Showing posts from April, 2014

"Up Periscope" soon a thing of the past

It's always a tense moment when the captain of a submarine comes shallow  and raises the ship's periscope.  What's he going to see?  An anti-submarine destroyer bearing down on his ship?  A freighter or other target of opportunity?

It appears that the periscope is soon to be replaced by a screen, perhaps similar to the large visor screen on the Starship Enterprise or from the movie and television show, "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea."

A team of Technion-Israel Institute of Technology researchers has developed an underwater imaging system that allows submariners to view objects above the water's surface - without a periscope. The unique technology gets around the inevitable distortion caused by the water-surface waves when using a submerged camera because of the sharp refractive differences between water and air, random waves at the interface present distortions that are worse than the distortion atmospheric turbulence creates for astronomers peering into sp…

The Maya would have loved Facebook

The ancient Maya lived in a virtual world much like people of today who live on Facebook or Twitter.

The Mayan perspective on the material world has been explored in science, and begins to uncover parallels with today's online culture. The Maya believed that part of your identity could inhabit material objects. Maya might even name these objects, talk to them or take them to special events. They considered these items to be alive. The practice of sharing your identity with material possessions might seem unusual in a modern context. But is it this different from today's selfie-snapping, candy-crushing online culture, where social media profiles can be as important to a person's identity as his or her real-world interactions?

If Facebook were around 1,400 years ago, the ancient Maya might have been big fans of the virtual self according to research by University of Cincinnati assistant professor Sarah Jackson who is beginning to uncover some interesting parallels between an…

How true to life was Scrooge's change?

Some years ago, I took a screenwriting class from Cynthia Whitcomb, a screenwriter with a list of produced scripts as long as my left arm, in which the transformative power of film and fiction was a main topic.

Her point being that people enjoy stories in which the main character learns something about themselves and becomes a better person because of it.  Think of movies such as Casablanca.  In the beginning, the main character, Rick, is obviously miserable, pushing away all but his longtime buddy, Sam.  He especially pushes women away.  Why?  

Well, that's the story.  When Ilsa, his lost love, comes back into his life Rick is forced to confront his pain, and while he chooses to give up the girl, he ends up regaining his sense of self and a purpose in life.  The story of Casablanca is the story of Rick's catharsis.  People love that movie and this, according to Cynthia, is why.

Another example from the past is Harold and Maude, now a cult classic.  When Harold, an 18 year old wh…

Lucrezia Borgia, Adulteress, Poisoner, Entrepreneur

Who was Lucrezia Borgia?  Tradition has it that she may have poisoned her second husband, Giovanni Sforza.  Rumor of the day had it that Lucretia had incestuous relations with both her father, Rodrigo Borgia, later Pope Alexander VI, and her brother, Cesare Borgia.  

What is know for certain is that Lucretia was the illegitimate daughter of Rodrigo, then a cardinal of the Catholic Church, and his mistress, Vannozza dei Cattanei.  It is known that she was married three times, the first being annulled as never being consummated (despite her giving birth a few months after the annulment).  The second marriage ended in the death of her husband, Giovanni, and her third to Alfonso d'Este, son of the powerful Duke of Ferrera.  This was also to be Alfonso's third marriage, which ended when Lucrezia dies ten days after she gave birth to a stillborn daughter.  She also had affairs (as did her husbands) with several political figures of the day, and even gave birth to the daughter of one …

Effects of being bullied lasts a lifetime - in a bad way

This is a frightening report - of the first ever study of the effects of being bullied over a lifetime.  

This is also useful information for any author or screenwriter to use in character development and back story.

Here's the report:

Impact of childhood bullying still evident after 40 years
The negative social, physical and mental health effects of childhood bullying are still evident nearly 40 years later, according to new research by King's College London. This study is the first to look at the effects of bullying beyond early adulthood.

The findings come from the British National Child Development Study which includes data on all children born in England, Scotland and Wales during one week in 1958. The study published today includes 7,771 children whose parents provided information on their child's exposure to bullying when they were aged 7 and 11. The children were then followed up until the age of 50.

Dr Ryu Takizawa, lead author of the paper from the Institute of Psychiat…

Write as a hobby? It improves your job performance.

Are you a writer with a full-time job?  A "hobby" writer?

New research out of San Francisco State demonstrates that your writing improves your job performance by making you more creative and have better relationships with co-workers.

Plus, you're having fun (I hope), and just maybe you'll write the great American million-selling novel.

Here's the report:

Creative activities outside work  can improve job performance
Employees who pursue creative activities outside of work may find that these activities boost their performance on the job, according to a new study by an organizational psychologist. 

Creative pursuits away from work seem to have a direct effect on factors such as creative problem solving and helping others while on the job, said Eschleman, an assistant professor of psychology.

The study examined whether creative activity might have an indirect impact on employees' performance by 

providing them with a way to recover from the demands of their job, by resto…

The Medieval slave trade

The routes of slave trade in Eastern Europe in the medieval and pre-modern period extended all the way to the Caspian Sea and Central Asia. A recent study completed at the University of Eastern Finland suggests that persons captured during raids into areas which today constitute parts of Finland, the Russian Karelia and the Baltic Countries ended up being sold on these remote trade routes. 
High demand for blonde girls and boys
There was a particular demand for blonde girls and boys who were seen as exotic luxury items, and it was financially beneficial to transport them to the far-away markets. 

