Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Notching another Camp NaNo win.

I know, I know -- I was supposed to do a blog post on Sunday. Sorry, but I didn't have time -- I foolishly put off starting work on Book 3 of the Elemental Keys series, and then dawdled some more, and... The point is that I've just now validated the project.


The working title is Molten Trail, and thanks again to those of you who helped me brainstorm a title for a novel featuring a volcano that didn't make it sound like porn.

Camp NaNoWriMo lets you set your own goal -- unlike the November event, it doesn't have to be a whole 50,000-word novel -- and so my goal for July (after I futzed around for the first part of the month) became 25,000 words. I expect I'm about half done with the first draft. I have at least 20,000 words of plot left, and then the final scene or two. But for now, I can hit pause. And maybe sleep.

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These moments of Camp-conquering blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Bread and circuses and trashy TV.

Image by Christian Dorn from Pixabay
It's common knowledge by now that television programming has less to do with entertaining viewers than it does with making money. Programming is a vehicle for the ads, pure and simple. The more viewers a show can attract, the more eyeballs that will be exposed to the commercials aired along with the show.

This is why TV executives went nuts a few years ago when viewers started to figure out ways to skip over the ads. We've always had the random viewer who would leave the room to get a sandwich or use the bathroom during a show -- but now that technology has evolved to the point where viewers could record programming to watch later or watch shows online, and miss the ads altogether, it may reach a point where it becomes prohibitively expensive to produce any new programming at all.

But that's a side issue. What I wanted to talk about was the quality of the programming that's shown to all those eyeballs.

The Washington Post ran a story yesterday about a study done in Italy. It found a correlation between the trashy programming on one of the country's two channels and viewers' belief in simplistic political thought. Beginning in the 1980s, viewers could choose light entertainment provided by Mediaset instead of the more educational programming offered by public broadcaster RAI. The researchers correlated people's viewing choices with political believes, and discovered that "more exposure to Mediaset’s vapid programming was followed by an enduring boost in support for populist candidates peddling simple messages and easy answers."

This effect was seen most starkly in kids who were under 10 and people who were over 55 in 1985. The kids have since grown up, and a lot of them became supporters of Italian populist politician Silvio Berlusconi.

How did it happen? The Post says, "In Italy, it’s not that television made voters more conservative. Instead ... it seems to have made them more vulnerable to the anti-establishment stances favored by the country’s populist leaders of all persuasions." In other words, viewers who opted for trash TV instead of more challenging entertainment -- reading a book, say, or watching the news -- lost the ability to think skeptically and to reason effectively. Or never developed it, in the case of the kids.

Feel free to extrapolate from this the current situation in the US, where adult-oriented cartoons, reality TV, and Fox News became popular during roughly the same time period as Mediaset did in Italy.

And then step away from all your screens and exercise your mind. Read a book or something. Please.

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These moments of commercial-free blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell -- who, by the way, writes books.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The future of housing, maybe.

Alert hearth/myth readers know I'm a big fan of tiny houses and I'd love to own one myself as a retirement place. The problem I keep running into is where to put it. City officials and urban planners see the words "tiny house" and envision a bunch of little boxes as a solution to homelessness. Which is a step up from their initial opinion, which put them in the same class as RVs -- which means they're illegal to live in full-time, and too mobile to be considered housing at all, really. 

You could put a tiny house out in the middle of nowhere, but that makes them impractical for older folks who want to age in place. At some point you'll be too old to drive, and then how are you going to get to town to do your shopping and see the doctor?

But designers keep playing with the concept. And this past week I toured one* that might finally put paid to the notion that tiny houses have no place in urban America. It's called FutureHAUS, and it was developed by students at Virginia Tech University. For the next few weeks, it's on display in Alexandria, Virginia, just down the street from La Casa Cantwell and, not-so-coincidentally, only a few blocks from the future site of Virginia Tech's Innovation Campus.

FutureHAUS Dubai | Flickr
I borrowed the exterior photo from the project's Flickr account, since I forgot to take one when I was there. The rest of these are mine. (If you'd like to see better ones, check out the Flickr link.)

The house is designed as several modules. Here in Alexandria, they literally put up the whole thing in two or three days. But it's no unfinished shack. The interior is a tech gadget lover's dream, from the solar panels on the roof (the house generates more electricity than it can use), to the special Amazon delivery closet just inside the front door for your drone deliveries, to the induction range top that only heats up where you put your magnetic pot. The wall behind the range and sink is a giant monitor that can show anything from a video chat to a TV show to the recipe you're using. 

