Strunk + White

fountain pen on notepad

I had a dream the oth­er night. I was vis­it­ing a friend—I don’t recall who, but it might have been one of the Craigs I know—and, left alone in a room, I was look­ing over the friend’s bookcase.

I found on there a copy of The Ele­ments of Style, col­lo­qui­al­ly known as “Strunk + White” after the authors. In the real world it’s a thin book, not much more impos­ing than a pam­phlet; I’ve read novel­las that are longer. But in the dream it was a trade paper­back, prob­a­bly 400 pages long, and I pulled it off the shelf. I used to have a copy, in the dream, and I thought maybe I’d lent it to this friend.

But if it was my copy, I had­n’t put my name in the front, which I usu­al­ly do when I lend out a book. So I hes­i­tat­ed, con­tem­plat­ed tak­ing it any­way, then decid­ed not to risk it. I put it back on the shelf.

I don’t remem­ber the rest of the dream.

When I searched the Inter­net for “Strunk and White”, I found this arti­cle from Mignon Fog­a­r­ty, aka Gram­mar Girl, in which she lays out one rea­son why she does­n’t much care for The Ele­ments of Style. (TL;DR: it’s a style guide that every­one treats like it’s a gram­mar book. In oth­er words, it’s a set of sug­ges­tions that peo­ple instead treat like laws.)

Amazon v. English Punctuation

Appar­ent­ly is not a fan of hyphens (note to those with an F‑bomb sen­si­tiv­i­ty: the linked arti­cle con­tains a few). This is ludi­crous for a lot of reasons:

  1. Hyphens are absolute­ly nec­es­sary in some sit­u­a­tions (there’s the “one night­stand” vs. “one-night stand” that the ref­er­enced post brings up, and phras­es like “twen­ty-year lease”, “hun­dred-dol­lar bill”, “the whole good-ver­sus-evil trope” all use them).
  2. Hyphens1 are used in Eng­lish for var­i­ous rea­sons, and any­one who’s read most any book that does­n’t have more pic­tures than words — what my nephews charm­ing­ly refer to as “chap­ter books” — has encoun­tered them, and puz­zled out how they work. A prac­ticed read­er’s eye will sim­ply skip over them. They’re a near­ly invis­i­ble piece of punc­tu­a­tion, their func­tion in any giv­en sit­u­a­tion transparent.
  3. If hun­dreds or thou­sands of peo­ple have read a book with­out any trou­bles, then it should take more than one com­plaint to sud­den­ly make Ama­zon (or any algo­rithm with an iota of fair­ness cod­ed into it) decide to even flag a book for trou­ble, let alone remove it from circulation.

I haven’t read the book in ques­tion; I had­n’t heard of this par­tic­u­lar author before I read a post in the Fic­tion Writ­ers’ group on Face­book regard­ing this par­tic­u­lar post.

Check­ing out the pre­view of his nov­el, here are the first few hyphen/dash uses I came across:

  • …a tall, grey-haired man…”
  • …Mac-10…”
  • …Mid-thir­ties…”
  • …drug-fuelled sex act…”
  • …Not the sort of men­tal image you want of your mother-in-law…”

They all look cor­rect, in my stud­ied opin­ion. I sup­pose you could replace moth­er-in-law with moth­er in law, but even that looks bet­ter to my eye with the dash­es. (I’d spell it fueled, and I sus­pect the weapon in ques­tion is a MAC-10, but the nit­picks there don’t involve the dashes.)

As pre­sent­ed, this is a ludi­crous sit­u­a­tion, one that I sure­ly hope Ama­zon will correct.

(It might be nice, though, to read Cor­mac McCarthy’s The Road with some punc­tu­a­tion. Actu­al­ly, no; I can’t envi­sion a punc­tu­a­tion sys­tem that would ever make The Road a nice read. Not even scratch-‘n’-sniff daisies and smi­ley faces on every page.)

