Thursday, October 31, 2013

Why I Started Writing

I don't believe I have ever told, here at least, the story of how and why I became a writer.  And doing so was inspired by a tweet I received on my Twitter account (see picture at left).  I was asked "what got you started in this wonderful field?" and I replied "Legos."  Which while both true and accurate, is not the complete story.

In circa 1966 I received a set of Legos for Christmas.  It was a pretty extensive set for the time, with wheels and lots of blocks and different pieces.  At that time they did not give you instructions (at least I don't remember any).  Now they have a picture on the box of what you're supposed to make and instructions.  I think that's just stupid.

Anyway, the first thing I remember doing with my Legos was building cars, trucks, airplanes, helicopters and making up stories about the worlds I built.  (My mother once observed that while I preferred making vehicles, other children seemed to build houses; even then I liked fast things.)

Meanwhile, I was a television junky.  I loved TV even though we only had two channels in southeastern Idaho (we got a PBS station around 1973 and finally an ABC affiliate around 1976).

I loved stories.  I loved watching them on TV and I loved making them up with my Lego worlds.
When I was about 12 I decided I should write my stories down.  I taught myself how to type using my older sister's high school typing manual and "borrowed" my older brother's typewriter.  I'm assuming whatever I wrote in those days was pretty jejune.  Nothing has survived, as far as I know (thank God).  But I kept writing,, for almost 40 years I kept writing, working on it off and on as I went through the stages of my life, including 20 years in the business world.

It took me nearly 20 years to finally be published, and now I have four books published (and 6 written, but we won't talk about that).  I'm working on a science fiction novel now.

And that's why I started writing: Legos.

Which is interesting because I'm sure my parents never had any idea that Legos would lead me to writing.

Monday, October 28, 2013

NaNoWriMo . . . Not!

Friday is November first and that means it's the start of NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month).  The object is to write 50,000 words of a novel (can be a complete novel or part of a novel) in the 30 days of November.  You're not supposed to start the novel, however, until November 1st.

I tried to do NaNoWriMo in 2011.  I did it unofficially on my own because at the time I was not part of any organized writing group.  The result: I wrote about 30,000 words in November, hit a research wall (i.e, I needed more research to go on), and it ended up taking me about five months to write the approximately 81,000-word novel which became Book of Death.

But, in the spring of this year, I wrote an 77,000-word first draft in 35 days ending March 23rd (the final draft was 88,000 words).  That's about 66,000 words in 30 days which obviously exceeds the NaNoWriMo goal.  I just did it in February and March instead of November.  That novel, Gods of Strife (sequel to Book of Death and part of the Adept Series) is at my publisher.  So, I can write 50,000 words in 30 days if I want to.

Last Friday I went to my local writers' group's NaNoWriMo kickoff gathering.  I learned more about NaNoWriMo than I knew before (I first joined the writers' group in December of last year).  And I know, now, what the goal and philosophy of NaNoWriMo is.  And, to be honest, I have some problems with it, now.

They have you sign an "Agreement and Statement of Understanding" which states, in part:
During the month ahead I realize I will produce clunky dialogue, clich├ęd characters, and deeply flawed plots.  I agree that all of these things will be left in my rough draft, to be corrected and/or excised at a later point.
In other words, the goal of NaNoWriMo is to just get words down on paper (or hard drive).  I realize some people need this.  They even talked about "locking up" your inner editor that tells you that what you're writing is crap.  Just keep writing!  They say don't go back and edit/re-write.  Just keep writing!  Don't worry if what you are writing is actually crap.  Just keep writing!

I see some validity in this.  Some people just need the push to write without their self-doubt stopping them.  But some people need their self-doubts because they aren't very good.  Combine that with the ease of publishing these days, and a lot of crappy NaNoWriMo books are being published because people are forgetting the next stage: edit and polish your work.

For example, the Gods of Strife first draft was written in 35 days.  But there was over three months of editing, proofreading, beta reading, and just plain re-writing before I thought it was ready to be submitted.  Yes, you may write 50,000 words during NaNoWriMo, but you have probably 3 months of work to do polishing it into something decent.  Don't forget that step.

There is some validity to the NaNoWriMo philosophy.  I keep seeing a quote attributed to Hemingway: "Write drunk, edit sober."  Pounding out 1,666 words per day is pretty much writing drunk.  Also a quote attributed to Hemingway: "Everything is shit in first draft."

