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If You’re Feeling Despair

Handling negative emotions

If your faith in our country and our people is shaken, if you see this terrible reversal as a catastrophe about which you can do nothing, please remember: now you are needed in a way you would never have been needed if nothing had gone wrong. We need your good efforts, your willingness to work to uphold what is right and what is compassionate. We need your good sense, to point the way when many compasses will be spinning and useless. We need your patience, to wait until this has passed so that we can pick up the pieces and move on, but we also need your stubbornness, your unwillingness to be plowed under by ignorance and hate, your best ideas and strongest convictions, your anxieties made into understanding, your hopelessness made into acceptance.

Thank you for being willing to hold fast onto the things you can protect and to make those small gains that may be possible. I know you may want to crawl under a rock for four years and come back out when this is over. I would love to join you there. But we can’t, because now we have work to do, and it is time to get started.

Luc

PS – If you’re having a really bad day and could use some ideas on how to turn it around, here are some suggestions gleaned from psychological research: How to Stop Having a Bad Day.

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10,000 Hours of Practice? Would That ‘Twere So Simple

The human mind

I’ve written here before about Malcolm Gladwell’s fascinating book Outliers, published in 2008. This year another book on talent, improvement, and mastery was published, Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool’s Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. Anders Ericsson, importantly, is one of the pioneers and top experts in this area of psychology, and it was partly on Ericsson’s work that Gladwell make his conclusions.

Anders Ericsson

Anders Ericsson

Unfortunately, Ericsson says, Gladwell made some leaps that are misleading and, in some cases, inaccurate. The general principal that it takes a great deal of practice to become a world-class talent at something remains, and Ericsson reiterates that there aren’t exceptions, people who become masters without practice at things that require a lot of work for other people to learn. Phrases like “natural talent” contain an embedded error.

However, there are several important points where Ericsson disagrees with Gladwell’s conclusions–and since those conclusions were based on Ericsson’s work, these merit some attention! Here are some of the key points from Ericsson’s response:

  • 10,000 hours is an arbitrary number. The amount of time mastery takes will depend on who’s doing the practice, what kinds of practice they’re doing, who you compare them to, what thing they’re trying to master, what you consider “mastery,” and other factors.
  • There’s nothing in that research that implies that anyone can become a master at any chosen activity after putting in 10,000 hours–the research just shows that people who do achieve mastery put in a great deal of practice. However, there is compelling support for the idea that practically anyone can become excellent at practically anything: see “Do you have enough talent to become great at it?
  • The type of practice is crucial: it’s deliberate practice, and it has to be for the specific skill in question
  • There’s no limit to how good we can get with further practice, however. There’s not a point where we “achieve mastery” and can consider ourselves “done.”

You can read Ericsson’s more detailed response here, on Salon.com. The article is adapted from that new book I mentioned, Peak.

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WillpowerEngine.com Now Pointing Back Where It Should

About the site

A few years ago, when I stopped using the name “The Willpower Engine” for this site, I let my willpowerengine.com domain expire. That turned out to be a mistake: it develops that there were still a number of people using links to that domain, and some ill-intentioned person scooped up the domain as soon as it was available and set it up with a site that looked like it could be the right one, but full of terrible advice cribbed from anywhere they could find it, fueling sketchy advertisements.

As soon as I realized this, I did what I could to get the domain back, but I was unsuccessful until today, when willpowerengine.com finally points back to where it should. I apologize to anyone who may have found themselves on the scam site in the mean time.

The lesson, for me, is that retiring a domain, in some cases, is something that should only be done with great care and after the Internet has had a good long time to get used to the new location.

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Read free on Daily SF: Failed Interview with the International Convocation of the Damned

Luc's writing projects

Elizabeth Bathory de Ecsed

My new flash story, “Failed Interview with the International Convocation of the Damned” is up at Daily Science Fiction, a lauded, free online science fiction and fantasy magazine that offers a new story every day.

“Failed Interview” gives a rare glimpse into the recruitment process for would-be vampires. Read it at http://dailysciencefiction.com/fantasy/Monsters/luc-reid/failed-interview-with-the-international-convocation-of-the-damned .

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The Six Approaches to Time Travel Stories

Writing

My son, Ethan, posted a neat graphic by Harrison Densmore explaining three approaches to time travel in stories. It’s pretty good, actually. Check it out:

time travel theories

I think this is a great start, but it’s incomplete. There are at least six approaches to past time travel stories. Note that future time travel isn’t such a big deal: we do it all the time, and even know how to speed it up (travel at relativistic speeds).

Here’s the list I know.

