Tuesday, January 31, 2012

First step at Star Trek's Replicator

I would be the first to admit that having a replicator like that on Star Trek would be awesome. Can you just imagine? You wouldn't have to cook or bake (yes, there's freezer already made meals and delivery, but that still takes time). All you'd have to do is press on the button for what you want and voila, instant meal delivered straight to you. Granted, right now, it'd probably taste like cardboard but still.

One of the coolest things in development right now (there are some already out there and have been for the last decade), is 3D printing. So you'd take a 3D image on the computer and send it to this device and it'd 'print' it in 3D before your eyes like magic. The ones that are available right now apparently cost over $15,000, mostly used by companies (automotive, aerospace, footwear, jewelery), that need to develop a 3D version of their product out of plastics and other material.

It's even foreseen that in the future, 3D printing will reproduce replacement organs. Currently, tissues such as skin, muscles and short stretches of blood vessels can be made. Even bones have been printed. With more research, however, it should be possible to create bigger and more complex body parts. These printers work by depositing droplets of polymer which fuse together to form a structure. Voids in the structure and complex shapes are supported by printing a scaffold of water-soluble material and then once the product is complete, the scaffold is washed away. Researchers found that when small clusters of cells are placed next to each other, they fuse together and organize themselves. Various techniques are also being explored to condition the cells to mature into functioning body parts (for example, exercising muscles using small machines).

Though printing organs is new, growing them from scratch on scaffolds has already been done in 2006 in which new bladders were created for some patients and are still working. Some researchers think machines like this may one day be capable of printing tissues and organs directly into the body.

This, as far as I'm concerned, is the tip of the iceberg. If they can already accomplish some of these things, anything can be done in the future with one of these printers. As an author, I see the musecrack there, but also, the marketing potential. What would you do with one?

Monday, January 30, 2012

What You Don't Know...the Over-Active Imagination

Have you ever gone out on the water and looked down to see only but black? Ever wonder what could be under there that you just don't see?

My imagination has always run away with me. We have a lake on my parents' property and because it's clay bottom, you can't see anything. I've been out in a canoe and whatnot and yeah, it's scary to wonder what could be there. Realistically, you know there's no lake monster or whatever else your mind may conjure but that doesn't always matter. It's also why I will never swim in that lake. Blood suckers... I can deal with. It's the unknown that gets to me every time.

Or what about late at night...when the room is pitch black and you're all alone. You KNOW you're safe. That there are no monsters under the bed and yet, you make sure your feet aren't dangling off the edge and that all the corners of the blankets are tucked in beneath you. Or making sure the closet door is completely closed.

What inspires your nightmares? Where does your imagination run away with you?

Friday, January 27, 2012

How I Write-- Top 5 Ways to Get Writing Done

This week, we were asked what are our 5 top ways to be successful with our goals. Here are some of mine:

1. Oh a shiny!- Yeah, new story ideas are bad. The new characters like to chatter and complain. And oh the muse crack they dangle...I'm completely susceptible to those ideas for new stories. The crack, it's everywhere, I tell ya and just when I think I've evaded one, another comes along.
Many people hear voices when no-one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stare at the walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing. -Margaret Chittenden
There's no cure-all. Only a focus of steel. Writing all these ideas down in a WIP ideas file sometimes helps. But for the stubborn ideas...there are times when the only way it'll leave me alone is to actually write out the scene in my head. Let me be clear on what sticks with me. Sometimes it's the character or the plot, but most of the time, it's a line. One measly sentence that stalks me and repeats over and over again. Usually, it's the first line of a book, but not always. In those cases, I need to write out the scene. If I don't, I can't evade.

2. I want kick-ass fighting and awesome psychic moves and...oh what if I add a... (aka the grass is always greener on the other side)- This is the worse, to always want to do more. Sometimes the simplest scenes are the best. I write paranormal where your imagination is the limit and that can frustrate me because the laws of reality doesn't always apply. I can waste time going back and re-writing because oh I can always add (insert awesomely cool thing). By doing this, I go in circles and it can take more time to complete. This can be one of the hardest procrastination devices for me. Sometimes, I can talk myself out of adding the new awesomely cool thing, other times, I can't and I just have to write it and hope it doesn't change the plot too badly.

