The Upworthy Generator is a tool that comes up with the kinds of clickbait headlines you see online all the time. It creates a headline and an image that actually has nothing to do with the headline. It's not that funny because the headlines it generates are no stranger than the "real" headlines you see online on Upworthy and other sites every day. (It's a parody site, it's not affiliated with Upworthy.com.)
Here are three from the Upworthy Generator:
"You Won't Believe the Troubling Music Video This Angry Talk Show Host Made"
"Think Things Used to be Better When You Were a Kid? Maybe You Should Listen to This Trailblazing Talk Show Host."
"What This Fearless Physician Did Is Genius"
Just to prove to you that these aren't any worse than what's on the real Upworthy.com site, here are three from there:
"This heroic man 'hugged' a terrorist. And it likely saved hundreds of lives." (Unfortunately, the terrorist was wearing a suicide vest)
"How a Woman Named 'Unbreakable Flower' Discovered Wrestling and Became an Unlikely Hero."
"How 5 Diabolical Parents Called Their Kids' Bluff in Hilarious Ways"
You can use such headlines, or parts of them, to prompt ideas of your own.
The first one, "angry talk show host," might suggest a short film or a short story about the home life of an angry talk show host. It could be funny because he's just as angry at home as he is on the air, or because he's totally the opposite at home.
"Think things were better when you were a kid..." could lead to a story set in the future, when somebody looks back to 2016 and how great it was compared to whatever's happening then. This could work as sci-fi, comedy, even romance (ah, the innocent days of Tinder, before Sexbots came onto the dating scene...).
The "fearless physician" headline might lead to a screenplay about a real or fictional doctor or inventor who was ahead of his or her time.
Of course, you can use the real Upworthy headlines the same way. For instance, "Diabolical Parents" could inspire a comedy horror film in which a chapter of the PTA is gripped by demons. Actually, Diabolical Parents would be a pretty good title for a movie.
It's always easier to come up with ideas when you have a starting point, even a random one. But whatever you do, if you use the real Upworthy site, don't click on the headlines or you may find yourself both frustrated and annoyed. That's why the parody site is much better--there are no stories to go with the headlines...unless you make them up yourself.
Is willpower something you just have or don't have, or it is something that we have in a certain quantity that diminishes over the course of a day, as we use it?
Today I read an account of a study that has been interpreted as suggesting the latter, but reading about how the study was conducted makes me wonder whether there could have been something else at play.
There were two groups of participants. One was given chocolate treats. The other could see the treats but was allowed to eat only radishes.
Afterward, they were both given what was represented as a puzzle that measures intelligence, but the point was actually to measure how long they stuck with it before giving up.
The chocolate group worked on the puzzle for an average of 20 minutes.
The group that had radishes worked on it for an average of 8 minutes.
The conclusion of the study: "Thus, those people who had to resist the confectionary and eat the plain vegetables could not engage in a second demanding task. Their willpower was already drained and they were too tired."
Wait a minute. The article says:
Many of the people who were left to eat radishes “exhibit[ed] clear interest in the chocolates, to the point of looking longingly at the chocolate display and in a few cases even picking up the cookies to sniff at them,” the scientists wrote in their Journal of Personality and Social Psychology paper.
I have an alternate explanation. You make me watch other people eat chocolate treats, you even let me sniff the cookies, but you give me only radishes and then you want me to solve your damn puzzle? Forget it, I'm outta here at the first opportunity.
I'm not fatigued or lacking willpower. In fact, it takes all the willpower I have to stay for even eight minutes.
My scientific conclusion:
If you annoy people, they won't put much effort into doing what you ask them to do.
Normally brainstorming is all about generating ideas as fast as you can, not judging them as they come up (write them all down), and later assessing which ones are worth pursuing.
A different approach is catching on, according to an article at Fastdesign.com: generating questions.
Let's say you want to come up with ideas for how to overcome your habit of procrastinating.
In the usual brainstorming approach you'd come up with a lot of possible solutions:
In the questioning approach, you'd come up with lots of related questions:
As with ideas, don't judge the questions, write them all down.
The let some time go by, at least a couple of hours, and move to a different location than the one where you generated the questions (even if it's just across the room).
Go through and mark the questions that you feel are most useful--that is, the ones that would help you most if you could answer them.
At this stage, don't worry if you don't know the answers. Go with your gut as much as with your brain.
