Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Book release

I am excited and happy to announce that I Choose Mars is now available to readers in both paperback and ebook formats. 

I started the story during the 2012 National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), let it sit for a while, rewrote parts of it a few times, had it professionally edited, rewrote a bunch more, and then refined it. 

Then came the hard part. Advertising, building an audience. Formatting. Proofing. Phew!

Now, I have one book signing scheduled and I am going to hit all of the indie bookstores in the area to see whether they will carry it. This could be fun!

I have learned so much already; I wonder what this next phase brings. 



Friday, June 06, 2014

Technical Writing Before Computers

I met my friend, Joe, in 2003 when I took a job at Raytheon in San Diego to create technical procedures for a new radar system. Joe was assigned to a different system and we occasionally used the same source data, so one or the other of us was in each other's cube borrowing a drawing or a document. You get to know people that way, and that's how I got to know Joe. 

I could tell he was an "older guy," but he took very good care of himself, so there was no guessing his age. He floored me when he said he was 63. I sat down in his guest chair and asked him about his career. He mentioned something about technical writers using yellow legal pads and handing off their work to the typing pool. I thought he was kidding. 

Ten years and several layoffs and job changes between us, we ended up at the same company again but on different programs. This was about the same time I decided to research technical writing before computers. I wanted to see how serious he was about those legal size yellow writing pads, so I invited him to lunch. 

The environment he described was something straight out of Mad Men. When Joe started technical writing in the 1960s, only men were engineers and tech writers. The minimum requirement for a tech writer back then was either a mechanical or electrical engineering bachelor's degree. Women worked in the typing pool. Period. This trend lasted through the 1970s. 

The typing pool consisted of about 25 to 30 "girls" who supported 60 to 70 technical writers. The miniskirt fashions of the time caused management to install "modesty boards" in front of the typists' desks to make it more difficult to look up their skirts. Joe unapologetically said that he always waited for the cutest, dumbest blonde to be free so he could hand off his work to her. And, he purposely wrote a little sloppy in places so she would have a reason to visit with him and ask him questions. When she politely asked what else she could do for him, he would reply, "How about lunch today?" You get the picture. 
Writers had to check out their source engineering drawings from the Check Out Clerk. Requesting a new drawing entailed filling out a form in triplicate and waiting for the clerk to create a printed copy from the original, master drawing. You couldn't stand around and wait; sometimes it took a week to get your source data depending on the priority of your job, where you were in the request queue, and whether the clerk liked you. 

Printed drawings were places in post office sorting-style pukas. The tech writers had to look through several, usually, until they found theirs, and they had to pray that any engineering change documents to the drawing were included. If not, you had to visit the Clerk again. 

The tech writers studied the engineering data and consulted with the engineers for clarification, just like we do today, and they took notes by hand. Then, they wrote out the procedures and descriptive information by hand on legal-size, yellow writing pads. Depending on the style guide requirements for mark-up, they underlined words to be italiced and double-underlined for bold. They had various symbols for indent and other formatting requirements. 

After the typist interpreted it all and created typewritten pages, the packet was given to the editor for his scrutiny, and so the publishing process began. I can only fathom the multitude of paper it must have taken to produce the technical tomes. 

It wasn't until the late 1970s that companies started to adopt typesetting machines. The writers themselves were expected to use these monsters, and many, like Joe, used them with reluctance. They saw it as a waste of time. They could be researching and writing instead of fiddling with these cumbersome contraptions! There were only a few machines to go around, which added to the frustration. But, management liked the cost savings of significantly reducing the typing pool. Even then, the bottom line was king. 

Joe preferred the days of yellow legal pads when he was able to focus in research and writing and nothing else. In a way, I envy him. How great would it be to not have to worry about correctly tagging your content in XML? Just hand off a Word document to someone else for formatting and making it pretty and get back into the drawings. But, that would be one more 401k and medical benefits package the company would need to pay for. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Winged Dreams

Today I flew in historic skies
Where many things were broken
Speed records, the Sound Barrier, and some men's dreams
On the desert floor below, many things were built
Aircraft, Space craft, and hopes
My small part falls in between
Not in records or magazines, but someone has to be a cog
In the aerospace machine. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Southern California Dry Hot Weather Survival Guide

I grew up in the desert wilds of Southern California. Out there, humidity is almost always low and the days are either hot or warm (compared to other parts of the country).

Most of California is experiencing desert-like weather this winter. Most days have very low humidity and we have summer-like temperatures. Hard on the environment, yes, but it is also hard on your sinuses, your skin, and your hair.

Here are some tips and tricks I learned during my desert childhood and adolescence that I thought would be a benefit to my fellow Californians who are accustomed to cooler, more moist environs. Hopefully, this survival guide will make the dryness a heat a little more bearable!

1.  Showering and bathing. Showering and bathing are very drying to the skin. The water and soap strip oils off the skin. If you can stand it, take a washcloth bath (also known as a cat bath, a PTA shower, or a whore's bath). Try to limit showers or baths to every third day, if you can possibly stand it. Tips and techniques for washcloth baths can be found here in this little eBook: A Lady's Guide to Rustic Bathing.

