I’m away till Saturday. Many thanks to everyone who has bought the book — if you enjoy it, please consider recommending it to others. Thanks for your support, and happy Thanksgiving!
At last, here’s a book! Futility Closet: An Idler’s Miscellany of Compendious Amusements collects my favorite finds in nine years of dedicated curiosity-seeking: lawyers struck by lightning, wills in chili recipes, a lost manuscript by Jules Verne, dreams predicting horse race winners, softball at the North Pole, physicist pussycats, 5-year-olds in the mail, camels in Texas, balloons in the arctic, a lawsuit against Satan, starlings amok, backward shoes, revolving squirrels, Dutch Schultz’s last words, Alaskan mirages, armored baby carriages, pig trials, rivergoing pussycats, a scheme to steal the Mona Lisa, and hundreds more, plus a selection of the curious words, odd inventions, and quotations that are regular features on the site, as well as 24 favorite puzzles and a preface explaining how Futility Closet came to be and how I come up with this stuff. A million thanks to Greg Mortimer for making it look so good.
The paperback is available on Amazon and Amazon Europe now, and at other online retailers imminently. An ebook is also forthcoming, which I’ll announce here as soon as it’s ready. Thanks for your support, and thanks, as always, for reading!
From Gábor J. Székely’s Paradoxes in Probability Theory and Mathematical Statistics, via Mark Chang’s Paradoxology of Scientific Inference:
A, B, C, D, and E make up a five-member jury. They’ll decide the guilt of a prisoner by a simple majority vote. The probability that A gives the wrong verdict is 5%; for B, C, and D it’s 10%; for E it’s 20%. When the five jurors vote independently, the probability that they’ll bring in the wrong verdict is about 1%. But if E (whose judgment is poorest) abandons his autonomy and echoes the vote of A (whose judgment is best), the chance of an error rises to 1.5%.
Even more surprisingly, if B, C, D, and E all follow A, then the chance of a bad verdict rises to 5%, five times worse than if they vote independently, even though A is nominally the best leader. Chang writes, “This paradox implies it is better to have your own opinion even if it is not as good as the leader’s opinion, in general.”
Many thanks to everyone who took the survey about the first Futility Closet book. Most people seem to prefer a paperback, so I’ll work on that first, and I’ll also pursue an ebook. I haven’t yet found an efficient way to produce and distribute a hardcover book at a reasonable price, but I’ll keep looking.
I’ll organize the book as a miscellany, but I plan to include an index to help you find particular items. I’ll fill it with a representative sampling of the site’s best content, and I’ll include all the recurring features except probably for chess puzzles, which probably belong in a separate book — I’m hoping to produce specialized collections of unusual words, odd inventions, etc., in addition to broad miscellanies.
I think I may need some help with the ebook — if you have experience designing illustrated nonfiction ebooks in multiple formats, or can recommend someone who does, please contact me at email@example.com. Thanks.
I’m looking for a logo designer and a WordPress theme designer for this site — I want to replace the (rather generic) Helvetica nameplate at the top, and I have a small list of tweaks to make to the body. Ideally I’d like to work with experienced designers who read the site and know the tone of the content, but I’ll value all recommendations. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks.
05/26/2013 UPDATE: Many thanks to everyone who’s responded — there are too many to thank individually, but I value all the advice and recommendations that I’ve received and will review them all carefully. Thanks again!
Futility Closet has been growing fast — there are now more than 7,000 posts in the archive, and subscriptions are setting new records every week now. But the functionality hasn’t changed since I launched the site in 2005. I want to devote this year to catching up and helping the site realize its full potential. I could use your help in doing this, as you know best what’s lacking. What new features would you like to see? What new media and formats should I publish in? Should I get involved in social media? Would you be interested in a Futility Closet book? Should we start a forum so that readers can interact? In general, how can I make the site more useful to you?
In the coming days I’m going to be starting a series of discussions on the blog to discuss these questions — see the link to “Blog” in the sidebar under Info. I’d really value your help and advice. Thanks in advance for your suggestions, and thanks, as always, for reading.
Okay, here’s a new look, at last. The features and content are the same, but we’ve updated the theme. Two main things to note:
1. I’ve added a blog, linked in the sidebar, with comments enabled. There we can discuss the new look as well as some additional developments that I’m beginning to consider, including establishing a community here, offering merchandise, and publishing a series of books.
2. If you’re on a mobile device, you’re now viewing the main site directly. Previously you were getting a mobile version served by the WPtouch plugin, which omitted some features. I need your feedback: Is this better? Do you want to go back to WPtouch? Would you rather have a dedicated mobile theme, and if so what features should that include? (UPDATE: I’ll address the font readability, and I’ve reverted to WPtouch while I investigate getting a dedicated mobile theme. Other comments are still welcome.)
We can discuss all this on the blog; my aim is to do most of the backstage discussion there and save the front page for actual content. You can also write to me directly at email@example.com. Thanks for reading!