The Five Second Rule

A few curious thoughts by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

Admit it.  You have probably invoked the five second rule many times in your life.  Maybe you tend to do it when no one else is around, but you do it nonetheless.  No matter what some in society may say, you can not help yourself.  You may think it just a little bit evil, but you do it anyway.  You may even do it openly, not caring what others may think.  Don’t worry.  They do it too.

In case you are one of the few who have not heard about it and have not followed the widely disputed practice, the “Five Second Rule” is the belief that if you drop some food on the floor, it is alright to eat if you pick it up right away, say in five seconds.  While common sense may speak to you against such a practice, science seems to be coming down in favor of what once was folklore or an “old wives’ tale.”  A recent study seems to suggest that a few seconds on the floor does not matter much.  Your wet gummy bears are not likely to pick up much in the way of bacteria if you pick them up right away.the special

Unbelievably, dropping food on your carpet seems to pick up less bacteria than dropping it on your tile or linoleum floor.  Of course, if you own a dog or a cat the food item may pick up some animal hair or dander you might not want to pop in your mouth.  No matter how clean Fido looks to you, all that rolling around on the floor is not good for your dropped food.  Also, you have to consider that Fido might beat you to the item, in which case your dog has the treat you lost and let’s face it.  Your dog never seems to get sick after eating food off the floor.

While I would not care to eat off my floors, considering what I know, I may be less reluctant elsewhere.  You may have heard that Aunt Matilda’s house was so clean you could eat off the floors.  That may literally be true, although I do not think I would try that on a dare.  Still, it is good to know that your odds of puking later are greatly diminished according to modern-day science, if your food is not down there too long.

Who funds this type of study, you may wonder?  Who cares?  This particular science is extremely important when you consider the amount of people who drop food on the floor, then pop it in their mouths.  Isn’t it time we got the answer to the age-old question, “Does the five second rule really exist?”  Now we know, until the next study comes along to debunk this whole thing, and you know that will eventually happen.

Life itself also has a rule like the Five Second Rule.  It goes like this, the longer you are down, the more likely you are to pick up dirt.  When you fall down, get knocked down, get tripped up or whatever it is that causes you to land on your butt or your face, it is best if you get right back up and get going.  The world just does not look as good when you have fallen to the floor.

No scientific study is needed here.  Hopefully common sense will tell you, the quicker you get up and clean yourself off the better it is for you.  If it has been a particularly bad day, it can be hard to convince yourself to get off the ground.  You may wish to wallow in whatever is down there.  Just like the food in the study, more is likely to jump on you if you stay put.  It is the nature of life.

There is one more thing to consider while we are invoking scientific studies.  It is a known fact that if you fall and stay down, you will look like a dropped treat to people-eating Cyclops.  In that case one of them is likely to scoop you up and pop you in his mouth.  Another thing to know from the most recent study is that Cyclops have a long time, a 5 day rule perhaps.  In that case, wallowing in the muck with one of Fido’s playmates is likely to do you in.  Being chomped on by Cyclops is far worse than eating candy off the floor.  You have been warned.

BEYOND THE MOON: ENCOUNTER WITH TIBER, ALDRIN AND BARNES

Encounter with Tiber, by Buzz AldrinJohn Barnes

Originally published in July 1996, Encounter With Tiber was released on Kindle on May 28, 2013. I’m a lifelong fan of science fiction and space exploration. I watched the moon landing in 1969 — the glory days of NASA — and dreamed I’d see space flight become accessible to everyone, even me.

I jumped into reading this with enthusiasm. Buzz Aldrin’s fingerprints are all over the first section of the book. Not only does it give you an up-close and highly personal look at the inner workings of NASA, but it gives you an uncomfortably intimate view of the politics of America’s space program. From this, I gleaned an enormous amount of information about what happened to the U.S. space program.

How it is that more than 40 years after landing men on the moon, our space program is moribund, hobbled by in insufficient budget. Our human dreams of venturing into space are dead on the launch pad. The 16-years since the publication of the book have dealt unkindly with NASA. It’s hard to see what would revive the program.

Buzz Aldrin salutes the U.S. flag on Mare Tran...

This first part of the book is a beautiful presentation of our space technology, why it worked, why it stopped working. For the first time, I understand the workings — and failures — of our technology.  Aldrin uses diagrams to explain all kinds of stuff that I had heard about and never understood. I know it is supposed to be fiction, but it felt real.

Then the book switches authors. Rarely in a co-authored book has it been so obvious when one author stopped writing and the other picked up. The style goes from scientific and precise, to … something else. Aldrin writes like a scientist, which he is. Barnes writes like a novelist for whom details are optional.

