Friday, November 28, 2014

Rubbermaid red

Found today at our friendly neighborhood multinational retailer, the large Rubbermaid drain board in red. Call it the midlife-crisis drain board. Call it Big Red. For years Elaine and I have been on the lookout for Big Red. Small red drain board? Yes. Large red? No. Never no large. But there it was today, and here it is now, in our crisis-free kitchen.

A tenuously related post
Repurposed dish drainer (Also Rubbermaid red)

Bob Montgomery, typewriter repairman

“I’m catering to people who are willing to pay $125 for a machine that was obsolete fifty years ago”: Bob Montgomery, who will be ninety-three in January, is a typewriter repairman.

Related reading
All OCA typewriter posts (Pinboard)

Merriam-Webster in Ebony

Given the all-white world of Merriam-Webster’s 1965 and 1966 Life advertisements, I wondered: did the company ever advertise its products to African-Americans? I checked the Google Books holdings for Ebony and Jet and found a single ad, which appeared in Ebony in October 1967. It’s clearly pitched to parents wanting to do right by their children. No reference to “friends at the office” or “families having fun with word games and puzzles”: here the dictionary is a means to academic success. Which it is. Consider The Dictionary Project.

And now I remember what we had in the house when I was a kid: the World Book Dictionary, and of course, the World Book Encyclopedia. Great bathroom reading.

But that table, that chair: now I’m back in my high school’s library. It’s study hour again.

Related reading
All OCA dictionary posts (Pinboard)

Merriam-Webster holiday shopping

[Life, November 26, 1965.]

[Life, November 25, 1966. Click either image for a larger view.]

Sixteen of twenty people on your Christmas (or “holiday”) list need a Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. I used to recommend that students acquire and use a collegiate dictionary. Now I say college-level . Can you guess why?

The four people who have no need of a dictionary will be happy with Parker T-Ball Jotters.

Related reading
All OCA dictionary posts (Pinboard)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving 1914

[“Army of Beggars Mars Thanksgiving: Thousands of Ragamuffins in Fantastic Garb Beset Persons in the Street. Churches Hold Services. Turkey and Cranberry Sauce Provided for the Destitute and for Jail Inmates.” The New York Times, November 27, 1914.]

My 2012 and 2013 Thanksgiving posts also dropped in at the Ludlow Street Jail.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Recently updated

Grammarly, WhiteSmoke WhiteSmoke now has a demo, and the results do not inspire confidence.

Old Grote

[2" x 1 1/8". 1 7/16" x 5/8". Click for a larger view.]

From a brief history:

In 1943, the Grote companies combined under the name Grote Manufacturing Co. Like most other manufacturers of the time, Grote refocused its production on the war effort. It began making items for paravanes (devices that cut underwater mine cables), acrylic radio-controlled shells, and blackout lights. Once the war was over, the company converted its metal stamping machines to make medicine cabinets.
Grote Mfg. Co. sold its medicine-cabinet division in 1970. As Grote Industries, the company rolls on.

Our Grote medicine cabinet is now gone, along with our other bathroom fixtures. Goodbye, old Grote. Goodbye, inside-cabinet-door labels. Bathroom-wise, we are stepping into the world of tomorrow, or at least the world of the next week or two. I had to stop myself from saving the blades of shavers past.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Supporting the Ferguson Library

I don’t know who first suggested donating to the Ferguson Library, but I like the idea:
Ferguson Municipal Public Library
35 North Florissant Road
Ferguson, MO 63135

Monday, November 24, 2014

A call-number surprise

I was browsing in the library and noticed Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier. I still have it in paperback from undergrad days.

And then, just two books away on the library shelf: Ted Allen, et al., Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Did someone stash it for further browsing, as library patrons sometimes do when they’d rather not borrow a book? No.

Let’s review our Library of Congress Classification Titles:

B: Philosophy. Psychology. Religion.

BJ: Ethics.

BJ1518-1697: Individual ethics. Character. Virtue. Including practical and applied ethics, conduct of life, vices, success, ethics for children.
Castiglione’s call number: BJ1604 .C43 1967. Allen, et al.: BJ1601 .Q44 2004.

A related post
Know Your Library of Congress Classification Title (Fun, really)

The past, for sale

[Click for a larger view.]

