Thursday, June 30, 2022

Communicating with Pets

Netflix has a new series called THE HIDDEN LIVES OF PETS. Although it sounds as if it should reveal what our pets do when we're not watching, it actually deals with the intelligence, sensory perceptions, etc. of domestic animals. Dogs, cats, and birds feature prominently, of course, but also such creatures as rabbits, small rodents, turtles, and even soccer-playing goldfish. The episode about communication between people and animals includes a lot of video footage about a dog named Bunny who has become famous for learning to use electronic push-buttons to "talk." This system goes way beyond the battery-operated collars that attempt to translate canine barks and body language into verbal messages (prerecorded and linked to various dog behaviors by the owner):

Petspeak Collars

Here's an article about Bunny, who became the subject of a research project at UC San Diego after she and her mistress, Alexis Devine, amassed millions of TikTok followers:

Bunny the Talking Dog

This dog communicates by pressing buttons on a floor mat, each activating a prerecorded word. As the article mentions, this system is similar to the experiments in which apes learn to select symbols on keyboards to express their wants. At the age of 15 months (in November 2020) Bunny had mastered 70 buttons, including terms such as "scritches," "outside," "play," and "ouch." More problematic words such as "more," "now," "happy," and even "why" are included. While watching the video clips on the Netflix program, I wondered whether an animal could really grasp an abstract concept such as "why." Our dog responds appropriately to quite a few words in addition to the basic commands, such as "upstairs," "downstairs," "inside," "outside," "food," "leash," and "plate." All those refer to concrete objects or actions, though.

Scientists at the Comparative Cognitive Lab "comb through" the Bunny videos rather than checking only a sample. “We want to make sure we’re not just getting cherry-picked clips.” They also watch for the possibility that the dog might be reacting to subtle cues from her human partner instead of recognizing what the buttons represent. And could she "understand" words at all in the sense we mean it? Even Bunny's owner believes she's "made an association between pressing a button and something happening" rather than learning language as we do. On the other hand, human infants start by simply associating sounds with objects, too. Fitting the words into the brain's inborn grammar template comes a little later.

The Petspeak collar and Bunny's button mat remind me of the "voder" the Venusian dragon in Robert Heinlein's BETWEEN PLANETS uses to "talk." Since the highly intelligent dragons don't have vocal organs suitable for human speech, the dragon character wears an electronic device that converts his communications into audible English sentences. It doesn't duplicate the STAR TREK universal translator, being programmed only for dragon-to-English conversion, but in the distant future something like it might be used to communicate with extraterrestrials.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Strip Mining Art

Today's title is inspired by an article by Jon of, in which he compares the treatment of certain copyright owners to a highly efficient, and environmentally ruthless method of exploiting Earth's buried treasures... treasures that are covered with streams and trees and habitat.

For authors, the most obvious defence against predators of the literary world is to read publishing contracts carefully, and perhaps turn away from an obviously bad contract.

Authors Guild members might want to mark their calendars for this coming Wednesday, June 29th, and register for a seminar for members on Book Contracts 101. 
Victoria Strauss has an exceptionally helpful article about contradictory contracts on her Writer Beware blog.
She also has a timeless (apparently) article about a behemoth of the entertainment industry that might very well (although she does not say so) be compared to some kind of IP strip miner, as it buys up properties but is alleged to not honor the contracts associated with those properties.
Legal blogger Graeme Murray of the law firm Marks & Clerk  discusses a copyright infringement lawsuit by a "David" of a plaintiff against a different film-making Goliath regarding the release of Top Gun: Maverick, sequel to Top Gun after the original license to the Top Gun story was terminated, as is permitted after thirty-five years.

It is interesting reading.

Lexology link:
Original link:

Graeme Murray of Marks & Clerk also presents very good IP advice for writers and creators of popular characters and worlds, whether comic book or magical beings that movie makers and theme parks might eventually want to exploit.

Lexology link:
Original link:


And so to  music and the streaming thereof, and the alleged ripping off of musicians in our time.

Jon writes:

"Now... in the age of streaming music, the connection between making music and making a living is profoundly broken." 

Also, for historical context, look here.  

