Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Numbers don't tell the whole story

As I suspected, since my last post on revision goals, the lead-up to Christmas was a no-go zone for writing.

I left off at 21% revised on December 12, and there it stayed until yesterday. The good news is that I blasted through another 7% since then.

This leaves me way short of my original target of 50% by the end of December, but that doesn't tell the whole story by a long way.

I'm a lot happier with the process than I was a few weeks ago, because I think I'm getting better at deciding how to handle critiquers' comments. The Critique Circle inline comments feature makes is easy to compare everyone's comments on the same paragraph to look for trends. My triage process is also getting slick, sifting through the line edit nits and weeding out more serious feedback: Yep, suggestion makes sense (usually accompanied by a "Doh! Why didn't I think of that?" moment); Nope, it already says what I wanted it to say; Hmmm...you have a point, rework paragraph in my own way (and maybe preceding/later paragraphs too); Or deeper edit needed - park the thought for the next pass through.

I'm glad this process is getting easier, because I can now see light at the end of the tunnel. It was threatening to become a chore and my attention was becoming torn.

On the one hand, I desperately want this puppy to see the light of day, and every adverb culled, every paragraph tightened, every plot hole filled, is a necessary step closer to publication.

On the other hand, I have three other projects vying for attention. I've been in revision mode far too long, and I am desperate to get back to some real writing.

How about you? Do you ever feel this conflict between the seemingly-endless polishing of "completed" work, and getting some new words down on paper? Do you ever find yourself so stuck in the revision doldrums that you despair of ever again writing an original scene?

Friday, December 23, 2011

The "C" word

Each year, I despair at the steady elimination of the "C" word from our collective vocabulary.

I have been wished "Happy Holidays". Recently, my department held a "Winter Celebration" lunch. Everyone around me bends over backwards till they can see between their ankles to avoid the "C" word.

And I bite my tongue and go with the flow.

No longer.

Today, I got a cheerful postcard from my MP inviting me to a Town Hall meeting and wishing me, in nine different languages, "Happy Hanukkah!"

Let's be clear about one thing: I am thoroughly agnostic, so I have no axe to grind in favour of one religion over another. I also despise this timorous tippy-toe-on-eggshells-around-people's sensibilities, but, if we're going to impose politically correct blandness on the world, then let's do it equitably or not at all.

The PC brigade seems to equate multi-culturalism with "let's show how open-minded we are by kowtowing to all and sundry while suppressing our own right to our own opinions." That's bullshit. To me, multi-culturalism means understanding and tolerance of other people's cultures, and enjoying reciprocal tolerance for our own. This is a two-way street.

More to the point, although this is a politically secular country, there is a very specific reason why we traditionally have a holiday on December 25, which we should not forget. We don't mince words about celebrating Canada Day, or Labour Day, or Thanksgiving, so why does this holiday get such short shrift?

So, I am genuinely happy that someone to whom it means something would wish me a Happy Hanukkah.

In return, and in the same spirit, I unashamedly wish you all a Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas past and present

Now that all our family lives the other side of the world, we write a four-page newsletter each year, with the year's news and lots of pictures. We were late starting this year, with so many weekends taken up by Guide and Scout camps, and then at the last minute we ran out of ink. But the newsletters are finally printed and cards mailed. Way too late to make it, but better late than never.

Now that's done, I finally feel like things are more-or-less under control and I started reminiscing on Christmas memories and family traditions.

My memories of Christmas past

From my earliest memories Christmas day was always special, long before my child's mind even associated it with Santa Claus and gifts.

I remember sounds and smells. The house felt different as Mum and Dad both set to preparing for dinner. I remember the sense of anticipation. The turkey cooking in the Aga and filling the house with a delicious aroma all morning. We had just a handful of Christmas albums which my Dad played and hummed along to, and which I came to associate with the season.

As I grew old enough to recognise the cycle from one year to the next, certain patterns became established. Unwrapping gifts in the morning. Turkey dinner with my Mum's parents. Then a big party with my Dad's family in the evening - lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins, a huge spread of cold food, and games and laughter. Lots of laughter.

Christmas present

Now we are on our own, in a different country, things have changed. We've started to establish our own traditions.

The leisurely preparation of turkey dinner is still there. And the early morning invasion of excited children, except now we are on the receiving end of it, rubbing sleep from eyes as the bed turns into a recycler's nightmare of shredded paper and discarded packaging.

Most of our present traditions are in the lead-up to Christmas. The newsletter. Putting the outside lights up. Visiting the Christmas Tree Farm to select the perfect tree.
School concerts and skating parties. Christmas in the Village at Heritage Acres, with the nighttime ride on the miniature railway and hot drinks in the bustling schoolhouse.
The festive lights at Butchart Gardens, and a drive around the neighbourhood to see the houses all lit up.

One thing do I miss is those raucous parties with the extended family, and I'm sad that I can't offer that to my own children.

