Thursday, January 17, 2019

Writer Emergency Pack

One of my Christmas presents was a clever little item called the Writer Emergency Pack. It's a deck of cards with prompts to help a stuck fiction writer get unstuck. The pack includes brief instructions for a group storytelling game using the cards, but it seems mainly intended for individuals. It comprises two numbered sets of cards. The first presents a one-sentence suggestion with an illustrative sketch, while the corresponding number in the second half of the deck elaborates with further details. Although I haven't actively used this product yet, I find reading the prompts fun in itself.

The story sparks aren't random ideas such as "Throw your heroine off a cliff," which was sort of what I expected. (That would have been fun, too, though.) They're more serious and of more general application. Some examples: What if your story were changed to a different genre? Talk it out. (What would the protagonist and antagonist say if they had an honest discussion?) Stop talking. (How would the characters handle not being able to communicate verbally? This hint reminds me of the BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER episode when the whole town was magically silenced.) Kill the hero. (If the hero died at this point, what would happen next? Who would carry on?) Imposter. (Some character is not what he or she seems.) An apparent blessing turns out to be a curse. Take away your hero's allies and other support. Bring on the zombies (which could mean any type of mindless horde). The explanatory note cards briefly explore the ramifications of the proposed twists.

If I did apply the cards to a writing project, as a devoted outliner I would probably find it more helpful in the planning phase than the first draft.

The deck is sold on this Amazon page:

Writer Emergency Pack

By the way, my first new e-book in quite a while (as opposed to re-releases) has just been published by the Wild Rose Press. "Yokai Magic" is a light paranormal romance novella featuring an enchanted Japanese scroll and a cat spirit:

Yokai Magic

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Copyright, DRM, and Phone Repair

Copyright, DRM, 
and Phone Repair 

Back in October, 2018, things changed that most people didn't know needed changing.

Changes like this one are the substance of science fiction futurology, as the business of fiction writing is to take you on an adventure into a world that does not exist and propose solutions to problems you think you don't have.  The solutions that are most interesting are the ones you (as a reader) are certain would not work.

The writer's duty is to make you think about why you are so certain the solution would not work.  In the process, you may generate a solution to a real and current problem that will work.

In other words, fiction writers prompt you to make the world a better place.

The problem that needed solving was about the right to repair devices you own -- which contain or run on software you only license.

Software, and intellectual property such as fictional stories, come under copyright law -- and that law has had to be changed to keep pace with electronic media.  When the xerox copier was introduced to libraries, the uproar over copyright was intense, furious, adamant and heated.  Look where we are today with copy/paste.

So, today, companies tried to keep you leashed tightly to their own repair shops and prevent tinkering with your devices by yourself or an independent repair shop of your choice.

Repairing stuff has been a profession for thousands of years -- they tried to un-invent it.

The law may be challenged in court, reversed, modified, struck down, or just repealed and replaced.  The fight over "you didn't build that" and therefore you don't own or control that, is raging globally.

So read and ponder this as it pertains to self-publishing novels:


Advocates for the right to repair movement have cause to celebrate this weekend. New rules, which go into effect on Sunday, will allow consumers to legally hack the software on their own devices to repair them.

The new rules will allow consumers and repair shops not affiliated with brands to break DRM, or Digital Rights Management, which previously sought to prevent the copying and distribution of media and technology. Large corporations backed DRM, saying it was necessary to protect consumers and fight copyright infringement, according to Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The DCMA, or the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, sought to criminalize any attempts to bypass locks placed on devices, even if the attempt was made in an effort to repair or maintain it. The issue was primarily in the inability to repair a device that had already been bought and paid for. Instead, DRM forced consumers to take broken devices to specific repairers, stifling competition and monopolizing the market. DRM is “implemented by embedding code that prevents copying, specifies a time period in which the content can be accessed, or limits the number of devices the media can be installed on,” according to TechTarget.

