This isn't meant to be a "my favorite X of the year" kind of list — just a collection of posts that I both enjoyed and happened to have saved for later.
In no particular order:
1) Nil by mouth — Roger Ebert meditates on having lost the ability to speak, eat, or drink:
What I miss is the society. Lunch and dinner are the two occasions when we most easily meet with friends and family. They're the first way we experience places far from home. Where we sit to regard the passing parade. How we learn indirectly of other cultures. When we feel good together. Meals are when we get a lot of our talking done -- probably most of our recreational talking. That's what I miss. Because I can't speak that's's another turn of the blade. ...
So that's what's sad about not eating. The loss of dining, not the loss of food. It may be personal, but for, unless I'm alone, it doesn't involve dinner if it doesn't involve talking. The food and drink I can do without easily. The jokes, gossip, laughs, arguments and shared memories I miss. Sentences beginning with the words, "Remember that time?" I ran in crowds where anyone was likely to break out in a poetry recitation at any time. Me too. But not me anymore. So yes, it's sad. Maybe that's why I enjoy this blog. You don't realize it, but we're at dinner right now.
2) The Top Idea In Your Mind — wisdom from Paul Graham:
I realized recently that what one thinks about in the shower in the morning is more important than I'd thought. I knew it was a good time to have ideas. Now I'd go further: now I'd say it's hard to do a really good job on anything you don't think about in the shower.
Everyone who's worked on difficult problems is probably familiar with the phenomenon of working hard to figure something out, failing, and then suddenly seeing the answer a bit later while doing something else. There's a kind of thinking you do without trying to. I'm increasingly convinced this type of thinking is not merely helpful in solving hard problems, but necessary. The tricky part is, you can only control it indirectly.
3) Valentine's Day Sexonomics — Eric Falkenstein on the application of economic theory to romance and sex. An example:
Asset pricing: Choosing a young man for a long-term mate means evaluating his future value; you don't want a young hottie who won't age well. Hot Chippendale dancers with low intelligence aren't good buys. But then, if you want to get the next billionaire, should you try to find the next Bill Gates or Warren Buffet? These are true nerds, and at 18 they weren’t attractive to most women (Buffet writes candidly about his social ineptness as a young man). So, should women glom on to nerds? Well, it could be that nerds have a higher top return, but lower average return, so this isn't optimal even abstracting from their obviously lower current value. Fads based on conspicuous successes can alter the value of current young men. Perhaps your dad was a prior bubble (eg, he was good at 'the hustle').
4) Haiti 48 hours later — The Big Picture's remarkable compilation of photographs in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake:
5) Happiness Button — Scott Adams begins with a typically strange premise and, with improbable coherence, follows the logic to arrive at a clever insight:
Suppose humans were born with magical buttons on their foreheads. When someone else pushes your button, it makes you very happy. But like tickling, it only works when someone else presses it. Imagine it's easy to use. You just reach over, press it once, and the other person becomes wildly happy for a few minutes.
What would happen in such a world? ...
Button pushing would become an issue of power and politics within relationships and within business. The rich and famous would get their buttons pushed all day long, while the lonely would fantasize about how great that would be.
I can't think of any imaginary situation in which long term happiness could come from other people. The best you can hope for is that other people won't thwart your efforts to make yourself happy.
6) Dreams - xkcd:
7) The films of the 2000s — a splendid montage by Paul Proulx and Jessica Sargent:
8) We're one step closer to having lightsabers — the title of this Topless Robot post says it all:
Wicked Lasers has made the world's deadliest laser. This is noteworthy for several reasons.
1) They put the laser in a lightsaber hilt.
2) The beam is blue, like Luke's first lightsaber.
3) The laser blinds people "permanently and instantly."
4) It also sets people's flesh on fire when it hits them.
5) It's -- and this is the best part -- available to purchase by anyone for only $200.
9) Praise Polymaths — by Robin Hanson:
But in fact, we are mostly suspicious of true intellectual travelers. We much prefer loyal ambassadors of us, who visit them to 1) make us look good, 2) make them look bad, 3) persuade them, or 4) learn more about their weaknesses, etc. For example, interdisciplinary academics take care to show they are loyal to a core discipline, and cross-cultural pundits take care to show they haven’t “gone native.” We love to point to ex-them who have converted to join us, but we don’t trust those folks farther than we can throw them.
To counter these strong currents, try to celebrate, and truly listen to, honest intellectual travelers, who take the time to be trained in other cultures, disciplines, and schools, which then influences their thoughtful contributions.
10) I hadn't any idea that I talked about my guitar so often — via Letters of Note, a handwritten letter from future Guns N'Roses guitarist Slash, when he was 14, to a girlfriend who broke up with him because he wouldn't shut up about his guitar. The letter is gracious, sweet:
Your letter scared me, upon first glance, I hadn't any idea what it was about, but when you told me, it struck in a strange way, I hadn't any idea that I talked about my guitar so often, I'm going to have to change that, no matter who I talk to.
It's a drag that it screwed up our relationship, you should have told me sooner, but I don't think that's the only reason, you just don't like me that much, and I can see why, because I'm a hard person to get along with at times.
