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Today, 1962 February 20, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in history, science, space.
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Fifty years ago, America sneaked into space. John Glenn actually orbited the Earth. Hard to believe space tourism will duplicate what the prior two Americans did, at least as far as “going into space” altitudes. (I am discounting Ham’s flight, too. Ham is buried at the west end of the parking lot at the Alamogordo Space Museum. At least he didn’t die in orbit as did Laika back in ’57) We are lucky to still have an original Mercury astronaut around. The first man in orbit died in a Mig15 crash back in ’68, while we elected ours to the Senate to insure his mummification.

One of the major head scatchers of the 20th Century has to be the sudden decline of our space program. We reached the Moon, that was it (I can blame Nixon but Vietnam was also a big part of it). I find it hard to believe vision is missing, but it seems to be so. If I remember the story, one of the dogs the Russians sent into space was recovered, had pups and one was given to JFK. Wonder if there are offspring? And why does Eric Frank Russell’s story “Into Your Tent I’ll Creep” come to mind?

Congratulations to all who have gone into space. May another, albeit far future, generation join you in this achievement.


A Simple Change In History February 15, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in death, history, ideas, science.

It’s great to have friends who come up with nifty ideas. Scott & Pat have actually done research on this and it sounds plausible. Pat goes to garage sales and managed to get a lead crystal decanter worth several hundred bucks for only a few, but should she use it since it is lead crystal (from the turn of the last century)?

Turns out it might be pretty bad if she did. The lead leaches out of the glass fairly rapidly when the decanter is filled with something mildly acidic. Like wine. Which is what you would likely put in a wine decanter. But how much? Scott found that concentrations would be 50,000 micrograms in a few weeks (and the edge of oops for lead in drink is around 50 micrograms). So you could get quite an overdose…from just one glass of wine from that decanter.

As Scott pointed out, the aristocracy most likely to use such a fine piece of artwork would fill it, possibly close the house for a few months, then return. And drink highly contaminated wine.

Worse, the Romans used lead to “sweeten” sour wine, a practice later vintners followed.

What are the symptoms of lead poisoning? When you think about British aristocracy, well, it’s like a checklist.
High blood pressure
Declines in mental functioning
Pain, numbness or tingling of the extremities
Muscular weakness
Abdominal pain
Memory loss
Mood disorders
Reduced sperm count, abnormal sperm
Miscarriage or premature birth in pregnant women

In addition, it can cause a condition very similar to gout.

The aristocracy methodically poisoned itself over the years, likely drinking more wine to cure their hangover symptoms which could well have been due to lead poisoning.

If the aristocracy had not been susceptible to lead poisoning, they might still be top dogs. How’s that for an alt history idea?

Eggs-zactly February 2, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in history, hobby.
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One of the things I appreciate and even marvel at are Faberge eggs. I remember seeing the first egg (a white ceramic egg that opened to a hen and hen’s nest inside–all solid gold, of course) at a museum in Ft. Worth. This was part of the Malcolm Forbes collection, which toured a lot. Later I saw another egg that was purported to be the first Faberge egg at the Matilda Geddings Gray travelling collection in New Orleans.

Aside: I also held in my hand a Faberge stone elephant (bleh) and a bell push with the original electric cord still attached. The bell push itself was machined like an egg. My hand shook as I held it–and I could have bought it for $1200. Reputable dealer along Royal Street in New Orleans, lovely artifact of the Czar, would have incited me to put in a bell system to summon my butler. Only thing was, this was 1987 and I didn’t have $1200. But I held that bell push so long the Goth clerk asked for it back, fearing I might stroke out then and there.

Over the years I have seen various eggs from the Forbes collection, but the biggest display was in San Diego in 1990. The Armory allowed eggs never seen outside Russia to tour along with the Forbes collection. The Trans Siberian Railway egg was silver and onyx outside, with odd looking steel working wind-up train inside. Only it wasn’t steel. It was platinum. The Standart egg showed the Russian Imperial yacht in a crystal egg. And and and I could go on.

