Sunday, July 24, 2016

Grit and Failure

I've written before that I am having trouble making myself sit down and write  my book.  Making a blog post, on the other hand, seems easy enough to commit to. Sci Am has an article on teaching grit and other social or 'non-cognitive' skills.
No one questions that building skills such as self-control, perseverance and conscientiousness can help children thrive. A 2011 meta-analysis of 213 of the best evidence-based SEL [Social and Emotional Learning] programs found that they led to significant improvements in social and emotional skills, behavior, attitudes and schoolwork. “It's what people want for their kids,” notes developmental psychologist David S. Yeager of the University of Texas at Austin. But some researchers, like Yeager, who study noncognitive traits, are expressing real concern about the trend to test them and hold schools accountable. 
For one thing, tests that measure qualities such as grit and persistence were designed for use in research settings and not as part of a high-stakes measure of student growth and school performance. “They weren't created for this purpose,” warns Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania who developed a widely used eight- to 12-question test called the grit scale.
The closest I have come to Social and Emotional Learning is in teaching my ESL students to write notes thanking, complaining or complimenting a person.  My lesson was on how to write in English but the process of writing such a letter - especially thinking about specific points to mention -  I think encourages such learning.

I used a textbook at a university that was written and published in-house but with no input form those of us that would actually teach it.  The book finished with a page or two where students were instructed to write down their regrets.  I went out of my way to have the students learn how to express their regrets but finish the semester with things they were proud of.  In such a way, and a few others, I try to work in some of the lessons I learned from Marc Helgeson on Positive Psychology.

Still, although students should be able to assess their own emotional leanings and predilections,instructing the teachers to assess them for their 'permanent record' is problematic.  As with other attempts to quantify creative items, they are hard to measure and can even give reversed scores:
Another serious problem with holding schools accountable for noncognitive learning is that progress can be hard to assess. Schools that provide strong social and emotional development tend to produce more self-critical students, who will rate themselves lower on SEL questionnaires. “It's just the humility that comes with expertise,” Yeager explains.
As an attempt to segue from one article to another, having grit means being able to work through failure. But perhaps also deciding when something has failed and moving on to a new subject. And now some excerpts from an article on Google's X division which looks for ideas that 'failed to fail' The New Yorker has some sort of 'copy and paste blocker' so here is a screen shot.


Thursday, July 21, 2016

All that is good and holy: the Architect!

George definitely thought they were the best thing to be.

Either 99% Invisible agrees or it is simply reporting on a study from the fifties that considered architects as exemplars of both the Artistic and Scientific fields. the early 1950s, the Institute of Personality Assessment and Research (IPAR) at the University of California, Berkeley began developing new and different ways to analyze personalities. The scientists at IPAR attempted what many thought was impossible: to study creativity in a methodical and scientific way, working to determine what specific personality traits make certain people creative.
Researchers saw architects as people working at a crossroads of creative disciplines, a combination of analytic and artistic creativity. As professionals, architects had to be savvy as engineers and businessmen; as aesthetes, they also acted as designers and artists.
The architects were given questions both serious and whimsical. One was, "If man had developed a third arm, where might this arm be best attached?” More serious questions were devoted to integrity or artistic freedom.  They were also asked to design mosaics and three examples are given at the link. One is exclusively grey - that's a valid choice but not one my tastes consider creative.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Plan b, a good idea?

Sci Am looks into the question.
...that merely contemplating a backup plan can reduce the effort you put forth to achieve a goal, thus hurting your chances of achieving it. Most people think that making a backup plan is always a good idea, and previous scholarship has focused almost exclusively on the benefits of planning. However, we highlight an unintended cost of making backup plans: a lower chance of successfully achieving your primary goal.
On the other hand:

Workwise, I don't know how family fits in.
The question was discussed on Quora where the responses were about equally for and against.