Aldrin poses on the Moon, allowing Armstrong t...

The change in “voice” is abrupt and somewhat jarring.

Both authors write well but very differently. This is an ambitious book which covers the development and fizzling of our space program then takes off into the stars with a crew composed of different sentient species leaving from other planets in yet another star system. The stories tie together by sharing a common theory of the life and death of stars and planets.

I was a bit put off by the sudden switch from Aldrin’s precision to Barnes lack thereof. Aldrin explains everything and can’t go 10 pages without a diagram. When he’s writing, you don’t spend a lot of time saying “huh?” Barnes, on the other hand, doesn’t bother to define any terms at all. Vague and belated attempts to rectify the initial omissions are more annoying than satisfying. Eventually, I just rearranged my brain and moved on.

The characters — human and otherwise — are interesting, though the aliens weren’t sufficiently alien for me to feel their alienness. More like humans in wookie costumes.

English: Footprint of Buzz Aldrin on the Moon

It’s worth reading just for the first half obviously written by Buzz Aldrin. If you’ve ever wondered what happened to our space program and why, this book will make it all clear as a freshly washed window. As science fiction, it’s a long and complicated book — 596 pages. And it’s really two books, the one Aldrin wrote and the one Barnes wrote.

The theory it postulates is troubling. If you accept the book’s premise, the failure of our space program will ultimately doom us to extinction. All of us. Not tomorrow, but eventually. The foundation principle of the plot is in the end, that everything dies.

Planets and stars have a life span. Worlds get old. Stars wink out. If a sentient species has no way to escape its dying planet, it will die with the planet. It’s enough to give one pause. If you never thought about it before, Encounter With Tiber will get you thinking in new directions, perhaps worrying in new directions.

Think of this as two separate book fused together, related, but not the same. It will make more sense and be easier to read. Essentially, that’s what it is. Two books. Two authors. Related, but not the same. Everything you never wanted to know about NASA and then a trip through the stars in an alien ship looking for a new planet to call home.

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A WIN FOR WOMEN

In the mid 1980s in Israel, I worked at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot with the team developing DB1, the first relational database. Those familiar with databases and their history should go “Ooh, aah.” Feel free to be awed. These are my bona fides certifying my “original geekhood.”

I was not a developer of course. I’m a computer-savvy writer, but I worked extensively on Quix, the first real-English query language and I documented DB-1. I was eventually put in charge of creating promotional materials to sell the project to IBM. They bought it and from it, DB2 and every other relational database ultimately emerged. Cool beans, right?

The Weizmann Institute - - מכון ויצמן View fro...

The Weizmann Institute (Photo: Wikipedia)

Technical writing was new. In 1983, it didn’t have a name. I was a pioneer. I didn’t chop down forests or slaughter aboriginal inhabitants, but I went where no one had gone before. Breaking new ground was exciting and risky.

The president of the group was named Micah. He was the “money guy.” Micah knew less about computers than me, but wielded serious clout. His money was paying our salaries, rent, and keeping the lights on. The definition of clout.

As the day approached when the team from IBM was due, it was time for me to present the materials I had created with Ruth, a graphic artist who had been my art director at the failed newspaper I’d managed the previous year. (This was well before computers could generate graphics properly.) Ruth was amazing with an airbrush. I’ve never seen better work.

The presentation materials were as perfect as Ruth and I could make them. I had labored over that text and she had done a brilliant job creating graphics that illustrated the product, its unique capabilities and benefits. And so it came time for the pre-IBM all-hands-on-deck meeting.

Micah didn’t like me. His dislike wasn’t based on anything I did or even my disputable personality. He didn’t like women in the workplace. I was undeniably female. As was Ruth. Strike one, strike two. At the meeting, he looked at our materials and announced “We need better material. I’ve heard there’s a real hot-shot in Jerusalem. I’ve seen his work. It’s fantastic. We should hire him.” And he stared at me and sneered.

Onto the table he tossed booklets as well as other promotional and presentation materials for a product being developed in Haifa at the Technion. I looked at the stuff.

“That’s my work, ” I said.

“No it isn’t,” he said firmly. “I’ve heard it was created by the best technical writer in the country.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “Me.”

He was not done with humiliating himself. He insisted a phone be brought to the table and he called his friend Moshe in Jerusalem. I’d worked for Moshe, quitting because although I liked the man, he couldn’t keep his hands to himself. I had a bad-tempered, jealous husband — something I didn’t feel obliged to reveal.

Moshe gave Micah the name of The Hot Shot. It was me.

“Oh,” said Micah. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t have to. The deadpan faces around the table were elegant examples of people trying desperately to not laugh. Micah wasn’t a guy you laughed at, not if you wanted to keep your job.

