26 December 2008

Catastrophic Seedballs!

Occasionally, every X million years or so, the Earth is slammed by a extraordinarily large and fast comet or asteroid. The land shakes violently, tsunamis scour the coasts, falling debris heats the air and pummels the ground. The resulting dust storms will likely induce an ice age.

For perhaps hours or days the temperature of the atmosphere is raised in some places as high as that of boiling water, followed by several years of freezing dark. A majority of species, and most life will die.

Can we do anything? Consider the aftermath. Any surviving animals, be they insects, chipmunks or people, that crawl out of the ice will face a bare and chilly world without food or shelter. Encouraging quick plant growth should be our main concern.

I'll concentrate on a way to preserve seeds through this period to establish a new ecosystem as soon as possible.

As an idea, imagine an amalgam of manure and straw, in the form of a ball, with the seeds mixed in (feel free to imagine other possible compositions). Dip it in some insulating foam to allow it to survive the heat and cold, spread them far and wide and wait for things to warm up again. They should be designed to disintegrate when wet, allowing the seeds to sprout and grow, yet not fall apart prematurely.

One way to test seedballs is to make differing batches, bake them in a oven for a day and store them for a year or more in a freezer. Set them out on some soggy, ash choked piece of ground and see what happens.

The first generations of seedballs won't work very well. Assembling something that can protect seeds for so long at such temperatures is probably difficut. No seeds, or at most a very small percentage will live to germinate.

Several generations of testing may be necessary before a combination of materials and seeds can be found that has a chance of success.

However, even a poor seedball could be viable with some cover. Bury them under a little soil or toss them in a lake and they might survive post-impact conditions quite well.

Of course, the ideal is a seedball that is inexpensive to make and easy to distribute. If they can be frozen for years, so much the better. Take them out when needed. They could also be spread around at any time, as they are made, even if no particular threat loom. If they germinate, no big deal. If disaster strikes unexpectedly, we are that much better prepared.

Imagine a time when we do not have a significant space presence but we detect the inevitable comet en-route to a meeting with our vulnerable planet. We may have years to prepare, or we may have only days. There is no chance of diverting catastrophe, only, perhaps, one of easing the aftermath.

The cost of preparation can be relatively cheap. Of course, grant money can be sent to various universities to investigate seedballs and other possible interventions and it may be a good investment. However, I think an X Prize might be a more efficient spur. After all, the research seems to be fairly inexpensive; seeds and soil, ovens and freezers; nothing very high tech. Anyone can play and the prize need only be paid out for success.

A few million dollars spread out over several decades might be money well spent. The end of the world will be a much more expensive proposition.

26 November 2008

Last year's pretty good stuffing

We did this in a crock pot so first we warmed that up. Sandra and
I chopped up two onions, four stalks of celery and a couple teaspoons
of fresh sage and a fistful of parsley.
I put a large frying pan over medium heat and put in about half a
pound of mild bulk sausage and stirred it around. It stuck a bit so I
poured in a little water and that seemed to help.
When the sausage was brown (there was hardly any fat, for some
reason) I lowered the heat to medium low and added the onions and
celery and about half a stick of butter. At this point you should know
that the calorie load has entered triple digits and it will continue
to climb. This mess was sautéed until the onions were somewhat
In a large bowl Sandra deposited two bags of unseasoned bread
cubes and I poured the meat and veggies on top. We added the chopped
herbs and maybe two cups of chicken stock, and I think broth would do
just as well. Two well beaten eggs drizzled over everything before
stirring until it all looked uniformly moist and stuffing-like.
This was dumped into the now greased crock pot and patted down a
bit. I think it cooked on High for 45 minutes and on Low for three
It burned a little on the sides but the middle was pretty good.

18 November 2008

Never Forget

Over at Great but Forgotten Chuck Rothman is looking for the author William Johnston. He wrote novelizations and media tie-ins by the dozens but seems to have left few traces.
Mr. Rothman's post stirred up some memories:
Sometimes, usually on a Saturday, when my mother couldn't get a babysitter she would bring us along to the escrow office she ran in a little shopping center somewhat north of Seattle. For lunch money, and to keep out of her hair she hand us each a dollar and we'd go explore. This was in the mid-sixties and a buck was enough to buy her a few hours of peace.
Me and my brother would generally head over to the lunch counter over at the Grocery Boys store at the other end of the mall. A hamburger and fries left me just enough for a 50 cent paperback, or a comic and some candy (my brother, however, was all about the food).
One time I faced the spinner rack and saw a Get Smart! book and my heart stood still. Get Smart! I loved that show. Want it want it want it...
But wait... 60 cents? One full dime more expensive than the books I usually found. A ridiculous price! I couldn't see supporting the publishers in this unwarranted inflation, it might give them ideas. More importantly, I couldn't buy it And a hamburger and fries.
But... I couldn't see walking away from Get Smart, either.
So that day I learned something about budgeting, and bought just a hamburger and Get Smart!
And you know, I've never regretted it, but sometimes I buy extra fries.

