40-hour work-week as a tool of immiserating economic growth

“The culture of the eight-hour workday is big business’ most powerful tool for keeping people in this same dissatisfied state where the answer to every problem is to buy something.” Via Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing

I’m taking a day off from work today to call people to get out the vote for Democrats

If you’re eligible to vote in the US you need to get out and do it. Otherwise, you’re not allowed to enjoy any of the vintage ads and retro photos I post here. I’ve got some great ones queued for Thanksgiving – don’t miss out!

Dave Winer: Less Facebook is OK

Dave Winer: Less Facebook is OK

Dave is my blogging spirit animal. I like blogging, and I like sharing on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, and Medium. Of those platforms, I get the most return from Facebook. But blogging AND sharing to Facebook and Google+ are just too much work. So I’m going to start focusing mainly on the blog, and just automatically share links to Google+ and Facebook, until those platforms become easier to deal with in conjunction with a blog.

I’m working on figuring out a way I can share short updates directly to those services and to the blog simultaneously. This will involve automated email and plenty of duck tape.

You’re welcome to leave comments here, or on Facebook or Google+. Or just stop reading, even if you’re a close friend or member of my immediate family. I do not require other people to participate in my peculiar hobby.

I will revisit this decision when it doesn’t seem to be working for me, or when the tools for sharing blog content to social media get easier to work with.

I’ll keep mirroring my posts to Tumblr and Medium because that’s easy.

And I’m still trying to figure out what to do about Twitter.

Ellen Burstyn’s Lessons on Survival

Ellen Burstyn’s Lessons on Survival

On the Death, Sex, & Money podcast:

When Burstyn was 18, she got on a Greyhound bus going from Detroit to Dallas. She had 50 cents in her pocket and a hunch that she could find work as a model. The actress and director, known for her roles in Alice Doesn’t Live Here AnymoreThe Exorcist, and Requiem For a Dream, says she’d never do that now. But back then, she didn’t doubt herself.

It wasn’t the only risk she took as a young woman. At 18, she’d already gotten pregnant and had an illegal abortion. By her mid-20s, determined not to just get by on her looks, she left Hollywood to study acting with Lee Strasberg. In her mid-40s, after leaving an abusive marriage, she starred as a newly single mom in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. The role was based in part on her own life, and it won her an Oscar.

Now, at 81, she told me she is most proud of her relationship with her son, whom she adopted at birth. “I really think of myself as a work in progress,” Burstyn told me as we sat in wicker furniture in her Manhattan bedroom. “I know I’m a successful actress, but I don’t feel I’m necessarily a successful person.”

We are not amused: The tyranny of forced fun at work

Companies are setting aside work time for leisure, with required employee participation, in the name of team-building.

Alina Dizik, the BBC

[Veronique James, chief executive of The James Agency, a Scottsdale, Ariz., ad firm] budgets $20,000 per year for events, which are considered part of employee benefits for tax purposes. The 30-person team has gone indoor skydiving, taken a ballroom dancing class and gone through an afternoon of trapeze training together.

Sounds awful.

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.

Getting out of the office

Monitoring software lets employers keep an eye on their remote workers, with keyloggers to see what’s on their screens and cameras to watch them in their home offices. That’s both wrong and bad for business, says David Heinemeier Hansson, a partner at 37 Signals, a company filled with remote workers And Ignacio Uriarte is an artist who works with Excel and other office software.

Out of the Office – Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything podcast

I’ve been working remotely for most of the last 25 years. Hansson is right — employers should keep an eye on the work product and ignore work habits. If the work product is all right, it doesn’t matter if the employee has what appears outwardly to be lousy work habits.

Bill Maher: Clinton needs to embrace the cartoon evil image Republicans have created

Bill Maher: “Hillary has to embrace all the nasty things the haters say and run as the Notorious HRC.”

In character as Notorious HRC: “When Donald Trump gets angry at someone he sends out a mean-girl tweet in the middle of the night. That’s cute. Here’s me killing bin Laden. And Gaddafi’s ass is a little sore these days too.”

Hilarious. I love it. And there’s truth here. Americans don’t want “sweet grandma Hillary.”

Also: “Try as I might, I cannot make my brain work like a Trump voter. Maybe it’s my mother not drinking when she was pregnant.”

She’s still light-years better than the alternative. No contest.

