A Modern Shopping Cart

Here is an idea for a modern shopping cart that I offer freely to any and all grocery stores and retailers. The shopping cart hasn’t changed much in the last four decades. With the exception of the annoying mechanism that locks the wheels just before I reach my car (my car being parked far away because that was the only parking spot I could find in the lot) the shopping cart is what is was when I was a kid. Technology has improved, and I think we can see significant improvements toward a modern shopping cart if that technology is applied.

The shopping cart is designed to make it easy to carry your groceries as you make your way through the store. But there is the potential for it to do much more. More and more grocery stores have introduced self-checkout lanes to speed up the process of checking out. But what if the shopping cart itself handled all of this? Here is what I propose:

  1. On the handlebar of the cart, a small computer touchscreen is mounted. The screen contains a bar code reader as well as a place to swipe a credit card.
  2. When you load an item into your cart, the cart detects what is loaded, displayed the item on the screen, and calculates the price so you can see a running total of what your bill will be.
  3. If you remove something from your cart, it is removed from the total.
  4. If you add something like produce, where price is based on weight, the cart can detect how much the item weights and calculate the price, adding it to the total.
  5. The bar code reader can scan your club card, so that the prices are adjusted based on special club pricing the store offers.
  6. The bar code reader can also scan coupons. Since the cart knows what you’ve added to it, it can deduct from the total the value of any coupons you scan.
  7. The cart has the ability to be linked with a second cart, so if you are doing a lot of shopping (with your spouse, for instance), the total displayed is the total for both linked carts.
  8. At any time, you can get running total of how much the groceries in your cart cost. This is useful if you do weekly grocery shopping and are trying to stay on a budget.
  9. When adding an item, the cart can alert you when a less expensive, generic brand is available, and how much that would save you.
  10. When you are ready, you can swipe your credit or debit card to pay for the items. Then you can just walk out of the store, avoiding all the lines. There could be a station near the exits just for bagging groceries you’ve paid for. If you want to pay cash, you can line up, but you still know exactly how much you will pay, no one will have to scan the groceries.

I doubt many stores would go for this. Though it would save time, and probably save consumers a lot of money, there isn’t much incentive for a grocery store to implement such a system. The idea is for consumers to spend more money, not less, and knowing exactly how much you have in your cart would upset this model.

Macworld, and a Broken User Experience

Macworld broke their digital magazine app. They had a good thing, and then, for no obvious reason, they changed it and now it is a lot worse. Why do people always have to mess with the user experience?

Prior to this change, reading Macworld on the iPad was a pleasure. They followed a model that many magazines use, a model which works very well for the medium: swipe left/right to move between articles, swipe up/down to scroll through a single article. In its latest incarnation, the app behaves much more like a traditional magazine. You swipe left/right to turn the page. There is no up/down swiping.

This doesn’t sound that bad, but I’d gotten used to the old model, it worked well for me, and there was no obvious reason to change it. Also, it seemed to me that the font sizes were larger, making a page easier to read for my aging eyes. I suspect the new experience is designed to make the magazine feel more like a print magazine… but why? The font is smaller and harder to read, and there is no obvious way of enlarging it, other than zooming in on the page, which is an annoying extra step.

The Scientific American app works the way Macworld used to work. You swipe left/right to move between articles, and up/down to scroll through the article. In that app, you can set the size of the font, so that scrolling through the article is easier to read. This is also the way the New York Times app works.

I’ve noticed that electronic version of magazines divide their user experience into one of two categories:

  1. Swipe-and-scroll, like Scientific American and New York Times.
  2. Magazine emulation, where the app is essentially a PDF of the print magazine. Down East magazine, and Smithsonian magazine behave like this. And now, so does Macworld.

There are UI/UX advantages that the iPad, iPhone, and other tablets present over traditional magazine formats. If I wanted to read the print version of the magazine, I’d subscribe to the print version. Macworld doesn’t have a print version, and for some reason, they’ve gone from the good experience of the swipe-and-scroll model, to the weaker, awkward experience of magazine emulation.

