Monday, April 24, 2017

Droppin' Science

On Saturday, I went to the March for Science in Washington, DC.

Though I am the kid of a physics professor, my own field of study was Theatre (sic/ugh) and Dance (also sic; it was that small a department), and I became a secretary. But dad's influence in my life endures, of course. And also I care that our country should not impose upon itself the very Dark Ages I'm always saying are a myth.

The day before the March, I drove up to Maryland to stay with my dearest and oldest friend, The Elfin One, and her family. She and I went on our own, but not before enjoying some pretty wonderful family adventures. Starring rather a lot of science!

TEO was always the smart one between us. No very great trick when it comes to ME, of course, but she is and always was natively brilliant, and is a teacher (not of science).

Almost within minutes of my arrival at their home, the heavens burst forth, and we had a ten-minute, torrential storm. After eight-ish traffic jams making a 100-mile trip drag on for upwards of four hours, I was glad I'd missed being IN it, by that much. Still, I do enjoy a good storm. And this one came with HAIL.

Younger son and mom and I went outside to investigate the hailstones when it subsided and gave way to more sunshine than I'd seen all day. I was the one who explained the rising/falling cycle of updrafts and accumulation creating the layers of a hailstone, almost like dendrochronological rings. I also pointed out to them how the steam was rising off the street, using the spiff sunglasses TEO had commented on. Because they are polarized glasses, they cut glare. I didn't explain the mechanics of light waves and the glasses' control of same via polarization, but they're still a gee-whiz exemplar of science.

For the evening, we had a wonderful meal prepared by TEO's husband (science has proven, men can cook), and then he read one of the kids' books out loud for a while as we made our signs. I got a bit of permanent marker on my nail. It is still present, three days on. Science!

The next morning, I wore a shirt of my dad's from CEBAF - the original name of Jefferson Labs (or "Jeffy Labs" as the geeks I personally knew liked to call it when they changed the name), the national Accelerator. The shirt is a double-bonus for me, as it dates to 1991, and is Star Trek themed. Well, Star Trek: The Next Generation (probably my least favorite of the series), but it was all we had at the time.

I also wore a necklace with a few charms on it, one of which is the companion to a pair of rutilated quartz charms I once gave to my nieces. TEO thought at first this little bauble might be a tiny bottle with something in it, perhaps something of my dad (she may have feared I had his ashes with me, come to think of it, but I would not have brought that into their home, they are Jewish and that would be unguestmanslike of me). So we showed this to the boys, and I explained inclusions and we talked about how rocks have veins, something like our bodies do.

So before we even got to the march, we were SEEING (and spontaneously - we did not have to force science into the visit; and kids do get into these odd and neato things) plentiful wonders courtesy of scientific understanding.

On the Metro, TEO and I immediately found companions with the same destination. We chatted and shared signs, and this went on all the way into the city.

Off the train, it was immediately mucky. So it goes. We headed along the wide walkways I haven't trod in probably thirty years, joyously surrounded by others going the same way. That the one guy who liked our signs and suggested we get our pictures taken with the sole religious protester we saw all day looked like Pretty Caucasian Jesus was a good laugh, and of course that's my type anyway, so we enjoyed a little irony and I got to enjoy a pretty face to boot.

As for religion ... well. My dad told me all my life, he was a scientist precisely BECAUSE what G-d had built was so exciting to him he felt it was worthy to study it. Take that, kids I went to grade school with, who used to tell me my dad couldn't believe in G-d because he was a scientist. Also: ugh.

In fact, I think there were many people of faith (read: not just Protestant Christians) there. More than anything else, there were people of integrity. Belief in something greater than themselves, whether that wears the face anyone recognizes as G-d or not. We were photographed many times, and we photographed others. We saw a Nichelle Nichols sign and a Carrie Fisher sign (interestingly, I saw no male Trek or Wars character/actor signs - but I do not call my study of these signs any indicator of conclusions to be drawn; the minuscule sample would not stand up to peer review). We saw only one Lorax, but it was a good Lorax, complete with his sign, "UNLESS" ...

