Rants and Raves!

I'm a proofreader and copy editor, an occasional writer, and a travel enthusiast (70 countries) who's interested in grammar, linguistics, funny quotes, quirky stories and bargain deals.

This is the place for rants about lousy service and atrocious quality, praise for things done right and funny or interesting items that wouldn't fit within Twitter's 140-character limit.

For quality results that even a curmudgeon wouldn't grumble about, hire me for your proofreading and editing needs. I'm Chicago-based, if the occasional in-person meeting is important to you, but I'm happy to work with customers worldwide.

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Where to Go on a 4-Week Vacation? Southeast Asia!

Posted Saturday, September 20, 2014
Singapore makes an excellent base to explore the region since it has what is often deemed the world's best airport and is a hub for regional discount airlines, including Air Asia and Jetstar. These airlines generally do not appear in standard search engines like Orbitz but can be much cheaper. One-way flights are usually half of round-trip flights, so you can buy a string of one-ways from destination to destination, perhaps as far as the Philippines or Hong Kong or Nepal before returning back to Singapore. Singapore has great food and is lush and green with inexpensive taxis, probably as cheap or cheaper than public transport if two or more are traveling together. I would recommend the Singapore Zoo, one of the world's finest, and the neighboring Night Safari which is only open after dark — when the animals are most active, which is the point. Also recommended is the Jurong Bird Park, where you can see thousands of Asia's most colorful birds up close.

From Singapore, it's a short flight to Malaysian Borneo. Kuching is a beautiful city with an attractive riverwalk. Day tours can include an Orangutan Sanctuary, and the Sarawak Museum started by Darwin contemporary Alfred Russel Wallace. A day or overnight trip to Bako National Park is highly recommended; there are beach walks, boardwalks and forest walks and you will see bearded pigs, tiny crabs and mudskippers on the beach and monkeys galore. Sit in the food area and you may see them steal food and sodas from unwary customers! You can arrange a multi-day trip upriver to visit the longhouses of former headhunting tribes (with woven bags of skulls still on display). You can also arrange a overnight stay including a short flight in a tiny plane to Gunung Mulu National Park. Gunung Mulu has spiked granite pinnacles in a primary rainforest setting. There are long boardwalks through the rainforest, leading to a variety of caves, the largest of which has a cathedral-like ceiling where millions of bats sleep. Walking through the caves and through the rainforest, especially at night (some plants glow) is an otherworldly experience you won't encounter in many places on earth. Be prepared for leeches, though!

Angkor Wat is not to be missed; 4-star hotels can be booked through Agoda for $30-$40 a night including breakfast; tuk-tuks cost a dollar or two and a taxi can be hired for the day to take you from point to point quite inexpensively (the ruins are massive!). Thailand is not as cheap as it use to be, but the people are friendly, and the street food can generally be trusted and is cheap. Phuket offers the island experience. Bangkok is chaotic but is great for bargain shopping, either street markets or the MBK shopping mall which has many floors containing little independent shops, places to eat Western food like pizza when you begin to miss it, and fancy first-run movie theaters with $3-$4 ticket prices; American blockbusters are in English with Thai subtitles. Chiang Mai is the jumping off point for visiting the hill tribes and riding an elephant through the forest. Bali is also within easy reach; the local art and the Hindu flower offerings are interesting and distinctive; all-day taxis are inexpensive and can take you to local temples, rice fields and the Monkey Forest and will stop whenever and wherever you'd like. I seem to recall a reptile sanctuary where you can see the Komodo dragon, adjacent to a nice bird sanctuary.

Tags: travel, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Bali

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Death by Coffee, a True Story

Posted Thursday, September 11, 2014
Humans have been quite creative over the millennia in finding new methods of capital punishment, but perhaps the most unusual method ever tried was death by coffee.

When coffee began arriving in Europe from the Muslim world, some church leaders declared it to be the Devil's Drink and sought to have it banned. Unfortunately for them, Pope Clement VIII decided to sample the beverage and decided that he liked it. His infallible conclusion? "This devil's drink is so delicious we should cheat the devil by baptizing it."

By the mid 1700's, with coffee drinking rising to ever-higher levels of popularity, a debate raged about whether coffee was healthy or dangerous. Sweden's King Gustav III was absolutely convinced that coffee was dangerous and set out to prove it.

A pair of identical twins were convicted of murder and sentenced to death. To prove his theory, King Gustav sentenced one of the pair to drink three pots of coffee every day, and the other to drink the equivalent amount of tea. In what has jokingly been named Sweden's first-ever "clinical trial," King Gustav appointed two of his court physicians to monitor the twins and report their findings.

The first to die was one of the doctors assigned to monitor the study. The next was the other doctor. Third was King Gustav himself, who was assassinated at a masked ball in 1792.

Finally, many years later, one of the twins died. At the age of 83. And it was the tea drinker.

Tags: quirky, food and drink, Sweden

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Advice for a Computer Science Major

Posted Friday, September 5, 2014
My younger son is currently studying computer science, applied math and physics at an Ivy League university, while my older son already has a CS degree and is considering starting on his master's; both have worked on multiple projects for small business owners. Perhaps because of this, I am frequently asked what advice I might offer to a freshman interested in pursuing a computer science degree.

For the entrepreneurially-inclined, get real-world experience as early as possible, ideally before beginning or in parallel with taking CS classes. It's one thing to "play with" cool features or to do a narrow task for a class assignment; it's quite another to do a project from scratch to someone else's specs, some of which you will not like.

The less technically competent your client is, the greater the learning experience. There are plenty of businessmen out there who will point to Amazon or eBay and expect you to replicate and enhance it for $600. Since you attend the Hogwarts School of CS Magic, shouldn't you be able to just wave your CS wand and make it so?

Other businessmen will give you broad ideas, rather than specs, and expect you to get started immediately. A few days later, after a meeting with another businessman, they will attach some random addition that doesn't fit, in the hope of creating "synergy." A few days later, another random addition will be added to the requirements.

Of course this will drive you nuts. But it will quickly teach you to ask probing questions before starting a project and to triage out potential clients who will be more trouble than they are worth. Should you decide to work for "the man" after you complete your CS degree, at least you will now have the experience (and cynicism) to recognize a potential idiot boss before you make a long-term commitment to working for him.

If you do decide to build a work portfolio and don't really care much about the money component, make sure you avoid the "big idea" sweet-talkers who will rope you into doing a project that "will make you both rich." No money, just a vague promise to split future profits (with no signed legal agreement or business plan in sight). There are plenty of people like this who specifically prey on the young and inexperienced. Avoid them like the plague!

Instead, find a small charity or local community group and offer to work for them for free. At least the project will have defined limits, will get finished, and will likely get you a recommendation from a grateful client. An alternative way of getting clients is to offer to swap your time and growing expertise with a small business that you already frequent -- say a neighborhood restaurant or car repair shop.

I know this somewhat different advice than many of the other articles you might read, which focus more directly on CS itself. However, note that in the real world you'll very likely need to interact with the idiosyncrasies of the business world, probably more often than you might like.

Tags: websites, technology, education, college

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