Let’s talk about search

So my last post, “Yet another study shows that ‘digital natives’ suck at searching,” seems to have struck a nerve– it’s received over 5000 hits (thanks to links from BoingBoing and Fark, as well as Twitter and Facebook), and I’ve been reading  the wide range of comments that have sprung up in various places (including my blog, BoingBoing, and the original article at Inside Higher Ed).

I think what many people (especially students) don’t understand is that search is both a tool and a process, requiring different skills, knowledge, and experience. You can learn just enough to get by or really master it with a little curiosity, persistence, time, and practice. There are many ways to do this, and you don’t need a formal class– you can teach yourself (as I did).  There are lots of online resources to help you, including tutorials and how-to guides on university and library websites and specific search engine help pages. (And don’t forget about librarians, a seriously underused resource.) There are links to some resources in my posts and my blogroll and I’ll add more soon.

I do believe it’s important for students to be taught (and regularly practice)– at school, in libraries, and at home– the essentials of digital and information literacy and critical thinking, starting at a young age  and continuing throughout their education. These are important life skills which are being sadly neglected.

Yes, it’s a truth universally acknowledged that most students are lazy and want to get quick and “good enough” results. But the problem is that they don’t know what they don’t know. (As the ERIAL researchers noted, “students were just as unaware of the extent of their own information illiteracy as everyone else.”) They have no idea that there’s a world of information out there that you can’t find through a Google search. Most of it has never been digitized and probably never will be (for lack of funding and copyright concerns, among other reasons). Some has been digitized but is locked in proprietary databases and the “invisible web.” Most books and articles published in the US after 1922 are still under copyright, so even if they’ve been digitized chances are they aren’t free (unless you borrow them from a library). Even if information has been indexed in Google, you may never find it if you don’t know how to properly search for it.

Google could certainly improve the situation, but it is a company of engineers trying to make search as easy and simple as possible for the vast majority of users, giving them a single “magic box” into which they can type anything and get results, even if they’ve spelled the keywords wrong or don’t really know what they are looking for. Some of the “improvements” they’ve made over time have made it frustrating for advanced users like me, such as ignoring the terms I’ve actually typed and substituting what they assume I’m looking for, or filtering my results based on my past search history. And if you want more advanced search options, Google doesn’t make it easy to find or learn about them, and their help articles often aren’t helpful at all. Search is not just an engineering problem to be solved– it is both an art and a science, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. But no matter how good or flawed a tool like Google search is, anyone can learn how to use it well and get far better results.

A number of people have asked for some advice and tips on search, so here you go.

General advice:

  • When using any search engine, database, or website with search functions, take a few moments to read the instructions or help pages to figure out how to use the site to its full advantage.
  • Search engines are constantly evolving, so you should periodically review the instructions to see if you need to make changes in the way you search.
  • Every search engine is different, so what works for one won’t necessarily work for all, and each may produce different results using the same search terms.
  • If there is an “advanced search” option, you should always use it, as it will give you much more control over your searching and the results.
  • Refine your search. Experiment with different keywords and combinations of keywords. Look for clues to other possible keywords, such as related terms, alternate names, and subject-specific terminology. If you don’t get the results you are looking for, keep trying different things.
  • Remember to look beyond just the first few search results.

Some Google-specific tips:

  • Google’s search tips and help articles can be hard to find, but they do have useful information. Here are direct links:
  • Use Google’s advanced search function, which allows you to limit your search  in many different ways and combinations (all these words, this exact wording or phrase, one or more of these words, don’t show pages that have any of these unwanted words, language, file type, search within a site or domain, etc.). There is no longer a link to it on the main search page– it’s now hidden behind the gear icon (search settings) in the upper right corner. Here’s the direct link:  http://www.google.com/advanced_search?hl=en
  • If you’d rather use Google’s main search box instead of the advanced search, the help articles I linked to above have command shortcuts you can use, such as placing quotation marks around exact phrases. Note that Google no longer uses all Boolean operators. (You don’t need AND as it is the default in all searches. You can still use OR. Don’t use NOT, instead place a minus sign (-) directly before any words or terms you want to exclude.)
  • Google has many specialized search functions for images, news, blogs, scholarly papers, books, patents, etc.  Look in the upper left-hand corner, click “more,” then click “even more” for a full list. Here’s the direct link to the list:  http://www.google.com/intl/en/about/products/index.html
  • All the words you put in the query will be used and the order you put them in matters.
  • Search is case insensitive, punctuation is usually ignored, and common words (the, a) are usually ignored.
  • Google automatically searches for common variations of a keyword.

A final note: Improving your search skills is important, but it’s even more important that you think critically and evaluate your search results and sources.  (See some of my previous posts for more about this.)

Yet another study shows that “digital natives” suck at searching

I’ve blogged before about studies showing that so-called “digital natives” lack basic information literacy skills and have great difficulty doing academic research and finding and evaluating sources.  (My two posts on Project Information Literacy studies are here and here.)

This Inside Higher Ed article reported today on the results of new studies by the ERIAL (Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries) Project. Here’s an excerpt, but you should read the whole thing:

“The majority of students — of all levels — exhibited significant difficulties that ranged across nearly every aspect of the search process,” according to researchers there. They tended to overuse Google and misuse scholarly databases. They preferred simple database searches to other methods of discovery, but generally exhibited “a lack of understanding of search logic” that often foiled their attempts to find good sources….

The most alarming finding in the ERIAL studies was perhaps the most predictable: when it comes to finding and evaluating sources in the Internet age, students are downright lousy….

The prevalence of Google in student research is well-documented, but the Illinois researchers found something they did not expect: students were not very good at using Google. They were basically clueless about the logic underlying how the search engine organizes and displays its results. Consequently, the students did not know how to build a search that would return good sources. (For instance, limiting a search to news articles, or querying specific databases such as Google Book Search or Google Scholar.)

Duke and Asher said they were surprised by “the extent to which students appeared to lack even some of the most basic information literacy skills that we assumed they would have mastered in high school.” Even students who were high achievers in high school suffered from these deficiencies…

In other words: Today’s college students might have grown up with the language of the information age, but they do not necessarily know the grammar.

“I think it really exploded this myth of the ‘digital native,’ ” Asher said. “Just because you’ve grown up searching things in Google doesn’t mean you know how to use Google as a good research tool.”

Even when students turned to more scholarly resources, that did not necessarily solve the problem. Many seemed confused about where in the constellation of library databases they should turn to locate sources for their particular research topic: Half wound up using databases a librarian “would most likely never recommend for their topic.”…

Years of conditioning on Google had not endowed the Illinois Wesleyan students with any searching savvy to speak of, but rather had instilled them with a stunted understanding of how to finely tune a search in order to home in on usable sources, concluded the ERIAL researchers.

Regardless of the advanced-search capabilities of the database they were querying, “Students generally treated all search boxes as the equivalent of a Google search box, and searched ‘Google-style,’ using the ‘any word anywhere’ keyword as a default,” they wrote. Out of the 30 students Duke and Asher observed doing research, 27 failed to narrow their search criteria at all when doing so would have turned up more helpful returns.

Unsurprisingly, students using this method got either too many search results or too few. Frequently, students would be so discouraged they would change their research topic to something more amenable to a simple search….

Duke and Asher noted: “Students showed an almost complete lack of interest in seeking assistance from librarians during the search process.” Of all the students they observed — many of whom struggled to find good sources, to the point of despair — not one asked a librarian for help.

