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2. Worldbuilding nuts & bolts Whimsy Writing Life

Barns & other distractions

Did I need to research dairy barn restoration and collect architectural drawings of historical barn types yesterday & today?

TRICK QUESTION.

Checking my barn-related terminology for a single scene sent me skipping through Indian dairy farming advice blogs, across encyclopedia entries on cow breeds, and down a long sideline into the meaning of “Highline electricity” into power line work and voltage issues with server racks.

Fun facts: gawala means cattleman or head dairy worker in Urdu, at least according to two language sites I consulted after being puzzled by the term’s appearance in an otherwise all-English language paper comparing the efficiency of different cow configurations in milking barns. (Surprise, it was an INDIAN dairy industry publication. …which bounced me into a brief investigation of dairy farming in India.) Gawala may also be a kind of milk-based candy?

Highline vs lowline refers to the voltage carried by power lines. Also back in the day your builder needed to know whether your farm had highline or house plant electricity before drawing up plans for your barn.

And barn research totally relates to volcanoes, right? Okay, no, but I saw a news headline while I was closing a tab. Count on a geology/meteorology nerd like me to click on ANY link with a satellite photo of a huge ash cloud.

What happened in the Pacific last week will have global effects for a long time to come. Like every huge eruption, it’ll teach geologists a ton about what’s going on beneath the thin biosphere we inhabit. And like every huge eruption near humans, its toll will be expensie and heartbreaking. The videos and photos of the aftermath are incredible. The cost? Incalculable.

ANYway. Speaking of satellite photos, I’ve been watching US winter storms on assorted weather sites lately. The quality of the images is interesting (in a muttered curses way) because it pretty much indicates how blatant the site is about downgrading the available imagery to engineer subscriptions to the premium subscription strategy. Charging for something that should be a free public resource.

I recall my excitement a zillion years ago when my parents got cable television and a new TV with a remote. Not because we got HBO. Not because the TV picture was suddenly clear instead of getting fuzzy or staticky when it rained. Not because I could flip channels from across the room. Nope.

I was over the moon because I COULD WATCH THE WEATHER RADAR! MInd, this was not the amazing many-layered weather displays of today’s weather apps. It was straight-up regional Doppler precipitation radar on a 30-second loop. It still fascinated me. Weather patterns both local and distant shifted, grew, and passed right in front of my eyes.

I loved mentally connecting those trends to the conditions outside the window. My dad used to make fun of me for checking the television for the weather instead of looking outside (weather rock style) but matching screen to reality taught me tons about reading the sky for future conditions in just a few years. Priceless free education.

But I digress. The free imagery now available from modern satellites is MIND-BLOWING. You won’t find it on easily-accessible, fast-loading commercial weather apps, but it’s out there. Full-color, high-resolution visuals. Temperature gradients. Precipitation. Stills and animation loops for hours. Any time there’s a Big Weather or Big Fire event, I am up online ogling the imagery from space.

There are a lot of sites, but my favorites are https://www.star.nesdis.noaa.gov/goes/index.php for the US GOES-East & GOES-West satellites, and https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/satellite.php when I want Himawari-8.

That’s all for this episode of Research roundup. For your enjoyment, I am including a Weather Rock Photo.

Until later!

Oh, right. Obligatory “Hey, I Write Books” postscript: if you like my writing, please recommend my books to all your friends & enemies. They are wonderful books full of Good Things.

Science. Fiction. Love. Honor. Revenge. Knitting. Gardening. Thrilling escapes & cozy conversations. All that and more. Easy one-stop access: https://bit.ly/kmhlinktree

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Authoring Writing Life

My Bouncy Brain In Action

I’ve had zero attention span the last couple of days. So, minimal writing. Not zero writing, but…discouraging nonetheless.

But! I have dug into a few interesting topics while in Guilt-wracked Avoidance Mode

Thing the 1st

The town where I spent several formative childhood years was in the news recently. My brain did its bouncy thing and sent me (SPROING) to Google Maps to see how close the incident was to my old house. (A couple of miles away.)

