Tuesday, April 30, 2013

How To Be... a Writer (an IWSG post)

"Write what you know."
How long has that phrase been going around? Forever? Close enough, right?

Some people say that's bad advice, but writing about things you know nothing about is a sure way to end up with bad writing. For instance, it's clear that George R. R. Martin writes about a lot of stuff he has no clue about, which is fine for other people that have no clue about it, but, when you get to someone who does have a clue, the writing comes off as, well, stupid. Like the whole ravens as couriers thing. That's just dumb. Clearly, his thought process was, "That would be cool," but ravens aren't that kind of bird. They don't work like homing pigeons. And, sure, you can say, "Well,  in his world they are that kind of bird," which is fine, but, then, why call them "ravens"? [And, yeah, I'm picking on Martin because he can take it (he's mega-rich), but I strongly object to doing something in your writing just because it's cool if it's also stupid and/or wrong (like the Emperor going down into the arena at the end of Gladiator: That was stupid and historically inaccurate).]

My advice is to always write what you know, if for nothing else, so that you don't come off looking stupid.

Here's the good news, though, it's easier, right now, to be a writer than ever before in history. Even just 20 years ago, doing the research you would need to do to write anything could be a laborious and time consuming prospect, not to mention that, in some cases, travel might be required. I mean, if you want the setting of your story to be Paris or Egypt, it might be a good thing to know about those places, right? That's part of why authors so desperately needed advances. Sometimes, delivering the product required money to do the research. But not anymore...

Today... well, today, you can know anything. Seriously. But, wait! There's more! Today, you can know anything without ever leaving your home! How amazing is that? And that... That was the whole point of my "a-to-z" theme this year.

If you want your protagonist in your shiny, new novel to be a brain surgeon, you can do that. You can find out everything you need to know about it without having to actually find a brain surgeon to tell you. If you want your main character to work for the CIA, you can do that, too. If your character discovers ancient ruins, you can have all the info at hand that you need to present that in a realistic way. Even if it's unidentified bones. If you're writing sci-fi, you have, at the touch of your fingers, all of the latest information from genetic engineering to warp technology. Or, if you're writing historical fiction and you want to have knights in shining armor, you'll know not to set it during the First Crusade or include King Arthur.

Just as a personal example, when I was writing The House on the Corner, I frequently used Google Earth to cruise around Shreveport to remind myself of details about locations that I needed for the story, even things that didn't necessarily get stated explicitly in the book (like the name of the diner they have breakfast at). You can make any place as real as being there that way. It's really rather amazing.

Being a writer has never (NEVER) been easier.

Not only is virtually any piece of information you might need to know a few key strokes away, but there is no longer the need to wait at the gates of the Giants anymore. Those giants aren't so big after all. In fact, the publishing industry is more akin to the wizard of Oz. No, not the book, the dude. That dude behind the curtain that's acting all scary and powerful, but, you know, he's just a dude, and the thing that's been between you and publishing your book is just a curtain.

It's just a curtain! There's no magic. No gate keeper. No special power or insight. All you have to do is pull back the curtain and step through. Wait, maybe, that is magic!

It's the magic of the Internet.

If you're writing fiction, there are no more excuses. You can do it all. Wait, let me say that again. You can do it all. Oh, wait, one more time. You can do it all. You can do it all! (yeah, so I lied; that was twice)

Really, the only thing standing between you and being a writer is, well, yourself. Which is not to say that you can just throw some crap onto some paper and be done with it (although there are certainly plenty of people that do that), but, if you work at it, if you practice, if you read, if you read a lot, and you practice some more, writing that is, if you practice writing, and you practice writing a lot, you can be a writer. All of the information you could ever need is at your disposal, be it about monsters or being the voice of god.

So... just... get out there and do it. Work on it. Be it.

[This post has been brought to you by Alex Cavanaugh's IWSG.]

Monday, April 29, 2013

How To Be... a Zen Master

I am not a user of the word "Zen." Ever. Seriously, I don't think I've ever once used it in everyday speech, and I tend to ignore people when they say something like, "That is so Zen." Why? Because I don't really know what it means, but not just that--no one seems to know what it means. It's always just been this kind of ambiguous term that people throw out every once  in a while... to sound cool, I guess. It's one of those terms that people will tell you, "If you don't get it, man, you just can't get it." But what they really mean is that they don't really know what it means, either; there are just special circumstances they feel warrant the use of the word.

Wikipedia seems to agree with me on that. They call the term "vague."

And, see, here I am, right now (as I write this, not as you read this, although I might be), drinking a cup of Tazo zen tea, which I just discovered a couple of weeks ago. Bet you didn't know your tea could be all Zen, did you?

The real issue with all of this is that there is no one Zen discipline. Zen Buddhism began something like 1500 years ago in China and has been continually changing since then, not to mention spreading. First to Vietnam, then to Korea, and, finally, to Japan, but it took it 700 years before it was its own discipline there, and Japan has been the biggest influence of Zen on the West. But the forms of Zen in Japan aren't the same as they are in China or Korea or Vietnam or, even, in Japan, since they have three different schools of Zen in Japan: Soto, Rinzai, and Obaku. All of these variations cause confusion about what it means to be "Zen." At least, it causes confusion over any definitive meaning of the word.

With over 1500 years of teaching, there aren't even any central or essential Zen teachings. No doctrines to point to. Each different form has its own ideas.

And none of this even deals with what we've done with the idea here in the West. Because, here, we've reduced it to someone (anyone) who demonstrates "detachment and control in stressful situations." If you have a cool head, you're "Zen," and, if you do it often enough, people might call you a "Zen master." And, hey, you never even have to try Buddhism. Which says nothing of the fact that sometimes it's just applied to "spiritual" people (often by themselves) to make them sound better.

No wonder I've never used it.

What it all comes down to, though, is that there are many, various, diverse, and sundry ways to become a Zen Master. 1500 years of many, various, diverse, and sundry ways. Just decide which Buddhist discipline you want to follow to get there. Or there's the American way which is to not bother with Buddhism at all and decide to just not get worked up over anything. Hmm... I'm beginning to see the relation, I guess, between being Zen and pot smoking (except for the part where I've never smoked pot).

Make sure to come back tomorrow to discover what all of this has been about in my final "How To Be..." installment. Yeah, all of these posts have a point. Or have been leading to a point. A point that, perhaps, this post more than any other exemplifies best.

Oh, also, "Part Twenty: The Sword of Fire" is still FREE! today.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

How To Be... a Yodeler

Today is the FREE! release of "Part Twenty: The Sword of Fire" from the Shadow Spinner serialization!
But first: How to be a yodeler!

I think yodeling is one of those things that gets an unnecessarily bad rap. Maybe, it's because of cartoons. No, seriously. Take a look at this old Looney Tunes clip:

I don't think the cartoon was making fun of yodeling, especially considering that it was a popular form of entertainment at the time. Yes, I said it was a popular form of entertainment. People used to pay money to go watch yodelers perform. However, the effect of watching cartoons like this one when I was a kid, especially with Bugs and Elmer yodeling and things like that (which is the clip I wanted but didn't feel like spending any more time than I already had looking for it), was that yodeling became this kind of funny thing people did, but that was it. It was just a funny thing, not a real thing. Except that it is a real thing.

For instance, did you know "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" is considered to be the most successful yodeling song ever performed? You know the song, right?

