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Welcome to grammarparrot!

I started this blog to post my grammar gripes and tips,
and as a place to store the style guide I’ve been working on since college.

But I don’t think about grammar all the time.

I also think about eating healthy, exercise, and many other topics,
so I started adding articles that have nothing to do with grammar.

In this blog, you’ll find articles about writing, computers, health,
and just whatever is on my mind that day.

You can click the topics in the left menu to read articles in that topic,
or use the search box to search all of the blog for a certain keyword.

Enjoy! And don’t forget to Like, Share, or Comment!

With a “Cute” name, can you take it seriously?

CuteFTP file transfer software by Globalscape has been in the market since 1996. The “Cute” name reflects its beginnings as a consumer product. With the release of the “Pro” version in 2001, enterprises began to rely on CuteFTP for their secure file transfers within the company and with external partners. You might have expected a name change to reflect their “big boy” upgrades, but Globalscape stuck with the Cute name because it was well-known and respected as “the” file transfer product that got the job done.

CuteFTP Lite, intended for home users, hit the market in 2008, but was not as widely adopted as the Home and Pro versions. CuteFTP Lite had all of the power of CuteFTP Pro, but without the complexity and advanced security features. Rather than finding new adopters, sales of Lite took away from sales of Home. For years, sales of the Home version had been taking away from sales of the Pro version, too.

So, for 2012, Globalscape did away with the Lite, Home, and Pro designations and merged them all into one CuteFTP product, version 9. It has all the bells and whistles of the Pro version, but with hundreds of bug fixes, an updated look and feel, localization and Unicode support, and many more enhancements to remind the world that CuteFTP is still going strong.

I’ve been using CuteFTP since 2007 to transfer files to my remote servers. All I need to do is connect to my server, select all of  my files in Windows Explorer, then “drag and drop” them over to my remote server. I can even schedule transfers to occur automatically. Ever upload all of your content and then notice a typo? Instead of re-uploading the whole file, I can edit it right on the remote server. (Then, of course, edit the one on my local hard drive, too.)

CuteFTP is easy to set up and easy to use, whether you’re a grandma with lots of grandbaby pics to upload to your website or a professional technical writer uploading help content. It’s still “Cute,” it’s still home-user friendly, and still has the power and security to attract the big boys.

Formal writing vs. informal writing

I get paid to write technical documentation, not dime novels, not romance novels, not teen books. In technical writing, you have to be clear and concise, use words that your audience will understand, use active voice, write in the second person (do this; now do that), and use proper grammar and syntax. When writing novels, you get to make the rules—it’s your novel! If you want to break the rules, break the rules! The only rules are the rules that you make. You can call that your “style” if you want. But you still have to be consistent, and still have to consider your audience. You don’t write in French if your audience speaks only English.

  • Writing technical documentation and business documentation is considered formal writing.
  • Writing a novel, this blog, emails to friends, Facebook posts, tweets, and so on is informal writing.

“Well duh,” you’re saying. “Like I didn’t know that already.” Well, no, it doesn’t seem so, because I’m frequently called out for not following the rules of formal writing when I write informally. If you’re writing a Facebook post using “gangsta slang,” I don’t feel the need to correct you. 1) it’s not my job and 2) it’s your style. The same goes for my writing on social networks–I’m writing for me, not for my employer.

Like most people, I write the way I speak, unless I’m writing for someone else. When I’m writing for the company that I work for, it’s important that it be written correctly for the audience, which in my case is the computer/IT crowd. That’s not to say that a non-computer/IT audience wouldn’t understand the writing. It’s also important, as I said earlier, to be clear and concise.

The “average” American adult reads at the 7th or 8th-grade level. That’s pretty sad, but remember that it is an average. Some people don’t read as well, and others read at a higher level. If you’re writing for your English Literature professor, obviously you’re going to use less common/more pompous language than the average American uses/sees every day (e.g., “lacrymose” instead of “weepy’). So writing at the 8th-grade level should be OK for most of your audience. Also keep in mind that, even though I’m writing toward a computer-literate audience, the particular technology that I’m writing about might be new to some of our customers, especially since computer technology changes quite frequently. It’s also quite possible that the IT person you have in mind for your user guide might not have graduated from high school (e.g., got a GED and then went to a technical school or had military training), or maybe English was not his first language. Some things get lost in translation. That’s also why it’s important to pay attention to grammar and sentence structure—easier to translate.

