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Overcoming Writer’s Block Without the B.S.

In Uncategorized on July 11, 2012 at 4:49 pm

Writer’s block.

There are thousands of articles online covering the topic: how to prevent it, how to get over it, and how to understand why it happens. If you’ve ever actually dealt with writer’s block though you know that even reading some of the advice in the typical quick-fix articles can be maddening. I don’t know why it happens any more than I know a reliable way to prevent or fix it. This article however is a personal attempt to disseminate what has worked for me and what I think almost never works for anyone.

In my experience, the first key to dealing with writer’s block is not to stress about it. There is no reason to dig too deeply into the root causes of your writer’s block. It will also benefit no one to become anxious about not being able to write. The only problem here is the fact that, when you can’t write, that’s all you can think about. And if you write for a living you are running the risk of damaging your career. What’s more stressful than that?

It’s definitely a catch-22: trying not to stress about not stressing about your writer’s block. But here are a few things I have done that have actually worked for me:

Do something totally new.

Preferably this should be something that has nothing to do with you or your work. Step out of your comfort zone, and do something fun. Once I went bungee jumping during a period of especially low creativity. It was something I had thought I would never do. But it definitely startled me back to life.

Ask someone for advice.

As obvious as this sounds, it can often be the last thing writers seek out. Writing can be such a solitary activity, and when you’re suffering from a block sometimes you feel like you need to get through it alone. Instead, just tell another writer or editor what’s going on and see if they can help you think of different angles or ideas. Even something as simple as that can actually help.

Read.

This is one of the best ways to get creative juices flowing again. Sit down, and make yourself read something. Whatever you’re attracted to is a good place to start whether it’s a novel, newspaper or magazine.

Have un-productive rest.

Don’t use downtime as a constant opportunity for brainstorming. You may be suffering from writer’s block, but you still deserve some time off. Go see a friend and chat about nothing. 

Just start writing.

Especially if you write for work, it can really help to stop thinking. You may be surprised by how much writing you can fit onto a page when you just start doing it. And you will be even more surprised by how well you can write, even on autopilot. Stop caring about how it will all go together, and just write. You can piece together the good and the bad later.

There are also some things that have never worked for me and I doubt will work well for anyone else:

Lying to yourself about your own deadline

If you are a procrastinator and sometimes like to pretend that your deadline is earlier than it actually is so you finish in a timely manner, stop fooling yourself. You know that you know your real deadline, and you will only start writing as soon as you absolutely have to until you work to actually change the habit of procrastination.

Beating yourself down

Don’t let writers’ block spiral you into a depression. Even if you can’t figure out a way to get past it, it doesn’t mean you should think of yourself negatively.

 

Angelita Williams writes about a variety of topics pertaining to education. Angelita has a particular interest in online education, as she covers many stories on online courses and the distance learning lifestyle. Her email is angelita.williams7@gmail.com.

To Procreate or Not to Procreate? It’s Not Even a Question

In Uncategorized on May 22, 2012 at 4:15 am

When I first set out to write this essay, I intended to give ethical arguments for and against having and raising one’s own biological children, which, we’ve been told, is an act and process that is an integral part of this crazy thing we call life. Notwithstanding, if we view having our own children from a purely ethical perspective, the answer is simple—there are no good reasons.

Before anyone begins throwing a fit about me making some sort of claim that no one should have children, I’m certainly not. You are someone’s child, and, more than likely, I’m sure you’ll say now that you don’t necessarily regret being born. If you have any children currently, I’m sure they’re great, and I’m sure they’re cute. They’ll be a great boon to society one day. But if you don’t have any children, and you’re thinking about it, think hard. Think about the fact that:

The world population is growing at a rate that the planet cannot support.

All of us already know that the world population growth is, simply put, unsustainable at its current rate.

By some accounts, world population could reach 10 billion in the year 2050, while the Earth’s carrying capacity is said to be between 4 billion and 11 billion. According to some experts, we may have already transcended the Earth’s carrying capacity. Considering that developed countries, especially America, produce some of the greatest amounts of waste per person in the world, deciding not to have children will do more to reduce your carbon footprint than any of the small steps you may currently take, like walking to work.

The “but my future child will be happy” argument doesn’t hold water.

In Peter Singer’s relatively recent New York Times op-ed, “Should this be the Last Generation?”, Singer cites one of philosopher David Benatar’s arguments about having children:

“To bring into existence someone who will suffer is, Benatar argues, to harm that person, but to bring into existence someone who will have a good life is not to benefit him or her. Few of us would think it right to inflict severe suffering on an innocent child, even if that were the only way in which we could bring many other children into the world. Yet everyone will suffer to some extent, and if our species continues to reproduce, we can be sure that some future children will suffer severely. Hence continued reproduction will harm some children severely, and benefit none.”

Essentially what Singer is trying to say is that non-existent persons, being infinitely many, cannot “know” what they are missing out on.

There’s nothing necessarily “natural” about having and raising kids.

One argument often invoked in the name of having children is the idea that it’s a “natural” part of the lifecycle, or it’s an experience that is part and parcel of our instincts and biology. Firstly, there are various “instincts” that, as human civilization has developed, we’ve suppressed. One could easily argue that it’s instinctual to hunt and gather our food, but modern technology has enabled us to slough off this part of our biology. In the same way, the facts of modern life have given us the opportunity to live a full life without having children. The advent of birth control has completely separated reproduction from our instinctual sex drive that often results in reproduction. As such, just with many parts that were once an

Having children won’t necessarily make you happier either.

Now we can always go the hedonistic route, and argue that raising children will bring us pleasure, and that, ergo, having children is the right thing to do. There are, again, a few problems with this argument. For one, it’s not even necessarily the case that having children will bring us pleasure, as noted in a recent New Yorker article, “The Case Against Kids.” A study conducted in 2006 showed that mothers cited having a more enjoyable time during activities like exercising, talking on the phone, and watching TV, as compared to spending time with their children. Spending time with children ranked only above doing housework in terms of enjoyment.

At the end of the day however, having children isn’t something we necessarily submit to reasoned analysis. Perhaps the nearly universal appeal is something akin to what Guardian columnist Charlie Booker noticed after having his first child:

“But only a cardboard man could fail to acknowledge that some things simply leave you feeling deeply, deeply happy. Call me dense or cold or both, but I wasn’t anticipating the wave of euphoria I’ve been experiencing. It’ll wear off, I’m sure, and these pages aren’t the place for it anyway, but yes: I understand why people have kids. Right now, at the moment, I ‘get’ babies.”

By-line:

Mariana Ashley is a freelance writer who particularly enjoys writing about online colleges. She loves receiving reader feedback, which can be directed to mariana.ashley031 @gmail.com.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics: How Statistics Frame Presidential Campaigns

In Uncategorized on April 14, 2012 at 5:30 am

The bidding process for the 2012 US Presidency has gone on for at least ten years.

At least that’s how it seems to many people fatigued by incessant news coverage of the topic. In reality the race has extended well over a year, with the vast majority of media attention going to the contenders for the Republican Presidential nominee. In the time various candidates have vied for the (still ongoing) Republican nomination, they’ve utilized a wide suite of statistics and figures on domestic policy issues to either bolster their own argument or decry their opponents. Most of these figures pertain to joblessness rates, economic growth, consumer buying trends, and so on, as the US economy has become more or less the central issue of this election cycle.