The new rules proposed by the Library of Congress and U.S. Copyright Office will change that, allowing owners of smartphones, cars, tractors, smart home appliances, and a number of other devices to maintain their own property.

---------end quote------

"...maintain their own property."  -- "own?"

What does it mean to OWN something?  The esoteric and mystical ramifications of ownership are enormous.  Most people think ownership is a simple thing.  Children understand MINE at two years old.

Who is entitled to what for their creative work?  For any work, just the labor of moving one thing from one place to another place, we consider we have a right to be paid a living wage.

Do we?

And in what fundamental way will AI and all this automation change our "rights?"

Note this legal thrust includes cars and tractors.  Everything runs on chips now.

What will that imply about ownership in the future?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Saturday, January 12, 2019

SCOTUS To Rule On F-Bomb Use

Let's dive straight into the gutter. Can you call your clothing and lifestyle "FUCT" (for trademark purposes)?  For that matter, is it decent to name your restaurant "PHO KEENE"?

Could you get around dirty-word bans on vanity vehicle license plates by using the Roman numerals IV (which sounds like For...) to announce your favorite extramarital activity?

Legal bloggers John Crittenden,   Bobby Ghajar and Rose Kautz writing for Cooley LLP look forward to the US Supreme Court hearing oral arguments as to whether or not the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office) may refuse to grant a trademark for "FUCT", simply because it sounds vulgar.

Original article

Lexology link

The Court will hear the case in April, and rule in June.

Adding to the flying smut, Jeff Greenbaum  blogging for Frankfurt Kurnit Klein and Selz PC asks broadmindedly, Is It a "Pho Keene" Great Name Or Is It Offensive?

Original article  (with illustrations!)

(Where does one draw the line, when there is a perfectly wonderful tourist destination in Thailand called phuket ?)

For the World Trademark Review, Adam Bobker  pens a comprehensive summary of some of the most interesting goings on, including fake Dyson hair dryers (which can ruin your hair and your day and maybe burn down the house), hologram marks, mary jane in plain packaging, and a "poop shaped" carrying case which Louis Vuitton finds offensive... probably because they call it Pooey Puitton.

Lexology link

Original link

Finally, loosely concerned with fakery, rip offs, copyright infringement, and the point of view that "Copyright is Censorship", Chris Castle has a go at the people who take lobbying too far.

All the best, and in the best possible taste.....

Rowena Cherry

PS... if you did not "get" the IV-word, try "IVnick8"   Total red herring. SCOTUS isn't concerned with that.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Robots in the Home

More new developments in household robotics:

Are Domestic Robots the Way of the Future?

One problem foregrounded by this article is people's expectation for robots to look humanoid, versus the optimal shape for efficiently performing their functions. A real-world autonomous floor cleaner, after all, doesn't take the form of "a humanoid robot with arms" able to "push a vacuum cleaner." A related problem is that our household environments, unlike factories, are designed to be interacted with by human beings rather than non-humanoid machines. Research by scientists at Cornell University has been trying "to balance our need to be able to relate ­emotionally to robots with making them genuinely useful."

Dave Coplin, CEO of The Envisioners, promotes the concept of "social robotics":

Domestic Robots Are Coming in 2019

He advocates "trying to imbue emotion into communication between humans and robots," as, for example, training robots to understand human facial expressions. He even takes the rather surprising position that the household robot of the future, rather than a "slave" or "master," should be "a companion and peer to the family.” According to Coplin, the better the communication between us and our intelligent machines, the more efficiently they will work for us. Potential problems need to be solved, however, such as the difficulty of a robot's learning to navigate a house designed for human inhabitants, as mentioned above. Security of data may also pose problems, because the robot of the future will need access to lots of personal information in order to do its job.

