Thanks so much to the 148 readers who have contributed to my Patreon campaign to help save this website. Every contribution is invested directly in the site, helping me to post more frequently, to keep up with our ongoing costs, and to invest in some badly needed improvements.
If you value Futility Closet and want to help support it, please consider donating to the campaign. You can contribute as much or as little as you like, and I’ve set up some rewards to help thank you, including bonus posts and descriptions of some of the more curious books I come across in my research. Thanks for your help, and thanks for reading.
I’m changing our email feed — instead of a daily digest you can now sign up to receive the full text of each new post as soon as it’s published. And, unlike the old feed, this one contains no advertising. If you’d like to try it, you can sign up using the box at the bottom of the sidebar.
If you want to stick with the old feed, that’s no problem — it will keep running as it always has (though, to avoid confusion, I’ve removed the signup form from this website). If you want to unsubscribe from that feed, see the link at the foot of any of those mailings.
Many thanks to everyone who has contributed so far to the Patreon campaign to keep the site going. I’m very grateful for every contribution, of any size, but unfortunately the total so far is not enough to justify the many hours a week it takes to run the site.
Ad revenue is now so low that I’m going to have to start limiting the time I put into the site. I’ll continue to post 10-15 posts per month to Patreon, to thank those supporters; and I’ll post here as often as I can, but unfortunately the frequency will probably drop.
This site has always been close to my heart, so I’ve been trying for some time to find a way forward. Unfortunately I’m having to start facing some harsh realities. I’m still hopeful that if either traffic or pledges increase I’ll be able to resume a more normal schedule. I’ll continue to post updates here; you can reach me at email@example.com.
Many thanks to everyone who’s contributed to our new Patreon campaign to support the website. This site takes a huge investment of time each month to research and write, and I need your help to keep it going.
I’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your contributions, including bonus posts, monthly descriptions of particularly interesting books and resources that I come across in my research, public thanks on the Futility Closet website, and a forum in which you can interact with me and with other readers.
You can contribute as much or as little as you like, and you can change or cancel your pledge at any time. Thanks again to everyone who’s contributed!
It’s been six months since my New Year’s post about the future of Futility Closet. The site takes an enormous amount of time to research and administer, and I’ve been working hard to find a way to keep it going. I’d like to thank everyone who has offered their help and advice — you’ve been wonderfully supportive, and that’s encouraged me to find a way to continue.
Patreon is a way for fans to support projects they value by pledging a regular monthly donation. You choose the amount to contribute, and you can change or cancel it whenever you like.
In return I’ve set up some rewards to help thank you. In particular, if you pledge at least $3 a month, about 70 cents a week, I’ll send you 2-3 bonus posts each week. By default these will be sent to you by email, but you can also read them on Patreon, where you can also leave comments and interact with me and with other users.
I’ll continue to publish posts regularly here, and you can read them here or via email, RSS, or social media, as you always have.
Thanks for considering this. With your help I’m hoping we can continue for many more years. If you have any questions or suggestions you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks again for all your good wishes, and for all your expressions of support!
If you follow us on Twitter, please follow the new official account. The old “egg” account, apparently set up by a fan, posts only a truncated reference to each new post. The new account provides links to all new posts as well as a stream of hand-picked facts, quotations, oddities, puzzles, and theorems from the archives. (Also, if you message me on the old account, I won’t see the message and can’t respond.)
A million thanks to Meaghan Walsh Gerard for setting these up. There are other accounts on these platforms using the Futility Closet name, but none of them are ours; this is our first foray into social media.
I hope to add some further social accounts, but first I need to get the hang of these — I’m still finding my way. Thanks for your patience!
Two puzzles from the latest Futility Closet book are featured this week on the New York Times’ Numberplay blog. I’ll post the solutions and comment there on Friday.
Both Futility Closet books are available now on Amazon, in paperback and as ebooks. Thanks for your support!
Many thanks to everyone who’s contributed ideas or support since my New Year’s plea. Our traffic is still dwindling, but I have at least the beginnings of a plan to address it. The first step is to establish a presence in social media, which I’ve been neglecting entirely.
To start, it seems wise to consolidate the existing accounts that people have established in our name. There are accounts using the name Futility Closet on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ — if you control one of these and would be willing to transfer it to us or to take it down, please write to me at email@example.com. When we have the “official” accounts up and running, I’ll post the details here. Thanks.
Many thanks, everyone, for all your messages in response to my 10-year anniversary post, in which I asked for your ideas as to how we might keep Futility Closet going. It generated such a huge number of responses that I fear I won’t be able to respond to everyone individually. I’m reading and carefully considering every idea, and then I need to talk to some people in order to refine a plan. I’ll keep you posted as we go along. I really appreciate all your expressions of good will and your contributions, both creative and material. I hope we can find a way forward, if only for the chance to keep writing for such a wonderful audience.
