Friday, July 29, 2011

People Are Sexual, Even In Space

That's a "duh!" statement for most of us, but I've been thinking about this in the context of the lecture on "Sex in Space" at Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop 2011. The discussion went like this, "Have people had sex in space? We don't know. If they have, they aren't telling."

Why not?

Certainly, in the earliest space flights, partnered sex was impossible. (The issue of solo sex is an interesting one, however, but no one's talking about that, either.) Astronauts flew solo or remained in their individual space suits. That's changed. We've had crews of more than one person, even a married couple. The presumption is that at one time or another, two of these people have been sexual with one another. So what's the deal with "they aren't saying"? Is spaceflight supposed to be so serious that people stop having sexual feelings? Or so exhausting that even if they did have those desires, they wouldn't have the energy to do anything about them? Maybe they did, and they told NASA (or whoever), but that information is Classified? For what conceivable purpose (excuse the pun)?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Surviving as a Writer (Or Artist...Or Musician)

Isadora Duncan (1878-1927)
There's no dearth of articles on strategies for financial survival. The internet abounds in them, some excellent, but many more that seem to be unfounded blatherings. At a time when publishing is changing faster than news can spread, a person can say just about anything and be right part of the time. This isn't one of those. This is about surviving psychologically.

The two sorts of survival are connected. Struggling financially, being unable to support yourself with your writing (insert as appropriate: art, dance, music, etc.) is frustrating and discouraging. I think it's even more so when reaching that readership, that group of people who love your work and for whom your work has enduring value, is part and parcel of the rewards of being a writer. I also think that each one of us forges our own way through the thorn-forest of publishing/getting paid/writing/dreaming. Here are a few things that work for me. They might be helpful to you, too.

If the only thing I loved about writing was getting paid for it, I'd probably give up and go back into health care. If I either hated or was indifferent to the writing itself, it simply wouldn't be worth the hassle. At least, seeing sick people get better comes with warm fuzzy feelings and a regular paycheck. I'm fortunate in that writing fiction isn't the only thing I can do, or do with a little refresher training. Don't get me wrong, it's wonderful to get paid. It just isn't sufficient in itself for me.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

RevisionLand; Or, Aliens/Robots/Dry-Towners/Mad-Scientists Ate My Brains

Gillray, "The Headache," 1819
One of the delights of living with a fellow writer occurs when I'm sitting at the dinner table, trying to wrap my mind around 200 or 500 pages of text. He raises an eyebrow, Spock-style. I say, "Revisions." And he gets it. I am not only not flying with the rest of the ducks at this moment, I'm nowhere near this planet. I'm in RevisionLand.

Some writers look at me as if Aliens/etc., really have eaten my brains when I say I love to revise. Everyone's different. I'm not a writer who uses detailed outlines. I know some who do, one or two 3 x 5 cards per scene. I work from an outline that tells me I need to get from here to there and this is the emotional tenor of this story hinge, and that is how I want to climax to come together. How I get from a blank screen to ### (the end, in writerese) is an adventure. The story doesn't happen for me in the first draft, but in the revisions.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Re-Entry: Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop and Revisions

When I come back from a trip, I always go through a period of re-adjustment to daily life. It often begins with a burst of industry that includes doing laundry, opening mail, and restocking the refrigerator, then progresses to being-unable-to-settle. This time, I arrived home sleep-deprived, caffeinated, exhilarated, mind-stuffed-with-astronomy, and intoxicated on sea-level oxygen (after a week at 7600' altitude). . . and a novel to revise.

This process of energy --> slump --> focus intrigues me. It feels as if I'm in turbo-charged mode when I'm at a convention or, in this case, an intensive workshop, and that momentum carries me for a short time after I'm home. I consistently fall prey to the delusion that I'll get home and immediately start back to work (with all the enthusiasm and nifty insights I've garnered on my trip). But once I'm actually home, a temporary but disabling but highly productive ADD sets in. Whatever my intentions, my attention gets drawn -- as a fly to honey -- to this or that pile of clutter. While I've been away -- at a con, at a workshop, on vacation -- someone else cleans the room, washes the dishes, etc., leaving my thoughts free to do what thoughts do without the daily distractions of housekeeping, bill paying, grocery shopping, and the like. One reason re-entry is jarring is that suddenly I'm confronted with all these demands at once. Perhaps if I were a less tidy person, I could ignore them, but I'm not so I can't, and I run around like a madwoman trying to do them all, pouring my energy into a vain attempt to beat back the chaos in my environment. Said chaos and I achieve an uneasy truce just about the time my energy fails.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Private Ideas: A Few Thoughts on Misconceptions in Science

At Launch Pad 2011, Professor Jim Verley talked about common misconceptions and how they persist. An example of a widespread and persistent error is the apparent larger size of Moon when seen on the horizon (this is actually an optical illusion, not due to any lensing effect of the atmosphere). The authority of print perpetuates and gives power to written misconceptions.

