Saturday, October 30, 2010

Finally updated my masthead!!

I've been living in Switzerland for three years now, so it was getting to be time to replace the old masthead that I drew for France (the one with the word France crossed out and Switzerland written in). I spent all morning on this one, but I'm not totally thrilled with it. I'm thinking maybe I should try again...

*** ETA: OK, I redid the masthead. Here's my first attempt:

The second one is better, don't you think?

BTW, here's mo old masthead, for comparison:

Also, I've thrown away all of my sidebar junk, and I'm slowly replacing it with updated stuff. Bear with me for the moment on the missing blogroll, etc.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My favorite grammar rules!!!

Folks, if you follow this blog, you know I love language. (Yes, even German, though I've got a bit of a love-hate relationship with that one.) I love the way a language evolves and changes -- so something that's "wrong" in one century can be A-OK in another. And as I've said, I like my grammar rules descriptive rather than proscriptive, and I love the way -- in English, at least -- it's OK to play with the language and break the rules in fun and amusing new ways!

Then I saw this video slamming grammar pedants:

Stephen Fry Kinetic Typography – Language from Matthew Rogers

The thing is that I agree with almost everything he says, and yet... it's just so negative. It's too easy to be so gratuitously mean to the poor little grammar pedants, whom everybody just loves to hate! It makes me want to argue the other side. (Yes, I'm just that ornery!!!)

So now I'll tell you about some proscriptive grammar rules that I like:

#1. Words getting new meanings: I love words getting new meanings when it enriches the language, but I hate it when they get new meanings that just increase ambiguity. Here's an example:

"Hopefully he'll finish the job by tomorrow."

Now, I know that in some theoretical sense "hopefully" is supposed to mean "in a hopeful manner." But the meaning of the example sentence is totally clear, and the obvious alternative ("I hope he'll finish the job by tomorrow") doesn't mean quite the same thing. Plus, you can still use "hopefully" to mean "in a hopeful manner" -- it's generally clear from context which you mean. So, thumbs-up on the sorta-non-standard use of "hopefully."

This one, on the other hand, is just sad:

"She was literally fifty feet tall!"

Now, I hate to be the pedant, but it's so nice to have one simple word that you can count on to mean "You may think I'm exaggerating or speaking in metaphor, but I'm not." 'Nuff said.

#2. The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks. I know, I know, it's just those mean old pedants who insist that when you put something in quotation marks, that means that somebody said or says it. Yet it's still hilarious to make fun of the signs where people screw this one up!!! ;^)

#3. "Between him and I." This one, IMHO, is the funniest grammar rule of them all. It's the mark of the grammar pedant's victim. It's like someone has heard too many teachers say "Don't say 'Me and Sally went to the store,' it's Sally and I." Then the grammar-pedant-victim starts to imagine that the rule is "Whenever you think you might want to say 'me and X' you should instead say 'X and I'."

And the funny part is that it's not such a stupid mistake if you think about it. It's actually possible for a human language to have a rule like that where you use one pronoun when grouping with a conjunction and a different pronoun without one. Hell, German has pronoun-usage rules that are way crazier than that one!! (I kid. I kid because I love.)

Anyway, I've actually even heard pseudo-grammar-pedants enforcing the above (imaginary) rule! Yes, indeedy! I heard someone say something like "Don't say 'He spoke with Sally and me' -- it's 'Sally and I'." That one made my inner anthropologist's day, for some reason.

Do you have any faves?

Friday, October 15, 2010

One Million Hits!!!

Yep, this past week my humble little blog-and-novel combination reached that magical milestone of one million hits! That's not a million different readers, BTW -- just a million page loads. My novel ExMormon, however, has been read by more than a thousand different people (and the gratuitous love scene by more than two thousand), and that's a lot of pages, so I guess that explains a lot of the pageloads.

I'm happy, though, because -- ever since I stopped reading my blog stats religiously -- I started getting this (wrong) idea in my head that nobody reads my blog anymore.