For sale: a letter of transit, used only once. Also a piano, restored. And many other pieces of film history. The New York Times has an article about a Bonham’s auction.


November 25: The Times article now has auction results. The letter of transit sold for $118,750; Sam’s piano, for $3,413,000.

Word processing, c. 1987

In Fall 1986 and for a semester or two thereafter, I taught first-year college composition, “freshman comp,” with word processing. I was the first person in my English Department to do so. My enthusiasm waned when I saw no evidence that word processing made for significant improvement in students’ writing. If anything, it seemed to offer a too-easily-taken shortcut to a finished essay, without the large-scale rethinking and revising that might best take place on paper, with the aid of arrows, asterisks, staples, and tape.

In April 1987 I wrote up some thoughts to share with colleagues about freshman comp and word processing. Here’s an excerpt, with a word or two changed:

Computers are no quick solution to the problems of our freshman comp students. A computer cannot tell a student that a thesis is too general or that an essay lacks specific details and is illogical. A computer cannot spot punctuation errors (programs that claim to do so, such as Sensible Grammar, in reality find mere typos, like a space before a comma). There are word-processing programs that can catch some spelling errors, but they cannot tell when “to” should be “too.” The claims made for computers as thinking machines are enormous, but real intelligence can lie only in the hands on the keyboard. God knows we have all read inane, jargon-ridden, stultifying prose produced with the slickest of word processing programs. My claim is more modest: a computer — used intelligently — makes life easier.
Twenty-seven years later, I think that these observations still hold. Nothing can yet replace writerly scrutiny of grammar and spelling. I still see no evidence that word processing has made for better writing. And it amuses me to realize that while many an English Department still houses a “computer lab” (a classroom filled with the hum of machines), the prospect of writing in a word processor has come to feel faintly quaint. With so many minimalist apps available, the work of composition can happen in distraction-free environments far more congenial than Microsoft Word. And anyway, writing is not word processing. Margins, fonts, and pagination are matters of document design, not writing. I design documents all the time, but I cannot recall when I last wrote in a word processor.

Related reading
“Don’t be a brute” (Writing ≠ word processing)
Grammarly, WhiteSmoke (Unreliable witnesses)
On “On the New Literacy” (“I’m not persuaded”)
Writing by hand (“A draft is a draft”)
Sandeep Krishnamurthy, A Demonstration of the Futility of Using Microsoft Word’s Spelling and Grammar Check

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Ace Combs; or, Things Ain’t What They Used to Be

[Life, June 6, 1955.]

It’s sad to see a once-great brand sink into crappy cheapness. I know that Ace combs are no longer made of hard rubber. But I’d at least expect a plastic Ace to comb hair without raking and scraping the scalp. No such luck.

I bought an Ace yesterday and tossed it after one use. That’s how bad it was. If, however, tiny ridges and “burrs” are your thing, today’s Ace is what you’re looking for. Ouch.

I still own a hard-rubber Ace, many years old. That, friends, is a comb.

[No, you may not borrow my comb.]

Some cookies

Elaine made some cookies.

[Oatmeal-raisin is the official cookie of the Musical Assumptions/Orange Crate Art blog cartel.]

Friday, November 21, 2014

Reacting to technology

From Chris Dixon, via Khoi Vinh’s Subtraction, Douglas Adams’s rules describing reactions to technology:

1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.

2.Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.

3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.
I‘m not so sure. I’m fine with the scroll wheel (1995) and the Toyota Prius (1997). I have no interest in, say, TiVo (1999), but it’s no more against the natural order of things than recording with a VCR.

Google Glass (2013) though is against the natural order of things, for people of all ages. It just is.

Mark Trail interjections

[“Whooa!” Mark Trail, November 11, 2014.]

[“Whoa!” Mark Trail, November 21, 2014.]

I do not yet understand the grammar of Mark Trail’s interjections. Is whooa reserved for interior monologue? For underwater use? For moments when one’s own life is in danger, and not some bear’s? For use when one is at least partly clothed? Clearly, more study is needed. Whooa!

Related reading
All OCA Mark Trail posts (Pinboard)

[I think it unlikely that whooa is what Van Dyke Parks calls a misprink.]

