Category: A to Z Challenge


A to Z Reflections

This was my second A to Z challenge, and my first time as a minion (one of Stormy’s Helpers.) It’s also been an April with a lot more to do than I expected, with the result that I didn’t get as much out of it as I hoped, because I wasn’t able to put as much in as I’d planned.

When I signed up I knew I’d be taking adult classes (see O post) in April, and I planned for that. I also planned to pre-schedule my posts, I decided on my theme and a number of letters before I signed up, and I had several of the posts written and scheduled before mid-March.

I had breast cancer several years ago, and as part of the follow-up to that I get regular mammograms. Last summer, shortly before the first writing conference I’d scheduled, I was diagnosed (early, thank goodness) with ovarian cancer. I wrote a number of the 2013 Blogathon posts from my hospital bed, but the surgery went well, with good pathology results. I missed the conference (was in the hospital) and chemo pretty well destroyed my usual summer gardening. But by March my hair was growing back and I was feeling chipper again.

Then shortly after volunteering as a minion I had my regular mammogram: another breast cancer, this one on the other side. I had surgery before the Challenge started, again with excellent pathology (1a) and clean edges. I’m currently (since mid-April) getting radiation five days a week, and I’ll be on weekly Herceptin for the next year.

I am not particularly worried about any of the three cancers. They’re apparently unconnected, and I am not positive for either of the known BRCA mutations. But I am very annoyed at effectively losing a good part of another summer, and sorry also that I could not visit as many blogs as I had hoped. I did find some new blogs to follow, and picked up a few new followers myself.

I apologize for missing so many of you. I’ll continue checking out blogs following mine on the list during the A to Z Road Trip.

A to Z Road Trip

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ZZ is for Roger Zelazny (1937-1995) a multiple Nebula and Hugo award-winning author of fantasy and science fiction. He is probably best known for his two Amber series (5 books each, all of which I have, plus 12 more by Zelazny.) To be truthful, I went after quotes in his books because I needed the letter Z in my Quotes post, but by the time I was halfway through rereading Nine Princes in Amber I decided to use quotes from his books more often. The first 6 quotes I tweeted this week are from Nine Princes in Amber, the first book in the first series. Z is also for Zhaim, mentioned in the context of the last quote.

9Amber“Some natural skepticism as to the purity of all human motives came and sat upon my chest”. Corwin, awakening in a hospital and realizing he’s been over-drugged.

“Good morning. You’re in trouble.” Corwin, speaking to the head of the hospital in which he has awakened.

“Anyone who tried to hurt me, to use me, did so at his own peril.” Corwin, still amnesiac but realizing that his “accident” was no accident.

“Like all libraries, it was full of books.” Corwin’s first impression when he is brought into his sister’s library.

“I love the gusto with which you assail life.” Flora to her brother Corwin, as he is attacking the first real meal he’s had in some time – hospital and greasy spoon food don’t count.

“What’s yours is yours and a part of you, and it just seems to belong there, inside.” Corwin, trying to get through the amnesia and remember who he is.

“The definition of ‘illegal’ on this planet needs to be changed.” Sue Ann Bowling, Homecoming. Marna, after she has tried to clean up one of Zhaim’s legal (but decidedly immoral) messes.

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Letter Y: Yukon Quest

YI don’t think there is such a thing as a greyhound-type sprint race for sled dogs. “Sprints” in dog mushing are races from 3 to 30 miles in length – up to Marathon distance for a human. Even mid-range races are 75 to 300 miles. But there are two really long-distance sled dog races in Alaska: the Iditarod Trail and the Yukon Quest. (The only other truly long-distance race is in Norway.)

The Iditarod, the older of the two Alaskan races, was initiated in 1973 as a memorial to the original Iditarod serum run in 1925. That was a dog team relay from Nenana, the closest place to Nome reachable by Alaska Railroad, to Nome, where a diphtheria epidemic was raging. The original serum run was a pony-express style relay, with the emphasis on speed and keeping the life-saving antitoxin from freezing. No one team or musher traveled the entire distance.