I didn't know that was considered yodeling, but I grew up with that song. It was one of the songs we used to perform with our puppets. We had a big lion puppet and every thing.

Still, that's an old song, but, surprise, surprise, many contemporary artists use yodeling within their music. You might recognize some of these names: Celine Dion, Gwen Stefani, Jewel, and Mariah Carey. Just to name a few. And, then, there's the people you might not expect that can yodel: Julie Andrews (okay, you probably expected her), Gene Wilder, and Bill Murray. I suppose yodeling's not quite as dead as people might think.

So, then, how do you become a yodeler?

Mostly, it's just practice. There are people that give lessons, evidently, but they are few and far between (probably rather like the accordion), so listening to yodelers and learning on your own will most likely be your best bet. Unless you live in the Alps.

Here we are at part 20 of Shadow Spinner, and can I just say "Wow"? Yeah? Okay. Wow! Of course, I'm looking ahead at the parts still to come and how much longer that will be till the last piece is released, but, still, 20 parts. There are some big changes coming up with Tib and his world, not the least of which is the imminent (I hope) release of the physical book, but more on that when I have more details. For today, you'll have to be satisfied with FREE! stuff, so here's today's list of FREE! pieces. Tell all your friends!
"Part Twenty: The Sword of Fire" (FREE! Monday, April 29 and Tuesday, April 30)
(The rest of these are only FREE! Monday, April 29)
"Part Nineteen: Lost in the Garden"
"Part Eighteen: The Angel"
"Part Seventeen: The Tree of Light"
"Part Thirteen: The Clearing"
"Part Twelve: The Gash in the Floor"
"Part Eleven: The Kiss"
"Part Ten: The Broken Window"
"Part Nine: The Shadow of the Tree"
"Part Seven: The Moth and the Shadow"
"Part Six: The Man with No Eyes"
"Part Five: The Police Car"
"Part Four: The Cop"
"Part Three: The Bedroom"
"Part One: The Tunnel"
That's it for today. 15 out of the 20 pieces of Shadow Spinner completely FREE! Go by and pick them up, and let me know how you like them. On Amazon, even!

Friday, April 26, 2013

How To Be... an X-ray Technician

Have you ever wanted to take intimate pictures of people? I mean really intimate. The kind of pictures that let you see right through someone. If so, being an X-ray technician might be the job for you.

The best thing about being an X-ray technician is that it's a tech-oriented field that doesn't actually require a lot of formal schooling. You do have to go to school for it these days, but there are actually special programs and schools just for this, so, if you want, you can go through a two year course and earn a certificate of completion and get an entry level job working the old X-ray machine.

Those days may be running out, though, as more countries are leaning toward bachelor's programs in radiography before they will allow you to be hired as an X-ray tech.

That makes sense these days as radiography is becoming a much more diverse field than it used to be. There is the basic type: diagnostic radiography, like what I got back when I broke my wrist (and they didn't even let me see my X-rays!). You know, the kind we all think of when we start talking about X-rays, but I bet you didn't know all these other things are included under the same heading and are things an X-ray tech needs to know how to do:
sonography -- taking baby pictures among other things
fluoroscopy -- the movies! Usually, though, about the digestive tract.
CT scans (computed tomography) -- every wonder what you look like as a cross-section?
MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) -- tissue maps
nuclear medicine -- radiation tracers to see how things are working
radiotherapy -- for fighting cancer
mammography -- a man invented this one, I'm sure

Being an X-ray tech is, in a lot of ways, similar to being a photographer. No, I don't mean in the way that it's taking pictures. I mean it in the way that at one time, it was a complicated process to take a picture of someone. There were all kinds of... things... you had to do, and it involved flash powder or, later, light bulbs that burned out after one use [When I was a kid, we had one of those cameras that you had to buy the disposable flashes for, because the individual bulbs burned up when you used them.] and all sorts of specialized knowledge. As cameras became more advanced by becoming more simple, though, pretty much everyone became able to use them. Sort of like your basic X-ray machine. They're pretty easy to use these days. You just need to know enough anatomy to get the kind of X-ray a doctor can use.

As with X-ray machines, cameras have also become more complicated, too. Pretty much anyone can use your basic camera, but there are all kinds of types of more complicated cameras that require special knowledge to use, and all of these other types of radiography machines are like that. Their use is becoming more and more common, so an X-ray tech has to have a more diverse field of knowledge.

It's still a kind of ground floor career, though, and it pays pretty well for something that doesn't necessarily require a degree.

Oh, and then there are things like this: X-ray pin-up calendar
Yeah, that is what I found while trying to find a fairly generic picture of a broken bone. And I don't know what to think about it. But it does show there is room for a lot of creativity within the field. I guess.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

How To Be... a Werewolf

You're probably thinking right about now that the way to become a werewolf is pretty simple. All you need to do is go out and find one and let it bite or scratch you.
That would be incorrect.

Sure, plenty of books and movies depict it that way now, but that has newly been tacked onto the werewolf legend, probably due to its association with vampiric legends due to Dracula. Which is kind of interesting, because Stoker drew on werewolf legends and attached them to the vampire legends. Although it had been believed in Medieval Europe that you had to burn a werewolf corpse to keep it from rising from the dead as a vampire. So if you're looking to one day be a vampire, it appears that being a werewolf is a good start.

But, okay, if you can't become a werewolf from getting bitten, how do you become one? It appears that there are many paths to werewolfdom, and many of them are surprisingly easy to accomplish.

One of the best ways, because you can control it, is to simply wear a belt (or girdle) made of wolf hide. Putting on the belt would cause the transformation to take place, instantly and painlessly. Removing it would revert the wearer to human form. However, some sources said it wasn't quite that simple. Some said the strip of wolf skin, the wolf strap, had to come from the devil. Although you could still control the transformation, because the devil gave it to you, you could never rid yourself of the wolf strap.

Some legends say that you could become any animal at all by drinking rainwater from its footprint. Wereelephant, anyone? Or, you know, maybe find one of those stone dinosaur footprints and drink from that. Weretyrannosaur. One catch, I couldn't find anything that said how long these transformations would last, just that drinking the water would trigger them. I imagine they must wear off; otherwise, no one would have ever known they'd happened to begin with.

Other sources say that you can become a werewolf by sleeping outside in the light of a full summer's moon as long as the light is shining directly on your face. I suppose this must be part of where the full moon part of the transformation legend comes from. The sources implied that transformed human would return to normal at dawn. But these weren't permanent changes; you'd have to do the same thing any time you wanted to become a werewolf.

Still other legends claim that one would need to be cursed by the devil to become a werewolf. Or enter into an allegiance with him. Evidently, there was once a group of sorcerers that craved human flesh, so they entered an agreement with Satan to have wolf forms so that they could fill their craving. They were given straps so that they could control their transformations.

And other sources say that the werewolf has been cursed by God or Angels or, even, saints for committing terrible offenses. I'm not sure what constituted a terrible offense. But, then, still other sources say that werewolves are actually the servants of God in his battle against Satan. They are known as the Hounds of God and go down into Hell to battle demons and witches.

Oh, and some people are just born that way.

There you go. If you want to be a werewolf, you have a lot of options to choose from. Personally, I'd go with the wolf hide belt. Then, again, being a weredinosaur sounds pretty cool, too.

