Friday, April 25, 2014

Whither Goest The Interrobang‽

The cool thing about being a writer is that you're often given freedom to do unusual things or care about weird subjects. For example, when I go to a coffee shop, the logo on the cup and on the sleeve have to both line up with the drinking hole in the plastic lid.

It also means I have an unnatural interest in language and punctuation that borders on the freakish. By now, my family and friends are used to me kvetching about the Oxford comma, or yelling at TV newscasters, "It's 'A historic,' dammit! 'A historic,' not 'an!' You're being 'an moron!'"

I cringe whenever someone uses certain words incorrectly, kick and scream when the meaning of other words begins to evolve, or smile and say "English is an ever-changing tapestry" when I purposely violate long-held rules just to stick it to grammar sticklers.

Like this: It is actually perfectly acceptable to end your sentences with a preposition. But when I tell people this, they swear on the grave of their 7th grade English teacher that this is utter nonsense up with which they shall not put!

Sometimes people will share new (or previously undiscovered) words, grammar rules, and punctuation marks. A couple years ago, I was told about the existence of the interrobang, a punctuation mark that combines a question mark (?) and an exclamation point (!).

It looks like this: ‽

It's supposed to replace the ?! combination people use in angry questions, like "Who ate all my Cap'n Crunch?!" It could have been a very useful symbol for those people who hate the ?! combo, and believe we shouldn't double punctuate. They feel we should just ask the question and let the language show that it's an angry one.

Who appointed them the Arbiters of Punctuation‽

(See how that works?)

I was recently reading Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols & Other Typographical Marks —because because that's what writer nerds do — which is where I learned of the interrobang's origins.

It was created in 1962 by ad agency owner Martin Speckter, gained some media attention, and was added to the Remington Rand typewriter line in 1968. It was even included in a new font called Americana around that same time. You can still find it on your Mac or Windows computer today, if you know where to look.

As I was writing the first draft of this column on my typewriter — because that's what writer nerds do — I could easily create it by first hitting the "interro" (?), backspacing, and then follow it up with the "bang" (!).

The problem is, we Americans are set in our ways, and it takes a lot to get us to change how we do things, especially if it means adding new ideas and habits.

But that's not to say we didn't give it the old college try. Many people certainly tried to make a go of it. Even now, it's seeing a mild resurgence among a new generation of writers. It just never quite caught on, after being labeled a fad by many language snobs who never end their sentences with prepositions ever, no matter how wrong they are. (Not that I'm bitter.)

But what's really insulting to the interrobang enthusiasts is how readily people have adopted emojis, the small cartoonish images on your smartphone used to represent emotions in people's otherwise gibberish texts.

"U mad bro?"

Emojis are little cutesy, completely useless graphics of smiley faces, frowny faces, and every variation of human emotion. Whatever happened to the good old days of typing ;-) for a winky face? Or a :-D to show that something was particularly hysterical? (If you don't know what those are, turn your head 90 degrees to the left. Or turn the paper 90 degrees to the right. Whatever, I'm not picky.)

I know emoji are the natural evolution of the text-based emoticons, but I was more than a little surprised ( =8-o ) that they caught on so quickly. Meanwhile, the interrobang is hidden away in our computers and needs a hunting party and three bloodhounds just to track it down.

While I certainly have mellowed out over the years, and no longer rant over the egregious "I seen" or a misused apostrophe (it's not DVD's, people! No apostrophes in plural words), I want to scream about grown adults who punctuate their text messages with tiny cartoon kittycats.

The interrobang, on the other hand, has a proud, if obscure, 52 year tradition. It signaled an important new change in how we communicate with each other, while emoji are wastes of electronic space that make our phones die a little inside.

We need to re-embrace the interrobang to convey proper emotions for the truly important questions of our day, like, seriously, who ate my freaking Cap'n Crunch‽

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Karl the Curmudgeon Wants Jetpacks

"We were promised jetpacks," said Karl.

The band? I asked.

"What?" said Karl.

There's a Scottish band called We Were Promised Jetpacks.

"What are you talking about, Kid?"

What are you talking about?

