Category Archives: Reading

Punxsutawney Phil’s Weather Predictions

The second day of February isn’t a holiday, but tradition has named it Groundhog Day. After more than 130 years, Punxsutawney Phil continues to make his prediction of an early spring or six more weeks of winter.

That unreliable groundhog has been wrong more than half of those years. I gave him the benefit of the doubt because his mind must have been foggy when he was pulled from solitary darkness and held aloft before a large crowd of people.

Less than forty years ago, Staten Island Chuck, another groundhog, began his predictions. Chuck has a better record than Phil. Today, Phil and Chuck agreed on an early spring.

My father had his own weather prediction method. On Groundhog Day, he sat at the breakfast table in our kitchen warmed by the oven where Mama’s biscuits waited on the pulled-down door and consulted the Farmer’s Almanac. He checked the moon cycles and early planting dates before Easter. Often, when Phil predicted an early spring, my father shook his head in dismay and mumbled, “Six more weeks of high PG&E bills.”

 

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Thoroughly Broken at the ATT Store

Last week I blogged 2+2=5 at the ATT Store. This is the postscript, “Read my next post to see how my interrogator left me thoroughly broken.”

Slippy Pants looks at the screen where my name blazes alone. She approaches me but doesn’t sit as she had with all the previous customers. She looks down at me. “What can I do for you today?”

    Wikipedia

“My modem quit. I need to buy a new one,” I said.

Slippy Pants (SP) takes on a role similar to O’Brien, Winston’s interrogator in George Orwell’s 1984. “How old is your modem?”

Me: “Six years old. I bought it in this store in 2012.”

SP: “What kind is it?”

Me: “ATT.”

SP: “I mean what type?”

I hand her the note with the information I had copied from the Device Manager file on my hard drive.   She draws her heavy blackened brows together. Her ruby mouth painted larger than her lips frowns into a deep scowl. “I can’t read that.”

I stare at the associate young enough to be my great-granddaughter. “Oh, I guess  you can’t read cursive.”

SP: “Oh yes, I can read cursive. Just not yours. It’s messier than most.”

Chastised—broken—I read the details aloud.

SP: “Never heard of that modem.”

ATT probably stopped selling it when she was in ninth grade.

SP peppers me with more questions. “How do you connect? Is it dial-up? Broadband? Do you have to use the yellow cord?” Before I can respond, she says “One minute while I check something.”

SP stops Smiley, the other associate still assisting the puzzled man with the iPad. “A quick question,” SP says. She hands the cursive note to Smiley. “What kind of modem does she need?”

Smiley reads my written note, or perhaps she overheard the conversation and pretends to read it. “The standard modem.”

SP: “I wasn’t sure because she doesn’t know how she connects to the internet.”

Me: “Wi-Fi.”

SP: “Oh.” She turns to Smiley. “Does the regular modem work with wireless?”

“Yes, it should work with all connections,” Smiley says. She hands the note back to me without speaking, an apology in her eyes softened by wisdom.

“I’ll be right back,” SP tells me. She tugs her pants up, strides to the back room, and returns with an unmarked plain brown box. She processes my credit card and hands me a receipt, staring at my silvery hair. “Keep the receipt in case this modem doesn’t work, and you have to return it.”

Why wouldn’t it work?

SP continues her lecture. “But first you have to call the number on the instruction sheet.” Staring at my hair again, she says, “If they can’t help you, they will send a technician to your home. But, you’ll have to pay for that.” She thrusts the box into my hands and turns toward the exit. Dismissed like a misbehaving child, I follow. She pushes the door open and says, “Have a nice day.”

I leave not only convinced that 2+2=5 at the ATT store, but with my confidence to install a new modem thoroughly broken.

Side by side on my desk, the identical Net Gear/ATT modems remind me of an old perm commercial, “Which Twin Has the Toni?” With no curls to guide me, I’ll keep the twin with the green lights. The one on the left will go to the hazardous waste recycling facility.

Can you read cursive? I aced the test. (Could it be because my handwriting is so poor?) Let me know how you fared.

 

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Orwell’s 2+2=5 at the ATT Store

Original             Cover     Wikipedia

In the second grade, I learned to add a column of numbers. Then, I learned how to add across a string of numbers to reach the same conclusion. In both cases, 2+2=4.  Now, decades later, O’Brien’s question to Winston in George Orwell’s 1984  and the anticipated response that 2+2=5 which means Winston is thoroughly broken resurfaced.

It all began Sunday when the red star topped the Internet Wi-Fi icon in my computer taskbar. No internet. I tried all the techie fix-its. Still no internet. On Monday, suffering heavy withdrawal symptoms, I drove to the local AT&T store to buy a new modem.

