Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Haitus Over (Starting Next Week)

Ladies and gentlemen! Friends, Romans, Countrymen! Blog readers! I'm back!

I am unofficially officially done with my Master's Degree. Yes, a little confusing, but I have finished all the course work and thesis work necessary for my degree. Everything has been accepted and approved. The only pesky thing keeping me from officially claiming I have a Master's Degree is a silly rule Georgia Tech has. Essentially Distance Learning students (like myself) are not allowed to graduate in the semester where they finish everything. They have to wait an extra semester. So even though I'm done, I don't officially graduate until May. It's weird.

But for all intents and purposes, I am done! Which means I can start blogging again!

Actually, it means a great many things which essentially boils down to one thing: After twenty years of school, I'M DONE!

I could start blogging regularly this week, but I decided to not post until next week, so my new life as a real person (aka not a student) would start in the New Year. Look forward to posts that discuss the direction of this blog, what sort of posting schedule you can expect, discussions about whether I met last year's New Year's resolutions, and a discussion of my resolutions for this year.

I'm really excited to actually be able to put time into this blog, time where I don't feel guilty because I know I should actually be doing work. So be excited! I certainly am!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Rest In Peace Anne McCaffrey

I've come out of my blog hiatus because Anne McCaffrey has passed away.

I learned about her death this afternoon from a facebook update by Brandon Sanderson. At the time I was sad and horrified, but as the day has gone on and the reality has set in, I've realized how truly sad I am.

It's not just that a legend has died. It's not just that a woman who changed how women were viewed in Science Fiction died. It's that someone who personally affected my life has died. I can't think of middle school without thinking of going to the library and checking out a Pern book.

I can't express how those books have affected me. I tried to express it somewhat in this post. But I don't think that post does it justice. I don't think anything can.

Anne McCaffrey taught me that women can be strong and that they can succeed in a society in men. Not by being bullies or purposefully defying them, but by just being awesome. Menolly didn't have to overthrow Harper Hall to become great. She just did her best and strove to be great.

It was from Anne McCaffrey that I first learned that often the biggest fight being a woman in a man's world is not with men, but with women. Most of the male apprentices accepted Menolly, but the female singers shunned her for thinking she could be a harper, for thinking she was better than them.

I'm not sure this post is making any sense. Maybe its because I've spent the entire day staring at my computer. Maybe its because I kind of just want to cry that a woman who has been like a mentor to me, even though I've never met her, has died.

Anne McCaffrey shaped how I view women, and how I view my place in the world as a woman. I am a woman in a man's world--the man's world of engineering--but I know I can succeed because Anne McCaffrey taught me about the sorts of barriers I will come up against and the appropriate ways to handle them.

So thank you, Anne McCaffrey. You will be missed. I will miss you.

And now I'm going to curl up with "The Smallest Dragonboy" and remember the woman who has shaped the woman I am today.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Haitus

It's official. This blog is going on a hiatus.

While November is often known as "NaNoWriMo" or National Novel Writing Month, this November shall be known to me as "MaProWriMo" or Master's Project Writing Month. My Master's Project (which is like a thesis just minus the defense) is due on Dec. 16th, and until I turn it in, that is all I will be doing.

Seriously, I keep waking up in the middle of the night writing down ideas for how to improve my project.

My stress level has skyrocketed and I'm currently in a state of emotional instability because of it. When I accidentally locked myself out of my computer at work yesterday, I burst into tears. At my desk. At work. Yeah, that sort of thing happens when you're stressed to level I am.

So, please excuse me for the not posting and just keep in mind that once this time of famine for the blog passes, I will be free. FREE! No more school. Ever.

I can see the promised land.

If you could keep me in your prayers, I would greatly appreciate it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Using Tropes

I was going to write this post about breaking rules. Not real rules, like the law or physics or grammar, but the sort of rules you find when you start stalking following agents. For example: don't ever have your main character wake up at the beginning of a novel. Sure Kafka pulled it off (note: he also turned his MC into a bug on that first page, so yeah) but nowadays you should just avoid this. As soon as an agent sees your character waking up in that first page, she's rolling her eyes and saying, "Good Lord! Not again!"

This past weekend I re-read The Maze Runner, in preparation for The Death Cure (which I also read and it was great). And afterwards, I thought "hmm, didn't James Dashner just break a rule by opening with an amnesiac?"

But as I thought about it, I couldn't actually remember an agent ever saying, "Don't open your story with someone who has lost their memory!" For some reason, my mind has it defined as a common trope but I can't remember any examples of a book opening this way, except for The Maze Runner. Sure TV uses amnesia all the time, but books? I can't think of a one.

Well, I can, but it's The Lost Hero, and I don't think it counts since it's equally new and wouldn't have created this trope.

But I'm fairly certain amnesia is something that is considered as a trope. So what makes The Maze Runner or for that matter The Lost Hero compelling despite the fact it begins with a classic trope that might cause agents to roll their eyes?

For The Lost Hero, I think it gets the benefit of a doubt because it's a follow up to the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, but I also think it's because there is no obvious (non god related) reason why this kid Jason should not have his memory. He's sitting on a school bus. His best friend and girlfriend have been with him the entire time—no time for him to stumble off and hit his head without him knowing. Somehow, just sitting on a bus, this kid lost his memory. Or else something else is going on. And that's what keeps you reading. What else could be going on? Or how could a kid just suddenly lose his memory?

But The Maze Runner I think just takes this trope and makes it new. How? Why? Well, let's dissect it.

"He began his new life standing up, surrounded by cold darkness and stale, dusty air."

New life? What new life? And does the fact he faced this new life, started it, standing up, facing it, taking it like a man—does that tell us something about this mysterious character? And why would a new life begin in such a cold stale dusty place???? These are the thoughts that would pull me in if I read this first sentence.

The next three paragraphs show us that this person (we don't know if he's a kid or adult yet) is in an elevator, and Dashner's descriptions are vivid. You can hear the grind of metal against metal and feel the shudder of the room. Why is this guy beginning his new life in an elevator? What does it mean?

It's not until the fifth paragraph and on that you realize this guy has no better idea than you where is or why he is there. Somehow this boy (for we do learn he is a teenager) lost his memory and he lost it STANDING UP.

Think about that for a moment. Usually if you experience head trauma that's bad enough to cause memory loss, you're probably going to be disoriented and lose your sense of balance. But our main character, Thomas, was standing up when we met him. Somehow, while standing up, he lost his memory.

I mean doesn't that just make you want to know what happened? How it could happen?

If that's not enough, the fear and confusion Dashner conveys about being in this awful, dank elevator also kept me going, but ultimately what won me, was what Thomas meets when he gets out of the elevator.

A community of boys who all arrived to this strange place via the same elevator and who all have no memory of any life before living in this community.

This isn't just an isolated, stereotypical amnesia. This amnesia is caused by something—some higher organization within the novel that is plotting something. That wants a group of boys who have no idea where they are or how they got there, other than an elevator.

Something is going on. And it's ultimately the question "What's going on?" that keeps me reading.

So think about that, the next time you want to write a trope. It can be done. It can be done well. But you have to do it in a way that keeps the reader wondering what's going to happen next and "What's going on?"

Friday, October 14, 2011

Next couple of months

I know I promised every Tuesday and Thursday, but its not happening. It's just not happening.

Balancing school, work, and some semi-semblance of a life are just too difficult.

I spend my week working, as in a real job. My workday is 7:30 am - 4:30 pm. If I need to run any errands, I need to do it after work. And I have to take care of my dog. And by the time six thirty hits, I'm wiped and all I want to do is watch TV. But I can't because my apartment is a wreck and I need to clean it. Or I need to cook something so I can eat regular food at work tomorrow instead of eating fast food for lunch.

