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Please ignore those damned writer memes (and don't repost them)

^^^^Me again. M Harold Page. I do books with swords and tanks in them. And writer memes piss me off.

You know what I mean. Stuff like this that pops up on social media:

If you fall in love with a writer,

They will forget normal things like anniversaries and cooking times

for salmon (which was quite expensive but will turn to sludge, then ash),

But they'll remember the important things,

Like what you wore and how it felt that night

And they'll make you immortal.

Jesus Christ! Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!

Yes. It's all true! But - and you're already thinking this - not in the fluffy emo-hipster singer-songwriter way as pitched by this meme.

Authors forget normal things, not because we are special, but because we are busy and our heads are full, just like anybody else running their own first (or second) business. Worse, we remember the "important" things in order to rip them off.

What you wore? Goes straight in to a fictional character's wardrobe. 

How it felt? Well, they do say "write what you know..."

And as for making you immortal? Um. Yes... some of us can - potentially - make you immortal, but at the price of being remembered as "the inspiration for that psycho-ex/sex addicted assassin/tragically frigid lover/useless best friend/drunk guy who dies comically while trying to have sex with a dolphin". Because story hinges on drama.

So you really don't want us to make you immortal.

Perhaps after reading this, you don't want to be around us either. It's true, writers mine our own life experience ruthlessly, and when that fails, we lift a chunk of yours. (Despite being a loud extrovert, I have also learned to be a good and active listener. I'll let you join the dots.) Don't worry, though, because we usually mash up what we learn, if not for ethical and legal reasons, then for literary ones; To turn it into interesting fiction, your life experience needs added dolphin sex.

Memes like this seem all about projecting and claiming a certain wrong-headed image of what a writer is.

The same goes for most of the inspiring quotes that do the rounds (e.g. here).

Granted, some are clearly useful for aspiring writers, for example Terry Pratchett saying, "The first draft is just you telling the story to yourself" (but as author Robert Bevan points out, wouldn't the wannabes who produce them be better spending their time writing than messing with Photoshop?)

However, most seem to be optimised for maximum angst-wafting. For example, this one from Orhan Panmuk:

A writer is someone who spends years patiently trying to discover the second being inside him, and the world that makes him who he is.

Can you see the latter-day beatniks all nodding into their flat whites and going, "Profound, dude!" none of them actually knowing what the hell this quote means?

Mr Panmuk, of course, is a literary author, but not the poser this quote makes him out to be. He very much walks the walk, writes novels, wins (real) awards. The full quote is:

A writer is someone who spends years patiently trying to discover the second being inside him, and the world that makes him who he is: when I speak of writing, what comes first to my mind is not a novel, a poem, or literary tradition, it is a person who shuts himself up in a room, sits down at a table, and alone, turns inward; amid its shadows, he builds a new world with words.

Yes, it's a flowery way of putting it, but note the bit about shutting yourself up in a room and doing the damn work. The cherry-picked pseudo-Koan quote is out of context. Other quotes don't even have a source - "Writing is my addiction. Books are the song of the spheres." They're all really saying, "Look at me! Look at me and my lit-er-ary prooooocess. I could make you immortal you know. Shall I take off my smoking jacket. (What was your name again?)" They also emphasise the self-indulgent psychological journey over the hard graft for which we deserve to be paid.

Finally, we come to the "Aren't we writers weird (chortle)?" memes.

It's quite reasonable for specialised hobbies and professions to joke about what we do. Yarn folk and HEMA types do it too, "That moment when you take the wrong bag to the tournament and spend the day knitting instead." So, that meme about browser history? Yeah - Jesus! - don't look at mine either. And I too tell lies for money. But to outsiders, most of these "My cat helps me procrastinate while buying too many books" memes and the "Woe-is-me" variants, such as that bloody De Niro quote, just look like showing off. Worse, they feed the idea that authors are all weird in some way.

For a start, most professional authors are demonstrably not weird. 

Living in Edinburgh, I know a fair few writers to talk to, and most of them are pretty ordinary middle aged folk who spend a lot of time at a screen. Some of us belong to weird-to-outsiders sub cultures - gamers, sword folk, bikers, tech-heads - but then we're weird because of the subculture, not our writing. Like most vocations, ours requires drive and self-discipline, so there's not really much room for scotch-bottle-wielding craziness in our day-to-day routine. And if our conversation is sometimes... specialised, it's no different than if you listened in to some microbrewers talking shop... and our specialism is where the books come from, the books people read, which leads us to...

By definition, professional authors can't possibly be all that weird because people read usIf books with minimal connection to modern reality were what sold, then Sumerian creation myths would top the charts.

Take me.

OK. Yes. I have above the average number of swords in my flat for my particular demographic. And yes, a friend somewhat harshly pointed out that most of my Facebook posts related to killing: Wow look at this tank! (Comment: Killing) Nice sword! (Comment: Killing) Here's a good interpretation of an ancient martial art! (Comment: Killing again) Battle anniversary! (Comment: Killing) 

But, people buy my books and even give them nice reviews. So that stuff in my head must find at least an echo in your head. It's no different from being  a rock guitarist and living and breathing guitars and guitar riffs. 

So, most writer memes originate in somebody showing off in a wrong-headed way. That makes them annoying in their own right. I also worry that they offer toxic scripts to aspiring authors: If you want to write, cultivate an inability to fit in and spend a lot of time very publically crying over your iBook in boutique coffee shops. Oh and bore your friends by boasting about it. However, that's not quite what pisses me off about them.

The real problem is that as these self-aggrandising special-magic-snowflake-angsty-outsider writer memes pile up, people are going to start to thinking that all authors are self-entitled posers.

This is bloody annoying on a social level when somebody asks what I do. Thanks to the confusion wrought by the self-publishing boom, it already takes a conversational dance to knock the finger-quotes off the word author. Now not only do I have to establish, no really I do this for a living, I also have to somehow do so without making people think I'm going to rant about how the cats hairs sometimes stick to the moleskin notebook I always carry with me in case I am transfixed by an idea. Note that this is not about establishing my status as the local shaman, it's just about being taken seriously as an adult.

I suspect that these memes are going to become even more bloody annoying for the profession as a whole. If people regard authors as privileged assholes who waft around in a cloud of masturbatory angst, if the underlying feeling about authors is one of hostility, then they will feel less and less inclined to actually pay for our work.

And work it is.

Even if authors did the imagination bit for free - it is gloriously exhilarating, I do love writing - there's still the task of making it readable, and the grind of snagging all the typos. And there's the admin around publishing  or indy publishing, and the complexities of being self-employed. If we were paid just for editing and admin, most of us would still get a pretty lousy hourly rate. We don't want pity - we choose to pursue our vocations - but, just like microbrewers, craft bakers, chefs, musicians and anybody else trying to professionalise a passion - we do want to be treated fairly by those we serve.

So please ignore and don't repost those damned "being a writer makes me special" memes.

M Harold Page is the sword-wielding author of books like Swords vs Tanks (Charles Stross: "Holy ****!") and is planning some more historical fiction. For his take on writing,  read Storyteller Tools: Outline from vision to finished novel without losing the magic (Ken MacLeod: "...very useful in getting from ideas etc to plot and story." Hannu Rajaniemi: "...find myself to coming back to [this] book in the early stages.")



Yes, quite. Agreed on very nearly everything...

The exception: I think writers (certainly the vast majority) are inherently weird; it's just that readers are too. Last time I checked the figures, over 80% of all books sold were bought by 1% of the population. Which is to say that anyone who reads a lot (and I've never met a writer who doesn't) is automatically part of a tiny minority.


FaceBook - if my "friends" post too many (crap) memes or selfies they get quietly unfollowed.


First off I was unaware of most of those memes, probably cause I don't do much social media and mostly skim the stuff i do look at.
Secondly regarding the first comment, people in general are weird, each in their own way. Albeit some more than others.
Normalcy is a facade we present to the world and we don't notice our individual weirdness so much because we gravitate toward the similarly weird.


Hmm. Yebbut, I think that you have fallen into your own trap. I agree with most of it, and it applies as much to technical writing as fiction - which I wish more technical writers would realise!

But NOT "To turn it into interesting fiction, your life experience needs added dolphin sex" or necessarily even "Because story hinges on drama". It's much harder to convey an interesting 'atmosphere' than to write drama, and will attract fewer people, but it's been done, successfully. There's an article in the Independent today damning speculative fiction and fantasy for the lack of depth of character, which is equally blinkered in another way.

But, even sticking to dramatic stories, the 'dolphin sex' meme is excessively dominant nowadays, though I agree that it goes down well with the Fox/Sky-watching element. Defective function is nowadays almost all about sadism, brutal murders, psychopaths etc., and the actual detection gets lost - compare that with Conan Doyle or Chesterton, where there were often not even any actual crimes! I generally avoid military and pseudo-historical fantasy (sorry!), because the prominence of the brutality and violence of (armed) conflict so often swamps the actual story. Indeed, some of it is tantamount to pornography, when it dwells lovingly on the details of massacres and torture.

I am not saying that I don't enjoy dolphin sex (Ooh! Er! Missus!), but that I find it extreme monotonous as a diet, and is so often used to hide the weakness in the story.


> But NOT "To turn it into interesting fiction, your life experience needs added dolphin sex" or necessarily even "Because story hinges on drama". It's much harder to convey an interesting 'atmosphere' than to write drama, and will attract fewer people, but it's been done, successfully

Well obviously - being a writer - I was writing using vivid language and therefore a certain level of hyperbole. (Though the dolphin sex quote might make a good meme.)

By "drama" I mean a rhythm of conflict and resolution generating more conflict. Even dolphin sex isn't actual drama unless the dolphin resists, or is the seducer, or if the dolphin lover needs to sate their lust without getting caught by other humans. However, dolphin sex is more likely to generate drama than, say, going to work in the morning.

I suspect that the "interesting atmospheres" you crave *are* dramatic, or drama-laden, but using much less crassly obvious conflicts than those generated by dolphin sex.


''By "drama" I mean a rhythm of conflict and resolution generating more conflict.''

That is what I meant, too. And, as an example of what I meant by the opposite, consider "Idle Days on the Yann". I agree that it is rare, and normally found in non-fiction and short stories, but I disagree that drama is essential for interest. I am pretty sure that I have read some interesting, undramatic, novel-length fiction, but can't remember an example offhand.


For those that have just tuned in, we're talking about

> I disagree that drama is essential for interest. I am pretty sure that I have read some interesting, undramatic, novel-length fiction, but can't remember an example offhand.

I suspect your tastes make you something of an edge case!

However, I will certainly concede that one could prefix "Unless your routine involves trading ships on exotic rivers and talk of gods and strange fates, then etc"


This goes well with the recent study on "Pseudo-Profound Bullshit" (don't have a link, but google that term and I'm sure something will show up), which focused mainly on nonsense memes and people thinking they're deep. Apparently the less sense they make the deeper they're thought to be. It particularly talked about a certain Indian self-help guru whose supposed quotes litter the interwebs. Could also apply to a lot of the writing memes.

Then there's the cliché advice, like "Write what you know". Not actually bad advice, and somewhat useful as a starting point, but if that is all you do you'll never write anything new and interesting, and have no reason to learn and write something that someone else will want to read.

And then there's the way writers are depicted in film. Particularly shows like "Castle", which I enjoy, but it's version of a writer's life is ridiculous. When does he write all these automatic bestsellers? Must be between show seasons.

From what I've seen of writers, you may be unusual for being a Loud Extrovert. Something I'm not, unless drunk or with really good friends.


> "Write what you know".

I always took that as a manifesto. Hence the sword scar...

> From what I've seen of writers, you may be unusual for being a Loud Extrovert.

I'm not sure about this. I'm certainly less loud than I was, but then middle age.


"I suspect your tastes make you something of an edge case!"

Among the modern science fiction and fantasy reading community, assuredly! But more generally? A lot of Very Important Literature is entirely about exploring the nuances of the subjects' characters, which bores me silly, but many people like it. There is usually some drama, true, but it is NOT there to add interest - it is there to expose further facets of the subjects' characters, and it the latter that is the interest.

The sort of writing I am referring to is not uncommon in memoires, travel writing, natural history etc., for exactly the reason you give. The interest is in the unfolding of aspects of a unfamiliar and fascinating environment, rather than in the actual drama.


I always took that as a manifesto. Hence the sword scar...

That's pretty much what I meant by learn and write; learn/do something new, then you have more to use in your writing. But don't get yourself killed!


CTRL+F Hemmingway - ah, there we go, was getting a bit worried that the largest meme / Catechism about writing had been missed.

Since this is a call for realism, I'll tweak your nose for you a bit: what you see on the net is a mirror, your view is not of an inspiring globe from space, but a reflection of the inside of a sphere.

The bottom of a gravity well and all that.

Or, “we are such inward secret creatures, that inwardness the most amazing thing about us, even more amazing than our reason. but we cannot just walk into the cavern and look around. most of what we think we know about our minds is pseudo-knowledge. we are all such shocking poseurs, so good at inflating the importance of what we think we value.” Iris Murdoch, The Sea, The Sea (Yes, that's chosen for a reason, more nose tweaking!)


