Archive for June, 2011|Monthly archive page

Things that Bother Science Geeks

Okay, these are things that bother one science geek, namely me.

1. Synthetic motor oil. What is it?

Oil is a starting point in organic synthesis, not an ending point. What what is synthetic oil made from? It’s advertised as being better for cars than regular motor oil, but they never say why. Freaky.

2. Digital electric motors. I confess, this comes from a particular commercial for a hand-held vacuum. But I know how electric motors work. They convert electricity (which isn’t digital) to motion (which isn’t digital), where where does the digital part come in?

I’m inclined to chalk this up to marketing puffery. Puffery is a legal term (yes, really) for over-the-top claims, such as the recent Dairy Queen ad stating, “We don’t just blow bubbles, we blow bubbles with kittens in them.”

3. I recently heard some idiot on a cable news channel say that ethanol fuel drove up food prices, because it took corn out of the food supply. It doesn’t, but it takes the sugar that pigs and cows can’t digest out of the 50+% of the corn crop used for animal feed and returns the distillers grain (a better grade of feed) to the livestock food supply.

4. Last weekend, a massage therapist assured me she only buys sugar made from sugar cane, as if it’s not exactly the same molecule that comes out of sugar beets. Sucrose is sucrose, and we all eat way too much of it. The glucose half of the molecule is okay (your body runs on glucose, after all), but the fructose half converts to fat right in your liver. Don’t make me show you the biochemistry equations.

There, I feel much better now. Thank you for letting me vent.

A Very Long, Strange Trip

I’ve lived through some…interesting episodes since about Halloween 2004. That’s when my dog stopped eating. After two months (and several thousand dollars) of tests, the vet told us he had pancreatic or perhaps liver cancer. We put him to sleep the day after Christmas.

Why? Well, my mother also had pancreatic cancer and I just couldn’t cope with watching them both die at the same time. She collapsed two days after we euthanized the dog, rallied for a week or two, and then went into the decline that ended with her death on February 18, 2005. My father ended his 12-year battle with ALS (yes, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and yes, 12 years — he and Stephen Hawking are curve blowers) on September 29, 2005.

Two weeks later, I developed a blurry spot in my right eye. I went to the eye doctor, who told me I had optic neuritis (inflammation of the nerve) and sent me for a brain MRI “to rule out MS.” It didn’t rule it out.

By Christmas, I couldn’t see out of my right eye, my feet and lower legs were numb to my knees with tingling to mid thigh, my fingertips were starting to tingle, and I couldn’t close my eyes without losing my balance.

I had a 40-minute drive to and from work with no binocular vision, and I was told I couldn’t telecommute.

In mid-January some bloodwork came back that indicated I have celiac disease, which runs in my mother’s family. My neurologist shrugged and said a gluten-free diet is good for multiple sclerosis, so I began eliminating gluten from my diet.

At the same time I went on MS medication (immunosuppressants) and a steroid pulse (1000mg of Solu-Medrol, a Prednisone equivalent for two days a month). Slowly, sensation came back and my right eye’s vision came back.

On May 2, 2006, I was fired from my job for “poor quality of work,” which is actually a paraphrase of a much longer statement. But it was okay, because I could feel my legs again. And I won a writing contest with the manuscript that would become Blade’s Edge.

Fast-forward to 2009. My medical condition had stabilized; no new brain lesions since 2006, off the steroid pulse and slowly losing the extra weight (look ma, cheekbones!). I contracted my novel with Samhain Publishing. Life was good.

Then I got this funny wart on the tip of my nose, which was very annoying. I went to a dermatologist, who said, “No, that looks like a skin cancer” and took a biopsy.

While I was running the check-in table at the Murder in the Grove Master Class Weekend with Bob Mayer and Margie Lawson, the dermatologist called with the pathology results: squamous cell carcinoma. Not the worst skin cancer to have (that would be melanoma), but not the best, either (that would be basal cell carcinoma).

