In my flickr stream I noticed that Edward Tufte's new book, Beautiful Evidence, was out. I think I'll try to get it at the library. It's too nice to own.

Beautiful Evidence, cover


It led me to an interesting statement he makes about designing plaques for spaceships in such a way that their message might be understood by illiterate aliens. He proposes putting a magic trick on it… a human defying gravity. Because gravity is a universal law, he suggests the possibility that this magic trick would be funny anywhere.

space plaque joke

Thinking about how to make aliens laugh is probably one of the most enjoyable activities one can partake in. The original plague, with explanation, is here.


Looking around the site a little more led me to this essay of Daniel Gould's titled The Median Isn't the Message. And, other than being a delightful read, it also allowed me to brush up on my understanding of means and medians and misunderstanding statistics in general:

The mean is our usual concept of an overall average – add up the items and divide them by the number of sharers (100 candy bars collected for five kids next Halloween will yield 20 for each in a just world). The median, a different measure of central tendency, is the half-way point. If I line up five kids by height, the median child is shorter than two and taller than the other two (who might have trouble getting their mean share of the candy). A politician in power might say with pride, "The mean income of our citizens is $15,000 per year." The leader of the opposition might retort, "But half our citizens make less than $10,000 per year." Both are right, but neither cites a statistic with impassive objectivity. The first invokes a mean, the second a median. (Means are higher than medians in such cases because one millionaire may outweigh hundreds of poor people in setting a mean; but he can balance only one mendicant in calculating a median).

He also touched on the very mysterious fact that the best way to fight cancer is to be cheery and optimistic about it. I love it when self-help philosophies collide with medicine and things as serious as cancer treatment.

My definition of a nemisis isn't quite straight from the dictionary.  To me, a nemesis is someone whose life you envy and who you can use as a vision with a name and a face in order to try and catch up to them.  Adopting a nemesis is a great way to visualize the future because you can idealize their good qualities, ignore their bad ones, and use the neutral qualities simply as filler that help you better imagine your own future.  I've had nemeses my whole life and when I look back on them I realize that each subsequent nemesis is a bit further ahead, and that, in many ways, each one represents a particular part of my life that I was interested in working on at the time.  When that part of my life was figured out, I stopped thinking of them as my nemesis and moved on to the next one.  Another funny coincidence is that I generally became good friends with my nemeses… this type of nemesis relationship doesn't have to be one of hatred or bitter jealousy, but rather appreciation for their strengths and a desire to learn from them and absorb as many of the traits as possible.

Traits you want to look for in a good nemesis:

  1. Someone that is experiencing some aspect of live that you wish you were experiencing.  Whether it's that they are a published writer, or seem to have great friends, or own a bar… it can be anything as long as it's something that you want for yourself.
  2. Someone that you can research.  Whether it's because they've had biographies or that they have a blog or that you know where they hang out regularly, it's good to have some exposure to them so you can watch them and plot and plan against.
  3. Someone who's name you can invoke in a state of wrath or jealousy.  We all have weaker moments and those moments are easier to handle if you can treat your nemesis as a bit of a scapegoat and egger-on.  If something is proving difficult, just imagine your nemisis's smug face doing that task with ease and usually this will help spurn you on a bit longer, if only to show them that you are someone to reckon with.

Of course, you don't want to take this too far and actually go about sabotaging your nemesis.  A good nemesis is all in you mind.  And, like I said, can sometimes even be a good friend in "real life".