Woodpecker oh cuffed rebellious

So I wanted to post an excerpt from my fabulously successful e-book, ‘Master Your DSLR Camera,” on the Writings page here because I’m quite proud of it and, well…it really is fabulously successful. It’s also rather excerpt-resistant, wrapped in a secure App Store layer over a core of proprietary Inkling multimedia wonderfulness.

Solution: I’ll find a pirated copy. Putting aside for the moment the ethical implications of trying to steal my own intellectual property, I am both frustrated and pleased to report there’s no easy way to do it. The few links I found pointed to obvious phishing traps and a members-only download site that looked pretty phishy as well.

With the exception of this Google Docs curiosity, which appropriates the title and cover image of the book but, curiously, none of the actual text. Instead, you get machine-generated haiku such as “Simple in much folded overcame roadrunner eclectically mastodon conditional” and “Lobster drunken flauntingly but and far a jeepers depending.”

Next step, I suppose, is to PDF-alize some screen grabs of the book. But for now, I’m going to ponder why I expended so much effort getting subjects and verbs to agree when free verse can be so oddly compelling.


Tell me a story

One of the fringe benefits of journalism is that you occasionally get to talk with extraordinarily smart, talented and/or inspirational people.

One of the smartest, far-reaching truths I’ve ever heard came to me while researching a story on religious aspects  of the Y2K scare. I asked Richard Landes, medieval history professor at Boston University and an expert on apocalyptic thinking, why ludicrously overwrought worst-case scenarios of Y2K repercussions were overshadowing far more modest and well-grounded predictions. His response was a model of pithy wisdom: “The more entertaining story is the one that gets retold.”

Since then, there’s hardly been a week gone by that I haven’t thought of that insight in relation to some new development in social dynamics or media literacy. Right now, it’s the Rolling Stone date rape fiasco, an obvious case of the natural bias toward compelling narratives overwhelming rational judgement.

But that bias is all around. We worry much more about terrorism than cars and booze, even though the damage wrought be the latter vastly dwarfs the former — but terrorist plots make for a more exciting tale. Kansas just passed a law banning the use of food stamps on cruise ships, an entirely non-existent problem that nevertheless makes a compelling story for anti-gummint types. McDonald’s has a much better chance of killing you than Ebola ever will, but nobody’s ever going to make a summer blockbuster about arteriosclerosis.

You get the point. When the media, friends or anyone else is trying to get  you excited about something, it always a good habit to spend a moment pondering why. Is it because they’ve discovered something true, meaningful and relevant? Or more because it’s an entertaining story?

The writer stands accused…

You know you may have been wrangling words for a living a little too long when you can’t even read The New Yorker without your attention stumbling over weaknesses in writing and outright errors. But it’s hard not to notice once you’ve developed an eye for that sort of thing.

Here are a few pet writing bugaboos, many of which offend by violating Strunk & White’s imperative to “Omit needless words.”

  • in order to — Seldom serves any purpose over the simpler “to.”
  • the fact that —  Awkward and usually a sign that the writer was too lazy to come up with a more graceful, economical construction. “His illiteracy,” for  example, rather than “the fact that he was illiterate.”
  • collided with — Oh, it makes me feel old and sad to see that this one apparently is no longer driven into the pliable skulls of young journalists. “Collided” properly describes the impact of two moving objects. If one object is stationary, you want “hit,” “smacked into” or similar. A car cannot collide with a building, telephone pole or freeway abutment, as I see all too often in outlets that supposedly employ professional editors.
  • that — Often unnecessary after “said” and equivalent verbs, unless it  follows a time element, location or other elaboration. “He said that the pirate ship was stinky.” “He said Monday that the pirate ship was stinky.”
  • award-winning — Maybe the most useless adjective in widespread contemporary use. Given the proliferation of awards, the term on its own is meaningless. And I’m an award-winning writer, so I should know.