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Vindication Is Mine

Pssst: Like multitasking, unicorns, and Donald Trump’s self-made real estate empire, brainstorming is a myth.

I know, it doesn’t fit the stereotype of creative spaces “filled with fidget toys and Post-it notes in an array of colors, all meant to absorb some of the energy of a group of fast-thinking, well-dressed hipsters deep in ideation mode.” (Confession: I’m neither fast-thinking nor well-dressed, I’m too old to be a hipster, and if anyone uttered the word “ideation” within twenty feet of me, fisticuffs would ensue.)

The big news here is that “a survey of 20,000 creatives from 197 countries suggests that, in fact, a majority [emphasis mine] of these professionals—including writers, musicians, photographers, and podcasters—find that brainstorming is largely unhelpful for solving a creative challenge.”

I always just assumed I was alone in my dislike of the practice. While I prefer to work through problems on my own—preferably on a walk, where I’m free from office distractions—I’ve known more than a few designers and writers and suchlike who rely on that collaborative give-and-take to fully flesh out their ideas.

Nice to know I’m not a weirdo.

Mere Wordnerdery

Wilfred M. McClay is my spirit animal:

Like a lover of endangered species, the lover of endangered words jumps for joy when he sees a word being rescued, and is grateful when a writer restores to currency a semantic possibility that had fallen into desuetude. It is as if a lovely antique table has been rediscovered after many years of gathering dust up in the attic, and when brought downstairs and cleaned up and polished, imparts a splendor and unbought grace to the room that no shiny new object could possibly match.

That is all.

Shots Fired!

Pretty sure I’ve said this before, but there are few things more satisfying than a well-written, well-argued takedown of an overrated hack—particularly when said hack’s celebrity is entirely unearned. To wit: “Banksy is a talented graphic designer with a flair for self-promotion, no more or less. He is not an artist.”

That’s Alexander Adams over at The Critic, whose scathing indictment about the “cosy culture warrior and peddler of pedestrian homilies” is concerned not so much about the quality of Banksy’s oeuvre as it is in the answer to “how did such banality hoodwink so many people?”

It’s a good question.

Stop! Grammar time!

Oof. “Best known as the drummer and lyricist of the Canadian rock trio, Rush, [Neil] Peart was also a successful man of letters, a novelist, an autobiographer, and an essayist,” writes Bradley J. Birzer.

The great Benjamin Dreyer calls the comma following trio the “only” comma – used to “set off nouns that are, indeed, the only of of their kind in the vicinity.”

To illustrate, let’s say that I have three children: a daughter named Beulah and two sons, Beauregard and Bubba.

My daughter, Beulah, is a Mensa scholar.

Now, the inclusion of Beulah’s name here is unimportant. I could just as easily have written “My daughter is a Mensa scholar” because I have only one daughter.

My son Bubba eats paste.

Bubba, in this case, is providing essential information, identifying which of my two sons is the paste eater.

If that doesn’t help, check out Dreyer’s “Best Illustration of the Necessity of the ‘Only’ Comma I’ve Ever Managed to Rustle Up”:

Elizabeth Taylor’s second marriage, to Michael Wilding
Elizabeth Taylor’s second marriage to Richard Burton

See the difference? That one little piece of punctuation can change the entire meaning of the sentence.

Let’s go back to what Birzer wrote. The two commas on either side of Rush indicate that the name of the band is, in fact, inessential – because there is only one Canadian rock trio! Forget for a moment that that may as well be true given Rush’s supreme awesomeness; the fact remains that it isn’t true.

Remember: Only use the “only” commas when the noun you’re referring to is the only one of its kind.

Oh, and by the way, please, please don’t let my pedantry—or the name of the publication—stand in the way of an otherwise great article by Birzer. It’s a nice remembrance of a truly influential man.

Brrr 🥶

Looks like winter has finally arrived. With the snow falling outside of our Spokane office (6-8 inches expected today with 3-6 more tomorrow) I can’t help but be thankful for a little snow. It could be worse… much worse. It could be 33 degrees below zero with a HIGH of -4 as the weekly forecast. Coming from someone who has lived through those dark, bone-chilling, ice-fog-filled weeks in the dead of January in Fairbanks… a little snow is pretty okay.

Downtown Fairbanks on Wednesday, January 8* — a day in which the high was expected to reach minus 37 under sunny skies (with lows dropping to minus 41) and with light winds bringing wind chills of minus 65 over the next two nights.

*Wednesday, January 8, at 12 p.m., mind you. 12 p.m.… NOON. HIGH NOON. The moment when the sun reaches its highest position in the sky. Welcome to Alaska in January.

“I’m getting better! I feel fine!”

Over at The Critic, Dominic Green makes a case for the death of rock and roll—40 years ago. While I agree that The Clash’s London Calling is a truly great rock album (“magnificently vital and varied”); and that, after the breakup of the Beatles, John Lennon “made no significant music”—I point I’ve been arguing for years—I’m not entirely sure Green proves anything other than that he doesn’t like post-1980 rock.

I don’t think there’s any question that the genre as a cultural signifier of youth and rebellion and all that is dead. I mean, if Lars Ulrich going after Napster back in 2000 doesn’t prove that, I don’t know what does. But rock and roll is still quite alive musically. And, politics aside, that’s really all that matters, isn’t it?

[barfing-face emoji]

Well, we had a pretty good run, humanity. After watching this, I’d say we as a species deserve to die in the coming hellfire.

