Procrastination vs Productivity

No, this is not really a productivity post. More of a procrastination post. Let’s face it, most of them are. Sorry…. A little while ago I wrote a post on how I work and an important part of that was based around Evernote. While I’ve been stuck in my tiny human world, I’ve been oblivious to the perceived imminent downfall of said company/service. That changed yesterday when I was notified that they were changing the service. Again. I have been an Evernote user for over 4 years, but as soon as I finish backing everything up, I’m gone as well.

Harry Tuttle, Modern Cave Dweller, Evernote, OneNote, Productivity

First up, I use the free service, so it could be argued that I have nothing to complain about. Secondly, I’m going to complain. The complaint is obviously focused at Evernote, but it is applicable to an increasing number of companies in the digital age.

I signed up early to Evernote and over the years have become increasingly addicted to it. I have told everyone and anyone that would listen about how good it is. So, while it is a free service, and hence, I am the product, they have gotten a pretty good deal out of things. I also realise that they need to make money, which is apparently the problem at the moment. To do this they are decreasing the services available to the free accounts to make the paid accounts more enticing. I even understand this; times change and you need to change with it. Why I still claim the right to complain is that they could do this progressively and avoid losing any respect they might have earned.

It is too late for me and Evernote, possible too late for Evernote in any case, but for other companies, how about we rethink how you screw your early-take-up, stalwart, addicted customers. If you are going to change the rules along the way, can you not simply make those rules applicable to the customers signing up after they’ve changed? Both the old and the new customers get what you both agreed to! If you cannot survive on such a business model, I would suggest that no amount of fiddling around with your business model is going to change that.

I alluded to the fact that I would talk about procrastination somewhere in this post. I’m quite accomplished at procrastinating. I don’t need help but here I am wondering about how to organise everything in my life when I should be just getting on with it. I’m in the process of putting everything in MS OneNote, which I’m not entirely happy about either, but at least they give me a way of getting everything out of Evernote easily.

If and when I have the chance to procrastinate after getting all these files, I shall be trying to work out if OneNote is any good and what else I need to replace Evernote. Maybe I’ll need to change a little how I work. I have used Evernote both in my scientific/research-life and my scifi-writer-life. It has been great for bringing together research notes and ideas for both my lives and importantly across many devices; typically, in any given week, I will work on one of three PCs, two Macs as well as an iPad and iPhone. All played critical roles and Evernote handled that brilliantly. Until today.

If you have any tips on life after Evernote, don’t hesitate to share! I would love to hear how you’ve dealt with the transition and what you are using.

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To unplug, or not to unplug? That is the question.

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortunes, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and, by opposing, end them?

We live in amazing times. To a fairly large extent we can thank science and technology for that. What do I mean by amazing? I mean that it is surprising where society is today, how we got here and the potential we have for the future. The key word in that last sentence was potential. Despite the progress made in quality of life, health, the ability to travel and communicate, to explore and ask big questions, something has gone, or is at least going, wrong. We could be doing so much better.

Harry Tuttle, Modern Cave Dweller, fight the good fight, swords, dark ages

Seriously, people, WTF? It is like we have collectively decided that what we really need is another “dark ages”. We are still sending the faithful to foreign lands to kill to save lives. We are constantly terrified, or should that be terrorfied? The faceless terrorists and terrorism conveniently taking the place of the wonderfully effective cold war threats of communism.

What sparked this outburst? I thought it might be interesting to watch the news on tv… We (the human race) are still running around chasing and killing one another with handheld weapons! And, for the most part, we don’t even know why. Have you ever stopped to think about how stupid that looks? You could say that it was my fault for turning on the tv and expecting to see news reporting facts based on solid journalism. In the end it doesn’t matter what device or technology you plug into, the message is the same:

It’s us or them. Be afraid.

It doesn’t have to be the news, your Facebook, 9Gag, Google+, whatever, feeds all too easily degenerate into the same thing. Even when you take great care in choosing your “friends”, you’re then faced with the problem of living in a bubble – you only hear from and about people that share the same opinion as you. That is an equally efficient path towards stagnation.

So, it appears that this post has descended into a classic “grumpy old man” post. I’d really been trying to avoid that. The manipulation of society is obviously annoying… and nothing particularly new. What is new is the reach and power of this manipulation that has taken advantage of the progress in technology. Even if the message is that science, technology, progress in general, is bad.

Maybe I’ve been thinking about too many dystopian scenarios and are just imagining myself living in one. That would be good, for you anyway. I could simple unplug, stop watching news and reading whatever pops up on the internet. I could dedicate my life to growing giant pumpkins, or some other completely pointless and time consuming act. We could all do that. But that won’t help, in fact it will only exacerbate the situation and the real luddites, racists and religious extremists win.

Clearly, living in an age with such great potential, it would be “annoying” for history to look back on this as the Dark Ages 2.0. Maybe the answer isn’t to unplug, but if you’re going to stay plugged in, you need to be ready to fight the good fight. And by “good fight” I mean something more than just free hugs. The world can be a much better place. It might not even be too late to save humanity itself in the face of climate change, but we need to fight and we pretty much need to do it right now.

