Archive for the ‘Geekery’ Tag

The Importance of Syntax

Way back in the nineteen-mumbles, I took a programming class. I was in the very last class at my university that started Fortran programming on punch cards. Yes, punch cards. You can buy them on Etsy as antiques. The professor thought we should know how bad his generation had it so we would appreciate dumb terminals (insert eye-roll here).

At any rate, the mini-mainframe system was so amazingly primitive that your program output might be a single sheet of paper (with tractor-feed margins still attached, of course) that bore the message “Syntax Error”. Which meant you had screwed up in punching one or more of your cards and the resulting code would not compile correctly, let alone run and give you the results you had to turn in for a grade.

It’s an excellent catch-all message that can be used to describe so many grammatical errors in English:
“Try and do it” = syntax error
“Graduated college” = syntax error
“Happened on accident” = syntax error
“Your so right” = syntax error
“I could care less” = syntax error

Luckily, English is extremely redundant and the human brain is highly resilient (unlike computers). We can interpret statements full of syntax errors, although a personal opinion of the speaker/writer’s intelligence might be revised down in the process. Unless English is not his or her first language, of course; syntax can be tricky to port between different grammatical systems.

For example, French uses postpositions, positional-descriptive words that are placed after a noun phrase, as well as prepositions. When French is transliterated to English, you sometimes get sentences that sound like Yoda came up with them — full of syntax errors…in English.

Genre fiction publishers are reluctant to include semicolons in books, because they believe (or so my editors have said) readers can’t understand them. Not fair, really, to either readers or the semicolon, but there it is. The result, if the writer is using the punctuation correctly, is unnecessarily choppy prose or (shudder) comma splices without appropriate conjunctions. In other words, syntax errors.

Many syntax errors are so common they’ve become idiom (a nice way of saying everybody does it so grammarians have given up), which is why idiom is almost untranslatable — it didn’t actually make sense in the first place, so moving it into a different language is tricky at best.

Study your syntax, be aware when you’re using idiom. Control it; use it for effect and not just because it’s the first thing that comes to mind. Just because everyone is doing it does not make it right, or good, or readable twenty years from now when idiom and syntax have moved on.

If you do that, you’re less likely to include the word “hassle” (origin in the late 19th century, rarely used before 1950) six times in a Regency romance novel.

Back to the word mine….

Val

Braggin’ on a Friend or Two

Just as an FYI, my writing buddy Sharon Joss ( @JossWrites ) won the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future competition.

Sharon writes delightful stories; her first novel, Destiny Blues, has magic, fate and a touch of horror (although I’ve also laughed out loud while reading her stuff). The L. Ron Hubbard win is a well-deserved honor and I’m so happy for her.

And she has a substantial backlist, so you won’t run out of her work much too soon. I’m just sayin’.

Another buddy, Ken McConnell ( @KenMcConnell ), is giving away — yes, for FREE — the first novel of his Star Saga series. You can get it from Kobo as an epub or from his website in a format of your choice.

A note about Ken: He makes the spaceship models, then photographs them, and then has his graphic artist (who happens to be his brother) make his book covers from the photos. That’s the kind of work he puts into his novels.

Thanks,
Val

I am The Nexus of All Great Fictional Starship Captain Families

Not really, but… a couple of days ago, I got to thinking about my dad’s sister. She married a man named Kirk and they had two children before she died tragically (there was a crib death and a suicide; it’s all very sad and it happened before I was born), so I never got to know my cousins.

But I know I have cousins named Kirk. As far as I know, they’re Montanans, not from the Midwest, but they could move in the next few hundred years.

One of my mother’s sisters married a man named Pike and they had two sons. So I have cousins named Pike. They live in Arizona. Lovely people.

Have I ever mentioned that my mother’s maiden name was Reynolds? Yup, all kinds of relatives named Reynolds, including a bunch of cousins; Mom had nine brothers and sisters, so it’s not all that surprising.

So that’s two famous Star Fleet captains and the iconoclastic head of the Serenity crew that could possibly carry some of the same DNA I do. That is, if they weren’t, you know, made-up characters.

As far as I know, though, I don’t have any relatives with the surname Khan or Adama.

Yet (she typed with an evil grin).  And now, back to editing Getting Lucky.

 

Wylde Hare Press’s First Cover

The marvelous Kanaxa did the cover for my first published book, Blade’s Edge, published by Samhain Publishing. I discovered recently that she’s doing a limited number of freelance covers and immediately contacted her about Open Mike at Club Bebop and the rest of the Ganymede series. She came up with the best cover idea and after a very little tweaking, she sent me this (imagine me bouncing with excitement as I embed the image):
OpenMikeAtClubBebop_Web

Ta-dah!

