Thursday, April 27, 2017

Carl and the Grey Rhino

This affair must all be unraveled from within.  These little grey cells.  It is ‘up to them’–as you say over here.  Hercule Poirot

The Famous Detective inspected the scene of the crime.  His friend Carl peered out the window.

“You say the body was found slumped over this box?” he asked.  “What is this box anyway?”

“The zoo is sponsoring a one-day contest to name our new acquisition, a grey rhinoceros,” said the zookeeper.  “Zoo visitors were given a ballot upon entry which they then could mark and deposit in this special box between noon and eight o’clock at night.  At 8 P.M., volunteers arrived to process the entries, and that is when the body was discovered.  If word gets out, it will really put a damper on the naming festivities.”

The detective pounced on a small scrap of paper on the floor near the box.

“Aha!  A clue!  It must have been dropped by the victim.”

He scrutinized the paper, turning it over and upside down. 

“This is very mysterious,” he said, “and therefore must have great bearing on the case.  The victim must have written it before he died. But its significance escapes me.”

He showed it to the zookeeper.

“Does this mean anything to you?”

The zookeeper also turned the paper over and upside down before shrugging his shoulders.

“Not a clue,” he said

The detective turned to his friend Carl.

Mon ami, what do you make of this?”

Carl looked at the paper.  On it was written a definite integral.  Carl looked at a large whiteboard above the box on which were written a series of numbers in two rows and five columns. 

“Gentlemen,” he said, “this symbol represents the average number of entries in the box.”
He did some quick calculations.

“Furthermore, the number is 10.6875.”

“Ah, 10.6875!”  The detective addressed the zookeeper.  “What is the meaning of this number?  I insist you tell me.”

“Hey, I don’t know anything about it,” the zookeeper protested.  “It could be a phone number, a license plate, a ticket number–anything!”

Carl coughed up a hairball.  Then he strolled to the far end of the room.

“Yes, you are right,” said the detective.  “It could be anything, but what?  All we know is that it was obviously important enough for this poor fellow to write it down.”

“Found it!” Carl called out.  “It refers to employee number 106875.  Find the person who matches this number and you’ve got your killer.”
The zookeeper and the detective hurried over to Carl, who was standing in front of a time clock.  There in the third row of a cardholder was a punched card with the number 106875; the name next to the number was Walla, B.

“Walla, B.” said the detective.  “That name is familiar.  I am certain I have seen it somewhere.”

Carl rolled his eyes and pointed to the door.  There, in large black letters, was the name of the zookeeper–B. WALLA, B.S., D.D.Z., P.D.Q.

“YOU!” exclaimed the detective, grabbing at the zookeeper as the latter scrambled for the exit. The detective missed, and the zookeeper sprinted for the door.  Suddenly his legs went out from under him, and he fell heavily to the floor.  He had slipped on Carl’s hairball.

In the meantime, Carl had sounded the zoo alarm.  While the zookeeper struggled to his feet, a team of security guards arrived with their weapons drawn. 

“STUPID CAT!” shouted the zookeeper.

The detective addressed the guards.

“Here is your murderer,” he said.  “If you search his apartment, you will find the murder weapon, a newly issued passport, and a ticket to the French Rivera.  And if you unlock the box with the entries for naming the grey rhinoceros, you will find a winning lottery ticket stolen from the mob and hidden in the box for safekeeping.  Mr. Walla, B. tried to retrieve the ticket before it the box was opened.  Unfortunately for the victim, he had strict orders to guard the box because he had heard rumors of a planned ballot stuffing.  It was Mr. B. Walla who started the rumors to ensure the safety of his stolen lottery ticket.  When the victim refused to allow Mr. Walla to open the box, your ex-zookeeper put a bullet through his temple.  The victim knew that Walla, B. would not know the meaning of definite integral and could thus identify his murderer without Walla being aware of it.  It’s as simple as that.”

Carl coughed up another hairball.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Searching for Lucy's Story

In Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Lucy peruses a magician’s book of spells.  She reads a particular spell “For the Refreshment of the Spirit.”  It turns out to be a story, the best story that Lucy has ever read.  I have read a few Lucy stories myself and am always looking for a few more.

For me, a Lucy story succeeds in its characters, content, and complexity, whether the genre is history, fantasy, science fiction, mystery, or society novels.  Examples include: Lord of the Rings, His Dark Materials, The Chronicles of Narnia, Phantastes, Robot Series, Foundation Series, The Chronicles of Barset, Agatha Christie and P. G. Wodehouse mysteries, and the Crystal Cave.

The characters in these books are utterly engaging; I care what happens to them.  They live interesting lives; they think and say interesting things.  If I do not care about the characters in a novel, I usually do not finish the book.  If the characters are boring, annoying, clichéd stereotypes, or dysfunctional without redemption, they are not in a Lucy story and not worth the read.

In a Lucy story, the content is complex and inspires reflective thinking.  The language is fresh, and the vocabulary is varied; the text contains words and phrases worth remembering.  However, excessive profanity takes it off the list.

A Lucy story also contains wit and humor; it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  There are many best selling books that are not on my list because their characters are so grim. Everything they do is overcast with the same shade of grey, whether they are fighting a battle, hunting a rabbit, or combing their hair.  I like a sense of fun in a book–that is an integral feature of a Lucy story.

There are new authors out there whose books I am eager to explore.  I hope that there are a few Lucy stories among them for the refreshment of the spirit.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

On Being Subtle

On March 31, 2017, The Book of Rhino ~ The Revelation by S. M. Hart was released on Amazon and on Smashwords.  I found it on Smashwords, but I could not find it on Amazon until a week later when I asked FBP for help.  So far, the release has been a low-key event.

I’ve observed that other authors put out advance notifications of their books’ release dates.  They have drawings for give-aways; they have contests, scavenger hunts, and cover teasers.  I once saw a book cover wrapped in brown paper; the paper was torn away piece by piece (like a strip tease) until the entire cover was revealed.  And, of course, Twitter and Facebook are flooded with book promotions and advertisements.  Compared to all that, my book release was very low-key.

I shared with my friends on my private Facebook page that Rhino was published and got a lot of positive, supportive responses.  It was wonderful.  After a week or so, I finally posted the news on my public Facebook page and on Twitter.  Low-key.

The thing is, I don’t know what to do.  If I follow the advice I’ve read online, I will aggressively promote my book in a passive sort of way.  No SPAM is the most prominent message about book promotion.  It’s the most obvious and obnoxious way of marketing; but there are also subtle ways to promote your book that are blasted all over the Internet.

Ten (subtle) ways to market your book.  Twelve (even more subtle) ways to attract readers.  Five (extremely subtle) rules to write a best seller that are so subtle, so surefire, we cannot list them here–you’ll have to buy the book.

However, with so much subtlety floating around out there, everyone knows everyone else is being very subtle about marketing their books–but at least they are not SPAMming.  Too subtle for that.  I suppose in my own low-key way, I, too, am being subtle.  Oh, well.

Note:  When Jack and I visit Yosemite, we enjoy riding on the shuttle bus; we call it “The Subtle Shuttle.”  We love calling it that, but I don’t know why.  Maybe it was because our very first conversation was onboard the Subtle Shuttle.  We road around the valley floor for about an hour, while Jack was subtly sizing me up and deciding if he wanted to marry me.  Very low-key.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Carl and the Golden Ball

Upon a great adventure he was bond.
That greatest Gloriana to him gave,
That greatest Glorious Queene of Faerie Lond,
To winne him worship, and her grace to have.
Edmund Spenser ~ The Faerie Queene, Book 1, Canto 1

The Gentle Knight rode through the wood, following the sound of someone in distress.  His companion Carl walked at his side.  Presently they came to a clearing and beheld a Lady weeping by the side of a small stream.  So intent was she on her mournful state, she did not hear the Knight’s approach.
            “My Lady,” said the Knight. “Why do you weep?”