What’s interesting is that multiple candidates cite the same statistics, and each one seems to find a way to frame that statistic to his benefit. The relativity with which these candidates approach the same statistic is remarkable in this election cycle, and it warrants a closer look.

Hard numbers in 2011

2011 was arguably a great year to be a candidate for the Republican nomination. Daunting statistics popped up every month – numbers which made many analysts fret over the economic direction of the country. Tepid jobs reports, high unemployment rates, hedged forecasts of long-term economic growth, and low Presidential approval ratings gave Republican candidates plenty to talk about. Less than a year ago, in July 2011, the unemployment rate was 9.2%; it was a time when many Americans questioned whether or not the economy would ever recover from the housing market meltdown that occurred several years ago.

The data was unavoidable, and it seriously improved the prospects of many candidates running for the Presidency. People were looking for someone who could bring the economy back around, and many politicians answered that call. Several candidates enjoyed moments in the sun, where their popularity rose with each promise to fix the economic mess. Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and Michelle Bachman were just a few of the candidates to enjoy such popularity.

Putting a negative spin on encouraging statistics

However, the U.S. economy has shown improvement over the past few months. The national average unemployment rate still hovers around 8%, but recent studies have shown that that rate could decline further in coming months. More companies are hiring, and more consumers are spending; it seems like things are starting to change for the better in the country.

Of course you wouldn’t know that the economy was recovering if you listened to the remaining candidates for the Republican nomination. They’ve interpreted the growth of the US economy as insufficient for the standards of the country, and they blame President Obama for mishandling the recovery effort. They rarely touch upon the fact that the economic disaster unfolded long before President Obama’s term; they only stick to statistics that could be spun to disparage his leadership. Positive economic numbers aren’t necessarily a success story for President Obama as much as they are a reason for his opponents to say that he hasn’t done enough. It’s all a matter of framing.

The elasticity of statistics in US politics

As you’ve probably heard, a statistic is only a number. What matters about statistics is the context in which they are mentioned. In the political sphere, the same statistic can hinder and support the same person depending on who’s doing the talking. Never has that been clearer than in this election cycle, with political pundits, economic analysts, and the media scrutinizing every number released concerning the US economy.

Take the most recent job numbers report for example. While the numbers were nothing to write home about, they still showed that the country is hiring people. Democrats will definitely jump on the small number as a sign that the economy is further down the road to recovery, while Republicans—and presidential contenders in particular—will use the figures as a clarion call for new leadership. Again, it’s all about the perspective from which you view the numbers.

The presidential race is still too far away to call, and with candidates still vying for the Republican nomination, there are still many more debates over economic statistics. The important thing is that Americans inform themselves about vital economic data before they listen to the spin from politicians.

Author Bio:

Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education where she writes about education, online colleges, online degrees etc. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

Some Underwhelming Reflections on “3/11″

In Uncategorized on March 14, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Sunday was the one-year anniversary of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami that killed 20,000 people, and I feel I kind of owe it to myself and others to share my thoughts. I haven’t really gleaned any kind of wisdom in the one year since Japan’s disaster – it could be I’m still a little bit shocked, or still picking up the pieces of my life, or just doing what I have to do – so there hasn’t been any sort of a-ha! moment. I imagine that from the standpoint of the impartial reader, what follows will seem trite and hackneyed. But here it is anyways:

The big one-year anniversary had actually slipped my mind up until Sunday, and I was folding napkins during some downtime at my brunch shift when suddenly I realized what day it was and felt a sudden urge to go home and be with my family. In retrospect, it was probably good that I was engaged in such a mindless task as folding napkins, because there was nothing to be distracted from and no one to talk to.

I decided to let my mind wander freely, since menial tasks often encourage such, and one of the first places my mind went was towards the topic of God. I realized that in any just universe I would be obligated to hate a God that would allow such a thing as the tsunami to happen, if an omnipotent God were not such an absurd proposition to begin with. As embarrassing it is to admit this, I actually became very angry with the idea of God and religion and people continuing to believe and worship indifferently, as I continued folding napkins.  It was a pure, visceral hatred that burned through me, which I do not regret, even if I feel it is not representative of my overall religious views.

I thought of all the children I knew in Soma, where I had worked for a year and a half of my life, and wondered if they were okay, and how I might find such a thing out. I thought of our good friend, Kentaro, who disappeared without a trace last March and no one has seen since. To our knowledge, he was nowhere near the water when everything happened, so why would he be missing? Maybe we’re just out of the loop now. Or maybe he is. Or maybe he’s just depressed and doesn’t want to talk to anyone and has been keeping a low profile for the last year.

I thought of my wife’s next-door neighbor whose family had lived next door for generations and generations; this was an elderly man whom I’d heard lots of funny stories about. Right after the quake, his wife made rice balls for our family using a gas stove, and she brought them over for us to have for dinner in the dark and cold. Her husband was a roofer by trade and semi-retired. A few months ago he was repairing a roof that had been damaged by the earthquake, fell off, and died. At the time I heard it, this was one of the saddest stories I had ever heard.

I let my mind wander to the idea of land in Japan and in the old world being an extension of self, like a limb. Generations and generations had lived and died on the same land, flattening the valleys with their industry. My wife’s parent’s land had once been a great farm, but, with the Twentieth-Century economy and the jobs it brought, there was no one willing to tend to all that land, and my wife’s grandparents and parents gradually subdivided, rented, sold, or dismantled much of it for various purposes: parking lots, subsistence or hobby farms, roads, advertisements, etc. Now that land is poisoned, whether actually or effectively, a great tragedy indeed. But someday it will be alright again, and, if you’re someone with a sixth-generation ethic like many of the Japanese living around Fukushima Daiichi, then this someday is soon enough.

The reports I’ve been hearing from Fukushima City are that all the children are gone: families with young children have fled the radiation, joining the 400,000 displaced, and only the elderly remain. Some of the displaced families commute from nearby cities over the western mountains; some of them have moved off to faraway cities, where they attend brand new schools as untouchables, or to faraway countries, where they must learn a new language and a new way of life, like my stepson. I’m sure this is somewhat of an exaggeration, because I still know a few foreigners working in the city, and some of them are teaching kids. The people I talk to talk a lot of settlement money from Tokyo Electric: how much, when it’s coming, how to get it, where to get it, etc. People have stopped talking about radiation hot spots and the next big aftershock.

 

(PICTURED: top – Fukushima City from Mt. Shinobu; above – the peak of Mt. Azuma)

 

_______________________________________________________

After work on Sunday I went home and read Evan Osnos’s “Japan’s 3/11” post. Like most of the literature coming out of the disaster, this piece too has an angle, which is that, on top of the first disaster of the earthquake, the second disaster of the tsunami, and the third disaster of the nuclear meltdown, there was a fourth disaster, which is the destruction of the people’s trust in the very government that engineered the “Japanese miracle” to begin with. (I find the notion of a “Japanese miracle” to be fairly offensive – as if the Twentieth-Century growth of the Japanese economy wasn’t the inevitable result of a high level of intellectual capital; a hard-working, industrious, and community-oriented society; and an infrastructure that desperately needed to be rebuilt after suffering one of the worst bombings in the history of the world.) Anyways, from Osnos:

“The moment that Japan remembers as 3/11 was not one disaster but three—an earthquake, a tsunami, and a nuclear meltdown. And then there was the repercussion that nobody expected in the rush of stoicism and sacrifice that so impressed the world. As evidence piled up of government failures—cover-ups, bureaucratic paralysis, an industry that disguised honest assessments of the risks—Japan’s confidence in the political establishment that has created its modern miracle collapsed: the “fourth disaster” of March 11,” as one commentator puts it.”

The frame of the Osnos piece – like literally everything ever written about Japan – is the ceremony and ritual surrounding the commemoration of solemn events, and this aggravates me, but Osnos’s warning of ripples to come seems refreshingly apt:

One of the more amazing numbers involved is zero. That’s how many people have died so far of radiation, and that’s not because it’s not dangerous. It’s because of luck and sacrifice. People were more afraid than they needed to be, but they can be forgiven for that because the engineers were more cavalier than they should have been. A year later, the effects of radiation are most readily measurable in mental health. Scientists still don’t know whether the increased radiation received by hundreds of thousands of citizens will cause more cancer (though, even if it does, it will be virtually undetectable, lost in the cancers that forty per cent of us will contract in our lifetimes anyway). But the psychological effects are vast and obvious —an “anguished uncertainty” in the words of physicist and historian Spencer Weart. The combined effects of stigma, dislocation, and fear of the unknown are “a recipe for social isolation, anxiety, depression, psychosomatic medical problems, reckless behavior, even suicide.” As of today, three hundred and forty thousand people still live as refugees inside their own borders, either in chilly temporary housing (“huts,” as one local official calls them) or in hotels or with relatives. Forty per cent of them lost their jobs or sources of income. In the twelve-mile radius around the plant, scientists are still trying to figure out how to decontaminate the land, but one number they’ve settled on is this: It will take forty years to decommission the Fukushima operation…

…The Fukushima meltdowns shattered trust in nuclear power in Japan and elsewhere, and it’s not clear how much of that will recover. For the moment, there is an unsettling dynamic in the making: As public opinion turns against nuclear energy, the only places left to develop it are places that are less sensitive to public opinion—exactly the kinds of political systems that are least equipped to respond to technical and public-health crises. Nuclear becomes the pride of governments ill-equipped to handle it. After the Fukushima meltdowns, China was one of the first countries to freeze its nuclear program and order a comprehensive review. It has taken a year, and very little information has come out. But according to a new Global Nuclear Materials Security Index, China still ranks twenty-ninth among a group of thirty-two nuclear nations in terms of security and transparency. Senior energy and nuclear-industry officials are undeterred. In recent weeks, several financial newspapers have reported that the ban on the approval of new nuclear reactors could be lifted as soon as next month.

This is a pretty serious dynamic, and Osnos is right that the Japanese government deserves credit for managing the hell out of an awful situation. I mentioned in the comments to Mike Dwyer’s post on Prepping for Emergencies a couple months ago:

The reason people didn’t die of starvation in Japan was because supermarkets rationed supplies; Japanese cities are planned specifically to minimize the damage of earthquakes – i.e. there are backup generators and alternate emergency sources of power supplies, independent, emergency supplies of fresh water, stocked non-perishables, etc.; the Japanese government quarantined entire cities between supply centers and the disaster zone so it could use the world’s most comprehensive highway system to quickly and effectively deliver essential supplies; the U.S. military, Chinese, and Russian governments especially plus many other countries delivered food and other aid by sea to the disaster zone; and finally, the population remained calm and orderly throughout the whole affair.

In short, planning is why 20,000 people died in Japan and 300,000 died in Haiti.

This stands, and I think the Japanese people – at least the people I know – appreciate the way the authorities handled the catastrophe, especially at the local level: the people properly blame Tokyo Electric, even if Osnos’s sources – the last I checked a few yuppies in Tokyo who got to go on being yuppies in Tokyo and an Alex Jones-type character – suggest otherwise. That the people turn away from nuclear power, even though we’ll need it or its equivalent to supply our energy in the future, seems an unfortunate but inevitable consequence, part of the bonfire of the vanities that blazes after any tragedy.

But still I wish that, following great tragedies, our immediate recourse would not always be towards public policy: times of great emotional upheaval are not times to be legislating. The real story of every disaster shouldn’t be who to blame or what extreme position we should orient our new public policy towards; the real story of every disaster is the guy who’s missing, or the farmer who can no longer farm, or the roofer who fell to the ground and died while committing a completely mundane, yet completely selfless act of heroism. The real story in every disaster – whether wrought of human hands or an act of God – is the lives, the individuals, the universes we sacrifice.

What Gives

In Uncategorized on March 2, 2012 at 12:02 pm

I have a long post up at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen about the changes in my search for work since August and the implications of this. Here is an excerpt:

I hesistate to say I am on the edge of a new transformation now, in February 2012, but it just feels that way, even though rationality points to my situation continuing like this for the foreseeable future. Some of the optimism I lost over the summer has come back: my translation workload is increasing, I’m doing well at what I can do well at, and tonight, right before my grateful eyes, my wife and children sleep peacefully. Psychology is important in these things, and my psychological state has moved from a need for present security to a need for future security. Time stands still now; every week is the same. My children become more-and-more enraptured with American culture and more-and-more obsessed with our ubiquitous and inescapable kid’s entertainment culture. There is no backyard for them to play in here, but there are Backyardigans. My older daughter speaks no more Japanese in the house. My stepson wants an earring. I grow fatter by the week. During the summer, when I was unemployed, I managed to find outlets for limited exercise. Since August, I’ve gained fifteen to twenty pounds – despite my best efforts to eat healthy, I have no time for exercise. I seem powerless to stop the creep of apple fat around my midsection that reduces my life expectancy by the minute, but my weight gain still remains pretty far down my list of problems to solve. Exercise is just one of those luxuries that gives way when the threat of an endless and inescapable cycle of late fees and penalties dangles like a tantalizing, decadent bizarro carrot in front of me. One of the few medium-term “dreams” I have is to be able to afford a kayak, so I can paddle around the Boston Harbor Islands each morning.

Please make your way over to the League of Ordinary Gentlemen to read and comment. 

Hobbes: The American West and 21st-Century America

In Uncategorized on January 31, 2012 at 4:46 pm
“Thomas Hobbes” by Leon Douglas
<cross-posted to the League of Ordinary Gentlemen>
In my last post on this topic, we got through Hobbes as relative and Hobbes as overstated. To continue our discussion:

Claim 3: There is a significant difference between political and personal liberty.

Lockeans love to claim themselves the true lovers of liberty, but their liberty is political by nature: the right to vote, the right to free speech, the right to rebel against an unjust leader, etc. Hobbesians are most concerned with the first of Locke’s three inalienable rights: the right to a peaceful existence, wherein personally-meaningful activities can be pursued. That is to say, peace and stability trump discussions of essentials. As long as I am effectively free, that is all that counts. Who cares about the structure of our legislative process or checks-and-balances or bipartisanship or whatever so long as I am able to pursue freely my chosen career of saxophonist?

That is not to say structural issues don’t matter, but they should be seen as means to an end rather than as ends themselves.

Claim 4: The freest nations are the ones with the most effective court, police, and military systems.

