Saturday, 16 February 2019

Obituary: Opportunity Rover on Mars

Yeah, I'm crying. And you're crying too. Admit it.

Essentially, the last message Opportunity sent before going dark in June 2018. (credit: REDDIT)

On 14 Feb, NASA officially declared the Opportunity mission at an end.

XKCD made a joke about Oppy's long life.
You can't help but cry. For a mission with a life expectancy of 90 days, Opportunity became our hero for living and exploring for a good fifteen years.   Every day beyond that 90 was a beautiful gift. Nearly every day we got data. We're still analysing it. We're so lucky we got so much science from it.

Oh, the science has been marvelous! 

I did a major research paper in my Planetary Science class on water and Mars, and some of my data came from the Opportunity mission. So yeah, I'm crying. We spent some time at school together.

Back in June, Mars experienced a planet-wide dust storm, as it does from time to time. Oppy had weathered them before, but no guarantee that it would weather them again. Each time a dust storm came, we'd cross our fingers and hope-HOPE-hope that Oppy would survive.

NASA had been trying to contact Oppy for eight months, with no luck. So when the Martian weather cleared and, unlike other times when Oppy was able to keep calm and carry on, there was no reply.

NASA finally accepted that we would never again hear from Opportunity. Winter has come where Oppy lies, and some components weren't designed to last the bitter cold without its heater.

It's okay to cry.

Lots of grief has been expressed online. You're not alone.

Here, go learn more about NASA's Spirit and Opportunity missions. 

Some day humans may make it to Mars. (We're awesome like that.) If/when we do, I hope we get the chance, no the 'opportunity' to go lei some flowers on Oppy's camera stem.

Abby Garrett expressed it well.

What impact did Opportunity have on us Earth-side humans?  I think XKCD put it best:

Her Grace is going to go cry some more.

Friday, 15 February 2019

Old Dance Shoes

When I was young, like many a young girl, I danced. I loved it. The sense of motion, of expression, of moving through space.

During this verse of my life I don't have much time to seek out dance, but do not say no to any opportunity I stumble across. I'm happy to dance again once the chorus comes around.

A friend was telling us about her daughter taking up dance classes, and how she, the friend, wistfully thought back to her dance days. (I suggested she get dance shoes of her own.)

Just because we can no longer go en pointe in our advancing years doesn't mean we can't still put on our shoes.

Here are some of mine.

These are my ballet flats. They've served me well for at least 25 years. I danced CATS in these.

These are character shoes. They can be used for soft-shoe dancing, but are mainly for stagework and acting.

These are my Modern Dance shoes. I also use them for Bellydancing.

My tap shoes. I've been through several pairs. Tap was my first love of dance at age 3. While the weakest of my dance styles, I still hold a special place in my heart for the noisy shuffle of tappity-tappity.  I need to take more classes when I get time.

Her Grace will post pictures of toe shoes as soon as she can find them.

Friday, 8 February 2019

Aussie culture: The Bunnings Sausage Sizzle

Generally, the weather is clement in Australia, so every weekend, Australians get out and Get Stuff Done.

Bunnings Warehouse is "Australia's DIY, Garden & Hardware Store".  They are he-yuuuge! You can get everything you could possibly want, need or covet for the improvement of your home. Want a new bathroom sink? Get it at Bunnings! Need heirloom tomatoes for the garden? Bunnings. Need a sausage with onions and tomato sauce? Bunnings.

Yep. You heard me right.

Every weekend all Bunnings Warehouses host a sausage sizzle (like a "barbeque", but you can only get sausages). These sausage sizzles are run by various non-profit groups as fundraisers. Schools, clubs, sports teams, and more will man these outside kiosks and for about five bucks, will sell you a sausage on a bun, topped with grilled onions and the sauce of your choice, plus a can of soft drink.

Sometimes people go to Bunnings just to get a sausage sizzle. It's a very Aussie thing to do.

Her Grace has been known to succumb, even though she's not terribly fond of sausages.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

My Journeyman Project: OF THE DARK

If you drill down through the archives, you will find the occasional mention of my series OF THE DARK, from talking about its beginnings to its eventual publication.

The ideas for OF THE DARK (fondly known to me at OTD) started when I was in High School in the 80's. What would become "God of the Dark" was the third novel I'd ever written, when I was still figuring myself out as an author.  I used it to work out everything about the craft, from how to outline, how to develop characters, and how to develop plots (which is why OTD ended up being a trilogy). It took me years.

