Tag Archives: Rules

Screw You, Rules and Rules That Screw You

Rules. From the games we play to the governments that run nations, rules are everywhere. Sometimes we refer to them as “rules” and sometimes they carry a tad more gravity and we use the word “law”.

An example of a generally good rule is the, “three strikes and you’re out,” one they have for baseball. You can’t just have as many strikes as you want, that would be ridiculous, and limiting it to one or two seems like you’re not giving the batter enough of a chance. Three seems like a good number. Three strikes and you’re out is a keeper.

Another good one is, “Thou shalt not kill”. I really like this one. If more people followed it I think the state of many things would improve.

But then, especially when it comes to less murder-related events such as sports, there are some pretty stupid rules. Just ask Lexi Thompson.

Lexi is a professional golfer on the LPGA and was playing in that league’s first major championship (there are four majors in a single golf season and are considered to be the most elite competitions). Golf has a lot of rules, but the thing is, for just about everyone who plays, the rules – and the penalties that come with breaking them – are self-imposed. Yes, even the professionals. There are rules officials on course, but they can’t be everywhere at every time. Most of the time the players police themselves, but on occasion, the viewers get involved. 

Lexi was twelve holes into the final round when a rules official notified her that a viewer had emailed the LPGA and said that a day earlier, Lexi had incorrectly placed her ball on the green before a putt. This is a rule in golf. When you’re on the green you can mark your ball, pick it up, clean it, remove any debris from the area, and replace your ball. You must replace the ball in the exact same spot as it was when you marked it. In Lexi’s case, she picked up her ball in order to reorient it to suit her needs and placed it back down – less than one inch away from where it was marked.

As insignificant as the infraction was, Lexi broke the rule. The penalty for this infraction is two strokes. The thing about this particular incident, however, was the email didn’t come in notifying the league about it until after the round was completed. As such, Lexi had unknowingly signed an incorrect scorecard. The penalty for that is another two strokes (previously it has been a disqualification!)

So, more than halfway through her next round, Lexi found herself the recipient of a four-stroke penalty in a tournament that she was leading by two strokes with only five holes to play. She battled back to tie the score after eighteen holes but lost on the first playoff hole and was denied her first major championship victory – because of one stupid rule and one asshole viewer.

I think it’s fine if you want to allow viewers to police golfers. I also think it’s fine that there is a penalty for such an insignificant thing as half an inch distance discrepancy. What I don’t think is fine is how Lexi was penalized for signing an incorrect card, that, at the time, she had no reason to believe was incorrect. Change the rule so that incorrect card signing penalties aren’t levied if the round has ended.

If you want to see the video of Lexi’s incorrect ball placement you can see it here:


Let’s go from a shitty rule that ended up costing one person several hundred thousand dollars to what I consider to be a great rule that could end up costing one company millions.

The rule: the Oxford comma.

The scenario: a contract document between a company and a union had a clause that was missing an Oxford comma.

“…people involved in the canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of…”

It’s that last bit that’s of interest. “Packing for shipment or distribution” is different than, “packing for shipment, or distribution.” The company argued that “packing for shipment” and “distribution” were two separate functions but the union argued that, as it was written, it was one.

The result: the court agreed with the union. 

You can read more about it here:

I’m a big fan of the Oxford comma. Clearly, using it can help clarify a sentence and omitting it can cause confusion (and as we just saw, a lot if money). So my take on it is this: I think of using the Oxford comma the same as I approach fighting climate change. There are times when it doesn’t seem necessary, but you’re never going to make things worse by doing it.

If you’re going to have a rule, why have a complicated rule when you can have a simple one? In other words, quit your suckitupbuttercup and just use the fricking Oxford comma already, and if you want me to stop using it you are going to have to pry it from my cold, pale, and dead hands.

~ Andrew

Avast Ye Scurvy Dog!

So you want to be a pirate, eh? Interesting. Personally, I’d rather be part of the Justice League of America.

The origins of this discussion come from a widely distributed quote from the very famous Steve Jobs:
“Why join the navy if you can be a pirate?”
People like to march out that quote at every opportunity; mass mailing it to every friend, follower, and potential investor within reach. As it turns out, I am not a pirate. Not even close. The first indication came after I read that quote for the first time and thought to myself, Do pirates get health benefits? What about retirement contribution matching, paid vacation, and training subsidies?
Seriously, if I were a pirate there would be none of that (not initially at least), and I like all of that. I really, really do. Pirating looks like a lot of fun but I’m not so sure the behind-the-scenes view is nearly as glamorous. 
To paraphrase Steve Furtik, “Don’t compare your behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel”, or to quote another good one from W.H. Auden, “There’s always another story. There’s more than meets the eye.”
For every success there is a string of failures, sleepless nights, lost weekends, damaged relationships, and self sacrifices that are significantly less publicized. Are the rewards greater? Sure, but so are the risks, and some people (such as myself) just aren’t cut out for it. 
I’m clearly taking the Jobs quote in the context of entrepreneurship, in the way it references joining the navy. I’m viewing this as analogous to working for a large, stuck up, follow-the-herd type company with lots of rules, regulations, and processes guiding their rules and regulations.

