Monday, August 14, 2017

Three’s a crowd

Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. Manny, Moe, and Jack. This, that, and the other thing.

The rule of three proves itself time and again. In writing, sets of three characters or events are more effective for engaging readers and telling a story.

More broadly, three examples are frequently used to prove a point.

Three things set a cadence, making the overall idea more interesting, memorable, and enjoyable. At least that’s the theory. But there’s always someone who doesn’t get the memo.

I recently received a donation thank-you letter from a local charitable organization involved in literacy. As a freelance writer, I tend to read such written materials more closely than others might. I pay attention to phrasing, grammar, and the rhythm of the language.

There was nothing wrong with the one-page letter, but it felt jarring to my ear. The rule of three went out the window. Instead, it hit hard on a diminished version—the rule of two—as excerpts below show:
  • With your involvement and backing
  • …providing open and free access
  • …to information and enlightenment.
  • …variety of materials and programs
  • …that you and your fellow patrons
  • …our lively and exciting summer schedule
  • utilizing and supporting
And there are more examples, but you get the point. None of these, individually, sends up a red flag. But after a half-dozen, they begin to stand out. At least to me.

I don’t know why the writer so heavily favored pairs of examples instead of the more common sets of three. Maybe three really is a crowd. Or maybe I’m overthinking this. I'm guessing the latter.

So, here is my delayed response to the thank-you letter: You’re welcome.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Call me a victim

I am happy never to have been a victim in my life. Except for the two times when I chose to be. And those I thoroughly enjoyed.

As a non-medical volunteer for the Medical Reserve Corps, my greatest contribution has been playing a victim in emergency training exercises. So far, I’ve been in an airplane explosion and a train wreck—at least those have been the scenarios. I’ve also had some nasty-looking but not life-threatening injuries, thanks to the moulage makeup added for high-fidelity realism.

My first experience had me laying on the tarmac at Philadelphia International Airport, in 2014, waiting for medical attention. The critical patients were carried away first, by stretcher. Then it was my turn. With my dislocated shoulder, abrasions, and crushed hand (with third-degree burns), I was strapped onto a stretcher and loaded in an ambulance. Inside, I was miraculously cured and scampered away. 

Most recently, I spent a beautiful Sunday morning at the SEPTA Media station in a scenario where a train and a car met on the tracks. There were bad outcomes for the dummy in the car (an actual training dummy) and several passengers. I was lucky, just suffering burns and abrasions on my arms. With a mix of silicone, pigmented creams, and fake trauma blood, my arms soon looked like they’d been through the wringer. My only discomfort was minor, and that came when it was time to pull off the silicone-backed wounds.

The hardest part of playing the victim is all the moaning and groaning. I can do it for a few minutes, but after a while it gets tiresome. So I wait until I have someone’s attention before I turn up the misery volume.

For me, being a volunteer victim involves a lot of hurry-up-and-wait to be rescued. For emergency responders, they get to train in somewhat realistic conditions. The point, I’ve been told, is not just to get it right; the point is to practice until they can never get it wrong.

These exercises take on a greater sense of urgency the more the world tilts off its axis. Emergency responders have a hard road ahead, and I appreciate their service more than ever, having seen what they do from the center of these training events. I am happy to play my small part—and to see everyone walk away safely afterward.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there

Even with dashboard GPS, Google maps on smartphone, and an old fashioned paper foldout map, we still missed driving one of the National Tourist Routes on our Norway vacation. We took what we thought was the right turn, but ended up on a single-lane windy road into a mountainside neighborhood. We might have been in the right place, but could have walked the route faster. So we turned around in favor of the two-lane "highway."

My husband took the wheel for the three days of driving around the fjords, and I was navigator. Actually, I was joined by GPS and Google maps in this task. And, for some reason, he didn’t mind three women telling him where to turn.

