- "You reach a point where you have had everything, and everything amounts to nothing."
Patrick White (1912–90)
- "The crucial problem isn’t creating new jobs. The crucial problem is creating new jobs that humans perform better than algorithms."
Yuval Harari (born 1976)
- "history is not the past – it is the method we have evolved of organising our ignorance of the past”
My self-help writing tutorials
Self-help writing tutorials:
- Exercises in weeding out fluff from article text
- Advanced editing exercises
- Spot the ambiguity
- Advice on how to improve your prose
- Beginners' guide to the Manual of Style
- Build your linking skills
- Using hyphens and dashes
- Exercises in avoiding the "noun plus -ing" construction
- Exercises in paragraphing and sentence structure
- Copy-editing essentials, part of the Military History Academy
I'm a research consultant and professional editor. My doctoral dissertation was in the psychology of music reading, including the roles of working memory and eye movement. I work with researchers and academics in their preparation of grant applications for competitive research funding. Most of my clients are staff at Australian universities who are applying for funding from the Australian Research Council and the National Health and Medical Research Council. This typically involves strategy and language in the areas of engineering, chemistry, physics, biology, and IT, but sometimes extends to a broader range of fields.
My first career was in the complex European music of the 18th and 19th centuries, specialising in how acoustics, culture, and psychology intersect in harmony and voice leading—and the psychological and musculoskeletal patterns that support excellent performance, particularly on the keyboard. That career stage ended at the start of the century, but music is still a big part of my private identity. More recently I've been working on incorporating the cognitive psychology of memory and near prediction into temporal music theory.
I’m a keen advocate of systemic functional grammar (see Michael Halliday’s and Christian Matthiessen’s Introduction to functional grammar (2nd ed., 1995). Traditional grammar is limited and often misleading; while it might be helpful in the early stages of learning a foreign language, parsing written words into inflexible categories doesn’t help people to write better. If grammar is the coding of meanings into wordings, what does help is a knowledge of how the functional relationships between speakers/writers and their listeners/readers are embodied in grammar. Halliday's model explains how the language fits together simultaneously on at least three levels. Although I’ve started writing short articles on aspects of functional grammar, such as thematic equative and nominal group, I can claim no more than amateur status.
I’m a reformer; it’s what I do. In my first five years (2005–10) I achieved a degree of success in eight areas on the English Wikipedia:
- Featured article candidates. I promoted the technique of reviewing the prose of nominations by analysing the weaknesses in a sample of the text as representative of the whole, and providing more generally applicable advice for the nominated article. This may have been one of several factors contributing to higher standards of prose in some featured articles over the past two years. It has certainly made nominators take Criterion 1a more seriously (“[A featured article is] well-written: its prose is engaging and of a professional standard”).
- Featured list candidates. I prompted a major overhaul of the process in late 2007, in which a directorate was appointed along the lines of the featured article process, and the FL criteria were recast. Further improvements have since been made by the FL team.
- Date autoformatting. I spearheaded the move towards dispensing with the misconceived date-autoformatting function, and played a major role in making this a reality on the ground.
- Overlinking. I introduced the term “smart linking” as part of moves over the past few years to persuade editors to use skill and moderation in linking. The main goals have been to strengthen the wikilinking system by avoiding the dilution of high-value links, and improving the readability of our article text. The English Wikipedia now has a much better functioning wikilinking system than the other 285 Wikipedias, which seem to have chaotic, undisciplined wikilinking by comparison. The scale of the opposition to this (and date autoformatting) was astonishing, but there was a solid body of editors who were dismayed at the undisciplined way that internal linking had evolved on wikis; and a firm majority for reform once the arguments had been put to them. It's disappointing that other Wikipedias are back in the dark ages in this respect, although I see a measure of improvement on the German Wikipedia over the past few years.
- Gender-neutral language. In 2007, I succeeded in introducing WP's guideline for gender-neutral language against vicious opposition. The guideline is now supported by Wikipedia:GNL, written by other editors.
- Default width of thumbnail images. It had been a tiny 180 pixels for as long as anyone can remember. I led a push in late 2009 to generate consensus on en.WP to raise this, and then to persuade the Wikimedia developers to implement the change. The thumbnail default size was boosted to 220 pixels—an increase of almost 50% in area—on en.WP in February 2010 and on Commons in April 2010; a gradual roll-out through Wikimedia's sites was completed by November 2010.
- Manual of Style (MOS). I've made a considerable contribution to improving the standard of expression and, in my view, the quality of advice in the Manual of Style, main page, along with users Noetica (who has taught me much about language), and others. In late 2006, I rewrote most of the critical Manual of Style (dates and numbers) (MOSNUM), setting it up to approach the characteristics of a professional style guide.
- Non-free content policy. In 2007, against considerable resistance, I forced through the issue of rewriting the policy text so that it was clearly and logically expressed rather than something that resembled the dog’s half-eaten breakfast. Some of the structure, format and tone survive in the current policy text, although the details have evolved since the revamp.
From about 2010 till 2016 my focus shifted somewhat to the Wikimedia movement as a whole, although most of my editing activity was still on en.WP. During that time I was a journalist with the Signpost. I have since reduced my activities on WMF sites.
Wikis suffer from the chronic overlinking of common terms; these dilute the appearance and significance of high-value links in the vicinity. The benefits of reducing overlinking will be obvious if you consult most articles on the French Wikipedia, in which dates are still linked (without even being autoformatted), common terms are typically linked (“France” on every appearance, if you please) and repeat links are typical. It's a blue-spattered mess. I continue to promote smart linking practices in which linking is allocated to relatively high-value targets, and the clarity of piping is improved.
|The Special Barnstar|
|To thank you for sticking with the date-linking issue and for your Herculean efforts to resolve it. SlimVirgin talk|contribs 03:37, 3 April 2009 (UTC)|
These are the people whose work continues to have the deepest impact on me.
- JS Bach, the 18th-century German composer, particularly the choral movements of his cantatas. Why would you listen to anything else?
- Patrick White, the Nobel laureate novelist who showed that Australian culture doesn't have to be entirely superficial.
- Geoffrey Miller, the American evolutionary psychologist who has explained back to first principles so much about gender and what it is to be human.
- Michael Halliday, the great linguist who finally produced a map for understanding English grammar, and more broadly for understanding the grammar of all natural languages.
- Yuval Harari, the Israeli historian.
- Christopher Hitchens, who has flown the flag against that medievalist con-job we are all better off without: organised religion.
- Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, political scientist at New York University, whose co-authored book The Dictator's Handbook (based on his selectorate theory) makes sense of the dynamics of human power.
- Michael Tippett, the 20th-century English composer. Favourites are his Symphony No. 2 (1957), Symphony No. 3 (1972), Triple Concerto (1979), and Concerto for double string orchestra (1939). He was not the greatest 20th-century composer—that honour goes to Stravinsky—but Tippett is the recent composer with whose music I feel the greatest personal affinity.
My pet hates
- Religion, the greatest con-job ever perpetrated on humanity, which deserves to be called what it is: "the supernatural industry", complete with brand names such as Catholicism, Anglicanism, and the palm reader at the circus.
- Nationalism, which leads to tears ... always, sooner or later.
- Sexism and racism.
- Celebrity, which makes me vomit.
- Display consumption, which I personally don't need or want, and which I disapprove of in others.
- Unregulated television and radio advertising, a primary agent for cheapening society, for promoting the superficial, unhappy life. Along with the acceptance of campaign-fund bribery to purchase influence, it has become the destroyer of representative democracy.
- Any music with a drum kit; call me a snob, then.