By “most effective” I certainly do not mean most expensive; nor do I mean largest or most powerful. If one dedicated protector of peace is enough to prevent Precinct 13 from being overtaken by those who threaten the social contract, then that dedicated protector is more than enough.

In the American Western, the clash between lawlessness and civilization remains a common theme. One of my favorite passages from one of my favorite Westerns, E.L. Doctorow’s Welcome to Hard Times, illustrates this thematic tension:

Every time someone puts a little capital into this Territory I’m called in by the Governor and sent on my way. It doesn’t matter I suffer from the rheumatism, nor that I’m past the age of riding a horse’s back. If a man files a claim that yields, there’s a town. If he finds some grass, there’s a town. Does he dig a well? Another town. Does he stop somewhere to ease his bladder, there’s a town. Over this land a thousand times each year towns spring up and it appears I have to charter them all. But to what purpose? The claim pinches out, the grass dies, the well dries up, and everyone will ride off to form up again somewhere else for me to travel. Nothing fixes in this damned country, people blow around at the whiff of the wind. You can’t bring the law to a bunch of rocks, you can’t settle the coyotes, you can’t make a society out of sand. I sometimes think we’re worse than the Indians… What is the name of this place, Hard Times? You are a well-meaning man Mr. Blue, I come across your likes occasionally. I noticed Blackstone on your desk, and Chitty’s Pleadings. Well you can read the law as much as you like but it will be no weapon for the spring when the town swells with people coming to work your road. You need a peace officer but I don’t even see you wearing a gun. I look out of this window and I see cabins, loghouse, cribs, tent, shanty, but I don’t see a jail. You’d better build a jail. You’d better find a shootist and build a jail.

The last time I used this quote in a post was a year ago after the Gabrielle Giffords shooting. I wrote then on the need to take a deep breath and avoid enacting some of the hasty, emotional legislation that was being bandied about (to recap: laws promoting the involuntarily incarceration of “crazy” peopledoubling down on gun-control legislation, etc.). As it turns out, the solutions we have developed and refined over generations – the trial, the jury, the jail, the watchful citizen – are the best ones:

It’s tempting to over explain incidents like these by saying they are determined by our culture: the dialectics of the restless American Western mythology and the static comforts of modernity; men who want to watch the world burn and pundits who traffic in firewood; an individualist ethic of self and cold, indifferent pseudo-communities.  At times, it seems like we may have even summoned the monster ourselves. But then we must step back, remember where we are, and realize that further destruction comes when the rational controls that order our existence slacken.  Evil exists, and while it may be to our benefit to keep that evil away from guns, our best weapon against it is the fortitude within our own souls, the kind of fortitude displayed by Patricia Maisch and Colonel Badger, the kind of fortitude which we should all reflect on before descending into the madness of politics as usual.

Claim 5: We need to accept the existence of evil.

There are no easy solutions to the problem of evil. We need a strong, secure state that fosters peace and prosperity without itself becoming the worst kind of uncontrollable monster. The last ten years–no, the last hundred years of human existence have taught us clearly that, if we are to err on one side of things, we should err on the side of decreased central power; we should secure peace and prosperity while interfering in as few personally-meaningful, peaceful existences as possible.

I’m glad we didn’t overreact to Jared Lee Loughner, because more often than not our overreactions to evil become evil themselves.

Punctuated Equilibrium

In Uncategorized on July 19, 2011 at 12:00 pm

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4/11/2011 – Christopher Carr to William, Robert, Becca, Kevin, Kevin, Adam, Caitlin, Joseph, Julie, Dmitri


Hey guys,

Wondering what you thought about this cover letter:

 

Here’s the job description:

Title: Junior Digital Video Production Assistant II
Location(s): Cambridge MA
PT/FT: 
Full Time
Pos. Number:
 S7658763b37bh-S7
Dept.: Center for Biomedical Science Journalism
Payroll Category: T
Work Shift Code: S09-0401

JUNIOR DIGITAL VIDEO PRODUCTION ASSISTANT II, Center for Biomedical Science Journalism, to assist director, multimedia leader, and web architect with a wide range of tasks related to CBSJ’s web presence and overall goals.  Responsibilities include designing content; creating content; maintaining content; directing content; managing video content; overseeing user databases and internal documentation protocols; assisting web and video production managers in marketing web materials using P2P and web 2.0 technology, social media, and other outreach methodologies to gather more professional and lay public users; assisting with special projects such as live video conferencing or implementation of online training content and facilitation of transference of deliverables; uploading video, audio, and print content to website and other venues; liaisoning with end-user content manager and user experience designers/architects; and monitor server connections, data backup, etc.  Film CBSJ seminars and other press conferences and then download, edit, and upload video using Final Cut Pro or Premier; maintain digital media archives; handle other administrative duties such as equipment inventories, camera maintenance, assisting with administrative data entry; assisting with CBSJ social media presence; placement of audio wave reception devices during production phase; duplication and distribution of internal documents; facilitation of delivery of caffeinated potables; and perform other duties as needed.

REQUIREMENTS: three(3)+ years of professional experience; proven track record of broad technical proficiency and aptitude; technical orientation towards work environment; experience with one or more post-production tool; i.e., Apple Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premier or Audition, or Avid Pro Tools; and a “can-do” attitude.  Experience maintaining content on websites or (web) databases strongly desired; Joomla experience; experience with Adobe Photoshop or Bridge or WordPress.  Social media, search engine optimization (SEO), SEM, and online marketing experience a plus.  Proficiency with PowerPoint, Mastery of Word, Excel, and Notepad (html); and an interest in science, biology, medicine, and/or journalism are also strongly desired.  S7658763b37bh-S7

Occasional early morning, evening, or weekend work may be required.  Travel 15% of the time.  Remote work possible 13.5% of the time.

Two-year appointment with the possibility of renewal.  This is a full-time position.

 

 

And here’s my cover letter:

 

Dear :

I am very interested in the Junior Digital Video Production Assistant II position at the Center for Biomedical Science Journalism.  The CBSJ is an institution for which I hold the utmost respect and which must play an increasingly important role in the future of our technological civilization.  I would like to participate in the efforts undertaken by the Center for Biomedical Science Journalism to more effectively communicate the immensely important discoveries of modern science to the public.  The position of Junior Digital Video Production Assistant II is an uncanny match for my experience, acquired skills, and personal interests.

The Center for Biomedical Science Journalism is at the forefront of a necessary sea change in how the public perceives science and technology.  I am particularly interested in continuing some of the work the center has done on the neurodiversity movement and punctuated equilibrium.  Compared to other kinds of journalism, science journalism is often lazy, reductionist, off-putting, poorly written, and even dangerous.  The other edge of this sword is the fact that at no other time in human history has the effective communication of scientific concepts to the general public been more important, as crucial technologies – thanks largely to technological evangelism originating at the Center for Biomedical Science Journalism – assume bottom-up and decentralized (as opposed to top-down and corporate-controlled) structures.

