“We now know that telling writers to avoid the passive is bad advice. Linguistic research has shown that the passive construction has a number of indispensable functions because of the way it engages a reader’s attention and memory. A skilled writer should know what those functions are and push back against copy editors who, under the influence of grammatically naïve style guides, blue-pencil every passive construction they spot into an active one.”

Harvard psycholinguist and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker on the art and science of beautiful writing 

(via explore-blog)



Cephalopod Awareness Days always seem to slip away…

Celebrate the most intelligent invertebrates in the world! From October 8 to 12, go gaga for the marine mollusks—squid, octopus, and nautilus. October 10th is Squid & Cuttlefish Day, so we dove into the Biodiversity Heritage Library to bring you these stunning squid specimens, taken from Carl Chun’s The Cephalopoda, an exceptional book from our Invertebrate Zoology collection of the Smithsonian Libraries.

The Biodiversity Heritage Library also has a Cephalopod Awareness Days set on Flickr, so if these don’t float your boat (or over turn them) please check there.

“Isn’t it incredible that you can print in a book nowadays stuff which when we were young was found only on the walls of public lavatories.” P.G. Wodehouse (via writersbone)

The Muse

"Show up, show up, show up, and after awhile the muse shows up, too."

—Isabel Allende



The only surviving recording of Virginia Woolf’s voice, in which she talks about writing and the craftsmanship of language. Transcript, well worth the read, here

(Source: explore-blog / brainpicker)

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Sponsored Posts Make You An Advertiser

E.B. White, one of my favorite writers and thinkers, wrote that “Sponsorship in the press is an invitation to corruption and abuse.”

I agree.  It won’t make me very popular, but I think the advent of “sponsored” posts in food blogs is a horrible thing.  While the bloggers themselves argue that sponsored posts are just their “honest” opinion on the wonders of non-dairy coffee creamer or whatever that happens to be paid by the manufacturer of the item, I see it as advertising and it erodes the integrity of their opinions.

While the bloggers may be fooling themselves by saying they aren’t “journalists” and therefore don’t have to follow journalism’s ethics, each time they do a sponsored post, they are putting themselves in the pocket of the corporation that paid them to write the post.  And that, in turn, destroys their credibility as an impartial judge of food, restaurants, appliances, etc., a little bit more.  And readers get this—they aren’t as stupid as we may think they are.

I am also beginning to feel the same about ads for specific products chosen by the blogger for their site.  At first I thought this was a good idea for someone like me, who is gluten-free.  Originally, the concept that I could pick and choose ads that were specifically gluten-free seemed nice.  And it seemed like a good idea to get away from ads that would cycle around to things like crackers that contain wheat products.

Now I realize I no longer like this concept.  By personally picking and choosing the ads that go on one’s site, you are once again showing yourself to be in the pocket of the corporation that sponsored that ad.  And even if you really, really like the thing that the ad is for, gluten-free pasta for example, it shows that you can’t be impartial when discussing this thing.  Every time you say, “I love Happy Time Pasta,”  or “I think Happy Time Pasta is the best gluten-free pasta out there,” your credibility comes into question because Happy Time Pasta sponsors you and your blog and pays for part of your mortgage.  You can’t avoid that.  And every time you say that Happy Time Pasta really is the best gluten-free pasta, I am skeptical because you are being paid to say so.

Everyone who knows me knows that I’m not a fan of advertising on blogs.  But, if a blog is to contain advertising, I now think that a banner of random ads on the side of one’s blog is the most ethical way of making one’s blog money-making proposition.  The reason is that those ads are clearly not chosen by the blogger and cycle through a random assortment of products, not hand-picked by the blogger. 

And at some point, I think bloggers are going to have to decide what they what to be.  They don’t want to be considered journalists because it’s too “constraining.”  But do they want to be advertisers?  Because that’s what they are if they write sponsored posts, go on sponsored trips, accept products for review, and constantly giveaway random items in exchange for a free random item. 

Food for thought.


The Conspiracy of Colors
See also Shades of Grey, by Jasper Fforde.


The Conspiracy of Colors

See also Shades of Grey, by Jasper Fforde.


Welcome to My Commonplace Book

I have decided to try out this space as an online commonplace book.  A commonplace book, in case you don’t know, is a diary of sorts, except it is for keeping track of ideas, quotes, thoughts, things to research.  I’ve used them for years without knowing that they had a name.  I first heard of the term at a book event with Steven Johnson, who was discussing his book, Where Good Ideas Come From (an excellent book, by the way).

I use my paper commonplace book as a place to keep track of the myriad of ideas that pass through my life and my mind each day.  I go through it when I write.  For example, I have a whole notebook full of ideas/thoughts/notes from the year I wrote my cookbook.  When I run out of room in one notebook, I start a new one.  At various points in my life I’ve tried to divide up my commonplace books: one for this project, one for that project.  But that doesn’t work for me.  It’s easier and more relevant for me to put all my ideas in place, where they can bump up against each other and create new connections.

In case you’re interested, there is also an online program, Devonthink, that is designed to be an online commonplace book.  But, the way it is set up doesn’t work for the way my brain works.

In addition to being extraordinarily handy, my commonplace books allow me to indulge in my addiction to pretty notebooks. 

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