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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Social media tools helping colleges make connections | Megan Anderle,

From my own experience, I think the growth in use and availability of social media is  the most significant development in communications in decades. And that's just based on its impact on me.

People are making connections with each other using social media that were never even possible just a few years ago. We can look around the world--especially at the movement toward more democracy in the Middle East--for significant examples.

But back at home, in northern New Jersey (and certainly other places), social media are also having an impact on such seemingly mundane things as introducing incoming students to college life.

Anderle begins her story this way:
When Facebook and Twitter started gaining momentum a few years ago, admissions offices at North Jersey colleges were not quite sure what to do. Now, schools are communicating in ways they never thought possible, and some say the phenomenon is responsible for easing the transition from high school to college. 
According to Elyse Toribio, a peer facilitator at Ramapo College of New Jersey:
Connecting with people from the college before they even get there helps them build a sense of belonging. Incoming college freshmen are more inclined to ask a question on social media they would otherwise be too shy to ask an administrator verbally.
Says Patrick Chang, associate vice president of student affairs at Ramapo:
Colleges are realizing that it's important that they don't just stay on one platform but instead that they're looking for what the next big thing is. For that reason, more and more colleges are hiring people who focus solely on social media.
Says Jordanna Suriani, an admissions counselor at Ramapo who handles social media:

A high school senior who wants to be a psychology major can ask a question, and one of our ambassadors in the office who's a psychology major might answer it, and that mentoring relationship doesn't stop when they get here in the fall.

And says Anthony Jordan, a Ramapo freshman:
I use it to find out about events, classes, assignments and information about the school. It has definitely made me feel more connected.
This article focuses a target audience at one college. The potential is endless for many other uses that, I believe, will mostly be positive.

Still, I do wonder: What might be the downsides if we're not careful? 

Business Writing: Do Your Readers Want the Dish or the Recipe? | Lynn Gaetner-Johnson,

"If my communication were a restaurant menu, I need to present the name of the dish, not the recipe."
That's a comment by a student of Gaertner-Johnson in one of her business-writing classes. She likes his description because it doesn't stress the number of words or the length of sentences. Instead, it stresses meeting the needs of readers.

She writes:
When you are working to write more concisely, imagine your readers reviewing your "menu." What are they looking for? Just the names of the dishes? The ingredients or other details? The prices?
Or do they really need the complete recipe?
That's a tasty metaphor for usable writing that readers will eat up! 

For more advice on clear, concise writing, check out Garbl's Fat-Free Writing Links. It's an annotated directory of websites that give advice on cutting the fat from your writing--so your readers can easily chew, digest and be nourished by your top-choice words.

100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People | Judy Unrein, Learning Solutions Magazine

Like listening to a greatest hits album to get a feel for a band’s most influential work, reading 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People by Susan M. Weinschenk, PhD, is an excellent way to delve into design through the lens of how people think and interact.
So begins Judy Unrein in this review of Weinschenk's new book.

Unrein continues:
100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People is broken down into 10 chapters based on how people see, read, remember, think, focus their attention, are motivated, interact, feel, make mistakes, and decide – all things that designers and educators could benefit tremendously from knowing more about! And I especially liked how Weinshenk debunked many “common knowledge” myths. 
She then summarizes several lessons in the book, with these topic headings:
  • Vision trumps all of the senses
  • People don’t remember well
  • Emotion is important, too.
And she concludes:
As broad-based as this book is, it’s also a really easy read; each of the “100 Things” is no more than a few pages long and she writes in an entertaining and personal way. It’s easy to read straight through and it’s a great on-the-go read as well, as you can easily read a few things any time you have to wait for a plane, a bus, a train, or a meal.
I'm not a full-time publication designer with vast amounts of training. But Unrein's review of Weinschenk's book suggests to me that I and other publication editors could benefit a lot from its advice. 

Plain-Language Websites | Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN)

If you're planning a new website or want to improve an existing site, check out the tips here. They're provided by a group of U.S. government employees who are trying to make documents easier to read, use and understand. The information is targeted at federal employees but is useful for everyone who wants to write with clarity.

Right from at the top, this site explains:
Users require three things when using a website:
  • a logical structure so they know where to look for information,
  • an easy-to-use interface to get them to that information,
  • and easily-understandable information.
The site provides links to information on these topics:
Understandable content is critical. Using plain language helps you meet that need.
Content Organization
People need structure to help find the content they want so they can use it and appreciate the experience. Find out what your users want and where they expect to find it.
Typical web users (certainly readers of government content) want information that helps them complete tasks. They need to be able to easily use your site.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Blog on Travel Photography | Stefano Politi Markovina

Just discovered this blog about travel photography. I looked at some of the photographer's work, lessons and advice.

I'll be back!

Streetscapes - Useful Vocabulary for Building Watchers | Christopher Gray

I can't say I have much use for this vocabulary list right now. But who knows?

When I'm traveling, I like taking photos of the architecture in new places I'm visiting. Perhaps knowing these words will help me notice certain features of urban architecture I've ignored before--and then help me explain their picturesque uniqueness later!

Gray writes:
THE Streetscapes column is not big on terminology, but some is necessary; instead of embarrassing yourself by saying “those grooves on the side of a column,” impress your dinner partner and use the real term, fluting.
Here are the words he's highlighting:
  • fluting
  • oriel or bay?
  • mansard
  • vitruvian wave
  • rustication
  • vermiculation

Five Embodied Metaphors That Actually Foster Creative Thinking | Jeremy Dean,

We often hear those cliches about "thinking outside the box," "putting 2 and 2 together," and "seeing both sides of a problem." Well, those metaphors become cliches because they're used so often by writers and speakers who believe they help clarify a point; they think readers and listeners will understood the point without much explanation.

But cliches can be boring, "same old same old" crutches that writers and speakers use without thinking, "Is that the best way to make my point?" Or even: "Is that the most creative or most powerful way to make my point?" And listeners and readers might totally ignore the once-creative metaphor: "Ho hum. I've heard that before ...."

But, Dean writes:
[W]hat if we could boost our creativity by taking these metaphors literally? We know our minds interact in all sorts of interesting ways with our bodies — what if we enacted these metaphors physically?
So he discusses a new study published in the journal Psychological Science by Angela K.-y. Leung and her colleagues in the School of Social Sciences at Singapore Management University. He writes:
Their findings from five studies demonstrate how a person can become more creative simply by changing their posture, establishing a link between creativity and what psychologists refer to as "embodied cognition."
He briefly describes each one:
  1. On one hand ... on the other hand 
  2. Literally sit outside a box
  3. Wander around, but not in a square 
  4. Put two and two together 
  5. Imagine it.
And then he concludes:
All of these studies show how the position of our bodies feeds back into the state of our minds — what the researchers call "a connection between concrete bodily experiences and creative cognition." It also reveals how deeply metaphors for creativity are embedded in our consciousness.
I like this! It's putting those metaphors--those cliches--in new wrapping to present them in a new way, to repackage creativity. What a gift for creative thinking!

For more information on this topic, check out Garbl's Creativity Resources Online

Serendipity: Two women meet after lost wallet unites them |

As I've noted in other blog posts, I value the concepts--and the reality--of serendipity and making connections. This article is about the reality of both. I won't tell the story, though. You can read it. By these quotations, by the people involved, express wonderful feelings when that reality happens.

Celeste, a good Samaritan, resident of a Florida town where this story was published:
She just deserved it. You can tell, she's a really good person and she deserved it, so I was so happy for her that she was so happy to get it back.
It was so exciting to see Blanca's face in the article -- jumping up and down for joy with her mail lady. I just thought that was the coolest reward to finally know that she got it back okay and that she was happy and excited and I got to see, in my mind, how she reacted.
Blanca, a resident of Texas, Celeste's new but distant friend:
For me, I couldn't let something that someone did for me that was so great -- just go by. I had to try and find her because at least I could say "I really tried." I wanted to try and find her.
The good Samaritan, again:
I had my wallet stolen when I was in high school, ... so I can't even imagine losing all the things that were in there. I figured she was on vacation as well -- [and she] must have been panicked.
I guess as a teacher, I try to teach my kids that you should do the right thing even when nobody's watching and so -- I wouldn't have done it any other way.
I would love to meet her someday, that would be fun to meet her. I have to say, she's just a sweet person and you can tell she treats others the way she wants to be treated. Someday we probably will meet, but for now we're Facebook friends.
The good Samaritan's new friend (emphasis added):
It has renewed my faith in humanity.

