"I'm just going to write because I can't help it."- Charlotte Brontë

Friday, February 28, 2014

End of the Month Report: February 2014

Rejections: 4 (the 4 I submitted)
Acceptances: 0
Published: 0
Stories out in the wild: 6
New stories completed: 1
Mood: My output was only a slight improvement on last month. Alas, just as I was building up steam, I was, as per usual, derailed by the Real World. I'm presently dragging myself out of a deep funk. The Arvo Job events of a few weeks ago hit me harder than I'd wanted (or been willing) to admit - first came the numbing shock, then the anger, then, unbeknownst even to myself for a goodly while, I slowly slid into a bluesy kind of place full of glum thoughts and the not much doing of stuff. But I've rallied and am tottering forwards. A nice weekend of writing, that's what I need to clear my system. Life is too short to waste too much headspace time on stuff one cannot control. Moving on.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Space on a Shoestring

I'm excited about how the race to Mars seems to be hotting up. We might just get off this rock yet. And I like this NY Times article with NASA  / Hollywood budget comparisons and much philosophising about what maketh a viable space program. Money? Ingenuity? Poorly paid technicians?:

Just days after the launch of India’s Mangalyaan satellite, NASA sent off its own Mars mission, five years in the making, named Maven. Its cost: $671 million. The budget of India’s Mars mission, by contrast, was just three-quarters of the $100 million that Hollywood spent on last year’s space-based hit, “Gravity.”
“The mission is a triumph of low-cost Indian engineering,” said Roddam Narasimha, an aerospace scientist and a professor at Bangalore’s Jawaharlal Nehru Center for Advanced Scientific Research.
Ever since MIR, I've been a fan of not-so-shiny Soviet technology - I just have this notion that if they ever do get into space and start working there, the Russians will have the type of vehicles you can crash into an asteroid, stick back together with gaffer tape, siphon some vodka into the depleted warp drive, kick into gear, and keep heading for the stars (and watching Solaris decades ago only strengthened this belief.) India seems to agree:

It is a question of philosophy, and each country has its own,” explained Mr. Radhakrishnan. “The Russians, for example, believe in putting large amounts of time and resources into testing so that the systems are robust.”
 And for those who always argue that there are far more pressing problems than space exploration that need money thrown at them, there's this neatly Indian perspective:
Scientists have also said that space exploration and the alleviation of poverty need not be mutually exclusive. “If the Mars mission’s $75 million was distributed equally to every Indian, they would be able to buy a cup of roadside chai once every three years,” said Mr. Narasimha, the aerospace scientist, referring to the tea that many Indians drink.
“My guess is that even the poorest Indians will happily forgo their chai to be able to see their country send a rocket all the way to Mars.”

Of course, said poor people, if given half a chance, might just voice their disagreement. Sometimes, a cup of chai is just what you need to get you through the day.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Moving in a Direction that isn't Backwards

After a week of hot weather, fire horror stories, commuting problems, a major Arvo Job drama, hospital crap, a general queasiness pervading my days, and bulldozers razing a lovely, old garden to create a blitzed landscape up behind my house and across the boundaries of the two properties on either side of me, which has, by the by, completely changed the micro-climate of my backyard, I had a surprisingly lovely Sunday.

There was peace, there was quiet, there were cool breezes wafting through the house, there was much reading done (The Man Who Loved China by Simon Winchester), and after a couple of hours of sustained effort, there was a brand new story all finished on my hard drive just waiting for a polish in a week or two. And I submitted a story as well. I haven't done any submitting for quite a while, so I hope I've now reset my habits.

So there, I think I can get through next week now.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

All Fired Up

Sunday was a very hot and windy day, and fires broke out all over the state here in Victoria. Homes were burnt down, big country properties were destroyed, and much acreage was incinerated. One of the outbreaks was between my place and the Arvo Job, but I didn’t realise the trains weren’t running as per usual until I arrived at the station and heard the announcement, and by then, well, if I’ve managed to get myself out the door and am on my way, I do believe in finishing my journeys. That's how adventures happen. And so it was. We travelled halfway to Melbourne, transferred to coaches – the smell of smoke and burning stuff was unbelievable – and took a series of small, country roads because the main highway was down to one lane until the next town up.

 People grumbled. They moaned and bitched. Loudly. Of course they did. One fellow stood in the aisle of the bus and declaimed a dramatic Shakespearean rant against V-line before finally bowing to his audience’s cries that he should sit down and shut up so we could get moving. More groaning ensued, and the competing jeremiads continued until, for the last 5 minutes before turning onto the highway, we drove through a vast, charred landscape and actually saw the cause of our “terrible tribulations”.
Three things happened:

-          People shut up. They began squirm. The atmosphere was one of nascent embarrassment.

