Sunday, July 28, 2013

Quiet Writer Drives Through

There are a few (thousand) things that drive me nuts and my top three are: made up words, spelling mistakes, and improper grammar. Several years ago a friend and co-worker pointed out to me that language is an evolving tool. Humans have been communicating orally and in writing for thousands of years and it's only natural that the manner in which humans communicate evolves along with the people doing the communicating. He cited a very acceptable example of Old English and how many of the words, phrases, and rules have fallen out of favour and changed to become what people use today. When he made the argument I had very little to say in terms of a retort other than, "Well that doesn't mean I have to like it!".

It all started when I was out at Tim Horton's getting a coffee and I noticed that their sign on the outside read "Drive Thru". There was more than enough room for them to write "Drive Through" but instead they chose a shortened version of the word. In an effort to attract a younger demographic, maybe they thought it looked more current; maybe three fewer letters were significantly cheaper to print; maybe, the marketing geniuses that they are, they didn't like the way "through" looked. I suspect we'll never know. All I knew is that I didn't like it and I needed someone to blame. Fortunately, on practically every street corner I saw this:

Their spelling sucks and their food will make you fat

This generated quite a bit of discussion in the office, and seeing as this was in the early days of Google some of us took to the Internet to seek out the origins of purposefully misspelled words; and wouldn't you know it, one of the earliest offenders was none other than Remington, makers of among other things, typewriters. That's right, a typewriter company went and named a model using a made up word: Quiet-Riter.

Shame on you, Remington. Shame on you!

As you can see, there is no shortage of real estate on the front of that typewriter, so why bother to bastardize the word "writer"? One can only hope this was a purposeful example of irony, but I suspect we'll never know.

I can accept the fact that English is a complicated language. There are more exceptions than there are rules, and there are a crap-tonne of rules. It used to be that you couldn't get out of grade school unless you knew all the rules and could show proper command of the language. Over the last few decades things seem to have shifted. With computers that will auto-correct your mistakes and provide you with properly formatted sentences, actually knowing the rules and how to implement them has become less important.

Unfortunately, what this doesn't do is prevent people from screwing things up time and time again, and putting their glorious mistakes on the very Internet that would provide them with the required correction within seconds. It's a sad state of affairs when we'd rather post grammatically deficient drivel than spend the eight seconds it takes to Google it and post something proper. Fortunately, there's an army of people out there who are more than willing to correct everyone else's mistakes: they are the Grammar Police (also less affectionately known as Grammar Nazis) and they are a growing faction of grammarians to which I someday hope to belong. They're an easy bunch to spot, just look on Facebook for posts like these:

If you don't know what an Oxford Comma is, Google it,
and for God's sake USE IT!

We all know that some rules were made to be broken, and that sentiment is holds true for writing as well. As much as the Grammar Police, literary purists, and academics would like you to believe otherwise, sometimes you have to break a few rules to get the result you are looking for (see what I did there?). Here are eleven rules that are just asking to be broken:

Breaking rules is fun!

I completely understand that in writing this post I am opening myself up to criticism and ridicule from just about every angle. Those lax in their usage of proper spelling and grammar will thumb their noses at me, or possibly give me the finger; those with a stronger command of the rules will look down their noses at me, waggle their finger, and utter something condescending under their breath; and there will be a few who take this opportunity to correct every mistake they can find in an effort to feel superior and make me feel shame. Well, I can guarantee you I will feel no shame. I can assure you that there are no spelling mistakes or typos in this post.  The lack of red squiggly underlines and a solid proofread have taken care of that.

As for the punctuation and grammar, well, it's entirely possible that I know exactly what I'm doing and I have just embedded various mistakes in an effort to be clever. It's also possible that I'm a giant hypocrite with limited grasp on the rules who just likes to criticize others. I suspect you'll never know.

~ Andrew

Sunday, July 21, 2013

SPOILER ALERT!

Every once and a while a TV show comes along that you really enjoy watching. You know the one I'm talking about. The one where, week after week, you can't wait for the next episode. The one where your anxiety levels climb in the weeks leading up the final episode of the season because you know that it will be the last of the show for months. The one that you faithfully record so you can watch it uninterrupted, free from commercials or other distractions, and just enjoy as everything unfolds in front of you for the first time.

