Star Lines
Saturday, June 01, 2002
  Changing of the Guard: My son Mike beat me in chess tonight -- not a surprise; he's whupped me frequently over the last year. But tonight he beat me in twenty-eight moves, using strategy I didn't teach him, and that's a first. After his win, we analyzed the game as always and I suggested it was time for him to find better competition. He's been interested in starting a chess club but unfortunately few kids at his school even know how to play the game. Neither do their parents, for that matter. I guess it's too old-fashioned for the GameBoy/PS2/X-Box crowd.

So now we will cautiously investigate the local community clubs, and see if we can find one that isn't a pool of piranhas. When you get into clubs you have to wade through all those egos and get into the whole tournament circus, and I'm not sure that's right for him. Mike loves chess for the pleasure of the game, not the glory, and I want to keep it that way. At the same time, I don't want to hold him back. He's got the focus and the aggression it takes to be a great player.  
  Kid Request: We went out for dinner tonight to our favorite salad bar, and ran into another family we know from school. Now, taking my two kids out to eat is a challenge, but the other Mom was juggling four elementary-age kids plus her new baby son. Kathy kept popping up all through dinner to wave and yell "Hi" to them (specifically Patrick, who is one of her partners in crime at school) and then of course we had to say goodbye after our final wash up trip to the restrooms. The baby is getting so cute (sigh).

On the way home, my daughter got very quiet, and I asked her what was wrong. She asked, "Mom, are you sure can't have any more babies?" I responded with the usual disclaimer -- I'm too old, and we wouldn't have a Daddy for a new baby (we've already settled why her Daddy won't work in a previous, diplomatically-worded discussion.) Then she stuck out her lip and told me, "Daddy has a girlfriend, so you need to buy a new Daddy." Then Mike (in total disgust) said, "Mom doesn't buy Daddies, she marries them. And I'd rather have a dog." I laughed until I thought I'd wreck the truck.  
  Politics of Parasites: Much as we despise them, parasitic organisms are Nature's way of keeping the inventory under control. Because they must use and abuse other organisms in order to survive, parasites are also called the most opportunistic life forms on the planet (remind you of anyone?) Researching some of the 342 parasitic species that infect humans has been interesting, because not every parasite ultimately kills the human host. In some areas of the world, generations of exposure and infection have allowed some natives to either develop a higher tolerance or a semi-symbiotic relationship with these critters. In the past I've always looked at parasites as disease distributors, but in their own way they maintain the balance just as much as the decomposers. And while I'm not going to cuddle up to a Chinese liver fluke anytime soon, getting a better perspective really helps with my world-building.  
  Quote for the Day: "Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stare at the walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing." -- Meg Chittenden

Crazy people don't have to back up those voices or scan the walls for viruses, though.

Medical Site for the Day: Online Medical Dictionary --Since 1997, Dr. Graham Dark has maintained a comprehensive and fully searchable online medical dictionary that now contains over 140,000 definitions and terms. Entries are cross-referenced to each other and to related sources on the internet.

Blog for the Day: -- Someone recommended I check out professional engineer/writer/editor Bob Felton's site, which isn't actually a weblog but an archive of his published work. The minimalism of the page appealed to me, as did the neat scrolling box that stops scrolling when you hover over it -- now how can we get Bob to write a weblog?

  Think Tank Euphoria: I get such a charge out of Friday nights. For the past eighteen weeks, I've been moderating the Writer's Think Tank at Forward Motion, and it only gets better everytime. Anywhere from ten to thirty writers get together at these sessions, and each person has the opportunity to pose a writing-related question to the group. The questions can be anything from "What should I title my book?" to "How do I fix a plot problem with this character, etc. etc." The group then suggests ideas and alternatives for possible solutions. While everyone has their own point of view, what's offered comes without negative criticism or snotty attitudes. And we do this for at least two hours. And we're getting really, really good at it.

I love the TT sessions because they're wild -- what starts as basically free association begins to mesh and build, and people start finishing each other's sentences. Pretty soon the energy level skyrockets and the screen is scrolling so fast you can barely follow it (which is why I post a transcript immediately, after every session.) By the time we're finished -- usually in overtime -- I can't wait to write. I don't know if it's from seeing the group solve problems so creatively, or the sheer pleasure of being around people who actually understand what I mean when I say, "I've got a big kink in my story arc, my villain is two-dimensional, and I'm ready to kill my MC."

Being a writer is like being the Maytag repairman -- you won't find a lonelier profession. I spent ten solitary years writing every single day, producing novel after novel, getting in huge piles of rejection letters. And if you think that sounds easy, try it for a year, then come talk to me. The situation was my own fault; I didn't know any other writers and I didn't try to meet any. But I can assure you, I would have sacrificed a limb to have something like the Think Tank back then, when it was a challenge just to keep going on a daily basis. Now I'm making up for all those years of isolation, among terrific people who share the same hopes, dreams, and dedication to the work. I can't think of a better way to spend Friday night. 
Friday, May 31, 2002
  Testing to rearrange the linkage 
  Imagine That: I received some interesting mail today -- the real kind, with envelopes and stamps and everything -- from a newly-formed fan club in the Midwest. The President of the "Club StarDoc" wrote to let me know that his group got together, made up a petition, took it around their high school and collected twenty pages of signatures. They're going to hit three local bookstores for more signatures and then mail the petition off to Penguin Putnam. Their goal is to collect a thousand signatures, and they're more than halfway there now.