In a separate study of students…, other ERIAL researchers deduced several possible reasons for this. The most basic was that students were just as unaware of the extent of their own information illiteracy as everyone else.

How are students supposed to acquire these important digital and information literacy skills if they aren’t being taught in schools, many parents and teachers lack these skills themselves, and the librarians who have the skills are ignored or fired as libraries close in record numbers?

“slavishly following a style is more like fetishism than a real passion for language”

If you are confused about the difference between style and grammar, you should read this testy but important post from The Economist’s Johnson blog, pointing out a problem with Paul Farhi’s Washington Post profile of David Minthorn, one of the editors of the AP Stylebook. Here’s an excerpt, but go read the whole thing:

“E-MAIL” or “e-mail”? “Bed and breakfast” or “bed-and-breakfast”?… “Smart phone” or “smartphone”? “Mic” or “mike”?

My question isn’t which of these readers prefer, but a more abstract one: which of these are questions of grammar?

The Washington Post profiles the Associated Press’s “grammar and style expert” David Minthorn today. In raising all these questions (and Mr Minthorn’s answers) and in describing Mr Minthorn as a kind of linguistic Solomon, the Post’s Paul Farhi never once makes a crucial point: none of these questions has a correct answer at all, because they are not questions of grammar. They are all style…

Whether to hyphenate “e-mail” or not is one of the most trivial and boring things I can possibly imagine having a debate about, but the AP’s recent move to “email” caused an almighty furore….

It’s good to be consistent, and that’s why the AP and The Economist (and probably the Washington Post) have something called a style. But this is just a series of subjective, almost capricious rulings so that we don’t see “e-mail” and soon thereafter, “email”, a “Ghaddafi” here and a “Qaddhafi” there. As the name suggests, style is a matter of taste…. Who cares, for goodness’s sake? Just pick one and stay with it.

Grammar, on the other hand, really does render “right” and “wrong” judgments…. This isn’t to say there aren’t open or controversial questions of grammar. And there are meta-level questions about the sources of authority in questions of grammar, the old prescriptive versus descriptive argument…. Whatever your language or dialect, it has rules….

Many people worship and slavishly follow the AP’s style. They shouldn’t, because the whole idea of slavishly following a style is more like fetishism than a real passion for language…

It’s also important to remember that there are different style guides for different types of writing, and each style is influenced by practical considerations unique to their publications. For example, Chicago style (used by most of the publishing world) uses the serial comma for clarity, while AP style (used by most newspapers and journalists) doesn’t use the serial comma in order to save column space. Here are two additional examples from Farhi’s article. The AP decision to drop the hyphen from “e-mail” was made because “the extra character was unnecessary because it slowed writers down, if only by a fraction of a second.” And though Chicago italicizes the titles of books and periodicals, Minthorn notes that “AP puts quotes around titles (exceptions: the Bible and standard reference works, which get neither) and it never uses italics. This is for practical reasons more than anything. AP doesn’t transmit copy with embedded italics because not all computer systems can send or receive them….”

So you should make sure the style you are using is appropriate to the specific type of writing or publication, understand the reasons behind the style decisions you make, and apply your style choices consistently. For more about style manuals, see my previous posts on the subject. For more examples of Chicago and AP style differences, see the AP vs. Chicago blog.

The Mirage cover

Matt’s new novel, The Mirage, now has a publication date (February 7, 2012) and a cover:

You can read more about the book on Matt’s website, and his blog posts about the book are here.

Update, 11/11/11: The Mirage has a new cover design.

 

Today, July 2nd, is the 235th anniversary of American independence

If you are new to my blog and are puzzled by the title of this post, see my previous July 2nd posts for detailed information about the dates and events of American independence:

Why July 2nd is really Independence Day

“The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America”

Or, to make a long story short:  July 2nd is the anniversary of the Continental Congress’ vote for independence from Great Britain, and July 4th is the anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

Now go outside and play!

No, Oxford hasn’t abandoned the Oxford comma

As long-time readers of this blog know, I love the Oxford comma (also known as the serial or series comma). I wrote in a post over two years ago:

If only we could convince the Times (and other newspapers) to use the serial comma (also known as the series comma or the Oxford comma). I’m a big fan of the serial comma, and the Chicago Manual of Style now “strongly recommends this widely practiced usage, blessed by Fowler and other authorities…, since it prevents ambiguity.”  Here’s an example from the Times that shows what can happen without the serial comma: “By train, plane and sedan chair, Peter Ustinov retraces a journey made by Mark Twain a century ago. The highlights of his global tour include encounters with Nelson Mandela, an 800-year-old demigod and a dildo collector.” Perhaps the most famous example of why the serial comma should be used is this apocryphal book dedication: “To my parents, Ayn Rand and God.” (For the origins of these two examples, see this 2006 Language Log post and this 2003 Language Hat post.)

This morning a GalleyCat post reported that the use of the Oxford comma is now discouraged by the University of Oxford (in their online Writing and Style Guide). This has, of course, ignited the Twittersphere with strong reactions, pro and con.

However, it turns out that the story isn’t really true.  Galleycat has just added an update to their blog post:

Reader Michael Williams adds this clarification: “That’s the University of Oxford PR department style guide. Oxford University Press is a commercially and editorially autonomous organization.”

So, much ado about nothing. (Yet another reminder not to believe everything you read on the Internet.) But even if it were true, that would certainly not convince me to give up the Oxford comma.

Update, 6/30/11: 

Oxford Dictionaries tweeted this morning:

The Oxford comma is alive and well at Oxford University Press: http://oxford.ly/mnx8XK

This AP article explains:

But have no fear, comma-philes: the Oxford comma lives.

Oxford University Press, birthplace of the Oxford comma, said Thursday that there has been no change in its century-old style, and jumped into the Twittersphere to confirm that it still follows the standard set out in “New Hart’s Rules.”

The only explicit permission to dispense with the Oxford comma — apparently the cause of the alarm — was in a guide for university staff on writing press releases and internal communications. “It’s not new, it’s been online for several years already,” said Maria Coyle in the university press office.

Yet the report caused a Twitterstorm….

Even the National Security Agency has a style manual

I’ve previously blogged about a number of different style manuals, but this is a rather unusual one. BoingBoing has published online the style manual of the National Security Agency, received through a Freedom of Information Act request filed in April 2010.

The NSA has a style guide—a Strunk and White for spooks—which we’re delighted to publish here for the first time.

Most of the document is an alphabetized compendium of ambiguous, easily-misused or otherwise troublesome words. As style guides go, it’s standard fare: more interesting than the grammar tips are clarifications on obscure intelligence terms and the usage examples, which often lean toward military operations, geopolitics, killings and diplomacy.

Go to the BoingBoing post to read the embedded document or download it as a PDF or TXT file.

Below I’ve copied an assortment of entries that caught my eye as I browsed:

about, approximately …
About is preferred in general and informal contexts. Approximately is common in technical and reference works. Do not use either term (or estimated or nearly) if precise figures are given. POOR: During the attack, about 304 were killed. GOOD: During the attack, 304 were killed. If you are not sure of the number, round it off: During the attack, about 300 were killed.

aircraft …
Do not abbreviate the generic types of aircraft in serialized reports. Use fighter, not “fir”; bomber, not “bmbr”. In keeping with modern journalistic style, capitalize only the first letter of aircraft nicknames: F-15 (Eagle).

bomb …
Do not use the terms A-bomb or H-bomb. Spell out the words. Do not capitalize atomic bomb, hydrogen bomb, etc.

bureaucratese …
Bureaucratese is a pejorative, non-technical term for the language style commonly associated with bureaucrats.

