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Archive for September, 2011

Dropping the grammar hammer

September 5, 2011 5 comments

OK, it’s crunch time. At the end of the week, you should be in Columbus, Ohio, at Ohio Linux Fest –if you’re going to a Linux show before the year’s out, make it this one. This is the last big show on the North American continent until SCALE in January. At OLF, Bradley Kuhn and Cathy Malmrose are keynoting — along with Jon “maddog” Hall — so you’ll not want to miss that (especially Cathy — Go ZaReason!).

Many of you already know this, but for those of you who don’t, I don’t do tech for a living. I’d like to it for a living, and I’m working on that. This is why you’ll find me with my nose in a book, studying for the Red Hat Certified Engineer certification test I’ll take someday (and, if I ever scrape up enough money, Red Hat classes).

What pays the bills — what I’ve done since my first day on the job at The Miami Herald on President Carter’s inauguration day (yes, I’m that old, and get off my lawn) — is newspaper work. I currently work as a copy desk editor at the Santa Cruz Sentinel, but it’s a news career that has spanned three decades, three different media (print, TV and radio) and two continents.

I am a third-generation man of letters: My father was also a newsman and his father was a mailman.

I bring this up because at the Sentinel I am known as the Grammar Hammer; a moniker which I am honored to have and one that I constantly strive to live up to. I have a three-pound sledge at my desk. I wield it with the same conviction and passion that Thor might wield his hammer, only instead of vanquishing bad Nordic guys, I’m vanquishing bad grammar and spelling.

As you might imagine, I spend a lot of time reading; more than I spend writing, as a matter of fact (isn’t that always the case?). In much of the tech realm — most in forums and comment sections — the spelling and grammar aren’t always what they should be for people who, generally speaking, are smarter than the average person (and sometimes are smarter than the things they say. But I digress . . .). In the grand scheme of things, that’s OK — I’m not really that interested in picking nits, gramatically speaking, as much as I am concerned with content.

[Note to those who speak English as a second-, third- or fourth-language. This does not apply to you, and thanks for making the huge effort to communicate in tech's lingua franca. My hat is off to you, and thank your lucky stars you don't have to communicate with me in Spanish or Japanese, the only other two languages in which I can communicate. I dare not say I "speak" them.]

But there are a few things that drive me up the wall and across the ceiling when it comes to grammatical and spelling morsels I see in comments and forums (and even in tech stories and blogs, albeit rarely), like:

MAC, as in Macintosh: It’s not an acronym. Mac is short for Macintosh, the product from the new evil empire based in Cupertino called Apple. It’s big-M small-a small-c. Not to be confused with MAC, as in MAC address, which is the Media Access Control address, and the MAC there should be all upper case. The next person who writes MAC to refer to the Macintosh, I’m going to come through your screen with hammer blazing.

It’s Xfce, but LXDE: With all the desktop hubbub going on, these two up-and-coming environments sometimes get mislabled. I’ve seen it XFCE and Lxde, most recently in discussions on the Felton Linux Users Group, which is going great guns in the desktop debate on the mailing list. I’ve never understood why Xfce is 75 percent lower case, but it is. LXDE, according to its site, is all upper case. Speaking of all upper case . . .

GNOME, not Gnome: This is not a GNOME 3 issue, surprisingly. A general rule of thumb is that if it’s an acronym, it’s all upper case. GNOME originally stood for GNU Network Object Model Environment, though I understand that this was so long ago in a galaxy far, far away that some want to drop the caps. I can live with “Gnome,” but on a purely grammatical stanpoint, I’ll keep capitalizing it, thank you. Besides, GNOME folks, do you really want KDE to be the only major desktop environment to be all caps? Fuel, meet fire . . . .

There are more, of course, otherwise I wouldn’t be the Linux curmudgeon that you all know and love; at least the Linux curmudgeon you all know. But you get the idea.

All of which is to say, when posting here or elsewhere, let’s be careful out there. Dot each i. Cross each t. Don’t dangle your participles.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

[FSF Associate Member] (Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software in his new home office. Watch this space.)
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Mea maxima culpa

September 1, 2011 2 comments

Yes, I know LinuxCon has come and gone, and I think they’ve got the publicity thing covered, especially with the 20-year thing, the gala party, and with Linus being there and all. The buzz is still going, and that’s good. But if you’re going to a Linux show, make it the Ohio LinuxFest in September. Bradley Kuhn and Cathy Malmrose are keynoting — along with Jon “maddog” Hall — so you’ll not want to miss that (especially Cathy — Go ZaReason!).

My friend Amber Graner, an editor at Ubuntu User magazine, took Jim Zemlin out to the woodshed over the topic of yesterday’s blog item, saying yesterday in a Google+ post to me:

“I take issue with leaders in the community using the word ‘idiot’ to describe users who don’t give back. While I realize the article was pointing to business at first glance the casual end user may think, ‘I use Linux but I’m not giving back yet?’ ‘Am I an idiot because I don’t know how or where my skills are needed?’ But maybe that’s just me reading everything through the lens of an end user. I think this message could have been conveyed differently without the use of name calling.”

Granted, I’m not a “leader in the community,” but I’m sure this scolding was levelled at me as well. That’s OK, because Amber is right, and I’ll apologize before I clarify.

Mea culpa, folks.

The word “idiot” is a little over-the-top in this case. “Myopic” may have been a better choice for Jim Zemlin in the Network World article quote and, afterward, for me in my blog item. Though “Don’t be myopic” doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily, it’s probably more accurate. Also, while I agree with the sentiment behind Jim Zemlin’s quote, this sentiment is generally reserved for those who, for all intents and purposes, have been around for awhile and freeload on the FOSS paradigm’s dime.

Amber is right about the use of harsh words intimidating end users, putting them on the defensive; especially new users. I can’t speak for Jim Zemlin, but I think his quote was aimed at business users of Linux and I don’t think he meant to call out new users who have yet to contribute. Speaking for myself, it was not my intention to be off-putting; rather, I had hoped that my item would be a rallying cry to volunteer. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your distro can do for you — ask what you can do for your distro.”

The reason I wrote my blog item yesterday was to point out there is a lot to be done and, with an increasing user base, hopefully a lot more people to do it.

If you’ve been using Linux and FOSS for awhile and are comfortable in some area — graphics, documentation, “people” stuff — then step up. If you’re a new user and you don’t know where to go, take your time to get your proverbial feet wet in Linux and FOSS and, more importantly, get used to what’s generally known as “the community.” With the exception of some “bad apples” you’ll encounter from time to time (mostly in Internet Relay Chat, or IRC, channels), most people in the community are willing and able to help you along.

One thing new users can do immediately is file bug reports when you find something wrong or when you find a glitch in a program. Most distros have a vehicle — Bugzilla or something along those lines — where you can point this out. Try to be as complete as possible in your description, but if you feel you must contribute right away, that would be a good place to start.

Also, as Juan Rodriguez commented in the last blog, you can always donate money to those distros and/or FOSS programs that have a mechanism to collect donations (usually, there’s a “donate” button on their site). That’s always a useful resource.

So contribute where you can, how you can, when you can.

You’d be myopic not to.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

[FSF Associate Member] (Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software in his new home office. Watch this space.)
Add to Technorati Favorites EFF Binary Freedom Dead button Wordpress button Xfce button dbEntrance button AntiX 7.0 fedora badge XubuntuEliminate DRM!

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