I learned I'd become a big hit with teenagers after Beyond Varallan was published. To be honest, I've always been a little worried about it -- I do write for an adult audience. Plus the thought of a huge mob of disgruntled, ultra-religious/conservative parents coming after me for corrupting their children still gives me the willies now and then. But the kids are, without a doubt, my most dedicated fans. I receive on average ten to fifteen written letters a week -- I have four rows of high school graduation photos they've sent me on the fridge -- and we won't even get into how much e-mail.

How do you thank a group for doing something like this? I don't travel anymore, and signed bookmarks just seem so lame. But as it happens, the club president gave me the perfect solution in his letter -- he asked if I would consider hosting a private online chat with his group to talk about the series and my plans for the future. That I can do, and will be very happy to schedule at the next possible opportunity.  
  Give This Man A Raise: Jonah Goldberg sends a humorous and much-needed reality check to holy war obsessed terrorists with this excellent article from the National Review online.  
  Quote for the Day: "Everything that doesn't kill you, makes you stronger. And later on you can use it in some story." -- Tapani Bagge

And you don't have to be nice about it, either.

Medical Fact for the Day: Opisthorchiasis is a parasitic infection of the bile ducts and gallbladder in humans. Common in Asia and Europe, the infection is caused by consumption of fish contaminated by the Opisthorchis viverrini (Southeast Asian liver fluke).

Symptoms include malaise, fever, hives, abdominal pain, enlargement of or tender liver, loss of appetite, diarrhea, and muscle and joint aches. Diagnosis is made through laboratory testing, which usually reveals an elevated white blood cell count, high eosinophil count, and elevated alanine aminotransferase. Advanced cases will display parasitic eggs in stool samples and in the duodenal aspirate.

Treatment: Praziquantel cures the infection in 95% of all cases. Mebendazole and Albendazol are alternative drug treatments. If left untreated, Opisthorchiasis can lead to gallstones, cholecystitis, cirrhosis of the liver and pancreatitis.

Blog for the Day: Angst Revisited (R for language) -- "I am a confused and angst-ridden girl," Sze Ying writes in her bio page, "or so I'd like to think myself as." I stumbled across this new weblog quite by accident, and the header graphic snagged me, but it was the writing that brought me back. Then I got a jolt when I went through her archives, and discovered the author isn't attending an American college, but one in Malaysia.
Thursday, May 30, 2002
  The Treasures One Finds: While surfing for articles on forensic evidence of C-4 use as a catalyst for arson, I came across an experiment conducted to prove humorist/journalist Dave Barry's claim that Strawberry Pop-Tarts Make Excellent Blow Torches. If you're drinking while you read this, cover your keyboard with some plastic wrap.  
  Never Mess with A Librarian: Hang on Spider-man, we've got plenty of superheroes down at the local library (I'm buying the tshirt. I must.) James, read this. 
  Quote for the day: "And at last came the monkey, and anybody could see that man wasn't far off, now." -- Mark Twain

( too busy snickering to comment)

Medical Site for the Day/Blog of the Day: PULSE -- "PULSE is a free service of the Centre for Community Change International, gathering new and noteworthy Internet resources for mental health providers, family members of individuals with mental illness, consumers of mental health services and consumer advocates." (Which makes it a medical site and a weblog, and an interesting combo.) 
  Okay, Jess, I took the test and I'm:

which Episode II character are you?

Probably the greatest Jedi Knight of all. Like Obi Wan, you are wise and keep your feet on the ground at all times. You will not be outsmarted by anyone. You are always faithful to your friends. Be careful though, danger lurks around every corner - you could even be betrayed by those closest to you.

I'm not living on a desert world, though. Uh-uh, sorry, I need some beach around me. 
  Color Changing Eyes: You probably don't sit up at night researching the genetics involved in human eye color, but yours truly has to worry about this stuff. Suspension of disbelief and all that, don't you know. The color of your eyes, or more specifically, your irises, is dependent on your parent's genes, which determine the amount of melanin in your irises. Lots of melanin, you get brown eyes. Medium melanin, green eyes. Not much melanin, blue eyes. Also, we've always been told two blue-eyed parents cannot have a brown-eyed child, but actually, that's wrong -- they can; it's rare but it's been documented. And there are three, possibly four genes involved in determining eye color, not just one.

Anyway, I've always wondered why my eyes aren't the same color as they were when I was a kid. I asked an optometrist one time, and he scoffed and insisted that eye color doesn't change. But I watched my own son Mike's eyes change from a lovely clear blue when he was a toddler to the intense green they are now, so I knew there was something to it (and never ask a guy who works for LensCrafters about science stuff.) Tonight I came across the answer, it appears the amount of melanin in the irises can fluctuate -- throughout a lifetime -- so it is possible for your eyes to change color.

