Monday, December 26, 2016

Have a stellar New Year

Blockbuster astronomy stories of 2016 include:

1.  Confirmation that invisible gravity waves exist, as predicted by Al Einstein a century ago.  Two complex detectors, one in Louisiana and the other in Washington State, both picked up waves caused by the merger of two black holes far out in the universe, and the findings became official in 2016. Scientists across the globe hailed it as the discovery of the generation.

2.  The confirmed discovery of a planet in the habitable zone around the closest star to us (other than our own sun), Proxima Centauri, which floats just 4.2 light years away.

3.  The spectacular successes of reusable rockets from two energetic and innovative private space companies, Blue Origin and SpaceX.  The technology will save millions of dollars in space exploration and satellite launching and servicing.

4.  The ambitious Juno flight, the fastest spacecraft ever launched (165,000 mph), arrived at Jupiter to begin its deep studies of that giant planet.

5.  Startling indications that there is a huge mysterious and yet-to-be-seen Planet Nine circling our sun in a strange orbit.

And 2017 promises to be no less fascinating.  The Quadrantid meteor shower will usher in the year, peaking January third with an amazing 120 meteors per hour.  But the big story will be a rare solar eclipse, the sight of a lifetime.  As the moon moves in front of the sun, precisely covering its disc and cutting off all its direct light, the whole sky will darken dramatically, revealing stars in daytime.  It’s a wondrous, magical, deeply moving event.  On August 21 the dense shadow band of totality will carve a 70-mile-wide curved swath from the far northwestern U.S., diagonally across the entire country and exiting through South Carolina.  Anywhere along that route the viewing will be perfect.  You’ll need eye protection, though, and if you travel to that shadow band, you’d better reserve accommodations early.  You can get details online.  Do not miss it.*

I hope you enjoy a stellar New Year in every way.

* The moon can cover the sun because, although it is 400 times smaller than the sun, it is also 400 times closer to us.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Book promotion

     If you’re a self-published author and have exhausted the usual options for promotion—the Amazon free trial and timed discounts, announcements on social media, requesting plugs from online reviewers and bloggers, e-mailing family and friends, and doing talks and signings for stores and civic groups—all of which can be productive, here are three additional sales boosters you might also try:

     1.   Libraries can be a great market for you.  There are roughly 120,000 of them in America.  My local regional facility has thirteen of my books in circulation, for example.  To mine at least some of that buying power and large readership, I mailed 100 six-by-nine glossy postcards to library networks all over my state (one regional library may have half a dozen branches).  I designed the card myself, using photos of the book covers, brief descriptions of each book, and a paragraph addressed to the librarian noting how well the books have been reviewed, and that the stories take place within the state.  I had them printed at Staples for minimal cost.  You might also offer to speak to a group at any library within reasonable reach.

     2.   Some motels, such as Country Inns and Suites, have their own lending libraries.  I sent 100 signed copies of my short story collection—which contains a good plug for my website and novels—to such hotels, concentrating on those near vacation spots and beaches, where vacationers are especially looking for leisure reads.

     3.   One of the things I do is move yachts for their owners.  Every marina has a small library where boaters can pick up a used book and drop one off in exchange, so I’ve left my signed debut novel in marinas from Key West to Newport, RI, but you can easily do a mailing of signed books to a list of marinas you find online.  My hope, of course, is that readers will try my donated books and thus be motivated to buy the rest of the books in the series.

     In each of these three cases, I’m targeting avid readers and making single books do the work of many in attracting new fans.

     Good fortune with your own promotions.


Monday, December 12, 2016

Facts or dangerous fiction?

As I’ve said before, there was a time when the bulk of news reporting was an honorable profession.  My mother was a reporter for The Daily Hampshire Gazette in Massachusetts, and she was bound by tradition and strict editors to objectively report the facts, verifying everything in her stories as much as possible by checking with more than one source.  The idea was to report honestly and in depth and let the people make up their own minds about the implications.  Media back then were under a measure of control because they were the only news organizations available to the public, and those organizations wanted to protect their honorable images.  When I was young there were newspapers, magazines, newsreels at movie theaters, and radio.  No TV.  No computers.

Over recent decades news reporting has gradually become the domain of attractive news celebrities.  And individual giant news networks have taken on agendas, with the result that much so-called news is unabashedly slanted this way or that.  Today it’s obvious which political or social views a network favors and heavily promotes.  We watch the selected ones we like.  The ones that tell us what we want to hear.

The frenzied media scramble to be first with scoops has led incompetent and often unprincipled reporters to air or print information that is simply not accurate and is ever more shallow at best.  My local news anchors routinely make reporting errors that once would not have been tolerated by their superiors.

With the advent and global proliferation of social media, anyone and everyone routinely passes on those news items they favor.  And all restraints are off.

It has been only a short, inevitable transition to individuals stretching the truth and then, lately, to making up their own malicious news entirely.  Fake news.

In consequence, more and more of us are becoming mistrustful of any news, even from once-respected major networks.

And in some cases fake news is having far worse consequences.

Even deadly.


Monday, December 5, 2016

Seven things kids aren’t learning

1.  How to interpret a map.
With GPS built into cars and tablets and smartphones, map-reading skills have declined, and young people will no longer know the satisfaction of winning a lively debate with a friend or family member about the fastest or most scenic route selection, or being nimble-minded enough to plausibly excuse winding up out of gas at a crossroads named Nowhere, Utah.

2.  How to write cursive.
These days young folk communicate through texts in lazy lower-case, with liberal use of cyber-shorthand contractions, exclamation points, and emoticons.  The closest they ever come to cursive writing is dashing off a totally illegible squiggle on those stupid electronic signature lines in Walmart checkouts.

3.  How to drive a stick shift vehicle.
My first car had a stick shift (and the starter button) mounted on the floor.  Driving was an adventure back then, especially with bald or recapped tires and no air bags or seat belts, on New England winter roads.

4.  How to fix things.
I could fix anything short of an engine overhaul by myself on that first car, and I learned from both my grandfather and father that if you put your mind to it, you can fix most anything, from a misfiring distributor to a leaky pipe to a tin roof.  Today, I fear most young people have no idea what’s under their car hoods, much less how to fix anything in there.  Shop class used to be part of high school studies for the guys, at least to learn basic tool use, and home economics taught the girls how to cook and care for children and home.  Today such gender-focused studies would be considered sexist and thus evil by liberals.  So now few youngsters of either gender can cook or fix anything.

5.  How to balance a check book, or make change.
I learned early on the value of a dollar, by going to work in tobacco fields at age fourteen, by watching my frugal parents manage a budget, and from school classes.  I ran a two-pump country gas station part time by myself starting at age sixteen, washing every windshield and checking every customer’s oil, pumping their gas, doing all kinds of service from fixing flats to installing snow chains, and quickly figuring change for transactions without a calculator.  For example, change for a sale of $8.40 out of a twenty dollar bill would be ten dollars plus one dollar plus half a dollar plus a dime, or $11.60.  Simple, really.

6.  How to dance.
My parents sent me to ballroom dancing classes at twelve years old to learn a modicum of grace, and politeness toward girls.  Today it’s hard to tell if a youngster is dancing or having an epileptic fit.

7.  How to carry on a conversation without using the words like and awesome.