Why don't I do errands and chores on the weekend, you ask? Easy. Because I spend my weekends:
  1. watching lectures for my final class
  2. doing problems/tests for said final class
  3. trying to create the required Matlab code for my Master's Project which I have to finish by December
  4. trying to write said Master's project
Seriously, last weekend, I watched two 1.5 hour lectures for my class, took a seven question test that took me an entire day, outlined and planned out the actual writing of my Master's Project, and reworked some Matlab code to try to make it actually work, realized that wouldn't work, banged my head for two hours trying to figure out what would work, tried to implement said new work around, and realized this new work around required even more work than I anticipated.

So basically my life sucks. I don't have time to try to branch out and join groups to meet people so I can make friends in Albuquerque, where I've only been living for a few months. My only friends are my friends from work, and I can't even commit to a game of Settlers of Catan with them because I'm all "That will take hours!!!"

Seriously, one of my work friends invited me over to a movie night on a Friday night and I said, "Only if we're done by ten, because I'm getting up at seven on Saturday to work on my Master's Project."

Not exactly a conducive attitude to making friends. But a great attitude for getting work done.

But I have hope, because there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Mid-December the trials and tribulations of grad school will end. Then I won't have to spend my weekends on school stuff. Instead I can spend them making friends. I'll have time during the week to work out and then I can be in shape again. Life will be good.

Of course that hope is partnered by fear, because OH MY GOSH I HAVE TO BE DONE WITH MY MASTER'S PROJECT BY DECEMBER. I actually have to have a finished project. *pass out*

So thinking about my new shiny life on the horizon immediately leads to panic, which leads to me not doing my chores during the week, but instead banging my head against Matlab in an attempt to get something done, so my chores build up until it reaches a point of over boiling and I have to waste a weekend I should have been using to work on my project to clean house which then leads to more panic because OH MY GOSH I'M SO BEHIND!

Basically I'm a positive feedback system of panic and stress. (Positive feedback, for those who don't know, is bad. It's what causes that squeal that microphones make when they get too close to each other or speakers.)

So you'll have to forgive me if I don't post as regularly as I claim. I try, because writing these posts relieves stress. It doesn't relieve the amount of work I have to do, but it brings down my panic level. And a high panic level is not conducive to good work.

Please don't give up on me if the next three months on this blog are rough and not posted regularly. I promise I'll come back in January, full swing. Maybe even blogging everyday.

Because come January my life is summer all the time.

No more school. I can't even imagine how glorious it will be.

*panics*

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Smell the Pumpkin in the Air!

My friends, it's that time of year again! The time of year when normal people decorate their houses with ghosts and witches. When pumpkins are carved and become jack o'lanterns. And when Starbucks puts out pumpkin bread. Can you smell the scent of pumpkin in the air? It's Halloween time!

I've posted before on my love of Halloween. But I feel it needs to be revisited. Because I really do love Halloween.

So I'm going to try to discuss different aspects of Halloween at least once a week. I want to discuss my favorite horror movies, whether not I believe in ghosts, how much I love costumes, and just in general how awesome Halloween is.

Today's aspect of Halloween to discuss is the food.

Pumpkin is undoubtedly my favorite vegetable. Hands down. I like it in bread and muffins. I like it in pie. And I like just its seeds when they've been baked. Yum. And yet, despite this squash's awesomeness, it only comes out once a year. Why? Why do pumpkins only reign from October to Thanksgiving. Come December, Starbucks will put away its pumpkin bread. Einstein's will hide away the recipe for pumpkin bagels. And good luck finding a pumpkin in a grocery store! I mean, I get that fruits and vegetables have their appropriate seasons, but modern technology means that most are able to be grown all year long. Why not pumpkins?

And speaking of pumpkins, does anyone else out there love those pumpkins that are made out of similar stuff as candy corn? You usually find them with the candy corn, and both are delicious.

After all, what is Halloween without the candy? I never buy straight up candy during the rest of the year. I'll buy ice cream and cookies, but candy? It's too dangerous to keep in the house. I would eat it all the time. But at Halloween, I buy bags of it. I have a bowl at home full of candy and one at my office. And let me tell you, the one at my office, I have to refill daily. So clearly I'm not the only one with a lack of self control when it comes to candy.

Oh, Halloween. How you bring out the best sweets and treats!

Anyone else out there have a love of Halloween food? Does anyone have unusual Halloween traditions when it comes to food and candy?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I've Gone Insane

I have a terrible track record of not blogging consistently. I mean just look at my archives and its obvious. So clearly I must have gone insane. Or my eyes are bigger than my mouth or ambitions higher than my reach or something like that.

Why?

Because I just started a new blog.

And not a blog that replaces this one. Oh no, a blog to write in addition to this one.

Because as I was thinking about this blog, I've realized its come to be mainly about my life, writing, and my beliefs. Which are great things and things I love discussing. But somewhere along the way, the engineering and science part got lost. And I have a lot to say on those topics, more than a randomly assigned day of the week can make up for. So I've decided to start a new blog solely devoted to science and engineering.

You can check it out here.

So let's see how this adventure goes. And please pop over there and check out Tuesday's post as well as today's post.

This blog, my bittersweet fountain one, will still contain all my anecdotes about being an engineer. All the funny, quirky little stories about my life that are caused because I'm an engineer and live on the socially awkward side of the social spectrum. My new blog, Rocket Science Revealed, is going to focus on the hard science facts and explaining them to you, my reader, in terms a layman can understand.

So come by and check it out. Who knows? Maybe you'll learn something.

And if you have engineering questions, ask them. Because I'm here to answer your questions.

Don't let your science fiction lack facts! Don't let fear of science stand in your way from learning. It's not that hard. And I promise not to drop any differential equations on you. :)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Dragon*Con and Amanda Tapping

I know I promised pictures from Dragon*Con, but alas, I do not have them. I took pictures, but with my dad's camera. And I don't currently have anyway to transfer those pictures from my dad's camera to my computer. I need to go to Best Buy and buy an SD card reader, but I haven't been able to fit that into my schedule. So it's still going to have to wait.

But I can tell you about Dragon*Con and its sheer awesomeness.

Dragon*Con was far more crowded than I ever remember it being. I heard rumors of their being 50,000 people. If you've never been to an event like it, it's hard to fathom what this means. Basically imagine crowds that you can't fight. It's like being in an ocean or river, caught by the current. You don't know where you're going or why you're going there, only you can't fight the river of people. And suddenly you find yourself at an escalator that goes down--and you want to go up--but you have no choice but to go down because you CAN'T FIGHT THE CURRENT!

Despite that chaos, it was awesome, and this year I got to meet one of the women who brought to life one of my personal heroes. I met Amanda Tapping, who plays Samantha Carter in my favorite TV show of all time--Stargate SG-1.

I was really excited. I stood in line to get her signature, but the pressure of the line to move quickly meant I didn't get much time to talk to her. Alas. But the next day there was a Stargate Panel that she was attending, so I went to that.

This panel turned out to by awesome. Amanda Tapping and two other actors were present (both of the others were from Atlantis). Usually at Dragon*Con, if you want to ask a question you line up behind a microphone, and the people answer from on stage--where they sit at a table facing you. But this time, the two other actors grabbed wireless mics and ran around the audience, coming to the people who had questions. So people brave enough to ask questions were reworded with getting to talk with, stand near, and shake hands with a Stargate actor.

So being an engineer, I had a question. I asked, "As an engineer, I find myself often saying things then pausing and thinking, 'I can't believe I just said that and its real.' Did you guys ever have moments like that?" Well, Amanda Tapping didn't really answer that question exactly, but her answer was even more awesome.

