Defending the indefensible

Prop. 7 looks to change daylight saving time in California (CBS8.com)

I’ve become a convert to the Daylight Saving Time/Standard Time switch. Sure, it’s a problem for a couple of days – but it maximizes daylight for the maximum number of people. Year-round DST means kids going to school in the dark and getting hit by cars.

We should spend more of the year on standard time, though – six months of each, as used to be the case.

A funeral director sees things daily that most people should only see once in a lifetime

A funeral director sees things daily that most people should only see once in a lifetime

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The Death, Sex, & Money podcast, hosted by Anna Sale, interviews Caleb Wilde, a 33-year-old sixth-generation funeral director in the small town of Parkesburg, Pennsylvania. He blogs at “Confessions of a Funeral Director.”

“It’s overexposed me to death, and it’s created burnout and depression,” Wilde says. “At the same time, it’s allowed me to see beautiful aspects of humanity: compassion, empathy, tolerance. A close experience with death changes us. It changes all aspects of our being.”

A woman remembers her father, a closeted gay man who died of AIDS in 1992

A woman remembers her father, a closeted gay man who died of AIDS in 1992

Whitney Joiner talks to Anna Sales at the Death, Sex & Money podcast:

Whitney Joiner was 13 when her father Joe told her he was HIV-positive. He said he hoped to see her graduate from high school. Five months later, he was dead. It was rural Kentucky in 1992, and Whitney and her family thought it was best to keep quiet.

Whitney never learned how her father contracted the disease. After his funeral, her mother heard from a mutual friend that he’d secretly gone to gay clubs. As a teenager, Whitney had wondered if he were gay. She’d even asked him, but he denied it. His denial was a relief at the time. Now, she wishes she had more answers.

Today’s creative writing: 503 words, 14,628 words total on “The Reluctant Magician”

Once again, momentum FTW. I wasn’t going to write at all because it was late and I’m traveling for business and I have to get an early start tomorrow. “Just write something,” I said to myself. “Three words. That’s all you have to do.”

But once I got started I was rolling and before I knew it the word goal on Ulysses went from gray to green and I was done.

A business associate today asked me about my creative writing — which is I think the first time that’s happened; usually my worlds are compartmentalized. I commented to him that these progress reports are surprisingly helpful. I don’t kid myself that you are fascinated by them — you have your own lives, and I expect if I stopped writing today, you’d virtually not notice at all. In about two or three years one of you might say, “Hey, did you used to do creative writing? Whatever happened to that?” But I would know if I miss even one day, and it matters.

How to unplug when you should

Do you obsessively fiddle with your phone all the time? Win back some mental space with these tips – Michael Duran, Wired

I see many articles like this. They all recommend similar steps. Don’t put your phone in your pocket, keep it in your desk where you have to make some effort to get it. Go a couple of days without connectivity.

These tips are not helpful. Keeping my phone out of reach would create more problems than it’s worth, because it’s a legitimate inconvenience when my phone is out of reach. The problem is that I fiddle with the phone at times when I should be doing something else. THAT’S what I’m looking to control.

Going a few days without connectivity is like going without electricity. It’s doable. People call that “camping.” And it’s good for you. But it’s kind of a big deal. Not to be entered into casually.

One tip that is helpful: Turn off nearly all your notifications. You do NOT want to be notified when you get new email, a mention or comment on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. You just don’t.

David Hewson: Mistakes to avoid when writing a series

The British mystery writer weighs in:

Like most series writers, you see, I never set out to go down this path. I wrote the first Costa book as a standalone and was then asked to turn it into a series by my publisher. After which I made it up as I went along, mistakenly sometimes though I’m pleased to report the errors I committed were by no means rare.

Here, when I set out to write the Amsterdam series, are some of the pitfalls I told myself to avoid.

One of the mistakes he cites: Failing to plan for how the series will deal with the passage of time, as the years go by between books in the real world.

Different series writers handle the passage of time in different ways. Spenser and the other characters in the Robert B. Parker series aged at a rate of 1:2 for the real world for a decade or so, then it appeared they just stopped aging. In the early books, written in the 70s, Spenser referenced being a Korean war vet and an ex-boxer who once fought Jersey Joe Walcott. In the last books by Parker, written in the 2000s, those references are left out.

In the Nero Wolfe books, the characters stay exactly the same age throughout 30 years, while the outside world progresses. In the first book, Nero is in his early 40s and Archie is about 30 and they’re toasting the end of Prohibition. As the series hit its prime, Archie is enlisted in the Army during World War II — fortunately assigned to stay home in Manhattan. In the last book, Nero is in his early 40s and obsessed with Watergate, and Archie is about 30.