But a lot of NaNoWriMo participants forget that, and go ahead and publish their crappy first draft, which reflects badly on all authors, especially those independent authors who actually strive to put out a quality product. (Seems I've discussed this before.)  NaNoWriMo, to me, encourages bad writing in the name of JUST KEEP WRITING.  It does not teach new writers the skills they need to make their work good.  It's quantity over quality.  And that's never a good combination.

So this year I'm in the middle of a work in progress (WIP).  It's tentatively titled The Black Hole Treasure.  My goal is for it to be at least 60,000 words long.  As of this moment it is 37,855 words long.  For NaNoWriMo I promised to produce 30,000 words on this WIP (which is not what you're supposed to do).

For the new writer who needs a push to actually write, I see NaNoWriMo can have some usefulness.  For me, I write anyway and I don't need prodded to write.  My inner editor is alive and well and tells me when I need to fix problems.  But I have not given it the power to stop me from writing. 

Sure, sometimes months go by when I haven't been writing.  But NaNoWriMo is not going to make me write more.  So while I'm sort of doing NaNoWriMo, I'm not doing it, really.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Lucky Hat is 5-1

Last night the Washington Huskies beat California rather handily. It was such a blow out that we put our second string in during much of the 4th quarter.  The final score was 17-44, Cal making a touchdown against what I assume was our second string defense.

The Huskies needed this win and if they didn't win, their season was pretty much over.  For one thing, they'd lost three in a row, including an unexpected slaughter at the hands of Arizona State last week.  And for another thing, Cal is the worst team in the Pac-12 going into this game with a 1-6 record, and that win against an FSC team (Portland State).  So if the Huskies lost, it would be a disaster.

Lucky Hat
But they didn't lose and I think it's my lucky hat.  Okay, I don't really, but the lucky hat is 5-1 now for
this season and the one loss was when a bad call cost us a chance to win.  One week ago I was at a Toastmasters convention when the Huskies were manhandled by Arizona State and I wasn't wearing the hat (nor watching the game).  Two weeks ago I was at a writers' retreat and still not wearing the hat nor watching the game.  So I blame the hat.

Okay, not really, after all, I try to think scientifically.

The Huskies are now 5-3, but only 2-3 in conference.

The Huskies' regular season records since Steve Sarkisian became head coach are:
2009: 5-7 (coming off a 0-12 year under Coach Ty Willingham)
2010: 7-5
2011: 7-5
2012: 7-5

Are you seeing a pattern here?  I was hoping this year for a 10-2 record, figuring we'd be very lucky to beat the Phil Knight Ducks, Stanford, and UCLA but might beat one of them.  So far we've lost to Oregon and Stanford and ASU.  If we get lucky and beat UCLA that means a 9-3 season.  If we lose to UCLA (which seems likely, I hate to say) and beat everyone else left, that's a 8-4 season.  Not much of an improvement over the past three years.  One unlucky loss and we're back at 7-5.

In college football there is no draft system.  And success garners success.  The more successful your team is, the more likely you can attract great players.  If you're not so successful, you have to look for that diamond in the rough that other schools might have missed but you think can be a Jake Locker or a Bishop Sankey.

The Dawgs have some great players (such as Sankey) but they are rough around the edges still.  Penalties were much fewer last night but there was one stupid one that cost us a touchdown.  And quarterback Price is a senior so this is his last year.  We'll probably make it to a bowl (if we can't beat Colorado in two weeks after a bye, we're really in trouble) but we won't be ranked again unless we manage to beat UCLA.

One thing is for certain: I will be wearing the lucky hat!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Guest Post, Voss Foster, Author of Zirkua Fantastic

Voss Foster
Today we are happy to host Voss Foster, author of the new fantasy novel Zirkua Fantastic:

Immersion is a part of the circus experience, and a strong visual impact is one of the key elements of immersion. When you go to a circus, everything is just a bit different, at least… and sometimes more than a bit. A huge tent, usually in bright colors.

Make-up and costumes are a huge part of it. Traditional circus colors are vibrant reds and golds, because the red immediately catches the eye, and the gold feigns opulence The costumes, in their complexity, are also a clear signal that you're no longer in the outside world. You're somewhere entirely different, where people wear top hats and tails and spandex body suits.

For Zirkua Fantastic, I wanted something with a little more majesty. Instead of being way out there, impossible to miss colors, I tried for a level of elegance with maroon and silver for the tent.

With costumes, I was more lenient. More often than not, I tried to work with black, white, and grey. Simple colors that wouldn't interfere with the performances, but that would still draw in the eye. Things like a full, white tuxedo, or the huge, black and white form of Madame Zerga.