TEO and I were there for hours, and in the cold and rain we heard the voice of a child from Flint, Michigan, the passion of Maya Lin, good music - many voices. Our signs wilted and drooped, but stayed intact for us bravely throughout the deluge and beyond. We finally "retired" them at The Castle at the Smithsonian. Our feet were profoundly wet, and pants up to the knees. Mine were wet down to the knees as well, and my jacket (unfortunately covering up that CEBAF tee) was all but pointless by the end of the day. TEO recalled ruefully the science of wet denim and rolled up her jeans, to minimal effect. My own pants grew from about a 31" inseam, weighted down by water and textile fatigue, to something on the order of a 34". My shoes were not even dry by the time I returned home late that night. My socks were sodden. But Penelope (and her inquiring scientific nose) was fascinated by the scents of Washington, of rain, of the thousands of people's footsteps we had shared, and the several dogs we saw as well, all collected in my clothes.

But we had a brave and a reaffirming few hours. We were inspired, and people said nice things to us about our signs, and just generally. People can be lovely things, sometimes.

And so, because there was no food inside the officially-barriered confines of The March itself, when we grew hungry, we reviewed our feelings about what we'd set out to accomplish, and agreed: "we've checked the boxes." It was time to leave, even though the actual marching part was about to begin. New troops were still arriving. We exited, to leave them space. We went back up the Metro a ways, and found a good, warm sandwich to eat. And then made our way home, to shuck wet things and have a lie-down.

This is the first event I have gone to, since the election. TEO had been to the Women's March, with that younger son of hers, and many of my friends and my beloved family have been to many. I shared this event with all of them, cities away, even a continent away (one Washington and another; nicely bookended?), and perhaps most importantly my oldest, OLDEST (hee) friend and I were able to embark on this together.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Collection

Donna Everhart celebrates making it halfway through a WIP. I very, very literally have no idea what that is like - because I don't know when it is.

"(B)limey, what's that?" Simultaneously cool and creepy, BBC shows us one of the creative innovations in security, as the global definition and even concept of privacy leeches away. "The ability to choose when and how to divulge information about ourselves is one of the things that make us human, argues graphic designer Leon Baauw"

Also at BBC online, this piece of art and science history took my breath away, but do be warned, for the squeamish there exists the possibility this could take your lunch away. Have you ever heard of dissectable "Venus" waxworks? The art is incredible - but, for a historical novelist like me, the look into the psychology of another age, the attitudes, is INVALUABLE. These sculptures are eerie and undeniably lovely.

More RULES for writers! Y'all know how I love those. Still, analyses like these do yield some intriguing data. Such as: the average published author relies on about 1/4th as many exclamation points as the average amateur writer. (I am not published, but if I had ten exclamation points in both my novels combined, I'd be surprised.)

Ever since learning what vocal fry is, I have become fascinated by the science of speech. Here is a GREAT piece on hating women's voices:





"[By] propagating ideologically inspired amoral theories, business schools have actively freed their students from any sense of moral responsibility." Depressing, but certainly true. Take a look at Newsweek's in-depth piece about the ascendancy of the shareholder - a pretty good history of Wall Street and business education over the past generation.

Have you ever been to a marketplace where haggling is common? Many Americans have not, but I have smiling memories of "special for you!" pricing on a vacation or two. The Atlantic analyses some of the history - and the future - of the way we shop. Hmmmmm.

What IS "Knowing Better" Really?

Ahhhhhhhhhhh good intentions, fellla babies. They pave the road to hell, they lead us to think we're trekking toward heaven.

But then you try to choose the right way to file your taxes.






I had good intentions, not taking the bundle deal and paying the better part of $40 to my tax tool to file state taxes along with federal. $39 was a significant portion of this smaller refund, it seemed ridiculous when there are ways to file this return for free.

And then you spend two and a half hours on one of Virginia's sanctioned free filing sites, rebuilding ALL of what you did to file federal, and find in the end that the thing has hit a logical loop and cannot cope with even taking you to state returns, never mind actually filing them.




For non-US readers, the federal deadline was Tuesday, but we have a little bit longer to complete state filings. Even so, I wonder whether the tool I used today was not electro-fretting about the federal deadline (it wasn't aware that all I wanted to do was state returns). Whatever the issue was, the upshot is this: you can't create workarounds, and you can't explain to a software what you really want out of it.

The other upshot is, $39 represents less than the value of the time I have wasted on saving that amount, at this point. I'm taking the approach of not getting angry (this amount of money is not worth that amount of energy), but opting for the easy route. I took the day off to accomplish this filing, and it's stupid to dig a rabbit hole as far as the mantle of the Earth insisting upon the good intentions I had with the free-filing idea.

Because I also took the day off to get OTHER things done, and it is time to get to it.

*Hopping to it*

Woo!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

My Research is Showing - Excerpt

There are times you just have to write the scene that follows your research. It may not be an action scene; it may not quite be a character scene. And yet, it still propels things.

