Cantina Quote o’ The Week: Archilochus

The fox knows many tricks, the hedgehog only one.  One good one.

Archilochus, Iambi et Elgi Graeci

This will always and forever be one of my favorite ancient Greek quotes of all time.  Of course, I knew bugger all about hedgehogs when I first heard it.  Now I know what he was referring to:

Much later, thanks to Terry Pratchett, I also learned that the hedgehog can never be buggered at all.

You may remember Archilochus from one of his more famous poems on battlefield valor:

Some barbarian is waving my shield,
since I was obliged to
leave that perfectly good piece of equipment behind
under a bush.
But I got away, so what does it matter?
Life seemed somehow more precious.
Let the shield go; I can buy another one equally good.

An eminently practical man, rather like the hedgehog he admired.

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Los Links 4/29

It’s been another week in which there’s just way too much awesome stuff.  I need to find someone who will pay me to do nothing but sit around and read it all.

Let’s get right to it.

Doctor Oz Gets His Arse Handed to Him

Science-Based Medicine: A Skeptic In Oz.  In which Dr. Steven Novella describes the experience of appearing on Dr. “Woomeister Supreme” Oz’s show, and why Dr. Oz is so very, very, horribly wrong about, well, everything.

Respectful Insolence: Steve Novella on The Dr. Oz Show: Dr. Oz has become Kevin Trudeau.  For those who just can’t get enough, Orac’s not-so-respectful insolence is just the thing.

Science

About.com: Where Things Come From: Rock Materials.  Something not many of us think about, but probably should do.

Science-Based Medicine: Without Borders.  In which Mark Crislip kicks the arses of quacks without borders as only he can. 

Throught the Sandglass: Sunday sand: Easter ooids.  Geological eggs.  Too awesome!

NeuroLogica Blog: Consequences.  All those who think there’s no harm in folks falling for alt med, magical thinking, and anti-vaccine silliness, or who know those who think there’s no harm, need to read about the consequences.  It’s important.

Glacial Till: Meteorite Monday: Stony-Iron Meteorites, or space rock bling.  Meteorites are beautiful!

Geotripper: Rockslide on Highway 140 Near Yosemite (Video).  Okay, too cool – Garry caught a slide in the act!

jfleck at inkstain: Is it about the alfalfa? Thinking Like a River Basin…  We’re going to have to think big to solve water issues.

Boing Boing: Meet Science: What is “peer review”?  I love this “meet science” idea.  Great way to introduce folks to the basics!

Research at a Snail’s Pace: We don’t need no stinkin’ sieves.  You need a good giggle, don’t you?  Yes, you do.  Go watch the video and laugh.

Wired: Space: Medicine’s final frontier.  Ed Yong’s fabulous feature.  Read it!

The Guardian: Backwards step on looking into the future.  In which Ben Goldacre takes the science journals to task.

JAYFK: Hell to the no! Chemical-free chemistry kit.  The latest and greatest in childhood toy dumbfuckery.

Context and variation: #scimom and me.   Kate Clancy is a superwoman.  No, seriously.

Not Exactly Rocket Science: Individual neurons go to sleep while rats stay awake.  This will make you look at sleep deprivation in a whole new light.  Also, for those sick to death of the royal wedding buzz, this.

New Scientist: Push to define year sparks time war.  Lessee, learn something important about dates, get a Doctor Who reference, and watch physicists vs. geologists.  What’s not to love?

Pharyngula: The true story of the Archaean genetic expansion.  This is what creationists do with scientific research.  Researchers and public, take especial note.

Laelaps: Apples and Orangutans.  Science bloggers, journalists, and interested bystanders need to read Brian Switek’s tale of two conferences.

Earth Science Erratics: Impact and Geology: spherules rule.  It’s not just craters that tell us about the Earth’s impact history.

Highly Allochthonous: Hydrologist + professor = Anne’s answers to career profile questions.  Loved learning about Anne’s career and the routes that can take a person there.

Politics

AZCentral: Gabrielle Giffords’ doctors, husband share details on her progress.  It’s remarkable how far Gabby’s come.  Round of applause for the doctors who not only saved her life, but her mind.

