Kapitano's Kash Konverter

I sometimes need to do quick, rough-and-ready currency conversions. But I can't always remember the conversion rates - so I made a table. You might find it useful.

GBPUSDAdd half
GBPSARMultiply by six
GBPEURAdd a fifth
USDGBPSubtract half
USDSARMultiply by three and a quarter
USDEURSubtract a quarter
SARGBPDivide by six
SARUSDDivide by four
SAREURDivide by five
EURGBPSubtract a fifth
EURUSDAdd a third
EURSARMultiply by five

GBP - Great Britain Pounds (Sterling)
USD - United States Dollars
SAR - Saudi Arabian Riyals
EUR - Euros

Write / Me

I don't do joined up writing.

Well, I can, but my handwriting has always been spidery and difficult to read - even to me. So in my early 20s I decided to drop the cursive style, and separate the letters.

In fact I remember the moment I realised it was a good idea. I was studying biblical greek, and the greek alphabet doesn't join up it's letters. So in my notes I could read the greek sentences...but not the english ones.

The revelation: All those people who told me joined up writing is good and grown-up while separate letters are childish and bad...were not the people whose opinions I cared about. So there was no reason to try again turning my illegible cursives legible - when it was much easier to, um, decursivise myself.

I don't remember much biblical greek, but now that I do most of my writing on a whiteboard, it's a good thing I got into the habit of 'printing the letters' as we used to call it.

At primary school I was taught to form my letters like this:

It's called the Marion Richardson style, and it's supposedly based on the way young children 'naturally' move their hands. It's got forms for P, B, S and Z which I practiced for weeks and weeks in the classroom...and never used outside it.

Before I was ten, my parents put me on a special handwriting course, and we used the same shapes - with the same non-result. Around the same time they took me to see a psychiatrist - who recommended they hug me more.

As to whether this means my parents really cared about my progress, or were just trying to make me fit in...well, when I was 19 and someone told them I was gay, their reaction was horror that people might think they weren't respectable.

Some years later they told me I'd had viral meningitis at age two, probably the cause of the co-ordination problems I've always had. At age 27 I found a note from a doctor, written when I was four - it must have been a very thorough examination, which I don't remember at all - but the conclusion was: Kapitano is not retarded like you suggest, in fact he's quite bright, but he does have difficulty walking.

In fact I still do. My drawing skills haven't improved since I was five, over the years I've become more careful rather than less clumsy, and yes, the spidery handwriting.

It might have been true about speaking too. There's the stereotype that speech therapists and professional speakers have overcome some difficulties in speech. Well my job is to teach people to talk just like me.

On the other hand, maybe everyone's got shaky hands, unsure feet and loose lips, and I just notice mine more. It's not like I'm disabled - just a bit...wonky.

Every so often, I get into designing typefaces - usually something retro-cool.

A Little Less Tense

As is traditional, a few hours after posting this, I realised that my model is maybe not wrong but certainly incomplete. I'll have another stab at completing it soon.

How many tenses does english have?

The simple answer is: Two.

Almost all english verbs come in two forms, usually called 'present' and 'past'. The verb 'see' has 'see' in the present form, and 'saw' in the past. There's also 'sees' and the like for third person singular subjects, but that's (almost) always just the present form with a suffix '-s'.

There's 'love' and 'loved', 'think' and 'thought', 'poke' and 'poked' etc., with 'loves', 'thinks' and 'pokes' for hes, shes and its.

'See' also gives us 'seen' and 'seeing', but these are participles generated by the verb, not verbs themselves.

The descriptions 'past' and 'present' are misleading, because the past and present forms often don't refer to corresponding times. For taking about the future, we use present-tense verbs like 'will', and participle constructions like 'going to'.

So how many time-referring forms are there? The usual answer is: Eight.

As well as the two tenses, there are four 'aspects', called 'Simple', 'Continuous' (or 'Progessive'), 'Perfect-Simple' (or just 'Perfect) and 'Perfect-Continuous' (or, amazingly, 'Perfect-Progressive'). Here they are on a table:

Continuousis seeingwas seeing
Perfect-Simplehas seenhad seen
Perfect-Continuoushas been seeinghad been seeing

So what do they mean? Well, of any indicative sentence, you need to ask three questions:

1) Is the important thing the event itself, or the result of that event? The difference between 'Mike learned to drive' and 'Mike has learned to drive' is that in the latter we don't know or especially care when he did the learning - the imporant thing is the present result of the fact that he did it, namely that he can drive now. In the former we know that he learned to drive, but we don't know whether he's since forgotten.

