Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Bookseller Tickets

Back in the day, independent booksellers would put little gummed labels inside the cover to identify their shoppe as the origin. Hang Fire Books has graciously included examples in their blog, along with instructions on how to remove them (and other gummed accoutrements added to books after publishing). While I haven't seen a lot of these, myself, I've seen similar labels on old 78rpm record albums -- I'll bet the two practices are related.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Do You Mind If I Go Blogging This?

Language Blog writes about a strange lingual abberation, embodied by the sentence "Would you mind go checking on the laundry?" My first thought was, "what's wrong with that?" as it's completely understandable if spoken to you -- I probably would look at it more than once while editing, but would attribute it to colloquial style and let it go. However, if you look at it, word-by-word, it's a mess of tenses and posessions, missing 'ands' and adding superfluous suffixes.

My second thought, while I appreciate the language analysis of such sentence and its relatives, is that the ability to construct proper sentences is not the same part of the brain that speaks. Oh, they do cooperate, but writers and speakers are not the same ilk. Writers benefit from self-editing (writing, then re-reading what was just inscribed) and editors (who aren't watching for content as much as mechanics) to make sure their sentences are accurate within the Rules of American Language. When you're speaking, it's a cascade of proper words quickly grabbed off the shelf and placed in as close a proper order as possible; people often aren't sure how they're going to end the sentence when they start it, hence the mixups of tense and action. If it works, and people understand it, then that assembly of words gets put back on the shelf, intact, for quick retrieval later. This is part of why people say "um" instead of pausing, and use the word 'like' as an all-purpose word and punctuation. It works, so the unconsious word-assembler keeps using it. Writing and proper english requires consious assembly, which takes longer than speaking. It's almost suspicious when people speak too properly or correctly; it's assumed they're reading off a script, like those so-called "real customer testimonies" on the toothpaste commercials. Nobody uses words and contractions like that. Real sentences are full of misplaced contractions, invalid suffixes and prefixes, ums, and restarted sentences.

So, I generally forgive improper language (although I annoyed the girls more than once for picking on the whole "can I" or "may I" thing) when spoken -- otherwise, you'd spend your entire life annoyed. Remember people's words are coming out of their head faster than their internal editor can keep up, and start feeling a little sorry for real-time subtitlers.

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Monday, October 15, 2007

Paper Burns, But Doesn't Crash

Mallary Jean Tenore wrote an article for Poynter about how she prefers paper, despite her reliance on the internetted world. My first thought was, "eh, it's going to just talk about paper, and nothing about the use of the paper," but she does, addressing that paper has its values and yet periodicals aren't using in an appropriate way for today's networked life. Tangibility, the thing I believe is the reason paper will stay around forever, isn't being used well when newspapers focus on the ephemeral aspect of their news. News that's here and then gone is something the internet does well; take a look at what paper does well and emphasize that. The newsing might have to change, but the medium will not.

I'll note that her 'pros' for paper, Tailorability and Manipulability, are two reasons I ignored a process my managerial predecessor at work hoped I'd continue. Employees used to write down their daily work on sheets, and when a sheet was full they'd turn it in to the manager, who's keeping track of productivity. The previous manager was working on an internet-based system, where users would log-in, enter their start-times and end-times, and fill in the amount of work they did.

From evaluating the previous paper-sheets, I knew the online version would only cause problems: tasks can't always be identified by a start time, an end time, and the production numbers. Things like 'checking for errors' and 'sorting things in numerical order' don't fit into the standard -- and what about unused time like a broken-down machine? To properly evaluate productivity, those odd notes were more useful than the regular statistics -- and most of the time I can get that data off the server anyway. Rather than going 'high-tech' to get rid of the annoyance of paper forms, I redesigned the paper forms to something more useful -- more room for comments, limited each sheet to one week at a time so that it's easy to find a particular date, and giving training on how to use the sheet. If I want to compare productivity, I can lay out all the sheets on my desk, lining up the days of the week, and see how the work lines up. This sort of stuff isn't done easily with a computer program.

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Business 2.0 Closing Up Shop

Business 2.0 is closing up shop -- but they say it's because of a lack of advertisers, not a lack of readers. Part of me wonders if this will (or should) drive a shift to book publishing on topics formerly dominated by magazines; the impermanence of a magazine is supplanted by websites and blogs, but the internet can't produce the permanent-reference aspect of a book. Magazines on paper: not worth the expense. Books on paper: still worth the money spent. Readers will always be readers; give them something they'll value, rather than something advertisers value. This should add up for publishers looking at how to publish their words.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Why We Curse: The Power Of Words In Art

The New Republic approached illustrator Ward Schumaker to provide a powerful image to go with a new article called What the F***? Why We Curse. Schumaker proved himself and provided a visually striking, word-based illustration juxtaposing common "safe" words and their unsavory socially-unacceptable versions.

While initially very positive towards the art -- seen over there on the right -- TNR got 'cold feet' and decided against using the art due to the weight of the words on the page. This is even though all the words seen in the artwork were included in the article in some form. Words, on their own, have a certain power -- putting them on paper, in a context, even moreso. But, putting words to paper and adding the emotional weight of art and style in their presentation has a sharp edge people don't recognize until it's right there, in front of them.