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Minor irritants (#1139)

Topics/tags: Rants, end-notable

As many of my readers know, I’m trying to take a step back from the things that stress me. I’m mostly succeeding. But I’m also someone who gets bothered by little things, attacked relentlessly by Emerson’s hobgoblins [1] and other pesky creatures of the subconscious. I got up at 10 a.m. this Sunday morning. It’s not yet 11 a.m., and I’m already tangling with two of them. My muse insists that I will best slay them if I write about them [2] and post immediately. So here goes.

As I was skimming my email this morning, I saw that I had email from The New York Times entitled [Bulk Mail] Your Coronavirus Tracker. I’m not sure why I’m getting this email; I don’t recall subscribing to it. Perhaps a my family member subscribed with my email address. In any case, I read through the information contained therein. And I was struck by the oddity of the following.

The average number of new cases in Poweshiek County fell to one yesterday, a 17 percent decrease from the day before. [8,9]

I wasn’t sure how you drop seventeen percent and arrive at one. The math doesn’t work out. So I ignored it and read on.

The average number of new cases in Audubon County reached zero yesterday, a 29 percent increase from the day before. [10]

How can zero be an increase? I showed it to statistician son and was treated to an amazing expression.

What is The Times doing with such bad statistics (or, more precisely, such bad presentation of statistics)? Isn’t The Times a great innovators in statistical journalism? I have no idea.

And in case you’re wondering, the obvious explanation is that there was one case the prior day, but under four the past week, so the average was zero but it was still an increase. Still, I can’t make the math work out. Can you?

Just as I was sitting down to muse about these troublesome data, a subconscious reminder went off. I needed to send in my proxy vote in support of the First-Year Experience Course [11], or more precisely, in support of (a) regularizing FYEC [18] and (b) adding FYEC to Grinnell’s relatively small list of graduation requirements [19].

But it’s me. I like to look at the details of the things I’m supporting. And I’m glad I did. For example, I learned that we’ve moved FYEC from Fall to Spring, at least for most students [20]. And then I saw the following sentence.

To be eligible for graduation, a student must have at least 124 credits, a 2.00 cumulative grade point average (GPA), and must have satisfactorily completed the tutorial, [the First-Year Experience Course] a departmental, interdepartmental or independent major and the College residency requirement.

I cringed. Did you? Why not? Do you not experience hobgoblins? First of all, there should be a comma after the new First-Year Experience Course; it’s part of a list. But it’s worse than that. There are three—count ’em three—nested comma-separated lists in that one sentence: one for the things a student must do, one for the things a student must satisfactorily complete, and one for the types of majors. The outermost list uses an Oxford comma, but the inner ones do not. The three parts of the outermost list are not parallel. It’s difficult to tell that at least modifies not only 124 credits, but also a 2.0 cumulative grade point average (and grade-point should be hyphenated).

I don’t know about you, but if I had a Tutorial [22] student write a sentence like that, I’d make them rewrite it. Twice.

I don’t blame the proposal’s authors. They had a bad sentence to start with and likely wanted to minimize changes. But at some point, you have to accept that something is broken and needs someone to fix it. That someone should not be me; Grinnell has scores of better writers [23]. But, for the sake of this musing, or for the sake of my muse, I will attempt the rewrite. Here goes. And yes, it’s at least my second attempt.

To be eligible for graduation, a student must earn at least a 2.00 cumulative grade-point average (GPA) and satisfactorily complete at least 124 credits, the tutorial, the First-Year Experience Course, a major (departmental, interdepartmental, or independent), and the College’s residency requirement.

It’s not great writing. It may not even be good writing. But it’s likely up to snuff for policy writing and, more importantly, it’s better than what we had before. However, as I said, a better writer would write it better. I hope someone does so before Monday.

I wish I could be done now. I sincerely do. But now another critter is bouncing around the back of my skull saying,

That statement is inaccurate! Students can’t just complete an arbitrary 124 credits. We have restrictions! What about the limits on counting credits taken while in high school, even if those credits are taken at Grinnell? What about the limits on counting practica? On counting credits in a division? On counting credits taken in a department? On other criteria I forget?

Should we not add another parenthetical after 124 credits?

