a citrusy canard

Thursday, August 16, 2007


The Italian word of the moment is campanilismo.

Translated by BabelFish as "parochialism," campanilismo refers to local pride or patriotism, sometimes very local. If you ask somebody where she's from and she says "Boston" or "New York" that's not campanilismo. If she says, "Southie" or "Washington Heights" you've got a campanilista on your hands.

Campanilismo is derived from campanile, which is a church's bell tower like the 14th Century one pictured below in Florence, the work of Giotto.

Britannica suggests that the name sticks because it's from local boosters bragging that their bell tower is taller than the one in the next town over, but this piece from L'Italo Americano indicates that the campanile is a symbol of a locality, like a church is the symbol of its parish.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Radically Minimal Slides

How many slides must a man present before he must stop and vent?

Lately, I've become bored with creating and giving presentations. (I know, you're thinking, "what took you so long?") People in the office say I'm good at it, and I've certainly done enough to feel comfortable and competent, but after a while, it just gets old. So I decided to try a different approach.

I've been reading Presentation Zen for a while, and I've been interested in typography for a long while. After fumbling around with some ideas myself, I found this 18-month old post on PZ about the Takahashi Method and the Lessing Style of presentation, which led me to this inspiring (in form if not in content) preso by Dick Hardt, which led me to try some radically minimal slides in a recent presentation to one of the product teams on the theme of "What is Corporate Communication?" Here are some samples:

It was a rush job and certainly not my best work in sides or in delivery,

but I got my message across and was at least as interesting and engaging as the other presenters

I used 55 slides for a 15-minute time slot, and I think there was time to spare.

As the number of slides goes up and the time you spend on each goes down, the slides almost merge into a flip-book or a film. I wonder if in the future, more and more presentations will be more like movies or flash animations that run while the presenter talks?

It makes you think of D.A. Pennebaker's Bob Dylan proto-music-video for Subterranean Homesick Blues from his film Don't Look Back. Maybe I'll do a preso like that some day.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Ginormously annoyed at Merriam-Webster

I guess it should come as no surprise that I am now officially on the losing end of my years-long battle against the word, ginormous. Trying to curry favor with the post-literate generation, those old bus drivers Merriam and Webster have officially added ginormous to their dictionary, as reported by the AP and regurgitated here by CBS.
“There will be linguistic conservatives who will turn their nose up at a word like `ginormous,”' said John Morse, Merriam-Webster's president.
You bet there will be, and we're mad as Hatters. Come on guys, ginormous isn't even in the OSPD, and they'll take anything. Has the world really changed so much that we need more words that mean big? What does ginormous give us that gigantic and enormous didn't? Were they not big enough? What, if anything, is the difference between those two words anyway? It just seems gratuitous to me, and it sounds like it should be spelled gynormous and mean really big and also female. (I think there should be an illustration by R. Crumb next to the definition under that spelling.)

I've always been a fan of using big, even made up, numbers to denote serious bigness. Instead of saying, "That was a ginormous waffle I had for breakfast!" one might say, "That waffle I ate must have had about a zillion grams of fiber in it!" Although wikipedia lists umpteen "indefinite and fictitious numbers" including zillion, they omit my personal favorite, the engagingly modest exaggeration, eleventeen.

I love a good neologism or portmanteau as much as the next red-blooded American man, but not every one should get added to the dictionary. I say no new words for big until you've used up the ones we already have. I guess I have to get used to the fact that we already have ginormous.

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Sunday, July 8, 2007

Presentation? Bring It On!

So I'm working on the slides for my upcoming appearance at Baptie's Direct Focus marketing conference in San Diego. It's hard going of course, this will be a tough audience. And you know what happens when the going gets tough... the tough geek out on some unrelated topic to procrastinate.

Over the past month I've traveled thousands of miles and given hours of presentations. My constant companion has been an excellent gadget that I'm going to take a moment to recognize: the Mobile Edge Slim Line Wireless Presentation Remote, pictured at right a bit larger than life-size.

I was shopping for a different remote, one recommended at Presentation Zen, when I found this one by chance. I can't say enough good things about this device. It's small (stores in your laptop's PC card slot!), it's simple (only six buttons), it works anywhere, anytime (with a usb thingie built in), and it has a "laser!" What more could you want? Check out the engagingly cheesy flash demo on Mobile Edge's site.

My only critique would be that the buttons make an audible click when you press them. It's likely that this is audible only to the presenter, but you never know. I guess the slogan "bring it on" printed on the device is also a bit creepy, but I can forgive that bluster because the whole kit is so nicely engineered. What really makes this device sing for me is the form factor - the USB dongle stores inside the remote itself, and the whole thing stores in your laptop's PC card slot, making it nearly impossible to lose.

Unless, like me, you forget that you put it in your computer's PC card slot in the first place. Funny how things are always in the last place you look for them.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Do you feel the need?

The need for... screed?

Sometimes you need a good cathartic rant and nothing else will do. Brevity is for poncey haiku-writers.

But seriously, in this political season in this bloggy time, there's really no shortage of ponced-up screed. There must be some way out of this... I can't get no relief.

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Monday, April 9, 2007

Today in Business Book Club

Yes, I'm blogging myself again. It's easy, it's meta, and I hear it helps prevent prostate cancer. On The Ipswitch Blog, I admonished people not to write like humorless robots.

I figured it might be a bit much on the corporate blog, so I'll continue the thought here with a brief digression on a seemingly pointless adjective,

It's not even in the dictionary, but it is used to great effect in Philip Larkin's 1951 poem "Next, Please." You can read the whole poem here or better yet buy the book, but I'll quote the last bit:
Only one ship is seeking us, a black-
Sailed unfamiliar, towing at her back
A huge and birdless silence. In her wake
No waters breed or break.
Tell me how you could possibly convey more in two syllables. Sure it breaks all kinds of rules, but wow. There's all kinds of commentary about how brevity and impact are so important to marketing writing. Maybe marketers should read more poetry. Maybe we should write more of it, too.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

In the Queue

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Word of the moment

is lacking; let's all make some
time for a confab.

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Sunday, March 4, 2007

Word of the week, maybe even of the month

The concept was sound.
But the boss didn't agree.
It got the kibosh.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

As a valued customer, we want you to write English.

An email hit my desk for review. Not literally, but you get the idea. Reading it caused a twitching vein to bulge from my forehead. Not literally, but you get the idea. Here are the first few words:
As a valued customer, we wanted to let you know about this special offer...
What's wrong with this? Well, for one thing, it's the same error - the exact same words in fact - that I corrected months ago. But more to the point, this is actual nonsense. It doen't make sense. The part that goes "as a valued customer" modifies "we" - "we" are not the customer, "we" are the company valuing the customer, also known as the "you" whom "we" wanted to inform about this special offer. [deep breath: inhale through mouth, exhale slowly through nose] OK, let me collect myself here. We could recast this line in at least two ways:
As a valued customer, you are eligible for this special offer...
Since you are a valued customer, we wanted to let you know about this special offer...
In the first case, the subject is "you" - the valued customer. In the second case, it's "we"- who want to let you know.

Now that I've translated the message into English, here's what's bending my pretzel: which way makes a better email? If you know the answer, drop me a line or click here.

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