LEVI McPHERSON, a graduate student of analytical chemistry at the University of North Central Florida, is approached by agents of the Homeland Security’s Counter-terrorism Unit. The agency is recruiting Lee to study and expose the loopholes of screening instruments in airports. Struggling financially, he accepted the offer, making him a paid, benevolent hacker of the nation’s gateway. Yet Levi is horrified when an Airbus from Los Angeles disintegrated in mid-air.

At 40, when everybody’s career trajectory is going up, Levi’s still a poor graduate student, struggling financially. His research projects however, are worth million dollars. Researching the highly classified and heavily guarded secrets of detecting traces of explosives, what Lee know was a goldmine. The agency's offer is his financial break . So Levi tackles the problem like a scientist, detailing the loopholes of the aviation security and turning what he knew into a big time money machine.

JIM and JONATHAN of the counter-terrorism unit, where nowhere to be found after Charlotte International Airport, a hub of Delta Airlines closed abruptly because of instrument malfunctions in their security lines. And in a post-Osama Bin Laden’s era, the biggest blow to the United Stated after the 9/11 disaster comes unexpectedly when a passenger plane blew up in the skies of Washington D.C., in the heart of the nation.

Levi knew it was only the start of more troubles, so he recruits his fellow graduate students to counter the future attacks. They have to think like criminals—and scientists too. With the help of FBI counter-terrorism experts, Homeland Security and Transportation Security Agency, the team races to close and plug the loopholes Lee identified.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


Spy Thriller: 'An Instant Classic' Vanishes Amid Plagiarism Charges

Publisher Recalls Novel After Passages Discovered Mimicking Bond, James Bond

The biggest mystery in Q.R. Markham's new spy novel "Assassin of Secrets," it turns out, is the number of books the author borrowed from.
The book is a thriller about an elite CIA agent chasing a shadowy international group of assassins. But Tuesday, publisher Little, Brown & Co. recalled all 6,500 copies of the novel on the grounds that passages were "lifted" from other books. One sharp-eyed observer says he had identified at least 13 novels with similar material.
Little, Brown hasn't put a number on it, saying just that many passages in the book were "taken from a variety of classic and contemporary spy novels." But it is still early: the book was published Nov. 3 and similarities were only discovered since then.
One example, noted by spy novelist Jeremy Duns, is this passage from "Assassin of Secrets": "Then he saw her, behind the fountain, a small light, dim but growing to illuminate her as she stood naked but for a thin, translucent nightdress; her hair undone and falling to her waist—hair and the thin material moving and blowing as though caught in a silent zephyr." The same sentence appears precisely in "License Renewed," a James Bond novel by John Gardner, a search of Google Books shows.
As to the author, he could be a character in a mystery novel. "Assassin of Secrets" is credited to Q.R. Markham, which Little, Brown says is a pseudonym for the poet Quentin Rowan. Mr. Rowan's writing has appeared in The Paris Review and the compilation "Best American Poetry 1996." He is also a small investor in Brooklyn, N.Y., bookstore Spoonbill & Sugartown, where a spy-themed book party for "Assassin of Secrets" was held last Friday.
Mr. Rowan couldn't be reached for comment.

Pages From the Book

Compare Q.R. Markham's book with others.
On the first page of chapter one of "Assassin" is this paragraph: "The boxy, sprawling Munitions Building which sat near the Washington Monument and quietly served as I-Division's base of operations was a study in monotony. Endless corridors connecting to endless corridors. Walls a shade of green common to bad cheese and fruit. Forests of oak desks separated down the middle by rows of tall columns, like concrete redwoods, each with a number designating a particular work space."
In the book "Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency" by James Bamford is this: "In June 1930, the boxy, sprawling Munitions Building, near the Washington Monument, was a study in monotony. Endless corridors connecting to endless corridors. Walls a shade of green common to bad cheese and fruit. Forests of oak desks separated down the middle by rows of tall columns, like concrete redwoods, each with a number designating a particular workspace."
Of one character, "Assassin" says: "He knew the names and pseudonyms, the photographs, and the operative weakness of every agent controlled by Americans everywhere in the world."
While in "The Tears of Autumn," by Charles McCarry, it says: "He knew the names and pseudonyms, the photographs and the operative weakness of every agent controlled by Americans everywhere in the world."
In at least one instance, the similarities flow cleanly from one scene to the next.
On page 128, the book pivots from a nine-paragraph passage pulled largely from "The Prometheus Deception," by Robert Ludlum, and moves into a seven-paragraph passage, lifted almost entirely from "Nobody Lives Forever," another James Bond novel by Mr. Gardner. The only differences from the originals are proper names, some deletions and a few stray phrases.
The recall is a turnabout for the book, which received some excellent reviews. Publishers Weekly, for instance, observed that the author "strays far enough into James Bond territory to border on parody, but the fine writing keeps the enterprise firmly on track, and the obvious Ian Fleming influence just adds to the appeal."
"Our reviewer didn't pick up on anything suspicious," said Jim Milliot, co-editorial director of Publishers Weekly.
A reader commenting on an online forum devoted to James Bond noted the similarity in the material. Among those reading the comments was Mr. Duns, a writer of spy novels such as "Free Agent," who liked the book so much he was quoted on the cover of the U.K. edition calling it "an instant classic." The U.K. edition was due to be published on Nov. 10 but the status of that is now unclear.
Intrigued by the online comment about the similarity to James Bond novels, Mr. Duns, who lives in Sweden, did some research online. Plugging certain material into Google Books, Mr. Duns said that he was able to identify at least 13 novels from which material was similar for "Assassin of Secrets."
"Entire sequences are from other novels," said Mr. Duns. "He didn't even bother to rework anything. It must be the worst case of plagiarism I've ever seen. How did he think he'd get away with this? He fooled me, but others were bound to notice eventually—as they did."
A spokeswoman for Little, Brown, which is owned by Lagardere SCA's Hachette Book Group, said the publishing house learned of the plagiarism accusations Tuesday morning. The publishing house did some checking, concluded that passages had been "lifted" from earlier works and decided to recall the book. Those seeking a refund should return the title to the retailer from whom they bought it.
—Christopher S. Stewart and Sam Schechner contributed to this article.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Best Novels?

