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.

Structure in Exhibits

A couple of weeks ago, Facebook reminded me of what my status update was a year ago. Being the sentimental and nostalgic guy that I am, I was reminded of a trip to St. Louis, Missouri, that I took with my family at the same time last year. I decided to go back and look at the pictures to relive the good times and to see how much my hair line had changed in twelve months.

As with most of my family vacation photo files, I have more pictures of signs and exhibits than I do of my children. I get to see my children every day. I may not ever have a chance to see a great use of a complementary color palette at a museum in Missouri ever again. It also keeps your kids’ egos in check by letting them know that it is not all about them.

While browsing through the images I came across a few images that I haven’t shared before of a really cool exhibit featuring the architecture of the Gateway Arch. The exhibit is not at the arch itself but at the St. Louis Science Center.

Here are some images and thoughts.

The design of this structures exhibit was clean and architectural in nature. I love how the materials echo raw materials of a construction site. Even the justified text could represent building blocks. Of course it could have been designed by someone who likes squares, but I think it was purposeful.

These panels continue the consistent message presented on the orientation sign. The concept is expanded with the blueprint-type symbols and open-ended question approach. Of course this is enough to bore my children to death (though death by type is underrated). This was the option that really inspired them…

These pillow building blocks allow children to practice what it takes to build an arch. You will notice that Anna (in the middle) is restraining her younger brother William (the destroyer) so we could get the picture of the complete arch.

This is not related to the structure exhibit, but I just had to share it. I’m not sure what incident led up to the creation of this sign but it was warranted, trust me. Do you have any ideas?

Odds and Ends: Cleaning Out Shea’s Phone Edition

Okay, I’m still in the process of cleaning out the IBD Archives (which happens to be an old shoe box that I keep under my bed filled with top-secret IBD memorabilia, along with photos of old girlfriends) with this second installment of Odds and Ends. Much like anything with the title “Jersey Shore,” Paul’s Odds and Ends installment on Monday doesn’t officially count.

This time I was going through my phone, deleting photos of errant moments of friends that should have been deleted a long time ago, and I came across several photos that were worthy of sharing. Here are the images as well as some random thoughts associated with them.

Who doesn’t like fried chicken, or fried anything for that matter? I know KFC is not the best place to get fried chicken (a tie between Roscoe’s in Los Angeles and Gus’ in Memphis) but my main motivation when visiting this new KFC was directly related to these signs.

At least the signage is original. (Insert your own bad joke here about the Colonel’s original recipe of 11 herbs and spices, or bowties, or seersucker suits, or goatees on old men who sell chicken, or graphic designers in Colorado.)

This is from my neighborhood’s snowcone stand. I’ve been wanting to say something about the misspelling but who am I to judge spelling? And I can’t risk being banned from banana cream pie snow cones (which is not on the list, but it’s a custom flavor I invented that requires a delicate balance of banana, cake batter, and vanilla syrups).

This is one of the best self-guided trail markers I have ever seen. It’s painted right on the rocks found on the Golden-cheeked Warbler Trail in Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. I was tempted to steal one. On one shoulder, Don Simons encouraged it, and on the other shoulder, Jay Schneider said he would call the police. I took only pictures and left only footprints. Though I still think it would look great in my office. They were also concreted into place.

Again, who am I to judge? This comes from Mugs Coffee in Fort Collins, Colorado. At least they are trying to do the right thing. Much like me in college algebra. I still failed, though honorably.

If you have some pictures of funny signs or other odds and ends send them our way or post them on the IBD Facebook page.

Apps for Interpreters (That We Also Kind of Like)

Most of you know where I stand in the realm of Mac vs. PCs. That doesn’t mean that I have to be against every single product that Apple offers. (Though it is true that the iPod Touch, iPhone, and iPad are all the exact same product just offered in various sizes.) What I can’t really wrap my mind around is how it is possible for Paul to write a post about iPhone apps and not make fun of the fact that I now have one too. I expect those comments to come rolling in today. Paul did a nice job avoiding hyperbole but I’m here to say these apps will change your life.

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For the first time ever on a recent birding trip and guided birding boat tour that I led, I didn’t bring a field guide with me. With the Sibley Guide eGuide to Birds app it is not necessary. The app has amazing options for viewing maps, hearing various versions of calls, along with all of the other images and information that the actual field guide offers. There are many other types of bird guides out there that cost less but overall I was most impressed with this one. It is pricy for an app ($29.99) but it is all about priorities. There are also apps for other naturalists’ interests such as field guides for herps, mammals, fish, etc.

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Speaking of apps for naturalists, LeafSnap is pretty cool too. First, it is beautifully designed. You can look through the browsing section for hours at a time.The feature that has made this app so popular is that you can take a leaf, place it on a white sheet of paper and photograph it (or snap it) and it will provide you with a list of possible species that you can peruse based on your location.