It was a moment of triumph so sweet — so rare — nothing else in my working life came close. I won one for The Team, for professional women everywhere. Eat it, Micah.

A Red Dragonfly

We went out shooting today to find the first autumn leaves. We found leaves, but more interesting, Garry found something we’ve never seen before: a bright red dragonfly.

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I’ve seen them in blue and green, iridescent as they hover near the water. For some reason, dragonflies hang around people. They seem to find us interesting and will keep coming back to investigate. Garry got a couple of shots of this scarlet dragonfly, so despite all the information assuring me that these are not found in the United States. In fact, they are not found anywhere on this side of Planet Earth yet this one seemed quite at home in Rhode Island.

Which, last I heard, is on the left side of earth.

96-RedDragonFly-13

I did a bit of googling and turned up some information. I looked in several places and the thing everyone is sure about is red dragonflies don’t live here.

Red dragonflies — also known as the Red-veined Darter or Nomad (Sympetrum fonscolombii) — is a dragonfly of the genus Sympetrum, native to southern Europe and China. Since the 1990s, it has increasingly been found in northwest Europe, including Britain and Ireland.

You might also spot them in the Azores and Canary Islands.

So … how did this one got to the Blackstone Valley? Anyone want to take a guess?

Rereading Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart

Cover of "Earth Abides"

When I first read Earth Abides by George R. Stewart more than 40 years ago, it wasn’t newly published, but it was new to me.

Unlike many other books I have read and forgotten, Earth Abides has stayed with me. I’ve returned to it many times in recent years, but there was a period of almost 30 years when I couldn’t find a copy of the book anywhere. Nonetheless, I could recall it with remarkable clarity. It was especially remarkable considering the thousands of books I read every year. That I could remember this one book — not to be too punny — spoke volumes. It turns out that I was not alone. Many people found the book unforgettable, including many writers. George Stewart’s masterpiece became the jumping off point for an entire genre.

Earth Abides is a “foundation book,” one of a handful of books that you must read if you are a science fiction fan. It is frequently cited as “the original disaster” story. A foundation book it most definitely is, but classing it as the “original disaster story” rather misses the point.

Earth Abides isn’t merely a disaster story or post apocalyptic science fiction. Above all it is a book of rebuilding, renewal and hope. The event that initiates the story is a disaster, a plague resulting from either a natural mutation or something escaped from a lab that runs amok. Whatever its origins, it kills off most of Earth’s human population. As has been true of plagues throughout history, a small percentage of the population is naturally immune. Additionally, anyone who survived a rattlesnake bite is immune.

The plague is the back story. The front story of Earth Abides is how humankind copes with the tragedy as scattered remnants of people slowly find one another, form groups and gradually create a new civilization. Through marriage and the pressures of survival, groups become tribes. Simultaneously, the earth itself revives and finds a new balance.

Most diseases of old earth are eliminated by depopulation. New generations are wonderfully healthy. Along with physical disease, mental illness, archaic religious and outdated social structures are shed. New human generations have no memory of institutionalized bias and prejudice and the color line becomes non-existent. There is much that needs doing in this new world, but there’s an infinite amount of time in which to do it.

Ultimately, earth will be repopulated. But gently … and hopefully, in peace. The reborn world will contain bits and pieces of what went before, but without its demons.

The book was re-released as a 60th anniversary edition in 2009, including an audio version with an introduction by Connie Willis.

Cover of the 1949 Random House hardcover editi...

Cover of the 1949 Random House hardcover edition of Earth Abides. Cover illustration by H. Lawrence Hoffman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The last time I read it was immediately after it was re-released. Four years has given me time to be surprised by the book all over again. Be surprised by how much Ish — the main character — changes over the years, how much he grows and matures. How his belief structure adapts to new realities, how much more open his mind becomes. It’s a rare transformation from a literary point of view. Few characters I’ve read have transformed as much as Ish does in Earth Abides.

Earth Abides was published in 1949. In some parts of the U.S. and other countries, the issues with which the book’s characters grapple are still very much alive. They shouldn’t be. We have moved on but only to a point.

The technology stands up surprisingly well because it’s essentially irrelevant. All technology disappears, so it doesn’t matter how advanced it used to be. When the power goes off, it’s over. The world goes back to pre-technological. It has wind, water and sun. Books remain, so knowledge exists, but in stasis, waiting to be rediscovered and deployed. Meanwhile, earth abides.

The world ends, the world begins. Ish and Emma are the “mother” and “father” of the new tribe. Ish, in Hebrew, means “man” and “Eema” means “mother” which I am sure is not coincidental. It’s a wonderful story that suggests the human race has the capacity to not only survive, but reinvent civilization and make a better world.