Cleaning out bookshelves, I found a copy of a book called "The 200 Best Novels in English Since 1950." Do you have an opinion of this?
—J.T.R., Gainesville, Fla.
Although the Modern Library's "200 Best Novels," edited by Colm Toibin and Carmen Callil, was published in 1999, and I'm always interested in "best of" book lists, I had never run across it until I received this question. It's no longer in print in the U.S., but I found it on a used-book website.
The purpose of any list of best books is to get people riled up, and the "200" did its job on me. Colm Toibin is an Irish writer whose fiction I have enjoyed and admired (a new collection of his short stories, "The Empty Family," will be published in the U.S. in January). I wasn't familiar with Ms. Callil; it turns out she was a founder of Virago Press, a British publisher of past and current books by and for women. She also set off a literary kerfuffle earlier this year when she resigned as one of the three judges of the International Man Booker prize because it was awarded to Philip Roth. "I heard the swish of emperor's clothes," she wrote later.
Everett Collection
"Sophie's Choice" by William Styron did not make the Modern Library's list of the "200 Best Novels."
It's a useful exercise for any reader to create his or her own best list if only because nobody else's list will be as incisive and brilliant as one's own. I did this several years ago (my 50 favorite novels of the past two decades), and it was surprisingly difficult—some books acquire a retroactive glow because they are associated with the time or place they were read. I revised the list a few years later, which was even more taxing because I had to knock off some earlier choices to make room for new ones. Sure, I could simply have increased the size of the list, but it's more intellectually challenging to stick with an arbitrary number.
In their introduction, Mr. Toibin and Ms. Callil acknowledge than any such list is "entirely personal." They say each of their choices had qualities of genius and excitement and gave the reader "a feeling that you would love to hand this book to someone else to read." Fair enough, although genius is often in the eye of the beholder. I was perturbed by their admission that neither cares for science fiction, fantasy or most historical novels. Most of all, I was troubled by their—or their publisher's—claim not that these were their favorite books but that they were the best. I love Carl Hiaasen's novels, but I don't believe his "Double Whammy," which appears on their list, is one of the best novels of the second half of the 20th century. It's nowhere near as good as "Sophie's Choice" by William Styron or "The New Confessions" by William Boyd, neither of which made the 200.
There was some overlap between my list and theirs, including some lesser-known novels like "Asylum" by Patrick McGrath and "The Winshaw Legacy" by Jonathan Coe (the British title is "What a Carve Up!"). We all liked Larry McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove"; Pat Barker's "Regeneration" trilogy; and Rohinton Mistry's "A Fine Balance."
Then, inevitably, I started to quibble: "American Psycho" by Bret Easton Ellis? Definitely worth reading but a leaflet compared with Barry Unsworth's majestic "Sacred Hunger." I read Richard Ford's "The Sportswriter" (on their list) and have never been tempted to read another of his novels. Yet they made no room for Richard Russo's "The Risk Pool" or Kazuo Ishiguro's "Remains of the Day." In my opinion they chose the wrong Anne Tyler book ("Breathing Lessons" rather than "St. Maybe") and the wrong T.C. Boyle ("Tortilla Curtain" instead of "World's End"). But this likely qualifies as the "petty snobbery" Clifford Fadiman referred to in his introduction to "Good Books," a 1982 compendium edited by Steven Gilbar. Mr. Gilbar judges a book worth recommending (he mentions 9,000 titles) if it is "rewarding and pleasurable."
A few other book lists to entertain and infuriate you: "The Best Novels of the Nineties" by Linda Parent Lesher; "The Reading List" by David Rubel; "The Novel 100" by Daniel S. Burt; and "The List of Books" by Frederic Raphael and Kenneth McLeish.
Anthony Burgess, who edited "Ninety-Nine Novels: The Best in English Since 1939," was later asked about the furious reaction his choices had provoked. "That was the intention," he said. He added, "I think one has to do this kind of thing occasionally to make people wake up and start considering what really makes a good book."
—Send your questions about books and reading to Cynthia Crossen at Write to Cynthia Crossen at