That led to checking out the old neighborhood on street view and retracing my route from house to elementary school. (C’mon, haven’t you done that? If not, you should. It’s a virtual trip down memory lane.) Sometimes placed I’ve lived have changed beyond all recognition, but my old school is still there, and still looks EXACTLY like I remember the buildings and grounds looking. So of course I looked it up. Nothing. Doesn’t exist. More digging ensued, starting with peering closely at the map images to make out the bulding names. (Which, no, did NOT match the listed name of the location, interestingly enough.)

Turns out the place has changed names twice and purpose once. It is now a Variable-Credit High School for students who aren’t thriving at the district’s regular grade 9-12 schools.

So, that was interesting.

Thing the 2nd

My cracked & gnarly fingers are doing better, but one cracked open yesterday, which was distracting In the Extreme. That made me wonder, how the heck do diabetics who have to do jab their fingertips for blood draws deal with the constant pain of injured fingertips? And who the hell decided fingertips were the best spot to jab, of all the places on the human body to choose from. And WHY?

Well. I’m here to tell you there are a ton of techniques for minimizing the ouchiness, plus modern glucose meters do allow for “alternative sites” although it isn’t recommended because “fingersticks still provide the most accurate readings.” All the sites discussing the matter seem to be round-robin quoting from each other with regards to that accuracy claim, though. When they all use exactly the same phrasing, and I do mean word for word, despite the sites ranging in visibility & intended readership. And the only journal article I found was focusing on test strip accuracy, not body location issues.

So I remain unconvinced that anyone really THINKS about “why fingers?” or they accept unquestioned the prevailing wisdom that it delivers the “best” result.

Sidebar: If you think my suspicions overblown, entertain yourself with a peek at the vast amount of scientific detective work that had to be done to debunk the medical research community’s entire foundation for deciding what size particle constituted aerosol contagion. The medical community had its standards & JUST KNEW THEY WERE RIGHT, but as it turns out, they were WRONG, because their fundamental size value was based on a single solitary set of experiments done DECADES before modern aerosol measuring tools were available, AND the results came from an outlier, hard-to-catch respiratory disease, too. Interested? Start with the Wired article titled “The 60-Year-Old Scientific Screwup That Helped Covid Kill”. There’s a lot more info, but this is all a digression, so ANYWAY…

I’d need to do a LOT more digging to find the primary lit behind “why fingers FFS?” and that’s more distraction than I need right now. If I ever write a story about a diabetic character who has to test, I’ll get out th research backhoe. Until then I’ll stick with my gut feeling that this is another of the many medical, “we’ve always done it this way” situations where “accurate means “all our systems & tools are designed for the reams of data we already have” as opposed to “what systems and tools should we design for the best comfort and convenience of our patients.” See also: cold metal speculums for vaginal exams, among other things.

Humans are not as eager to acept new things as we think we are, sometimes.

Thing the third.

There was a bug in my office today. A big roughly hexagonal beetlish kind of bug. I would describe it in more detail, but Pippin woke up when it buzzed past us (he was on the desk, quelle suprise) and he intercepted it and ate it before I got a decent look at it. He has impressive reflexes and spectacular aim. He scoped it right out of midair.

From his expression as he chewed, I got the impression it did not taste good, which made me think it was probably a stink bug. A couple of hours later, another bug went buzzing around the room. (This time of year, a lot of different bugs often hatch out of plants I bring in from the garden. Some combination of warmth & increasing light, I suspect.)

Anyway. Pips was snoozing downstairs by that time, so I had to gently capture and flush the bug myself. Carefully, because this one was indeed some kind of stink bug. But what kind? There’s an invasive species (known as the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, how’s that for a name) that’s been seen in the Chicago area this year, but there are also at LEAST two lookalike native species similar in appearance.

Which one had mine been? I didn’t know! So of course off I bounced to investigate stink beetles.

Beetles are fucking amazing. I had a good time combing through the various agricultural university extension documents and nature websites, but I still don’t know which variety of bug I flushed. ID requires close examination of things like antennae stripes and protrusions on the shell, and…honestly? Invasive or native, it was in my house, and it had to go.

