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Think you know fairy tales?  Think again.

Marissa Meyer is back with book 2 of the Lunar Chronicles, the story of Scarlet Benoit.  Scarlet is on a mission to find her grandmother, kidnapped from their farm several weeks ago.  The police have given up, convinced she left on her own, but Scarlet’s not alone – a street fighter nicknamed “Wolf” is helping her.  Those with any recollection of childhood stories will be a little suspicious of his motives, but Meyer manages to keep you guessing for a long time.

And then there’s the little matter of why Grandma was kidnapped.  Scarlet’s grandma was in the military, but that was decades ago.  Surely she couldn’t know anything worth kidnapping her over?

Meanwhile, a dangerous fugitive has broken out of prison.  Cinder, the cyborg from book 1 who lost her foot while running away from the ball, is on the loose!   All she wants is to be left alone, but she knows that’s not an option.  So she’s determined to find out more about her past.  Why does she have no memories before the age of 11?  Is there anyone who knows her story?

And, as the two women strive to find out the truth, the Lunar Queen makes her preparations for an invasion of Earth.

I loved this book.  The characterisation is impressive, the plot moves along at a pace that had me glued to the sofa, and there were enough little twists that knowing your fairy tales doesn’t help you predict what’s going to happen in anything more than a general sense.

In fact, only one thing annoys me – we’re expected to wait until 2014 for book 3!

I have observed that people are bad at observing big things.

A couple of months ago, I had my hair cut.  Nothing major, just seven or eight inches shorter… the only person to mention it was a nine year old Brownie, who asked if my hair was longer.

Yesterday I had one more inch taken off.

Every single female I have seen since then has commented on it.  The only man who commented was my husband, and I’m not sure that counts since he knew I was going to the hairdressers.

It puts me in mind of an experiment I read about.  It’s not totally related, but it does have to do with observation.  You may be aware of it, as it went through a phase of being talked about a lot not so long ago.  It’s the gorilla at the basketball game.  Here’s an explanation.

While out walking today I came across this:

Urban Art

Is this urban art, vandalism or a clever statement on the use of resources?

Just how bad are disposable cups anyway?  Our drinks dispenser at work gives out a plastic cup with each drink.  Most people have around 5 drinks a day (that being the number of free vends we are allowed!), 5 times a week, which is a whopping 1,100 plastic cups per person per year.

Now, if you place a mug in the machine before telling it what you want, it won’t give you a plastic cup.  If we all did that, would our impact on the environment be significant enough to be worth it?  It seems at first glance to be cut and dried – of course using one cup is better than using 1,100!  But, as always, there are complications.

This blog was an invaluable resource in doing this calculation.

Firstly, a list of things to consider:

  • The disposable cups are thin plastic, not polystyrene or paper.
  • The disposable cups are all recycled after use – so no landfill.
  • Mugs need to be washed – although I don’t wash mine after every drink, I know some people would.
  • Ceramic mugs are very energy intensive to make.
  • Transport costs – delivery and collection of disposable cups vs mugs.

A study from the 90’s looked at the energy requirements for different types of cups.  Unfortunately it didn’t compare ceramic with the thin plastic which we use, however it did show that ceramic mugs need to be used 1006 times to break even with polystyrene cups – mainly due to the cost of washing them.

Commercial dishwashers are around 51% more efficient now than they were in the 90s, so I looked at the sensitivity tests done in the Hocking study.  50% less energy in washing led to only 133 uses being needed – much more reasonable.

That study only looked at energy use.  We also have to account for the disposal.  Let’s assume that the breakage of ceramic mugs is negligible and the recycling of disposable cups balances out the extra delivery costs.  Then we can ignore both items in our calculation. (1)

So, with some sweeping generalisations, we come to the conclusion that using a mug instead of disposable plastic cups is well worth it – as long as you use it, say 200 times before you break it.

I’ve been using the same mug for around six years now, so at 1,100 drinks per year I’m feeling pretty good about the results of this calculation.

Which only leaves me with one question – urban art, vandalism or a clever statement on the use of resources?

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(1) For those who get the joke… assume the cow is spherical.

