Half-Brained Things, Trying to Make the World a Little Better

(Another in the continuing series of quotes to start the week.)

Today is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s birthday (22 May 1859 – 7 July 1930). The creator of Sherlock Holmes, Doyle has been celebrated by fans and writers for decades, so of course starting the week with a quote from him would be appropriate.

To follow on the heels of last week’s entry, L. Frank Baum’s quote about “the betterment of the world”, consider these two 1894 quotes from Doyle. First, an admission that we as human beings may not be all we think we are:

What can we know? What are we all? Poor silly half-brained things peering out at the infinite, with the aspirations of angels and the instincts of beasts.

And second, a bit of his desire to improve some small part of the world simply by being a person of good character:

I should dearly love that the world should be ever so little better for my presence. Even on this small stage we have our two sides, and something might be done by throwing all one’s weight on the scale of breadth, tolerance, charity, temperance, peace, and kindliness to man and beast. We can’t all strike very big blows, and even the little ones count for something.

Your beliefs don't make you a better person, your behavior does.
(Image: “Your beliefs don’t make you a better person, your behavior does,” by SoniaT 360., from Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Even though very often I feel both “silly” and “half-brained,” I do hope that I can do more to improve the world than to harm it. I hope you can, too.

Have a great week!

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New Video: Two-Dimensional Characters, and Education

In writing, we try to make sure our characters are realistic; rather than “flat” and two-dimensional, we want them to be lifelike. So too in education, we want students to grow and mature in multiple dimensions. But is “well-rounded” the best metaphor?

I’d already posted the video to YouTube when I caught an error in it, so this version includes a correction I inserted.

Hey, nobody’s perfect.

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Related Stuff:
– As mentioned, The Musashi-Heinlein School video
– A lot of this derives from what I wrote in Quality Education: Why It Matters, and How to Structure the System to Sustain It

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It’s a Slow Process, So Here’s a Brief Tidbit

It’s beginning to look as if Walking On The Sea of Clouds may not be a “Spring” release after all. Hopefully the actual date won’t drift too far into Summer, but I’ll keep you posted as I learn more!

Meanwhile, would you like to read an excerpt from the novel?

If so, here’s the start of the scene in which one of the main characters, Stormie Pastorelli, is about to undergo an experimental nanotechnology medical treatment — called a “picophage” treatment in the text — that’s required because she was exposed to pathogens while saving an accident victim’s life.

Hope you enjoy it …

The only warm color in the room was the red-brown ribbon of blood that flowed through translucent plastic tubing from Stormie’s right arm to the scanner and back again.

The rest of the antiseptic room blazed cold under the fluorescent lights: the row of cabinets labeled with machine-like precision, the stainless steel table with its orderly array of implements, the ubiquitous anatomy poster. The IV drip into her left arm was clear as ice water. Even the scanning and filtration unit itself, squat and boxy in its cream-colored housing with sky blue faceplate, seemed unwarmed though her blood flowed through it.

Over-conditioned air bit through the hospital gown, and Stormie wished she had taken the thin blanket the nurse offered. At least the gown was a tri-fold—a wrap-around with three arm holes—even if it had to be the standard putrid green.

Nothing to be afraid of, she told herself. Nothing but a million microscopic hunter-killers coursing through your blood.

Stormie squirmed a little on the padded table, and the paper covering crackled loud as thunder. The tubing pulled against the tape that secured it to her arm. In places where the light hit the tubing just right, her blood looked as dark as her skin.

Dr. Nguyen’s smiling face appeared in the wire-crossed glass set in the door. He waved, then came in carrying the brushed aluminum clipboard with all the release forms she’d signed. She hadn’t read them, of course; she supposed no one did. Written in the most obscure dialect of legalese, their clauses and codicils were inaccessible to those uninitiated in the lawyerly arts, even people who were otherwise smart; if system administrators could erect electronic barriers as formidable as lawyers’ linguistic barriers, no computer firewall would ever be breached. The papers all boiled down to I-understand-the-risks-associated-with-this-procedure-and-accept-the-improbable-but-very-real-possibility-that-it-may-result-in-my-death-or-permanent-disability. She had signed them with barely a first thought.

Dr. Nguyen’s black, greasy hair stuck out above one ear, as if he’d just gotten up from a nap at his desk. “How are you doing?” he asked. He reached out his slender hand and Stormie shook it for the third time this morning. “Everything still okay? No irritation?” He bent toward her arm and examined the needle site.

“Seems okay,” Stormie said. “I’m cold, though.”

The door opened again and the same stout, blonde nurse who had witnessed the paperwork—Nurse Myracek—carried in a plastic transit case about the size of a six-pack cooler. The dark, almost hunter-green case contrasted with the room’s stark brightness. She set the case next to the equipment on the steel table as Dr. Nguyen asked her to bring Stormie a blanket. She gave Stormie an “I told you so” look, but smiled and nodded to make it a friendly comeuppance.

“You’ll want to lie back now,” Dr. Nguyen said.