1. During the Middle Ages, it was thought that werewolves did not have tails (you know, because people don't have tails), which was how you could tell a real wolf from a werewolf. To keep from being found out, werewolves would run with one of their hind legs extended behind them so that, from a distance, it would look as if they had tails.

2. In his book Fool Moon, Jim Butcher features werewolves. I appreciate that he didn't just go with the modern concept of were-ism being like a contagion. He incorporates many of the various werewolf legends into The Dresden Files, which I find a nice change of pace from most modern renditions.

This post is related to the post, How To Be... a Vampire

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

How To Be... a Ventriloquist

I've been involved in puppetry at various times in my life. It's actually something I have really enjoyed. Now, you don't need to be a ventriloquist to do puppets. At all. You don't even have to talk. When I was in high school doing puppets at church, we only ever used taped skits. Yeah, on, like, cassette tapes. That's just how we did it. Which was fine except for that one time when the cassette player ate the tape during a performance. Mostly, we worked on hand movements, because the hand movements are actually difficult if you want your puppet to look natural. But that's beside the point...

Anyway, working from a recording worked fine. Most of the time. Until that time we were doing this day camp thing out at an actual campgrounds and could only take the castoff puppets and no recorded shows. It was my idea, but the guy in charge of the puppets wasn't going and wouldn't let us take all the proper equipment, so I decided I was just gonna improvise. And I did.

I had this old puppet I called Mr. Purple, because, well, he was purple. Bald and purple with a red nose. I made up this voice for him that I can no longer remember, and I used to get behind a table turned on its side and talk to the kids. It wasn't so much performing as just interacting with them and being crazy and silly. They really loved Mr. Purple. Things were fine like that for a few days until, one day, when it was time to go, one or two of the kids wanted to say goodbye to Mr. Purple, but there was no place for me to hide. This kind of thing had never happened in one of our regular puppet shows, and I didn't know what to do. I mean, the rule, the BIG rule, was to NEVER let any of the kids see you with a puppet on your arm or talking for the puppet. NEVER break the illusion.

But the kids were really heartbroken over not getting to say goodbye to Purple. I caved and brought him out on my arm right there in front of them and tried to not move my lips as much as possible. After that, for a while, I practiced not moving my lips, but some of my... antics... with Purple required full vocalizations, and I couldn't do those without opening my mouth all the way. What I found out, though, is that the kids didn't care. They just didn't. To them, I was the one attached to Purple, not the other way around. They loved him, not me, and they had to be able to give him hugs when we needed to leave everyday. It was really sweet.

I learned a lot that summer about a child's ability to create reality.

And that's your free story for the day, because it doesn't have anything to do with ventriloquism other than my failed attempt at it.

I find ventriloquism fascinating, and I love to watch a good ventriloquist.

But none of this is how ventriloquism started. No, it's not. Let me just say:
Have you ever wanted to start your own religion?

See, the Greeks believed that the spirits of the dead spoke to people through their stomachs; that's what causes stomach noises, you know, the dead trying to reach the living. Some people could interpret these noises, and the voices of the dead would speak through the living without the lips moving. These people were called... are you ready for this? No, really, are you? It's awesome. Seriously.
They were called gastromancers. And, yes, the practice was called gastromancy.
It was also through gastromancers that the gods spoke to people in the temples and such.

And that's how you can use ventriloquism to start your own religion. Just tell people it's "god in your stomach." Works every time.

Through much of history, then, ventriloquism has been used as a religious or spiritual practice. A notable exception to this was during the Middle Ages in Europe, when it was viewed as a form of witchcraft. You definitely didn't want your belly speaking up in those days or you'd be accused of being possessed by a demon or the Devil himself.

Eventually, though, in the late 19th century, it became a stage act, which brings us up to modern ventriloquists.

So the main thing here is just to practice (a lot) with keeping your mouth still while you talk. BUT you don't have to keep your lips completely still, because the real art of ventriloquism is the art of illusion, just like any stage magician. You make the audience look where you want them to, make them believe that you believe you're talking to some other object or that the sound is coming from somewhere else, and they will believe it, too. That was really the trick I had with Mr. Purple. I treated him as if he was real, not like he was a puppet, and, so, he was real to those kids.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

How To Be... an Umpire

One thing I've learned about softball this year and, by extension, baseball is that I don't know much about softball. For instance, did you know that you can steal first base? Seriously. I looked it up to make sure it was a baseball rule, too, and it is. Of course, they're all on about how it's not stealing, because you can't steal first base, but it totally is. It's like, you know when you doze off when you're not supposed to and someone accuses you of being asleep, and you say, "No, I was just resting my eyes. I wasn't really asleep." You're not fooling anyone but yourself, right? Well, this is the same way.

On a third strike, if the catcher doesn't catch or drops the ball, and if there is no one on first, the batter may run to first base. As long as he doesn't get out going to first, he's not counted out from striking out, either, and he stays on first. That sounds like a steal to me.

I didn't know anything about this rule. At all. Why? Because I've never seen it happen in professional baseball. The catcher never drops the ball. Granted, I don't watch a lot of baseball, but still...
However, in my daughter's softball league, the catchers are always dropping the ball, so stealing to first base is actually a strategy they use to get people on the bases. Which is kind of like, "What the heck?" But, hey, it's a rule!

The first time my wife and I saw it happening, though, we didn't know "what the heck" was going on. Or the second time. Some of the girls didn't know what was going on either, because, suddenly, you have one coach yelling "Run! Run!" and the other coach yelling "Tag her! Tag her!" and, often, it results in a bunch of girls all standing around home plate with no clue as to what's happening. It's kind of amusing.

Weird things like that happen all the time. Like, in a recent game, one of our girls got called out because she didn't slide into home. She was not the only girl to not slide into home, so it didn't really make much sense to me. Or to the coaches, who also had to ask what was going on, but, evidently, whatever reasoning the ump gave them was enough, because they didn't argue.

These are good examples of why I will never be an umpire. I don't know the rules. Nor do I really care to. Not to that extent, anyway.

Knowing the rules is first of two basic components to being an umpire; the other is impartiality. Which is not as easy as it sounds.

So what do you need to do to be an umpire?

Well, if you just want to be a local umpire of some sort, that's not too hard. Mostly, you just need to know the rules and be able to pass whatever test they want you to take to show that you know the rules.

If you want to be a real umpire, though... well, that's another story entirely. Remember all the way back to when I was talking about brain surgery and how long it takes to be one in the USA? 15 years of schooling and all of that? Well, if you want to be an umpire in Major League Baseball, you're looking at up to 10 years of training. That's as long as it takes to be a brain surgeon in some other countries.
I'm assuming most of that time is spent beating out of you any love you have for any particular teams and instilling a love for the game in its pure form.

First, you have to go to special umpire school. No, really, there are two of them authorized by the MLB, and  you have to make it through one of them to even have a shot at an MLB position. Also, there are special Umpire Camps that are highly recommended.
See, this is getting way too complicated already.
[I can see all the umpires, now: "This one time, at umpire camp..."]

After umpire school, you have to go to the Professional Baseball Umpires Corporation evaluation course. The catch here is that only the top students from the schools are sent on to the evaluation course and being sent from one of the schools is the only way in. [Unless you're a ninja or the Hulk.] If you pass the evaluation, it's possible to be offered a job umping in Minor League Baseball. Then you begin your slow rise up to the majors. If you're good enough. But, you know, it's probably worth it. An umpire in major league baseball does pull a six-figure salary plus expenses.

