Saturday, July 30

Merriam-Webster's Vocabulary Quiz

Just a little blurb between breaking news stories and startling events in the worlds of Language and Postal Services:

If you're reading this blog, you'll find it worthwhile to haunt Merriam-Webster's games section. Lovely crosswords and other games, usually gadgets retooled to center around words instead of garden creatures or gems. You know what I mean.

But what's really cool, what I really enjoy, is their Vocabulary Quiz! You get ten words that pop up sequentially, and each one has four attendant words: you race against the clock to select the best synonym. It's a real test of vocabulary--many of the words are easy or medium, but once in a while they throw in hard or genuinely obscure words.

On the other hand, if you have a good vocabulary, it's simply a physical test of hand-eye coordination and response times. My first score was 3200 points, pretty good for my age bracket (oh yes, they show you how other people your age did!), the average score being 2730. I improved that to 3800 points, and yesterday I scored 3940, after three tries. A lot of that is luck, of course, when the obscure word happens to be one I know.

That leads me to believe a perfect score would be 4000 points, and the only thing that holds me back is my response time. I'll have to be satisfied with that.

Saturday, July 23

Oh, an' That's a Bad Miss

This is some of the big news circulating today: Amy Winehouse's addiction has finally caught up with her. The police call it an "unexplained" death, but they have to, don't they. I think there are no mysteries behind this.

The unexplained mystery here is how the "Editor-at-Large" of Mashable, Ben Parr, got tangled over his use of "alluded/eluded." This is a screenshot of Parr's post on Google+.

You can be sure other people following him called this out. And sure, it's a common enough mistake, but it's exceptional when it comes from the hands of one whose trade is wordsmithing. One advantage of Google+ is that you can edit your posts after they go up--unlike with Facebook--but it's been over six hours and Parr hasn't touched this. Ouch.

Sunday, July 3

The Subtleties of Font

How many of you have ever practiced calligraphy? Many people think this means one specific style of writing, usually some form of italic or maybe even a German fraktur. In actuality, calligraphy is much more general than that: it's the discipline of very neat handwriting.

That handwriting can come in a variety of forms, which people call fonts, typefaces, or "hands" in casual conversation with other calligraphers. The accouterments that come with rigorous calligraphic execution are numerous and intimidating, and the thousands of hours of practice it requires may be off-putting. Yet at one time, penmanship was considered so essential for a civilized society, especially for anyone intending to do any kind of business, that the Palmer method of handwriting was mandatory in a young student's courseload.

Calligraphy really isn't as intimidating as all that. Once you reconcile yourself with the meditative discipline it requires--an increasing awareness of your own slight muscle movements, a calming focus in your mind--you may begin to understand and appreciate it as a world entirely of its own. And it's not difficult at all to practice, once you realize that handwriting actually comes up often in your life. Any time you're putting pen or pencil to paper, exploit that as a few more seconds for disciplined practice: addresses on bills, shopping lists, postcards, Post-It notes to coworkers, &c.

Image: The Atlantic
When I began teaching myself calligraphy (I had a miserable desk job with lots of downtime, so I started practicing drawing evenly spaced loops across a pad of paper), I tried to plunge into an "advanced" font, a very elaborate one that came much later down the timeline. But as I blundered through it, got control of it and then too familiar with it, my "hand" started slipping backward through time and I saw its predecessor fonts appearing on my page. This was a fascinating and magical process for me! Not only was I personally touched by the history of handwriting, I was able to begin to develop my own personal font--not one I'd use for writing checks, but something that would look nice on parchment and with certain acrylic inks.

Oh yes, you develop your own tastes for writing implements, inks, and papers as well.

Now it seems there's an iPad app, Typography Insight, designed to help people who work with fonts appreciate the subtle differences between fonts. I have no fear of technological culture, and I think an app like this only stands to reinforce this hobby of mine (if tidy handwriting is only a "hobby").

Typography Insight: iPad App Teaches Fonts Like Never Before

Saturday, July 2

Broken Images

I apologize for the sudden disappearance of all the images in this blog. I was tooling around on Google+ and saw that all my Picasaweb albums manifested in the Photos section of my new account. Not wanting them to appear in my profile--they wouldn't make sense outside of their blogging context--I deleted them in Google+.

Today I discovered that also deletes them in Picasaweb, where all my online albums are stored. Now I have to go through my backed-up archives, dig out all the photos, re-upload them and re-link them to each individual post. I'm very upset about this hassle and embarrassed about the inconvenience, but at least I learned something and therefore grew as a person.

Images will be restored in the next week or so.