Avoid bureaucratic style whenever possible. It is the mark of the timid writer. What is bureaucratic style? Robert Claiborne identified the four main principles of bureaucratic style as:
• never use a short word where a long one will do;
• never use one word where you can use three;
• use abstract and general terms rather than concrete and specific ones; and
• avoid flat statements by hedging and qualifying.

Bureaucratese speaks in passive voice and buzzwords, and it carefully avoids assigning responsibility for any action or decision. It will bore or put to sleep most readers. Don’t use it unless you have no other way to communicate.

casualties …
In military terms, casualties means the total number of dead, wounded, missing, and captured. Do not use casualties when referring to only one of these categories.

communism, communist. ..
Use lowercase for the word communism.

Capitalize communist when referring to the political party or to individuals who are members of it: Communist Party. He is a Communist.

Use lowercase for communist in all other situations: a communist government; he has communist leanings.

email…
Shortened term for electronic mail. The spelling without the hyphen is becoming more common and is preferred, but the alternative form e-mail is also correct.

foreign phrases and words …
Keep the use of foreign words and phrases to a minimum. Few of our readers are linguists.

Where the capability exists…, italicize any foreign word or phrase that may not be known to the average reader. Commonly recognized terms that need not be italicized include, but are not limited to:
• ad hoc
• attache
• blitzkrieg
• bona fide
• charge d’affaires
• communique
• coup d’etat
• de facto
• demarche
• detente
• fait accompli
• junta
• laissez faire
• per se
• persona non grata
• rapprochement
• versus
• vis-a-vis

FOXTROT …
Phonetic spelling of the letter “f.”

gender …
When talking about a specific person, use a term appropriate to that person: chairman Jones, chairwoman Doe.

Use neutral terms when talking about mixed groups or persons whose identity has not been established: members of the Assembly, rather than Assemblymen; a member of Congress rather than a Congressman.

Do not change an official title to a neutral term. If the official title is “Party Chairman,” use that term; don’t say “Party Chairperson.”

For pronouns, the problem is different. Modern English does not have gender-neutral pronouns for people.

When a pronoun must be used and the gender of its antecedent is not known or can refer to persons of either sex, there are four three choices the writer can make, all of which are acceptable in SIGINT serialized reports.

1. Use the plural pronoun: Everyone hopes they will win the contest.
2. Place the whole sentence in the plural: All people hope they will win the contest.
3. Rewrite the sentence and eliminate the personal pronoun: Everyone hopes to win the contest.

government…
Government, as a political term, refers to an established system of political administration. In American usage, it takes a singular verb; in British usage, it takes a plural verb.

guerrilla …
Preferred spelling. The alternate spelling is guerilla.

jihad …
Preferred transliteration of the Arabic word for “holy war.”

missile …
A missile is an unmanned, self-propelled weapon whose flight path or trajectory can be controlled. A missile may be aerodynamic or ballistic. Distinguish it from a “rocket, which is a self-propelled vehicle whose trajectory or flight path cannot be controlled.

reconnaissance…
Two n’s and s’s. Avoid abbreviating it as “Recon” except as part of a unit designator in a listing or in a narrative report where it occurs repeatedly. Also avoid the abbreviation “recce,” which is chiefly British. The verb form of reconnaissance is reconnoiter.

revolt, revolution …
A revolt is widespread opposition to current standards. Politically, it refers to an armed attempt to change authority.

A revolution is a radical alteration in a system or in social conditions. In the political sense, it is the overthrow by open and organized armed force of an established government and its replacement by another.

security control markings …
Words or phrases added to restrict the dissemination of a serialized report. At this time there are five such markings:
• ORCON – Dissemination and Extraction of Information Controlled by Originator
• NOFORN – Not Releasable to Foreign Nationals
• PROPIN- Proprietary Information Involved
• REL – Releasable to (name of the countries)
• EYES ONLY – (used only on electrical reports in place of REL due to existing software limitations)

title after a name …
Capitalize only national-level titles (Cabinet-level or above) that appear after a name: Jane Doe, Minister of Defense. Lowercase and set off with commas most other titles that appear after a name: John Doe, the deputy assistant minister of culture, arrived yesterday.

title before a name …
Capitalize a formal title appearing before a name: President Jane Doe, Assistant Secretary John Jones. Do not capitalize a title that serves primarily as an occupational designator: astronaut John Doe…. See the entries for courtesy tjtles, military rank, and religious titles.

totalitarian …
Avoid. See the entry for authoritarian.

The document also contains an appendix on abbreviations and acroynyms.

So, what’s your favorite entry?

Seattle’s snow leopard kittens have grown up and are leaving home

The Woodland Park Zoo has just announced that our two-year-old snow leopard twins are leaving Seattle. Gobi (the male) is moving next week to Rolling Hills Wildlife Adventure in Salina, Kansas, and Batu (the female) will be moving in a few months to Assiniboine Zoo in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. So this is the last weekend to see the two cats together. {Sniffle}

Here’s what they looked like when they were young:

And here they are all grown up:

Well, at least I’ll be able to visit Evita, the new ocelot kitten, when she makes here public debut in late April:

Breaking news: Judge Chin rejects the Google Books Settlement

James Grimmelmann has just reported that Judge Denny Chin has rejected the Google Books Settlement. (For background, see my previous posts on the Google Books case or The Public Index website.) The full opinion is here (PDF). I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but below are a couple of excerpts from the beginning and the end of the opinion:

The question presented is whether the ASA [Amended Settlement Agreement] is fair, adequate, and reasonable. I conclude that it is not.

While the digitization of books and the creation of a universal digital library would benefit many, the ASA would simply go too far. It would permit this class action– which was brought against defendant Google Inc. to challenge its scanning of books and display of “snippets” for on-line searching– to implement a forward-looking business arrangement that would grant Google significant rights to exploit entire books, without permission of the copyright owners. Indeed, the ASA would give Google a significant advantage over competitors, rewarding it for engaging in wholesale copying of copyrighted works without permission, while releasing claims well beyond those presented in the case.

Accordingly, and for the reasons more fully discussed below, the motion for final approval of the ASA is denied….

In the end, I conclude that the ASA is not fair, adequate, and reasonable. As the United States and other objectors have noted, many of the concerns raised in the objections would be ameliorated if the ASA were converted from an “opt-out” settlement to an “opt-in” settlement…. I urge the parties to consider revising the ASA accordingly.

I recommend checking Grimmelmann’s blog (The Laboratorium) for his analysis and information about the case.

Update: Here’s the link to Grimmelmann’s new post, “Inside Judge Chin’s Opinion.” More links at The Public Index Blog and TeleRead. Publishers Weekly has an interesting article about what could happen next and the obstacles in the way of revising the settlement.

NY Times ignores AP, clings to “e-mail” and “Web site”

As you know, Bob, most newspapers follow the AP Stylebook, but the New York Times has its own famously idiosyncratic style. Though the AP dropped the hyphen from “e-mail” a few days ago, the Times is keeping the hyphen, according to a blog post by Phillip B. Corbett (associate managing editor for standards) describing some recent revisions to their in-house stylebook. Here’s an excerpt:

We no longer have to write about people sending “an e-mail message” — we can call it “an e-mail.” The term is also acceptable as a verb. (For now, at least, we are keeping the hyphen for this and similar coinages like e-commerce and e-reader.)

