An AI Breaks the Writing Barrier

From The Wall Street Journal:

Word has been making its way out from the technology community: The world changed this summer with the rollout of an artificial intelligence system known as GPT-3. Its ability to interact in English and generate coherent writing have been startling hardened experts, who speak of “GPT-3 shock.”

Where typical AI systems are trained for specific tasks—classifying images, playing Go—GPT-3 can handle tasks it was never specifically trained for. Research released by its maker, San Francisco-based OpenAI, has found that GPT-3 can work out analogy questions from the old SAT with better results than the average college applicant. It can generate news articles that readers may have trouble distinguishing from human-written ones.

And it can do tasks its creators never thought about. Beta testers in recent weeks have found that it can complete a half-written investment memo, produce stories and letters written in the style of famous people, generate business ideas and even write certain kinds of software code based on a plain-English description of the desired software. OpenAI has announced that after the test period, GPT-3 will be released as a commercial product.

The name stands for Generative Pre-trained Transformer, third generation. Like other AI systems today, GPT-3 is based on a large, organized collection of numeric weights, known as parameters, that determine its operation. The builder of the AI trains it using large digital data sets—in this case, a filtered version of the contents of the web, plus Wikipedia and some others. The number of parameters is a key measure of an AI model’s capacity; GPT-3 has 175 billion, which is more than 100 times that of its predecessor, GPT-2, and 10 times that of its nearest rival, Microsoft’s Turing NLG.

. . . .

I copied and pasted the first paragraph of George Washington’s 1796 Farewell Address: “The period for a new election of a citizen to administer the executive government of the United States being not far distant, and the time actually arrived when your thoughts must be employed in designating the person who is to be clothed with that important trust, it appears to me proper, especially as it may conduce to a more distinct expression of the public voice, that I should now apprise you of the resolution I have formed, to decline being considered among the number of those out of whom a choice is to be made.”

GPT-3 gave me its translation: “I am not going to run for president.” Take a bow, HAL 9000.

I got similarly cogent summaries when I entered the First Amendment and other sources. I wondered whether GPT-3 was simply lifting language from websites, but I couldn’t find any evidence of that.

Yet when I gave it the famous first line of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”—“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”—the AI was puzzling to watch. In the course of my first four tries, a few of its answers were sort of in the ballpark without being quite right. (For instance, “A man with a lot of money must be looking for a wife.”) Then on my fifth try, it seemed to crack up: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man with a good fortune must be in want of a wife, because men are very vain and they want to be seen as wealthy, and women are very greedy and they want to be seen as beautiful.”

. . . .

If the price is right, there’s a good chance that GPT-3 will make major changes in our working lives. For a range of knowledge workers—news reporters, lawyers, coders and others—the introduction of systems like GPT-3 will likely shift their activities from drafting to editing. On the plus side, the biggest barrier to getting work done, the tyranny of the blank paper or the blank screen, may become much rarer. It’s simple enough just to keep clicking GPT-3’s “generate” button until something halfway usable appears.

The tyranny of the blank screen, though, forces us to think through a problem in a way that editing does not. Human nature probably means that people will often be more intent on massaging an AI’s output to the point that it looks acceptable than on doing their own work to sort through ambiguous data and conflicting arguments. Like GPS navigation, which started as just a tool but has reduced our engagement with the act of navigating, AI language generators may start by sparing us labor but soon spare us thought. (With regard to possible misuse, a representative of OpenAI told me that it bans uses of GPT-3 that may cause harm, including harassment, spamming, deception or radicalization.)

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

Marlowe, A.I. for Novels

From The Book Designer:

I recently had the opportunity to evaluate Marlowe, Authors A.I.’s analytical software for novels. Created by Matthew L. Jockers, Ph.D., and his data team, Marlowe is an artificial intelligence that serves to help authors improve their novel before sending it off for professional editing. The goal of this software is to “help authors refine their manuscripts and identify new market opportunities for their works.” (Note: I searched their website but did not find any reference to helping authors “identify new market opportunities for their works.”)

Marlowe is relatively new—first released in January 2020—and so I was a little skeptical about the reliability of the algorithms, fearing its creators could still be working out the kinks. Also new is the Authors A.I. organization itself, a June 2019 venture.

The manuscript I submitted to Marlowe was the final manuscript for my latest novel Nineteen Hundred Days, a book in the literary fiction genre that had gone through three levels of professional editing:

  • manuscript critique
  • line editing
  • copy editing

The 24-page report I received for this manuscript includes 15 areas of analyses.

Plot Structure

This section of the Marlowe report is about narrative arc and major turning points in the story line. Below is the visual representation provided for my novel.

The dotted line running across the graph indicates emotional neutrality.

The purple line represents conflict and conflict resolution. Upward slopes mark instances of conflict resolution where the story takes a positive turn, and downward slopes indicate the story taking a darker turn or some level of complication.

The more peaks and valleys, the more of an emotional roller coaster the character(s) is going on, which could be an indication of how successful the novel is in engaging readers. If the purple line doesn’t veer away much from the dotted line, the story is likely flat and uninteresting.

According to Marlowe, a good story will result in this line vacillating between above and below the dotted line with highs and lows throughout. And it’s not just about the number of spikes, it’s also about the depth of each one.

The green line represents the narrative arc. Marlowe claims there is no optimal shape for the narrative arc, and they are working on obtaining some comps from bestsellers for future reference. But my experience is that fictional stories are best structured if they include these narrative arc components:

  • exposition
  • conflict
  • rising action
  • climax
  • falling action
  • resolution

When optimally included in the story line, these components form a definitive narrative arc.

My interpretation of this analysis for Nineteen Hundred Days is that it has a typical narrative arc (at least according to my knowledge and experience). With respect to the level and depth of conflict in the story line, I can only compare it to the sample report that Authors A. I. has on its website for The Da Vinci Code which has five peaks (compared to my six) with approximately the same depth and occurrences above and below the dotted line. While my novel is not in the same league as The Da Vinci Code, I can only feel good about this comparison.

. . . .

Pacing

Marlowe analyzes the story’s pacing by plotting where it thinks readers will turn the pages more quickly (peaks on the graph) and the slower moments (valleys) where there is likely scene setting and background information given, claiming that the most successful writers vary the pace of their story to provide variety.

When I saw this analysis for my novel, I immediately wondered what was going on at the 57% mark to cause such a prominent “valley.” So I looked at chapters 20 through 25 and found three significant events:

  • the protagonist’s best friend dies of cancer
  • he is asked by police if he can identify someone they are looking for
  • he learns of his mother’s jail sentence

I would not call these “slow moments,” so I am at a loss as to why the graph dips so low at the 57% mark.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

How Studying Psychology Has Influenced My Writing

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

This is a ‘what came first – the chicken or the egg’ kind of question for me, or as my daughter asked me last week – the seed or the tree? Did my study of psychology influence my writing, or did my love of stories and characters develop into a love of psychology? 

Even as a child I was fascinated by both. When I was around seven or eight years old I designed a quiz that I gave to everyone who came to the house. It was only basic questions like favourite colour, best friend, dream job, but I loved reading the answers. I found it interesting that people in the same family, who lived in the same house, were so different. And when I wasn’t designing quizzes, I was either devouring every book I could get my hands on, or I was filling notebooks with my own stories about children who could fly, orphans starting new schools, and evil witches. 

. . . .

A few years (OK a decade) after I’d finished my degree, I had an idea for a novel about a distraught widow (Tess) and her young son, and what happens to them when a charismatic grief counsellor comes into their lives. I knew immediately that this was a novel that would need me to draw on my psychology degree. I dug out my old text books from the loft and poured through them for days on end, reminding myself why I loved the complexities of the human mind so much. This idea became my debut, The Perfect Betrayal

I wanted to pull the reader into Tess’s daily struggles with her grief and depression and I wanted them to feel the full range of emotions that we can feel for those around us experiencing mental illness. Feelings like sympathy, pity, desperation, exasperation, and frustration.  There were times when I was writing the book when all I wanted to do was tell Tess to snap out of it. Unfortunately it’s never that simple with mental illness. 

With my second novel, One Step Behind, I once again pulled out my psychology books and delved into the murky waters of what drives obsession, and how even the most moral person can be driven to cross the line if pushed far enough. The main character, Jenna, is a doctor who has dedicated her life to saving others, but when she is asked to save the life of the man responsible for destroying hers, will she do it?

I write these stories because the themes fascinate me, but one thing that studying psychology has instilled in me is the need to do the behaviours of my character’s justice. Readers are a savvy bunch, and won’t buy into an anxious character suddenly not caring anymore. While we are complex individuals, we all have certain traits that guide our behaviour. Equally, if I’m going to write about a character struggling with a mental illness then it’s important to me and the readers that I portray that illness as realistically as I can. With Tess and her depression in The Perfect Betrayal it was important to me that she didn’t get a little bit better every day. She had some good days but they were often followed by bad ones. 

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Women’s Books

Pens, Ranked

From Writer Unboxed:

Like cameras, umbrellas, and getaway cars, the best pen is the one you have with you. We writers tend to have a dozen pens with us at any given time, though—when the muse comes to you and whispers profundity into your ear, which pen do you grab to write your masterpiece? This month, the Hacks for Hacks team looked at hundreds of pens, from ball points to gels to smear-resistant models for lefties. Using our scientific rating criteria, we ranked the best pens available.

10. Pilot Precise V7. I have one of these in my pocket at all times. Versatile and affordable, the V7 is perfect for everything from a novel to a grocery list. Don’t take it on an airplane, however, as the differences in altitude and cabin pressure will cause some leakage. As long as you’re on solid ground, though, the Pilot V7 will remain a trusty friend your whole life long.

9. The fancy pen you got as a graduation gift. Doesn’t it look nice on your desk? Don’t you feel like an author just looking at it? These are stylish, and will never run out of ink because you can’t bring yourself to actually use it.

. . . .

2. The white, cap-less, dried-up Bic ball-point pen in your desk drawer that you can’t bring yourself to throw away. Once upon a time, this had blue ink, and still does if you shake the hell out of it and scrawl on a nearby napkin to get things flowing. You have lots of pens, and you don’t even remember how you got this one; why don’t you just throw it out? But we both know you can’t. And that’s why it’s ranked #2.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

For PG, there is only one pen to rule them all:

Microsoft Editor

From Microsoft:

Get intelligent writing assistance

Write with confidence across documents, email, and the web. With features that help strengthen your spelling, grammar, and style, let Microsoft Editor be your intelligent writing assistant.

. . . .

Have help anywhere you write

See Editor’s suggestions in Word, Outlook, and on your favorite sites. Try Editor in Outlook and download the browser extension to have Editor’s assistance across the web.

Get suggestions in different languages

Receive basic guidance in more than 20 languages, and spelling suggestions in more than 80, to help you communicate clearly, no matter what language you’re writing in.

. . . .

Get help with the basics of spelling, grammar, and punctuation for free. Receive advanced grammar and stylistic feedback on clarity, conciseness, formality, vocabulary, and other premium features with Microsoft 365.

Link to the rest at Microsoft

PG and Mrs. PG aren’t likely to move away from Grammarly unless/until MS Editor becomes substantially more effectively than Grammarly.

However, PG would be interested in the experiences of others with MS Grammar. Feel free to drop a comment to this post or click on the Comment button on the main toolbar, just below the banner image.

A New Writer’s Tool: Glossary Generator

From author James Murdo via Indies Unlimited:

Writers face competing demands for their time, many of which are highly manual and slow processes. One such process, which is especially important for Science Fiction writers, is glossary generation. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a simple piece of software to speed this up? Well, that’s what ‘Glossary Generator’ is for. Simply input your manuscript and wait for the generator to do its work!

. . . .

As an author of what has been referred to as “cerebral sci-fi”, I include glossaries in my books to remind and provide additional information to readers. However, this was not initially the case.

When I first received the feedback from my proof-readers and editor that ‘your book needs a glossary’, I was relatively disheartened. Another lengthy process! It took some time, but I was very pleased with the outcome. Furthermore, the response was singularly positive: everyone, from the proof-readers and editor to the final readers themselves really liked it too. Now, every single one of my books contains a glossary.

Then why complain, James?

(1) The creation of glossaries is tedious and slow.
(2) You don’t want to miss important terms by accident.

The creation of Glossary Generator

After four books, I decided to do something to address my issues with the glossary creation process. I wrote a computer program to do it for me. Initially, the program sat idly as code on my computer without a proper user-friendly interface, patiently waiting to be run on my unsuspecting Word files. However, I realised the program could be used to help other authors too. I put a user interface together and called it ‘Glossary Generator’! Following this, creating the glossaries for my last two books (shameless plug: Siouca Remembers is just out…) was far simpler.

. . . .

The Glossary Generator can be used to create a glossary from scratch, although you should sense-check the results. Some words may be incorrectly flagged as glossary terms (i.e. if they are obscure), or you may simply not wish to include them for whatever reason, since determining which terms should be included is subjective. On the other hand, the generator may fail to find some terms you wish to be included (that have no “flaggable” characteristics to alert the Glossary Generator). Personally, I find the glossary generator has a 90-95% hit rate before I use any of its “additional parameters”. An additional benefit of the software is that it can help you to identify errors – for example, if you have a character called “Oberon” and you misspell the name once, as “Oberin”, the Glossary Generator will display both.

Identified terms are displayed in alphabetical order within the program, which can be copied and pasted elsewhere, and there is also the option to export them to a text file. Please note – the Glossary Generator identifies terms, but it does not write their descriptions for you. To complete your glossary, you will then need to write the descriptions for each term.

Link to the rest at Indies Unlimited

PG was surprised that Microsoft hadn’t included a glossary generator in MS Word. You can use the Word Table of Authorities generator (a Table of Authorities is a portion of a legal document used by some attorneys on occasion) to sort of help you create a glossary, but it’s a definite kludge.

Here’s a link to James Murdo’s books

And his latest book:

A Couple of Potentially Helpful Sites/Services

PG went looking for a couple of new tools for keeping track of various and sundry things he needs to do.

  1. Finding a simple way of keeping track of small to-do lists, shopping lists, etc., and
  2. Finding a system to monitor progress on more complex multi-step projects that may include coordinating with others.

He had been using a combination of calendar reminders and Evernote for these tasks previously and was (and is) not averse to continuing to use these tools if he can’t find better ones for his jobs.

So far, he has identified two candidates, one for each of the two jobs, but would be interested in experiences, opinions, etc., of the those in the TPV universe about these topics in general and alternate ways for PG to skin this Cat address these challenges.

  1. For various lists and small reminders, PG has been impressed by Any.do. One nice feature is that Any.do integrates well with Amazon’s Alexa, so PG can issue verbal directives to add items to shopping and to-do lists.
  2. For keeping track of more complex projects, PG has heard nice things about Trello for some time. So far, Trello allows for more multidimensional tasks/planning that Any.do seems to support. While PG currently isn’t involved in a lot of team projects, Trello seems to support those nicely as well.

Any thoughts, suggestions, disagreements, etc., are welcome.

Life is too complicated not to be orderly. ~ Martha Stewart

From ReadWrite:

What is the one thing that connects millions of workers around the world? It is the desire to have more productivity at work, work fewer hours, and stay on top of all projects. But is this wish truly attainable? Productivity at work — it is possible.

. . . .

Ironically, working long hours does not increase workplace productivity. As a matter of fact, it can totally backfire and make you less efficient, due to stress, fatigue, and other factors. Moreover, it can negatively affect your physical health. It has been recorded that the risk of heart disease increases markedly by 67% for people who work long hours compared to people who work the standard 7-8 hours a day.

. . . .

1. Create a to-do list to improve productivity at work

Lists help give you a plan for what needs to be accomplished and increases your productivity in the workplace. You could also have one for the week or even the month from which you pull daily tasks. There can be few work-related things more satisfying than checking off a long time item off your list.

