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Paper books: my low-tech treat

I love reading on my Nook or iPad. I’m a techie, gadget girl at heart, but beyond the cool factor of carrying an entire library of books on one slim device, I love the convenience.

Finished reading a book while on vacation? No problem, just open another. Or download a new one—as if I’ll ever get through my massive to-be-read pile. Instant gratification. No waiting. No worries about losing my place when my sticky flag loses its grip, or holding down pages with my fingers while on the cross-trainer, and the rest of the world doesn’t have to know what I’m reading while I sit at the doctor’s office.

I can even read through my own WIP without lugging around my laptop!

And I can’t ignore the environmental impact of an e-reader. Once manufactured, an iPad has a very small carbon footprint, using less than 12 kilowatt-hours per year. Plus, no trucks, planes, or boats are needed to ship my books, and no massive distribution center is required to box them up.

Yet every once in a while, I crave the paper.

It’s not just the smell of the pages.

It’s not just the feel of the paper under my fingers, or the sound it makes when I turn the page.

It’s not even the heft of the book in my hands.

After working most of the day in front of a screen—sometimes more than one—I need a break. The iPad can’t give me that. Even the Nook with its e-ink, paper-like look can’t give me that. Sure, once I’m engrossed in the story, I’ll probably forget, but there are times when I can’t face another screen.

Those are the times when I want a good old analog, paper-in-my-hands book. It’s my low-tech treat.

Luckily, I still have quite a stash.

Photo credit: OLD BOOK © Peter Dolinsky |

Stranger than fiction

Readers rarely tolerate a convenient coincidence in a book. Yet real life is rife with them. Heck, ask any couple how they met and you’ll likely be amazed at how tenuous and chancy the circumstances were. A recent coincidence in my own life got me thinking about it.

Two weekends ago, The Engineer and I took the kids to Family Days at the AAAS (Association of Americans for the Advancement of Science) conference in DC. I heard about it through a new “friend” on Twitter and thought the boys might enjoy it. And in fact, we all did.

The two most memorable things we saw were the prototype of a 3-D printer for home use, and the surveillance hummingbird. If you watch the video in the article link below, the guy flying the bird is the scientist/designer we met at the conference.

So, imagine my surprise when several days later, I received a note from my aunt—who lives on the other side of the country, has no email, Facebook, or other tech, and had no idea we attended the AAAS conference—and included in her letter was an article from the Los Angeles Times about the robot hummingbird.

Attached was a note: “I saw this and thought you might find it interesting.” My jaw dropped. Why yes. As a matter of fact, we did!

Just to be clear, I can’t remember the last time she sent me an article from the paper. It's possible she never has.

If I put an incident like that in a book and made it pivotal and important to the plot, the readers would cry foul. “Too easy!” they’d shout. We’re willing to suspend disbelief in real life because we have no choice. From a book, we want clear cause and effect.

To make it believable, I’d have to talk to my aunt on the phone, tell her we were going to the conference, and then she’d see the article in the paper and have a reason to think of us.


Sometimes life really is stranger—and more interesting—than fiction.

Got any fun coincidences to share?

Inventions to make Q proud

I always thought Q stole the show in the James Bond movies. Bond might be more like the hero in one of my novels, but Q was the real hero coming up with gadgets to save Bond's ass in any situation. He had a prescient knack for inventing the perfect toy for whatever predicament Bond was going to face.

December's issue of Popular Science had a list of their 100 Best Innovations of the Year, and there are some gadgets that would make Q proud. While I found cool items in every category, especially Health, the products that really caught my eye were in the Security category. Since I'm focusing on military and law enforcement in my writing these days, here are some of the gizmos that would be fun to incorporate into a story.

  • X-flex wallpaper: super-flexible wallpaper keeps walls from collapsing–and contains flying debris–when hit by a bomb blast. This one fed right into my love of plastics and textiles.
  • XM25 Counter Defilade Target Engagement System: Huh? This mouthful allows a soldier to program where a bullet should explode, so if the target is around a corner, the bullet will fly just past the end of the building and then blow up, sending shrapnel everywhere.
  • Ears gunshot detector: the Ears system can pinpoint the origin of a gunshot in less than a tenth of a second, allowing troops on the ground to find snipers more easily.

These may not be as fun for a book, but I also want to give a shout out to the following:

  • In the Automotive category, Ford Active Park Assist enables the car to parallel-park itself. If I ever move back to the big city, I need this!
  • In Health, the Lung Flute makes it easier and cheaper for people with chronic lung congestion to break up the mucus that plagues them. Gross, but so simple it's amazing.
  • Also in Health, the Hygreen system ensures that medical workers have sanitized their hands before handling patients. In a field test, it brought infection rates to zero! I'm all for that.

The Daily Squirrel: complaint

Lucy glanced at the clock and stifled a groan. Two more hours and an endless line of customers with complaints about the new operating system.

The stifling hot air was tinged with sweat and anger, but her temperature shot up several degrees when she spied Kurt Lloyd in her line. She had talked to him briefly at a party thrown by her roommate's ex-boyfriend, but he probably didn't even remember meeting her. Her dreams, however, had been about nothing but him for months now.

As the customer before Kurt turned to leave, Lucy pushed the damp hair off her face and took a deep breath. She'd give anything for a quick shower right then. How embarrassing to be seen in her dumpy polyester knit polo shirt with the big orange logo. She blew out a frustrated breath. At least he wouldn't know who she was.

Putting on her best smile, she asked, “How can I help you, sir?”

“Well,” he glanced at her nametag, “Lucy. I have a complaint.”

Of course. She pulled up a new form on the computer. “Yes, sir. What's the problem?”

He flashed her a movie-star smile complete with dimples and fixed his blazing green eyes on her. “The problem is that you haven't been back to any of Rick's parties, and I've been waiting to ask you out to dinner. Is that something you can help me with?”

Lucy's mind reeled with shock and her stomach dipped, but she managed to stay upright. He remembered her? And he was asking her out? With all the poise she could muster, Lucy said, “Yes, sir. I believe I can.” She wrote down her phone number and slid it across the counter, then turned to the next customer with a grin. “May I help you, ma'am?”