Monthly Archives: January 2007

Where is the snow?

I miss you, snow. Please snow, in Tahoe, to be specific. I love the sunshine, but sunshine isn’t nearly as nice without nice fresh powder to ski in.

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A rant about semicolons

Aren’t you so excited to read this post after reading that title? And I just saw you do that scroll and realize how &*$%ing long this post is, too.

I happen to have strong opinions about semicolons. Fiction writing aside, I would like to discourage all use. Please, don’t use them. I am trying to be polite here. If you have never used a semicolon and never intend to, you can stop reading now. Thank you.

The thing is, semicolons are completely unnecessary. I see them primarily in two places: misused instead of a colon, and correctly used instead of period. See that colon in my last sentence? That’s where people sometimes want to use a semicolon instead of a regular colon, and in addition to being incorrect, it’s confusing.

The latter case is a bit trickier because people can argue that they are using a semicolon correctly. And they are as long as they are using it to connect two independent clauses. How do you tell if what you are connecting are independent clauses? If you can replace the semicolon with a period and they still stand alone as sentences, they are independent clauses and you can technically use a semicolon. But that’s exactly my point. If you can replace an oft-confused punctuation mark, the semicolon, with the granddaddy of all punctuation marks, the period, then just do it!

This is why I have to have my caveat about novels, poetry, and the like. Sure, there are stylistic reasons why you might want to use a semicolon to craft a story, paint a picture with words, or whatever creative writers do. But I am not a creative writer and I am not talking about creative writing. I am saying, don’t use semicolons in the everyday communication that we all participate in. I am talking about emails, presentations, web sites, proposals, and just about anything that most of us are out there writing everyday.

Two kinds of people in this world

I know some of you are thinking that you weren’t ever really clear about what the semicolon did, and never really cared because you’ve made it through life just fine without using them. Good for you. I hope that if you fall into this group, you haven’t been tempted to use a semicolon when you needed to introduce a list or provide more information about something. And if you have, know that you can use the much-friendlier colon and forget about the whole semicolon nonsense forever.

As for the other group: those of you who like to use a semicolon instead of a period. II know you paid attention in school and are proud of your advanced grammar. I know you think the semicolon looks and sounds nice, and that a period or a comma with a conjunction just isn’t the same. But think of the poor folks in the previous group, the people who aren’t really sure what the semicolon is about. Think about what happens when they read your beautifully crafted, semicolon-ed sentence.

We are cruising through your email/proposal/super-important-safety-instructions, happily absorbing all of the wisdom and insight you have to offer. Then we hit a semicolon. Bam! We stop thinking about what you have to tell us, and start thinking about the semicolon. “What does that mean? I never liked those things. What is it doing again?” We  move on, and after only a brief pause, but the damage is done. You have broken our focus from what you have to say, and instead drawn our attention to how you are saying it. That’s the last thing you want to do.

Instead, just use a period. Periods are our friends. We all know how to use periods and no one is afraid of them (avoiding obvious jokes here). If you find you right pinky reaching for the semicolon key, think of your poor reader and take the extra effort to reach down to the period key. The best part about periods is that they make your sentences shorter! Hooray! The best and easiest thing you can do to improve your writing is to use short sentences. This tip especially helps non-native-English speakers, by the way.

If you feel that your two independent clauses really do belong together in a way that is closer than mere geographical juxtaposition in a paragraph can convey, then consider the comma. The comma is almost as lovely as the period, or at least as well understood by the huddled masses. Give me a chance here. Using a comma opens up a much better world of communication style, and you’ll thank me in the end.

To bring your clauses together, declare to the world the nature of their union by using a coordinating conjunction. (Cue “Conjunction junction, what’s your function?”) You can use a coordinating conjunction like ‘and’, ‘or’, or ‘so.’ These words give more information about how the two thoughts relate to one another, which they really should if you think a period won’t do. So instead of “I ate a whole pie; I’m full.” Try “I ate a whole pie, so I’m full.” See how nice that is? And don’t forget the comma. You really do need it, even with the conjunction.

Or if you are feeling less democratic, you can subjugate one of your clauses by using a subordinating conjunction. A wha?? Stay with me. A subordinating conjunction, commonly ‘because’ or ‘if’, takes an upstart independent clause and makes it a dependent clause. Thus, it can no longer stand alone as a sentence. By adding ‘because’ to one of your clauses and tying it to the other, still-independent clause, you have removed the semicolon and provided more information about the relationship of the clauses. For example:

Because I ate a whole pie, I’m full.

or

I’m full because I ate a whole pie.

