BBC royal wedding blunder (updated)

Fans of royal weddings might enjoy the BBC’s attempt to educate the rest of the world about what to expect on May 19, 2018:
A non-Brit’s guide to Meghan and Harry’s wedding (BBC, May 7, 2018).

Can you spot the blunder in this screenshot from the article?:

Actually, Diana and Charles were not married at Westminster Abbey.
“The wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana Spencer took place on Wednesday 29 July 1981 at St Paul’s Cathedral, London, United Kingdom.” (Wikipedia)

St. Paul’s Cathedral:

Westminster Abbey:

On May 8, BBC have changed the wording:

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Story Elements: Core, World, Setting

C-3PO tells the story of the Rebellion to the Ewoks

After trying to get to the root of readers’ satisfaction with a story, I found that a better understanding of what a story is might be in order. On its face the answer to the question “what is a story?” is intuitive and straightforward, but pinpointing what exactly separates a story from a bunch of sentences slapped together is not so easy. Obviously, “character,” “plot” and “theme” are necessary. However, a story must have other ingredients, both as its building blocks and as forces that tie it together. In the following, are notes on the subject, compiled from John Truby’s The Anatomy of Story, Libbie Hawker’s Take Off Your Pants!, Gwen Hayes’s Romancing The Beat, Shawn Coyne’s The Story Grid, and Dwight. V. Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer.

Story Core: All stories are about desire vs. danger, what one did to get what he wanted and why. A story tracks what a person wants, what he’ll do to get it, and what cost he’ll have to pay along the way.

Simplistically, it can be deconstructed as:

  • A Character who is affected by and reacting to external events, and fights against danger.
  • A backdrop of troubles that forces the character to act.
  • A Desire, because a character without desire cannot be endangered.
  • An Opponent who fights back. The opponent personifies the obstacles the character has to overcome.
  • A Disaster, the character must face before s/he is off the hook.

Once a character has a desire, the story “walks” on two legs: acting and learning. A character in a pursuit of a desire takes actions to get what s/he wants. In the process, the character learns new information about better ways to get it. New information causes the character to make a decision and change the course of their action.

Everything about the character’s journey can be a part of the story, but to make it at least somewhat entertaining, a storyteller must select, connect and build a series of intense moments, so charged that the listener feels he is living them himself. What tools, beside innate talent, a storyteller has?

Theme is the story’s unifying concept. It tells us something about the storyteller’s outlook on the world, or on human behavior, about right and wrong actions and what those actions do to person’s life. Story characters, be they opponents or allies of the hero, deal with the same moral problems, but they do it in different ways. Whenever a character uses some means to reach an end, there is a moral predicament, a question of right action, an argument about how best to live.

Story world is life as we imagine it could be, life condensed and heightened. It is everything surrounding the characters all at once, representing simultaneous elements and actions. The story world is usually a physical expression of who the hero is and how he develops. Different kinds of worlds embody, highlight or accentuate the hero’s needs, values, desires (both good and bad) and the obstacles he faces. A world of slavery often expresses or even exacerbates the hero’s great weakness. In fantasy, the hero starts in a mundane world, where his psychological or moral weakness is set. This weakness is the reason the hero cannot see the true potential of who he can be.

Setting: Natural setting carries a multitude of meanings because locations such as island, mountain, forest, plain, have an inherent symbolic power. Mountains, for example, are often associated with greatness, whereas a forest brings to mind a frightening place where people get lost. Man-made spaces can be a microcosm of the hero and the society in which he lives. The House, for example, is a nest, the home of the family, a place for intimacy. The warm house is a big, cozy and diverse shelter, infused with memories of childhood. The terrifying house, on the other hand, is not a cocoon. It might be a prison, a cramped pressure cooker, an outgrowth of hero’s great weakness, a manifestation of his biggest fear.

Passageways Between Worlds is a popular story technique to move characters between extremely different sub-worlds (like a passage from the mundane world to the fantastic). A passageway literary gets the character from one place to another, but it’s also a kind of decompression chamber, that prepares the listeners to a big change in the story world rules between one place to another.

Technology magnifies the character’s power, tools allow him to manipulate the world and maneuver through it. In science fiction, specific technology highlights those elements of society that the story is set to explore.

Arena marks physical boundaries of the story world. It’s a single unified place surrounded by some kind of wall, with everything inside that space is part of the drama and everything outside it isn’t part of the story.

Some stories start with a large umbrella, which a storyteller then crosscuts and condenses. The largest scope is usually described somewhere near the beginning, and as the story progresses, the focus shifts to the smaller worlds within the arena. Alternatively, characters journey through generally the same area.
In a “fish out of water” stories, the hero jumps from one world to another world. The character starts in one arena, where he shows his special talents, then jumps – without traveling – to second arena where the main story takes place.

Foto Ennevi/Fondazione Arena di Verona
The Verona Arena is a Roman amphitheatre built in the first century AD. It is one of the best preserved ancient structures of its kind, still in use today for the large-scale performances.

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March For Our Lives – Princeton, 2018

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Credits: photography and collage – my son.

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This is not a time to keep silent


It’s time to mourn and weep for the dead in Florida, time to try to help the wounded to recover. It’s not a time to keep silence. It’s time to speak, again and again until lawmakers face the fact that guns are used to massacre schoolchildren.

“Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old suspected shooter, used an AR-15 semi-automatic style weapon during the massacre, law enforcement officials told the Associated Press. The highly deadly military-inspired rifle has been the weapon used by several mass shooters. The AR-15 was most notably used during the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. that claimed 27 lives, including that of the shooter.”