I also found a very cool eye color generator which can demonstrate (in a simplified way) what color eyes children will inherit, based on parent's eye color and their genes. According to it, I should have two blue-eyed and one green-eyed child, which I do, so it seems to work.  
Wednesday, May 29, 2002
  One of My Heroes: We've lost author, journalist, and one of my personal heroes, Mildred Wirt Benson this week at age ninety-six. Better known by her pseudonym Carolyn Keene, she wrote the first 23 Nancy Drew mysteries, all of which I devoured as a kid. Among her many other accomplishments, Ms. Benson inspired generations of women in so many ways you simply can't make one list. Safe journey, dear lady, you will be missed.  
  Modern Corollaries: I've been re-reading some of my favorite nonfiction books about evolution and sociological development lately, mainly as preparation to overhaul the world building for the BioRescue books, but also simply for pleasure. We think ourselves supremely civilized, above all those simplistic tribal activities our distant, primitive ancestors enjoyed. Yet the following passage from "Microcosmos" by Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan (ISBN#0-520-21064-6), suggests that while you can take Man out of the cave, you can't always take the cave out of Man:

"Much of the cohesiveness of the clan, the running chases of great elephantine beasts across the primeval plain have been preserved in modern culture. Metamorphosing, these highly successful survival strategies have modern corollaries in team sports and war. In football the hunt seems reduced to the symbolic act of groups of men chasing an object made of animal hide. The ball is hurled through the air, a symbolic spear making its mark."

Books like this one have had a huge influence on me as a science fiction writer, and much of my foundation for the Jorenian HouseClans and even the game of shockball in StarDoc came from them. If you're world-building and want some new ideas and directions to follow, I definitely recommend you check it out.  
  Sparks Fly: I do love writing certain scenes, and following is one that also lets me vent a little about a similar, real life experience of my own:

**Uncorrected First Draft
Excerpt from As of Yet Untitled, New Gena Hale Trilogy, Book Three:

(Rated R for language, children, go do your homework)

Brooke adjusted the receiver to better pick up Tara’s low murmurs, then tugged off her headset before rubbing her tired eyes. It was a relief to know Conor was in place. “Stay tough, kid,” she muttered under her breath.

The door at the back of the office opened and closed with a snap. “Who’s in charge here?”

She got up from the console and headed toward the voice. A big man in a rain-spattered, rumpled dark gray suit met her halfway. “Who’s asking?”

“Agent Kinsella, New York office.” He took out his ID and opened it for her to read. The hard-edged face and military-short light brown hair matched the official identification.

“Brooke Oliver.” She held out her hand, noted his brief, careful grip and the scars across his knuckles. Most FBI agents reminded her of polite college boys, but this one had the face and the touch of an experienced brawler. “What can I do for you, Agent Kinsella?”

“You can get your boss on the line and tell him I’m here to see him.” He walked past her and performed a brief inspection of the main room. Despite his large, blocky build, he moved like a feline. “I’ll also need all reports, case files, and whatever new intelligence has come in on Shandian and the Sayura syndicate. Get started making the copies.” He glanced back at her, his dark blue eyes narrowed. They resemble a cat’s, too. “Any coffee around here?”

Brooke almost laughed. Almost. “There’s a bagel shop across the street.”

“Good. Get me a large with cream, no sugar.” He stalked into her office and shut the door. Through the window, she saw him pick up the phone.

Son of a bitch.

Brooke remembered to count to ten, then used the extension at her console to call her local FBI contact. After verifying that Special Agent William Kinsella was indeed on temporary assignment to L.A. from the New York field office, she hung up and considered how to handle the situation.

Without feeling the slightest bit of guilt, she picked up her spare headphones and jacked into the line Kinsella was using.

“—now that I’m here,” he said, contempt making his voice harsh. “Your usual military fuckup. They left some airhead to answer phones.”

Now she wasn’t just a secretary, she was an airhead. Brooke curled her short, neat fingernails into her palm, and imagined it was Kinsella’s face.

“Stomping through the ranks won’t get you anywhere, Liam,” an amused, older female voice replied. “Be polite, be firm, but don’t mix it up with the brass. Last thing I need is the Army on my back. And be nice to the pretty little blonde. Who knows, you might even get lucky.”

That did it. When she got back to Washington, Brooke was dyeing her hair black, or shaving her head. And who was he calling a pretty little blonde, anyway? She was only an inch or two shorter than him.

Brooke missed Kinsella’s response, and only dimly heard him promise to contact the woman tomorrow before he ended the call.

I can kick his ass and end up in the stockade, or I can get back to work.

She disconnected her lead and plugged back into Conor’s frequency, which was impeded by a wash of static. She concentrated on retuning the receiver until she eliminated most of the crackling interference, then switched the recorder over to the backup system so she could slide a new CD into the burner. Something tapped her shoulder as she finished queueing up the audio files on the computer.

She slid her headset down to her neck and idly considered the merits of ramming an elbow into Kinsella’s abdomen and splintering a couple of his ribs. Instead, she focused on the monitor. “Yes?”

“My coffee?”

