Saturday, April 21, 2012

Cannabis and Creativity: Should drugs be used to facilitate creativity? | V. Krishna Kumar, Ph.D, Psychology Today

Kumar's article raises some provocative questions but doesn't provide definitive answers.

The writer describes a literature review in which the researchers:
suggested that cannabis produces psychotomimetic symptoms, which in turn might lead to connecting seemingly unrelated concepts, an aspect of divergent thinking considered primary to creative thinking. A drug induced altered state of mind may indeed lead to breaking free from ordinary thinking and associations, thereby, increasing the likelihood of generating novel ideas or associations.
Kumar then describes some research on test subjects that, I think, provided some evidence that cannabis can, indeed, heighten creativity.

But then he asks--and answers:
"What do we do with such findings? Obviously, we cannot recommend smoking cannabis as a way of stimulating creativity." 
And again, he asks: "Should we consider designing drugs to unlock our creative potential?"

It seems that his analysis becomes a reasonable warning about using drugs to treat too many conditions "in an over-medicated society"--from controlling attention deficit disorder to increasing happiness to enhancing creativity.

He concludes:
We can put aside most of the research on understanding the complexity of creative processes to become creative—instead, all we would need to do is take a pill and become instantly creative and, hopefully, instantly happy. A word of caution: you can be happily intoxicated brimming with creative thoughts after consuming a cannabis derivative, but don’t drive or operate machinery.
That flippant comments suggests to me that this issue needs more serious, open-minded research, analysis, discussion, public involvement, and decision-making.

Students' creativity shines through art | The Jackson Sun | jacksonsun.com

People who question the value of art instruction (and music instruction) in school are wrong. I know that fact from experience. And this article provides a useful example.

Says Patricia Ayers, a middle school art teacher in Jackson, Tennessee:
I have been teaching art for 41 years, and I have never yet seen where art couldn’t help a child in some way. Once students feel like they can do good, they start to feel better about themselves.
Ayers has seen students who were doing poorly raise their grades after taking art classes. She says art is a great confidence better, which explains why some students have the confidence to believe they can create a masterpiece.

This article begins:
Senia Haynes said that for her, the joy of art is taking something in her life and trying to make a masterpiece out of it.
A masterpiece is an ambitious goal for a 10-year-old, but the look in Senia’s eyes was enough for anyone watching her to know she was serious.

Simplicity. The Key to Making Great Portraits | Glenn Guy,This Week in Photo

Bright eyes, dimmed not by age. This was very much my thinking when I photographed this elderly woman in a small village at the foot of St. Thomas Mount in Chennai (Madras), India.
I photographed her under lovely, soft light in an attempt to bring out the full expressive nature of her face. And while the picture is sharp and made from a relatively close distance, the soft nature of the light renders the changing tonality and wrinkled nature of her skin in a very flattering manner. Her skin simply glows.
Guy begins his blog with those words. And he writes later, in words next to the wonderful, detailed, enlargeable black-and-white photo:
The trick to making great portraits is simplicity, and that’s as true for technique as it is for composition and gesture. I can never understand why so many folks are unable to just see the light and move the subject into that light.
And he concludes:
I am both inspired and motivated by light. It is the transforming and, sometimes, transcendental nature of light not people, landscapes or buildings that is the primary subject matter of my photography.

Love and Simplicity | Lynn Fang, Upcycled Love

Fang begins this thoughtful blog a few days before Earth Day, April 22, 2012:
I believe the essence of simplicity is to make room for that which you truly love, and strip away all else – the inessentials.
So what is it that I truly love?
Later, she writes:
Simplicity is not repression or ruthless minimalism. It is not a competition to see who can own the least number of things, use the least number of words, or keep the shortest tiniest list of loves. For me, it is a life philosophy based on my core values, and my belief system, embracing true freedom and happiness.
And Fang concludes:
And so for me, simplicity is about loving life and experiencing it to expansive depths. It is about following your core beliefs and values without looking back. Embracing liberation in all areas of life – from material wealth, to mental limitations.

Jen Lewin designs The Kitchen Denver to savor simplicity | Susan Clotfelter. The Denver Post

This article describes a designer's goals for a new restaurant in Denver and how she turned them into tasty, tasteful reality.

Clotfelter begins:
A restaurant kitchen is a place of frenzied motion, where food, fire, sharp knives and human bodies swirl in a dance of constant near-collision. There's no other room where surfaces and light are so essential to what goes on.
That's why designer Jen Lewin believed that to be successful, such surfaces have to embrace simplicity. To play only a supporting role. To recede, to become merely a canvas for food and faces.
And do it elegantly, durably, sustainably.

Can There Be “Good” Corporations? | Marjorie Kelly, YES! Magazine

This article begins by noting "our economic system is profoundly broken" But Kelly writes that "our approach to fixing the economy is broken as well." And that's because we've concluded "our best hope is to regulate corporations and work for countervailing powers like unions."

She describes another approach that's "bubbling up all around us in the form of economic alternatives like cooperatives, employee-owned firms, social enterprises, and community land trusts."

Kelly writes that the emerging alternatives represent an unsung ownership revolution:
This revolution is about broadening economic power from the few to the many and redefining the purpose of economic activity. The aim isn’t to endlessly grow gross domestic product or to create wealth for a financial elite, but to generate the conditions for the flourishing of life.
Kelly calls this new approach a generative economy that "has a built-in tendency to be socially fair and ecologically sustainable."
Options like worker ownership and cooperatives not only spread wealth but ensure that owners are local, hence more likely to care about local ecological impacts. And they allow enterprises to reject the growth imperative endangering the biosphere. 

Four steps to learning vocabulary effectively

This article provides useful, clear advice on increasing your vocabulary--and I encourage the effort. Increasing our vocabularies enhances our understanding of the things we read and the things we hear. It also can enhance the things we write and say.

My website, Garbl's Writing Resources Online, includes a Vocabulary section on the Words page that provides links to other sites for enhancing vocabulary. I'm sure there are other good sites not listed there. 

But, I'd like to add a "but" to the value of learning new words and their meanings. Increasing our vocabularies helps us use words that, perhaps, are more precise in the meaning of something we're trying to understand or express. 

But, when we're writing, we must think carefully about the readers we're trying to reach. Will they understand the precise but perhaps uncommon or less familiar word we're using? Will that precise meaning make any difference to our readers? If our readers don't "get" it, will using it benefit us as writers? 

So, consider using that increased vocabulary of yours as a writer or speaker. But please don't use unfamiliar words or long multi-syllable words for their own sake. And especially don't use the jargon of your profession or special interest if your main audience is not likely to be familiar with it. 

Or, if you do use that larger vocabulary in those situations, either define it right upfront or along the way--or use it in a context that explains it clearly. 

For more information on communicating clearly, check out my Garbl's Concise Writing Guide and Garbl's Plain-English Writing Guide


Love drives away shadows of pain | Kent Bush, Norwich, CT - The Bulletin

Wow! When I started reading this article, I thought it was going to tell a story about learning vocabulary. I especially liked the third paragraph below:
Sometimes what you don’t know can hurt you.
Our new son’s vocabulary and ability to express himself is growing every day. But he can’t always express his emotion.
In that way he is like a tornado in the dark, you know some bad things may be happening in there but you have no idea how big or how bad until some light is shone on the situation.
We wonder how many of the things we say he really understands. We figured out recently that pronouns are tough for him because when I say I, I mean me and when you say I, you mean you. But we both say I.
Do you see how that could confuse a 4-year-old who is trying to learn his third language?
But the story continues, revealing more information about the child's experiences that I won't reveal here. It ends, though, noting other lessons for the child, for his father and, perhaps, for us:
Dawit can’t always express his thoughts and feelings, yet.
But I know when he went to sleep that night, the light of knowing he belonged to a family shone on his dark thoughts and drove away the shadows of pain that still haunt him.


