Saturday, July 29, 2017

Why the Muller-Lyer Illusion Disappears in the Future

Familiar with the Muller-Lyer Illusion?  Well, if not, here it is.  Many people perceive the line on the right to be longer than the one on the left.  Up to 20% longer, and it’s not.  It’s the same length.  Do we know what causes this illusion?  Well, maybe. 

I won’t bore you with the details (well, not all of them anyway), but one popular theory is that we ‘learn’ it from our experience in right-angle environments, the so-called ‘carpentered worlds.’  The line on the right looks like an inside corner – like the corner of a room, if you’re sitting in one.  The line on the left, an outside corner.  Since the inside corner is receding in distance, we perceive it to be longer than the outside corner that is sticking out toward you, even if physically (e.g., by a ruler) they are the same length.

Got that?  Amazing what our brains do, even if they fool us once and a while…or more.  But, the question for today:  what happens to the Muller-Lyer in the future?  I have my guess – it disappears.

It’s not that we stop carpentering our worlds in right angles.  I doubt that.  But our experience with depth becomes stunted.  Our friends and family don’t live down the block.  They live on our 2D phone and tablet surfaces.  Even film and game makers give up on 3D glasses and head-mounted displays.  The body’s sense that we aren't moving never lines up with 3D when it says we are.  And besides, who needs 3D when our heroes save the world from an alien invasion using their 2D, battle-command interface?  A 3D film to show a 2D screen…huh?

But what about just plain getting around in the future?  Between virtual work and every retailer dropping orders into your drone-delivery chute, it’s rare.  And when we do go out, the first thing we do in our self-driving car is turn all the windows into 2D displays.  Wouldn’t want to miss the latest 2D video of a dog chasing its tail.

So, I’m telling you this as a favor.  You see, the next time I’m in a fender-bender or even have a disagreement with a light pole, I’m telling the officer, “Sorry, but it’s not my fault.  See, I’m just ahead of my time in losing my depth perception.”

Image by Twincinema at sv.wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Book Review: The Killdeer Connection (Lawyer David Thompson Series Book 1) by Tom Swyers

A Shaky Plot and Somewhat Preachy Dialog Limits this Book’s Appeal

The Killdeer Connection is the story of lawyer David Thompson’s struggle to clear his name after he is falsely accused of killing an acquaintance, Harold Salar.  And when a possible link to terrorism comes up, Thompson is fighting for his life.  One of his main clues?  A cryptic message in Salar’s will that says, ‘always follow the killdeer’ – a message that has a host of meanings, both symbolic and literal.

Swyer is an excellent writer – one who is particularly adept at creating visual descriptions that convey the underlying psychology of a situation, as well as the physical scene.  The initial meeting at Baxter & Chadwick, lawyers for the oil industry, and at the oil field in Williston, North Dakota, are particularly good examples.  If there is a flaw in these descriptions, it’s that they do tend to be overly long and in some cases, misplaced.  The scene where Thompson and a friend, Jim, are watching dust particles, until Jim chases them away with a hand is an example of the latter issue.  I had a hard time picturing why anyone would be doing that.

Thompson as the protagonist was cast as the man who tried to do it all himself, tending toward sarcasm and deceit as his tools.  When he wasn’t making excuses or telling half-truths to everyone from his wife to the FBI, he was preaching about the dangers of transporting oil by rail – complete with statistics.  True, it is dangerous, but he wasn’t comparing its pros and cons against pipelines or alternative energy.  He was sermonizing and those sections became ponderous.  By the end, Thompson was transformed by his experiences…maybe.  But even at the conclusion, he was grandstanding and reveling in his moral stands.  I never came around to liking him.

One of my biggest concerns, however, was that the plot was shaky.  For example, physical evidence links Thompson to the murder scene when he clears a spot and sits down near the body.  While that is odd enough, at least two later scenes have him running into the apartment holding his breath because the smell is so bad, even though the body has been removed.  The notion that the FBI would consider Thompson a terrorist based on the evidence they had seemed ludicrous.  That they would even think terrorism was a motive given the nature of the crimes was not believable to start with.  How could Salar have left the clues he supposedly did when he was being accosted?  Why did Salar put Thompson in such an awkward position when his objectives could have been accomplished many other ways?  Etc.

