Thursday, August 28, 2008

All News All the Time

Olympics Day 5 - Fencing

Bill Dwyre, a Los Angeles Times sports writer, made a great point in an August 26 column. Noting all the blogger-style reporters in Beijing, he said "Reporters who once came looking for stories came this time looking for places to sit down and type. Immediately."

Dwyre goes on to point out that "instant gratification" technology may mean that the network's time-honored traditional reporting of games, conventions, etc., may be too slow to satisfy 21st century audiences. Crafting stories and presentations, with enough context and background info to make them compelling, is no longer the point--just get the news out, fast. Viewers must know within seconds who won the match, period.

My favorite paragraph-plus from Dwyre's column:

"What wasn't news became news because we...type it and hit a button that sent it to the world...
"In Chippewa Falls, Wis., Herbie hits a button and yells out, "Hey, ma, Dwight Howard just got the opening tip over Pau Gasol." Herbie is dazzled that he got the word so fast, and the typist is equally dazzled at the speed he got it there. Neither seems to wonder whether what had arrived was worth the effort on either end."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Pay to Track Queries

Here's a service some writers might find useful.

Word Hustler has a database of 3,000 markets and will send your query letters (you write them, of course) and track the queries for you. If you don't have a decent printer, it could be useful. Their rates seem reasonable.

They also encourage you to upload your projects and will automatically send the right number of pages of your screenplay or novel to each contest or market.

Where do they make their money? You pay .99 per submission for under 4 pages. That includes postage (even SASE postage), and the prices go up from there.

I can see where this would be handy, though I doubt I'll be a customer. For me, it's a control issue. I want to see and touch that query letter, not just send a command.

Upload all my writing, set up my queries with a third party? Hmmm. A couple of years ago, I decided to try Writers Market online query tracker--they had a huge database of markets as well. For a couple of months, it worked fine. Then Writers Market shut it down, redesigned it, and--3 or 4 months later--started a new, improved version. All previous records? Gone. Just gone.

Luddites, I think, are usually nice people who've gotten a nasty electrical shock.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

World's best hot chocolate

When the topic of "the best hot chocolate in the world" came up on an egroup recently (due, no doubt, to the fact that all of us were dealing with summer heat by imagining ourselves in winter's cold), the winner by consensus was Angelina's in Paris--though other places certainly had votes.

Angelina's website was thoughtfully posted. The first thing to be gleaned from it is that the century-old (est. 1903) tea shop was bought by Groupe Bertrand in 2005.

Am I a luddite for being disappointed by this news?

Not that Group Bertrand is trying to franchise the place, of course. . . oh, wait, they are.

Well, if you had the best hot chocolate in the world, wouldn't you franchise it? I mean, look at these pictures. Doesn't that belong in Disneyland?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Recommended Reading

As a writer, I especially like the way Garth Nix handles scene transitions and the passage of time. But basically, these are just great stories with female heroes.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Once again, thanks to fire...

...archaeological treasures are revealed.

This time in Britain on the Yorkshire moors. According to this story by Martin Wainwright (any relation to Loudon?) in the Guardian, a 6-day fire on Fylingdales Moor burned away the peat to reveal a 3000-year-old landscape. That was in 2003, but it's being reported as if it were new now.

According to the North York Moors National Park, a large grant for more research has just been awarded. That explains the renewed interest.

Rock art was there before, but triple the amount was uncovered by the fire--as well as Mesolithic flint tools and tracks from the 18th century, when shitloads (literally) of urine were brought from London to an alum factory. Great mordant, urine.

Here's an English Heritage site on Fylingdales, showing a barrow from the Bronze Age. The picture is from there as well.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Dark Celtic Anthology seeking entries

I pass this along for those interested--please see the book's website for more details.

The Phantom Queen Awakes
A Dark Celtic Anthology

Edited by Mark S. Deniz & Amanda Pillar

"The Morrígan is commonly portrayed as a triple goddess, but her tripartite nature is uncertain at best. This ambiguity shall be at the heart of The Phantom Queen Awakes. The Phantom Queen Awakes will focus on Morrígan's tripartite nature.

"We want stories set in the ancient world of the Celts, that talk of Morrígan. She does not have to be a central figure (although she must appear at least once in the tale), however we would prefer it if she was....Push the boundaries, for tales that resound with the reader long after they've been put down.

