The Weekender, March 6, 2021


I wanted to share a list of my twenty favorite movies with you this week. But … it’s not done. Not even close. The reason: I had to write it a different way than I write the typical newsletter, and I didn’t realize it until I had spent a lot of time going nowhere. And I learned a lot about how I write, and how to write, as a result.

The concept wasn’t the problem. The idea of a “top 20 movies” list is simple enough, to the point where my intro paragraph was/is “This doesn’t require an introduction, right? Oh: Spoilers ahead.” But I took a literally backward approach to writing it and need to redo it. I’m going to share my error here so, in case you want to do something similar for some reason, you don’t make my mistake.

As I said, my approach was “literally backward.” When I write these newsletters, I start with the beginning and ultimately work my way toward the end. That sounds obvious but it really shouldn’t be, and, for that matter, it shouldn’t necessarily be true. There’s no reason why I can’t have written a story by first drafting the main paragraphs and then come back to write an introduction and conclusion. (In fact, a lot of elementary school writing classes tell kids to do exactly that — main idea paragraphs first, intro and conclusion last.)  For the top 20 list, I went about it the same way. You’re going to read it starting with a paragraph or two about omissions, then #20, then #19, etc., all the way until #1. I was literally writing the list backward.

And it didn’t work. At all.

I was forgetting movies. I was ranking some way too high. I was ranking others way too low. I started to expand the list of movies that didn’t make the cut only to realize that there was at least a half-dozen that I liked a lot more than my #20. I expanded the list to 21. I expanded it to 22. I cut it back to 21. 

I gave up. For now.

What I should have done was started with my favorite movie or top few and then worked my way down the list. Sure, there’d be omissions along the way, but I could pretty easily insert them back in or expand the list as needed. Like, you know, how you’d do it if you were just talking with some friends. Or in other words, I should have written it the way I (or anyone, really) think about such lists, not about how I ultimately present it to the readers.

In hindsight, that’s an obvious takeaway. But sometimes you learn the hard way.

(And no, I’m not previewing the list here.)

The Now I Know Week in Review

MondaySquashing the Garden: A zoning law that doesn’t like kale.

TuesdayAttempted Mann-slaughter?: Can you murder that which isn’t alive?

Wednesday: Why Blue Means Stop in Hawaii: My favorite stop sign.

ThursdayArresting The Chief: A funny bit of Presidential history.

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads for the weekend.

1) “Five fishermen, a stormy night and £53m of cocaine: were the Freshwater Five wrongly convicted?” (The Guardian, April 2020). Few stories about people who are (potentially, in this case) wrongly convicted are about drug smuggling — typically, the evidence tells the story, right? A person or group is in possession of a lot of drugs, and the authorities catch them in the act. This case, though, is different.

2) “FAA Files Reveal a Surprising Threat to Airline Safety: the U.S. Military’s GPS Tests” (IEEE Spectrum, 11 minutes, January 2021). Normally, I don’t share things like this — the headline is probably unnecessarily alarmist and feels conspiratorial to a degree. The science here is really interesting and in-depth, and the publication is a well-regarded source for such scientific analysis, especially when it comes to electrical engineering and electronics in general. There’s nothing in the article that would stop me from getting on a plane, for what it’s worth. 

3) “How a 10-second video clip sold for $6.6 million” (Reuters, 7 minutes, March 2021). This is about NFTs. If you know what those are, you’ll find this interesting. If you don’t, you should read this to find out. 

Have a great weekend!