Book Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman, 4.9 Stars

This story beautifully captured two things for me: depression and dissatisfaction with the futility of life.

The main character, Quentin Coldwater, lives a lifestyle that he thinks will make him happy, but doesn’t. Drugs and sleeping around don’t bring him fulfillment, they only make him more miserable. One scene perfectly encapsulates this realization that his lifestyle is worsening his depression, and it is hurting those he loves.

The book also communicates just how HARD magic can be. I mean, every spell requires a set of hand symbols which are so complex, your hands ache after practicing them. Then, every spell must be modified according to the “circumstances”, ways that you must tweak your spells due to nearby factors. The nearest body of water, the political affiliation of the people nearby, the time of year, the location of the moon, whether your bladder is full (the last was a joke… almost), etc.  There are literally books and books filled with tables and charts describing all of these.

Magic isn’t much explained, since you basically need a genius-level intellect to comprehend it at all (which is why the magical college only recruits people with such intellect as potential students). But Lev Grossman doesn’t use magic to solve crazy plot problems (and if he does, he quite efficiently explains THAT part of the magic). In fact, magic, or the ability to do almost whatever you want, causes problems in the protagonist’s sense of purpose. He can get almost whatever he wants, therefore he is depressed and feels like life has no point. The plot issues must be solved through different means.

People talk about hard-magic (rule-based) and soft-magic (mysterious). Other novelists use educating the reader about the rules as a way to solve plot problems, and I LOVE novels like that. But Lev Grossman doesn’t do this. As I said above, being able to do anything with magic, even though it’s really hard, does not solve the emotional and relationship issues of the main characters.

If you don’t mind f-bombs and a moderate amount of sexuality (he doesn’t go into pornographic detail, but these ARE promiscuous twenty-somethings), then I DEFINITELY recommend this book. It touches my own inner pains in a way that no other novel quite has. The part that suffers from anxiety and depression. And, most important of all, it gives HOPE for the future. Despite the truth of these sorrows, he gives you HOPE as a truth to top it all.

-Thomas Fawkes

p.s. It’s also a TV show on Sci-fi. I’ve watched part of the first season. It’s pretty good! More rushed, and they also add more events and change things. It’s different from the book, just know that and perhaps you’ll enjoy it too. 🙂

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Book Review: Strange of Tempest by Tom Lloyd 4.5 Stars

2 words: MAGE GUNS

Stranger of Tempest is an epic fantasy with a heavy dose of… modernish warfare? (due to guns). The mage-guns use element-based ammo forged by mages, who have been coerced into service by various religious military orders (think Knights Templars or other crusade-era religious armies).

The protagonist, a middle-aged war veteran, is a skilled sharpshooter. He was also on the wrong side of the war and was imprisoned when he called out his own army’s cruelty. Apart from a small handful of flashbacks, he is NOT in prison during this book, and I won’t reveal too many details of his past. I will say that one fascinating thing about him is his obsession with reading. Since he can only keep what he can carry, he always keeps one book. And once he’s read it, he sells it and buys another. An incredibly human trait in a person you might expect to be hardened.

The story follows Lynx (the veteran), Sitain (a mage he rescues from a militant order), and the mercenary crew known as “the Cards.” They’re on the run from the militant order that wanted to kidnap Sitain. Their chase leads them through a city, tunnels inhabited by a 3-gendered 4-armed race, and ancient ruins full of unholy terrors. It leans much farther toward adventurous than horrific, and YES, the terrifying behemoth on the cover does make an EPIC appearance.

Also, just look at that cover. There’s something psychologically stimulating about the man’s posture (it’s similar to Wanderer above the Sea of Fog which, in turn, inspired many movie posters).

Overall, a fine read. Some parts got a little too much on the sexual detail, and if you’re not paying attention the time jumping can get disorienting, but the balance between action, adventure, and especially empathy for these characters make it very much worth the read!

Booyah!

-Thomas Fawkes

Book Review: Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson – 5 stars

Warbreaker is a wonderful stand-alone epic fantasy.

There are 4 main POV’s, two sister princesses (one refined, one irreverent), a god returned from the dead, and a mysterious vagabond with a talking sword and a mysterious agenda.

