Thursday, January 31, 2013

Vocab Builder: J

Vocab Builder: J
Vocab Builder: J. Image logo created by me.
Welcome to the tenth of the Vocab Builder series. Last time we covered the letter I. This week, for those not following the pattern, we will look at the letter J.

A strong vocabulary allows you to select the precise word for what your trying to say.Whether you make jardinières, or are a jeunesse dorée you should have a strong vocabulary suited to your situation.

It has been commented that it is all very well knowing these words but one mustn't show off vocabulary for the sake of it. Remember if you want to use these words make sure you are using them correctly and because they are the right word for the job. Let's start:


Meaning:  an ornamental stand for flowers
or             a garnish made of cooked pieced vegetables used for meat

Sentence:  The orcs may be a feared race, but they were partial to jardinières on their human meat stew.

Origin:  Old French. Jardin means garden, jardinière means female gardener

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Beta Testing

I was lucky enough to receive a key for the Closed Simcity Beta on Saturday. Whilst this beta only allows you to play 1 hour at a time and it ends tomorrow, it did make me think about how we as writers can test our ideas.

All betas need beta testers. In games they are gamers, in writing they are readers and reviewers.

So what are the purposes of the Simcity beta test and how do they relate to writing?

Simcity Closed Beta Cover
Image from

Server Stress Testing

For a game like the new Simcity making sure the servers can handle all the users (as it is an online only game). Server stress testing essentially checks how many users a server can handle before it buckles. The Maxis team would then know how to configure the real game servers when it is officially released.

For writers we can liken stress testing to character limit testing. How many characters can a single scene, or indeed the whole story, handle before the reader buckles and says 'I can't handle this many characters!'

If a reader says they are confused, it may be that you have too many characters. Look at each of your characters and work out if they are strictly necessary. If not then you might want to consider cutting them.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Can you store data in DNA?

Welcome to the latest Science for Writers post. Last time we discussed the a variety of topics in The Top 4 Questions you Never Knew you Wanted to Ask. In this post I will be investigating a piece of cutting edge technology that could revolutionise data storage this century. Even if it doesn't, it can certainly make a massive impact in your science fiction stories.

I have put important words in bold. These words are important in science and I will refer to them throughout the post. It isn't overly important for you to know the exact meaning, so long as you get the gist of what I'm talking about you will be fine following this post.

Writing Links are in italics and these discuss how the science could be used in writing.

What is DNA?

Image from
DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid. It is a double helix that is essentially the genetic instructions that everything in a living organism follows.

Each 'rung' on this ladder like structure consists of two nucleobases. These bases are parts of the genetic code. There are a total of 4 bases that can appear in a DNA molecule: Adenine, Thymine, Cytosine, and Guanine.

There are specific rules to how these bases can combine. A can only connect with T, and C can only connect with G. Each base pair is made up of one of those pairings. A is connected to T by 2 Hydrogen Bonds (that is connected by the Hydrogen atoms in their structure), and C is connected to G by 3 Hydrogen Bonds.

But, DNA is more than just 4 types of bases. Each base is also part of what is known as a Nucleotide. A Nucleotide consists of a Phosphate group, a sugar with 5 Carbon atoms  (called deoxyribose) and the base (A, T, C, or G). The Phosphate group connects to the sugar of another Nucleotide, and one side of the ladder is formed. The other side is formed in exactly the same way. Both sides are then connected to each other by the Hydrogen Bonds between bases I mentioned earlier.

Writing Link:  If DNA is what codes for everything in our bodies, imagine the power a villain would

Friday, January 25, 2013

Review of: The Well of Ascension (Mistborn book 2) by Brandon Sanderson

The Well of Ascension
The Well of Ascension cover art
This review is long overdue. I actually finished reading the book a few days before Christmas, but exams and such prevented me from writing this review.

This review may contain spoilers of the previous book, but I endeavour not to spoil any of this book.

As in The Final Empire, Brandon Sanderson has done an excellent job on pretty much all fronts with this book. The characters are very well developed, and despite the relatively large cast, I felt enough time was devoted to each one to warrant an emotional attachment. Character is, in my opinion, the overwhelming theme of the books so far. Each character changes throughout the book and a lot of the changes shocked me.

I don't want to give anything away in this review, but for the majority of the book I had no idea who the traitor was. I had inklings, but all were wrong. Only in the chapter where the traitor was revealed did I actually guess correctly. Looking back I realise Sanderson had littered the entire book with hints about the traitor. By revealing little bits of character information for all the characters and making sure some of these were contradictory, he manges to maintain suspense and make the process of working out the traitor very effective.

The book very usefully has a summary of book 1 in the back. As I left a couple of weeks between ending book 1 and starting book 2 I found this very helpful in getting back up to speed. There are also useful charts for all the allomantic and feruchemical metals featured in the book. Additionally there is a glossary of some of

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Man Booker International Prize

The Man Booker International Prize is a prize given out biannually to a writer who has contributed to fiction in a major way. Typically it is awarded to an author with a large catalogue of quality fiction. It is not limited to just novelists, writers of short stories are also entered, though I believe it is mainly novelists who win. Also it is required the nominees write or have been translated in English.

The short-list for this 2013's prize is as follows:

  • U R Ananthamurthy
    • Born December 21st 1932
    • India
    • Best known for the novel Samskara (1966) about culture and cultural survival
    • Portfolio consists of 5 novels, 1 play, eight short-story collections, 3 poetry collections, and 8 essay collections
  • Aharon Applefeld
    • Born February 16th 1932
    • Ukraine
    • Best known for Badenheim, 1939 (1997) about disability
    • Described as a 'displaced writer of displaced fiction, who has made displacement and disorientation a subject uniquely his own.' (New York Times, 1988)
  • Lydia Davis

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Vocab Builder: I

Vocab Builder: I
Vocab Builder: I. Image logo created by me.
Welcome to the ninth of the Vocab Builder series. Last time we covered the letter H. This week, for those not following the pattern, we will look at the letter I.

A strong vocabulary allows you to select the precise word for what your trying to say.Whether you're an inimical person with insouciance who is irrefragably ineffable, or live in indigence who's intransigent, you should have a strong vocabulary suited to your situation.

It has been commented that it is all very well knowing these words but one mustn't show off vocabulary for the sake of it. Remember if you want to use these words make sure you are using them correctly and because they are the right word for the job. Let's start:


Meaning:  severe poverty

Sentence:  The elves were driven to indigence by the orc overlord.

Origin:  Latin. Indigere means 'to need'.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Greetings, Harold

My written exams are over. My Chemistry practical exam is complete. My Biology practical (ISA) is tomorrow and the written part of the practical element on January the 29th. However, my ISA preparations are going well, so I still have time to blog today. Most of the prep is in lesson time anyway.

Tomorrow I am going to start on The Magician's Tattoo properly again. In the latter part of 2012 I essentially deleted everything and started again. Three chapters have been written so far, and I hope to get chapter four completed this month and at least one chapter a month.

Image from
A few days into 2013, I started thinking about my characters. One thing that I couldn't get passed was Kwaad's name. As the novel isn't very long at the moment anyone who has read it won't notice the issue with his name, but I do. After all, I have done world building for the novel and so I'd hope I'd spot discrepancies within the world I created.

Every magician in the The Magician's Tattoo has a normal name. There is a little bit of comedy in the opening chapter when it is revealed the eccentric 'magic man' in the purple dressing gown is called Brian. However, despite this comedy, normal names are common in the magical world. They have different cultures to normal people (which will be developed later in the novel) but not so drastic that names are different. The normal people and magician populations developed along side each other. The only major difference is that magician's are magic and so have developed a religion (or religions on the world wide scale) based on how they get magic. But because they developed together their naming conventions aren't going to be too different.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Writer of the Fortnight

Welcome to the first of what I hope to be a fortnightly (who'd've guessed) Writer of the Fortnight. On there are many great writers, and I enjoy reading much of the brilliant work people post on there. As part of my fantasy writing group there is a contest titled Magic Words where entrants are tasked with writing a short story that includes all five words from one of two lists of words. The contest isn't ran by me, but I help judge it.

The winner of the last round chose the word list with Symbiotic, Ring, Halcyon, Penumbra, and Diffuse. His tale was one with a gripping plot and disturbing protagonist, plagued with lifestyle dictated by a mystical living ring. The ring wants nothing other than to survive, but to do this will lead its master to commit terrible, murderous deeds.

So, I would like to award Writer of the Fortnight to O. G. Patterson (Sir Various) for writing Crux of Madness.

Writer of the Fortnight
Writer of the fortnight - Sir Various
Original image from, edited by me

You can follow Patterson's blog at

To entice you to read the story, here's the opening paragraph:

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Physics Wall

I had intended to write this yesterday (Thursday). But my exams finished on Wednesday so I din't have time. Yes, you read that right, my exams finished before I intended to post and yet I didn't have time. It is a funny time, post-exam period. All throughout the intense revision pre-exams and during exams you think about what you'll do once your exams are over. Then they finish and you find yourself bogged down doing a whole load of nothing in particular. Every little thing takes time and the time between each little thing takes even more time. Essentially I've been busy being not busy.

Anyway, I said I would post about my Physics Wall, just like I did with Biology and Chemistry. So, before I find more nothing to do, I better show it to you all:

The equations are all arranged so that they follow a logical pattern. For example you can derive any of the formulae on the top row using the other 3 on that row. The top two rows are for circular motion and gravitational fields. As they are so connected, I mixed the formulas together. The third row is for oscillations. One the fourth row are equations for Thermal Physics and Ideal Gasses. Any chemist will notice that those 4 sheets are very much chemistry related. In fact the last one on that row is also used in AS Chemistry. The bottom row follows on from Thermal and Ideal, but covers the concepts rather than the equations. The larger table is about the Assumptions of the Kinetic Theory of Gasses, for example.

I found the Physics exam hard, but manageable. It is one of those which I simply can't call. I also retook Chemistry Unit 2 (an AS unit) on Wednesday, and thought it went really well.

