Archive for May, 2011|Monthly archive page

Fur Family Update

Still no photos of the other two cats… Serena had a mat in her fur, Spooky Man tried to cut it out; one snip went wrong and she now has a bandage on the small hole in her skin.

Spooky Man feels awful, since he’s the only human she really likes. No photos until she heals, which might take a while — she’s going to be 20 years old around the first of September, which is about the human equivalent of 120.

Tuffi acquired an abscess at the base of his right ear that he scratched open. It was ugly; at one point, he had gotten all the fur off his right ear and had what appeared to be a gigantic hole in the skin. The original scab looked like it covered half of his ear, and the rest of the ear had that glossy look of burned skin.

He was not pleased about the wound cleaning, the peroxide treatment or the surface antibiotic. He was not pleased about house arrest, either. I wasn’t pleased about holding down a growling cat built like a linebacker, with only a towel between us, while Spooky Man cleaned, disinfected and applied antibiotic ointment.

The fur is starting to grow back (Spooky Man was concerned that he’d have a bald ear forever) and the scab is now smaller than a standard pencil eraser. So he won’t be ready for a portrait until his ear is fully recovered.

Some people’s furry kids.

Netiquette…because the alternative was a grammar rant

I’m a member of the Romance Writers of America (RWA), and several local chapters of RWA, as well as other local and regional writing support groups. I’m a member of a lot of Yahoo! groups, and I get most of my messages in digest form.

And you wouldn’t believe how clueless, self-absorbed, and rude people can be in e-mail. Well, you might believe it, but there are days where it still astonishes me.

I know these are lovely, wonderful people. They’re thin and attractive, good conversationalists and better dressers. Of course they are — they’re writers. And these breaches of good taste are aberrations from their normal behavior.

But just in case, here is a gut-check list of things to think about before you hit send on that next post.

1. Am I begging for something?

I received a digest (group of 25 messages in one e-mail) yesterday from an RWA special interest chapter–targeted toward writers in a specific romance subgenre–that had 12 message begging for something. Votes in a contest, blog traffic, website feedback, book purchases–whatever.

Nine message were congratulatory, one was the announcement being congratulated, and three were a discussion of a writing topic. By my count, that’s four messages of useful content out of a total of 25, less than 20%.

2. Am I complaining about something to the wrong people?

People seem very fond of directing complaints to the general population of a group, when the complaint really needs to be sent to the board if it’s going to change.

This is particularly useless on RWA groups, where it’s explicitly against the rules to forward something off the list without the sender’s permission (and the complainers never seem to give permission to forward). Standing on a soapbox and yelling merely annoys passersby.

3. Am I asking a question I could have answered myself with Google and two keywords?

If it takes you longer to type the question in e-mail form than it would to do your own search, you’re probably wasting your own time along with everyone else’s. Try the search first. No, really, you’re allowed.

And just for the record (because formatting comes up at least once a month on one or more groups), use 12-point Times New Roman, set your margins to 1″ all around, use a single space between sentences and set your MS Word line spacing to Exactly and 25 pts (not, as I’ve so often read, Exactly and 25 lines per page–it comes out to 25 lines per page, but by coincidence).

For italics you can use italics, and start a new chapter 1/3 to 1/2 way down the page. Please don’t bring it up again this month.

4. Is everyone in the group (one of mine has 800 members) going to care that I said “Congrats!” regarding someone’s good news?

Honestly, send it directly to the person who deserves the accolade for his or her accomplishment. Or condolences, if the original post was bad news. Some people have said they like seeing this stuff. Really?

I like the original announcements (of good news, I hate to see bad news), but all the replies? Not so much, unless they’re doing something more than congratulating: “You sold your first book? How wonderful! Tell us about the phone call/e-mail. Is it coming out in time for Christmas next year?”

5. Have I trimmed off the irrelevant previous e-mails and changed the subject line to what we’re currently talking about?

Remember the part about digests? Have you ever seen one that contains other digests (yes, multiple) inside it? Two words: Not. Pretty. Occasionally forgetting to trim is forgivable — I know I’ve done it before. But never trimming, well…it’s simply not done by the best people.