2) Is the event in the past or the present? This isn't actually clearly defined. 'Today' is always in the present and 'yesterday' is always past, which is why 'I have done it yesterday' is wrong - it's mixing up the Present Perfect tense/aspect combination with the past. But if the context is 'this year', then yesterday is surely part of the present. I'm just going to mix my metaphors, and sweep this skeleton in the closet under the carpet.

3) At the time you're talking about, is it finished or unfinished? Remember those participles? In english, the forms of verbs tell us (at least sometimes) whether the action we're describing is in the past or the present. In technical terms, verbs decline for tense. But the participles decline for completion - 'eating' is ongoing, but 'eaten' is finished.

(In Arabic, verbs decline for completion...and they have nothing like participles. The grammar's quite simple, but very different.)

Three questions, three answers of yes or no, giving...yes, eight permutations. So:

* He sees - in the present but completed, and it's the seeing we care about, not the consequences.
* He saw - in the past, completed since then, and we're focusing on the event itself.
* He is seeing - the event is the important thing, it's in the present, and it hasn't finished yet.
* He was seeing - it's the event we care about, it's present, and is unfinished.
* He has seen - the event is in the past and it finished sometime in the past, but the important thing is the result...which is present.
* He had seen - the result is in the past and it's what we care about, while the event itself is further in the past, and at the time of the result has finished.
* He has been seeing - present, still happening, and result is important.
* He had been seeing - past, was still happening at the time but has since finished, and the result is the important thing.

It's quite neat, it's in all the grammar books, and it's what I teach my students. It's also a perfectly adequate model if you care more about communication than grammar. The only trouble is, gee whiz, I don't think it's quite right.

The words 'be', 'have' and 'do' have meanings as ordinary verbs, but they also have grammatical functions as 'helping verbs' - what some books call 'auxiliary verbs', and others call 'non-modal auxiliary verbs'. Actually, I think they're wrong and 'do' is a modal, but that's another story.

In everything except the so-called 'Simple' aspect, 'be' indicates that it's the event which is important, and 'have' foregrounds the result. For the Simples, the event is what's important.

This is the conventional model of the four aspects:

SimpleVerbHe sees/saw
ContinuousBe + ParticipleHe is/was seeing
Perfect-SimpleHave/Had + ParticipleHe has/had seen
Perfect-ContiniousHave/Had Been + ParticipleHe has/had been seeing

I have a slightly different model:

Everything elsebe/have + adjective phrase

 The adjective phrase, also called a 'complement' in grammar books, looks like this:

been been
been being
been had
been having
being been
being being
being had
being having
had been
had being
had had
had having
having been
having being
having had
having having
been been been
been been being

Now, the obvious thing. The vast majority of these are theoretical possibilities and grammatically sound, but pretty useless in real life. Most are either redundant in that there are simpler forms which mean the same thing, or only rarely useful, or so convoluted that it's easier to express them in multiple shorter sentences.

But it does account for sentences like:

* The king is arrived.
* He is having travelled a long way.
* He is being escorted.
* We are having been waiting.
* We are having had much to do.
* It is been cold.

These may be unusual, but I think once you get used to them, you'll realise they're perfectly meaningful.

There are an infinite number of possible auxiliary participle chains, in the same way that there are an infinite number of sentences - including an infinite subset which are infinitely long. But lets put that under the carpet with the skeleton.

Less immediately obvious but more useful: I've done away with the Perfect-Continuous aspect. Or rather, it's now part of the Perfect aspect.

Instead of: I + have been + seeing...

We have: I + have + been seeing.

The Perfect-Continuous has been a thorn in the side of grammarians and TEFLers since people started thinking about english grammar. It doesn't quite fit with the rest of the standard model - for a start, the 'main verb' of the sentence has to be two verbs, both of them auxiliaries, which is a bit weird.

And you can only have 'I have been seeing', never the other permutations - 'I having been seeing', 'I have being seeing' or 'I having being seeing'. This in spite of the fact that they occur in sentences like 'Having been seeing the ghost for a week, I started to investigate', and 'How long have you being seeing my daughter?'

So, have I solved a problem in english grammar? Or have I missed something staggeringly obvious? Or am I going a bit bonkers, and this is the first sign?

For that, you'll have to tell me.


What does your birthday mean to you?

