Interstellar Review

Interstellar(No spoilers here): I recently saw Interstellar in IMAX format.  Overall I loved this movie.  It was the first time I have ever watched a movie from a writer’s perspective, in that,  I am a new writer of Sci-Fi.  I thought the dialogue was excellent and the storyline had such a human aspect to it.  This is one of those movies people will either love or hate with very little in between (like Prometheus).

There were parts where it was more Space Opera than space, but just when you start to think that way, the science adds up and you are drawn back in.

I thought the music score was terrific–very subtle

Congratulations to the directors (not since 2001) where finally there is no noise in space–and I mean you don’t hear rocket thrusters or the ripping apart of space debris, etc.)  That in itself deserves an Oscar.

I thought Matthew McConaughey’s performance was excellent–enough to carry the slightly miscast of Anne Hathaway who is always adorable, but not quite interstellar material.  For that you needed someone edgy and convincing in sci-fi,  like Summer Glau or Jennifer Carpender.


November Seed

Two field biologists from N.J. Fish & Wildlife discover a pair of waterfowl clinging to a metal cleat with twig-like growths protruding from their skulls and have traced the contagion to a common marsh grass called Phragmites. Shortly after their reporting to the CDC, the contagion has found a human host, then another November_Seedand another. In less than 24 hours, Phragmites will release their seed to the world, carrying the contagion with it. The event happens quickly and is known among those who study this grass as, November Seed.

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This novella began as a warm up exercise for my upcoming Sci-Fi novel, Silversides.  Word by word, this idea began to grow with encouragement from family and friends who persuaded me to publish it and I’m glad they did.

Every November, in the northeast, when the air is crisp and strong gusts sweep against a quilted sky,  Phragmites will jettison their seed in one spectacular and wondrous event that can easily be mistaken for the first flurries of the season.  But their legions are once again on the move, quietly increasing their ranks.


November Seed


The Stone


Oh, to be a stone set upon the creek
To feel the water caress me, nudging my thoughts of what has been carried away
To comfort the artist, the lovers, the lost as they gaze down upon my shoulders or rest their tired souls upon my own.
To not be noticed, not wanting to.  My comfort is knowing I am aware
And they will yield this place to be their own,
To this place where I long for their return.

Universe’s Incredible Big Bang Expansion Found!

inflationI was reading the announcement today (3/17/2014) posted on by Mike Wall that the team from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, led by John Kovac,  might have found the smoking gun for the expansion of the universe.  If the data holds up, confirming the existence of gravitational waves, then this discovery is, well, as big as the discovery of the expanding universe itself!

Quite exciting for both real-world astrophysicists and us Sci-Fi writers.  What these waves point to is the stuff dubbed – Inflation.

Disclaimer:  I do not pretend to understand the mathematics behind this.  But, as a student of the sciences having had a professional career in the LifeSciences of Ecology, I can postulate a scenario that might describe it.

As a former Marine Biologist, now writing SciFi, I have an observation that might provide the visual for chasing down the mathematics of the elusive substance  dubbed  Inflation.  And in the process, ink toward the possibility of multiple universes.
In my diving experience, I have come across fish where they can invert their stomachs at will and very quickly.  So let’s assume that the cosmos (ocean) is made up of these multiple universes ( invisible fish).  A fish comes along and inverts its stomach.  Now, the process of inverting the stomach is like the expansion and does not follow the laws of general relativity, where objects within the universe (contents of stomach)  cannot travel faster than light.  The process of inversion can happen very quickly.  The contents, once inside, are now outside and something else has replaced the inside in one Big Bang!.   Within the stomach objects are bound by the laws of physics.  This process is tumultuous, and can form eddies (nebula) and vortexing (black holes) and is filled with debris (stars, planets, etc.).  Objects we see all around us in the universe.
Then that fish simple sucks its stomach back into place (the universe it was) dubbed the Big Crunch.
What I am getting at is, was the singularity (Big Bang) an inversion?

So now we need to look at what forces in the cosmos can cause inversion. Do all universe’s have stomachs they can invert?  Is one’s Big Bang some one else’s Big Crunch?

If nothing else, it can serve as a plot basis for those brave enough to scribe about multiple universes. 😉

It was a dark and stormy night…

I am beginning to feel what writers speak of—that writing is a lonely place.  I recently finished the first clean draft of my first attempt at writing, a sci-fi,  which has taken me two years.  The first year was teaching myself how to write. Yesterday, after opening and reading through some early work, I found myself smiling at how awkward it read and how fluent my writing has become.

