Category Archives: Musings

Cutting My Nails

I know that’s an odd title, but it will make sense in a minute!

You know the feeling when you have a big project looming; it might be a household chore, such as cleaning the cellar, or a work project that just needs undivided time. If you’re like me, you think about it long before it actually happens; but there comes that moment when you make the decision to tackle it. Perhaps to do so, you need to make a purchase (like clear plastic boxes to help you organize the cellar), or something needs to happen before the project begins, but once you’ve done that something, it will happen.

Nail Art Inspiration

What my nails looked like until yesterday. Photo credit: Instagram 8715

Well, that’s where cutting my nails comes in: I have very hard nails; cutting and filing them takes about an hour, and usually, I can’t be bothered so I let them grow, keeping them oval-shaped as they go. I enjoy doing nail art, so I’ve been experimenting (this photo was my inspiration when I painted my [longer] nails last week, and it came out looking exactly like the image, minus the cool ring!). But long nails also kill my keyboards – I’ve at length (no pun intended) resorted to keyboard letter stickers; as long as the keys still work, other people can find their way around my keyboards. Even at that, when writing a novel, I go through a keyboard a year (e.g. the letters stop working).

 

Lately, I’ve been working on short stories, and doing a bit of “spring cleaning” in my writing files – projects half done (what I call my “PHDs”),  ideas that want fleshing out, etc. and so I haven’t had to cut my nails. But now I’m getting ready to tuck into my next novel – this time science fiction. And so, today, I cut my fingernails. For me, it’s an act that means I’m serious about this project; in my mind, it moves from “hobby” to “profession” by that simple act.

Maybe there’s a project you want to work on, but something’s keeping you from digging into it. I write this to encourage you to go for it! Take that step, whatever it is, that’s between you and getting down to brass tacks about your goal. Cut your nails; clean off your writing desk to eliminate distractions; buy those boxes if you need them; simplify life; get rid of the clutter that keeps you from your goal. Then enjoy that sweet moment when you reach that goal, or begin a new chapter in your life, figuratively or (as in my case) literally.

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Finding Time

Lately, I’ve been thinking about time; how much we have in a day, how fast it passes, and that days never seem to be long enough. In dwelling on time, is it a waste of time? Is productivity only what our hands produce, or does it include, in our perception, what our minds ruminate on? Obviously, the trail led me to idioms about time.

What idioms or phrases do you use to describe your day? I use one phrase about four times a week, as I write it in my journal to describe my day in a nutshell before I go into details: “Hit the Ground Running” (I just write HTGR). I’m grateful for the days I don’t use it… those days are like a secret stash of chocolate to be enjoyed (if you knew my husband, you’d know that’s a matter of self-preservation – but don’t tell him. Hoi, Schätzli). The phrase, etymologically speaking, came into use in the late 19th century, but really, well, hit the ground running during World War 2: It became a popular way of describing deployment from ships or parachuting into combat. Later it moved to a figurative sense; some days, I use it both literally and figuratively.

'Here's my plan,you hit the ground running.'

Here is a collection of idioms about using one’s time. Let me know if you use any of them regularly. If you know of any others, please share it in the comments below!

A day late and a dollar short

Against the clock

A good time

A hard time

A laugh a minute

A matter of time

A mile a minute

A month of Sundays

Around the clock

As honest as the day is long

A whale of a time

Beat the clock

Behind the times

Better late than never

Bide one’s time

By degrees

Call it a day/night

Call time (on something)

Carry the day

Catch someone at a bad time

Clock in, clock out

Crack of dawn

Crunch time

Day in the sun

Day to day

Dog Days

Donkey’s years

Don’t know whether to wind a watch or bark at the moon

Do time

Dwell on the past

Eleventh hour

Feast today, famine tomorrow

Five o’clock shadow

For the time being

From now on

From time to time

Have one’s moments

Have time on one’s side

Here today, gone tomorrow

High time

Hit the big time

One day, he hoped to hit the big time.

