Categories
Whimsy Writing Life

I click links & read things. It’s what I do.

This episode of me is just three rambly items. That is all. Yes, HUGE things are going on In The Real world. Bad things. Humanity being awful to humanity at home and abroad. But. Not here. ITRW I’ve done what I can for now–I’ve put my money where my principles are, voiced words of support–and I will continue to do what I can. As I have been reminded, so I remind others: dwelling & doomscrolling & working up a knot of stress helps no one. So. This blog post isn’t about anything Real. It’s about the usual: reading & cats & randoming.

Thing the First.

Did you know Lido means beach in Italian, and in British English, it also refers to an outdoor swimming pool + its associated amenities? I did not, until today.

At long last, I have an explanation for why there are “Lido Decks” on cruise ships! The term always puzzled me when I watched Love Boat in the late 70’s. This trivium comes to us courtesy of a Guardian interview with some BBC broadcaster who’s probably a household name in Britain but who was completely unknown to me. Score one for a beautifully designed enticing headline.

Which I’ve already forgotten.


Random thing 2: the latest in Cat adventures.

Pippin’s current Favoritest Toys Ever are the tear-off strips from boxed Trader Joe’s hot chocolate packets. (not the packet w/chocolate! The litle strip you pull on to open the box.)

These bits of paper hold a narrow lead over mylar strips cut from the bottom of pita chip bags. Something about the way those things crunch fascinates him endlessly. There are a dozen or more Stacey’s Pita Chips bag-ends scattered about the house, built up over the last few months.

He is generous with his toys, too. On any given morning I’ll find up several of crunchy mylar strips on the bed. Pips naps with us at night, but he comes and goes–and every time he returns from a ramble he brings us a toy in case we wake up and want to play with it.


Lastly, I have discovered A Best New Game for me, courtesy of Louis Evans, who I follow on Twitter because…yanno, I don’t know if I met him or someone suggested I follow him, or he followed me for inexplicable reasons and I followed back, or what. I try not to let that ignorance bother me, but it still does sometimes. My discomfort over the parasocial nature of online connections is one of my biggest peeves with social media, and I have a LOT of peeves…never mind, this is digressing even more than usual, ANYWAY.

This game is Semantle, and it’s SUPER FUN. Like Wordle it’s a once-daily word puzzle, but that’s about all they have in common. I like Wordle’s simplicity, but that’s about all I do like about it. It’s a pretend word game. it isn’t about language at all, nor really about vocabulary. It’s letters as numbers, essentially. Finding a solution w/in 6 guesses is a process heavy on betting the odds of a given vowel or consonant being used, plus luck and eliminating variables.

I find it fun, don’t get me wrong. But it isn’t…stimulating, I guess? It’s about spelling, not words.

And don’t get me started on people who get hung up on use of wordfinders, dictionaries or other tools. Is it legitimate or does it constitute “cheating?” It’s a SOLITAIRE WORD GAME FFS. What is even the point of getting judgey & snobby about how someone else plays it? Any yet. People gotta feel superior, I guess.

Solving a Semantle occupies a lot more of my wording brain than Wordle. That’s my favorite part. My second favorite aspect is the no-limit guessing. There’s no “genius!” for a lucky break or any competitive triggering at all. Guess until you get it right, for pure solution satisfaction.

And like the name implies, it’s all about semantics. Associations. Connections. Right up my happy neighborhood parkway, in other words.

You’re attempting to guess a secret word based on hot/cold responses to your attempts. The more similar your word is to the secret one, the higher your guess’s rank will be. And once you get within 1000 words of the secret one, you get that clue as well.

Look. It’s kinda hard to explain but super-simple to play. Type words, type more words that seem related, rinse & repeat. My best result so far is solving the puzzle in 33 guesses, my longest game was 87 guesses.

I find Semantle MUCH more satisfying to play. There’s no right or wrong way to think of connections. I’m fond of Thesaurus.com for inspiration, but also fond of typing a bunch of ideas into Google & skimming the results for a word that just feels right as a guess, and also blindly staring at my list of guesses until the next inspiration strikes.

Spouseman still doesn’t understand how I could look at bureaucrat and leap to the secret word (historian) in two guesses. (president and constitution in between)

I can’t explain it either. But that’s the wild thing about inspiration. It’s always a leap into the dark that pays off. It’s an idea arcing across a void of not-knowing.

https://semantle.novalis.org/


And that’s that for tonight. Gonna go play wordle as soon as it’s midnight, and then off to bed.

TOmorrow I’ll try to write my Winter Subscriber Newsletter before it’s spring, and also get up some book reviews for all the amazing new speculative fiction I’ve been consuming.

Until later!

The water has disappeared. Pippin is disappointed.
Categories
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

Categories
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
Writing Life

Wrestling with Resting

It is Friday and I am taking A Rest Day. They’re hard. I love them, and I need them, but settling into Rest Mode is like dealing with new sheets or a new pair of shoes. Every single damned time I have to fuss with things and poke at them until they feel comfortable.

I don’t do rest well. It was easier–emotionally–when I had a Full-time Traditional Job providing a framework for my daily life. Even when my hours commitment and shift times changed week to week, my days off were generally predictable. Work had a defined location and set hours. I was on, or I was off, and I earned PTO I had to use.

So when I was worn down from a Big Project, I felt good about taking extra recovery time. The downtime was distinct from worktime AND it felt earned.

