Betsy Devine: Funny ha-ha and/or funny peculiar

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Entries Tagged as 'Learn to write good'

Some of Wikipedia baddest bits and pieces

May 27th, 2008 · Comments Off on Some of Wikipedia baddest bits and pieces




Caution: Wikipedia trolls at play

Originally uploaded by betsythedevine

Is Hillary Clinton a giant shape-shifting reptile? Do ghosts use cellphones? Does Smithville, Iowa have a “quaint little library”? And how should Wikipedia reflect (or not) each of these sincere, not trolling, beliefs. (Trolls create a whole new set of wiki-problems.)

A veteran of some of the most hood-filled neighborhoods of Wikipedia, “Filll” has created a Wikipedia quiz-cum-learning-tool, the AGF Challenge Exercises. The challenges, based on real Wikipedia problems, include all three of the above. “AGF” stands for the Wikipedia policy “Assume Good Faith.”

He explains it to Durova:

When Wikipedia is criticized externally or internally over its handling of assorted situations, they are often extremely highly charged and emotional affairs, and often ongoing. This [the AGF Challenge Exercises] is a way to see a sanitized collection of problems in abbreviated and sanitized form, where critics inside and outside Wikipedia can offer their advice and suggestions.

In surprisingly-closely-related news, Harvard’s librarian Robert Darnton has a great essay in the June 12, 2008 issue of the NYRB. Most relevant bit:

Information has never been stable. That may be a truism, but it bears pondering. It could serve as a corrective to the belief that the speedup in technological change has catapulted us into a new age, in which information has spun completely out of control. I would argue that the new information technology should force us to rethink the notion of information itself. It should not be understood as if it took the form of hard facts or nuggets of reality ready to be quarried out of newspapers, archives, and libraries, but rather as messages that are constantly being reshaped in the process of transmission. Instead of firmly fixed documents, we must deal with multiple, mutable texts. By studying them skeptically on our computer screens, we can learn how to read our daily newspaper more effectively‚ and even how to appreciate old books.

And with help from Wikipedians like Filll, we can learn our own ways to make bad bits better.

Tags: Learn to write good · wikipedia · writing

October…word!

October 23rd, 2007 · Comments Off on October…word!




Landscape in October

Originally uploaded by Giorgos ~

And the always-amazing Montauk Rider says…

… here are the dusky smells of the past saying goodbye–the future saying hello.

Enjoy the days of nature’s last hurrah.

Stockholm is grayer and cloudier than the landscapes of Montauk Rider’s autumn, the autumn that I grew up in. Even so, I’m glad to be “home” from my latest journey.

There is something inspiring in the sight of Nature preparing for long winter sleep–I was wishing that I could express the thought somehow, I’m grateful Montauk Rider did so.

Tags: Learn to write good · Wide wonderful world · writing

Toni Morrison: “Being outside was a big advantage.”

June 8th, 2007 · Comments Off on Toni Morrison: “Being outside was a big advantage.”




Toni Morrison

Originally uploaded by Careliu

From an amazing short talk I heard today by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, about the humanities in general and her writing in particular:

  • “Standing on the outside looking in was a big advantage for me as a writer.”
  • “We have all spent a lot of time and thought at the boundary, the border–at the edge. It’s a place the rich have to police. Those outside study the edge and plot to break through it. Those inside fight to maintain belonging or to belong someplace else.”
  • “Literature is full of writers who betrayed their class (Harriet Beecher Stowe or Mark Twain) — who ran away from it to live in exile (Henry James) — who stood at the border so they could critique it (Ernest Hemingway, Herman Melville)”
  • “A ruthless gaze at the center, whether from within or without the circle–that is the strength of the humanities. It has been my way to be at home in the world.”