Elite Daily is pro-Plan B:
More Options, Less Stuck
The more options you have in life, the less stuck and miserable you will feel.
We feel trapped when we find ourselves stuck in one mode of living, unable to move out of that mode. It makes us feel worthless and miserable. At this point, we will do anything to get out that situation and sometimes even commit to doing dumb things in the process.
If you have a Plan B or even a Plan C on which you can fall back, you won’t feel trapped. In fact, the more options you have, the better you will feel about the outlook of your life. You will likely be positive and optimistic about the future and where your life is taking you.
While Forbes is against:
In the past I had Plan B patiently waiting in the wings while I tried to get what were some truly great ideas off the ground, and guess what? Plan A didn’t work. This time was different. I had no Plan B. I had to succeed. And I did.
Doubt is not your friend.
“Necessity is the mother of invention” even after 500 years. If you really believe you’ve created something that people truly need, then keep pushing forward and quiet that annoying voice that says it won’t work—whether its somebody else’s or even worse, your own. Shut it up and join the mighty minority—the few of us that don’t just come up with great ideas but execute them, and don’t get freaked out when the realities, hurdles and roadblocks of execution set in.
Execute like your life depends on it. Because it does.
I want to write a book - I am writing a book - but I am also looking for work right now.  I don't know if I have the confidence to drop my job hunt to focus on writing.  Maybe I need the kick in the ass of having no plan B.  Maybe my son won't mind going hungry for a few weeks... Yeah, a plan B makes sense to me.

TWIC: Native Americans, plot twist, ghost blog-writing, write what you don't know,

I try to keep track of expired copyright media that appears online that is available for reproduction and alteration.  Openmedia reports that Edward Curtis' photos of native Americans from the early 1900s are available. They link to the Library of Congress's archives.
Curtis's images aren't 'authentic'.  He was comfortable adjusting or adding clothing or making other changes to fit what he wanted rather than what was simply correct.

The biggest plot twist in his life.
I discovered I wanted to be a writer.
The only things I’d published in my life were entries on a couple of game forums. I had zero experience in writing for a wider audience. I had no relevant training (other than obligatory courses in high school 14 years prior).
I also had a family to support and a solid IT career, so I couldn't just quit everything and immerse in my newfound passion.
It took me more than a month to write my first blog post after that discovery. It took another few months before I started to write regularly.
Eight months after reading The Slight Edge and 6.5 months after discovering I wanted to write, I published my first non-fiction book on Amazon.
Pee Zed Myers, at Pharyngula Blog received an unsolicited offer of a job ghost writing. He turned it down, or didn't reply but not merely because he already has a job. The pay is "$600 per 160,000 words which are free of grammatical errors". Jesus.  As a Nanowrimo writer, I felt challenged to write 50,000 words, with sentences full of errors, in a month. $200 a month really isn't what I need.  Unless the American dollar has really climbed in value recently?

A quick Googling showed me the first result for ghost writers with pay around $1/100 words.
Audio interview with author William Trevor. The MP3 is there but there is also at least a partial transcript
I've always rejected the dictum that young writers are, I think, most falsely told: that they should write about what they know. I think that is nonsense. I think young writers should write about what they don't know, and try it and see. If you can make something of what you don't know, then you can go on afterwards to combine what you don't know with what you know well. Writing's a much messier business than people imagine it is. You've got to create raw material in the first place, and out of the raw material you've got to cut your way into a short story or a novel, leaving huge swathes of it absolutely unused.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

TWIC: Book thing, Chinese book genres, story arcs, the process, pulp heroes and self promotion, Pokemon IRL