So, the solution to this is, as a writer, to break out from what's being projected against your own fears and growing off the feed-back loop. (Sword is optional, I suppose).


Or, perhaps better, delete Facebook, hit the gym, consult a lawyer[1].



It's not unique to writers. Having a lot of friends in and around the armed forces, I see a lot of the "soldier memes" floating around, and they are likewise annoying...


I suspect a commonality between military and authors in that neither of us can talk about the practicalities of our professions without sounding as if we are showing off.Any sentence that begins, "My agent/CO..."


Hang on. Which are you tweaking my nose about? Memes, image of writers, or write what you know? I suspect you are being too clever for me!


My favorite comment on "write what you know" was "That gives us novels about middle-aged professors of creative writing thinking about having affairs." I think that might have been Joe Haldeman?


That is common to many fields, actually. The flip side is that it too often becomes claiming that anyone who is Not One Of Us cannot understand, or deprecating the experiences and knowledge of those who approach the same topic from a different direction.


All of the above, although in a kindly way[1].

Memes are thought cancelling snippets, designed to elicit the response of knowledge without the self-awareness to know why they're working. At their worst they're Mind conditioners, little bomblets designed to cancel thought.

Since we have military minds around, a perfect example from the Telegraph yesterday:

Exercise Shamal Storm could be a dry run for one day having to send a large armoured force of British troops to Eastern Europe if there was ever a Russian confrontation with Nato, sources said.

1,600 British troops head to Jordan for war game Telegraph, 7th Feb 2016

Scary stuff, WWIII just around the corner! Russkies ahoy! Un-named sources who look like they're from NATO, but it's never claimed that they are! It could be your local fish-monger!

Apart from five seconds of searching immediately shows that it's a repeat of an exercise done last year, and no doubt organized then:

U.S., British troops participate in Shamal Storm US .mil April 2015

No doubt within hours this was being repackaged by squirrels everywhere to hedge bets on secret invasion plans, the big one and so forth.

And so little bits of Fear will spawn.


As for the image of writers, to avoid the cliched Nietzsche quotation, a statement of the obvious from the media:

Monsters through the ages mirror our fears Orange County Register, 2014

Your monster is Charles Arrowby (Swords - Arrows, Θάλαττα! θάλαττα!) who is perhaps your antithesis, the man who hasn't enough self-awareness to ponder at his own self-imagined vanities and ego that he projects outwards onto the world, which is the opposite of being annoyed by little projections of doubt from without.

As a fan of Iris Murdoch, I'll leave you to discover that book if you want.


Which segues us into 'write what you know': and the problem for us younger readers (or at least, those unfortunate souls who read Reddit) is that they've grown up in the fish bowl lens without knowing that it's mostly self-reflective[2] and isn't doing what it pretends on the tin.

And there's a clash between the generation that does contain large numbers who went off and learnt to kill, and a large number who have Hollywood's version[3].

So I'm sure you're not writing exactly what you know, if you see the contention (or we shall put up signs for people to avoid Scotland and Sword wielding maniacs).


Of course, this could all be errant madness spawned by a vile creation who is following your adage to the Letter - by writing exactly what they know, which is chaos and illogical nonsense.

Or it could be light teasing as a compliment.


[1]If I were being rude, I'd suggest you'd written in a novel that the groove in the sword was totally for sluicing the blood away from wounds. I iz very evil!

[2]I'm very much aware that if you judged us by links you'd imagine a very unpleasant soul indeed. The opposite is true, or at least one hopes it is. Although we're sure many think we are the worst that the fish bowl has to offer.

[3]Reddit's largest demographic was famously shown to come from Eglin Air Force Base, FL Reddit, May 2013


Yup. I occasionally see Police memes, courtesy of another group of friends. Similar, especially when they repost the more mawkish end of the US social media spectrum...

Agreed that there's an undercurrent of "us vs. them, we special, they not understand" - more so from the US than the UK (from a small ample size and a biased observer)


Ah now I get you. There is of course know and Know.

Much of our life experience can be abstracted and or transplanted. The politics of the playground transfer well to the warband.

Technical knowledge brings fiction to life and spawns plot, so going out and learning to use a sword (or ride a horse, or fly an airplane) is useful even if not being shot at.

Then there's second-hand knowledge. I was never there in the Middle Ages or Dark Ages, but I have studied it and walked the ground where I can. What I serve up is an imaginative but researched reconstruction, or - if fantasy - a secondary world based on how I think things work.

When it comes to the business of combat... no I am not nor have I been a soldier. But there are books - On Killing and On Combat - and first hand accounts and the soldiers I know have not objected to my work.


No need for "squirrels" other than the slightly nutty.

As far as I can tell, The Daily Telegraph's defence correspondent (Con Coughlin) is not highly regarded. He seems to run ill-informed stories with a low level of native understanding - normally packaged as "a senior Army officer said...", presumably some random dinosaur Staff Officer working in MoD Main Building, and certainly not "senior" as in "well-informed". Where I've been able to compare his output with direct personal experience, I've not been impressed.

He is generally ridiculed on the Army rumour service for writing rubbish, spoon-fed to him by anyone mid-ranking with an axe to grind...

...a bit like Lewis Page, except Mr.Page has his own axes.


I'm not very good at this light-hearted thing, apparently. I'll cease after this one.

If you want the meta-tweak, I might be also satirizing a difference between types of writers who write about military hardware and war and all that (you not being the target of that tweak).

The Hemingway was an additional tweak, mirroring Reddit / Elgin, using a Reddit Meme that's pervasive there:

Ernest Hemingway 'driven to suicide over FBI surveillance' Telegraph, July 2011

Turns out Hemingway wasn't the mad old alcoholic bastard he's often cast as (or, he was both at the same time).


Really: I am just teasing, but I suspect I might offend by accident.

Genuinely sorry, derail over.


Not so secret :-(

Erdogan is very probably going to attack the Syrian Kurds, and invade Syria the way that it invaded Iraq (only more so); Saudi Arabia and its allies will assuredly pressure the USA to back the Turks in that. The Kurds will almost certainly get support from Russia, with the likely result of Turkish troops being killed by Russian bombs. God alone knows what Obama, the Pentagon and NATO are planning, but they can't all be ignoring that scenario. If this exercise isn't a rehearsal for at least one option, I should be flabberghasted.


It is an interesting issue and one I agonize over. Probably worth a post some time. And no offense taken... :)


Here's the PDF url:

Read the first few pages and decided to look up the first author. University of Waterloo (Canada), Gordon Pennycook has 20+ hits on Google scholar even though he's still a doctoral candidate. Makes me wonder whether this particular research was inspired by the rise of questionable/non peer-reviewed and (mostly) off-shore open access journals, i.e., 'Science magazine’s “sting operation” by Bohannon found that 157 journals agreed to publish his bumbling work. Only 98 turned it down. There were 36 that pointed out its major mistakes, but 16 of these offered to print it anyway.'

Pennycook's other articles look more staid in comparison to this ground-breaking scientific evaluation of 'bullshit'. Wonder what his university PR department said in the usual release announcing article publications ... hmm.

Yes, definitely germane to this discussion on writer memes.


Geez, these are memes? Where do I start...?

1. Having been in fandom most of my life, I know a lot of
writers, including my ...late... wife. The only ones
who qualify as "weird", I think, are the tiny
percentage that is in the population, and the
people who think they want to be writers, or
that they are, and they'd Not Understood. File
that under *bad* fanfic.

2. Write what you know... or at least have considered
carefully. I read a later Anita Blake novel, Michael?,
allegedly set in Philly. As a Philadelphian expat, let
me assure you that not only had the author not ever been
to Philly, but had never read a guidebook or a map of
the city. She had *zero* things in the novel that were
even vaguely Philly.

3. What it takes to make a writer:
a) you don't have a choice, you can't *not* write, and
b) the std. simple method, heard from many authors,
is sitting in front of a keyboard and monitor
until blood drips from your forehead.

And as for ideas, well, I mean, *everyone* knows that for sf&f, you send $50 (due to inflation) to an address in Schenectady, NY.



That looks interesting. I think there's a separate post to be made about crap advice people give to authors.


The Kurds will almost certainly get support from Russia,

Umm, No. Russia supports Syrian regime, which doesn't like the Kurds anymore than Turkey. My Kurdish sister-in-law already refers to the situation there as WWIII.


The differences between "Pseudo-Profound Bullshit", Profound Bullshit and merely profound are beyond most people.
I read D T Suzuki when I was young and thought it totally obscure and unreadable. Came back to it 10 years later and it was not only clear what he was saying, but obvious.


"That moment when you do a guest post and somebody derails it to talk about geopolitics..."


Yes, well there are some topics where I have been permanently issued with a RED CARD because my views differ so radically from our hosts's.


I apologise. I may not have started it, and didn't intend to derail, but I still shouldn't have done it.


Ugh. I see what you mean. Bullshit is indeed the word. There are at least three concepts that are being confused: truisms, grammatically correct nonsense, and polemic that invents facts from whole cloth.


Harold. Why are you whining like this when the latest Author Earnings Report is out.


>I read D T Suzuki when I was young and thought it totally obscure and unreadable. Came back to it 10 years later and it was not only clear what he was saying, but obvious.

Yes that's what so pernicious about the pseudo profound stuff; you get this nagging doubt that maybe you aren't clever enough to understand it.


That's OK. I just wanted to keep the thread on track because the talk about bullshit or not bullshit is interesting.


I personally enjoy fierce but polite debate. :)


In an academic context, the converse is usually true :-) I often get the nagging feeling that the author isn't clever enough to understand that he has missed something fundamental - and am surprisingly often proved right. Of course, that applies only in cases where I an SURE that I am not clever (or knowledgeable) enough to express a definite claim ....


There is the inverse of that where an incredibly deep insight is seen as "obvious" by the unenlightened because they just do not understand the process by which someone arrived at that "obviousness".


'Unenlightened'? Please define and provide an example of such an 'incredibly deep insight' for the audience to parse.

No snark intended - just curious.


"Energy and matter are interchangeable"

"Of course!"


"When you push something, the something pushes back with equal and opposite force"

"Of course!"


Okay -- that was the only type of example I could come up with too (physics). But this type of example only works when you have the benefit of experimental testing plus some math. Therefore, all else is speculation and not true enlightenment?


If one examines modernist postdialectic theory, one is faced with a choice:either reject socialist realism or conclude that reality is a product of the masses, given that art is interchangeable with narrativity. If Lacanist obscurity holds, we have to choose between socialist realism and cultural


Very smart: a rehashed Mimetic CopyPasta (c.f. Reddit's Navy Seal Copypasta: "What did you say to me you little bitch...")

Social realism in the works of Joyce

Contexts of Dialectic: Socialist realism in the works of Pynchon

Constructivism in the works of Glass - referencing Bataille

Constructivism in the works of Glass - referencing Gibson

And... the actual paper:

On the Simulation of Postmodernism and Mental Debility using Recursive Transition Networks PDF


While the meta is understood, it's a little bit obvious. It's also very much STEM biased and has (as you can see by the weaponized versions pretending to be actual "Radical Feminism" out there) a noise effect.

If you want Eris / Dada, er.. well: *cough* Remember that Play Mobile Knight post?

It's still out there.

Very much so :p


A better point is that mimetic weapons like that generally result in the degradation of a space, which is very meta meta.



Navy Seal Copypasta

Note, this is often modulated and adjusted and mutated and then used to 'test' the authenticity of people. (C.f. Will Wheaton and his partner being targeted and then failing to spot it, leading to en-mass 'inauthentic' accusations and trolling).


Luckily for me, The Sea, The Sea is very much real and a Booker prize winner.

If you didn't notice, all the ties had real points, logical links and a structure.

I guess I can use reality in the way a Markov chain can't?

Go me!


We could discuss how STEM Minds actively disenfranchise other voices in the online realm and how acting like a Monster is often a performative piece to challenge the underlying assumptions of Patriarchy but hey.

That might be a little challenging ;)


Sorry 'bout that. I've said in a previous thread here that I should leave the political discussions alone, but sometimes I can't help myself.


My fault: was using a mimetic weapon I'd spotted that was fresh and would make sense to audience (unlike the Navy Seal copypasta which will probably be totally unfamiliar to most readers).


Blame the Cat.


Profundity is subjective. You feel it when you understand a non-obvious idea that was communicated in a way that you could understand, but had to work for. Plenty of things that would have seemed profound to me 10 years ago would have seemed simply baffling 20 years ago and now seem ho-hum.

If schools would figure this out, maybe they'd stop trying to teach Death of a Salesman to high school kids.


We could discuss how STEM Minds actively disenfranchise other voices in the online realm

Discussion aimed at one audience and referencing one set of common assumptions is usually alienating to other audiences with different backgrounds and assumptions, unless the unfamiliar assumptions are clearly laid out.

... which is why so many of us express irritation in your direction from time to time.


