Monday, February 22, 2016

The Moon Forever Stamp - Encouraging Observations of our Awesome Moon

Photographer:  Beth Swanson
Designer:  Greg Breeding
Art Director:  William Gicker
The Moon Stamp is here, with a release date of February 22, from Washington, DC!  Being a lunar scientist who also loves stamps, this is a really fun event for me, and one that helps remind us all how easy it can be to just look up and see our cosmic companion in orbit.  The Moon has been gazing down at us since almost the very beginning of Earth's history.  But it has only been geologically very recently that something intelligent has been gazing back, pondering, writing poems, and eventually, exploring.

The USPS site says: "Taken as the full moon rises, the image captures the brilliant surface of earth’s only natural satellite.  Issued at the $1.20 price, this Global Forever stamp can be used to mail a one-ounce letter to any country to which First-Class Mail International service is available."

I agree with Kelly Beatty at Sky and telescope, who says in this article that "The golden orb is pretty, though the USPS might have have provided a "teachable moment" by using a cycle of lunar phases in its 10-stamp sheet, rather than merely showing the same image over and over."

Gorgeous sheet of stamps, but would phases have been a better way to engage the public?
Not surprisingly, the USPS chose to unveil it's stamp on the date of full moon itself, February 22 18:20 UTC.

Get ready, InOMN is October 8, 2016!
That the Moon changes with time is obvious if one looks at the Moon even casually a few times over the course of a month.  Still, what causes the phases of the moon is a source of confusion for people, since it isn't as simple as something like clouds or the Earth's shadow.  Instead, the phases are caused by the geometry between the Sun, Moon, and Earth.  You can investigate phases further through the NASA Starchild site, and even make some Oreo cookie phases from an activity at NASA's SpacePlace.

Having spent this time learning about the Moon's phases has probably made you want to take another, closer look.  While anytime is a great time to go look at the Moon (weather and phase permitting), there is one night a year that is particularly special.  That is International Observe the Moon Night, or InOMN.  InOMN is a yearly celebration where people the world over all gaze at the Moon together; the site has listings of events, activities, and ways to get involved.

Moon Mappers - You are the scientist!
And now that you've spent all this time learning about Moon phases, observing the Moon, and gushing over the Moon stamp, you want to do some real research.  I know exactly how you feel.  One great way to get involved is with Moon Mappers, a part of CosmoQuest Virtual Research Facilty.  If you want to engage in great citizen science that actually gets published in peer reviewed science journals, then head on over there. Click on the "Moon Mappers" button, and start mapping the Moon!  Don't miss all the other great projects, either, that will have you taking data all over the solar system (and beyond ...)

Image Credits:  Stamps!  The United States Postal Service, InOMN Logo, InOMN resources site, Moon Mappers,  Visit them all and learn more!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Research for Fiction Writing - The Pheasant

A pheasant before all that
hunting and prepping business.
I am always amused by where I end up when doing research for my fiction writing.  You know how it goes - you want to write a few sentences about some topic or other, and the next thing you know you've spent five hours on the internet learning all about it so those sentences are at least somewhat informed.

Before writing the scene I just finished, I had no interest in learning about how to hunt and then prep a pheasant for consumption.  And then one of my characters in this scene decided to hunt and prep a pheasant for consumption.  Again, you know how it goes ...

I really knew nothing about it at all.  I imagined I'd just have my character saunter off, shoot a pheasant (bow and arrow, we are talking fantasy here) then roast and eat said pheasant.  Then I got to thinking ... what about all those old-timey movies and paintings showing pheasants and rabbits and such hanging from the ceiling?  What's the deal there?  And what about the game Skyrim?  Can't walk thirty paces without running into rabbits and pheasants hanging from metal contraptions or even fallen on the floor.

Pheasant and rabbit hung
from ceiling - as one does.
My character was out camping, so he really didn't have the time to hang a pheasant from the back of his horse for a day or a month or whatever.  And then I'd assume when he finally ate it, it would probably taste a lot like the back of his horse.  Maybe this pheasant idea would not work out after all.  But characters, as you know, can be persistent.

So off to the wonderful world of the internet.  I'm a bit squeamish, so this was not easy research.  I did find out that yes, one basically saunters off and just shoots a pheasant.  Takes time, know-how, skill, and the rest that you'd expect, but no magic there (which is funny, again since I am writing a bit of fantasy at the moment).  Ok.  Only have to watch for shots that tear the gut open and might contaminate the meat.  Lovely.  So my character happens to be an excellent shot ... And of course with a shotgun there is actual bits of metal in your bird to avoid, but again, I'm in a bow-and-arrow situation.

