usually 3 weetabix with whole milk and raisins, or porridge; sometimes eggs on toast) and then having trouble lasting through the morning, being really hungry and irritable by noon:

Annoying, but within normal range
A medical problem that's probably fixable
A medical problem that's probably not fixable


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The Wonder - Emma Donoghue
This is by the author of Room. I got it for Christmas, and although it wasn't on my wishlist and I received other books which were, this was the one I wanted to read first.
It's set in the 19th century, and tells the story of Lib, a no-nonsense modern nurse and disciple of Florence Nightingale, who has been sent to investigate the case of Anna, an 11-year-old Irish girl who has apparently lived in good health without food for months. Lib is sure there's some trickery involved which it's her job to unmask.
The setting is immersive: old-fashioned, very Catholic, rural Ireland, in which Lib feels very much an outsider. The secondary characters are interesting, and it's especially interesting getting to know their various different attitudes to Anna and what's going on with her.
I found Anna very likeable and compelling (and so does Lib). I can see why many people would find that kind of character cloying or even creepy, although I don't: the very pious child, awed and delighted by God and willing to submit to his will. She's a bit like Beth in Little Women but even more so. I have a suspicion that if I'd read this book as a child I'd have ended up (unsuccessfully) trying to imitate her.
Non-detailed spoilers for this and RoomCollapse )

Forget Me Not - Luana Lewis
Thriller told from the POV of Rose, a grandmother, whose daughter has died in mysterious circumstances. It was well plotted, but I found it quite unnerving and unsettling.
I found myself identifying a bit with Vivienne, the woman who died. The way she found it difficult to bond with her baby. The way her husband and her mother stand around awkwardly, realising they have nothing in common when she's not there. But then I found it very disturbing (and stopped identifying with her) when SpoilersCollapse )

Don't Stand So Close - Luana Lewis
Stella is an agoraphobic shut-in. One day in winter, a teenage girl, inadequately dressed for the cold, rings her doorbell. At first she refuses to let her in, but eventually gives in. Then there are lots of revelations and twists, and also backstory.
Blue (the girl) is quite a compelling character. She reminded me of Onnie in Remember Me This Way, bratty and childish but also sexually forward.
There's a pretty nasty scene in it, but overall I didn't find it as unsettling as Forget Me Not.

Baby Doll - Hollie Overton
This starts at the point where some of the thrillers I've read end. Lily has been held captive in a basement for years, and (like the woman in Room) had a child there. One day the kidnapper forgets to lock the door. She's not sure if it's a deliberate trap, but she takes the chance, picks up her daughter Sky and runs. The story is mostly about how she tries to rebuild her life, and her relationship with her family (especially her twin sister, who she was really close to), with the threat of the kidnapper in the background, plotting revenge even after he's been arrested.
It's set in a claustrophobically small town, where everyone knows everyone. The guy who's been keeping her captive for years is known to the family and "helped" search for her when she first "went missing". It's strange seeing arrests, police interviews, court cases, etc where everyone involved already knows everyone else. Lily worries at one point that if the police are good friends with her kidnapper she might not even be able to get him arrested and locked up.
Lily is a really likeable and admirable character. Through her terrible ordeal she has tried, mostly successfully, to keep her good nature and not let him change her. She has also tried to protect Sky from knowing what was going on. This hasn't been entirely successful (after they're out, Sky fearfully tells her to stop crying because they'll get into trouble), but overall, Sky thinks her daddy is a good man and worthy of her love; which is heartbreaking and a very impressive achievement on Lily's part (people find that hard enough to do when the father of their child is just an ex-partner they've fallen out with, not a violent kidnapper and rapist).
This is very well written, and there are some lines in it that brought tears to my eyes.

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I know I only just made a film post, but we watched Zootropolisthe other day and it was awesome and I wanted to rave about it. It was very funny and clever. The plot has a lot of twists and revelations, and the characters are very cunning and good at outwitting each other.
It's set in a world of anthropomorphic animals (who evolved from real animals, in a world with presumably no humans in it). They live together in civilisation and no longer eat each other (the mayor and assistant mayor are a lion and a lamb!). Unlike in many cartoon animal societies, the animals are realistically sized relative to each other.
There's a great tradition of Disney sending themselves up, which I think began with Enchanted, and Zootropolis continues it magnificently. There are lots of references and shout-outs, especially to Frozen. There's a bootleg DVD seller whose wares include animal puns on several recent and upcoming Disney film titles. And there's a very gruff and unfriendly police chief, who tells idealistic heroine Judy that the world doesn't care what she wants, this isn't some animated musical where she can sing about what she wants and her insipid dreams will come true (and the end of the quote is even funnier, but I'll refrain from spoiling it).
We watched it in the evening without the kids, and I think that was the right decision. It was much more complex than Moana, both in terms of the twistiness of the plot, and in terms of the real-world cultural knowledge you need in order to understand what's going on (let alone to understand the jokes as well). I guess if a film is set on a Polynesian island then adults and kids will be equally clueless about the culture so the filmmakers have to keep things simple, whereas in one set in a Western-style city there's a lot more background assumed.
Some people would say anything with talking animals is automatically childish - but would they say that about Animal Farm? I'd call this a political commentary with at least as much depth as Animal Farm (and an awful lot funnier).