Brandon Sanderson does an excellent job building out his characters, who all sound unique and have their own strengths. Often, writers (mostly male) want to imply that “strong female characters” are well-written female characters, but often they just come across as “tough-as-nails, no-nonsense, butt-kicking female character.” (I also hate when male characters are written as 2-dimensional butt-kickers with little variance. Too much emphasize on the physical aspects of “strong.”)

 V.E. Schwab (https://twitter.com/veschwab/) a female fantasy author, was asked in a panel “How do you write strong female characters?” She explained about how first, she hates that people ask her that question. “Do you ask how men write strong male characters?” and also how it’s not some magic mumbo-jumbo, just treat them like PEOPLE. Like fully-fleshed out human beings (not objects or plot devices, that should be obvious). She said “I treat all my characters as people. End of story.”

Sanderson does that here. The sisters and the god returned from the dead are not warriors. The sisters have very different strengths (emotional understanding, drive, talent for magic, a keen eye for detail), and they are placed in situations which at first seem opposite to their ability, but after some struggle and growth it turns out that their strengths are PERFECT for where they were put.

The last POV character, the mysterious vagabond with the talking sword, gets the fewest number of POV’s. He keeps you guessing about who he is and what he wants.

Sanderson masterfully executes a few paradigm shifts throughout the course of the novel. Characters question their faith, see things in a new light, and learn that nothing is as it seems.

I’ve talked at a very high level, which is mostly what I intend to do. The simplest way to describe it is that a princess is sent off to marry the God-king in order to maintain peace, and her sister goes to rescue her. While in the background bigger forces are at worth that threaten all kingdoms.

Great character development, great dialogue, great action. I recommend!

2017 and Beyond!

Quick note on employment…

It has been FAR too long since I posted on this blog! Granted, my contract ran out at my last job, and I was quite frantically searching for a new place of employment. After 2 agonizing weeks of unemployment (hint: I’m being sarcastic), I found a new position!

I now work for a company called Thomas Arts (no, I don’t own it) as a User Experience and Information Architect. Dang I love the work I do. I love researching, analyzing, mapping out, and improving the emotional experience a user/customer goes through. Even now, my position is kind of new, and figuring out how I fit into a marketing agency (vs. just a software or product developing company) has been a challenge. I’ve been moved from the digital team over to Strategy, which has been great.

NOW, ABOUT THE WRITING

Last year was actually a pretty decent year for writing, job search/new job drama considered. I finished editing ROBBING GODS and TWO MASTERS. Something I had intended to do in 2016. They both turned out wonderfully! I am now doing a final revision on both with some things I’ve learned from The Emotional Craft of Fiction. More about that below.

THE BALANCE BETWEEN 1st Draft

Near the end of last year (November) I officially started out on the first draft of a novel called THE BALANCE BETWEEN. I finished February 2nd 2018 at 140k words. The fastest I’ve ever written (I had 2k-5k days). It’s a story I’ve been brainstorming for years. It’s about a fallen star god who has to overcome his addictions to stop his cosmic grandmother from consuming the universe:

People with the lifecycles of stars. A galaxy of a hundred flat worlds connected by portals. And magic space-monks. Part of the inspiration of this story was watching Star Wars, where George Lucas totally missed the mark on Buddhism, and thinking: “I can do magic Buddhist space monks better!” I undertook a deep study of philosophy, religion, and physics starting with quantum field theory and going all the way astrophysics and turned it all into a unified magic system. Meditation, balance, and surrender are important aspects to using this magic system. It also gave me the roots for EVERY magic system I’ve ever written. This one can describe them all, almost like code. I even drew this cool chart (spent WAY too much time on it of course), with a little inspiration from Sanderson:

Yoncraft Powers v18@2x.png

THE EMOTIONAL CRAFT OF FICTION

Last year I also discovered THE EMOTIONAL CRAFT OF FICTION. This is the single greatest book on writing fiction I’ve ever read. It’s written by Donald Maass, a fantastic literary agent. I’ve also read 21ST CENTURY FICTION (which is amazing) and several other of his writing books. But THE EMOTIONAL CRAFT OF FICTION takes the cake.

Why?

It teaches you what types of writing, what types of characters, and what types of plot turns have an ACTUAL emotional impact on your readers. Each chapter has a list of questions, and I went through many of them while outlining THE BALANCE BETWEEN, and now I’m going through all of them as I edit.

This book is one of the reasons I wrote THE BALANCE BETWEEN so quickly. It challenges you to reach inside yourself and find that which affects YOU the most. Because if you are passionate about it, then your readers will feel that. They might not agree, but they’ll feel it.

