Keeping Score: November 12, 2018

Another week down: 2,295 words written!

Not all of those were for the novel, though. I’ve decided I want to try my hand at posting more here: more essays, more organized notes, etc. I know I won’t do it if it means taking time away from hitting my word count goals, so I’m making a change to the way I keep score: from now on, I’m counting words written for a blog essay as half.

So, for example, writing up a 900-word essay would count 450 words towards my weekly goal.

At the same time, I’m raising my weekly word count goal, to 2,500 words. I’ve been hitting the 2,250-word goal for eight weeks now. It’s time to stretch a bit further, and adding in essays to the word count should make 2,500 achievable. And even if I don’t write any essays in a week, it’s only 50 words extra per day.

Wish me luck!

Apple Watch Series 4.0: They Finally Got It Right

I’ve come to resent having to carry my phone with me wherever I go.

It’s this large, bulky thing sitting in my front pocket that takes great pictures, it’s true, but most of the time just sits there, unused. I don’t even like to make calls with it anymore, the quality is so bad. If I want to read, or write, or watch a movie, I reach for my iPad.

So when Apple first announced the Watch, I was excited. Here was a chance to finally let it go, to be free of the phone.

And then they started describing the new Watch’s limitations. No cell service. No Siri without being near the phone. No text messaging without the phone. No…anything, really, without being near a phone.

Wasn’t till the Watch 3 that they made one that seemed to finally be an independent product. One that I could use to drop my phone habit.

But it was too bulky, the UI was too weird, and the watch interface itself wasn’t very responsive. I shelved the idea of getting one, and told myself to be patient.

That patience has finally paid off. Three weeks ago, I took the plunge, and bought a Series 4 Watch.

What Works

Fitness Tracking

It’s exactly what I wanted from a mobile workout device. Finally, I can slip out the door in the morning and head out, unencumbered by any keys (we have an electronic deadbolt) or phone, and yet I’m never out of touch (I bought the Watch with cell service), and I always know exactly how far I’ve got left to go in my workout.

I don’t have to guess if I’ve been out at least 30 min. I don’t have to speculate about how long my route is. I can change my route on the fly, and still get the right amount of exercise. I’ve even been able to do some interval training — 3 min on, 2 min off — thanks to being able to time myself with the Watch.

Phone Calls

I stopped taking calls on my phone. I just take them on my Watch, now, and no one seems to have noticed a difference.

Except me. Every time I take a call on my wrist, I feel like Batman.

Time-Keeping

You know, it’s just nice to be able to look at my wrist and know the date and time. No more fumbling to fish my phone out of my pocket.

Apple Pay

Holy crap, this works so well. If I know I’m going somewhere that takes Apple Pay, I don’t need my phone or my wallet. It’s surprisingly liberating, to have such empty pockets.

Texting with Handwriting

Took a little getting used to writing with my fingertip, but now I don’t hesitate to write out a response to a text. Nothing near as fast as typing on the iPad, mind you, but the handwriting recognition is pretty good, and improves over time. And again, it’s so much more convenient than having to pull out my phone.

What Doesn’t Work

Siri

I know, I know, everyone likes to complain about Siri. But while the speech recognition seems better on the Watch than on my iPhone (which, huh?), it’s just so frustrating to have it fail to do some (to me) basic things.

For example, you can’t add a reminder to anything but the default list. So if, like me, you keep track of your Groceries as a separate reminders list, you can’t add to it with Siri. Which means you can’t add to it with the Watch.

Siri also can’t take notes. Nevermind that Apple’s own Notes app is pretty well integrated into all their other OSes. It’s not even present on the Watch, let alone something you can tell Siri to just “take a note real quick” for you.

Siri can set a timer for you, though. I mean, that’s 2018 for you: robots that can set timers for you via your voice. Well done, Apple.

Lyft/Uber

There’s no Lyft app. If you want to get a ride, you’re going to need your phone.

And the Uber app, while it exists, is broken. I made the mistake of going downtown without my phone, and had to have a friend call a Lyft for me to get home (like a barbarian!), because the Uber app insisted I needed to “setup a payment method” before I could use it (nevermind that I called an Uber to get down there, which presumably was paid for somehow).

So what seems like a natural fit for the watch (damn, I lost my phone somewhere, let me call a cab home) isn’t something Uber or Lyft cares about.

Final Judgement

I’m keeping the Watch. It’s still not perfect, but it is ideal for most of the things I need it for: tracking exercise, staying in touch when I’m away from my desk, and leaving my phone at home.

It’s still frustrating that I have to manage the Watch itself (settings, notifications, etc) with my phone. And it’s weird that Siri can lookup the location of a random city in Norway, but can’t add “Apples” to a grocery list. But these are quibbles, and fixable ones at that.

Now I just need to get one of those new Mac Minis so I can start writing my own Watch apps…

Keeping Score: November 5, 2018

Still on target, if just barely: 2,256 words written last week.

I’ve reached the “ye gods, when will it be over” stage of writing this book. I know I’m close to the end, and I know basically where I’m going, but it feels like a slog to get there. Doesn’t help that I changed how to get to the ending a while back, adding another 10-20,000 words to the story.