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Really enjoyed this.
I wasn't sure exactly why at first. The plot was pretty simplistic: there's a quest to get $macguffin to $location, and there are some challenges on the way. I tend not to like the early Disney films as much as the recent ones because they're simplistic, and the newer ones are usually more complex and interesting.
However, although Moana is simplistic at a large-scale plot level, it's interesting on a small-scale level of dialogue and character interaction, and that made it interesting enough for me, while the plot was simple enough for the kids to follow, which was ideal.
It was also just really uplifting and feel-good. The songs were great and I want to listen to them some more. The lyrics were quite playful and clever, especially in Shiny and </i>You're Welcome</i>. (I wasn't sure what to expect from the songs. I know they're by the guy who did Hamilton, which everyone really likes; but I didn't like what I've seen of Hamilton on YouTube, so I didn't have very high expectations for Moana.)
I liked the way the ocean was sort of a character (Disney can give anything a personality!) and also Maui's tattoo, which can move around his body and communicate experssively in gestures, and has at least as much sentience as a typical animal sidekick. It also functions as a semi-external conscience, like Sven does for Kristoff in Frozen.

I wanted to watch this because I like stories that explore the implications of AI. However, you could almost forget Samantha was an AI after a while. It just becomes another film about dysfunctional people and their dysfunctional relationships, which is a genre I really dislike. The fact that one of these people is an AI didn't redeem it IMO. I found it quite boring and depressing and kept wanting to give up part way through.
Also there were some quite cringey phone-sex scenes. (I was glad I was watching it with Alex and not, say, my parents, or future teenage children.) It was quite stark and jarring because it was dark, no visuals on screen, and just loud phone-sex noises, with no background music or anything to soften it. I hadn't realised how common it was (in my fairly limited experience) for sex scenes in films to be the other way around, visible but not audible, with background music only.

Big Hero 6
I was confused by the title. It's as in The Big Hero 6, the 6 big heroes; not Big Hero #6, the 6th big hero. I think it's in deliberately stilted-sounded English to echo the anime titles it's inspired by.
I liked it. It was solidly in the tradition of recent Disney films which are relatively complex and which my kids couldn't really follow (but they seemed to enjoy it anyway). Hiro is a great character, and I especially liked Baymax because he is a rare example of a realistic AI: a plausible waypoint between the rudimentary things we have now, and the fully sentient AIs-in-name-only like Samantha above.

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Dear Amy - Helen Callaghan

This was very good and compelling and I read it in a day. (Many thanks to atreic for lending it to me.) It's about Margot, who teaches secondary school and also writes an agony-aunt column ("Dear Amy") for the local paper. Margot receives a series of letters to Dear Amy, apparently from a girl called Bethan [*] who went missing 17 years ago and was never found. One of Margot's students, Katie, has recently gone missing. We get chapters narrated from Katie's POV, so we know she's been kidnapped, but Margot and the other characters don't know what's happened to her. The circumstances of the two disappearances are similar enough that Margot wonders if they're connected. The police initially dismiss the letters from Bethan as a hoax, but later they are convinced enough to reopen Bethan's closed case. A criminologist called Martin gets involved, who believes there's a serial kidnapper/killer, and has linked some other disappearances in the intervening years to the same guy. Then Margot also finds herself in danger from a mysterious man who seems to be stalking her.

[*] Bethan is thankfully just distinct enough from Bethany that I don't mind reading it. I don't like reading stories in which bad things happen to characters called Bethany or Zoe. (Although, writing this review, my muscle memory finds it almost impossible to avoid typing the Y.)

This is very compelling and page-turny, and the characters are well-drawn. Margot is going through a divorce: her husband left her for another woman, and she misses him, emotionally and physically, and keeps doing that thing of forgetting and then painfully remembering. His affair didn't work out and now he wants her back, and she feels torn between her longing and her self-respect, and this is all portrayed realistically and poignantly.

Also, it's set in Cambridge with lots of local interest.

