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Things You Will Probably Not Say on Your Deathbed

I'm just sayin'

Abe Lincoln on his deathbed

  • Man, I wish I’d spent more time watching TV
  • I now regret not eating more of those doughnuts people kept bringing in at work
  • All that time I wasted with my family and friends! Why didn’t I work constantly and become wealthy but unable to enjoy any of my income?
  • Those solar panels were pointless. Now that I really think about it, I don’t care whether climate change disasters would have been a lot worse over the last few decades if people like me hadn’t done something about it.
  • Good thing I took all those Facebook quizzes!
  • At least I got to argue with everyone who ever annoyed me.

Top 12 Reasons Bernie Sanders Can’t Possibly Be Elected President or Even Win the Democratic Primary Because for the Love of Pete, Didn’t We Already Agree It Was Going to Be Hillary?

I'm just sayin'

I hope folks will forgive me for making a post related to the presidential race. I’m not usually inclined to post about political matters, but lately I’ve been agog at how desperate the press seems to be to try to prove that Bernie Sanders can’t possibly win anything. I don’t say Bernie will win the presidential election, or even the primary, but for some reason he’s not yet being treated as a credible candidate, and that’s ridiculous. And speaking of ridiculous: here are the top 12 reasons he can’t possibly be elected.




  1. Voters don’t think enough other voters will vote for him, so he won’t win, even if voters prefer him. That makes sense, right?
  1. He’s just a left-wing Donald Trump (you know, because he speaks his mind and has messy hair), and Donald Trump isn’t going to win. Ergo, Bernie won’t win either, QED.
  1. Bernie doesn’t have much Latino support, and with only 15 months left before the election, there’s no time for that to change.
  1. Hillary already has the nomination locked in by winning over all the big corporate and private contributors–you know, the people whom Bernie is specifically trying to get out of government. All Bernie has is hundreds of thousands of average Americans. Since when do they count?
  1. He’s not going to appeal to black Americans, because black Americans would never vote for the only candidate who even has a racial justice platform. So he marched for civil rights with Martin Luther King, so what? Everybody’s done that!
  1. The press all says Hillary is going to win, and they’re the ones who matter. The only people Bernie has behind him are voters, and everyone knows they don’t make a difference in presidential races.
  1. Everybody seems to like and respect him, even people who disagree with him. What kind of reputation is that for a president?
  1. Sure he gets massive turnout at his events, but that doesn’t mean people are actually going to vote for him! I mean, come on: apples and oranges.
  1. The idea of putting a heavier financial burden on people who can actually afford it to help out people who can’t make ends meet is repugnant, mean-spirited, and un-American.
  1. Who said it was OK for him to run, did you think about that? Nobody, that’s who.
  1. He’s too radical to appeal to a broad constituency. All the progressive Democrats who like him are too radical, too. Also the centrist Democrats. And I guess the independents. And the … Republicans …
  1. He’s too honest: people don’t trust that in a politician.
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Fiction Critique Hand Signals


For live critiquing:

Fiction Critique Hand Signals

Images: don’t know; didn’t ask
Nonsensical captions: me

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New story free on Daily Science Fiction: When a Bunch of People, Including Raymond, Got Superpowers

Luc's writing projects

My very short story about choosing superpowers wisely, When a Bunch of People, Including Raymond, Got Superpowers, is up today at Daily Science Fiction. Comments there or here are always welcome.


A Unexpectedly Brilliant Tool for Organization


In previous posts, I’ve recommended the online task manager Todoist for Getting Things Done-style organization. All the key features are available for free (though I subscribe to get the advanced features, paying $29/year). In March 2013, they introduced a tool called “karma,” a sort of ongoing game or rating based on how well you do at tracking and completing tasks. At the time, I must have thought it sounded to hokey or decided that the idea of having a productivity “score” was lame, because I didn’t start using it until five or six months ago. Since then, I’ve been a little amazed that it actually seems to work: I’m more productive, more focused, and more diligent specifically because of Todoist karma.

