Skunkworks roundup

It's a far, far beta thing

As she is spoked and writted

It all started with SETI@home, the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence, which became the chic screen saver of the early years of this millennium. More recently the BBC got in on the act, and set all the family-owned PCs in the UK churning through a climate model charting global warming between 1920 and 2080.

(When they have finished, by the way, the Beeb are going to start all over again, this time factoring into the model the extra heat generated by all the family-owned PCs in the UK running a climate model charting global warming between 1920 and 2080. This will use up yet more energy, which will in turn etc. Look kids: recursion isn't just good for hippy-ish acronyms!)

But now a team of top coders is preparing a new application that will at last make worthwhile use of all the yotta-flops at the disposal of a BOINCish screen saver. They have identified an issue that is of great interest and relevance to a good proportion of the world's population.

They are going to perfect the English language.

They intend posing all the questions that have long taxed the great online thinkers, and finding and publishing the correct and definitive answers. No detail of pronunciation, spelling, grammar or style will be outside their scope.

Here are some sample issues:

  • Is it ok (or, on the other hand, is it moronic) while conversing on the internet repeatedly to type 'loosing' when you mean 'losing'?
  • Is the slang expression 'mobe', short for 'mobilised telephonic apparatus', simply a rather witty abbreviation, or does its use actually make you big and clever too?
  • Which is the superior style of road sign wording: American Graphic (eg 'Xing' for 'Crossing') or British Obscure ('Adverse camber', 'Altered priorities', 'Merge in turn')?
  • Does the occasional proportionally precise use of 'decimate' in Reg headlines serve to irritate the 'don't you dare oppress me with your etymological fascism' crowd sufficiently, or could more be done?
  • Is death too good for people who use the word 'literally' to provide emphasis in their metaphors?

Of course, it's early days at the moment, but the team thinks it has an algorithm that parallellallellallellises really well and it expects to make rapid progress.

As well as settling any number of important academic questions, there are high hopes of deriving medical benefits – a complete cure for IVS (Irritable Vowel Syndrome) is definitely on the cards – and saving many billions of lost work hours currently spent arguing over, for example, whether it's 'shedule' or 'skedule'.

I seem to hear concerns that there might be British bias in the output of this project. May I address these at once.

Although it is true that the core of the programming team (me) is as English as a nine bob note, we have striven long and hard to ensure that no parochialism can creep into the design, nor national prejudice colour the results.

And make damn sure you don't miss that 'u' in colour...

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