Where do these notions come from? As children, we quite naturally try to make sense out of the world around use. We form "private ideas" very early. They often present novel and inaccurate explanations for the seasons, phases of moon, the weight of air, or the idea that oxygen is the only component of air. These concepts are very resistant to alteration, even by subsequent education.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

More Cosmology: Looking Back in Time

UGC 12158, photo by Hubble/NASA
More strange and wonderful theoretical stuff" As we look backwards in time, the universe gets denser and hotter; we know this from the absorption lines in the background radiation, and it fits with our current theory. The densities of galaxies have also evolved as expected.

In the first seconds after the Big Bang, radiation dominated, then matter dominated with formation of galaxies.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Goodbye, Galaxies

NGC 1097, a barred spiral galaxy, photo by NASA
I've been trying to put together my notes from the cosmology lectures at Launch Pad 2011. It's a bit heavy going, partly because the material is heavily mathematical and theoretical, but also because my poor brains were oozing out of my ears by this time. But here are a few of the more mind-blowing ideas for your delectation:

On a large scale, we live in an expanding universe: the galaxies are moving apart, with velocity proportional to distance. This is the cool part --- the galaxies are not moving through space, nor are the galaxies themselves expanding -- space itself is expanding, carrying the galaxies along!! Gravity within a galaxy holds it together. This does not mean we are at the center of the universe; you have the same impression of space expanding in all directions from any other galaxy as well. In local galaxy clusters, gravity can dominate over this expansion. Recessional velocities are greater than small local motions over large distances.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Launch Pad images

Here we are in class: L to R, Jen Willis and Todd Vandemark in the front row, then Eric James Stone and, behind him, Christopher Rowe and KC Ball.

Vedauwoo Park, volcanic rock formations.

Rest break at Vedauwoo.

 Wildlife on the University of Wyoming campus.

At "The Daydreamer," one of our landmarks between the dorms and the Classroom Building (that's really its name!)

 U. Wyoming Geology Museum. Todd Vandemark and friend.

Stan and Joyce Schmidt at Vedauwoo.

Mike Albo and Pembroke Sinclair after the hike.

Dr. Mike Brotherton, astonomy professor, sf writer, and general inspirational genius behind the Launch Pad program.
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Monday, July 18, 2011

Sex in Space: Part Three: No Babies, Please

Contraception would be very important in space, because of limited medical resources for pregnancy and potentially hazardous/deadly effects on embryo (such as increased radiation exposures). No method other than sterilization is 100% effective; the effectiveness of oral contraceptive in microgravity is not known. In microgravity, sperm may linger in vaginal tract, as their movement is not dependent upon gravity: transport by muscle contractions, ciliary activity, and the motility of sperm. On the other hand, microgravity and spaceflight by themselves may have contraceptive effects. Menstrual dysfunction is likely due to disturbance in circadian rhythms, intensive exercise, stress. Disturbance of the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis lead to lack of ovulation or excessive menstrual bleeding. This may include retrograde menstruation, producing endometriosis and infertility. Male fertility: fall in testosterone level and sperm motility, exposure to toxins used in life-support and propellants could reduce sperm counts.

Higher radiation levels can affect both male and female fertility. Sperm cells are the most radiosensitive in human body, resulting in reduced fertility or genetic abnormalities. Sperm cells produced on a 74-day cycle, so levels return to normal after low radiation exposures. Radiation doses needed to destroy all sperm cells are usually fatal. Ovaries lie 5-7 cm below the skin, so some slight shielding. Oocytes more radio-resistant to genetic defects than are sperm cells, but are not replaced if damaged. In women, a radiation exposure of LD50 (enough to produce 50% fatality rate) results in sterilization (destruction of all oocytes and end to estrogen production) but effects of radiation are cumulative. Radiation can cause endometriosis.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sex in Space: Part Two - Things That Can Go Wrong

Free-floating sex could be physically dangerous, with bodies ricocheting off walls, striking body parts; if "decoupling," partners could go shooting away from one another and colliding with equipment.