(I am not going to launch into a whole other rant about no commas before dependent clauses, but don’t do it. The subjunctive (“because”) is enough and a comma just adds an unneccesary pause. Commas are only necessary when the dependent cause precedes the independent clause in a sentence.)

The real point of my rant

Where I am really going with all of this is that to be successful, we must be successful communicators. And to be successful communicators, we must be transparent in how we write. The writing must never get in the way of what we are trying to communicate. Whenever a reader is drawn away from the content of your writing to your writing itself, you are taking away time and energy that the reader could be giving to think about what you have to say. Don’t waste their time.

As a professional writer, I would love it if people read my writing and thought, “Gee, what a well-crafted sentence. Such concise, clear style! Why, there’s no passive voice, and I especially like that she is using that comma before the ‘and’ in a list.” But unless I am getting an edit, that isn’t happening. Actually, I would really love it if people read my writing so quickly and easily that they were able to go about their days without giving the task of reading much thought. The purpose of my writing is to help people do their jobs better and easier, not to give people something to read.

Remember that people are almost never reading what you have to write just to have something to read (this blog excluded). They are trying to do something else: make a decision, find out when to pick you up from the airport, or how to get that &*$%ing error message to go away. Unusual punctuation, correct or not, detracts from that goal. So just don’t use semicolons. Please.

Postscript

I cringe at the thought of people reading a blog post about grammar because I know that they are going to find typos, grammar errors, and style issues. And because the content is about good grammar and style, some people are going to feel the need to comment or laugh and point of problems. Am a paranoid or what? But to those people, I just want to remind them that this is a blog post, written spur of the moment (on the train home after work), without edit, fact checking, or review. This is my raw writing, not a polished article.

Connected

There was a time when I had some peace. A time when I didn’t have a cell phone. Didn’t instant message.

When I wasn’t at home, I never had to wonder why someone wasn’t calling me. When I was on my computer, I didn’t have to see someone else online and wonder why they weren’t IMing me.

But now. Now, I am painfully aware when my phone, always within a few feet of me, isn’t ringing.  Now, when I am on my computer, I have an always visible list of who are at their computers. And if someone isn’t online, then I have to wonder what they are doing not at their computer.

And some dots I follow from green to orange to grey, as if those colors will give me something to make me feel more connected.

SJ-SF

I have started my back-and-forth life between San Jose and San Francisco. It started just in time: Friday night after the company holiday party (for the last time, they combined it with the quarterly meeting). It was so nice to not have to go back to San Jose, although it didn’t quite feel like I was going home either. The next day, my new roomie and I enjoyed the beautiful sunny weather by running errands around the Sunset, cuminating in us buying matching t-shirts that annouced “The Sunset.” Yes, we are that cool.

Yesterday I started the train commute, packing a bag, staying in the city, coming back on the train the next day after work thing. The worst part is hauling around a big heavy bag. I hope that will get better as I start to collect some basics in the city. Now I am back in San Jose, trying to get the energy to repack my bag so that I can stay up in the city again tomorrow night for a Yelp party. I wonder if this will get even older than taking the train to and from San Jose every day. We’ll see.

I must say that so far I am having a blast being up in the city. For example, last night I met Anna and Nancy for drinks, which turned into a full night of wine, oysters, and jazz. Nice, huh?

Ones of these things in not like the others

Ok, ok, ok, ok. I am ready to talk about it and not bitch about people bitching about it. Time to talk about the whole issue of lack of women in the tech industry. Today I was at an engineering offsite meeting, and spent the entire day in a conference with 25 men, and me. All of the other women in the company, all maybe-eight of them, were in the other room in sales and marketing meetings. I am used to being the only girl in a group, but today’s meeting made the fact that my company has only one girl in engineering pretty obvious.

Let me back up and explain my baggage about this issue. I had an excellent education with every advantage a girl could ask for. Now I wasn’t programming computers as a kid like Anna, but I was around computers and frankly didn’t have any interest in them. I had excellent female role models in my mom and my teachers. I went to college knowing that I could do whatever I wanted. I took computer programming classes and prided myself on acing them class while my guy friends stuggled. At my first job after college, the first five managers in my line of reporting were women. And I worked with so many women that I bitched about their cattiness.