The Plain Language “movement” (for lack of a better word) has been going on since the 90s. I really don’t know why it hasn’t caught on. The idea is very much “techwriter 101″—use clear, plain language that anyone could understand or translate easily. (They do say, however, don’t write for an 8th grade audience if you’re sure your audience is made up of PhD candidates.) President Obama signed the Plain Writing Act of 2010 on October 13, 2010, but it’s bigger in the UK than in the US. Medical, legal, and other professionals are encouraged to write in plain language so that their constituents know what the heck it is they’re reading. What a concept! I guess we just feel more important when we use “big” words.

Whatever style you’re more comfortable writing in, write that way! And read what you like to read, not what someone else told you that you “should” read. If you want to write in a certain style, read more books in that style. That is, if you want to write user guides, read user guides, technical manuals, and so on. If you want to write like Dave Barry, read Dave Barry. If you want to write like Charlotte Brontë, read Jane Eyre. But don’t read Charlotte Brontë and then try to write user guides that way. You will definitely lose your audience. However, injecting a little Dave Barry into user guides might encourage more people to read them!

It Just Works

As a technical writer, I often say that no one notices when the documentation is good, but everyone notices when it’s bad. The same can be said of data security. As you chug on day after day, uploading files, downloading files, copying files … everything “just works.” You don’t think about all of the things going on behind the scenes: firewalls, virus scanning, virus blocking, alerts about suspect files and suspect connections, servers going down, maintenance updates, security patches, and so on. At least, you hope you don’t have to think about those things. You expect your IT team to be on top of that. Yep, no one notices when all of that “just works,” but when it stops “just working,” EVERYONE notices.

At home, you don’t have an IT team. You need to be smarter to protect your own security. Even if you don’t do banking on your computer and all you do is Facebook and email, you still have to think about security. Most commonly, you’re going to have “harmless” malware that tracks your browsing habits, what you type into forms, and so on for the purpose of marketing. Other bad guys can use this information for identity theft. The worst-case scenario of course is that a sneaky virus will be installed on your computer that turns it into a “brick” that requires your neighbors’ son who lives in their basement to fix it for you. These sorts of viruses probably benefit computer manufacturers the most, because many people will just shove the old, bad computer in a closet and use that as an excuse to buy a new one.

So what can you do? The most important thing you can do is to install the regular Microsoft and Adobe updates/patches, which are often released for the sole purpose of fixing a security problem. And pay attention to manufacturer’s “End of Life” policies, which means after a certain point, they are no longer upgrading or patching that software, making it more attractive to hackers. Install a brand-name antivirus app on your computer and keep it updated. Make all of these updates (Microsoft, antivirus, etc.) automatic and occur during times that you don’t expect to be using your computer, such as while you’re asleep or at work.

If you are really uninformed regarding regular computer maintenance, then there are two things you can do: pay the money to have someone regularly clean up your computer for you, or buy an Apple computer, which is made for people who don’t know and don’t want to know how to maintain a computer properly. Actually, there are even more options these days for those whose only use for the computer is Facebook, email, picture sharing: some tablets, mobile phones, Chromebook, and so on are “locked down” so they are updated automatically.

You’ll still need a mobile antimalware app, though (such as Lookout). And you still need to cleanup temp files. Your computer needs a part of memory (RAM) and maybe hard drive space just to display all the interfaces and to run services in the background. If the hard drive and RAM are clogged with remnants of files that aren’t being used, it’s harder for the computer to run active apps. You can clean it up yourself if you know what to delete (cookies, web history) and what not to (system files). An app the IT guy I know showed me is called CCleaner. They have a free and a paid version that you can use to clean up temp files, cookies, web history, and so on.

Maintaining your computer is like maintaining your house or car. You can keep your computer running well for a long, long time if you regularly clean up your computer, install updates, and install protective apps. If you ignore it until there is a problem, it can be much more expensive.

Word Tip: Inserted Picture in Word is Cut Off by Preceding and Following Paragraphs

A coworker asked for my help with this issue. He was working in a document that he had received from someone else. He placed the cursor in front of a paragraph, pressed ENTER, then inserted a picture. He could see the outline of the picture when the picture was selected, but only a small piece of the picture appeared in the line where he had placed it:

Exactly12ptPict

He checked the picture layout (i.e., Text Wrapping > Behind Text), and everything was fine. Then he asked for my help.

