Writing for the Web

Mark Bernstein has written a thought provoking article, 10 Tips on Writing the Living Web, about how to write for the web. How do you write an ongoing, ever changing column? What should you write about? (Something you care about.) How do you keep readers engaged? (By being passionate, personal, and consistent.)

Definitely worth a read for anyone who maintains a blog.

“May I Have Your Seat?”

If you walk up to a stranger on the New York subway and say “Excuse me, may I have your seat?” what will they do? According to several studies, over 60% of people will stand up and give you their seat. However, that’s not the interesting point of the study. Amazingly, it was extremely difficult for the researchers to even ask somebody to give up their seat! Many couldn’t do it all, some froze and others felt sick to their stomachs! Breaking social norms may be a lot harder than you think!

College Drinking

Here’s an essay by Middlebury’s College last president about the things he would have liked to say as president, What Your College President Didn’t Tell You.

One point that struck home to me was the drinking age. Having a drinking age of 21 does not make any sense and it does not solve any problems. By 18 you can drive, marry, have children, serve in the armed forces, and basically lead a completely independent life, except you can’t have a beer. So by the age of 21 (assuming you don’t drink before then), who’s going to teach you responsible drinking? And Federal government, by holding highway money hostage if the states don’t keep a drinking age of 21, is just reducing the democratic rights of its citizens. When’s the last time you got to vote on, or even got asked by your representatives, what you thought of the drinking age?

Last week a young sophomore at Colorado State University, CSU, died of alcohol poisoning. Samatha Spady was a smart, pretty and popular young woman with a life ahead of her. In high school she was head varsity cheerleader, homecoming queen, National Honor Society scholar and class president. Because of one night of drinking in a college atmosphere where the party scene revolves around alcohol, all that is over. Student’s death at CSU rocks hometown

College drinking is a problem. Whether or not you believe that the drinking age exacerbates the problem, the fact that it is illegal for most college kids to drink makes it that much harder for parents, professors and other professionals to have meaningful talks with their kids.

Social Life of Paper

The Social Life of Paper is a great essay about why paper is still so improtant to us in this age of computers. Malcolm Galwell, the author of the Tipping Point, reviews The Myth of the Paperless Office which argues that paper helps us organize and process information in a way that filing cabinets and computers cannot. As an example, he describes how air traffic controllers use strips of paper to track airplanes and to bring information to the attention of other air traffic controllers in a way that would be very difficult to duplicate with a computer.

Given how stressful email is making our work lives, I am starting to have more compassion to people’s reluctance to update our air traffic control system!


Here’s a great essay from U.S. Senator John McCain on courage. He defines courage as more than just doing something you are afraid of. It’s doing something right in the face of fear. “Courage is that rare moment of unity between conscience, fear, and action, when something deep within us strikes the flint of love, of honor, of duty, to make the spark that fires our resolve.”

He also points out that we are not asking our leaders to show courage and they are not asking us to show courage. So we are not seeing a lot of courage in government organizations nor in business corporations.

Fast Company | In Search of Courage

Animal Population Control

I like this idea of controling animal populations through birth control. I was just telling my parents about a woman in San Francisco who was catching stray cats, neutering them and rereleasing them. People were upset with her for rereleasing them! They’d have been way more upset if she killed them and they certainly didn’t need all the street kittens she prevented.

One BIG caveat. I think birth control for animals should only be used in situations where humans have encouraged overbreeding. For example, animals that no longer migrate because food is plentiful in human environments. Or stray cats that live out of dumpsters. We’re playing god and we need to be mindful of that!

Bringing Down the House

Bringing Down the House is a true story about MIT students who figured out how to beat the blackjack tables in Vegas. Although what they did was not illegal, they attracted the attention of the IRS, and worse yet, of the casinos themselves. Bring Down the House is a well written, engaging account of the world of gambling. While the back of the book claims that it inspires people to gamble, I didn’t think it did. The students in the book only won through lots of talent and hard work. It might not be respected hard work, they counted cards, smuggled cash and gambled all night, but it still sounds like hard work. And while the danger of getting caught might cause an adrenaline rush in some, it just caused my stomach to hurt and my blood pressure to rise! A good weekend read!

Best Sellers

During a recent trip I read a couple of best sellers.

Although Acts of Malice was suspenseful – I had to read the end – its character development left a lot to be desired. The main character falls in love, head over heels in love, with a man we barely know. It’s all a setup so that she’ll have someone dear to her that can easily be sacrificed. Or at least that was my opinion. The bad guy is also very bad and creepy. Too creepy to be believable. But I still read the book cover to cover even though I knew what was going to happen. Suspenseful but predictable if that’s not too much of an oxymoron.

Separation of Power is a good political thriller. It’s also eery given its publication date. Published in 2001, it speculates what would happen if Iraq had nuclear weapons and the United States (conveniently) had a secret antiterrorism assassination unit. Good airplane reading!