Darn. I can be impartial! Maybe I should have gone to umpire school!

Monday, April 22, 2013

How To Be... a Translator

I was listening to NPR the other day; they were talking about this dude that worked as a translator for the State Department and, later, CNN on recommendation from the State Department. They even played some clips of him translating during a CNN interview. It's what gave me my idea for "T."

Of course, it was all wrong. Which I knew but was forgetting during the moment of listening to the report on NPR about this "translator." But, see, he's not a translator. He's an interpreter. A translator is someone that works with documents. As wikipedia puts it:
Translation is the communication of the meaning of a source-language text by means of an equivalent target-language text. Whereas interpreting undoubtedly antedates writing, translation began only after the appearance of written literature.
[The bold print is mine.]
It was surprising to me that NPR made such a fundamental mistake, but, then, I'm sure most people would never even think about thinking that it could be wrong, because we, culturally, use the idea of translation incorrectly all the time. And that's where it gets even more complicated, because many languages don't make a distinction between the two: it is all "translation." But, here in the USA, we do make a distinction, and it's for rather important reasons, which I will get to in a moment. One other note, when interpreting, it is always "interpreting" or "interpreter;" it is never "interpretation," because that means something entirely different and is more related to translating, which we'll also get to in a moment.

I do have one friend who became an interpreter. She was fascinated with Japan and had decided by our senior year that she wanted to be an interpreter. She went on to get a degree in Japanese cultural studies (or something like that) and graduated from college with a (very) high paying job for some corporation in Japan.

I mention that because my impression is that people think that interpreting is difficult while translating is fairly easy and straightforward. That anyone who knows two languages well enough can sit down and translate, but acting as an interpreter requires much more command of both languages. And, while it's true that interpreting is no easy job, especially high level interpreting (especially high level interpreting like for the UN or the State Department), most of what I found leans toward interpreting as being the easier of the two because it doesn't involve so much interpretation. [See, I told you these word distinctions are important. Okay, so I didn't explicitly say that, but I implied it.]

But why interpretation? Because languages don't always translate directly. There may not be an equivalent words between two languages. Or, as is the case with "interpreting" and "translating," one language may make a distinction in meaning when using a particular word. Or there may be phrases that mean a particular thing, but the individual words, if translated, won't add up to the meaning of the phrase. OR... Or it may be an artistic work, like a poem or a work of fiction, and the translator becomes tasked with evoking  more than just the meaning of the individual words. (S)he must make an interpretation of the work as (s)he translates.

Yes, it's all very complicated.

So, then, how do you become a translator?

Well, to start, you have to have a more than competent grasp of both languages you're working with but an even greater grasp of the language you are translating into. But it doesn't stop with knowing the languages; you also have to be versed in both cultures. Remember that I mentioned phrases that mean something other  than the individual words mean? And, then, there's slang, which is often difficult to keep up with within your own language. [When my brother was still in high school (he's six years younger than me), he used to love to use whatever the latest slang was on me, because I never knew what he was talking about. Seriously, it was weeks before I knew what "Baby's got back" meant.] Translating just the words in those circumstances will lead to a bad translation even though the words are technically correct. This is called knowing the difference between when to "metaphrase" (translating the words literally) and "paraphrase" (translating the meaning of the phrase, creating an interpretation of what the author meant). [In other words, "she has a big butt," which I found offensive just on general principal once I knew what my brother was saying.]

You should also be familiar with the subject matter, so translating, say, The Three Musketeers by Dumas, would require you to know both about Alexandre Dumas and 19th century France and 17th century France, which is when the story is set.

All of that aside, the role of the translator is actually growing, right now, as the Internet reaches more and more of the world. Computer translation devices can do no more than translate the individual words, which can lead to a very many misunderstandings, so the demand for people who can translate web pages is on the rise. It probably doesn't require quite as much dedication as manuscript translation does and could also provide good experience for anyone wanting to get into manuscript translation.

And, now, I'm wondering how my books must read in other languages when translated solely by Amazon's computer translators...

Sunday, April 21, 2013

How To Be... a Super Spy!

This is where it all started. This whole series came out of this idea of what it takes to be a super spy, and it was my wife's idea to use this as my series (she said to make sure she gets the credit for giving me the idea that gave me my idea). You might be wondering why we would be trying to figure out what it takes to be a spy, but, really, it's no secret. We think our daughter would be a great spy. She has so many of the basic personality traits one would need: naturally athletic, a drive "to win," an innate desire to make sure other people do what's "right" while being willing to manipulate events to get what she wants. I could go on. And I will in just a moment but more in general rather than about her specifically.

Let me just make it clear: these are the things you need in order to be super spy like James Bond or Jason Bourne or Sydney Bristow, not just a regular spy. The requirements to be a regular spy are much less and more varied depending upon the kind of spy you want to be. Or are willing to settle on being. I'm just going to assume that everyone wants to be a super spy, so that's what we'll look at.

So... how do you go about being a super spy?

1. A super spy needs to be kinesthetically gifted. While it's possible to learn the physical skills one would need without any natural inclination, it makes it much more difficult. A great spy will be able to learn physical disciplines easily.

2. A super spy needs to have a sort of moral ambiguity about them. Which is not to say that they need to not believe in anything, they might have a very heightened sense of right and wrong (or, at least, what they believe to be right and wrong), but they need to be willing to do what needs to be done for the greater good.

3. A super spy needs to have a facility with languages. This is probably the toughest one (and the one my daughter is missing). A regular spy may or may not know any other languages but probably doesn't know more than three or four. A super spy needs to be able to go anywhere and do anything and be able to understand what's going on around her. Minimally, she needs to at least understand the language when it's being spoken even if she can't speak it back. Information is currency for the spy, and language is the root of that currency.

4. A super spy needs to have strong interpersonal and social skills. The spy needs to be able to blend in with the crowd and appear to belong in any group. The spy also needs to be able to manipulate her target. This doesn't come about by being shy. The spy has to be able to win people over, make them trust her, do her bidding. It's not really the career choice for people that don't like to interact with strangers. If that's you, maybe you'd be better as an analyst. Not that you can't be a regular spy and be an introvert, especially if it's part of your cover, but you'll never make it as a super spy if you can't put yourself out there.

5. A super spy has to be smart. Not just smart, either; a super spy has to be able think quickly and take decisive action. Often within moments. Or seconds. Immediately. Sometimes, it doesn't even have to be the correct action, but no action at all, stopping to think about it, will get you killed.

There are tons of other things, but they're specific skills that apply to these basic concepts. Like a super spy should know Arabic. Or a super spy should know how to sky dive. Or a super spy must be proficient with handguns. Basically, there are a lot of individual things to learn, too many to list, but the individual skills are not as important as the underlying ability to learn and use them.

For free, because I found it interesting, one site I looked at said (and I have no idea if this is based on any actual data or just pulled from some guy's butt) that only about 10% of the population is born with the necessary characteristics to become a true super spy.