Mother Jones: The Right-Wing Network Behind the War on Unions.  You didn’t think it was a coinky-dink that so many Con governors and state houses were attacking unions, did you?

My Left Wing: Revolution 2.0 Outline RFC.  Woozle’s got some ideas for getting power back in the hands of the people.  Comments desired.

Angry Black Lady Chronicles: Dear Media: Fuck You with my Trusty Rusty Pitchfork; An Open Letter to the MSM.  Best rant of the week.  Stay for the “Fuck You Symphony.”

Atheism

Almost Diamonds: The Support of New Atheism.  In which Stephanie Szvan explains to the thick why New Atheism supports all atheists.  Also, this.

The Chronicle of Higher Education: The Emperor’s New Nakedness.  In which David Barash puzzles over why, now that everybody knows the emperor’s nekkid, so many are trying to shut up the folks who aren’t afraid to say so.

Advocatus Atheist: R. Joseph Hoffmann Needs to Apologize to Atheists.  In which Hoffman’s ass is thoroughly (and deservedly) whupped.

Cosmic Variance: Hell.  In which we’re reminded that hell is one of those horrific ideas that only becomes socially acceptable when religion’s involved.

Choice in Dying: The Shoals and Shallows of Easter.  Eric MacDonald reflects on Easter, and all of the ridiculous nonsense involved.

[weird things] so how is all that accommodating working out?  This post pokes accommodationism so full of holes it’s a wonder anything’s left.  Oh, wait – nothing is.

Why Evolution is True: Murders: God vs. Satan.  The tally might surprise you.  Then again, maybe not.

ABC: With friends like these: Atheists against the New Atheism.  Russell Blackford’s response to Ruse and other haters of the Gnus.

AlterNet: One More Reason Religion Is So Messed Up: Respected Theologian Defends Genocide and Infanticide.  No, seriously, he does.  And people wonder why Gnus are so impolite to religion.

Women’s Issues, Society and Culture

Steve Cuno: How a single word change can make cruelty seem OK.  Even when it’s really not.

The Tightrope: On gender roles and pink toenails.  It’s not just about the appropriate shade for boys’ toenails, but about society’s hatred for girly things.

Slate: Nervous Nellies.  Feeling anxious, ladies?  You might want to give nurture a piece of your mind.

Harvard Gazette: The secret lives of boys.  And while you’re at it, nurture has a lot to answer for in the stereotypical male department, too.

Faruk Ateş: Translation of General Misogyny to Uncomfortable Truth.  One of the most masterful takedowns of white male idiocy I’ve seen in a while.

Slate: Beware the In-Laws.  Christopher Hitchens on the royal wedding.  Brutal and refreshing.

A Gay Girl in Damascus: My father, the hero.  Harrowing and inspiring, all at once.

Writing

Dean Wesley Smith: Think Like A Publisher #9.5… The Secret of Indie Publishing.  Hint: it involves writing a lot.

Writer Beware Blogs: The Interminable Agency Clause.  Know it. Hate it.  Have it stricken.

A Brain Scientist’s Take on Writing: An Experimental Psychologist’s Take on Beta Reading Part IV: Results and Conclusions.  Livia Blackburne’s conclusion contains lessons for us all.

Sedimentary Sentiments

Right.  So, Callan Bentley’s pointed out that we in the geoblogosphere haven’t had a good meme in a while.  My Doc Holliday instincts kicked in.  “I’m your huckleberry.  That’s just my game.”  So let’s have a meme.  Love and sediments.  Give me a sedimentary rock or structure you’re sentimental about.

I’ll begin:

Sedona in miniature

That rock there is a microcosm of Sedona.  I’m not sure what formation it came from.  Could be the Schnebly Hill Formation, or a fragment of sandstone from the Supai Group.  I picked it out of a creek bed during that memorable physical geography field trip many years ago.  It delighted me because it looked like the contact between the deep red rocks of the Schnebly Hill Formation and the blazing white of the Coconino Sandstone.  More likely, that white bit at the top just represents a long soak in the creek, but still, a girl can dream.

It’s a piece of my history.  It represents scientific discovery, and childhood, and ancient worlds.  Just a tiny thing, fits in the palm of your hand, but it stands for something enormous.