Some of the changes simply acknowledge the cultural ubiquity of digital technology. Most of our articles followed popular usage long ago in dropping the “World Wide” from “World Wide Web.” Now the stylebook has caught up: just call it “the Web” outside historical references. Keep in mind that it is just part of “the Internet.”

For now, we’ll continue to capitalize Web and Internet, and we’ll keep “Web site” as two words. But “webcam” is one word, lowercase….

While writers are still urged to avoid some of the newer fad words and jargon, the ubiquitous “app” is now acceptable in all references to software applications, particularly for mobile….

As with PDF, we are no longer requiring points in USB or URL. (The same goes for fanciful texting abbreviations, should you feel the need to ROTFL. Sparingly, please.) We have given up on the insistence that “firewall” always be two words….

Note that the Times alone continues to use “Web site,” though common usage and all of the most recent editions of major stylebooks (including AP, Chicago, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Apple) use “website.”

The AP Stylebook is dropping the hyphen from “e-mail”

Last August I compared how a number of new style manuals treated tech words. In 2010, both the Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition) and the AP Stylebook Online finally changed their style recommendations from “Web site” to “website,” reflecting what has long been common usage.  But there was disagreement over other terms. Most notably, Chicago and AP still used “e-mail,” but the tech/digital style manuals (Microsoft, Apple, and Yahoo!) all dropped the hyphen (“email”)

Today Jim Romenesko reported that the AP Stylebook editors just announced a series of new changes— including the dropping of the hyphen from “e-mail”–  at the American Copy Editors Society Conference. Here’s an excerpt from the ACES 2011 post:

David Minthorn and Darrell Christian, editors of the AP Stylebook, brought with them to ACES 2011 in Phoenix some of the changes that will be effective as of 3 a.m. EDT Saturday, March 19.

They are:

• email, instead of e-mail. (Other “e” terms, such as e-book and e-commerce, retain the hyphen,)

• Kolkata, India, instead of Calcutta, India. To follow local style.

• cellphone, smartphone become one word. (No longer cell phone and smart phone.)

• handheld, n., hand-held, adj.

Most news organizations follow AP style, but book publishers usually follow Chicago style, so the hyphen isn’t dead yet. (See my April 2010 post for more on “e-mail” vs. “email” and Bryan Garner’s “Language Change Index.”)

I’m still here

Sorry for the blog silence, but my attention was elsewhere.

The good news is that Matt has finished writing his new novel, The Mirage, which will likely be published in January 2012. (More details to come.) One of the perks of being married to an author is that I’m his first reader, and I can’t begin to describe the remarkable experience of reading manuscript pages and watching a master storyteller work his magic. As an added bonus, I enjoy assisting him with research, fact-checking, and editing. (But it’s not all fun– helping my obsessive and perfectionist husband get over the finish line and let go of the book is grueling.) I don’t want to tease you, but let me just say this book is his best yet– it’s mind-blowingly great and unlike anything I’ve ever read, yet still clearly a Matt Ruff book.

To help make amends for my absence, here are two photos of the ocelot kitten born in January at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo:

One of my favorite Seattle used bookstores is closing

Abraxus Books, one of my favorite used bookstores in Seattle, is closing and everything is 50% off. Their shop is in a building that’s going to be torn down and they have to vacate by February 12th.

Abraxus Books has a very large and deep inventory of high-quality used books in many fields. It’s a great place for browsing, as I always find interesting and unusual books that I haven’t seen in other bookstores. Yesterday I spent two hours browsing and never made it out of their excellent and extensive history sections– I left when I reached the limit of what I could carry on the bus. I’ll be back, and I recommend that you visit before they close.

Their address is 524 1st Ave. N. (in lower Queen Anne near Seattle Center), and their new hours are:

  • Tuesday through Friday, 12 noon to 8pm
  • Saturday, 11am to 8pm
  • Sunday, 12 noon to 6pm
  • Monday, closed

Here’s the link to their Facebook page and here’s the link to their location on Google Maps.

“Remember, darling?”: Alfred Kahn was my Fredrik in “A Little Night Music”

I was saddened to read this morning that Alfred Kahn, the Cornell University economist famous for his role in deregulating the airlines in the 1970s, has died at the age of 93. In the summer of 1985, I directed a production of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music for Risley Theatre at Cornell, and I cast him as Fredrik Egerman, the male lead. Fred was wonderful in the role and a delight to work with and talk to. I went digging through my old files and found the show’s program, and this is what Fred wrote for his bio: “Fred, a professor of Economics at Cornell and formerly Dean of the Arts College, has played leads in several Savoyard productions and La Serva Padrona. Fredrik Egerman is the part he said he’d gladly give up his job in the Carter White House to play.”

Here are a couple of photographs from the August 1985 production:

If you are self-employed and live in Washington state, read this (updated)

Important new update, October 2016: “Group of one” small group health insurance may no longer be an option for self-employed individuals in Washington state because of federal ACA law, though you can still purchase individual insurance either inside or outside our state’s health insurance exchange. I recently spoke with an analyst at the Washington State Insurance Commissioner’s office, who confirmed that though Washington’s “group of one” law is still on the books, it has been preempted by federal law (ACA and ERISA) and a legal challenge from an insurance company. Now you must have at least one employee on payroll to qualify as a group (and business owners are no longer counted as employees), so self-employed individuals or sole proprietors without employees don’t qualify for small group health insurance and must purchase insurance through the individual market. Insurance companies have begun phasing out “group of one” insurance on renewal or audits of group size, so keep an eye out for new language like this in your documentation:

“To qualify as a group health plan according to clarified common-law rules, at least one employee needs to be enrolled. Employees by this definition do not include someone who is: self-employed; a sole proprietor or his/her spouse; the sole owner of a corporation or sole owner with his/her spouse…”

Original 2010 post:

One of the biggest obstacles for the self-employed is health insurance. Individual health insurance plans are very expensive and often impossible to get at any price if you or anyone in your family has medical issues. So if you are self-employed, a freelancer, or a sole proprietor, your options usually are:  get coverage through your spouse (if you are lucky enough to be married to someone with a job that provides health insurance); pay a huge amount of money for a comprehensive individual plan (if you are healthy enough to qualify for one and can afford it); pay somewhat less for a crappy high-deductible or catastrophic individual plan (if you can qualify for one and can afford it); or go without insurance. This is why so many self-employed people–especially writers and artists–are uninsured. This is also why many people who want to quit their day jobs to work for themselves or start a new business can’t.

The fixes for this in the health care reform legislation (health insurance exchanges for individuals and small businesses, guaranteed coverage even if you have a pre-existing condition, etc.) unfortunately don’t take effect until 2014. That’s a very long time to wait if you don’t have, can’t get, or can’t afford health insurance.

However, there is some good news if you live in Washington state: if you are a sole proprietor or self-employed individual, you now may be able to qualify for group health insurance as a “group of one,” thanks to a new Washington state law (Senate Bill 6538) that took effect on October 1, 2010.

You can cover your family as dependents under a group plan. The best news is that unlike individual plans, group plans do not require applicants or dependents to pass a health screening, so you can get coverage even if you or someone in your family has a pre-existing condition. Group plans usually offer more options and better coverage at lower cost than individual plans.

It’s not easy to qualify for group health insurance, as you must meet strict guidelines, fill out a lot of complicated paperwork, and jump through a few hoops. For example, you must prove that you are a self-employed individual or sole proprietor, have been working for your business for more than a year, and at least 75% of your income comes from your business. You’ll have to submit copies of your Washington state business license and your most recent tax return (Form 1040 and Schedule C). You’ll need to do your research, request quotes, and carefully compare the different small group plans and their options for deductibles, annual coinsurance maximums, co-pays, prescription drug coverage, and premiums.

