April 2010 Archives

Great minds think alike

"We speculate that Bush did not independently originate the notion of an electronic microfilm selector, although that was possible. It is not surprising that the same invention sometimes occurs independently and more or less simultaneously when a need is present and the technology becomes ripe. Inventors prefer inventing to copying." ~ Emanuel Goldberg, Electronic Document Retrieval, and Vannevar Bush's Memex

Although, as the above article states, both Eastman Kodak and IBM in the United States were aware of Goldberg's tremendous photographical breakthroughs and his conception of a photoelectric microfilm selector, Vannevar Bush is perhaps the researcher who is most known for attempting to physically create a working prototype of this kind. But I don't think that this means that Bush "copied" or "stole" Goldberg's ideas because Bush's invention achieved a rapid prototype microfilm selector that would have been comparable to the first motor-equipped boat overtaking a simple row boat.

One of the reasons leading me to think that Goldberg was not originally well known for his microfilm processing ideas was because Bush published the popular theoretical article "As We May Think," while Goldberg was left to the wayside by historical circumstances that surrounded the world in World War II. Due to his Jewish heritage and the severe anti-semitism, Goldberg was forced to flee the European continent to continue both his life and his work. It's said that history is written by the conquerors, and that is exactly what the Nazis (and the countries they occupied) did when they essentially erased the work of numerous scientists and inventors on account of being Jewish or resisting Nazis rule.

But the above quote also says, "It is not surprising that the same invention sometimes occurs independently and more or less simultaneously when a need is present and the technology becomes ripe." With the world advancing every day in the area of technology, it seems that two or more individuals somewhere, somehow, will have the same idea and possibly attempt to invent it. Look at the development of writing and the wide breadth of languages that we have in the world: no two are exactly alike though there may be similarities in parts of them. This is how I feel that Bush did not infringe on Goldberg's idea, though I do wonder what these two scientists would have cooked up between them if they had belonged to a "Microfilm/Photography Scientists Tweet Group." Then both Goldberg and Bush would have known about each other's ideas and might have saw fit to combine their original plans to invent a super-rapid microfilm sorting machine. Only history knows for sure.

Anyways, I sure am glad that we have moved past the realm of micro films and firmly into the digital age when it comes to sorting. I've noticed far too often that I become slightly cranky when I can't press a few shortcut keys and pull up a search bar in printed documents.

If you like, take a read through what my peers have to say on Goldberg versus Bush and their respective inventions.

Reading into the past

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Hello again and welcome to my second collection of blog postings that relate to the evolution of the written word. A good portion of my blogs will be separated under different headings below, but those that don't quite make the cuts here will be listed at the very end of my portfolio.

Depth: Although each of my entries link to the specific text that they pertain to, I've listed blogs that have the most links to outside information in them. The second blog also relates my own first experience using Google books.

Free classics to educate the masses
Google = the future's largest public library?

Interaction & Discussion: Below I've listed the my peer's blogs that I've left comments on in efforts to strike up a conversation or to more deeply delve into a point.

Throw the Book out the Window, I dare you by Jessie Krehlik
I Don't Know If I Like It Yet by Erica Gearhart
"All of the big shots sit on the steps of St. Patrick's, watching the show go by." by Chelsea Oliver
Text Does Speak, but It Has Many Voices by Erica Gearhart

Here are a few of my entries that my peers have commented on:

Even the best of us make mistakes
Where does a story begin or end?

Timeliness: It's often that I have a busy schedule where my one fervent wish each day is that there was more time in the day to accomplish more homework. Sad, I know. Anyhoo, I've listed below some entries where I actually posted fairly early.

Make us interested to learn and we'll learn
Electronic Literature isn't just an e-book synonym

Below I've simply listed all of the recent or most interesting blogs that have managed to flow from my fingers and into my keyboard.

The character said it had to be written!
No swearing or you WILL be disconnected!
Lyrical poetry is my constant companion
Somebody understands my disease!
Cybertexts and fetishes
Can Shakespeare still be Bill if printed by John?

Well, by now I would hope that you're rather used to my rambling mind as showcased above and am looking for new mental material to pick through. So I'm granting your wish! Take a look at my peers blog collections and portfolios and read what they have to say to you.