If I had to guess, I’d say that it was a move to save money. Good user experience comes at a cost, and it is probably easier to produce a PDF-like experience than it is the swipe-and-scroll model. I imagine the size of the issue is smaller in the new-and-improved format. Still, Macworld is produced by IDG, which also produces PC World. And PC World uses the better format that Macworld used to use.

But let’s not kid ourselves. The new format is a big step backward in user experience. The cover story of the January 2017 issue of Macworld is a review of the MacBook Pro. The tag line for the cover is: “The touch bar makes the Mac fun again.” The opposite could be said of the new Macworld format. It was fun, but the change back to traditional magazine format has sapped that fun.

Caesar Salads

Does anyone make just a regular Caesar salad anymore? Lately, when we go out to eat, I’ve been ordering Caesar salads. For some reason no one seems to make just a plain Caesar salad anymore. Everyone has to distinguish their Caesar salad in some way in order to make it stand out. Here is what I look for in a Caesar salad:

  • Romaine lettuce
  • Shredded parmesan cheese
  • Anchovies
  • Crutons
  • Caesar dressing

Romaine lettuce is a given most of the time. The other day, however, the romaine lettuce was mixed with kale. Kale is apparently a trendy new leafy green. It reminds me of my college days working in the dorm cafeteria. We would decorate the salad bar with kale. It makes it difficult to eat in a salad. Kale does not belong in a Caesar salad. Keep it on the salad bar.

The thing I like about Caesar salads is that they are simple. There are five ingredients. If a restaurant adds something to the list, it is no longer simple, and no longer a Caesar salad in my mind. There was broccoli in my “Caesar” salad the other day. I like broccoli, but not in a Caesar salad. One establishment added tomatoes to my Caesar salad.

Kelly always orders here salad dressing Sally-style1. I, on the other hand, take what they give me. One day, I got a Caesar salad with oil and vinegar instead of Caesar dressing. Another day, I ordered a Chicken Caesar salad, and was given a plate full of Caesar salad dressing with some Romaine lettuce to go along with it.

It is almost impossible to find a place that offers a Caesar salad with anchovies. So many people have refused anchovies in their Caesar salads that restaurants have stopped offering them. They have ruined Caesar salads for the rest of us. I’ve been to a few places that offer Caesar salads with anchovy Caesar dressing. The dressing probably contains something like “anchovy paste.”

Caesar salads are light, simple, relative inexpensive dishes. Can’t we just keep them that way? There is no need for embellishment.

  1. I just made up that phrase. If you get the reference, feel free to use it.

Painting the IT Bridge

Working in IT is exhausting. It is an endless series of projects, each one more art than science in its execution, and each one reshuffling the deck and attempting to improve upon the last one. The exhaustion derives from the constant firefighting, moving from one flare-up to the next, while trying desperately to gain a few yards on this project or that one. Unlike football, there are no first downs in the IT world. Instead, there is a single desperate struggle to get the ball into the end zone before you’re clobbered. And once there, you have to do it all over again.

When I step back and look across the years I’ve worked in IT, I am reminded of painting a bridge. By the time you finish, it’s time to start over from the beginning again. What IT lacks is stability. There is always a new operating system version, always a new patch to Microsoft Office, always a new and better way to manage your email, always more and more layers of security to fight through in order to do your work in the first place. Remember the humorous opening to Get Smart? That is what IT security is like for most of us these days.

Security aside, very few software technology improvements I’ve seen over the years add value commensurate to the effort it takes to make them available. Microsoft Word was at its prime when it was still a DOS application. There is little that people use word processors for today that could not be done by Word 5.5 for DOS, or WordPerfect, or even WordStar for that matter.

Email programs have grown increasingly complex, but few contain groundbreaking features that actually make it easier to manage your email. Each new version is supposed to be an improvement, but what it is improving? I have to go to third-party plug-ins like Boomerang, or Mail Butler to find features that really make it easier to manage my email.

Operating systems should be invisible, and yet in most cases, they turn out to be the most visible part of a computer system. I have this theory that on devices that are easiest to use, we tend not to realize that an operating system is there behind the scenes. On those that are most difficult to use, the operating system is standing in our way. Think of the early iPods, which were intuitive, simple, and performed their tasks well. Then think of, well, Windows 10, or macOS  Sierra, operating systems which can’t seem to get out of your way.

