Archive of posts about Category: ideas of interest

Kafka’s best joke

No wonder we cannot appreciate the really central Kafka joke: that the horrific struggle to establish a human self results in a self whose humanity is inseparable from the horrific struggle. That our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home.

— David Foster Wallace from “Some Remarks on Kafka’s Funniness From Which Probably Not Enough Has Been Removed” (in Consider the Lobster)

Also maybe the subtext of everything I write.

Sturgeon’s Law

“90% of everything is crap.”

That’s a paraphrase of:

I repeat Sturgeon’s Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of SF is crud. Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. is crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crap is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other artforms.

— Theodore Sturgeon

Counterintuitive because most people only see at most the top 10-15% of output from any given creative field.

And the inverse:

The inverse is obviously also true: if ninety percent of everything is crap, then even in areas that are generally considered inferior (such as soap operasdime novels or fan fiction), there must be ten percent that may be worth something.

— Various Wikipedia editors working asynchronously

From Wikipedia.

AI can mimic human voices

What the fuck:

There’s a company called Dessa that made a software called RealTalk that can learn how to speak in someone’s voice. Apparently it wasn’t that hard to train it.

I don’t listen to Rogan’s podcast regularly so I don’t know if I would be able to realize it was fake, but it’s close enough and it’ll just get better anyway.1

The company isn’t releasing it to the public but it’s only a matter of time before someone else does the same thing.

My first thought was “oh this sounds like a terrifying political propaganda/slander tool!” and my second thought was that this will render useless any voice-based work.

Do you need a news reader on the radio? No, you just need someone to speak to the robot enough to train it. No need to show up to the studio every morning (eventually followed by a robot to write the news report?).

Voiceover artists too, basically unnecessary now. A company could have software trained with a library of thousands (or millions) of voices.

Maybe I’m being naive but I’m skeptical that society will collapse because of technology like this. We have Photoshop and yes there are implications to only seeing women in magazines who have been Photoshopped, but it’s not like people are creating fake images of say a presidential candidate doing cocaine.

Why not? If you were a strategist recommending this, people would probably say “people won’t believe it.”

And I think we’ve developed a kind of norm of skepticism around this kind of thing, like anything scandalous we immediately think “is this fake?” or “what’s the PR angle here?”.

We already have a norm for “don’t believe everything you read” and this does make modern life difficult: it would be nice to know that if a newspaper prints something then it’s 100% true, but that’s not the case and here we are.

I think there’s a dangerous window while that norm is forming — like the 2020 elections could be wild, but then a norm forms where eventually people say “oh you can’t trust video anymore, especially video of politicians.”

It’s still powerful, but I think the power is in making people less trusting of recorded images (or in the near future, recorded audio) that don’t come from pre-vetted sources.

From a creator’s perspective, it’s interesting to think about what could be done without needing to go into a studio to record. Just as music can be composed on a computer now, so can voices.

  1. Take the Joe Turing Test here

Bohm on creativity, order, art, and mediocrity

Epistemic status: these thoughts are based on a book that I’m still in the middle of. I’m more trying to work out my thinking than I am trying to tell you what to think or how to make movies. Also, I have taken three physics classes in my life and none of them had a lot of math.1

I’m reading On Creativity by David Bohm, which I discovered through Guillaume Wolf’s You Are a Message.

I’m only on page 34. It’s one of those read-a-page-and-then-think-for-10 minutes kind of books.

Bohm starts by talking about how the physical universe is ordered. It’s a structure of many ordered objects or systems within a hierarchy of orders.

  1. In college I took an intro to physics class. The one memory I have is of the professor looking up to see a kid leaving in the middle of his lecture. In his thick Russian accent, he asked the student “where are you going?” and the student said “I have something important to go to” and with a bewildered look, the professor said “more important than Newton?” and I thought that was just the funniest thing. 

Sociological vs. Psychological Storytelling

From The Real Reason Fans Hate the Last Season of Game of Thrones by Zynep Tufecki:

At its best, GOT was a beast as rare as a friendly dragon in King’s Landing: it was sociological and institutional storytelling in a medium dominated by the psychological and the individual. This structural storytelling era of the show lasted through the seasons when it was based on the novels by George R. R. Martin, who seemed to specialize in having characters evolve in response to the broader institutional settings, incentives and norms that surround them.

What they did is something different, but in many ways more fundamental: Benioff and Weiss steer the narrative lane away from the sociological and shifted to the psychological. That’s the main, and often only, way Hollywood and most television writers tell stories.

This is an important shift to dissect because whether we tell our stories primarily from a sociological or psychological point of view has great consequences for how we deal with our world and the problems we encounter.