How can what basically amounts to a simple counting game help get more work done? By setting reachable goals and inspiring involvement. (For a more thorough consideration of the connection between games and motivation, read A Surprising Source of Insight into Self-Motivation: Video Games.)

Let’s look at how that works. Here’s a screen shot of my karma as of today (click to zoom):

My Todoist karma


See the gray vertical lines, one for the last 7 days and one for the last 4 weeks? Those are my targets. I’m trying to complete at least that many tasks to keep on track, which is to say at least 5 per weekday and at least 25 per week. These are the default settings, which are actually great for me, but you can change them to whatever you want.

If I keep to these targets, my karma keeps going up, and my daily and weekly streaks (shown at the bottom) accumulate. (For more on motivation and winning streaks, see “Harnessing a Winning Streak.”)

As you can see from my streaks, I wasn’t able to keep on top of tasks in the same way as usual over the holidays, so I missed my targets several times up through the New Year, resetting the impressive streaks I had built up before Thanksgiving. Karma does have an important “vacation” feature (you just tell it that you’re on vacation, and it won’t expect you to get much done until you turn vacation back off). It also doesn’t expect you to get anything done on weekends (though you can change it so that you’re “on duty” any days of the week you like).

Todoist karma levels

The rewards to attending to karma are minimal: your graph keeps going up, you build up your streaks, your score improves, and every once in a long while you “level up” to a new karma category. This may not sound like much inducement to get things done, but if you think about it, it’s very similar to a video game, and video games are notoriously addictive: you have a score, levels, goals, specific challenges … it’s not easy, but it’s not impossible … in a word, you’re engaged.

Another thing I like about karma that initially seemed like a drawback is that it mainly just tracks the number of tasks you get done rather than trying to deal with priority or importance or size. This makes it simple to use–pretty much automatic, in fact–but it also rewards breaking big goals down into small tasks, which is an excellent motivational and organizational technique. If you enter “redo flooring in dining room” in as a task, it’s a good bet you’ll never get it done. On the other hand, if you start with tasks like “Find out what kind of wood flooring options are out there” and “Measure dining room and write down dimensions,” then you’ve got a great basis for accomplishing something.

The way karma helps me the most is in setting a number of things to get done. My task list is probably thousands of items long, set up in many different categories with different priorities. To be productive, I have to get at least a few of those things done each day. Often what happens is that I’ll get to evening and have completed, say, three tasks (this is outside of my work task list, which I maintain separately). Being conscious of my Todoist karma, I’m aware that I can do two more to maintain my streaks and increase my score, or give up for the day, lose points and get my streaks reset. It’s nearly always possible to get two small tasks done, however, and so I generally do them, and this keeps my attention on what I have to do and also encourages me to do just a bit more each day. That’s exactly the level of quiet, private encouragement I need.

In short, if you’re in need of an elegant, easy-to-use, effective, and free task management system, you’ll have a hard time doing better than Todoist–and if you use Todoist, you should consider using the karma feature to engage more enthusiastically with all the tasks in your life.

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Does Chocolate Really Contain Caffeine, or Are People Just Confusing It with Theobromine?

I'm just sayin'


There’s an assertion circulating on the Web that caffeine content in chocolate is an urban legend based on misunderstanding of a related compound, theobromine. From what information I’ve been able to turn up, it appears this assertion is false: that is, the urban legend is that chocolate doesn’t contain caffeine.

The first significant information I found on this is on the Hershey Company’s site, which has a page entitled “Caffeine and Theobromine“. On this page they discuss the two separately and state that “For example, a 1.55 ounce (43g) HERSHEY’S milk chocolate bar contains about 9 mg of caffeine.” They later say “a 1.55 ounce (43g) HERSHEY’S milk chocolate bar contains about 64mg of theobromine.” It does not seem possible that they could be confusing the two in this situation.

This next page also gives specific numbers for both caffeine and theobromine content of chocolate, though I don’t know how reliable the source is:

Getting into slightly more authoritative stuff, here’s a Russian article through Medline called “Biologically active substances in grated cocoa and cocoa butter” that discusses both caffeine and theobromine content in chocolate, separately: .