When you cross the threshold into that big top, everything should shift. That's what I tried to achieve: from page one, I wanted the reader's world to shift just a little to the left.

Zirkua Fantastic has been steadily running since 1753, amazing its
patrons with acts of otherworldly skill and prowess. But that talent
comes at a steep price: each artist must give a year of his or her
life to the circus. None of them know why, only that the circus'
owners will go to whatever lengths are necessary to ensure it. Toby,
the hoop dancer at Zirkua Fantastic and son of one of the owners, is
content with his life: he enjoys performing and Zirkua's wandering
life, and even has a boyfriend among the circus' hawkers. But when a
new artist arrives, bringing with him a strange flask and a number of
odd occurrences, Toby falls face-first into the truth behind the
circus: Its contracts bind King Jester, the immortal embodiment of

Zirkua's performances and contracts have held King Jester prisoner for
centuries, but now something's amiss. King Jester's sister, Dragon,
has escaped her own bonds and is working to free her brother, and his
power is growing. If he is loosed on the world, it will mean the worst
war in human history and the end of civilization... unless Zirkua
Fantastic can find a way to stop him.



As the caravan rambled down the interstate, Tobias rolled onto his side. The prop wagon wasn't the most comfortable. He'd have to opt out of practice to sleep once they got the tent up. No hope for that here.

He tossed aside the air silk he'd been using as a blanket and sat up, looking around, listening to the truck's tires thud across potholes and cracked pavement. He checked the straps holding the crates, tightened one that had loosened on the drive. "Crap." If one came loose, others could, too. He pushed himself off his stack of crates and toppled when they hit a particularly nasty bump. "When was the last time they fixed up this road?" He dragged himself up and stumbled toward the rear door of the truck, cranking straps tighter as he went. Once he got used to the movement, he sped up, tightening down all the cargo in fifteen or twenty minutes. Only the first strap had come loose.

Wood scraped against wood. His heart beat faster, breath catching. He scanned through the truck. Nothing had moved, to his eye. "Just another bump." Palm pressed to his chest, he tried to force his heartbeat back down to something normal. "Nothing to worry about."

He sat back on his crates and wrapped himself in the air silk. Sleeping or not, he needed a barrier against the cold and, though he would never admit it, it left him feeling safer, more protected against whatever probably wasn't in the truck with him. He scanned the boxes a final time, just in case he had missed something.

Still nothing out of place. Not that Tobias could see much in the dark. He tossed the silk over his head and lay down on the crates, desperate for some semblance of sleep. He sucked in a deep breath. The silk smelled like tobacco.

He heard some kind of rustling and flipped the silk back over his head. Cerulean eyes filled his gaze. The familiar, heady scent rushed into his nostrils. "Marley."

"You sound surprised."

"A little." Marley lifted the silk and climbed in next to Toby, snuggling up so close his scent filled the cocoon. Nice to have you here. "I mean, this is an artist's wagon. It's not really the sort of thing you do."

He chuckled, hot breath cascading over Toby's back. "That's not quite true." He kissed Toby's neck, sending a chill racing along the corded muscles. "I end up in the prop wagon most nights."

"Do you?" He did his best to sound unfazed. In reality, he fought back warm, nervous laughter. "I'd think I would have noticed."

"Well, you did this time."

"So I did." Toby scooted closer, relishing in Marley's warmth. "And I'm very happy about it." He leaned his head against Marley's chest. The slight movement of the fabric wafted more of the intoxicating perfume into the space. "How much longer 'til we get to the next town, you think?"

"I'd give it an hour. Maybe a little more. If I'm any good at guessing distance." Marley pulled Tobias even closer. "You need to get some sleep, babe."

"Not if it's only an hour." He turned over and nuzzled into Marley's shirt, staring up into bright blue eyes. "I'd still be completely useless with only an hour's sleep." He yawned, and then slapped Marley across the arm. "Stop being so damn warm." The end of the sentence got muddled by a second, gaping yawn. "It's like sleeping with a space heater."

"You can't blame me for being hot. In fact, I remember you thanking me profusely on more than one occasion for it."

"Well, it's not very helpful when I'm trying to stay awake."

Marley chuckled. "Then get off."

He nestled closer in response, muttering into Marley's chest. "It's not that unbearable."

Marley wriggled his hand under Toby's chin, lifted his face, kissed him. "I figured that much."

Get your copy of this exciting new novel from Voss Foster here.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Diminishing the Brand

I'm kind of weird.  I like things a lot of other people find difficult and/or boring.  For instance, I like math (I'm just not very good at it).  I like science.  And I have a deep autodidactic interest in economics. 

