‘Quriosity’ Is Dead – Long Live ‘A Thinking Person’

Readers of Quriosity.com will be interested to learn that I have sold that domain (someone made me an offer I couldn’t refuse). As a result, I have transferred all Quriosity content to the new domain and blog AThinkingPerson.com.

You’ll be glad to know that A Thinking Person will continue to publish the same brilliant commentary you have come to expect from Quriosity.

The new RSS feed address for A Thinking Person is https://athinkingperson.com/feed/ .

AB — 14 September 2010

John the Baptist’s Bones and BBC’s Quotation Marks

A BBC article today (3 August 2010) highlights the discovery of a small box of bones reputed to be the remains of John the Baptizer, who announced Jesus’ appearance as Messiah and baptized him, and who was later executed by Herod Antipas — see “Remains of St John the Baptist ‘found’.”

I’m always intrigued by archaeological discoveries that relate to Biblical accounts. The article includes a video showing the find, and it’s interesting to watch (aside from some silly clerical comments about the find’s significance).

But more than anything, what this article brought to mind was the frequent and peculiar use of quotation marks (or single quotation marks, more accurately) by BBC’s headline writers. Look at the headline again:

Remains of St John the Baptist ‘found’

Now in standard written American English, a writer would most often use quotation marks in this way to express irony or skepticism. (For example, “My neighbor plays that ‘music’ too loud,” perhaps referring to rap or heavy metal.)

But in the case of the story about John’s bones, what is the headline writer skeptical about? Maybe the writer is doubtful that these bones were really ‘found’? Perhaps the writer suspects that some Orthodox priest fabricated them?

I’ve noticed other puzzling uses of quotation marks in BBC headlines. Here are some examples:

  • BP ready to plug ‘biggest leak’
  • ‘Ground Zero mosque’ moves closer
  • State ‘can challenge health law’
  • Paraguay star Cabanas ‘recalls little’ of shooting
  • Schumacher ‘almost disqualified’

My best guess would be that this practice has something to do with attribution —  the headline writer is limited by a certain number of characters, but doesn’t want to stick his neck out by actually calling the Cordoba House cultural center “the Ground Zero mosque.” So he has decided to put quotation marks around the phrase to indicate that other people are calling it the Ground Zero mosque but that he doesn’t feel comfortable calling it that.

I’ll bet this practice has been thrashed out after many days of argument at the BBC offices.

After a little investigation I have found that quotation marks used to express irony or skepticism are called “scare quotes.” The gestural version is called “air quotes.” Somehow in all my years as a writer and English student, I have never come across these terms. See the Wikipedia article about “Scare quotes.”

The Wikipedia editors write that, besides denoting irony or skepticism, scare quotes can “serve to distance the writer from the quoted content” and to “convey a neutral attitude on the part of the writer, while distancing the writer from the terminology in question.”

This could be the BBC’s reasoning for the odd way it uses single quotation marks in its headlines. (These might be called “inverted commas” in the hallowed halls of the BBC.)

I also found a useful discussion of the BBC headline conundrum at Wordwizard, a surprisingly active discussion forum dedicated to English words and usage — see “The BBC’s use of quotation marks.” In the discussion, which took place in December 2009, Erik Kowal shares these insights:

This habit of the BBC’s web writers is difficult to understand. I presume that sometimes they are quoting someone without direct attribution, but this does not explain why they do it when the facts described within quotation marks are unquestionable and do not need to be signalled as being opinions or unchecked assertions (which the BBC should not be basing its news stories on in any case).

The practice makes it appear as though the BBC has no confidence in its own reporting, or that it is suggesting that its sources are not to be trusted. Regardless, it is highly irritating and even patronizing.

It also reminds me of the equally annoying habit that some people have of giving capitals For No Real Reason to Certain Words they feel are Particularly Important.

AB — 3 August 2010

Classic e-Book on Internet Marketing – Now Available in Free Archive

Some readers might recall that in 1995 I released one of the first e-books published and sold online, The Smart (aka Small) Business Guide to Internet Marketing. Publishing this e-book was a great adventure and was a good experiment in online marketing itself — I didn’t get rich from it, but it did pay the groceries for the Bredenberg family for a few years.

So if you’re interested in finding out what the state-of-the-art thinking was about online marketing in the mid-1990s, the whole thing is now archived on my Optimization Marketing site at: The Smart Business Guide to Internet Marketing.

AB — 25 May 2010

Jeff Bredenberg of Oreland, Pa., has died, March 2, 2010

Jeff Bredenberg Nov. 2009My brother, Jeff Bredenberg, died at home in Oreland, Pa., on Tuesday night, March 2, 2010. He had been sick with brain cancer for about 2 1/2 years.

