Category Archives: Musings

Gibberish, Urban Legends & Life Hacks

Crypto NerdsAs I was surfing recently, I thought – as I frequently have – that most of the phrases and idioms used today would be incomprehensible 100 years ago.  Surfing, as related to the internet, came into use in 1993; Google (verb or noun form) would make no sense, nor would anything larger than a byte (bite), or (proxy) server, software, bandwidth, broadband, wireless, W-Lan, binary, bit, blog, blogosphere, browser, cookie (within the virtual context), cyberspace, domain, download, Email, Ethernet, intranet, extranet or internet, FAQ, firewall, network, GIF, hit, home page, host, and the list goes on!  I’m sure people at IT meetings could carry on entire conversations that would be utter gibberish to someone from the Roaring Twenties.

There are also phenomena that have arisen with the dawning of cyberspace and virtual reality; while the internet has opened up the world to those who know how to use it wisely, it’s also given room for things like nonsense gone viral or video tutorials by everyone and their cats and dogs.  Another consequence of the internet is the rapid dissemination of (mis)information; this is how urban legends arise:  Before verifying authenticity, people pass on the gossip, fake news or report; soon it’s been seen so often (and refined along the way, like any good fish tale) that people begin to believe it as proven fact.

Urban Legend Big FootExamples of urban legends are:  Alligators in the sewers of New York; Facebook privacy notice (that by posting a legal notice on your Facebook wall, it with protect your copyright and privacy rights); Giveaway hoaxes (usually someone wealthy, like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg), and that Facebook will start charging for use.

handkerchief-aomAnother thing that has arisen is actually an old habit gone virtual:  Life Hacks.  Before the dawn of the Cyber Age, such tips and tricks were passed down through generations, or from one neighbour to the other.  Now in the global village in which we live, life hacks are taught to us by people in Moscow, Sierra Leon, American, Japan, Argentina, and everywhere in between.  You can learn how to peel an entire head of garlic in 1 minute (it works, too!); how to turn a tin can into a camper stove; 50 ways to use a plastic drink bottle besides holding liquid; how to turn drinking straws into mini sealed containers for travelling; how to use pop tabs for anything from keychain loops to picture frame hangers to jewellery, and a thousand other hacks for the kitchen, household, wardrobe and travels.

If you’d like to learn a thing or two, below are a few links to life hack videos on YouTube; I’ve watched each one, and found interesting tips myself:

48 Must-Watch Life Hacks” (23:00)

12 Brilliant Things You Can Do With Your Devices” (9:50)

40 Smart Repair Tips to Make Your Life Easier” (15:00)

There are hundreds more where those came from!

My point?  Appreciate the fact that you understand most (if not all) Cyber Age gibberish; check your facts and avoid passing on or believing urban legends, and enjoy the benefits offered by such modern teaching tools as life hacks, instruction videos and tutorials online!

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Life, Calvin & Hobbes

Hi everyone!  In case you’re wondering, yep, I’m still here; real life has been busy, busy, busy!  By the time I’ve gotten time to write anything this past fortnight, I haven’t had the energy to do so.

I’ve been busy preparing my manuscripts and graphics for publication, in the midst of preparing and then sitting at a crafts fair for 2 days, selling my wares, and then bringing home a bug that stayed for a couple days as an unwanted guest.  I’ve also had more blood tests (all-clear on those, thank goodness!) in connection with the surgery I had in October; thankfully, the medication that I now take seems to have found an accurate balance from the outset, so that’s a relief.

In between the publishing process phases, I’m preparing my other books in various ways – adding new blurbs, etc., so I’m working with several checklists at once, and, I must say that the motivation is approaching “Christmas break” in my mind… it’s like teachers trying to motivate kids to focus in the week before holidays – ain’t happenin’ all that effectively!  But, just one step after the other, and I’ll get there eventually.  Before Christmas, that’s my only goal right now…

Speaking of Christmas, here’s a few Calvin & Hobbes cartoons to bring a smile to your face!

