Righter writing

I’ve been hold­ing the pen (and before that, the pen­cil and cray­on) incor­rect­ly for as long as I’ve been writ­ing. As such, my hand­writ­ing is pret­ty ter­ri­ble and I’ve always been prone to hand cramp­ing. Var­i­ous teach­ers and at least a cou­ple of par­ents have tried to cor­rect this over the years, but I’ve always just ignored them and gone on writ­ing as I pleased. I found my way eas­i­er and more com­fort­able, although the com­fort would only last for the first few min­utes.

I’m not sure what hap­pened, but about a month ago I was sit­ting at my desk and I decid­ed that I was going to start hold­ing the pen cor­rect­ly. At first it was a dif­fi­cult, frus­trat­ing and uncom­fort­ably con­scious process, and I would some­times for­get to do so, but I made sure to cor­rect myself as soon as I remem­bered. I soon found it easy enough to do with chunki­er pens (like most of my foun­tain pens), but now I’m able to do it well enough on days I car­ry some­thing thin­ner (like a Park­er Jot­ter).

Con­se­quent­ly, I’m writ­ing a bit more slow­ly and delib­er­ate­ly now, and while my hand­writ­ing has­n’t real­ly changed at all, the new hand posi­tion has become auto­mat­ic — I now just pick up the pen and hold it cor­rect­ly. Since I still pre­fer to do much of my dai­ly think­ing ink-on-dead-tree-style, this small change con­tributes sig­nif­i­cant­ly to my qual­i­ty of life, as I trade short-term com­fort for long-term com­fort.

Next up is cor­rect­ing my sit­ting pos­ture,” he writes, slouch­ing ter­ri­bly.

MOOCing for fun (and profit?)

Last year I read an inter­est­ing blog post that taught me the name for some­thing I’d been hear­ing more and more about for a while: MOOCs (“Mas­sive Open Online Cours­es”). You know, they’re those online class­es that you can take, offered by uni­ver­si­ties like Stan­fordHar­vard and oth­ers — plus a host of pri­vate com­pa­nies — typ­i­cal­ly for free and with­out cred­it. Oh, and across an absolute met­ric fuck­ton of top­ics.

Yes­ter­day, set­ting aside any traces of an um-yeah-I-already-finished-college-thank-you atti­tude, I spent some time pok­ing around MOOC List — an exten­sive aggre­ga­tor of avail­able class­es — and found some­thing that caught my eye: Intro to the Design of Every­day Things, taught by Don Nor­man, author of that book you may have seen on my din­ing room table, wait­ing patient­ly to be read, for a lit­tle while now. (Okay, Ama­zon says it’s been over two years.)

So I’m tak­ing Don’s class now, and while I’m not sure if I’ve had my eyes opened to any tru­ly new con­cepts yet, I’ve picked up a cou­ple of terms: “affor­dance” and “sig­ni­fi­er.” And to fin­ish off Les­son 1, I’m cur­rent­ly on the look­out for a sig­ni­fi­er to pho­to­graph, cri­tique and improve.

So, why Intro to the Design of Every­day Things? I can actu­al­ly share the answer I post­ed to the class forum:

I’m tak­ing this class because, as a copy­writer whose opin­ions on the fin­ished prod­uct tend to extend a bit beyond my spe­cif­ic area of exper­tise, I’d like a more sol­id ground­ing in these oth­er areas.

Basi­cal­ly, soon I’ll be telling you why I’m right about even more things, using all the right terms. Look out.

Not everyone’s a critic

As a kid, I hat­ed “crit­i­cal think­ing” ques­tions.

I did­n’t know what the term even meant, but what I did know was that about a third of the ques­tions at the end of each chap­ter in my school text­books were “crit­i­cal think­ing” ques­tions. I’d read the assigned text — well, usu­al­ly — but skim­ming the chap­ter for key words would mag­i­cal­ly reveal the answers… at least for all the nor­mal ques­tions.

In what year did Napolean what­ev­er? I knew the hack for that: scan the text for num­bers.

My goal was to get my work done as quick­ly as pos­si­ble, because the draw of TV time at home, and “free time” in class was strong. Crit­i­cal think­ing was an annoy­ing road­block to very impor­tant leisure. I just want­ed to get done.

As an adult, I take my time when I work — I just try not to com­plete­ly Dou­glas Adams my dead­lines, if you catch my drift. Qual­i­ty is impor­tant (although it’s only job two), and if I fin­ish some­thing ear­ly, odds are it could use some more thought, anoth­er look tomor­row with fresh eyes, or some­thing like that.

There real­ly is no prize for fin­ish­ing first.

I real­ize now that the crit­i­cal think­ing ques­tions were the only ones that ever real­ly mat­tered. Teach­ers prob­a­bly told us that, but it did­n’t mean any­thing at the time. And when I look around today, I get the sense that to a lot of my peers, it still does­n’t.

