20 most recent entries
Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, who just a few months ago was awarded the Ig Nobel Peace prize, is very popular, reports the Belarusian Telegraph Agency on March 6, 2014:
Despite President Lukashenko‘s popularity, few are applauding him, at least in public. President Lukashenko was awarded the 2013 Ig Nobel Peace Prize for making it illegal to applaud in public; the prize was jointly awarded to the president and to the Belarus State Police, for arresting a one-armed man for applauding. [Yet, one can demonstrate one's appreciation.]
(HT Stephanie Carvin)
BONUS: Decree No. 537 of 29 November 2012: On Declaring 2013 the Year of Frugality in Belaruspost a comment
Trick roping and physics are revealed as being more or less the same thing (One of the revealers won an Ig Nobel Prize several years ago for revealing the reason spaghetti breaks into interesting pieces). James Morgan reports for BBC News:
That Basile Audoly is the same Basile Audoly who shared the 2006 Ig Nobel Prize for physics with his colleague Sebastien Neukirch of the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris. They were honored for their insights into why, when you bend dry spaghetti, it often breaks into more than two pieces. [REFERENCE: "Fragmentation of Rods by Cascading Cracks: Why Spaghetti Does Not Break in Half," Basile Audoly and Sebastien Neukirch, Physical Review Letters, vol. 95, no. 9, August 26, 2005, pp. 95505-1 to 95505-1.]
Pierre-Thomas Brun and Basile Audoly have a lasso-physics paper in prep. Meanwhile, the trick-roping paper that Brun presented at the American Physical Society Meeting in Denver is
(Thanks to investigator Neil Judell for bringing this to our attention.)
BONUS: Some physics of some toys, as described at that same physics meeting:
“Snap, crack and pop: What elastic instabilities in toys can teach us,” Dominic Vella [University of Oxford], abstract for an Invited Paper for the March 2014 Meeting of the American Physical Society, The author writes:
“The mechanism of many modern toys rely on some form or other of elastic instability, from the locomotion of the ‘Hexbug nano‘ to the snapping of a ‘Hopper popper.’ In this talk I will discuss some fundamental mechanical problems that are inspired by the mechanism of such toys. A particular focus will be on the ‘snap’ and ‘pop’ phases of the Hopper popper but I will also discuss the ‘crack’ of a whip and other examples of dynamic elastic instabilities.”post a comment
George Peez [pictured here], Professor of Art Education at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, studies many things, including the way young children use their hands to smear things, a process known to some as “drawing”:
Here’s detail from the study:
A Heise news report further explains [also in German, also here auto-translated]:
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Because I’ve been spending way too much time in my head lately and after that way too much time on io9 (it’s where my brain goes to rest after thinking about story all day), I began to think about the movies I love, which then led to thinking about how my taste in movies defines me, which then led me to think about what I’d choose if somebody put a gun to Milton’s head and told me to pick one movie that represents my taste in story and my worldview. The movie that, if you like it, you will probably like me and I will probably like you. The movie that I would take to a desert island with me and play over and over. That movie.
This is Milton:
And this is my movie:
What’s yours?post a comment
Today is Be Nasty Day. Except don’t be. Tomorrow is National Panic Day; let’s go with that. We’d be doing that anyway.post a comment
Buried in the 300+ comments on the previous Arrow post is a really good discussion on the contract with the reader. We’ve talked about the romance contract here before, but as Pam pointed out, all stories make contracts with the reader/viewer, not just romances.
Here’s my comment on the promise to the reader:
Then Sarah B replied
I love that last line especially:
I don’t need to be happy, just convinced.
I think it’s the double tap of successful stories: establish a clear contract with the reader/viewer and then tell the story so that it makes sense to that reader/viewer in terms of that contract. I hated it when a character I loved died on Person of Interest, but I understood why it happened, it didn’t violate my contract with that story. Beth dying in Little Women ripped my adolescent heart out and fed it to the cat, but it was part of the contract Alcott established. I think a lot of the controversy over Wash’s death in Serenity was really a discussion of a broken contract because it was by no means implausible that one or more of the Firefly team would die horribly in battle, but it was, I think, an unspoken contract for a lot of people that the deaths would mean something. There’s a difference between “This is plausible within this story world” and “This is the story I signed on for,” and I think a lot of Firefly viewers thought they contracted for a story with innate justice.