"Supernatural creatures are allowed, although they must be in tune with Celtic mythology. We do not want gratuitous violence or sex scenes. The editors would prefer stories of a darker nature, and are much more likely to take well written stories with this in mind.

Word Count: 50 to 6,000 (the lower word count being reserved for excellent flash fiction and poetry).

Payment: $.01 per word for original stories, no reprints

Deadline: 1st December 2008 - we are implementing a new submission selection for the anthology but will let all authors know as soon as possible after the deadline day as to the decision regarding their story.

Submission Format:

  • Please write the title, your name, your address, email, contact numbers and the word count at the top of the manuscript submission.
  • Please include the page number in the footer.
  • Manuscripts should be in either the Courier New or Times New Roman font.
  • Please make sure your manuscript is double-spaced.
  • We will only accept manuscripts electronically and they must be in .rtf (rich text format).
Submissions: Send submissions as attachments to:

Monday, August 18, 2008

Green Sahara Findings

Many news outlets have run the story of Paul Sereno's discovery of a cemetery in the Sahara of Niger that dates back to the time that of the Green Sahara--some 10,000 to 6,000 years ago. The best source of info is the Project Exploration site.

The cemetery, literally in the middle of nowhere [albeit a lawless nowhere that requires armed forces to protect it], was found by Sereno in 2000, when he was tracking dinosaur bones. It includes the graves of two groups, separated by thousands of years, who lived near a lake:

  • The Kiffians, extremely tall folks who lived from 9700 to 8200 years ago. They sustained themselves by hunting and fishing, and left the area or died out when the lake dried out about 8,000 years ago. But over millennia the climate changed, the lake came back, and...

  • the Tenerians lived at the location from 6600 to 4800 years ago. They buried their dead on their sides, almost in a fetal position, on beds of flowers. The Tenerians raised livestock, and were shorter and lighter in build than the Kiffians.

  • The Tholians, a crystalline species...kidding. The other two are real, but don't the names Kiffian and Tenerian sound like aliens from a Star Trek episode?

By 4,500 BP, "the climate began its slow deterioration to present day arid conditions," according to the Project site. It has marvelous photos of the mother-and-children embrace in a Tenerian grave (I'm assuming; that relationship hasn't been proven by dna yet). These photos came from there, but go to the site to see them in their full glory.

The National Geographic site also has a photo essay online of the Gobero cemetery, as well as its feature article on the discovery.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Blog-Surfing: a Rationale

I used to feel guilty, spending an hour that would be more productively used WRITING. No more.

It seems that everyone else considers an hour spent surfing is an an investment, not a waste. Check out blogs, and you'll see immediately that blogger blog about other blogs. Clearly, if everyone else is doing it, it's ok. Right?

So, I scrolled through Infomaniac (which periodically lists Useful Sights for Journalists) and found a link to 10,000 Words, and followed that a collection of sites that will help me learn a language! Wow!

There's Babbel, which is free-while-in-beta-testing (and has a few glitches), BBC Languages (slow to load but fun), Learnit list --with widgets to shoot you 20 new words a day (sounds a lot like school) . . . and more. More ways for me to rationalize frittering away my time, because, let's face it, playing on-line Boggle till my eyes bleed isn't really improving my vocabulary like I thought it would.

And it's all good, cuz I got a blog posting out of it.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Let's start a Feature-A-Month Club!

I scribbled down a quote from Mikki Halpin, book author and former editor for Seventeen , contributing editor for Glamour. She was speaking about the freelance writer's dilemma:

I realized that even if I had a feature every month, I couldn't make a living.

The quote was from a New York Observer article in March or April.

How do we survive? Because, let's face it, most of us can't complain that we sell a feature a month, and it's not enough.

I'm pinning my hopes on the novel. No one will pay for it till it's written, agented, and out of three for me. These steps can take years. Meanwhile, we either work at other jobs or scramble for writing gigs and send our best article ideas to $1-a-word or $2-a-word markets (for the record, I've never sold to the latter but I know they're there) and hope that the savings can be stretched out a l-i-t-t-l-e bit longer.

On the plus side, there are no more debtors' prisons, and stretching is good for the muscles, right?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Amiens Cathedral

I haven't written about Gaul lately, have I?

this is a picture of Notre Dame Cathedral of Amiens in the summer, when it is cleverly lit to look as it did when it was first built, and all those sculptures were actually painted.

Through August, the lighting starts at 10 P.M.; through September 21, at 9:45 P.M.--that's if I'm reading the website correctly. The spectacle ends then, until the Christmas holidays.