Now she did turn around and nearly collided with him. This close, she could smell a trace of aftershave – something clean and crisp – and the rain on his jacket. “Are you crippled?”

“Oh.” A line formed between his brows as he studied her again, as if seeing her clearly for the first time. “Sorry, I didn’t know you’d take offense.”

“Not at all.” She swung back to the console. “The airhead remark was pretty unforgiveable, though.”

That made him shut up for a full thirty seconds. She could almost feel his gaze on her hair and neck, and it was making her face hot. No, it’s just my temper, and not being able to clock him.

Finally he said, “Let me guess, you’re in charge.”

“Aren’t you intuitive?” Brooke rose and brushed past him, eager to escape the building tension. “I’ll have to revise my opinion of Quantico’s training standards.”

She went into her office to check the FAX and sort through the reports that had been sent from Washington by courier the day before. Kinsella didn’t take the hint, but followed her and sat down in front of her desk. “Are we going to dance around all day, or can we get past this?”

Brooke took her time reading the document in her hands before she regarded him. “I don’t dance, Agent Kinsella. I don’t make copies, or fetch coffee. This is an official CID operation, and the pretty little blonde is the ranking officer in charge.” Pleased with the amount of ice in her delivery, she inclined her head toward the back of the building. “You already know where the exit is. Have a nice day.”

“Ms. Oliver –”

Now she just might clock him anyway. “Major Oliver.”

“Major.” He sighed. “I didn’t mean to insult you, but I’m running low on time and patience. I need whatever you’ve got, now.”


“The FBI has already lost two agents to this tong war. We’re going after the generals and shutting it down.” He shrugged. “That’s all I can tell you at present.”

“How fascinating.” Did he really think she wouldn’t know how to play the game? “What I’ve got here, Kinsella, is an active, classified military operation. And, until you get security clearance through the CID, I’m not obliged to give you so much as a post-it note.”

“Then get me clearance.”

She tilted her head to one side and pretending to think about it. “Tempted as I am to assist someone as congenial, perceptive, and unbiased toward gender in the workplace as you are, no.” She smiled. “Get it yourself.”

“Fine.” He stood. “You’d better put the word out to whoever you’re running with the tongs. My task force will be ready to move in by the end of the week.”

Conor. “I have an agent and a civilian on the inside.”

“That’s your problem, Major. Not mine.” He went to the door, then stopped. “Do I get clearance now?”

She had no choice, and he knew it, the jerk. “Get back here and sit down, Kinsella.” He did. “I want full disclosure on both sides.”

He didn’t bother to rub it in. “I can do that.”

“Shandian snatched a kid a few days ago, and they’re using her to put pressure on Takeshi Sayura’s daughter. They want the White Tiger swords, and they think she’s got them.” She pulled file photos and handed them across the desk. “I’ve got an agent in – Conor Perry – watching the kid.”

He picked out Tara’s photo and turned it around. “Why aren’t you retrieving her?”

“We will.” She filled him in on the rest of the operation, then added, “Your turn to play nice.”

“We know the Dai were responsible for taking out two of our agents,” he said. “And we’re going to shut down the triad. The director has teams working in every major city now, taking gang members in under witness protection to get testimony against their leaders.” He took a folded paper from his jacket pocket and offered it to her. “That’s the list. So far, we’ve nailed everyone with the grand jury except Shandian and the Sayura. Qi Ju-Long disappeared yesterday, presumed dead. The Sayura brothers entered the country last week, but they’re holed up in a hotel. No one seems to know who’s really running things on either side.”

The names on the list were impressive. So was his intelligence. She might actually revise her opinion of the FBI, after all. “We need to work together.”

“That was the idea when I came in here.”

She ignored that. “You don’t have anyone in place yet, do you?”

Kinsella obviously didn’t want to say it, but he finally produced a “No.”

Checkmate. “Then, since my op is already rolling, it’s only logical for you to work with us.”

“Under your command, you mean.” He made it sound like laboring in the tenth circle of Hell.

Which for Kinsella, it might be. “Yes.” Now she could relax and enjoy herself a little. “I know you’re going to astound me, Agent Kinsella, and tell me you don’t have a problem working with female agents.”

He grinned, and it transformed his broad, dock-worker’s face into something much more attractive. “You heard my boss, she’s a female.”

“Yes, and I’ll have to pray for her later.” After glancing at the clock, she grabbed her jacket and shrugged into it. “I’ve got a ten o’clock with the Sayura brothers. You’re welcome to tag along.”

“Long as I drive.”

Brooke nodded. She wouldn’t mind having a Quantico-trained chauffeur, at all.

**Author's note: Moral of the scene: Never assume the attractive young woman in any office is simply the secretary. And get your own coffee.

Copyright 2002 by S.L. Viehl, writing as Gena Hale
All rights reserved. 
  Quote for the Day: "Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man wanted to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion." -- L. Ron Hubbard

Hey, wait a minute . . .

Medical Fact for the Day: Takayasu's Arteritis, also known as pulseless disease or Martorell's Syndrome, causes inflammation, and restriction of blood vessels leading off the aorta, eventually resulting in blockages. This disease primarily strikes young Asian women, yet the cause is still unknown.