Re-reading a certain passage, I found myself wanting to share. Those who've read much of my curmudgeonliness know I'm not big on excerpt-ery, but I like this scene - precisely because of the research that (ahem) bore it.


Image: Wikipedia of course

It was a whole child, four-limbed, red, wrinkled, endearingly ugly. No deformities seemed present, and the mouth and ears and eyes were clear. Its cleft was clean and correct, its anus a perfect, pale pore. Zeniv placed the baby on a stone bench, and it protested lustily, screeching at the cold and indignity. She placed soft towels beneath the child and with two fingers pulled first at the child’s right arm, then its left, its right leg, then its left. The right side felt stronger; a good sign. Left-sidedness was suspect. When she held her finger before the face of the babe, its quaking arms gravitated inward toward it, but were unskilled yet to grab her fingertip. When she gently put the finger on its chin, its eyes widened a moment, and then closed. It was aware. It seemed to be healthy.

The placenta still hung off to one side, and Zeniv reached for the knife in a sinus of her apron, and cut the cord and placed the afterbirth in a bowl. She turned the babe onto her side and brought this near, squeezing the blood from her wound into the bowl as well. The child was a squalling protest, but so tiny she was easy to hold.

Twisting long fingers nimbly as she could while one hand held the infant safe, she looped a thread of wool around the stump, and tied as close as she could to the belly, pressing the protrusion back into what would become her navel.

Then to clean the child. Natron, the magic powder that preserved the dead in Egypt, was the same magic that brought the royal infant into the world. With this and the towel under the child, Zeniv softly chafed the body, the arms, the legs. In the crevices, she dipped a finger in olive oil and then in the powder, and cleaned where skin met skin. In its still-protesting mouth, she slipped the slightest bit of it across those all but translucent, toothless gums.

The baby gleamed. She was red—flesh and more flesh, from the inside of the mouth to the feet, still wrinkled and compressed from the long stay in the womb.

Last, and softest, clean, warm water. She held the infant to soak several moments, and with free fingers sloshed water over the shoulders, cradled its head and baptized the child with warm, soft water. All protesting abated; the water felt good to the child.

Still it was not complete. One last once-over, with close attention to cleaning out the openings, making sure breathing and elimination should be free. The infant princess wailed as if she were becoming tired, her arms finding direction as if to push Zeniv away. And yet they seemed also to begin to cling to her.

She put olive oil over the little swollen eyes, which closed readily enough and seemed almost ready to be peaceful, to rest. Her body moved only to emit its tiny, wheezing breaths as Zeniv completed the first ablutions with a wad of wool dipped in the olive oil, which she wrapped with a bandage around the belly to cover the baby’s navel.

Finally, the wheezing softening and the eyes closed and tight as beans, she swaddled the child and turned, at last to look to its mother.


***


I feel like it is a lot of detail, but also that it is a brief enough expositive scene it doesn't burden the flow overall. This is close to the top of a new chapter, and so is the pause before more action--action which becomes, essentially, the first pogrom in the history of Christendom. It needs to be this quiet, and it needs to be this brief before the heat, literally, builds outside the palace. (The main sentence that is probably too much scholarship is the one about Natron.)

Of course I would be extremely grateful if anyone has feedback or reactions.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Bufforty

It's weird. Being 49 doesn't wig me out, but my age in comparison to others is what gets me sometimes. Years ago, with Daniel Craig's first Bond outing: finding out I was several weeks older than James Bond gave me a turn. That one's still some cognitive dissonance for me.

Finding out today that Sarah Michelle Gellar is turning FORTY. Well. I pretty much can't deal with this at all.

Buffy indeed lives.
Image: Wikipedia, duh.


Thank heavens Tony Head is still older than I. It's the little things.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Collection

Paleoburrowing is perhaps the most winsome new word I have seen in a long time. It has a nice, soft syncopation to it, and lots of my favorite vowels. It is also connected to this neato story about gigantic prehistoric burrowing animals, and I want to see a myth or an allegory to go with the artist's renderings of what these creatures must have looked like! The tunnels they have left us are pretty impressive to see, and the implications make for ... well. Ancient, giant plot bunnies armadillos?

(I)f a 90-pound animal living today digs a 16-inch by 20-foot borrow, what would dig one five feet wide and 250 feet long?

Indeed! Writer pals, you tell me.

Still another story about the perils of The Internet of Things - care to get into potential litigation (or just become the public subject of this sort of discussion) just to open your garage door? I still don't.