Earth Abides is timeless. As is the Earth. There’s an entire site dedicated to George R. Stewart – The EARTH ABIDES Project. Definitely check it out!

It’s available in every configuration including Kindle, Audible download, audiobook (CD and MP3), hardcover and paperback. There was time when it was difficult to find, but it seems to have found its way back. I have owned at least a dozen copies of Earth Abides and keep an extra copy tucked away to give to friends who haven’t read it yet. I’m glad.

It remains among my top five all time favorite science fiction novels and if you haven’t read it, there’s no time like the present. I have a spare copy, just in case.

Hello? Can you hear me? — I love progress!

Progress. I love progress and am strongly in favor of it, especially when we are progressing backwards. Kind of like technological time travel as gradually, by adding more and better high-tech devices, stuff that used to be simple and problem-free becomes much more complicated, difficult and expensive. The techno-version of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

iphone-whiteLet us travel together back in time to the halcyon days of yore. Not so long ago … the 1970s and 1980s. Even the 1990s.

Remember? We could make telephone calls without worrying whether or not the person on the other end could hear us. Without wondering if we would be able to understand them. That was so cool, wasn’t it? You didn’t have to shout into the phone, wasting half the call yelling “Hello? Are you there? Can you hear me? You’re breaking up. Can you hear me? Hello?”

You could have an entire conversation, from the beginning to end without getting disconnected, losing the signal, running out of battery. Getting dumped out by your carrier. Nobody said “What” even once! Unimaginable, isn’t it? I grew up and in my entire childhood, I do not remember ever having to ask “Can you hear me?” We could always hear. Sometimes, a long distance call had an echo, but you called the operator and they put the call through, no charge. No problem.

We’ve come a long way, my friends A long and winding road.

The other night, my husband and I watched — for the umpteenth time — Meet Me In St. Louis. It’s the old Judy Garland musical. Vincent Minnelli directed it. Great movie, one of our favorites. Terrific songs, Margaret O’Brien about as cute as a kid can be. Nostalgia on the hoof.

The story is set in 1904 when the World’s Fair was coming to St. Louis and telephones in private homes were still the hot new technology. A long distance call from a far away city was a very big deal. Early in the story, the oldest sister Rose gets a long-distance call from New York.

dining-room-21-512x384

The phone rings.

* * *

Rose Smith: Hello? Hello? Can you hear me?

Warren Sheffield: Yes, I can hear you. (Pause)

Rose Smith: What did you say, Warren?

Warren Sheffield: Nothing. I was waiting for you to talk

Rose Smith: Oh. Well, did you want to discuss anything in particular?

Warren Sheffield: What?

Rose Smith: I said, was there anything special you wanted to ask me

Warren Sheffield: I can’t hear you, Rose

Rose Smith: That’s funny. I can hear you plainly

Warren Sheffield: Isn’t this great? Here I am in New York and there you are in St. Louis and it’s just like you’re in the next room.

Rose Smith: What was that?

* * *

The next day my friend called.

Me: Hello? Hello? Cherrie?

Cherrie: (Faintly) Hello? I’m in New York … (something I can’t understand) … signal.

Me: Bad signal?

Cherrie: No signal.

Me: How are you?

Cherrie: Tired. Running around.

Me: Miss you.

Cherrie: Miss you too. Having trouble getting a signal here.

Me: We watched “Meet Me In St. Louis” last night. Remember the phone call from New York? We’ve gone back there. Worse. THEY had a better connection.

Cherrie: (Laughter.) You’re right.” (More laughter.)

Me: I don’t think this is progress. (Long pause.) Cherrie? Hello? Are you there? No, you aren’t there.

(Click. Sigh. Pause. Ring. Ring.)

Me: Cherrie?

Cherrie: Can you hear me?

Me: I can hear you, can you hear ME?

Cherrie: Hello? Hello? (Pause, faint sounds.) Is this better?

Me: Yes. A bit.

Cherrie: I turned my head and lost the signal. Boy, was that perfect timing or what?

Me: We couldn’t have done it better if we’d scripted it.

Cherrie: I’ll call you when I get back. I think I’m  losing … (Silence.)

* * *

As I said, I love progress. I most particularly love how advanced technology has made everything so much better. And easier.

Image

Full Moon, Blue Moon

Tonight’s full moon is the third of four that will occur this summer. Thus is the alternative and older definition of a Blue Moon.The modern definition of a Blue Moon is the second full moon in a calendar month.

Either way, it’s a blue moon and a relatively rare occurrence.

This full moon is called a Sturgeon Moon. According to the old Farmer’s Almanac, tribes near the Great Lakes named this moon, identifying it as the best season for catching sturgeon.

