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!

The “So What?” of Social Media

When it comes to social media, there are basically two camps: the adopters and the resisters. The adopters jump into some or all of the social media outlets with both feet, tweeting, poking, tagging, posting, and doing all those other social media things that 10 years ago would have had entirely different meanings (I still giggle when someone tells me they’re “Googling”).

Meanwhile, the social media resisters spend their time sending the social media adopters snarky images like this:

This particular image, a Venn diagram available as a T-shirt from Despair, Inc., was sent to us by social media resister Phil Broder. And of course, we immediately posted it on our Facebook page.

I am firmly in the social media adopter camp, not just personally but for organizations as well. It has the ability to benefit your site (physical or virtual) in two distinct ways: cultivation of a core community and exposure to a vast, anonymous audience.

We use the IBD Facebook page partly to help build community and partly as a repository for JibJab videos. We don’t have as many followers as, say, Starbucks (we’re about 18.7 million fans shy), but Facebook has become a place where IBD readers share photos, links, and jokes about Shea’s wardrobe. It’s another venue to carry on the conversation, and that’s why we do this in the first place. (Note: As I was writing this, I became aware that IBD should be on Twitter, if for no other reason than to know what it is and how it works. So we started a Twitter account last week.)

We’ve both mentioned in the past that we’re obsessed with numbers, specifically the number of daily hits that we get on this blog. We’re aware that we probably have about 25 actual readers and that the rest of our hits come from Russian teenagers who accidentally stumble on our site looking for tips on stylish suspenders. While that core community of 25 readers (okay, 23 readers, plus our wives) is essential, there’s a certain thrill to seeing a post go even moderately viral.

We’ve enjoyed several occasions when social media unexpectedly drove lots of traffic to IBD.

August 2, 2010: At the time, “Ill Monday” was our heaviest day of traffic ever. On that day, an IBD post about a T-shirt that says “Ill” in the Phillies font got posted to the Facebook page of the company that makes the shirt, Philavania, driving a small fraction of their more than 17,000 fans to our page.

October 30, 2010: We set a new high on “Blue Saturday,” when a post about the color blue got Tweeted by a site called COLOURlovers to its 430,000 followers. The post got retweeted a handful of times and social media landed a bunch of people who had likely never before heard of us on our site.

December 5, 2010: This is the most random one of all. If you’re on Facebook, you surely noticed earlier this month that people changed their profile photos to cartoon characters to raise awareness about child abuse. I don’t know whether the campaign met its goals, but on “Tassie Sunday,” it did succeed in driving a record number of hits to our site, nearly all of them people doing Google image searches for the Looney Tunes Tasmanian Devil character and landing on an IBD post about the actual animal from back in May.

December 11, 2010: Just two days ago, COLOURlovers tweeted another of our posts, Yellow Makes Babies Cry, and we had just installed that green Twitter button that you see at the top of each post, allowing readers to easily share the post with their Twitter followers. The post got retweeted 44 times (as of this writing) and we had a new record.

This begs the Freeman Tilden question: So what? What’s the advantage of having a bunch of random people looking for cartoons stumble across our website, surely only for a few moments? It’s not as though Phillies fans who want to read about a trendy T-shirt are suddenly going to buy up the remaining stock of the book.

The nature of social media is that 99.9 percent of the people who accidentally stumble across this or any other site leave without a second thought. We tend to incorporate a lot of nonsense about baseball and our personal lives into posts about interpretation and design, so a lot of our traffic is from people who are not in either field, but that remaining fraction of a percent may stay to become part of the conversation, or at least lurk in the background like teenage Shea at a high school dance.

It costs nothing except time to maintain a social media presence, and the benefits can be exponential. Suppose your interpretive site deals with a specific historical event. A regularly updated blog, Facebook page, or Twitter feed about that event may cultivate a core readership—which to me is where the real value is—but the occasional post that unexpectedly goes viral will expose your interpretive site to a vast audience of new readers and potential visitors.