Among other ways to improve a book lover's life, I like this 'book thing', a chunk of wood made to fit over a thumb so the person can hold a book open with one hand (#5 on the list. This image has been shrunk.).
The next time I have a chunk of wood in hands, I intend to make one.
I am attempting to write a 'steampunk' novel. The genre imagines what science fiction would look like to the Victorians.  My novel has steam powered aircraft, and much more! Enough about my book (due out in ebook form let's say in February 2017).
There are two new genres courtesy of China.  First is silkpunk and my understanding is that it imagines science fiction from the viewpoint of the ancient Chinese.
silkpunk is a genre that straddles the boundary between science fiction and fantasy. Thus, while the book features technology like silk-draped airships, soaring battle kites, underwater boats powered by steam engines, and lodestone-based metal detectors, it also contains magical tomes that describe our desires better than we know them ourselves, gods who regret the deeds done in their names, and giant sea beasts that bring about tsunamis and storms — but also guide soldiers safely to shores.
New is Ultra Unrealism, based on the lives of contemporary Chinese officials.
The barrage of nearly unimaginable corruption stories (the judge who died and had four widows come forward, none of whom had been aware of the others, all of whom had been married to him at the same time, thanks to marriage licenses he procured) has inspired a literary movement in China, "chaohuan," or "ultra-unrealism," that builds on the popular translations of Latin American magic realism but with Chinese characteristics, inspired by a civilization that has endured for 5,000 years with a succession of near-absolute rulers at its helm.
The link above includes four rules for writing Ultra Unrealism.
Vonnegut wrote and lectured on the shape of stories. A deep study of many books has confirmed his opinions and offers six typical emotional arcs in stories.
Andrew Reagan at the Computational Story Lab at the University of Vermont in Burlington and a few pals... have used sentiment analysis to map the emotional arcs of over 1,700 stories and then used data-mining techniques to reveal the most common arcs. “We find a set of six core trajectories which form the building blocks of complex narratives,” they say.

Self promotion done exactly right!

A Lee Martinez wrote a post on Boingboing about inspriational pulp heroes as an introduction to his/ her own character Constance Verity. After some quick Googling, 'his'.
The thing is, in addition to noting his new book, he gives some insight into other pulp heroes, Tarzan, Doc Savage, Tars Tarkas and Nancy Drew.  I wouldn't say the insights are deep, but they are worthwhile reminders and I love the addition of Nancy Drew and his explanation for why she fits in the group.
The problem with Doc is that he’s too good. His adventures were great, but you never had the impression he couldn’t handle them, and even in the calm moments, Doc never seemed out of place. He makes up for it by having some of the wildest adventures, but his inhuman perfection is a problem.
Making a character relatable doesn’t mean they have to be weak, but if they don’t ever have an awkward moment, it’s hard to care. For Constance, the quiet moments are awkward. She can defuse a bomb and outfight a ninja, but dating and just hanging out with friends can be dangerous territory.
With the success of Pokemon Go, the game with terrible information sharing requirements, comes #PokemonIRL. At the link, you can find templates to add your own animal pictures to and share some In Real Life critters.  As I will be teaching a practical biology class in two weeks, I am eager to make a few.  Here is my first attempt:

I will leave out the dancing foolishness on the next one I make.
Oh, be careful using the Pokemon Go App.  I alluded to security  problems in the opening sentence; here are some details:
...on a whim I went to see which permissions it was granted (you can see for your own account right here). To say I was a little stunned is putting it lightly - it said:
Pokemon Go has full access to your Google account ...
Let me be clear - Pokemon Go and Niantic can now:
Read all your email
Send email as you
Access all your Google drive documents (including deleting them)
Look at your search history and your Maps navigation history
Access any private photos you may store in Google Photos
And a whole lot more

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Grammar trouble

Most of the time, when I see a grammar error, I can still understand the message.  However, when I am reading, even when the intent is clear, I suddenly recall that I am in my room with one hand on my dog, rather than watching the folks of The Laundry fighting to prevent the Return of the Old Ones. The error takes me out of the moment.

My friend, the Big Hominid, occasionally discusses common grammatical errors. I think I understand this one but I definitely use "me" and "I" wrongly in conversation and I didn't have the background or the vocabulary to explain usages.

