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Stop! Grammar Time!

Because these things matter, if only to keep the barbarians beyond the gates for a little while longer:

An abbreviation is a shortened word or phrase. Like Wash. instead of Washington.

An initialism is an abbreviation whose letters are individually pronounced. FBI, for example.

An acronym is an an abbreviation that forms a word: YOLO, AWOL, GIF. (Sometimes, they become actual words – like laser, from Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.)

Look at it this way: Both initialisms and acronyms are types of abbreviations. It’s just that one creates a word and the other doesn’t.

Just One Year Ago

On August 4, 2018, helveticka celebrated its 30th anniversary. The occasion was marked by an exhibit titled CX30: Creative Experiences, Thirty Collaborators. It featured 30 collaborators who played an important role in helping us reach this milestone. In case you missed it, here’s a link to the site that features each of their individual stories. A year later, many of these creative partners are still lending their expertise to our projects.

photograph courtesy of Chad Ramsey

Above are 24 of the 30 exhibit subjects – mostly local, but some from Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Portland, and Seattle – who joined Linda and me during our anniversary celebration. Now that’s one serious talent pool.

Thank you, Internet…

…for all things design and cat – the best of two wonderful worlds.

Cat pin puns from Niaski: Pablo Picatso, Piet Meowdrian, and Keith Hairball. (There are more, of course. A lot more.)

Love me a cat sitting chicken-style.

So sweet I could melt – but this is even SWEETER.

I should probably get back to work now.

Travis Rivers, RIP

When I entered Eastern Washington University in the fall of 1985 as a freshman music major, I had no idea what I was getting into. I just remember that the possibilities seemed endless. I literally believed that I had a chance of playing in a major symphony orchestra.

It was a different time, of course. Professional orchestras were still economically viable, for one thing. And doesn’t every eighteen-year-old have more confidence than sense?

One of the things that sticks out from my first week of classes was the humorlessness of the professors. Theory, aural skills, music history: it was a dour bunch, with maybe two exceptions. The first was Richard Obregon, who, in a moment of weakness (and, in retrospect, somewhat irresponsibly), gave me his recipe for cactus coolers; the second was Travis Rivers.

Travis, who died last week at the age of 81, was every bit the nattily dressed walking encyclopedia that people remember. But he was also a kind, thoughtful, and extraordinarily funny man. As chairman of the department, he’d frequently roam the halls, hands behind his back and a twinkle in his eye as he’d chat up students, offer a wry observation, or crack a joke so dry it would sometimes take a day or two before you’d get it.

He was a hell of a writer, too.

Around 2001 – more than a decade after I’d left EWU – I began writing music criticism for The Local Planet, a short-lived alternative weekly that handled news more irreverently than the Spokesman and covered arts more seriously than the Inlander. It wasn’t the sort of publication you’d imagine Travis would read, and yet, a day or two after my first piece appeared, there it was: a congratulatory email from the man himself. I was surprised he’d remembered me at all, to be honest. But he knew I had a talent, he wrote – not so much for musicianship, as it happened, but for writing. And he’d always known I’d find a way to do it for a living.

Travis was one of those quiet people who made an outsized difference in a lot of lives. And I’ll be forever grateful for the time I knew him.

Pagans and Heathens and Hippies, Oh My!

Over at The Baffler, there’s a great piece by Edward Millar and John Semley on one of my favorite films of all time – 1973’s The Wicker Man – and the subgenre it begot: folk horror. “[A]t its core,” they write, “folk horror is speculative fiction about the failures of the Age of Enlightenment.” Contrary to supernatural horror (like, say, The Exorcist, which also came out in 1973), folk horror “inverts rather than negates Enlightenment philosophy: the mob sacrifices the individual, peasant superstitions supplant science and reason as the true source of knowledge, a holistic and animistic conception of the universe overtakes an atomistic and mechanistic one.”

The Exorcist did to horror what 2001: A Space Odyssey did to science fiction; what The Good, The Bad and The Ugly did to the western; what The Godfather did to crime dramas. But while William Friedkin’s classic is rightly considered one of the scariest films ever made, The Wicker Man is – for me, anyway – even more terrifying. Thanks to Millar and Semley, I now have a better understanding why. And now I really, really want to see Midsommar.

What Goes Around…

Kevin Drum’s helpful “Short Primer on Modern Nuclear Reactor Design” includes a mention of thermal breeders – a type of reactor that produces more fuel than it uses.

Sound too good to be true?

Not when you consider that, on December 20, 1951, Experimental Breeder Reactor No. 1, near Arco, Idaho, became the first power plant in the world to produce electricity using atomic energy. That’s an impressive feat in and of itself. But there’s more: In 1953, testing confirmed that EBR-1 was, in fact, breeding fuel. The reactor operated safely for 12 years.

So when Drum says that breeder reactor technology represents one of many ideas that “deserve buckets of money for research to make them ever cheaper, more reliable, and easier to maintain,” keep in mind that we had a working one sixty-six years ago.

Generating electricity.

In Idaho.