Why did I stop poring over my pageload information? Three reasons:

1. I'd learned about as much as I could learn about what draws people to this blog,
2. Further poring over the logs was kind of a waste of time, and
3. It was causing me unnecessary stress about stuff I can't control (like who is/isn't linking to me). Then I would stress some more about all the time I was wasting on reading my stats.

The downside is that I'm no longer inspired to do those amusing search query posts...

Long-time readers may have noticed that a couple years ago I was manic about blogging, and now I'm far more laid-back. The thing is that when I first started blogging, part of the challenge was figuring out the strategies for building up an audience. That has been an incredibly fun learning experience, but one of the things I learned is that it takes a ton of work all the time. There isn't a magic formula that will make your blog popluar without daily effort.

Now, I'm not allergic to hard work -- far from it -- but I found it happening more and more frequently that I'd think of a project I want to do (artistic, professional, or around-the-house) and I'd say, "Ah, I can't ever do that -- it would take so much time, and I can't squeeze it in with my family, work, and blogging..." And I realized that I can't let blogging be something that limits me. If I did, I'd eventually have no life left to write about!!! (Actually, I still have yet to figure out how other bloggers get around this conundrum.)

I thought long and hard about it, and I realized that I love blogging in the sense that I love being able to write up my thoughts in a careful way and then bounce them off the wonderful folks on the Internet, and get good feedback, etc. What I don't love is the pressure of feeling like I have to post X times a week -- whether I feel inspired or not -- because people will unlink me and stop bothering to read my blog, so no one will be around for the times when I do feel inspired.

So, I guess what I'm saying is that I hope people will subscribe to this blog and/or follow it -- just don't expect me to post as often as I wish I had the time/energy to do it. ;^)

And, from my stats (which I exceptionally took the time to review today), it looks like that's what folks are doing, thanks!!

Friday, October 08, 2010

Is anti-bullying education possible?

I've been hearing a lot in the news lately about anti-bullying education in schools. I have to admit that I was surprised when I first heard about it because bullying was always one of those "kids are like that" sort of things that I'd never questioned. But now that I'm thinking about it, I'm thinking that maybe it is possible to change it.

Let's start with the reasons why I'm a little sceptical of the whole idea:

I remember, when I was in elementary school, having a weekly educational program called "Project Charlie." The idea behind it was to have kids play self-esteem-building games in order to avoid later using drugs. And I remember -- as a fifth and sixth-grader -- thinking that this was the dumbest program that I could possibly imagine. It wasn't the usual "stuff grown-ups want us to do is by definition dorky" kind of assessment. It's that the program was a series of social games where the popular kids were encouraged to take center-stage as usual, and no effort was made to draw out the less-popular kids and make them feel included.

As an example, they would start every session by choosing one kid to come to the board and compose a sentence starting with "You are someone special..." Naturally, the popular kids were selected early and often. When I finally got a turn, kids from the class teased me and mocked my sentence. This wasn't surprising -- I expected to be teased and bullied for anything I did in front of the class -- but it kind of left me going "What the hell is the purpose of this exercise?!" And I learned the lesson that the phrase "You are someone special" is just words when it's coming from an institutional program.

Fortunately, in my own home, I was never made to feel like I deserved it. I come from a long line of nerds, so being bullied was just one of those things that you expect to have to cope with, like really cold weather in the Minnesota winter. The coping mechanisms I was taught (or figured out) were the following:

* Ignore it, if possible; attempt to pretend you don't even hear it,
* try to blend into the crowd; don't give the mean kids any reason to notice you,
* keep in mind that when you are older and out of school you will not have this problem.

Following these strategies, already by high school it started getting a little better -- Jr. High was the worst.

But bullying isn't just a question of a handful of bad-apple mean kids. Once an outcast has been selected, joining the group in mocking that person (or at least being obviously complicit in it) becomes a badge of belonging for everyone else in the group. And kids who are bullied will often give back as good as they get, when they get the opportunity. That was one of the more disturbing things I discovered when I re-read my early-teen journals as an adult. My actual teen and childhood memories were full of vivid, horrible scenes of being that outcast. Yet I found that when it came to writing my stories down (in my good little Mormon-girl journal), I was far more inclined to recount the few incidents when I was on the bullies' team against someone even more socially rejected than I was. This is, quite frankly, because I had internalized the idea that there's far more shame in being the outcast than in tormenting the outcast. (This is illustrated a bit in the story Young Womens'.)