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Someone Else's Child - Helen Klein Ross

This is about Lucy, who really wants a child. She and her husband tried and failed to conceive for several years. She was willing to adopt but he wasn't. Eventually he left her because he thought her child-obsession had become too all-consuming. She tried to adopt on her own without him, but has no luck because she's now single.
One day she's in a shop and sees a baby in a trolley, apparently alone. She chats to the baby a bit, and a stranger asks how old the baby is, assuming Lucy is the mother. The baby is dressed for summer and shivering in the air-con, and Lucy can't see the mother anywhere, so she moves the trolley somewhere warmer. It's a very plausible sequence of incremental events: she never intended to take the baby, but then she's outside the shop with her, and it would look weird to take her back in, and probably get Lucy into trouble, so she takes the baby home, and by then the abduction is on the TV news and there's no turning back.
Lucy already has a nursery with baby clothes and nappies: her setting that up before they had a baby or a realistic hope of one was the last straw that made her husband doubt her sanity. She ends up keeping the baby and raising her as her own. She tells her family, and later the child, that it was a privately-arranged adoption from a teenage mother.
We also get chapters narrated by the baby's mother, Marilyn, who is obviously distraught, and feels very guilty for leaving her unattended (she received an important work phonecall, and wandered away to get a better signal).
Lucy is portrayed very sympathetically (in fact I found myself feeling guiltily inferior to her in terms of patience and enthusiasm for parenting), even though what she did was terrible and you can see that very vividly in Marilyn's chapters (and, later, those of the child).
It's quite reminiscent of The Light Between Oceans, although in that the adoptive parents are even more sympathetic and excusable: a baby washes up alone in a boat on their island, so they assume its parents are lost at sea, and it's the 1930s so they have no obvious way of trying to find them if they are alive.

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One for the linguists and/or Christians.

Alex mentioned that God is three persons, and Bethany said "You mean three people." So... why don't we say that the Trinity is "three people"?

On one level the answer is clear: "persons" was historically the ordinary plural of "person" (and also survives in some legal contexts). But now that "people" is the usual plural, why do we still talk about the Trinity using the archaic plural? Bibles and hymns keep getting linguistically updated; surely it's easier to update a word, which is used in spontaneous conversation and new academic discourse, than a fixed piece of literature?

Personally, I find the connotations of "three people" make them sound a bit more separate than those of the traditional "three persons". (It's good to have correctives, every so often, to both of the opposite heresies of over-separating and over-identifying them.) By preserving "persons" (which is like "personae"), have Christians erroneously under-emphasised their separateness? Or would adopting "people" over-emphasise their separateness, because "people" and "persons" legitimately exist as different plurals of "person" with different connotations?

How is the Trinity described in other modern languages? Do they use the everday plural of "person", like they would say for "there are three people in my family"?

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My freelance client likes me to use Grammarly, the automated grammar checker. (I have a full licence for it courtesy of the client.) I usually proofread in two passes, once "manually" (ocularly??) and once with Grammarly. It occasionally finds spelling mistakes I've missed (usually if a visually narrow letter has been missed out of a long word), but the majority of the things it flags are stylistically debatable or just plain wrong.

(Years ago, as a recent linguistics graduate, I thought about writing and selling a grammar checker, with more linguistic knowledge built into it than MS Word's green underlines. I didn't think about it for long before concluding it would get more wrong than right. I'm mildly irked that this hasn't stopped Grammarly going ahead and being successful.)

Grammarly markets itself to non-native English speakers and people who are not confident in their grammar. But it's only because I am a native speaker and am very confident in my grammar that I feel able to use it (and reject most of its suggestions). I can imagine there are lots of people who look at its suggestions and decide to trust them over their own judgement :(

Anyway, this isn't just a rant. Some of the mistakes Grammarly makes are funny. Some of them are very interesting linguistically. And some of them are just baffling and make me wonder how it got there. I'm thinking of making a regular blog post series of amusing, interesting or confusing Grammarly fails. I'm regretting that I haven't been noting down the best ones over the last few months, but I plan to do so from now on, and I can remember a few.

One of the entertaining ones was when it wanted to change "Watch the video to learn more" to "Watch the video learn more". You can totally see how it got there, with syntactic knowledge but no semantic understanding: it's obviously been programmed to know that "watch [entity] [do thing]" should not have an infinitive, but has no idea that videos don't learn things.

Grammarly is quite enthusiastic about cutting out cliches and overused word pairs. It thinks "dark" in "dark night" and "up" in "rise up" are redundant. Which is fine, apart from in sentences like "If space were infinite, the night sky would be completely full of stars, so the dark night is evidence that space is finite", or "The fractions rise up the fractionating column". It's also (too) good at spotting deviations from standard idioms: it claimed a heretical scientist was "burned at stake".

I can only assume people use "in terms of" and "relative to" as waffly fillers, because every time they are used in a rigorous mathematical sense (like "find y in terms of x"), Grammarly wants to replace them with "about".

I've told it to use British spelling, but it goes a bit far with that sometimes. It likes "grammes" and "phials" (instead of "grams" and "vials"), which sound very archaic when talking about medicinal chemistry. It knows the edges of British roads are kerbs rather than curbs, but apparently it doesn't know the verb meaning of "curb", as it wanted me to "kerb pollution".

It really doesn't like nouns without articles: I edited a whole chapter about space, which it kept wanting to change to "a space" or "the space".

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