How Earth Day changed the way we speak | Coeur d'Alene Press

Here's a timely article for Earth Day--Sunday, April 22. It begins:
Since the first Earth Day was celebrated as an "environmental teach-in" on April 22, 1970, a whole new vocabulary has entered the English language.
Says Paul JJ Payack, president and chief word analyst of the Texas-based Global Language Monitor:
The environmental movement has had a profound, lasting, and ever-increasing effect on global culture and, hence, the English language.
The articles lists and defines 25 words "generated by Earth Day since 1970." Among them: green, sustainable, eco- (as a prefix), biodegradable, natural and greenwash.

I wish we could come up with a simpler word than sustainable (and sustainability) to mean "the ability to create self-replicating systems that can persist over time" (even though it was GLM's word of the year in 2006). I can't say greenwash is in common use, though its meaning raises a relevant concern: "Highlighting aspects of a product that may or appear to be favorable to the environment in order to re-shape its brand image."

Mathematicians round, but do nurses? | Bill White, The Morning Call

White's column begins with a short amusing story about how "round" is used as a verb in a poster about the work of nurses. A professor writes, "Apparently, it's part of their healing through illiteracy initiative."

But more of the article is about alternative spellings of mannequin, as in this headline: "Man steals a dressed manikin from Phillipsburg Mall Sears."

White was criticized for mocking that spelling because it is found in dictionaries. He researched it and agreed, even offering a semi-apology: "To summarize, that mannequin wasn't the only dummy."

He still argues that his spelling is "most correct," and I agree! For one thing, our dictionaries these days have become mere documentation of how people use words, not clearly or consistently noting the correct or best way to use them.

One writing guru, Robert Hartwell Fiske, has researched the issue and found that mainstream college dictionaries like Merriam-Webster's, Webster's New World and American Heritage often report nonstandard uses of words as correct uses. Merriam-Webster's and Webster's New World, for example, apparently don't make a clear distinction between the uses of flaunt and flout, less and fewer, precipitate and precipitous, and predominate and predominant. 

He reports that the Oxford American College Dictionary and Microsoft Encarta College Dictionary are two of the best. 

But whatever the choice of dictionary, the entries in them may give a clue about the preferred use. For example, one of White's dictionaries said manikin is a "variant spelling of mannequin." And the other dictionary listed mannequin as a definition of manikin. According to style manuals I follow, those clues point to mannequin as the best choice--even if it doesn't fit a headline very well.

BTW, Fiske's latest book is Robert Hartwell Fiske's Dictionary of Unendurable English. I also keep another book of his, The Dictionary of Concise Writing, handy on my desk.

Language evolves, grammar changes | Colin Gardiner, Times Colonist, Victoria, B.C.

Sure, Gardener is right. Our language does evolve and change, and we should accept it. But that doesn't mean we should ignore the rules of writing as long as we can get our point across. There's a reason for those rules, just as as there are rules for just about everything we do.

Like spelling a person's name, for example. I wonder how Colin Gardiner would feel--and what he would think of me!--if he noticed my (intentional) misspelling of his name in the first paragraph.

He writes:
Surely the whole point of a language is communication. Therefore, if someone is conveying an idea accurately (whether they say "speak loud" or "speak loudly"), the job is done. Would they judge a foreigner whose English is not flawless? No? Then why do they judge anyone?
One reason we have rules of the road, for driving, is so we have some expectation about what other drivers (and pedestrians) are doing or plan to do--and so they have some expectation about what we're doing or plan to do. There would be many more accidents--and tragic deaths--if everyone did his or her own thing.

While tragedy is less likely if someone ignores the rules of writing, the expectation among readers of what certain sentence structures, word choices and punctuation marks mean does aid readers and their understanding of a writer's words. Those expectations of readers are more important that the whims of a writer, at least in serious writing--and certainly in things like instruction manuals and safety notices.



The Art of Persuasive Writing: A Few Pointers - YouTube

Here's just one of a bunch of YouTube videos on persuasive writing I just discovered here. I'll be checking more of them later.

The description for this one:
Pip is writing a presuasive text for a school assignment; she wants to convince the school principal to make the canteen food healthier. In this chapter Pip discovers that her own family is a great source of inspiration as they demonstrate the principles of good persuasive writing. From the Australian educational program 'The Art of Persuasive Writing: Exploring Text Types', Classroom Video, 2010.
One of my labels for this post is "story telling." This video is effective partially because it tells a story. It's not just a dry lecture.

She made Gotye somebody we all know | Patrick O'neil, Melbourne, Australia, Age

Maybe it's because I don't listen to Top 40 music or watch many music videos, but I have not heard the song or seen the video at this website. But I like 'em both! Might it be serendipity that I've seen and heard them now?

The lead singer in the video is an Australian who goes by the name Goyte. The song is now No. 1 on U.S. charts. The video is moving toward 200 million views on YouTube.

O'neil writes:
Sometimes you just know. Melbourne filmmaker Natasha Pincus felt that serendipity the first time she heard Gotye's now chart-topping hit "Somebody That I Used to Know."
''[The idea for the clip] came on the first listen. My heart dropped. I thought, this is going to be massive, this is an amazing song,'' Pincus said.
And later, he writes:
The singer has credited the clip for helping to make his song such a success. In what ultimately proved a brilliant stroke of luck, the video was leaked before Gotye intended to release it and went viral immediately.

''It was stolen out of our system. I guess it's always wanted to get out there. Within five minutes it was everywhere,'' Pincus says.

Surgery for migraines: Help or hokum?

I've never planned to use botox for plastic surgery (and still don't), but as a longtime migraine sufferer, this article intrigued me.

After plastic surgeon Bahman Guyuron  experienced a couple of cases of serendipity, the article reports:
Guyuon became intrigued by the possibility that he had stumbled on a new way to help some of the 36 million hapless Americans who suffer from migraines. He surmised that the cosmetic surgery had freed nerves that were being pinched and pained by muscles in the brow.
The objective article, however, continues with varying opinions about the effectiveness, value and safety of Guyuron's findings and treatment.

For now, I'm not going to run out and get this treatment. But I think it's worth monitoring. After all, it seems many of our medicines are made from ingredients you'd never think would have anything to do with the symptoms they reduce and prevent. Consider penicillin and bread mold, for example.

I'm sure a lot of thought, time, research and intelligence goes into development of our medicines--to make scientific connections between various substances and their effect on humans. But I bet serendipity has also played a role at times, even an important role.


One on One: Lane Becker, Author of 'Get Lucky' - NYTimes.com

I want to read this book: Get Lucky: How to Put Planned Serendipity to Work for You and Your Business.

In response to a question, Becker says:
The book is actually the idea that there are certain behaviors that you can engage in to make yourself more successful. The book teaches that as the pace of change increases, and information continues to explode, you need to embrace serendipity to succeed.
Later, Becker describes how serendipity works:
It’s pretty simple. First, you need to put yourself in a path for these unexpectedly good things. Second, you have to be able to see these serendipitous events — you have to make the connections. And third, you have to be able to act them. The definition of luck is that you were willing to do something.

A ‘Treaty’ Sealed in Trinkets - Vidya Prabhu, Indian Express

I'm no fashionista, but this article captured my interest by describing the serendipity-prompted connections of the fashion world with humanitarian work--in India.

Prabhu writes:
[I]t isn’t just the craftsmanship that makes this label unique. Started by Pakistani Farah Malik and Libyan Dana Arbib back in 2008, A Peace Treaty comes across as an unlikely collaboration. It is the result of an unwavering passion for both fashion and humanitarian work. Malik, who has an MSc degree from the London School of Economics, has worked for NGOs. Arbib, an alumna of Parson’s School of Design, has been assisting missions to places such as Ethiopia to deliver AIDS medication.
Says Arbib:
These experiences confirmed my belief that philanthropy and fashion should be mixed in a way that both the developing and the mainstream fashion worlds understand it simultaneously. 

15 Ways to Write Tight | Barb Sawyers, Write to Done

Sawyers begins:

You’re busy, I know. So are the people you want to be read by.
Then why do you go on and on? Why does it take so long to take get to the point?
Why can’t you follow the examples of Chris Brogan, Ernest Hemingway and other masters and write tight?
Following that brief introduction are here 15 tips, including this one:
15. Detach yourself emotionally from your words. When I first started writing professionally, I was crushed when editors would tell me to chop by a third. Turns out they were right. Writing tight is so much better

Friday, April 20, 2012

Space shuttle serendipity : Jamie Todd Rubin

This article reminded me of a few lessons I've gotten in being observant--to benefit writing, photography and my safety.