You can learn more about the new law by visiting the Washington State Insurance Commissioner’s website and calling the SHIBA (Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors) helpline at 1-800-562-6900. To research and apply for small group health insurance, you can  use an insurance broker or contact insurance companies directly and request quotes and detailed plan information.

Matt and I recently completed the process, and though it took some time and effort, it was worth it in the end.

I wrote this post because few people seem to know about this new law, so please spread the word to anyone who might benefit from it. If you don’t live in Washington, go to the website of your state Insurance Commissioner to research the laws in your state.

Update, September 2013: You can find, compare, and buy health insurance plans on the new exchanges beginning October 1, 2013 for coverage that begins January 1, 2014. You can’t be denied because of pre-existing conditions. If you live in Washington state, go to the Washington HealthPlanFinder website. If you don’t, go to the HealthCare.gov website for more information.

Update, October 2013: If you are self-employed and live in Washington state, these are your options for 2014:

  1. You can buy individual health insurance on the Washington state exchange. If your family income (modified adjusted gross income) is below 400% of the federal poverty level, you may qualify for subsidies (tax credits) to help you pay for health insurance purchased through the exchange. If you qualify for subsidies, you can either take them as an advance premium credit to lower your monthly premiums or wait until you file your taxes for 2014 and take the full tax credit then (which may be simplest if you can’t accurately estimate your 2014 income in advance).
  2. You can buy “group of one” small group health insurance outside of the exchange if you qualify under the guidelines I outlined in my original post. Some insurers (like Regence) are only offering policies outside the exchange, while others (like Premera) are offering policies both inside and outside of the exchange.
  3. You can buy individual health insurance outside of the exchange.

So, you can buy insurance inside or outside of the exchange, but if your income qualifies you for a subsidy, you’ll have to buy insurance inside the exchange to get it. 

Whether you apply for insurance inside or outside of the exchange, you can’t be denied because of pre-existing conditions, and specific “essential health benefits” (including hospitalization, maternity care, and prescription drugs) must be covered.

You should do your research and carefully compare plans and provider networks. (Note that many of the individual plans in the exchange have limited networks of doctors and hospitals.) You can also ask an insurance broker to help you sort through your options.

If you have questions, you can contact the office of the Washington State Insurance Commissioner. Check out the Washington HealthPlanFinder website or call 1-855-WAFINDER. The Kaiser Family Foundation website also has information for consumers.

Update, October 2016: See my note at the top of this post– for 2017, your options may be limited to purchasing individual health insurance on or off the exchange.

The combined online Oxford English Dictionary and Historical Thesaurus has launched

The new  and improved OED website (www.oed.com) has launched, fully integrating the online Oxford English Dictionary with the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary. You can now quickly and easily search, browse, and cross-reference the two works. (For background, see my earlier post on the OED relaunch and my review of the print version of the Historical Thesaurus.)

Here’s a message from the Chief Editor about the relaunch, describing some of the new changes.

If your library has a subscription to the OED Online that you can access remotely from home (like the Seattle Public Library and King County Library systems do), you can get free, full access to the OED website by entering your library card number.  If not, you can get an individual subscription for $295 a year or $29.95 a month.

Go explore!

A final post on Cooks Source (updated)

Over the weekend, the Daily Hampshire Gazette posted an article by Dan Crowley containing an interview with Judith Griggs about the Cook Source copyright infringement kerfuffle. (See my two previous posts for background.)

I found the article rather sad, as she still doesn’t seem to get it. She admits printing Monica’s article without permission was wrong but continues to make vague excuses about overwork (she and her daughter run the magazine alone) and her “shortcomings when it comes to understanding copyright law.” She clearly doesn’t understand that what sent everyone into a frenzy was the tone and content of her truly extraordinary e-mail to Monica. It was just so wrong, arrogant, and unintentionally funny that it became an instant meme.

And now she has replaced her previous unsigned statement on the Cooks Source website with a new one, full of anger and self-pity (and lots of spelling and punctuation errors):

Its sad really. The problem is that I have been so overworked and stretched that when this woman — Monica — contacted me, I was on deadline and traveling at the rate of 200 mile a day for that week (over 900 in total for that week), which I actually told her, along with a few other “nice” things, which she hasnt written about. I was stupid to even answer her that night, her email to me was antagonistic and just plain rude and I was exhausted. But I got suckered in and responded. She doesnt say that she was rude, she doesnt say that I agreed (and did) to pay her. It was my plan to contact her after deadline and have a good discussion about it….

I should add that this email exchange took place the day before she wrote her article for the world. After she (likely) received my email, she called the home office phone at 10PM, I didnt answer that late, was in bed as I was traveling again the next day (left at 7AM the next morning) to Connecticut, and didnt get back to her. This is not an uncommon practice with anyone, to not respond to a phone call for a day or two, it happens to me from other businesses, all the time. I came home that day from being in Connecticut to find hundreds of phone messages and emails telling me I sucked and was a dirtbag… and much MUCH worse.

I really wish she had given me a chance to respond to her before blasting me. She really never gave me a chance….

This is how it happened:
When putting together a magazine, a publishing firm usually has a staff of many, a stable of writers and proofreaders. Cooks Source doesnt, it is just us two…and believe me we would if we could use more help. Consequently I do much, have a few stalwart writers who love to write (for free) and a number of publishers and book agents who send me A LOT of books, recipes, press releases, etc — I recieved one even today. In the past I have also assisted budding writers with their writing skills and given them a portfolio piece they can get jobs with, from magazines and newspapers that will pay them. In short, we do a lot of good, sell a lot of books for authors, and help a lot of people. But one night when working yet another 12 hour day late into the night, I was short one article… Instead of picking up one of the multitude of books sent to me and typing it, I got lazy and went to the www and “found” something. Bleary-eyed I didnt notice it was copy written and reordered some of it. I did keep the author’s name on it rather than outright “stealing” it, and it was my intention to contact the author, but I simply forgot, between proofreading, deliveries, exhaustion….

The bad news is that this is probably the final straw for Cooks Source. We have never been a great money-maker even with all the good we do for businesses. Having a black mark wont help…and now, our black mark will become our shroud. Winters are bleak in Western New England, and as such they are bleak for Cooks Source as well. This will end us….

Thank you to all our readers, thanks to all our advertisers and writers… and to everyone who has been supportive and who has been a part of Cooks Source. To one writer in particular, Monica Gaudio, I wish you had given me a chance.

You can read the whole thing here.

What a shameful way for Judith Griggs to exit the stage.

Update 1: Here’s Monica’s response.

Update 2 (11/17/10, morning): In a new article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Dan Crowley reports that Judith Griggs is officially shutting down Cooks Source magazine:

“Cooks Source is gone,” Judith D. Griggs said Tuesday, just days after personally distributing her last issue of the free magazine in western New England. “It’s done.”… In a phone interview Tuesday, Griggs said she will leave her statement up a few more days before eliminating the Cooks Source website altogether.

Update 3 (11/17/10, afternoon): The Cooks Source website is gone. Here’s the Google cache of Judith Griggs’ final statement.

Monica Gaudio has posted copies (with dates) of all of her e-mails to Judith Griggs, but she can’t publish the full text of the e-mails she received without permission.