-          Phones appeared. Photos were taken of other folk’s misfortunes.

-          Conversations erupted about the greatness and braveness of firemen (true enough) as people competed to demonstrate their sensitivity to the devastation around them.
Sometimes folk should just stop and think before they start with the whingeing.
Today, all the way to Melbourne, the train drove through a smoky miasma, which was spooky enough until we hit the area we’d been diverted around on Monday. The train slowed right down and we chugged through a landscape burnt to the horizon on one side of the tracks, and except for a few places where spot fires had jumped the rails, saved houses on the other side. And always the smoke.
So, when I arrived in Melbourne and went on to have a spectacularly crap day at the Arvo Job, my perspective had already been honed by viewing real problems. Not that one can shrug off one’s own misery entirely. I’m not superhuman.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

We've Been Snapped by Curiosity

Smile! The latest and largest of NASA's plucky Mars rovers is busy taking photos of us.

The two bodies in this portion of an evening-sky view by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity are Earth and Earth's moon. The rover's Mast Camera (Mastcam) imaged them in the twilight sky of Curiosity's 529th Martian day, or sol (Jan. 31, 2014).

For those who need some orientation, here's a helpful guide marking the position of the Earth and the Moon (seems a bit unclear in these photos - it might be best to just follow the link):

I do so love there NASA pics. If I can't get out there and zoom around at warp speed, at least I can enjoy the Instagram version of space.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Breaking Boxes

I'm busy breaking in new walking shoes so I can once more whizz medicinal laps around the local botanical gardens and leave a scorched trail in my wake through the streets and parks of Melbourne as I head for the train station each evening, which means the cats are busy breaking in a new cardboard box.


Monday, February 3, 2014

Everything Old is New Again.

Didn't we suspect all those keyboards were doing us no good, especially the kiddies?

Read on the train on the way home tonight, in the Age today, an article about the (for some) forgotten art of penmanship and all the competitive advantages of occasionally picking up a pen rather than always keyboarding it. Who knows, maybe in a year or two, self-proclaimed progressive schools all over the country will be putting out shiny brochures that tout their brain-enhancing, quill and parchment sessions in conjunction with their usual brain-shrinking, advanced computer skills classes:

Educational research has concluded that handwriting skills increase brain activation and also stimulate the learning process. At the University of Stavanger in Norway, magnetic resonance imaging research established a cognitive link between the haptics of writing by hand and the activation of the brain's sensorimotor system. That is, students writing by hand remembered letters better than those typing on a keyboard.
Studies undertaken at the University of Washington determined that students wrote faster and in more complete sentences when writing by hand as opposed to writing using a keyboard.

That is, the correlation between better handwriting skills and improved academic performance in reading and writing can no longer be ignored.

Children who have the capacity to write fluently, legibly and automatically are better equipped to generate and evaluate ideas, judge responses and organise their thoughts. Indeed, poor handwriters struggle to write down their ideas and will quit the writing process sooner than those who write fluently.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

I Write, Uhm, Stuff...

The Locus Recommended Reading List for 2013 is up here. For once, thanks to my mighty e-reader and the easiness of downloading magazines as they come out, I'm a little more au fait with many of the works mentioned. As I scan the list this year, I can nod in approval, frown with disapproval, tut-tut and cheer, making it a far more participatory process.

And while you're over at Locus, stop for a quick read of Kameron Hurley's essay 'Making Excuses for Science Fiction'. I've been there. I still find myself there from time to time if I carelessly wander during a conversation. Mostly I just avoid telling people outside a certain group that I write because then they'll want to know what I write, and I don't want to go there because, like, you know, they wouldn't understand! Or so I tell myself. And often it's true - I can see the odd expressions on their faces. Mostly, it's just too hard.

Kameron Hurley also tackles geeky elitism as part of the problem, and  wisely writes:

Yet I contributed to this very narrative about my work. Instead of talking about my books as serious (or at least fun) literature, I found myself fall­ing into the same self-conscious trap I had as a kid, when I muttered about how I was writing a story about an expedition to Venus where the volcanos erupted with flowers. I said stuff like: ‘‘Oh, you probably won’t like it. It’s pretty weird,’’ or ‘‘It’s not for everyone,’’ or ‘‘You’ll only like it if you read a lot of science fiction.’’
I anticipated their reactions, and pulled my punches.

One might think I said these things in a pure fit of shame. But as I got older and moved in geekier and geekier circles with folks who loved the same books I did, I recognized that some of this was not shame, but pride. There was some elitism in it of the, ‘‘People like me just get this and you won’t’’ variety.
That’s not pulling a punch. That’s punching yourself in the face.

 And yet it all just boils down to telling stories and readers hopefully enjoying them. Why, oh why, must we complicate things?