Monday, October 22, 2007

Perception, Common Sense, and Audiophiles

Recently I've seen a resurgence of the "audiophile product makers are snake-oil dealers" meme. I'm not going to defend any particular make of audiophile product (I don't know anything about Pear Cable, which has been getting the attention recently) but I do feel compelled to defend audiophile stuff from out-of-hand dismissal, because I hate the false reasoning used by a lot of the critics and because I know from a couple years working at an audiophile store that some of the stuff is honestly pretty amazing.

Samurai Jack fights blind

I think the reason this particular topic draws the kind of debate it does has a lot to do with the nature of our sense of hearing.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Communicating with Style

I've developed a preoccupation with grammar and literary style recently, which is a little weird for an engineer. I've thoroughly enjoyed reading things like Orwell's Politics and the English Language, I've been trying my hand at writing a bit, and I've nurtured a deep revulsion of business-world statements like
"we will create go-forward action items offline"

that replace direct statements like
"we will assign responsibilities after the meeting".

which I suppose people find uncomfortably committal.

The Elements table of contents

Sensing a need, a friend recommended I read Strunk & White's Elements of Style, which is 52 pages of awesome. With headings like "Express co-ordinate ideas in similar form" and "Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end", it's so succinct that you honestly can improve your writing just by reading the table of contents. The book is filled with ways of choosing words, phrasings, and structures of sentences and paragraphs that inherently keep a reader interested and convey your meaning. It isn't just about writing correctly; it's about writing to most economically get what's in your head into somebody else's.

Partway through I realized that I was reading the programmer's guide for the English language; it ought to have a woodcut of an obscure mammal on the front.

Following the rules in Elements of Style takes work, but the book implicitly makes the argument that if you're not following these rules, you're wasting your reader's time and trying his patience. That is, if you don't decode your ideas into writing that is easily parsed, the reader has to decode it and that extra effort is what drives him away. Your goal as a writer should be to convey your intent as economically and elegantly as possible. This realization tickled something familiar in my brain.