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Tag: books

Stop being confused and confounded by currency figures in old movies and books! This new “inflation adjustment” movie-and-book currency calculator will solve all of your narrative befuddlement.

Background:

In many movies and books, a financial amount is discussed at some point. For example, a character may remark that a heist “could be worth 100,000 florins” or “the estate had fallen on hard times, and now generated only 576 denarii annually.”

The issue:

Is the amount discussed above a lot of money? Or is it a paltry sum? Who knows!

This can be both narratively confusing: e.g. in a situation where an outlaw spends a week scheming to pull off a stagecoach robbery and then gets a $500 share in the ill-gotten goods. Are we, the readers, supposed to think that the outlaw has done well for himself, or is that amount equivalent to a week of work sweeping floors in the saloon?

Proposal:

Movies should have the option to pop up an inflation-adjusted and currency-adjusted figure (Figure 1) for any amounts of money mentioned by the characters.

1-treasure-inflation-adjust.png

Fig. 1: If a bunch of characters in the Old West are murdering each other over a treasure, it would be nice for the viewer to understand the value of the treasure: is it actually worth something, or are the characters murdering each other over something valueless? Narratively, it could work either way, but it would be useful to know what the intended interpretation is!

Similarly, e-books could easily have an option to display the current modern inflation-and-currency-adjusted value (Figure 2) of any mentioned quantities.

 

2-book-inflation-adjust.png

Fig. 2: Books that are set hundreds of years in the past often discuss currencies that no longer exist. This can be difficult for a modern reader: is a “ryō” a lot of money? What is a “ducat,” anyway? Here, the obsolete foreign currencies are converted to a modern equivalent.

Conclusion:

This would also provide an excuse for book and movie publishers to periodically update their works. “Oh, you have the 2014 copy of Price & Prejudice? We’ve updated it with the new 2020 inflation figures—you should really re-order 100 new copies for the school library. Isn’t it important that students have access to quality educational materials?”

PROS: Helps the reader properly interpret a narrative with more complete information.

CONS: Actually performing the adjustment may be difficult. For example, if a high-quality Viking canoe is valued at “ten steel hammers and ten yards of cloth,” should we naively translate that to the modern cost of such things—e.g. approximately $140 in 2020 dollars?

The secret of SMART JUSTIFIED columns of text. This strange formatting tip will make ONE HUNDRED TIMES more employers look at your resume! Stop formatting your resume so amateurishly, and await your reward of gold and rubies from your future employer.

Background:

Columns of text in a book or newspaper are generally formatted in the fully justified style (Figure 1), where the text always lines up exactly on both the left and right edges.

justify-text-icon

Fig. 1: The “justify text” button (circled in red) can be found in nearly every text editor.

The issue:

Justified text works well if columns are wide and there are a lot of words to fill out each line.

But it becomes aesthetically dubious if the columns are narrow or there aren’t enough words, which result in either:

  • Extremely wide spaces between words if there are too few words (example: “this______column”)

or

  • Excessive spacing between letters if there is only one word (example: “c__o__l__u__m__n”)

In the worst-case scenario, a column of text may look like:

  • This____is_____a
  • n__a__r__r__o__w
  • c__o__l__u__m__n.

See figure 2 for a comparison of fully-justified text and ragged-edge (flush left) text.

justify-text-heres-the-problem.png

Fig. 2: Part A (left) shows a few problems with fully-justified text: “the age of” has excessive spacing and the between-letter spacing in “w i s d o m” is aesthetically questionable. Unfortunately, the ragged edge of the text in part B (formatted as “flush left / ragged right”) is not a huge improvement either.

Previously, a publisher would at least know how wide a column of text would be, so they could manually adjust the text to fit in an aesthetically-appealing fashion.

But with modern web pages and e-books, font sizes and column widths can be changed by the user—so there’s no way for a publisher to plan around it.

Proposal:

This problem can be fixed by using semantically-aware SMART justification to make each line of text an optimal length.

This is accomplished as follows:

If a line of text is too short, it can be lengthened by the following steps:

  • Add meaningless filler words (e.g. “um,” “like,” “basically,” “you know”)
  • Add superfluous adjectives (like “very” or “extremely”)
  • Replace words with longer synonyms (e.g. “rain -> precipitation”—this can also be used in reverse to shorten a line)
  • Replace pronounces with their antecedent (e.g. “her scepter” -> “Queen Elizabeth’s scepter”)

Figure 3 shows the performance of each method of text justification. The “meaning-aware SMART justification” is the only method that avoids ragged edges while also keeping a fixed amount of whitespace between words.

justify-text-annotated

Fig. 3: Left: a traditional example of fully-justified text. Middle: flush-left text, with an unappealing ragged right edge. Right: the vastly improved “smart” justification method, which has been recently made possible by advances in computational technology and machine learning.

Application of this method to famous books:

  • Original: “But man is not made for defeat,” he said. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” (The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway)
  • Modified with superfluous filler words and synonyms:  “But man is, generally, not made for defeat,” he stated. “Basically, a man can be destroyed but, as you know, not forced to surrender.” 