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If you ever find yourself problem solving or brainstorming and struggling with conceptualizing the issues at hand, SimpleMindMapping is available to you when ever the ideas are flowing. The free version allows you to save and view your mind maps but the paid version allows you to email and share the maps. As with most free technology today, the basic options are free and you pay for advanced elements.

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Keeping the Star Wars streak alive (and an attempt to continue to isolate any readers we still have) I bring you my favorite Star Wars-related app. I have a demanding job and personal life where at any given moment I’m searching for wisdom and guidance. Where do I turn? Thanks for asking, I turn to the Star Wars Quotes app. If Yoda can’t help me solve a problem, no one can. I also have friends (which may surprise you) who are also Star Wars fans (no we don’t dress up; well, only on special occasions) who are sticklers for accuracy that this app provides.

I tell you that to tell you this: There are quote apps for almost all interest areas that allow you to access information quickly and easily to meet your needs.

Today’s random quote from Han Solo in Episode IV: A New Hope: “Traveling through hyperspace ain’t like dusting crops, boy.”

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Speaking of quotes you must have, Dragon Dictation allows you to make your own quotes. It allows you speak into your iPhone and will take your transcribed dictation straight into a text message, email, word processing file, Facebook status update, or Tweet. If you need to make a quick note while out on a tour, you need this app. (Also, it’s great if you ever need to tweet or text while driving.) It is amazingly seamless, but struggles with my southern accent at times.

For all of you interpretive naturalist types out there please share your favorites below in the comment section. In the meantime I’ll be listening to bird calls on my iPhone.

Avoiding a Cheesy Cinco de Mayo

Have you ever wondered how something gets so far from its original intent that it really loses its meaning? I was reminded of this issue this week with two separate incidents.

While refueling my vehicle, on Monday morning I found myself in a conversation at the gas pump with a young man about the death of Osama Bin Laden. The young man I was talking to was nine years old on September 11, 2001 (I wasn’t for sure that he was actually old enough to be driving in the first place) and has a different way of looking at the events of that day and how he connects those memories to what happened to Bin Laden. Okay, this topic is way too serious for this not-so-serious blog. I know that the last thing you want to read here is my political commentary that could follow this example. Let me provide a second example that revolves around the less complicated topic of cheese dip.

The second event was the battery of emails that I have been receiving from On the Border, a chain restaurant that offers Mexican-type cuisine that is actually more like American-Mex that happens to be surprisingly delicious. I managed to get on their email list by being tricked into giving up my email address in exchange for free queso. It was a moment of weakness. The emails have been inviting me to return to On the Border to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Enjoying most things with mayo, I was seriously considering it.

Looking past the images of ice-filled buckets of “Mexican-type” beer I was looking for deeper meaning within the designs to develop a better understanding of what Cinco de Mayo is actually all about. I had a feeling that it was about more than cheese and cervesas (though that sounds like a perfectly acceptable holiday). Being a dumb American, it would have been easy for me to just accept this version of Cinco de Mayo and the carb-induced stupor that it could create and go to On the Border.

I knew there had to be more meaning behind it.  So my next step was Wikipedia. (I forgot to use the adjective lazy along with dumb above.) At least it was a start and at least my intentions were honorable, right? After leaving Wikipedia, I found myself reading several other online articles about the Battle of Puebla and how the under-armed and out-manned Mexican army defeated Napoleon III’s French forces. Who doesn’t love an underdog (that’s why I pull for the Yankees). I found it even more interesting and meaningful to me as a dumb, lazy, southern American that the battle had direct impact on the American Civil War, when the Mexican army was responsible for stopping Napoleon III from supplying the Confederacy with supplies that France had hoped would split the Union. Now that’s a reason for a holiday. I’m glad I didn’t accept Cinco de Mayo at face value.

On a much smaller and simpler scale I have seen interpretation in the form of programs, events, and designs perpetuate inaccuracies and still be widely accepted.

Special events at interpretive sites can move in directions that you never expected unless you have clear instructions for vendors, performers, and interpreters. Cinco de Mayo is not the first holiday that is drastically different from original concepts. You can take a look at how we celebrate religious holidays in the United States such as Christmas or Easter and realize their departure from the intended. Concessions are often made at events and festivals to meet specific needs and wants of visitors. True interpretive events should be managed different from that of festivals as to not confuse visitors or spread inaccurate messages.

Living history programs are an easy place for myths to be extended for the sake of adding character to the person being portrayed. If the story is not interesting or dynamic don’t transform it into something that it isn’t by adding character. Also be aware of your surroundings (competition and peers). I’ve seen many of the exact same type of living history programs presented all across the country because of limited amount of authentic living history supplies readily available through vendors.

