Please, Stop Calling it a Hack

Have you used a lifehack? How does one exactly hack life? Chances are, you’re not a hacker. Using a binder clip in new and mind-blowing ways does not bestow a title upon you held by the likes of Kevin Mitnick and Sandra Bullock’s character in The Net. You just used a trick, a tip, or one bullet of listicle clickbait to use something in a different way.

Ushered in by the wildly popular Lifehacker blog (which I readily admit to reading), the term hack has come to replace a variety of words meaning tip. Perhaps it’s a desire to be hipster and ironic, or frame everything in terms of technology, or perhaps as Nikil Saval of the Pacific Standard called it in 2014, the “cult of self-optimization:”

Life-hacking wouldn’t be popular if it didn’t tap into something deeply corroded about the way work has, without much resistance, managed to invade every corner of our lives. The idea started out as a somewhat earnest response to the problem of fragmented attention and overwork—an attempt to reclaim some leisure time and autonomy from the demands of boundaryless labor. But it has since become just another hectoring paradigm of self-improvement.

To be sure, the underlying rationale for a “hack” is productivity, and even the cupcake-eating hack is about eating smarter, not harder (and maximizing the amount of cupcake you can get in your mouth with the least amount of mess). Yes, leave it to the lifehackers to turn something as innocent and joyous as eating a cupcake into an exercise measured in input, output, and waste.

When we move from tips and tricks to hacks, we introduce the assumption of “you’re doing it wrong.” Think of every single one of these lifehack lists as the annoying IT guy in your office who makes you feel incredibly stupid when you ask a simple technology question. I’ve been eating cupcakes for over 30 years and I don’t find anything particularly wrong with how it’s done. I know the different keys on my keyring without painting them in nail polish. I was a straw through the inverted tab of a soda can when I was a teenager, well before any clickbait list instructed me to.

So my quarrel is with both the word and the assumption. Calling something a hack doesn’t make it any more useful or chic than it was when it was a tip or a trick; in fact, it’s the etymological equivalent of a hipster flannel shirt and scarf. Likewise, it carries the pretentious assumption that it is inherently better while at the same time being fashionable before it was cool – think of George Costanza indignantly eating a Snickers bar with a knife and fork. Hacks are for the computer security world. Outside of that realm, it’s only short for hackneyed, and it most certainly is.

Finally, I’ll leave it to the folks at to put a slightly more blunt spin on this.

How To Be a Good Copyeditor

There was a time when the title “Editor,” at least in terms of writing, had to be further clarified. Substantive Editor? Copyeditor? Proofreader? These were the days when editing killed a lot of trees and men stuck press credential in their hats.

Ok, perhaps not that long ago, but it does seem that way sometimes. With the advent of online content management, blog accessibility, and digital publishing, “editing” can be a catchall term covering an amalgam of skills. As a professional writer hiring an editor, you need to clarify what sort of expertise you’re getting. This has consequences for the student writer as well. If you’re faced with writing and revising a term paper, you’re going to want to approach revision as though you are wearing multiple hats, rather than covering all your editing bases in one pass.

I use the following graphic with my composition students. It’s a good representation of how the editing process can be segmented for maximum effectiveness.

Editing as a fluid process
Editing as a fluid process

There are four basic phases:

  1. Revision
  2. Substantive Editing
  3. Copyediting
  4. Proofreading

I’ll cover Revision and Substantive Editing in my next post, so let’s look at Copyediting and Proofreading for now. While the temptation may be great to do both in one pass, the distinction is necessary, especially if you operate under the “Work Smarter, Not Harder” mantra. Think of copyediting as clarifying the voice of your paper–how the sections and paragraphs come together to represent your ideas. A copyeditor wants to make sure the paper’s readability is maximized. Focus on clarity and consistency. Proofreading, on the other hand, about clarifying the look of your paper–typos, grammar mistakes, basic stuff. That should come as the absolute last step, when you know your content and flow are solid, and you just need to put that final inspection to be sure you don’t do something stupid, e.g. confuse there, their, and they’re.