But honestly, Cooks Source, your apology needs work

The Cooks Source website has been replaced with an unsigned statement (in serious need of editing) which eventually gets around to apologizing for the unauthorized publication of Monica Gaudio’s article in a very passive “mistakes were made” way. Without explicitly acknowledging that their entire business model appeared to be based on reprinting articles from food blogs and websites without permission or payment (see Ed Champion’s post identifying other articles as well as this spreadsheet listing the original sources of dozens of articles reprinted in Cooks Source), they do promise to change their ways.

Much of the statement is actually about the attacks on the Cooks Source Facebook page, the fake Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, and the harassment of advertisers. (The situation clearly escalated out of control and did lead to cyber-bullying and trolling. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for Judith Griggs because of her copyright infringement and her shocking and arrogant e-mail to Monica, but the rampaging internet hordes went too far with the personal attacks and the harassment of the advertisers.)

Here’s what the statement says about the misuse of Monica’s article and future changes:

Last month an article, “American as Apple Pie — Isn’t,” was placed in error in Cooks Source, without the approval of the writer, Monica Gaudio. We sincerely wish to apologize to her for this error, it was an oversight of a small, overworked staff. We have made a donation at her request, to her chosen institution, the Columbia School of Journalism. In addition, a donation to the Western New England Food Bank, is being made in her name. It should be noted that Monica was given a clear credit for using her article within the publication, and has been paid in the way that she has requested to be paid.

This issue has made certain changes here at Cooks Source. Starting with this month, we will now list all sources. Also we now request that all the articles and informational pieces will have been made with written consent of the writers, the book publishers and/or their agents or distributors, chefs and business owners. All submission authors and chefs and cooks will have emailed, and/or signed a release form for this material to Cooks Source and as such will have approved its final inclusion. Email submissions are considered consent, with a verbal/written follow-up….

However: Cooks Source can not vouch for all the writers we have used in the past, and in the future can only check to a certain extent.

That’s nice– blame unnamed writers for the magazine’s repeated copyright infringement. I don’t think that will get you off the hook when the lawyers from Food Network and Martha Stewart come knocking.

You can read the whole statement here.

John Scalzi gave the apology a D+. What do you think?

If you somehow missed the original kerfuffle, see my previous blog post, “No, the web is not ‘public domain.'”

Update: I love this very funny “slightly corrected” version of the Cooks Source statement on the KitchenMage blog.

No, the web is not “public domain”

If you haven’t been following the mind-boggling copyright infringement kerfuffle that’s currently setting the web on fire, here’s a quick recap. A copyrighted article was copied off a website and published in a print magazine named Cooks Source without the knowledge or consent (or payment) of the author, Monica Gaudio. When Monica found out, she contacted the magazine’s editor, Judith Griggs:

After the first couple of emails, the editor of Cooks Source asked me what I wanted — I responded that I wanted an apology on Facebook, a printed apology in the magazine and $130 donation (which turns out to be about $0.10 per word of the original article) to be given to the Columbia School of Journalism.What I got instead was this (I am just quoting a piece of it here:)

“Yes Monica, I have been doing this for 3 decades, having been an editor at The Voice, Housitonic Home and Connecticut Woman Magazine. I do know about copyright laws. It was “my bad” indeed, and, as the magazine is put together in long sessions, tired eyes and minds somethings forget to do these things.

But honestly Monica, the web is considered “public domain” and you should be happy we just didn’t “lift” your whole article and put someone else’s name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me… ALWAYS for free!”

That’s the very definition of chutzpah.

This is a case of copyright infringement, not plagiarism. It would have been plagiarism if the magazine had published the article without crediting the original author. The magazine made unauthorized use of material protected by copyright. This could be quickly resolved if both parties reach a settlement, or else the magazine could theoretically be sued and face financial penalties, though that is unlikely, as the legal fees would be prohibitive. However, I suspect the magazine is not long for this world, as on the magazine’s Facebook page advertisers are pulling out and people are identifying other examples of copyright infringement. If they’ve copied material from major food magazines or websites with deep pockets and lawyers, they’re toast.

Some related links:

Update 1: A post on “How Publishing Really Works” has more information and links, and it points out a new Facebook page for reporting the original sources of other articles published in the magazine, which apparently include the websites of Food Network, Paula Deen, and Martha Stewart, among other big names.

Update 2: BoingBoing, Gawker, and The Consumerist have now picked up the story, and the Twitter storm continues to grow.

The Mongoliad iPad and iPhone apps are now available

The Mongoliad apps for iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch are now available in the iTunes store. (For more information about The Mongoliad, the collaborative storytelling project headed by Neal Stephenson, see my earlier post or go to The Mongoliad website.)

The apps are free, but to read the serialized novel and view the extras you’ll have to buy a subscription ($5.99 for six months or $9.99 for one year). If you’ve already subscribed through the website, you should be able to log in to the app using your existing account.

Chapters 1 through 9 of the novel have been released, and new chapters appear every Wednesday.


57 years of author interviews from The Paris Review are now online

If you liked the BBC archive of interviews with British novelists that I blogged about a couple of months ago, you’ll love this.

The New York Times reported that Lorin Stein, the new editor of The Paris Review, has posted all of the magazine’s author interviews from 1953 to 2010 on the website, where they can be read for free.

The archive contains hundreds of interviews with a remarkable assortment of authors– writers of fiction and nonfiction, poets, playwrights, and screenwriters– and you can browse by name or by decade. Here are just some of the notable authors I spotted while browsing:  Edward Albee, Woody Allen, Martin Amis, Kingsley Amis, A.R. Ammons, Maya Angelou, John Ashbery, Margaret Atwood, W.H. Auden, James Baldwin, J.G. Ballard, Saul Bellow, Harold Bloom, Ray Bradbury, Anthony Burgess, William S. Burroughs, James M. Cain, Truman Capote, Raymond Carver, Don DeLillo, Isak Dineson, T.S. Eliot, Ralph Ellison, James Ellroy, William Faulkner, Shelby Foote, E.M. Forster, John Fowles, Robert Frost, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Graves, Graham Greene, Joseph Heller, Lillian Hellman, Ernest Hemingway, Ted Hughes, Aldous Huxley, John Irving, Kazuo Ishiguro, Jack Kerouac, Ken Kesey, Stephen King, Milan Kundera, John le Carre, Doris Lessing, Jonathan Letham, Norman Mailer, Bernard Malamud, David Mamet, Ian McEwan, Henry Miller, Arthur Miller, Toni Morrison, Vladimir Nabokov, Grace Paley, Dorothy Parker, Boris Pasternak, Harold Pinter, Ezra Pound, Richard Powers, Richard Price, Jean Rhys, Philip Roth, Salman Rushdie, Budd Schulberg, Anne Sexton, Neil Simon, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen Sondheim, John Steinbeck, Tom Stoppard, William Styron, Hunter S. Thompson, James Thurber, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut, Evelyn Waugh, Eudora Welty, Rebecca West, E.B. White, Elie Wiesel, Billy Wilder, Thornton Wilder, William Carlos Williams, Tennessee Williams, August Wilson, Jeanette Winterson, Tom Wolfe, and P.G. Wodehouse.

Enjoy!

Scrivener software news

Over the years I’ve heard writers rave about Scrivener, software that combines a word processor with project management tools to help organize research and ideas and structure long works with outlines and storyboards.

Scrivener was created by Literature & Latte and has long been available only for Mac. The company recently made two announcements: the new and improved Scrivener 2.0 for Mac will be released on November 1st (just in time for National Novel Writing Month); and Scrivener for Windows is being developed for release in early 2011. Today they released a free public beta version of Scrivener for Windows on the website. (I just downloaded the Windows beta and am looking forward to playing with it.)

