How Not to find Good Books

They say not to judge a book by its cover. But if we’re literally talking about books, what are the better options? This is a question that has tortured me forever, and for which I have no good answer. I’ve tried many options, yet somehow I still end up spending my very limited reading time on far too many books I regret reading. I recognize that many of these books do appeal to many people. But shouldn’t there be some signal I can use to work out if a book’s liable to appeal to me specifically?

Maybe so, but I haven’t found it yet. Here are a few straw men that are easy to knock down.

Read the first few pages, or skim a bit. I do like this option, because it’s easy. But some of the best books I’ve ever read start very, very slow. Many books have good hooks but go nowhere. Skimming has never told me anything much more helpful than whether or not the book is more exposition or dialogue.

Professional reviewers? I’ve made this mistake far too many times. Well known book reviewers in widely …

My Dream Gadget

I read an article about dream gadgets a while ago, and was struck by how little I wanted anything it described.

So I thought a bit about what I’d have to say about my dream gadget. And I realized that what I dream about mostly is a gadget works pretty much exactly like my smartphone today. But it gets enough battery life that I only have to plug it in every few weeks or so, if ever. And the screen is transflective with a beautiful flat matte finish, equally usable in complete darkness and bright sunlight. And it connects to this network or that network without telling me, but somehow always stays connected. And I never ever ever have to type a password on it, yet somehow still don’t have to worry about the security risk of losing it. And all the digital movies, tv shows, books, and music I’ve ever bought or have access to are accessible on this device, and I don’t have to remember which ones are in which app. And all of the notifications are relevant and interesting, sensitive to conte…

I Love Noisy Spaceships

People often complain about the noises spaceships make in movies like Star Wars – there’s no sound in space! But I have to go contrarian on this one. I love noisy spaceships.

Mainly, I’m just not committed to the view that the sounds you hear in the movie theater need to be the ones you’d hear if you were actually suspended out in space, watching the action (wearing a light jacket of course). I’m also okay with voice-overs, if done well. I don’t have a problem with music playing, as though from nowhere, during critical scenes in movies. I’m usually cool with that editing gimmick you sometimes see in movies, where the transition between two shots takes place first in the audio, and a moment or two later in the images (or vice versa). Or when you hear a loud, pounding heartbeat for a nervous character. Or when you hear voices from characters who are obviously only thinking, not talking. These are all filmic conventions that work well for me.

Not that I’m really committed to the idea that …

HIgh-Swimming Fish

I'm getting a bit tired of the phrase "low-hanging fruit." I love the concept, and refer to it in my work constantly. But the phrase is getting a bit worn.

So I'm advocating this replacement: "high-swimming fish." I'm going to start using it here and there, and I encourage you to do so as well. Enjoy!

A Completely Fair NFL Overtime Rule

Every year there's a bit of controversy over overtime rule unfairness in the NFL, controversy that intensifies if there are any overtime games in the playoffs. The rules keep changing, but it’s not clear they meet the basic standards of fairness. If teams really care about who wins the coin flip, it’s probably not perfectly fair.

But there is a perfectly fair solution, one that’s been around for as long as I’ve been alive, and that is intuitively fair to any 8 year old. It’s called: "I cut and you choose."

That phrase is probably enough for most people to see how this works. But in case you didn’t grow up with it, as I did, or can’t see how it would be adapted to football, here’s a primer. It’s based on a fair system for two children dividing a treat, say a piece of cake. If one child cuts the cake in two and the other gets to choose their piece, then neither child can complain about the outcome. The cutter is extremely motivated to cut as evenly as possible, because the c…

Why does Kylo Ren wear that mask?

Everyone who’s seen “The Force Awakens” must surely recognize the patent silliness of Kylo Ren’s mask. It serves no obvious intrinsic purpose. It serves marketing and filmic purposes, sure. It's a reference to Darth Vader, and maybe that's all we need to know. But if we watch the movie on its own terms, what’s that mask about?

The important thing to remember here is that despite his position of power, Kylo Ren is not a world class anything. He was born into privilege, and through genetics has inherited some facility with the force. He rebelled against his elders, as many teens do, although he was more violent about it than most, due to his emotional immaturity. He was an immature teen, and he's an immature adult.

As the movie opens, two things are happening. First, the First Order is trying to squeeze him into their leadership picture, in much the same way a company might try to find an executive position for a major shareholder’s kid. You know, that kid who suddenly at th…