Towards the end of university, I discovered the [then] Del Rey Online Writing Workshop, and spent many years there refining my craft. While I did work on other novels and plenty of short stories, the majority of my work ended up being on the OF THE DARK series. I went from being an apprentice author to a journeyman in skill, capable of being published (albeit short stories, etc).  I networked and got to know lots of fellow authors, many of whom have gone on to make writing careers for themselves.

While working on OTD, I worked on other projects as well. It's not good to devote so much time (aka years) on a single work. I wrote and published "As Good As Gold", "For Richer, For Poorer", "Marry Me" and "The White Feather" through The Wild Rose Press and released "Her Endearing Young Charms" as an indie project. I've got lots of other projects on the burner in various completion stages. I anticipate having at least one, and possibly three novels released in 2019.

Thanks to all my hard work on OTD, I was able to successfully and efficiently write other novels in a fraction of the time it took to get all three OTD books completed. I've managed to gain some mastery over the craft.

I attempted to get OTD published through traditional routes, but while many an agent liked my manuscript, none of them loved it enough to take it on. But I loved it and I knew others would as well, so I went indie with it.

Have you read God of the Dark? Get thee to the retail bookseller of your choice and sample the first chapter for free.

God of the Dark -  Amazon | Smashwords | Books2Read | Google Play | KoboBooks | Paperback (via Amazon)
Bride of the Dark - Amazon | Smashwords | Books2Read | Google Play | KoboBooks | Paperback (via Amazon)
House of the Dark - Amazon | Smashwords | Books2Read | Google Play | KoboBooks | Paperback (via Amazon)

While I would love for you to buy my books, if you can't or don't want to, please, by all means, ask for them at your local library (aka make them buy my books). OTD is available to libraries in both Trade paperback through IngramSpark and ebook form through OverDrive and other library distribution platforms.

Friday, 25 January 2019

KonMari: It's Okay to Keep All Your Books

At the onset of the New Year, I did what I do every year and got rid of old stuff I no longer needed or wanted.  My rules are thus:

  1. Do I like this item? If not, toss.
  2. Do I have an actual, planned, scheduled use for this item within the next six months (or within a year, if seasonal)? If not, out it goes.
  3. Exception to the rule: Family heirloom or something of great, exceptional value.
Things I got rid of this year:
  • Clothes that don't fit.
  • Shoes I never wear.
  • Old sheets, blankets, bedding, towels, etc.
  • Fabric scraps
  • Mismatched plates
  • Mismatched plastics
  • Christmas decorations to which I have no sentimental attachments
  • Household ornaments that I had no idea I was holding on to. Unless it does something, why keep it?
It's amazing how free the house feels when you get rid of useless stuff.

Two days after I started my mighty cull, the Marie Kondo memes exploded on the internet.

Marie Kondo has about thirty books in her home that truly 'spark joy' for her.  A lo of people mis-interpreted this to mean, "You can only keep thirty books and must ditch the rest."

Boy, the uproar.

What I found interesting is that the Great KonMari Uproar was only about one thing. It wasn't about clothes or kitchenware. It was about books.


This is one of my many bookshelves:

We like, no, we LOVE books. They spark a great joy in us. There's something wonderfully magic in a book. I hold it in my hand and I can feel marvelousness. This could be because books saved me from reality when I was a child.

Reality was a not-nice place for me growing up. Thank goodness my parent were bookworms and had plenty of books at home. I read every single one I could lay my hands on. My folks took me to the library regularly. Even got me my first library card at age 3. (I may still have it tucked away somewhere. It's yellow. You can't miss it.) I'd come home from the horror known as school and I'd lose myself in books.

So yeah. Books spark joy. Opening the cover of a book is like opening an escape hatch. I can't imagine getting rid of any of our print books.

I've been asked if I'd get rid of any books I won't read again. My answer: I won't know I won't read it again until after I'm dead. I've gone twenty years between readings of certain books.

Now, there are books I've read once, and I know for sure I'll never read again. Those books have already left my collection because they proved their unworthiness to stay.

The rest are there for a reason.

* * * * *

I did my research and watched a few episodes of Marie Kondo. It was surprisingly good. She took a different approach to determining what to keep and what to toss, compared with other shows of similar genre.

I did learn one thing. You keep something because it brings you joy. You don't keep something because you're afraid to lose it.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Comedy and creativity (Knock, knock...)

What's your favourite joke? Please share in the comments.

A friend recently shared this article from The Atlantic on kids and jokes.

It reminded me that jokes are an important part of the human experience. But what a lot of people don't realise about jokes is that they can also be a measure of mental health, and they are markers of creativity in people.