Some examples of questions:

  • Think about your protagonist. What is one good thing your protagonist finds exceptionally hard to do?
  • Work backward to make that virtuous act even more difficult. Later on, perhaps following a catharsis, find a way for your protagonist to do, at last, that good deed.
  • Which character has a justified grudge against another? Build the reasons for it, then enact forgiveness.
  • Identify a higher emotion you’d like your readers to feel: self-control, courage, perseverance, truthfulness, fairness, respect, generosity, forgiveness, service, sacrifice, discernment, integrity, humility, readiness, or wisdom.
  • Choose a character whose nature is, or whom you can make, the opposite of this quality. Who most needs to learn this lesson, see a truth, adopt this virtue, and change?
  • Create three events that both build the necessity of change and necessary reasons to resist it. These events are the anticipation phase.
  • Finally, create the event that will bring home to your character the better way of being. How can this character show us her better self? This is the moment when you will stir higher emotion in your readers.

STARKEST CONTRAST=EMOTIONAL IMPACT 

To oversimplify, much of his book has to do with making the contrasts starker. Instead of someone’s arc being: “protagonist doesn’t think much at all about others” to “helps somebody once”. Make it so that she is EXTREMELY selfish, and the end state is like SACRIFICES herself. Take the elements of your story and PULL them to the extremes. One character forgives another? Make it both HARDER to forgive, and MORE IMPORTANT that they do forgive. The more impossible/more important you make something seem, the more emotionally powerful it will be when it finally happens.

His other book, 21ST CENTURY FICTION, tells you to do this:

  • What disturbs you the most? Angers you? What do you hate most in this world? What makes you so sad or angry you can hardly handle it, let alone talk about it?
  • What excites you? Makes you overjoyed? What experiences in this life make you the happiest? What do you love more than anything in the world?
  • Now, WRITE ABOUT THOSE THINGS. Yes, even the things that disturb you most. Because THOSE THINGS will have the greatest emotional impact on you as a writer, and that will transfer to your readers.

So, THE BALANCE BETWEEN has those things. The deaths of loved ones and innocents. The struggles of addiction. Feelings of abandonment from family. The feeling of failing everyone you love. But it also has redemption, recovery, forgiveness, the promise that all the suffering in this life will pale in comparison to the healing in the life to come.

PLANS FOR 2018

This year, I’ve been attending MANY Utah writing conferences, learning more, making contacts. Today I’m going to meet with some Epic Fantasy writers I met at a conference to try to make a writer’s group. I’ve been submitting a LOT more. I’m going through the BALANCE BETWEEN and revise with the Emotional Craft chapter questions. I plan on making a few edits to the endings of ROBBING GODS and TWO MASTERS. It feels great to be alive.

I’m working on my pitches and all of my submission materials. I’ve got to learn to be able to pitch on a dime, in person. Be excited! Those are my big emphasis’s this year. I hope it works out!

I’ve also gotten MUCH more involved on Twitter, not necessarily to get more followers, but really just to be more involved. One of the most important things I learned was at LTUE when one panelist said “You have to get 20k Twitter followers and network up the wazoo before publishers will even look at you!” and Myke Cole said he disagreed, he said “I spent a lot of time to network through SFFWA, made a great connection with an editor, and the first few books I sent him he said were terrible. My friend, who had been writing novels this whole time, honing his craft, got his book accepted by this same editor when I introduced them. The most important thing is to hone your craft. If you don’t have that, you don’t have anything.” (Not an exact quote, but you get the gist). I told him afterward I appreciated his comment. I even read one of his books! (He has like, 6-7 published works now). Will be writing a review on that too.

PLANS FOR 2019?

I’ve paid for Superstars Writing Seminars, in Colorado. Which will happen February 2019. High profile writers, agents, and editors will be teaching classes. And it ain’t a cheap conference (650$, even with a referral discount!), but it’s time I took my writing career to the next level. I’ve written 7 novels, it’s about time I start pitching and networking more. Donald Maass will even be there! I hope for the chance to pitch to him in person! He reps Brent Weeks, one of my favorite authors.

THAT’S ALL FOLKS

Keep reading. Keep writing. Keep honing your craft. Keep submitting.

Booyah!

