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Earth Hour? What difference can I make?

Who’s heard of something called Earth Hour? Oh yeah, it’s one of those treehugger events that’s in the news once a year, and then everybody goes back to their old habits and forgets about it.

Right?

Well… no. Like this moron person in New Zealand, you completely missed the point. Ever heard of symbolism? (Sorry, I don’t usually disparage people. Officially. But those who put down and rant against a global event due to willful ignorance, and because they think they’re already doing the right thing, well, they kinda deserve it. They deserve a counter-rant.)

Earth Hour

Earth Hour. More than a once-a-year-fad.

It started as an event in Sydney in 2007, where they turned the lights off for an hour, including on the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge, to raise awareness about climate change and that individual people can do their bit to help save slow down the destruction of our planet. Since then, it has spread and become a global phenomenon.

Will it make any difference in terms of the globe’s energy use, or its climate, if you turn off your lights for 60 minutes (out of over half a million minutes in a year)?

No. Pretty close to zip, zilch, zero, nada, nuffin’.

So what’s the point in joining?

Well, what if just one kid, because of you having your lights out, asks just one question: “Why are we doing this?”

What if, years later, that one kid remembers Earth Hour as a yearly thing, and it doesn’t fade from her memory every year after the event is over?

And that’s really what it’s about. Raising awareness. Getting people to quit yapping for just one hour about all their oh-so-bothersome first-world problems. Get them to remember that, the way we’re going, our planet’s use-by date is fast approaching. Change the world, so that one day, instead of people rolling their eyes at those who speak up and suggest we all do something, the kids of today who’ll be making the decisions by then will roll their eyes at those few (hopefully very few) who are still too lazy to get off their butts to do something about the world we live in and think it’s Someone Else’s Problem.

And if, after this hour, you should end up making no difference to yourself, the earth’s energy problems, the climate, and end up affecting not a single child in any way… how exactly can one hour with some lights off hurt you?

(Yes, you may still watch TV if you want. No, don’t bother switching off your fridge. Pay attention, dammit!)

Read what it’s all about, and what an amazing difference the WWF-sponsored event has made last year, at http://earthhour.org. Donate, if you want, and if you can afford to. Just don’t bury your head in the sand. If you really don’t believe any of this can make any difference (have you watched the video?!?), at least don’t rain on everyone else’s parade.

Okay, okay, I’m getting off my little soapbox now.

Earth Hour Poster

Change Climage Change.

My Earth Hour in Perth, Western Australia, starts in an hour and a half, at 8:30 pm local time. I’ll be turning my lights off. How about you?

I believe…!

(*clears throat and climbs up on his soapbox, manifesto in one hand, microphone in the other*)

I believe...

… that there are a few things I need to say at the start of the new year, 2015.

General

  • … that people who wonder about the meaning of life either don’t have kids or don’t pay enough attention to them.
  • … that love, humour and hope are the three main ingredients for happiness.
  • … in happy endings in real life. (In stories, they sometimes make me cringe, though. Even if I did silently hope for them.)
  • … in the importance of people being able to talk to each other… non-electronically.
  • … that you don’t need to drink alcohol in order to have fun.
  • … that smoking should be outlawed except for people willing to wear a permanently sealed-off helmet, and that the influence of tobacco lobbyists and the like are despicable. We all know what it does… why is it still around?
  • … that America and the UK need to stop hanging on to their confusing versions of the imperial system of units and finally go metric (your medical and military people are doing it… no, not with each other, I mean they use the metric system). Also, the US need to stop insisting on formatting dates with the middle value followed by the smallest value followed by the largest value. WTF? Oh, while you’re at it, guys, fix where punctuation goes on quotes that are less than a “complete sentence”.
  • … that bullies are almost always cowards too weak to stop doing to others something similar to what’s been done to them.
  • … that the most wonderful sound in the whole wide world is that of my kids laughing uncontrollably.
  • … that I’m the luckiest guy alive because my awesome wife, best friend and soulmate gets me and loves me including all my faults.

Politics

  • … that religious extremism of any sort makes this world a darker place, and that the rest of the world should take heed of how Australia handled her first real encounter with it. #IllRideWithYou
  • … that Australia needs to get rid of its current village idiot, climate-change-denying leader to start moving in the right direction again. We’re the joke of the world, being pretty much the only country in the world that is moving away from actively doing something about global warming, and it’s a friggin’ disgrace.

