Tuesday, March 28, 2006


From Richard Dawkins, Postmodernism Disrobed:

Suppose you are an intellectual impostor with nothing to say, but with strong ambitions to succeed in academic life. What kind of literary style would you cultivate? Not a lucid one, surely, for clarity would expose your lack of content.

Well that is rather harsh. Certain jobs such as White House spokesperson or manager require you to appear to be communicating even when that is exactly what you do not want to actually do. Jargon's purpose is to fill otherwise empty air with an illusion of meaning. Mysterious acronyms are added for extra obfuscation. Average listeners will assume that everyone in the room but them understands and that it is only their own ignorance of the topic that prevents their understanding. Perhaps they missed or dozed through the meeting in which the acronym was explained. Few are bold enough to risk exposure to interrupt a bath in the warm goo of this verbal pudding to ask "excuse me, what is KPF mode?" Keep the Plane Flying, of course. Everyone knows that. Haven't you been paying attention?

Such terms are needed to hide unpleasantness. "G-Dick" sounds less depressing than "your job just went to India". "Leverage" sounds better than "take advantage of" or simply "use", so "leverage the infrastructure" sounds like you're doing something clever when in fact it only means that you are using what's already there.

Abstractions achieve the status of concrete nouns over time. "Efficiency", abstract enough to begin with, has become a noun measurable enough to be countable so can become "efficiencies". Which you can then attach an "action verb" to, to sound dynamic, thus "drive efficiencies". A "linkage" can be "linkages", as concrete as sausage links. "Synergy" is likewise an abstraction you can treat as a concrete noun, and "leverage". This language shares with poetry a purpose other than plain communication. Its purpose lies beneath the words--to evoke anti-meaning, to sooth, to mesmerize. A manager has the soul of a poet. Here we explain why your job just went to India:

While eating our own dog food
I will open my kimono to display
the linkages
to the plane that we keep flying
that keeps the boat afloat
that leverages the synergies of the infrastructure,
and drives efficiencies into the regions.

Friday, March 24, 2006

farewell, my lovely clam

I discovered today that my favorite clam shop, Bob's on Highland Ave in Salem, has gone out of business.

Fried clams are in my blood. As a kid we lived next to the "Famous" Clam Plate at the south end of Brown's Pond in Peabody. It had a big sign with a blinking arrow pointing to the restaurant, wrapped around a smiling woman holding a big plate of yummy clams.

"Famous" seems to mean "owned by Greeks", in Greek because every dinky little sub and pizza shop in the area labels itself "famous", and they're all owned by Greeks. It could also mean "not famous."

Many Fridays my mother would just send me over there for a clam plate so she didn't have to deal with cooking fish. I got a take out and ran home and ate it by myself on a little tray in front of the TV. Clams, french fries, coleslaw, tartar sauce, ketchup. Heaven! In those days clams were cheap. Sometimes I'd get a seafood plate for the scallops too.

Somebody set fire to the Clam Plate in about 1966, then set fire to it again the next year. They said the owner had gambling debts. I live in the same neighborhood now and pine for that joint.

Later when we lived in Nahant I got my clams from The Tides. Clams were still cheap. I used to get a large box and eat the whole damn thing sitting on the rocks on the beach, behind the restaurant. The Tides went out of business and changed hands about five times. Now it's owned by some out-of-town company, and they couldn't be bothered with local food--it's all frozen. You can get tilapia and Chilean sea bass there, but not a fried clam from Ipswich.

When I lived overseas after several years away the only things I missed about home were clams and the Bruins. My sister who has moved to New Mexico is similarly afflicted with the yearning for clams. When she visits she makes the trek to Woodman's whose clams are good of course but it's too far to drive. I don't like that you have to go out of your way for clams. Our mother found Bob's. It's across the road from Wal-Mart and next to a storage place. It was completely lacking in character--the lighting was harsh, the decor yellow formica and brown panelling. Most of the clientele were elderly from the senior ghetto across the street. Unlike Woodman's no one travelled more than ten minutes to go to Bob's. But its clams were as good as Woodman's any day.

Twenty years ago at Digital I had a computer named "exclam". Computer names were limited to six characters. Its motto was "Once a clam but no longer--Ex-clam!".

Now, till I find another clam joint nearby, that's me. A man without a clam. An ex-clam.

Friday, March 10, 2006

noun string contest

A noun string is too many nouns strung together as adjectives. They are a classic example of bad writing, because you can't keep track of what modifies what, so can easily lose your way in the sentence. Sun and Open Source documents are littered with these. Here's the reigning champ:

the Sun Java System Application Server Platform Edition 8 runtime deployment descriptor

The tech writers at Sun must toil under the heavy shadow of some lawyer-inflated style guide, and readability be damned. They're so afraid somebody will hijack the word "Java" that they say "Sun Java" every time. Yea we get it, you invented Java. And what about "Platform"--what is that? Isn't it enough to just say server? Isn't a server a platform that applications run on? And "System" is pointless--it adds no value. So all of this:

the Sun Java System Application Server Platform Edition 8

...is just a long way of saying:

the Java Application Server

As for the edition, is there an Edition 7? An Edition 9? Do you really need a different runtime deployment descriptor for each edition? Isn't it just version info--you only need it under the "About" in the help menu, you shouldn't put it in the name of the thing.

But if indeed the version is somehow critical, how about an acronym? The Sun JAS8! Guess not--lawyers are fainting, left and right. If an acronym is too racy, then here is an improvement that jettisons the version number, the pointless "system", and the redundant "platform", for the sake of readability. It's still too long, but breaks up the noun strings with a helping preposition at least:

the runtime deployment descriptor for the Java Application Server

Too simple?

Runner up:

this Sears MasterCard Choice Rewards Certificate coupon...

Not a mere certificate or coupon, but a Certificate coupon!