Friday, November 30, 2007

The African Queen

With my knee injury I've been working at more home-bound type of activities lately, catching up on all the little chores that get ignored when you're out traveling the world. One of the long-term chores that's been getting some attention is the task of getting rid of a large cubic volume of old video tapes. With hard disk capacity and video conversion gadgets getting cheap enough, I am moving everything into a mirrored media library that I could actually pick up and carry out of the house in one hand.

The old Beta tapes, starting on the day Debra was born back in 1983, were the highest priority, and I went on eBay and purchased a Beta machine to play them. Converting the home movies went smoothly and I believe I've almost gotten them all done. All I really lack is a large box of Hi-8 videos of Thomas playing highschool football.

But there are many, many other tapes that I need to convert as well. Old movies, TV specials, and an erratic selection of tape-now, view-whenever TV shows. One of the one's I converted was The African Queen, with Bogart and Hepburn. It's a great movie, and having just come back from Africa myself, I was fascinated to watch it again. I could see the crocodiles and hippos from my own experience as they came on the screen, and I knew just what kind of rivers there were on that continent.

But not everything was warm and fuzzy. That missionary church in the movie was just wrong.  Get this, they were set up in a bush village where the only access was via river and jungle trails, and they had a church organ?  While I believe it could happen, I can just imagine how far down on the priority list an organ must have been.

And the church service itself -- it was horrible.  I've been in a bush church.  They can out-sing us in spirit and enthusiasm.  It was nothing at all like the off-key painful singing shown in the movie.  The Zambians I met are natural singers, and while their Tonga songs were by far the best, they learn and sing English hymns for fun.  Even when they're struggling with a new English song, they do a good job at it.

Of course the movie wasn't set in Zambia, but I have to believe that the whole movie church service scene was more about the missionaries than about the people.

That's the thing about travel.  You get to experience things for yourself, and realize just how artificial a movie can be.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Dowsing for Argument

I stumbled across a Wired article about hoax gadgets which was mildly amusing -- until they included dowsing as #10 on their list. I think the author ran out of time or something, because it didn't even fit the rest of the article. But boy did it trigger a firestorm of comments! Since dowsing is so commonplace and has been used for thousands of years, there were dozens of people who posted their personal experiences with it. And then, immediately following were the defenders of Randi who proclaimed the belief in dowsing as a sign of idiocy. After that, the thread degenerated quite a bit.

I kept on reading, hoping that someone would say something useful, and eventually one person did -- pointing to an article in the November 1998 Popular Mechanics that talked about a scientific study on dowsing. I did a little bit of Googling and eventually found the actual article: "Unconventional Water Detection".

It was very long. It took hours to read, but it contained massive numbers of studies, representing thousands of wells dug. There were also some double-blind tests and some real, actual, informed speculation.

I have to come down on the side of belief. It undoubtedly works in the field. But the skeptics tests also demonstrate that their tests are obviously designed wrong.

If you have some time, it's a fascinating subject.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Book Format vs Manuscript Format

For more years than I care to remember, I've been writing in manuscript format. With its wide margins and double-spacing, I'm quite comfortable with it. So when I found I had to convert that format into the book format that everyone else in the world uses, I have been suffering a learning curve. I've converted two books now into book format from my manuscripts and I'm still suffering from mistakes. It's not natural yet.

So, I documented the process -- mainly for my own use. However, once I had it completed, I decided to add it to my Writer's Resource page on my website.

I wrote a little 1700 word description of converting the manuscript, in manuscript format. I then followed the steps I'd just written and converted it into the 6 x 9 format used by trade paperbacks. It's simple, and real typesetters would be pained to see it, but it does go through the process.

One of these days I'll learn how to do initial raised caps.

Friday, November 02, 2007

No Email in Dairy Queen

I wasn't able to check my email when I stopped for lunch at the Taylor Dairy Queen. The reason this is worthy of comment is that this is the very first instance since I bought my iPhone three weeks ago that I haven't been able to whip out my phone and check email or browse the web on a whim. Everywhere else, in restaurants, gas stations, waiting in traffic, or when I'm a passenger -- I've always been on-line.

But at least at the Dairy Queen, there was no wi-fi and the phone signal was so low that there was no EDGE coverage to give me a way to ship packets around. Even yesterday, when I was having lunch at Jerry's restaurant/bar/baitshop in Granger, I was able to check up on the on-going SCO bankruptcy on Grocklaw.

Boy am I spoiled.

Alex the Writing Assistant

With the new Mac operating system upgrade, there's a new voice, "Alex" which is very good at speaking arbitrary text. Under the voices preference, I was able to set a keystroke command to automatically speak any text I have selected. This gives me the opportunity to write a sentence or paragraph, and then immediately have it spoken to me. This morning I've used it extensively as I rewrite sections of my novel. I can easily try out several variations just to see which one 'sounds' better. It works with any application, even the years-old version of Word that I'm using, and the blogger compose window.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Going With The Numbers

Yesterday I was re-writing a scene in my latest novel and I felt unsatisfied by the visual description. The event was rather dramatic -- a 6 mile wide asteroid passing by overhead, just barely touching the upper atmosphere. This was the background for important dialog in the characters lives, so when I wrote it first, I wrote characters first and description second.

But then I realized I really needed to get the facts straight. Just how big did that asteroid look? So, I fired up the spreadsheet and laid out a timeline, second by second. I plugged in reasonable numbers for the velocity and distances and added a little trig to get the visual angles.

Wow. I'd like to see that myself. From a pinpoint of light, the size of the asteroid grew to over 8 times the diameter of the full moon in just five to ten minutes, and then shrunk away just as fast. The last ten seconds would have been intense. Lots of screaming among the populace.