General Research – Part 1 – Skip Google for Research

Information literacy is a huge topic in high schools and universities, and one of the things teachers and librarians are struggling to help students understand is the fact that their search engine is not free of bias and may prioritize ads (or what it thinks you want to see based on your shopping experience) rather than actual information.  It’s made more difficult by the fact that the technology in use is constantly evolving.

Google’s search algorithm has not merely gotten worse.  It has been redesigned to prioritize advertisers and popular pages, often times excluding pages and content that better matches your search terms. As a writer searching for specific information for my stories, I find this unacceptable.  As a proponent of availability of information so the populace can actually educate itself, this is unforgivable.

I’ve been meaning to share some general research resources for a while, but my energy got eaten by a couple of instances of burnout.

Search Engines

The bulk of the links in this article are databases, not search engines. This first batch are search engines, intended to replace the Google search function. I would recommend Firefox as a browser, as it is a significantly less stalkery option.

Duck Duck Go – This is my first choice search engine these days as it’s claim is that it does not collect or share your personal information. I’ve heard rumors that it skews right, but I have not seen evidence to back that up (and I’ve done identical searches with the other engines in this list), but it’s something to keep in mind.

Ecosia – A search engine out of Berlin Germany that uses ad revenue to plant trees. It supports full financial transparency and the privacy of its users.

Qwant – This search engine is operated from Paris, France with no tracking. It claims that it does not employ user tracking or personalize search results in order to avoid trapping users in a filter bubble. It uses contextual advertising

Academic/Research

Academia – platform that shares academic research

Bielefeld Academic Search Engine – BASE is a search engine specifically for academic studies texts, and contains more than 100 million scientific documents, 70% of them are free.

Bioline – This is a library of scientific bioscience journals published in developing countries.

Education Resources Information Center – ERIC is a comprehensive, easy-to-use, searchable, internet-based bibliographic and full-text database of education research and information.

JSTOR – academic digital library providing access to more than 12 million journal articles, books, images and primary sources in 75 disciplines.

PDF Drive – This is the largest website for free download of books in PDF format, claiming over 225 million names.

PubMed – the National Institute for Health’s National Library of Medicine, comprises more than 35 million citations for biomedical literature from MEDLINE, life science journals, and online books. Citations may include links to full text content from PubMed Central and publisher web sites.

Research Gate – founded to address the problems in the way science is created and shared. Connects the world of science and makes research open to all.

Research Papers in Economics – Volunteers from 102 countries have collected almost 4 million publications on economics and related science for RePEc.

Sci-Hub – research publication library – technically pirated content, but please note that the researchers do not get paid for publication, and will often send you a PDF of their research for free if you ask, it’s the publications that want to restrict access to paying readers

US Government Science Portal – Science.gov is an American state search engine on 2200+ scientific sites. More than 200 million articles are indexed.

World Cat – a search for the contents of 20 thousand worldwide libraries. Find out where the rare book you need is.

Libraries

Boston Library History & Political Science – The Boston Library has a ton of history and poli sci resources. Big libraries often have things available digitally for free, even if you aren’t in the area.

Hathi Trust Digital Library – This library provides free digitized books from all over the world.

Internet Archive – This non-profit library houses millions of free digital books, movies, software, music, websites, and more.

Project Gutenberg – This site provides free downloads of digital books, focusing on works with expired US copyright. Note, if you look for out-of-print books on Google, it will try to sell you books that you can actually download free from Gutenberg (I’ve tested this multiple times).

Z Library – This digital library provides ebooks for free.

Singles Will Be Paired

Kezia looked up at the red frame and rails of the compact Mad Mouse roller coaster. Letting out a huff, she went directly to the queue. The weather was perfect, just warm enough to feel like summer, but not overbearingly hot as it had been just a week before. She was not going to let her stupid friends ruin what could be one of the best days of the entirely too short season. To be fair, she probably never should have agreed to visit Valleyfair as part of a trio, something she’d honestly learned back in junior high. She should have worked to bring someone, it wasn’t like she lacked friends, though most of them weren’t available for a middle of the week trip to the theme park. She could have brought her brother, for crying out loud. At least he liked the same kinds of rides. And that was the other issue; they should have discussed their interests in advance. All three of them had failed on that detail.