3. I'll write 120k in two weeks- Um yeah, not happening. Not that I even write past 80k, but still. The term here is keep your goals SMART. Who knows what will happen in two weeks. There's so many variables you're not in control of. Burn out is real and it can kill your motivation to write for awhile if you're not careful. I won't even get into carpal tunnel or the need for sleep and food. Know your limitiations. It'll help you decide on a more reasonable goal.

4. I have to do the dishes and take (insert pet name) out for a walk and my show is on so I definitely want to watch that and...- Reality sucks. We have things to do. We get sick. When you have kids, it's especially hard to put time aside for you when you have so many roles to play. Not to mention there's those with a job outside of the home. Everyone's situation is different. I get home and I have the intelligence of a slug. I don't feel like writing. I just want to lie there. But then I wouldn't get anything done. So I force myself. Even if it's just for an hour. At least I'm making SOME kind of progress. Actually, first I nap. Yep...as soon as I get home and eat I zonk out for 30 mins- 1 hr. It re-energizes me enough to get through the rest of the evening. Otherwise, I'm a zombie. Writing is one of those things where you need to make time for it...scheduling it in if you need to. Harder to do if you have a life (I don't), but sometimes it's needed.

5. Twitter! Facebook!- The world will not stop if you don't go on for an hour...or even a day. I'm bad at this. I love Twitter (not so much FB). I'm always on Twitter, BUT, I am a lurker. Especially when I'm writing or something. I have my chatty moments, but for the most part, I'm fairly quiet on there. A friend is trying out this internet nanny to block Twitter after a certain amount of time used... but still. Social media is great and all, but balance is important as well.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Hic Sunt Dracones (aka Here be Dragons)

We find dragons in various religions and cultures around the world, often revered as representatives of the primal forces of nature, religion and the universe. Usually, dragons are associated with wisdom and longevity, sometimes possessing some form of magic or other supernatural power. We all know movie and television's version of dragons--typically reptilian or serpentine in trait with large wings and sometimes horns. They may even breathe fire. With the discovery of how pterosaurs walked on ground, some dragons have been portrayed without front legs and using the wings instead as front legs.

The word dragon entered the english language in early 13th century. Derived from the Latin word draconem meaning "huge serpent, dragon," and from the Greek word δράκων, drakon meaning "serpent, giant seafish". The Greek and Latin term referred to any great serpents, not necessarily mythological. This usage was also used in English up to the 18th century.

While those may have been ancient depictions, populated by Hollywood and the imagination, there are a few real live "dragons" alive today. They don't breathe fire or are larger than a house, but they are very cool nevertheless and look like little dragons.

image credit: redbubble.com

The first is what's called a glaucus atlanticus or the blue sea slug often found in the temperate and tropical waters. It is a member of a new species called nudibranch which is a marine snail that lost is shell back in early evolutionary history. There are more than 3,000 species and are known for their elaborate patterns and vibrant colours. It floats on the surface of the water with the aid of a gas filled sac in its stomach. Because of the location of the sac, this little slug floats upside down. They feed on the venomous Portuguese Man o' War Physalia physalis; the by-the-wind-sailor Velella velella; the blue button Porpita porpita; and the violet snail, Janthina janthina. They survive by collecting the animal's toxins and storing them in littel sacs on the ends of their feather-like "fingers", producing a much more powerful and deadly sting.

The second is the gliding lizard, belonging to the genus Draco. This little guy looks more like the mythological creature. There are more than 45 species, ranging in size from 7-15 cm in length and are native to Southeast Asia.

The wings of the lizards are actually a rearranged rib cage in which one of the primary functions is to allow them to glide. By elongating their extended movable ribs, spanning the large flap of skin between their limbs, these arboreal reptiles can glide distances of over 60 meters. They also have a small set of flaps on their neck that serve as a horizontal stabilizer and a rudder-like tail to steer.

Not exactly creatures of legend, but still. What about the mythology of dragons do you like? What intrigues you?

