Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

Writing and writing programs

December 12, 2019

The following is from the book, Computer Power and Human Reason by Joseph Weizenbaum, page 108. I think it’s great.

“Often when we think we understand something and attempt to write about it, our very act of composition reveals our lack of understanding even to ourselves. Our pen writes the word ‘because’ and suddenly stops. We thought we understood the ‘why’ of something but discover we don’t. We begin a sentence with ‘obviously,’ and then see what we meant to write is not obvious at all. Sometimes we connect two clauses with the word ‘therefore,’ only to then see that our chain of reasoning is defective. Programming is like that. It is, after all, writing too. But in ordinary writing we sometimes obscure our lack of understanding, our failure in logic, by unwittingly appealing to the immense flexibility of natural language and to its inherent ambiguity. The very eloquence that natural language permits sometimes illuminates our words and seems (falsely, to be sure) to illuminate our undeserving logic just as brightly. An interpreter of programming-language texts, a computer, is immune to the seductive influence of mere eloquence. And words like ‘obviously’ are not represented in the primitive vocabularies of any computers. A computer is a merciless critic.”

Do you hear music when you read fine writing?

March 16, 2019

Every day for almost two years I would bring out a couple books — Nabokov short stories and Donald Hall “Essays after 80”. The intent was just to develop an ear for writing. I wasn’t reading for content, I was reading for ear. I would spend two hours each night on just a paragraph or two or three, and I would break it down. When I opened Nabokov’s short stories at random and started reading his sentences, my jaw dropped. I didn’t know the English language could do that. How is this guy doing that? It was so different, at such a higher level. I would dissect his paragraphs: Why did he put this word here, in this sentence and not there? Why did he use this transition from this paragraph to the next? Suppose I do it differently; it sounds worse – why? Why does it sound worse when I move this word? There are 6 words that mean the same thing, why did he choose that one? Let me try replacing it; oh, it sounds worse. I would do this repeatedly.  I picked Nabokov because his sentences and rhythm and musicality of writing was jaw-dropping. In every sentence. Every sentence is a 10 out of 10. How does this guy do it?  I started getting a weird experience after doing this for a year. I would read passages and I would hear music. I would hear the passages in my head, as music. The music was in perfect harmony. And then I would pick up a newspaper or some other stuff and I couldn’t read more than two sentences because it sounded like clashing; it was grating.

— Safi Bahcall, at time 33:30 in this podcast.

Food chemists … TV writer chemists?

March 17, 2017

Several years ago, someone wrote a book describing food chemists. Apparently, people in the food industry have discovered a certain combination of fats, salt, and sugar that makes people want to eat more and more. Good for the food industry. Bad for consumers.

It occurs to me that an analogous thing has happened with TV writing. There are some shows on TV that hit me with a huge emotional punch. After an episode is over my adrenaline is racing, the show runs through my mind over and over, and I have a hard time sleeping. And, …. I can’t wait to see the next episode! Good for the TV industry. Perhaps not so good for TV viewers.

Have TV writers discovered a way to write which causes viewers to crave more and more?

I spoke with a colleague about this and she referred me to these books and TED talk:

Made to Stick

Thinking Fast and Slow

Rory Sutherland

Handwriting to get smarter

December 15, 2016

When I was a kid there were no computers. All writing was done with pencil and paper. My handwriting was beautiful. Alas, those days are gone. Now all my writing is done by pushing keys on a keyboard. Recently I’ve started doing some handwriting. Oh my, it is hard. My hand and shoulder tightens up. I cannot write for long periods. The beautiful strokes that I once made are now ugly, crude lines.

There is research which shows that there are a lot of connections between the brain and the hands. Developing new hand skills has been shown to improve cognitive skills.

I am going to spend time each day doing handwriting. I think it will make me smarter.

The teleprompter is the enemy of authenticity

July 23, 2016

Excellent insight by Mike Rowe (creator of the TV show, It’s a Dirty Job):

Whatever you think of him, Donald Trump is not in Cleveland tonight because he’s richer, smarter, meaner, shrewder, or more ambitious than any other contender. He’s there, in my opinion, because talking without the aid of a teleprompter made his opponents look like performers in some ridiculous charade, waiting for someone else’s carefully crafted words to appear before them on a magical screen, so they can speak while pretending not to read. The teleprompter is an insult to thinking people. It’s also the enemy of authenticity, and if I were King of the World, I’d melt them all down and have the residue molded into a giant Trojan Horse.

More …

Quote of the day

April 7, 2016

Nothing clarifies your ideas like trying to write them down.

— Michel de Montaigne

I will strive to live the life of an artist

February 11, 2016

From this day forward I am an artist. At least, I will strive to live the life of an artist.

My interests revolve around reading, writing, working with data, and programming. Thus, my “canvas” will be my books, my words, data, and programs.

If I am not expressing and seeking beauty in my interests, then I am not living properly. The purpose of my life is to express and seek beauty …….. This is an astonishing insight for me.

I feel a great sense of relief and peace. Till this day I have approached life like a person swimming upstream: always striving to achieve something important, always fighting to rise the ladder, compete, excel. Approaching life from the perspective of an artist focused on expressing and seeking beauty … well, that makes a huge difference to me, in my mind and in my emotions.

It’s easy to write stuff that’s hard to understand

July 6, 2014

Today I listened to an excellent talk by U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins. He said something that really struck me:

It’s very easy to write poems that are hard to understand.

It occurred to me that this is true not only of writing poetry, but of all writing. It’s easy to scribble down a bunch of jibberish that no one can understand. It’s not so easy to write clearly and simply.

I have always admired writers and speakers who are able to take a complex topic and express it in a clear and understandable manner.

Write it down to understand it

March 19, 2014

Yesterday I was listening to a talk and the presenter said:

I can’t understand anything
until I write it down.

That resonates with me. I learn best when I write it down and mull it over.

When I first started my career I wrote very little. Over the years the amount that I write has steadily increased. Now I write every day. Writing is like breathing: I must do it to live.

Speak better and write clearer using English-Prime (E-Prime)

November 17, 2013

Some scholars advocate using E-Prime as a device to clarify thinking and strengthen writing.

E-Prime (short for English-Prime, sometimes denoted É or E′) is a prescriptive version of the English language that excludes all forms of the verb to be. E-Prime does not allow the conjugations of to be—be, am, is, are, was, were, been, being— the archaic forms of to be (e.g. art, wast, wert), or the contractions of to be—’s, ‘m, ‘re (e.g. I’m, he’s, she’s, they’re).

For example, the sentence “the film was good” could not be expressed under the rules of E-Prime, and the speaker might instead say “I liked the film” or “the film made me laugh”. The E-Prime versions communicate the speaker’s experience rather than judgment, making it harder for the writer or reader to confuse opinion with fact.

More …