Gas station without pumps

2016 August 3

Missing comma

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 20:42
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Our local paper had a headline: “4 dead identified as cause of California bus crash probed“.  I couldn’t help but wonder how they were identified as the cause of the crash, and what they were probed with.

2016 July 9

Spacing after periods

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 16:03

I was recently pointed to an article about the history of the typographic rules for spacing after sentence-ending periods, Why two spaces after a period isn’t wrong (or, the lies typographers tell about history) – Heraclitean River:

The topic of spacing after a period (or “full stop” in some parts of the world) has received a lot of attention in recent years.  The vitriol that the single-space camp has toward the double-spacers these days is quite amazing, and typographers have made up an entire fake history to justify their position.

The author has a detailed historical analysis both of practice and of typographer’s manuals, going back to about 1771, showing that the historical practice was to use an em-space at the end of  sentences, and that the modern practice of using just the normal word space is of quite recent origin.

The author’s own preferences are clearly stated:

For the record, before we go further, my preference is not for double-spacing, but for a slightly larger sentence space, about 1.5 times an interword space for most typefaces.  But unlike the modern single-space fanatics, I don’t judge anyone’s aesthetic preferences, nor will I try to make up fairy tales using fabricated history to convince you.

I am in aesthetic agreement with the author—I’ve always liked sentence-ending spaces to be a bit bigger than word spaces, but not a full em wide.  I find that TeX’s handling of spaces (and, hence, LaTeX’s) to be quite good, in that sentence-ending spaces are a bit larger than word spaces, but are also stretchier and squishier, so that justification affects them more than the word spaces. When combined with TeX’s hyphenation, line-breaking, and justification algorithms, one gets well-set text blocks with only very rare human intervention (mainly when hyphenation has to be forced into a word adjacent to an em-dash, or when there are large unbreakable objects like math formulas).

The  Why two spaces after a period isn’t wrong article is worth reading for the historical content, but the bottom line is clear—you can use either one or two spaces after periods, if you are using crude tools (like Microsoft Word, WordPress, or Google docs) that don’t have good handling of sentence-ending spacing built-in.

2011 May 18

Logical punctuation

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 06:20
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Ben Yagoda in an article for Slate Magazine, wrote about the placement of commas relative to quotation marks: Logical punctuation: Should we start placing commas outside quotation marks?.

I’ve always been a stickler for punctuation rules, but I have resisted one rule that is often arbitrarily applied: forcing periods and commas inside quotation marks at the end of a quote, when they are grammatically part of the surrounding sentence and not part of the quote.  I’ve written about quotations before—the following is from a class handout of 1990 that I used for about 10 years:

Quotation marks (“quotes”) are used to enclose a directly quoted statement from another source, or, sometimes, to set off a slang word or deliberately mis-used word. The second usage probably derives from the first, attributing the word to an outside source. Don’t use quotation marks for emphasis—use italics or underlines instead. Single-quotes are used for quotations inside quotations. Some fonts have separate left and right quotes (“like this” and ‘this’); if yours does, use them. Brackets [ ] are for comments from the quoting author inside a quoted passage. One popular bracketed comment is [sic], which is used to indicate that the error in a quotation was in the original, and was not added in transcription.

We disagree with many punctuation experts on one point—they insist on putting commas inside quotes. This is correct when quoting human conversation or human-to-human writing, but when quoting any communication with a computer, retain the original punctuation inside the quote marks. For example, you type “mail”, not “mail.” Exact punctuation is often critical in computer communications—resist the attempts of those who know no better to “correct” your usage!

Of course, all my comments above pertain to standard American punctuation, not to other, equally-valid punctuation systems.  I did allow my students to use British conventions, as long as they used them consistently (no mix-and-match), though I did insist on the serial comma (also known as the Oxford comma), because it increases readability.