For reader recommendations of other software and tools to help organize your research, see the comments in my August 2008 post, “A question for my readers about software.” If you have recommendations or opinions you’d like to share, please do so in the comments to this post.

The CRAP test for evaluating sources

I frequently blog about evaluating sources— it was the subject of my very first post–so it should come as no surprise that I liked “Crap Detection, A 21st Century Literacy” from the Libraries and Transliteracy blog, which I found through the Librarian in Black.

I wanted to point out two great items featured in the post: Howard Rheingold’s “Crap Detection 101,” and the librarian-created CRAP test for evaluating sources based on “Currency, Reliability, Authority and Purpose/Point of View”:

Currency

  • How recent is the information?
  • How recently has the website been updated?
  • Is it current enough for your topic?

Reliability

  • What kind of information is included in the resource?
  • Is content of the resource primarily opinion? Is it balanced?
  • Does the creator provide references or sources for data or quotations?

Authority

  • Who is the creator or author?
  • What are the credentials?
  • Who is the publisher or sponsor?
  • Are they reputable?
  • What is the publisher’s interest (if any) in this information?
  • Are there advertisements on the website?

Purpose/Point of View

  • Is this fact or opinion?
  • the creator/author trying to sell you something?
  • Is it biased?

Though the questions are familiar (I put together a similar list for my research classes), I love the acronym CRAP, as it is descriptive and memorable. I know I’ll be using it, and I hope it helps you keep in mind some of the criteria to consider when evaluating sources.

Productive frustration, lost libraries, and required reading for aspiring writers

As I read  Ben Greenman’s “Lives” essay in today’s New York Times Magazine, this caught my eye:

By supplying answers to questions with such ruthless efficiency, the Internet cuts off the supply of an even more valuable commodity: productive frustration. Education, at least as I remember it, isn’t only, or even primarily, about creating children who are proficient with information. It’s about filling them with questions that ripen, via deferral, into genuine interests.

I like the term “productive frustration” because it is an apt description of part of the research process. Finding quick answers to simple questions is easy, but it shuts down the process. When you wrestle with more complex questions, try to figure out what you need to know and the different ways you might look for it, or can’t find what you’re searching for, it’s an opportunity to think more creatively, explore new paths, feed your curiosity, and make unexpected discoveries. As the Gaga librarians sang, “when it comes to search if it’s not tough it isn’t fun…”

Here are links to some other excellent pieces I read this week:

Craig Fehran’s “Lost Libraries: The strange afterlife of authors’ book collections” describes what happened to the personal libraries of David Foster Wallace, David Markson, John Updike, Mark Twain, and other authors after their deaths:

Most people might imagine that authors’ libraries matter–that scholars and readers should care what books authors read, what they thought about them, what they scribbled in the margins. But far more libraries get dispersed than saved. In fact, David Markson can now take his place in a long and distinguished line of writers whose personal libraries were quickly, casually broken down….

The issues at stake when libraries vanish are bigger than any one author and his books. An author’s library offers unique access to a mind at work, and their treatment provides a look at what exactly the literary world decides to value in an author’s life….

Charles Stross’ post “Why Wikipedia is the writer’s friend” explains why fiction writers should do at least enough research to avoid errors and prevent the collapse of suspension of disbelief. Though I certainly don’t recommend using Wikipedia as your source for research and fact-checking, I strongly agree with his larger point: 

Always do, at a minimum, a brief fact-check on everything you write in a work of fiction with a non-fantastical/far future setting. Otherwise you will be sorry….

Fiction relies upon the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief — if you’re immersed in a novel, it helps not to be jerked up short every ten seconds by the realization that the setup is nonsensical….

John Scalzi’s “Writing: Find the Time or Don’t.” This post should be required reading for all aspiring writers:

So: Do you want to write or don’t you? If your answer is “yes, but,” then here’s a small editing tip: what you’re doing is using six letters and two words to say “no.” And that’s fine. Just don’t kid yourself as to what “yes, but” means.

If your answer is “yes,” then the question is simply when and how you find the time to do it. If you spend your free time after work watching TV, turn off the TV and write. If you prefer to spend time with your family when you get home, write a bit after the kids are in bed and before you turn in yourself. If your work makes you too tired to think straight when you get home, wake up early and write a little in the morning before you head off….

And if you can’t manage that, then what you’re saying is that you were lying when you said your answer is “yes.” Because if you really wanted to write, you would find a way to make the time, and you would find a way to actually write….

But if you want to be a writer, than be a writer, for god’s sake…. Find the time or make the time. Sit down, shut up and put your words together. Work at it and keep working at it. And if you need inspiration, think of yourself on your deathbed saying “well, at least I watched a lot of TV.” If saying such a thing as your life ebbs away fills you with existential horror, well, then. I think you know what to do.

The David Foster Wallace archive

Today the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin announced that the literary archive of David Foster Wallace they acquired after his death is now open to researchers. The archive includes Wallace’s papers, manuscripts, correspondence, teaching materials, and the extensively annotated books from his library.

Here’s a photograph of the inside cover of Wallace’s annotated copy of Don DeLillo’s Players:

The Harry Ransom Center blog has a series of interesting posts about the Wallace archive:

Here are links to more information about the archive:

The Harry Ransom Center is a humanities research library and museum with many extraordinary collections, including exceptional literary archives, manuscripts, and rare books, but you do have to go in person to access them. (They also have a Gutenberg Bible and three copies of the Shakespeare First Folio, among other treasures.)

Did Tony Blair borrow dialogue from the movie The Queen?

Today’s Telegraph has an article by Tim Walker in which Peter Morgan, Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Queen, says he suspects that Tony Blair incorporated lines from the movie into his autobiography:

In A Journey, Blair claims that the Queen said to him: “You are my 10th prime minister. The first was Winston. That was before you were born.” In Morgan’s script to the 2006 film The Queen, Mirren, in the title role, tells Michael Sheen’s Blair: “You are my 10th prime minister, Mr Blair. My first was Winston Churchill.” Morgan tells me: “I wish I could pretend that I had inside knowledge, but I made up those lines. No minutes are taken of meetings between prime ministers and monarchs and the convention is that no one ever speaks about them, so I didn’t even attempt to find out what had been said.

“There are three possibilities. The first is I guessed absolutely perfectly, which is highly unlikely; the second is Blair decided to endorse what I imagined as the official line; and the third is that he had one gin and tonic too many and confused the scene in the film with what had actually happened, and this I find amusing because he always insisted he had never even seen it.”

As this is impossible to fact-check without the cooperation of Elizabeth II, we may have to give Tony Blair the benefit of the doubt and just marvel at Peter Morgan’s ability to get inside the heads of his characters. (If you haven’t seen it, it’s an excellent film– the screenplay and the performances are exceptional.)

The Mongoliad begins…

The Mongoliad launched this morning. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, see my earlier post, “The Mongoliad, a “sekrit project” from Neal Stephenson and friends,” or these articles from Fast Company or VentureBeat.

You can explore The Mongoliad website and read the free preview content, but you’ll need a subscription to read the novel, which will be published in serialized weekly chapters over the course of a year. (The first chapter of the story was released today.) Subscription rates start at $5.99 for six months or $9.99 for one year. Subscribers will also have access to the Forum and other goodies (art, video, music, etc.) as they are released.

If you’d prefer to read The Mongoliad on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch, the apps will be available soon (once they receive the Apple stamp of approval). Apps for other devices will follow in time.