She explained that one time she was reading the script and there as an equation written in it. She was supposed to write it on a board or something in the episode. At this point she had been playing Samantha Carter--astrophysicist extraordinaire--for quite some time. Looking at the equation, she just had a gut instinct that it was wrong. So she spent a day working it out, trying to figure out the accuracy of this equation. And by the end of the day she realized not only was it wrong but found the correct solution!

She then took it to the writer, all excited, and was like "Dude, this equation is wrong!" The writer then just looked at her and said, "Whatever, Amanda, just fix it."

On one hand, it makes me frustrated that the writer didn't care to double check their accuracy. But on the other hand, it made me really excited that one of the characters who inspired me towards my career path and engineering, actually inspired the actress who played her to look into science. How awesome is that!

So Amanda Tapping is going down in my book as being legit and awesome. Sure she's not actually an astrophysicist, but after hearing her talk I could tell she realized her character's impact on girl's like me and took it seriously. And that's amazing.

Friday, September 16, 2011

*sigh*

I know. I've dropped off the face of the planet since Dragon*Con. But this whole balancing a full time job, taking a class, finishing my thesis, revising a novel, writing a novel, and blogging thing isn't easy.

But I promise I'll be back next week. Promise promise promise. Cross my heart.

I really don't want to cut blogging out of my schedule for a variety of reasons. (1) I love blogging. It gives me an outlet to express a lot of my feelings in an essay-esque form, and I have a lot of things I like to express. (2) Some of my friends back in Atlanta read it, and it helps them keep in contact with me. (3) It makes me feel like a part of a community, the crazy, writer-wanna-be community. But I love being a part of that community.

So I will be back. And I will manage to do all the other things I need to do this semester.

And next semester will be peaches and creme. No more classes. No more thesis. Just work and novel writing. Yay!!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Dragon*Con Prep

I know. I haven't posted at all since I said I was changing the schedule. Bad me. I know. But in my defense classes did just start, my super awesome best friend Alisha did just get married, and Dragon*Con is this weekend.

So I spent last week trying to figure out how distance learning works and writing a speech for Alisha's wedding (since I was maid of honor). And I had to fly back to Atlanta for the wedding and there was craziness.

And this weekend I have to fly back to Atlanta again for a different sort of craziness.

I've been prepping for Dragon*Con all month, mainly trying to get my costume together. "WHAT?" you ask. "YOU'RE DRESSING UP! You nerd." Why yes. I am a nerd. I am also a geek. And as such, I have this quote to counter your judgement of my nerdiness and geekiness:
"Nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff. Nerds are allowed to love stuff, like jump-up-and-down-can't-control yourself love it. When people call people nerds, mostly what they're saying is "You like stuff." Which is not a good insult at all. Like "You are too enthusiastic about the miracle of the human consciousness." ~John Green
Hah. So there. Don't judge me for enthusiasm and excitement.

(I would argue that every use of the word nerd should be replaced with geek, but that's just my personal definition of those words.)

Anyway, I've been getting my costume together and one of them is a steampunk costume. People keep asking me what that is so let me post this video as the answer to that question:


(Note: I am not, nor have I ever been, a Goth--not a judgement of those who are/were, just a statement of fact--but I do love Steampunk)

I think the Sci-Fi janitor videos are one of my favorite parts of Dragon*Con. dc*tv in general is awesome, but the Sci-Fi janitors were a pure stroke of genius. I mean how can you not watch this video without laughing:


So yeah. I should be back on Tuesday with my new regular blogging schedule and a Dragon*Con recap. See you then!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Fall Semester Schedule

It’s a vast understatement to say that this summer did not turn out as I expected it to. If you had asked me last April what I thought I would be doing this summer, I would have told you going to Florida for my co-op, reading a lot of books, and blogging regularly. Turns out none of that was true. I got offered a full time job in Albuquerque, I only read about 10 books, and well, you can be the judge of whether I blogged regularly or not.

Despite my full time job, I’m not actually done with school. I have one more class and my master’s project left to complete. Which means this next semester is going to be crazy. Not only is my work going to be busy, but I have to take a class and complete my research for school. Essentially, if I survive this semester without pulling my hair out, it will be because of the grace of God.

So blogging isn’t going to be exactly high on the priority list (though I love doing it as a stress reliever and stress relief is pretty high on the priority list). Therefore, the attempted daily blogging schedule is going to be erased. We will be going back to a Tuesday/Thursday blogging schedule.

Because I’m only having two blogging days, they will have no theme. I will post about whatever I want to (and whatever you request).

So I just wanted to let you guys know what’s up.

Wish me luck in the following semester.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Killing your...uh...very much loved things

(I know its Wednesday, which means I should post something Western themed, but since I didn't post on Monday I decided to post on Writing today instead.)

I was going to entitle this "Killing Your Babies", but I thought non writers might not get it. They might think I was actually talking about killing your children. Which I absolutely am not talking about or anyway condoning.

I am, of course, talking about your manuscript.

That first shiny idea for a manuscript is very near and dear to your heart. And your manuscript is in many ways like a child, your baby that you've created that you love more than anything. You don't see its warts and wrongs. You think its perfect and wonderful because its yours.

But sometimes, your kid is a punk. Sometimes your kid is spoiled rotten. And sometimes, your manuscript needs to be completely changed.

So Spirit Riddled, my completed MG novel, has undergone many changes at this point, but its still not the manuscript it needs to be. And last year I got a lot of really good feedback, but some of that feedback involved things that pretty much surmounted to completely changing the story, to killing my baby.

This is something I've been dwelling on for a while. Which feedback is legitimate and will make the story better and which feedback is simply because the critiquer doesn't understand my story like I do? It's a fine line, a very fine line.

So last night I called one of my friends and we talked for two hours, mainly about my story, and which changes we thought were actually necessary to the story. We also talked about my vision for the story (the story arc that will hopefully cross multiple books) and how I can condense that so it can actually be sold. (No one is going to sign me for an a million book series, lol).

I think the solution we settled on is still true to the vision of my story but addresses many of the concerns of the critiquer.

But as I mentioned before its still a fine line. An author has to balance their true vision with something that can actually sell. Where is the balance? At what point are you giving up your artistry to be sale-able?

Any opinions, any thoughts?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Engineering Conferences

I attended my very first engineering conference last week. Though I went to two years of grad school and numerous reviews and workshops, I had never had the chance to go to an honest for goodness engineering conference.

This past week I attended the Small Satellite Conference in Logan, Utah.

And it was awesome.

Imagine 500 engineers, ages high school to 90 years old, all in one place. All talking about something their incredibly passionate about.

Essentially, imagine DragonCon, but instead of people going all fangirl over Brandon Sanderson, they're going fangirl over James Wertz, the editor of Satellite Mission Analysis and Design. Seriously, I haven't seen that much excitement over the new release of a book since Harry Potter Seven. And this book weighs four pounds. Literally, everyone I knew at the conference bought one.

Personally, I went from booth to booth, trying to find vendors of reaction wheels. And when I came across the reaction wheels for CubeSats my mind was blown. CubeSats are satellites that are 10 cm by 10 cm by 10 cm. So basically their reaction wheels are the size of quarters.

Mind blowing.

It's amazing how technology adapts and changes. How people can find solutions for the impossible. And that's the great thing about conferences. You get to discover what everyone else in your field is doing: the work that has been actually accomplished and the work that is cutting edge theory. I sat through four days of lectures and I only fell asleep in a handful of them.

And the falling asleep is inevitable, because engineers love to party.