There's a distinctive disjuncture between mimetic weapons used in different ways, for the record.

OP's piece is about defanged or largely passive mimetic weapons that have passed into merely anodyne thought stoppers, used in a similar manner to Valley Girl "like" or the language version of "um", passed on via tertiary networks (FB, your Grandmother etc) that serve little purpose but merely reflect the banality of Corporate culture.

The weaponized versions are much more interesting: while OP has posted the "meta-academic" version used to "troll" Post-Modern literature (and erroneously makes that classical error, a la "hot coffee burns woman suing America law mad" meme[1] where it mistakes the actual for the reported virtual[2]), he seemingly doesn't know about all the other kinds.


Now, OP.

You like TANKS.


Want to see the newest versions of our tools in trade?

You might never want to see a Mobile Knight again after this, though...

[1] Woman burnt by hot McDonald's coffee: totally correct, was stored at much higher temperatures than need be, sizable pay out which she declined most of. Yes, you're an asshole if you mis-used it.

[2] Paper was only accepted under the auspices of attempting to get cross-academic thought going: there's considerable notation to show Peer reviewers thought it was confused, misguided and illogical.


Yes, I know.

But I never (rarely?) bite back.

Have you noticed that part?


"I guess I can use reality in the way a Markov chain can't?"

Well, that is grammatically English, but it is clearly bullshit in the sense of the paper that SFreader linked to. There is no reasonable sense in which a Markov chain can use anything, let alone reality.


Read the paper.

They expressly used Markov Chains to generate "bullshit".



Time Cube

TempleOS V2.17

Note: these are not mimetic weapons, they're instances of Outsider Art.


Aka, I was making a meta-joke.


If you need an explanation:

There's a difference between Outsider Art that is sui generis and considered 'unbridgeable', Markov chains generated 'randomly' by computers and what I'm doing.


It was a challenge and a nose tweak.

OP clearly wants a two player combat, and his desires are lighting up my amusement and erogenous zones, so that's what he'll get.

You're going to see sexual fanfic spontaneously generated.

It's quite kinky.


And yes - if you don't get it:

He's the Playmobile Knight.

I'm the dragon.


*nose wiggle*


> If schools would figure this out, maybe they'd stop trying to teach Death of a Salesman to high school kids.

God's teeth! Yes indeed. Here kids, learn to love literature through consuming middle aged midlife crisis stories!


I posted it because it amused me.


(If you don't find this funny by now, I despair)


That's funny, I was just complaining about that last week. How to bore and annoy a class full of teenagers- make them read something that has no relevance whatsoever to them and their lives. Sure, it will in 20 or 30 years time, but they'll never remember it, so why bother?


Oh, but Sir Knight:

We have our Prince in danger - Master Jay - and you have your dragon.


Let's fight (civilly). And no, you posted it because you knew that the admixture of anti-PM, bullshit and anti-feminism was sure to draw something in.

It's what you want.

So, you have it!


I don't fight fair. *Wiggles Play Mobile at you*


Point 1 : Writers tell lies for money. As such they are comparable with marketeers, lawyers and second hand car salesmen.

Point 2 : The first thing they lie about is themselves. Got to make it sound more profound than "I make up sh*t and get people to buy it".

Point 3 : The first people they lie to are themselves. And if they are any good, they will believe the lie.

Put that together and you have fertile ground for a self-reinforcing orgy of bullsh*t - which has essentially been the literary world for the past few centuries at least.


No I posted it in a playful spirit because I actually had to wade through some obscurantist crap like that when during my postgrad at university and we were talking - interestingly - about false profundities and how it's very hard to tell whether something really is BS or above your intellectual paygrade.



See post #34 - that's the type of nasty sniping that's a feature of certain elements of SF puppies at the moment.

I'm just reveling in joy and playing. (I might let you win, even, OP).


Let's assume my pay grade is high.

Very high indeed.


Saunter forth and challenge, Sir Knight (I'll allow additional members of the Round Table, of course).


It's certainly above mine. I have no idea what you are talking about now!


Make sense, or else.

Comments that appear to be only mildly connected to reality are likely to be removed.


it's very hard to tell whether something really is BS or above your intellectual paygrade.

Usually not. Lies usually conform to the predispositions of the intended audience, and truth usually doesn't. If someone is saying what the audience wants to hear, I assume it's BS unless proven otherwise. Works pretty well.


But what if it's couched in jargon and the people around you are nodding their heads and you have no way of reading their minds and knowing whether they are faking or not?


You might not want to take that challenge.



Btw, Sean.

It's going on the archive.

Tsk Tsk Tsk.


Because occasionally you'll annoy some of them to new heights of literary criticism through sheer disdain? The best English paper I ever wrote was an analysis of Lies Of Silence which included the phrase "more interesting characters have been observed through microscopes."

The damn thing was shortlisted for the Man Booker; full marks to Past Me for self-confidence...


It'd be really nice if you didn't keep deleting that.


I'd try either of a) asking one of the nodders for clarification, b) questioning whether I want to be part of this crowd, or c) nodding along. Depends on the circumstances.


But yes, Emperor's New Clothes is another common form of BS, and I usually dismiss claims along those lines unless there's a good reason not to.

Unfortunately, the thing about emperors is that they're often in a position to punish detractors. Just because something is BS doesn't necessarily mean that it's optional.


Feel free to wipe every post in this thread.

Not even funny.



If you're going to moderate without warning etc, the decent thing to do is prune *ALL* posts by the offending poster to back when it makes sense.

Leaving the little "WTF" ones is just fucking puerile.

Cull #80, 79, 76, 74, 73.

Deleting stuff that does make sense and leaving the detritus is play school levels of wank.


If the prime characteristics of the discourse are jargon and prolixity and an absence of simple facts, I generally reject it as content-free on probabilistic grounds. Sometimes, if it is also annoying, or if I am in a suitably cantankerous mood, I may make an effort at decoding it in greater detail; this almost invariably supports the decision to reject it.


We'll try one last time, and in common tongue that has no relation to Feminism, Post-Modernism or China Melville.


What you're demanding, essentially, is to be treated as an economic trades person.

Which exist - it's called the PR game. (Highest paying gig - the Pharma PR fluff market. How do I know that? Well, work it out).

If you want to run that way, but can't stomach the absolute lies dollar/word, you intern (lol) @ Buzzfeed or Huffington Post and so on, and hawk your meme bait by the word.

If you're smart, you polish crap for Corporations and make the report a little fuller and a little swoller.


But that's not what you're doing.

Yes, of course: it's hardly interesting to be treated as a Byronic lush who occasionally scribbles in his diary while puffing opium and shagging anything that moves (including the donkey you rode in on).

So, mimetically, what are you complaining about?


Is writing for a living badly paid?

In the UK, ludicrously so: Median earnings of professional authors fall below the minimum wage Guardian, April 2015

So, is the argument that you don't want to be treated as middle class when you're earning badly, or is it that by the assumption of middle class earnings you're facing penury?


Sean, how's that for reality?


HB: you are pissing off the guest blogger and the moderators.

Stop it.

You are also annoying me because I am jet lagged to fuck and distinctly unamused by outbreaks of self indulgent crap while I am away on a long haul business trip.

Sean and the other moderators are here to keep this blog from deteriorating into the usual internet cesspit and I will not hesitate commenters who give them sass in my absence.


Just pull those numbers - nice response was recrafted.



I know the numbers well. Numbers notwithstanding I make a good living as a writer: it's another correlation/causation gap. But that's fundamentally irrelevant to the subject under discussion'm in this thread.

Those writer memes Martin complains about? They're real, they're pernicious, and they're problematic for a whole range of reasons (too many to itemize here when I'm commenting from a fucking mobile phone). And derailing a discussion of them is not helpful.


My memory of Eng Lit O-level doesn't include much by way of objection to the actual reading bit. There was the occasional exception - Sons and Lovers was tedious beyond belief, half a page being enough to test my endurance, and the film of it that we had to watch was even worse - but I tend to be something of a compulsive reader, and by and large I found that simply reading the book and ignoring the lesson was a functional method of alleviating boredom (though far from the only one I used).

What used to get on my tits was the writing bit. The teacher would have us read a few pages, and then blether on about their literaryness - quite what that entailed I cannot describe other than as pretentious bollocks, which had nothing to do with my enjoyment of the story, and which seemed to consist largely of asserting that the author was thinking or attempting certain things with no basis other than the teacher's view that those things are important and therefore the author must have been thinking them. We would then be set to write an essay about it, which we were supposed to do by regurgitating the teacher's waffle in our own words and padding it out with more similar waffle of our own (not that we were ever instructed to do that, but in practical terms that is what marks were awarded for).

This seemed to split the class into two remarkably even halves. One half were quite happy that all they had to do was remember stuff and didn't need to think, and were good at imitating the teacher both in style and (lack of) content. The other half were bored shitless by the whole business, its pointlessness and its lack of content, and found it infuriatingly difficult and tedious to have to expand to several pages something which could be communicated no less well in a few lines, but which wasn't worth even that amount of effort to communicate at all.

The result was that one half's propensity to enjoy reading - whether high or low - was essentially unchanged, and they ended up with an "easy" good exam result; the other half were very effectively taught a Pavlovian response that "great literature" is boring and crap, and it took years or decades for this to fade enough to allow them to find out that it can be enjoyable after all. The latter is what happened to me, and I've seen quite a few people who went to different schools saying it happened to them as well.

Furthermore, at one point we were required to do a "literature project", which meant taking a book of our own choice and producing our own "analysis" of it off our own bat, without the teacher's input. Given this freedom (as I thought) to choose how to do it, I wrote about what made it a good story and an enjoyable read - interesting themes, how the characters were portrayed, the style of writing, and such. I received a low mark because very little of what I'd written would have been usable as answers to hypothetical exam questions on the book (the teacher did not use those words, but that was the meaning) and this further confirmed my view that the whole subject was a pointless hoop-jumping exercise and that being compelled to perform it was an injustice.


To clarify, are you talking about Martin the poster, or is the M. in Harold Page for Martin? I just want to make sure I know who's who.

As for the author memes, yes, they're pernicious, and yes, they mis-instruct would-be authors. I'm just getting stuck figuring out a field that doesn't have the same problem. For one example, American lawyers were just told that one-third of lawyers have a drinking problem, while a large majority of biology PhD student think they'll be able to land a job in academia. Is there any end to the crap, or is it human nature to form in-groups, out-groups, and discriminate?


And if you want some data on publisher spend on FB etc posts...

I can do that. (Slightly illicit).


Not even being funny - this is part of the biz.

Mimetic Weapons are real.

Reddit mimetic weapons are real.

Hemingway wasn't crazy.

Biz spends money to pollute your mind with bad memes.

This is kinda stuff you should already know.

(Was much more fun when I was mucking around, sorry).


I hate to have to do this, but a review is apparently in order:

First, this is Charlie's blog primarily, and he's got a great link about the rules. Go reread it.

Secondarily, this particular one is also M. Harold Page's blog. It was his post, and the discussion is for and around him.

If I, or one of the other moderators, suddenly pops in with a warning, it's going to be because Charlie or the guest poster complained.

Thirdly, keep the conversation reasonable, and in relation to the post. Don't put words in anyone's mouths, don't decide what the writer (host, gust host, or fellow commentor) really meant, and don't try to cram everything you can into one comment.

Lastly, insults or personal attacks against the guest posters are not going to be tolerated. (They can re-post any unapproved comments, and respond as desired.)


Yes. Now imagine you're a Medievalist doing a history postgrad and the "theory" class is like that except Post Modernism and Marxism, and if you argue with the lecturer they cite books about India and colonialism. High priesting is what high priests do.

Years ago, there was a study about American English Lit graduates. Apparently they don't read for pleasure - the books they think they SHOULD read being boring, the ones they would enjoy being not proper literature.


(Sorry the M is for Martin and was never a secret. If you google Martin Page, you find a French YA writer - who I now know online, nice chap, vegetarian, has a beard very Star Trek - and an Australian country singer. So my middle name came out to play. Harold, once a source of teasing, turns out to be a damn good name for somebody who writes my kind of stuff)


So... how do you spot pseudo profundity? Harvesting from the comments without citing:

There are two perils: (1) It may be above your pay grade (some of the obscure terminology may point to real proven concepts), and (2) It would make sense if you had the right experience (Death of the Travelling Salesman makes sense to middle aged people).

It's likely to be pseudo profundity if people are short on details and appear to be telling everybody what they want to hear.

However, I think adept practitioners can bury you in details and are good at hitting a stern tough love notes that ping people's guilt or masochism. So in a complex world I am afraid that it's down to the character of the person telling you something.

I trust a scientist before I trust a politician, but really I am equipped to debate neither.


I chose physics examples because there are too many Gregs here. I could have chosen a more "Zen" example but then the unenlightened would not have "got it"


Hence the old biblical saying: Pearls before swine


Like the wall-to-wall bullshit propounded by charlatans like De Chardin, you mean?