Hour of need

In an instant / In the blink of an eye

In the interim

In the long run

In the right (wrong) place at the right (wrong) time

In this day and age

Just in the nick

Kill time

Like clockwork

Like there’s no tomorrow

Long time no see

Make my day

Make time

Not in a million years

No time like the present

No time to lose

Now and then

Now or never

Once in a blue moon

Once upon a time

Only time will tell

Pressed for time

Serve time

Shelf life

Sooner or later

Stand the test of time

Stuck in a time warp

Take one day at a time

The moment of truth

The ship has sailed

The time is ripe

The time of one’s life

Time for a change

Time flies

Time heals all wounds

Time is money

Time is of the essence

Time off for good behaviour

Too much time on one’s hands

Turn back the hands of time

Until hell freezes over

Waste of time

Wasting time

When the moon turns to blood

Year in, year out

Time_Well_Wasted

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Pareidolia

You’ve probably all heard of the “freeze, flight or fright” instinct (also known as the acute stress response, or hyperarousal) we all react with when facing a danger; it’s what our bodies automatically do to protect us. Pareidolia is related to that; it’s the name for something every human on the planet has probably experienced at some point in their lives: The tendency to interpret a shape or combination of objects as a recognizable entity or face. if we can recognize something as a friend or foe, our bodies can respond appropriately.

If we are walking in a dark forest at night and hear a twig snap, our heart races and adrenaline pumps through our veins; if we then recognize a shadowy silhouette as a bunny rather than a wolf, our body relaxes and we’ll laugh to ourselves for being silly (until we realize that bunnies should be asleep at night, and so this one must either be a were-rabbit or a zombie, but I digress). However, if the shadowy shape turns out to be a wolf, we’ll run. This is an example of the acute stress response; but Pareidolia is when we make wolves out of shoes and trousers hanging over a chair in a dark bedroom. The monsters in the closet that turn out to be a woollen jumper. The house that always seems to be smiling because of the arrangement of windows and doors.

Pareidolia is the rife playground in the imagination of many creative occupations such as cartoonists and CGI designers, and like anything else, if you focus on something, you’ll begin to see it everywhere. Once you’ve seen a smiling face in the headlights and bumper of a particular car model, it’s hard to unsee it.

So, just to put a smile on your face and on the face of an electric plug, here are a few pictures of pareidolia, gathered from Google (if you recognize one as yours, just let me know and I’ll give you the credit due!!). Some are a bit more challenging to see, like the yoda on the pig’s forehead or the downward-looking profile in the elephant’s ear, but once you’ve seen them, you’ll know! If you’ve got any examples of pareidolia, please share them in the comments below! 🙂

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Columbus’s Egg

1200px-columbus_breaking_the_egg'_(christopher_columbus)_by_william_hogarth

Columbus Breaking the Egg, by William Hogarth, 1752

At the end of December, I began a new training course in crafting short stories; this has renewed my interest in finding good writing prompts. By focusing on something, you usually begin to see things related to it everywhere you go. For instance, if you’re doing a puzzle and focus on the edges, you’ll begin to see them right under your nose where they’d been all along – you just hadn’t seen them before because you’d been focused on a specific colour or a particular section.

My brain is usually on rapid-fire mode; in any given second, dozens of topics flash through my thoughts. Reaching into this stream and pulling out one particular topic to focus on can lead to interesting, related issues, and Columbus’s Egg is one of the results.