Symptoms vary, according to the blood vessel affected by the disease, and often mimic other conditions, such as stroke or retinal injury. Ocassionally patients do not have a pulse in their arms, hence the name "pulseless" disease. Diagnosis is made by angiogram and blood tests, and if caught early enough, steroid medications can usually control the inflammation. If the patient's condition is advanced, surgery to bypass the damaged vessel is required.

Blog of the Day: Holy Weblog!: "I'm not here to pontificate," says Holy Weblog's Joyce Garcia, a self-described Christian who takes a "faithful" look at the the internet and the latest religious news. Besides the excellent writing and timely links, that's what I like most about the site -- the lack of preaching.  
Tuesday, May 28, 2002
  Survival of the Species: As I 'm nearly finished Sean's book, I took a break this afternoon to read a paper on new drugs being developed to combat bacterial infections and diseases so I could scribble down some ideas in the "Write this when I have time" notebook. The paper is solid, but the tone is a little grating. More of the "Man, the Superior Species, Will Save the Planet from the Terrible Ravages of Disease" stuff.

What's amusing is, when you think about it, bacteria really aren't the enemy. Lots of bacteria serve us faithfully, even keep us alive. For example, did you know that ten percent of your dry body weight is bacteria? Yep. And if we didn't have some of them, we'd be going the way of the Tasmanian Tigers.

I'm not saying every type of bacteria is good, but I think they all deserve a little respect. Consider this: Scientists estimate mammals evolved about two hundred million years ago. Our earliest human ancestors, somewhere between two and seven million years ago. Yet life has existed here for three and a half billion years, and guess what was the only form of life on this planet for the first two billion years? You got it--humble bacteria. Maybe instead of regarding these old-timers as the enemy, we could learn something from them.
  Kathy Speaks: "This is our planet, God loves us so much. I love you." (I'm demonstrating how the Blogger editor works to my daughter. She, naturally, has her own ideas about what should be on a weblog. Time to start one for her, I think.) 
  Jurassic Park, Anyone?: Scientists from the Australian Museum in Sydney hope to clone a Tasmanian Tiger within the next ten years. Okay, we got Dolly the Sheep already, so why the hoopla about a big stripey kitty cat? Well, because 19th century farmers exterminated the Tasmanian Tiger. The last known specimen died in 1936, and the species was declared officially extinct in 1986.

Using DNA extracted and reconstructed from an ethanol-preserved specimen, Mike Archer and his crew hope to create a genetic library of Tasmanian Tiger DNA. "We are now further ahead than any other project that has attempted anything remotely similar using extinct DNA," says Archer.

I'm all for preserving endangered species via cloning, but this project is another of those disturbing little biotech red flags. Jurassic Park was a scary movie (movies, if you've seen the two sequels) but at the time all the science types scoffed and said, "We wouldn't actually reintroduce an extinct species via DNA harvesting and cloning." So now that we actually are doing just that, are we going to regulate what we bring back? Will anyone ask us what we want brought back? Or am I going to walk outside one day and see a T-Rex using my truck as a toothpick? 
  Quote for the Day: "If you think that something small cannot make a difference, try going to sleep with a mosquito in the room." --Anonymous

Or a seven and a half pound cat who has sleep apnea.

I've found a lot of great medical web sites off the beaten path, so I'm going to start alternating the Medical Fact for the Day with:

Medical Site for the Day: Secret Shame is an educational and support site for people who practice various forms of self-injury. Although this disorder is incomprehensible to most of us, some studies show that deliberate and repeatedly self-injuries are on the rise here in the U.S., particularly among young adolescent females. While I found the content very disturbing -- as any parent would, I think -- the site is thoughtful, practical and extremely easy to navigate.

Blog of the Day: MustangSally Rants -- Sally doesn't pull any punches, but I've been reading this weblog on and off since I discovered it back in April. Fairly new, definitely graphic at points (not recommended for children) and consistently funny as hell. The author has a rant style that appeals to my inner Jory.  
Monday, May 27, 2002
  Memorial Day Pics: We spent the morning and afternoon at our favorite park here, which has an excellent hiking trail shaded by lovely gnarly old trees:

Trail Grove

There is a three story tower to climb on the trail. In the tangle of seagrape roots -- some that stretch fifty feet or more to the ground --are the remnants of concrete silo that we pretend are the ruins of a castle:

View from the tower

Lots of interesting wildlife, too -- the fist-sized fellow here had a web that stretched four feet in diameter (directly over our heads):

The Real Web-Slinger

To protect hikers, park rangers have to cut down hurricane-damaged or lightning struck trees, which was the fate of this immensely old, beautiful pine:

Me and Kathy

But it was a fun day, spent with my two favorite people in the world:

The Author's Best Work Yet 
  Quote for the Day: "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." -- God (John 15:12-13)

On Memorial Day, our nation remembers and honors those who lay down their lives for us, and who have lost their lives for us. Those of us who have served our country as a military force know how important that kind of love is, as it also protects our liberty and our homeland. But for the first time, we also honor and remember those who were not soldiers, who were not fighting a war, who did nothing but go to work on September 11th, 2001. Three thousand and forty-seven men, women, and children died on that terrible day, in New York, in Washington, and on a field in Pennsylvania. Like our fallen soldiers, they will never be forgotten. My love and prayers go out to the friends, families, and loved ones of all our fallen heroes.