You can even take this to the next level by blocking out time each morning to review and add/remove from your to-do list. You will find that it will quickly become a part of your routine and will increase your productivity at work with a more focused view of the day.

. . . .

2. Start with a tough task

If you have 15 things on your to-do list for the day, consider starting with a hard task. While it might seem unpleasant, it’s often easier than trying to tackle it later in the day once you’re tired. When doing this, your day is already successful and productive once that hard task is complete.

Stephen Covey called this your “big rocks.” It is not only easier to tackle them earlier in the day, but it will also help you to feel success and build momentum towards a full day of being productive at work. Even if you don’t get other things on your list done, you still know you were productive and finished something Important.

3. Don’t be afraid to say no

. . . .

Remember that you don’t always have to deliver a hard “no.” If an opportunity seems like a good fit, you can ask someone on your team to investigate it.

. . . .

You also have the option to kick the can down the road. “You’d be surprised by how easily you can delay certain opportunities,” Smith says. “You may miss out on some that don’t fit your immediate strategy, but you can focus on maintaining a relationship that may bring that same opportunity to you again when you are better suited to fulfill on it.”

. . . .

5. Automate when possible (and don’t be afraid to outsource)

Are repetitive tasks taking up a great deal of your time? Consider automating these tasks to improve efficiency within your company. In fact, it can handle up to 45% of repetitive work, such as appointment scheduling, reminder emails, and marketing management.

If tasks are taking up your quality time that can’t be automated, consider outsourcing them, so you have time to handle your more critical items.

Link to the rest at ReadWrite

PG knows a lot of the OP is stuff you’ve heard before, but sometimes hearing something at the right time is more important than having heard it before.

Particularly when he is near his computer, PG has a lot of shortcuts he uses to speed up routine tasks. As one small example, “Link to the rest at ” which PG uses at the end of each quoted item is accomplished by PG typing “ltr” which causes his computer to spit out the longer version.

“Period, close quote, return, open quote” would seem like a beneficial macro for an author writing a lot of dialogue.

How to Choose a Writing Instrument and What It Says About You

From The New Yorker:

Cormac McCarthy purchased a powder blue Olivetti Lettera 32 mechanical typewriter in a Tennessee pawnshop, in 1963, for fifty dollars, and used it for the next five decades, producing an estimated five million words tickling its ivories. An author’s instrument is more than a tool; it is an extension of his very soul. With that in mind, choose your weapon carefully. (I use the Olivetti Lettera 22—an earlier model—myself.)

Ballpoint pen: Let me guess—you probably have a great idea for a book that you’ve been meaning to write but haven’t actually got around to starting?

Fountain pen: You don’t use contractions because you think that they degrade the language, and your epigraphs are all in Latin. You include epigraphs in everything you write.

. . . .

Manual typewriter: You spent six hundred dollars on a typewriter that you’ve used twice.

No. 2 pencil: You keep one behind your ear because you think it looks writerly, but exclusively use it to jot down to-do lists.

Pencil you can only sharpen with a pocket knife: You have gone camping two or three times in your life and bring it up at least once per conversation.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Favorite MS Word Keyboard Shortcuts

From InfoWare:

1. CTRL + Spacebar – Remove all character formatting (font, bold, size, italics, etc.) from selected text. This keystroke saves time by not having to re-highlight text and remove an exact attribute. An entire document may be highlighted and all character formatting can be removed at once. This is helpful when you are reformatting old documents , making changes to one from opposing counsel, or if you are changing firms and need to update your precedents to meet the new firms document standards.

2. CTRL + Q – Remove all direct paragraph formatting. We’ve all experienced spacing issues that are troublesome to fix. This keystroke removes all of those at once and is applied only to the direct formatting by selecting the text and applying Ctrl + Q. This allows the block of text to go back into the style it was applied as. This is incredibly useful when spacing and paragraph issues arise as a result of exchanging document versions between colleagues.

3. ALT + Shift + Up/Down Arrows – Move a paragraph or table row. Click in a paragraph or row or select more than one and hold down Alt + Shift with your left hand. Use the up and down arrows to move the text up or down to a different paragraph. This is helpful in legal documents where you need to change the order of your arguments and saves time from the usual approach of copy and pasting and moving text around the document.

4. Shift + F5 – Return to the last three (3) edit points. If you have moved edited text and then moved to another location within your document, pressing Shift + F5 will move your cursor back to your previous edit. This is helpful in all documents, but specifically in contracts, pleadings and agreements, when you want to quickly return back to your last change without having to manually search for it.

5. CTRL + G – Navigate to a specific part of your document. This keystroke is especially helpful when working with larger documents. Using GoTo will take you to a specific page, section, bookmark or footnote within your document. If you are making changes to only a few clauses or sections, this tool is useful to find the relevant text faster. This keystroke can also give you access to Advanced Find and Replace in the same dialogue box, helping you get more done, faster.

Link to the rest at InfoWare

PG loves anything that will speed up his creation of documents, including TPV posts, emails, legal documents, etc.

He’s mentioned AutoHotkey before and uses it for almost every TPV post and lots of other things.

He also uses TheFormTool document assembly plugin for Word for a number of the legal documents he prepares on a recurring basis. He uses the free version, but has been thinking about upgrading.

HotDocs is another document creation program that has been around for a long time. PG hasn’t tried it out recently, but may need to do it again.

If anyone has any suggestions for other document assembly programs/plugins, etc., leave a comment.

One of PG’s complaints about a number of different classes of software, including document assembly, is that it seems like almost everyone wants recurring revenues for their software and is asking for monthly payments. In other words, software is less a product than it is a service.

AI Augmentation: The Real Future of Artificial Intelligence

From Forbes:

I love Grammarly, the writing correction software from Grammarly, Inc. As a writer, it has proved invaluable to me time and time again, popping up quietly to say that I forgot a comma, got a bit too verbose on a sentence, or have used too many adverbs. I even sprung for the professional version.

Besides endorsing it, I bring Grammarly up for another reason. It is the face of augmentative AI. It is AI because it uses some very sophisticated (and likely recursive) algorithms to determine when grammar is being used improperly or even to provide recommendations for what may be a better way to phrase things. It is augmentative because, rather than completely replacing the need for a writer, it instead is intended to nudge the author in a particular direction, to give them a certain degree of editorial expertise so that they can publish with more confidence or reduce the workload on a copy editor.

This may sound like it eliminates the need for a copy editor, but even that’s not really the case. Truth is, many copy editors also use Grammarly, and prefer that their writers do so well, because they usually prefer the much more subtle task of improving well wrought prose, rather than the tedious and maddening task of correcting grammatical and spelling errors.

As a journalist I use Cisco’s Webex a great deal. Their most recent products have introduced something that I’ve found to be invaluable – the ability to transcribe audio in real time. Once again, this natural language processing (NLP) capability, long the holy grail of AI, is simply there. It has turned what was once a tedious day long operation into a comparatively short editing session (no NLP is 100% accurate), meaning that I can spend more time gathering the news than having to transcribe it.

. . . .

These examples may seem to be a far cry from the popular vision of AI as a job stealer – from autonomous cars and trucks to systems that will eliminate creatives and decision makers – but they are actually pretty indicative of where Artificial Intelligence is going.

. . . .

What’s evident from these examples is that this kind of augmentative AI can be used to do those parts of a task or operation that were high cost for very little value add otherwise. Grammarly doesn’t change my voice significantly as a writer. Auto-transcription takes a task that would likely take me several hours to do manually and reduces it to seconds so that I can focus on the content. Photoshop’s Select Subject eliminates the need for very painstaking selection of an image. It can be argued in all three cases, that this does eliminate the need for a human being to do these tasks, but let’s face it – these are tasks that nobody would prefer to do unless they really had no choice.

. . . .

When Microsoft Powerpoint suggests alternatives visualizations to the boring old bullet points slide, the effect is to change behavior by giving a nudge. The program is saying “This looks like a pyramid, or a timeline, or a set of bucket categorizations. Why don’t you use this kind of presentation?”

. . . .

However, work with an intelligent word processor long enough and several things will begin to configure to better accommodate your writing style. Word and grammatical recommendations will begin to reflect your specific usage. Soft grammatical “rules” will be suppressed if you continue to ignore them, the application making the reasonable assumption that you are deliberately ignoring them when pointed out.

Ironically, this can also mean that if someone else uses your particular “trained” word processing application, they will likely get frustrated because the recommendations being made do not fit with their writing style, not because they are programmed to follow a given standard, but because they have been trained to facilitate your style instead.

. . . .

Remembered history is actually a pretty good description for how most augmented AIs work. Typically, most AIs are trained to pick up anomalous behavior from a specific model, weighing both the type and weight of that anomaly and adjusting the model accordingly.

. . . .

In some cases, the model itself is also somewhat self-aware, and will deliberately “mutate” the weightings based upon certain parameters to mix things up a bit. News filters, for instance, will normally gravitate towards a state where certain topics predominate (news about “artificial intelligence” or “sports balls” for instance, based upon a user’s selections), but every so often, a filter will pick up something that’s three or four hops away along a topic selection graph, in order to keep the filter from being too narrow.

This, of course, also highlights one of the biggest dangers of augmenting AIs. Such filters will create an intrinsic, self selected bias in the information that gets through. If your personal bias tends to favor a certain political ideology, you get more stories (or recommendations) that favor that bias, and fewer that counter it.

Link to the rest at Forbes

PG thinks the author of the OP is precisely correct for a variety of different reasons.

(Note: Grammarly suggested that PG use “precisely” instead of “exactly” in the prior sentence and was, as is often the case, correct.)

First, tools like Grammarly are just so darned helpful. Perhaps PG is alone in this shortcoming, but there are a few words, not complex, for which PG is perennially uncertain about the spelling. He’s not certain why, but he never remembers with certainty exactly whether it’s spelled one way or another that seems equally as likely. In olden times, PG would have to look these words up in a dictionary.

Then came spell-check, which did the trick, but in a mechanical-seeming fashion. Grammarly is definitely a few steps above the simple spell-check in that, over the many years PG has been using it, the program has become notably more graceful and more subtle in its sense of taste than it formerly was. “Precisely” is more graceful than “exactly” for PG’s sensibilities.

PG has also noted the changes referenced in the OP in Powerpoint, but, perhaps because Microsoft is new at this stuff, the suggestions for alternative slide layouts have generally struck PG as being pretty mundane and not much less unboring than the originals. During the past several years, PG has tended to do more hand-crafting of his Powerpoint presentations (perhaps because he doesn’t’ have to make a Powerpoint presentation 2-3 times per week as in former days). If the Grammarly experts took a shot at Powerpoint, that is something PG would pay attention to.

 

 

Bring Back Handwriting: It’s Good for Your Brain

From Medium:

Not so long ago, putting pen to paper was a fundamental feature of daily life. Journaling and diary-keeping were commonplace, and people exchanged handwritten letters with friends, loved ones, and business associates.
While longhand communication is more time-consuming and onerous, there’s evidence that people may in some cases lose out when they abandon handwriting for keyboard-generated text.

Psychologists have long understood that personal, emotion-focused writing can help people recognize and come to terms with their feelings. Since the 1980s, studies have found that “the writing cure,” which normally involves writing about one’s feelings every day for 15 to 30 minutes, can lead to measurable physical and mental health benefits. These benefits include everything from lower stress and fewer depression symptoms to improved immune function. And there’s evidence that handwriting may better facilitate this form of therapy than typing.

. . . .

“When we write a letter of the alphabet, we form it component stroke by component stroke, and that process of production involves pathways in the brain that go near or through parts that manage emotion,” says Virginia Berninger, a professor emerita of education at the University of Washington. Hitting a fully formed letter on a keyboard is a very different sort of task — one that doesn’t involve these same brain pathways. “It’s possible that there’s not the same connection to the emotional part of the brain” when people type, as opposed to writing in longhand, Berninger says.

. . . .

A 2017 study in the journal Frontiers in Psychology found that brain regions associated with learning are more active when people completed a task by hand, as opposed to on a keyboard. The authors of that study say writing by hand may promote “deep encoding” of new information in ways that keyboard writing does not. And other researchers have argued that writing by hand promotes learning and cognitive development in ways keyboard writing can’t match.

Link to the rest at Medium

PG’s mother had him take a summer typing class when he was about eleven years old. (Yes, my child, this was at a time when dragons were still found on the earth and a keyboard was always permanently fixed to a typewriter.)

Later, in high school, he took another typing class (and massively aced it because of his original typing class). At the annual high school awards program, he received an award for being the fastest and most accurate typist in the school. (It was a very small school, but still.)

During his early years of college, PG charged an exorbitant price per page for typing papers for other students. His particular target market was procrastinators who hadn’t finished their papers until the evening of the day before they were due. PG would type papers at all hours of the night, for a price. (Yes, keyboards were still attached to typewriters.)

PG remembers the first time he saw a word processor, in a law office where he worked part-time during law school. It was used by the secretary for an estate planning attorney. PG learned two things – 1. Word processors could turn out perfectly-typed documents faster than anybody could type. 2. 99% of the contents of an estate plan created for Client A were the same as an estate plan for Client B, so a skilled secretary could modify 1% of the standard estate plan template in about ten minutes, then feed sheets of paper into the typewriter without worrying about mistakes. (The earliest word processors were essentially typewriters with some minimal memory hooked up inside. Sometimes, there was a dial next to the keyboard that allowed the secretary to select one of ten numbered documents that were stored in the word processor.

Not long thereafter, PG was working General Counsel for a very small tech company that also retained a large Los Angeles law firm for some matters. The law firm had a glassed-in portion of its office where its word processors and their operators sat. PG Again, these were dedicated machines that only did word processing, but they used separate monitors and keyboards. They still used impact printers, so it was very noisy in the room when multiple documents were being printed.

These dedicated word processors were quite expensive (PG remembers something like $40,000 each), so the law firm was anxious to have them in use as much as possible. The word processing room was staffed 24/7, so lawyers working late or very late could have documents created or updated at any time. PG had a couple of late-night projects and became familiar with the talents of the word processing workers. They were very fast and very accurate.

When PG opened his own law office, he sprang for a dedicated word processor for his desk and his secretary (Yes, my child, that was a common and perfectly respectable job title) used an IBM Selectric. A year or so later, PG bought a personal computer from the local Radio Shack store, moved the dedicated word processor to his secretary’s desk, and hasn’t looked back since.

That is a very long preface to a very short conclusion. PG believes that whatever areas of his brain that would otherwise be devoted to handwriting have been hijacked by keyboarding. He isn’t aware of any intermediary steps happening in his brain between his thinking of something and the words describing that something showing up on his computer screen. He doesn’t believe that handwriting holds a special place in his brain any more. Your experience may vary, but PG has typed so many more words than he has handwritten during his life, he thinks his handwriting brain has either gone completely dormant or been occupied by his typing brain.

Editor’s Toolkit

PG received a promo email for a program called Editor’s Toolkit and was intrigued by some of the features it claimed.

From An American Editor

The new Editor’s ToolKit Plus 2018 has a wealth of new features, but I’d like to alert you to a few of my favorites, some of which are not immediately obvious but can be enormously useful.

. . . .

If I had to pick a favorite out of all the new features, it would be this one. The previous version of Editor’s ToolKit Plus made it possible to select a heading, press a key (or click the mouse), and properly title-case the selected text. For example, a heading like this one—

THE GHOST IN THE MACHINE

or this one (Word’s default)—

The Ghost In The Machine

instantly became capitalized like this—

The Ghost in the Machine

with commonly used articles, prepositions, and conjunctions lowercased. That was great as far as it went, but why not make it possible to properly title-case all of a document’s headings without having to select them? That’s what this new feature does, for any text formatted with a heading style (Heading 1, Heading 2, and so on—or your own custom heading styles).

But this feature takes things even a step further, allowing you to automatically title-case headings in the active document, all open documents, or all documents in a folder — your choice. Now, rather than painstakingly capping and lowercasing by hand, you can have this feature do it for you, in seconds rather than hours.

