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Some Light Verse

While I’m not so much of a cotton-headed ninny-muggins as to suggest that all we need is to give peace a chance, I do believe that a good poem goes a long way toward healing the ills of our existence. With that in mind, readers of the last word will occasionally be treated to a hunk of verse hand-selected by AMD’s very own Poet Laureate. (That would be me.)

Today’s selection comes from William Plomer:

In the vegetarian guesthouse
All was frolic, feast, and fun;
Eager voices were enquiring,
“Are the nettle cutlets done?”
Peals of vegetarian laughter,
Husky, wholesome, wholemeal bread;
Will the evening finish with a
Rush of cocoa to the head?

Prepare to Be Grammared

The Boston Globe‘s Erin McKean seems to think that the practice of “verbing”—perhaps the worst thing to happen to the English language since Allen Ginsberg—is a conscientious effort to streamline communication. And a good thing, at that.

Regular readers of the last word won’t be surprised to learn that, when it comes to the use of “status,” “reference,” “transition,” et al. as verbs, I’m firmly in this camp. As should be all those who care about good writing.

Leaving a Bad Taste

Now I know the fine folks at Latah Creek Winery really do care what we all think of their new Monarch Red bottle labels, but do they really need to ask the general public? It would seem so, since they’re asking for your help in selecting from among five different label designs, each featuring the same local artist’s work. And while the label painting is fine, the thought of turning over the final design decision to the public makes me want to not swallow my Pinot Gris.

“If I’d asked my customers what they wanted,” Henry Ford famously observed, “they’d have said a faster horse.” This has been quoted—often—by none other than Apple Computer’s focus-group-averse CEO Steve Jobs, who, by the way, isn’t a fan of letting the public decide anything. And strangely enough, this strategy seems to be working pretty well for him. While none of this is to say that public perceptions should be ignored, it’s a shame when packaging design is reduced to a popularity contest.

But maybe I’m missing the point. Latah Creek will gain PR value from having someone select the actual label design. (I know I prefer to drink from the labels that we’ve designed.) Or it could be they really can’t decide among the five labels which is going to “attract your attention the most on a store shelf.” Worse yet, they might actually believe the general public does have a clue as to what makes for good consumer packaging.

We all like hearing what people think because, well…it makes us feel better. “Honey, does this color look good on me?” Or, “Does this wine label make my bottle look too big?” So go here if you want to say you helped decide the future of Latah’s new premium red wine. I would, but I doubt you’re allowed to vote to take the label design in a slightly different direction.

The Best Show in Town

My wife and I attended the Harold Balazs art exhibit opening this past Saturday at the MAC. It was a real treat, and I highly recommend seeing this exhibit.

When we arrived, Harold was just introduced and began to make a few remarks. Apparently, the microphone wasn’t working, and we did our best to hear his words of wisdom. A fixture in Spokane’s art community, Harold is one of the most renowned artists of the Pacific Northwest. He always seems to be humbled by the fact that so many people enjoy the “stuff” he makes (he prefers not to call his work “art”). Harold is always honest, funny, and smart. He’s the guy you want to have around your campfire.

In the early 1960s he came up with his signature phrase “transcend the bullshit.”  It may well describe his philosophy about life. Every time I see a piece created by Harold, a single word always comes to mind: whimsy. Thanks, Harold, for making serious art so approachable and fun.

“Human Feeding Can Cause Overcrowding”

So the missus and I were enjoying a picnic in Cannon Hill Park last night when, as I was about to throw a hunk of sourdough bread to a pitiful-looking duck, she pointed to the sign:

I hate to be a grammar snob (really I do), but c’mon. “Human feeding”? The unnecessary—and rather Germanic—capitalization of “pond”? Worst of all is the comma splice, an indicator that the writer in question quit paying attention in English class around the seventh grade or so.

What’s a comma splice? Glad you asked. It’s when two independent clauses are joined by a comma. It’s also called a run-on sentence. (No, a long sentence is not, in and of itself, a run-on sentence.)

Anyway, in this case, “Ducks on this Pond are wild” is the first clause; “please help us keep them that way” is the second. There are three ways to address this. The first is to add a conjunction, like “so” (an inelegant solution at best).

Ducks on this Pond are wild, so please help us keep them that way.

The second is to use a semicolon instead of the comma.

Ducks on this Pond are wild; please help us keep them that way.

Finally, we could just write two sentences.

Ducks on this Pond are wild. Please help us keep them that way.

Here’s a quick test: if the parts of your sentence can stand on their own, don’t make the mistake of using only a comma to separate them.

