#IWSG: The Writing Recovery Plan

Hello, friends!  Welcome to this month’s meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.  If you’re an insecure writer in need of some support, then this is the group for you.  Click here to learn more!

In my last post, I told you that I’m too stubborn to quit writing.  Stubbornness is a trait that runs in my family, for better or worse.  Stubbornness can be a virtue or a vice, depending on what you choose to be stubborn about.  So while I may be too stubborn to quit writing, I have realized in the last few weeks that I need to stop being stubborn about the way my writing process works.

You see, I’ve always been obsessed with plans and goals.  I like to plan out my day, my week, my year—my whole life, even—in meticulous detail.  But about eight weeks ago, there was a family emergency, and for the past eight weeks now, all my plans have fallen apart: especially my writing plans.

So if I’m ever going to get back to my old self, I need a new plan.  I call it a Writing Recovery Plan.  Given that it took me eight weeks to get to the point I’m at now, I figure it’ll take about eight weeks to get myself back to the point where I was.  So what will I spend the next eight weeks doing?  Well, I don’t know.  The plan is, essentially, to have no plan.

Maybe I’ll start writing Tomorrow News Network again, or maybe I’ll start something entirely new.  Maybe I’ll write a bunch of sciency stuff for the blog, or maybe I’ll blog about something completely different.  I don’t know.  And for the next eight weeks, I’m not going to worry about it.  I’ll simply let the muse point me in whatever direction she likes and see where that leads me.

At the end of my eight weeks, I’ll have to make some decisions.  I will never quit writing, but there are other aspects of my writing life and writing career that might need to change.  But that is not something I want to talk about or think about today.  Today, I simply want to tell you that I’m back, officially.  I’ll be blogging again on a weekly basis, covering topics that are… to be determined.

So next time on Planet Pailly, I’ll have something to say about something.

#IWSG: Too Stubborn to Quit Writing

Hello, friends!  Welcome to this month’s meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.  If you’re a writer, and if you feel in any way insecure about your writing life, click here to learn more about this amazingly supportive group!

Last month, there was a family emergency.  What happened was… well, wait.  How personal do I want to get in this blog post?

Bad stuff happened.  Like, really bad stuff.  And I’ve been dealing with the fallout as best I can ever since.  Finding time to write has been… difficult.  If there was ever going to be a moment when I would give up on my writing dreams, this was the moment.

But there’s one thing that’s true about my whole family: we are stubborn.  That’s not necessarily a good thing.  For example, it is not a good thing to be stubborn about medical stuff.  Seriously, if you’re feeling sick, do not try “toughing it out.”  Go see a doctor before you end up putting yourself in the hecking hospital!

Oh, whoops… (quickly turns the T.M.I. dial back down to zero).

Anyway, at this point the situation with my family is more or less under control.  Important decisions still need to be made, certain things cannot go back to the way they were before, et cetera, et cetera.  But the situation is more or less under control.  My plan now is to ease myself, slowly and gradually, back into my writing routine.  Because while life may have postponed my writing for a month, I am too stubborn to give up on my writing dreams entirely.

P.S.: And if you’re a stubborn person too, good!  I commend you for your stubbornness, just so long as you’re being stubborn about the right things.

A.F.B. (Away From Blog)

Hello, friends!

So I’m going to be away from the blog (a.f.b.) for a little while.  Almost immediately after I wrote my last post, a family emergency came up.  Everything is okay.  There’s nothing to worry about, but the situation will require my undivided attention for the next few weeks.  I will be back as soon as I am able to be back.

#IWSG: Hey, Listen!

Hello, friends!  Welcome to this month’s meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group!  If you’re a writer and if you feel in any way insecure about your writing life, click here to learn more about this amazingly supportive group!

I’ve written a lot of these IWSG posts over the years, and many of those posts have featured my muse: the magical fairy person who nags me when I’m not doing my writing.  I tend to describe my muse in a certain way, and I tend to depict her a certain way in my art.  This has led to a few comments comparing my muse to a certain fairy companion from a certain video game.

Today, I’d like to confirm for you all that, yes, the idea for my muse was partially inspired by Navi from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.  Now I realize there are not a lot of Navi fans out there.  A lot of people found her super annoying, and she’s often listed among the most hated video game characters of all time.