"Jetpacks. Why the hell would I be talking about one of your stupid thrash rap bands?"

First of all, it's called thrashcore. Second, I don't listen to that. Third—

"Kid, you remember we've got a word limit, right?" Karl whispered.

Fine, I sighed. What ever do you mean by jetpacks, Karl?

"When I was a kid, we were told we could fly around on our own personal jetpacks. Our dinners would go from the fridge to the oven to our tables. And we would go to school in flying buses."

Are you thinking of 'The Jetsons' again?

"No, I'm not thinking about the stupid Jetsons again. I saw a study from the Pew Research Center about how people feel about technology in the future. Only one percent of the people said they would actually want a jetpack, but half of them would ride in a driverless car."

I'd love to ride in a driverless car, I said. Think about it: I could read, watch a movie, take a nap, or text like a hyper monkey.

"Me too. But it gets worse. Nine percent would travel in a time machine. More people would travel in a machine that could strand them 300 years in the past than those who would hover 30 feet in the air today."

Well, it would be a little frightening for people who are afraid of heights, I said. At least with a time machine, you could manage your own survival. If a jetpack breaks down while you're in the air, your chances for survival are about three seconds.

"Yeah, but if science fiction movies have taught us anything, it's that you might accidentally interfere with history or kill your own grandfather."

Why are we even talking about this? I asked. I thought we were going to watch the ballgame.

"I just started feeling my age, Kid." Karl sighed, half-heartedly plonking his beer on the bar. "I got an iPhone after my daughter kept nagging me about, and I got freaked out when an appointment appeared on my calendar by itself."

Which one?

"This one," said Karl. He asked the bartender for a mojito. Karl always drank mojitos when he felt old. It made him feel like Hemingway.

What, you mean our meeting popped up on your calendar without you doing anything?

"Yes. I knew Siri was smart, but I never told her to put it there. She must have seen our email exchange and did it herself. It's kind of creepy."

I suppressed a smile. So why does this worry you? I asked.

"Because it means the technology world has passed me by. I don't know how to use my new smartphone, and yet we're no closer to jetpacks."

Karl, I'm the reason the appointment appeared on your calendar.

"How did you do that? I got this thing last week, and you haven't been near it."

You use Google Calendar, right? I sent you an electronic invitation, which automatically pushed it to your calendar.

"I don't like that," said Karl. "I don't want my phone making those decisions for me."

It didn't. It put it there for you to decide. Your calendar tells you about suggested meetings, and if you decline them, they go away.

"Who the hell does my phone think it is to put them on my calendar in the first place? I'm a grown man who can take care of his own calendar, thank you very much. I don't need some stupid computer to do it for me."

Aww, Karl, do you miss your old flip phone?

"Don't patronize me, Kid. I'm more technical than you'll ever be."

How do you figure? I'm not afraid of my phone.

"No, but you're afraid of your car engine. When's the last time you changed your own oil?"

I hung my head. Never, I mumbled.

"Uh-huh," Karl said, folding his arms. "And even though I've showed you how three different times, you still take it to the garage to get it done."

Maybe if you emailed me the instructions — oh wait, I forgot.

Karl shot me a dirty look. "It's your turn to buy, Kid."

Fine, but how are we getting home?

"I'll call my cranky daughter to give us a ride," Karl said, reaching for his phone.

Oh man, now I really wish we had a driverless car.

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on

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Friday, April 11, 2014

Do British Farts Cause Global Warming?

Put down those beans! Your next fart may contribute to global warming.

At least that's what a couple members of the British House of Lords seem to think, because apparently British nobility are so well-versed in the ways of science.

According to a story in Wednesday's (London) Daily Mirror, climate change minister Baroness Verma demonstrated she had as much a grasp of science as a climate change denier when she urged the British population to curtail their farting.

She made the statement after Labour peer Viscount David Simon asked whether British people eating so many baked beans contributed to global warming.

I really wish this were an April Fool's joke, but the story ran eight days afterward. Or I could reassure you that the English government is not actually being run by surviving contestants of the Upper Class Twit of the Year. But I can't. If you've seen our own Congress in action, you understand Britain's pain.

