What the GPS Device on Antoine Jones’ Jeep Cherokee Means for Internet Privacy

Yesterday the Supreme Court ruled on United States vs. Jones [PDF of court opinion], a case in which the FBI/DC police placed a GPS tracking device on the Jeep Cherokee of Antoine Jones, a club owner in DC who was suspected of dealing cocaine. The cops tracked Mr. Jones for 28 days, and, based on that evidence (as well as a CCTV camera pointing at the club door, a pen register (*) and a wiretap on Jones’s cellphone), charged him with conspiracy and possession with intent. Jones appealed, saying that the GPS data should be inadmissible since it was collected without a warrant.

The Supreme Court held up the ruling of the DC Court of Appeals in a unanimous 9-0 decision, saying that a) this was a search b) a car is a person’s property, or “effects”, and thus affixing a GPS to the undercarriage of the car violates the Fourth Amendment. From the ruling:

It is important to be clear about what occurred in this case: The Government physically occupied private property for the purpose of obtaining information. We have no doubt that such a physical intrusion would have been considered a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment when it was adopted.

What’s interesting here is that there was a 5-4 split on why the Justices ruled as they did. Justice Sotomayor, writing a concurrent opinion, wrote, “When the Government physically invades personal property to gather information, a search occurs.The reaffirmation of that principle suffices to decide this case.” Since the government had invaded property, the Justices did not need to evaluate any of the other principles that this case brings up.

And there are many principles that this case brings up. Sotomayor talks about many of them: what about electronic surveillance if no property was trespassed upon? What about the chilling effects of potential long-term electronic surveillance? What about the fact that GPS monitoring gives far more specific information, and is far easier and cheaper, than traditional visual surveillance? What about the fact that this data can be stored and mined later? She writes:

I would take these attributes of GPS monitoring into account when considering the existence of a reasonable societal expectation of privacy in the sum of one’s public movements. I would ask whether people reasonably expect that their movements will be recorded and aggregated in a manner that enables the Government to ascertain, more or less at will, their political and religious beliefs, sexual habits, and so on. I do not regard as dispositive the fact that the Government might obtain the fruits of GPS monitoring through lawful conventional surveillance techniques… I would also consider the appropriateness of entrusting to the Executive, in the absence of any oversight from a coordinate branch, a tool so amenable to misuse, especially in light of the Fourth Amendment’s goa lto curb arbitrary exercises of police power to and prevent “a too permeating police surveillance.”

But most awesomely, Sotomayor then goes on to critique the third party doctrine. This says that if you disclose information to a third party (whether that’s your sister, Google, or Ma Bell), you have no reasonable expectation of privacy governing that information, and the government has a right to access it. As Sotomayor writes, “This approach is ill suited to the digital age, in which people reveal a great deal of information about themselves to third parties in the course of carrying out mundane tasks” like checking email, signing up for Facebook, or buying a pair of shoes online.

In a concurring opinion, four other judges agreed with the majority ruling, but not the use of the property doctrine to decide it. Instead, Alito, Ginsberg, Breyer and Kagan seem suspicious of electronic surveillance overall. In Alito’s concurring judgment, he mentions GPS, road CCTV cameras, electronic toll collectors, and, most interestingly, cell phone location data as potential invasions of privacy. He laments that Congress and state governments have done little or nothing to regulate the use of this data by law enforcement.

I think the SCOTUS is itching for a fight on digital privacy. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with similar cases in the future.

* Don’t get me started on pen registers. They track what numbers you call, and have the technical capability to track where your cellphone is and even your text messages. Yet the standard for ordering one is much lower than, say, wiretapping; the potential surveillee just has to be part of an ‘ongoing criminal investigation.’ Even more worryingly, Chris Soghoian has documented that law enforcement makes tens of thousands of requests to phone companies for cell phone location information. Requests to internet companies for location information are not even subject to the pen register standard; all they need is a subpoena.

What’s the difference between SOPA and PIPA?