I long for stability in software. Instead of churning out version after feature-filled version, I’d prefer to see bug-free releases that last a long time. As a end-user, it would be nice to have a working piece of software that I can get used to and not worry that a feature, function, or keyboard command will change with the next release.

Instead of making changes for the sake of a pre-determined release schedule, make software that does exactly what it is supposed to do, and let it alone. A word processor is a good example of this. At its heart, it is a simple tool that allows us to write. Imagine if all our software could be that simple and easy-to-use.

Parental Empathy

On Monday, the baby started daycare. She is going to the same in-home daycare that our oldest daughter went to. We loved it, and so did our daughter, and we were lucky enough to find a spot there, five years later. On Monday, Kelly also started back at work after four and a half months off for maternity leave1. It meant that Monday was the beginning of a new schedule and routine for all of us. And it meant a return to that feeling of parental empathy.

It also meant leaving the baby at daycare. She’d never been away from us, and here we were going to leave her with, what must to her seem like complete strangers. Despite having gone through this before with my son and daughter, I had moments over the weekend when I wondered if the baby thought we’d be abandoning her with strangers, never to return.

I have this tendency to empathize with the baby in this regard. Perhaps everyone does? I always thought the empathy came from the writer’s part of my brain—the part I’ve trained over decades to see the dramatic in everything. What would the baby think? She has no frame of reference for what happened to her on Monday. It bothered me a little, but not too much. Kelly and I told ourselves that she wouldn’t remember it, anyway. Would she?

Of course not! I tried thinking back as far as my memory would take me, and I can’t recall anything from my first two years. There are some spotty memories after I turned two years old, but they have certainly been enhanced by photos I’ve seen over the years. Still, there must have been a time when my parents left me with someone with whom I was unfamiliar. I might have been very unhappy about it. I might have screamed and cried and carried on, and wondered if I’d ever see my parents again. But I have no memory of it.

When the Little Man required some minor surgery and had to be put under general anesthesia, the doctor told us that they medicine they used to put him under would wipe his memory of the whole event. That seemed to be the case. And I imagine the same will be true with the baby.

Kelly called me when she arrived at work and I asked her how everything went. It went fine. Of course it did. And I’m sure the baby was happy to see us when we picked her up. It helped to be busy at work. The day seems to pass more quickly when you are busy, and your mind is occupied by other things.

My brain tries to make everything into a story, and I imagined how this one would go: Mother and father nervous when dropping their baby off at daycare, not wanting the baby to feel abandoned. Fast-forward two years, to her last day of daycare—and the inconsolable child, tears streaming down her face because she doesn’t want to go to the preschool. She wants to stay right where she is.

  1. No, it wasn’t paid maternity leave. She had to use up all of her accumulated leave, which got us through three of the four months.

Tracking What I Read

I started tracking the books I read in 1996. I was 24 years old, and given that I am not quite 45 at the time of this writing, it means I’ve been tracking what I read for nearly half my life.

Over the years, the form my list has taken has changed, but it has always been available online. There were versions that were in a database, with different front ends. But it became too much to manage, and a few years back I moved it to a simple text file, which I keep in GitHub, where anyone can view it.

As of this writing, there are 661 books on my list. I no longer track the length of the books. I tend to read more longer books than shorter ones. 661 books in 21+ years seems like a lot to me. But then I see other people’s lists and my list pales in comparison.

I enjoy browsing other people’s lists of books that they have read, especially when they are home-grown lists, not lists contained in a service like Goodreads. Despite my love for reading, sites like Goodreads and LibraryThing never caught on with me. The trouble is, there are so few people out there publishing home-grown list of what they’ve read.

The one I’ve followed the longest is What I Have Read Since 1974, maintained by Eric Leuliette. His list currently contains 2,808 books that he has read since 1974.

Another list that has always impressed me is the list of books that Art Garfunkel has read since 1968. His list, through 2016, contains 1,246 books, nearly double what I have on my list.

