This sentence makes sense, BUT…

I am reading a non-fiction book. Some of the sentences that the author writes make no sense to me. I have noticed several times that the author uses the words “but”, “however”, “yet”, and other conjunctions in ways that leave me scratching my neocortex.

The conjunction “and” is rather harmless. You could say:

“The pig is hungry and I will be home by 7:30pm”.

Admittedly, this is a strange sentence. But it doesn’t contradict itself. It’s just strange.

Now, what if I say:

“The pig is hungry but I will be home by 7:30pm.”

This has a different meaning. There is an implied contradiction or conflict between the two sides of the “but”.

but glue

But Glue

Imagine having a tube of “but glue” that you can use to attach separate statements or clauses. The statement above has two parts that were connected with but glue. The problem is that the second half of the sentence doesn’t contradict, correct, or oppose the first half of the sentence. Compare that with this statement:

“The jug is intended to store water, but you can fill it with apple juice”.

…which makes more sense.

200504238-001To be fair, it is possible that given a particular situation, the first sentence might make sense. Consider: “The pig is hungry and usually gets fed at 5:30pm, but she’ll be okay because I’ll be home by 7:30pm to feed her.”

If the reader were already familiar with the context, the backstory, and the implications, it might make sense.

But… out of context, it makes no sense.

Missing Context

Back to the book I mentioned earlier: the problem is that the author is not able to craft clear context for his general reader. The author frequently drills down into his smallish area of expertise, or his momentary logical twiddling, with its particular conflictual dynamics. There may be clashing assumptions or contradictions in his context, but he has not successfully expressed those opposing assumptions. Either he is too absorbed in his arcane world of logic, or he is just not that good at crafting an argument or illuminating new ways of thinking about a familiar subject.

Bad Buts

“But” can also be used to manipulate an argument to the benefit of the but-wielder. Beware of but’s that subtly change the subject, creating the false appearance of a contradiction…when there is none. 

A friend of mine was caught doing this. She may not even have been aware of it, but she evoked butness to apparently weaken my argument. I called her on it.

Another friend of of mine avoids glueing sentences together with “No…but”. She much prefers “Yes…and”.

No But Yes And

Attention to buts and ands amounts to more than just a nerdy obsession with grammar. It can illuminate large-scale philosophies on life, and the contradictions within it. Or the lack of contradictions.

Now…I am not an expert on grammar or good writing…

but there’s one thing I can say for sure:

this coffee sure smells good!


Why Can’t I Just “Control-Z” Parts of My Life?

hand_pose_17_of_22___stock_by_aphasia100stockThe other day I was drawing a diagram on the whiteboard to explain something to a friend. I was in the heat of explanatory joy. At one point I changed my thinking and decided to re-do a part of the diagram, which meant that I would have to erase the bit I had just drawn.

Amazingly, I felt my hand assume the shape it takes when I am at the computer keyboard, getting ready to do a “control-Z”.

I looked at my hand and said, “Wow. Maybe I should spend less time at the keyboard.”

That primitive act of holding down the Control key and repeatedly hitting Z has become engrained in my mind. It has ventured from the abstract landscape of software tools and invaded parts of my brain that function in the analog world.

At the deepest neurological levels…does my brain really know the difference?

ctrl + zYou Can’t Control-Z The World

The desire to erase something and start over runs deep in our lives. We do it in many ways. Sometimes we try to erase a bad memory – or at least render it impotent by attempting to cover it with newer memories. (That often doesn’t work – have you noticed?)

Will the increasing virtuality of our lives add to this desire to just Control-Z our problems away?


Check out this awesome video:

Screen Shot 2016-04-23 at 12.40.12 PM

And this…


Chairs Should Not Have Wheels

Okay folks, I’ve decided: chairs should not have wheels.

Wheels belong on cars, bicycles, and baby carriages.

imagesWhat a wonderful invention: the wheel. A beautiful, perfect circle, having frictioned contact with a horizontal surface. Wheels are great for making things move at really high speeds, like infants in baby carriages being pushed through crowds by mothers who are trying to catch a bus.

Screen Shot 2013-07-23 at 11.29.15 AMChairs are things that people put their asses on in order to do work, rest, or eat dinner. Chairs function well when they remain in a single place. While eating dinner, one expects not to move to another part of the room (unless the mustard needs to be retrieved from the fridge). While participating in a meeting, one can achieve optimal results by remaining in a specific place. In short, chairs work best when they are not in motion.

Hyperactivity + Chair + Wheels = Disaster

executive-ergonomic-chairPerhaps I despise wheeled chairs because I’m a fidgety person. I can never stay still. So, if you put me in a chair that thinks it’s a vehicle, there is a strong likelihood that I will end up on the other side of the room within five minutes. If it is one of those chairs that spins, I am likely to end up rotating against my will. This happens often when I stretch my feet out to look at my shoes: I notice a slight dizzy feeling, and then when I look up, I m surprised to be looking at a wall, instead of the faces of the other people in the room.

The Dreaded Ergonomics “Expert”

I once worked in a company that was flush from the bubble. They hired an ergonomics expert to recommend chairs for all the employees. We’re talking expensive chairs here: chairs that have levers for changing height and incline, high-tech wheels, and adjustable arm-rests. These chairs were absolutely frightening.

images-1The ergonomics expert and I had a heated argument about what kind of chair I “needed”. I was trying to convince her to get me a chair similar to the one shown in the illustration at right. She was not having any of it. She was convinced that I would be better served by being buckled into an absolute monster. I told her that I could easily get my fingers caught in the complicated machinery, or that my computer power chord would get tangled up in the wheels, of which there were FIVE.

Somehow, I was able to get rid of her, and I think it is because she began to fear me. After the other employees got their fancy chairs, it took them a while to get used to seeing me sitting on a piece of plywood supported by cinderblocks. Eventually they got used to it. And I was able to get a lot of work done.