The Venus Flytrap Adventure

 Tim Reid played Venus Flytrap on WKRP in Cincinatti. He has nothing to do with this post, though.

With my first book, Mother Nature is Trying to Kill You, coming out this March, I’m looking for any possible way to help it get noticed. To that end, my literary agents at Folio suggested that I consider a gift to go along with galleys sent out to buyers by the publishers. The best gift, they said, would be something unusual that fit the theme of the book. There would be a few hundred, so I should be careful about price, since I would be paying for these gifts out of pocket.

I brainstormed with some people at work. The first suggestion from one of our interns, Oakley, was scorpion-filled lollipops. I loved the idea, but those turned out to be too expensive. Then one of our star producers, the brilliant Seonaid Eggett, suggested little envelopes of venus flytrap seeds. Perfect.

The plan was to put ten to an envelope, so I contacted Matt and Leah at The www.FlyTrapStore.com, and arranged to have a few thousand seeds sent to me in Toronto. They’re based in Oregon, but apparently shipping flytrap seeds across the border isn’t a big deal. Unfortunately, when the seeds arrived, they looked like this:

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This is what 2,000 venus flytrap seeds looks like.

They’re smaller than poppy seeds! Can you imagine searching an envelope for ten tiny specs?

Thinking quickly, my wife Shelby and I decided we could put them into Eppendorf tubes so that they would at least be visible. The smallest size I could find was 0.5 ml tubes. Here’s how it turned out.

Ten Venus Flytrap seeds in an Eppendorf Tube

Ten Venus Flytrap seeds in an Eppendorf Tube

It only took one evening to get the seeds dispersed into tubes. I ran a bunch of those tubes over to the good folks at Simon & Schuster Canada, and they took over from there.

Here’s what the final product looks like:

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To be clear, I’m not saying the book comes with Venus flytrap seeds for people who buy it in the store. This is just for the early promotion.

And here’s a look at what the Americans got:photo 2 photo 1

Cool, eh?

The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid

The joke goes like this:

How do you know Jesus was Jewish?

His mother thought he was a god, and he thought his mother was a virgin.

I know my mom has no illusions about me (she’s an atheist), but it might be my own Jewish heritage that makes me so afraid of reading the stuff my mom writes. My mother’s written short stories and novels since I was a kid, but whenever I’ve dared to start reading anything of hers, I’ve always come up against proof that my mom feels emotions, has urges, and is actually a human being. I can handle pretty much anything from other authors, but if there’s so much as a little ankle showing in something my mom’s written, I suddenly turn back into an insecure 12-year old. As a result, I’ve never read a Mary W. Walters novel cover-to-cover. I’m pretty much the worst son in the world.

The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid was co-written, mostly over Skype, by my mother in Toronto, and John A. Aragon, a close friend of hers in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I’ve read reviews of the book that say it’s a fun, fast-paced Western that borrows themes from the legends of Don Quixote and Billy the Kid (Great!). I’ve also heard, from my own mother no less, that there are graphic scenes of heterosexual and lesbian sex in the book (Oh God why?). Clearly I’d been planning to avoid this book at all costs, but my mom foiled that plan this past fall.

Of all the jerky things to do, my mom read an early draft of the book I’d written. She provided encouragement, and extremely helpful comments, and then she selflessly promoted my book on social media. I literally think everyone she knows has been talked into buying my book. What’s worse, I really believe she did all of that out of love and support, with no expectation that I’d read her book in return. The guilt was crushing me. By Christmas it was clear that if I didn’t read her book soon, I was going to hate myself forever. That’s why, against all my instincts against it, I started reading a book full of sex scenes written by my mom.

It’s the story of Roz, an eighteen-year old stable-hand in the turn-of-the-20th-century New Mexico who falls in love with a married woman and gets quickly thrown into an epic journey across the wild West. The book is cut up into small, digestible chapters (I like that in a book), each of which is “spoiled” by a title that tells you what’s about to happen. I’d keep trying to guess ahead of the plot, but the book kept heading me off at the pass. All in all, it was a rocking good ride.

Before long, though, the inevitable happened.