But any I'm glad we got that straight, thank you for not lying to me. To get off the subject, you look really nice today, you get prettier & prettier every day.
11) What Retrosexuals and Metrosexuals Have in Common (Besides the Obvious Pun) — from the always-excellent Virgina Postrel:
The real contrast isn't between [Retrosexuals] and overgroomed Metrosexuals but between both groups, with their grown-up polish, and the beer-bellied American male in comfy shorts and untucked oversized shirt. On my recent trip to research glamour in Shanghai (more on that later), I talked with author and marketing consultant Paul French who, among many other interesting things, commented on why, with a few exceptions, American apparel lines haven't been terribly successful in Shanghai. U.S. companies are too attuned to the sloppy casualness of the American market, and Shanghainese like to look sharp. They want Banana Republic, he said, not The Gap--something that apparently escapes the parent company of both. (Instead of BR, there's a local knockoff called Urban Renewal.) ...
What makes Retrosexuals seem manlier than Metrosexuals is their sprezzatura. They hide the artifice it takes to achieve their look. But the popularity of both models suggests that at least some American men want to escape the pressure to be sloppy.
12) A real person, just like you — Derek Sivers reminds us that kindness is a virtue as relevant in cyberspace as it is in person:
So when we yell at a website or company, using our computer or phone appliance, we forget it's not an appliance, but a person that's affected.
It's dehumanizing to have thousands of people passing through our computer screens, so we do things we'd never do if they were sitting next to us.
It's too overwhelming to remember that at the end of every computer is a real person, a lot like you, whose birthday was last week, who has three best friends but nobody to spoon at night, and is personally affected by what you say.
13) The Case For An Older Woman — OK Cupid crunches data and builds an impressive array of charts to argue for dating older women. Among other reasons, they have fewer inhibitions:
14) Time and the Bottle — from Tim Kreider, writing at the NYT's Proof blog, comes this 42-year-old's reflection on aging, drinking, friendship, and time:
I don’t drink like that anymore. My old drinking buddies fell victim to the usual tragedies: careers, marriage, mortgages, children. As my metabolism started to slow down the fun-to-hangover ratio became increasingly unfavorable. I was scandalized to learn that alcohol is a depressant. And I don’t miss passing out sitting up with a drink in my hand, or having to be told how much fun I had, or feeling enervated and wretched for days. Being clearheaded is such a peculiar novelty that it’s almost like being on some subtle, intriguing new drug.
But drinking was also an excuse to devote eight consecutive hours to sitting idly around having hilarious conversations with friends, and I am still not convinced there is any better possible use of our time on earth. Lately, in these more temperate years, I’m reminded of Shakespeare’s Henry plays after Falstaff has died; it’s as if, having put riotous youth behind, there’s now a place in life for things like dignity and honor and even great accomplishment — but it also feels, sometimes, as if everything best and happiest and most human has gone out of the world.
15) Whatever works — an interview with Woody Allen:
RL: When Ingmar Bergman died, you said even if you made a film as great as one of his, what would it matter? It doesn’t gain you salvation. So you had to ask yourself why do you continue to make films. Could you just say something about what you meant by “salvation”?
WA: Well, you know, you want some kind of relief from the agony and terror of human existence. Human existence is a brutal experience to me…it’s a brutal, meaningless experience—an agonizing, meaningless experience with some oases, delight, some charm and peace, but these are just small oases. Overall, it is a brutal, brutal, terrible experience, and so it’s what can you do to alleviate the agony of the human condition, the human predicament? That is what interests me the most. I continue to make the films because the problem obsesses me all the time and it’s consistently on my mind and I’m consistently trying to alleviate the problem, and I think by making films as frequently as I do I get a chance to vent the problems. There is some relief. I have said this before in a facetious way, but it is not so facetious: I am a whiner. I do get a certain amount of solace from whining.
16) Is There Manic Pixie Dream Girl in Y Tu Mama Tambien? — I wasn't familiar with the concept of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl until I came across this post by 3 Quarks Daily:
Onion AV writer Nathan Rabin coined the term to describe Kristen Dunst's character in a scathing review of Elizabethtown:
The Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is an all-or-nothing-proposition. Audiences either want to marry her instantly (despite The Manic Pixie Dream Girl being, you know, a fictional character) or they want to commit grievous bodily harm against them and their immediate family.
We feminists roll our eyes at the MPDG character for obvious reasons. It's an annoying form of objectification most commonly perpetrated by male writers who are smugly convinced of their own progressive sensibilities. They think they're better than the guys who leer at pinups, but the MPDG doesn't have any more depth. The MPDG is wish-fulfillment for all those nice guys out there who just want someone conventionally beautiful to see their inner beauty and appreciate their mix tapes. The writer doesn't want you to doubt that the guy totally deserves her--maybe not in the sense of being handsome, successful, or charming. But, see, those are bullshit social norms that are keeping our hero down, which is why he needs a crazy girl to truly appreciate him in ways that shallow cheerleaders cannot. Lazy writers think that if they make the girl a little daft, they can skip the part where they explain what she sees in him. She's whimsical, that's why!