Thursday, December 8, 2011

Mired in SEO hell

I am trying to put together some improvements for my business website and feel like I am bashing my head against a wall.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

50 years ago today.....and today

"So let us begin anew -- remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.

Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us."

Commentary on today's political climate in the aftermath of the tragedy in Tucson? Nope. Those words are from exactly 50 years ago - today is the 50th anniversary of JFK's inaugural address. Granted, they were written in regard to the Cuban missile crisis, but they are as poignant and apt today as they were then.

Time to play nice, people. Try talking to each other instead of closing your eyes and screaming your beliefs at people who don't see things the way you do. People are always going to have differences of opinion, we can learn to live with them/each other, or we can continue down our current path of divisiveness and mistrust. It's up to us.

That is all.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Yah, sure....ya betcha!

Ask an American what accents/dialects they think are the most distinct, and you probably will get answers that include Boston and New York first, followed by either Minnesota or Texas. If you ask the hearer to tell you what a Minnesota accent sounds like, odds are that they will either try to do a line from the movie Fargo or they will elongate the /o/ sound and say “Minnesoooooooota”. If you ask somebody who has actually been there, they might give you a “oh ya, you know” or a “yah sure, you betcha”, two phrases which are stereotypically Minnesotan, or at least representative of North Central American English.

My girlfriend is from a small town in rural Minnesota about eighty miles north of the Twin Cities so she is a perfect person to study not only because she is native to Minnesota, but also the fact that we live together makes observation and data collection rather simple. We have been together three years and have lived in the same house for the vast majority of that time, during which I have noticed how her speech patterns vary – not just from mine, but how the strength of her accent can vary from time to time. Her accent becomes more pronounced when she has a few (or more) alcoholic beverages and also after she has spoken with a fellow Minnesotan for any extended period of time, either on the phone or in person. I believe this to be a common occurrence for anyone who moves away from where they learned how to speak, that when they are re-assimilated, their accent comes back temporarily as stronger. Aside from accent, there are many other differences in the way(s) we speak. I also lived in the Midwest, but I learned English overseas, so I believe my accent to be a blend of all sorts of things, although people can often tell I lived in the Midwest.

The most readily noticeable differences are often found in the colloquialisms employed by Minnesotans, many of which identify the speaker as such. Some of the most common examples include “uff-da”, which is a Norwegian expression that can be used to mean anything from expressing sorrow, excitement, dismay, exhaustion and any number of feelings. It is a true catch-all expression, the meaning of which is expressed by the speaker’s tone. Another common one is “you betcha” or the longer, friendlier “oh yah, you betcha”, which is used in affirmation. Instead of saying that something which cost a lot of money was expensive, it very common for “spendy” to be the adjective used to describe cost. One of the more ubiquitous Minnesotan phrases has to be “hot dish”, a term used to describe any type of casserole.

The above examples are common ones, all of which I had heard before living with my Minnesotan girlfriend, and I have heard her use every single one of those multiple times. In our conversations, I have noticed a couple of phrases that she uses which are the only variants I have heard on what I consider to be fairly common phrases. One is the way she says “kitty-wonka” in an instance where everybody I know would use “caddywampus”, to describe a situation in which affairs are out of order. Some internet research led me to a definition of caddywampus as meaning the same as kitty-corner, and I also found it spelled “kittywampus” and defined as “utter chaos, as if a kitten had run through the room”. Another phrase that really jumped out at me was her term for the (usually teenage male) practice of skidding one’s car around in an empty parking lot, leaving skid marks in the snow. I have always heard it referred to as “doing donuts”, but Laura calls it “whipping shitties”. The first time she said it, I was more than a little bit confused, to say the least. Internet research shows that it is a term used in the Upper Midwest, but it was a new one to me!

Aside from the differences in colloquialisms, there are many phonetic differences between North Central American English (the regional dialect that includes Minnesota) and American English. One of the more common words by which a Minnesotan can be identified is the word “boat”, which to speakers of American English contains the /oʊ/ sound commonly found in “go home”. In Minnesota, the vowel sound becomes more of a close-mid back rounded vowel /o/, which is not a common sound in English; this is likely some residual effect of Canadian raising that has (geographically) worked its way down to Minnesota.