I only ask because today...I'm 41. I remember writing about turning 35 - and wondering how on earth I'd got all those years. It was like one day I'd been 19 - hating my life, reading deep books, and with a vague feeling that, although I hadn't actually enjoyed most the sex I'd had so far, I still wanted more, and surely it would get better with practice.

And the next day I was thirty-something - hating my life, reading deep ebooks, and with a vague feeling that...well, yes.

Oh what a nieve young sprog of 35 I was! 35 is only about halfway through life, while 41 is, most definitely, more than halfway.

Although I'm not much older than I was yesterday, it makes a difference on paper. In the same way that driving with a licence and driving without is a paper difference.

So how to mark - but not exactly celebrate - the day when I'm abruptly, but now most undeniably, the wrong side of 40?

Last night, eating far too much in a swanky resteraunt with the boss. How swanky? It was so posh there was a swimming pool in the middle of the dining area.

It was so upper crust there was a completely pointless - but exquisitely designed - set of steps between the reception area and the consumption area. Thus all the (nicely polished) food trolleys had to be carried down the stairs by teams of waiters, thus neatly defeating the entire point of putting food on trolleys at all.

That's what high class means - doing awkward, purposeless things stylishly, because the purpose is just to be stylish, and it wouldn't be the right kind of stylish if it weren't awkward and there were some other, practical purpose.

And today...making myself an extra two cups of tea - in the coffee percolator, partly 'cos that's how I roll, but mainly 'cos the kettle doesn't work - and buying some chocolate biscuits, especially to dunk in them.

My first chocolate biscuits in 3 months. And tonight, the other half of the packet with some 70s british sci-fi. And then it's the weekend. That's how I'm turning 41.

The Twelve Essays of Christmas: Milkin' It

This essay is small. Contracted. The COED lists 72 contractions.


Oh alright then. What's the difference between a contraction, an abbreviation, and what the COED calls a 'symbol'?

Well, a contraction is a phrase of two or occasionally more words, which occurs with enough frequency that it becomes one word, generally with the loss of some sounds at the boundaries between the source words. Sometimes an apostrophe marks the loss, as in 'can't', but sometimes there isn't one, as in 'gimme'.

That's right, innit?

At school I learned that we're only ever allowed one apostrophe per contraction, presumably because we're only allowed one site of elision - that is, one group of contiguous phonemes (sounds) which are lost in contraction. So 'wouldn't've' is forbidden in writing, even though it's common in speech.

I can see absolutely no reason for this rule. Except for the obvious one that English teachers like to make up silly rules which are obviously untrue.

An abbreviation...is just a few letters from a written long word or phrase, which we write because life's too short to write the full version. But sometimes we show it's an abbreviation by putting a period symbol (.) after it.

For some abbreviations, when we read them we substitute the full version - 'etc.' becomes 'et cetera', 'inc.' gets unfolded to 'incorporated'. And for some we just say the names of the letters - 'PLC.', 'DJ'.

Um. Unless the abbreviation can be pronounced as a word, in which case we sometimes do just that. 'GIGO,', 'Radar', 'Gosplan'.

And yes, if it's made up of the first letters of each word, it's an acronym.

So what's a symbol then? Well, it can be one of two things. Firstly, It can be a shape that isn't a letter of the alphabet, or sequence of letters, but represents a word - and when we read them, we tend to say them as words.

If we read the dollar sign ($), we tend to say 'dollar' or 'dollars'. The same sort of thing for the pound sterling sign (£) and the ampersand (&). They're shorthand. The obvious symbols which the COED forgets are the numerals - 1,2,3 etc - symbols which stand in for the words 'one', 'two', 'three' etc.

Plus (+), minus (-) and equals (=) all easily fit into this category, but what about the exclamation mark (!) and brackets ([ ])? They don't represent words - brackets are syntactic and the exclamation mark is what's called prosodic.

But for some reason, the SOED only lists the sterling symbol. The others it gives are alphabetic symbols - sequences of letters which represent words or phrases that are common enough to merit a short form, sometimes an abbreviation, but only in specialised fields.

'cm' is 'centimeter' (or 'centimetre' if you're (1) British and (2) old fashioned). 'kph' is 'kilometers per hour'. 'k' is 'kilobyte' but 'K' is 'kilobit'...unless you're a physicist, in which case it's 'Kelvin'.

'A4' is a size of paper if you're a secretary, and 'Au' is the element 'Lead' if you're a chemist...but 'AU' is 'Astronomical Unit' if you're an astrophysicist.

So. Here's the disappointingly small COED list of symbols.