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Friday, March 7, 2014

What it's like to talk

There was a mute girl on Reddit asking what it was like to talk. She'd reportedly been mute since birth. I honestly am not sure what kind of answer she was looking for, but I thought that the answers already there, mostly to the tune of, "It's pretty nice," or "I don't really notice," or "It's like vibrating in your neck," weren't good enough, so I started talking about the mouth feels of the different sounds. I got really into it and decided to post the result here. Reading back through it, there are small errors, but it's not like I'm getting paid for it.

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You've made me spend a few minutes paying attention to how my mouth works. It's been very interesting, because I've never really done it before. I'm going to give you a little insight to the feeling of each sound, but just the basic ones that each letter makes most often. There are actually many more sounds than there are letters.
The vowels are special and set apart because they're made by vocalizing and just changing the shape of the tongue, cheeks, and lips, but keeping them far enough that they don't produce any hissing, buzzing, or popping sounds. A, as in apple, is an open throat, open lips, tongue pulled back, cheeks tense. E as in cheese is cheeks pulled back (like a smile) and jaws about halfway open. I, as in vice, actually moves from O (as in odd) to E (as in cheese). If you say the short O and then a long E you've said the long I. Sorry for switching between short and long pronunciations. I'm choosing the ones I think work best. O as in goat puts your lips in a circle, tongue pushed a bit forward. U as in fun is done exactly like A(apple) but with cheeks relaxed.
The letters L, R, W, Y, Z, J, V are a lot like the vowels, and you could technically spell a word phonetically using these and leaving out some vowels (frvr for fervor, mrdrr for murderer). The difference is, I think, that there's a little more mouth manipulation in this list than the vowels. L is a vocal sound with the tip of the tongue against the back of the teeth. R is like O(goat), but with the tongue pushed forward to take up more space. W is like O(goat) but with the lips tighter. Y is like E(cheese) but with the throat closed a little more. Z is a vocalization with the tongue almost nestled into the back of the upper incisors, with just enough space to make a buzz. The sides of the tongue are gently between the molars during Z. J is like Z, but the teeth are together and lips are pooched. V is just like U(justice) but with the lower lip against the upper incisors.
F and S are like the previous group, but with no vocalization from the throat. Just air. F is identical to V, and S is identical to Z, minus the voice.
B, D and G create sounds by closing the sinuses, forcing a gentle air pressure into the mouth, and then opening a certain part of the mouth a split second later. These are done with voice. With B, the air bursts from the lips, with D the air bursts from the tongue, which forms a pocket around the roof of the mouth, with G the air bursts from the throat.
P,T,K, and C are like the previous group except without voice. P is like B, T is like D, K is like G, and C sometimes makes an identical sound to K.
N and M are done by closing off a part of the mouth and vocalizing through the nose. With the N the tongue is placed like D or T. The M is with the lips together.
The H is just exhaling with the throat tensed.
People say the Q is a kwa sound, but since it's always followed by U, it's effectively identical to K and some C.
X is the K sound moving to the S sound.
As simple as all of this sounds (ha ha) a lot of sounds actually, when analyzed, are completely different sounds depending on what letter follows, because the mouth is always preparing for the next sound, and this changes the shape of the mouth. We don't hear the difference, and a lot of people wouldn't believe it was there. The mouth works more quickly and automatically than the fingers of a skilled typist, but that's a good illustration of what it feels like to talk. Mindless typing.
I don't know if you had this kind of description in mind, but to be honest this taught me a lot and once I started I couldn't stop. At one point I deleted it all and started over because I realized how the sounds could be grouped.
Cheers.

http://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/1zrlok/what_is_it_like_to_speak/cfwh7fb

Monday, February 24, 2014

In memory of Harold Ramis, let's take a closer look at Egon's Twinkie


Harold Ramis has died. He's done a lot of good work, but I'll always remember him as Egon Spengler from the Ghostbusters film franchise. It was a wonderfully cast film.

This is a memorable quote from Egon in the first Ghostbusters:

"Well, let's say this Twinkie represents the normal amount of psychokinetic energy in the New York area. According to this morning sample it would be a Twinkie 35 feet long weighing approximately 600 pounds."

Clip

But how much would a 35 foot long Twinkie actually weigh?