In Robert Heinlein's THE DOOR INTO SUMMER, the engineer narrator begins by creating single-task robots that sound a bit like the equivalent of Roombas. Later, he invents multi-purpose robotic domestic servants with more humanoid-like shapes, because they have to be almost as versatile as human workers. We're still a long way from the android grandmother in one of Ray Bradbury's classic stories, but robots are being designed to help with elder care in Japan. According to the article cited above, some potential customers want robots that may offer "companionship" by listening to their troubles or keeping pets company while owners are out. Now, if the robot could walk the dog, too, that would really be useful. The January NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC mentions medical robots that can draw blood, take vital signs, and even shift bedridden patients. One snag with such machines: To have the power to lift objects of significant weight, not to mention human adults, a robot has to be inconveniently heavy (as well as expensive).

On the subject of balancing usefulness with the need for relating emotionally: In Suzette Haden Elgin's poem "Too Human by Half," an elderly woman grows so attached to her lifelike household robot that she can't bear to replace it when it starts to malfunction. "Replace JANE? . . . Just because she's getting OLD?" Therefore, when the company launches its next model, "they made every one of the units look exactly like a broom."

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Reviews 44 - Marked by Benedict Jacka

Reviews 44
Benedict Jacka

In the How To Use Tarot And Astrology In Science Fiction series, Part 3
we touched on the alternate universe premise being explored by mathematicians and quantum physics enthusiasts.

Combining Science with Fantasy, mixing genres, works best when you know both theories.

As I mentioned, James Blish (author of the first published STAR TREK novel, SPOCK MUST DIE) explored the alternate futures, parallel universes stacked like strips of film, in JACK OF EAGLES.

STAR TREK did alternate realities in the 1960's TV series, and it has continued to be explored in the movies and revived series.

Quantum Leap, the TV Series, used alternate universes spun off at decision points as a "vehicle" -- never explaining the physics, just saying the main character is a physicist.  I hated that part of the TV Series -- I wanted to know the PHYSICS, because that's the most interesting part of the quantum leaping concept (becoming in charge of another person's life).

Marion Zimmer Bradley used the decision point generating futures theory in her Darkover Series where an ESP talent is foretelling futures, not THE future.

Now Benedict Jacka has once again used this premise for his main Character in a long (and deservedly popular) Series of novels from ACE.

Here is MARKED, #9 in the Series:

Previous novels in the series haven't really focused on ROMANCE -- but this one actually pivots on the psychological dynamics behind Romance and the Soul Mate concept.

The female lead Character has a dissociated (evil twin) locked away in an astral plane dungeon, and the evil twin gets out, wreaks havoc, and must be put away for good.

On page 299 of 310, the key phrase, "I love you," solves the problem.

It is said because of the male lead character's analysis of the personality of the "good" half of the female lead Character.

That analysis is astute.  The psychology of split personality is well and solidly (and scientifically) depicted.  The resolution is plausible.

This novel, and the whole series, is highly recommended reading.  It is FANTASY universe, and about law enforcement entangled with politics.  The main male lead character gets a (thankless) job in low level law enforcement and through many novels, rises to the top of the political power structure (where he decidedly does not want to be).

A complex, rich, multifaceted fantasy world with the male lead Character's only "power" the ability to "see" a short way into the futures splitting off as people toy with, and then decide on a course of action.  Just thinking about doing something generates timelines!  Fascinating premise.

The physics behind this premise is never explained, which frustrates me.  The interesting thing is that this readership is assumed to know all about the alternating and ever fragmenting reality-streams generated merely by human intension.

Very highly recommended series!

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Beware Body Language... And Easy Gifting

Pundits on news and opinion networks seem particularly fond of analysing the body language of British royal family members, and of Prime Minister Theresa May as she shakes hands or has her forearm seized by powerful European politicians, and of President Trump and those with whom he meets in front of the cameras.

Who has the upper hand? Who is lying? Who is passively aggressive? Who is sending off subtle signals? This is all good stuff to fill a five minute TV segment, and it is also wonderful material to weave subtly into our romance stories to show (not tell).