According to the Mirror, (official motto: "What are you looking at?") Viscount Simon said to the House of Lords, "A programme on the BBC stated this country has the largest production of baked beans and the largest consumption of baked beans in the world. Could you say whether this affects the calculation of global warming by the Government as a result of the smelly emission?"

Baroness Sandip Verma responded, "You do actually raise a very important point, which is we do need to moderate our behaviour."

Real scientists already know this is just a bunch of bullfarts. Human gas doesn't actually have a significant impact on total methane production.

According to 99.99% of all scientists on earth, carbon dioxide from fossil fuels is the primary cause of global warming, while methane's effects are 20 times greater than carbon dioxide. The remaining scientists work for Fox News.

Further, cows produce a sixth of all the methane on Earth, but our human-powered output is just 1/5,000th of our total greenhouse gas emissions.

So not only is it safe to eat baked beans, we should actually increase our overall consumption. That's because a study in the Canadian Medical Journal released the same week says that baked beans can actually lower your cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.

According to lead researcher Dr. John Sievenpiper, eating a single three-quarter cup serving of beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas — also called pulses, I assume because of their. . . effects — can reduce our LDL (bad cholesterol) by as much as five percent, and have a five to six percent reduction of heart attack and stroke risk.

Sievenpiper also said that wind and bloating were among some of the side effects of eating pulses daily. However he said those subsided after a while, much to the disappointment of young boys everywhere.

But not everything is coming up roses for the British baked bean: according to a December article in Britain's Grocer magazine, the amount of baked beans sold in the UK dropped by nearly £21 million last year, resulting in "the biggest decline of all the canned food market." However, the article says this could be a result of the country's economy picking up.

Apparently it's also a marketing problem, as Grocer magazine blamed a "lack of fresh ways to promote baked beans."

Maybe Heinz could air a commercial showing the exchange between Viscount Simon and Baroness Verma. "With Heinz's baked beans, the House of Lords aren't the only ones full of hot gas."

Speaking of global flatulence, other scientists are researching the methane effect of animals as well. By a staggering coincidence — no, seriously; three fart stories in a single week! — Australian scientists published a study in the PLOS One journal about whether camel farts contribute to the greenhouse effect.

After extensive studying and measuring of camel flatulence with special fart-measuring equipment, they concluded "the methane contributed by Australia's feral camels corresponds only to 1 to 2% of the methane amount produced by the country's domestic ruminants."

In other words, for every 100 cow farts, there is only one feral camel fart.

Which means camel farts do not contribute to the greenhouse gas effect.

(I actually only wrote that sentence so I could see it rank number one on Google.)

Feral camel flatulence aside, it comes down to this: the British are eating fewer baked beans, but they're actually very good for you. (The beans, not the British.) The resulting flatulence will not add to the greenhouse effect, while the more enjoyable side effects will dissipate after a time.

So raise your spoon, hike your leg, and think of Viscount Simon and Baroness Verma every time you enjoy another yummy bite of Heinz's British Baked Beans. Eat them for England!

The beans, not the politicians.

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on

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Friday, April 04, 2014

What About Peek-A-Boo?

Erik is out of the office this week, so we are reprinting a column from 2005, because this topic bothered him so much.

While most new parents are eager to show off their new baby, and beam when people coo and marvel at their new addition, one hospital in Halifax, Scotland is putting a stop to all that.

According to a story in The (Edinburgh) Scotsman, the Calderale Royal Hospital has instituted a ban on looking at, asking about, or even cooing to newborn babies in the maternity wards, to prevent visitors from ". . . gawping at newborns or questioning the mother."

Debbie Lawson, a neonatal manager, said that even babies have a right to privacy. "We need to respect the child," she told the Scotsman, presumably with a straight face. "Cooing should be a thing of the past, because these are little people with the same rights as you or me."

Lawson and her fellow anti-cooing activists have even hammered the point home with a doll carrying the message, "What makes you think I want to be looked at?" (To which critics responded with their own doll and message, "Don't flatter yourself.")

This also prompted an outcry from Dolls Expect a Right to Privacy (DERP), who were upset that a doll was used to reinforce the hospital's Draconian new rules.