Here is a list of 15 common grammar mistakes.
10. Superfluous Commas
It’s common writing mistake to throw commas around liberally when they aren’t necessary. There are dozens of examples of this error, but here are a few common mistakes.
Example 1:
Incorrect: The woman never went into the city, because she didn’t feel comfortable driving in traffic.
Correct: The woman never went into the city because she didn’t feel comfortable driving in traffic.
Example 2:
Incorrect: He wants to get a degree in engineering, or medicine.
Correct: He wants to get a degree in engineering or medicine.
I find that I overuse commas.  Ironically, when I read Richard Dawkins' work, I am knocked out of the narrative by the omission of a comma where I feel one should be.  In rereading the sentence, I always find I am wrong. Funny how in this one limited way, good grammar should have the same effect as bad grammar.
In searching for an appropriate quote from Dawkins, I instead found one from Steven Pinker - writing about Dawkins!  Here is a review of Steven Pinker's A Sense of Style with a two sentence from Dawkins' book Unweaving the Rainbow (my bolding):
The sentence he chooses is from Richard Dawkins’s Unweaving the Rainbow – “We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones.” From the start we’re walloped with a “reminder of the most dreadful fact we know, and on its heels a paradoxical elaboration”.
Ah, was that clear? In his book, Pinker quotes Dawkins approvingly and the review is quoting Pinker's book.  The review is not a positive one and I will quote a relevant bit in a moment, but let's stick with Dawkins.
I would have written the second sentence as, "From the start, we're walloped with ....." Removing the comma does not change the meaning at all but I typically would place one there.   Perhaps my style is more oral and I would hesitate there if I were lecturing on the subject.

Alright, grammar is more than rules. Not only should the pronoun and verb agree but the sentences should also agree and fit.  John Preston, from the link above, gets into the meat of his problem with Pinker's book:
If you had to boil down Pinker’s advice into two main points, they would be: “Keep it snappy” and “Keep it simple”. Unfortunately, he proves wholly incapable of abiding by his own rules. Rather, he’s a colossal windbag, never using three words when 35 can be rammed into the breach, and frequently writing sentences so tortuous that they seem to be eating themselves. He even manages to define what a coherent text is in a way that made my eyeballs rotate in opposite directions: “A coherent text is one in which the reader always knows which coherence relation holds between one sentence and the next.”
Got that? All right then, try this: “In fact, coherence extends beyond individual sentences and also applies to entire branches in the discourse tree (in other words, to items in an essay outline).”
I may be excessively picky here, but I can’t help feeling that the phrase “in other words” doesn’t belong in a sentence about the virtues of coherence. Similarly, the phrase “Avoid clich├ęs like the plague” may be ironic – but then again, it may not.
I have my own idea of what 'coherence' means in an essay but I hope  “A coherent text is one in which the reader always knows which coherence relation holds between one sentence and the next.” makes more sense in context than it does in this review.
Added later but so appropriate I had to include it:

Saturday, July 9, 2016

I had some fun answering this question on Quora about evolution

Read Brian Dean's answer to
on Quora
Top ten things to say to someone that says all that Darwin said is nonsense:
10 “Goodbye.”
9 “Quote or read two full continuous paragraphs that Darwin wrote.”
8 “Tell me three things that Darwin wrote about.”
7 “Ha, ha, ha, ha”
6 “Which is untrue or nonsense in the following three premises?
  1. Offspring show variation and this variation is at least partially hereditary.
  2. More offspring are born than can survive
  3. Different characteristics will show different rates of reproductive success.”
5 “Are you aware that there are many feathered dinosaurs (Top 10 Feathered Dinosaurs)?” Don’t actually say the link - that’d be weird in conversation.
4 “Are you aware of the fine grained transitional fossils between fish and amphibians (List of transitional fossils)?” Don’t actually say the link - that’d be weird in conversation.
3 “Were you home schooled?”
2 “Here is The Origin of Species. It is not the most exciting writing but it is entirely readable for a layperson. (”
1 “If Darwin bothers you, read the work of any of the thousands of scientists since then who have confirmed and expanded his theory into one of the best supported theories in all of science.”