How to fail at predicting the future

In twenty years, teenagers won’t be reading books anymore. They won’t have time for anything longer than a text or a tweet. It’ll all be interactive, and novels will be as extinct as the stegosaurus.

Or at least, that’s what commentators and article-writers keep saying.

The logic apparently goes something like this: (1) Books used to be very popular. (2) Now they are less popular, and social media is growing exponentially. (3) This trend will continue, and soon books (and attention spans) will disappear.

What the would-be clairvoyants seem to miss, with astounding regularity, is this: Trends never continue unopposed. For every trend that goes mainstream, there’s a countertrend. For every new movement, there’s a backlash. That’s just what humans do.

The trend of more and more processed food, sprayed with chemicals, mass produced, cruel to animals, has spawned a countertrend of organic food, all natural, humanely raised.

Growing acceptance of science and rational thinking has fed a countermovement of anti-vaccine parents who think we never went to the moon.

The rise of pollution led to the rise of recycling.

The ubiquity of digital music has pushed younger generations back toward vinyl records.

Globalization has made us put up “Buy Local” signs.

Now, obviously some of these countertrends gather enough momentum to halt or reverse the initial trend, and some don’t. Some countertrends live on only as niches. Some wither away entirely.

But regardless, the blindness of so many trend-watchers to this simple, universal phenomenon – that growing momentum sparks growing resistance – is baffling.

In particular, if you ever catch yourself saying things like “Nobody does X anymore,” or “Everyone but me is obsessed with Y,” ask yourself – are you really that unique? Or maybe, just maybe, does your own opinion suggest that a whole lot of other people might feel the same way – maybe even enough to fuel a countermovement?

I’m not saying that trends never “stick” or that old institutions never die out. I’m just saying, you can only hear so many people complain that everyone else has stopped appreciating literature, before you start to think that this everyone else might not be as universal and unstoppable a force as we’re led to believe.

Don’t judge the young’uns too quick. They might surprise you, after all.

Why babies are so small

They haven’t gotten the mushroom yet.


Buffy vs. Vader

This took me about a dozen hours to make. Not perfect, but I think I’m gradually getting better with (a program that is sorta like Photoshop, but free).

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

If babies were cars

  • You have to stop every three hours to fill up the tank, whether you’re driving or not.
  • There’s only one warning light on the dash. It’s blindingly bright and offers no information about what’s wrong. The light comes on approximately ten times a day.
  • The warning light also causes the horn to honk. There is no way to turn off this feature.
  • Your car’s garage is located on the second floor, right next to your bedroom, so that you don’t miss any of those delightful horn honks.
  • You have to change the filter about every three hours.
  • The car flails and wiggles the whole time you’re changing the filter.
  • The car does not come with an owner’s manual. You can buy a third-party manual if you wish; there are about 50,000 to choose from, and they all offer conflicting information.
  • You do not get a choice of color. If the car is an unexpected color, people get very upset.
  • The car does not drive. At all. If you want to take the car somewhere, you must tow it using another vehicle.
  • If you try to trade in the car for another, better functioning model, you will be arrested.

The Trifecta

Item 1: We’re damn well going to Mars.

Elon Musk has vowed to get living, breathing humans on Mars within the next two decades, and President Obama has promised to fund the effort. It’s not gonna be a one-and-done deal, either. We’re going there to stay. Yes, please.

Item 2: Joss Whedon creates an anti-Trump PAC.

It’s true. The creator of Buffy the Vampire SlayerFirefly, and the Avengers movie has formed a PAC called Save the Day to encourage people to vote, and to prevent the inauguration of America’s first openly stupid president.

For my third wish, can I have a chocolate chip cookie?


When bad writing really hurts

Editors love to criticize bad writing. It’s one of the perks of the job, like free coffee or a 401(k). But it’s true that a lot of this “bad writing” doesn’t really matter.

If a business document uses some puffed-up language or says “we will leverage our assets” … if a novel pours on needless adjectives like cheap cologne … if an email says “Steve will come to dinner with Molly and I” … well, aside from making my eyebrow twitch, it’s not the end of the world. Even misuse of “literally,” which is a genuine problem because it obscures meaning, is usually not a big problem.

But sometimes it’s different.

First, a little background. I volunteer several hours a week as a tutor. I work with adults who – because of difficult, often painful circumstances – never got a proper education. Usually they are working to get their GED, or high school diploma equivalent. The world looks different through their eyes. Tasks which may seem simple, like interpreting a map or using a formula, can be serious challenges.

Our program uses lots of materials for teaching. Here’s one: Core Skills in Social Studies from New Readers Press. It’s a GED prep book.


I want to punch this book in the face.

Here’s how Core Skills in Social Studies explains what a “region” is, in the section on geography:

Regions are a way to organize places on Earth. A region includes areas with a certain shared characteristic. Regions can reflect physical geography. For example, geographers may study climate regions with similar weather patterns. Or they may study landform regions, such as mountain ranges. Regions can also reflect human geography. Ethnic regions and language regions are both examples of this.

For me, that paragraph is merely boring. For the book’s target audience, it’s atrocious.

Think about who’s reading this. We’re talking about someone who doesn’t know what the word “region” means. Someone who is already struggling with basic concepts, and probably with literacy too. If you don’t understand “region,” how likely is it that you’ll understand “organize,” “characteristic,” “reflect” (in an abstract sense), “climate,” “landform,” and “ethnic”?

Do we really think that this clod of abstractions has made anything clearer? Do we seriously believe that someone’s going to read “areas with a certain shared characteristic” and think: Oh, that explains it!

If you don’t know what a region is, the focus should be on examples, not abstract explanations. And by “examples,” I don’t mean crap like “climate regions with similar weather patterns.” We’re talking about maps, so use pictures, for goodness’ sake. The book does have one picture example, but it should have a dozen more. Instead, it has a wall of text that’s worse than useless.

Why is it worse than useless? Because many of these students believe (and have been told over and over) that they are stupid, that anything they don’t understand is their fault. So when they read sentences like “Perceptual regions are also known as vernacular regions,” and don’t understand them, they actually blame themselves for the failings of these dumbass writers.

A lot of times, bad writing doesn’t matter. But sometimes, it matters a lot.

I legitimately don’t understand this

Trump: I’ve advocated three separate war crimes. My proposals would violate the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Amendments, as well as the Geneva Convention. I’ve explicitly attacked religious freedom. Ronald Reagan, were he alive, would be horrified by my statements about torture. I’ve demonstrated virtually none of the Christian virtues, such as humility, compassion, forgiveness, or charity. My commitment to fiscal conservatism is tenuous at best. I have the emotional maturity of a three-year-old. If elected, I would be literally the least qualified U.S. president in history. And I say so many factually incorrect things that it’s hard to tell whether I’m lying on purpose or just detached from reality.

Republicans: Well, that’s okay.

Trump: Also, in 2005, I said some awful things about women.

Republicans: WHOA WHOA WHOA