A Word about Copyright

Copyright folder and stamp copyright Paga Design iStockPhoto 000014148465
© Paga Design, by iStockPhoto® #14148465

My composer son believes in copyright karma. In high school, while pirated music surrounded him, he could have played his iTunes around the clock for two weeks straight without duplicating a track, and every note of it was legally paid for. He wanted others to respect his intellectual property rights so he lived it.

In this era of downloadable music, photos, and books, the profits are tiny–we have to hope quantity compensates–and the connections between creators and buyers are rare.

On this site, I like to give copyright notice for the photos I use and their sources, even though that isn’t required. I do it to thank those artists and organizations who created and distributed them, and to protect their rights whenever someone wants an image they spotted here. I rename the files to include the copyright owner so they can’t be illegally used unwittingly. Remember, that just because we aren’t charging for our use of someone’s work does not give license to reproduce or display it.

Recently I learned that the stock photo service I’ve enjoyed for several years hosts a discussion forum to celebrate works spotted in use. Apparently, it’s the colleagues who usually post these, not the buyers. We buyers could be more thoughtful. I know that whenever I have taken time to thank a photographer and share my image placement, that gesture was enthusiastically welcomed. Here’s what I posted on the iStock in Action forum:

“Lately I’ve gotten lazy about contacting individual photographers to thank you for the great shots to illustrate my blog. And because I’m involved in WordPress’s PostADay2011 challenge, there are more of you to thank! I just learned about this forum, so I’m thanking you publicly and collectively.

“Thank you for the photos that fit my blog perfectly and made that touch of class affordable. Thank you for the ones I almost chose. Thank you for a few still waiting their turns. Thank you for images that inspired blog posts instead of the other way around. Thank you for those that stunned me or made me smile. Thank you for capturing the beauty in the world.”

“Today, I thank Parema for the ice cream cart:” (And I linked to Thursday’s blog.)

And now I’ve picked a new one, so I owe Paga Design a thank you note.


Text © Gwyn Nichols 2011, All Rights Reserved

Photo © Paga Design, iStockphoto® #14148465

Why Do I Have to Take this Class Anyway?

I haven’t studied math since high school. I excelled in it. I took all four years of accelerated classes, keeping college majoring options open. Then I tested out of college math and abandoned it forever. I have never again calculated the price of trail mix, the time two trains will meet, or the best price for a movie ticket based on the percentage of people who will buy it at any given price point. I balance my checkbook. I estimate gas mileage to see how my car is running. All I need, I learned by fifth grade.

So was it wasted–seven grueling additional years of math? That’s about an hour of class plus another one to three hours of homework every day for at least 1260 days–something like 2500-5000 hours on something I’ve never used again. Do I regret it?

No way. Even though a calculus problem now brings only vague recognition, I maintain that its intense problem-solving practice helped me build the brain I use today. I loved logic, a field common to math and argumentation. I use that daily. Processing news and advertisements? Making personal decisions? Solving problems? All demand critical thinking. Math is fabulous training for that.

Well, I don’t teach math. I only teach English–you know, that medium of thinking and communicating you are using at this moment–the one you native speakers practice every waking minute and in your dreams as well?

My English language learners might struggle with the work, but I’ve never had one ask, “Why do I have to study writing anyway?” They know what it means and they want it.

All day, every day, others tell you what to think, feel, and do–especially when it benefits them. We are barraged with words and visual persuasion. Can you distinguish the messages and the messengers, and respond consciously?

More of your work is being done online than ever before–that means you get to write–and all those training manuals had to be written by someone. It might be you.

For the most practical of you, you already know that in any statistical survey, those with college degrees usually outearn those without. Having that diploma opens doors, and more importantly, it announces that others can expect you to have a certain level of literacy, research, and reasoning abilities.

We all know brilliant people who haven’t needed degrees. They have worked their way up or dropped out of college to become entrepreneurs. Some of them are among the smartest people I know. It is no small feat to become self-educated. If you think you have that in you–to build your own brain–go ahead. If you could use a little direction and some practice problems, keep coming back. We’re here to help.

Dinnertime “Stop, Drop, and Roll”

No, it wasn’t a kitchen fire. One of my favorite comedians—though he’s clearly an elementary school boy—was checked by his much older brother with “Stop, Drop [the topic], and Roll”—to a subject we’d be willing to discuss while eating. One round took several new topics before he hit one acceptable to the rest of us. He’s learning he’s even more brilliant and funny when he isn’t annoying his audience.

He’s not the only one who needs etiquette advice. Thanks to Caller ID, anonymous unwelcome phone calls are rare. Thanks to anonymous Internet profiles (and the occasional foul-mouthed celebrity), it’s impossible for us to avoid similar material online.

We bloggers have it made. We create a room for the public, invite the type of conversation we enjoy, and press delete whenever our space is invaded by the uncouth, the unwelcome, or the unrelated. (Thank you to everyone who makes this possible!)

