Don’t Call Me “That,” ...


The grab bag returns for the second time this year.

Three micro takes coming at you —


Who vs. Whom vs. That

Frank Bruni’s beautifully crafted essay in The New York Times laments the sloppiness in language that has seen “that” become a synonym for “who” and “whom”:

“This bit of wreckage particularly bothered me. This was who, a pronoun that acknowledges our humanity, our personhood, separating us from the flotsam and jetsam out there.”

Flotsam definition


There’s conjecture that when people can’t quite figure out whether to use “who” or “whom,” they default to “that” as the safe call.

Regardless, clumsy use of language can create some weird sentences. Toward this end, President Trump delivers a fitting proof point (naturally):

In talking about the hack of the Democratic National Committee’s emails, President Trump said that the culprit “’could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.’ In this exceedingly clumsy formulation, the obesity belongs to the mattress, and it’s the headboard that needs to go on the Atkins Diet.”

By the way, if you can replace the word “he” or “she,” use who. If you can replace it with “him” or “her,” use whom (Grammarly).

Just don’t refer to people as “that.”


“Math Will Rock Your World”

That was the headline for a Bloomberg Businessweek cover story published over 10 years ago that essentially said forget the meek, it’s the math geeks who will inherit the world:

“The world is moving into a new age of numbers. Partnerships between mathematicians and computer scientists are bulling into whole new domains of business and imposing the efficiencies of math. This has happened before … But just look at where the mathematicians are now. They’re helping to map out advertising campaigns, they’re changing the nature of research in newsrooms and in biology labs, and they’re enabling marketers to forge new one-on-one relationships with customers. As this occurs, more of the economy falls into the realm of numbers.”

Given the recent rise of interest of artificial intelligence, it’s surprising that the phrase never appears in the 3,500-word treatise. Still, the promise of AI is certainly foreshadowed, “This mathematical modeling promises to be one of the great undertakings of the 21st century.”

I had a good college buddy who wore a pin that simply said, “math is fun.”

It turned out that he was right. It just took some time for the concept to take hold.


China’s Contrarian Story

When the U.S. public conjures up an image of China’s economy, they tend to think of endless rows of workers toiling away in factories to make goods that cost pennies on the dollar.

Yet, we’re starting to see signs of China’s economy moving up the food chain. A story in The Economist included a chart on international patent applications over the past 16 years showing China is about to pass Japan for the No. 2 position.

Economist graph of international patent applications


Of course, the patents by themselves don’t guarantee commercial success.

Still, this passage in the story quoting David Li of Shenzhen’s Open Innovation Lab got my attention:

“’Anybody can come to Shenzhen with an idea and get it prototyped, tested, made and put on the market at a decent price,’ he says. Silicon Valley is obsessed with rich-world problems, he thinks, but China’s open innovators work on affordable solutions for the masses on everything from health care to pollution to banking.”

Is Silicon Valley obsessed with rich-world problems, leaving the door open for startups like those in China to address pain points for the masses?

I’m not ready to say a definite yes, but it has me thinking.

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