But wait — there’s more, as they say on TV. This feature references a list of words so it knows what to lowercase, and you can edit that list to fit your needs. Obviously you’re going to want such words as and, the, of, and an, but what about beyond? How about through? Add or remove words to meet your own editorial style.

In addition, you can add text that you want to remain in all caps: USA, NASA, AARP, and so on.

Finally, you can even specify mixed case, with words like QuarkXPress and InDesign.

. . . .

As you almost certainly know from hard experience, sometimes Microsoft Word documents become corrupted. (The technical term for this is wonky.) The standard fix, known as a “Maggie” (for tech writer/editor Maggie Secara, who has made it widely known to colleagues, although she did not invent the technique), is to select all of a document’s text except for the final paragraph mark (which holds the corruption), copy the text, and paste the text into a new document, which should then be free of wonkiness.

That’s simple enough, but section breaks can also hold corruption, so if your document has several of those, you have to maggie each section separately. Paragraph breaks also can become corrupt, in which case they need to be replaced with shiny new ones. The AutoMaggie feature in Editor’s ToolKit Plus takes care of all this automatically.

. . . .

If you’re fond of using macros that you’ve recorded yourself or captured online, you’ll find MacroVault a truly revolutionary feature of the new Editor’s ToolKit Plus 2018. It was included with the previous version of the program as a way to easily access the macros you use the most, including automatically set keyboard shortcuts to run those macros. Now it takes your macro use to the next level, allowing you to run any of your macros on the active document, all open documents, or all documents in a folder.

Not only that, but you can specify which parts of a document you want to use — the main text, text boxes, footnotes, endnotes, headers, footers, and comments. This brings enormous power and flexibility to your macro collection.

. . . .

FileCleaner has lots of new (and useful!) cleanup options — so many, in fact, that I’ve had to put each kind of option on its own tab, one for each of the following:

Breaks, Returns, Spaces, Tabs
Dashes
Hyphenation
Formatting
Text
Punctuation
Miscellaneous

. . . .

But I think the slickest new feature in FileCleaner is the ability to save entire sets of options for future use.

Just enter a name for a set of options (for a certain client, a certain kind of manuscript, or whatever). Then click OK to clean up those options. The next time you use FileCleaner, you can activate that set of options again by clicking the drop-down arrow on the right. When you do, all of the options for that saved setting will become selected. You can save up to 20 different sets of options.

Link to the rest at An American Editor

Here is additional information from the product’s website about various modules in the program:

FileCleaner

FileCleaner cleans up common problems in electronic manuscripts, including multiple spaces, multiple returns, unnecessary tabs, improperly typed ellipses, ells used as ones, and so on. It turns double hyphens into em dashes, and hyphens between numerals into en dashes. It can also remove directly applied font formatting (such as Times 12 point) while retaining styles (such as Heading 1) and character formatting (such as italic and bold), quickly cleaning up those messy documents imported from other word processors or OCR programs.

. . . .

 ListFixer

Microsoft Word’s automatically numbered and bulleted lists are fraught with problems. They’re hard to understand, they’re unpredictable, and, worst of all, they don’t use real characters, which means they can’t be imported into typesetting programs like QuarkXPress, making them useless for real-world publishing.

ListFixer converts automatic numbers and bullets into real numbers and bullets in the active document, all open documents, or all documents in a folder. In addition, it can be used instead of the Bullets and Numbering buttons on the Formatting toolbar, making it possible to select text and instantly apply or remove real numbers and bullets as you work.

If you like, ListFixer will apply special paragraph styles to your lists, allowing you to easily adjust indentation, line spacing, and tab alignment for list items simply by modifying the styles.

. . . .

MegaReplacer for Microsoft Word

MegaReplacer finds and replaces multiple text strings (characters, words, or phrases), text formatting (such as bold and italic), or styles in the active document, all open documents, or all documents in a folder—automatically or with your manual approval. The perfect tool for achieving complete consistency in a manuscript. No more looking through document after document for each item on your editorial style sheet. Simply list the items and have MegaReplacer find and fix them all. Or, if you’re writing a novel and want to change a character’s name in all of your chapters, MegaReplacer will do it for you in seconds.

Link to the rest at Editorium

At Casa PG, Mrs. PG writes the books and PG formats them, using MS Word and Kindle Create at the present time.

However, Mrs. PG, like many other authors (except those who stop taking their OCD Meds while writing) is focused on creating a story, not precisely formatting her manuscripts and maintaining coding consistency throughout the document. She and PG each have Grammarly installed on their machines for basic grammar-checking, but that doesn’t do much for formatting.

Part of PG’s formatting job is slapping the manuscript’s MS Word formatting into a consistent shape prior to pouring it into Kindle Create.

Over the years, PG has created various little shortcuts to speed the process along. However, while Mrs. PG writes on a consistent basis with a few short breaks during the year and is quite prolific, her books inevitably come at intervals long enough so PG may not remember all his little formatting tweaks between books. He has made some lists, but the formatting still takes longer than PG thinks it should.

Hence, PG’s flitting and fluttering attention seized upon the Editor’s Toolkit promo email when it drifted into his inbox. He’s checked out the website and it looks interesting and located a reviewer/editor online who says it’s a useful program.

But, PG would be interested in any experiences of visitors to TPV with Editor’s Toolkit or another tool that performs the same general group of manuscript cleanup tasks.

PG gave up writing litigation briefs and law review articles a long time ago, so he doesn’t need powerful footnote/endnote, citation-checking, etc. tools, just something that can efficiently transform a creative work of fiction into something resembling an attractive book. He’s also familiar with and has used Calibre, but is looking for something a little faster, automated and more focused on actively helping him catch errors instead of just giving him access to the nuts and bolts of an ebook file.

Here’s the link for the Editor’s Toolkit product page for the latest and greatest comprehensive version of the program (you can apparently buy separate tools in the toolkit if you so desire).

Here’s another link for the review of Editor’s Toolkit at An American Editor mentioned above

Here’s a review of Editor’s Toolkit and four other similar programs for the Mac

Here’s a link to Intelligent Editing’s Perfect It Proofreading Software which seems to be designed for a somewhat different job than Editor’s Toolkit (see video below)

Here’s a bonus long, long, long list of Copy Editing Resources from Journalist’s Toolbox

 

Is Grammarly Worth It?

From The Write Life:

How do you write faster with fewer errors?

No matter how long you’ve bonded with your keyboard, it’s almost impossible to avoid errors, typos and grammatical mistakes.

. . . .

Grammarly is an AI-powered product that checks online grammar, spelling and plagiarism.

While our writers have tried a number of the best grammar checker tools, Grammarly is different because of its ability to check subject-verb agreement, article and modifier placement, punctuation and irregular verb conjugations. As an added bonus, it helps you improve your writing by offering synonym suggestions.

Creating a Grammarly account is free. A free account includes basic grammar and spelling checks. When you upgrade to Premium, you get access to advanced grammar checks, vocabulary suggestions, a plagiarism detector and style checks ⁠— which we’ll discuss in-depth in this review.

. . . .

Is Grammarly Premium worth it?

There are lots of free online proofreaders and spell checkers. Microsoft Word and Apple’s Pages can even detect grammatical errors, so is Grammarly worth the bang for your buck?

We tried out a premium membership, and here’s where we found the tool to be most helpful.

Polish your writing and eliminate grammar and spelling errors

There are a lot of ways to edit text based on context, tone or purpose ⁠— and Grammarly delivers on all fronts. Once a document is scanned by the AI assistant, suggestions are organized based on spelling, grammar, punctuation and clarity.

Spell check

Like most word processors, Grammarly identifies spelling mistakes in your document. If the word it spots isn’t an error, just add it to your personal dictionary.

Grammar

View mistakes on your articles by clicking on text with a yellow or red underline. You’ll see errors on subject-verb agreement, suggested corrections and the rationale behind those suggestions. Incomplete sentences and rewrites are highlighted in yellow.

. . . .

I personally think their grammar suggestions are useful, especially for students and professionals who want to improve their writing. It’s often hard to pinpoint grammatical errors and why they’re a mistake in the first place, so I appreciate that once you download Grammarly, it provides detailed explanations.

Punctuation

We know most sentences end with a period, so when do you add commas, em dashes or colons? Not only can Grammarly suggest punctuation, it also detects inconsistencies like different styles of apostrophes or quotation marks. And it comes with an “update all” option so the entire document uses a consistent style.

. . . .

Vocabulary

Have a tendency to use certain words again and again? Grammarly underlines those commonly used words and suggests specific synonyms to improve your work.

Grammarly makes suggestions based on variety, clarity, conciseness, consistency and so much more. Most online editing tools don’t go so far as to explain the rationale behind the mistake, so that’s a Grammarly feature I really appreciate. If you’re an aspiring grammar aficionado, this tool will help you learn!

Plagiarism checker

Ever received a guest post for your blog? How do you make sure some parts weren’t plagiarized?

Grammarly’s plagiarism checker scans the article and determines whether the text has a match with any page on the web. It also underlines the plagiarized text and determines its original source, so you can make sure you’re in the clear.

. . . .

Grammarly Chrome Extension

Marketers who often send email or create social media posts will be happy to know that Grammarly has a Chrome extension. Grammarly for Chrome is pretty brilliant — it lets you use the tool while writing emails and crafting social media posts.

. . . .

Set goals for writing

Here’s a feature that sets Grammarly apart from other grammar checkers: it suggests edits based on your content’s goals and audience.

Before you start writing an article, you can specify whether you’ll target general or expert readers. Choose the level of formality, and the editor can accommodate slang for informal pieces. You can even select multiple options to describe the post’s tone, domain and intent.

. . . .

For example, if I target a general audience and opt for an informal tone, I’ll get a high performance rating when the text is readable for younger audiences.

. . . .

I’ve tried several online editors — and I have to say that Grammarly is the best I’ve used so far.

I love the detailed explanations for grammatical mistakes because it helps me improve my writing in the long run. If I’m not a master of subject-verb agreement? Not sure where I should add commas? Grammarly’s got my back.

I frequently write lifestyle articles for news sites, and it’s a hassle to switch to an online thesaurus to find synonyms of commonly used words. With Grammarly’s suggested synonyms, there’s no need to find a thesaurus, which saves me time and effort.

The plagiarism checker is also useful, especially for online editors. It can be hard to spot bits and pieces of copied text, and this is the perfect solution, without needing to purchase a separate tool for this function.

Link to the rest at The Write Life

PG has used Grammarly for almost forever, but, like more than one computer user, has fallen into the trap of using it for the same things he always has. For him, the OP highlighted some additional features he needs to use more frequently.

Free VPN Services to Stay Anonymous

PG came across an item about VPN (Virtual Private Network) services during some of his online technology meanderings. He was about to move on when he thought about authors using restaurants, libraries or other places with public wifi for their writing locations.

The same concerns for those sorts of settings would also apply to those who live in apartment buildings or complexes and use wifi there. Those who use wifi in single-family homes in a traditional US neighborhood will likely be able to locate a few of their neighbors’ wifi nodes as well.

If you can “see” others’ wifi router names, they can likely “see” yours as well.

First, some VPN basics from Learning Hub:

Over the past three years, a record 73 percent of all U.S. businesses have had [their] data breached – 67 percent globally.

Some of these breaches – like Equifax, Target, PlayStation Network, and others – have exposed the data of hundreds of millions of customers.

Even more unfortunate is that an estimated 93 percent of these breaches could have been avoided by putting data security fundamentals at the forefront, according to an analysis by Online Trust Alliance (OTA).

. . . .

One of the easiest and most popular ways to secure both you and your customers’ data is through something called a virtual private network, or a VPN.

. . . .

A VPN masks your IP address to prevent outside parties from obtaining your physical location and identifying your internet provider. They can be used in personal browsers, business endpoints, and any other device you can think of.

VPNs protect business users anywhere – even in coffee shops and other locations that are renowned for having unsecured internet connections. A VPN can also facilitate the secure transfer of information across networks, both public and private.

. . . .

For an internet connection to work, there needs to be a mutual transfer of information from your device, to an internet service provider, to the internet itself, and back. This process is constantly in motion.

Users without a VPN run the risk of having personal data exploited by hackers, internet service providers, and even government surveillance agencies. This risk is multiplied when placing trust in unsecured internet connections.

. . . .

Link to the rest at Learning Hub

The Learning Hub lists Ten Free VPN providers with descriptions of each.

Here are a few ways you can use a VPN that you might not have thought about from ReadWrite:

 

2. Access better deals on travel.

Travel sites don’t treat all traffic equally. You could see different prices on your smartphone, your tablet, and your computer for the same flights and hotel rooms. The game of travel savings gets frustrating quickly, but through a VPN, you can mask your intentions from travel sites and gain access to unbiased pricing.

Use your VPN to spoof different locations and see how prices change. The same flight from Dallas to New York might cost far less if the airline website believes the person searching lives in Australia. Over time, VPN travel searches could save your business thousands.

. . . .

4. Protect devices on public Wi-Fi.

Hackers sit on public Wi-Fi to scour data from unsuspecting users. Business users regularly access strange Wi-Fi locations to do their work, which makes them common targets for information thieves. If you want to keep your company’s information safe, don’t let employees use public Wi-Fi without protection.

Make it easy for your employees to use a VPN to create a more secure connection before using public Wi-Fi. Even if hackers manage to view their activity, they won’t be able to learn anything of value or steal passwords. With a VPN on your side, your employees won’t have to wait until they get back to the hotel to finish working.

. . . .

6. Prevent websites from gathering your information.

Do you spend a lot of time on your competitors’ pages? Are you worried that websites are collecting your data and selling it to third parties?

No matter where you browse, a VPN can mask your location from websites and prevent outside parties from collecting data that identifies you or your company. Personal VPN users lean on this function to prevent sites like Amazon and Facebook from tracking them across the web. By hiding behind a VPN, you can spy on your competition as much as you want, and no one will ever know.

Link to the rest at ReadWrite

Typically, when you sign up for a VPN, it will provide you an app or a browser link to access the VPN.

PG has a VPN app sitting on his computer’s desktop. Just like any other app or program, when PG wants to turn on his VPN, he clicks on the link and is connected within a few seconds.

PG uses Nord VPN (but has no relationship with the company other than as a plain-vanilla customer). He has a paid account at the company’s lowest-cost level.

When he clicks a desktop icon to start the VPN, it opens and automatically connects to one of thousands of Nord nodes in the US (if PG is in the US) after quickly locating the one that’s providing the best speeds when PG signs on.

If PG wants to connect through a VPN note located in a different country, the Nord app lets him pick from a list or click on a map to choose. PG just clicked on Mexico and was connected to a VPN server in that country in less than 10 seconds.

The Lure of the Writing Template: Why Filling in the Blanks Doesn’t Work

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog:

Template is an ambiguous term in writing. It can refer to a writer’s personal style sheet used when developing a story, tools for brainstorming, or worksheets to figure out various plot and story arcs. However, it can also refer to an exacting form that promises the perfect story by following blindly along.

When templates are used for developing stories or to help keep writers focused, they’re useful. But when they dictate how writers should write their books and tell their stories—especially if they give false hope as to the marketability of those stories—they lead writers down a dangerous path.

. . . .

Cooking is a forgiving skill. If the recipe calls for half a cup of tomatoes and you like tomatoes and put in a whole cup, odds are the meal still turns out yummy. But baking is hardcore. Add too much salt and your dough fails. Whip cream too long and it turns to grainy mush.

Writing is not dissimilar. Great stories contain similar elements, but how we mix them results in completely different tales. When we treat writing like an exact science, with every beat measured to the page and every major turning point exactly the same, the story suffers.

Instead of a delicious mental meal, we get generic packaged cookies. They might not be terrible, but they don’t make you want to eat more than one, and they taste like dozens of other bland, generic cookies on the shelf.

. . . .

