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Of Two Minds…and Longer, Too February 21, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in death, gummint, New Mexico, science, weird news, Wild West, writing.
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Bipolar has been treated with lithium for some time (I call it schizophrenia, but I’m old school–in the old West they called it bug f**k crazy) But now research has shown that lithium might give some longevity.

The Fountain of Youth? Not exactly but it’s a step in that direction. Life in the old West was rugged, violent and often ended abruptly. “Till death do you part” meant about 12 years back in the 1880s. Women died in childbirth. Men died in farming accidents. It wasn’t until the turn of the 20th Century that doctors saved more than they killed (I’ve always thought getting sick back in the Wild West that the best course of action was to go to the vet, not the doctor)

Ponce de Leon hunted for the Fountain. Flocks of rich people (and sometimes not so rich) went to “take the waters” at places like Manitou Springs for the sulfur content. As late as the 1950s people went to Radium Springs in southern NM for the therapeutic benefits. They might still do so, but I don’t hear about. My grandfather went there but I always thought it was only a chance to get away from my grandmother for a few days.

All that might be needed to live longer is take lithium, but the linked article is mighty short on numbers. Is it in the government’s interest to mandate addition of Li to the water as it does fluoride? (Which is now being suggested that too much has been added and we are OD’ing on it, not to mention the possibility it might drop IQs by 5 points or so. Unintended consequences, you know) Or is it in the government’s interest that we die sooner? Could Li be banned as a longevity Rx to lighten the burden on Social Security?

Back in the snake oil days, all it took was a healthy dose of alcohol in a medicine for it to be a Magic Cure. Might be another reason I like the Good Ole Days.

[mosey on over to Larry Sweazy’s blog for a Q&A session you might like.]


Playing With Your Food February 6, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in death, ideas, inventions, movies, sci-fi, science, science fiction, weird news, writing.
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There are any number of post-apocalyptic stories dealing with zombies and natural disasters and more vague “things went wrong.” I love this genre. I remember seeing the cartoon strip for On The Beach serialized in the newspaper. Earth Abides is a favorite. So is Stand on Zanzibar. And who doesn’t immediately know what “soylent green is people!” means?

With 7 billion people on Earth, there ought to be extreme food shortages. Malthus said so. He was wrong because technology improved grain yields and gave us new ways of feeding the masses. While there are billions out there who don’t get enough to eat every day, this is changing. Ten percent of the world is obese if you believe the BMI measures anything important. (Maybe for ordinary folks it does but I cannot think it tells any part of the story for a professional athlete with body fat in, oh, the minus percentages.) But the 10% is striking and ought to be a springboard for incredible ideas for sf novels beyond Make Room, Make Room.

With food tastes worldwide changing due to increased GDP, are we doomed like Malthus said? Will GMO save us? Make us even fatter? Will we have to compete with our cars for food as ethanol is more widely used to adulterate gasoline?

Ah, the stfnal possibilities. It takes 7 kg (15.4 pounds) of feed grain to produce 1 kg (2.2 lb) of beef; 4 kg (8.8 lb) of grain to produce 1 kg of pork; and 2 kg (4.4 lb) of grain to make 1 kg of poultry. As consumers eat more meat, there’s a huge multiplier effect–demand for feed grains goes up by a multiple of the increase in meat consumption. [This from Personal Finance: Eliot Gue author]

China’s use of corn is exploding (and not just popcorn, either) since they are using more grain to feed animals for meat.

I have to go. Having lunch with a friend.

Duck, No, Groundhog February 2, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in fantasy, ideas, sense of wonder, weather, weird news, westerns, Wild West, writing.
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One of the sillier traditions, and hence innocuous and fun, unless you belong to PETA, in which case you think Punxsutawney Phil is being exploited, is believing a groundhog can predict the weather. Well, maybe not that silly since the groundhog does a better job than the weather clowns. But Phil poked his snout out this morning, looked around myopically and decided winter will be over in 6 weeks.

Phil alone knows how sick of winter most people are. It is currently 1 degree (F, for the furriners) and is supposed to surge to almost 10F today. With the 40mph gusts, that makes a wind chill of -25F. Tomorrow night it is supposed to get cold. Record breaking if I read it properly. Not much snow but a lot of cold.

Which travels faster, heat or cold? Ans: heat. You can catch cold easily.

More than the weather, Phil also predicted the Steelers would win the Super Bowl. Wonder what the overgrown rat thinks about the lottery?