Make us interested to learn and we'll learn

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In Plato's story of his mentor Socrates telling "The Allegory of the Cave," Socrates relates his main argument to some educator's claims that they can put new knowledge into their pupils. Socrates says "our argument shows that the power and capacity of learning exists in the soul already; and that just as the eye was unable to turn from darkness to light without the whole body, so too the instrument of knowledge can only by the movement of the whole soul be turned from the world of becoming into that of being, and learn by degrees to endure the sight of being, and of the brightest and best of being, or in other words, of the good."

These lines from Socrates' dialogue got me to thinking about how I and my fellow English majors will talk about books that we've read for past school assignments and are either re-reading them on our own or for a recent class. Several times my friends and I have been amazed that they disliked reading a book or short story earlier in their educational career, but have re-read that same work and liked it. I think that there are some bits of homework and other work assignments that students are more interested in depending on their own preferences in addition to how this assignment may be taught. This interest is much like student opening up to the "learning [that] exists in the soul already."

If students, or anyone for that matter, has told themselves that they will be against learning some new concept, then the battle is over and you might as well stop trying to teach them because they won't learn it if they don't want to. Then again, we all have to do things we don't want to do, so I suppose we'll just have to settle for only half-understanding some concepts and disliking some assigned readings. The point is that the ability to learn is inherent within each of us, we just have to be open to learning new ideas, or at least no kill them like the men in Socrates' cave.

Take a look at what my coursemates have to write on this subject.

Free classics to educate the masses

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If you're not an avid reader or were/are an English major of some type in college, then the chances that you've read a large number of literary "classics" are low. After all, the "classics" are supposed to be just that right, classic? Those are the books that you always tell yourself that you should read...and then you never really find the time to read them. Well, with today's technologic advances in the area of handheld book readers and mini laptops, you can download classics for free. One of these popular free websites being Michael Hart's Project Gutenberg where users can browse and download numerous free texts in the span of seconds to their computer and later transferred to portable devices.

Without realizing it, I had visited Hart's Project Gutenberg before I'd read chapter eight in Espen Aarseth's Cybertext. In this chapter Aarseth remarks that "any effort to make texts available free of charge on the Internet (such as Michael Hart's Gutenberg project, which makes classical texts available) is not technologically but ideologically motivated, the work of an idealist rather than of electrons and fiber optics. Dissemination of information is primarily an institutional phenomenon; the technology is secondary" (168-169).

While I give Aarseth credit for his thinking that Project Gutenberg is idealistic and in the future may hit some snags on copyright laws, I also think that it is a great opportunity to put "classics" and out of copyright books into the hands of those who can't afford to buy paper copies of texts, aren't near a library, or have little time to sit and read a physical book but can pull up an electronic copy on a portable device that they always have with them. I first visited Project Gutenberg when I downloaded Amazon's Kindle app for my MacBook and was looking at free downloadable book collections. Project Gutenberg was one of the choices listed and I found it to be nearly overwhelming with the amount of knowledge contained within the links on this site.

Even though Project Gutenberg may be an ideal dream, I think it's a good one that is still developing, much like other similar websites that offer free e-books, I believe that our advances in technology have led us to the present debate of physical books versus e-books. As for myself, I love both for different reasons, so I guess I'm on the fence and not of much use.

Take a look and see what my peers wrote about on this topic.

Google = the future's largest public library?

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"...here is a proposal that could result in the world's largest library. It would, to be sure, be a digital library, but it could dwarf the Library of Congress and all the national libraries of Europe." (14-15) of Robert Darnton's The Case for Books

When I read the above quote, my first thought was somewhere along the lines of "You mean with that crappy electronic version of Shakespeare's 'King Lear'?"

I will admit that I've used Google books in the past for reading Shakespeare assignments while still keeping an eye on my laundry from the common room and for looking up a text to see if I can read the first page or two and decide whether I like it enough to buy it. But I doubt that I will ever want to download a full length book from Google and read it. After all, I clearly remember that the version of "King Lear" I read had marks in the margins and was scuffed like the original paper copy had seen better days. And me, I like to receive books brand new or at least gently used.

