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.