Gratitude tips

These are from the new and noteworthy Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, by Robert Emmons:

1. Keep a Gratitude Journal

2. Remember the Bad

3. Ask Yourself Three Questions (What have I received from…?, What have I given to…?, and What troubles and difficulty have I caused …?

4. Learn prayers of gratitude

5. Come to your senses

6. Use visual reminders

7. Make a vow to practice gratitude

8. Watch your language

9. Go through the motions [of showing gratitude, thanking, smiling, etc.]

10. Think outside the box [TC: this one should have been left out]

I didn’t learn anything from this book, but in terms of both truth and importance it is one of the most significant books you can find.  Ever.  Provided you live enough above subsistence, gratitude is the single most important key to personal happiness.  And how commercial society affects gratitude is one of the great underexplored questions of economic science and sociology.


Gratitude tips

Tip of the Week: Create an Idea Bank

Angela Booth suggests that experienced writers can use journals as their idea banks:

If you’ve been writing for a few years, your journal acts as your idea bank. It’s best to maintain several journals: one for ideas, another for essays, as well as a journal for a long project like a book.

If you’re writing a novel, for example, your journal will keep you “in” the novel, even if you have to leave the project for a week or two.

An idea bank would be helpful for anyone who works with information and ideas. You don’t have to use a paper journal, because there are lots of desktop or online solutions too. You could use a wiki, a note-taking application, a desktop information manager like DevonThink or PersonalBrain, a password-protected blog (to keep your ideas under wraps while they’re gestating), or text files.

How do you capture your ideas?

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Tip of the Week: Create an Idea Bank

Justifying Design Decisions

“The craft of graphic design is replete with ratios, rules of thumb, and math—all an attempt to rationalize decisions that otherwise fall to subjectivity. Finding justification for design decisions is important to me—I want to bring purpose and intent to my work and depend less on taste and opinion. But I often find myself designing on impulse or intuition—pushing pixels around the screen or lines down a sketchpad with no structure, no rationalization— just because it ‘looks right’. That haphazard and experimental process gives me a lot of freedom, but it isn’t really design.

I asked Mark Boulton, Andy Budd, and Jeff Croft, three designers I deeply respect, about designing on impulse versus intention. They each had something different to say, but they each presented a design process far more rationalized and justified than my own…”


Justifying Design Decisions

THE CURVE OF A CHEEK

Let’s face it– artists love to draw faces. Penetrating eyes, distinctive noses, expressive mouths– these are often an artist’s richest lode.

But when that face turns away and you no longer have facial features with all their emotion and meaning– what does that leave? Just the simple line of a human cheek. What can an artist possibly make of that?

Well, my friends, that depends on the artist.

Look at the knowledge that Alex Raymond conveys with this sensitive drawing. This cheek demonstrates more wisdom than most artists could convey drawing a full face.



Next, Austin Briggs applies a cruder tool and a simpler approach to the same subject, yet still conveys just as much information. I think this is a thrilling piece of draughtsmanship.



In the following illustration by Robert Fawcett, the person drawn from behind was obviously a much tougher artistic challenge than the full faces drawn from the front.



Finally, the great Mort Drucker infuses personality and vitality into a face that is not only viewed from behind, but is also obscured by layers of scuba gear.



Despite the obvious drama of the human face, it can be a far greater challenge to draw the head using just the subtle contour of a cheek. Experienced artists recognize that it is difficult to draw the head from that perspective. For many, the result ends up looking like a dollop of pastry dough.

Sometimes it pays to look for artistic greatness in the simplest places. The philosopher Santayana wrote,

Miracles are so-called because they excite wonder. In unphilosophical minds, rare or unexpected things excite wonder, while in philosophical minds the familiar excites wonder also.
Lots of artists can dazzle you with flashing eyes or a dramatic face. But the artist who can find the miraculous potential in the humble curve of a cheek or a blade of grass, and who can convey that miracle to you– that is an artist worth watching.
THE CURVE OF A CHEEK

How to Solve Problems

Here’s a relatively simple method of gaining insight into problems that face us. Often the reason we can’t solve a problem is that we don’t concentrate on it long enough to look at it from enough different angles or give our brains time to process our ideas subconsciously.