Another linguistic feature is that of the Northern Cities Shift; the caught/cot merger is present, as is the dipthongization of the /æ/ vowel sound when it occurs before a consonant, resulting in what almost sounds like a Southern drawl, but just for that one word. For some speakers, the /æ/ sound merges with /eɪ/ when the vowel is followed directly by the consonant /g/, such that words like “bag” and “flag” rhyme with “vague” and have the same vowel sound as in the word “race”.

Speakers from Minnesota are often readily identifiable by their accent, which they of course don’t think they have. That is probably the case pretty much everywhere, though – if everybody in your immediate surroundings speaks the same way as you do, you don’t think of it as an accent. An accent is what everybody else has – that seems to me to be the belief in most regions of the United States.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

here's a different way to look at the "election"

People need to stop listening to the "issues" and concentrate on the men themselves.

How can I say that? Simple - has any president, ever, lived up to their campaign promises?


So, look at the men and see which one you trust. Pretty simple.

John McCain was legacied into the US Naval Acadamy (his father and grandfather were both admirals), he graduated 895th out of a class of 899. He was such a Mavericky pilot that if today's Naval standards were applied then, he would have been grounded for his stupid antics.

Obama was raised by a single mom, sometimes eating food bought with food stamps. He worked his ass off to get scholarships to very good schools and did a great job there, too.

Which one sounds like a better leader who can relate to the "common man"?

The guy who has seven houses and thirteen cars? Or the guy who shares one hybrid vehicle with his wife?

One comment on their policy claims: who do you like - the guy who is willing to raise his own taxes or the guy who is going to give himself (and his ultra-rich wife's family) a tax break?

Trickle-down economics didn't work the first time, either.

Monday, October 6, 2008

I'm back, baby!

After a self-imposed hiatus, I am back and hopefully better than ever. We'll get things started up slowly, with some simple posts and see how things are rolling before I start swinging away with the heavy ammunition (Mmmmm...mixed metaphors...yummy!) and get to the things that are really weighing on my mind.

I will do my best from here on out to try and post at least one book review per month and hope to create a couple of recurring weekly entries - one will almost definitely be 'This Week's Sign of the Impending Apocolypse'.

That having been said, here is a cute little story; we were discussing poetry in a Literature class I am taking this semester and the professor had us take five minutes to see if we could come up with a time-relavent haiku. Ask and ye shall receive:

A hockey mom
Does not a vice-president make
Go home governor


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Book Review

Most first-time novels can be seen as obviously that, a first novel - and it is difficult for the author to hide that fact. Not so in the case of Paco Ahlgren’s debut book, Discipline – Ahlgren writes with the confidence of an author who has been published for many years. He is unafraid to introduce to the reader many topics that are not part of most people’s everyday discussion…to say the least. It is not often that somebody can combine high finance, metaphysics, personal demons, chess, politics and psychology and make it digestible, but Ahlgren does that (and more), and does it with seemingly remarkable ease. The characters are well-constructed, but without the glut of back-story found so often in debut novels, as the author is struggling to make sure you get the minutiae. The reader does get a good look back at the life story of the protagonist, Douglas Cole, but that is integral to the story line. Ahlgren trusts you to engage in the story, learning about the characters as you go, thereby freeing up the pages for more action and intrigue, of which there is plenty. Told primarily in the first person from Douglas Cole’s point of view, Discipline takes the reader on a wild ride across the metaphysical map, between continents and through cities as Cole struggles to cope with his own personal demons while, at the same time, making decisions that could impact everyone’s economic future. The book gives its readers the opportunity to ask themselves some insightful questions, as well as to ponder some interesting “what-if”s in regards to the way our world is run.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Life is a Battle of Semantics

In a world where less and less emphasis is placed on proper word usage and sentence structure, one might think it would be the charge of the higher education institution to take up the cause of preserving the last few remaining vestiges of proper grammar. It is, but that's not the entire equation, it is up to all of us, individually and as a whole. You can go just about anywhere in today's America and be assaulted by improper punctuation on signage, misspellings in newspapers and magazines (publications which have specific employees whose job it is to ensure accuracy) and a complete lack of couth in radio/TV/online marketing. Who is to blame for all of these perversions? In no particular order, the main culprits we will examine here are the President of the United States, the general apathy of the American public, the Internet and the education system as a whole.