If you’d been meaning to reach out and haven’t yet, please do — I always want to hear from you. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today marks the 10-year anniversary of Futility Closet — I started it on January 1, 2005. I don’t have any plans for a big celebration, but I wanted to share some thoughts about where the site has been and where it’s headed.
Over its lifetime this site has served 78 million pageviews, vastly more than I’d ever dreamed of when I started. But traffic actually peaked four years ago, and it’s been dropping steadily since then. I left my job in April 2013 to devote myself full-time to Futility Closet, and in the ensuing period we’ve published two books, 39 podcast episodes, and a thousand blog posts. In that time we’ve had record amounts of media attention, fan mail, new readers, and general good wishes, but traffic and revenue have continued to drop.
Practically everyone is struggling these days, and I don’t think there’s anything unique about our situation. The main reason I’m writing is to see whether anyone can suggest new measures that could help us to support the site, things we’re overlooking. Should we be exploring other formats? Is there some feature or functionality that would make the site or its content more appealing or useful, or some means of monetizing the content or soliciting support that we haven’t thought of and that might be more effective?
I’d like to keep going — my notes contain hundreds of items that I want to research and write about, and to judge from the response, particularly last year, you like what we’re doing. We’re very grateful to everyone who’s made donations to help keep us going, both here and on the podcast’s Patreon campaign. But if we can’t reverse the decline I’ll have to consider stopping.
You can reach me at email@example.com. I’ll post any updates below. Thanks.
01/03/2015 Update: Many thanks for all your ideas and support! I had hoped to be able to respond to each individually, but there are so many now that I don’t think that will be possible. But I’m reading, considering, and appreciating every message, and Sharon and I are both very grateful as well for your financial support. Please keep your suggestions coming. I’ll write more later once I’ve gotten organized and considered the possibilities. Thanks again.
01/26/2015 I think we’re going to start by working on social media. The first thing to do is to establish a findable presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. If you control one of the existing Futility Closet accounts on those platforms, and would be willing to transfer it to us, please write to me. Thanks.
Both Futility Closet books — Futility Closet: An Idler’s Miscellany of Compendious Amusements and Futility Closet 2: A Second Trove of Intriguing Tidbits — are available now on Amazon. Perfect for chasing away winter doldrums or giving as solstice gifts. Thanks for your support!
Two puzzles from the new Futility Closet book are featured this week on the New York Times’ Numberplay blog. I’ll post the solutions and comment there on Friday. Many thanks to Gary Antonick for setting this up.
Both Futility Closet books are available now on Amazon, in paperback and as ebooks. Thanks for your support!
Futility Closet: An Idler’s Miscellany of Compendious Amusements and Futility Closet 2: A Second Trove of Intriguing Tidbits, are available now at Amazon. Both contain hundreds of hand-picked favorites from our 10-year archive of curiosities — perfect for your winter solstice peculiar-fact-sharing needs. Some sample items from the first book’s index:
gaiety, of bespectacled horses, 35
hallucination, useful in enlivening Bristol, 94
Nazis, poorly informed regarding Irish railway schedules, 36
chili sauce, and estate planning, 25
softball, at North Pole, 67
whinging, vaudevillian, placated, 86
corned beef sandwiches, weightless, 170
Nagel, Conrad, induced to reflect wearily upon his romantic choices, 116
Boing Boing founder Mark Frauenfelder says, “Futility Closet delivers concentrated doses of weird, wonderful, brain-stimulating ideas and anecdotes, curated mainly from forgotten old books. I’m hooked — there’s nothing quite like it!”
Just a reminder — the new Futility Closet book, Futility Closet 2: A Second Trove of Intriguing Tidbits, is available now at Amazon. It contains hundreds of hand-picked favorites from our 10-year archive of curiosities in history, literature, philosophy, mathematics, and art. Some sample items from the index:
communists, driving habits of, 73
trombones, and hair loss, 139
prayers, Canadian, private, whether, 179
James, Henry, not a refulgent fireball of novelistic rigor, 174
plunges, earthward, righted dangerously, 111
whales, exasperated, 193
Carroll, Lewis, beset by asparagus, 174
Story magazine, hard up for Ws, 19
Pair it with our first book, Futility Closet: An Idler’s Miscellany of Compendious Amusements, for twice the oddity!
Today marks the official launch of our new book, a collection of hundreds of hand-picked favorites from the site’s 10-year archive of the marvelous, the diverting, and the strange — the perfect gift for people who are impossible to buy gifts for, or for yourself!
Like the website, Futility Closet 2: A Second Trove of Intriguing Tidbits contains hundreds of entertaining oddities in history, literature, language, art, philosophy, and mathematics, plus scores of amusing inventions, curious words, and beguiling puzzles.
“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
Futility Closet 2 joins 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 most entertaining compendium of unusual knowledge.”
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!
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.]
This 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for your support, and thanks, as always, for reading!
Futility Closet is featured on the New York Times’ Numberplay blog this week, with a discussion of the necktie paradox.
Sorry about that downtime — we hit some database trouble. Should be okay now …
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!