Archive for June, 2011

Only smudges at first–
flecks of white in a sky so deep it seems as blue and bottomless as the ocean,
but the flecks grow,
loom higher,
cover the sky until the white blots out the sun,
and darkens and becomes heavy with thunder
shot through with fire that flashes from sky to ground,
burning, hungry,
threatening to smudge the world with smoke
until the heavy sky can to longer hold the weight of water
and gives birth
to rain.

©Sue Ann Bowling

Shakespeare Quotes

This week’s Twitter quotes were from The Complete Works of Shakespeare on my iPad, but I’ll put in the links to the individual books. Some were hard to find without copious notes — every teacher and commenter seems to want a go at Shakespeare. Sometimes he’s worth just reading.

“Rumour doth double, like the voice and echo.” Shakespeare. Context? Henry IV Part 2, Act III scene 1. Warwick reassuring the king that the number of those rebelling against him is less than rumor has it.

“For it is as the air, invulnerable.” Shakespeare. Context? Hamlet, Act I Scene 1. Horatio, referring to the ghost of Hamlet’s father.

“I love thee not, therefore pursue me not.” Shakespeare. Context? A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act II Scene 1. Demetrius to Helena, before Puck’s mischief begins.

“Present fears are less than horrible imaginings:” Shakespeare. Context? MacBeth, Act I Scene 3. MacBeth, as he get the first inkling that the three witches might know what they are talking about.

“You have seen sunshine and rain at once: her smiles and tears were like.” Shakespeare. Context? King Lear, Act IV Scene 3; describing Cordelia as she learns of her father’s plight.

“I never did repent for doing good, nor shall I now.” Shakespeare. Context? The Merchant of Venice Act III  Scene 4. Portia, as she is planning her ruse as a lawyer.

“I am a properly reared Cat, and there are rules one follows.” Sue Ann Bowling. Context? Not from Homecoming this time, but from a short story, “The Case of the Incompetent Police Dog” in Crafty Cat Crimes. The rules? “One does not show undue affection to one’s provider. One does not respond to the requests of humans, much less their commands, on any regular basis. One does not, in short, behave as a dog.”

Last month I blogged about an article in The New Scientist based on a book due to be released soon. The book, The Animal Connection by Pat Shipman, is now available and was one of the first I bought for my iPad.

This is a book anyone interested in animals, domestication or human evolution should read. Dr. Shipman points out that hunters must observe animals and learn to anticipate them in order to hunt successfully. She links tool-making to the hunting of animals, pointing out that we are unique as predators in using tools, not teeth or claws, to hunt. The addition of meat to our diet may well have been what made us able to support increasingly large brains, as brains have a very large energy cost.

The need to get “inside the skull” of another species may also be behind much of the empathy and imagination we share.

Later, the need to share information about animals may well be one of the driving forces behind our acquisition as a species of language. Language, although one of the traits that define us as a species, does not fossilize, so arguments here tend to have more than a little arm-waving about them. The fact remains that animals, rather than plants or other people, are the main subjects of Paleolithic art.

If animals were living tools, as the author argues, they are tools whose best use must be based on mutual understanding, not on force. There is nothing really new about this; Xenophon’s tretise on horsemanship said it over two thousand years ago.

The future? To quote the author, “The post-animal world, if we choose to live in it, is a fearsome place that threatens to destroy the very best qualities of humankind.”

I tend to believe most of the arguments in this book partly because they reflect my own conclusions. I wrote a short story over ten years ago suggesting that the connection between people and dogs may have shaped both into a new symbiosis, and I am glad to see that idea now accorded some degree of scientific acceptance.

Book: The Animal Connection, by Pat Shipman. Published by W.W. Norton,
ISBN 978-0-393-07054-5

The sun rose this morning at 3:03 in the morning and will set tomorrow at 12:44 am, for 21 hours 41 minutes with the sun (in theory) above the horizon. That’s assuming a flat horizon, which mine isn’t. Even at its lowest the sun is less than 2° below the horizon, so it stays light all night—white nights, they call them in Scandinavia. Star-gazing and aurora-watching are definitely out of season at least until August.