The danger of writing templates is that instead of finding the right details for the story we’re trying to tell, we’re looking for details that fit a particular template at a particular time. We think, “This is when something has to die,” and twist ourselves into knots forcing it in. Or we think we need an emotional character arc when no arc is needed. We add mentor characters who have no business in the story, and rely on cliched characters to fill roles a checklist tells us we need.

When we’re cooking a novel, those literary ingredients are mixed to flavor the story in the way we want to tell it. But when we’re baking with a template, we’re adding ingredients exactly as the recipe states, even if the story suffers for it. Templates far too often force us to bake a cake when we really want to make a scone.

When you understand how to tell a compelling story, you know what aspects of storytelling to use to create the desired emotional response from your readers. You pick and choose the details, beats, and turning points that serve your story, and ignore the aspects that don’t.

. . . .
The difference between story structure and a writing template is this:

  • Structure uses proven story constructions that humans have used since stories began.
  • Templates suggest the only way to write a novel is to follow an exact plan to the letter.

Using a structure that suits your personal storytelling style to help keep you focused and give you a foundation on which to build a story is a good thing. It’s a tool, nothing more.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog

The Mouse

PG discovered ergonomic keyboards and ergonomic mice a long time ago.

Given how many hours he has spent and continues to spend at his computer, his hands and wrists are grateful for those discoveries.

PG has used the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard for a very long time. Although he would still like to combine the refined key clicks of the legendary Northgate OmniKey Keyboard of the distant past with the Microsoft layout, he’ll live with the less assertive feel of the MS keyboard for now.

 

PG is pretty much in love with everything he’s purchased from Anker. He used now-discontinued Logitech Performance MX wireless mouse and the Logitech MX Ergo Wireless Trackball Mouse, but his initial contact with an Anker mouse was love at first touch.

He started with the original (he thinks) Anker vertical mouse and still keeps a couple of his older ones handy as backups. However, when he tried the more recent updated version of the Anker Ergonomic Mouse, he liked the somewhat more palm-filling feel even more.

In addition to feeling better (at least for PG), PG’s keyboard and mouse choices are also made to avoid carpal tunnel problems, which PG most definitely prefers not to experience.

Although he thinks he occupies the best of all present keyboard and mouse worlds, PG would be interested in the experiences of visitors to TPV with various keyboards and mice and their current favorites.

 

Science Just Settled One of Type Design’s Oldest Debates

From Fast Company:

Ever since the invention of movable type, the debate has raged: Are two spaces after a period better than one? The French said “Non!” from the beginning, using one space only. The British said “Aye!” and established their own two-space rule.

Now, three psychology researchers at Skidmore College are settling the debate with a study published in the journal Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics. Their study demonstrates that using two spaces makes reading “smoother.” In other words, your eyes spend a few milliseconds less on a period if it’s followed by two spaces rather than one. But before all you two-spacers out there start gloating like the annoying pestiferous bunch you are, here’s the caveat: The study also shows that it doesn’t actually make overall reading faster or your comprehension any better–unless you are a two-spacer to begin with.

The war of sentence spacing has been a long and tortuous one. Back in the 18th century, some printers used French-style single-spaced sentences and others the English double-space rule. It wasn’t until the mass printing era after World War II that most American books turned to single-spaced sentences to reduce costs and speed up production. The 1941 IBM Executive typewriter also introduced proportional spacing–which meant that each letter took only the horizontal space it needed instead of being monospaced. Things looked much better that way when using a typewriter, since it effectively eliminated the need for two spaces after every period. Today, computers and proportional fonts make the two-space rule absolutely useless–even while recalcitrant two-spacers continue to write eye-twitching emails using the English rule, claiming the rest of us rational people are wrong.

. . . .

The results are pretty conclusive: Reading speed wasn’t slowed down with either single or double space after a period. The two-spacers experienced a marginal speed improvement while reading double-spaced sentences.  Reading and comprehension was completely unaffected no matter the spacing rule they used. The paper argues, however, that readers spend “fewer milliseconds” looking at periods when there are two spaces after them, which they claim makes for a “smoother” reading experience. On the other hand, when they added an extra space after a comma, the reading speed diminished across the board.

Link to the rest at Fast Company

The ghosts of Mr. Schrupp’s high school typing class (hands-down, the most useful class PG ever took in high school, college or law school) still haunt PG’s relationship with the space bar.

Once in a while, he can master his thumb long enough to generate a single space after a period, but thumbs have a mind of their own and he’s back to two spaces a couple of lines later.

He hasn’t paid attention to what Word Autocorrect does with periods preceded by two spaces lately, so he may be either fashion-forward or out-of-date with respect to most of his punctuation.

The Thesaurus Is Good, Valuable, Commendable, Superb, Actually

From The Outline:

As reference books go, the thesaurus, these days, is one step up in respectability from the rhyming dictionary. To use one is to betray something embarrassing about yourself. To be accused of using one is to be accused both of pretentiousness and of using words whose meaning you don’t really know. (For instance: I originally wrote “accused of malapropism” in that previous sentence, but then checked the dictionary and discovered this refers to mistakes based on sound.) One goes to the thesaurus to find, as they say, a “ten-dollar word.”

Perhaps the best example of this sort of condemnation comes from Simon Winchester, the author of a book about the Oxford English Dictionary, who once wrote in The Atlantic that Roget’s Thesaurus “should be roundly condemned as a crucial part of the engine work that has transported us to our current state of linguistic and intellectual mediocrity” and concludes that it provides “quick and easy solutions for the making of the middlebrow, the mindless, and the mundane.” Or, by way of a more recent (and certainly more mild) example, from The Morning News’s “Tournament of Books”: “Milkman seems to be overly occupied with its own style, its difference, and its reliance on a thesaurus…to notice that the poetry to justify that stylistic occupation is simply absent.”

. . . .

As originally conceived, Roget’s Thesaurus was a slightly different sort of book than the kind of online thesaurus one might consult today. It was instead a fairly rigorous if idiosyncratic taxonomy of language. And it was not a book of synonyms, such books already existed. Synonyms, in terms of words that can be completely substituted for each other, are fairly rare. “Inferiority,” “minority,” and “subordinacy” might all be related words, but they carry slightly different meanings. “Sunset,” “dusk,” and “twilight” all encompass roughly the same time of day, but each has a different tone. So Roget called his book a “thesaurus,” or treasury. He was showcasing and organizing language, not simply providing lists of matching words.

. . . .

In Winchester’s article, he notes that one student changed “his earthly fingers” into “his chthonic digits,” which I’d agree is pretty dreadful. But that error is easily corrected, and that student presumably gained the word “chthonic,” which if nothing else is a fun word to know. Just look at it there, announcing itself with an improbable collection of consonants. And if a thesaurus can be a trap for the unwary, who don’t realize the next step after browsing a collection of words is to go look those words up in a dictionary, this, again, seems like a problem with a one-time solution.

But the alternate problem is that people are too afraid to test new words — even words that are correct, but obscure — because they are afraid of seeming foolish and they either stay within the bounds of a safe vocabulary or (if they are a certain business-managerial type) cope by inventing hideous new words. Fear of the thesaurus has unleashed horrors a Chthonic god could only dream of, like synergy and incentivize.

This seems to me to be a worse problem, not only because people do learn by making mistakes, but because the sphere of “correct,” accessible English will only get smaller and smaller.

. . . .

The decline of the thesaurus is similar to the kind of loss that you experience when you visit a digital resource rather than the library. Browsing the stacks, you are struck with the multitude of books within a particular category. You go looking for one thing and come out with the book you didn’t know you were looking for. Much like a thesaurus, somebody often has to teach you how to use the classification system in the library for you to get the most out of browsing there. But what you get out of browsing really is something qualitatively different than you get from searching a library catalog.

Link to the rest at The Outline

9 Lesser-Known Word Features

From TheFormTool:

One thing that makes Word stand out is its simplicity. The ability to just open a tab and start writing like you would in a book is impressive. It needs no training. But this ease of use is often overlooked by the professional text-editing market. When it comes to more complex tasks (e.g. handling data, tables and equations), users tend to drift towards other programs. They don’t always realize how versatile MS Word is.

From 2007 to 2016, Microsoft made Word appreciably more productive and easier to use with every update. New features were constantly added. In some cases, features that people thought to be new were there before.

. . . .

1. Customization

Whatever industry you work in, you can set Word preferences to reflect the output you need. For example, you can add exceptions to the dictionary so they don’t show as typos every time you write them. You can alter the Quick Access Toolbar (QAT) so it displays the commands you feel are most handy. That way, you don’t have to dig around for the tools you need (e.g. quick print, email, draw table).

The good thing about customization is that you can turn it off and on. When you need to write a creative text, for instance, you can switch off auto-correct to allow a bit more artistic license. For formal writing, you can make it stricter again.

. . . .

3. Distraction-Free Reading and Editing

The working area of Microsoft Word is customizable. You can create a clean, uncluttered writing environment by collapsing the ribbon. If you want, you can make the whole screen a writing area by switching to “Web Layout”. The view becomes even cleaner in “Read Mode”, with an extra option to hide the reading toolbar if wanted.

. . . .

5. Writing Style and Readability

As well as technical mistakes in spelling and grammar, Word also highlights other possible errors in writing style. For instance, it can show you instances of the passive voice, which is undesirable in excess. It’ll help you avoid wordiness and jargon, too, among many other things. You can even choose whether to favor the Oxford comma.

MS Word also grades your text with a Flesch readability score. This will penalize you for overly long sentences or too many long words. Careful writers often aim for a Flesch rating of 60 or more, though this is not always realistic with technical texts.

. . . .

8. Multiple Clipboard Items

Office work involves a lot of copying, cutting and pasting, which are all standard Word features. However, the clipboard aspect of these features is less well-known. Many people return to the same spot over and over to copy text, and they often lose it when they highlight another section. The Word clipboard holds up to 24 selections for use in different parts of the document.

Link to the rest at TheFormTool

Computer Stories: A.I. Is Beginning to Assist Novelists

From The New York Times:

Robin Sloan has a collaborator on his new novel: a computer.

The idea that a novelist is someone struggling alone in a room, equipped with nothing more than determination and inspiration, could soon be obsolete. Mr. Sloan is writing his book with the help of home-brewed software that finishes his sentences with the push of a tab key.

It’s probably too early to add “novelist” to the long list of jobs that artificial intelligence will eliminate. But if you watch Mr. Sloan at work, it is quickly clear that programming is on the verge of redefining creativity.

. . . .

Mr. Sloan, who won acclaim for his debut, “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore,” composes by writing snippets of text, which he sends to himself as messages and then works over into longer passages. His new novel, which is still untitled, is set in a near-future California where nature is resurgent. The other day, the writer made this note: “The bison are back. Herds 50 miles long.”

In his cluttered man-cave of an office in an industrial park here, he is now expanding this slender notion. He writes: The bison are gathered around the canyon. … What comes next? He hits tab. The computer makes a noise like “pock,” analyzes the last few sentences, and adds the phrase “by the bare sky.”

. . . .

Mr. Sloan likes it. “That’s kind of fantastic,” he said. “Would I have written ‘bare sky’ by myself? Maybe, maybe not.”

He moves on: The bison have been traveling for two years back and forth. … Tab, pock. The computer suggests between the main range of the city.

“That wasn’t what I was thinking at all, but it’s interesting,” the writer said. “The lovely language just pops out and I go, ‘Yes.’ ”

. . . .

His software is not labeled anything as grand as artificial intelligence. It’s machine learning, facilitating and extending his own words, his own imagination. At one level, it merely helps him do what fledgling writers have always done — immerse themselves in the works of those they want to emulate. Hunter Thompson, for instance, strived to write in the style of F. Scott Fitzgerald, so he retyped “The Great Gatsby” several times as a shortcut to that objective.

. . . .

A quarter-century ago, an electronic surveillance consultant named Scott French used a supercharged Mac to imitate Jacqueline Susann’s sex-drenched tales. His approach was different from Mr. Sloan’s. Mr. French wrote thousands of computer-coded rules suggesting how certain character types derived from Ms. Susann’s works might plausibly interact.

. . . .

[T]he Alibaba Group, the Chinese e-commerce company, said in January that its software for the first time outperformed humans on a global reading comprehension test. If the machines can read, then they can write.

Mr. Sloan wanted to see for himself. He acquired from the Internet Archive a database of texts: issues of Galaxy and If, two popular science fiction magazines in the 1950s and ’60s. After trial and error, the program came up with a sentence that impressed him: “The slow-sweeping tug moved across the emerald harbor.”

“It was a line that made you say, ‘Tell me more,’” Mr. Sloan said.

Those original magazines were too limiting, however, full of clichés and stereotypes. So Mr. Sloan augmented the pool with what he calls “The California Corpus,” which includes the digital text of novels by John Steinbeck, Dashiell Hammett, Joan Didion, Philip K. Dick and others; Johnny Cash’s poems; Silicon Valley oral histories; old Wired articles; the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Fish Bulletin; and more. “It’s growing and changing all the time,” he said.

. . . .

He’s restricting the A.I. writing in the novel to an A.I. computer that is a significant character, which means the majority of the story will be his own inspiration. But while he has no urge to commercialize the software, he is intrigued by the possibilities. Megasellers like John Grisham and Stephen King could relatively easily market programs that used their many published works to assist fans in producing authorized imitations.

. . . .

As for the more distant prospects, another San Francisco Bay Area science fiction writer long ago anticipated a time when novelists would turn over the composing to computerized “wordmills.” In Fritz Leiber’s “The Silver Eggheads,” published in 1961, the human “novelists” spend their time polishing the machines and their reputations. When they try to rebel and crush the wordmills, they find they have forgotten how to write.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Computer-Assisted Authoring Tools Help to Create Complex Interactive Narratives

From Phys.org:

Visitors to interactive virtual worlds want the ability to significantly affect the outcome of a story, but authoring these digital experiences is extremely complex. A new platform developed by Disney Research will help fulfill the medium’s promise by automating some aspects of the authoring process.

Disney Research has developed a new design paradigm called interactive behavior trees (IBTs), a graphical modeling language that accommodates multiple story arcs. They also have created authoring tools that can automatically detect and resolve narrative inconsistencies that arise as these various story arcs play out or when users interact in unexpected ways.

. . . .

“We want interactive narratives to be an immersive experience in which users can influence the action or even create a storyline, but the complexity of the authoring task has worked against our ambitions,” said Mubbasir Kapadia, who recently left Disney Research to join Rutgers University as an assistant professor of computer science. “Our method of modeling multiple story arcs and resolving conflicts in the storylines makes it feasible to author interactive experiences that are free form, rather than constricted.”

Computer games, for instance, often include isolated interactive segments but all players ultimately experience the same plot. In other cases, interactive narratives may allow different outcomes, but writing these experiences is so complex that the user is given only limited choices and can alter the story only at certain key points.

IBTs address these narrative shortcomings. Like behavior trees, a modeling language used by software engineers to keep track of the mind-boggling number of requirements for large-scale software systems, IBTs help the authors of interactive narratives to spin multiple stories while providing users with great freedom to interact. The hierarchical IBT structure enables each story arc to be defined as its own subtree; at the same time, user interactions are monitored independently, as are those interactions that trigger new story arcs.

“With this structure, increased user interaction does not make the author’s task more complex,” Kapadia said, “so we can now imagine ways of giving the user more freedom to interact freely with the virtual world.”

. . . .

For instance, in a narrative involving two bears at play, if one of the bears lacks the beach ball he was supposed to throw to the other, the tool will detect the inconsistency and offer a narrative fix, such as allowing the bear to ask the user for the ball, or to buy a ball from a vendor with money from a treasure chest.

Link to the rest at Phys.org

This is The Best Work Keyboard

From Co-op:

After much debate, our readers chose the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic 4000 as their favorite work keyboard. This was a really tight contest with each entry netting over 15% of the vote. In fact, each of the runner-ups are worth checking out.