Maybe we could all, like, stop killing people and stuff as well.

To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub.

Are you fighting the good fight?

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Rumours of My Demise are Somewhat Premature

OK, so this is a bit of a cheat blog. I usually manage a blog post every month, so in the interests of maintaining my record – which only I actually care about – here we go. I don’t have a lot to say or enlighten you with, at least as I start to write this. I also don’t have an apology. I’ve been writing. A lot. And not as much as I’d like. It’s also been oriented too much towards science fact and not nearly enough science fiction. I’ve also not been “spending” quite so much time on social media, which is a bit of shame because there are actually a lot of interesting people and things happening there. So, why?

Harry Tuttle, Modern Cave Dweller, flying cars, drones, public transport

Why? More specifically, why am I spending more time writing and less time telling people about it? Sometimes you have those revelations as a writer, actually in any endeavour, when you realise that you’re not that good. I was editing a lot at the beginning of the year while I tried to put some short stories into presentable, publishable, shape. My conclusion? Conceptually, I liked, actually I still like, my stories. I have a few in the closet and they cover quite a diverse range of ideas and styles. Perhaps more importantly, my writing was lazy. I am not sure whether my science education helps in being able to take a step back and judge my own work without prejudice. Well, at least not too much.

I’m a lazy writer. This is the end. I need to give up this fool’s dream. Or not. I know you know all of this already and where it’s going. Deep down so did I. I’m not actually a lazy writer. I am maybe a naive writer, or perhaps it was just “the excitement of the newly enraged” – you know how people get when they become passionate about some new thing – they are going to be the best and take over the world etc. I’m not sufficiently narcissistic for this but I was charging ahead so blindly as to not realise (perhaps remember is the better word) that writing takes time and good writing takes even longer.

I am not a lazy writer. My writing is not so bad. My first drafts may well be lazy and badly written, but these are first drafts. They’re supposed to be crap. This is why I’m writing and being even less social than usual, because I love to write and to tell stories. If you’re looking for me that is where I’ll be. I’m sorry if you got this far and where waiting for a revelation. All I have to offer is this epiphany we all go through (repeatedly I expect) that we’re not as good as we thought we were, or need to be, only to find out once again that we were wrong.

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Where are we going? A conversation with myself.

Too pretentious as a title? One of me doesn’t care, at least not for the moment. So, today I’m taking on the role of all of modern society and asking myself the big questions, like, How long do we have left on the planet? Will we ever populate Mars? Will I ever get my flying car before personal transport becomes extinct? And, if time allows, why is most of the planet a slave population and why don’t they care?

Harry Tuttle, Modern Cave Dweller, flying cars, drones, public transport

Firstly though, is there any point asking the big questions? I’m currently being “entertained” by the presidential election process in the US, so questions like, how long do we have left on the planet? become irrelevant when the candidates seem to be bent on a programme of global destruction; environmentally, politically and economically. Given the fast-track nature of their plans, populating Mars in the short time that remains seems a little optimistic to worry about discussing as well. So that’s another one off the list…

So, flying cars. Before discussing that I should perhaps elaborate a little on why personal transport is going to be extinct. If it was up to me, most of you wouldn’t have a licence in the first place. I’ve seen you drive and you’re dangerous, you lack any respect of your fellow humans, and more importantly, have zero comprehension of the danger you pose. But it’s not up to me. On a not totally unrelated topic, driverless cars are making the news with increasing frequency. Vehicles have been cruising the streets for several years now in the US, since 2012. Forecasts – being forecasts – will vary, but it is estimated that there will be over 10 million self-driving cars on the road by 2020. So how are these two things related? The problem is the mix of vehicles driven by people and those driven by machines. Most accidents for self-driving cars have involved, even been the fault of, human drivers.

I suspect that in the next 10-20 years, driving your own personal vehicle in any greater city area will be illegal. For those of you still in love with the internal combustion engine, the news is even worse – if you do have a car, it will probably be electric. Why? Well, apart from the reduced accident rates and not killing one another, a fully autonomous fleet of publicly-shared vehicles would be far more efficient for society. Perhaps there will be room for private vehicles for those that want to pimp their rides, but on the whole, it should not be necessary. Think of it as a massive hybrid taxi-bus-car-sharing system. Given the progress electric cars are making, if would not surprise me if human driven cars are completely removed, even for intercity travel – there are really cool things called trains that already do a pretty good job of this.

Having said that, one might wonder whether there is even a need for a flying car. Maybe. Perhaps. But do you really think they’d let you fly one!? If you’re hesitating about that, the answer is no. Seriously, commercial pilots do less and less in favour of machines. You, most certainly, won’t be trusted with such a responsibility.

So, I was going to talk about the planet’s slave population and wrestle with the question of whether any one cared. Instead, I’ll leave you to ponder that and to ponder what would happen to society, and all that sail in her, if we accept to be shuttled about in boxes controlled remotely by machines. Maybe it could be a good thing?

