Archive for April, 2012

The sun rose this morning at 5:19, and will not set until 10:20 this evening. We’re on daylight time, but I’m not really sure why – we certainly have no shortage of daylight! 17 hours today, and we’re gaining about 7 minutes a day. Solar altitude at noon has crossed the 40° mark, most of the snow has melted, and I’m putting the mints out to harden in the daytime. But at the darkest time of night the sun is only a little more than 10° below the horizon.

Violets and delphinium are popping up next to the south wall of the house.

The forecast is for quite a bit cooler this week, with rain and snow possible. I hope the snow doesn’t stick! I’ll probably get out the hose today, but I certainly won’t leave it hooked up at night.

I’m doing the #writemotivation check-in again this month, with a longer list of goals now OLLI is over until fall. My goals aren’t all writing this time either. Specifically:

1. Get the garden going. Given the earlier springs up here lately, the beans have started to sprout (indoors) and I’ll try to get the squash planted today if I can find pots; plant both outdoors before Memorial Day. Get seeds in before Memorial Day if possible. This will involve getting the hoops to support plastic covers up on all three raised beds.

The chives in the holes in the cement blocks making up the raised beds have reached eating height already, though we're still having hard freezes at night.

2. Keep up daily blogging using my existing schedule: Alaska weather Monday, review Tuesday, quotation context Wednesday, wild card Thursday, Jarn’s Journal (back history on my science fiction novels) Friday, Science/technology/health Saturday, and Six Sentence Sunday on Sunday.

3. Keep up Context? Tweets daily @sueannbowling

4. Put at least two interesting science links a day on Homecoming’s page:

5. Get outdoors for at least a couple of hours a day when the weather cooperates, either gardening or tricycle riding.

6. Read over entire trilogy for flow; put bits on Six Sentence Sunday; find a beta reader or two if possible. Anyone interested?

Here is the continuation of the scene I have been posting from for the last two weeks. This is from Tourist Trap, published last year and given the Garcia Award for best fiction book of the year. The “he” in the first sentence is Roi, whose arm has just been grabbed and twisted behind his back by his friend, Timi.

When he rolled with the pull, the shift in his weight allowed Zhaim to pull away and struggle back to his feet, shaking with fury.

Roi could hear the sob in Timi’s breath. Timi’s body, yes, but it was Zhaim’s will that twisted his arm so high that his shoulder joint screamed protest, and jammed Timi’s arm across Roi’s throat. The heavier boy’s body pulled him to his feet, and he managed to glance around as he was jerked up. The girls were sprawled bonelessly where they had fallen, their wet clothing plastered to their bodies by the rain. Then Timi swung him around to face Zhaim, and it took all his self-control to keep his head up and his eyes steady on his brother’s.

Zhaim’s face was contorted with rage, and the beamer was shaking visibly in his hand.

What’s Six Sentence Sunday? A group of writers get together each Sunday, under the hashtag #sixsunday, and post exactly six sentences from their work, published or unpublished. To see what other writers have posted, click on the logo.


How do you Eat a Salad?

I like salads. I do not like trying to eat them neatly. Especially in a restaurant.

One of my favorite salads, with leaf lettuce, mangoes, sugared pecans and raspberry dressing.

Salads do not hold together, and holding together helps if you are trying to get a fork under something. Forks do a poor job of sticking in lettuce if you stab at it. The pieces of lettuce are frequently too wide for one bite, though generally far less than a satisfying mouthful. If the salad has small items, like the mangoes and sugared pecans in the mango salad pictured, they roll off a fork. In short, the conventional fork and spoon just do not work very well for eating a salad. (I except things like coleslaw or carrot salad, where the pieces are very small and glued together with dressing.)

At the same time, the dressing makes a salad far too messy to just pick up and eat.

Perhaps we need to invent something that would do a better job of conveying a bite of salad from plate to mouth?

One could wrap it in a bit of tortilla or pita, I suppose, but that is not always the taste desired. Nor do many restaurants serve them that way.

Is it too much to hope for that someone would invent a new eating utensil suitable for salads? Perhaps some kind of eating tongs? Something small enough to take a bite from neatly? Ideas, anybody?

I think I’ve gotten myself in over my head.

My well supplies far more water than I need, and with counterweighting it is no great problem to teleport the filled containers to Storm Cloud’s group. Filling the containers and finding the group each day takes far more work, though they are marking their trail after a fashion. No doubt their marking method is as obvious to them as it is hardly visible to me. Another two days, and they should be in country with grass and surface water. The herds are only a little beyond them.

Lion’s group is more difficult – they seem unable to accept that I can keep them supplied with water if they leave their mudhole, which is going to dry up soon, and teleporting fresh kills to their site is simply not going to work long term – for one thing, it’s hard on the local predators. And it won’t solve the problem of water. They don’t seem able to understand that I can do some things that they cannot but that I can’t do everything, and they keep trying to argue that it would be much simpler if I just made it rain.

Worst yet, I’ve spotted two more groups of people who speak the language I’ve learned. I was going to leave them alone, since I’ve found Storm Cloud’s group, but because of what I found today I have to rethink that.

