“The Biggest Man in Lilliput” is now on the Nook Store

Just a quick note to let you know that my ebook short story, “The Biggest Man in Lilliput,” is now available on the Nook Store, priced at $0.99. Buy it here.

And its also available on the Kindle Store. Buy it here.

More formats to come. I’ll probably go with SmashWords for everything else. I have downloaded what feels like a prodigious amount of documentation for getting started with that.

“The Biggest Man in Lilliput,” my first ebook, is on sale now! Is this exciting or what?!

The Biggest Man in Lilliput” is on sale now at Amazon.com, priced at $0.99.

This is a huge deal for me. I’ve dreamed about being a published science fiction writer since I was a kid. And now I am. Well, sort of. This is not the way I imagined it when I was a teen-ager; I thought I’d first get a couple of short stories published in science fiction magazines, then get books published through traditional publishing. This is a different path.

And, truly, I won’t really feel like I’ve achieved the dream until I’ve sold at least 100 copies. That’s my initial goal — 100 copies.

So what are you waiting for? Buy it now! MY CHILDHOOD DREAMS HANG IN THE BALANCE!!!!! NO PRESSURE OR ANYTHING THOUGH!!!!!

“The Biggest Man in Lilliput” is a battle of wits to save the 21st Century nation of tiny people from a mob of human religious fanatics. Mayor Yoby of the Lilliputian City of New Mildendo has to save the day by outthinking his enemies. It’s got thrills, humor, and a little satire.

It’s a short story, 5,600 words, and should take about 35 minutes to read.

Julie did the cover, and also was my most valued first reader and copy editor. Didn’t she do a terrific job? That’s right, this ebook is a family project. SO IF YOU DON’T BUY IT THAT MEANS YOU’RE AGAINST FAMILY VALUES.

The photo on the cover is gorgeous, you can take a closer look here. It’s by Scanrail. It’s a photo of Stockholm, Sweden, standing in for the fictional city of New Mildendo, Lilliput, in my story.

I’ve submitted the piece to Barnes & Noble for availability on the Nook; I expect approval by Thursday. I’ll let you know here when its available.

Update: And now that’s done. Buy “The Biggest Man” in Lilliput on Nook for $0.99.

Here’s an excerpt to get you started.


It rained the morning the mob of Gullivers descended on Lilliput, the kind of fast, driving rain that was typical for summer storms in that country. Rain was a deadly threat to Lilliputians caught outdoors. A few unlucky Lilliputians were pummeled to death by raindrops, or drowned, every year.

But Lilliputians had centuries of experience protecting themselves from rainstorms. They dealt with the threat. They either stayed home to wait out the rain, or commuted through a network of tunnels under the city.

The morning the Gulliver mob descended on the City, Mayor Yoby stayed home in the Executive Mansion to wait out the rain, coordinating weather control by phone. When the weather cleared, he headed in to City Hall.

He rode the public omnibus to work, a long metal tube strapped to the back of a domesticated lizard. He liked to ride the bus. The political bloggers of Lilliput said Yoby’s favoring public transportation was an affectation, an ongoing PR stunt. They were right. But that was only part of it. Yoby just plain liked meeting the people of the city, letting anybody who had something to say come right up to him and say it; riding public transit gave him an opportunity to do that.

That morning, Yoby got an earful from one of his constituents, a dowager complaining about an infestation of ants in her candy store. The knee-high insects were harmless, but they terrified the children, and left their damn smelly pheromone trails all over the premises. Yoby was in the midst of reassuring the woman that the Sanitation Department would get on the problem when the bus driver paged him in a barely intelligible voice on the vehicle’s scratchy public address system.

Yoby excused himself. The bus was packed with Lilliputians, but they shouldered out of his way when they saw him coming. They recognized the mayor.

Yoby was hard to miss, a man with skin the color and texture of a well-worn, favorite boot, a bald, egg-shaped head, and a barrel-shaped body, wearing a sharp business suit. At more than six and a half inches tall, he was a veritable giant among Lilliputians, towering more than a half-inch over most of his fellow citizens.

When Yoby got to the front of the bus, he found two uniformed cops waiting for him, accompanied by the mayor’s chief of staff, Piopo, a handsome, middle-aged Lilliputian woman.

“You’re needed in City Hall,” Piopo said. “Code Rampaging Giraffe. We have a mount waiting for you here to get through the crowds. We must get moving immediately.”

Yoby indulged his only two vices. He lit a cigar and swore.

***

Gullivers were both lifeline and threat to the Lilliputians. Since the destruction of the home islands by a volcano shortly after the historic visit from Lemuel Gulliver, Lilliputians had settled in a diaspora all over the globe. Eventually, they formed a new nation, on the east end of Long Island, just a few dozen miles from the Gulliver city of New York.

