“It’s sort of like Dr. Pimple Popper, but for dangling modifiers instead” – 7 Takeaways for December 27, 2020


A very happy 2021 to you!

Given the train wreck so many of us feel that 2020 was, I think we owe it to ourselves, and everyone, to do more than just hope 2021 is better – we need to take steps to try to make it better.

Here are a few items that made it over the threshold and into my brain this week. (FWIW: I think I’ve settled on Sunday mornings for this to go out.)



“Humans have never made more progress on any disease in a year than the world did on COVID-19 this year.”

These breakthroughs will make 2021 better than 2020 – Bill Gates – (Blog) – The full quote that caught my attention: “Humans have never made more progress on any disease in a year than the world did on COVID-19 this year. Under normal circumstances, creating a vaccine can take 10 years. This time, multiple vaccines were created in less than one year.” And another: “It doesn’t help that there are false conspiracy theories about vaccines, including some that involve Melinda and me.

It is amazing how much progress we’ve made in the last year. It’s also very frustrating that there are so many deniers and conspiracy theorists out there. I get skepticism – that’s a useful trait in general. Ask questions. I don’t get conspiracies. Many of these same people are more than happy to accept the amazing and ever increasing pace at which technology makes their lives better, and yet they’re unwilling to accept that massive change can happen when enough force is brought to bear.

“When you notice your thoughts you have the power to change them.”

15 Ideas You Can Steal to Make the Next 12 Months a Period of Remarkable Growth – Tim Denning – (Medium) – This is a longer post with, as the title promises, 15 ideas that run the range from “Become a content creator” (done!) to “Be careful about the books you read”, claiming most are junk. The takeaway is from the section “Write your thoughts down”, which he opens with “I don’t do journaling”. That calls to me – journaling’s always been a challenge for me. And yet having a place to collect random thoughts appeals.

“The like button is something they can do on every single video.”

I’ve Stopped Asking People to Subscribe. You Should Too – Channel Makers – (YouTube) – YouTubers make a big deal of asking you to subscribe to their channel. It’s common advice, and we see it all the time. (All. The. Time.) This video discusses why it may not be as important as we think. More importantly, “Likes”, or Thumbs Up, are more important, and more effective. Someone can only subscribe to your channel once, but they can “Like” every video .

“It’s sort of like Dr. Pimple Popper, but for dangling modifiers instead of giant cysts.”

The Only Book About Writing You’ll Ever Need – Harris Sockel – (Medium) – That takeaway got me for two reasons. First, I thought it was an incredibly clever turn of phrase. Something that, I guess, I aspire to. But it was also the tipping point in this article where my thinking went from “I should consider” to “Buy Now!”. The review of the book overall makes a compelling case for its approach and its directness. The book, by the way, is “Several Short Sentences About Writing” by Verlyn Klinkenborg.

“Each brain-type seeks different pieces of information to understand something.”

How to Write an Article That Speaks to Every Brain – Nabil Alouani – (Medium) – The full take-away includes this list:

1. Why should someone read your work?
2. What are you writing about?
3. How to apply your tips or extract added-value?
4. Who are you writing for and about?

Of course it’s an oversimplification, but it’s a useful model to keep in mind.

Speaking of models I also ran across this one today as well:

“Bonini’s Paradox states that the more complete a model of a complex system, the less understandable it becomes.”

Bonini’s Paradox: Why Simple Rules Triumph In A Complex World – Louis Chew – (Medium) – Basically all mental models are simplifications of some sort, that break down as you zoom in to more complex situations. The lead example: “Honesty is the best policy” is a useful aphorism, but is certainly not absolute. As a useful rule of thumb it loses it’s value if made more accurate: “honesty is the best policy except when the cost of telling the truth is so large that it would be better off if the other side was in the dark”.

The challenge for anyone writing any kind of of solution or explainer is to choose the level of explanation appropriate and useful to the audience. This is my world.

“the Republican secretary of war would threaten to ‘force a reversal’ of the vote”

The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History – John M. Barry – (Kindle) – This is part of a longer segment that caught my attention early on in the book:

Democrat Samuel Tilden would win the popular vote by a comfortable margin. But he would never take office as president. Instead the Republican secretary of war would threaten to “force a reversal” of the vote, federal troops with fixed bayonets would patrol Washington and southerners would talk of reigniting the Civil War. That crisis would ultimately be resolved through an extra-constitutional special committee and a political understanding: Republicans would discard the voting returns of three states—Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina—and seize a single disputed electoral vote in Oregon to keep the presidency in the person of Rutherford B. Hayes.

There’s a lot about this book covering the 1918 pandemic that is almost frighteningly prophetic. That this particular political machination in 1876 — discussed in the book’s prologue — was part of the stage being set just seems all too hauntingly familiar.

What I’m Reading

An occasional section I’ll probably include from time to time.

I finished Robots of Dawn by Isaac Asimov. It’s the third of the Robot trilogy (whoops, quadrilogy? more?), this being an ostensibly locked room murder mystery set in the future. With robots. I find it a fascinating study of, of all things, xenophobia. Many of the plot points and machinations in the first three books at least deal with various populations of people looking down on one another, not wanting to mingle with one another, and frequently feeling and acting superior. Honestly, that kind of behavior seems as common today as when the books were written (1954, 1957, and 1983). It’s classic Sci-Fi with some good, and some off-the-mark predictions for the future. The third book ends with an interesting twist/reveal. (And yes, I forgot there was a fourth, which is now on my reading list.)

That re-read of books from my adolescence (the first two, anyway) was prompted by a comparison of the second book to today’s isolation and social distancing Gary and I discussed in an episode of the TEH podcast.

As you can see from it having generated a takeaway already, I’ve started: “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History“, based on seeing it recommended from two different sources.

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