Artist's depiction
First I'm going to make some assumptions. I'm going to assume that the Twinkie is sized to scale (so it's the same shape after the transformation) and I'm also going to assume that it is magically held to that shape, as the materials may not be so stable at that scale in reality. Meaning an actual 35 foot long Twinkie would probably be an oozing mess.

I've found, using Google, that Twinkies weigh slightly less since they were re-released, so I'll use the original weight (presumably the weight they had during the filming of Ghostbusters) of 1.5 ounces per cake. The normal length of a Twinkie is roughly 4 inches. For the sake of estimation, we'll say it's exactly four inches.

So how much is the Twinkie growing in volume? Let's see how many inches long a 35 foot long Twinkie is, and then how many times larger this is than a normal Twinkie.

35 feet * 12 inches = 420 inches (length of the large cake)

420 inches / 4 inches = 105 (how many times longer the large cake is than the normal sized cake.)

If it is 105 times longer, then it's also 105 times taller and 105 times wider. We don't need to calculate these measurements since we're just finding the proportion. We'll do this by cubing the amount.

105^3 = 1,157,625 (how many times bigger in 3 dimensions)

While the cake is only 105 times longer, it's actually *more than a million* times greater in volume and mass. (Think of this in terms of a small block. You can put ten in a row to make it ten times longer, but once you also make it ten times higher and wider, you've used 1,000 blocks.)

And now it's simply a matter of multiplying the number of ounces in the normal cake by this factor and then dividing that by 16 to find out how many pounds that makes.

1.5 ounces * 1,157,625 = 1,736,437.5 ounces in the large cake

1,736,437.5 ounces / 16 ounces in a pound = 108,527.34~ pounds for the large cake.

So it looks like the 35 foot long Twinkie would actually weigh over 108,000 pounds, more than 180 times what Egon claimed.

Inversely, doing some background math here (which I won't bore you with), a Twinkie that was "only" 600 pounds would be a little over six feet long. This kind of makes sense if you think of a tall man in the shape of a Twinkie, with all of the space around his head and legs and body filled in with cream, he would be a heavy Twinkie. I daresay an insurmountable Twinkie.

But this is not any fault of Egon. He obviously wasn't spending his morning calculating Twinkies. He was merely trying to illustrate the enormity of the situation to some less scientifically-minded folks. And good for him. Communication is the key to education, after all.

And if I've gotten any of this wrong, please tell me. I do make mistakes daily after all.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A new way to be a writer

My whole life, there has not been much of a market for short stories. It was tough, and, except for the select few, it didn't really pay. For most, short story publication was a gateway to novel publication.

Most short stories that went out were either in collections that were released as books, or in 'zines that were full of short stories. Many of these magazines' websites, when visited, would have down-on-their-luck messages such as that they are no longer paying for stories, because they just can't afford them anymore. Worse were the URLs that simply said there was nothing there. The money wasn't rolling in.

Think about it on the consumer end of things. Unless you're a writing professor, you probably don't know a lot of people that subscribe to these short fiction 'zines. The people running them are doing it out of love, and often out of their own pocket. Until recently, there were more short story writers than short story readers, and that's not a good ratio.

Things seem to be changing now, though, because of three things:

1. The e-reader
2. The e-reader's ability to instantly buy books
3. Quick and free digital self-publishing

With these things in play, writing now has a YouTube-level pass. User-generated content, voted for by other users, has been changing the face of media, and it's about time that the world of writing caught up. Like with YouTube, the world's aspiring writers can flood the market with garbage, and those that know how to please the masses will float to the top. Not to mention, if you're putting out short stories, a $0.99 shorty is an impulse purchase for many Kindle users.

You, as a writer, can do this now, today, and you don't have to ask anyone's permission.

Just like YouTube did not kill television, Kindle Direct Publishing and the such will not kill Simon and Schuster or Doubleday. It is valid media, though, and some of it is really good, believe it or not.

Anyway, that was a lot of lip flapping just to let everyone know that I am, myself, publishing short story series' on Kindle Direct, Pubit and SmashWords.

Are you excited? I am.

This week:

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Marijuana Legality: Law is not about morals

There is a bigger push for making marijuana legal in the United States today than at any previous time of my life (I'm thirty as of yesterday). It's not legal, of course, because the push to keep it illegal is also quite strong. And it's already illegal. It's easier to defend a fort than to storm it.