Lilliputians traded with Gullivers for food, medical supplies, rare materials, and perhaps most important, knowledge.

Artwork and scientific discovery had the same value no matter what the size of the producer. Lilliputian livestock and vegetables were prized for their delicate flavors. Lilliputians worked in the movie and TV industry, especially as actors — they could do a normal movie on a tabletop, and put on an entire, sprawling epic in a single room. The entirety of James Cameron’s classic Titanic was filmed with Lillputian actors in the bedroom of a suburban house. And, with their tiny hands, Lilliputians excelled at delicate work.

Lilliputians and Gullivers were partners in commerce and culture. And yet, the so-called threat posed by Lilliputians was a constant thread running through the more bigoted wings of Gulliver politics. The Gullivers claimed Lilliputians hated America, were stealing human jobs, corrupting morals, distributing pornography, collaborating with terrorists, selling drugs, pirating music on the Internet, and every other imaginable sin.

Get the ebook. Read the rest.

My 16 favorite iPhone apps of 2011

These are the apps I find most useful. I compiled the list just by reading the app icons off the first and second screen of my iPhone. The only apps on this list are ones that I’ve been using more than a month, to prevent infatuations from getting listed.

Social

Tweetbot ($3). My favorite Twitter client. Mac bloggers can get rhapsodic and precious in their Tweetbot reviews. I just like Tweetbot. It’s fun and easy to use.

Instagram (free). My love for this free social photo-sharing app snuck up on me. I thought I was just trying it out, and then I tried posting a couple of photos, and a few months later I was hooked. Whereas Flickr seems to have gotten crustier over time with useless features, while failing to keep up on essential capabilities, Instagram does everything a photo-sharing site should and very little that’s unnecessary. Using Instagram, you can post photos, write captions, share with other people, view photos from other people, Like photos, leave comments, share on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and other social networks, and that’s about it. It’s like Twitter for photos. Oh, crap, now I’m the one sounding precious, aren’t I?

I can do without the filters on Instagram, but everybody else seems to like them.

Foursquare (free). I check in regularly. I don’t know why. I never get any offers. Rarely, someone I know has checked in at the same location, but if they’re there I almost always know it already. And yet I still keep tapping that button.

Facebook (free).

Fitness

Lose It! (free). Keeping a food and exercise journal is key to losing weight and getting fit; you need to write down every bite you eat, and every time you work out. That’s important for two reasons: For controlling the amount of food you eat, of course, but also to become conscious and mindful of what and when you’re eating.

Most fat people aren’t mindful; they just eat compulsively and automatically. Keeping a food journal requires you to be aware of what you’re putting in your mouth.

I weigh and measure every meal and snack. I take precise measurements with a scale when I’m home, often down to the gram. When I’m out, I estimate. Lose It tracks the calories of those foods, and also the calories burned exercising, and does so with an easy-to-use and attractive interface.

This year, Lose It added a bar code scanner, which has proven very useful; when I’m eating packaged food like a frozen dinner, I just scan the barcode with the iPhone camera and Lose It automatically tallies the calories.

Lose It’s database and calorie calculations aren’t the greatest. I find that most of the foods I eat aren’t in the database; I have to add them manually. Fortunately, I only have to do that once for each food; after that, Lose It remembers. Likewise, I’ve had to adjust my daily calorie budget; Lose It’s recommendations are way off. But Lose It makes it easy to do those things.

I use Google to find the calories of any foods that aren’t in the database. For example, Google grilled turkey and brie sandwich and you’ll get several entries; I just pick the median amount and enter it in to Lose It.

RunKeeper (free). I use it to track the duration and distance of my daily walks.

Both Lose It and RunKeeper have social features and badges that I don’t pay any attention to, with the exception of posting my RunKeeper results each day to Facebook.

Weightbot ($1.99). Lose It lacks a good diary for keeping track of your weight over time; it’ll tell you what you weighed last time you weighed yourself, but not what you weighed six months ago. That’s what Weighbot is for. It’s less important now that I’ve hit my goal weight, but I keep it up anyway.

Media

Podcaster ($2). I listen to hours of podcasts every week, and Podcaster does a better job managing them for me than the native iPod app. Podcaster does automatic, over-the-air updates of new podcast episodes, and lets me create a playlist and listen to one podcast after another without having to manually start each one.

Audible (free). Audiobooks.

Productivity

OmniFocus ($20). The iPhone version of the ultimate to-do-list management app. I also use the iPad and Mac versions. Mainly, I use the Mac version, and use the iPhone version to add new items.