By the way, both the Spenser and Nero Wolfe series were continued by other writers after the original author’s death. I read one of the Spenser novels by Ace Atkins; it was pretty good. Surprisingly, it was better and more true to the characters than the later Parker novels were.

I also read one of the Robert Goldsborough Nero Wolfe novels, and found it disappointing. He had the details right, but the voice was off. For example: The book was written and set in the 80s, and the mystery revolved around some detail of personal computing technology. Archie had become a PC expert by then, and provided a clue to solve the crime. Nero Wolfe was portrayed as an antiquarian who disdained PCs.

But I thought that was precisely the opposite of the spirit of the books. Archie, as a man of action, would have disdained PCs in the early years. He’d have learned to use one, because he did Wolfe’s office work, but he would have no particular affinity for them. However, the sedentary genius Wolfe might have taken to PCs, because they are logical like he is, and he can use one while moving nothing other than his fingers and eyes.

Preserving the history of technology

In the future, communities might choose, like the Amish, to remain static at past technology levels — the year 2000, say, or 1950 — as a living record of people’s relationship with technology and how it changes over time.

Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything:

Social Media theorist Nathan Jurgenson wants us to understand what is truly revolutionary about ephemeral photographs and platforms like Snapchat, Fred Ritchin says we are going to get our minds blown “After Photography” and Finn Bruntun explains why we need to preserve our transition from Analog to Digital.

Today’s creative writing: Revised beginning of “The Reluctant Magician.” Total 5,130 words

I have changed my vision for both the main female character and the villain, and I wanted to go back and make what I’ve written so far fit that vision.

The alternative is writing notes to myself and going back to the beginning and revising when I get to the second draft. I’ve done that before on previous novels. It’s a slog. This way seems more fresh and lively.

What I’m doing is dangerous. I could end up revising and revising and never adding new material. But I’m making up my writing technique as I go (as well as making up the writing itself, of course).

Someone on Twitter asked me today about my creative writing technique, whether I write major scenes first or write in order. I said this time around I did a 3,000-word outline and from that I’m writing scenes in order.

On previous novels I wrote without an outline. I just wrote scenes in order. But that was like pulling teeth.

I’m trying to get to the point where creative writing is just something I do every day, with no drama. Like BRUSHING teeth, rather than pulling them.

Passions aren’t discovered. They’re cultivated. 

Psychologist Angela Duckworth advises graduates in The New York Times:

Don’t panic if you can’t think of a career path that’s a perfect fit. In large part, this is because interests are not just discovered, they’re developed. Scientists have learned that the sort of enduring fascination that commencement speakers like to praise usually takes time and experience to bloom fully.

For instance, when she graduated from Smith College, Julia Child had no idea that she would fall in love with French cuisine in her late 30s. She had no inkling that writing cookbooks and teaching on television would one day become her calling.

A good-enough fit is a more reasonable aim than a perfect one. Consider your first job as an opportunity to begin an unpredictable, inefficient trial-and-error process. The violist Roberto Díaz told me he didn’t know he’d love the viola before he tried it, and his tepid reaction to the violin could not have foretold the lifelong love affair he has had with the ever-so-slightly-larger viola.

As I said to one young man who, on the cusp of his first real job, was paralyzed by indecision: “Don’t overthink it. Move in the direction of something that feels better than worse.”

Also: Don’t try to think of what interests you. Instead, think about how you’d like the world to change, and work for that.

A brief history of hippopotamus ranches in America: a story about agriculture and espionage

peter_potamus_by_tr3forever-d60k4q7The Longform podcast interviews Jon Mooallem, author of “American Hippopotamus,” about that time 100 years ago there was a brief but serious movement to launch hippopotamus ranches in the US.

The American frontier was vanishing and the environmental movement was just starting. Advocates had the idea that hippo ranches would turn wetlands into useful meat-producing agricultural areas.

Harry Truman: Born to lose

Everybody knew for months that Truman was going to lose to Thomas Dewey, so much so that Dewey took long breaks from campaigning, says Lillian Cunningham on the Washington Post’s Presidential podcast. And by the time Truman left office, he was staggeringly unpopular. But now he’s one of the most-respected and best-loved Presidents in American history.

In the newest episode of the Presidential podcast, biographer David McCullough looks at some of the most difficult calls President Truman made during his time in the White House, including the decisions to drop the atomic bomb, push for civil rights legislation and fire Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

Washington Post polling manager Scott Clement also joins the episode to explain the biggest polling failure in presidential history—when Truman won the 1948 election, despite the many polls that seemed to show he didn’t stand a chance.

Matcha is an alternative for people who get too jittery on coffee

Shayla Love, The Washington Post:

Matcha is green tea leaves crushed into a fine, electric green powder. Whisk the powder into warm or hot water, and it dissolves into a frothy drink.

