A Novel in No Time

Books George Galdorisi

No time to write? Sure there is. With all the technology at our command we can write where we’ve never been able to do so before.

One piece by Kit Eaton helped pull all that together for me…it was even inspiring! Here’s how he began:

It used to be that when a moment of inspiration struck writers, they would have to rush over to a stone tablet, or find parchment and ink, to record their thoughts. Later, writers had to find paper and a typewriter, or a laptop or desktop computer, to get busy with their storytelling.

Nowadays, they can write into a smartphone and tablet app almost anywhere when an idea seizes them. So what are some of the popular apps for scribes?

Storyist is the writing app I use most often to write this column, books and other articles. The app is a full-featured text editor, giving people the ability to customize fonts, colors and page formatting, embed images, and more. The app also has predesigned page formats to help write screenplays, manuscripts and novels.

To help build a novel, Storyist provides different types of “story sheets” to work on. You can use the sheets to note information about characters, plot points, scene settings and other details. This part of the app is surprisingly powerful, and I have found that the preformatted sections of the story sheets (for example, the Smells heading under the Settings story sheet) help me think about characters and scene settings.

Want more? You can read it here

Maritime Nation

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There is little argument that America is a maritime nation. It has been one since its founding, and with the exception of a few isolationist periods in our history, the U.S. Navy has been on the forefront and not only ensuring the security and prosperity of the United States and its citizens, but of supporting the world’s global order.

That is way policymakers, statesmen, military leaders and many others have anxiously awaited the U.S. Navy’s “Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority 2.0,” as substantial update of the original “Design” issued to years ago. Reading this short document provides a clear window on how the U.S. Navy does its job. Here’s how it begins:

On the eve of the 20th century, the United States emerged from the Civil War and laid the foundation to become a global power, but its course to continued prosperity was unclear. Navy Capt. Alfred Thayer Mahan helped to chart that course, arguing that American growth required access to overseas markets, which in turn required a preeminent navy to protect that access. America became a nation with global interests, and the seas were the path to new frontiers.

The essence of Mahan’s vision still pertains: America’s interests lie beyond our own shores. What was true in the late 19th century holds true today – America’s success depends on our creativity, our entrepreneurism, and our access and relationships abroad. In an increasingly globalized world, America’s success is even more reliant on the U.S. Navy.

Want more? You can read the full document here

Bouncing Back

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Does this sound familiar: You’re at work, or undertaking an important home project? Everything starts off on track, “stuff” happens and it all unravels, sometimes disastrously.

The ability to roll with the punches, bounce back, and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat is often labeled “resiliency.” I suspect most of us would like to be more resilient. I know I would.

That’s why I was drawn to a recent article, “How to Be More Resilient.” It offered some great tips. Here’s how it began:

I’ve long wondered why some people get ill in the face of stress and adversity — either mentally or physically — while others rarely succumb.

We know, for example, that not everyone gets PTSD after exposure to extreme trauma, while some people get disabling depression with minimal or no stress. Likewise, we know that chronic stress can contribute to physical conditions like heart disease and stroke in some people, while others emerge unscathed. What makes people resilient, and is it something they are born with or can it be acquired later in life?

New research suggests that one possible answer can be found in the brain’s so-called central executive network, which helps regulate emotions, thinking and behavior. In a study published last month, Gregory Miller, a psychologist at Northwestern University, and colleagues there and elsewhere used M.R.I. to study the brains of a racially diverse group of 218 people, ages 12 to 14, living in violent neighborhoods in Chicago. They reported that the youths who had higher levels of functional connectivity in the central executive network had better cardiac and metabolic health than their peers with lower levels of connectivity.

What Dr. Miller and his colleagues discovered was that when neighborhood homicide rates went up, the young people’s cardiometabolic risk — as measured by obesity, blood-pressure and insulin levels, among other variables — also increased, but only in youths who showed lower activity in this brain network. This was true even when the researchers controlled for other factors, like psychological distress, economic status, race or ethnicity. No link was found between brain connectivity and cardiometabolic health for youths in neighborhoods with low levels of violence.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Timefulness

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Like an increasing number of people, I find mindfulness meditation is a great way to live in the moment, stop reliving the past and stop being anxious about the future.

That’s why I was taken by a book review of a new book, “Timefulness,” which has as its central argument that,

With mindfulness, the goal is to focus on the present. With timefulness, it’s to see the present as a tiny detail in a complex grand sum. Here is how the piece begins:

At midnight, the glittering crystal ball will drop in Times Square. Revelers around the world will straggle home, nod off, and greet the new year with a dullness caused by sleep deprivation, overstimulation and inebriation. This behavior suggests that we give higher priority to the final few hours of the past than the first few hours of the future—perhaps because endings are more concrete than beginnings, and regrets sharper than resolutions.