Due ($5). Reminders and timers. I use it instead of the built-in iPhone timer for a couple of reasons. One is because it supports pre-set alarms. For example, I have a pre-set configured at 5 minutes to time steeping tea, and another at 32.5 minutes for the turnaround point on my walk.

The other reason I prefer Due to the built-in timer is you don’t have to press a button to turn off; it rings for a second or two and then shuts off on its own.

Since this fall, iOS 5 has its own reminders app; I haven’t compared Due with that.

Due has many other capabilities, but I don’t use most of them.

Other

GV Mobile+ ($3). My preferred Google Voice client for the iPhone. I bought it before Google had its own, official client. It’s not so much better than the official client that I’d recommend others pay for it.

Soulver ($4). Better than the iPhone’s built-in calculator; it displays results adding-machine-tape style. You can also include words in your calculations.

TomTom USA ($40). GPS and turn-by-turn directions.

1Password ($8.99). Password management. One version runs on the iPhone and iPad, and it syncs with a version for the Mac. Essential for generating secure passwords, and remembering my hundreds of passwords for Web sites and networks.

Chipotle (free). Very nice mobile commerce app; it remembers our weekly order, and, with a couple of buttons, we order, pre-pay,then I drive over, cut to the front of the line (without making eye contact with anyone in the line — that’s important), pick up and go. I’ve been trying to get an interview with Chipotle about this app for The CMO Site for months; if you have any connections over there please let me know.

My 3 favorite gadgets of 2011

iPad 1: We got ours the day they came out, and we’ve used them for hours every day since. Primarily I use mine for reading Web articles through a variety of interfaces, mainly the Web browser, Instapaper, and Reeder. I also use the iPad a lot for Twitter and Facebook.

I skipped the iPad 2 because it didn’t seem to offer enough bang to be worth the upgrade. There’s a rumor of an iPad 3 coming in the spring, with a faster processor and Retina display. My mind isn’t made up whether to upgrade; we’ll see what else it offers.

I’d love a 7-inch iPad, about half the size of the iPad’s current 10.1-inch display. There are rumors that’s coming in a year. I don’t know whether to believe the rumors. A year is a long way away; I’m not going to worry about it.

iPhone 4: It’s never far away from me, not when I’m sleeping, not when I’m working at my desk, not when I’m out and about. I use it to track meals and exercise for fitness, to participate in social media, to listen to podcasts and audiobooks, to get directions where I’m going, as a camera, to write notes and to-dos for myself, as an alarm clock and, incidentally, as a phone. I didn’t go for the 4S for the same reason I didn’t buy the iPad 2: Not enough of an upgrade to be worth spending money on.

Kindle 4: I bought one of these in October when they came out, and it’s fantastic. I switched to ebooks when the Kindle app came out for the iPad, and didn’t look back; I’ve bought a couple of dozen ebooks in the past year, but only two print books, in both cases because they weren’t available electronically. The Kindle is lighter and more comfortable than reading on an iPad, plus it holds a charge for about a month. Julie has a Kindle Touch, which is the same as mine but with a touchscreen.

Not on the list: We watch a fair amount of TV at our house, and we have a DVR issued from our cable company, Cox Communications. We loathe that DVR. We miss our old TiVo, which, alas doesn’t support HD programming. And a new TiVo that supports HD would be too expensive. I’m thinking we might want to do something homemade with a Mac Mini configured as a server, either running iTunes or Myth TV. But there’s a question of (a) Time to set it up and (b) Expense.

I suppose I might want to put our new Samsung TV on this list. We certainly use it every day. But it’s just a TV; it’s not that interesting. If we put the TV on the list, we’d have to also add the microwave, toaster-oven, and electric water kettle, and where does it end?

If you’re a “Love, Actually” fan, and you haven’t seen the deleted scenes, do. They’re a treat.

We watched the movie again over the weekend. It’s definitely in a class of movies I could see every few years pretty much forever, along with A Christmas Story, Die Hard, That Thing You Do, Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, Wonder Boys, My Favorite Year, and Almost Famous.

One of the many things I love about Love Actually, with its too-many-to-count story lines loosely weaved together, is that at least two of the storylines end unhappily. It makes the ending of the movie more bittersweet.

Something I noticed this time around: One turning point in the movie is when Alan Rickman’s character goes shopping for Christmas gifts, and buys an expensive necklace. Has he already decided to buy it for Mia? Or is he still thinking at that point he might buy it for his wife?

