10 March 2011

The curse of the daily word count

David Hewson offers some wise words on why we should not let our writing be dominated by the need to achieve a certain word count:
A bit of space between you and your work is good at times. You come back at it with fresh eyes. Problems which once seemed insurmountable sometimes appear puny and easily dealt with. If the story’s working you’ll soon find your way back into it and begin to hit the kind of output levels you had before you took a breather.
The problem with the ‘I will write 40,000 words a month’ school of fiction is it’s based around quantity alone. What if half those words are the wrong ones? Then you’ve only written 20,000 words really. And worse, you’re going to have to spend time going through that 40K mess working out which ones are good ones and which ones expendable.
Writing’s not a race. At least if it is, it’s a marathon, not a sprint, for most of us anyway. How do I meet those deadlines? Simple, I take what’s in the contract and subtract a month or two of my own. Then carry on to my own schedule, not the contracts.
Books get finished through steady, efficient workmanship, produced by writers in control of their craft. Not by hammering out words incessantly and hoping that somehow in the end they’ll fit.

09 March 2011

‘Marked by Ashes’

Another prayer from Walter Brueggemann:

Ruler of the Night, Guarantor of the day …
This day – a gift from you.
This day – like none other you have ever given, or we have ever received.
This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness and possibility.
This Wednesday burdens us with the tasks of the day, for we are already halfway home
     halfway back to committees and memos,
     halfway back to calls and appointments,
     halfway on to next Sunday,
     halfway back, half frazzled, half expectant,
     half turned toward you, half rather not.

This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday,
     but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes –
          we begin this day with that taste of ash in our mouth:
               of failed hope and broken promises,
               of forgotten children and frightened women,
          we ourselves are ashes to ashes, dust to dust;
          we can taste our mortality as we roll the ash around on our tongues.

We are able to ponder our ashness with
     some confidence, only because our every Wednesday of ashes
     anticipates your Easter victory over that dry, flaky taste of death.

On this Wednesday, we submit our ashen way to you –
     you Easter parade of newness.
     Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
          Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;
          Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.
     Come here and Easter our Wednesday with
          mercy and justice and peace and generosity.

We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.

From Prayers for a Privileged People, Abingdon, 2008.

08 March 2011

Shrove Tuesday

A prayer/poem for Shrove Tuesday (in light of 1 Samuel 5) by Walter Brueggemann:

We remember the long dark nights of Ashdod;
     They were long because you stood
          in the Philistine place passively;
     They were dark because the gods of the Philistines
          seemed to prevail.
And now we face the long, dark days of Lent:
      to ponder your strange passivity,
      to hold deep the suffering of Jesus,
      to grasp afresh our fragile mortality, that we too will die;
      to move beyond ourselves to notice the raw loss
          connected to your absence.
We name the brutality among us;
We make the greed so close to us;
We see the poor, the homeless, the exploited,
          while we enjoy the easiness of the leisure class.
And then – dark and long – our eyes shift back to Ashdod;
      We wait, a heavy wait edging toward hope,
          not yet as light as hope,
          as heavy as absence.
We pray in the name of the crucified. Amen.

(from Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth: Prayers of Walter Brueggemann, Fortress Press, 2003)

03 March 2011

More Star Trek physics

First it was cloaking devices, now it seems that tractor beams are theoretically possible. In a paper available at arXiv, Physicists at Fudan University Shanghai show how a beam of photons might be used to draw particles towards the source of the beam. According to the abstract,
A photon carries a momentum of hk, so one may anticipate light to "push" on any object standing in its path via the scattering force. In the absence of intensity gradient, using a light beam to pull a particle backwards is counter intuitive. Here, we show that it is possible to realize a backward scattering force which pulls a particle all the way towards the source without an equilibrium point. The underlining physics is the maximization of forward scattering via interference of the radiation multipoles. We show explicitly that the necessary condition to realize a negative (pulling) optical force is the simultaneous excitation of multipoles in the particle and if the projection of the total photon momentum along the propagation direction is small (as in some propagation invariant beams), attractive optical force is possible. This possibility adds "pulling" as an additional degree of freedom to optical micromanipulation.