In a regular cup of tea, tea leaves are just steeped in water, but when you drink matcha, you actually consume the whole leaf and the nutrients it contains. Drinking the whole leaf provides the antioxidants and health benefits, Sheth says, at higher levels than other superfoods such as like acai berries or goji berries.

At the same time, another component of the leaf, the secret behind the mellow matcha buzz, helps prevent the shaky coffee feeling: L-theanine.

“L-theanine is an amino acid, and studies have shown it provides a stress relief; it produces a calm feeling in our body,” [dietician Vandana Sheth] said. “But it doesn’t make us sleepy. When you combine that with the caffeine that’s in the matcha, you’re feeling more focused, you’re feeling alertness but without that jittery feeling when you consume a lot of caffeine from coffee.”

Now I’m curious to try matcha. I’ll see if I can find a local source.

Melania Trump had work visa when she modeled in the 90s, former agency says

Melania Trump’s former modeling agent says she obtained a work visa before she modeled professionally in the United States in the mid-1990s. Those comments came in response to questions about Mrs. Trump’s own remarks that appeared inconsistent with U.S. immigration rules….

In interviews earlier this year with MSNBC and for a profile in Harper’s Bazaar, Mrs. Trump’s comments appeared to be inconsistent with holding a work visa.

“I never thought to stay here without papers. I had a visa. I traveled every few months back to the country to Slovenia to stamp the visa,” she said during the MSNBC interview.

U.S. immigration law did not require such trips that Mrs. Trump describes for work-visa holders at the time. People who hold visitor visas would be required to leave the country on or before the end date of their authorized stay. U.S. law does not allow someone to use a visitor visa to regularly live and work in the country.

Mrs. Trump published a statement on Twitter on Thursday, disputing that she violated immigration laws. “I have at all times been in full compliance with the immigration laws of this country. Period. Any allegation to the contrary is simply untrue,” she wrote.

Seems likely that she was here and working legally. Maybe back in the 90s she overcomplied with requirements because she misunderstood them. Or maybe now she is misremembering events of 20 years ago.

(The Associated Press/CBS News)

The problem with Twitter’s new marketing campaign

Twitter’s new video ad actually explains what Twitter is for – Kurt Wagner, Recode

Twitter unveiled a new video ad Monday morning, and it does something that its previous TV commercial never did: It explains why you might want to use Twitter.

Here’s a look at the new ad, which Twitter is running on its own properties for now and will soon pay to distribute on other digital platforms:

“What’s happening in the world?” the narrator asks over video of Donald Trump campaigning and clips from “Game of Thrones.”

“What’s everyone talking about? How did it start? See what’s happening in the world right now.”

This is, in essence, why anyone uses Twitter. To answer these exact questions. And now Twitter is explaining that, or at least highlighting it, in a way that might catch people’s attention.

Twitter’s problem is that most of the time there’s nothing going on in the world that you need to know about RIGHT NOW. Osama Bin Laden isn’t being killed somewhere every second of the day.

Sports and celebrity gossip might be the exception. People don’t need to know that stuff right away, but they enjoy it. Is that enough to sustain Twitter?

Also, if someone has never used Twitter before, can they find what’s happening right now FAST, like right this second?

Pokémon Go is everything that is wrong with late capitalism

Pokemon Go takes money out of local communities and centralizes it to big corporations, and that’s what’s wrong with late capitalism, says Timothy B. Lee at Vox:

If you were looking to have fun with some friends 50 years ago, you might have gone to a bowling alley. Maybe you would have hung out at a diner or gone to the movies.

These were all activities that involved spending a certain amount of money in the local economy. That created opportunities for adults in your town to start and run small businesses. It also meant that a teenager who wanted to find a summer job could find one waiting tables or taking tickets at the movie theater.

You can spend money on Pokémon Go too. But the economics of the game are very different. When you spend money on items in the Pokémon Go world, it doesn’t go into the pocket of a local Pokémon entrepreneur — it goes into the pockets of the huge California- and Japan-based global companies that created Pokémon Go.

There are, of course, some good things about this. Pokémon Go can be a much more affordable hobby than going to a bowling alley or the movies. In fact, you don’t have to spend any money on it. And the explosion of options made possible by online platforms creates real value — the average teenager has vastly more options for games to play, movies to watch, and so forth than at any time in American history.

There is no death, only a series of eternal ‘nows’

‘If you try to get your hands on time,’ said the physicist Julian Barbour, ‘it’s always slipping through your fingers. People are sure that it’s there but they can’t get hold of it. Now my feeling is that they can’t get hold of it because it isn’t there at all.’ He and many other physicists see each individual moment as a whole, complete and existing in its own right. We live in a succession of ‘Nows’.

There is no death, only a series of eternal ‘nows’ [Bob Berman – Aeon]