And now the day is done and so am I.

Still had no focus in the evening, but I’ve made supper (don’t get excited, it’s green salad & leftover takeout gyros meat mixed into boxed rice mix & baked in the oven because I’m too distracted to cook on the stovetop) and now I’m playing Wordles from the online archive and drinking wine while I watch Witcher Season 2.

I am a powerful creative force to be reckoned with, eh?

Anyway. That’s it for this installment of “writing something even if it isn’t BOOK writing. Until later, enjoy this pic of the Ferocious Critter Cruncher.

Categories
2. Worldbuilding nuts & bolts Writing Life

Recent research topics

By recent I mean “today.” This is a glimpse of what goes through my brain on a daily basis

–> Identification of red foxes versus coyotes (foxes are not necessarily red but reliably have black legs and a bushy white-tipped L O N G tail held out from body, so what we saw trotting down the sidewalk at midday was probably the neighborhood fox, not the neighborhood coyote)

–> Followup topics: are red foxes native to North America or were they brought over from Europe? (Recent genetic research indicates the populations are all native, contradicting long-held assumptions about gentry colonists bringing them over for game hunting.) Do people still raise foxes for fur? (Ew, yes.) Can you own a fox as a pet in Illinois? (Not legally. Indiana, yes, though) Look at all these cute pet fox videos…

–> Both desiccate and siccate mean dry–why have two such similar words mean the same thing? I knew the answer but double-checked the etymology before responding to someone who asked this online. (They differ in degree. Siccate means dried like you dry off after a shower or hang out wet clothes. Desiccated is dry like beef jerky or a mummy. Latinate words & fun Latin prefixes!)

–>Looked up the location of Tonga on a full world map because news maps annoy me. Followed that by playing “name that European country” on world-geography-games.com, and also “name that African country. Did not do well on either one, but slightly better with Europe than Africa, no big shocker there.

–> What are marshmallows made of? Why are they called marshmallows? What’s the traditional use of mallow? How and where does it grow? Does the flower have a scent? Is it considered an herb? What’s the difference between an herb and a spice? History of spice trade. Origin of National Geographic magazine. (Yes, folks, this is how my brain bounces 24/7/365.)

I love the internet. Yes, Wikipedia, I often start there, but the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, the USDA. The NCBI.NLM.NIH site. Archives galore. Social media is a hellish time suck, but the internet? The internet is fucking amazing. Maybe it makes my writing better? I don’t know. It makes the process fun & makes time fly, that’s for sure.

my research assistant

That’s all for now. Until later!

Categories
3. Other Things Authoring Detours Writing Life

Life update: home again, home again, giggity-gig.

I had a lucky 7 things on my authoring to-do list for the week Spouseman & I were away:

1. Get a Gen Con hotel room issue fixed (NOPE)

2. Put a friend’s latest 2 kids books into Createspace. (NOPE)

3. Post the Restoration boxed set up onto Kindle (Yes)

4. Place Controlled Descent & Flight Plan into Overdrive for library borrows (Yes)

5. Finish two more scenes in Ghost Town (NOPE)

6. Get my edits back for Sharp Edge of Yesterday (NOPE)

7. Pick a title font & start back blurb for Sharp Edge (NOPE)

Not a great completion percentage. 😢 Lots of excellent family visiting happened and that was fantastic, but the time/energy/internet availability matrix didn’t work for anything more. Also, I always inderestimate how much travel will physically take out of me.

So now I’m tired and mentally drained facing a dauntingly busy August. (Excited, happy, thrilled, even, but also daunted.) Gen Con. Michigan Comic Con. Dragon Con. Plus all the to-do list things still to do.

On the + side, I did get halfway done with items 5&7, ordered more paperbacks for cons, and got a surprise convention opportunity wedged in between Gen Con & Dragon Con. So, YAY FOR GOOD THINGS!