For the Persuasive Litigator blog, Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm blogs on behalf of the law firm Holland & Hart LLP about reading too much into body language. It's so good, this writer is bookmarking it. One would not want to perpetuate the occasional canard.

If the above-mentioned website asks you to create an account and log in, please look for the textlink to "read the original".

Here is a link to the original:

Maybe a very long tie is the sartorial equivalent of a diminutive man driving a Ferrari. And maybe it isn't!

Angela Hoy has compiled a fascinating list of whispers and warnings for followers of Writers Weekly.

For those who have not yet used their supermarket-bought Christmas gift cards, there is a particular matter of concern.

And now, this writer has a plane to catch.

Happy New Year!

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, January 03, 2019

New Year Customs

Happy New Year!

Do you eat black-eyed peas for luck on New Year's Day? Although my grandmother, who grew up in rural North Carolina, often cooked black-eyed peas, she never mentioned this tradition. Weirdly, I heard of it only after getting married, even though my husband was a "Navy brat" whose family didn't settle in Virginia until he was about twelve. Some cooks include a coin in the pot, with the person who finds the coin getting extra luck. My husband doesn't do that. Nor does he follow the additional custom of eating collard greens along with the peas. Peas symbolize prosperity, and the greens represent money. Another superstition mandates eating exactly 365 peas, a separate portion of luck for each day of the year. (Who counts out 365 peas for each serving at the table? And in leap years, do they add one more?) Lentils, similarly, are sometimes said to bring prosperity because they represent coins. There's an Italian sweet pastry that should be eaten at New Year's to ensure a sweet year. All these arise from sympathetic magic, of course, the concept that apparent resemblances have real-world effects.

Scottish tradition includes the belief that the "first footer"—the first person to cross the threshold of your home after midnight on New Year's Eve—should be a dark-haired man. A woman or a non-dark-haired person as first footer brings bad luck rather than good.

Here's a list of New Year's superstitions, mainly things you should avoid doing on the first day of the year:

New Year's Superstitions

Don't cry on that day, or you'll have sadness all year—okay. But don't wash the dishes or the laundry? Those are new to me.

Another common belief is that you shouldn't begin the year owing any debt. Excellent advice, but most of us have little hope of fulfilling that condition, what with all the credit card charges for holiday gifts and festivities.

My parents had a tradition of taking down the Christmas tree on New Year's Day. Several decades ago I joyfully abandoned this exhausting and depressing habit. I don't start un-decorating until Epiphany (January 6, the end of the "twelve days of Christmas").

Aside from the traditional kiss at midnight, do you follow any particular customs to inaugurate the New Year?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

How To Use Tarot And Astrology In Science Fiction Part 3 - Suspend Reader Disbelief

How To Use Tarot And Astrology In Science Fiction
Part 3
Suspend Reader Disbelief 

Previous posts in this discussion:


Part 1

Part 2

And now in Part 3, we'll look at UFO reports, which are (oddly) lumped in with the "Paranormal" (which includes ghosts).

In ordinary consciousness, people go about their business never giving a thought to ghosts, telepathy, teleportation, prophecy, or kidnapping by UFO.

So when they do turn their attention to such occult phenomena, it is like peering into a compartment where you keep ridiculous ideas, a toy box of concepts to push around into new patterns just for fun.

Most readers of Romance or any of the Fantasy (even Science Fiction) genres don't "take it seriously."  So as a writer, you don't have to work hard to attain "suspension of disbelief."

However, if you're writing a book to be published as non-fiction about such phenomena, you have to hammer away incessantly at convincing people that their toys are real.  It's part of the appeal of the Christmas Classic, The Nutcracker where toys come alive.

Tarot and Astrology, as they are mass-marketed for profit, are regarded like toys by most people.  These toys produce fun stuff, but they don't mean anything and don't have to be taken into account when living your day to day existence.