I was disappointed the way the Clinton campaign handled her illness. I’d rather they disclosed Friday when she was diagnosed. But I’m mostly over it.

Her sickness changes nothing about the choice ahead. She’s still light-years better than her opponent. Trump is a bigot, a con man, willfully ignorant, a bully, a coward, enthusiastically supported by white supremacists, he has openly bragged about paying off politicians, he has never disclosed his own medical records or his financial records. And he speaks admiringly of brutal dictators.

Meanwhile, Clinton has pneumonia and SHE STILL SHOWS UP FOR WORK. She COLLAPSES from pneumonia and she’s back at work a couple of hours later. Goddamn right she’s a bitch.

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.

Marie Manning wanted to be a crime reporter. Instead, she invented the advice column.

Fresh out of finishing school, with a name that appeared on the social registry of Washington D.C.’s debutante parties, Marie Manning was fascinated by true crime stories. She got a job as a newspaper reporter in 1892, but was soon sidelined to the “Hen Coop” to work on the “women’s page.” There, they received letters from people looking for advice, and Manning cooked up the idea to run the letters and answers as a regular column.

Today’s creative writing: 778 words on “The Reluctant Magician”

866 words total. I’m just getting started.

Rather, I’m just getting started for the third time. I made a couple of false starts.

Then I read this essay from Michael Moorcock on how to write an adventure novel in three days.

I do not plan to write this novel in three days. If I can finish it in a year, I’ll be satisfied. But the essay got me thinking about outlining.

Moorcock doesn’t outline exactly. But he does have situations and locations worked out in advance, at the ready, like a metaphorical briefcase into which he can dip and pull out whatever he needs to keep the writing going.

I’ve never tried creative writing with an outline. I always thought outlining was the opposite of creative, and looked down on it. But after reading the Moorcock essay I realized that’s just a silly prejudice. Some excellent writers work from outlines. Others work freestyle. It’s just a matter of what works best; outliners are no better than non-outliners. Maybe outlining would work for me?

I did some research on outlines and came across the snowflake method. You’re outlining your novel by starting from the center and working outward. Like a snowflake — get it?

You start with a one-sentence summary, build that to a paragraph, expand further to studies of your secondary characters, and so on. I started with the snowflake method but abandoned it immediately after the one-sentence-summary stage, because it wasn’t working for me. But outlining was working for me.

I don’t mean a formal outline, with roman numerals and all that. I mean I just started writing down notes about the novel, in sequence. Who were my main characters, what was their problem, how were they going to solve it?

I also remembered a tip from Cory Doctorow on how to structure a novel: A character gets in trouble, does something intelligent to solve the problem but that only makes the problem worse. Repeat that several times until all is very nearly lost, and then the character does one more intelligent thing to solve the problem, and this time it works

Or something like that. I can’t find where Cory said that; the closest I can find is this article on InformationWeek that I wrote nine years ago but have no memory of writing. (That happens sometimes. I write a lot of articles.)

I worked on my outline for a couple of weeks and ended up writing 3,178 words, which I think covers the whole novel.

I think an outline is great for me for a couple of reasons: First, it allows me to forget about the big picture for a little while. I don’t have to hold the whole novel in my head every day, just whatever bit I’m working on at the moment.

The outline is also helpful because the novel I’m working on is a cross between a caper story and urban fantasy, in a fantasy city resembling 1970s-80s America in some ways, and drastically different in other ways, with a lot of background that needs to be explained in a lively fashion and moving parts to keep track of.

I’m not going to claim “aha! I’ve solved the problem of creative writing and will just keep plugging along and producing one novel after another!” I’ve thought that was the case many times before.

Ezra Klein Show: Melissa Bell on starting Vox, managing media, and connecting newsrooms

Ezra Klein:

I first started working with Melissa Bell at the Washington Post. I was trying to launch a new product — Wonkblog — and I needed some design work done. Melissa wasn’t a designer. She wasn’t a coder. She didn’t manage designers or coders. She was, rather, a blogger, like me. But somehow, no one would meet with me to talk Wonkblog unless Melissa was also in the room.It was my first exposure to Melissa’s unusual talent for finding and connecting the different parts of a modern newsroom. We went on to start Vox together, and it’s no exaggeration to say Vox simply wouldn’t exist without Melissa’s vision, her managerial brilliance, or her unerring sense of where journalism is going. She’s also one of my very favorite people — working with her has been one of the highlights of my career. Melissa was recently named publisher for all of Vox Media — so if you’re wondering what’s next in journalism, she’s someone you’ll want to listen to, because she’ll be building it. In this conversation, we discuss:-How Melissa started her journalism career in India-Her experience working near the World Trade Center on 9/11-What she learned from her time as a waitress, and how it was crucial to her development as a journalist-Her pending case before the Indian Supreme Court-How observing large institutions reveals how little information and control any one person really has-How she thinks about “mapping out” organizations and creating informal networks within those organizations to get things done-Why it’s hard to create new things in big organizations and how to create better systems for making those things-How the distinctions between “old” and “new” media have largely collapsed-What it was like starting Vox, and what we got wrong from the beginning-How Vox’s brand identity emerged, and why it proved more important than either of us expectedAnd much more. I work very closely with Melissa, and I learned a lot about her in this discussion. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Klein and Bell discuss what happens when you go from fighting The Man to being The Man.

Also: As a boy, Klein’s favorite book was “The Dragonriders of Pern.” Wow.

Self-Driving Cars Will Improve Our Cities. If They Don’t Ruin Them

Without planning, self-driving cars could increase congestion, widespread unemployment, and reduce tax revenue, says Zipcar co-founder Robin Chase on Backchannel.

Most of what has been written about self-driving or automated vehicles (often abbreviated as AVs) focuses on subjects like their technical aspects, the regulatory battles to license them, or the fascinating but remote dilemma of a self-driving car being forced to choose between holding its course and hitting grandma, or swerving into a troop of boy scouts. There’s relatively little discussion of the speed and scope of change, the impacts that go well beyond the auto industry, or the roadmap to unlocking the enormous upside potential if we actively guide the trajectory of their adoption.

We’re at a fork on that roadmap. One direction leads to a productive new century where cities are more sustainable, livable, equitable, and just.

But if we take the wrong turn, we’re at a dead end. Cities are already complex and chaotic places in which to live and work. If we allow the introduction of automated vehicles to be guided by existing regulations we’ll end up with more congestion, millions of unemployed drivers, and a huge deficit in how we fund our transportation infrastructure. We will also miss an opportunity to fix transportation’s hereto intractable reliance on liquid fossil fuels (and their associated pollution).

Right now, we’re not even alert to how crucial the choices are. In fact, we’re falling asleep at the wheel. Most people in charge of shaping cities — mayors, transportation planners, developers, and lawmakers — haven’t realized what is about to hit them and the speed at which it is coming. They continue to build as if the future is like the present.

George RR Martin’s “Wild Cards” books are coming to TV

The “Game of Thrones” author’s Wild Cards series are set in an alternate history where an alien virus in the 1940s gave superpowers to a tiny fraction of humanity. Martin worked on the books with Melinda Snodgrass and a team of about 30 collaborators, each writing individual stories in the larger universe.

I loved the first dozen or so volumes of the series, and I’m looking forward to the TV show.

Dalya Alberge at The Guardian:

It is a sprawling fantasy featuring deformed humans, superheroes who can read minds and fly, and plot lines exploring issues such as bigotry and raw political ambition. Like the blockbuster TV hit Game of Thrones, it is also based in part on the work of the cult fantasy writer George RR Martin.

Now Hollywood is betting that a major TV adaptation of Wild Cards, a series of science fiction books grounded in gritty realism that Martin began writing 30 years ago, can emulate the extraordinary worldwide success of the HBO show. If it does, it will fulfil the dreams of Martin’s collaborator on Wild Cards, Melinda Snodgrass, who has struggled in vain for 12 years to interest film and television producers.

The US writer and editor was praised by executives, only to be given excuses about why the books were not for them. She refused to be bowed by rejection and her determination has finally paid off. She is now heading an ambitious TV adaption of the series backed by Universal Pictures.

 

Ow my head

I wrote an email to our new corporate HR department summarizing my employment history with UBM/CMP Media. The email took a while to write. It’s more complicated than the storyline of the Back to the Future movies.

By my count, I was hired by the same company … four times? I think  it was four times. I  quit once (twice if you count the transition to Light Reading), and was laid off twice. During the years I worked for them, CMP was acquired by United Business Media, which I think changed its name to just UBM.