But, gosh darn it, I liked her.  When I was a kid playing Ocarina of Time for the first time, I really liked the idea that I had this magical fairy person tagging along with me on my adventures.  Even if Navi didn’t always have the most useful advice to offer, it was comforting to know that I didn’t have to fight all those giant spiders and lizard monsters and creepy plant things alone.  And I guess, in this ongoing adventure of being a writer, the same idea still gives me comfort.

Now if only the act of writing could be as easy in real life as it would have been in the game.

Sciency Words: Heartbeat Tone

Hello, friends!  Welcome back to Sciency Words, a special series here on Planet Pailly where we talk about those weird and wonderful terms scientists use.  Today’s Sciency Word is:

HEARTBEAT TONE

Last week, I watched NASA’s live coverage of the Perseverance rover landing on Mars.  Naturally, I had a notepad ready, and I picked up quite a few new scientific terms.  My absolute favorite—the one that brought the biggest smile to my face—was “heartbeat tone.”  I love the idea that Perseverance (a.k.a. Percy, the Mars Rover) has a heartbeat.

As this article from Planetary News describes it, Percy’s heartbeat tone is “similar to a telephone dial tone.”  It’s an ongoing signal just telling us that everything’s okay.  Nothing’s gone wrong, and everything’s still working the way it’s supposed to.

Of course, other NASA spacecraft use heartbeat tones as well.  According to two separate articles from Popular Mechanics, the Curiosity rover on Mars and the Juno space probe orbiting Jupiter also send heartbeat tones back to Earth.  And that article about Juno offers us a little bit of detail about what Juno’s heartbeat actually sounds like: a series of ten-second-long beeps, sort of like very long dashes in Morse code.

Based on my research, it seems like the earliest NASA spacecraft to use heartbeat tones (or rather, the earliest spacecraft to have this heartbeat terminology applied to it) was the New Horizons mission to Pluto, which launched in 2005.  As this article from Spaceflight 101 explains it, New Horizons’ onboard computers monitor for “heartbeat pulses” that are supposed to occur once per second.  If these pulses stop for three minutes or more, backup systems kick in, take over control of the spacecraft, and send an emergency message back to Earth.

So, I could be wrong about this, but I think this “heartbeat pulse” or “heartbeat tone” terminology started with New Horizons.  To be clear: I’m sure spacecraft were sending “all systems normal” signals back to Earth long before the New Horizons mission.  I just think the idea of using “heartbeat” as a conceptual metaphor started with New Horizons.  But again, I could be wrong about that, and if anyone has an example of the term being used prior to New Horizons, I would love to hear about it in the comments below!

P.S.: I recently wrote a post about whether or not planets have genders.  With that in mind, I was amused to note in NASA’s live coverage that everyone kept referring to Perseverance using she/her pronouns.  However, the rover has stated a preference for they/them on Twitter.  So going forward, I will respect the rover’s preferred pronouns.

Sciency Words: FarFarOut

Hello, friends!  Welcome to Sciency Words, a special series here on Planet Pailly where we take a closer look at new and interesting scientific terms so we can expand our scientific vocabularies together!  Today’s Sciency Word is:

FARFAROUT

You know, I recently spent a couple days trapped at home due to a snow storm. Don’t worry, I don’t live in Texas—I wasn’t trapped in that snow storm.  Anyway, after reading a little about Dr. Scott Sheppard, I feel as though I seriously misused those snowed-in days.

Dr. Sheppard is one of the key players in the ongoing search for Planet X, also known as Planet Nine or (as I like to call it) New Pluto.  Together with fellow astronomer Chad Trejillo, Sheppard has discovered more than sixty objects of various sizes out beyond the orbits of Neptune and Pluto.

Among those sixty-plus objects Sheppard and Trejillo discovered is a possible dwarf planet nicknamed “FarOut” (official designation 2018 VG18).  FarOut is—or rather was, very briefly—the most distant natural object known to exist in our Solar System.  Hence the nickname.

But in early 2019, Sheppard was reviewing his data and happened to notice another object even farther out than FarOut.  As Scientific American tells the story, this happened while Sheppard was “snowed in during a blizzard.”  (I spent my recent snowed-in days watching cartoons on my phone.)  The new object Sheppard found in his data has the official designation 2018 AG37, but Sheppard nicknamed it “FarFarOut,” for obvious reasons.