Thanks, past me.

So I’m blowing things up. Shoving obstacles in front of my characters left and right. Tweaking personalities of minor characters to make them more interesting (with notes to go back and make them consistent later). In general, just merrily running a drill through the story until I get to the ending.

Who knows? Maybe all these changes will end up being cut. Or maybe I’ll end up twisting the rest of the story so they fit.

I’ll only know once it’s done.

Keeping Score: October 29, 2018

Last week was my first week back to a regular writing schedule, after traveling in Ireland for almost two weeks.

I worried I wouldn’t be able to jump right in to writing at my previous pace, but I hit a writing streak on Friday, and blew past my writing goal: 2,400 words written!

And thank goodness, because next month I’ll have been working on the book for a year. I’m ready to finish it off, and move on to the next project. (Well, until I come back and edit this one).

Very much hoping to be done with it before the end of the year. Would be nice to head into the holidays with the work complete, and have earned a little break from the daily word mines.

Choosing the President: A Modest Proposal

The Problem

The way we choose Presidents in the United States is flawed.

It’s too easy for someone with little or no experience to be elected. Requiring just an age and citizenship worked fine when the job was just the implementer of Congress’ will, but the role has expanded, and the requirements should expand with it.

It’s also too easy for a President to win office with a minority of the vote. For a position that is supposed to represent the direct choice of the voters, this is unbearable.

Proposed Solution

I think a few small tweaks to the process of choosing the President would fix these two issues:

  1. Abolish the Electoral College in favor of direct election
  2. Require experience in Congress before being eligible to run for President

The Electoral College

The first is something that’s been called for before, and needs to happen soon. The role of the President has evolved over time to one that claims to speak for the country as a whole. That claim cannot be made (though it has been) if the President is not in fact elected by a majority of the population.

To go one step further, I think we should require a President to win more than 50% of the vote in order to take office. If, after the initial ballot, no one has more than 50% of the vote, the top-two vote-getters should participate in a run-off election.

Congressional Experience

Getting to the Presidency should be a multi-stage process. In order to serve as President, you have to have first served at least one full term as a Senator. In order to serve as a Senator, you have to have served at least one full term in the House of Representatives.

Notice that experience on the state level doesn’t count. And it shouldn’t: working at the federal level of government is a completely different thing. The responsibilities are greater. The choices are tougher. And the impact of the decisions made is wider.

In a parliamentary system, the kind of experience I’m advocating happens automatically. No one gets to be Prime Minister without first getting elected to the legislature, and then spending time writing national laws and seeing their impacts.

A presidential candidate with two terms of experience has a record, one that voters can use to evaluate how well they’d do the job. Did they compromise when they could in order to make progress? Did they object to everything and do nothing? Did they fulfill their promises? Did they promise too much?

And a President that’s worked in Congress knows its rules and methods. They’ll have allies (and enemies) in the legislature, people to work with in running the government. They’ll have seen laws they wrote interpreted by the courts. They’ll be more successful, in other words, because they’ll know how to get along with the other major branches.

Objections

“If we remove the Electoral College, it’ll deprive the smaller states of some of their power in presidential elections.”

True. But when we elect governors of states, we don’t worry about disenfranchising the smaller counties. It’s because the governor has to be in charge of the executive branch for the whole state, not just a portion of it.

Similarly, the President has to serve the country as a whole, not be tied to any one state or region. Thus giving any weight to the votes of one state versus another doesn’t make sense.

“Voters should decide if someone is qualified. Anything else is undemocratic.”

This one I struggle with. Certainly I don’t want to go back to the days of deals made in smoke-filled rooms, with the will of the populace a small consideration, if any. And I don’t want to give the individual political parties more control over who runs and who doesn’t.

But I think in terms of goals. What is the goal of representative democracy? Is it to reduce our reps to mere pass-through entities, automatically doing whatever the majority says to do?

I don’t think so. I think there’s no point in having representatives, if those representatives aren’t supposed to use their judgement. Think of the rep that constantly updates their opinions based on the latest poll, and how we view them with contempt. Rightly so, in my view; if they don’t stand for anything except the exercise of power, they don’t deserve to wield it.

And I think republics aren’t born in a vaccum; we didn’t all come together (all 350 million of us) and decide to create a federal system with elected representatives. Instead, a republic is a compromise between the powerful and the people. We give our consent to their use of power, so long as that power is constrained by both law and elections.

In that sense, the most democratic thing is for us to set constraints on who among the powerful can run for office. We, the people, want the best candidates, not just the best speakers or the richest or the ones with the most fervent supporters. Leaving the field wide open puts us at the mercy of demogogues. Narrowing the scope of possible candidates puts constraints on their power, not on ours. We still have the final say, on Election Day.

Conclusion

Will these changes fix our democracy? No. There’s too much that needs fixing, from gerrymandered districts to the Imperial Presidency to the outsize influence of money in elections.

But they will give us better candidates for the Presidency. And they will ensure no one holds that office that doesn’t command the consent of a majority of voters.

Those two changes will make other changes easier. Better candidates will mean better Presidents, and better Presidents will mean better government.

