Pipsqueak Articles

Posts written by Olga Werby or Christopher Werby

Us and Them

Warm versus Competent graph

Of Doctors, Babies, Kings, and Zombies Before starting my journey as science fiction writer, I got a few degrees under my belt — astrophysics, mathematics, cognitive science, education, etc. It took a few decades (I’ve gotten married and had a family in there somewhere), but I got my doctorate and have used and still use it to help people think through complicated problems, mostly in product design. How is this relevant to writing, you might ask? Well, in addition to witnessing and surviving some amazing situations — always a good experience for a writer — I’ve acquired a few tools on how to think about situations and people. I would like to share one such tool with you: Us versus Them, a cognitive perspective. What people (and other animals) are very good at is dividing themselves into Us’es and Them’s. It’s a useful tool when we live in a divided world — how else do we keep clear of our allegiances to countries, sports teams, and political parties? But these divisions have neurological and psychological underpinnings. Consider a four square graph that charts competency versus likability (emotional warmth and approachability): We perceive (our) doctors as warm, personable, and able. We…

There’s a word for that?

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Tower of Babel

A Dictionary of Cool Words That Hide True Feelings & Meanings from Parents Many of the strange vocabulary words, that Jude and her friends, from my new novel The Far Side, use, arise from their need to create a sense of linguistic privacy from the grownups. These are real and come from hard-to-translate words from other languages, professions, or sub-cultures. Age-otori — a feeling that you look worse after the haircut. (Based on a Japanese word.) Ataraxia — a sense of stoic calm. (Based on an ancient Greek word.) Backpfeifengesicht — a face in need of a fist. (Based on a German word.) Chingada — a hellish place where all that annoy you go. (Based on a Spanish word.) Desenrascanço — to find a creative way out of a bad situation. (Based on a Portuguese word.) Dépaysement — the sense of displacement one feels when visiting a foreign country and being far from home. (Based on a French word.) Doppelgänger — a duplicate of a person. (Based on a German word.) Dustsceawung — the contemplation of the idea that everything turns to dust eventually. (Based on an Old English word.) Eudaimonia — deep fulfillment and the resulting happiness, even as…

1908 Russia — One of the Settings for My Novel: Twin Time

Sasha and Alex

“Twin Time” is a science fiction time twist story of two sisters: one autistic and one not. It plays out in two time periods: modern and just before and after the Russian Revolution of 1917. My grandmother was born off this time period, and it is partly based on her stories that that part of the book is created. Born into privilege, she lost everything after the Revolution. She married a Russian officer to secure her own Russian citizenship — my grandmother’s father was an English citizen, and her last name was very English and so was her passport. The new name and citizen papers saved her life. “Twin Time” is fully illustrated. But this movie of Russian life in 1908 gives another glimpse into the life of my characters. For those interested in reading the first few chapters, here’s the link: “Twin Time”.

Alternative Facts in Medicine

Doctors' hygiene

While we are collectively freaking out over the Trump’s White House use of Alternative Facts, these kinds of “facts” have been floating around in medicine (and politics) for a long time. And it is instructive to take a look at how we as a society have been dealing with Alternative Facts in Medicine and what damage these “facts” have wrought on us individually and collectively. I propose the following formula for how Alternative Facts come to be: Desperate Need + Greed = Alternative Fact Medical Myths: Beliefs Based on Outdated Science To start, allow me to refresh your memory, for our history is full of myths when it comes to our heath and our diseases. Let’s begin with a bit of bloodletting. Bloodletting is almost as old as our civilization. Thousands of years ago (that’s thousands, with three zeros!), a healer’s first choice of treatment was to let out the “excess” blood from a patient. Be it a migraine, an infection, or a virus, a person who was probably too sick to object was cut with a lancet or some other easily available tool and weakened even further via blood loss. The Greek physician Erasistratus believed all illnesses were due…

Users Making Fun of Interface Icon Designers

laundry icons fails

You know you failed as an icon designer when users exchange humor forwards on Facebook based on your work. We’ve all done it — we’ve all looked at the little labels on our clothing and tried to figure out what those iconic instructions mean. The icons are so bad that manufacturers themselves are making fun of them! There is not a huge downside for in this case failure, though, in this case. At worst, the piece of clothing would be ruined. Painful, but in the scheme of things not that bad. But other circumstances are more troubling. Last night, an alert lit up on my car’s dashboard. It was a strange symbol, a bit rounded, some waves on top. I had no guess as to what it was. It was accompanied with a bright red glowing triangle with an exclamation sign inside — the universal sign for warning, pay attention! Should I pull off the road? Is this bad? It’s dark and raining outside. Thankfully, my car manual was in the glovebox — I could look this up. In took a few minutes but I figured out that the strange symbol means low pressure in one of my tires (no…

“Red Notice”

Red Notice Cover Art

I work with human rights groups and with the International Criminal Court. Some of the background materials I have to read are heartbreaking. It takes me days to get over the reports of child abuse in Eastern Europe and the descriptions of mass rape atrocities in the Congo. I cry. It feels personal. I try not to read… For entertainment and emotional solace, I dive into science fiction or pure science books. I read constantly. But I don’t usually read political thrillers or autobiographies. “Red Notice” was different. The story felt personal, and the book came very well recommended. I’m a Russian Jew. I came to US as a refugee in the late seventies. While I was a teenager when my family left, I’m of “that” generation — the generation that is hesitant to believe good things coming out of Russia. Members of my family were beaten, shot, and killed there… It’s hard to “move on” after that. I’ve never been back. But some of my family have. And some even did business in Russia and its former republics. In 2015, one of my cousins (by marriage) was taken into custody in Bulgaria while on a family cruise vacation. He…

Pink, Blue, Black, and Polkadot

Pink Bowling Ball

It started with a pink bowling ball. We went to a bowling alley for a few games last weekend. After a few 0’s in a row, it was recommended that I switch balls. The pink one was the one, apparently. It was a kids’ ball, about 6 pounds and very bright pink. Sure enough, I managed to knock down a few pins with that one! Awesome…or so I thought. 2.5 days later, my body hurt, and nose was stuffed, and I was running a fever. Apparently, kids’ balls don’t get disinfected. Who knew that there was such low hygiene at such a fine sports establishment? The snot gets around…or catches a ball at a bowling alley. From there, the germs were mine. (I bet there is an interesting health study that could be done on germ propagation via snotty sports equipment. Something that could win an Ignoble Prize…) Laying on a reclining chair in the living room, tearing through 6 sci fi books — because I can’t work if I can’t breathe — I hear a scratching sounds behind me. Too weak to call in distress, I text my husband: we have a visitor… What? Visitoooor… He stumps into the…