Category Archives: Reading List

Don’t Be a Grammar Goon

Tempted to make fun of someone on Facebook because he doesn't know the difference between lose and loose? Probably not a good idea, and it might actually mean you're a bit of a whank:

There was a time that it gave me a blush of pride to be referred to as “the Spelling Sergeant” or “the Punctuation Police”. I would gleefully tear a syntactic strip out of anybody who fell victim to the perils of poor parallelism or the menace of misplaced modifiers. I railed against atrostrophes and took a red pen to signs posted in staff rooms, bulletin boards and public washrooms. I was, to put it bluntly, really, really annoying…

So if I crap on Jonny’s spelling, I’m either reinforcing an oppressive status quo, or picking on a person with a disability, or both. And taking part in these kinds of insults, even when they’re directed at an Internet troll, encourages other people to participate in this kind of shaming. It’s frankly also pretty ineffective as a debate tactic. I’m not going to change Jonny’s mind, nor help him improve his writing abilities, by making fun of him. He may be a jerk because he’s never learned how to express himself in a healthy way, and I’m not doing much to help him. And reducing my arguments to the level of ad homonym attacks debases my own credibility – because if I have a valid point to make, I should be able to make it without resorting to pettiness. Furthermore, it is guaranteed that somewhere out there on the Interwebs, there is someone I agree with whose reasoned arguments are disparaged, dismissed or ignored because they come wrapped in a package of nonstandard language.

This is no trifling issue, either. I like to shock the new tutors I train by quoting statistics from theInternational Adult Literacy Survey. I ask them to estimate, in a developed country like Canada or the U.S., what percentage of the population has literacy skills below the very basic level needed to function well in our society. People usually guess ten percent, fifteen percent, maybe as much as twenty-five. Then I pull out the sad, stunning facts: nearly half of all North American adults cannot cope with complex written material of the sort that the other half of us take completely for granted. HALF, you guys. This should be considered anational crisis. Not fodder for sport.

The blog post that's the source of these opinions is titled Literacy Privilege: How I Learned to Check Mine Instead of Making Fun of People's Grammar on the Internet and it's well worth the read, if for no other reason than absorb the list of privileges we literate members of society enjoy. Here's a sample:

  • I can easily and safely navigate my way around the city I live in because I understand all of the posted signs, warnings and notifications.
  • I can make healthy and informed choices about the products I purchase because I can accurately read their labels and price tags.
  • I can safely use pharmaceuticals prescribed to me without having to remember the doctor’s or pharmacist’s instructions because I can accurately read their labels.
  • When required to visit doctors, hospitals, government agencies, banks, or legal offices, I do not have to invent excuses to bring paperwork home so that someone else can read it to me. If I live alone, I do not have to expose myself to judgement and ridicule by asking the doctor, nurse, agent, clerk, lawyer or other employee to read it to me.
  • I can independently make informed medical, legal, political and financial decisions about myself and my family because I can read and understand important documents.

The companion pieces to this post are also well worth the read. You can find them here and there.

Book Me

I’ve always thought that you could tell a lot about someone by what they read.  Well, if you want to know exactly how strange I really am all you need to do is look at my wish list for books this holiday season (in no particular order):

Bibliophile’s El Dorado

If you’re into books and you like free things then here are some sites just for you.  And if you’re like my wife Celeste and like nothing more than a good audio book then you’ll really love some of these:

  • Project Gutenberg – This granddaddy of online public domain book repositories now brags over 19,000 titles and all downloads are free.
  • Librivox.org – This site offers public domain audio books, but even better they’ve embraced "Web 2.0" technologies so you can sign up for podcasts.  That’s cool, but even better is that they also offer short fiction, poetry and children’s literature.  They’re looking for volunteer readers so if you’d like to read aloud to a wider audience than your children, or yourself, give ’em a go.
  • TellTaleWeekly.org – Not all the titles on this site are free, but the reason is understandable: they hire professionals to do the readings and emphasize quality.  Once the books have been out a while they are moved to the Spoken Alexandria Project  and are available for free.  Both are housed at Alex Wilson Studios LLC in the great state of NC.
  • University of Pennsylvania’s Free Book Library – Claims to have over 25,000 titles.  Good indexing and updated very regularly.
  • UVa’s E-Text Center – Wow!  Just check it out as there’s too much there for me to describe.  Here’s a link to a page listing bestsellers from 1900-1930.

