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A math guy's random thoughts.
A math guy's random thoughts.
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December 8, 2019 at 12:01pm
December 8, 2019 at 12:01pm
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Most people occasionally see these little specks. They seem to randomly drift across your field of vision. I’ve seen them all my life. I can remember reading a Scientific American article in 1962 or 1963 on them, so I know I’ve seen them on and off since at least that time.

The vitreous body refers to a jelly-like substance that fills the interior of your eye. Sometimes little imperfections form, and this results in these little flecks floating across your field of vision. By themselves, they are harmless. I didn’t think anything about it when one appeared Friday night after watching the Utah-Oregon game on TV.

However, it was still there Saturday morning, along with something new. Intermittent flashes of light popped up in my right eye, and the floater didn’t float–it stayed at exactly the same place in my field of vision. It was also a little bigger than a usual floater.

I still didn’t think much about it, but just out of curiosity I checked WebMD. The advice there was alarming. The combination of unusual floaters and sparklers is a potential symptom of a torn or even detached retina. The only way to tell for sure is to have a physician examine your eye.

I didn’t need WebMD to tell me that this required immediate medical attention. If it turned out to be one of these serious conditions, treatment within the first 24 hours of onset of symptoms gives a high probability of success. Failure to obtain treatment could result in loss of vision.

That sent me hot-footing to the nearby urgent care clinic. They agreed with the urgency of the symptoms, which didn’t exactly help my blood pressure. They tried to contact the on-call ophthalmologist for a proper eye examination, but she didn’t answer. (It turns out she was doing an emergency procedure).

They wound up sending me to the ER. The staff there took my medical history, recorded my symptoms, and hooked me up to blood pressure and pulse monitors. They gave me a vision test, which showed my vision was not impaired. They tested my peripheral vision, which was also fine. The latter made retinal tear or detachment less likely.

Finally, they found someone to actually look inside my eye. They rolled in one of those gizmos you see in any eye doctors office, like when you get tested for glasses. You put your chin in it, and they shine this dazzling light in your eye while they go, “Hmmm,” and otherwise make unsettling noises.

At the end of the day–literally: I was there six hours–my examine was “unremarkable,” i.e., the diagnosis was no “retinal damage.” Instead, the physician said it was most likely a “vitreous event.” When I asked, what this seems to mean is that the jelly-like substance in my right eye had formed a little glop of extra-dense goop, accounting for the fixed floater. When I moved my eye, it would sometimes bump against the retina, which caused the flashes.

The cause of the glop? Unknown. But, back to WebMD, age is the number one ssuspect. I’ll be 70 in March, so there’s that. It also says you can reduce floaters by staying hydrated. Well, I recently added the diabetic medication Jardiance to the cocktail of pills I take every morning. It works by flushing sugar out through the kidneys, so of course that means you, uh, pee more. Like, a LOT more. I’ve been drinking more fluids, too, but I conjecture this might be related.

In any case, the attending in the ER arranged a follow-up appointment with an ophthalmologist on Monday, just to be sure. I’ll keep you posted!

So, that’s how I spent my Saturday. At least I was able to use my phone while sitting in the ER to watch my Sooners beat Baylor.
August 11, 2019 at 1:05pm
August 11, 2019 at 1:05pm
What's in a name?

We all have them. Most of us don't get to choose our names, or even our nicknames. I knew someone who never responded to "Billy," which was his way of rejecting a loathed variant of "William." In Oklahoma City in the 1980s, a retailer changed her legal name to "Soundtrak." But these are exceptions. Generally speaking, most of us are stuck with given names and even nicknames.

Fictional characters are stuck with their names, too, except that the author gets to choose the name. Sometimes the name is fraught with meaning. "Skywalker" is certainly such a name, or Ratzo Rizzo. Less obvious is the name of the hypnotist in "Dead Again," Madson, which reveals that he really is a "mad son." Other times, a name can be ironic. In this case, think of "Little John," or the bald Stooge named "Curly." Sometimes a name can just be for humor. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the entrance to the tunnel leading to the eponymous stone is guarded by a giant, slobbering three-headed dog named...wait for it...Fluffy.

The point is that the names of our characters aren't random. If we name a character "Hunter," for example, it's obvious that he's looking for something. Philip Vandamm in North By Northwest is surely damned for his nefarious character. Verbal Kint has a story to tell in The Usual Suspects. "Vader" is Dutch for "father." Sometimes a name can be an acronym for something else--Anna Madrigal from Tales of the City being a famous example.

There are plenty of sites that give you the history, meaning, and nationality of first names, with http://babynames.com being one of the best. They even have a page, https://www.babynames.com/lists/character-names.php, with suggestions for authors. Sites like http://ancestry.com can give you the history and meaning of many surnames. If you Google "how to name your characters," you'll find dozens of sites giving advice on this topic.

My purpose here isn't to repeat the good advice available elsewhere, but to give you some examples to think about as you select names for your character. Drop me a note with your favorite examples of a character with a meaningful name.
July 15, 2019 at 11:32am
July 15, 2019 at 11:32am
My friend--and awesome author--Raven recently posted a link on Facebook to this article  . It's about using a visit to refresh old friendships that have faded due to time and distance. It's an interesting article, and well worth the read, but it got me to thinking about online friendships.

Here on Writing.Com, I've formed many treasured friendships. Some of these date to my first days on the site, while others are more recent. These friendships started from our mutual interest in writing, but blossomed over time to much more. Now, I look forward to hearing from these friends, whether on Facebook or via email, about the joys and sorrows of their lives. I share the same with them. I am as close to these on-line friends as to my friends in that other place, the one that we call in the real world.

The thing is, these friendships are as real to me as any other. These friends make my sorrows easier to bear, make my joys more complete, and enrich my soul. Today's fractious world gives credence to Sartre's observation that hell is other people. But friendship doesn't divide people. Friendship surmounts the gap that separates us. The bridge that is friendship is where we can, at last, find the divine.

A couple of weeks ago, I got a call from a phone number I didn't recognize. I thought it was probably "Daryl, from card services," or some other scam, but I answered anyway. The woman at the other end spoke in a voice I didn't recognize, and asked for Max.

Now, understand, Max is my pen name. The list of people who know both my pen name and my cell number is short, and almost no one on that list would call me "Max." I knew at once this had to be Carol, Bride of Writingstein . We exchanged our first messages here sometime in my initial days on Writing.Com, and long ago traded phone numbers, "just in case" we needed to speak in person. But this was the first time I'd heard her voice.

We chatted for nearly an hour about writing, work, and life. It was like we'd known each other for years because we have known each other for years. We've made tentative plans for her to actually visit Oklahoma, if not this summer then eventually.

Which brings me back to the essay I mentioned at the start of this blog. It's about renewing old friendships, but it could just as easily be about adding a "real world" component to virtual friendships. There are easily at least a dozen people I've met here on Writing.Com that I'd love to have visit me in Tulsa. I won't list the ones that come to my mind, because I'm sure I'd overlook someone whose visit I would treasure.

The article gives four rules for a "friendship visit." These are
Rule 1. The purpose of the visit is for friendship only.
Rule 2. Stay at your friend's home.
Rule 3. Be alive in the space of the friendship--no social media during the stay.
Rule 4. No special plans, like a spa or a fancy restaurant. The purpose is to see your friend in their settled life, in their home.

I'd have to say that I think some flexibility on the rules is appropriate. We're fortunate to have a spare room with a private bath, but not everyone has space for an overnight guest. For most of us, a trip to a far-away place is expensive in both time and money, so tacking a friendship visit onto the end or beginning of a business trip makes sense.

As to rule four, the community where we live is part of our settled life. Depending on the visitor, I might want to take a guest to a museum  , or to a Mexican restaurant,  , or on a drive along Route 66  , or perhaps a tour of the city's art deco heritage.  . The point is to let your host show parts of their community that they find interesting. After all, that's part of being with your friend in their settled life.

I'd probably add another item to the list. The essay mentions that she stayed for two nights. Two nights sound like a minimum to me, with three or four being preferable. Much longer than four could readily start to intrude on your host's other responsibilities.

So, what do you think? Would you be interested in hosting a virtual friend in your home? Would you be interested in visiting a virtual friend? To be sure, there are risks involved. What if it turns out you can't stand the person once you meet them face-to-face? What if their significant other is a hopeless boor who insults you and what you hold dear? What if their home is a candidate for an episode of Hoarders, or their pet snakes slither up into your lap? (We have cats, and, yes, they will climb onto your lap and offer to let you smell their...well, you get the idea.)

But life is risk. For friends, I'm willing to take the chance. How about you?

