Closing Quotes

If there’s one thing we’ve asked IBD readers to do over the last three years, it’s been to notice details. The problem with this is that people hate details. When they’re good at noticing them, it makes it impossible to function in normal society. When they’re bad at noticing details, it irritates people who are good at noticing details. Take this email (subject: “Ruined!”) that I received from an IBD reader just last week:

I’m reviewing applications for summer internships, and I just came across one where the first and third paragraphs of his cover letter are left justified, but the second paragraph is justified both left and right. And it’s driving me crazy! Why would he do that?! And why do I care?!  I blame you.

I read this email and I thought, Our job here is done. But everyone knows that’s not true. Our job here will never be done. Just walk down the street and you’re sure to find Comic Sans and Papyrus, centered type, clip art, double spaces after punctuation (including one in the email quoted above), undefined color palettes, too many typefaces in one composition, and design elements not arranged on a grid, just to name a few of the things we’ve been trying to rid the world of for 36 months.

Sometimes, the only way to appease detail-induced anxiety is to share your aggravation with others. This is why blogging is so much fun. If you have a blog, you can channel the rage you feel when someone says “presently” when they mean “currently” away from bludgeoning that person with a dictionary and toward a wittily worded blog post that no one will read.

[Note: This was my longest IBD preamble before getting to the point ever.]

So with that, I give you another detail that drives me crazy, and I hope it will drive you crazy, too: smart (curly) quotes versus dumb (straight) quotes. Smart quotes are called that because they know which direction they’re going. There is a clear delineation between the opening quote and the closing quote:

Dumb quotes are called that because they don’t have clarity about which way they’re going. (In fairness, maybe they should be considered quotation marks looking for a direction in life rather than dumb quotes. Seems less judgmental.)

Despite the judgment inherent in how typographers refer to these characters, they each have specific functions. Smart quotes are used as quotation marks around text, as with my hilarious typographic pun here (finger quotes—ha!):

Many typographers will tell you always to use smart quotes. InDesign has a setting in its preferences called “Use Typographer’s Quotes,” which automatically converts all quotation marks and apostrophes to the smart variety. But all too often, these typographers use their beloved curly quotes even when they shouldn’t. Specifically, when you abbreviate feet and inches, the straight quotes (called “prime” and “double prime” marks) are appropriate, as with this typographically sound description of my height:

If you were to use the smart quotes here, my height would go from “five feet, nine inches,” to “five apostrophe, nine closing quote.” (By the way, to get InDesign to give you prime and double prime characters, you have to go to “Insert Special Character,” then “Quotation Marks,” then “Straight Double Quotation Marks” or “Straight Single Quotation Mark.” Every single time. If you copy and paste, it turns it curly.)

In the end, I imagine that what this post will do for you is drive you a little bit more crazy than you already are. Just one more thing to notice out there that will annoy you. And for that, I offer my own closing quote: I’m sorry.

Odds and Ends: Music Lovers

So this is one of those posts where I’m cleaning out my email inbox filled with ideas from readers to share on IBD. Keep the pictures and ideas coming our way.

I must admit, I have had my momemts. This incident of misspelling takes the cake.

The only thing more egregious than the spelling mistake is the overuse of punctuation by ABC Columbia. By the way, I’ve dropped stuff too.

In my post Relevance for the Irrelevant, I took on how something so old could still be relevant. It looks like VW is back with a second installment.

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I can’t wait to see what the’ve done for the Super Bowl.

The last item I wanted to share today was sent in from IBD reader Joe Jacobs.

We both found it funny that they went out of their way to call out music lovers. It does make you look twice at the quiet hours.

The Power of the Close Crop

When I’m with friends or family in a public place and we want a group photo, I hate asking strangers to take the picture. It’s not that I don’t want to bother strangers. I like bothering strangers. It’s that strangers, as a rule, stink at taking photographs. Waiters, in particular, are the worst. (If you are a waiter and you are reading this post, I apologize. Also, I would like an Arnie Palmer and a dozen wings.)

The primary offense of the waiter-stranger-photographer is that they stand too far away and zoom all the way out (and somehow still manage to cut off everyone’s feet). The photo ends up being mostly sky with a tiny collection of nearly unrecognizable, feetless people at the bottom. On occasions when I do resort to asking a waiter-stranger-photographer to take a picture, I find myself saying, “Step a little closer, don’t be afraid to zoom in. And where are those wings I asked about?”