The numbers of northern people who finally reached the southern markets were not large. The study indicates that out of the thousands of persons kidnapped in the north, only a few hundred -- at most -- ended up in the Caspian Sea region and Central Asia via the Volgan and Crimean slave markets. Otherwise, slave trade in the Crimea and Volga regions was extensive, and tens of thousands of people …

How your writing style predicts your book's success ~ statistically

If only there were a way to analyze a manuscript and accurately predict its potential success rather than the seemingly random and bewildering process of an editor's opinion, opinion's so frequently wrong.  I mean, Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint was rejected by over forty publishers before finding success, and that's just one of hundreds if not thousands of examples.

One professor thinks she has a tool to bring some science to the process of selecting books for publication, and not a writing or literature teacher either, but a professor of computer science.

Stony Brook Department of Computer Science Assistant Professor Yejin Choi thinks she has a tool to bring some science to that art as described in the paper she co-authored, Success with Style: Using Writing Style to Predict the Success of Novels.

Introducing statistical stylometry
"Predicting the success of literary works poses a massive dilemma for publishers and aspiring writers alike," Choi said. …

Hereditary trauma and the characters in your story

One thing I enjoy about writing fiction is working out the back stories of characters before I throw them into situations for the pure pleasure of seeing how they respond.  It's especially pleasant when a minor character, all on their own, steps forward and takes over a story.

The importance of back story cannot be stressed enough, not just for you the writer, but for the reader.  Constructing a back story, even if 90% what you build never appears in your story, keeps you and your characters consistent.

I learned this some years ago in a seminar taught by comedy legend Danny Simon.  He stressed that what makes a joke funny is that it is character based.  One of his tenets was that a character must behave consistently with their personality, whether funny or serious.  If it's not consistent with who they are, it distracts the viewer or reader who wonder, "Huh?" and put your story down.
So it follows that the better you understand why people in general behave the way they…

Trying to sound sexy? Sorry, guys, you just don't have what it takes.

This has been a difficult year - scientifically - to be a man.  There has been myriad research published that says, essentially, men are superfluous.  Unnecessary. Unneeded.


In brief, here's some the conclusions reached in diligently pursued and vetted research:
Women make better members of boards of directors.  Boards with women on them make a higher profit and are 20% less likely to fail.Women owned businesses tend to last longer.  While making more money.Women are far more socially and environmentally conscious.Men play "power games", women focus on results.Women focus on communication and relationships; men just want to get, uh, well, you know.I'm sorry, this makes me depressed, so I'm going to stop the list.  The other people in the coffee shop are sure to notice me sitting in a corner, crying.
So now, here comes another massive blow to the male ego.  
Trying to sound sexier? Sorry, guys, it seems us men just don't have what it takes. 

Here's the sto…

FACTOID FRIDAY: Cell phones that run on spit, antibacterial soaps cause nasal staph, and the lab-grown vagina

Bright morning light keeps off pounds
A surprising new strategy for managing your weight? Bright morning light. People who had most of their daily exposure to bright light in the morning had a significantly lower body mass index (BMI) than those who had most of their light exposure later in the day, reports a new study. The earlier light exposure occurred, the lower the BMI. The influence of morning light on weight was independent of physical activity, caloric intake, sleep timing, age or season.

"Light is the most potent agent to synchronize your internal body clock that regulates circadian rhythms, which in turn also regulate energy balance," said study senior author Phyllis C. Zee, M.D. "The message is that you should get more bright light between 8 a.m. and noon." About 20 to 30 minutes of morning light is enough to affect BMI."

This is not good news for those of us in the Pacific NW, where traditionally the sun peeks through the clouds on either the third …

Tiny molecular change linked to psychiatric illness

Based on this research, it appears that a tiny change on the molecular level in the brain cells of babies can lead to all sorts of psychiatric problems later in life.  Drinking, physical abuse, drug use or illness in the mother, all can cause illnesses such as schizophrenia and some forms of autism and bipolar disorders for a fetus.  We're talking of changes of the most basic chemical type within the developing fetal cells of a newborn leading to a lifetime of mental issues.

This information, perhaps not directly related to a character in your story, can help you understand how this person became the way they are.  In the debate of nature versus nurture, it appears that nature is the culprit.  This asks the question, "can talk therapy cure such a disease when its cause is genetic?"  I can't answer this.

From a human standpoint, since the stem cells of people with a psychiatric problem were used to make this "diagnosis", is there hope that a stem cell therapy …

Neanderthals were good parents

Archaeologists are challenging the traditional view that Neanderthal childhood was difficult, short and dangerous. A new and distinctive perspective suggests that Neanderthal children experienced strong emotional attachments with their immediate social group, used play to develop skills and played a significant role in their society.

A research team from PALAEO (Centre for Human Palaeoecology and Evolutionary Origins) and the Department of Archaeology at York offer a new and distinctive perspective which suggests that Neanderthal children experienced strong emotional attachments with their immediate social group, used play to develop skills and played a significant role in their society.

The traditional perception of the toughness of Neanderthal childhood is based largely on biological evidence, but the archaeologists, led by Dr Penny Spikins, also studied cultural and social evidence to explore the experience of Neanderthal children.In research published in the Oxford Journal of Arch…

The genetics of "I'll do it tomorrow" Procrastination explained.

Procrastination and impulsivity are genetically linked, suggesting that the two traits stem from similar evolutionary origins, according to research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The research indicates that the traits are related to our ability to successfully pursue and juggle goals.

"Everyone procrastinates at least sometimes, but we wanted to explore why some people procrastinate more than others and why procrastinators seem more likely to make rash actions and act without thinking," explains psychological scientist and study author Daniel Gustavson of the University of Colorado Boulder. "Answering why that's the case would give us some interesting insights into what procrastination is, why it occurs, and how to minimize it."

From an evolutionary standpoint, impulsivity makes sense: Our ancestors should have been inclined to seek immediate rewards when the next day was uncertain.

Procrastination, on …