Archive for May, 2019

High School–A New Perspective

I’m not by any means a school administrator or teacher or school superintendent or member of a school board, though I do have a high school diploma and college and postgraduate degrees, and I have taught a few science courses in college and postgraduate education.  But as an outside observer, I’ve been watching high school through the last sixty or so years, and I’ve heard of how high school prepares students for adulthood, both good and bad.  Generally speaking, high school hasn’t changed much from when I attended, all those years ago.  It’s time for high school to enter the modern world and I would like to offer a very general plan that would bring high school into the new century.

I suggest that high school (I’m including grades 9-12 as “high school”) go on a quarter system, to be held year round.  Four quarters a year, fall, winter, spring and summer, with the school to remain open all year, and courses available all four quarters.  Each student would have to accumulate enough points for graduation, with one point given for each course completed.  Since this is on a quarter system rather than semester system or the six 6-week periods prevalent when I was in high school, the amount of education represented by each point would, of course, change.  Those points would be distributed over a variety of courses to result in a student prepared for his/her next step, whether that be college, trade school, or just getting a job.  Courses would include English (including grammar, reading for comprehension, writing) math, social studies, science, arts, physical education, participation courses such as athletics (football, baseball, etc.), or band, drama, choir and so forth.  This isn’t much different from the curriculum most high schools offer now.  But what I suggest is that each student be free—after the age of 16—to attend courses at her/his own pace.  Up to age 16, students would be required to attend high school and take a certain number of courses on a year round basis.  After 16, students would be allowed to take courses as they see fit, and obtain a diploma when they have accumulated the proper number of points.  I foresee graduation exercises at the end of every quarter.

I’m sure that the summer quarter would be lightly attended if this schedule were put into effect now, but after a while, I suspect students would appreciate the ability to take courses year round to graduate as soon as their own abilities allow.  Some students will jump at the chance to graduate earlier than they would by the current system.  Others, such as students who have an outside job, might graduate later.  But giving students a little more freedom to pursue education at their own pace might reduce the stress on students to graduate under the rigid and time-intensive system we have now.  No more closing the schools in the summer.

The practice of closing schools in the summer is a hold-over from when students had to help the family during the summer.  That’s not true so much any more, though if a student wanted to work in the summer under this system, he/she is free to do so.  Even when I was in high school, that wasn’t true.

Additionally, students would be allowed to take courses above the level necessary for graduation.  A student might take a second year of algebra to prepare for college, if she/he wanted.  A student could also come back later and pick up a course in order to be better prepared to get a job.  I would like to have taken a course in woodworking in high school, but could never fit it into my schedule.

This type of schedule is more like college, but I think students, at 16 and above, would be better served by allowing them to go at their own pace.   Granted, some students may stretch their coursework out over more than four years, but that should be up to them.  A high school diploma indicates that the student has met the requirements for graduation, and those requirements are designed to give the student a well-rounded education, regardless of how long it takes.  A high school diploma is still a high school diploma.

This isn’t a big change in high school education.  The content of courses wouldn’t change much other than to switch to a quarter system.  This system is based more on the idea that students have better control over their education, in both pace and content, which is a more realistic situation here in the Twenty-first Century.

Any other suggestions?

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Mental Telepathy In Science Fiction

I’m currently working on a story of about 23,000 words (that makes it a “novella” or “novelette,” depending on your definition) that has to do with humans from Earth who come in contact with beings on another planet who communicate almost entirely by mental telepathy.  Their brains are so big—maybe 50 to 100 times the size and mass of an adult human brain—that they have developed the physical power to send signals to others of their species in the their immediate vicinity.  They’re all on the same wavelength, so to speak.  These signals are received as communication.  Literally.  The signals are received as a string of words, in the same way we communicate with a string of words using the vibrations of our vocal cords to send vibrations through a gaseous medium, air.  These creatures have no specific organs of communication as we do at all.

All of that got me to thinking.  How does one species communicate by mental telepathy to another species if they speak different languages?  Is mental telepathy even possible in that situation?  A string of words just won’t work because the recipient still won’t understand the meaning of the transmission.  But in my story, one of the two main characters is capable of understanding the foreign species.  In fact, that’s the whole basis of the story, that humans may be able to contact beings on another world.  But, the devil is in the details: how would that work?  Science fiction writers might want to take note of this; it could be useful in stories about first contact(s).

I did a little looking around at the concept of “mental telepathy,” and it’s usually defined as the ability to communicate through means not involving talking, reading, or any other standard method.  It’s basically a sort of transmission from one mind to another.  But that’s as far as it goes.  I haven’t found anyone who has actually wondered how it takes place.  What is it that’s being transmitted?  If someone says she/he can read another person’s mind, what is it they are reading?  In my humble, and perhaps somewhat flippant opinion, here’s three possible ways that mental  telepathy might actually take place, in order of simplest to most complex.