Sandy Hook Elementary School. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

It’s time to SHOUT as loudly as possible until the SHOUT reaches lawmakers, and something is actually done about gun control.


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2017 is drawing to a close

Finally, 2017 is drawing to a close. I can’t say that it was one of the better years to look back at. This is why I’m not going to do any “2017 in …”, but just post a few pictures from September to December 2017 (months I did not blog).



Delaware River


The 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded for the detection of gravitational waves!!!

“While from the outside, it may seem surprising that this Nobel Prize was awarded a scant 2 years after the discovery of gravitational waves (often, Nobel Prizes are awarded many years after discoveries), for the three laureates, it actually comes at the culmination of decades of effort. LIGO may have only recently detected gravitational waves, but its journey to doing so began nearly 45 years ago.”
From ‘Nobel Prize awarded to LIGO Founders‘ Caltech News Release


Autumn colors

A Literary Moment:


Statues of Robert Burns and Walter Scott, in Central Park, Manhattan.


The snow is here

Rutgers University, New Jersey

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An anniversary of an experiment that transformed the world

Two hundred years ago, the relationship between magnetism and electricity was not an established fact. It had been known that thunderbolts created certain magnetic effects, but there was no proof that magnetism and electricity were related, until 1820, when Hans Christian Ørsted demonstrated that changes in electric current flowing in a wire produced a change in the orientation of a compass needle. In the experiment credited with the discovery of electromagnetism, Ørsted observed that at the moment an electric current from a battery was switched on, a nearby compass needle was temporarily deflected from its stable position of pointing towards the magnetic north. The needle also moved when the electric current was switched off.

Within months after Ørsted discovered that the change in an electric current (from none to flowing, and vice versa) produced a temporary magnetic effect in its vicinity, André-Marie Ampère showed that each of two parallel current-carrying wires, placed close to each other, generated magnetic lines of force. The force caused the wires to be attracted or repelled from each other depending on the relative direction of the currents flowing in the wires.

After Ampère and Ørsted established that electricity could be converted into magnetism, scientists tried to do the reverse: to create electricity from magnetism.

The first to succeed was Michael Faraday. On 29 August 1831, Faraday made one of his greatest discoveries, in which he demonstrated generation of electricity in a wire by means of the electromagnetic effect of a current in another wire. He used an “induction ring” which he made from insulated conducting wire wound around a wooden cylinder as a helix. The helix was covered by a layer of muslin, then a second conducting wire was wound on top of the muslin. Faraday repeated the process of adding insulated coils several times, then connected the free ends of all the even coils to make one continuous length. He did likewise with the odd coils. Having two helices, he connected the ends of one helix to a galvanometer (a device invented a few years earlier to detect the presence of an electric current) and the other to a voltaic battery.

Although the effect was very small, the galvanometer needle was deflected one way upon switching the battery on and the other way when disconnecting it. This effect is known as electro-magnetic induction – changes in the electric current in the first wire, and hence the magnetic field produced by it, induced a current to flow temporarily in the second wire.

Faraday’s induction ring was, in effect, the very first electrical transformer. Nowadays, it’s on display at the Royal Institution’s museum (see the museum web page).

For an overview of early research in electromagnetism, see the article “The birth of the electric machines: a commentary on Faraday (1832) ‘Experimental researches in electricity’”, from Pholosophical Transactions A, (2015).

Faraday’s induction ring:

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Wolfish Pursuits and RoseMary Inn

Three Little Bops

“ ‘Mr. Spratt,’ began Archibald, slowly bringing himself up to speed like a chilled gecko. ‘Is it true that Mr. Wolff once belonged to the Lupine Brotherhood, a secret society dedicated to traditional wolfish pursuits such as the outlawed Midnight Howling?’
‘Yes, I understand that to be the case,’ replied Jack, ‘but that was over fifteen years ago. We do not deny that he had been investigated over various charges of criminal damage arising from the destruction of two dwellings built by the younger pigs, nor that Mr. Wolff threatened to ‘eat them all up.’ But we saw this as an empty threat – we produced witnesses who swore that Mr. Wolff was a vegetarian of many years’ standing.”
From The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde

Wolves are carnivores. But in Northeast U.S., your have about the same chance of meeting a vegetarian wolf as meeting a wolf living in the wild. Which is to say – practically none. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service claims that “wolves were hunted and killed with more passion and zeal than any other animal in U.S.” And why? Most Native Americans revered gray wolves, trying to emulate their cunning hunting abilities. But white settlers had a different attitude. While settlers progressively depleted the populations of wolves’ natural prey (mostly large mammals such as deer and elk), the numbers of domestic animals increased. Having little choice, wolves replaced their diet with sheep and cattle. Determined to protect livestock, “ranchers and government agencies began a campaign to eliminate wolves. Bounty programs initiated in the 19th Century continued as late as 1965, offering $20 to $50 per wolf. Wolves were trapped, shot from planes and snowmobiles, dug from their dens, and hunted with dogs. Animal carcasses salted with strychnine were left out for wolves to eat. This practice also indiscriminately killed eagles, ravens, foxes, bears and other animals that fed on the poisoned carrion.”

Although there are no wild wolves living in New Jersey today, The Lakota Wolf Preserve offers a sanctuary for about a dozen wolves born in captivity. On a hot July day, the wolves looked not like dangerous predators, but more like cute, lazy dogs. Yet the massive fences that separate between different packs and between them and the human visitors, suggest that in this case looks are deceptive. Here are some pictures to illustrate what I mean:

Continue reading

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