Friday, 16 August 2019

Buck the system; I want chocolate milk

It came from this tin.
A friend of mine shared a story how she had horrible childhood memories of school milk. To this day, she cannot drink milk, no matter how fresh and cold, because of her enforced experience.

I, too, received milk every day at school. Unlike my friend's, ours was safely refrigerated. Still, plain milk was never my favourite. It was an all-or-nothing kind of situation. If we chose to open our half-pint carton of milk, we had to drink the whole thing. We couldn't just open it, have a few sips and be done. We had the option to not drink, but that meant we had nothing at all to drink.

Once a week we got chocolate milk. We didn't know what day of the week it would be, but guaranteed that it would happen. Oh, how I loved chocolate milk! I would have cheerfully drunk all my milk every day if it was chocolate.

Then one day in Fifth Grade, I got an idea. What if I brought in my own chocolate milk powder? So I did. I got an old empty McCormick's spice tin, disguised it with a cover so it wasn't obvious, and filled it with chocolate milk powder. It was small enough to fit in my pocket. I brought this to school with me every day. Whenever it was a plain milk day, this tin would come with me to lunch and I'd tip a few spoonfuls in my milk carton, shake it up, and enjoy chocolate milk every single day.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Greetings from Melbs

And what a fabulous Romance Writers of Australia Conference 2019 that was!  I am so glad I went. The conference has been officially over for an hour now, and we are all exhausted.

I totally got my extrovert on, and boy, the extrovert spends sooo much energy. I couldn't maintain it for the whole weekend.

I am tired, so I shall have to post later. I will do a complete rundown of the Conference in September's newsletter. Sign up now so you don't miss out.

Quick shortlist of things I learned:

  • This is my tribe.
  • I need to up my marketing.
  • If you don't know something, someone there does. Find them.
  • It's great to simply listen to others.
  • Be bold.
  • Business cards serve you well.
  • Grab opportunities.
Yeah. More later. My hotel bed is looking nicer and nicer.

RWAus 2020 is in Freo next year.  We welcome you to Western Australia.

What would you like me to tell you about the Conference this year?

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Go Hard-Core with Science!

By the time you read this, I'll be at the Romance Writers of Australia Conference 2019 in frigid Melbourne, AU. For the past month or so I have been so focused on getting my writing career together for this, that I haven't had any chance to science at all. AT ALL.

So, while I'm off being an author, you can get your science on.

Science is this beautiful, wonderful pursuit by the human race as they explore their world and the universe, from the smallest known particle to the largest mega-structure their marvelous minds can conceive.

Because you are a human being, do not be afraid to go hard-core when it comes to science. You don't need a fancy degree or even a knowledge of the vocabulary to dip in your toe.

But you must dip in your toe. Follow it with your foot, and then plunge right in. Do not make the mistake that oh-so-many online denizens do of learning one little factlet from some meme someone posted to their Facebook timeline and running with it, never more choosing to research deeper. That's just irresponsible and leads to issues like Flat Earthers, Anti-Vaxxers and the "Mobile Phones Cause Cancer" crowd.

There's a lot of hard-working, dedicated scientists out there who are doing the hard research. When they do, they publish their results so everyone can have access to them and see what their work is on.

And yes, you can read these papers as well (or their abstracts at least).  Abstracts are free. Sometimes the papers are behind paywalls. Sometimes they're free-and-easy access on

DO NOT BE AFRAID TO LOOK AT THESE PAPERS! Do not think that they are limited to just scientists. You can read them too. If you come across a word you are unfamiliar with, the Dictionary is your friend. Consider it leveling up by learning new vocabulary. It's not that scientists are being deliberately obtuse; quite the opposite--they are aiming for precision. English is one of those beautiful languages with hundreds of thousands of words (okay, most of them obscure) that precisely define something. When a scientist chooses a particular word, it defines and constrains the  meaning to an exact definition.

So, how do you find these papers?  For astronomers and astrophysicists, we use a database called...

The SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System

Say you wanted to see what's been published regarding Water on Mars in the past few years?

I put in a range of dates from 2016 up to next month. My keywords were "water on Mars".  I hit the search button.

These were my results. It pulled up 1,605 papers that had anything to do with water and Mars. Now, some of the titles make even my eyes glaze over, but I trawled through until I found something interesting.

Hmm, which one to choose?  Best way is to read the abstract.

An abstract is kind of like a back-cover blurb that gives away the ending of the story. Most useful if you're trawling through looking for a paper about a particular topic.

After reading both abstracts, I chose to have a closer look at Follow the Oxygen.