Hugh Grant’s Prime Minister character is less and less believable every time we watch the movie. And I still don’t care, because Hugh Grant’s character just gets better and better. Watch his face in the scene at the end when his bodyguard starts singing “Good King Wenceslas.”

The cut scenes are a treat. We didn’t watch them again this year, because we watched on Apple TV rather than a DVD, but I would have wanted to watch them if we had them.

I’m not usually a fan of uncut scenes and director’s voice-overs in DVDs. I’ve watched a few and enjoyed them, but I don’t anymore, and I don’t miss them.

Love, Actually is the exception. The uncut scenes are very good, because they are entire vignettes and story arcs, some of them featuring characters not in the released movie. Other DVD extras are just scenes or fragments of scenes, but these are whole stories.

Fans of the movie will remember Emma Thompson’s character complaining about their troublesome son Bernard. In the uncut scenes, we see a sequence where Bernard gets into hilarious trouble over a school assignment. In another sequence, we see the headmistress of the school caring for her terminally ill girlfriend. One nice touch in these two story lines: In the first one, the headmistress is a stiff, unlikeable authority figure, and then when she cares for her girlfriend, we see another side of her.

Another storyline deals with two women in an African village. The African storyline is loosely woven into the stories of the main British characters through a very clever device.

Yet another storyline deals with Liam Neeson’s character, whose computer has been taken over by a virus that displays porn pop-ups in his browser, just as his late wife’s parents are about to come over for dinner.

I understand why those stories and scenes were cut. One reason is that the movie is already very long. Another reason is that the Bernard and porn stories don’t fit the rest of the movie. They’re broad farce; the rest of Love, Actually is broad, but nowhere near as farcical as those stories. The climactic line of dialogue in the Bernard story, delivered by Emma Thompson, rings false. It’s too Hollywood.

But still: The deleted scenes of Love, Actually are well worth seeing, if you’re the kind of fan who sees the movie more than once.

And here they are on YouTube. Or, two of them at least:

Bernard’s story:

The headmistress’s story:

P.S. We also watched A Christmas Story again this weekend. My insight this time around: Ralphie is a horrible, horrible brat. The Higbee’s Santa should have kicked him even harder.

The Foundation as the villains of the Foundation Trilogy

Non-violence is one of the biggest themes of The Foundation Trilogy. Other space operas are filled with space battles and thrilling hand-to-hand combat. There’s very little violence onstage in The Foundation Trilogy. Mostly, the novels consist of people sitting around and talking.

The Foundation explicitly shuns violence. It’s founded on a planet without natural resources, by a colony of academics. They don’t fight their enemies because they can’t; they have to out-think their enemies instead.

One of the major characters of the trilogy is Salvor Hardin, a politician whose motto is, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”

So the Foundation Trilogy is, on the surface at least, an extremely ethically advanced series. Forty years before the publication of the original stories during World War II, we had a president, Theodore Roosevelt, who loved war. TR embraced combat; he though war was essential to making nations great, and he said so publicly. In The Foundation Trilogy, we a philosophy of war as something to be avoided wherever possible, and avoidable by any competent person.

And yet the Foundation trades war for deceit, trickery, and cooperating in oppression.

The opening sequence of Foundation deals with Gaal Dornick, a young man from the provinces come to the capital to study mathematics under the great Hari Seldon. Once he arrives at the capital, Dornick learns that Hari Seldon has arranged to have him arrested. Any sensible person would have nothing to do with Seldon afterwards, but Dornick doesn’t seem to have much sense, because he becomes one of Seldon’s loyal acolytes.

Dornick and Seldon are on trial together, and they manage to escape imprisonment, but only by agreeing to leave the capital city, along with Seldon’s 100,000 followers, to the remote planet of Terminus. Seldon remarks that this was exactly what he wanted; his followers would never have gone willingly, so he had to force them to come with him.

Does this sound like the behavior of one of history’s good guys? Apparently so, because the Foundation reveres Seldon. They continue to revere him even after learning that the mission of the Foundation was another lie. Seldon had said he wanted the Foundation to prepare a great Encyclopedia of human knowledge to shorten the dark age following the fall of the Galactic Empire. Fifty years after the founding of the Foundation, Seldon comes back in a recorded message to reveal that, too, was a lie. He was only interested in getting all those academics isolated from the main body of the empire, unarmed and helpless, so they could use nonviolent means to start the climb to the second Galactic Empire.

The Foundation continues in the tradition of its lying founder. Faced with hostile neighbors with more military power but much less advanced technology, the Foundation gives its neighbors the secrets of atomic power. But the Foundation also starts a fake religion, with the premise that its technology isn’t the result of science and engineering but of miracles and magic. Thus, the Foundation perpetuates the ignorance and oppression of billions of its neighbors so that it can strengthen its own power.