Thursday, November 20, 2014


The television was on for “warmth.” Hamilton Burger was speaking to Lieutenant Tragg: “It’s an anonymous hipster. See if you can trace the call.”

I misheard what I misheard. But then there’s this shining moment. Perhaps the tipster was a hipster after all.

Related reading
All misheard posts (Pinboard)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Mich wundert, das ich so frelich bin.

From Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube (1977), the first of three volumes recounting the writer’s 1933–1934 walk across Europe. As Leigh Fermor prepares to leave Vienna, he hears a story about the Holy Roman Emperor Maxmilian I:

Someone was describing how he used to escape from the business of the Empire now and then by retiring to a remote castle in the Tyrolese or Styrian forests. Scorning muskets and crossbows and armed only with a long spear, he would set out for days after stag and wild boar. It was during one of these holidays that he composed a four-line poem, and inscribed it with chalk, or in lampblack, on the walls of the castle cellar. It was still there, the speaker said.
Whoever tells the story writes out the poem, “with the old Austrian spelling painstakingly intact”:
Leb, waiss nit wie lang,
Und stürb, waiss nit wann
Muess fahren, waiss nit wohin
Mich wundert, das ich so frelich bin.
Leigh Fermor’s translation:
Live, don’t know how long,
And die, don’t know when;
Must go, don’t know where;
I am astonished I am so cheerful.
These lines remind me of a sentence from Guillaume Apollinaire: “la beauté de la vie passe la douleur de mourir.” And of lines from Frank O’Hara: “Grace / to be born and live as variously as possible.” All wonderful, compact philosophies of life.

Related posts
“Footpads and knaves” : From A Time of Gifts : Leigh Fermor’s Brueghel : Leigh Fermor’s eye : One word from A Time of Gifts

[The poem exists in several versions and is also attributed to the theologian Martinus von Biberach. The Apollinaire sentence is from the calligram “La cravate et la montre” (The Tie and the Watch). The O‘Hara lines are from “In Memory of My Feelings.” Relineated, they appear on O’Hara’s grave marker.]

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Ivory Tower to air on CNN

The CNN film Ivory Tower (dir. Andrew Rossi, 2014) airs on CNN this Thursday, November 20, at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

A related post
The gold standard, haircuts, and everyone else (On the future of college)

A teacher’s response to school reformers

From high-school English teacher Ian Altman: Seven things teachers are sick of hearing from school reformers (The Washington Post). Move past the listicle title and you’ll find a deeply thoughtful response to school reformers. One choice passage:

Educators talk about and analyze test score data, and supposedly let that data “drive instruction,” but the truth is that numbers and measurements gleaned from those tests are not data.

They are a flat, bleached replacement of data, because they replace the substance of learning with an abstraction, a false image of learning, much the way Descartes replaced the idea of physical things with the concept of graphable spatial extension. The acts of thinking, learning, and knowing, are not objects that can be replaced with abstractions about thinking, learning, and knowing. In that specific but crucial sense, all school test data are fake.
I wish I had had Mr. Altman for English.

Monday, November 17, 2014

“Notorious Dead Criminals”

[“Close-up of file drawer at FBI office.” Photographs by George Skadding. United States, 1944. From the Life Photo Archive. Click either image for a larger view.]

The file-drawer label “Notorious Dead Criminals” is worthy of Chief Wiggum. That’s Pretty Boy Floyd in the second photograph.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Real Housewives of NPR

Andy Cohen, executive producer of The Real Housewives, plugging a book this morning on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Sunday: “Some people say to me, ‘Oh my God, that’s your show ?’ And I say, ‘Look, don’t blame me. Either turn the channel, or get on board.’”

Duly noted.

Public radio ought not to serve as an organ of publicity for junk-pop-culture. NPR’s willingness to do so makes me less and less interested in kicking in to support NPR.

Related posts
NPR, sheesh
PBS wants me to flip my phone open

[Note: junk-pop-culture. Not all pop culture is junk, not by a long shot.]

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Happy birthday, Ted Berrigan

[From A Certain Slant of Sunlight (Oakland, CA: O Books, 1988).]