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Face it

I’ve been thinking about faces recently; a friend of mine will be having reconstructive surgery on her face to restore the tissue and structure that was eaten away by a rare condition, and we were talking about the psychological effects of such a procedure, and the influence it could have on one’s own sense of identity.

After that talk, I did a bit of research online about the psychology of the face, and I found a series of photo montages called “Facial Expressions Reference Project” (just search that phrase on google images to see what I mean).  What I found interesting about that series is that, though they used the basic range of emotions such as sad, or amused, confident or embarrassed, nearly every person’s interpretation was different.  It highlights not only the differences of opinions when it comes to labelling particular facial expressions, but also potential misunderstandings that can arise from the varying interpretations of this key form of nonverbal communication – especially when in a cross-cultural situation.  For example, when I lived in the Philippines, I had to get used to the fact that shaking their head side to side meant “yes”, and wiggling their head up and down meant “no” – the wiggle was to make “no” less direct, so as not to lose face or cause the other person to lose face.

This train of thought led me to wonder what kinds of English idioms refer to the face; there are dozens of them:  You can have a long-, poker-, fresh-, or a straight face, or a face that would stop a clock, or conversely, traffic, or have a face that only a mother could love; you can be (not) just another pretty face, put on a brave face or be blue/red in the face, have egg on your face, or be two-faced.  You can face the facts, consequences, the music, time, or, let’s face it, you can be in someone’s face, lose or save face, show your face (or not), stuff it, fall flat on it both physically and metaphorically, and – well, the list goes on and on.

Below is a series of celebrity photos, in various characters; as a writer, I find it helpful to have visual references when describing physicality in the written word, and this fun montage gives a wide range to choose from.  Enjoy, and keep writing!

 

Actors in Character

Actors in Character.  Original source, unknown:  Pinterest

 

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The Kintsugi of Life

I’m back!  My “loop” was successful, and I’m now back at home recovering, sans thyroid.  At the moment (due to the wound, bandage & internal bits & bobs), it feels like something’s strangling me constantly, but I try to ignore it…!  The hospital stay was mercifully short with a nice roommate and great care by the hospital personnel.  Now, I’m living on soup, testing the waters with vocal exercises, and resting my throat when it needs it – but need to challenge it as soon as the swelling goes down so that I don’t lose my vocal range.

When I let my friends and family on Facebook know what’s been happening, someone made a comment about the scar (hoping that it wouldn’t be visible long, for my sake); but I must confess that that aspect of the whole procedure was and is my least concern.  For me, scars mean that I’m alive; they mean that my body is healing itself.  They are a part of my history and have been instrumental in making me who I am.

The Japanese have a wonderful philosophy about the topic of scars:  Kintsukuroi (meaning “golden repair”) is the Japanese art of mending broken pottery using lacquer resin mixed with gold or silver.  They believe that when an object has been broken or suffered damage, it carries great meaning and history; its brokenness, when mended, makes it more beautiful.  The cracks represent events that took place in the history of the pottery and make it more unique by their very existence.  (Click here for a short but poignant video on the topic.)

In the western world, there is a shameful abundance of waste; if something gets broken, most people just throw it away.  But what if we were to adopt the Japanese mentality?  Chances are, we’d begin to look at the world around us through different lenses.  We would then begin to see the people around us from a different perspective.  Our modern media culture has become fixated on perfection (what they deem perfect changes over time; at the moment that standard tends toward the inane, the plastic, the uniform, and the anorexic, to put it bluntly); but this perspective can often blind people to the beauty of the unique and the diverse.

We should never be ashamed of our uniqueness; never be ashamed of grey hair, scars, or unique body features that make you who you are.  Eating right, exercising and treating ourselves with TLC are all that’s wanted; beyond that, we are what we are, warts and all.  We are all pieces of Kintsugi in the making, fearfully and wonderfully made.  Cracks just let your light shine through…

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Loops of Life

Roller Coaster Loops

Everyone’s got them; no one necessarily wants them:  Those moments in life when things go topsy-turvy and send us into tailspins.  I call them “loops of life” – like a loop on a roller coaster… they come up fast; you may dread the thought of it more than the actual experience warrants; and it’s over before you know it.