Here's the abstract: 
Aerobic respiration—the reduction of molecular oxygen (O2) coupled to the oxidation of reduced compounds such as organic carbon, ferrous iron, reduced sulfur compounds, or molecular hydrogen while conserving energy to drive cellular processes—is the most widespread and bioenergetically favorable metabolism on Earth today. Aerobic respiration is essential for the development of complex multicellular life; thus the presence of abundant O2 is an important metric for planetary habitability. O2 on Earth is supplied by oxygenic photosynthesis, but it is becoming more widely understood that abiotic processes may supply meaningful amounts of O2on other worlds. The modern atmosphere and rock record of Mars suggest a history of relatively high O2 as a result of photochemical processes, potentially overlapping with the range of O2concentrations used by biology. Europa may have accumulated high O2 concentrations in its subsurface ocean due to the radiolysis of water ice at its surface. Recent modeling efforts suggest that coexisting water and O2 may be common on exoplanets, with confirmation from measurements of exoplanet atmospheres potentially coming soon. In all these cases, O2accumulates through abiotic processes—independent of water-oxidizing photosynthesis. We hypothesize that abiogenic O2 may enhance the habitability of some planetary environments, allowing highly energetic aerobic respiration and potentially even the development of complex multicellular life which depends on it, without the need to first evolve oxygenic photosynthesis. This hypothesis is testable with further exploration and life-detection efforts on O2-rich worlds such as Mars and Europa, and comparison to O2-poor worlds such as Enceladus. This hypothesis further suggests a new dimension to planetary habitability: "Follow the Oxygen," in which environments with opportunities for energy-rich metabolisms such as aerobic respiration are preferentially targeted for investigation and life detection.

Oh-kay... lots of big scary words if you're not an astrobiologist. But once you look them up, you'll see that Lewis, Vlada, Kevin and Woodward were being rather precise when they wrote the abstract.

Let's take bits of this apart and see what it really means:

"Aerobic Respiration..." - essentially, breathing oxygen, specifically, life forms breathing oxygen. While they gave a very detailed definition (and they had their reasons for it), essentially, the whole sentence is about how breathing oxygen is the preferred method of using oxygen in our metabolisms here on Earth.

"Aerobic respiration is essential..."  Advanced lifeforms like us and the cats in our laps need to breathe oxygen. Lots of oxygen on our planet means lots of life.  

"O2 on Earth is supplied by..."  photosynthesis. We all know that from Third Grade science. Plants make the oxygen we breathe.

But what if we could manufacture oxygen a different way? Do we need plants? Do we even need life, or can we source plentiful oxygen from a non-living method--an abiotic one that doesn't require a life's metabolism?  "...that abiotic processes may supply meaningful amounts of O2 on other worlds."  

The big question is, which came first? Oxygen or photosynthesis? If there's plenty of oxygen on another world produced abiotically (by a method not dependent on life, like a tree), could it be that this is what could allow multi-cellular life (like amoebae and rats and elephants) to be developed on other worlds? This is what the authors are thinking.

Until recently, space exploration has been dancing to the tune of "Follow the Water". Maybe it should be "Follow the Oxygen".

"This hypothesis is testable..." is music to every scientist's ears. Everyone loves a good idea, especially if it can be proven or disproven. Someone came up with an idea, and a way of proving it (or disproving). This is what makes science so groovy.  [end abstract]

Ward LM, Stamenković V, Hand K, Fischer WW (2019) Astrobiology, 19, 6   (Yeah, that's ApJ referencing style.)

Now, if only the article wasn't behind a paywall (or you are a university student whose library has e-subscriptions to Astrobiology magazine (Vol. 19, No. 6 is the issue this appears in). Maybe I should have gone for "Paleo-Rock-Hosted Life on Earth and the Search on Mars: a Review and Strategy for Exploration" instead. Here's a link to the full article. It's about rock-eating life bigger than a single cell. It happened on Earth a long time ago. Maybe it's also happened on Mars. "These findings suggest that rock-hosted life would have been both more likely to emerge and be preserved in a martian context," the authors say.

Friday, 2 August 2019

Finally deciding what I want to do

Over the past few months I've been busy working on audiobooks (and I taught a class on the same in June).

Finally, a job that uses my bachelor degree!

After spending quite a bit of time recording, editing, and mastering audiobooks, I realised something very important.

I want to do this. I really want to do this. Like, permanently. I know what my career change needs to be. I want to work on audiobooks.

What I Like About It

  • The Solitude. Really, I love working in isolation, which is why writing books has suited me so well for so long. But with audiobooks, I also get the cone of silence I crave. I shut myself away in the home theatre with its soundproofing and comfy chair and muted walls and I can shut away the world. I can't begin to tell you how much this pleased me. I got to sit alone for hours and Get Stuff Done. Interruption were rare, and feline (or occasionally canine--not my own).
  • The Performance. I get to perform. I get to be dramatic. I get to read a book aloud and make it come alive. And if I make a mistake? Pshaw! Do-over, and any issues like coughs or pauses get edited out of the final product.
  • Focus Time. One of the things I hate about my current day job is the interruptions. It's my job to solve problems, but it's also my job to answer the phone. When I'm in the middle of doing something and then the phone rings, I must pause what I'm doing to pick up the phone. I can't ignore the phone and finish what I'm doing.
    But with audiobooks, I can ignore everything and focus on my work. I was able to work for hours without interruptions. It was great!
  • My Own Pace. Sometimes I can work for hours on end. Other times I'm good for about thirty minutes and then I've got to take a break. This pace varies depending on what else is happening in my life. That Time of the Month, a bad night's sleep, digestive issues, A Better Offer, can all take up the energy I might have devoted to work. At least I can proceed at my own pace and therefore ensure that the performance I deliver is top-notch. I am not so experienced an actor that I can turn it on 100% if I'm not feeling 50%. (Believe me, that's a real skill, and one well-admir'd.)
  • Living Wage.  When you've got work, you make more than minimum wage per work hour. SAG-AFTRA members make even more.
  • Music Composition. I can compose my own lead-in music. 
  • Mad Skillz. It's not enough to be a good narrator. Many of us have to be producers as well. Lucky me, I've got lots of experience in sound editing and I regularly upskill.


