Sunday, April 25, 2010

What Do You Mean Technology?

All those e-mails and phone calls that you’re firing off to your politicians? Fuggedaboutit! Politician Omar Ahmad makes an interesting point about communicating to elected officials that might surprise many people: phone calls and e-mails just don’t get anywhere.

If you really want to have clout, says, Ahmad, write an old-fashioned letter—and he does mean old-fashioned. Do not compose with your computer. Get out a pen and paper, relearn to handwrite neatly, and fire away. And do so monthly, if you want to remain as a relevant player in your congressional or assembly representative’s mind. He even gives a four-paragraph format of a politician-friendly letter: the appreciation, the issue, the cause, and the suggestion.

You can find Ahmad’s presentation on TED, a premier source for creative and insightful talks. Here’s the link to the engaging six-minute lecture:

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The State of Our Imagination

What do avatars, a sinking ship, a superhero, hobbits, pirates, a boy wizard, and intergalactic battles have in common? They are the center of attention of the worldwide top ten grossing films, according to Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Here are IMDb’s rankings as April 1, 2010:
1. Avatar (2009) $2,721,365,137
2. Titanic (1997) $1,835,300,000
3. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) $1,129,219,252
4. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006) $1,060,332,628
5. The Dark Knight (2008) $1,001,921,825
6. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001) $968,657,891
7. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007) $958,404,152
8. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) $937,000,866
9. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) $933,956,980
10. Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999) $922,379,000

With the possible exception of Titanic, no story about real people facing real problems makes the list. Our craving for fantasy suggests a bleak future for the human connection story, which is the only film I find worth watching. I do believe, however, that a time will come when Hollywood will “discover” human connection stories again—especially when the technology of special effects loses its luster and takes its rightful place as a practical tool, not a reality escape. Meanwhile, I’ll just keep reading and writing.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Compound Comma

Many people believe they were taught in American schools never to place a comma before and in a sentence because it would cause a redundancy.

Not true. You need a comma before and when joining in one sentence two independent clauses, or complete thoughts. Example:

Joe will develop the presentation with Regina, and Mary will deliver it to
the committee members.

Without that comma in place, we would read the sentence as Joe will develop the presentation with Regina and Mary, then get stuck trying to understand will deliver, and have to reread the sentence for clarity.

True, a short compound sentence without a comma before and would be clear, such as, “I like you and you like me.” While the comma in these cases is optional, you can use it for consistency.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Principal vs. Principle

I'm writing this post because for the thousandth time since I've been in the writing consulting business, I fielded the question, "What's the difference between principal and principle?" Why not put my response here.

I've heard time and again that you can remember principal because the principal of the school is your pal. Not very helpful if you want to know about the principal of a company, the principal of a loan, the principal reason for the conflict, or your principal principle.

The best way to remember the difference between this homophone pair is to think of principal as main, as in "The principal is the main person of a school or company, the main part of a loan, the main reason, and your main principle." The principle is a rule or belief.