According to this article from Carnegie Science, FarFarOut has a highly eccentric (non-circular) orbit, with an orbital period of approximately one thousand years!  Seriously, a thousand years!!!  A portion of that highly eccentric orbit is actually not that far away at all; at its closest approach to the Sun, FarFarOut’s orbital path actually crosses within the orbit of Neptune.

I do have to take issue with some of the news articles and social media posts I’ve seen about FarFarOut.  Strictly speaking, FarFarOut is not the most distant known object in the Solar System.  We should probably call it the most distant natural object, or the most distant non-articifical object, that we currently know about, because there is one known object that’s even fartherer out than FarFarOut.

Blue People Don’t Know That They’re Blue

Hello, friends!

So before anybody asks: no, the Eiffel 65 song “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” was not inspired by the work of Benjamin Lee Whorf.  I checked.  The two things are totally unrelated.

I told you about Benjamin Whorf in last week’s episode of Sciency Words.  Whorf, along with Edward Sapir, was one of the key researchers in the development of the linguistic relativity hypothesis (a.k.a. the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis).  While reading Sapir and Whorf’s original papers on the topic (from 1929 and 1940, respectively), I noticed something.  The two of them seem to spend more time defending linguistics in general as a legitimate science than they do explaining or defending linguistic relativity in particular.

I can imagine the kinds of skepticism early linguists must have faced.  I mean, language is just language, right?  You learn your grammar.  You learn your vocabulary.  And that’s that.  What more is there for this “science” of linguistics to study?

In his 1940 paper, titled “Science and Linguistics,” Whorf uses an analogy.  Imagine a race of people who, for whatever reason, are only capable of seeing the color blue.  They can see light blues and dark blues and medium blues.  The variety of shades of blue they can see must seem very impressive to them.  But in the end, all they see is blue.  If such a race of people existed, Whorf tells us, you can expect that their language would not have a word for blue.  These blue people would have absolutely no concept of blueness.  How could they?  How could anyone have a concept of blueness unless they could compare and contrast blue with other colors?

In a similar way, linguists compare and contrast languages, and by doing this they can learn far more about how language works, beyond the obvious grammar and vocabulary stuff.

Benjamin Whorf seems to have been pretty optimistic about the future of this relatively new science called linguistics.  As someone writing about 80 year later, I can say Whorf’s optimism was well founded.  Linguistics is, in my opinion, one of the coolest sciences we have!

P.S.: And seriously, the Eiffel 65 song was not inspired by Whorf, or intended as a tribute to Whorf, or anything like that.  It seems like it must have been, but apparently it was not.

Happy Valentine’s Day

Hello, friends!

For this Valentine’s Day, I love the planets and the stars, and I love all the galaxies, both near and far.  I love the whole universe and everything in it.  And hey, you’re in the universe, right?  That means I love you too!

Happy Valentine’s Day, friends!

P.S.: In case you’re wondering what sort of research went into this post, I had to double check (and triple check) to make sure I had the correct date for Valentine’s Day.

Sciency Words: Linguistic Relativity

Hello, friends!  Welcome back to Sciency Words, a special series here on Planet Pailly where we take a closer look at interesting scientific terms so we can expand our scientific vocabularies together!  Today’s Sciency Word is:

LINGUISTIC RELATIVITY

Okay, I know you’ve seen every single episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, just like I have, so I’m sure you remember the one about Riva.  He was the deaf and mute ambassador who communicated with the help of three telepathic interpreters.

In that episode, we’re told that Riva has quite a reputation for his peacemaking skills.  He’s such a famous peacemaker that, at one point, Lieutenant Worf has this to say about him:

Linguistic relativity (a.k.a. the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis) is the idea that the language you speak shapes your thoughts.  Language molds your mind and influences your perception of the world in subtle yet profound ways.

For example, if you’re a Klingon and your language has no word for “peacemaker,” how would you ever talk to your fellow Klingons about making peace?  Could you even conceptualize, in your own mind, what peacemaking would be?  It would be difficult for some, and nearly impossible for others.  Thus we can see how the limitations of a language can limit the thinking both of individuals and of an entire society.

