Archive for January, 2011

Looking east, 9 am Jan 31

Sunrise at 9:40 am and sunset at 4:30 pm for almost 6 hours 50 min of daylight. We’re gaining a little over 6 minutes a day, now, and the sun is beginning to rise above the trees to the south–16 times its own diameter above the horizon at noon. The sky was clear and too light for stars at 8:40 this morning, and the temperature in North Pole was 0 F. The rush hour is now a little before full dark.

Still no new snow–the snow stake is sitting stubbornly at 14″. There is really a little less, now, as there has been some settling. The roads are still glazed from the rain last November, and with the forecast calling for temperatures above zero in the daytime this week, they’ll probably be slippery. There’s a chance of snow starting tomorrow, but only a chance. It seems most of our snow has gone south for the winter–to the dismay of those living in areas less prepared for it than we are up here.

Our forecast for this week shows highs generally above zero but below freezing (good, this time of year) and cloudy after tonight, with chances of snow. I certainly hope so; I can do without the well freezing.

There is a newer version of this post, with added photographs.

Tobiano was the first type of white body spotting in horses recognized as being genetically distinct. Like other white markings, it varies widely in extent, with tobiano horses ranging from white with a colored head to normally colored with white hooves and lower legs, and perhaps a white area in the mane or tail. A few tobianos have blue eyes which are apparently produced by the tobiano gene.

The tobiano pattern has relatively crisp-edged white spots that cross the topline. The arrangement tends to be vertical, though not to the extent of a striped pattern. The head normally remains dark, though the white markings seen on non-spotted horses may be present. At times the dark skin extends under the edges of the white patches, giving a “halo” effect. Portions of the mane and tail growing from white areas are normally white, and in fact this may be the only obvious expression of tobiano in a minimally marked horse.

The pattern is due to a dominant allele, tobiano, at the tobiano locus. This locus is near but not at the KIT locus on chromosome 3, and a marker test is available. A horse with two copies of the tobiano locus is perfectly viable and not usually whiter than one with one tobiano and one wild-type allele. It is, however, more likely to show “paw prints” or “bear paws”–roan or spotted areas within the white patches.

Tobiano can occur on any base color: intense, dilute, or with interspersed white hairs. It does occasionally have an odd effect in the presence of one copy of the cream gene. The colored part of the coat “breaks up” into patches of dilute and non-dilute hair. This variation of the pattern is called calico. Calico is thought to be due to a dominant gene at a third locus which can only be detected if both tobiano and cream alleles are present. Theoretically, smoky calico should occur with areas of smoky, black, and white, but I cannot find any reference to this color in Sponenberg.

Although tobiano is dominant, tobiano foals are now and then produced by parents that appear non-spotted. On close examination one of these parents is generally a minimally marked tobiano, with extensive leg white and vary little face white.

The tobiano in the video is a good example of the pattern. Note the way the white markings on the neck are carried into the mane, and the way the white patches cross the topline.

Sometimes I wish Roi and his Healing ability were real, rather than a creation of my mind. Still, ordinary doctors can do quite a lot.

This week, it was complications of cataract surgery. I had the lens replaced in my left eye over a year ago, with stunning results. A few days after the surgery, distant vision in my left eye was back very close to 20/20, though I still needed glasses to read. I’m getting to the point where my arms just aren’t long enough, but my overall vision was wonderful.

Then, so slowly that I was hardly aware of it, my vision began to fog up again.

I found it harder and harder to read. First, words on paper. I had to use a magnifying glass to read the phone book, but then ordinary type in books became more and more difficult. The computer screen was still readable, but more and more often I was having to zoom the text and set things I was writing to half again normal size. When I started having problems reading my insulin pump and glucose meter, I spoke to my eye doctor.

I’ve had problems with diabetic retinopathy for almost twenty years. The treatment for that is what is called pan-retinal coagulation. The outer part of the retina is killed with pinpoint burns from a laser. Effectively, the periphery of the retina—which gives peripheral vision and low-light vision—is sacrificed to save the inner part, which gives sharp focus and color vision. I’ve had lots of experience with that kind of laser treatment. It’s somewhat painful and vision afterward is blurry and pink-tinged for a while. (The laser is green.)

What I had now was posterior capsule opacity. The eye doctor explained that the laser was less intense than what I was used to, though from my point of view the procedure was much the same—eye dilated, a lens inserted in my eye, and several minutes of holding my head motionless against a frame while I fixed the gaze of my other eye on a small target light.

I could hear the clicks as the doctor used the laser to cut a small hole in the thickened capsule, but I could not feel it. After I was released from the chair, my vision was blurry and pink-tinged, as I expected. What I did not expect was that by the time I got home, about an hour later, I was able to see much better than I could only that morning.