Needless to say, the new ban has taken everyone by surprise, including the new mothers.

"Who says the babies don't want to be looked at?" asked one critic. "When an infant can tell me he doesn't want to be stared at, I'll respect his choice. But I'm beginning to wonder if the wee bairns even care about this."

"Right!" hollered another critic. "I mean, what if the baby's an aspiring model or actress, and she's trying to get an early start on her career? A ban like this could hurt her future chances for fame."

"But what if the baby wants to be a spy or an assassin? Aren't we depriving that child of the anonymity required to pursue their chosen profession?" asked a coo ban supporter.

Linda Riordan, Halifax's Labour MP, said this was "bureaucracy gone mad. . . (I)n a case where a mother did not want to answer questions, it should be up to that individual to say so."

I suppose this is the real question: are new mothers complaining about people cooing at their infants? Do we have a ward full of Dennis Hopper-esque babies shrieking "stop looking at me!"? Or John Cusack who asks for the most visible table in a restaurant and then gets upset when people approach him? Or are the neonatal folks hopping on the Politically Correct bandwagon and putting words into their young charges' mouths?

And what sort of message is being sent to these impressionable youngsters? Will they grow up to be sullen teenagers who shout "Hey, I didn't ask to be born!" at their parents? Or is it something completely different?

A spokeswoman for Calderdale said she believed it was as much to do with reducing infection risks as it was upholding the rights of these newborns.

"Staff held an advice session to highlight the need for respect and dignity for all patients and the potential risk of infection in vulnerable infants, to new moms and their families," she said in a statement. However, she didn't clarify why a steady stream of infectious people are hanging around the maternity ward in the first place.

Potential risk of infection aside, exactly how much dignity does an infant have? They don't have a station in life or privileges thereof; they sleep constantly, waking only to eat; they poop, pee, and spit up more than is necessary. So how is that dignified?

Let's face it, if you're a child of God, you have a place in the world. And if you occupy that place, people are going to look at you. They'll coo, touch, point and laugh, and yes, even gawp at you. And while I understand the sentiments behind Calderdale's rules of privacy, they should leave it up to the parents to decide whether people can look at their babies, or the child will earn the reputation of being socially dysfunctional before his first birthday.

If a child wants to become a hermit and refuse to interact with other human beings, let them make their own choices. It's not up to hospitals and their overzealous staff to police whether people become social misfits or not.

We have Star Trek conventions for that.

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on

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Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Indianapolis Man to Attempt World Record for Fastest Fireman's Carry

(INDIANAPOLIS)—At age 23, former University of Indianapolis student Sterling White plans to break a Guinness World Record. On April 26 2014 at 10am at Carroll Stadium, White will attempt to set a new record for the World’s Fastest Fireman’s Carry For A Mile.

The current record is 11 minutes and 30 seconds. White believes he can break that record, and has been training since February 2013 to prepare for the attempt. The record calls for White carrying another person of an equivalent weight for one mile.

"I wanted to show the kids in my community that if you set your mind to it, you can do anything you want to do," said White. "When I was growing up, my mom worked a lot of jobs to take care of us, and she always told us we could do whatever we wanted if we worked at it."

White currently trains at Crossfit Naptown, which helps him with running, weight lifting, strength training, and technique. White’s attempt involves more than most athletic endeavors. Not only does he have to have the cardiovascular stamina to make the run, but he needs the leg strength and back strength to be able to last for a mile.

"Training takes a toll on my body, so there are days I really have to work to get out of bed in the morning," said White. "But every day, I remind myself this is for a world record, and I’m back at the gym or on the road."

White will make his attempt in April 2014, while the FDIC Firefighter’s Conference is in Indianapolis. He said he will also use his world record attempt to raise donations for Little Red Door, a nonprofit that works to help reduce the physical, emotional, and financial burdens of cancer for the medically underserved people of central Indiana.


Proud disclosure: Sterling White is a friend of mine, and I've had several chances to sit down with him, talk to him about blogging, his dreams, and his goal of becoming a world record holder. This is a press release announcing his attempt later this month.