Stars, Leaves, and speculations about Dark Matter

“Topmost branches stretched in all directions, arched over the road, merging into a lush green canopy, dappled with yellow, saffron and vermillion. Bright-blue patches of sky peeked through the dome. A kingdom to itself, Danielle thought. Each tree was a fief, a world, or a galaxy, separated yet connected. The yellow and red leaves were stars, the green foliage encasing them was invisible dark matter.
“Could anyone guess the existence of green leaves, by looking at the bright leaves, stems and twigs?” she asked a nearby trunk.
It did not respond, but Danielle took the silence as “yes.”
“If stems and sticks connecting the leaves act like gravity, then counting their number in each tree will be like weighting a galaxy.”
From Initial Conditions

Danielle’s attempt to “visualize” dark matter is hardly scientific, but this is the problem with dark matter – it’s invisible. As the NASA site explains: Continue reading

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Love between the covers

“The noise was huge.

Wherever they stood, sat, or wandered, they talked. Primarily women, he observed, some of them dressed for business, other drooping from travel. And all, he thought, studying the heaped luggage carts, with enough suitcases for a six-month stay.

As he maneuvered out of the way, two women streaked toward each other over the shining tile and met with squeals and embraces. Several others were eyeing him. Not that he particularly minded being ogled, but being so completely outnumbered, he chose discretion as the better part of valor and contemplated retreat.”

from Finding the dream by Nora Roberts

This is how a romance writers’ convention looks like from the point of view of a man who stumbled into a hotel’s lobby while the romance writers were checking-in. Or actually, this is how the predominantly-female readership of romantic novels would like a very masculine, self-assured man to respond. Wishful thinking? Maybe, but as the female protagonist of Finding the dream explains,

“Romance novels are an enormous industry that accounts for more than forty percent of the paperback market and provides enjoyment and entertainment for millions while focusing on love, commitment, and hope.”

Or, updated to 2016,


Source: 2016 Romance Writers of America RWA PAN Presentation

I’ve been intrigued by the wide appeal of romance novels, and occasionally wondered what is common to its readers aside from gender? Why does the HEA (happily ever after) appeal to so many women and to so few men? What makes voracious readers devour seemingly similar stories one after another?
The documentary “Love between the covers”, directed by Laurie Kahn-Leavitt, promises “a funny and inspiring look into the billion-dollar romance fiction industry and its powerhouse of female writers and readers, a sisterhood that’s pioneering the digital revolution while finding fortune, fulfillment, and a global community.” The description seemed promising, so I watched the movie. It answered some of the questions and raised others.

As the couple of words “funny” and “inspiring” suggest, Love between the covers is a feel-good documentary. As such, it does not show graphs nor rely on statistics. Instead, it presents a collage of interviews with mega stars, inspiring and aspiring writers, glimpses into romance writers’ workshops, an editorial meeting, snippets of conversation between romance readers, and a peek into a reading in front of a rapt audience…

In all, the movie portrays romance readers and writers as a huge and diverse group in terms of education, ethnicity, background, and interests. It does not back up personal, anecdotal stories with numbers. Lack of data continues throughout the movie. For example, differences between romance sub-genres are illustrated with book covers, but what about their respective readership? The writers involved?

Most of the writers’ interviews are very short. While it’s nice to attach faces and voices to names familiar from book-covers, watching the movie, my inner cynic kept observing that no large community can be as overwhelmingly positive, inclusive, and meritocratic as it was suggested. Even if romance writers are generally a warm, open-minded, and hard-working set of women, it’s hard to believe that cliques, backscratching, and bad-mouthing are not part of this highly-competitive industry.

The most interesting part of the movie is its attempt to explain how the same genre could be considered as fun, inspiring escapism by its readers, and as simplistic, formulaic trash by the non-readers. From what I gathered, a major attraction of the genre (and a reason it is stigmatized and shunned by others) is that romance novels show femininity and sexuality in a way that women want to perceive themselves and be seen by others. Romance readers get an emotional thrill and validation when their needs are understood, respected, and satisfied before they reach “The End.” Those who don’t feel this emotional ride, usually don’t “get” romance.

The movie is recommended for those who are curious about the genre and probably also to its avid readers.

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The proof is in the pudding

“al freír de los huevos lo verá”
literally ‎“you will see it when you fry the eggs”,
was translated as

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating”

A proverb from Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes.

Miguel de Cervantes was born in 1547, probably on September 29 (the day of San Miguel). His major work, Don Quixote, is considered to be the first modern novel. It is a classic of Western literature and is regarded among the best works of fiction ever written.

