Eight Winter Nights: A Family Hanukkah Book
by Laura Krauss Melmed, illustrated by Elisabeth Schlossberg
©2010 Chronicle Books
What is most notable about Eight Winter Nights is the atmosphere of Chanuka that it evokes — the illustrations are simultaneously soft and vibrant, creating a safe, happy visual environment that my two younger children (3 and 5) were happy to be drawn into.
Eight Winter Nights is not a storybook, it is a series of little rhymes strung together loosely like beads where the string is the procession from the first to the eighth night of Chanuka.
On a first level, the book reviews the most common holiday customs and activities a child can expect to experience in a Chanuka week — dreidels, menorahs, cousins coming over, music, gifts, traditional holiday foods. As a way of gently preparing the littlest ones for a holiday they are too young to remember from years past, this works well.
On a second level, the rhyming couplets and friendly illustrations depict a comfortable, secure, even nostalgic Chanuka spent with family. What I liked best was the focus on time together reading, singing, playing and cleaning up the house, rather than on getting presents. (”Opening Presents” appears only on the seventh night, paired with “Tzedakah” [Charity] — a subtle expression of non-materialistic values which I appreciate.)
Eight Winter Nights won’t win any awards for its poetry, and the occasional burst of whimsy shoots right over the heads of my in-house preschool audience. That said, the kids found the rhymes a relaxing accompaniment to the delightful illustrations, and wanted to hear the book again — a sure sign of success.
The publisher is recommending this book for ages 4-8; in my judgement, the book works well as a Chanuka experience for children 1-4 years old (older children will be underwhelmed by the text).
Eight Winter Nights: A Family Hanukkah Book makes a good choice as a gift for a family with small children, especially as it is written without preference to any stream of Judaism.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary review copy of Eight Winter Nights from the publisher, Chronicle Books.
Favorite books on decision-making:
How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (Collins Business Essentials) by Robert Cialdini
The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar
See What I’m Saying: The Extraordinary Powers of Our Five Senses by Lawrence Rosenblum
The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz
Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande
Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping by Paco Underhill
Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
Fear No Evil by Natan Sharansky
Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
(Note: I recommend reading the first half of this book; after that, it gets pretty repetitious.)
I was using Wite-Out® today for the first time in years. As I painted out type, I thought for a moment what it might have been like to be a Wite-Out product manager 10 years ago. Imagine asking the user experience question: What bothers Wite-Out users about Wite-Out? What can we improve? The immediate replies that came to mind:
- Waiting for the Wite-Out to dry
- Clumpy application of the correction fluid after the first use; the fluid dries and sticks to the brush and the neck of the bottle
- Having to paint over the same words two or three times because they show through even after the first application
- The smell (some people like it, some hate it)
What jumps out here is that improvement in any one of the first three areas will have a negative impact on one or two of the others. If Wite-Out dried faster, it would dry (and clump up) on the bottle and brush applicator faster. If it clumped less, it would take more time to dry; it would also be a thinner fluid that would be less opaque once the liquid evaporated.It’s a no-win scenario, which is probably why there were no major changes in Wite-Out technology over the first 20 years of my life: the product designers had found the best balance — or perhaps the least-bad compromise — between drying quickly and maintaining wetness (smoothness), and were sticking to it. But it must have been frustrating if you were trying to make a better product and increase market share.I popped over to Bic’s Wite-Out site to have a look. Guess what? As of 1994, there are four different formulations of fluid Wite-Out: Quick Dry, Super Smooth, Extra Coverage and Water Base (low odor). Hm.I suppose a cynic might say that there are four different packages for the same product, and the formulation label just panders to the public’s varying degrees of Wite-Out insecurity. In fact, the proliferation of Wite-Out recipes reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell’s classic statement from Howard Moskowitz that “There is no perfect spaghetti sauce. There are only perfect spaghetti sauces.” In The Ketchup Conundrum, Gladwell expresses it thus:
The answer appeared almost immediately: a specific recipe that, according to Moskowitz’s data, produced a score of 78 from the people in Segment 1. But that same formulation didn’t do nearly as well with those in Segment 2 and Segment 3. They scored it 67 and 57, respectively. Moskowitz started again, this time asking the computer to optimize for Segment 2. This time the ratings came in at 82, but now Segment 1 had fallen ten points, to 68. “See what happens?” he said. ”If I make one group happier, I piss off another group. We did this for coffee with General Foods, and we found that if you create only one product the best you can get across all the segments is a 60—if you’re lucky. That’s if you were to treat everybody as one big happy family. But if I do the sensory segmentation, I can get 70, 71, 72. Is that big? Ahhh. It’s a very big difference. In coffee, a 71 is something you’ll die for.”
I’m guessing that a similar process went on at Bic: if you can’t actually improve a product’s features without making some other problem even more annoying, then instead of finding a compromise balance (as was done historically), optimize for each problem separately. Voila! Four kinds of Wite-Out.Of course, you can then go ask Barry Schwartz why having four correction fluid options won’t make your life happier…P.S.: I just realized that Wite-Out also now has a sponge-wedge tip instead of that inconvenient shaggy bristle tip. Nice!
- Of, relating to, or of the nature of an illation.
- Expressing or preceding an inference. Used of a word.
- Of, relating to, or being a grammatical case indicating motion toward or into in some languages, as in Finnish Helsinkiin, ”to Helsinki.”
“Yet the immediate effect of these speeches [of Churchill’s] on the British people was limited. Their effect was cumulative (or, to use Cardinal Newman’s favorite adjective, illative).”
