Blogging Holiday

July 15, 2014

I’m taking a short break from blogging to reorganize my writing operation and put Tomorrow News Network back on track. I’ve debated with myself for a while whether or not this is a good idea, and I want to thank Shelina from A Writer Inspired for helping me finally settle the matter. Her Insecure Writer’s Support Group post this month is a must read for struggling writers like myself.

I also want to thank Michelle Joelle from Soliloquies for her post on Kafka and Literary Temporality for helping me see things from a new perspective. I have spent so much time focused on my writing quota each day that I may have lost touch with the reason I write in the first place. I need to fix that.

I’ll also be withdrawing from my rather limited participation on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. I need to reevaluate the role these things play in my life. Everyone says writers must be engaged in social media, but sometimes I wonder how true that is. Advice and insight from fellow writers would be much appreciated!

I’ll be back on August 6th for the next posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, so I won’t be gone for long. In the meantime, keep it sciency, my friends.


Sciency Words: The Solar System

July 11, 2014

Sciency Words PHYS copy

Today’s post is part of a special series here on Planet Pailly called Sciency Words. Every Friday, we take a look at a new and interesting scientific term to help us all expand our scientific vocabularies together. Today’s word is:

THE SOLAR SYSTEM

I previously wrote a Sciency Words post about the Internet, not because that’s a new and interesting scientific term—everyone knows what the Internet is—but because I have a pet peeve about its spelling. Very few people seem to know that the Internet is a proper noun and therefore needs to be capitalized. Every time I see someone write “internet” instead of “Internet,” I die a little inside.

In a similar way, the Solar System is also a proper noun. This can get a little confusing since we do talk about other solar systems, and in that context the term is a common noun describing any star with planets orbiting it. So one possible conversation could go down as:

“Which solar system do you live in?”

“Oh, I don’t live in any old solar system. I live in the Solar System.”

This usage of “solar system” as a common noun bothers me, though. It feels a little like Columbus talking about discovering “another europe.” I’ve noticed more and more that we now use the term “star system” instead, which I think is much clearer.


Artsy Science: Newton’s Waste Book

July 9, 2014

Artsy ScienceToday’s post is part of a collection of posts on the artistic side of science.  Through both art and science, we humans try to make sense of the world around us, and the two fields have a lot more in common than you might expect.

* * *

It’s the 17th Century.  Paper costs a small fortune, and young Isaac Newton receives a valuable gift from his recently diseased stepfather: a notebook.  Only the first few pages have been used.  The rest are blank.  So what does young Isaac decide to do with this precious treasure?

The prudent choice would be to save it for something important.  Perhaps some groundbreaking discovery that would have changed the way we view the whole world.  Instead, the idiot named this notebook “the waste book” and wasted it on trivial nonsense.

Newton filled his waste book with information about art, music, alchemy, mathematics, theology, science, philosophy… pretty much anything.  The book’s contents were so random and disorderly that, following Newton’s death in 1727, the book was marked “not fit to be printed.”

But in that mess of scribbly handwriting, we can find the first hints of Newton’s genius and the profound discoveries he was about to make.  By not treating paper as something sacred, he allowed himself to play with new ideas.  Perhaps he named his notebook the waste book to remind himself that the pages were to be “wasted” even on thoughts that might at first seem silly.

Isaac Newton

So the next time you sit down with a blank piece of paper, waste it on some trivial nonsense.  You have no excuse not to.  Paper is a lot cheaper today than in Newton’s time.  And if you waste enough paper, maybe… just maybe… you’ll stumble upon an idea that will change the world.

P.S.: It may not be fit for printing, but the waste book is available to the public for free online.  Good luck reading Newton’s handwriting, though.


Sciency Words: Americium

July 4, 2014

Sciency Words PHYS copy

Today’s post is part of a special series here on Planet Pailly called Sciency Words. Every Friday, we take a look at a new and interesting scientific term to help us all expand our scientific vocabularies together. Today’s word is:

AMERICIUM

Several elements on the periodic table are named after countries: germanium for Germany, polonium for Poland, francium for France. The chemical element Yttrium is named after Ytterby, Sweeden, and I’m sure you can figure out what Californium was named after. Today, in honor of the 4th of July, let’s take a look at the chemical element named after America.

  • Americium was “discovered” in 1944. I put the word discovered in quotes because it’s one of those elements that was first created in a lab, not found in nature.
  • Americium is radioactive. The various isotopes of americium have half-lives between a hundred and several thousand years, so it’s stable enough that we can find practical uses for it.
  • The most common use of americium is in the household smoke detector. The vast majority of smoke detectors use americium, so you probably own a tiny sample of this stuff and never even knew it.
  • Americium has been proposed as a possible fuel for the next generation of nuclear powered spacecraft.
Don't celebrate the 4th of July without an americium powered smoke detector!