Granted its not always what you imagine a party to be, since a lot of engineers tend to be socially awkward, but its our version of partying. I saw three movies (Cowboys and Aliens, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and Captain America). I went bowling four times (won two of those games). And went to two "socials" (officially approved events by the conference). But the "real" party-ers spent all their time at "The White Owl", Logan's only bar. (It's not exactly a big city). I don't drink and think movies and bowling are MUCH more fun, but apparently its like the whole conference shows up there every night.

So that's what engineering conferences are like. Anyone else out there every been to an engineering conference? Any great stories? I have plans to go to several more this year (now that I'm a real person and all), so I imagine I'll have many great stories.

Especially since I don't plan on getting sick for multiple days the next time. (Yeah, it wasn't pretty. I hate being sick on travel.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Traveling, Again

I know, I failed to post last week and this week! But its because I'm traveling. I do that a lot with my new job, plus all my friends decided to get married this year so I have three weddings this August. So last week I had to prepare for a wedding, the Small Satellite Conference, and the Preliminary Design Review of the University Nanosat Project. All in all, it's a week and a half of events which I managed to pack for using only carry-ons. I call that a success. :)

As for the blog schedule, I can't say it will resume with the posted schedule next week because SCHOOL STARTS next week. And even though I have a nice shiny new job, I still have to finish my Master's Degree. Which means I'll be working, taking one class, and finishing my thesis. But the good news is that come December, I'll be done with school forever. And then daily (minus weekends) blogging can resume for life.

So next week we'll talk about the School Year blogging schedule. It'll probably go back down to Tuesday/Thursday. So the daily themes will probably go away. But I'm going to dwell on that some more this week and if you have any thoughts or comments, please leave them below.

I hope you're all having a good week and having as much fun as I'm having at the Small Satellite conference. I just saw a presentation about Star Trackers that are the size of a two euro piece. (The guy presenting was German, hence the European money). So I'm really excited. And I bought a copy of the New SMAD--which is also really exciting.

Yes, I'm a nerd. I know. I know.

So regular schedule to resume next week. Look forward to next Tuesday's post being about the Small Satellite conference in all its fun and glory.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Wanting to Slap a Minion

If you’ve ever worked with engineers, you’ve probably experienced this. And it doesn’t necessarily happen with only minions (aka people much lower down on the totem pole than you), but you get the feeling most strongly with minions.

A scenario will play out like this:

A professor, who has a doctorate in the field plus 15 years of industry experience plus a book written with his name on it, will be explaining something to the class. It will be something extremely well studied that was discovered a long time ago, probably by Bernoulli, and a student will challenge him. The student will argue with him for ten minutes about something not pertinent to passing the class which is basically saying, “I know you have all these degrees and experience and I’m a 19-year-old boy, but I’ve thought of something NO ONE else has, and basically, I’m smarter than you.”

Unfortunately for that student, most professors aren’t afraid to embarrass you in front of the entire class. Depending on the professor there can be several responses: 1) handing the marker to the student and asking him to teach the class if he’s so smart, 2) just verbally smacking him down by listing your accomplishments versus his (I’ve got five degrees and a Nobel Prize. And you’ve…graduated from high school), 3) telling the student to get out of the class and not come back until he’s ready to learn, and really the possibilities here are endless. Professors are creative people.

But this doesn’t just happen to professors. At my new shiny, real job, I have an intern who makes me want to slap him daily. A scenario will play out like this:

Melody: The type A bolts go here. (pointing to a series of holes)

Intern: You’re wrong.

Said intern couldn’t even see where Melody was pointing. He just assumed that she, a woman with a college degree (which he doesn’t have) and two years of working experience (which he also doesn’t have) is wrong. He then proceeded to give us the “right” answer by pointing exactly where Melody just pointed.

About this time I have an overwhelming desire to slap him upside the head.

He does this a lot and he’s not alone. Many engineers have this “I’m always right and you’re always wrong” mindset. Which absolutely makes no sense to me.

I always assume my superiors at work and school are correct and if there is something where I really feel they’re wrong, I just don’t state “You’re wrong.” I’ll usually say, “Should we double check that?” or “I seem to remember being taught such-and-such (which is the opposite of what you are saying) in class. Is that wrong?”—thereby forcing the person to think about what they said and explain themselves.

Basically there are nicer ways to say things without making your superior want to slap you or just stare at you and say, “I have three degrees. Who do you think you are, Mr. I’m-about-to-be-a-third-year-in-college?”

Currently, we’ve ignored this interns “you’re wrong, I’m right” tendencies. He’s leaving in two weeks. It’s not a big deal. But I’m not sure what the appropriate way to deal with this behavior is. (Slapping is, unfortunately, not an option). Has anyone out there dealt with this attitude? Anyone out there ever wanted to slap a minion? What have you done instead? How have you dealt with it?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Elementary School Sucked

Last week we talked about how I was a weird teenager and a few teenage stereotypes that I really hate. This week I want to talk about another stereotype. This one doesn't just afflict teenage characters, but children of all ages.

Namely its the stereotype of how wonderful/awful different levels of school are. Elementary school is a time of unicorns and butterflies, utter perfection, and everyone getting along. Middle school is a time of confusion and horror. And high school? High school is utter hell.

I contend that this stereotype is grossly inaccurate.

Elementary school was probably the second worst time of my life. (Second, of course, to grad school, which is, was, and forever will be the most miserable, horrible, awful time in my life. It would take an awful lot to top wanting to cry under my desk almost everyday. And I'm not exaggerating. I cried more during grad school than I did as an infant.)

Stereotypes would have us believe that in elementary school, kids are too young to see differences. That they are pure and innocent and all get along without any problem. But in elementary school, I was an outcast. In third grade, no one in my class talked to me--but at least I had friends who had the same recess period as me. Fourth grade? Don't even get me started. I literally did not have a single friend in my school in the fourth grade. In fifth grade, my two best friends hated each other and made my life absolutely miserable.

All through elementary school I was the weird one. I was the girl who liked to read--heck, for a long time I was resented for being the girl who COULD read. I was reading middle grade novels in the third grade when some of my classmates couldn't sound out words. I was the girl who wasn't interested in boys. I'm fairly certain the girls weren't actually interested in boys. They just thought they were supposed to be. But because I didn't, because I saw boys as friends and classmates instead of boyfriends (whatever that means in elementary school), I was weird.

In elementary school I was stuck in a class of thirty other people that didn't change, except maybe (if I was lucky) at recess. (Note: my fourth grade school didn't have recess. Just PE everyday, so you were stuck with your class during that as well).

Then middle school came. We changed classes. Not just rooms, but we changed classmates. You were not guaranteed to have the same thirty people with you. The classes shifted, exposing me to more kids. And something miraculous happened.

I discovered I wasn't alone.

There were other girls like me. Other girls who liked Star Wars. Girls who liked writing and using their imagination. Girls who were still willing to play games of make believe even though we were "too old". Girls who didn't think I was weird. Girls who liked me.

Finally I had friends.

Middle school still wasn't easy, because I do believe that middle school is a time of transition. Things hurts more in middle school, because you're not entirely sure how you should react to them. You're trying to be grown up and a kid at the same time. Its hard. And there were difficult times. But it was SO MUCH BETTER than elementary school. I can't begin to describe how much better it was.

And it only got better. High school? High school was freakin' amazing. Want to talk about finding people like you? Meet the 300 person band. Meet the other thirty kids who think Latin is cool. Meet a school that offers every club for every interest: Aviation Club, Latin Club, Science Olympiad, Quiz Bowl, Honor Societies, and so much more.