The memorial race was run from Anchorage, far south of Nenana, and was a race between teams and mushers going the entire distance. But the emphasis was on speed, with relatively light sleds and frequent checkpoints with food (for mushers and dogs.)

The Yukon Quest was founded in 1984 to be a different test of dogs and mushers, with mushers carrying much of the gear and food they would need to survive in the Alaskan Wilderness. There are food drops at the widely spaced checkpoints, but these must be prepacked by the musher, and no help with dogs is allowed on the trail. (The middle, mandatory rest, checkpoint is an exception, as is help from other mushers on the trail.) Sleds must be capable of carrying this extra weight, and the original idea was to replicate the dogsled mail that helped build Alaska during the gold-rush days. The race is also international, going from Fairbanks, Alaska, USA to Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada in even years, and in the opposite direction in odd years. The race is over 1000 miles in length, with substantial distances run along the Yukon River.

Although the original intent of the Yukon Quest may have been to emphasize the utility of dogs as transportation before the days of snow machines (which still are behind dogs as far as finding their way in tough weather), today’s competitive mushers not uncommonly run both long-distance races, with the same teams. In fact Lance Mackey was the first musher to win both in the same year, in 2007. Those dogs—and mushers—are tough!

All the photos I could find were copyrighted, but the Flickr site is here.

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XThe electromagnetic spectrum is huge. We are aware of the very small part of it we call light, which is most of what gets through our atmosphere. But above the atmosphere, we are bathed in radio waves, infrared, visible light, ultraviolet, and x-rays, all of which are part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Since we have become able to put telescopes above the atmosphere, all of these parts of the spectrum have become accessible to astronomers.

Repeated images of the sun in x-ray wavelengths.

Repeated images of the sun in x-ray wavelengths. Source

The shorter the wavelength the more energetic the light, and the sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona, is both the hottest part of the sun and the part most visible in x-rays.

It is also the wavelength which changes most over the solar cycle, which has major effects on auroras, communications, electrical power grids, and low-earth satellite orbits. The sunspot cycle may also affect weather. The Maunder minimum, a period of low sunspot activity around 1645-1715, is often cited as one possible cause of the Little Ice Age.

Pussy WillowsWe now have x-ray images of the sun through the solar cycle, so we can see how variable the outer atmosphere of our sun really is.

That sun rose this morning at 5:28 and will set 16 hours and 43 minutes later at 10:11 this evening. Nautical night (sun more than 12° below the horizon) has followed astronomical night, though we’ll still have nautical twilight until May 17. It’s warmed up quite a lot the last week, and nighttime temperatures are now only a little below freezing. The remaining snow is melting fast; my yard is almost more lake than snow. And the pussy willows are blooming!

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SFR Presents logo

Click the logo to find links to other SFR snippets.

WW is for water. Water as a chemical compound is in massive supply in the universe, as a molecule of water is made up of two atoms of hydrogen (the most abundant element in the universe) and one of oxygen (the second most abundant element that forms chemical compounds.) The search for water as a possible precursor of life is based on a particular state of water: liquid, which requires a rare combination of temperature and pressure. Water ice and water vapor, both of which occur as well as liquid water on Earth, are probably far more abundant in the universe.

Water can, or course, snuff out our form of life as well as being necessary for its existence, as shown in this excerpt from Rescue Operation.

Hastily Tod slipped out of the room and kept his slight body to the shadows, now impenetrable, until he was able to get to the branch of the river he wanted.

He took a deep breath and waded out into the ink-dark water. Wading depth, yes — but he found a hole — by stepping in it — halfway across. It hadn’t looked deep, he thought as he floundered in darkness, trying to hold his breath. But which way was up? He flailed out and hit something, but he couldn’t tell if it was above or below him. Something massive bumped into him, but it was gone before he could grab it. He had to breathe!