So who, exactly, are the villains of this series?

Hat tips. I.e., tips for hat wearers

Hats should be removed indoors, unless the headgear is part of a costume. Ask yourself: Is it Halloween? Am I at a science fiction convention? If the answers to these questions are no, then the hat comes off indoors.

Unfortunately, this means most of the time you shouldn’t wear a hat, unless you know you’ll be outdoors nearly all the time. Because in public places, there’s nowhere to put the hat when you’re inside, except for leaving it on your head, which is barbaric. And that’s too bad, because hats are excellent.

In the Mad Men days and before, there were hatcheck girls and hat racks for gentlemen and ladies to leave their hats while indoors. But they aren’t around anymore.

Ideally, ball caps should also be removed indoors. But it’s OK to leave them on. It’s no big deal. They’re just caps.

Knit caps should only be worn outdoors, and only during the coldest weather, never for decorative purposes. They are not decorative, they’re functional, for warmth. Worn inside, they make you look like a hipster idiot.

My first ebook: Getting closer

Julie did a bang-up first pass at creating a cover for my ebook short story. It looks sharp and professional, playful and a little bit serious, capturing the tone of the story nicely. It uses a gorgeous cover photo too; it’s the one titled San Francisco Cityscape With Cookware on this page. I love the photo — I love all the photos on that page — but I don’t think they’re quite right for this particular story. And I don’t have permission to use them. So we’ll have to find another photo. That’s OK, there are plenty of public-domain cityscapes available on the Internet.

The story, by the way, is called “The Biggest Man in Lilliput.” It takes the premise that a colony of Lilliputians built a city on North America, and now it’s survived to the present day, with Internet access and political blogs and all the other accoutrements of modern life. I guess you could say it’s a fantasy-comedy-thriller. It’s short. I’ll be selling it for $0.99. Or maybe $1.09, because apparently $0.99 is a red flag that says crappy shovelware just dumped into an ebook file without even being proofread.

No, I think I’ll just go for $0.99. Pricing for electronic goods, where the cost of reproduction and distribution is near zero, is hard.

I want to have the story for sale by Christmas. E-reader sales are going to be huge for Christmas, and all the people with empty new e-readers will want something to read right away. So that’s an opportunity to make some sales.

I will be using ZappTek LegendMaker software to handle the conversion, which is supposed to be automatic and easy. But I vaguely remember little quirks of ebook formatting that don’t appear to be covered by the LegendMaker documentation. For example: Covers for epub-formatted ebooks, which is the format used by most ebook readers, need to have opaque backgrounds. But the Amazon Kindle requires a transparent background. Or maybe I’m misremembering. Or maybe it’s the other way around. I need to look into this.

I don’t just want the book available in one place, though. After the Kindle store, I’ll put it up on the Barnes & Noble Nook store. Then here, adding a storefront page to this Web site. This blog runs on WordPress, and I understand it’s not difficult to set up a cash register on a WordPress site. I’ll also want to put the book up on as many other ebook sites as I can find; I understand SmashWords is good for that.

Now here’s a fun idea: Con-Dor, a local science fiction convention, is March 2-4. I’d like to print up postcards with the book cover and promotional materials to give out at the conference. Better yet: Postcards to sell, with redemption codes for the ebook. Buy the postcard, come to the Web site later, enter the unique redemption code on the postcard, and claim your copy of the book, prepaid. As if that’s not nerdy enough, I’d like to get a Square credit card reader so I can take credit card payments when I’m just walking around. But only if the convention rules allow it; I don’t want to be a dick about it.

Also: Writing. The most important part. At this point, I have a lot of material in the pipeline — several short stories written and abandoned that need shaves and haircuts, two novel drafts requiring revising, and a third novel in progress. Lots to do.

2012 is going to be a fun year.

Day one of my productivity experiment was a success. I think.

For those of you who skipped yesterday’s post: I read an interesting story about how successful people don’t work longer hours than their counterparts; they’re just more focused. And they aren’t even focused the whole time they’re working; just a lot of the time. And the successful people devote a lot of time to just relaxing.

Put it that way, it sounds pretty simple. Just common sense. But it seemed insightful to me at the time.

So I tried it out Sunday and Monday. Most mornings, I get to work right away, but Monday I eased into it, spending a short time fooling around on Facebook and Twitter before diving in — that would be the “relaxing” part — and then doing my best to focus myself 100% on work for a long time. And I did feel more focused.