Just as I was inspired to keep a list of books I’ve read by seeing other people’s lists, a few people have been inspired by mine. I recently came across the list of books that Heather Wardell has read, for example.

I have a few simple rules for keeping track of what I read. These rules have evolved over the 20+ years I’ve kept my list in one form or another. They work well for me, and I present them here in case anyone finds them useful:

  1. I keep the list in plain text. Plain text isn’t going away, doesn’t require special software, and is easy to maintain. As I mention, I host my plain text file on GitHub so that I can share it with anyone.
  2. I include one book per line. This makes it easy to get a count of how many books you’ve read. In GitHub, the file shows line numbers, which makes it even easier.
  3. I only include books I’ve finished. Books I am currently reading don’t appear on the list until I’ve finished them. Books I don’t finish, no matter how far along I got, don’t get onto the list.
  4. I keep track of the title, the author, and the date I finished reading the book. I don’t worry about fiction or nonfiction, or the classification of the book. I can look that stuff up if I want.
  5. I do like to know the medium I read the book in. An e-book gets a + after the title; an audiobook gets an @ after the title. A paper book gets no special adornment.
  6. I don’t rate the books. I don’t find rating useful. That said, a book which struck me, and which I would definitely recommend to others gets an * after the title.
  7. I sometimes re-read books. Those titles will appear on the list more than once, but subsequent readings are marked with an ^.

I like keeping my list, and I like to watch it grow. In many ways the list acts as a kind of autobiography for me. For reasons I can’t explain, I can look at a title on the list, and remember very well where I was when I read that book.

Do you have a home-spun reading list (i.e. one that is not maintained in Goodreads, LibraryThing, etc.)? I’d love to see it! Drop the link in the comments.

The Thrill of Music Hunting

Streaming music services are wonderful. With Apple Music, I can listen to pretty much any music I want anytime I want to hear, no matter where I happen to be. As a kid, this was a science-fictional dream. And yet, there was something about the thrill of the hunt for a particular song that is now a thing of the past.

I was thinking about this when it occurred to me that my kids will likely not experience that particular thrill. I can recall listening to the radio—the radio!—as a boy in New England. On Saturday mornings I’d tune in to Casey Kasem’s “American Top 40.” This was my equivalent of going hunting.

Instead of a shotgun, I was armed with a two-tape deck AM/FM radio. Instead of a blind, I’d sit in my bedroom, with the warm sunlight filtering in my windows. For ammunition, I had a well-worn cassette tapes, ones that had been used over and over again, until their cases were rickety. Instead of a gunsight, I’d tune my radio to 92 PRO FM, Providence. There, I’d listen to the countdown with my fingers on the Record trigger, ready and waiting to capture my favorite songs of the day on tape so that I could listen to them whenever I wanted.

This was not an easy thing to do. The timing had to be just right. Sometimes, the DJ would talk over the beginning of the song, or the end of the song would fade out too early. Sometimes, the transition between songs wasn’t clean, or there would be a commercial first, and you had to anticipate when it would be over. If my memory serves me correctly, you had press both the Record and Play buttons simultaneously. It could take several attempts before I got a clean version of the song on tape.

I might bag three or four songs a week this way. Van Halen’s “Running with the Devil,” Christopher Cross’s “Sailing,” the Beatles, “Hey Jude.” The latter my brother and I would play over and over again. We thought the song was hilarious. It is one of the few songs that I played so much that I can no longer stand to listen to it.

Those rough recordings were the raw kills. They still needed to be cleaned. Doing that required the second tape deck. I scratch out the order in which I wanted to record the songs. Then, I’d put the original radio recording tape in the first tape deck, and a clean fresh tape in the second deck. With lots of Fast-Fowards and Rewinds, I’d get things set perfectly for each song, and then record onto the clean tape in the order I wanted. It could take hours to do it cleanly.

In the end, I had a tape of all of my favorite songs of the day. I could play it over and over again—but I couldn’t take it with me. I don’t recall having a tape player in my parent’s car. And I don’t think I had a portable tape player. The Sony Walkman was in its infancy.