The better one can write, the more one writes it appears. Writing seems no different, to me, than learning a foreign language.  Becoming fluent is the absence of translation, but fluency does not make a great speaker.  What makes someone great at speaking in a foreign language is their focus on accent and sarcasm in that language.  Yes, sarcasm, the dark matter which holds lines together,  and accent, the cadence of what is written.

During the week, I am in the center of NYC, Hell’s Kitchen, with its endless ribbon of restaurants strung along uneven sidewalks, and the incitement of patrons spilling out of cozy bars as I head home from my day job.  These days, I might as well be on the dark side of the moon.

I am not complaining.  Those restaurants and bars will always be there.  What’s different is my fluency of writing. That feeling after a night session when I say to myself, Who thinks to write like that? Then knowing, I do.

I have much to learn as a writer, poised on the threshold of loneliness, but how many of you are already there or looking forward to it like I am?

Are you smarter than a 5 year old

CrazyLoomBraceletAside from being stuck in the rear of the aircraft and taking 7 hours to get back from FL to NYC last night– a trip that frequently takes 3 hours from my customary silver elite class seating near the front, I had the most delightful conversation with a 5 year old.

Ashamed, I started the trip with a very nervous outlook—sitting next to a 5 year old with legs dangling and playing a game on her iPad that was making all sorts of arcade noises with each swipe of her finger and her brother, a row in front, doing the same.

As a passenger, I don’t want to step in and suggest to her parents, sitting behind me, she should use headphones so as not to disturb other passengers who are reading, sleeping or writing (like I would be).  My address of the situation?  I admit was selfish, was to plug in my noise canceling ear buds and separate myself from the realm with good music and my tablet to write away.  I did notice my fellow passengers across the aisle turning their heads toward me as if I was the unconscious father, up to my neck with child rearing and farming out my parenting responsibilities to a piece of electronics.  I simply smiled back at them—unconsciously.

Once air-born and comfortably seated in my oasis of boundless intergalactic music for writing, I dropped my tray table, married my tablet with its Bluetooth keyboard and began to type, giving life to my protagonist, Nori, who is trying to save an alien civilization.  The 5 year old was back on earth and no longer a concern.

My graphical security lock screen caught the 5 year old’s attention and I swear she began to read what I was writing, adding even more pressure on me that I might be assessed critically by a 5 year old.

Shortly into the flight, I received a tap on my shoulder from the 5 year old, so I removed my ear buds and replied,

“Hello there,” I said and beamed her a smile most children can’t resist.  “What is your name?”

She beamed a smile back, answered as Samantha and presented me with a crazy loom bracelet, “Here, I made this for you,” she said in a sweet voice that tripped its way through some missing teeth.

I sat speechless, an arrow through my heart, my throat in pain from the gulp of guilt stuck there. I was convinced that this 5 year old was going to be the icing on the cake to an already terrible flying experience.  I was so wrong to be nervous.

For the next hour, we spoke.  The conversation was anything but child-like as she kept eye contact and taught me some loom stitching.  Impressed, I asked her how she learned these complex weaves and she responded with her searching of You-tube, then proceeded to inform me the loom was really just a beginner’s path and real crazy loom makers used their fingers as the loom itself.  This demonstration while we chat.  She asked me if ‘it is okay to be nervous?’

Such a intangible question and trying to not forget she was 5…“Tell me why you would be nervous?” I asked hoping it was not too philosophical a question.

“Well,” she pondered.  “My brother, Jordan in front of me, jumped off of a railing at the tennis court and it was a long drop to the ground and my mother got nervous.”

“In that case, it is okay to be nervous,” I explained—trying to convince myself this was the right approach. “But being nervous of something that has not yet happened (gulp) is not something I think is a good thing.”  I gave her pause to absorb this.  Satisfied she did, I continued. “It is usually better to wait until something happens—then be nervous, but not before.”

Touché Samantha, and thank you for the lesson. Who is the 5 year old in this conversation?

She continued to loom—wanting to present the pilot with an equally attractive bracelet, engaging me in color choices, stitch patterns and appropriate length.  I did manage to teach her how to gauge length by warping her fingers around my wrist, then opening them and using her opened hand as a template. She approved of this new method, but I could not help but feel she was amusing me.