But the distractions accumulated as the day went on. Emails came in that needed my drop-everything attention. Several times a day, I need to stop what I’m doing and make a sweep of The CMO Site’s message boards, reading and responding to new messages. I need to devote a big block of time in the morning just to reading the business, marketing, and technology news just to identify trends and stories to pursue. I had two scheduled meetings, plus one impromptu phone call. And there was my lunch break in mid-day followed by my exercise break in the afternoon.

All of that conspires to prevent achieving mind-like-water flow.

I think I got more work done in less time than usual. But I still had a lot of writing to do after dinner. My goal is to be finished work by dinnertime most nights.

I’ll stick with it, and try to find a rhythm.

A chimpanzee’s lesson about living a successful life

I’ve been having a problem with time management lately. Actually, I’ve been having this problem my whole life. When I was a kid, my Mom and my teachers used to say I “dawdled.” They used that word: Dawdle. Probably if I was a kid today rather than then, I would have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder and jacked up with meds.

I’m glad that didn’t happen. I like being me, and part of that is being distractible. I’ve used my distractibility well in my career; my work has always required me to be able to manage interruptions and shift gears quickly.

And yet distraction has also hurt me. I seem to work a lot longer hours than most people. I get my work done. I’m actually very good at what I do. But I have not enjoyed success proportional to the hours I put in.

Facebook, Twitter, and other social media are particular sources of distraction. I’m active on eight social media platforms. Eight! Facebook, Twitter, Google+, blogs, Instagram, SFF.net, LiveJournal, and FourSquare. A lot of this is my job, of course; it’s part of my responsibility to be on top of the latest in social media and be expert in their use, and I don’t know any other way to do that than to use them in my life. I enjoy them too. And yet there is some point where work ends and wasting time begins.[1. That point is probably reached when watching ferrets steal Christmas ornaments.]

Like most people, I beat myself up to work harder and stay focused. I do my best self-flagellation when I’m at my desk still working at 10 pm. But self-flagellation doesn’t really work.

This article really hit a chord: “If You’re Busy, You’re Doing Something Wrong: The Surprisingly Relaxed Lives of Elite Achievers.” It talks about a study done among violinists at the Universität der Künste inn West Berlin.

Psychologists asked professors to identify the best violin players, “the students who the professors believed would go onto careers as professional performers.” These were the elite players.

For a point of comparison, they also selected a group of students from the school’s education department. These were students who were on track to become music teachers. They were serious about violin, but as their professors explained, their ability was not in the same league as the first group.

Researchers looked at the work habits of the two groups, and found — no surprise — the elite players worked harder and were more focused. “The elite players were spending almost three times more hours than the average players on deliberate practice — the uncomfortable, methodical work of stretching your ability.”

But, interestingly, the elite players were not working longer hours. They spent about the same amount of time as the average players at work, about 50 hours.

It’s just that the average players spread out their work throughout the day. They spent a lot of time just dicking around.[2. I haven’t read the original paper yet, but I expect the psychologists did not use the phrase “dicking around.”]

The elite players ended up having more leisure time. They relaxed more than the average players. The average players were more stressed out. The elite players slept more, and better, than the average players.

Says I to myself on reading this article: Whoah. That is so me. I work as hard as anybody else. Harder, even. But I dick around more too. And that’s why I’m so often at my desk at 10 at night.

I read the article Saturday afternoon, and spent some time that evening figuring out how to apply this insight to my own life. How should I restructure my day?

Sunday morning, I was still thinking about it.

Sunday was going to be a busy day anyway. We were hosting our writer’s group meeting at our house at 1 pm. I needed to be up early so I could do my morning walk before the meeting. That’s 90 minutes on Sunday. Plus, even though Julie was taking care of organizing the house[2. And she did a great job with it — thanks again, Julie!], there were a couple of other things I needed to do.

What I really should have done is taken care of those things as soon as I got out of bed. And yet I couldn’t do those things first — I needed to have breakfast and tea first, to get the old brain going.

I had my breakfast and tea, and watched a little Internet video and checked Facebook and Twitter and read a couple of articles on my iPad, like I usually do weekend mornings. I spent nearly two hours at that.

And then a voice in my head said to me: “Well, that’s it. Breakfast is over. It’s time to get to work.”

And that’s when I realized the problem and solution: It’s not just that I’m not focused at work. It’s also that I’m not focused relaxing. I always seem to be only 75% one or the other. When I’m relaxing — checking Facebook or Twitter or watching Internet video — I’m always thinking about how I should be working.

Which leads me to the resolution: Instead of beating myself up about getting distracted, I made a bargain with myself. I’m going to give myself permission to relax 100%. Just kick back and check Facebook, or whatever. Several times a day. Then, after I spend a little time at that, I’ll get back to work and focus 100% on that for a while.

