Apostrophes are often misused, as I noticed over the past few years. So, I am writing on the proper use of the apostrophe and the logic behind its rules.

Apostrophes only have two uses: to indicate that something has been taken out of the word, (or words), written, and to indicate a word is possessive when used with an “s.” Apostrophes are not used to pluralize words. To tell the truth, there is only the first usage, but this requires a history lesson which I’ll get to later.


Contractions are the result of replacing letters or spaces with apostrophes, (this is the first use: indicating something has been taken out). For example, when “can not” becomes “can’t” the space and letters “n” and “o” are replaced by an apostrophe. Similarly, when “she is” becomes “she’s” the space and letter “i” are replaced by an apostrophe. Of course, it also works on proper nouns. For example, in “John’s going to the market” “John is” has been shortened to “John’s.” Incidentally, “John’s” is the same spelling and pronunciation as the possessive form of “John,” but not the plural form.

Possessive not Plural

Now for the history lesson. Once, a long, long time ago, a word made possessive was indicated by adding the letters “es” to the end of a word. For example, the sentence “Johnes house is big,” meant that my house is big. Over time, an apostrophe replaced the letter “e” and as a result, words are now usually made possessive by adding an apostrophe “s” to them. In modern English the sentence above reads “John’s house is big.”

Since a plural is generally indicated by adding a single “s” to the end of a word there is no “e,” or anything else for that matter. So, to pluralize, an apostrophe is never used. For this reason sentences like “Banana’s are on sale” or “Let the dog’s out” are incorrect.

Its, It’s, Your and You’re

The word “it” and its possessive can be quite confusing. It seems like the possessive should be written “it’s” but this is not the case. The reason is that “it” was invented after we had started using apostrophes to indicate possessive words, so there was never an “e” to replace. For this reason “it” has its own special possessive form similar to “his,” “your” and “yours,” and “her” and “hers.” The possessive form of “it” is “its.” Because the possessive form of “it” is “its,” the only time an apostrophe should ever be used with the word “it” is when writing a contraction such as “it’s sunny out” for “it is sunny out.”

“Your” and “you’re” also can be confusing because they both sound the same. The possessive of “you” is “your” but “you’re” is the contraction of “you are.” So, “your coat is dirty” is correct, but “you’re coat is dirty” is not; this is because it means “you are coat is dirty.”

Slang and Accents

Sometimes an apostrophe is used to help write slang or accents. In this case, as above, an apostrophe is used to replace missing letters and spaces. Some examples are “y’all” and “ma’am,” which if written out would be “you all” and “madam.” Using apostrophes to write slang and accents isn’t very common, and is only needed in a very few specialized circumstances.


To sum up, all you have to remember is to never use an apostrophe when writing a plural. Keep it for contractions and possessives. If you are confused about whether or not to write “its” or “it’s,” remember that the only reason to use an apostrophe with “it” is for a contraction – so if “it is” doesn’t fit “it’s” doesn’t either. The same rule applies to “your” and “you’re.” If “you are” is wrong so is “you’re.” So long for now, and happy writing!

Picasa Updates

According to a blog post by Google they updated Picasa yesterday, (although the Picasa Readme is dated September 15). It looks good and brings a bunch of new features most notably Picasa Web Albums, sort of a Flickr that goes along with Picasa. So, I thought I’d compare them side by side.

I’ll be comparing the free versions of both services since I think that’s what most people will want and I’m too cheap to pay for the advanced versions.

We’ll start with with Picasa Web Albums

Picasa Web Albums have a pretty cool AJAX based interface that’s pretty fast loading and easy to use. Also, the web albums integrate seamlessly into Picasa itself. Uploading is easy and fast and you can be shown the web album right away. It’s lots of fun and super easy.

You are limited to 250 MB of storage, (as opposed to Flickr that limits how much you can upload each month), but can upgrade to 6.25 GB for US$25/year.

There are several drawbacks however. The Picasa software itself is available for Windows only and you must use the Picasa software to create a web album. Also, you can only have a Picasa Web Album if you are invited so this isn’t truly open to the public yet.

Using the Picasa software you can geotag images using Google Earth and it’s pretty cool but the geotags don’t carry through to the web album. And finally, part of your URL for your Picasa Web Album is your Google username, which is also the first part of your Gmail address. This, in my opinion, is an invitation for spam.

Now for Flickr

The most basic difference between Picasa Web Albums and Flickr is that the Picasa system is built around the software whereas Flickr is built around the website and community.

Flickr offers its users unlimited storage but you can only upload 20 MB of photos each month. Also only 200 of your photos will show on your page, (although the photos will still be in the Flickr system somewhere). If you choose to upgrade to Flickr’s Pro account for US$24.95/year you get a 2 GB of upload bandwidth per year and your photos appear on your page forever.

Uploading your images to Flickr is perhaps slightly more challenging than uploading from Picasa but Flickr offers a piece of software called Uploadr to help you on your way. Uploadr offers resizing and drag & drop uploading and it tells you how much of your upload limit you have used. Flickr Uploadr is also available from Flickr itself for both Windos and OS X, and a version is available from a Flickr community member that runs on Linux.

Finally Flickr offers tagging and really easy geotagging, (using Yahoo! Maps and the tags & geotags are available for the world to see, (if you let them).

To wrap up while Picasa is great to organize photos on your own Windows PC if you really want to share your photos and be part of a photo sharing community Flickr is the way to go. That’s why you see photos embedded here from Flickr.

Font Size Reference

I usually designate a font size in my CSS on either the html or body tag using a percentage then size the rest of my document using ems. The reason I use a percentage value instead of just specifying the base font size in pixels is so that users can change their font size in their browsers if they choose.

Since most, if not all, web browsers use 16px as their base font size I can set my base font size using this formula:

percentage = 100(base font size/16)

Just insert your desired base font size in pixels into the formula and you will have the correct percentage to use in your CSS.

And now a handy cheat sheet if you don’t want to do the math:

Pixels to Percentage
Pixels Percentage
8 50
9 56.25
10 62.5
11 68.75
12 75
13 81.25
14 87.5
15 93.75
16 100
17 106.25
18 112.5

A quick disclaimer: there may be a browser out there that doesn’t use 16px as its base font size that I don’t know about. Also, this works only if you haven’t already changed your font size somewhere else.

Improved Wireless

"New" Router

Originally uploaded by John Beales.

My “new” wireless router finally arrived, (purchased on ebay), yesterday and I have it up and running with dd-wrt firmware. It seems pretty good so far, I can now use my wireless connection in my living room on the other side of the house, almost 50 feed and several solid walls away.

The next upgrade will have to be some antennas for full speed ahead and hopefully huge range.