Every job has a downside.
  • Irregularity.  Jobs come when they do, and you can't always get work all the time. While I'd love to be working on audiobooks every week, sometimes it just doesn't happen.  With irregular work comes irregular pay, and that can make budgeting require more spoons.
  • The Sound of my Voice.  Yeah, I do get sick of it, from time to time.
  • Isolation?  While it hasn't gotten to me yet, I can see the potential to feel isolated in my work. However, with the advantages of the Internet and being able to set my own pace, I can manage to get the socialisation in that my mental health requires. Fortunately, I don't need much to maintain good mental health.

The big challenge is getting regular, steady work. It is doable. I've seen other narrators get it.

I can has my turnz, pls?

Her Grace is happy to contract with you to deliver ACX-ready high-quality audiobook recordings.

Friday, 26 July 2019

Luck in its various forms

A while back, a bit of luck blew my way, literally.  It fled someone else and came to me. I would have returned it, if only I knew who it belonged to.

Once upon a time, so long ago that by the time you see this post I will most likely have forgotten about this, I was walking through a parking lot. A breeze was blowing gently when it wafted something leaf-coloured in my direction. I didn't think anything of it initially, as there were quite a few leaves blowing about the ground.

But this one was square-ish.

I recognised a $20 note. Immediately I trapped it with my foot. Looking about, I scanned the parking lot to see if there was any lost soul chasing after their truant money.

This happens sometimes. You go into the shops, buy something for cash, get change, shove it in your pocket and head out to the car. Once there, you pull your car keys out of your pocket, along with everything else, sending receipts, tissues and spare cash flying.

But the parking lot was barren of life. No person chasing flying notes, nobody standing by a car, ignorant of the money fallen out of their pocket. No one.

I had a good, solid look about. Surely someone would miss this $20. It needed to go back to its owner.

Alas, they were long gone. Nobody was about.

So I gave the note a new home in my wallet, climbed into my car and left on my errand. I had to go pick up something, then return to this parking lot for something else.

Fifteen minutes, I had returned. As I walked through the parking lot, something yellow fluttered along the ground. Square-ish.

I trapped it and rescued a $50 note from under my shoe. Fifty dollars.  Further along, another $20 note came skittering along and I rescued that as well.

I looked about. Surely there was someone who was losing money. Someone? Anyone?

For a parking lot full of cars, it sure was devoid of human life.

So there I was with $90, and no way of finding the original owner.

While I am happy to be a few dollars richer (for it did buy some needful medicine for one of the family), my heart aches for the poor soul who had lost it.

Saturday, 20 July 2019

The Plot behind Cats the Musical

Apparently, there's a movie coming out based on this musical, and the interwebs are of mixed opinion.

One of those opinions is that Cats the Musical has no plot.

Not true. It does have a plot. It's an uberplot, and therefore may be a bit difficult for some people to grok, if they're not used to analysing uberplots.

Quick analysis:

  • Exposition:  The cats gather together at the Jellicle Ball to determine who gets to ascend to the Heavyside Layer. Those cats who believe they have a chance put forth their cases for their candidacy to Old Deuteronomy, who knows what it takes to succeed.
  • Inciting Incident: Grizabella shows up to share her story, but she's rebuffed and isn't allowed to raise her candidacy. But Old Deuteronomy has noticed her.
  • Plot Point I:  Old Deuteronomy is kidnapped. Without him, the choice can't be made.
  • Rising Action: the cats set out to find out what happened to him and get him back.
  • Midpoint: Grizabella dwells on her life. She's got memories, and they remind her that she once knew what happiness was. She yearns for it again.
  • Plot Point II: They learn that it was Macavity who kidnapped Old Deuteronomy.
  • Pre-Climax: They put their faith in Mister Mistoffolees to find and returns Old Deuteronomy
  • Climax: Old Deuteronomy is rescued. Now a cat can be chosen.
  • Denouement:  Old Deuteronomy chooses Grizabella to rise to the Heavyside Layer.

In the world of the Jellicle Cats, there comes a time when a cat has an opportunity to be reborn into a new life during a brief window of opportunity.  This is called "ascending to the Heaviside Layer."  Turns out, the Heaviside Layer is an actual place in Earth's ionosphere. It's known for its ability to bounce radio waves back to earth. This is a metaphor for a cat who's died, returning to earth for a new life. Nicely poetic, once you know.