Stormie complied, and the clean paper sheet scrunched against her back. Her empty stomach complained about the preparatory fast. In a moment, Nurse Myracek had her expertly swaddled under a soft, robin’s-egg-blue blanket and put a small pillow under her head.

Stormie remembered something in a poem about the night, lying on the table … something about anesthesia … she tried and failed to recall the line. It might be appropriate, somehow.

Dr. Nguyen snapped opened the clasps on the transit case. They clattered down one by one, then he took off the lid and lifted out a syringe about the size of a cigar. He started making notes on his clipboard.

“Just think,” Nurse Myracek said. “That came from outer space.”

Stormie smiled a little. The nurse made it sound as if the picophages in the syringe were alien creatures brought back to Earth by some survey team. They didn’t come from outer space per se, they were grown and processed in the high-vacuum, medium-orbit foundry that the Low-Gee Corporation developed from the space station nanocrystalline laboratory. “Pico-” was marketing hype: they were smaller than almost any other nanomachines, but not three orders of magnitude smaller. So far they were one of only two commercial products that seemed to require low-gravity manufacture, but on that shallow foundation Low-Gee had built a small technical empire. A greater hurdle than making the things in the first place had been figuring out how to prepare them for descent into the Earth’s gravity well; the shock-and-vibration-damping packaging was expensive, but still cheaper than sending people into orbit for treatment.

Stormie nodded. They came from outer space. And you’re going to put them in me.

Clear Night Sky
(Image: “Clear Night Sky,” by Alex Leier, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Hope that gave you a feel for what to expect. Thanks for reading along, and stay tuned for more info!

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Imagination, Daydreams, and ‘the Betterment of the World’

(Another in the continuing “Monday Morning Insight” series of quotes to start the week.)

Today is L. Frank Baum’s birthday (15 May 1856 – 6 May 1919), and it won’t surprise anyone familiar with his novel The Wizard of Oz to find that he had something to say about imagination. In 1917, in the introduction to The Lost Princess of Oz, he wrote (emphasis added):

Some of my youthful readers are developing wonderful imaginations. This pleases me. Imagination has brought mankind through the Dark Ages to its present state of civilization. Imagination led Columbus to discover America. Imagination led Franklin to discover electricity. Imagination has given us the steam engine, the telephone, the talking-machine, and the automobile, for these things had to be dreamed of before they became realities. So I believe that dreams — day dreams, you know, with your eyes wide open and your brain machinery whizzing — are likely to lead to the betterment of the world. The imaginative child will become the imaginative man or woman most apt to create, to invent, and therefore to foster civilization.


(Image: “Daydreams,” by Thomas Couture, from Wikimedia Commons.)

If you didn’t know, Baum’s imagination wasn’t limited to the Oz novels (of which he wrote over a dozen). He wrote over fifty novels in total, including additional fantasy novels, plus short stories, poems, scripts, and other things. And if we follow his example, and that of other creative people we admire, we won’t limit our imaginations nearly as much as we usually do.

I hope this week you can let yourself daydream a little! See what you can imagine, and what you can create, to make your part of the world a little better.

Have a great week!

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Another Testimonial: ‘Amazingly Authentic’

In the run-up to publication of Walking On the Sea of Clouds, here’s what award-winning editor (and author of This Giant Leap) Edmund R. Schubert had to say about the novel:

From the science to the science fiction costume party to the one scientist’s African accent, everything about Walking on the Sea of Clouds feels amazingly authentic. They say an author should write what he knows, and based on this book, I’d say that Gray Rinehart has been in outer space, walked on the moon, thrown up in a NASA-approved barf-bag, fired thruster engines, and driven an LVN (gotta read the book if you want to know what that last one is). You can experience all that and more for yourself, too; just jump in on page one and don’t stop until you get the end.

Orange Moon #1
(Image: “Orange Moon #1,” by Alex Leier, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

I’m sorry to say we still don’t have an official release date yet. But stay tuned for more info!

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Writing Revitalizes

(Another in the continuing “Monday Morning Insight” series of quotes to start the week.)

Yesterday we held our first meeting of the Research Triangle chapter of The Writers Coffeehouse. I wasn’t sure how many people to expect, and said I’d be happy with a half-dozen, but we ended up with eleven people total! So, I’m pretty pleased by that for a first showing, and that most people indicated they were interested in coming to future meetings.

Just Write
(Image: “Just Write,” by Sean MacEntee, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

In honor of the first meeting going so well, here’s a quote from a master of the writing art, Ray Bradbury, offered without commentary because I have a blazing headache:

And what, you ask, does writing teach us?

First and foremost, it reminds us that we are alive and that it is gift and a privilege, not a right. We must earn life once it has been awarded us. Life asks for rewards back because it has favored us with animation.

So while our art cannot, as we wish it could, save us from wars, privation, envy, greed, old age, or death, it can revitalize us amidst it all.

Have a great week!

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New Video: The Verbs in the Preamble

A critical look at the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution: what it says, what it doesn’t say, and what (in a way) it could imply:

This one runs a bit longer than I generally produce for Between the Black & the White, so if you’re in a hurry you can scroll to about the 5:38 point and watch about 2-1/2 minutes to get what’s probably the most insightful part.

