Odds and Ends: Emptying the In-Box

I tend to let emails collect in my in-box, then once every three years I go and delete them by the thousands. I have a special folder for things people send for IBD, and it has reached a point where it needs to be emptied. So I give you the following odds and ends.

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Knowing that we love interesting and funny signs, Friend (and Occasional Nemesis) of IBD Phil Broder sent a series of photos from a recent trip to India.

The above photo is from a park where you are not allowed to do anything, including “misbehavior” and “eatables.” I particularly like the relaxing sound of “Garden Timing” followed by “By Order.”

This one reminds me of a Steven Wright joke. He said his parents read that most accidents happen within five miles of the home, so they moved 15 miles away. I’m glad in India that they keep their accidents confined to one zone. (And those “Dang District Police” are misusing their quote marks.)

The “Don’t Spit Here” sign seemed kind of funny to me, until Phil explained, “India has a real tuberculosis issue, and there’s a campaign to curb spitting as a public health measure.” Thanks for being a buzz-kill, Phil.

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Another Phil, this time Friend of IBD Phil Sexton, sent a link to a website called Free Font Manifesto, which asks the question:

This site paves the way for professional designers to create a collection of high-quality fonts available in the public domain (there are lots of free fonts available already, but not necessarily high-quality ones). This raises questions about how these designers would earn a living, but it’s an interesting conversation to have.

Phil also sent me this funny little cosmetic tip. Phil and I are always sharing beauty tips, so I was happy to get this from him:

I guess my friends think I need help with my body image, because Friend of IBD Chris Mayer sent a link to a tongue-in-cheek video about using Photoshop (Fotoshop) to achieve unrealistic goals:

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Friend of IBD Kelly Farrell also shared a few photos with us in recent* months:

This is one she took during the 2010 NAI National Workshop in Las Vegas (I did say that it can take me a while to get to emails). I have to admit, because I’m slow sometimes, that I did not get it right away.

This one I did get right away.

Kelly also sent a link with the subject “Arkansas on the Cutting Edge” to a story on the website The Barcode News, which states:

In October of 2009, Arkansas became the first state to use QR Codes…. Since that time, the QR Code has appeared in the 2010 Arkansas Tour Guide, the Arkansas State Parks Guide, the Arkansas Spring newspaper insert and in publications such as The Oxford American, Southern Living, and National Geographic Traveler.

I can see why Kelly, a proud Arkansan, wanted to share this with us, as we have written about QR codes in the past. I was particularly impressed by one aspect of this whole story: There is such a thing as The Barcode News.

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Finally, my coworker Deb Tewell took this photo in Argentina. It’s a great example of all the reasons we can just never predict how our work will look when it’s released into the wild.

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Check back for Part 2 of “Emptying the In-Box” in March 2015!

Become a Noun

I had something else to share this week but when IBD reader Kelly Farrell, emailed the latest video from Cadamole, I had to share it. Paul has banned all of my writing about grammar so this is the closest I will get. I love the use of interpretive principles to take on a complicated subject. I’ve always loved the introduction of music into programming, too bad I can’t sing. Let me clarify. I can sing, but no one wants to hear it.

You can check out his entire repertoire of “interpretive” songs on his YouTube page. NPR Rap is still my favorite. Caputo as a noun…scary.

Grammar Pet Peeves Wallet Card

Over the last few years, we have posted five or six installments of our Grammar Pet Peeves. (I’d go back and actually count them, but that sounds like a lot of effort.) Anyway, after one of these posts, an astute reader (a self-identified non-grammarian) asked when we were going to make these into a wallet card. I thought, “That’s a great idea! I’m going to be rich!” (If only we weren’t giving this stuff away for free.)

So here it is. (Remember, just two more months to get your Christmas shopping done!) Click on either of the images below to download a pdf that you can print, crop, laminate, and keep in your wallet. Obviously, we can only do so many pet peeves on one card, so this may be the first in a series of collectors’ items.

And because some readers get angry if we don’t meet a certain minimum word count, here are the points included on this first card:

  • Your does not mean you are.
  • A lot is two words.
  • You are going to lie down, not lay down.
  • Everyday means common. Every day means daily.
  • Firstly is not a word. What you mean is first.
  • Fewer is for items you can count. Less is for mass nouns.
  • Who is for people. That is for things.
  • It’s is not possessive.
  • Literally means actually, not a million gagillion.
  • Loose and Lose are different words.
  • Presently means soon. Currently means now.

