Alexander Jablokov

 

I'm a writer, mostly of science fiction, with a new novel, Brain Thief.

The name is pronounced Yablokov, and the legal name is Jablokow.  My best friends can't spell or pronounce it, so you shouldn't worry about it either.

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Write me at alexjablokow [at] comcast.net

I'd love to hear from you.

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"How Sere Picked Up Her Laundry", Asimov's Science Fiction (upcoming)

"The Forgotten Taste of Honey", Asimov's Science Fiction, October/November 2016 (out now)

"The Return of Black Murray", Asimov's Science Fiction, April/May 2016

"The Instructive Tale of the Archeologist and His Wife", Asimov's Science Fiction, July 2014

"Bad Day on Boscobel", The Other Half of the Sky.

"Feral Moon", novella, Asimov's Science Fiction, March 2013

"Since You Seem to Need a Certain Amount of Guidance", Daily Science Fiction, November 6, 2012

"The Comfort of Strangers", short story, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, January/February 2012

"Blind Cat Dance" reprinted in Gardner Dozois's Best Science Fiction of the Year 28

"The Day the Wires Came Down", novelette, Asimov's Science Fiction, April/May 2011

"Plinth Without Figure", short story, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, November/December 2010

"Warning Label", short story, Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine August 2010

"Blind Cat Dance", short story, Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine March 2010

Brain Thief, a novel, Tor Books, January 2010

 

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Reboot blog

 

Tuesday
Dec062016

In praise of slow media

After the election, I decided to take some time off from up-to-the-minute news. I paused my New York Times delivery (yes, sonny, I do still read ink on paper, want to make something of it?), cut down on blog reading, and stuck to the Economist, The New York Review of Books, and a few other journals. And books. Remember those?

And, after a few weeks, there are a couple of weekly podcasts I have resumed.

So what's been going on? I know there have been tweets. One of the TVs by the squat racks at the gym is tuned to CNN when I go. The high-cheekboned Brooke Baldwin is always looking startled or appalled by something, but the sound is off, so I am never quite sure what it is. But it seems to often involve a tweet by the President Elect.

(The other TV, by the benches and dumbbell racks, is tuned to one of those sports shows where everyone does stylized commentary kabuki about what some sportsball player has just done or might soon do or should do and why everyone else on the show is utterly wrong about what this person did or might do or should do--they all seem to have an extraordinarily good time doing this, but I can't hear them either).

If someone had had the sense to choose the term burp rather than tweet, our lives would be much the better.

My vacation from the Gray Lady will end soon. I've finished Francis Fukuyama's The Origins of Political Order, and will take a break before attacking the second volume, about political order since the French Revolution. One big topic is the inevitable decay of political institutions, and how they often continue long after circumstances  have changed and they are no longer useful, but are propped up from the groups that continue to benefit from them. Until there is a crisis and they fall over like a stage set.

Somber thoughts. But that is my topic for this winter: functional institutions, the nature of political legitimacy, and how we, as feeble individuals, should act in the long term to make this world a better rather than a worse place.

 

Thursday
Dec012016

My anti-akrasia tools II: to-do lists and next actions

Task management: Toodledo

There are various arguments against the whole concept of a "to do" list, and some are pretty persuasive. Still, if I don't have tasks written down and in a place I can find easily, I will forget them. For this, I use Toodledo.

There are a variety of to do list apps, of course. I don't classify things much, I don't have levels of criticality, and I like things simple. I like opening up my phone and seeing what things I decided (at some point) needed doing. By me.

I am a big fan of David Allen's Getting Things Done, like a lot of people. I'm not going to go into it, but I like it because it is simple, doesn't require a lot of upfront classification, and really does work, if you do it (the weekly review is my big weakness, again, like a lot of people). Toodledo allows me to label things as Next Action, and that's pretty much all I need.

Not that I don't have a lot of overdue tasks. But I can look and see what I haven't done. As long as I haven't gone crazy and added a huge number of overambitious projects (which I, like all those other people, have done), it is clear, workable, and always with me.

Part I: anti-distraction tools

Friday
Nov252016

My anti-akrasia tools I: minimizing distraction

My name is Alex, and I am a procrastinator. I avoid emotionally charged, tiresome, or long-term tasks, and have bad emotional relationships with them. When I am avoiding an important task, I am easily distracted.

"Akrasia" is the term us fancy-ass people use for when we deliberately and knowingly act against our own best judgment. It's from ancient Greek, and so gives our blog-post reading a retrospective air of classical severity.

I'm not alone in being a procrastinator, certainly, but I do have certain behaviors that have been a burden on me since at least junior high school.

As our modern interactive environment has provided more, easier, and more satisfying distractions, it has also provided tools for structuring our mental processing so that we can more successfully achieve our goals.

Note: there are a variety of procrastinations, and some of these may work better for you than others. I will list the ones I currently use, why I use them, and what effects I think they have.

