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March 26, 2014

The Eternal Duel: A History of Commas

Commas are a touchy subject, having divided writers of the English language into two distinct camps for many years.

On one side of the battlefield are those in favor the Oxford or “serial” comma, which is endorsed by Oxford University Press and the Chicago Manual of Style. In the other corner of the ring are the Associated Press and New York Times, ever skeptical of any unnecessary punctuation.

NPR’s Linda Holmes has a succinct way of describing the root cause of the comma wars:

For those of you who enjoy the outdoors and would no more sort commas into classes than you would organize peanut butter jars in order of viscosity, the serial comma — or “Oxford comma” — is the final comma that comes in a sentence like this: ‘I met a realtor, a DJ, a surfer, and a pharmaceutical salesperson.’ (In this sentence, I am on The Bachelorette.)

Just to reiterate the obvious, some believe the final comma should be included, while others argue that it must be left out.

Incidentally, Holmes makes a decent point— when did anyone start taking commas so seriously? Although it sheds little light on the sheer amount of animosity tied up in this debate, here’s a brief timeline of the comma’s history so far:

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More News Is Being Written By Robots Than You Think

More News Is Being Written By Robots Than You Think

More News Is Being Written By Robots Than You Think

By: Jason Dorrier.

It’s easy to praise robots and automation when it isn’t your ass on the line. I’ve done it lots. But I may have to eat my own Cheerios soon enough.

Software is writing news stories with increasing frequency. In a recent example, an LA Times writer-bot wrote and posted a snippet about an earthquake three minutes after the event. The LA Times claims they were first to publish anything on the quake, and outside the USGS, they probably were.

The LA Times example isn’t special because it’s the first algorithm to write a story on a major news site. With the help of Chicago startup and robot writing firm, Narrative Science, algorithms have basically been passing the Turing test online for the last few years.

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February 25, 2014

10 Literary Restaurants for Hungry Book Nerds Around the World


alicemagicworld3By Emily Temple
What’s even better than drinking while reading? Eating while reading, of course (hint: you can have a drink, too). With the news that Biblio, a book-themed eatery, was popping up in Williamsburg, Flavorwire took to the Internet to put together a guide to a few amazing-looking literary-themed restaurants from around the world. Indulge your eyes (and, if you’re close enough, your stomachs) at these bookish establishments.

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November 21, 2013

Selfie is Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year

Ubiquitous noun for social media self-portraits faces down newly discovered cute mammal the olinguito in annual contest

Selfie – “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website” – has been named word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries editors, after the frequency of its usage increased by 17,000% over the past 12 months.

Editorial director Judy Pearsall said: “Using the Oxford Dictionaries language research programme, which collects around 150m words of current English in use each month, we can see a phenomenal upward trend in the use of selfie in 2013, and this helped to cement its selection.”

The word can be traced back to a post on an Australian online forum in 2002.

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June 7, 2013

In the digital economy, we’ll soon all be working for free – and I refuse

Who Owns The FutureThe digital economy operates as a kind of sophisticated X Factor: someone will make it, but most won’t – and the real loser is society

By Suzanne Moore

Never mind checking your privilege. Flaunting those enviable privileges is where it’s at. Go to any of our big cities and cash will be flowing through ponced-up restaurants nestled between Poundland and the nail bars. They even wave it in our faces.

Already at a private school that charges £7,000 a term? Then you must need a hand up the ladder. So let Mater and Pater bid as internships for Mary Portas or Fabergé are auctioned off. Not so much getting a foot in the door as crowbarring it in with money. Theirs is a world in which austerity remains an abstract idea.

Meanwhile, we have more than a million Neets in the country – young people not in work, education or training. They could do with a helping hand but they have somehow missed the boat. It hardly matters to them that the boat was the Titanic. Their older brothers and sisters have gone to college but are still in a world of part-time pub jobs. They don’t have proper salaries and therefore no chance of mortgages. And, of course, in other European countries the situation is even worse.

At this point it is customary to blame the banksters. Or at least the politicians. But there is another group partly responsible for the parlous state in which we find ourselves: the digi-heads of Silicon Valley who told us everything could be kinda free. And easy. In some virtual paradise.

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June 4, 2013

Does Spelling Count?

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , , — Bookblurb @ 10:45 am

By Jessica Lahey

In a perfect world, students might be judged by their ideas alone — not by whether they write “you’re” or “your.” But that isn’t the world we live in.

It happens every time. As I hand the test out to my middle school students, one of them will invariably look up, pencil at the ready, and ask, “Does spelling count?”