I was searching for a fresh kill to take to Lion’s group when I spotted a group of hyenas squabbling over something – and the something turned out to be a human body, emaciated to the point that there was little left even for a hyena. I teleported back to the shelter for Patches, and had her backtrack the hyenas. The trail led to a camp of sorts, with enough of a thorn barrier to slow down the hyenas, but those who had built the barrier were dead or dying of starvation. Only one was still conscious, a woman whose skin, far too large for her body, suggested she had survived this long only because she had once had enormous fat reserves.

The rest were beyond any help I could give them, but I teleported two melons and some figs to her. By evening I though she might survive, though the rest of the group were now dead.

What can I do? She cannot walk far, or survive on her own. Nor can I teleport her without further shock which could well kill her. And will the other groups I saw end in the same way as hers?

Ever invented a disease?

I did, for my science fiction.

It’s called Kharfun Syndrome, and it plays a large role in the history of the Confederation. It first arose among Humans, for whom it was a flu-like but usually survivable disease. Many children got it, developed immunity, and went on to lead normal lives. But it became endemic in the Human population.

The early symptoms are mild – aches and pains, some muscle twitches – and that was as far as it got with a good functioning immune system. For those whose immune systems could not handle it, the virus gradually attacked the peripheral motor nerves, leading to violent muscle cramps which was followed by paralysis, and eventual death from respiratory paralysis. The peripheral sensory nerves were also involved during the active phase, with pain spreading inward from the fingers and toes.

The Human immune system, which is basically chemical in nature, could handle the virus. I’m not going to go into the full immune system here, and in fact there’s a lot we don’t know about it. But there are times when it goes wrong and attacks something it shouldn’t. Like the Islets of Langerhans in my pancreas (which is why I have type 1 diabetes) or the myelin sheaths of my sister’s nerves (Multiple Sclerosis.) Perhaps because of this the R’il’nai, who have a suite of esper abilities and could actually perceive bacteria and viruses and remove them without even being consciously aware of the process, developed an immune system based on esper, and the old-chemical-based system, while still present, became very inefficient.

The problem with Kharfun was that the virus causing it had evolved an ability to hide from esper perception.

As a result, Kharfun was originally 100% lethal to those whose immune systems relied on esper – all pure R’il’nai, and most of the hybrids with a large fraction of active R’il’nian genes. A method of reactivating the old, chemical-based immune system was developed after the disease spread from Humans to R’il’nai, but by that time a large fraction of the R’il’nai had died.

The disease had another effect on the R’il’nai – it reduced their already low fertility. They didn’t have a high birth rate to start with – R’il’nian females were fertile for a few hours a century. (They were usually receptive, but not fertile.) And the immunization had the same effect as the disease on fertility.

So 10,000 years after the initial epidemic, the R’il’nai are nearly extinct. This was the premise behind Homecoming (where Kharfun Syndrome plays a major role) and the society that led to Tourist Trap and the trilogy I’m working on.

All but the last of the past week’s quotes were from Sorceress of the Witch World, by Andre Norton.

“No bargain benefits but one alone.” Kaththea is so eager to have Utta teach her to get her powers back that she does not think of the possible cost.

“Used for ill, good becomes ill.” Kaththea, rethinking her bargain with Utta.

“The time comes when to the fighters the end justifies the means.” Kaththea’s thought as she begins to understand Zandur.

“Many times is speech weakness, silence strength.” Kaththea, deciding that silence is her best policy in dealing with Zandur.

“It is a hard thing to see one’s world swept away and lost.”  Jaelith, speaking of Hilarion.

“There are many ifs and buts to be faced in every lifetime.”  Jaelith to Kaththea. The quotation continues, “and we can choose only what seems best at the time the choice is made.”

“You’d be cheating them by taking more than your share of the work.” Penny to Roi, when he offers to do some of the camp work by using his esper abilities. Tourist Trap, by Sue Ann Bowling

(These are the quotes posted on Twitter @sueannbowling over the past week.)

Back when IMAX theaters were rare and found mostly in museums I went to a 3-D IMAX show – T-Rex – at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. Even then I found it a peculiar amalgam of three-dimensional animation, paleontology, and not-very-good science fiction. (OK, it’s pretending to be science fiction, but it’s closer to bad fantasy.)

I got the DVD a while back, when I was getting most of the dinosaur videos available.

It’s a 1998 movie, and of course a lot has been learned about T-Rex in the intervening 14 years. Not enough, however, to make me feel like trying to pet one, or think it was capable of gratitude to another species!

Both the animation and the sequences of paleontologists in the field are fascinating, and so is the information about museum displays and Charles Knight. If the producers had stuck to the informational part, and perhaps used the idea of T-Rex as a nurturing mother in a more reasonable way, this could have been an excellent film, though a short one (44 minutes.) However, they insisted on adding a plot which involved something that left the audience guessing whether dreams, hallucinations, or time travel was involved. The supposed resolution, with a paleontologist finding a 20th century watch, was totally ridiculous. Complex metal objects like watches simply do not fossilize.