All the best,

Rowena Cherry 



Friday, June 24, 2022


Of Arcs and Standalones, Part 3:

Establishing a Series Arc Early in the Writing Process 

This is the ninth of fifteen posts dealing with surprising things I learned in the course of writing a science fiction series.

In the initial part of this 6-part article, we started defining story arcs followed by series arcs. This time we're going to start laying the groundwork for the series arc before we do the same for story arcs with a technique and examples. This is something that it's always preferable to start as early in the writing process as you can--ideally, long before you actually begin writing the first draft. The series arc is the umbrella all your story arcs will fit under, so it makes sense to do that first.

The easiest way to discover your overall series arc is to know what connects all the books.. In this way, you can make sure the series arc runs its proper course through each book in the series until it's resolution in the last book. Establishing the basics for each book in the series can give you countless insights for far-reaching possibilities as you prepare to write each new installment.

The first step is to blurb the series. The series blurb should tell readers how all the books in that series are connected. Most series blurbs range from one to four sentences. Science fiction, fantasy, and historical books in a series may well require longer series blurbs. That's because the series blurb has to make sense of whole worlds, cultures, events, and conflicts, which, in many cases may seem vastly different from those a modern reader is accustomed to. If readers don't understand the premise of your series in the series blurb, they may not bother reading the first book.

When I come up with a series, I almost always have what some writers would consider a freakishly good idea about what will happen in each of the installments. Just prior to the summer of 2018, when I started advance research on my sci-fi series, I had more than enough details at that point to be able to blurb my series arcs filling in the blanks of this worksheet:

Who _____________________________ (Series Main Character{s})

What _____________________________ (Conflict or Crisis)

Why _____________________________ (Worst Case Resolution Scenario)

In the previous post, I talked about the three series arcs in my Arrow of Time Chronicles, one of the major and two of them minor. All three of these series arcs were introduced in the first installment in the series, touched on in different degrees over the course of the middle two books, but only resolved in the final story in the series. Nevertheless, although I knew they'd all be important within the individual stories, I felt like adding the third series arc to the series blurb overcomplicated it so I left it out. Here's the form filled out for Arrow of Time Chronicles:

Who Mankind (Series Main Character{s})

What When mankind realized Earth would soon become uninhabitable, Humans formed a cooperative central nexus in order to save themselves from certain extinction. Together, they built and transferred their population to massive space habitations in orbit of their planet and as many as possible revolving around the other planetary bodies in the Sol System. Only fifty-eight years into their desperate struggle for survival, a hostile enemy with Napoleonic ambitions emerges as a yet another threat to not only mankind's survival. (Major Conflict or Crisis)

A cataclysmic organic menace is beginning to be recognized, ensuring the total annihilation of every living thing in the universe if, together, they can't find a way to stop it. (Minor Conflict or Crisis)

Why The peace mankind has begun to forge with allies from other planets around the galaxy is jeopardized as questionable agendas and hidden motives are unveiled. (Major Worst Case Resolution Scenario) 

Why The organic menace threatens the total annihilation of every living thing in the universe if, together, mankind and its allies can't find a way to stop it. (Minor Worst Case Resolution Scenario)

Below, you'll see the Arrow of Times Chronicles series blurb I eventually modified and refined the worksheet components to come up.

Arrow of Time Chronicles

by Karen Wiesner

A timeless universal truth: No simple solutions, no easy answers, and nothing is ever free…

When mankind realized Earth would soon become uninhabitable, Humans formed a cooperative central nexus in order to save themselves from certain extinction. Together, they built and transferred their population to massive space habitations in orbit of their planet and as many as possible revolving around the other planetary bodies in the Sol System. They also constructed spacefaring "liveships" in hopes of traveling through the galaxy in search of new homes. Unbelievably after almost a hundred years, their communications sent out into the farthest reaches of the universe to discover other intelligent life secures an audience. Their first allies arrived in mankind's solar system in 2073 and shared their knowledge, technology and resources to not only power their liveships for swift navigation through space corridors that fold space and time but also provided the scientific advancements necessary to eventually heal their dying planet.

