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Science nerds, rejoice!

River Runner enables you to “drop a raindrop anywhere in the contiguous United States and watch where it ends up;” 3D Periodic Table offers up all sorts of customizations, like sorting elements by their atomic radius or electronegativity or abundance in Earth’s crust.

Keep in mind that these are under the headline “Timewasters” for what should be fairly obvious reasons. I therefore cannot be held responsible for any loss of productivity.

Deep Thoughts

In his diary entry for October 8, 1995, Brian Eno may have hit on something truly profound: “Starting to think that all the world’s major problems can be solved with either oyster sauce or backing vocals.”

Or…did he? I mean, oyster sauce is great and all, and backing vocals pretty much made Dark Side of the Moon what it is, but something’s not quite right about this formulation.

So, if I may be so bold—after all, unlike Mr. Eno, I’m neither an influential theorist nor a particularly innovative artist, and I don’t (yet) have an asteroid named after me—I’d like to offer a slight edit: “All of the world’s problems—major or otherwise—would go away entirely if more people listened to the Grateful Dead.”

There. That’s better.

Stop! Grammar Time!

I’ve been trying—no, really, I have!—to be less judgmental about typos in print. But inevitably I’ll come across something like this: “Both songs, which are among the catchiest in the KISS cannon, still hold up, particularly the former.”

Now, unless KISS stores its songs in a piece of heavy artillery (which would be pretty much on-brand for these guys), the writer probably meant canon*:

canon noun “The body of rules, principles, or standards accepted as axiomatic and universally binding in a field of study or art.”

That’s not quite right, though. By definition, a canon must include works by multiple artists, e.g. the heavy metal canon. So I think what the writer actually intended to convey was oeuvre:

oeuvre noun “The works of a writer, painter, or the like, taken as a whole.”

Yes, yes, it’s perhaps a bit much to use a pretentious French loanword when speaking of a band whose bass player wears “demon makeup…breathes fire…and spits out blood.” But then, a grown man actually reviewed a KISS concert in 2021, so….

*To be fair, homophones, which I’ve written about here and, more recently, here, can trip up even the most careful of writers.

Hello? Anyone There?

Yeah, yeah—I know. It’s been a while since we posted anything here. Four weeks, by my reckoning. So what have we been doing with our time?

Short answer: a lot.

Long answer: Various and sundry signage and experiential graphics projects on multiple sites; a targeted digital advertising/direct mail campaign; giant touchscreen content development, programming, and installation; several regulatory documents, at least one of which clocks in at more than 100 pages; even a political campaign.

None of this is meant as an excuse, exactly. It’s just that we’ve been busier’n a farmer with one hoe and two rattlesnakes. And when one of those rattlesnakes is a paying client and the other is a blog about nothing—that nobody noticed had gone dormant anyway—well…guess which one is gonna get whacked? (Maybe not the best of analogies, I suppose, but hey, I’m a little rusty.)

So hang tight, regular readers—if any of you are left. We’ll get some of that sweet, sweet content you’re craving up in no time.

Public Service Announcement

Bidding on a first-edition copy of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations commences in five days. Fewer than a thousand were printed, and it sold out in six months. Christie’s estimates the book, in two volumes, will bring in $80,000 to $120,000 – which, when you think about it, is a pretty paltry sum for “the first major expression of the theory of free trade.”

And in the event you’re interested in purchasing any of 13 vehicles featured in the 2015 film Mad Max: Fury Road, Lloyd’s will no longer accept offers after 7 p.m. Australian Eastern Standard Time on September 26th. Don’t worry if you can’t be there to pick up your War Rig or Ratrod Chev: “Nitrous, no-nonsense shipping can be arranged for anywhere in what’s left of the World.”


Tom Holland and Dominic Sandbrook’s The Rest Is History, a twice-weekly podcast, is just the sort of thing we need right now for a little context and perspective.

Two newly released jazz box sets—Lee Morgan’s The Complete Live at the Lighthouse and Anthony Braxton’s massive Quartet (Standards) 2020—ought to keep you busy for a while.

Having recently read “the definitive history of the Vikings” by a professor in the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History at Uppsala University, Sweden, you’d think I would’ve turned my nose up at the History Channel’s Vikings, but then you’d be wrong. I’ve been streaming it on Amazon Prime, and honestly, I can’t get enough of it.

Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series, featuring a world-renowned art restorer/Israeli assassin (no, really) is eminently enjoyable.

Yay! More Grammar!

Following up on Tuesday’s post, I think a lot of people reflexively use if instead of whether because the latter is homophonous with weather. We already have enough trouble with its and it’s (not to mention medal, meddle, metal, and mettle), and it’s just easier to avoid embarrassment, even if that means being a little less clear.

I get it. In fact, I’m pretty sure the only reason I’m slightly less inclined to make that mistake is that, when I was a kid, I learned that yet another spelling and meaning exists: A wether is a castrated ram.* Which makes weather, wether, and whether multinyms.

*I learned this from, um, castrating rams. Which led to coming up with what 12-year-old me thought was a knee-slappingly hilarious joke: I’d choose the next victim from the pen and announce, “He’s next.” Then I’d grab my trusty elastrator and get to work. After the poor lamb staggered back to the flock in shame, I’d turn to my step-dad and say, “I just predicted the wether!”

Get it? Get it?

Some Good News for a Change

Maybe it’s my age, but it seems increasingly difficult to be sanguine about, well…pretty much anything, really. Even my wife, who’s often been (somewhat) unfairly maligned as a Pollyanna, has been getting in on the curmudgeon action lately.