That being written, I won't hesitate to download snippets of books for free to see if I'm interested in buying them, or taking an electronic version of a classic with me on a road trip to save my father some griping about how man books I pack for a family vacation. But I'm also for writers and publishers receiving money for their work(s) and for educating everyone. So where does this leave us? In a hotbed of controversy being stirred over a changing technological burner. The bottom line is simply that people want to make money and people want things for free and striking a balance between the two is becoming trickier.

I'm not quite sure that there is an answer to this electronic literary tug of war just yet, but I do think that an online library is destined in the future. Though I'm unable to fully speculate how this development will impact public libraries, I believe that providing free information to the public is necessary even while creators deserve to be paid for their work. I guess it all comes down to someone (or a committee of sorts) to decide what types of information should be free and which people should have to pay for. Or maybe it can be simplified and someone somehow shorten copyrights. (Anyone think we can just exclude Disney's Mickey so that everyone can get along like good children?)

Take a look at what my peers had to say on these issues.

Write like I need to understand what you mean

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"I would be naive to claim that everyone is free to write as he or she pleases, especially when a job depends on protecting an employer's self-interest. Maybe the writers of [the letter given before this quote about an auto recall] felt coerced into writing it as they did. But that doesn't mitigate the consequences. When we knowingly write in ways that we would not want others to write to us, we abrade the trust that sustains a civil society." - Joseph Williams, page 138 from Style

The letter that Williams write the above quote to is an example of an auto recall letter that he actually received. Essentially, it doesn't make readers feel that they are in real danger, nor does it in a simple way say "If you don't take your car to be fixed right now, your car's hood might fly up suddenly while driving, the front suspension pivot plate bar might fall off without reason leaving you to be unable to stop when braking very hard, and you might die either directly or indirectly from these malfunctions." See? I just shoved the seven sentences of the letter into one that unequivocally tells readers that there is a serious reason their vehicle is being recalled.

But Williams also concedes that not everyone can write in such a simple manner. If they did, they'd be promptly fired for damaging their employer. Then again, simply because writing something so every layman can understand what you're writing about shouldn't be compromised if it's a serious issue. ie. People possibly dying if they don't have their cars serviced. This is the snafu of ethics and writing, which is maybe why Williams saved this for the last lesson. I think it's ultimately up to the individual to decide what they can tolerate writing. At least for myself I know writing an ambiguous death statement won't sit well with me.

Take a look at what my peers have to say on this final lesson.

Player makes own unique experience

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"Instead of a narrated plot, cybertext produces a sequence of oscillating activities effectuated (but certainly not controlled) by the user, but there is nevertheless a structuring element in these texts, which in some way does the controlling or at least motivates it. As a new term for this element I propose intrigue, to suggest a secret plot in which the user is the innocent, but voluntary, target..., with an outcome that is not yet decided -- or rather with several possible outcomes that depend on various factors, such as the cleverness and experience of the player." - page 112 of Cybertext by Espen Aarseth

When I read this quote, I thought "Hey! That sounds a lot like some of the interactive fiction (IF) games I've played!" I noticed this strange "make your own adventure" theme when I was going through "Deadline" as mentioned in chapter 5 of Cybertext. Even though this is an older IF game (after some of the others that I've played), I really enjoyed going through it and actively thinking about my own wanderings and actions impacted the story.

The entire matter of leaving users to interact (or not interact) with objects and characters in the game embodies the sense of adventure. Users make the game as they go along the "set" endings or encounters required to continue playing the end of the game. But there are some games, like "Deadline" that don't automatically progress the game or story if you want to wander around and not interact with anyone. Then again, you can also simply go from room to room and attempt to collect various drugs and alcoholic drinks. Be careful though, these side items may be important or necessary later on, or they might be the creator's attempts to purposefully get you off track and add more detail to the game.

Essentially, I agree with Aarseth that some IF games allow users to feel more in control of the adventure. There are no characters or events driving the story along without your control, but this does mean that it's sometimes harder to perform the significant actions that do progress the game. I know that this has happened to me a few times and I've gotten stuck enough times to simply give up or I've run out of time to play. Either way, I think it's definitely that ambiguous sense of intrigue, of the unknown, of might happen if I do this or take that in an IF game that keeps me playing (probably long after I should go to bed).