Today, I go to iTunes, and type in “Bruce Springsteen” and then click on “Darkness on the Edge of Town” and instantly the music begins to play. I can take it wherever I go. And it is wonderful. But so was that hunt. And I’m kind of sad that my kids will miss out on the thrill that I got from hunting down the music I loved.

WordPress Anniversary and Blog Stats

Recently, I received a notification from WordPress, alerting me that I’d just had my 8th anniversary with the service. It’s true. I recall moving my blog from LiveJournal to WordPress in the months before the Little Man was born. I decided to look at some of the stats for the blog, both before, and after its conversion to WordPress. Here is what I found.

  1. There is a total of 6,170 posts going back to November 2005.
  2. Those posts add up to 2.3 million words. That’s the equivalent of 23 standard-length novels.
  3. I moved to WordPress in January 2009. Since then, I’ve written 3,066 posts totaling 1.5 million words.
  4. If you do the math, the average length of a post here is just under 400 words.
  5. It takes me about 20 minutes to write a 500 word post. If you do that math (and I hesitate to do this), you’d find I’ve spent somewhere around 64 days in the last 11+ years doing nothing but writing blog posts.

Since I was looking at these stats, it seemed like I should take a look at what the most popular posts of all time have been on this blog. Here, then, are the top 10 most popular (by views) posts on the blog:

  1. Going Paperless
  2. 5 Tips for Getting the Most out of a FitBit Flex
  3. Main home page
  4. Going iPad, Part 2 of 5: Writing on the iPad with Scrivener and SimpleNote
  5. FitBit Experiment: Measuring Battery Life from Low to Empty
  6. Three More Tips for FitBit Flex Users
  7. Going Paperless: How I Simplified My Notebook Organization in Evernote (Part 1)
  8. Does a FitBit Accurately Track Your Steps if You Walk with Your Hands in Your Pockets?
  9. My Shared Templates Notebook for Evernote
  10. Going Paperless: Tips for Organizing Your Digital Filing Cabinet

Many of these posts have several hundred thousand views. Some of them are what SEO experts call “evergreen” posts—posts that are useful for long periods of time. This wasn’t intentional. My SEO abilities are limited, and my interest in SEO is nonexistent. Still, it surprises me to see that some posts I’ve written have staying power.

For instance, back in 2014, when I was reading a 3-volume biography of Winston Churchill, I wrote a post called “The Death of Marigold Churchill.” It was a post about how moved and sad I was when learning of the death of the Churchill’s young daughter. Now, one-off posts like that usually get just a couple hundred views. But this one was different. It has accumulated over 14,000 views. To this day, people still come to it. I can’t explain why.

The blog has had its ups and downs. It’s best year, 2014, saw more than 1.3 million views. It is down substantially from that, but I am still having fun, and love the kind of writing I am doing for the blog, even if not as many people are reading it.

On February 13, 2013, the blog saw the most views it ever had on a single day: 14,047. That was the day that I was featured on Lifehacker’s “How I Work” series. All told, there have been about a dozen days where the views have surpassed 10,000.

These days, though I have a lot of fun writing for the blog, I often worry I get repetitive on some topics. I wrote a lot about going paperless, and a lot about quantified self. You may have noticed I’ve been steering away from these topics recently. I want to avoid being repetitive as much as possible. With more than 6,100 posts, however, there are plenty of subjects that I have beaten to death over the years.

Including posts on my blog stats.

Lazy Bones

I am not lazy by nature. When I was much younger, I was lazier than I am now. Even so, I suspect that there are few people who would consider me lazy.

On a typical workday, I am up by 5:30 am. I’m in the office by 6:15 am. By 3 pm, I’ve put in a full day’s work. I eat my lunch before noon, and spend my lunch hour walking. I head home from work, help the kids with their homework, and then wrap up whatever work I’ve got leftover. We have dinner, and then it’s time to get the kids ready for bed.

I try to write when I find time. I can write a 500 word blog post in twenty minutes. Sometimes I find the time to write more than one. Often our evenings are packed with activities: swim lessons, dance classes, baseball practice, Cub Scouts den meetings.