2.  Exfoliate. When you do shower or bathe, exfoliate thoroughly. Face, feet, hands, as well as all other body parts. Doing so allows your skin to better absorb moisturizers because there's not a lot of dead skin in the way.

3.  Hair. Did you know that you can get great results by washing your hair with a good quality conditioner? Beauty expert Dominique Ceccon recommends washing hair using only conditioner, and then doing so only every other day at the most. The conditioner-only approach keeps most of the hair's vital oils in place, whereas shampoo tends to strip these oils out of the hair. During these very dry days, your hair needs all of the moisture it can get! If your scalp is oily, use shampoo only on the scalp area, and avoiding lathering the hair itself.

4.  Double moisturizer, one light, one heavy. After showering or bathing, take the time to double moisturize. Apply an unscented, light, but super-hydrating moisturizer generously to the skin. Don't forget feet and hands? My dermatologist recommends Amlactin for me, but your preference or skin needs might be different.

After the first layer of moisturizer absorbs, apply a body butter or a heavy moisturizer generously all over your skin. You will need to wait a few minutes before you can get dressed, but the hydration your skin enjoys all day makes the wait worth it!

5.  Face. It is a good idea to double-moisturize the face as well. Some of the overnight creams that aren't too dense can be used during these especially dry days as a daytime moisturizer. Applying a thin layer of argan oil or other face-friendly moisturizing oil can be done before or after the moisturizer. Allow these to completely absorb before applying make up.

6.  Sunscreen and a hat. If you plan to be outside for more than 20 minutes, sunscreen and a hat are necessary. The reason for the sunscreen is obvious. The hat not only keeps the hot sun off of your face, but it also helps protect your hair from strong UV rays and moisture loss.

7.  Sinus flush. This is the best way to relieve dry, painful sinuses. A sinus flush consists of preparing a simple saline solution and using gravity and a squeeze bottle or a neti pot, letting the solution pour through your nose and out your mouth. Gross? Maybe, but the relief it brings is sheer joy. WebMD.com has some great tips for sinus flushing. Saline sinus flush or neti pot treatments.

8.  Olive oil gargle. You have probably noticed that your sinuses are drying out. This can be anywhere from uncomfortable to painful! If you are frequently coughing or clearing your throat due to dryness, an olive oil gargle will help. Hold your head back and drizzle about a tablespoon of olive oil into your mouth. This isn't enough to gargle like you would water, but use the same muscle movements in your throat like you are gargling the oil. Use your tongue to press the oil up into the roof of your mouth and into your sinus drainage ports. This effort is soothing to the sinus drainage areas. You can certainly swallow the olive oil after this treatment and enjoy the added moisturizing benefits.

9.  Oil nasal swab. You can also relieve sinus dryness by applying a little sweet almond, jojoba, or other 100% pure, cosmetic quality, unscented oil to the interior tissues of your nose. Pour a little oil into a tiny container (like the sterilized lid of an old aspirin bottle) and soak one end of a cotton swab with the oil. Gently swab the inside of your nose until you feel relief. Do not, however, insert the swap deeply into the nose cavity; you could hurt yourself.

10. Hydrate with more than just water. Drinking lots of water is a no-brainer in this weather, but because our bodies are not accustomed to the harsh conditions, it is helpful to replenish the electrolytes and other minerals and salts that get lost from our bodies during dry weather. Re-hydrating fluids and formulas for children, such as Pedialyte, can do adults a lot of good, too, when it's especially arid. Check the labels for unwanted ingredients if you choose to use an adult re-hydration drink, or you can experiment with make-your-own recipes that can be found all over the Internet. Replenishing products for adults, like Gatorade, can suffice if you dilute them by half with water. 

11. Workout schedule adjustment. Remember that it is usually cooler and more humid in the mornings in California. If you typically work out, run, or exercise in the afternoons when the humidity is at its lowest, consider switching your routine to the mornings until the dry weather passes.

Many of these points are common sense, but they are mentioned in this survival guide because they are important! I hope these tips give you some relief, and if you have a dry weather survival tip of your own, please share it in the comments or tweet it to Lionflower13 and I'll give you full credit for it on this blog!

Hang in there, California!

how to washcloth bathe 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

I can't find my shoes.

I am a responsible, mature adult, and I cannot find my shoes. They are not in any of the usual places.

They are not by the cat tree. They are not by the screen door. They are not by the front door, or by the towel closet near the garage door. They are not in any of the usual places.

But, I have checked those usual places at least three times, because where else could my shoes be? After my fourth trip around the house, I decide to look in unusual places.

They are not in the bathroom. They are not in my office. They are not in my husband's office or in the family room. If I had not taken my Concerta this morning, I would probably be throwing things around by now in frustration, because I cannot find my shoes.

A new idea occurs to me; do a perimeter search. So, I start by the front door and look along the walls and walk the inside perimeter of my house. The family room, the kitchen, the living room, my husband's office, the hallway, the bedroom ...

