The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

O Apostrophe, thou art but a backwards open quote

Unfortunately, as Paul Lukas points out, people have forgotten the difference:

Here's the deal: Virtually any software that includes a typography function (whether for word processing, desktop publishing, graphic design, or whatever) now employs something called "smart quotes." The idea behind smart quotes is that the software recognizes when there's a blank space immediately before or after a quotation mark and adds the appropriate curvature to the mark, creating open-quotes and close-quotes. That way you end up with nicely curved quotation marks instead of straight or "neutered" marks (like the ones you see on most of this page).

This all works fine unless you have a word or term that begins with an apostrophe, like ’til or ’em (as in "Bring ’em on"). Since the keystroke for an apostrophe is the same as the one for a single quote mark, the software improperly interprets the space and the keystroke as the start of a quotation and imparts the wrong curvature to the mark. There's a way to override the smart quotes and impose a proper apostrophe in these situations (on a Mac, you type option-shift-close-bracket), but an increasing number of writers, editors, and designers either aren't bothering to do so, don't feel it's necessary, or don't even realize it's necessary. The result is a cascade of improperly oriented apostrophes on signs, on billboards, in TV commercials, in the names of businesses, and even on mainstream media web sites. Call it the apostrophe catastrophe.

To the extent I have pet peeves, it's a big one of mine. For example, there's a coffee shop at the corner of Webster and Sheffield called Jam 'n Honey—or, rather, Jam ‘n Honey—with a half-meter-high open quote where an apostrophe should be.

Actually, they're a two-fer. They're also missing a second apostrophe, as ’n’ drops off both the a and d from "and." What the typography-challenged proprietors have there is "jam an honey," which is just stupid.

This is how civilization crashes: simple acts of negligence.

Walking across the country

I just listened to a This American Life segment by Andrew Forsthoefel, a 23-year-old from southeastern Pennsylvania who walked across the U.S. for a year. Fascinating.

He wound up, after walking 6,000 km, in Half Moon Bay, Calif., about 800 m from my family's house. I have to say, if I were to walk across the U.S., I'd want to wind up in Half Moon Bay, too.

What a start to this kid's life. I'm looking forward to hearing more from him.

The dark side of refinancing

...or, how I took advantage of the Middle Class Housing Subsidy but skipped an important step.

In December 2011, I reduced my home mortgage interest rate from 6.25% to 3.125%, which thanks to the commutative property of multiplication, reduced my home mortgage interest by 50% year-over-year. What I forgot to do, however, was reduce my tax withholding allowances for 2012, which increased the taxes I owe for 2012 by an amount equal to 1/3 of the amount I saved on mortgage interest.

Well, I just filed my 2012 taxes online, and later today I will write a check to the U.S. Treasury for a lot more money than I expected. (I fixed my allowances in January, when I discovered this horrible oversight.)

Go ahead and call me stupid. You're allowed.

Caribou out, Peet's in

I've always liked Peet's Coffee, and even owned shares back when it was publicly traded. (Made a few beans on them as well.) I've always liked Caribou Coffee, too. So I'm taking it as mixed but generally positive news that Caribou stores in Chicago will switch to Peet's stores over the next two years:

Caribou didn't provide a list of stores affected by the closings or conversions. But most downtown Chicago Caribou locations will remain open and be rebranded Peet's stores by 2015. Employees at the chain's Long Grove, Lake Forest, Northbrook and Winnetka locations said Monday that their stores also would remain open, eventually becoming Peet's. It's unclear if personnel in those stores will retain their jobs.

Peet's, which has about 200 cafes, has a significant presence in larger retail stores, including Jewel, Target and Dominick's. Peet's has two area locations, at North & Clybourn avenues and in Evanston, according to the chain's website.

Robert Passikoff, president of consulting firm Brand Keys, said companies "don't make this kind of decision casually." While Caribou "was doing very well," he said, its new owners likely believe that coffee drinkers in the area "are in fact looking for a different kind of experience, and they have (Peet's) in their arsenal, so why not try it?"

Watch this space this weekend, when I'll no doubt have several posts from Peet's Coffee stores out west.

Another one of these


Back to the mines.

The parsley, the egg, and the branded content

Via Sullivan, a description of how Maxwell House Coffee got its brand on 50 million Passover tables:

Maxwell House decided to publish a book, specifically a Haggadah, and offer it to customers for free with the purchase of a can of coffee. (A Haggadah recounts the Exodus from Egypt, comprised of prayers, songs, and stories which guide the Passover Seder.) The Maxwell House edition was an instant hit. Today, it’s the most popular Haggadah in the world, with over 50 million printed.

Why has this piece of branded content endured generation after generation? Four underlining principles make the Maxwell House Haggadah the perfect case study in branded content:

1. Branded content must serve a consumer need.
Maxwell House wasn’t distributing content for the sake of distributing content; most likely, the agency lead didn’t have a secret ambition to be a translator (or rabbi!). Instead, it began with a simple insight: Jewish families spend quality time around the Seder engaged with a Haggadah.

Also the branding didn't intrude, like having Moses "descend Mt. Sinai with the tablets in one hand and a latte in the other."

Good books

Quick time-out from my generally useless day (long overdue and appreciated): A sign of a good book is that you spend more time thinking about it than actually passing your eyes over the pages. More on which book in a later post.