Because of the location, I was going to need Mohs surgery, which requires less “margin” — healthy tissue lopped off in cancer surgery just in case.
There are two dermatologic surgeons qualified to perform Mohs surgery in the state of Idaho (which is about the size of Great Britain). Luckily, they both practice in Boise.

So I had the surgery on June 24, 2009. That’s right, this is the second anniversary of my skin cancer surgery.

Blade’s Edge came out on September 8, 2009. I was now a published author. There was some drama with my editor leaving Samhain three weeks before my pub date, then her new job vanishing the day after my pub date, but that turned out okay, because Harlequin snatched her up to run Carina Press.

In October, since I’m a woman of a certain age (over 40), I had a mammogram. Then I had to go back for an “extra view” several weeks later. Two days before Thanksgiving, I had breast biopsy. Yes, it was positive, but it wasn’t that serious — ductile carcinoma in situ, considered pre-cancerous or stage 0 cancer.

The lumpectomy was on December 22, 2009. Yes, the year my first book was published I became a cancer double-survivor. Freaky-weird. But it gets even better.

While I was going through radiation therapy (for which I had to stop taking my MS medication, because it makes radiation more toxic), an article came out in the British Medical Journal “The Lancet — Neurology” that basically said, “If you are trying to diagnose for multiple sclerosis you need to eliminate celiac first.”

Apparently, they’ve discovered that celiac has neurological implications, can create lesions that look like MS to an MRI, and has even been linked to dementia (my mother’s father died of Accelerated Senility in a state hospital in 1962; hmmm). In my case, celiac cannot be ruled out.

I didn’t start taking my MS medication again when I finished the radiation treatments, but I remained on a gluten-free diet.

It’s 15 months later.

I’m officially cancer free, I have no MS-like symptoms, I’m working at the best job I’ve had in 15 years. And I finished a manuscript this week, my second complete manuscript since my parents died, and the first one that I actually plotted (the other was a direct treatment of Sleeping Beauty as science fiction; I might fix it sometime, but I might not).

Today on Twitter, I actually stuck my head up and shyly recommended my book to someone who was looking for science-fiction romance. The extraordinary and fabulous Angela James (who was the editor for my first book) tweeted back that she wishes I would write another.

I’m working on it, Ms. James. I’m working on it. I just had to get back from this long, strange trip.

And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Open Mike at Club Bebop

The first draft of Open Mike at Club Bebop is typed and off to the critique group, all 29,500 words of it. Whew!

Now on to the next linked novella, Getting Lucky. This is also a Cinderella sort of story, but it actually has a wicked stepmother and a Society Darling now reduced to cleaning for a living. And yes, her nickname is Lucky. Mwah-hah-hah-hah-haaah.

I’m planning a total of three linked novellas that can be sold separately or bundled together as a novel in three parts. The third one I’m calling Kindness of Strangers as a working title. If you can buy a cryostasis chamber in an asteroid belt habitat as a glass coffin, think Snow White for a plot.

I’ve had a wonderful day today, and my first week as a regular full-time employee is going very well. To quote someone (Cat Stevens? Jennifer Crusie?), Nothing but good times ahead.

And it’s only Wednesday, so I’ve got that going for me, too. Yes, I know I’m a little over-bubbly right now; one might even say giddy and not be far off the mark. I promise I’ll get back to deep thoughts soon, but not today. Today I finished a first draft.

Finishing a Draft

Please pardon the blog silence. I’m one or two scenes away from finishing a first draft and it’s taking all of my attention.

Oh, and I converted to full-time regular at my new day job, so I’ve been filling out benefit forms and trying to figure out my magic retirement “number” for the 401K. Personally, I like #1 — on the New York Times Bestseller list.

See you when I surface in a few days, my friends.

So the Heineken “Entrance” Commercial – What is Going On?

Some people dissect books in their blogs. Some people dissect movies. Me, I have two day jobs, so I only have the attention span to dissect TV commercials. The best television ads are incredible storytelling (witness the Best Cat Food Commercial Ever).