The original thought that I plucked from the stream this morning was, “How do you actually spell Kobayashi Maru?” (I know, right? I’m sure you had exactly that thought as soon as your feet hit the ground this morning; it’s just that my “morning” began this afternoon as I wrote through the night and got to bed at 9:30 this morning…) By looking it up, I came across the apocryphal story about Columbus:

The story goes that Christopher Columbus, while attending a dinner, was confronted with Spanish scoffers who said that, had he not been the first to discover the Americas, someone else would have done so. He made no answer but asked a servant to bring him an egg (presumably a boiled one). He then challenged everyone present: They must try to get an egg to stand on its end, with nothing to support it in that position. Everyone tried and failed; when it was Columbus’s turn, he tapped the tip of the egg on the table, and the crushed, flat end made the egg remain upright. the moral was that a solution is obvious to everyone, but only once it has been found by someone else.

brunelleschi's dome, duomo of florence

the dome of the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral

The story is recorded in Girolamo Benzoni’s History of the New World, published in 1565, as he related it to Columbus, but it is likely apocryphal as the same anecdote was circulating 15 years previously about the architect of the dome of the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral in Florence, Italy.

My original thought’s term, Kobayashi Maru, is a term that any Trekkie will be familiar with: It was a no-win scenario designed to test Star Fleet cadets’ characters in the face of certain defeat. The term has gone beyond Star Trek and is used in business to illustrate the importance of changing the rules of the game in order to win, i.e. re-evaluating the foundation of a particular business scenario.

There are other such related terms, such as the Gordian KnotCatch-22, and the Archimedean point. All of these concepts are about thinking outside the box, which is exactly what I try to do as a writer.  If you’re also a writer, catch those thoughts – write them down, and let them foment into something interesting! Keep writing!

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Filed under Articles, Etymology, History, History Undusted, Links to External Articles, Musings, Nuts & Bolts, Research, Writing Prompt

‘Tis the Season (Already)!

I can hardly believe it’s November already – where did this year go?  It’s moving so fast that I have started preparing for Christmas already. Now, I know that for most Americans it may come as a shock that I’ve waited so long – don’t you lot start in August? 😉

I was discussing the cultural differences of Christmas traditions with a Swiss neighbour recently, and I mentioned the fact that I have an aversion to the opulence of the average American household’s decorations. If an American came to Switzerland during Christmas, they’d probably think that the Swiss forgot to decorate! Outside lights (minimal and usually non-blinking, as not to disturb the neighbourhood), tree (minimally decorated, and in most households, it’s set up on Christmas Eve), advent wreath, advent calendar, done. Maybe a front door wreath, but not usually.  Maybe a nativity set, but not always.

Most of our decorations are made by yours truly; with the exception of a wedding-year ceramic ornament, all other ornaments are either embossed tin, or crochet, or paper mache, though we do have a small set of glass ornaments, too. Our presents are not wrapped but put into reversible cloth gift bags that I made a few years ago because I disliked the waste of wrapping paper. And we’ve used the same silk tree for about 15 years; I didn’t like the environmental waste of chopping down a live tree for a couple weeks’ enjoyment, just to toss it out again. It looks like the real thing and is storable.

I do a LOT of upcycling crafts, and this past week I had a creative streak; our church will be having a creche display, and they asked me if I could have some items to sell when visitors come. I made dozens of tin ornaments, and have on hand a few dozen plarn bags to sell as well.

Besides such preparations, I’ve begun planning for our family Christmas dinner, which will be here this year, as requested by my nieces (they stay overnight, and take over the upper floor for a party). A few years ago, on a whim, I decided to make a traditional American Christmas dinner with turkey & co. (I would have gone for British, but couldn’t get a goose at the butcher’s or find Christmas crackers), and they wanted that once again. The first time I prepared it, I ordered the largest turkey I could get, which was 3 kg. (~6.5 lbs.); for 15 people, that was WAY too much!! But try as I might, I couldn’t find instructions anywhere online for such a small bird on American sites; the lowest end of their cooking time graphs started at 8-12 lbs. [An interesting note: IKEA had to make American dining tables much larger than they sell in Europe, and it’s mainly due to the load of food served at their holidays, including the size of the turkey; in fact, they had to supersize everything for America, from drinking glasses to chairs to sofas…]

