‘They,’ the Singular Pronoun, Gets Popular

16 April 2015

From The Wall Street Journal:

Copy editors might seem like stick-in-the-mud traditionalists when it comes to language change, but when I attended the American Copy Editors Society’s annual conference in Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago, I found growing acceptance of a usage that has long been disparaged as downright ungrammatical: treating “they” as a singular pronoun.

According to standard grammar, “they” and its related forms can only agree with plural antecedents. But English sorely lacks a gender-neutral singular third-person pronoun, and “they” has for centuries been pressed into service for that purpose, much to the grammarians’ chagrin. Now, it seems, those who have held the line against singular “they” may be easing their stance.

“They” most often turns singular in common usage when its antecedent is considered generic, not referring to a single known person. Nearly everyone would find that they can stomach the “they” in this very sentence, agreeing with “nearly everyone.”

Things get trickier when the antecedent of “they” more clearly refers to one person. Areader of this column may not like what they see in this sentence, for instance.

Still, there is no question that “they” is more idiomatic than clunky alternatives that include both genders, as in “he or she,” “he/she” or “(s)he.” All of those seek to replace “he” as a generic pronoun, which has been fading ever since the move toward nonsexist language in the 1970s.

. . . .

In Sweden, similar debates have led to increasing acceptance of the pronoun “hen,” which has been proposed since the 1960s as a gender-neutral alternative to “han” (“he”) and “hon” (“she”). The efforts of those pushing for “hen” will pay off next week, when it’s included among 13,000 new words in the Swedish Academy’s official dictionary.

Lind to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

Can you really make a living by selling used books on Amazon for a penny?

15 April 2015

From The Guardian:

Sometime in early 2013, in Dallas, Texas, a generous reader donated his impeccable first-edition copy of Philip Roth’s Our Gang to the local Goodwill store, its royal blue dust jacket gleaming as brilliantly as it did in 1971.

There it sat on a shelf, priced at $1, until a semi-trailer from Books Squared whisked it away among 3,000 other leftovers. At the Books Squared warehouse in south-west Dallas, Our Gang was checked and processed by receivers and a scrupulous quality-control team, who deemed the book “like new” before scanning it into their computer system to be sold online.

Dynamic pricing software cross-referenced every active listing of a used, like-new, hardcover copy of Our Gang across online marketplaces like Amazon and Abebooks, then matched the lowest price. Last March, four months after it was listed, I bought the book for a penny, and Books Squared shipped it to my apartment in Toronto. This handsome volume is sitting proudly on my desk right now.

. . . .

Online, such literary treasures are in ample supply. But deals this good raise an obvious question. It clearly took a lot of time to usher Our Gang from the backrooms of Goodwill to Canada, where I live. So how does anyone make money selling a book for a cent?

. . . .

The only trouble is the low quality of that yield. Mike Ward, owner of Thrift Books – the largest of the used book sellers in the US and parent company to a number of subsidiaries, including Books Squared – likens the book collection process to “a very large salvage operation”. His network of warehouses is bringing in, on average, 15 semi-trailer trucks full of used books every day, but less than 20% of those books arrive in saleable condition.

The first thing Ward’s handlers must deal with is the garbage: “three-ring binders, Bibles, old Reader’s Digests, books that aren’t even books, books that are totally destroyed”.

From there the stock moves on to the receivers, who inspect each book’s condition and determine, by computer, its likely demand. “At that point they’re throwing away about 65% of what they touch,” Ward says – in part for the poor state many of them arrive in, of course, and in part as a consequence of supply and demand.

“There’s a limit to how many copies of Jurassic Park I can sell,” he explains. “If I already have a thousand in inventory and I think I’m only going to sell 500 in the next three months, I don’t want any more.”

. . . .

Root through enough charity shops and library discard piles, and you’re bound to come across a few valuables. In such cases the used book seller becomes a sort of antique dealer: with a few keystrokes they can put a true rarity online where those most interested can find it. Perhaps that’s why Mike Ward says Thrift Books is in the business of “matching people up with the treasures they want”.