As I write this, I’ve spent less than a day at this new regime — but so far it seems to be going well. When I got up from breakfast, I was intensely focused on getting ready for the meeting. I got out of the house and walked, showered and shaved right away, and went to the store to get milk and Diet Coke for the guests. We had the workshop meeting and when it was done — break time! Julie and I picked up a bit, we talked,[3. I hear you saying, “Wait, Mitch! You’re counting cleaning up after the meeting as relaxation time?” I respond: Spending time with Julie is relaxing and a responsibility. Don’t overthink this.] I read a little on the couch and checked Twitter and Facebook and so on.

Then I headed back into my office and focused hard for about 90 minutes. I quickly knocked out my blog post for The CMO Site on Monday (a duty I didn’t get to on Friday and had to catch up on this weekend). I did my daily quota of creative writing. I wrote a first draft of this blog post (that’s what I’m doing right now). I took a dinner break, and came back to wrap up a couple of things. Soon: Boardwalk Empire season finale! Not a thought about work during that time!

Starting Monday, I’ll give the new regime its first workday test.

When I was about 11 years old there was a poster my friends and I loved. It was a chimp sitting on a toilet.[3. Which is, I suspect, why us kids loved it. I mean chimp! Toilet!] The caption was, “When I works, I works hard. When I sits, I sits loose. When I thinks, I falls asleep.” I think that’s the key to a successful life.[4. Well, except for the part about falling asleep while thinking. And the monkey on a toilet is irrelevant. Don’t overthink this.]

Update 1:31 pm PST: I can’t believe I let this go out with the headline “An chimpanzee…. ” Good grief.

In which I take a new, and uncharacteristic interest in fashion

I’ve been taking an interest in clothes since I lost weight, which is amazing because that was never anything that interested me before. And you might not even know about this interest to look at me most of the time. Most of the time I wear T-shirts, comfortable pants, and comfortable shoes, like always. In cool weather, like now, I wear a fleece. I work from home, so that just makes sense.

And yet I have bought a couple of suits, and enjoy wearing them. I bought a couple of pairs of jeans, after fussing some with the fit. I like wearing sports jackets, especially one particular unstructured jacket. I get excited when I find good jackets for under $100 at the local secondhand clothes store; I have one brown-leather 70s-style jacket with wide lapels that I love, and that I wish it was cool enough to wear more often.

Also, I bought, and love, a pair of biker boots, although I also think they might be too badass for a person of my build and demeanor to carry off. On the other hand: I feel all Mad Max and shit when I wear them. Though I worry that the black boots clash with the leather jacket and most of the rest of my wardrobe, which gravitates to earthtones.

Then I bought a pair of boot-cut jeans because I don’t like how regular jeans look with the boots.

Despite my newfound interest in fashion, I decided a week or two ago I was done buying clothes. I have everything I need until something wears out.

And yet, more recently, I’ve been reading about how dressier clothes for men are coming back. I guess I’m not the only one who likes putting on a suit. In particular, cardigan sweaters are replacing fleece and hoodies.

And suddenly I’m thinking: Damn. Cardigan sweaters are nice. Hoodies and fleeces are fine if you’re working the corners on The Wire, but a cardigan is a cool-weather garment for grownups.

This is how the fashion industry gets you, isn’t it? It’s worse than the consumer electronics industry. At least this year’s consumer electronics devices are better. You can argue whether they’re necessary — I mean, Benjamin Franklin didn’t have an iPad and he did okay. But this year’s consumer electronics are faster, lighter and do more than last year’s.

On the other hand, this year’s clothes are no better than last year’s. Last year’s are just as good as new. This year’s clothes are just different.

It’s a ripoff.

And yet.

Cardigans.

Damn.

Dinosaurs in mirror are closer than they appear: Our vacation in the Anza-Borrego Desert

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We were looking for a getaway, and the desert was a good place for that. We went to the Anza-Borrego State Park, about a two-hour drive and a million miles away from San Diego. It’s so different from where we live that it’s hard to remember that the park, too, is part of San Diego County (also, Riverside and Imperial Counties). Its 585,930 acres — roughly twice as big as Los Angeles. And it’s a desert. If you’ve seen American deserts on TV or in the movies you’ve seen something like this one. As a matter of fact, you’ve probably seen this one; it’s a popular location for movies and TV.