I have extensive experience that makes me the ideal candidate for your position.  First, as a refuge from the confusing and panic-inducing nuclear meltdown in Fukushima Japan, I know how lay scientific knowledge and science journalism must be improved in kind if humanity is to progress.  I am currently working on a book about my experience with my wife and children fleeing the leaking Fukushima Daiichi reactor with only iPhone Internet access to inform my decisions.  In addition to this formative experience, I am unusually qualified to work at the intersection of education, science, technology, digital video production, and journalism.  The wide range of tasks under the Junior Digital Video Production Assistant II job description suits the broad knowledge I have acquired as a self-employed provider of a wide range of services in English and technical writer in Japan over the last four years.  I have extensive experience explaining difficult technical concepts to a lay or linguistically-challenged audience.  I also have extensive experience with both Adobe Premier and Final Cut Pro (hundreds of hours as a film/video/digital/documentary studies student) in addition to web design and marketing in a variety of media.

Attached is a copy of my resume, which more fully details my qualifications for the position.  I look forward to talking with you regarding the Junior Digital Video Production Assistant II position at the Center for Biomedical Science Journalism.  Thank you very kindly for your consideration.

Sincerely,

 

Christopher Carr


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4/11/2011 – Robert David to me, William, Becca, Kevin, Kevin, Adam, Caitlin, Joseph, Julie, Dmitri


Carr,

I am line editing this write now.  Seems like a cool position.  In short, this is way to long and doesn’t focus enough on the specific skills that make you a fit for this particular position.  Tailor the cover letter to the specific job responsibilities.  I will send a longer email later, but wanted to give initial thoughts.

Also – kill the part about the book.  No one wants to hire someone who is also working on writing a book, since it makes it seem like you won’t devote your full attention.

Robert David
Calcutta, India
068-877-6027
robert.david@alumni.yale.edu
www.aidlive.com/


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4/11/2011 – Adam Miller to me, William, Robert, Becca, Kevin, Caitlin, Joseph, Julie, Dmitri


Seconding Bobby’s points.

– Short and sweet on cover letters is key!

– Book is interesting to note since it is journalistic… but, can you make shorter?  Or only hint at?

 

Adam Miller
212-865-2263
adam@magnumopus.net

 

Magnum Opus lets you create your own,
Super-professional looking photo books for
no more than chump change!


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4/11/2011 – Robert David to me, William, Becca, Kevin, Kevin, Adam, Caitlin, Joseph, Julie, Dmitri


Yeah bra.  This is a social media position and we live in a world of 160 characters or less.  Get wtih the Twitter times.


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4/11/2011 – Adam Miller to me, William, Robert, Becca, Kevin, Caitlin, Joseph, Julie, Dmitri


 

140!

 

Adam Miller
212-865-2263
adam@magnumopus.net

Magnum Opus lets you create your own,
Super-professional looking photo books for
no more than chump change.


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4/11/2011 – Christopher Carr to William, Robert, Becca, Kevin, Kevin, Adam, Caitlin, Joseph, Julie, Dmitri


It’s not like I’m writing in a way that comes naturally here.  This is the first cover letter I’ve ever written.  I think it’s a stupid tradition.  Self-promotion is not my strong suit.  I’m the man at so many other things that it doesn’t have to be.  Jokes aside, with the exceptions of the ass-kissing at the beginning and corresponding words so glib and vague that they look like lines of dialogue from a sardonic comedy screenplay (which came right out of a plethora of “how to” write cover letter resources incidentally) everything in there is a direct response to skills and experiences specifically demanded in the job description.

Furthermore, why is including the fact that I’m working on a book of science journalism for a cover letter for a job in science journalism a bad thing?  When I worked at a big aerospace engineering company, all the engineers there built model airplanes in their free time.  It was impressive that these guys loved planes so much that outside of their jobs building planes they built planes.  So, maybe if they know that outside of my job in science journalism I write science journalism, they’ll think I’m a savant and circle jerk each other at the prospect of hiring me.


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4/12/2011 – Becca Higgins to me, Adam, Robert, William, Kevin, Kevin, Caitlin, Joseph, Julie, Dmitri


Only problem is some retarded HR girl is the filter between you and someone that would find that impressive.  I’d follow the D-man’s advice.  I haven’t had a chance to look yet but will tomorrow.  Dude, so fun to see you this weekend.


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4/12/2011 – Adam Miller to me, Robert


Alright –

Re-read your cover letter.  I think you have the basis of a baller letter here – just needs to be simplified.

The content is solid; for me, the voice sounds wrong.

It comes off as a bit over-the-top.  Can’t put my finger on it exactly, but some of it is word choice.

For example,

 

“The Center for Biomedical Science Journalism is an institution for which I hold the utmost respect and which must play an increasingly important role in the future of our technological civilization.”

You probably shouldn’t use  ’which’ twice in one sentence.

 

“The position of Junior Digital Video Production Assistant II is an uncanny match for my experience, acquired skills, and personal interests.

Almost surely, a postion cannot be ‘uncanny’.

 

Compared to other kinds of journalism, science journalism is often lazy, reductionist, off-putting, poorly written, and even dangerous. ”

Negatives are not a great thing to bring into a cover letter.  Better would be “I want to bring the same level of critical journalism to science as X brings to X.”   You could even make X someone who works for them.

 

The other edge of this sword is the fact that at no other time in human history has the effective communication of scientific concepts to the general public been more important, as crucial technologies – thanks largely to technological evangelism originating at the Center for Biomedical Science Journalism – assume bottom-up and decentralized (as opposed to top-down and corporate-controlled) structures.

I would just take this out.

—-

Of course cover letters suck!  What makes them worse is that no one reads them — I promise.  So, keep it short, make it easy to digest, and then blow them away with your resume.  Just get to the interview, then you will have the job.  Better yet, send them a fricking video! It’s a digital media assistant job, right?  So F*** the cover letter and let your work speak for itself!

 

Hope this garbled stream of thoughts contains something helpful!

 

– AM


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4/12/2011 – Adam Miller to me, Robert


 

” Maybe they’ll think I’m a savant and circle jerk each other at the prospect of hiring me.”

 

Boooomskis.  Write as freely and brilliantly as this and the job is yours…

 

But really, you should just go knock down their door and start typing next to them.

 

Adam Miller
212-865-2263
adam@magnumopus.net

Magnum Opus lets you create your own,
Super-professional looking photo books for
no more than chump change.


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4/12/2011 – Caitlin DeVito to me, Adam, Robert, Becca, William, Kevin, Kevin, Joseph, Julie, Dmitri


“Technological evangelism” means when there are a bunch of competing technologies for something and one side tries to go around and get all the other technologies to interface with theirs, like Microsoft in the 90s or like Netflix trying to strike all these deals with Nintendo or pretty much anything cell phone companies do.

I don’t know if there is a word for what you’re talking about.


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4/11/2011 – Christopher Carr to Robert, Adam


Adam,

Really?  I should just bang down their door and refuse to leave?  What about restraint and manners and no-nonsense approaches and such?


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4/12/2011 – Kevin Robitaille to Becca, me, Adam, Robert, William, Kevin, Caitlin, Joseph, Julie, Dmitri


What about the requirements they explicitly list?  If I’m the HR douche, I’m left wondering how you are qualified for the job, aside from being the man. I’d doucheily want to know about your:

 

experience with at least one postproduction tool, i.e., Apple Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premier or Audition, or Avid Pro Tools

 

experience with Adobe Photoshop or Bridge and WordPress

 

etc.  They’re serving up the content you need to deliver against.  Also, I’d much rather hear about something they just did (and why it is powerful, using a specific example) rather than a sweeping and ultimately subjective analysis of the industry.