Sex in space also entails the risk of penile fracture. Excessive lateral or downward buckling might result in tear in the fibrous outer tissue of the penis. Symptoms include a sharp snapping, cracking or popping sound, excruciating pain, swelling, bleeding, and deformity of the penis. Treatment would be cold compression pressure dressings, splinting, analgesics, and surgery to correct the tear, but it's unlikely because of the lack of proper equipment and surgical expertise.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Sex in Space:Part One: How Do We Manage To Do It?

To begin with, unless we're talking about masturbation, we need access to a partner. Early ventures into space were not conducive to sexual activity. The first human space flights were one man flights. When, in 1963, the first woman cosmonaut went into space, she flew with another man, but she was in one-person capsule and he was in another, and the flight did not include any docking maneuvers. Through the 1970s, crews contained only men until Salyut 7, which was a mixed crew (1982). 1983 Sally Ride, since then mixed crews common, and in 1992, a married couple. Did any of these flights include sex in space? Who knows? There's no official confirmation. Is it possible? Theoretically yes, but difficult: microgravity, effects on physiology, radiation, psychological effects. Read on...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Extrasolar Planets

Stars orbit the center of mass of their systems (not center of star mass); hence, planets can perturb a star's orbit. Stars wobble due to tiny gravitational effects of their planets (meters per second). Look for shifts in the absorption spectra; from the period and size of the shift, we can determine the mass of an object affecting a star. A star's motion can be influenced by multiple planets, but it is still possible to determine their masses and orbits. Detecting these very tiny shifts requires precision technology.

Astrometric technique; we can detect planets by measuring changes in star's position.

Doppler shifts detected in the spectroscopic analysis of 51 Pegasi indirectly revealed a planet with 4 day orbit (50 m/sec). Rapid period means the orbit is small and the planet is close to the star. Discovered 1995. Mass similar to Jupiter but within radius of Mercury. This class of planets are called "hot Jupiters."

Launch Pad Diary: Very Cool Stuff About Planets

Planets are teeny specks in the middle of nothing, separated by vast distances. 8 major planets with nearly circular orbits; Pluto and Eris are smaller and have more elliptical orbits; Pluto-like objects (many!) Eris is larger than Pluto! (Kuiper belt, objects rocky and icy like comets, 1/2 dozen we know about so far.)

Sun comprises 99.9% of solar system's mass, mostly H/He gas; converts 4 million tons of mass into energy each second.

Mercury - metal and rock, large iron core; desolate, cratered with long, tall steep cliffs, very hot/cold 425oC to -170oC Why iron core: During planetary accretion, lighter elements blown off, only heavier elements left. Outer planets - ices solid, grow bigger and more quickly than inner planets. Jupiter orbit = "frost line" for volatile gases being ice (but we are having to re-think the frost line in light of "hot Jupiters" that orbit very close to their stars.)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Launch Pad Diary July 12

Electromagnetic spectrum, light, astronom.ical tools. How we know about the stuff in space - by looking (i.e., using light and by analyzing other radiation). Astronomy is observational and technology-driven; we usually make new discoveries through improved instruments.

Light shares wave-particle duality with electrons and has wavelength, frequency, and speed. Speed is always c (in vacuum) but wavelength and frequency (related) can vary. (Light slows down in other media: atmosphere, water, etc., which changes wavelength, maybe 30%, must be corrected.) Experiments have slowed the speed of light with things like super-cooled cesium to less than speed of sound. Different colors of visible light correspond to different wavelengths.

Red dwarf star same spectrum as filament of incandescent light bulb (temperature about 3000 K). Landscape looks normal, not red. Don't see colors at light intensities either very high or very low.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Launch Pad Diary July 11

The mission of Launch Pad is "to get the science right in sf," increase the signal to noise ratio and reduce misconceptions - Hollywood moguls are next, so movies can get it right, too. Participants include emerging and established writers, fantasy as well as sf. Will know they've done their job when a werewolf novel describes the phases of the moon correctly.