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Other Videos:
– Since it’s Star Wars day, here’s “Tauntauns to Glory
– The prior episode I mention in this video is the public speaking tip, The Value of Inflection
– Find more on my YouTube channel

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Healthy Thinking, and Virtue

(Another in the continuing “Monday Morning Insight” series of quotes to start the week.)

We have a trifecta of quotes today, from the prolific British essayist and poet Joseph Addison (1 May 1672 – 17 June 1719). Addison was a contributor to his friend Richard Steele’s 1709 journal The Tatler, then in 1711 he and Steele founded The Spectator. Addison contributed the majority of the brief essays in The Spectator.

In addition to his essays, Addison’s play Cato, a Tragedy became very well-known both in England and in the Colonies, where it remained popular for many years after Addison’s death. When Nathan Hale said before his execution, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country,” he was paraphrasing from Act IV, scene iv:

How beautiful is death, when earn’d by virtue!
Who would not be that youth? What pity is it
That we can die but once to serve our country!

It’s interesting to me that the sentiment from Addison’s play was later used by Hale, but that’s not the primary quote I’d like to focus on this morning.

Virtue
(Image: “Virtue,” by torroid, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

The focal quote is concerned with developing virtue, and comes from issue 147 of The Tatler. Addison wrote,

Reading is to the mind, what exercise is to the body. As by the one, health is preserved, strengthened, and invigorated: by the other, virtue (which is the health of the mind) is kept alive, cherished, and confirmed.

As someone who tries to write things he hopes will be read — even little blog posts like this one — I appreciate that idea of reading as mental exercise that improves “the health of the mind.” One might argue whether or not Addison was correct in identifying that health with virtue, but I come down on Addison’s side on that. Why? Because a modicum of virtue is necessary to success, especially in a complex society where we must work together with other people to succeed in any endeavor. Without some measure of virtue, we are unlikely (for instance) to show ourselves to be trustworthy or reliable enough for others to work with us. The kind of virtue we need to develop begins and indeed resides in our own healthy-thinking heads.

And that leads to considering another quote in which Addison mentions virtue. This one, from The Spectator Number 243 (8 December 1711), seems to capture some unfortunate tendencies in our political discourse today:

A man must be excessively stupid, as well as uncharitable, who believes that there is no virtue but on his own side, and that there are not men as honest as himself who may differ from him in political principles.

Does it not seem, in our current Internet-and-social-media-age, that many people are quick to discount any contrary opinion about any available subject, and in so doing to heap scorn and derision upon the other side? Do they not seem to discount even the possibility of virtue in people on the opposite side? To borrow from Addison in describing the fragmentation of our polity, it seems to me that we live in an age of uncharitable stupidity, and I hope we grow out of it.

This week, then, I will take care to be more charitable and try to be less stupid, by reminding myself that my side (of whatever argument) does not have a monopoly on virtue and that “friendly opposition” in our internal politics is not only possible, but preferable. Anybody else up to that challenge?

Have a great week!

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What’s Going on in Williamsburg?

RavenCon, baby!

Yes, this weekend I’ll be at the RavenCon science fiction and fantasy convention in Williamsburg, Virginia.

I have a few events to keep me busy:

Friday:

  • 5:25 p.m. — Reading (Room 4)
  • 7 p.m. — Opening Ceremony (Large Auditorium)
  • 10 p.m. — Panel: “The Dystopia is Already Here…” (Room E)

Saturday:

  • 4:30 p.m. — Baen Books Traveling Road Show (Room 8)
  • 6 p.m. — Panel Moderator: “As You Know, Bob…: The Fine Art of Exposition” (Room G)
  • 10 p.m. — Panel Moderator: “How to Read Aloud” (Room G )

Sunday:

  • 10 a.m. — Panel: “Should J.J. Abrams be Beaten with Hammers…” (Room E)

The only open filking session is on Sunday morning from 10-12 a.m., so that’s a little odd, but maybe I’ll be able to find a quiet corner and play some tunes. Regardless, it should be fun — hope to see you there!

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Related Items of Interest:
– Speaking of filk, watch the music video of Tauntauns to Glory
– Also speaking of filk, listen free to both of my albums, Distorted Vision and Truths and Lies and Make-Believe
– Speaking of reading aloud, watch my Public Speaking Tip: The Value of Inflection
– Speaking of nothing in particular, visit my Online Store

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Have I Ever Told You the ‘Gray Man’ Story?

In this “Just for Fun” episode of Between the Black & the White, I tell the story of the Gray Man, the ghost of Pawleys Island, South Carolina:

The book I’m holding up in that still frame that YouTube selected is by a friend of mine. (One of these days I should probably work on a cover image for the whole series, instead of letting YouTube pick a still shot from the video.)

Hope you like it!

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Other Videos:
– Also “just for fun,” Tauntauns to Glory
– A bit more serious, The Musashi-Heinlein School
– For more videos, my YouTube channel

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