I managed to get the turkey cooked in time, and I made notes for the next round. But in that process, I recognized many cultural differences between what I grew up with in America, and what I am used to, having lived in Europe for over 30 years: The simpler approach to the season of Christmas, not only in decorations but in the whole materialistic aspect. Here, it’s not about the biggest, the brightest, the loudest, or the most; it’s about family, friends, taking time with loved ones, and eating a nice meal that won’t break the bank or the scales! Our Christmas decorations and lights fit into 2 boxes; my mother recently told me about helping one woman decorate her home for Christmas; she had an entire walk-in closet filled with hundreds of decorative pillows, and her basement was lined with shelves for nothing but her seasonal decorations… mercy me – that woman’s collection could decorate dozens of Swiss homes.  If that’s what makes someone enjoy Christmas, then so be it; but it’s not for me!

Some people dislike the fact that Christmas decorations and sale items have already appeared in stores here, but I don’t mind it this early – I can get my shopping done before the first of December (including advent calendar gifts, and Samichlaussäckli fillings [6 December]), and leave the last-minute panic up to others. If you haven’t begun preparations for the season, you might think about how you want to celebrate Christmas, and perhaps find ways to avoid stress or trying to keep up with the Joneses.  In the meantime, I’ll share a few ideas for upcycling crafts and decorations – make it yourself and save money, spare the environment and natural resources, and enjoy the satisfaction of doing something with your hands! For more ideas, check out my Pinterest boards.

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Square Eyes

word-500x392

How my brain looks at the moment…

 

I’ve been staring at the computer screen so much the past few weeks that everything else in life got put on the back burner (including this blog – my apologies!). I could afford to do this because my husband’s been away on his annual hiking & biking holidays, so I could focus on huge chunks of editing for (10-14) hours at a time. I’ve taken the stereotype of authors as hermits to the limits, I must say! And I enjoy it for the moment. With minimal appointments/classes/students during this period, I’ve gotten a LOT done: I’ve been updating/tweaking/editing the already-published novels because they needed to be uploaded again anyway (due to new releases, and broken links*).

This simple goal opened a pandora’s box of issues – like the fact that I’ve realised that I need to keep an active eye on Amazon; they manage to screw up things on a regular basis with links to books, links to my Author Page, and external links to my blog.  They don’t care that their mistakes cost me readers. And not just Amazon.com – but .de and co.uk… that translates to, ideally (heavy dose of sarcasm) checking 10 book links per website times 3… regularly. Obviously, I have nothing else to do with my time.

That’s one issue; another is something I’ve recently become aware of, and I think anyone publishing e-books using Word as a basis-format needs to be aware of: Start off your manuscript with a “nuclearized” version – NO formatting, and turning off all Word auto-corrects and auto-formats.  Word tends to add hidden bookmarks to help navigate through a manuscript; however, these can also mess up your final version if you’re sending it off as Word to be *converted by the end-publisher. That means, go to “Insert”, click “bookmark”, and unclick / re-click the “hidden bookmarks” checkbox. Anything beginning with _(gibberish) needs to be deleted. The bad news: each one has to be deleted individually (unless you pay for a tool like Kutools for Word)! I just did one of my e-books, and I had 280 superfluous bookmarks… Joy.

Once I get this all done, the next phase begins: Preparing all 5 e-book manuscripts for release on another website, Smashwords. They use what they affectionately call “the Meatgrinder” – a program that converts a nuked document into the various formats through which they distribute.  That means sifting through a 120-page PDF for grains of useful info in a vat of chafe – things I already know (like how to copy/paste!). They leave no stone unturned, but I still need to read through it and prepare my personalized list of editing/formatting points.

Every time I look at my to-do list at the moment, I take a few deep breaths. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, however: When I start work on my next manuscript, it will be nuclearized from the get-go; putting pure practices into effect from the beginning will (hopefully) save me a lot of headaches later on when it comes time to publish again!

In a few days, I hope to emerge from the cave to become a modern, socializing human again – in the meantime, just gimme a cuppasoup and turn off the phone, please.