Fire making is often over programmed because of its allure and the importance to survival (plus it is really cool thing to do in a program). I’ve seen the same period fire making kit come out of the same period haversack many times in different places. Creating fire in a program is great but by taking the tangible steps of making fire beyond the act itself and by relating it to something that the visitor can connect with (like a characters favorite time of night sitting around the fire with their family sharing stories or that fire was an opportunity for a child to do something important for his family) makes a demonstration a program. Me lighting our gas stove to melt cheese for dip has little value to you.

Non-personal media that has period or cultural-based graphic design elements needs to be carefully considered as well so that they don’t turn into something that looks like it came from a clip-art search. Decisions on how you plan to use elements such as colors, icons, imagery, and text should be weighed against their value of supporting the purpose of the piece. Oh yeah, and how those elements are used should also aide the communication and interpretive process. Don’t take the easy cheesy route.

Happy Cinco de Mayo! Oh yeah, did you know that Cinco de Mayo translates to May 5th?

The Grid is Not Your Enemy

Some of our readers know already that we had a little incident this month where a post went viral and crashed our server. (Though many readers thought the message that appeared on our site for two days, “403 Forbidden: You don’t have permission to access / on this server,” was Shea’s finest work yet.) My one-post suspension imposed by the IBD commissioner is over, so it’s time to move on.

One of the promises we made to our new web host—ServInt Managed Hosting Services—was that our next few posts would get practically no hits at all. So this week I’m writing about the grid!

Friend of IBD Kelly Farrell recently sent me an email with the subject, “This page has a problem.” The body of the message contained only this link: www.thegridsystem.org. Any time Kelly sends me a link, even if it looks like spam, I know it’s going to be fun. I clicked right away.

I realized quickly that Kelly felt that the site’s problem might be that it was a little rigid, for lack of a better word. Arranged in a strict grid, the page contained many, many links to articles and resources related to—you guessed it—using grids in graphic design. (No mention of baseball, so far as I could tell.) At the top of the page was this quote from famed 20th-century Swiss typographer Josef Müller-Brockmann:

The grid system is an aid, not a guarantee. It permits a number of possible uses and each designer can look for a solution appropriate to his personal style. But one must learn how to use the grid; it is an art that requires practice.

I was smitten.

Good graphic design requires restraint in terms of choosing a specific color palette or a limited number of typefaces within a composition or system. It also requires a system to guide where and how to place design elements. Using a grid is where it can be hardest for beginning designers to restrict themselves.

Whenever a new designer asks us to review a project, almost always, the first thing that jumps out is a lack of an underlying structure. (Also clip art.) In all of our training, writing, and relationship-advice call-in radio shows, we encourage designers to use a grid to guide placement of type and images.

Some people react against the idea of a grid because it sounds like what the IRS might use to create tax forms. If you’re one of those people, you can call it by its much sexier name, The International Typographic Style. With a name like that, you can bet that if James Bond were a typographer, he’d use it.

We discuss the grid in Interpretation By Design (the book)—complete with a nifty diagram of how to create one on pages 50 and 51. But the classic text on the subject is Müller-Brockmann’s 1961 Grid Systems in Graphic Design, which features the book’s grid right on the cover of the book. (Someone should steal that idea.)

There are other systems and philosophies that guide composition, but we encourage new designers to use the grid because of its visual cleanliness and relative ease of use. (You can start with a simple grid and work your way up to creating more complicated, versatile ones.) The grid reduces visual clutter and helps create hierarchy, but it can also be used creatively to create dynamic compositions.

Müller-Brockmann was well-know for his concert posters for Zurich’s Tonhalle Orchestra (among much else). He created dynamic compositions not only within the context of a grid, but using the same grid for each one. You can see by looking at the posters above side by side how “beethoven” on the left falls on the same horizontal axis as “der Film” on the right. If you were to lay these posters on top of one another, you would see that the small type on each poster falls on the same vertical axis.

This is the same sort of system we recommend for series of exhibits or panels at interpretive sites. Using the same grid throughout a series of related compositions creates a visual consistency that ties them together, whether it’s five panels along a trail, a multiple-page publication, a series of publications, or a family of websites.

I admit, the word grid does not conjure up positive associations. It sounds rigid and uncreative, the designer’s logical Mr. Spock to the artist’s dreamy Captain Kirk. And when it’s enforced to its extreme, it makes Kelly Farrell send us links to websites that make designers look anal-retentive.

So don’t think of the grid as a grid—restrictive, severe, constricting. Think of it as a framework, the steel structure that supports the architecture of your composition. Or think of it simply as a system, a way to bring order to chaos. To paraphrase Josef Müller-Brockmann, think of it as an aid that will help you flesh out your personal design style.

So the next time you’re designing a publication, exhibit, website, or even some sort of flowchart, I hope you’ll use a grid to guide your composition. It may even land you on Katie Couric’s Twitter page.