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Is this the future of panctuation?

Punctuation arouses strong feelings. You have probably come across the pen-wielding vigilantes who skulk around defacing movie posters and amending handwritten signs that advertise "Rest Room's" or "Puppy's For Sale."
People fuss about punctuation not only because it clarifies meaning but also because its neglect appears to reflect wider social decline. And while the big social battles seem intractable, smaller battles over the use of the apostrophe feel like they can be won.
Yet the status of this and other cherished marks has long been precarious. The story of punctuation is one of comings and goings.
Early manuscripts had no punctuation at all, and those from the medieval period suggest haphazard innovation, with more than 30 different marks. The modern repertoire of punctuation emerged as printers in the 15th and 16th centuries strove to limit this miscellany.
Many punctuation marks are less venerable than we might imagine. Parentheses were first used around 1500, having been observed by English writers and printers in Italian books. Commas were not employed until the 16th century; in early printed books in English one sees a virgule (a slash like this /), which the comma replaced around 1520.
Other marks enjoyed briefer success. There used to be a clunky paragraph sign known as a pilcrow ; initially it was a C with a slash drawn through it. Similar in its effect was one of the oldest punctuation symbols, a horizontal ivy leaf called a hedera . It appears in 8th-century manuscripts, separating text from commentary, and after a period out of fashion it made an unexpected return in early printed books. Then it faded from view.
Another mark, now obscure, is the point d'ironie, sometimes known as a "snark." A back-to-front question mark, it was deployed by the 16th-century printer Henry Denham to signal rhetorical questions, and in 1899 the French poet Alcanter de Brahm suggested reviving it. More recently, the difficulty of detecting irony and sarcasm in electronic communication has prompted fresh calls for a revival of the point d'ironie. But the chances are slim that it will make a comeback.
In fact, Internet culture generally favors a lighter, more informal style of punctuation. True, emoticons have sprung up to convey nuances of mood and tone. Moreover, typing makes it easy to amplify punctuation: splattering 20 exclamation marks on a page, or using multiple question marks to signify theatrical incredulity. But, overall, punctuation is being renounced.
How might punctuation now evolve? The dystopian view is that it will vanish. I find this conceivable, though not likely. But we can see harbingers of such change: editorial austerity with commas, the newsroom preference for the period over all other marks, and the taste for visual crispness.
Though it is not unusual to hear calls for new punctuation, the marks proposed tend to cannibalize existing ones. In this vein, you may have encountered the interrobang , which signals excited disbelief.
Such marks are symptoms of an increasing tendency to punctuate for rhetorical rather than grammatical effect. Instead of presenting syntactical and logical relationships, punctuation reproduces the patterns of speech.
One manifestation of this is the advance of the dash. It imitates the jagged urgency of conversation, in which we change direction sharply and with punch. Dashes became common only in the 18th century. Their appeal is visual, their shape dramatic. That's what a modern, talky style of writing seems to demand.
By contrast, use of the semicolon is dwindling. Although colons were common as early as the 14th century, the semicolon was rare in English books before the 17th century. It has always been regarded as a useful hybrid—a separator that's also a connector—but it's a trinket beloved of people who want to show that they went to the right school.
More surprising is the eclipse of the hyphen. Traditionally, it has been used to link two halves of a compound noun and has suggested that a new coinage is on probation. But now the noun is split (fig leaf, hobby horse) or rendered without a hyphen (crybaby, bumblebee). It may be that the hyphen's last outpost will be in emoticons, where it plays a leading role.
Graphic designers, who favor an uncluttered aesthetic, dislike hyphens. They are also partly responsible for the disappearance of the apostrophe. This little squiggle first appeared in an English text in 1559. Its use has never been completely stable, and today confusion leads to the overcompensation that we see in those handwritten signs. The alternative is not to use apostrophes at all—an act of pragmatism easily mistaken for ignorance.
Defenders of the apostrophe insist that it minimizes ambiguity, but there are few situations in which its omission can lead to real misunderstanding.
The apostrophe is mainly a device for the eye, not the ear. And while I plan to keep handling apostrophes in accordance with the principles I was shown as a child, I am confident that they will either disappear or be reduced to little baubles of orthographic bling.
—Mr. Hitchings's latest book. "The Language Wars: A History of Proper English," will be published in November.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

DAY 16: Act 3: The Final cluster of scences

In the final days of the Novel, Lee realized he needed Farzad. But it's not going to be easy, since Lee harbors a Deep-South bias against Muslims, that Islam is not a "Religion of peace". Lee's convinced that "more of Mohammed Alta's spiritual brethren already infiltrated our shores."