The Premium McWrap packaging is very nicely designed

McDonald's Premium McWrap 1I’m clear­ly no stranger to mar­ket­ing, but my career has­n’t yet brought me in touch with prod­uct pack­ag­ing. I like pack­ag­ing, and I’ve actu­al­ly bought things over the years because they were nice­ly pack­aged — stuff like can­dy,1 Altoids Sours, some ran­dom bike part… and yes, I’ve even bought myself a few low-balance gift cards2 to keep in my this is so awe­some file.

I recent­ly found myself impressed with the card­board pack­ag­ing around the McDon­ald’s Pre­mi­um McWrap — I should prob­a­bly go ask for a clean one while they’re still avail­able. I guess I did­n’t notice when they added this item to the menu, because I ordered my first one by mis­take. My annoy­ance at pay­ing about dou­ble what I expect­ed turned to intrigue about as soon as I peeked into my drive-through bag.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “The Pre­mi­um McWrap pack­ag­ing is very nice­ly designed”

  1. Still pissed that my par­ents would­n’t buy me Bub­ble Tape.
  2. Con­fuse your local cashier today — ask for a $1 gift card!

Derechos, am I right(s)?

Span­ish is a lan­guage I’ve stud­ied on and off through­out my life, but nev­er hard enough, it seems. See­ing a pam­phlet recent­ly, titled Declaración de los dere­chos, made me feel that way. The actu­al mean­ing (“dec­la­ra­tion of rights”) was easy enough for me to fig­ure out, but I was sur­prised when I real­ized that the Span­ish word for “rights” is dere­chos.

Whether or not you under­stand Span­ish, you may be won­der­ing why I found this so strange.

Well, a word in Span­ish I cer­tain­ly know is derecha (which means “right”… as in, the direc­tion that isn’t “left”) — it’s one of the first words any­one learns in Span­ish. And despite that word and dere­chos hav­ing dif­fer­ent gen­ders, it can’t be a coin­ci­dence that the two words are almost the same in both Eng­lish and Span­ish.

What’s so weird about that? Why should­n’t these Eng­lish homo­phones be sim­i­lar in Span­ish?

I’d explain it like this: I most­ly feel this way because of how it works with anoth­er pair of Span­ish words — in Eng­lish, the word free has dif­fer­ent mean­ings that each trans­late dif­fer­ent­ly. Most of the time we prob­a­bly think of it in the “cost­ing zero dol­lars” sense… but there’s also the arguably higher-minded def­i­n­i­tion “exist­ing with­out restric­tion.” In Span­ish, they’re two very dif­fer­ent words, the for­mer being gratis and the lat­ter being libre.

In the English-speaking world, I see the dif­fer­ence between the two “frees” most often come up in the Free Soft­ware1 com­mu­ni­ty. When dis­cussing Free Soft­ware phi­los­o­phy, peo­ple will wax elo­quent about the dif­fer­ent mean­ings of free, using phras­es like “free as in beer” and “free as in free­dom” to help con­trast the two. They’ll also occa­sion­al­ly veer into expla­na­tions of Span­ish vocab­u­lary to high­light the dif­fer­ence, point­ing out that gratis and libre are more pre­cise ways to describe two kinds of soft­ware, both of which are “free,” but in sig­nif­i­cant­ly dif­fer­ent sens­es of the word.

With my mind steeped in this soft­ware salon cul­ture of the back-alley forums of the Inter­net, I became so keen­ly aware of the extra mean­ing words can pick up when trans­lat­ed into oth­er lan­guages.

And that’s why I find it so hard to believe that, en Español, “rights” are sim­ply dere­chos. The trans­la­tion should be some­thing more abstract… more libre-like. I would­n’t have guessed that when trans­lat­ed, my rights become “not lefts.”

  1. You may also know this as “Open Source,” although there are folks who will tell you that they’re not the same thing. These folks have beards.

Firefox Miami Style?

Part of run­ning an actu­al serv­er (as opposed to shared web host­ing) is actu­al­ly being con­cerned about secu­ri­ty. I reg­u­lar­ly keep an eye on my access logs and the like, and I don’t usu­al­ly find that much to wor­ry about — I just keep ipt­a­bles, and a few oth­er tools, with­in reach.

But this par­tic­u­lar user-agent string show up in vis­its from time to time (bots, I’m guess­ing)… what the hell is Fire­fox Mia­mi Style?

An exam­ple:

37.9.53.64 - - [26/Dec/2013:13:34:39 -0500] "POST /wp-login.php/wp-login.php HTTP/1.1" 200 10956 "writegeek.com/wp-login.php/wp-login.php" "Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 6.1; rv:21.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/21.0 USA\\Miami Style"

Try­ing to POST to a nonex­is­tent URL? That’s clas­sic Mia­mi style, if I’ve ever seen it.