Sunday, September 14, 2014

Science and Wisdom

Scientists also want to help and get in on the action of the Ice Bucket Challenge, an online method of raising money for an organization that sponsors research into curing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease).

Stephen Hawking, the world famous physicist who has suffered from ALS since he was 21, recorded a video in which he points out that a bout with pneumonia made it "unwise" to dump freezing water on his head. So his three children did it for him.

But a University of Toronto chemist took the challenge in a distinctly unwise manner, pouring liquid nitrogen over his head after warning watchers not to do it themselves. Liquid nitrogen is sometimes used to freeze warts, but a specific reaction called the Leidenfrost effect can protect the skin against the damaging cold substance.

Not for very long, though, as the dancing chemist demonstrates in his video. Sometimes knowledge does not equal wisdom.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Test Pattern

Sufficient to the day is the trouble thereof, the boss once said, and the only task for which I feel sufficient is to write things that I would feel better taking back. To prevent the need for that humbling act, I will simply bid you good night.

Friday, September 12, 2014


As always, while the wearing of black is encouraged but not required, remembering those who are held back is both.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Getting Personal

Lee Child's Jack Reacher series is one of the few long-running character-driven tales that sometimes switches between first and third person from one book to another. Child has said that he changes based on what works best for the story he's writing. Personal is one of the Reacher books where we get the story from inside Reacher's head, rather than an omniscient narrator, and it serves the book well.

Jack Reacher has just gotten into Seattle as he wanders the country, and picks up a copy of the Army newspaper. The personals feature an ad aimed at him, and he learns that a former supervisor wants him because someone else aimed a sniper's rifle at the president of France. Among the suspects is a man Reacher arrested who has recently been released. Is he setting up a new career? Is the sniper a specialist from some other country? Reacher will team with some in-the-shadows operators to learn the answer, but will the inexperienced young female agent partnering with him help him or slow him down as he seeks answers in Paris, Arkansas and London?

Personal is probably one of the best Reacher stories in years and ranks in the top level of the series. Although some of its features echo other Reacher books, Child rearranges them in slightly different ways to build his plot. Reacher naturally kicks anybody's behind who dares to cross him, but he does actually have to work at it and the fights themselves are a more natural part of the narrative. Plus, instead of some outlying rural oligarch whose minions cross Reacher, who makes everyone pay in return, Personal sets up an actual mystery to solve, and gives Reacher an actual stake in the story beyond upping his private body count. That it runs parallel to the usual crisp action scenery and Reacher outsmarting and outpunching his opponents is a welcome plus.

It's hard to get a clear sense of what was going on for an author when he or she writes a book, Unless the mood or tone of the book is designed to reflect it, then there are usually only impressions. For whatever reason, Personal gives off a vibe that says Child had more fun writing it than he has in some time, and that makes for an exciting and fun tag-along with the indomitable Jack Reacher.
With The Eye of Heaven, Sam and Remi Fargo bring along the third Clive Cussler co-writer since their series began, as Russell Blake follows in the path of Grant Blackwood and Thomas Perry.

The globe-trotting archaeologist/anthropologist/adventurers have uncovered a nearly perfectly preserved Viking longship filled with pre-Columbian artifacts from what is now Mexico. Clues point them towards the ancient and poorly understood Tolmec civilization, and they journey to Mexico to enlist the help of local scientists and continue their search. The longship and its crew could be clues to discovering the grave of the shadowy figure Quetzlcoatl -- part god, part king and bearing no small resemblance to some Europeans of that time frame. But an unscrupulous competitor wants the artifacts as well. And he seems to always be just a step behind the Fargos, or in some cases a step ahead.

Blake's maiden voyage with Sam and Remi is uneven, which is actually a step up from Thomas Perry's swan song, The Mayan Secrets. It starts out almost unreadably, as the Fargos drip cut-rate banter ad nauseum and the reader must slog through detailed descriptions of all of the best and most expensive wines and beverages in the world as the book's characters consume them. The second half of the book picks up the pace, mostly by getting the couple out of their swanky hotels and restaurants and reading more like an adventure yarn than a wine list.

The Fargo series has been froth from the beginning but the first half of Eye makes even froth look meaningful and important. The injection of a potentially long-term adversary helps a great deal and gives some hope for future books. By the time Eye is over, a reader can actually believe that something could happen to actually matter to Sam and Remi, which hasn't been clear for much of the series until now. Those books will still need some work -- Blake tries a hand at foreshadowing how Sam and Remi's plans keep getting found out but it's more like "fore-shout-the-answer-into-a-megaphoning." And his "red herring" for that particular development is never very credible.

All that said, Blake now has the chance to bring the Fargos out of last place among the Cussler brand, and the potential to do so. Fargo No. 7 will say a lot more about how that will go.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

G'day, Mate!

Two Australian skydivers share a handshake on their way down from 33,000 feet. No word on what might happen if they crossed the equator and suddenly ended right side up. From the Twisted Sifter blog Picture of the Day.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Best Revenge

This post at Doghouse Diaries suggests some minor but extremely annoying things one might wish did happen to their enemies, as a way of obtaining revenge. They're along the lines of some ideas I remember reading in a book called Throw a Tomato, which described more than 150 ways of being "mean and nasty." The one that sticks out in my mind is the suggestion to "salt the Band-Aids."

But the Diaries post goes too far in once instance. Nobody should have their inner voice be that of Gilbert Gottfried. Not even Harry Reid, but in his case it's because Gottfried would be a step up from the dingy gray smear that usually rings in his empty, dingy gray skull.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Funding Issues

The What If? blog examines the question of what it would really be like to have "all the money in the world" in a literal sense, rather than in the sense of all the world's cash being available on my debit card to use as I see fit (Firefly returns to TV, Elizabeth Warren and Bill O'Reilly have to get real jobs, NASA sells all of its equipment to somebody who wants to use it, every stupid zombie show is canceled, Donald Trump is removed to a location without any means of communicating with the outside world save postcards...).

The actual result, it seems, would be that the pile of coins making up most of the world's money (a significant portion of which would be United States pennies) would be unstable and collapse, with the resulting tsunami of Lincoln profiles deep enough and fast enough to bury and kill you.

I believe this would be considered an adverse outcome.