And hey, Spokane Parks and Recreation? I’m available to proofread on a per-sign basis. Just call AMD corporate headquarters and we’ll have a contract drawn up.

Behold the Gender Genie!

Following up on yesterday’s post (scroll down), here’s an application that uses a super-secret algorithm to determine, from a writing sample, whether you’re male or female.

I tried to stump it, but to no avail. The Gender Genie correctly guessed “male” with every sample I entered. Clearly, then, I’m all man. It’s scientific.


I write like
Stephen King

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Well then. Not at all what I expected. This nifty little application analyzes your writing—with a “statistical analysis tool,” no less—and tells you what famous author it most resembles.

So I had a short story scrutinized, followed by a handful of articles and feature stories, then some random long-form stuff I’ve done here at AMD. Apart from the occasional anomaly (H.P. Lovecraft, George Orwell), the overwhelming consensus seems to be that I write like Stephen King.

That’s a pretty strong case for a raise, I’m thinking.

Architectural Eye Candy


There are some questionable choices in this list of the most important works of architecture created since 1980 – on purely aesthetic grounds, anyway. But then, 52 experts can’t be wrong, can they?

BONUS! Click on the link to see a pop-up ad featuring Angelina Jolie looking even more fetching than usual!

Would a Hobo Eat a Ham Sandwich?

As someone who tried Facebook for a while, let me assure you that the answer to the question “Has Facebook fatigue set in?” is a resounding yes.

Yes, I know, I’m a bit of a misanthrope, but still. Stick a fork in it.

Now, if only Twitter would go away.

Our First Sports Post!

So. LeBron James has decided to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat. Apparently, this is a huge deal. Who knew?

There seems to be an inordinately large number of people donning sackcloth and ashes—as if James’ decision actually meant something other than an NBA superstar’s self-interest. And it’s not just fans and sportswriters. Politicians are even involved.

The best part of the whole affair is the open letter posted on the  Cavaliers’ website by majority owner Dan Gilbert. Ignore, if you can, Gilbert’s egregious abuse of quotation marks, the four-period ellipses that evidently serve as terminal punctuation, the confusion surrounding the use of hyphens. No, no—take a look instead at the font. Is it…could it be…?

Yes! It’s Comic Sans!

Now you know he’s serious.

On Divas

Courtesy of Alex Ross, whose blog The Rest Is Noise should be required reading for lovers of the new classical music scene, comes this, from the Metrpolitan Opera’s head of costumes Lesley C. Weston:

“I’ve seen more divalike behavior in Starbucks over soy milk than I’ve seen backstage at the Metropolitan Opera.”

The full article is here.

A Look Back

Excerpted from an article by William A. Fetter entitled “Computer Graphics at Boeing,” Print magazine, November/December 1966:

“My conviction about the possible change in some creative processes brought about by the computer is that speculation in this matter is valuable so long as it is coupled with a conscious effort to shape the technology toward meeting basic human goals—including human creativity. I feel it is not completely a question of what the computer will do to us, but a determination of what we will best have the computer do for us.”

This entire issue of Print (still a relevant design publication today) was dedicated to “The Designer and the Computer.” Here’s the opening line from the editors: “What will the effect of the new computer technology be on graphic design? On the designer himself? On the total design environment?”

Quote of the Week

“The malady of our age is mediocrity.”

I found this several years ago while reading a volume of the collected spiritual writings of Kierkegaard, edited by Charles E. Moore (the line is actually Moore’s).

The thought stands on its own, of course—apart from any spiritual meaning.

“The wood nymph fairies blissfully pranced…”

Speaking of bad writing, it seems the winners of the 2010 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest have been announced. Named for Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, the man behind “It was a dark and stormy night,” the contest challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels.

This year’s grand prize winner is Seattle’s Molly Ringle, who penned the following:

For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity’s affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss—a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity’s mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world’s thirstiest gerbil.

A brief history of the contest, as well as contributions from winners and runners-up in categories like adventure and purple prose, can be found here.

Summer Reading

I’ve often puzzled over summer reading recommendations, the implicit assumption being that we all have more time to read during June, July, and August. Or that people who normally find fulfillment in So You Think You Can Dance will suddenly turn to Dostoevsky simply because there’s more light in the day.

With that said however, I offer the last word‘s first book recommendation, which just so happens to be a great summer read—if for no other reason than I just finished it, and it’s summer.

It’s Philip K. Dick’s Dr. Bloodmoney, or How We Got Along after the Bomb. It’s a brilliant—and creepy—story of a group of World War III survivors that includes a phocomelus with psychokinetic powers, an eight-year-old girl and her parasitic twin, a talking dog, and a paranoid atomic physicist. Great stuff.

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