You know that scene in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, with the economics teacher played brilliantly by Ben Stein?  This scene.  Not only did I know all the answers to his questions, I wanted to listen to more!  I have taken one 200-level economics course in college but because of my major that's all I could fit in even though I found the subject very interesting.  Also, I've read economics books (mostly for general audiences) and every book nearly I can get my hands on by economists Walter E. Williams of George Mason University and Thomas Sowell of Stanford.  So I probably know a bit more about economics than the average Joe ("Ricardo's Principle of Comparative Advantage, anyone, anyone?").

So, I need to get a bit esoteric here (and don't let the scary chart above scare you).  In economics there's the law of supply and demand.  Basically it relates how supply (the amount available of something) affects its price.  Lots of supply means low price (like salt; I think I last paid 10 cents for a thing of salt).  Not much supply: high price (like diamonds).  So if there is a lot of something available, the price of it is going to go down.  Remember that for later.

Now, there is a principle in business and marketing called "diminishing the brand."  If, for instance, Lexus put out a $15,000 econobox car, it would reflect badly on their $100,000 cars.  It would "diminish the brand."  Doesn't matter if the $100,000 car is still just as good as before, people would perceive it differently.  This is probably one reason why the Volkswagen Phaeton flopped in the U.S.  Who's gonna buy an $80,000 car from the people who brought you the Beatle?  (Yes, I've now combined two of my loves: economic and cars, sorry about that.)

So here's where you as a writer should care.  There are 1 million (about) books available on the Kindle because the costs of publishing on the Kindle run from zero to not very much (depending on how much work you do yourself).  That has increased the quantity of books available.  And by the laws of supply and demand, the price of all books, even those not self-published, have to come down.  Also, buying a self-published Kindle book is a bit of a crap shoot.  You could end up with a Yugo (to continue the car analogy) or a Lexus.  Or better yet, a BMW (a bit more passion than a Lexus).

I suspect a great deal of the self-published (i.e., "indie") books on Kindle and other formats (including paperback), are pretty mediocre.  Well, you've got half a million or so indies, they can't all be brilliant undiscovered diamonds in the rough.  So people are expecting less from writers and our brand, so to speak, is being diminished by a huge supply of not-very-good books.  The supply has gone way up so the price is being driven down (as low as zero in some cases).  The quality has gone down too, so the brand "author" has diminished and this, too, has driven prices down.

I don't have a solution.  Amazon reviews help (but some indies get their friends and families to leave a bunch of 5-star reviews while I get a 2-star review because someone doesn't like my writing or something).  Even if you have a bunch of 4 and 5-star reviews, your brand is being diminished bythe shear quantity and low quality of other "authors."

And it seems those who sell the most books are not those who write the best books but are best at promotion (which might be sour grapes on my part because I seem to suck at promotion).

Podcast Interview

Today you can hear me being interviewed for a podcast by Brian LeTendre.  Brian does a great interview and it was a lot of fun and I think you'll have fun listening to it.  Well, except maybe the goofy guy talking about his writing.  Oh wait, that me.  The podcast is available on Brian's blog.  The interview starts at 5:29 into the podcast.  Boy, I hate listening to my own voice.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

eBook Giveaway

I am, at this very moment, at 1,943 followers on Twitter.  At 2,000 followers I'm going to give a free ebook to one of the last 100 followers (of which there are already 43).  The ebook will be one of my four published novels in either Kindle (mobi), Nook/iBooks (epub), or PDF format.  The lucky winner will be chosen at random so you have a 1 in 100 chance of winning.

Good luck!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Huskies are Unranked

For the past two weeks I have not been able to watch the University of Washington Huskies play football wearing my lucky hat and one of my two jerseys (purple for home games, white for away).  And the last two weeks they lost, badly.  The week before I was able to watch them play Stanford, ranked #5 at the time before their loss to Utah, and I believe a bad official call cost them a chance to win that game.

Two weeks ago I was at a writers' retreat and unable to watch as they played Oregon.  Now, admittedly, Phil Knight's money bought the Ducks the #2 team in the nation.  I didn't really expect them to win.  But I hoped they wouldn't get slaughtered.  The score was 24-45.  That's pretty bad.  That dropped the Huskies to #20 in the rankings.

But this week we played Arizona State.  ASU was briefly ranked #22 in week six but a loss at Notre Dame dropped them out of the top 25.  I was not worried.  The Huskies had proven themselves capable.  With the win at Illinois they seemed to have broken the away-game curse (having not won an away game for ages before that).