And then there are the inconsiderate jerkwads on the Internet - specifically Facebook and especially Twitter - who see fit to watch the show in real time, crappy commercials and all, and live-stream every plot twist and "oh my gosh" moment that happens. They will claim it's all part of the new media experience and this allows them to enjoy the show at a whole new level with other inconsiderate jerkwads. Networks will encourage this with various "follow us on Facebook" and "follow this #hashtag" gimmicks in an effort to entice more people to watch as they try to pump more advertising at the audience.



For me, there have been a few shows where the former has been true. Sopranos was one, as was The West Wing. Lately, it's a show called The Newsroom - which fortunately for me not a lot of people watch, so there's not a tonne of chatter around it - yet. As for the latter, there's only one show I took to this level and it was Survivor (please, don't judge), and even then I was very careful about not revealing key moments or twists in my Internet commentary. You see, if you want to follow a show in real time and experience the complete new media experience there are rules to follow so you don't end up being a jerkwad. Actually, there's really just one:

Let the people who aren't watching at that very second know that you're about to ruin something for them.

It's affectionately known as a spoiler alert, and it's an easy rule to follow. It really is. The problem is that some people either can't figure it out or don't give a damn. Granted, it's harder for someone on Twitter to comply than it is for someone on Facebook. Twitter is set up in such an instant gratification kind of way that if you want to express an emotion about what just happened on your favourite show you're much more inclined to type "OMG I can't believe they just killed What's-His-Name! #FaveShow" than you are "OMG, I can't believe what just happened! #FaveShow". Even if you are more likely to lean toward the second statement I can guarantee that someone somewhere will reply within seconds "@YourUserName I know! What's-His-Name was my favourite character! #FaveShow".

Unfollowing someone on Twitter is a bit of a pain just so their spoiler tweets don't show up in your timeline. Setting up lists and filters is also quite a cumbersome exercise. Fortunately, a teenage girl in the U.S. came up with a way to redact your Twitter feed to avoid those unsightly plot twists - and she's going to release the app for free.



Things are a little easier on Facebook and as such I have less patience for those who refuse to show a little courtesy. You see, Facebook won't show a whole post if it's more than 420 characters long. Anything more than that and you read a "read more" link at the bottom. So, just prefix your post with

"SPOILER ALERT: [YOUR-FAVE-SHOW]
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------"

Tell your spoiler-prone friends to do this. Tell them they can just cut and paste the example above and then proceed to type whatever the hell they want.

[Editor's Note: 2015-12-22 - this app is no longer available]
Naturally, someone has taken the idea from our teenage hero from above and made it just a bit better. This is what happens with technology, especially apps, and the consumer is the ultimate winner. In this case, you can take matters into your own hands with Silencer. A Chrome extension that lets you "Take back the internet, on your terms". Even better you can tell your friends to not be jerkwads in the first place and if they're true friends you won't need the link to Silencer. But just in case, here it is:

https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/silencer/liddmepmaofgllnbdbepbcgfgclcelno

~ Andrew

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Power of the Internet

I am fortunate enough to have experienced the creation of one of the greatest inventions of all time: the Internet. Granted, there were a whole lot of events that had to transpire over several decades before it became accessible outside of military or academic circles, but when it did... it's hard to argue that it didn't have a major impact on society.

Image Courtesy Wikipedia

Much like anything else it didn't take long for the Internet to become commercialized. Rest assured (and if you read my last post this won't come as a surprise) if there's a newer/better/faster/easier way to sell you something then the people selling it are going take advantage.

Then something interesting happened. People started using the Internet for something that wasn't commerce. Of course, traditional media outlets began (and continue) to use the Internet as a cheap and easy way to get your attention, driving you to their paid services and racking up page views to satisfy deep-pocketed advertisers, but ordinary people also started to use it to share their message. They quickly realized that there was the potential to reach a tremendous audience and in less than a decade the Internet became the greatest resource the world has ever seen.

As with anything that's publicly available and unregulated you're going to get quite a wide collection of individuals involved. The Internet user community is, unsurprisingly, just a reflection of society as a whole. One quick peak and you'll find:

  • the innovators; 
  • the salespeople; 
  • the socially conscience; 
  • the clueless; 
  • the intellectual (and the intellectually deficient); 
  • the radicals; and of course, 
  • the liars and the cheats. 