This is the place I once called home:

My Valley

If you look to the left, down in the dip, you’ll see the red tile roof peeking through the trees.  That’s my old house on Mountain Shadows Drive.  We didn’t have much of a view down there, but if you walk up the hill a bit, opposite the steep bit where my idiot dog slept in the road one night and ended up at our friend the vet’s office with my dad and the vet sewing her up while drinking beer (true story), you’ll find yourself facing a panorama that has made many a photographer scream for joy.

That little round mound in the foreground is Sugarloaf, a lump of the Schnebly Hill Formation that looks a bit like a flying saucer landed in the middle of the West Sedona suburbs.  UFOs are big in Sedona, but for some reason, the UFO freaks didn’t hang round Sugarloaf.  They all thought the aliens lived in Bell Rock instead.

The enormous mass on the left is Grayback, imaginatively named because the back of it is mostly gray, or so I’ve been told – I’ve never actually seen the back of it.  To the right is Coffee Pot Rock, which looks remarkably like one of those old coffee percolators.  I spent a good amount of my time in the shadow of those rocks, scrabbling around at the base of Sugarloaf, sliding down the loose and crumbly walls of a deep gully cut in the shales and mudstones of the Hermit Formation, upon which Sedona is built.  Where I’d grown up, in Flagstaff, dirt was tan or brown.  Down here, it was a deep, dark red, so very red that it could stain white clothes rust.  I’d come home coated in the stuff.

Those rocks were the only solid thing in my world back then.  We’d just moved down from Flagstaff, where I’d spent the vast majority of my young life.  My parents had almost gotten divorced, and while we were there, my mom had her first bouts with bipolar disorder.  I had very few friends.  I was surrounded by people even stranger than my mother (at least she had the excuse of an actual psychiatric disorder).  Little wonder, then, that I spent so much time alone in the wilderness, sometimes with my friend Crystal in tow, exploring every nook and cranny of those old red rocks with their white Coconino Sandstone hats.

They were alien to me, in a way: I identified with the volcanic peaks of the San Francisco Volcanic Field, where I’d spent the happiest years of my life to that date.  There was something almost too beautiful, too surreal, about those magnificent red rocks.  I didn’t know what they were back then.  Didn’t know I was surrounded by ancient beaches and dune fields and floodplains.  But I knew they were something special.  Sometimes, they were even friendly.  Their texture, slightly rough, gave my sneakers good purchase as I scrambled up steep cliffs on impossibly narrow ledges.  Some of the finer-grained sandstones made for good nail files in the field, for those times when I broke a fingernail climbing.

Those red rocks loomed.  They were solid, stolid, and steady, and yet could change in an instant: in the angle of the sun, in a passing cloud, in a dusting of snow or a soaking of rain.  Their colors shifted through a million shades.  I don’t know how to describe the intensity of that color, how it’s never quite the same from one moment to the next.  It doesn’t feel like a human setting.  It’s something primal and almost painful.  You are this drab little thing among it, until the colors soak in to you, and it makes you a part of it, some little wild thing scurrying in the shadow of monoliths.

Some people got interested in geology, living there.  Some people turned to crystal magic.  And some got obsessed with UFOs.  It can be hard to tell whether the local business folk are laughing at or with the UFO nuts, but they do take full advantage:

Moi avec UFO fountain at the diner

Holding that little lump of stone in my hand brings it all back: the taste of Permian dust in my mouth, gritty on my skin.  The deep red earth, in turns silty-soft and sandy.  The ancient-world smell of wet slickrock after a high desert rain.  So many long drives down from the Rim, watching as gray basalts turn to cream-colored sandstones and finally, dramatically, to rusty-hued sand and siltstones.  The coolness of that crack in the earth, tracing the Oak Creek fault, as the creek ran alongside the road, soft sound of wind and water through the open window, and the scent of all that boisterous green life – something you don’t get in many places in Arizona.  Blackberry brambles and sycamores and ferns, earthy and sweet, demanding you fill your lungs to the bursting again, again, again.  And under it all, the slightly-sharp, hot, impossibly old smell of lithified landscapes.