But the new thing that came up for me was the idea of story focus as part of the contract. One thing romance writers have to do when they first start a novel is to determine if the romance is the main plot, or a subplot that’s almost equal in importance to the main plot. It’s tempting to try to have both, but you really do have to pick a lane or your plot goes all over the place. You can start with the same basic premise and plot, but that plot told as a mystery with a romance subplot will be different from that plot told as a romance with a mystery subplot. You allocate story real estate differently, the aspects of the plot change with the approach. Again, quoting myself (I have no problem with arrogance):
So I’m thinking that that contract with the reader extends to emphasis, too. It’s not enough to say through the events of the first scene in a novel, “This is a romance and a mystery,” you have to establish, “This is a romance with a mystery subplot” or “This is a mystery with a strong romantic subplot.” Because if you don’t establish that, the reader will decide for you. I screwed this up completely in Wild Ride in spite of my readers and my editors pointing out this very problem, and I will not do it again: Making that contract clear is crucial to the success of your story.post a comment
A triceratops makes a rare appearance in the news, in this March 6, 2014 report by Sidney Bender in the Vineyard Gazette [in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts]:
(Thanks to investigator Sally Shelton for bringing this to our attention.)post a comment
Given its prevalence, it’s perhaps surprising that motives for humans to seek out glossy, shiny, smooth things have, until now, gone largely underinvestigated in the scholarly world. A(n) hypothesis is presented, however, by doctoral student Katrien Meert of Ghent University, The Netherlands, in a new paper awaiting publication in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, ‘Taking a shine to it: How the preference for glossy stems from an innate need for water’
A series of six experimental studies were undertaken to test the hypothesis – which was partly supported :
The paper is currently behind a $35.95 paywall, but it can also be read in full, without charge, via Katrien Meert’s doctoral thesis ‘Attracted to Attractiveness? The Effect of Attraction and Luxury on Consumers’ Mind, Attitudes and Values’ (chapter 2, page 45)
Note: Doctoral student Katrien Meert of Ghent University, The Netherlands, should not be confused with doctoral student Katrien Meert of Ghent University, The Netherlands, who investigates shining rather than shiny materials, and is undertaking a PhD in the unusual field of ‘incommensurable scheelites’.
Also see, more glossiness research: Smooth bodywork in cars and women
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This contraption, the bricycle, is in vital ways intermediate between being a bicycle and being a tricycle, it is adjustable to act as the one, or the other, or something inbetween (a better name for it might have been biandortricycle). The bricycle is said (and demonstrated here) to be almost unridable. Its the work of Owen Dong, Christopher Graham, Anoop Grewal, Caitlin Parrucci and Andy Ruina at Cornell. They have done a fair amount of research on what makes bicycles work and not work.
Kim Krieger, writing in Science Now, essays a look at the world of the bricycle.
(Thanks to investigator Steven Strogatz for bringing this to our attention.)post a comment
Deb Blake asked:
I just went back to the draft to this post to reread my answer and realized that I didn’t answer the question Deb asked, I answered the question I thought she asked. So first, here’s the answer to her real question:
I create most of my visual notes by grabbing them off the net, taking pictures with my phone, drawing diagrams by hand or using Curio, and by creating computer collages using Curio, Elements, or Acorn.
I organize my research images, four ways.
I sort them into folders in the book folder on Dropbox.
I put them into VooDoo Pad docs
And I use book boards on Pinterest.
What I thought Deb asked was how I used visuals. I have no idea why I thought that, her question is perfectly clear. But since I answered it . . .