. . . .

Here’s why our readers picked Microsoft Natural Ergonomic 4000:

. . . .

I have a couple of MS Ergo 4000s sitting on a shelf at home, because I’ve got 3 in use (2x at Home, and 1 at work) and they’re fantastic, until they get grungy. My only complaint is that they are virtually impossible to clean right, so when they get gross, just toss it and deploy another.

I am an *extremely* heavy user, and I can get 2+ years out of one. I can type at speed, and for a membrane, they are great. If MS could get off their ass and make a high-end version with mechanical (replaceable?) switches, it would be damn near perfect. Also, if you have large hands, it’s wayyyyyyy more comfortable than many other more compact ergos. -ellomdian

Link to the rest at Co-op

PG has been typing for a long time.

His first experiences with a variety of keyboards came when all proper keyboards had their keys lined up in perfectly straight rows.

PG’s mother was a very fast typist, even on the ancient manual typewriter that was the only one available when PG was but a sprout. She provided excellent advice to him on a variety of topics, but one of her best pieces of advice was that he should take a typing course in high school.

That typing course introduced him to Smith-Corona electric typewriters, which were a definite speed improvement, particularly since PG could hit a key for a carriage return instead of lifting his hands from the keyboard and slapping a lever to physically move the carriage to the left so he could start a new line.

While PG was still in high school, he had his first experience with an IBM Selectric, which was a big step up from the Smith-Corona in speed and in the visual appeal of the finished product. The Correcting Selectric was even better. It removed the concern about typos which invariably slowed typing.  You could fix the typos very quickly and easily and Whiteout was banished forever.

With the advent of personal computers, PG quickly became a keyboard snob.  His first upgrade was Northgate keyboard, which add a wonderful mechanical “clicky” feel to it. He used various Northgate keyboards for several years before trying out an early Microsoft ergonomic keyboard.

He’s used Microsoft keyboards ever since. He is on MS Ergo keyboard number five or six at this point.

Bullet Journaling

From The Wall Street Journal:

Bullet journaling is an organizing strategy developed several years ago by Mr. Carroll [Ryder Carroll, The Bullet Journal Method] that has attracted something of a cult following. It involves writing out tasks and daily events by hand, which helps you think about whether they’re worth doing. A table of contents or index in the front of a bullet journal allows you to include everything from exercise logs to project plans and to find notes quickly. There are different types of “bullets” for events and tasks, and tasks that aren’t completed in one daily log are moved onto the next day’s roster.

All of this can read like “stereo instructions,” as Mr. Carroll jokes. (“When you notice a Master Task is spawning a lot of Subtasks, it can indicate that this Task is growing into a project.”) Yet the point is to de-clutter your mind and make life more organized than it would be with mere to-do lists.

Bullet journaling is a serious system that takes itself a touch too seriously. Mr. Carroll notes that detailing how you spend your time helps you remember that life includes more than daily drudgery: Drinks with old friends, dinners out with spouses and other pleasures are more common than we recall at first. But it’s hard not to laugh when, as an example of the range of bullet journaling, Mr. Carroll tells of a guy who used his journal entries to figure out why things didn’t work out with his girlfriend. (She was distant, apparently.)

A common criticism of bullet journaling is that, with its emphasis on hand-written entries, the journals themselves can begin to look like adult coloring books, and a cursory search online reveals devotees who have spent hours curling bubbly letters and other adornments. What a waste of time for a method aimed at making the most of your time! Credit to Mr. Carroll for assuring his readers that you don’t have to be an artist to reap the benefits of bullet journaling.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG is engaged in an attempt to become more efficient with his time after realizing that some parts of his working day are extremely efficient, but other parts are inefficient.

He’s pretty certain that he’s not going to write anything down on paper because one of his inefficiencies is not processing the paper which enters his life with any pretense of efficiency. He believes he needs less paper, not more.

A bit of online research disclosed that (surprise!) there are a lot of Bullet Journal apps. However, at the moment, PG is deapping his phone and tablet. His winnowing method is very simple – if he doesn’t immediately know what an app is used for by looking at its icon, he’s not going to use it and it’s going into the bitbucket.

However, during his brief look at bullet journaling, PG discovered a couple of articles about using Evernote for bullet journaling (here and here).

Since PG does use Evernote on a regular basis and has done so since the program was in beta, he’s going to go that route.

He thinks.

At present.


The app that makes writing less lonely

From The BBC:

If you see a writer in a movie, most likely she (or he) will be tapping on a laptop. But many young writers are doing it on mobile phones, and sometimes in teams.

Daniel, who uses the pen name LisVender, begins the story, which his writing team decides to call A Small Case of Writer’s Block.

The tapping of Sara’s pen against her glasses became so rhythmic that it sounded like a metronome set to allegretto. She spun in her swivel chair, watching the bookcases in her study swing by. She had to admit it: her story was stuck, her characters were stuck, and so was she.

Ella, pen name Elle, who has 313 stories under her belt, then picks up the tale.

Sighing, she slumped forward, forehead hitting the desk with a thump. How was she going to keep the plot rolling forward, give her characters the development they needed? Her eyes swivelled to the window, the glass frosted over with thin ice. Maybe a walk outside in the cold

At 276 characters, Elle has nearly reached her 280 limit, so she stops mid-sentence and passes the story to the next writer.

. . . .

Welcome to the world of Inkvite, one of a number of creative-writing platforms popular with teenagers and young adults in the US. It allows users to share stories, comment on them, and also collaborate.

Here, five Inkvite authors explain its appeal.

Gabriela – pen name, Athalia

I’m a student in Houston, Texas. I’ve dreamed of being a published writer since I was little.

I’ve posted more than 390 stories on the Inkvite app in the past two years, specialising in fantasy and science fiction.

We express a lot of our inner turmoil and emotions on the app. It’s one of the things that brings us together.

Some writers do this through their fiction, others treat the platform more like an open diary.

I remember one time I saw what my friend Phoenix had written and I knew she was in trouble.

. . . .

I could tell Phoenix was going through turmoil and serious stress, venting her emotions in the story.

But I could also see that she was reaching out for help. So that’s why I dedicated a story to her, for encouragement, which I posted on Inkvite that same night.

Link to the rest at BBC and thanks to Jan for the tip.

The office of the future? No desks, no chairs

From Fast Company:

Last week at Orgatec, a leading European trade show for contract and office furniture, the Swiss company Vitra previewed a set of office seating prototypes, called Soft Work, which you might more likely find in a chic hotel lobby or airport lounge. That’s exactly what the designers, London studio Barber Osgerby, intended.

Much has been said about the downfall of cubicles and the rise of open-plan offices over the years, with the pendulum of public favor alternating between the two. With Soft Work, the designers argue that the next trend in 21st-century working life will be to do away with the shackles of the desk-and-chair setup altogether. In their vision, offices of the future may consist of sofas–and little more.

. . . .

[V]isits to the Apple campus . . . helped the studio realize what the modern-day office was truly in need of: even more casual seating, away from the desk. “We realized that they were going to be putting a large amount of soft seating into [Apple Park], which were effectively residential sofas, very high-end Italian sofas,” says partner Edward Barber. “They were fantastic sofas, there’s no doubt about that, but they weren’t buying them to relax on–they were using them to work on, as an alternative area for working.”

This poses various problems: “You have to prop up or pull up a table,” he says. “You don’t necessarily have access to a power outlet. And you’re not sitting in the most ergonomic environment. It’s fine for a couple of minutes, but if you’re sitting there for a couple of hours, you’re sort of slouched, balancing a laptop on your knee. So that got us all thinking: If they could have the ideal setup, what would it look like?”

. . . .

An extension of the same thinking that gave the Pacific chair a more welcoming look and feel, Soft Work puts the same premium on a casual aesthetic to suggest a lifestyle in which work and relaxation aren’t at polar odds, but present in nearly every public space we frequent: cafes, airport lounges, hotel lobbies, and corporate and co-working spaces of all kinds. The name of the new collection, too, doesn’t just imply softer seating, but an aesthetic softness that Barber Osgerby and Vitra are betting will  overtake the next wave of office design–and maybe a subliminal cue to all of those tech and (ahem) software companies with large campuses that are likely to adopt it.

. . . .

Designed modularly, the Soft Work collection has mix-and-match components that can be used for a variety of setups. Units can be used solo, as lounge chairs, or linked up into larger configurations; combined with rounded corner units, they can form inward or outward-facing circular arrangements to carve out a meeting hub, or spread out all over as a communal work lounge. Built around a spare, steel framework and topped with structured cushions that can be customized with most any color, the sofa system is designed to look stylishly neutral and easily placed.

Would it be realistic for a solid day’s work in a real-life office?

Barber says yes, and assures it’s been designed with a rigorous eye to ergonomics. Rather than take on an overly low-slung profile, Soft Work’s seats are chair height to promote proper posture, with a flexible backrest and cushions for lumbar support. The simple cast-aluminum supporting structure also doubles as utility routing, with plug-in ports that eliminate the need for external outlets and a tangle of wires. Add-on accessories to further customize the sofa-workstation include swiveling clip-on tables, space partitions, and modular surfaces. It’s everything needed for the modern-day, couch potato-turned-professional.

“Technology has rapidly changed the way we work over the last 10 years,” says Barber, and with the ability to take our devices anywhere and work remotely, the length of time spent working in any one location seems less important than the ability to do it comfortably anywhere–which is the pain point Barber Osgerby’s design aims to ease with Soft Work.

Link to the rest at Fast Company

Here’s a look at Vitra’s Soft Work office furniture:

.

For PG, this type of workspace would be all wrong. He likes a desk at a proper height for typing, a big ergonomic keyboard and three screens (also at a proper height) so he can drop various and sundry electronic items, reminders, etc., on the side screens while he uses the center one for whatever he’s working on at the moment. While he’s typing, he typically rests one elbow on his desk and the other on the arm of his chair (asymetrical, but it works for him).

For him, a teensy platform for a laptop as his main typing/email, etc., station would slow work down to a crawl. He uses a laptop when he travels, but at home, it’s back to mission control and improved throughput.

Mrs. PG does her work in an entirely different way, however. She formerly sat in a chair at a desk to type, but a chronically sore back and hips ended that. She now writes while semi-reclining on a sofa or bed and uses a lap desk as a platform for her laptop. She is happy with this arrangement and is cranking out new books at a brisk pace, so PG restrains himself from suggesting improvements (after many years of pushing back, Mrs. PG has finally completed PG’s training, mostly).

So, here’s the question – In your opinion, what writing arrangement works best for an author generally or for you as an author?

Automatically Create Website Citations For a Bibliography With This Chrome Extension

PG isn’t certain whether many of the visitors to TPV need bibliographies for their writing projects, but this would have saved him a lot of time in college (assuming the internet had existed when he was in college).

From Lifehacker:

When I was in college, my least favorite part of writing research papers was figuring out how to write the bibliography. Citing sources is tedious and can get confusing if you have to work in a handful of different styles. This week I came across a Chrome extension that I wish I had in college that handles the heavy lifting for you, at least for websites.

Called Cite This For Me, it automatically creates website citations in APA, MLA, Chicago, or Harvard style with a quick click on its icon on your browser’s toolbar.

. . . .

When you click on the toolbar while you’re looking at that fabulous article you’re going to reference in your paper, you tap the icon and a window pop up where you can toggle between the different styles, and copy and paste the style of your choosing into what is likely a magnificent research paper you’re working on.

Link to the rest at Lifehacker

Gutenberg, WordPress, & You: the What, the Why, and the How

From The Digital Reader:

If you have a WordPress site, chances are you have heard of something called Gutenberg. You could have seen one of the posts written about it over the past 18 months (such as mine), or you may have seen the notice when you updated your WordPress site to v4.9.8.

Either way, if you are the average user you are probably wondering what Gutenberg is and how it will affect your site.

The following post is a short explainer that will delve into what Gutenberg is, why it matters, and how it will affect you.

. . . .

Gutenberg is a new official part of WordPress. It is currently in beta, and is scheduled to launch with the release of WordPress 5.0.

I have been following the development of Gutenberg for over a year, and in that time I have learned that the easiest way to explain what Gutenberg is to ask whether you are familiar with one of the mailing list services like Mailchimp or Mailerlite. Have you used one of their newsletter builders?

If you have used one then you will better understand Gutenberg when you see it for the first time.

Gutenberg replaces the existing post and page editor menu in WordPress with one that behaves more like Mailerlite’s newsletter builder. Where the existing editor resembled old word processor apps (think MS Word, circa 2002) and was designed on the concept of typing out paragraphs of text, the new Gutenberg editor is built on the idea of blocks.

It is not supposed to affect your existing content, but I cannot guarantee that will be true 100% of the time. (A WordPress site is just too complex to make that promise.) What I can say is that Gutenberg is intended to let you make new richer content, not force you go fix your existing content.

. . . .

Gutenberg, on the other hand, has a pop-up menu where you can select a block. You can open that menu by clicking the plus sign icon (see the screenshot above for an example) and then selecting one of the options.

Once you chose the next block, you can style it with settings that only apply to this one block, add content, etc. That custom styling is perhaps the biggest difference between Gutenberg and the existing content editor.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

PG is convinced that if he for some reason becam brain-dead, his fingers would still have sufficient intelligence to make blog posts via WordPress.

His brain may be intrigued by Gutenberg, but, before anything changes, PG’s fingers want a nice long vacation far away from all keyboards in a place where they can locate their inner child or some such thing.

The other thing that comes to PG’s mind when considering Gutenberg is how many WordPress themes it’s going to break. PG has one theme in particular on his mind.

TPV’s current theme is 25,000 years old in internet years. Some of the earlier posts are probably full of dinosaur tracks by now.

From time to time, PG has explored installing a new WP theme for TPV, but he can’t find one that will be a great-looking home for the blog out of the box. He has wasted a lot of time tweaking various themes, but nothing he’s developed has the same zing as the old, old, old look.


Incidentally, Nate, the proprietor of The Digital Reader, is also a WordPress whisperer in case your blog or your brain seizes up over Gutenberg.

Smartphones Killed Handwriting. Let’s Bring It Back.

From The Wall Street Journal:

When I go to meetings, I normally bring my laptop to take notes. I type pretty fast, and it’s nice to have my email right there in case things get boring. But recently I’ve been doing the unthinkable—bringing pen and paper, and writing notes by hand. I have to tell you, it’s been great.

Handwriting has lost its importance in society. Some schools don’t even teach cursive anymore. Yet studies have repeatedly shown that writing by hand can help you process and remember information far better than typing. A 2014 study found that when students typed notes, they tended to just transcribe whatever the professor said, while those working with pen and paper were mentally summarizing and paraphrasing, which led to better test scores.

At the same time, pen and paper lack the advantages of the digital age. If you leave your notebook at home, you can’t just grab your notes on your work laptop. It has no search button or sharing tool. You don’t have a backup if it gets lost or destroyed—and my Field Notes notebook is a lot less waterproof than my phone.

. . . .

Have an iPad Pro or the most recent iPad? Consider plunking down another $100 for anApple Pencil. You can sketch and write in Apple’s own Notes app, but I’m especially fond of GoodNotes, an $8 app that offers note-takers lots of creative features. Likewise, if you have a Surface or other Windows Ink-friendly PC, you can open up OneNote and write away withMicrosoft ’s $100 Surface Pen. A number of Chromebooks offer pen support, too, though their precision and speed don’t match other platforms.

. . . .

The pen isn’t going to replace your keyboard or touch screen, but when you’re in a meeting and don’t want to hide behind a big screen, or when you’re marking up a contract, you might want to reach for your pen.

Of the devices I use every day, only my phone remains stubbornly pen-free.

. . . .

Unfortunately, sliding a stylus over a glass screen feels nothing like writing on paper. Plus you’re dealing with a blazingly bright display, a breakable body and a battery to charge—none of which applies to paper.

. . . .