Romance is like that (until you do experience it for real).  The "for real" experience is like the toys in the toy box coming alive, an astonishing moment suspended outside of time.

In psychology, that moment is called "cognitive dissonance" -- and that experience of reassessing what is and is-not real is the essence of the fiction writer's craft.

To work across the boundary between the real and the inside of the toy box, the writer must study both fiction and  non-fiction.

The New Year's fare in Newspapers is peppered with "psychics" making predictions about the coming year (and other linear prognosticators doing "if this goes on.")  Tarot and Astrology get featured, as they sometimes do for Halloween (see my Halloween Tarot/Vampire story, "False Prophecy" in: Through The Moon Gate (and other tales of vampirism)

In August (the silly season) newspapers carry stories about UFOs.  When people are bored (because Congress isn't in season, all their friends at work are on vacation so projects stall, the kids are home going stir crazy), they open their toy box of ideas and get lost in playing with them.  It's amusing and refreshing.

Non-fiction about UFO visits to Earth, about Astronauts sightings, other credible witnesses, photos (which we disbelieve more so now than ever), occupy that part of the mind.

I've been a UFO-NUT since grammar school when I found that section in the library and had my Mom take the books out so I could read them.  I never believed any of it, but could construct a world where it was true, "...they are watching us!"

Then I met a couple people (at different times) who told of their own abduction by a UFO.  Very convincing, especially since they weren't giving speeches about it for money or writing books, or being paid by a newspaper, etc. No profit motive, just a disturbance in life.

I have friends who follow the UFO reports, so one time I was at a speech where the guy was selling a book on the topic, and spent over an hour presenting "evidence" for the validity and verification, the credibility of witnesses, etc. -- pounding away at trying to prove (to an audience of true believers) that UFOs are real.

So afterwards, I listened to everyone reinforcing their true-belief, buying the autographed book, and treating the author as if he were important.

I waited for most to leave, then asked him why, if his case actually convinced him, he is still trying to convince people.  If these visitations are real, then accept that and move on to the next logical step -- or to debating what that step should be.  If it's true, act as if it's true.  If it's not true, shut up.

I've never before or since seen such a totally flummoxed speaker.

He simply had no answer, and as far as I could tell, had never considered that option -- assuming what he knows to be true is in fact true, and going to the next step.

So, I'm still a wide-open question on UFOs in general, kidnappings in particular.  It seems to be the reason these people write these "non-fiction" books is to make money. There's more profit in manufactured or exaggerated evidence and sincere insistence on the impossible than there is in the truth.

And that gives you a formula for a hot-hot-hot Romance Character, a UFOLOGIST who doesn't know he doesn't believe what he's peddling.

To write such a story, you need a theory of reality built by ripping items from the headlines - using newspaper stories widely believed as if they are fact.

And you need a theory of existence that explains how and why Tarot and Astrology work, how they are related to each other, and what Aliens From Outer Space have to do with that.

Astronomy and Astrophysics are barreling toward Astrology and Tarot (yes, Tarot is more like Astrophysics, if you look aslant the right way).

Here's a TOY BOX item for you:

Subtitle of that article:
The idea that the universe splits into multiple realities with every measurement has become an increasingly popular proposed solution to the mysteries of quantum mechanics. But this “many-worlds interpretation” is incoherent, Philip Ball argues in this adapted excerpt from his new book Beyond Weird.

Tarot is all about decision points in life, and what you USE of your interior, spiritual, innate or learned skills and resources to navigate the white-water-rapids of life's decision points.  This article discusses the new mathematical and quantum physics view of multiple universes -- which has been a staple of science fiction since before JACK OF EAGLES by James Blish (author of the first STAR TREK novel published, SPOCK MUST DIE):

Today, people believe in science even without understanding all that hard stuff.  Science has produced usable results (smartphones for one), so people believe in human interference with the cyclical climate surges (glaciations followed by polar melts over millions of years) because it is settled science.