Distraction elimination: Cold Turkey, Leechblock, StayFocusd

I work on a computer that is connected to the internet. To prevent myself from randomly surfing, which I am more likely to do when I'm tired or the task is challenging, I use Cold Turkey. I know which sites I am most likely to try to distract myself with. Cold Turkey lets you make a "block list" of those. When I want a block of working time, I turn on the block, and can no longer get access to any of those sites, on any browser.

I have the paid version, so I also have a more severe list, which blocks every site, with a few whitelisted exceptions (mostly things related to my freelance business, so I can still work with leads, schedules, or invoices). It also lets me block specific applications. There are a few games on my computer that are good distractions, so I can lock myself out of them for a specified period.

Sometimes I forget I've blocked sites and try to goof off using one. Cold Turkey will give you an image of a nebula and an inspirational quote. "Either you run the day or the day runs you" is the one that just came up, because I have it on right now, to get this post done.

 I've also used Leechblock, which is Firefox-specific, and StayFocusd, for Chrome. Leechblock will let you set how many minutes per hour (or whatever interval you specify) you can goof off, which can be a bit less harsh. StayFocusd also lets you browse for some limited time, but has the additional feature that sites you get to by clicking on a link in a block list site will count against your time--it warns you about this. So, if you've said you'll only be on Facebook five minutes an hour, and you click on one of those news stories, that story will still count against your time.

I used to rely entirely on Leechblock, but am currently finding Cold Turkey both more flexible and more severe. It has various more severe options, like locking you out of your computer completely for some specific period of time, that I don't use.

And that's where you need to make your choices. I find that once I put a blocker in place, I am not tempted to circumvent it. My urge to goof off is everpresent, but a bit of resistance reminds me of what I am supposed to be accomplishing, and I usually accept it. Your urge to distract may well be stronger.

Some people wanting to lose weight can leave a box of cookies on the counter and not be tempted to eat them until after dinner. Some might need to hide the box in a drawer, but won't open the drawer. Some need to put it in a container that takes some time to open--I've seen food safes with timers. And some may need to ban cookies from their house for the duration of their diet because they'll find themselves breaking into the safe with a hacksaw (in which case a diet is probably not the best long-term solution to a weight concern, but that's a different issue).

So the severity of a site and application blocker will have to match your own self-control profile. I use mine daily, and it makes a difference to my productivity. Actually, it just dinged to tell me I can goof off online again, so I'm done with this post.

 

Monday
Nov212016

Hiding out, educating myself about the (possible) apocalypse

As I mentioned in my last post, I am busy trying to learn about political theory, something that has not exercised my mind much previously. But I suddenly see all that is solid melting into air (and, yes, I am quoting the Communist Manifesto, why do you ask?) and realize that my default assumption that the system that made us all rich, secure, and long-lived will continue for the forseeable future, is completely unwarranted.

I've not become a prepper, or anything like that. In fact, I suspect that preppers are part of the group seeking to throw their shoes into the machinery, because what's the point of prepping if everyone else is living a happy, secure life?

But part of my spiritual preparation is a bit of a media diet. I got too interested in the minutiae of polls, who said what ridiculous thing, what possible consequences there could be to that thing that might happen if something else happened first...it's ridiculous. The ratio of information to packing peanuts has gotten too small for me to even bother opening the box. For the next while, I'm sticking to The Economist, and some historical grounding from whatever thoughtful observers I can find.

 

Monday
Nov142016

Getting into political theory

I've never been taken any classes in political theory. Or political practice, for that matter. How polities are best structured, what institutions help make you rich, what other ones lead to stagnation or eternal conflict, how even originally good institutions decay over time, what makes people accept a government as legitimate, how people can take the stability of their society for granted until it all dissoves around them....

Well, for some reason, I am thinking about those things now. My current reading is Francis Fukuyama's The Origins of Political Order, the first of two volumes, this one covering the history of state building up to the French Revolution.

Thick, dense, and tremendous fun, so far. He spends a great deal of time on China, and a lot on India as well, and lets the Roman Empire kind of take care of itself.

One big theme is the negative effects what he calls patrimonialism has on state building and strength. Loyalty to your relatives is natural. Successful states are, by that token, deeply unnatural. They break the link between family and political authority. He posits that feudalism in the West, essentially a contractual relationship, formed a stable base on which more complex polities could be built. There is certainly a lot of the personal in feudalism, as there is in any relationship between people. But it started the West down a road where the important thing was office and not person.

I don't want to oversimplify. Fukuyama gives a good deal of attention to what characterized each type of government, how it grew out of its circumstances and history, what expectations people had of the systems under which they lived, and how, inevitably, changing expectations weren't met by the existing system.

How the Mamelukes and Ottomans built successful systems based on giving political power to high-status slaves (to eliminate the risk of patrimonialism), only to have these systems eventually fracture as these successful slaves found ways to pass their wealth and power on to their descendants, may seem to have little to do with our current troubles, but seeing how many different ways there are to deal with a recurrent problem is definitely enlightening. It's easy to be distracted by the immediate details. What are people really after? How different is that, really, from one age to another? What mechanisms slow people down from destroying the system that benefits them so much? I won't say prevents--nothing has ever prevented societal collapse.

I'm not done yet, and need to think it through once I am, but there is a lot to like about this book.