Check out what my coursemates have to say on Aarseth's chapter 5.

The Circle of Literary Life

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"To demonstrate their points about the unstable relation between word and meaning, the illusion of originality, the social construction of authorship, and the intertextual relations of texts, some of these writers used words such as network and link to to illustrate that texts are not isolated islands of meaning but ongoing dialogues of repetition, mutation, and recombination of signs." - Aarseth, page 83 of Cybertext

Although the first part of that very long sentence may be difficult to understand, the latter half of it struck home for me. Again it seems that someone is telling me that every thing that has been written has been written before, and that it really is all connected. The quote above was written as applying to hypertext, but I think it has the ability to apply to other literary creations as well.

If you read If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino you will recognize the idea that everything is connected. Italo's work may be annoying to some readers, but if you stick with it you will see that all of the different works featured within If on a winter's night a traveler come together in the Reader. (Whether that "Reader" is you or a character within the book is the tricky part.) Even if hypertext is often seen as nonlinear and because of that carry a negative connotation, there are interactive fiction games and online literary works that are fascinating to interact with. And even printed literary works can be defined as hypertext if done is a strange new fashion like If on a winter's night a traveler.

You may even come back to this blog (or argue virtually in your head with my incorporeal point) that nothing that is written has been written before or that once something is written that is the end of the subject. Well, do so if you must, though I encourage you to take a look at Volume 1 of the Electronic Literature Organization and explore a bit. Having fun is the most important thing though when first wading into the world of electronic literature, or any type of literary work that you would label as "experimental." I feel that this mindset will allow readers to read something in a new light in addition to being open to new literary styles, like Aarseth's hypertext.

Check out what my coursemates think of Aarseth's text to learn more.

Electronic Literature isn't just an e-book synonym

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If you're really curious about electronic literature and how it works, then set aside your Kindle, iPad, nook, or other handheld computerized reading device, go to your computer and search for the Electronic Literature Organization (ELO). (But since you're already here, go ahead and check out the link now or when you've finished reading.) The ELO is the internet portal to finding dozens, if not more, literary texts that have been created to epitomize the synthesis of writing and the internet. The result has been an amazing new realm of work that goes beyond interactive fiction games.

In Literature Collection Volume One, I immediately thought that this first website was the portal to hundreds of different possibilities, even if many of them originate from the same original source. All of the literary, visual, or auditory creations in the first collection offer you possibilities to explore and learn the unknown.

At the start of my exploration, I came across three sites/games that I wanted to further explore: "Storyland," "myBall," and "RedRidingHood."

I was drawn to "Storyland" even as I was somewhat put off by the continuous circus music that brought to mind too many images of bad horror movies. The potential to repeatedly click a button and a story was created "roulette" style was intriguing to my slightly scattered brain. "Storyland" is a unique "roulette" style story, although it creates stories revolving around negative human aspects, particularly greed. Each new story has at least three characters (all the times I played it did) and very briefly relates these character's interactions with each other. Some stories seemed to end harmlessly while others definitively held a darker overtone. However, these same yet different qualities were exactly what kept me clicking the "New Story" button. There was always a new story to be told, even if I thought I'd read the story before.

"myBall" also immediately hooked my mind by this supposed "ball" creation because I think it resembles something that mankind might make in the future. Not only this, but I think it might have represent a rift in human interaction as well, fulfilling several science fiction movies and novels where humans never physically interact anymore and the government has monitoring devices everywhere. (you can tell I've read too many of these already.) Alright, I went and actually interacted with the "myBall" program for a bit, and I'll tell you right now that if this machine is ever invented, I'm moving far, far away. These little surveillance balls essentially eliminate the need for human interaction (or attempt to) and seek to completely undermine the parent-child bond while at the same time allowing adults to control what content their child learns. In essence, this is brain washing at its best in the form of a "harmless" red ball. This was an amazing piece of electronic literature to go through and read, if only because it is frightening in its future possibilities.

