Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Writing in a Closet

It is difficult to find uninterrupted time to write. I write a lot and it is really important to me to be able to crank out material when I am facing a deadline (real or self-imposed). A single, 2 minute interruption can steal 10-20 minutes of quality writing time as it takes a while to regain your thoughts.

My wife doesn't seem to have this problem as bad as I do. She seems to be able to mentally shift gears and carry on two conversations at the same time, but I just can't do it. She says it's a female thing. That their brains are wired differently than a man's brain. Maybe so, but she doesn't write as much as I do.

So, in order for me to be able to really finish a writing project in a timely manner, I have to be able to write where the phone, e-mail, and family aren't able to interrupt. If you are a writer, I cannot stress how important it is not to allow interruptions. Writers argue about the best time of day to write, about the benefits of pen and paper vs. computer keyboard, and about grammar and spelling, but the one thing all prolific writers seem to agree on is the need for uninterrupted time in order to produce.

So, I created a "secret" chamber in my library. In another post I wrote about and showed a picture of how we converted a bed room into a library with floor to ceiling book shelves on every wall. The closet in this room was used to store boxes of other books, which I moved to the guest room. The library closet was cleaned out (sort of) and a makeshift desk was made. In here I can take my lap top, set up, and know that I am insulated from distraction.

I don't use it very often, but when I do, it is amazing how much I can get done.

I sometimes feel a little bit "Harry Potter-ish" locked away in the closet, but it works for getting stuff written.

--Julian Franklin

P.S. The book leaning against the dictionary and Thesaurus on the desk in the photo is a copy of my newest book "Kid Control: Behavior Management for Children's Entertainers". You can check out a little bit about the book at www.JulianFranklin.com/kidcontrol.htm

Saturday, June 24, 2006

My Personal Library

If you've ever seen one of my library reading programs, you know that I push reading as one of the ways to change your life. I don't just talk the talk, I am a very avid reader, consuming 60-90 printed books each year, several hundred hours of audio books, and subscriptions to almost 20 magazines.

I'm also pretty fickle about what gets to stay in my library. There are books that I start but never finish because they are too boring or overly simplistic. There are books that I read and enjoy, but know that I will never read again, nor will I ever recommend them to anyone else. These books don't make it into my library. When I'm finished with these books, I pass them on, usually to my local library as a donation.

But about 60-70% of the books I buy each year get to stick around in my personal collection. It actually spans several rooms. I keep 2-3 books in my car at all times. I try to arrive at all my assembly programs at least an hour early and this usually results in time that can be spent reading. If I'm ever found waiting (to get my oil changed for example) I know I have a choice of reading materials.

If the weather is foul and I can't ride my bike the 5 miles to the gym in the morning then I will drive. This way I get to read while I ride a stationary bike at the gym. I will admit to having been so engrossed in a book that I drove to the gym just to ride the stationary bike so that I could read and ride at the same time. I do not apologize.

I'm also usually reading 2-3 different books that I keep by my bedside. I read for 30-60 minutes before going to sleep each night, although I have gone to bed too tired to read on more than one occasion.

As you might imagine, I have a pretty large personal library. We've dedicated an entire room in our home as a library. It didn't come with built-in bookshelves, so we had them installed. We also have bookshelves in almost every room of our house. The guest room (hardly usable from all the stuff being stored there) has more books than most people probably own, but our library is really my little nirvana.

We have floor to ceiling bookshelves on almost every wall in the room. The closet is set up as my writing area (I'll post on that later) and we still didn't have enough room for everything so we bought a shelving unit that sticks out into the middle of the room from one wall.

--Julian Franklin

P.S. In the top right corner of the picture you can see a single shelf filled with stacks of copies of a single book. That book is one of mine, "Kid Control: Behavior Management for Children's Entertainers". You can read about it at www.JulianFranklin.com/kidcontrol.htm

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

REAL Magic Part 4: Space Travel

Landing on the moon...

Okay, imagine planning a 500 mile trip on a map and calculating the entire trip down to the meter, every turn, every stop, every lane change, every change in direction, every acceleration and deceleration, and then climbing into your car and allowing a computer with the sophistication of about 1% of your Game Cube or Xbox to do all the driving based on your pre-programed instructions.

To make matters worse, imagine that you cannot use the brakes. Also imagine that your destination is moving at all times and you have to aim at an area where you estimate your destination will be when you arrive at that same spot.

To make it more interesting, imagine that your tires have no friction on the road and the gravitational pull of nearby objects can pull you off course. Even the gravity of your destination will pull you off course, and you have to calculate for all of this and program it into your travel plans in advance.

