Tag Archives: scott-adams

The ‘Bad Version’ and How to Tax the Rich

A ‘bad ver­sion’ is a tech­nique used by tele­vi­sion writers to inspire cre­ativ­ity when exper­i­en­cing a cre­at­ive block. The tech­nique involves writ­ing a pur­pose­fully awful sec­tion of plot as a way of help­ing the writer find cre­ativ­ity and, even­tu­ally, the ideal solu­tion: it’s a way of “nudging your ima­gin­a­tion to some­place bet­ter”.

In The Wall Street Journ­al, Scott Adams offers some “ima­gined solu­tions for the gov­ern­ment’s fisc­al dilemma” – bad ver­sions of ways to incentiv­ising the rich to will­fully pay more tax. Those incent­ives:

  • Time: Any­one who pays taxes at a rate above some set amount gets to use the car pool lane without a pas­sen­ger. Or per­haps the rich are allowed to park in han­di­capped-only spaces.
  • Grat­it­ude: The gov­ern­ment makes it a con­di­tion that any­one apply­ing for social ser­vices has to write a per­son­al thank-you note to a nearby rich per­son […] It’s easy to hate the gen­er­ic over­spend­ing of the gov­ern­ment. It’s harder to begrudge med­ic­al care to someone who thanks you per­son­ally.
  • Incent­ives: Sup­pose the tax code is redesigned so that the rich only pay taxes to fund social ser­vices, such as health care and social secur­ity. This gives the rich an incent­ive to find ways to reduce the need for those ser­vices.
    Mean­while, the middle class would be in charge of fund­ing the mil­it­ary. That feels right. The coun­try gen­er­ally does­n’t go to war unless the middle-class major­ity is on board.
  • Shared Pain: I doubt that the rich will agree to high­er taxes until some ser­i­ous budget cut­ting is hap­pen­ing at the same time. That makes the sac­ri­fice seem shared. […] Change the debate from arguing about which pro­grams and how much to cut, and instead to do what the private sec­tor has been doing for dec­ades: Pull a ran­dom yet round num­ber out of your ear, let’s say a 10% cut, just for argu­ment’s sake, and apply it across the board. No excep­tions.
  • Power: Give the rich two votes apiece in any elec­tion. That’s double the power of oth­er cit­izens. But don’t worry that it will dis­tort elec­tion res­ults. There aren’t that many rich people, and they are some­what divided in their opin­ions, just like the rest of the world.

Comedic Writing Tips… Again

The use of inher­ently funny top­ics and words, at least one per­son, a little exag­ger­a­tion and a touch of curi­os­ity and danger: these are just some of the essen­tial ingredi­ent­s for suc­cess­ful humour­ous writ­ing, says Scott Adams, cre­at­or of Dilbert.

In an essay very sim­il­ar to a post he wrote almost four years ago (pre­vi­ously), Adams tells us an amus­ing story about sex and French fries before dis­sect­ing it and explain­ing how to “write like a car­toon­ist” (i.e. with humour):

The top­ic is the thing. Eighty per­cent of suc­cess­ful humor writ­ing is pick­ing a top­ic that is funny by its very nature. My story above is true, up until the exag­ger­a­tion about the French fry in the sinus cav­ity. You prob­ably assumed it was true, and that know­ledge made it fun­ni­er.

Humor likes danger. If you are cau­tious by nature, writ­ing humor prob­ably isn’t for you. Humor works best when you sense that the writer is put­ting him­self in jeop­ardy. I picked the French-fry story spe­cific­ally because it is too risqué for The Wall Street Journ­al. You can­’t read it without won­der­ing if I had an awk­ward con­ver­sa­tion with my edit­or. […]

Humor is about people. It’s impossible to write humor about a concept or an object. All humor involves how people think and act. Some­times you can fin­esse that lim­it­a­tion by hav­ing your char­ac­ters think and act in selfish, stu­pid or poten­tially harm­ful ways around the concept or object that you want your read­er to focus on.

Exag­ger­ate wisely. If you anchor your story in the famil­i­ar, your read­ers will fol­low you on a humor­ous exag­ger­a­tion, espe­cially if you build up to it. […]

Let the read­er do some work. Humor works best when the read­er has to con­nect some dots. […] The smarter your audi­ence, the wider you can spread the dots. […]

Anim­als are funny. It’s a cheap trick, but anim­al ana­lo­gies are gen­er­ally funny. It was fun­ni­er that I said, “my cheeks went all chip­munk-like” than if I had said my cheeks puffed out.

Use funny words. I referred to my two school­mates and myself as a troika because the word itself is funny. With humor, you nev­er say “pull” when you can say “yank.” Some words are simply fun­ni­er than oth­ers, and you know the funny ones when you see them. (Pop Quiz: Which word is fun­ni­er, observe or stalk?)

Curi­os­ity. Good writ­ing makes you curi­ous without being too heavy-handed about it. My first sen­tence in this piece, about the French fry lodged in my sinus cav­ity, is designed to make you curi­ous. It also sets the tone right away.