Life has thrown me a loop lately, and as it has affected, and will likely affect, my rhythm of posting blogs here for the next couple weeks, I’d like to thank you in advance for a bit of patience.

In the summer, I found a growth in my neck; I knew it was the thyroid gland, as I’d had one in the same spot 30 years ago; by the time life got back into swing here after the summer holidays, it had grown further; long story short, they found three large, benign masses which have completely consumed my thyroid gland – miraculously, however, they seem to have taken over its function and are working perfectly fine.  But it’s getting harder to speak, swallow, breathe, etc.  So, in 10 days I’ll get to check into a luxury hotel, aka the hospital, and undergo a 4-hour surgery; the surgeon will take her time, especially as I’m a singer and the vocal cords / nerves are extremely important to me, as you can imagine!

Since beginning this process, I’ve heard from so many people who are having (or have had) the same problem; it’s comforting to know I’m by no means alone in this, and others have come through it well and whole.  I may not post regularly for the next fortnight or so – but keep your eyes open!

Before the surgery, we’re going away for a much needed week’s holiday in Lugano, and are looking forward to it!  Our cats are looking forward to being spoilt by a live-in flat sitter, too, so it’s a win-win!

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Feeding the Right Wolf

Two Wolves

There’s an old Native American proverb about two wolves:  One is a black wolf, and the other, white.  The black wolf is everything that is bad, and the white one is everything that is good.  These wolves are constantly at battle inside each one of us:  Which wolf wins?  The one you feed.

This story has truth at its core, and we can apply this principle to any area of our lives:  Thoughts; diet; exercise; writing; speech; relationships; habits, and anything else you can think of.  Another adage comes to mind:  “Garbage in, garbage out” – what we feed ourselves (any part of our trinity, whether mind, body or spirit) is what will come out of us.  There are all kinds of sayings around this truth – roots and fruits, and all that.

Each one of us has a daily routine; it may vary greatly from person to person, but it’s there.  We all probably have habits we’d like to break; they could be things that are time- or energy-wasters, or habits like smoking or overeating.  I’d like to focus on the habits of writers.

Creativity, like caffeine, is a legal addictive substance; an addiction is formed from repeated applications (i.e. habit).  If we feed the right wolves, we will reach our goals, whatever they are, but if we feed the wrong wolves, we won’t – it’s that simple.  For some, it’s finishing the first chapter; for others, it’s publishing; for others, it might be collecting enough poems, artwork, or other creative forms until there’s enough for release (art show, cookbook, anthology, etc.).

Each creative expression has its own unique pair of wolves.  One common black wolf is what I would name “NEDs” – Negative Energy Drains.  It can be expressed through negative talk about yourself or your writing (whether its source is internal from a lack of self-confidence, or external from unsupportive environments or relationships), or a pressure placed on yourself (again, internal or external) to complete a goal based on unrealistic expectations.  Another common black wolf is “Ambiguity”:  As long as we don’t know what concrete steps to take to reach a goal, it’s difficult to move forward; as long as we allow ambiguity to feed, it will paralyze us.

In this scenario, the white wolves would be named PEFs (Positive Energy Feeds) and Preciseness.  Those might simply manifest themselves as speaking positively to yourself every time NED tries to speak or putting up positive post-its of where you’re going with your goals.  For the second wolf, define the steps needed – set yourself an appointment for the purpose of researching the steps, and finding concrete resources to help you reach your goals, then take one step at a time.  Keep that appointment.

Which wolf do you feed?

TwoWolves-black-white

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2o Things Creative People Understand

Chances are, if you’re following along with my musings, you’re like me – a creative type.  We’re an eccentric bunch, some more than others.  Personally, I’m also a pragmatist; the motto of my current book, and one that makes a lot of sense, is “it is what it is” – it’s what we make out of our circumstances that sets us apart or makes us a success or a failure.

