Happiness

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Who doesn’t want to be happy? Even those of us who count ourselves as generally happy seem to always be looking for more.

That’s why I was drawn to a piece by Richard Friedman, “A Swimmer’s Guide to Happiness.” Here is part of what he shares:

Research shows that thinking too much about how to be happy actually backfires and undermines well-being. This is in part because all that thinking consumes a fair amount of time, and is not itself enjoyable.

The researchers behind this study, called “Vanishing Time in the Pursuit of Happiness,” randomly assigned subjects to one of two tasks: One group was asked to write down 10 things that could make them become happier, while the other wrote 10 things that demonstrated that they were already happy.

The subjects were then asked to what extent they felt time was slipping away and how happy they felt at that moment. Those prompted to think about how they could become happier felt more pressed for time and significantly less happy.

This jibes with the argument the journalist Ruth Whippman makes in her 2016 book “America the Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness Is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks.” Trying too hard to be happy — downloading mindfulness apps, taking yoga classes, reading self-help books — mostly just stresses us out, she writes. So what should we do instead? Maybe simply hang out with some friends, doing something we like to do together: “Study after study shows that good social relationships are the strongest, most consistent predictor there is of a happy life.”

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here

Who Brings Us AI?

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When someone mentions artificial intelligence – AI – we typically think of some Silicon Valley tech titan dressed in jeans and an ever-so-sheik sport coat.

But as they say, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Few of us understand how enormous troves of data needed to have AI gets assembled and crunched.

Cade Metz helps us understand the unseen underbelly of the tech industry. It’s a revealing – and troubling – look at the cost of doing business to get that next cool app. Here’s how she begins:

BHUBANESWAR, India — Namita Pradhan sat at a desk in downtown Bhubaneswar, India, about 40 miles from the Bay of Bengal, staring at a video recorded in a hospital on the other side of the world.

The video showed the inside of someone’s colon. Ms. Pradhan was looking for polyps, small growths in the large intestine that could lead to cancer. When she found one — they look a bit like a slimy, angry pimple — she marked it with her computer mouse and keyboard, drawing a digital circle around the tiny bulge.

She was not trained as a doctor, but she was helping to teach an artificial intelligence system that could eventually do the work of a doctor.

Ms. Pradhan was one of dozens of young Indian women and men lined up at desks on the fourth floor of a small office building. They were trained to annotate all kinds of digital images, pinpointing everything from stop signs and pedestrians in street scenes to factories and oil tankers in satellite photos.

A.I., most people in the tech industry would tell you, is the future of their industry, and it is improving fast thanks to something called machine learning. But tech executives rarely discuss the labor-intensive process that goes into its creation. A.I. is learning from humans. Lots and lots of humans.

Want more? You can read the full article here

A Novelist for the Ages

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This summer we lost one of the icons of American literature, Toni Morrison. Lovely obits have been carried in national – and international – media.

But it was Ross Douthat’s recent op-ed that caught my eye. He explained the enormous impact she had on all of us. Here’s how he began:

Toni Morrison was a great American novelist who was also a Great American Novelist. This means she had a special form of celebrity, an oracular status, and also that she was embraced by the tradition that regards novels as keys to interpreting America — insisting that you must read Morrison (and Ellison and Wright and Hurston) to understand the black experience, just as you must read Hawthorne and Melville to understand the legacy of Puritanism, or Faulkner or Cather to understand the South or West, and so on down the high-school English list.

So her passing raises the question: Is she the last of the species? The last American novelist who made novels seem essential to an educated person’s understanding of her country?

That question won’t be answerable for decades — the time it took to exhume, for instance, “Moby-Dick” and “The Great Gatsby” from their temporary graves. We can’t know how Morrison’s reputation will change, or the reputations of her peers or the status of their art form. The American novel was supposed to be eclipsed long ago by movies and television … and yet it proved resilient enough that, coming of age long after TV, I was still imprinted with the idea that novels were essential cultural ground, as important as Spielberg or “The Sopranos.”

But something has changed in the cultural status of the novel in the time I’ve been a reader, the years between Morrison’s canonization and her passing — and maybe especially the years since social media and the iPhone first arrived.

Check out this link to read more

Harnessing Technology to Make War Safer

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Few subjects inspire more furious debate than the terms “war” and “drones.” There is vastly more heat than light on this subject.

That is why I was impressed by the reasoned arguments of a U.S. Marine who wrote an article entitled, “How Tech Can Make War Safer.”