The American poet Ted Berrigan was born eighty years ago today. He died on July 4, 1983. I‘ll quote from an essay that I wrote some years ago for a reference series on American poetry:

In twenty-five years of writing, Ted Berrigan created a poetry that melded intelligence, emotion, and wit in unexpected ways, a poetry of what he calls in sonnet LIII “baffling combustions.” Berrigan’s poetry can be at once dazzlingly opaque and utterly clear, full of dense verbal collage and unashamed sentiment, blatantly appropriative yet singularly original.
Berrigan established himself as a poet with the radical formalism of The Sonnets (1964), turning the form, as he said in a 1978 interview, into “fourteen units of one line each.” The poems of this sequence collage fragments of Berrigan’s own unsatisfactory early work with words lifted from elsewhere, creating rich and strange textures in fourteen (or fifteen or sixteen) lines.¹ In his final years Berrigan discovered a new possibility for a radical formalism in the writing project 500 American Postcards, which took the postcard as a poetic form, a fixed space determining (along with the variable of handwriting) the size of the poem.

“Whoa Back Buck & Gee by Land!” is a postcard poem. It takes its title from a song Leadbelly sang (but it’s the lamb, not land ). The third line comes from Frank O’Hara’s poem “River”; the fourth, from Auden’s “A Lullaby”; the sixth, from John Wieners’s “Act #2” (“Women in / the night moan yr. name”). Those are the sources I recognize; there may be others. The poem itself, however, could be the work of only one poet. “Man, that was Ted Berrigan!”

It is 5:15 a.m. Happy birthday, Ted.

Related posts
“A Final Sonnet”
Separated at birth: C. Everett Koop and Ted Berrigan

¹ Rich and strange: including lines from The Tempest.

Friday, November 14, 2014


[Local signage.]

Leash-curb ? Or leash curb ? Non-native speakers are rightly confused. Leash, curb, and clean up: items in a series.

Related reading
All signage posts (Pinboard)

[Yes, the dog walker looks like an extraterrestrial.]

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Jeepers, they’re euphemisms

Did you know that gee is “probably a shortening of Jesus! (or Jerusalem! )”?

Did you know that jeez or jeeze is a corruption of Jesus?

Did you know that jeepers is also a corruption of Jesus?

And did you know that sheesh is “probably an alteration of jeez ”?

I found my way to these words after using the word jeepers in an e-mail and wondering where it came from. The Oxford English Dictionary identifies all four words as originating in American English. Gee is the oldest (1895). The OED labels jeez (1923) and jeepers (1929) as slang, sheesh (1959) as colloquial. 1959? Sheesh was in use well before that. I can hear Ed Norton speaking to Ralph Kramden, somewhere in the 1955–1956 season of The Honeymooners: “Sheesh, what a grouch!” Get on it, OED.

[My answers to these questions: yes, yes, no, no.]

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Scott Pelley, phallologocentrist

I just heard it again on the CBS Evening News , Scott Pelley’s language of man: “Mankind lands a spacecraft on a comet.” If mankind is supposed to be an improvement on Pelley’s plain old man , well, it’s not.

This post’s title is a joke, out of all proportion to the moment. But the language of man and mankind is absurdly out of date. As is also, perhaps, the idea of “the evening news.”

[What to say instead of mankind ? How about “the European Space Agency”?]

A teacher resigns

From a letter of resignation by Gerald J. Conti, a high-school social-studies teacher in Syracuse, New York:

My profession is being demeaned by a pervasive atmosphere of distrust, dictating that teachers cannot be permitted to develop and administer their own quizzes and tests (now titled as generic “assessments”) or grade their own students’ examinations. The development of plans, choice of lessons and the materials to be employed are increasingly expected to be common to all teachers in a given subject. This approach not only strangles creativity, it smothers the development of critical thinking in our students and assumes a one-size-fits-all mentality more appropriate to the assembly line than to the classroom.