Friday, April 19, 2013

How To Be... a Race Car Driver

I had no particular interest in learning to drive when I was a teenager. My mom had made it pretty that once I got my license, it was going to be put to use fetching things from the store for her, and I just wasn't motivated to became the driving errand boy. Plus, non-seniors weren't allowed to drive to school, and my school, because parking was fairly limited, was pretty a strong enforcer of that policy. I had many, many friends who had their cars towed because they figured they could get away with it. Basically, I didn't see anything in it for me in the whole driver's license thing, so opted out as long as possible.

That all changed during the summer after my junior year. We were leaving The Farm, which was in an area in Texas where you could drive unlicensed (at least, at the time), and my mom said something like, "We need to look into getting driving lessons for you."
"I don't need them, Mom."
"Sure, you do. Everyone needs them."
"Why? I already know how to drive. Why would you need lessons for something you can already do?"
"Oh, you do not know how to drive, either."
"Yes, I do."
There was one of those back-and-forth arguments here that finally ended in my mom saying, "Well, prove it."
So I did.
And then followed another argument about who taught me how to drive and what was I doing out driving without telling her and all of that, except that no one had taught me, and I'd never been behind the wheel before. Eventually, I guess, she believed me. I did not taking driving lessons, and I had my license before the end of the year, so in the fall of my senior year of high school.

As it turned out, I really loved driving. And I was good at it. Not that I was reckless or anything, but I was really good at moving through the traffic and timing things so that I made lights and all of that. I even got a... um... darn, I can't remember what it was called, but it was a license so that I could drive a van full of people, and I drove for my church. I had that "trucker" tan where my left arm was, well, not tan, because I don't, but a darker pink than my right arm.

But I never wanted to be a race car driver. That may be because the thing I liked most about watching races when I was a kid was the crashes, so I was hyper-aware of the fact that there were crashes. That and I thought racing, like NASCAR, was boring. I mean, come on, it's just going around and around in a circle, and how fun is that? However, if we still had racing like they did when auto racing first started, back around 1900 when it was city-to-city racing, I would be all over that. Or I would have been back when I was 20.

But how do you actually become a race car driver today?

Well, the first thing, really, is to be a good driver. Or racer. Or whatever you want to call it. To some extent, you need to know about the other aspects of racing, such as how to fix your car. You have to decide on what kind of racing you want to do, because there are a lot of options: formula, touring, stock car, drag, off road, and more. Once you know what you want to do, learn about it. Attend a racing school. You may not need it as far as the driving goes, like I didn't need driving lessons, BUT there are school racing circuits you can get into, and that's an easier place to get in than trying to get straight into the professional circuit. It will also give you a chance to gain sponsors if you can't afford your own car.

And that's the big thing, the car. Because it doesn't matter how good you are if you have a piece of crap car that you're racing in. Not that the car makes the racer, but it is a combined effort. In the end, it's one of those professions were some innate skill and a lot of practice really make the difference. It's not like you can go get a degree in race care driving, although that might be kind of cool to have hanging on your wall.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

How To Be... Q

So you want to be Q?
Well, unfortunately, you need to be born in the Q Continuum. Sorry. It's just not gonna work out for you.

Oh, wait!
You meant this Q
Well, that requires that you join the British Secret Service. Maybe. And being able to make nifty spy gadgets.

Oh, no, wait! That's not right, either...

How To Be... a Quantum Mechanic

Okay, so there's really no such thing as a "quantum mechanic." Yet.
However, with quantum communication on the horizon (possibly closer than you think), and quantum computers in development (the first one has already been built), and the possibility of all of this leading to artificial intelligence and robots and warp drive (also in development and has been done on a small scale), I can't think of a better name for the guy that has to come around and fix your tech when it breaks down. I imagine, at first, at least, that this will take a lot more schooling than a trade school.

My advice? Take as much quantum physics as you can. The next generation of technology is coming. It can't hurt to be prepared.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

How To Be... a Paleontologist

Okay, who didn't see this one coming?

My love of dinosaurs began around the age of 3 or 4 when I saw this:
Or something like that. I don't actually remember other than that it was a big dinosaur over a gas station. I was fascinated and spent, basically, the next 10 years of my life devoted to the study of dinosaurs. Just so you know, this is my favorite:
In case you don't know, that's a Triceratops. I think my love for them probably grew out of my early childhood perception that they were capable of taking on a T. Rex, which is true. There was actually a fossil found of a T. Rex and Triceratops locked in combat. As far as I know, they don't know if something killed them while they fighting (like a volcano) or if they just killed each other. It's still pretty cool.

The thing is, and I didn't know this when I was a kid, paleontology is more than just dinosaurs. It's the study of all prehistoric life. And, um, rocks. Okay, paleontologists don't study rocks, but you have to study rocks to get to paleontology. In fact, paleontology is most often within a university's geology department if it offers any kind of paleontological studies at all.

The real issue with paleontology is that it is just broad heading for many different specialties. So you have paleobiology, which is the specific branch that most often deals with dinosaurs. And you have icnology and paleobotany and invertebrate paleontology and vertebrate paleontology and micropaleontology and, even, paleogenetics. And that's not all of them, but I ran out of breath.

Paleogenetics is pretty interesting, especially if you remember this post. (They say) Paleogenetics is not for the re-creation of actual organisms, but it is theoretically possible, and they do work on recreating DNA sequences. AND there have already been attempts to clone a mammoth through recovered DNA in Japan. They still say they can do it. Suddenly, Jurassic Park doesn't seem so far-fetched.

Basically, it kind of doesn't matter so much what you're into, there's probably a paleo field for it. I mean, heck, there's even a paleo diet going around now.
Me? I'm still just into dinosaurs.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

How To Be... an Ornithologist

What do you call a bird doctor?
A quack.

Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Most of my interest in bi... um, no, wait a minute, virtually all of my interest in birds comes from the fact that they are the direct descendants of the dinosaurs. However, it's not enough to make me want to study them. Mostly because they are just about the stupids animals, as a class, in existence. With the exception of fish, which make birds look brilliant. And don't start on me about how smart birds are, because they're just not. This isn't my opinion. On the animal intelligence scale, birds are way down there. Waaay down there. Right above fish.

I suppose that doesn't say much for the intelligence of dinosaurs. Oh, well...

Even stupid animals are deserving of study.

Ornithology is actually very important in its relation to climate studies. The health of bird populations, which is fairly easy to detect within an ecosystem, is indicative of the health of the ecosystem itself. So, although birds are dumb, they're important. And I could take this moment to go off on an ecological rant, but I won't. Just know that I could.
Yeah, that sums it up.


How does one become an ornithologist?

Well, most of the sources I looked at started with "Have a love for birds." That sounds pretty reasonable, but I don't think that's necessarily accurate. One of my wife's college roommates was deathly afraid of birds. No, I don't know if it was related to
Whatever the reason, she started taking classes about birds and learning about birds and ended up an ornithologist, so a love of birds might be a helpful thing, but it's certainly not a prerequisite.

Schooling is also not exactly a prerequisite, but it certainly helps in getting hired on at places. Audubon, a pioneer in ornithology, was mostly self-taught through direct observation. Of course, that was nearly 200 years ago. A more certain course is to get a degree in zoology or something similar and go from there. You can get work with just an undergraduate degree, but, of course, the more schooling you have, the better your chances. It really depends upon how exclusively you want to work with our fine, feathered friends. Really, ornithology only requires that you study birds. You could have one of many related careers (geneticist, ecologist, wildlife biologist) and be classified as an ornithologist, also.

