Free the Frozen People!

150127_0000

After seeing this sign in a local grocery store, I carefully searched the entire frozen food section, but I could find neither the frozen Mexican, nor the frozen Asian. Since they were gone, but the sign indicates they were there at one point, I concluded that the experiment was over, and hoped they had thawed out both experimental test subjects, found them still healthy after a few days in cryogenic suspended animation, and sent them home, each with a fat check to compensate them for the huge risk they just took.

However, even with compensation and signed consent forms, I still have certain ethical reservations about scientists performing this sort of experiment on actual human beings. Why not freeze, thaw, refreeze, and rethaw mice, instead? Is PETA really that scary?

Are they still doing these experiments, in my town or elsewhere? If so . . . free the frozen people!

There is one last thing about this whole thing which I just can’t figure out, though, and that’s this: why were they storing their frozen, experimental, human test subjects in the middle of a central Arkansas grocery store in the first place?

Orcus and Vanth

There’s a binary dwarf-planet-candidate / large satellite pair, way out in the outer solar system, called Orcus and Vanth. Much like the “double dwarf planet” Pluto/Charon, and the other satellites in that system, Orcus and Vanth orbit the sun in a 3:2 resonance with Neptune, and this orbit crosses that of Neptune, as well. The Orcus/Vanth binary system is sometimes referred to as the “anti-Pluto,” because, unlike most “plutinos” (as such distant objects, in orbital resonance with Neptune, are called), Orcus and Vanth have a strange — and, so far, unexplained — relationship with the Pluto/Charon system. When Pluto and Charon are closest to the sun (perihelion), Orcus and Vanth are at their furthest from the sun (aphelion), and vice-versa. So far as I have been able to determine, this is not true for any other known plutinos. For more on the real Orcus and Vanth, please check this Wikipedia page.

Those are the scientific facts, as we know them . . . and now, it’s time for some silliness. On Facebook, recently, I mentioned that “Orcus” and “Vanth” really would make good names for comic book characters, but that I couldn’t decide what they should look like, nor what powers they should have. A discussion with some of my friends followed, and, together, we decided that Orcus should be a tough fighter-type, while “Vanth” sounded like a name for some sort of spell-caster. It didn’t take long before I decided I should visit one of the numerous create-your-own-comic-book-character websites, and go ahead and make quasi-anthropomorphized images of Orcus and Vanth — the characters, not the outer solar-system objects.

I used a website called Hero Machine for this diversionwhich you can find here. First, I created an image for a character named Orcus.

orcus

Unfortunately, I didn’t discover (until it was too late) that this website allows the user to change the background . . . and I didn’t want to re-make Orcus, so I went ahead and created an image of his companion, Vanth, instead.

vanth

I don’t have the time, nor the artistic talent, to write and illustrate actual comic book stories featuring this pair of characters . . . but perhaps someone will read this, and decide they want to take on such a project. That’s fine with me . . . but I want credit (in writing, each issue) for creating them, and, if the endeavor makes any money, I want at least 20% of the profits, and that’s if I have nothing more to do with creating Orcus and Vanth stories, beyond what is posted here. If I do have additional involvement, of course, we’ll need to carefully negotiate the terms of a contractual agreement. I consider 20% fair for simply creating images of this pair of characters, but actually co-creating stories would be something else altogether.

By the way, although Orcus certainly looks scarier, Vanth is actually the more formidable of the pair. She just pretends to play the “side-kick” role, in order to preserve the element of surprise, for situations when, during their adventures, Orcus finds himself in over his head, and Vanth then needs to really cut loose with the full extent of her abilities.

Firstflight, Lastflight (an illustrated short story)

Making show never did prize me when soberfied, but that undescribed me that day, and, for that mistake, payment was failsafely, fullwise, and painly made. Tranqued with Euphenol, selfbought at the official dispensing-machine on Convenience Corner, right after worktime, methought melooked mighty brave strolling wrongway homewise on my hands, feet toepointed at the otherseyes, down a steel walkway crowded with those farmore sensehaving, so neither of my LifeLine© MagnetShoes touched metal, but as soon as Unitility’s gravsynths fritzed surprising, I felt notimpressive, floating rapidly away from the crowd.