With the setting aside of religion in most organized forms, humans search for things to believe in.  UFOs, Romance, Science, multiple universes, all have their share of true believers.

To write science fiction romance of the caliber of James Blish's JACK OF EAGLES, you need to grab and incorporate a bit of speculative science and weld it to a bit of speculative occultism, then build your entire world selecting every detail to symbolize or illustrate that composite element.

Psychics have long predicted, in the New Year's Prediction issues of the papers, that this year Aliens will arrive, reveal themselves, or that we will get a signal from outer space proving there are people out there.

So, to get your readers to suspend their disbelief, you must accept your belief in your fictional world as real.

STAR TREK the original series, (all cardboard sets and flat colored backdrop paintings) as popular and gripping because the actors were able to treat what they were doing as REAL (even when it was using a salt shaker to detect an Alien's state of health).

Writing is a performing art.

Accept the reality of your fictional world, your specific blend of the Esoteric and the Scientific, and sidestep reader disbelief.

Your readers believe in Romance, and believe in Science, and some believe in UFOs (at least during August).

Accept what they believe as actually real.  Don't be like the UFO lecturer and be unable to understand what is implied if the belief is real.  Accept the reality, and plot onwards through the next action, and the next.

Your characters have to implement their decisions out of the unconscious assumption that these elements are real.

So, suppose your Character is to meet up with (or be kidnapped by) a UFO alien.

What is this Alien?

Use widely believed science to answer that question.

We are now (with orbital telescopes) discovering the size of our Universe,

Another outlet, Gizmodo, (probably working off the same publicist's press release) gives more depth, pointing out Hyperion's relationship to the supercluster Earth is in, Laniakea.

I discussed Laniakea here:

For decades, science fiction has been speculating about parallel universes (and anti-matter ones -- do read the STEN series).

Here are entries where I discuss the STEN SERIES.

So what sort of Alien arrives by UFO (yes, I do love both THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL and STARMAN), and kidnaps a human?

Once you determine what sort of alien, you should be able to derive why he would do such a thing.

Keeping in mind the size of the Universe we are now exploring by reading energy particles that are billions of years old, and keeping in mind all the new science produced from putting humans in weightlessness on space stations (showing how humans can't survive a trip to Mars or living there - we are gravity dependent and cosmic-ray sensitive), think hard about an Alien poking around Earth.

If we can't go to their planet (because settled science says so), then how could they come here?

Your readers keep their UFO knowledge in their toy boxes.   Make them take that knowledge out of the toy category.

How are we going to go visit Aliens who lived billions of years ago, and will be long dead by the time we get there?

Look around at current science headlines.

And look at what Forbes has been reporting on Artificial Intelligence

Forbes -- a financial organ -- talking about the size of reality and the nature of consciousness, intelligence, and robots as tools.

If we can create Artificial Intelligence, we can begin to determine if intelligence is related to the Soul -- and therefore what makes a Soul Mate.

Before we get to such spiritual questions, it is very likely we'll be sending AI entities to Mars and/or Venus - maybe to explore, to send back resources, to terraform, to build a habitat humans can live in.

Remember, with the nailing of the Higgs Boson, we are starting to get a handle on mass, weight, and perhaps one day, artificial gravity so we can take our fragile bodies out to the stars.

One might expect "Aliens" to haul their habitat around with them, too, but likewise to send ahead a wave of Artificial Intelligence -- not just robots programmed to do things, or remotely controlled as we try to do, but AI that can learn, think, reason, conclude and act.

Perhaps an AI explorer was sent out as an ordinary Intelligence, but along the way somehow acquired a Soul?

Perhaps your Main Character is kidnapped by an Alien AI with a Soul, and the experiments described in so many UFO books are actually an investigation into whether humans have Soul, and if so what Soul might be, where it comes from, and how it can be lost.

Or perhaps the UFO denizens are just trying to find Soul Mates?

Jacqueline Lichtenberg