And by high school, I knew who I was. I was (am) a nerd. And I had friends who were nerds. And despite popular stereotypical belief, I was respected for my nerdiness. As I've said before, teenagers aren't stupid. They realize the value of intelligence. And they realize that meanness gets you nothing. But if your nice to the nerd. If you genuinely like the nerd. If you get behind the nerd? Well then, maybe on the rare occasion when she thinks an assignment is grossly unfair she'll do the assignment and then send her homework out to the entire class*. Maybe she'll actually let you copy her Latin homework**. But only if your nice. Only if you respect her. Only if you realize that what she's doing for you is a favor. Not that the nerd is mean. She just requires human decency.

And I believe I mentioned before that I was on Prom Court. (Which before that goes to anyone's head, was only second string popularity at my school because if you were on Homecoming Court you weren't allowed to be on Prom Court (and yes, that's me in that picture right there. Not too pretty. Not too thin. Way too much hair on my head)). Being Woodwind Captain of the Marching Band, President of the Latin Club, Captain of the Quiz Bowl Team, Treasurer of the Aviation Club, and President and Founder of the Science National Honor Society may have made me a nerd, but it also meant I was pretty well known. In a school of 3,500 getting the votes of a measly 400 band nerds and general nerds actually goes a long way. And my friend AJ (Brass Captain) made his entire English Class vote for me to spite me. But heck, I got to go to Prom for free so I came to terms with it.

But pretty much everyone on Prom Court was in AP classes and other "nerdy" endeavors.

High school was awesome. I had a ton of friends. I had a ton of activities. I was always busy. I never felt like anyone was out to get me (except possibly my one friend, but she was going through some real emotional trauma, so we forgave her for being crazy). (And before anyone contends I must not have been that much of a nerd, below is an image of me and my friends playing Star Wars Trivial Pursuit. We were huge nerds. And yes that's me with the awful triangle shaped head. I cut off all my hair after that prom photo).

I thought it was just me. I thought I was the only one who suffered through elementary school and found rest and acceptance in high school. But its not true. After talking to several friends, I've found I'm not alone and this stereotype is simply false.

In elementary school you're forced to be with all these other kids. In middle school and high school? You can find your people. And among your people, you find acceptance.

So lets get rid of this tired old stereotype and write characters who have friends. Who don't care about stereotypical popularity. Kids who are odd but liked.

*I actually did this once. My senior English teacher assigned a totally unfair assignment, where she kept changing what was actually required everyday. The assignment was ridiculous and at least ten pages of work and she expected us to do it practically over night. So I sent it out to my entire class (via email). And yes, the teacher did realize what was happened. She pulled me aside in class the day we turned it in and asked, "Mandy, did you help people with this assignment?" To which I responded to the affirmative. She gave me extra credit. Go figure. But I would like to note that no one coerced me into doing this. There was no bullying. Heck, no one even asked. But I saw an injustice. I saw unfairness. And I was sort of a superhero when it came to brains in high school, so I swooped in and saved the day.

**I only did this in AP Latin when we had a crazy teacher who refused to teach us other than saying "Go home and translate that", but never actually teaching us how to properly translate it--the tricks of the trade. It was stupid. So every morning before class, the kids in my AP Latin class would meet in the band hall (there was only four of us) and they would copy the homework from me. Occasionally, when I was busy, I made the others do the work instead. Was this cheating? Possibly. But helping my classmates like this, cheating if you will, was my revenge on the teacher for being awful. She spent our class planning her wedding instead of teaching us and made me teach the Latin III kids we shared a class with on several occasions. Another injustice. Another superhero action on my part. I'm positive the teacher knew it was happening, because on most occasions, if I didn't do the homework that meant no one did the homework. So when she walked in and asked the four of us if we did the homework and I said no she would postpone it to the next day.

Friday, July 29, 2011

How Star Wars Saved My Love of Reading

I don’t know if I’ve ever done my love of Star Wars justice on this website. I’ve alluded to it. I’ve listed it as my most favorite SF thing ever. But I don’t know if I’ve ever really explained how much I really, truly love Star Wars.

There is so much to love about Star Wars. The original trilogy is a classic tale. A struggle of good versus evil. A story of redemption. A story of wizards in space. What’s not to love?

But I think the reason why I love Star Wars so much is because Star Wars saved my love of reading.

When I was in the 5th grade, I had read every book in my school’s library. So I branched out to the public library, following authors I trusted and loved. But this was not a good move. Why? Because I was in the fifth grade, and just because an author writes a couple of 9 year old appropriate books, that doesn’t mean all their books are appropriate. Hence I read my first sex scene at the age of 9.

I had no idea it was coming. And thinking back, it probably wasn’t that graphic. But it traumatized me. I didn’t want to read anything like that ever again. I didn’t like it. I wanted nothing to do with it. So what could I read? Books aren’t rated and I had long sense outread anything my parents and older siblings read when they were my age. And it’s not like we had the internet to look up books I could read. And this was pre-Harry Potter, so the middle grade section of the book store was not the over abundance of books it is now.

I was such a good reader that I had outread all of my possibilities. I was stuck. My love of reading had crashed into a wall. What was I to do? Where was I to go?

Thus my uncle loaned me The Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn.

Luke, Han, Leia—they were all back in full force, plus new amazing characters like Mara Jade and Grand Admiral Thrawn. Had someone just made me like and sympathize with Imperials? Yes, yes they had.

Suddenly there was a section of the bookstore that was safe for me. Star Wars is and always has been rated no more than PG-13. And PG-13 I could handle. But not R.

And the Extended Universe (aka Star Wars books) was huge. So many books to catch up on! So many books to read. So many possibilities. Thus began weekly trips to the bookstore. My mom would take my brother, little sister, and me to the mall every Saturday. We’d get Chic-Fil-A for lunch and then go across the hall to the Waldens. I still remember where the Star Wars section was. Straight back in the dead center, a whole section of just Star Wars books. I would pick out two I hadn’t read every Saturday and by the next Saturday I finished reading them. I did this for two years. Star Wars was all I read in fifth and sixth grade. And then, of course, Harry Potter came out and everything changed.

Without Star Wars, I wouldn’t have survived to Harry Potter revolutionizing my world. I would have stopped reading in the fifth grade and found other pastimes. No one else in my family reads as much as I do, so I would have found something to replace reading. And reading probably would have been replaced. A person doesn’t just stop reading for two years and survive as the same avid reader she had once been.

So in middle school when everyone else was obsessed with boy bands, I was obsessed with Rogue Squadron. When everyone else was getting into makeup, I was figuring out how to build a lightsaber (in theory, not practice). Does this make me a geek? Yes, yes it does. But to this day I still read two books a week (if not more sometimes), and most of my other friends only read maybe a book a month.

I still have my geek card and my avid reader status. And I thank Star Wars for them both.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Using Logic in Life Decisions

This past semester the project manager of my research project was a senior who was graduating. He was a little lost in what he was supposed to do with life. Since I was a graduate student he had been working closely with—and theoretically respected—he came to me for advice on what he should do. Like any graduating senior he was faced with a choice: do I go out and get a job or do I go to grad school? And to add extra complication for him the grad school question broke down further: do I work in the Center for Space Systems or do I work in the ASDL? (Since he had offers from both). He was feeling quite lost and didn’t know what to do. So he asked me a lot of questions like “why did you chose to go to grad school?” and “why did you pick CSS over another group?”, etc.

So one day we were discussing this as we were walking somewhere (I have no idea where we were coming from or where we were going). I made the comment that for me, staying at Georgia Tech was an extremely hard decision. It went against all my emotions and gut instincts. I had been at Georgia Tech for four and a half years and the nomad in me could not allow for living somewhere that long. This was actually a huge deal for me.

