Lead Us Not Into Division, and Deliver Us from -Isims

The holidays are a perfect time to gather your friends and family for wonderful celebrations and endless political and philosophical debates.

Actually, I love debating philosophy year-round, but the holidays are an even better time to get into those deep, controversial topics. Your guests aren’t going to leave while they’re eating delicious sweet potato casserole, now are they?

All joking aside, it’s not the intellectual dive into complex problems that creates drama among otherwise pleasantly agreeable people. The culprit in most disputes is division by firmly held dogmatic belief, or -isms. Communism, socialism, libertarianism, liberalism, conservatism, or pretty much any other word that has ism at the end is likely a belief system that applies a very limited set of core beliefs to a wide-ranging set of issues.

We often come down on one side or the other, dividing a complex situation into only two possible solutions. Isms drive us to do that, and that’s the problem.  That’s what creates the divide, and encourages non-participating family members to indulge in a second glass of wine to drown out the noise of the contentious debate. In the American election of 2016, long-time friends and couples have separated over these strong divisions. And yet if you discuss each issue without the preconceived political bias, most reasonable parties will at least form some workable consensus on the way forward to deal with the problem.

Just like no scientific theory can adequately explain every problem mankind has ever had, no political or philosophical system can handle even a majority of the real world issues that we encounter. While deeply held beliefs may drive your motivation or shape your answer to problems, the actual implementation is generally milder, more compassionate, and more complex than the simple, one-line memorized answers that people shout in debates.

The popular meme of “Taxation is theft” distills an extremely complex problem into a meaningless dribble of fact that offers no solutions to the problems that taxation tries to solve.  Is taxation theft?  You bet, from some.  Others are fine with paying, though we all pay taxes whether we like it or not. But by removing taxation do we solve all of the problems that taxes help to resolve? Not remotely. Conversely, simply taking tax money from the rich and giving it to the poor is the same kind of brute force thinking that solves nothing and actually exacerbates the problem it tries to resolve.

Dispense with the isms and listen to one another. By working together, you can usually arrive at an imperfect, yet workable solution.  The real world demands complex answers, discourages division, and won’t be soothed by the common platitudes that isms so easily dispense.

I Hate Having to Block Ads

I’ve long despised having to block ads because I know that many of the sites I visit depend on advertising revenue to survive. And with the recent Huffington Post article that states that 77% of people feel guilty about blocking ads, I know I’m not alone. I feel guilty for blocking ads. As a content creator myself I realize that doing so is partially shooting myself in the foot, but the risks outweigh the benefits in an unfortunately high number of cases.

If I feel guilty, why do I continue to do it anyway?  There are several reasons:

  • Many sites have so many ads that either makes the site nearly unusable.  The site jumps up and down on a mobile browser, refreshes or flickers incessantly on a desktop browser, or is so cluttered that it’s hard to tell what is content and what is advertising.
  • Some ads try to deliver malware or crapware.  Some even try to force the window to stay open either in an annoying or downright abusive manner.
  • Some ads display offensive images.  I’m not talking about nudity – I’m talking about massive abscesses, medical abnormalities, and so on.  If I’m trying to read the news, I don’t want to see massive butt-crack.

I do unblock ads on sites that I really care about, and I subscribe to YouTube Red through my Google Music service to support the content creators that I enjoy.  I don’t expect anything for free.  But I do want to view a usable site and I don’t want an ad to try to infect me with a virus just for reading an article.

If 77% of people feel guilty about blocking ads but do anyway, its time for content creators (and advertisers) to wake up and understand why their revenue streams are dwindling. They clearly have a large majority of visitors who are willing to support their work but unable to justify the security risk to their devices and serious usability issues that can completely disrupt the experience. I hope that this will motivate websites to reduce and optimize their advertising displays. I strongly suspect that they will receive higher click-through rates if they showed more meaningful, less obtrusive ads.

Having Car Trouble is Not a Capital Offense

In the past day or two I have seen a lot of excuses being made for the death of Terence Crutcher.  They range from:

  • If he had only followed orders
  • He shouldn’t have stopped in the middle of the road

Both of these are akin to the age old excuse of “She should have just kept her legs closed”, or “She might not have been raped if she wasn’t wearing such provocative clothing.”

When asked if traffic violations should result in summary judicial execution, I’m left with either blank faces, “wow”, or incessant stammering.  The excuses themselves ring hollow and smack of thinly veiled love of big government authoritarianism.  It’s really that simple.

I’ve asked the people who have made these excuses how they feel about small government.  They love it.  They want the federal government to shrink to about the size of a pea.  They don’t mind their state and local governments being ridiculously large, though, and they are apparently OK with traffic offenses (especially ones like having a tail light out) resulting in immediate judicial execution without due process.  And some of these same people are the ones I’ve seen complain about Obama violating the constitution.

The cognitive dissonance here is overwhelming.  If you want to Make America Great Again, then you must start by granting its citizens as much liberty as possible.  To do that, you put no one above another.  Not one person should be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process.  No one should be shot dead in the streets unless they have a weapon and intend to do harm to others.  These are not things that the constitution gives one inch on.  This is not a matter of interpretation, and this certainly isn’t something that is dependent upon the color of your skin.