  1. Fine, hyphens and var­i­ous species of dash. Typog­ra­phers know the dif­fer­ences, and can lec­ture you at length about them. For the sake of brevi­ty I’m lump­ing them all — utter­ly incor­rect­ly — under the “hyphen” ban­ner. Mea cul­pa


Some of my short fic­tion — all the stuff I post­ed on Ficlets (RIP), for instance — is licensed with a rather per­mis­sive Cre­ative Com­mons Attri­bu­tion-Share­Alike license.  This means that when it turns up on a site like Com­puma­trix, I can’t request that it be tak­en down.

painted by Ron Hartgrove
From Ron Hart­grove’s “Book of Days” project

Not that this both­ers me, real­ly.  My words are being read, and some­times in places I’d nev­er expect.  Maybe it torques me a lit­tle that some­one’s “mon­e­tized” my works, but I have the feel­ing that the mon­ey involved is pret­ty small.  (I don’t know; maybe “Wilma(logima)” is rolling in long green thanks to me.  I doubt I’ll ever know for sure. I also doubt I’ll lose sleep over it.)

Most of the ficlets that I wrote were dashed off in fif­teen min­utes; some­times the hard­est part was trim­ming them down to fit the site’s 1024-char­ac­ter max­i­mum.  I’m glad peo­ple still find them so fascinating.

Places I’ve found my ficlets

I’m sure it’s popped up oth­er places, some of which I’ll even­tu­al­ly stum­ble upon.  Like I said, the Ficlets are licensed per­mis­sive­ly, and I have no inten­tions of try­ing to get any of them tak­en down.  (I’ll do what I can to make sure they’re prop­er­ly attrib­uted, of course.)  I’m just glad peo­ple are enjoy­ing my fiction.

Speak­ing of which:  There’s more fic­tion over here, if you’re inter­est­ed. (The bulk of which, please note, is not CC-licensed.)

Today’s Excitement

Well, appar­ent­ly a cou­ple moose wan­dered onto a school play­ground and had to be tran­quil­ized. My cowork­er said there were six police cars there when he went by.

But the real excite­ment was at our house.

I woke up about 5:50 AM and thought, That sounds like keys in my lock. I threw on some clothes and went down­stairs. There was a guy in the porch — appar­ent­ly I’d left the out­side door open last night, whoops — try­ing to fit his keys into my lock. I got his atten­tion by smack­ing the wall next to the door, intend­ing to tell him he had the wrong house. As soon as he saw me through the win­dow in the door, though, he start­ed try­ing to ram his way in with his shoulder.

OK, I thought, if you’re going to be aggres­sive, you can talk to the police. I grabbed the phone and dialed 911 as I head­ed upstairs. Mean­while, he set­tled down and went back to try­ing his keys.

While I was on the phone with 911 he start­ed bash­ing again. About five min­utes into the call, the police arrived. K and I watched from the upstairs win­dow as they pulled him out of the porch and out to the squad car. (As K point­ed out, it’s odd­ly reas­sur­ing to hear some­one yelling “GET DOWN! GET ON THE FUCKING FLOOR NOW!” Well, as long as it’s not you they’re yelling it at, anyways.)

Turns out he’s a dude in a band from Toron­to. He was stay­ing a cou­ple doors down, and got crazy drunk — the porch smelled like whiskey when I was talk­ing to the con­sta­ble — and end­ed up at the wrong house. The police point­ed out that if they pressed charges, it’d be 6 months to a year before it went to tri­al, and the odds of get­ting mon­ey out of him to repair my door (which got cracked in the mid­dle, but still locks) were next to nil. They sug­gest­ed that, if he had mon­ey to repay it now, we could set­tle it civil­ly. I con­ferred quick­ly with K, and we said all right. We guessti­mat­ed a price for a new door, and the offi­cer came back with the cash.  Pre­sum­ably he got paid for last night’s gig, or some­thing. Then the police drove off with him to let him snooze in the drunk tank (I assume).

As I went to work, I noticed there was a lit­tle SUV with Ontario plates in front of the house. At lunch it was gone.

So, to sum up: Drunk guy tried to bust his way into my house. The police that came to my house a) arrived quick­ly and b) prob­a­bly were spared moose detail. Every­one’s safe and sound, if a lit­tle rat­tled. (Well, K and I are all right. I don’t care much what Mr. Toron­to feels like.) And I get to go door shop­ping, apparently.

