Thursday, September 18, 2014

Viruses, Colds, Allergies

So, we all have five viruses living in or on us...without causing any problems. We have a normal viral flora.

And one of the common "normal" viruses is adenovirus. If that seems familiar, it's because it's a very common virus that we all have to deal with - the common cold.

As we all know, the symptoms of a cold and the symptoms of an allergy attack are, well, very similar. But it's always the assumption that, oh, adenovirus makes us sick.

Except it doesn't. Not always. It may be that when things are working the way they should, adenovirus just...hangs out. It doesn't cause us any major problems, although it probably doesn't give us any benefits either. Or does it? Right now, we don't know whether these viruses should be considered symbiotes (meaning they "pay the rent" in some way) or exploitative parasites.

But here's what got me to thinking. What if the common cold and certain types of allergic reactions have the same basic symptoms because the common cold is an allergic reaction - our immune system reacting to what should be a normal part of our own biome? Or a reaction to something from somebody else's that doesn't quite work? (Or, it could be that mutations mess up whatever "deal" we have with the virus).

Just a thought.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

So, That Scotland Thing

As you know, I try to keep this blog politics free. It's hard to do so right now, though. I was born in Nottingham, England...and tomorrow, Scotland will vote in a referendum on independence.

Needless to say, I'm a little more personally invested in this than the average American. Scotland and England were officially united in 1707 - and now the polls show a secession race too close to call. President Obama has spoken out in support of Scottish independence.

So, my stance? I'm going to say that I'm against it - and I have never been a Unionist.

I just question whether this is a good move for Scotland to take. The pro-independence people want to count on North Sea oil and gas, which makes up between 12 and 21 percent of their revenue - but the North Sea fields are, bluntly, starting to run low. Production is dropping and so are revenues.

On top of that, the pro independence people think they can just continue to use the pound sterling - whilst English Unionists are insisting they won't be allowed to do so. (The likely compromise - a new Scottish pound pegged to sterling on the exchange rate).

Oh, and quite a few companies are threatening to move their headquarters (and jobs) to England if the referendum passes.

Then there's the fact of the land border. Scotland, independent, would have to reapply for EU membership. So, border controls could be introduced - splitting families and possibly forcing some people to move. Or, it would end up like the US/Canada border. Either way, there will probably be some checks...and in some cases the border may even run through somebody's farm. (And even if Scotland does become part of the EU, there's a risk England would leave!)

So, do I think it's a good idea? No. The poorer part of the country seceding didn't work so well for Slovakia.

Do I think it will happen? A month ago I was pretty sure it was pie in the sky. And I'm not one to place overmuch reliance on polls, but...

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Fire And Brimstone?

They call it the Hadean period - the early life of the Earth from which even rock doesn't survive. So, it's long been assumed that the Earth was a molten rockball at this point.

The oldest rocks we do have are zircon crystals, some of which are more than four billion years old. And finally, it occurred to somebody to compare ancient zircon with recently-formed zircon. To do this, geologists went to Iceland, one of the most geologically active parts of the planet.


The conditions that formed the modern Icelandic zircon were worse (in terms of life) than those in which the ancient zircons formed. The environment they were created in were cooler and wetter. The early Earth may well have not looked so different from today. Or, it might have looked rather like, oh, this.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Convention Guest...Uh...Don'ts.

I admit this post was triggered by treatment I saw of a guest at a recent convention - which got me thinking about the things people do that, when I'm a guest, I don't or wouldn't appreciate happening to me.

When a creator goes to a convention as a guest - we're working. The benefit we get is exposure and marketing (and a lot of behind-the-scenes networking that regular attendees may or may not witness). Because of this, we're obliged to be professional - even when we want to strangle somebody. Here are a few tips on not being that person.

1. We're not convention staff (usually, there's sometimes an overlap) or volunteers. In other words, we're not there to help you find your panel room, registration, or the nearest rest room. If it's our first time at that con, we might not know either. Oh, and we aren't the hotel concierge, either. This doesn't mean we won't necessarily answer those questions, but you're much better off finding somebody with a volunteer shirt or badge - there's usually plenty.