I, again, didn't watch the game.  I was at a Toastmasters conference out of town.  I did my best to follow the game through Siri on my iPhone.  I was not happy.  This was not what I expected nor wanted.  It was as if the Huskies of old were back.  I got a bit of teasing about what a huge Husky fan I am but I pointed out that I hung through the Willingham era.

The final score was 53-24.  I don't know what happened.  I didn't see the game.  I wonder if they were so beat up by Oregon they came into this game already defeated.  I don't know.  I do know my dreams of a 10-2 season are gone.  Best now would be 9-3 (and we still have to face UCLA which is currently ranked 12th).  And as a result of this game, the Huskies dropped out of the top 25 (and will be lucky to get back in, unless they beat UCLA in some miracle).

And the horrible, horrible thing is, Washington State has a better record than the Huskies at 4-4 (2-3 in the Pac-12) versus the Huskies 4-3 (1-2 in the Pac-12).  I'm thinking this might be an 8-4 season, which is only a slight improvement over the past two years' 7-5.  Next week we play hapless California (1-6) at home so maybe we can get our groove and confidence back before the last four games of the season.  I do know one thing, it would take an act of God for me not to be in front of the television with my lucky hat on (which is 4-1 this season).  Yes, I try to think scientifically.  But when it comes to sports, there's not much science involved in my love for the Huskies.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Movie Review: Oblivion

I was real hesitant about watching Oblivion, staring Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman (although I was more interested in Olga Kurylenko).  It didn't have a very high Rotten Tomatoes score (not that that's been much guide, lately), and it was directed by Joseph Kosinski who directed TRON: Legacy which I thought was pretty much just a light show with a thin veneer of plot.  If it hadn't been for Olivia Wilde, there would have been no reason to watch it.  And the premise seemed dumb as I understood it (post apocalyptic, Cruise is some sort of technician helping the planet, oh, I bet there's gonna be some environmental preaching going on).  I saw a trailer for it when I went to see the Hobbit last December and was totally unimpressed.

Also, the first disc we got from Netflix wouldn't play (we spent 40 minutes trying to get it to play, cleaning the disc, rebooting the player, updating the player's software) and then we lost the replacement disc and spent an evening looking for it (I'd accidentally thrown it out).  So it took us a while to get around to watching it.

So, this was a lesson in not relying on first impression.

Oblivion is a good movie.  It's not great but it is good.  And without giving away spoilers, it's hard to explain how good it is.  The effects are very good and you forget that they are probably CGI but you don't care.  Cruise does a great job, as does Andrea Riseborough (Ms. Kurylenko's talent was wasted on her role, I thought).  There's action, suspense, and . . . no, I can't give it away.  Sometimes the action gets over whelming and the action sequences run long (and one looked a lot like the ending sequence of TRON: Legacy).  And Morgan Freeman has seemed to have slipped into the "old wise man character" type-casting.  Some of the visuals are a little over-the-top.  The Empire State Building buried in silt up to its observation deck, for instance, while the Brooklyn Bridge is mostly visible.  The Pentagon has a crater in the middle of it as if it was nuked but somehow the rest of it survived.  And it and a leaning Washington Monument are the only buildings visible in Washington D.C. 

However, if you like science fiction you should really enjoy Oblivion.  If you don't like science fiction, you would still probably enjoy it, especially the character study of Riseborough's role, who is trying to hold things together as, in her view, Cruise goes a bit wacko.  And there was no environmental preaching or anti-military propaganda.  There was really nothing offensive in the movie at all (unless you don't like looking at the backside of a naked female).

One last note (and call me sexist but I don't care), Olga Kurylenko is a very beautiful woman (see Quantum of Solace) but it seems director Kosinski did his best to keep her looking plain.  Maybe he didn't want her to outshine Riseborough  (who has an odd beauty, as if you can't quite figure out what makes her beautiful, you just know she is) but if Kurylenko wasn't in baggy overalls she was in a plaid button-down shirt.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Writers' Retreat

Last weekend I and five other members of the Moses Lake Muses did a "writers' retreat."  (I've never understood why such things are called a "retreat," which I associate with giving up and running away.  Maybe it's the running away part.)  The object was to write as many words as possible and find inspiration, work through ideas and problems, and just have fun and camaraderie.  Six writers in the same room meant one of two things: a muted cacophony of fingers tapping on laptops or talking, laughter, and not much else going on.  It was great.

