Scaffolding

The Dance

The Russian Bride’s Attire by Konstantin Makovsky

From Russia With Love This month, I’ve teamed up with a few other indie writers who wrote stories set in Russia. There are just the seven of us, and I hope you check out our stories. I, of course, have a novel Twin Time that is set in Old Pre-Revolutionary Russia. If you click the link here, you will get to my blog that has the first few chapters free. Or you can see the whole Russian collection here: October seems like a good month to spend between the pages of stories that drop you in the middle of the cold, exotic, and thrilling faraway places. I hope you will find something good to pick up in this collection. Here’s a link to a little book trailer I’ve created for my book: The Dance I’ve published over a million words in the 14 years I’ve been writing novels. For each word I’ve written, I’ve consumed thousands. And the more I write, the more treasures I find in other people’s writing. It’s like being a botanist and visiting a forest. Everyone enjoys the beauty of walking nature trails, but a botanist spots things that remain hidden from most eyes. I am…

Us and Them

Warm versus Competent graph

Of Doctors, Babies, Kings, and Zombies Before starting my journey as science fiction writer, I got a few degrees under my belt — astrophysics, mathematics, cognitive science, education, etc. It took a few decades (I’ve gotten married and had a family in there somewhere), but I got my doctorate and have used and still use it to help people think through complicated problems, mostly in product design. How is this relevant to writing, you might ask? Well, in addition to witnessing and surviving some amazing situations — always a good experience for a writer — I’ve acquired a few tools on how to think about situations and people. I would like to share one such tool with you: Us versus Them, a cognitive perspective. What people (and other animals) are very good at is dividing themselves into Us’es and Them’s. It’s a useful tool when we live in a divided world — how else do we keep clear of our allegiances to countries, sports teams, and political parties? But these divisions have neurological and psychological underpinnings. Consider a four square graph that charts competency versus likability (emotional warmth and approachability): We perceive (our) doctors as warm, personable, and able. We…

Cultural, Psychological, and Evolutionary Basis for Your Political Choice in 2016 Presidential Election

2016 Election

Who’s your choice for president this election? How did you make your decision? Given where you live and who you are, you might never really had a choice! Your vote might have been decided for you even before you were born… Might. Cultural Argument: Empathy versus Sympathy There is a lot of talk about the presidential candidates that start with: Who would you rather have beer with? Why does such a question have resonance? Why do we put so much importance on our ability to relate to the candidate? Why do we feel that our ability to visualize ourselves hanging out with a potential president somehow qualifies them for office? Many pundits and TV personalities try to convince us that it matters one way or another. But why does it work? Why do people believe them? Well, there is actual is a reason, and it just happens to be culturally-based. It is worth looking at another example that has nothing to do with people running for the Office of the President of the United States of America. Consider mental illness. How do you feel about a person with schizophrenia? How do you feel about a person with Post Traumatic Stress…

Treasure Trove of Creative Writing Online Classes

The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania (1846) by Joseph Noel Paton

I discovered Brandon Sanderson a few years back, introduced him to my son, and we basically read all that he has ever written (that we could buy). He is a very talented fiction writer. And now I discovered that he is a great teacher: good at explaining, generous with ideas, and easy with advice. He doesn’t shy away from talking about his own experiences, thus making his classes gain a very concrete dimension. I have enjoyed his online lectures so much, that I am now posting his classes in sequence and adding additional links to similar lectures that are still worth scanning through. I hope these are as useful to you as they were to me. Happy writing! Very Grateful: Thank you writeaboutdragons for adding careful notes and creating 2012 BYU videos! Very grateful to the Camera Panda team, Jon Deering and Earl Cahill, for filming, editing, and providing careful annotations (shown here in quotes). Excellent work! Another shout out to zmunk who posted videos of Brandon’s presentations at JordonCon. Brandon Sanderson’s 2012 Semester at BYU: 1. Creative Writing — Ideas & Outlining 0:12 / Introduction to being a writer – Writing is not about inspiration, ideas, or luck –…

Hacking Weight-loss with Brain Science

Fat women dancing chapter divider

Financial rewards for weight-loss and exercise work…but only if you take the money away at the end for non-performance. Rewards are just not as effective as punishments! [Study: Framing Financial Incentives to Increase Physical Activity Among Overweight and Obese Adults: A Randomized, Controlled Trial] This result is, of course, very consistent with Dr. Daniel Kahneman’s work in behavioral economics, memory, and our perception of happiness. One of the key points is how we assign value on items that we already owe versus those that we are considering acquiring. Consider your house (if you own one) or your car. Would you sell it for the same amount of money as you would be willing to buy it for? The answer is no! We value what we own far more than other people’s stuff. Our reaction to ownership is emotional. Mathematics of equivalence just doesn’t penetrate how we feel through to our judgement. Consider the following social incentive program: At the start of my weight-loss program, I get $50 to lose 10 pounds over a 6 months period. At the end of that time period, I only lose 4 pounds. I have to give back $30 — that’s the deal, right? I…

Thoughts on An Event Apart San Francisco

AnEventApart Logo

We just returned from An Event Apart San Francisco and I am trying to put down notes and ideas while they are fresh in my mind. It was three full intense days of information — some great, some good, some not so much. But overall, it was a valuable experience (and they do conference right — great food, comfortable location, endless supply of coffee and sugar). My take is always unique — I overheard some people who were ecstatic over the presentations that I felt were completely off — but I have been in the business for over three decades now and I want ideas that are new to me. So here are my notes from the presentations. “The Fault, Dear Brutus (or: Career Advice From a Cranky Old Man)” by Jeffrey Zeldman A lot of what Jeffery spoke about resonated strongly: the need to force ourselves to get rid of disdain for our clients that just “don’t get it” — mutual respect is the foundation of designer-client relationship in conversation about design, focus on purpose and use and stay away from esthetics — every person has their own sometimes, people (clients, bosses) are incapable of seeing our growth as…

Mapping the Wisdom of the City

Sage Assembly 2015

One of the events at the Sage Assembly in Paris this year was the group design sessions to try to solve “problems of the city” after the Charley attack. Paris is still in shock and the city is trying to do something to heal itself. My group, led by Arno Klein of Sage Bionetworks, was charged with finding ways of using crowdmapping to help find some interesting solutions. This was a complete blue sky session. And our ideas were presented by Arno at the Hotel De Ville in Paris. Here are my prep notes for this event. Cities generate an enormous amounts of data: parking tickets data; water consumption data; number of riders using public transportation per hour per location; etc. But most of the data stays locked within isolated databases inside frequently competitive city departments. There are several cities that are trying solve the data silos problem. Palo Alto, CA, created a city API and open-sourced all city data to allow its citizens to discover problems and develop novel solutions. One of the prevailing problems, even after the break down of data silos, is that the data is not normalized, making it very difficult to manipulate. Data normalization can…