Writing into the Future


Monday, November 11, 2013

If I Only Had A Brain…or a petrie dish

If the scarecrow had turned to modern day scientists rather than the Wizard of Oz he would have gotten something significantly more useful than a piece of paper. I'm referring to the ongoing research into the development of a human brain, better known in scientific circles as cerebral organoids.

Jurgen Knobloch of the Austrian Academy of Science and a team of Austrian and British scientists have grown stem cell derived three-dimensional models of embryonic human brains. These in vitro models develop various but interdependent brain regions. "Stem cells can be coaxed into balls of neural cells that self organize into distinctive layers," according to Arnold Kriegstein. Madeline A. Lancaster and her team have grown these cerebral organoids in a spinning chamber with sufficient nutrients to allow them to develop. Because there is no neural network these organoids are short lived, 20 to 30 days. They begin to die from the interior outward due to the lack of a blood supply.

The need for such experimentation has to do with the complexity of determining how the human brain develops. The use of mice for such research has limited value and the need to determine how such disorders as microcephaly and schizophrenia develop make this a valuable scientific study. With microcephaly the brain doesn't develop enough neurons and therefore is small. A smaller brain equates to less connectivity. And there is a good discussion on a study into how different substances affect these organoids to determine how they react in schizophrenics here.

Of course there are ethical issues as to what constitutes a living being and when does the tiny mass of cells in the petrie dish constitute life. I'll leave that for another day. For the moment, I'm thinking Mary Shelley and Frankenstein.

Happy writing.

Monday, August 12, 2013

You're Toast!

Ellie Zolfagharifard reported in The Daily Mail that an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) narrowly missed the earth three weeks ago. EMPs are caused by solar flares or high altitude nuclear explosions. In this instance it was caused by a massive solar flare like the one pictured here photographed on May 12, 2013.

Evidence of the effects of such a flare were first noted by the astronomer Richard Carrington on September 1, 1859. People reported being able to read their newspapers due to the brightness. Worldwide telegraph operators were shocked unconscious and sparks flew from their telegraph machines even after being disconnected from their batteries. The power from the solar flare created electricity in the telegraph lines.

In response to the incident three weeks ago, Peter Vincent Pry, who served on the Congressional EMP Threat Commission stated, "There had been a near miss about two weeks ago, a Carrington-class coronal mass ejection crossed the orbit of the Earth and basically just missed us. Basically this is a Russian roulette thing," he said. "We narrowly escaped from a Carrington-class disaster."

EMP have the capability of wreaking havoc on our electronically dependent lives. In 1989 an EMP knocked out the electrical grid of Quebec.

The sun is nearing an eleven year peak in solar activity and 2012 saw very volatile activity. A study into solar storms last year predicted there was a one in eight chance of a major one affecting the Earth by 2020. There have been Congressional panels ongoing to address the issue of how to protect the power grid of the U.S. In the U.K. the Royal Academy of Engineering experts feel they are prepared for such an event. 

Where will you be when the lights go out?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Doomsday Scenarios: Fertile Ground for Fiction Writers

The end of the Mayan long calender, Dec. 21, 2012, has believers and non-believers alike wondering about what this event will portend. The History Channel is running twenty-one days of programming leading up to this date which depicts a wide range of end of days prophecies.

The array of prophetic scenarios is broad, from the Book of Revelation, Nostradamos, Edgar Cayce, John Smith, the mysteries of the 13 crystal skulls left on earth by aliens from other planets, or scientific geologic facts of super volcanoes like Yellowstone. Whether or not you give any credence to these possibilites they all are great fodder for a writer, particularly a writer of apocalyptic fiction.

So, get your notebook, set the recorder on your VCR, pop a bowl of popcorn and sit back with the remote control and find that germ of an idea for your next novel. That's what I'm doing until...well, the end of days.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

E-Publishing: It's a Process

So, I'd been thinking for some time now that I would try my hand at self publishing now that ebooks make it virtually cost free. I hemmed and hawed for a while because technologically savvy I am not. But during all this time I read a lot about the process from various websites and blogs and talked to a veteran of the venue, Kathy Carmichael, and decided that I could do this.

Amazon's KDP program seemed the way to go because, let's face it, Amazon has the lion's share of the ebook market. They also have this free guide titled Building Your Book For Kindle in, of course, an ebook format. I strongly recommend you download this guide and read it through to the end before starting the process of uploading your manuscript. It really is a step by step guide and even I couldn't go wrong when following the instructions.

And so, when I was finally able to stop obsessively editing The Blessing of Hannah, I managed to get it up and running as an ebook in just a matter of a couple of hours. (Okay, so I had a few issues uploading my cover but that had nothing to do with Amazon or their guide.)

The only expense involved has been my cover which tricia pickyme did for me--which I love, love, love. And of course you can find it at http://www.amazon.com/Blessing-Hannah-Rebekahs-Children-ebook/dp/B00AGAZO46/ref=la_B00AGP2XJA_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1354485449&sr=1-1

Monday, July 30, 2012

Murder by E-Book? Really?

Concerns about the devaluation of books in general by the cheap price of e-books was a heated topic at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival held earlier this month. The panel, aptly titled Wanted for Murder: The E-Book, turned into something of a verbal brawl between members of the audience and the panelists. Catherine Ryan Howard has a very good response to the concerns voiced rather vehemently by crime writers Mark Billingham and Laura Lippman (catherineryanhoward.com/2012/07/23/low-e-book-pricing-the-compensation-problem/).

I confess it took me a while to embrace the e-book concept. My bookshelves are overloaded with the books I have accumulated over my lifetime and I wouldn't give them up for anything. But I have become enamored with the instant gratification of my Kindle. And  I find myself buying more books than before simply because they are more affordable and the fact that such devices as the Kindle promote impulse buying. Surely that is a good thing for authors all across the board.

But back to the argument of the physical book versus the e-book. If you assume that books in the future will only be available in an either/or format, then perhaps there is a reason for concern. But technology is here to stay and publishers aren't stupid. Future contracts will now involve negotiations for various formats in which a book can be made available to readers. Physical books will always be available for readers who cannot or will not embrace the new technology and probably at a less expensive price because of the advances in the publishing process such as print on demand. This requires less warehousing space and should facilitate the eventual elimination of remaindered books and that whole complicated accounting practice resulting therefrom. With more people embracing the e-book format, authors will have a much greater audience and, coupled with a lower price, the opportunity for more sales.

There are factors in this argument of which I have limited knowledge such as Catherine Howard's suggestion that big money authors are no longer receiving the large advances they once did. Perhaps this is true. I know from a number of friends who are mid-list authors that this is a fact. But these same authors are now able to take out-of-print books they have written and offer them as e-books where they will then receive the lion share of the proceeds. This to me seems like a good thing in that it is now and has been for some time the responsibility of the author to promote their works as publishers no longer allow a budget for effective promotion for any except their top selling authors.

This is not an argument that will be easily or quickly resolved but as with all change I feel the market place will resolve these issues over time and those who are so adamantly opposed to the lower price an e-book can demand will come around when they begin to appreciate how many more readers they can reach. And those authors who have found themselves excluded from the marketplace by the gatekeepers to publishing will have an opportunity to prove whether or not they are any good at their craft.