Her phone buzzed in the little hip pouch she’d worn to keep her small things secure. She pulled it out and swiped to get to the text.

Emma: Let us know when you want to meet up for lunch!

It was followed by a selfie of her friends riding on the little train that drove through the park.

Continue reading Singles Will Be Paired

What Large Teeth

There was once a great wolf who lived in a lush green forest. He was much like other wolves, embracing the freedom of night runs and enjoying routine meals of hare and the occasional deer. As a youth, he had left his pack to find his fortune in the wide world. Many of the woodland villages boasted the position of a town wolf, but time and again he was turned down. He was told he lacked the necessary qualifications or skill set, his personality wouldn’t mesh with the other staff, or in the few honest cases, he was just too damn big. Disillusioned, he settled under the canopy of green where he didn’t have to interact with many humans.

His nearest neighbor was an old woman who insisted that everyone simply call her Grandma. She was a witch, rapidly approaching retirement, and feared nothing and no one. To her credit, she was able to see past the fur, canine teeth, and impressive stature to appreciate the wolf as another of the forest’s valuable inhabitants. She welcomed her wild neighbors, both near and far, for polite conversation, meals, and the exchange of favors. Wolf had made a habit of fetching supplies from greater distances to save her arthritic joints the long journey. In return, she provided routine medical treatment and advice.

Grandma’s granddaughter dwelt in a nearby town with her parents and three younger siblings, though she often traveled the forest path. The ability to learn and perform magic skipped every other generation, making the granddaughter the next witch in the family. Her training under Grandma had been progressing along the usual lines, though Grandma expressed concern over what she had perceived as a cruel nature housed within a charming and adorable countenance.

Continue reading What Large Teeth

Speed Writing #16 – The Dragon at the Party

“Zoua!” I heard my name shouted over the din of music and too many voices talking.  “Zoua, there’s a dragon at the door!”

I poked my head out of the kitchen and looked into the living room, crowded with friends and acquaintances.  My sister was across the room at the door, encouraging someone to come in.  Grabbing my beer bottle, I carefully moved around the group aggressively playing Boggle at the coffee table to the front door.

“No,” I heard her whine a little.  “You have to come in.  She’s going to love it.”

A young man in an amazing dragon costume stood in the doorway, clearly conflicted about something.  He looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t quite place him.

Continue reading Speed Writing #16 – The Dragon at the Party

Deputy Death

A tingle started in the middle of Liz’s head, spreading down into her teeth. It was an odd sensation, but not unpleasant. She thought of it as her death sense, because when it kicked in, she was sure to find the body of some dead animal. The bizarre ability had yet to prove remotely useful, though it put her social life in critical condition. She looked up from her six-page, AP English paper, due tomorrow. Her eyes went to the window just as the sunshine-yellow Pontiac Aztek slowed, then stopped across the street. It was a weird looking car, not the sort of thing that belonged in this neighborhood with its green carpet lawns, evenly manicured hedges, and sport utility vehicles in the fashionable colors of hunter and maple. Each house was painted one of three approved shades of beige. Fortunately spring was far enough along that the landscape wasn’t completely bland, despite the developers’ best efforts.

It was sheer luck that she’d felt something dead in time to see this outsider, though she’d have to find whatever had died nearby before continuing to work on her paper. She could only ignore the tingling for so long before it became too distracting.

The driver’s side door swung open, and a tall thin man stepped out. He was pale, with light brown hair, and there wasn’t so much as a hint of khaki about him. He wore a shiny metallic blue, long sleeved shirt, tucked into snug black jeans. Liz briefly wondered if he might be gay, what with all the color, but decided he was probably just from the city. She’d heard urban people were flamboyant, and only the usual percentage of them were gay. He looked sort of like the people in her German textbook, foreign, so maybe that was his deal.