The eagle eyed amongst you may have noticed I have 3 periodic tables ... all on the same wall. The top one which is mostly cut off has the most detail. The one on the pin-board is from the University of Warwick. It doesn't include the names, rather just the symbols (which for me isn't a problem as when I'm bored I see how far I can get without checking). The bottom one is a pull out from the Theodore Gray - The Elements wall calendar (not shown) and has picture for all the elements (some just show the discoverer or crest of the university it was discovered at).

Now, for those who live under a rock, it has been snowing a bit. Here's a picture of my dog, Toby, in the nearby park (not taken by me):

Dog in Snow

I feel it is important for me to express my personal dislike for dog-clothing. Mother Nature clothed them for us. Granted it is cold and I will make an exception this time - but anybody who puts a hat and gloves on their dog is barking mad (sorry, I couldn't resist) and should be ashamed!

Matt B

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Chemistry Exam

Tomorrow's exam is the most important exam for me. True, Biology was important, but to get into Nottingham I require an A in Chemistry and if I screw this one up, it could well be a deal breaker. Last time my 'Chemistry Wall' consisted of a few posters above my window (you'll see those in another post as I am retaking my Chemistry Unit 2 AS exam). This time around, I have pulled out all the stops and made the Chemistry Wall actually take up a full wall:

Chemistry Wall

There's almost everything for the exam on that wall. Loads on organic chemistry at the top and stuff on rate, entropy, and constants middle to bottom. There aren't any posters on pH as the equations for those I quite easily remember - for pH questions it's working out what the question's asking that's difficult and no amount of posters helps with that problem!

On the wall with the window you can see some AS Chemistry posters, but most of those are new.

Yes, that is a clock in the shape of a conical flask. I made it in High School in year 8 or 9. I was into Chemistry then, and I still am now.

I have also made an adjustment to my New Year's Resolution. I hope to write 52 posts this year. I am posting more regularly and so should meet the target even if the number diminishes in the latter part of 2013.

Matt B

Friday, January 11, 2013

Biology Exam

I sat my first exam of my exam period today. AQA Biology Unit 4 (A2). In my opinion, it wasn't that bad. There was only one question on water potential (an AS concept which I'd forgotten about) I wasn't expecting and it was only worth 2 marks.

One thing I have noticed is that those who found the exam hard or unfair are more vocal than those who thought the paper was, on the whole, reasonable. Remember people who don't have a problem aren't going to rush to their computers to complain. So, if you didn't take the exam you may get the impression online that people thought it was a really unfair paper. It wasn't. The paper tested the majority of the specification.

Those who do vocalise about the unjustness of AQA produce funny videos like this:

To be honest the 2010 paper was weird and I would've been annoyed at the randomness, though it wasn't too difficult a paper, and I got a good mark when I did it as a past paper.

One thing common amongst the majority of students is they like to know how each other revise. So, I guess I could add in my methods. I read the text book and do past exam papers. Whilst reading the text book I make posters that I stick on my wall and then talk myself through them at random times in the day. Some may think this is excessive but it seems to be working thus far:

If you are interested the image top left with the tree is the Carbon Cycle, beneath that is the Nitrogen Cycle. Then the top row of diagrams shows respiration. The first one is anaerobic, and although in reality follows Glycolysis (the second image on that row) it is far easier to understand traditional, aerobic respiration with it laid out like that. After Glycolysis is the Link Reaction (the big arrow) then the Krebs Cycle and finally the electron transport chain. On that row I made all the images except the anaerobic diagram.

The row beneath is photosynthesis starting with the Light Dependant Reaction, then the Calvin Cylce. The last image on that row is the Lollipop Experiment testing the Calvin cycle. I didn't make the diagram for the Lollipop experiment.

And the bottom row is a mix of stuff. The first being the equations for the Hardy-Weinberg Principle in genetics. Then is the equation and information for the Mark-Release-Recapture mehod. The final graphs/charts are for populations (population growth curve, population pyramids, demographic transition model).

I do posters like these for Physics and Chemistry too. I may upload images of those at some point if I get time.

Matt B

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2013 Resolutions

2013 Image Courtesy of FutureSoBright
I got an email today from reminding me of my 5 New Year resolutions I made at the start of 2012. The year was certainly an annus mirabilis with the Olympics and jubilee, but let's see if it was on a personal level for me:

Write 52 blog posts

I wrote 53 in 2012 so I did that one! Not much else to say here, really.

Write More than in 2011

I may not have stuck with my writing a proper article every month, but I think I made up for it with the greater amount of blog posts. Vocab Builder and Science for Writers certainly upped the number of words I wrote in 2012. I also wrote a short story for a contest, a Halloween story, and a Christmas story. However, I went backwards with my novel. I completely rewrote what little I already had and now have only 3 chapters. All in all I think I matched my writing output of 2011 and perhaps beat it. I know it's not less, but I can't conclusively decide if I succeeded here.

Revise more than 2011

I revised for the January AS exams more than I did for the GCSE exams so I succeed on that front. However, I did become complacent with my revision for the AS summer exams. But, December was a major revision month and I definitely have beaten this resolution.

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!

It's 2013!



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