Category Archives: Reviews & Recommendations

The People’s Science: A forum connecting scientists and the public

I encourage you to check out The People’s Science. As they say,

…most of what the public knows about ongoing science comes to us indirectly, from press offices or journalists.  Although these descriptions can be very good, scientists rarely have opportunities to meet non-scientists directly and engage in open conversation about their work.


The People’s Science is a centralized, interactive space where scientists and the public can meet and converse.

Scientists are invited to post “pop” versions of their work, and each post serves as its own discussion forum, where readers can ask questions, give thoughts, and discuss the meaning of the work. Feel free to enjoy, explore, and discuss. Because after all, science is for all people.

So far the content is mostly comprised of Psychology and Neuroscience research (probably because the founder, Jamil Zaki, is a Social Neuroscientist), but I’m sure it will diversify as it gets more popular.

So whether you’re a scientist or “the public,” follow them on Twitter, like them on Facebook, and contribute to the website.

This ain’t your parents’ spelling bee show.

I admit it: the Scripps National Spelling Bee is my favorite thing on ESPN. But this post isn’t about that.

This morning when I logged into Hulu, it suggested I watch the new show Spell-Mageddon. Since I had plenty of emails to read and respond to that didn’t require complete concentration, I decided I could spare the diversion this time.

Spell-Mageddon is a mix between a spelling bee and an old-school Nickelodeon game show (think Guts, Legends of the Hidden Temple, and Slime Time). Contestants must spell words while being distracted by the likes of spraying foam, flashing lights, and being dunked into ice water. I know under those conditions I would be way too flustered to think clearly. Even though I went to the all-school spelling bee in fourth and fifth grades (I’ll never forget how to spell pigeon after getting out on that one!), I don’t know that I could even spell my name under time pressure with blue liquids flying in my face and an audience cheering in the background.

Don’t be fooled: this show won’t do much for your vocabulary or spelling skills if you’re already a moderately competent adult. The hardest word was schizophrenic–compare that to the 2011 Scripps winner,  cymotrichous (which isn’t even in Google Chrome’s spell check).

That’s not what it’s for, though. Spell-Mageddon is for the entertainment of watching charming characters react to the challenges and look silly while having fun. Sure, it’s low brow humor, but I still appreciate the further mainstreaming of spelling bees. Celebrating intellectualism as cool is cool with me.

And the best part? Carlton Banks–er, I mean, Alfonso Ribeiro is the host.

Writing for an Audience class

Update: the application deadline has been extended to Sunday, August 4.

Would you like to “improve [your] ability to present general (not technical) ideas persuasively to an uninformed or unsympathetic audience”? If so, sign up for Dr. Leonard Peikoff’s class Writing for an Audience. The deadline is this Friday, July 26, Sunday, August 4, so act soon!

For just $300, you’ll be able to virtually meet with Dr. Peikoff–a very effective communicator–for 15 90-minute lectures. Most of these will be spent in hands-on analysis of students’ writing.

The stated prerequisites are “familiarity with Ayn Rand’s two major novels [Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead], along with some understanding of her ideas.” Your application should include a short essay on “Why I like The Fountainhead.”

Click here for more information. Remember, you only have a few days to apply, so start writing!

PS: Unfortunately I’m unable to attend, but I’d love to hear about the course. If anyone attends, please let me know!

New freelance editor? Start here.

If you’re thinking about becoming a freelance editor or proofreader, you need to read Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers: A Guide for New Starters by Louise Harnby. With chapters on everything from the importance of crafting a business plan to promotion and networking, its business-first approach will get you started on the right foot. Too many forget that we’re business people who happen to edit, rather than the other way around. This lack of foresight can severely handicap growth and success.

The book is packed with great tips that wouldn’t have occurred to me on my own. For instance, try contacting publishers before the holidays when their regulars might not be taking on new work. Profiles of other freelancers who entered the field within the past two years were an inspiring end to the main book.

The collection of resources at the back was also very useful. In fact, my post was delayed this morning because I was busy going back through my original highlighting to sign up for more newsletters, join more organizations, download more software, and take advantage of other notes that weren’t as relevant to me a few short months ago.

In all, the first sentence of the introduction is completely true: “If you are considering setting up your own editorial freelance business, this guide is for you.”


The Elements of Style–A Classic Revisited

Everyone agrees: writers, students, editors, and anyone concerned with clear communication should read “Strunk and White.” What isn’t always explained is that their book The Elements of Style is now available in a mind-boggling array of editions. Did I want the original 1918 version by just William Strunk, Jr.? Or the first edition that was Strunk and E. B. White together? Or one of the anniversary editions? Or…? What I eventually settled on was The Elements of Style, Updated for Present-Day Use. It contains the original Strunk text with Stanford Pritchard’s annotations.

Cover of The Elements of Style, Updated for Present-Day Use

At just 150 printed pages (though I read the Kindle edition), it was a quick enough read, but I was often bored. I was already familiar with most of its rules and suggestions, so I didn’t learn much. That said, I was that girl who declined to take the Advanced Grammar class in high school because I could have passed the final exam on day one. If you’re not a kindred born editor, you could gain a lot from reading The Elements of Style. It is clear and punchy, with just enough humor sprinkled in to last through the dry sections.

For example, I’ve always been inexplicably vexed by awhile and a while. I’ve visited the Grammar Girl entry more times than I care to admit, but I just might have it down now. Something about the way Pritchard put it resonates with me:

awhile / a while : The first is an adverb, meaning for a while; it modifies a verb. The second is a noun, meaning a (usually short) period of time; it is preceded by a preposition. “Stay awhile,” but “Stay with me for a while.” “Linger awhile,” but “I’ll see you in a while.”

It’s cheeky little gems like this part after the explanation, though, that make the book worth reading:

Although there is some overlap between the usages, the distinction is well worth observing; consistency is inherently pleasing.

Another of my favorite passages is in the “Elementary Principles of Composition” chapter where Strunk advises us to use positive statements rather than negating descriptors:

Make definite assertions. Avoid tame, colorless, hesitating, non-committal language…. He was not very often on time. He usually came late…. Consciously or unconsciously, the reader is dissatisfied with being told only what is not; he wishes to be told what is.

He further illustrates this point with examples like dishonest instead of not honest, trifling instead of not important, and ignored instead of did not pay any attention to. Imagine how much smoother and cleaner writing would be if we all adhered to this rule! As a bonus, using the positive form can help authors struggling against a maximum word count.

In addition to his added sections on usage and bad examples, Pritchard’s annotations are a welcome contrast to Strunk’s sometimes outdated ideas. “After-thought is nowadays streamlined to afterthought,” he assures us. Though this edition was published in 2012, Pritchard’s version of “Present-Day Use” already seems behind the times in places too. He recommends using boy friend and girl friend (rather than the modern boyfriend and girlfriend) because, “being conservative in matters of language, [he prefers] the old way” (though he recognizes “a rule change…may be inevitable”).

In all, I recommend The Elements of Style, Updated for Present-Day Use for editors and other grammar geeks to be able to say you’ve actually read (a version of) Strunk and for students and anyone else struggling with grammar to read explanations and mnemonics that just might click for you better than the way you were traditionally taught.