First, though, Rubin, concludes his article after he and others watch a retired Space Shuttle fly over Washington, D.C.:
What was remarkable was that traffic on 395 had stopped. People had pulled over and gotten out of their cars to watch and take pictures. I’ve never seen anything quite like that before.
Second, when I was a daily newspaper reporter, one of our editors encouraged us to take different routes as we travel our news beats--instead of using the same streets at the same time day after day. Because we wouldn't be driving-by-rote, he said, we might see something unusual and newsworthy along the (new) way. Although I got out of the news biz years ago, I still follow that advice, for the potential fun of it if nothing else.

Third, I read in a photography book years ago (wish I could remember the title and author) to turn around and look behind me while taking pictures. The book said I might end up seeing something worth photographing that most other people don't see--because they're always walking forward, especially while sight-seeing. Similarly, crouch to a lower position to get a photographic angle that other photographers walking along a path might not notice.

And fourth, a version of the ideas above, when walking along a sidewalk to get somewhere, like to a restaurant for lunch or the doctor's office, just don't look or stare straight ahead until you have to cross a street. I see a lot of people doing that! Instead, take off the blinders and look around; it can make the walk--even a brief "journey" to an appointment--more fun and interesting. You might spot a long-lost friend  (as I've experienced). And you might spot, in advance, someone who's not intending to be friendly; fortunately, I haven't encountered that (at least that I know about).

The serendipity of such easy steps!


Infographic – "Sh** People Say: 20 Years of Slang, Funny Words and Phrases from Pop Culture | Skybox Creative Blog

Says Angelina Sereno, CEO of Skybox Creative:
We wanted to put our creative talents towards a fun project we could share; one that would make people think but also make them laugh. What we found most interesting was how words and phrases have morphed over time. For instance, we see a lot more initialisms and combined words that sound really funny in the 2000’s. Some of the words in the infographic are a little daring or sexually charged, but it is a direct reflection of what we see happening in the world, especially in pop culture.
The article explains that the firm conducted Preliminary research on Facebook to gather some of the most commonly used phrases. The article concludes:
Be sure to share the image with your friends for laughs, and those who used these terms way too much!!

I Learned to Speak Four Languages in a Few Years: Here's How | Gabriel Wyner, Lifehacker

While I consider myself an expert in using English, I suck at learning and remembering foreign languages. 

Unfortunately, I wasn't very attentive while studying French for two years in high school (my girlfriend was in the class, ahem). I didn't need a foreign language to get out of college. And much more recently, I can't seem to remember basic terms of human interaction in foreign countries even 20 minutes after reviewing them!

So this article, which I need to study more thoroughly, caught my attention. It doesn't make learning a foreign language sound easy, but it does provide a method that seems efficient and effective.

Wyner writes:
This is the method I've used to learn four languages (Italian, German, French and now Russian); it's the method that got me to C1 fluency in French in about 5 months, and I'm currently using it with Russian (and plan on reaching C1 equivalent fluency by September).
Here are the headings for each stage in his process:
Stage 1: Learn the correct pronunciation of the language.
Stage 2: Vocabulary and grammar acquisition, no English allowed.
Stage 3: Listening, writing and reading work.
Stage 4: Speech.

Home buyers need to know the vocabulary | Kendra Cooke, The Tennessean | tennessean.com

Sometimes focusing on the vocabulary right from the start--explaining the meanings of unique words, terms and jargon for any particular field--can prevent confusion, mistakes and frustration. Short or long, a glossary buried (hidden?) at the end of a document is likely not helpful to the unaware reader and, as result, also not helpful to the writer (or sales person).

Probably knowing her advice will help home-sales, Cooke writes:
Much like having representation in a legal matter, home buyers need to be represented in a real estate transaction, too. Understanding the industry lingo can be daunting, even with a Realtor by your side.
She covers these words and and others: commitment letter, earnest money, escrow account, and contingency.

A Simple Secret to Overcome Writer’s Block | Leslie Wilson, Write Uncaged

I often see and scan articles and blogs about overcoming writer's block, most of them providing various similar methods that can be effective. Here's another one I came across today: How to Identify and Overcome Writer's Block. It looks complete and useful.

But the article I'm featuring in this post describes a method I don't often see. It could seem off-topic because it doesn't involve writing, preparing for writing, or changing a writing habit.

Instead, as Wilson writes:
My all-time favorite way to overcome writer’s block?
See people. Yep, it’s that simple.
Sometimes the well can feel like it has run dry because we don’t have new sensory experiences or meaningful conversations.
She lists several ways in which "Interacting with 3-dimensional, living, breathing humans" can help overcome writer's block.

Sounds like a good (and fun) idea to me! Making connections can be inspiring.

For more resources for dealing with this difficulty, check out the Writer's Block section of Garbl's Writing Process Links. 

Punctuation Infatuation | Souvenirs of Fatherhood

Here's a cute, true story with a short video. The father writes about his young daughter:
We were reading a story one night, when she asked “What’s that?” her finger squarely on a giant question mark. This opened her eyes to the world of punctuation and from then on she was hooked. Now at night, when we read stories together, she always asks, “Can we do punctuation tonight?” which means I read the words and she points to and names all the different types of punctuation she knows.
I'm curious if he'll eventually teach her how each mark is used. Some, like the period and the question mark, would be easy to each. But the comma? Adults even have trouble learning and using that one!

Persuasive Writing – Social Action Letters « Ms. Rankin's English Class

Here's a lesson for middle school students (grades 6 through 8), but it provides useful advice for letter-writers for any age.

Ms. Rankin writes:
In our last class, students developed the following list of SUCCESS CRITERIA for writing an effective persuasive letter. These should be used as guidelines as they work on their rough drafts and final copies.
Next up in the lesson: those eight criteria.

For more advice, check out Garbl's Action Writing Links. It's an annotated directory of websites that can help you get people to read your writing, keep readers interested and persuade them to respond while they're reading or afterward.

Nonprofits connect on Internet | Renee Kumor, BlueRidgeNow.com

After some research, Kumor notes that nonprofit agencies seem to be making good use of the Internet for communication with their various audiences. And she notes that agencies also are using it for fundraising.

She writes:
The name of the game these days is getting a donor's attention as well as getting financial support. If donors are more and more available online through various social networking locations and feel comfortable using options such as Paypal (the same method many use to shop online), successful fundraisers have to maintain a presence there.
But I think the challenge posed in Kumor's conclusion must be a top priority for any use of the Internet, from websites, to online newsletters to social media:
However, there is one very big challenge — feeding the beast. It takes time and attention from someone in an agency to stay tuned in and networked — someone who's job is to develop and post items on Facebook, to Twitter clients, volunteers and donors about up-to-the-minute, breaking news.
I've experienced in other contexts the eagerness of project planners to launch a newsletter or hold regular meetings for volunteers, only for them to eventually end because the project planners and their communications staff have limited time, interest and ideas for keeping them going.

Don't raise hopes and disappointment in an unplanned two-step process using any tools, new and old.


Ten Grammar Rules and Best Writing Practices That Every Writer Should Know | Grammar Rules | Melissa Donovan, Writing Forward

Near the beginning of her article, Donovan stresses what I believe must be the highest-priority concern of every writer: What will the reader think? How will the reader respond?

She writes:
Bad grammar is a distraction. If you can write a riveting story, readers will probably overlook a few grammatical problems. However, each mistake or incorrect construction will momentarily yank readers out of the story. Sure, they can jump back in, but it makes for a negative or unpleasant reading experience.
Her column discusses "ten of the most frequently ignored (or unknown) grammar rules and writing practices": commas, weak words (like really and very), verb and tense agreement, passive voice, homophones (they're, their, there), uncommon punctuation marks (ellipsis, semicolon), pronouns, capitalization (only proper nouns), extraneous words, and consistency.