The author has some reveals at the conclusion that tie up some loose ends, but several of the apparent twists involve revelations that have little to do with the story.  Many other questions that are germane, however, remain unanswered.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Book Review: Repository by Ela Lond

A Near-Future YA/Cozy Mystery with A Somewhat Predictable End

Set one hundred years in the future, Repository is the story of Maya Bell, an eighteen-year-old university student who stumbles across an apparent murder.  Teaming with a classmate from high school who’s now a policeman-in-training, Damien Cain, they pursue the case as it grows from an isolated incident to a major conspiracy built on a heinous disregard of life.

Repository has the feel of a young adult or cozy mystery even if it’s not classified that way (it’s in the Mystery/Thriller, women and amateur sleuth genre on Amazon).  That feel suits the story well, as much of the excitement comes from the optimism and enthusiasm of youth.  Why call in backup or carefully stake out a potential crime scene when you can rush in unprepared?  But that feel also dampens some of the emotion when its needed.  On discovering the atrocious nature of the crime they were investigating, the comment was that it’s “…horrible and really disgusting.”

Maya was easy to like as the over-achieving, guilt-ridden student turned sleuth.  And other than the immaturity that seemed extreme in places, Damien was as well.  Pacing was good, although there seemed some unnecessary repetition.  Overall, the plot was somewhat predictable; it was fairly clear from about the middle of the book what was happening and how it would end.  The details getting there, of course, were unknown and the author does an admirable job keeping the reader immersed to the end.

As a story set one-hundred years in the future, Repository provided a somewhat ‘mixed bag’ of future technology.  One gadget that was featured was wearable computing in the form of glasses – a tech novelty that may have already come and gone.  And a lot of the technology seemed 2017 era – emails and dishwashers – or not as far along as you might expect, e.g., androids could be distinguished from humans because of their unsynchronized lip movement.  In 100 years, really?  But there were androids and an Artificial Intelligence with a personality chip, the latter being a lot of fun.

So, if you’re a fan of well-written, YA/cozy mysteries and don’t mind a somewhat predictable finale, you’ll enjoy Repository.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Ah, Those Realistic, Unreal Partners

Recently, I noticed a story about a Japanese man who claimed to have fallen in love with his sex doll.  Maybe that’s not too surprising.  I mean, men have been falling in love with lots of nonhuman things for years – our jobs, our cars, the fictional characters in our books.  (Not me personally, mind you.  I’m only mildly infatuated with Diane Stapleton and Nicole Veles, but some authors.)

Anyway, I was cruising through the story online ( until I hit a quote from Hideo Tsuchiya, the managing director of doll maker Orient Industry, “More men are buying them because they feel they can actually communicate with the dolls.” 

Communicate?  These are inanimate globs of silicone?  Lifelike?  Yeah, we’ve come a long way from this picture, but still….

What, I wondered, is going to happen when these dolls start talking back?  And actually, that day is here already, isn’t it?  Take RealDoll's “Harmony,” an artificially intelligent sexbot that can hold conversations.  She (it) even remembers and has a customizable personality.

And the quality of the conversation, you might ask?  Well, we’re far beyond the early days of text-to-speech, when you could type a phrase into your computer and get a good laugh as it mispronounced the words in its robotic voice.  If you want a demo and have any Amazon Alexa-powered device, just say “Alexa, let’s chat.”  You’ll get the university finalists in the inaugural $2.5 million Alexa Prize to advance conversational AI.

How is this all going to change life and lust as we know it?  I’m not sure.  Maybe I’ll go have a chat with Diane or Nicole, see what they have to say.

Happy Writing,
Image by Rico Shen [CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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Sunday, July 9, 2017

A Plug for A Book…Not One of My Own!

As a book blogger/reviewer, I keep a backlog of titles on which I’ve drafted a review.  When I’m lucky, it’s got two books on it – it’s usually empty.  But there’s been one book on my agenda for quite a while - The Emotional Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.

It’s not that I’m at a lack for words - when has that every happened?  It’s just, if I wrote something, it couldn’t be a review.  I can’t say, it has great action with complex characters and some mind-blowing twists.  It’s a reference book…for writers.  But then, that’s where it fits.  So, writers, my two cents.

For each of 75 different feelings, The Emotional Thesaurus provides possible body language cues, thoughts, and visceral responses.  So, first and foremost, it gives us a creative nudge.  It’s not that you can’t have your characters ‘roll their eyes’ 87 times in a book…although two may be one too many.  But expressive variety is the spice of reading.  The Emotional Thesaurus helps.