Here's my 20 Novel-ending lines (as part of the assignment).
1. It has to end,  and it begins with him.
2. After all it was America, where they both belong.
3. A crowd is a company.
4. The map was full of tacks.
5. He lost some but win some.
6. America spread before him.
7. He knew science and people and what to believe.

DAY 15: Act Two: The Second Clusters of Scences

In this day, act two of the story is the realm of conflict and deepening the conflict. It's where bad things happen and confrontation. In act one, I introduced Lee as very religious person from the the south, yet very logical and scientifically minded. Also introduced in act one is Jonathan, the ex-navy seals that will become my villain. One person of interest is Farzad, the Iranian that came to the US to study.

In act two, the professor, Lee's adviser speculated that the leak of confidential technologies came out from his laboratory and his research. In here I described the wreckage of the plane. One unexpected problem arose when Lee realize the plotters knew something that Lee was not aware of.  Maybe the post doc Oleg knew and supplied it to the plotters, but how? Was it Farzad? Lee will try to connect the dots.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

DAY 14: Act One: The First Cluster of Scences.

By the end of act 1, you should answer

1. What's the "significant event" of the novel

2. What's the character's motivation? What is at stake for her?

3. Have you included enough background for him?

I already answered those questions in my draft, so I'll go straight to the assignment.


1. Come up with the 20 first lines of your novel. (There should be tension involved)

1. Lee showed no emotions after the professor told him that traces of LLM 106 were found in the wreckage of the airplane.
2. The smell of money was crisp, wafting in the air after Lee opened the duffel bag.
3. Lee closed the doors behind him, confused, trying to forget the pictures he saw on the television, images of a passenger plane, possibly Boeing 747, images of burned passengers, knowing that he has a part of the blood-boiling terrorist attack. 
4. Lee called his brother and told him "they got us, again", tears welling in his eyes. 
5. Lee slammed the phone, frustrated, after letting it ring for the 10th time.


Back in his lab, Lee made a little bit of work in front of the computer. He had smelled the oil from the lab before, but this time, he’s more aware of it. Like a car, the instrument he was working on periodically needed an oil change. By today’s standard, the machine looked like a primitive device. But what it was capable of detection will definitely change airport security. For now, it can only be operated by experts, but sooner or later, a trained operator can man the instrument behind the hustle and bustle of an airport security screening line.
Lee stared at his computer monitor. The proposal from the guy Lee assumed to be working with the counter terrorism task force was not easy to pass. But still, he has four choices.
The first choice was to do nothing at all. Second, was to call later on the number in a business card that was handed to him during the meeting. Third, was to call his adviser, and the fourth options was to call 911. He ruled out option number 1—part of the money was already in his position. It was past the point of no-return, past the red light or stop sign. Option number three and four will take him somewhere. But then again, the money is too grand to pass.
He opted for the second and conducted himself like someone who just found out that he was holding the winning lottery ticket. He wanted to shout. “So, this is how someone feels after winning a lottery” he whispered to himself. The combined smell of used oil and crisp money wafted through his nose as he fanned through the stack of bills, totaling ten thousand dollars, two inches of Benjamins bundled together neatly by blue rubber band. He can’t contained his heart racing.

Lee’s decision was about money—and more. Jonathan definitely complemented him and got his attention, an attention he didn’t get from his peers. Lee’s age is just north of 30. And he was angry to himself for being still in the stupid graduate school program. With his caliber, he could be a head of a company by now. But he sabotaged his life in every possible way. His contemporaries were working already big time. Former classmates in high school have stellar career trajectories. While his contemporaries were setting aside money for the money market and 401K, Lee’s mom still sends extra money in order for him to survive. Without mom, he’s only a phone call away from eviction. By many, he is a failure: He’s probably better to be shot in the back than living in a dingy apartment.
There’s no money in science, but the science he knew is worth a million dollars. With a less stellar career trajectory, and no reputation to loose, taking the money was the best option. No more bidding from eBay for the pistols he wanted. No more credit card debts. No more elementary students asking what’s inside the cabinet during a field trip to his lab. Weekends will be spent in firing range. Lee opened the crumpled pistol magazine sitting at the bottom of a pile of papers and books.
It was almost 2 AM when he left the lab. During his night shifts, when he decides to work at night alone at the lab, he drives his dented 1994 Honda Accord. Inside the old car, he cracked his knuckle and drummed his huge fingers on the small and worn steering wheel, and then wildly imagined what his new life would be.
However, he was specifically instructed to not flaunt his wealth. He’ll still drive his shit-box for now, but definitely, no more debts in his cards. For sure, weekends will be spent in firing range—to stay away from labeling tubes and pipetting liquids, in his shitty, windowless laboratory. Scientists deserve monetary rewards too, not only Nobel prize winners.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