I answered her questions about family, where I lived, did I celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah as she did.  We discussed swimming in the rain and wet is wet so you can’t feel it is raining. She asked if I had seen Despicable Me -2 or Frozen, because if I did not she did not want to hand out any spoilers (to that effect).

Another 40 minutes passed, and Samantha asked me how much longer the trip was going to be.  I calculated an additional hour before we touched down.  She was getting tired now and asked for her sleeping collar from her parents and gladly swapped it for her loom and slipped the collar around her neck and settled back in her chair.

“How do I go to sleep?” she giggled.  “I can’t just go to sleep?”

“What is your favorite thing?” I asked

“Unicorns.” Samantha replied through missing teeth.

“Ok,” I said, ”Close your eyes and I will guide you to them.  You are in a forrest, walking down a path…,”

Samantha’s eyes sprang open and she giggled, “I can’t sleep with you telling me that.  I am going to laugh!”

We then spoke briefly about dreams and how much fun they are.  She relayed to me that they are pictures that are really happening.  We could have continued upon this favorite thread of mine….

“Do you want to ride a unicorn or not?” I said convincingly.

Samantha nodded with renewed interest and closed her eyes.

“Ahead of you, the path opens into a meadow,” I whispered, her eyes opening just briefly with a smile and I returned the glance reminding her. “There in the meadow are 3 unicorns, but you are presented with a puzzle—if you step out too quickly, you will spook them and they will run off, so you need to move slowly through the meadow moving only when the warm breezes sway the grasses.  Keep moving toward them and eventually, they will know you are not there to harm them.  Pet them gently until they brush you with their nose and dip down on their front legs, then it will be time to climb up and hold them by the mane….”  She was out light a light. Even through a rather nervous landing in fog and a jolting purchase of the wheels on the tarmac.  She never moved and I looked closely at the steady rise and fall of her tiny, almost doll sized chest to make sure she was breathing.  She never did awake before I had to exit the aircraft, but I did pass onto her parents what a darling little girl she is and to give her my thanks again for the bracelet and most importantly, to remind me what the world looks like through a child’s eyes.

I can’t help but feel I gained the most from that conversation and the lesson she taught me—not to be nervous before I have to.  Thank you Samantha, sleep well and I hope you had a good ride on a unicorn.

Want to be a better writer? Use a text to speech app

MAHOne of the best ways to write is to hear your own work read out loud.  Unfortunately, when we read our own words out loud it sounds terrific—we’re bias.  You really need a third party and I found one—Amy.

I like to write where there are terrestrial sounds around me. But no matter where I am, my routine always starts at the beginning, where I fine tune the opening paragraphs.  I would read the opening paragraphs out loud and make minor corrections.  It’s  how I get acclimated.  Like standing in shallow water, feeling the temperature first, before heading out into the surf.

On the way to work one morning, I assisted a blind man onto the M79—a cross-town bus in NYC.  I sat next to him, asked where he was heading and offered my assistance.  He was on his way to the Apple Store.  As a technologist, that got my attention.  I asked why?  He was having problems with his iPad and wanted to get there early before the crowds—this was around 6:20 AM.  He now had my full attention.  I asked him what problems he was experiencing, what he uses his iPad for and how.  He told me the iPad has some great text-to-speech technology, but it was not working correctly.  The use of the iPad was a window for him, and what I thought would have been a monumental obstacle for someone blind, it was the opposite.   I now think we seeing-prepared are held at the disadvantage.   He was making full use of the inherent features of the iPad.  It announced what keys he was touching and it would read out loud his email, web page content, his ebooks and navigate him on the street to find a store location.  He could hear documents sent to him and well as transcribe documents he sent. He used the on-board mic and voice commands to navigate around the web. I accompanied him to the Apple Store that morning.  I needed to find out more about the technology.   I am not sure what impressed me more, the technology or his ability to make it through the grid of NYC on his own.  It’s a challenge, for anyone.

How ironic.  It was a blind man who opened my eyes that morning.  When I got home from work that evening, I explored the technology of my Samsung Android tablet as well as my S3 smartphone.  I began to force myself to use the voice-commands to launch applications, set tickler reminders, navigate to web sites and use the voice-to-text for crafting emails, text messages, etc.  I am now understanding how useful these devices really are and that having sight makes you blind to some of this technology.