Aww. My cat thinks I'm cool. But then, I didn't need Scientific American to tell me that. He's a big old kiss-up, and tells me all the time. (There is this philosophical question, though - given that I am the BRINGER of treats and food and toys, does he really like me better, or does he just cultivate me in order to keep them coming? I am also the bringer of body heat, and that's as good as a sunbeam, when the light is not available.)

Last night, I took "Salem" for a spin on Netflix, and was unimpressed both by the racism and sexism on display. Like, "how did this even get WRITTEN, much less made?" unimpressed. So I turned back to the lesser-explored corners of my queue, and tried different magic, with "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell". Much more to my liking, this even provides a fantabulous setpiece fairly early in the going, set in York Minster and starring all my favorite statues. I may need to watch that alone several times just for the myriad overlapping dialogue from every direction.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Collection

What RuPaul says about identity here resonates with me. Take a look at my header sometimes - and playing with all the colors in the crayon box? Yes. That. Full audio of the interview here.

There is so much to unpack at this link. The main article is a fascinating view, but the fact is it took me to some personal places it frustrates me nobody ever seems to give a hang about. To wit: the juxtaposition of a woman professor being mistaken for a secretary (itself a fascinating word choice, ahem) and “There are any number of little indignities that do befall female professors” is, if not personally insulting, an interesting coincidence I frankly think is not one. It’s things like this that bring me to that “except the admin” place, and marginalize my not at all insignificant career and life choices. It’s things like this that lead me not to concern myself (“enough”?) about the gender pay gap, because admins get paid less than everyone else in any office, and we’re mostly women, and that’s the bed I seem to have made. I see no interest from anyone who’s NOT an admin in this, and so it’s hard for me to get on board complaints of other women getting paid less. My entire line of work gets paid less and nobody cares but me. Why am I supposed to freak out that other women get paid less for jobs men actually DO do more commonly? Oh, because those are real jobs.

Here's a great look at the way we look at stats and studies ... and the lenses that distort what gets seen after a study.

Heh - I do love a sarcastic take on The Wrongers. Take a lovely look at all the things you are probably messing UP! Repent! Or just smirk and shrug and laugh at those who ruin perfectly simple things for the rest of us. This one is the best, for (a) the absence of the supposed content (have to click another link - hey guys, you did it wrong!) and (b) the comments. Heh.

Writerly

The WIP, currently being called Generations of Sunset, though this perhaps doesn't even qualify as a "working" title since it doesn't (*), is in fact still a thing.

I haven't had much to say about it of late, being distracted by such epochal life changes as a haircut, getting some cabinets for my kitchen, a sick puppy (who is fine now, she just gets an upset stomach now and then), a tiny travel plan or two, and the joy of watching someone I care about a lot falling for someone new. But I do still play around with WRITING.

For my writer pals who stop in here sometimes, I have a question. Have any of you ever given a character some trait that suits your purposes, more than necessarily follows reality?

I'm writing in a period when life expectancies were not what they are today. In The Ax and the Vase, the historical character Bishop Remigius of Rheims was extremely long-lived indeed, but this was true of the actual man, and indeed I used that longevity to speak to his charisma; that he was so venerable marked his holiness for the other characters. In GoS, though, I have a serving woman living a very long life.

It was perhaps easier for anyone, servitor or queen, to get in an extra decade or three, living at a royal court, as opposed to squalor or slavery outside of a palace.

Some people did of course live past thirty-five, even in the "Dark Ages" (well, or just before them). What I am doing, stretching this character across generations, isn't exactly fantasy. But the character's life is directly tied to my need of her presence in every place, at every birth, even through the deaths, through her time.

I don't ask other authors whether they've done this in order to get approval, but out of curiosity. Zeniv has to live a very long time because she is not merely important, but she views the coming of new generations, and is part of the setting, the changing world. She is one pair of eyes witnessing what may be a death (the dynasty of Theodoric the Great) or a birth (a new age, what we came to call the Dark Ages), or may just be the world as it is.

This doesn't quite rise - or sink - to the question of ethics in writerly choices, but I am curious about choices like this that other writers make.

Has any of you ever stretched the parameters of your setting, of history, or usual expectations to accommodate your needs for the story? How?


* As with so many things I think to be clever, the title is a bit of a pun. For many of us, sunset marks an ending - it is the end of the day. But we forget, that is only one way to look at things. Sunset is the beginning of the next day; your dreams are not a closing out of the day past, but the first thing in your mind before you wake to a new day.