Pathetic Proofreading

The Library of Congress recently released an inaugural poster of our new President with a quote from him — and as you can see below it had a big, embarrassing typo in it.

trumpposterIt’s true.  The Library of Congress, for God’s sake!   The home of hundreds of thousands of books, started when Congress purchased the personal library of Thomas Jefferson, apparently doesn’t employ a decent proofreader who knows the difference between “to” and “too.”

It’s sad, but it’s not really surprising.  Proofreading is an art that is pretty much gone with the wind.  People used to pride themselves on zealously catching typos and misspellings and other written errors.  These days, though, people type things up and blast them out, whether via Twitter or blogs or Facebook, and nobody bothers to check them for spelling or grammar or the proper use of the King’s English.  We’ve gotten to the point where we basically accept the casual typo or the misuse of a word because . . . well, because we’re just in too much of a hurry to pay attention to those little, trifling details.  As I said . . . it’s sad.

But really — the Library of Congress?  The official inaugural poster?  If there’s one thing that should be proofread to a fare the well, that’s it.  For shame!

Knackered

A few days ago, the word of the day on our word calendar was “knackered.”  It’s a British word that is synonymous for “tired.”

puppy-fell-asleep-in-dog-food“Knackered” is presumptively an excellent word, because all words that begin with a “k” are.  (Kish agrees with this point.)  It’s a fun word to say and kind of rolls off the tongue, too.  But it’s also an extremely useful word because, especially as you get older, it’s increasingly common to become tired as the work week progresses, and having another word that you can use to describe your condition is very welcome.

When you think about it, there are almost as many words that express being tired as there are for being drunk.  And, there are some fine gradations between them.  I would put “fatigued,” “enervated,” and “weary” at the less tired end of the spectrum, whereas “exhausted,” “dead on my feet,” and “bone tired” would hold down the opposite end, where you can barely stand and have to watch that you don’t nod off at the dinner table (or with your head in the dog food bowl).  “Beat,” “wiped out,” “shot,” “spent,” “worn out,” “bushed,” “tuckered out,” and (Mom’s favorite) “too pooped to pop” would be somewhere in between.

Knackered would be more toward the “exhausted” end of the spectrum, because in some parts of the former British Empire it’s also slang for “broken” and is derived from a word for “to kill.”  And, because it’s of British lineage, you can sound classy when you express the depth of your fatigue.

Feel free to use it the next time you drag yourself home from work and somebody asks how you’re doing.

Testing The Impact Of Free Money

Starting this week, the government in Finland is going to do something interesting.  For two years, it will be giving free money — about $590 a month — to 2,000 unemployed Finns.

free-moneyIt’s an effort to test the theory of “basic income,” and also an attempt to try to streamline Finland’s social welfare system, where benefits vary depending on a person’s status and change whenever the status changes.  The concept of basic income posits that paying people just for being alive will make sure that no one falls through the cracks.  And the Finnish government also is hoping that the experiment will provide some evidence of just what unemployed people will do if they are given money with no strings attached.  Proponents of basic income hope that the money spurs unemployed people to start their own businesses and be more entrepreneurial.  The skeptics expect that the lucky 2,000 Finns will spend a lot of time on their couches, watching TV and eating junk food.

I’m not sure how the free money will affect the 2,000 recipients; predicting the reactions of individuals is never easy.  I don’t think $590 a month is all that much money — for example, it’s about a third of what salespeople in Finland earn, according to this chart — but if Finland has a robust social safety net, as many northern European countries do, it might be enough to allow somebody to eke out a couch-bound, video game-oriented life with a roommate or two and some generous parents.  It doesn’t seem like it would be enough money to allow people to start a business, learn a new trade, or do some of the other positive, poverty-ending things that some advocates are forecasting.  My guess is that if the unemployed folks had the drive, moxie, and gumption to start a new business, for example, they probably wouldn’t be unemployed in the first place.

No, I think the more predictable response will come from the people who aren’t getting that $590 a month for the next two years.  Somebody is paying the taxes that fund the “free money” pot, and I’m guessing they won’t exactly be happy to be paying somebody else to simply exist.  And if even a portion of the 2,000 start their own businesses, some of the taxpayers no doubt will wonder why they didn’t get the free money that would allow them to pursue their dreams.  When government is picking the lucky few, there is bound to be some resentment.  Pretty soon you end up with a lot of people wanting that free money from the government, the government bowing to popular demand, and perhaps not enough people who are working and paying the taxes that provide the free money in the first place.

All of which begs the question:  how could the “basic income” model be sustainable in the real world?  Thanks to Finland, maybe we’re about to find out.

Ending The Email Chain

There’s a colleague at my office — we’ll call him the Young Fogey — who hates being thanked.

It’s not that he thinks people should be unappreciative.  No, he just hates getting that “thanks” email that frequently serves as an awkward effort to finally bring the lingering email chain to an end.  The first email poses a question, the response seeks clarification, the next email provides it, the following email gives an answer . . . and when the process finally ends, the Young Fogey gets that “thanks.”  He hates it, because it clutters his inbox.  “You don’t need to thank me!” he thunders.

