Sunday, May 28, 2006

Blog cloning

In the spirit of yin and yang, I have two blog sites. Thinking back to little more than a year ago, this activity began reluctantly as an experiment recommended by a friend to help me overcome a bad case of writer's block. Being a freelance writer, such an obstruction can be deleterious to not only supplemental income but the mind. Writing is like singing, painting, dancing, and telling stories: it is a form of expression of the heart and soul. When a writer has writer’s block it is akin to “I have no mouth and I must scream”. *

My problem is I can't type fast enough or access to a medium is unavailable when needed the most. I am waiting for technology to develop a flash drive that can be inserted directly into the brain and to which I can download my thoughts, remove later and upload to my computer. Reading the weekly science and technology news, that may happen soon; I'll be the first to volunteer testing a prototype.

The experiment simultaneously succeeded and backfired. Writer's block is gone and my writing expression has evolved and blossomed. I've published several works since then, even delving into other genres under a pseudonym (don't ask; I'm not telling). Unfortunately deadlines continue to hover over me and I'm just as much a procrastinator as before. The two books I am working on still progress at a snail's pace.

My passion is life, although what you mostly read here in these two blogs are two special passions: science and riding motorcycles. In some ways the two are similar: journeys into the unknown. Both science and riding involve destinations, technology and processes. Yet a component of both many don’t consider is the journey; the journey of discovery. That is an important common denominator and a recurring feature that winds its way in and around these blog posts. (Did the word ‘cloning’ in the title give you a clue?)

Because the motorcycle posts have become more frequent, I decided to devote a new blog site to them: Meanderings on Two Wheels. Over time I will be moving the bike and riding content from the original blog site (Whose Reality is This?) to the newer bike site. I will leave some of the original bike posts where they were originally posted, but not all. As I move them I will post an update in the bike site. Otherwise they will be hidden in the archives. If any code monkeys out there know how I can add a function to a side bar for recently added posts independently from the date, help would be appreciated. Until then, watch for notices of posts moved from this site.

Recently moved:
My Zen of Motorcycle Riding
Walkabout
April's Fool Day

* Short story by the same name by science fiction and commentator Harlan Ellison. Be forewarned if you read this story; it is highly emotive and powerful. It may birth nightmares.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

If I Were Head of State: Due Parte

I would proclaim and enforce a fee of a dime for every vehicle turning and not using their turn signal. I suspect the national deficit would be eliminated in one year.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Snot Rockets

I have of late spent most of my rare time at home mowing the flora on my five acres of Solitude in Central Texas. Thanks to modern technology and Sears, a tractor with a 48" mowing deck is my saviour. Despite my raging torment of unattaching and removing the deck to extract a wayward rope that had entwined itself around the blades, and then putting it all back together, I love my mower. Mowing the property serves as a relaxing activity while I play patterns and games with the terrain, mower heights, tractor speed and the obstacle course that I live on (thorny mesquite bushes, pond, etc). The challenge of mowing a pattern that is as efficient as possible is akin to a chess game. I lose sometimes.

A major obstacle is my allergy to grass pollen. Those tiny misshaped granules that help procreate the many species of grasses wreck havoc on my immune system. The little mast cells that are the soldiers in the first line of defence in the mucus membranes bombard my nose, eyes and skin with histamine, setting off a cascade of mucus production.

"Attack!!!!"

Membrane cells secrete that viscous sticky stuff called 'mucus', chock full of proteoglycans, salts and enzymes that trap and degrade small foreign particles and agents as a protective mechanism. Yet, a hypersensivity to certain allergens such as grass pollen can elicit mucus production like no tomorrow and the nose becomes a running faucet. In that instance, it becomes less of a friendly 'protective' evolutionary function and more a nuisance and downright pain in the nose. It rightly earns the name: 'snot'.

This leads to the question: What does one do when he/she encounters an attack on all fronts by enemy allergens and the battle wages to the point where you can't keep up with the mucus production by snuffling it back up your sinuses?

Well, the old remedy that all outdoorsy people are familiar with: the 'snot rocket'.
Just aim well.

I read the following this morning in my recent issue of New Scientist in the section: The Last Word, where readers submit questions which are answered by other readers. Here it was; the 'snot rocket'.

Is it coincidence a human finger fits exactly into a human nostril. If not, why does my mum tell me not to do it?

Your mother may not approve, but there is a way to clear your nose without sticking anything inside it. It's called the "snot rocket". Just push against the side of one nostril to close it off, take a deep breath, close your mouth and exhale as hard and sharply as you can through your other nostril. You'll be amazed how fast the contents shoot out. Just make sure you tilt your head away from your body to avoid peppering yourself.

Nose-clearing tactics like the snot rocket mean there is no life-or-death reason for the co-evolution of digging digits and large, inviting nostrils. After all, nose blockage is easily managed by breathing through your mouth. In fact, a blocked nose is really only a problem if something gets lodged near your nasal bones, where it is dangerously close to your brain. That is a region where human fingers are too podgy to be of any use. A rather thrilling story of a primatologist, some tweezers and an engorged Ugandan tick comes to mind.

Sexual selection might have favoured the relationship of finger to nostril if, say, females in the Pleistocene preferred mating with males who picked their noses, or if males and females picked each other's noses in a courtship ritual. However, that would be taking reciprocal grooming a little far.

