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AI generated Britain pt 3: Fuckley

July 28, 2017

Pt 1, Pt 2

Let’s be honest, this is the one everyone’s interested in. Just where is Fuckley? And why is it called Fuckley?

A lea/ley/leigh is a clearing or glade. It’s not uncommon to see it paired with a tree (see Oakley, Ashley, Elmlea) but to my knowedge the Fuck Tree has yet to be discovered.

It could literally be ‘the glade frequented by fucks’ (maybe the people there are just utter, utter shits) or it could be ‘the glade people visit to fuck’, like a medieval forest version of Makeout Point.

For a more plausible option we could place Fuckley in Cornwall, a county already home to Feock, the town named for St Feoca (I’ll be honest. while I know Feock I couldn’t find a whole lot about St Feoca other than the church in Feock is dedicated to him/her and she/he gives her name to the town). This would make Fuckley the Glade of St Feoca.

A quick scan of the list for other filthy names finds us:

Cum on Street: Cum means with (e.g. summa cum laude) on Street is fairly self explanatory. It’s nonsense, but either way I wouldn’t want to go for a walk here.

Titter’s End: Great name. Significantly less rude than the very real Titty Ho from my home town. Titter is likely a person, and Titter’s end would be his or her end of town.

Handick: Dick is either ditch (Old English dic) or beach/bay (see the arguably ruder Brodick up on the Isle of Arran). As for Han(d), this could be from the Old English for dog (see German hund), or could be someone called Hanna. So Hanna’s Bay, or Dog’s Ditch. There’s also the chance that this was once Handwick (a real place) and the w was dropped (it’s often not pronounced, see Stanwick, Warwick), if so then it’s referring to a farmstead rather than a beach/bay/ditch.

Eassfister: Thank gods for the E. I’d hazard this is East something but wouldn’t want to comment on the rest.

Twatford: This one’s pretty solid. Twat crops up more commonly as Thwaite (unless you’re in the Orkneys or Shetlands). A thwaite is another word for a clearing (so Fuckley could actually have been Fucktwat) so this is ‘the clearing by the ford’ or ‘the ford by the clearing’.

AI generated place names, what do they mean? (pt 1)

July 20, 2017

Dan Hon trained a neural net to generate British place names, there are some predictably funny results (oh hai Fuckley), but if you look at the long list you get everything from incomprehensible nonsense to actual place names. Between those two extremes you have a range of names of varying plausibility so let’s look at some and work out what they would mean.

Dan generated around 4500 names so we’ll be here for a while if we take them one by one, but there are ways we can segment the data, the simplest is to look for common place name components, e.g. -ton, -cester, bridge, hill, -comb(e), llan, punctuation. These are common in actual place names so we’d expect them to occur here, and we know what they mean which is, you know, what I’m trying to figure out.

(Pt 2 here)

-ton

Ok. I’m expecting a lot of these. Yep, 748, around 15% of our sample. Err… we’ll come back to this.

-cester, -caster, -chester

This is more like it. Aside: derivations of ceastre/ceaster crop up a fair bit in British place names, often in larger towns as it comes from the Roman castrum meaning fort. And many places the Romans built forts we still have towns and cities (Manchester, Doncaster, Casterly Rock etc).

Buncestergans. At first glance this doesn’t look a lot like a place name but let’s break it down. We’ve got Bun which is definitely from Ireland (see Bunratty, Bunclody, Bundoran) meaning bottom of the river, and I believe we’re talking bottom as in the mouth rather than the riverbed (or there are whole lot of magical lady-of-the-lake towns in Ireland, I’m happy believing either). Cester is our Roman fort, then we have -gans.

I don’t think gans has any meaning in British place names. My guess is the net got this from Irish surnames like Fagans, Hagans, Duggans, that sort of thing. My Gaelic’s not so great (my mother, grandmother, and several aunts and uncles would all be better suited to this question!) but I think the -gan ending in Gaelic is a diminuitive, so Buncestergans could be the Small Fort at the Bottom of the River. I quite like that. It’s a weird Gaelic-Latin hybrid but why the hell not!

Elsewhere in ceastre territory we have Tancaster and Casterstone which are both perfectly good. Casterstone is strong: the ‘Fort of Stone’.

Kesterfield gets an honourable mention for being almost Chesterfield (check out the twisted spire!).

I like to think Nether Curster could be a derivation of Caster. The Lower Fort. That works for me.

Skousester could be Liverpool (though I’m pretty sure the nearest Roman fort to Liverpool was Chester, and Scouse postdates the Romans by some amount of time).

Then we have Oasasterhill. This is a funny looking beast. How would it be pronounced? I’d like to think it’s something like Oh-ster-hill or O-er-ster-hill (-cester is usually pronounced ‘ster’, for example Bicester is Bister, Towcester is Toaster, Gloucester is Glossed her etc.). Maybe it’s ‘The Town over the Fort Hill’? Bit tenuous methinks. (Aside: to my knowledge -sester and -saster don’t occur in any British place names as equivalents to -cester but for the purposes of this exercise it seems to make the most sense.)