Today, forty hours after surgery, my vision is bright and clear, and if I understand correctly what the surgery did, it should stay that way. Yes, the Healing ability of a few of my characters would be nice—but medicine today can do some wonderful things—if you can afford it.

Thursday: Anyone remember where Anne McCaffrey’s first Dragonrider story was published?

Weyr Search, the first part of what eventually became Dragonflight, was published as a short novel in Analog in October 1967. The rest of the book was published as a serial, Dragonrider, in Analog December 1967-January 1968. After that, the Pern series took off on its own.

Friday: “Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them?” J. R. R. Tolkien, but who says it and where?

Gandalf is speaking to Frodo, but where depends on whether you remember the book or the movie. In the book, the conversation takes place in Bag End:

“He [Gollum] deserves death,” Frodo says after hearing Gollum’s story.

“Deserves it? I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. I have not much hope that Gollun can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it. And he is bound up with the fate of the Ring. My heart tells me that he has some part yet to play, for good or ill, before the end, and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many—yours not least.”

In the movie, the same conversation takes place in the mines of Moria, after Frodo catches sight of Gollum following them.

Saturday: “–make your audience identify with and feel deeply for a character and then drop a mountain on him!” Mercedes Lackey, but what story?

This is from After Midnight, a short story copyrighted in 2002. The author dreams she is being confronted (and accused) by a number of the characters she has created. That particular statement is from Lavan Firestorm: “And then you brag about it! The Lackey-patented formula for success—make your audience identify with and deeply care for a character and then drop a mountain on him!” I don’t think it’s really patentable, due to prior use. Every good storyteller since the time of Gilgamesh has used it.


“So we can believe the big ones?”

–Pratchett. What book?

This is from Hogfather, with Death speaking to his graddaughter, Susan. Death’s answer is YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

Monday: “Miniature bears with long bushy tails.” –Andre Norton, but what kind of animal and what book?

Wolverines were being tried as scout partners in Storm over Warlock. First published in 1960, this book was combined with two others, Ordeal in Otherwhere and Forerunner Foray and republished as Warlock in 2005. I have the old Ace paperback of Storm over Warlock, with a cover price of 40 cents.

Tuesday: “You cannot see things till you know roughly what they are.” C. S. Lewis, #Scifi Which book, and what’s the context?

This is a quote from Out of the Silent Planet, describing Ransom’s first moments on Malacandra (Mars:) “He saw nothing but colours—colours that refused to form themselves into things. Moreover, he knew nothing well enough yet to see it: you cannot see things until you know roughly what they are. His first impression was of a bright, pale world—a water-colour world out of a child’s paint-box; a moment later he recognized the flat belt of light blue as a sheet of water, or something like water, which came nearly to his feet.”

Wednesday: “The R’iil’nai said there were certain rules of civilized behavior we had to follow.”—Bowling (yes, me.) Book and context?

The book is Homecoming, and the context is the Human, Cinda, telling Marna about the Confederation. “The R’il’nai said there were certain rules of civilized behavior we had to follow. Like not trying to take over a planet with another intelligent species on it.”

I’ll be quoting bits from my own books or blog on Wednesdays. Next week? I hope to use bits from Tolkien’s poems, but fair warning—many got left out of the film version of Lord of the Rings.

Know how a contrail forms?

No, it has very little to do with particles produced by a jet engine (or a propeller engine, for that matter.) The culprit is water vapor.

Burning any hydrocarbon fuel, no matter how cleanly, produces two gasses: carbon dioxide and water vapor. If the fuel is dirty or combustion is incomplete or very hot, other things may be produced—sulfur compounds, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, particulates—but the energy we get out of burning hydrocarbons comes from combining oxygen from the air with the hydrogen and carbon that make up the bulk of the fuel.

An oxygen atom plus two hydrogen atoms is a molecule of water. A carbon atom plus two oxygen atoms is a molecule of carbon dioxide. The definition of clean combustion is combustion in which only these two compounds are produced.

Fuels vary in their ratio of carbon to hydrogen. Coal has about equal quantities of each, and when cleanly burned produces more than three times its weight in carbon dioxide and somewhat less than its weight in water. Gasoline has about 2 atoms of hydrogen to one of carbon, and produces a little less carbon dioxide but more than its weight in water. Straight hydrogen does not produce carbon dioxide, but produces a whopping nine times its weight in water.

In most climates, we can ignore the water, at least near the ground. But the air can only hold so much water, and the amount it can hold decreases rapidly with temperature. What’s more, the limit on how much it can hold differs depending on whether ice is present. It is perfectly possible for air to have more moisture than it could hold if ice were present, but not enough that moisture condenses out in cloud droplets. In fact, this is very common at high elevations.