Little is known of Cervantes’s early education. He moved from Spain to Rome in 1569. By 1570, he enlisted as a soldier in a Spanish infantry regiment stationed in Naples, then one of the kingdoms of the Spanish Empire. In mid-September 1571, Cervantes sailed on board the Marquesa, a part of a large fleet formed of the combined naval forces of Venice, the papacy and Spain, to fight the Ottoman Empire. A fierce battle ensued. It ended in a crushing defeat for the Turks that ultimately broke their control of the Mediterranean. During the action, Cervantes, though stricken with a fever, refused to stay below and joined the thick of the fighting. He received two gunshot wounds in the chest, and a third rendered his left hand useless for the rest of his life. He always looked back on his conduct in the battle with pride.

Cervantes continued his soldier’s life until 1575. Armed with letters of commendation to the king, he set sail for Spain. Barbary pirates attacked and captured the ship, and Cervantes, together with his brother Rodrigo, were sold into slavery in Algiers. The letters Cervantes carried magnified his importance in the eyes of his captors. They raised his ransom price, thus prolonging his captivity. The letters probably protected Cervantes from punishment by death, mutilation, or torture when his four daring bids to escape were frustrated.

After five years spent as a slave in Algiers, Cervantes was ransomed and returned to his family in Madrid. He made a name for himself for courage and leadership among the captive community, but neither that nor his war record brought the recompense Cervantes expected. His applications for administrative posts in Spain’s American colonies failed. He became a commissary of provisions for the great Armada, traveling all over Andalusia, requisitioning corn and oil from grudging rural communities. It was a thankless, yet steady job, with a certain status. Failure to balance his books, however, landed Cervantes in prolonged and repeated trouble with his superiors. In 1594 he received an appointment to collect overdue taxes, a job no more rewarding than the previous one and similarly fraught with financial difficulties and confrontations. This appointment was terminated in 1596. In the summer of 1597 discrepancies in Cervantes’s accounts of three previous years landed him in the Royal Jail of Seville. He was confined until the end of April 1598. Apparently, he conceived the idea of Don Quixote while incarcerated there.

In summer 1604 Cervantes sold the rights of El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha (“The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha,” known as Don Quixote, Part I) to the publisher/bookseller for an unknown sum. The license to publish it was granted in September and the book came out in January 1605. The novel was an immediate success. The sale of the publishing rights, however, meant that Cervantes did not profit from the success of his novel.

In 1607, Cervantes settled in Madrid, where he lived and worked until his death. During the last nine years of his life, he solidified his reputation as a writer. He published a collection of tales, the Novelas ejemplares (Exemplary Novels) in 1613, the Journey to Parnassus in 1614, and Don Quixote II late in 1615. Cervantes died in April 1616.

Summarized from Britannica and Wikipedia

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Writers’ advice on self-publishing

There is a lot of advice about writing and self-publishing. A recent tread from the kboards Writers’ Cafe, Time to Hang It Up, tackled the problem of a writer with academic credentials and several years of self-publishing experience, who, despite of being prolific and writing in popular genres, is unable to get any traction selling their stories. In retrospect, I wish I could have read some of the comments on the thread before I self-published. Finding them still relevant, I summarized pieces of advice worth keeping in mind.

  • “Here is the truth that most hopeful authors have to face:
    Anyone can write books and publish them on Amazon.
    Not every book published on Amazon will be purchased and read…
    The odds are high that any given author will not make much money selling their books. How does an author defeat those odds?
    Amazon’s algorithms try to understand a customer’s buying preferences based on their past purchases and show them books similar to what they have purchased before. The algorithms ACTIVELY try to sell books to customers…BUT… and there is always a but:
    A new book has to find its first readers in order for Amazon’s amazing algorithms to see it, categorize it as something customers will want to buy. In other words, that book has to become visible before those algorithms will put it in front of new potential readers (aka Amazon customers). That means that a new book has to capture some readers on its own before Amazon algorithms will start selling it.
    To capture those first readers, a book needs: Cover. Blurb. Categories and Keywords. Preview. Product quality aka a cracking good story and characters.
    The reader buys the book on the assumption that they will get a certain kind of reading experience. If the author fails to provide it, the reader will put the book down, may return it, and not pick up another by that author again.The biggest killer of book sales is a slow start.
    If a book has all of the above in place, the book, once released, goes into the new release lists and there are hungry Amazon customers out there searching the new release lists every morning. That’s how a new release gets traction right out of the gate. Amazon algorithms see that a book is selling right out of the gate and takes notice. It perks up. Ahh, this book is selling itself. WE CAN SELL IT EVEN BETTER!
    Amazon WANTS to sell books. But it isn’t going to waste its time on books that won’t sell, for whatever reason. YOU, dear aspiring author, must do the work to get your book visible on Amazon. It’s not easy and it’s a long shot, but it is done EVERY SINGLE DAY.
    Amazon is not a meritocracy based on literary quality. It is a market based on what customers want to spend their hard-earned money on. If a book does not appeal to those customers, for whatever reason, they will not buy it and Amazon will not try to sell it.
    I would also advise sending your book out to reviewers in your genre. This involves some legwork on your part and is time-consuming, but if you send out review copies, you will get reviews eventually, if your book is good enough, and that will help.” Sela
  • Everyone — everyone — who can write, can write a book.
    If you want to write your book for love of writing and don’t care about being read or making money or making a living as a published author, great! You have done what most humans never accomplish. You have written a book. Congratulations! You have expressed yourself in an artistic pursuit and that is one of the greatest experiences a human can have.
    If you want to write that book and you also want it to be read by actual people, and you don’t care about making money or making a living as a published author, great! You can post your book online at Wattpad or on your blog, or any number of places where people may run into it and read it for free. Congratulations! You have written a book and it is being read. That is great.
    If you want to write that book and you want it to be read and you want to make money selling it, but you don’t care about making a living as a published author, great! You can write your book, publish your book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks and Google Play and you can hope to sell it. Even if you only want to make a bit of money, part-time money, now is when the marketing part comes in. Why?
    Because Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks and Google Play are all markets. They sell products. They have customers. Selling products to their customers and making money requires some degree of marketing.” Sela