Amidst all the shrill debate on the subject, Lucas Kunce explained how when the tech industry refuses to work on defense-related projects, war becomes less safe Here’s how he begins:

Last year, more than 4,600 Google employees signed a petition urging the company to commit to refusing to build weapons technology. A response to Google’s work with the military on an artificial intelligence-based targeting system, the petition made a powerful and seemingly simple moral statement: “We believe that Google should not be in the business of war.” Similarly, Microsoft employees in February demanded that their company withhold its augmented reality HoloLens headset technology from the Army, saying they did not want to become “war profiteers.”

As a Marine who has been in harm’s way a few times, I am glad that my peers in the tech industry have initiated this discussion. America is long overdue for a conversation about how we engage in war and peace; the difference between the decision to go to war and decisions about what happens on the battlefield during warfare; and what it means to fight, die and kill for our country.

My job has put me in places where I have witnessed and taken part in significant battlefield decisions. From my experience, I have learned that working with the military to develop systems would actually support the tech workers’ goal to reduce harm in warfare. (I need to note here that I am speaking for myself, and my views do not necessarily reflect those of the Department of Defense.)

Tech workers might not realize that their opposition to the work their companies do on military technology does not change the decision-making of the American leaders who choose to go to war, and therefore is unlikely to prevent any harm caused by war. Instead, it has the unintended effect of imperiling not only the lives of service members, but also the lives of innocent civilians whom I believe these workers want to protect.

You can read the full article here

Charisma

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How many times have you heard someone say: “He (or she) has charisma.” Certain people seem to have it, while most of us think we don’t.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but all of us need at least a little bit of charisma. It’s how we influence people and get along in the world.

That’s why I found this article, “Becoming Charismatic, One Step at a Time,” so fascinating. Here’s how it begins:

Ask people to name someone they find charming and the answers are often predictable. There’s James Bond, the fictional spy with a penchant for shaken martinis. Maybe they’ll mention Oprah Winfrey, Bill Clinton or a historical figure, like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi. Now ask the same people to describe, in just a few seconds, what makes these charmers so likable.

It’s here, in defining what exactly charisma is, that most hit a wall. Instinctually, we know that we’re drawn to certain people more than others. Quantifying why we like them is an entirely different exercise.

The ancient Greeks described charisma as a “gift of grace,” an apt descriptor if you believe likability is a God-given trait that comes naturally to some but not others. The truth is that charisma is a learned behavior, a skill to be developed in much the same way that we learned to walk or practice vocabulary when studying a new language. Other desirable traits, like wealth or appearance, are undoubtedly linked to likability, but being born without either doesn’t preclude you from being charismatic.

For all the work put into quantifying charisma — and it’s been studied by experts through the ages, including Plato and those we talked to for this piece — there are still a lot of unknowns. There are, however, two undisputed truths.

The first is that we are almost supernaturally drawn to some people, particularly those we like. Though this is not always the case; we can just as easily be drawn in by a charismatic villain.

The second truth is that we are terrible at putting a finger on what it is that makes these people so captivating. Beyond surface-level observations — a nice smile, or the ability to tell a good story — few of us can quantify, in an instant, what makes charismatic people so magnetic.

Want more? You can read them here

Murder, She Read

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Who reads about true crime? The statistics don’t lie. And Kate Tuttle explains WHY in her essay. Here is just a snippet:

A 2010 study found that around 70 percent of Amazon reviews of true-crime books are by women (compared with books about war, where 82 percent of the reviews are by men). Something is going on here, but what? Men, the statistics tell us, are involved in violent crime — as perpetrators and victims alike — in much larger numbers than women. When women are connected to crime, we’re much more likely to be victims or survivors. Perhaps our fascination with these stories stems in part from wanting to learn from them. If a woman escaped her attacker in this particular way, we think, perhaps I could too.

At the most basic level, true crime satisfies that little-kid desire to see beneath the surface of everything. As a child, I was often ashamed of my curiosity, which always seemed to go in socially unacceptable directions. I’d reach for a stick to explore a dead fish at the edge of a pond. I yearned to learn taxidermy. Grown-ups smiled when I said I wanted to be a doctor when I grew up, but I knew better than to tell them my main motivation: I wanted to see everyone naked. As a teenager, I liked nothing better than testing my ability to withstand upsetting things.

Want more? You can read the full article here

La Jolla Writer’s Conference

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Want to get your book published and read by a wide audience? The La Jolla Writer’s Conference is the premier writing conference in San Diego and books up fast. Hear from the professionals who can jump start – or accelerate – your writing journey.