There’s more info over at the Rokshok website—such as a three-step “How It Works” that was apparently written for morons.

I give up, folks.

Well hello there, 2020

Welcome back, folks. How were the holidays? Restful? Good. Let’s get back into the swing of things with the latest in Curated Content™ delivered straight from the bowels of helveticka world headquarters.

Preach it: Lake Superior State University’s 45th annual List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.

Can a new book make learning Greek sexy? Yes. Yes, it can.

Against minimalism.

Politico Magazine asked a group of historians to put all that happened over the past 10 years in its proper historical context—and literally write the paragraph that they think will describe the 2010s in American history books written a century from now.” The results are uneven, frustrating, maddening—and fascinating.

Wearing lipstick is now an act of…resistance? Um, okay.

Just Trying to Help…

Over at SlashFilm, Jeremy Mathai spends more than 2,500 words “investigating” the correct order in which to watch all the Star Wars movies. Before you commit to Mathai’s post, permit me to simplify things a bit:

Watch Star Wars (1977).

Watch The Empire Strikes Back (1980).

Watch literally anything else that’s not part of the Star Wars universe, because everything after Empire is crap.

I just saved you 10 minutes. You’re welcome.

Miscellany

Nearly twenty-five years since the publication of the final Far Side panel, Gary Larson is back, baby. Well…sort of. The man himself explains.

The true story behind the worst video game of all time.

Aquarium Drunkard‘s “unranked list of albums that caught, and kept, our attention in 2019.” Bonus: their top 100 records of the decade.

Um

For the person on your Christmas list who has everything—and I do mean everything—may I suggest a kit for whittling your own izakaya-grade chopsticks?

2019 in Review

It’s that wonderful time of year, when, well…pretty much anyone with an opinion is more than willing to tell you what to think about the musical, literary, and filmic output of the last twelve months.

I’d offer up my own end-of-year recommendations for books and music, but (1) I’m lazy and (2) nobody really cares what I think. So instead I’ll point you to the inimitable Ted Gioia and his Best Online Essays of 2019, along with his 100 Best Recordings of 2019. That should tide you over for a while.

While we’re at it, Gioia’s Music: A Subversive History is getting all kinds of attention. I haven’t purchased it yet myself, mostly because I’m waiting to see if someone is (ahem) thoughtful enough to wrap it up and put it under the tree for me. Or, if it’s easier, pick it up at Auntie’s and drop it off at the office. You know, in case you’re wondering what to get me this year.

[head smack]

WNYC, a public radio station in New York, has cancelled “New Sounds,” a show that’s been running for 37 years. In fact, pretty much all of its music programming will be gone by the end of the year. It should come as no surprise to anyone that, in these terrible times, news/talk is a more popular format than music.

BUT.

That’s not why I’m drawing your attention to this story. No, that would be because of a particularly cringe-inducing phrase. According to the New York Times, WYNC made the announcement to employees via an email, which said that the station will “sunset the NEW SOUNDS brand.” I’d throw up a series of barfing emojis here, but I’m an adult.

“Sunset the NEW SOUNDS brand” isn’t just equivocation. It’s a big steaming pile of bullshit. WYNC management determined that its audience wants less music and more news and talk; the station cancelled its music programming. Period. End of story. “New Sounds” isn’t a brand; it is (or rather was) a radio show. And the use of “sunset” as a verb? Come on.

I wish this were an isolated incident, but, alas, I see this stuff more and more every day: a complete hostility toward speaking in plain English. It’s like every marketing communications degree now requires a semester of Prevarication 101.

“Prefer the specific to the general, the definite to the vague, the concrete to the abstract.” That’s how Strunk & White put it in The Elements of Style. And it’s as important in office communications as it is in writing. Give it a try some time. You’ll find that your words will be far more effective when you’re not trying so hard to be creative.

Update

Remember how, way back in July, I told you about the upcoming launch of a WSU-bred apple 22 years in the making—but that, really, the post was less about the apple itself than it was an excuse for me to take a dig at marketing hyperbole?

Well, last weekend, I had the opportunity to actually taste one. And I’ll just say this about that: While I take a pretty dim view of our ability to perfect anything on this Earth, the Cosmic Crisp™ is quite possibly mankind’s crowning achievement.

Hyperbole, schmyperbole. I paid $10 for four apples, and I’ll do it again.

And the decline of Western Civilization continues apace…

Citing “the ignorance and laziness present in modern times,” John Richards, 96, has closed the Apostrophe Protection Society. “Fewer organisations and individuals,” says Richards, “are now caring about the correct use of the apostrophe in the English Language.”

Well… yeah. Nobody cares about the serial comma, either. Or the proper use of the phrase “begs the question.” Or that the past participle of drag is dragged, not drug.

I could go on.

And…Action!

When we started this business nearly 32 years ago, we never would have guessed that today we’d be working on such diverse project types. One in particular is videos, which range from 15-, 30-, and 60-second TV spots to long-form presentations and instructional films to documentaries and fully animated stories. At last count, our YouTube channel featured more than 70 of them.

Our services typically include creative development, script writing, planning and logistics, art direction, voiceover and music selection, and editing – always in collaboration with very talented production houses, animators, musicians, and, of course, our clients. These projects are some of the most creatively challenging and the most rewarding, which is why we finally added a separate work category just for videos.

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