I think the most important thing about using visuals in writing is that it’s a much more natural way to think. Those lines of type are not the way we navigate through the world. We don’t experience things in straight lines and words, we see this and then that over there and then that other thing over there and we see relationships between them and make connections and assumptions that we don’t always verbalize. We observe life, we don’t read it (which is one of the reasons that comic books and film are such great delivery systems for story), and we often use those observations to make patterns and then use those patterns to determine what’s going on, what things mean. So when we’re trying to recreate real life, it makes sense to try to observe the fantasy we’re creating so we can see those connections and patterns.
There are limitless ways to use visuals, but the ones I use most often are:
The second act on the right hand page changed when I compared it to the left: I noticed I had another three mothers group, and I realized that the “Fix it, No” thread in Act One had turned into “Fix It, Yes” in Act Two. And I had completely missed the fact that I had three scenes in Vince’s car toward the end, building to the love scene, so I could rewrite those as an escalating series. The diagrams made it easier to divide both acts into scene sequences, too (see notes in lower right hand corners of pages). I could also go back in and doodle the motifs next to the scenes where they were mentioned (pearls, teddybears, T-shirts, etc.) That way I could see if I was repeating them, escalating their importance so I could pay them off in the last act. It’s about here that I start gluing stuff in, which makes the pages a real mess, but that’s okay, this isn’t art, it’s note taking.
And sometimes just screwing around on the page helps solidify ideas. Because neatness doesn’t count on this stuff and because I knew the act was going to end in Liz getting hit with a rock, when I started the first act notes, I doodled “Rock” at the top of the page (the top because I wanted my scene notes to rise in action from the bottom of the page). Then because it’s just doodling, I wrote “Hard Place” at the bottom (ha, amusing myself) and put the car/first scene there, and then realized that was a scene which was a hard place for Liz to be, thanks to her mom and her aunt. When I did Act Two, “Rock” had to go at the bottom, so I wrote “Hard Place” at the top and damn if that last scene isn’t Liz back in her car in a really hard place thanks to her mom and her aunt. Again, that’s something I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t been doodling cars and making dumb visual jokes about Liz being caught between a rock and a hard place
The examples above are in a smooth Bristol journal which will take a lot of abuse–Sharpie doesn’t bleed through this stuff–but you can do this on anything. The key, as in anything visual for writing, is that it’s not artwork, it’s notes. You don’t critique your penmanship when you make notes, so don’t critique your drawing ability or your neatness when you draw notes. (That big grey splotch in the middle is a mistake, not a symbol.)
The one below isn’t mine, it’s from the original brainstorming for the movie The World’s End via io9:
Or do the scene diagrams in a graphics program. This one was done in Curio:
A cousin to the mind map is the character relationship map, a kind of Venn diagram gone mad. Make a list of all your characters and then make a list of the groups they belong to: family, friends, work, school, whatever. Some of your character will be in more that one group and that’s fine. Then write your protagonist’s name large in the middle of blank page with the antagonist’s name large beneath that (leave some space) and the put the groups around the two names, overlapping when names are shared. It takes some jiggering, but when it’s done you can easily see the push and pull of group identities on the different characters. When I did the first one for Lavender’s Blue, I realized that I had aligned everyone with the protagonist and very few with the antagonist. That’s bad, the power balance should be on the antagonist’s side, so I had to reconfigure the groups and their placement. Once that was done, my protagonist’s life got a lot harder and writing conflict got a lot easier.
Keeping It All In One Place
Clicking on any of the titles takes you to a secondary page. “Short Stories” takes me to the list of short stories that are going to make up an episodic fantasy I’m playing around with. Clicking on the title of the first short story takes me to the outline for the story. Clicking on the scene tag in the outline takes me to the rough draft of that scene (that’s a first draft so it’s very bad):
That image is two different Voodoo Pad windows side by side.
Clicking on Characters on the index page leads to a list of characters. Clicking on a character leads to a page with my notes on that character. Click on “Locations” and you go to a page with a list of locations. Click on one and it leads to a page with my notes and pictures for that location. The pages are pretty much endless so you can get a lot of photos on one page.
And of course it’s a great place to store all those computer diagrams and visual notes.