Sentimental?  Yes, I should think so.  How could I not be?

There’s one word for landscapes like this, and it’s the name of a road in Sedona:

Inspirational Drive

Those are some of the sediments that I love.  What are yours?

Not For Wise Readers Only

I’ve got the outline for ye olde geology book posted for Wise Readers only.  If you’re regretting your decision not to be a Wise Reader about now, there’s still time!  Just send a request to dhunterauthor via Yahoo. 

Even if you don’t take that plunge, though, you’ve still got a chance to shape the book.  Isn’t that exciting?  And all you have to do is let me pick your brain.

I’ve got questions, you see.

Geology professionals and students: 

What are words used commonly in geology that trip laypeople up?  What terms do you find yourself having to explain (or at least sum up) every time you discuss this stuff with a layperson?  What are terms, phrases and words you believe the public at large should be aware of?  What words do you find laypeople misunderstanding because their common usage is completely different from the way they’re used in geology or science in general?  What stumped you when you first started studying geology?  Favorite geology words?  That sort of thing.

Interested laypeople:

What scientific or geologic words really throw you off?  Confuse, confound or otherwise baffle you?  Are there words you’ve heard that you don’t quite know the meaning of, but would like to?  If scientific language is a stumbling block for you, why?  Don’t be shy about admitting it – believe me, I’m among those interested laypeople who stop dead at certain words and says, “What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”

Half the fun is in finding out.  Hence, this book. 

Right, then.  Hit me.

Dana’s Dojo: Time Dilation

Today in the Dojo: When it’s appropriate to give “show” a right proper boot in the arse and let “tell” have the floor.

“My most important piece of advice to all you would-be writers: when you write, try to leave out all the parts readers skip.” 
     -Elmore Leonard

Show vs. Tell has become one of those sacred commandments of writing, and there’s plenty of folks out there who would burn you at the stake for disobeying it.  Dramatize, we’re told.  Show don’t tell.  Every writer’s magazine and book rack will have copious words devoted to this golden rule of writing, so I imagine it’s going to shock the hell out of you when I tell you to sod showing.  Tell vs. Show, how’s that for anarchy?

Let me explain.

In the midst of George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series cum tree-killing monstrosity Song of Ice and Fire,  I finally pinpointed why it irritates me so.  He dramatizes bloody everything.  In fact, he’s so busy dramatizing scenes that he’s had to cut other scenes and present them after the fact in very brief summaries or in character dialogue/memory/flashback/what-have-you.  The poor man probably does not even realize he’s slave to the Show vs. Tell rule, and it’s making me suffer.

Of course, he’s a damned good writer otherwise, so I have to keep reading.  Damn him.

But back to our program.

In a large and complicated book, and often even in smaller books that have to keep a quick pace, the Show vs. Tell rule is going to strangle us if we follow it too closely.  It’s something I learned while writing the first book of the trilogy (which has been shunted aside due to realizing this is a series, not a trilogy with a few prequels).  At first, I was picking scenes out one-by-one and dramatizing them.  No flashbacks.  No narrative summary.  No out-of-sequence.  Then one day, I realized that with all I had to dramatize, the trilogy would end up being a trilogy in 42 volumes.  This is bad for a number of reasons, not the least of which is because readers aren’t generally immortal, and neither am I.  Something had to be done.  In desperation, I turned to a trick I’d seen Robert Jordan use: time dilation.

I spent a whole chapter summarizing events, with only a few tiny dramatized bits.  When I got done with it, I shuddered.  “Oh, gods,” thought I, “this is wrong.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  It skims too much.”  But I gave it to my Wise Reader anyway, and she came back with nothing but praise.  “I loved how this chapter covered so much,” she said, and went on to cite several of the events in it she’d liked just fine, even though I’d broken the Show vs. Tell rule.  I began to think I could get away with this on rare occasion.

So can you.

WHAT IS THIS TIME DILATION?