Step One

Take a sheet of paper and write across the top “Questions I could ask myself about this problem include…..”

Then write down as quickly as possible between six and twelve different ways of finishing that sentence. Don’t think too much about what you write — the aim here is quantity not quality.

To take an example (completely fictitious of course!), I have a problem keeping my desk tidy. So I might write:

Questions I could ask myself about this problem….

  • why is this problem happening?
  • why does it matter?
  • how could I overcome it?
  • what problems does it cause?
  • who could help me overcome it?
  • what benefit am I getting out of it?
  • why is it so difficult to be tidy?
  • and so on…..

Put the sheet of paper away and go through Step One again the following day on a fresh sheet of paper without looking at the first sheet. You will probably find that you can find another six or more endings without duplicating anything you wrote the day before.

Step Two

Take both sheets of paper and extract from them the four or five questions that you feel are most helpful, relevant or useful. Then rewrite them as sentences for completion. So for example I might end up with the following list:

  • Reasons this problem is happening might include….
  • This problem matters because…..
  • One way of overcoming this would be…..
  • The benefits I get out of being untidy include….

Then do a similar exercise to Step One but this time use each of the sentences you have just written. Again aim to write between six and twelve endings to each sentence. Then put your sheet of paper away for 24 hours and do the exercise again. You will probably find that your insights have developed overnight.

You can do this for several days running if you have the time and the problem is not too pressing.

Step Three

Examine all the ideas you have written out and decide which ones you are going to put into effect.


How to Solve Problems

Let Me Get Two Packs of Tolstoy and a Carton of Kafka

Every day Sarah sends me nifty things to read and see on my magic computer screen. Today’s stash included a post at Popgadget describing a plan to sell classic novellas in retro cigarette packs via cigarette vending machines after a U.K smoking ban in enclosed public places goes into effect. At least I think they’re going to (try to?) sell these in actual vending machines. Whatever the case, they’re called Tankbooks, and are being produced by Tank, a think tank, creative agency and publishing outfit. Dunno if this is a P.R. stunt, an art project, an honest effort to sell books in an interesting manner, or all of the above. Nifty-looking packages, whatever the case.

 

 


Let Me Get Two Packs of Tolstoy and a Carton of Kafka

Information Architect

Web Worker Daily posts a mini-profile of Dayna Bateman, an information architect for Fry Inc. Various education qualifications are listed, and hands-on experience (though education can help out there too). I don't find it a surprise that many shopping and interactive sites get it wrong and need help. Those are big projects and it requires a champion (maybe several) inside the company to push for what may be an expensive overhaul of an existing site. Also, if generals are fighting the last war, then retailers are chasing last year's trends.

What interested me:

  • Bateman is working on a master's of science degree in HCI from DePaul ("to formalize what I had learned in the trade"). For someone who's already got deep experience and a reputation in internet retailing, I thought it interesting that she feels the need for a degree. It would be interesting to know whether she wants the degree to provide an academic balance to her resume's real-world experience (she's probably solved problems that haven't occurred to most academics), whether her company encouraged it, or whether she felt she needed a mental change of pace. I'm going at my degree from the opposite direction: I'm hoping to gain some formal knowledge that can help me get experience.
  • Very impressed by her commitment to self-education: keeping up with conferences, surfing and shopping to stay on top of new trends and patterns. She soaks herself in her subject.
  • She predicts that "transactions will become increasingly simplified" as mobile phone use becomes more prevalent. Using a cell phone frees people from being tethered to their PC in order to shop and buy. (And it is all about shop and buy, isn't it?) I'll keep an eye on whether my coursework in the coming years even touches on mobile technology at all.

I'm all for simplification--spare me from having to create an account at every store I want to buy from. However, as someone who uses a Tracfone and practices one-way cell calls (I can call you, but you can't call me because I leave my phone turned off), I feel like a curmudgeonly grandpa snapping at new-fangled progress.

Absorb Information Like Never Before

Have you ever had the experience of reading a book, listening to a presentation or watching a TV programme and discovering at the end that you could hardly remember any of the points made? If someone had asked you to summarise what had been said, you wouldn’t have known where to start.