By way of example, I offer this photo of my family and me taken by a waitress at Smitty’s Clam Bar in Somers Point, New Jersey, last summer. (To the waitress’s credit, she did not cut off our feet in the photo, and she was very good at her actual job, but you’ll see what I mean about the zooming. Did she think that tubby guy on the bench was part of my family? And does that guy think he’s fooling anyone drinking beer out of a paper Coke cup?)

Granted, nowadays it’s easy to crop digital photos, so this is less of a problem than it was in the days of rolls of film and printed photos. But still, why do people stand so far away and zoom so far out? And is it just me, or does my brother look like he’s eight feet tall in this photo?

On a seemingly unrelated note (I’m getting to the point, I promise), I recently received an email from Friend of IBD and noted Detroit Tigers fan Phil Broder with images of “actual billboards in Detroit, Michigan, put up by GM.” (The forwarded message says, “This is definitely cool … Pass this on to anyone who thinks old things can be cool!” I don’t know what it says about me that Phil thinks that I would think old things are cool.)

You can see a bunch more of these here.

The first thing you’ll notice is that these billboards were clearly not designed by the waitstaff at Smitty’s Clam Bar.

In my opinion, there are two elements to these billboards that make them successful. The first is the succinct, clever writing. Each slogan is short and packs a punch (much like most of the Tigers fans I know). The second element is a distinct aesthetic that relies on strong color combinations and sometimes extremely close-cropped images.

The close crop is not just a striking visual technique. It’s a powerful statement, one that expresses confidence that the subject of an image can withstand scrutiny. (Come to think of it, this may explain why waiters stand so far away when they take photos of my family and me.)

Moreover, in my opinion, close-cropped photos are more interesting to look at. (That said, cropping to the point of abstraction is a technique that has its place. For instance, I would not recommend cropping head shots down to a single nostril.)

Whether you’re a designer working with photos that have been provided to you, a photographer trying to capture the essence of a thing, or a waitress at Smitty’s Clam Bar, I’d recommend cropping just a little more closely than feels comfortable, and see how you like the result.

Odds and Ends: Good, Bad, and Ugly

So this is one of those posts where I’m cleaning out my email inbox filled with ideas from readers to share on IBD. This week’s collection of odds and ends deals with one of my favorite things and one of my least favorite things and something simply ugly.

Let’s start with the good. The email was from Adrianne Johnson an interpreter at Niobrara National Scenic River in Nebraska. Warning to the birders: If you don’t have any free time step away from this link.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is working on a project known as Merlin. According to the website:

Merlin will be a new kind of bird identification tool—one that combines artificial intelligence with input from real-life bird watchers to produce an online “wizard” that helps people ID birds quickly and connects them to more information.

To build Merlin, we need to know how thousands of people remember and describe birds. You can help us by playing games that gather the information to help Merlin understand what bird watchers see. The more you play, the more you’ll help Merlin become a true bird ID wizard.

The website generates a random image of a bird. Like this one of a Sanderling.

The challenge is to see what three principle colors you see in that bird, and report it to Merlin. It is loads of fun, more or less the Wheel of Fortune for birders (minus all of those complicated conversations about consonants and vowels). You are also helping build a database of information. I completed 10 birds when I should have been concentrating on this blog.

Oh yeah, by the way, I love Cornell Lab’s logo.

Now for the bad from Phil Broder, as you would expect. His email plea of “Please, oh please, for the love of god, write an IBD about these!” sounded desperate, so I decided to include it. Also, based on an established history of turtle-related text messages from Phil, I was nervous about the ramifications of not sharing the story.

Several weeks ago I wrote about the new uniforms of the University of Maryland Terrapins. Keep in mind this post was about college football uniforms and not baseball, displaying our “fair and balanced” approach on IBD. For those who didn’t read the post (the majority of the free world), I can sum it up in one thematic statement: The Terps went all spandex on the state’s flag and that’s simply wrong.

Each week Maryland continues to unveil new versions of their uniforms. This week brought the latest helmet. Though creative, the helmet is embarrassing to all real terrapins out there.

Now for some ugly.