We stayed in the town of Borrego Springs, in the middle of the park, which basically consists of a main drag and a light sprinkling of housing developments. As far as I could see, there are no Starbucks in Borrego Springs, no supermarket or big box stores, just some hotels and motels and a couple of restaurants and a few galleries. The town has about 2,900 people, growing to 10,000 during the tourist season, which is winter, when the snowbirds come in. The manager of an outdoor equipment store we shopped at in the afternoon seated us for dinner at a neighboring restaurant the next night.

We had a fine time being outdoorsy and different from our normal lives. One day, we drove around and hiked a bit searching out the 129 free-standing welded-steel sculptures of dinosaurs and horses and elephants and at least one gigantic serpent all over town. A sculptor named Ricardo Breceda built the artworks, some of which towered twice as tall as a man. The project was funded by Dennis Avery, who owns a lot of land in Borrego Springs and is heir to a label-making fortune.

We stayed at the Palms at Indian Head, which was not great. They seem to be trying awfully hard, but it’s being rebuilt, so there’s debris all over the place. It’s short-staffed. The restaurant is mediocre and the service is slow. Our room smelled of Febreze. On the plus side: It’s very picturesque. It was built in the late 40s as a Hollywood getaway resort, then rebuilt in 1957 after it burned down. The architecture and design is very Mad Men. The staff was friendly and gracious, and trying hard, but they’re stretched thin. We won’t be back.

Friday, we took the California Overland desert tour, guided by Joe Raffeto, the friendly and knowledgable proprietor, who is very qualified to do desert tours on account of being a former marine biologist and the desert was an ocean millions of years ago and oh hell I’m making this up. Joe was a marine biologist at one time, but he’s very knowledgable about the desert, and drove us around in an Army surplus truck converted to a sort of open-air bus with a capacity of 16 people. If I had any teeth that weren’t loose when we started, the truck tour through the desert took care of that.

Seriously: Loved the tour. Joe was great. He does special stargazing and other tours, I hope we can make it back up for those.

To get to Borrego Springs from San Diego proper, you go over the mountains, passing through Julian, which we’ve been to before. It’s a fun little town but overrated — basically a single main street in the style of a 19th Century gold rush town, with lots of shops and restaurants. It’s known for its apple pie. While apple pie is a great invention, I don’t think it’s particularly better or worse in Julian than, say, the Marie Callender’s restaurant a quarter-mile from our house. Apple pie is always great. Even McDonald’s apple pie is pretty good.

On the way back through the mountains, we stopped in a little crossroads called Santa Ysabel, which has a down-home restaurant called the Apple Country Restaurant (apple pie!), as well as a country grocery store and an outpost of Dudley’s Bakery. We stocked up, and hopped in the car. On the way home, we drove through the town of Ramona. “This is fantastic!” I said. “You said that last time we did this,” Julie said. But I didn’t remember. I love a good small-town downtown.

We got home Saturday, I relaxed a bit Sunday, and Monday came in and worked a 16-hour day. That always seems to happen first day back from vacation; I wish I could skip the first day back and go directly to the second day.

Losing weight and staying fit over the holidays

Knowing that I’ve lost 90 pounds[1. On purpose. Sometimes people ask me about that. They’re worried that I’m sick.], and kept it off for nearly 11 months, people often ask me how they can lose weight (or keep weight off) and stay fit during the holidays.[2. Actually, nobody ever asks me that.]

I have a two-word response: Don’t bother.

Improved nutrition is not like alcoholism or quitting smoking, where the goal is zero tolerance. “Never again!” is the goal for an alcoholic or a person who has quite smoking. That person wants to never have another drink, or another puff on a cigarette, ever again.

But the goal for improved nutrition and fitness should be moderation. It’s right to occasionally indulge in rich food, candy, dessert, and booze. It’s right to occasionally do a lot of that, and slack off on exercise for a little while, and gain a few pounds.

Then, when you’ve done that for a while, it’s right to resume a healthier lifestyle.

I was on vacation for the past 12 days, which included Thanksgiving. I drank a lot of wine, ate dessert at almost every meal, ate a lot of red meat and fried food, didn’t exercise many days, and had a great time .

I gained four pounds in the last 12 days. And that’s fine. And now it’s time to resume exercise and take the weight off again.

The goal for fitness is not zero tolerance. The goal for fitness is to lead a healthier, better, and more enjoyable life. And good food is a part of that kind of life, as is a schedule that sometimes does not permit exercise.

The only thing that bothers me about these 12 days is what I’ve learned about myself. For the past few months, I’ve been hoping that one day soon I might be able to give up on compulsively weighing and measuring my food, and logging everything I eat, and instead I could just eat whatever I want. What I learned in the past 12 days is that’s not going to happen. Or not soon at least. When I let myself off the leash, I go back to my old habits of physical sloth and compulsive eating. Oh, well.