  Job Description: You've Got to Be Nuts: Stanford University psychiatric researchers Connie Strong and Dr. Terence Ketter have us all figured out, according to this news report, in which they state using personality and temperament tests to prove "healthy" artists are more similar in personality to manic depressives than to "healthy" people in the general population. Scientists have claimed that eminently creative individuals have a much higher rate of mental illness than the so-called "normal" population, but this research could provide the first concrete proof.

Which means artistic types are all a bunch of lunatics. Nope, sorry, I'm not buying it. I know a wide variety of gifted, creative people -- artists, musicians, and writers -- and the majority are far more well-adjusted than the general population.

The problem with research like this is, it tries to fit unique, creative minds into neat little boxes -- I smell some assumptions. Why compare artistic people to manic depressives? Why not psychotics? Nymphomaniacs? Serial killers? Creative people do think differently, yeah, kinda comes with the territory. I'm sure bus drivers, cops, medical examiners, fire fighters and janitors have their little quirks, too. Why the need to group us at all? Are they hoping to test little kids and say to some parent, "You know, little Johnny is slightly bipolar -- why don't you buy him a paint set and get him some art lessons?"  
Sunday, May 26, 2002
  Not Alone, Either: Although I feel like it sometimes, I'm not alone in questioning what NASA does with taxpayer money. U.S. Senate Candidate Greg Ganske, a Republican from Iowa, wrote this special report on NASA's hijinks with the U.S./International Space Station back when he was a Congressman two years ago. Wish I lived in Iowa, I'd definitely vote for the guy.  
  Duck, here comes the plutonium: Last month, NASA performed a successful course adjustment on the Cassini probe, which will reach Saturn somewhere around July 1, 2004. Yay NASA. Since we have over six billion dollars invested in this probe, it's nice to see it hasn't smashed into Mars.

Here's what NASA isn't putting in their press release: Cassini contains over seventy-two pounds of a radioactive substance called plutonium dioxide. Sound familiar? It should. It's also called "the deadliest substance known to man." Pu-238, which is the type of plutonium used to power Cassini, is especially nasty because it emits radiation at an extremely high rate -- for eighty-seven point seven five years. For example, if you inhale a particle of plutonium 238, the localized radiation (the radiation to nearby cells) will cause all kinds of instant, terminal cancer.

Plutonium dioxide also causes death, illness, and genetic mutations for centuries, not just to us, but potentially to all life, including the other mammals, fish, and animals who live here. To put the effect of Pu-238 in simpler terms, it's like sticking an x-ray machine inside your body and throwing the switch to "on." Permanently. And Pu-238 is two hundred and eighty times more radioactive than Pu-239, the type of plutonium which was released during the Chernobyl disaster.

NASA didn't mention any of this, did they? Nope. They just parked 72 lbs. of Pu-238 -- inadequately shielded, but we won't get into the probe design, that's another rant -- on top of a Titan IV rocket, which has a 10% failure rate, and shot it into space from Florida. Good thing the Titan -- which had failed twice prior to the Cassini launch -- didn't go boom, and we sent this baby out to Saturn, right?

Actually, we brought it back to Earth for a slingshot gravity-assisted boost back in '99, when it passed within 725 miles of the planet to get an extra push. Nice how that worked out, too -- if the slingshot had failed, we would have, in essence, been hit by our own plutonium bomb. The fact that no one messed up the math saved us. This time.

So we have nothing more to worry about, and why am I even bothering? Well, consider this: there's a six billion dollar probe out there that could be disabled by a direct hit from space debris as small as a pea. Disabled probe = drifting bomb. If that's not bad enough, NASA eventually wants to bring Cassini back to Earth. Yeah, like the last time wasn't enough to scare the daylights out of several PhD physicists.

No, NASA, under the protection of the Price-Anderson Act, can and will bring this lethal baby back to earth. No biggie. If the flimsy shielding around the plutonium is damaged during reentry, and it sprays some part of the world with its death-particles, NASA is only liable for a fixed amount of restitution to the injured parties. Which it estimates to be a paltry 2,300 people (aka the rabble.) Oh, well, they would have died from something anyway.

Think about this: did anyone ask the American people if it was okay to send a plutonium-laden object up into space, knowing there was at least a 10% chance it would fall back down on our heads? No. Will anyone ask us if we want NASA to bring it back, or tell us what the risks to our lives are when they do? No. What you will get are beautiful pictures of Saturn in 2004. Look, see another planet we can never live on. Isn't it pretty? Price tag now: six billion dollars. I don't want to think about what it's going to cost when it comes home.  
  Quote for the Day: "The secret of becoming a writer is to write, write and keep on writing." -- Ken MacLeod

(gasp) Could it be that simple? Yes, Grasshopper, it is.