We’ve reached the thunderstorm season, though there are days like last Saturday when it’s clear (and hot—88° above) most of the day with clouds building in the evening. Other days it’s cloudy all day, but afternoon and evening it’s not unusual to have thunder and rain.

The garden loves it. Especially, I’m sorry to day, the chickweed. One of the zucchini (8-ball) is now blooming, with both male and female flowers, and the beans I panted late are germinating. The delphiniums are budding, though I have to look up to see them – the buds are above my eye level. For some reason the daylilies at the east end of the bed are well ahead of those at the west end, even though they’re only about 10 feet apart – the east end started blooming a week ago; the west end still just has buds. Maybe I didn’t get the fertilizer evenly distributed.

The days are getting shorter now – one of the reasons we are a little melancholy when solstice comes. We know it is the beginning of the slow slide into winter. Still, the garden is yielding lettuce and herbs, I can get vine-ripened tomatoes (locally greenhouse grown) at the Farmers’ Market and the days are usually comfortable in shorts and a t-shirt. At least as long as I keep moving faster than the mosquitoes, blackflies, whitesocks and no-see-ums!

Proposed Cover illustration for Tourist Trap

Another bit from Tourist Trap, a little after last week’s. “She” is Penny. I’ve just received the second round of page proofs on this novel, so it should be available soon.

A snow flurry drove into the side of her face, and for a moment the world seemed to vanish around her in a white blur. A branch exploded out of the whiteness, coming toward her face, and she barely had time to duck as the team took her past it. I’m going to intensify the link so you can share my perception of what’s around us, Roi’s mental voice continued.

The first flurry dissipated, allowing her to see Growler, Timi skiing behind Amber, and a small sphere of forest around them. Amber’s team faded into the whiteness of the sphere’s boundary, and Roi’s was completely lost in the thickening snow. The feeling she’d been taught to associate with telepathy came, very slightly, and abruptly she knew when Snowflake started into a bend in the trail, and felt Flame’s and Roi’s positions ahead of the old leader.

Other Six Sentence Sunday posts

How do you feed an infant predator?

Maybe I’d better back up a little.

My exploration is proceeding very slowly – teleport to a place I’ve been before and walk for an hour or two until my feet get sore, and then teleport back to the capsule. No rain at all in the month and a half I’ve been here. I hope this is just a dry season, rather than the start of a drought. The stream seems to be perennial – I hope. At least there is no shortage of either water or fish, but from the increased crowding of the herbivores along its bank and my own observations, this is the only water around. There is ground water – I can perceive it – and if need be I can bore a well telekinetically.

Where there are herbivores crowded together there will be predators. It is not the season for births – that much is obvious – so I was a little surprised to see one of the smaller social predators apparently nursing young. At any rate her breasts were enlarged enough to slow her down, and one of the striped herbivores kicked her head in.

She seemed low ranking and almost fearful of the others, which puzzled me. I opened my mind, and sent out thoughts of milk – and got an answer. A tiny cub, its eyes barely open, with two others, dead of starvation. Their mother must have been desperate for food.

Admit it – I’m lonely. And if I can raise the cub, using my telepathy to convince her I’m her mother, she’d be a companion. Something to talk to, even if she can’t talk back.

So how am I going to feed Patches?

If other animals had young, I could milk one easily enough – but most of the young animals, at least of the species I’ve seen, have been weaned. I’m doing quite nicely on fish and the occasional small mammal, along with a certain amount of scavenging (the warnoff is very handy for that) and a few seeds and fruits. So I’ve been trying to process fish and meat into a slurry she can swallow. She’s hungry enough to swallow anything.

I wonder if the computer files have any information that would help me?

Although winter clouds over most of Alaska are usually found in rather dreary sheets, in summer the puffy cumulus clouds punctuate the sky. These clouds may vary from snowy wisps of cotton candy to towering hard-edged thunderheads, and indeed may change from one extreme to the other in a startlingly short time. On other days, they may remain like flattened heaps of whipped cream, or march in ordered rows away from areas of high ground.

