Cometary Tales Blog Learning to Thread

Learning to Thread

A screen grab from a twitter posting:  text is within blog post.

For my New Year’s Day new learning, I worked out how to create a thread (properly) in Twitter, in order to post my very first awards eligibility thread.

I know, I know, none of these are going to win any awards, though one has already been nominated (by the editor of the anthology) for a majorly major award. Nominations count; just being nominated is a huge, huge thrill.

But not everyone likes to hang out on social media. Facebook is broken. Twitter has deep wells of toxicity, Instagram is all about being pretty (and owned by Facebook), and Tik-Tok is … out of my league.

So in this blog post, I’ll try to recreate the Twitter post. I have two 2021 stories that are Hugos-eligible (the science-fiction ones). What awards do you know about that you’re eligible to nominate for? You might be surprised!

Let’s jump ahead now, and make this Not About Me. It’s readers who nominate for Hugos, and readers don’t care if the author is famous, made a bucket of money, or only managed to sell one story. Sure, the list of finalists is short, but consider–what did you read last year? What moved you? If you’re a 2021 or 2022 WorldCon member, you can nominate the things you liked. You can nominate up to five things in EVERY category. They don’t have to be the movies, stories, novels, or magazines that your friends liked, that your social-media leaders went on and on about. You can voice your own preferences.

So, pitch made. GO forth, write reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, nominate all your favorites for awards, and then enjoy all the new (and not-so-new) stories out there in 2022.

Here, then, is my Twitter thread. Do ya love or hate my cartoony profile pic? I’ll only put it in for the opening tweet; otherwise, it gets annoying in blog format.

Cartoon image of woman with reddish hair in silly ponytails and grees streaks in the hair. She's holding a teacup and wearing glasses.

The official awards-eligibility thread. In 2021, I had three short stories published:

1. a #scifi story about stolen land

2. a light #scifi #romance featuring a favorite 20th-century artist

3. an upbeat piece of literary fiction grown from #autism, #depression, and #optimism.

2/7 “Heart’s Delight,” anthologized in Fault Zone: Reverse, edited by @LaurelAnneHill and published by Sand Hill Review Press. An intelligent ecosystem repels those whose ancestors took the land unjustly, returning custody to its true caretakers. #SFF

3/7 For the record, I live on Tamien Nation Territory, bordering Popeloutchum (Amah Mutsun) land, connected to the territory of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe of the San Francisco Bay Area. These people are all, right now, working to protect this land, e.g.: http://amahmutsun.org/history

4/7 “Parrish Blue,” published by Water Dragon Publishing (Dragon Gems short fiction). In an elite restaurant on a climate-ravaged Earth, under the glow of a recreated artwork, a young woman rediscovers a dream of life immersed in wonder—and finds one who shares that dream. #SFF

5/7 I’m dropping in an image of the piece of art these two fall in love under (Romance, by Maxfield Parrish). Just because.

A fairy-tale castle stands on a hill, with peaks risin gin the distance, and people in old-time fantasy clothes gazing on the scene from a collonade
(Note: on Twitter, alt-text includes artist attribution: this is a photograph of a public-domain artwork. The photograph came from Plum Leaves at Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/eoskins/5841870848).

6/7 “Reunion,” anthologized in Fault Zone: Reverse, edited by @LaurelAnneHill and published by Sand Hill Review Press. Two young people, separated in childhood by separate traumatic events, renew a friendship forged through shared suffering.

8/7 These are all findable via my linktree.

Glowy orange sunset clouds float over  a cluster of treetops at lower left. With text linktr.ee @Vanessa_MacLarenWray | Linktree. Character-drive literary speculative fiction. Science-y stuff. Cats. Ponies.

7/7 If this story resonates for you, consider further research at https://autisticadvocacy.org or connect with mental-health resources in your community. Also, remember to reconnect with friends in 2022.

Image of text screen: Rainbow-colored octagonal logo. ASAN Autistic Self Advocacy Network. autisticadvocacy.org. Home. Nothing About Us Without Us

It’s surprising hard to recreate a Twitter posting in a blog! Go follow me on Twitter, OK?