For links to other websites that provide writing advice, check out Garbl's Online Grammar Guides. You also may find Garbl's Editorial Style Manual useful. 

STERN: The grammarian’s manifesto | Scott Stern, Yale Daily News

Stern, a first-year student at Branford College, writes that "the complete deterioration of our ability to write well" is a national emergency. So he provides some advice, writing with tongue in cheek:
When writing a proper article or essay, make sure not a have a spelling errore, a punctuation error; or an stylistic error. Spell-check has been the law of the land for decades, so I truly don’t understand how people still make typos. It is awful, bad, terrible and horrible to be redundant. If I was using the imperfect subjunctive correctly, this sentence would not be here.
Later, he writes:
At this point, many of you — fed up by my sad attempt to be both funny and educational — will ask, “What’s the point? Who cares? Does this really matter?”

In a word: yes. The argument can be made that we need grammar to be able to understand everyone around us, and a deterioration of grammar will start us down the truly slippery slope to idiolectal anarchy. Grammar governs the way we speak, so we couldn’t communicate without it. And that’s absolutely true.
For links to other websites that provide writing advice, check out Garbl's Online Grammar Guides. You also may find Garbl's Editorial Style Manual useful. It also provides grammar advice.


Free Online Grammar Check Corrects Slack Spelling and Ghastly Grammar | FreeGrammarChecker.com

Here's another tool for helping writers. This one works online and, apparently, is free. I haven't checked, yet, to see if the company is also marketing a better product for sale.

This article is a news release from that company. I haven't used the product and can't endorse it. But I value tools that help writers correct and improve their work--as long as writers know that they are in charge of their final written product, not the tools they use. Human judgment is essential, even when using the "best" of technology.

According to the article (release), here's how Grammar Check works:
After adding a piece of writing to the tool and hitting the “Check Grammar” button, the system will highlight any errors with a red underline. When erroneous words are clicked on, a number of alternative suggestions are provided in order to offer a fix to the problem.

How to Write an Email That Will Get a Response | Brett & Kate McKay, The Art of Manliness

This article is in the Money and Career section of this male-oriented website. But, obviously, its advice is equally useful to women.

The McKay's write:
No matter how basic a life skill, it’s something you still have to learn. And unfortunately, nobody seems to be teaching young folks the components of an effective email, despite the fact that it forms the backbone of modern communication. Knowing how to write a good email—one that will actually get a response–is crucial to your success: it can make the difference between whether or not you get a job, find a mentor, get funding for an idea, or receive potentially life-changing advice.
They write that each email is essentially a pitch, much like marketing a business idea--and its recipient is likely getting a bunch of emails every day. So they advise: "The key to getting a response to your email is to put yourself in the recipient’s shoes and tailor your email accordingly."

The McKay's lengthy list of useful suggestions includes topics like these:
  • Respect the recipient’s time and make sure the email is even necessary.
  • Build a bit of rapport before getting down to business. 
  • Keep it short and to the point. 
  • Make your request crystal clear.
  • Follow-up once. But just once.

Ultimate Spelling Calls on America’s Young People to “Take an Active Interest” in Improving their Spelling Ability | seattlepi.com

This article, published by PRWeb and reprinted in the online Seattle Post-Intelligencer, promotes software called Ultimate Spelling.

I haven't bought it or used it and can't endorse it. But I appreciate tools that help us correct and improve our spelling, grammar and word usage. This software is targeted at young people.

The article doesn't describe how the software works. But here's a comment by Marc Slater, managing director of eReflect, the company behind the Ultimate Spelling software, probably from its news release:
Many electronic devices contain spell checkers, grammar correctors and auto-correct features. While these are very useful within the moment, they can lead to a lack of spelling awareness.
So, we are calling on all young people to make a conscious effort to improve their spelling ability, even though many of today’s devices do all of the hard work for them.
For other Web resources with spelling advice, check out the Spelling section of Garbl's Word Links.

Save Earth Day | Mark Hertsgaard, The Nation

Earth Day is coming, Sunday, April 22. 

Hertsgaard writes:
As on that first Earth Day, we need millions of Americans to stand up and take action, risks and political scalps. As climate crusader Mohamed Nasheed, the deposed Maldives president, told The Nation recently, “You need to put a million people in the streets to show politicians you are serious.”
Which means that environmentalists can succeed only if the rest of us join in. To quote the gentle and plain-spoken environmentalist Dr. Seuss, writing just after the first Earth Day in The Lorax, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Celebrating The Music Of Levon Helm | Easy Ed, No Depression Americana and Roots Music

Writes Easy Ed:
Reading that Levon was on his final journey felt like a gut punch. This country has been blessed with many wonderful musicians, and much great music. But from the first time I'd heard his voice and through the decades as he kept on keeping on, it was clear at least to me that he personified the sound of music we call roots. When he sang a song the notes and tone both soared through the skies while also feeling...well, for lack of a better word...rooted. Whether with The Band or the hundreds of musicians he played with over time, when Levon was in the mix you just knew it.
Ed writes, "For myself, I'd prefer to remember him by the music he made." And that is his introduction to multiple videos showing Levon Helm performing with The Band, John Hiatt, Sheryl Crow, and others.

He truly made lasting connections.

For more biographical and recordings information, check out the All-Music Guide.

Politics and the English Language | George Orwell

The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.
George Orwell wrote those words in April 1946 for Horizon. They're in an essay that, itself, is rather dense and wordy. But the essay reflects the type of language--and uses the words and terms--that Orwell wants writers to stop using. 

If you haven't read his essay, I recommend it. But near the end, Orwell summarizes his advice for improving clarity in writing:
  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
For more information on concise writing, check out these resources:


Plain Language Legal Dictionary | Rocket Lawyer

In this dictionary, Rocket Lawyer defines thousands of common legal terms in simple, everyday language. Or, as Rocket Lawyer says, "We cut out the legalese so anyone can make sense of their agreements, contracts, and documents."

Some examples:
  • Damages: Compensation that the law awards to someone who has been injured or suffers a loss because of the action of another.Herein: An adverb referring to a certain phrase, sentence, clause, paragraph, or page in a document.
  • Liable: Legal responsibility; the obligation to do or not do something; an obligation to pay a debt; the responsibility to behave in a certain manner.
  • Offset: A claim made by an opposing party in a suit, such offset tending to cancel out the original claim of the plaintiff; a counterclaim.
  • Severable: The quality of being able to exist independently. A severable law is one that continues to hold even if one clause or provision is held not to be valid.
  • Vested: Something not subject to being taken away, such as vested rights; complete; settled; absolute; not dependent upon conditions, such as the complete, vested ownership of property.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Interactivity isn’t only for Facebook | John Halverson, Lake Geneva News

Halvorson, general manager and editor of a regional newspaper, describes how, in desperation, he asked readers for help in providing photographs for some articles. But, it turned out, he appreciated the serendipity of that "citizen journalism."

He writes:
Some optimists in our business say that newspapers on newsprint are going to be around forever. I sure hope so.
But to put it in historical perspective, newspapers as we know them have only been around a few hundred years. It's a relatively new means of communication that's already faced challenges from radio and television.
And now it's tweeting and Facebook and similar means of electronic communications. Whether newspapers on newsprint survive is debatable, but the information they produce will remain important. And if newspapers want to survive it's my feeling that they need to dig into their pasts for something they've given up on - interacting with readers.
And concludes:
Back when I started old-time editors used to say the paper should be full of "names and faces." That's what sells papers, they said. Young bucks like me used to reply, "well, let's just print the phone book then."
There's a middle ground in there somewhere, and I'd like to find it.