I was greeted promptly by a smiling woman seated at a round table similar to an oversized DVD disk next to a man with a tablet. She asked my first name and entered it in her iPad. Another smile. “Violet, there are only two waiting ahead of you,” she said.

I sat at the opposite end of a turquoise faux leather bench from a short man, age undetermined. His hands rested on a cart filled with a large cardboard box sealed with clear packing tape. His eyes darted back and forth to the door as if expecting the police to arrive and confiscate his boxed treasure. A tall, thin man with no socks browsed the iPhone displays. One plus one equals two waiting. But the numbers didn’t add up or across because there were four customers ahead of me.

The smiling team member (make that employee) kept working with the puzzled tablet customer. He looked more confused with each explanation.  The other associate (again, make that employee) left her customer with a more perplexed look than Customer #1.  That employee stood, tugged her stretch jeans upward, pulled her shirt down over the fleshly gap, and called the name of the man with the cart.

Eyes aglow, he smiled and lifted one hand like answering roll call in second grade. Slippy Pants approached him with a wary eye toward the box. He showed her what appeared to be a past due bill, whipped out a thick wad of cash that looked like he had emptied an ATM on his walk to the store—or perhaps retrieved it from the box before resealing it.  She took the cash, entered a key code on a door to a back room, and reappeared minutes later with a receipt. She accompanied Customer #3 to the glass entrance and held the door wide. He maneuvered the cart outside. Then, Slippy Pants returned to Customer #2, the woman on the far bench, and worked with her phone a few more minutes. When nothing was accomplished, Slipp Pants repeated the tugging ritual before she called No Socks. Two plus two equals Customer #4.

No Socks slid onto a vivid orange contoured seat that reminded me of the John Deere tractor I rode on when I visited a childhood friend on a farm. Slippy Pants struggled as she climbed into a seat opposite him at the bistro table.

After another long wait, Smiley mouthed to me, “Thank you for your patience.” She continued to work with her perplexed customer while I waited.  O’Brien was right. Two plus two equals five.

Finally, my turn. I drew the short straw—Slippy Pants.

Read my next post to see how my interrogator left me thoroughly broken.

 

 

 

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Type-ins for Writers

Type-ins are the newest writing frenzy according to Associated Press News (AP) . Writers, poets, and typewriter enthusiasts gather to click keys and roll out paper originals. Could this no-screen craze be the next eye-saver?

Mr. Clyde Quick, my high school typing teacher, agreed. He insisted that his students focus on an oversized keyboard poster centered above the chalkboard to learn touch typing. “Look up,” was his first mantra. His second was, “Keep your hands on the home row.”

My hands hovered above the keyboard of a manual Underwood desk typewriter, left index fingertip touching the “F” key and right index finger on “J,” ready for “Begin.” Later, when the tests were timed for Word per Minute (WPM) achievement awards, Mr. Quick held his stopwatch high and added a little frenzy to the race with “Go!”

Now and then I was fortunate enough to grab a seat behind a manual Royal —much smoother touch than the Underwood.  One morning, two new typewriters, one Royal and one Underwood, shined atop the table in the last row, strategically placed to avoid tripping over the cords plugged into a nearby electrical wall socket. The typewriters weren’t assigned, so the athletic sprinters beat me to those seats most of the time. One day, with an admonition from Mr. Quick to let every student have a chance, it was my turn on the Royal with green keys. No extra pressure for the pinkies to produce a clean, even text. The short return carriage lever made right margin end-of-the-line faster. I fell in love with my first taste of technology. Returning to the stiff manual typewriter was difficult, but it had a side benefit. The electric typewriters were off-limits for achievement tests. I was one of the few who received the coveted 60 WPM level with no errors on a manual Underwood.

Long after my school days, I bought a portable Smith Corona, then upgraded to a full-size IBM Selectric. I was fascinated with the interchangeable typeball fonts and added several to my collection. The Selectric self-correcting feature was fabulous. I pressed a special backspace key, and the letter lifted off the printed page, ready for the correct keystroke.

Thanks to Mr. Quick’s fairness and my few sessions on that electric Royal typewriter, I embraced technology. Now, decades later, I’ve abandoned paper markups to edit on screen with Microsoft Word tracking feature. I delete, insert, or move text and add side comments to the author with soft clicks.

I still follow Mr. Quick’s advice and keep my fingers on the home row of my Dell laptop. His advice to “Look Up” means keep my eyes on the screen.

 

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The Oxford comma has its day in court

I’m an editor. I favor the Oxford comma, but I have to admit it doesn’t fit in mysteries or crime fiction novels. Why? Fast-paced thrillers set the tension with short sentences—definitely no place for extra pauses to slow the action.