This is ugly for two reasons. One because I’m in it and second since I’m taking this opportunity to rub in my lunch with the Philadelphia Phillies’ starting pitcher Cliff Lee, at Paul. He had pork chops, turnip greens, pinto beans, cornbread and milk to drink, just in case you were wondering. He still hasn’t responded to my friend request on FB, but I know he’s busy.

Odds and Ends, mostly Odds

This week I decided to share with you three items sent in by readers. I didn’t have enough on each to make them into a full post by themselves (who am I fooling, if I can transform a discussion revolving around socks into something about social networking, then I surely could have done a post on each) so I rolled them in to this odds and ends post.

The first comes from Phil Broder. Every time I get an email from Phil, I make sure I don’t open it on a work computer. I don’t want to get put back on the watch list. This email was okay and worthy of sharing. He stated:

Take a look at http://www.jameshance.com/index.html. He’s my new favorite artist (Muppets and Firefly… two of my favorite things!). But you Star Wars geeks should love this too. There’s definitely something IBD-worthy about re-doing the classics in new styles.

In a snobbish follow up email from Paul (in which he didn’t copy Phil) he stated that he would leave this email for me to respond to since this topic was more in my court nerdom. He may be right but he didn’t have say it like that. I did like the fact that my “Star Warsness” is automatically being tied to Paul. It is about time considering many of his quirks have been connected to my persona.

The artwork offered by James Hance is described as “relentlessly cheerful art” on the website. His trademark is the combination of two distinct styles that most wouldn’t draw conclusions to and from.

The image above known as Promise is part of Wookiee the Chew (yes, Wookie is spelt wrong, silly artist) is a combination of Star Wars characters and Winnie the Pooh. Phil mentioned that there may be “something IBD-worthy about re-doing the classics in new styles.” He’s right; I’m not sure what there is to say except it is awesome. It’s also awesome that Phil admitted to liking Muppets.

The part that I find powerful is that it makes you think specifically about the decisions made by the artist and how specific styles can be connected to genera. This could be applied to an interpretive center making design decision to be at juxtaposition of the complexity of nature by choosing a clean, open, or geometric typeface (such as Futura) to add impact. Otherwise the art by Hance should simply be enjoyed.

The second piece comes from Sarah Keating. Sarah has issues with denial. She wants to claim that she’s a cool kid and not a member of the nerd herd but she can’t seem to stop showing people her membership card. Sarah stated in her email:

Each day I find myself acquiring more nerdy tendencies. A few weeks ago I found myself downloading NPR apps on my iPhone, and now I am reading NPR stories on the internet. Today, for instance, I was looking for a little inspiration on the NPR interns’ website and I clicked on a story link about plastic bag use, only to get the ever so popular “Page not found” – story of my life!! But as I continued to read I realized that NPR has taken it a step further and instead of making you disappointed in their inability to locate what you were trying to find they have put a positive spin on it (see below). HOW REFRESHING!!! I really do love NPR – GOD BLESS AMERICA!!

Sarah, embracing your inner nerd is the second step to obtaining personal peace after admitting you are a nerd  (immediately followed by the cessation of the excessive use of capital letters and exclamation points).

I wish I knew how to make the 404 Page not found on IBD offer suggestions, but I don’t. For those web gurus out there this is a great idea. I also have to admit that Sarah really doesn’t claim to read IBD but sent the email to me and several others. I don’t have her permission to share it here either.

The third piece comes from me (uh yeah, I’m a reader too, someone has to read Paul’s posts so you don’t have too. It’s just something I do for you). You got to love this link offered by the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York City). Who doesn’t want a custom NYC Subway Sign set in one of the most famous uses of Helvetica, featuring the Yankees Stadium stop on 161st Street? You could also have one with some other landmark in New York City. Do they have others?

These iconic signs as well as other MTA items are offered on the website. The signs start at $25.

Keep the suggestions coming…you know we need them.

Grammar Pet Peeves: It’s All Right

You know what I think? People love grammar. With that, more grammar pet peeves!

Have Went
More and more often these days, I hear people say have went when they mean have gone. I don’t mean to overstate this, but this is one of those grammar mistakes that makes me want to stab myself in the neck with a fork—though it’s not as bad as Shea saying “Go Yankees” in his Southern accent. The past participle of to go is gone, which you would use with auxiliary verbs like has, have, is, am, etc. The simple past is went, which should not be used with an auxiliary verb.

