Friday, August 31, 2012

Overheard #210

"They aren’t the least bit interested in the truth."

Thursday, August 30, 2012

And I Forgot to Mention Bug Poop

After writing my earlier post on ancient pottery, I found a link to a Bostonia (Boston University Alumni) article about fragments of pottery that are believed to be 20,000 years old. Previously, it was thought that pottery developed about 10,000 years ago, when humans switched from hunting/gathering to farming. Paul Goldberg, a professor of archaeology at BU; Trina Arpin, a research associate; and David Cohen, an adjunct assistant professor of archaeology discovered pottery shards in the Xianrendong cave in southern China in a sediment layer 20,000 years old. To corroborate the date, the researchers tested whether the soil layers had been disturbed thus potentially shifting the pottery shards. They found no insect droppings which indicate disrupted soil layers.   

This work was reported in the journal Science.

How Old is That Hunk of Clay?

While researching my WIP, I wondered how archaeologists determine the age of pottery fragments. 14C dating is useful for organic substances (bones, teeth, parchment, fabric, pollen, or other remnants of carbon-based life forms). The clays used in ceramics are made from inorganic silica compounds that don’t contain much carbon. Pottery fragments can be dated by: 

14C dating of burned food residues (link) 
In the days before dishwashers, steel wool and foaming detergents, food stuck to the crockery. 

14C dating of lipids that were absorbed by unglazed pottery (link)
It’s always been hard to scrub grease off dirty dishes. This method was used to demonstrate that dairy farming has existed in Britain for 6000 years. 

Determining the water of re-hydroxylation (link, link)
After bricks or pottery are removed from a kiln and exposed to the atmosphere, the clay begins to chemically combine with water at a time-dependent rate. This water can be removed with heat. The change in mass (before and after heating) is used to determine when the ceramic was first fired. This method appears to be accurate except for bricks from buildings bombed during WWWII where high temperatures reset the hydroxylation clock. 

The age of 14C-dated objects is expressed in years BP (Before Present) (link) with January 1, 1950 as the origin because radiocarbon dating expanded in use in the 1950s. BP is sometimes interpreted as Before Physics since nuclear testing during the 1950s spiked the atmosphere with radioisotopes of carbon and increased the amount of 14C in samples.

Sunday, August 26, 2012


playing with strawberry flowers from the farmers' market

Friday, August 24, 2012

Overheard #209

"Plants are smarter than they look."

In honor of my gargantuan gardening project, aka The Backyard.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Writing About Writing

Some of my writing friends are seduced into creating worlds, establishing characters’ backstories, making maps, collecting pictures and doing internet research. The actual writing of novel is postponed or even ignored. My approach has been: 1) do research, 2) make an outline, 3) hammer out the first draft, 4) start revising. While I’ve used this approach to finish several manuscripts, none of them was deemed to be something that anyone would want to read.

My current project started the same way, then got stuck in plot logjam, exacerbated by being told by one of the industry’s foremost editors that not one aspect of a previous manuscript worked – in any way. This summer, I’ve accomplished little. I’m not writing, although I occasionally write about writing. Some days, this is nothing more than a list of the manuscript’s problems. On better days, I add a few solutions. I’ve done enough research to know there is much more to discover. I’ve made mini-graphic novels for difficult scenes. I’ve written countless pages titled, “What If?” in which I brainstorm alternatives.

I can’t tell if this approach is going to work, but right now, it’s the best I can do.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Honeybees are difficult to photograph because they're ... busy.

Bumblebees tend to linger longer.

And sometimes they pause on a sunlit petunia.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Overheard #208

"They’re nouning all these verbs."

Wednesday, August 15, 2012



Okay, so a faster shutter speed might have been in order here, but it's not easy to change the settings on my camera fast enough to catch a butterfly in flight.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Busy Day Links

Today I drive to Detroit metro airport to drop off Jeremy. He’s going to two workshops at the Berklee College of Music. My fingers are crossed that they’ll let him take his guitar on the plane, he’ll manage in a big city, and his music will get helpful feedback.

For later in the week, I have pictures from the MSU gardens of frogs, turtles, bees and butterflies. Today I’ll direct you to the writing advice of Jennifer Nielsen, author of The False Prince. Her Infinite Checklist of Writing Tips is brilliant. Thanks to Ruth McNally Barshaw for the link.

Sunday, August 12, 2012


wild cherries

Friday, August 10, 2012

Overheard #207

"If they were trying to be helpful, they’d go about it in a different way."

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Magical Contracts

I’ve been thinking about the relationship between the main character in a novel and the problem that she solves. In some books, the protagonist solves a problem of his own creation. In others, the main character is tied to the problem by a magical contract.

In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo must carry the ring to Mordor because he cannot bear to give it away. The ring’s power over Frodo seals the magical contract. 

Harry Potter is compelled to destroy Lord Voldemort. The Prophesy said, “Neither can live while the other survives,” but the true magical contract involves the horcruxes. Harry harbors a fragment of Voldemort’s soul, and he must get rid of it before he can rid the world of Voldemort.

Sometimes the contract is inherited. In Holes, Stanley’s magical contract was arranged by his “no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather” who reneged on a promise and started generations of bad luck. When Stanley carries Zero up the mountain, he fulfills the promise and lifts the curse.

In The Iliad and The Odyssey, the magical contract is the marriage contract. Helen abandons her husband and thus launches a thousand ships. Odysseus is determined to return to his wife, in spite of the obstacles the gods place in his way. When he returns to Greece, only he can draw the bow and free Penelope from the suitors.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Overheard #206

"‘For crying out loud’ is our new mission statement."

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Reading Music

Most music notation software costs several hundred dollars, and is reportedly somewhat user-unfriendly. Perhaps in response to  consumer demand, Sibelius offers a lower priced, simpler version called Sibelius First. Last week, Jeremy and I bought this program so he could transform his chicken scratches on staff/tabular paper into lovely printed music. On the way home from the electronics store, we listened to the Beatles’ One album, and Jeremy told me that none of the Beatles read music. That surprised me. I learned to read music when I was in the third grade (because my parents were affluent enough to send me to music lessons). I learned to read English the year before I started Kindergarten, and in the span of my life, that four-year head start seems insignificant. Reading music feels like something I’ve always done.

The Beatles created music that started a revolution without ever scratching those notes onto staff/tabular paper. They conquered the world on talent alone.