 

Or, keep it real.


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4/12/2011 – Robert David to me, William, Becca, Kevin, Kevin, Adam, Caitlin, Joseph, Julie, Dmitri


Hey man – I think these are all god suggestions.  Tailor it to the
specific job.  Then, you will experience the greatest joy in life, to
crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the
lamentation of their women: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBGOQ7SsJrw


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4/13/2011 – William Cotter to me, Becca, Adam, Robert, Kevin, Kevin, Caitlin, Joseph, Julie, Dmitri


I edited the cover letter.  Here are my thoughts:

I took out all of your specific thoughts about the future of journalism and your experience with the earthquake in Japan.  I think they might be relevant during an interview, but absolutely should not be included on a cover letter.  I think these are things that will make you an intriguing candidate during a conversation, but might come off as slightly crazy in a cover letter.  Cover letters are generally really vanilla.

I moved the paragraphs around so you have the intro, then work experience, “skills”, why PB&J is so great, and conclusion.  I think this is the general shape of all cover letters and improves the flow.

I left a sentence missing where you explain why science journalism is particularly important now. I think you should think about why they think science journalism is important and say something very easy to understand, but insightful.  I cut out your top-down, bottom-up thing because I had no clue what it meant.  But if you believe that is a crucial insight, then rewrite it in a way where it is clearer and more meaningful.

I think you have lots of relevant experiences and should be strong candidate for the job, but you need to make sure that you are putting your best foot forward, something I know you struggle at.

Good luck.  I’m really excited for you.

-Will

P.S.: I have written about 15-20 cover letters recently because of my search for an internship.  We have professional career advisers in my J.D. program who I asked to go over your letter, and they made lots of helpful suggestions as well, which I’ve incorporated into my edit.  One thing I would definitely do is include the address in proper format and the correct number of spaces and stuff.  Cover letters are letters after all!

 

Here is my edit:

 

 

Dear Sir or Madam:

I am very interested in the Junior Digital Video Production Assistant II position at the Center for Biomedical Science Journalism.  I would like to participate in the efforts undertaken by CBSJ to more effectively communicate the immensely important discoveries of modern science to the public.  I am particularly interested in continuing some of the work the center has done on the neurodiversity movement and punctuated equilibrium, and I am looking forward to working with [X on X}.  The position of Junior Digital Video Production Assistant II is an excellent match for my experience, acquired skills, and personal interests.

I have relevant experience that makes me the ideal candidate for your position. I am uniquely qualified to work at the intersection of education, science, technology, digital video production, and journalism.  The wide range of tasks under the Junior Digital Video Production Assistant II job description suits the broad knowledge I have acquired as a self-employed technical writer in Japan over the last four years.  I have extensive experience explaining difficult technical concepts to a lay or linguistically-challenged audience.  In addition to my professional experience, I have acquired a strong proficiency in the necessary skills for the position.  I also have professional experience and curricular training with Adobe Premier, Final Cut Pro, Bridge, and WordPress.

I am very interested in the position because I believe the Center for Biomedical Science Journalism is at the forefront of a necessary sea change in how the public perceives science and technology.  At no other time in human history has the effective communication of scientific concepts to the general public been more important. [Insert why it is important]  The CBSJ is an institution for which I hold the utmost respect and I believe will play an increasingly important role in the future of our technological civilization.

Attached is a copy of my resume, which more fully details my qualifications for the position.  I look forward to talking with you regarding position.  Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

 

Christopher Carr

 

I know you feel like that’s not a thorough synopsis of your skills, but that’s what your resume is for.  A cover letter should make them want to read your resume.  So, you should try to set up some “cliff-hangers”, but also avoid setting off anyone’s bullshit detector.


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4/17/2011 – Kevin Williams to me


Hey, sorry I just got back from vacation. What are you doing this for?


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Horowitz’s Haiku: A Lesson in Emptiness

In Uncategorized on May 5, 2011 at 12:00 pm

One fine autumn day Horowitz the anti-Chomskyite was sitting alone in the woods burning all seven of the books he had collected over the first fifty-three years of his life.  His new Buddhist teacher had told him that he needed to rid himself of the ideas, notions and misconceptions he had accumulated over the years as they were no doubt what had led to his ignorance and warped perception of reality and the subsequent suffering which presented itself as irrational and illogical anti-Chomskyanism.  Horowitz had no problem with this order as book-burning was a hobby of his anyway.  So, there Horowitz sat, gazing down into the fire, watching the last little bit of ‘Radical Son’ and a few Oliver Kamm papers go up in smoke.  Horowitz’s teacher also told him that he should give haiku a try.  This suggestion was quite appealing to Horowitz as there need be only seventeen syllables in an entire poem, and given the fact that Horowitz usually broke out in hives when exposed to any writings longer than this.  So, there sat Horowitz, pencil in hand, eraser in nose…uhhh….never mind…pencil in hand…..and began his haiku meditation.  What follows are a few of the haiku which were found in Horowitz’s drawers upon his second release from the Boston Mental Hospital.  He had initially been admitted to BMH after having been required to clean Chomsky’s toilets for several months as a part of his occupational therapy after finding out that he had inadvertently read a Chomsky book and thought it was great.  This time he had been admitted to BMH because after having tried to achieve TRUE emptiness with the help of his Buddhist teacher he had a difficult time adjusting back to his usual reality. But wasn’t this the point? Wasn’t the point that Horowitz empty himself of all of his delusions and try to see the true nature of reality more clearly?  Anyway, his friend Ron was a little perplexed by the whole Horowitz-Buddhist therapy thing anyway as he thought Horowitz’s head was empty most of the time already and wondered if there was really anything left to empty.  Here are Horowitz’s four controversial Haiku poems: 

 

Horowitz’s Haiku: Four Seasons

~

a winter day spot

had a book but couldn’t read

Chomsky laughs at me

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anti- Semite spring

is Chomsky this I ask you? 

ignorant I am

~

summer fever cry

holocaust denier nye

why am I dumb I? 

~

fall sitting in pond

Pol Pot apologist not

empty my head is

~

In all fairness to Horowitz it should be noted that many haiku poets, scholars, and psychiatrists have pondered over the meanings of these great poems for years now.  There seem to be many ways to interpret them depending on the perspective from which one’s analysis begins.  Had Horowitz actually recognized his pathetic ignorance and attempted to detach himself from his desire to cling to his irrational anti-Chomskyanism?  Was Horowitz being sarcastic, actually meaning the opposite of what he posited in the poems?  Or, in his unconscious desire not to be released from BMH, was this simply a case of Horowitz’s Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy disorder presenting itself again?  Only one person really knew, and this was his friend Ron.  Ron was aware that Horowitz’s emptiness was not the emptiness of those seeking to detach themselves from the delusions of the perceived world in order to expand their awareness, and, thereby, rid themselves of their unwanted sufferings.  Nor was it an emptiness which brings peace and oneness with all of humanity and the universe.  It was an emptiness of the type you find when you’re assigned to read a Chomsky book, but you can’t, and you have to lie, and lie, and lie, and pretend that you have, all the while knowing deep down that you’re fooling no one but yourself, and you’re not even really doing a good job of that.  It’s the emptiness of knowing that your lies are being witnessed by all, especially those who have actually read Chomsky’s work.  It’s the emptiness of knowing that every false assertion and out of context reference can be easily exposed by any third grader.  This is a different type of emptiness, an artificial emptiness, an emptiness like that found when examining “The Anti-Chomsky Reader”, many, many, words and not a shred of truth behind any of them.  So, what was Ron to do?  How was he to help Horowitz become a semi-well-functioning person again?

