Dynamist Blog

Writing Styles

My Spirit Magazine article on pens as style statements is now online as a PDF file. My thanks to Spirit, which is the Southwest Airlines magazine, and to photographer Manny Rodriguez for permission to reproduce the article. And thanks to the blog readers who responded to my query about bar mitzvah gifts.

Wow, I'm Glad I Quit the Times

I'm pretty much the world's least mysterious person (read all about me here), but I wouldn't put up with this abusive, bureaucratic new policy--especially given the low pay and insistence on buying all rights. (I have special permission to post my NYT columns on my site.) The Times should just quit using freelancers if they hate us so much. After all, they have a building full of people making much more money. (Via D Magazine's FrontBurner, which also has several reports on the huge Dallas immigration protests.)

Besides, my brand is, if considerably less financially valuable, then also less sullied than the Times's. I don't act ethically for their sake, but for mine. Their assumption that they're ethically slumming when they use freelancers is insulting.

Here's the Times questionnaire. (I tried to use Movable Type's extended entry format, but it didn't work.)

1. Please list your other current employers, whether full time or part time

2. For what other employers have you worked in the last three years?

3. What sort of volunteer work do you do regularly, if any, and for whom? (Please include any public relations, advocacy or advisory board involvement.)

4. Do you do any work paid or unpaid in politics or government? Have you done any lobbying of governmental bodies?

5. Do you have any financial investments or financial ties that may limit your ability to cover specific topics free of conflict, and if so, what are the topics?

6. Although we don't regulate the activities of spouses, partners or immediate family members of our contributors, do any of their professional or personal involvements or any of their financial investments or ties make certain topics inappropriate for you, and if so, what are the topics?

7. Have you accepted any free trips, junkets or press trips in the last two years? Have you accepted any substantial free merchandise or discounts from people we might cover?

8. Has anything you've written later resulted in a published editor's note or retraction for deliberate falsehood or plagiarism or become the subject of a lawsuit involving allegations of deliberate falsehood? (If yes, please include details about the publication and your role in the article or story. If a lawsuit, please describe the disposition of the case.)

The old Times freelance contract already prohibited you from things like taking money from people you write about. But it trusted the freelancers' judgment about when to ask editors about possible conflicts.

Borders Boycott

The Hartford Courant reports. On a related note, reader Bob Sprowl writes:

I returned my Borders Rewards card today via snail-mail to

Borders Customer Care
100 Phoenix Drive
Ann Arbor, MI 48108-2202

I'd like to know who at corporate headquarters is responsible for the bone-headed decision to take Free Inquiry off the newsstand.

My Famous Kidney

As InstaPundit readers already know, Glenn Reynolds and InstaWife Helen Smith interviewed me about kidney donation for last week's podcast. (Listen directly here or download for free from iTunes here.)

I'm happy to say that my recovery is pretty much complete. The light blogging recently reflects how much time I'm spending on reporting and writing, a.k.a. "real work." I even made a trip to San Francisco last weekend to do reporting for my first Atlantic column. Sally Satel--the Three Kidney Wonder--is also doing well.

One great thing about getting a kidney from a healthy friend is that you can be sure it won't give you rabies.

Artful Sentences

A delightful surprise in the mail: the new book Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style, by Virginia Tufte (mother of Edward R. Tufte, author of The Visual Display of Quantitative Information).

"It is syntax that gives words the power to relate to each other in a sequence, to create rhythms andn emphasis, to carry meaning--of whatever kind--as well as glow individually in just the right stuff," writes Tufte. She has collected hundreds of sentences to illustrate how effective writers use specific techniques to create desired effects. She has a whole chapter on appositives and another on parallelism. And I learned what to call one of my favorites: asyndeton, which means omitting conjunctions. (As the previous sentence illustrates, I also like starting sentences with conjunctions, something forbidden by elementary school teachers. They have apparently never read the Hebrew scriptures, where nearly every sentence starts with And.)

The book is delightful on its own merits. But I also like it because it includes four examples from The Substance of Style.

Handmade Special Effects

The LAT's Richard Verrier reports on a surprising result of the growth of computer animation: increasing demand for foley artists, who create sound effects the old-fashioned way. From Verrier's article:

You might think that [foley artist John] Roesch's profession, which got its start with the birth of the "talkies," would be one of the first casualties of computer-generated cinema. After all, foley artists — whose craft was invented in the 1920s by an enterprising stuntman and director named Jack Foley — pride themselves on being low-tech.

But thanks to improvements in digital recording equipment and the boom in computer animation films that lack ambient sound, foley artists are becoming increasingly important players in movie production.

In the last few years, several Hollywood studios have upgraded and expanded their foley soundstages, known as "pits," to help artists make noise the old-fashioned way. They gleefully stomp on cereal boxes, crush pine cones with hammers, whack car doors with crowbars. Why synthesize a sound, they argue, when you can have the real thing?

In the last 10 years, increasing demand for foley artists has doubled their ranks to about 100, mostly in Los Angeles.

Beyond the "high tech, high touch" angle, the article is simply fun.

Beautiful Code

Thanks to reader Jon Sweet for sending this link to a post on the Passionate Users blog that defends--in fact, advocates--polished, carefully crafted "girl code." Writes blogger Kathy Sierra, "A passion for aesthetics can mean the difference between code that others enjoy working on vs. code that's stressful to look at." Check out the rest of the blog here.

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