Many thanks to Al and Bethellen for inviting me, as their guest, to today’s ceremony to see and hear Drew Gilpin Faust awarding the 2007 Radcliffe Medal to Toni Morrison.

p.s. And my sincere apologies to Ms. Morrison that my reconstruction of notes scribbled onto my program fail to do justice to her own Nobel-quality eloquence.

Tags: Learn to write good · Wide wonderful world · writing

Some of my favorite poetry is Cary Tennis

June 5th, 2007 · Comments Off on Some of my favorite poetry is Cary Tennis

Cary Tennis, you might think, writes advice columns for Salon–not poetry.

But some of his writing–all it needs to be blank verse is chopping a few line breaks into its punctuation:

You take your place at the table and you do your part.
You do your part in the ancient chain of being and history and fathering,
of war and redemption and wounding,
of burdens too heavy to carry and roofs too old to keep the rain out,
of hardy shrubs aspiring to be trees and old warriors wandering lost among their medals.
You take your place at the table and you do your part.

That fragment was part of Cary’s advice to an adult son unsure how to help his increasingly troubled Vietnam-veteran father.

Only part of what makes Cary Tennis “poetic” is his use of wording and cadence. His work runs in the old (Old-Testament old) tradition of poet as prophet and healer, poet as expositor of the Big Picture.

  • A young couple kvetches about their nightmare cat–Cary says that the really big issue here isn’t a cat but “whether you cringe with shame or beam with pride when you think of this years from now.”
  • An anxious mother wonders how to explain to her already-troubled eight-year daughter that Dad plans a sex change? Stop with the verbal reassurance and throw a party, says Cory–let the family celebrate that Dad can be happier being who he really is.
  • A young woman agonizes over being guilt-tripped toward inviting difficult but pushy friends to her in-laws’ lake house. Cory’s advice helps her figure out how to say no “..in the traditional sense of its meaning no. Or, as Albert Einstein replied when asked if he wanted some coffee: no.”

If some of the problems above seem a bit exotic, not to say borderline twee, here is Cory’s response (expurgating one word you won’t find in my blog) to the modern but heart-breaking question “How long will it take me to get over my divorce?” Cory says healing arrives, but not on schedule, only…

… in due time,
and you will receive it as a gift;
you will see that this was not
some .. accident on the way to an appointment with life
but life itself,
your life, your fate,
with bloody scratches from your own fingernails dragged heavily across its back.

Tags: Editorial · language · Learn to write good

Take me to another place and time…

April 25th, 2007 · Comments Off on Take me to another place and time…

Three views of Christina Aguilera from her music video for CandymanWow–Christina Aguilera’s music video for Candyman gives you the double pleasure of 1) totally shiny high production values plus 2) the illusion of a retro time-machine view onto 1940s USO totally shiny high production values.

But I repeat myself.

As does Ms. Aguilera, who sings all the parts and co-stars with herself as multiple (blonde, brunette, redhead, etc.) glamorous 1940s performers.

Much as I love the Web 2.0 “authentic” experience of amateurish web video–I have to admit that I also appreciate witty scripting and…did I mention? shiny, shiny high production values!

Tags: Editorial · Learn to write good · Metablogging

Ninja Turtles kill Spartans, bloggers get sued

April 5th, 2007 · Comments Off on Ninja Turtles kill Spartans, bloggers get sued

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles…and other gems from this month’s Ansible:

  • From Thog’s Masterclass, Eyeballs in the Sky Dept. “His eyes ran, literally, across the whole of the upper portion of his face …” (Richard Marsh, The Beetle, 1897)
  • Arthur C. Clarke appeared on the BBC website in his favourite t-shirt: “I invented the satellite and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.”
  • Literary agent Barbara Bauer is suing Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden and others, for blogging about her.

Arthur C Clarke, whose Tshirt slogan says I invented the satellite and all I got was this lousy Tshirt.

Tags: funny · Learn to write good

What kind of American English do you speak?

November 20th, 2006 · Comments Off on What kind of American English do you speak?