Medical Fact for the Day: A septal defect is a heart abnormality, developed in utero, in which a hole forms in the septum (wall) between the right and left sides of the heart. A ventricular septal defect is a hole between the two lower chambers of the heart, an atrial is a hole between the upper chambers. In both types, oxygenated blood is forced from the left to right side of the heart through the hole in the septum. Too much blood passes to the lungs, and too little to the body tissues. The most common of congenital heart abnormalities, ventricular septal defect affect 200 out of every 100,000 infants, while atrial septal defects occur in 50 out of every 100,000. A small defect of either type produces little or no effect, but larger holes can lead to heart failure.

Symptoms include breathlessness, feeding difficulties, pallor, and sweating. Affected infants may develop pulmonary hypertension, endocarditis, and atrial fibrillation (usually the latter with atrial defect patients after age 30). Doctors diagnose septal defects by detecting abnormal heart sounds (backwash of blood through the septum), chest x-rays, and an EKG. Smaller defects may close on their own as the child grows, and doctors rarely try to perform surgery on patients with small atrial defects. Larger defects can be treated very successfully with open heart surgery.

Blog of the Day: Gesundheit -- "One should have the soul of a poet, but the mind of a killer," writes Colin Liew, whose occasionally gets resurrected from the dead and plays God to snails. His humor reminds me a lot of Michael Kelly.
  Partners: Part of the fun (and challenge) of writing secondary, non-romantic partnerships between male and female characters is finding and exploring different dynamics between the two. In Sean's book, Conor Perry and Brooke Oliver -- who are not fated to fall in love with each other -- are developing into an interesting team:

**Uncorrected First Draft
Excerpt from As of Yet Untitled, New Gena Hale Trilogy, Book Three:

(Rated PG-13 for language)

The southern California CID field office had found a bankrupt insurance agent’s office that would serve as a command post, and Brooke spent most of the morning with a couple of temporary duty agents transferring her requisitioned equipment and preparing up with for the operation.

“I need that video camera in the interview room,” she said as she crawled under a desk to hook up her computer modem line. “Make sure the windows in there are secure, too.”

A phone rang as soon as it was plugged in. “Lt. Perry’s on his way in, Major,” the agent who answered it told her. “He’s got an informant for you.”

“Conor always brings me the nicest presents.” She crawled out from under the desk and booted her laptop. “Let’s get that room ready, we need it now.”

Brooke didn’t like Nick Hosyun, not from the moment he strolled in and showed her all his pretty teeth. “Hi, good-looking.” He stepped up to her, but his gaze remained fixed on her chest. “You gonna frisk me?”

“No.” Conor, who was following him, grabbed the back of Nick’s collar and yanked him back. “But I might let her beat the hell out of you, for the entertainment value.”

“Yeah, sure.” Nick laughed.

Conor tightened his grip until it cut off the shorter man’s air. “How many black belts do you have now, Major?”

“Seven.” She gave the wheezing Nick a cool once-over. “Hardly seems worth my time. On the other hand” –she took off her jacket, revealing her sleeveless blouse and her tanned arms— “I did miss my morning workout.”

Conor released him. “Well, enjoy.”

“Hey.” Nick’s voice squeaked as he stared at Brooke’s well-defined biceps. “I’m cooperating, aren’t I?”

“Yeah, yeah.” Conor gave him a shove toward the interview room. “Get in there, before I kick your ass myself.”

One of the L.A. agents escorted Nick in, while Brooke and Conor went into a separate office.

“Why’d you bother dragging in a loser like him?” she asked as she turned on the remote monitor. Nick was already checking the windows. “Besides the obvious entertainment value?”

“We caught him lifting some of the ex-wife’s stock. He wants to deal.” Conor rolled his eyes. “I pulled his sheet; he’s run numbers, done some collecting for Sayura and sons. Addicted to poker and ponies, our boy Nick is. Says he’s got no problem, but he keeps checking his watch.”

She studied the man’s nervous movements. “No way he snatched the girl and then came back to rob the store. He owes some leg-breakers.”

“I figured. Still, he’s got connections. We flash some cash, promise him no jail time, he’ll roll over. Could be our in.”

She nodded. “Let’s scratch behind his ears and find out.”

Conor stopped to get a pitcher of water and one cup, then entered the interview room with her.

Nick stopped pacing and threw out his arms. “So? We gonna do this?”

“Sit down, Mr. Hosyun.” Brooke pointed to the chair at the end of the table. “Have a drink. You look . . . uncomfortable.”

Conor poured the water and handed Nick the cup. “Not every day a man gets caught stealing from his ex-wife.”

He drank half the water, then sat back and talked to the cup. “I told you, Kammie and I have an understanding. I help her out with marketing and advertising, she gives me a chunk of the profits.”

“And I’m Playmate of the Year,” Conor said.

**I didn't correct this because I think you should see first-draft writing, to relate back to Writer Trick #5. I had all the dialogue in my head, most of the action, and wrote it out quickly to get the bare bones down. When I go back and edit tonight, I'll add peripheral details to enhance Brooke's POV a bit more -- possibilities: the heavy smell of Nick's cologne and sweat, the general mustiness of the office, her inner tension (Brooke suppresses everything), her minor envy of Conor's perpetual ease, the feel of cobwebs under the desk, etc. I'll probably flesh out the other two TDY agents with one-liner descriptions, too.

