Daily Archives: October 2, 2007

Avoid use of jargon. “IBMers have developed a lingo all their own, but jargon confuses people”

IBM recently published a short article on the internal home page , “Grammar 101: Part V — Avoid clutter and get to the point.” It begins as follows, “The Grammar Guru is back. In this installment, Grammar Guru and VP Jeff Cross [VP name blocked] addresses clear and concise writing. [1]

The article continues:

“Clutter is the disease of American writing,” says William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well. “We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.”

“Amen to that,” say I.

I bought a copy of “On Writing Well” shortly after starting this blog a year ago, though it is evident in the almost 400 posts I have published to date that I haven’t spent enough time reading it. (I just located my copy and have placed it on the table on my back porch that is now my office, hoping that I’ll take some time going forward to dig into it.)

I also have a copy of Zinsser’s book, “Writing About Your Life: A Journey into the Past.” I have read part of it, and strongly recommend it. (I’ll locate my copy and put it next to “On Writing Well,” as a further reminder to read and follow Zinsser’s wise counsel.)

William Zinsser is an outstanding writer, teaching by example good writing in his writing about how to write. He taught at Yale for many years. My daughter Jen graduated from Yale and is an excellent writer, as is evident by the journal she kept about her post-graduate studies in Spain in the summer of 2006. [2]

Dave Grove, an IBM colleague when I was at IBM Research, is a graduate of Yale. He is now a well-recognized researcher with many published papers, and recently received a major award for his work on improving Java garbage collection. He didn’t major in computer science as an undergraduate. Soon after Jen was accepted to Yale I asked him what Yale education meant to him. He said, “It taught me how to write.”

That’s all you can ask of any undergraduate education, for you can’t write if you can’t read, nor can you write if you can’t think. It’s the writing that makes you better at both.

Jeff then shares some tips, including:

Avoid use of jargon. “IBMers have developed a lingo all their own, but jargon confuses people,” Jeff says. “Clarity is essential because 45 percent of IBMers have been with our company less than five years, and one in nine, or 11 percent, were brought in through acquisitions.”

Spell out acronyms the first time you use them. For example, ISS means Internet Security Systems.

Reading these tips suggested to me –in my usual unmodest manner — that perhaps our VP Guru has read some of my posts on IBM jargon, TLA’s, and writing for the web. If not, here are the links to some of them: [3]

I couldn’t find the Jeff’s name in the list of IBM Bloggers, so I will send him an email with a link to this post and the suggestion that he start an external blog if has not yet done so, following Zinnser’s example by teaching effective writing by writing effectively. [Postscript: The email and Jeff’s prompt reply can be found in the comments about this post.]


1. Since early in the Jikes days I have not named an IBMer publicly unless I have first received their permission to do so, or am confident that they would have no objection to my naming them.

Postscript: Jeff Cross identified himself in a comment to this post, so I have gone back and put in his name, striking out my earlier phrases the didn’t use his name.

2. I think the journal can be found on the web and will try to track down the URL.

3. Jeff didn’t say he was aware of my blog before today, but I’ve left in the list so others can easily locate my jargon-related posts.

Hurry Up Please, It’s Time: NECC Call For Proposals Closes October 3, 2007

FYI, I just got the following via email from Steve Hargadon:

The NECC call for proposals closes tomorrow, October 3rd, and I’m just making sure that the Free and Open Source Software folks who would be interested in presenting in San Antonio get those proposal in!

NECC 2008 Call For Proposals.

links for 2007-10-02

Announcing the formation of The Chay Project, and an invitation to be become a co-founder of the project

This is to announce the formation of “The Chay Project” (TCP), and to seek your participation in it as a co-founder.

I sent the following note to several trusted colleagues and friends on September 26, 2007. I then forwarded a copy to Cathy Min Chay, SSgt. Kyu Hyuk Chay’s widow.

This is to announce the formation of “The Chay Project” (TCP) and to seek your participation it in as co-founders and, at your discretion, also as a member of the Chay Project Core Team (CPCT), the group that will be responsible for the day-to-day work of the project.

I have set up an email account for the Core Team, chayprojectcoreteam@gmail.com, as part of this project.

By way of background, I live in Chappaqua, New York. I attended my town’s Memorial Day ceremony this past May, as I have done for many years.

As I took my seat I noticed that both Bill and Hillary Clinton, fellow Chappaqua residents, were present, as was Nita Lowey, Chappaqua’s member of the U.S.House of Representatives. Hillary attended the ceremony in 2005, as did I.

I then saw a photo and flag in front of our Soldier’s Monument and realized the reason why there were so many luminaries present — we were adding a new name to the Monument, the first since the Vietnam War.

There were several hundred people present. Realizing I was probably the only one of them who was an active blogger, I decided to pay careful attention and published a post about the event later that day:

Chappaqua Memorial Day 2007: Staff Sgt Kyu Hyuk Chay

See also

Postscript: Chappaqua Memorial Day 2007: Staff Sgt Kyu Hyuk Chay

The dead soldier’s name was SSgt. Kyu Hyuk Chay. He grew up in Mount Kisco, the town just to the north of Chappaqua, and his family has for many years run a dry cleaning business in downtown Chappaqua. SSgt. Chay was killed in action by an IED in Afghanisgtan last October.