Stan Schmidt says: Everything is outgrowth of astronomy, carried to extremes. Fictitious science is presented within constraints of real science.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Launch Pad Diary July 10

Today was Travel Day, the process of gathering warm bodies from the many corners of the land. Dave made me waffles, sweet man. We trundled off to San Jose Airport, where I discovered that my flight was delayed, albeit not by much. Mike Brotherton says that one year, transport was such a mess, people didn't all arrive until 10 pm and then the dorm keys didn't work. We, however, all made it in at a civilized hour, trekked by van from Denver to Laramie, checked in, and walked up the block to a sort of sports bar/brewput/burger joint named, either appropriately or inappropriately, "The Library." (As in, Mom, I was at the Library until 12 am!)

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Launch Pad Diary July 9

Thinking about armature. That's like the skeleton of a sculpture, or the tree you hang the ornaments on. Or the bones of a story; it provides an organizational principle for other things. My knowledge of astronomy is like a collection of those things -- nifty in their own right, but with a tendency to rattle around in my brain like particles driven only by Brownian motion. One of my hopes for this week is that the formal structure of the class will provide something like an armature, not only for the nifty facts I already have, but for those I will learn in the future. Good classes are like that; they pay forward in helping to make sense of my evolving knowledge base. I used to joke that the very little of the factual genetics I learned in 1966 is still valid (well, beyond the existence of DNA and the like), but the way of thinking about it, the sorting out of useful vs digressive questions, how to critically analyze the answers as they come from research, all that remains invaluable.

Back to packing -- mosquito repellent, skin lotion, sunglasses and sunscreen, extra socks, a jacket, sandals for dorm showers... everything one requires to study astronomy. In Wyoming. At altitude. The sun stuff is 'cause we'll get to go on a hiking/geology trip one morning.

Launch Pad Diary July 8

After dithering about whether to post my Launch Pad diary entries here or on my LiveJournal, I've decided (for the moment, anyway) to do both. So here's yesterday's, and today's will go up in a little bit. It occurs to me that by posting every day, I'll have a hope of remembering what day it is (which can be a challenge when one works at home).

July 8. Strictly personal: I'm in a dither -- it's been so long since I've spent a whole day in class -- my mind is telling me I ought to have been reviewing my college physics -- and reading every basic astronomy book I can find --and now it's too late -- omg -- I'm going to be such a slow and stupid person. The only thing I can do is laugh. If I've learned anything in my more-than-a-few decades, it's that we all learn at different rates and in different ways. Ask me a certain type of question and my mind is an instant blank, even though I can recite the answer in my sleep (maybe I should try that as a tactic!) Or, when faced with some utterly intimidating situation, exactly the right words fly out of my mouth. I figure, what the heck, if I'm feeling so insecure and I have a fabulous time, maybe someone else might not let that stop them from applying next year!

The schedule arrived today via email and I'm so geekily stoked, all my performance anxiety has disappeared.
Monday: welcome and stuff, Scales of the Universe; A Scale Solar System; Seasons, Lunar Phases, Misconceptions; Amateur Astronomy; Small Telescope Night (omg squee, as my kids would say)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Launch Pad Diary

.... will be over here, on my LiveJournal. I have no idea why I decided that; it seems like a good idea. You can go there now and read about the schedule and my pre-workshop jitters.

The Last Shuttle

Personal blatherings warning: I hadn't been among the multitudes watching the countdown or viewing the takeoff on television. For one thing, I don't have cable and there's no television reception in my area, which is mostly a good thing except for moments like this one. For another, I've been madly juggling catching up from four days at Westercon, getting ready for out of town guests, and preparing for Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop next week (and a few other minor tasks, like blog posts and novel revisions).

So Atlantis headed for the skies without me...and only then did I realize what I'd missed. No, missed is not the right word. The Era of The Shuttle will come to an end with or without my attention. For my children and many of my friends, there has never been a time when we as a nation have not had an active space program. But for me there was.

I was in grade school when the Soviets sent up Sputnik, and then Sputnik 2, with Laika the dog. I made my own Hallowe'en costume out of a big balloon, covered with papier-mache and then aluminum foil, with eye holes and antennae; the body was a loose robe of black cloth dotted with stars. I walked down the block going "Beep...beep..." And everyone knew what I was.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Non-Obnoxious Book Promotion, Part Two

Originally, I hadn't planned on giving any "dos" and "don'ts" tips and advice on how to promote your book without being obnoxious. What I had in mind was re-framing the way I think about book promotion, taking into account the changing technology of book publication and distribution, as well as the hugely expanded conversation about books. To be honest, I don't have the answer as to what works and what doesn't. (I don't think anyone does, beyond pointing out things that are incredibly annoying, or things that have succeeded spectacularly for other people under special circumstances.) One of the worst aspects of relentless self-promotion is the gnawing insecurity it generates in others, as if failure to be spectacularly successful is your own fault. That sense of desperation is not only toxic, it's contagious. For me, a playful and cooperative approach helps defuse the pressure to follow someone else's strategy. One size does not fit all, especially at the cost of precious creative energy.