Grammar Girl : Hopefully :: Quick and Dirty Tips ™

OK! It's now OK to use hopefully at the start of sentences when you want to say something like this:
"I am hopeful that something will happen,” or “I am hopeful that the next part of the sentence is true.”
Hopefully, you'll read further to find out why.

I write that it's now OK not simply because the Associated Press recently changed its preference for its use. I write it because Mignon Fogarty, author off the popular, respected Grammar Girl books and column, has affirmed that change in use. She writes:
I don’t consider myself a leader when it comes to language change. I tell you what the safe choices are while also trying to let you know when something is OK in informal English or seems to be making ground into Standard English. I almost always defer to the style guides, so in the past articles, I’ve told you that even though I think using “hopefully” as a sentence adverb is logical and should be allowed, I can’t recommend that you do it.
Now, I’m delighted to be able to tell you that if you write for the Associated Press or follow AP style, you’re allowed to use “hopefully” as a sentence adverb. Finally!
She makes an important point, however:
You’re still not required to do it, and you should know that doing it is still likely to annoy some readers, but if you want to use “hopefully” in this way, you can cite the Associated Press Stylebook for support. 
Fogarty also notes that the highly respected Garner's Modern American Usage says the fight against using hopefully to begin sentences is a lost cause. And she points out that one of the AP editors involved in the style revision notes "that the Associated Press isn't the first referring to sanction the modern use."

I recommend reading the rest of Fogarty's informative column. It provides advice on the use of sentence adverbs (like hopefully) and how to use hopefully correctly as a sentence adverb. Fogarty also describes why style manuals revise their preferences occasionally.

Speaking of style guides, you're welcome to check out Garbl's Editorial Style Manual. I haven't yet revised the entry for hopefully. Hopefully, I will do it soon!

A Fight Bigger Than ALEC | Editorial, The Nation

This journal editorial is about the wealthy, powerful American Legislative Exchange Council, a certified, supposedly "nonprofit" organization that has operated for nearly 40 years with little notice. The editorial describes ALEC's goals and methods--and the consequences after they became public. ALEC is:
... quietly connecting corporate interests with conservative legislators to impose one-size-fits-all “model legislation” on the states. Since ALEC’s secrets began leaking last year, however, its corporate members have been subjected to the sort of scrutiny—and antipathy—that CEOs and investors find most unsettling.
Fortunately, various corporations--from Pepsi and Coca-Cola to Kraft Foods and Intuit, as well as the Bill and Medina Gates Foundation--have announced they're dropping their memberships.

The Nation highlights the success of the campaign to reveal ALEC publicly:
[O]n April 17 ALEC announced it would shut down the Public Safety and Elections task force, which had spawned “shoot first” laws, voter ID rules, prison privatization schemes and measures to crack down on immigrants.
This is a big deal. A year ago most Americans had never heard of ALEC. ...
However, the editorial describes other continuing concerns, such as ALEC's IRS designation as a charity that can accept tax-deductible contributions, and it concludes this way [emphasis added]:
The Nation has teamed up with to cast a vigilant eye on such anti-democratic efforts in the coming months, while also campaigning for universal voter registration. The best way to undo the damage done by ALEC is to replace voter suppression laws with voter engagement laws, which give power to the people—and remove it from ALEC’s backroom dealers.
If you're interested in getting into the act and need some help, 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. In a democracy, we each have the right and the responsibility to speak out on matters that concern us.

Power to the people - Editorials - Truro Daily News

This editorial in a daily Nova Scotia, Canada, newspaper praises local residents who are "taking to the streets and gymnasiums in protest this month. We're not just talking about one solitary protest either."

The protests include a plan to slash all the librarians in the regional school district. That protest, so far, has included five "very visible public gatherings" that have attracted hundreds of people, according to the editorial:
This grassroots form of democracy kicked off with a bang when an estimated 500 students from the three county high schools ... walked out of classes ....
And other protests began, on various budget issues:
  • At least 175 people, many carrying signs, attended a school board meeting to express their concerns about consequences of the school district budget shortfall.
  • About 100 teachers and supporters of the teachers' union protested in front of a district office, after school, carrying banners like "schools are not broken, they're broke,'" and "cuts hurt kids."
  • About 80 people gathered in front of a community college sport and wellness center, lobbying for answers about the college plan to close  to public access the center and an adjoining pool to public access.
  • And then 15 members a grandparents' rights group took to the streets with signs and brochures, lobbying for "rights to see their grandchildren in times of family unrest."
I like how that citizen action is contagious! I don't know any of the budget facts in Nova Scotia, but as I know about such things in my city, county, state and country, protesting budget cuts isn't enough. People must also discuss sources of revenue, perhaps considering the need for additional revenue. 

The editorial concludes:
We applaud every single person involved in these protests for going the extra mile in an effort to be heard. We may not agree with every issue but we sure as heck admire their strength of conviction. 
Power to the people. In Colchester County, it's an idea that seems to be gaining traction this spring.

Altruism propels College Hill's 'Avenue' | Carrie Whitaker, |

In Cincinnati last year, an anonymous donor offered $200,000 to help revitalize a neighborhood business district if other neighbors would match the figure. The donor had two conditions: a promise of continued anonymity and a commitment to use the total $400,000 contribution to buy a property in the business district that could turn a profit, which would then be reinvested in the district.

The donor's intent was clear, said the president of the College Hill Community Urban Development Corp.:
The money should help College Hill "become more financially interdependent (and ) not just rely on city money."
Residents responded and have raised $181,000, so far, through dinner parties, a golf outing, a pig roast and other efforts. And those efforts "brought the community even closer together."

The neighborhood effort was aided by strong organization, clear goals and people who "worked their tails off,' said a business owner who became co-founder and president of a nonprofit board that recommends neighborhood projects to get funding. 

According to newspaper reporter Whitaker:
The College Hill experiment shows that a neighborhood need not rely solely on tax dollars or City Hall for its revitalization – a relevant case, given how many city neighborhoods were wounded over the last decade by declines in population, foreclosed homes and shuttered businesses.
And the vice mayor of Cincinnati agreed:
When you have leadership aligned around a positive common vision of the future, with clarity as to the steps they need to achieve it, success starts happening and change occurs. That’s what we’re seeing in College Hill.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Making connections | Sarah M. Earle, Concord Monitor

Earle writes about Christine Szelog-Tilley, an Air Force veteran who's finding a new career in photography. She had seen the world while in the service--South America, Turkey and Japan--but was struggling with what to do at home. And then she decided to study photography on the GI Bill in college.
Almost all of my projects so far have been people. I love working with people. ... Most of my shoots take an hour and a half if not more. You can always tell the images toward the end of the shoot are so much better than the first images, because you start talking to the people and learning about them and building a connection.
Szelog-Tilley is planning to specialize in family portraits and wedding photography:
I love it because you get to share in other people's experiences and live those moments with them.

Jennifer Egan Talks Awful Temp Jobs, Writing from the Subconscious and Her Pulitzer Prize, Abby Schreiber, Papermag

This blog is a question and answer report on an interview with Egan, the Brooklyn-based author who won the Pulitzer Prize last year for A Visit From the Goon Squad. I haven't read that book or any of her other novels, but now I'm tempted to check her out.

During the intereview with Schreiber, Egan talked about "writing from the subconscious," among other things, and advice she would give her twentysomething self.

About her writing process, Egan said:
I find that my good ideas seem to happen without my thinking too hard. My whole writing process is geared toward harnessing the subconscious -- the part that I'm not in control of. ... What I'm trying to do is write in a fairly meditative, automatic state in which I'm not really sure what I'm writing as I write it. The ideas that I have if I just sit down and think are the ideas anyone would have. There's nothing exciting about them. ...
About putting herself into her stories:
Absolutely never. I really don't use anyone I know. For me, the fun and thrill of writing is the feeling of escape and of being lifted out of my own world. If I start having reference in reality, the whole process breaks down. I'm no longer escaping anything -- I'm just revisiting. ...
As for advice to new writers, 20somethings:
I think that the number one thing that I didn't understand when I was younger was that everything would change constantly. I think there was this misconception that the moment is forever and therefore when things weren't going well, I was just in a state of active despair, and I feel like I suffered more than I needed to .... 