That ought to keep you busy a while.

Reading List October 25, 2005

  • You’re Pre-Approved = A Real Family Application (The Post Money Value) – Rick Segal points out something I’ve been saying for a long time: while there are services out there that people can use for sharing family information (shared blog, shared photo, etc.) there isn’t one that is really non-techie, geared to people who have just gotten used to email.  He smells opportunity and so do I.
  • What Did Cheney Know? And When? (Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire) – Did the VP lie when he said he went on Meet the Press two years ago and said "I don’t know Joe Wilson. I’ve never met Joe Wilson…. And Joe Wilson
    — I don’t know who sent Joe Wilson. He never submitted a report that I
    ever saw when he came back." Three months earlier his chief-of-staff had documented a conversation with the VP about Mr. Wilson and his wife.  Hmmm.
  • The Earthquakes Changed Kashmiri Politics (StrategyPage.com) – The US has the opportunity to make strong inroads into Pakistan and the region in general via its relief efforts in response to the earthquakes in the Kashmir region.
  • Innovation is Bursting Out Again (Don Dodge) – Microsoft’s emerging tech guy looks at some of the areas that are seeing a burst of innovation, and highlights some of the companies providing said innovation.
  • White House Insisting on Torture (Bayosphere) – Links to a piece in the New York Times about the Bush administration’s stance on a pending bill before congress, and an amendment proposed by John McCain in particular.  "Stepping up a confrontation with the Senate over the handling of
    detainees, the White House is insisting that the Central Intelligence
    Agency be exempted from a proposed ban on abusive treatment of
    suspected Qaeda militants and other terrorists." 
    Make sure you read the comments.
  • Dickless: W Without Cheney (Davenetics) – Not a particularly revealing post, but I kind of like the headline.

Reading List October 24, 2005

  • The Entrepreneurial Mind Set (Moore’s Lore) – Dana Blankenhorn is entering the entrepreneurial realm himself and it has caused him to take that position that countries like China and India are developing more entrepreneurs, the US education system stinks and the Baby Boomers have killed the golden goose (the last are my words, not his).  It’s an interesting take on our society right now.
  • The Fall of the Warrior King (New York Times Magazine) – The story of Col. Nick Sassaman, his role in Iraq and how it led to his fall from grace.
  • Good News: People are Social Animals (Fractals of Change) – Tom Evslin talks about why peer-driven services on line have developed, and how/if they will continue to work.

Reading List October 20, 2005

Reading List October 18, 2005

  • Quote of the Day (Blog on the Run) – "… by refusing to ridicule the ridiculous, by watering down every
    criticism into a mannered circumlocution, we have created an
    environment where idiots thrive unchallenged." — PZ Myers
  • The Times Speaks, Kinda, Sorta (Blog on the Run) – Lex Alexander, a fine journalist in his own right, takes the New York Times to task for their handling of their own story – the journalist who was held in contempt in the Plame case.  Basically he says they screwed the pooch.
  • Thinking of Joining a Startup? (A VC) – Fred Wilson points to a checklist of questions you should answer to determine if joining a startup is right for you.
  • Rethinking Reed’s Law (A VC) – Some really smart business people talk some serious math re. network effects and make my brain hurt.
  • While Boomers Were Busy Watching Their Retirement Accounts (Matt McAlister) – An interesting look at the differences between the Boomers’ form of rebelliousness and Gen X’s form of rebelliousness.  Actually it’s more a comparison of what they rebelled against.