Jeff and I are both natives of Raleigh, NC. Some readers might know him as a Raleighite. Others might know him for his work in the newspaper world or book publishing. Recently he had become known for his How to Cheat … book series, which included How to Cheat at Cleaning — see How to Cheat Books.

A memorial service for Jeff will take place this Saturday, March 6, 2010, at 1 p.m., at the BuxMont Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Warrington, Pa. — this link should lead to a map.

Here is the text of Jeff’s obituary — see also the versions in the Philadelphia Inquirer and in the Raleigh News & Observer for March 5:

Jeffrey Ellis Bredenberg

Nov. 26, 1953, to March 2, 2010

Jeff Bredenberg about 1970Jeffrey Ellis Bredenberg, 56, a former newspaper editor who later wrote and edited books, died Tuesday, March 2, 2010, of glioblastoma, a brain tumor, at his home in Oreland, Pa.

He completed two books after his diagnosis in September 2007.

A native of Raleigh, N.C., he got his first newspaper job at age 16 working as a copy boy and then copy editor for the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. He then worked for newspapers in Fort Myers, Fla., Burlington, Vt., Chicago, St. Louis, Denver, and Wilmington, Del. He worked for the News Journal in Wilmington as an assistant managing editor from 1988 to 1994. During that time, he redesigned the newspaper and supervised various newsroom departments.

In 1994, he joined the book division of Rodale Press in Emmaus, Pa., rising to the rank of managing editor. In 1998, he became vice president for content for the Internet health portal Intelihealth.com, based in Blue Bell, Pa. Since 2002, he had worked as a freelance writer and editor of books and articles (www.jeffbredenberg.com).

During his career, he wrote, edited, or otherwise contributed to more than 25 books. His most recent releases were a how-to series, How to Cheat at Cleaning, How to Cheat at Organizing, How to Cheat at Home Repair, and How to Cheat at Gardening and Yard Work (www.howtocheatbooks.com).

He appeared frequently in print articles, online, and on television. His TV appearances included “The Late Show with David Letterman,” “The Rachael Ray Show,” and “The Today Show—Weekend Edition.”

Jeff graduated from Needham Broughton High School in Raleigh in 1972. His higher education was a patchwork affair, including a year at North Carolina State University and classes at Edison Community College in Fort Myers, Fla., the University of Vermont in Burlington, and Temple University.

He met his wife, Stacey Burling, at the Rocky Mountain News, where he worked as an editor and she was a reporter. They married in 1988 in Denver.

Jeffrey Ellis Bredenberg 1955He frequently participated in events at his sons’ Cub and Boy Scout troops, volunteered with the youth group at BuxMont Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, and rarely missed his sons’ soccer or baseball games or band concerts.

He is survived by his wife; sons Adam and Colin; his mother, Gladys Bredenberg, of Raleigh; and his brother and sister-in-law, Alfred and Virginia Bredenberg, of Raleigh. His father, Paul Bredenberg, a retired philosophy professor at North Carolina State University, died in November 2009.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m., Saturday, March 6, 2010, at BuxMont Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 2040 Street Rd., Warrington, Pa. 18976.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the National Brain Tumor Society, East Coast Office, 124 Watertown St., Suite 2D, Watertown, MA 02472.

AB — 4 March 2010

‘Let’s Let Ties Die,’ by Jeff Bredenberg

My brother, the writer Jeff Bredenberg, kindly gave me permission to publish these lines of verse disparaging the necktie:

Let’s Let Ties Die

By Jeff Bredenberg

I think that I shall never spy

A garment sillier than a tie.

A silky flag to catch the breeze,

A rag to snag my every sneeze,

A sickly cloth of polka dots: mustard drops

and ice cream blots.

And when my dangling finery

Gets tangled in machinery,

I’ll lose my breath for sake of dress

And meet my death by printing press!

If fashions fade the whole year through,

Why, oh why, can’t ties die, too?

*

— Jeff Bredenberg

This poem was originally written for the book “How to Cheat at Cleaning,” and It is dedicated to the memory of my father, Paul A. Bredenberg, who detested ties.)

Great life advice: Write stuff down

On Hoovers World today, Gary Hoover published a great bit of life advice (or call it a lifelong “best practice,” if you want to couch it in businessspeak). His advice is deceptively simple:

Write everything interesting down.

 

If you don’t know who Gary Hoover is, you probably should. It would be ‘way oversimplifying him to say he’s a serial entrepreneur, but that’s one easy way to put it. Gary is the founder of the superstore Bookstop (later purchased by Barnes & Noble) and the Hoovers business information service (now owned by D&B).