            Startled, the Lady looked up in wide-eyed wonder at the Knight.  Then she buried her face in her hands and began weeping anew.  The Knight immediately dismounted and knelt as a supplicant.
            “If you would but tell me the cause of your tears,” he said, “I will banish it ere this day is done.”
            The Lady raised her fair head and placed a trembling hand on the Knight’s arm.

            “Good and Gentle Knight,” she said, “you have truly shown yourself to be most noble to stay your journey for a poor maiden’s trouble.  I would not delay your high purpose…yet my heart is so grieved that I will forego the usual courtesies and pour forth my tale of woe.”

At her words, Carl rolled his eyes and went chasing after a moth.  The Lady continued.

            “See yon stream?  Early this morning I was playing with my golden ball, tossing and catching it in all manner of merriment.  But misfortune stayed my hand on my final toss, and my golden ball landed in the stream.  From there, the water swiftly carried down, down, down to a tunnel through with the stream flows.  And now my golden ball is stuck like a pig in the mud.”
            “The worst of it is the clouds have gathered together in preparation for a mighty thunderstorm.   The rain will eventually cause the tunnel to overflow, and my golden ball will be lost forever.”

            Having told her tale, the Lady recommenced her weeping.  The Knight said not a word but followed the stream until he espied the tunnel.  Casting himself on the ground, he reached into the tunnel in an attempt to snatch the runaway ball.  When that failed, he grabbed his lance and poked it into the tunnel, trying to push the ball to freedom.  But however skillfully the Knight wielded his lance, the ball remained beyond his reach.  At length the Knight withdrew from the tunnel and returned to the Lady, defeated and dishonored.

           “I am defeated and dishonored,” he cried.  “I am no longer worthy to bear the title Gentle Knight!”  With a wail of anguish, the Knight began removing his armor.  Seeing that her golden ball was still stuck in the tunnel, the Lady joined in the general lament.

            In the meantime, Carl, who had overheard the Lady’s tale, started taking measurements and gathering data.  He determined that the rate at which the rainwater would flow into the tunnel was modeled by the function R(t)  cubic feet per hour.  The rate at which water drained from the tunnel was modeled by the function D(t) cubic feet per hour.  It was his intent to use these two functions to determine the time at which the amount of water in the tunnel would be at a minimum and what the amount would be.  His biggest problem would be getting the Knight and the Lady to stop their wailing long enough to listen to him.

            “Gentle Knight!  Lady!” he shouted.  “I have a plan for retrieving the golden ball!”
            With these and other words, Carl finally persuaded the Knight and the Lady to stop crying.
            “Listen,” he said, “I can figure out the minimum amount of water in the tunnel; if it is not too deep, I can go into the tunnel and get the golden ball.  Will that work for you?”

            The Knight and the Lady were awed by his words and could only nod dumbly.  Carl set to work with his calculations.  As the minutes passed, and the sky grew dark, the Lady began to fret.

            “Oh, Sir Knight, what if your brave companion cannot find an answer?  Can there really be a solution to such a problem?”

            The Knight groaned in response and began removing his outer garments.
            “Whatever the outcome, I have proved myself a knave and a beast.”

             Carl ignored the two of them and continued to calculate.  After about quarter of an hour, he threw down his notes.

            “Done!  The amount of water in the tunnel will be at a minimum of 27.9945 cubic feet in approximately 3.2719 hours.  Now all we have to do it wait; then I will retrieve the golden ball.”
So the Knight, the Lady, and Carl sat down and waited.  At the end of 3.2719 hours, Carl went into the tunnel and found the Lady’s ball.  He carried it over to her with a warning to be careful of where she tossed it.  The Lady was so thankful that she asked Carl to name his reward–she would give him anything, even her own hand in marriage.  This, however, Carl refused.

            “Lady, I appreciate the offer,” he said, “but I am a cat.”

Then he told the Knight (who by this time was naked) to put on his clothes and his armor.  Carl was thoroughly wet from his excursion into the tunnel and wanted to get indoors to the nearest fire as soon as possible.  Because the Knight was a gentleman and Carl was a cat, they took the Lady with them, along with her golden ball.