Also codswallop.
"What is the sound of one stick clashing?"

The idea of some parts of "Zen" are worth following, sometimes.
Lying & filling the world with obscurantist bullshit, as the priests do, is not acceptable, however.


It's the Human self delusion thing. Movie stars are popular and people like to read about them despite the fact that they are famous for overtly lying publicly. The result is that people think they know them when in fact it's just a huge illusion.


Well, it it's a "priest", then he or she is lying, as a fist assumption.
If not a priest, then vagueness & deliberate lack of specificity are usually markers.
Test against the "real world" is also a good one
( Usually called science )
Though, as we know from history science/scientists can get it round its' neck all too easily, with the fortunate exception that it self-corrects eventually.
See the remarks on Sigmund Fraud in a previous thread


Lies are often context dependent. In Zen it is called "skilful means". The problem is, you can only spot true bullshit if you are already at a higher level. From below pearls and swine are indistinguishable.


Here's another example to think about:

A: You cannot touch without being touched

B: Of course!

A: Wrong, you retard



There's no rule of the thumb for filtering out complex and detailed pseudo profundity. (Meaning perhaps our civilization is ultimately doomed.)


Can we filter out those soundbites - which is what these memes really are - that contain no specific instructions (implied or otherwise)?

So Stephen King, "The first draft is just you telling the story to yourself" clearly tells you to write your first draft for yourself.

However, poor cherry-picked Orhan's quote ("A writer is someone who spends years patiently trying to discover the second being inside him, and the world that makes him who he is) only gives very vague instructions - go on some kind of inner quest. It doesn't tell us how to do this, or how to use the resulting informationIit may or may not be a profound insight into the mental world of the writer, but it's not very useful to aspiring writers who should walj on by.


Do you mean The Emperor's New Mind? If so, yes, it is bullshit, and I know enough of the area to state that pretty definitively. Actually, so is A Brief History Of Time, though less outrageously. Luckily, Penrose is without political power, and Hawking has it only in a very limited domain.


God help me, I have been (and, to some extent, am) working in areas where there are no simple facts, and where most of the (genuine) experts just love obscurantism :-( Yes, your rule is a good one, but sometimes it falls flat on its face.


Luckily, I had Chaucer (the Prologue) and Macbeth, so mere 'literariness' took a back seat to understanding the language and cultural background.


"So... how do you spot pseudo profundity?"

In order to ask the right question, you need to know most of the answer. Sorry, but that's the only reliable way. As you say, the most plausible of the bullshitters are indistinguishable by an entirely lay audience from someone explaining something intrinsically difficult in terms the audience can understand. Brian Cox is a good example of someone who cannot be classified unless you already know quite a lot about the area.

In an academic or semi-academic context, a good rule is to assume anything is bullshit unless it gives enough information to check its data and analysis. But even that fails when the assertion is that other assertions are false, because the area is too much of a morass to justify the latter. You simply CAN'T explain a morass of complex, conflicting information in a concise and comprehensible fashion.

But that also works more generally. If a politician, CEO, salesdroid or man in the pub says something and you can't work out exactly what he is proposing or why he is disputing something, then he is almost certainly bullshitting.


So is it down to character?


Have you ever noticed how actors seem to behave as if they playing a half written part in the 'private' lives? I guess that because they got where they were by playing people more interesting than they were, they just take it onboard as their normal way of life - only there's nobody to flesh out the role, so they are stuck doing the same old lines.

They're another that's caught 'Art' with a capital A - assuming that their role is to emote at an audience as if it were life and death. Whereas authors have written themselves a better origin and purpose; actors have confused unrealistic delivery for heightened reality - then forgotten that there's anything else.

The thing they say about being a good second hand car salesman is to really sell well you have to believe the hunk of junk you are selling is actually the classic thoroughbred with an engine that purrs like a kitten - for at least as long as you are actually trying to convince the punter. Those that catch 'Art' seem to forget to drop the deception at the end of the day - and end up living it, believing it.

Self-deception as a way of life?


I don't recognise that in my life. I build stories the way sculptors build sculptures. I don't live my stories so much as remember them backwards - hey that would make a great meme. Then I cook dinner for my family, put my kids to bed and so on.


Probably, mostly, but some of it comes from not being challenged enough and falling into bad habits.


Yes, as a techwriter I dealt with many engineers like that: "Just pretty it up.... WHAT YOU CHANGED MY WORDS I THOUGHT ABOUT MY WORDS!!!... besides big blocks of text have more gravitas."


I can give another side, in that people who changed my words usually changed the meaning (often very seriously), bcause they didn't understand the subtleties. However, that was because they didn't like my style, and not because it wasn't already in a final form - and they often MERGED my paragraphs when I had separated them for good reason!


Yes. That's not how it's supposed to work. Though sometimes I'd send a draft flagged, "This is almost certainly wrong. Please correct."

The problem is that engineers - people actually - use pompous lab-english which is larded with ambiguity:

"Before the commencement of servicing the widget it must have been powered down and the radar operator should have been informed."

Powered down by who? Is this a checklist or an instruction? Does the order matter?

So I'd write:



Before servicing the widget
1. Inform the radar operator.
2. Power down the widget.


Before servicing the widget

Confirm the following:
- Supervisor has informed the radar operator.
- Deck staff have powered down the widget.

And they'd go, "But I don't want to check your instructions. My words were perfect. Put them back."


On the odd occasions I write documentation I see my job as putting together something clear enough for our tech writers to follow, then correcting any misunderstandings* in their rewrite.

A good tech writer is something lots of organisations need, and far too few are willing to pay for.



Right. I occasionally got taken to task for favouring the latter style :-)


You mean people didn't like it bulleted and numbered etc?

I seriously got taken to task because "the original had more gravitas", this being documentation used by English as a Second Language workers, possibly in a hurry and in bad weather.


Clearly the complainant was volunteering to do all bad-weather and urgent widget maintenance in the language in which they were most fluent - Obscure.


In truth there were moments in my career as a technical author when it was a good thing duelling was not legal.


Yes. And they disliked my use of layout to convey information (mainly structure), claiming the modern publishing guidelines. I said that, if it was good enough for Sterne, it was good enough for me and I would have no truck with typographic revisionism :-)



The Sun Read Me First book, for example, strongly advocates our style.

I am so glad I dropped the "technical" from my job description.


Yes, modern - at least compared with Sterne! 1960s, I think.


I think I'd be glad to see duelling make a comeback in these circumstances. The finality of such a method seems so much preferable to the hell of the "needs more detail/too much detail" dichotomy that I regularly find myself in.


And then at lunchtime I'd go to the pub and work on Swords Versus Tanks.


Yes, the "M" in M. Harold Page is short for Martin. Just to confuse things he lives in Edinburgh, too.


The thing they say about being a good second hand car salesman is to really sell well you have to believe the hunk of junk you are selling is actually the classic thoroughbred with an engine that purrs like a kitten

As they say, sincerity is everything...

...if you can fake that, you've cracked it.


As with their documentation, so often with their code.

What, lay it out neatly, with intelligent use of whitespace? Use names that are meaningful to anyone else, rather than non-standard acronyms or abbreviations? Add comments about the design, and any funny behaviour about the problem being solved? You know, "why" comments, not "what" comments?

Anyone who says "the code is the documentation" doesn't deserve duelling, more like keelhauling (given I can see a large ship through the office window)...


It makes three of us - Martin-the-Writer (in Edinburgh, posting as "M Harold Page"), Martin the planespotter / target shooter / ex-Reservist (me, in Edinburgh, posting as "Martin") and Martin with the interesting comments about the US primaries in the other thread (in the USA, also posting as "Martin")


I'm not sure you can spot pseudo-profundity all the time.

Yes, I agree that, if you're sufficiently knowledgeable, you can spot a lot of BS. But not all of it. Lord Kelvin's remarks about physics being reduced to getting more accurate values for stuff comes to mind. That was before things like radioactivity and the photoelectric effect popped up. We're in a similar state with string theory, dark matter, and reconciling relativity and quantum theory, in that some part of the physics some people get so envious about is BS, but we don't know which part. Worse, now we're scaring ourselves with the notion that we'll never know which part is BS, because we can't turn the sun into a black hole to power the experiment, let alone get enough replicated runs to have a five sigma result.

The other thing to remember is that even knowing BS can be useful. A classic case is astrology, and here I'm talking about the full nine planet, twelve house treatment. Basically, a horoscope is a bunch of advice, arranged in a way that makes it look personal and special to you, so you'll read it. What most people do with horoscopes is to ignore the stuff that they don't feel applies to them, and focus their attention on the advice that "resonates" with them. As a result, they may get some very useful advice out of a piece of artfully constructed BS, and then they feel astrology is real, due to their experience.

Is this a crime? Or simply a way of giving advice? The answer is, it's both, but astrology works because humans are also really, really good at ignoring irrelevant BS and finding things that feel right to them.

As for curing people of astrology, the simple thing to do is to have believers read a bunch of horoscopes, written both for them and for other people. What they'll find very quickly is that other people may have horoscopes that fit them even better than did the one they got. That, plus a little explanation of how the system works, helps get them past it. Or, better still, they can learn to appreciate the advantages of randomly generating patterns rather than remaining stuck on the same rut, and stop worrying about whether fortune telling is pernicious bunk, or merely a way of shaking loose stuck lives by introducing a little randomness.*

*Oops. That was pseudo-profound. My bad.


"Oops. That was pseudo-profound. My bad."

Not really. Whether it's all sound or not is less clear - i.e. your points about physics are solid (even understated!), and the point about the benefits of a bit of randomness is solid, but whether astrology helps is dubious.

On a related matter, I have been flamed for saying that dowsing works, in just the same way that drawing graphs does. Lots of people use it, regularly, for real work. The meme that it has been proven to be bogus is actually at least as bogus as the claim that it uses ESP. It didn't, of course, help that I explained that it was merely an aid to ignoring preconceptions and using a different part of the brain - just like looking at a graph rather than the numbers. The meme that you can extract information from graphs that you can't from the data is bogus, too - it's just easier to see certain patterns as graphs.


Hence my Storyteller Tools which are really just ways to engage with your story so you can work with it instinctively. (


Re. academia - actually, at least in history, and I think also in the sciences, basically everywhere, the issue is that a significant number of academics give others from different specialties the benefit of the doubt.
Thus in books aimed at a general audience, you find the section the author wrote about their own area of expertise is in fact correct. But in the other areas, they've relied upon many other sources and often not checked them properly, having assumed that Prof so and so wouldn't have written such a one sided account.

Another issue is lack of feedback. One of my specialist areas is medieval alchemy, and there's a normal historian called Jonathan Hughes who has been researching it especially re. 15th century and Henry IV etc. Unfortunately his books on the topic, and articles, are rubbish, but the only reviews which say so are hidden in not well known academic journals, and of course couched in scholarly language meaning they don't just say that this book is a waste of space and shouldn't have been published, which is what I say about his book "The rise of alchemy in 14th century England".

I'm sure I found someone uncritically assuming that stuff in his earlier book, seeing as it was written by someone who lectures history to the university of East Anglia and has had papers published etc, must be right, when in fact in many key areas he is completely wrong.

What we need are more open and clearly available reviews of all sorts of topics, and train the public to realise that they need to know and investigate more themselves. And more suppression of the deliberate lie.


Actors are taught to do this deliberately ... writers too probably ... immerse themselves in their characters and ask themselves: 'What if I were in this position, what would I do?''s_system

My high school had a very young faculty ... new school in a new development. Even so, English Lit was skewed toward Shakespeare and the SF classics: Animal Farm, 1984, Brave New World, etc. (thank the deity!). There was one EngLit teacher however who was so into angsty (existentialist*) lit that we started calling it the slit-your-wrists-class.

* My eyes still roll every time I hear/see anything extolling the BS/pseudo-'humanist'** POV of this brand of 'literature'.

** Pseudo-'humanist' because the protagonists are generally spoiled, self-centered (and as the Brits say) wankers, thus short by a few metric tonnes of being 'human'.


Ghu, please. Remember the old saying, those who can, do, those who can't teach? Some teachers that does not apply to... and some it does.

My first English course in college, right out of high school: two bloody *months* on Billy Budd, and his Christlike innocence, and on and on and freakin' *on* - my instructor was a fan of his, obviously - two weeks on "Literature from the Bible" (actual title)... and TWO FREAKIN' DAYS ON THE ODDESSEY!!!!!

I was ready to strangle my instructor with his tie.



To clarify ... the difference between lit-worth-reading and BS-lit is that while both can/do show some of the worst of the human condition, LWR does it fairly (accurately) within context usually with a complex central character. While the endings are not always happy, there's growth and self-knowledge.

Can't recall any 'happy' stories in EngLit apart from the Shakespearean comedies, Oscar Wilde and French farces.

In both tragedy and comedy although the central theme tends to be 'misunderstanding', in tragedy the understanding comes too late for the central characters or remains fundamentally unresolved. Even so, in the classics, the reader/audience always comes away with some sort of new understanding.