But the creative side of me doesn’t know how to slow down; I’ve constantly got a dozen projects on the go, whether a book manuscript, a craft project, or a to-do list a mile long.  I’m constantly asking “why” (which used to drive my mother up the wall, I’m sure), and, like the Bereans (Acts 17:11), I don’t take things at face-value, but want to know for myself if it’s true or not – an invaluable trait, as far as I’m concerned, with so much crap and pseudo-news floating around cyberspace.  I create in bursts, with times of “percolation” in between – shifting gears to another creative outlet.  I need a place I feel comfortable in, to create; when I’m focused on a task, I can ignore the door, the phone, and any other interruption for hours on end.  The downside of that is that I need to force myself to get up, move around, and get some exercise occasionally!  That’s where my time management apps come in.

I came across an article recently about the things creative people do; I could relate to many of the points, but not all of them; after all, there’s no box that can contain everyone from any particular group; one introvert is not like another, and all that.  I’d like to invite you to click on the image below, and take a look at the article – see if you can recognize yourself in some of the points!  I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below.

creative-people

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How to Make a Positive Impact on the Climate

Most people know by now that our climate is changing; part of it is a natural cycle, but most of the recent changes are because of mankind’s carelessness and industrial advancements.  Intense storms, flooding, drought, fire, avalanches, landslides… and that’s all been within the past week.  Looked at as a whole, it might be overwhelming; people know changes need to be made, but what can one person do?  Quite a lot, actually – and if everyone begins changing certain habits to a greener alternative, the impact will be felt.  For your sake and mine, I’ve pulled together a list of things we can do:

Climate Changes

1. Get involved

Vote for green policies, support green campaigns and organisations, and get the word out to your friends and family about what they can do to become greener.

2. Be energy efficient

Switch off lights; change light bulbs to compact fluorescents or LEDs; wash clothes in cold or warm (not hot) water, and only when the load is full; hang dry your clothes when you can; keep your thermostat at minimum temperatures, and layer your clothes if you’re cool, or take off layers if you’re hot – don’t freeze your house in the summer, or heat it to the tropics in the winter.  Look for energy-efficient labels when buying new appliances.  If you’re thinking of moving, consider moving closer to your workplace, or closer to your usual shops – wherever you can to lower fuel consumption or allow alternative transport such as bike or bus.

3. Choose renewable power

Ask your utility company to switch your account to clean, renewable power, such as from wind farms, solar power, or earth-heat sources. If it doesn’t offer this option yet, ask it to.  The next time you need to buy an appliance, look for the greener brand.

4. Eat wisely

Buy organic and locally grown foods. Avoid processed items. Grow some of your own food. And eat low on the food chain — at least one meat-free meal a day if you’re not already vegetarian — since 18% of greenhouse gas emissions come from meat and dairy production.

5. Trim your waste

Garbage buried in landfills produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Keep stuff out of landfills by composting kitchen scraps and garden trimmings, and recycling paper, plastic, metal and glass, and donating things like clothes to charity shops. Let store managers and manufacturers know you want products with minimal or recyclable packaging.  If you do crafts or know anyone who does, upcycle.

6. Let polluters pay

Carbon taxes make polluting activities more expensive and green solutions more affordable, allowing energy-efficient businesses and households to save money. If your local government doesn’t have a carbon tax yet, ask your politicians to implement one.

7. Fly less

Air travel leaves behind a huge carbon footprint. Before you book your next airline ticket, consider greener options such as buses or trains, or try vacationing closer to home. You can also stay in touch with people by videoconferencing, which saves time as well as travel and accommodation costs.

8. Green your commute

Transportation causes greenhouse gas emissions, so walk, cycle or take transit whenever you can. You’ll save money and get into better shape! If you can’t go car-free, try carpooling or car sharing, and use the smallest, most fuel-efficient vehicle possible.

9.  Buy Less

Whether electronic items, or reusable grocery bags, you can reduce your carbon footprint by buying wisely, less often, and energy efficient.  Buy local or organic foods when possible; look for fair trade products, which not only give a better wage to the people producing the good but also tend to have cost-efficient transport; buy essentials in bulk to reduce plastic wrapping.  Recycle or upcycle that wrapping.  Use what you buy – don’t let foods go off, or buy any item around the house unless you need it and will use it. Buy products when possible that are sourced from sustainable programs – wood, paper, etc.  Don’t upgrade your cell phone until you must; that little gadget leaves a huge carbon footprint; and when you do upgrade your phone, make sure you recycle it. For every 1 million smartphones recycled, 35,274 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold and 33 pounds of palladium can be recovered.