I decided to put my slightly-dormant internet policy research skillz to work to figure this out. It was surprisingly difficult. Most stop PIPA/SOPA websites conflate them– but they are different. (Note: The best resource was an article I found at Area 51 Technologies.)

#1: SOPA’s a House bill, PIPA is a Senate bill.
SOPA = House of Representatives
PIPA = Senate

The Senate tends to be older and more conservative than the House, meaning that it’s more likely to be completely clueless about the internet. That’s not good.

#2: PIPA has a greater chance of passing.

SOPA has gotten so much guff that it’s temporarily off the table. PIPA, on the other hand, has been relatively ignored and so is much farther along in the process.

#3: They are essentially the same “anti-piracy” bill, but with a few different provisions.

Both PIPA and SOPA focus on “foreign rogue websites” (e.g. the Pirate Bay, Wikileaks) that facilitate piracy. And they both establish systems for removing websites that the Department of Justice decides are “dedicated to infringing activities.”

PIPA does NOT have a provision that requires search engines to remove these “foreign infringing site[s]” from their indexes. SOPA does. And it’s been highly criticized.

PIPA does seem to require more court intervention to take down a site– that’s good, right?– but it DOESN’T have any provision that penalizes a copyright holder for making a false claim of infringement. In other words, a Big IP company can claim that a site is infringing, drag it through hella expensive litigation, be proven wrong, and the site can do nothing about its costs incurred in the process. SOPA DOES include a provision that penalizes copyright holders who do this “knowingly,” including making them liable for damages and legal costs.

#4: They both require DNS blocking.

Because this has been protested not only by civil rights groups and internet enthusiasts, but engineers and computer scientists who say that DNS blocking will damage internet infrastructure (like, say, the Domain Name System itself), the sponsors of SOPA and PIPA have agreed to strip this from both bills. They claim that this will eliminate much of the current opposition. (See related technical whitepaper. [PDF link])

The bills share many other odious traits, which are summarized by Katy Tasker from Public Knowledge in this handy chart:

Chart of the differences between PIPA and SOPA. The two bills are essentially the same.

Ultimately, PIPA and SOPA are not particularly different. They are slightly textually different versions of the same legislation– supported by the entertainment industry and, for the most part, heavily opposed by the technology industry (including us at SMC). If at this point you still haven’t called your senators or representatives, you can easily do so at americancensorship.org.

Using Off-the-shelf Software for basic Twitter Analysis

Mary Gray, Mike Ananny and I are writing a paper on queer youth and “Glee” for the American Anthropological Association’s annual meeting (yes, I have the greatest job in the world). This is a multi-methodological study by design, because traditional television viewing practices have become so complex. Besides traditional audience ethnography like interviews and participant observation, we are using textual analysis to analyze episode themes, and collected a large corpus of tweets with Glee-related hashtags. This summer, I worked with my high school intern, Jazmin Gonzales-Rivero, to go through this corpus of tweets and pull out useful information for the paper.

We’ve written and published a basic report on using off-the-shelf tools to see patterns and themes in large Twitter data set quickly and easily.

Abstract:

With the increasing popularity of large social software applications like Facebook and Twitter, social scientists and computer scientists have begun developing innovative approaches to dealing with the vast amounts of data produced and collected in such environments. For qualitative researchers, the methods involved can be daunting and unfamiliar. In this report, we outline some basic procedures for working with a large-scale Twitter data set to answer qualitative inquiries. We use Python, MySQL, and the word-cloud generator Wordle to identify patterns in re-tweets, tweet authors, dates and times of tweets, frequency of hashtags, and frequency of word use. Such data can provide valuable augmentation to qualitative inquiry. This paper is aimed at social scientists and humanities scholars with limited experience with big data and a lack of computing resources to do extensive quantitative research.

