Genius?

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Last week, I posted a technology blog post that talked about the grinding lifestyle in Silicon Valley. Frightening stuff.

Another thing that Silicon Valley brings to mind is the idea of the “Lone Genius.” Their names pop right to mind: Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and many others.

However, the idea of the “lone genius” has become something of an urban legend especially as it involves innovation.

But Joshua Wolf Shenk challenges that in his new book, Powers of Two. Here is an excerpt from the New York Times review of his book:

The pair is a precious unit — private, generative, even holy. We can explore a couple’s inner workings if we have an invitation to do so. Otherwise, we must use any available external means: letters in archives, revealing anecdotes, loose-lipped quips in interviews. In order to understand creativity, we must learn from couples, Joshua Wolf Shenk argues in his new book, “Powers of Two.” Defying the myth of the lone genius, he makes the case that the chemistry of creative pairs — of people, of groups — forms the primary (albeit frequently hidden) structural basis of innovation.

Pairs don’t often let us pry them apart, looking to see who contributed what. John Lennon wrote what would become “Strawberry Fields Forever” and Paul McCartney came up with “Penny Lane” as a rejoinder, yet their music is credited to both of them, written “eyeball to eyeball,” as Lennon put it, or “like mirrors” in McCartney’s view. Neal Brennan and Dave Chappelle have long agreed to keep private who wrote what in their comic sketches.

“People always ask Ulay and me the same questions,” the artist Marina Abramovic told Shenk about her former partner. “ ‘Whose idea was it?’ or ‘How was this done?’ . . . But we never specify. Everything was interrelated and interdependent.” The daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie said that her parents’ work was a fused endeavor. It’s nearly impossible to distinguish their contributions by looking at their laboratory notebooks, where handwriting by each covers the pages. Shenk’s “Powers of Two” is a rare glimpse into the private realms of such duos. He writes with his face “pressed up against the glass” of paired figures from the present and the past — adding the likes of Steve Jobs and Steve ­Wozniak, ­Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. ­Tolkien to the pairs mentioned above.

Intrigued? You can read the entire article here.

Internet Demons

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The Internet is our helpmate. Right? It sure seemed that way as the Internet was initially introduced. There was great expectation that it would change our lives for the better and enrich us beyond measure. But there’s been, as Peter Falk used to say in his Columbo series, “That little voice in the back of my head,” telling me something might be amiss.

That said, I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what the issue was. That’s why I found a New York Times Op-Ed by Ross Douthat entitled “Resist the Internet” so intriguing. Here is part of what he shared:

Search your feelings, you know it to be true: You are enslaved to the internet. Definitely if you’re young, increasingly if you’re old, your day-to-day, minute-to-minute existence is dominated by a compulsion to check email and Twitter and Facebook and Instagram with a frequency that bears no relationship to any communicative need.

Compulsions are rarely harmless. The internet is not the opioid crisis; it is not likely to kill you (unless you’re hit by a distracted driver) or leave you ravaged and destitute. But it requires you to focus intensely, furiously, and constantly on the ephemera that fills a tiny little screen, and experience the traditional graces of existence — your spouse and friends and children, the natural world, good food and great art — in a state of perpetual distraction.

It certainly delivers some social benefits, some intellectual advantages, and contributes an important share to recent economic growth. But there are also excellent reasons to think that online life breeds narcissism, alienation and depression, that it’s an opiate for the lower classes and an insanity-inducing influence on the politically-engaged, and that it takes more than it gives from creativity and deep thought.

But what if we decided that what’s good for the Silicon Valley overlords who send their kids to a low-tech Waldorf school is also good for everyone else? Our devices we shall always have with us, but we can choose the terms. We just have to choose together, to embrace temperance and paternalism both. Only a movement can save you from the tyrant in your pocket.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Grisham’s Rules

Writing Techniques

We all have our favorite writers. As a guy who writes primary military techno-thrillers, I tend to gravitate to writers who excel in that genre: Clancy and his successor writers, Stephen Coonts, Dick Couch, Larry Bond, David Poyer, Rick Campbell, P.T. Deutermann and a few others.

But for all of us, there are writers who, while they write in a different genre, are so successful that we hold them up as examples regarding how we should write. John Grisham is one of those writers, and when he is generous with his advice, as he was in his New York Times piece, “John Grisham’s Do’s and Don’ts for Writing Popular Fiction,” We all listen.

Here’s just a taste to whet your appetite:

  1. DO — WRITE A PAGE EVERY DAY

That’s about 200 words, or 1,000 words a week. Do that for two years and you’ll have a novel that’s long enough.

Nothing will happen until you are producing at least one page per day.

  1. DON’T — WRITE THE FIRST SCENE UNTIL YOU KNOW THE LAST

This necessitates the use of a dreaded device commonly called an outline. Virtually all writers hate that word. I have yet to meet one
who admits to using an outline.

Intrigued? You can read the entire article here.