You might also like to read:

Walking to Pluto: Step 1Walking to Pluto: Step 1

 

Compare the sizes of Earth and Pluto & Charon Image Credit: NASA

Compare the sizes of Earth and Pluto & Charon (Pluto’s shadow isn’t that big on Earth!) Image Credit: NASA

It’s been a super-fantastic #PlutoFlyby day (see the video for a Pixel Gravity simulation of New Horizons’ close approach path on 7/15/2015), and I can’t resist going to one of my favorite astronomy projects:  building a scale model of the Solar System that takes you out of the house, out of the classroom, and under the sky.  (Where maybe Pluto’s shadow, cast by a distant star, will pass over you.)

As a reminder, you can look for the following in any Messy Monday project:

  1. A set of notes for project leaders, sketching the key elements of the project and the science topic it is meant to address
  2. A detailed supply list, structured to make it simple to purchase supplies for either a one-shot demonstration or for a classroom-sized group activity.
  3. A set of instructions for working through the project with students, including commentary to help cope with common classroom-management issues, questions that are likely to arise, and issues to keep in mind from safety to fairness.
  4. A rough estimate of the cost to run the project.

 

As before, I’ll break down the presentation into four postings, to spare readers trying to scroll through a 5000-word document, but I’ll post them quickly, so you can jump ahead if you are raring to go or want to access the reference materials first.  In other projects, we built our own comets. In this project, we travel out into the solar system, hoping to reach the source of that comet.

 

Step 1: Space is Big

It’s a long way to Pluto. But as far as the Universe is concerned, Pluto’s in our condo’s tiny back yard. What would it be like, though, to take a hike to Pluto? Like the New Horizons Spacecraft spacecraft buzzing past Pluto and its cluster of moons, but, well, maybe taking a bit less time about it. Nine years (the explorer was launched in early 2006) is longer than even the above-average student’s attention span. What if we could shrink the Solar System down to a reasonable size for nice walking field trip?

Paths of the nine planetary objects orbiting the Sun for many years.

Paths of the nine planetary objects orbiting the Sun for many years (A Pixel Gravity simulation result.)

No surprise here: it’s been done. Six ways to Sunday, in fact. While no one person claims to own the idea of building a scale model of the solar system, my favorite advocate of such models is Guy Ottewell, who likes a scaling factor that makes the model a reasonable size for the average person to walk. You can buy his book on the subject (now with cartons!) at the books page on his website. As a bonus, you’ll also find the most current editions of all of his other books on astronomy and much more.   (He self-effacingly describes his annual Astronomical Calendar as “widely used”; a more-accurate description would be “fanatically used by serious amateur astronomers”.)  No disclaimer necessary;  we’re not friends, I’m just one of his (many) Twitter followers.

The goal of this project is for everyone involved to obtain a personal sense of the feature of Outer Space that is hardest to conceptualize by reading books and trolling the internet: Space is BIG. (Yes, you may pause to reread the opening to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams.)  Indeed. Really Really Big.

Our neighbor galaxy, Andromeda (Image Credit:  ESA/Hubble)

Our neighbor galaxy, Andromeda (Image Credit: ESA/Hubble)

On top of that, the places you can stop—the non-empty bits—are few and very tiny compared with the distances between them.  And it takes a long time to get from one stop to another.

So, when assembling materials and presenting this project, keep these two key goals in mind. It’s not important whether you model Earth as a peppercorn (Ottewell’s model) or an allspice seed (easier to find in my own kitchen) or a spitwad from the ceiling that happens to be about a tenth of an inch across.   What’s important is that the Earth is not only extremely teensy compared to the Sun, but you can’t even fit the Sun and Earth into an ordinary classroom. And you have to hike at least a half a mile (a kilometer) if you want to make it to Pluto. With any luck, you can make practical use of the excess energy in a classroom-full of kids and also amaze them. If you’re doing this as a classroom helper and the teacher is used to taking advantage of the time to catch up on infinite paperwork, this is a time to persuade that teacher to shove the paperwork aside and join the expedition. There will be no regrets!