Get Lost: Siri, GPI and Why Me? | Jeff Einstein, Uncommon Sense, Media Daily News

Einstein begins his thoughtful message with these questions:
How can we take a wrong turn these days? How can we discover the twists and turns and back roads of serendipity when the fastest-route box is the default selection on MapQuest or Google Maps? How can we possibly learn anything if Siri and GPI forever prevent us from making any mistakes en route? How can we be found if we’re never lost?
And then he comments:
Our obsession with the destination -- with getting there as fast as possible -- all but obliterates the lessons and rewards of the journey, and we wake up one morning to discover that we’ve become prisoners of efficiency. Perfect prisoners to be sure, but prisoners nonetheless. Turns out our only real mistake was not turning off our digital masters while we still had the chance.
He describes a trip he made to Newport, R.I., with his girlfriend. While eating, they saw three members of a four-member family with their heads bowed ... and looking at their smart phones. And he ponders the impact of digital technology on his life, and how little he knows about it all, for better or worse.

He concludes with still more answers about how to respond to the imposition of technology on our journeys:

I think wonderment and happiness are basic choices we make as conditions of the journey, things we impose on our own worlds in our own time while our worlds impose conditions of their own, replete with riddles and rhythms we can’t possible fathom. ...
For me, Garbl, the destination may be important, but I insist on finding value and joy in the journey. That's life. 



Orkney Islands Serendipity: Discovering The Best Place I Never Wanted to See | Jill Paris, Gadling.com

My wife and I are traveling more and more these days, in the Pacific Northwest where we live, to other states we've never been, and to continents and countries we've not explored.

I'm learning to be a "temporary resident," as travel guru Rick Steves calls travelers who try to immerse themselves in the culture, with the people and places they're visiting, without comparing the experience, for better or worse, with what's back home.

And I'm taking a lot of photos of the people and places we visit, with hope that I'll also start writing about our travels, the connections we make.

I stumbled across this travel article and loved its story of serendipity. I want experiences like this!

Near the end of her story, the writer describes one of her final memories with a couple she just met, who take her to a special place:
Selecting one of the largest stones I inch toward the twenty-foot-tall, flat rock and throw my arms around its base. Golden lichens and frosted white markings cover the surface above me like ancient graffiti. I'm hugging a mystical chunk of the world, standing in a place I'd never heard of before with total strangers.
And they take her photo to record the memory with the words. A short bio for the writer says, "She travels for the inexplicable human connection."

Imagine There's No PowerPoint | Nick Morgan, Forbes

With its apology to John Lennon, this Web posting is fun! It begins:
Imagine there’s no PowerPoint
It’s easy if you try
No screens before us
No piles of printed slides
Imagine all the people focusing on you ...
Thanks, Nick (and John!). I needed that.

Writing Resources from Around the Web | Savvy Marketers

Hey, I ain't too proud to admit that there are other excellent blogs about writing. This blog even provides links to them occasionally.

The blog at this link provides brief descriptions and links for some of those other blogs. I haven't carefully studied all of them, but it's no surprise that they're all offered by firms clearly marketing their writing and editing expertise.

I'm also in the writing and editing business, though it's not so obvious in my blog. If you're interested, here's the link to my business: Garbl's Pencil. As noted on that site, I am "Ready to write, edit and teach for you."

Free app checks your grammar across web and Microsoft products | Marti Trewe, WAGBeat

Trewe gives a brief description and evaluation of this new app. She writes:
Ginger, an app that is an intelligent spell checker, recognizing words in context and provides the most appropriate corrections for spelling and grammar mistakes according to the intended meaning of your sentence. Ginger can tell when a correctly spelled word is misused and replaces it with the correct word.
She notes that it works in Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Outlook and Internet 6.0 (for PCs, so far). It also works as a Firefox and Google Chrome extension and in Gmail but not Google Docs or WordPress.

Since it's free, I might check it out. Of course, with any spelling and grammar checker, it's essential that writers review and confirm the accuracy of suggested changes in spelling, grammar, and word usage. These tools can be helpful, but they do not and cannot replace human judgment.

Is This the End of Proper Grammar? Hopefully Not - Clyde Haberman, NYTimes.com

Fortunately, by example after example after example, this terrific column shows the legitimacy of the recent Associated Press decision to revise its advice for using "hopefully." 

Authoritatively, Haberman writes:
Interestingly, ... From now on, the A.P. Stylebook — a bible of usage for multitudes of writers, editors and other species of word nerds — will recognize the legitimacy of the adverb “hopefully” as it is heard in everyday language, even if it makes a grammar stickler’s back teeth ache.
Undoubtedly, Miss Grundy cautioned you in the seventh grade that you must never write a sentence like this: Hopefully, the game will not be canceled. Uh-uh, Miss Grundy would say; never use that pesky adverb in so lax a manner. Proper English, she’d insist, requires rendering the sentence like so: He said hopefully that the game would not be canceled.
Truthfully, most English speakers gave up on that rigid construction long ago. Now, so has the A.P. Its message to subscribers noted that the traditional meaning of “hopefully” is: “in a hopeful manner.” But it added, “Also acceptable is the modern usage: it’s hoped, we hope.”
Incidentally, Haberman notes that his newspaper, the New York Times, isn't planning to revise its restrictive use of "hopefully" any time soon.

But he concludes:
Frankly, though, the newspaper’s stylebook is not dogmatic on this score. As the new A.P. rule shows, times can change.
I also need to update my advice for using hopefully in my online editorial style manual. It has noted the differing preferences for using hopefully.  (I may have already made the change by the time you read this.)


20 Tips For Breaking Through Writer’s Block | Taylor Davis, Independent Fashion Bloggers

I like the concluding quotation in this article, formatted like this:

“IF I WAITED FOR PERFECTION, I WOULD NEVER WRITE A WORD.” ~ MARGARET ATWOOD

But Davis begins:
So with all these wonderful, beautiful things to talk about, why can it be so hard to do? You sit down at the computer, you’ve got to have a post for tomorrow and… Nothing. Nada. You might even know what you want to talk about (summer beauty tips, perhaps?) but you don’t even know where to start. How do you lead off, how will you organize your thoughts? What will your readers like?
Her 20 tips expand on steps like these:
  • Go for a quick walk.
  • Write something else first.
  • Don’t expect too much from yourself.
  • Shelf it for a day.
For more advice, check out the Writer's Block websites listed at Garbl's Writing Process Links.

Rachel Maddow charts the nation's "Drift" into constant invisible war | Robin Lindley, Crosscut.com

I must read this new book, Drift, in which "Broadcast host Rachel Maddow brings her acerbic wit and calm reasoning to the literary world, with a compelling narrative of America's silent shift to unchecked presidential power and unseen but perpetual war."

In his book review, Lindley writes:
Though Maddow concedes that we need a strong military, Drift is adamant about the need for stronger debate about how we go to war. Despite our state of continual war, only a tiny fraction of citizens is directly touched by our conflicts. And though the military is our most effective and capable ever, individual soldiers — repeatedly deployed — cannot be called on to bear the strain of war indefinitely.

Unless the public is involved, she contends, we are doomed to constant war and that bodes badly for our imperatives of liberty and prosperity at home. To prevent the unnecessary human and economic cost of armed conflict, Drift argues, waging war should be wrenchingly difficult for a democratic nation.
I like Lindley's conclusiion:
In true Maddow style and despite her haunting history of our drift towards imperiled democracy, the author even manages to close on a hopeful note: Change is not impossible.
“We just need to revive that old idea of America as a deliberately peaceable nation," she writes. "That’s not simply our inheritance, it’s our responsibility.”
If you're interested in citizen action or persuasive writing, check out the the writing resources at Garbl's Action Writing Links. It's an annotated directory of websites that can help you get people to read your writing, keep readers interested and persuade them to respond while they're reading or afterward. 


Presentation Tip: The one question a sales presentation must answer | Dave Paradi's PowerPoint Blog

Excellent column!

After briefly describing a failed sales presentation, Paradi writes (to answer the question mentioned in the headline):
The presentation I describe above is typical and it suffers from the one problem that will doom a sales presentation to failure: not answering the one question a prospect absolutely needs to have answered. What a prospective client really wants to know is, “Can you solve the big, hairy, ugly problem I have?” Until you answer that question, they don’t care about the rest of what you have to say.
He then describes how to put together an effective presentation and concludes his column this way:
Don’t make your sales presentation all about you and your firm. Make your sales presentation about how you can solve their problem. Only include information about you when it relates to proving that you can provide a good solution to the problem. Structuring a sales presentation in this way would improve a large percentage of the sales presentations done each day.
That's good advice for much more than a sales presentation. It works for purposes ranging from describing a new government program to answering questions during a job interview.