The modern existentialist lit on the other hand says that understanding is impossible. And, what gets my goat is that they get away with saying this even though these authors never show their character ever even trying to understand. IMO, L'Etranger (Camus) is a perfect example. Why? ... because the protagonist is typically sold to high school students without any pre-amble/warning that this is a portrait of a dysfunctional human being (narcissist). So, yeah ... simple human interaction/emotional understanding is not likely for a character like this in the time and place described. But this does not mean that all people are like this, nor that it may never be possible for such characters to learn some understanding. Plus, in the real Western world where this novel is typically taught, the situation the character finds himself would take on a different meaning, and a Western judge would recognize this type of character/personality and probably order a psychiatric assessment. So, overall - L'Etranger - very good observational study of human dysfunction but not a how-to-live-your-life prescription which so many of the books that it is usually bundled with are.


Re 112: about that engineering documentation....

mark "yes, for that, and another on upgrading linux,
in the same mag the year before, I got
paid for publication, which makes me a published


'Tain't just academia. Far too many people believe what their tribal Authority spouts, without checking for themselves, and then repeat it as Gospel.


But that's the point, it isn't even AUTHORITY, it's just somewhat old fashioned assuming that the other expert knows what they are talking about, they have the right credentials etc. And it's a bit quicker to not check up on everything. Perpetual scepticism is hard work.


(You'll have to excuse me folks. I must now, in a non-eccentric and totally normal and boring way pack a bag of swords to go and teach Medieval German Longsword.)


Haven't read any of your books yet but from the reviews, you obviously like to mix up weaponry eras (tanks vs. swords). So, do you also mix up levels/type of self-knowledge/perception from these eras/cultures?


In this context, an Expert = an Authority; they have the same meaning. And it isn't whether they have an official stamp (for any meaning of official), it's whether the people who quote them believe that they are an Authority.


My understanding was that dowsing worked because, until recently, there was an aquifer at some point under most points on Earth, so wherever the dowser pointed down, eventually, with enough digging, someone might find water. The objective test for this is whether dowsers are any good at predicting the depth at which the water will be found.

Nowadays, unfortunately, a lot of groundwater has been totally drained, so dowsing probably won't work in places like, oh, the San Joaquin Valley and around Damascus.


Nope. Archaeologists use it to find where to dig; I used it to find an old and dry drainage pipe. My guess is that it helps you to let go of previous misjudgements, and start again using subtle differences in level etc.


My point was authors tell stories about themselves, casting themselves as the hero and their job as an arduous and artistic task. And since they should be good at it, they are prone to believing those stories.

Want a for instance?

You mention 'sculpting' and 'remembering them backwards' - which sounds lovely and artistic/mystic. You are the under-appreciated artist in a garrett, tirelessly releasing the image of the voluptuous nude model (who you also happen to be banging) in marble form for the adoring world to eventually recognise as a masterpiece.

Now there is a meme that really does the rounds.

Strangely you never hear an author say "I take one of the old templates, say the hero's journey, slap in a version of Bill from down the street and a rip off of a character from a Stephen King novel I like, and make them follow that template for the required number of pages (not too long or the editor will ruthlessly cut bits out to match the printer demands) and make sure that it's churned out by 2 months time to meet a deadline."

Doesn't sound anything like as nice as the 'banging the model' version. Sounds like work. Rote work where there are structural guides and boundaries. Painting by numbers. About the only author you heard say that was Barbara Cartland.

Everyone lives in a bit of self-delusion about what they do, how important it is, and how good they are at it. The curse of the author, and the arts in general, is that they ought to be good at making up such stories (and therefore they believe them), and that there's little to give them a reality check. The worst they tend to suffer is a bad critics review (and they can be dismissed as ill-informed), and/or bad sales (and that's being unappreciated). A scientist on the other hand might spend equally much angst and effort into sculpting a beautiful theory; publish it; and then have someone point out the tiny flaw that renders the whole thing a steaming pile of junk. The real world is there as the final, indisputable, arbiter - preventing things from going too far off into wish fulfilment.


That sounds more useful, although I recall being taught to dowse by a retired nuclear engineer in Stirling who was convinced that you could tell how old something was when you held it in one hand and the dowsing rod in the other, and the number of times the rod moved a certain amount made centuries, and so on.

Here's a suggestion for you and everyone else, to save some time- next time you bring up something that is generally viewed with disdain if not very wrong, try and explain it and justify it in the same post or one just after, don't wait for us to say "hey, there's no evidence for that" and you then turn round and give a more reasonable answer than the one that 99% of dowsers would likely give. It feels a bit like you're trying to get one up on us.

As for archaeologists using it, I haven't heard about that except the church on Lindisfarne has a drawing of what is underneath the floor, based solely on someone's dowsing. I don't believe it has been tested by excavation though....


> So, do you also mix up levels/type of self-knowledge/perception from these eras/cultures?

Yes. The story is about the different mentalities and what's good and bad about them. Plus fighting.


> Want a for instance?

> You mention 'sculpting' and 'remembering them backwards' - which sounds lovely and artistic/mystic.

It's the best metaphor for what I do. What I actually do is outline at different levels and find what feels cool and cascade the changes up and down. It's a lot like remembering because the vague vision firms up as I write and feels right.


"Before the commencement of servicing the widget it must have been powered down and the radar operator should have been informed."

Generations of science teachers have drummed it into pupils’ heads that all proper scientific writing must be in past passive. And that first exposure to non-literary writing carries over into engineering.

(Well, I'd argue that at the pub — but I don't have any hard evidence, just impressions from decades of experience.)


Um, were there shifting definitions? Dowsing's usually about water, unless otherwise defined.

It's worth remembering that there's nothing special about the dowsing device, so a dowsing rod or pendulum is reacting to your hand. It might be worth seeing what signals in your environment the pendulum is giving you permission to pay attention to. I'm unimpressed by using a pendulum to date stuff, because I've been able to date swords for years, just by looking at pictures. There are a lot of cues, if you're willing to look for them.

The archaeologists I've worked with in the field don't use pendulums either. They use their eyes and look for evidence of human occupation. I'm crap at it. They've been trained mentally to strip away the vegetation and see what's underneath, I've been trained to see the vegetation and ignore the rubbish. We sometimes get the same results, because the plants sometimes hold clues to past human habitation as well, but when we do that, it's due to different lines of evidence.


I've seen references to dowsing in archaeology, used for locating artifacts, dating back to the 1980s. Also police looking for evidence (about the time psychics get called in). I think the term has broadened in general usage to "locating something with a rod".

Obligatory xkcd reference:


I think the third tick box from the bottom on that xkcd - the last one unticked - ought to have "Ask Charlie" written in it.

Dowsing - there are people selling Extra Special dowsing rods which are not forked sticks, but bits of fencing wire bent at right angles which pivot in plastic tubes held vertically in the hands. Because these are Modern and Super and Bring the Ancient Art of Dowsing Up-to-Date you are supposed to be able to find anything you want with them, not just water. Prospecting for minerals is one thing I've seen suggested for them. (I suppose you might actually stand some chance of detecting magnetic anomalies with them but you'd need a much more stable platform for them than your hands.)

Me, I think I'll stick to looking for the rushes, or the gosson; or nicking off from the search party to mess about...


> Generations of science teachers have drummed it into pupils’ heads that all proper scientific writing must be in past passive.

I know. And perhaps they are right - for science experiments. However, the children are unlikely to grow up into scientists.


Around the turn of the century I there was a short-lived move in the UK to move from the passive to the active in science, I agreed with the suggestion that using the passive allows writers to spread any blame for mistakes. It also dilutes any credit for improvements.
I encouraged my staff to use the active mood in their writing and rewrote my 60 - odd SOPs in the active where possible.
In an annual report "We have replaced the chemical methods of therapeutic drug analysis by immunological analyses which have better stability, precision and accuracy. Despite the higher cost of reagent we have unexpectedly saved 5,000 pounds in the first three months due to reduced need for calibration" reads a lot better than it would in the passive.


The ideomotor effect is a good method of extracting information from the subconscious mind


The earliest reference to dowsing in the OED is 1692, and refers to locating gold and silver (as minerals). That usage also recurred when the term came into common use, in the 19th century.


"Here's a suggestion for you and everyone else, to save some time- next time you bring up something that is generally viewed with disdain if not very wrong, try and explain it and justify it in the same post or one just after, ..."

Eh? What is the paragraph that introduced it in #128 except an attempt to explain the point? I suspect that you responded to a subsequent post without checking the context :-)


"Despite the higher cost of reagent we have unexpectedly saved 5,000 pounds in the first three months due to reduced need for calibration" reads a lot better than it would in the passive.

And "Despite the lower cost of reagent we have unexpectedly lost 5,000 pounds in the first three months due to extreme incompetence by several employees" reads a lot worse than it would in the passive. Which is why business reports are never written in the active.


Tell that to the English teachers.

Just before I entered school (out here in the Colonies) English instruction shifted from a course in Grammar and another in Literature to two courses in English. By the time I was in school, this meant (effectively) two courses in Literature, with no formal grammar instruction.(Nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs — that's all I learned. I'm still unclear on what a participle is, and as for pluperfect? I learned more grammar in French than I did in English.

In a different province and a couple of generations later, English is a single course (out of eight) that students take in a year. And it is virtually entirely literature or media — they do not teach non-fiction writing.

Kids still write essays in other courses, but how much their spelling and grammar is marked depends the teacher — and as non-English teachers have rarely had much formal instruction in English themselves they tend to stick with 'what I learned in school'. Which, for technical writing, is science reports in the past passive, because the non-science technical subjects don't tend to assign written reports.

I remember when I first had a lab class in engineering. Writing a report in active voice was a shock — partly because it was shorter and easier to understand, and partly because we couldn't hide mistakes :-/


The curse of the author, and the arts in general, is that they ought to be good at making up such stories (and therefore they believe them), and that there's little to give them a reality check. The worst they tend to suffer is a bad critics review (and they can be dismissed as ill-informed), and/or bad sales (and that's being unappreciated). A scientist on the other hand might spend equally much angst and effort into sculpting a beautiful theory; publish it; and then have someone point out the tiny flaw that renders the whole thing a steaming pile of junk.

The curse of the visual artist is that they spend angst and effort in painstakingly piecing together a picture from elements that have been reworked and reworked and reworked, but that the general public believes they are drawing it in a single go.

Examples of the first:

  • In The Prehistory of The Far Side, Gary Larson writing about how it took him 50 attempts to try and get the expression on the face of a chipmunk (or squirrel, I don't have the book with me) exactly right, and he still didn't quite manage.
  • In Peanuts: A Golden Celebration, Charles Schulz writing about how all his originals ended up as collages of tiny pieces of paper held together by yellowing Sellotape, as he redrew and cut and pasted to correct or improve one piece after another.
  • A local cartoonist telling me at a street party that "The photocopier is my best friend".

Example of the second: a friend complimenting me on my skill in drawing in one go the two brush strokes delimiting the road below:
In fact, my original resembled one of Schulz's collages, except that I'd used Pritt and Gimp rather than Sellotape.

My experience in mathematics tells me that its creations require just as much reworking. And there too, the general public does not realise this, believing they spring fully-formed like Athena from the head of Zeus.


And "Despite the lower cost of reagent we have unexpectedly lost 5,000 pounds in the first three months due to extreme incompetence by several employees" reads a lot worse than it would in the passive. Which is why business reports are never written in the active.

When trying to teach passive voice I ask students to remember when they were little and had done something naughty. They never said "I broke the vase," it was always "it got broken." Thinking about avoiding responsibility seems to help them 'get' the passive voice.


How much has the computer changed the process of writing fiction?
I know that when I am writing articles I do so in a manner totally different to the way I did before word processing became common.


That would read. "We have improved the quality of therapeutic drug assays. We no longer need to calibrate the assays frequently so the saving in staff time more than compensates the increased cost of supplies."


In mathematics, it's not so much reworking as abandoning objectives that are discovered to be illusory, and backtracking from a failed approached to try new ones. It's the engineering end of things where reworking is so common. But the amount of 'wasted effort' and hard grind is probably comparable.


I couldn't write fiction without a PC. My iterative approach would simply take forever.

On a different note, I have just posted an article analysing how Robin Hobb writes lyrical fantasy without being boring:


I'm inclined to think that there are many paths to becoming an author or writing a good story. For published or established authors the risk is disenfranchising their current readers if they deviate from form either of their trademark style or of the generally-agreed-upon definition of that genre. Example is Rothfuss's 'The Slow Regard of Silent Things' which is a little side trip in his fantasy series ... not much happens, the action is highly localized, there's only one character, the elapsed time is one week, not much scenery, no high-fallutin concepts/language, few trips down memory lane or remembrances of others, very little drill-down to follow the trails of emotions and their histories, etc. In other words, there's a lot of story-telling white space ... lots of stuff that Rothfuss does not do in this book that SF/F readers expect to find in a fantasy. So, not surprising that reader reaction/ratings is quite polarized. (Personally, I think it's a little gem.)