ANSWER THE MOST USEFUL QUESTIONS
With your list of the potentially most useful questions, write down the answers that come to mind. These may lead to additional questions (and answers).
If you don't know, consider who might help you. For example, if you're not sure what you procrastinate about the most, I'm guessing your spouse, partner, or work colleague will be only too glad to help.
If all else fails, guess. Your intuition often is your best guide.
APPLY THE ANSWERS
It's likely that the answers to the questions will lead to some specific ideas for dealing with the challenge.
Try them out, one by one. If one doesn't work, before you give up on it try another question session with queries like these:
Even if you find brainstorming the usual way to be productive (as I do), it's worth trying this alternative.
Let's look at a few word mix-ups to avoid. First, here's part of the text for an ad for a speech to text program:
Are you looking for dictation software with maximum versatility and functionality? Look no further than the all-new addition of Dragon 5 for Mac.
It was added to their product line but they meant an all-new edition.
Another mix-up was in a headline about the drug that apparently killed Prince, which was described as "More powerful than heroine."
Although we do have many strong female role models these days, the headline writer meant heroin.
Finally, a headline said that a certain development would "endanger the area's cache."
The right word is cachet (ka-shay), the state of being admired or respected.
A cache (pronounced like cash) is a collection of similar items hidden away--these days we see it most often applying to information stored on a computer so it can be found quickly.
There's no shame in making errors like this, I'm sure I do it all the time, but when headline writers and journalists do it and editors don't catch it, it spreads the errors.
The director Luc Besson (Fifth Element) is using Instagram to document every step of making his next film, Valerian.
Besson's Instagrams show storyboards, costumes, blue-screen action, and more.
You can take a look here: https://www.instagram.com/lucbesson/
If you click on the individual images you'll see a title or description by Besson and comments from visitors to the site. As of this writing, he's on day 87.
I've spotted some amazing new tech devices in development that not long ago would have belonged in science fiction.
One is an instant translator in an earbud, called The Pilot. There are no wires or cables and it works even without wifi (probably via a smartphone app). It translates whatever someone says to you.
For now, the languages that will be covered are English, Italian, Spanish and French but other languages will be added.
If you've ever used Google Translate (which is free), you'll know that these will not be grammatically correct translations, but good enough to make sense of what someone is saying to you. Or about you, if they think you don't speak their language (I think of my cartoon as taking place in Paris).
I guess if you're communicating with someone who doesn't speak your language you'd have to carry around an extra earbud for them to use, otherwise it's going to be a one-way conversation. Even so, what a boon for people who travel.
Skype is working on a similar process that will translate what the other person in your Skype conversation is saying; at the moment, it seems to be available in beta form only for Windows users.
The Pilot crowdfunding campaign will start on May 25, 2016, on IndieGoGo, with a probable early bird price of $129, going up to $299 when it's actually available, toward the end of this year.
You can find out more at the Waverly Labs website: http://www.waverlylabs.com/#_overview
It's worth noting that not all products that use crowdfunding actually see the light of day. Some have failed to deliver, and the early buyers lost their money. Others take a lot longer to be available than predicted--one that I funded was a year late.
What's sexy is new ideas, breakthroughs, innovation. This paragraph from Farnam Street Brain Food newsletter reminded me that maintenance matters, too:
Capitalism excels at innovation but is failing at maintenance, and for most lives it is maintenance that matters more — "We overvalue innovation; we undervalue the routine work that keeps the built world going. Innovation is “only a small piece of what happens with technology”. Most of what happens is repair and maintenance when innovation becomes infrastructure. Just as we celebrate innovators, so we should celebrate maintainers, “those individuals whose work keeps ordinary existence going rather than introducing novel things.”"
I think this applies to individuals as well as to society as a whole. For instance, there are lots of little things you need to do in order to maintain a writing practice, and they're not sexy or new. They include keeping good records, keeping up with what's happening in the field, getting enough sleep, exercising, and remembering to stand up and move every hour or so.
It also applies to continuing to write when you get to the hard parts, avoiding letting your inner critic stop you, and finishing and rewriting what you already have instead of moving on the more appealing choice of starting something new.
We'll never win a prize for doing any of those, but they help pave the way for the possibility that we will create something good.