How APA and MLA are Different, Part 3

Finishing the three-part series on APA and MLA differences, here are some key examples of references and citations among both the styles.

APA (“References”)
Book: Graber, D.A. (2002). Mass media & American politics. Washington, DC: CQ Press.
Journal: Donaldson, S. (1995). Protecting the troops from Hemingway: an episode in censorship. The Hemingway Review, 15, 87-93.
Website: Park, A. (2008, May 21). How safe are vaccines? Time. Retrieved from

Sample Citations
Graber (2002) suggests that “media are most influential in areas in which the audience knows least” (p. 210).
(Adams, 1979) or (Adams, 1979, p. 42)
(Lennon & McCartney, 1968) or (Lennon & McCartney, 1968, p. 999)
(Hexum, Martinez, & Sexton, 1994) or (Hexum, Martinez, & Sexton, 1994, p. 123)

MLA (“Works Cited”)
Book: Graber, Doris A. Mass Media & American Politics. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2002. Print.
Journal: Donaldson, Scott. “Protecting the Troops from Hemingway: An Episode in Censorship.” The Hemingway Review 15 (1995): 87-93.
Website: Park, Alice. “How Safe Are Vaccines?” Time. Time Magazine, 21 May 2008. Web. 18 March 2011.

Sample Citations
Doris Graber suggests that “media are most influential in areas in which the audience knows least” (210).
(Adams 42)
(Lennon and McCartney 999)
(Hexum, Martinez, and Sexton 123)

How APA and MLA are Different, Part 1

Back in high school, I was told that MLA formatting was the only way to do a research paper. Chalk this up to my research papers all being in English classes, and as MLA is the preferred formatting for students of the humanities, my English instructors had this style hammered into their brains.

Fast forward to college and my first paper due in a social sciences class. Mind blown. There’s another format to use? What is this “APA” you speak of? Turns out, most every field or discipline has a preferred style format. APA and MLA are the major players, but there are others–such as Chicago (Turabian), commonly used for history.

As most papers are done in either the humanities or social sciences, APA and MLA are the styles that students most identify. Differentiating between the two can be difficult; confusing one for the other can be incredibly easy. So, at a glance, how do they actually differ?

  1. References vs. Works Cited.
    1. The list of references at the end of the paper is known as References in APA, and Works Cited in MLA. It is also possible to have a separate section in the MLA list of Works Consulted, so that you may keep your list of actual cited references concise.
    2. The author is as “Last Name, First Initial” in APA format, and “Last Name, First Name” in APA.
  2. Parenthetical Citations.
    1. If the author’s name is mentioned in the sentence, the date (and page number if quotations are used) is written in parentheses immediately after the name in APA format. In MLA format, the page number comes at the end of the sentence (no date).
    2. If the author’s name is not mentioned in the sentence, follow the same rules as above, but add the author name.
  3. Block Quotes. In APA formatting, quotes of 40 words or more are indented 1 tab. In MLA formatting, quotes of more than 4 lines are blocked 2 indents.



(Klaphake 54)

Klaphake, Elizabeth. My Life as an English Professor. Bellevue, Nebraska: Bellevue University Press. 1999.


(Klaphake, 1999, p. 54)

Klaphake, E. (1999). My life as an English professor. Bellevue, Nebraska: Bellevue University Press.

My Response to “Learn Your History”

A Confederate flag is displayed at the South Carolina state capitol in Columbia January 9, 2008. Many U.S. presidential campaigns shift their focus to South Carolina today for their first test in the south--the historic flag, which until 2000 flew from the capitol dome, is for some a symbol of the state's political and racial divisions.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst   (UNITED STATES) - RTX5DUD
A Confederate flag is displayed at the South Carolina state capitol in Columbia January 9, 2008. Many U.S. presidential campaigns shift their focus to South Carolina today for their first test in the south–the historic flag, which until 2000 flew from the capitol dome, is for some a symbol of the state’s political and racial divisions. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES) – RTX5DUD

As of today, our governor has called for the Confederate flag to come down from the monument on the State House grounds.

