Sunday, May 8, 2011

The importance of being Ernest concise

I like clarity. Well, duh.

Anyway, why use more words than you need to be clear? I sometimes rewrite to see if I can be more brief. Believe it or not. Imagine how long my posts would be if I didn't try to summarize.

Let's practice. If someone asked you a simple question, such as "What is Titanic?", (capital T) how would you answer, the shortest possible way, but an answer which still explained?

Maybe I would say something like, "Titanic was the name of a large passenger ship that hit an iceberg and sank on its first voyage across the Atlantic ocean."

And yet, even that might be too much. Heh. How about, even more directly, "Titanic was the name of a ship."? I don't think a shorter answer is possible.

Maybe the questioner only cared that Titanic wasn't the name of a planet or a mountain range. So that was cleared up for him with the second answer, without going into unwanted info like icebergs and loss of life.

Let them ask questions if they want more info, eh?

A slow day today. No horse races or Cinco de Mayo celebrations. Happy Mother's day.


  1. Shortest possible answer: Titanic’s a ship… or… a ship.

    I do agree with brevity, and strong writing. Yet, I need to feel connected to a piece of writing in order to move on, so it needs enough to convey sense of place and mood.

  2. "The Titanic ship sank after iceberg collision" has the same number of words as yours, but more information.

    Alternatively, "The Titanic ship sank".

  3. For me, brevity is fine if you've captured the significance.

    Titanic was a ship that sank with needless loss of life and spurred significant changes in maritime safety.

  4. titanic: Pertaining to a Titan.
    Titan: one of the 'elder gods' of Greek mythology. They were defeated and supplanted by the Olympians.
    I think some of them, feeling the pinch of unemployment, became moons.... (our moon, Selene, is a Titan).
    Titanic: An ocean liner of the white star line, sister ship to Oceanic, the R.M.S. Titanic is mostly remembered for having been advertised as 'unsinkable', yet sank with great loss of life after striking an iceberg.

  5. Well.... if you think about it, a response could be..."titanic was a movie that launched the career of Leonardo DiCaprio and was way overrated..." or more concisely... "an overrated movie" ..... so now you have two answers... a sunken ship... or an overrated movie....

    Jes sayin. :-)

  6. That should teach me not to just sit and doodle when I have nothing, really, to blog about.

    The young man looked up from his crossword puzzle and said, "What's 'Titanic'?" Titanic with a capital T, italicized. "A ship," I reply. That was sufficient for his curiosity at the moment.

    Sometimes, I thought, you should just answer the question at hand and not volunteer information not asked for, not wanted. Be concise. Make them ask you for more if they want more.

    If someone had asked me to give them the briefest of overviews of this momentous historical event that involved a ship named "Titanic," I would give the first sentence I gave in the post: "Titanic was the name of a large passenger ship that hit an iceberg and sank on its first voyage across the Atlantic Ocean."

    Still no need for intricate details or a long drawn-out story that wasn't asked for. Certainly no need for me to give a lecture on morality, or give them a dose of my personal values.

    Just a ship. Until asked for more.

    Me? I do like more information when I get interested in something. I want to know more than the average person knows. I want to know all the details, even if they are gory. I want to learn enough to form opinions. Not all people wnat that, though, so conciseness also has it's place.

    When I first studied Titanic a very, very long time ago, I became familiar with Smith, Wilde, Murdock, Lightoller, Boxhall, Pittman, and the others. Even Bride and Phillips; even Lee and Fleet. Book after book was devoured until I was full of Titanic. Andrews was her architect. He went down with her. Ismay represented her owners; he didn't.

    I learned that criticisms were unwarranted when compared to the standards of the time rather than 20-20 hindsight: some people stop when they are in an ice field; some people go as fast as they can to put the danger behind them. It usually works to run and is not imprudent. Lifeboats? All ships of the day used the same insane formula and the Titanic was hardly a culprit for following the same custom as all other ships. The others got away with it, the Titanic did not.

    Were these bad people then? Were these people who just didn't care about other people, like republicans?

    In my reading, I learned that Titanic had a sister ship launched the year before, called Olympic. The gods lived on Mt. Olympus. The gods were descended from Titans; Titanic meant something very large. I learned that of the three sister ships (the third was sunk by a torpedo in WWI) only the Olympic carried passengers for years and years before being scrapped.

    And if someone asks me today, "What's 'Titanic'?"

    I think I would still say, "The name of a ship."

    A lot of water has gone over Niagara Falls since that cold April night so long ago. The terror began a bit after midnight when Murdock picked up the ringing phone from the crow's nest and calmly asked, "What do you see? [pause] Thank you."