I live in under a canopy of oaks. When I first looked for the moon this evening, it was invisible, behind the trees. When finally it was almost directly overhead — for about 90 seconds — I could see it though it was only a partial view. My lens was trying so hard to figure out on what to focus. With the leaves in the way, it could not quite get a fix on the moon, nor in the dark could it get a fix on the leaves. In that light, with my vision, manual focus was not in the equation.

But … that doesn’t mean the pictures aren’t interesting.

I tried as many settings as I could within such a short period. The pictures are interesting. Not traditional pictures of a full moon. Anyway, you can see plenty of them all over the Internet tonight. On the other hand, I’ll bet no one else’s moon shots look quite like these :-)

Traveling slowly through time

Without a machine or a wormhole we travel through time every day of our lives.

When I was perhaps ten, I read about Halley’s Comet. I learned it would be visible in the heavens on my 39th birthday.

“Wow” I said. “I’ll be so old and I will see the comet on my birthday … when I am thirty-nine.” I couldn’t imagine ever being so old … or seeing Halley’s Comet.

96-Halleyscomet-1986

When my 39th birthday rolled around, I was living in Jerusalem. On my birthday, as I had planned when I was 10 years old, we went out into the Judean desert and saw the comet. It was Rosh Chodesh, the new moon which has special significance in Judaism. One of our group was Orthodox (the rest of us were not) and he had a lot of praying to do before we went to see the comet.

The Jerusalem Post had published the exact times when the comet would be visible and where on the horizon to look. Sure enough, there it was, low on the horizon over Bethlehem. It turned out, when we got back to the house, we could see it perfectly from our balcony. When we knew where to look, it was easy to locate. halleys-comet-1986

That was 27 years ago. I remember knowing the comet was coming and I planned to see it on my 39th birthday. I did see it on that birthday, in a different country on the other side of the world. Now, in my 66th year, I remember the knowing, the seeing. I have the perspective of a child, a woman, and the grandmother. I have traveled through time. Slowly. Without a machine, without a wormhole.

It is no less time traveling than in a science fiction story … just a great deal slower.

Life is a trip through time. Mine, yours, everyone’s. We won’t bump into our younger or older self, but we carry each of these selves. They are as real and alive as the memories we keep.

Daily Prompt: The Glacier Quarter – 2011

The Prompt: Dig through your couch cushions, your purse, or the floor of your car and look at the year printed on the first coin you find. What were you doing that year?

The question was intriguing. I took up the challenge. I don’t usually bother with daily prompts (this is the first time). I publish too much stuff already and more seems a bit of overkill. Still, this one caught my attention and I wondered what my search would unearth.

My desk yielded nothing useful. The first purse was equally coin-free.  Finally, at the bottom of my bag, a quarter emerged.

It took 10 minutes to read the date on it. It turns out my eyes no long feel inclined to interpret tiny numbers.  The coin — a shiny quarter — celebrates a glacier. It says glacier on it, so I know that much. Which glacier? I felt lucky to decipher the date. Anything more would be pressing my luck. My strained eyes draw a line in the sand at extracting any more information. I wondered where my magnifying glass had gone. It used to be on top of the  desk … maybe it’s buried under several pounds of paper. Time may bring it to the surface. Or not.

Mumford Dam in Uxbridge

Autumn at the Mumford Dam, October 2011

A digression: I grew up in Queens, New York. One of the two or three major east-west arteries in the borough is Hillside Avenue. Even when I was growing up, it was a very busy road, full of cars, trucks and buses. I crossed twice every day, on my way to school and back again. I was hit by a small truck the corner of Hillside and 191st Street when I was 15. We didn’t have cell phones, so I had to beg the grumpy shopkeeper to let me call home so I wouldn’t have to limp up the long hill. I was obviously not going to die, but I was banged up. The driver had stayed around long enough to see me get up off the ground. I wasn’t dead, so he took off. Basic hit and run.

When my father got there, he wanted to know if I’d gotten the license plate number. I said no, I was lying on the ground, not a good angle. Dad was seriously pissed off that I didn’t get the number because, he said, I could have gone to college on the proceeds of a lawsuit. He never asked me how I felt or if I wanted to see a doctor. My mother — who never went to doctor for any reason at all — deduced that I hadn’t broken anything. Good enough, I guess. I limped off to take a bath, vaguely feeling there was something wrong with this picture.

That was in 1962. I was still in High School.

Glacier factoid: Hillside Avenue is where the foreward movement of the glacier that covered the region during the last ice age stopped. Was it a red light?  Hillside Avenue, with its shops, bus stops and endless traffic was also, it would seem, a significant geological and archeological marker. Whenever something is being built along the road, the archeologists and other scientific hunters get to explore it first. They’ve found all kinds of artifact, bones of extinct ice age animals, other stuff. I haven’t heard about any mammoths, but I might have missed it. Just a quarter-mile from home. Weird.

