Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Jeff Deck's Fearless War On Typos

Mild-mannered New Englander Jeff Deck, 28, from Manchester, New Hampshire, hated typos so much that he founded the Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL). Then on March 5 he set out on "a crusade to edit America", an epic journey that took him to the U.S. west coast. He's now in Wisconsin on his way home.

He has stopped off at more than 100 cities, towns and villages, fearlessly using a paintbrush and marker pen to correct the thousands of typos he spots wherever he and his "cuddle partner" Jane go. His friends Benjamin and Josh accompanied him for parts of the journey.

Sadly, his well-meant help (cynics might call it nitpicking) isn't always appreciated, and has led to some tense situations. Here's an extract from Jeff's amusing blog, describing his visit to a bar in Spokane, Washington:

There were only a couple of other customers in the place, and the music was plenty loud enough to go around. A big dude manned the bar inside. I approached, and he said, "What can I do for you?"

"I... uh... I noticed that your sign outside for margaritas spelled it M-A-R-G-I instead of M-A-R-G-A."

"Yeah, and?"

"I was wondering if you had an extra A, so that the sign could be corrected."

"Does it really matter?" He had a kind of threatening joviality in his responses, like he was either amused or ready to explode or both.

"Yeah, it does. I'm actually going around the country fixing typos, and thought I could... help you out."

"Well," said the bartender, still perched on the edge of volcanic emotion, "I don't have any extra letters, or the key to open that sign. I'll let my boss know that he can't spell, though. Is this really what you came in for? You're not going to order a drink?"

"Noooo," I said, and it was time to skedaddle.

In Las Vegas, Jeff noticed posters at the Circus Circus casino (including one in lights) announcing 'Welcome to the world's Greastest Greastest Circus!' Jeff wrote in his blog:

GREASTEST! GREASTEST! An abomination against all that is right and true. We needed to inform someone in charge. It was our only hope for seeing this perversity wiped from the land. The problem was, we couldn't actually find anyone in charge... everyone in the garb of Circus Circus was trying to sell us something. We wandered around until, finally, someone directed us to a thick-necked man scowling at some register tape. His reaction to our crucial piece of intelligence?

A blank look, then: "I'll... uh... have to tell someone about this."

Which you can recognize by now, cherished readers, as a synonym for thudding indifference. We tried to help you, Circus Circus. We wanted to end the era of you looking like a fool. But it seems that era will go on into the foreseeable future.
Reading of those encounters prompted us to send an email to Jeff, asking if he had been assaulted by any unrepentant misspellers. He replied: 'No, no violence or police involved anywhere, thankfully. We did encounter someone in LA who called us a naughty word, though.'

Asked if he thought his epic trip had been worthwhile, he said: 'Certainly it's been worthwhile! There are a lot more people out there now carrying Sharpies [a brand of markers] around with them.'

Jeff's well-written blog attracts a healthy following by some of the world's many other typophobes. Here are comments from two of them:

Bless your heart for reassuring me that I am not the only spelling and punctuation nut left in North America! The print media, mainly newspapers but not excluding books, magazines, and the internet, make me crazy with their pretense of proof-reading, and the poor spelling (and general indifference to spelling) of today's generations infuriate me on a daily basis. I rant and rave about it, but have never had the guts to do what you are doing to bring it to folks' attention. Way to go, Jeff! - Ruth M. Newton.

Thanks for the laughs, and cringes too! I can barely read our local newspaper without finding typos in the first few moments of sitting down to read. It's so highly annoying, I stopped reading the local newspaper and currently get most of my news online instead. Not that there aren't typos online...- Kathleen.

Thanks to Jeff Deck for permission to publish extracts from his TEAL Web site:

To see a Good Morning America video of Jeff fixing misspelled signs, visit The Human Spell Check:

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Centenarian Columnist's Californian Comeback

Thirty years ago Californian Frank Pelatowski decided that as he had reached the age of 70 he would stop writing his weekly column in his local newspaper, the Mariposa Gazette, http://www.mariposagazette.com/ and enjoy retired life. Now, as a sprightly centenarian, he has revived the feature, which means he is probably the world's oldest columnist.

His nearest rivals for the title are thought to be Australia's Ken Sillcock (97) http://english.ohmynews.com/articleview/article_view.asp?no=382345&rel_no=1 and Britain's Henry Jackson (95) http://english.ohmynews.com/articleview/article_view.asp?no=382207&rel_no=1

'I decided to come back because I've lived long enough to set one record and the Gazette has been in print long enough to set another,' he says. 'You see, not only is the Gazette an old paper, it's the oldest continuously-published weekly newspaper in all of California. On Jan. 20, 2004 it turned 150 years old, having never missed an issue.

'Some people say I have a lot of energy for a 100-year-old man. They may be right. I'm not only going to write new columns, but I'm still doing other writing, including a book titled "The Wit and Wisdom of Frank Pelatowski", which will be in bookstores later this year.'

Frank was born in Massachusetts on August 10, 1907, when Theodore Roosevelt was his nation's president. His parents were Polish immigrants. He grew up in Connecticut, with 10 brothers and sisters.

In 1923, after leaving High School at 16, he joined the U.S. Navy - so young that he needed a note from his parents. He served on the then new battleship USS West Virginia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_West_Virginia_(BB-48) cruising down the Atlantic coast, through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific Ocean to Australia and New Zealand.

Nearly 20 years later, in World War II, the Navy recalled him to serve a second term, as a chief petty officer.

Here are extracts from Frank's website:

I've been married twice, both wives died while married to me. I have no children, but consider many children to be like grandchildren to me.

Like my father before me, I spent most of my life as a builder. I was also involved in the community; I even ran for office once - and lost.

That was enough of politics; but I served for years as an officer in the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Lions Club and other groups right here in Mariposa.

I've been a writer all my life, and my work has appeared in several publications. I've completed children's books and have two or three unfinished manuscripts in my files.

Though I moved 'down the hill' and have lived in Merced for many years, I have fond memories of Mariposa County and have many friends in the area.

I'm hoping to visit often, to renew old friendships and create new ones. I want to meet Gazette readers and learn about their lives.

Frank lives in an old folks' home in Merced. Like most centenarians, he has failing eyesight. He dictates his columns to his friend and fellow writer David Burke, who hopes to syndicate them to other newspapers as well.

Frank's first column written after he turned 100 was titled 'World's oldest column returns to the Gazette' http://www.mariposagazette.com/opinion/contentview.asp?c=239967

His second column was a nostalgic story about his Navy days, called 'Rollin' in my sweet hammock's arms' http://www.mariposagazette.com/opinion/contentview.asp?c=240503.

Frank has also made a YouTube video that's well worth checking out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9WLE1wBuYM&eurl=http://worldsoldestcolumnist.blogspot.com/

He says he likes writing stories with happy endings.

FOOTNOTES. Merced (population 210,554) is a county in California's Central Valley, north of Fresno and and southeast of San Jose. Mariposa (population 1,373) is the county seat (administrative center) of Mariposa County. Its name is the Spanish word for 'butterfly', after early explorers saw flocks of Monarch butterflies http://www.kidzone.ws/animals/monarch_butterfly.htm there. Mariposa and Merced, 40 miles apart, both call themselves 'The Gateway to Yosemite.' Mariposa being 30 miles from the national park.

The passenger liner SS (Steam Ship) Mariposa maintained a regular service linking the US west coast with Australia and New Zealand before WWII, when she became a US Navy transport troopship. http://www.pinetreeline.org/metz/photos/pm-55c.html

Here's another centenarian journalist!

Mildred Heath, of Overton, Nebraska, is only five months younger than Frank Pelatowski. Born on January 4, 1908, she works five days a week as the Overton correspondent of the Beacon (Nebraska) Observer. She may be the world's oldest working journalist, but her present job does not qualify her to compete for the 'oldest columnist' crown.

'Residents of Overton, a farm town of 646 people east of Lexington, marvel at Heath's energy,' says Omaha World-Herald staff writer Paul Hammel. http://www.omaha.com/index.php?u_page=1219&u_sid=10224210 'The only concession to her 100 years is an electric scooter she rides one block to work. She broke her hip five or six years ago...

'Her main chores are answering the phone and filing photographs, although she still calls local residents to check for news of their families. She asks most people to write up their items and drop them off at the paper, but she still uses an electric typewriter regularly.'

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Is Ken (97) world's oldest columnist?

London's famous journalist Henry Jackson (95) is probably Britain's oldest columnist, but Australia's Ken Sillcock has trumped him by two years for the world title.

"Hey, we have a bonzer 97-year-old columnist," (Bonzer is an Australian slang word meaning excellent) Alan Wheatley, editor of Melbourne's Bonzer! webzine ("The Online Monthly Magazine by, for and about Wise Elders") exclaimed when he read our story about Henry Jackson. http://www.openwriting.com/archives/2008/03/worlds_oldest_c_2.php

During World War II, Ken (born 8 Oct., 1910) was a wireless (radio) operator in the Royal Australian Air Force. He served in the UK in Bomber Command, in Lancaster aircraft making perilous destructive raids over Europe.

Checking some of Ken's recent stories in the Bonzer! archives reveals much about his varied and eventful life.

He has written a biographical book called "Three Lifetimes of Dairy Farming in Victoria" about his grandfather and father and his own work as a dairy herd tester before he became Deputy Chief of Agriculture for the state of Victoria.

