Writing Samples

Review of Fraktur Mon Amour by Judith Schalansky

Amour fatal = You'll become addicted

If you like typefaces, typography, books, printing, or even if you just like beautiful and interesting design, cough up the rather pricey asking-price and buy this book immediately. You will love it. At first glance, it looks like a missal or prayerbook. Unlike missals, however, the page edges are done in PINK rather that red, and that little fillip more or less sums up what this book is about: why serious and foreboding typefaces have become the badge of gangs, rappers, and super-hip types everywhere. And why blackletter is now commonplace in packaging, storefront awnings, and endless other sites.

In addition to the thorough presentation of some 300 typefaces with dates, designers, and origins, you will find a facing-page design using the typeface. Many quite well done and some even exciting. Of course, I'm not the first to find the book spectacular. It won the Type Directors Club of New York's 2007 Award for Typographic Excellence. It should also get some kind of prize for campiest title for a typography book ever.

Read the entire review.

Review of PHP for the World Wide Web (Visual QuickStart Guide) by Larry Ullman

The Very Best Book for Intelligent Beginners

This is a superb book if you want to learn PHP without being overwhelmed by abstruse and unnecessary complexities at the beginning (as is the case with the _PHP 4 Bible_ by Converse and Park). Not only with you learn the basics of PHP quickly, you will understand how PHP works, why it works that way, and how you can use it to enhance your web pages. There is also a companion website run by the author himself.

Larry Ullman writes very well. Everything about his explanations is meticulously clear and written for adults who are not necessarily part of the hardcore programmer subculture and are thus not interested in enduring all of the sophomoric would-be humor and in-jokes that pervade so many of these computer how-to books.

Read the entire review.

Review of Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America by Barbara Ehrenreich.

A Chip on Her Shoulder?

In this book, Barbara Ehrenreich has a giant chip on her shoulder—and an agenda based on resentment. Her point of departure for finding fault with all aspects of self-help modalities, from New Thought in the 19th century to contemporary success coaches and self-anointed gurus of all stripes, is her experience after she was diagnosed with breast cancer and encountered a cloying barrage of smiling faces and pink ribbons. She extrapolates from that trying experience to muster a blanket condemnation of positive thinking in America. The specific object of her criticism and damnation is the notion that positive thinking is always preferable to negative and that expressing negativity or pessimism is taboo in America.

Some of her points are well taken, and no one in their right mind would condone all the ideas and methods of every self-help movement or teacher active in America today or in days gone by. While she takes just about everybody from Mary Baker Eddy to Dale Carnegie to Norman Vincent Peale and beyond to task, she ignores her own summary of the distinguished psychologist William James's view of New Thought:

“To James, it did not matter that New Thought was a philosophical muddle; it worked” (p. 87).

And that is the point. However silly and fatuous the admonitions of self-help advocates might sound, they often do work and work for many. That is why they have lived on for over 100 years in American culture.

For me, the most telling aspect of this survey is who and what Ms. Ehrenreich leaves out. Let me offer a few examples.

Read the entire review.

Books and Computers: Taking Advantage of New Media in Language Learning

The computer screen is a device for finding out how to use the power of our minds. It is also a means of making contact with other minds. —Timothy Leary

The best way to predict the future is to invent it. —Alan Kay

Books and computers are different. While both employ similar organizational conventions that go all the way back to the roots of recorded civilization in the Levant, their capabilities are quite different, yet we are only beginning to implement some of the computer’s potential as a medium of transmitting information for the purposes of learning and self-instruction. In this short paper, I would like to examine some of the differences between the book and the computer as media for language learning. I will cast a brief glance at the history of information storage and transmission, attempt to define the chief characteristics of books and computers, suggest some guidelines for creating new learning tools with computers, and finally offer some examples of the application of these principles in an ongoing project I have undertaken . . . .

Books, Computers, and Storing Information outside the Brain

At the outset, I would like to express my indebtedness to Tom McArthur, whose brilliantly suggestive book, Worlds of Reference: Lexicography, Learning, and Language from the Clay Tablet to the Computer (1986), has helped me to see that the computer is the inheritor of the entire tradition of learning, East and West. Rather than view the computer and electronic digital storage as a discontinuity in the course of the history learning, a rupture with the past as some Luddite types even today still imagine, McArthur shows that the computer, while a drastically revolutionary medium, is at the same time but another chapter in the long history which extends from cuneiform inscriptions made in the soft clay of Sumeria to digitized storage made possible by the advent of the transistor and the silicon chip. McArthur sees the entire history of learning as a gradual progression in human ability to record information elsewhere than inside one’s own head . . . .

Download the entire article in PDF format.

Source: Senshu Journal of Foreign Language Education, 22 (1993): 3–17.

Prescriptivism, Politics, and Lexicography

In her recent opinion piece in ILT News (“Politically Correct Linguistics: How Postmodern Words Corrupt the English Language”), Jane Barnes Mack rekindles the fire of several controversies, current and historical, academic and political. Her views on language and lexicography place her solidly in a long tradition of linguistic complaint, in which “someone or something had to be blamed” for the perceived corruption or decline of the English language. This “complaint tradition” ranges from Ranulph Higden in the fourteenth century to Caxton in the fifteenth, from Jonathan Swift’s “Proposal for Correcting, Improving and Ascertaining the English Tongue” (1712) to the critics of Webster III in the 1960’s. With her use of the term “politically correct,” she also enters tangentially into the fray of a curriculum controversy in American higher education over who determines the content of what is studied and on what basis. The debate has deep ramifications and is related to a comprehensive, highly diverse intellectual and social movement in the United States subsumed under the loose rubric of “multiculturalism.”

Ms. Mack objects to the inclusion in the recently-published Random House Webster’s College Dictionary (1991) of “dreadful words and phrases,” and she is disconsolate, sometimes palpably angry, that the dictionary “gives authority to dozens of questionable usages—most of them colored with politically correct bias.” Her underlying assumption, simply stated, is that dictionaries should be arbiters of language rather than recorders of it, “prescriptive” rather than “descriptive.” This controversy has been raging at one temperature or another throughout the history of lexicography, but many linguists, lexicographers, and common folk alike thought the essential questions had been more or less settled back in the sixties when the brouhaha attending the publication of Merriam-Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (1961) died down.

Download the entire article in PDF format.

Source: ILT News, 92 (October 1992): 103–111.