The last story, "RedRidingHood" caught my eye because I like fairy tales, but this re-telling of an old favorite promised some new twists in its plot. After all, you only need to look at the cartoon picture of Red to see that she's not the typical sweet little girl who's taking a picnic basket to her grandmother. After taking my turn through this interactive game-narrative a couple of times, I think this may be the strangest version of "Red Riding Hood" that I have ever encountered. The creator's basis for this game was to determine if point-click interaction with a story hurt detracted from one's experience with the story. (This is my best handle on the situation, at least.) While I did appreciate some slight amount of involvement with the story, I really hated how I could click on items or "roll" over them with the cursor and nothing would happen. If you weren't clicking on the correct items to move the story along, you were left stuck in that particular section of the story. I guess "Red Riding Hood" is a story best left to readers without choices, or at least only choices where it's possible to move the story along rather than limited, but teasing, interaction.

All in all, there are numerous more stories, pictures, songs to to be heard on this site and I went back to see some more. I visited some old favorites, like "Carving in Possibilities" and "Dawn," but I explored a few others too. I explored those projects that immediately ignited my curiosity or drew me to them for some strange, unknown quality. It was a singular experience to say the least; one that is both new and exciting, while yet limiting in some of the stories.

However, I also realized the argument of Espen Aarseth that cybertext is a creation all its own, that it's nearly impossible (or a waste of time perhaps) to judge, analyze, and hold cybertext creations to the same standards as other literature. Aarseth's Cybertext novel simplifies a key element present within much of ELO's works: "when you read from a cybertext, you are constantly reminded of inaccessible strategies and paths not taken, voices not heard. Each decision will make some parts of the text more, and others less, accessible and you may never know the exact results of your choices..." (3).

Now click on over to my classmate's blogs and find out what they played. You might find your perfect electronic text to interact with.

Literary Rhythm and Blues

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In Joseph M. Williams' book Style, he addresses sentence lengths in Lesson 9.

"Think about the length of your sentences only if they are all longer than thirty words or so or shorter than fifteen. Your sentences will vary naturally...But if the occasion allows, don't be reluctant to experiment." (131)

Williams covers varying the length of sentences by shortening some sentences for urgency and others to impart a sense of certainty. But I think that he gives the best piece of advice in the quotation above. Only truly begin to worry about how long or short your sentences are if they are all the same or if you want to artfully experiment. And there's nothing wrong with experimenting (literally) if the occasion arises. I mean, why not? Most anyone can manage to scrounge up enough punctuation to create a rather long, drawn out sentence that still succeeds in conveying some now thoroughly obscured point. Most people can also make short points too. But I will testify that by varying your writing even a little bit will provide readers with an interest of which they can latch onto.

In the end to this somewhat shorter, though hopefully more smile-producing, blog on varying sentence lengths, I'll give you a tip to experimenting the length of your sentences: have fun. Without even an ounce of fun, you won't like mixing things up. Plus, it's even better if you relax and cease worrying about systematically writing the "correct" way. Buy a crappy little notebook and go to an imaginary literary world where you can change up your written sentences with shorter (or longer) crazy look-a-likes.

You might also want to have a look at what my peers have written on Williams' Lesson 9.

Paper 2 Proposal

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Brainstorming attempts:

As engineers and programers seek to build "smarter" artificial intelligence (AI) units and program these machines to "write" literary works, is it possible for them to surpass human creativity? Are we endowing machines with too much sentience in our search to perform tasks easier, faster, and perhaps with less effort? What experiments have "failed" in teaching AIs how to create written work or what experiments have succeeded?

With the invention of numerous portable devices, what are the newest forms of writing on the go? How are these changes in text usage affecting the way technology is growing and how text is written/published? What are the principle arguments for the e-book and physical book issues? Is there a trend in what books are translated into an electronic version before others? Will all books eventually exist as both a printed text and in an electronic version?

Preliminary Research Question(s):

What recent experiments have been conducted to determine a computer's ability to write a novel/poem/song/etc.? What are the common trends in robotics now in relation to performing tasks for humans? What scholarship has been published recently on the evolution of artificial intelligence units?