I wonder, in years to come, what memories will linger for them?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Global suckishness revisited

A group of awesome bloggers, Lydia Kang, DL Hammons, Creepy Query Girl and Nicole Ducleroir, had a great idea for a blogfest.

This is your chance to do some major catching up, and re-post a favorite blog post of your own that NEEDS to see the light of day one more time.

On December 16, re-post your favorite/most informative/most life-changing announcement/most ANYTHING blog post you want to re-share with the world.

Don't let a great post fade away into the ever-expanding blogosphere without one more shout-out!

Well, I can't pretend to post anything life-changing, or even especially informative, but this one, originally posted October 23, 2010, rather spookily foreshadowed the Wall Street protests a year later.

The Global Suckishness Index

I guess it's just coincidence, but there's been a bit of a trend in some of the recent blog posts I've been following. For example (and ignoring the many blogs dedicated entirely to rants about the state of the world) there's Sam's and Lettucehead's sad experiences in today's employment market, and David talking about the perils of the New York subway.

Anyway, it sparked some thoughts about the general suckishness of the world at large, and why this might be so.

And I came to a startling realisation.

There's a lot of natural danger and hardship out there, and disasters regularly hit the headlines - hurricanes, floods, droughts. But in reality those are minor blips and there is more than enough wealth and resourcefulness in the world to deal with them. Nature really accounts for only a tiny proportion of hardship.

The only logical conclusion is that the vast proportion (I'd guess maybe 95%) of human misery is entirely man-made!

Worse, much of the man-made misery is deliberate, and all of it is avoidable.

Some of it is down to religion - "my belief is better than your belief, and you'd better believe it!" - but most is caused by people wanting to get more out of the system than they are willing to put in.

And that's almost always expressed in terms of money.

Money is the root of all evil?

Here's a little thought experiment.

What if I suggested that money is unnecessary?

What would happen if we all woke up tomorrow in a world without money?

Chaos! Mayhem! Everyone suddenly penniless and starving!

But wait. Why should that be? Did the sun fail to rise on this penniless world? Did crops stop growing?

Stop and think for a moment. What if everyone simply carried on as they did yesterday? You got up, went in to work and did whatever you do. You went to the store and took from the shelves exactly what you would have done before. The shelves are still stocked because the people who stock them turned up as normal. The delivery trucks arrived, fully loaded, as normal because all the factories and warehouses kept working.

It gets better. You walk out of the store a lot quicker because you didn't have to line up to pay. OK, spare a thought for all those cashiers who suddenly don't have anything to do. Aren't they in trouble? Out of a job? But why would they be in trouble? In a world without money they don't need a job. Every other part of their life could carry on as normal. But then they could pitch in and help unload the trucks and stack the shelves and then everyone could go home early.

And think of all those millions of people working in banks across the globe. A whole industry, suddenly redundant. But nobody need go hungry because nothing important has stopped happening. And all those spare pairs of hands that could be turned to doing something genuinely productive.

When you look at it like that, the whole concept of money is nothing more than a vast and unnecessary drain on the planet.

OK, there's one glaring hole in this scenario. Everyone wouldn't just carry on as before. How many milliseconds would we be into the new day before somebody, somewhere, said to themselves "why should he get fillet steak while I'm making do with a Kraft dinner?" Human nature would kick in PDQ, and we'd all start taking more out of the system than it can sustain. That is why everything would descend into chaos and mayhem.

The truth is that there is more than enough food and water, space and energy for us all to live comfortable lives. But human nature compels us to want more, and to take it unless something stops us. Money may have its problems, but it's the most effective mechanism we have for putting a throttle on what we take from the world.

For me, the most frightening thing that global capitalism has unleashed on the world is a new and insidious form of life, and this is where the endemic global suckishness comes from. All the big corporations and financial institutions have taken on a life of their own and they are out of control. They've become self-serving and self-perpetuating, all-powerful, and utterly divorced from any moral or social conscience.

I don't think we're going to change human nature in a hurry, we probably can't do without money as a means of regulating access to resources, so as far as I see it the answer must lie in changing how we manage the flow of money. What we need are financial and corporate mechanisms that put the welfare of the general population back into the frame as the most important shareholder.

I don't pretend to have answers, this is only a rant after all, but I'm happy to accept any suggestions...written on the back of $20 bills.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Revision targets - mixed news

I am actually making progress with revising Ghosts of Innocence. Just not very fast.

On November 30, I started at 14% complete (from earlier efforts this summer) with a target of 50% by the end of December. Last night I hit 21%, so you can see I'm falling way short. Worse, I suspect my time will be even more limited than it has been so far with this thing called "Christmas" looming. Oh well, we'll see.

In my defence, Yer 'Onour, that 50% was entirely arbitrary and I had no idea whether or not it was realistic. I was sure it would be a stretch, and it is proving to be so. But then, what good are targets if they aren't challenging?

I have better news on my other target of staying below the magic 100k word count. I started the month at 98,800, and my revisions so far have had the net effect of trimming words. Current total is 98,550.

Of course, this pass through isn't the final round. I'm concentrating on the sentence-, paragraph- and scene-level edits. I'm collecting notes for bigger-picture issues to be worked back in later. That is likely to add words, so I need a bit of headroom to play with.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A star to steer her by

More about Shayla's world.

Last time I talked about the spread of star systems, so I thought today I should delve into the actual space travel bit.

Space travel in Shayla's world depends on two things:

Folded space

This is a sci-fi staple. The idea is that our familiar 4-dimensional space-time is embedded in a higher-dimensional space. If our universe is folded up in these higher dimensions then it might be possible to take a shortcut across the gap, allowing you to disappear from one point and reappear somewhere else. Interstellar travel depends on you finding shortcuts that allow you to travel vast distances in our universe for very little actual distance in the higher dimension.

In Shayla's world, I've decided that this folding of space happens very tightly, so folds are very close together, and is also fractal in nature. In other words, space is folded up on all sorts of scales from subatomic up to light years.

This part is important, but before we get to that I need to talk about...

Gravitational fields

Yes, Shayla's technicians can manipulate gravity. Another sci-fi staple.

This one mechanism is put to several uses.

For conventional travel, everything from small air cruisers to the secondary drives of large starships, an artificial field can be made to interact with a surrounding field of a planet or star for propulsion. In its simplest form, the device producing the field generates lift, and anything else bolted on gets lifted with it.

An extension of the same principle, usually only used in larger craft, can enclose a volume of space in a gravity field isolated from the outside world. This simultaneously produces artificial gravity for habitation, and protects the inhabitants from the crushing accelerations - anything up to 40g - used by starships maneuvering in normal space.

Bring the two together

Because gravity isn't confined to our visible world, but "leaks" into the higher dimensions, a variation on the gravitational field is able to pull a volume of space across those higher dimensional folds.

The principle is very simple. You are sitting on one side of a fold in space. Lying right next to you in higher dimensional terms, but invisible to your eyes, are neighboring folds in all directions. Reach a few atoms-width "sideways" and you might hit a patch of space a few feet away. Stretch further, and you can reach into space miles distant.

All your gravity drive has to do is reach across, anchor itself to one of those folds, and haul your ass across the gap.

This is where things get interesting. Flinging something the size of a starship from one fold to another, you have to be darned careful that every patch of space you are moving into lines up exactly with the patch you just left.

Or bad things happen.

Very bad things.

In practice, imperfections are inevitable but are managed within safe limits. But the further you try to reach, the less perfect the fit. Once you go beyond safe limits, it affects biological and electrical systems a bit like radiation damage. Push your luck even further and you start getting large scale structural failure.

Luckily, those clever engineers have figured out how to tune the drive to make sure things line up pretty darned good, but this puts a practical limit on how far you can safely jump in one go.


The primary hopper drive typically jumps hundreds or thousands of miles at a time, depending on the power and quality of the drive. That may not sound impressive, but the field cycles fast - anything up to a million times a second. This gives practical speeds ranging from 1,000 to 10,000 times the speed of light.

Hopping becomes increasingly dangerous in the distorting presence of a gravitational field. Within approximately 2 AU of a sun-sized star, safe hop lengths reduce to less than a mile bringing speeds down to just over light speed. Get closer, and the dangers mount up in exactly the same way as stretching too far in open space. This means ships usually have to drop into real space and switch to secondary drive some distance out from their destinations.

When a ship hops, it jumps sideways from one point in space to another. Momentum in real space is conserved so it will reappear with the same velocity it started off with. This means a ship will almost certainly need to spend time adjusting its velocity at its destination.

The most efficient way to approach a planet is to hop to somewhere "upstream", so your existing velocity carries you straight in. All you have to do is slow down at the right time.

Direct approaches like this are generally frowned upon by planetary authorities, partly because of the potential danger an incoming ship would pose if it lost power, but mainly because that kind of approach is usually the sign of an attack.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Oh! Rats!

While Ali and Matthew are off at Scout camp this weekend, Megan and I thought we'd make use of a sunny afternoon to get the Christmas lights up on the house. It would be a surprise for them when they got back tomorrow.

Started hauling out boxes of decorations from the shelf in the garage where they've been stashed all year.

What's this? I don't remember that box having a hole in it.

Pulled a bit more, and found another hole and lots of shredded cardboard.

Then Megan shrieked as something scampered out from the box and darted off to a corner of the garage.

A rat had made a nest in our Christmas decorations.

So, before we even started we had to haul out and inspect all the extension cords and strings of lights for damage. He'd completely demolished a box of spare bulbs. He'd chewed through a few cords. We patched up a few more with duct tape where it was just a bit of insulation scraped away. Our lovely Christmas tree made from a spiral of lights was ruined.

We put up the rest. No lousy rat is going to get in the way of decorating!

I think we'll manage for this year, but I guess we'll have to budget for some new decorations next year.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...