Cumulus clouds owe their existence to the heating of the earth’s surface by the sun. The heated ground heats the air it touches; that warmed air then rises through the cooler air higher up in the atmosphere. If a particular area is warmer than another area close by, the rising air will be concentrated over the warmer area.

Air, like everything else, has to do work to go upwards. The energy for this work comes from the heat energy of the air, so the air cools as it rises. Warm air can hold more water as vapor (invisible gas) than can cold air, so if the air rises far enough, some of the water will condense into tiny droplets, which in large numbers form clouds. The height the air must rise for this to happen depends on the relative humidity of the air near the ground, so if that is fairly uniform, the clouds will all have their bases flat and at about the same height, which frequently happens with cumulus. (The bases may look lower at a greater distance, but this is a perspective effect.)

How high the tops of the clouds can rise depends on how fast the temperature drops with height in the air through which the parcel of ground-warmed air is rising. If the temperature in the surrounding air decreases rapidly with height (faster than 7 or 8 degrees C per kilometer), the clouds will build rapidly into great cauliflower-shaped piles. They may then smooth and flatten on top as they reach the tropopause (the boundary between the turbulent troposphere and the calm stratosphere), and will most likely begin to rain. If there is a layer lower in the atmosphere where the temperature decreases less rapidly or even increases, however, this will act as a lid on the clouds and they will remain puffy little fair-weather cumulus.

In hilly country, cumulus may form over the higher areas and then drift away with the wind, forming cumulus streets. This happens because the high ground, heated by the sun, is generally warmer than the air at the same height over the neighboring lower ground. Consequently, the rising air is concentrated over the hill tops, and that is where the first cumulus clouds can be seen.

In the evening, the sun’s heating effect on the ground weakens, and there is no longer anything driving the formation of cumulus clouds. Thunderheads evaporate or rain out, leaving only their anvils (the flattened ice clouds at their tops) behind them. Lower cumulus sag and flatten, providing attractive accents for sunsets before they, too, evaporate. Except in some places such as the Great Plains, where thunderstorm activity triggered by the Rocky Mountains can move steadily eastward through the night, the cumulus disappear at night, as they do in winter, until the sun again returns to repeat the daily and seasonal cycle.

Originally published in the Alaska Science Forum.

Every author today who is not already a celebrity needs to wear two (at least) hats: writer (with an editor rolled in) and marketer. The two roles frequently don’t sit well together, but there is nothing new about that. Think of politicians, who must all too often choose between what is best for their country and what will get them reelected. (Never mind that I suspect some of them don’t know what is best for the country, as opposed to what is wanted by those who fuel their campaigns.) For that matter, scientists are constantly distracted from what they do best, coming up with new ideas and ways of testing them, by the demands of writing proposals for money to fund those tests.

In that sense, my life as a writer has been very much taken over by my life as a rather ineffectual marketer.

Farmers Market, mid-May

I can’t travel very much any more, and even locally it is hard to get venues for signings. (I’ve managed one, at Gulliver’s.) This summer I’m going to try concentrating on Alaska and Fairbanks, hoping some tourists as well as locals will at least discover my science fiction book, Homecoming. I’ve joined a marketing group, the Alaskan Association of Authors, who will have my book for sale at all the major fairs and craft shows in the state. In addition, I decided to try selling it myself, more for promotion than actual sales, at the Tanana Valley Farmers’ Market.

The first hurdle was getting the jury to accept that a book written in Alaska by an Alaskan was indeed made in Alaska, even though the publisher was Outside. Thus my late start.

My table, Farmers' Market 6/22/11

The Farmers’ Market is Wednesdays 11 am to 4 pm, Saturdays 9 am to 4 pm, and Sundays 11 am to 4 pm. The Sunday venue is new and outdoor only; Wednesdays and Saturdays they have both a building and a paved outdoor area. I tried it out for the first time yesterday, with an indoor table and no intention of even trying Saturday or Sunday.

I learned some things.

First, bring mosquito repellant.