2011: I wasn’t doing much. I’d had cancer the previous year. 2011 was a recovery year. I had a slough of despond from which to emerge and a lot of physical issues to deal with. I also had to come to grips with a significantly changed body. I took a lot of photographs that year and read a lot of books. That pretty much sums up that year. I only remember the pictures because it was a colorful autumn and I have pictures, some of my best foliage shots.

Summing up 2011: If I were going to give the year a title, I’d call it the year I didn’t die. That’ll do.

____

Glacial Moraine in Jamaica, Queens

Long Island and Staten Island are products of the last Ice Age when a continental glacier moved south bringing massive amounts of debris from New England. When the ice melted — at Hillside Avenue — the debris was left in huge piles. The hilly southern edge of the pile we call the terminal glacial moraine. Further south (below Hillside Avenue) the land becomes completely flat derived from smaller particles washed of the moraine. The plain was frequently flooded. Between these features, at the foot of the glacier, land is mostly flat but water is still channeled.

Streets like Hillside Avenue and Jamaica Avenue in Queens, and Hyland Blvd. in Staten Island became natural transportation corridors because the lay of the land made it natural.

My elementary school was on Jamaica Avenue. Mammoth bones anyone?

Earth Abides — George R. Stewart

Earth AbidesEarth Abides by George R. Stewart

I originally read this book more than 30 years ago. It wasn’t a new book even then, but it was new for me. Unlike so many other books I read and forgot, it stuck in my mind and I remember it with a clarity that is remarkable considering how many thousands of books I have read since. Earth Abides stays bright and shiny in my mind.

I have heard the book referred to as “the original disaster” story, but that misses the point. It isn’t a disaster story, original or otherwise. It is, as the title suggests, a book of renewal and hope. Although events are set in motion by a disaster, a plague that kills off most of Earth’s human population, that is only the trigger. Some few people are naturally immune and anyone who was ever bitten by a poisonous snake and survived also is immune.

These remnants of humanity eventually find each one another. They form groups that grow into tribes. They grow and thrive. Ultimately, they repopulate the earth, creating a new society that contains bits and pieces of what went before, but redesigned in a new and hopefully better way.

The book was re-released in a 60th anniversary edition a few years ago, including an audio version with an introduction by Connie Willis.

Cover of the 1949 Random House hardcover editi...

Cover of the 1949 Random House hardcover edition of Earth Abides. Cover illustration by H. Lawrence Hoffman. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I cannot count the number of copies of this book I have owned. I love it so much I buy copies of it, give it to people I think will love the story. The books are given theoretically on loan, but never has one of them been returned, so I buy another copy. I should get a volume discount.

The book is a bit preachy, but no  more so than many other popular books. It doesn’t bother me. George Stewart is a lot less preachy than Anne Rice  and he has better points to make and moreover, I agree with him.

Things we accept without a second thought today were revolutionary 63 years ago. When the book was first published both interracial relationships and rejection of formal religion were generally not accepted when the book was published. Attitudes have changed — more some places than others — there’s still more than enough racism, religious fanaticism and hatred to go around.

I’ve seen comments about how out of date the technology is. In fact, it doesn’t matter, not one little bit.

Our current technology has moved on considerably but regardless of  how advanced it’s gotten, any technology is insupportable on a depopulated earth. It makes no difference what had or had not been invented. It would be useless in any case. You can’t drive cars without gasoline and you can’t keep the pumps working without electricity. You can’t use telephones when there is no service. Our satellites might continue to circle the earth, but without signals, how would it matter? No batteries, no power? It’s all over when the power is gone and that, as the book shows, is at best a few years for even the most basic infrastructure. After that, we are back to a pre-technical world. Not a pre-industrial world. Industry existed before electricity: wind, water, sun … and the Earth itself continue.

The world ends, the world begins. Earth Abides.

Ish and Emma are the “mother” and “father” of the new tribe. Ish, in Hebrew, means “man” and “Eema” means “mother” which I am sure is not coincidental. It’s a wonderful story that suggests the human race has the capacity to not only survive, but reinvent civilization and created a better society. If you haven’t read this book, read it. It’s available in print and on Audible with a fine narrator. I cannot recommend it too highly.

Earth Abides is timeless. As is the Earth itself.

I discovered today there is an entire site dedicated to George R. Stewart – The EARTH ABIDES Project — by a man who knew him and has written his biography. The site contains pictures and other memorabilia. If you are a fan, this is a gift for us all.