The Forbes collection was sold to Viktor Vekselberg in ’04 and he is now the world’s largest owner of eggs, including 11 Imperial eggs. Another 9 are in the Kremlin Armory. Thirty more surviving Imperial eggs are scattered elsewhere.

What triggered this blog was Dennis forwarding a notice of the Virginia Museum display. I think they have 5 eggs. When I win the lottery, I might not be able to afford an egg but I would certainly go see such collections. Here is a nice shot of the Imperial Napoleonic Egg.

Is That What I Really Meant? January 11, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in education, history, ideas, science, writing.
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My son forwarded a link about a project Bruce McAllister started when he was a high school student in 1963. He wrote 75 authors asking if they intentionally put symbolism into their work

The wide spectrum of authors answering fascinates me. Some were terse like Ayn Rand–but she responded. Others like Ray Bradbury were generous with their time and thoughts (what else would you expect out of a great writer like Ray?) Another revisited the question a year after the initial survey. Interesting to see how long the comments from the sf authors were.

The old saw about “write what you know” is true in the sense that a writer can’t put something into a story if it isn’t already in the brain–or the pieces that are put together to form the story. You are a prisoner of your own experience. Worse, you are in solitary confinement, only getting brief glimpses outside (and then this becomes part of your experience).

I have always said that a writer is responsible for 75% of the story. The reader brings the other 25% and this is entirely beyond the writer’s control. Those that hate a story not only don’t find their 25% engaged, things in the 75% go awry, also. But those that click, those that have their full 25% firing on all rockets, see things the writer possibly never intended–or ever could. A synergy, if you please, makes for the best books.

In a way, finding symbolism is a matter for the academics. I doubt it matters much to writers (unless they are academics and think this is necessary). Delivering a powerful story, an entertaining one, is (or ought to be) what drives a writer.

So what do you see?

Bone-eating Snot Flower December 28, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in death, education, history, ideas, science, writing.
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Isn’t that the greatest title, ever? I came across this as I was surfing and thought it made an eye-catching (so to speak) lead into weird news and the like. Bone-eating snot flower. Sort of rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?

This is up there with the corpse flower. See the time lapse below. No Smell-o-Vision included. Thankfully. (And no, I realize this Smell-o-Vision predates it.

A moment of silence, please. Cheetah the chimp from the Tarzan movies has died at the age of 80.

Now, in tribute please fling some feces (your own or others).

Or howabout the croc named Elvis that ate the lawn mower? Utterly crazy is the bloke who retrieved the mower (and 2 of the croc’s teeth).

Starlings show why we are susceptible to advertising.

Local news story that is outrageous. A guy in a mask and Santa hat tried to kill his brother-in-law with a crossbow. And in a separate case, a woman ran her bf through with a sword.

And still people wonder where those ideas come from.

New Mexico? Where is that? December 17, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in business, conventions, ghost towns, gummint, history, ideas, movies, music, New Mexico, Wild West, writing.
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Back in the day I used to sell as a sideline gag “visas” to New Mexico and touristy junk like that. I vaguely remember a booklet telling tourists US postage stamps were good here, passports weren’t needed and other obvious things that the rest of the USA simply didn’t know. Jan 6 the state is 100 years in the union. Most citizens of these great states still have no idea. It wasn’t until the most recent set of license plates that USA was dropped to keep cops in other states from thinking New Mexico meant “Frontera.” (The ultimate tourist story is the one where a woman asked at the Balloon Fiesta is she had to be a Catholic to go to the mass acension.)

The state image is in the pits. Nobody wants to vacation here because they don’t think there’s anything here. Fair enough. Tourism Dept has a lot of work to do with not much money. But I recently received a link to another blog that got me thinking. The idea of sf writers portrayed on the Simpsons is cute, but the blog itself is for an online college.

NM needs name recognition as a state with things to see and do. What are our resources? A lot of scenery. A lot of world class writers and artists and, I suspect, film makers.