At this point, I should probably stop, but the psychologist in me won’t, because I wondered – how does The Emotional Thesaurus deal with the fact that there isn’t a one-to-one correspondence between visceral responses and emotion?  Research has shown that if your heart’s racing and your palms are sweaty, your brain will look for reasons in the environment.  But then, that idea has been widely accepted for years in the ‘fight or flight response.’  The same bodily reactions are interpreted anywhere from a reason to lace up the gloves to a reason to lace up the running shoes.  The Thesaurus deals with that issue the only way it could – by recognizing it.  There are 21 references to increased heart rate in the Thesaurus, because let’s face it, a racing heart is part of a lot of different emotions.

So, I guess that’s about it for this post, as I sit here with my heart pounding in my ears…I’ll let you guess the emotional context.  

Get a copy today

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Friday, July 7, 2017

You Gotta Love the Optimism

I love book giveaways for the instant recognition they get.  I run one on Goodreads for every new release, watching as hundreds of people add it to their to-be-read (TBR) list.  Zero to 400 potential readers in two weeks.  And all I have to do is sign a few proof copies and ship them off.
Of course, I’m interested in my new best friends, so I checked out a few of their TBR lists.  Some are long.  There were ones with a few hundred titles…or a few thousand…or how about over 110,000?  Wow, the optimism of it all!
How long, I wondered, would it take to read 110,000 books?  Well, my library gives me 3 weeks to read a book, but if you’re in the 100,000 plus league, you probably polish them off at a pretty good rate.  Let’s say, 3 days per book.  And let’s say this person is getting an early start and is only 12 years old when he/she amasses the list.
By my trusty little calculator and giving this individual Leap Year’s Day off once every four years, he/she can expect to polish off the list at the ripe old age of 916.
So, knowing that, what am I doing?  I’m busy on edition 2 of Half A Mind, looking forward to the day when I can have a Goodreads Giveaway on it, because that instant recognition is just so cool.

Image by Eneas De Troya from Mexico City, México (Lectura para unas vidas) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Book Review: Liberty Boy by David Gaughran

The Historical Context is Excellent; the Fictional Story, Not So Much

Historical fiction is, obviously, part history and part story.  Liberty Boy did well in creating the look and feel of the period (the British oppression and Robert Emmet’s uprising in 1803 Ireland), but the accompanying fiction had the feel of a formulaic romance.  I was hoping for more.

Liberty Boy conveyed a feeling of helplessness and oppression that seems appropriate to the period.  The nature of home life, work, social interactions, and political intrigue in this part of the world and time all felt true.  Simply put, the book made a period in history that I knew little about come to life, as good historical fiction will often do.

The pacing of the story was OK to a bit slow with some repetition or unnecessary emphasis, and yet, the book was a quick read.  Perhaps that’s because it’s relatively short.  Character development was good.  I particularly enjoyed Kitty Doyle, who is brash, aggressive, and daring, which of course, stirs the pot in her world.  Development of Jimmy O'Flaherty, on the other hand, started well, but by the end, he seemed both too good and too rudderless to be real.

The plot that went with the history, however, was the primary letdown for me.  In general, it followed a well-worn recipe for romances – keep the potential young lovers apart through a series of misunderstandings, poor timing, and chance events to build emotional tension.  And then…  Well, to finish that thought would give away the ending, but it’s one of the two possible – they get together or they don’t.  But either way, the storyline already felt stale.

So, while the romance was somewhat trite and predictable, the feel of the period comes through at nearly a gut level, making Liberty Boy a worthwhile read.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

My Blogger to Google+ Experiment

In the last month or two, I’ve noticed that the post images that are shared to my Google+ profile are not the same as the original images on Blogger.  The last example was my review of Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane.  Although his cover appeared on my blog, my Google+ followers were treated to the cover of my book, In the Space of an Atom, in its place.  (I thought I heard a chorus of ‘how smug can he get!’)
Hey, not my fault.  It’s automation out of control.
There is, of course, a Google+ help community that recommended the following:
When you share a post on Google+, it looks for an image with an original dimension that is at least 506 pixels wide. If you don't have an image in your blog post that is wide enough, Google+ may pick (something else).
Sure enough, my cover image of Since We Fell is only 331 pixels wide, well short of the magic number. 
So, to make it up to Dennis, who I am sure is quite upset that his cover didn’t appear in Google+, I’m embedding a version I enlarged using a simple picture editor as an experiment.  Hopefully, his cover appears and not mine, since I don’t wish to be tagged as the shameless self-promoter of Google+.