I got about 4,000 words written on my work in progress (WIP) and some major plotting done.  Also through one of the exercises we did I came up with an idea for a story that probably isn't novel length but could be a short or a novella.  It starts with a teenaged girl waking up in Purgatory.

This was the Muses first retreat and I think it was a great success.  Francis Pauli put it together and did a great job.  The only downside was the accommodations were a little low-rent for me.  But my idea of roughing it is a hotel without 24-hour room service.

A great time, a productive time, and an exhausting time (I fell asleep at 8:00 P.M. the day it ended).

P.S.: This is my 200th post on this blog!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

WIP Not in P

Been working on this WIP (Work in Progress) for, well, almost 25 years.  Circa 1988 I thought up this little scene where a private detective is in his office, his secretary in the antechamber, when: "Rose buzzed.  She did that when she was annoyed, her carapace and wings oscillating in a frequency that cut through the skull."

Later (circa 2003) I started writing a story around that (on an airplane, I remember).  I've written just under 10,000 words (including some today) and I have no idea where to go with it.  I'm trying to do a Dashiell Hammett novel in space/the future.  (Hammett wrote The Maltese Falcon which the movie by the same name starring Humphrey Bogart was based.)  Being a hard-boiled detective novel, it needs a cynical yet honorable hero (check), it needs mystery (check, even I can't figure out what's going on), it needs plot twists and turns (not yet), and it needs style (I'm working on that).

The other problem is an idea I have involving a black hole.  But the math and physics are kicking my butt.  I'm hoping if I can solve those problems (and I found someone who's volunteered to help), that'll let me plot out the rest of the novel.  But maybe not.  It's frustrating.  I'm going on a writers' retreat tomorrow with the local writers' group.  Maybe the lack of distraction will get me to write.  Or maybe I'll stare at my blinking cursor for three days.  Dunno.  But my WIP is not Progressing much at this point.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Colorful Language

The new $100 bill comes out tomorrow and its very colorful.  Almost looks Canadian.  And I joked on Twitter "Money isn't green anymore" (even though the back of the bill is mostly green).

And that got me thinking (oh-oh) about how we use color in our language.  Here are some examples I thought of off the top of my head:
  • In the black: making a profit, not broke
  • In the red: not making a profit, broke
  • Red ink: something that causes you not to make a profit
  • Red tape: regulations, bureaucracy
  • Green: money, wealth
  • Greenbacks: money, cash
  • Green: environmentally friendly
  • In the pink: healthy
  • Blue: sad, depressed
  • Yellow journalism: bad journalism (you know, like the New York Times)
  • Golden: good (this might be more in reference to the metal than the color)
  • Red state: conservative/Republican
  • Blue state: liberal/Democrat
  • Black list: list of banned things or people
  • Yellow Dog Democrat: someone (in the U.S. South) who votes Democrat, even if it's a yellow dog running
And there's got to be more!  I'm not sure if other languages do this to the extent we do in English.

If you have more examples, please leave them in the comments!

The Pac-12 is Strong This Year

If you read this blog you are probably aware I'm a University of Washington Huskies football fan.  In fact, I'm a bit of a die-hard fan: I even stuck by them through the Tyrone Willingham era which culminated in an 0-12 season in 2008.  So I was really excited this year because the Huskies are looking really good (with only one loss so far and that was to #5 Stanford and on what I think was a bad call).

That's the good news.  The bad news is, the Pac-12, their conference, is looking really strong this year, too.  We are through six weeks of play this year and there is only one team in the Pac-12 that has a losing record: California at 1-4.  (Yes, Colorado is 2-2 but, technically, that's not a losing record.)  And there are still three undefeated teams: Oregon (#2 in the AP rankings), Stanford (#5) and UCLA (#11).  And three more teams have only lost one game so far: Washington (#16), Oregon State (unranked since their first-week loss to an FCS team), and Arizona (who has only played 4 games).  So half the Pac-12 have lost one game or less.

The Huskies, it seems, chose a bad year to be good.  Looking at their upcoming schedule they play Oregon next week, a game I think they have a chance to win given how well they played against Stanford, and after that I don't see a team that they shouldn't beat (UCLA will be a challenge, too).  I'll take a 10-2 regular season and then a bowl win.  I'd even be happy with 9-3 and a bowl win.  And next year, even though some key players will be leaving such as quarterback Keith Price, I'll bet they'll be pretty good if not better (their backup quarterback who will probably start next year looked pretty good against Idaho State).

And if head coach Steve Sarkisian at the helm, I think they will continue to improve.  As long as Sarkisian doesn't get lured to the NFL.  Or back to USC.