So you would say, “I went to Yankee stadium and was surprised that they did not have grits at the concession stand.” Then you would say, “I should have gone to a Houston Astros game instead.” Every time you say “have went” instead of “have gone,” a little part of grammar enthusiasts dies inside, even if they don’t hear you say it. It’s like a disturbance in The Force.

Capitol Building
The dictionary definition of the noun capitol (lower case, with an O) is “a building occupied by a state legislature.” So the phrase capitol building is redundant, because capitol by definition is a building. It would be like saying, “I live in that house building” or “I’m going to see a baseball game in that stadium building.”

Similarly, the proper noun Capitol (upper case, still with an O) refers specifically to the building in Washington DC where Congress meets. So if you write, “National Capitol Building,” you’re being triply redundant, since Capitol by itself is already the national building you’re talking about. (If you click on the image here, you will see that Wikimedia user Scrumshus committed this error in the caption. Nevertheless, thank you, Scrumshus, for the copyright-free photo.)

Capital (with an A) can be a noun or an adjective and it means a lot of different things (it’s a little like Smurphy that way). As a noun, capital can be an upper-case letter, money, or a city that hosts the government of a political region. As an adjective, it can mean important, super-duper, related to money, or fatal.

Myself
In the most recent installment of Grammar Pet Peeves, Friend of IBD Greg wrote this in the comments section:

Why no mention of the most annoying (and unfortunately most popular) grammar flub out there: “myself”? What can we do about people’s obsession with this word?

Whenever I hear people say myself when me or I would work, it makes me think of the Austin Powers quote, “Allow myself to introduce…myself.” (For the record, Austin’s first myself is incorrect; the second is correct.) Here’s my theory: People are unsure about the appropriate use of me and I (which I wrote about back in the first installment of this series), so they use myself instead, just to be absolutely sure that they’re wrong.

If you’re in court, you might hear a mobster say, “He would not give the money that fell off the back of that truck to myself,” when what he really means is, “He would not give the money that fell off the back of that truck to me.” You might also hear him say, “Tommy and myself broke that jerk’s thumbs,” when what he means is “Tommy and I broke that jerk’s thumbs.”

As a reflexive pronoun, myself is correctly used as an object of a verb. For instance, “I hate myself for rooting for the Yankees” or “I smacked myself with a hammer.” Or if you are Austin Powers, “Allow me to introduce myself.”

A preposition is something you should never end a sentence with.
Also in the comments of the most recent installment of this series, Friend of IBD Betty wrote, “I dislike sentences that end in prepositions.” Betty’s phrasing here is perfect, because while some people are surprised to learn that it is grammatically correct to end a sentence with a preposition, a lot of people simply don’t like it. (Betty didn’t say it was wrong; she just said that she doesn’t like it.)

The Grammar Girl blog lists the rule that you should not end a sentence with a preposition as one of the top 10 grammar myths. Author Mignon Fogarty explains it like this:

Here’s an example of a sentence that can end with a preposition: What did you step on? A key point is that the sentence doesn’t work if you leave off the preposition. You can’t say, “What did you step?” You need to say, “What did you step on?” to make a grammatical sentence…. Yes, you could say, “On what did you step?” but not even grammarians think you should. It sounds pedantic.

I reference Grammar Girl a lot in these pet peeve posts, and I wonder if you feel, as I do, that Grammar Girl (on the right) is the secret, daytime alter ego of the esurance girl. Or possibly vice versa. At any rate, the point is don’t be afraid to end a sentence with a preposition.

Alright
It’s hard to call this a pet peeve because I just learned about it, but it’s interesting (to me, anyway), so I thought I’d share. It seems that alright is not a word. Or to be fair, if it is a word, it’s recognized in most style guides and dictionaries as “nonstandard,” which means, “You can use it, but if you do you’re stupid.” We’re so accustomed to seeing words like altogether and already (which are indeed words), that we took the two-word phrase all right and made it alright. Again, there’s a good post on this on the Grammar Girl blog.

So now the stodgy prescriptivists (“Without grammatical structure and rules, language will cease to exist”) and the free-love descriptivists (“Language is a like an organism, man, and it can’t be restrained”) can argue over whether alright gets to be a word.

Well, alright, it’s a capitol idea for myself to stop now, because I have really went on. ‘Til next time!