So let's assume, just for the sake of argument, that marijuana is actually immoral. It's evil, it's a sin, it makes baby Jesus twitch when he thinks about it. Even if I believed this, I still wouldn't push for the illegality of it.

From the standpoint of the real world, anti-marijuana laws are painfully ineffective. Rappers have pictures of themselves holding pot in their hands on their album covers and posters, not to mention videos on YouTube of them using it. There is an annual HempFest in Seattle, where people smoke pot openly, in full view of police. There are stores devoted entirely to marijuana paraphernalia here in the states, with the silly excuse that the items are for smoking tobacco. What exactly are your anti-marijuana laws accomplishing?

The problem is, most people think that the law should reflect what's right. If something is immoral, it should be illegal. If something is okay, don't worry about it. Besides the obvious issue that morals are essentially something that exist in our head, and they are different in different heads, there is the issue that laws don't stop things. They just make them more dangerous.

Let me say something unpopular: I don't like abortions. I think that, after a certain stage of development, fetuses shouldn't be intentionally killed. Sorry 'bout that. At the same time, though, I would be upset if the United States were to repeal Roe v. Wade. As much as I dislike legal abortions, I dislike illegal abortions twice as much. Taking away the clean and safe clinics, we would be pushing desperate teenage girls into an underground of unlicensed medicine, at huge risk.

Laws create undergrounds. If cigarettes were made illegal today, this time next year there would be tobacco kingpins warring with each other all over the country. Since cigarettes are sold at the supermarket, there are no cigarette dealers, no cigarette crackdowns, and no prisons filled with inmates who are in for cigarette-related charges.

We need to look at laws differently. Even if a piece of legislation disagrees with your moral compass, you have to realize that the law is not just a representation of right and wrong. Sometimes making something bad illegal makes the world a worse place, and you have to be strong enough to accept that the world we live in is more important than the righteousness of our laws.

Besides, a little pot never hurt anybody.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

NaNoWriMo is a Good Thing

The first time I heard of National Novel Writing Month, it was while reading a book entitled Beyond the Best Seller. I don't know the name of the author, and can't find even used copies of the book at Amazon.com, but I enjoyed it.

The author mentioned briefly that there is a group of writers who pride themselves on writing the first draft of a novel in a single month. Of course, the author goes on to say, that's not too impressive, being that he knows full-time novelists who have turned out a clean finished book in one frenzied night, simply because they had to.

I think the author, however much I enjoyed his book, completely missed the point of NaNoWriMo, and there are many people (very vocal internet people no less) who have missed the point since.

For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo is a "contest" during the month of November where the entrants strive to writea 50,000 word novel, started on or after the first day of November, and completed on or before the last. That adds up to about 1,667 words a day, every day, including weekends and Thanksgiving.

People who dislike (or mislike, if you've been reading too much A Song of Ice and Fire) NaNoWriMo complain that the novels produced during this time are low quality. They must be low quality, since the only requirement for the contest is to write a certain number of words in a certain time. Theoretically, someone could write the word "moist" (a thoroughly misliked word among female friends of mine) 50,000 times, and win. The bot that checks for victory is basically a word count program, after all.

NaNoWriMo is not about flooding the market with quickly written books, though. Most NaNoWriMo novels will never be sold to a publisher, and that's as it should be, because (you'll know this if you've read as much amateur fiction as I have) most writing is just not that good. Most authors are earlier in the learning process than they think they are, and that's fine. It's the natural order of things.

I think that, whether or not founder Chris Baty knows it, NaNoWriMo is about learning to deal with writer's block. Someone who has successfully written the entire first draft of their book in one month has faced, and defeated, writer's block at least once during that period. Probably several times. Having an "arbitrary guideline" (as the demotivational poster above states) puts you in a place where you cannot give in to writer's block. You have to accept that it can be beaten, or else your story will not be completed.

I find that, at least with myself, the most common motivator to stop writing is fear. Fear that I won't be able to get a scene right, fear that the story is going nowhere, or that I don't have the skill to write it as well as it needs to be written. In my modest experience, there is a fairly simple way to get past these fears.

Just write badly.