I couldn’t have asked for a better cover to kick off Wylde Hare Press. I think it might even be better than the cover for Blade’s Edge.

Now all I have to do is get the book formatted, the ISBNs purchased, the blurb written and get it uploaded to all the stores. My target date for this is August 20th.

This is going to be so much fun; I haven’t formatted a book in…well, more than 20 years, back when I was working my way through college as a typesetter in the university’s graphics and printing department. And it was before mobi and epub formats existed, so I get to learn something new.

(bounce, bounce, chortle, bounce)

Now that the election is over, I can say it

“Well-paying jobs” must be stricken from American English. It is a phrase that makes no grammatical sense whatsoever.

“Paying” is a gerund, a linguistic sleight of hand that turns a noun (or an adjective) into a verb. The problem with this? Um, pay is a verb. Paying is also considered the present tense of the verb “to pay,” but only in specific cases, and it usually requires a helper verb (He *is* paying the rent vs He pays the rent.).

There’s no real reason to create a gerund from a verb, unless you are among those who believe that extra syllables make a word more important (utilize and use don’t actually mean the same thing, for example, although many people use them interchangeably; these are normally the people who opt for the longer word).

So, now that the proverbial “they” have made a verb out of…a verb, these folks then proceed to turn it into a compound adjective by applying the adverb “well” with a hyphen — when they actually remember the hyphen, but that’s a different issue.

The net result is a construction that sounds off when spoken and looks off when written. Why? Because of the double-sex-change of the verb to try to make it sound present-tense (a verb thing) when acting as an adjective (which, like the honey badger, don’t care). See? This is why it makes no sense.

What is a “well-paying job” anyway? Logically, it’s a job that pays well. I would consider a person who has a job that pays well to be well paid, wouldn’t you?

Oh look, there’s the construction the media and politicians should have been using for the last two years: “well-paid jobs.”

That’s definitely it, because “well-paid jobs” doesn’t make my inner grammarian cringe. There, I said it. And I have no regrets.

Books by Friends — Amazon Recommends Tyrmia

Look what I found in my inbox this morning:
Amazon e-mail for Tyrmia

Tyrmia is a stand-alone novel set in the Starstrikers universe created by Ken McConnell. I’ve known Ken for several years, and I’m delighted that the gigantic bookstore has taken notice of his independent efforts.

I’m not saying the book is perfect — no book is, and this one has its share of typos — but I think Ken is a gifted storyteller. Copy editors are easy to find; really good storytellers…not so much.

Go, Ken!

Recent Submission Calls

Avon Impulse just sent out a call for novella submissions: Write For Avon Impulse.

Entangled Publishing editor @KL_Grady tweeted yesterday, “You know what I’m dying for right now? Novellas (10k-40k) that are NOT contemp. Paranormal, sci fi, historical, etc. BRING IT!”

Silver Publishing is a relatively new digital-first company (they started at the end of 2009 as a service provider for self-publishers, then reorganized to become a publisher six months later) which has just announced a handful of submission calls: Silver Publishing Special Submissions.

I know I’ve seen some more floating around recently, too. There must be something in the air now that the U.S. weather’s warmed up (well, everywhere but New England). Perhaps pollen causes special submission calls….

In other news, Ubuntu released a new version and Firefox forced me to upgrade to rev 12.0 this week. I’ve written my first user manual for a tablet-browser user interface. Spring is definitely in the air.

How many dead computers make a geek?

I live in a seven-computer household. Four of them are dead, one has a consumption-type cough, one is my husband’s main computer, and I’m typing this on the last one. Why so many dead computers?

Basically, sloth. A computer dies, Spooky Man shoves it in a corner and I try to ignore it because that’s his room, his toys. Ahhh, make that tools. Same thing, really.

But please, when I can’t print pages for my critique group because the PC that was the file server for our venerable LJ4000 choked a hard drive (possibly on fur; I had no idea how much discarded fur was hiding in that dark corner next to the fan intakes, euw)…that’s enough dead computers, thank you very much.

I foresee a trip to the hazardous waste recycling drop off in my not-too-distant future, after the hard drives are removed and beaten to death. Binary code never really dies, but it can be dismembered.

Then I’m buying a fastish bare-bones system for print serving and VOIP only, right after I shave the cats.
Bwah-hah-hah-hah-hah.

Okay, I’m not serious about shaving my fur babies, but any recommendations for a really, really good vacuum that gets into tight places would be appreciated.

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