Weightlessness bit me mid-handspring, and sent me flying, but I was too headspun to realize predicamental situation until my homehalf of our Megalopolis already could be seen in entireness, several deathfalls away. Soon my home fragment of ShatteredEarth looked only littlemuch bigger than neighbor skyrocks, and the cities otherfolk in othercities had built on them, as our own beforefolk had built Megalopolis. Wheezing suddenly brought meself realizing: the thinning air would set me freesome if Unitility’s repairs took much longer. Time passed, and bleakness grew as hope thinned. I watched Megalopolis, overcrowded skyrock of ours, rotate in the . . . or was it me rotating? I couldn’t figure out how to tell, and this added “headache” to growing problemlist.

Augmented Convex hull

My bubble of air biggifying as it bled away spacewise I could see, for this bubble was debrislittered, spaced evenish out here, but more crowded nearer our skyrock — paper, waterblobs, cloudpuffs, disoriented pigeons, half-eaten McFood left behind — but no other people out in the thinning bubble, just my sad self, now far away from safeness anykind. Apparently Euphenol overleaped me earlier, and, thus obliviated, I ended up the only fool I could see with sufficient maltimed stupidity to fall off the world. Most got away in shuttles , justvisible and receding to vanishment, or simply stayed inside the cubicles in our towers to safely outwait events, while a few on the surface I could only barelysee, with muchwise squinting. Each flailed arms, but all safely stuck to home skyrock by safety magnets at their feet. Unitility blackouts never lasted overlong, especially for gravservice; they’d likely live, not being me that day, for the air stayed thicker nearer to our skyrock, leaking only slowly from its insulasafed towers.

Luck having clearwise left me, my flightpath then entered the last raincloud in the thinning Megalopolis atmosphere, and instantly drenched I startled, from ends of my floating hair to toestips, moisture entering even my feetboots with their nowuseless safetymagnets that seemednow mocking me. It was frigid inside the cloud, and I watched in sockhorror as the water on my hand start freezing, ice spreading over my skin and standardissue clothiform, at about a centimeters per heartbeat, from multiple locations. Even though I wasn’t speaking, mouthchatter quicklike so bad made me fear teethcracks from the constantlike repeated impactstrikings. Remembering last dental torture-session determined me not to endure that level of pain while in my likely lastseconds, so clenched my teeth together determined, hardwise, to stopchatter, and this worked. At least one thing was on path, myway, now.

Not long, though. Leaving the cloud on the otherside, pressuregrowing inside me forced mouth fullopen, and more air than I knew I had speedily left, from both lungbottoms, up allway. I could hear bubbling from somewhere inside, wondered what and exactly where it was, then deciding not to know indeed was the better. Dental painmemories were now distanced as new pain eclipsed it hereandnow, from the vacuum conditions approaching. Newpain competed with growing dizzisorientation from samecause. Closed my eyes, notwishing seeing.

Suddenrealizing closing eyes seriously mistaken, started vomitmuch, then realized eyes were frozenshut while finishing uneating afterlunch’s, then lunch’s, then wakefast’s McFood. Panicked clawing at eyes quickly got one open partwise. It was enough permitting seeing, but liking what seen not happened. Big, bulging silver eye was growing towards me full of quickness, already filling most all of what I could see. It had iris lavished every color everseen and some hadn’t before, and the pupil, while small, clearly pointed in no other direction than me. Could an eye that large see all people? Surely, but at that moment its focus was clearly on me, leaving others forgotten for what moments remained of my consciousness. I shook my head, and the illusion was shattered; I thensaw what it had morphed from, which was the thing we still called the Moon, full bright now. Why did we still call it the Moon, I wondered, since the known pieces of ShatteredEarth now orbited it, not otherway aroundwise?

Coldifying broke as sudden heat grew backside my head, diverting focus from the Moon and all the skyrocks closeful enough to seeing. Turning around freefalling not close to easy, but I did it — was by swimming-motions against what air remained, making seen the heatsource: the Sunstar, unaffected by lastcentury’s Earthshatter. Sunstar then grewsize, as fading consciousness sent hallucinavision back myway, until the morphing orb grew even larger than my previous Moon-based vision of One Big Eye staring at onlyme. As I thought these weirdthoughts, the sun started changing its appearance, growing eyes everyway around.

Snub Dodeca

Feelinglike unexpectedly challenged, but voiceless with breathloss, I could but headshout at what I saw, but did so loudlymuch, enough to deafen a t’path, had one unlucked near: Die! Die! Die! I can stare anyone down! For a moment, triumph filled me as my headshouting seemlyworked — the sun greyed out, and then vanished altogether. I saw nothingness! The Sunstar itself was defeated!