What will it take for all Americans to understand that when one person’s rights are trampled, we all are gravely injured.  We used to understand that – our founding fathers not only held these truths to be self-evident but enshrined their very love of liberty into an imperfect, yet inspiring form of government.  We benefit from these brave men’s vision every single day.  Let us not tarnish it by spilling the blood of its citizens.


Awesome Map Predicting Peak Foliage

I bet you can’t say “predicting peak foliage” 5 times really fast!

Everyone loves fall.  Even the people that don’t love fall like it because it would be wrong to do otherwise.  The slight chill in the air, Thanksgiving, Halloween, seeing women go nuts for pumpkin spiced everything.  But we can’t forget the single most defining feature of autumn: absolutely gorgeous trees!

I’m blessed to live in an area with a lot of trees.  We’re just minutes from the Natchez Trace Parkway, home to some of the most beautiful fall foliage you will ever see.  When the trees hit their peak in October, it is a challenge to keep your eyes on the road.  I’m certain that the stunning fall scenery has been at least a partial reason for some unfortunate auto accidents.

Check out the fall foliage prediction map to see when the beautiful colors of fall will grace your neck of the woods.  The trees are just starting to turn in the northeastern United States and Rocky Mountain areas, and in the next few weeks the sea of brilliant hues of yellow, orange, and red will gradually work their way down the map.

Be Efficient With Your Time

American poet Delmore Schwartz said that time is the fire in which we burn.

We are all given a fixed amount of time on this wondrous blue marble floating about in a seemingly insignificant corner of the galaxy.  So it’s our duty to make the most of it.

One of the benefits, and curses, to working for yourself is that the time you do have isn’t structured for you.  It is incumbent upon you to either set a schedule or devise a system that works for you so that you can get things done. There are lots of systems out there – too many to count or even reference, and its unlikely that you’ll find one to perfectly suit your needs or situation.  Given that, I will explain my process and time management methodology and hopefully you’ll find something in it that works for you.


I used to use Microsoft Outlook, but I find Gmail a far better mail management system, especially if you’re used to the ticket workflow like I am (an email comes in, you deal with it, then archive save it when done).  I don’t believe in relying on free email accounts, so I pay the paltry (and well worth it) $5 a month for my own custom domain email.

For note-taking I use Microsoft OneNote.  While I generally shy away from using proprietary software, I have to admit – OneNote is the best.  It’s free, or a free part of Office 365.  That’s another $10 a month, but certainly worth it.  I get 5 copies of Office and a lot of space on OneDrive that I never use.  But OneNote alone is worth the price of admission.

To-Do List

I don’t really keep a to-do list anymore.  Instead, I use email as my primary task list.  If someone gives me something to do, I will ask them to send me an email.  It lets them provide all the details that are needed, and then it inserts directly into my preferred method of keeping my tasks straight.

I keep my inbox as clean as possible.  Anything more than 20 emails in my inbox means that I’m not filtering things as well as I should be.  When an email comes in, as long as its not SPAM, I try to follow the 2 minute rule.

The Two Minute Rule

I use the two minute rule on tasks – can I do it in 2 minutes?  If so, then I do it right then if at all possible, even if it isn’t super important.  By quickly clearing small tasks out of my way, it lets my mind stay focused on the larger ones.

Larger tasks are generally contained in emails, but sometimes they are so large that they become a OneNote folder.  I still try to tie it to an original email, though.


For tasks that require ongoing consultation with a client, email sometimes isn’t the best choice.  If items don’t require time-sensitive input, or messages are just between two people, email can do fine.  But when you start adding multiple people or have some real-time communication, email begins to falter.  In that situation, I use Slack.  Slack is like an IRC channel for the web that also has attachments and other neat features like in-browser notifications, guest invites, multiple channels, and more.  It’s perfect for business users, but some freelancers might find it valuable as well.

Other Software

I use Google Docs quite a bit, as well as Telegram for chatting.   I find that Notepad++ makes a fantastic text and code editor.  WordPress is great for keeping a blog, either public or private for internal notes that you want to share.  I know you can share notes with OneNote, but if the user doesn’t have a Microsoft account or isn’t familiar with OneNote, it can be quite difficult to integrate with them.

I hope that some of these tips and tricks will help you manage your time more efficiently and be more productive.  If you have any questions, let me know in the comment section below.

Managing My (Writing) Sex Life

Since humans are so naturally obsessed with sex, you would think that writing a sex scene would be quite easy.  I mean, we all fantasize about various scenarios – why not put one of those down on paper (with a few modifications, of course)?  Why is it so difficult to write a good sex scene?

Some have it easier than others. For me, writing a sex scene has always been difficult – not because I didn’t know what to say, but rather for me it’s always about going to far. Giving too much detail. Almost two decades of corporate technical writing and marketing copy will stiffen you up, and not in a way that is conducive to writing sex scenes, I assure you. When your sex scenes start to sound like a technical whitepaper, you know there’s something wrong.

