Verb jamb, stile sheet, upper predicate and parting adjective...

Well, this seems like a good time to resuscitate the Text Pixel Pixie. I’ve been avoiding a discernable fluttering of little wings lately – and I mean more than just the moths! She has definitely been strretching and yawning.

There was the day my colleague, the internal communications manager, looked up at me from her desk, and said: “Transition. It’s not really a verb, is it?”

That was the same day another colleague wrote to her, asking her to put an item in the internal staff email telling people to stop misspelling “draught-proofing.”

That was, by chance, the very day I was already fulminating about language errors: “triple” not being a verb, and “to whit” instead of “to wit,” and verbs that don’t agree with their subjects. To wit, verbs in the singular, which agree with only the last noun in a list of things they’re supposed to apply to. To which they’re supposed to apply. Newspapers’ subeditors. Say no more.

Then there’s a thread someone started on Facebook, talking about the extent to which we should honour (or honor) US or British typographical practice, with double or single quote marks, and punctuation falling inside or outside (of) them. This thread is getting long and, in places, a little heated; people are confessing to years of frustration being stuck on the wrong side of the Atlantic, having to work to an annoying style guide – whichever way round.

I even gave a potted history of the noble antecedents of the American word “gotten.”

(You see I still, left to my own, use the double-quotes-punctuation-inside” form; I find it typographically neater. Though I kind of prefer the other one. So analys(z)e me.)

In the middle of all that, I wrote a snarky post about Comic Sans, which dramatically illustrated the ability of a typeface to interact with mood, even while being a relatively cheap shot.

I don’t really have time to maintain two blogs. That is why this one has lain dormant for so long. But the natural desire to have everything in its right place means I now resuscitate the fairy, and I’ll do something clever with LinkedIn or my website or something. It’ll all be fine.

So this brings me to the job description I just read. It’s a nice job and I’d have gone for it if the office in question weren’t relocating outside London. It’s a shame.  I think their ad takes this sadness a little too far, though, when it says: “Must be able to learn and perform multiple roles commiserate with working in a fast-growth small office setting.”

Bless! I am commiserating; I really am. And these people clearly do need me, but I can’t get to their office.


If you are engaged in producing publications of any kind, you may wonder how your pdf turns into a book. This short educational film will not help you. However, it will help you to appreciate the complete miracle that your pdf is! A couple of years ago I had the honour (well, it was very interesting) to tour a printers’ works, and see all the guys there doing their different jobs. (None of them were called ‘Ready Man’, which seems a shame. But by the same token, no one was about to get their hand made flat as a page by a machine. And there were no vats of hot copper. The scariest part, frankly, was the distribution manager’s room, with its complicated system all over the walls.)

Of course, it seems a world away. We’re digital now! The computer does everything for us. We simply type out what we want to say (and then edit, verify, footnote, libel-check, lay it out, sub-edit, proofread it, and proof it again); add our own photographs (or ‘pics’), which we may well have scanned ourselves (at 300dpi, I hope, and with signed permission if they are of children or models, and copyright permission), arrange the text around them in such a way that it is still legible, and ensure that the pics are not in any way stretched or manipulated out of their proportions; check printable margins, calibrate colours as best we can (there is no exact science for the mysteries of digital colour, your RGB to CMYK conversion, your Pantone). Then we simply turn the thing into a pdf file. How does this work? I don’t know. You click on a button: ‘make pdf’. Presto. Anybody can do it.

The printers do the rest. (Technically of course they deal with the colour issues too. But I have spent anxious moments with designers, trying to work out how something would look in print, and we have seen initial proofs coming back looking completely different from all predictions.)

There is a second way, involving Microsoft Publisher, stretched clip art of funny pics form the team party or major funder, misspelled words, single words left hanging at the top of a page or in the margin of a picture, ungrammatical libellous remarks, unsupported assertions that amount to untruths, etc. Anybody really CAN do this. And you still press ‘make pdf’ and send it to the printer. But there are superstitions about that kind of stuff.


March 23, 2010

When you’re applying for jobs the pressure is on to be passionate. First, you have to be really passionate about the idea of having a job in the first place, otherwise you cold never bear to fill out so many forms. And such long ones! Second, you must, for however long it takes to discover that you haven’t got the job, be very passionate indeed about the company you are applying to, about their mission statement and everything they do. A friend who helps young people in the East End get into the job market says she works with people who are applying for fifty jobs before they get one. That’s a lot of passion.

And that’s before you get your foot in the door! Once in, of course, passion is out and ruthless efficiency is in. As with any other relationship.

more on the job-hunt

March 12, 2010

Here’s one. This is like my recent jobseeking experience:

Q: What do you get when you cross a deconstructionist with a mafia boss?

A: Someone who makes you an offer you can’t understand.

that’s ‘as in buzz saw’

February 12, 2010

Google Buzz. It doesn’t sound good, does it. It bounced uninvited into my gmail inbox this week, along with a very irritating, unignorable logo, and sat there giving me a running tally of new ‘messages’ and ‘followers’. In bold. It was like a little troll sitting there. When clicked, it revealed (in a confusing screen) that I was somehow following some people, without having ever decided to follow them. And they were following me, even though I’d never said anything. They were sort of saying things, mostly, ‘hello? hello? what’s this for?’ I do at least know who all of them are, but I still felt just a teensy, weensy little bit spied on and used.

Is that a surprise? With Google? Really?

Anyway, it turns out – not that they told me themselves, you understand – that you can turn Buzz off, if you go all the way down to the bottom of your gmail page, and look at the tiny print there. There’s a little bit of tiny print that says ‘turn off buzz’. So I did. It immediately vanished, and took its annoying logo with it. Ahhhh!

After I did that I saw this excellent blog post. Suw Charman-Anderson has thought longer and more carefully about Google Buzz than I ever hope to, and she lays out all the different ways in which it is compromising your privacy. Some of them are quite serious. Google Buzz makes public your most frequently emailed contacts and even your exact street location. It is hard to modify settings and it has no central control panel; Google is relying on people not changing the settings. My own experience was that it didn’t give me any information at all. It automatically connects you to other Google-owned sites. It even, alarmingly, allows people to follow you anonymously – so you can’t even go into their page to block them!

Suw has a very good take on what it’s like having this distracting little monster sitting right under your inbox:

Email is causing significant problems for people, not just because of the volume of email we get these days but because dopamine circuits in our brain encourage us to seek new information and cause us to check our email more often than we realise. Every time we check email, we waste about 64 seconds getting back into doing what we were doing before. Some people check email every 5 minutes. That’s an 8-hour day each week that we waste in mental limbo. Email is a significantly counter-productive tool yet it’s our default for almost all communications. By adding in a new source of random reward – Buzz – Google have made their inbox even more addictive and unproductive. Not only do you have a new unread Buzz messages count to lure you into checking and rechecking, Buzz also tangles up Buzz replies with your email…

If you’re like me you’ll find this a compelling case against Google Buzz all on its own. At least Facebook and Twitter are in separate programmes. At least you know why you use them: because you decided to. For a reason. There are more than enough things going on in the average computer these days to keep you from getting stuff done; they only work because you have the power to decide how, and when, to use them. Google Buzz seems to be doing away with all that. It wants to sit in your face.

Suw concludes:

I haven’t even begun with the usability problems Buzz has. How poorly considered the interface is. How annoying it is when your Buzz stream is flooded with someone’s Google Reader output. But I do have a cure:

Go to the bottom of your screen and click “Turn off Buzz”.

Here at Text Pixels we second that! And don’t get me started on Google Books.

Merry Christmas, everybody

December 25, 2009