More nuggets of wisdom:

  • “Readers don’t need to have “academic reasons” for liking or disliking a book.” dianapersaud
  • “You need to write books people actually want to read not what you think they should read.” NeedWant
  • “Some books will never sell, no matter how much advertising you throw at them.” Nicholas Erik
  • “If your goal is to make money, being “good” isn’t important. Writing books that people want to read is.” valeriec80

And if one finds that self-publishing isn’t for them?

  • “It’s okay to give up. It’s okay to mourn a dream you have spent years trying to achieve. And it’s okay if you don’t know what else there might be out there if not this thing. But there might be something else for you and if you feel like you’re done with this, you’ve given it your best shot and it just didn’t happen, it absolutely might be time for you to give yourself permission to dream another dream.” Link5



Happy writing!

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Île d’Orléans

“Île d’Orléans had long been inhabited by the indigenous tribes. The Huron called it Minigo, the enchanted island. In 1536, explorer Jacques Cartier renamed the island Orléans, in honour of the Duke of Orleans.
The island’s fertile soil attracted French settlers, yet its colonization proceeded slowly. During mid seventeen century, it was ground to fights between Huron and Iroquois tribes. According to the census conducted in 1685, the island’s population consisted of 1205 people and 917 heads of livestock.
Until the bridge to the island was inaugurated in 1935, the island’s inhabitants were relatively isolated in the middle of the St. Lawrence. The only way to reach the mainland in the summer was by boat, and in the winter, by crossing the ice bridge formed when the river froze up.
Summarized from tourisme.iledorleans.com and Wikipedia

Île d’Orléans is no longer isolated.

Quebec City is clearly seen from the island:
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but looking around, one sees wildlife:
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and farms and fields:
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and flowers:

The island is known for its produce and food-tourism.
There is a place for lovers of chocolate,
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and for those who want a meal with a view on the river:


Yet, for the freshest food, pick your own:

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Where the river narrows

“The name “Québec”, which comes from the Algonquin word kébec meaning “where the river narrows”, originally referred to the area around Quebec City where the Saint Lawrence River narrows to a cliff-lined gap.”  Wikipedia

Our next leg of the “lazy vacation” was Quebec City. Imagine a city built on a cliff, narrow streets and the river…

Château Frontenac – extravaganza, many years before Disney World:

The marina:

The farmer’s market at the marina:

Pretty in the day and glamorous at night:

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A lazy vacation

What it was that was actually the matter with us, we none of us could be sure of; but the unanimous opinion was that it – whatever it was – had been brought on by overwork.
“What we want is rest,” said Harris.
“Rest and complete change,” said George. “The overstrain upon our brains has produced a general depression throughout the system. Change of scene, and absence of the necessity for thought, will restore the mental equilibrium.”
From Three Man in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog!),
by Jerome K. Jerome

Harris and George almost nailed it. Almost, because change of scene from where I live requires at least a few hours of driving. And in the heat of the summer, the destination should be somewhere peaceful, with a variety of scenery and the benefit of good food. A leisurely trip along the banks of the great St. Lawrence river was almost the obvious choice – another country and language, only a day of traveling from home, and since this would not be our first visit, we could, with good conscience, skip some museums. Picturing chocolate eclairs in Montreal, quaint streets in Quebec City, and lazy food-truism in-between, we crossed the Canadian border.

Montreal met us with construction:

Skyscrapers:

Old edifices:

Even older houses with gables:

The old port:

And houses one actually would want to live in:

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A meditating gargoyle (is he thinking about food?):

Fresh pastry

at Atwater market

Next stop: Quebec City

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