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Obscurities: Dustsceawung

Obscure 13

A word might become obscure because it falls out of use, or another word comes along that can do the job better; sometimes it’s because a word might be hard to pronounce at first glance, and sometimes it’s because the concept it represents falls into obscurity, dragging the word down with it.  I would say that the latter two reasons apply to today’s word: Dustsceawung. A noun, it means the viewing or contemplation of dust. The “contemplation” aspect also leads to a second definition: The reflection of former civilizations and peoples, and on the knowledge that all things return to dust.

In our fast-paced world, not many people take the time to contemplate dust. But I would argue that, now more than ever, such times of contemplation are healthy – even necessary – to give us a balanced perspective on life. So next time you dust your house or your car dashboard, be grateful you have a roof over your head or transport…take some time to enjoy a bit of dustsceawung, contemplating the good things in your life.

“In order to improve the mind, we ought less to learn, than to contemplate.”
Rene Descartes

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Thoughts about Props

The past fortnight I’ve been doing something that requires occasional brain-power but mostly just time, hands and space:  I’ve been making props (see below) – to be precise, a stage-prop sized crown (that will serve as a piñata, and then an offering basket), and a life-sized helmet, shield, and sword (the latter is still in progress).  In between those times of brain-work, I started to wonder where the word prop came from, and where it’s gone over its lifetime in English. And when did props become another word for congratulations, good job? It’s a noun, a verb, and an entire phrase or concept.

As an object used in a play, it came into English as properties and was in use in that theatrical context from the early 15th century; it became props around 1840 (we’re not the only generation to shorten words for convenience). In German, the word is “das Requisit” which is related to the English word “requisite” (indispensable, required, essential) which is kinda the point of theatre props.  Prop can also be used to mean support, both literally (for plants and the like) and figuratively (e.g. when a person is in a position of either authority or notoriety for no reason – yet not quite the same as a goldbrick, shirker, malingerer, or tool).  It can be the shortened term for a propeller (e.g. prop plane or turboprop), or proposal (e.g. a political issue up for vote). Props as a shortened slang for proper respect due for (a job well done) started popping up around 1999. In that context, it’s closely related to kudos (an uncountable noun meaning praise or accolades), which entered English as university slang in 1799, and comes from the Greek kydos meaning glory or fame (in battle).

That’s what I love about English – a simple word can have quite a pedigree!

DSCN9991DSCN9994DSCN9996DSCN0004

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Digital Echo Chambers

This article is longer than my usual blog, but please bear with me; the issues below affect all of us, and they are important to become aware of; after all, you can only keep an eye on something you see.

I watched a fascinating TED talk recently about an African American man, Theo E.J. Wilson, who went “undercover” online as a white supremacist.  He did it in order to try and understand where some of the internet trolls who were attacking him were coming from, and to try and discover where they were getting their “information” and ideas from.  His findings were insightful.

He discovered something that has become more and more obvious to me lately, and that is that we all live online in “digital echo chambers”.  The definition of echo chamber is “A room or other enclosed space that is highly conducive to the production of echoes, particularly one that has been designed and built for this purpose.  An insular communication space that is of no interest to outsiders or refuses their input.”

The echo chamber is harmless, though annoying, when it comes to shopping or interest feeds; but it can be catastrophic when it comes to life decisions and social or political views.

“If you surround yourself with voices that echo similar opinions to those you’re feeding out, they will be reinforced in your mind as mainstream, to the point that it can distort your perception of what is the general consensus.”

Alan Martin, Wired

Echo Chmaber

Big Brother

The question growing in my mind is, am I telling algorithms online what I want to see/hear/learn, or visa versa?  I’ll give a few examples of what I mean:

Sitting at my dining table chatting over a tea with a friend, our cell phones sat off to one side.  We were chatting about holidays, and she spontaneously mentioned Mallorca (Spanish islands).  The next time we looked online, we both had ads for Mallorca.  This has happened many times – that a live conversation in a private home, with no online searches previously made, have resulted in ads, or articles popping up in suggestions; the conclusion is that Google is listening in on your life.  If you don’t have your phone on airplane mode and your cameras blocked (I keep small post-its on both front and back cameras on my phones, as well as my laptop’s camera), chances are you’re giving away a lot more than you want to.  If you tend to say your passwords out loud as you’re typing them in, you may be giving them away.