And yes, Matt and I are minor members of The Cabal, but you won’t get any spoilers out of us.

Update: New chapters of the serialized novel will be posted every Wednesday. (The first chapter was posted on September 1st, and the second chapter will be posted on September 8th.)

New Update, 10/31/10: The Mongoliad apps for iPad and iPhone are now available. See my new post for more information.

Stunning photographs of people reading around the world

My thanks to Nicola Griffith for pointing out an amazing series of photographs by Steve McCurry of people reading around the world, titled “Fusion: The Synergy of Images and Words.” The photos appear in McCurry’s blog, and here are links to Part I and Part II. I particularly like this photo from Thailand:

Go to Steve McCurry’s blog to see the rest of the photographs. Here’s the link to an article about McCurry in Publishing Perspectives titled “Steve McCurry’s Photos Capture the Universality, Intimacy of Reading.”

The Seattle Public Library’s annual shutdown

For those of you who live in Seattle, a reminder that the Seattle Public Library system will be closed from Monday, August 30th through Monday, September 6th. This week-long end of summer shutdown has unfortunately become an annual event (see my blog post from last year, “Why shut down the entire Seattle Public Library system for a week?”). All branches will be closed and the library staff of about 650 will be on unpaid furlough. In a change from last year, the SPL website won’t be shut down, so you can access the library catalog (though you can’t put books on hold), the databases and online resources, and digital media, but you are on your own if you run into problems or have questions. See this SPL document for details.

To help close a $67 million gap in Seattle’s 2010 general fund budget, Seattle’s library system had to cut $3 million this year from its $50 million budget. The shutdown will save $650,000, with the rest coming from a reduction in branch hours (as of last February, 15 of the 27 branches are closed on Fridays and Sundays and open only 35 hours a week) and cuts to staff, the book buying budget, the capital budget for major maintenance, etc. It looks like there will be even deeper cuts in 2011, as Seattle is facing a $56 million gap for 2011 and the mayor has asked the library and most other city departments (except police and fire) for cuts of 9.5% to 14.5%, which for the library would be $4.9 to $7.4 million.

The SPL leadership is going to have to make some very tough decisions and face the fact that its budget will not only continue to decline over the next few years but may never again be what it was during Seattle’s boom times.

From 1998 to 2008, Seattle built, replaced, expanded, and renovated libraries throughout the city with the $291 million “Libraries for All” bond measure, passed during Seattle’s dot-com boom. The SPL website boasts:

Ten years later, we have finished the final chapter of Libraries for All. It’s time to pause for a moment and look at what we’ve achieved – four new libraries in communities without library service, the replacement, expansion or renovation of 22 existing branches, and a spectacular new Central Library.

Yes, let’s look at what we’ve achieved– we have 27 new or improved library buildings but we’ve had to cut back on the hours they are open, cut back on their staff, cut back on buying books and materials, and defer maintenance. Building new libraries is sexy, but funding their day-to-day operations is not, and expanding your library system results in significant and permanent increases in all of your costs. Unfortunately, the library system does not have a dedicated funding source, so it has to fight for money from the city’s general fund against higher-priority departments like fire, police, human services, the courts, and transportation, to name a few. In lean times, libraries are the low-hanging fruit.

Seattle may love its libraries, but it takes money to keep them open.

The BBC radio and television archive website

Thanks to Jay Lake, I discovered that the BBC Archive website contains some fantastic collections of old radio and television content. Here are just a few of the collections that caught my eye:

The full list of collections is here, and the home page has links to some other web resources.

Journalism warning labels and “unsucking” business jargon

Here are two great things featured today on BoingBoing.

Tom Scott’s journalism warning labels, complete with a PDF template so you can print your own set. I particularly like this one:

Unsuck It, a website created by Mule Design that translates business jargon into English. You can search by clicking the “unsuck it” button, but I suggest browsing through the long list of terms. Here are a few examples:

At [company X], we take [Y] seriously.
Unsucked:  We don’t care, but our lawyers do.

Content Creation
Unsucked:  Writing.

Consume Content
Unsucked: Read, watch, or listen.

Creative (n.), Creatives
Unsucked: Professional designer, illustrator, composer, filmmaker, or writer. Not your magic pixel-monkey.

Curate
Unsucked: Edit or choose.

Ideate
We need to ideate on how to use social media to promote our brand.
Unsucked: Think.

Impact
Unsucked: Affect.

Make It Pop
This looks great, but if you can make it pop a bit more, we’ll be done here.
Unsucked: Add cliche elements to a site’s visual design (e.g., ribbon, drop-shadow, bevel).

Move Heaven and Earth
AT&T “will move heaven and Earth” to meet its customers’ growing data needs, AT&T Chief Technology Officer John Donovan said.
Unsucked: Try.

A comparison of how the new style manuals treat tech words

Though two of the most influential style manuals (Chicago and AP) recently changed from “Web site” to  “website,” they still differ in their treatment of other tech words, which won’t be a surprise to writers and editors who work with different styles.

Below I’ve compared the current recommendations for tech words from new editions of four style and usage guides.

Chicago is the new 16th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style (published August 2010), the authoritative style guide used by most of the publishing world.

AP is the AP Stylebook Online (updated April 2010), the style manual used by most newspapers and journalists. (The New York Times uses its own idiosyncratic style.)

Yahoo! is the Yahoo! Style Guide (published July 2010), a new style guide for digital content.

Garner is the 3rd edition of Garner’s Modern American Usage (published August 2009), an excellent book that tracks recent changes in usage and language.

The results:

  • All four agree on “website,” “World Wide Web,” and “the Internet.”
  • All except Chicago capitalize “the Web.”
  • Chicago, AP, and Garner use the hyphenated “e-mail,” but Yahoo! uses “email.”
  • Yahoo! and Garner use “webpage,” Chicago uses “web page,” and AP uses “Web page.”

It may look like consensus has finally been reached on “website,” but this is not the end of “Web site,” as it is still the standard in older works like the Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications (which hasn’t been updated since the 2004 3rd edition) and both Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th edition, published in 2003) and Merriam-Webster Online. (By the way, the December 2009 Apple Publications Style Guide uses “website,” “webpage,” and “email” without the hyphen.)

What does this mean for you? If you are using an older style manual, you should probably get a more current one. Which style manual you use will depend on the kind of writing, editing, or publishing you do. Chicago will likely be your primary style manual unless you work with specialized fields or content, such as technical writing, journalism, academic writing, scientific writing, etc. If you are working for a publisher or company, use the style manual and/or “house style” they specify. (Some use a hybrid, based primarily on a particular style manual but customized for internal preferences.) If you are writing for yourself, you can do what you want, but try to be both consistent and open to change. (Though Chicago is my default style manual, I’ve been using “website” and “the web” since I began this blog two years ago. Though I’m tempted to eliminate the hyphen from “e-mail,” I’m not quite ready to do so.)

So, in light of all this, are you going to make any changes to your style or try to convince your employer to modify the house style?

For more on style manuals, see my previous posts.

Update, 8/11/10: In the comments, Delf notes that though Microsoft’s published style manual hasn’t been updated since 2004, their style guide for internal use continues to be updated, and the latest version (June 30, 2010) specifies the following:

website
World Wide Web
the Internet
the web
email
webpage

Note that all of the tech/digital style guides (Microsoft, Apple, and Yahoo!) have dropped the hyphen from “email,” which I don’t think we’ll see adopted quickly by Chicago and AP.

Update 3/18/11: AP has just dropped the hyphen from “e-mail.”