Oh yeah, I have a book out

There are some people who are writers because they must get their stories out. Cut off their hands and they'll learn to type with their toes.

There are some other people who write books because nobody else is telling that story, and they want to read it, darn it.

I fall into the latter category, and one of the things that makes it odd is that I kind of forget that I actually have a book published, and maybe I ought to promote it some.

So: fantasy, no magic, young adult.

When Lydia flees an attempt on her life, her only thought is to get to her brother in the far-off capital, but the difficulties of the journey force her into dressing as a boy for safety. Rebellion in the land forces her to further disguise herself, and when she is hired on as minstrel to the new king, William, she has to learn all she can, and quickly, so that she can unravel the treachery at the heart of the failed rebellion before her identity is revealed. Much to her amazement, along the way she becomes advisor to the king… and his friend, should she learn to accept it.

Minstrel on Amazon.

What Does the Font Say?

If you are doing your own graphic design, particularly for book covers, it's important to understand a little bit about what your font choice is saying. (It's best if you understand a lot, of course, but as long as you understand enough to pick the proper examples to work from, you'll do okay.)

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The Law of Unintended Consequences

Let’s talk about lightbulbs.

In 2007, the US federal government enacted a law that, among other things, included legislation to make lightbulbs more efficient by setting maximum wattage requirements for general-service bulbs producing certain amounts of light. “General-service” means the bulbs that go into standard fixtures, not things such as candelabra bulbs.

In effect, this was a ban on standard bulbs of 60 watts or more, to be phased in over a number of years. The intent of the law was to make people adopt more energy-efficient bulbs.

At the time of the legislation, a standard bulb cost roughly 60¢. The primary alternative at the time was the compact fluorescent bulb, which ran about $6, but was supposed to last far longer. (More on that later.) Halogen bulbs were also a possibility, though they required different fixtures and ran at much higher temperatures. LED bulbs, at that time, did not really come in a general-service time, and the few that did ran close to $40.

So, when this legislation was enacted, there were several obvious consequences. Manufacturers of incandescent bulbs made changes to their production schedule or closed plants in preparation for halting production of high-watt general-service bulbs. CFLs became more prominent on shelves, with comparable brightness noted for those making the first-time switch. And people started either hoarding high-watt bulbs or bowing to the inevitable and stocking up on CFLs.

A number of consequences were far less obvious.

1 The cost. For your average middle-class buyer, it’s an obnoxious jump from 60¢ to $6, but that’s supposed to be offset by having to replace bulbs less often. But for people living on the margin, the difference is a couple of loaves of bread—and most of them would not have obliging landlords who would change bulbs out for free. (If you’ve never had to count pennies when grocery shopping, count yourself lucky.) Result? It could be that a broken bulb results in darkness, because that six dollars was just out of range.
2 The longevity. A CFL is supposed to last far longer than an incandescent. However, this applies only to ideal conditions. I have reason to know that a toddler who has just grown tall enough to reach light switches can kill a CFL in a matter of days. There are also other fixtures that dramatically shorten the life of a CFL, such as the one in our garage.
3 Disposal of spent CFLs. Did you know that a dead CFL is considered hazardous waste, and needs to be disposed of appropriately? And heaven forfend you actually break one, because the cleanup procedure (due to the mercury in the bulb) recommends masks and gloves, among other things.
4 “Off-label” effects. The wastefulness of an incandescent bulb is in its high heat output, relative to the light it put out. But there are applications where that’s a bonus, not a problem. For instance, a reptile terrarium was often both lit and heated by an incandescent bulb, and citrus growers could stave off frost damage through application of old-style big-bulb Christmas lights (at a fraction of the cost of heat lamps.)
5 Flicker. A fluorescent bulb of any kind has a flicker at the rate of power, 60 cycles per second in the US. I don’t see it. Most people don’t see it. But for the subset of the population subject to conditions such as migraines, not seeing it doesn’t mean it doesn’t effect them. A switch to fluorescent bulbs can mean the application of a low-level stressor to their home or work environments, and increase the number of episodes they suffer from.

And that’s just what I can think of off the top of my head.

There are also good consequences; scientists have figured out ways to improve the efficiency of incandescent bulbs, which research may not have been funded without the impetus of the ban. But those are also unforeseen, because you can’t tell ahead of time which advances will pan out.

The Law of Unintended Consequences is one that applies to everything. Your actions have a principle purpose, but it is also important to account for secondary and tertiary effects as well. At the political level, politicians seem to mostly be operating on the initial level only, and don’t tend to think about the secondary consequences very much. That’s why we end up with a lot of laws that sound good on the surface but are a mess in the implementation.

Lightbulbs are a good illustration for this because the consequences are fairly clear, in retrospect. There are other laws in this country that are far murkier, where the good and bad effects are far harder to balance.

But in this contentious election year (do we ever have any other kind?), please remember—if someone opposes a law or candidate that you are very much in favor of, grant them the benefit of the doubt. They may be thinking of the unintended consequences of that law or policy, and not against the principle drive that seems so good and shining to you.