The objects used to represent planets and other bodies should be chosen for familiarity, because you want the participants to absorb the scale comparisons effortlessly. “Everyone knows” how big a jellybean is, a pin is familiar—both the pushing end and the painful poking end—a soccer ball is a known object, and so on. It doesn’t matter if the object you use is not exactly the design diameter—and no one is going to care that jellybeans or coffee beans are bumpy ovoids, not spheres. The next time you’re eating a jellybean (or slurping a Starbucks), at the back of your mind will be “I had to hike a half-mile just to get to this little Neptune here”.   Plus, “Yum, astronomy is delicious.”

If you’re interested in the underlying concepts, I encourage you to stop by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory’s website and read Guy Ottewell’s original 1989 description of his Thousand Yard Model; however, if you consider yourself a mathphobe, don’t let the arithmetical computations worry you. I’ve made you an Excel worksheet to do that task. Running a mind-expanding science project should help relieve that condition, not make it worse.

If you have visited a museum’s scale model, read Ottewell’s book, or done a similar project in the past, there are a few differences you may encounter in this project. In particular, I suggest you avoid having planets represented by peanuts. Including nuts in school projects, can be problematical if any student (or parent helper) with nut hyper-allergy could possibly be affected. (I have relatives with this allergy, and there is nothing quite like coping with anaphylactic shock to ruin a day’s outing.)

Dwarf Planet Ceres Image Credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Dwarf Planet Ceres Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

I’ve included a few more “destinations”—such as the ever-popular asteroid “belt” and my personal favorite of Pluto’s fellow dwarf planets. The number of steps taken between planets (and other destinations) is greater, because kids take shorter steps than grown-ups. (Also, other models I’ve seen assume a stride length more typical of men—and the majority of teachers and parent volunteers are still women, with shorter strides than men.) And I’ve included the current (for now, at least) locations for a few more distant “destinations” that we can look out towards from our turnaround point at Pluto.

The tables I’ve provided are in both English and SI units. The scales are slightly different between the two, in order to yield intuitively-scaled results in either set of units. And I’ve provided a “cheat sheet” of the key data for a teacher or other presenter to carry as a reference source on the walk. If anyone would like to get completely precise and build their own model matching their pace length exactly, or adjusting to a different scale, you can request a copy of my Excel workbook for this project to create your individualized pace-off. Or if you know a Senior Girl Scout or Boy Scout in need of a Gold Star or Eagle project, a community solar system model would be a very cool service project. (C’mon, Scouts, do you really want to build another park bench?)

Speaking of space, and coolness, and peanuts, and bigness, by the time your group finishes this project—everyone who participates should wholeheartedly agree:  Space is Big

A Sign From NASA

A Sign From NASA

 

 

 

Welcome to Cometary Tales!Welcome to Cometary Tales!

This is a portion of space set aside for writing from both directions, inbound and outbound.

What?

Comets are, by their nature, exciting and unpredictable, which inspires both intriguing storytelling and curious scientific observation.

For starters, comets inbound to the sun unfurl their unique and mysterious tails behind them. This is charmingly artistic and seduces our reason as we watch them sail in from the outer reaches of the solar system like kites with their tails billowing.  So–some of this page is devoted to fiction, respecting science but allowing for poetic license in pursuit of insightful stories.

Outbound comets, on the other hand, demonstrate why we have to use our powers of observation if we want to understand the Universe. Before we can understand why the comet’s tail flies in front of it as it returns to the dark, we must first realize that a cometary tail is the result of the solar wind blasting particles free of the surface of the comet. So–some of the writing on this page is about science and mathematics and technology, aimed in particular at developing and applying the power of critical observation. Messy Monday Science Projects, the current work-in-progress, is a collection of hands-on, observation-based science projects for elementary- and middle-school students.