The Rapyuta Database is a project by European scientists – part of the Robo Earth project which aims to help standardise the way robots look at the world.  It can describe objects that they have met in terms they will understand, which means they won’t have to figure out how to deal with items they’ve never seen before.

…the goal of RoboEarth is to allow robotic systems to benefit from the experience of other robots, paving the way for rapid advances in machine cognition and behaviour, and ultimately, for more subtle and sophisticated human-machine interaction.

It can also help do complicated computations, helping those which need to do lots of number-crunching just to get around, like self-driving cars.

For those who understand what it means:

Robots can start their own computational environment, launch any computational node uploaded by the developer, and communicate with the launched nodes using the WebSockets protocol.

It is, the developers believe, a necessary step in getting robots out of the assembly line and into closer interaction with humans.  Otherwise each robot needs to do everything itself, and the cost of development and processing power would be enormous.

Which all sounds fine and dandy.  It’s hard to know what others think of the idea, since their blog doesn’t have much in the way of comments on it.

But to me it sounds eerily like the start of something bigger.

Something dangerous.

Something like a cross between this and this.

The mirror swirled with green and yellow, a confusing vortex of colour whirling around a central point.  Slowly, a face emerged from the chaos.  It was the face of a young man, exotic looking but not what any would call handsome.  There was just something slightly off about the way his eyes sat, the angle of his nose, the tilt of his chin.  Nothing that you could put your finger on, but it all added up to something less than pleasing.

He tilted his head and considered the woman before him.  Her question was the same as it had always been, but there was something tugging at his mind.  He cast his thoughts out across the land until he found the source of his troubles.

‘Thou, queen, art fair, and beauteous to see,
But Snow White is lovelier far than thee!’

“What?  It cannot be!  Why, just last week you declared me to be the prettiest in the land.”  The Queen paced back and forth in front of her mirror, frowning.  This would never do.  She was queen, so she should be the fairest!  What if the King’s eyes started to stray?  Or worse, he saw through her trickeries and potions, and realised that he didn’t love her at all?

“I shall send the huntsman to kill her,” she thought.  “He could take her into the woods and do the deed away from prying eyes.  But he might be seen leaving with her, and he might tell someone what he has been asked to do.  He has a softness about him which I do not like.  No, the huntsman will not do.  Far better to arrange for some slight… accident to befall my stepdaughter.”

So thinking, the Queen summoned Snow White to her chambers.  When the girl arrived she stood and smiled.

“My dear, I feel I have not had the chance to really know you since I married your father.  Would you take a walk with me?”

She smirked inwardly as the confusion and hope showed plainly on Snow White’s face.  The silly chit probably thought she wanted to be friends.  Ugh.  It was sickening, how much trust this girl had.

Fighting the urge to sweep majestically out of the room, she consciously slowed her pace to give the impression of an afternoon stroll.  She started a conversation about some trivial matter of palace politics, and paid only enough attention to the girl’s reply to know when it was appropriate to nod and smile.  Fortunately, given a prompt, the girl seemed able to witter on without stopping.

Slowly, they wound their way through the gardens.  After stopping to smell the roses and admire the size of the fruit developing on the apple trees, the Queen suggested they look out upon the city.  They climbed the outer stair to the walls, and there the Queen’s plan had an unexpected boost.  Snow White herself suggested that the view might be better from the top of one of the towers. The Queen was careful not to sound too eager in her agreement, but inwardly was gloating.  There was even a guard close enough to have heard who made the suggestion!

At the top of the very tallest tower, it was a simple matter to manoeuver the girl close to the edge.  A slight distraction, a sharp push, and the matter was concluded.

The Queen was sure to sound suitably shocked when she screamed for help.

 

Epilogue: The Mirror Swirls

The mirror swirled with green and yellow, a confusing vortex of colour whirling around a central point.  Slowly, a face emerged from the chaos.  It was the face of a young man, exotic looking but not what any would call handsome.

It was the same face that the Queen had looked at many times since she acquired the mirror, of that she was certain.  And yet, there was something different.  Was the skin perhaps paler?  The hair darker?  The lips a touch redder?  There was nothing she could put her finger on, but the face was not quite as off as it had been.