American anthropologist Edward Sapir was not the first person to suggest that language molds our minds in this way, but he was the first to try putting some science behind the idea with this 1929 paper on the Hopi (a Native American tribe) and their language.  Then in 1940, Benjamin Whorf published this paper expanding on Sapir’s work with the Hopi and building on Sapir’s thoughts about language.  Sapir and Whorf never actually worked together, nor did they articulate their ideas as a formal hypothesis; even so, this concept is now commonly known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

But linguistic relativity is, in my opinion, a far more apt term.  It’s obvious, if you read Whorf’s 1940 paper, that he’s borrowing concepts and terminology directly from Einstein and the theory of general relativity.  Just as you must account for your physical frame of reference when observing space-time events, you must also consider your linguistic frame of reference when examining psychological or sociological realities.

Over the years, I’ve seen and heard some pretty extreme claims related to linguistic relativity.  In some cases, these claims have bordered on racism (i.e. for reasons X, Y, and Z, Western European languages are superior, while other language groups are inferior).  So obviously, linguistic relativity can be a controversial subject. As part of my research for today’s post, I read this paper reviewing the origins and history of Sapir-Whorf/linguistic relativity, and I think one of the concluding remarks in that paper sums things up nicely:

Whorf may not have been right on all counts, but he was not wrong either.  The fact that language plays a role in shaping our thoughts, in modifying our perception and creating reality is irrefutable.

Personally, I can tell you that I’ve experienced some of the effects of linguistic relativity myself, many times over.  Every time I learn a new scientific term, I feel like a Klingon who just found out what a peacemaker is.  Sometimes, the change is small; other times, it feels like a major paradigm shift.  My mind seems to open up to new possibilities, and I find that I can conceptualize the world around me in a whole new way.

In my experience, learning new vocabulary (scientific vocabulary or otherwise) is the absolute best kind of learning.  And that, my friends, is why I write this Sciency Words series.

P.S.: If you watch that episode of Star Trek, you’ll note that Mr. Worf puts a lot of stank on the word “peacemaker,” suggesting that while the Klingons do have a word for that now, it’s a pejorative term.  The pejoration or amelioration of a word can also have subtle but profound effects on your thinking as an individual and on the collective thinking of a society.

Do Planets Have Genders?

Hello, friends!

So a while back, I got some unsolicited feedback from a person I know in real life.  This person had seen one of the illustrations I’d drawn for this blog, and she was incensed—absolutely incensed—that I would depict the planet Saturn as female.  You see, Saturn is a very masculine planet.  That’s a fact, apparently.

A lot of my thinking about planets—including my thinking on the gender identities of planets—was shaped by a book called Venus Revealed, by David Grinspoon.  That book was my first serious introduction to planetary science.  In a section titled “Men are from Venus, Women are from Mars,” Grinspoon has this to say:

At first I tried being completely gender-neutral in my writing, but this was unsatisfying because, to me, Venus is not just a “thing.”  Venus is not, in my mind, inanimate, and so “Cousin It” will never do to describe him… or her.

In that same section, Grinspoon does a little cross-cultural analysis and finds that Venus has been “a real gender bender” across human cultures and human history.  Sometimes she’s male; other times he’s female, depending on which mythological tradition you’re looking at.  And some cultures have apparently assigned different genders to the Morning Star and Evening Star, thus effectively making Venus genderfluid.

So do planet’s have genders?  No, of course not.  But much like David Grinspoon, I can’t see the planets as purely inanimate objects.  Planets have too much personality for that.  And since I think of the planets as having personalities, then, for better or worse, I also think of them as having genders.

For purely arbitrary reasons, I tend to think of Saturn as female.  But if you’d prefer to think of Saturn as male, or as something else entirely, that’s okay.  I’m not going to fight you over it.  I can love Saturn (and all the other planets, too) just the same, no matter what gender identities we pretend they have.

P.S.: While doing research for this post, I ended up reading a lot about how astrology assigns genders to planets (and also to numbers, elements, constellations, etc). I don’t want to dive too far down that particular rabbit hole, but I thought I should at least share this article on the subject. I used to think astrology was just silly. Now I think it’s problematic for reasons that go beyond mere pseudoscience.