Absorb Information Like Never Before

Have you ever had the experience of reading a book, listening to a presentation or watching a TV programme and discovering at the end that you could hardly remember any of the points made? If someone had asked you to summarise what had been said, you wouldn’t have known where to start.

Well, if that has happened to you it’s nothing to be surprised about … it’s a common enough experience. It’s due to the fact that our brains are excellent filters of incoming information and only let through what is of interest to us. It has to be that way or we would be overwhelmed with information. But it causes a problem when the filter isn’t set quite right and filters out material that we really do need.

So say for example that we have a textbook to read for an exam. How do we set our filter so that the information goes in, rather than getting ejected because our brain thinks it’s dull or uninteresting?

The answer is to ask ourselves questions about it. Before starting to read the textbook, spend a moment or two completing the sentence “Questions I could ask myself about this material include…. ”

Then take the 4 or 5 best questions you have come up with and jot down some answers to them off the top of your head. Don’t worry about whether the answers make sense or not… the important thing is to get your brain engaging with the subject. Only then start reading the text.

Once you have finished reading, you can go through the same procedure quickly again. That will help to fix the material in your mind.

In this way you can engage with the material both before and after you read it. If it’s a really complicated document, like the textbook in my example, you could repeat this procedure before each chapter or section.

There are many other ways that you can use this method…. before a client interview, before taking a test drive on a new car, before visiting a famous tourist site and so on ….. use your imagination!

Absorb Information Like Never Before

The Chess Machine

Designer name to come

About to finish DeLillo’s Falling Man, I think I need a something a little lighter for my next book. This might be it:

From the Publishers Weekly review: “Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen of Hungary, anxious to win the favor of Empress Maria Theresia, builds an engineering marvel: the Mechanical Turk, a chess-playing automaton. The Turk, though, isn’t exactly as it seems; hidden inside is Italian chess prodigy (and dwarf) Tibor Scardenelli.” Murder, deceit and other tasty things follow.

The silhouette approach seems very appropriate for a novel set in 1770.

Buy this book from Amazon.com
The Chess Machine

the comic book industry


Econlog asks: why are American comics dominated by the super hero genre? Is it simply path dependence from an era when super heroes were popular? I don’t have the definitive answer, but here is some data:

1. Comic books in other countries focus on humor (Condorito/Latin America or Asterix in Europe) or historical drama (e.g., the Lone Wolf and Cub series in Japan).

2. Before the 1950s, there actually was much wider variety. It was not uncommon for kids to read comics about the wild west, war, romance, or crime. Some people claim that the McCarthy era Comics Code Authority encouraged “safe” genres like super heros, rather than political or socially charged genres like war comics or romances.

3. Throughout the post-war era, humor magazines - such as Mad - have been hugely popular and they are essentially comic books. Also, newspapers comics, such as the Far Side are routinely anthologized as larger comic books. These are rarely super hero books and they are even best sellers.

4. Since about 1990, there is a fairly serious genre of high art comics in America, such as Maus or Cerebus. Small market segment, but easily accesible to most people in cities or college towns. Some, like The Watchmen, are super hero, but most aren’t. [You ask, what is my favorite? Alex Robinson’s romantic comedy, Box Office Poison.]

What I gather from this evidence is that super hero dominance is partly a function of definition. If you expanded beyond “picture books sold at the supermarket,” you see that super hero books aren’t quite as dominant, even among youngsters. As you look over the years, you suspect that there’s a natural match between super hero stories, boys, and the visual medium of comic books, but you also realize that many other genres, especially humor and romance, have done very well. It’s also no secret in the comic industry that super hero books, while still the bulk of what’s bought by young American boys, are a declining genre. I’ll chalk this one up to historical contingency, not path dependency.

Bonus Round: Check out PhD comics - the only comic strip just for grad students!!

the comic book industry

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Dark and Fleshy: The Color of Top Grossing Movies

“I started to think that NC-17 movies perhaps shared a common visual string in their marketing materials — dark and provocative… I started with R and pulled up the top five movies’ posters. Less provocative but very dark. I moved on to PG-13’s five. Not provocative at all but dark nonetheless. PG’s five? Much friendlier but, yes, dark. It wasn’t until I got to the five Gs that I started seeing some bright colors in the movie posters.” (Thanks HOW Blog!)

Dark and Fleshy: The Color of Top Grossing Movies

IQ and the Wealth of Nations

How many more times will someone suggest this book in the comments section of this blog?  I like this book and I think it offers a real contribution.  Nonetheless I feel no need to suggest it in the comments sections of other peoples’ blogs.

I do not treat this book as foundational because of personal experience.  I’ve spent much time in one rural Mexican village, San Agustin Oapan, and spent much time chatting with the people there.  They are extremely smart, have an excellent sense of humor, and are never boring.  And that’s in their second language, Spanish.

I’m also sure they if you gave them an IQ test, they would do miserably.  In fact I can’t think of any written test – no matter how simple – they could pass.  They simply don’t have experience with that kind of exercise.

When it comes to understanding the properties of different corn varieties, catching fish in the river, mending torn amate paper, sketching a landscape from memory, or gossiping about the neighbors, they are awesome.

Some of us like to think that intelligence is mostly one-dimensional, but at best this is true only within well-defined peer groups of broadly similar people.  If you gave Juan Camilo a test on predicting rainfall he would crush me like a bug.

OK, maybe I hang out with a select group within the village.  But still, there you have it.  Terrible IQ scores (if they could even take the test), real smarts.

So why should I think this book is the key to understanding economic underdevelopment?

IQ and the Wealth of Nations

Mad #480: Meet The G(ig) That Killed Me

As a reader pointed out recently, the latest issue of Mad contains a three-page article that Sarah and I provided the artwork for. This includes the two-page spread of doom which I’ve mentioned here several times before, and which put my hand in a wrist brace for a period of time after I finished working on it. The biggest problem with the job was not so much my decision to really amp things up (I was asked to take out some business and figures, this was actually a little denser in the pencils/roughs), but with  my choice to draw it on a fairly small scale, certain circumstances led me to draw the spread on a piece of 12" by 19" board. Not as large as I would have liked considering the detail work. So there was a lot of time put in with the Hunt 102 nibs and the .30 rapidograph.

Below is what most of the left-hand side of the spread looks like, without Sarah’s colors or effects on the various monitor screens.

Not the keenest draftsmanship around, but I’m happy with the way things came out. It printed a little dark, color-wise, but Sarah and I got what we were going for; a two-page spread that fries the eyeballs, but keeps them on the page so the reader can find all the Will Elder-style chicken fat background gags. More bang for the buck, as it were.

Anyway, the latest issue is #480 (!), and it shipped to comic shops last week, and, I believe, should now be available on newsstands. Please feel free to check out the issue. The Usual Gang of Idiots this time around includes Tom Richmond, Peter Kuper, Paul Coker, Bob Staake, Herman Mejia, Al Jaffee and the inimitable Sergio Aragones. And us. Crazy! Er, I mean, Sick! Cracked? Forget it. Lame joke.
Mad #480: Meet The G(ig) That Killed Me