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The Elements of Eloquence

I want to share a book I read recently that I absolutely loved: The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth.

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My introduction to this book was this tweet: I felt like I was getting a glimpse at the source code that runs English. Not at the syntax and grammar level (though there is a bit of that), but the presentation layer. I got the preview from Amazon and stumbled on this passage:
A poet is not somebody who has great thoughts. That is the menial duty of the philosopher. A poet is somebody who expresses his thoughts, however commonplace they may be, exquisitely. That is the one and only difference between the poet and everybody else.
That passage felt like demystifying a mystical process and from there I was hooked. I ordered the book and read it cover to cover.

Forsyth devotes one chapter to each figure of rhetoric identified by the Ancient Greeks. He describes them as, "...techniques for making a single phrase striking and memorable just by altering the wording." Some figures are familiar friends like alliteration. Some figures like hendiadys evade ease and detection. Some figures work across sentences like these three that start with the same words: anaphora. Of course you don't need to know the figures of rhetoric to use or appreciate them, but knowing how they work can help you employ them strategically.

The most fun aspect for me was the way Forsyth uses each figure to describe that figure throughout each chapter. Identifying each use became something of a puzzle to solve while learning about how puzzles work. Forsyth also frequently gives a prime example of each figure that everyone knows. Then he draws on everything from Shakespeare to poetry to music lyrics to illustrate each one. He demonstrates that rhetorical figures aren't a dusty relic, they're a part of the natural way we use language that we can tune into and appreciate.

It was a joy to read and joy is in need. And like all correct-thinking people, Mark Forsyth has a blog. It's The Inky Fool.

Wednesday Links

Another mid-week link dump. I'm trying to link beyond our new national nightmare a bit. If you only have time for one, make it The Great Silence. And then make time for Vicki Boykis' post about blogging. (Maybe I need to prioritize instead of categorize, hmm.)

The State of Things Media Designing Things Online Community Security Supplemental

Amazon Feed Generator Update: Categories

The Amazon Feed Generator is still humming away on my server. Now with categories!

Say you want to stay up with the latest cat calendars that Amazon offers. It was kind of a pain before. Now you can select Books then the Calendar category within books and that specificity makes all the difference! You'll find things like the Cats in Art 2018 Wall Calendar before anyone else.

image: cats_in_art_2018

I'm not sure who these people are buying 2018 cat calendars already but I guess it doesn't hurt to be prepared.

Related, node.js is still neat.
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willamette

Monday Links

This just keeps going. If you only read one article from these links, make it the NY Times article about conflicts around the globe.

Corruption image: post-truth

Media Hail Mary Extra The soundtrack for these links is the Butterfield Blues Band, Born Under a Bad Sign:

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Winter Berries II
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Winter Berries

Recent Web Saturday

I took a little break from compiling links but the web did not take a break from creating them. So I bring you a new consternation of think pieces. (Pretty sure that's the collective.) No algorithms were knowingly used in collecting these links.

Corruption Media Hail Mary Practicing Cryptography Tech Extra

Recent Web Monday

Once again, LOL. (Lots of links.) If you only read one link from this pile, make it Alex Steffen's The Politics of Optimism. It's easy for me to get bogged down in the news of the world and withdraw. This helped. It reminded me of my favorite Chomsky quote that I should just have tacked up on my monitor:
If you assume that there is no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, that there are opportunities to change things, then there is a possibility that you can contribute to making a better world.
And now, this:

Action Corruption Media Hail Mary History Extra Extra
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November Fire

Team Human: The Trump Opportunity



I'm a fan of Douglas Rushkoff and Team Human, but this episode makes me angry. And I can't completely reject it.

Recent Web Friday

Friday links are really happening on Friday this time. We all know things are bad. Worse than bad.

Denormalization Filter Bubbles image: internet-and-tell-lies

(thanks, @rustyk5.)

Hail Mary Politics Global Extra Tech Stuff The soundtrack for these links is Adrian Holovaty's awesome rendtion of For No One:

Twitter QR

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Easy!

Recent Web Wednesday

Yet another round of hand-picked links from the link mill.

Normalization image: give-it-a-chance-comic

This is a fitting update by @hbons. Though it can't hurt to take another look at the original this is fine and the 2016 update: this is fine.

Filter Bubbles Extra Extra image: different-comic Tech Stuff

New Years Rulin's

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Two pages from Woody Guthrie's journal with 33 New Year's resolutions. [via boingboing]

Recent Web Monday

The links are coming in too fast to wait until Friday.