On science writing, I won't claim to be an expert, although I have published five papers.

What I will note is that past passive is passe. Experiments don't do themselves, regardless of how failed scientists (aka many lower school teachers) believe that this construction should be used to enhance the appearance of objectivity.

No, a publishable science paper has a format that's almost as rigid as haiku.
--It has to conform precisely and in all regards to whatever idiosyncratic formatting the journal prescribes (order of sections and formatting of references always change, how many languages the abstract is in, etc.)
--generally it has to be no more than 2,000 words (or whatever limit the journal imposes). Word count matters.
--The sections are ALWAYS supposed to contain different and prescribed material. You don't put methods in the introduction, you don't put results in the methods, you don't put interpretation in the results, and so forth. This is the one everyone screws up when they're learning to write papers, and teachers need to work on this more than on which verbs to use.
--You need to pay homage to others who have worked on the same or related questions (generally the first paragraph in the introduction), and you need to thank those who helped (at the end, and possibly with coauthorships).
--And so forth.

Oh, and you're paying by the word, so you make your words count. This is where the polysyllabic vocabulary of science comes into its own. They condense complex ideas to save space.

Now, in some cases, the past passive tense makes it easier to write a scientific paper. In other cases it does not. Quite honestly, the editors I've worked with focus more on the word count than on how many active verbs got used (or in this case, I included).

So anyway, if you've got some self-styled maven of scientific prose, make them analyze something in a current journal, and have them talk through the formation of the paper they are reading. It's not about the past passive, it's about shoehorning a wildly unruly experiment into a single narrative using a highly formalized structure, so that busy people reading it late at night can figure out a) what you did, b) how bogus your results are (hopefully they aren't), and c) can swipe your references, copy your methods, and/or give credit to your discoveries with minimal misery, because they know where to look in the paper, they what references you used, and they can understand your process from what you wrote. In 2000 words.

That's not hard, is it?

Incidentally, the best thing for teaching science writing isn't having kids write up experiments, it's having kids revise their papers several times so that they learn what bit goes where. It takes a long time for the formalisms to make any sense at all for most of them.


What I will note is that past passive is passe.

Not in schools. People stick with what was current last time they were in the field. For many science teachers, that was 30 years ago. As well, those lucky enough to have textbooks often stick closely to them*. The current edition of Nelson Science Perspectives 10 (Ontario-approved textbook) uses past-passive as an exemplar for lab reports (p.617). (Other books are similar.)

I've tried pointing out that papers in Nature (which I have handy because I subscribe) aren't in past passive, but it doesn't make much difference. Personal memory and the textbook trump current practice :-(

*Sometimes laziness, but often self-preservation. Easier to tell the kid who's parents pulled her out for a month for a family trip to "read pages xx-xx" than spend many hours tutoring her one-on-one (especially as the timing will be at her convenience).


Agreed. But there's no reason for the people here to get bad information about what science writing is actually like in the real world, as opposed to whatever teachers are actually preparing their students for.

I'd point out that this is why science writing is normally tackled in grad school, and why so many students struggle so badly with it: it's often not taught, actually, and grad students have to unlearn all the wrong teaching they've received from the tender mercies of their previous teachers, plus the rather perfunctory and harsh corrections of their overworked advisors who have been writing papers so long they've forgotten all the bad instruction they received as kids, and just think of their grads as idiot children who get stupider every year.


In mathematics, it's not so much reworking as abandoning objectives that are discovered to be illusory, and backtracking from a failed approached to try new ones.

I don't entirely agree, though it may depend how you define "objectives" and "approach". Consider this post by John Baez in the n-Category Café blog: "Re: Categories in Control". Baez's objective is described at the head of the thread: it's to help save the planet by formalising biological and ecological systems, using category theory to model signal-flow diagrams as used in control theory. You don't need to know what that means in order to understand what I say next.

For reasons stated a bit further down, where all the diagrams are, Baez and colleagues have decided that a sub-goal of this is to study a a "category that contains FinVectk and is at least traced". FinVectk is a well-understood mathematical object, but there are various ways of turning it into a "category that contains FinVectk and is at least traced".

Now look at the linking phrases starting each paragraph:

  • We want a category that contains FinVectk and is at least traced, and FinRelk turns out to be a very natural candidate, ...
  • Alternatively we could consider the “free traced monoidal category on the symmetric monoidal category FinVectk”. But I don’t know what that category is like ...
  • So, it was easier to work with a category that I knew about already, ...
  • Brendan Fong and I have studied a [different, as implied later on in the paragraph] category that shows up in electrical engineering, ...

Baez et. al. are backtracking, but quite far down the search tree. They're maintaining their overall objective, and even the lower-level objective of finding an object related in a particular way to FinVectk. But they are reworking, or at least are prepared to rework, how they find that object. In the same way, Gary Larson presumably maintained the overall structure of his cartoon, and even the social relations between his chipmunks (or squirrels or whatever), but pasted expression after expression after expression over one chipmunk's face until he found one sufficiently near to what he wanted to say.


It's also where you draw the boundary between mathematics and science/engineering. From a quick glance at that, he isn't trying to develop any new mathematical results, so much as select, combine and merge existing ones to model a set of real-world systems. I accept that I should probably have said pure mathematics, though I was also thinking of developing entirely new models in applied mathematics etc.


> For published or established authors the risk is disenfranchising their current readers if they deviate from form either of their trademark style or of the generally-agreed-upon definition of that genre.

I look forward to that being a consideration. Give me a decade and I may even have a firm view on how to manage this.

It does however show that writing careers are as much an art as writing itself, and both spin a narrative.


At work I finally got people to start writing in the active voice by observing that the passive voice can obscure the agent that had responsibility, and that this can have contractual implications.

"X and Y will be done" vs. "$ORG will do X and $CUSTOMER will do Y".

Quite a big difference, especially in a contract!


Well that's the problem, people don't always define what sort of dowsing looking for what, they just say 'dowsing' and expect us to know what they mean.

And yes, my own knowledge is that for several decades dowsing has meant searching for something using pendulum or rods or suchlike. It can be done in person at the site, or using a map!!!!


"I dealt with many engineers like that: "Just pretty it up....""
If a tech writer messes up something I write, it's my fault for not communicating it clearly in the first place. From a receiving end, your Q&A approach in a later post is good; basically make it crystal clear that the original writing is not clear, and how it can be misinterpreted.


"My guess is that it helps you to let go of previous misjudgements, and start again using subtle differences in level etc."
From descriptions here, it sounds like the dowsing apparatus isn't necessary, and is just an aid to help people enter a specific state of mind. Does anybody dowse by just walking the area, in a dowsing state of mind?


Look at my comment 168, the one where I analysed a blog posting by John Baez. It's a good example of using the active voice not only to show which agent did what, but also WHY the agent did it. I'm talking about the linking phrases starting the paragraphs, the agent being the experimenter-mathematician.

In my own papers and other technical writing, I try always to use such phrases, to make it clear why I've written each paragraph. Sometimes, it feels like describing a sequence of attacks and ripostes in fencing :— I tried this, but the Universe hit back by making that algebra have to be non-commutative, so I had to make those vectors be complex, ...

I've found that Asimov does this well in his scientific writing, and I sometimes re-read him in order to refresh my technique.


Oh I don't know, maybe we travel in very different circles MHP, but at my end forwarding 'memes' is an Opt in only thing. I have a few friends who like them and I will forward if I think it's up their alley (and usually they came to the interwebz later in life and have something nasty going on and need cheering up) but the vast majority of my network would treat an unsolicited forward of the kinds of things you have referred to in your post as the equivalent of me arriving at their house and taking an unsolicited crap on their carpet.

I can think of only one I forwarded unsolicited to other friends in the last 12 months (but can't remember what it was to be honest)and it didn't get me blocked or spammed from the Opt outs (Consciously Opt in being the default) cos it was funny and unusual. These days most of the 'memes' are either marketing based, the equivalent of the 20thC Hallmark greeting card upgrade or some sort of racist, sexist, homophobic, neonazi, violent threat of some sort. (those you referred to above go into either marketing or Hallmark upgrade version)

Ones that are worth the time to look at would be in the less than 5% at my end, in my circles. No takes even those seriously either. I DO have a copy of Stephen King's 'On Writing' (which I picked up for $2 in an Op Shop - he was already filthy rich by that stage and I'm sure he wouldn't begrudge me - plus it's a brilliant book) But if you were trying to flog your book and a 'meme' went viral you could look forward to a lot of increased sales (and I don't have a problem with that either)

I suspect that the majority of people who would buy into the tortured artist / special snowflake versions etc memes above would be unlikely to buy books anyway (except perhaps as furnishings)


"Dowsing" = fake witchcraft
a.k.a. Gulling the paying marks.


Oh I hear you. My favourite version (which is also mentioned upthread - sorry forget who mentioned it) is the obscure and non standard acronyms / jargon. I came across a UOM (Unit of Measure) that I hadn't come across ever in the last 20 years across many engineering fields and to my surprise it took me 20 mins to find a reference to it and when I did, it was in the field of nuclear submarine engineering in a tech spec for an obsolete model. When I asked for clarification with the engineer in question, it became clear he had been using the same template for his tech specs for years and the scariest thing was - he didn't even realise no-one else recognised it and there were engineering UOM standards that applied to what he was doing now (Process Engineering)

I have also got most of my successes from pointing out 'if we have a dispute the contract needs to be clear' 95% of people, when I ran through it were happy to fix. For the 5% who tried to shout over me, deny everything, were just generally arseholes - I made sure that every contract approval form in red, and bold had a disclaimer 'the technical scope is so ambiguous and vague as to make multiple variations a certainty. Business Unit is claiming this is a fixed price contract however it is cost plus unless the tech spec is rewritten'. In ten years only one chap actually signed off on that (and no-one up the line signed off on it)everyone else rewrote.


These are memes I see on Facebook (including in writer groups) and Twitter so in a sense I have opted in to see them. However my main concern is not that I see them, but that other people see them and that wannabes pass them around, thus making all writers look like prats.

I have considered doing memes to flog my writing book (, and might yet do that. However I prefer to spend my time writing fiction, and I suspect that having actual real novels on sale is a better advertisement for my how to book.


Probably. It's the old engineering principle: whatever works.


That's a fair point (that others see them) but seeing is not actually believing. Like the adds on TV, you see them but how much credit do you give the message? I remember when my daughter was 4 and harassed me into buying some lollies which according to the TV commercial would have resulted in rainbows and unicorns romping round our living room when she ate them. I remember her intense disappointment when it didn't actually happen and the talk we had at the time. (I had NO idea at that time that she had bought the bullshit and was gobsmacked - it took a couple of months to fix this without ruining her faith in humanity)

I agree that the memes you see on facebook and twitter get (often) inordinate amounts of attention but at the end of the day, it really is just cool kids sending on stuff so it looks like they didn't miss out on a trend But honestly, I don't actually know anyone at all who actually believes this shit or takes it seriously. I think a huge part of the problem is the tendency towards metrics, which big business loves to show their shareholders on social media - where the number of clicks or re-tweets - ie the quantitative value metric (number crunching)over the qualitative (actual satisfaction on a number of levels) metric gets lost because it costs a lot more to do qualitative research than pure number crunching.

Just because big business have shareholders who want black and white results doesn't mean that the rest of us (and those metrics are a completely unrealistic when it comes to stuff like why people buy novels) yes the sales are a total black and white thing but ask a thousand people how your book made them feel - including me - and why we will buy your next one and the bean counters don't know where to start - there's a lot of emotional and sentimentality crap in there (as well as honest admiration for a story well told)

Sorry but I think the premise of your OP is leaning towards a numbers game that your readers probably don't consider before they buy your books

Disclaimer: Mind dumping here.


Sorry, shorter version. I see tanks and swords together and go 'that I want to see' Memes and metrics are nowhere on my radar and even if there was a 'tanks and swords' meme I wouldn't bother. If someone has bothered to write a whole novel on that, well that's where MY money will drop. It's a visceral reaction to the words backed up hard work. You can go to a meme generator and spend 2 mins creating a new one. A novel, on the other hand.....


""Dowsing" = fake witchcraft"

As opposed to genuine witchcraft?
But I digress...
Once again you kick off in search of your own imaginary straw man to demolish.

Dowsing uses the Ideomotor Effect to retrieve information from the subconscious mind. That information, normally inaccessible consciously, includes vast amounts of sensory data.
In the case of water searching, the subconscious cues can be temperature variations, variations in color, variations in plant life, variations in insect noise...
right down to sensing variations in the local electric and magnetic fields. [Those billions of magnetite crystals in the brain etc]


Or, as it's referred to by more cynical types,

"Having a guess, getting lucky once in a while, and letting confirmation bias do the rest".


Just like responding to magnetic fields is "Having a guess, getting lucky once in a while, and letting confirmation bias do the rest"?


Here's a more accurate writer meme:

"A writer is someone who spends years patiently discovering that it is a zero to minimum wage occupation."