Look Range Threats

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Earlier this year, one of the giants in U.S. national security passed away. Few individuals have made more of an impact on the way the U.S. military – and indeed all the levers of U.S. national power – perceive, analyze and understand the threats our nation faces.

Many obits tried to sum up his manifest contributions. Julian Barnes piece in the New York Times perhaps did it best. Here’s how he began:

Andrew Marshall, a Pentagon strategist who helped shape American military thinking on the Soviet Union, China and other global competitors for more than four decades, died in Alexandria, Va. He was 97.

Mr. Marshall, as director of the Office of Net Assessment, was the secretive futurist of the Pentagon, a long-range thinker who both prodded and inspired secretaries of defense and high-level policymakers. Virtually unknown among the wider public, he came to be revered inside the Defense Department as a mysterious Yoda-like figure who embodied an exceptionally long institutional memory.

In the early 2000s, at a time when the Pentagon was focused on counterinsurgency and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Mr. Marshall urged officials to focus on the challenge of China — a view that many considered outdated. But today, national security officials are increasingly adopting Mr. Marshall’s view of China as a potential strategic adversary, an idea now at the heart of national defense strategy.

Through his many hires and generous Pentagon grants, estimated to total more than $400 million over four decades, Mr. Marshall trained a coterie of experts and strategists in Washington and beyond. One veteran of the office, Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, is now the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Another, Robert O. Work, was the deputy secretary of defense from 2014 to 2017.

The exact nature of Mr. Marshall’s office was poorly understood. But he cultivated thinking that looked beyond the nation’s immediate problems and sought to press military leaders to approach long-term challenges differently.

“His gift was the framing of the question, the discovery of the critical question,” said Michael Pillsbury, a China expert who advised and worked with Mr. Marshall throughout his career. “He would always pick the least studied and most strategically significant subjects.”

Want more? You can read the full article here

Can You Do It All?

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Do you want to do it all? You’re not alone. Most of us have lofty goals – let alone New Year’s resolutions – regarding what we want to accomplish.

That’s tough to do in series – so we do them in parallel. In other words, we multitask. So how is that working for you? It doesn’t for me.

That’s why I was drawn to Daniel Willingham’s op-ed, “The High Price of Multitasking.” He nailed WHY it doesn’t work. Here’s how he began:

Not only do smartphones provide unprecedented access to information, they provide unprecedented opportunities to multitask. Any activity can be accompanied by music, selfies or social media updates. Of course, some people pick poor times to tweet or text, and lawmakers have stepped in. Forty-eight states have banned texting while driving. In Honolulu, it’s illegal to text or even look at your phone while crossing the street, and in the Netherlands they’ve banned texting while biking.

But legislation won’t proscribe all situations in which multitasking is unwise; you need to self-regulate. Understanding how the brain multitasks and why we find multitasking so appealing will help you gauge the hazard of pulling out your phone.

Multitasking feels like doing two things simultaneously, so it seems the danger lies in asking one mental process to do two incompatible things — for texting drivers, watching the screen and the road. A lot of lawmakers must think that way, because 20 states have instituted bans on driving using a hand-held phone while still allowing hands-free calls. Yet hands-free or hand-held makes no difference — they impair driving equivalently as far as external hazards go. Why?

You actually manipulate your phone only briefly for voice calls. The real problem is the toggling of attention between the conversation and the road. Even simple tasks can’t be done simultaneously; you switch between them, and that affects performance.

But people don’t multitask solely because they see no harm in it; they perceive benefits. They say they multitask for efficiency, to fight boredom or to keep up with social media.

Music, likely the most common variety of multitasking, is added to tasks because it heightens arousal (for example, your heart rate increases), making it easier to stick with a long drive or a tedious textbook. Music was once common on factory assembly lines; the British Broadcasting Corporation offered a radio program for this purpose, “Music While You Work,” from 1940 until 1967.

Thus, even if you fully appreciate the cognitive cost, you might tolerate it in exchange for the emotional lift. Parents disapprove when their child studies with deadmau5 blasting because they compare that with studying in silence. But the child calculates that without the music, he wouldn’t study.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Memoirs!

Books George Galdorisi

Over the past fifty years, different kinds of books have gone in and out of vogue. What was popular as little as ten years ago is now completely passé.

But one kind of book has remained popular – often wildly so – over the past half-century. That genre is the memoir. There are many reasons why.

But there are so many choices. Where to you start? Wouldn’t it be great if someone compiled a list of the best memoirs?

Someone has. The New York Times’s book critics select the most outstanding memoirs published since 1969.

There is something here for everyone.

Check out this link to find a memoir to read in the waning weeks of summer