May 31, 2011

Cloud hopping

Billy Alexander - stock.xchng
I finally understand the cloud thing.

For years, the cloud made me nervous, and not just because of the spectacular failure of Apple's Mobile Me debut.

Amazon's recent server crash didn't help.

But since I bought my gorgeous iPad, the cloud is starting to make sense. One of the major points on which my other half likes to chide me about this gadget is its lack of a USB port. But it doesn't really need one. There are other ways to put data on an iPad.

There's the proprietary dock cable, which is just like those for iPods. I mean exactly. I plugged the iPad into the iPod cable that was already attached to my Mac. Worked perfectly.

You can also download apps, e-books, music, and other stuff from the cloud by Wi-Fi or 3G (cellphone signal). I use 3G a lot because at the office, there's no open Wi-Fi network on our floor. You have to go downstairs to Starbucks for that.

Evernote is the app that made me love the cloud. Now, if I get a file by e-mail, or find something on the Web, and want to access it later on my MacBook or iPad, I just save it to Evernote. It lives in the cloud, and I can get to it from anywhere. I don't have to fiddle about with USB flash drives, although I'll still used them for files that are really large, or important, or both, because, well, see the Amazon story.

May 28, 2011

Breaking through writer's block

A correspondent recently asked whether I ever get writer's block.

"Hammer Fist" by Gerville Hall
Not as such, I told him. There are times I don't feel like writing, or when I don't feel like writing what I've been assigned to write. I usually just muscle through it, especially in the latter case. That's one good thing I learned in the news business. If it's your job to write about GDP growth, you write about GDP growth, even if you'd much rather be shopping.

The hardest time I ever had breaking through was writing the fight scene in Alara's Call, when Alara is captured by enemy soldiers. In the original version, It went something like: They fought for a few minutes, and then she was knocked unconscious.

An editor firmly informed me that was not acceptable. I had fallen into one of the classic blunders (see No. 24).

I needed to describe the whole thing, blow by blow. I didn't want to.

It took a whole afternoon, and a couple pots of tea, but I did it. I would write a sentence, get up, pace around, try to visualize the fight, go back write another sentence, repeat...and periodically realize half of what I had done was crap. Rewrite. Repeat. Wore me out.

And the story is much better for it.

May 20, 2011

When is it OK to spell it OK?

Poynter is holding a poll about the punctuation with quote marks issue (periods inside or outside?), putting the question this way:

© 3d_kot -
"How outraged are you by the idea that it might be OK to put commas and periods *outside* quotation marks?"
One commenter proved McKean's Law (that when you correct someone else's speech or writing, you're likely to commit an error in the process). The poster wrote, "It's okay, not OK."

Erm, how can I put this

Poynter, as an organization serving what's left of the newspaper business, almost certainly follows AP style, which calls for using first-listed spellings whenever a word has two allowable spellings.

You'll find the spelling "OK" listed first in all the major dictionaries. The alternative spelling, "okay," is given equal weight in most, but not all. The Compact Oxford gives the OK spelling more weight.

When a dictionary lists two spellings separated by "also," as Compact Oxford does with OK, then the first is preferred, but the second is acceptable. When two spellings are separated by "or," both are equally correct. Which to use is a style choice. All that matters is that one be consistent, at least within each work, if not across all works from a given publisher. Many book publishers prefer "okay" because it behaves like a word, forming other words such as okayed and okaying. And it looks like a word, instead of looking like a cheerleader jumping up in the middle of your book yelling O-K!

I've heard a couple of writers say "okay" is Chicago style. It's not. I asked. Here's what the staff at Chicago Manual of Style had to say:

CMOS doesn't specify, but as it happens, the manual uses "OK" twice (at 2.66 and 2.113) and does not use "okay." … We follow Webster's 11th Collegiate, which puts OK as the first spelling, but lists "okay" as an equal variant (also standard).

So you oughtn't say with certainty, as the Poynter commenter did, that one way or the other is right or wrong. It depends on the publication. When I edit for Orlando Business Journal, it's OK. When I edit for Splashdown Darkwater, it's okay. Each is right in its own way.

For more about "The Improbable Story of America's Greatest Word," including its incredible origin, see the book by Allan Metcalf, which, I must point out, is titled OK.