Siteseeing: Quick Hits
Among the many bookmarks that've been piling up awaiting a link-blogging post are the following, which my father should appreciate.
I was discussing some grammatical questions with him the other day, which led to a conversation on how hard it can be to look up stuff like that online. The Mac's Dictionary app is, as I've said before, addictively handy for definitions, pronunciations, and sometimes even usage questions — say, the differences between "affect" and "effect".
But outright Web searches on usage, punctuation, and other syntactical uncertainties usually land me within the Q&A section of The Chicago Manual of Style Online. While I don't always agree with CMS, I don't even always agree with Strunk & White's venerable The Elements of Style. I am on the same page when it comes to serial commas (alias "Oxford commas"), though — pro, in case you've never noticed — and I like what I learn on the site, as well as how the information is delivered. Hmm... I forgot to ask Dad what he thinks of serial commas; as a teacher, and a special-ed teacher in particular, it'd be interesting to find out what his students feel is natural.
Evan Morris's The Word Detective is a website to which I'm often led when Googling musings on the origins of odd phrases. I've never read through a full issue of monthly posts, but whenever a search points me to an old column I find myself poking around the archives. Just a little bit more time for such perusal and a little bit more money in my bank account would find me happily becoming a paying subscriber, as I heartily believe in the Internet as a potential business model for independent content providers like Mr. Morris — not to mention that I have a soft spot for fellow men and women of letters, especially when they're aficionados of Alice.
Funny Stuff break — or "brake": As in, I brake for Hacked Stop Signs (like the one earlier in this post)!
Another helpful reference online is Urban Dictionary, which complies user-provided explanations of slang words and phrases (many "not safe for work"). While it's a little too democratic for my taste in reference material, in a different way than Wikipedia — redundant, poorly phrased, and/or discredited definitions seem to hang around indefinitely — and there's too much chaff amidst the wheat to make browsing much fun for me (especially with such unappealing visuals), I'd love to see a more disciplined version of it added to the Dictionary app. I often find myself out of the loop on vernacular, and a website that keeps track of new and changing argot is as advantageous to readers as it is to writers.
The poorly worded translations I passed along several posts back led my friend Joan Crawford to recommend the hysterically funny website Engrish. All sorts of anecdotes from my time spent learning Japanese (among native speakers) spring to mind, but they'll have to be told another day. In the meantime: Laugh having!
I can't think of a more welcome app for my laptop than Readability — it's a no-brainer, and it's brilliant. David Pogue, my (and many others') old Mac guru, tells you all you need to know — including how to get it, although that link's kind-of buried, so I've also linked there directly — in a New York Times column from last November.
Once upon a time, Pogue wrote popular Mac guides for IDG Books (Mac Secrets, with Joseph Schorr, among them) yet could somehow still entertain missives from the likes of me in the days before omnipresent digital connectivity — a.k.a. ODC, not to be confused with OCD, which can make ODC even more overwhelming. Now he writes on technology in general through the Times column, oversees the Pogue Press imprint and its awesome Missing Manual series, and does lots of other stuff too. I rarely keep up with his column because I own so little gadgetry and am much farther removed from the world of fine-tuning the old Mac than I used to be, but there's almost always useful info or insightful commentary when I do check in. The proper term for such things as the Readability app, by the way, is apparently "bookmarklet"; if there are more as useful as that one, I want to know about them.
I think I've become pretty good at having search engines get me where I want to go, but sometimes they just fail in the face of a question that's too broad, too finely detailed, or too hard to articulate since you'd need the very information you're missing to properly search for that information. For instance, I was sure that there was another town on the east coast of central New Jersey with a slightly goofy-sounding name like Perth Amboy — also two words and possibly though not definitely also starting with the letter P. You really can't input that information into any service I'm aware of, so I looked up cities in New Jersey on Wikipedia and then Dad took out a paper map.
This sort of problem may not get solved until we have the sort of insanely powerful and interactive computers they do in Star Trek: The Next Generation, whose aggregators are literally light-years ahead of anything we have in today's real world, but my father did share an impressive resource called Wolfram Alpha, billed as a Computational Knowledge Engine. You can see an amazing array of what Wolfram Alpha can ideally do via a screencast narrated by company founder Stephen Wolfram, and it is pretty wild; the "ideally" qualifier is due to the fact that Wolfram understandably cherry-picked queries that he knew his engine could handle, while my own stabs betrayed gaps both in Wolfram Alpha's knowledge base and in its ability to make associations. I certainly look forward to remembering to try it out when faced with numerical or statistical data-based problems.
Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there, better late than never!