Citation:
Marwick, A. and Gonzales-Rivero, J. (2011). Learning to Work with Large-Scale Twitter Data Sets: Using Off-The-Shelf Tools to Quickly and Easily See Tweet Patterns. Microsoft Research Social Media Collective Report, MSR-SMC-11-01, Cambridge, MA. [Download as PDF]

If you’re a seasoned computer scientist or a Big Data aficionado, the information in this paper will seem quite simplistic. But for those of us without programming backgrounds who study Twitter or other forms of social media, the idea of tackling a set of 450,000 tweets can seem quite daunting. In this paper, Jazmin and I walk step-by-step through the methods she used to parse a set of Tweets, using free and easily accessible tools like MySQL, Python, and Wordle. We hope this will be helpful for other legal, humanities, and social science scholars who might want to dip their foot into Big Data to augment more qualitative research findings.

Citation:

You’re the Manager but I’m the Mayor: Understanding Foursquare Check-ins in Claimed Venues

Get Microsoft Silverlight

This talk is by Germaine Halegoua, one of our fantastic interns this summer and a brand-new Assistant Professor at the University of Kansas. She outlines her findings from her summer research project, about the location-based mobile service Foursquare.

The presentation includes preliminary findings and analysis from an ethnographic study of Foursquare users in the Boston area, focusing on their relationships with “friends” as well as “claimed venues” on Foursquare. This project aims to investigate how and why managers of Foursquare’s claimed venues and their patrons use location-based services; what relationships are forged between vendors and customers via Foursquare; how participants understand their own participation and the audiences for their actions; as well as attitudes about locational privacy and the meaning of location announcement over these networks. Some of these findings reflect information flows, practices of listening and responding, and relations of power that are relevant across other social network sites as well.

If you’re interested in LBS, this is a great introduction to some academic thinking on the topic.

Watch the full talk here.

What We’re Reading

We’re a diverse bunch here at the SMC, but what we have in common is that we are nerds who read a lot. I went on office patrol to find out what my compatriots have selected as their August summer reading.

danah boyd

Books danah boyd is reading
Parenting out of Control: Anxious Parents in Uncertain Times, by Margaret Nelson
“It’s a phenomenal examination of two different common parenting strategies and their class dimensions.”

The Cookbook Collector, by Allegra Goodman
“It’s so relevant even to today. Through fiction, [Goodman] shows the different players from different angles seeing the dot com boom and crash play out. I think in the tech industry, we tend to forget about these different angles.”

Danah is also reading The Wind-Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, a critically-acclaimed steampunk/dystopia. She and I share a love for YA, sci-fi, and YA sci-fi.

Kate Crawford


Behavior in Public Places: Notes on the Social Organization of Gatherings, by Erving Goffman
“It’s a classic, but nobody’s read it. Eytan [Adar, visiting researcher] and I are using it to think about the London riots.”

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
“Danah recommended this, because the theme of cell propagation is bizarrely relevant to [the paper they’re working on about] Big Data.”

Eytan Adar

Books Eytan is reading
The Taming of the American Crowd: From Stamp Riots to Shopping Sprees, by Al Sandine
“I bought this but haven’t read it yet. It’s for Kate and I’s project on the London riots.”

The Magician King, by Lev Grossman
“If you want junky books, I just finished the Magician King. I’m actually looking forward to the sequel. ”
I also just finished this, so I responded that a) it was written by the book critic for New York magazine and therefore is de facto not junky, b) it was a lot better than its predecessor, “The Magicians.”

Heather Castells


Paying for Sex: The Gentlemen’s Guide To Web Porn, Strip Clubs, Prostitutes & Escorts – Without Humiliation, Job Loss, Bankruptcy, Infection, Bloodshed Or Incarceration, by Kerr Fuffle and Roscoe Spanks
“Danah and I found this on Amazon. It’s a self-published guide for people who want to buy sex with escorts and prostitutes and how not to get caught. We wanted a better view of what the demand side looks like in human trafficking.”
Me: Is it written from a male perspective?
Heather: They say in the beginning of the book that it’s aimed solely at men.

Laura Norén

Books Laura Noren is reading
Look at Me, by Jennifer Egan
“I allow myself to read fiction in the summer. I loved the Goon Squad.”