Sunday, October 6, 2013


A replay official determined the fate of: the Huskies undefeated season, the outcome of the Stanford game, the Huskies' national ranking, and the momentum the Dawgs will carry into Husky stadium next week facing the #2 Phil Knight Ducks.  A replay official decided a 4th down pass was "incomplete" which gave the ball to Stanford on downs to end the game.  The replay official said the ball hit the ground.  I watched the replay and didn't see the ball hit the ground.  The commentators watched the replay and didn't see the ball hit the ground.  From the Seattle Times this morning:

"It’s unfortunate it came down to a judgment call," [Husky head coach Steve] Sarkisian said. "…I wish the game had been won on the field and not in the booth upstairs with some guy that didn’t get to feel the emotion and hard-fought game it was."

The Huskies looked beat 12 seconds into the game when Stanford scored on a kick-off return.  They looked beat over and over but they never looked defeated and answered and came back out fighting after each setback.  There were mistakes and things to work on (once again, penalties were a huge issue for the Huskies).  But they kept on fighting and never gave up.  The only time quarterback Keith Price, who played the end of the game with a hurt thumb on his throwing hand, looked at all defeated was when the replay official made that bad call to end the game.

But look at these numbers: 21, 14, 14, 38.  Those are the points by which the Cardinal defeated their previous opponents.  The point difference in last night's game: 3.  A 28-31 loss is a heartbreaker especially when the Huskies could have kicked a game-tying field goal or even made a touchdown to win the game.  If it wasn't for a replay official who, in my opinion, made a bad call at the worse worst possible moment.

The national rankings aren't out yet.  I think the Huskies should not drop in the rankings after their performance last night.  But they probably will.

UPDATE: The Huskies dropped one position in the AP poll, back to #16.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Science Joke

And we will end our science week with a joke:

Two atoms are walking down the street and accidentally bump into each other.  One exclaims, "I think I just lost an electron!"

The other replies, "Are you sure?"

And the first says, "Yes, I'm positive."

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Science Education

We're talking science this week and today I want to discuss science education.  I already talked about why you probably don't like science but I think another problem is how science is taught.  Actually, I think one problem is how a lot of things are taught, but that's a whole 'nother issue.

The way science is taught in public schools (and probably most private schools) is almost guaranteed to make you less interested in science.  Instead of exploring the wonders of the world and the universe through science, they make you memorize useless stuff like what is a "sling hygrometer."  Memorizing facts is boring and stupid.  Why memorize stuff when you can look it up (especially in this age of Google)?  You need to learn the concepts and how and why things happen, not the tedious details.

When I was studying engineering they often had "open book tests" not so you could cheat, but so you could look up formulas.  There was no need to memorize formulas especially when they tended to look like this:
(Some people would say, "Oooooh, open book test, no need to study!" But you had to know how to apply the formulas and what each variable stood for.)

But in K-12 education they make you memorize stuff you can look up.  My theory is, if you use it all the time, you'll memorize it.  If you don't use it all the time, you can look it up.

In science education it seems instead of teaching how a rainbow is made, they make you know the laws of optics.  So even if you make it through your early childhood still a little scientist, the education system also seems designed to beat it out of you.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Writing Advice and Methods

I have a guest blog post on Imogen Knight's blog talking about how I write.  See it here.

Scientific Thinking

I guess we have a science theme going this week.  Yesterday we discussed why you don't like science (assuming you don't).  Today I want to talk about thinking like a scientist.

If you follow me on Twitter, you know I'm on a diet.  As part of this diet I drink a lot of water.  And I mean a lot.  Up to one gallon per day.  To facilitate this water drinking, I have a 1/2 gallon Tupperware pitcher I use.  I fill it with ice and water, I fill my glass with ice and water, then as I drink the water from the glass, I re-fill it from the pitcher.  I do this twice and between the first glass of ice water and the melting ice in the glass and pitcher, I am probably drinking about a gallon of water every day.  This helps stave of hunger and some claim it flushes toxins.  I do know I get more exercise running to the bathroom every 15 minutes or so.

So I'm sitting at my desk working on something (or goofing off) dutifully drinking my water when I hear a squeaking sound to my left where the pitcher rests on my vinyl notebook which serves as sort of a mega-coaster.  And I wonder what the heck is going on.  Why is my water pitcher squeaking.

Now if I were a non-scientific thinker, I might conclude it's haunted, it's alive, or there's a little invisible mouse on top of it.  But, using Occam's Razor, I immediately reject (even without thinking about it) any supernatural explanation.  There must be a logical, scientific explanation, I realize.