Amiens is a sweet, quiet town at the lowest part of the Somme, with just enough old world charm, canals, art and trendy shops to be well worth a visit. It's named for the Ambiani, the Celtic tribe that controled the territory way back when.

Monday, August 11, 2008

I'm International!


My article "Resting on a Knife-Edge" is in the new issue of Ancient Warfare. Great illustrations, too.

The article is about Caesar's war with the Belgic tribes of Gaul in his second campaign year, and his near-disastrous run-in with the Nervians. Other articles in the magazine discuss aspects of Julius Caesar's strategy, his legions, the last stand of Vercingetorix in Gaul, and--leaving Caesar aside--Hoplite shields.

Hmmm...what's the dollar-euro exchange rate right now?

Go subscribe! Really, the synchronized diving finals can wait.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Common Ancestor? Try 660,000 years ago

Scientists working on the mitochondrial DNA of Neanderthals have determined that we have to go back 660,000 years to find a common ancestor between them and us. And it looks like there was no interbreeding during the ten or twenty thousand years that both Neanderthals and homo sapiens shared the continents.

Given our taste in men, I can only assume that the Neanderthals were a bit more discriminating. Or maybe it was an in-law thing. In any event, here's the Los Angeles Times story. The Neanderthal DNA was taken from a 38,000-year-old bone found in a Croatian cave.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Underwater Archaeology

"Archaeologists in the UK are exploring a vast expanse of sea floor between southeastern England and the Netherlands that, between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago, was a rich landscape inhabited by Mesolithic hunters and gatherers."

Oh! Oh! Oh! The first thing this makes me think of is that Iron Age Europe, 2000 years ago, had a lower, and in some places marshier, coastline than today. I recall reading that Julius Caesar's description of northern Belgae (the Low Countries) validated the beliefs of climatologists who suspected that seas began to rise millennia ago, and were still rising in Caesar's day.

The opening quote, btw, is from an August 5 article by Bradley T. Lepper titled "Underwater Archaeology a new field of exploration." The July 10 issue of Nature (Vol 454) has an article but sadly, you have to pay to see it online. However, if you google Laura Spinney (the author) and Archaeology, you may find a non-commercial copy somewhere. Like here.

The article is about Doggerland, a silly name for the marshy plain that once connected Britain with mainland Europe. Since about 8,0000 years ago, that blasted plain is now under the North Sea--hence the archaeology tie-in. Scientists have not only found artefacts there, but they are able to map the area and spot ancient rivers.

Skipping around, here's a site on the mapping from the University of Birmingham. That's where this picture with the river channel is from.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Antikythera Mechanism Decoded . . . partly

You may have read about the Antikythera Mechanism before. A corroded bunch of bronze and iron gears found in a shipwreck in 1901 by Greek sponge divers near the idyllic island town of Antikythera (presumably, humans diving for sponges, not sponges diving for fun. . . because, if it were sponges diving for fun they would have kept the Antikythera for themselves, right?) Anyway, where was I?

Oh, yeah. This thingy was found in a shipwreck over a hundred years ago. What is it? Good question. It' was built in the first century B.C. and looks kinda like a clockwork, only it predates clocks by many centuries. It has 29 surviving gears, according to this BBC story, and one of them contains the dates for the Olympics.

Amazing. Apparently, scientists subjected the thingy (they call it the Antikythera Mechanism, since Mechanism sounds more impressive than Thingy) to tomography. A 3-d image was produced, and:

"The four sectors of the dial are inscribed with a year number and two
Panhellenic Games: the "crown" games of Isthmia, Olympia, Nemea and Pythia; and
two lesser games: Naa (held at Dodona) and a second game which has not yet been

The ancient Olympics were not just every 4 years like now; they were actually four sets of games held over four years.

What I remember reading about the Antikythera is that--although this particular thingy was made long after the death of Archimedes in 212 (in Corinth), historians speculate that it was based on a prototype or design of the great scientist/tinkerer.

Wikipedia's Antikythera Mechanism page is quite up to date on this new research, as well as previous discoveries about the thingy, and has tons of references and links to articles in scientific journals like Nature. The "Antikythera Mechanism Project" maintains an accessible website, though it is being redesigned. It has links to a lot of the scans and digital radiographs of the 82 fragments of said thingy, as well as to much of the scientific data compiled. The pictures here are from their Image Gallery.