10.  Unplug

Believe it or not, you may be spending more money on electricity to power devices when off than when on. Televisions, stereo equipment, computers, battery chargers and a host of other gadgets and appliances consume more energy when seemingly switched off, so unplug them instead.

11:  Shop Online

If you can’t buy something locally, or bike or walk to the shop, consider online shopping.  This is a catch-22, as local shops need your support; but if you have to drive further to find something, look for it online.  According to one study, in-store shoppers gave off slightly fewer carbon dioxide emissions than online shoppers at distances shorter than 8.6 miles. For longer distances, online shoppers’ footprints remained relatively stable, while brick-and-mortar shoppers’ emissions skyrocketed, up to 451.4 grams of carbon dioxide per transaction (when travelling more than 62 miles).  One UK study showed the average consumer would have to purchase 24 items at the market to make the trip equal to the carbon footprint of just one item ordered online.

12.  Carbon Footprint Awareness

What is your carbon footprint?  How many slaves do you use?  Become aware of what your past habits have done, and it will influence your future choices.  Here are a few links to help you figure out how you are impacting the environment:

How big is your environmental footprint?  Check out this Footprint Calculator

 How many slaves work for you?  Take this survey to find out.

Additional Information:

http://www.davidsuzuki.org/what-you-can-do/top-10-ways-you-can-stop-climate-change/

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/10-solutions-for-climate-change/

http://mashable.com/2014/05/15/climate-change-impact/#ILorIHWGeaqw

 

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History Undusted: Loch Eriboll, Scotland

map-loch-eriboll

Loch Eriboll and region.  Click to enlarge.

Loch Eriboll is a sea loch along the northern coast of Scotland, roughly 16 km (10 mi) long.  It’s been used (probably as long as inhabitants were in the area) as a safe anchor from the stormy seas off of Cape Wrath and the Pentland Firth.  Bronze Age remains can be found in the area, including the souterrain I wrote about recently.  There’s also a well-preserved wheelhouse on a hillside above the western shore, and on the small peninsula jutting out into the loch you’ll find the ruins of a small scale lime industry that developed there in the 19th century.  The shores around the area are fascinating, as the geological composition is a conglomeration of an amazing variety, split along the eastern shore of the loch by the Moine Thrust.  Even along the roads, you’ll find chunks of pink metamorphic rocks glittering with mica. 

DCF 1.0

Loch Eriboll, taken Summer 2012, © Stephanie Huesler. Click to enlarge.

In 1945, thirty-three German U-boats surrendered in the deep loch, ending the Battle of the Atlantic.  Eilean Choraidh, the largest island in the loch, was used as target practice for aerial bombing due to its size and resemblance to the shape of a ship.  Along the western hills, you can see words written with stones near the settlement of Laid:  They are the names of warships, such as the Hood and Amethyst, arranged there by the sailors of those ships. 

152-traigh-allt-chailgeag-20-july-2012

Tràigh Allt Chàilgeag Beach, taken Summer 2012, © Stephanie Huesler.  Click to enlarge.

Not far from Loch Eriboll, on the way to Durness, is a treasure:  Tràigh Allt Chàilgeag is a beach of vertical walls of stones layered in colours ranging from black to pink.  When the tide is out the beach is endless, and when it’s in, climb the rocks!  The beach was created as the Ice Age sheets began to melt, pushing the walls of rocks upward as the island actually rose, no longer being held down by the massive weight of ice. 

On a clear day, you can see the southern-most Orkney Isles, and the waters around the coast are still busy highways for ships of all sizes.

My husband and I were on holiday in Scotland in 2012, and we spent several days in this area so that I could do research for The Cardinal; both the souterrain and the above-mentioned beach play a role in the story.

Originally Posted on History Undusted,

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