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2014-04-20

Timekeeping Issues

For those who celebrate - Happy Easter!

Peacekeeper Update: 45,732 words. I've solved one of my major problems (keeping my main character involved in the action) and I think I'm on my way to a solution for another issue that cropped up. I've passed the projected half-way point and things are moving along nicely.

My new position: Even though I've been working 12-hour days, I've still managed to squeeze in some writing time. I have been assigned to a special project at the nuke plant -- a preventative maintenance (PM) reduction team. We have been tasked with going through over 24,000 PMs to see if we can't extend the frequency or eliminate them all together. I was put on the team because of my background in Microsoft Access. I've been doing a lot of Access programming and we are starting to see some results. I love programming!

Time: We use expressions of time throughout the day without thinking twice about what it really means. It comes to us naturally. Most people can fairly accurately judge how long a minute is without using a clock. We all know how long a day, a week, a month, and a year are. But what if you lived on another planet? Can you see the problem?

Ancient humans created our current timekeeping system based on the rotation period of our planet around its axis and around its star. We group days in convenient bundles called weeks and months. This arrangement has worked for us for so long that we never stop to think about what it really means. If you were suddenly transported to another planet with a day lasting—say—24 hours, 37 minutes, and 24 seconds and a year lasting 686.98 days, your fancy Rolex watch would be useless for keeping time. (In case you're wondering, I put you on Mars.)

If you meet a beautiful (or hansom) Martian and you agree to meet for dinner in an hour – who will be late? Because of how we measure time, a second or a minute or an hour for us will not be the same as a Martian's equivalent. Would they even have an equivalent? Would an alien civilization divide their days into convenient groupings? Perhaps they don't have weeks or months. As a minimum, I assume they would have a definition for a year, a day, and at least one or two smaller units of time but the actual duration of these specific units would not be the same.

The problem is compounded when you expand your imagination to include a star-spanning civilization. Even if we simplify things and make the claim that we are the only intelligent species in the universe, how will we keep time on other worlds? How would we keep things synchronized? If a viable faster than light drive is ever developed and a suitable communications system is created to keep us linked all these issues will have to be resolved.

It's hard enough dealing with multiple units of measurement on this planet (metric vs American) and at least one multi-million dollar spacecraft was destroyed because of this error (http://articles.latimes.com/1999/oct/01/news/mn-17288). A star-spanning civilization must figure out a way to deal with this issue. A single standard time-keeping system would have to be used everywhere. Need a new hyperdrive generator for your ship? You'd better hope that it speaks the same language of time as your ship's computer or you might find yourself forever lost in space.

If you're an author of science fiction you might want to stop and seriously consider this issue. Most authors and all the movies coming out of Hollywood pretend this problem doesn't exist. People say, "I'll see you at the ship in an hour" and everyone knows exactly how long that is. People say, "It took us three weeks to get to our destination", and everyone assumes that a week is 7 days of 24 Earth-hours each. The only time this problem is mentioned is if the author describes an alien planet and then the days and years are put into Earth-time and then the subject is dropped. I'm just as guilty.


As an author, I think it's perfectly fine to gloss over this problem. Introducing new units of time and trying to describe the details of how time is kept would muddy the story. But as a writer of science fiction, I can't stop thinking of just how difficult the simple matter of keeping time is going to be in the distant future.

2014-04-13

Screwed up words

Peacekeeper update: 43,341 words. Even though the book has run into two possible snags, progress is being made. My new position at the power plant will have an impact on my progress. I am now working 12 hours a day, 5 days a week for the foreseeable future. I enjoy my new job so working the extra hours is no bother but it has and will continue to take a large bite out of my writing time. I'm looking into some alternatives to see if I can't get back some time.

Today is my wife's birthday and today will be devoted to spending time with her. That will put writing on the back burner as soon as she wakes up. To get some writing done today, I'm going to cheat a bit on this post.

Screwed up words: One of the most tedious tasks I do in the final days of editing is to perform a search for the words I seem to consistently screw up. The spell check will flag things that are not spelled correctly but it will not flag a word that is used wrongly. At yesterday's writer's group meeting, I had a fellow writer point out one such word that I've just added to my list (who's should have been whose). My list has grown over the years and now also contains several entries for improving my grammar. So here's my cheat part - I'm going to dump the list on you and get back to writing. Here it is:

Screwed up words

Except
Accept
Its
It’s
Loose
Lose
Aid
Aide  (military aide)
Gorilla  (animal)
Guerilla (warfare)
Border (boundary)
Boarder (roommate)
Oar (for boats)
Ore  (rocks)
Councilor (member of a council)
Counselor (one who coucels)
Rouge (reddish color)
Rogue (solitary)
Forward (direction of motion)
Foreword (Introduction)
Roll (bun, roll down hill)
Role (specific job)
Sighting
Citing
Forth
Fourth
Colleges
Colleagues
Their
They're
Your
You're
Lay
Lie
A lot
Use "a lot" instead
Alright
"All right" is more correct
anyways
Use anyway instead
"could care less"
Use "could not care less"
"could of"
Use "could have" instead
"heart-wrenching"
Use "heart-rending" instead
Nauseous
Usually replaced with nauseated. People do not feel nauseous, they feel nauseated.
Quicker
Not a word – use quick or quickly
Reoccurrence
Not a word – use recurrence.
Suppose to
Replace with "supposed to"
Waste
Waist
Peel
Peal
Dessert
desert
Governor (head of state)
Governer (controlling)
who’s
Whose



Publication Checklist

·         Watch out for putting apostrophe s (‘s) after alien names. (Tholtaran’s instead of Tholtarans)
·         Always keep human lower case – never Human.
·         Search for a limit use of words ending in 'ly'.
·         Search for a limit use of words ending in 'ize' and 'ization'.
·         Make sure 'fewer' and 'less than' are used correctly.  Fewer with things that can be counted.
·         Imply means to suggest – Infer means to deduce.
·         Make sure 'affect' and 'effect' are used correctly.
·         'Unique' should not be preceded by very, more, rather or so.
·         'Type up' = type.  'Print out' = print.
·         'Anxious' = worried.  'Eager' is not worried.
·         'Center on' = 'Center around'
·         'Vast difference' should be just 'difference'.
·         Look for 'make' in front of words and eliminate if possible.
·         Limit the use of 'however'.
·         Eliminate 'if and when' – use one or the other.
·         'Different than' = 'different from'.
·         Delete 'in addition' and 'moreover'.
·         'Whether or not' = 'whether'.
·         Ellipses ( … ) are for gaps, dashes are for interruptions.
·         Ellipses should have spaces on either side.
·         Em-dashes (– or —) should not have spaces on either side.

·         Check usage of "if I was" vs "if I were".  Use 'were' to express a wish or something that could not be true.  Use 'was' if the something could be true.  See http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/subjunctive-verbs-was-i-were.aspx for details.

2014-04-06

Houston - We Have a Problem

Well dear readers – it seems I have a bit of a problem. Peacekeeper 2 has reached the halfway point (41,547 words) and I have a huge pile of notes concerning changes to things I've already written. The other major issue concerns my main character; he is about to step away from the action and that's something I can't allow. I could diverge from the norm here and split the book off in two directions with two completely separate plots going along at the same time. I don't ever recall reading a book that's done this.

So, I've been racking my brain for days trying to figure a way out of this problem. If I try to keep my main character involved, the story will appear forced and not true to life. If I split into two parallel paths, the reader might put the book down in disgust and send me a virus-packed email in revenge. On the other hand, doing parallel paths keeps the action going as well as the exploration of the main character's growing relationship with his alien friend. Normally, this sort of thing works itself out while I sleep but so far this has not happened. I wake up just as lost for a solution as when I went to bed.

Another possibility is to begin the phase 2 editing of what I've already written so I can incorporate my changes. By the time I'm done, maybe I'll have figured things out. If a solution pops into my head, I'll just stop editing and start writing again. I guess this is one of those problems that can occur when you're a seat-of-the-pants (SOP) type of writer.

In other news, Linda Nagata has recently posted a very helpful description of what a copyeditor should and should not do. I met Linda at the 2012 Launch Pad and I met Chaz (her copyeditor) at the 2013 Launch Pad. You can read the post by following this link:  http://hahvi.net/?p=3931#more-3931.

One of my Launch Pad contacts has also sent out an email with a link you might find interesting. If you write realistic SciFi, you should read the article on How Many People Does it Take to Colonize another Star System?

Feedback on this topic is requested
I recently fired off a tweet asking what is the preferred way to abbreviate "communications"; is it com or comm?  Jamie Todd Rubin's was the only reply I received and he believes it should be comm. There are very few references to this on the internet but the one that directly addressed this issue said the proper dictionary abbreviation is com. I've seen (and unfortunately used) both. Which one is correct? My guess – whichever one the author prefers.


I recently signed up for a local writer's retreat I just heard about. It takes place in May and I was accepted. The cost is minimal since I will not be staying in a room there. I'll be commuting back and forth. It will be a weekend of interfacing with other writers and writing. I'll let you know how it goes in May.