    Though mankind has a brand-new shaky start, strong potential alliances, and hope for tomorrow, only fifty-eight years into their desperate struggle for survival, a hostile enemy with Napoleonic ambitions emerges as a yet another threat to not only mankind's survival, but also that of their associates who have faced the aliens in times past. Abruptly, the peace the allies have begun to forge is jeopardized as questionable agendas and hidden motives are unveiled. In the wake of these very real, immediate threats a cataclysmic organic menace is only beginning to be recognized, ensuring the total annihilation of every living thing in the universe if, together, they can't find a way to stop it.

Next week, we'll talk about how to establish your story arcs early in the writing process and use this same technique in an example.

Happy writing!

Based on Writing the Overarching Series (or How I Sent a Clumsy Girl into Outer Space): 3D Fiction Fundamentals Collection by Karen S. Wiesner (release date TBA)

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 140 titles and 16 series, including the romantic science fiction series, ARROW OF TIME CHRONICLES

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Is Consciousness an Illusion?

A famous psychological experiment in the 1980s seemed to prove that the brain "decides" to take actions before the conscious mind makes the choice to do so, and the decision we think we're making is only a rationalization after the fact:

Scientists Still Haven't Figured Out Free Will

Many experts in the field have reservations about this "proof" and have pointed out flaws in that interpretation of the results. A Wikipedia article goes into great detail about this experiment and other aspects of the "free will" issue in psychology:

The Neuroscience of Free Will

There's also a psychological theory that the "self" we think we have or are is an illusion, a trick the brain plays on itself. For one thing, our concept of our own identity arises from continuity of memory, an imperfect process riddled with gaps and reconstructions.

Here's one analysis of that issue:

The Illusion of the Self

The author of this article, Sam Wolfe, summarizes cognitive scientist Bruce Hood's thesis that our "selves are generated by our brain in order to make sense of our thoughts and the outside world: both ‘I’ and ‘me’ can be thought of as a narrative or a way to connect our experiences together so that we can behave in an biologically advantageous way in the world." Wolfe endorses this position and cites support for it dating back many centuries, to 18th-century philosopher David Hume and, much further, as a traditional tenet of Buddhism. What we think of as our "self" arises from the brain as a "narrative-creating machine." As Wolfe puts it, "Essentially, our brains are always thinking in terms of stories: what the main character is doing, who they are speaking to, and where the beginning, middle, and end is; and our self is a fabrication which emerges out of the story-telling powers of our brain."

I wholeheartedly agree that the creation of stories is an essential aspect of the human brain, part of what makes us human. I can't agree with people such as Bruce Hood and Sam Wolfe, however, on their insistence that the narrative of a unified self doesn't correspond to reality. We visualize the self as a little cartoon person at a control panel somewhere in our head, directing the subordinate brain functions, or maybe, as in the animated film INSIDE OUT, a small committee of persons in a control center making executive decisions. Only a metaphor, of course, but regarding the singular self as an illusion seems to generate an intractable problem.

Since, as Hood and Wolfe acknowledge, "everyone experiences a sense of self – a feeling that we have an identity," if this sense of self is an illusion, a construct the brain creates to enable us to function in everyday life, who is the "us" believing the illusion? This theory seems to lead to an infinite regress of "selves" being fooled. Also, it seems to me a not-insignificant objection that it's impossible in practice to live as if one believes no actual self exists, or not for long anyway. And, again, who's doing the believing?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Deeply Offensive Words

If a post-Constitutional American highwayman were to waylay a traveller with the threat of, "your money or your life!" and he (or she) were to be subsequently brought to trial, the First Amendment would not be a defense.

While you --or I-- can say deeply offensive words that hurt feelings, and vex the listener and our horrible speech is protected by the First Amendment, a threat to kill someone as an inducement to comply with a demand is not protected speech.

The opinion of the United States Court of Appeals Third Circuit with regard to an appeal of a conviction under a cyberstalking statute was filed on June13th, 2022. So, it is recent and topical, and probably relevant to other spoken and written threats in circulation.

The convicted cyberstalker hoped that he could successfully argue that the cyberstalking statute (under which he was convicted) was unconstitutionally broad... over broad.