The gold standard, haircuts, and everyone else

“There is a change coming. There has to be a change coming. The four-year undergraduate residential experience is the gold standard — small classes, lots of intimate contact. How do we create as close to that ideal as we can, while reducing cost?”
That’s John Hennessy, the president of Stanford University, appearing in the documentary Ivory Tower (dir. Andrew Rossi, 2014). In this film and elsewhere, Hennessy is a voice of inevitability: disruption and all that. But there’s nothing inevitable about diminished access to real college, by which I mean not dorm life but a community of teaching and learning, with professors and students present to one another. Diminished access is the result of institutional choices: fewer professors, more online courses, more administrative bureaucracy, extravagant construction projects, and ever-increasing costs to students. MOOC developers Sebastian Thrun and John Owens follow Hennessy’s turn in Ivory Tower. Thrun likens online coursework to videogames and says that such coursework “empowers” students. Owens says that online work puts the focus “back on the student,” then blithely speaks of the MOOC professor as a “rock star,” one professor doing the work once done by 500. So who, exactly, is in the spotlight?

An often-repeated claim among those who insist on educational disruption is that the efficiencies of teaching — one teacher, one room — have stayed the same for too long. But then the efficiencies of, say, cutting hair — one barber, one head — haven’t changed much either. Perhaps there are good reasons why. The great irony for me in the rhetoric of disruption: those who speak it will no doubt seek for their own children what Hennessy calls “the gold standard.” There will always be real college for the few. For everyone else, it may be another story.

But perhaps change is indeed inevitable. Before Ivory Tower was released, Thrun pronounced his company’s courses “a lousy product.” His new venture: nanodegrees. And just two weeks after the film’s release, Hennessy voiced his disappointment with MOOCs. Haircut, anyone?

A few related posts
The Adjunct Project : College debt : Colleges and bakeries : “A fully-realized adult person” : The New Yorker on MOOCs : Offline, real-presence education : What parents need to know about college faculty

Monday, November 10, 2014

Veterans Day

[“Color guard of Negro engineers, Ft. Belvoir(?), [Va.]” Between 1941 and 1945. From the Library of Congress Flickr pages. Click for a larger view.]

Cubicles in publishing

A book editor speaks: “Having a door and a window is starting to feel like having a car and driver.” Read more: Cubicles Rise in a Brave New World of Publishing (The New York Times).

There have long been cubicles (or less) in publishing. Back in college, I did a summer internship at Basic Books, whose space was a mix of offices, cubicles, and desks on the open range. I, a lowly copywriter, had an office with a window. The previous occupant, an editor, had recently died. The fellow who supervised me was in a cubicle. The editorial assistants had desks set against a long wall, no dividers.

Domestic comedy

[Reading the package aloud, spontaneously.]

“Organic rooibos and green tea meet under the apple tree and follow a hidden trail through brambly hillsides to their hidden bullshit pa — strawberry patch.”

Related reading
All OCA domestic comedy posts (Pinboard)
Presto change-o, Tazo
Tazo Wild Sweet Orange

[The Tazo people, they’ll make up anything.]

Sunday, November 9, 2014

“You can improve that paper”

The linguist Geoffrey Pullum, after reading a student paper with endless passive-voice sentences, and after acknowledging that some writers (Noam Chomsky, Anthony Trollope, Jeffrey Ullman) get things right the first time:

Our students should not imagine they can adopt the working practices of such brilliant exceptions. They are mostly like you and me: Our first drafts aren’t good enough, and need many restructurings, improvements, and corrections before they are fit for a reader. Yes, a few authors can produce publishable prose without ever looking back, but they are outliers, not role models. Balzac “revised obsessively.” Dickens did likewise.

So, to the typical student working late Thursday night for a Friday paper deadline I say: You are not Chomsky or Ullman or Trollope, and you have left it too late! You cannot write A+ material the first time through. Next time start your paper at least a week ahead. Then rewrite it. Then read it aloud, and go through it again fixing some more of its faults: the echoes and clunkinesses; the slips in verb agreement; that vague bit you thought you might get away with; the sentence where you decided on a structure but changed syntactic horses midstream and ended up with gibberish.

And don’t tell me you don’t have the time! Ordinary working people do 40 hours a week. Typical millionaires work 70 or 80. Admit it, you’re not committing that kind of time to your studies. You can improve that paper, and ensure that reading it isn’t like being repetitively bludgeoned. Please.
Related posts
Pullum on Strunk and White
More on Pullum, Strunk, White
Hardly (adverb) convincing (adjective)

[Pullum commented on the first of these posts. He’s never touched the third, which looks at his untenable claim that The Elements of Style forbids the use of adjectives and adverbs. In the Lingua Franca piece I’ve excerpted, Pullum still can’t acknowledge that inappropriate use of the passive voice is his student’s problem. Instead, it’s the student’s “tin ear.” I cannot see the difference. But I think this exhortation is worth sharing.]