So you can see why I didn’t really see the need for women’s networking groups, or special ‘hand-holding’ and such for women. Whenever anything related to this topic came up, I’d just roll my eyes and change the subject. But my attitude towards this has started to change.

Maybe it is working at a company where there are no women in management positions is a bit more of a shock than I’d be willing to admit. Maybe it is that I have actually joined a women’s networking group have been shocked to meet some really amazing women.

Maybe it is because after being out in the real world for about six years now, the little comments here and there, the realization that I am probably not making as much as my male coworkers, and looks from men that are a little surprised when I do something uber-geeky are starting to get to me.

I read Anna‘s post, and I like that she focuses on the main issue of money. Money is how companies and clients show how much value they place on a person’s work. I don’t care about slaps on the back or mission statements about diversity. If you really value me, you’ll compensate me appropriately for the work that I am performing. So that’s what I am going to focus on as well: why I think women don’t get paid as much as men in the tech industry:

  • Women tend to hold extremely technical and important positions, but positions that aren’t valued by companies as much as “hard core” programmers. Most of the women in tech who I know, including myself, are technical writers, designers, usability engineers, marketing people, and project managers. These positions require deep technical knowledge as well as an incredibly diverse set of other skills, but yet aren’t paid as much as the programmer. Companies that recognize the importance of these type of people in an organization tend to have more women and tend to pay these women more.
  • Women tend to not ask for as much money as men. When I was looking for a new job, a was really timid when asked about salary. With the advice from a guy, I asked for much more than I would have otherwise, and was shocked when I was offered even more than that. I dont’ know why this is so hard for us women. I had heard that women don’t, and then experienced it first hand. And I think I am pretty confident and demanding too.
  • It really is about who you know, not what you know. I didn’t want to believe this for years, but ok, fine. I believe it now. When a group is dominated by men, it makes getting to meet people harder for women. Not impossible by any means, but it is just harder. It is easier for me to talk about clothes and dating with the other girls than D&D with the guys. Therefore, we don’t have the same connections and don’t have the same opportunities for career advancement. I hate to admit that, but I am realizing that it is true.

Bi-Metro

View from my old houseNo, I am not self-identifying with a new sexual orientation. Rather, I am quite excited that I have a made a little step closer to moving to San Francisco! I am not quite ready to totally give up my place in San Jose, but I would also like a place to stay up in the city during the week other than my wonderful friend’s couches when I want to stay later than the last baby bullet back home.

Starting today, I guess, I have a little crash pad in Inner Sunset. My sweetie of a friend Miss H isn’t in the city full-time, especially during the week, so it should work well: I help out with rent, and I don’t have to take the train home every night. So exciting! And maybe I’ll get to see my mountain-girl friend a little more often too. Now it’s time to clean up my condo so I can rent out a room. Anyone looking for a room in San Jose?

Small world (I know a lot of you have already heard this): this little apartment is only four blocks from my very first home. I was born in San Francisco and spent my first 3 1/2 years in a flat around the corner. Aw, sweet, huh?

Yoga, Pilates, Elliptical, oh my!

I am trying really step up going back to the gym. I don’t know why I stopped going for so long. When I am at the gym, I am really happy and enjoy myself. And a few years ago, I never thought I’d say that. Anyway, in the last two days, I have done the following workouts:

  • 1/2 mile jogging on the treadmill: I feel good that this now feels like an easy warm-up and not a big deal.
  • Pilates: I am really liking this class and I am going to try to take it more regularly. I don’t really get sweaty, and so I could do this class during the day. Plus it really works my gluts and hamstrings: muscles that I realize I haven’t been strengthening enough.
  •  Yoga: It’s okay, but it feels like a slow pilates, and instead of being relaxed, I am bored and annoyed by the slightest distraction.
  • Step: I finally made it to my old class because I was in SJ for jury duty. I enjoyed seeing everyone again, and even though I could tell I was out of practice, it felt really good. I am sure I’ll be feeling it tomorrow.
  • Elliptical machine: I did a half hour after the pilates class because I felt that I needed some cardio. Does it really burn about 800 calories and hour as the machine claims?

What’s my point? I was so hungry tonight, like more than usual. I think it is the increase in exercise is starting to speed up my metabolism. At least I hope so!