Shopping list

Japan’s first robot buddy cop movie”

There’s a phrase that makes me perk right up and pay atten­tion. I found this on the Inter­net, thanks to Wil Wheaton, and it struck me that whether or not it’s true, the sto­ry is awesome.

And I quote:

Japan’s first robot bud­dy cop movie, a silent film released in 1919, was shown only once, to an assem­bly of wealthy land own­ers in Tokyo. When the film end­ed, the audi­ence demand for afford­able giant robots to work their fields and con­trol the peas­ants was so insis­tent, emper­or Hiro­hi­to had the only copy of the film impound­ed and destroyed to pre­vent the idea from cap­tur­ing the public’s imagination.

Found via Wil Wheaton’s tum­blr. Go ahead, click through. There’s a great pho­to and everything.


Cur­rent­ly I’m read­ing Vac­u­um Flow­ers, by the inim­itable Michael Swan­wick, for about the eighth or ninth time.  In it, peo­ple’s per­son­al­i­ties can be tem­porar­i­ly altered by a type of pro­gram­ming called “wet­pro­gram­ming”, since you’re pro­gram­ming the wet­ware of the per­son, ie, the brain.  You don’t need spe­cial train­ing to be a den­tist, or a body­guard, or a couri­er.  You just need some­one with a wet­ware pro­gram­mer and the right set of wafers to imprint the skills you need on your persona.

In the nov­el, peo­ple’s faces are paint­ed to indi­cate what they’re cur­rent­ly pro­grammed as.  Sur­geons might wear an orange but­ter­fly, couri­ers a green tri­an­gle, pier­rots a har­le­quin mask.

Today I saw this pho­to on Flickr:

The Definition of Beauty

…and part of me thought, I won­der what that paint might indicate.

The game’s afoot

I’m not going to say too much about it yet — I’m still in the open­ing moments — but it seems that some pret­ty seri­ous lib­er­ties have been tak­en with the copy­right on a poem I had pub­lished way back in 1997. I found out about it by acci­dent, from a rel­a­tive in Chi­na, and ini­tial­ly assumed that it was part of the intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty pira­cy that Chi­na is, fair­ly or unfair­ly, known for.

Nope. Turns out the copy­right infringe­ment hap­pened in my own province. In the edu­ca­tion­al sys­tem, no less.

So now I’m look­ing deep­er, and try­ing to fig­ure out what my next set of steps should be.


As for tonight, I’m writ­ing, and then I’ll be run­ning, and prob­a­bly writ­ing a bit more lat­er. I need to find out about late 17th cen­tu­ry embalm­ing prac­tices — did they use cam­phor, for instance? — and funer­al rites. Any suggestions?

Interesting, to say the least

I got a new watch from my wife for my birth­day last month. It’s a great watch, and I like it rather a lot.

My new watch

Today on my lunch break, for no oth­er rea­son than “because I’m a nerd”, I punched my watch’s ser­i­al num­ber into Google, expect­ing to find — I don’t know, maybe its incept date*. Noth­ing much, anyways.

Instead, I found a US Mar­shal for­fei­ture auc­tion list­ing that includ­ed my watch.

My watch's lot

That’s it in the bot­tom mid­dle of the lot.

The things you learn.

[update] Appar­ent­ly, the auc­tion com­pa­ny in ques­tion “sells all the jewelry[etc.] seized and for­feit­ed nation­al­ly for the U.S. Mar­shals Ser­vice.” So… do I have a drug deal­er’s watch? Was it seized in a tax fortei­ture? The rather shal­low mys­tery deep­ens a very lit­tle bit.

[2nd update] As it turns out, there’s no mys­tery here. What I took to be a unique ser­i­al num­ber was appar­ent­ly in fact a glob­al prod­uct num­ber. So it was­n’t my watch in the prop­er­ty auc­tion; just a watch just like mine.

* See, there’s that nerd thing creep­ing in again.