-Thomas Fawkes

Writing Conferences 2018, 2019

Hey all!

As an update to all of my writing friends about conferences I’m attending:

LUW Spring Conference (35$, Apr 14)
https://www.eventbrite.com/…/2018-spring-conference

Fyrecon (40$ Jun 21-23)
https://www.fyrecon.com

UVU Book Academy 2018 (95$, Sep 18)
https://www.uvu.edu/conferences/book-academy/program.html

Local Authors and You (Free! Nov 3-4)
http://www.viridiancenter.org/ev…/authors_LocalAuthorsAndYou

NEXT YEART
Superstars Writing Seminars (Many $$’s, I have a 100$ off discount code, Colorado, Feb 7-9 2019)
http://superstarswriting.com/

LTUE (45$ ending mar 30, Feb 14-19)
www.ltue.net
(Will miss part of this one, Valentine’s day people!)

Storymakers (I think registration opens in Jan 2019)
http://ldstorymakersconference.com/

Westercon (60$ ending mar 30, Jul 4-7)
www.westercon72.org
(I will definitely be missing parts of this one too, 4th of July guys! Why do conferences do this?)

Anyway, there ya go!

Hope to see you at some of them!

Booyah,

 

-Thomas

Bad Research example: Trump’s Media Survey

This is an example of how to analyze research as related to my blog post Recognizing Bad Social Research or News Articles.

I swear I’ll analyze good examples too! But the bad ones are just such fun. 🙂

The other day I read a survey on Trump’s website that hurt my soul. It is leading, biased, confusing, and faulty.

Let’s start with the good (it won’t take very long).

 

The Good

Some of the questions have these choices:

  • Yes
  • No
  • No opinion

Having no opinion as an option is good (but many of the questions needed a more rigorous scale, this is so black and white they don’t allow for a spectrum of emotions. Darn it I said I would do the good first!)

  • Which television source do you primarily get your news from?

A simple data gathering question. It needed more options though.

  • “Do you use a source not listed above?”

Hey! An other box. So that people can indicate other  news sources. (Pity it doesn’t let you answer the same questions about the news sources you added. It should also be written as “If any, what other news sources do you get your news from?” I’m a stickler for thoroughness.)

 

The Ugly

We’re skipping the bad on this one folks.

The biggest problem with this survey is black and white absolutism. It features a strong “Us vs. Them” and “If you’re not with us, you’re against us” mentality that is quite alarming. People’s opinions exist in a broad spectrum. Research methods should account for that. They often allow the “neutral” (no opinion) but rarely allow the “other.” This is a breaking of my research rule #2:

2. Did they ask non-biased and unleading questions which allow for neutral and other opinions? Did they observe the subjects in a way that minimally effected their behavior? (Research Methods)

The questions also group the media (a broad range of people, organizations, and opinions) into one single entity. Making answering the majority of the questions quite awkward.

 

Recruiting

Another problem is recruiting. They are not following my research rule #1:

1. Did they recruit enough people from all appropriate groups to represent the population? (Recruiting)

If the black and white doesn’t turn people off, then the length will. How is this getting distributed? A link on a site? A select email list? They aren’t offering any money to finish so only those with an extreme vested interest (for or against) will take it. The sample of people who eventually finish this survey is not representative of the American population.

 

Questions

Now into a little nitty gritty, I tried to find the worst offenders. I could write a page on each question, but I shall refrain.

  • Do you trust [Insert news agency] to report fairly on Trump’s presidency?

This should be a matrix table, “How much do you trust the following news sources?” (Mentioning Trump is biasing it, if they trust the news source, they trust them to report accurately on Trump’s Presidency).

Fairness is often used instead of accuracy. They are not concerned about the news agency’s accuracy, just if they talk nice.

  • On which issues does the mainstream media do the worst job of representing Republicans? (Select as many that apply.)

Oh, let me count the ways. It should be “How well does the mainstream media represent republicans in the following areas:” Even that I don’t like, because it lumps republicans in all together as if they are carbon copies of each other. It doesn’t allow for people to think the media is doing well. Their data will only tell them how many people were negative, not how many were neutral or positive or no opinion!

  • Do you trust the mainstream media to tell the truth about the Republican Party’s positions and actions?

BTW, who the heck is this mainstream media? Is that Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? The TV? What? They start asking these questions without making sure that the respondent understands exactly who they mean by “mainstream media.”