While GPS technology is marvelous, it isn’t perfect. It asks if you want to go the fastest route or the shortest route. I couldn’t find the option for scenic routes. And so if I hadn’t been following along on my Hele Norge Kart (Entire Norway Map) we would have missed two ferries and possibly the most spectacular scenery ever.

Apparently, GPS doesn’t like water crossings, and goes out of its way to take you out of your way to avoid them. When it eventually recognized our non-compliance with its directions, ours recalculated itself enough times to get back on track with our planned agenda.

Overseas isn’t the only place where GPS is not to be followed blindly. I recently went back to my old hometown for a visit, after decades away. I had both a dashboard GPS and Waze on my iPhone. You would think both would recommend the same route—and you would be wrong. Several times, I was left to arbitrate between the two. And when neither route seemed appropriate, I had to dig deep into my memory to find a better way.

What I have come to realize is that you need to know where you’re going before you can trust GPS for navigational guidance. Only then can you determine whether the prescribed route through town hits every stoplight or finds the bypass. Waze has the added bonus of showing traffic jams and speed traps, but it too can lead you on strange routes through even stranger places.

I have come to rely on GPS technology, but not solely. I will often check  Google maps or paper maps before I set off somewhere new. I agree with Sindre, the travel consultant from Nordic Visitor who provided us with our much-needed and well-used Hele Norge Kart, who said, “I feel that a good old map can come in handy to get a better overview and see what´s up next and it has some useful side information as well.”

And, as our trip proved, it’s especially helpful when traveling the fjords of Norway.

* * *
For my previous post on GPS, see "Why I don't quite trust my GPS."

Thursday, June 29, 2017

I can’t run metric miles

#ThrowbackThursday: After recently returning from vacation in Norway, where conversions of currency and metric distances were a daily exercise, I was reminded of the following column I wrote in December 1996. It was  published in “Keeping Contact,” then the newsletter for members of the Delco Road Runners Club.
On a recent Saturday, I was sitting down to breakfast with my running buddies after finishing an easy four-and-a-half-mile jog. The topic of discussion was the Philadelphia marathon and its companion race, an 8K. The question was asked: “Hey Amy, why don’t you run the 8K tomorrow?”

“No way,” I said. “That’s too far for me. I can’t run 8 kilometers.” Or could I? I was stumped. What’s 8 times .62? Who’s got a calculator? After doing some mental figuring—I can run a 5K, which is 3.1 miles; a 10K is 6.2 miles, so an 8K, it’s somewhere in between—I finally decided to bag the race. I could do the miles, but not the math.

Later, I did my homework and found an 8K equals 4.96 miles; a distance I can handle. But the thought of running in metric was another story. One that didn’t really interest me. Would I have to run on the other side of the road? Would I start running with an accent?

It was beginning to get complicated. I run to relax, not to practice metric conversions. I’m more of a words person; I just tolerate numbers.

In the lexicon of our language, miles rule! The beach resort of Avalon, New Jersey, advertises itself as “Cooler by a mile.” If you know a little bit about a lot of things, you’re said to be “A mile wide and an inch deep.” If you want to really get to know someone, you’ve got to “Walk a mile in their shoes.” If you do much more than is expected, you “Go the extra mile.”

It just wouldn’t be the same in kilometers. There’s no frame of reference. Is winning by a kilometer better than winning by a mile? Do condemned prisoners gain or lose time by walking the last kilometer? Nobody knows. At least not without thinking it through.

The very question causes people to scratch their heads and wonder why metric measures never caught on in the United States anyway.

In running circles, the only rationale I can think of for using kilometers in races is so entrants can set more personal records. They can have both a 5-mile PR and an 8K PR. Never mind that they’re virtually the same distance. There are sticklers who will argue that the .04-mile difference really matters!

For the rational runners among us—and that may be an oxymoron—why don’t we join together and start a movement to “deep-six” kilometers and go back to miles.

Who are we trying to impress anyway? A marathon will always be 26 miles and 385 yards. What’s THAT in kilometers? Quick. Who’s got a calculator?