And for those readers (or fans or followers or whatever) who become part of your core audience, social media creates a distinct and important sense of community. For instance, I’ve been told that the conversations that take place on the National Association for Interpretation’s Facebook page help bridge the gap from one NAI Workshop to the next.

I’ve also been told that I am an awesome dancer, which I am not. I’m pretty sure that has something to do with JibJab videos. And I’ve been told that I have a lumpy head. I thought this had something to do with photos of me getting my head shaved at the NAI National Workshop last month, but it turns out it was just people being mean.

If your site does not have a social media presence, I’d encourage you to get one. The benefits are hard to quantify, but they are real.

More Grammar Pet Peeves

As you know by now, the first two installments of Grammar Pet Peeves (Part 1 of Literally Millions and Part 2 is Comprised of Five Points) went viral. That is not to say that they got a lot of hits, but they did make a lot of people sick. In an effort to redeem myself, I give you more pet peeves and the first-ever installment of “Two That I Had Wrong.”

Friend (or possibly Nemesis) of IBD Phil Broder asks:

What’s the proper usage of that/who? Is it “I am the person who edits a magazine” or “I am the person that edits a magazine”? And does it make a difference if the subject is human or not? “I have a dog that likes to sleep by the fireplace” or “I have a dog who likes to sleep by the fireplace”?

1232732_65680757I like that we’re taking requests on “Grammar Pet Peeves.”

The commonly accepted rule here is to use who when you’re talking about people and that when you’re talking about things or stuff, though there is some wiggle room (see the “Grammar Girl” link below). I’ve never heard a discussion on this rule as it relates to animals, so I’d say if you like animals and think they have personalities and feelings, use who; if you dislike animals except when you’re eating them, use that. (I have a dog who licks my face when I get home. I have a chicken that will be great breaded and fried.)

There’s a good post on this topic on the website Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips.

AlotAlot/A Lot
Unless you are talking about Alot, a town in India that is home to a temple of the Hindu deity Shiva, a lot should be two words. For instance, one could say, “You must have a lot of time on your hands if you’re reading this blog.” Just as you have a dog instead of adog, you have a lot of something instead of alot of something.

Very Unique
There are no degrees of uniqueness. Something cannot be kind of unique or very unique. Being unique is like being pregnant. You might be two-weeks pregnant or nine-months pregnant, but either you’re pregnant or you’re not. This explanation from Washington State University puts it better than I can:

“Unique” singles out one of a kind. That “un” at the beginning is a form of “one.” A thing is unique (the only one of its kind) or it is not. Something may be almost unique (there are very few like it), but nothing is “very unique.”

So Fun / So Much Fun
In this instance, so is an adverb that modifies the adjective much, which modifies the noun fun. An adverb cannot modify a noun, so when you say, “Reading about grammar is so fun,” what you mean is “Reading about grammar is so much fun.”

Two That I Had Wrong

None Is / None Are
Frequently, we get notes wrapped around bricks and thrown through our windows that say, “Dear Shea and Paul, none of your posts are funny.” For a long time, I thought, the joke’s on you, Mr. Angry Blog Reader, because what you mean is “None of your posts is funny.” Well, it turns out that Mr. Angry Blog Reader is also correct, because both forms are acceptable. Also, we’re not funny.

I was one of those folks who thought that because the word none derives from not one, it is necessarily singular. Turns out that both structures are accepted and have been used since the days of Old English. There’s a good post on this on The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation. (There are still some sources that insist on none being singular, but they are in the minority.)

Again, for a long time, whenever I heard people use loan as a verb (“I loaned Shea $4 in 2003 and still haven’t seen a penny of it”), I’d smile smugly and correct them in my head. (I’d think, “They meant lend. I should write a blog about this!”) Well, unless those folks were British, I owe them an apology, because in American English, loan is a verb as well as a noun and has been for a long time.

British grammar and many American nerds hold to the rule that loan is a noun only (“I took out a loan at the bank”) and that lend is a verb only. So if you’re writing for an international audience or for whatever reason trying to impress nerds, use that rule, but common usage in American English allows loan to be used as a verb.