Keep this on you at all times and you’ll be the most popular kid at the dance. I promise.

Grammar Pet Peeves: Nerds Unite!

The last time I wrote about grammar, anonymous commenter Shea Lewis of Hot Springs, Arkansas, asked this intriguing question: “Paul, are you serious with all of this?” To which I respond today: “Yes! On with the grammar pet peeves!”

Lets Go
I think there’s a perception that the only people who care about grammar are lonely nerds and retired teachers. I once got into a conversation about the use of less vs. fewer with a very nice lady in the express lane at a grocery store. She asked if I was a school teacher, and I said no. Then she smiled weakly and responded, “I got mace, you know.” To which I responded, “No, you have ma—AAAAAAAAAAAGH!”

But every once in a while, some jerk who was probably the captain of the high school football team and dated the cheerleaders and kicked sand in the nerds’ faces makes an embarrassing, high-profile grammar mistake. And then even regular people with social skills and friends talk about grammar. Then who’s laughing? Nerds, that’s who.

Well, nerds are still laughing at Old Navy, which is selling T-shirts that are an apostrophe short of being proper English. They mistakenly used Lets (as in, allows) instead of Let’s (let us) in designs on a series of college T-shirts. It got a lot of coverage, and of course, half the people I know emailed it to me. (See it on Gawker, Refinery 29, and the New York Daily News.)

Viola/ Voilà
This one occurs almost exclusively in the cooking column in your local newspaper. Every now and again, the author of this column, who is almost certainly named Mary Lou, writes something like this: “…and then you pour in the milk, and viola!, your cereal flakes are ready for breakfast!” In this instance, it’s likely that Mary Lou means to say Voilà (“Look there!”) instead of viola (“The violin’s dorkier older cousin!”).

Amount/Number
If you’re annoyed when people misuse less and fewer, then this one will get you, too. As with less and fewer, amount and number can be addressed with what I call the Stuff and Things Rule. You should use amount with stuff that cannot be counted (an amount of sand, or milk, or work), and number with things that can be counted (a number of runs scored, or dollars in your bank account, or bricks thrown through your window for being an obnoxious blogger).

Anytime vs. Any Time
In the comments on a previous installment of this series, IBD reader “Susan” (name not changed because we’re unimaginative) asked, “Does anytime/any time work the same as everyday/every day?” The answer is yes. Anytime (one word) is an adverb that means whenever (“Anytime a former child star Tweets about IBD, Shea passes out.”), while any time (two words) is a noun phrase (“Dear Alyssa, I hear you’re a big baseball fan. Do you have any time to read all these other posts we wrote? Love, Shea. XOXOXO”).

You’re Going the Wrong Way
I wrote last week about how annoying it is to me that the Baltimore Orioles have a version of their logo with an apostrophe that’s facing the wrong way. The other time you see apostrophes facing the wrong direction is at the beginning of abbreviated years, as demonstrated above (the red one is incorrect and infuriating, the green one correct and soothing). Unfortunately, most fonts treat the apostrophe in this case like an opening single quote, so you have to trick your computer into turning it around. There’s a funny post about this called “Apostrophes don’t swing both ways” on the site I Love Typography.

That’s it for now!

On a Plain

People say I have an accent that can make me hard to understand. I know that I speak plainly. They are just distracted by my southern charm and wit. I have also been accused of writing the way I speak. I do my best to keep contractions that make Paul cringe out of my writin’.  For those who work for the federal government, speaking or writing plainly is now a mandate signed by President Obama. On October 13, 2010, he signed into law the Plain Writing Act of 2010. The deadline for implementing portions of the law is fast approaching (July 2011).

When you look through the guidelines provided by the the Plain Language Action and Information Network (or PLAIN, which is not nearly as clever as IBD) you can see many common threads between the recommendations and interpretive writing. (Aside #1: I find it interesting that it took 112 pages for the federal government to outline how to write plainly.) (Aside #2: I also find it interesting that they recommend that you avoid the use of parenthesis in communication.) With topics like “Think about your audience, and organize” you can see the power of using interpretive techniques to improve communication.