In business writing, there’s long been a battle surrounding inserting or omitting the comma in a series of three or more. I edit by the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) 16th Edition, which suggests using the Oxford comma based on H.W. Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, 2nd edition, 1965, and Fowler’s Modern English Usage, 3rd edition, revised (Bibliography 1.2). But that isn’t where I fell in love with the extra squiggle.

English was my niche in school. I relished phonics, spelling, vocabulary, and writing. I made life-long friends with the Oxford comma. Not because my father was English. Not because it was expected in business letters and reports. Because the extra pause clarifies the meaning and avoids ambiguity.

“She took a photograph of her parents, the president, and the vice president.” (CMOS 6.18, page 312)

Those who argue that the Oxford comma isn’t necessary omit the comma after president. That changes the number of snapshots from three to two—one of her parents and one of the president and vice president.

So when is it better to omit the serial comma? When two words are understood as a pair.

“Their wartime rations included cabbage, turnips, and bread and butter.”

Drivers for Oakhurst Dairy sued for overtime wages in 2014 based on the interpretation of a Maine state law that denied that pay. The trial was bread and butter—actually about wages earned from delivering products.  Title 26 Labor and Industry, Chapter 7 Employment Practices, Subchapter 3, §664 Minimum Wages exempts some employees from earning overtime wages if associated with agricultural produce, meat and fish products, and perishable food.

“The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:

(1) Agricultural produce;

(2) Meat and fish products; and

(3) Perishable foods.”

The lawsuit was based on interpretation of “packing for shipment or distribution of…” as a pair. Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that the absence of a comma after shipment entitled the drivers to overtime. The finding are detailed in a twenty-nine page document.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Oxford comma finally has its day in court–and wins!

 

Still not convinced you should use the Oxford comma? Try this comma placement test.

I love eating my grandchildren and my dog.

Disclaimer: Cruelty free. This sentence was not tested on humans or animals.

 

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Grammar Cop

computer-books-pencilsThere much ado on Capitol Hill about the importance of spelling. It’s about time. Ask me. I’m a grammar cop with a badge to prove it.

I’m a writer—at least that’s how I use to identify myself before I realized that editing is my niche. I’m a member of California Writers Club Tri-Valley Branch also known as Tri-Valley Writers. I’ve been part of a novel group, one of the individualized critique groups that meet monthly. There I’m known as the grammarian—often editing English more than critiquing the story.

Grammar Police Award

Grammar Police Award

Long before Trump was elected president, Lani Longshore, a multi-talented crafter, presented me with a Grammar Police shield embroidered on the right inside of a folding credential case. My editing card fits in a clear plastic slot on the left. I seldom have to flash it because most writers know I spout Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) rules as often as President Trump tweets.

If I had made this award public sooner, perhaps the U.S. Library of Congress would have consulted me (or at least the 16th Edition of CMOS) and been spared the embarrassment of a grammar error in President Trump’s inaugural poster.

Too late to correct the posters but production has been halted. If you bought a first run at $16.95, the odds are that someday it will be a collector’s item—not because of the grammar error but because of the wasted taxpayer dollars for a reprint that reads:

No dream 2 big, no challenge 2 great…

 

 

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Okay to ignore writing rules if you’re Lee Child

Start-screenI’m a freelance editor for individuals and independent publishers. My job is to pinpoint spelling, punctuation, grammar, incomplete sentences, and syntax errors, but the rules are always changing.

For example: Limit the use of anybody, just, like, only, some, and somebody. But or and, once forbidden as sentence starters, are now acceptable, but the author should avoid beginning with because, when, which or words ending in –ing. One more grammar rule: Don’t use incomplete sentence in narrative, only in dialogue. Don’t overuse commas.

Bookpages animatedWait a minute! I just read Night School, a Jack Reacher 2016 novel by #1 New York Times Bestselling author Lee Child. Here are random sentences from that prequel.

  • Reacher thought back, to the conversation in Garber’s office.
  • She drove, back to the place she had only just left.
  • Surprised, and a little quizzical.

Are those commas necessary in these three short sentences? What about the double-up of only and just? I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop on that last sentence.

How about these incomplete, single sentence paragraphs?

  • Twitching and writhing and wringing his hands. [Note: At least this is appropriate syntax]
  • Thinking.
  • Local gentleman, like himself.
  • Like an old black-and-white movie.
  • An inconvenient ratio.

Start-Finish-RoadWhy does Lee Child’s editor let him get away with these writing blunders? Not because he was born Jim Grant in England. Not because he hires a freelancer like me (Delacorte Press can afford top-quality editors). Not because the third-person narrator mimics Jack Reacher who doesn’t waste words. Because one thing an editor doesn’t change is the writer’s style.

P.S. Bestselling is now one word. Lee Child and his editors got that right. It’s possible that the #1 New York Times Bestselling Author blurb is the #1 reason basic editing rules don’t apply to Jack Reacher.

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