In this day of instant reality (and Snooki. And the Khardashians. And American Idol) we have pretty much shoved tall tales aside. More’s the pity. At one time we were richer in folklore than a crackhead not finding the exactly right purse to accesorize. Paul Bunyan. Brer Rabbit. Casey Jones. Bigfoot Wallace.

Maybe we’ll replace stories of the Donner Party with those of electric car drivers caught in an urban blizzard and having to eat the floor mats.

Time to go whip up my own western tall tale. Yeehaw.

UF Wiki-Os January 21, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in death, gummint, New Mexico, science, science fiction, sense of wonder, UFOs, weird news, Wild West, writing.
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The ever consuming topic of UFOs crops up again. Over at i09.com they have this posted on whether the Wikileaks contain anything about UFO sightings. It is an interesting topic because I have always wondered about the Freedom of Information Act filings that produced not much of anything. Could it be there’s nothing there? Or is the gummint hiding it?

Considering how easy it was for the Wikileaks to get these memos, I can’t imagine anyone, much less entire generations of bureaucrats, keeping UFOs secret. One of my favorite stories was of a retired general who had a mummified alien hand he kept in a shoebox. He wouldn’t reveal it because he didn’t want to lose his pension. Well, uh, if it were real what he could make running a sideshow attraction would make that pension pale into insignificance. But those are the kinds of stories that get passed around.

In 1897 the Aurora, Texas UFO incident is kinda weird but similar to the Roswell Crash in 1947. The difference is that the Aurora UFOnauts are supposedly buried in the town cemetery. Back then an alien was likely lucky not to be eaten by coyotes (or hungry farmers).

These days everyone has a camera with them, on their cell phone if not elsewhere. The blue dot bouncing around over NYC a month or so back was caught and, as far as I can tell, never explained. It used to be easy to simply dismiss these things as mass hallucinations but the cameras and video are quickly dispelling that excuse. Swamp gas? A blue Venus in the daytime? Remember that Jimmy Carter saw a UFO (which was discounted as Venus)? But then he was also attacked by a rabbit (“That rabbit’s dynamite!”)

If you want the inside scoop on the Roswell UFO sighting, you can’t go wrong with Uncanny Encounters, now on Kindle. Nick Redfern has a great nonfiction historical what-we-really-know background piece on the crash.

Uncanny Encounters: Roswell

If You Didn’t Have Enough to Worry About January 16, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in death, ghost towns, weird news, westerns, writing.
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It takes a lot of time, effort, skill and material to make a nuke. The NORK wet firecracker underground test a while back is proof of that. The Stuxnet worm was so devastating because it screwed up the computer controlling the Iranian centrifuges. A little off and you’ve got a pile of burnt bearings and a big mess, so computer control is vital. (That they found the worm shows it failed to some degree–it ought to have erased itself entirely after doing its dirty work.)

So, worrying about somebody setting off a bomb amid radioactive medical waste is more likely. But the “nice” thing about radioactive junk is that it can be tracked down with Geiger counters and isolated.

Not so with biological weapons, and the potential for this one is utterly frightening. Prions had been thought to be transmitted only through ingestion of diseased meat and meat, uh, byproducts (why do I think of Vienna sausages?) But no longer. Prions–mad cow disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease–can be spread using an aerosol. And in the test mice, it is 100% fatal.

When a kid in a high school lab can modify DNA in E. coli, this is especially disturbing. Start spraying at a basketball game and you can infect hundreds. Put it in the vent system and…? We can only hope any terrorist wanting to try this starts at a UNM football game. The few fans who go now all have paper bags over their heads.

The 100% fatality is the scary part. In the Old West there were all kinds of plagues, smallpox being the worst. But diphtheria and cholera were able to wipe out towns. Sanitation wasn’t high on folks’ minds back then. A plague starts, you hightail it to the high country away from the infected. This theme gives me the creeps but I have used it in at least one book.

And Bent’s Fort might well have been abandoned and burned because of smallpox. That is one possibility I explored in Warriors of the Plains.

I enjoy writing but not being out among the snuffling masses makes me even happier. Time to get to an article, then a short story. No sniffling, no sniveling.