I selected the paragraph into which the picture was inserted. Then I opened the Paragraph dialog box to check the line spacing:

ParagraphExactly

The Line spacing was set to “Exactly 12 pt” which means no matter what he did to the picture, it was only going to show exactly 12 points of it. Changing the Line Spacing to “Single” allowed the entire picture to appear:

WholePic

Why did this even happen? For some reason, that document’s “Normal” style had line spacing set at exactly 12 points. There really is no reason for this in “regular” documentation. If you were doing something fancy with layout, you might want to adjust the line spacing. But plain old “single” spacing is usually fine for most documents, and that line spacing will adjust automatically depending on the font size. (The same reason that you do NOT have to double space after a period!)

Our Self-Absorbed Society

Just as a car was going by, I crossed the street and leaped onto the curb. Louie (a poodle) was startled by the car and jerked his chain (which was attached to my water belt) in the opposite direction from which I was headed. The slight pull from Louie while I was airborne was enough to make me stumble several feet and eventually fall, smashing my hand into the sidewalk, dislocating my pinky, and fracturing the bones in my right (dominant) hand. The passing car continued on without hesitation.

I don’t know whether he/she saw me fall. I sat up and felt my hand, winced in pain, and thought, “Crap, I think it’s broken. And that pinky does not look right at all.” I called my husband, who didn’t answer his phone. I called my son, who didn’t answer his phone. I tried each of them 3 more times as I started my slow, painful walk back home. Fortunately, my hand was the only major injury. I ended up with a bruised temple, shoulder, and forearm, but nothing broken there. (However, months later, the pain from soft-tissue damage in my neck and shoulders has started to emerge.) About a block from home, my husband called. “Want me to come get you?” Kinda late for that.

I’ve fallen like this before, but didn’t break anything. When I was in college, I was hurrying to class, running across a wooded area with tree roots sticking up. I tripped over a tree root and somersaulted onto my shoulders. Others on their way to class rushed on past, oblivious to my discomfort. (No one even held up numbers, as in a sporting event, to rate my somersault!) Embarrassed, but not injured, I brushed myself off and went on to class.

In January 2013, I ran in the half marathon at Walt Disney World. Running along a busy road with one lane blocked off for the runners, we were all running down a “cattle run” of sorts, barely enough room to run because of so many people. I kept to the right side of the “trail” so as not to impede the faster runners. A woman came up behind me, trying to pass those of us who are slower (and running on the right side, I repeat), and stepped on the heel of my shoe. Keep in mind, we’re all running about 6 miles per hour (some faster, some slower), so the shoe was launched off of my foot and flew off to the side, in the part of the road where the cars were.

As you might expect, the suddenness of it scared me, I yelped and stumbled, and my son caught me. He then stood next to me and held my arm while I put my shoe back on, and then we continued on our run. Meanwhile, the tall, Olive Oil-esque blond girl, with a  huge, bright smile, having the time of her life, continued on her merry way to the next set of Disney characters to get her picture taken, seemingly oblivious to my discomfort. It was bad enough that she stomped on the back of my shoe–she should have stayed to the left side with the faster runners and not followed so closely behind me. But she could have stopped, apologized, and offered to help me put my shoe back on. I doubt it even registered in her mind what she’d done. In fact, I may not have been her only victim that day! For all I know, for her it was part of the fun to stomp on the back of slow people’s heels for “extra points”!

Remember, this was a DISNEY run. It’s supposed to be fun. You’re not going to qualify for Boston on this run. She was hurrying because 1) she could and 2) she wanted to get in line to get her picture taken with the Disney characters along the route, but still wanted to finish with an unembarrassing (for her) time. The reason she had fallen back to where the slow pokes like me were is that she’d stopped at every other photo spot before this one. She should have known that her time was going to suck if she did that. But she’s (apparently) not the sort to care about other people, only herself. She was in a hurry and I was in her way.

Lately, I’ve been noticing many people are not the sort to care. Yeah, I know in times of major disasters like the Boston Marathon bombing, the fires in Colorado and California, the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, and so on, people do “grow a conscience” and actually help each other. But in everyday life, it’s rare for someone to go out of their way to help their fellow humans. Many people will pick up a mangy, flea-bitten stray dog before they’ll help a stranger who falls on a sidewalk. I’m sure there are many reasons for this attitude (our litigious society, for one), but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Take a cue from my mistake: don’t hook your dog to your water belt! Even a 13-pound miniature poodle can knock you off balance when both of your feet are off the ground.

Cholesterol is not the enemy!