It’s the Weekend Edition lapel pin

[1 3/8" x 5/8".]

If you listen to NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday, you may have wondered what it looks like. That’s what it looks like, the Weekend Edition lapel pin, one of the prizes for the lucky listeners chosen to play the Sunday puzzle on the air with Will Shortz. I played sometime in the 1990s, back in the days of sending in postcards. My challenge was to figure out word pairs with an added x. I remember maim and maxim.

In 2011, I vowed to find this pin, long out of sight and mind. I also won a Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (10th ed.), much less shiny, and always in sight.

[Not a great photograph, but I cannot find online a single photograph of this shiny object. So this one will have to do.]

Saturday, November 8, 2014

One more from Dreyfuss

“In the 1950s, advertisers and manufacturers discovered in teenagers a lucrative market for consumer goods”: Ellen Lupton presents Henry Dreyfuss’s Princess telephone. It’s Cooper Hewitt’s Object of the Day.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Dial D for Dreyfuss

At Cooper Hewitt’s Object of the Day, Ellen Lupton writes about Henry Dreyfuss’s Model 302 and Model 500 telephones. Bonus: Henry Dreyfuss’s account of his undercover work as an telephone repairman’s helper.

A related post
Thrift-store telephone (A model 500)


November 10: Cooper Hewitt has revised the post to make clear that an actor is reading Dreyfuss’s words.

“Footpads and knaves”

From Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube (1977), the first of three volumes recounting the writer’s 1933–1934 walk across Europe. In Vienna, Leigh Fermor meets up with a man named Konrad, a pastor’s son whose command of English comes largely from reading Shakespeare:

“We must beware,“ he said. “Among good and luckless men there is no lack of base ones, footpads and knaves who never shrink from purloining. Some love to filch.”
Related posts
From A Time of Gifts : Leigh Fermor’s Brueghel : Leigh Fermor’s eye : One word from A Time of Gifts

[In a month I’ve traveled only forty pages. Too much else to do.]

Fountain Pen Day

Never heard of it before today: Fountain Pen Day.

My favorite OCA pen post: Five pens.

[In my pocket this first Friday of November, a Lamy Safari.]

Thursday, November 6, 2014

How to improve writing (no. 51)

I noticed this sentence while browsing:

Thus, in order to understand why Apple has been so successful in previous partnerships — and, looking forward, to better estimate the chances of Apple Pay becoming widespread — it is essential to understand how the company acquires and uses leverage.
Twenty-seven of the sentence’s thirty-nine words precede its subject (it ): that’s a case of what Richard Lanham calls the “slow windup,” the ponderous start. Reading the sentence aloud is a good way to hear the problem. Other problems:

Needless words. Successful partnerships must already exist, so there’s no need for previous. “Looking forward” is unnecessary, as there is no place else to look if one is gauging prospects for success. I see little difference between estimating and better estimating: one would want one’s estimates to be good ones.

Lifelessness. “It is essential to understand” is boilerplate term-paper language, lacking in agency. Here again, Richard Lanham is helpful: “Find the action,” he suggests. Who does (or did, or will do) what? The fix here: a transitive verb in the active voice.

My revised sentence:
To understand Apple’s success in partnerships and to estimate the chances for Apple Pay’s success, we must understand how Apple gains and uses leverage.
Twenty-four words, fifteen of them preceding the subject. I’ve condensed and rewritten in several other ways, which I’ll leave to speak for themselves.

Revising this sentence took perhaps a minute. Explaining in this post, revising my sentences while doing so, much longer.

Related reading
All OCA How to improve writing posts (Pinboard)

[Richard Lanham’s Revising Prose (2007) is an immensely helpful, absurdly expensive book. (Blame the textbook publisher Pearson Longman). A presentation of the book’s core, the Paramedic Method of revision, may be found at Purdue OWL. This post is no. 51 in a series, “How to improve writing,” dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]

Ticonderoga, Ticonderoga, Ticonderoga

[From the Dick Van Dyke Show episode “When a Bowling Pin Talks, Listen,” May 8, 1963. Click for a larger view.]