However, what I was missing was a true text-to-speech engine (outside of navigation).  IvonaSearching the web and Google Play site, I settled on Ivona for my Text to Voice Engine.  This is not to say this is the best engine out there, but it is free, so that’s a good start.  With Ivona, you need to add in a persona—the technology that actually transcribes the text to voice.  I chose “Amy.  Her sultry, sophisticated British accent is perfect since the protagonist in my SciFi is female.

Unfortunately, Ivona does not allow one to open a document within its application directly.  The only way is to cut and paste the text from my document into Ivona.  That works great, but you can get lost quickly cutting and pasting text back and forth

MoonTo streamline this aspect, you need an additional application.  I looked at the list of compatible apps, recommended by Ivona, and selected Moon + reader Pro ($2.49).  I looked at the other free apps, read the reviews, but  Moon +reader pro seemed to be the app of choice.  I made the right decision because Moon + reader Pro was able to identify both my DropBox and Google Drive folders, making adding documents to Moon + reader Pro’s bookshelf easy.

NOTE:  There is one drawback and that is Moon + reader Pro will not recognize .doc or .docx (WORD) format.  You first need to save your document into at least PDF format for Moon + reader to open into its built-in reader. This is easily accomplished with DropBox’s ability to convert doc or docx formatted filed on the fly. You can open a .doc or .docx file through Moon + reader, but it will launch your default .docx application (in my case, Documents2Go), rendering the text-2-voice aspect out of the picture.

So I now use a combination of both practices.  When editing, I will cut and paste a paragraph from my Document2Go file directly into Ivona and play it back.  This allows me to edit until I perfect the read—then I paste it back into my Documents2Go editor and save it back to .docx.

NOTE:  Do not cut and paste too much into Ivona.  I found a paragraph is good.  There are two main drawbacks to loading text directly into Ivona: 1) Too much text takes time to  process before it reads it back to you; 2) Every time you stop to edit, then resume, it jumps back to the beginning.

But if I want to hear what I have edited to date, I save to .pdf format, load onto my Moon +reader Pro bookshelf and let Amy read the most spectacular novel ever written. Priceless.

As a product, I am impressed with the plethora of features of Moon + Pro.  I even downloaded a restaurant menu (PDF) and Amy read everything out loud to me, including the wine list—she’s not much of a drinker and she butchered the French wine names….   I think there is a way to correct pronunciation, but I have not explored that yet.

What you need to know about Moon + reader Pro on Android

The application is packed with features, but getting to those features without reading takes a bit of trial and error, with emphasis on thee error. As an example, I somehow dimed my screen setting within Moon + reader to where I could not see the screen.  I thought it was my tablet settings, but it only occurred when I opened a document within the Moon + reader.  I had to go on-line and learn that if you touch the middle of the document, it brings up the navigation bar.  I then had to go into a dark closet so I could see the screen.  Finding the setting to brighten the screen was buried, but I found the correction by swiping my finger up or down on the left side of the screen: brighten (up) dim (down).  You can also speed up or slow down the speech using finger touch sequences—you will want to learn them right at the start.

Adding files to your bookshelf and favorites is the next thing.  I suggest you do not conduct a search—way too many unrelated documents get loaded and you can only delete one document at a time.

Now that I have taken the time to understand the features of these two apps and how they work in concert with each other, I feel like I have gained sight.  It has helped me in my writing, significantly.  To hear your written words through the voice of someone else is your true editor.  Amy never criticizes my writing, only improves it.

I am using the free beta of Amy.  I think when the beta program ends, I can switch to another persona or outright buy one, but the price is steep ($125 – $250).  I have to admit, I fell in love with Jennifer, but can’t afford her.. just yet….

My writing platform

  • I use a Samsung Galaxy WiFi 10.1 tablet with Android  for all my writing ($375)
  • I use the Google virtual Keyboard as my default (NOTE: not compatible with Samsung’s Bluetooth—Samsung wants to use its own virtual keyboard on Bluetooth) (free)
  • I use a Logitech ZAGG Bluetooth keyboard (will default to the Samsung virtual keyboard automatically) ($53.48)
  • I use Google Drive (free up to 15GB)
  • I use Dropbox as well as Google Drive for cloud storage (free up to 2GB)
  • I use Documents2Go for editing (Word, PDF, Excel, PowerPoint) ($14.99)
  • I use Ivona test-2-voice Engine (free)
  • I have selected Amy for my persona (beta – free)
  • I use Moon + reader Pro for reader platform ($2.49)