Free Radicals: Unraveling the Secret Anarchy and Serendipity of Science | Michelle Legro, Brain Pickings

Michelle Legro describes a new book, Free Radicals: The Secret Anarchy of Science by Michael Brooks, that has a refreshing perspective. In the book, you can learn how Goethe fueled Tesla, why Newton pricked his own eye, and other lessons in breaking the rules of science.

Legro explains that the book:
... is the story of scientific rule-breakers, the men and women who experimented on themselves, had fantastic visions and unexplainable hunches, and took once-in-a-lifetime risks, all in the name of pursuing curiosity.
Among the scientists and innovators featured in the book: Isaac Newton, Sir Humpry Davy, Nikola Tesla, Enrico Fermi, Albert Einstein, Kary Mullins, and Steve Jobs. Jobs reportedly called LSD “one of the two or three most important things I have done in my life.”

And writes Legro:
Albert Einstein reportedly once said that the secret to creativity was knowing how to hide one’s sources. Not because they were necessarily wrong, although fudged numbers were a part of Einstein’s success, but because the sources were sometimes unexplainable.

Spell check follies | Tom Stern, NewsPointer

I'm guessing that Tom Stern's amusing, sarcastic and valid critique of computer spell-checking programs is mostly about Microsoft Word. His comments are worth reading, partially because he points out many more outrageous errors by Word's artificial intelligence than I've ever experienced.

Stern writes, correctly:
Don’t get me wrong; spell check can be helpful. But anyone who follows blindly will pay a steep price.
He also points out that the grammar-checking function of the spell-check (SC) tool also isn't foolproof:
If they take SC’s advice uncritically, they’ll be giving the world epic stinkers like “neither can me,” “say it like you means it,” “some is drinking,” “there will also being” and “does your family knows?” Let all of the above — or as SC prefers, “the entire above” — be a dire warning to credulous technology huggers everywhere.
Some other Stern discoveries while working with quirky friend, SC:
  • He [SC] changed “old folks home” to “folk’s.” You could argue in favor of “old folks’ home” (s plus apostrophe), but “old folk’s”? What’s an “old folk”? ...
  • How did “mineswept” become “mines wept”? Since when is sunniness “sandiness”? Why would a cul de sac be a “cool” de sac? ... 
  • Tell you what, SC: I promise I won’t expound on computer terms like cache hierarchy and SHTML. In return, you have to stop telling me that mahi mahi should be “macho macho”; “unbreaded” should be “inbreeded”; panna cotta should be “panda” cotta ....
The point is, no matter how useful you find these tools--and no matter how much you need their help--do not depend on them for 100 percent accuracy. You must use your judgment in evaluating their suggestions

The Emperor’s New Clothes: Undressed by Bad Word Usage | John Bliss, Business 2 Community

Now I may be biased because I’ve been in the word business for 40+ years. But I maintain that people who are sloppy with word usage will be equally sloppy in discharging managerial duties or being good team players.
Bliss makes a valid point. Correct word usage is important for the point he's making and, more importantly, because it aids readers and listeners.

He goes on to list and explain a few of his "pet bugaboos." They're capitalized in his list, though the only one that should be is Realtor. It's a trademarked term (in the United States) for some people working in the real estate industry. His bugaboos:

  • compliment vs. complement:
  • Realtor vs. Relator (mispronounced)
  • nuclear vs. nuculer (mispronounced)
  • fiefdom vs. fifedom (mispronounced)
  • utilize vs. use
  • cheap vs. inexpensive
For more advice on word usage as well as spelling, punctuation, capitalization and other style questions, check out Garbl's Editorial Style Manual. Also check out Garbl's Word Links. It has sections on vocabulary and spelling. 

Abdicate the R-word from your vocabulary | Angela Hawkins,

Chances are that most students have heard or used the R-word without thinking twice about it. Although it started out as slang derived from the medical term “mental retardation” it has become offensive for individuals and family members with intellectual disabilities.
So writes Angela Hawkins in her student newspaper at the University of Kansas. I think she's referring to students in the past 30 years or so. I never used it when I was a student (in the '50s and '60s), at least the way Hawkins is using it, and I don't recall hearing other students use it that way.

I did use a form of that word, however. I grew up considering my mentally disabled older brother to be mentally retarded. It's only been in the past few years that I've used other terms to describe his condition. Sadly, he died in 2009, but I learned a lot from him before then. 

Hawkins writes that efforts to end widespread use of the R-word have failed so far. She quotes Michael Wehmeyer, a professor of special education at the the university:
I think that most people don’t understand how insulting the R-word really is, and they use it without thought. It is through efforts to make people aware of the inappropriateness of the term and the offensiveness of the term that people become aware and begin to monitor their use of them.
Hawkins ends her editorial:
By reading this editorial, you as a reader have been made aware. It’s your turn. ... Remember that this isn’t about inconveniencing you. This is about respecting others, regardless of society’s views. Find another word; there are plenty to choose from.
I hope it works--at least at the University of Kansas. Wouldn't it be wonderful if mainstream daily and weekly newspapers throughout our country printed similar editorials--and news stories--on this subject! 

Do social media suit public service, minister asks | Catherine O'Mahony, The Sunday Business Post, Ireland

In Ireland, Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin has questioned whether social media are suited to public service. He was speaking at the Public Relations Institute of Ireland's annual conference.

Spoketh Howlin:
Managing the challenge of using social media and other digital communications while retaining some degree of control over the message is not easy.
Yet, we could overestimate the potential here too. We need to bear in mind too that communication via social media faces the same challenge as faces more traditional channels. What you say is as important as how you say it or the medium you use.
But before establishing a firm position, apparently, Howlin says he's willing to wait for the results of deliberations about "how best to marry the competing challenges of 'speed of response' and the retention of some semblance of control over the message."

I believe he's speaking hogwash. This bandwagon has left the station, to rephrase a cliche.

Professional communicators can't wait to climb on a bandwagon that  everyone else on the planet is already riding. The fact is that the technology of social media is now an essential, effective tool of communication. In fact, Howlin is proposing to turn back the clock. Professional communicators are already on that bandwagon--as they must be. 

Sure, communicators must consider the concerns Howlin is raising in Ireland. I don't question their validity, though I believe we must reconsider our attitudes toward "control"--especially when we're talking about the democratic institutions of government. But we must consider his concerns as we continue to use--and benefit from using--social media.

To be fair to you and Howlin, here's a much longer report on his conference comments: Howlin to spin doctors: ‘social media may not be suited to public service.’

Rethinking The Science Of Generosity | Greg Baldwin, Co.Exist

In this blog, Baldwin responds to a new book by legendary biologist E. O. Wilson:
How we give back, and for what reason, has long baffled scientists. Will a better understanding help us activate more people to altruism?
Wilson's book, The Social Conquest of Earth, apparently "shook the world of science" by challenging the established understanding of evolution and the accepted explanation of altruism.

Baldwin explains the conflict, briefly, noting the terms of evolution: natural selection, survival of the fittest, and genetics. He writes:
Over the last 40 years, academics have adopted a very narrow view of altruism based on the theory that individuals only act selflessly in nature in order to protect the longevity and reproductive capacity of other family members.
But Wilson, who's been a staunch advocate of a theory called "kin selection," has recanted:
His new theory moves away from genetic relationships and focuses instead on the development of cooperative groups and the biological advantage they have over less cooperative groups.
Baldwin likes what Wilson is saying. As president of "the Internet's largest volunteer engagement network," Baldwin writes:
it is difficult for me to believe that the millions of people who searched our network last year to find an opportunity to be helpful did it because of a biological imperative to advance the genetic pool of their relatives.
And later, he concludes (emphasis added):
It is time to dig a little deeper and challenge the assumption that altruism is an evolutionary sideshow. Wilson seems to think there is more to be learned here, and I can think of nothing more important to the future of service than joining him in the search.

