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Coming Soon!

Futility Closet 2 cover

We’ll have another book in time for the holidays this year: a new collection of entertaining oddities in history, literature, language, art, philosophy, and mathematics, the perfect gift for people who are impossible to buy gifts for.

Futility Closet 2: A Second Trove of Intriguing Tidbits contains hundreds of hand-picked favorites from the site’s 10-year archive of the marvelous, the diverting, and the strange: joyous dogs, soul-stirring Frenchmen, runaway balloons, U-turning communists, manful hummingbirds, recalcitrant Ws, intractable biplanes, hairless trombonists, abusive New Zealanders, unreconstituted cannibals, mysterious blimps, thrice-conscripted Koreans, imaginary golf courses, irate Thackerays, and hundreds more. Plus the amusing inventions, curious words, and beguiling puzzles that regularly entertain millions of website visitors and podcast listeners.

“A wild, wonderful, and educational romp through history, science, zany patents, math puzzles, wonderful words (like boanthropy, hallelujatic, and andabatarian), the Devil’s Game, self-contradicting words, and so much more. Buy this book and feed your mind!”
— Clifford A. Pickover, author of The Mathematics Devotional

We’ll launch the new book on Amazon on November 3. It will join our first book, Futility Closet: An Idler’s Miscellany of Compendious Amusements, which reviewers have called “funny, interesting, thought-provoking, and completely original” and “a book to enlighten as well as entertain.” Thanks for your support, and thanks for reading!

Emotion and Belief

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If you had to judge by bodily sensations alone, could you distinguish shame from embarrassment? Philosopher William Alston suggests that we need to consult our beliefs in order to do this. “Even if there are in fact subtle differences in the patterns of bodily sensation associated with the two, it seems that what in fact forms the basis of the distinction is that it is necessary for shame but not for embarrassment that the subject take the object to be something which is his fault.”

Similarly, Jerome Shaffer proposes that beliefs are necessary to distinguish admiration from envy. Both involve “the belief that the person who is the object of the emotion has some good, but admiration will involve the belief that the person is worthy of it whereas envy will involve the belief that I am worthy of it instead (or, at least, also).”

Robert Yanal suggests that we might even need to check our beliefs in order to distinguish extreme happiness from extreme sadness. “Since both involve a nearly overwhelming rush of sensation, we might know that we are very happy only when we check our belief that our beloved’s life has been spared, not forfeited.” Sensations themselves are not enough to identify the emotion. “Typically, belief or a belief surrogate is brought in to draw the distinctions that we think must be drawn.”

Alston adds that “the presence of such evaluations seems to be what makes bodily states and sensations emotional” in the first place. “Some sinkings in the stomach are emotional, because they stem from an evaluation of something as dangerous; other sinkings are not emotional because they stem from indigestion.”

[William Alston, "Emotion and Feeling," The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1967; Jerome A. Shaffer, "An Assessment of Emotion," American Philosophical Quarterly, April 1983; Robert Yanal, Paradoxes of Emotion and Fiction, 1999.]

Book Sale

book coverThis week our book, Futility Closet: An Idler’s Miscellany of Compendious Amusements, is on sale — the print book is $9.99, the ebook $4.99.

The book 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.

The book is available now on Amazon and in the Apple iBookstore.

I can also send signed copies to recipients in the U.S. for $25 each, and to those elsewhere for a comparable price once we’ve worked out the shipping. If you’re interested, write to me at gregblog@gmail.com. Thanks for your support, and thanks, as always, for reading!

NYT

Futility Closet is featured on the New York Times’ Numberplay blog this week, with a discussion of the necktie paradox.

Reminder

Two days remain in the book giveaway on Goodreads — enter to win one of three signed copies of the Futility Closet book. Winners will be announced on February 9.

Down

Sorry about that downtime — we hit some database trouble. Should be okay now …

Goodreads

FYI, I’ve set up a presence on Goodreads, for anyone who wants to follow me there. I’ve begun posting the reading I’m doing in research for this site, and I’d be happy to get recommendations from other readers, and to discuss books there generally.

I’m also running a book giveaway on Goodreads — you can enter to win one of three signed copies of the Futility Closet book. Winners will be announced on February 9.

And I’ll be hosting a Q&A session on Goodreads all day on January 31 — you can ask me anything about the site, the book, future plans, or anything else you like.

I spend so much time in libraries doing research for this site that I thought it might be interesting to discuss books with you. I’m thinking Goodreads might become a place where we can recommend books to each other and discuss reading in general. See you there!

iBook

The Futility Closet book is finally available in the Apple iBookstore. Sorry for the wait!

Signed Books

Since the Futility Closet book came out, a number of readers have asked whether I could provide signed copies. I think I’ve now worked out a way to do this for those who are interested. I can send signed copies to U.S. residents for $25 each, and to those elsewhere for a comparable price once we’ve worked out the shipping. If you’re interested, please write to me at gregblog@gmail.com. (And thanks for asking — I hadn’t expected this!)

FYI

I’m the guest on Boing Boing’s Incredibly Interesting Authors podcast this month, discussing the new book and the website — here’s a link.

Ebook

FC book thumbnail

The electronic version of the Futility Closet book is now available on Amazon, and will be forthcoming in the Apple bookstore — I’ll post updates on the book page.

Many thanks to those who are supporting the book — that’s a great help in keeping this whole enterprise going.

I’m planning another big miscellany for next year, but I thought it might also be fun to do a specialty book of some kind. What would you like to see? A collection of obscure words? Quotations? Puzzles? Odd inventions? Let me know on the blog.

Away

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!

Book!

book cover

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!

Thanks

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 gregblog@gmail.com. Thanks.

Designers Wanted

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 gregblog@gmail.com. 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!

Future Plans

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.

Redesign

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 gregblog@gmail.com. Thanks for reading!