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.