It’s an interesting use, since in this context, illative implies a significant effect produced by a prior accumulation of insignificant impacts, whereas the dictionary definition suggests a subtler manipulation.
Lovers of language, unite!Back in December 2007, I quoted a passage from The Meaning of Tingo, by Adam Jacot de Boinod. Tingo is a book I enjoy dipping into; discovering words from other cultures that express a novel viewpoint is always delightful.So I was pleased to hear from Adam the other day, telling me about his new book, The Wonder of Whiffling, which discovers words from the English language as its usage has evolved around the world:
Discover all sorts of words you’ve always wished existed but never knew, such as fornale, to spend one’s money before it has been earned; cagg, a solemn vow or resolution not to get drunk for a certain time; and petrichor, the pleasant smell that accompanies the first rain after a dry spell.
Even better, there’s a blog at the book’s web page with some interesting word discussions.And even better than that, you can follow @wonderwhiffling on Twitter, and get words delivered right into your Twitter feed. For example, the three most recent tweets:
NEW WORD: tyromancy (1652) fortune telling by watching cheese coagulate
new phrase: ash cash (UK slang 1989) a fee paid to a doctor for signing a cremation form
today’s word: pingle (Suffolk) to move food about on the plate for want of an appetite
Today is Day 2 of the Google Books game. The game is a brilliant way of exposing new users of Google Books to the service, and to spread the word about the service.It’s also fun!
Play the 10 Days in Google Books gameWelcome to the world of books! The 10 Days in Google Books game consists of 5 questions per day, each day with a different theme. Find the answers using Google Books!Daily PrizesEvery day is a new chance to win. Here’s how: after you answer today’s questions, write a brief creative entry on the topic of books. Each day, the top 3 submissions will win Sony Readers. The first 20,000 people to play the game will also get Google Books laptop stickers.
An interesting twist to the game is that you also have to provide a 50-word entry with your take on the future of books and reading. It’s this blurb that is considered when they choose their Sony Reader winners.
The sensory experience of the context, geography and tactile feel of the book as it meshes with the story is not replaceable. We’ll use ebooks, smartphones for reference and mobile purposes. But for pleasure, we’ll have reusable folios instantly printed from online downloads. The best of both worlds!
What do you think the future of books will look like?
Thanks to Michael Danziger for the tip.
Just a quick service announcement for those of you tracking my reading list. I’ve updated the right margin with the titles from my night-table stack, so it’s up-to-date again. Happy Reading!
In my previous post on Cover Flow, I wondered:
“The problem of losing your own “long tail” of media files really interests me. It seems to me to be connected to the greater culture of social media / viral marketing / user ratings, where things “float to the top” based on popularity. “Floating” promotes quick discovery and direct access.
“[…] what happens to the 80% or 90% or even 99% of products/files that don’t appear in the Most Popular lists? Do they get discovered? Even within your own little digital galaxy of computer, iPod, cell phone, etc., you can create your own Most Popular lists (“Recently Viewed”, “Most Frequently Listened To”, “Recent Calls”) that both speed your access to favorite data and impair your reach to the other stuff. Your favorite old songs, books, or art may slide down through the ranking system over time, effectively erasing the value of ownership.”
Yesterday, I came across a related idea in Nudge (a book I highly recommend):
“Consider some evidence involving music downloads. Matthew Salganik and his coauthors (2006) created an artificial music market, with 14,341 participants who were visitors to a Web site popular with young people. The participants were given a list of previously unknown songs from unknown bands. They were asked to listen to a brief selection of any songs that interested them, to decide which songs (if any) to download, and to assign a rating to the songs they chose. About half of the participants were asked to make their decisions independently, based on the names of the bands and the songs and their own judgment about the quality of the music. The other half could see how many times each song had been downloaded by other participants. […]
“Were people nudged by what other people did? There is not the slightest doubt. […] individuals were far more likely to download songs that had been previously downloaded in significant numbers, and far less likely to download songs that had not been as popular. Most strikingly, the success of songs was quite unpredictable, and the songs that did well or poorly in the control group, where people did not see other people’s judgments, could perform very differently in the “social influence worlds.” In those worlds, most songs could become popular or unpopular, with much depending on the choices of the first downloaders. The identical song could be a hit or a failure simply because other people, at the start, were seen to choose to have downloaded it or not.”
This has to make you wonder if the music business is changing even more drastically than we’d assumed. Everyone knows that music is sold online now. There are fewer CDs and more Music Store downloads; fewer full albums, and more singles. Let’s not even touch the issue of music piracy.
But is there a skew in the number of singles being sold? In other words, are more copies of fewer songs making it big? This would seem to be the logical result of buying music online, in the context of “social influence worlds” of iTunes & Co. What’s startling is that this result implies a far more drastic curve than the oft-predicted Long Tail. The Long Tail assumes that there is a statistically meaningful market “under the tail”, and that the internet makes it both possible and economically practical to find and distribute accordingly.
If, however, the internet’s effect on media (of any type) is to drive the peak higher and flatten the Long Tail yet further, will there be adequate incentive to populate that Tail with marketable media — with niche books, niche music, niche applications? What will this mean for those who create content; recording artists, writers, programmers? Will it become just too hard to be discovered?
Quincunx: An arrangement of [typically five] objects in a square or rectangle, with one at each corner and one in the middle, like the five spots on dice (from the Latin for “five-twelfths”).
Now there’s a word I don’t remember ever seeing before, and certainly have never heard spoken (seen now in Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, in the context of Galton’s mechanical experiments on Gaussian curve formation). Quincunx. It sounds like a hiding place for Lord Voldemort.