Further, cloud droplets can have a temperature well below freezing, but still be liquid droplets. They can be triggered into freezing by ice nuclei, the most effective nucleus being a sliver of ice. This is how wing icing on airplanes occurs, by flying through what are called supercooled clouds—clouds of liquid water drops at subfreezing temperatures..

At very low temperatures, below about –40, an ice nucleus is not necessary, as a droplet will freeze spontaneously.

Now imagine an airplane flying in air with a temperature below –40 (true of most commercial flights today) with a moisture content not high enough for cloud formation, but high enough that ice crystals can grow. The engine exhaust contains large concentrations of water vapor—enough to cause condensation of droplets just behind the plane. Since the temperature is below –40 these droplets will freeze very rapidly. Once they are frozen they gather in water from the air around them. The result is a contrail that is not only visible, but grows.

Most areas don’t have ground temperatures below –40 very often—but here in Fairbanks, Alaska, we do. Automobiles leave contrails in these conditions. More, many of the pollutant particles we spew into the air act as ice nuclei at temperatures a little warmer than –40, so the combined persistent contrails—ice fog—can occur well above –40. It’s fog made of ice particles, rather than water droplets. It’s densest just behind each vehicle, making it hard to see the tail lights of the car ahead.

Growth from vapor makes well-formed crystals that produce optical effects like sun dogs, halos, and ice pillars. We have those, but not in ice fog. Ice fog particles are basically frozen droplets, and while they are crystalline, they do not generally have the clearly defined facets necessary for them to act as prisms. So ice fog looks just like fog.

Sad to say, my photos of ice fog all seem to be slides that have not been digitized. Does anyone have a good photo of ice fog or contrails I could put on this page?

Sunrise 10:02 am, Sunset 4:05 pm for more that 6 hours of daylight, and gaining 6 and a half minutes a day. The gain is fairly steady now, changing by only a couple of seconds a day. The clouds that came in last night to warm things up are clearing, though there were enough left to give a pink sunrise. Temperature 9 below, but the forecast calls for warming this week–highs generally above zero F, lows below 0. Still not much snow–we have a chance Wednesday and Wednesday night, but only a chance. I think all the snow must be down south! At least we have a break from ice fog temperatures.

An updated version of this post is available.

Any color horse, full color, dilute, or with intermixed white hairs, can have white body markings. These have long been recognized as falling into two categories: leopard (Appaloosa in North America) and pinto (or paint, piebald, skewbald, or parti-colored.) I’ll leave the leopard complex for later—maybe Tourist Trap will be out by then, and the horses in it have leopard complex markings. For today, I’ll just give a brief overview of the paint/pinto nomenclature.

Tobiano (left) and leopard (right)

In British usage, a piebald was a black and white horse, and a skewbald was red and white. This distinction is rarely made today. Rather, the color of the horse—bay, black, palomino, red dun roan, or whatever—is followed by the pattern of marking. And there are a lot more patterns recognized today, often due to quite distinct genes, than was the case when I first became interested in horse genetics!

Paint and pinto are in fact synonyms when they are used as descriptive terms, though they have separate breed registries. In North America pinto may be more common in the east and paint in the west, but either may include any of the patterns of white body spotting.

The first breakdown came when tobiano—the pattern shown by the horse in the left of the photo—was recognized as being genetically distinct from overo. Then it turned out that there were several genetically distinct patterns being lumped together as overo—just about everything that wasn’t tobiano, in fact. The latest version of Sponenberg gives no less than seven patterns of white body markings, not including the leopard complex or the dark-eyed solid white of the American Albino. I’ll give a very short summary of the seven here, and cover specific patterns and what is known of their genes in later posts.

Tobiano is a relatively clean, crisp spotting with white legs but generally dark heads. White markings tend to be vertical and generally cross the back in all but minimally marked animals.

The frame pattern was once considered typical overo. It is horizontal, tends to affect the head first and the legs last, and white rarely crosses the spine. Frame to frame breeding can produce white foals that die shortly after birth.

Sabino-1 horses normally have both face and leg markings, and often have roaned areas as well. They are usually not as crisply marked as tobianos, but they vary widely and confusion with almost any of the other patterns is possible.

Splashed white gives the appearance of the horse being splashed with white paint from below. The legs are normally white, and so is the belly area. In addition, white is normally present on the head, often to such an extent that the head is entirely white.

Polygenetic sabino and the form of dominant white that sometimes produces colored areas are not well characterized genetically. but are apparently distinct from the other forms of white spotting.

The final pattern, which is very rare, is called manchado, and has been seen in several breeds in Argentina. In this pattern, white first appears along the top line, and can produce a white mane on an otherwise colored horse. The head and legs tend to stay dark as the white areas grow larger, and there are often dark spots in the white, giving a superficial similarity to some leopard patterns.

All of these patterns vary widely in the amount of white, and all have pink skin under the white portions of the coat. I’ll take them one at a time in later posts.