Write your scene, or your setting, or your character badly, until you can get to a point you're more comfortable with, and you can always strengthen it when you revise. The knowledge that the first draft can and will be ugly and lopsided and have a funny smell to it can give you a lot of freedom. Freedom to just keep writing, and get down the shape of your conflicts and characters. Later you can bring in the sandpaper and woodstain and make it beautiful on the outside.

NaNoWriMo will also show new authors the wonder that is watching a story unfold before their eyes as they write it. Ending the day's writing in a place that they would have never imagined at the start.

The primary lesson to be learned from participating in NaNoWriMo, I think, is that writing is ten times better than worrying. And participation is ten times better than making snide criticisms from the sidelines.

It's about doing.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A post that would be controversial if my blog was more popular

God is kind of a dick.

Okay, I take it back. I don't believe that God is a dick. I don't even necessarily believe in God (but, for the sake of this post, let's act like I definitely do). I had to get that statement out of the way, though, so that the rest of my statements would seem less Christian-offensive in contrast.

What I really mean is, people tend to make God out to be a dick. Not atheists, but the Christians (and Muslims, too). He seems very concerned that you don't disrespect Him, that you put Him on a pedestal, that you don't believe in gods other than Him. But let's step back for a moment, and look at who we're talking about.

This person, is not a person. He is a pre-person being. A being that predates the entire universe. He, coming before biology existed, can't even be a he. What is a he in a species that has no she? It created the universe, created life, and is aware of all of our thoughts and actions. It is omniscient, omnipotent, and infallible. It is literally the perfect being. It is God.

When someone has lived a long time, maybe ninety years, we expect them to have gained some wisdom with their age. Wisdom that comes from many experiences, and seeing things from different perspectives. Well, God has seen all of history, and, not only that, has the perspective that comes from seeing the world through the eyes of every being that's ever been on it. When an ant is following a scent trail, God gets that, in a way that none of us ever will. When a bee chooses to kill itself by stinging something, God feels that fatal determination. When a junky, after three hours of hating himself, gives up on sobriety and snorts a line of meth into his nose, God feels everything he is feeling. Even murderers, and child molesters. God understands all of their thoughts and drives, because God is not limited the way we're limited, and It's not at all affected by how we believe It's supposed to be limited.

I would like to think that all of us that believe there is a God share this version of It that is actually perfect. That is full and complete. I don't think that most people believe in a God that doesn't understand a feeling that a contract killer is able to understand.

So, when I hear people preaching about an over-sensitive God, or a jealous God, or a God that's quick to anger, I have my doubts. I'm not a particularly jealous person. The more jealous someone is, usually the more we think they're a dick. Would that make me better than God in this one area? How ridiculous.

Quote the Bible to me, if you want. If God ever appears to me and tells me to live my life based on a collection of documents found and aggregated by humans, written by humans... well, why would It do that? Who decided that the Bible was the word of God, anyway? I bet it was a human.

And I won't expect God to overreact about this decision, like a touchy emperor. Because, while the devout tend to paint God as being a major asshole, I don't think that's true.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Why it's going to look like I'm not writing short stories. (I actually am)

An atom is mostly empty space. Some guy that wrote a book said something like the following: If you made an atom the size of a football stadium (but maybe round) the nucleus would be the size of a can of tuna in the middle. This would mean that everything is almost entirely empty space.

Anyway, this is the metaphor that sprung into my mind when I started thinking about the process of publishing stories, be they novels or short stories. You do little chunks of work, which are followed by long periods of doing nothing. For example, I first submitted the story The Urge to Live to Title Goes Here magazine on August 8, 2010. The next day, I got this email back:

Just wanted to drop you a fast email to let you know I have your story in my pile for review. I'm looking forward to reading it. Thanks for submitting.

And so begins the first stage of the waiting game. Just under three months pass with no other word. It's a full season, which, in my experience, is plenty long enough to completely forget that you've submitted a story somewhere, much less where and what story. At this point, if you do happen to remember what you've done, you just assume it's been quietly rejected. Then, on November 11, 2010, I receive:

We're happy to inform you that we'd like to accept your story, "Hands Up"[the title at the time], for publication on the Title Goes Here: website.

We plan to publish 2-3 stories a month on the site and, as of right now, we don't know what month each story is going to be published. With that being said, it could be anywhere from January through December of 2011. If you're still interested in publishing with us, please let us know (by responding to this email). We plan to have final decisions on what month each story will be online out to authors by the 15th of November.