Who is the lucky feline? That is determined by the patriarch of the kindle, Old Deuteronomy. Why him?  Maybe he was the last one to be reincarnated, and has that extra layer of wisdom to choose the best candidate. One thing's for sure, he's been reincarnated many times, maybe the most times, and thus, has seniority. He probably knows the qualities that make for the best reincarnation candidates.

One by one, certain cats present their cases as to why they should be reincarnated.  Some present their good deeds (Jennyanydots), or their high standing in society (Bustopher Jones) as reasons for their candidacy. But not all cats are worthy. Mungojerrie and Rumpleteaser are quite mischievous, whereas Macavity is downright evil.

Some cats are supported by others in their candidacy, but not all cats are welcome. Grizabella, who was once a beautiful and glamorous cat, is now old and ugly. The "virtue" that had set her apart in her younger life is now gone, and for that she is scorned. But underneath, Grizabella is not bitter and ugly about the loss of her beauty. Along the way, she discovered the true meaning of happiness, and has never forgotten. As she aged, she never treated the other cats with spite or scorn or shallow judgements. Even when they drive her off, she does not bear them any ill will.

Not all the cats are happy to see one of their ascend.  To prevent the choice from happening, Old Deuteronomy is kidnapped. Without him, the choice can't be made. What does that mean? Is it that no cat gets a chance to ascend, or that the cat who could have ascended, doesn't, and dies forever instead? Dire thoughts indeed.  Much could be read into the reasons behind O.D.'s kidnapping (it was by Macavity). Did Macavity do it to take O.D's place and choose his own candidate, possibly himself, knowing he wasn't worthy, and this could be the only way?

Regardless, the best needs be chosen. Overall, the cats agree that O.D is the best one to choose, and a rescue is mounted. Yay for the good guys.

Old Deuteronomy knows Grizabella, and that her beauty is more than skin-deep. Thus, he chooses her as the candidate to ascend to the Heaviside Layer and thus, come back to earth in the next incarnation of cats.

And that's the plot.

Her Grace has fond memories of the time she was in an am-dram production of Cats in the early 1990's  She's got some proof somewhere.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Author Branding and Word Choices

A few weeks ago someone asked me... well, they didn't ask me so much as accuse me of never using foul language. You know, four-letter words, crude language, cussin'. Saying #%cK.  Originally, their purpose was an attempt to shame me for my language choices. Their reasoning: children can't use foul language, but adults should. Not "could", but should. At least, that's how they explained it to me. Adults were supposed to cuss.

Their explanation did not hold water with me, because the children in their circle used language as blue as any adult I've ever heard. My choosing not to use foul language, in their eyes, meant I was either too immature to know I could, or that I was too timid--a coward, essentially--to admit I was an adult.

Also, I knew the real reason behind their accusation: they were making a stand against my culture and my beliefs. They thought if they could shame me and force me to defend myself by showing that I could use foul language, then they would simply have used that against me by saying I'd betrayed my beliefs, et cetera, et cetera.

Puh-lease. I'm a middle-aged woman. We don't fall for that kind of cheap trick. If anyone ever tries to pull something like that on you, know that it's a dick move, and don't be afraid to call them out on it.

I choose not to use foul language because it's not part of my brand.

I am an author. I write a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. That audience tends not to use foul language, prefers not to read foul language and will actively seek out books that are not peppered with foul language.

This audience is huge.  (Hello, lovelies!  Buy my books!)

What about the audience that isn't afraid of foul language, who don't mind the occasional cuss word?  Guess what?  They also buy books free from swear words. Rare is the reader who will get offended by someone NOT using foul language. They are not my audience. Let them go buy someone else's books.

This is not to say that I go around substituting "Fetch" for "#%cK and Gosh-darnit for G@#d@#%n.  That's not how this works. This is like a vegetarian trying to substitute Tofurkey for a beautiful filet mignonette. You don't substitute. You find a completely different way of expressing yourself. You order the beautiful Black Lentil Daal and enjoy it for its true beauty.

So, you're writing along and come to a moment when a real person might say, "#%cK you!" But would your characters say that? If it's simply not a part of their character, they'd say something else. 

One of my favourite moments is in a BBC version of Pride & Prejudice where Lydia tells Kitty to "save your breath to cool your porridge." That line cracks me up but also conveys Lydia's frustration with her sister perfectly.

The whole idea is to express an emotion. A clever author will know a dozen ways of doing this without compromising their brand.

So, back to branding. My characters don't cuss, especially not the way 21st Century westerners do.  I don't write contemporary, so I can get away with this much easier than contemporary authors can.

In the culture I grew up in, adults didn't cuss. Who did? The outsiders, the rebels, the lower class, the uneducated, the disrespectful. For me, my experience taught me that curse words took away from a character's nobility. It reduced them, somewhat.

I don't want that for my characters, so I come up with other ways for them to express themselves that is true to their character and doesn't compromise my brand. After all, I want to deliver what my readers expect.