Read the opinion here:

In my opinion, the opinion is extremely well written, clear, and interesting. The details of what the cyberstalker did are also steamy stuff, and possibly worthy of a subscription television mini series. 
I once received an early morning telephone call from a random stranger who wanted phone sex. He had the wrong number, and was polite, but would have liked my participation in a discussion nevertheless. I did not encourage the conversation, and luckily, it was long ago, before caller id or automatic redial.

That was a "fat finger" accident. In a very small way, it leads me to empathize powerfully with the victim of the cyberstalking in question.

Legal blogger Kristin Bryan of global law firm Squire Patton Boggs provides her analysis and expectation that this decision may affect future federal cases of cyberstalking, online bullying and harassment (one way or another). 

It is also a compelling read.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry 


Friday, June 17, 2022


Of Arcs and Standalones, Part 2: Series Arcs

This is the eighth of fifteen posts dealing with surprising things I learned in the course of writing a science fiction series.

Last week, we established that every story must have a story arc and we got a basic understanding of what that entails. Now let’s talk about the series arc.

Most series will have an overall series arc (sometimes there are more than one series arcs) along with the individual story arcs specific to a single installment of the series. A series arc is a plot thread that’s introduced in the first book in the series, is alluded to in some way in every single subsequent book, but is only fully resolved in the final book in the series. The series arc is usually separate from the individual story arcs, but both are crucial and must fit together seamlessly. The individual story arcs, as we established last in last week's post, are short-term. They’re introduced, developed, and concluded in each individual book. The series arcs are long-term. As an example, in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the story arc is the chamber of secrets plotline. The overall series arc, in the most simplified terms, is good (Harry) overcomes evil (Voldemort)—and that’s true for every book in that series. The series arc runs beneath the individual story arcs in each book, expanding and intensifying through each book. In that way, each story installment has a piece of the series arc to tell.

In my Arrow of Time Chronicles, I actually had a few series arcs. The major one dealt with the warring faction of aliens that intended to conquer every other culture. A minor series arc was an organic phantom energy that's "eating" its way across the universe. A second minor series arc was that all the cultures in the galaxy, despite their outward physical differences and coming from different planets widely scattered across the galaxy, have similar DNA. All three of these series arcs were introduced in the first installment in the series, touched on in different degrees over the course of the middle two books, but only resolved in the final story in the series. 

There are two types of series that all series can be classified under. Let's lay down the foundation for them. Once we've established the types, we'll talk more in-depth about Overarching Series and the distinguishing qualities of this unique breed of series and its connection to speculative fiction.

Standalone Series

The most common kind of series that can include series in any genre imaginable is the Standalone. In this type of series, every story within the series can stand alone (hence the name). In other words, readers can read each one separately, potentially even out of order, and still derive satisfaction that way without too much confusion. The individual installments of the series include story arcs that conclude within that particular story, providing the reader gratification necessary at the end of each book.

Standalone Series Subgroup: The Open-ended Series

There is an exception to every rule, and I would be remiss in not mentioning this one. There is a type of series set up and developed almost exactly like writing a standalone story and therefore it's simply a subgroup of the Standalone Series.

An Open-ended Series doesn't need a series arc because no clear end is in sight, and therefore there's less need for a tightly-delineated series arc that must resolve in the final book. In an open-ended series (such as some sleuth mysteries with a single recurring character--i.e., Hercule Poirot and the like), each book in the series is a standalone title. There’s little need to come up with a series arc since the author isn’t planning to have a long-term plot thread running through the entire series that will conclude in the final story. Though the Hercule Poirot Series eventually did end, a series arc didn’t run through each of the stories. Even Poirot’s final case was a standalone (though this case connected to details of the very first mystery he solved). In an Open-ended Series with a potentially infinite number of books, any resolution the author has promised readers at the start of one installment in a series will stem from story arcs at the end of that individual book, not at the end of the series. Those resolutions are the ones that fans are looking for and must be given in order to feel satisfied.

Note that developing a Standalone Series is the focus my previous writing manual on the topic of crafting a series. Originally that book was published by Writer's Digest Books and titled Writing the Fiction Series. It will be reissued soon as part of my writing manual collection under the title Writing the Standalone Series


This leads us to the second type of series: An Overarching Series, which will be the focus of my upcoming craft manual to be titled Writing the Overarching Series {or How I Sent a Clumsy Girl to Outer Space}. An Overarching Series is a specialized type of series that requires complex and multifaceted character- and world-building as well as necessitating series arc sequel hook endings in all but the final installment. Overarching Series dominate speculative fiction more so than any other category of fiction, though it is possible for one to be in other genres as well.