6. Do I really need a signature line longer than the rest of my e-mail?

Most e-mail programs allow the user to set an automatic signature line. I’ve seen whole excerpted scenes in signature lines, decade-long lists of contest finals/wins, entire backlists, and a few legal disclaimers of ridiculous length (probably because the posters were at day jobs and required to send them).

All I want is a discreet link to your website/blog, so I know where to go look if I think you’re interesting, based on the content of your e-mail. Put all of that other stuff on the other side of that link and you’re golden — tasteful, polite, and classy.

Well, except the ridiculous legal disclaimer, but that wouldn’t be your fault anyway.

7. Is this e-mail going to make me look/sound like a [bleep!]ing [bleep!]head?

E-mail doesn’t have a tone of voice, posture or facial expression, so I have no clue if someone is writing in a tone of dry sarcasm, breathless excitement, or complete rage — unless the poster says so.

Emoticons are also helpful in determining all the non-verbal parts of communication. A simple smiley face can mean the difference between a chuckle and a flame war. Or at least hurt feelings.

And there you have it, Val’s seven simple gut checks before you hit send.

By the way, permission to forwarded is granted. Just in case. 🙂

M-Theory, the Latest Dream that Stuff is Made Of

I’m re-reading The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene as preparation for writing an online class on the latest cosmological theories as pertains to writers. If you don’t get freaked out by the math, it’s fascinating stuff. And he keeps equations to a minimum, anyway.

What’s fascinating? Well, there’s the idea that all subatomic particles are actually made up of tiny strings of energy stuck into a membrane (the “M” in M-Theory). Except the tiny strings of energy that cause gravity; they’re closed loops that we only sense when they’re next to the membrane, which explains why gravity is such a weak force.

Or the idea that the Big Bang was caused by two of these subatomic membranes banging into each other. It probably happens all the time, and new universes are created all the time.

The math (if you can call it math when it doesn’t actually use any numbers) works, but the postulates themselves are so arcane that no one has actually come up with a way to test them yet. Hence the title of my post. Right now it’s more of a philosophy than something we can prove or disprove.

Will we be able to test these ideas someday? Well, a week or two ago, scientists announced that they had proved part of Einstein’s General Relativity theory, finally getting results from an experiment the group started planning in 1963 (the year before I was born). It showed actual twisting of the depression in space-time created by a planetary mass, due to the Earth’s rotation. Einstein’s paper was published in 1915. So the experiments about M-Theory might take awhile to develop, “awhile” being a euphemism for “a few generations” or even “a couple of lifetimes.”

But the implications for writers…fascinating stuff. Would wormholes be the openings to parallel universes? What about ghosts? Energy bleed over from a different quantum reality? Or maybe strings that have been moved from their proper place in the membrane, unless that’s precognition.

And do the extra dimensions (M-theory has 11) provide a loophole in the cosmic speed limit? I mean, what’s the difference between traveling faster than light in a gigantic universe and traveling slower than light, but through a much smaller universe because you could access the teeny-tiny dimensions where energy strings vibrate? And how would the engineering for that work?

According to the math, reality is a strange place when looked at very, very closely, and writers get to play with what that means. The more I read about this stuff, the more story ideas float into my fuzzy little brain, and they’re not all science fiction stories, either.

You might consider giving the book a try.

Sleep Deprivation in American Kids, a small rant

Fact: obesity, “metabolic syndrome,” and type 2 diabetes are rampant in the United States.

Fact: Americans are chronically sleep deprived, with adults averaging less than seven hours a night, when that average should be eight or nine hours a night. Children need more sleep than adults; 10-12 hours a night is recommended up to age 12.

Fact: Sleep deprivation has been linked to metabolic syndrome, obesity and type 2 diabetes, along with a host of other medical issues.

Fact: I was in a grocery store after 9 p.m. on a Tuesday in early May and saw multiple families, with grade-school aged children, shopping. School is still in session in this city in early May.

Opinion: Take your kids home and put them to bed, my friends. Keeping them up after 9 p.m. when they have school in the morning is Bad for them.

It can elevate their fasting blood sugar, impair their ability to control appetite, and even interfere with their memory of stuff they’ve recently learned.

And while you’re at it, go take a nap, because you don’t need those things to happen to you, either.

End of Rant. I feel much better now. Thanks for listening.

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