This comment could not be transferred, so I have included it as part of the re-run of my original review.

Nice post about Earth Abides, and you found one of the easter eggs in Stewart’s book. But the photo (Note: I deleted the photo to which he is referring – MA)  is NOT of George R. Stewart. If you visit my blog —http://georgerstewart.wordpress.com — and follow the menu link at the top to the George R. Stewart web pages, you’ll see a photo of GRS. (I knew him, and have recently had a bio of GRS published.) You’re certainly right about Earth Abides — and you’re not the only one who feels that way. NASA’s Dr. Jim Burke, composer Philip Aaberg, Jimi Hendrix, Stephen King, Kim Stanley Robinson, Walt Disney — all were inspired by Stewart’s work or directly by EA. So thanks for the post. Cheers, DMS.

Dumb and getting dumber

Our books say a lot about us ... maybe too much.

Our books say a lot about us … maybe too much.

I’m a big believer in research, checking and double-checking sources. But I also learned a couple of important lessons writing documentation and other educational and explanatory material for almost 40 years.

Relax, Chicken Little. The sky is not falling.

The first rule of survival is to keep a sense of proportion. Whether it’s your personal life or national news, not everything is equally important. Lighten up. Develop a healthy attitude of skepticism. If you keep believing everything you read, I have to assume that you aren’t very bright.

Assume your friends are kidding, not trying to insult you. If they really are insulting you, maybe you need different friends; then again, maybe you deserve it. The problem may not be them: it could be you. Just consider the possibility.

It’s been a rough period for everyone. We need to laugh, not get enraged at everything we read, at everything anyone says.

As far as “news” goes, most stuff in the news isn’t news. It hasn’t happened. It will never happen. Not only has it not yet happened, but is isn’t even at the proposal stage. It’s the stuff people run up the flagpole to see who salutes. Somewhere between 99 – 100% of it won’t make it to proposal, much less law. If you let everything get to you, you will spend your life outraged. That’s hard on your nervous system, blood pressure and those around you. Not everything is life and death. Chill.

More rules for surviving the information age

Stop blaming technology. Technology doesn’t do anything. It’s what you do with it that counts.

Rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, I never said technology is “bad.” God forbid I should be so hypocritical.

I love my electronic goodies. My point continues to be that people — especially young people — confuse the tool and the purpose. They become so pixellated by the glamour and total coolness of widgets and gadgets that they forget  these are not an end, but a means. You are supposed to use this stuff to accomplish things: communicate, create, learn. Write a book. Edit a photo. Make a movie. Design something. Think amazing thoughts.

On the communications, front, if you use nothing but electronic communication for your relationships, you aren’t going to know how to talk to people.Eventually you will have to talk to someone about something important. The sooner you get the hang of it, the better. I watch my granddaughter and her friends sit next to one another while texting. How can you learn to relate if you don’t know how to have a conversation?

Worse, if you use computers to think for you, you won’t learn think. The substitution of automatically gathered data for focused research and thoughtful analysis is particularly alarming because (wait for it, drumroll, flourish of trumpets … okay, now) computers can’t think.

That’s right. You heard me. Computers can’t think. They are processors that collect and find data. They follow rules embedded in the software that runs them. Which, I should point out, you probably didn’t write (if you did, excuse me, you are exempt). After that, we the humans, Earthly creatures who sit at the top of the food chain, are free to use that data to whatever purpose we choose. But what do we choose? Good question. Mostly, far as I can tell, nothing much.

The big problem is that with the help of a computer or any one of a zillion computer-like devices (telephones, tablets, pods, pads, doohickies and wazoos), anyone and his cousin George can collect information by the bushel.  Having collected oodles of data, most people figure they’ve done their part but their part hasn’t even begun. Most people cannot figure out what concepts or ideas the collected information supports, what conclusions can be drawn from it, how to analyze what — if anything — it means. Nor can they connect two related ideas without a flow chart …  and many can’t connect two related ideas even with the flow chart.

In a world where we actually need to warn people not to text while driving, something is seriously wrong with the whole thinking thing.

The widespread outbreak of stupid is alarming. All over America, mothers are wondering how they produced such stupid children.

We don’t think. We don’t read. We skim over information, ideas, articles, gathering buzzwords and slogans, never stopping to figure out if this means anything. Worse yet, half the stuff we learn by this process is wrong

– Α – 

It’s not what you don’t know that will get you; it’s what you DO know that’s wrong.

Information is not knowledge.

Information is not communication.

– ω –

It takes human brains and thought to change information from raw data to concepts and ideas. You need to synthesize, postulate, consider. Determine what is important and what isn’t, what is relevant, and most of all: what is true.

