For thousands of years humans have been communicating in two main ways, spoken word and written word. Spoken word is generally real time and responsive – one person speaks, another responds; a conversation. Written word is usually delayed, and long form – someone will write a letter or an email, and the response will come hours or days later. Over time many conventions have been established in these communication channels – we read body language, tone, expression, and many other subtle cues in the message. This is harder to do in written communication, but the cues are still present.

In the last few decades these two communication channels have merged in the form of text based chat. Text chat is written communication, but its short form and often real time. It also has subtle cues that can be inferred, which I have dubbed “subtext”. Many of these cues are lost when the conversation is read back. Some examples include:

  • The “typing” indicator; often the typing indicator will show for a long time, even though the messages being sent are very short. This is a sure sign that the person you chatting to is having trouble putting their thoughts into words. I
  • The timestamp of the message; sometimes replies to message get sent after another message has been sent, so the replies are out of order. This is often clear at the time that the conversation is happening, but when it is read back it could be misleading. The timestamp can often help clear up this confusion.
  • Typos/messages sent early; these mistakes may indicate some level of emotion on the behalf of the sender – they might be excited, or upset or tired etc.
  • Read indicator; Sometimes replies to messages are slow. This may indicate that the person you are talking to isn’t engaged in the chat, or that they have other priorities. This can be understood later from the time of the message,  but more information can be inferred from the “read” indicator on messages. If a message has been read but has not been replied to this might be an indicator that a reply is difficult, whereas if the message has not been read the delay is more likely to be because the chatter is busy elsewhere. Some messaging apps also distinguish between sent and delivered messages, which provides additional subtext – if a message isn’t even delivered then their phone is probably out of power or they are out of signal.
  • Last seen time; The time the chatter was last seen could be a telling sign. If the person you are talking to was seen more recently than your last message then they might be ignoring you, or engaged on another chat.
  • Length of messages; Short messages might be another indicator that the conversation isn’t a priority for the chatter right now, whereas long ones a sign that they are engaged with the chat.

Like all implicit communication it is important to treat these cues with caution. There are many other plausible explanations for the behaviours listed above. Just as with spoken and written communication clarity is important; if the “subtext” of your chat is conflicting with the content of the chat then it is probably best to make your concerns explicit, so that the implicit cues are not being read incorrectly and causing confusion.

What other kinds of “subtext” can you think of?

One Hundred Days

After reading about Assya Barrette’s 200 days without buying anything, I decided to take on an easier version of the same challenge – to not buy anything for 100 days.

This did not apply to consumables (food, drink etc) or to experiences (staying in a hotel, going out for dinner), or to virtual goods (audiobooks, music subscriptions). The idea was to try to reduce the amount of waste I generate by not buying the things in the first place.

In some way this made life easier. When in those awful gift shops I was faced with difficult questions from the children about what hideous thing they could purchase, the answer was simple – none. When faced with difficult questions about what type of [insert new gadget here] to purchase, I didn’t need to worry – it wasn’t an option.

The one challenge to this was an axe. Since this winter we heated our house using only wood I have chopped myself, an axe is a fairly essential item. I have about four axes. Most of them are old and short handled, or snapped in half. I had been using the same splitting maul for all of our logs for about 18 months, and about halfway into the 100 days the handle snapped in half. I tried continuing with half an axe but it just took way too long, so I cheated and bought this beast:


April 10th was the one hundred and first day of 2016 and my consumerism fast is over. Over these one hundred days there are many things I wanted to purchase that I never did. Now I can’t remember them, so I guess I’ll never buy them. There is one thing that I do remember though. I really need some socks.

Using the stove for heating

Our house has gas fired central heating, but 2 years ago we had a wood burning stove installed, as an alternative means of heating. I made friends with a local tree surgeon who keeps me busy with a constant supply of freshly cut logs. It seems that winter is more or less over now, so I feel confident that we can claim that this winter we didn’t need to use the gas heating once.

Its been more than a year since we used the gas to heat the house; an achievement we are proud of. It takes a lot of work to cut, stack and dry all our fuel. Lighting the fire every day and keeping it burning is a small chore but it requires attention.

There were several factors that made this possible. Firstly this winter was relatively mild. Secondly we had built up a big supply of wood over the last two years which mean we had enough seasoned wood to keep us going.

Relying on the stove as our only means of heating is challenging but also rewarding. By using this free supply of wood for heating our house, we save a money on our fuel bills, and also help the environment but reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.

Funny Train Announcements

A few years ago I would commute to work every day by train. Here are some announcements I collected during these journeys:

Short trains

I would like to apologise for the short formation of the train today. This is due to unavailable stock available. I do apologise for the short formation of the coaches this evening.

A regular conductor

We are just arriving at London Bridge where this service will terminate. Please remember to take all your baggage personal belongings with you. Please don’t forget mobile phones, laptop computers, gloves, scarves, bobbly hats, umbrellas, sandwiches, livestock, artificial limbs. and if you have any children, please take them with you as well. Thank you for travelling with Southern. let’s hope the rest of your day is wonderful.


Good evening ladies and gentlemen, this is your conductor speaking. I have a brief announcement for you this evening, how can I put it, well, we have pigs on the line this evening. Once the pigs are cleared we can be on our way as soon as possible

Good evening ladies and gentlemen, this is your conductor speaking. We still have no more news on the pig situation. All I can do is apologise for the delay. Hopefully we will be on our way very soon.

Good evening ladies and gentlemen, this is your conductor speaking. Once again I do apologise for the delay on this service. We still haven’t sorted out the problem with the livestock running about on our network. Once again i do apologise for the delay on this service but i actually do not know how long we are going to be here

Good evening ladies and gentlemen, this is your conductor speaking. I am just letting you know there is movement up in front so give it a few minutes and we will be on our way. Once again i do apologise for the delay on our service this evening

This was the last we ever heard about the pig situation.