12 November 2008

Global Warming Is Averted

We see the back wall of a medium size cave and before it stand several fur clad Cavemen around a cleared area large enough for a small fight. A few torches light the scene.

Pok, a tough looking brute shakes his spear and raps the butt on the ground for attention.

"Pok am Big Man here. Pok kill weak man who say otherwise. Pok am Big Man!"

There are a few snarls and a weak chorus of "Pok am Big Man..."

Pok: "Meeting now in order."

The Tribe settle down but not without more snarling and cuffing of each other. Pok shakes his spear and the Tribe quiets.

Pok: "Old things to talk about. Fig will report. Report, Fig!"

Fig: "Fig talk about Bos Fig catch. Fig catch Bos last warm time and hold Bos over cold time."

Smart Ass Caveman: "Fig hold Bos. Fig love Bos."

Some laughter. Fig snarl. Pok shake spear.

Pok: "I spear you!"

Pok waves spear.

Pok: "Talk, Fig."

Fig: "As saying, Fig hold Bos in Cave. Not Fig Cave. Different Cave."

Tall Caveman: "Bos bad. Sharp head. Bos kill!"

General Cavemen muttering: "Bos bad. Bos kill..."

Pok rap spear on floor again.

Pok: "Pok kill!"

Fig: "Bos mad at first. Fig drag bush in front cave, Bos no get out."

General Cavemen muttering: "Ooh! Fig Strong..."

Pok: "Bos no kill Fig?"

Fig: "Bos mad at first, but Fig feed Bos. Feed Bos grass. Bos like grass. Bos and Fig now friend. Soon Fig can kill Bos very easy. Fig eat well!"

General Cavemen muttering: "Bos tasty."

Pok: "Bos particularly good with Fire."

General Cavemen muttering: "Fire good..."

Fat Caveman: "Fat Caveman live near Fig. Fat Caveman no call Bos Bos. Fat Caveman call Bos Stink Butt."

Fat Caveman holds his nose. General caveman laughter.

Pok: "Fat Caveman right. Fig cave stink bad!"

Old Man: "Funny Pok should say. Old Man watch and learn. Old Man learn Ice no like Stink Butt. Ice move away from tribe holding Stink Butts."

General Cavemen muttering: "Ice move? Bad. Bad..."

Old Man: "Ice move maybe good. Ice move maybe more land. Ice move maybe not so cold."

Tall Caveman: "Ice move, no good. Where Ice go? Maybe Ice move to Water and where Water go? Maybe Water come here!"

General Cavemen muttering: "Water come cave? Bad..."

Pok raps spear.

Fig: "Fig want help with grass. More grass, more Bos. Everyone eat well. Everyone fat like Fat Caveman."

Fat Caveman is bashful.

Pok: "Look! Fat Caveman blush!"

General Cavemen muttering: "Fat Caveman strong..."

Tall Caveman: "Tall Caveman no like Stink Butt. Stink Butt bad! Tall Caveman no like Fig!"

Pok: "What we say?"

General Cavemen muttering: "No Stink Butt! Stink Butt bad!"

Pok: "Who like Stink Butt?"

Old Man eyes crowd and sits down.

Fig: "I like Stink Butt! I mean, I like Bos! Bos good!"

General Cavemen muttering: "Bad! Kill!"

Pok: "Sorry Fig. I kill you!"

Pok stabs Fig with spear. Fig falls and dies.

Pok wipes spear on loin cloth.

Pok: "Any new business?"