I understand the Young Fogey’s point, because sometimes email conversations can be an exhausting, protracted process.  How are you supposed to end that long email chain in an appropriate way?  Just moving on after you ultimately get the answer to your question seems kind of cold and curt, like you’re ignoring what the other party to the conversation did.  On the other hand, the closure process can be . . . ungainly.

But I don’t think we should discourage people from saying “thank you” when they’ve been helped, either.  We could always use more manners and politeness in the world, and people who routinely say thank you just tend to be more pleasant to be around.  In fact, when I get the final “thanks” email, I often respond “No problem!  Happy to be of assistance.” — which no doubt would really drive the Young Fogey around the bend.

I’m not a fan of a cluttered inbox, and sometimes it can be a challenge keeping it to manageable levels.  Those “thanks” emails, though, aren’t really the problem.  I think the Young Fogey needs to take a deep quaff of Metamucil, accept those “thanks” emails with good cheer, and reflect on the positive fact that the people he’s working with feel the need to express their appreciation for his help and insight.

Return From The Road

Last night I got home from a long road trip for work.  I was gone for the whole work week, had to change hotels, touched down in three different airports along the way, and ate my meals exclusively in office cafeterias, airport lounges, and restaurants I’ll probably never visit again.

I know this kind of travel is the norm for many people, but I don’t see how they do it.  The transient lifestyle really wears me down.  I don’t get my exercise, and I don’t sleep very well, either.  My normal circadian rhythms are thrown totally out of whack, and fatigue accumulates like a heavy snow falling on a rooftop.

By the end of the week, as I don my last clean clothes, I see that every other shirt and garment in my suitcase appears to be permanently wrinkled.  My eyes feel dried out, my hands feel bloated somehow, and I’m ready to get home come hell or high water.  As I race through the last airport concourse trying to catch a quick connection I just hope that weather, or mechanical difficulties, or air traffic control don’t stop the homeward momentum.  I’m ready to get a kiss and hug from Kish and a happy tail wag from Kasey.

I never sleep so soundly as I do when I return home after a long business trip.

A Nuclear Near Miss In ’67

We’ve all heard about the Cuban Missile Crisis — the tense standoff in October 1962, when the United States and the Soviet Union seemed on the brink of nuclear war over Soviet missiles based in Cuba.

It turns out that there was another very close call during those terrible Cold War days, when kids were trained to duck and cover, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. kept nuclear aircraft in the air at all times, ready to respond to any attack, and nuclear annihilation seemed an ever-present threat.  This particular near-miss happened in 1967 and hasn’t gotten any attention because everything occurred behind the scenes.  It hasn’t been given a catchy, alliterative name like “Cuban Missile Crisis,” either.

sun-big-solar-flare-100910-02Let’s call it the Solar Flare-up of ’67.

It happened on May 23, 1967.  The sun emitted a solar flare so powerful that it knocked out the three U.S. Air Force’ ballistic missile Early Warning System radar sites in the northern hemisphere.  The sites appeared to be jammed — which in those days was considered an act of war because it would be the first step in launching a preemptive nuclear strike.  Reasoning that the Soviets were behind the jamming, Air Force personnel began readying the American nuclear arsenal for a countdown to a strike, too.

At that point, fortunately, scientists and solar forecasters working at the North American Aerospace Defense Command figured out that the huge solar flare, and not the Russians, were responsible for the jamming.  The news went up the command chain, and the American forces stood down.  And, since the Soviet defense systems were presumably similarly affected by the solar flare, a similar scenario played out somewhere on the Russian side of the Iron Curtain.

The Solar Flare-up of ’67 just reaffirms how improbable it was that the world made it through the hair-trigger period of the Cold War.  If relations were on a hair-trigger basis such that even solar flares could plausibly spark a nuclear exchange, it’s amazing that some miscommunication or misguided leader didn’t send the world on the path to a radioactive holocaust.

There Goes Somebody’s First Job

Popular Science has an interesting article about the development of a robot in Germany that grills sausages and apparently does a pretty good job of it.  So what, you say?  Here’s what:  the German robot shows just how easy it is for robotics to eliminate jobs.  And, since robotics mostly focuses on performing basic, ministerial tasks, the jobs that are eliminated tend to be entry-level jobs — the kinds of jobs that many of us had as our first jobs, back when we were teenagers.  Whether it is grilling sausages, flipping burgers, washing dishes, or bagging groceries (which was my first job), we’re likely to see increasing robotic inroads, which means fewer jobs for kids trying to earn some spare money so they can take their significant other on a date or go to the prom.

If you’re the owner of a sausage restaurant, why wouldn’t you use a robot instead of a teenage kid?  The robot in the Popular Science article has a natty moustache and is wearing a chef’s hat, apparently issues some German witticisms as he grills, and will never, ever complain about working conditions or fail to show up for work on time.  You wouldn’t have to pay for health care, perform withholding, or worry about unionization.  And, since we all remember the personality issues that inevitably afflict the teenager years, you wouldn’t have to deal with sullen, hormone-addled employees, either.

When robots take over those “first jobs” that many of us had, I think it will have a profound impact.  I thought getting that first job was an important step on the road to adulthood, where I jarringly realized that not everybody is going to treat me with kid gloves like my parents did.  If teenagers can’t get a first job, how are they going to get a sense of the working world, and how are they going to stay out of trouble?