"Science for me seemed to end in 1930, two years into a four-year degree course, when the Great Financial Depression intervened," he recalled last November.

"Through life, skills which seem unrelated can combine to change one's destiny. For me, this happened in music. Until the end of 1924 my mother taught me to play the piano tolerably well. Ten years later I joined the local brass band as a learner and bought a cornet, just as a hobby, until I joined the AIF [Australian Army] in 1940 as a bandsman/stretcher bearer. This, together with my background in science, led to me being chosen for anti-malaria training.

"My elementary training in entomology was put to use in 1940 when the AIF sent me to a school on malaria control conducted in the Jordan Valley, where the disease was endemic and control work was in place. We applied our new skill in Lebanon and, later, in Sri Lanka.

"That ceased, for me, with our return to Australia, but in 1943 my previous studies of Physics and Mathematics were most helpful when I transferred to the RAAF and studied Radio Theory as a major subject in the Wireless Operator course. Science became a dominant interest again when, in 1945, I had the opportunity to complete my degree course, and in my subsequent career."

Ken attracts young as well as old readers to his writing. Here's a tribute written by Sarah, a 24-year-old Brisbane blogger http://todaysapatheticyouth.blogspot.com/2005/11/remember-this.html

"We still have old guys like Ken Sillcock alive at the moment, who are trying their best to pass on to us the lessons they took away from their painful experience of war. But we're not even listening, and soon, there'll be nothing to remember."

Here's a sample of Ken's lucid writing, from his latest column in the April edition of Bonzer! http://home.vicnet.net.au/~bonzer/p-o-v.html

Our money was fairly reliable when it consisted of alloys of gold, silver and copper, which only a metallurgist could fake, and genuine coins were minted only by the legal government of the nation. In my grandfather's lifetime he carried sufficient money for his daily needs in a spring-loaded case in a waistcoat pocket at the end of a chain.

On one side it held five sovereigns (pounds) and on the other five half-sovereigns. Banks with secure vaults were set up so that people could have their money stored safely when not needed. A fee had to be charged to pay the people who provided this service.

Things started to go wrong when banks started to make the rules. At first they were required to hold in their vaults gold to the value of five-sixths of the gold they held on behalf of their clients. Then note-printing was introduced when the Bank of England was given a licence to print them, and lend them out at interest.

Ken has a word of advice for his readers. He says old people who remain active and interested in their community tend, as a group, to remain more healthy than those who think they are ''too old, over the hill, or finished."

Last December, he sent this email to his friends and admirers:

I havIe an important message for the world, and I ask that you pass it on, especially to those who do not have email. It is: Don't be in too much hurry to help those who are disabled.

That sounds a bit at odds with the Christian spirit and with the beliefs of other codes of life, until I add: First, find out what help they need which will not cause them further damage.

Our bodies were designed long before the wheel and the hydraulic lift were invented. They work on a system of levers well understood by those who studied Physics or Mechanics to Year 10.

Every lever has to move through part of a circle around its pivot. It cannot, for instance, go immediately from the horizontal to the vertical position, but must arrive at it in two stages.

In a chair with arms my technique was to push myself halfway up, then change my grip to include a forward thrust and then steady myself on a firm object or with a walking stick.

So there I was, in my 97th. year, the oldest at our annual Air Force Europe lunch. The chairs didn't have arms, so I sat down through the toasts etc. At the end, when I had to get up, without warning, the two young and fit blokes, barely in their eighties, grabbed me under the armpits and, with the kindest of intentions, hauled me straight up, in defiance of the Law of the Lever.

In the days following I learned that a "crook back" is not just a dull sort of pain. It is that much of the time but. if you make a wrong move, it hits you with an uncontrolled spasm which really hurts. The only way to avoid that is to stand up or sit down in a slow spiral, not straight up or down.

I have just moved out of hospital into my own home, a separate house on my son's block. Indoors I use a wheeled walking frame and have a few grab bars installed, and have help calling to check on me, but I am not yet allowed to go outdoors unaccompanied. Time will heal a cracked vertebra and an apparently strained muscle on my left side.

On the positive side, I have gained this knowledge to pass on, extra compassion for those worse off than I am, and especially for those who have similar injuries much earlier in life.

I can still enjoy some independent living, still in touch with the whole world through Internet.

My family have been most supportive, even sacrificing time they should have given to their work, and the Department of Veterans' Affairs has sometimes anticipated my needs.

Ken moved into a 24-hour serviced aged care facility just before Christmas. He told one of his friends: "As I have to be here I aim to contribute something to the life of the place. I guess that’s what we should aim to do, whatever life deals up to us."

With the approach of Anzac Day (April 25) Australians (and others) may like to read Ken's moving poem, The Jinx Kite http://www.wordandnumberpuzzles.com/bonzer/B/contributions.html