The Dark Side of Marketing

“The Cosmic Crisp is debuting on [sic] grocery stores after this fall’s harvest,” writes Brooke Jarvis in The California Sunday Magazine, “and in the nervous lead-up to the launch, everyone from nursery operators to marketers wanted me to understand the crazy scope of the thing: the scale of the plantings, the speed with which mountains of commercially untested fruit would be arriving on the market, the size of the capital risk. People kept saying things like ‘unprecedented,’ ‘on steroids,’ ‘off the friggin’ charts,’ and ‘the largest launch of a single produce item in American history.'”

It’s the result of 22 years of research and development. It’s the first of its kind named by consumers. And its launch plans include a bevy of social media “influencers.”

It’s…an apple.

It’s Happening

Asteroid OD 2019, an Apollo-type NEO (Near Earth Object), is scheduled to do a fly-by tomorrow around 6:30 a.m.

Pretty sure this sort of thing happens all the time. I mean, look at this table.

Now, um…look a little closer. OD 2019 is estimated to be anywhere from 51 to 110 meters in diameter. It’s going to be traveling at a brisk 19.18 km a second (nearly 43,000 mph). And it’s going to be closer to us than our own moon.

So, you know, nothing to worry about. Nothing at all.


Lionel Shriver on the menace of “semantic drift.”

Kevin Dettmar reports from The World of Bob Dylan Symposium, a four-day public conference hosted by the George Kaiser Family Foundation.

Things get a little…uncomfortable at Stu Bykofsky’s going-away party.

In a piece over at the Atlantic titled “The Unbearable Smugness of Walking,” Michael Lapointe asks the important question: “What would it mean, for once, simply to walk and say nothing about it?”

Sh*t just got real in the culture wars.

Bang a Gong

“Creating a Gong,” according to Paiste, “is a dedication to the deeper meaning of the structured, focused vibrations which unfold into sound upon playing the Gong and thus have an effect on human beings.” It’s not just the sound, you see, it’s the vibrations; the feelings that “reach into the depths of your psyche.”

If that all sounds a bit, well…hippy-dippy, it’s because it is. But that certainly doesn’t mean it isn’t true. I mean, if gongmaster Sven Meier can’t reach into the depths of your psyche with his 80-inch symphonic gong, ain’t nobody can:

A Fragile State

Apart from being a talented designer, our own Steven Kutsch is an amateur mountaineer, recovering Red Bull addict, and Saw aficionado. And not too long ago, he was pretty quick on his feet.

Kutsch started running in the third grade. He lost only one race during his seventh-grade cross country and track seasons. As a sophomore at Mead High School, he was a member of the cross country team that took fifth at nationals; they were state champions his junior year. By the end of Kutsch’s high school career, he’d set a personal record of 4:14 in the mile.

At the University of Oregon, Kutsch ran the steeplechase; at Sacramento state, the 1,500 and steeplechase; at EWU, “pretty much whatever I wanted.” His 1,500 PR? 3:54—a 4:12.4 mile.

So it should come as no surprise that this news isn’t sitting all that well with him. That’s right, folks: Last week, Sifan Hassan became the first woman to beat Kutsch’s mile record—and she did it by seven-hundredths of a second. (NB: The title of this post was suggested by Kutsch himself, who’s been spending most of his time since the news broke curled up in the fetal position under his desk.)

All of which is just a prelude to the real point of this blog post: We’re getting weaker as a species.

Shots Fired in the Culture War

People of a certain age will no doubt remember this stunt:

That was forty years ago today. But because everything is terrible and problematic these days, some people are—of course!—”questioning the ideological underpinnings of Disco Demolition Night.” It wasn’t just a stupid promotion gone wrong, you see, it was “a homophobic and a racist event.”


Here’s the thing: There’s good disco…

…and there’s bad rock and roll.

But honestly, there’s a lot more bad disco, right? That’s got nothing to do with race or sexual preference. That’s just science.

Take a Breather

The internet is amazing. Typography is the coolest. Put ’em both together and you get one full 30-minute break from work (at least):

SHAPE TYPE  a letter shaping game


KERNTYPE  a kerning game


Quote of the Day

The trouble with the contemporary generation is that it has not read the minutes of the last meeting.

Richard Weaver (1910–63)
from Ideas Have Consequences

A Recommendation

I’ve been reading Benjamin Dreyer’s Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style, and even though I’m only about forty pages in, I’m pretty sure Mr. Dreyer is my spirit animal.

For one thing, while he admits that “[t]here are fewer absolutes in writing than you might think,” he also confirms one of my long-held suspicions: “Only godless savages eschew the series comma.”

For another, he’s refreshingly honest:

I suspect that I’m not the only person currently reading this page who was not especially well trained, back in school days, in the ins and outs of grammar. When I started out as a copy editor, I realized that most of what I knew about grammar I knew instinctively. That is, I knew how most—certainly not all—of the grammar things worked; I simply didn’t know what they were called.

Even now I’d be hard-pressed to tell you what a nominative absolute is, I think the word “genitive” sounds vaguely smutty, and I certainly don’t know, or care to know, how to diagram a sentence.

Finally, Dreyer makes the argument I’ve been trying to make for twenty years now. “I swear to you,” he writes, “a well-constructed sentence sounds better. Literally sounds better.”

Sweet, sweet vindication. I was starting to feel like I was taking crazy pills.

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