A swing and a miss: why not everyone should write about English on the web

English, English, General Interest, General Interest, Miscellaneous, Rants, Rants 1 Comment

So my boss passed around a list that he got from @GuyKawasaki about eleven writing errors that make a person look stupid, which should be avoided.

Thing is, five of these eleven are wrong.

i.e. does not “specify and limit”, nor is it exchangeable with namely.  Both i.e. and e.g. are used to give example lists; the people that author are picking at stand a small chance of being correct.

e.g., (“exempli gratia” -> ‘gratuitous example’) is used for giving case examples (e.g. this example right here).

i.e. (“id est” -> ‘it is’) is used when you can give every possible example: you are concretely defining the list.  For instance, I could talk about the primary colors (i.e. red, yellow and blue), but I could not talk about the list of all colors (e.g. red, orange, chartreuse, gray, et cetera.)

The next is subtle.

With regards to “none is”, that depends on whether you’re dealing with a group singular or a group plural.  Indeed, is/are are in context how one deals with resolving whether a group or singular plural is in use; to suggest that either are always concretely correct and the other never is fundamentally wrong-headed.

Group singulars and group plurals are differentiated along lines of when you’re talking about the group as a whole, or when you’re talking about a set of individual members.  For example, when you talk about the many religions found in Bharat’s individuals, you might say “the people of India are varied in belief”.

The problem with “none” is that people expect it always to refer to single individuals within a group.  So by the example on that page, “Though many religions are found in India, none of its people is Rastafarian”, though agonizing to the ear, is technically correct.

However, there are ways to make none apply to groups despite context – for example, when categorizing.  Going on the observation that there are a bunch of variants of Christianity, such as Protestantism or Catholocism, and pretending those people aren’t in India (I know, they are, I just need an example), “Though many religions are found in India, none of its religions are Christian in nature” would apply, because its context refers to groups.

Prevarication Junction is particularly annoying: sometimes it’s appropriate to say what you think rather than what you know, and their third example is a concrete knowledge.  Indeed, stating the first two as concrete knowledge would be lying: one cannot know that they will be good for a company without the ability to see the future, because they might turn out to not fit in well in the corporate culture, or might not have the right skillset, or might not be able to focus on the job; similar remarks apply to the product for the company.

It is common for people to claim that speaking in absolutes is better language.  This is complete bullshit.  It’s just a way for people to sound more confident than they really are, to make themselves look good at the expense of being precise or honest.  This only works on stupid people, and backfires on smart people.  Do not claim to know things when you actually only suspect them (one doesn’t know it, one suspects it, and when it turns out to be wrong, one looks like a horse’s ass.)

Under no circumstances state things that are suspected as if they are fact.  This advice is terrible.

The bit about preferring “et al” to “et cetera” is absolute nonsense.  Use et cetera when applying to lists.  Et al only gets used in lists of people.

Of course, the more germane point here is that both etc. and et al are generally unnecessary and considered bad form; use either only when necessary to maintain understandable brevity.

The bit about less versus fewer is generally correct in spirit.  However, it has nothing to do with finite-ness.  This is actually about group plurals versus group singulars (and basic singulars) again: fewer dollars make for less money.  If half of India were to move to Russia one day, then there would be fewer people there, and less population.

This is understandable, of course: three of these are obscure parts of English, and everyone on the web thinks they’re qualified to teach English despite having no formal training theretowards.

Ambrose Bierce, however, is to be trusted.  If Ambrose Bierce and another source disagree, and neither source explicitly distances itself from differing sets of rules (eg American/British English, obsolete/modern usage, whatever), then nine times in ten Bierce will be correct.


Good sir, please do us the favor of not writing any more articles about what’s correct in English until you’ve taken some courses that would allow you to teach English in a school system somewhere.  The average sixth grader wouldn’t make most of these mistakes.

Guy Kawasaki’s books actually contain several counter-examples to these wisdumbs.  I hope he’ll read more carefully before recommending in the future.

Ah, reciprocity

General Interest, Media Links, Picture Links No Comments


"Hay guys how an apostrophe does work, need to show them winders users their'r dum"

"Hay guys how an apostrophe does work, need to show them winders users their'r dum"

Making a correct Postgres user

Miscellaneous No Comments

Yeah, the reason it won’t connect is that create user foo with password ‘bar’ explicitly means “they can’t connect unless their password is sent plaintext”, which awesomely the manual doesn’t mention.

You wanted create user with encrypted password ‘bar’ instead.