Why altruism if you can get richer | Rosemary McLeod, Bay of Plenty Opinion | Bay of Plenty, New Zealand

You've undoubtedly heard about the "group of obscenely rich people" that's announced its wish "to mine asteroids for unbelievably rare minerals that could sell for trillions of dollars here on earth."

McLeod writes about that group at the end of her column. She explains:
The plan involves robots, and someone from NASA - its funding for Mars adventures severely cut back - has produced artwork. Google and Microsoft founders and movie man James Cameron, who recently bought some of the southern Wairarapa, are among the billionaires seeking a test rock so they can investigate the odds of becoming unimaginably richer.
She notes how some rich people get themselves "deep-frozen in the hope that someone would thaw them one day when there's a cure for death."

And she calls this asteroid-mining scheme a new angle for them:
[I]t shows that when people have an immense fortune, nothing pleases them more than chasing a bigger one, while few things are less sexy than altruism.
Unfortunately, as she lists sardonically earlier in her column, there are a bunch of things here on Earth they could be doing with their multiple millions of dollars to help people and an environment in need.

Hey you rich folks, how 'bout mining some realistic humanitarian value out of doing things like that!

For-profit colleges undermine traditional role of philanthropy | Johann Neem, Inside Higher Ed

Critics of recent efforts to regulate for-profit colleges have suggested that the Obama Administration is waging a “war” on for-profit universities.
The reality is exactly the opposite: the for-profit sector is challenging a centuries-old practice of separating philanthropy from business.
And so Neem begins his essay. And oh so right he is! Nearly every paragraph in his essay provides a compelling argument. Just check these key sentences (emphasis added):
Since the Elizabethan statute of charitable uses in 1601, Anglo-American law has sought to encourage charitable giving to promote the common good. The idea behind modern philanthropy is that nonprofits undertake services that are either inappropriate for market activity or would not be supported by the market. ...
In the modern era, tax incentives are one of the primary ways in which the state encourages nonprofit institutions, whether churches, local grassroots associations, large endowed philanthropies, or universities. ...
[P]ublic and nonprofit institutions become corrupted when profit becomes their goal rather than a means to fulfilling their mission. This has happened to some extent in American universities that invest in tangentially related programs like big-time sports. ...

The state must ensure that both public and nonprofit institutions remain true to their civic mission in return for the legal and financial benefits they receive. ...
Whether colleges are for-profit or not matters a lot. It affects their mission, their culture, their labor practices and, most important, the lessons they offer students. For-profit education implies that education is a commodity bought for the advantage it provides. ...
For-profits must be regulated as businesses. They are not charities, despite being subsidized heavily by public student loan dollars. In reality, in return for these public subsidies, for-profits should live by the same rules as other nonprofits. They should make the common good their primary goal and reinvest all revenue to fulfill their mission. ...
While the line between the for-profit and nonprofit sectors can be blurry at times, the differences between them are very real, of moral significance, and worthy of protection.

Shift Change: Putting Democracy to Work by Moving Images — Kickstarter

At a time when millions have been thrown out of work, and many are losing their homes, the usual economic solutions are not working. More people are willing to think outside of the box, to reinvent our failing economy.
At this site, you'll find an intriguing, persuasive 6 1/2-minute video and text giving background about the video. It previews a documentary nearing completion, "Shift Change," about companies in the United States and in Mondragón, Spain, that are owned and managed by their workers.

The site explains that these employer-owned enterprises are competing successfully "while providing dignified jobs in democratic workplaces."

I am impressed!

According to the website:
Many worker-owned firms are more fun to work in, more profitable and innovative, and committed to the communities where they are based. Yet most people don't realize how successful they have been and the promise they offer for a better life.
Note: This project is featured on a website for Kickstarter, which describes itself as "the world's largest funding platform for creative projects." It's trying to raise money in small pledges to finance the documentary, and according to facts at the site, it's almost reached the fundraising goal.

I'm posting this blog, though, to promote the documentary and, especially, the creative workplace solutions it's highlighting--not to promote the fundraising campaign. But to me, the entire effort is worthwhile.

Three reasons to avoid multi-level paragraph numbering | Judy Knighton, Information with clarity

Ask yourself:
  • Are you numbering the paragraphs you are writing? And the subparagraphs and the sub-subparagraphs?
  • Do you think you’re making your writing easier to read and refer to?
  • Do you think you’re saving time?
Knighton's blog questions the value and clarity to readers of that writing format, when overused, I assume. She then describes why her firm recommends "writing flowing text"--making these three points:
  • You reduce complexity. 
  • You keep your message clear and your reader focused. 
  • You make your task easier and quicker.

Why is Business Writing So Awful? | Jason Fried,

If you could taste words, most corporate websites, brochures, and sales materials would remind you of stale, soggy rice cakes: nearly calorie free, devoid of nutrition, and completely unsatisfying.
So begins Jason Fried in his Get Real column.

He asks:
Would you go to a dinner party and just repeat what the person to the right of you is saying all night long? Would that be interesting to anybody?
In other words, Fried writes, when your business writing sounds like that of everyone else, you're telling potential customers and clients, "Our products are like everyone else's, too."

Dumb, huh? But that's what happens, Fried writes, when lawyers, executives and HR departments dilute the words of creative writers, turning "powerful, descriptive sentence into an empty vessel optimized for buzzwords, jargon, and vapid expressions."

He gives examples of fresh, tasty writing by talented company chefs. Here's one that puts an idea-catching spin on much-too-common-and-corporate language:
All of our products are fully warranted against all defects in materials and workmanship for 100 years. If you or one of your descendants should have a problem, send it back to me or one of my descendants and we'll repair or replace it for free or we'll give you a credit on the website (be sure to mention the warranty in your will).
Stay strong against the corporate, bureaucratic sleep machine.

For more help on getting creative and staying that way, check out Garbl's Creativity Resources Online. It's an annotated directory of websites that provide advice for increasing creativity and innovation in your writing, in your personal life, on the job, in school, in the arts and elsewhere. Many of the sites have links to other resources on creativity.

Lessons from the Komen-Planned Parenthood fracas: It’s simply not enough to state your cause—you must live it, too | Marisa LeVeque, Siegel+Gale

Wherever you stood in the conflict between Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Planned Parenthood (I stood with Planned Parenthood), Leveque's blog concludes with a key lesson for all nonprofits.

She writes:
The first step for any nonprofit organization looking to attract and retain a loyal group of donors and volunteers should be clearly defining its cause: what is the change you’re trying to make in the world?
But it’s not enough to simply say what you stand for—you must then align around it. Every action and interaction should be in support of advancing your unique cause. Only then can you attract—and more importantly, retain—donors and volunteers who can help you achieve your vision for a better world.
Or, to use a cliche: Practice what you preach.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What Doesn't Motivate Creativity Can Kill It | Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer, Harvard Business Review

Management is widely viewed as a foe of innovation. The thinking goes that too much management strangles innovation (just let a thousand flowers bloom!). But we have found a much more nuanced picture. You really can manage for innovation, but it starts by knowing what drives creativity in the people who generate and develop the new ideas that, when implemented, will become tomorrow's innovations.
The authors emphasize research that says interest, enjoyment, satisfaction and the challenge of the work itself are the most likely motivators for employee creativity. But they note extrinsic factors like compensation, rewards, recognition, and fear of failure that can kill motivation and creativity. So managers must find a balance--"a tricky business" that must be handled delicately.

Amabile/Kramer continue by describing four factors that savvy managers must balance when trying to motivate creativity and innovation. Here's a brief description of each:


People need to know what problem they're trying to solve, and why it matters; they can't be intrinsically motivated unless their work has meaning. That requires clear strategic direction toward a worthy purpose ....


The crucial balance involves a great deal of frequent, work-focused evaluation and feedback that is truly informative and constructive. Ideally, these evaluations involve peers (as well as supervisors) openly discussing the work. To perform at their creative peak, people need to know that every idea will be respected (if not accepted) — respected enough to merit thoughtful consideration.


Our research suggests that creativity flourishes when employees know that rewards and recognition will follow from good, creative efforts — without being told constantly about exactly which rewards will follow from which actions.