Monday, April 15, 2013

How To Be... a Ninja!

This post started out as my "A" post. No, really, it did, because I was going to do "assassin." However, everything I was looking up about assassins kept leading back to ninja, and who ever says, "I want to grow up to be an assassin"? No one I ever knew. No, everyone said either, "I want to be a ninja," or, "I want to be a ninja assassin." I think assassin is more of a subheading under a lot of other careers these days, anyway, meaning that you get trained to be something else, first, like, say, a sharpshooter in the military or a spy or, well, something and, then, end up using those skills to kill people.

Interesting fact: the term "assassin" actually has Middle Eastern origins. The Order of Assassins, founded by Hassan-i Sabbah, dates back to just before the First Crusade.

But what about the ninja?
I don't want to get into an actual history lesson, here, so, to put it simply, the ninja--or shinobi, as they were called back in the 1400's--were a reaction to the samurai during a period of great unrest in Japan. The samurai were bound by strict codes of honor and combat and weren't free to... take care of certain types of business. The ninja (shinobi) came about as a result. They had no such codes and developed as covert agents using more unorthodox means: espionage, sabotage, assassination. A samurai would never assassinate anyone. Contrary to popular opinion, the ninja were not strong in direct combat skills, generally speaking, and confrontation of that sort was only a last resort. In short, the ninja had no honor and were outcasts from the rest of Japanese society.

So the first thing you need in order to be a successful ninja is a questionable moral compass. You have to be willing to, well, kill people... behind their backs, so to speak. Sneak and break into places. Steal. Spy. Wait... this is sounding kind of familiar...

You need to learn the art of silence. One source I found said simply, "Practice walking quietly." In a broader sense, you can't go around telling people you're a ninja. I actually had a friend in high school who bought himself a "ninja suit" and told people he was a ninja. That's how you know when someone's not. But, as to being quiet, as a ninja, you may need to stayed concealed for days at a time, so silence is a must.

You have to learn how to think ahead. Plan your escapes in advance. The ninja have been referred to as ghosts, and this is why. A successful mission can rely on a planned escape route. And make sure you have more than one planned.

Be a master of your whole self. It's no picnic keeping concealed for days at a time, so you have to be a master of your body. Also, remember that no one should know you're a ninja, so you can't go showing off, which may mean walking away from a fight in disgrace rather than demonstrating your skills and kicking some ass. See, a samurai would never walk away.

As for the killing, you have to be able to kill people in secret. Knowing about poisons is a strong skill set for a ninja. What each poison does for whatever effect you're going for. Should it be painful? Should it look natural? Should it scare other people? Long distance ways of killing are also important, so things like the bow and arrow or the blow dart (or, in today's world, a sniper rifle). Sometimes, killing someone would mean hiding for days in a toilet, so, well, be prepared for anything.

You know, all of these things kind of sound like being a CIA agent, so, maybe, that's the best way to be a modern ninja.
Well, that or joining Alex's ninja army. Yeah, that one sounds a lot safer. And much less likely to have you hiding in sewage for three days. So that's my advice; drop by and see Alex and see if he has any spare pajamas for you.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

How To Be... a superModel (and Lost in the Garden)

First, today is "Part Nineteen: Lost in the Garden" for FREE!
But more on that in a moment, first:

So you want to be a supermodel, do you? Well, were you born a freak of nature? No, seriously, were you? Because, if you want to be a supermodel, that's the best and easiest place to start. Just be born exquisitely beautiful. Yeah, I know that it may be a stretch to think of these people that we put on pedestals as freaks of nature, but it's true; they are.

How can I say that?

Because of the bell curve.
Most people, no matter what you're measuring: intelligence, athletic ability, beauty, fall into that tall hump there in the middle. The average folks. Of course, in our current American society, we try to play it off that no one is average and that everyone is special, but it's just not so. All you have to do to know that some people are genetic freaks, the people born at either end of the spectrum, is look at a picture like this:
Those people are at the "definitely more than others" end of the curve (most of them) and are as much a genetic anomaly as the people born at the "definitely less than others" end of the curve. Like this:
Yes, that is Sloth from The Goonies. Yes, I know he's not real.

However, being born with the looks is not a guarantee of success, nor is being born without them a guarantee of failure. As with most things, hard work can take you places that innate ability may fail to reach.
For instance, Cindy Crawford was frequently told early on in her career that she would never make it.
The mole was seen as a blemish by many magazines and agencies, and they made the assumption that no one would be interested in seeing pictures of her.

With Crawford as inspiration, here are some things you can do to help your supermodel chances:
1. Have a healthy diet and keep yourself in good physical condition.
2. Take care of your body: hair, skin, teeth, etc.
3. Develop a portfolio.
4. Attend a modeling school.
5. Pick a specialty and develop a look. The more unique the better.

There you go. Simple steps that can start you on your path to supermodel stardom!

Today is the FREE! release of "Part Nineteen: Lost in the Garden." It will be FREE! today, Monday, April 15, and tomorrow, Tuesday, April 16. Joining #19 on the FREE! list today (only) will be
"Part Eighteen: The Angel"
"Part Seventeen: The Tree of Light"
"Part Sixteen: The Dark Tree"
"Part Twelve: The Gash in the Floor"
"Part Eleven: The Kiss"
"Part Ten: The Broken Window"
"Part Nine: The Shadow of the Tree"
"Part Eight: The Cold and the Dark"
"Part Six: The Man with No Eyes"
"Part Five: The Police Car"
"Part Four: The Cop"
"Part Three: The Bedroom"
"Part Two: The Kitchen Table"
That's 14 out of 19 parts of Shadow Spinner available for FREE! today only! But that's not all! Also FREE! today is the "zero" part, "The Evil That Men Do," so that makes 15 out of 20. That's not too bad!

So, yeah, I realize that "Part One: The Tunnel" is not available for free (because I'm all out of free days for it), but it's only $0.99, so, if you pick that one up, you can get all the way to part 12, today, without spending more than two bucks (because part seven is also not quite available again, yet, for a free day). What kind of a deal is that? A great one, I'd say!
And, just to try to convince you, here are some of the things that people have been saying about "The Tunnel" and Shadow Spinner:

  • There is room, though, for a thinking man's fantasy-father tale. There should be signs and portents. There should be odd things happening around the edges. Mom should be a little damaged and a little mental. Suspicious things should happen and there should be a slow unfolding of what's going to happen and what might happen. That's what you get here.

    And you get it with real style. These chapters are not overwritten. If anything the structure is spare bordering on minimal. But it's clean and sharp and effective. This makes for a satisfying tale that builds slowly but inexorably to greater and greater dread.
  • Even if you don't read the rest of the series, this stand alone story is just worth reading in itself. It's dark, it's a little eerie, and the moment I started it, I felt like I was a kid again walking home from school, experiencing child-like fear from such silly, common things as dark tunnels and the shadows that creep within them.
  • Personally, I can't wait to read the rest of Tib's story.
  • The story far exceeded even my high expectations.
  • Loved it, my favorite story of Andrew Leon's so far. Can't wait for the next one.
  • I'm really enjoying the serialized installments of this mysterious little novel.
  • What can I say Shadow Spinner gets its hooks into ya.

Oh! And as an added bonus, and I don't do this very often, today only, you can get
"Christmas on the Corner" for, you guessed it, FREE! Yes, I know it's not Christmas, but you'll enjoy it anyway.