No, idiot, you just selfblinded, staring at the Sunstar!  This thought, my most rational of allday, made me attempt screamreacting, but the mere wisps of air remaining were not enough to allow sonics from my effort. All I selfgained was an increase in the bodywide painstabbings, to levels I never knew everhappened.

In the darkness, another eye appeared, like the ones I had seen on the Sunstar, but based on nothing but rememberings now, since I could see nothingcept. There were changing swirlsparks everywhere within it, timed precisely with the growing pounding from within my skull and chest. Panic didn’t happen, but only because of the dizzycalm which sometimes happens from lackoxy. I got lost wondering what a headpop might feel like. Would I just puff away, like a candleblown, or would I painfully feel the bursting of each nerve and blood vessel? Detachment was now extreme, muchso that I carednot which. The eye got nearmuch, so that I should have been able to reachtouch the pupil, but my arms weren’t listening to brainorders to move. I fell then, tumbling, into eyecenter, a pupil far wider than my own height.

My contactmoment with its cornea’s thickslime covering provoked a spasm of the entire eye, scaring me to new levels. Meter-thick eyelids rushed toward me from twindirections opposite. My last heartbeat was deafening, in literality — I heard nothing more. Time remained for only a silent finalthought. What a way to lose a staring contest: death by Sunblink —

# # #

[The images above were made with Stella 4d, available here. Geometer’s Sketchpad and MS-Paint were also used, as well as a background image, which I altered, from this website.]

A Short Short Story, Set In an Alternate Universe

QE2 and Patrick Stewart

Having run out of appeals, the famous actor bravely stood ready, as Queen Elizabeth II readied her ceremonial sword. Suddenly, a high-pitched voice from the gallery cried out, “Please, Your Majesty! Your Highness, please — anyone but Patrick Stewart! Spare him, and I will die in his place!”

Her heart moved by this young fan’s simple plea, the Queen slowly put down her sword. She carried out no executions that day, to the relief of millions of fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation, from all around the world. However, for the rest of his life, anyone who wanted to see Patrick Stewart had to visit the Tower of London to do so, during the limited hours of visitation permitted for guests of the prisoners there.

[Image credit:  see this website.]

The Five Fictional Characters Who Have Most Strongly Influenced My Life

These five fictional characters have strongly influenced me, and I will always be grateful to the brilliant people who created them. I am presenting them in chronological order — using the time when this influence started, rather than their date of creation.

#1: Snoopy

Snoopy2

When I was very young — before my memory-record begins, actually — I was given Peanuts books. They were simply left in my possession, as far as I know; no explanation was necessary. The antics of Snoopy, in particular, were extremely entertaining to the little-kid version of me. Since I could see Snoopy dancing around, playing baseball, typing, irritating Lucy, etc., I wanted to understand what was actually going on with all this activity — and this provided the necessary motivation for me to teach myself how to read. There wasn’t any other way for me to tell what was going on in these comic strips!

The fact that I learned to read in this manner led to some very funny moments, due to the fact that the number of words whose meaning I understood, generally from context, exceeded the number of words I knew how to pronounce — and, no doubt, still does. Once, in elementary school, I was laughed at by an entire class, after saying something about the “Eeffel Tower” (yes, that’s how I pronounced it). I also remember pronouncing the “b” in “doubt,” much to the amusement of my parents. Even in graduate school, I made a history professor groan in agony when I made a reference to the Weimar Republic — and pronounced the “W” as it is pronounced in English, rather than German.

#2: Mr. Spock

Spock

A scientist aboard a starship, exploring the galaxy, who uses logic to try to understand two things:  the nature of the universe (much of which he understood), and the behavior of illogical humans (something which confuses me to this day, just as it often confounded him). The first person I remember seeing on television had pointed ears, and there were several of them in that episode, “Amok Time.” In other episodes, of course, few Vulcans other than Mr. Spock appeared, and I always found him, to use one of his favorite words, “fascinating.” He influenced me in several ways, and still does, to this day. I am grateful to the creators of this character for inspiring my passion for science, ability to use logic, appreciation of diversity, and strong desire to maintain control of my emotions.