Warriors of the Plains by Karl Lassiter

Reading the Wave January 14, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in inventions, iPhone, sense of wonder, web & computers, weird news.
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There are over a half million iPhone apps, so it’s hard to keep up with them (especially so since I don’t have an iPhone. Might wait until Verizon upgrades to 4G in a few months and their iPhone handles it). But this app pushes the envelope. Whether it is a scam is something others will have to determine. Back in the day biofeedback units were all the craze. Learn to meditate in half the time. Rush to nirvana. I suspect this is a variant but how good it can be is a matter of conjecture.

It certainly isn’t a mind reader. It’s not telling you anything about actual thoughts as much as interpreting GSR (galvanic skin response, not the CSI gun shot residue–we are crowding acronyms but that’s a topic for another day). This might be a junior grade lie detector.

There’s always been a fascination with *knowing* what someone else is thinking. There are no fewer than two tv shows with this as a MacGuffin (Mentalist and Lie to Me–neither is very believable but I watch Mentalist because Simon Baker smiles winningly and Tim Roth sneers condescendingly).

GSR lie detectors date back to 1885 and revolved around the theory that some people are born criminals and could be identified by physical attributes. The notion of phrenology ties into this and at one time the US Army had a museum full of skulls from Indians and criminals to determine their defects.

A more subjective lie detector was probably well developed by gamblers, though in Western frontier days this probably wasn’t needed so much since cowboys tended to get drunk and, at any rate, were easy enough to cheat. Body language was certainly a tell and there is considerable communication done nonverbally.

But that iPhone mind reading app? Not so much. But fun like a Magic 8 Ball, I suspect.

And that 10G iphone app out in a decade? Now that just might read your mind and pick your pocket and…

Mr Roboto January 13, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in ideas, inventions, nostalgia, robot rights, steampunk, weird news, writing.
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OK, I admit it.  I’ve always been a sucker for robots.  It might go back to my earliest childhood days of excitement at visiting downtown Indianapolis and seeing the monster fish tank or the Soldiers & Sailors Monument or sticking my feet in the fluoroscope and wiggling my toes as I received fatal amounts of radiation or even the pneumatic tube sales system at a dept store.  It was certainly there at that dept store where I saw Elektro and knew what the future would be.

Oh well.

Roombas are ok but not like that.  Tom Swift and his Giant Robot is nifty, not to mention being about a nuclear research plant.  I started young on my geekiness. But I thought this was the opening salvo of robotics.  But nooooo….

I came across this yesterday on io9 (which, if you don’t follow, you really should–it’s got great stuff).  A steampunk robot that looks pretty darn cool.  1868?  Astounding!  Amazing!  Fantastic! Vargo Statten!

Robot history has certainly been one of attempts at making the ‘bots look human or at least humanoid, but there is no reason for this (the Roomba, for instance).  There is no reason form shouldn’t follow function.  This might well mean future robots will be teeny nanomachines (nanobots) or Chthulu tentacled monsters or something too strange to describe.  Considering how much info can be placed on a hard drive now, the nanobots might carry information/memory you could use.  It evaporates after a predetermined time, making you an expert for only so long.  For really complicated tasks, this might be very useful.  Why spend months or years learning (building those neurons) when you can let a robot give you all the skill you need?  Especially if you aren’t likely to need to do the same job again for a long time?

On a Doc Smith scale, what would a robot the size of a planet do?  I’m just now starting to work on the final book in the Star Frontier series and am thinking of doing more than just rewriting.  Introduce some new stuff?  Like robots the size of a solar system?  Might save that for later.  Other ideas away from the Star Frontier concept crop up.

I Can See Forever January 6, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in death, ideas, iPad, pranks, science fiction, sense of wonder, UFOs, weird news, westerns, writing.
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Came across this newfangled gadget on Gizmodo that will make bifocals (or progressive) lenses obsolete. I like the idea of using a touch like you might along the edge of an iPad to focus, but I’m not sure how this works if you are, say, driving with both hands on the steering wheel. What if you brush a fly off your forehead and refocus for the end of your nose? The gyroscope they talk about is likely more of the accelerometer in an iPad, so it is almost off the shelf technology.

Good ole Ben Franklin invented bifocals but I have come across very little about opticians or optometrists in the Old West. Not one of those professions you needed much, I suppose, since reading was more often a group effort rather than solitary. Better to see down the street at the gun slick ready to throw down on you (which really didn’t happen much, unless your name was John Wesley Hardin). This might be an interesting story of the Wild West. Have Lens, Will Grind.