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Allure of Ancient Egypt

I love ancient Egypt. I don't write it (yet!), but I've always had a fascination in it. In grade ten I wanted to become an Egyptologist. I even tried to learn hieroglyphics. For example, did you know that you can either read left to right or right to left depending on which way the symbols point? The ancient Egyptians believed that writing was invented by the god Thoth, the earliest known examples dating back to 3,400 BC. What made their writing difficult (for me!) to read was that the glyphs take on both semantic and phonetic values.

But it's more than just the hieroglyphs that drew me. It was their whole culture. Their belief in the various gods and goddesses and all of their practices to prepare for the afterlife. This polytheistic system was complex because some of the deities were believed to exist in different manifestations. The Egyptians believed that the phenomena of nature were divine forces. They deified these forces--including elements, animal characteristics and abstract forces. These gods and goddesses were  involved in all aspects of nature and human society. By doing this, they thought they could sustain and placate these phenomena and turn them to human advantage.

What ancient Egyptian-based stories do you love? What authors do you think about?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Vampire Burials vs the Science of Decomposition

Vampires or zombies? What were our ancestors trying to keep from reviving? In my post about Zombie: Historical Accounts, I talked about how 8th century medieval skeletons were unearthed with large rocks wedged in their mouth (one where, to a point, the jaw was dislocated to fit the rock). Initially, archaeologists thought that it was a vampire-slaying ritual. During the Black Death, it was believed that vampires spread the plague. A rock in the mouth was thought to be a disease-blocking method to ensure the vampires didn't wake to continue spreading the plague. However, because the belief of vampires didn't emerge until the 1500s, the theory was disregarded and it was thought that maybe the stones was simply a barrier to stop the dead from coming back.

I'd wondered why people back then thought it was vampires. Well, in 2006, a 16th-century woman was unearthed in a mass grave near Venice among some graves of plague victims. The woman also had a stone in her mouth, a "vampire".

But why did the people during the Middles believe in vampires? Well, apparently the "first recorded use of the term vampire was to refer to a Russian prince that scientists now believe may have been suffering from rabies. At some point the Bohemians switched to driving a stake through the hearts of vampires, but in the early period burials with a stone in the mouth were the accepted 'cure' to prevent them coming back to life."

During early burials, vampires were "recognized" probably because of decomposition, a phenomenon not understood back then. When the body decays, the stomach releases a dark "purge of fluid". Bloodlike, this liquid can flow from the corpse's nose and mouth. Often the burial grounds were reopened during the plague to add new bodies, a way to recycle graves. Gravediggers would have seen the decomposing remains and may have been confused the purge of fluid for the blood of the vampire's "victim".

Not only was there this "purge" that they thought was evidence, but sometimes the shroud near the corpse's mouth was torn, giving the impression that the dead was chewing through the cloth. In reality, the fluid expelled from the body sometimes moistened the shroud, causing it to sag into the jaw.
Vampires were thought by some to be the causes of plagues, and the superstition took root that shroud-chewing was the "magical way" that vampires infected people, Borrini said.
Inserting objects, then, such as the stones, into the mouths of alleged vampires was thought to halt the spread of disease.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Unlocking the Human Genome for the Creation of Psychics

Did you know that we have, on average, 3,000,000,000 DNA bases in our genome? How about if you unwrapped the DNA in all your cells it would reach to the moon 6000 times? Or that 99.9% of our DNA is the same as that of every other human?

I love genetics. In fact, I almost continued my biology and anthropology schooling to take Ancient DNA Studies. While I didn't keep up with my studies in it, simply leaving with a Bachelors of Honors in Biology and Anthropology, my writing often takes a scientific turn. 
In 2000 a rough draft of of a map of the entire human genome was completed; and then in 2003 the final draft was complete. While there are things we still don't know about what genes do what, this map has made it possible to better understand the causes and functions of disease, as well as create better preventative medicines. 
In Hunting the Shadows, my writing is heavily influenced by genetic manipulation. Using a virus as a vector, the scientists in my book create mutations (with the help of radiation) to reawaken locked up psychic abilities.