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Work Less – Work More

So this year has seen me swamped by work. Again. Still…. I’d estimate that I’ve been working around 70+ hours a week since the start of the year. This is not the first time that things have been so out of control. It is not a badge of honour, I am not proud of this, nor do I encourage it. In response to this, and the long list of things I “need” to do this weekend, I’ve been reading about how and why we should reduce the normal work week to 3-4 days, 20-30 hours etc. There appears to be a realisation that this is primarily an option for the affluent, but there is also a growing awareness that significantly increasing the minimum wage and even moving to a unconditional basic income- everyone gets to survive – is an absolute must if this is going to be tenable for everyone.

Harry Tuttle, Modern Cave Dweller, Life Balance,unconditional basic income

The problem, which is not directly mine or yours, is where does the money come from? It would appear now that we, as a society, need to pay two people to do one job. The reality is actually that we have all been taking on more and more – for whatever reason, but usually need – and doing two jobs for one salary. People’s time has been devalued, especially those at the “bottom”. I’ve been at the bottom and I’ve worked plenty of crap jobs to survive, so I do not say that with any disrespect – we all do what we have to, and what we can, to survive. So all this requires is a shift towards paying people what they’re worth, rather than what the market can afford.

I am not an economist, so I’m sure I don’t understand how all of this fits into a bigger picture, but someone has to figure that out, and soon, because this needs to happen now. We need to pay people a standard living wage – and I would add, that should be for a 20 hour week. Employing people shouldn’t be a burden – it is often claimed that the overheads of employing two people part-time for the one job are too high. There are probably many other obvious things that can be done but they need to be done from the top down, on a global political level.

When I say that, I probably mean that this capitalist-driven approach is not working. At least it is not working for everyone, which is the same thing. If you are worried that this sounds too socialistic, think about that for a minute, or if it helps call it something else that happens to put society and people first.

What can we do as people? If you are at the “bottom” probably not very much, so if you are not there, then it is up to you! If you can drop your hours, do it. You’re body, mind, friends, co-workers and employers will all appreciate it. Ok, it might take a while for your employer. If you’re an employer you have even more power. Pay people what they are worth, and if you can pay them more and allow them to work fewer hours and hire more people, do it. Most studies indicate that your business will do better. Eventually economic Darwinism may take hold and the companies with the slave workforce will eventually die out.

So that all sounds like a load of naive claptrap. It probably is, but on a good day I hold out hope for humanity. If we are going to survive the next 50 years as a functioning global society, the current economy will have to drastically change. I encourage you to do what you can.

Would reduced hours, increased minimum wage, or a standard living wage, work for you, your job, your company, your town/state/country?

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The 20 Pens of SFF

The words inscribed on the One Pen come from the following verse, which describes all 20 Pens of Power:

Three Pens for the Fantasy-scribes under the sky,
Seven for the Horror-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for SciFi Creators doomed to die,
One for the Hugo winner on their shiny throne,
In the Worlds of SFF, where the Shadows lie,
One pen to rule them all, one pen to find them,
One pen to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Worlds of SFF, where the Shadows lie.

—The Lord of the Pens, Epigraph

Lord of the pens, lord of the rings, Tolkien, Harry Tuttle, Modern Cave Dweller,

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Character Defining in a Flash

What makes a story? Obviously, the plot has to be there, but if the characters that have to convey this aren’t compelling, then it is all for naught. What makes a good character? Am I the right person to be telling you? Well, if you don’t know what makes a “good” character, go away and read and think and read and think, because I’m not going to tell you that here. In fact, I’m not going to tell you how to do anything. I’m going to share an approach, which I find both obvious and useful. In that sense it is not particularly novel, so think of it more as a reminder, or an endorsement.
Harry Tuttle, Modern Cave Dweller, Character, Writing tips

The problem with many ideas, not just for writing stories, is that they are in flux, they’re fluid, until they’re written down. There is something about writing down your thoughts that makes them solid and coherent. It is not enough to write bullet point lists, you need to construct proper sentences before the idea can be forced into being something coherent. If you are like me, still learning to write (who isn’t, really), then this approach also helps in that respect – because to be a better writer, you need to write. So we’re told.

So, this is it. This is what I’ve been doing and finding useful. Take all of your characters and write short (flash) stories about them. If it is a minor character, you can think about what is happening before they arrive in your story and where this interaction leads them afterwards. If it is a main character, maybe you need a few stories of key/defining moments in their life. Maybe some of this will even make it into your story, but the effort will give your characters depth beyond what you find described in the main story. And that is the point! You need to know your character better than anyone else. You need to understand what drives them and makes them chose between two options. You don’t want to have to spell this out as you drag the reader through your story.

There are similar ideas out there, like writing down 20 (some number) of things only you know about your character. This is useful, but it comes back to the bullet point lists. I feel that putting these ideas in a short/flash fiction gives so much more depth to everyone, as well as providing excellent writing practice. I have been shifting to this approach over the last few months as I brainstorm/compost a new story and finding it incredibly useful for ironing out plot holes and better understanding the motivation behind the decisions my characters are making.

I don’t give out writing tips so much, primarily because I think that there are enough people doing that, some of them maybe even have the authority to do so. I would rather say that this is an interesting approach and one that I am finding useful and productive.

Have you tried this approach? Did you find it useful?

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