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HLG Notebook | August 2013

1. 3D Printers: Don’t Try This At Home

Ars Technica‘s Lee Hutchinson has written a must-read, first-hand account on what it’s like to use 3D printers. Ostensibly a product review, this blow-by-blow account details the frustrations, disappointments, and failures of this highly touted technology. And it quickly lets the air out of the ” second industrial revolution” balloon:

In spite of their impressive names, these are not Star Trek-style replicators. These are machines that extrude thin tubes of plastic and draw shapes layer by layer. They are hot, noisy, and slow. They take hours to make small designs, and every moment that they’re running is punctuated by the musical robot noise of shifting stepper motors.

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2. How to Give a Speech About Television

No one will be surprised that an accomplished actor like Kevin Spacey knows how to talk on stage. And very few will be roused by his thesis – that creative people, and not finance, are the driving force of top entertainment.

But Spacey’s recent McTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh Festival is a tour-de-force of speech-making. Even at 45 minutes, the structure of his argument is built with pinpoint precision, and the speech is, from beginning to end, a masterful blend of personal anecdote, insider gossip, self-mocking humor, and convincing data.

Two highlights: near the beginning, as Spacey recounts Jack Lemmon’s influence. And at 35-minute mark, where he bursts the myth of this generation’s short attention span by pointing out that viewers are routinely taking in an entire TV series “three times the length of an opera” in a single weekend. Worth watching in full.back to top

3. The Hype of Hyperloop

Pedestrian Observations, a surprisingly readable blog on public transportation, argues that most reactions to Elon Musk’s proposal for a high-speed rail “hyperloop” between LA and San Francisco have been little more than “stenography.” The blog goes on to offer some very welcome second thoughts about the feasibility of the entire enterprise:

My specific problems are that Hyperloop a) made up the cost projections, b) has awful passenger comfort, c) has very little capacity, and d) lies about energy consumption of conventional HSR. All of these come from Musk’s complex in which he must reinvent everything and ignore prior work done in the field; these also raise doubts about the systems safety that he claims is impeccable.

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4. Elmore Leonard’s Rules of Writing

Elmore Leonard, author of countless funny, cynical crime novels, died this month. As a sidebar to his obituary, The New York Times republished Leonard’s 2001 column on “rules for writing.” Though mostly for novelists, it does offer some broader advice. Rule #3, for example:

Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with ”she asseverated,” and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.

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5. The Search for the Perfect Boarding Process

Interesting report on the psychology and economics of how airlines design the passenger boarding process. Though painfully familiar to business travelers everywhere, this NPR report suggests United may have figured something out:

United reduced the number of boarding groups from seven to five while adding lanes in gate areas – from two to five at big airports. That’s designed to eliminate “gate lice” – the name that road warriors use for those anxious passengers with big carry-ons who cause a traffic jam by creeping forward long before their group is called.

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6. Another Screed About Working Too Hard

Every August, a loose group of academics and Europeans seem to emerge, armed with new data demonstrating that Americans are suffering from “an epidemic of overwork.” They’re at it again, and this time their knives are out for email, long meetings, and the culture that produced Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. Nonetheless, this column in The Economist features some of the best quotes on the virtues of laziness, including Peter Drucker’s advice about how to respond to outside requests:

One of the secrets of productivity is to have a very big waste-paper basket to take care of all invitations such as yours.

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