  1. Time travel is impossible. The reason I mention this as one of the options is that a story can be about people attempting time travel, thinking something is time travel that actually isn’t, etc. I wouldn’t be surprised if this turns out to be the real one.
  2. The self-healing timeline. In this one, you travel back in time and change something, but the universe changes something else to cancel your change out. I’m not a fan of this one, because 1) why does the universe care?, and 2) two changes that cancel out one particular effect are not the same as not changing anything in the first place. For instance, what about the people whose lives would have been affected by the orphan?
  3. The timeline that’s smarter than you. This is the one Densmore calls “The Fixed Timeline.” In this one, any changes you make were what happened all along; you just didn’t realize it. Maybe you shot and killed your grandfather, and it turns out that wasn’t your grandfather at all, that’s just what grandma told your dad when he was growing up. I’m not crazy about this approach either, because it requires existence of some kind of intelligent Fate and imposes arbitrary limits on human intelligence. Humans may be intellectually limited, but we’re not stupid. Except sometimes, but that’s another discussion.
  4. Dynamic timeline. Densmore covers this one nicely. I think nature abhors a paradox, but you can still get fun stories out of this.
  5. Multiverse. This is the easiest one to work with, although I’d point out that some multiverse stories don’t restrict universe-hopping–so you might spawn a new version of the universe and experience it as long as you stay there, but be able to come back to your original timeline because your machine or magical ability or what have you is just that good.
  6. The elastic timeline. In this timeline, you can go back in time and do whatever you want, and the world will change accordingly (e.g., no baby Hitler), but when you return to your original time, nothing will have changed. In this approach, the universe is assumed to have some kind of resilience, or time travel to occur in some kind of pocket universe that vanishes when you leave it. I have an unfinished story that uses this approach in which a young man regularly travels back in time to kick the living crap out of horrible dictators from the past–just appears in Francisco Franco’s bedroom, for instance, and goes to town on him with steel-toed boots. As you can imagine, he comes to find this approach to happiness flawed.

A handy time travel t-shirt created by the brilliant Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics (qwantz.com)

A handy time travel t-shirt created by the brilliant Ryan North, who writes Dinosaur Comics (qwantz.com) three times a week.

Oh, a pro tip if you travel back in time to the Middle Ages in Europe: bring pepper. Most valuable spice of the age, black peppercorns. Just hit Costco before you go and buy yourself a fiefdom–or end up dead by the road when they rob you, but nobody said time travel was safe. Actually, that’s a unifying feature of every one of the time travel approaches mentioned above: none of them is particularly concerned with what happens to you.

Another subgenre that works like a time travel story in some ways is the Alternate Universe story, like Harry Turtledove’s The Guns of the South, in which twenty-first century white supremacists travel back to the American South and supply the Confederates with AK-47s. The Man in the High Castle is another fascinating example of this genre. I find these fascinating, though they can’t be easy to write. One of the reasons I mention them with time travel approaches is that sometimes alternate history stories are conceptually time travel stories (as in the Turtledove example)–which includes times when you might think you’re just looking at an alternate history but (twist!) there turns out to be time travel involved. I’m guessing that might be how The Man in the High Castle works, but nobody ruin it for me, OK?

In the shameless self-promotion department, I have some 11 very short time travel and alternate universe stories in my Bam: 172 Hellaciously Short Stories (of things that could never happen), which you can get on Amazon in paperback or eBook format.

So … what did I miss?

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Things You Will Probably Not Say on Your Deathbed

I'm just sayin'

Abe Lincoln on his deathbed

  • Man, I wish I’d spent more time watching TV
  • I now regret not eating more of those doughnuts people kept bringing in at work
  • All that time I wasted with my family and friends! Why didn’t I work constantly and become wealthy but unable to enjoy any of my income?
  • Those solar panels were pointless. Now that I really think about it, I don’t care whether climate change disasters would have been a lot worse over the last few decades if people like me hadn’t done something about it.
  • Good thing I took all those Facebook quizzes!
  • At least I got to argue with everyone who ever annoyed me.
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Top 12 Reasons Bernie Sanders Can’t Possibly Be Elected President or Even Win the Democratic Primary Because for the Love of Pete, Didn’t We Already Agree It Was Going to Be Hillary?

I'm just sayin'

I hope folks will forgive me for making a post related to the presidential race. I’m not usually inclined to post about political matters, but lately I’ve been agog at how desperate the press seems to be to try to prove that Bernie Sanders can’t possibly win anything. I don’t say Bernie will win the presidential election, or even the primary, but for some reason he’s not yet being treated as a credible candidate, and that’s ridiculous. And speaking of ridiculous: here are the top 12 reasons he can’t possibly be elected.

Bernie

 

 