Practicing Cryptography Normalization Filter Bubbles Hail Mary Extra Extra
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Recent Horrifying Web

Friday link dirge. My self-prescribed media fast is not going well. If for some reason you're able to keep up with your own river of information and need more, here are some links that stood out to me this week. RIP Leonard Cohen, thank you.

Anti-Authoritarian Immune System

ugh.

You know, we have a strong history of opposing authoritarianism. I'd like to believe that opposition is like an immune system response that kicks in.

In 1995 Umberto Eco tried to put together a description of Fascism that basically has a listicle in the middle. It might as well be called You Won't Believe these 14 Elements of Fascism. He called it, Ur-Fascism. It's hard to click and read a dry article about political theory from an Italian semiotician, so here are the highlights of Eco's Ur-Fascism:
  1. cult of tradition
  2. rejection of modernism
  3. action for action's sake
  4. disagreement is treason
  5. fear of difference
  6. appeal to a frustrated middle class
  7. obsession with a plot
  8. enemies are portrayed as both too strong and too weak
  9. pacifism is trafficking with the enemy
  10. contempt for the weak
  11. everybody is educated to become a hero
  12. machismo via weapons
  13. selective populism
  14. use of an impoverished vocabulary
When you see these elements all working together, you can put a name to it and make decisions from there. It's not just Eco who has worked to help us recognize this pattern. One of the reasons everyone reads 1984 in school is because it's something we need to be prepared to work against. One of the reasons we all sang This Land is Your Land is because we need it to help keep us on track.

In 2004 I collected some of my favorite books about the media: Guerilla Media Literacy List. I still think that's a great list and I plan to revisit some of those books now. (I might add Aristotle's Poetics to that list if I wrote it today.) I think we have a lot of art and literature we can turn to that helps us prepare for living with a more authoritarian system. We still have to do the work. But we can start to get our immune system prepared.

Pinboard Popular Tweets

I use the bookmarking service Pinboard and I'm a fan of its Popular Bookmarks page. A lot of interesting stuff surfaces there. However, the page isn't exactly information rich. Here's a screenshot of the page this morning:

image: pinboard_embed_tweets1

I circled all the instances where the popular link title is simply Twitter. I wanted to be able to know what those links were without visiting Twitter so I whipped up a little Greasemonkey (aka Tampermonkey in Chrome) script to embed the tweets in the page. The script is on Github here: pinpoptweets.js. (I'll leave installation as a fun exercise for you, reader.)

Now when I visit that page I see many, many embedded tweets:

image: pinboard_embed_tweets1
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Ford 350
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Untitled

Amazon Feed Generator Reborn

Today I fired up a new version of the Amazon Feed Generator. It creates an RSS feed from Amazon search results so you can subscribe to them. That way you'll be alerted to new products that show up in those results.

This feed generator is one of the tools that used to live at this site. I put the original together around the time I wrote Amazon Hacks. The feed generator eventually became unnecessary because during the RSS boom of the mid-to-late 2000s, Amazon embraced feeds and offered them for many of their pages. These days they've scaled the feeds they offer way back and I still think it's handy to able to subscribe to them.

The feeds this tool generates are very simple. Each feed entry has the product name, a big image, and the new (non-used) price for the item. For example, there probably aren't too many new Bob Dylan albums coming out on vinyl, but why not subscribe to this feed just to be sure. There are a few more examples on the feed generator page.

Amazon's API has changed quite a bit over the years. My server development environment changed. Let's face it, we've all changed. So to get this running again I built it anew. I used node.js and a couple of existing packages: amazon-product-api and rss. (Those rely on other packages, which use others, and it's packages all the way down.) Thanks for sharing your code everyone! I put the code for this on Github, so you too can run your own feed generator and tweak it if you want.

There are probably bugs and I have a to-do list for things I want to clean up. So let me know if you spot something off. I'm happy another little piece of onfocus infrastructure is up and running again.

Danse Macabre by Portland Cello Project

Last night Portland Cello Project played here in Corvallis and I got to hear them play Danse Macabre by Saint-Saens. Even with Halloween over it feels like the perfect soundtrack to the world right now.

The Awl recently had a great article about this song: What’s Spookier Than Saint-Saëns's 'Danse Macabre'? That opening dissonant tritone sounds like the devil. Hopefully playing and hearing that diabolus in musica has exorcised some of the evil in the world and we can get to a new soundtrack soon.