That’s why a few manufacturers have built devices meant to more closely mimic the paper feeling. And a few tried to make paper itself a bit smarter.

My favorite of the kind is Sony ’s Digital Paper, a wafer-thin tablet with an E Ink screen (like an Amazon Kindle) that you write on with a stylus. Sony says it is used mostly by lawyers and doctors who need to read long contracts without hurting their eyes, but who also want to scribble notes or corrections in the margins. It turns a pile of printouts into a list of PDF files you can mark up, organize and share. It’s useful, but at $600, it’s unnecessary.

I am similarly intrigued by the Smart Writing Set from Moleskine, the popular notebook maker. It comes with a normal-looking paper notebook and a special pen, which transmits everything it writes and draws to a companion app on your phone or tablet. Every time you start writing in your notebook, the digital counterpart updates in real time to match. Yet at $200, this, too, is expensive, and its software can be unreliable. It’s clever, but it isn’t ready.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal 

How to Be a Better, More Efficient Editor of Your Own Writing

From Medium:

You need to edit your work even if you’re working with the world’s best editor. Especially if you’re working with the world’s best editor. Submit your best version — proofed and polished — and watch as the world’s best editor tears it apart.

Cry softly and tell yourself it’s for love of the craft.

Your editorial process can be simple and quick, but have one.

. . . .

Not all editing is the same editing. The three main types are substantive, copy, and proof. The type of editing you’re doing determines the kind of tool you want to use. For example, you don’t use a spell checker to do substantive editing.

Substantive edits

You’re rearranging sentences, deleting pieces here and there, moving the order around, adding or removing details, and otherwise messing with the content itself.

It’s intense and can take a lot of time. Also called revising. (Every writer knows the dreaded email subject line: “Revision request.”)

Copy edits

You’re adjusting grammar, switching out a word or phrase, fixing repetition or word usage or spelling errors.

Also called line editing, the idea is to look at your piece line by line. You’re fixing and improving, but not changing the substance of the piece.

Proofreading

You’re doing one last read to find any typos, spelling errors, or missing punctuation. Proofreading often happens right before you hit publish (or send, if you’re submitting your piece somewhere).

Of course, some tools help in multiple ways. Use as you will. And at your own risk. I don’t have insurance for this kind of thing.

The point is that you use them to become a more thorough and efficient editor of your own work.

. . . .

Hemingway App

Use the browser version or the desktop app. Hemingway lets you copy and paste your work in, then berates you for being terrible. Um, I mean, it highlights adverb use, passive voice, complex word choices, and hard-to-read sentences. You want to be aware of those issues, even if you don’t cut or change them.

Cliche Finder

Don’t fall prey to the unseen cliché. I wrote that little rhyme myself. Run your piece through this tool, because it’s easy to overlook clichés.

. . . .

Slick Write

It’s a good alternative to Grammarly; ironically, the interface is not as slick. But it’s thorough and helpful.

. . . .

Typely
Typely doesn’t mess with grammar. That’s cool; proofreading is not about grammar. Turn on the Markdown preview to check your formatting. Customize what Typely checks for from a wide range of options. Get a score, an estimated reading time, reading level, and a sentiment analysis. Not quite sure what that last one is, but I like it. Also it makes typewriter sounds. (You can turn them off if they get annoying.)

Link to the rest at Medium

Predictive Keyboard

From Bloomberg:

Botnik is creating an unusual predictive keyboard—suggesting words based on what’s been typed—to generate everything from scripts for new episodes of Seinfeld to funny Valentine’s Day recipes. The results are by design weird as hell.

. . . .

Art created by artificial intelligence has become a reliable success in the finicky world of viral content, resulting in everything from eerie cat drawings to dadaist punk music. Botnik’s interactive keyboards let anyone create surreal rearrangements of familiar words.

. . . .

At the New Yorker, Mankoff created the caption contest, spawning a huge data set mined by Google. This piqued his interest in AI, and he got in touch with Brew, who’d been exploring the topic by sending texts on the iPhone’s predictive keyboard. Botnik made its debut in 2016, then landed a $100,000 contract from Amazon.com Inc. to help make its Alexa AI assistant sound more human.

. . . .

Ultimately, Brew looks at the content created by the broader Botnik community as advertisements for the real product: the virtual keyboards themselves, which roughly 1,000 people per day play around on. Two full-time programmers have been working on a broader platform evolved from the keyboards, to be unveiled this summer. Eventually, Brew and Mankoff hope to charge for access to the platform.

Link to the rest at Bloomberg

Returning to Analog: Typewriters, Notebooks, and the Art of Letter Writing

From The Millions:

In 2009, Cormac McCarthy sold his Olivetti Lettera 32 typewriter at Christie’s for $254,500. With it, he wrote close to five million words over the course of five decades, including his highly regarded novels The Road and Blood Meridian, and the Border Trilogy, which brought him commercial success. Rather than graduate to a computer after the sale, McCarthy replaced his Olivetti with the exact same model—though one in a newer condition. He valued it because it was lightweight, reliable, and portable. For these same reasons, this classic Olivetti model was popular with traveling journalists in the ‘60s.

Don DeLillo and Will Self are also loyal typewriter devotees. “Writing on a manual makes you slower in a good way, I think,” Self told The Guardian. “You don’t revise as much, you just think more, because you know you’re going to have to retype the entire thing. Which is a big stop on just slapping anything down and playing with it.”

When I first began writing, I would have considered this apparent technophobia as old school—or worse, trendy. Writing can be done anywhere and with anything, can’t it? Writing on a computer is convenient.

I first realized the advantages of analog when observing how my husband, who is a photojournalist, uses his vintage film camera from the ’60s. It is a slow, tedious process, one that many other photographers who have “graduated to digital consider unnecessary, given technological advancements. He spends up to a minute changing each roll of film. A roll contains 12 frames. Between each shot he must wind the crank. For these reasons, a photograph cannot be taken as instantly as it could be with a digital camera. The film is costly to buy and to develop. You can’t check the frames as you take them. These might sound more like disadvantages, but his photographs, taken during a trip to Cuba and Mexico two summers ago, went on to win the people stories prize at World Press Photo 2017 and were published widely and exhibited internationally.

One disadvantage of digital photography is the temptation for photographers to check their pictures while they’re still shooting. The thumbnails on that tiny display screen often look better than they actually are when enlarged on your computer screen. The digital photographer relaxes—“I’ve got this,” they think, perhaps preemptively.

With film there are fewer distractions like this tendency to self-assess as you go along, and the financial and speed limitations encourage a more mindful process. To avoid wasting precious film and energy, the photographer must frame the picture more carefully. The results are consequentially more often better thought out; the composition more exact. The editing process is also more arduous, given the need to scan contact sheets. You spend more time with your pictures and get to know them better.

The pictures, though fewer in quantity than their digital counterparts, are usually better.

. . . .

There is something romantic about the notion of writing in a notebook, though unfortunately I can only sustain it short-term for journalling and the jotting down of ideas; my writing is so small that it’s sometimes illegible even to me, and I can’t imagine having the wrist power to write an entire first draft with pen and paper.

During that summer in Cuba with my husband, I realized how dependent I had become on the Internet for everything; I also learned how much of a distraction it can be from the things I really want to get done. It was the summer of 2016 and Internet access was hard to come by in the country. You had to go to an Internet point and pay about $5 an hour for an Internet card. Even then, the Internet was slow and many websites were censored. Often these Internet zones were on the street; they were easy to recognize, for crowds with smartphones and laptops would be gathered sitting on the sidewalk, despite the stifling humidity. An unusual sight in a country that is not connected. An uncomfortable place to write anything more than a few emails.

Link to the rest at The Millions

PG says everyone should use the creative tools they prefer, whether they are in fashion or not.

For his own work, PG is 500% digital.

Long ago, PG’s mother made him take a high school typing class. She said it would help him in college. Looking back at the intervening years, it was the single most important class he ever attended.

PG was a good typist. He not only used his typewriter for all his college papers, he also earned money typing other people’s college papers. Later, he typed his answers to bar exams on two different occasions with good results.

Perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad thing, but, if it existed at all, TPV would be much more abbreviated than it is if PG weren’t still a rapid typist. When he had two paralegals working for him, PG would dictate some documents and type others himself.

Having used both film and digital cameras as part of his semi-serious photography pursuits, PG says digital is much better. For one thing, if he is photographing a location he may never visit again, he immediately knows if he got the shot or not. He’ll take 20 or 30 different photos of the same thing to make sure he has captured it from the best angle and with the best light.

His film and slide photos sit in boxes, the only copies of many important moments. As is their nature, they’re deteriorating as the chemicals used to create them age. PG’s digital photos (including some film photos he has scanned) are backed up to the max with copies existing on a couple of different nearby hard drives as well as up in a couple of separate computer clouds. Every copy of a digital photo looks exactly the same as every other copy of the photo. He understands bit rot is a thing which is why he rewrites his digital files to disk on a regular basis.

PG has physical writing tools nearby at his desk, but only because he can multitask while speaking on the phone better with a pen than with a keyboard. He scans important written notes onto his computer after he finishes the call.

 

The Basics of Using Styles in MS Word

PG says if you’re formatting your own books for self-publishing or if you would like to minimize the likelihood of your ebook and/or CreateSpace formatting services from making mistakes that adversely impact your manuscript, Word Styles are your friend.

Styles are not difficult to use when you’re writing your book. Once you have a style sheet you like for your drafts, you can reuse that style sheet over and over for each new manuscript you create.

If you need to convert your manuscript into a different format, Word Styles typically convert along with the rest of the text. (PG can’t think of a text-oriented format that won’t preserve Word Styles, although the styles may not look exactly the same as they did in Word. Differences in font designs in various formats are often the culprit.)

Following is a 15-minute webinar that shows the basics about how to use Word Styles.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JuxqF3sydgU

Microsoft starts testing voice dictation in latest Office apps

From ZDNet:

On March 12, Microsoft began testing this feature with its Office Insider testers. The @OfficeInsider account tweeted yesterday:

“Windows #OfficeInsiders, get ready to ditch your keyboard and use your voice to write documents, compose emails, and create presentations! Voice dictation is available now to #InsidersFast.”

Microsoft officials touted the coming Office dictation technology in January, saying it would be available in February 2018.

To test dictating using voice, customers must be running the latest version of Office for Windows (Office 2016) and be an Office 365 subscriber. The voice dictation feature, which uses speech recognition technology to convert speech to text, is available for Word 2016, PowerPoint 2016, Outlook 2016 and OneNote 2016 and in US English only for now. To test this, users must be in the Windows desktop Office Insider program.

. . . .

I’m not sure if Microsoft is using the Dictate technology developed by its Microsoft Garage incubator as the basis for the Office Dictate feature. Dictate originally was an add-in for Word, Outlook, and PowerPoint and used the same speech-recognition technology in Cortana for converting speech to text, coupled with real-time translation. I’ve asked the company if this is the case but haven’t heard back yet.

Link to the rest at ZDNet and thanks to Felix for the tip.

PG has been trying out computerized dictation software forever.

He thinks his first attempt was with some software from Kurzweil, then he had an extended and frustrating relationship with Dragon Dictate. He did find an article he wrote about Voice-Assisted Legal Research for the ABA Journal in 1994 (and hopes nobody relied on it to jump into voice recognition).

PG is perennially hopeful, but, in the absence of a smart legal assistant, has always found typing to be more satisfactory than dictating. He’ll try Microsoft’s Dictate when he gets a chance, but will be braced for disappointment.

The Chinese Typewriter

From The London Review of Books:

Nominally a book that covers the rough century between the invention of the telegraph in the 1840s and that of computing in the 1950s, The Chinese Typewriter is secretly a history of translation and empire, written language and modernity, misguided struggle and brutal intellectual defeat. The Chinese typewriter is ‘one of the most important and illustrative domains of Chinese techno-linguistic innovation in the 19th and 20th centuries … one of the most significant and misunderstood inventions in the history of modern information technology’, and ‘a historical lens of remarkable clarity through which to examine the social construction of technology, the technological construction of the social, and the fraught relationship between Chinese writing and global modernity’. It was where empires met.

. . . .

Long before it could be a technological reality, the Chinese typewriter was a famous non-object. In 1900, the San Francisco Examiner described a mythical Chinatown typewriter with a 12-foot keyboard and 5000 keys. The joke caught on, playing to Western conceptions of the Chinese language as incomprehensible, impractical and above all baroque: cartoons showed mandarins in flowing robes, clambering up and down staircases of keys or key-thumping in caverns. ‘After all,’ Thomas Mullaney writes, ‘if a Chinese typewriter is really the size of two ping-pong tables put together, need anything more be said about the deficiencies of the Chinese language?’ To many Western eyes, the characters were so exotic that they seemed to raise philosophical, rather than mechanical, questions. Technical concerns masqueraded as ‘irresolvable Zen kōans’: ‘What is Morse code without letters? What is a typewriter without keys?’ A Chinese typewriter was an oxymoron.

The earliest alphabetic typewriters were devised at a time when orthographic Darwinism was fashionable. In the 1850s, the naturalist Henry Noel Humphreys suggested that the Chinese ‘never carried the art of writing to its legitimate development in the creation of a perfect phonetic alphabet’. Bernhard Karlgren, in his Philology and Ancient China (1926), led a vanguard of alphabetic supremacists, arguing for the characters to be replaced with a phonetic system. Over the following decades, scholars would even suggest that the writing system, by depressing literacy, ‘inhibited the development of a democratic literate culture’. More recently, Derk Bodde and William Hannas have claimed that the Chinese writing system inhibits creativity and the capacity for independent thought. These are corollaries of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which holds, in its strongest forms, that language limits thought. A language incompatible with typewriter keys was incompatible with modernity, and bespoke an equally incompatible country.

. . . .

With the dominance of Remington’s single-shift machine over its competitors, index and double-keyboard typewriters that promised greater flexibility for non-Western languages faded from view. Decades of ‘minimal modification’ followed, reaching peak futility in the system adopted to send messages by telegraph, which required operators to familiarise themselves with 6800 characters assigned a code between 0001 and 9999, a task about as conducive to productivity as memorising pi. ‘Whether Morse code, braille, stenography, typewriting, Linotype, Monotype, punched-card memory, text-encoding, dot matrix printing, word processing, ASCII, personal computing, optical character recognition, digital typography, or a host of other examples from the past two centuries,’ Mullaney writes, ‘each of these systems was developed first with the Latin alphabet in mind, and only later “extended” to encompass non-Latin alphabets.’ For nearly two centuries, China had been a left-handed kid in a world of right-handed scissors.

. . . .

By the early 20th century, baihua, or ‘plain speech’, reformers were making arguments that recall Boulez’s line about having to set the Louvre on fire before civilisation can be freed. The founder of the Communist Party, Chen Duxiu, was among those calling for a ‘literary revolution’, a revolt against the ‘ornate, sycophantic literature of the aristocracy’ and in favour of the ‘plain, expressive literature of the people’. Baihuaproponents were also driven, at least in part, by frustration at decades of effort to reconcile Chinese characters and Western-derived systems. The early script reformer Qian Xuantong argued that the reform of systems had to begin with characters, ‘if we wish to get rid of the average person’s childish, naive and barbaric ways of thinking’.

. . . .

Unlike moveable type, which developed in China earlier and independently of the West, the typewriter has always been a foreign import. As such, its most successful inventors have tended to be boundary-walkers themselves, versed in both cultures if not entirely fluent in both scripts. The first machine marketed as a ‘Chinese typewriter’ was invented in 1888 by the American missionary Devello Sheffield, his goal less to create a typewriter than to replace the missionary’s intermediary, the opinionated Chinese clerk. ‘They usually talk to their writer,’ Sheffield wrote, ‘and he takes down with a pen what has been said, and later puts their work into Chinese literary style … The finished product will be found to have lost in this process no slight proportion of what the writer wished to say, and to have taken on quite as large a proportion of what the Chinese assistant contributed to the thought.’

