Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Martian, by Andy Weir (A GEEK WIN)

GEEK. WIN. You hear me?? Here's the Amazon blurb:

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. 
Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there.
After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. 
Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first. 
But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

This book caught me by the ear lobes, it was that good! Usually they catch me by the throat, which is a much bigger target. If you're a space-nerd like me and you have not read this book, you are seriously missing out. I got it on my Kindle and on my Kindle I stayed... through school, night-time, and a host of important activities that I probably should have been paying attention to. BUT IT WAS WORTH IT. Here's why:

From the very first sentence, I felt the raw energy of the novel (you'll see what I'm talking about if you decide to read it -- but beware if you don't like cussing). I was thrown right into the action and dragged along at a crazy and deliberately stressful pace. It was fascinating to see the incredibly detailed and ingenious way Mark Watney solves the problems that Mars throws at him on a daily (or sol-ly) basis. All the while, his sass-reflex makes him the most entertaining astronaut I've ever read.

At the end of the book, I was a sad space-nerd. The ride of my riveting life (haha) was over, and I could no longer drown myself in its hostile environments and sizzling sarcasm. More than ever before, I wanted to meet this astronaut guy. He would be a fun person to talk to.

I also wanted to go to Mars, but you know, that probably won't happen till I'm fifty. Right?

4.3 / 5

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Calculating the Center of the Universe

I watched Interstellar for the fourth time today - hence the geeky title of this post! It is definitely my favorite movie of all time, simply because it makes me think.

What are we doing here, on this tiny little planet, scattered amongst a sea of stardust? Why not abandon silly little constructs like currency and wealth and pool our resources to pursue the beauty and adventure that nature has to offer?

Yeah, I know, there are a lot of reasons why that can't happen, but I still wish it was possible. I want to experience another planet - just think of it! Our Earth is so beautiful, but it's one of trillions of planets in our universe. (cue Cooper's line: "this world's a treasure, Donald, but it's been telling us to leave for a while now"). There's so much out there to find if only people were motivated by passion rather than greed.

Anyway, semi-random thought: where is the center of our universe? Where did this supposed "Big Bang" begin? It seems like a discovery of utmost significance, possibly bordering on spirituality, would be waiting there in the place where existence began.

Doing some quick research, I found that scientists really have no clue whether there's a center to the universe. In fact, many think there isn't one. Apparently, no matter where you are in space, it always looks like the stars are moving away from you. That sounds kind of confusing, but it can be explained (or at least speculated on) by looking at a balloon.

Take any old balloon. With a marker, draw some dots on the surface. Maybe ten or so. As you inflate the balloon, the dots will all move away from each other.

So it's like the surface of that balloon... only in 3D. Hurts my brain.

Just a thought-experiment:

Imagine we could build a machine that could sense all the mass in the universe and accurately map it on a sphere. The readings might look like this:

(most yellow = least mass, most red = most mass)
The "reddest" region is in the direction of the center of the universe.

And if we sent a probe out, say, a light-year or so, we'd have two overlapping readings which might look like:
(Probe's readings + the line from Earth)
With two lines, we have an intersection in 2D space, and a more accurate estimation.
 This process would be repeated with at least two more probes to essentially triangulate the center of the universe in 3D space, the same way your phone can be triangulated with four or more satellites (although I don't have a diagram for that one - my Photoshop skills end here).

Of course, such a machine is undeniably impossible right now - our means of calculating masses and velocities of galaxies are rough and usually "ball-park" estimates. But still... I have these weird thoughts sometimes... That's what watching sci-fi does to me - I can't help it. For now, I'll just have to be content with my mother's sarcastic statement: "Drew, everyone knows that the center of the universe is YOU." Yeaahhh... thanks mom, I guess.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Committment and Co-Authoring

I am famous for not following through with the millions of projects that I start (as you can probably tell by the fact that I haven’t posted in so long). It is not something I am proud of, but rather something I have been working on fixing.