Second, dress in multiple layers. The building is unheated, and temperatures can range from the 40’s to the 80’s—not usually in a single day, but considerable change can occur from 11 am to 4 pm.

Third, if at all possible bring your wares on wheels. I carried in a box of books, staggering all the way. If I had thought in advance, I would have packed books and as much of my display as I could in my roll-on suitcase.

Sales? Well, I sold two books, on what other vendors said was one of the slowest days of the season. Financially, I paid $10 for the table plus 10% of my take so I came out ahead but not by much. The 5 hours plus of my time were well below minimum wage, but I’m looking at this more as publicity than immediate return—especially as I’ll probably have a sequel, Tourist Trap, out in a few weeks.

Did I mention I’m thinking seriously of going this Saturday?

McCaffrey Trivia

“ Has that cat caught any foreign cars lately?” Anne McCaffrey. Context? Ring of Fire, a short novel published with two others in Three Women. Dice, the Maine coon cat, is somewhat larger than most cats.

“Breeding and training horses was never a profitable occupation.” Anne McCaffrey. Context? The Lady. This is a romance set in Irish horse country, and Michael is working on his taxes.

“As long as I provided the services required what matter the motives, hidden or open?” Anne McCaffrey. Context? Nerilka’s Story. Nerilka is justifying to herself that she is going to Ruatha.

“Men were men in blizzard and in war.” Anne McCaffrey. Context? The Mark of Merlin. Another short novel from Three Women, this one involving a young woman orphaned in World War II. The “men were men” refers to their needing food and their socks washed.

“The dragons confer honor where they will. Anne McCaffrey. Context? This is a scene which occurs in at least two different books: Dragonflight and The Masterharper of Pern. The dragons are keening at the death of the watch-where that was Lessa’s only friend. F’lar (who was just attacked by the watch-wher) is disowning the dragons’ reaction.

“Where pounds and pence are concerned, blood has a tendency to curdle.” Anne McCaffrey. Context? The Kilternan Legacy, the third story from Three Women. The solicitor, Michael Noon, is discussing her legacy with Irene Teasey.

“They can’t teach me because they don’t really know what I’m doing.” Sue Ann Bowling. Context? Homecoming. Roi, speaking to Marna. Neither Derik nor Nik has been able to teach him anything about his Healing talent, which was thought to be extinct.

Madagascar: DVD Review

This DVD is not about dinosaurs, though Madagascar has been isolated almost since the time of the dinosaurs. Like the rest of the world, its inhabitants evolved from small creatures that survived the non-bird dinosaur extinction – but Madagascar was separated from both Africa and India so early that its evolution was almost in isolation. Today it has an array of unique plants and animals almost unmatched in the rest of the world, but very much under threat.

This is the latest of David Attenborough’s nature programs for the BBC. There are three programs: Island of Marvels, Lost Worlds and Land of Heat and Dust. Because Madagascar has a mountainous spine, the east and west coasts are quite different. The east coast faces the trade winds and is well-watered; the west coast is a rain-shadow desert. There is also a gradient from the north to the very dry southern tip.

Much of the program is taken up with the lemurs, the fascinating primates of Madagascar. These are forest-dwelling creatures for the most part, many with highly specialized habitats, and are threatened as much by forest clearance as by hunting. If you’ve seen the animated feature, “Madagascar” you no doubt remember the fossa – taking the place of the big cats, but related to mongooses. It turns out they are very hard to find and endangered – as are most of the species native to Madagascar.

Lemurs are far from the only Madagascar endemics. Chameleons, a wide variety of insects, and even some of the birds are unique.

In addition to the three main programs, there are two others: The Lemurs of Madagascar (which follows ring-tailed lemur mothers) and Attenborough and the Giant Egg, which combines Attenborough’s first visit to Madagascar with the present, when the giant eggshell he discovered 50 years ago is carbon-dated. At one time, it seems, Madagascar had truly giant birds.

I like David Attenborough, and the photography on this DVD is up to the BBC standards — high.  Definitely worth watching if you like nature programs.