Any “down” time I have I tend to fill with some activity. When I walk, I listen to audiobooks. Doing chore, I listen to audiobooks. When I get into bed at night, I will sometimes watch whatever Kelly has on TV, but more often than not, I read.

If I were to inventory every moment of my day, I’d say that I could account for each one, and that each one I was doing something relatively productive. I rarely go to bed at night thinking, gee, I could have packed more into the day.

This weekend was different. This weekend, I was deliberately lazy. We all were. Maybe it was the cold weather. Maybe it was the snow we had. Whatever the reason, I was incredibly lazy this weekend, and it felt great.

We slept in past 7 am on both Saturday and Sunday. Basketball was canceled due to the snow, so my Saturday morning was suddenly clear. The kids both had birthday parties to attend. I think that is when I decided I’d be lazy.

I watched TV all day. I put a fire in the fireplace, and sat in front of the big TV in the family room and watched television. I watched a few movies. Toward the end of the day, me and the Little Miss watched the original Star Wars together. It was the first time she’d watched the whole thing. When it was over, I asked how she liked it. “I loved it,” she said.

Today, I was equally lazy. We watched The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. In the evening, we watched The Force Awakens. When Darth Vader revealed to Luke that he was his father, the Little Miss sat in front of the TV, her jaw hanging open in surprise, her eyes big. “No. Way!” she said.

Just about everything I had on my to-do list for the weekend is still there on the to-do list. It remains undone. But I’m okay with that. I don’t have lazy days often, but this one was well worth it.

Tomorrow, after 4-1/2 months off, Kelly goes back to work, and the baby starts at daycare. We needed this weekend, and I’m glad for a change that we could be lazy.

Remote Control

I was sitting in the living room the other day, asking Alexa to play various music. “Alexa, play the Born To Run album by Bruce Springsteen,” I said. Alexa played the album. “Alexa, play Highway 61 Revisited by Bob Dylan,” I asked. Alexa played the album. Later, I said, “Alex, what’s happening in the news?” and Alexa gave me a “flash briefing” that was perfectly adequate.

Sitting there, I marveled at how far we’d come in the four decades since I was a child. Not even the Jetsons could talk to their house. I can ask Alexa to turn the heat up in the house, and Alexa will talk to the Nest we have installed and turn up the heat. To play music, I had to find the record I wanted to play, and put it on the record player.

There is so much we can do these days with automated technology that the stuff that we can’t do—but should be able to do easily—boggles my mind. Take television remote control for example.

The TV remote should be a thing of the past. Like the rotary phone, television remotes should be found only in museums. At the mention of the word “remote” my kids should give me a curious look and ask, “What’s that, Daddy?” Instead, they know very well what a TV remote is. We tend to have two or three of them per TV.

So much useless tech gets invented these days. It’s almost as if inventors are short on ideas. And yet, the television remote is a perfect example of a niche ripe for innovation. Remotes should be a thing of the past. Why I still need a remote device to control my television, or BluRay player is beyond my comprehension. There should be a universal device, like Alexa, that allows me to control and manage all of my entertainment systems with simple voice commands.

  • “Turn on the TV…” and the TV goes on.
  • “Play ‘Fixer Upper’,” and the system searches for the show, either live or on an app I have installed like Netflix or the HGTV app, and plays the episode.
  • “Mute the television.”
  • “Turn on the BluRay.”
  • “Switch to the Yankee game.”
  • “Pause the game. Unpause the game.”
  • “Skip the commercial.”
  • “Play ‘Star Wars.’”

So far, I haven’t seen a single system that can do all of this. The kids got an Xbox for Christmas. The cable box plays through the Xbox and Cortana appears to allow me to do some of these things. But Cortana does not seem nearly as adept at recognizing my commands as Alexa does. I can tell Cortana to mute the TV, or to find a show to watch, or pause the TV. But, so far, I can’t figure out how to tell Cortana to turn on the BluRay device.

It is clear that there are devices that easily interpret what we say (Alexa), and there are other devices that easily integrate with our TV’s (Xbox). But there are none that fully take over and improve upon the job of our needless surplus of remote controls.