Lately I have been enjoying his Hoovers World blog because he is a voracious consumer of books and writes excellent and useful reviews of extraordinary books I have never heard of.

But today he published the entry “Two Small Practical Tips That Could Change Everything For You,” which included the advice to write down everything interesting that comes your way.

I started doing this about 20 years ago as a result of reading the wonderful little book “A Technique for Producing Ideas,” by James Webb Young. I have found that I never know when a useful idea, large or small, will come my way, whether from the external or the internal world. So I always carry a pen and pocket-sized pad with me, so I can capture information or ideas even when I am not in front of my computer. (I also never buy a shirt that does not have a pocket.)

One of the most interesting things Gary says in today’s entry, though, is that you might not ever need to actually read what you have written down:

I don’t care how smart you are or how good your memory is, 80-90% of all the good ideas you hear or think of in your life will slip right through your fingers if you do not write them down.

You do not even have to go back and re-read them; the kinetic process of having the idea flow through your mind and down your fingers through the pen onto the pad has a significant impact on your memory. [Underlining mine.] Of course, you can always reread them if you want or need to.

I also find that writing stuff down – from the book recommendations of friends to music I want to buy to business ideas I have while walking down the street – takes a burden off me. I can forget about it, I know the thought or information is securely stowed away.

I have found this point about memory retention to be true as well, and have found that what leads to even greater retention is making my notes in visual form — also know as idea mapping — see my previous blog entry “Doodling is good for thinkers.”

As a result, I seldom use lined paper for any purpose other than financial tasks. When I am planning, taking notes in a meeting, preparing an outline for public speaking, leading a group process, or just thinking, I use an unlined sketch pad or a white board to give myself space to lay out the idea I’m working with and to go in multiple directions on the page if I need to. I have even purchased custom-made pocket pads without lines on them — it’s not hard or expensive to do this through the printing department at any of the large office superstores.

Oh yes, you might have noticed that Gary’s post mentioned “Two Small Practical Tips That Could Change Everything For You.” The other tip is also simple, and maybe deceptively so, as with the first. The second tip is:

Smile

 

AB — 25 May 2009

Best argument for remixing: Watch this video

Just today I saw a video that is probably the best argument I have ever seen in favor of remixing. Please watch and listen to Mother of All Funk Chords. Fantastic!

Here the author explains how he makes his remixed music videos.

If you prefer an intellectual argument over an experiential one, see this video lecture by Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig. Lessig has spoken at some of our meetings at the Institute for Innovation in Large Organizations (ILO). See Lessig’s blog here.

Lessig is probably the best thinker around remixing and interesting to listen to. But watching Mother of all Funk Chords is a lot more fun.

AB — 10 March 2009

Doodling is good for thinkers

I just saw an interesting study (mentioned in Wired — see “A Sketchy Brain Booster: Doodling”) published in Applied Cognitive Psychology concluding that doodling actually aids in concentration.

The article, “What Does Doodling Do?” by Jackie Andrade of the School of Psychology at the University of Plymouth, UK, found that participants in an experiment could better remember a list of names read to them if they were performing a simultaneous task that simulated doodling.

What might be the underlying mechanism at work here? Andrade suggests two possibilities:

1. “that doodling simply helps to stabilize arousal at an optimal level, keeping people awake or reducing the high levels of autonomic arousal often associated with boredom”

or

2. “that doodling aids concentration by reducing daydreaming”

Both are interesting ideas and make me think of two current interests I have:

1. Idea mapping, sometimes called Mind Mapping (as propounded by educational consultant Tony Buzan). I have been employing this visual approach for several years now in note-taking, public speaking, writing, consulting, and group processes and have become convinced that drawing and mapping is a memory aid.

2. The language teaching methods of Harry Cotton of the Canadian Institute of English. Dr. Cotton advocates involving body movement to aid retention when learning to speak a foreign language.

AB — 27 February 2009

Idea Mapping — basics and some resources

For several years, I have been using a process called idea mapping as a thinking tool. This is related to Mind Mapping, the brainchild of Tony Buzan. (See this page for some great examples of Mind Maps.)

I would describe idea mapping as a set of visual methods for thinking. I employ idea mapping in many kinds of settings — planning, outlining, note-taking, public speaking, writing, consulting, and leading group process. When working alone, I use unlined drawing paper and colored markers. When working with groups, I use a white board or large sheets of paper with colored markers.

Here are some books I recommend on this topic:

The Mind Map Book: How to Use Radiant Thinking to Maximize Your Brain’s Untapped Potential, by Tony and Barry Buzan

Mapping Inner Space: Learning and Teaching Visual Mapping, by Nancy Margulies and Nusa Maal

AB — 27 February 2009