First, Ron had to find Horowitz, and no one had seen him since his second release from BMH.  There had been rumors Horowitz had been hit by a truck while chasing a rabbit across Interstate 66 with an empty bowl in his hand.  Other rumors had it that Horowitz had given up his anti-Chomskyanism, gotten married, had eight children, and began making porno films and selling contracts for Haliburton.  And, yet, still other rumors had it that Horowitz had had plastic surgery and had gone back to cleaning toilets at M.I.T.  Then, one day, as Ron was about to give up his search for Horowitz, he wandered into the local Taoist cigar club to ask the owner if he had seen Horowitz hanging around his club, possibly carrying a bowl, or a rabbit.  Just then, to Ron’s amazement, he looked up and saw Horowitz hanging stuffed as a trophy on the wall between a donkey and a pig with a bowl on his head and a rabbit clenched in his teeth.  Ron asked the owner where he had acquired his trophy.  The owner assured Ron that he had not killed Horowitz himself, but had bought him at a yard sale which had been held by several Buddhist monks.  When asked how they had come into possession of this stuffed Horowitz trophy the monks simply replied that one day as they were in a deep contemplative meditation their master approached Horowitz from behind as he thought him to be dozing off.  The master gave Horowitz a good solid whack on the shoulder with his bamboo staff and yelled CHOMSKY as loud as he could to wake him up.  They said that at exactly that moment any residue of self which may have remained in Horowitz’s being instantly evaporated, and he keeled over and died.  But what was even more astonishing to the monks was what happened later when they took him to the taxidermist to be stuffed.  The taxidermist said that upon making the first incision into Horowitz’s body a tremendous gush of hot air was released and the body collapsed in on itself like a hot air balloon.  The taxidermist passed out and had to be admitted to BMH a few hours later.  At a loss of what to do with the deflated body, the monks, in their infinite, mysterious, and ironic wisdom, decided to tear the pages from every book Chomsky had ever written, and to stuff the empty shell of Horowitz with these pages, so that he could go through eternity filled with that knowledge which he had refused to, or perhaps was unable to, because of his ignorance, accept during his short and miserable anti-Chomskyan life.

The End

Our Family in Japan

In Uncategorized on March 14, 2011 at 10:38 pm

Chris Carr has been the driving force behind the Inductive since I went back to school.  For awhile, he was the Inductive.  His incredible energy and passion make this place hum and you might have noticed its been quiet around here recently. 

Well, Chris lives in Fukushima prefecture, Japan. You might have heard that there have been some happenings in Japan recently.  I know that Chris has a million things he must be thinking – he might have some revolutionary anti-disaster ideas by now – and I can’t wait to read them, especially since that will mean he is safe.  To all of our writers, those they love and who love them, we are watching Japan with you in our thoughts and prayers.  Be safe from the waves – whether they are water or on the electromagnetic spectrum. 

Going By The (Immensely Popular and Profoundly Flawed) Book

In Uncategorized on March 1, 2011 at 4:11 am

We were making unbelievable time; seriously, I thought we had entered some kind of worm hole. The trip from our hostel (way overpriced – and no breakfast) back to Bratislava Station went much faster than the initial walk across town to the Linoleum Sheraton now that we knew which way was hore. We hopped a train to Trenčin, a small city with a quaint old town and phenomenal ice cream, then traveled on to Ružomberok via a silky smooth connection in Žilina. (Switzerland, I thought at this point, had nothing on Slovakia’s rail system – except maybe in the sanitation department…and in overall comfort…and on a baseline decibel level.) 

Right outside Ružomberok Station we jumped on a bus (after a stuttering, embarrassing back-and-forth with the driver). The seats and aisle crammed full of students (wonderfully forgiving of our bulky bags), we stood for the ten kilometers down the road to Vlkolinec, an idyllic one-dirt-road village whose residents’ lives have been turned upside down since its appointment to Unesco’s World Cultural Heritage list. After a prying look around we would take another creaky bus back to Ružomberok for our last train ride of the day; if things continued to proceed as they had since our fortuitous encounter with that blessed street vendor in Bratislava we would make it to Liptovsky-Mikulaš in plenty of time to find a place, fire up some dinner and relax as the sky turned dark over Jasná and the peaks of Chopok Sever. We started walking, me pushing a suitcase, a loaded pack on my back, my wife pushing our son in his stroller right behind. According to the map in our guidebook, Vlkolinec was right there along the main road…

I see that Lonely Planet recently printed its 100 millionth book. To this bit of news I imagine reactions would vary. ‘What’s Lonely Planet?’ This from the majority of folks (including somewhere around 80% of Americans) who do not own a passport. ‘Yeah, I love Lonely Planet!’ This from the great majority of backpackers who buy big expensive backpacks for their long hikes from luggage carousel to bus at the curb outside, from another curb straight to reserved hostel room, back to mini-bus at the curb to the next reserved hostel room, to a waiting tuk-tuk driver (‘all the way at the end of the street??’), to …

Then there are those who just shake their heads.

This is where I fit in.

I bought my first LP soon after I got to Japan. The sucker is a shade over 900 pages, I would have left it on the bookstore shelf if I were only going to be in country for a few weeks or even a couple of months. But my plan at the time was to spend about five years here, so I figured I’d get plenty of use out of it – which I have. I was initially dismayed, and still am, that there was not in those 900 pages one single mention of my new hometown of Fukushima – and barely five pages on the entire prefecture, all of them devoted to the Aizu-Wakamatsu and Bandai areas (the latter well worth seeing). Also included was a half-page ‘map’ of the Bandai Region (I will expound on LP’s cartographic incompetence in a bit). Not a word on Fukushima City – not Hanamiyama, nor Jo-Raku-En nor the fact that I now lived there.

LP’s tongue-in-cheek slogan – ‘Almost too much information’ – is a credit to their sense of humor as much as it is a jab (likely unintentional) at their average customer’s mindset. I’m glad Mr. Groundwater brought up the example of Vang Vieng, Laos in his article. When I rolled into that same town at 10am on a flawless day, the only life I saw was in the form of a couple reclining in a café watching Friends. Are you kidding me? Blue skies, gentle temps and some of the most amazing karst scenery in all of Indochina and you two slugs are lying around watching morons making stupid sexual innuendos to canned laughter? This is what happens I guess when paradise turns popular: the outsiders pour in, the locals pander to their creature comforts (and who can blame them?) and suddenly, just as Yosemite falls victim to Curry Village, the amazing beauty of Vang Vieng becomes mere backdrop for the gluttony, sloth and stupidity that has become the norm. Groundwater maintains that if LP doesn’t turn paradise into a plundering ground someone else will. This I find wrongly forgiving – if I don’t sell your kids coke someone else will so don’t blame me for Joey’s deviated septum – but maybe I’m pointing the wrong finger. After all, a guidebook is supposed to guide you to the greatest treasures a land has to offer.

Unfortunately, now there are 100 million people out there following blindly along.