Don’t celebrate the 4th of July without an americium powered smoke detector!

For our purposes on this blog, americium’s potential use in spacecraft deserves our special attention. Americium has some special properties that make it ideally suited for use in space travel. Some (overly optimistic) projections suggest an americium-powered spaceship could fly from Earth to Mars in as little as two weeks!

The European Space Agency is reportedly moving forward with the development of americium-powered spacecraft. Ironically, I can’t find any information about its use in the American space program. I don’t know if americium will be a critical component of our Sci-Fi future, but it very well might be, depending on its success with the Europeans.


IWSG: Space Program

July 2, 2014

InsecureWritersSupportGroupToday’s post is part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group, a blog hop hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh.  It’s a way for insecure writers like myself give each other advice and encouragement.  Click here to see a full list of participating blogs.

For today’s IWSG, I want to revisit something I wrote over a year ago comparing the life of a writer to running the space program.  I have found the analogy to be increasingly apt the farther down the writer’s path I go.

* * *

By now, fellow writers, you must have realized how being a writer is similar to running the space program.  Oh, you didn’t?  Let me explain.

  • Much like NASA scientists, most writers have unrealistic concepts about money, making it impossible to write a budget or manage the financial side of the writing business.
  • Writers set deadlines that sound reasonable, provide plenty of time to check and double check our work, and ensure our story/spaceship is at peak performance, but somehow we always end up behind schedule.  Maybe it’s due to the weather, maybe it’s due to technological snafus, or maybe it’s because we spend too much time “working” on Angry Birds: Space and lose track of the other stuff we’re supposed to be doing.
  • Just as getting accurate data about the hydrocarbon content of Martian soil may not sound exciting to the general public, some people may noRockett realize how important one book sale, one new contact, one re-tweet, or one positive review on Amazon can be.  Sure, it’s not the same as landing on the Moon, but every small achievement gets us just a little tiny bit closer to our ultimate goal, and those small achievement are always worth celebrating.
  • There will always be someone who thinks this (the space program or the life of a writer) is a waste of time and money.  Those people are frustrating, but we have to try to ignore them.  If they don’t understand the value of such bold and ambitious endeavors, they probably never will.

So whatever kind of writing you may be doing or whatever dreams you may have, remember to keep shooting for the stars.


Breathe Easier: There’s Less Nitrogen Dioxide in the Air

June 30, 2014

Whenever we hear news about the environment, it’s usually bad news. Levels of such and such pollutant continue to rise. We have only X years before the damage becomes irreversible. All the cute and cuddly animals are going extinct. I think one of the reasons people don’t seem to care about the environment is that we, as individuals, feel helpless, but finally new reports show we’ve made some progress.

Image courtesy of NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio

Image courtesy of NASA.

Images from NASA’s Aura satellite reveal that the levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in our atmosphere have declined by 50% or more across the continental U.S. Even major urban areas like New York City show definite improvement. Nitrogen dioxide is one of six common air contaminants monitored by the E.P.A.

Image courtesy of Greenhorn1 and Wikipeida.

Image courtesy of Greenhorn1 and Wikipedia.

When concentrated in smog form, nitrogen dioxide appears as a reddish or yellowish gas (according to Wikipedia, the color depends on the temperature). It has an acrid smell, and when inhaled it basically f***s up your lungs, though the effects are not immediately felt. It comes from car emissions, power plants, and other sources.

Yes, we as individuals can and do make a difference.

I’ll be happy to breathe 50% less of this stuff. And part of the credit goes to everyone who decided to walk to the store rather than drive, or rode a bike to work, or took advantage of public transportation. If we all keep doing stuff like that, maybe we’ll start seeing more good news about the environment.


Sciency Words: 3Doodler

June 27, 2014

Sciency Words MATH

Today’s post is part of a special series here on Planet Pailly called Sciency Words. Every Friday, we take a look at a new and interesting scientific term to help us all expand our scientific vocabularies together. Today’s word is:

3DOODLER

Because drawing in only two dimensions is so 20th Century…

I have tried to think of a clear and intelligible way to explain what this thing does. How do you explain drawing in 3D? Like… drawing in actual 3D, without paper… Just watch the video. It’ll make more sense that way.

I don’t know if this is a toy or a serious tool for artists. According to the manufacturer’s website, the 3Doodler has already attracted the attention of the Museum of Modern Art, and it even had its own special window display at the MoMA Design Store.

So is this a fad or will 3Doodlers become a necessity for all serious artists? I’m not sure. All I know is I’m adding it to my Christmas list.


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