. . . .

Penny books, of course, don’t seem quite so lucrative as a $45 volume on cattle. “If you talked to me 10 years ago and said that you’d be selling books for a cent on the internet, I’d have said that’s impossible,” Roberts says. But there’s some money to be made for those who are, as he puts it, “extremely efficient”.

The price point is partly a result of the market’s downward pressure: at a certain level of supply and demand the race to the lowest price swiftly plummets to the bottom. What remains inflexible is the $3.99 fee Amazon charges the buyer for shipping. From that $4, Amazon takes what they call a “variable closing fee” of $1.35. They also charge the seller 15% of the item’s price – which in the case of a penny book is zero. That leaves $2.64 to cover postage, acquisition cost and overhead.

“All told,” Mike Ward concedes, “we only make a few cents on a penny book sale like that.” Now that hardly seems like much, true. “But keep in mind,” he adds, “that last year we sold 11.5m books.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Dave and several others for the tip.

The U.S. tax code

15 April 2015

The U.S. tax code was written by A students. Every April 15, we have to pay somebody who got an A in accounting to keep ourselves from being sent to jail.

P. J. O’Rourke

Amazon Is Steadily Growing Its Inventory Selection

15 April 2015

From The Street:

Amazon, known as the “Everything Store,” is reinforcing its nickname as it continuously increases the breadth of products on its site.

In its ninth quarterly survey, Baird discovered that the total unit selection on Amazon surpassed 300 million for the first time, growing 32% from the first quarter of 2014. This follows a 24% fourth-quarter increase on the same basis.

. . . .

As Baird analyst Colin Sebastian notes in the report, selection is “among the key levers for retail segment growth.”

. . . .

“Amazon continues to add product selection at a fairly rapid clip, which we view as one of the fundamental drivers of the company’s unit sales growth,” Sebastian writes.

The top categories on Amazon based on number of listed items were Books, Home & Kitchen, Electronics, MP3 Music, Sports & Outdoors, and Clothing & Accessories. Health & Personal Care, Office Products, and Tools & Home Improvement were among the bottom categories in terms of number of listed items.

. . . .

During the first quarter of 2015, the number of Prime-eligible units grew 49% over 2014, with more than 33 million Prime-eligible products on Amazon.com.

. . . .

Prime is one of the key priorities for Amazon, and the company is constantly adding new features and benefits to the program to attract more members.

Link to the rest at The Street


15 April 2015

From A.Word.A.Day:


. . . .

noun: The art of producing or publishing books. Also known as bibliogenesis.

. . . .

“The author also appreciates the liberal expenditures of the company for the publication of the volume in an excellent style of bibliogony.”
Miland Austin Knapp; Teeth Regulation; 1900

Link to the rest at A.Word.A.Day

How to Write A Novel In Eighteen Steps

15 April 2015

From author Cameron D. Garriepy:

  • Draft 50,000 words in two mad months. Convince self you are literary giant.
  • Lose focus, shelve draft for three years.
  • Discover the entire secondary plot is crap. Scrap it.
  • Rewrite over 18 months. 65,000 words of plausible nonsense.

. . . .

  • Decide to publish in six months. Actually tell people that.
  • Get solid notes from beta readers. Rewrite. 82,000 words.
  • Panic. How is the book getting LONGER?

. . . .

  • Read through proof in horror: So. Many. Wrongs.
  • Apply 463* sticky-note edits to proof.

Link to the rest at Cameron D. Garriepy and thanks to Shelton for the tip.

Here’s a link to Cameron D. Garriepy’s books

Weinstein Company Acquires Book, Film Rights to Self-Published Hit

15 April 2015

From The Wrap:

French self-publishing success “Happy People Read and Drink Coffee” will see new life in the United States with The Weinstein Company (TWC) picking up rights to publish the book and adapt it for the big screen, the company announced Tuesday.

