A Big Green Scary Mob

by Matt on November 9, 2008

in Miscellany

Olympic Stadium in Munich

It’s appropriate that Environmentalism finally becomes the target of Internet-driven grassroots efforts. After all, the Internet and Environmentalism were both invented by Al Gore. Right? Right. (Sorry, I’ll leave the decade-old jokes alone for the rest of this post.)

Grassroots efforts to get the local school to switch to new lightbulbs are all well and good, but the activists (and now entrepreneurs) over at Carrotmob combine the momentum of the “Green” movement with social networking savvy. Executive summary: Carrotmob negotiates with local businesses to get “bids” on which will make a bigger commitment to greening their company. Then, members descend on the winner with cash in hand and patronize the store, ideally giving it a hefty boost in profits for the day. The idea is to reward businesses with a mob. Like a carrot on a stick. Get it?

It’s a cute idea. Even more exciting, though, is the way it captures the difference between “going green” and old-school Environmentalism. Earth Day is great, but Americans were never really able to separate Environmentalism from dirty vegetarian hippies who want only to ruin your fun. Or something.

The new movement (or fad, depending on who you talk to) combines Environmentalism with the most powerful force in America: consumerism. [click to continue…]


How funny that commencement speeches are almost always boring. Except for the rare occasion, you get riled up and excited (or furious that LAST year they got BILL COSBY and THIS YEAR we get the MAYOR I mean COME ON did they even TRY? – but that, too, is tied to each class’s sense of entitlement to a brash, dashing, exciting speaker). This is the end of college, your victory day. Graduation. You *did* it. Only the speech is the rhetorical equivalent to breakfast cereal. It’s either dull or uselessly saccharine, and never as exciting as the packaging promised. About halfway through the speech, you slump in your chair and realize graduating college is not a thrilling event. You aren’t unleashed onto the world. You’re cast into it, ostracized from the debaucherous Never Never Land of College U. Your four years of themed parties (which all boil down to guys in boxers and girls in schoolgirl outfits), staying up all night to argue the difference between Lawful Evil and Chaotic Neutral, and in general being surrounded by aspiring people of infinite potential, all end with someone who has allegedly “achieved” something that you suspect was less fun than cramming fourteen people into a Camry to go to Taco Bell.

This is why commencement speeches invariably disappoint, and why the late David Foster Wallace’s Kenyon Commencement Speech is so breathtaking.

Hm, perhaps that’s a poor choice of words, which DFW would have enjoyed pointing out. So I’ll leave it be.

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Drowning in metaphors

by Matt on August 6, 2008

in Writing

Ahh, New York Magazine. In Friday’s article The Low Road Warrior you find yourself getting swept up by a whirlwind of cries of political mudslinging. Be sure to head over to A Candid World if you want to cry foul about or heap praise upon the McCain Campaign’s new tact (and congratulate Ames on the sparkling new domain name). This being – in part – a writing blog, I feel compelled to point to something far more sinister than mere Presidential politics:

Geez, look at all of those metaphors!

Until last week, it was an open question which of these visions of McCain bore a closer relation to reality. But with the weeklong string of attacks uncorked by the Arizona senator and his people during Obama’s trip abroad and in its aftermath—some brutal, some mocking, but all personal and focused on Obama’s character—we now have an inkling of just how deep in the mud McCain and his people are willing to wallow in order to win in November: right up to their Republican eyeballs.

Thanks to some ambitious punctuation, the second sentence boasts at least 7 metaphors. 8 if you don’t count “deep in the mud” and “wallow” as the same image. The metaphor is such an important hub for our cognitive functions that its evil twin, the mixed metaphor, turns its head at every turn, often leading to stylistic train wrecks, especially in journalism.

After all, in fiction, a good editor will belittle a writer for mixing his metaphors. “Ha ha! McCain uncorked a string? Since when do you bottle string?” A journalist, however, recognizes the necessary lubrication a metaphor provides. The Economist Style Guide has an entire section dedicated to the metaphor, and it is telling that the writer acknowledges, but does not condemn, the overuse of tired phrases. The Economist’s advice is, simply, to be aware of what you’re saying, so you don’t drop a doozy like “This is an off-the-wall programme with a track record of cutting-edge humour, but on this occasion we appear to have overstepped the mark.”

Be precise! Or, as Zapp Branigan would say, “If we can hit this bullseye, all the dominos will fall like a house of cards…checkmate!”

You can’t heap blame the poor writer, though. Steven Pinker writes extensively about the role of metaphors in thought. If you find yourself delighted by cognitive linguistics, I highly recommend Pinker’s The Stuff of Thought. He spends hundreds of pages putting language under the microscope, examining it as every writer should: as a window to the mind’s machinery.

As for metaphors, it all boils down to one thing. Take them with a grain of salt.

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Ah, Monday. What better day than Monday to take pleasure in other people’s displeasure? You’re back at work (stop reading blogs on company time, you miscreant!) and have not one, not two, but five full days before you reach 40 hours.

To make you feel better, here’s a video of Houston drivers getting hit by lightrail trams.

Some background: during my time living in Houston, the city completed its controversial lightrail system in an attempt to alleviate traffic congestion. Forbes recently declared Houston the 5th most traffic-congested city in the country, placing it behind San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Washington, D.C. Houston beat out Boston, Chicago and New York City.

Don’t worry, people of Houston. If you keep ignoring the plain-as-day “No Left Turn” signs and getting hit by trams, you’ll be #1 in no time.


The Laws of RPGs

by Matt on July 15, 2008

in Buried Treasure

If you ever find yourself trapped in a Japanese Role Playing Game, these handy 192 tips will ensure your survival (but not your sanity.)

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Nerd moment

by Matt on July 14, 2008

in Miscellany

Seen on my Sunday morning run:

Finally, finally my neighborhood is constructing additional pylons.


The street outside your window is immersed in a twitching, crackling, pulsating cloud.

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  1. Have faith in your coworkers, but don’t trust them. At a creative agency, you’re surrounded by talented people. Designers, writers, account executives, traffic coordinators and the rest. In a perfect world, everyone in your chain of command is smart, capable and insightful. But, as a writer, whenever I send corrections back to the designer it is my responsibility to make sure those corrections were made.

    More importantly, I have to check that no additional mistakes (extra commas, spaces, etc) found their way in as a result of the changes. If it goes to the client with a mistake the designer made based on my corrections, it’s my fault. Not the designer’s.

  2. Looking stupid is bad. Who knew? It seems like 2/3rds of a creative agency’s life is spent trying to not look dumb. This goes well beyond making sure the client doesn’t look dumb. A piece may go to press with zero mistakes, but if the client had to point out three paltry errors to get it there, it reflects poorly on you.Even asking for clarification on multiple occasions gives the impression that you don’t know what you’re doing. Ask too many questions about their preferred style, or whether something would violate brand guidelines, and the client starts to get DIY syndrome. You must know the brand guidelines well enough in advance that you don’t have to pepper the account executive with questions.After all, the client hired you so that they don’t have to worry about the details.In life, this comes down to respect. You should never be afraid to ask questions, especially if there is a risk that you’ll get it wrong. But there’s a thin line between appearing careful and appearing clueless. If you’re always asking your boss how to open your email attachments, he or she will have a hard time considering you for a promotion.
    [click to continue…]

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Have you ever noticed that:

“Executive Summary” is just a fancy word for “gist?” Come on guys, at least call it an abstract. Or an overview. Or just a summary. “Executive Summary” has always struck me as an inside joke, kind of like the Wilhelm Scream.

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by Matt on June 13, 2008

in Buried Treasure

Contranyms are so bad. By bad, I mean good.

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