Further, neither the big-screen of IMAX nor the 3-D were available in the DVD I have. This was a movie which depended on these effects.

Interestingly, there is considerable current research on the extent to which tyrannosaurs might have lived and hunted in family groups, and it is generally recognized today that birds are fundamentally modern dinosaurs, descended from the same bipedal group to which T-Rex belonged. The DVD, watched with the production date in mind, does give some interesting information on the history of how we think about dinosaurs. Just forget the plot!

p.s: As an update on last week’s post about ice jam floods, there is still a flood warning out for the Salcha River area, and the ice went out at Nenana at 7:39 yesterday evening. This can happen from April 20 to May 20, so breakup this year was early.

The snow is melting rapidly, the path to the shed is shoveled, and the tricycle is out – I rode about a mile yesterday. We’re forecast to have highs in the 50’s next week, though it’s still below freezing at night and could be below zero. I’m going to plant the beans (indoors) this week. Spring is coming!

It’s light almost all the time I’m awake, now – sunrise today was 5:44 in the morning, and it won’t set until 9:56 this evening for 16 hours 12 minutes of daylight, almost 7 minutes more than yesterday. The closed car now gets so hot I’ve turned on the air conditioning. We only have a couple more days of nautical night – starting April 25 the sun will never dip more than 12° below the horizon.

Pussy willows are out, and I took a few pictures from the trike. The weeds are turning green (aren’t they always the first?) and I’ve spotted new growth on delphiniums, violets, columbine, and hardy geraniums against the house even though I haven’t raked the leaf mulch out yet. Chives are showing green, too, with a nice onion flavor. It’s far too early for rototilling – there are still patches of snow in the garden, and I’m sure it’s still frozen solid, but I’ve started visiting the commercial greenhouses. Plant Kingdom had a good assortment of mints, and I bought 11, but my favorite (Corsican mint) wasn’t there. Don’t know why it’s so hard to get hold of. Maybe they’ll have it at one of the three I haven’t been to yet.

I’m going to continue from last week’s snippet from Tourist Trap, again to emphasize what Derik wants Roi to strip from his memory and put into storage a couple of hundred years later. Note that Zhaim is Roi’s half brother.

Zhaim could not have been expecting anything but cowed obedience or flight. When Roi launched himself at his half-brother, the older R’il’noid stood frozen for long enough that Roi’s hand was firm on the beamer as they fell together. All that Zhaim had done to him and to the people he loved most came flooding into his mind, and his whole being exploded into an inferno of rage. He fought for control of the beamer, slamming the stock repeatedly into Zhaim’s shoulder when he couldn’t get it into his brother’s face, using teeth and knees relentlessly. He was ready to kill his brother as that brother would have killed his friends, slowly, savoring every bit of pain he could wring from his helpless victim.

Then he felt Timi’s delayed shock, and his left arm was grabbed and twisted behind his back.

Tourist Trap is available in hardcover, softcover or e-book – see the sidebar.

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Ice Jam Floods

When do you expect flooding?

It depends very much on where you are, of course, and what causes the flooding. Here in interior Alaska we have two flood seasons, with two quite different mechanisms, and we’re starting into one of them now, at the driest time of the year.

Yes, April is our driest month and May, while a little wetter, is the second driest month with temperatures above freezing. So why flooding now? Why not in the rainiest month, August, which did produce the great Fairbanks Flood of 1967?

Two words: ice jams.

We’re already getting some information on river breakup and flood warnings. In fact, there is an ice jam flood advisory on the Tanana River near the mouth of the Salcha (upstream of Fairbanks) today and tomorrow. Most of the rivers in Alaska run from highlands with snow — lots of snow — in the winter months to coasts that during the spring are a lot colder than the interior where the snow is melting under the sun. The snow melts and the meltwater runs into the river while the lower reaches of the river are still frozen. As the river rises and the sun weakens the ice that has covered it over the winter, the ice breaks into chunks and slabs and begins to flow with the river. It used to be axiomatic that rivers could not be crossed, and bridges were often swept away, during breakup, when the ice is carried downriver. When I came to Fairbanks it was still a possibility that the last car of the year over the ice bridge across the Chena River would go through the ice. The great gambling event of the Alaskan Spring is the Nenana Ice Pool – wagering on the exact day, hour, and minute that the ice will go out at Nenana, Alaska.

But all that ice moving downriver can cause problems, too. It’s not wimpy, thin ice; the ice at Nenana is over 2’ thick today, and while it’s thinned from is original 3 ½ feet, it still makes big chunks. If it piles up, as may happen at a different place every year, the flow of water is severely impeded, and the water spreads out over the adjacent land. Rivers in Alaska are transportation corridors – not only for boats in the summer, but for dog teams and snow machines in the winter. Consequently most of the older settlements in Alaska are on this precursor to our skimpy road net, and they almost expect to be flooded in spring. Fuel lines and tanks must be tied down, as must boardwalks, lest they float off. Belongings are put up high. I expect the public service announcements warning residents to prepare for flooding to start soon.

By the way, notice that our wettest month has an average precipitation of under 2″, and the annual total is only 10.31″. In terms of total precipitation, I live in a desert.