My family is solid New England, and I grew up here except for a couple of years in Michigan, back when I would have been going to kindergarten if they had kindergarten in our little town there.

I remember being laughed at by little Michiganders for my New England accent, and then being laughed at by little New Hampshirites for the Michiganisms I’d worked hard to master.

So I was intrigued when Rebecca Blood linked to an American dialect quiz–and here’s what I scored, how about you?



Your Linguistic Profile:

45% Yankee
35% General American English
10% Upper Midwestern
5% Dixie
0% Midwestern
What Kind of American English Do You Speak?

Tags: Learn to write good

My grandfather would call this a “dear sir, you cur” letter…

October 9th, 2006 · Comments Off on My grandfather would call this a “dear sir, you cur” letter…

Dear Ms. Lewis,

I am responding to your letters asking us to renew our NH homeowners’ insurance policy through your agency. My husband Frank Wilczek and I have transfered this policy to the care of Phelan Insurance in Cambridge, MA.

For 20 years, we have had a homeowners’ policy through [your company]. I don’t recall that we ever made a claim on you–just kept paying the premium, year after year.

In August of 2006, a microburst storm hit our NH neighborhood. A huge tree crushed my husband’s car, which is insured (with Commerce Insurance) through the Phelan Agency. When I called Phelan, our agent there was helpful and quick to get everything moving to pay our claim. In addition to paying for the car’s value, they also authorized the $200 payment it took to get the giant tree off the car so it could be towed.

In contrast, when I called [your company’s] office, I was treated quite brusquely. “Did a tree fall on your house?” the person asked. I said no, but giant trees had fallen all over our yard–clearing them away was going to be quite expensive. “If a tree didn’t fall on your house, you have no coverage.”

After thinking this over, I asked Phelan Insurance if we could transfer our NH policy to them when the premium next came due. I feel that if I ever need the insurance that we’ve been paying for all these years, the people at Phelan will be a lot more helpful.

Sincerely &etc…..


Tags: Learn to write good

“Social branding .. to lower your cost to be situated”

July 26th, 2006 · Comments Off on “Social branding .. to lower your cost to be situated”

Pomo blablabla or real information?

Here’s more from the same anonymous commenter on Zephoria:

This incertitude to understand someone, even close, demands two things, and the fact that youngsters grew up facing this problem explains why they have commpletely adopted these behaviors:

– prefered communatarism, strong identity markups beyond the usual “prefered music” categories, ties to others as a social branding: you need those both to lower your cost to be situated, and to be surronded be people who can understand you faster and better;

– transparency, a concerning transparency: youngsters prefer to show to anyone they adress, schedule—anything because they know they won’t know why it will be used for (and they trust openness); setting up a availability rule is too tedious (and artificial: you have to justifiy the rules you want to be followed) and closing one’s access will mostly prevent relatives to find you back; well, you won’t hear about the other ones anyway. . .

I had trouble parsing this but got something out of it despite the annoying mannerism of its own social branding. (the social branding of no upper-case letters makes things hard to read, danah!)…

I got to Zephoria’s post on Wikipedia via a link from David Weinberger, who has a new issue of JOHO online….

…now with a Wikipedia-themed bogus contest
so even though I am in theory working hard on my own talk for Wikimana, whose title should maybe have referenced Paris Hilton rather than quantum mechanics, but I didn’t think of that when I was writing my abstract….

…it’s only 8 a.m., and I need to refocus.


Tags: Learn to write good

An epiphany on moonlight epiphanies…

March 14th, 2006 · Comments Off on An epiphany on moonlight epiphanies…

“I never remembered where the park was, what it was called, or how to get there, but only thought of it as the place where I would dazedly wander at 1 am while holding his hand in the moonlight…”

Read the rest, you know you want to go back to that place in your own life.

(One great side effect of SXSW is that I’ve discovered so many new blogs, including several written by Liz Henry.)


Tags: Learn to write good