What are the latest inventions released to the public for electronic text viewing? Are these models only for reading various electronic texts or do they serve a dual/multiple purpose? What were the statistics for the last five years of publishing companies? What are (if any) the latest styles of writing text to conform to these portable devices? What scholarship has been published recently on the decline of printed text and the rise of electronic media?

My classmates are also thinking of their own ideas.

Cybertexts and fetishes

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I found myself identifying with several points in the first chapter of Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature, written by Espen Aarseth. Yes, although I did have difficulty in places reading Aarseth's scientific vocabulary, I found the "gamer" side of myself perking up at his argument about hypertext games and programs.

Aarseth does an admirable job arguing that literary critics should view works as inherently having more than one ending, path, etc., or as he terms "multicursal." He also lists works that could be considered to follow his definitions that were written long before the invention of computer, thus inevitably bringing him to the argument of physical book versus electronic content. "One side focuses on the exotic hardware of the shiny new technologies, like CD-ROM...The other side focuses on the well-known hardware of the old technology, the 'look and feel' of a book, compared to the crude letters on a computer screen," (16) writes Aarseth when addressing the greatest argument (or obstacle as some may see it) to defining exactly what cybertext is and what truly defines it.

This point is one of the reasons that I believe Aarseth's Cybertext can aid readers in possible attempts to pin down any amorphous questions they may have about linear and nonlinear texts. By providing varying examples of literary works that were created before the first hypertext game was dreamed of really sets readers back on their heels, rocking the foundation of thought that unique, labyrinthine texts solely belonged to computers. I know that I will be looking forward to what Aarseth has to write on this issue, because he does have a revolutionary manner of looking at printed, written, and typed literary works.

Check out what my classmates have to say.

Notational writing is more than commonplace

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Chapter 10 of Robert Darnton's book The Case for Books covers "The Mysteries of Reading" by studying commonplace books. These commonplace books were more than simple diaries, they were short excerpt jotted down that avid readers deemed important to themselves, much like literary snippets to live by. Thomas Jefferson is one of the most well know in Early American history to compile several short excerpts from his readings as a young man and consult them later.

William Drake was an Englishman who wrote several commonplace novels because as Darnton writes, "He favored bite-sized bits of text, which could be useful in their application to everyday life. For reading should not be aimed at erudition; it should help a man get ahead in the world, and its most helpful chunks cam in the form of proverbs, fables, and even the mottoes written into emblem books" (162). I think this quote also mirrors how people often gather information from the internet. Readers rarely want to read massive amounts of text off of a computer screen or see large blocks of text clumped together on a screen.

And how many people jot something down that they've read or seen online? I'm certainly guilty of it, although I do sometimes forget to write down where I found it, writing it on a post it and sticking it to my wall allows me to consult it in the future. So I agree with the practices of commonplace books, though I'm not ready to only read or attempt to write in that style for a length of time.

Take a look at what my peers have to say on this subject.

Cut long sentences to announce what you want to say


On page 93 of Joseph Joseph Williams' Style, William's begins his section "Revising Long Openings." I feel that this section (aside from the repeated reminder to revise) again ties to how fledgling writers of term papers may operate when beginning new paragraphs.

Yes, some students don't write enough at the beginning of a paragraph. This leaves readers wondering exactly where the writer was going or what subject might have been referred to. However, other writers attempt to pack as mush information as possible into their beginning sentence. Sometimes this may be done to stuff each sentence to its fullest with information (or what information the writer thinks is absolutely important). Other times long opening sentences are created to give an impression that the writer knows what he or she is writing about. I'm not an expert on the reason why long opening sentences take shape, but Williams is an expert on how to shorten long openers.

Williams offers to main solutions to long openers:
1. Get to the subject of the main clause quickly.
2. Get to the verb and object quickly.

And once again these two solutions can be best served in the revising process. But keeping them in mind while you're writing is a good idea as well if you can manage more than one mental process at a time. Don't bore your readers (or maybe worse: try to impress them) by long, overly long sentences whose shapes ultimately become unrecognizable when your readers are looking at the page or screen. It's kind of scary actually if one thinks a sentence is never going to end!

Check out what my peers have to say on Williams' chapter 8 of Style.