How to Give an Excellent Wedding Toast

It’s wedding season, you may be called upon to give a toast. Allow me to suggest that you:

  1. Be Brief – I cannot remember a toast that was too brief.  I’m sure it’s possible, but I can’t remember one.  Even the mother of the groom or some other important person can give a powerful complete toast with three strong sentences.
  2. Honor the Importance of the Event – You may go to four weddings this year (I have eight) but the people getting married are hoping this is their only bite at the apple, or at least their last bite at the apple. Put a little time into thinking about what you will say, and say it in a respectful way.
  3. Joke Less and be more Sincere – I’m sure people will disagree with this, but if you’re toasting your friend or son saying something like, “He was a great friend or son” will usually be true and never be awkward. If they farted one time, it might be hard to convey the humor or set the scene appropriately. You may tell a joke 0r share an anecdote, but only if it fits the toast. You do not have to say anything funny.
  4. Actually Write the Toast Down – If you are worried about the speech at all and you want it to be good and short, the pen is your friend.  Even if you just have a brief anecdote to share any writing or pre-toast preparation will cut out a lot of  “umms” which are a natural part of amateur public speaking. If you have a lot to say write it out then take out the parts that are second best.
  5. Not Describe Writing the Toast During the Toast – So boring.
  6. Cry if you Need to – If you’re being sincere and focused on the couple it just adds power to the speech.
  7. Don’t Talk about Yourself Too Much – You aren’t getting married. They are getting married.  Talk about them. This is a hard rule for me to follow, but the logic behind it is sound: you aren’t getting married. They are getting married.  Talk about them.*



*This is what I’m talking about when I say three strong sentences.

The Possibility of Free Will

It is difficult to exercise the will without believing in it.

If a person does not believe that she has free will, how can she steer herself in her life? The hopelessness of it is overwhelming.  Even if free will does exist, if one does not believe in it he can not access it. Because the power of self-determination is only as strong as the belief that by striving, working or paying attention, one can have some effect over the outcome of one’s life.

Therefore, we must act as if we are not simply subject to our impulses, circumstances or habits, if we are ever going to master them. Believing that you could control your life is a necessary (though not sufficient) condition to controlling your life.

Summer Reading List

Apparently, people read more in the summer. Maybe it’s because they are students or educators, maybe nice weather gets people out from behind their computers, or maybe on the beach a book is better YouTube – whatever the reason is, yay reading!

Book Things


Robert Heinlein knew that engineers were inspiring super-heroic figures, who should be the protagonists of science fiction books (and while Heinlein’s politics are in many ways the opposite of Cory Doctorow’s) Makers is a great book in the tradition of heroic engineers. It takes many of the technologies on the cusp of existence today* and puts an adventure on their terms; terms by which we will all soon live. This book is so readable you could finish it in a day and so full you could spend the next day reading it again and count that day as happy and productive.

King Killer Chronicles: Volume 1 The Name of the Wind

You know that Game of Thrones is great (If you didn’t it’s great. If you like political intrigue, read it.  If you like war epics, if you have the stomach for good guys getting shit on every once in a while, you will love it.) It takes real critical bravery to recommend a slightly lesser known, critically beloved best seller.

Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind follows a cocky jack-of-all-trades who ends up getting as good as he gives. It’s funny. It’s scary. It’s large scale.  After writing this I realized I have already written a longer review of this so whoops.  Anyway friendly reminder, this exists and is good.**

The World’s Strongest Librarian 

I also just reviewed this, but the quick and dirty recap is: it’s an autobiography about trying to be a Mormon, read a lot of books, lift a lot of weights when you’ve got bad bad Tourettes. Sorry that’s so reductive Josh, but the book is real good.

The Power omakersf Habit

I’m reading this now, and I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s already changed the way I think about most of the things I do in a given day.  Aristotle did the best thinking on habit when he said, “Guard your habits for they become your character.”*** But, the second best thinking is Charles Duhigg’s. Whether you’re triying to get your university to run better or trying to eat fewer Cheetos it’s hard to find a more useful and engaging book.

The Rent is Too Damn High

Cities should be denser. People live too far away from each other and we waste too much of our lives driving back and forth.  This sprawl makes us poorer in a hundered ways.  Read this book by Mathew Yglesias then send it to your alderwoman or alderman.

Internet Things 

Doing frivolous things on the web is my most pernicious habit, and I expect the same is true for people who read these recommendations. So I hesititate to send anyone around the internet for entertainment.  I say that to say this, these things are so deserving of your time, they’re worth the temptation of the Lotus-Eater-Island that is online amusement.****

The Idea Channel

This is a fantastic series of videos about modern life and culture produced by PBS. Sounds boring right? It’s not I promise.  It’s fast and funny, but accessible enough that clever 10-year-olds could enjoy it a lot.  I recently some of The Idea Channel’s videos to my father (a professor) because I thought it would be a useful source of inspiration for someone trying to write engaging lectures. The best thing I can say about The Idea Channel, or probably anything, is that it is not dumb. The Idea Channel is terrifically not dumb.


Mr Money Mustache

“Don’t spend more money than you make.” That’s a nice thing to do/aspire to, but the many ways to achieve that goal are rarely more simply and entertainingly put than they are by Mr Mustache.  I can honestly say that the blog has changed my thinking and more importantly changed my actions.

There are a bunch of other things I’d like to recommend but these are the best of the best.

OK actually here are a few more things I will recommend: Jason Aaron’s Scalped, riding a bike, Seth Godin’s podcast, OakMark International Fund, XKCD, buying things used, and Lake Street Dive.



* There’s a lot about the implications of 3D printers, that do exist, but were barely visible on the horizon when this book came out in 2009. It’s best thinking I’ve seen on the subject.

** Also there’s a sequel and it’s going to be a trilogy, so fair warning, you may get sucked into a beautiful story and have a more rewarding life if you start reading this.

*** Aristotle’s writing on habit from the Nicomachean Ethics is often distilled to this paraphrase: Guard your thoughts because your thoughts become your actions, guard your actions because they will become you habits, guard your habits because they become your character, guard your character because it will become your life. This paraphrase while bumper sticker appropriate, does not appear in the Nicomachean Ethics which while seminal and beautifully considered, if we are being honest we can admit, is dry and slow. The best quote  on the relationship between habit and character is this “In a word, all habits are formed by acts of like nature themselves and hence it becomes our duty to see that our acts are of a right character. For as our acts vary, our habits will follow their course. It makes no little difference, then, to what kind of habituation we are subjected from our youth up; but it is on the contrary a matter that is important to us, or rather all important.”

****As I read this passage again it sounds very techno-skeptical. That does not reflect my real position here.  I love the internet it has brought so much joy, knowledge and social interaction into my life that I find it hard to remember the world that existed before it.  That said, there’s some truth to the “You’re welcome, I’m sorry.” thing from Reddit. {{Citation needed}}