When I go out in public as an author (like to a convention or something), I want to maintain my author brand. When a potential reader meets me, I want to leave the kind of impression on them that would reflect what they'd encounter in my books. My potential readers cherish certain values. If my outward behaviour does not match those values in their eyes, they would have no reason to consider picking up one of my books. I would have betrayed myself and lost a potential fan.

No four-letter word is worth that.

Her Grace sees no reason to give in to crudeness.

Amazon | KoboBooks |  Barnes&Noble

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Behind the Scenes: the Recording of an Audiobook

Ever wanted to see your books as audiobooks? Ever wonder how it’s done? I'm gonna show you how.

Romance Writers of Australia (RWAus) are presenting a month-long Online Writing Lab (OWL) where I demonstrate a behind-the-scenes production of an audiobook, including recording and editing, Quality Assurance (QA) requirements, and more. Discover why a good narrator is worth their price per finished hour, or see if you’ve got the patience to DIY.

What makes a good raw sound file? How do you edit that sound file? What makes a good-quality audiobook? How can I make my voice sound better? Does an engineer need fancy equipment and a sound booth? Is my laptop or computer good enough? What about microphones? How long does it take to produce one Finished Hour of an audiobook? How can an audio file pass strict Quality Assurance?

Participants are welcome to treat this as an info-only course, or you can install the same software I use and give sound editing a go in the comfort of your own home. Proceed at your own pace week by week.

There's still some spots left in this online workshop.  Interested in knowing more? RWAus or TryBooking has more info.
Her Grace has just finished a thesis and is ready to move from Astronomy to Audiobooks for June. Come join her

Friday, 3 May 2019

Home should spark joy

I am subscribed to a double-handful of newsletters. Most I tend to ignore until I'm ready to read them (that's usually a few days up to a few weeks).

But one arrived today, and for some reason, I was thrilled.

It was the KonMari newsletter. I was genuinely happy to receive it. Today's topic: Greeting your home. It contained a lovely video of Marie Kondo greeting a home before getting to work.

Following up somewhat from my last post, I thought about my home.

Actually, I'd been thinking much about  home lately, since my parents had come to visit, bringing pictures and news of the place I was born. I also listened to the stories of others in my family, of former neighbours, old school friends and more. Not everyone had a happy home, a place to which they could retreat from the world and find comfort and rest.  (My daughters later remarked on the change they noticed when their grandparents had come into our home, and when they had left. I think one of the phrases they used was, "It's so quiet now." Shame, for there were more stories I wanted to hear.)

For a lot of people, home isn't a quiet place, or a safe space. It's not somewhere they want to be.

My daughter had some trouble with this concept. We are often out at stupid o'clock in the morning as she has a before-school extracurricular class. She'd see fellow students on their way to school a good two hours before the school starts. "Why are they leaving so early?"  Escaping home as soon as one could wasn't something that had crossed her radar.

I'm glad she does not feel that way about our home. I've worked hard to make my home feel like a home should. It feels warm at my home. It feels welcoming. It feels safe.

And that's the way it should be.

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

A Poem for April

I read Ask A Manager, a blog which provides all sorts of useful insight, horror stories and good advice regarding the workplace. It is eye-opening. Go have a squiz. It's a good education, especially if you aren't sure you have a good handle on workplace norms. (hint: most places aren't.)

A recent post talked about a poor management call, entitled: "we have to write deeply personal poems and share them at a staff meeting".  This elicited quite a reaction from the commentariat, many of them erupting into poetry. Because "April Is National Poetry Month", I chose to write a poem to share. It makes more sense if you read the blog post about the deeply personal poems.

Screw Your Stupid Poem
by Office Gumby

"Where I'm from?" I come from home.
A poem about home. Of course I'm going to cry.
Everyone cries about home, either by the going from or the coming to.
And not for the same reasons.

"The worst thing I have been told"?
That I must write a poem about it.
I've already lived through the worst things.
I don't see why I should live through them again.

P.S.: Dear Hellmouth,
I greatly love your updates and will miss them sorely once you escape.

Friday, 26 April 2019

Three Things for a Successful Author

I KonMari'd this blog post to leave the most important parts. I realised you didn't really want to hear lots from me on the craft of writing. However, the things I mention in here are things I wish I knew twenty years ago. It has taken me this long to figure these things out.

May they help you as well.

1.  Voice. You wanna know what will hook an editor or agent and get them to read on?  It's voice. If you ain't got that, nothing else matters, no matter how tight your storyline is or how deep your characters. If you can't hook and editor/agent/reader to want to read on, they'll never discover the other beauty.

2.  Attitude. A bit of humility goes a looong way in this industry. A chip on your shoulder will cost you. I presume you're in this for the long run. (I am. I have a Fifty-Year Plan.) Develop a sweet and humble attitude. Others will be happy to work with you if you do.

3. Patience. Assume it's gonna take a long time for stuff to happen. That said, do not procrastinate. Do. Not. Procrastinate. Everything else will take away much of your time in your Fifty-Year Plan. Don't give it any more. Get as much done as quickly as you can, and have patience for the rest.