Software

  • … that OSS (open-source software) is the way to go wherever there’s a choice.
  • … that DRM (digital rights management) is wrong.
  • … that I couldn’t live without some of my favourite pieces of software (sounds like a future blog topic to me!).
  • … that installing a piece of software on my PC or an app on my phone doesn’t give it the right to do things like collect data about me without my explicit agreement, to not give me a choice of when it can dial home or check for updates, or to access any information on my system it doesn’t absolutely need to function. Worst offenders being companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Adobe, but also increasingly “do-no-evil” Google. (I love Cyanogen!)
  • … that it’s a crying shame that Smalltalk isn’t more widely used as a programming language (try Pharo and Seaside if you like to tinker, you won’t want to go back).
  • … that I am fully within my rights, when I see an email from someone that ends with “sent from my iPhone” to add to my own response, “Sent from my 64GB/3G Snapdragon 801 2.5GHz Quadcore OnePlus One with Cyanogen 11S that kicks your iPhone’s arse (and costs less than half as much)”.

Work (in IT)

  • … that programmers shouldn’t have to wear business clothes.
  • … that software architects should have the guts to recommend the right software for the job, not based on which sales reps can throw more money at decision-making board members who still believe that more expensive must mean better.
  • … that IT recruiters are right up there with lawyers and other blood suckers. The fact that they charge between 10% and 40% (or even more) on top of a developer’s rates without really knowing anything beyond buzz words is just appalling.

Blogging

  • … that I should take the time to blog a bit more. (Yeah, like that’ll happen. *sigh*)
  • … that there are too many good, honest blogs out there to read – how I wish I had more time to invest in being a good follower!
  • … that following another blog without really being interested in what it’s about, i.e. just to get them to follow you back, is akin to lying. Thanks to all those who do occasionally read my humble scribblings, and I hope to find more time to read all your blogs. (I _am_ interested in those I follow! I just roll my eyes whenever someone new follows me whose blog is about “making money by blogging” or the like.) For now, though, my aim is simply to have (not necessarily build) a platform while I focus on writing my book. Building my platform will come later, when I have more time for that sort of thing….
  • … that WordPress is great, but they should finally accept that I like the “old” stats page better and stop asking me to vote in their silly survey every time I load it.
  • … that WordPress needs to finally find a way to fix the “invalid certificate” bug that causes security errors. I keep forgetting that certain things only work in certain browsers because of it, and that it sometimes causes my “likes” of other blogs to be lost. Not cool!

Writing

  • … that I’ve had enough of distopian future stories whose premise I don’t buy, or whose premise I buy, but they then make ridiculous assumptions about human nature that I just can’t swallow (might be another future blog post).
  • … that everyone should take grammar seriously. Not just grandpa. All jokes aside, don’t let our language decay because people have to fit everything into 140 characters. Do your part, write things out, learn how it’s done right without needing a spell checker, and gently educate those who fall short. Or, like, mercilessly correct them, or… whatever.
  • … that my story is worth telling.
  • … that 2015 will be the year I finally finish my story. Watch this space. #amwriting

Conclusion

  • … that you should all have a Happy New Year! All the best for 2015 (and beyond).
  • … that it’s about time I stepped off this soap box. Ahem. Sorry for ranting, but occasionally it’s nice to get this sort of stuff off my chest. Now somebody give me a hand getting down, it’s higher than it looks. Huh? What do you mean, the microphone wasn’t on?!?

10 common mistakes writers shouldn’t make

I know posts and articles like this are all too common, and many people are probably sick of them. Maybe, but too many people still make these mistakes for me not to at least have a go at ranting correcting them. (Any mistakes in any of my posts? Please let me know in the comments. Really.)

Five (arguably) easy ones

I’ll start with five I find all over, though I assume serious writers would know them, from online newspaper articles where “journalists” should really know better to informal scribblings where they’re not as bad, but anyone who writes anything on the ‘net should really know these first ones.

1. Definitely

So many variations of how this word is misspelled, yet it’s so simple when you remember that the word “finite” is in there.