Max Griffin
Please visit my website and blog at

Check out my latest release!
Product Type: Kindle
Amazon's Price: $ 5.99

Max Griffin
Please visit my website and blog at

Check out my latest release!
Product Type: Kindle
Amazon's Price: $ 5.99

June 1, 2019 at 2:09pm
June 1, 2019 at 2:09pm
No, I've not been to the mountaintop and seen the promised land. I've just read a bunch of stuff about craft, followed by reading a bunch of stories here on WDC. These "commandments" are just a summary of the advice I mostly wind giving when I write reviews. They're not divinely inspired. They may not even be 100% right in all circumstances. I've just found them useful, and I hope you find them helpful, too.

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Any list of ten commandments for authors will be incomplete. Other people will have different priorities, and so produce different lists. I've looked at lots of "rules for writing," and mostly gleaned my ten from other, more skilled, authors. Commandment X, for example, comes from Edgar Allen Poe, the first and, in some ways still the most perceptive, critic of short fiction. Some of my inspirations are below.

I like Elmore Leonard's list  , for example, for its specificity.

Dashiel Hamment has a rather specific list   for authors of detective stories. Raymond Chandler has a more general set of ten rules   for authors of detective stories. Both are useful, in their own way.

It's hard to argue with Kurt Vonnegut's list   of eight rules for writing a short story.

Anyway, I hope this little compendium is useful to someone...

May 1, 2019 at 3:32pm
May 1, 2019 at 3:32pm
This is kind of kewel, although it's another hour spent playing instead of, you know, working. I made a word doodle in the shape of my face using http://wordart.com.
Word Doodle of Max

It's derived from this photo:
Younger Max

Okay, that photo is thirty years old, but it's the only one I've got. I hate having my picture taken.

I used "Meaning in Fiction to create the word list, so it's got some peculiar things in it, like einbahnstrasse.

Anyway, this was fun to do.
February 23, 2019 at 3:05pm
February 23, 2019 at 3:05pm
I've recently spent a couple of days figuring out how to produce maps for SciFi and fantasy worlds using Photoshop. The result was this map:
~~Image ID# 2183563's Content Rating Exceeds Item Content Rating~~ .

For a full-size image with much better detail, see here.  .

Most of this was pretty easy to do, but at least one step is complicated. I thought others might be interested in the process, and I wanted to record the steps here for my own future reference. So, here goes.

The first step is to produce--or find--a line drawing of your map. Being lazy, I started with a line drawing of an existing geographic area, the Aegean Sea. You can find my starting point here.  . The map also appears at the bottom of this post.

The discerning reader will note that my final map uses the Aegean Sea as the land area for my SciFi map. I also rotated it 90 degrees so that the Bosporus--which becomes a peninsula--points downward.

I copied this to Photoshop, rotated it, selected the blue areas on the map, then inverted the selection. Then I created a new layer and filled the new layer with green. The next step is to use the eraser and pen tools to touch it up, producing the final outline I wanted. The end product was the basic outline of the map.
Photoshop Mask

This is the basic "mask layer."

Select the colors and add a new layer under the mask. Fill the new layer with something--it doesn't matter what color. Then use filter/stylize/find edges, which produces a hard outline. Finally, on this layer, use layer properties to add outer glow. For the map above, I used a size of 25 pixels, light blue color, and a hard light. That's the light-colored glow you see around the land mass in the final map.

Create another new layer, this time above the mask layer. Select the mask again, as before, and, in the new layer, change the color selections to a green foreground and a tan background. Then do filter/render/clouds several times until you get a mix of fertile--green--and desert--tan--areas that you like. You can always touch these up later with a fuzzy brush tool, as I did to create desert-like areas east of the mountain range. If you use the mask to select the land area, you can even use the a fuzzy brush to simulate ice caps in this layer. By selecting the land mass first in the mask layer an then using the brush on the topography layer, the ice stays on the land mass and you keep the coastline. (My island is too small to extend to the ice cap--it's about 2/3 the size of Ireland.)

Okay, that's the easy part. Next, I wanted to add mountains. I wanted mine to run down the west side of the island, so I used the lasso tool to create a loop in that location. Next, with select/modify/feather, I feathered the edges of the loop by 25 pixels. Add a new, blank layer and deselect all the other layers. This time, I selected a light gray foreground and an almost black background. Now apply filter/render/clouds. The selected area will have clouds fading to nothing because of the earlier feather. Next, with filter/noise/add noise, add noise, using 3% for the amount, Gaussian, and monochromatic. At this point, it looks fuzzy and speckled.

The next step--remember, we're just building the mountains here--is to add a new channel. So, click on channels, then new. You'll see a new channel, probably called "alpha1", in addition to the color channels. In this new channel, use filter/render/difference clouds to add difference clouds. (Make sure your color selections are still the light gray/black you selected earlier.) Repeat this until you get a mix of light and dark colors in the selection area.