One of the most frustrating experiences I can imagine is trying to write a book. Fun, yes – exhilarating at times. But often frustrating. The reason is that writing a book represents a huge commitment. Authors have to push through each and every chapter no matter how good their writing is, because if it is not complete, it won’t sell. A story without an ending is not a story.

All but a couple of my stories do not have endings. They start well, they have good parts and bad parts, but they don’t end, they just fade away. As I read my old material, I can see myself behind the words, growing more and more exhausted, getting bored of a great story.

In the past, I haven’t tried to find a solution to the problem, I have simply kept writing half-stories. Recently, though, I learned that a good friend of mine is also a writer, and so we both decided to do something a little different. We decided to co-author a novel. It has been a huge help. Now I’m tied to the story, I have made a commitment, and not just one to myself.
(Check out my awesome cover :D) 

That being said, not everything is hunky-dory. Putting two teens together and telling them to write a complete, intricate, and believable story (which involves agreeing on everything - literally!) is not an easy task. It is more like a psychological lab experiment. For the most part, we have kept the peace, but there have been disagreements here and there that divide us. And DIVISION IS NOT GOOD. I am constantly paranoid that she will lose interest or disagree with one of my ideas so fundamentally that she refuses to help anymore. She is my lifeline for this project – a lifeline with its own will and opinions and ego. The same thing goes for me. Sometimes I don’t even trust myself to do my fair share (but maybe that’s a good thing – it persuades me to work more and to have better ideas).

The point is, writing a book is already a complex process. Throwing feelings and chemistry and communication into the mix brings it to a whole new level of difficulty. If your biggest struggle as a writer is perseverance, you may benefit from partnering up; however, if you have a hard time keeping your temper under control or you have an ego thing where you only like your own ideas (I wouldn’t blame you), then maybe your best option is to walk the path alone.
QUESTION: What do you think about co-authoring? Would you ever try it?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


One of the most frustrating things in life is the hopeless, infinite lack of time. We can never have enough for all the things that count: the HUGE bucket lists AND prominent careers (or school)  AND happy, picturesque families AND hobbies, and, and, and... We want to do everything, but in those moments when we feel overwhelmed, we want to sit back, relax, drink hot chocolate, waste time into oblivion, think of the here and now. Occasionally, when we are able to make time for everything, we have fun - we love it! - and then it ends. Looking back, the time is gone, and it may as well have never happened, because we can never experience it again.

In school, we hear about the geological time scale, the biography of Earth (what, some four-billion years long?) and yet, here we are, and those four-billion years can never be reclaimed. Then we go to anatomy to learn about our frail bodies, then on to biology to learn how our dead corpses will be welcomed back into the elements as we decompose in our graves. Then on to history, to reminisce about the billions of lives that have come before ours, shining like flares, only to be extinguished by time.

Our mortal lives are over in the blink of an eye. It's painfully simple and true.

Now, whether or not you believe in an afterlife is immaterial. It still stands that the most should be made of one's life on Earth.

Like YOLO, except not really.

The above acronym is widely misconstrued and used by idiots to justify stupid behavior (Pardon the aggression).

Ex1 "YOLO, dude, just smoke the ---- cigarette."

Ex2 "Just jump! C'mon, YOLO - it's not that high!"

Ex3 "Look, it's Friday, tomorrow's another thing, and, you know what? ---- it. YOLO."

Sigh... If the concept of YOLO were used with any sense at all, people would be saying things like:
  • "Quit spending time on inappropriate websites, there are way better things to do."
  • "Spend a little more time with your baby brother while he's still young."
  • "Why the heck are you cutting your life short with drugs?"
Stupid behavior aside, there is still the problem of having two good options and not knowing which to choose. This is my biggest struggle, personally. Do I get a head start on that research paper, or spend some time practicing my writing? Both are good (equally so, in my opinion - not even school trumps developing one's personal talents). Both present their own set of pros and cons.

