Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Whether or not to believe the forecasted weather

I cringe when I see a “10 day forecast” on any sort of weather channel or website. Why? Well, the fact is that no one can accurately predict the weather 10 days from now. The key word is “accurately.”

Oh, weather forecasters can get close, sometimes, but often it is a guessing game on trends from the past and what might happen based on current conditions.

I worked for many years in the TV news business. I had the chance to get to know several meteorologists. By and large, they were really good folks who honestly wanted to help people.

One day, I asked one of them the following question, “Just how sure are you that it is going to rain two days from now?”

His response? He said, “Honestly, we have about a 50% chance of getting tomorrow’s weather right. Each day after that, our chance of being right is cut in half. There are just too many variables that can impact the weather.”

When he first told me this, I was a bit shocked. Before then, I really believed it when I was told it was going to rain seven days from now.

I was thinking about this subject recently and decided to do a little experiment. I went to the National Weather Service website and tracked their predictions for a certain day over the course of a week.

I was surprised how close they got, but even then, there were a number of changes.

The day in question was Wednesday, November 27, 2013. I started tracking the forecast when it first showed up on the National Weather Service’s 7 day forecast.

During those seven days, here are the differences between the forecasts:

The high temperature varied from a high of 38 to a high of 49.

The chance of rain varied from 50% to 90%.

The amount of rain varied from a “trace” to half-an-inch.

The winds varied from 7 mph to 32 mph.

The time the showers were “mainly” supposed to happen varied from 10 AM to 4 PM.

To be fair, they did get one thing right: There was 100% chance of weather.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Numbers are highly overrated

I’ve done several blogs about how misdirected the focus on customer service has become in America.

Don’t misunderstand me: I think good customer service is in line with the golden rule. You remember that one? “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” The world would be such a better place if everyone treated everyone else nicely.

Today my wife and I were at a store. As she was looking at different items, I sat down. On the table next to me was the following picture:

(If you look close you can see a reflection of me taking the picture.)

There are 7 different rating scales, yet numbers 1-5 all have a frowny face—the same one. 6 and 7? Smiley faces—the same one.

I know enough about how these customer service scores work to know that this means anything 5 or lower is considered “bad.” 6 or 7 is “good.” So, are there really 7 different levels of service, or just 2?

Maybe I don’t understand how numbers work. I thought 1 was different than 2. And 2 was different than 3. And so on and so on.

I shouldn’t be surprised when I come across something like this, but I am. Maybe the optimist in me hopes that one day someone will realize just how stupid this is.

Or perhaps, the people who invented this way to measure an employee’s performance are the descendants of the people who created this ad back in the day:

This is a real ad. Here’s what the text says:

“For a better start in life start Cola earlier!

How soon is too soon? Not soon enough. Laboratory tests over the last few years have proven that babies who start drinking soda during that early formative period have a much higher chance of gaining acceptance and “fitting in” during those awkward pre-teen and teen years. So, do yourself a favor. Do your child a favor. Start them on a strict regimen of sodas and other sugary carbonated beverages right now, for a lifetime of guaranteed happiness.

Brought to you by The Soda Pop Board of America.”

Friday, November 15, 2013

Carol of the Tales--A Christmas Anthology

One of my favorite parts about Christmastime is the messages of hope and peace, of giving and helping others, and of the traditions that come with the season.

I’m pleased to share with you a special book. It’s called Carol of the Tales. The idea behind it is rather brilliant, and I can say that because I didn’t come up with the idea. (winks) Michael Young is the man behind this project, and I’m happy to play even a small part in it.

So what is it? It’s a book of short Christmas stories—each one based on a Christmas song. Cool, right? And to add to the coolness, there are 25 stories—one for each day in December up until Christmas day.

If all this wasn’t great enough, all proceeds of the book go to the charity group “Autism Speaks.”

I was blessed to be able to contribute a story to this anthology. I wrote it during the holiday season last year while the spirit of Christmas was burning brightly inside me. My story is called “With Bells On.” It is tied to not only the song “Jingle Bells,” but also to the saying, “I’ll be there with bells on.”

If you would like an autographed copy, well, at least with my autograph, go to my main webpage, click on the “contact” link in the top right hand corner, and send me an email. I’ll randomly select two winners. (You can get to my website by clicking here.)

For more information on the project, click on this link.

To order a print copy, you can click here.

To order a copy for Kindle, please click here.

And Merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Penny Wise and Plain Stupid

Six cents.

That was the amount of the check. Zero dollars and six cents.

I looked over the check again to make sure it was the correct amount. And it was. It was from some financial institution that had apparently messed up on money they owed me, and this was the difference.

Don’t believe me: here’s a copy of the check (with vital information blacked out):

Think about it: the cost of a stamp is 46 cents. Other costs include the paper the check is printed upon, the cost to print the check, the cost to figure out I was owed six cents and to process that information.

I was going to throw it away, but I had a couple of other checks I needed to deposit, so I thought, “Why not?”

And then I ran into another issue. When I went to deposit the check using the ATM, it wouldn’t let me deposit the check for six cents. Why not? Well, I could call my bank and find out, but I had already wasted enough time on the six cent check.

If I were to guess, it would be because the ATM doesn’t accept checks that are less than a dollar—and I don’t blame the bank for doing that.