I find it truly amazing that some people claim that being systematically lucky (and I am talking highly significantly so) is more 'scientific' than believing that some people can use gimmicks to harness their subconscious. My experience is not significant, but other people's is.

However, while pigeons can observe minute magnetic fluctuations, it is very doubtful that humans can.


Produce a validated, peer-reviewed study that showed ANY effect from "dowsing" to detect anything.

Your google result is paywalled


Totally off-topic (and dowsing is?), but well past 100 comments now.

Never mind what I said above. Saw a news item this morning about Russia supporting a Kurdish group in talks.
Not trying to restart discussion, just admitting I was wrong.


Any chance you're able find the link again, please? Which Kurdish group could be interesting...


Nope - but then there's a prosthetic involved.


Flipping a coin and getting it to land heads-up 600 times in a row is wildly improbable, but if other explanations are excluded then "systematically lucky" is the scientific explanation, no?
If you think the previous dowsing experiments were biased in some way, that's a different question - and if you can prove it you can likely prise $10,000 (and serious bragging rights) out of James Randi.


Define "respond". Look at the compass that I'm carrying? Fine. Believe that I have a sense of direction built in to my brain courtesy of magnetite particles? Aye, right.

It's easy to do a double-blind test, just disorient a person on a flat / rotating platform and see how often they point North. Ensure that sight, hearing, feeling of wind / sun on skin are eliminated through the use of screening / blindfolds / earplugs. Compare with statistical likelihood of random trial. Strange how no-one has ever demonstrated this, isn't it?

It's "woo", along with crystal, spoon bending, and elastic bands to "cure" motion sickness / copper bands to "cure" arthritis. Placebo at best, snake oil at worst.


It was on NHK World Newsline earlier, don't have a link. I don't think they named a specific group (but I was not totally awake), though said that Turkey is opposed to letting them in.


The last is no indication, unfortunately. Thanks, though.
(EDIT before posting: this one? Bloody hell it's coy about the group's name; odds on KSC, given the territorial claims & PKK connections?)


Just thought to look on the NHK app, it had the segment. It only said that it's a Syrian Kurdish opposition group.


That's it. Didn't refresh before that last comment.


Er, no. The correct conclusion would be that you have almost certainly failed to exclude all other factors. While events with a probability of 10^-180 are possible in theory, there is a MUCH higher chance that you have made an error in your checking or missed some unknown factor.

Like Greg Tingey, you haven't read what I posted, and are responding emotionally; if you want to hurt a physicist, hit him in the dogmas :-) I could equally well claim that drawing graphs is completely bogus, and demand that people prove it works - under Randi-like conditions, I could easily show that it doesn't.

To take a comparable example, all of the benefits of 'sleeping on it', psychosomatic effects and the placebo effect were known about for decades before they were published in a 'respectable' journal. But (a) it was a career-limiting move to try to publish and (b) such papers got rejected anyway. None of those work for everyone, either, or are reliably repeatable, but all are now accepted as genuine psychological effects.


Democratic Union Party (PYD). Turkey and Saudi Arabia combined to get them excluded from the 'peace talks', despite them having had the best track record against Da'esh until Russia stepped in. Just like Saudi Arabia's peace initative excluded all Shias.


It's instructive to apply the same standards to established sciences. Psychology and sociology almost disappear, but so do cosmology, most of high-energy physics, most of archaeology, and a very high proportion of biology, medicine, biochemistry and even computer science. That might be an improvement, of course :-)


Some years back a group of neuroscience researchers were trying to get an MRI baseline on some clinically depressed subjects that they were about to put on a series of treatments for a test-vs-control type of study. What floored them and made them re-examine a bunch of findings - plus put their intended research study on hold - was that more than could be accounted for number of subjects apparently got better after having been dosed with a relatively low amount of magnetic radiation. Their follow-up study results showed ...


'Two weeks after the scans, volunteers in the first two groups scored between 35 and 40 percent lower on the depression scales than they scored before the scan. The placebo effect may have played a role; when people believe they are receiving a helpful treatment for anything, they often feel better afterward. But volunteers in the pretend MRI group improved less, only by 15 to 19 percent. So, the researchers reasoned, some other factor must explain why volunteers who received phony MRIs showed less improvement. The results are discussed in the November issue of Brain Imaging and Behavior.

One possibility is that the magnetic field created by the MRI machine somehow acts as an antidepressant. Scientists have been investigating the idea that magnets can relieve depression for more than a decade. Most studies have focused on repetitive transcranial magnetic simulation (rTMS), in which an alternating magnetic field induces electric currents in specific regions of the brain, with mixed results. However, a few studies have asked the same questions about MRIs, which create a weaker magnetic field and thus weaker electric currents. Previously, researchers have found that MRIs or devices that generate similarly weak magnetic stimulation improved mood in patients with bipolar disorder—who fluctuate between mania and depression—and helped relieve depression in rats and mice.'

So - to bring this back to 'dowsing' related stuff - it appears that the human brain likely possesses cells/apparatus that responds to magnetism. And, depending on dose/exposure, if improved mood follows (a type of 'winner effect' a la Ian Robertson) this may enable better/clearer picking up on clues, analysis, etc.


Given you and Dirk have proposed things that can be double-blind tested, I fail to see how comparisons to fields which largely can't apply.

I say this as someone who has an ability to sense magnetic fields that has been blind tested.


You haven't understood the first thing about what I have been saying, have you? In particular, what I am saying is entirely different from what he is saying.

While what I think dowsing is could be blind tested, it could not be double-blind tested, and the test would merely show that dowser A did better than (say) hydrographers B, C and D (or chance, if you prefer that). But, because it relies on there being some (natural) observational data to use, opponents would simply say that the dowser must be a better natural hydrographer. Which may well be true, but is irrelevant, and the issue is whether dowsing helped THAT person to spot the correct anomaly. As I keep saying, JUST LIKE DRAWING A GRAPH. I have spoken to people who DID have such data, and asked whether they had written it up - the response was, of course "You must be joking!" Which I was. And their reasons for not doing so were what I said.

There are a zillion real effects in many fields that can be demonstrated, but can be shown not to exist if an opponent is allowed to choose the conditions for the test. And that is just what we see being demanded here. It's just SO unscientific!


And some earlier research on this topic ... even the physicists might enjoy this one.

Neurophysiologic effects of radiofrequency and microwave radiation.

How this relates to guest blogger's meme topic: The first time I read about the MRI-depression results I thought to myself: 'Holy sh*t ... the cartoon paranoid wearing a tin-foil hat is actually self-medicating!'


Interesting. I don't have access to the paper but, from the abstract, its results are a very long way from even indicating that we have any magnetic sense. However, they are enough (if correct) to show that we can't exclude the possibility.


Well, I did read Randi's test of dowsers many years ago. He laid a pipe under a field that zig-zagged back and forth a few times back and forth across the field before exiting it, so that anybody merely connecting entry and exit would be fooled.

Then he ran water through it from a water truck, because some dowsers claim to find flowing water.

Then he let the dowser(s) loose on the field, and asked them to dowse the course of the pipe across the field.

None of them came close to where the pipes were laid.

Worse, at least one was still at it long after all the water was out of the pipes (the water truck was dry and it had stopped running), and they all argued with Randi that he didn't know where the pipes were after he told them the results.

Now I've dowsed myself, but I could never prove that it wasn't confirmation bias.

In any case, if you're dowsing for gold or oil, those don't affect a magnetic field directly, so there's no extra sense explanation for that, not that I believe in human magnetic sense.*

I do happen to believe that humans can feel auras, if you define aura as body heat and boundary layer effects. You can pretty easily feel that aura yourself: just put your hand near a bare arm.


I dowse with neutrinos, but that's because I am a vast tank of water at the bottom of an old salt mine.

Our kind do not go mad, but we do suffer from algae if the scientists leave the lights on.


Yes. A very obvious straw man. He chose the dowsers *** and the claim that he was testing *** from the self-publicists rather than the people who use it as a tool in their work.


I can certainly agree with that - when I first moved to the UK I was notorious for getting lost, because I would exit a tube station and instinctively head the wrong way. Took over a year to recalibrate my innate idea of where the sun should be in the sky in relation to North. Was very amusing to my friends from back home who knew me as a very good navigator.

On the magnetic field sensitivity ... it is quite possible we can detect magnetism, but likely only at high strength. On the other hand given the amount of charged particles in our bodies I would be very surprised if it didn't influence us in some way. I would greatly doubt we have any biological mechanism to take advantage of it such as those in pigeons, unless their namesake gained one from his diet ;)

On the subject of weird experiences though - since I had my femur replaced with titanium, I get a tingling sensation when I have an x-ray of it which doesn't happen in the other leg. Which is odd, because you shouldn't feel light. Whether I am feeling something else interacting is a different question, though it being psychosomatic is entirely possible.

I'm pretty against dowsing being plausible, though it would be a convenient cover for a canny traveller who had a knack for identifying terrain features that likely indicate water nearby. Dowsing for bodies on the other hand which I have also read of is definitely exploiting the desperate.


X-rays are ionising radiation; it isn't implausible that you are feeling the electrical effects.


Our kind do not go mad, but we do suffer from algae if the scientists leave the lights on.

Thank you; you have brightened my day like a handful of detection events.


It seems to me that people are talking past each other because they're atttributing different properties to the different systems involved in "dowsing"

Is it a magic stick that detects water in a similar fashion to using a geiger counter to detect radiation? Rubbish.

Is the dowser able to detect magnetic fields caused by flowing water? That I doubt very much. On the other hand, being able to detect the Earth's magnetic field sufficiently well to orient north or south seems at least possible, given the number of other animals that can do so.

Is the dowser somebody good at hydrography, and just using the stick as a mental aid to focus or concentration? That I can believe. Many athletes or creative people have rituals and props they use to put themselves into the right flow state.

For the latter case, that would explain why they couldn't detect the pipes laid by Randi, because those aren't natural water flows. On the other hand, that none of the dowsers apparently tried this excuse suggests they were BS artists.


Trying to bring this back on topic, do the unfortunates who have to read through the slush piles at major publishing houses resort to dowsing or similar to find the one submission possibly worth reading?


If your dowsing rod is sensitive to magnetic fields, it's a compass.

Of course, you might not have the rod well-balanced on a low-friction bearing, in which case it's a crappy compass.


I thought OGH had explained that in his posts on publishing.

IIRC, there are two questions: is it crap, and is it publishable.

I'll use Hot Earth Dreams as the demonstration, since this is a puzzle I'm trying to solve with it right now. Basically, the reviews I've gotten so far are pretty positive, and several people have suggested that I need to publish it commercially.

From that, I'll guess that it's not crap, unlike 90% of the manuscripts out there. I've written a fair amount of crap myself, and it's the majority of the slush pile (or as Amazon now calls it, Createspace). This is stuff that only the unwitting pay money to read and most people have to be paid to read.

Then there's the question: is it publishable, in the sense that it has a reasonable chance of returning a profit on what the publisher invests in it. Hot Earth Dreams has trouble here. Theres no book exactly like it, so it's hard to gauge it's real market size. Books similar to it (about climate change and the future) don't even get published every year, which is a strike against it. It might be a sneaker hit, like Harry Potter or Eat, Love, Prey (or whatever it was), but more likely it will be one of those niche books that's adored by its fans unknown otherwise (except, again, for Amazon Createspace, which is why I like that site). I'm not an established author, so I don't bring in thousands of readers who want to see my next book, no matter what it is. Nor am I a marketing genius (and no marketing genius would have written Hot Earth Dreams anyway. It's such an unorthodox buzzkill). As yet I don't have a bombproof plan for coming out with a series of sequels in the Hot Earth universe of essay non-fiction, one book every year (HED took most of three years to research and write), so it's not clear it's worth developing in my career as an author.

None of these issues are deal-killers, nor am I angry about it. I understand that, if I want someone to invest tens of thousands of dollars bringing that book to market for me, it's got to be worth it for them. I'm not abandoning Hot Earth Dreams either, but it's a good example of a book that isn't crap, but, due to its innate nature, it might get passes from publishing houses for perfectly legitimate business reasons. We'll see how it goes.


Re: '(HED took most of three years to research and write), so it's not clear it's worth developing in my career as an author.'

I'm assuming you still have all of your notes and resources, so the next/follow-up book might be faster to write. Also you now have comments/questions from your readers therefore have some idea as to which topics you could elaborate on esp. in terms of the most common concerns and/or misunderstandings.

If you do publish commercially, some requests: add a glossary for us non-science types, more graphs, plus some illustrative graphics.


:) Well, I do have a reasonably good ability to find my way about, but I'd hesitate to ascribe it to any ability to detect of magnetic fields. I reckon it's more a matter of having been fascinated by maps since I was little and being able to store a simplified but mostly adequate image of them in my head. What really throws me off is when, after the map was printed, some divot from the Société Anonyme pour la Confusion des Voyageurs implements a road scheme on the same design principles as a child laying out a marble run, with signs pointing towards the destination on roads leading away from it. And verbal directions lose me at the first landmark, without fail.