Content Curators Are The New Superheros Of The Web | Steven Rosenbaum, Fast Company

According to this article, I must be a so-called "curator" in the way I put together this blog. And though I'm volunteering my time to be a curator, I'm OK with that.

Rosenbaum writes:
Curation is the act of individuals with a passion for a content area to find, contextualize, and organize information. Curators provide a consistent update regarding what's interesting, happening, and cool in their focus. Curators tend to have a unique and consistent point of view--providing a reliable context for the content that they discover and organize.
But be a curator has its downsides. Rosembaum writes:
So anyone who steps up and volunteers to curate in their area of knowledge and passion is taking on a Herculean task. They're going to stand between the web and their readers, using all of the tools at their disposal to "listen" to the web, and then pull out of the data stream nuggets of wisdom, breaking news, important new voices, and other salient details. It's real work, and requires a tireless commitment to being engaged and ready to rebroadcast timely material.
He notes some best practices for curators, mostly along the lines of plagiarism. And I think I'm on safe ground. Good! I'm enjoying this effort to make connections among various articles, blogs and websites I read, all trying to simplify and clarify all the data streaming from the Web daily.

Still, I won't be calling myself a superhero any time soon!




Using Plain Language to Write Clearly | Norm Schneider, Writinghood

This article begins, "Writing in plain language will help you to communicate clearly and effectively." It then provides useful background on the purpose of plain language, its value for many readers, and its effectiveness.

Schneider writes:
In its effort to emphasize the use of plain language, the U.S. government established a website – www.plainlanguage.gov – where tips for writing in plain language are provided.
The site suggests that writing in plain and understandable ways begins by writing for the “average reader” which means knowing the expertise and interest of the average reader, and writing to and for that person. You don’t need to write in a way that mainly experts, lawyers, or academics in the field might understand it (which some people do merely to impress others), unless that’s the audience you are writing for.
The article ends with eight tips that cover organization of a document, headings, use of pronouns and active voice (active vs. passive verbs), long sentences, wordiness, word choice, and use of tables and charts.

For more information, check out Garbl's Plain-English Writing Guide.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Witzelsucht: The Pun Disease | Jamie Frevele ,The Mary Sue

As a lover of word play--as both a sender and receiver--I'm not sure what to make of this. Should I be concerned or just amused--and observant?

Frevele writes:
An upsetting mental disorder has been discovered, and it concerns your brain and the delivery of puns. It’s called witzelsucht, and it causes people to make jokes, puns, and engage in what could be considered inappropriate conversation and/or behavior — and probably annoy people. Which is sad, because being a person who voluntarily makes bad puns all day is one thing. Not being able to control your bad puns is another.
For the moment, I'm just amused.

If you need a dose of puns and writing humor, check out Garbl's Word Play Links.

TypeTalk: Copy Editing and Proofreading | Ilene Strizver , CreativePro.com

Strizver answers this question: What is the difference between proofreading and copy editing?

She begins this way:
Any copy that is to be published, whether it be for print, the web, or even your own blog, should be carefully reviewed beforehand. Copy editing and proofreading refer to two distinctive kinds of review that are commonly confused or misunderstood. While there is some overlap between them, it's useful to understand the differences in order to know what to do and when.
And then she provides more details under the following headings:
  • copy editing
  • proofreading
  • typographic proofreading.
I've gotten annoyed at times when people mix up or combine the functions of copy editing and proofreading. So I thought this article described the differences pretty well. It also adds some perspective for graphic designers.

Second Big Bank, TD Bank, Simplifies Checking Disclosures | Ann Carrns, New York Times

I don't mean to promote big banks over smaller community banks or credit unions. But I think this article reported some good news about a trend, I hope, of banks getting more customer-friendly in how they provide information.

Carrns writes:
Another big bank has joined the “simple checking disclosure” movement advocated by an arm of the nonprofit group Pew Charitable Trusts. TD Bank has adopted a Simple Checking Guide, which includes information on minimum deposits, overdraft fees and the bank’s policy on processing payments and debits.
The bank joins Chase, which last year worked with Pew to adopt a simplified “plain language” format for its disclosure form.
The links in the article go to other sites that provide more details on simplifying forms and information.




The Writing Process: My Own Experience | billybuc, HubPages

Self-published novelist billybuc describes the standard, often-recommended writing process near the start of this article. But in a "reality check," he questions whether many writers have time for that time-consuming step-by-step process, and suggests that, instead, they end up following a process that better suits their life styles and schedules.

He writes:
I have found that the good writers do this instinctually. The ideas just come to them. The planning and structure happen as they are walking from the kitchen to the den. The writing tends to be nearly at final stage on the first write and revising and editing is done as the writing is being done so that once the article is completed the final draft is basically done. There may be one read-through to check for mistakes but that’s about it. The whole process consists of the time it took to write the article once and re-read it once.
Later, he describes his process for novel writing, and continues:
Bottom line is a writer needs to find what works for them. If a formal following of the writing process is your cup of tea then by all means follow it. If you are a willy-nilly writer such as myself then by all means follow that style. A writer has a passion to write and that is the great secret ingredient. If you have a passion to write then write! Just as a writer develops a writing voice a writer also develops a writing style that works for them and them alone. I have known writers who could only write in the morning; others who wrote better in the middle of the night. Some have to have complete quiet while others need Mozart cranked to the max on the stereo to get their creative juices flowing.
For more advice on the writing process, check out Garbl's Writing Process Links.

Getting Real about the Writing Process | Manuel Luz, Inside Pages

I like this clever article!

Near the beginning, Lutz writes:
When I write, I will sometimes stumble upon some witty alliteration or turn of the phrase, and I will stop and taste the words. Like popping a bottle of wine, I’ll sniff the cork and swirl the glass and sip it slowly and let it settle in my mouth. Then I will think myself clever, and read it over again and again, smiling and nodding at my own clueful brilliance. But eventually sanity kicks in, and I will think myself silly.
And later, he writes:
When I write, I always use hyperbole. But not as much as metaphors, which put butterflies in my stomach, cobwebs in my mind, clouds in my coffee, and flies in the ointment. Similes, in contrast, are like a cheap perfume in a dime store display—they smell good behind the glass, but on a woman, it smells like Aunt Gertrude. And alliterative similes are like long languid locomotive locutions of lasting lackadaisy. Rhyming is like chiming, with some miming set to a certain timing. Love rhymes with above, and you can add that to blue which rhymes with you. But if you don’t disguise the rhyme in some sort of metric ruse, you will end up sounding like a two-bit Dr. Seuss.
I think you'll like what he writes before, after and in between those paragraphs.

For more advice on the writing process, check out Garbl's Writing Process Links.


Grammar Regulators Concede to the 'Modern Usage' of a Word - Megan Garber - Technology - The Atlantic

As a journalism student, journalism instructor and newspaper editor/reporter (and later as an agency publications editor), I adhered to the Associated Press rule about not using "hopefully" to mean "it is hoped," "let us hope" or "we hope," typically at the beginning of a sentence.

But I'm pleased AP has finally changed that rule, not only because "hopefully" is so commonly used that way but also because it's grammatically correct to use it that way. Other similar adverbs are also used, correctly, to modify the meaning of a sentence and not just certain words in a sentence. "Hopefully" is one of those adverbs.

Here's the current hopefully entry in my online editorial style manual. I'm going to be revising it--that is, updating it--to reflect reality. (By the time you read this, I may have already updated my manual.)

Gabbing with Grammar Girl | Stanford Daily

The Stanford Daily interviewed Mignon Fogarty, author of Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing and some other useful books on writing.
TSD: Do you have a biggest grammar pet peeve?
MF: I’m not a big peever, but when marketing people want to capitalize words that don’t need to be capitalized, that probably bothers me more than anything. There’s just no reason to capitalize, you know, “taco” in the middle of a sentence…It’s just a taco — capitalizing it doesn’t make it better.
Unwarranted capitalization is not my biggest pet peeve of writing, but I detest it. The rules of capitalization we all learned back in our school days did not include anything like this: Capitalize words that you, the writer, think are important. Again, that is not a rule; actually, it's the opposite of a rule.