This is fun.

Will we unlock the secrets of all 4573 place names? Find out in our next instalment!

But realistically, no. Can you even imagine how long that would take? And one of these names is Warks ifffrydddig Villags, which I’m pretty sure is just trying to troll Welsh speakers, grammarians, and anyone who’s seen the word village. Another’s just the word Ba.  Ba. So, er, yeah. Not all of them – but a bunch!

Gilead

April 30, 2017

Like the Kingdom of God, the Republic of Gilead is both now and not yet. Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale conjures a theocratic dystopia—a version of the United States taken over by fundamentalist Christians after a terrorist attack on Washington. Women are now divided into rigid classes determined by an idiosyncratic interpretation of the Bible. Atwood’s protagonist, Offred, is a Handmaid—a fallen woman who is forced to bear children for righteous couples—and the book follows her sufferings under the Gilead regime.

I’m about halfway through The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s very good, and as this article notes it feels very current. I don’t watch a lot of TV these days but it seems that TV scheduling still has significant influence on my reading habits, not that I’ll be watching the Hulu adaptation any time soon.

The linked article is also a good read: women in positions of power exerting incredible influence in order to reduce the influence of power of women is such a contradiction, and yet like so much in modern politics the contradictions matter not to those that support such figures. I don’t know how you persuade someone to give up a fervent belief, religious or political.

I recently found out that some friends of mine are flat-Earthers. I tend to avoid Facebook, now that I’m greeted by ‘Proof the Earth is flat,’ ‘Overthrow the conspiracy of the globists,’ and, ’10 truths that disprove the prehistory of dinosaurs,’ I’m even less inclined to log on. I’m aware I can mute people and channels but there’s part of me that can’t help but try to explain how things work. On the bright side I’m getting good at explaining in simple terms why the sky is blue, how one can tell the earth is round, or how it’s possible to see the sun from so far away. On the downside I’m not yet ready to just leave them be and unfortunately and ‘Yeah, that confused me at school, it all just sounds too complicated, I’m just going to believe this’ infuriates the hell out of me.

As a chaser let’s have a look at our lovely Earth.

An illustrated journey to Svalbard

April 12, 2017

This is a charming travelogue.

svalbard1
svalbard2

(You have to click through for the real polar bears.)

North is a travelogue of illustrations and photographs detailing Christoph Niemann’s journey to Svalbard as part of a National Geographic cruise (which looks ace but also seriously out of my price range).

Had you asked me about Svalbard a month ago I would’ve told you about the home of the Panserbjørne, about those two episodes of Fortitude I watched before I forgot it was a thing, and how its name comes from 12th Century Icelandic records of islands visited by Vikings that may not actually be Svalbard.

Now, however, fresh from reading Prisoners of Geography it’s all about fishing territory, coal mining (or not), and the scramble for the Arctic.

Most countries and international organisations recognize the islands as being under (limited) Norwegian sovereignty, but the biggest island, Svalbard, formerly know as Spitsbergen, has a growing population of Russian migrants who have assembled around the coal-mining industry there. The mines are not profitable, but the Russian community serves as a useful tool in furthering Moscow’s claims on all of the Svalbard islands. At a time of Russia’s choosing it can raise tensions and justify its actions using geological claims and the “facts on the ground” of the Russian population.

It’s a genuinely fascinating read, I had no idea the extent to which Russia and China maneuvre their population en masse into foreign or disputed territories, or the importance of warm water ports. It was written pre-Brexit/Trump but with speculation on what could happen if UK or US foreign policy changed which adds an extra layer of interest.

The World, on average

April 6, 2017

Ziebell approached 29 strangers on the University of Michigan’s campus, handed them a pen and half a sheet of paper, and asked them, on the spot, to draw a map of the world.

What You Get When 30 People Draw a World Map From Memory

map3
map2
map1

Ziebell, a high school student from San Antonio, took each drawing and layered them to create a composite ‘average’ world map (the second incorporates satelite data and some artistic licence):

average-world-map

You can view more of the drawn maps here.

Stray thoughts:

  • Florida and Italy make the cut on pretty much every map.
  • Australia (an entire freaking continent) is noticeably absent from quite a few
  • In fact, generally speaking if you’re an island you’re shit out of luck. Madagascar perhaps fares the best, but Greenland, Iceland, the British Isles, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Japan, the Caribbean, New Zealand, Taiwan (and more) are missing more often than not.
  • Same for landlocked seas.
  • It would be fascinating to repeat this in different countries to see how the maps vary.
  • As wild as some of them are they are all recognisable as world maps.
  • I wonder how many of these more accurately represent land area than Mercator?

(via the always excellent @kottke, who you should consider supporting if you can spare $30 a year, his content is consistently great).

Osaka

July 13, 2016

It’s changed since I last visited.