... and there they are, next to a laundry basket full of clean clothes I folded a week ago but have not put away, yet. They are under a bathrobe that is draping over the edge of the basket and onto the floor, hiding my shoes.

This was 30 minutes of my life that I will never get back. I will tack it on to other 30 minute increments (or more) that I have wasted in similar efforts, like finding my car keys, finding my coat, or, yes, finding my shoes.

I do not wish to add up all of those increments, because it might make me sad to think of how much life I have wasted because of this disorder. Instead, I think I will be happy that I found my shoes.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

I Choose Mars

In 2037, twelve pioneers leave Earth to live, breed, and farm in the newly completed Mars biodome, but something sinister happens while they are on the way. A psychopathic crew member has given the crew and the Company an ultimatum: Acknowledge him as ruler of Mars or he will destroy the biodome. Tommie Candour escapes from a storage pod and finds the crew in chaos and communications severed. Her desperate need for survival compels her to risk her life, and the life within her, in an attempt to save them all.

For NaNoWriMo last year, I drafted my very first novel, I Choose Mars. For the rest of 2012 and most of 2013, I have been in the rewrite process, working the bugs out of the plot, getting rid of extraneous technical information, and bringing out the personalities of the characters.

Last week I started the edit phase of the novel. This is such a big deal as it means I'm getting closer to publishing it. Yes, I have decided to self-publish it as an e-book. Hey, the only people who know my writing are aircraft mechanics who are forced to use the technical manuals I write for them. So, as an unknown writer, I figured self-publishing is the best way to start.

I posted Chapter 1 on the I Choose Mars Facebook page yesterday.

I really want to hear what you think - the good, the bad, and the ugly. Go ahead. I can handle it.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve Kitten

It was a chilly, blustery day three years ago when I left the house to run some Christmas Eve errands. I had to buy some windshield wipers and some candy for stockings hung by the chimney with care, and then pick up lunch on the way home for my husband and I to enjoy together in front of the warm hearth fire.

As I passed through the center of our little town, I noticed that an antique store that was rarely open had its doors flung wide. I had never been in there as it was always closed whenever I had a shopping opportunity, and so I decided to make a quick stop just to see what was in the place.

Like all good antique stores, it was dimly lit and a little musty, with bobs and nicknacks and indescribable things arranged on shelves, the walls and on the floor. I knew I only had a few minutes to take everything in; stores were going to close early and I had errands to finish and lunch to retrieve.

The proprietress, an elderly and somewhat scrawny woman with blue eyes as bright as sapphires introduced herself to me and we chatted for just a moment as my eyes tried to take in everything in the room. Then she said the magic words, "Did you know that I have kittens that need homes?" I told her that was delightful, but I didn't need any kittens, and I had to be going soon, anyway.

Being the good saleswoman that she is, she insisted that I see a couple of them. I continued to look around as she opened the door where the kittens were kept. The smell that reached my nose nearly made me vomit. It reeked of neglect, and disease, and squalor. I thought, "I'll be damned if I take anything home that came out of that room."

No sooner did that though leave my mind, I found myself with a tiny grey and white tabby in my arms. I cradled her like a baby and stroked her in the way baby kitties like to be stroked. She was scrawny and her fur was very rough, which are not good signs of health. But after a moment of petting, the kitten looked deeply into my eyes and started to purr. Then, her oversized paws began flapping rhythmically in the air in a kneading motion. She obviously liked me (or, she was the most manipulative thing on the planet!).

I couldn't do it. I had things to do that day before the stores closed, and I had one cat at home already who was enjoying life very much as "the only cat." Besides, I didn't know how healthy this kitten was. The shop owner hadn't had her vaccinated or even examined by a veterinarian, claiming that she was rescued as a baby when her mom was eaten by a coyote, and the shop owner hadn't had the opportunity to get the kitten checked out. My instincts told me this tale wasn't quite truthful, but I didn't have the inclination to analyze which parts were true or false. I looked into those baby-grey eyes again. My sense of morality started to prevail over the logic my brain was producing.

I could not let this sweet, helpless kitten go back into that squalid room. Especially not on Christmas Eve. With barely a thought as to what my husband would say, I paid way too much for that baby and left as quickly as I could. By sheer good luck, there was a pet store right next door where I bought a cardboard pet carrier. She didn't like to be stuffed in there, but it was necessary for her protect in the car.

I headed straight home, which, thankfully, was not far. I got out of the car and tucked the little princess into my jacket to protect her from the wind and cold. I stuck my head in the front door to see where the husband was. He was laying on the floor, enjoying the fireplace in the family room. The man is no dummy; he immediately saw the guilty look on my face.

"You're back early," he remarked. Then that fluffily little grey and white head poked out of my jacket and he smiled.  I put that little kitten down next to him.  She gave him a brief sniff and then started walking around the room like she already owned the place. My husband never batted and eye. From that moment, she was already part of the family.

Isabeau is now a little over three years old. She is a beautiful and regal looking cat who maintains a kitten-like playfulness, fierce independence, and sweet disposition. I am thankful that my heart won that day.