So he asked, “Then why did you decide to stay at Georgia Tech, if you had such a strong feeling to the opposite?” I responded that I had made a pros and cons list and the pros of staying at Georgia Tech far outweighed the cons. The nomadic feeling was honestly my only con. And I recognized that this feeling was my messed up nomad brain trying to freak me out and make me run, when I should stay. The pros were just too great.

The boy looked at me with a completely stunned expression. He said, “You made a life decision using a pros and cons list? Using logic?”

I was baffled by his response and it took a lot of questioning to unwrap what he was actually saying. What was he saying? Well, we were both Christians and we both knew that. In his mind, God CAN NOT possibly speak to a person through logic. God speaks through feelings. So my feeling to run MUST have been from God. And the logical choice clearly wasn’t.

I could not believe I was hearing this from someone, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that many Christians think this is true. People expect conviction to be emotional, that God will bring you to tears. They expect people to be overcome with emotion and close their eyes while singing or dance to the music. They do not expect you to be sitting in your room studying your Bible and instead of being struck by sudden tear bringing conviction, saying “Huh. God seems to indicate in His Word that I shouldn’t do this. I should probably change my ways.”

How did this happen? How did we so disconnect God from logic? I’ll admit that God’s logic is not always our human logic, but God gave us brains for a reason. He gave me the ability reason. He gave me the ability to make decisions. And if I’m not hearing a voice from the heavens or seeing handwriting on the wall, I’m probably going to trust logic over my feelings when it comes to life decisions.

Because that nomad feeling? The feeling that I need to run and find a new place to live? That definitely wasn’t a God feeling. That was my brain. And I’m a logical enough person to realize where that feeling came from. It came from years of never living anywhere longer than four year. It came from frustration of not knowing how to maintain friendships past four years. It came from anger at the person I’d been labeled as—the person people saw me as—instead of the person I saw myself as.

And the logic? It made complete sense. And if I had not chosen to stay at Georgia Tech I would not be in this awesome job that was perfectly made for me. A job that I fit into like a hand in a glove. A job that I’m very certain God wants me to be in.

So please, do not disregard logic because you don’t believe God can use logic as easily as He uses emotions. God is all powerful. He can do anything. He can work through logic or emotion, pros and cons lists or strong feelings.

It’s sort of like being a Jedi (yes, I’m going geek on you here). Remember in the middle of the Empire Strikes Back? When Luke had that overwhelming feeling he should run off and save his friends? And Yoda was the voice of reason saying “Don’t do it!” Sometimes a Jedi is supposed to trust their feelings—just like a Christian—but this was a scenario where Luke should have listened to Yoda’s logic. Where logic would have yielded the response the Force (God in this metaphor) wanted.

So trust your feelings, Padawan. But remember that some emotions lead to the Dark Side.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What does that mean?

(Sorry about not posting an engineering Tuesday yesterday. These things happen. But I hope you enjoy today's Western Wednesday.)

I recognize that there are regional dialect differences in America. My dad is from New York, and my mom is from Georgia--so I was aware of this from a very early age. But for the most part, I thought regional dialects just meant different people said words differently or had unique regional sayings.

For example, the word "crayon." My dad says "cran", as many Northerners do. My mom says "cray-on". My sister and I, as their confused offspring, say "crown" and always have. I always make sure I say a "coloring crown" so people don't think I mean the regal headgear of kings.

I spent most of my life in the South so I say "mirra" instead of "mirror" and "I'm fixin' to do something" instead of "I'm about to do this". However, because of my Northern dad, I do not say "ya'll". I have nothing against the word. My friends use it all the time. But I say "you guys", like many Northerners do.

So strange pronunciations and sayings I always knew existed. But I never really realized before that its not just pronounciations and sayings. Different regions call objects different things.

Take the above picture. It shows the top of a stove, which consists of four round objects on which you generally place pots to heat them up. Bring water to a boil, cook some soup, make an egg, whatever--that's what you do here.

What do you call those round things?

I thought everyone in the world called them what I did. I thought that these objects had a universally recognized name in the American version of English. And I thought it was "eye". As in: "don't touch that hot eye!", "Put the pot on the eye", etc.

But recently a Western writer friend of mine was reading my story. And when my narrator described something as feeling like "a hot eye on a stove", my reader said: "What? What's an eye? Does that maybe mean the center of the coil?"

To which my response was: "Uh...coil? Like a helicoil? What are we talking about here?"

Turns out not everyone calls these round heating elements the same thing. That my Western writer friend calls them "coils". Since my story takes place in the South, I'm not planning on changing it. My narrator would think of it as an eye.

Another word my reader commented on was "lanai". She said she thought people only called patios lanai's in Hawaii. Well in Florida me and all my friends had covered pool areas that were called lanais. I think a lanai is different from a patio, which is different from a porch. When I think lanai I think concrete/stucco ground in which their is a pool, and its all screened it. When I think patio.....honestly, I don't know what I think when I think patio. Seems like if its not a lanai its a porch. At least we call my grandmother's covered, un-airconditioned, astro turf back area a "porch" and not a patio. I can't actually recall using the word "patio" in everyday language. "Go out to the back patio" just doesn't have the same ring as "go out to the back porch". But this might also be a southern thing.

Have any of you ever run across regional differences like this? Objects that are called completely different words from what you're used to calling it?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Teenage Stereotypes that I Despise

My current WIP is a young adult novel, which for those of you who aren't up on writer talk, means its a teen book. In many ways, writing a teen book is much harder for me than writing an adult book. Heck, writing a teen book was hard for me when I was a teen. When I was younger, all of my books were "adult" books. Those were the sorts of books I read and the sorts of books I wanted to write.

Middle grade I understand. Adult I comprehend. Teen? Umm...not so much. And there is one very good reason for this.

I was an unusually strange teenager.

How? Well, let's take one small fact that made me hugely different from the supposedly average American teen. When I was a teenager I believed my parents had my best interests at heart, that they were more experienced and wiser than me, and that I should listen to them. I could have been called many things as a teen but disobedient was not one of them.

And strangely enough, most of my friends were the same. Perhaps they weren't as obedient to the extreme that I was (if I recall correctly, one of my friends did lie about going to that concert that one time and pulled a classic "I'm spending the night at so-and-so's house" trick. But that's really the only example of disobedience I can think of).

However, since I was so obedient, I can't recall a single time my parents said no to me when I asked to do something. I had no curfew because I so rarely went out, and when I did go out if the event required that I couldn't be back until three in the morning my parents understood. I was trustworthy. I wasn't going to get into trouble.

Because you can get into sooo much trouble at a LOTR movie marathon.

So when some people read my WIP they respond, "Teenagers don't behave this way." To which my response is always, "Uh, I was a teenager four years ago....", followed by, "Do you believe that because that's what TV tells you how a teenager should behave or because you know teenagers who behave that way?"

I suppose because of my strangeness there are a couple of teenagers stereotypes that really really frustrate me, because I've seen no evidence of these stereotypes in my life.

1. Every fifteen-year-old girl is fretting about her first kiss--because it has to happen by the time you're sixteen. Umm...yeah. I didn't date in high school. Out of a friend group of around eight girls, only two dated in high school. I have friends who are college graduates who still haven't dated. So yeah. I'm fairly certain this isn't as big a deal as books/movies make it out to be. And please, please, please do not "update" this by saying every high schooler is worried about their "first time" having sex. Because this is absolutely not true. Some are, sure, but NO ONE I was friends with was. It's hard to worry about sex when you've never even held a boy's hand, and we were all highly logical. The risks did not outweigh the benefits.