    The rest is history. Just a crossword puzzle clue now.

  7. The 'Britannic' was an (empty) hospital ship returning from Gibraltar to Gallipoli to pick up the wounded when she hit a mine laid by a German submarine. The story was that she had been deliberately torpedoed, but this has long been proved false.

  8. Adullamite, you are right of course; not a torpedo. I would never challenge you about any aspect of the great war (except your opinions about the Americans) anyway. I should have minded my own advice about not giving too much information. :)

    How are you today?

  9. There's an irony. I studied Titanic for some time, too. Actually, the tragedy of the Titanic is riddled with ironies not the least of which is that, if she had hit the iceberg straight on, she might have survived (given her sister ship, Olympic's, survival of a head-on collision earlier in her own career. Undersized rudder - bad engineering call.

    Have you read Futility or The Wreck of the Titan?

    You want to know what REALLY kills me? Looking at video footage of the underwater halls of the Titanic. Row after row of doors. Someone with a screwdriver could have pulled those off and made makeshift rafts or just floated on them. Just not being completely immersed would have drastically reduced the number of exposure related casualties.

    I also have to say that the story behind the Carpathia, the first one there to scoop up survivors is worthy of note on its own. Captain was sharp as a needle and decisive, bold and lives were undoubtedly saved because of that.

    The same can't be said for the idiots on the SS Californian.

  10. Ha! I remembered to cut and paste! Take that, ya scurvy software glitch that destroys 30% of my comments!

  11. @Jeff King - Well, "Titanic Sunk" conveys a certain sense of mood, no? :)

    @A. - It doesn't have the same number of words as mine. And more information is what you are supposed to leave out. :)

    @Stephanie Barr - I have to convey the deeper meaning if I am going to talk about something? But certainly what you said was more significant, I'll admit.

    Here's something I read last night. I thought you would enjoy it. Heh, at first I thought you had got one published and it was being reviewed, but it was of someone else. A publisher's gush about a book on Amazon last night:

    "Published to universal acclaim... likely to become the standard in it's field.. this [book] vivifies, with palpable immediacy... scholarly acumen and interpretive skill...

    Imagine that - "universal acclaim" - not one dissenter. And how I wish I could write so as to vivify my subject with palpable immediacy. Oh! To be accorded the public recognition of the scholarly acumen and interpretive skill my work deserves!

    A pack of lies, methinks. Too many words.

    Eschew bubbliness.


  12. @Petra - True. I wasn't even thinking of the movie. So the Titanic was a movie, an alternative answer. A very long movie with no zombies (to speak of.)

  13. @Soubriquet - As usual, it takes me more time to chew your insightful (inciteful?) comments. This one was relatively easy since it only included the cosmos, ancestors of gods, and a reminder that our moon has a name. Not too bad.

    Having blogged (on a sister blog) of the liver-eating of the chained Prometheus, I obviously fear no Titan, though sometimes question their judgement.

    I am in awe, and also edified, as usual.

    I forgive your Oceanic and raise you one Baltic.

  14. Does too have the same number of words.

  15. I was replying, when my connection to the internet was suddenly interrupted.

    Where was I going with the reply.... Oh, I can't remember.

    Selene. Moon... Nope, can't remember. Selenium is used in anti dandruff shampoos. And in glass and pottery glazes where it gives bright reds, especially when combined with cadmium. Don't eat selenium; although we all know the moon is made of green cheese, selenium is neither green nor cheesy. It's toxic, and a teratogen in fairly low doses.
    (Although, it's fair to say, we do require some selenium in our diet).
    Prometheus should have just apologised, and given the fire back.
    "Don't steal from the gods and then come complaining to me about your liver, Prometheus," said his mother, "It's time you got a proper job, like Endymion."

  16. soubriquet, you crack me up. I could just hear her.

    What's Endymion's job description? Narcoleptic gigolo? Somnolent sperm donor? You'd think, from that story, the lesson is that pretty boys should be seen and not heard. That's only applicable if Prometheus was pretty - was he?

    Prometheus' brother, Epimetheus, is the one with a real job as he is represented everywhere in politics. Admittedly, Prometheus (the one who tries to clean up the mess)is not well represented anywhere.

  17. Endymion, allegedly, was in employment as a shepherd. Or a king, the documentation is unclear.
    In a job, all the same, no doubt paying taxes, like the rest of us.
    As for his alleged drowsiness, its likely he was slipped a micky by a jealous god, or perhaps, a sex-crazed moon goddess intent upon having carnal knowledge of the helplessly drowsy lad. It was probably rohypnol she used upon him.
    Selene was a shameful,pervert. A narcophiliac, preying upon young boys.