Well, if that has happened to you it’s nothing to be surprised about … it’s a common enough experience. It’s due to the fact that our brains are excellent filters of incoming information and only let through what is of interest to us. It has to be that way or we would be overwhelmed with information. But it causes a problem when the filter isn’t set quite right and filters out material that we really do need.

So say for example that we have a textbook to read for an exam. How do we set our filter so that the information goes in, rather than getting ejected because our brain thinks it’s dull or uninteresting?

The answer is to ask ourselves questions about it. Before starting to read the textbook, spend a moment or two completing the sentence “Questions I could ask myself about this material include…. ”

Then take the 4 or 5 best questions you have come up with and jot down some answers to them off the top of your head. Don’t worry about whether the answers make sense or not… the important thing is to get your brain engaging with the subject. Only then start reading the text.

Once you have finished reading, you can go through the same procedure quickly again. That will help to fix the material in your mind.

In this way you can engage with the material both before and after you read it. If it’s a really complicated document, like the textbook in my example, you could repeat this procedure before each chapter or section.

There are many other ways that you can use this method…. before a client interview, before taking a test drive on a new car, before visiting a famous tourist site and so on ….. use your imagination!


Absorb Information Like Never Before

the comic book industry

Fabio

Econlog asks: why are American comics dominated by the super hero genre? Is it simply path dependence from an era when super heroes were popular? I don’t have the definitive answer, but here is some data:

1. Comic books in other countries focus on humor (Condorito/Latin America or Asterix in Europe) or historical drama (e.g., the Lone Wolf and Cub series in Japan).

2. Before the 1950s, there actually was much wider variety. It was not uncommon for kids to read comics about the wild west, war, romance, or crime. Some people claim that the McCarthy era Comics Code Authority encouraged “safe” genres like super heros, rather than political or socially charged genres like war comics or romances.

3. Throughout the post-war era, humor magazines - such as Mad - have been hugely popular and they are essentially comic books. Also, newspapers comics, such as the Far Side are routinely anthologized as larger comic books. These are rarely super hero books and they are even best sellers.

4. Since about 1990, there is a fairly serious genre of high art comics in America, such as Maus or Cerebus. Small market segment, but easily accesible to most people in cities or college towns. Some, like The Watchmen, are super hero, but most aren’t. [You ask, what is my favorite? Alex Robinson’s romantic comedy, Box Office Poison.]

What I gather from this evidence is that super hero dominance is partly a function of definition. If you expanded beyond “picture books sold at the supermarket,” you see that super hero books aren’t quite as dominant, even among youngsters. As you look over the years, you suspect that there’s a natural match between super hero stories, boys, and the visual medium of comic books, but you also realize that many other genres, especially humor and romance, have done very well. It’s also no secret in the comic industry that super hero books, while still the bulk of what’s bought by young American boys, are a declining genre. I’ll chalk this one up to historical contingency, not path dependency.

Bonus Round: Check out PhD comics - the only comic strip just for grad students!!


the comic book industry

Featured Windows Download: Edit PDF files for free with PDFill

pdfill.pngWindows only: Free utility PDFill can create, update and merge existing PDF files for free. Yesterday we posted Combine PDFs for Mac, and PDFill does the equivalent job on Windows, plus more. PDFill can also split or reorder PDF pages, encrypt/decrypt PDF’s, rotate and crop, add image or text watermarks, and convert images to PDFs and back. The downside is PDFill requires the Java runtime to work - but you still can’t beat the price for pretty advanced PDF manipulation. PDFill is a free download for Windows.

PDFill PDF Editor [via Rule the Web]

Featured Windows Download: Edit PDF files for free with PDFill

Dark and Fleshy: The Color of Top Grossing Movies

“I started to think that NC-17 movies perhaps shared a common visual string in their marketing materials — dark and provocative… I started with R and pulled up the top five movies’ posters. Less provocative but very dark. I moved on to PG-13’s five. Not provocative at all but dark nonetheless. PG’s five? Much friendlier but, yes, dark. It wasn’t until I got to the five Gs that I started seeing some bright colors in the movie posters.” (Thanks HOW Blog!)


Dark and Fleshy: The Color of Top Grossing Movies

IQ and the Wealth of Nations

How many more times will someone suggest this book in the comments section of this blog?  I like this book and I think it offers a real contribution.  Nonetheless I feel no need to suggest it in the comments sections of other peoples’ blogs.