Personal Connections in the Digital Age, by Nancy Baym
“This relates to research I’m doing. I’m excited for the chapter on communities and networks, because I think it’ll be relevant to my project on food blogging. I’m also excited for the chapter on authenticity, which apparently everyone has trouble pinning down.”

The Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places, by Sharon Zukin.
“I did not like this. It’s primarily about authenticity in the East Village and Red Hook, and I live in Red Hook.” Note: Laura also goes to NYU which is pretty much in the East Village. “I got my hopes up, meaning it was easy to disappoint me. It didn’t do quite what I thought it was going to do. On the other hand, it did help me understand how personal an experience of shared space is.”

Alice Marwick


Note that these are fake quotes from me, since I don’t talk out loud to myself, at least not usually

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
“I stayed up til 2 am last night finishing this. It’s about video games and 80s nostalgia in a dystopian future. I couldn’t put it down.”

Gender Circuits: Bodies and Identities in a Technological Age, by Eve Shapiro
“I’ve been working on a book chapter about gender and social media and really struggling. The snippets of this book I found on Google Books convinced me to buy it. I’m hoping it comes from Amazon tomorrow.”

What Technology Wants, by Kevin Kelly
“I haven’t started this either, but I’m interviewing Kevin Kelly next week and I’m pretty intimidated. I hope reading his latest will help me put together some non-idiotic questions.”

What are YOU reading?

Behind the Meme: People’s Champion

SMC alum Alex Leavitt posted this fantastic documentary on his Tumblr. It’s a behind-the-scenes breakdown of the infamous Eli Porter rap battle, which got like 4 million YouTube hits and has been referenced by Kanye West and T-Pain, among others.

People’s Champion: Behind the Battle from Trent Babbington on Vimeo.

As Alex wisely says:

“I could say a lot about this documentary, about race, class, school life, discrimination, subculture, celebrity. And about the power of the internet as a network for recontextualization. But it really boils down to this: “There’s so much about it that’s dope, in a non-laughing-at-him kind of way. There’s something about him that I really want to listen to, regardless.”

My fascination with internet celebrity is well-documented and I’m pumped to see more stuff like this. What’s it like when something you’ve made, or been in, has the visibility of a network television show? What is it like when people know you, but you have none of the traditional trappings of fame to protect you?

Anyway, this is excellent procrastination fodder as it’s only 30 minutes long and very funny. The producers are trying to Kickstart Part II.

“If you don’t like it, don’t use it. It’s that simple.” ORLY?

We’ve had a controversial week here at SMC, with both danah and Bernie jumping into the fray over Real Names (TM) and social network sites.

I’m not engaging with that mess, but I am interested in the response to it. Over, and over, and over again, when anyone– academic, pundit, journalist, blogger, regular person without a fancy appellation– criticizes social media, you’ll see a plethora of comments like the following (real comments from various things we’ve written with names removed):

“How dare you write software and give it to me for free under terms with which I disagree? That’s an abuse of power!”
No, it isn’t. Get your sense of entitlement under control.

The solution is rather simple – don’t join Facebook.

The internet is a big place. There’s room for all kinds of social networks. You don’t have to join every one of them.

It’s common, and easy, to say “just don’t use it.” There’s actually a term for this– technology refusal– meaning people who strategically “opt out” of using overwhelmingly prevalent technologies. This includes teens who’ve committed Facebook suicide because it causes too much drama; off-the-grid types who worry about the surveillance potentials of GPS-enabled smartphones; older people who think computers are just too much trouble; and, of course, privacy-concerned types who choose not to use Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, websites with cookies, or any other technology that could potentially compromise their privacy. (This does not include people who can’t afford internet access or computers, or who live in areas without cell towers or broadband access.)
Continue reading ““If you don’t like it, don’t use it. It’s that simple.” ORLY?”

Setting Norms

We have a mailing list set up for current and former members of the SMC, where some very productive conversations take place. Recently, danah asked for recommendations for academic work about how social norms are created and maintained (preferably involving technology, but not necessarily). “Norms” are the behaviors and standards considered acceptable by a particular social group.