Rest In Peace, Ted Kennedy

General Interest, Miscellaneous No Comments

A great man passed last night.  Ted Kennedy, a man who made sweeping concrete improvements to civil rights, health care, education, immigration – probably the most effective senator of his time – fell to brain cancer, at the age of 77.  We have all lost a pinion who kept our lives safe and our rights secure.

America is diminished with his loss.

Manipulating Wolfram Alpha for Comedy (or, How Many Faggots Fit in a Butt)

General Interest, Miscellaneous 1 Comment

As some of us remember from digging through trapper keepers while ignoring second grade teachers, there are several units of measurement with comedic value.

For example, three hogsheads (approx. 160 gallons) of beer constitute a butt of beer, which is how one gets to that George, the Duke of Clarence, died drowning in a butt.

Similarly, a bundle of sticks is a faggot (which is what those fundies are misreading in the bible – they’re talking about burning bundles of sticks).  Indeed, there are even long faggots – two foot girth by four foot length, which qualifies for some awards, I suspect.

As such, Wolfram Alpha is entirely happy to calculate the number of faggots that fit in a butt.

It’s more than I expected.  :D

Erlang jokes are too rare

Erlang, General Interest, Miscellaneous No Comments

But this one’s funny.


Reminders are nice

Erlang, Miscellaneous, Programming No Comments

Always nice when someone lets you know, y’know?

[19:43] <apples> by the way StoneCypher, if you're curious, the level
          of functionality provided by my SMTP server in C, which is
          ~1000 lines, i trimmed down to less than 100 in erlang :p
[19:45] <StoneCypher> lel
[19:45] <StoneCypher> and i bet it's less buggy now too
[19:45] <apples> quite
[19:46] <apples> oh, and i wrote it in an hour
[19:46] <StoneCypher> awesome
[19:46] <StoneCypher> can i post that quote on my blog?
[19:46] <apples> sure thing

Helps one remember one’s doing the right thing to push people to learn new things.

Kutiman Mixes YouTube

Audio Links, General Interest, Media Links, Miscellaneous, Video Links No Comments

Those of you know know me personally know that I am extremely picky about music: whereas I enjoy nearly every genre, I am very particular about stylistic elements, quality, and skill of execution.

My friend Poffy turned me on to Kutiman Mixes YouTube about an hour ago; I’ve watched it several times before realizing I needed to spread it around.  It appears that some guy got a bunch of YouTube videos and mixed them into a video album, compositing the video elements into a barely explicable thing which vascillates between montage, pastiche and 60s-style disoriented spook video.

It’s honestly mindblowing.  Speaking as someone thoroughly inured to things like the McRoll and the Windows song by being double oldbear enough to remember the various versions of .MOD, this really still tweaks all my knobs.  This isn’t just weird.  This is genuine music.  It’s good.

This is one an mazing.

Senator John McCain is an Idiot

General Interest, Miscellaneous, Rants, Uncategorized No Comments

Apparently John McCain thinks it’s pork to control Mormon Crickets in Utah.  So much so, it seems, that he’s marked it the #6 piece of pork in a trillion dollar spending bill, despite that it’s less than one one thousandth of one percent of the cost.  Given that he’s biblically old, I would have thought he’d understand how important it is to stop SWARMING LOCUSTS.  I shit you not, the quote:

$1 million for mormon cricket control in Utah – is that the species of cricket or a game played by the brits?

I mean seriously, that’s so fundamentally uninformed that I can’t even mock it.  A million dollars is a bargain for statewide pest control that costs hundreds of millions of dollars in structural and crop damage annually.  He’s old enough that, statistically speaking, he should have seen every living thing at least twice by now (including brontosaurus); one is tempted to remind him of that crawly sandwich he had with Joseph Smith.

“I have no idea what they’re even talking about, so surely I’m qualified to think it’s pork!  Who needs locust control anyway?”


Link: Programmer Competency Matrix

Miscellaneous, Programming No Comments

I originally found the PCM through Starling Software‘s copy, but it turns out to originally be by Sijin Joseph.  As both sites have lots of other interesting content, I’m linking both.

The Programmer Competency Matrix is a surprisingly realistic grid of capabilities sorted by topic, which gives an extremely rough but in my opinion basically valid idea of an engineer’s gumption.  Starling republished it as part of their standard set of tools to be used during a hire.

Regardless of whether you agree with the grid or its data, it’s fun.  Have a look, and try scoring yourself.

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