I tried to imagine it was my mom’s coauthor who wrote the sex scenes and that somehow my mom’s role in the writing process did not even involve reading those passages at all. That didn’t work, though. What resulted was a book where I always felt like I’d enjoyed what I’d read so far, but was constantly stressed that the whatever might happen in the next chapter might send me spiralling into hell.

I’m thrilled to say that I finished the book last night. Yup, now I’ve finally read one of my mom’s novels. Don Valiente didn’t really change how I feel about my mom. She’s still brilliant, funny, and full of surprises. What did change for me in reading the book, though, is that I finally feel less like I’m the worst son in the world.

(Of course, there are all those other books she’s written…)

I recommend The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid to anyone to whom my mother has not given birth. The book is available on Amazon.

Making Science Sexy

I’m giving a talk on October 6th at the Wildlife Society Annual Conference, as part of a plenary symposium on science outreach. In advance of that talk, they asked me to write an article about science communication. So I told a story about how I prepare for a Craig Ferguson appearance. If you’re interested, you can read the article here.

My favourite tweet of the week

I just saw this tweet go by on twitter:

 
That has me very excited. I can’t wait for Mother Nature is Trying to Kill You to come out March 4th, and am thrilled that people are already talking about it! Thank you @argenplath and @jackccole!!!

Why (I think) Microsoft Office made both people the same colour in track-changes, and how (I think) I solved the problem

Summary: Quit microsoft word, and then open only the file that has the problem of multiple users with the same colour. That worked for me.

What happened: I’m getting close to finishing work on my book Mother Nature is Trying to Kill You. A few days ago I got the copyedited manuscript from the publisher. The copyeditor had used Microsoft’s “track changes” function so I could see where her edits were, and asked me to use the same so she could see what additional changes I made. As I started working, though, all changes were highlighted in red, regardless of authorship, making it very difficult to keep track of edits. I searched the internet for a while, but the best hypothesis I could find was that the file was corrupted.

I learned that you can’t manually choose what colour your user is. Lame.

I think the reason it happened was that I opened two separate documents with only one track-changes user in each, at the same time. Document A had only the copyeditor’s changes. Document B had only my changes. Both documents had the user in red. Then, when I started making changes to document A, it kept my color as red in both.

Despite the problem, I kept working, saved and closed the files. Then, later, when I opened only document A, my changes were suddenly green (the copyeditor’s still red). When I then opened document B, my changes were green in that file, too.

I think that when microsoft office opens files, it looks to see if multiple users are within the same document, and then sets their colours to be different. However, if you start making edits, it will try to give you the same user colour as you have in any other open document, without checking to see if that creates conflicts. This is just a guess.

I hope this helps someone, some day.

Baseball Game in Japan

My DP (Camera guy), Producer and I finished shooting last night with enough time to see three innings of baseball in Tokyo. Tickets were about $40 each, and we got pretty good seats.

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Ross (DP), moi, and Dave (Producer) at the Baseball Game

It was a home game for the Yakult Swallows against the Yomiuri Giants. It didn’t take us long, though, to realize we were sitting in the Giants fan section. It turns out the whole crowd is split down the middle, with everyone in right field cheering for the home team and everyone in left field cheering for the away team. We (obviously) cheered along with the people around us).

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Giants Fans

The game was half-decent, but the crowd was the best part. In the USA, they play a song for each player over the PA system when they get up to bat, but in Japan, everyone sings a song for the player and then chants his name. My favourite was the cheering for Lopez “Lo-Peh-Zah, Lo-Peh-Za, Lo-Peh-Za!”

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Swing Batter Batter Batter

The giants lost, but man it was the most entertaining three innings I can remember watching in a long time. The trick was to keep my eyes off the game. Maybe that’s the key to enjoying baseball, generally.

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Crazed Giants Fan

Come say Hi in Edmonton May 2nd

photo by calxibe

photo by calxibe


I’ve been invited by the University of Alberta to give a talk for students, alumni, and anyone else who wants to come, about where a degree from that noble institution might lead. As my friend Patrick once said to me “Dan, nothing about your career experience is at all applicable to anyone.” So with that in mind, Edmontonians, please come.

The talk is at 7PM on May 2nd. It’s free for U of A students, and $5 for everyone else. There will be a reception afterward. Come say hi!

Details: ualberta.ca/alumni/riskin