  18. Damn it, I know I had a comment, saw it posted, and now it's gone. I'm not blaming you, RM, just mourning a comment I liked and the vagaries of remote software.

  19. Me too. There's editing going on. We have fallen foul of the central scrutiniser.

  20. Blogger was down (in read only mode) for much of yesterday afternoon and evening. They claim nothing is to be lost and comments will be added eventually. We'll see.

    Please DO make a copy of all your comments and save them to paste here later. A lot of you don't realize we pay for comments, and we don't want you to miss out on that. (We only pay for good comments.)


  21. **The above is not to be construed to mean we pay for good comments.

  22. I think it was for being slightly off topic. I was only trying to vivify my subject with palpable immediacy.

  23. Careful there. Because I'd be expecting top-dollar word-count rates, and you already know that my comments are rarely as short as this.

    Also, my comments are all saved invisibly by the lazarus plug-in for firefox. Which saves my crumbling brain from trying to do it.

  24. What?

    Who would care if your comment is off-topic? Our posts are just a cover and have nothing to do with the comments.

  25. @ Stephanie Barr - Actually I haven't read those books. It has been a long time since I've read and read about it. Mostly library books, it has been so long! I think the last book I bought was Dr. Ballard's (sp?) book with the account of the discovery and the dives down to the Titanic, and those beautiful haunting pictures.

    As a safety officer, it must grate on you that emergency procedures were not rehearsed or even spoken about in advance of the sailing of the Titanic. For example, as you say, Murdock should have known he must resist his sailor's instinct to try and avoid hitting the iceberg, as hitting it head-on was the Titanic's only chance. This, even if under-ruddered (as she was). I speak only of a night collision, of course. Daytime visibility would have given them time to turn. By the way, do you know why Murdock's command to the helm was "hard a-starboard", when his intent was to hard a-port around the berg? (I know you know this, but for the sake of other readers, the rudder of the Titanic responded conversely. That is, if you wanted to steer the bow left around something, you had to spin the helm wheel to the right.) Also, if you stop and think about it, Murdock's subsequent immediate double telegraph order to the engine room(s) of "All Stop: Full Speed Astern" was an incorrect order if his intent was to turn the ship. In other words, I am saying there were at least three things that should have been discussed and rehearsed, from a safety point of view, before sailing:

    1. Time needed to turn the ship at various distances and speeds (memorized);

    2. The implications of current real-time visibility with regard to speed and turning capabilities;

    3. What engine commands to give under specific rehearsed emergency conditions, specific to the Titanic.

    Some might conclude that these things were simply part of an expert seaman's expertise, without needing to rehearse, but this is not true: conditions are different for different ships, and each ship needs customized responses. No one knew the customized responses of the Titanic under stress because it was her maiden voyage, and sea trials are not carried out at the weight the Titanic was carrying that night - all they had were engineering mathematics, and these should have been memorized by officers of the watch. Obviously they were not, or he would not have tried to turn. Either that, or he wasn't aware of the benefit of NOT turning which were specific to a ship with watertight doors. And he should have been aware of this desired option

    In short, Murdock or any other watch officer should have KNOWN, ahead of time that by the time the breakers are seen at the base of an iceberg, at night, it is ALREADY TOO LATE to try and turn that particular ship. Additionally, he should have been instructed as to the curious benefit of striking the object head on which was peculiar to the Titanic and Olympic. Instead, he reacted automatically from his years of experience at sea on ships without watertight doors, and desperately tried to avoid the object.

    I am not convinced that an officer of Murdock's training and experience (he had his Master's Certificate) would have given the engine commands he is purported to have given. No experienced officer, in my opinion, would deliberately cut power to his ship when he was attempting to make a panic turn. But I can't prove he didn't give those orders.

    An important part of any safety program is to know ahead of time what you will do under various circumstances, and to mentally rehearse those responses relentlessly. When bad things start to happen, it is too late to debate.

    There are some interesting computer models of the Titanic here. I found them interesting, you might like them too.

  26. My comment is still AWOL which makes your response a little odd. Still, interesting.

    Like most great tragedies in history, review after the fact shows dozens of places where a little extra effort, training, foresight or intelligence could have changed the course, if not to avert disaster, to reduce it unduly.

    Then there are the cases like Apollo 13 and United Airlines Flight 232 (1989)where quick thinking outside the box brought limited success to certain failure.



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