Many people have different ways of handling these problems. Some break their time down into micro-chunks, do a little bit of this, a little bit of that. They like to feel like they've tended to each facet of their lives every day. Others will set a priority and shut everything else out indefinitely. I would not recommend this while you are young because youth is perfect for exploring different opportunities and interests. Finally, people like me will "phase."

Phasing is why I haven't posted in a couple weeks. It involves spending long periods of time focusing on one hobby or interest, and then moving on to something else. This works especially well for me because my two major hobbies - writing and computer programming - are both very time-consuming. Phasing allows me to complete whole projects before I get distracted by other things.

During the month of February, my "project" was this blog. I spent most of my free time reading (to improve my craft) and writing posts. Then, during March, my interest dwindled, and that's how I knew it was time for something fresh. My "project" for March was improving my coding skills, which involved a lot of online reading, coding practice, and the purchasing of textbooks through Amazon. These were the types of things I did:

Above is a terrain-generator I created using a program called XNA. This could be used in building custom terrain for a 3D video-game.

This is a nostalgic Mario-style level editor I built from scratch, which I have called TILT 2D (short for "Tile It")

A turn-based, 2D shooter that allows players to fire rockets back and forth at each other (with randomly-generated hills and terrain that can be blown up! #geekpride :D)

The most complex of all - a 3D flight-game where the player shoots balloon-targets (the result of a fun online tutorial).
I also bought two (heavy) books by Ian Millington: Game Physics Engine Development and Artificial Intelligence for Games, and have spent a "ridiculously large portion" of my free time in the last week delving into their murky, mathematical depths ("my mother" par. everyparagraph).
This time-management strategy works for me because I get bored of everything, even the things I love, so switching back and forth keeps me from "burning out" in either of my major hobbies. It also feeds my hunger for progress. Every project that I accomplish reassures me that my reservoirs of time and passion aren't being sapped for nothing.
So, I'm curious: how do you juggle all the pieces of your life?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Update - A Letter to Orson Scott Card

Good news! My dad contacted a guy from church, who contacted Aaron Johnston (Card's co-author), and he said that he would be delighted to answer my questions! (click here for original post)

So here's the new plan: I reformat the e-mail to address Johnston, send it off, wait for a reply, and, when it comes, follow up with a thank-you note and politely ask him if he would be willing to pass it on to "Scott," as they call him. If all goes well, I will have collected TWO responses from different successful authors!

Crossing my fingers...

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Do Highly-Logical Activities Impair Creativity?

This is a question I've had for a while. When a person frequently participates in a highly-logical activity (such as computer programming or Sudoku), does that strengthen or weaken their ability to think creatively?
**DISCLAIMER - I don't know much about psychology, so if there's a simple answer, please leave me a note in the comments.
I am a computer programmer. In fact, aside from writing, it's really the only major thing I spend my free-time doing. I just love the way it challenges me to break down problems, analyze the components, and put all the little pieces back together in a cohesive, efficient manner. But I also feel like a robot, doing the same calculations over and over and over and over in slightly different contexts. And when I sit down to write after working on my 2D-Shooter, it feels like the only things coming to mind are a bunch of stereotypes. The same ones, over and over and over.
That's normal, right? It seems like most writers have trouble with stereotypes, regardless of their favorite pass-times. I have no frame of reference, though. There's no way for me to get inside your head, see what it's like to write from your perspective, and compare to see who has the hardest time. The result is that I have no idea how close I am to meeting my creative potential. It’s maddening, actually.
But then there’s the possibility that spending equal times using both hemispheres of the brain (yes, I know neuroscientists have disproved the whole left/right brain thing) can actually greaten one’s creative power. Prominent historical figures like Da Vinci, who were known for both scientific and artistic contributions, seem to be concrete examples of this.