From Wikipedia: A viral vector is a tool commonly used by molecular biologists to deliver genetic material into cells. This process can be performed inside a living organism (in vivo) or in cell culture (in vitro). Viruses have evolved specialized molecular mechanisms to efficiently transport their genomes inside the cells they infect. Delivery of genes by a virus is termed transduction and the infected cells are described as transduced.
I love that anything can be possible. Yes, there are restraints, but writing paranormal means that I can stretch those limits a bit more. In the case of my characters, well, these abilities are a part of their daily lives and I try to explain as much as possible how that affects them. Their strengths as well as their problems. It's not something they can learn over night how to control. It takes years of hard training...and sometimes, that's not enough.
What do you think about psychic abilities? If you could have any ability, what would you want?

Friday, January 13, 2012

How I Write-- The best and worst advice I've received

Last week, we discussed our 2011 in review. What we accomplished. What we would change. What our goals for 2012 are. Today, we're discussing writing advice we've received or heard over the years.

Best writing advice

1. Every artist was first an amateur.

I like this saying because it reminds me that mistakes will be made. Mistakes that even the professionals have done at one point in time. What matters is that they stuck with it. Everyone starts as a beginner at some point.

2. The minute you think of giving up, think of the reason you held on for so long.

Something made you start that story. Whether it's your characters or plot, the muse crack bit you hard enough to write that first word and then the next. If you give up, you're going to sit on plenty of manuscripts that won't go anywhere. Yes, they'll be learning experiences, but there's something about being stubborn enough to see it all through to the end.

3. Discipline is doing what you know needs to be done, even though you don't want to.

Let's face it, there are things we don't want to do. Like plotting. Or some days we just don't feel like writing. While it's fine once and awhile to say that "today I'm not writing" it's what writers do. We write. Yes, sometimes life gets away with us with kids and work and chores...etc, but you also have to find time to get your words.

4. There are no original ideas. What makes a story new is how you write it.

This is something I've always worried about. I've re-written my book so many times because another I've read had a similar idea. I had to get over this because otherwise I would have never finished. Your "voice" and how your characters interact, etc, makes your story different from the others.

5. Everyone has their own process of writing and plotting. There is no right or wrong way.

There are so many different methods of plotting out there. I don't need to list all the various ways some people write. I have my own method. Find what works for you. People will always say that their way is best, but in reality, there is no right or wrong way. What matters is that you figure out how to get from point A to point B and then C.

Worst writing advice

1. Leave out all the parts readers skip.

Every reader is different. How do you know what they'll skip? The only thing you can do is base it off what interests you. If you don't like what you're writing, most likely your readers are going to feel the same way.

2. Writer's block is a sign that you did something wrong.

I've heard people say that if you're stuck, it's because you're going in the wrong direction or something just isn't right and once you figure out what that is you'll be fine again. Yes, knowing your direction helps but blocks happen for a bunch of reasons. Even if something is wrong, will you necessarily know what that is? Or how to fix it?

3. Write to the market.

By the time you write to the market, it's already moved on. There are some overarching themes that are more popular but for the most part, you should focus on genres rather than specific ideas.

4. If you aren't traditionally published then you aren't an author.

I've heard this quite a bit. I've even heard a published author say something similar on Twitter. These days there are many options. You don't need to just have to go the traditional route. You can be epublished through a digital first. You can even self-publish. What matters is what works for you because everyone has different needs. What matters is that you know the pros and cons of each option.

5. You have to follow the rules in order to get published.

Yes, there are some general grammatical and spelling rules you should write by, but there are no rigid rules that you have to write by. There are usually exceptions to most anyway. It all depends on the execution of how you get it on paper.

What advice have you received? Check out my friends' sites: Danie Ford Emma G. Delaney Kimberly Farris Kristen Koster

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How to pull of an art heist...or how scientists have created a time-masking cloak

In a popular comparison: an art heist takes place in a crowded museum--before your eyes and surveillance cameras. you don't see the thief, not even the actual taking of the painting. The opportunities would be staggering...and scary, but this is exactly what scientists at Cornell U are claiming to have done. Not the actual heist, but creating a time cloak that hid an event for 40 trillionths of a second.