Copyright 2002 by S.L. Viehl, writing as Gena Hale
All rights reserved. 
Adventures at the KeyBoard

10/28/2001 - 11/04/2001 / 11/04/2001 - 11/11/2001 / 11/11/2001 - 11/18/2001 / 11/18/2001 - 11/25/2001 / 11/25/2001 - 12/02/2001 / 12/02/2001 - 12/09/2001 / 12/09/2001 - 12/16/2001 / 12/16/2001 - 12/23/2001 / 12/23/2001 - 12/30/2001 / 12/30/2001 - 01/06/2002 / 01/06/2002 - 01/13/2002 / 01/13/2002 - 01/20/2002 / 01/20/2002 - 01/27/2002 / 01/27/2002 - 02/03/2002 / 02/03/2002 - 02/10/2002 / 02/10/2002 - 02/17/2002 / 02/17/2002 - 02/24/2002 / 02/24/2002 - 03/03/2002 / 03/03/2002 - 03/10/2002 / 03/10/2002 - 03/17/2002 / 03/17/2002 - 03/24/2002 / 03/24/2002 - 03/31/2002 / 03/31/2002 - 04/07/2002 / 04/07/2002 - 04/14/2002 / 04/14/2002 - 04/21/2002 / 04/21/2002 - 04/28/2002 / 04/28/2002 - 05/05/2002 / 05/05/2002 - 05/12/2002 / 05/12/2002 - 05/19/2002 / 05/19/2002 - 05/26/2002 / 05/26/2002 - 06/02/2002 / 06/02/2002 - 06/09/2002 / 06/09/2002 - 06/16/2002 / 06/16/2002 - 06/23/2002 / 06/23/2002 - 06/30/2002 / 06/30/2002 - 07/07/2002 / 07/07/2002 - 07/14/2002 / 07/14/2002 - 07/21/2002 / 07/21/2002 - 07/28/2002 / 07/28/2002 - 08/04/2002 / 08/04/2002 - 08/11/2002 / 08/11/2002 - 08/18/2002 / 08/18/2002 - 08/25/2002 / 08/25/2002 - 09/01/2002 / 09/01/2002 - 09/08/2002 / 09/08/2002 - 09/15/2002 / 09/15/2002 - 09/22/2002 / 09/22/2002 - 09/29/2002 / 09/29/2002 - 10/06/2002 / 10/06/2002 - 10/13/2002 / 10/13/2002 - 10/20/2002 / 10/20/2002 - 10/27/2002 / 10/27/2002 - 11/03/2002 / 11/03/2002 - 11/10/2002 / 11/10/2002 - 11/17/2002 / 11/17/2002 - 11/24/2002 / 11/24/2002 - 12/01/2002 / 12/01/2002 - 12/08/2002 / 12/08/2002 - 12/15/2002 / 12/15/2002 - 12/22/2002 / 12/22/2002 - 12/29/2002 / 12/29/2002 - 01/05/2003 / 01/05/2003 - 01/12/2003 / 01/12/2003 - 01/19/2003 / 01/19/2003 - 01/26/2003 / 01/26/2003 - 02/02/2003 / 02/02/2003 - 02/09/2003 / 02/09/2003 - 02/16/2003 / 02/16/2003 - 02/23/2003 / 02/23/2003 - 03/02/2003 / 03/02/2003 - 03/09/2003 / 03/09/2003 - 03/16/2003 / 03/16/2003 - 03/23/2003 / 03/23/2003 - 03/30/2003 / 03/30/2003 - 04/06/2003 / 04/06/2003 - 04/13/2003 / 04/13/2003 - 04/20/2003 / 04/20/2003 - 04/27/2003 / 04/27/2003 - 05/04/2003 / 05/04/2003 - 05/11/2003 / 05/11/2003 - 05/18/2003 / 05/18/2003 - 05/25/2003 / 05/25/2003 - 06/01/2003 / 06/01/2003 - 06/08/2003 / 06/08/2003 - 06/15/2003 / 06/15/2003 - 06/22/2003 / 06/22/2003 - 06/29/2003 / 06/29/2003 - 07/06/2003 / 07/06/2003 - 07/13/2003 / 07/13/2003 - 07/20/2003 / 07/20/2003 - 07/27/2003 / 07/27/2003 - 08/03/2003 / 08/03/2003 - 08/10/2003 / 08/10/2003 - 08/17/2003 / 08/17/2003 - 08/24/2003 / 08/24/2003 - 08/31/2003 / 08/31/2003 - 09/07/2003 / 09/07/2003 - 09/14/2003 / 09/14/2003 - 09/21/2003 / 09/21/2003 - 09/28/2003 / 09/28/2003 - 10/05/2003 / 10/05/2003 - 10/12/2003 / 10/12/2003 - 10/19/2003 / 10/19/2003 - 10/26/2003 / 10/26/2003 - 11/02/2003 / 11/02/2003 - 11/09/2003 / 11/09/2003 - 11/16/2003 /

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