(I know what I feel comfortable with and what drives me nuts. I also am not big on rules, especially rules handed down by someone else. Whenever I read Authoritative Advice, I want to prove it wrong.) Here are a few ideas, as they pop into my brain.

If you're on a panel:
Avoid the "Wall'O'Books," a solid mass of every publication you have, often spilling over into the space of the panelists to either side. If you're next to a better-known author who merely mentions her latest release during the introductions, you'll look like an amateur and a braggart. Speaking of introductions, I heard Madeleine L'Engle say of herself on a panel: "I write books." That was it. Period. I thought, How incredibly classy. But then, you say, she's Madeleine L'Engle, who needs no introduction. I suspect that in many cases, the stature of the writer is in inverse relation to the number of books displayed. Most of us do well to give the audience something to go on, so wave about that gorgeous cover flat and then put it down. Let the audience see your face, not a blur of covers.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Book Promotion Rehabilitation

Sherwood Smith offered some thoughts here on the obnoxiousness of authors tooting their own horns unrelentingly in interviews:

Too many read as if the person was interviewing themself, examining why I'm the greatest, and my novel is the greatest, from every angle in the mirror. The interviews don't look outward, talking about other things.

This brings to mind a panel topic at Westercon, "How To Promote Yourself As A Writer Without Being Obnoxious." That we even need to discuss the social etiquette of career building is significant in itself. We aren't born knowing how to communicate our enthusiasm for our creative efforts. In the world of science fiction and fantasy, like any other genre, there's a wide variation in social skills. Aforementioned skills are not necessary to write brilliantly, although an ability to observe them in others is useful. I've known writers who were so painfully shy, they'd rather undergo a root canal without anesthetic than go up to a stranger and try to convince him to buy their book, and other writers who do just that, over and over again.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Formidable Older Woman Character

One of the pleasures of Westercon 2011 was attending the panel on "Writing Formidable Women: Making sure they're formidable; making sure they're women." (As an irrelevant side note, it's always a treat to listen to a panel I'm not actually on; among other things, I get to take notes.) As a woman writer, as a woman interested in empowerment in my own life and in those of other women, and as a reader who loves strong women characters, I appreciated many of the perspectives offered.

I've heard, and participated in, many discussions about women warriors. For some years back in the 1980s and 1990s, I was active in a network of women martial artists who were also writers (or, conversely, women writers who also studied martial arts). We tossed around ideas and our experiences in training, we pushed every boundary we could find. Marion Zimmer Bradley began editing the Sword & Sorceress anthologies in the early 1980s, and it seemed there was an explosion of kick-ass sword-wielding women heroes.

Now I'm older and am finding a particular delight in characters -- men as well as women -- who are smart enough to use violence only as a last resort. My kung fu teacher, Jimmy H. Woo, used to say that young people need to study kung fu (meaning, to work all that aggression out) but that with age comes wisdom, movements become more circular and flowing, and you end up with tai chi. Much the same holds true for my ideas about heroes. I find a particular delight in the heroic older women in, for example, The Stone War by Madeleine E. Robins, or Elizabeth Moon's wonderful Remnant Population.

Friday, July 1, 2011

On To Revisions!

I love the synchronicity of the writing community. Yesterday, I finished the rough draft of the next Darkover book, The Children of Kings, and today writer and editor Laura Anne Gilman writes on the Book View Cafe blog on . . . revisions!

Revising is not a new process for me, but I always welcome new ways of looking at it. "The Practical Meerkat," as Gilman calls herself, offers humor as well as her own perspective. I love her concept of "Draft Zero," a pre-editorial, adolescent version of the work (bones good, skin spotty, no table manners to speak of) and a "Submission Draft" (ready to leave home for college, thinks she knows everything).

I find that way of thinking more helpful than "first, second...," which promotes comparison and competition. I've wrestled with this demon over the years. I'd hear another writer talk about sending off a lightly-polished first draft and selling it and I'd feel pathetic. A truly hopeless case. I did not dare let even my critique group see my drafts at that stage. I'd castigate myself by counting drafts, as if that were a measure of my ability or the quality of my work.