Blog posts September 5 - 12

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Jack Reacher: UX specialist (September 12)

If I was ever asked to draw lessons from the books of Lee Child and apply them to service design I would quote this bit:

"What do you remember about the Soviets?'

'Lots of things.

I said, 'Above all they were realistic, especially about human nature, and the quality of their own personnel. They had a very big army, which meant their average grunt was lazy, incompetent, and not blessed with any kind of discernible talent.

They understood that, and they knew there wasn't a whole lot they could do about it. So instead of trying to train their people upward towards the standard of available modern weaponry, they designed their available modern weaponry downward towards the standard of their people. Which was a truly radical approach."

‘OK '

'Hence the AK-47.’"

Eristic (September 11)

Finally, as I collapse through my 50s I'm starting to understand some of my many horrible faults.

One aspect of that, I've discovered, is being eristic. That, apparently, means wanting to win an argument so much you don't actually care what you're arguing. I have a bit of that. If I see a logical weakness I will pursue it counterproductively and at the expense of normal human feeling. I hate when I do that. What an arse.

Still, now I know the word, maybe that will help. 

Amicable collision (September 10)

"The Enlightenment philosopher Anthony Ashley-Cooper was the first to use the word ‘politeness’ in the modern sense. He took a term associated with jewellery – with polished stones – and elevated it to a social virtue: ‘We polish one another, and rub off our Corners and rough Sides, by a sort of amicable collision.’"

From Conflicted by Ian Leslie

Somehow relates to Joyous Exploration (via Storythings)

August 2021 (September 9)



Nature (September 8)

2021 (September 7)

Blog all dog-eared pages: Lecture (September 6)

Lecture by Mary Cappello was the best book I discovered when writing mine.

Sadly it was a bit late in the process, so it's not in there a lot. But it's so good.

"Now the human voice is an instrument of varied power; it can enchant and it can soothe; it can rage and it can despair; but when it lectures it almost always bores"

"Midway between a sermon and a bedtime story, the lecture is knowledge’s dramatic form."

"In a 2013 interview for Jezebel, Anne Carson said, 'I’m really trying to make people’s minds move, you know, which is not something they’re naturally inclined to do … We have a kind of inertia, sitting and listening. But it’s really important to get somehow into the mind and make it move somewhere it has never moved before … Given whatever material we’re going to talk about, and we all know what it is, how can we move within it in a way we’ve never moved before, mentally?'"

"Aphorisms slow us down, and don’t wish to be consumed like advertising copy or slogans that tell us which way the wind blows and how to follow it. When twentieth century readers reduce Emerson’s lectures to quotable quotes along the order of daily affirmations or bon mots, memorable one-liners, decked out in needlepoint or plastered onto calendars, they inadvertently negate that most famous one—“to be great is to be misunderstood,” effectively neutralizing the dissonance at the heart of the lecture and the essay."

"When James Baldwin or Gilles Deleuze answer interview questions, it is not quite accurate to say that they reply “articulately”—it’s not that they are eloquent merely—it’s that they respond in essays, performative essays."

"The PechaKucha as contemporary innovative lecture claims to really condense the Power Point presentation, to insist on focus, but I think it confuses focus with speed."

"When I gave readings from a book on “awkwardness,” I used to build a performative silence into my opening remarks. When you do this, at first people think that you’re having a breakdown and act alarmed. The silence, which last a few beats, feels to the audience like an hour. What you are after, of course, is a breakthrough—a jolt born of disarming quiet to cut through the static and the noise."

"In the lecture, speech meets writing rather than serve as its passive or inert delivery system."

"Lecture: one person is required to think on her feet while all others are expected to think in their seat."

"The lecture will have succeeded, if, like the essay, it cannot be summarized, but only experienced."

"To lecture in the guise of the female body is always to risk attack, at best, and at worst, incomprehension—because we still have no way to figure intelligence in a female form, no way to picture a combination of startling truth and un-gendered beauty."

Not in the book: Nominally (September 5)

I read quite a lot of books about writing and how to write for the PowerPoint book. Lots of good in all of them but the most useful thing was in Joe Moran's First You Write A Sentence. It was about 'nominalization'. 

"Writing drifts into obscurity when it overuses a certain kind of abstract noun: a nominalization. A nominalization makes a verb (or sometimes an adjective) into a noun. It turns act into action, react into reaction, interact into interaction. It gives a process a name. According to the linguist Michael Halliday, the nominalization emerged in the seventeenth century, with the birth of modern science. To describe what they were doing, these pioneer scientists needed a way of turning single events into general laws. Before then, to explain nature’s workings, or to write up experiments, they had to use a full clause, with a subject and a verb. The apple fell from the tree because this small spherical object was drawn to a much bigger one, the Earth. Nominalizations let them hide clauses, which describe an event, inside a noun, which gave that event a name. The apple’s descent was a result of gravitation."

"Nominalizations pack a lot into single words. Science needs them so it does not waste time going over old news. It is quicker to say that a hummingbird’s hum is made by its rapid wingbeats (a nominalizing noun phrase) than by its beating its wings rapidly. But if you bury too many verbs under nouns, you shut out the layperson, for whom the stuff that is old to an expert is new. And even experts find sentences chock-full of nouns uninviting – even when they know what the nouns mean. Brevity has been bought at the cost of clarity and ease."

"In the 1970s, the poet Elizabeth Bishop taught writing seminars at Harvard. Shy and nervous leading classes, she still managed to produce a long, confident list for her students headed ‘If you want to write well avoid these words’. Many of the words were nominalizations, like creativity, sensitivity and ‘most ivity-words’. Others were those dressed-up noun categories that have crept into daily use and distance us from the real: life-experience, relationship, aspect, area, potential, structure, lifestyle. Lifestyle, which back then was hyphenated or written as two words, was also censured by Christopher Lasch in a style guide he wrote for his students at the University of Rochester in 1985. ‘The appeal of this tired but now ubiquitous phrase probably lies in its suggestion that life is largely a matter of style,’ he wrote. ‘Find something else to say about life.’"

This has been a really useful thing to understand when helping people write clearly and readably. Partly as a useful framework in itself, partly because when googling it I realised that people are taught to use nominalization at university. It's seen as academic and objective. So when they get asked to write in business life that's how they think they should do it. Being able to say 'you're in a different world now, do things differently' is quite helpful.