That's basically what NASA did when they sent men to the moon. Only they also had to deal with breaking free of the Earth's gravity, dealing with radioactive particles, tiny asteroids, and bring not only all their own food, water, and fuel, but also their own oxygen and heat. Then they had to develop a way to communicate across vast distances.

In today's world of technology and regular space launching, we take it for granted, but when we made that first journey, it was nothing short of real magic.

This is the last of four articles on my thoughts on "Real Magic", but you can expect that I will occasionally add another one. Just like I do for my "Kids Say Funny Things". If you are just tuning into my Blog, then the first three articles in this series follow. You can expect to either get some insight into what a magician considers to be "real magic" or you will leave realizing how easily amused and impressed I can be.

--Julian Franklin
Educational Entertainment Specialist

P.S. In my last post I wrote about base 2 exponents and base 10 exponents. After re-reading my post I was reminded of a funny (to certain types of people) joke:

"There are only 10 types of people in the world. Those who understand binary numbering systems and those who don't."

Thursday, June 15, 2006

REAL Magic Part 3: Mathematics

I am constantly enamored by the amazing power of mathematics. The measure of things can be far more amazing than the magic tricks I use to entertain and educate in elementary school assembly programs and library reading programs.

I once read an article that suggested that there were more combinations for a shuffled deck of cards than there are atoms in The Milky Way galaxy. And if you shuffle cards face up to face down, there are more combinations than there are atoms in the known universe.

That seems impossible, and my quest to find the truth (by first determining the number of combinations of a shuffled deck of cards and then trying to estimate the number of atoms in our planet, solar system, and ultimately the known universe) lead me to the creation of a program for middle school and high school students called Math-A-Magic. You can read about the program at www.Math-A-Magic.com (don't forget the hyphens around the "A").

The power in math that really seems magical is the concept of exponents. Normally scientists and mathematicians use "base 10" exponents, but there are others. You can amaze yourself with simple base-2 exponents. When you double something you are dealing with base-2. Here's an example of the power of base-2.

Fold a piece of paper in half. Fold it in half again. Do it a third time, then a fourth and a fifth. You won't be able to fold that piece of paper in half eight times. It becomes too thick. But what if you could?

Q: What if you could double the thickness of a sheet of paper, say 50 times. How thick would it be?

A: It would stretch from the surface of the Earth, to the surface of the Sun. Don't believe me? Do the math. Measure a stack of 100 sheets of paper and divide by 100 to get the thickness of a single sheet. Get a calculator and enter 1X2. Then X2. Then X2. Keep doing this until you've entered "X 2" 50 times. This is how many thicknesses your imaginary stack would be. Multiply it times your measurement for a thickness of paper and then convert that into miles or kilometers.

Pretty cool, huh?

--Julian Franklin

P.S. The average distance from the surface of the Earth to the surface of the Sun is about 93,000,000 miles (about 150,000,000 kilometers)

Monday, June 12, 2006

REAL Magic Part 2: GPS

This is sort of a culmination of two other topics that I consider to be "magical": space exploration and mathematics. I'll go into each of those individually, but for now, let's focus on this amazing technology that, when explained, seems more fanciful than just saying it's magic.

When I'm doing school assembly programs that promote reading or teach science, I often use magic tricks to illustrate a point or to capture audience attention. Every now and then a child will call out what they imagine to be a plausible solution. My favorites are when they attribute me with powers far beyond anything magical. If I make something vanish, they won't even suggest it is up my sleeve (which it isn't anyway) but instead might yell out "All you did was push a button and the table made it turn invisible!"

As ridiculous as it seems, the real workings of GPS (Global Positioning System) seem equally impossible and ludicrous. The truth is there are satellites circling the globe and constantly sending time signals out. These signals are received by handheld units on the surface of the Earth and based on how long it took the signal to travel through space, the unit can calculate (down to less than a meter) where you are on the surface of the Earth.

That's pretty tightly calibrated time keeping equipment. I mean, how long does it take a signal to travel a meter or two? Imagine a clock that can measure it and then triangulate your position.

That's amazing. Almost like…magic.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

REAL Magic Part 1: Thermos

This is the first of at least four articles that I want to share on the real magic in the world.

Even though, for almost four years I've written a regular monthly column for The Linking Ring (which is a trade journal for professional magicians and members of The International Brotherhood of Magicians), there are some things that I find even more magical than floating ladies, vanishing cars, or birds that magically appear from paper streamers and then turn into live rabbits. I do educational school assembly programs during the school year and summer reading programs during the summer. I use a lot of magic in my shows, but here I'm tipping "the real work".