We know that norms get established around certain technologies, which gets complicated when different groups using those technologies have different norms of use. Here’s a quick example. On MySpace, “thanks for the add” graphics were common. When a new person added you, it was expected that you would go to their profile and thank them for adding you. E.g. this beauteous graphic:

tacky animated glitter gif reading thanks for the add

In other social groups, this was considered beyond tacky and irritating. The cacophony of images and sounds on MySpace contributed to people fleeing to Facebook, where “thanks for the add” graphics have never caught on, and posting random images on people’s walls isn’t done much at all. We can assume that many of the same fervent “thanks for the add” graphics enthusiasts are on Facebook today, but haven’t re-established the practice.

So how do these norms get established? Danah’s question brought up some interesting literature. Here’s a sample, with brief snippets of why they were recommended:

Social Norms Suggested Reading
in alphabetical order

Elijah Anderson’s Place on the Corner. [Google Books Preview]
From Amazon: “a study of street corner life at a local barroom/liquor store located in the ghetto on Chicago’s South Side. Anderson returned night after night, month after month, to gain a deeper understanding of the people he met, vividly depicting how they created—and recreated—their local stratification system.”

Albert Bandura, Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1986).
“Presents a comprehensive theory of human motivation and action from a social-cognitive perspective. This insightful text addresses the prominent roles played by cognitive, vicarious, self-regulatory, and self-reflective processes in psychosocial functioning; emphasizes reciprocal causation through the interplay of cognitive, behavioral, and environmental factors; and systematically applies the basic principles of this theory to personal and social change.”

Christina Bicchieri studies social norms. Her book, The Grammar of Society: the Nature and Dynamics of Social Norms (Cambridge University Press, 2006), covers “how norms may emerge and become stable, why an established norm may suddenly be abandoned, how is it possible that inefficient or unpopular norms survive, and what motivates people to obey norms. In order to answer some of these questions, I have combined evolutionary and game-theoretic tools with models of decision making drawn from cognitive and social psychology. For example, I use my theory of context-dependent preferences to build more realistic evolutionary models of the emergence of pro-social norms of fairness and reciprocity.”

Bourdieu’s Logic of Practice [Google Books Preview]
Covers “how the practical concerns of daily life condition the transmission and functioning of social or cultural forms.” Bourdieu’s concept of habitus, “the set of socially learnt dispositions, skills and ways of acting, that are often taken for granted, and which are acquired through the activities and experiences of everyday life” [definition shamefully taken from Wikipedia] is generally very useful. Two other books that I’ve read that take up Bourdieu’s concept of habitus and elaborate on it are Phillipe Bourgois’ “In Search of Respect” [Google Books Preview] (an ethnography of a crack house, basically) and Lois Wacquant’s “Body and Soul” (a boxing gym) [Bootleg version found on Scribd].

Georges Canguilhem’s The Normal and the Pathological. [Summary notes]
It’s a very difficult read, but he talks in detail about how the “normal” and the “deviant” (pathological– he’s focused on medicine & biology) are constructed through the production of knowledge.

Harold Garfinkel’s “Studies in Ethnomethodology” (a 1967 classic). [Google Books Preview]
Several of us are big fans of this work, which focuses on how people produce shared senses of reality (norms, etc.). How do we understand what is “common sense”? How are social norms reinforced? Christian Sandvig wrote a great post on this blog a few days ago where he talked about Garfinkel’s “breaching experiments.” Christian and colleagues have come up with a series of “social media breaching experiments”, or experimenting to figure out what’s taken for granted or expected on different services like Flickr, Facebook and Twitter.

Anthony Giddens’s theory of structuration [Wikipedia page]. Outlined in “The Constitution of Society,” [Google Books Preview]
Giddens tries to work out the relationship between macro/micro or “structure and agency.” Society is reproduced through repeated micro-actions by individuals.