And that’s something we can all, right and left alike, agree we need.

Fantasyland, by Kurt Andersen

Ever read a book that makes you feel both better and worse about the times you live in?

That’s what Fantasyland did for me.

Better, because Andersen shows how the current fad for conspiracy theories and disregard for facts (on the conservative side of politics, this time) is just the latest iteration of a series of such fads, going all the way back to the first Northern European settlers of the Americas.

For example: the first colonists in Virginia were lured by rumors of gold that had been completely made up by speculators. They starved and died while hunting for gold and silver, until by chance they started cultivating America’s first addictive drug export, tobacco.

But I also feel worse, in that it makes me think there’s no real escape from the fanaticism and illusions that lie in the heart of the American experiment. They’ve allowed the burning of witches, the enslavement of entire nations, and the genocide of those who were here first. And now they’re pushing even my own family to condone the caging of immigrant children, the silencing of women, and the persecution of Muslims.

It’s disheartening, to say the least.

I take hope in the other side of the cycle that Andersen exposes. When reason pushes back against mysticism, and we re-fight the battles of the Enlightenment. We banned snake-oil and established the FDA. We drove quacks underground and wrote licensing laws. We won the Civil War. We passed Civil Rights legislation.

Granted, Andersen himself doesn’t seem to think there’s light at the end of our present tunnel. At the end of the book, he falls into what I think is a trap: believing the United States to be completely unique, and the current era to be uniquely terrible.

I think the first is countered with any glance at the news from the rest of the world. From Brexit to the rise of the populist right in Poland and Hungary, to Venezuala’s deluded leadership and China’s reality-scrubbed media, there’s plenty of other countries with their own fantasylands. While we in the U.S. often tell ourselves we’re not like anyone else, it turns out we are.

And I think his own book is a firm counter to the second trap. Every era thinks itself both the pinnacle of human achievement and the lowest depth to which humanity can fall. But pushing back against unreason — by refusing to give them a platform, by taking their threat seriously but not their claims, by not falling for the trap of treating every belief as equally valid — has worked in the past. It can work now.

Keeping Score: October 1, 2018

Scraped by this week’s word goal: 2,258 words.

The next week or two are going to be spotty, writing-wise. I’ll be in Ireland starting Thursday, partly for work and partly for fun, so between prepping for the trip and going on the trip and then recovering from the trip, there might not be much time for writing.

I will have a rather long plane-ride there (and one on the return), so I’ll try to get what I can done then. Other than that, my schedule will probably be so screwy I won’t be able to carve out any regular writing time.

I’m going to give myself a pass on this time, though. I’ve been working on the book almost a year now; hobbling along for a week or two while I’m traveling seems like a small delay, in the scheme of things.

Keeping Score: September 24, 2018

Wrote 2,404 words last week! That makes three weeks in a row I’ve managed to hit my new, higher target.

And I hit another milestone, as well: the novel passed 50,000 words!

I worried several times that maybe I didn’t have enough “story” there to hit 50K, and make it a proper novel. But I’m already there, and I haven’t yet hit the climax.

I should top out at around 60K, which’d be a nice size for trimming later on. A short novel, true, but a novel nevertheless.

Onward!

Keeping Score: September 17, 2018

2,306 words written this week!

I’m trying to let go a little more this week. As in, stop worrying so much about what would be realistic and worry more about what’d be interesting. To approach the new scenes and descriptions thinking “what would be cool?” rather than “what would be expected?”

Again, I don’t know if this approach will make the book any better. No way to tell until it’s done. But it is making it both more challenging (I have to think things through a bit more) and more fun (anything goes! so long as I can describe whatever it is).

I’m heading into the final stretch of the novel, so I’m giving myself more liberty to experiment. Since I know where I’m going now, and who’s taking me there, I guess I feel more free to play around.

I’ll probably just end up making more problems for myself down the line, but for now, I’m just enjoying flexing my wings a little bit.

Keeping Score: September 10, 2018

I did it! Hit the new word count goal: 2,285 words written last week!

Again, I wrote most of them on the weekend. Mornings last week were consumed with vacation planning, as the trip we’re taking to Ireland in October is coming up fast. Had to get everything booked before it sells out, so that took priority over my writing during the week.

But I still got it done!

Pushing closer to the climax. Even this close to being done, though, I’m still finding things that I wrote earlier that I’ll need to change.

For example, while writing one scene, I realized the character I’d planned to have in it to do a certain thing couldn’t be there, because he wouldn’t do that thing; it just wouldn’t make sense for his character. So I had to change the scene mid-stream, as it were, and finish it out with a different character in mind (and even a different action, so the plot’s changing, too).

I suppose I should expect this by now, though. The book isn’t going to be right the first time, and I’m going to have to go back over it multiple times until it is right. I suppose I should be grateful I’m able to see any mistakes now, instead of having to wait for them to be pointed out to me by beta readers later (though I’m sure they’ll find more when they go through it).

So I’m keeping the higher weekly word count for now. Not sure what I’ll do when it comes time for the Ireland trip. Either take some time off, or maybe, just maybe, I’ll be done before then?