Another common problem in modern communication is how to punctuate a URL that is included in a sentence.  It is often an appositive (and so would normally be set off by commas) or at the end of a sentence.  It is really, really bad to add extra punctuation to a URL.  My usual fix is to rewrite my sentences so that URLs are not adjacent to punctuation, or to put the URLs in parentheses. When I have to quickly fix someone else’s text (such as forwarding an e-mail), I often choose the unsatisfying approach of adding a new-line after the URL and omitting the sentence punctuation that would normally follow the URL.

(Incidentally, the “we” in the quoted text was neither the royal, nor the editorial “we”—I co-taught the class at the time I wrote the handout, and so there really were two instructors as the authors of the handout.)

2010 September 20

Sore knees redux

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 20:21
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On 8 Sept 2010, I took my son’s science fair poster to the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds by bike, and wrote about the 44-mile bike trip. I’ve also posted twice about the County Fair itself, once before going, and again (with pictures) after going yesterday. Today, I had to pick up the poster.  Since the special County Fair bus is no longer running, it would have taken me longer to go by bus than by bike, so I cycled again.  I took a slightly different route to the fairgrounds this time (going through Capitola and taking Larkin Valley Rd), but came back the same way as before, via Freedom.

I went a little slower this time (45 miles at 9.8 mph), but did not get any calf cramps and my knees are not as sore as last time. I don’t know whether it was the slightly slower pace, drinking more water, or stopping occasionally to take pictures that made this ride more comfortable.

Last Resort Salon

Would you patronize a beautician at this salon if you had a choice, or only if it was your last resort?

blocked bike lane on Monterey at Camino Medio in Capitola

Capitola does not seem to quite understand the concept of a bike lane. At one point on Monterey Avenue, the bike lane is blocked by a steep cross street (El Camino Medio St., if Google Maps is to be believed).

Detour sign blocking bike lane

There were many "detour" signs along Park and Soquel because MacGregor Drive was closed. Unfortunately, the County Public Works almost always blocked the bike lane with the signs, requiring somewhat uncomfortable lane changes for bicyclists. There is this belief among traffic construction workers and some traffic engineers, that because the wheel of a bike is only about an inch wide, the whole bicycle and rider can fit through an inch-wide opening.


I think that all telephone poles should keep score, though this one on Larkin Valley Road just after a sharp curve may have an unfair advantage.

what bike path?

You're not allowed to park on the bike path. First, of course, you have to find the bike path on Buena Vista Drive. Is it the loose gravel shoulder, or the pot hole on the right full of cobbles?

Grimmer Road street sign

This crossroad actually looks like it might be better for cycling than Holohan. Perhaps the name is just to discourage tourists and gentrification.

"Fresh Delicious Toasted" BREAKFAST BAGELS Every Day

A find for the "blog" of "unnecessary" quotation marks. On Freedom Blvd.

Because of bugs in handling of captions, you can’t have links in captions. (Can you say “lame”?) Here is a link to the “blog” of “unnecessary” quotation marks.

"Mexican Restaurant"

Another find. I guess they were too embarrassed to claim to actually be a Mexican restaurant.

National Punctuation Day

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 09:03
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This Friday (24 Sept. 2010) is National Punctuation Day®, a somewhat earnest “celebration of the lowly comma, correctly used quotation marks, and other proper uses of periods, semicolons, and the ever-mysterious ellipsis.” It isn’t as much funny as International Talk Like a Pirate Day, but that was yesterday, and Sunday events don’t lend themselves much to school-based activities.

Their web site has information about usage for thirteen of the major punctuation marks in American English, haiku about punctuation, and a collection of badly punctuated signs.  One page of the signs had the following quote:

From there I investigated the county library that would be closer to my new office building and found this sign while waiting on my books at the drive-up window.

I’m trying to imagine fast-book libraries with drive-up windows.  While I can maybe see the point for picking up books that are on hold, for me the real joy of a library is browsing, which seems difficult to do at a drive-up window.  Surely it would be more valuable for a library to be investing in acquisitions, rather than building and staffing a drive-up window.

There is a more narrowly focused blog on badly punctuated signs at the “blog” of “unnecessary” quotation marks, which does a better job of finding amusing signs (though it has its share of rather boring ones also).

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