There’s a section or two about grammar, nouns, verbs, and all that stuff that Paul loves to write about that I don’t really get but it must be important in some way to writing but I’m sure Paul will get around to writing a post about sometime between now and the next three years. (I wonder if Paul can resist editing this sentence?) I did read the first sentence of that section, which I liked: “Words matter. They are the most basic building blocks of written and spoken communication. Choose your words carefully – be precise and concise.”

The section on writing for the web makes some interesting points that Paul and I have ignored on this blog. This image from the website shows how the human eye tracks on websites. The area shown in red is where the viewer spent the majority of their time.

If we had room in the budget (or any budget at all) and had the exact same study done on IBD, it would be expected that posts such as Monday’s Pick a side: Do you indent the first line of your first paragraph? written by Paul Caputo would yield the following results (keep in mind the area shown in red is where the visitor spent the majority of their time).

Take some time and brush up on your plain writing skills. You may find validity in some of your tried and true interpretive writing techniques.

Got the fearin’, power steerin’ — Thoughts from Panama

The second-best part of my job as the art director for the National Association for Interpretation is having the opportunity to connect with interpretive professionals at conferences and workshops. (The first-best part of my job is Coffee Tuesday.) I’ve just returned from NAI’s International Conference in Panama, where I was extremely fortunate to spend a few days in an amazing environment with talented, interesting people from around the world—a welcome break from emailing with Shea all day.

As with anywhere I go, I had my camera at the ready.

I took this photo because I like capybaras. They remind me of the Rodents of Unusual Size in the movie The Princess Bride. However, much of the discussion about this sign has focused on the unusual letter spacing in the word ANIMALS. One theory is that the person designing the sign inadvertently wrote the Spanish ANIMALES and then didn’t close the space (or only closed it halfway) after correcting the mistake. My theory is that the designer incorrectly pluralized ANIMALS with an apostrophe, then read IBD’s Grammar Pet Peeves and yellowed-out the mistake.

These are both stupid theories.

Notice the nuanced communication in this sign. The iguanas appear to be smiling. This is because it makes them happy when people slow down instead of running them over.

I posted this on my personal Facebook page, and Friend of IBD Amy Ford commented, “So, does this mean to watch out for big AND little iguanas? Mom iguanas and their babies? I’m confused.” Then, about three hours later, she commented again, “I’m sure you put this up there for us to comment that they used some stock clip art, as well…didn’t even bother to flip them…just changed the size.”

Clearly, Amy is a tormented soul and gave this sign way too much thought—which, of course, we here at IBD love.

I thought at first that the bird in this tour operator’s logo was a rip-off of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ mascot, the Pittsburgh Parrot. But then I realized that there are only about 50 people in the world who have actually been to a Pirates game and seen the mascot, so that was unlikely.

The typeface in the logo is called Lithos, also known as the Jurassic Park font.

This was on my bathroom mirror. I like the interpretive message, “We are invading their territory. Please don’t destroy them.” I also like to think that as soon as this Photoshop collage was completed, the lizard ate that ladybug.

The conference included a visit to the future site of the BioMuseo, an amazing and elaborate facility designed by internationally renowned architect Frank Gehry, who was once called a “one-trick pony” by noted architectural critic and bow-tie aficionado Shea Lewis.

This was in front of a boat dock near the Panama Canal. It supports my theory that nothing says “Important, Authoritative Message” like a big Mickey Mouse hand.

I attended an off-site session to the indigenous Emberá village on the Chagres River. While everyone else was learning from and interacting with the extremely gracious and welcoming community members, I was taking photos of signs. It’s a sickness.

When I saw this sign, found at the indigenous community of Salt Creek, I was happy for the warning and turned to walk the other way. Of course, I was horrified when our guide and the rest of the group started walking down the trail toward the caimans—even more so when our guide started throwing sticks into the water to attract the caimans’ attention. I tried to explain that caimans are a lot like crocodiles, and everyone told me to shut up.

He went thataway.

Finally, Panama is a rich and rewarding visual experience, and to experience it at its fullest, you must sit across from Jeff Miller at the hotel breakfast buffet. This is some of the most effective camouflage I’ve ever seen.