Coronado Conspiracy

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Recently, I sat down with Coronado Times reporter Coree Cornelius to talk about Coronado, about family, and about writing. Coree is married to a serving U.S. Navy officer, so she understands the Navy better than most. During our wide-ranging interview she was especially focused on my most recent book, the re-booted “The Coronado Conspiracy.”

Without revealing the plot, The Coronado Conspiracy focuses on the issue of civilian control of the U.S. military – something that is certainly timely in today’s political environment. The central question is this – what could and would senior U.S. military officers do if they thought the president was leading the nation’s military to doom.  Here is the part of our interview:

The Coronado Conspiracy was just released by Braveship Books earlier this summer, and a revamped version of For Duty and Honor will be published sometime in 2018. Galdorisi says a military background is definitely not a prerequisite for reading his novel. The main character of both The Coronado Conspiracy and For Duty and Honor, Rick Holden, is a former CIA operative who is now undercover as a US Navy SEAL. Of his book, Galdorisi likens it to a combination of movies, saying, “It’s like Clear and Present Danger meets No Way Out. It’s drug cartel focused, and the people trying to uncover the crime become suspects themselves.”

You can read the full article here.

The U.S. Navy

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In a recent book review, of a new book from Richard McGregor entitled Asia’s Reckoning, Robert Kaplan, one of the most respected writers on international affairs, commented on the brittle nature of political, economic and military security in Asia.

As part of his review, he noted the following:

“Over the span of the decades since World War II, the United States Navy has made Asia rich but not altogether stable. It was only the security guarantee provided by the U.S. Navy that allowed Asian countries not to fear one another and thus to concentrate on building their economies instead of their militaries…Thus the U.S. military, principally the Navy, remains the most important factor in keeping the peace. And the U.S. Navy, as we know from recent mishaps at sea, is being stretched to the limit.”

After thirty years in a U.S. Navy uniform and another fifteen working as a Navy civilian supporting the Fleet, I see the U.S. Navy’s decline, starkly, every day. The recent groundings and collisions, with their tragic loss of life, are the result of a long decline in the size and readiness of our Navy.

Rather than offering a detailed opinion on the “whys and wherefores” of this decline, I’ll refer you to a group of excellent articles on this subject. Together, they should provide a well-nuanced view of how the U.S. Navy got to where it is today, and what we as a nation can do to restore our Navy to prominence:

August 22, 2017: The Wall Street Journal, Editorial, “The Navy’s McCain Moment”

August 23, 2017: The Wall Street Journal, “Navy to Relieve Admiral of Command After Collision”

August 24, 2017: The Wall Street Journal, Seth Cropsey (Op-ed), “Has the Navy Reached a Breaking Point?”

August 28, 2017, The New York Times, “Strain on Resources Set Stage for Recent Crashes, Sailors Say”

Being “Good”

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First the good news: More Americans volunteer their time and talent for good causes across a wide spectrum. Now the bad news: Though much of this volunteerism is driven by the fact that the majority of Americans are blessed with relative material abundance, the roots of these willingness to volunteer outside of the workplace is driven by another factor, and a frightening one – Americans are more disengaged from their jobs than at any time in our history.

I had a vague notion that this was the case, but it hit home for me dramatically when I read Aaron Hurst’s New York Times piece, “Being Good Isn’t the Only Way to Go.” Here is part of what he said:

“This demand to volunteer masks a broader problem in our society. It points to the lack of purpose that we experience in our jobs. As Jessica B. Rodell, a professor at the University of Georgia, has found in her research, “when jobs are less meaningful, employees are more likely to increase volunteering to gain that desired sense of meaning.” The numbers speak for themselves. In a recent Gallup poll, 70 percent of American workers said they were not engaged with their jobs, or were actively disengaged.”

“But if people are finding satisfaction in self-expression and personal growth, as well as teamwork, then that suggests that they don’t have to search outside of work for meaning. Because it wasn’t the nonprofit’s larger goals that gave them meaning; it was the way they performed their work. And research confirms that it is possible for many people to find purpose in work, primarily through making a choice about how to approach it. Having a purpose isn’t necessarily about what a company makes or sells, but rather, it’s about how the workers approach their day.”

“Companies such as Cornerstone Capital Group have begun to adopt changes to increase employee purpose. Erika Karp, the chief executive, told me that she asked her employees whether they had a good day and to identify moments that made it so. She then works with them to refine their job, making small adjustments to change their engagement at work and boost their meaning. This is an even greater imperative with young people. In a 2011 report by Harris Interactive, commissioned by the Career Advisory Board, meaning was the top career priority for those between the ages of 21 and 31.”

Want more? You can read the full article here.

News You Can Use

Writing Techniques

While I’ve written op-eds for various newspapers, with novels and non-fiction books in work as well as a slew of articles for various journals and magazines, op-eds aren’t my current focus.

That’s why I ALMOST glossed over and didn’t read Bret Stephens recent New York Times op-ed, “Tips for Aspiring Op-Ed Writers.” Had I missed his piece I’d have missed a gem.