So the question really comes down to: do “left” and “right-brained” activities counteract one another, or are they additive? Was Da Vinci just a prodigy, or did his practice of art and science strengthen him as a whole?
I’m curious to hear what you think!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Sensitive Subjects in Fiction

Even if you have never written anything on a particularly sensitive topic, you probably have read articles online or in magazines about them. To name a few that are popular in today’s world:

-          Health care
-          Abortion
-          Gay Rights

My goodness. Facebook has become a battle-ground for those debating how society should treat homosexuality. Say the word and you will most likely offend the entire human race for some reason or another.

I get so angry after seeing countless page-long posts, both at the offenders and the offended. To the offenders: you have a valid opinion, but posting it on Facebook is not going to do SQUAT. Find a more productive outlet. To the offended: “He who takes offense when no offense is intended is a fool, and he who takes offense when offense is intended is a greater fool” (Brigham Young).

But that’s not exactly what I want to talk about. It’s already been done to death on every culture-blogging site in the universe.

I’m wondering about a similar issue: controversial material in fictional stories. My question is, should authors adopt the mantra “Go Bold or Go Home,” or should they omit touchy material and try for an alternate subject?

For some, this may not be an option. Their stories may be set during the Holocaust (The Book Thief) or address the murder of innocent children (The Hunger Games). For others, it may be possible to leave out grey-area components and focus more on their characters because the two are mostly independent of one another.

I’d say there are a few factors to consider when deciding what to do:

-          Audience. You probably wouldn’t write a story portraying an evil Nazi as the protagonist and market the book to Jews. Make sure that you are AT LEAST omitting material that offends your TARGET AUDIENCE.

-          Time. Fictional reinventions of the Holocaust probably wouldn’t have sold many copies back in 1945. The event would be too fresh in everyone’s mind, and readers would be right to throw the book into the toilet.

-          Research. How well do you know the subject? This one’s really important because readers can smell ignorance a mile away, and they’ll call you on it (shortly after flushing your book). Elie Wiesel was a prisoner of Auschwitz, so his memoir, Night, is automatically credible. Consequently, it has enjoyed enormous readership and is now requisite material in most high schools.

-          Emotional appeal. If your story is a light-hearted tale about a time-traveler, throwing him into the middle of a concentration camp is going to make a lot of people uncomfortable. If it reads more like a tribute, however, it might just win some loyal fans.

In a story I am currently writing, Christopher Winter is a Freeze Agent, one of many people responsible for keeping the world “on the right track.” The Shadow President literally stops time, allowing Chris and his coworkers to move undisturbed in a frozen world, making changes as they are instructed.

The prologue tells the story of Chris’ initiation into the society, after being kidnapped and dragged away from his father. He’s only eleven, but his assignment has a profound impact: he must let a mysterious man through airport security.

That’s it. Little does he know that the action results in the hijacking of American Airlines Flight 11 and the eventual destruction of the World Trade Center.

“What’s going to happen?” Chris asks before all of this. “Won’t that hurt people?”

“Some will suffer,” the division-leader replies. “But many more will be strengthened. It is very, very important that this happens today.”

Afterwards, the story skips ahead ten years, and it’s the last we hear of the incident, except for the pain and guilt that Chris experiences as a result. This guilt is critical. Without it, my protagonist would be the insensitive cause of the 9/11 hijackings, and many readers would despise him. But the internal torture that he experiences combined with the fact that he didn’t know any better makes him human. Not a monster. A lost, confused, and scared child who only wants to get back to his family. A symbol of the 9/11 victims’ heartbreak. Instead of seeming like a way to get money, the story feels sympathetic, and celebrates the way America grew closer together after the terrible crisis of 2001.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong, and as soon as I try to publish the story, a squad of assassins will pull up in front of my house. But those are my thoughts.

Do you think it’s too early to write fiction about 9/11? In general, how do you feel about including sensitive subjects in your writing? How do you feel when you read about them in a book?

Let me know in the comments!