Here’s another article, this one from The Journal of Chromatographic Science, also speaks of both caffeine and theobromine content in chocolate:

Why does all this matter? Depending on who you are, it may not. After all, chocolate doesn’t contain a lot of caffeine. That Hershey’s bar mentioned above only has about 1/10 the amount of caffeine found in a cup of coffee, though dark chocolate has more. However, if you’re like me and have bad physiological reactions to caffeine (itching, headaches, etc.) under some circumstances, it’s pretty important to understand that chocolate–all chocolate–is going to have that effect.

On a related note, please remember too that decaffeinated coffee and tea aren’t devoid of caffeine, either–they both just have a lot less than their caffeinated counterparts.

All of the above is just based on online research, of course: I’m not a nutritionist, researcher, or medical professional.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

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10 Ways to Increase Happiness: The CliffsNotes Version



There’s an excellent (if overenthusiastically titled) article on called “10 Surprisingly Counterintuitive Ways to Be Incredibly Happy.” It lists 10 research-based insights into cultivating long-term happiness.

Here’s a summary of the approaches they recommend, which can also serve as a refresher to re-read once or twice over the next couple of days to a week after you read the original article (assuming you decide to read the original article), if you’d like a way to help ensure the ideas to stick.

  1. Allow feelings of happiness and disappointment to mix
  2. Keep happy friends close (or move near happy friends, or find happy friends nearby)
  3. Learn something new, even if it’s stressful
  4. Consider counseling, which the article describes as producing as much happiness as 32 times the money it costs
  5. Don’t be overeager to seize happiness
  6. Say “no” to almost everything and use “don’t” to stop yourself from unwanted behaviors*
  7. Be comfortable and realistic in recognizing your strengths and weaknesses
  8. Plan for the worst, both to create peace in the moment from knowing you’ve taken dangers into account and to be able to handle trouble more easily and effectively
  9. Give up things you love for short periods in order to appreciate and enjoy them more
  10. Picture realistic accomplishments instead of fantasizing**

*Item #6 strikes me as two separate points: the first is about not overcommitting yourself, which is huge and one of my own personal biggest stumbling blocks; the second is about how to talk to yourself about not doing something, e.g., not saying “I should work out” or “I have to work out” or “I can’t miss my workout,” but rather “I don’t miss workouts.”

**Item #10, for my money, was the least clearly presented, although in general I think the article is great. On this one, the key thing seems to be not giving up on visualizing wonderful things happening, but rather visualizing specific things it’s in your power to accomplish in the way that they might actually happen. For instance, fantasizing about becoming a basketball star may tend to sap your energy and undermine your success; picturing yourself making multiple baskets at an upcoming game and then practicing hard to make that more likely may well do the opposite.

Photo by Shindz

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The Hidden Nature of Wanting Things

Handling negative emotions


Here’s a realization that stopped me in my tracks recently: sometimes, when I crave something, what I really desire is not the thing itself, but for the need for it to go away.

Maybe that sounds like two versions of the same thing, but when I reflect that there are often a lot of ways to making a need for something go away without getting the thing itself, then the game begins to change.

To take an easy example: if I want a glass of water, what I really probably want more than the sensation of the water going down my throat is the cessation of my thirst.

In that example, of course, drinking the water is probably the best thing I can do, but what if the thing I want to do is to eat something unhealthy or do something I’ll later regret or act in anger because of negative feelings? In these cases, it would be ideal to stop feeling the need for the thing by some means other than getting what I think I want.

The good news is that there are alternatives that will often make a need or craving go away: for example, meditation or a frank discussion with a supportive friend or family member can often settle an angry or frightened mood, focusing attention on something else can often distract us from an unhealthy or unhelpful activity, and there are at least a couple of dozen of ways to get around being hungry.

