Writing Clearly

writing1As I motored along this morning with NPR on the radio, I heard this story “And The Award For Convoluted Legalese Goes to….

As my livelihood is all about not writing convoluted anything, my ears perked up and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to it.

Here’s a little tidbit from it:

Mr. MALKI: …I definitely acknowledge that there are legal terms that need to be portrayed, you know, certain guidelines laid out in a very clear and legal way in case it’s ever contested. However, there are a lot of freelance writers who need some work. And they could easily be hired.

Ms. CHEEK: Right. Writing clearly is not easy. And I think writing is one of those things that many people think I don’t need an expert; I can do it myself. But I think it is something that needs an expert, particularly when you have a team of technical people and legal people, I think a critical third member of that team is someone who knows how to write clearly. And very often that team member is not there at all.

Hear the rest of the story at NPR.

I am a clear writer. I don’t like reading things that only make life harder, and if you are suffering with this sort of writing in your business or life, you should call me. I can help.


Ways In Which I Am Exactly Like Julia Child

cilantrohatCilantro is such a heated subject. People seem to either love it or hate it, and there’s not much in-between.

My friend Kris and I were just saying so, and the next day a New York Times article appeared about this exact topic (thus confirming what I thought: that I partly control the world with my mind).

Kris is a cilantro lover. She sent me a recipe that had tons of the stuff in it.

I am not a picky eater, but cilantro (also known as coriander) tastes to me like something that has spoiled and should immediately be thrown away. I immediately threw away the cilantro recipe. Also, I would not be able to stand the wearing of this cilantro hat.

And then I read the New York Times article, and this:

Culinary sophistication is no guarantee of immunity from cilantrophobia. In a television interview in 2002, Larry King asked Julia Child which foods she hated. She responded: “Cilantro and arugula I don’t like at all. They’re both green herbs, they have kind of a dead taste to me.”

“So you would never order it?” Mr. King asked.

“Never,” she responded. “I would pick it out if I saw it and throw it on the floor.”

I hear you, Julia. I too am a “supertaster” of sorts when it comes to cilantro. Though I have no beef, so to speak, with arugula.

The article goes on:

The authoritative Oxford Companion to Food notes that the word “coriander” is said to derive from the Greek word for bedbug, that cilantro aroma “has been compared with the smell of bug-infested bedclothes” and that “Europeans often have difficulty in overcoming their initial aversion to this smell.” …

Some people may be genetically predisposed to dislike cilantro, according to often-cited studies by Charles J. Wysocki of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. But cilantrophobe genetics remain little known and aren’t under systematic investigation. Meanwhile, history, chemistry and neurology have been adding some valuable pieces to the puzzle. (Read more)

I don’t believe we need to throw a lot of money and time into understanding the chemistry and neurology of why cilantro tastes like bug-infested bedclothes smell. There are certainly many things that are much more important.

But I related to this article and especially to Julia Child. I wish I’d gotten to sit next to her when cilantro was served. We would have tossed our bits of nasty-smelling and -tasting cilantro on the floor to such an extent that birds would have been gathering it up for their nests.

If birds like cilantro.


The Happiest Photos On Earth

Somebody just told me about this new Disney photo blog, and I thought I would just take a quick glance so I could say that I did. Because really, haven’t we all seen (and taken) every photo of Disneyland there is?

It caught my attention, though. It’s pretty neat. The guy behind the blog, Paul Hiffmeyer, is the Chief Photographer for Public Relations at Disneyland. Cool job.

In his first post a couple months ago, he wrote:

…I’m lucky enough to have access to many areas not usually visited by our guests, usually with camera in-hand, and it seems like a good time to share some never-before-seen photos on the Disney Parks Blog.

For the first photo, I wanted to share one that I’ve thought about for a long time, but only recently shot; a long lens photo of a Disneyland Steam Train on a cold morning where the train seems to glide on a steam cloud. Last month on an especially cold morning I set out with my camera and a 28-300 mm lens in hand to capture the No. 3 Engine, Fred Gurley, as it made its way through Frontierland.


photo by Paul Hiffmeyer http://disneyparks.disney.go.com/blog/author/phiffmeyer/ 

There are some other really neat pictures up on the blog, as well. He’s finding interesting scenes and making Disneyland look like we’ve never seen it. He’s capturing the magic.

Check out the Disney Parks blog here.


A Punctuation Primer: How Do You Use The Demicolon Again?

You’ll be happy to know that there is some new punctuation available for you to use. Which is good, because I was getting a little tired of some of the old, run-of-the-mill stuff.

The demicolon is one of my favorites.

And there’s more. It’s here at collegehumor.com and it was a lot of fun to read. We’re all getting older, but — who knew? — College Humor is still funny!

Thanks to The Copywriter Underground for spotting this.


100 x 100

I sometimes do what people call “spring cleaning” at the end of a year, when I get a hankering to straighten up the place — to get rid of some of the clutter that inevitably creeps into our house over the months, clean, and make room for a fresh, clean new year and its possibilities.

It was in the middle of my current purging of no-longer-needed papers from file cabinets and taking no-longer-worn clothes to Goodwill that I stumbled across a project by the photographer Michael Wolf.

Wolf is a German photographer who lives in China, and in 2006 he took photos of 100 residents in their flats. These are tiny flats in Hong Kong’s oldest public housing estate that each measure only 100 square feet. He calls the photo collection 100 x 100.


I found the photos fascinating. I looked through all 100, and then I looked at them again.

People made such different use of the tiny, windowless and identical living spaces, but I notice almost all have a refrigerator, a t.v., a clock and a calendar. Most have a bunk bed, part of which they used for storage. In some, there is evidence of what the person does for a living — a sewing machine and material for some working as a tailor, for instance. I did not see any computers, but I did notice a couple land-line phones. Perhaps some of these people carry cell phones, which are everywhere in Hong Kong.