[H]aving the positive pressure of an optimally challenging assignment — being given an important problem to solve that no one else has been able to crack — can supercharge intrinsic motivation and creativity. ("Optimally challenging" means that it's tough, but your skills are up to the task.) Feeling like you're on a mission to create something that's urgently needed can be a real high.
I like the authors' clear conclusion:
Being told to do a tough job in a particular way, with no tolerance of failure, little expectation of recognition for success, and extreme, arbitrary time pressure, can kill anyone's creativity motivation. But being given the same job, in a positive atmosphere where false starts are examined constructively and success is recognized, can drive creativity — and innovation — forward.

Publish, Don't Perish: Surviving and Thriving in Academia Today | Stephanie Vanderslice, Huffington Post

This article is by a writer and college professor focusing mostly on questions from other professors (and students) about achieving success at both writing and teaching. But I think her suggestions apply to people in other fields who need advice on the writing process and balancing it with other responsibilities. It also provides some motivation ideas for when writer's block creeps in.

In summary, Vanderslice encourages passion, patience and persistence to achieve writing success.

She writes:
It may sound simplistic, it may sound ingenuous but it really does come down to this: follow your passion and have something to say. As writing teachers, we often tell our students that they're more likely to write well about something they care about; I'm surprised when we don't follow that advice ourselves.
That passion is important, Vanderslice writes, because writing is hard. So people often find themselves doing other things to avoid writing. Similarly, some of those other things are necessary tasks that must interfere with the difficult task of writing. That passion will help writers find the extra time to write despite the obstacles. She writes:
Passion acts like a gentle but firm hand at your back, steering you always towards your desk or your laptop to get the work done.
That passion also helps writers gain patience enough to refuse to give up despite what seems like endless delays in finishing the process. Vanderslice writes:
Building an academic career [and other careers too] is a long, slow process not unlike sowing several handfuls of seeds, noting what takes root and cultivating those promising seedlings. It will not happen overnight. Nowhere is this truer than in the early years. Despite my best efforts, half of the essays and stories I wrote back then never saw the light of day.
Finally, persistence plays a role as the writing process nears its end--when responding to requests from publishers and editors to "revise and "submit" a journal article. Books and articles are not likely accepted when first submitted, Vanderslice says. So writers must just "do it" after hearing from the reviewer:
I'm always surprised when people drop the ball at this point. If a reviewer has taken the time to give you extensive comments, they usually want to publish your work; it's just a matter of another lap (or two) on your part.
For more resources, check out Garbl's Writing Process Links.

Passion for writing ‘works like fertilizer’ for RBR students | | Hub

The word play of the headline for this article grabbed my interest and pulled me in (as effective headlines are supposed to do). The article is about how a creative writing teacher at Red Bank Regional High School in New Jersey "cultivates language" and "harvests storytelling."

The teacher, Gretna Wilkinson, inspires her new students every year with a favorite story that begins with a teacher taking her students into the woods. It's dark and silent there, except for the light from a torch the teacher carries "and the thoughts that chatter inside the students’ minds."

Wilkinson says:
To teach writing is to get them to enjoy all that is beautiful and passionate in the play of light and dark. And light is when you get your idea from deep inside you onto the page, and dark is when you’re struggling to get it out, but knowing that you’ll get light at the end.
Wilkinson encourages her creative writing students to strive for that light:
And when you find the light for this one, you find yourself striving for fresh light for another piece because by the time you discovered one light, there’s a new one working its way through to the forefront.
To get into the class, students first submit a portfolio of their work and then go through an audition of interviews and reading tests. Wilkinson says about that process:
It’s their passion for it that works like fertilizer. It just grows on itself and they come in just ready to go. But the ability to write is not enough to get you in; the passion for writing is what we’re after.
Word play light that grows on me. And so does creative writing! 

New Book: Apple's ‘Insanely Simple’ Secrets to Success | Ken Segall, CNBC

Until I got an iPod several years ago (and more recently a Nano), I've never owned an Apple product. I've been impressed by the Macs I've seen used by graphic designers (but always used a PC and work and bought them for home), and I've been impressed by the capabilities of the iPhone and the continually improving iPad. (The initial iPhone connection to AT&T prevented me from getting one.) But I gotta get one of those iPads one of these days! I wonder which double-digit version that might be!

I also haven't paid much too attention to Steve Jobs or been a huge fan of his. (I haven't been a big fan of Bill Gates, for that matter.) I'm not much into idol worship in any field. But I do admire what they have accomplished in their apparently similar but differing ways of managing. 

So I read this Segall's article with interest. And I might read his book--if I can confirm (or not) that it's mostly about achieving success and innovation simply, using Jobs and Apple only as models for doing that. 

I do like some of the passages I read in Segall's column:
As an old Mac headline once put it, Apple builds things that are “simply amazing and amazingly simple.” This guiding philosophy isn’t exactly new for the company. It’s been present since ancient times, when the Apple II desktop created the first computer revolution. In fact, an early ad for the Apple II read “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
This deep belief in simplicity is Apple’s point of difference. Without simplicity guiding every part of the company, Apple would not be able to innovate at the level it has—nor would it have achieved such astronomical success.
Most processes [in Apple and other companies] were put in place with the best of intentions, to help companies “institutionalize” success. And in many companies, processes may well catapult them to ever-higher gains. But in industries where creativity is a differentiator, processes can easily dilute great ideas. Without an advocate for simplicity in the CEO’s office, processes can even become more important than the ideas that flow through them. At Apple, ideas travel a more direct path from start to finish. There are fewer approvers on that path, and great ideas are nurtured rather than homogenized.
At Apple, simplicity truly is the mother of invention. The company’s revolutionary products would not exist if Steve Jobs hadn’t created an organization in which simplicity always wins.

Though every Apple revolution has been different, each has demonstrated the same business principle: the best way to reach a higher goal is to follow a simpler path.

Former seminary student calls for mandatory public service | Zaq Harrison,

I was in college during four years of the failed and foolish U.S. escapade called the Vietnam War. I opposed that ill-begotten war, and I opposed the draft. Although I believe my opposition to the war was sincere, I've wondered since those times if some war opposition was mostly draft opposition; the government shouldn't be disrupting our lives by drafting people (and going to Vietnam would certainly do that, if not something worse).

I also recall President Kennedy urging people in the early '60s: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." I don't have his inaugural speech in front of me, but I assume he was partially promoting public service by U.S. citizens, perhaps in support of his proposal to launch the Peace Corp.

Many people idolize JFK, and many people still remember and quote that statement with admiration. I know I do. Fortunately, volunteers in the Peace Corps and later U.S. public service agencies like Vista and AmeriCorps continue to do valuable work around our world and our country. And, fortunately, volunteers still enlist in the armed forces to defend our country--too often, though, with leaders and our "representatives" launching deceitful, unnecessary wars that kill many young volunteers needlessly.

But I've wondered at times if too many of us are giving only lip service to patriotism and public service. Do we sincerely believe in not asking what our country can do for us but what we can do for our country? By choice, I worked in local government for more than 30 years, and believe my communications work was a public service--helping people to understand, influence and use their government programs.

But was that enough? As noted above, I still oppose the use of the draft to force young men to fight in that war. And I'm thankful I never had to do it. I did apply for the Peace Corps, though, but I had a medical condition that prevented me from becoming a volunteer.

So, I was able to get started right away on my communications career. And I'm also thankful for that. But I still think at times how valuable service in the Peace Corps would have been to me and to our country and other people on our planet.

Harrison advocated in this column that all post-high school, 18-year-old U.S. citizens should be required to serve a minimum 24 months, with options for longer periods. 

He writes:
Draftees would choose between the military services or from the many other qualified programs such as AmeriCorps, VISTA, Peace Corps, Citizen Corps as well as local and national nonprofits. In turn, the government would provide oversight, help in human resources management and funding. All of these would create a broad enough base of options to offer the draftees.
I know my sons, now in their 30s, would have opposed that requirement--and I also might have opposed it if it were thrown into the mix of their lives without expectations raised and preparation provided during their young and teenage years. But for the long-run, I'm thinking some required public service could be valuable to our future.  
As Harrison writes:
How else will all of our young adults – from the inner cities, the country, the suburbs, the private schools and the public schools – coalesce? Where else will our young adults learn about their commonalities and still celebrate their differences?