14 October 2008

The Wolfman and me

The Wolfman was my favorite famous monster of filmland, followed by Frankenstein's monster and Dracula and then the Mummy. Basically I'd watch any monster movie, at any time but, for me, the Wolfman was it.
One time, around second or third grade,  I discovered that the late show was showing something called Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman and my little heart almost exploded with joy. Immediately I began scheming. The folks had left us in care of a babysitter and with a firm bedtime of 8:30. Negotiations commenced.
I started lobbying early in the morning and kept it up. By noon she was ready to concede, with, however, one proviso: I must eat the prepared lunch.
And what a proviso.
I was, and am, a picky eater and this sitter had had trouble with me before. Canned chili was a particular challenge and that was the menu for the day. When the can was opened and I saw the congealed orange grease I could feel the gorge rise in my throat. It didn't matter to me that it melted; I found it disgusting.
The only way I could deal with chili was with an equal amount of ketchup, and lots of crackers and even then it was dicey.
And we were out of ketchup.
The table was set and the stakes were clear. My brother Mike, the Sitter and I, and three bowls awful chili with Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman as the prize.
Mike could eat anything but he wasn't in this game, too callow to appreciate the finer qualities of cinema and too young to stay up that late anyway. Although he had an iron stomach he would cry like a little girl when he had a haircut so there.
The chili was ladled out and in my bowl the grease puddled. I stared at it and hoped it would somehow vanish. The Sitter restated the rules: "You eat that chili or no staying up late!" As a delaying tactic I crumbled some crackers and asked again if there was any ketchup. No ketchup.
I picked up a spoon and stirred. Mike shoveled his in and the Sitter glared. The moment of truth had arrived.
It was eat or no movie and I just had to see that movie. With a trembling hand I brought a loaded spoon to my face and swallowed.
And paused. There, that's not too bad. Hardly noticed the grease. I can do this. Just a bowl of chili.
I took another bite.
The Babysitter smiled and said "Now, that's not so bad, is it?"
I nodded and then projectile vomited all over the table.
No movie that night, but no more chili either. In fact it would be years before I ever saw Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman and I'll have to say that it was ok. Pretty good, but no Abbott and Costello Meets Frankenstein which had not only Frankenstein and the Wolfman but also Dracula, so there.

10 October 2008

The Golden Age

Randy, a friend of mine in junior high somehow knew that I liked to prop myself up in the school library and read old back copies of Science Digest, particularly Asimov's column where he answered reader's questions. I guess he knew this because for my thirteenth birthday he gave me a paperback copy of Foundation and Empire. Actually, now that I think on it Randy had previously turned me on to an anthology of Asimov's science writing, "Where Do We Go From Here?" so the novel was a natural.
I quickly discovered that this was the second volume in a trilogy, which meant that Randy hadn't read it, so I set out to get the first at the family's next shopping trip to Fred Meyers. I found it, begged the money and scored.
Now the actual reading part made me nervous. This particular edition from the Sixties had surreal, cubist illustrations on the covers and that scared me. I didn't understand Cubism so there was every possibility I wouldn't understand the book.
The table of contents was not exactly descriptive of the action:


And the chapters started out with an excerpt from the Encyclopedia Glactica and I knew I hadn't read that! Daunting for someone still reading Superman.
Funny in retrospect. Who is easier to read than Asimov? I couldn't have found a easier introduction to science fiction.

Foundation And Empire
Second Foundation

Isaac Asimov

15 September 2008

Crowd Scouring

Measuring pollution is a tricky business.
Predicting the impact of various levels of offense uncertain.
It is unlikely the legislative process of testimony, deliberation and voting will find optimum moderation in the form of restrictions of output and arbitrary fine schedules.
It is doubtful Congress can divine the expense of compliance.
We may prefer no codified system in this matter.
Anyone has the right to monitor their immediate environment, and increasingly the ability.
Any area can support voluntary alarmists.
Even rare observations of possible danger can be communicated quickly throughout a community.
Local records can be used to find the source of pollution.
Outrage can lead to lawsuits and locally gathered evidence can prompt prosecutorial action.
Unsupported lawsuits are costly enough to discourage frivolous actions.
Court directed remedies are specific.
Thousands of legal trials will find better solutions than one legislative act.

14 July 2008

Hell yeah

We saw the Hellboy sequel on Sunday. The credits included a
disclaimer that read, in part, "The depiction of the use of tobacco
products is an artistic choice and not an endorsement..."
Apparently they are cool with demon raising and running
through the streets of New York shooting big fricking guns.

11 June 2008


In a series of gaseous emissions the I. A. U. shat a plutoid.
While not carin' to bash the decision the air is something to avoid:


14 May 2008

Music for the Millions

This muxtape thing could get quite addictive:

Random Harvest

Alas, muxtape is on the outs and the link is dead

07 May 2008

Solar Eddies

A Solar System orbit visualizer with zoom, pause and wow:


The Godbroad

I've just finished reading "The Godfather" and quite enjoyed it. Puzo had noted that he was aiming for Money rather than Art and if so, I'm all for commerce.
Some of the characters are overwrought and improbable but they are vivid and unforgettable and fun to follow. Sometimes I paused and marveled at some clumsy or pulpish writing but each sentence set the scene, the mood or carried the action along.
Back in my high school German class I sat a row away from Barbara Keck and for a while she carted around a thick copy of "The Godfather" and read it compulsively. After a few days we got to calling her "The Godbroad." She didn't seem to mind. Just smile and go back to her book.
I have that same smile.