What Makes an Effective Cover Image

panel with Lee Moyer, Karen Haber, Mark J. Ferrari, Annie Bellet, Stephen Segal

A lot of information was packed into the 45-minute panel aimed at self-publishers, small press folk, and the curious fen. Lee Moyer started off with a slideshow that included the good, the repetitive, and some bad (leaving the worst for his Infamous Bad Cover panel later.) The panelists took questions at the start so as to be sure to cover the topics that most folk were interested in. Collapse ) And as a final note, the goal of a cover is to attract attention… without breaking an implicit promise to the reader. You don’t want to attract attention for being the laughingstock of the internet…


Any takers?

Serge Broom:
"Brigadoon" is on TCM.
I wonder if anyone has ever written a story with a similar premise, but showing what a nightmare it is.

One has to wonder if it was really God that the village had made a deal with. The rest of the world survived and flourished without this, so I suspect the Foul Deceiver.

Hmm. Let's do the conversion—36,500 years for every year the residents experience. How long do they have before they notice something going wonky with the sun?

Serge Broom:
That sounds like Stephen Baxter's "Brigadoon".

I'd read that.

Serge Broom:
Me too.

Don't Stress Out

Upon diagnosis with gestational diabetes

What is important to understand
is that this
is not like regular diabetes
You will need to keep up
a strict regimen of nutrition
this is not no-carb
this is not low-carb
we want your blood sugar
to be consistent
not peaking and falling
like a roller coaster.
To that end, you must have three meals
and three snacks
with carbohydrates and protein
in each one. This is mandatory.
One serving of starch-based carbs
is fifteen grams on the total carbohydrates line
Please read your labels carefully.
You will have a maximum carbohydrate
and a minimum protein allowance
per meal or snack.

Let's start with breakfast.
Absolutely no cold cereal with milk.
And no milk or yogurt in the morning.
Fruit? No. Your hormones
are highest in the morning.
You may have
up to thirty grams of carbs,
so that is a slice or maybe two
(check your labels!)
of whole-grain bread.
A couple of eggs for protein and you're set.
Or perhaps a cup of oatmeal
and two slices of bacon.
Yes, bacon is allowed,
but no juice. No juice all day.
And while we are on the subject,
no soda. You may
have coffee
but only if you don't
add milk
or sugar
or anything.

Do not forget
your mid-morning snack.
Perhaps half a slice of bread
and some nuts. And you are allowed
as many non-starchy vegetables as you wish
so perhaps some carrots.

Lunch is when you may have
a serving of fruit
a small apple
or a peach
or seventeen small grapes.
And, of course,
your carbs and protein,
with every meal.
You may also have
a small glass of milk
or fifteen grams of carbs
in yogurt form. However,
cheese does not count as milk
but as protein.

And on the subject of protein,
various meats are good,
but be careful with fish
no shark
or swordfish
or mackerel
or any of the large fish
that might have too much mercury.
Not too much tuna, either.
With carbs, you should also avoid
rice in all forms
and noodles,
though small amounts of whole-grain pasta
may occur. Your children like
mac & cheese? Well,
that will just be for them now.

I think you are getting the idea
but let us suppose
that (it being summer)
you are going to a barbecue.
Hot dogs are problematic
unless you know they are 100% meat.
And the buns are very high in carbs.
Hamburgers are good
but skip the bun
and find something whole-grain instead.
You may certainly have chicken
or beef
or pork
but stay away from the barbecue sauce.
Please avoid
the potato salad
the macaroni salad
and if you go for the bean dip,
remember that beans
are carbs and protein both. So no chips.
You may as well skip the desserts, too.

And if you have a baby shower,
you may serve
and cookies
and doughnuts
and pastries
and pie
but, I'm sorry to say,
you are not allowed to eat any of them.

You can have some whipped cream, though.
That counts as a fat.

Please measure your blood sugar
the first thing in the morning
(but no more than ten hours
after your evening snack)
and then one hour after the first bite
of every main meal.
You'll need to track these levels
so that we can tell
if diet will fix this
or if you need insulin.
We know this is hard to follow
but please try
it is not your fault
but the consequences include
excessive baby size
baby hypoglycemia
birth difficulties and

95% of people
who follow this diet
are successful.
Good luck.

Disney Movies, Rewatched

Way back in the day (get off my lawn!) Disney movies were only available on a seven-year rotating cycle. Heck, during my most formative Disney years (before six or seven years of age), they certainly weren't available on video, certainly not to own.

Am I the only person who remembers that videos used to cost some insanely high price, like $60 or $80, because the movie studios wanted people to rent them instead of buying? That went down hard, but really, the studios haven't learned a whole lot. Disney is STILL releasing movies on a seven-year cycle, which is nuts if you're a parent. You can't buy their whole catalog; you can't even buy a representative sample at one point in time. You have to guess you'll need it or borrow copies, or scour the used video section.

Anyway. This is all to say that there are a number of Disney movies I haven't seen since I was a kid—if I saw them then. So when going into a rewatch, I don't have the same memory that I do of, say, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, watched and rewatched until the dialogue was ground into my memory and the tape was starting to fuzz. So let's go back to the beginning, and see my random thoughts! I'll start with the first four.

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I'm going to skip Bambi for now. I think that one has a particular amount of nightmare fuel that I don't need to give to my kids. Yes, Night On Bald Mountain is likely to be less problematic than killing off a mother and having a forest fire. I'm also skipping past The Three Caballeros and Saludos Amigos, because Disney of this era gets a bit weird when it comes to mixing animation and live action.

Don't worry, it will get snarkier soon. Peter Pan, in particular, is quite a piece of work.