For something so divisive, you’d think there would be celebration.

But amidst the almost-universal praise, there is a strain of grumbling that goes something like this:
Learn your history! It’s about heritage, not racism!

History is a tricky subject. We can think that it’s an objective account of our past, or we can acknowledge that it is a subjective mish-mash of narratives that managed to win out over other narratives. To be sure, a history of Native Americans in the United States would be written differently from the Native American perspective than those who drove them out of their lands. Curriculum wars have been waged over how certain history has been told in school textbooks. If history was objective, we wouldn’t have these issues.

So when I hear “Learn your history,” I ask: Whose history? I’m a white male Southerner who spent a lot of time in past years studying how the Confederacy came to be, because I wanted to find out which was true: heritage or hate? I love flag design and owned a few Civil War era flags of South Carolina. I read Calhoun and Davis. I have been heavily involved in my own local history initiatives. I studied other instances of secession in world history. I could even see some of the constitutional rationale for secession, on paper and in a vacuum, so to speak. None of that could erase the fact that, despite the causes we may assign to Southern secession and the lingering Confederacy, there were clearly racist motives amidst the non-racist ones in the founding of the CSA. To that end, the flags represent it.

Flags are about active causes. It’s one thing to have a monument to the Confederate dead, but flying a battle flag in their memory doesn’t do anything other than imply we still support that cause today. It’s safe to say those men died for their country–CSA, at the time–and I would imagine their idea of patriotism today would beholden them to the same United States Flag that we fly today as Americans. (That brings up another point: flying those two flags at the same time seems completely illogical to me, but that’s another post.)

When we–white, southern, reasonably comfortable, and only connected to the Civil War by memory or distant relatives who were fighting to keep their economic interests alive–say “learn your history,” we are actually saying “learn the history that makes this flag okay.” The problem is, it’s not that simple. History is checkered. History is subjective. You cannot tell me that a descendant of a slave in South Carolina has the same perspective on history that we do. When we say “learn your history,” we are once again imposing our will over those who don’t have the luxury of a Gone With The Wind recollection of history.

If you can put together an entire nation, or state, or county of people who think that battle flag represents them, then secede again and fly it. But as it stands, state government represents all state residents, and enough of them don’t share the same history you do of that symbol. What’s wrong with being a good neighbor and letting it go?

A Quick Word on SC’s Confederate Flag

A Confederate flag is displayed at the South Carolina state capitol in Columbia January 9, 2008. Many U.S. presidential campaigns shift their focus to South Carolina today for their first test in the south--the historic flag, which until 2000 flew from the capitol dome, is for some a symbol of the state's political and racial divisions.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst   (UNITED STATES) - RTX5DUD
A Confederate flag is displayed at the South Carolina state capitol in Columbia January 9, 2008. Many U.S. presidential campaigns shift their focus to South Carolina today for their first test in the south–the historic flag, which until 2000 flew from the capitol dome, is for some a symbol of the state’s political and racial divisions. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES) – RTX5DUD

I am a SC native and resident. I remember every gubernatorial election and debate that ran up to the removal of the flag from the Statehouse dome in 2000. I also enjoy vexillology and history. Right now, the national conversation about the shootings in Charleston (the deeds of a racist madman) has renewed debate on removing the flag altogether from the Statehouse grounds (in my mind, a wise decison). Looking past the value judgments, let’s examine some frequently asked questions.

Q: How did it get there?

A: In 1962, the all-white legislature voted to place the flag atop the dome in what was considered an oppositional gesture against the Civil Rights Movement. The official reason given was the anniversary of the Civil War, but that would have been 1961, so it’s anyone’s guess. It remained there ever since.

Q: Why is it flying over a monument now?

A: What flies over the Confederate monument on the Statehouse grounds is a slightly different flag. What was above the dome was the Confederate Naval Jack; what flies over the monument is the Army of Northern Virginia Battle Flag, designed by William Porcher Miles. In 2000, the State Legislature passed the South Carolina Heritage Act, which effectively removed the flag from atop the dome and placed a different flag at the monument.