DAY 13: Scene or Summary, or, Taking the Dull Parts Out

Day 13 of my 90 Days to your Novel challenge. And this post it's about scene or summary and taking the non-essential parts of the writing. In this scene, a construction worker who works inside the the Dulles International Airport is preparing to work.

Mark Weed pulled up his white truck, grabbed his badge and coffee cup from the cup holder and moved to the back of his truck. After grabbing his stuffs, he mentally noted the row letter of his parking spot, knowing that he’ll be lost once the Charlotte Douglas International Airport parking area is packed.
            Yesterday, he and his truck were subjected to a random inspection.  Although he already went through a thorough background check before he took this job, the random pat-down for screening airport contract workers surprised him. It was a minor inconvenience. 
Mark put on his badge and walked straight to the area of the terminal that was cordoned off by a black rotabelt. He aligned more orange safety cones to clear his work place from passengers. Although it was still early, the airport can be a theater of scenes, ranging from emotions of tears after a goodbye kiss to a panicking student with hangover streaking past the unfinished floor. The emotional scenes can pop out anytime.
Today, his job was to replace the tiles near the bathroom but he went inside the bathroom, taking him almost 40 minutes.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

DAY 12: Making the Most of Minor Characters

What kind of individuals will your protagonist encounter throughout the pages of the novel?
Since Lee is a graduate student, most of the minor characters that he will encounter will be fellow graduate students, especially international graduate students. Some of them will be scientists, bomb experts, post doctoral fellows and airport screeners.
In what ways will these individuals react? This will give clearer picture about your protagonist.

One of Lee's research group mate came from India, from Bangalore University. His name is Satish Patel. Satish was born poor, but his Slum-Dog Millionaire flare have gave him the opportunity to study Pharmacology. Science was cool for him and started applying for graduate schools in the US. In 2005, he came to the United States with $50 dollars in his pocket. His dream was big, however. The dream will propel his life to greatness. He envisioned of buying his parents a house when the day came.

The first time he came to the United States, he felt everything was different from his previous life. Life was easy in the US. Water comes out from the faucet, whereas in his hometown, they have to walk and fetch water from the town's well. He tried to use his hands to drink water from the water fountain once he arrived in Detroit. People were looking at him.

Monday, October 10, 2011


In this novel, the major conflict is that Lee wanted to be patriotic and help his country, but in the end he helped the other side.

Here's some minor conflict.

Farzad looked around the cubicle and found Lee.
"There's UPS box in the warehouse that needs your signature in order to receive. "  Farzad said, setting down his 2 boxes.
"Where is it from?"
"The label says Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory." Farzad said. "I didn't know we have collaborations with them?" Farzad added.
"Actually we do."
"What department?"
"To be honest, the High Explosives Applications Facility, that's where they study explosives in general."
"Have you been there?" Farzad asked.
"Twice, maybe. It's a highly secure lab since they deal with explosives. There are areas that are restricted, as you may know. One secretary told me that one area was highly classified you need 7 passwords to enter 7 doors, different pass code for every door, just crazy."
"And the facility I would imagine is state of the art?"
"It is, but I probably won't work there. It's dangerous. I'm a little bit clumsy sometimes. The last time I visited  there, our host told us that people carrying  explosives sample through the hall must stay on the white path, so that if accidents happen, it won't affect the adjacent lab."
"Crazy." Farzad said nodding. "How come I didn't know about this collaborations?"
Lee didn't answer.
"Is it because I'm an international student? An Iranian?"
"It's not that? Why not just tell me because I'm a Muslim."
"Because you are not a US citizen."  Lee said lying, but his Deep South roots is biased to Muslims.


I Been late in this writing assignment, and in this day 10 writing assignment, it's already done, not here in the blog but in my draft.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Yesterday, this was President Obama's response to the critics of Solyndra, a solar panel company that went bankrupt, losing all the money the government invested on it.

The remarks reminded me of the Black Swan, a controversial book with the recurring theme that we cannot predict the future.