Kulick, D. and Schieffelin, B. (2007). “Language Socialization.” In A Companion to Linguistic Anthropology, ed. Alessandro Duranti. Malden, MA: 349-368. [PDF]
This is great work on how social practices are “framed, keyed, and constituted through speech and other expressive resources” (from Bambi Scheiffelin’s “Acquisition of Cultural Practice” syllabus– I was lucky enough to take a class with her at NYU).

Lave and Wenger, Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation [Google Books Preview]
From this approach, norms exist in the social practices that people learn as they come to participate in a community of practitioners. (Note: I don’t think you can finish graduate school without being assigned this book at some point. It comes up all the time in discussions about learning, teaching, norms, socialization, practice, etc.)

Elinor Ochs. Ochs is a linguistic anthropologist in a similar tradition as Bambi Schieffelin and Don Kulick’s piece above.
A nice recent sample of her work is “The Cultural Structuring of Mealtime Socialization “[PDF link] which looks at how shared mealtimes are used to socialize children. She has a great book with Lisa Capps, “Constructing Panic“, which looks at how one woman continually re-constitutes her identity as an agoraphobe. Links to many of Och’s publications are available at her website.

Ev Roger’s Diffusion of Innovations [Google Book Preview]
The classic B-school book on how new ideas are created & spread through society. Includes a lot of solid Comm theory and popularized the term “early adopter.”

Lucy Suchman, Plans and Situated Actions: The Problem of Human-Machine Communication [Google Books Preview]
Suchman writes, “By situated actions I mean simply actions taken in the context of particular, concrete circumstances.”

Ann Swidler (1986) “Culture in Action: Symbols and Strategies,” American Sociological Review, 51(2), 273-286.[PDF link found through Google]
Abstract:

Culture influences action not by providing the ultimate values toward which action is oriented, but by shaping a repertoire or “tool kit” of habits, skills, and styles from which people construct “strategies of action.” Two models of cultural influence are developed, for settled and unsettled cultural periods. In settled periods, culture independently influences action, but only by providing resources from which people can construct diverse lines of action. In unsettled cultural periods, explicit ideologies directly govern action, but structural opportunities for action determine which among competing ideologies survive in the long run. This alternative view of culture offers new opportunities for systematic, differentiated arguments about culture’s causal role in shaping action.

Michael Warner, The Trouble with Normal [Google Books preview link]. In 1999, Warner argued that establishing gay marriage as the major issue for queer activists risked shaming and pathologizing certain types of sexual behavior while reifying others.

Zerubavel’s “Social Mindscapes: An Introduction to Cognitive Sociology” [Google Books preview link]

Zerubavel illuminates the social foundation of mental actions such as perceiving, attending, classifying, remembering, assigning meaning, and reckoning the time. What takes place inside our heads, he reminds us, is deeply affected by our social environments, which are typically groups that are larger than the individual yet considerably smaller than the human race. Thus, we develop a nonuniversal software for thinking as Americans or Chinese, lawyers or teachers, Catholics or Jews, Baby Boomers or Gen-Xers. Zerubavel explores the fascinating ways in which thought communities carve up and classify reality, assign meanings, and perceive things, “defamiliarizing” in the process many taken-for-granted assumptions.

What did we forget?

How to Write a Book

The title of this post is presumptuous, because I haven’t written it yet.

I have a book contract for my dissertation. Yay! Cheers! What every graduate student dreams of while slaving away over their hot word processor, eyes glazed over as they attempt to wrangle the methods section into submission for the umpteenth time. And I’m very lucky and psyched about it. But now I’m faced with the task of actually writing the book.

This is my third major writing project. The first was my MA thesis (200 pages). The second was my dissertation (500 pages). (I also wrote a very bad NanoWriMo novel in 2002 which shall remain hidden forever.) Clearly, my problem is not actually WRITING. The problem is GOOD WRITING. And GOOD WRITING only comes from butt in chair focus, day after day.