My hurt brains so much right now.

  • Do you believe that the mainstream media does not do their due diligence fact-checking before publishing stories on the Trump administration?

Ah the double-negative triple pirouette. Double negatives, does selecting no mean “No, I do not believe that the mainstream media does not do…” Oh sheesh. The poor respondent is getting a headache!

  • Do you believe that the media unfairly reported on President Trump’s executive order temporarily restricting people entering our country from nations compromised by radical Islamic terrorism?

That question is very biased. It is attempting to make the respondent feel like if they agree with the media in any way, they want to endanger our nation from the radical islamic terrorists. It should have been an open-ended written this way:

  • Do you believe that the media inaccurately reported on President Trump’s executive order temporarily restricting people entering our country from (names of countries)?

It should also link to the text of the order.

  • Were you aware that a poll was released revealing that a majority of Americans actually supported President Trump’s temporary restriction executive order?

Wow. This question is serving as a report of prior research. Can I get a link to that research? And that poll revealed that a majority of Americans POLLED supported etc. I’d want to see their recruiting method. This mini-report breaks my rule #3 of research:

3. Did they report on the data itself or extrapolate it to say more than it said and ramble on with their opinions? (Reporting)

  • Do you believe that political correctness has created biased news coverage on both illegal immigration and radical Islamic terrorism?

They throw words around with very subjective meanings (like political correctness). Should be asking separate questions about illegal immigration and radical Islamic terrorism. Also, by putting them in the same question, they imply a connection (some say there is a connection, some not, that’s some other research I personally need to look into).

  • Do you believe that contrary to what the media says, raising taxes does not create jobs?

Ok, they’re asking about belief now (good). But it should be written as such:

Do you believe that raising taxes does not create jobs?

Also, huh? Darn. It’s still biased. We’ve got the double-negatives again too.

  • Do you believe that the media wrongly attributes gun violence to Second Amendment rights?

Because if you don’t you’re wrong! That’s what this is implying. I’m done rewriting this survey because if they were my client I’d be going back to them to ask what are the high-level research questions they have, what do they really want to know? How much does the public believe the media?

This survey, if it were meant for understanding rather than generating ammunition for political debates, should be written to understand the opinions the public has about the news, their demographics, and it should be recruited in such a way to get the best representation.

BTW, what the heck does “Our Movement” mean? Republicans? Trump? Conservatives?

Redundancy is a huge problem with this survey. The next series of questions essentially asks “Do you believe the media does evil things to try to stop us holy warriors of truth and justice?” in one way or another.

  • Do you believe that the mainstream media has been too eager to jump to conclusions about rumored stories?

This is actually decent, it should also be a how much though.

  • Do you believe that if Republicans were obstructing Obama like Democrats are doing to President Trump, the mainstream media would attack Republicans?

More us vs. them.

  • Do you believe that the media uses slurs rather than facts to attack conservative stances on issues like border control, religious liberties, and ObamaCare?

I also don’t appreciate them tying religious liberties to things like border control. Another example of absolutism. Let every person be an individual. Not a cookie cutter. This survey was designed for extremist Republicans to back up extremist Republicans.

 

End Questions

A few questions at the end are shifted toward how they feel about Trump’s method of communicating with the people, but does it in a way that makes him seem like a holy warrior.

  • Do you agree with President Trump’s media strategy to cut through the media’s noise and deliver our message straight to the people?

A good thing to try and found out, but questions should be written more objectively. “The almighty Thor cuts through the media noise to rescue the people!” Oh dear. Flair and drama do not belong in surveys.

  • Do you agree with the President’s decision to break with tradition by giving lesser known reporters and bloggers the chance to ask the White House Press Secretary questions?

How were these selected? Links please. Orient your respondent before you ask them questions.

At the end, it asks for Name, Email, and Zip code. They really should be asking questions about age, gender, ethnicity (location is still good), and socioeconomic status. And if at the end not all populations are represented, conduct more research.

 

Reporting

Can’t really write on reporting yet, but you can tell that from the way this survey was worded, the report is going to be quite biased in a lot of ways.

 

Conclusion

I’m very concerned that political research is biased all around. They should be hiring outside agencies to write their surveys, analyze the data, and report back to them. The objective should be to get an accurate view of the people, not have a blunt weapon to argue with (such and such biased research said such and such!).