  1. Voters don’t think enough other voters will vote for him, so he won’t win, even if voters prefer him. That makes sense, right?
  1. He’s just a left-wing Donald Trump (you know, because he speaks his mind and has messy hair), and Donald Trump isn’t going to win. Ergo, Bernie won’t win either, QED.
  1. Bernie doesn’t have much Latino support, and with only 15 months left before the election, there’s no time for that to change.
  1. Hillary already has the nomination locked in by winning over all the big corporate and private contributors–you know, the people whom Bernie is specifically trying to get out of government. All Bernie has is hundreds of thousands of average Americans. Since when do they count?
  1. He’s not going to appeal to black Americans, because black Americans would never vote for the only candidate who even has a racial justice platform. So he marched for civil rights with Martin Luther King, so what? Everybody’s done that!
  1. The press all says Hillary is going to win, and they’re the ones who matter. The only people Bernie has behind him are voters, and everyone knows they don’t make a difference in presidential races.
  1. Everybody seems to like and respect him, even people who disagree with him. What kind of reputation is that for a president?
  1. Sure he gets massive turnout at his events, but that doesn’t mean people are actually going to vote for him! I mean, come on: apples and oranges.
  1. The idea of putting a heavier financial burden on people who can actually afford it to help out people who can’t make ends meet is repugnant, mean-spirited, and un-American.
  1. Who said it was OK for him to run, did you think about that? Nobody, that’s who.
  1. He’s too radical to appeal to a broad constituency. All the progressive Democrats who like him are too radical, too. Also the centrist Democrats. And I guess the independents. And the … Republicans …
  1. He’s too honest: people don’t trust that in a politician.
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Fiction Critique Hand Signals

Writing

For live critiquing:

Fiction Critique Hand Signals

credits
Images: don’t know; didn’t ask
Nonsensical captions: me

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New story free on Daily Science Fiction: When a Bunch of People, Including Raymond, Got Superpowers

Luc's writing projects

My very short story about choosing superpowers wisely, When a Bunch of People, Including Raymond, Got Superpowers, is up today at Daily Science Fiction. Comments there or here are always welcome.

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A Unexpectedly Brilliant Tool for Organization

Resources

In previous posts, I’ve recommended the online task manager Todoist for Getting Things Done-style organization. All the key features are available for free (though I subscribe to get the advanced features, paying $29/year). In March 2013, they introduced a tool called “karma,” a sort of ongoing game or rating based on how well you do at tracking and completing tasks. At the time, I must have thought it sounded to hokey or decided that the idea of having a productivity “score” was lame, because I didn’t start using it until five or six months ago. Since then, I’ve been a little amazed that it actually seems to work: I’m more productive, more focused, and more diligent specifically because of Todoist karma.

How can what basically amounts to a simple counting game help get more work done? By setting reachable goals and inspiring involvement. (For a more thorough consideration of the connection between games and motivation, read A Surprising Source of Insight into Self-Motivation: Video Games.)

Let’s look at how that works. Here’s a screen shot of my karma as of today (click to zoom):

My Todoist karma

 

See the gray vertical lines, one for the last 7 days and one for the last 4 weeks? Those are my targets. I’m trying to complete at least that many tasks to keep on track, which is to say at least 5 per weekday and at least 25 per week. These are the default settings, which are actually great for me, but you can change them to whatever you want.

If I keep to these targets, my karma keeps going up, and my daily and weekly streaks (shown at the bottom) accumulate. (For more on motivation and winning streaks, see “Harnessing a Winning Streak.”)

As you can see from my streaks, I wasn’t able to keep on top of tasks in the same way as usual over the holidays, so I missed my targets several times up through the New Year, resetting the impressive streaks I had built up before Thanksgiving. Karma does have an important “vacation” feature (you just tell it that you’re on vacation, and it won’t expect you to get much done until you turn vacation back off). It also doesn’t expect you to get anything done on weekends (though you can change it so that you’re “on duty” any days of the week you like).

Todoist karma levels

The rewards to attending to karma are minimal: your graph keeps going up, you build up your streaks, your score improves, and every once in a long while you “level up” to a new karma category. This may not sound like much inducement to get things done, but if you think about it, it’s very similar to a video game, and video games are notoriously addictive: you have a score, levels, goals, specific challenges … it’s not easy, but it’s not impossible … in a word, you’re engaged.

Another thing I like about karma that initially seemed like a drawback is that it mainly just tracks the number of tasks you get done rather than trying to deal with priority or importance or size. This makes it simple to use–pretty much automatic, in fact–but it also rewards breaking big goals down into small tasks, which is an excellent motivational and organizational technique. If you enter “redo flooring in dining room” in as a task, it’s a good bet you’ll never get it done. On the other hand, if you start with tasks like “Find out what kind of wood flooring options are out there” and “Measure dining room and write down dimensions,” then you’ve got a great basis for accomplishing something.

The way karma helps me the most is in setting a number of things to get done. My task list is probably thousands of items long, set up in many different categories with different priorities. To be productive, I have to get at least a few of those things done each day. Often what happens is that I’ll get to evening and have completed, say, three tasks (this is outside of my work task list, which I maintain separately). Being conscious of my Todoist karma, I’m aware that I can do two more to maintain my streaks and increase my score, or give up for the day, lose points and get my streaks reset. It’s nearly always possible to get two small tasks done, however, and so I generally do them, and this keeps my attention on what I have to do and also encourages me to do just a bit more each day. That’s exactly the level of quiet, private encouragement I need.

In short, if you’re in need of an elegant, easy-to-use, effective, and free task management system, you’ll have a hard time doing better than Todoist–and if you use Todoist, you should consider using the karma feature to engage more enthusiastically with all the tasks in your life.

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