While away I also re-read the Liaden Universe books in honor of a convention I couldn’t attend where the authors were Guests of Honor, and started a book called Freelance Familiars, by Daniel Potter, which is a nice treat so far. And I got Spouseman started on Tanya Huff’s Confederation books. Hee.

Movies? None, unless re-watching Thor: Ragnarok & Black Panther counts. It’s been a slow month for media consumption. Just. Too. Busy.

Lastly, have some random pictures from our trip. All taken near or around Seattle, WA.

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3. Other Things Writing Life

The latest in dream developments.

Long winter nights throw off my usual sleep routine, and weird sleep patterns lead to oddly vivid but disjointed dreams. A few nights ago, I had some doozies.

I’m left wondering if the ideas I collected from those slumberland excursions came from ideas I read or saw somewhere, or if they’re purely the work of my imagination. I like some of them enough that I might want to use them in a story someday, so I’ve been doing some research, but to no avail.

The most recent sleepytime entertainment involved a new setting, or more precisely a new zone within the complicated urban/suburban region of my dream geography. The place I identify as The City has dozens of neighborhoods and architectures recognizable from real world places I’ve visited, ones I’ve studied, fiction I’ve read, and photos I’ve seen. Parts of it are medieval, some early industrial, some modern, some futuristic.

Evidently there’s a tunnel system beneath the section of City that resonates with urban 19th century America/Britain/Europe society. I hadn’t known that until last night, despite many a dream in which I’ve gone deep in basements to hide from tornado storms. (It’s an annual recurring dream set.) Anyway. In these newly-appeared tunnels there are Old West-style saloons, modern coffee shops and 50’s diners where people sit around and rank the “Worst Deaths” collected from various media entertainments.

I do not question the anachronistic establishments while I’m in them, nor do I wonder at modern media discussions taking place in in patently pre-electronics environments. The list is what stuck with me, that and the passion of the discussions about scenes I am 99% sure actually go with the shows being discussed.

Content Warning: the next bits are gruesome. Feel free to skip to the second row of asterisks. It’s nothing that should shock anyone who’s read my fiction, but…I feel I should issue the disclaimer nonetheless. For whatever reason, disturbing creepiness that comes to me in dreams never fazes me while awake, so it’s difficult for me to judge its effect with any objectivity. Better warned than squicked out, says I.

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Tops on the “Worst Deaths: Ranked” list was “Death by tallow,” aka someone being dipped in hot grease over and over until dead. Has that ever been done on TV? Not that I recall, but it was voted best-worst in the dream discussion I took part in. Every one of my dream friends agreed that was the most horrifically creative means of murder they’d seen, and that it was from a CSI episode.

Second place went to “Fire in the belly,” meaning someone being carefully eviscerated and then having hot coals dumped in their body cavity.  (I warned you, didn’t I?) My dreaming brain insisted this came from Game of Thrones was second. (I can easily believe that but can’t place it in any given episode.) Third place was a tie between shoelace garrote from a buddy cop movie whose name I can’t remember, (dreams being like that) and being skinned alive with a sander from a horror movie. (also no idea which one)

Are any of those death scenes from a real-world existing narrative? I have no idea. But they are all vivid in my brain as items discussed around tables while meals were going on. Which doesn’t sound exciting, but there it is. I actually spend a lot of time in dreams watching and listening to imaginary people. And reading. I read things in dreams.

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Other less disgusting but also deeply-engraved concepts from this episode:

Coins minted by criminals and used as black market currency by members of an underground culture. They’re called Venturi, and stamped from circular metal punch-outs left over from the manufacture of homemade explosive rockets.

A rebel militia run by members of that underground group to fund the political overthrow of a  (which is why rockets are being manufactured) They’re organized in units like a D&D party, with every cell meeting as a gaming group and using gamer lingo as the code for real world operations.

So not all of it was gross, just some of it, and the tunnels part was pretty exciting. My dream world doesn’t grow all that often, and expansion is usually tied to personal growth in other areas.

Maybe I’ve been stretching my limits more than I realized, the last little while. Hopeful thought.