Visual notetaking like this can help you see your book a lot more clearly because you’re breaking out of linearity and words. I don’t use all of these approaches on every book, each story seems to demand something different, but I always use collage because it’s the easiest way for me to see the book as a whole while I’m still drafting, and I always use some kind of mapping at some point so I can see my story’s parts in relationship to each other.
HOWEVER . . . aside from collecting pictures as I go, I do all of the mapping and diagramming after I’ve written most of a first draft. Write first, then organize what you’ve got. Or not.
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I’m coming to the conclusion that this is just not my show any more. Lots of good writing decisions in this episode, including sticking to only two plots that are tightly related, so excellent, focused structure. I love the Russian, hope he comes back more often. I don’t trust the reverend, but that’s just me and he’s a great character. Slade is fantastic, and Slade with his hand on Moira’s shoulder is better than fantastic. Loved watching Oliver’s head explode (because he knows what that hand on Moira’s shoulder means, having put his hand on many shoulders in the past). So what’s my problem?
The actual storytelling has slowed to a crawl because the back story is sucking the life from the main story. If you look at how the story actually moved in this episode it comes down to “Oliver knows Slade is in town and is making a move on Moira.” That’s a great scene right there, but it’s not a story. All of the stuff in the present was fun (except, dear god, they’re turning Felicity into Laurel, the Bitch in Impractical Shoes), loved the stuff in the Queen house except for Sara, who ran the gamut of emotions from A to B (thank you, Dorothy Parker). But the back story . . .
Okay, here’s the problem. With the exception of how the Russian got off the boat, we knew all of that. We knew Slade was gunning for Oliver because of Shado (although trying to sell the idea that Oliver chose Sara over Shado when he didn’t is just ANNOYING), we knew that Oliver was separated from Sara. We’ve talked about As You Know Chat on here; the island story was As You Know Action. I realize that a lot of people like that, which is why I’m not saying the stuff on the island is bad, I’m saying it left me cold, while taking away screen time from the things I love about this show, the Arrow team working together and Moira being the Hot Iron Lady. Oliver, Roy, and Sara boxing in Slade was excellent; give me a whole episode of moving the story forward with the Arrow team like that, and I’m there. Instead I got As You Know and explosions in the dark. No, thank you.
It wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t just watched Person of Interest‘s massive back story episode from this week, “RAM.” The entire episode except for the coda at the end was played in the past, and we knew nothing about any of it, so it was all new information played out in a plot that had a beginning and an end. It was, in short, story.
“Ram” began with a number coming up as usual, but this episode was set in 2010 so it’s pre-Reese. Finch is working with an ex-mercenary who is Finch’s compromise: he needs somebody tough enough to take out the bad guys, but that gives him Dillinger who walks the line between good and evil like a drunk on a bender. There are three different groups–Control, the CIA, and Decima–trying to kill the number this week, including Reese as half of the CIA hit team. As Finch sorts through the groups, Dillinger brings the number back to the library and steals the briefcase, and then the plot becomes a Chinese box, opening up with answer after answer to all the mysteries from three seasons–How did Finch find Reese? Who ordered the hit on Nathan? Why was Reese targeted for death in China?–while moving the story of how the hell Finch is going to save the number by himself (for one thing, he gets out of his wheelchair and limps into the real world again). Instead of back story showing stuff we already know, “RAM” is an origin story, showing how Finch, Reese, and Shaw all entered the same story space, tying off pretty much every mystery the series has been spinning since the beginning, and ending with a coda in the present that has Root bringing the number back into the game for the Machine, telling him, “She needs you.” It was magnificent storytelling, and I couldn’t look away for a moment, every second on that screen was new and moved story, which it gave both an ending–the number was saved–and pushed into the next episode–what the hell is Root doing?
Meanwhile on Arrow, I found out that Slade has the mirakuru, that he wants vengeance on Oliver for Shado’s death, and that the Russian escaped. Oh, wait, I knew all of that. What did I learn? Uh, there’s a character who’s a preacher? And the back story ends in another cliffhanger. Okay, but what about the now of the story. Oliver finds out Slade is town and is hitting on his mother. LOVE it. What else? Uh, that’s it. The big climax is Slade repeating the threat he’s already made several times. So no real story there, either. Sum up the entire episode: Slade is working to make Oliver pay. Wait, we knew that. By possibly making a move on Moira. Okay, that’s fun, but most of us saw that coming. What’s new? Nothing.