#3: Matt Murdock / Daredevil

daredevil

I may not have red hair, but I share many other characteristics with Daredevil — and I mean the character from comic books, not that disappointing B-movie (which deserves no further mention). Other than amplified senses — which I experience (unpleasantly) when I get migraines — Daredevil has no superpowers, yet he faces, and does battle with, super-powered villains, and usually wins. He is also a study in contradictions: a lapsed Catholic, who spends a lot of time dressed in a devil costume; a lawyer, with a second “career” as a costumed vigilante; and a blind man, who nonetheless perceives the world around him more clearly than anyone else. Matt Murdock has inspired me to respect the concept of justice, has influenced me to study what laws I need to understand, and, most importantly, has shown me, by example, how to face down those who would do harm to those I care about — and do it, as Daredevil does, without fear. I have also developed my “never give up” attitude, toward my adversaries (bullies, mostly), with inspiration from this character.

Matt Murdock and I have also had very rocky histories when it comes to romantic relationships. I have (finally) found happiness in this aspect of life, and am writing this next to my beloved, sleeping wife. Unfortunately, the writers of Daredevil, while they will let Matt Murdock enjoy temporary happiness in relationships with women, will never allow him to keep it.

#4: Data

Data2366

Data is amazing to me:  a sentient android, and an artificial person. He actually had to go on trial to assert his rights to personhood, and, with the aid of Captain Picard, won the case. He has a lightning-speed calculator, built right in to his positronic brain, which far exceeds the abilities of my own, not-too-shabby mental calculator. I have long had the ambition to gain the ability to reprogram my own brain’s “software,” and have written, on this blog, about how I finally gained that ability, after working on developing it for roughly thirty years. Data, of course, had this ability from the moment he was activated, but, unlike me, he does not have to sleep for it to work.

Despite his claim to experience no emotions, Data often expressed a feeling of being perpetually alone, for there was no one else like him anywhere — until he met his brother, another android, who turned out to be malicious. That feeling of being unlike everyone else is quite familiar to me.

Both Data, and Mr. Spock, display many characteristics of Asperger’s Syndrome, and my study of these two characters helped me figure out that I am, myself, an “Aspie” — our nickname for ourselves.

#5: Calvin

Calvin_by_Watterson

When I am playing (and, yes, I play a lot, especially with mathematics), and someone asks me why I, an adult, am playing, I have a standard reply: “Because I’m six.” This is a reference to Calvin, who was six years old during the entire ten-year run of Calvin and Hobbes, the best comic strip ever created. I read it from the first day it appeared in newspapers, and have the boxed set of the complete collection of these comic strips only a meter away, as I write this. Calvin is a six-year old prodigy, as one can tell from his expansive vocabulary, but is prone to making social errors, due to a lack of understanding of social conventions — and both of these things mirror my own life. (I grew up, literally, in science laboratories, unsupervised for hours at a time, designing and conducting my own experiments, and that sort of thing simply doesn’t happen without having profound effects on a child’s development — but, then again, why would I want to be normal?) Calvin, like myself, found elementary school boring in the extreme, and so he slipped, frequently, into his own inner life of fantasy. The fact that, being socially isolated (no siblings, and no friends, other than his stuffed tiger), he is usually alone, never stopped Calvin from having fun. Just like Calvin, I can have unlimited fun, in solitude — because I choose to be this way. Some adults lose the child within them, but, thanks to Calvin’s inspiration, that will never happen to me. I’m actually 46 years old now — so I’m pretty sure that, if I was ever going to lose the ability to have fun, it would have happened already.

To those brilliant people who invented these five characters: thank you.

Important Safety Guidelines from Your Gravity Company, GravCorp, Inc.

floating-people-068

Please read these safety guidelines carefully. Also, we recommend displaying them prominently, securely fastened to the sturdiest wall in your home, in the event that your gravitational service is ever shut off for non-payment of your GravCorp gravity bill.

Because your friends at GravCorp care about you and your family’s safety, GravCorp will never shut your gravity off abrupty, but does so gradually, over the 24-hour period following the end of the shut-off date (prominently printed in red, bold type) on your gravity shut-off notice. It is best to evacuate early during this period. [Tip:  when you notice that you weigh noticeably less than you did the day before, that is your signal to leave.] We are not responsible for anything that happens if you fail to heed this advice, but we do have some safety guidelines to help those who, through no fault of ours, fail to leave their homes in a timely manner.