Geologists don’t think this way, particularly Marcia Bjornerud, author of “Timefulness,” a profound meditation on the richness, depth and entanglements of geologic time. Her brief book on a big subject puts the ball drop in proper perspective by reminding us that the Gregorian calendar is anachronistic and by elegantly condensing the landmark tomes of geology, from James Hutton’s “Theory of the Earth” (1788) to John McPhee’s “Annals of the Former World” (1998).

Want more? You can read the full article here.

National Defense Strategy

Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy

The United States faces a wide-array of threats today, from peer competitors like China and Russia seeking to shape the world to their needs and upset the global international order, to rogue nations like North Korea and Iran that are increasingly unstable and who want to take on America as a convenient foe, to the threat of global terrorism, represented most prominently by ISIS.

That is why the Department of Defense publishes a National Defense Strategy that addresses the ends, ways and means the nation will use to ensure the security and prosperity in a dangerous world. While past strategies could be faulted for being too long, complex, and dense, this document is pithy and on point. Here is how it begins:

The Department of Defense’s enduring mission is to provide combat-credible military forces needed to deter war and protect the security of our nation. Should deterrence fail, the Joint Force is prepared to win. Reinforcing America’s traditional tools of diplomacy, the Department provides military options to ensure the President and our diplomats negotiate from a position of strength.

Today, we are emerging from a period of strategic atrophy, aware that our competitive military

advantage has been eroding. We are facing increased global disorder, characterized by decline in the long-standing rules-based international order—creating a security environment more complex and volatile than any we have experienced in recent memory. Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security.

 

Want more? You can read the short document here

Work-Life Balance

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This is the time of year for New Year’s resolutions, and since the majority of adult Americans work, many of us make promises about work, mainly to be calm and not frazzled.

That’s why a piece, “4 Reasons We’re Frazzled at Work,” caught my eye. As I read the article, I found myself saying, “So that’s why!” Here’s how the writer began:

Your better mind knows exactly how to manage your time better at work but a primal, seemingly uncontrollable urge to do the opposite overtakes you.

You know you should say no when you’re asked to take on that new project, but you say yes. Or you know your boss said your report was good enough, but you work until midnight perfecting it. Or you’re just stuck — wanting to do better but unsure that trying will help — so you do nothing.

If you are frustrated with your seemingly irrational behavior, the root issue may be deep subconscious programming known as your “attachment style.” Your attachment style dictates how you relate to other people, particularly in situations that trigger stress.

The good news is that many work places are providing on-site yoga classes for their employees. Here’s how a recent piece put it:

I have always been a type-A person — I like structure, planning and efficiency — and while that has certainly helped me get a lot done, it has also sometimes pushed me to do things too quickly, to be impatient and to miss opportunities to learn through listening.

Yoga has been the counter to that motor — even when I am upside-down in a headstand. The practice of yoga involves breathing, meditation and postures, sometimes physically challenging ones and sometimes poses that are challenging in their simplicity — like just being still. I have been practicing yoga for nearly two decades, after being drawn to the physical comfort the stretches brought me as a teenager, and completed my 200-hour teaching training in 2011. In recent years, I have brought that practice to The New York Times, where I have worked for over four years and am now a director of communications.

This is just a snippet. Want more? You can read the full articles here and here.

Why Gig?

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As you hold your smart phone and consider how it has changed your life, you could be inclined to think that the tech industry alone has created the gig economy. But you would be wrong.

The gig economy is enabled by technology, but technology didn’t create it, it was a result of the insecure nature of work today – which is a far cry from baby-boomers’ parents who went to work for one company and retired at 65 with their gold watch.

I read one of the best explanations of this change in piece entitled: “The Gig Economy Isn’t the iPhone’s Fault. Here’s how it began:

When we learn about the Industrial Revolution in school, we hear a lot about factories, steam engines, maybe the power loom. We are taught that technological innovation drove social change and radically reshaped the world of work.

Likewise, when we talk about today’s economy, we focus on smartphones, artificial intelligence, apps. Here, too, the inexorable march of technology is thought to be responsible for disrupting traditional work, phasing out the employee with a regular wage or salary and phasing in independent contractors, consultants, temps and freelancers — the so-called gig economy.

But this narrative is wrong. The history of labor shows that technology does not usually drive social change. On the contrary, social change is typically driven by decisions we make about how to organize our world. Only later does technology swoop in, accelerating and consolidating those changes.