I really need story. I need a story that starts in the first scene and gives me closure at the end, I need new stuff happening all the time, I need to be surprised and delighted, and Arrow used to do all of that for me. But now their story pace has slowed to a crawl, there’s nothing new on the screen, and they’re not ending their weekly stories. So I’ll come back for the Suicide Squad (that’s next, right?), but if they do the same meaningless stuff with that that they’re doing here, I’m done. I’ll wait until the end of the season and watch the rest of the episodes together, fast forwarding through the back story and watching for the characters I love: Diggle, Moira, the Russian, Deadshot, Slade, Felicity if they put her character back together (why was she wearing all of her mother’s jewelry?). But weekly viewing? No. I need story.
I will, however, be glued to the screen every week to find out what happens next with the Machine gang, especially this chick:
She could take Slade without batting an eye because she does new things that nobody expects. And then she finishes the job and moves on. Root knows story.post a comment
“Researcher baffled by document written by artillery master Franz Helm featuring pictures of jetpacks strapped to cats and doves” is the subheadline on an Associated Press article in The Guardian. It tells of a discovery made by University of Pennsylvania scholar Mitch Frass [pictured here, right].
Here’s the cat/dove picture (you can see it and many others at the University of Pennsylvania’s site — use the drop-down menu there to see a list of what’s what, including one that may strike some people as being a bit obscene):
BONUS (unrelated): Esther the Cold War Kittypost a comment
One of the problems of digging up an old, stalled book is that you’ve eliminated so many of your options already. You Again is a murder mystery/romance; the mystery/father hunt/ghost story is the main plot and the romance is the first subplot. The second subplot is Scylla vs her love interest, the secondary romance. But there’s also the third subplot, the plot that Rose is hatching, the bed-and-breakfast plot, which is why she’s lured everybody to the house.
So that’s three subplots. For a novel, that’s not impossible, but it’s not good, either. And of course every character in the book has his or her own reason for coming to Rosemore, Isolde is hoping for a job, Nora thinks Malcolm’s been embezzling, and so on, and they all have secrets they don’t want revealed. So the key is to tie everything to the main plot or a subplot, and then make sure all the subplots echo or interact with the main plot.
So back to the mystery main plot. That’s tied to a trust fund that will be liquidated (is that the right word?) on January 1st. (The story starts the day before Christmas and ends on New Year’s Day.) So the goal of the murderer is money.
The romance subplot intertwines with that because the first murder shifts Zelda’s outlook on life considerably; if it weren’t for the shock of that death, Zelda wouldn’t become open to new things, like sleeping with James-Spenser-Sam (dear god, I have to find a name for him), and the fact that she’s sleeping with him increases the pressure on the murderer. So I’m good there, plus the more the tension rises with the threats from the murderer (they’re snowbound), the more pain there is, and pain spikes adrenalin which fuels passion. I’ll have to look at it again to make sure the main plot needs it, that if I took the romance plot out of the book, the main plot would suffer, but I’m pretty sure it’s inextricably intertwined with the main plot.
Scylla’s romance subplot echoes Zelda’s because the same murder shifts her perspective on life, and when that shifts, so does her view of romance. Her character arc is the reverse of Zelda’s, so that’s a tie to Zelda’s plot, too. Plus she and Zelda are partners all the way, so anything one does, the other is part of, which means that when Zelda starts looking for the killer, so does Scylla. I’m good with her romance as the second subplot. Still, I need to make things she does as part of her romance plot things that are essential to the main plot, so that’s something else to keep in mind. The problem with secondary romances is that they too often feel like secondary plots, something thrown in at the last moment instead of something integral to the plot.