He hit his head on something, and this time managed to grab hold. But which way? What was it? Branches? They wouldn’t be growing on the bottom, would they? Cold touched his face and he gasped for air. A floating branch? Could it keep him afloat? He was coughing, but his head was in air. Blessed air!

He was holding a large, leafy branch, and when his coughing eased, he saw brush and trees, dim in the starlight, sliding to the right ahead of him.

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Year 10 Day 16

VIf there was one thing I was not expecting in the middle of all this floating ice, it was a column, no, an enormous cloud of black smoke. At first I wondered what could be burning in this world of ice and water, but as I drew closer, I realized that the ice was piling up along a coastline. It was a clear day for a change, so I went as high as I could and realized that I was looking at a huge island, and that the “smoke” was in fact a violent volcanic eruption.

Eyjafjallajokull, Iceland (Source)

Eyjafjallajokull, Iceland (Source)

The island wasn’t ice covered, but there were huge glaciers and ice sheets over most of the high ground. The volcano appeared to be erupting through an ice sheet, and I was glad I was not on the surface. Ice and fire is not a comfortable combination. Heat turns the ice to water, and that meant flooding on a massive scale. For the moment, my main concern was staying well out of the plume. I know enough about volcanoes to guess that most of the “smoke” was probably shards of volcanic glass – not the best thing to breathe in! And that plume reached higher into the atmosphere than I could levitate and still have air to breathe.

I’m used to volcanoes; after all, I tap one for hot water and the place I live now is in a rift zone. But this explosion of ice and lava is in a class of its own.

Jarn’s Journal gives the back story of the Jarnian Confederation, in which most of my science fiction is set. The entire Journal to date is on my author site.

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UPrior to the invention of the telescope, five planets were known: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. Earth, of course, is a planet also, but this was not recognized until the acceptance of the Copernican model of the Solar System. A seventh planet, however, is visible without a telescope: Uranus.

Hubble false-color infrared image of Uranus (Source)

Hubble false-color infrared image of Uranus (Source)

Uranus was not recognized as a planet until telescopes became available because it is so dim relative to the classical planets. In fact, at magnitude between 5 and 6 it is not visible to most people today, simply because artificial light has made truly dark skies hard to find.

The oddest thing about Uranus is that its pole is almost in the plane of the ecliptic. In fact, which is the North Pole depends on how north is defined. On earth, the sun, and every other planet, the right-had rule reigns. If the fingers of the right hand are wrapped around the equator with the finger pointing in the direction of rotation, the thumb points north. On that basis, the North Pole of Uranus is on the wrong side of the ecliptic. On the other hand if the astronomical definition is used, that the North Pole is the pole on the same side of the ecliptic as the Earth’s North Pole, the planet is rotating backward, with the sun rising in the west.

Like the gas giants, Uranus has rings, which being equatorial are nearly at right angles to the Ecliptic*. Its weather is not well understood, and its seasons must be extreme. After all, its Arctic and Antarctic circles are almost at its equator, while its tropics of Cancer and Capricorn are very close to its poles.

Wouldn’t working that weather into a science fiction story be fun?

(If the word Ecliptic is new to you, it is the plane of the earth’s orbit.)

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Map of the Misty Mountains, from the original English version of the book.

Map of the Misty Mountains, from the original English version of the book.

TT is for J. R. R. Tolkien (1892-1973) He is best known as the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and a number of short fiction books as well. But he was also a university professor and published a good many translations and scholarly articles. After his death his son Christopher published a good deal of the background information his father put together in the invention of Middle-Earth.

My own first introduction to his work was before his books were officially available in this country, when my uncle brought copies of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings back with him from England. I have lost track of how many times I have reread them.

I tweeted quotes from The Two Towers (and put them on my facebook pages) last week, and here are the contexts of those quotations. Note that all are from the books, and differ somewhat from the movies.

“I must cool myself and think, for it is easier to shout stop! than to do it. Treebeard has worked himself up about Sauruman, and feels he needs to cool off.