2. Don’t add apostrophes to make plurals

I see this on shop signs and the like so often it’s embarrassing. To make a word plural, you generally just add an “s“, not an “‘s” (i.e. without the apostrophe). You may have to make adjustments like changing “y” to “ie“, but otherwise there are very few exceptions. (For instance, there are different opinions on what to do with numerals, but that’s another story.)

3. Homonyms: “its” vs “it’s”, “their” vs “there” vs “they’re”, “your” vs “you’re”

Just know your possessives and it’s a whole lot easier.

Generally, possessives are where you add apostrophes to words: Fred’s head, Amos’ blog (note the apostrophe at the end there since it already ends with “s”, though some would argue that another “s” won’t hurt).

However, possessive pronouns are an exception: mine, yours, his/hers/its, ours, yours, theirs… no apostrophe. (Same goes for “whose”, an interrogative possessive pronoun.) The examples in the above heading that do have an apostrophe are all contractions: it’s (it is, or it has), they’re (they are), you’re (you are).

Everyone should be clear on when to use “there” (though some apparently don’t bother to think about it).

4. Using “alot” a lot

They are two words. Just like “a little”.

5. I before E, except after C… how hard can it be?

This is the golden rule when you don’t know whether it’s “ie” or “ei”. Long “ee” sounds almost always conform to it: “believe”, “relieve”, “thief”, “piece”, but “receive”, “ceiling”, “conceit”, “transceiver”.

Actually, this one isn’t as easy as the others, as it has quite a few more exceptions. But I’d argue it’s better to follow the rule and be wrong on the occasional exception than to not follow it and be wrong on, well, many more words. Don’t let the weird exceptions seize you and scare you off.

Five more, slightly trickier

Knew all of the above already? The next batch aren’t quite as obvious and some can catch out even seasoned writers.

6. Careful with your tenses

Writers should really be comfortable with these, but occasionally I still spot mistakes of this kind even in printed books that should have been proof-read by professionals. I’ll leave it at one example I saw just last night in an otherwise very well-written story, where a character “knew he overreacted”. The story is told in the past tense, so it should be either “knew he’d overreacted” (if the overreaction was over by the time he knew it), or “knew he was overreacting” (if the overreaction was still occurring).

7. Singular “is” vs plural “are”

This one seems to be sneaking its way into formal English from everyday use. People no longer just (mis)use it when speaking informally, it can now be found on radio/TV as well as written online or in print. It may seem innocent when people say something like “There’s two things that tick me off”, but beware of using “is” with a plural. “Things are“, not “things is“.

8. Who thinks of whom?

Some may argue I’m flogging a dead horse here, but I don’t think we should give up on the word “whom” just yet, at least in formal writing. The rule of when to use which is not as tricky as most would think. Just remember that who replaces the subject of the sentence while whom replaces the object.

(Edit: while writing this, I googled the subject and found a great “comic” on this describing both when and why to use whom in a sentence. It explains the subject/object rule better than I could as well as pointing out a simple he/him test that’s easy to remember. “Do it for the steeds!”)

9. The postfix -ward vs -wards

Did he go toward her or towards her?

Short version? If unsure, leave out the “s”.

Long(er) version? Historically and more formally, the form with the “s” is an adverb, while the form without the “s” can be an adjective, a noun, or an adverb (a variant of the “s” form). From what I’ve been able to read from various sources (please correct me if I’m wrong), it seems that this distinction has become less relevant in recent years, and that the form with the “s” (towards, downwards, backwards) is used more in UK/AUS/NZ while the shorter form (toward, downward, backward) is chiefly used in the US. Personally, I’d still say something along the lines of “He moved backwards in a backward world.”

10. Using “if” vs “whether”

“I don’t know if I should tell you this.” Correct or incorrect? We all use it in informal language, but, at least formally, “whether” should replace “if” in this example. Formally, “if” indicates a conditional phrase, but “If I should tell you this, then I don’t know” doesn’t make sense. In cases with two distinct possibilities, use “whether”. Mixing these two up can drive students of logic up the wall (which, admittedly, can be fun).

Conclusion

Whether or not you use “if”, especially if you’re your own boss’ boss, and they’re not in their right mind over there while it’s obvious that saying “definitely” is its own reward a lot of the time, remember whom to thank for these great rules and continue to believe in the gloriously weird language that is English.

Cheers,

AMC