Around the world in plain words | Marie Clair, New Europe

Many organisations still see the use of plain language as a 'nice to do' rather than a necessity. It shouldn't be necessary to enforce the use of plain language in public information, but it seems that is the final resort.
Marie Clair, of the private British firm, the Plain English Campaign, writes those words with dismay near the start of this column. She's concerned--as she should be--about the clarity to the public of language used in government documents (in her country but also in countries from Europe to the United States).

But improving public documents has finally come to this:
The power and much of the responsibility for the solution rests with those at the root of the problem – Parliament, Government offices and regulatory bodies. Some have finally shouldered this duty. We now have successful Acts and Bills passed in a variety of countries making unnecessary jargon, legalese and gobbledygook illegal in public information.
The United States has enacted such legislation--affecting documents produced by the federal government. Some state and local governments have also adopted guidelines (mostly) for using of plain language.

Much of the rest of Clair's column is about what her firm has done to promote use of plain language, especially during the formation years of the European Union. But, unfortunately, their work with the EU hasn't been entirely successful.

Claire refers to this statement in a 2010 EU document:
Neither the European Commission nor any person acting on its behalf is responsible for any use which might be made of the information contained in Languages and translation. This is not an official publication and neither the Commission nor any of its services are bound in any way by its contents.
The consequences to communication of that cop-out by the EU is one reason Claire believes "every legislative body worldwide" must enact laws requiring use of plain language in public documents. She concludes:
Plain language allows us the best chance to understand and deal responsibly with information after a single reading. Plain language is a democratic right of every person, and it is the responsibility of every person to communicate clearly.
Besides adding the emphasis above, I can't say it any better!

If you want more information on using plain language, check out Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide and Garbl's Plain Language Resources.

Five essential questions to ask before you even start writing | Doris Bertie, Good Copy, Bad opy

The advice in this blog may seem simplistic and obvious to some people. But from experience, I know that many people don't ask these questions with much clarity before they begin writing or--especially--before they ask or contract with someone to write something for them.

It's essential that writers ask these questions if their clients don't come to them already knowing the answers. And even then, ask 'em again! 

Bertie begins:
Want to give your reader the most knowledge, while taking away the least time? Then ask yourself these five questions before you even put finger to keyboard.
She then elaborates on each question:
1. Who is my reader?
2. Who is not my reader?

3. What do I want my reader to do?

4. What does my reader need to know in order to do what I want them to do?

5. What if we don’t publish?
I think No. 3 above is a key question not asked often enough by even experienced writers. Surely, we want readers to respond in some way to anything we produce for their use. Knowing the type of response we want will help us determine how we write something. 

For more thoughts and resources on that point, check out Garbl's Action Writing Links.

The Living Word | Peter Ludlow,

Ludlow's column on the evolution of words in our language, published April 22 in the New York Times, makes two major points, as I read it. One I support totally and one I'm still thinking about.

I'm still thinking about his first point. He writes that many philosophers, language departments, pundits and politicians have a "static view of language." That view, he says:
... is the idea that a language like English is a semi-stable abstract object that we learn to some degree or other and then use in order to communicate or express ideas and perform certain tasks. ... [E]ven though it acknowledges some language change, the pace of change is thought to be slow, and what change there is, is thought to be the hard fought product of conflict.
But then he writes about an emerging "dynamic" picture of language in philosophy, psychology and artificial intelligence, in which the meaning of words can shift even within conversations. According to that view:
[H]uman languages are one-off things that we build “on the fly” on a conversation-by-conversation basis; we can call these one-off fleeting languages microlanguages. Importantly, this picture rejects the idea that words are relatively stable things with fixed meanings that we come to learn. Rather, word meanings themselves are dynamic — they shift from microlanguage to microlanguage.
Later, Ludlow writes that words are not just dynamic, they're also underdetermined. And by that he means:
[T]here is no complete answer to what does and doesn’t fall within the range of a term like “red” or “city” or “hexagonal.” We may sharpen the meaning and we may get clearer on what falls in the range of these terms, but we never completely sharpen the meaning.
I'm still thinking about Ludlow's analysis because I'm not sure if it adds much to the conversation about language. Part of me wants to dismiss his concepts of microlanguages and underdetermined words: "Naaaaah, that's not happening."  But the other part of me says: "Duh, we already know that about language. It's not new! He's just giving those changes a name." Thus, I hold both a static and dynamic view of our language, as Ludlow uses those words.

But, actually, I think he's making that first point mostly to set the stage for his second point, which I agree with. And that's about interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.

He refers to so-called strict constructionists of the Constitution like U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who contend the Constitution is not a "living document." According to those people, Ludlow writes:
[W]e should try to get back to understanding the Constitution as it was originally written by the original framers — sometimes this doctrine is called textualism. Scalia’s doctrine says that we cannot do better than concentrate on what the Constitution actually says — on what the words on paper say. Scalia once put this in the form of a tautology: “Words mean what they mean.”
Ludlow disagrees, and so do I. So do many other legal scholars, judges and historians. The issues, institutions and other realities of our country have changed a lot since our country's founders wrote the Constitution. And so has the language we use to discuss, define and adapt to thosechanging  realities.

Using the concepts Ludlow introduced earlier, he concludes this way:
Far from being absurd, the idea that the Constitution is a living organism follows from the fact that the words used in writing the Constitution are underdetermined and dynamic and thus “living organisms” in the metaphorical sense in play here. In this respect there is nothing unique about the Constitution. It is a dynamic object because of the simple reason that word meanings are dynamic. Every written document — indeed every word written or uttered — is a living organism.

Please, Stop Verbing Your Nouns | Andrew Nattan, Copywriting Blog

In short, here's the main point of Nattan's blog posting:
Verbing, or verbification, is the practice of taking a harmless, charming little noun and forcibly cramming it into parts of a sentence where a verb would normally sit.
For example, “Inbox”, a noun referring to the part of your email account where incoming mail is shown, has been verbed.
Where we’d once say something quick and cheerful like “drop me an email”, certain people now use the brutally curt “inbox me”.
And it looks horrible. 
I agree!

He also comments on some other verbs used horribly as nouns that readers sent to him: weird, architect, minute, medal, trend, action and dialogue.

BTW, in all the style manuals I respect and consult in the United States, commas and periods always go inside quotation marks. I would edit Nattan's use of those marks in his blog.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What freedom of speech do people have when making threats online? | CBS 21 News

Referring to a barrage of offensive tweets on Twitter about George Zimmerman, the accused killer of a black teenager in Florida, this TV news story asks, "When does freedom of speech become illegal hate speech?"

Apparently, Twitter's rules are clear:
You may not publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others.
The story quotes a local district attorney in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania:
These are very tough issues for law enforcement because we don't want to make light of any threat to any person to use any sort of force. ... In my line of work, people say a lot of things and rarely act on it.
But it also quotes a local law professor:
You don't have a Constitutional right to make threats. But you do have a constitutional right to express political hyperbole even in violent terms. The question is whether a reasonable person would be in fear of someone who makes these kinds of statements.
The professor also questions whether the offensive tweets violate Twitter's rules:
It's not a direct threat, even though some of the items are phrased as threats there is a certain amount of hyperbole in there. 
I'd like to point out that our First Amendment rights of free speech don't apply directly to Twitter. It's a private company, and it has a right to restrict, even censor, posts by its users. The First Amendment clearly applies to government censorship and control.

The jury is still out on this case, so to speak, and these opinions are from just one community. But the story ends:
So even thought technically these tweets are apparently protected speech, if something would happen to George Zimmerman the police would certainly be looking carefully at them. And even if they are hyperbole, how would a prospective employer see such a hate-filled tweet?

Adobe study reveals massive creativity gaps, but not in gender or age | Jolie O'Dell, VentureBeat

According to this article:
Whether you’re able to be creative or not has little to do with how old you are or whether you’re female or male, but it might depend heavily on where you live, how your boss treats you, and how you were educated.
O'Dell reports on a huge survey by Adobe that found significant gaps in
creativity, but, she writes, "those gaps might not be where you expect to find them." Of the 5,000 people surveyed, 25 percent said they are "living up to their creative potential."

But, the survey found, age and gender had little to do with creativity or lack of it. Instead, the environmental factors of location, education and work had had a bigger impact.

