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.

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!

Underground Photos

This may come as a surprise to you, but there are no subways in Arkansas. So each time I’m in a city that has a subway, I find myself fascinated with this form of mass transit. Of course, I have to take pictures of subway signs, which brings a new level of uncomfortableness to passengers on the train. Something about a garishly dressed guy with a southern (though hardly noticeable) accent taking pictures of signs while sharing a safety strap with a similarly shorn Philadelphian speaking about the effective use of Helvetica sends confusing signals and makes others concerned about personal safety. You can even see in Paul’s face the level of discomfort he has with social subway photos in the image below.

Let’s face it: wayfinding is important. Whether in a city or at an interpretive site, communicating the location of everything from items of interest to restrooms is an essential part of a positive interpretive experience. Wayfinding can go beyond a means to an end and has become a work of art. The MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) of New York City has been using the same subway map designed by Michael Hertz since 1979, following the principle that if it is not broke, and is even considered sexy in some circles, don’t fix it.

A sign of the 1972 MTA sign designed by Massimo Vignelli hangs today in the Museum of Modern Art as a classic example of modernist design. Vignelli very successfully transformed the maze of train lines into a collection of straight lines and consistent angles that improved navigation among users of the subway, but it did not mesh well with those also navigating the city streets.

The combination of subway navigation along with street navigation happens to be a key part of in the success to those trying to get around New York City. Though praised by designers for its simplistic approach, use of color, clarity, and unique vision as well as a square Central Park (even though Central Park is a rectangle), the people of New York found it confusing, which led to its retirement and replacement with the current map. The abstract design along with this important oversight is a prime example of form not following function.

An interesting side note (to Paul and me anyway) is that Men’s Vogue (I don’t subscribe; I’m much more of a Highlights reader) commissioned Vignelli to redesign the 1972 map to sell prints for charity. The reformatted map updated current lines and colors without the square Central Park. If you are interested in learning more about Vignelli’s approach to design, you can download his free ebook The Vignelli Canon on the Vignelli Associates website.

Transforming a complicated landscape into a usable map is no easy task. Form should follow function. Put yourself in the place of the visitor and put thought into how many different visitors will use the map. Establish simple design decisions that can improve navigation while still representing elements of the resource. Limiting yourself to a simple sans serif typeface in three or four different point sizes will improve readability and set a hierarchy to important elements for your visitors. Create similar rules for line point size and icons. Forget about using decorative fonts, complicated icons, or confusing images. Simplicity is important but accuracy and use is most important. (For more on using maps in interpretation, we recommend Heidi Bailey’s book Putting Interpretation on the Map.)

You may be thinking that I’m the only person in the world to be fascinated with subway signs and design, but I am not. In fact, the MTA has a great online gift shop where those like me can buy awesome gifts that are related to the culture and iconography of the New York subway system. I highly recommend all products related to the Orange B line and stops around 161st Street.

Why I Cry

This is the second post in a two-part series in which Shea expresses his sensitive side. For those of you missing the snarky Shea, rest assured that he will return next week taking on obnoxious uses of color. Thank you, IBD Management.

This piece of writing is going to hurt my street cred.

imagesI’m not the guy who normally cries at movies (Old Yeller is an exception), but twice recently I have found myself with tears running down my face at the end of a movie. This is where it gets strange. The first film was Notorious (a true story of the rise and fall of the rapper Notorious B.I.G.) and the second was The Blind Side (a true story of success of a homeless boy who became a professional football player). I highly recommend both of these movies. (For the record, my tears in The Blind Side had nothing to do with Sandra Bullock’s attempt at a Southern accent.)

So what’s going on with me? I immediately realized that these two movies are not on the same list as Life is Beautiful, Million Dollar Baby, Deep Impact, The Pianist, Glory, Philadelphia, The Notebook or Dumbo. So what’s going on with me? Being the analytical guy that I am and filled with a sudden concern for the strange salty substance flowing from my eyes, I had to learn more about why these movies touched me.

I’m also borderline (and by borderline I mean completely) paranoid, so one of the first things I did was check my collection of personal hygiene products to make sure that I wasn’t using something that was specifically for girls (that’s right, I am a man). To make a very long story short, I once had an incident that involved a really bad sunburn, glitter lotion, and a lasting sparkling effect that was fodder at work for a very long time. Who puts glitter in lotion? To some, I’m still known as “Sparkles.” Based on the amount of estrogen in the house where I live, ingestion by osmosis also had to be considered. After careful research, those possibilities were quickly ruled out.

Now back to the analytical element of reaching a sensible solution to my emotional response. There had to be an explanation. What was it about these two movies that touched me so? I was pretty sure that it was not the topical connection to the rise and fall of a gangsta rapper or a talented football player. My mother wouldn’t let me try out for the football team and though I have stepped up to the mic on several occasions, my Southern suburban upbringing keeps me from really connecting to the strength of street knowledge. Now if was street knowledge of J. Crew catalogs, I have that covered.

I started to break it down like I was critiquing an interpretive program. Both movies had similar themes. I love underdogs and both of these movies carried an underlying theme of people overcoming obstacles to make it to the top—though each ended differently. I love that the success of these two individuals was directly related to key persons in their lives. I can relate to that. There are people who have been a part of my life who have helped me become the person I am today. For that I am grateful.  So regardless of the movie’s setting—or well as my athletic ability or rhyming skills—I could still relate. The interpretive themes were a success.

Now on to the interpreters themselves. Both movies offered emotionally charged performances to which I was able to connect. I’m a sucker for passion. The two lead characters—Christopher Wallace (Notorious) and Michael Oher (The Blind Side)—were portrayed in a light that anyone can appreciate. These performances also served as the conduit for connecting the tangible to the intangible. The actors helped me connect the tangible elements of the story (sports, music, facts, information, description of the events that took place) to the intangible elements with inherent meanings. The interpreters were successful at conveying the theme passionately.

When it comes down to it, the universal concepts are what did it to me. Both movies were about relationships and when it comes down to it, relationships are our legacy. The films touched on the same universal concepts that most people can relate to. In Alan Leftridge’s book Interpretive Writing, he provides a list of universal concepts that include “fear, love, peace, change, life, wonder, family, history, trade, and death.” Between these two movies, all of these concepts were included along with the inherent meanings of forgiveness, determination, transformation, self-discovery, authenticity, and personal growth that spoke to me.

As interpretive designers, this is what we should strive to create. A theme-driven product presented by a passionate interpreter, creating an emotional response, regardless of the topic, that people can relate to and be moved enough to provoke a response. Now that I have this all figured out, I am going to limit myself to movies that are about typefaces like Helvetica. The only person who emotionally connects to that movie and would cry over the tangibles of stroke width and letter spacing is Paul.

I have  to get back to improving my street cred.