Reading this article made me realize why I love about my favorite TV shows, The Wire and Deadwood, and why I find it so hard to find any shows in the modern landscape that I connect with on the same level.

It also made me realize that the stories I tend to write have a tendency towards the sociological instead of the psychological (I don’t think any story is 100% on either side of the spectrum).

It’s hard for me to limit something to just one or two main characters — I usually get bored and want to bring in more characters or throw a couple characters into many different situations where they interact with people from different parts of society or with different POVs. Or I start with a collection of ideas that I want to work through comedically or dramatically, and then map the characters or the situations to those ideas.

And I honestly get kind of bored just thinking about a single character overcoming their demons or whatever, and the typical screenwriting advice of “put your character in a bad place and then make their life hell” kind of bores me as well.

So it’s really refreshing to have someone put a name on a different kind of writing that I knew existed but had never seen put into words.

And come to think of it, my love for sociological storytelling probably also explains my love for The Office, which inspired the amazing series of sociological essays, The Gervais Principle. And it’s probably why I love Buñuel so much.

Near misses and future success

From Marginal Revolution:

Setbacks are an integral part of a scientific career, yet little is known about whether an early-career setback may augment or hamper an individual’s future career impact. Here we examine junior scientists applying for U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) R01 grants. By focusing on grant proposals that fell just below and just above the funding threshold, we compare “near-miss” with “near-win” individuals to examine longer-term career outcomes. Our analyses reveal that an early-career near miss has powerful, opposing effects. On one hand, it significantly increases attrition, with one near miss predicting more than a 10% chance of disappearing permanently from the NIH system. Yet, despite an early setback, individuals with near misses systematically outperformed those with near wins in the longer run, as their publications in the next ten years garnered substantially higher impact. We further find that this performance advantage seems to go beyond a screening mechanism, whereby a more selected fraction of near-miss applicants remained than the near winners, suggesting that early-career setback appears to cause a performance improvement among those who persevere. Overall, the findings are consistent with the concept that “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” Whereas science is often viewed as a setting where early success begets future success, our findings unveil an intimate yet previously unknown relationship where early-career setback can become a marker for future achievement, which may have broad implications for identifying, training and nurturing junior scientists whose career will have lasting impact.


I think this goes for the arts as well. Early setbacks drive some to give up and others to work harder or look inward or improve. I’ve seen early successes be quite damaging, especially when the success is undeserved.

But how do you know whether you’ve had a near miss or a complete, not-even-close miss?

For a city to have a thriving arts scene

From Peak California:

For a city to have a thriving arts scene, you need some combination of:

1. Families or nightlife, both of which produce demand for reasonably educated workers who work non-traditional or variable-schedule jobs, either as babysitters or bartenders.

2. Cheap neighborhoods that aren’t unsafe. My current neighborhood, Williamsburg, fit this role ten years ago.

3. Upside, either in the form of selling out or marrying someone with a boring but lucrative job.

Re-entry problems

More from Lost in the Cosmos:

But what is not generally recognized is that the successful launch of self into the orbit of transcendence is necessarily attended by problems of reentry. What goes up must come down. The best film of the year ends at nine o’clock. What to do at ten? What did Faulkner do after writing the last sentence of Light in August? Get drunk for a week. What did Doestoevsky do after finishing The Idiot? Spend three days and nights at the roulette table. What does the reader do after finishing either book? How long does his exaltation last?

He gives several (slightly tongue-in-cheek) options, including suicide, sex, and alcohol. But also, travel or moving:

The self leaves home because home has been evacuated, not bombed out, but emptied out by the self itself. That is, home, family, neighborhood, and town have been engulfed by the vacuole of self, ingested and rendered excreta. What writer can stay in Oak Park, Illinois? One leaves for another place, but soon it too is ingested and digested.

Yeah, thinking of leaving myself.

Escaping the predicament of the self

The difference between Einstein and Kafka, both sons of middle-class middle-European families, both of whom found life in the ordinary world intolerably dreary:

Einstein escaped the world by science, that is, by transcending not only the world but the Cosmos itself.

Kafka also escaped his predicament–occasionally–not by science but by art, that is, by seeing and naming what had heretofore been unspeakable, the predicament of the self in the modern world.

— Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos

I didn’t love this book, which I found through Austin Kleon, but I did love the chapter on escaping the self and re-entry problems.

Related to Bohm on creativity, order, art, and mediocrity.


noun. role-playing as someone who doesn’t have technology, e.g. intentionally not looking up the answer to a question amongst a group of friends because it’s more fun to try and remember the title of a movie.