I'm gonna talk about the relationship between jokes and creativity.

I spent much of my theatre life as a comedienne, and I served my senior internship in a comedy theatre. Also, as a Film Studies major, I studied a lot of 20th Century comedy. Jokes are a staple of human comedy. There are people who make a living from telling jokes. (I don't know if I want to be one of them; comedy is hard work.)

A joke relies on a creative play on words or a juxtaposition of two things (situations, etc) that aren't necessarily the first logical step.  To understand (but not necessarily appreciate or even like) a joke involves thinking outside the square.

This requires a degree of creativity.

I refer to creativity as the human method of creating new meaning out of existing material. I'm not just talking about someone painting a picture or writing a song. Human creativity is problem-solving. It's the taking of elements (like music chords) or clues (why are there only six cookies left in the cookie jar, and why isn't my normally voracious six-year-old not eating his dinner?) and working something out. Creativity is me at work figuring out how to reduce our paper usage by over half.

What have you made that wasn't there before? Creativity is the process you used to create it. How you strung your thoughts together to come up with a solution, whether it was a painting or a print server, this process of stringing thoughts together is creativity.

Jokes rely completely on this. Jokes enable us to see things in different lights. Jokes get us thinking.

Take the joke: "How do you get down off an elephant?" The first logical step is that this sentence implies how do you, sitting on top of an elephant, debark to the ground?

The punchline, "You don't. You get down off a goose," requires further thought. What does a goose have to do with debarking from an elephant?  Nothing.  The word "down" isn't used as an adverb, but a noun. Goosedown is a form of feathers. Elephants, lacking feathers, do not have down. You cannot get down from an elephant. You can, however, harvest down from a goose. You can get down off a goose.

To explore this cleverness in wordplay (an adjective vs a noun interpretation of the word 'down') requires creativity.  (You don't have to like a joke to be able to appreciate its logic. Liking or disliking a joke is purely a matter of taste.)

Creativity is a key skill in problem-solving. It allows you to look at what's present, and extrapolate what's not there (but could be).

If you're the sort of person who often says, "I don't get it," when you hear a joke, you may wish to explore your creative process. Ask people to tell you jokes. If you don't understand, fear not to ask them to explain it. The more jokes you hear, the better you'll get at getting them. Start here.

Don't be surprised if you one day discover you're better at solving problems, all because you listen to jokes.

Her Grace asks, "What's brown and sticky?"  A brown stick.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

It's Boxing Day

Americans don't celebrate Boxing Day, but Australians do.  Might have something to do with the clement weather.

Okay, "clement" really means bloody hot.  So, what do our mates do? Gather to a mate's house to open The Box*, and proceed to spend a lazy afternoon of cocktails and Doing Not Much.

One of the really cool things about Australia is that if you don't drink alcohol (I'm a teetotaler through-and-through) is that they're really hakuna matata about those that don't drink. They're accepting of your ways. You can go to a bar and order an LL&B, and they'll give you one, no questions asked. Order any of the mocktails on the menu, and that's cool. Nobody will suspect you're Mormon, pregnant or the Designated Driver if you go non-alcoholic. (Americans aren't so kind.) 

Australian mocktails are pretty cool. Anywhere that serves alcohol will also have a dozen or so mocktails on offer. There's usually something minty, something strawberry, and a few other things that might not naturally occur in nature. Everything varies from place to place, and nobody is ever found wanting. (Australians don't do Shirley Temples, alas.)

LL&Bs, or Lemon-Lime & Bitters, are everywhere in Australia. I have never found a licensed place that didn't offer them. It's what you drink when you're not drinking.

Here's how to make your own at home.

Lemon-Lime and Bitters

3-4 drops Angostura Bitters
1 Tbsp (or to taste) Lime Cordial (aka a lime-flavoured sugar syrup)
300ml of soda water, or 'lemonade' (aka carbonated lemon-flavoured soft drink, like Sprite)

Coat the inside of the glass with the drops of Angostura Bitters. Pour the lime cordial in the bottom of the glass. Fill with soda water/lemonade. Soda water gives you a drier drink, whereas the lemonade adds lots more sweetness.  Drink cold on a veranda on a hot Australian Boxing Day.

*The Box is a box of various liquors and other alcoholic paraphernalia left over from their University days. Yes, The Box has been around for decades. This makes sense, when you realise The Box only gets opened once or twice a year. It is a stunningly impressive collection of various alcohols, including a bottle of genuine wormwood absinthe that I believe nobody is game enough to try.