A few have rather amazingly comfortable, well-thought-out spaces, and a few look like they are living in scary, over-filled storage units, and there is everything in between.

But what struck me most is that the photos do not suggest “bleak.” They are glimpses of lives, and people, that for the most part look comfortable and whose expressions generally look upbeat. People’s walls display pictures of grandchildren, and kids wear school uniforms and smile, and the photos show people who seemed, at least in these shots, rather relaxed and content. After all, it’s only a living space. It’s not a whole  life.

That housing project was built quickly in the 1950s to house thousands who lost their homes in a huge fire. It was scheduled for demolition a month after Wolf’s photos were taken — and I wonder where these people went. Where, and how, are they living now? I’d love to know some of their stories.

In the meantime, I am strikingly reminded yet again that we don’t need as much stuff as most of us in the U.S. have. Lighter is so much freer and better. I’m lightening up.


My Vog Article in Honolulu Magazine

I wrote about vog recently and the article is out in the current (August 2009) Honolulu magazine.vog

Here’s how it starts:

It comes on the Kona winds—the dreaded yellow-brown haze of vog that makes eyes burn and lungs protest. On the Big Island, of course, it has done far more damage. How bad could it get? And what do we really know about vog and its effects?

Three-thousand, eight-hundred people lived on Miyakejima, a small island off Tokyo, until one day in September 2000, when the Japanese government ordered the island evacuated because of extreme volcanic activity. As directed, people delivered their pets to the port by 9:30 a.m., packed some belongings and a lunch and then boarded a city bus for the ship. 

It was more than four years before they were allowed to return home. (Read the rest here)

That was some pretty extreme vog they had there. When researching this article, I learned that our Big Island vog — when it was at its worst last summer — was only a tenth of what they experienced on Miyakejima. The lesson? I don’t know what the lesson is. But remember this: It could actually be worse! 

It’s hard to remember when our air looks so thick it seems you need to push your way through it with your hands.


Twitter Nation

I’m sure Twitter can be used stupidly, and that’s where some people are stuck; they only know that reputation.

But it can also be used splendidly, and there isn’t really any way to understand that unless you get in there and see it for yourself.

Here is a word cloud of the people who “follow” me at Twitter. It’s made from the bios of people who are following me (I created it by inputting my Twitter name at TwitterSheep.com). “Following me” means they receive my “tweets,” the 140-character or less messages that I post at twitter.com. You can see that they mostly move in parts of my own world.


Except for the person whose bio includes the word “junkie.” I’m not sure what that’s all about. It’s probably something like “coffee junkie.” “Word junkie.” Something like that.

Twitter can be an absolutely amazing business tool. I use it for business, and sprinkle in some personal interactions too. 

Guy Kawasaki wrote about how to suck people into Twitter. His words:

One of the great challenges for anyone who loves Twitter is to show other people why they should love it too. Often it’s like explaining something you find funny: “You had to be there.” The contextual, ever-changing, and high-volume nature of Twitter makes explaining it difficult. Here are ten tips to help you demo Twitter to your friends, family, and colleagues….

I wanted nothing to do with it for a long time, but finally created an account when I saw people were doing good marketing with it. One of my first messages expressed total amazement: “You guys have a whole alternate universe going on here!”

It is incredible what you can learn on Twitter. Follow the people who are doing things you are interested in, who move in the worlds you want to know more about, and you will be blown away. News travels faster on Twitter than you will believe.

I’m not offended if you aren’t interested in Twitter. But if you’re curious about it, check it out. There’s a lot going on there.


I’m at Alltop.com

Look where I landed! 


Online mogul Guy Kawasaki describes his alltop.com this way:

The purpose of Alltop is to help you answer the question, “What’s happening?” in “all the topics” that interest you. You may wonder how Alltop is different from a search engine. A search engine is good to answer a question like, “How many people live in China?” However, it has a much harder time answering the question, “What’s happening in China?” That’s the kind of question that we answer.

We do this by collecting the headlines of the latest stories from the best sites and blogs that cover a topic. We group these collections — “aggregations” — into individual web pages. Then we display the five most recent headlines of the information sources as well as their first paragraph. Our topics run from adoption to zoology with photographyfoodscience,religioncelebrities and hundreds of other subjects along the way.

It’s really pretty cool. Look up any topic you’re interested in here. You’ll find tons of sites you didn’t know about — guaranteed. And if you look on the Hawai‘i page now, you’ll find me!


Random Drawings for Gorgeous Handblown Glass Vase & Scrapbooking Software


mortaravaseOne of my many hats has me, along with Kris Bordessa, operating the website Big Island On The Cheap, a place for all things free/cheap/discounted on the Big Island. And right now, in honor of Merrie Monarch week, we have some contests going on. All you have to do is follow the links to the contest posts, and then enter your name in comments there to possibly win one of our random drawings.

We are giving away a beautiful, and I do mean beautiful, hand blown glass vase from the Volcano glass studio 2400 Fahrenheit

Macario has a photo essay up on his online magazine right now about the 2400 Fahrenheit people. It’s lovely. See it here.


We’re also giving away the computer scrapbooking program Digital Scrapbook Artist – and if you don’t win, we also have a 15 percent off discount code for you to buy your own copy. 

You may rest at night because I give you my personal word that when you enter, we only use your email address to contact you if you win. No shenanigans there.

And if you do mosey on over to Big Island On The Cheap, remember that it’s Merrie Monarch week over there and we have all sorts of Merrie Monarch special features. Enjoy the magic of the hula festival vicariously! See you there.

Both contests end at midnight, Hawai‘i time, on Saturday, April 18th.