For more advice, check the capitalization entry in Garbl's Editorial Style Manual.

I also liked this exchange in the interview:
TSD: On the subject of philosophy, do you have a specific approach to grammar? Why do you think it’s important to write correctly?
MF: It’s important to write correctly because people do judge you based on how you write, especially now that we aren’t meeting people face to face nearly as much as we used to. I’ve hired people without ever meeting them, based on email exchanges and their blog and things like that, so how you present yourself in writing is a really important part of your professional persona.

4 Ways to Get SEO Clients Past Their Content Marketing Writer’s Block | Nick Stamoulis, Search Engine Journal

Stamoulis begins:
The number one content marketing problem plaguing many of my clients (and I’m sure other SEO professionals can commiserate) is that they say they don’t know what to write. They are constantly struggling to come up with topics for their blog which means content isn’t getting produced on a regular basis. As a result, the blog isn’t nearly as powerful and useful for SEO as it could be. If any of your clients are suffering from content marketing writer’s block, here are four ideas to give them at your next meeting to help them break free:
His four ideas fall under this headings:
  1. Use Other Industry Blogs as Inspiration.
  2. Have Customer Service and Sales Representatives Keep Track of Questions. 
  3. Break up white papers or webinars into short posts. 
  4. Interview Employees and Customers
Another idea, which I use to prompt links and comments for this blog, is to create Google Alerts for key words of issues or topics you want to write about. Doing that has several values, related to the first idea above: It gives you some insights into other, possibly popular, topics of discussion. It gives you a starting point--or background info--for commenting on topics of interest to you. Perhaps you want to clarify or correct a point made by someone in another blog or news article.

The Google Alerts are easy to modify or delete. You can have them come at various times, daily, once a week or even more frequently. And there appears to be no limit on how many you can create.


AP’s approval of ‘hopefully’ symbolizes larger debate over language | Monica Hesse, The Washington Post

I've long been in the editorial camp that rejected using "hopefully" to modify an entire sentence in serious writing. But I've been moving toward the popular AND logical use of hopefully in that way. The hopefully entry in my online editorial style manual comments on this issue, though I'm going to be updating it, following acceptance by The Associated Press (and other style guides) of that use.

Hesse writes: 
As long as there have been words, words have changed. Our modern language is a mishmash of migrated semantics, full of uses that have drifted over centuries. Diligent grammarians might know that “momentarily” most correctly means “for a moment,” not “in a moment” — but do they realize that “explode” originally meant “reject,” that “handsome” once meant “easy to handle,” that “ludicrous” once meant “frivolous”? In the 1940s, it was considered vulgar to “contact” someone; respectable people knew that the correct use was “to make contact with.”

When Spell-Check Can't Help | Philip B. Corbett, New York Times

Yikes!

Corbett begins:
I’ve held off for a while, but the sound-alike mix-up file is starting to overflow. Here are the latest lapses involving similar-seeming words — some new problems and some familiar ones. And some, frankly, that are pretty embarrassing.
Here's the list of word-choice errors that appeared in the New York Times. Corbett provides more details about each:
  • loathe vs. loath
  • ex-patriots vs. expatriates
  • retrenched vs. entrenched
  • born out vs. borne out
  • quaffed vs. coiffed
  • effect vs. affect
  • discreet vs. discrete
  • jibe vs. gibe.
Corbett's excellent, regular "After Deadline" column also discussed"Phrases We Love Too Much" and other grammar, usage and style questions.

If you have  questions about word usage (or abbreviations, addresses, capitalization, English grammar, Internet terminology, numbers, plurals, possessives, punctuation and spelling), check for answers in Garbl's Editorial Style Manual.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Balancing speech: What goes on Facebook can have consequences - OrlandoSentinel.com

The headline for this article is right on!

The first few paragraphs lay out the basic issue:
A Miami-Dade County firefighter is feeling the heat this week after posting a racially offensive comment on his private Facebook page — a reminder that thanks to social media, free speech is not free of consequences.
A Broward Sheriff's deputy learned the same lesson in November after posting an ethnic slur on his page.
Both men are under investigation, illustrating the struggle to balance public employees' freedom of speech with the expectations of appropriate conduct. Those who work for private companies have even less freedom.
The rest of the article does a good job of exploring the issue in more depth--as it applies to private employers/employees as well as public employer/employees.



Ozzie Guillen, Tim Tebow, Fidel Castro comments, Yes Freedom of Speech. | Joy Freeman-Coulbary,ThyBlackMan.com

I don't read or follow sports stories. But the recent controversies about athletes Ozzie Guillen and Tim Tebow have grabbed my attention because of their connection to our First Amendment rights of freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

This column outline very well one of my concerns about the current public discussion of Guillen's offensive-to-some outburst: The First Amendment guarantees that the government can't censor the speech of U.S. citizens. The amendment doesn't apply to employer censorship, though Freeman-Coulbary's column adds an interesting perspective to interpretation of the amendment.

By connecting the Tebow and Guillen stories, Freeman-Coulbary also suggests that our freedom of religion right isn't relevant in the Tebow story. As with the freedom of speech, the First Amendment applies only to government restrictions on practicing religion--not an employer restrictions.

Of course, few people have called on Tebow's employer to censure him for his religious speech, as they have in calling for punishing Guillen for his political speech. A double standard, perhaps?

Freeman-Coulbary concludes:
If Tim Tebow, while wearing a private team’s jersey and mantel, can exude white male, patriarchal and conservative family and religious values—which some may consider marginalizing to women and minorities of all kinds—then why shouldn’t Ozzie Guillen be allowed to express his political views without taking a corporate hit?

Celebrity Name Puns! | Slacktory | This seems legit.

While I'm in the wordplay mode, here are some silly picture-and-word puns. I don't take any credit for these, though I gotta say I'm smiling as I write this.

If you'd like more fun with words, check out Garbl's Word Play Links!

These are the jokes the Muppet Show refused! | Clive Maxfield, EETimes

Without apologies--'cause I love wordplay ... punning!--I offer this article.

Maxfield begins:
This comprises some of the best (or worst, depending on your point of view) puns I’ve seen recently.
The really cool thing is that many of these are new to me, which is saying something when you’ve been around as long as I have.
And here are just a few examples:
  • I changed my iPod name to Titanic. It's syncing now.
  • I know a guy who's addicted to brake fluid. He says he can stop any time.
  • A dyslexic man walks into a bra.
  • Broken pencils are pointless.
  • All the toilets in New York's police stations have been stolen. Police have nothing to go on.

Levon Helm, icon of Americana music, 'in the final stages of cancer' | World news | guardian.co.uk

This is so sad. Levon Helm, the revered multi-instrumentalist and singer for the group The Band, is in the final stages of cancer, according to his family. His family writes:
Thank you fans and music lovers who have made his life so filled with joy and celebration… he has loved nothing more than to play, to fill the room up with music, lay down the back beat, and make the people dance! He did it every time he took the stage …

Imagine: How Creativity Works | Amy Desselle, The student voice of SCAD

Dessell writes:
Jonah Lehrer’s “Imagine: How Creativity Works” is a stunning piece of journalism that takes the abstract concept of creativity head on. Delving into the complex world of neuroscience and sociology, Lehrer endeavors to explain the mystery behind the spark.
And later:
He presents a fascinating and diverse range of examples of creativity throughout history; from Bob Dylan’s songwriting crisis and the evolution of a German sex doll (viewed by an unaware tourist) into the Barbie doll and how centrally located bathrooms lead to the creative success of Pixar and more. Divided into two main parts, “Alone” and “Together”, the book presents strategies for creativity in individual settings and for group dynamics.
I highlighted that statement because it tells me the book includes usable ideas. It's not just an academic discussion.

