About

I'm Mike Pope. I live in the Seattle area. I've been a technical writer and editor for over 30 years. I'm interested in software, language, music, movies, books, motorcycles, travel, and ... well, lots of stuff.

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Novels could be called thought experiments. You invent people, you put them in hypothetical situations, and you decide how they will react. The 'proof' of the experiment is if their behaviour seems interesting, plausible, revealing about human nature.

— David Lodge



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Blog Statistics

Dates
First entry - 6/27/2003
Most recent entry - 11/24/2014

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Posts - 2316
Comments - 2506
Hits - 1,693,013

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Entries/day - 0.55
Comments/entry - 1.08
Hits/day - 404

Updated every 30 minutes. Last: 9:28 AM Pacific


  02:02 AM

A couple of weeks ago we were finishing up a new release, which included some new website templates. These consist of prebuilt web pages that have all the layout and code in them already, but where you're supposed to substitute your own information.

When the programmers had put the new pages together, they needed some placeholder text. As an interim measure, someone had just grabbed some of that old standby, namely Lorem ipsum:



I am well aware of why people use Lorem ipsum — it isn't real text, so it won't distract people who should be focusing on the layout. But there was something strange about seeing this Latinate text on a web page. In fact, it had the opposite of the intended effect — my eye kept going to the text (not the layout) precisely because it was so out of place. And not just me; several people who were reviewing the new templates also thought so.

Update 29 Nov 2011 Kottke.org has a photo showing some Lorem ipsum text, apparently overlooked, on a wine-bottle label.

To my mind, what we needed was some normal text, but something so bland that it would in effect be like non-text. (Many would argue that this is basically all corporate-ese, haha.) So I asked around whether anyone inside the company knew if we had an official policy vis-a-vis Lorem ipsum. And/or whether we had a handy spigot that dispenses Blandish and from which we could draw a pitcherful of inoffensive placeholder text, undoubtedly featuring the ever-popular Contoso.

Inside the company, there seems to be no such spigot. However, someone over in the Office group offered a fascinating tip that I'd never heard before.[1] In Word, enter the following on a blank line and then press Enter:

=rand(3)

As soon as you do, Word squirts in three paragraphs of documentation-style text that yacks about formatting in Word. The format is actually =rand(p,s), where p is the number of paragraphs you want and s is the number of sentences per paragraph. There are 3 paragraphs of actual text, which Word will repeat as needed.

(As if that weren't enough, Word can also generate real Lorem ipsum text as well. Type in =lorem() using the same values you can use for =rand().)

Well, that was interesting, but a little too Word-centric. In fact, I never did get a definitive answer either about whether it was ok to even use Lorem ipsum as placeholder text or about whether there was a way to generate anything other than this Word-based filler.

Lack of an official answer, however, did not mean that I didn't get a lot of suggestions, virtually all of which were unserious. For starters, I got a couple of websites that generate the kind of generic corporate text that I had in mind. My favorite was the Corporate Gibberish Generator, which lets you plug in a company name and then generates stuff like this:
Contoso is the industry leader of C2C2B, integrated action items. Think extensible, infinitely reconfigurable, real time. We apply the proverb "When in Rome, do as the Romans do" not only to our niches but to our capacity to leverage. Our reality-based feature set is unparalleled, but our real-time compliance and easy operation is often considered an amazing achievement.
I know, right? This could have been ripped from the home page of a thousand companies. (The site also generates handy callout text like "Our technology takes the best aspects of RDF and C++". If I didn't know it was fake ...)

There was also the infinite corporate BS generator that generates fake press releases in a similar vein, and its sister site, the webspeak: infinite web techno-jargon generator that generates "design specifications."

And then there are the variations on Lorem ipsum generators, omg. I'm sure I've seen only a small fraction of the ones that are out there, but people sent along these:Several people suggested Samuel L. Ipsum, which generates text in the, um, characteristic argot of Samuel Jackson and which is so, so NSFW.

Easily the popular favorite was Hipster Ipsum, which advertises itself as "Artisanal filler text for your site or project." The text is just random words stuck together, but they are very hip words ("Hoodie keffiyeh readymade banksy, helvetica gentrify iphone high life carles thundercats locavore art party biodiesel +1 irony jean shorts quinoa"). Obviously Jason Cosper, the author, has a very sly sense of humor; check out his Submit a Word page as well.

The sad ending to this story is that because I couldn't find anything suitable, I ended up having to write my own placeholder text. What I did was crib text from the asp.net website. Maybe the sad part is that it wasn't that hard to cobble together some entirely pedestrian text from what I found there.[2] Or maybe the really sad part is that the end result sounds like I might have gotten it from the Corporate Gibberish Generator. Maybe that's ok, tho. What we definitely don't want is anything that someone would actually want to read.


[1] Remarkable, considering it's been in Word for several versions.

[2] Full disclosure: I have been personally responsible for some of this stuff.

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