Background Knowledge Errors

Searching for the story…

Stain Glass Window

I’m in the middle of two books now — one finished and ready for the fifth round of editing; and one that requires me to finally write an ending. Endings are hard… even when you know how things are going to end. But here’s a few insights from the book I’m finishing right now: God of Small Affairs. (No it’s not the first title I came up with… not even the tenth. Names are hard.) The Beginning I’ve started this particular story thinking it was just a short story, 5000 words max. By the time I got to about 17,000, I knew it was a book. But that was a surprise. This is not a first time a book surprised me into making me write it. The FATOFF Conspiracy was originally a short story too… and Twin Time. Short stories are very different from novel-length works. From the structure point of view, there are fewer characters, no subplots, and a lot less description of the setting and the characters populating the story. A short story simply doesn’t have room for world building… obviously. You grab the story with the first few words and don’t let go or digress for a…

What’s in a Cover?

Coding Peter Suddenly Paris 2 Covers

The design of the cover can make the book… or so I was told. Certainly, bad covers don’t contribute to sales. But good covers are difficult. And the thought on cover design has changed over the years… just like fashion. Since I tend to design my own covers (and I’m an artist and a designer), I wanted to put together some ideas, if not rules, to follow and some background of how to think about book cover design. Because if you don’t do your own, you still need to communicate what you want with the person that does. Book Covers Through Time To appreciate a cover, it helps to understand its roots. I won’t go back far, since my genre is science fiction, just a hundred years or so. Consider the cover evolution of Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth”: There is a movement from frills to realism to a strong graphic look of the more modern editions. While for the 1800’s editions, we might find it difficult to identify the genre of this story, by the time we hit 1960s, there is no doubt that this is a science fiction or fantasy novel. The cover alerts…

Meditations on Blockchain

Blockchain_Logo

The internet is flooded with contemplations, broodings, and cogitations on Blockchain. One of the possible uses of this technology, Bitcoins and its ilk, has been the reverie, prayer, and speculation engine for endless get rich schemes and the constant fodder for media rumination. But what is it really? The direct answer is that Blockchain is just a digital form of trust. Allow me to walk you through it. Trust has always been the foundation of any society. Early on, when social groups were numbered in low dozens and basically consisted of associations of family members, trust was the currency among the members. You can trust your father-in-law because the survival of his grandkids was in his interest as much as your own, presumably. If a member of the family strayed, everyone knew about and punished the transgression accordingly, including by removing personal trust. But once the social groups grew in size, trust was more difficult to establish — who could remember who did what and to whom? To supplement trust born of personal knowledge, institutional trust was invented: laws, banks, governments, … and of course religious institutions. It no longer mattered if you were not familiar with a stranger, you…

Us and Them

Warm versus Competent graph

Of Doctors, Babies, Kings, and Zombies Before starting my journey as science fiction writer, I got a few degrees under my belt — astrophysics, mathematics, cognitive science, education, etc. It took a few decades (I’ve gotten married and had a family in there somewhere), but I got my doctorate and have used and still use it to help people think through complicated problems, mostly in product design. How is this relevant to writing, you might ask? Well, in addition to witnessing and surviving some amazing situations — always a good experience for a writer — I’ve acquired a few tools on how to think about situations and people. I would like to share one such tool with you: Us versus Them, a cognitive perspective. What people (and other animals) are very good at is dividing themselves into Us’es and Them’s. It’s a useful tool when we live in a divided world — how else do we keep clear of our allegiances to countries, sports teams, and political parties? But these divisions have neurological and psychological underpinnings. Consider a four square graph that charts competency versus likability (emotional warmth and approachability): We perceive (our) doctors as warm, personable, and able. We…

Alternative Facts in Medicine

Doctors' hygiene

While we are collectively freaking out over the Trump’s White House use of Alternative Facts, these kinds of “facts” have been floating around in medicine (and politics) for a long time. And it is instructive to take a look at how we as a society have been dealing with Alternative Facts in Medicine and what damage these “facts” have wrought on us individually and collectively. I propose the following formula for how Alternative Facts come to be: Desperate Need + Greed = Alternative Fact Medical Myths: Beliefs Based on Outdated Science To start, allow me to refresh your memory, for our history is full of myths when it comes to our heath and our diseases. Let’s begin with a bit of bloodletting. Bloodletting is almost as old as our civilization. Thousands of years ago (that’s thousands, with three zeros!), a healer’s first choice of treatment was to let out the “excess” blood from a patient. Be it a migraine, an infection, or a virus, a person who was probably too sick to object was cut with a lancet or some other easily available tool and weakened even further via blood loss. The Greek physician Erasistratus believed all illnesses were due…

Users Making Fun of Interface Icon Designers

laundry icons fails

You know you failed as an icon designer when users exchange humor forwards on Facebook based on your work. We’ve all done it — we’ve all looked at the little labels on our clothing and tried to figure out what those iconic instructions mean. The icons are so bad that manufacturers themselves are making fun of them! There is not a huge downside for in this case failure, though, in this case. At worst, the piece of clothing would be ruined. Painful, but in the scheme of things not that bad. But other circumstances are more troubling. Last night, an alert lit up on my car’s dashboard. It was a strange symbol, a bit rounded, some waves on top. I had no guess as to what it was. It was accompanied with a bright red glowing triangle with an exclamation sign inside — the universal sign for warning, pay attention! Should I pull off the road? Is this bad? It’s dark and raining outside. Thankfully, my car manual was in the glovebox — I could look this up. In took a few minutes but I figured out that the strange symbol means low pressure in one of my tires (no…

Cultural Differences in Child-rearing or Abuse?

baby and cobra

I’ve written about cultural differences in child-rearing that from our, Western, point of view seem like child abuse. There’s the dunking of babies into freezing ice waters in Russia; and spinning children to improve something; and now I just saw these videos from India. and There is no question that if these were video-documented instances of child abuse in New York or Los Angeles, authorities would be knocking down doors to rescue these children. But in other cultures, is it different? Do we bear responsibility there?