After all, who would be stupid enough to cut a check for less than a dollar, right?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Quoted in the New York Times

I received an email a few days ago by a man named Mark Oppenheimer. The subject read, “NY Times interview?” Of course this made me curious, and somewhat hesitant. Was this for real? I tend to be guarded when someone claims to be a representative of something big like the New York Times.

His email asked me if I’d be willing to answer some questions about Mormon writers. I cautiously sent a reply stating I’d be willing to answer any questions the best I could.

His follow up question was simple enough: He asked if I had “any thoughts on why so many LDS writers seem to gravitate toward genre fiction -- sci-fi, fantasy, young adult?”

I gave it some thought and elected to send an email instead of talking over the phone with him—part of that was also for security concerns. I had googled the name “Mark Oppenheimer” and he seemed legit, but still, someone could be faking it.

Here is how I responded to his question:


You pose an interesting question, and one I have wondered about myself. I have come to a few conclusions based on my personal experiences as well as those shared with me by my peers.

I think that there is a distinction: writers who are LDS and LDS writers.

There is no shortage of non-fiction books written by members of the LDS faith, as can be seen when scanning through the inventory of Deseret Book—the primary retailer for LDS books. These people I would classify as “LDS writers.”

It is the second group, writers who are LDS that, as you say, “gravitate toward genre fiction -- sci-fi, fantasy, young adult.”

I believe that most people of the LDS faith are taught at a young age that there is a difference between the imaginary world of fantasy and science fiction, and the unseen, but considered true, aspects of religion—like the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

In general, LDS families celebrate Christmas with the notion of Santa Claus bringing presents. They celebrate Easter with the Easter Bunny. The Tooth Fairy makes visits to children who have lost their teeth and placed them under their pillow. Children dress up for Halloween and go trick-or-treating.

With the idea that LDS people see fictional elements as separate, and not in conflict with, spiritual matters, sci-fi and fantasy are tools to share a message.

When Jesus Christ taught, he often used parables. These relatable stories taught a message. People were interested in the story itself, and therefore would listen to it and then contemplate it. Many writers who are LDS feel the same way. They use fantastical elements to help relay a bigger message—a message they as storytellers want to share.

I believe that most writers who are LDS are by default labeled as “young adult” writers because graphic sex scenes, graphic violence and swearing are omitted from their writing—even if the material is for a more mature audience. That is true of my first four books—books that I wouldn’t classify as YA, per se, but they are lumped into that group because they exclude elements that would make a movie rated “R.”

Even among writers who are LDS, there are factions. Some writers use different pen names for books that might be considered “too worldly” for the LDS market. Yet they will use their own names when writing books that are “LDS friendly.”

In short, many writers who are LDS that write YA, sci-fi and fantasy do so because they understand that fantastical elements are a way to tell a story, and in doing so, it is make believe and not an opposition to their religious beliefs.

Let me know if you have any other questions.”

To my surprise, and delight, not only was this interview really with the NT Times, but I was also quoted in the story.

Here is the link:

So, there you have it. I’ve now been quoted in the NY Times.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Suspension bridge

There is a saying: “We must suspend our disbelief to be entertained.” If you haven’t heard it, it’s the idea that when we read a book, or watch a play or a movie, we have to put certain beliefs “on hold” to enjoy, and possibly understand, the work.

Case in point: One of the most popular movies of all time is The Avengers which came out in 2012. Overall, it was a critical and financial success. Yet, how many of the people who watched the movie honestly believe there are aliens that could attack the Earth? Or believe a man who turns into a giant green monster when he gets mad? Or so on and so on. . . My bet is that those who believe these elements were possible are in the vast (and I mean VAST!) minority.

So, for the rest of us, how could we enjoy something so much that we inherently don’t believe could happen? Now you understand the idea of “We must suspend our disbelief to be entertained.”

We were debating this concept in a recent class. I stated that as a story maker, I had to be aware that people have different beliefs and so depending on the subject matter, some people will have a harder time suspending their disbelief than others. A fellow classmate disagreed. She said, “When you say that we all have different beliefs, I find that I must disagree. I suppose you are right on the surface of things, but if you go a little deeper there are things that most of us have in common that can be used by the storyteller to promote the suspension of disbelief.”

First of all, I’m going to state that her comment was a bit, well, pompous. When I got over my initial frustration, I tried to consider what she said, and found some merit to it.

And then I realized something: my experience with her statement actually supports my claim.

Let me explain.

My first reaction was a negative experience. It went against my beliefs. After all, she disagreed with me. And doesn’t her statement of “When you say that we all have different beliefs, I find that I must disagree” kind of prove we have different beliefs?

Since this was for a class, I was compelled to read on, though I didn’t want to. She went on to make some good points, but I had to suspend my initial disbelief of her first statement to get to it.

And that was the point of my paper of the class. As a story maker, you have to be aware that people have different beliefs and so one way to help ease them into suspending them is to start with the familiar—and then move to something that may be unfamiliar, and possibly unbelievable. It’s like a bridge.

Sometimes, it doesn’t have to take long. For example, in Star Wars IV: A New Hope before we see the rebel starship being attacked by the imperial star destroyer, we are shown a field of stars and the rim of a planet. It sets the scene in a relatable way—people are familiar with a night sky and planets. If the scene, instead, opened with a pink background with purple polka dots, I doubt people would have been as willing to suspend their collective disbeliefs.