Meanwhile, throughout their lives, comets are bound by the laws of gravitation and their seemingly strange behavior is described by the science of orbital mechanics. We’ll also be writing specifically about astronomy, the latest in space discoveries, and the mathematics of objects in motion while also supporting Pixel Gravity, an accurate astronomical simulator that anyone (yes, even a scifi poet) can learn to use.

It’s happening again…It’s happening again…

I can’t believe it myself.

So let me work up to it.

Long, long ago, when I was a horse-mad thirteen-year-old, we lived stranded in a one-street suburb of Montgomery, Alabama, where the only available equine companionship came in the form of a mare and foal pastured behind our house.  The mare was tolerant, not friendly, but not the type to pitch a fit when some kid squeezed through the barbed-wire fence to pamper her baby.  It helped that the colt wasn’t a baby anymore, to be sure.

Generally, I would manage to sneak out with an apple, which the young horse would snarf down with relish. Then he would snuffle at my pockets in hopes of seconds.  Horses are smarter than non-horsey people give them credit for.  Horses know what pockets are for. Pockets are containers for apples, carrots, crunchy horse treats, sometimes even a handful of grain, preferably sweet feed.  They do not care about the cries emanating from laundry rooms when mothers find pocket-loads of such goodies swirling in the wash.

One fine February day, I ventured out with only some small treat, nothing as appealing as an apple.  It was chilly, so I wore my new(ish) red coat.  And my pony friend bit me on the shoulder. Another thing non-horsey people may not know is that a horse can bite hard.  They fight with their teeth–stallions even have extra-sharp eye teeth for those battles that make the front covers of old cowboy paperbacks.

That bite hurt. It hurt bad. I was not so horse-crazy that I didn’t run home for help. I was lucky to be wearing that insulated jacket–all my friend gave me was an enormous bruise, as the coat distributed the impact nicely.  My mother was angry, scolding me for trespassing in the pasture but also clearly angry that the horse had hurt me.  I took his part, explaining–convincingly, I was sure–that he simply mistook the red, rounded curve of my shoulder for a big shiny apple.  It was my fault, I told her, for leading him to expect apples all the time and . . . most accurately, for turning my back on him.  I loved horses, but I’d been hanging around them since I was six, and I knew better.

Bear with me. I’m getting there.

We were living in Montgomery because my dad was attending the Air War College, an academic-style officer-training program. It’s very like a master’s degree program in strategy, analysis, all that sort of thing.  (My copy of Strunk and White is a discard from the library there, one my dad brought home for his aspiring-writer kid.) My mom grew up spending summers on “the farm”–her parent’s country get-away. My dad was a city boy through-and-through. Years later, I learned he was afraid of horses–that the thought of his kid galloping around on top of one of those monsters horrified him.

The War College program is only a year. One spring night, quite late, my parents stumbled into the house after some kind of semi-official party at the AWC.  They, or at least Dad, had had a really fun evening.  Really, really fun. My dad had received his next posting. As wing commander for a prestigious bomber wing. In North Dakota. We were moving to an air base where there was an on-base stable, in a state where horses were cheap to get and to keep.

“North Dakota is Rough Rider country, cowboy country,” my dad told me that night, his eyes bright and his grin much wider than usual. “So you can have a horse in North Dakota. Won’t that be great?”

When Dad sobered up, the next day, and recovered from his headache, the day after, Mom sat him down and told him what he’d promised me. And she held him to it. She wouldn’t let him back out of it.

So for the next four months, I thought to myself, over and over again, I’m getting a horse, I’m getting a horse, I’m getting a horse. 

It’s happening again. I may be ever so much older than twenty now, but I’m having all those same feelings  Though it’s not a horse this time.  It’s a book.  It’s my book. And it’s being published. For reals. For really reals.  In four months.

It’s about a couple of strangers who meet up and have some troubles understanding one another.

Cross-species friendships can be complicated.

The book is All That Was Asked.  It’s coming out from Paper Angel Press, a publisher based in San Jose, California. And it should be out in January of 2020.  In the meantime, check out all the other books that Paper Angel Press has available.

 

 

 

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