I decide the squeak could be explained by the Ideal Gas Law based on the data I empirically gathered.  Okay, I see your eyes glazing over.  So follow me on this:
  1. The pitcher is about half-full of ice-water solution at equilibrium which means the liquid is at almost exactly (because of my altitude and the water not being 100% pure) 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius).
  2. The room temperature is about 72 degrees F (22 degrees C).
  3. My water pitcher
  4. The pitcher is sealed (see picture) so the volume in the pitch is constant, therefore, between pouring out water, the volume of the ullage is constant (scientists tend to use unfamiliar words because they describe things more precisely).
Nature is always trying to reach equilibrium so the warmth of the room will be warming the ice water and the air above it (in the ullage).  As long as there's ice (which will slowly melt to compensate for the warming water) the water should stay at 32 degrees F.  But the air will warm.  This is called "thermal equilibrium."

So here's the Ideal Gas Law:


I know, gibberish.  So let's break that down.

P is the pressure
V is the volume
n is the amount of gas (measured in "moles" but don't worry about that)
R is the "Ideal Gas Constant" which means it's a number that doesn't change.
T is the temperature.

In the case of the pitcher of water, volume (V) of the ullage is a constant (between pours of water), the amount of air in the ullage (n) is a constant (again, between pours).  The gas constant is always a constant (funny that), but the temperature (T) is rising because it is probably around 32 degrees F but it wants to be 72 degrees (the temperature of the air around it) because it wants to reach thermal equilibrium.

This is, to me, the beauty of science and engineering, that something as simple as the Perfect Gas Law can describe real-world happenings.  (And if you don't think the Perfect Gas Law is simple, take a look at Bernoulli's equation!)  Basically, if V, n, and R are constants, and T goes up, then our math teacher (oh, no, not math!) taught us that P has to go up.  Or to use algebra:

And that can be simplified as:
(Because everything but T and P are constants, I just wrapped them up in one constant I called "K" and if you care:
Clear as mud?)
So from P=KT, if T goes up, P must go up.  So what is happening in my water pitcher is that the temperature of the air in the ullage is rising so the pressure is increasing but the seal at the top is not perfect and the higher-pressure air, again, due to nature's preference for equilibrium (this time of pressure), is trying to escape to the lower-pressure region outside the pitcher, and a little is getting past the hole cover, and it's squeaking as it escapes. Quod erat demonstrandum.
And yes, that was a long ways around to "the air is warming up, increasing in temperature, and trying to escape."  But, math and science can be used to explain the phenomena and that works for so many things in the world.  The math gets tough (believe me, I took Chemical Engineering classes) but it's the same principle.  You think like a scientist and describe the world around you in terms that can be modeled mathematically.
So next time you're faced with a mystery, approach it scientifically.  Maybe then you won't believe in ghosts.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Why You Don't Like Science

I've often wondered why so many people don't like science because I love science.  I love learning about my world and how it works.  I also love science fiction that involves science, that is known as "hard SF."  When I wrote Rock Killer I was trying to write a hard SF novel.

And I was wondering what would have cause most people to not like science.  Watching my kids grow up (who are all grown, now), I could see in them that they were little scientists.  They would sit and experiment for ages learning about gravity, friction, force all during their early play.  My oldest once stuck his head an a bowl and yelled.  I assumed he was seeing how the sound changed when he did that.  It was also hilarious to watch.

So if we're all born curious little scientists, why don't most people, it seems, like science?  I have a theory:

When you were a baby you were sitting in your highchair and you accidentally drop your spoon off the edge.  It falls to the floor.  And you think, "wow, that's interesting."  Your mother picks it up and sets it on the highchair tray again.  And your little mind is thinking, "I wonder if that works on the other side of the tray."  So you pick the spoon up and drop it off the other side of the tray.  And sure enough, it falls to the floor.  Your mother, a little bit exasperated now, picks it up and puts in on the tray.

Now you're really thinking.  You think you need one more data point to draw your curve.  Does it do the same off the front of the tray.  So you pick up the spoon and drop it off the front of the tray.  And your mother picks it up, puts it on the tray, and says, "Don't do that again."

Nonplussed, you think you've got this down.  But like all good scientists, you want to confirm your theory with reproducible results.  So you toss the spoon and it lands with a clang on the kitchen linoleum.  Pleased with your result you are shocked when your mother puts the spoon back on the tray and yells, "DON'T DO THAT AGAIN!"  And you suddenly decide with one data point that science is scary and no fun.

And that's why you don't like science.