But….but…but playing on the idea that people want to learn, especially to write (disclaimer: I am an instructor for Long Ridge and have been for four years), why not have a series of seminars, lectures, writing clinics at appropriate places with big name instructors? SF would obviously tie into Los Alamos or, shudder, Roswell. What’s the most romantic spot in the state–for a romance writing conference? Westerns? Lincoln County to tie in with Billy the Kid and the LC War. But there are buffalo soldiers and Indian War and even that most maligned, the Trans-Mississippi Civil War. Spanish exploration? Pueblo revolt? Spots all over the state would be fine for such writing classes. We’ve got top of the line western authorities here. Paul Hutton, Don Bullis (the official NM Centennial historian), Johnny Boggs, Melody Groves–I could go on but the list is long. The WWA 2012 conference is in Albuquerque but this is limited to WWA members who go to lots of places for the convention, not necessarily for the place itself..

Mysteries? We’ve got mystery writers galore here. Thrillers? David Morrel and others.

If the Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium draws 30k or so, finding 50 people interested in Billy the Kid (who aren’t from either NM or Texas) shouldn’t be impossible.

The biggest problem is transport since Abq is the only air terminus for the rest of the US to get here. State tourism would do well to promote genre writing clinics in various parts of the state–writers tend to write. A lot. But movie making clinics would draw bigtime from California. Maybe the state tourism dept could subsidize the transportation (an obvious gimmick is to “charge” $1000 for the actual seminar but discount it for people from, pick your target region, to only $250. And that $250 covers the actual costs so the state money would only go for transportation–what kind of a deal can the state make with airlines?)

Would budding artists pay to do landscapes in a weeklong seminar with masters? They’d be using NM’s actual scenery for subject matter. They go home, they display their work or do more…of NM. Photography, the same thing. Music? The idea is to get small groups coming here that will leave and carry with them pictures/words/movies of New Mexico that might slowly educate the geographically ignorant in the rest of the country that we have immense beauty and talent here.

Two obvious resources NM has are scenic beauty and a pool of artistic talent. None of this will happen (listen to indie film makers about how the NM Film Commission works sometime) but it is an interesting gedanken experiment. For me, at least.

Single Action Shooters Society End of Trail June 2010

A Brand New Ghost Town December 16, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in business, ghost towns, gummint, history, New Mexico, writing.
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Yes, bids have gone out to build a brand spanking new ghost town in New Mexico.

The idea is pretty innovative. Build an entire town that would normally house 35,000 residents but use it as a test bed for all kinds of 21st century technology. Intelligent traffic systems (a stunningly new idea for NMexico drivers), smart grid uses (for security–gotta wonder if they will also build in electronic glide paths for the police Predator drones) and one that ought to be there and probably won’t, modular reactors.

Bill Gates can go to China to pitch travelling wave reactors but can’t seem to do that inside the US. A pity. The NM newly built ghost town can be a wonderful place to test out such technology. After all, the town is likely to be built within an hour’s drive of the Stallion Gate and Trinity Site. (I suspect optimal location is near Socorro and NM Tech–Tech already runs a ghost town of its own down in the Bootheel used for blowing up things and training urban assault SWAT teams).

Other possibles for reactor testing, though ones like the CANDU hardly require it, are certainly out there. What better place to test EMP reactions than an entire test city?

Maybe this is the reason behind China’s Ordos? Naw, that was a failure of central planning.

There is so much NM can do to bring in the bucks using what resources we are allowed to develop. More on some random ideas about using writers in the same way Walter Jon Williams runs his Taos writers’ workshop.

I leave you with this tidbit. The name they have chosen for the town? The Center. I’d rather they had gone with The Village, but that’s just me.

The not-quite Green Dome

Extrapolation December 14, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in history, ideas, writing.
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“It does not pay a prophet to be too specific.” That’s what L Sprague DeCamp said and it ought to be taken to heart by sf writers dealing with the future (or near future especially). I don’t know this for certain but have been told Jules Verne did not say the Nautilus was nuclear powered but rather run by the same power that the Sun uses. Vagueness (and maybe lousy translation done after the physics revolution of the early 1900s) made that “prediction” a winner.