Hope you found this analysis enlightening. Remember, bad data is worse than no data at all!

BTW, if you have concerns about this being a republican-focused survey, please send me a democrat-focused survey. I will gladly analyze that as well. Both parties are guilty of biased research methods.

Booyah.

-Thomas Fawkes

Recognizing Bad Social Research or News Articles

If you don’t have the time to read the whole article, ask yourself these questions every time you read some research or a news article:

  1. Did they recruit enough people from all appropriate groups to represent the population? (Recruiting)

  2. Did they ask non-biased and unleading questions which allow for neutral and other opinions? Did they observe the subjects in a way that minimally effected their behavior? (Research Methods)

  3. Did they report on the data itself or extrapolate it to say more than it said and ramble on with their opinions? (Reporting)

 

Now, for the meat:

We often use research (surveys, interviews, news articles) to evaluate our beliefs (or to prove a point). Much research out there in the world is faulty, biased, or lacking in very vital ways. Not a great way to educate yourself!

Since I’m a researcher by trade, I thought I’d put together a basic guide to analyzing the value of research. This is mainly with practical or social research, rather than scientific research (some principles still apply).

The first thing to remember is that research only says what it says and nothing more. When a report says “40% of Americans hate puppies” it really means “40% of Americans surveyed hate puppies.” Stark contrast there. Think about it.

The next important things to remember are:

  • Just because you agree with the research, doesn’t mean they had good research methods
  • Just because you disagree with the research, doesn’t mean they had poor research methods.
  • Just because they had poor research methods, doesn’t mean the result is wrong (it does mean the research is not a good reason to inform your beliefs).

The rest of this article is divided into 3 sections which reflect the three major phases of social research:

  1. Sources
  2. Research Methods
  3. Reporting

 

1. Sources-Getting the people

How many

When researching a certain population, one needs to get a good representation of all target audience groups (ages, socioeconomic status, political affiliation, region. Census data and other pre-research helps you know who these groups are).

The people that you choose to research are your sample. There’s a lot of math out there as to how many you need in a sample, but the important thing to note is that you need a good number of randomly selected people from each audience group.

How recruited or chosen

Every recruitment method has its drawbacks.

There are people who won’t take a phone survey, an email survey, or a pop-up survey. Ever. If these people are excluded, you’re skewing your results. People who are likely to ignore a survey are also likely to have certain opinions that needs to be in the research.

Money can get more of those people to participate. So, beware of research that is conducted for free, they only get the opinions of the really nice or the really opinionated.

Also, beware of research that uses only one recruiting method. If they only do phone invites, then they only get people who have phone #’s the researchers have access to (or people who have phones at all if the phone-less are potentially one of their target groups!).

 

2. Research Methods-Gathering the data

There are two main types of data you can gather: behavioral data and opinion data. Beware of research that tries to learn people’s behavior through questioning rather than observation. People don’t usually have an accurate picture of what they actually do or what they would do (we have distorted memories and high opinions of our hypothetical selves).

People will often say one thing and do another.

Behavioral research is best done through observation. This can be done in-person, through video footage, or even website analytics data (the measure that they know they’re being watched will change their behavior, beware!).

Opinion based research is best done through questioning. And OH BOY do people go wrong here! I’ve seen surveys with the equivalent of “Here is this really great thing, how great do you think it is?” with the following three options:

  • Pretty great!
  • Super great!
  • Extremely great!

I’m exaggerating. Slighty. But sheesh! My job day in and day out is to take the biased, leading, confusing, and faulty questions from my clients and translate them into actually usable questions.

If the research doesn’t let you in on the wording of their questions when presenting results, beware.

Questions might be leading or choices for answers do not represent all possibilities. It’s important that surveys have a neutral option in order to allow for those people who really don’t give a darn to not give a darn!

I was talking to Howard Tayler on Twitter about survey question writing when he offered this as an example:

c3gshvyucaaol-l

Do you see the problems in it? It’s cramming multiple responses into one choice. A terribly worded on at that. He offered this as his fix as a funny but equally biased alternative:

c3gsn17uoai578g

The sad thing is, I could expect an extremist democrat to actually put this wording in their version of this survey (Howard Tayler is certainly not an extremist, but a writer of science fiction and comedy).

One-on-one interviews (often used by journalists and news sources) answer questions deeply but not broadly, they get into the nitty gritty of a certain thought, but not into how many people think such a thing.