In the Overarching type of series, none of the books can truly be standalones because the series arc that's introduced in the first book in the series will run through every installment in that series, expanding and intensifying as it goes, only concluding in the final volume of the series. In other words, it's unlikely that the individual titles in the series can be fully understood without the others in that series. This is true even of the first installment of a series because that one won't and can't be complete on its own without subsequent installments.

In addition to the requirement of being read as a set, an Overarching Series needs to be read in the proper, chronological sequence in order to make sense and to become as opulent and robust, as any series needs to be or otherwise what's the point? While this doesn't preclude the possibility that someone could enjoy the stories separately, it's almost a foregone conclusion that they'll miss a lot in doing so and ultimately might end up confused and even disgruntled.

There's a very good reason why Overarching Series can be complicated to write and read: Reader satisfaction is only partially achieved in each book in this kind of series. The story arcs that are specific to individual titles in an Overarching Series will resolve within their particular book, providing the necessary satisfaction when completing the story, while the series arc almost always produces a less upsetting form of cliffhanger ending called series arc sequel hooks in all volumes other than the final book of that kind of series, where it's finally resolved.

While authors do need to find a natural, logical place to leave the series arc from one volume to the next so the "to be continued" aspect won't infuriate readers so much as build anticipation for what's to come, keep in mind that each volume needs to be assigned its own piece of the series arc to tell in an Overarching Series.

Next week, we'll talk about how to establish your series arcs early in the writing process, including a technique for developing yours.

Happy writing!

Based on
Writing the Overarching Series (or How I Sent a Clumsy Girl into Outer Space: 3D Fiction Fundamentals Collection 
by Karen S. Wiesner (release date TBA)

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 140 titles and 16 series, including the romantic science fiction series, ARROW OF TIME CHRONICLES

Thursday, June 16, 2022

The Most Intelligent Animals

Well, maybe not THE most in absolute terms, but this page lists six of the top candidates:

6 of the World's Most Intelligent Animals

The only one that surprised me was the pig. While I knew they were smart, I didn't know that in some categories they're thought to rank with dolphins. The other five on the list are the two most obvious, dolphins and chimpanzees, plus ravens, octopuses, and elephants.

Each paragraph on the page includes links to several other sites offering more information about the particular species and how its intelligence has been studied.

Although not mentioned on that web page, other species that would plausibly evolve sapience might include raccoons and bears. Both of them have the ability to manipulate objects and are already smart enough to defeat with ease many human attempts to keep them out of buildings, vehicles, and containers. Until our family bought better-designed garbage cans some years ago, we had to tie the lids on to protect the trash from raccoons. As for bears, you've probably seen photos or videos of them breaking into houses and cars. Scary! Maybe Yogi and Boo-Boo have a basis in fact.

As usual, this topic makes me wonder whether we'd recognize human-level intelligence in analogous alien species if we met them on distant planets. Their languages might not consist of sounds as ours does. (Maybe sapient octopuses would communicate by changing their colors.) Suppose lack of manipulative appendages, as with dolphins, prevented them from inventing material technologies we would recognize as such? What if, like dolphins and octopuses, they inhabited an environment (e.g., water) difficult for us to explore? Also, an ethical question comes to mind: If we don't exercise sufficient respect toward quasi-intelligent species we already know about on our own planet, will be behave ethically toward creatures we've yet to meet on strange new worlds?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Sunday, June 12, 2022

A New Battlefield, And A Dirty Secret

Should I start an article with opinion? Probably not, but I am no NFT/Blockchain enthusiast. 

For a start, blockchain, and crypto and all that newfangled jazz has a dirty secret. It uses a lot of
electricity. Check out what Jeremy Hinsdale writes for the Columbia Climate School.

He refers to last year's power grid problems (February 2021) in Texas, and we've been told to expect brownouts this coming summer. How are power hogs, like NFTs and blockchain-reliant "coins" going to be safe if the power is cut, and a server farm goes dark.