Dessell has some criticisms, including a lack of sources for Lehrer's data. That's disheartening.

Still, I'm going to stop reading reviews of this book and buy it!

If you're interested in other insights about creativity, check out Garbl's Creativity Resources Online.


Defining Creativity | Tom Redfern, Inspired Magazine

This article is the first in a series that Redfern is planning to publish. And he's getting off to a thoughtful start. Early in the article, he writes:
At its most fundamental level, creativity can be thought of as a process by which we bring something new into being. Nothing more, nothing less.
But after more discussion, he concludes this way:
Stripping everything away, I believe creativity is a mental and emotional process by which we discover new ideas and concepts. No one, however, creates in a vacuum. The creative process relies on associations of existing ideas and concepts. These associations are then combined by conscious insight as well as that most intangible of ideas, the unconscious thought process.
I highlighted a line I think is important for creating anything: making associations (or connections) that range from the almost obvious to the startling, from the simple to the complex and convoluted--and coming up with some new.

I'm looking forward to his future articles.

Visionaries: Creative Power Couple Bill And Clara Wainwright | Andrea Shea, WBUR

Shea writes:
Works by both Wainwrights are in the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum’s permanent collection. Nick Capasso has been a curator there for 20 years and drew a comparison to show why they would appear to make an unlikely pair.
“It just seems so odd, because Bill is an engineer and a scientist at heart, who’s a sculptor and uses hard industrial materials and lots of geometric things,” he said, adding the contrast, “Whereas Clara, on the other hand, makes quilts! And they’re soft and they’re organic and they’re narrative. What unites them is that they are catalysts for collaboration in the community. That’s what they do.”
That highlighted statement caught my eye because my wife and I, approaching retirement, are starting to do some volunteer work together.

The article concludes with this statement by Clara Wainwright:
"Well, I have a lot of visions!” she sang out with a laugh, then added, “I mean I’m 75 — and he’s 87 — so at a certain point you travel a little slower than you did before. But I figure there’s a lot of time ahead to do crazy things.”

Developmental Editing and Copy Editing: What’s the Difference? | Merry Farmer

Farmer writes:
First, there are two kinds of editors. You can’t do without either of them.
When a lot of people think “editor” they think of the person who reads through your manuscript looking for bad grammar, misspelled words, and typos. This is a Copy Editor. Copy editing is like making sure you don’t have broccoli in your teeth. ...
A good copy editor knows the rules of grammar and uses them mercilessly against your manuscript. ...

But even more essential, in my humble opinion, is developmental editing.
A Developmental Editor is a writer’s best friend, but I bet most writers are terrified of the prospect. I know I was before I had my first manuscript developmentally edited. A Developmental Editor reads your manuscript and asks questions. They peel away the layers to figure out what makes your story tick. Or more importantly, what stops your story from ticking. ...

Using Correct Punctuation with Dialogue | Davina Haisell, Shades of Crimson

This article stresses dialogue like that used in a novel. But Haisell's tips, examples and other advice on punctuation also apply well to attributing quotations to speakers and writers in news and feature articles, reports and other documents.

For more information, check the quotation marks entry in Garbl's Editorial Style Manual.

Don’t shoot the messenger | Jason Rudland, The Language Lab Blog

Rudland writes:
When social media is done properly as a part of inbound marketing, a process for getting your clients to seek you out, rather than you having to hunt them down. All you have to do with social media is attract your potential clients as you do in real life situations when trying to make friends. Be friendly, thoughtful and interesting. People will be attracted to you in the same way they are in real life.

The Plain Writing Act: Simplifying regulatory language | Common Good

Thanks to convoluted language in federal regulations:
[G]overnment rules and directives are often impenetrable. This is especially true when those rules are intended to serve as detailed instruction manuals for every eventuality. It's a big problem for individuals and small businesses that lack the resources to employ compliance experts who can decipher complex regulations and bureaucratic mandates.
The articles goes on to describe the U.S. Plain Writing Act of 2010 and gives some examples of what's being done to promote clear, concise writing. It notes, however, that some federal agencies have been slow to change.

For more online resources about plain language and concise writing, check out these free websites of mine:

Creating the right rhythm of communications across the customer journey | Angela Medina, Siegel+Gale

Medina writes:
Simplicity in the healthcare industry is on life support. This is one of the findings from Siegel+Gale’s recently released 2011 Global Brand Simplicity Index, which articulates the across-the-board demand for simplicity in various industries.
The result, Medina writes, is that "consumers and providers spend countless hours weaving through an endless maze of rules, regulations and policies."

In other words, “Health insurance is hard to understand.”

The article continues with four brief conceptual ideas about what can healthcare insurers do to simplify the customer experience. "Clear communications" is one of the four ideas.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Ozzie Guillen Lessons, Dr. Hendrie Weisinger, Huffington Post

This article builds on the brouhaha that resulted when Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen spoke words that thousands of Latinos, baseball and non-baseball fans, found offensive. But it moves on from there, fortunately.

Weisinger writes:
Now, readers, lets step back from the Ozzie incident and look at ourselves. Consider: How many times have you said something that has offended another person, be it at home or at work? How many times have you said something, and although minutes later you regretted your words, you still got burned?
She then describes five lesson that if followed, "will make it less likely to put your foot in your mouth. The headings for each lesson:
1. Increase your self-awareness.
2. Don't ignore your built-in censor.
3. Empathy.
4. Fast Apology.
5. Let it go.

Striking out with free speech | Andrew Johnson, mndaily.com - The Minnesota Daily

I have almost no interest in pro-and college sports. But the current discussion about baseball manager Ozzie Guillen and his free-speech rights has caught my attention and disturbed me. This article deals with the issue in some clear, useful ways. Johnson writes:
Free speech is a two-way street, in that while the first person can express whatever sentiments he or she would like, anyone else can react to it however they would like — it’s up to both of them. That’s why comparing the outcry to Guillen to the repression of free speech in Cuba is wildly faulty; under Castro, there was only one authorized way of self-expression.
But, in addition, U.S. citizens, business owners and politicians need to understand that our First Amendment free-speech rights apply only to censorship and control of speech (and press) by the government. Congress (and other federal, state and local branches of government) are restricted by the First Amendment from inhibiting speech or telling people what they can say.

But private organizations, like baseball teams, have a right to restrict the speech rights of their employees, at least as far as the speech involves the business of the employer and employee.

Freedom will win out in Beijing | Ai Weiwei, Sydney Morning Herald

When my wife and I traveled in China a couple of years ago, I wondered about the ideas expressed so boldly in this column by dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.

Weiwei describes in his column how the Chinese people are learning to exercise their rights online. He concludes:
China may seem quite successful in its controls but it has only raised the water level. It's like building a dam: it thinks there is more water so it will build it higher. But every drop of water is still in there. It doesn't understand how to let the pressure out. It builds up a way to maintain control and push the problem to the next generation.
It still hasn't come to the moment it will collapse. That makes a lot of other states admire its technology and methods. But in the long run, its leaders must understand it's not possible for them to control the internet unless they shut it off - and they can't live with the consequences of that. The internet is uncontrollable. And if the internet is uncontrollable, freedom will win. It's as simple as that.

Creativity takes no excuses. Creative Ideas & Inspiration



The website says:
Creativity means you are actively creating. No excuse – how tired you are, or how you feel stuck, or the fact that you don’t know where to start – will do if you want to succeed.

About This Website > Plain Language: An FDA Initiative for Written Communications

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a website describing its effort to use plain language in agency publications:
Writing in plain language is not unprofessional. It’s not “dumbing down” the message or “talking down” to the audience. When you write clearly and get to the point without using unnecessary words or technical jargon, you get your message across more quickly and increase the chance the information will be understood and used.
FDA and our sister agencies in the Department of Health and Human Services are dedicated to using plain language. Our scientists, budget analysts, regulatory experts, and other professionals have valuable information to share, but it’s not effective if the target audience doesn’t understand it.
The site includes common characteristics of plain language, suggestions on writing for the Web, and alternative choices for long words and wordy phrases.

For more online resources about plain language and concise writing, check out these free websites of mine:
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