 

3. Reporting-Interpreting and publishing the data

This is likely the most important, since this is what most of us see when investigating a certain body of research. The important thing to remember (and beware if the reporting doesn’t say this) is that:

“Research only says what it says and nothing more.”

Feel free to repeat that a few times. 😛

How much is taken directly from the data, and how much is opinion?

When a report is filled with X number of participants indicated Y, you know that’s at least decent data. But, beware when only a few lines of the report are associated with the findings of the data and the rest is paragraphs and paragraphs of opinion, speculation, and broad exaggeration.

 

EXAMPLES

The biggest example in recent memory is the polls on who people were voting for last election season. The people who were likely to fill out or answer the polls (mainly Clinton voters) were not representative of those who showed up to vote (a lot more Trump voters than the polls).

Here are three examples of types of research I’ve encountered recently:

The news article

Mwahaha! The worst of the worst! A journalist will often handpick a few select individuals, often to prove a point or that they anticipate will agree with what they want to say (not representative of the population), they will then asked biased and leading questions, then will choose what they want to report (in or out of context), and will fill their article with paragraphs of speculation and opinion.

Not a good way to get data! Not all journalists are like this, and most aren’t trying to be faulty, but when accuracy is traded for speed, you have a holey target with nothing in the bullseye.

The phone survey

Ah, the phone survey. Have any of you gotten a call for a political survey? How many of your took it? How did you feel on the subject if you took it? Many don’t like taking these surveys, and many don’t offer any compensation, greatly decreasing the likelihood of good representation.

The intercept survey

The pop-up appears and through analytics we know how many see it and how many click x. Those who are likely to click on it are (like I mentioned before) either the really nice or the really angry. And having people at both extremes does NOT average out to an accurate representation.

 

No data is perfect

Every piece of research should have a list of cautions, exceptions, and caveats. No research is perfect. And one survey or set of interviews is never sufficient to fully understand a problem. Beware those who use one chart to describe the state of a nation. The data is always more complicated than that, and people are more complicated than that.

If you learn one thing from this, it is to take every bit of research with a grain of salt, and sometimes a gallon. Because bad data can be worse than no data at all.

Bad data can mislead you into a false sense of confidence in something that might not be true.

Booyah!

 

-Thomas Fawkes

I live for every spare moment with my wife

Are other people unhappy in their marriages? Because I feel like some are. Perhaps this is an emotionally charged rant, but there is some truth in it. Maybe people have different relationships that work for them (or that they think work for them). But, here we go:

I don’t understand why everyone wants to plan things and invite me but not necessarily my wife. I’ve had people say to me “Well, why can’t you spend a little time without your wife? or “Why can’t you go do this crazy fun thing that’s not really fun to do with kids and isn’t easy to do with kids?” (ok, that’s not how they word it). 

My wife is my best friend. Therefore I spend as much time with her as possible (between kids and work this isn’t alot). I don’t just ditch her and play cause raising children is “women’s work” so I’m always going to want to figure out how to include her and probably the kids into whatever extra activities occur. 

I really appreciate my friends wanting me to come hang out with them, and I definitely want to, I just want to figure out how to include my best friend (my wife). 

People will do the same to my wife and ask her to leave and go and have girls nights or some  church-related activity 5 times a week (slight exaggeration). It’s not that I’m not willing to watch the kids, and I have done so that she can go do something. But people treat me and her  the same way. They look at us funny when we say “well, when I have time off I kind of like to spend it with my wife/husband.” 

This occurs more with single people. Having a life style where two people try to become one and share in all they do is a little foreign to them. I understand that. The concept is different and that’s ok that they don’t just automatically understand that (hopefully it’s less foreign after reading this blog post). I do sometimes feel that if we weren’t married, people wouldn’t think it so odd that we want to spend all this time together! As if it is less odd to want to spend every spare moment with a friend instead of your eternal companion! 

But so many others are married but they don’t seem to want to be around each other.

It’s like they don’t understand why I want to spend every spare moment I can with my wife. She’s my best friend. She’s the love of my life. They don’t seem to get it.

I can’t understand how people can have both husband and wife work different schedules and therefore never get to see each other. I don’t get how they can live like that. Time with my wife is one of those rewards of life that I value above all others. 