I do not treat this book as foundational because of personal experience.  I’ve spent much time in one rural Mexican village, San Agustin Oapan, and spent much time chatting with the people there.  They are extremely smart, have an excellent sense of humor, and are never boring.  And that’s in their second language, Spanish.

I’m also sure they if you gave them an IQ test, they would do miserably.  In fact I can’t think of any written test – no matter how simple – they could pass.  They simply don’t have experience with that kind of exercise.

When it comes to understanding the properties of different corn varieties, catching fish in the river, mending torn amate paper, sketching a landscape from memory, or gossiping about the neighbors, they are awesome.

Some of us like to think that intelligence is mostly one-dimensional, but at best this is true only within well-defined peer groups of broadly similar people.  If you gave Juan Camilo a test on predicting rainfall he would crush me like a bug.

OK, maybe I hang out with a select group within the village.  But still, there you have it.  Terrible IQ scores (if they could even take the test), real smarts.

So why should I think this book is the key to understanding economic underdevelopment?


IQ and the Wealth of Nations

Mad #480: Meet The G(ig) That Killed Me

As a reader pointed out recently, the latest issue of Mad contains a three-page article that Sarah and I provided the artwork for. This includes the two-page spread of doom which I’ve mentioned here several times before, and which put my hand in a wrist brace for a period of time after I finished working on it. The biggest problem with the job was not so much my decision to really amp things up (I was asked to take out some business and figures, this was actually a little denser in the pencils/roughs), but with  my choice to draw it on a fairly small scale, certain circumstances led me to draw the spread on a piece of 12" by 19" board. Not as large as I would have liked considering the detail work. So there was a lot of time put in with the Hunt 102 nibs and the .30 rapidograph.

Below is what most of the left-hand side of the spread looks like, without Sarah’s colors or effects on the various monitor screens.





Not the keenest draftsmanship around, but I’m happy with the way things came out. It printed a little dark, color-wise, but Sarah and I got what we were going for; a two-page spread that fries the eyeballs, but keeps them on the page so the reader can find all the Will Elder-style chicken fat background gags. More bang for the buck, as it were.

Anyway, the latest issue is #480 (!), and it shipped to comic shops last week, and, I believe, should now be available on newsstands. Please feel free to check out the issue. The Usual Gang of Idiots this time around includes Tom Richmond, Peter Kuper, Paul Coker, Bob Staake, Herman Mejia, Al Jaffee and the inimitable Sergio Aragones. And us. Crazy! Er, I mean, Sick! Cracked? Forget it. Lame joke.
Mad #480: Meet The G(ig) That Killed Me

What You Don't Want

I’ve often said that one of the best ways to find out what you really want is to start with what you don’t want. I’d like to explore this theme a little further in this posting.

There is something about asking for what we want that attracts a lot of negativity in our present-day culture. Many of us remember childhood sayings like “Those that ask don’t get”, or we remember that we were made to feel selfish when we expressed our wants. So it is not too surprising perhaps that for many people it is incredibly difficult to come to a satisfactory answer to the question “What do you really want?” When we do succeed in answering the question clearly and without reservation it has the effect of bringing a much greater focus to our energy.

However the effect of this childhood and cultural conditioning is that most of us find it much easier to identify what we don’t want than what we do want. The secret is to take what we don’t want and then turn it into the positive opposite.

So, to take an example, at work you might find yourself saying: “I am always getting interrupted when I am trying to concentrate on my work.” And sometimes we can go on saying that for years without doing anything about it!

The first step is to identify what you don’t want. This is pretty obvious: “I don’t want to be constantly interrupted when I am trying to concentrate on my work.” However note that this is a much more powerful statement than “I am always getting interrupted.” Once you have identified it as something you don’t want, as opposed to something you are merely complaining about, there is a much greater likelihood of your doing something about it.

Step two is to identify the positive opposite. What is the positive opposite for you of being constantly interrupted? Note that I said “for you” — we are not looking for the exact grammatical opposite but what it would mean for you. So you might say “to have a uninterrupted couple of hours every day during which I can really concentrate on my work.”

Compare the effect that each of the following statements is likely to have:

“I’m always getting interrupted when I’m trying to concentrate on my work”

“I don’t want to be constantly interrupted when I am trying to concentrate on my work.”