1.  By concepts only.  In this method, only broad concepts are actually being transmitted from one to another.  The concept of rocket propulsion, for example.  Or weightlessness in the vacuum of outer space.  The necessity of an atmosphere for life to exist.  No actual images are sent, and no details at all.

2.  Mind visualization.  In this method, actual images are sent.  That could transmit a vast amount of information.  The image of an Apollo space capsule, inside and out, for example, would tell the recipient—assuming he’s sophisticated in space travel—just what it was like for our species to travel to another heavenly body in the early stages of our space program.  The information transmitted would be only in the image itself.  Any other information, say, what it was like to live in one of those cramped capsules, would have to be inferred by the recipient.  But an Apollo space capsule in one language would be an Apollo space capsule in any other.

3.  Transmission of a string of words.  This I expect would be the most complicated form of transmission, but would convey the greatest amount of information.  That is, of course, what words are designed to do.  An image of the Apollo space capsule might give a visitor from another planet a lot of information, but many details he/she (it?) might not understand.  Words, description, these would be the most detailed.  But the recipient of the mental transmission of a string of words would have to understand the language of the sender to be able to interpret it. and so this method, while highly accurate, might be seriously limited.

I’m not an expert in ESP or mental telepathy, certainly, and I’ve never heard if any of these methods are currently being tested.  I’m not sure if mental telepathy really exists outside of science fiction.  It’s a controversial subject in real life, but in science fiction the sky’s the limit.  If you need mental telepathy in your writing, have a go at one of these types.  They seem, to me, to be the most likely modes of transmission of information.


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The Pikes Peak Writers Conference–2019

The Pikes Peak Writers Conference for 2019, held yearly in Colorado Springs, was last weekend, May 3-5, 2019.  Here’s a few impressions and takeaways I gleaned from the conference.  Not comprehensive by any means.

Several speakers at the sessions I attended used the acronym “GMC” in their talks.  This stands for “Goal/Motivation/Conflict,” three factors totally and absolutely necessary in the construction of a novel.  I’d heard of each of those before, of course.  You don’t study writing fiction without running into them over and over.  But I’d never heard them grouped together in that manner.  A very concise way to remember them.

Carol Berg gave an interesting talk on building order from chaos.  The foundation of the story, she says, is layered from paragraph, scene, and story arc.  Each paragraph draws readers through one idea, one topic.  Each has one speaker.  The first line of a paragraph should not be a summary of the paragraph.  It’s not meant to be a preview of what’s coming.  Paragraphs are merged into one scene.  Each scene must contribute to the rising tension of the story.  Each scene has a starting point and an ending point, and each affects what happens from that point on.  All are essential to building the story arc.  She recommends reading everything out loud to get a feel for the rhythm of the narrative.  Good idea.

Brenda Speer, a lawyer practicing intellectual property law in Colorado Springs, gave a talk on using facts in fiction and nonfiction.  Interestingly, she recommends getting permission from the person or agency who holds the rights to song lyrics before quoting them in a literary work.  I—and many others, I understand—had always assumed that quoting just a couple of words or a few lines from a song or poem or similar work, would be okay either without, or with minimal attribution.  Her feeling was: always get permission even for the shortest of quotes.  Good to know.

Stant Litore gave a good talk on creating an unforgettable civilization in your work.  Valuable for us sci-fi writers.  Build a world either from the bottom up, that is, create a whole new world completely, or use the world we live in as a basis for a modified world that may look familiar, but has one or more unusual aspects.  Interesting.  I even bought one of his books.

Jennifer Rose talked on creating strong female characters.  Of course you want your female characters, especially if they are the leading character, to be strong and capable of carrying the story.  That applies to females as much as males.  Female lead characters should be developed from the “ground up” as much as any male character.  They are as capable as a man, but they aren’t superhuman.  They have vulnerabilities too.  There should be more than one female character in a story.  Give them someone to talk to.  They can have friendships with men that are not sexual.

Jonathan Mayberry talked about the short story, though most of his talk was geared toward submitting to anthologies, a process he’s very familiar with.  The most interesting comment he made was that, in submitting to literary journals or magazines, submit to only one at a time.  I’ve submitted many short stories to literary magazines, and most of the time it has been as a set of submissions to several journals at one time.  Apparently, journal editors don’t like this.  They prefer an exclusive look at the story.  I can understand them wanting that,  but it can take one journal several months to reply about your story, so I (and many others I understand), still submit to several journals at a time.  I’m not sure if I’ll change my submission habits or not.  Oh, well.

I talked to Lesley Sabga, an agent from the Seymour Agency, at the meeting, and she requested a look at the full manuscript of the first volume of my sci-fi trilogy.  I sent it and a short synopsis and literary resume a few days after getting back.  She also requested a very short summary of the second and third in the trilogy.  We’ll see what happens.