That doesn’t mean I don’t have friends. That doesn’t mean I don’t like spending time with them. But what it means is that my family members are my most important friends. And that’s ok.

I just wish people would accept the fact that since I want to spend time with my wife as much as I can that it does not mean I am a slave. It does not mean I am attached to a ball and chain. It doesn’t mean I don’t have freedom. It just means that I like her the most. It means that she is my favorite person to be with and if I can’t do things with my wife, then I’m not sure if I want to do them. I don’t think that I agree with the idea that husband and wife should have their own lives. Why the heck did you get married if you don’t want to be together? This might work for some, but often I just think people only think it’s working for them. Time will tell. 

Friends and family are all important. But my time is limited. And my best friend just spent all day with the crazy kids and I don’t know if I want to give up that almost one hour of one-on-one time with her. 

Just a little rant from Thomas. Peace, love, and all that jazz. 

Booyah!

Just keep learning the craft

The third in my just keep series is in some ways an extension of “just keep reading” because part of “just keep learning the craft” is “just keep reading about writing” (lots of grammar, editing, and how-to books). It also involves experimentation and getting feedback.

This step is how you transition from just a writer to a writer that keeps getting better. This separates the on-their-ways from the wannabes. 

The easiest part of this is to incorporate a steady diet of “how to write” content. You don’t want to inhale it, and you don’t have to accept everything you read as gospel, but as you read about writing your brain will start to fill with good techniques and you will think more critically about your writing.

I’ve read a LOT of how-to content. A few writers and how-to’s that are great to start with are:

That doesn’t even scratch the surface (my gosh I’ve read so many!). You definitely want to learn the tense and point of view  (POV) you’ve picked to write in (if “third-person limited past” doesn’t make sense to you, you better get reading). The point is not to read 100 how to write books and/or make a checklist of things you must read/learn before you can write, the point is to develop a consist habit of learning the craft. Be journey minded, not destination minded (that advice is useful everywhere).

One other great thing is that I reach a point when I’m sick of reading about writing and I scramble to my computer to get out my own words. It builds up until I can’t wait any longer. Others might not get this effect, but I do.

On degrees and classes… I say beware spending money on something that you could get for free. You can learn online for free. And practice is more important than study and that’s free too. Practice is one of the greatest tools to learning, and you can’t throw money at writing and expect to get good without practice. And much that you could learn in college about writing you could learn online.

Degrees are great for creating an external force to make you write, but sheesh that’s some expensive motivation! Maybe you could just work on building a good habit, or join a writing group where you have to turn something in weekly (writing groups are great for this, and I’ll do a post on those soon).

My college experience was not the greatest. Much of what I learned I could have taught myself (I have an English degree). I had one class on grammar that was absolutely revolutionary, but apart from that, yuck.

The most important thing to get from this post is this: consistently read how-to content, experiment with new things often, and read your fiction with a critical eye. Over years, you will find the principles and methods which help you to be a greater writer.

Go forth and have no fear!

Booyah.

You can’t choose to be perfect on your own

We do not have the self-contained ability to be perfect. Does our agency give us the ability to be perfect? No. It might technically give us the option, but it does not give us the power nor the knowledge.

Could Peter have chosen not to doubt when he started to sink? Technically yes, but he didn’t. And I think he really couldn’t have. He is human. He is weak. His lack of strength made him lack the drive to choose perfect faith in that moment.

Christ, when he was born, was not complete nor perfect. But, he lacked all of our inherent weaknesses and had within him every possible strength. At least the strength of perfectly relying on God. And in that strength, he only made right choices.

You will make mistakes. Remember that because you are weak, a human, and NOT a God, mistakes are inevitable. As you rely on God and continue to strive to make better choices, you will be more able to avoid mistakes. But until you are perfect they will always be there. Not because you are wicked and malicious, but because you are human. There are moments when your agency will not be enough to overcome your frailty and you will do wrong.

You can build up strength now through prayer and effort to avoid some future mistakes, but the best strategy is to not let past mistakes bother you, instead use your energy to repair the damage and to prevent future errors.

My son, perhaps technically, has the right to choose to speak perfectly, but not the ability nor the knowledge. He has no external restriction placed upon him, only internal. 

We can’t just choose to be perfect. We can choose to rely on god, and then his knowledge and power will help us to slowly go through our metamorphosis. To use this cocoon of life and hardship, and to emerge as something greater.

Booyah!