Simply put, Time Dilation takes a sequence of event and boils them down to a narrative essence.  It summarizes.  It makes the choice that, for the sake of the flow, full scenes will be forsaken for itsy bitsy scene fragments set like rasins in a bread of narrative summary.  It skims.  It samples.  It takes a chunk of time – days, weeks, months or years – and telescopes it.  It gets us from one huge event or set piece to another with a minimum of fuss and bother, but without the jolt of a line break or short transition.  It’s almost an extended transition, but whereas most transitions are only a paragraph or two at most, time dilation can cover several pages up to a chapter or more.

SOUNDS DANGEROUS

Well, it is.  It’s so easy to use, one could end up writing the majority of their book that way, and that is no way to write a book.  Think of time dilation as bridges.  You need bridges.  They’re useful.  But you can’t build a city out of them.  Not even if you make them really big and put houses on them.

It’s also damned easy to muck up.  There’s a huge difference between being able to dilate time gracefully and making a total hash out of it.  You have to make wise choices as to what you dilate, where, for how long, and in what sequence.  You also have to make sure to get enough dramatization in there to make the dilation feel like showing even though it’s not, but not enough to make it a choppy sea of mini-scenes.  We’re back to rasin bread again.  You can have too many raisins and you can have too few.

SO IF IT’S SO DANGEROUS, WHY SHOULD I DO IT, DANA?

I guess you won’t accept “Because Dana says so” as a proper response, so…

You should do it because it smooths your reader’s path through your book.  It gets them quickly through the bits where not much is happening but a few important things need to be covered.  It keeps you from overdramatizing scenes not worthy of dramatization, and from relying too much on flashback, interior monologue, and really silly “As you know, Jeeves, this happened last week” sorts of dialogue.  And it makes you look like a pro.

ALL RIGHT, I’LL DO IT.  BUT HOW?

It will be my pleasure to tell you.

There are several elements to consider when doing time dilation.  Let’s take it from the top: knowing where it’s needed.

Time dilation is perfect for those times between major scenes, when several things are happening that are dwarfed by what comes before and after.  It’s also quite useful when you’re going from an arc following one set of characters and heading back to a subplot that needs to catch the reader up with another set of folks.  If you’ve got a handful of stuff of minor interest that can’t be shuffled around because of chonology, format or what have you, time dilation could be your alternative to having a string of tiny scenes that catch the reader up or get him from A to B but bore him to death in the process.  Last thing we want is dead readers, right?
It can also be damned useful when you need to build a major plot point in blocks.  What I’m talking about here is, your character must connect some dots to have a major breakthrough.  Time dilation can help you accomplish that with elegance.

Time dilation in its essence needs to do one thing: get the reader from A to B with a few points of interest (mini-scenes) along the way.

Now that we know what it is and what purpose it serves, let’s have a look at some of the varieties of time dilation.

TIME DILATION: CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER

This is the simplest form, appropriate when you’re just getting the story from one major event through a series of little events up to the next big event.  It can begin something like so: “The rest of that day ended in a blur for Dave, and the next few weeks weren’t much better.”

We then go on to summarize what happened to Dave over those weeks.  We might begin with a bit of narrative summary leading us to the next afternoon, when Jones comes up to him with a mini-crisis: the computer ate the budget files again.  Instead of fully dramatizing this event, we’ll take the gems from it: the bits of witty dialogue, Dave preventing Jones from attacking the computer with a baseball bat, and then quickly on through the next few days, with only brief diversions into other mini-scenes: the argument with the landlady over rent, the car breaking down, etc.  All of which will eventually lead us to Dave putting all those little bits and pieces together at the end of the sequence and realizing that the computer problems are the answer to his problems: with the budget in such a mess, he could so easily skim a little money out of the company accounts without anyone noticing a thing.

That’s the secret to time dilation: you build toward a crisis with those mini-scenes that is going to end the dilation chapter with a flaring match being touched to a fuse.  You’ve taken the reader through a critical time in Dave’s life, showing all of the little straws that finally broke the camel’s back, and you’ve managed to do it in chronological sequence so the reader can see each straw being placed just so, without being bored to tears with in-depth descriptions of each damned straw.

TIME DILATION: CENTRAL THEME

There’s another form of time dilation that happens to be my favorite: the out-of-sequence dilation that builds around a central theme or event.  This is what I used in my own successful foray into time dilation, and it’s a powerful tool.