If you need to put "fair & balanced" in your logo
I have news for you...

It's not just corporations like FOX News that are in on the game either. Sometimes our cravings for attention and the insatiable need for our 15 minutes of fame take control, and sometimes the less honourable see an opportunity to take advantage of the good nature of others. If you're on Facebook you have most certainly seen the posts. The ones where some tear-jerking picture is accompanied by some text that reads "If I get a million 'likes' then..." or "So and so or this and that needs your help!"

Some of these are undoubtedly true... and some most certainly are not. I choose to focus on the good. It takes a bit more energy but the end result is worth it (my favourite sources of truth are currently Snopes and Skeptophilia). With just a little bit of research and minimal digging the same Internet that brings you the lie also brings the lie and the people behind it to light. Just as easily, the Internet can be used to affect positive change, and as it turns out there are more people out there using their powers for good instead of evil.

I firmly believe in the power of the Internet and all of its social media sub-components. Aside from allowing everyday folks like myself to have a voice, it can bring people together and affect change like never before.

Just ask Egypt.

~ Andrew

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Got Stuff?

What do Monsanto, Apple, Disney, and Stephenie Meyer have in common? The way I see it they are all in the business of creating stuff for the sake of turning a profit. Of course, I say that as I sit here at my laptop on my comfortable couch in front of my big screen television waiting to answer my iPhone (via Bluetooth).

"Ever notice that their stuff is shit and your shit is stuff?"

Now, I am a big fan of a high functioning capitalistic society; money makes the world go 'round and all that... but at what cost? As much as I enjoy "stuff", the more I look at my children and what we're leaving behind for them, the more I begin to wonder if the costs of consuming are worth it. Is it possible to reverse the path we're on and focus more of our time, energy, money, and attention on creating to improve instead of creating to capitalize?

Thankfully, there are concerned individuals much smarter than myself who are asking tough questions on the topic. These are the types of things they are asking us to consider:

  • If we grew food to actually feed people instead of to just sell food how many people would still be hungry?

  • What would our world look and sound like if music and television weren't assembly line productions controlled by just a handful of companies?

  • If we invested in science and technology to learn and understand the universe instead of just to be the one who sold more phones/televisions/computers this year how much further would we go?

  • What would we see if the best selling books in the world weren't formulaic, predictable, and based on the latest force fed trend?

Hmm...

Some of you are thinking, "Oh lord, the guilt trip continues" (or something to that effect). Don't worry, I'm not here to make anyone feel bad about themselves or the lifestyle they keep. The goal of this blog is to provide my thoughts and observations, usually on topics based on my newcomer experiences to writing and content creation, to generate conversation or get people thinking in a direction they might not have otherwise.

Lately, I have found myself asking the question, why are we (as a society) creating the things we're creating?

I have found all too often that the answer is to sell it, or even worse, I don't know, and that's a scary thought. What's scarier though is that George Carlin released his bit "A Place for My Stuff" on vinyl in 1981 - 32 years ago - and it's probably more true today than it was then.

Stuff is cheaper so we can afford to buy more stuff. Stuff is smaller so we stuff more stuff into our other stuff. We've made it easier and repeatable to create stuff so just about anyone can produce stuff and the internet makes it so that just about anyone can buy it.

My daughter created this with chalk in the kids' area at a music festival.
For as long as we were there it was the only section no one erased.

Why are we creating the things we're creating anyway?

I don't know, but I'd like to issue a challenge to anyone willing to give it a try:

  • Have at least one meal this week made with non-genetically modified, locally grown food, or better yet, start a small garden of your own

  • Turn off the television or video game at a time when you would normally do such a thing and find a song by an independent musician and just listen to it (there are tons available on YouTube), or better yet, go watch a local musician play live

  • Invent something to fulfill a need, or better yet, do it without having to buy any new materials (as a note, this becomes noticeably easier to do if you have children or are capable of thinking like one)

  • Read a short story by an author you've never heard of on a topic you know nothing about, or better yet, write one about something you do

~ Andrew