While other invisibility cloaks created move light beams away from an object (like making an armored tank disappear or nanotubes creating a mirage), the Cornell team (backed by the Pentagon) found a way to alter how fast the light moves, changing the dimension in time, not space. By doing this, it makes it appear to the human eye or surveillance cameras (or even laser security beams) that an event isn't happening.
"You kind of create a hole in time where an event takes place," said study co-author Alexander Gaeta, director of Cornell's School of Applied and Engineering Physics. "You just don't know that anything ever happened."
This 'hole in time' is created using fiber optics as light moves inside a fiber thinner than a human hair. The scientists shoot the beam of light out. With other beams, they create a time lens that splits the light into two different speed beams that create the effect of invisibility by being too fast or too slow.

In the diagram a laser beam passes through a "split-time lens" - a specially designed waveguide that bumps up the wavelength for a while then suddenly bumps it down. The signal then passes through a filter that slows down the higher-wavelength part of the signal, creating a gap in which the cloaked event takes place. A second filter works in the opposite way from the first, letting the lower wavelength catch up, and a final split-time lens brings the beam back to the original wavelength, leaving no trace of what happened during the gap. (Image and Caption via Cornell University)
"It is significant because it opens up a whole new realm to ideas involving invisibility," McCall said
Click to watch a time cloaking simulation:

If you had such technology, what would you do with it?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Step into a new world

Welcome to Muse Crack Mondays! This feature is similar and will be taking over last year's Thursday Thirteen. While last year I posted links to articles in the news I thought was interesting this year, I'm going to focus on particular things that inspire my story ideas aka muse crack. These will also include links from time to time. It'll just be a bit more focused on what inspires my own stories and ideas.

I LOVE this picture. It has more than one purpose for me.

a: the writer in me sees stone portals that go off to other worlds. Or maybe they are time portals that enter into different time periods. I love time travel stories!

b: in general it's the epitome of 'ideas'. Of all the muse crack that is out there. A simple picture or a song...or a saying can spark ideas.

and c: for me it means taking a risk. For thinking outside the box. They say that most plots are overused, that there's nothing original out there anymore. What makes YOUR story different from the others and stand out is how you write it. How you develop your world and characters.

What's your muse crack?

Friday, January 6, 2012

How I Write-- 2011 in review

2011 Accomplishments

2011 brought interesting developments in my life. It was the year I got a book contract, a dream I'd secretly wished for so many years. Granted, I wasn't prepared all those other years, I see that now. I learned a lot about editing--how to tighten, how to strengthen character goals, etc.

It was also the year I went to New York for the first time for the RWA Nationals. I saw many friends and met a bunch of people. We braved the taxis and street cart "dirty dogs"; and visited the very scenic Central Park. And brought way too many books back.

I also bought my first ereader in 2011, a Kobo Touch I fell in love with and then later on, also bought a Kobo Vox. Since then, I have bought over 60 books on them. I had held off for awhile for purchasing an ereader. Like many people, I still love the feel of a physical book in my hands and didn't really want to read on screen. That all changed and while I have some favourite authors I still purchase the physical books from, the majority of future purchases will be ebooks.

What would I do differently?

To be honest, I'm not sure there is much I would do differently. Everything I did was a learning experience. The only thing I would change would be to not let myself "hide". I'm a very introverted person and for a good part of the year I was off work. That meant staying at home for long periods of time and I got used to being by myself. I become a hermit, dreading leaving the apartment, even just to get groceries. I'm back at work now, but it's an effort to get out of these ways. Looking back, I should have gone out more. I should have taken myself out to coffee shops more than once a week to socialize. I should have made more of a conscious effort.

What about 2012? Or what goals do I want to achieve?

Every year, for the accountability group I'm in, we each have to create our long term goal plan. While I won't bore you with all of mine, I'll list off some of the top goals:

1. Finish at least two books (this does not count Seducing the Shadows which has a deadline of Jan 31st to get to critique partners)
2. Re-vamp the Alexia Reed site. This means updating.
3. Read 100 books. This year I'm doing a challenge where 50 of those books (if possible) will be of main characters who don't fall under the "perfect" category. Characters who deepen their story by being different in some way. I think this is important because I tend to trap myself in reading only a certain kind of book. This year, I want to push that envelope because perfect characters aren't real.

What are your 2012 goals? What would you change of 2011 if you could? Check out my friends' sites: Danie Ford Emma G. Delaney Kimberly Farris Kristen Koster