Nassim Taleb is the maverick thinker and author of the book. When I first read the book, it became apparent to me that the sentences were long. I was always told, as a science writer, to be concise and direct to the point. His however was long. Nassim infuses a lot of statistics in his book, and I must say, I was seldom lost. 

The Black Swan showed me that long sentences has its place in scientific books, and also showed me the idea that we cannot pinpoint any reason for anything.

How Google became the wealthiest company? We may never know never know, but in hindsight we can pinpoint explanations.


Yesterday was a sad day for the Apple cult followers. I'm too, even though I'm not an iFan (I only have iPad). Which is why I'm posting an article related to Jobs, written by Malcolm Gladwell, a master in writing sentences, particularly suspensive sentences.

I "read'" most of his books in an audio form, while training for a marathon. If I  read the sentences aloud here, I know its his writing, no doubt. Take a look  at his delaying tactics.

He was the co-founder of a small computer startup down the road, in Cupertino. His name was Steve Jobs.

And this one too.

If you were obsessed with the future in the seventies, you were obsessed with Xerox PARC—which was why the young Steve Jobs had driven to Coyote Hill Road.

Here's the whole article:

In late 1979, a twenty-four-year-old entrepreneur paid a visit to a research center in Silicon Valley called Xerox PARC. He was the co-founder of a small computer startup down the road, in Cupertino. His name was Steve Jobs.
Xerox PARC was the innovation arm of the Xerox Corporation. It was, and remains, on Coyote Hill Road, in Palo Alto, nestled in the foothills on the edge of town, in a long, low concrete building, with enormous terraces looking out over the jewels of Silicon Valley. To the northwest was Stanford University’s Hoover Tower. To the north was Hewlett-Packard’s sprawling campus. All around were scores of the other chip designers, software firms, venture capitalists, and hardware-makers. A visitor to PARC, taking in that view, could easily imagine that it was the computer world’s castle, lording over the valley below—and, at the time, this wasn’t far from the truth. In 1970, Xerox had assembled the world’s greatest computer engineers and programmers, and for the next ten years they had an unparalleled run of innovation and invention. If you were obsessed with the future in the seventies, you were obsessed with Xerox PARC—which was why the young Steve Jobs had driven to Coyote Hill Road.

Read more here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

DAY 9: POV&V (Point of View and Voice)

Yesterday, I didn't blog what I wrote, but I'll re-write it here as day 9 assignment.
My assignment:  Just re-write what's in my notebook in a third person, omniscient.

Lee took the sheets to his cubicle and read the confidential fax again. He knew he has a hand on this, the troubles besetting Charlotte/Douglas International Airport. But he can't tell Chuck, not now. The situation was not ideal.

It's not a secret that most of his groupmates harbor fear and hate towards the man who demands perfection in their experiments and data. It's not a secret that their adviser is a slave driver. But Chuck's been very nice to Lee and chuck trust Lee.

Professor Morrison's God complex had irritated most of the faculty in the department. If firing a tenured faculty is possible for being an ass, by acting like horrible drill sergeant, Chuck's the first one to go. But unless he's not caught fucking his own graduate student, he is untouchable. Despite the hatred toward Lee's adviser, Lee knew he's one of Chuck's favorite. Lee was like a favorite son. He doesn't want to destroy the trust now, by confiding to the professor that he may have a hand in these troubles.  He may have a hand, unless he sort things out first and call Jonathan. They were the only people, besides his groupmates, who knew the details of his findings.

He needed to get into the bottom of everything.

Lee took out he business card out from his old, fat wallet. He cautiously looked around making sure he's alone in the office and dialed the number.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

DAY 7: Writing a novel challenge-Dialogue

Now I'm back to this book, the 90-day challenge to my novel (90 Days to Your Novel: A Day-by-Day Plan for Outlining & Writing Your Book).

Right now,  my challenge is writing a dialogue.  The scene is in the professor's office, talking to Lee regarding the fax the professor received:

Lee closed the door behind him. He saw the professor stroking his white beard, focusing on the fax in front of him. The professor said without looking to Lee "the way I see it, the perpetrators knew the science behind the airport." 
 Lee couldn't decipher what the professor was trying to communicate but he has a feeling that it was about the problems encountered by Charlotte International Airport. Lee asked a question slowly, "I don't understand Chuck, what are you talking about?" 
"The masses that appeared in the spectrum are not traces of explosives" He handed Lee the fax.
Lee studied the 2 pages in his hands. 
 "Could it be possible that the instruments malfunctioned? The numbers are close to the SRM provided by the Institute of Standards."
"I know, but it's not the exact masses, they are close." Chuck handed Lee again 2 pieces of paper.
Lee read the headings

STANDARD REFERENCE MATERIAL (SRM) 2905, Trace Particulate Explosives.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology published an aid for security personnel and researchers to

NaNoWriMo and Plinky

I got an email from WordPress yesterday, challenging me to write a whole novel for the month of November. So the website, National Novel Writing Month, made October the 'warm-up' month leading to the writing in November. In addition to NaNoWriMo, the website introduced Plinky to me, a website that alternate as a writing coach, prompting you to write something based on their ideas and questions.