“I want an uninterrupted couple of hours every day during which I can really concentrate on my work”.

Which statement is most likely to result in your being able to concentrate on your work without interruptions?


What You Don’t Want

The Last Novel

By David Markson, fun, fun, fun.  Excerpt:

Curiously impressed by the fact that Auden paid everyone of his bills – electric, phone, whatever – on the same day that it arrived.

Or:

We evaluate artists by how much they are able to rid themselves of convention.
Said Richard Serra.

Is this a novel or a book of aphorisms?  Could it be a set of blog posts spread out over 190 pp.?  Who cares, I finished it.  Or:

A woman’s body is not a mass of flesh in a state of decomposition, on which the green and purplish spots denote a complete of cadaveric putrefaction.
An early critics presumed to inform Renoir.


The Last Novel

Reading Comics

Designer name to come

Fans of comics and graphic novels will have to tell the rest of us if vertical text is commonly used in those media – I just don’t know.


The use of primary colors plus black and white works very nicely here, and the eye on the left is a great addition – it underscores the graphic nature of the subject and it breaks the symmetry of the overall design. Nice.

Buy this book at Amazon.com
Reading Comics

The critic as the handmaiden of Google

What are critics good for anyway?

I look for one main piece of information from a review: is the name of the product or artist worth Googling?  Yes or no.  That is a binary decision.

Once I have the answer to that question I usually stop reading the review.

I look for one main piece of information from Google: is the product worth buying, on Amazon or elsewhere?

Once I have the answer to that question I usually stop pawing through Google.  That’s another binary decision.

Imagine that.  The critic as the handmaiden of Google, and Google as the handmaiden of Amazon.

To me, the most valuable critics are those who can be disposed of most quickly.  Is it any wonder that so many critics do not like the Internet and bloggers?

Sometimes I think it is enough to simply list how many of the book’s pages I bothered to read.


The critic as the handmaiden of Google

nowMap: Half-A4 Template (With areas for Notes and Wins)

Latest Update: I’ve attached the original OpenOffice Draw file to the bottom of the page now, too, so people can modify it for different paper sizes and such like.


This is a template for nowMaps - quick visual overviews of what’s on your mind. To find out what a nowMap is, and how to use the main section of this form, see the nowMap Introduction, which also lists other nowMap templates available.

This Form

nowMap Half-A4 Template, Picture

(This is just a pic to let you see what the form looks like - keep scrolling for the PDF file if you want to print one out to use it. If you’re really stuck, and can’t use the PDF, click the picture, then click on “view original”, then right click the picture and save it - it’ll look pretty poor printed, but it should work ok.)

This is actually the first nowMap form I made, and although I find it handy, it might be a bit small if you’re reasonably busy. The reason I’ve called it “Half-A4”, not A5, is that it’s actually a full sheet of A4 (should work just fine printed on US Letter paper, just let Adobe Reader scale it to fit), but only the bottom half is a nowMap.

Here’s a colour-coded version, so I can refer to the areas by colour further down - don’t worry, the PDF version isn’t like this…

nowMap Half-A4 Template, Picture, Colour Coded

Bottom Half

A nowMap, as described in the introduction, with squared main area (pink), lined left hand side (yellow), and spaces marked on the right for start and end dates (blue).

Top Half

The top half consists of two columns for notes, and one for wins…

  • Notes: (red) - just areas for keeping general notes - not actions or references that belong to the side of the nowMap, but maybe a space to jot down things when you’re on the phone, to scribble new ideas, or pretty much anything else. Very rough notes can, of course, go on the back of the sheet.
  • Wins: (green) - an area to note down your achievements. Doesn’t have to be anything big, but anything you feel good about having done. The idea is that this gives you a bit of a record of what you’re actually getting done, and might make you feel a bit better when you glance up at it. Pure feel-good stuff. You don’t have to fill it in, but why not feel good at least occasionally?

The PDF Download

Should be below, along with the OpenOffice Draw file that generated it, to allow for modifications…

AttachmentSize A4 Folded.odg10.62 KB A4 Folded.pdf52.41 KB
nowMap: Half-A4 Template (With areas for Notes and Wins)