I'm going to share with you what I think REAL magic looks like:

Quite possibly the most amazing thing I've ever really experienced is a Thermos (tm). Most of you are probably thinking, "He needs to get out more".

For a point of reference, I should mention that for two years I lived on a 27 foot sailboat. Click the link if you want to read more about the boat, but be cautioned, there is a picture of me without a shirt on. You've been warned.

I mention this because when you are at sea, it can be very rough. Even mundane things become difficult. Cooking on a stove top falls somewhere between a very risky juggling performance, and a Kevorkian act of desperate hunger. So, when you find the time to heat things up, it is nice to heat everything up all at once. So my boat was filled with Themoses. I used them for EVERYTHING.

You can heat water and 12 hours later it will still scald you. 24 hours later it is still too warm to drink fast. Coffee in a Thermos made 24 hours before has to be sipped. That is pretty amazing, to me.

We would boil water and then pour it on ingredients in a wide-mouth Thermos. It would keep at about the boiling point for a few hours afterwards, cooking the ingredients with no additional fuel. Conservation at it's best.

You can boil water, pour it in a Thermos, put it in your freezer, and take it out 12 hours later freezing your fingers on the outside of the Thermos and then burn your tongue on the still hot water inside. That is amazing.

That is magic!

--Julian Franklin

P.S. Okay, it's not really magic. It's really just science. There is a vacuum between the inner shell and the outer shell of the Thermos bottle. There is nothing in a vacuum (that's the definition of "vacuum" as opposed to "a thing that sucks dirt out of your carpet" which is what my mom always told me). So, there are no atoms to transfer the heat from inside the Thermos to the outside.

Still, pretty cool, huh?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Booking 12 Months in Advance

Before the summer season even starts, I begin getting phone calls and e-mails from librarians trying to get a specific date on my 2007 schedule. By the end of the summer, my schedule for next summer will be mostly filled. I will have at least a few dates booked in 2008 by the time the summer ends. I normally have at least one or two that book 24 months out. And every day of the summer I usually book another show or two for next year.

So it wasn't too strange when I got an e-mail the other day from a librarian who needed a program for mid-June on a Wednesday. I checked my calendar for 2007 and realized that the dates and times she needed were already gone. So I asked how flexible she was on the time and dates she was requesting, because those dates in 2007 were gone, but there were other times available, otherwise she would need to consider 2008.

WOW! I had no idea she was asking about THIS YEAR! I told her I would love to help her, but unless you are either very lucky, or very flexible, you better have your date on the books before the previous summer ends. If you aren't on 10-12 months in advance it is hard to find a Tues., Wed., or Thur. time slot open.

Mondays and Fridays are not too bad. And evening programs are usually easy to accomodate. But Wednesday mornings at the beginning of the summer--Fahgedabodit! (as they say on "The Soprano's")

My regular clients have learned that they don't even need to know what the theme is. They know I'm going to tie it in, they know the program will promote reading, they know it will be fun, funny, and magical, and they know that they will get rave reviews from their patrons for bringing me in again. So they confidently book me and let me worry about the rest.

If you are curious about the show I'll be doing next year, stay tuned to this blog and I'll write about it in a few days.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Reading: The Sport of Champions

I should have told you in my last post about the premise of my motivational reading program for this summer. Since the theme in Texas is "Reading: The Sport of Champions" I wrote a library reading program that talks about sports, but also emphasizes reading. After all, reading is exercise for your brain!

The premise of my show is Aesop's telling of the "The Tortoise and the Hare". In my production I get to interview both of the racers after the tragic event and also discuss their upcoming re-match. The interviews are hilarious with lots of jokes and puns just for adults (nothing "blue" in my shows, EVER, just references that usually fly over the heads of those younger than 14 or so).

I also mention famous athletes like Lou Gehrig, "The Iron Horse" of baseball who beat team mate Babe Ruth for MVP two years NOT because Lou was the fastest, or the best hitter, or the best catcher, or the best fielder, or the best runner. Lou wasn't the best at ANYTHING! Oh, he was good. I'm not saying the man wasn't good. Lou was a GREAT ball player, but he wasn't the best.

He just tried harder, and longer, and more consistently than anyone else in history either before or since.

Lou Gehrig had perfect attendance every year he was in school. He also had perfect attendance at every baseball game. He never missed a game. Not when he was sick, not with a sprained ankle, not with broken bones in his hand. He showed up every single day.

Like the tortoise.

What a great pair of role models: The Tortoise and Lou Gehrig.