. . . .

Part of the problem with these early typewriters is that they didn’t much resemble typewriters. The typewriter’s attraction was not only its usefulness, but its cultural cachet. One thinks of the famous image of Chinese dignitaries gathered around a Gatling gun. The point was being in a position to announce: ‘We have the technology!’ Inventors worried that if the typewriter were altered for the Chinese market, ‘the resulting machine [might] prove entirely illegible and unrecognisable to the Western eye … And if unrecognisable to the world as a typewriter, would it be a “typewriter” at all?’ And so it is unsurprising that engineer Shu Zhendong’s eminently typewriter-like typewriter was the first to be mass-manufactured. The Commercial Press in Shanghai, Republican China’s busiest printer, sold at least 100 units a year of ‘the Shu-style typewriter’ between 1917 and 1934 to customers as various as the Chinese Consulate in Canada and the Chinese postal service.

. . . .

Briefly, following Japan’s defeat, Chinese manufacturers were able to reclaim the market by selling copycat Wanneng machines, or even selling Wanneng machines directly, without pretensions to originality or patriotism. One Shanghai company sold a ‘People’s Welfare Typewriter’ – slapping a name borrowed from Sun Yat-sen on a Wanneng. The Communist government engaged in the same practices on a grander scale, seizing the Japanese Typewriter Company and rechristening it the Red Star Typewriter Company. In the 1950s, resistance to Japanese machines finally collapsed: the Shanghai Chinese Typewriter Manufacturers Association was created out of a consortium of ten Chinese typewriter companies – their enduring legacy would be the ‘Double Pigeon’, a sprightly Wanneng-based number that would dominate the market for decades to come.

Link to the rest at The London Review of Books

Here’s a link to The Chinese Typewriter

 

How To Use Dictation For A Healthier Writing Life

From The Creative Penn:

The word ‘writing’ has become associated with hitting keys on a keyboard to make letters appear on a screen or inscribing by hand onto paper.

But the end result is a mode of communication from one brain to another through the medium of words. Those words can be generated by your voice, just as people can ‘read’ by listening to an audiobook.

Famous authors who have written with dictation include diverse creatives John Milton (Paradise Lost), Dan Brown, Henry James, Barbara Cartland and Winston Churchill. When Terry Pratchett, fantasy author of the Discworld series, developed Alzheimer’s Disease, he found he couldn’t write anymore, so he moved to dictation in his final years.

. . . .

So, why dictate?

(1) Health reasons

You can dictate standing up or while walking, or lying in bed with injuries, or if pain stops you typing.

I started using dictation when I had RSI and used it to write the first drafts of Destroyer of Worlds and also Map of Shadows, plus some chapters for this book, which I dictated while walking along the canal towpath.

Dictation can help alleviate or prevent pain right now, but learning how to write with dictation can also future-proof your living as a writer in case of problems later.

(2) Writing speed and stamina

Dictation is faster at getting words on the page than typing, especially if you are not self-censoring.

I’ve made it up to around 5000 words per hour with dictation, while I only manage around 1500 words per hour typing.

There is a trade-off with ‘finished’ words as you will have to at least lightly edit to correct transcription issues, but if you want to get that first draft done faster, then dictation can be the most effective way.

Link to the rest at The Creative Penn

During his professional career, PG has dictated approximately a trillion letters and documents (give or take), but he’s never been able to comfortably dictate anything remotely creative. Of course, while he was doing this, he usually had a couple of very intelligent secretaries/assistants/paralegals who turned is spoken words into something that wouldn’t get him disbarred. Alas, those valuable people have turned to more remunerative and fulfilling pastimes when PG moved into executive roles in some large organizations which occupied him for quite a few years..

However, Joanna has given him incentive to try dictation again. We’ll see how it goes.

Don’t like the way you write? An artificial intelligence app promises to polish your prose

From Quartz:

I am a professional writer, but I often hate my writing. I wish it was more concise and powerful. And it certainly doesn’t read as smoothly as the work of my literary heroes. Recently, I began to wonder: Could a software program make me better at my job?

The Hemingway App, an online writing editor created in 2013 by brothers Adam and Ben Long, promises to do just that. “Hemingway makes your writing bold and clear,” the site claims, so that “your reader will focus on your message, not your prose.” If you listen to the app’s advice, it will rid your writing of run-on sentences, needless adverbs, passive voice, and opaque words. There’s no guarantee you’ll crank out the next Farewell to Arms—but the goal is to get you closer to Ernest Hemingway’s clear, minimalist style.

The app uses a crude artificial intelligence that recognizes writing problems through natural language processing. When you copy and paste your text into the Hemingway Editor, it highlights sentences with possible issues in different colors and offers suggested changes. For example, if I write, “This Editor has been used since around 2013,” the words “been used” are highlighted green because I am using the passive voice.

Most of the recommendations offered by the Hemingway App are based on research into readability—that is, how easy it is to understand a given text.

. . . .

I also ignored some of the app’s suggestions. A few were just nonsensical. It suggested I replace the word “demonstrate” with simpler synonyms “prove” or “show,” but I was talking about people going to airports to protest. I rejected other suggestions for stylistic reasons. The app wanted me to remove “really” from the sentence “As it turns out, protest size really does matter.” But I wanted to keep the conversational tone.

In the end, I was able to bring the grade level of my story down from 13 to nine, and shed 34 words along the way. Then I gave the updated version to Kira Bindrim—a Quartz editor who’d edited the original story.

“I think my gut reaction is to prefer the original,” Bindrim wrote to me after reading the Hemingway version.

Link to the rest at Quartz

PG wonders if there’s an app that really works for professional authors.

PG also suggests that Hemingway might crash if he fed some typical legal documents into it.

Inside One of America’s Last Pencil Factories

From The New York Times:

A pencil is a little wonder-wand: a stick of wood that traces the tiniest motions of your hand as it moves across a surface. I am using one now, making weird little loops and slashes to write these words. As a tool, it is admirably sensitive. The lines it makes can be fat or thin, screams or whispers, blocks of concrete or blades of grass, all depending on changes of pressure so subtle that we would hardly notice them in any other context. (The difference in force between a bold line and nothing at all would hardly tip a domino.) And while a pencil is sophisticated enough to track every gradation of the human hand, it is also simple enough for a toddler to use.

Such radical simplicity is surprisingly complicated to produce. Since 1889, the General Pencil Company has been converting huge quantities of raw materials (wax, paint, cedar planks, graphite) into products you can find, neatly boxed and labeled, in art and office-supply stores across the nation: watercolor pencils, editing pencils, sticks of charcoal, pastel chalks. Even as other factories have chased higher profit margins overseas, General Pencil has stayed put, cranking out thousands upon thousands of writing instruments in the middle of Jersey City.

. . . .

Other parts of the factory are eruptions of color. Red pencils wait, in orderly grids, to be dipped into bright blue paint. A worker named Maria matches the color of her shirt and nail polish to the shade of the pastel cores being manufactured each week. One of the company’s signature products, white pastels, have to be made in a dedicated machine, separated from every other color. At the tipping machine, a whirlpool of pink erasers twists, supervised patiently by a woman wearing a bindi.

. . . .

In an era of infinite screens, the humble pencil feels revolutionarily direct: It does exactly what it does, when it does it, right in front of you. Pencils eschew digital jujitsu. They are pure analog, absolute presence. They help to rescue us from oblivion. Think of how many of our finest motions disappear, untracked — how many eye blinks and toe twitches and secret glances vanish into nothing. And yet when you hold a pencil, your quietest little hand-dances are mapped exactly, from the loops and slashes to the final dot at the very end of a sentence.

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Nate at The Digital Reader for the tip.

PG recommends you go to the OP to see wonderful photos of industrial age machinery with contrasting bright colors of colored pencils.

If you are having problems accessing the story, here’s PG’s tip for the day for those of you using a Chrome browser: Right Click on the NYT link above, then choose the third item from the top in the drop-down menu – “Open link in incognito window” and you may find success.

Better Writing Begins with the Right Tools

From JSTOR Daily:

I have a theory that for writers, digital writing tools are just as influential as the mason’s choice of a particular compass or square.

Historian Lon Shelby wrote extensively about the building practices of the medieval masons behind the creation of such cathedrals as Chartres, iconic buildings that owe their creation and execution to the specific tools masons adopted for measurement and layout. “[U]ntil the history of their tools is adequately described,” Shelby writes, “the achievements of medieval masons cannot be properly evaluted from a technological point of view.” Shelby locates the geometry of these iconic buildings in the specific types of compass and square that masons had access to in the medieval era.

Is it really so different for current-day scribes? It’s not hard to goad writers into drawing virtual blood by asking them to expound on the relative merits of Ulysses and Bear, Markdown and rich text, or Microsoft Word vs Google Docs. And who isn’t a writer these days? From academics and students to corporate bloggers and analysts, there are few professionals who don’t spend at least some of their time cranking out paragraphs. Email alone ensures that most of us distribute more words per day than our grandparents might have sent forth in a year.

For all the time we spend cranking out words at a keyboard, however, we rarely stop to ask how all that keyboard time affects the way we write and communicate. It’s not just the keyboard that shapes our prose, of course; far more influential is the software in which we do our writing. That’s why it pays to think about what we want from our writing tools: not just as individual writers and communicators, but as readers and human beings with a stake in the ongoing evolution of our written culture.

The impact of our writing environment is on my mind because my writing process has just been transformed by Scrivener, an writing application I purchased several years ago but have only begun to properly use. I am a bit of a software junkie, so there’s nothing unusual about me trying out a new app as part of my endless quest for productivity perfection, or returning to an app I’ve tinkered with in order to take it for a more dedicated spin. I regularly cycle through new email clients, task managers, note-taking applications, data analysis tools, and image editors.

. . . .

If you’ve been using the same writing software for years and years, as I have, it’s easy to stop thinking about the impact your tools have on the day-to-day experience of writing. For the past decade, almost all my short-form writing has been drafted in Evernote, and for twenty-five years, all my long-form writing has taken place in Microsoft Word. I’m not giving up either of those tools, but spending the past month writing in Scrivener has reminded me that new tools enable new thoughts and new ways of working.

Because Scrivener makes it so easy to slice up and reorganize pieces of a document, it profoundly changes the process of writing and revision, and the balance between them.

. . . .

Matthew Kirchenbaum has written an entire book on the impact of word processing, the seeds of which appear in his article on how it transformed the work of John Updike:

Like many others [Updike] was at first captivated by the strange new device, declaring it “dazzling” more than once. Evidence of writers test driving their first word processor is a minor genre in their personal papers. One of the best known examples comes from Russell Banks when he was writing the novel that became Affliction: “STILL VERY MUCH LEARNING TO THINK ON THIS MACHINE,” he wrote in all caps at the beginning of a document that is a kind of stream-of-consciousness exploration of its capabilities. “STRANGE EXPERIENCE, UNFAMILIAR MIXTURE OF SPEED AND SLOWDOWN.” A similar page by Salman Rushdie survives in his collection at Emory University. Stephen King, meanwhile, wrote a short story, “The Word Processor,” which was published in Playboy and stands as the first extended fictional treatment of the technology.

The kinds of praise that many writers, students, and writing teachers lavished on the emergent technology of word processing points to the very particular ways it changed the practice of writing. In an anecdotal assessment of her college students’ use of word processing in her English, Dawn Rodrigues writes that

I observed various ways in which the computer was affecting my students’ progress. First of all, the computer seemed to help reduce the students’ writing apprehension. Students who at the beginning of the semester wrote (in early journal entries) of being nervous about writing showed no anxiety at all as the course progressed. For instance, one student who couldn’t even think of an idea for a journal entry on the second day of class blossomed when he began writing on the computer. He explained in his journal that he wasn’t afraid to express himself because he knew that he could immediately delete any sentences which embarrassed him. Another student said that he liked writing with computers because he forgot to worry about what he was saying. He just enjoyed seeing the words appear.

. . . .

I’m no stranger to doing large-scale edits in Word; there was lots of big-picture rearranging involved in writing my dissertation, and later, in writing my series of ebooks. But it was a painful process, because Word (like most word processors and text editors) is set up as if the complete article (or essay, or report, or book) is the fundamental unit of work. Sure, you can move stuff around by cutting and pasting, but you have very limited options for keeping the overall structure of your work in mind as you do. Word is fundamentally a tool designed to facilitate the modest changes described by Collier.

Scrivener, on the other hand, is set up to facilitate what Dave and Russell refer to as “global revision.” It encourages writers to slice their work up into the smallest viable units: not just chapters or even sections, but individual scenes, quotes or arguments. (To write this article in Scrivener, I imported each of the quotes you read above as individual documents, so that I could pull them in and rearrange them at will.) When you look at your work through the constant lens of its component parts, it’s much easier to undertake ambitious restructuring—not just technically easier, but conceptually easier, because you can see the parts that make up the whole.

Link to the rest at JSTOR Daily

PG still misses WordPerfect.

Why Digital Note-Taking Will Never Replace the Physical Journal

From The Literary Hub:

 Some fortunate writers possess steel-trap memories and rarely need to jot things down. Their images and ideas materialize, as if on cue, when required for the cauldron of composition. Most, however, have developed different methods for taking research notes and roughing out early drafts. They collect scribbled-on scraps of paper, bar napkins, the backs of receipts, whatever is at hand, on their roundabout way to the writing table. Others thumb-type notes or pencil marginalia in books they happen to be reading. Still others dictate memos for later transcription. The most sensible perhaps, myself from time to time among them, keep a pocket notepad handy for capturing a bit of delicious eavesdropped dialogue or observing something, anything, seen or heard or tasted or smelled or touched that might be relevant to whatever writing project they have underway.

My memory is good, but capricious at times. My scraps of paper get misplaced or wind up in the laundry. I don’t want to figure out dictation software. And my thumbs are hopeless, which is only part of the reason I hate texting. In an era of smart phones, palm-sized digital cameras, and featherweight laptops—also known as “notebooks”—the very idea of lugging around a heavy, folio-sized, hardcover Boorum & Pease record-ruled 9-300-R ledger or oversized black spiral-bound artist sketchbook, would seem at once masochistic and medieval. Yet, these behemoths, straight out of some Dickensian accountant’s office or landscape architect’s atelier, have served as my notebooks of choice for well over 20 years.

I don’t tend to use my notebooks as diaries or journals. With rare exceptions, everything that I write, draw, paste, and tape in them has to do only with the novel I’m currently working on.

. . . .

Why do all this? Why carry around this antiquated technology? It would have been far quicker and easier to snap pictures of those gravestones and petroglyphs, scan those clippings, maybe set up a computer spreadsheet for my various invented progeny. I’m not, after all, a visual artist by any stretch. And my handwriting has continued to devolve toward illegibility.

Simply put, it has to do with the pure visceral nature of the act. When I draw a castle, a two-trunked willow, a billboard, a bird, the process of limning their outlines and angles—their optical information—makes them, for me, far more animated, individual, and finally more memorable than if I’d photographed them. Similarly, if I manually form the letters of my words, scribe out sentences, snatches of dialogue, however disjointed or inchoate or fragmentary, they register on my consciousness more fully than if I were to type them. This is especially true when I’m researching a novel—the stage in which I’m most impressionable, longing to learn, there at the foot of the mountain I must build as I climb.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

PG suggests that any essay that includes the words, “never replace” in the title will almost certainly be erroneous unless the words, “for me” appear somewhere.

7 Free Online Tools for Writers and Authors

From Digital Book World:

“All you need to be a writer is a pen and paper,” is something you might say if you’re one of those smug savants who can just sit down and write an entire novel longhand.

But for the rest of us? Well, we can take all the help we can get. Naturally, there are the everyday low-fi accessories that every writer should already have in their arsenal, like notebooks and a reliable pen. But there are also a bunch of high tech tools that the interwebs can offer us.