Question for you: What don't you know right now that you wish you knew?

Friday, 12 April 2019

B is for a Picture of a Black Hole

Yes, Katie Bouman, you should be excited. You and the rest of your team who brought us this really cool science image.  A few other people who were involved are Sandra Bustamante, Feryal Ozel, Heino Falcke, and all these people from the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration. Congrats, guys!

In case you've been living under a rock or off the grid, you will have heard the news of the first image of a black hole. It looks like this:

A direct image of the black hole at the core of galaxy Messier 87.
Papers linked at the bottom, for those who wanna go hardcore.

A black hole is a final object (greater than ~2M☉) that has collapsed down due to gravity, because there's no other force (like thermal pressure) to counter the gravity.

Theoretically, we've known about black holes since 1915-ish when Einstein had a few theories about gravity, and Karl Schwarzschild talked about the gravitational fields of mass points. Even the idea behind something so massive that even light cannot escape its gravity has been around since the 18th Century.

Are black holes a real thing? Yes. We know them by their gravitational influence, as well as a few other clues. Here's a couple of recent papers that cover a few things about one of the best-studied black holes, Sagittarius A*, in delightfully nerdish details:

So yeah. Black holes, totally real, and we've known and studied them for at least a hundred years. Thing is, due to their nature, we haven't been able to take a picture of one.

It's hard to take a photo-graph of something that doesn't emit or reflect any photons. So, how did they do it?

In their reportings in the Astrophysical Journal, the team shared, "Einstein's general theory of relativity not only predicts the existence of black holes, but also provides a means to directly observe them. Photons can escape from near the event horizon via an unstable circular orbit, whose observational manifestation would be a bright ring of emission surrounding a dark interior black hole "shadow". The diameter of the shadow for a black seen by a distant observer is predicted to be...larger than twice the...radius of the event horizon due to light-bending effects...."

This method is only successful if: "(i) there are a sufficient number of emitted photons to illuminate the black hole, (ii) the emission comes from close enough to the black hole to be gravitationally lensed around it, and (iii) the surrounding plasma is sufficiently transparent at the observed wavelength."

And it was. I'm impressed.

(I can't believe I've not devoted an entire blog entry to black holes before! Bad astronomer! No cookie!) If you want to see more science content from  me on my blog, please comment below. I'm happy to oblige. If not, go buy my books and register your opinion that way.

Dr Katie gave a TED talk a couple of years ago about how one would go about imaging a black hole:

Do watch this video. She's so excited and passionate by the science. It's contagious.  I love her line, "I can't show you a picture of a black hole today [in 2017]." 

Well, Katie, you can now:

Papers here for those who want to go hardcore:
Never be afraid to go hardcore on science. Even if your gaze glosses over and your brain turns numb, don't ever let that deter you. Read enough abstracts, and eventually things will begin making more sense. Also, whuffie.

Friday, 5 April 2019

My Thesis has Taken Over My Brain

Some Random Thoughts...

Please send chicken nuggets.

The problem with a History of Astronomy project is that much of the original source material is print-only, and mostly out-of-print.  I live in Western Australia. Is eBay my friend? Time will tell.

This guy and I are supposed to be best buds for the next few months. But I'm not feeling the love.
Librarians and I are mates, and they're willing to help me, as much as they can.

I now have more library memberships and accompanying cards than a sane, reasonable person should have.

Look, a mango!

Yesterday my mother turns to me as we're walking out of the airport and says, "I just realised, I could have checked that book out of the library [where she lives] and brought it along for you."  Yes, you could have. Oh well.

Why do many critics of Sagan say, "Don't get me wrong; I am a fan. But..."

Professors are supposed to be your mates. Why aren't they helping more?!

A BA degree is a degree in BS. I am confident I will be able to spin words of some kind.

Remember to reference! (Kneale 2019)

This guy spent lots of money so the US Library of Congress could acquire Carl Sagan's personal papers.
I kid you not.
To a fiction author, twenty pages is a doddle. You can crank that out easily in an afternoon. For a MS thesis, 20 pages is a lifetime plus fifty years, with interest.

You might think print books are romantic. They are not. They are fickle, they are rare, they are forgotten and they have this funny smell that makes your nose itch. Also, many of them do not inhabit Western Australia.  Digital is an excellent way to go.  All my books are available in digital format.  God of the Dark is free. Go get your free ebook and leave an honest review somewhere useful.

Where are my chicken nuggets?!

This is the weather in Australia right now.

Is it morally reprehensible to mark a library book lightly with an erasable pencil?  It's morally acceptable for music scores. In fact, it's expected. Just be kind and erase your markings before returning the score. Every musician knows that.

If I wrote in the style of Sagan, would more people wanna buy my books?  

Her Grace's brain is being eaten by a thesis.
"The Influence of Science Popularisation: a Case Study of Carl Sagan"

Friday, 22 March 2019

What are you chewing on, cat?

This morning as I waited for Their Ladyships to get their acts together, I sat on the couch in the wan hours of dawn and watched the cat play with something.

