A good structure for non-fiction writing

I read a fair number of books every year. Based on the stuff I’ve read last couple of years, I have observed a winning method of structuring concepts in non-fiction books. The easiest to consume non-fiction books appear to use this familiar structure to present the chapters/concepts:

  1. Start with an anecdote, or a story. The story displays, or better, ends with the concept the chapter intends to impress.
  2. Follow up with an explanation of the concept—its definition, origins, benefits, why-it-works, side-effects, etc.
  3. Reinforce with references to research, or interviews with researchers who have studied the characteristic in depth.
  4. Finish with a few more short anecdotes. Even better if these are follow-up stories to the ones in the first section, and/or lead to the concept in the following chapter.

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My cricket legacy—fractions of 6th

Growing up in India, cricket was one of the central parts of life. I am also curious, and a tad numerically inclined. So, my favourite pass-time while watching cricket while growing up was calculating run rates, required run rates and other similar fractions while watching a match on TV. This was before the live statistics on TV really kicked off.

An over in cricket is 6 balls. Calculating those averages every 6th ball ensured that I became really good at knowing the various fractions of 6—⅙ to ⅚—in decimal, and at quickly manipulating them within themselves and with other non-3-x numbers.

I don’t really follow cricket anymore. But some of this skill has stayed with me even all these years later :)

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Light, weather, and productivity—thoughts from a summer rain shower

My (home) office is in a small attic conversion. I have a large window right in front of me, and a smaller one behind. Light from the small window creates a reflection on the monitor, so its shade stays down. I like a lot of light in the room, so I prefer keeping the shade on the large window open.

The large window faces south, and overlooks my backyard. The trees on the mount provide the backdrop. When the sun is up, the south-face means it shines straight through the window, and into my eyes. There’s a cluster of trees to the east end of the backyard that stops the sun coming in early in the morning. Later in the evening, the sun dips sufficiently to the West for the light to not fall straight on me. However, if the sun is out, for most of the day it shines straight into my eyes, forcing me to close the shade—darkening the room.

…if the sun is out.

That phrase is at the centre of my paradox.

I am happier when it is sunny. I am also a lot more productive when there’s a lot of light in my room. Sadly, the position of the window means that I can’t be both.
If the sun is out, I can’t keep the window open so am neither uber-productive nor very happy.
If the sun is not out, I can keep the window open, so am quite productive, if not as happy.

This is where the seasons also make a play. In winter, the days are short, and the sun rarely makes an appearance even in those short days. This makes most people sad, including me. But this also means that I can keep the window shade open all day. This gives a tremendous boost to my productivity (and relative mood).1

In summer, the days are long, and the sun makes an appearance more often. So I need to keep the window shade closed most days—a dampener to both productivity and the mood. The mood recovers a bit from walking/running in the sun during the midday break, but productivity does suffer.

Why am I writing this now? Because I just recorded this observation.

I had quite a productive autumn-winter-spring this year. However, I have been struggling a bit to keep the work going at the same pace since the sun started showing up. However, for the last 10 days or so, we have had a fair amount of rain and rain-like weather. This has meant very little strong sun, and I have been able to keep the window shades open. Productivity has been through the roof!

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Ankle pain..

.. is a sign of weekend spent well.

Started yesterday with the year’s best time at the parkrun. Only by 2 secs, but on a very windy day.

Then walked the boys, fixed the bathroom door, almost fixed the shower holder, did a bit of weeding, and played with the boy in the backyard.

Ended the day totally knackered, with almost 18000 steps, and an aching ankle. Happy but hurt.

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2 kinds of people…

There are two kinds of people…

One kind likes to have the trash can / recycle bin on their computers empty. They take every opportunity to right click and select clear / empty trash. Emptying that trash can provides them with a cathartic release.

The other kind treats the trash can as another storage folder. It frequently has thousands of files, residing in there for months. Clearing the trash can brings to them a dreadful feat of loss—of the unknown unknown. Clearing the recycle bin is only done when system space runs low, and even then, painstakingly, on a file by file basis.

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EU elections – whom do I vote for?

2019 EU Elections

My choice is between the Lib Dems and the new Change UK group.

The Lib Dems have two things going for them:

  1. They have established brand recall, grass roots membership and party organisation,
  2. They performed the best (relative to past) of all the parties in the recent council elections.

If the council elections are a barometer, the Remain voters seem to be widely voting for Lib Dems. Combined with a relatively better established party organisation, this gives them the best chance, of the Remainer parties, of winning seats in the European parliament.

The Change UK party has one thing going for it – hope of a moderate, centrist contender.

Voting for them is a sending a message to the moderates in both parties that there’s a third way. A strong message on this may be more important as the Tories get ready to tilt further to the right once they rid themselves of their stubborn leader, and Labour shows no sign of recovering from its hard-left capture.

If Change UK win a decent percentage of the vote—and this election may be more about vote shares as a signal than the number of short-lived MEPs—then it may encourage more of the moderates in both main parties to speak up, or defect to the CUK.

I’m split. Should I…

  • Vote for a party that has the better chance of winning a probably inconsequential MEP seat, or
  • Vote for a party that has little chance of winning now, but has a chance at becoming a stronger, better force if enough people are seen voting for them?

Is Ctrl+Z handicapping us in the real world?

Has an easy undo feature trained us to work at high-speed but low focus?

When it’s always easy to undo and correct, there’s no reason to focus on getting things right, or even thinking things through before doing them.

Handwriting (or typing on a typewriter) a document meant being focused on the task because any mistakes meant ugly cross marks or rewriting the page.

Similarly, working with physical objects – in a carpentry class in college, or cooking a simple dish – required strong focus. A wrong cut in a wood slab meant a wasted slab or a hacked joint. A dish could end up overcooked or unsalted.

But when working on a computer, any errors due to a lack of attention can easily be rectified with a simple undo, removing the need for full focus in the moment.

As we (I) spend more of our time—work and leisure—on computers, we may have trained ourselves to expect the undo feature everywhere.

This mental training (‘all errors are undoable’) creeps into our non-computer activities and interactions. We may be forgetting to stay fully focused in the moment, to think ahead (before we speak/do), and thus may be becoming more inefficient/incapable than before.

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In praise of a paper receipt

Surrey library receipt

It is so well contained – shows all the information that is important, and none that isn’t.

There’s a short header with logo, timestamp and my member id.

Then, right up front in the first box, it shows the book that I just borrowed, when it’s due for return, and any associated fees.

In the next box it lists the books I already have out on loan, with due dates for each1.

In the final box it shows any fees that I have outstanding. In this case it is £1.50 for two books that I had reserved (75p each).

Then there’s a concise footer reminding members that books may also be renewed/reserved online2 (how I do it), and over telephone (for digitally disinclined).

That’s all. Simple and sufficient.

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