In this post, I’d love to share seven of my favorite free online tools for writers. They’ve helped me to manage my time, improve my creative flow, and publish better material. And, most importantly, they haven’t cost me a dime!

  1. Trello

“Trello…? Is it me you’re looking for?”

Trello was designed as a project management tool for small business organizations, which is exactly where I first came across it. Having used it for my day job for an entire year, I was able to adapt it to my writing work pretty quickly.

Trello is pretty much a virtual cork board — but better. I use it to keep track of small tasks (“buy new ink cartridge”) as well as organize my ideas as and when they occur to me. Best of all, Trello’s bulletin-board style interface lets me create “cards” relating to each section of a book, allowing me to move parts of the manuscript around as I’m grappling with the structure.

. . . .

  1. Buffer

As a writer in 2017, I know it’s a part of my job to maintain my public platform, meagre as it is. At the very least, that means regularly posting words of wisdom and sharing funny writing memes on social media.

I tried a handful of tools like HootSuite that allowed me to schedule social activity ahead of time, but I prefer the simplicity (and price point) of Buffer. Now I just spend 30 minutes scheduling posts every Monday — and for the rest of the week, I’m free to write without distraction. Right?

Well, as you’ll discover in the next section, it’s maybe not that simple…

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

PG doesn’t use Buffer with TPV but he’s a big fan of the tool for other projects involving social media.

Good Reasons for Writing by Hand

From Self Publishing Advice Center:

This isn’t another one of those ‘how to write’ posts, it’s a post about the actual physical nitty-gritty of how we go about putting our stories down into words.

Lots of writers now use the ubiquitous laptop – some have even found a way of writing on tablets, and others still, as recent discussions following the recent BEA Indie Author Fringe have shown, have been talking about how they use voice recognition software for dictating their stories.

. . . .

When it comes to practicality though, I have always and still do, favour pen and paper. Specifically fountain pen and leather-wrap journal. It’s what works for me.

Of course writing this way is not without its downsides. Principally there’s the typing it up afterwards (‘though this too does have its own pros, but more of that later).

. . . .

The Advantages of Writing with Pen and Paper

  • Accessibility: Take the pen and notebook and you can literally write anywhere, at any ime, and be putting down your story in as short as time as it takes to flick off the lid and turn to the next blank page.
  • Portability: The leather-wrap journal is the ultimate in portability.
  • Power: It never runs out of battery, or crashes.
  • Legibility: You don’t have to worry about the glare of sunlight on the screen.

I’ve been known to write (as those dreams would have it) for hours in my favourite coffee shop or library, or in snatched moments at the end of lunch breaks at work, or on the bus whilst commuting.

Link to the rest at Self Publishing Advice Center

This Machine Learning-Powered Software Teaches Kids To Be Better Writers

From Fast Company:

Every time students take a writing exercise on Quill.org–a writing instruction platform for schools–their responses are logged by computers and analyzed for patterns. Algorithms take account of every false word they type, every misplaced comma, every inappropriate conjunction, deepening a sense of where the nation’s kids are succeeding in sentence-construction and where they need extra help.

The algorithms substitute for human intervention. Instead of teachers having to correct errors late at night with a red pen, the system does it automatically, suggesting corrections and concepts on its own. The goal, says Peter Gault, who founded Quill three years ago, is to reach more students than traditional teaching methods, including those who need support the most. About 400,000 students in 2,000 schools have used the (mostly free) writing-instruction platform so far.

. . . .

Kids today write all the time, perhaps more than previous generations. Whether it’s texts to their friends, or posting on Facebook, they’re constantly hitting the keys one way or another. But all this composition doesn’t necessarily make for better writing, at least not in the formal, academic sense. Just 24% of 8th- and 12th-grade students are “proficient” writers according to the Department of Education’s “The Nation’s Report Card: Writing 2011,” published in 2012. Teachers often complain they lack professional development to teach writing well. And, there’s a widespread acceptance in education circles that writing instruction is less developed and successful than, say, math or science teaching.

“Teachers just don’t have enough time in the day to offer feedback on everything students write, and that becomes a huge blocker to students moving forward,” Gault says in an interview. “Using machine learning to detect these patterns really unlocks a lot of options that allow us to bring this to thousands, or millions, of additional students in the coming years.”

The New York-based startup trains its algorithms with about 200 responses to each exercise, submitted by its programmers (it has about 300 exercises so far). As the students offer up thousands of their own responses, the code is then able to detect patterns without additional human intervention. When it prompts students to correct their sentences, it does so based on the collective trial-and-error of thousands of other users of the service.

Link to the rest at Fast Company and here’s a link to Quill.org.

Microsoft Adds Read Aloud Feature to Word

From PC Magazine:

This week Microsoft rolled out a number of new features heading to Office 365. The stand out addition is a feature called Read Aloud in Word, which you’ll eventually find available under the Review tab on the Word menu.

Microsoft offers a range of tools that come under the heading of Learning Tools in Word. They exist to “help you improve your reading skills by boosting your ability to pronounce words correctly, to read quickly and accurately, and to understand what you read.” Read Aloud falls squarely into the “read quickly and accurately” category.

When enabled, Read Aloud allows you to hear any given Word document being read out loud while each word is highlighted simultaneously. By going through this process, Microsoft believes it is easier to recognize and correct errors. And because Read Aloud happens within the existing work flow, it’s easy to rectify each error as soon as it becomes apparent.

Microsoft also views Read Aloud as beneficial for users with learning disabilities such as dyslexia. It should allow for improved reading and accuracy, and ultimately more error-free documents.

Link to the rest at PC Magazine

Creating Personas

PG thought he knew what the OP would be about, but he was mistaken.

From Prototypr.io:

The first thing a good UX Designer should tell you about creating a persona is that if you just blindly follow a template, you have missed the point. User research should inform the layout — don’t let the layout constrain the research.

Put simply, don’t just follow a template.

Sadly, this advice is not very helpful when you are starting out, staring at a blank sheet of paper trying to create a set of personas.

‘Isn’t making a persona a waste of time? What’s the point?’

Personas are all about building empathy amongst your team. Great software gets made when the people who make it care about the people who use it. That means during every meeting, when making any decision, in every design and with every line of code, you should first be thinking about your users.

. . . .

‘What should I put in a persona?’

To answer this question with a question: what is it about your users that your team should know, remember and reflect on every day?

To answer your question in a more detailed (and longwinded) way, I have put together this worksheet that I use to guide my research:

Link to the rest at Prototypr.io

There is a second page to the worksheet at the OP. PG was interested in the similarity of the persona worksheet for a software user interface to a character sketch.

A Dozen Awesome Gmail Hacks

PG posted a Wall Street Journal video discussing eight Gmail hacks yesterday.

Nate Hoffhelder at The Digital Reader was not satisfied with the wsj piece, so he wrote his own:

Gmail is possibly the most widely used email service, but are you getting the most out of it?

The following 12 Gmail hacks will help you take control of your inbox and go from being a Gmail user to a Gmail expert.  Read on to save time, avoid mistakes, and add a dash of style to your inbox.

. . . .

Use smarter searches

Everyone knows that you can use the Gmail search bar to look for emails to and from specific names (To: and From:) or under specific labels (label:) but did you know you can also exclude labels, senders, and recipients?

It’s true!

If you want to exclude a sender from a search in Gmail simple add a dash “-” before the From tag. For example, “-from:authorearnings@gmail.com ” will exclude any search results.

The same trick works for the To tag and the label tag.

Don’t fall for phishing emails

Scammers are getting pretty good at sending emails which you can’t tell from the real thing. This is why everyone warns you to not click a link in an email but instead visit a company’ website.

Luckily, Gmail has an experimental feature which can help you separate phish from fowl. Look in the Labs tab of the Settings menu and you will find an option called “Authentication icon for verified senders”.

When enabled, this feature checks the sender’s email address and adds a key symbol whenever it can confirm that the email is legit.

. . . .

Dropbox for Gmail

Do you like using Gmail and want to pair it with Dropbox rather than Google Drive?

Dropbox for Gmail is a Chrome extension that adds a Dropbox button to Gmail’s Compose window. This button makes it easy to share Dropbox links in an email, and it allows you to bypass the process of attempting to email large files — and saves valuable space in your inbox.

Yes, Gmail solves this problem by uploading large attachments to Google Drive, but if you already have all your docs in Dropbox then why not simply share a link?

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

The ergonomics of writing

From Mad Genius Club:

Writing is a freelancing business. Like all other freelancers and most hourly positions, you can’t get paid for new work if you’re too sick or injured to produce more. (And, as a massage therapist friend learned when she broke her arm, hospital bills tend to pile up when the money’s not coming in.) Therefore, it’s a good idea to not only prevent the work-related injuries to hands, wrists, neck, back, eyes, and arms, but to also keep the rest of your body and your immune system in as good a shape as you can.

The first way to stay in healthy & uninjured is to avoid doing things that’ll get you injured. So, let’s discuss your writing setup. While curling up  on the couch with a laptop occasionally is fine, if you’re going to be spending much time on the computer (and all the internet, email, and gaming time counts, too), you should have an ergonomic setup.

. . . .

The next step up is to make a standing or walking desk; this allows you to get out of the chair, and give your body a break from sitting. Walking desks range from homemade setups on garage-sale treadmills to expensive custom jobs.

. . . .

When I do sit, I have a yoga ball to sit on at the ancient media laptop’s desk, which keeps facebook isolated and unable to suck my time away until I sit down there. It also lets me work on core strength and stability, even though I’m sitting.

The second way to stay healthy & uninjured is to take breaks and stretch regularly. You can search for “computer & desk stretches” or “office stretches” and come up with hundreds of variations; pick the set that work for you, and try to work them in regularly.

. . . .

However, if you’re working from home, don’t feel limited to chair stretches: you can get up and do plenty of other things to loosen up. Whether it’s getting up and doing five minutes on a chore (putting a few more dishes in the dishwasher, sweeping a room, folding a couple clothes or moving a load over to the dryer), or getting out of the house and walking up and down the block while muttering over plot points, you can incorporate giving your eyes and body a break in many different ways.

Link to the rest at Mad Genius Club

PG would add that a good keyboard is also extremely important. He’s never suffered from repetitive stress injury, but he knows some people who have. RSI can put you out of the typing business in a big hurry and for a long time.

Ergonomic keyboard manufacturers have come and gone in part, because it’s not a huge market. Fortunately, Microsoft started selling its ergonomic keyboard several years ago and appears to be in the business for the long term. PG couldn’t remember the number he has purchased, but Amazon says it has sold him five. He currently uses the 4000 model.

Ever since IBM stopped making laptops, PG has detested the keyboards on portable computers. If you use a laptop as your principal writing tool, there’s nothing to prevent using a separate keyboard, wired or wireless, with it. During a period of time when PG was doing a large amount of business travel, he purchased a compact external keyboard to use with his laptop in hotel rooms.

While he’s at it, PG will also add some commentary on computer mice. Ergonomic design can help there as well and external mice work with desktops or laptops equally well. For a long time, PG was a fan of Logitech and bought several Logitech Performance Wireless mice which worked fine.

About a year ago, he was introduced to the Anker Ergonomic Mouse and has been a huge fan ever since. It looks and feels weird at first, but PG has observed that it’s more comfortable for his wrist after a long day at the keyboard. It’s only $20, which is cheap for an ergonomic anything. He also tosses one into his computer bag when he travels.

One final ergonomic suggestion – put something under your monitor or laptop to raise the monitor from the top of your desk. PG’s current favorite height is nine inches from the top of his desk to the bottom of his monitor screens. He has a couple of cheap plastic monitor stands something like these. His third monitor sits on a stack of books that brings its height up to the same level as the others. (Fiction or nonfiction books will work equally well. Ebooks are a nonstarter for this job.)

PG currently has one large monitor flanked by two smaller monitors. It looks cool to persons under the age of ten, but if PG were to do it again, he would probably opt for two large monitors since he rarely uses the small monitor on his left.

Espresso is all that stands between us and creative defeat

From The Guardian:

Ideally I write in a silent room with a magnificent and inspiring view of the natural world. I do not always have access to such a room. Instead I have street noise and an inbox full of administrative email, and if I’m really unlucky, actual phone calls to make. When I was depressed and unpublished and in my early 20s, I developed a full-blown phone phobia. I could put off the simplest call for days at a time. I still hate having to talk to the bank or the accountant, and find it hard to concentrate on writing until I’ve dealt with that kind of task.

Both Katie and I write at home. When the sitter turns up at 10am, the household settles down. I used to waste an improbable amount of time, but I don’t have that luxury now. I create my space with headphones, big over-the-ear cans that block out the world. I play music, usually something very minimal at low volume, just enough to trick myself into the meditative concentration I need to write. No vocal music for obvious reasons, though vocals can be OK if they’re in a language I don’t understand. When something works, it disappears and becomes an environment in which I can think.

. . . .

I have a desktop computer and a laptop. For a novel I make a single Word document, but rename it every morning, so I have a way to track versions if I need to dig out something I cut. I make notes on paper, in spiral-bound notebooks, but my handwriting is terrible, particularly if I’m trying to set ideas down quickly, and it’s much faster to type. I back up. I can’t understand writers who don’t back up. I look at a monitor jacked up to eye height on a pile of books. My desk is usually cluttered. I recently bought myself a good keyboard (one with mechanical switches, but that’s not too loud) and I wish I’d succumbed to keyboard fetishism years ago. What can I say? It’s a nicer ride. I spend a lot of time on the internet, but some of it’s research. My concentration is better when I’m not toggling between my Word doc and 30 different tabs on a browser.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

New Word Editor

From Inc.:

Last week, as I was trying to finish a document in Microsoft Word 2017, a new feature caught my eye. It’s called Editor, and it is a little frightening. Here’s why.

I remember the good old days when Word would happily suggest passive voice fixes and offer to correct spelling. Long before that, Word stayed out of the way. Back when Bill Gates was in charge, Word was more like a blank page for my creative ideas.

Now, it has become much more aggressive.

When the app started telling me about weak words like “maybe” and “possibly” I was OK with that.

. . . .

I’ve realized, however, that Word is now using machine learning to look for much deeper problems. Troubling problems. Problems that have lurked in my writing for 16 years. Word is now analyzing my word choices, looking for contextualization problems, flagging words that are overused or too casual, hinting when a word is overly complex.

It’s trying to improve my writing, and I’m having some issues with that.

First off, don’t you dare try to use AI to fix my writing! I’m OK with AI helping me drive better in a Tesla, or shutting off the lights in my living room when I’m not home, or finding a better deal on travel when it sees how much time I spend scouring Expedia for good flights to Vegas. I can handle AI probing my email and weeding out the fluff, or even suggesting better web sites. Someday, I might have a discussion with Amazon Alexa about my health conditions, and I’m perfectly fine revealing all of those details.

But flagging me for Too Many Determiners? Calling me out for an Incorrect Auxiliary? You’ve gone too far and you know it. I was perfectly fine living in my cocoon of illusion, never knowing I had issues with Vague Adjectives or an Indefinite Article. I liked being indefinite! Now, I am carrying around all this excess baggage realizing I have some work to do. For example, I really should not have ended that sentence with the word do. (There I go again.) There are ways I can improve, and I’m not happy about that.

Link to the rest at Inc. and thanks to Dusk for the tip.

PG doesn’t think he exactly replicated this behavior. The OP refers to Microsoft Word 2017, but PG thinks the latest desktop version of Word is 2016. The latest Word 365 also shows it as being the 2016 version.

PG thinks he sumbled onto grammar central on Word 2016 under {File} {Options} {Proofing} then clicking the Settings button under the “When correcting spelling and grammer in Word” section (way to be intuitive, Microsoft).

After clicking the aforementioned Settings button, the following box popped up:

He’s not certain he found the same place that originated the behavior described in the OP or if it is another 15 levels down in the MS Word menu system.

PG welcomes comments that will illuminate his understanding.