This is not unusual; he is a cat, after all. His preferences lie with certain objects like ping pong balls (because they roll), hair ties and elastic bands (because they, um... stretch) and My Little Ponies (because he's... a Brony?). He has also been known to chew up Loom Band bracelets and the remains of party balloons. Loves them, actually.

If you may recall from a few weeks ago, His Grace learned how many things are difficult when one is missing a functional thumb.

One of those thing is bathing. Until the graft healed, he had to shower with his entire right hand encased in a plastic bag, taped for waterproofness. Not only did this make his life awkward, but also meant his hand wasn't getting cleaned.

After a couple of weeks he asked his thumb therapist if there was anything he could do about his unwashed hand. The thumb therapist told him that for the purpose of washing his hand (only!!, no full shower or dishwashing or watersports), he could encase his thumb in a condom, securing it with an elastic band.

No problem. Condoms are easy enough to source in Australia, so he procured one and secured it to his thumb in the proscribed manner. He proceeded, much to his relief, to wash the rest of his hand. This was done as needed, and the rest of the time he washed the rest of His Grace, he still bagged up his hand.

The condom was removed, placed in a secure place on the bathroom bench and reused as required. This is one of the only two purposes I know of when it is advised to reuse condoms. (The other being to keep the sand out of the end of your military rifle when at war in the desert.) So yeah, he hung on to that condom.

Back to this morning. The cat is playing with something on the floor. Looked like a hair band, or was it a balloon?

As my morning brain attempted to parse this strange object, he pinned it down with a paw, grabbed a bit, and puuuullled!  Boy, could it stretch, then it snapped back.

Only then did I recognise it.

No, cat, you may not chew on a condom.

Time to run away to the ocean

Last week I had a busy day. It started at 5am and had about a half-dozen things I needed to do that morning before 7am. Then I had a few more things I needed to do before I went to work.

One of those things took me near to the ocean.  As I'm driving along the coast, an urge to stop and visit the beach overwhelmed me.

I pulled over, took off my shoes and socks, rolled up my work uniform trousers, and padded my way down the steps to the sand.

Thus, I escaped reality for ten minutes as I stood in the water and gazed to the horizon.

Hardly anyone was there.

The water was beautiful and glassy.

Sometimes you must simply run away to the beach.

Calm Blue Ocean.

Me at the beach.

My feet in the ocean.
See? Nobody here but me.

Her Grace understands the need to escape.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Now I wonder...

Nug  me!
Last week when I got paid, I took a brief moment to snatch a few bucks from my paycheque as it whooshed by at supersonic speeds. This, I spent most frivolously on a box of Chicken McNuggets.

While I was waiting for them to fry me up a fresh batch, I found this sitting on an empty table:

Empty ring box from Prouds Jewelers on the table at Macca's.

Yep, that is an empty ring box. In McDonalds.

I have no idea how it got there, but I like its implication.  Feel free to speculate in the comments.

Friday, 8 March 2019

Grandma's Cookin'

Both my grandmothers loved to cook. Each one had signature recipes that were passed down to the rest of us.

These two I'm sharing because I'd forgotten about one, then the other. If I share them now, they won't be forgotten forever.

* * *

My maternal grandmother, Opal Quesenberry (aka Nonnie), was from the American South (Appalachia). Last year (or year before), my daughter read, then watched The Help. She was intrigued by this entirely alien culture. I had to explain how a few things were endemic to Southern culture. She asked about a chocolate pie. That was when I realised I'd been neglectful in a few vital things. "Your great-grandma has a chocolate pie recipe." "Does she? Why didn't I know about it?" It's one thing to let the attitudes of racism die out for the next generation, but one must never forget to pass on the chocolate pie recipe!!

Now, Nonnie's recipe lacks the special ingredient that makes Minnie's pie so special. However, should you feel the need, you could adapt the recipe to include it.

Nonnie loved her flowers.

Here's the recipe in her own hand.
Here, I've translated it for you:

Nonnie's Best Chocolate Pie

3/4 c white sugar
3 T cornstarch (corn flour for you Aussies)
3 T cocoa powder
2 c sweet milk
3 egg yolks. (You can save the whites to make a meringue topping for the pie, or you can save them for the recipe below.)
1/4 c butter (not margarine)
1 T vanilla essence
1 pie crust, blind-baked  (I recommend a traditional flaky Crisco Pie Crust. Aussies: I recommend using Copha or Mastafry in place of Crisco.) 

Sift together sugar, cornstarch and cocoa powder into a double boiler.  Stir in a few tablespoons of your milk to make a paste.  Bean in the egg yolks with a whisk.  Slowly add in the rest of the milk, whisking to ensure there are no lumps.  Cook over low heat in double boiler, whisking regularly to ensure no lumps as mixture thickens.  Once thick, add butter and vanilla and mix in well. Pour into a baked pie crust. Refrigerate at least two hours. Top with meringue or whipped cream.