“We don’t take vacations, at least those of us who are responsible don’t. There’s always something to do that nobody else can do. Oh, there are hours free, if you’re lucky even days. But it’s never predictable. The only reason that I can even count on being on planet for the next month is because Kaia and I are filling in for your father. And if an emergency comes up I may not even have time to work with you.”

“You make it sound like being a slave.”

“Not that bad. Certainly there’s a lot more choice, and more things to enjoy when you do have the time. But the main difference is that the discipline is from inside yourself, instead of being imposed from outside. I wish,” he added grimly, “that Zhaim understood that.”

from Homecoming.

One of the basic assumptions of my fiction is that the R’il’nai, and other star-faring species, are inherently peaceful. The idea is that any species that cannot learn to get along with other sentient beings will, in the course of developing the technology necessary for star flight, kill itself off or at the least knock itself back to barbarism. “Watch, but watch only,” is the rule for nascent intelligent species. I am assuming that applies to Earth.

Jarn broke that rule, not only by hybridizing with our primate ancestors, but by teaching them the technology needed to get him back to his home. The other R’il’nai of his time were horrified, but could not really blame him for wanting to get home, or blame the Humans for learning what he had to teach them. They did, however, feel responsible for Humans being in space—a responsibility that became deeply ingrained not only in their R’il’nian descendants, but in the majority of the R’il’noids, the crossbreds.

The majority.

For the R’il’noids, the sense of responsibility tends to develop rather slowly with age. Derik’s wild youth is not unusual, but the gradual increase in the percentage of R’il’noids that never feel any responsibility toward Humans is just beginning to be a problem at the start of Homecoming, as is the decoupling of the Çeren index from those abilities of the R’il’noids most needed to help the Humans mature into a race that can co-exist with the other star-faring species.

The Maungs? I don’t really get into them in Homecoming, but they are incompatible, not hostile. They are as upset by the fact that what should be the nervous system of an adult Maung is infecting a Human when it should be one of their own kind as the Humans are—and one of the chief duties of the R’il’nai (and the R’il’noids) is to keep the two species apart.

So what do you think? Should we feel a sense of responsibility toward each other? Should those with exceptional talents use them for the benefit of society as a whole?

I’ve been tweeting short excerpts from early science fiction (before 1950) since Saturday. Here are the answers so far:

Saturday: “Do nothing that can harm your host! is the mantra of the Hunter in Needle, by Hal Clement. Originally copyrighted in 1949-50. An old classic.

Sunday: Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem is on his grave in Samoa:

“Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie
Glad did I live and gladly die
And I laid me down with a will!

“This be the verse you grave for me:
‘Here he lies where he longed to be,
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill! ’ ”

Heinlein repeated it in his short story, Requiem, imagining the poem pinned to the lunar ground next to the body of a man to whom getting to the moon was everything. This is very early Heinlein; the original copyright is 1939, the year he published his first story. Republished as part of his future history series. Dated, but with space tourism in the news, maybe not all that much.

Monday: “You’ll have your chance,” he said into the far future. “And by Heaven you’d better make good.” Sturgeon, but what story? This is the end of Thunder and Roses, one of my favorite Sturgeon  short stories, published in 1947. At that time the world was trying to come to terms with the reality of the atomic bomb.

Tuesday: “If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore …” Emerson. The Asimov story?
The story is Asimov’s Nightfall, published in 1941 as a short story. Campbell’s take on Emerson’s quote was, “I think men would go mad,” and when Asimov wrote the story Campbell published it in Astounding Science Fiction. In 1968 the Science Fiction Writers of America voted Nightfall the best science fiction short story written prior to the establishment of the Nebula Awards, and it has been anthologized repeatedly. Asimov and Silverberg expanded it to book length in 1990.

Wednesday: “Intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own …” H. G. Wells. Which book? This is from the opening sentence of War of the Worlds, 1898: “No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.” Writing styles have changed since then! I suspect the famous radio program is better known today than the original book, but it’s available in ebook format.

Next week it’ll be fantasy.

Sunrise 10:22 am, sunset 3:21 pm for 5 hours 20 min of daylight. The sun is over 9 times its diameter above the horizon, and driving south on icy (reflective) roads is a real pain. We’re gaining 6 minutes a day, now, and the sunshine is visible shining from the south window on my north walls at noon. We’re on the upswing!

On the down side, it’s 33 below today. I’m just as happy I don’t need to go out and get the mail. Still, it’s nice to see the seed catalogs arriving. It’s pleasant to know that we’re on the way to spring, even if the thermometer doesn’t show it yet. In fact the battery-operated remote thermometer doesn’t even register—the batteries are frozen. An since I’m in a cold spot, the forecast doesn’t look very encouraging

Makes me feel for my characters in Tourist Trap, caught in a major blizzard.