How do you make your writing come alive in the minds of your readers? Here, in a four-minute TED-Ed talk, Nalo Hopkinson shares her thoughts:
One of my challenges in writing prose is coming up with good descriptions, because in screenwriting (which has been the bulk of my work) you tend to keep descriptions extremely short and don't get much into how things feel or smell. Before we can describe, we have to see (and smell, and hear, and feel). Visual perception is the topic of this five-minute illustrated TED-Ed talk.
The speaker is Amy Herman, who teaches, police officers, FBI agents, nurses, medical students and others how to develop their observational skills. Her main tool is art from all over the world.
(The "full" version of this lesson on the TED-Ed site is exactly the same)
Amy Herman has written a book called Visual Intelligence. The subtitle is "Sharpen your perception, change your life." Well, I guess getting really good at describing characters and settings could change a writer's life. I haven't read the book yet, but I'll return with a review when I have.
Next Post: How to write descriptively - Nalo Hopkinson
However, that doesn't mean it's going to feel good when it happens. Having been wrong only turns into something noble when you eventually are right (the old Edison quote about his lightbulb experiments applies here). Until then, it's no fun at all. But, like dental check-ups and eating our greens, it's necessary. Hmm, better call my dentist...
It’s Depression Week, not a week for everybody to get depressed but rather to make people more aware of the illness. I have personal experience with it, so I thought I’d share my thoughts.
At a low level, it saps your strength and confidence so you’re operating at maybe 70% of your capacity. It can sneak up on you and it can take a long time before you realize what’s happening.
At a medium level, you’re operating at 50% or so. Things pile up, you slow down or stop making contacts with friends, box sets of TV series have a sudden appeal.
At a high level, it can be a kind of paralysis, making getting out of bed or doing the simplest things seem like a huge undertaking.
It’s usually only if you’re at the high level that other people notice.
Medication can be helpful, but there is still a lot of controversy about the drugs’ effectiveness and side effects. In my experience, they can take a bit of the edge off but they’re far from a cure. Counselling, especially cognitive behaviour therapy, can be useful. Exercise has been shown to help, although it can be hard of motivate yourself to do it when you’re in the midst of depression.
There are some things NOT to say to a depressed person, no matter how well-intentioned these comments may be:
1: ”You really have nothing to be depressed about.”
Depression doesn’t have to be about any specific incident or situation, so this is like saying, “You have nothing to have measles about.”
2: “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”
Possibly, but there may be several shades of darker coming from where that person is at the time.
3: “Lots of people are in worse situations than you.”
Let me just poke you in the eye and remind you that some people have been poked in BOTH eyes, and we’ll see how much better that makes you feel.
4: “You should get out more, have more fun!”
That’s a bit like telling a person with a broken leg, “You should run more.”
5: “This, too, shall pass.”
Yep, and then the better times, too, shall pass. However, one of the few advantages of having survived a number of episodes of depression is the awareness that it will pass—the first time it hits you, you assume you’re going to feel like that forever, which is what leads to many suicides.
6: You should try St. John’s Wort/ get acupuncture / have Reiki treatments / take long baths --it really helped my cousin/ uncle/ sister/ brother.
Actually, there’s nothing wrong with suggesting treatments because some of these things do seem to help some people. The problem is that sometimes this is said in a tone that suggests you’re dealing with an easily solved little condition.
I think the only thing that is helpful to say is that you care about the person and you’re there for them if they would like to talk or take refuge if things get too difficult for them to handle.
The problem is that in the darkest phases of depression it’s not that you think there’s nobody willing to help, it’s that you believe nobody can help. Even so, knowing there are people in your life who stand by you even when you’re not functioning fully can be comforting.
If a depressed person chooses to talk about their feelings, understanding and empathy is helpful. Trying to rebut their feelings with logic isn’t. And sometimes a hug is better than a lot of words.
If you are suffering from depression, do reach out to your doctor and consider getting counselling even if you feel there’s no point. That’s one of the symptoms of deep depression, and leaving it untreated is no different from trying to ignore a broken arm. At worst, you have nothing to lose; at best, you'll find that people care and there are methods that help you get back to feeling better and participating fully in life.
We keep hearing that exercise is good for your brain as well as the rest of your body, but what kind of exercise is best?
A study in Finland looked at three types of exercises. The subjects were rats, so this may or may not apply to humans, although we seem to have an embarrassing similarity to rats In lots of ways.
They tested the brain's ability to develop new nerve cells. Running or jogging had the best results (they didn’t say whether the rats wore little jogging shorts).