Q: Why wasn’t that flag placed at half-staff when the others were?

A: Logistics and symbolism. Logistically, the flagpole at the monument doesn’t adjust. So it’s either all the way up or all the way down. Symbolically, that flag is not representative of a sovereign entity. Flags at half-staff are usually either federal, state, or local. You may see private homes that fly their decorative flags at half-staff, but insofar as flag code goes, only sovereign flags are of consequence. The flag at the monument is a memorial flag and represents no sovereign entity, so it doesn’t count.

Q: Okay, so it’s a historical flag. Why isn’t it in a museum?

A: The Heritage Act requires a vote of the Legislature before any action is taken on the monument and flag. As of this writing, there is some support in the Legislature to take it down. We will see how that pans out. (Editorial: Why opponents of removing the flag believe that taking it down will somehow dishonor the memory of the dead is beyond me. No one has asked to tear up the monument. It’s only a question of removing a banner that is causing a lot of trouble and heartache. Seems to me that we would better honor past and present by compromising.)

History, Because We Made It

This day in history, exactly one year ago, a plate of food was put before me at a restaurant, and it was so beautifully presented that I absolutely had to snap a photo and post it to Facebook. #foodporn #omg #goingtomyhips #bejealous #howmanymorehashtagscanIthinkof

Not really. But I expect this sort of notification comes about on a Facebook timeline once every few hours across the world.

We have Timehop and On This Day to thank for commemorating the mundane. What used to be a collective effort–history–has become increasingly selfish, says Sarah Senk in I agree. I could go on in the echo chamber re: selfies and increasing eye-to-screen time, adding more volume to the already overpacked “we are too selfish” chant. However, I suggest that Senk’s take is different enough to talk about. In fact, I may share it on my timeline.

By replacing events of broad cultural significance with mundane “events” of little to no relevance to anyone else, Facebook seems to be transforming our understanding of commemorative practice in two ways: It hastens the process through which events get treated as “historical,” and it lowers the bar regarding which past events get to count as “history.”

Imagine someone wandering down to Dealey Plaza in November 1963, taking a selfie in front of the Depository, and captioning: “Just woke up. Need coffee. Oh, and the Prez is here today.”

By privileging an anniversary regardless of the content, Facebook urges people to go through the motions of retrospection, to have feelings of nostalgia generated more by the automatic action of marking time than by any specific event or experience. In this way, On This Day risks transforming commemoration into a meaningless gesture, in which all one really reflects upon is a potentially empty process of reflection itself. Look at me being pensive and nostalgic and caring about the past, the user gets to feel while contemplating how something happened “one year ago today.”

I remember when my sense of history went from planar to linear. I sat at home with my family watching videos of my childhood that they decided to bring out on my 21st birthday. Until that point, I’d looked back on memories as these random things I could pluck from an array of life events, and vaguely thought of myself as disassociated from that person in the recollection. Watching those films, though, I realized that same kid was me, and everything between that point in time and the present was the sum of who I was at that point.

It was a genuine action of marking time and realizing how it impacted me. Says Senk: “In place of a shared object, we have a shared process of remembering something, anything.” I sat there and shared the object with my family on that birthday evening. In contrast, Timehopping only requires me to acknowledge that a commemoration is necessary, and I should share/post/tweet with a witty or nostalgic comment. The plate of food is, and was, all about me; the old home movies were about us.

There are, of course, arguments for histories of the mundane. I have done enough literary research through journals and letters to understand this. I don’t disagree. But the difference is real. What separates an artist’s journals on daily food intake with a random #foodporn Instagram shot? Time. If I become famous and important, perhaps in a hundred years my digital minutiae will be of some consequence to researchers. But there’s the rub: deeming who or what is important enough for such recognition usually takes a collective effort. Even histories of local communities are done by way of a collective effort.

I think the arguments are dual and parallel here: (1) empty commemoration for commemoration’s sake; and (2) importance of self vs importance of collective experience.

Of course, this is only my individual assessment. Time will tell.