So here are my tips for those of you struggling with book-length projects:

1. Write every day. Even if it’s only 200 or 500 words. I got a job while I was writing my dissertation so I had to compress a year’s amount of work into four months. I set myself a very aggressive goal of 2,000 words a day, which I usually made. The advantage of writing every day (even if it’s only a few paragraphs) is that it keeps the project in the front of your head and your consciousness all the time, and it prevents the dreaded “I’m scared of my book/dissertation so I don’t even want to open the .doc file ” problem, which is what REALLY causes trouble.

During my diss, if I made my 2000 word count I considered myself done for the day and rewarded myself with a trip to the library to take out more YA books, an iced coffee, or what have you. Those of us writing while still working or juggling other projects probably can’t skive off like that, but the idea is there: you don’t need to work on something for 12 hours a day, day in and day out, to make it happen.

(Some people do hourly goals, but I find it’s too easy to spend that time rewriting a few pesky sentences or staring off into the distance.)

2. While you’re working on your daily goal, do not do anything else. This includes: Facebook, Twitter, cleaning your kitchen, wandering over to the refrigerator to see if anything tasty has appeared there since the last time you looked, reorganizing your iTunes library, taking a pair of shoes to the cobbler, falling into a Wikipedia k-hole, etc. There are a lot of tools you can use for this purpose. SMC affiliate and all-around nice guy (Dr.) Fred Stutzman wrote a piece of software called Freedom which will cut off your internet access for X amount of time so you can write. There’s also a great Firefox extension called LeechBlock, which will block a list of websites for an allotted block of time. I use it to block Tumblr, Go Fug Yourself, and anything else potentially fun from 10-12 and 1-6 every day.

3. Use the Pomodoro Technique to keep yourself focused. A pomodoro is a tomato, in this instance, a tomato-shaped kitchen timer. (I do not use a tomato. I use a Windows desktop gadget called “Work Break Cycle Timer”. I’m sure there is something sexier for the Mac. You can also use your cell phone.)

picture of a tomato-shaped kitchen timer

Set the timer for 15 minutes. Work straight until those 15 minutes are over. Then take a FIVE MINUTE break– here’s your opportunity to check that fridge again. Then get back to work. 3 pomodoros = 45 minutes of work. You can extend the amount of work time as your concentration progresses. If you get in the zone and don’t want to stop, don’t. This is super useful if you’re terrified of a certain task and will do anything to avoid working on it. 15 minutes isn’t very long, and usually that’s enough to make you realize that it’s not that scary and you can do it.

4. Stay positive and have faith in your abilities. After writing a few chapters I noticed a cycle:

– Research.
– Research. OMG what an idea, I am a genius.
– Writing.
– Writing.
– Writing. OMG this is a disaster. My ideas are ridiculous. This chapter is a tangled mess. I am a failure.
– Writing.
– Writing.
– Writing. OK, this is decent. I’m happy with it.

You need to get through the “OMG this is a tangled mess” phase. Just trust that you’re smart enough to figure it out. Because you are!

5. Carry around a notebook or a piece of paper, and sleep with it next to your bed. I woke up out of a dead sleep in the middle of the night and wrote down the entire outline for my third chapter. I had an idea for a thesis statement while crossing the street. If there’s something bugging you, you WILL figure it out. It just might need a few days to percolate. Talking problems out also helps. I often find that just by trying to clarify my thoughts to someone else, they become more clear to me, as well.

6. Finally, I switched from Word to Scrivener for this project. Scrivener is a program specifically designed for writing novels, non-fiction books and screenplays. I am probably one of the only Word fangirls out there, but Word kept hacking up my manuscript because it was too big. Scrivener is good for moving around sections, reorganizing stuff, writing things in the margins, and they finally released a Windows version (I’m also a Windows 7 fangirl). Scrivener is a bit fiddly, and I’d recommend reading the tutorial. I’m also not very excited about its Zotero integration (e.g. there is none), but I’m willing to overlook this because it’s so much better than my old method of Word + a million “notes” files + OneNote.

So GOOD LUCK! And with that I’m going to spend the next hour working on the book.