The Strange Case of Monsieur Bertin

I subscribe to writers’ newsletters to see how they do it, to incorporate aspects I like into my own. One of my favorites is Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s Pendergast File. It’s informative, concise, and infrequent. Each issue also contains an extra something for the reader.

In June, current subscribers receive a short story that delves into the past of one of Preston and Child’s most loved characters: A. X. L. Pendergast, FBI Special Agent and main character of the Pendergast novels. “The Strange Case of Monsieur Bertin,” which Douglas Preston describes as “not so ‘short’ at all,” goes out to The Pendergast File subscribers in June.

If you enjoy a good thriller and haven’t yet encountered Agent Pendergast, this is an opportunity to meet him. And if you like him, as I do, a growing series of page-turning novels is in your future.

To get the story, subscribe to The Pendergast File before June 1.

Relic - Preston and ChildCover of Relic, the first novel in which Pendergast appears.


Learn How to Learn

“Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.”—proverb

Learning How to LearnNow you can learn how to learn from a book! Learning How to Learn: How to Succeed in School Without Spending All Your Time Studying; A Guide for Kids and Teens is available in Kindle, paperback, and audio CD.

First, it was a free Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) on Coursera offered by the University of California, San Diego. When I followed the second session in early 2015, it was a four-week course. Each week I watched a series of short lectures by Drs. Barb Oakley and Terry Sejnowski, an educator and a neuroscientist respectively, about the human brain, how it learns, and how I could more easily turn instruction into knowledge.

Then, Coursera turned it into an always-available, self-paced course. Still free and with the same content, you can sign up any time and follow the lectures as your schedule allows.

Since taking the class, I use what I learned in Learning How to Learn every day, and I recommend it to everyone, no matter your age, no matter how smart I think you are already.

Find out how exercise and sleep clean your brain and help make new brain cells (at any age!), how and when to use different modes of thinking to solve problems more easily (did you know there are different modes of thinking?), how to let your subconscious do some of the work for you (that lazy bastard!), and my personal favorite, how to beat procrastination!

Ranked the most popular online course of all time by Online Course Report, at the end of its first year it had over a million students enrolled.

In a 2015 interview for the New York Times, Dr. Sejnowski said the course’s completion rate was more than 20 percent, two times better than the average MOOC.

This week, Drs. Oakley and Sejnowski, with Alistair McConville, released Learning How to Learn in book form, aimed at children aged 10 to 17, parents, and teachers.

In their “Cheery Greetings” newsletter this week, Barb and Terry wrote:

“In some ways, this seemingly simple book goes deeper into how we learn than even our MOOC Learning How to Learn. You’ll find that this is also a great book to read together as a family. And you’ll see that even if your children are in the toddler stage, you’ll get some powerful insights on learning that will help you guide your kids in their learning as they mature.”

For adults who wonder if you've still got it in the attic, take the free self-paced course or get the book. You'll see that your neurons are in better shape than you might think, and you'll learn how to make them even better.

Give yourself a gift of learning you’ll use for the rest of your life; give your kids a gift they’ll use for all of theirs.

Learning How to Learn: How to Succeed in School Without Spending All Your Time Studying; A Guide for Kids and Teens by Barbara Oakley, PhD, Terrence Sejnowski, PhD, and Alistair McConville, New York: TarcherPerigee 2018
Kindle | Paperback | Audio CD

From Here to Paris

From Here to ParisLaid off from his Silicon Valley job, Cris Hammond bought an old barge in the south of France. He and his wife, Linda, brought it along rivers and canals all the way to Paris. You can read an account of the entire voyage in the book Cris wrote about the experience. You'll also learn about the Phaedra, an adorable 1920's Dutch barge. From Here to Paris is an entertaining ride through the locks and canals of southern France. Bill Bryson might have titled it, Up the River.

For this weekend's adventure, "Here" is the Port of Cergy. End of last spring, I went with Cris and crew to take the Phaedra from Paris to her summer berth 40 nautical miles down the winding course of the Seine. Summer's over and Cris is back in wine and cheese country. So I'm helping him with the return trip.

We have a fueling operation today. If all goes well, I hope we'll have time to visit Auvers-sur-Oise. Back in the 1860's, one of the Barbizon painters, Charles Daubigny, went up there and attracted his own group of landscape artists. Van Gogh was one. Though he lived there for only a few months before his death.

Cris and I will spend the night like sailors in port, then we cast off tomorrow for the voyage to the Port de l'Arsenal at Bastille. Cris will pilot, of course. I'm navigator. Navigator, in this case, is a big word for counting bridges and making sure the river is flowing the right direction. I get to look at the map, though, so I'm okay with that.

The Phaedra, Port de l'Arsenal

Phaedra, Port de l'Arsenal, Bastille, Paris, June 2016

James A. Owen's Meditations Trilogy

Every now and again as we go through life, something comes along to change the way we look at it. It might be a book we read or something someone says to us or a mountain-top revelation that gives us a fleeting glimpse of something bigger than we might have imagined or had ever thought possible.

Those who make miracles happenThat happened to me again last month when I heard this guy's talk at a seminar. James A. Owen is a graphic artist who has had some tough breaks in his own life. By tough breaks, I mean life-threatening breaks and breaks that might have been career-ending for a normal human. Despite multiple challenges, James is still living and he's still an artist.

Among other works, he makes graphic novels for children. When his publisher sends him out to talk to kids about his books, he talks instead about some of the obstacles he has faced, how he overcame them and what lessons he learned from the experience.

Lessons like: What we really need in life is for someone to believe in us, someone who will support us, someone who will catch us when we fall.

Lessons like: If you really want to do something, no one can stop you. But if you really don't want to do something, no one can help you.

That's the talk I heard and when I heard James tell his story, I didn't get just a fleeting glimpse of something bigger; I got a panoramic view. And it wasn’t fleeting, the view is persistent. A door opened and I stepped through it.

I see now, in very real, concrete terms, that life is not a straight line that we have to go through. It's a wide open field that we get to explore. And if we really want to do that, we just have to recognize and acknowledge our fears — those fears that keep us going along the obligatory straight line — then pluck up our courage and believe in ourselves to overcome those fears and strike out on our own. We also have to believe in, encourage and support the people we choose to go exploring with. Because those people will believe in us, they'll support us, and they'll catch us when we fall.

That's what heroes do. And we can all be heroes, if we really want to.

James has been giving that talk for several years now. A few years ago he wrote it all down in a book of meditations, called Drawing out the Dragons, which is available in paperback and ebook. Since then, he has written two more books of meditations, The Barbizon Diaries and The Grand Design. These last two have previously only been available in ebook.

James is currently running a kickstarter project to put out all three books in a nice hardcover set. At different reward levels you can get one, two or all three of them for a reasonable price.

Through Monday, you can download all three ebooks for free on Amazon (links above). Have a look at them and consider supporting James's kickstarter: The Meditations Trilogy.

And if you ever get a chance to go hear James speak, do go — and take your kids. He's a great guy to go exploring with.