Burying the Lead

Every time I reread my blog posts, the same thought comes to my mind – “man, I buried the lead again”.

I learned about leads from “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” by Chip and Dan Heath. It is a short book, but one that influenced me deeply. Every blogger out there should read it.

Burying a lead“, in the jargon of journalists means boring the reader before getting to the juicy part. A “lead” or “lede” is the first sentence of the story.

In the book, there’s an anecdote about a journalism teacher giving his students an assignment:

” … They would write the lead of a newspaper story. The teacher reeled off the facts: “Kenneth L. Peters, the principal of Beverly Hills High School, announced today that the entire school faculty will travel to Sacramento next Thursday for a colloquium in new teaching methods. Amnong the speakers will be anthropologist Margaret Mead, college president Dr. Robert Maynard Hutchins, and California governor Edmund ‘Pat’ Brown. ”

Apparently, most students produced a lead that lumped all these facts into a single sentence. The teacher read all the submissions and then announced:

“The lead to the story is ‘There will be no school next Thursday’ ”

I am having a huge problem with writing in “inverted pyramid” style. The juicy parts of my posts are usually at the bottom.

Think about it, most blog readers, especially the ones that matter suffer from add, and often do not get to the bottom of the article. This means they won’t link to it, won’t digg it.

I am trying to improve, but writing is a difficult art to master. I just wish I took more writing classes.

My Star Trek Strategy

As embarrassing as it is, my wife watches Star Trek. Even the new one with that terrible intro. What I like about Trek is how predictable everything is. For instance, for some reason Klingon ships almost always decloak and otherwise appear off the port bow.

Like doctors, sailors have their own lingo for spatial orientation. Left/right is easy to remember : it matches port/starboard (l is before r and p is before s). Front/back is stern/bow, and I use a mnemonic “stern face”, as stern is the face of the boat. But ya all probably knew that.

Well, let’s ask mighty Google:

“port bow” klingon ship decloak : 59 pages
“starboard bow” klingon ship decloak 32 pages
“port stern” klingon ship decloak 4 pages
“starboard stern” klingon ship decloak 1 page

Well, it kind of makes sense that they appear from the back, buth why do they favor left? I’d make a special ship with more sensors, weapons and armor on the left and back.

Testing. Testing. 1. 2. 3?

When programmers test their code, the need to come up with some kind of test data. And most programmers are not very creative (just as everybody else). Very often you can log into various websites with the login “test@test.com” and password “test”. I am afraid to even think about what test@test.com’s inbox contains. It’s a real email address you know, the emails don’t bounce.

Here are some interesting test strings:

Of course, everyone knows the famous “Hello, World” test string. I’ve heard that for the first time it appeared in the bible, but I am not sure.

The other most famous test strings are “foo” and “bar”, which apparently come from foobar, which is derived from WWII slang. FUBAR is a relative of SNAFU.

A professor that taught VB in college told us, that about the time he was developing a database application for a hospital. His favorite test person was James T. Kirk and his mates, and during testing the poor captain got every imaginable sort of ailment. With funny comments.

When I worked at iXL, our tech lead, a German by the name of Lothar, liked to use a string “4711” as most people use “foo”. Once, in a meeting he asked if anyone new why he was using “4711”. He was pretty surprised that I new what “4711” was. “4711” is what some of you may know as Koeln Water, which was the first commercially produced perfume. That’s where the term “cologne” came from. And “4711” is the number of the building where Koeln Water was produced.

I use “1729” for my testing needs sometimes.