Then there’s Rose’s bed-and-breakfast plot. It’s her motivation for dragging everybody to Rosemore, so that helps unify things since she’ll be working in the background, complicating things for everybody. Her plot puts pressure on Zelda and Scylla because one approves of it and one doesn’t. Her plot pushes the romance because it’s in her best interest to have Zelda and James Etc. together. Her plot pushes the Scylla romance plot because Rose has an investment in Scylla’s choice. It still needs to be tied more tightly to the main plot. Must cogitate on that.
So, Murder Mystery, Romance, Second Romance, Bed and Breakfast. That’s do-able in a novel-length story although I’d be happier if there were only two subplots. The Murder Mystery is definitely the main plot, so it has to start in the first scene, not necessarily with a body, but with a lot of foreshadowing. The Romance has to start there, too, with foreshadowing, building up expectation of the first meet (which in this case is two people who haven’t seen each other in eighteen years). The Second Romance has to start fairly soon, within the first three or four scenes, I think. And the Bed and Breakfast starts in the first scene for sure.
Right now, the beginning of the first act, with the Murder Mystery in bold and the Romance Plot in italics . . .
1. Zelda vs. Scylla: Arguing about the Bed and Breakfast
So the first scene does nothing but set up the minor subplot so I’m going to have to cut that. That makes Zelda vs. Rose the first scene and that does start the Murder Mystery. But then I lose the echo in James’s scene with Mike, which may also be just set-up and need to be cut. Nope, that would put James entering the story in what would then be the sixth scene and that’s too late. Hell. So 1. Zelda vs. Scylla has to include the Father Hunt, which could easily devolve into As You Know Chat, but if I can figure out a way around that, that will make it part of the Murder Mystery. All I have to do is make sure that “1. Zelda vs. Scylla” and “4. James vs. Mike” are not Set-Up Chat, and I can make that work. Although the fourth scene is still pretty late to bring James in. Better make that the third scene. Argh.
Then it’s gets trickier because almost all of the work I’ve done on this has been first act stuff. (Yes, my first act ran very, very long.) I know the first act turning point is the first murder. The second act point of no return turning point is the second murder. The third act crisis . . . I had that a third murder but I think that strains credulity. So now it’s back to the drawing board for the acts plan, and wading through all the first act stuff I’ve already written to see if there’s anything worth keeping. But by god, I have a main plot with two integrated subplots. That’s something. I really have to figure out how that Bed and Breakfast subplot works with the main Murder Mystery, though. And starting that minor B&B subplot in the first scene isn’t good, so no on that. ARGH.
Back to reading old drafts. And while I’m at it, revising the collage again. The early version is up at the top; below is a later version, but neither of them are right for where the story’s going now, so there will be tearing off of images and a lot more scissors-and-glue in my future:post a comment
Hardwicke’s Science-Gossip was a monthly publication that brought science (mostly botany, zoology and geology) to the masses. Science-Gossip provided short summaries of scientific studies (mostly botany and zoology); advice to the hobbyist on raising reptiles, catching rare butterflies, building a microscope, etc; and most interesting, pages and pages of correspondence, answering readers’ questions and reprinting readers’ anecdotes.
Though it did not seek to publish real scientific studies, on occasion Science-Gossip could be the venue for new discoveries. For example, the March 1866 edition recounts one young investigator’s novel technique for capturing a bird. Like all the best breakthroughs, it occurred unexpectedly, in the process of trying to do something else.
E. Parkins is not clear on whether the young fisherman used this technique to recruit an army of captive birds, which could then be used to catch a multitude of fish, ukai style.post a comment
If you’ve ever been at a loss for ideas when it comes to finding a use for a child’s discarded primary teeth – a new US patent (#8661849) provides suggestions (though you might want to check with the inventor as to royalty arrangements for using his invention):
Inventor John G. Fischer, of Irving, Texas, describes the rationale behind his invention : ‘Deciduous teeth matrix jewelry and method of manufacture’
The patent includes this mathematically interesting statement:
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It also has info about upcoming events.
Mel [pictured here] says, “It’s swell.”
mini-AIR is the simplest way to keep informed about Improbable and Ig Nobel news and events.
Want to have mini-AIR e-mailed to you every month? Just add yourself to the mini-AIR list.post a comment