Side note: I know predictable week-to-week schedules are unusual in retail, but even when Borders was being turned to the Dark Side by its vampiric Corporate Hedge Fund bloodsucking board, it was still an unusual retailer. Also, store-level staff dug in their heels and FOUGHT on the days-off point every time their Inefficiency Experts inflicted Traditional Retail Bullshit on management.

Such battles came at regular turns on the company’s spiral staircase trip down to bankruptcy hell. But until near the end, stores had leeway in how they met their ever-dwindling, “needs-based” algorithm-driven hours allotment. And good managers understood changing people’s days off led to more headaches than it solved.

And when the corporate office insisted on a company-wide shift to a gobsawful scheduling tool, my store staff informed our general manager we would quit on the spot if she used it to screw with people’s days off.

(That same manager also refused to post schedules until 1-2 days before they went live. We used to debate over whether that was retaliation losing the variable days off fight, general lack of empathy, bungling incompetence, or all three)

But I digress.

I’m coming up on the 11 year anniversary of Not Working For Borders and still haven’t mastered the Art Of Not Working. I haven’t worked full-time for an outside employer since then. The external demands on my time are more fluid and mainly unpaid. If it seems like that should make things easier, welp. It didn’t.

My boundaries between “work” and “not-work” washed away, and I never properly rebuilt them.

I do not miss having a 40-70 hour per week job. I do miss the clarity. Where once I had well-defined defense against Work Ethic Conditioning guilt, something like, “I have disengaged from Employment Mode, therefore Doing Nothing isn’t laziness,” now I have only my own resources to fall back on.

(In case you’re new to this blog, I am three hyperactive otters in a hoodie masquerading as a functional human. My own executive functioning resources are, um, limited.)

Once I was unemployed, I mainly I officially & voluntarily shouldered most of our home-related responsibilities. (not the doing, that part is an equitable split but the brain-sucking Managing part of it all.) Yes, there was job hunting, but there was also the satisfaction of finishing long-delayed personal and house projects, learning about the joy of EVENINGS AND WEEKENDS, and in general, having free time.

That part was amazing at first, but it also made me antsy. Busy brain likes to be busy. Once I got the hang of a new day-to-day routine, I had too much time on my hands.

I started on Controlled Descent six months into unemployment in large part because I was BORED, about the same time I took on two small regular outside responsibilities–volunteering at the Botanic Garden and working very part-time at the local library.

Through the completion of Flight Plan two and half years later, writing felt like my primary activity, and that was a great groove. But there was still time in my days, so I added in continuing education and upped my library hours. Post-publication, things started to snowball, with professional networking, indie-authoring business distractions like marketing, conventions, and sundry other things like being a caregiver, house-hunting, renovations…and so on.

Somewhere in there the difference between weekday and weekend blurred, I lost the knack of creative thinking first and everyday necessities second, and I lost the trick of taking time OFF.

That got exhausting & frustrating. I wasn’t enjoying writing. I was exhausted. Obviously something was wrong. There was too much going on.

Also, I have significantly less stamina than I had ten years ago. Wrapping my brain around that reality was the first clue. Energy and stamina are not the same. I still have brain energy. But channeling it is more difficult because things hurt more, and I get tired faster and so on. So I cut back on how many things I was trying to do, and I started defending the creative time in my schedule.

It didn’t work. For years I tried, but I felt like a kid at the beach with a bucket, scooping up waves in defense of a sand castle. More time didn’t translate into more writing or more life enjoyment.

I pondered, and I ponderd, and pandemic gave me some time to unearth the answer.

My problem wasn’t a lack of time, but a lack of quality time coupled with a lack of rest. See, some people create to shut out the clamor of the everyday, some people get energy from creating. That isn’t me.

I can only nurse a creative spark to life when the ashes of the everyday hubbub are swept away and my brain is still & quiet.

In last year I’ve dropped not only activities, but responsibilities, clawing my way back to having less worldly stimulus so I can be BORED. (Spoiler alert: it’s working!)

Part of the quieting process is consciously scheduling myself rest days whenever I notice I am vaguely unsettled. Lack of focus & fretfulness is my early-warning system that I’m taking on Too Much.

My current peeve is that every time I think, “Hmm. I should step back and reel in my Busy Brain before it drags my body into the Deep End of Ugh-Malaise,” I get ambushed by the Work Ethic Conditioning. And when I spend my “time off” fighting The Attack Of The Giant Guilts, it isn’t so much restful.

Intellectually I know no one cares if I do nothing but eat bonbons for days at a time. (Well. I’m sure someone out on the Internets is Judging Me right this minute, but the internets hate so many things about me, what’s one more?) But for real, no one’s keeping score. Those who die with the biggest bibliographies, still dead, and all that.

There are tricks for getting around the guilt, and I’m slowly filling a bagful. One is publicly admitting I I do A Lot Of Nothing on social media. I do that so the world knows I want to feel good about it. it’s kinda like confession but with more affirmation and less penance.

And on days when I can’t convince myself, I appeal to my Generous Patron Of The Arts, who unfailingly convinces me that rest is GOOD when I’m jittery and my brain is foggy. Does he make that argument in self-defense, because his life is better if I’m happier? Possibly. I can live with that.

I spent yesterday dealing with dentistry, multiple masked-up errands, service people in the house, and an evening of online face-to-face talking. Maybe it doesn’t seem like much (and it doesn’t, to me) but it was enough to be Too Much.

Today, reading, napping, eating, and writing a blog post was just right. And tomorrow will be better.

Have a cute Pips picture. Until later!