A server farm is the less glamorous name for "the cloud". Read Anthony Carter's explanation here:
And, read what Pavel of IT Syndicate has to say about the amount of energy used by data centers and server farms.
Fortune uses "dirty secret" terminology about that, but you have to subscribe to read it.
Paul Kirvan of TechTarget is more altruistic. The cloud is one of the greatest consumers of electricity today.
However, data centers need to be cooled. What happens if there is no refrigerant? What happens if there are no chips (because most of the rare earth mines are controlled by China), or if the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow and the price of solar panels is no longer subsidized by China?

For that matter, do those who want to go cold turkey on fossil fuels realize how much else is made from fossil fuels... like plastic, and anesthetics, and dentures, and lipstick, and deodorant, and refrigerators?

For more, read the Ranken Energy partial list.

So much for the Green New Deal.

Meanwhile, back to the blockchain, and legal blogger Pramod Chintalpoodi of the Chip Law Group explains who is leading the competition to dominate the global, blockchain patent application race. 

"Nine Chinese firms are among the top 10 in terms of blockchain patent family numbers, including Ant Group, Ping An Group, China Unicom, and Baidu. The patents filed by the nine firms accounted for almost one-third of all blockchain patent filings worldwide. The only non-Chinese business in the top ten is IBM."

As Mr. Chintalpoodi suggests, applying for patents is not the same thing as having patents granted, but I wonder if there could be such a thing as patent-squatting.

Legal blogger John L. Krieger of Dickinson Wright PLLC explains the who, what. why, and how of NFTs, the metaverse and IP. 

In part:

"....A blockchain is an append-only electronic database that stores data chronologically. Once a transaction is minted (submitted and validated), it is cryptically secured and becomes a block on the blockchain. Since the blockchain is decentralized, identical copies can then be distributed among thousands of unaffiliated computers. The data is permanent and irreversible and can only be changed by creating a new block.  What then are bitcoin, ETH, and NFTs and how do they fit into the picture – they are digital assets that run on blockchain infrastructure....."

Legal blogger Jimmy Fuglsbjerg Christensen of the patent lawyer firm AWA advises readers to prepare for a new copyright battleground in the block chain and domain names.

The point of blockchain technology is that is it touted to be more secure and more private, but what happens when pirates pile in?

Mr. Christensen suggests a few possible problems:

"...As blockchain domains are minted, they are traded as a commodity on NFT marketplaces, where the purchase confers complete ownership to the domain name. As there is no central governing body for blockchain domain names, ownership is not subject to any DNS-related rules, including alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. A brief search on some NFT marketplaces reveals that domain names containing well-known trademarks are already being openly traded.

Blockchain domain names present several issues for brand owners, including using the domain names for cybersquatting, selling counterfeit goods and fraud. In its Digital Defense Report from October 2021, Microsoft termed blockchain domain names “the next big threat” as they are increasingly used to distribute malware...."

He makes suggestions, which are reminiscent of how back in the Oughts, we writers had to sign up for every social media platform possible to retain control of our own author names, and also to buy a variety of dot com domain names, so we didn't have to call ourselves "the real...".

He concludes ominously:

"...As blockchain technology becomes widely adopted, these issues will increase in scope, quantity, and complexity. It will prove to be a new battleground for brand owners everywhere in the not-so-distant future."

If finding piracy and sending takedown notices was bad enough whack-a-mole, now the mole is a hydra. The blockchain makes copyright self-protection almost impossible. Pirates can mint knockoff NFTs with nothing more than a digital file and some cryptocurrency, then sell those knockoffs to unsuspecting collectors. NFT piracy may force change.

Legal bloggers P. Cramer and D. Munkittrick of Proskauer Rose LLP explain the potential for a piracy boom.

As they conclude:

"... Amidst the resulting piracy boom, it falls to creators to protect both their fans and their IP by scanning platforms for infringing NFT sale listings and issue takedown requests. But even when they succeed in getting a sale listing removed, the knockoff NFT itself remains immutably on its blockchain and the infringing content usually remains elsewhere on the web..."

So, all that considered, I'm not an enthusiast.

All the best, 

Rowena Cherry