Writing a novel in one month requires writing 1600 words a day. I'm not into that thing, but I'll do something similar, the 90-day challenge.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Middle Seat

I found The Middle Seat  section of the Wall Street Journal a treasure for anything related to the airport. Since I'm writing a novel about airport security, this will be my routine, visiting this blog and their site every Thursday, or when I'm lost and my mind comes out blank of any significant plots or progress in writing.

Here's what comes out from my writing today after reading the blog:

 The plane just took off from Reagan International Airport. One of the pilot's hated area to fly is Washington D.C., because regulators had banned commercial planes, choppers and twin-engine planes to fly close to the nation's treasured landmarks. But the National Airport is situated close to those landmarks, and maneuvering to stay away from Washington Monument takes more effort.
The pilot check the altimeter in front of him and glanced at the DC landmark outside to his left. The smoke inside blurred his vision and it  filled the airplane's cabin quickly. Passengers outside the cockpit were confused if the smoke was from the air conditioning.   The panicked captain yelled, "Evacuate! Evacuate!" The passengers froze.
Norman Snive struggled to unbuckle his seat belt. He panicked and passengers were pushing and shoving. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


 I updated the description of the professor in my book, after discussing what a professor should look like after my previous blog.

“We don’t have evidence we’re just making sure this guy is behaving” Special Agent Mowry shifted his weight in his chair.
            “Everything is under control in this lab and in this department” The professor assured the agent he’s handling the situation well and stroke his silvery beard.
            The gentleman’s silvery beard was witness to the Professor’s long and colorful career. After a large university up in Chicago conferred him his P.h.D., Chuck hung his coat and decided to work down in the sunny Florida. Without the coat, he only wears shirt and jeans. His fashions were never eye catching or even represents the profession of education. Most of his shirts were one size bigger than his body size, but he’s fit and not overweight, unlike some professors that waddle walking in the lobby.  Chuck’s an educator without the tie and rimless oval eye glass (his eyes were surgically treated with laser technology).
            Professor Chuck Morison hated bureaucracy. But he has to report to the FBI if any suspicious activities going on with his graduate students, especially students who came to the United States from countries from the Homeland Security’s “priority lists”: Iraq, Iran, Syria and Lebanon. The bureau was not satisfied even with the assurance of the teacher, believing that the greatest threat to national security is homegrown terrorism. The bureau beleives that it may come from academic institutions. So from time to time, Agent Mowry visits Morison’s office to check on things. In his busy schedule, the professor hated unexpected guest, it interrupts his thought process in his task on hand.
            Get rid of the Republicans up in DC instead The professor thought.
            “You don’t handle anthrax do you?” The agent asked.
            “Our lab is not capable, but we collaborate with CDC”
            “And you’re sure Farzad never knew about this project?”
            “No” The professor said almost in a whispered scream. “Lee and Ashley handle sensitive projects, and we never discuss the results in our meetings. I have private one-on-one meetings with Lee”
            The professor continued “Why are you suspecting Farzad?”
            “He’s Iranian and a Muslim. These are the guys who baby sit a wound inflicted by 9/11. Prisoner in a strange land for being a Muslim”
            “I handle Farzad personally, so I know if problems arise.”
            “Good” The tone of the Agent Mowry’s voice was half satisfied. “Well then Professor Morrison, I have to go. I do need to talk to other researchers around campus”
            “Thanks for the visit again, you are always welcome to drop by anytime” The professor lied. He has to kiss ass with the funding agency that kept his laboratory alive and well. Without the money from the Department of Defense, funding to continue his research could have been scarce. The combination of President’s Bush policy to cut the science funding and then the 2008 economic turmoil left the country devastated, in all areas, even science funding. But thanks to the people from DOD, the Professor’s projects were well funded—that meant he can keep his army of researchers and graduate students happy.


'When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest'
This was the first sentence borrowed by a reviewer while reviewing the
book Hemingway's Boat.
He claimed that this is one of those sentences that stay in your mind. And he
added on top of being simple and balance sentence, that the doubt and melancholy
that underlie the promise of happiness makes what it is --a great sentence.
But what really makes a great sentence? A good writer?