Once gravity shut-off is complete, if you are still inside your home, follow these safety rules carefully:

1. Be certain to keep moving at all times. Stationary humans have been known to die from lack of oxygen in the absence of gravity, due to the buildup of a spherical cloud of exhaled carbon dioxide, centered in the region of their mouths and noses. If you still have electrical service while your gravity is shut off, however, you can also avoid this danger by turning on all the electric fans in your home, such as the ceiling fan in the picture above. 

2. Should you choose to go outside, exercise extreme caution to avoid serious accidents (most of which are likely to be fatal). If you still have telephone or Internet service, we recommend paying your past due GravCorp account balance (plus the $135 reconnect fee) by phone or Internet, from inside your home.

3. Keep all liquids inside containers, for inhalation of even part of a floating ball of water, or other liquid, can cause death by drowning.  [Tip:  don’t forget to seal all toilets — both bowl and tank — using approved, waterproof sealing methods and materials.]

4. Act quickly to pay your past due bill, plus the $135 reconnect fee, or have a pressure suit on and pressurized, for the air above you is already beginning to escape into space.

5. Remain calm, do not panic, and consider setting up automatic bank drafts to pay your gravity bill, effortlessly, each month. It’s convenient, safe, and saves you money on postage. (An annual $3.14 convenience fee will be charged to your GravCorp account, on or near July 1st each year, for this optional service.)

 

[Image credit:  The picture above was found at http://www.thedistractionnetwork.com/going-to-bed/.]

My Four Favorite Authors

favorite authors

Whenever people ask me to name my favorite author, I always have to ask them to be more specific, for I cannot bring myself to choose just one. If gender is specified, and either fiction or non-fiction is, as well, then I am able to choose a favorite author in each of the resulting four categories.

My two favorite writers of fiction, Flannery O’Connor and Robert A. Heinlein, are shown at the top. Flannery O’Conner was often described as a Southern gothic writer with an excellent ability to describe the grotesque, mostly with short stories, while Robert Heinlein was often called the greatest of all writers in the genre of science fiction. I wish it were possible for them to write even more, but, unlike the two authors described next, they are no longer living.

Shown below O’Connor and Heinlein are my two favorite authors of non-fiction, Jung Chang and Sam Harris. Jung Chang writes about Chinese history, eloquently, from the perspective of someone who actually was a Red Guard during the utterly insane period known as the Chinese Cultural Revolution, as a teenager, but later managed to get out of the People’s Republic — and, crucially, she was also able to mentally escape the powerful cult of personality which surrounded that nation’s leader for over two decades, Chairman Mao Zedong. She has gone on to become one of Mao’s harshest critics.

Sam Harris, a neuroscientist, began his career as an author by writing books criticizing religion, in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001. He has since moved on to other topics (and writing better books than his earlier work, in my opinion), such as the corrosive effects of lying, the question of the existence or non-existence of free will, and a scientific approach to dealing with issues involving good and evil. He also has a new book coming out in September.

Other than their amazing skill at the difficult craft of writing, these four have little in common . . . but who wants to read the same sort of books all the time? If you aren’t familiar with their work already, I recommend giving each of them a read, and seeing what you think of their books. For one of them, Sam Harris, you can even give some of his writing a try for free, for he maintains a blog you can check out for yourself, at http://www.samharris.org.

For the other three, it isn’t quite that easy to get started, but their books may still be found in any decent public library, or, of course, websites such as Amazon. For O’Connor, the best place to start is with her collected short stories (Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/The-Complete-Stories-Flannery-OConnor/dp/0374515360/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1405366654&sr=8-2&keywords=collected+short+stories+of+flannery+o%27connor). For Jung Chang, I recommend starting with the story of what happened, against the tumultuous backdrop of Chinese history, to her grandmother, mother, and finally herself, in Wild Swans:  Three Daughters of China (see http://www.amazon.com/Wild-Swans-Three-Daughters-China/dp/0743246985/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1405366792&sr=1-1&keywords=wild+swans). Heinlein’s works are numerous, and there are many good starting places to be found. Among the best books with which to start reading Heinlein are Stranger in a Strange Land (his most famous work), Friday, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, and Job:  A Comedy of Justice. Amazon’s Robert Heinlein page may be found at http://www.amazon.com/Robert-Heinlein/e/B005GDIOHM/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1405367065&sr=1-2-ent.

Enjoy, and, if you have book recommendations of your own, I invite you to leave them in a comment to this post.