In this version, you’ll still be dilating time, but you’ll be chopping it into bits and recombining those bits into a mosaic that forms a picture by the end.  This is best used when you have several things happening around the same time, but which have more power if they’re grouped together by meaning rather than chronological order.  It will only work if you have a central theme to be illuminated.

Your central theme has to be powerful enough to carry the mosaic.  In my case, it was three words: faith, hope and trust.  At the beginning of the dilation, we see Ray arguing with Luther against trusting Dusty with any of their secrets.  Luther ends the scene by telling him to place his faith, hope and trust in her hands and see what she does with them.  Those words begin to echo through Ray’s mind, and the dilation begins.  The narrative takes us through his next several days, all out of order, with every mini-scene placed to reinforce that theme.  Each mini-scene shows him another aspect of what faith, hope and trust in her hands will mean, and brings him closer to the moment in which he realizes that Luther was right.  By the end of the sequence, chronological order is restored, and when that happens, Ray’s confusion has cleared.  He understands her better, and is starting to trust in her the way Luther does.

USING TIME DILATION WISELY

Time dilations need to be used sparingly, and they should be placed for maximum power.  A book of time dilations interspersed with a few big scenes won’t read well: neither will a book where some of the most important events are dilated rather than fully dramatized.

So here are some handy pointers to take away with you:

1.  Place time dilations between powerful scenes or sequences.  This serves two purposes: it gives the readers a chance for a breather, and keeps scenes with little dramatic potential from being overshadowed by very dramatic scenes.

2.  Choose your mini-dramatizations carefully.  If you have to write everything as fully-dramatized scenes in order to pick out the shiniest bits, do it.  It’s worth the time you spend.  You want the little fragments of dramatization to shine with as much brilliance as possible in order to keep up an illusion that you’re showing more than you actually are.

3.  Make your prose narration gleam.  Do not set your beautiful gems in brass.  You’re a writer, damn it – write your heart out in this prose.  Tell the story with all of the wit and wisdom and sheer power you can.  Don’t skimp.  You don’t want to over-polish your sentences, of course, but make sure they’re sparkly.

4.  Use concrete detail when possible.  Days of rain?  Tell us how gloomy the rain was.  Draw pictures with the scenery, the weather, the dragging days, whatever’s to hand.  You’ve read narrative passages where the description was superb.  Go back to those and see how the author managed to summarize without you noticing by putting the background to work.

5.  Rising action is as much a rule in time dilation as in fully-realized scenes.  The dilation is building to something, otherwise, you could just skip all of that and use a transition like “After a few days of blissful boredom, the world blew up in his face.”  Both the narration and the mini-scenes should build that rising action.  There has to be conflict, or it’s meaningless.

6.  End with a punch.  This is important.  Time dilations need a climax, a cliff-hanger, a flame-to-fuse just like every other chapter.  Provide them one and they will not fail you.

And please do remember, while showing is important, our business is called storytelling for a reason.  Time dilation will help you tell a better story.  Know it, love it, make it work for you.

Seattle Area Folks: Come to Science!

Friend and fellow Pharyngulite Andy McMillan is giving a talk this Wednesday night at UW.  It’s called “Shining a Light on Protein Shapes,” and is bound to be enthralling:

Proteins are responsible for most biological functions, and understanding their shape can tell about how they work (or don’t work in the case of illnesses). A common way of studying proteins is to look at changes in fluorescence from the protein when it changes shape, but the reason why this fluorescence is affected is not always obvious. I am using a combination of experiments and computer simulations to try and understand how changes in a protein could result in changes in fluorescence. 

You know howI know it’s gonna be enthralling?  Because when we went to Blind Guardian last year, Andy was talking about his work.  Had to shout out the details over some very loud heavy metal, and I almost didn’t want Blind Guardian to come on until he’d finished, even though I could only hear about half of what he said and understood about a quarter of it.  People: he made fluorescing proteins more interesting than my favorite metal band

Okay?

So I’m gonna go see him, and if you’re in the Seattle area, you should do it, too. 6:45pm.  Johnson Hall, Room 102.  Be there or be sad you weren’t.