I look forward to the day when remote control devices are a thing of the past. I’ll walk into the family room, and simply ask Alexa (or its equivalent), “Is there anything good on right now?”

It will reply, “I’m afraid not,” and I’ll head back to my computer to write.

What’s In Your Wish List?

There are 29 items in my Audible wish list. I thought I’d share what is on the list to give a sense of the kinds of things I’m interested in reading1 lately. Here, then, is my Audible wish list:

  • Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan by Howard Sounds
  • The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance by Ron Chernow
  • So, Anyway… by John Cleese
  • FDR by Jean Edward Smith
  • Sinatra: The Chairman2 by James Kaplan
  • Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy
  • Shakespeare: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd
  • Skeleton Crew by Stephen King
  • Blood’s a Rover by James Ellroy
  • The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay
  • Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times by H.W. Brands
  • What It Is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes
  • The Baseball Codes by Jason Turbow
  • The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood by James Gleick
  • Brave Companions: Portraits in History by David McCullough
  • A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety by Jimmy Carter
  • The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945 by John Toland
  • The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
  • The Journals of Lewis and Clark edited by William R. Lighton
  • Everything’s Eventual: 14 Dark Tales by Stephen King
  • Blaze: A Novel by Stephen King
  • Marco Polo by Laurence Bergreen
  • The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams
  • Where the Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet by Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon
  • The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predication Fail—but Some Don’t by Nate Silver
  • Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose
  • 1776 by David McCullough
  • The Men Who United the States: America’s Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics, and Mavericks and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible by Simon Winchester
  • Magic Time by W. P. Kinsella

What’s in your wish list?

  1. Always this caveat when referring to audiobooks.
  2. I already own the first volume, Frank: The Voice.

New Year’s Writing Resolution for 2017

My inbox contained an email message from Amazon with the subject line: “What is your New Year’s writing resolution for 2017?” I thought I’d answer that question here.

Over the years my writing has gone through an evolution that has been hard for me to characterize until recently. It occurred to me what I was seeing in my writing when I looked at my kids. Our youngest is just four months old. She is smiling, laughing, grabbing at things, making sounds, experimenting with the world around her. She can’t do much more than that at this point, but she is doing her best to expand her horizons.

Our older daughter is in Kindergarten, finding her interests. She likes writing, and is constantly asking us to spell out words for her so that she can make cards and tickets to shows for us. She creates elaborate stories with her toys. It is fascinating to listen to the detail and emotion in these stories when she’d not aware I’m there.

Our son’s new favorite expression is “I have a question.” He’s always asking things. He is curious about the world, voraciously curious.

What my writing has been doing over the years—what has been so hard for me to characterize in the past—is growing up. Just like my kids. My writing started out like my four-month old. There wasn’t much to it. I was just making sounds, and occasionally, cracking a smile. I kept at it, was persistent, and it got better. I found something (science fiction) and pursued it with the single-mindedness that my oldest daughter pursues her own attempts at writing.

I sold stories. I sold articles. More than anything else this gave me confidence in my writing. I no longer needed the single-mindedness I had for science fiction stories (although I will always be grateful to science fiction for what it has brought me). I could branch out. Like my oldest, I could start to ask a lot of questions. Could I write about this subject or that one? Could I write about what I felt like writing about without worrying much about whether it sold or not? Could I write for the sheer joy writing brings me?

That is where I am today, and I suppose if I had any New Year’s writing resolution for 2017, it is to write what I want to write for the sheer joy of it. I no longer struggle with the motivation to write. The 825 consecutive day writing streak I held from February 2013 – October 2015 gave me all the confidence and training I needed to be able to write on command.

If it isn’t obvious, writing here on this blog brings me the greatest among of joy and pleasure of all of the writing I do, and I suspect it will continue to be the center of my writing in 2017. There is no way to measure a goal like that. Visits to the site, page views, click-throughs, these things aren’t measures of enjoyment. I’ve been trying to focus less on the metrics of the blog, and more on the writing that I do for it. Maybe that is another New Year’s writing resolution: don’t worry about the stats, just keep writing the best posts I can possibly write, and enjoy it while it lasts.