Continue reading Deputy Death

Tulgey Wood

“Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe; all mimsey were the borogoves, and the mome raths outgrabe…”

“Is that all she says?”

“Yes. Over and over. Same thing.”

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun the frumious Bandersnatch!”

“What sort of rubbish is that? It doesn’t even sound like English.”

“Well it is, and it isn’t. It’s Jabberwocky. You know. The poem by Lewis Carroll?”

“That the guy who wrote about the magical wardrobe?”

“Not even close. What the hell kind of childhood did you have anyway? Didn’t you ever read Through the Looking Glass?”

“Irrelevant. Does she say anything else? Anything at all.”

“Well… not really.”

“You hesitated there. What is it?”

“Sometimes it’s as if she’s gotten stuck. She’ll repeat the same word over and over like she can’t remember the next line.”

“And then?”

“After a while she just kicks back in as if she’d never hit a glitch.”

“And what is this Jabberwocky…”

They think I can’t hear them, they think I don’t see what’s two feet away. Catatonic, they say. But I’m just ignoring them. They don’t know anything, and they’ll leave the room eventually. They always do.

Continue reading Tulgey Wood

The Beach

The west end of the beach was a picture of chaos framed by the orange of the sinking sun.

Donna watched, curiously detached, ignoring the sand that was creeping into her shorts.

The wind blew her hair into her face, and she reached for the purse she’d never wanted. Mothers’ purses were full of scraps of paper, crayons and trash. She dug through the folds of the imitation leather bag, pushing aside the comb. Her hair would only re-tangle in this wind. She was too much like her own mother, she thought, as she shoved the empty wrapper from a stick of gum into a corner. There it was. A tattered green ribbon lay twisted around a McDonald’s straw in the bottom of her purse. One never knew when they might need a straw. The ribbon was short, but it would hold her hair back for now.

She scooped up a handful of sand, plucking out the quartzite pebbles and precariously piling them on her knees. Once her collection was complete she wiggled her leg, dropping the carefully gathered stones to the sand. She felt stronger for destroying something she’d made.

The rescuers were still hard at work, their chains clanking together like so many little bells. With the sun as a backdrop, they were featureless profiles. The cry of triumph was quickly followed by one of dismay. Someone in the rescue boat held aloft a dripping empty baby stroller with seaweed dangling from the wheels.


This dark flash fiction (exactly 250 words) was written as a challenge to include one or more of the following: pebbles, ribbon, gum wrapper, baby stroller, seaweed, straw, comb. As a smartass, I used all seven.

Virtual RoberCon – Day 2

I am attending RoberCon this weekend. Saturday went really well and I had an excellent time with the workshops. Today’s events were all panel format, so instead of the presenter and audience having a discussion, it was more like a webinar.

The first panel of the day was Writing For Middle Grade / YA Readers: They’re Not Just Small Adults. It’s actually the panel that brought me to RoberCon as a participant. Our moderator was Paul Smith, an indie middle grade science fiction writer and author of the The Jason and the Draconauts Series. Panelists included: Kathryn Sullivan, an award-winning, small press, middle grade fantasy writer and author of The Crystal Throne; J.R.H. Lawless, a small press adult science fiction humor and middle grade writer, and author of The General Buzz series; and me (indie author). We had an excellent conversation about how writing for younger people differs from writing for adults and how that has changed over time.

My next panel was Engage!: Captain Picard Blazes New Trail in ‘Star Trek’ Universe, and I was in the audience. There was a nice variety of perspectives on this show. Overall the feelings were pretty positive and the discussion ranged over the entire Star Trek universe, looking at the strengths and weaknesses. I enjoyed Picard, but felt some elements were rushed in a way that didn’t work, and that the writers were incredibly wasteful with their characters.