And then there’s this Heineken commercial that I think is called “The Entrance.” I’ve seen it several times now and…I don’t get it. It’s particularly bad when the full 92-second version is edited to fit into a 30 second time slot, because what almost made sense in context has had most of the context removed. I had to go to YouTube to find the long version so I could sort of figure out what was going on.

There’s this massive party in a ridiculously opulent mansion. Seriously, there’s a basketball court somewhere between the front door and the main staircase, according to the commercial. All kinds of seriously beautiful/seriously rich people hanging out and having a good time together.

Cue the “hot guy” who is really in need of a shave — the 5-day Quaker beard w/mustache just looks like he needs testosterone supplements, sorry — or at least a decent stylist who can make curly hair look rumpled but not lumpy.

Then we have the extended anthropological study of human male greeting rituals that become increasingly stereotypical and stupid. Finger shootout with the fat guy in the cowboy hat and Elvis sideburns, really? The vaguely menacing mafia-type in a throne/chair? Does Hot Guy always carry a dove up his sleeve and yank tablecloths off of laden sideboards? Fake martial arts arms? Please.

Then the climax: Hot Guy changes out of his black jacket into a white jacket–probably because of the dove doody up the sleeve — pulls out a…HE’S WITH THE BAND? He’s the FLAUTIST? And he’s LATE? WTB (which stands for What The [Bleep!], because I try to watch my language in the blog)?

And the band is set up on the main staircase, which I’m pretty sure violates a fire code. This is where the vein starts throbbing in my forehead and, if it’s a paper book, I throw it across the room.

But wait, there’s this dedicated server with a silver tray and a bottle of Heineken chasing Hot Guy all over the place, even magically obtaining a second bottle when Hot Guy gives away the first one to his back-flipping martial arts buddy (who is East Asian, of course, because ripped shirtless martial arts guys are always East Asian, aren’t they?).

The server is an older guy, with wrinkles, and what hair he has left is gray, but he keeps up with Hot Guy all the way through the crowd and weirdity. And when the flute solo is done, he’s right there with the beer. Even Hot Guy is impressed.

Okay. Cutting through the stereotypes, the sensationalism and the general weirdness (surreality?), what’s the story? No matter how freaky your party is, your dedicated bar personnel will make sure your quality beer arrives right on time. Yup, the waiter is our hero.

And there you have it; a weak, confused story camouflaged with special effects and a buried hero. As far as I’m concerned, the best part of the commercial is the song (Golden Age, by Asteroid Galaxy Tour).

Good song. I understand it’s good beer, too, but I have problems with gluetn gluten (see, I can’t even spell it right on the first try) so I can’t drink beer. The ad…well, it’s not horrible, particularly compared to the Most Interesting Man in the World ads, but it could be better.

Before I Forget…ECWC Registration is Open

Registration for the Emerald City Writers’ Conference opened this week. If you want to be in the audience for my opus, “This is Your Brain on Love” you need to register for the conference.

Okay, you might also be able to ply me with chocolate and alcohol. Or realllly good coffee.

And don’t forget the part about vole sex, and especially how it relates to reforming a rake (of the human male variety, not the garden implement variety). That’s always interesting. 🙂

Online Class Titles

I’m coming up with some very interesting titles for individual lessons.

For example, “The Answer to Life, The Universe and Everything is 496, Not 42” is about the five different and competing versions of string theory that had developed by the 1980s. A group of physicists got together and solved for the gauge group size, coming up with 496 in more than one of the different theories and laying the groundwork for the idea that they’re all different views of the same thing.

“Turn that Dimension Dial Up to 11” is about how including an 11th dimension in the equations brought together all the flavors of string theory, as well as supergravity, general relativity and quantum mechanics.

I’m not sure what to call the overall course, however. “The Dream that Stuff is Made Of” was my favorite for quite a while.

But now I’m thinking about “The Science of Magic” because there are a lot of things that actually make sense at the scale of theoretical physics (where atoms are huge and galaxies are fairly small) when they just don’t make sense at a human scale.

Which of the titles do you like the best? Or do you have any other suggestions?

%d bloggers like this: