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"

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.


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?”


Math only shows some countries the love

General Interest, Miscellaneous No Comments

It turns out that time() is going to report 1234567890 on Valentine’s Day this year for about 1/3 of the planet.  Anyone on the wrong side of Greenwich Mean Time gets the joke.

Prototype: EEP18 Considered Harmful: The problems with Erlang to JSON term translation

ECMA / Javascript, ECMAScript, Erlang, General Interest, Programming, Rants, Tools and Libraries, Web and Web Standards 5 Comments

THIS IS ONLY HALF WRITTEN.  I have been sitting on this post, waiting for the mood to finish it, for months; because EEP18 is now being treated as a likely implement, I am immediately publishing the half-written version, because it exposes many (though not all) of the serious, irreconcilable problems with EEP18.

On the mailing list, people are actively trying to bring Erlang up to snuff with regards to web standards.  One of the more unfortunate choices being discussed is JSON as a data notation.  JSON, unfortunately, does not actually map to Erlang in a useful way.  Joe Armstrong has gone as far as to suggest BIFs, which are decidedly unrealistic as well as unnecessary.  My goal is to create a JSON handling library.  However, the mailing list is beginning to put momentum behind an alternative proposal which is currently presented in BIF form.

This post explains why my approach is different.  Many of the issues herein are discussed by the tabled EEP (EEP 18, “JSON BIFs” by Rickard O’Keefe), but some are not, and some of these issues are accepted when I believe they should not be.  It is my position that EEP 18 is unacceptably dangerous.  I will explain why.

Read the rest…

Holy crap, an Objective C text that doesn’t assume you’re retarded

General Interest, Objective C, Programming, Rants 5 Comments

[digg-reddit-me]My good friend Jeff happened to mention offhand his knowledge of a document I’ve been looking for for quite some time now.  I’m sharing it with my readers in case they’re looking for something similar.

Let me be forward: I cannot stand the various Objective C books I’ve tried.  They all want to teach me to be a programmer.  I’m already there.  I just want a book like Stroustrup.  The PragProg book is awful: the first several chapters are about Mac development tools, like I give a damn.  Everything’s through interface wizards.  It’s nauseating.

Jeff heard mein painz0rz, and turned me on to From C++ to Objective-C.  It isn’t perfect: it’s not super comprehensive, and it’s translated from a different native language (French), which leaves a few passages cumbersome.  However, as one can tell from reading the intro, the author of the document, much like me, found little to love in the state of Objective C documentation, and wanted to write something for people who were already well established.

Kudos to Pierre Chatelier for writing the book that Apple and Alan Kay could not.

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