 

  • Original: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” (1984, Orwell)
  • Modified:  “War is peace. Additionally, the state of freedom is slavery. Finally, in conclusion, ignorance is strength, it must be admitted.”

 

  • Original: “In general, people only ask for advice that they may not follow it; or, if they should follow it, that they may have somebody to blame for having given it”.” (The Three Musketeers, Dumas)
  • Modified: “In general, people only make a request for suggestions, that those same people may not abide by it. Or, if they should in fact follow it, that those people may have somebody to blame or hold responsible for having given it”.” 

 

PROS: This is the ONLY text-formatting method that both 1) preserves inter-word spacing AND 2) aligns text in neat columns.

CONS: None!

Nine (9) insane books that you read in high school with TWIST ENDINGS that leave you speechless! Or, a way of bringing excitement back to classic literature.

Background:

When reading any book, there’s an unavoidable spoiler: the number of pages left in the book!

Specifically, the number of remaining pages gives you a strong clue as to how the narrative is going to go. If you are only 25% of the way through a book, but the main character is dangling from a sheer cliff, odds are that the character is going to survive. This substantially reduces the tension. (Note: exceptions exist, such as Game of Thrones.)

This also applies to movies—if there’s still 90 minutes left in a film, you can be pretty sure that whatever plan the protagonists are up to is not going to resolve without any complications.

Proposal:

Here are two proposals to fix this “length spoiler” issue:

First Proposal: Add blank pages to a book to hide the location of the ending

Fortunately, we can easily maintain the narrative excitement and tension with just one weird trick! All that is necessary is:

1. For a book, pad out the book with a substantial number of blank or plot-irrelevant pages, so the reader won’t know where the plot ends. (This approach was inadvertently done in the third Lord of the Rings book (Return of the King) by J.R.R. Tolkien: the book’s plot ends at the 75% mark. It is then followed by an extensive set of appendices such as “Appendix D: Calendars: Shire Calendar for use in all years”).

2. For a movie, include many minutes (or hours!) of still frames at the end of the film, so that the the remaining length is not immediately obvious if you pause the video. (Or you could watch the movie on VHS.)

Second Proposal: Publish multiple variants of each book, with hasty resolutions

So the problem with the first proposal is that if a book is to follow certain narrative structures, we still know that certain things will happen—the hero won’t just stay home in the first act.

But with modern technology, we can now provide variants of books (and movies) where different events occur, prematurely ending the plot.

Then, the reader can’t use their meta-knowledge of how narratives are normally constructed—the book could end unpredictably at any time! (See the Conan-the-Barbarian-inspired example in Fig. 1).

failurebookFig. 1: The blank pages hide the fact that the narrative actually ends on page 206. The savvy reader, seeing hundreds of remaining pages, probably assumes that the story is going to continue, but it is not so!

Additional Examples of “early book endings”:

The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien), alternative early ending:

There he lay, a vast red-golden dragon, fast asleep; thrumming came from his jaws and nostrils, and wisps of smoke, but his fires were low in slumber, until they roared up in an instant, incinerating the burgling hobbit before he could even recognize the danger.

~ THE END ~

(124 blank pages follow)

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (J.K. Rowling), alternative early ending

They inched toward the message, eyes fixed on a dark shadow beneath it. All three of them realized what it was at once, and leapt backward with a splash. Mrs. Norris, the caretaker’s cat, was hanging by her tail from the torch bracket. She was stiff as a board, her eyes wide and staring. 

For a few seconds, they didn’t move. Then Ron said, “Let’s get out of here.”

Later, the trio transferred to a much less dangerous boarding school in New Hampshire.

~ THE END ~

(144 blank pages follow)

Solution to the main problem with this approach:

Since there will be dozens of variants of the book (with premature endings at different spots), different readers may actually get different versions of the book.

In order to prevent readers who got one of the “early ending” copies of the book from being unsatisfied with the book due to the poor conclusion, the publisher would make the second half of the book available online for free, so that even the unlucky readers can still experience the full narrative.

booktreeFig 2: An example of how the narrative could be constructed. Perhaps point “F” is the book’s original ending: now we just need to hire a few fan fiction authors to fill out endings A, B, C, D, E, J, G, H, and I, and we’ll have all the benefits of a Choose Your Own Adventure (™) book with the literary merits of the finest fiction.

Note that this specific example may be overly expensive due to the extremely early divergence in plot between the (A, B, C, D, E) branch and the (F, G, J, I, J) branch. For economic reasons, probably only one of those branches should be included—otherwise there are essentially two totally different books being written here.

Current state of the art:

The application of divergent and/or user-selected narratives has been long neglected, with the only recent noteworthy examples being the Shakespeare-inspired “Romeo And/Or Juliet” (http://romeoandorjuliet.com/) and “To Be or Not To Be” (Hamlet) (https://www.amazon.com/Be-Not-Ryan-North/dp/0982853742), both by Ryan North of “Dinosaur Comics” fame.

PROS: Adds much-needed dramatic tension to formulaic plots!

CONS: Does not work with non-fiction.