This insight is crucial for anyone concerned about the insecurity and other shortcomings of the gig economy. For it reminds us that far from being an unavoidable consequence of technological progress, the nature of work always remains a matter of social choice. It is not a result of an algorithm; it is a collection of decisions by corporations and policymakers.

Want more? You can read the full article here

A New World Order

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With tens of thousands of new books on the market, deciding what to read is getting more and more challenging. Friends recommend books and we get inputs from multiple sources.

That’s why I gravitate to the New York Times best-seller lists in the Sunday Book Review section, as well as their periodic lists of critics’ top choices.

Here is how the latest list of top books begins:

If we had to use a single word to describe the past year in books, it might be eclectic. Novels were told from the perspective of a woman imprisoned for murder, a woman who suddenly inherits a Great Dane and a woman having an affair with a writer who strongly resembles Philip Roth. We also got an esteemed literary biographer turning her lens on herself, a sprawling, fresh look at New York’s postwar art world and clear-eyed advice about how to die. As in 2017, some of the year’s best nonfiction addressed global tumult — but a bit more subtly, in several cases, by casting an eye back to distant but still-resonant history, like the decades of deferral and denial that led to the Civil War. Below, The New York Times’s three daily book critics — Dwight Garner, Parul Sehgal and Jennifer Szalai — share their thoughts about their favorites among the books they reviewed this year, each list alphabetical by author.

Want more? You can read it here

Selling You

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Remember when there were salesmen – perhaps those people who went door-to-door selling vacuum cleaners – and the rest of us? That line is now blurred – and perhaps completely erased,

 

I had that inkling as I got more and more requests for blurbs, book reviews, likes, follows etc., but wasn’t able to really clarify what was going on until I read a piece, “We’re all in Sales Now.” Here’s how it began:

 

There is something about the consumer madness of the holiday season that makes me think of my friend Rebecca’s mother. When I was in middle school, she had a side hustle selling acrylic-rhinestone bug brooches. The jewelry was hard to move on its merits — even for the 1980s it was staggeringly ugly. But what she lacked in salable product, she made up for in sheer selling stamina. Every sleepover, school fair or birthday party, out would come the tray of bejeweled grasshoppers and stag beetles, glinting with Reagan-era menace.

Presumably, someone was making money from this venture — some proto-Trump barking orders from his tax haven — but it certainly didn’t seem to be Rebecca’s mother, whose sales pitches took on an ever more shrill note of desperation.

Soon she had given up even the basic social pretense that we might actually want the brooches. The laws of supply and demand morphed seamlessly into the laws of guilt and obligation, and then into the laws of outright malice, mirroring the trajectory of capitalism itself.

At that time, when naked hawking to your friends was still considered an etiquette blunder, the sales pitches by Rebecca’s mother felt embarrassing — as gaudy and threatening to the social ecosystem as a purple rhinestone daddy longlegs. But 30 years later, at the height of the gig economy, when the foundation of working life has apparently become selling your friends things they don’t want, I look back to that raw need in Rebecca’s mother’s eyes with something terrifyingly approaching recognition.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Tech Anniversary

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San Francisco in 1968 was littered with flower children, free love and dreams of utopia encapsulated in Timothy Leary’s exhortation: “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” How wrong that was! But out of this purple haze rose that year’s Joint Computer Conference, where an assembly of geniuses wearing white short-sleeved shirts and pocket protectors convened 50 years ago this week. The event shined a guiding light on the path to personal computing and set the modern world in motion.

On Dec. 9, 1968, Doug Engelbart of the Stanford Research Institute presented what’s now known as “The Mother of All Demos.” Using a homemade modem, a video feed from Menlo Park, and a quirky hand-operated device, Engelbart gave a 90-minute demonstration of hypertext, videoconferencing, teleconferencing and a networked operating system. Oh, and graphical user interface, display editing, multiple windows, shared documents, context-sensitive help and a digital library. Mother of all demos is right. That quirky device later became known as the computer mouse. The audience felt as if it had stepped into Oz, watching the world transform from black-and-white to color. But it was no hallucination.

So what have we learned in 50 years? First, augmenting humans is the purpose of technology and ought not be feared. Engelbart described the possibilities in a 1970 paper. “There will emerge a new ‘marketplace,’ representing fantastic wealth in commodities of knowledge, service, information, processing, storage,” he predicted. “In the number and range of transactions, and in the speed and flexibility with which they are negotiated, this new market will have a vitality and dynamism as much greater than today’s as today’s is greater than the village market.” Today Google is Memex 1.0, while Amazon and a whole world of e-commerce have realized the digital market.