The problem I run into, myself, is that I often get caught up in wanting the thing and don’t realize that I just want the need for it to stop. When this happens, anything that may make the need diminish seems like self-denial. Although I may be actually accomplishing what will make me most happy (making the craving go away), my internal commentary insists I’m preventing myself from getting what I want, from getting the object of my craving. This makes me think of a healthy redirection as a fight with myself, and instead of gravitating toward the best choice, I struggle.

I don’t think it’s the case that we always just want the cessation of a need, though I guess somebody could make a case for that. For instance, when I want to listen to music, it doesn’t seem to me that I’d usually be just as happy if the desire for hearing music went away. To use this idea, I’ll have to distinguish between times it applies and times it doesn’t.

Whether the insight will actually prove valuable for me or not, I don’t know, but I’d like to think that it will help me from time to time when I’m having trouble deciding between an appealing option and a healthier but less flashy one, to understand what that decision is really about and act accordingly.

Photo by Bart.

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Codexians Sweep Original 4 Nebula Awards

eBooks and Publishing

I have the great fortune to rub virtual elbows with any number of exceptional writers in Codex Writers’ Group, which I founded back in 2004 by creating an online forum and inviting fellow writers from Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp and the Writers of the Future workshop. This week the four original categories (Best Novel, Best Novelette, Best Novella, and Best Short Stories) of the Nebula Award, one of the most important awards in science fiction, were all won by members of Codex. (Two additional categories added more recently were not won by Codexians–this time!)

Ann Leckie is the first Codexian ever to win the Nebula for best novel, for her Ancillary Justice.








Vylar Kaftan won the novella category with “The Weight of the Sunrise.”







The Best Novelette award went to Aliette de Bodard for “The Waiting Stars.”










Best Short Story went to Rachel Swirsky for “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love”





Ann, Vy, Aliette, Rachel: way to kick some genre!

Congratulations too to Nalo Hopkinson, who won the Andre Norton YA award, and the writers of Gravity, who won the Bradbury for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation. (Neither Ms. Hopkinson nor the Gravity folks are associated with Codex in any way.)

A variety of other Codexians were nominated for the Nebula this year, including Kenneth Schneyer, Alethea Kontis (now a two-time nominee for the Andre Norton award), Ken Liu (the only person ever to have won the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award for a single work), Sylvia Spruck Wrigley, Sarah Pinsker, Henry Lien, and Lawrence M. Schoen.

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James Maxey: Mere Excitement is Vastly Overrated


Maxey superhero novels

James Maxey is the most unrelentingly quotable person I’ve ever met. I complained about this to him the other day in the course of asking permission to post the below. He gave me his blessing to post and mentioned he’d be likely to expand on what he said soon on his own site (see link, below).

“Even I find myself quotable,” he said. The bastard.

Anyway, in a recent writing group discussion, we were talking about why we chose our current projects. There were a variety of answers, but the word “excitement” came up a lot, and James  had this to say on the subject.

For what it’s worth, I think mere excitement is a vastly overrated reason to commit to a novel. Excitement is sufficient grounds to take part in a one night stand, but committing to a novel is more like choosing someone to marry. There needs to be that initial passion, but there has to be something stronger beneath it. The novel has to share your values and your long term goals. You have to be willing to stand by it in sickness and health, through riches and poverty. You’re going to see this novel without its makeup on. You’ll have to be there to comfort it when it gets the flu and has bad things pouring out of every orifice. You’ll have to keep believing in it when it hits low points, when it’s lost its way and no longer moves you to passion. You’re going to have to keep going home and sharing a bed with it even though other younger, better looking, more clever novels flirt with you. 

The long term rewards of such a relationship make it all worth it. You write the novel, edit it, polish it, and all the time it edits and polishes you. At the very least, you should emerge from a finished novel as a better writer, but I also think it’s possible to emerge from a novel as a better person.

That resonated with me, and James, a prolific and popular writer, is speaking from a lot of personal experience.  He’s the author of award-winning short storties and a pair of read-at-a-gulp superhero novels, as well as the Dragon Age trilogy and the very different Dragon Apocalypse series. If you’re curious, check him out at .

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