Start a discourse on improper word usage and one need look no further than the appointed leader of this country and cringe at the word vomit that comes spewing from his mouth. The supposed leader of the free world famously inquiring (on the campaign trail in 2000) "Rarely is the questioned asked: Is our children learning?" helped to spurn an entire industry based on one man's malapropisms. Is this making too big a deal out of nothing? Imagine if everybody who has spent twelve dollars at any one of the many stores that sell the little desk calendars of 'Bushisms' had spent that money instead on a book for a child who didn't have one to read? The fact that there is an entire cottage industry built on the foundation of the President of the United States' inability to wrap his tongue around a well-spoken sentence should scare people senseless. But it doesn't, does it? Why not? Because people just don't care anymore, laziness is everywhere and the linguistic perversions it permits are pervading our patterns of speech.

As the famous author and professor Norman Cousins asserted in his autobiography Human Options, "It makes little difference how many university courses or degrees a person may own. If he cannot use words to move an idea from one point to another, his education is incomplete." While it would be nice for college-level instructors to be able to truly prepare their students for 'the real world' by polishing their language skills and tailoring them to fit the students' path of study, there probably just aren't enough hours in anybody's day to see that become a reality. Too many assumptions are made giving college students the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their competency with the written word. How many college freshman, upon the successful completion of the requisite composition class, can properly define all of the following terms: alliteration, hyperbole, juxtaposition, irony, run-on sentence and redundancy? Probably not many, but then how could one conceivably complete a college composition class without knowing which of the countless words we have at our disposal to use at which specific point in any given sentence at any given time to properly make the requisite point required to clarify what needs to be made clear?!?

It is not fair to lay the blame solely at the feet of the instructors of the higher education institution, to be sure – much of it has to do with the tools given them. Students used to have to be able to read books to do research papers, whereas now it is not out of the realm of the feasible to think that one could get through 80% of college without actually having to open a book, all other research/reading/writing would be done through a computer. That may be all well and good, but is the assertion of this writer that something is lost when the words are pixels on a screen as opposed to ink on a page. Words on a computer screen feel sterile; they don't have the depth and meaning that the same words do spelled out in ink across nice thick pages, when the musty smell from the binding glue permeates the air as an old book is opened in a windowless room. The image of words flashing across a monitor is just that, an image of the words, fleeting, soon to be replaced by other images. It is the very fact that those words (or images thereof) are so fleeting that lends more fuel to the fire – most people delete emails after they're done reading them, most people who send emails know this, so they don't worry about capitalizing or punctuation because, hey, it's just an email, right? Falling victim to this trap is just another step down the slippery slope we are now sliding down - we as a society are losing our ability to communicate effectively.

What can we do to slow this decline? As mentioned earlier, buy a book for someone who needs it and wouldn't otherwise be able to get one. Donate your used books to a local school library. Sponsor a neighborhood child in their summer reading program, as those programs get more attention, they will hopefully get more recognition and funding. A library skills class should be an 8th grade graduation requirement and high school teachers and college instructors should be encouraged to assign research papers where no online resources are allowed. Call for more accountability from your superiors/teachers/instructors/government officials/journalists – anyone who uses words for a living should be thick-skinned enough to have them evaluated.

If you see a mistake in a newspaper/magazine/online resource, take the time and nicely point out their mistake to them – some will actually appreciate it.

Above all, don't further perpetuate the stereotype of the 'typical lazy American' and just put your name on something that you've done that looks like it might be finished, especially if it is at all important. Read it, re-read it, give it to someone else to read, then re-read it again. Take some pride in your use of words and you'll be better positioned to succeed in whatever path you follow throughout your life.