Induction cooktop and backsplash-sized monitor.
The living room and office are split by a movable wall, so you can adjust the size of each room depending on what you're using them for. 

The bedroom has a drop-down Murphy bed; when it's closed, the bottom of the bed features a full-length mirror that can not only suggest outfits for the day based on the weather and your calendar, but can also tell you where in the closet you can find your choices.

The magic mirror.
And then we have the bathroom. This is a either a technological marvel or a privacy nightmare, depending on how you look at it. 


The toilet raises and lowers (as do the countertops and cabinets all over the house) as a way to encourage aging in place. The sink has three spigots, and has another smart mirror on the wall above it. The bathtub and shower are separate, which is kind of nice. But the tub -- ah, the tub. Not only is there another monitor built into the glass wall between the shower and tub, but you can program either one to have your bath or shower ready at a specific time with the water at a specific temperature -- no waiting! And the tub itself has whirlpool jets. And it's self-cleaning. 

"Self-cleaning?" I said to the student conducting our tour. "I want one of those."

"You can get one right now," he assured me. "It's a Kohler."

"For a mere several thousand dollars, I'm sure," I muttered. And I was right -- I looked it up. They're in the neighborhood of $5000 each.

Which begs the question: How much would one of these pop-up houses cost? Our tour guide said this particular model would retail for about $900,000. But the team is studying ways to bring the price down to as low as $100,000, depending on the features a buyer would be willing to pay for.

Still -- 900 square feet, $900,000. And the design won the Solar Decathlon Middle East 2018 in Dubai. Maybe eventually, city planners will get the message that tiny houses are more than just boxes for the homeless.

* To be clear, at 900 square feet, FutureHAUS is a "small house." Tiny houses are typically 400 square feet or less. I can't find a definitive upper limit for a small house, but I seem to recall it's somewhere between 1,200 and 1,500 square feet. By comparison, the average size of a new house built in the US today is 2,600 square feet.

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These moments of high-tech blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Adventure awaits.

Oh hey -- before I get any further, I should let you know that Treacherous Ground is now available in paperback.

And now, this week's post.

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We're wrapping up an extra-long holiday weekend here at hearth/myth; the day job shut down (as much as a law firm ever shuts down) on both Thursday and Friday for the Independence Day holiday. I was off so long that I was losing track of which day of the week it was. Pretty sure today is Sunday, which means I owe y'all a blog post.

I have to tell you that it's been really, really nice, having this string of days off -- which is either a preview of how great it will be when I retire in about a year, or a rotten tease because it's Not. Here. Yet.

To beat back the "rotten tease" part, I'm creating a sort of hybrid calendar/journal. You can buy these as blank books -- they're called planners. And as it turns out, planners are where the paper crafters went after scrapbooking went digital. All the pretty papers, stickers, diecut shapes, and so on work as well in a planner as they do on a scrapbook page (although everything needs to be downsized from 12" x 12" to 1.5 inches square, give or take). A number of companies have created blank journals, with Staples' Arc brand being perhaps the least twee.

My problem with a lot of the preprinted planner stuff is the same problem I had with a bunch of the scrapbooking stuff: It's not me. Anything with a Bible verse on it is a non-starter for this Pagan -- but that's not my only issue. A lot of the offerings are either aimed at young women (pastel narwhals! cute sushi!) or busy mothers (little stickers featuring washing machines, school buses, vacuum cleaners, coffee cups, and for the really bad days, martini glasses and suitcases). Then there are the words in various fonts that are supposed to be encouraging, but are basically nagging you: "Gym," "Laundry," and so on. (I saw one sticker that said, "Do your damn laundry." Even though I'd be the one putting it on the page, if I ran across that in the wrong mood, I'd throw the planner across the room.)

It just seems like all this stuff is aimed at people who are trying to keep up, when here I am, trying to wind down. Oh, I've seen some retirement-related stuff, but most of it looks like it's for a scrapbook page for a retirement party. Or it's meant for what comes after -- the Winnebago, the Adirondack chair, and the joke about what you call the person who's happy on Monday.

So I'm falling back on different images: dream catchers; dragonflies, which symbolize transformation at a mature, permanent level; and this Death Tarot card, which for me encapsulates the true meaning of what's often seen as a scary card: killing off that which has outlived its usefulness in order for new, healthy growth to occur.

Although there's room for fun stuff in my planner, too. I've laid in a supply of llama stickers. And if you're looking for stickers for the days when you just want to throw your computer out the window, here you go.

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These moments of affirmative blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.