Here is just a small part of what he shared in his fifteen tips. From my point of view, they’re invaluable for any kind of writing.

“A wise editor once observed that the easiest decision a reader can make is to stop reading. This means that every sentence has to count in grabbing the reader’s attention, starting with the first. Get to the point: Why does your topic matter? Why should it matter today? And why should the reader care what you, of all people, have to say about it?”

You can read this entire op-ed full of “news you can use” here.

Good News!

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There is so much dreadful news leaping out of our phones, tablets or our television sets every day. For many of us, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the bad news and let yourself think there is nowhere to turn for good news.

Maybe that’s because we let our lens get too narrow. And truth-be-told, not all of us have the kind of job where we get paid to explore the world around us and see what is good and what’s not so good.

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times does have the kind of job where he can look around and make that kind of assessment. That’s what drew me to his op-ed: “Good News, Despite What You’ve Heard.” Here is part of what he shared:

Cheer up: Despite the gloom, the world truly is becoming a better place. Indeed, 2017 is likely to be the best year in the history of humanity.

Perhaps the optimism doesn’t feel right. You’re alarmed by President Trump (or Nancy Pelosi), terrorism and the risk of rising seas, if we’re not first incinerated by North Korean nukes. Those are good reasons for concern, but remember that for most of history humans agonized over something more elemental: Will my children survive?

Just since 1990, more than 100 million children’s lives have been saved through vaccinations and improved nutrition and medical care. They’re no longer dying of malaria, diarrhea or unpleasant causes like having one’s intestines blocked by wriggling worms. (This is a good news column, but I didn’t say it wouldn’t be a bit gross.)

Want more? You can read the full article here.

Technology Rules

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Last week, I posted a blog regarding how much the big technology companies – Apple, Amazon, Alphabet, Facebook and others – work to dominate our lives in ways in which we are often dimly aware. More and more, most agree that they are largely succeeding, though the tech companies would counter that they are just delivering “goodness.”

That’s why I was intrigued by the title of a recent article: “I invested early in Google and Facebook. Now They Terrify Me.” Here’s a short excerpt:

I invested in Google and Facebook years before their first revenue and profited enormously. I was an early adviser to Facebook’s team, but I am terrified by the damage being done by these Internet monopolies.

Technology has transformed our lives in countless ways, mostly for the better. Thanks to the now ubiquitous smartphone, tech touches us from the moment we wake up until we go to sleep. While the convenience of smartphones has many benefits, the unintended consequences of well-intentioned product choices have become a menace to public health and to democracy.

The people at Facebook and Google believe that giving consumers more of what they want and like is worthy of praise, not criticism. What they fail to recognize is that their products are not making consumers happier or more successful. Like gambling, nicotine, alcohol or heroin, Facebook and Google — most importantly through its YouTube subsidiary — produce short-term happiness with serious negative consequences in the long term. Users fail to recognize the warning signs of addiction until it is too late. There are only 24 hours in a day, and technology companies are making a play for all them. The CEO of Netflix recently noted that his company’s primary competitor is sleep.

Intrigued? You can read the entire article here.

Media Blending

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Most would agree that most media is blending and even merging.

While there were once clear, bright lines between books, TV shows, video games, podcasts and other media, now these seem to be blending and the lines are increasingly opaque.

This trend seems to be accelerating, and after reading two New York Times articles, “‘Minecraft: The Island’ Blurs the Line Between Fiction and Gaming,” and “How to Make a Movie Out of Anything — Even a Mindless Phone Game” I’m convinced this acceleration may be becoming exponential. Just to whet your appetite:

From “‘Minecraft: The Island’ Blurs the Line Between Fiction and Gaming:”

The protagonist of Max Brooks’s new fantasy novel doesn’t have a name, a gender or even normal human appendages. Instead of hands, the narrator has clumsy, flesh-toned cubes, just one more weird feature of the strange and unsettling world where the story unfolds, where everything — the sun, clouds, cows, mushrooms, watermelons — is composed of squares.

For the uninitiated, the setting may seem bizarre and disorienting, but Mr. Brooks isn’t writing for novices or lay readers. He’s writing for a very particular tribe: die-hard devotees of the video game Minecraft.

From “How to Make a Movie Out of Anything — Even a Mindless Phone Game:”

The trend toward intellectual property.-¬based movies has been profound. In 1996, of the top 20 grossing films, nine were live-¬action movies based on wholly original screenplays. In 2016, just one of the top 20 grossing movies, ‘‘La La Land,’’ fit that bill. Just about everything else was part of the Marvel universe or the DC Comics universe or the ‘‘Harry Potter’’ universe or the ‘‘Star Wars’’ universe or the ‘‘Star Trek’’ universe or the fifth Jason Bourne film or the third ‘‘Kung Fu Panda’’ or a super-¬high-¬tech remake of ‘‘Jungle Book.’’ Just outside the top 20, there was a remake of ‘‘Ghostbusters’’ and yet another version of ‘‘Tarzan.’’

You can read both articles here, and here.