Sally Rogers (Rose Marie) is struggling to come up with a comedy bit. The Dixon Ticonderogas aren’t helping. The pencil stage right? Perhaps a Mirado or Velvet.

Other Ticonderoga posts
Is there a pencil in The House (FBI Ticonderogas)
Musical-comedy pencils (Judy Holliday, sharpening)
Pnin’s pencil sharpener (“ticonderoga-ticonderoga”)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

To adjective, to adverb, to verb

Today’s xkcd: Language Nerd.

November 5

I think my state just moved to Wisconsin.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

John King, fast talker

Five minutes of election-night coverage on CNN and I reached my limit: John King’s never-stop-to-take-a-breath delivery is unnerving. No more coffee for him.

A Yosemite bug

I called Apple with a problem, and it turns out that I had discovered a Yosemite bug. Call it sempervirens. Here’s how to rediscover it:

Go to System Preferences and click on General.

Click on Highlight color and choose Other.

Whatever custom color you choose, the result will be a pale green.


When I called Apple, I spoke with two tech-support people. The first went through these steps on her Mac, confirmed the problem, and transferred my call to a higher-level person, who filed the bug. Will it be fixed in OS X 10.10.1? I hope so.

I like Yosemite more and more. Or perhaps I should say that I like a slightly modified Yosemite more and more. Changing the system font back to Lucida Grande and darkening the Dock background with cDock makes the new design more attractive.


November 18: I just updated to 10.10.1. The bug’s still there.


May 4, 2015: Fixed in 10.10.3. Custom color works in some places and not others. Still broken.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Nathan Heller on Steven Pinker

Nathan Heller writing about Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style :

It is difficult to shake the suspicion that Pinker’s list of “screwball” rules simply seeks to justify bad habits that certain people would rather not be bothered to unlearn. “Fewer” versus “less”? Do whatever sounds good, Pinker says, but maybe favor “fewer,” if you can, but not because “less” is wrong. Good luck!
I opened The Sense of Style in a bookstore this weekend and landed at the discussion of between you and I. Two pages to argue that it’s not really a mistake, followed by the observation that writers are “well advised” to avoid it. Good luck!

Related posts
McGrath on Pinker on Strunk and White
Pinker on Strunk and White

Some rock islands

[Izumi Masatoshi, Islands (Shima tachi), 2000. Japanese basalt. Art Institute of Chicago.]

Izumi Masatoshi is a sculptor who works in stone. It was only after we got back from Chicago last night that I realized that I could have photographed these “some rocks” from above. Why didn’t I think of that in the museum? Because I am not a photographer. Then again, an aerial view might have made two of these rocks look like one rock, leaving me with a pair of rocks, not “some.”

[“Some rocks” is a fascination that seems to have no end. An explanation may be found in this post.]

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Empty case

[A display case that ordinarily houses fragments of luxury vessels, 1st century BCE, 1st century CE. Art Institute of Chicago.]

Is it wrong to take pleasure in a musuem’s empty display cases? Of course not: if it were, I wouldn’t be posting this photograph. I was amused yesterday to see several other museum visitors admiring empty cases. That each of these visitors was perhaps a quarter of my age didn’t trouble me: art, or its absence, is an experience available to all.

This empty display reminded me of a blackboard of course. (See Friday’s post.) The white shapes, which look from a distance like rock shards, are the spaces where the vessel fragments have been removed. Light shines through from behind.

The great reason to visit the Art Institute right now is the exhibition Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections. The exhibition begins with a Head of Aphrodite, its eyes gouged out, its forehead marred by a crude cross. Goodbye, old gods. I was moved by the anonymity of imagination and labor in the works on display: icons, manuscripts, mosaics, textiles. (Only two works, fifteenth-century icons, bear signatures.) My most exciting finds: a thirteenth-century Picasso-like Bowl with Dancer and a fifteenth-century interlinear Iliad.

[There’s no direct link to the Head of Aphrodite. It’s the third item of seven available from the link.]