So, we assume bird-in-hand, literally.  Now what?  Well, as it turns out, that whole hanging thing is really just for birds that are other than very young ones.  The young ones are tender enough without hanging.  BUT of course, most birds in the wild are not very young just statistically speaking.  Most are middle aged, and some are rather old.  So hanging a pheasant was sort of required to ensure it was tender.

Let me be more specific.  Hanging a pheasant.  Some sites recommended three to seven days.  Of just hanging at cool, not cold, temperatures.  Not hot at all, because that would be gross, but not actually wintertime sort of stuff, either.  So you just go ahead and hang the pheasant from it's head, not upside down.  And let it ... sit ... there.   For days.   Or more.  Some sites suggest that in ye olden dayes, people would allow the pheasant to hang until it was so ... rotted ... it dropped.  And then you knew the meat would be tender.  Seriously.

I think I'll chalk this up to my naivete.  Chalk up the fact that this had never occurred to me.  All the press and advertising around food is about how it should be fresh.  So very fresh.  Well, apparently you do not want old pheasant meat to be fresh.  Apparently you can eat it rather ... not so fresh.

Whatever.  I had what I needed for my character.  In the end, yes, he just sauntered out and shot a pheasant.  Because, aha!  It just so happened to be a young pheasant.  No need for it to hang from the back of the horse until it fell apart.  Yea!

Still.  There is the preparation to consider.  And so I read more about plucking pheasants when they are cold and hot and wet and dry and warm and whatever to really keep me satisfied for some time.  I'll not put the specifics down.  But I know a heck of a lot about plucking pheasants now. (Yes there is a naughty little song about this, let's not go there.)

And as with most of this fiction-style research, it isn't really going to be terribly useful now that the scene is written.

Image Credits:  Pheasant.  Used under Creative Commons 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons, author Lukasz Lukasik.  Hanging Hare and Pheasant, 1798, Swiss National Library, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Considering that First Draft of that NaNo Novel

I was over at Ana Mardoll's "Ramblings" blog and spotted this post, with a pie chart describing the first draft of a novel.  The pie chart is from Finding Wonderland, and it shows a humorous breakdown of what a first draft of a novel might look like.  Ana Mardoll uses the plot to illustrate the importance of rewriting that first draft.

It was inspiring.  I am definitely in the write-rewrite-iterate camp of writers.  Edits and rewrites are what make musings turn into masterpieces (more or less).  Anyway, I took out my draft of my NaNoWriMo novel and paged through, looking for what *my* first drafts seem to include.  Being a scientist with data in hand, I had to plot it up of course, with many thanks to the inspiring influences:

My version of a plot inspired by Finding Wonderland and Ana Mardoll - It shows the general contents of the first
draft of my NaNoWriMo novel.  It is surprising how my first drafts all seem to look pretty much like this.

The first half of chapter one turns out to be all completely unnecessary conversations between characters talking about their lives and stuff.  I thought it made good sense when writing, and now I see I can just jump right in to the action and really not lose anything at all.

Also fun to note is that I have far too many homages to various pop culture icons and works, such as the Hitchhiker's Guide, MST3K, Star Wars, and even the Simpsons.  I really want to keep them, which is something of an indication of their need to go.

And wow, there are a lot of holes here.  Especially the times I say "We'll have that discussion with so-and-so soon" and either the discussion never happens, or so-and-so does not actually exist in the book.  Or both.  I also see that I get through my initial draft writing by just jumping past anything that stumps me.  Say like important connecting scenes.  Or the names of anything at all.

Of course keep in mind this is a NaNo draft, which means one is trying to write like crazy to get those 50K words by the end of the month and still have time to cook and eat a Thanksgiving turkey.  So leaving gaps behind is a very functional strategy - for a draft.

And the sex scenes, well, most of them are actually plot critical.  So I guess I'll just have to make sure I send them to a publisher that likes that kind of thing.

In the end, I'd say about 50% of what is here is workable, and the other half just needs to get thrown out.  My challenge is figuring out which half is which ...

Image Credit:  My pie chart of my novel data.  Inspired by Finding Wonderland via Ana Mardoll.