Within a day or so of publishing that post I found that if I entered his name, “Kyu Hyuk Chay” to Google then my post was the first result displayed.

Several readers posted comments to that post, the most notable being that of his widow, Cathy Chay. Recently I had an e-mail exchange with Cathy that, with her permission, I published as:

Letters from Cathy Min Chay

My post has remained the #1 hit to this day. Though I take some pride in this, I also say it with great sadness, as I have come to appreciate from Cathy’s recent notes that:

Soldiers, especially soldiers on active duty in the Green Berets, do not have personal web sites, nor do they write blogs.

As a consequence, when those soldiers fall in battle, there is little record of them on the web save the reports of their death and, as in the case of Ssgt. Chay and some others, their burial in Arlington National Cemetery.

This is wrong, and I think we should do something about it. The surviving families deserve better, much better.

Towards that end, I propose the creation of a project, to be known as “The Chay Project,” (TCP) in honor of the late SSgt.Kyu Hyuk Chay.

Cathy noted in one of her recent e-mails that, “I eventually would like to create a website but I’m far from doing that.”

Simply put, the goal of the Chay Project is to help to create that website, and to do so in a way such that other surviving families can take as a model create their own web sites.

Key to the project’s mission will be to provide instruction and technical guidance on creating these web sites.

The intent of the project is to use WordPress.com as much as possible. No charges are required, the underlying software if open-source, and WordPress is so good that I think it safe to say the free services it offers will be available for decades to come.

The project will use the existing open-source infrastructure provided by WordPress.com as much as possible , and will make available any changes and extensions to thatsoftware that it produces as part of the project’s work under a widely accepted open-source license compatible with the license used by the WordPress project.

The project sees these web sites as having two components:

  1. Content about the fallen soldiers: their stories, photographs, links to articles about them, remembrances from friends and colleagues, some hopefully in the form of recorded interviews, and so forth;
  2. Blogs in which the survivors can share their own thoughts, and in so doing provide support for others that share the same lifelong burden.

Though (1) is the more obvious goal, my own guess is that the real benefit may come from (2).

I lost a niece, Janet Perloff Fossett, to cancer a few years back, and I know she found comfort by participating in mail-lists with other cancer victims, as only they knew what she was going through. [1]

With this note I am asking you to join me as a co-founder of TCP. Co-founders can at their discretion become active members of the Core Team. New members may be invited to join the Core Team only with the unanimous consent of the then active members.

The project will be governed using Apache rules and practices.

I hope the work of the project will survive for many years — hopefully decades — to come, and so suggest we provide all web content exclusively via WordPress.com, as I am confident it will be with us for many years to come.

We need a team to do this work; hence the present note.

WordPress is free, but if any additional costs are needed to pay for additional support and services from wordpress.com then I will pay for them out of my own pocket.

Feel free to share this note with others, but I ask your discretion in doing so as I have yet told Cathy about the project.

You need only devote as much time to the project as you wish.

I’m inviting you to join me as co-founders since yours were the first names that came to mind when I thought of the skills that were needed — and the people I would most like to join me on this project.

Within a day I realized that there was no need to create a Core Team of a select few, as anyone who makes any contribution to the project, even if only by knowing about it and telling someone else about it, becomes thereby a member of the project.

I do expect that some will step forward and offer help to manage the day-to-day affairs of the project, and invite any interested parties to send a note to that effect to the email address give above.

Yet anyone can step forward at any time, in their own way, and in so doing become a co-founder — by telling others about the project, posting comments to the project’s various web sites, offering support to the survivors in their own personal way, and so forth.

Though the project grew out of an effort to honor a Fallen Soldier, it of course is intended to help anyone who has Fallen. Soldier, Sailor or Marine; Soldier fallen in battle or Veteran who came home from service in Harm’s Way; or Civilians such as those murdered on September 11, 2001; or anyone else who had death thrust upon them by the forces of evil.

Also, every Veteran is but an individual who returned home safely only to become a Fallen on the day of their death.

By their untimely deaths, some yet to occur, the Fallen have left — and will leave — us a heavy burden: to honor their memories and to help their survivors.

They deserve our help, and we will become better as we accept that burden, in ways that I am sure will cause us to grow in ways we cannot measure — that is their legacy to us.

So let me thank you in advance, and I look forward to working together to advance this noble cause.

The deaths of the Fallen have damaged our world. We need to repair that damage. No effort is too small.

SSgt. Kyu Hyuk Chay and the other Fallen — May Their Memories Be A Blessing.


1. It was during a conversation with Janet many years ago in the playground at West 93rd Street and Central Park West, that she called me “Uncle,” in a way that made me appreciated that, since she thought of me as her uncle, I was truly an uncle for the first time. It was a moment of joy then, and every time since that I have recalled that conversation.

She died of breast cancer just over three years ago.

I miss her dearly.

She was a treasure beyond measure, as all who had the good fortune to know her can attest.

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