Hmmm. O'Dell says those finding might be unexpected. They're not to me. For example, the biggest barrier to creativity in the United States might be at work:
In the survey, 75 percent of respondents said they have been experiencing more and more pressure from superiors to be productive rather than creative in the workplace, even though their jobs require at least some measure of creativity. This kind of bottom line-focused emphasis on producing rather than creating leads to — no surprise — less creativity at work.
And in education:
... not whether you had a “good” or “expensive” or “public” education, but whether you were encouraged to develop your creativity starting at an early age and continuing throughout your school years.
Finally, O'Dell writes, "access to creativity-boosting tools can be important to expressing your creative urges." I guess that's the "location" factor. The survey researchers reported that 40 percent of the people responding said they do not have the tools they need to be creative.

I'm sure the lack of tools has some impact, but as O'Dell noted:
Of course, an emphasis on tools for creativity is what you’d expect from a company like Adobe.

How Creativity Connects with Immorality | Travis Riddle, Scientific American

Launching his article by describing the creative genius of Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, Travis Riddle reports on a recent paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. In that paper, researchers at Harvard and Duke universities prove, supposedly, that "creativity can lead people to behave unethically."

Riddle writes:
In five studies, the authors show that creative individuals are more likely to be dishonest, and that individuals induced to think creatively were more likely to be dishonest. Importantly, they showed that this effect is not explained by any tendency for creative people to be more intelligent, but rather that creativity leads people to more easily come up with justifications for their unscrupulous actions.
Yikes! Thought I'm no Steve Jobs, I think of myself as creative. But I also think of myself as ethical. So what gives!?

Unfortunately, the article reports only on the researchers' work and finding. They tried conducting some tests to balance their findings of unethical behavior, without much luck. And Riddle's article doesn't provide any "second opinions.'

So, in his conclusion, Riddle writes:
These studies demonstrate that there is indeed a dark side to creativity. Perhaps, given this information, it should come as no surprise that the best and brightest in many fields are frequently caught in all manner of immoral transgressions. Steve Jobs was an iconic and creative CEO, but he was also a human, and subject to the same principles of behavior as anyone else, including these downsides to his explosive creativity. 
For now, I'll ponder the rationale that we're all human, creative or not!

Scott Harrison: Finding meaning in philanthropy | Amy Evans, Mother Nature Network

I'm impressed by this young man's story! After encountering extraordinary poverty in Africa, he decided to end his work as a party promoter in New York City and use his skills to provide clean water to developing nations.

The article begins:
Throughout his 20s, Scott Harrison promoted fashion shows and club openings for New York City’s most expensive labels and elite night spots. At that time, $20 represented the average cost of an alcoholic beverage.
But when the party life left him feeling unfulfilled and empty, Harrison joined Mercy Ships as a photojournalist. He documented the work the hospital ships did in west African countries where regular healthcare was unavailable. Coincidentally, he learned that $20 in this part of the world could bring fresh water to people who couldn't turn on the tap or toss down a bill to get a drink.
Evans writes that during a party in New York celebrating Harrison's 31st birthday, he asked guests to each skip a drink and donate $20, instead, to bring clean water to people in need. He raised $15,000 that night--enough to build three village wells in Africa.

Soon afterward, Harrison decided to launch a nonprofit organisation to raise money for essential water projects in the developing world. And he named it charity: water. So far, it has raised more than $14,800,000, according to the website.

Evans writes:
Harrison’s impressive promotion skills extend far into the social media world where he’s collected more than 1 million followers for the non-profit’s Twitter feed and convinced stars like Justin Bieber and Will Smith to donate tweets and time. 
Harrison has also been successful at using his knowledge of the Web and social media to interest his generation in philanthropy. Evans writes:
He’s successfully recruited his 20 to 30-something peers who’d been reluctant to donate the small funds they had available to opaque old school charities that could not provide the interactivity and transparency that the digital generation requires.

Philanthropy beat: Obama, Romney report donations |

Here's a simplified reorganization of the facts about charitable contributions in this article. I assume these contributions are tax-deductible. The numbers come from the Obamas' 2011 tax returns and the Romneys' estimated tax returns released by his campaign in January.

President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, reported $789,674 in income in 2011.

Total contributions in 2011 were 22 percent of their income, including:
  • $172,000--the Fisher House Foundation, which provides free or low-cost housing to families of military members receiving treatment at military medical facilities.
  • $5,000--Habitat for Humanity, United Negro College Fund, the Boys and Girls Club, and the school attended by the Obamas' daughters, Sidwell Friends School.
  • More than two dozen smaller gifts--American Red Cross, Central Illinois Food Bank, Calvary Women's Shelter in Washington, D.C., and others.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, reported an estimated income of $20.9 million in 2011.

Total contributions in 2011 were 16 percent of their estimated income, including:
  • $2.6 million--Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormon church.
  • $500,000 in cash and $920,000 in stocks--the Tyler Charitable Foundation (the Romney family foundation). 
  • (No information was available on Romney foundation grants in 2011, but the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that from 1999 to 2010 the foundation made $7 million in grants, including $4.7 million to the Mormon church and $525,000 to Brigham Young University, Mitt Romney's alma mater.)

Expressions used with 'change' | Grammar Teacher

I like this simple lesson because it refrains from using euphemisms to soften or hide the meaning of the listed words. Intentional or not, doing that can be a disservice to readers because of the possible confusion or misunderstanding. And, because change can be good!

The introduction says:
Learn the vocabulary in English to talk about the many changes that take place in a company or organization.

7 Commonly Corrected Grammar Errors (That Aren't Mistakes) | Chris Bucholz,

I don't agree completely with Bucholz's commentary, but I loved his irreverent, bold, and readable style and attitude.

He begins:
If you've written anything on the Internet in the past 20 years or so, whether on a forum, comment thread or the Denny's corporate blog you maintain, a short time later you've probably experienced a feeling of pure, unalloyed irritation, when you observed someone correcting your grammar. Aside from the fact that everyone on the Internet is irritating all the time, this particular irritation is compounded by the fact that, dammit, they're kind of right. ...
But,  Bucholz continues, what if you're not wrong:
What if, in fact, it's your accuser who's wrong, or at the very least blundering through a complicated, highly debatable topic? What if your initial reaction -- whaling on them with a length of chain -- was the right one?
Below are are the headings for his "most commonly corrected grammatical mistakes which might not actually be mistakes" (in reverse order). I encourage you to read and enjoy 'em. [I've inserted some brief responses.]

And I invite you to check out a similar list I developed--Garbl's Myths and Superstitions of Writing--as well as Garbl's Editorial Style Manual. It has advice on most of Bucholz's concerns.
#7. Hopefully This Sentence Doesn't Cause You To Go Fucking Bananas [True, attitudes toward this word are changing though I haven't updated my manual, yet.]
#6. When Someone Tells You That You Used "They" Incorrectly, They Can Shut The Hell Up [Again, attitudes are changing ....]
#5. A Supermarket Sign Which Reads "10 Items Or Less" Should Not Make a Reasonable Person Cry [I gotta think about this one.]
#4. The Passive Voice Is Used By Plenty Of Smart, Ballsy Writers, Thanks [Still, think about why you want to use it.]
#3. I Encourage You To Boldly Split Infinitives Whenever The Hell You Feel Like It [True! A myth of writing.]
#2. "I'm Good" Means Exactly What You Think It Means [I'm thinking about this one.]
#1. This Last One Will Literally Cause The Internet To Explode [OK, there are worse things than using it incorrectly. But why do it?]
Bucholz concludes with some "furious backpedaling." He writes:
This isn't to say that we shouldn't care about grammar at all. Even if rules and definitions change, those changes should come slowly. When we violate grammatical rules or use strange new definitions of words, we impede our audience's ability to comprehend what we're saying. We can see vestiges of this when we travel to other English speaking countries, where small changes in language can lead to these issues of delayed comprehension.
I agree!

Grammar Repair Shop: Beware these misuses and abuses | Business Management Daily

This short article covers (only) three common writing problems:
  • Ill-placed question marks
  • Cool-sounding buzzwords
  • Clichés.
For more answers to questions about abbreviations, addresses, capitalization, English grammar, Internet terminology, numbers, plurals, possessives, punctuation, spelling and word usage, check out Garbl's Editorial Style Manual?