However, most public forums and video sharing services are not as well moderated. Otherwise family friendly forests are defaced by graffiti once confined to locker rooms. Enough already. Stop, Drop, and Roll.

Text © Gwyn Nichols 2010

Writing pain is not forever

Joe Williams NASA
Joe Williams of Leading Space and NASA Mission Operations

Rocket scientist Joe Williams has this to say about high school writing: “Frankly, I hated it.  I found it so formulaic and forced and stifling that I hated it with a passion, which spilled over into a general dislike for literature at the time.  I lived on Cliff’s Notes and copying others’ ideas.  Yet underneath that dislike was a passion for sharing that was simmering, waiting to be unleashed.  I saw a glimmer of it when freed of the bounds of structured writing in college.  In a college composition class, I excelled.  I wrote about whatever interested me, and I always wrote at the last minute, pulling all-nighters and having nothing in mind except a general idea.  It worked fabulously.  The professor regularly read my work to the class, and heck–I even got the good grades to show for it to match those normally reserved for math and science.”

Did my students catch this? When they arrive in my dreaded required class, I have each new crew rate their writing pain on the hospital emoticon scale. If this were an emergency room, most would be begging for narcotics. And they’re surprised to learn how much writing pain I used to experience myself. But high school is over! Let’s remove the unneeded tourniquet. We get to write about real life now, real passions, real careers.

Now Joe works for NASA and blogs at Leading Space. His goal is to write in his truer voice this year (even while employed by the government–Go, Joe!) and he quotes poet T. S. Eliot, “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.”

Last year is over. Last decade is over. Let go of the old pain and the fear about writing. When you have something to say and the passion to say it, your words can be restrained no longer. Let them flow.

Enjoy the rest of Joe’s blog here.



Text © Gwyn Nichols 2010

Photo from Joe’s site. It probably belongs to NASA.

Friday Flick: Validation

Validation short film screenshot

Click on the image to access the 17-minute film, “Validation,” a fable about more than the magic of free parking.

Typo costing #Twitter

Death, taxes, and typos. They happen for everyone. And most of the time, if readers even notice typos, I hope they say, “Yeah, I know what she meant” and forgive an error. I try to overlook them, except when I’m being paid to catch them.

Twitter logoSeveral months ago, I had a problem with Twitter. Whenever I accepted a follower request through that person’s own page, a banner announced, “So-and-so “will not receive your tweets.” I thought I’d hit the wrong button. It kept happening. No matter how careful I was, I kept rejecting followers. This was a job for tech support.

A Twitter technie announced it was repaired, but like the Star-Spangled Banner, that flag was still there. Six rounds of reporting back and forth–and who knows how many tech support hours Twitter paid for this–it turned out to be a typo. It actually means that So-and-so “will now receive your tweets.” There’s just a little T in the way of that vital W.

And as of today, it is STILL there!

I wonder how many of you noticed. I wonder how many complained. I wonder how much tech support time is still being wasted for want of a single letter.

May all your typos be harmless.


Text © Gwyn Nichols 2010

Question the Preposition

Question Mark in Lucida Blackletter gold, created by authorRemember when teachers assigned papers by length, and adolescent ideas didn’t stretch that far? Did you turn “Japan exports transistor radios,” into “One of the prime exports of Japan would have to be the small portable appliance known as the transistor radio”? We relied on the passive voice, and padded our prose with prepositional phrases. Our teachers were proud. In most fields, the more college degrees one earns, the better one masters that verbose style.

Well, you’re here to unlearn that. Say it straight. We want to understand and enjoy every word.

Forgot what a preposition is? If you’re so young you never diagrammed a sentence, then you’re also young enough to remember Sesame Street’s lovable monster Grover demonstrating a few prepositions:  “Around, around, around, around, over, and under, and through!” Here’s a more complete list:


Try this. Take your next paragraph and circle all prepositions. Which can be dispatched? Which phrases can be condensed to a word? Which are still necessary for meaning or idiomatic flow? The goal isn’t to avoid all prepositional phrases, only redundant or flabby ones—those adding nothing to your meaning or musical cadence.

Here’s an example. (If you checked out the link above, you’ll recognize the source. To retain the hyperlinks, we’ll rule out one potential excision.)

This is a list of English prepositions. In English, some prepositions are short, typically containing six letters or fewer. There are, however, a significant number of multi-word prepositions. Throughout the history of the English language, new prepositions have come into use, old ones fallen out of use, and the meaning of existing prepositions has changed. Nonetheless, the prepositions are by and large a closed class.

Questioning prepositions and omitting redundancies trims it from 65 words to 35, or 54% of original length, still retaining acceptable prepositions:

In English, most prepositions are short words; some are phrases. Throughout the history of the English language, prepositions have been added or dropped, or have changed meanings, but are now classified as a closed class.

Please share your own revisions here. You can condense your own work or practice on someone else’s academic or corporate prose.

Text © Gwyn Nichols 2010