“I am not altogether on anyone’s side, because nobody is altogether on my side.” Treebeard talking to the hobbits, and explaining that no one else cares for the trees as he does.

“He has a mind of metal and wheels, and he does not care for growing things.” Treebeard’s description of Sauruman.

“If that happened I had rather not be on the other side.” Merry, thinking about an aroused Ent.

“We may help the other peoples before we pass away.” Treebeard, thinking that the Ents might accomplish something in their last march.

“Songs like trees bear fruit only in their own time: and sometimes they are withered untimely.” Treebeard, wishing that the songs about the Ents finding the Entwives could come true.

“I can’t stay with you. Not after what I did to you.” Bowling, Tourist Trap. Timi feels guilty over what Zhaim did by taking over his body, and refuses to accept that it wasn’t really his fault.

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SI used to teach basic astronomy, including the life cycle of stars. I ordered the Life and Death of Stars from the Great Courses as a refresher and to see what was new in the last 20 years.

The little "eggs" have baby stars in them. Photo Source

The little “eggs” have baby stars in them. Photo Source

A lot.

The Hubble space telescope has been in orbit for almost 25 years, and some of the information it was revealing was available back then. But newer space telescopes, and some on the ground, have yielded far more information. For one thing, the newer telescopes cover a far larger fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum than Hubble, which is essentially a visible-light scope. Newer instruments take pictures in wavelengths from radio waves to x-rays, giving a far better picture of the life cycle of stars than was available when I was teaching.

A planetary system forming. (The black center is a mask over the star.) Photo Source

A planetary system forming. (The black center is a mask over the star.) Photo Source

Some things have stayed the same. A star’s mass is still its DNA, controlling its life cycle, its color, its luminosity, and what elements it is able to produce. It is still true that nuclear fusion within stars, and the violent explosions that mark their deaths, produce virtually all of the elements except the hydrogen and helium we inherited from the big bang. But improvements in both observations and computer simulations have taught us far more than we knew when I was teaching.

The course is designed for non-scientists, and there were times I was bothered by the anthropomorphism applied to stars. But at the same time, I learned a lot. We knew that certain gaseous nebulae were cradles of star birth, but now we can peer into those nurseries with infrared and see individual infant stars. We know that stellar birth is often, perhaps most of the time, associated with the production of a family of planets. We are beginning to understand much more about the details of the stellar deaths that lead to planetary nebulae, and the more violent ones that produce supernovae and black holes.

If you are interested in the stars, and want to know more of what we have learned in the last fifteen years, this course is worth watching.

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R“April Showers bring May flowers?” Not in interior Alaska, where March and April are the driest months of the year with about a third of an inch of precipitation each, that being mostly snow! But April is also the month when most of the winter’s accumulation of snow melts, so we have no shortage of mud and puddles. At the moment, that means I need waders to get the mail.

Mine is the black box at the far end. We've had only .2" of precipitation this month, and that was snow.

Mine is the black box at the far end. We’ve had only .2″ of precipitation this month, and that was snow.

When you come right down to it, interior Alaska is pretty dry. Our annual mean precipitation, between 10 and 11 inches, is less than that of Tucson AZ. Furthermore, less than 7” of that is rain – a lot of our precipitation falls as snow. In fact I live in a semi-arid region with widespread bogs, thanks to permafrost. That low precipitation, even lower when the Bering Sea was dry land, is also the reason Interior Alaska was never glaciated.

The sun rose this morning at 5:53, and will set after 15 hours 55 minutes at 9:48 this evening. Civil twilight (legal to drive without lights, though I never do) will last until 10:51. But even with our long days, the snow is still on the ground where it has not been disturbed. The white ice roads are just beginning to collapse. That will probably change rapidly this week. Although the overnight temperatures are still expected to be around freezing or below, the daytime highs are forecast to be in the fifties. I think I’ll start visiting the greenhouses this week. (Since I also start radiation therapy and Herceptin this week, I hope I’m not being too optimistic.)

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