2. Teenage boys are incapable of rational/logical thought when confronted with a hot girl. I never once saw this. Ever. My teenage guy friends were highly logical. My favorite example is that one of my friends was offered by his girlfriend, sex as a way to celebrate their six month anniversary. Not only did my male friend turn her down, he broke up with her. He recognized that sex in high school is not always the most wise decision. He was thinking with his brain...and not so much other body parts.

3. Algebra sucks. Please. Can we move past this? Algebra is EASY. And before you "update" this to make it "calculus sucks", can we please recall that Calculus is in fact EASIER than Algebra? If you want to complain about matrix multiplication, be my guest. You want to complain about all those stupid trig tricks you have to memorize? Go ahead. But calculus? Algebra? Really? Really???? Can we move beyond 1980?

4. Popularity. Every belief you hold about popularity is wrong. A) Not everyone wants to be popular. B) If you went to a large school like I did "popularity" is literally impossible. The odds of seven thousand students all knowing the same five are ridiculous. C) Beautiful, mean, hot girls are not the popular ones. Ever. All the girls I know who got elected to popular things were in fact really nice. Beautiful, yes, still true, but definitely the nicest people ever. Meanness is a straight track to being hated. Teens aren't stupid. D) Being a nerd doesn't mean you can't be popular. I was Captain of the Woodwind Section, Captain of the Quiz Bowl Team, President of Latin Club, and Founder and President of our chapter of the Science National Honor Society. And I was elected to prom court. So yeah. Take that supposed social norms. Basically, all of this is to say that the '80s were a long time ago. The Breakfast Club is no longer true. Get over it.

So these are just a few of the stereotypes that bother me and that I didn't see reflected in my years of high school, oh so long ago (2001-2005). Anyone else out there have stereotypes that really annoy them? Anyone else realize that teens aren't just emotion driven creatures of hormone?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Travel

Sorry guys! This week has been crazy. I'm traveling for work and for a bridal shower and that has added insanity to my life. But I promise I will be back in full force next week.

I solemnly swear (I'm up to no good).

Sorry, Harry Potter still isn't out of my system.






Mischief managed.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Geek out???

I know I didn't post anything today. One of my friends from high school came to visit me and we had a grand time. I saw the seventh Harry Potter movie again (I got the privilege of seeing it at a pre-screening on Tuesday) and then when we went to the adult night at the local children's science museum.

Yes, a bunch of engineers running around the science museum playing with everything. It was awesome.

So you'll have to forgive my lack of post. But you can look back at yesterday's post on Harry Potter, which was sort of a geek out. :)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Harry Potter

(Another late post. Forgive me. I'm not trying to make this a habit. It doesn't help that I live in Mountain Time now either.)

I've written about Harry Potter three times before on this website. Once, I reviewed the sixth movie. Another time I spoke about The Harry Potter Generation--how the books brought my family together and made me friends I never had before. Then I talked about how Harry Potter introduced me to even greater books--how it literally changed my life.

And today is the day it all ends. The end of an era.

But today is also Thursday, so I'm supposed to talk about my faith. But I can get away with talking about Harry Potter today, because Harry Potter has been one of the most controversial Christian topics in recent history. (You know that and gay marriage. Somehow, I feel like Harry Potter should be a more trivial concern, but that's just me).

So how do I as a Christian rationalize reading Harry Potter? Well it's actually really easy.

Harry Potter isn't real. Can I say that again? Do you get that? HE'S NOT REAL. I may have been 11 when I started reading Harry Potter, but I wasn't stupid. Kids aren't stupid. We get it. Harry Potter is not real.

Yet somehow parents, who spend years convincing their children that there is a man in a red suit who sneaks into their house once a year to give them presents, condemn something that everyone accepts as not real.

Some people argue that Harry Potter is a gateway into witchcraft, which is clearly denounced in the Bible. However, I think there is a definition difference here. Witchcraft in the Bible seems to be calling upon spirits and using dark powers to do something. Wizardry (and witchcraft) in Harry Potter is not the same.

Even if at 11, had I thought Harry Potter was real, I would never have "tried to become a witch". Why? Because it's more like being a Jedi. You can't become a wizard. You're born a wizard. I received no letter at the age of 11 asking me to come to a magical school, so obviously I'm not a wizard by the definitions of Harry Potter.

As for Harry Potter not being a "Christian book" in general, if my parents had limited me to only "Christian books", I fear for what my reading level would have been. I love God. I love Jesus. I love my beliefs and my faith. But I do not love Christian literature. Most of it is poorly written and it patronizes the reader--even the adult ones.

So if I'm allowed to read The Sweet Valley Twins and The Boxcar Children, which aren't Christian books--where is the line?

As for the argument that Harry Potter is a bad role model because he disregards the rules and has no respect for teachers--I challenge that someone who makes this argument ever read this book. Harry respects the teachers who deserve his respect. He does not respect Snape because Snape treats him so poorly and unfairly. I would not respect a teacher like that either. Yet despite his disrespect for Snape, he rarely directly challenges him. And in the end, (slight spoiler! Skip to the next paragraph if you haven't read the books or seen the movie) Harry learns that not only was Snape worthy of respect, but he was the bravest man he ever knew.

Also, I would challenge the person making such an argument to find a middle grade fiction book where the protagonists actually obeys his elders. It doesn't exist.

I am 24 years old, and I have read Harry Potter for over half of my life. And I love my God with an undying devotion, and I uphold the teachings of the Bible higher than anything else. Clearly, Harry Potter has not scarred me for life. If anything, I believe Harry Potter has made me a better person and has made me a better Christian.

You have the right to believe whatever you wish, but I believe in God. And I don't think God is upset with me for having read and enjoying Harry Potter. I think He used it as a tool to teach me about friendship, good, evil, snap judgements, and how to socialize with my peers. He could have done it without Harry Potter, but I am grateful that He chose to use Harry Potter to teach me these things.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Navy Girl in an Air Force Town

(I know my post is late! But better late than never! Here is a Western Wednesday.)

My father was in the Navy, so in many ways I was "raised in the Navy." I know a lot of the weird Navy quirks and traditions. However, Albuquerque is an Air Force town, thanks to Kirtland Air Force Base, and aerospace engineering is in many ways an Air Force business. So I've had recent encounters with Air Force members.

I have two friends in the Air Force who I see regularly. They're my age and my friends, so there is no need for me to call them by their rank. But as my friends know, I often like to call people by their Jane Austin names. Not out of any love of Jane Austin, but because I feel there are some occasions that call for a little bit of formality. For example, if I'm a little bit angry at my friend I'll call him "Mr. Last Name". Or if I'm just in a formal feeling mood.

So on two occasions I called one of my Air Force friends "Mr. Last Name" within hearing of my other Air Force friend. The one I called Mister didn't seem to mind, but both times the other friend corrected me. "Captain Last Name" she said.

I was completely miffed by this. I mean, not because of the title. I get titles. I would never call my boss "Mr. Last Name" even if I was angry at him, because he's a PhD. I would call him "Dr. Last Name." However, I was fairly certain that for junior officers, which a captain in the Air Force is, Mister was a perfectly acceptable form of address. If this was a mistake, it was a mistake I'd been making all my life with Naval officers.

So I asked my dad. And thus struck my Navy upbringing.

Mister is a perfectly acceptable form of address for a junior officer in the Navy, he told me, but not the Air Force.

So you can call an Ensign Mister--like they do in Star Trek. But you can't call a Lieutenant Mister. Even though they're basically the same thing, just different branches.

It's not a big deal. From now on, when feeling formal or upset, I'll call my friend "Captain Last Name". But it’s just another example of culture shock--not necessarily a Southern culture to a Western one, but a Navy culture to an Air Force one*.