Facebook & co.

Facebook, theoretically a social media site to connect with your friends, in reality decides what it is you see, and whose activities you see in your feed.  I haven’t been on Facebook regularly for several months now as I removed it from my home tabs on my browser; that one move has saved a lot of time otherwise being wasted!  Now, when I look on Facebook, I literally see the home feed activities from only a handful of friends out of 300+; most of what I now see in my home feed is Facebook ads, FB suggestions, memories they’ve selected, and unrelated video stream suggestions.  They’re trying to draw me in; but they’ve missed the memo that I’m only there for real connections with friends, and I intend to keep it that way.  Maybe I should turn on my phone’s Wi-Fi and say that out loud… [Keep in mind that Facebook, or Amazon, or Google are not “they” as in human faces seeing your information; they are algorithms designed to harvest it.]

The more time you spend online, the clearer your digital fingerprint becomes; the more the algorithms know about your likes and interests, the more they will feed you just that information.  The dark side of this is that, if someone has temptations in a particular area, they will be bombarded by tailor-made algorithmic choices, guiding them toward the thing they may be trying to avoid.  A recent article in our local newspaper stated that, according to Netzsieger, a comparison portal, 25% of all searches online are related to pornography.  Let that statistic sink in a moment.

.Com is not .Com

And were you aware of the fact that, if you are outside of the borders of the US, a certain monopolistic shopping portal beginning with “Amaz” has been discriminating against you?  The prices you see are not the prices an American within the borders of the US are seeing.  I found this out recently when I was running a sale on one of my books; the sales price was 99 cents; the usual price is $2.99.  But when I went on (I am a registered kindle customer at .com) to see if the sale had begun, the only price I saw was $3.56.  That’s nearly a 20% price increase; no sale in sight.  When I asked them about it, they gave a fluff algorithmic answer, but did not address the real issue.  And they never answered my question whether I, as author, am being paid commission on the higher price or not.

It makes me wonder what else they’re not telling me as both author and as customer, and what else they’ve been charging me more for (likely, everything) than if I lived within the borders of the US; as a result, I’ve taken my online shopping elsewhere.  I will be doing further investigation into this, and if you do online shopping, I would recommend you do the same, and call them on the carpet about it – write complaint emails, and make your voices heard!  Have friends in other countries check out the prices on the same website and product, and compare.

[Now I have another example of the digital eavesdropping:  I’ve been typing up this article in my Word program on my laptop – not directly into the WordPress blog; when I went onto Google to refresh my memory about percentage calculation, I began typing in, “how to calculate” – and it filled in “percentage” – with NO previous such search on my part… they didn’t choose “exchange rate” or any other more common option of mine…]

Breaking Out

So, how can we break out of our digital echo chambers and mess with the results of algorithms?  There are quite a few ways, actually:  Below are a few links to articles about that very topic.  I would encourage you to get informed, and put into action various methods to burst the digital bubble, and breathe in the fresh air outside your echo chamber.

Five Ways to Break Out of Your Online Echo Chamber

You can break out of your echo chamber – and here’s how

How To Break Out Of An Echo Chamber – Your Bubble

 Escape the echo chamber: How to fix your Facebook News Feed

5 Super Easy Ways to Eliminate Your Echo Chamber

Fake news, echo chambers and filter bubbles: Under-researched and overhyped

 

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Quintus Quotes: Dreams

C.S. Lewis - Never Too Old to DreamDream, DestinyColin Powell - Dream, Determination, Hard WorkDream, No Expiration Date, Try Again, Never Give UpRalph Waldo Emerson - Problems vs Dreams

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