Still in the channel, add noise as before. After adding the noise, go to edit and change the noise level to 50%.

You're now ready to go back to the layer where you made the loop that holds the mountains. It's still there, unchanged from what we did in the alpha channel. Here's where we finally get the mountains. Apply fitler/render/lighting. You might have to fiddle with the lighting some--make it bigger, for example, or less intense. But the important thing is to change the "texture channel" at the bottom of the lighting effects screen to "alpha1," or whatever the name of the new channel was that you created in the prior step.

When you reveal the other layers, you'll get the map I started with.

The end result are the mountains you see in the original map.

This is relatively simple, although I admit there are several steps to get the mountains. It's amazingly difficult to find these directions by just googling. You'll find lots of instructions for more complex processes that, I admit, look a tiny bit better. It's also easy to find Youtube videos that rush through a process in two minutes, which means you have to stop them, take notes, restart, etc. If I want to learn how to tie a butcher's knot for my pork roulade, nothing beats Youtube. But it's not the medium for complex, technical instructions.

Anyway, that's it. Hope this is helpful to me a year from now, the next time I want to do this, and to you, too.
November 25, 2018 at 12:07pm
November 25, 2018 at 12:07pm
I admit it. I'm not so good at grammar.

I subscribe to The Chicago Manual of Style   for exactly that reason. It provides clear answers to almost any grammar question.

You don't have to pay for good grammar advice, though. Most universities have websites devoted to the basics to assist composition students. Many people in the business would agree that one of the best is :The Purdue Owl  . When I am critiquing a story that I think would benefit, I will often link to the relevant page on the Owl. Their discussion of commas, for example is quite good.

I've recently started reading reviews that other people post on WDC as part of participation in Sara♥Jean 's project "R.A.W.R. Public Forum, Rewards for Awareness of Wonderful Reviews. I'm pleased to report that there are dozens of excellent reviewers here on WDC who provide helpful, supportive, and accurate critiques. I knew this was true from the multitude of helpful comments I've gotten on my own work, but it's nice to see this reflected across a broad spectrum of users. Helpful reviews are one of the many features that make WDC so valuable to authors.

Sometimes, though, even a well-intended and otherwise valuable review can be a bit off the mark, which is what inspired this blog.

I have seen more than one review that conflated "passive voice" with "perfect tenses." Not sure what a "perfect" tense is? The trusty Owl has the answer: https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/grammar/verb_tenses/index.html

So here's the thing. Sometimes, ever on the lookout for passive verbs, a review will mistake, say, past perfect for passive voice. It's easy to do. I've even caught myself doing it, and I know the difference.

Let's look at an example. I wrote
I have seen more than one review...
I could have written
I saw more than one review...
Both indicate that the action happened in the past.

Both are active: there is a subject--I--a verb, and an object. The mere presence of the helper verb "have" in the first example does not make this a passive sentence.

So, what's the dfference? Of course, the first uses a past-perfect verb, while the second uses past indicative. CMOS 5.133 says
[Past perfect tense] refers to an act, state, or condition that was completed before another specified or implicit past time or past action

In particular, I read these reviews after participating in the R.A.W.R. project and before writing this blog. When I read these reviews answers the implicit question posed in the immediately preceding sentence about what inspired this blog.

In short, past-perfect tense gives more information than the past indicative "saw." It helps to establish the sequence in which events occurred.

The same is true for all the perfect tenses: present-perfect, future-perfect, and past-perfect.

They are not "passive voice." They are not "passive writing." They are grammatically correct writing that conveys information in a precise, compact way.

I know that "had" often appears in lists of words to "never use" in fiction. It's true that generally speaking fewer words are better. It's also true that often the sequence of events doesn't matter. But it's also true that there are occasions when it's appropriate and even more accurate to use one of the "perfect" tenses.

I'm tempted to say that there is no "writing rule" that doesn't have an exception. However, I don't need Boolean algebra to know that would lead to a paradox.

That's a blog for another day.
July 12, 2018 at 10:16am
July 12, 2018 at 10:16am
I've posted a review of The Man From Earth on my blog.

Banner for Max  

Max Griffin
Please visit my website and blog at

Check out my latest release!
Product Type: Kindle
Amazon's Price: $ 5.99

June 24, 2018 at 10:14am
June 24, 2018 at 10:14am
One of my writing groups recently discussed how to plot. Wouldn't it be awesome if there were a magic formula on how to plot? Better yet, how about a magic formula on how to write a novel? There's lots of books out there on exactly this topic.

