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Must Pop Topics! (Or, Why I Can Write Lots About Google Wave, and Not Much About the Rest of the World)

There's a game I just discovered from the excellent game collection over at Good Experience called Must Pop Words.

The idea is that a bunch of letters in balls float down to the bottom of a window, and you have to type words from those letters. At first they float slowly, and then they speed up. If you get to 50 balls, you lose. As Mark Hurst describes it, it's a combination of Tetris and Boggle.

The interesting thing is that I do much better when there are only a few balls, around seven or so. Once I get up to 35 or more balls it gets really hard. You would think it would be the opposite because there are geometrically more words that would be available with 35 letters.

I just finished reading How We Decide, the excellent book that draws in all the latest in neuroscience to help understand how the brain works, especially when it comes to making decisions.

One of the experiments that the author reviewed had to do with choosing a car. I don't have it in front of me, so I'm probably going to butcher this, but I think it went like this: 

Some subjects were asked to pick the best car, and they were given four variables for each of four cars. Some of them were asked to study the grid, and then announce what they thought was the best car. Some others were distracted after studying the list, and then were asked in the midst of distraction for the best choice, just using "gut instinct." 

The group that was not distracted picked the best car based on the four variables. Makes sense.

Then, a different group was asked to study a list of four cars, but for this group there were 16 variables. Again one part of this group was asked to study the list and then without distraction they were asked to announce their pick of the best car. The other part of this group was distracted, and then had to pick using a "gut instinct." Here the results flipped. The ones who got to study picked wrong; it's just impossible to keep 16x4 things in the rational part of your head all at the same time.

The emotional part of your brain -- the one that makes the "gut instinct" kind of decisions -- can keep track in some way so the people in this section way more often picked the car that had the largest number of better variables.

Picking a car, however, is way different from trying to form a word. Our emotional brain can make good decisions, but it can't pick words out of letters. I think that is why I stumble in that game when I have more good choices.

Now, why am I writing about this game?

Because it's interesting, to be sure, but also because of something I've been experiencing this week.

In my spare time I'm writing for I started with one topic: New Technology. Then I wrote so many articles in that section about Google Wave, that with the help and encouragement of an old friend over at, I ended up starting a whole section devoted to Google Wave News.

Writing about Google Wave I have been unusually prolific, especially since I do most of my writing before breakfast.

But about "New Technology" my production has slipped. A lot.

I think it's because it's like the ball thing. With Wave there is plenty to write about, but really the choices are somewhat limited for a newfangled kind of a communication tool that's been used by, maybe, 0.000001 percent of the world's population.

"New Technology" just has so many possibilities, it's nearly impossible to choose with a rational brain. So, I'll do my best, but the best decisions may be the emotional ones and not the rational ones.

Douthat's Ignoble Nobel Blunder

I try not to comment about the New York Times, but for some reason I tripped across this story from Ross Douthat with the unfortunate headline: Heckuva Job, Barack. The first thing any conservative needs to know is that comparing President Obama to the guy who so badly mishandled hurricane recovery in New Orleans is only going to set your argument back.

Maybe some liberal copy editor slipped that headline past him.

Douthat based a his whole column on the notion that President Obama should have somehow managed to reject the Nobel.

Now I understand that the president is very powerful, but if he could swing largely symbolic European things his way he would have convinced the IOC to bring the Olympics to Chicago.

The Nobel is even less substantial, and I'm sure there's no way that he could have talked his way out of it.

One of my favorite books is from Richard Feynman, the physicist who's work spanned from Einstein to the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion. 

IN that book, he wrote that he wished he could have gotten out of accepting the Nobel, but learned there was no way to do it.

(He wrote about that here, but the preview is missing the page that talks specifically about how he wanted to reject the prize. He discussed the idea of that with a reporter, and that reporter explained to him (in a phone call just after he learned he got the prize at 3:30 a.m.) that it would be a bigger deal to reject it than to get it. So he accepted the prize and spent much of the rest of his life making elaborate plans so that nobody would ever know that a Nobel-winner was going to be making a speech about physics.)

The Nobel prize has made it harder for the president to get his agenda done in the US, and anyone who knows 10 cents worth of domestic politics would have predicted that. The Nobel committee may be great at picking out really good books that I won't be reading, but they only have about a nickel's worth of sense about politics in the US.

Greatest Day of's Life!

I'm spending much of the day at the DemoGala event in downtown Denver. I'll be reporting on it for the Examiner soon enough, but I first have to say that this is the greatest day in the life of

No, not my life, my domain's life. 

You see, I have a card with the domain on it, and that's it. The picture you see above is the whole image on the card. Kind of a minimalist thing that I thought was kind of cool. Turns out that for most people... not so much. They just look at it, and then look at me. Some people are genuinely annoyed.

But not the people at this all-technical event today. They all love it.

The best reaction so far came from the incomparable Adeo Ressi. He's the guy behind two of the great ideas of the last few years: TheFunded and the Founder Institute. He and I have communicated about another potential project a few times, but today was the first time we'd met in person. When he had to go off to speak, he asked for my card. I handed it to him and he said it was the greatest card he'd ever seen. "This makes it worth the trip to Denver!"

Then he went to speak and I went off to a different session hosted by Examiner COO Dave Schafer. Why? Because I said I would, and because Schafer and I long ago toiled side-by-side at an actual newspaper printed on real paper. It was actually an excellent panel with Matt Cohen of OneSpot, Boulder and BDNT's own Robert Reich from OneRiot and the very impressive Lisa Stone of BlogHer. (I'm a sucker for journalists turned entrepreneurs.)

Anyway, one of my spies (I have them everywhere!) told me that Adeo held up my card during his speech, and said it was great, and then he called me a jack-ass because I didn't come to his speech.

To be called a jack-ass by Ressi. Man, if that's not awesome I don't know what is.

Google Wave Scams, Why can't we all just get along?

There's a lot of interest in something, so there the scammers go. Can't they just stick to photos of pop stars?

Anyway, here's a complete guide to the Google Wave scams.

As so often happens, there's a quote from Casablanca that's perfectly apropos.

"This place is full of vultures. Vultures everywhere."

(That link may not work for everyone just yet, it's from a startup called AnyClip that I'm trying. It's pretty great.)