If science knew what it is, then everybody will be a blockbuster. Nobody knows.
Publishers sign new novelist hoping they'll hit the jackpot and produce the next
J.K. Rowling. For me, I'll write every night and gamble that my stories will be notice
by agents and publishers.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


There's a stereotype for programmers and computer analyst to be
overweight and balding, at least if they are portrayed in novels. And
I think it's the same bias for professors, in Russell Banks' "Lost
Memory of Skin", where I'll qoute from the article from The Wall
Street Journal.
The story is driven by the appearance of a social scientist called the
Professor, who is himself a social outsider because of his
intelligence--he is reputed to be the smartest man in the county--and
his extreme obesity ( he weighs nearly a quarter ton)

In my dealings with academia, most of the educators I encounteres
were fit, and ready to show off a one handed push-up. So this will
be my description of a professor in my book, a healthy buff. But one
thing about professors, they think their God (not everyone, but most
of them anyway, the God complex).

Monday, September 26, 2011


Levi's life of the above synopsis tangled between being rational scientist and a religious baptist reared from the south.  And from there, I'm lost what to do next. But I came across this article by Ann Patchett

No matter what you're writing—story, novel, poem, essay—the first thing you're going to need is an idea. Don't make this the intimidating part. Ideas are everywhere.
Lift up a big rock and look under it, stare into the window of a house you drive past and dream about what's going on inside. Read the newspaper, ask your father about his sister, think of something that happened to you or someone you know and then think about it turning out an entirely different way. Make up two characters and put them in a room together and see what happens.
Sometimes it starts with a person, a place, a voice, an event. For some writers it's always the same point of entry; for me it's never the same. If I'm really stuck, nothing helps like looking through a book of photography. Open it up, look at a picture, make up a story.
If you decide to work completely from your imagination, you will find yourself shocked by all the autobiographical elements that make their way into the text. If, on the other hand, you go the path of the roman à clef, you'll wind up changing the details of your life that are dull. You will take bits from books you've read and movies you've seen and conversations you've had and stories friends have told you, and half the time you won't even realize you're doing it.
I am a compost heap, and everything I interact with, every experience I've had, gets shoveled onto the heap where it eventually mulches down, is digested and excreted by worms, and rots. It's from that rich, dark humus, the combination of what you encountered, what you know, and what you've forgotten, that ideas start to grow.
When I was putting my first novel together in my head, I didn't take notes. I figured that if I came up with something that was worth remembering I would remember it, and I would forget about the rest.
I don't think that my theory on memory is necessarily true—I'm sure I've forgotten plenty of things that would seem good to me now—but not writing things down, especially in the early stages of thinking them through, does cause me to concentrate more deeply and not become overly committed to anything that isn't firmly in place.
"The Patron Saint of Liars," the novel that I largely assembled while working as a waitress at a now defunct T.G.I. Friday's in Nashville, Tenn., started like this: There's a girl in a Catholic home for unwed mothers, and she goes into labor. The home is far out in the country, maybe 45 minutes from the hospital, and the girl decides she's not going to tell anyone what's going on. She's not going to cry out, because she wants to ride in the ambulance with her baby.
So here's this girl giving birth in the middle of the night, and there are other girls in the room, girls who live on her hall and have come to help her. I looked at each one of them. I spent days thinking of their stories while I bused tables and ran the dishwasher.
I thought the novel was going to be about the girl giving birth, but there was another girl in the room named Rose, and she had come all the way to Kentucky from California in her own car, and she had a secret. This girl had a husband.
From there I started to stretch the story in every direction. What happened to Rose in California? Who were her parents and who was this husband and why did she marry him in the first place? Whom does she meet and whom will she marry later and where did he come from?
I puzzled it out, went down dead ends and circled back, made connections and plot twists I never saw coming. All in my head.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

ONWARD'S beautiful sentences

Some of the sentences that comes out of this book are beautiful in its
own right. And to me, it becomes a coach psyching up his troops.
Going against conventional wisdom is the foundation of innovation, the
basis for Starbuck's own experience.

Here's another one, a nice sentence:
Sometimes, the earliest days of Starbucks seemed very far away.
Like straining to remember the sound of your child's voice as a
toddler as he or she heads off to college, Starbucks' nascent days got
more elusive as the company grow.

Now that's something.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


Although some of their arguments are airtight, some are not. Overall,
if you're a sportsfan, this is a nice book to see more than what the
HDTV is showing.


It's the weekend, and time to share books from my Book-stack. For some reason, I gravitate to books related to Starbucks. This is my
second book that I've read related to Starbucks, the first one was How Starbucks Saved my Life.

To me, it's like having a motivational coach. Here's the highlight of the locker room huddle:

Success is not an entitlement and it has to be earned everyday.
No status quo, constantly push for re-invention.
The world belons to the few people who are not afraid to get dirty.
But going forward with fear would not allow our company to thrive.

Don't roll your eyes and let the word of the coach sink in, you'll have goosebumps.