On Distracting Fiction

The Arthur Conan Doyle stories about Sherlock Holmes have proven an attractive framework for modern writers. The Sherlockian template incorporates an 1880s setting in England, a rational-but-aloof genius who has extraordinary powers of observation, an educated sidekick who doesn’t connect the dots as quickly, a motherly landlady, a police inspector with unreliable superiors and, from the shadows, an evil genius managing a vast criminal enterprise.

The modern takeoffs from the Sherlockian template usually add a very capable young woman at the center of the story who has modern ideas about women’s work. One sees a feminist pioneer struggling in a traditional setting where chaperones are mandatory, divorce is rare, 'respectable' women do not work, and where they are seldom educated and thus assumed not to be competent at non-household endeavors such as managing an inheritance or a business. MORE...

Keeping Conversations Quiet

Whether or not one knows its name, we are all familiar with the “Cocktail Party Effect”: the tendency for room noise to get louder and louder as one table after another raises their voices to be heard over speech from other tables. Should a server drop a tray, conversation stops, resumes quietly, and then starts escalating again. We begin leaning towards our conversational partner and shouting.

This is now dangerous, thanks to how raising your voice can disperse four times as many virus particles. And getting closer to your conversational partner only makes it more likely they will be infected by any virus you are unknowingly spreading. MORE...