I had never before really thought about how being raised Navy affected my culture, but there it is--it does. It'll probably take a couple of corrections until I remember that. I'd never call a high ranking officer "Mister". You don't do that in the Navy either. So at least I shouldn't be making any big errors in this Air Force town. At least, I hope not. Hopefully, there aren't a lot of other Navy tendencies I've learned that will get me in trouble.

*Not to be confused with THE "Air Force One". :)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

RANdom capiTALIzation SyNDrome

If you're not an engineer, it's possible you've never experienced this. And its possible that if you're not an engineer who is in the aerospace industry or ever worked for or with the government you've never experienced this. But for those of us who are aerospace engineers, whose lives revolve around government organizations like NASA, we tend to have this syndrome quite badly.

You see the government is a world made of abbreviations and acronyms. I have received entire emails written in acronyms and abbreviations. It's really insane. There are possibly good reasons for this, like its basically writing in code so if anyone intercepts your email they can't understand it. But sometimes its just crazy.

But if you work in the aerospace industry or for the government, no matter how crazy you think it is, at some point you will find yourself uttering a sentence that sounds like this "Hey, I'm going to the VAB to work on the MLE with my LDE. Don't forget tomorrow I have RDO and my LT has PT, so we'll be MIA."

Utter nonsense.

Then if you continue working in the aerospace industry or the government, something nefarious will start to happen to your brain. You will start thinking that things that aren't acronyms actually are. You'll forget which words require capitalization and which don't. And to be on the safe side, you'll start capitalizing everything.

For myself personally, I see this most often with the word "CubeSat." A CubeSat, for those who don't know, is a little 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm satellite. Basically "CubeSat" is an abbreviation of "Cubical Satellite"; hence, only the C and S need to be capitalized to show the beginning of each word. Yet for some reason, I want to call it a CubeSAT. As if SAT is an acronym for something. Of course, it is in other worlds. The SAT is a huge test. But that doesn't apply here.

The other day I was writing down some instructions when I paused. Is the word MOSFET all capitalized or not? I want to say it is, but I don't know. And Cornell's Violet mission. Is it Violet or is it VIOLET?

I realized at that point, I had full blown Random Capitalization Syndrome, or RCS.

There is no cure for RCS. Even if you leave the aerospace industry--or the government--you will find you do this for years after. You will have relapses when the news reports NASA's latest findings. There is no escape, no cure, no hope.

And the worst thing is, you can never even get your acronyms and abbreviations straight. All the different branches of the government use the same acronyms to mean different things. What some people call a 9/80 schedule, others call RDO. While VAB might stand for the "Vehicle Assembly Building" in can also stand for "Virginia Associations of Broadcasters." And one satellite might just be a word, like Violet. But another satellite will be an acronym, like MESSENGER. (Heck, if you want to see a perfect case of RCS, MESSENGER is it: MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging (MESSENGER). Methinks, someone was trying a little too hard to find an acronym).

The truth is that you can never be sure in this business what something stands for or if it should be capitalized. So every year RCS gets worse and worse. Essentially, we're doomed.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Plotting

When it comes to writing, I've always considered myself a "pantser" or a "gardener". For the uninitiated, let me explain.

All writers essentially fall into one of two camps. They are either pantser/ gardeners or plotter/architects. Pantser/Gardeners tend to write by the seat of their pants, or in the secondary metaphor, by having an idea and the nurturing it without being entirely sure what its going to grow up into. Plotter/Architects like to plot everything out before hand and plan everything out.

Though I sometimes make crazy excel charts that relate to my stories, they're rarely plot related. Usually they keep track of characters and their histories. My excel charts might "plot" out the lives of my characters that led them up to the story, but I never actually plan out what the story might be. I generally have a point A and a point B. I know where to start and where I want to end, but what goes on inbetween is up for grabs.

Well, yesterday, that all changed.

For the past week I've been working hard on my story "The Descent of Chris Chappell." You might have noticed that the word count on my Works In Progress page has increased by 10,000 words. I did not "plot" out per say this first 36,000 words; however, I did write it in a different fashion then I normally do. When it comes to chapters, usually I just sit down and write and then break where it feels right. But this time when writing, I know what event I wanted to reach by the end of each chapter. It was strange.

So yesterday, I reached "the event" that I had been working towards with this 36,000 words, the event I decided was a huge change/twist in the plot and would therefore mark the end of the "first part" of the story. I then sent out the story to my critiquers. I don't want to go much further until I have feedback, in case I need to make huge changes.

However, I was feeling restless. I wanted to know what was going to happen next in my story. I knew where I wanted my story to end, but I had no idea how I was going to get the characters from the end of Part 1 to the climax of my story. There were things that needed to happen and the characters needed to change and develop for those things to happen. And I couldn't see it.

But I did have some ideas. So I thought "heck, why don't I write my few ideas down?" So I broke out some index cards and colored markers. I assigned each character a color, even non-main characters, and started writing down my ideas on each notecard. As I wrote my ideas down, more ideas came. But I had to keep track of them all, when my ideas would happen in the plot. So I started laying the notecards out chronologically. But I had too many cards for my desk! So I started taping them to the wall.

And suddenly we got the monstrosity you see in the picture above. My entire novel plotted on notecards.

It's insane. It's crazy! I've never done anything like this. But it feels good. Now when I next sit down to write, I know exactly what I should write.

Granted, these cards don't cover everything that will happen. If I had written out everything that was going to happen, I would have written the novel. But they cover all the big plot points that essentially each chapter should be working towards. And I completely discovered how the climax is going to work. It's crazy how some things clicked together. Crazy how things I "just made up" because they seemed to fit clicked together to make the climax work at the end. I mean that's how a story is supposed to work, but it's still amazing.

I don't know if I'm going to forever change my ways and become a plotter/architect, but for this story, I think it has definitely helped me see the way forward. Who knows! Maybe this is the start of a new era in my writing.

If you're a writer reading this, are you a panters or a plotter? Have you ever tried writing using the other method?

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Movie Channel Conspiracy

I think movie channels are purposefully working with my favorite SF/F things to keep me out of the loop. I don't know why. Maybe my geek status has ratcheted to such heights that they feel the need to knock me down a few. Maybe they just hate me. I don't know, but I would like it to stop.

When "A Game of Thrones" premiered on HBO, I let it slide. A Song of Ice and Fire is not my favorite fantasy series. I'm pretty sure it scarred me for life by exposing me to sexual acts I never wanted to know about. It might be a good series, but lets all be honest with ourselves. It's rated at least NC-17. (Wait, is that a rating, or the number on the Enterprise? I can never remember and I'm constantly getting them confused.) I would have liked to have given the show a try, but I understand. I have no expectations that George R.R. Martin would try to appease me, since I'm not a huge fan.

But Torchwood? Really? Come on! How can they lock me out of the Whoniverse? I need to see this. "Children of Men" left me with nightmares and questions. I can't leave it like that. I need my Captain Jack Harkness. I need to know how he can get on with his life after what he did. I need to know if Gwen and her husband are going to stick it out. I need to know how the universe can go on.

Just thinking about how I can't watch it in another two and a half hours, when it comes on, is making me sad. Why did they have to put it on Starz? I mean, I understand they can have more gratuitous sex by putting it on a movie channel, but Torchwood did fine on regular cable before, or at least BBCA. Just put it on the Syfy channel and show it late at night so kids don't stumble upon it. Pleeeease. *sad puppy dog eyes*

Please don't separate me from my Captain Jack Harkness. The real Captain Jack. The only Captain Jack. Johnny Depp doesn't hold a candle to him.

So if anyone out there knows where to go to watch Torchwood online, I would really really appreciate it. I'm counting on you geek community.