But then I realized something.

There is exactly one correct way to write: the way that works for you.

Lawrence Block, the Edgar award-winning novelist, once surveyed a score of best-selling authors regarding their method. Each one was certain they had discovered the one and only route to success.

Here's the thing, though. There was no consistency in any of the survey answers.

Some authors insisted on detailed plots. Some, like Block, wrote entirely seat-of-the-pants, with zero idea where the story was headed. Some wrote spare first drafts and then expanded them. Some wrote first drafts double the length of the final novel, and then cut. Some kept detailed character files, some did nothing of the sort.

Each author had found their own, unique, way to organize their writing.

Now, it's useful to read about how other authors do things. I've learned amazing things that way. I've learned about the "middle muddle," about the three act play structure, about plot beats, about "scene and sequel," and many other useful concepts. All of that influences what happens when I sit at the keyboard and start to write. But Frank Sinatra may as well be crooning in the background when I start to type: I have to do it my way, whatever that is.

That's not say that there aren't tried-and-true elements of craft all authors should know and practice. Most of my reviews--of myself and others--focus on some simple elements of craft deduced from the theory of the "fictional dream." We'd be idiots to have not learned from centuries of experience of other authors. There's a *reason* no one uses omniscient narrators any more, and it's more than just the fanciful whims of style. There's a *reason* why "murmured" is better than "said softly," and that one should be obvious by just stating the two ways of saying it. There's a reason to avoid info-dumps and head hopping. But I digress.

There's a difference between craft and creativity. Anyone who can write sentences can learn the former. It's hard, tedious work, but it's just an acquired skill. We learn craft because it will make what we write more effective.

Creativity, on the other hand, comes from deep within the soul. You can't learn creativity. When you're an author, a real author, you write because it's impossible not to write. It's an obsession that won't go away unless you feed it. Don't look for a formula on how to do be creative. There isn't one.

It's like Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

November 20, 2017 at 6:25pm
November 20, 2017 at 6:25pm
My current work in progress, "Timekeepers is about time travel. Like most time travel fiction, it's got time travelers jumping into various historical epochs and doing stuff. But there's some interesting corollaries to this kind of fictional technology.

Think about it. My protagonists jump about in time, from 2018, to 1066, to a million years ago in the Pleistocene. But, while their "timepieces" displace them in time, they always wind up on earth. Nothing remarkable, right? That happens in all the time in this kind of fiction, from H.G. Wells to the ones on TV just last season.

Here's the thing, though. Everything moves.

The solar system is moving in an orbit about the galactic core. In fact, it's moving pretty fast: about 515,000 miles per hour. This means that from 1066 to 2018, the solar system has moved 0.73 light years. Thus, when our time travelers "jump" from 2018 to 1066, they not only "instantly" travel in time, in order to stay "on earth," they must also "instantly" travel that same distance in space, 0.73 light years. Of course, what "instantly" means in a universe of time travel is a question in and of itself. On the other hand, relativity pretty much erases the notion of simultaneity, so time travel or not, we know time doesn't follow intuitive rules.

It gets worse. Our characters "jump" 1.4 mega-years back to the Pleistocene but stay on earth. When they do this, they have also traveled over a thousand light years.

The inevitable conclusion is that a time machine is also a faster-than-light drive. Of course, we all know it's impossible to travel faster than light, so the logical conclusion is that time travel is also impossible.

On the other hand, we all enjoy stories that include faster-than-light drives, so impossibility isn't really a problem with fiction. Except fiction, unlike the real world, has to at least make sense.

So there's an issue for a author writing about time travel. It seems incumbent to find an "explanation" for staying on earth's "world-line" when "jumping" in time. The explanation needs to be plausible, although it can't be "scientifically accurate" since time travel itself is surely impossible. My idea for this novel is that they are traveling in a gravity well that's carving out a path in space-time. It's not implausible that the least-energy path back to 1066 is along this path. So, when my time travelers "jump," they are following the most efficient path in terms of energy expenditure to the past carved out by Earth.

Do I believe in that explanation? Well, no. But I don't believe in time travel either. This at least passes the sniff test, if you don't think about it too much.

The other paradox with time travel involves "changing the past" and erasing the future. That's a common plot element in time travel fiction, and it's in my novel, too. But a plot turning point in my novel is what I think is a new idea about what "really" happens if someone "changes" the outcome of one of history's turning points. The idea is tied to some real ideas in physics that arise in quantum mechanics.

Since it's part of the climax to the novel, you'll have to read the my book to learn about that.

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