Friday, April 12, 2013

How To Be... a Lumberjack

First, how not to be a lumberjack:

Second, and I didn't know this, but lumberjacks don't really exist anymore. No, these days, they are called loggers. The term lumberjack, or lumberjill for women, is reserved for woodcutters prior to the introduction of modern logging equipment like chainsaws. These guys used axes and hand saws, were the manliest of men. In fact, they developed their own culture around their profession embracing strength, masculinity, and the confrontation with danger. In fact, even today, logging is still one of the most dangerous professions there is.

100 years ago, the way to become a lumberjack was to be strong and be willing to do the work. Be willing to risk your life, because that's what it was. The work was migratory, so you had to be willing to move around and live in logging camps, which were often as dangerous as the work. The pay was low, and the work was hard, but there was also a strong feeling of brotherhood and tradition among lumberjacks which, I suppose, made it worth it to those willing to do the work. Also, it was a good place to disappear if you needed to do that, provided you could do the work.

The working conditions aren't so bad anymore, but it's a little more difficult to become a logger these days. You can't just walk up and get hired on because you're strong. Logging companies want people with experience, and you can't take classes for this stuff, so the only way to learn the trade is to do the trade. Small, local tree trimming companies are good places to get the necessary experience, and they are often willing to take unskilled workers and train them up: how to use a chainsaw, how to climb a tree (and be able to use a chainsaw while up in the tree), and how to fell trees in difficult areas. City governments can also be places to get hired on to learn this type of work. If you feel logging is the career for you, it's possible to move on to a real logging company once you've learned the ropes.

If your heart really lies in being a lumberjack, a real lumberjack, there are still ways to do that as the lumberjack culture has been kept alive these past 70 odd years through lumberjack competitions and the like to determine who the real men are. These competitions require the traditional skills of a lumberjack: ax throwing (you know, to take down those trees that are trying to escape), ax chopping, individual and team sawing, log rolling (a favorite in cartoons), and pole climbing. The only real problem with this is that if you really want to be able to win these competitions, you have to be willing to make training for them the equivalent of a job, so you better be independently wealthy or still live at home with your parents.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

How To Be... a Knight

The word "knight" conjures up all sorts of images, but I bet the one that charges to the forefront is something like this:
You know, that whole "knight in shining armor" thing. But the ways of becoming a knight have changed through the years.

For instance, it is both easier and harder to become a knight today than it was, say, 1000 years ago. Rather than learning to wear armor and ride a horse and fight with swords (which all sounds rather difficult and time consuming), these days, you only have to make a significant contribution to British society to be knighted. Somehow, the learning to wear armor, ride a horse, and fight with swords sounds easier. And more dangerous.

But, since I know you are all thinking about shining armor and all of that, we'll take about that kind of knight and not Sir Ian McKellen or Dame Maggie Smith.

So what did it take to be a knight all those long years ago? Well, let's look at that on the historical continuum.

The word originates from a word meaning servant, which eventually came to mean a military servant following a king. So, at that time, about 1000 years ago, all you needed to do was pick up your weapon (which probably wasn't a sword) and follow the king or warlord or whomever into battle and you were a knight. Pretty easy. You didn't even have to know how to fight, which was good, because most of those guys weren't actually trained in combat, not like we think of it.

Within a few hundred years, during the Hundred Years' War in fact, the specific sense of the word had changed to mean a mounted heavy cavalryman. These guys did know how to fight and were trained to both wear armor and wield a variety of weapons while mounted, so the meaning of the word had the connotation of a skilled warrior. By about 1300, being a knight was a rank of dignity that was bestowed because of martial prowess. To be a knight was something that was earned, and it wasn't easy. I think this ideal is probably what most people think of when they think of knights, although we weren't really to the "shining armor" part quite yet.

But the word wasn't finished changing...

See, to be a knight you had to have a horse, a warhorse, in fact, that could carry a man in full armor and often wear armor itself. These were not cheap, so, basically, only the wealthy, the landowners, could support owning a warhorse. By 1500, the term had already begun to change to be an honorific for landowners. Yes, they were still required to be able to sit a warhorse if they needed to go to war, but they weren't necessarily good fighters. Actually, it's slightly more complicated than that...

If you had money and owned land and had horses, you could afford to have your sons taught to fight, so it was pretty normal that the wealthy had some fighting skills that placed them above the masses, but they no longer had to demonstrate those skills to be a knight; they just tended to gain the skills by the fact that they were knights. Some of them were very skilled, but, mostly, it was a title of position, not ability. And it was around this time that what we think of as the "knight in shining armor" really came into being, because that was the time period when armor technology really began to take off.
Plate armor as developed in the 1400's.

So there you go, many different ways of being a knight. Of course, you can't really be a knight in shining armor anymore, not in any real sense. However, you can always join the Society for Creative Anachronism to get a taste of what it would have been like.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

How To Be... a Juggler

When I was in high school, I decided one morning that I should be able to juggle. It was a spur of the moment kind of thing. It wasn't that I wanted to be able to juggle, just that I thought that I ought to be able to juggle. No, I have no idea why I decided that. At any rate, it was a Saturday morning, and I was at work in the gym at church, but it was a pretty slow day or too early or something, because I only had a couple of kids. They were both just skating, so it didn't leave me with a lot to do other than just be there. Maybe I was just bored, but I don't remember that as having anything to do with my idea of "oughtness" about juggling.

A few tennis balls later, and I was learning to juggle. I worked on it for a few hours until I had it down. Or up. Or around. Or whatever.

Once it was late enough that people my age were crawling out of bed, teenagers began to show up, and I had to actually do some other work; however, my best friend showed up, and I demonstrated my new skill. His response was something like, "That's great, but you're doing it wrong." He took the tennis balls from me and showed me the proper way of doing it, which was not around in a circle like they do it in cartoons. My reaction was something along the lines of, "Well, this is how I'm going to do it," because I wasn't going to go back and try to learn some other way of doing it.

Maybe if I'd had access to Arlee Bird, I would have learned to do it right the first time. What? You didn't know Lee could juggle? Well, now you do. And, due to the miracle of the Internet, something I didn't have back when I was in high school, here he is to tell you how to juggle!

Take it away, Lee! Or something like that...

     It takes a lot of balls to be a juggler.  You've got to learn to throw up and then catch what you've thrown up.  Er, this is not coming out right.   Let's just toss out this opening and let me start again.

     Juggling is an art that incorporates the mental disciplines of math, science, and physics and blends them with the physical disciplines of movement and balance.  Juggling is not difficult if you are willing to focus on what you are doing and then practice.  Once it comes to you it's much like riding a bicycle or something of that nature.

      Want to learn to juggle?   Start by learning the basic three ball cascade pattern.  This is a matter of keeping three objects moving in regular alternating arcs for a sustained period of time.  You must learn to maintain a continued one, two, three waltz rhythm with the three arcs.  A juggling count is very helpful in the beginning.

      The first step is to master one object, preferably a ball or a spherical beanbag, tossed from one hand to the other.   Learn this toss from right to left, then left to right, repeatedly without dropping and keeping the same identical arc each time.  Back and forth, back and forth, until you've perfected the feel of the toss and the catch.