Other oddities that are head scratching. The 5000 blackbirds getting their innards homogenized is right up there. I cannot believe anyone seriously suggests fireworks when there is an easier explanation (other than HAARP, of course) Storm got the birds into the air, a lightning bolt sent a shock wave (aka thunder) ripping out and caught them in midair. Instant soup-for-guts. The hundred tons of dead fish can similarly be explained by tornadic winds–how many humans have been killed by unseasonable tornadoes? Five now? The dead birds in Sweden and fish in Argentina, well, this happens all the time but never gets reported. But it is now. Or it might be HAARP

But the master stroke of prankishness has to be the bright green Goldstream River. College nearby? With a good chemistry department? Nontoxic coloring? At UNM it used to be soap suds in the fountain, then somebody discovered Cheer or something blue that did the same thing but also turned the water blue. Better than the piranha in the duck pond since you couldn’t actually see the piranha every time you walked by.

Then there is Edgar Allan Poe’s libidinous Man-bats on the moon

The good old days…

(And don’t forget tomorrow Jan 7 to go to #scifichat at 2-4PM EDT for a twitter chat on starship captains and an hr worth of Q&A)


Instant Ghost Towns December 23, 2010

Posted by bobv451 in death, ghost towns, gummint, ideas, sci-fi, science fiction, weird news, westerns.
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I don’t believe in ghosts but there is something beguiling about ghost towns. The West abounds with them and the causes are usually related to boom and bust. A silver or gold strike used to bring in hundreds or even thousands of people, sometimes within days. Check out the history of Gutherie, OK (which is hardly a ghost town–Sheldon Russell lives there, after all) and how its population exploded before the OK land rush.

Up in Tijeras Canyon were old coal mines and precious metal mines. Mostly the towns are populated with another kind of ghost now–60-yr-old hippies still selling love beads and tie-dyed T-shirts. But the point is most towns became ones with a population of one or less because the reason for their existence went away (bigger strike elsewhere, mines petered out).

Here is a current ghost town via io9.com Amazing how this happened. Central planning gone berserk. Since everything is going so well in California now, this isn’t going to happen there. But what if it did? (I vaguely remember a Gordon Eklund story where Disneyland was a ghost town–is even this snippet of memory wrong?)

Future stories of Earth as a ghost town abound, of course, but what if central planners intentionally build ghost towns, say to house population increases that obstinately don’t occur? And interesting idea of a future with intentional ghost towns being built for the silly ghost hunter reality shows. Craig’s List ads for ghosts to come inhabit the towns? A bidding war for Indian burial grounds so they can build houses over them? Houses built with pieces of the one true Amityville Horror?

All this is making me want to go explore a ghost town. Might wait until early January and go to a shopping mall.



Alien Bacteria on a Segway December 3, 2010

Posted by bobv451 in gummint, ideas, inventions, sense of wonder, space, UFOs, weird news, writing.
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NASA’s announcement yesterday was what I thought.  Huge hype and hohum result.  It reminded me of the hype leading up to the unveiling of the Segway, which was supposed to reform western civilization and change the way we live.  That might work for GOB (or Wozniak and his Segway polo team) but not so much for anyone else.  This goes to show how far the mighty NASA has fallen.

For you idea folks out there.  I saw this about a 7-month space mission put up by the Air Force which might mean return to a manned space presence.  The X-37B was taken over from NASA by the Pentagon for some kind of secret military missions.  They put this up for an extended period of time for…why?  Who knows?  But there you can speculate like crazy and get a dozen different kinds of novels out of it.

The 7-month would be an incredible time for a murder mystery.  Body stuffed into X-37B and it wouldn’t be found for over a year.  What kind of investigation would be done after the body was found (since this is a black ops flight)?  And if the idea was to sabotage the reentry, all evidence would be burned up.  Or left in orbit forever.

What sort of high-tech thriller mission might this represent?  Maybe it was manned and the astronaut died?  What could cause that?  Something top secret or just a test flight that went wrong?  What would the astronaut think and do knowing he (she?) was never going to return–and capcom held the reins of communications so there’d never be word leaked.  Apollo 13 without the publicity?

A YA book.  The old kids sneak aboard.  But they have a reason and know they’ll be rescued–by alien friends already in orbit.

Or a straight sf story about getting to orbit to ferry down an alien ambassador but something goes terribly wrong.

And people ask where ideas come from.  Now if I could only get my Segway to motor on over to the arsenic bacteria filled lake and…