Let’s ignore the fact that my students should know better than to even ask this question in the first place. I’ve answered it more times than I care to remember, usually in the fall of the new school year, and it goes something like this:

Yes. Spelling counts. I have lots of witty quips loaded up in my quiver about why it counts, but my new favorite comes from homeschooling mom of four Jodi Jackson Stewart who tweeted me with her answer to this question: “Spelling counts here because spelling counts out there.”

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May 27, 2013

Are Apostrophes Necessary?

NoNot really, no.

By Matthew J.X. Malady

One hundred and eighteen miles north of London, in the town of Boston, England, there lives a retired newspaperman named John Richards who is experiencing an unusually rotten spring. Richards is the founder and chairman of something called the Apostrophe Protection Society. His world, at least as related to the tiny mark that denotes possessives and the omission of letters from certain words, appears to be crashing down around him.

Recent news reports emanating from Richards’ native England, and from across the pond in America, describe a number of ominous developments that could threaten the sanctity of everything his society exists to protect. In March, the Mid Devon district council in southwestern England attempted to banish apostrophes from all area street signs. People went nuts, grammarians groused, and the council ultimately changed course. But celebrations by apostrophe acolytes would soon be contracted. A few months after the Mid Devon switcheroo, the Wall Street Journal noted that the United States Board on Geographic Names maintains a longstanding policy of removing apostrophes from titles proposed for towns, mountains, caves, and other assorted locations Americans like to name. The government doesn’t want us getting the wrong idea about, for instance, whether some guy named Pike actually owns “Pikes Peak.” So that’s why formal place names in the U.S.—aside from a few noteworthy exceptions such as Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts and Clark’s Mountain in Oregon—rarely include apostrophes. English language formalists are now up in arms about that manner of proceeding, too.

With each new controversy, it becomes increasingly clear that we, as a society, have reached a Pikes Peak of our own when it comes to fussing and nitpicking over things like how we denote possessives and contractions. The apostrophe chatter business, according to Chairman Richards, is booming. He gets 30 or 40 apostrophe-related inquiries each month via email. “My website has received over a million hits,” he says.

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May 22, 2013

Mxit gets e-reader app

133093Native held the official launch of bookly, a sophisticated e-reader app available on the Mxit platform late last week.

Developed by Levon Rivers, authors can now launch their books to an audience of 7.3 million monthly active users and do it three weeks before the real-world launch in bookstores.

Publishers Random House Struik and Modjaji Books have stepped up as partners creating an appropriate focus on serialised South African novels.

Rivers explains how it works, “The app creates a virtual library on a cellphone, allowing users to browse books by name, author or genre. It has all the features of other electronic readers on more advanced devices. It saves your progress after each session and you can create your own virtual bookshelf of favourite reads.”

While offering a wide variety of books is important, Rivers is adamant that it will appeal directly to educators by providing access to books that pertain to the school syllabus. “From an education viewpoint, we are starting with the classics and planning to extend to set works and textbooks in the future. The most effective way to address South Africa’s poor literacy rates is to ensure that schoolchildren have access to books. Imagine if every child had their own library on their phone. The app will elevate general reading and literacy rates in South Africa. It is the cheapest and most accessible way to get books. We’ve also added a layer of gamification to encourage reading amongst the youth.”

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Ireland’s newest stamp features an entire short story

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , , , , , — Bookblurb @ 7:15 am

stamp-4The short story was written by Dublin teenager Eoin Moore.

By Sinead O’Carroll

IRELAND’S NEWEST STAMP features an entire short story written by a talented Dublin teenager.

The 60c stamp was commissioned to celebrate Dublin’s permanent designation as a UNESCO City of Literature in 2010. It was unveiled at Roddy Doyle’s Fighting Words Centre earlier today.

Designed by the Stone Twins, two Amsterdam-based Irish designers, the bright yellow rectangle includes all 224 words of Eoin Moore’s short story which strives to capture the “essence” of the capital. It was chosen from a host of works completed by participants in Dublin’s Fighting Words’ creative writing programme.

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May 16, 2013

A ‘novel’ idea for spreading literature in Africa: The cellphone

Publishers across the continent are increasingly targeting readers with mobile phone apps and other technologies that are far cheaper than either e-readers or traditional books.

By Donna Bryson

New technology and new thinking are helping African literature leapfrog the high costs of traditional publishing and reach new readers across the continent.

As e-readers boom in popularity in the West, African publishers are stretching their reach with the help of a device millions already have in their pockets: their cellphones.

“You can give people instant access to work now,” says Angela Wachuka, executive director of Kenya’s Kwani Trust, which publishes the popular Kwani? literary journal. “Before, you had to rely on delivery or people coming to find you.”

Mobile internet now accounts for well over half of all web traffic in some African countries, and it is expected to grow 25-fold on the continent in the next four years, according to the Groupe Speciale Mobile Association, an industry organization.

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