Throughout my trilogy there were numerous sex scenes. In the first book, The Bravest of Souls, the one sex scene that did exist was so passive that the two characters involved could have just as easily been sanding a hardwood floor. I love the story that I wrote, but I fully admit that that the sexual tension in the beginning between the two characters was sorely lacking.  I made up for it in the next two books, but even then, my wife and a female editor had to coax out more detail and emotion from my technical sex scenes.

My fourth book involves some sex as well. I’ve repeatedly pointed out that I do not write romance novels, but romances do happen in my stories because they are just a natural part of life. And so yet another boundary must be shattered – calling my scenes romance is difficult for me. They are not erotic, but they CAN be erotic if I allow them to be. Any good sex scene is erotic, but it doesn’t have to be the focus of the book. Then it would be a romance novel, and that’s just not my interest.

So what is the secret to writing a good sex scene?  I’m still learning the answer to this, but I want to give you some things I’ve learned:

Drop Your Inhibitions

Writing a sex scene is extremely exposing. Even if the scenario you are writing is complete fiction and is not based whatsoever in reality, you are still bearing your most private thought processes to the world. This is intimidating, but you must let this go. By freeing yourself from the stigma that you, and only you, place upon yourself, you will not only write a better scene but you’ll also be more free in other aspects of your writing.

Be Realistic With Clothing and Avoid Anachronisms

Unless it’s a planned event, most people are not dressed for sex. Your female characters likely have mismatched underwear and your males have not been working in a field all day with oiled muscles. It isn’t necessary to divulge that your female characters’ legs may not have seen a razor in the past 3 months, but keep the realities of life in mind when staging an unexpected scene.

Nothing will break a period piece narrative like an anachronism.  If you are writing in a time period other than today, it’s important to adjust the sexual attitudes of both your male and female characters for the time in question. Don’t ruin your medieval tromp with a porn-inspired scene riddled with modern terminology.

Don’t Be Afraid of Detail

This is my biggest problem – detail in sex scenes.  There are limits, of course, but in general: the more the better. Don’t be afraid to elaborate on something interesting. Since you don’t have the benefit of a screen to project your story, you have to fill in the dots so that your reader can have a good mental image of what is going on.

Sex is Emotional, But…

Your sex scene should have a large dose of emotion.  If it doesn’t, then it truly is erotica. Which is fine, if that’s what you’re going for, but even good erotica is going to have some level of emotional involvement between the characters. If you’re heavy on the details but light on the emotion, then your narrative is going to feel hollow. Consequently, if you focus entirely on the emotion and sacrifice details of the physical actions taking place, you will end up with a very sweet, romantic hardwood floor sanding scene.

Learn from Others

There’s always someone that has more experience in something than you. My wife forwarded me I Give You My Body… How I Write Sex Scenes by Diana Gabaldon and I instantly snapped up the Kindle edition. Anytime you can get advice from someone for $2.99, take it! There are numerous other articles on this subject and a quick Google or Bing search will yield plenty of results. I wouldn’t recommend doing this from work, though.

Now Go Write Something

Remember, everyone has sex.  It’s how you got here. Even if you were born in a test tube, there were people who really tried hard to bring you into existence. Don’t shun this vital part of being human in your writing!

Welcome to the Jeweled Woods

Thanks for stopping by!

First off, I should formally introduce myself.  I’m Robert W. Oliver II, writer, blogger, programmer / IT guru, and amateur musician.

That’s where the formality ends.  I promise!

I have spent so much of my life as an entrepreneur that it’s been difficult for me to open up and show a more personal side to my public existence.  I started my primary business in a day where the personal connection was shunned.  Putting your best corporate foot forward was considered essential, and the intimate detail that is now so common for, and frankly expected, by millennials in the brands and businesses they consume was shunned. Now all of that has changed, and I am faced with the choice of being the curmudgeonly old man at the ripe age of 36 who says “Get off my lawn!” at these whippersnappers, or roll with the flow and connect with the public in a more personal way.

I’m not just doing this because its the in thing to do.  Those that know me well (and if you stick around for a while you’ll gradually move to that category) know that I do not do things because they are popular.  Sometimes something being popular detracts me from doing it (just ask my wife about my overwhelming meh about Game of Thrones).  No – I’m doing it because I think I’ll like it, and I hope you will too.

So what’s with the name, Jeweled Woods?  It’s from the book trilogy I wrote, The Bravest of Souls. It’s a fantasy forest where the trees are stuck in a sort of permanent autumn, casting a beautiful array of colors ranging from the typical yellows and reds to more vibrant purple and blue hues. The light that trickles through the canopy creates a surrealistic, stained glass tint to the air that puts any Instagram filter to shame. Nearly everyone who has contacted me about the book talks about how they’d love to visit the Jeweled Woods, so I thought it’d be an appropriate name for a blog.

I am so thankful that my readers take the time to open my books and dive into the universes that I love to create, so I feel that  I owe it to them, and myself, to open the book that is me a bit more and let the world inside.

Yes, I ended that last sentence with a preposition.  I’m already starting to be rebellious!  This is going to be fun.