Recent Articles

Eric Barker summarizes Stephen Pinker’s advice on how to write

What can you do to be a better writer? Stephen Pinker offers some excellent advice, and Eric Barker puts it into summary fashion, peppering the ideas with useful links.

The beauty of Barker’s posts is that the links tend to lead you to rich clusters of new links. One of the links from this post lead me to a link on how to be a better story teller. The person interviewed is UCLA Film School Professor Howard Suber. Here’s a captivating bit of advice:

Every so often in my personal life with friends, I’ll have somebody who will be telling me, it’s usually over a meal, about they’re in a relationship, and it’s in trouble and this trouble has been going on for some time, often years, and it’s now heading for a crisis. And it’s one of those things where you know sort of, even though they don’t verbalize it, they’re asking, “What do you think? What do you think I should do?”

And after listening to the narrative for a while, every so often, I’ll say, “What movie are you living now?” And it always produces the same response. The person is startled because it sounds initially like a trivial question. They’re usually telling the story with considerable agony, and so they kind of freeze like a deer. And then their eyes rotate, usually upwards to the right, which is where a lot of people go when they’re searching their memory bank, and then they’ll laugh.

That’s the important point of this, and they’ll laugh and say, “The Exorcist,” or something like that. And the laugh is a sign of recognition that the story they’ve been telling me has a recognizable structure, and once they give me that, they then usually laugh again and say something like, “Oh, my God.” I then say, as quietly as I can, “And where does the story go?” And that’s the advice I’ve given them.

While on the topic of Barker, this might be my favorite of his many posts: “Which Old Sayings are True?”

One more: Barker summarizes a study on the importance of sleep. Stunning results:

By the end of two weeks, the six-hour sleepers were as impaired as those who, in another Dinges study, had been sleep-deprived for 24 hours straight — the cognitive equivalent of being legally drunk.

November 11, 2014 | By | Reply More

Why Google doesn’t necessarily hire those who excel at college

What does Google look for in its new employees? This article explains. It’s not your typical high-grade college grad.

Megan McArdle argued recently that writers procrastinate “because they got too many A’s in English class.” Successful young graduates have been taught to rely on talent, which makes them unable to fail gracefully.

Google looks for the ability to step back and embrace other people’s ideas when they’re better. “It’s ‘intellectual humility.’ Without humility, you are unable to learn,” Bock says. “Successful bright people rarely experience failure, and so they don’t learn how to learn from that failure.”

Related article: The research of Carol Dweck.

November 11, 2014 | By | Reply More

Mormon Church start to come clean with truth about Joseph Smith’s many wives

It’s a good first step, as presented in the NYT:

Mormon leaders have acknowledged for the first time that the church’s founder and prophet, Joseph Smith, portrayed in church materials as a loyal partner to his loving spouse Emma, took as many as 40 wives, some already married and one only 14 years old.

November 11, 2014 | By | 1 Reply More

The glue of high quality relationships

I’ve long ben familiar with John Gottman’s research on marital relationships. This Business Insider article sums up some of his main findings of what it is that makes a relationship work over the long term. Here’s an excerpt:

In the 2006 study, Gable and her colleagues followed up with the couples two months later to see if they were still together. The psychologists found that the only difference between the couples who were together and those who broke up was active constructive responding. Those who showed genuine interest in their partner’s joys were more likely to be together. In an earlier study, Gable found that active constructive responding was also associated with higher relationship quality and more intimacy between partners.

There are many reasons why relationships fail, but if you look at what drives the deterioration of many relationships, it’s often a breakdown of kindness. As the normal stresses of a life together pile up—with children, career, friend, in-laws, and other distractions crowding out the time for romance and intimacy—couples may put less effort into their relationship and let the petty grievances they hold against one another tear them apart.

November 10, 2014 | By | Reply More

NYT features the story of the skepticism of James (The Amazing) Randi

The NYT has recently featured the story of the skepticism of James (The Amazing) Randi. Excellent detail on the battle between Randi and con man Uri Geller.

November 8, 2014 | By | Reply More

Consumers do not understand arbitration

How well do consumers understand arbitration? Not well at all. Almost everyone flunks a test containing basic questions.

November 7, 2014 | By | 3 Replies More

New Study: United States no longer a Democracy

Is the U.S. government following the will of the People? The answer is no, according to a new study:

Asking “[w]ho really rules?” researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page argue that over the past few decades America’s political system has slowly transformed from a democracy into an oligarchy, where wealthy elites wield most power.

Using data drawn from over 1,800 different policy initiatives from 1981 to 2002, the two conclude that rich, well-connected individuals on the political scene now steer the direction of the country, regardless of or even against the will of the majority of voters.

[Cartoon by Jonik reprinted here with his permission]

Jonik cartoon

November 5, 2014 | By | 4 Replies More

Apathist: New option for declaring one’s religious outlook

“Apathist”: someone not particularly interested in the God issue. I do think this is the direction in which I’m headed. Much more of a conversation piece than atheist and agnostic. I learned of the word “apathist” while reading Frans de Waal’s FB wall.

November 4, 2014 | By | Reply More

Primaries for the one percent make elections irrelevant

Excellent 6 min video by Lawrence Lessig illustrates that a tiny slice of Americans control our Congressional primaries, making general elections unimportant. Our Owners run our elections much like the Chinese elites are running Hong Kong’s elections. What’s different is that residents of Hong Kong are demonstrating in huge numbers to force change and we are generally complacent. That is in large part because our “news” ignores our huge problem. We have allowed democracy to die in America. Lessig challenges us – are we willing to fight for it?

Quote by Boss Tweed near the beginning: “I don’t care who does the electing, so long as I get to do the nominating.” Private money primaries make elections almost irrelevant. Lawrence Lessig nails it here.

November 1, 2014 | By | Reply More