* * *

My paternal grandmother Beverly Wessman had a cookie jar she kept full of homemade cookies. My favourite were these crunchy, fluffy pink ones. We called them "Jello cookies" in our ignorance. Later I learned they were meringues. Also later, I learned that meringues traditionally did not have chocolate chips in them. Beverly's did.

They're so easy to make. I am flabbergasted that I completely failed to include these delightful little puffs of deliciousness into my daughters' culinary history.  Today I have rectified that, much to their surprise and pleasure.

Beverly, with my Aunt Ann.
ETA: See the comments for a link to Beverly's original recipe (including the story of origin).

Grandma Beverly's Pink Meringue Cookies

3 egg whites
pinch salt
1 package (approx 85g) Strawberry Jello (Aussies: Aeroplane Jelly) (Really, you can do any flavour you wish.)
2/3 c caster sugar
1/2 c chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 120C(240F).  Whip up egg whites and pinch salt until soft peaks form.  Meanwhile, blend Jello and caster sugar together.  While mixer is still whipping, add sugar mix by the spoonful until fully incorporated into egg whites.  Whip a few minute longer until stiff peaks form.  Fold in chocolate chips.  Spoon meringue mixture onto a paper-lined baking tray.  Place tray in oven. Immediately reduce over to 100C(200F).  Bake meringues 90 minutes. Turn off oven, let meringues cool completely in oven.

Meringues are best stored in an airtight container, assuming they last that long. They often don't. Today's batch didn't.

Note: don't go out and buy caster sugar if you don't use it regularly. Caster sugar is often preferred in recipes for its easy dissolv-ability.  You can make your own caster sugar from granulated sugar by putting it in a dry blender and blitzing it for a few seconds, no longer. If you blitz it too long, you end up with powdered sugar.

Her Grace reminds you to pass on your recipes.

Friday, 1 March 2019

Things One Can't Do with Only One Working Thumb

Actually, his hand looks an awful lot like this,
for the splint he has to wear makes his thumb stick out.
Last month His Grace suffered a hand injury that put his right thumb out of commission for a Very Long Time. This has been a challenge for him, for he is very much a right-handed man (unlike my good self, who is rather ambidextrous).

Thus, His Grace has been quite challenged. As he goes about adjusting to his new life, he regularly encounters things he cannot do because he does not have two thumbs.

You'd be surprised at what one can't do when one doesn't have a working thumb.

Now, some things aren't completely impossible, but sure are rather difficult when one attempts it with only one functional thumb.

This is the list of things His Grace can't do (or finds very difficult) without two working thumbs:

  • Tie his shoelaces 
  • Button up shirts (Guess who'd been helping him get dressed in the mornings.)
  • Completely towel off after a shower
  • Pull on thick socks
  • Drive a manual vehicle
  • Use the pepper grinder
  • Remove an omelette from the pan.
  • Cut Roma tomatoes or onions
  • Certain sexual positions
  • Type on a keyboard
  • Play the entirety of Für Elise (and not just the noodly part everyone knows)
  • Cut a piece of paper with scissors
  • Read a hardbound book
  • Climb a rope
No doubt we will add to this list as time rolls on.

Things His Grace can't do because it's his right hand:
  • Left cuff button
  • Fence
  • Drive my car (the indicators are on the wrong side for him)
  • Sign legal documents
All hail Sir Lefty.

Okay, with Für Elise, His Grace can't play it even when he has two fully-functional thumbs.

Friday, 22 February 2019

Word frequency in a novel

My novel writing software (yWriter) has a word usage counter tool that lets you know how often you use a particular word.  (This is good to see if you use too may weasel-words like "just" and "that" or whatever else you might tic on.)

Here is a list of the top fifty words I used the most, including the number of times I used it:

the (2948), Her (1908), to (1753), she (1514), a (1511), of (1287), and (1034), he (991), was (987), his (949), it (944), miss (859), I (827), you (770), in (747), that (730), Felicity (719), Not (690), had (680), At (509), For (471), as (445), have (429), If (411), What (403), with (399), on (389), be (375), out (367), Wyndell (364), would (358), Mr (353), him (343), this (326), But (323), Smith (317), mother (314), so (306), about (306), they (303), one (298), lady (285), no (281), could (279), up (273), did (270), Abbot (251), is (246), been (237), all (233)

Here are the bottom fifty words I used the least, with only one instance of each word:

summers, loss, frivolities, riding, build, restitched, singing, emit, storing, desired, concentrate, imbue, jewellery, store, bracelet, talents, sensed, glide, powerlessness, relish, quilting, unlocking, stitching, frocks, stylish, sprawled, strand, curler, bowed, stake, selfish, debuting, tip, tempted, chide, returns, submitted, order, exuberance, blessed, department, wafted, touches, tucks, persnickity, awaiting, spinsterhood, mires, languishing, detested

(We know which words are the rice and which ones are the spice.)

Total unique words used in a 71,000-word book:  5796

Now that I know how many unique words I've used, and how many (too many!) common words I've used, I really ought to change those stats for my next novel.

Her Grace is wondering how many epithets one can call Zeus before one gets zotted for insolence?

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.