Evans Unleashes Inner Grammar Nazi on MNPS | Jonathan Meador, Nashville Scene

How embarrassing for a school district; in this case, the Nashville School District.

In posts on her blog, Nashville Councilwoman Emily Evans criticized the poor grammar, spelling and run-on sentences she discovered on the school district's website and elsewhere (including a large sign in front of a school that misspelled kindergarten).

Her language is a bit over the top, even insulting--and some parents criticized her for not researching and considering possible reasons for the errors. She wrote, for example:
Resident no more is any sense that upper and middle management understand that their inability to sweat the small stuff is likely to translate into failure on much larger and more important efforts. The pursuit appears to be largely one of mediocrity.
Still, she makes a good point. Writing errors in public materials of an institution that teaches writing can certainly raise questions about the competence and attention to detail of at least the people involved in those materials. But it can raise questions about the authority and credibility of the school district itself.

Meador writes:
With so many examples to prove her point, it does seem that [Metro Nashville Public Schools] has invited extra scrutiny at a time when charter schools are starting to dominate local education policy and discourse. By extrapolating these errors, Evans makes a case that the dry rot of public schools and their parent bureaucracies has crept onto the front lawns of schools across the city for all to see.
As longtime former communications specialist for public agencies, I understand all the demands on time for ensuring every document and website is free of writing (and factual) errors. It's especially difficult in school districts that, notoriously, are understaffed.

But as stated in an editorial style manual I helped develop for that local government, one reason for a resource to aid consistent, correct use of capitalization, grammar, numbers, punctuation and words was to enhance credibility: 
Ultimately, it helps our readers believe we are presenting information with thought and care to meet their needs.

Federal Plain Language Guidelines

The Plain Language Action and Information Network (or PLAIN) is a community of federal government employees dedicated to the idea that citizens deserve clear communications from government.

Over the past couple of decades, it has developed a training document to help federal employees improve their writing. But it's a public document and website that's also useful to writers in business, local and state government, health care, law, journalism and other fields.

I recommend this website and its advice. You can read the PLAIN guidelines on the Web or download them as a PDF or Word document. The site also has much other advice.

For still more information, check out Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide and Garbl's Plain Language Resources.

Workplace Literacy: How to Improve Your Communication Skills | Dr. Sandra Folk,

Dr. Folk begins by setting out a problem for some readers and writers in the workplace--a problem they likely don't flaunt:
If people can’t communicate clearly in writing, the limitations for individual and organizational growth are significant. Sometimes it’s as simple as repeated (and usually common) mistakes in written communication that impede progress. Whether it’s confusion over whether that word I just used twice should really be “weather,” or if it’s the old “it’s” vs. “its” dilemma, grammatical mistakes really diminish the potential for growth.
But she points out that literacy these days is not just about reading and writing. It also includes and affects problem solving and understanding technology. It's an important issue for improving employee productivity.

Folk goes on to list worker behaviors that might show literacy problems. And she writes:
As a consultant I’ve found it may be easier for employees to talk one-to-one with someone from outside the company. People are much more likely to open up about their concerns without their boss or their colleagues in the same room.
To counter the potentially embarrassing stigma of worker literacy problems, she recommends online learning to improve literacy:
Instead of sitting in a roomful of people having your learning challenges made public, you are able to maintain a sense of privacy and dignity. And that’s something we all would all like to have – and that we all deserve.

Nation Shudders At Large Block Of Uninterrupted Text | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

Why won't it just tell me what it's about? There are no bullet points, no highlighted parts. I've looked everywhere—there's nothing here but words. Ow!
So said said Boston resident Charlyne Thomson, according to the satirical newspaper, The Onion, as she was bombarded with the overwhelming mass of black text late Monday afternoon.

The amusing article continues, quoting other supposed victims of poorly written, unclear documents--in reality, a serious problem for readers of corporate, government, legal, medical and other materials in the United States and around the world. 

The Onion reports:
Some have speculated that the never-ending flood of sentences may be a news article, medical study, urgent product recall notice, letter, user agreement, or even a binding contract of some kind. But until the news does a segment in which they take sections of the text and read them aloud in a slow, calm voice while highlighting those same words on the screen, no one can say for sure.
For more useful information on clear, concise writing, check out Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide and Garbl's Plain Language Resources.

Monday, April 23, 2012

ALEC, a Tax-Exempt Group, Mixes Legislators and Lobbyists | Mike McIntire,

As a regular, wiling contributor to both charitable causes (through workplace giving) and political causes and candidates, I know and accept that there's a big difference between those types of contributions come income-tax time.

I can deduct my contributions to nonprofit charitable organizations and agencies--to help people, generally. But I can't deduct them to political causes and candidates--to help lobby for or against matters facing our government. That's the law. I respect it. It makes sense to me. I bet it makes sense to many people.

And that's why I'm so disturbed--heck, angered!--by the information in this article. As reported by the New York Times, the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, is registered as a public charity under section 501(c)(3) of the U.S. tax code. That means when people, organizations and businesses contribute money to ALEC, it's tax-deductible for them come income-tax time.

That pisses me off, to be honest.

McIntire writes:
Despite its generally low profile, ALEC has drawn scrutiny recently for promoting gun rights policies like the Stand Your Ground law at the center of the Trayvon Martin shooting case in Florida, as well as bills to weaken labor unions and tighten voter identification rules. Amid the controversies, several companies, including Coca-Cola, Intuit and Kraft Foods, have left the group.
And McIntire  continues:
Most of the attention has focused on ALEC’s role in creating model bills, drafted by lobbyists and lawmakers, that broadly advance a pro-business, socially conservative agenda. But a review of internal ALEC documents shows that this is only one facet of a sophisticated operation for shaping public policy at a state-by-state level. The records offer a glimpse of how special interests effectively turn ALEC’s lawmaker members into stealth lobbyists, providing them with talking points, signaling how they should vote and collaborating on bills affecting hundreds of issues like school vouchers and tobacco taxes.
Common Cause, a good-government watchdog organization that I've
respected and supported for decades, has investigated ALEC. It's filed a complaint with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service asserting that ALEC has abused its tax-exempt status.

Says Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause:
We know its mission is to bring together corporations and state legislators to draft profit-driven, anti-public-interest legislation, and then help those elected officials pass the bills in statehouses from coast to coast. If that’s not lobbying, what is?
I couldn't have said it any better! And I don't accept the crap ALEC says in its defense.

Paul Ryan’s Religion of Convenience | Alesa Mackool, RH Reality Check

This article makes (at least) two excellent--and accurate--points related to believers of any religion (and nonbelievers as well).

To make her points, Mackoo discusses some issues related to reproductive sexual health and justice. They're controversial, by definition, but my point here isn't to focus on them (I may save that for another time). Instead, I think many of us could agree on these two points.

First, Mackoo writes:
Selective observance of a church’s religious teachings is the standard for just about every believer, even the most supposedly devout.
And second, Mackoo concludes with this most important statement:
If you have to pick and choose which part of a religious doctrine to adhere to, it’s pretty clear that this doctrine shouldn’t be used to justify legislation. Our leaders are elected to adhere to the Constitution, and that’s both a firm platform to stand on, and something we all can agree on.

Dreams, jungles . . . and creativity | Pari Noskin Taichert, Murderati: The Writer's Life

Taichert begins:
Although sleep has been elusive for a few weeks because of work worries, I often think about dreams past and what they can still yield in the weedy garden of my current imagination. The extraordinary and wonderful disjointedness of dreams is especially fascinating because, in the moment of dreaming, all dreams make sense. They merely defy waking analysis.
She continues, touching on ideas that, as I read her words, have been getting my attention lately: story-telling, serendipity and making connections. She also writes about a college class she took by chance, on jungles and mythology.

Approaching the end of her blog, Taichert notes that she had planned to write it about "the fragility of creativity"--and how it needs to be nurtured and practiced "yadda yadda yadda." But, instead, she wrote it about dreams and jungles instead, and she asks why?

Taichert's answer:
Perhaps the point, if there is one, might be that dreams -- like jungles -- allow seemingly unrelated topics to merge and, when we least expect it, creativity works in the same way.
I like that. 
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