End­ings. A simple and clas­sic way to end humor­ous writ­ing is with a call-back. That means mak­ing a clev­er asso­ci­ation to some­thing espe­cially humor­ous and not­able from the body of your work. I would give you an example of that now, but I’m still hav­ing con­cen­tra­tion issues from the French fry.

via @brainpicker

The World as the Extended Mind

That the tools and tech­no­lo­gies we use act as exten­sions to our brains is noth­ing new: this is the exten­ded mind the­ory. Indeed, last year I poin­ted to Carl Zim­mer arguing that Google–and thus the Inter­net as a whole–was an exten­ded mind.

How­ever, Scott Adams’ take on the ‘exo­brain’ is sim­ul­tan­eously the most con­cise and com­pre­hens­ive I’ve seen:

I’m fas­cin­ated by the phe­nomen­on of manip­u­lat­ing our envir­on­ment to extend our brains. I sup­pose it all star­ted with early humans carving on cave walls as a way to store his­tor­ic­al data. Now we have ebooks, com­puters, and cell phones to store our memor­ies. […] Even a house is a device for stor­ing data. Spe­cific­ally, a house stores data on how it was built. A skilled build­er can study a house and build anoth­er just like it.

Everything we cre­ate becomes a de facto data stor­age device and brain access­ory. A wall can be a phys­ic­al stor­age device for land sur­vey data, it can be a remind­er of his­tory, and it can be a trig­ger of per­son­al memor­ies.

A busi­ness is also a way to store data. As a res­taur­ant own­er, I was fas­cin­ated at how employ­ees came and went, but their best ideas often stayed with the busi­ness, espe­cially in the kit­chen. The res­taur­ant was like a giant data fil­ter. The bad ideas were tested and deleted while the good ideas stayed, most often without being writ­ten down. […]

I sup­pose oth­er creatures use their envir­on­ment for stor­ing inform­a­tion, or pro­gram­ming their brains in lim­ited ways. But I assume humans export the highest per­cent­age of brain func­tion to their envir­on­ment, and it grows daily. […] Humans are turn­ing the entire plan­et into an exo­brain. Our brains can­’t hold all of the data we pro­duce, so we look for ways to off­load to books, web­sites, music, and archi­tec­ture, to name a few stor­age devices. And we manip­u­late the envir­on­ment to repro­gram our brains as needed.

via The Browser and Kot­tke

Comedic Writing Tips

There are six essen­tial ele­ments of humour, sug­gests Dilbert’s Scott Adams, as he looks briefly at how to write com­edy:

  • Pick a Top­ic: The top­ic does half of your work. I look for top­ics that have at least one of the essen­tial ele­ments of humor: Clev­er, Cute, Bizarre, Cruel, Naughty, Recog­niz­able.
  • Simple Sen­tences: Be smart, but not aca­dem­ic. Prune words that don’t make a dif­fer­ence.
  • Write About People: If you must write about an object or a concept, focus on how someone (usu­ally you) thinks or feels or exper­i­ences those things. Humor is about people, peri­od.
  • Write Visu­ally: Paint a funny pic­ture with your words, but leave out any details that don’t serve the humor.
  • Leave Room for Ima­gin­a­tion: Leav­ing out details allows read­ers to fill them in with whatever image strikes them as fun­ni­est. In effect, you let read­ers dir­ect their own funny movie.
  • Funny Words: Funny words are the ones that are famil­i­ar yet rarely used in con­ver­sa­tion. It’s a bonus when those words have funny sounds to them.
  • Pop Cul­ture Ref­er­ences: Ref­er­ences to pop­u­lar cul­ture often add humor.
  • Anim­al ana­lo­gies: Anim­al ref­er­ences are funny. If you can­’t think of any­thing funny, make some sort of animal/creature ana­logy. It’s easy, and it almost always works.
  • Exag­ger­ate, then Exag­ger­ate Some More: Fig­ure out what’s the worst that could hap­pen with your top­ic, then mul­tiple it by ten or more. […] The big­ger the exag­ger­a­tion, the fun­ni­er it is.
  • Near Logic: Humor is about cre­at­ing logic that a‑a-a-lmost makes sense but does­n’t. No one in the real world could put gum on his penis and retrieve an iPod from a storm drain. But your brain allows you to ima­gine that work­ing, while sim­ul­tan­eously know­ing it can’t. That incon­gru­ity launches the laugh reflex.
  • Call­back: A call­back is when you end with a funny ref­er­ence that already got a laugh. It puts a nice peri­od on your humor writ­ing.

I won­der how much of this applies to speak­ing, too?

via Ben Cas­nocha

The Future of the Calendar

The cal­en­dar has the pos­sib­il­ity to become “the biggest soft­ware revolu­tion of the future”, says Scott Adams in an art­icle look­ing at how cru­cial time and prox­im­ity are in mak­ing inform­a­tion (more) rel­ev­ant.

I also found myself agree­ing with Adams’ thoughts on news:

When I read the news, I’m gen­er­ally most inter­ested in how stor­ies have unfol­ded across time. I want to know the “new news,” as in the top­ics that have nev­er been repor­ted until today, but I also want ongo­ing charts and graphs about the “old news” such as wars and the eco­nomy. My under­stand­ing of the war in Iraq, for example, has little to do with what blew up today and a lot to do with the trend lines over the entire war. In oth­er words, I see the news in terms of time.