Blogging since 1998. By David Wertheimer

Month: May 2009


Are high ceilings a sign of wretched architectural excess or just good taste? in Slate.
Having moved from a postwar 1980s apartment to a century-old Manhattan prewar, I can confirm the finding of this article, which is that high ceilings have good architectural effects. A 10-foot ceiling makes a room feel larger, airier, and more comfortable than ones with 8′ ceilings. To someone six feet tall or larger, postwar heights create a hint of claustrophobia and shorten light throws.
High ceilings were actually part of our search criteria when we were buying our apartment. Now that we have them, I’ll probably never go back.
As Slate’s writer notes, “Living and working in older buildings, people discovered that taller rooms simply felt–and looked–better.” Amen to that.

Grammar police: 5 things everyone does wrong (that you shouldn’t)

One of my great personal skills–and, by extension, a continual pet peeve–is near-perfect grammar, and the ability to spot grammatical errors. I always took proper grammar to be a de facto requirement for smart writing, and I look for the things I read to have an appropriate level of accuracy.

On the Internet, where I’m soaking up thousands of sentences daily, errors inevitably pop up. A few of them happen far more than others, a result of either misinformation, Microsoft Word preformatting or pure naiveté.

But none of those reasons excuses you from making any of the following mistakes, all of which are universal, and easy to get right.

  1. Smart apostrophes. Listen up! Just because MS Word auto-styles the apostrophe before your graduation year as an open-apostrophe doesn’t mean it’s right. It’s not.
    This is correct: 09
    This is not: 09
    You have to squint a bit to read it in the Ideapad font, so here: wrong, wrong, right.
  2. Quotation marks and periods. American grammar is universal: commas and periods always come before an endquote.
    “Pathetic,” he said, “that the Yankees can’t beat the Red Sox.”
    Question marks and exclamation points can break this rule, as do colons and semicolons. But at the end of a declarative sentence or phrase, the quotation marks come on the outside.
  3. Starting quotations. Grammatically speaking, you don’t have to note an artificial capitalization at the start of a sentence. This is unnecessary:
    [H]is velocity is off by a couple MPH this year on all pitches, not just his fastball.
    It’s perfectly acceptable to truncate a quote and not identify it at the start of a sentence. Don’t bother putting the first letter in brackets. It just slows down the reading.
  4. Ending quotations. This one’s a little more wonky, but since I just did the starting quotes, we should cover this, too. It’s actually three rules in one. Let’s start with the following quote:
    Netherland — a double play-on-words evoking the mythic underworld and
    the city’s Dutch origins — feels rather post-apocalyptic. Which, truth
    be told, the city did feel like, and perhaps still does.

    Here is how to properly cite shortened versions of the quote.
    1. If you end your quote cleanly, at the end of a sentence, you stop with a period.
      “Netherland — a double play-on-words evoking the mythic underworld and
      the city’s Dutch origins — feels rather post-apocalyptic.”
    2. If you truncate your quote mid-sentence, then resume the quote in the same sentence, you use three periods: an ellipsis.
      “Netherland … feels rather post-apocalyptic.”
      The proper typeset way to do an ellipsis, by the way, is period-space-period-space-period, but that gets wonky online, so no one does it. I personally go space-period-period-period-space … it’s a kludge for the web browser’s sake. (Which you cannot claim for the other grammar rules in this post.)
    3. If you truncate a quote mid-sentence, then resume at a point after that sentence ends, you now need four periods: the ellipsis plus a period to mark the end of the sentence.
      Netherland — a double play-on-words evoking the mythic underworld and
      the city’s Dutch origins. … Which, truth
      be told, the city did feel like, and perhaps still does.

      (Okay, so this quote doesn’t read well this way, but the ellipsis usage above is correct.)
  5. Parentheses and brackets. Unlike the parens in Excel formulas, nested parenthetical citations are supposed to alternate between parentheses (these guys) and brackets (which look like this [when nested properly]). See how that works? The brackets look different from the parentheses, which allow the reader to parse each phrase appropriately. If you do it wrong (and I don’t encourage it (because it makes such a mess (seriously)) and isn’t proper) like I just did, you may confuse the heck out of people. Just be sure to use the brackets second, for the internal phrase. And don’t get me started on sticking a colon in front of a close-parenthesis to make a smiley, then using the same close-parens to actually close the aside. Oy.

Got all that? Go forth and impress. English teachers nationwide–and I–will thank you.

links for 2009-05-06

  • Great, evil writeup of the grub at the new Yankee Stadium. I keep telling people: IT'S STILL JUST A BASEBALL STADIUM.

    At the end of the day, you're attending a ball game, with all the wonderful lowbrow treats that implies: outdoor seating, weather variances, sticky floors, people yelling. No amount of haute cuisine, good or bad, will change that fact, nor can it justify huge ticket price increases.
    As Mitch Albom said a few weeks back, "I don't know anyone who ever came home from a sports event talking about the food."
    (tags: baseball food)
  • Pandora's definition of Janet Jackson's music includes "extensive vamping." From the Pandora FAQ: "Vamping is a term that refers to extended improvisation over a repeated chord change." I never knew vamping was a technical term. Fascinated (and wiser)
    (tags: music words)
  • "If you were a child in the '70s or the '80s and were allowed to go visit your friend down the block, or ride your bike to the library, or play in the park without your parents accompanying you, your children are no less safe than you were." I am so heavily in favor of letting my boy be a child on his own terms.

The machines, they’re smarter than we know

So Nate has this little toy, the LeapFrog Spin and Sing Alphabet Zoo. It’s a pretty neat little toy, if a bit mind-numbing: spin a wheel with the alphabet on it, and it starts singing and playing music until the wheel stops, whereupon it announces the letter it’s stopped on. Like Wheel of Fortune for babies. I kind of like the tune, too, “spin spin a letter, look all around,” etc. although folks like my friend’s wife refer to it as “that fucking toy.” We just call it “spin spin a letter” and leave it at that. Nate actually just likes the spinning, not the music, so we get away with occasionally leaving the sound off.
Anyway. The wheel is well sensored, so it knows when and how much it’s being moved. Music stops promptly when spinning stops, and moving it one letter at a time does get the toy to say each letter in sequence. “B! C! D! C!”
Tonight Amy picked up the spin spin a letter to put it away. Nonbelievers would tell you the wheel had landed on either X or Z, but I took the device more literally, for it cried out, plaintively, as it was being put away:
“Why! Why!”
Don’t worry, little buddy, Nate will make a beeline for you in the morning.

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