Well, if I want to keep plowing the same field, that's a good choice.

To be clear, the reason I didn't put any graphics in was due to eBooks, and now that I've dealt with eBook conversion, I probably should have avoided footnotes too. I was trying to make the document platform neutral, and I've noticed that graphics don't translate to phones and lower end eBooks at all well.

For other authors, Smashwords doesn't handle tables at all, and they don't particularly like footnotes either. Createspace was okay with them, but it took a few tries to create an input document that looked good on the other side. Kobo is basically as easy as Createspace.

In general, ebooks do best with text, and anything that's truly two-dimensional (like graphics, tables, footnotes, and so forth) is rendered suboptimally.


Heteromeles, you seem to be assuming that a publishing minion faced with a giant slush pile takes the time to read each submission and think rationally about the qualities and potentials you listed.

I submit it is far more likely that they'll resort to dowsing rods or other magical means in an attempt to simplify the task :-) And probably not significantly alter the outcome in doing so :-)

Any former publishing employees want to confess?


"Produce a validated, peer-reviewed study that showed ANY effect from "dowsing" to detect anything."

Well, since I claims two things:
a) The Ideomotor Effect
b) Subconscious (or conscious) sensory knowledge
both of which are beyond dispute why would anyone want to test the combination?
So if I spill some water on the carpet and then someone walking over it with divining rods gets a positive response... what's the controversy?
Or are you off in your own head again, constructing straw men you can slay?


Since you are obviously unable to use your computer to see what I am seeing, here is the abstract and summary:

"Human subjects respond to low-intensity electric and magnetic fields. If the ability to do so were a form of sensory transduction, one would expect that fields could trigger evoked potentials, as do other sensory stimuli. We tested this hypothesis by examining electroencephalograms from 17 subjects for the presence of evoked potentials caused by the onset and by the offset of 2 G, 60 Hz (a field strength comparable to that in the general environment). Both linear (time averaging) and nonlinear (recurrence analysis) methods of data analysis were employed to permit an assessment of the dynamical nature of the stimulus/response relationship. Using the method of recurrence analysis, magnetosensory evoked potentials (MEPs) in the signals from occipital derivations were found in 16 of the subjects (P


"Define "respond""
See the quote at 222


Human sensitivity to magnetism & em-fields generally.

M Persinger

The guy who can make people "feel" gods & demons in his laboratory, by using em fields etc ...
So, yes we can sense them, but of course Persinger is using very carefully controlled conditions & we also have to allow for variability of sensitivity of the human subjects.


Ah yes, found that at Basingstoke (shudder) ...
Scene: a roundabout on the outskirts, road-pole with signs on it, both saying "Town Centre", pointing in opposite directions.
I kid you not.


We tested this hypothesis by examining electroencephalograms from 17 subjects for the presence of evoked potentials caused by the onset and by the offset of 2 G, 60 Hz (a field strength comparable to that in the general environment).

I know that using wikipedia as a reference is foolish, but it does tend to suggest that 2G / 60Hz is not quite "comparable" other than "well, it's not quite an order of magnitude more".

So, a magnetic field that is between three and eight times stronger than the earth's magnetic field (halfway to the "don't expose your pacemaker to this" value), at a completely different and varying frequency, gives a "the EEG trace changed" result against a sample size of 17.

I'm perfectly willing to accept that magnetic fields have an effect on the brain. I'm completely unconvinced that this can be extended to "we're sensitive enough to use the earth's magnetic field to navigate" - either consciously or unconsciously.

An analogy would be that I'm perfectly willing to accept the effect of other heavenly bodies upon the movement of the earth, but unwilling to accept that as a proof of principle for Astrology.


Greg, Dirk

Kindly stop your squabbling before the pair of you get bans. Just because Charlie is away is not an excuse to descend into the mire.


Let's return to the main theme! Please bear with me. The first paragraph is a response, and context, and the later ones are the real points.

I have heard of dowsing being used for similar tasks :-) I know that I can glance over the 'front cover' information for papers in my area and get a better-than-random chance of identifying both the interesting ones and the bullshit. I have never had to do that enough to be worth trying a dowsing rod, so can't say if it would help me make that judgement. 'Gut feelings' are assuredly real and, for suitably experienced people, pretty reliable - and there are a zillion psychological tricks that help some people (and not others) to use them more effectively. I find it truly bizarre that supposedly intelligent people see a word like 'dowsing' and immediately force the context into the meme that it is a 'supernatural' ability. A human magnetic sense is very unlikely, but not impossible, so let's leave that red herring off to one side.

But this is one of the reasons that strongly established memes (like this one) are so restrictive in fiction. Only the most imaginative authors break free of them, they need considerable self-control to avoid falling back into them, and they need the skill to discourage readers from reading the story in terms of one or more of the existing memes.

Of, course, the blog was originally about memes about authors and, in particular, their working conditions, but the same happens there. Many, many authors have been initially (or totally) rejected because their work didn't fit into an established meme (Tolkein, for one). Johnson's comment on Tristram Shandy is apt, too. And the same applies to payment, as I can witness (in another context); there is a meme that lectures take 5 times as much time to prepare as to give. Oh, yes? The bleeding-edge ones I gave were often more like 50 times, because you have to research the area first!


Well, if you are going to test conscious magnetic direction finding in Humans it's a good idea not to use the usual test subject ie students.
The correct choice would be adult hunter-gatherers who might actually have a requirement to hone such a sense.


I feel guilty here, as I was pushing for you to use Smashwords, and my biggest criticism of HED is that you didn't include figures and tables.

My Kobo ereader sucks for displaying figures. The iPad is much nicer, and with the right software (eg. iBooks) can handle even large maps very well. And with an iBooks-specific ebook (rather than an epub) you can vent have 3d illustrations.

Fiction can work well with just words. A technical book often needs illustrations, and HED would have benefitted from them.

If you want an example of a Smashwords book, with illustrations, I'd check out either Passing Strangeness or False Steps (both of which are worth reading anyway).

(False Steps is especially cool for space fans: all the not-quite-successful designs for spacecraft.)


So I go off fencing, have a few beers, then when I come back everybody is arguing about DOUSING! FFS!

Regarding the publishability of works, I believe that the famous Slushkiller post still applies:


Did JKR ever publish all her rejection letters from HP?


"...they need the skill to discourage readers from reading the story in terms of one or more of the existing memes."

A particularly annoying one of which is the one that says that the slightest hint of affection between any two characters is an indisputable sign that they MUST be frantically shagging each other offstage. If Tolkien had been writing in these times he would have been severely crippled in describing Frodo and Sam's relationship.


Don't think of Frodo and Sam - reread the epilogue of LoTR, and think of Legolas and Gimli...



Please also note that I was responding to prods, but admitting that it has escalated.



I referenced M Persinger's work in my deleted post.
But Persinger was using close-fitting helmets was he not?
And the human brain is an electrochemical device as are our nerves, so one would expect some interaction at a sufficiently large value of field strength.
I suppose a valid question might be: "at what range of values is it likely that a human would become sensitive to such fields?
With the rider that the "normal" values of such fields are much too weak for us (lacking bird's magnetite sensors) to notice, at all.

Dirk in following comment:
Ah so you are deliberately going to hand-pick your testees in the hope of skewing the results in advance, rather than using a proper random sample?
I don't think I need to bother to be rude about that idea as regards scientific methodology.


I would suggest that it has a place as a first stage. If I'm investigating something and I'm not sure how well it's going to work, I often find it useful to make my initial trial with the conditions artificially skewed to favour it as much as possible. If I can't get it to go even under artificially optimised conditions then I know there's no point wasting effort on a proper investigation.


Better yet, get some basic data pre-test info on these groups (freshmen, hunter-gatherers) re: experience and success in finding potable water. Some of the urban frosh may have unused ability/talent while some experienced (but likely, less successful) hunter-gatherers might have zero ability.

Okay - this magnetic sensing ability and or ability to survive/thrive under different magnetic field strengths has some real-life consequences. Specifically, this may not happen for a while ... but if we ever establish a colony on the moon, Mars or the asteroid belt, we will absolutely need to know what the tolerances for EM are. Actually, we should probably be collecting this type of info now to safeguard the health of ISS personnel/astronauts. So while the classic 'I feel your magnetism' meme is airy-fairy, this meme could be updated into something worth thinking about.


I submit it is far more likely that they'll resort to dowsing rods or other magical means in an attempt to simplify the task :-) And probably not significantly alter the outcome in doing so :-)

Not just in publishing.

When I was an engineer I was faced with a 6' drawer stuffed with resumes for a single position. No time to read them all and make the best decision. I basically grabbed at random until I had a stack of 'good enough' resumes, chose the likeliest of them for phone interviews, and hired from them. There were undoubtably better candidates in the pool, but I didn't have the resources to find them.

When I taught at college, the Cosmetology program had 10 applicants for every opening, so in order to winnow the numbers down to what they could read they first discarded all applications that hadn't taken calculus or advanced functions. This got them down to merely double the number of openings, which they felt was manageable. Not that you need math to learn how to style hair and apply makeup…


Well, yes, but my original post was intended to explain that many (most?) people will ram anything new to them into one of their memes, and ignore any actual facts or whether the context says something entirely different. I think that I can write Q.E.D. :-( The memes you describe are equally persistent, and you won't eliminate them by factual corrections. The next blog entry is also about the same problem, though the memes I regard as most important are not the obvious ones.


Don't forget the surprisingly useful practice of discarding half of the applications immediately to weed out unlucky people. Based on my experience, you probably won't lose more than 1-2 decent candidates.

I actually have somewhat more sympathy for HR people than I did in the past, when I had over 400 apps for an entry level position, of whom 50 were worth a second look at the CV, of whom 30 were worth a chat and 3 were worth hiring.
And my criteria was literally "Has a vague idea of IT and some kind of hobby, plus half a brain".
That was a long week.


Don't feel guilty, Robert.

The problem is with Smashwords, not you, and your idea of getting an iBook version out is a very good one. Fortunately, Smashwords Premium isn't the only gatekeeper into the iBook realm, and unfortunately for me, I got so distracted by trying to deal with their drama that I forgot to try the other converters. This is a good reminder that I still need to get it up there.


Thanks Robert. Can you contact me through my blog,


It can be even worse. I've been retired a couple of years now but jobs in my NHS lab had to be advertised on the NHS jobs website. Since these could be accessed from anywhere in the world there were always hundreds of applicants. We couldn't discard half the applications because we had to provide a plausible reason for not shortlisting. All the jobs were anonymised so we had to read the whole of the applications to get any idea of the suitability. It was a wildly inefficient process. Registered disabled people had to be shortlisted but never turned up for any of the interviews when I was on the panel.


That was very funny.

How lucky I am that men think about me when I'm not around. There's a pithy Virginia Woolf quotation there, I'm sure of it. Or Emily Dickinson.

Since algae is usually a sign of a stagnant water source, here's some brain flush that might lead you to different conclusions about my mind:

Four billion people facing severe water scarcity 5th Feb 2016 (oops, spoilers)

Humans mated with Neanderthals much earlier and more frequently than thought Feb 17th 2016 (100,000 years ago, ho ho)

Chiral magnetic effect generates quantum current Feb 8th 2016 (told you so)

Adult restoration of Shank3 expression rescues selective autistic-like phenotypes Jan 5th 2016 (yeah, this is just fish in a barrel now)

Have fun. Or don't.

(Oh, and a note: severe penalties for my bee dance, lots of narked off people. If you weren't all happy at the bottom of your mines, it wouldn't be necessary).

But, yes: I totally don't understand field physics.

I am a pot plant who spits at you (that's an obscure reference):

Physicists find signs of four-neutron nucleus Feb 8th 2016

Yep, it's totally me not understanding science here.


More on tetraneutrons:

Evidence that the four-neutron system known as the tetraneutron exists as a resonance has been uncovered in an experiment at the RIKEN Radioactive Ion Beam Factory.

Viewpoint: Can Four Neutrons Tango? Feb 3rd 2016

But, please: allow me to go back to being tortured for existing, apparently it's fun for all the family. I especially love the bad fitted puppet mouthing bits uttering nonsense that I'd never voice, those are great.


Oh, you hacked the voice chords too?

Impressive. Sadly you've the collective wits and wisdom of my fucking dog to go with it, but good on you.

Because kids: the half-life rule of Scientific "facts" doesn't exist online.

Hoisted by their own petards, oh, the irony, it burns.


That's an Alien level Burn. Rekt from Space.


Ah so Rishathra was a big goer in the day was it?
Seems to have only worked one-way in terms of survivability though - I wonder why?

Zirconium Pentatelluride is never going to be cheap or easy, is it? However, once possible in one material, it may mean possibilities in other combinations/Alloys.

"Shank" - no comprende Senorita.

If Tetranuetrons exist & can exist for more than a few picoseconds, the something is seriously worng in somebody's model.
Oh, how "Interesting" (!)



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This page contains a single entry by M Harold Page published on February 8, 2016 7:59 AM.

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