As I grew up, I learned from experience that being a bully is more shameful than being an outcast. But I'm sure I could have learned this lesson earlier if the adults around me had thought it was an important and valuable lesson to learn.

Just because Project Charlie was poorly designed and implemented, that doesn't mean that it's not possible to design a good program. And targeting the specific behaviors of bullying -- teaching kids that it's not OK to do that -- may well be a more realistic goal than the rather nebulous goal of "raising self-esteem."

Kids' expected behavior (and their corresponding actual behavior) can change pretty dramatically from one generation to the next. Reading some kids stories from the American frontier, it's kind of shocking the degree to which it was just expected that little kids would fight each other for dominance, to determine which one was the toughest. Parents of the time probably just figured "Hey, kids are like that," and maybe gave them some pointers on how to win. But even if it seemed like "that's just the way kids are," modern society has clearly shown that this behavior is not immutable.

The more I think about it, the more I think it might work. The key is to change people's expectations. If adults see taunting and bullying and turn a deaf ear, thinking Ah, kids..., then kids learn that it's acceptable. But if you train everyone in the school (adults and kids alike) that certain behaviors aren't acceptable, it stands to reason that the behavior will change. (And according to this answer sheet that's the kind of program that works.)

One can argue that this addresses only the symptom. After all, even with no bullying, it's not like the popular kids were going to like me or pick me first when choosing teams in gym class. But, y'know, I could totally accept that I'm never going to be prom queen. Just not having kids shove you and laugh about it or make up a mean song about you for the rest of the class to sing in unison -- already that would make a big difference.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

blogging/blogroll update from Outer Blogness and beyond!!

As you may have noticed, the service that was hosting Outer Blogness has vanished in a puff of smoke. Mojoey's Atheist Blogroll was using the same service, and has plans for something new. I'll probably use whatever service he finds (or founds), but that solution isn't coming any time soon.

In the meantime, if you have the Blogrolling code for Outer Blogness on your blog somewhere, please remove it and just link to Main Street Plaza instead. The whole blogroll is there. I'll try to come up with a nice button graphic for it soon. :D

While I'm at it, I'll probably try and update the ol' blog here, too (the way we spiffed up MSP). That code was the only thing keeping me from switching from an old-style blogger template to the more modern version (with "widgets" to choose from instead of just mucking around in the html code!). Maybe I'll even be inspired to create a new masthead -- something a tad more relevant to my current life here in Switzerland. We'll see if I manage to come up with something!

Naturally, it's getting to be about time to update my own blogroll. There are plenty of blogs on it that have kind of petered out, and there are plenty that I read regularly now (through my RSS reader) that I've neglected to add. So if you read this blog -- and have a blog yourself -- please leave a comment here so I'll know to put (or keep) you on my upcoming new-and-improved blogroll. Thanks!

*** Update ***

As I'd hoped, my fellow MSP permablogger Chino Blanco prepared some lovely buttons!!

If you're a part of Outer Blogness, I'd like to ask you to please link to Main Street Plaza, and perhaps even use one of these lovely images!

Either save your favorite image and link it to MSP on your own, or copy this code into your blog template:

<a href=""><img src="" /></a>

Thanks, and I hope to see you in Outer Blogness!!

Friday, October 01, 2010

Locked away in a Lego tower!

Now, I know you're probably all wondering, "What has Chanson been up to lately?" Here's the scoop:

In addition to my usual adventures at Main Street Plaza, plus promoting my last Java book (and tech-reviewing a new one for someone else), I've been very busy building a giant Lego tower:

Maybe if I lock my little son up in it, some princess (or ogre) will come rescue him or something. Hope he doesn't get away! ;^)