She shook her head irritably and asked her question.

The Daily Prompt on Monday challenged everyone to pick a letter of the alphabet and write a blog entry without it.  I picked the letter between R and T, and even up to now I have needed to re-word a lot!  I think the current writing will not be very long.

In a vain effort to write about an intriguing topic, I want to examine the employ of new grammar in fiction.

I have before tried to write a piece in which the main character was of a third gender – neither male nor female.  The third gender appeared a third of the time in that world, rather than only once in a while, and I had to build a new grammar to account for it.  I needed a new pronoun.  I found it hard to remember to utilize it where needed.

Have you ever changed language to better tell a tale?  How did you find it?

I got my colours analysed at the weekend.  For those who care (and understand what it means) it turns out that I am Summer, flowing into Spring.  Lots of cooler, blue-based colours in my ideal palette.  Fortunately, this means that my Guiding uniform is pretty much the perfect colour scheme for me.  Useful, since I have no intention of stopping wearing it.

I undertook this experiment to ensure that when I buy new clothes (something which I usually put off doing because it’s such a chore) I buy ones which flatter me and I actually wear.  As a side effect, I may be more confident and professional-looking at work.

It got me thinking, though, about the things that people believe influence each other.

  • How I look influences how I feel, and how other people perceive me.  This I can understand, there are psychological factors at work.  You know, actual science.
  • Your upbringing and parentage influences how you are seen – Dad’s in jail?  I bet the child’s not great.  Thick Geordie accent?  Probably a bit rough.  Sounds like a typical Southern Hillbilly?  Probably a bit slow.*  They are stereotypes for a reason, but obviously there are going to be exceptions.
  • Does your name influence your behaviour?  If you are called “Theodore” will you work harder and be more grown-up than if you are called “Teddy”?
  • Some people believe that when you were born influences your personality – star signs and horoscopes.  There’s a little (alright, a lot) less evidence for this one, but somehow people still believe it.  So just because I was born in early May, I must be stable, home-loving, conservative, loyal, stubborn, careful with money, and reliable?
  • The Japanese believe that your blood group influences your personality – to the extent that senior politicians use it as an excuse:

After then-Reconstruction Minister Ryu Matsumoto‘s abrasive comments towards the governors of Iwate and Miyagi forced him to step down from his post, he partially blamed his behaviour on his blood type, saying “My blood is type B, which means I can be irritable and impetuous, and my intentions don’t always come across.”

Interestingly, my Japanese blood type personality lists my best traits as “earnest, creative, sensible, reserved, patient, responsible”, and my worst traits as “fastidious, overearnest, stubborn, tense”, which shows a startling amount of overlap with the Taurus characteristics I mentioned earlier.  Neither of them describes me perfectly, but combined they don’t do too badly.  Of course, they’re quite vague…

Another thought which springs to mind is to wonder what happens when someone is transfused with a not-quite-right blood type – like a type AB receiving blood from a type O.

Wrenching myself back on topic, the colour experience was interesting.  It confirmed a lot of things which I understood instinctively but hadn’t really thought about, but also contained a number of surprises.  Like the number of different shades of Navy Blue.

Have you ever had your colours done?  What surprised you most?  And have you ever been surprised by the beliefs people have about what influences their behaviour?

 

* Out of curiosity, does anyone know what accent people from the south US countryside put on when they’re trying to mock a stupid person?

I’ve always wanted to feel like a movie star.

The thought popped into her head as she ran through the meadow towards her lover, causing her to laugh.  The wind whipped her hair around her face and the sun lit the scene with all the ferocity of a newborn kitten.  Beneath her feet flowers danced among the grass.

Suddenly her foot sank deep into a rabbit hole and she fell, cursing, into the mud.  She picked herself up and tried to stand, but her ankle collapsed and she fell again.  Choking back tears she saw her lover start to sprint towards her.

She didn’t look back, but she knew it was hopeless.

The zombie horde would reach her long before he did.

The Author

Nicola Higgins is a 30-something martial artist who runs two Brownie packs and works full time. She somehow still finds time to write.

Her favourite genres are near-future and alternate world science fiction and fantasy.

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