     When the first arc is mastered, then start with a ball in each hand.  Focusing on the arcs, toss the first ball from the right hand.  When that first ball reaches the peak of the arc and begins to descend toss up the ball in the left hand in an equal arc, but not on a collision course with the first.  Repeat over and over until the movement comes naturally.

      As you continue the alternating passing of the two objects between your hands, begin to imagine the third object becoming a part of the pattern.  Now instead of the one-two repetition of throws, think of the one-two-three rhythm with the two objects and one imaginary object.   After the tosses, the hand movements, and the rhythm are ingrained in your mind you can add in the third ball.

      The visualization should have helped, but the actual third object might be intimidating and confusing at first.  The main thing is don't give up and keep that waltz rhythm in your mind.  In the basic juggling pattern your hand and arm movements remain the same and the arcs of the objects should also be repetitive.  Juggling is like music.

      I recommend that you practice over a bed so you don't have to chase balls or bend over too much.  You will be picking up dropped objects a lot at first.  Juggling is good exercise, but in the learning process it might be more exercise than you'd want.  Your focus on the juggling pattern will also be better if you aren't chasing objects all over the room. 

      After you've essentially mastered the basic pattern you will be ready to experiment with more arcs, heights, speeds, and other pattern variations.   And don't forget the essential rule when performing your new skill before an audience:  If  you drop something just keep going and act as though it was meant to be.   Learning the skill of recovery is one of the most essential components in a jugglers bag of tricks.

      Now go learn to juggle!  There are many healthy benefits for mind and body.  You might even be able to pick up a few bucks juggling on the street for tips.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

How To Be... an Incredible Hulk (and an Indie Life post)

Okay, so this entry may seem like an odd choice (my wife totally disapproves of it), BUT, if you follow along to the very end, it will all make sense. Probably. I think it will. It does in my mind, anyway. Besides, in a comment back on this postRusty said that growing up to be the Incredible Hulk
was his childhood dream, and I felt like that deserved some recognition. I wanted to dig up old bones; he wanted to "turn into an enormous green rage monster."

But how would one really go about doing that?

Well, my first bit of advice is to be the age of a middle schooler. They have the whole flying into a rage monster thing down. Most of us grow out of that, though, so what other way would one have of becoming a Hulk?

Well, in pretty much every version of the Hulk out there, the first thing you need to have is some pretty serious anger issues, ideally that you're suppressing. For some reason, gamma radiation will release this suppressed anger while also turning you green. Unless you become the a red hulk.
But, then, I'm not actually sure they used gamma radiation on those, so let's just stick to green. Which takes us back to gamma radiation, which is the second necessary ingredient to Hulkify yourself.

Originally, this gamma radiation was delivered via a gamma nuke, but I don't suggest this as your option. Also, it turned him grey
which isn't as impressive in that he looks more gorilla-ish, but he does dress better. Sometimes. But I digress...

More recent iterations of the Hulk have included such things as genetics research and bioengineering, and, honestly, those things put the idea of something Hulk-like into the realm of possibility. We are already working on programs to produce results like this. Okay, maybe now quite like busting out of your clothes and turning colors, but still...

At any rate, if you really want to be the Hulk or Hulk-like, I would bet there are plenty of programs that you could volunteer to join for "testing." I'm sure there will be a lot of paperwork to fill out. Mostly paperwork involving non-disclosure agreements and, um, whatever those things are called where you don't hold the other people responsible when you burst into a green rage monster.
There may also be private individuals who would not need you to sign all of that messy paperwork.

The point is that, if this is something you really wanted to achieve, it's not out of the realm of possibility anymore.

This is also an Indie Life day.
People seem to always want something for nothing, and I get that. I do. Free is good, right? But that's not really what I'm talking about, because free implies that the giver is making a gesture. It's his choice. No, what I'm talking about is when people work the system to take advantage of a situation to get something for nothing.

For a while, Amazon allowed, through it's affiliate program, people to get something for nothing. Just by listing the daily free Kindle listings on their site, an affiliate could earn money from downloads that Amazon wasn't making any money off of. It went on for quite a while before Amazon put a stop to it. The thing that gets me about this is that these people that were taking advantage of what was basically an oversight on the part of Amazon began complaining as soon as Amazon said it would no longer pay affiliates for free downloads. Basically, if we don't make any money from it, you don't make any money from it. I don't see anything wrong with that.

A lot of these people that run these sites advertising free books have been yelling very loudly, though, not that it's doing them any good. Personally, I just don't understand how anyone can feel justified in complaining about not getting something anymore that they were, in effect, stealing to begin with, but they are.

To make up for this lack of income, many of these sites want to, now, charge the author for these services, services that many authors didn't know they were receiving in the first place. On the surface, there's nothing wrong with this; my issue is the way some of these sites are going about it. They want you to have a free offering (to pull in clicks) and a paid option which will earn them affiliate money from Amazon. In effect, they want to be paid from both sides at once. And, maybe, that's okay, it's the way some of these sites are going about it that bothers me along with the fees they want to charge the authors for the service.

Which is how this applies to Indie Life. It's important, as an independently published author, to not get roped into paying more for a service than you're going to get back from using it, and most of these kind of sites are going to do just that, charge you more for the service than you will make from it. Sometimes much more. So what I'm saying here is "be careful." Before you spend any money to promote your book, make sure you do a full evaluation of the service. What kind of traffic do they get? What kind of experience have other authors had? Are they upfront with you and will they answer your questions?

I've gotten pretty used to seeing authors posting about how they spent $50-60 to promote on one of these types of sites for a day and how they only made $10 from it. There's no way to cut that so that it's good for you as the author. Don't be roped in by promises of increasing your visibility or broadening your reader base if your just feeding someone else's thirst for free money. At that point, you may as well be working with a vanity press.

Remember, the money should flow to the author, not from the author.

Monday, April 8, 2013

How To Be... a Human Cannonball

Have you ever wanted to fly? No, not airplane kind of flying or even hang glider kind of flying; I mean real flying. Like Superman... well, except without the ability to control where you're going or anything like that. If that sounds like the job for you, you might want to look into being a human cannonball.
Me? Really? I can fly!
No, not like that guy. Theoretically, that guy is a superhero. I'm not sure what the head honchos at DC were thinking when they gave the green light on this guy, but I think he gets my vote as lamest superhero ever.
Just aim me at the bad guy and fire!
Actually, I was talking about this kind of human cannonball:
The short answer for what you need to do to be a human cannonball is to be brave enough to climb into one of those cannons. The good news there is that they don't actually use gun powder as part of the firing mechanism. Any gun powder that's used is just part of the spectacle of making it look like it works the way a real cannon does. In actuality, they use springs or compressed air.

The first human cannonball stunt was performed in 1877 from a spring-style cannon designed by "The Great Farini" (the guy that used to tightrope walk across Niagra Falls with people on his back and stuff like that), but he wasn't the one fired from the cannon. No, that honor went to a 14-year-old girl called "Zazel." Which brings us to the second thing that works out really well if you, as a person, want to be a cannonball: be small and light.

Really, that's all there is to it. You need to have a certain amount of recklessness, and, you know, fit into the cannon. Or, well, I suppose you could have one specially built if you really wanted the experience but were too big for a normal cannon. Be sure, though, because there have been more than 30 cannonball deaths since the advent of the stunt. Sure, you get to fly, but, really, it's not the flying that will kill you.