“Fat is stored inside the fat cell in the form of triaglycerol. The fat is not burned right there in the fat cell, it must be liberated from the fat cell through somewhat complex hormonal/enzymatic pathways. When stimulated to do so, the fat cell simply releases its contents (triaglycerol) into the bloodstream as free fatty acids (FFAs), and they are transported through the blood to the tissues where the energy is needed.” — http://www.muscleandstrength.com/articles/what-happens-when-fat-is-burned.html

At a recent physical, it was pointed out by my doctor that my cholesterol is very high. She also did the “Berkley HeartLabs” blood test that tells us about my genetic markers for certain heart-related diseases. She had an expert in the Berkley HeartLabs tests come to her office to go over my results with me.

During our discussion, the expert pointed out, repeatedly, that my LDL cholesterol is too high (but my HDL is over 60, which is very good). I said that my cholesterol number has always been directly correlated with my weight. She insisted that my cholesterol was high because I eat too much saturated fat, and my genetic tests indicated that I don’t process fats well. I told her that I have been working out a lot more, running to 3-4 days per week, and reduced my calories by about half.

I said, “Doesn’t it make sense that because I’m burning fat, I would have more cholesterol in my blood stream?”

She said, “What?”

I said, “Well, the purpose of cholesterol is to transport fats in the blood stream, right? And because I’m burning more fat, there is more fat in my blood, and therefore more cholesterol to transport it where it needs to go.”

She said, impatiently, “It doesn’t go anywhere, it just gets burned up.”

I said, “It doesn’t just disappear! It goes into the blood stream to be transported to the muscles that need it, right?”

She said, “Well, that has nothing to do with what we’re talking about here. Let’s continue.”

She has likely spent most of her life (maybe the past 50 years?) working with patients who have heart disease and high cholesterol and can no longer see the forest for the trees. She’s convinced that mainstream medical thinking is correct, and she can no longer think critically about what actually might be going on. Like many of her generation, she doesn’t question what she’s told; the doctor is always right.

Just to placate her and my doctor, I did the recommended carotid artery ultrasound. That involved running the ultrasound device over each side of my neck to look for plaque buildup in my carotid arteries. Buildup in the carotid arteries can indicate buildup in the arteries that feed the heart, which can lead to heart problems. There was no buildup in either of my carotid arteries.

  • Cholesterol is necessary in our bodies. “Cholesterol is a lipid (fat) which is produced by the liver. Cholesterol is vital for normal body function. Every cell in our body has cholesterol in its outer layer.” (http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/9152.php)”
  • Cholesterol makes up the protective membrane surrounding each cell’s internal organelles … contributes as a building block for many of the essential hormones in your body.” (http://www.livestrong.com/article/25345-cholesterol/#ixzz2HDdm4rhS)
  • “Only about 25% of our blood cholesterol comes from our diet. Most of the cholesterol in our blood (about 75%) is produced by our bodies in the liver, intestines, adrenal glands, and reproductive organs. ” (http://solidbodyfit.com/2012/what-does-cholesterol-do/)
  • “When a long time has passed since the last meal, the concentration of fatty acids in the blood decreases, which triggers [fat cells] to release stored fatty acids into the blood as free fatty acids, in order to supply e.g. muscle cells with energy. … In response to low blood cholesterol, different cells of the body, mainly in the liver and intestines, start to synthesize cholesterol. This is then released into the blood. … Abnormally low levels of cholesterol are termed hypocholesterolemia. Research into the causes of this state is relatively limited, and while some studies suggest a link with depression, cancer and cerebral hemorrhage, it is unclear whether the low cholesterol levels are a cause for these conditions or an epiphenomenon.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_lipids)

I have not been able to find research that discusses a correlation between fat-burning exercise and cholesterol/triglycerides in the blood stream. I think it’s about time the medical establishment looked in that direction, stop making fat and cholesterol the villains, and stop trying to pump us full of liver-damaging statin drugs. Doing a study on “normal” weight men with “normal” cholesterol would not be helpful. Testing needs to focus on “average” overweight people (20-50 lbs, not severely obese) who are regularly exercising and reducing their calorie intake, not healthy athletes, and not only men.

For example, test people who are not exercising, haven’t for quite some time, and eat a “normal” American diet of breakfast pastries, fast-food lunch, and meats and starches for dinner, with very little fruits and vegetables. Then put these people on various diets (high carb, low carb, high fat, low fat, high protein, no animal protein…), and have them do an aerobic workout for at least an hour every day, testing their blood for cholesterol, triglycerides, and so on. Unfortunately for valid testing, you would have to isolate the subjects for 3-6 months to be sure that they are following the proper protocols, which will never happen.