Next best was high-intensity interval training.
Weight training didn’t increase nerve cells but presumably made it easier for those rats to push the other ones around.
Journalist Michael Grothaus decided to check whether he’d experience the same benefits. He already walked a lot, but for seven days he ran 45 minutes a day. The next week he did weight training four times. The third week he did 30 minutes of high-intensity interval training daily.
He didn’t stick to any of them long enough to increase nerve cells, and there was no measurement other than how he felt, so as a study it’s pretty worthless. However, running made him feel more clear mentally. He didn’t get that from weight training or high-intensity interval training. You can read his full account here.
If you’ve been thinking about taking up some exercise perhaps his experience and that of the rats might inspire you to get started.
I’ve been doing weight training three times a week for a long time, and I feel it helps me to stay healthy, especially as I don’t do anything else more physically demanding than working the TV remote. I lie, I don’t even do that; the remote is firmly in my partner’s control.
I’m just about to add some cardio again (cross trainer and rowing in the gym) because when I’ve done that consistently in the past it definitely improved my mood and focus.
The trick, of course, is finding what makes you feel good because that's also most likely what you'll continue to do consistently.
We know that successful people are not immune to fearing failure, so how do they still manage to succeed?
This is my third and last post that steals, er, curates, the ideas proposed by organizational psychologist Adam Grant in his TED talk. He says that successful people do fear failure…but, even more, they fear not having tried.
These people can put aside their fear long enough to come up with lots of ideas and lots of projects. They look at bad ideas as part of the process, and the same goes for rejection and failure. They see those as steps on the road to success.
They don't give up, so if one day they face death without having realized their dream, well, at least they will know they gave it their best shot. A study of the regrets of very old people backs this up--most of them said they regretted more the things they didn't do than the things they did.
My quest for 100 rejections
I’ve recently put this into action with something that I was finding depressing—the fact that so far agents have failed to grasp the greatness of my YA novel. I'd received about a dozen rejections, most in the form of hearing nothing back.
Rather than suffer with each new rejection, I decided I to go for 100 rejections. I don’t rule out the idea of rewriting the manuscript if I get useful feedback, and I’m moving forward on other projects at the same time. If some astute agent wants to handle it before I get to 100, that’s fine, too. But in the meantime, it allows me to be playful and philosophical instead of depressed.
Three ways to re-frame a problem
The cliché, “It’s all how you look at it,” is true, as is the maxim, “It’s not what happens, it’s how you respond to what happens.” (Actually, it IS partly about what happens, but your response is even more important.)
In the previous post, I mentioned “the best-friend strategy,” in which you consider your own problem as though it belonged to your best friend, and decide what advice you’d give them. That’s one example of re-framing.
Another is to change the time context of whatever is happening. If you are upset about something, imagine going forward a month in time. Do you think it will still upset you? What about six months from now? A year from now? In many cases, putting it into perspective as one of many things that are happening and will happen brings down your anxiety level immediately.
The third re-frame is good for situations in which you can’t see the way forward.You're taking something you consider impossible and re-frame it as possible.
Even if you have come to the conclusion there is nothing you can do about it, imagine you’re interviewing yourself and ask, “But if you could, how would you do it?”
You repeat the question until you come up with something. Here’s an example:
"I’d like to take a two-week vacation in Europe this summer, but I can’t, I don’t have the money."
But if you could, how would you do it?
But if you could, how would you do it?
"I’d have to find a way that’s free or really, really cheap. And the places I want to go aren’t cheap."
If you could find a way to go free or really cheaply, how would you do it?
"I’d have to find somebody who has a place who’d let me stay, but I don’t know anybody like that."
If you could look for somebody who has a place to let you stay free, how would you do it?
"Well, maybe I could do some work for them, but I really want to enjoy myself…wait a minute, there are house-swaps and house-sitting agencies…"
A solution may not come quite that quickly, but often if you persist you will find a way.
REFRAMING IN THE FACE OF DISASTER
Admittedly, there are situations that are just plain awful, but even in those a re-frame can be helpful.
For instance, the Irish practice of holding a wake for the departed moves the emphasis from grief for what we have lost to a celebration of what we had. That doesn’t negate the loss, but it helps balance it with a more positive element.
The reframes that work in the face of true disaster don’t deny that terrible things happen, but they can help us remember that sooner or later the wheel of fate will turn.