2. If we're in a hurry we' a hurry. Maybe we're trying to get from one panel to another that's the far end of the hotel. Or we have an hour tops to get food (not uncommon at lit cons, even for dinner). Or, bluntly, we just need to use the restroom. If a guest doesn't stop to talk to you, we probably aren't being rude - we just have to be somewhere else stat.

3. If a guest, especially a media guest or somebody in comics or film/TV refuses to answer a question, don't keep asking it. Even in different wording. Even with slightly different details. Even if you weren't the person who asked the initial question. (This is the behavior that annoyed me at a recent con). We don't refuse to answer questions to be rude or difficult. We may not want to release spoilers, or announce something prematurely. Or, maybe, we're not allowed to answer that question - pretty much everyone who works on somebody else's IP is under some sort of non-disclosure agreement, and it's really, really annoying to be pressured about it.

4. If we're in deep conversation with somebody else - please just show common courtesy and don't interrupt.

Okay. For something more positive - if there's a guest at a con you really want to talk to, what's the best way to go about it?

At comics conventions most of the guests have signing tables that are open much of the day. Go early in the morning or towards the end of the con, and choose a moment when there isn't much of a line, and most people are willing to talk. Same at lit cons - if somebody's got a signing and there's nobody waiting.

Or, look at the person's schedule and find a panel they're on or a reading where they don't have anything scheduled afterwards. Attend the panel then approach them afterwards. I'm almost always willing to talk in that situation, although I might ask you to walk with me to a different room.

Hanging out at the hotel bar can also be a good opportunity to catch guests (although be warned, some of us...uh...indulge quite extensively - and, again, don't interrupt conversations).

Larger names at lit cons often have a kaffeeklatsche, although you have to sign up for these so there's no guarantee (I've also seen kaffeeklatsch seats being raffled). These are generally limited to 10 or 12 people, but if you really want to talk to somebody they're the best opportunity.

Finally, if the person you're looking for has a launch party - that can be the very best chance to corner somebody, as long as you're not greedy about our time.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

R.I.P. Richard Kiel

The best minion ever has left us. 74 year old Richard Kiel played the infamous Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.

The 7'2 (yes, 7'2) actor also "reprised" his role when he played "Famous Big Guy with Silver Teeth" in the 1999 Inspector Gadget movie. He specialized in playing minions and thugs and did it very well. He was in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. a couple of times (Like about everyone else working at the time). He also almost played The Incredible Hulk, but was rapidly replaced by Lou Ferrigno - but he did end up left in in one scene, so it counts, right?

He had a long career - and a long life despite his condition (Kiel had acromegaly - he was a giant in the medical sense). But he'll always be remembered as the metal-toothed thug with the disturbing habits...but who was ultimately redeemed.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Life On Europa

"All of these worlds are yours except Europa. Attempt no landing there." - Arthur C. Clarke.

Europa has long been considered a possible candidate for extraterrestrial life in our own solar system. It's believed that the moon has an icy crust over a liquid water ocean. Or...should we say mantle?

Apparently, the movement of the ice on Europa appears to follow the same mechanism and rules as Earth's plate tectonics - previously thought to be unique.

And this allows for movement through the icy surface and underlying layers. Motion and change promote the development of life. So it's one more piece of evidence.

It also means that Europa has earthquakes and volcanoes - but those volcanoes spout water instead of lava.

The question now - should we attempt a landing there? Or do we risk contaminating a beautiful and different world?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Cool Discoveries

The first one may be mildly NSFW. Why do whales still have a pelvic girdle? The common wisdom is that it's vestigial and will go away.

Nope. The reason whales still have pelvic bones is because they're actually quite useful for, uh, sex. Especially for the male.

Oh, and scientists have been working hard on invisibility. Which, of course, is about to turn into an arms race. The Center for Nanophysics and Advanced Materials have developed a light detector that can, yup, spot all of the existing "invisible" materials. That Romulan cloaking device might not be so useful after all...