Next panel was Excellent!: ‘Bill & Ted’ Return for One More Encore, which started with a delightful Dr. Pants song in honor of Bill & Ted (alas, it does not yet appear available on the site, but we can hope). The panelists covered historical behind-the-scenes elements I wasn’t familiar with (the time machine was originally the Wyld Stallyns van, but that was scrapped due to Back to the Future; and the original film was nearly dumped to cable when the production company went bankrupt shortly after principal shooting completed). The changes in the music landscape in the 80s and 90s were discussed in great detail, looking at the move from metal to alternative. In general everyone was pretty pleased with the characterization of Billie and Thea.

There were two other panels I’d initially planned to attend, but I was a bit fried by this point and elected to go on a 12 mile bike ride since the weather was allowing it. All in all, I had a great RoberCon experience. People were inclusive and engaging. I would be willing to attend again, though if it’s in person next year, we’ll have to see if we have the finances for travel.

Virtual RoberCon – Day 1

I am attending RoberCon this weekend.

It’s my first virtual convention and my first time attending this event that supports the Roberson Museum and Science Center’s education and outreach programs. For the most part I stick to conventions in the Midwest because I can afford the trip (and can often minimize hotel use. So I guess this is a bright side of the pandemic. I’m Schrödinger’s author, both at home and attending a convention in Binghamton, New York at the same time.

I attended three events Saturday, all of them were more workshop than panel. The first two were on characters and character development and the last was on writing a novel in a short time frame. As a character writer, a lot of the character motivation and goal elements were not new to me, but it would have been useful to someone who struggles with this side of writing. There’s always more to learn and improvements to make, and talking with other writers or hearing about their process can improve your own.

The first workshop, Painless Novel Writing: Set Goals for Your Characters, was hosted by Jennifer D. Bokal, and we looked a lot at character motivation and goals. She wrapped up with an excellent tip about how we, as writers, should view our completed pieces. Our stories are consumable products, not offspring. Think of them as orange juice, not your babies. It makes the rejections and negative reviews less harsh.

The second workshop, Who Are These People?: Putting Character in Your Characters, was hosted by Paul Smith. We explored the use of role playing character sheets, specifically the Fate Core System, for creating a quick look at a character. This method was pretty quick and resulted in a succinct summary of your character, but didn’t include much on back story and motivation. This model could be used to quickly build a world. For people who will spend hours constructing a character before starting to write, the restricted nature of this may be very helpful. Combining these two models may work well for quickly assembling characters while ensuring the primary characters have enough depth.

My final workshop, Sprint to the Finish: Completing a Novel in a Short Time Frame, was hosted by Valerie Valdes. She covered all the big picture life stuff you need to prepare, how to work through the trouble that inevitably crops up, and tips for using writing sprints to charge through a novel at rapid pace. Most of what I write these days is done during timed sprints, and both A Familiar Story books were produced this way. My approach was a bit haphazard, especially on the second book, so it was helpful to get her “clean the house and tell your friends and family, see ya!” advice.

Workshops and panels are running 45 minutes, with follow up discussion in Discord, which is working very smoothly. I’m getting all the word nerd elements of being at a convention without having to travel or spend stupid amounts money on slow mediocre hotel food. While I’m not really getting to know folks they way I would with in person networking and socializing, this is definitely a good way to manage the experience during a pandemic.

Speed Writing #17 – Fandom Mashup

“Gryffindor,” Mikhail said firmly.  “Neville Longbottom level.”

“Airbender,” Evie countered, a smug smile on her lips.

“What?” Mikhail asked, an eyebrow raised in confusion.  “Did you just jump fandoms on me?”

“Ashitaka is clearly an airbender,” she replied.  He was one of the few people she could have this type of argument with.  “He’s all about peace and freedom.  He’s practically a reincarnation of Aang.”  She paused for a moment, her eyes going to the ceiling.  “Though I’m not sure how that would work, since Aang’s already a reincarnation.  So maybe we could call him alternate reality Aang.”

Continue reading Speed Writing #17 – Fandom Mashup