So when David Walsh, a University of Virginia postdoctoral fellow, asked his Twitter followers what has gotten “materially better” in America over the last twenty years, the responses provide “a nice reminder that a lot of stuff really has been getting better over the past few decades and American society isn’t really the perpetual motion fail machine many people make it out to be.”

Similarly, back in April, marked “the beginning of #78DaysOfProgress, a thread that will outline seventy-eight different ways the world is getting better.” Here’s the thread in its entirety.

I suppose this is all cause for hope. But then, if organizations and individuals feel compelled to convince us that, despite what seems patently obvious, things are actually ducky, I’m not so sure that’s a good sign.

Stop! Grammar Time!

For nearly all of my professional writing life, part of my job has included editing others’ work. During that time I’ve learned that most people don’t understand capitalization, subscribe to all manner of superstitions around how sentences should begin and end, and generally use far too many words.

Here’s another thing: People are far more likely to write if when they ought to use whether. Paul Brians explains the difference:

“If” is used frequently in casual speech and writing where some others would prefer “whether”: “I wonder if you would be willing to dress up as a giant turnip for the parade?” Revise to “I wonder whether. . . .” “If” can’t really be called an error, but when you are discussing two alternative possibilities, “whether” sounds more polished. (The two possibilities in this example are: 1) you would be willing or 2) you wouldn’t. In sentences using “whether” “or not” is often understood.) Don’t substitute the very different word “whither,” which means “where.”

The way I was taught is that if is conditional, i.e., if X, then Y.

“If I were a rich man,” sings Tevye in Fiddler on The Roof,

I’d build a big tall house with rooms by the dozen
Right in the middle of the town
A fine tin roof with real wooden floors below
There would be one long staircase just going up
And one even longer coming down
And one more leading nowhere, just for show

See how that works? If he were rich, then he’d blow his money.

But if you’re wondering about the state of Tevye’s finances, you might ask one of his friends, “Do you know whether Tevye is rich?” There are two possibilities, neither of which is conditional: (1) yes, he’s rich, or (2) no, he’s not.

And right about now you’re thinking to yourself, I wonder whether Aaron is this much of a pedant in real life.

Requiescite in pace, Mr. Watts

Speaking of Charlie Watts (you didn’t think I’d let his death pass without saying something, did you?), I think Jack Hamilton over at Slate gets it exactly right: Watts was “a drummer whose whole musicality…vastly exceeded the sum of its parts….”

Even though I think Watts’s jazz chops are a bit overstated, it’s apparent how much he was influenced by the genre in the way he could set—and hold—an unmistakable groove. In other words, while I doubt he could swing as hard as, say, Jimmy Cobb, Watts understood that his role was as much about creating a feeling as it was keeping time. And that’s not a very rock ‘n’ roll approach to drumming.

“You can’t learn to play music like this,” writes Hamilton. “You’re born with those ears or you’re not. No one will ever play drums like Charlie Watts, the perfect drummer in what was, once upon a time, the perfect band.”

Butt Fluff Was Robbed!

With all the terrible stuff in the news of late—Afghanistan, COVID, the death of Charlie Watts—it’s worth remembering the words of Samwise Gamgee:

It’s like the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad has happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines, it’ll shine out the clearer. I know now folks in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something. That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.

And what could be more worth fighting for than, say, corgi racing?

Survey Says…

Want to measure your “verbal creativity”? Got four minutes? You’re in luck.

The Divergent Association Task is a quick measure of verbal creativity and divergent thinking, the ability to generate diverse solutions to open-ended problems. The task involves thinking of 10 words that are as different from each other as possible. For example, the words cat and dog are similar, but the words cat and book are not. People who are more creative tend to generate words that have greater distances between them. These distances are inferred by examining how often the words are used together in similar contexts. Still, this task measures only a sliver of the complex process of creativity.

Yeah, I took the test:

Now, it should be noted that divergent thinking appears nowhere on the authoritative list of “100 Skills Every Man Should Know,” so I’m not sure any of this actually matters. But that’s not going to stop me from sending my score to CK and demanding a substantial raise.

Louder = Better

“My chief complaint against some practitioners of heavy metal guitar from the early 70s through the early 80s,” writes guitarist and composer Marc Ribot, “is that I can immediately tell their distorted sounds are not really placing their amps at risk. To whatever extent I have a moral sensibility, this offends it.”

Reminds me of one Saturday morning when, thinking I was alone in the office, I figured it was okay to play Earth 2: Special Low-Frequency Version at an appropriately ear-splitting volume. I was about mid-way through “Teeth of Lions Rule the Divine” before I realized CK was, in fact, also in the building. He was somehow under the impression that the refrigerator was dying. The majesty of drone metal apparently eludes him.

You’ll Be Reading These until the Cows Come Home to Roost

A malaphor, according to Wiktionary, is a blend of malapropism and metaphor; “an error in which two similar figures of speech are merged, producing an often nonsensical result.” The Washington Post‘s Lawrence Harrison apparently coined the term back in 1976.

Luckily for us, Dave Hatfield has been collecting specimens for more than 30 years. (Not surprisingly, most of his examples come from the political sphere.)

Stop! Grammar Time!

This is your daily reminder that premises, when referring to a tract of land together with its buildings, is already a singular noun. So your home is your premises, not your premise. (The latter is a logical proposition or legal statement.)

While I’m, at it, I should also point out that it’s versus, not verse, when, e.g., you run across something like this:

(Because it turns out we get versus from the Latin adversus for against. Either v. or vs. is an acceptable abbreviation.)

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