So we must conclude that, yes, it is mere coincidence that your fingers fit so nicely into your nostrils. I doubt the made-for-each-other argument is going to change your mum's opinion of rhinotillexomania. I suggest you demonstrate the snot rocket instead and see what she says.

Holly Dunsworth, State College, Pennsylvania, US

Note: I recall commenting to a close friend once "You know how close and trusting we are when I can pick the buggers from your nose." Better all out of the nose than half out........

...and A View to the Sky

For all you fellow astronomy nerds out there, especially those with telescopes, here's your chance: Comet 73P. In 1995 this comet unexpectantly broke up into at least 58 pieces. Earlier part of this week, many pieces will have passed within 12 million miles of our planet. This is only 30 times as far away as our moon, thus the closest comet within the last 20 years.

A meteor shower is expected to be seen between May 19 and June 19 of this year as Earth passes through the edges of the comet's tail. The largest and brightest fragment (called Fragment C), and thought to be the main bulk of the comet, may be visible to the naked eye in dark skies. Fragment B, the next brightest comet fragment, may require binoculars.

You can read more about the history of and expected passing of Comet 73P's remains at the Comet Chasers website.

Wow, what a treat: a recent full moon and now comets!



Wednesday, May 10, 2006

View From the Table

I am an outlier amongst my own gender.

A bookstore-aholic, I often find solace in the bookstores amongst the book and magazine racks and the cafes. Once inside, like a lion scoping its prey, my focus is automatic and efficient, stratigically directed to those areas of the store that give me instant gratification. Gods forbid anyone who is in my way.

I head first to the science magazine section and peruse my favored magazines, New Scientist, SEED and American Scientist. Scanning the covers, one or two seem to magically appear in one hand before I move on. The first two are unquestionably worth perusing, even though I subscribe to the first. Odd that; the current issue adorns the store racks sometimes days before mine arrives in my departmental mail box.

Next, on to the motorcycle magazines. This is a hunting activity for they are rarely grouped by category of bikes or riding. Considering the variety of publication releases, from monthly, bimonthly to quarterly, finding good reading material has become a game of hide-and-seek and "What's on the stand today?" or "Where the hell is it now?". This time, I chose a British bike rag on the advice of a fellow adventure rider:

"If you really want to learn about the bike world, read the European rags. Bikes and riding are a way of life there. Here, bikes are recreation and show."

He's right. The real 'meat' of riding motorcycles is in Europe and Asia. Bikes and scooters are often the sole transportation of many people there. Riding for sport and pleasure is a close second. It's a very different perspective and grasp of being mobile there. It makes me wish I could live and move amongst them.

After plucking one, two motocycle magazines, I turn on my heel and head out of the magazine racks, glancing at the woodworking and homebuilding rags. Ah, the latest issue of Fine Homebuilding. Instantly plucking that issue, I round the corner and head into the cafe. Nodding a "Hello" at the clerk behind the counter and finding a table near the windows, I stack the magazines in the order of interest for the evening: homebuilding at the bottom, two science rags, a Texas riding issue, and the British bike rag on top. After spending an entire day entrenched in science, including reading papers on the train home, I crave a brief respite.

Returning to my table with a sandwich and a tall ice tea, I eat slowly and look around me. Two tables are occupied by women: two girls of college freshman age at one, two middle-aged women at the other. The two younger girls are chit chatting, leafing through celebrity rags with pictures of glamor men and women adorning the slick colored pages. They appear to be critiquing them judging from their fingers pointing at the figures on pages. I reminds me of the plastic paper people with stick-on and take-off clothes that kids play with.

The two older women are reading Cosmos, Home Journal and Good Housekeeping. Pages filled with "How to lose that fat butt in 6 days" or "How to keep the sex alive in your marriage", interspersed with magical decorations for home, husband and family. Here, cut this out and hang it on your wall and your life will be fulfilled and happy. All this interspersed with an hour-long discussion on what color to paint the dining room, who to hire to mow the lawn, and "Oh, by the way, did you hear about Isabel......"

I can't help but notice that I'm shaking my head, not understanding how such things can captivate their attention and time and grateful that my life is empty of similar occupations that could be better utilized contemplating Stephen Hawking's recent proclamation of multi-universes and reality existing in the eye's of the beholder. Or the many roads I want to travel on my bike.

I look down at my own table and I see magazines that reflect a very different pool of interest and past time than these other women. And I wonder how I ended up so different from others of my own gender. Yet quite satisfied with who I am.

In the line to pay, an older black man behind me strikes up a conversation:

"You know, in a moment, this moment will be gone. Forever gone."

After a moment's thought, I reply "Yes, but then there will be a new moment to replace the one that is gone."

[nodding] "Mmhmm.... That is right. And then another moment will replace that one, too."

"Yes, and then another and another. And all those moments replaced will be memories."

"Yessah, and some of those memories may stay, some may be lost. "

"Very true.
And new ones will appear to replace those lost."

"Mmmhmm. Now I wonder if you will remember this conversation after several moments."

Smiling broadly, I reply, "Yes, sir. I will remember this conversation in several moments and for many more after that. And remember this: 'No matter where you go, there you are'."

"Hmm... yes, I like that. Well, young lady, you have
yourself a good evening. Yes, I like that...."

Now where else can you go and talk metaphysics to strangers but in a bookstore?





Monday, May 01, 2006

Battles

"When a shepherd goes to kill a wolf, and takes his dog to see the sport, he should take care to avoid mistakes. The dog has certain relationships to the wolf the shepherd may have forgotten."
- Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance