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Archive for August, 2010

Scientists are said to believe that there are likely to be around 100 million planets in the Milky Way that harbor exactly the right conditions for life. *

Are you going: “What sci-fi book is this from?”

It is not fiction. It is a fact!

Let me begin at the beginning…

Have you heard about NASA’s Kepler Mission, NASA Discovery Mission # 10?

The Kepler Spacecraft was launched into space in March of last year, on a three-and-a-half year mission to survey our region of the Milky Way galaxy for signs of Earth-like planets.

Among other things, the mission’s aim is to discover planets that are Earth-size or smaller in or near the habitable zone.

Artist’s rendering of Kepler’s target region in the Milky Way. Credit: NASA/Jon Lomberg

So far we’ve only known for sure that there are many planets outside of the solar system that are either gas or ice giants.

Now, we have new information.

Kepler mission has discovered the first confirmed planetary system (outside of our own) with two distinct planets orbiting the same star.

Early results from Kepler mission also suggest the likelihood of the existence of more than hundred planets similar in size to Earth in our galaxy. Scientists also believe that there are likely to be around 100 million planets in the Milky Way that harbor exactly the right conditions for life.

This means the chances of life outside of Earth also increase sharply!

Dimitar Sasselov, professor of astronomy at Harvard University and a scientist on the Kepler Mission said:

The figures suggest our galaxy, the Milky Way [which has more than 100 billion stars] will contain 100 million habitable planets, and soon we will be identifying the first of them. There is a lot more work we need to do with this, but the statistical result is loud and clear, and it is that planets like our own Earth are out there.**

Now, isn’t that astounding news?

It is one of those findings that is bound to change the way we look at life and the space around us.

Suddenly sightings of flying saucers and other UFOs don’t seem so daft, do they?

We’ll probably be a little less skeptical about stories of people who claim to have been beamed up into a mother ship and transported to another planet.

Wouldn’t it be phenomenal if there were to be some solid proof, within our lifetime, that life (similar to human-life or not) does exist on other planets in the galaxy?

I’m getting goose bumps just writing this.

If you were to come across news like that, what would your very first reaction be to it?

* – Daily Mail

** – News.com.au

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Quoatable Quotes

Here’s some sage advice (and gripes and commiserations) from writers who have been there and done that.

All of them made me go “Exactly! That is so true!” or “That’s how it should be!” when I first came upon them; so I thought I’d pass them along…

  • Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia. 

                                     – E.L. Doctorow

  • If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it. 

                                     – Toni Morrison

  • Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart. 

                                     – William Wordsworth

  • Easy reading is damn hard writing. 

                                     – Nathaniel Hawthorne

  • A critic can only review the book he has read, not the one which the writer wrote. 

                                     – Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic’s Notebook, 1960

  • Be obscure clearly. 

                                     – E.B. White

  • Write your first draft with your heart.  Re-write with your head. 

                                     – From the movie Finding Forrester

  • The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do. 

                                     – Thomas Jefferson

  • I try to leave out the parts that people skip. 

                                     – Elmore Leonard

  • The act of putting pen to paper encourages pause for thought, this in turn makes us think more deeply about life, which helps us regain our equilibrium. 

                                     – Norbet Platt

Happy reading and writing, everyone!

Source for the quotations: The Quote Garden

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Today is the first day of the new school year here. Just the thought of it brings to my mind a montage of recollections, from when I was a child myself to the present, when I’m a parent…

First day of school is:

  • Sadness that the season of ‘lazing about with no routine’ is past.
  • Newness of unsullied notebooks and textbooks.
  • Exhilaration of swapping summer adventures.
  • Relief at not having to search for meaningful summer camps for another year.
  • Crispness of brown paper book covers with names written on top in neat copperplate.
  • Remembering not to speed in school zones.
  • Bleary-eyed kids peeking from the windows of school buses.
  • Smell of chalk, new shoes, lunch boxes, and glue tins all in a small space.
  • Fatigue from having driven all over town for the obscure items of the school supply list.
  • A pouting child standing in front of you, with minutes to spare for the school bus to arrive, because the lunch bag that was all the rage last year has become tacky and childish this year.
  • Feel of new school uniform – just a tad longer and bigger than necessary to allow for growth spurts – against your skin.
  • Fear that children will come home, each with a new supplementary supply list from individual teachers.
  • Nervousness at who will be assigned as your new bench mate.
  • Anxiety of all the projects that will require umpteen trips to the craft stores, most of them at the very last minute possible.
  • Hope that your best friend will be in your group this year, too.
  • Sight of hundreds of happy, shiny, scrubbed faces lined up in the auditorium.
  • Misgivings that not only will your arch nemesis be in your class, but that she will be your lab partner for the year.
  • Excitement at finding out who will be your homeroom teacher.
  • Phone calls to and fro to firm up carpool plans.
  • Prayers that the mean old math teacher won’t be assigned your class.
  • Secret enthusiasm about what new things you’ll get to learn.
  • Fighting the crowds at Walmart the afternoon before.

What does the first day of school mean to you?

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I’m on vacation right now; here are some things I either wake up to or keep company with late at night where I’m staying…

And, no, I’m not sitting in the middle of nowhere surrounded by wilderness. Actually, it’s smack-dab in the middle of a big city.

Herds of deer come and graze close to the house.

One of the groups in particular, a family consisting of a dad with antlers, a very protective mom pawing ground whenever it sees a human, and three playful kids, lives in the thicket right behind the house and graces us with its visits every morning and evening like clockwork.

They’re all so skittish that it’s hard to photograph them well without a telescopic photo lens (which I obviously don’t happen to have handy at this time).

Thankfully, this picture is as close as I got to this critter that someone else has photographed near here. I’m a total wuss when it comes to creepy crawlies of any kind.

Early in the morning, birds vie with each other to serenade you awake.

The night-time scenery, however,  is quite different from that of the day-time, with its lonely symphony of nocturnal sounds (frogs croaking, crickets chirping, deer barking, fox howling) and the eerie yellow-green light from dozens of glow-worms chasing after shadows.

I just hope development never catches up with this patch of earth to drive all the creatures away from their natural habitat, and the light and peace from this corner along with them…

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According to Wikipedia, the term literary fiction came into existence around 1960, to distinguish serious fiction from the many types of genre or popular fiction (these latter are categorized as commercial fiction).

Literary fiction is more character-driven while commercial fiction is plot-driven. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the former does not have any plot (or is not at all genre-based) or that the latter doesn’t have strong characters. It’s just that one is more dominant than the other in each of the types.

From my research into this subject, here is my summary of what makes a particular book one or the other type of fiction:

What marks a work of fiction as literary?

  • Maturity of style/voice
  • Content that is more serious and thought-provoking
  • Deeper analysis of characters’ psychology
  • Richness in imagery

What are the more distinguishing features of mainstream commercial fiction?

  • Specific genre(s)
  • Fast-paced narrative
  • Compelling plot-lines
  • Wider mainstream appeal

It is safe to say that commercial fiction tends to have faster pace and beat and heightened drama, while literary fiction delves deeper into situations and the characters’ responses and reactions to them.

Some opine that literary fiction should be considered a genre in itself.

As with anything else related to the field of writing, what sets literary fiction apart from commercial fiction is somewhat subjective.

Here are my questions for you for the day:

  1. Do you believe that commercial fiction sells more easily than literary fiction in today’s market?
  2. As a reader, which do you prefer: a literary piece or a story with commercial leanings to it?
  3. If you’re a writer, which side of the spectrum would you place your work?

Here are my answers to the questions above:

  1. Yes.
  2. I think the classics I like to read are considered literary pieces, but I also read a lot of mysteries, whose genre makes them commercial fiction.
  3. Hmm… this is a toughie. The novel I’m currently working on is historical fantasy, which is a legitimate genre. It has a strong plot, but also a protagonist who drives that plot. And, my style tends to focus on imagery among other things, which means that my WIP has characteristics and elements that are specific to the definition of both literary and commercial fiction.

             So, basically, my answer is: I’m not sure!

All I know is this:

I aim to be true to my original vision and write the book so it entertains. Hopefully, it will also leave the readers thinking about it at least for some time after they have finished it.

Fair enough? :0)

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Did you know that even though 71% of Earth’s surface is covered by water (including that frozen in the polar ice caps and buried underneath the Earth’s surface), a mere 3% of it is fresh water, and hence suitable for drinking?

Also, have you ever heard this? The puddle of water you splashed through as a kid, the rain showers that nurture your garden, and the glass of water you fill at your faucet to drink may be the same water that a Tyrannosaurus Rex might have tasted when it was alive.

You don’t think so? Hear me out.

There are several theories (some scientific, some not so much) in existence about how old the water on Earth is really.

  • The amount of water on Earth is limited. Hence, the water that makes up a third of the Earth today had been around when dinosaurs were alive. However, it may not be true that we are drinking the same water, because what they drank, by virtue of constant water cycles, might be at the bottom of an ocean by now or deep underground.

 

  • Due to water cycle, water molecules evaporate, which means that they are  converted into the individual molecules of oxygen and hydrogen. Hence, when the water molecules reform during condensation, it can be argued that they are not the same water molecules anymore.

 

  • It may be safe to say that at least some percentage of water molecules that were around when dinosaurs existed could be lingering in the water we see now. (I won’t go to the technical specifics of the proof for this one.)

Which theory do I second? Irrespective of the scientific reasoning behind it, I’d like to believe in either theory #1 or #3.

Why?

Because they are so much more fascinating and intriguing, that’s why! They provide such scope for imagination.

Which one would you prefer to believe? Or do you have another theory that you’d like to add to the list above? If so, please share it with us!

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Recently, I’ve had the good fortune to be exposed to some honest determination and old-fashioned faith in human effort. Let me explain.

A few weeks ago I spent a Sunday at a convention held by the state’s Music Teachers’ Association. For the whole day I and six hundred other listeners kept company with children – anywhere from six years old all the way up to seventeen – who enthralled us with their incredible piano playing skills during several different programs.

Again, last weekend, I attended a traditional debut recital of a classical Indian dance form (called Bharatanatyam, which is believed to have been in existence for over 4,000 years now) of a friend’s daughter. The girl has been practicing the dance form for over ten years tirelessly to get where she is now.

So, what do the two days have in common?

The diligence and determination with which the children practiced the art form (for hours and years on end) they have adopted as their own.

Children are generally not known to be forward-looking. So, how did they happen to get into something so grueling and time-consuming when they very well could have been watching TV or playing video games?

The majority of them probably got into it because their parents suggested it to them or just plain registered them in a class at the beginning. Soon, however, the child got so involved with the art form that he/she made it his/her own crusade.

Do any of these children ever sit down and think about how all those hours of dedication, nervousness before a performance, missed birthday parties convert into something useful for their lives later? Most probably not.

Do they ever mull over what kind of results will be produced from their steadfast effort? Most likely not.

Then why do they do it?

Because they began to love the art form for the sake of itself.

They do it from the blind faith that they are supposed to do what they enjoy the most.

Is there a wiser or more mature outlook in life?

This realization both humbled and inspired me. And it also raised some questions inside me:

  • When do we give up the grounded belief that we need to do what we believe in, basically what we enjoy, and that we need to leave the results to a higher power?

 

  • At what stage of growing up do we begin to get so goal-oriented and obsessed with results?

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