So what’s the Middle East going to look like now that we’ve pulled out of Iraq? I think Israel has less to worry about right away than Saudi Arabia. The real fight will be between the Shia and the Sunni. Iraq was a buffer and protected the Saudi border. No longer now that we’re outta there. Yemen is in turmoil, thanks to Shia rebels. Syria continues to crush its revolt (likely Sunnis) with Iranian support. If Iran positions itself as the Middle Eastern power via the bomb and ICBMs, their first move will be into Iraq to isolate the Saudis along that border. The Emirates will come under great pressure to throw out the Sunnis and adopt the Shia leadership from Iran.

The choke points to watch are the Straits of Hormuz and the Gate of Tears. This will control 80% of the oil shipped out of the Middle East. It’ll be more “Arab Spring” especially in Yemen to gain control of the Gate of Tears.

Too bad we have abandoned nuclear power and told Canada to ship their oil to China.

There you are, gang. A scenario for a high tech/international thriller. Pretty general. Go for it.

Bizarro as prophet

Outlaw to Hero December 11, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in death, history, New Mexico, outlaws, westerns, Wild West, writing.
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PBS on its American Experience series, is doing a documentary on Billy the Kid. From the link it appears the take is that he was some kind of Robin Hood character. I suppose this is true in the sense that he robbed from the rich because the poor didn’t have anything worth stealing. I’m not sure what the fascination with vicious murderers and criminals is, especially if they come to a violent end.

Dillinger is another case in point. “I wasn’t such a bad guy as some people said…” I suspect the only reason he wasn’t convicted of killing a police officer was that he tried to shoot it out with the FBI. Or maybe robbing banks during the Depression was a good thing? Real Robin Hood stuff. At least nine movies have been made about him (and for Billy? More than 15.) [How many about Alexander Fleming? Uh, don’t know. Jonas Salk? A couple? It is obviously easier to be known as a killer and bank robber and horse thief than for saving untold millions.]

One of my favorite Charles Bronson movies is From Noon til Three. Part of the attraction for me is how the insignificant can be blown up into legend, how petty crimes become marvelous deeds–through the power of advertising and PR. The rest of the attraction is how much fun the movie is.

Readers/viewers want a look at something other than what they have in their own lives, so it is obvious criminals fits that bill. But why morph the psychotic killer into something lovable? You got me on that.

Dillinger death photo

Day of Infamy, Day of Remembrance December 7, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in history, nostalgia.

This is the last year the Pearl Harbor survivors in Albuquerque will meet. 70 years has seen great attrition of numbers and those left are infirm and mostly unable to convene. How long will it be until PHD is entirely forgotten? In ten years it’ll be, huh? The number right now, in spite of our forever wars, is that less than 1% of the population has served in the military. The exact number of WWII vets dying will soon decelerate since there will be ever fewer left. And there won’t be vets to carry on those traditions.

My dad had been in the Navy 4 years on PHD and was stationed on an air scout as a radioman out of Pensacola. He never talked much about the war (like 2 of my other uncles who served in WWII–the third was too young. He became a Cold War spook and worked for the CIA and sadly was the first of my uncles to die) One thing my dad did mention once was being shot at by German subs surfacing just off the coast of Florida. His plane wasn’t armed so it got dicey most of the time, I suppose. And this was before war was declared.

During the war, he was stationed in the Aleutians on a picket ship (don’t know the name–but he was at Kiska, Attu and other spots, so the picture below is likely one he at least was familiar with). His ship was the only one with radar since he waded out into very icy water to rescue a radar unit off a sunken destroyer. He received a medical discharge at Treasure Island, lived in San Francisco for a while, then after the war started an electronics/radio repair shop with his next younger brother in Texas. While he never officially saw combat, he saw a bit of the aftermath (and, apparently not too odd for a sailor, he got violently seasick in heavy seas).

It’s been 20 yrs since he died. He would have been 91 this year. Every now and then something pops up, like an iPad or a cellphone or nifty digital camera or computer or satellite radio, and I find myself thinking, “Dad would get a kick out of this.” And he would have. He died just before the Internet became a part of our lives, and I can’t help but wonder where that would have taken him.

USS Rhodes picket ship at Attu and Kiska