Background Knowledge

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…

Memory and Storytelling

nerve cell

Our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other and ourselves—the stories we continually recategorize and refine. — Oliver Sacks, The River of Consciousness, page 121 Our memories are not static. Each time we reach for one, we refresh and form new neuron connections, in fact changing the memory itself via our contemplation of it. Like Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle — we can observe a particle’s momentum or its position but not both simultaneously — each time we recall a particular event, we change it due to that recollection. After the mental touch, the memory is no longer the same. And this is true not just in some metaphorical sense, but in a real, tangible, physical way — the act of recall alters the neuron structures forever! And yet we eagerly recollect our favorite memories, and we just as eagerly try to forget the painful ones (and the very act of thinking of those painful memories makes them that much stronger, that much more connected and integrated into our neural memory networks). Social groups have always been aware of this property of memory. Cultures are molded out of stories, songs, epics, ballads, and now memes that bind us…

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…

There’s a word for that?

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Tower of Babel

A Dictionary of Cool Words That Hide True Feelings & Meanings from Parents Many of the strange vocabulary words, that Jude and her friends, from my new novel The Far Side, use, arise from their need to create a sense of linguistic privacy from the grownups. These are real and come from hard-to-translate words from other languages, professions, or sub-cultures. Age-otori — a feeling that you look worse after the haircut. (Based on a Japanese word.) Ataraxia — a sense of stoic calm. (Based on an ancient Greek word.) Backpfeifengesicht — a face in need of a fist. (Based on a German word.) Chingada — a hellish place where all that annoy you go. (Based on a Spanish word.) Desenrascanço — to find a creative way out of a bad situation. (Based on a Portuguese word.) Dépaysement — the sense of displacement one feels when visiting a foreign country and being far from home. (Based on a French word.) Doppelgänger — a duplicate of a person. (Based on a German word.) Dustsceawung — the contemplation of the idea that everything turns to dust eventually. (Based on an Old English word.) Eudaimonia — deep fulfillment and the resulting happiness, even as…

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?