French writer Agnes Martin-Lugand’s debut novel was a self-publishing smash success in France, where the book outsold “Fifty Shades of Grey” and landed at the top of the French Kindle bestseller list in 2013.

The story follows Diane, who is still mired in grief, her cafe no longer a sanctuary, after the loss of her husband and daughter in a car accident a year prior. Searching for a way to remain close to her husband, Diane takes a trip to a place he always wanted to visit: Ireland. Once there, Diane discovers a whole new sanctuary in the form of a bitter and mysterious neighbor, and must decide whether she is ready — or able — to love again.

. . . .

“As lover of French culture, I couldn’t be more excited to be on board with Agnes Martin-Lugand’s fantastic novel,” said Yazdi in a statement. “It’s a huge thrill to bring the book stateside and we greatly look forward to working with Maeva, Sebastien and the Source Films team in giving the book’s millions of fans a big screen adaptation.”

Link to the rest at The Wrap

How Typing is Destroying Your Memory

15 April 2015

From FastCompany:

Bad News: If you take notes in a meeting using your laptop, or if you create a to-do list using an app, you might be undermining your ability to recall the information later.

A recent study published in Psychological Science found that the pen is mightier than the keyboard when it comes to remembering what you just jotted down.

Princeton University psychological scientist Pam Mueller, lead author of the study, noticed the difference while she was a graduate teaching assistant. She normally brought her laptop to the lecture to take notes, but one day she didn’t have it. “I felt like I learned a lot more,” she recalls.

. . . .

“Students who took notes on the laptop were basically transcribing the lecture,” says Mueller. “Because we write by hand less quickly, those who took notes with pen and paper had to be more selective, choosing the most important information to include in their notes. This enabled them to study the content more efficiently.”

In the second study, Mueller told the laptop note-taking group to try not to take verbatim notes; however, students were unable to do that. “It’s an ingrained technique,” says Mueller.

. . . .

“People should be more aware of how they are choosing to take notes, both in terms of the medium and the strategy,” says Mueller. “There are times when taking notes by hand can be much more beneficial, and there are times when your laptop is the right choice.”

When you’re in a situation where it’s important to form a deeper understanding of the material, such as during a conference or workshop, taking longhand notes will allow you greater processing while you’re listening. When you’re writing, you’re thinking more, says Mueller, and you might have more insight about what is most important at the time.

Link to the rest at FastCompany

When PG thinks of the trillions of words he’s typed over the years, he’s surprised he can remember . . . uh, remember . . . .


Why Your Child Needs a Domain Name

14 April 2015

Nothing to do with books.

From The Wall Street Journal:

When a child is born, family and friends often wonder what gift to give the infant. Over the years, my children have been showered with baby blankets, rattles, piggybanks and designer outfits. I’ve even bought these gifts myself. Unfortunately, within six to12 months most of these gifts are unusable, and wind up in a box you’ll rummage through 15 years from now.

What do I think is the single best baby gift that you could ever give a newborn: a domain name.

We don’t know what the future will hold for our children. They may end up being famous and in the movies. They could end up being the next successful billionaire like Mark Cuban. They could wind up being an artist or a web designer or a photographer.

What we do know is that the buying and selling of domain names has become a huge business.  We also know that social media is here to stay. Having the ability to create your own personal page at your domain name could give your child a huge edge down the road.  In fact, if her or she becomes the next Taylor Swift,  their own domain name could be worth millions.

Many parents put a lot of effort into selecting the name of their child. Why not be smart about it and pick up the domain name, the Twitter handle, and even an Instagram handle after you come to a concrete decision on the name?

Lind to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

PG suggests that by the time a child born in 2015 reaches the age when he/she might want an online presence, domain names will be about as useful as Walkmans.

In a good book

14 April 2015

In a good book the best is between the lines.

Swedish Proverb

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