It’s bad enough that the critter made me go back and edit its statement to replace credits with counting credits since students can, say, take as many credits in a department as they like, but can only count 48 toward the 124 for graduation. It’s worse that another critter started challenging the limits in a department since there are exceptions to policies for credits in dual-topic departments. And another one wants to rant about the trouble CS and Math had with getting exemptions when, say, Chinese and Japanese did not seem to. It also wants to look into whether Statistics courses are included within the Mathematics caps. They are different disciplines, aren’t they?

Fortunately, I have an ally [24]. That ally is a phrase. It’s not my responsibility. Smooosh! The critters are gone.

Thanks hobgobs and other crits. I enjoyed today’s challenges. I hope you get to spend some time out in the sun today. I know that I will.

Postscript: As is often the case, I asked Grammarly to rview this musing. I don’t always agree with Grammarly but it’s good for a quick check on some of the bad habits I fail to quash. However, Grammarly often makes itself an irritant. I would never write I received a mail. Why should I write I received an email? Perhaps an email message. However, that’s overly verbose.

Postscript: I appreciate that Grammarly suggested inserting a comma before and the College residency requirement.

Postscript: I hope I didn’t screw up the endnotes too much this time. I know that Dad’s screwed-up endnotes serve in the ranks of my offsprings’ hobgoblins.

[1] A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

[2] My muse says I should muse seems awkward.

[3] I don’t think the [Bulk Mail] was part of the original subject line. Most likely, one of our the many elements of our suite of email products added it [4].

[4] Somewhere in the back of my mind, another of those pesky creatures started saying Changing email violates the Academic Computer Use Policy. But when I took a quick look at the ACUP [5,6], I couldn’t find the phrase the creature suggested but found the following under subpolicy B9.

Users may not send anonymous mail, mail with altered headers giving erroneous information ( e.g., an erroneous sender name), or anonymous files from anywhere on campus.

However, while adding [Bulk Mail] to the subject is altering the header, calling the mail Bulk Mail is probably not erroneous.

And yes, the extra space after the open parenthesis is in the original.

I think the ACUP was last revised after the Plans debacle. It’s probably time to revise it again.

[5] Academic Computer Use Policy.

[6] [7]

[7] Isn’t that an insanely long URL? I thought part of the Website redesign was intended to reduce long URLs.

[8] The New York Times. (2 May 2021). Track Coronavirus Cases in Places Important To You. Email message. Also available at

[9] Boldface in original.

[10] See prior endnotes.

[11] I struggle to properly hyphenate First-Year Experience Course. First-Year modifies Experience and so should be hyphenated. But First-Year Experience modifies Course, rather than First-Year modifying Experience Course [12]. By the traditional rules for grouping adjectives, it should be First-Year-Experience Course [14] but that scans awkwardly. I bow to the College’s new custom of eliding the second hyphen [15].

[12] I must admit that the Course does sound like an experience. And the proposal does say The FYE Course is experiential. But the use of FYE does suggest that Experience is tied to First-Year not Course.

[14] Damn hobgoblins!

[15] I note that the proposal includes two different hyphenations, sometimes listing it as First Year Experience Course and sometimes as First-Year Experience Course [16]. The title also appear as FYE Course, which avoids the problem altogether.

[16] The authors of the proposal must not encounter hobgoblins. Their minds are larger [17] than mine. It must be nice not to have those hobgoblins.

[17] Less little?

[18] FYEC is a shorthand for First-Year Experience Course. I thought we’d used it in the past, but I don’t see it in the proposal. Maybe I’m the only one who uses it.

[19] I’m not going to list them here. I’ll be quoting them in a moment.

[20] A student who takes a leave in the spring of the first year of their Grinnell career has to take it the next year they are on campus. Transfer students don’t have to take FYEC [21].

[21] Reasons it’s good that I’m not attending Faculty Meetings, take 5,124: If I were at the meeting, I’d ask why we’re not requiring FYEC or an equivalent for transfer students, too. We do so for Tutorial.

[22] I know that the convention is to write tutorial with an initial lowercase t. I still insist that when we say Tutorial at Grinnell, we are using it as a proper noun, and it properly deserves an initial capital.

[23] It also has some amazing writers of scores, but that’s a separate matter.

[24] Not to be confused with a11y, which is how some computer folks tend to discuss accessibility [25].

[25] I’ll let you guess or DDG [26] i18n.

[26] Duck Duck Go or Dude, Don’t Google!.

Version 1.0 released 2021-05-02.

Version 1.0.1 of 2021-05-02.