I prefer to let my real life be more like the navy and my imaginary life, the one filled with words, be more like a pirate. Certainly there is a literary parallel in here somewhere as well as you can tap any academic on the shoulder and ask for, and receive, a long list of books that follow the rules. 

Does this fact make these books boring or undesirable? To some, for sure, but not for everyone. What about all the books that are out there that don’t follow the rules; the ones that break them at the turn of every page? Some may find them more interesting. Some may not be able to find the order among the chaos. 
Just as we can’t have an economy with nothing but pirates we can’t have libraries filled with books that break all the rules. At the same time, if every novel followed the same set of writing rules, and every character within them exhibited the same set of behaviours we’d have a lot less interesting libraries, don’t you think? 
What’s the first thing any successful writer will tell you about writing? Ignore all the rules. The really good writers will tell you to ignore them intelligently. What’s important to realize is that whether you break them or not it’s okay either way.

The world needs rules just as much as it needs rule breakers (intelligent or otherwise). It’s what keeps us moving forward and yet somewhat organized at the same time. 

“In the world there must surely be of all sorts” – Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (Sheldon translation, 1620)

~ Andrew

Rules Be Damned

I saw this app/program on the internet that points out, in the nicest possible way, how terrible your writing is. It’s name is Hemingway and you paste a bunch of text into it and it advises you of the following:

  • Hard to read sentences
  • Very hard to read sentences
  • Undesirable use of adverbs
  • Words or phrases that can be simpler 
  • Use of passive voice
  • Readability (i.e. lowest education level needed to understand your text) 

Why these?

For starters, length matters. While we all want to wax poetic with flowery prose the best advice is KISS: Keep ISimple, Stupid. I thought the first two would be a cinch to identify but as it turns out, a sentence that I think is longish Hemingway will flag as long (highlighting it in yellow). If I think a sentence is long then Hemingway makes quick work of highlighting it red, telling me that one needs a do over and I’d best take its advice lest I lose the reader down a rabbit hole never to have them return.

As for adverbs, a friend once told me, “Adverbs are your enemy.” While they may be fine for the spoken word, on the page they are just the opposite. Use sparingly.

Similar to length being a factor, using straightforward words and phrases are a good way to manage the readability of your text. Simpler words will have less chance of discombobulating the reader.

The passive voice is something I struggle with a lot. I think it’s frustrating because I’m Canadian and feel the need to be polite and apologize for everything. I’m sorry, but it’s true. The problem with this is that when we write in the passive voice the reader will be disengaged. Engage the reader. Show them action!

Readability is also important, unless you’re writing a research paper or other academic rigmarole. Don’t limit your audience by requiring them to book office hours with their English prof just so they can finish your book.

I was discussing this program with a few other writers and the general consensus was that it was quite helpful. One experienced and successful writer noted that thinking about rules will stifle creativity. As we all know, it’s the creativity that makes the story. As a writer who also dabbles with singing and photography I couldn’t agree more. I know that the more rules that I’m told to follow the less likely I am to get in that creative zone.

That said, if you don’t follow a few core rules you won’t get far. In singing if you don’t have good posture and breathe you won’t be rattling the rafters any time soon. In photography, if you overexpose your picture you ruin it. You can always bring out detail in a darker photograph, but you can recreate that detail if you wash it out with too much light.

In writing, there are so many damn rules that you could spend all day just making sure you’re following them all, but if you had to pick a few to stick with I’d say that Hemingway highlights the big ones. It’s also no surprise that these are the ones people abuse the most often. I know I do.

For fun I put the first draft of this post into Hemingway and here’s what it spat out:

  • Paragraphs: 5
  • Sentences: 19
  • Words: 322
  • Characters: 1458
  • Readability: Grade 9
  • 0 of 19 sentences are hard to read.
  • 3 of 19 sentences are very hard to read.
  • 8 adverbs. Aim for 2 or fewer.
  • 3 words or phrases can be simpler.
  • 4 uses of passive voice. Aim for 4 or fewer.

To be fair to myself, what you read above is quite different from the original. I rewrote it so that the readability came down to grade 6 and the only offending item was the word “very” (which I had to use because it was quoting their own damn site). What did I think about it when compared to the original? In three words: it was better. In another two it was: tighter, cleaner.

It was also less… fun. Less fun to write and I’m guessing it would have been less fun to read as well. So, I went and changed it all to be a little tongue-in-cheek and a little more relaxed. I happen to like the way it reads now, but since I am using my blog to get some words written every week and (hopefully) hone my craft, I think I’m going to start using Hemingway (next week) to hammer home some of those fundamentals that I never picked up in high school English class (I’m so sorry Ms. Nowak!)

Speaking of which, all those “rules” that Hemingway targets? Well, I don’t even have any recollection of them being taught in school, let alone how to write with them in mind. There could be any number of reasons for this, with the most likely being me not paying attention in class.

Looking at my steadily increasing monthly readership I think it’s turned out alright for me and my little blog, so rules be damned (most of them, anyway).

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjHORRHXtyI?rel=0]

~ Andrew