My personal stance with LP has nothing to do with their success and the associated decline in the average traveler’s propensity to go anywhere without being told where that ‘anywhere’ should be (not to mention their ongoing neglect of my continued presence here in Fukushima). What I raise issue with is something I’ve been fed on several occasions: false facts.

There I was in Phnom Penh, my first real travel experience, armed with my LP Cambodia, picked up at Bangkok’s Don Muang Airport for a mere 30 bucks. Two friends were on their way, cycling into town from Băttâmbâng and Sisŏphŏn and Thailand and San Francisco. I was hungry; I was sure they’d be ravenous. I flipped through LP’s pages and pages on Phnom Penh until I found what I was looking for – a description of a village past the outskirts of the bustling city with a row of intimate local establishments where we could eat and talk and soak up a slice of (as yet) unexploited Cambodia. Two hours later I was apologizing profusely to my two friends plus a third girl, also traveling by bicycle, for leading them along this dark, deserted road to nowhere. There was nothing out here, ‘just over the bridge and down the road’ as my so-called guidebook had assured me.

We did eventually come upon an amazing sight: a massive outdoor banquet hall filled with red carpeting and kitsch, karaoke machine still blaring for the guests who had by all indication long since gone home.

At least the kitchen was still open.

On the way back over the bridge we had to run from the cops. We will never know why.

Among the many disclaimers LP puts forth in their books, one of them states (quite correctly) that ‘Things change…nothing stays the same.’ Apparently this covers the disappearance of entire communities.

By the numbers, Lonely Planet is the king of guidebooks – much as McDonald’s is the king of hamburgers. Personally I would rather go hungry than fork over any amount of any world currency to the Gilded Arches. Similarly, I would now, before even glancing at a LP map, resort to any means of finding my way – asking the locals (with their wildly varying ideas of how far ‘not far’ is); translating road signs (often necessary outside of the main cities and off the main roads); muddling through a Japanese guidebook (easier said than done) or just going with my internal gyroscope and getting lost – which is pretty much the same as following a LP map anyway.

In the Thai border town of Mae Sai (the northernmost point in the country, separated from Tachilek, Myanmar by a modest river and a ten dollar donation to the oppressive Burmese regime) I had a choice to make. My destination was Mae Salong, a village of Chinese refugees and tea, high in the hills to the southwest. Right from the door of my hostel was a road that, according to Julian, the hostel owner (who got rip-roaring drunk the night I was there and spent hours falling on the floor and screaming not-so-nice four letter words at his ex-wife over the phone) led directly to Mae Salong. In this case, however, directly meant winding around, through and, most worryingly, up and down and up and down the many miles of mountains that stood between here and there. (Did I mention I was traveling solo on a tandem bicycle?) ‘It’s bloody suicide,’ Julian warned me as he cracked open the evening’s first bottle of 100 Pipers scotch.

I had a guidebook with me – a 240-page work of genius (check out the price) written on the premise that some people out there still prefer adventure and intellect over hand-held surety along the cattle trail. This book was only four years old, but in that time a lot had changed (including the paving of a once-impassable road out of Takeo, Cambodia which, had I known, would have caused me to miss out on miles of back roads, a spectacular bout of haggling for a boat ride with people who I don’t think had ever heard another human being speak in such a language, and a sweaty two hours being held and interrogated and (fortunately) not subsequently jailed by one then a group of Vietnamese officials). Plus all the maps were hand-drawn and not to scale and not exactly intended for cyclists bent on dying in the hills of far north Thailand so only a few main roads between the more significant towns were included. And virtually none of them had numbers or names.

Getting to Mae Salong would be a climb, I already knew that. What I wanted was a non-lethal route to the base of that climb. I scoured Julian’s library of tattered books and found, to a mix of delight and dismay, a recent LP Thailand. The map showed a straight line leading directly south out of town; this would be the same smooth, flat road I rode for the last three kilometers into town after coming in from a side road out of Chang Saen. Cool. It looked like an easy 20 kilometers to Huay Khrai, where I would bang a right onto another straight shot west to Ban Pakha, then roll straight south to Pa Miang which would from there bring me around to the day’s ascent.

To make a simple story long and convoluted, that straight-as-a-ruler road west to Ban Pakha started winding and rising and snaking north until I swore I was almost back in Mae Sai. Lucky for me it is near impossible (and certainly not advisable) to eat an entire kilogram bag of lychee in the course of a single evening and I had something left over from the night before to lubricate my system as I looked at the road still rising and twisting out of sight ahead of me. That road did eventually lead to Ban Pakha, a place I was by now positive no LP writer had ever been to or passed through. Then for the next four hours I pedaled my bike up and down the most ridiculous stretches of road I have ever almost puked on. This, I decided, was the mountain road that led away from the door of my hostel; the road Julian told me to avoid before he started in with his histrionics; a road that passed not a single shred of human evidence beyond its own curbs and the bridges that crossed the streams that ran between these golden-grassed monsters.

Mae Salong itself was fantastic – and not a single LP in sight.

I say without exaggeration or sarcasm that I’m sure no one involved in any LP Thailand has ever seen Ban Pakha or even bothered to scout out the area. What other excuse could there be for having a straight line represent that serpentine road leading up into the hills? What defense for claiming the existence of a Cambodian village that doesn’t exist? Maybe I was being naïve or unrealistic, but I had a hard time believing anyone would include in a guidebook – from the most popular guidebook company in human history – made-up information on places they have never visited.

Until I realized that at least one person has written for a guidebook about a country he never visited.

On the map in the Czech Republic & Slovakia LP – which I’m guessing is pretty much a copy of the old Czechoslovakia LP with a revised intro and a new cover – Vlkolinec is denoted by a circle situated directly on the road we and forty kind, patient students had just rumbled down. Perhaps what threw this particular LP writer off (assuming he or she even bothered with the bus ride down from Ružomberok Station – or the train out of Bratislava) is the bright and very visible arrow-shaped sign right there along the road pointing toward a side road and, ostensibly, Vlkolinec. A full hour of pushing our luggage and our kid up this desolate (and in a few places blessedly shaded) road and we came upon another sign for Vlkolinec – pointing up a steep road that, indicated by the cartoonish tourist map next to the gravel lot for the tour buses that can’t make it any further, led another two kilometers up to the village of Vlkolinec where, at least in the drawing, everyone is happy.

After trying and failing for that first hour, within minutes of turning up this new and maddeningly steep road we managed to hitch a ride. Then afterward we really hit the jackpot when we bummed a lift from a guy who had been selling jars of honey out of his car and was just pulling away to head home when I threw myself in front of his grill and asked him if he was going toward Ružomberok Station by any chance.

We made it to Liptovsky-Mikulaš just in time to find the tourist office (open until 5 according to LP) closed at 4:30. I ripped through a couple of pages searching for accommodations listings before I shoved that so-called Backpacker’s Bible in my pack and we walked on up a residential road. Within minutes we came upon a man who, by good fortune and historical border shifts, spoke German (as do I, more or less). Next moment he’s on his phone calling a friend to come pick us up to whisk us to their home with a very comfortable guest loft apartment from where we could watch the sky grow dark over the peaks of Chopok Sever.

I can’t say for sure because I didn’t check, but I would have bet this place – this neighborhood and this woman’s house – wasn’t listed in our LP. God-willing, it will stay that way.