We don’t seem, as a society, to believe that thinking is required anymore. Google it. There’s your answer. But whether or not you can get the answer by looking it up depends on the question. If the question is “Who got the best actor Oscar in 1974,” you can look it up. If the question involves right or wrong, good or evil, the existence of a deity, the value of anything … the meaning of anything … looking it up is part 1 or an infinitely long list.

Then, there’s telling other people about what you’ve figured out. Just because you collected a vast amount of information doesn’t mean that it will mean anything to anyone else. Does it mean anything to you? Seriously? If it’s just a bunch of facts that anyone could collect, does it matter? You need to do something with the information to make it mean something. After that,  you can disseminate it in a form that others can understand. If you don’t take this final step, it’s just noise. Or spam.

I think here, therefore I am here. I think.

I think here, therefore I am here. I think.

How dumb are we?

The dumbing down of society is not because of our tools and toys. It’s because we’ve forgotten they are just tools and toys.

We have fantastic resources and waste them on drivel. Modern processors are amazing. We have access to any data, any information ever written, yet we have not improved our ability to communicate, relate, think, or create. Without a context, all our fancy stuff is expensive, silly playthings on which we waste time and other precious resources.

We have tools. If only we were using them better, our world — our own personal world as well as the great big world we share — would be a better place.

P.S. Those weird characters before and after the big quotes are an alpha and an omega. If this doesn’t ring a bell, don’t worry. You can look it up.

About those dinosaurs … It all started with “Fantasia”

This conversation started because my husband, unlike me, is not fascinated by dinosaurs. He seemed a bit baffled as to why I’d include a big story about dinosaurs when I didn’t write it or take any of the photographs. Note: Should a dinosaur wander through my back yard, be assured that I will be out there taking pictures until either the huge reptile ambles away or eats me, whichever comes first.

Unlike many things which have adult origins — technology, philosophy, history — all the “ologies” and “osophies” that attended my education and subsequent research — my passion for dinosaurs goes all the way back, back, back in time to when I was four or five years old and my Aunt Ethel took me to see “Fantasia,” the original, not the later remake.

Who remembers in “Fantasia” the history of the earth, starring the rise and fall of the dinosaurs? It is set to Igor Stravinsky‘s brilliant “The Rites of Spring.” The music itself might be enough, but with the Disney artists on their best game, it was something else and embedded itself in my mind for a lifetime.

In case you’ve forgotten or have by some oversight never seen it, here it is. I wish it were a little brighter but the sound is excellent and it is still as extraordinary as ever it was:

None of these graphics were generated by computers. All of it … each frame … was drawn by human artists. The music was played live by an orchestra full of real musicians. Contrary to popular opinion, special effects were not invented by Steven Spielberg.

I was just a little kid and it scared the bejeezus out of me. I had nightmares for years about dinosaurs hiding under the bed, in the hallway, in my closet. I couldn’t sleep without a nightlight because I was sure there was a dinosaur lurking, ready to grab me in giant jaws with teeth 9 feet long. I was a child of great imagination and excessive sensitivity.

As I got older, I began to read books and discovered lots of really cool stuff about dinosaurs, most important (to me) was that North America — what is now the middle of the United States had been giant reptile central, the heartland of the Brontosaurus, Velociraptor and other astonishing creatures. Where now stand cities like St. Louis and Kansas City, Tyrannosaurus Rex ruled. Perhaps their legacy lives on in corporate boardrooms and Washington D.C., but I digress.

When this was made, the whole asteroid thing was yet unknown, so the history of the earth is missing that piece of information, but I’m sure Disney’s artists would have happily included it had they known. Meanwhile, I’m totally whacked at the idea of earth getting hit by an asteroid. I always have a good laugh when someone in some space lab mentions, casually, that there’s an asteroid headed our way, but not to worry, there’s no better than a 50-50 chance it will really hit us.

That we pathetic creatures, crawling around the surface of the earth, believe we are all-powerful and can control our destiny by technology is funny. Not only has this planet been hit by asteroids — not once but many times — but each time, the event precipitated the extinction of Earth’s dominant species. The dinosaurs lasted a lot longer than we have. Should one of those big hunks of space debris smack into us, I think it unlikely that all the computers, weaponry, technology or prayers we can muster will be of any use at all. Our collective ass will be grass without even the opportunity to text our best buddies about the impending big bang.

We will be gone, quite likely having had even less effect on our planet, in the final analysis, than did the dinosaurs.

Humankind has always suffered above all from the sin of pride. Hubris, as the Greeks called it. We think we are creatures of God and perhaps we are, but who said we are the only creatures of God or that He gave us a permanent free pass from extermination?

map-dinosaurs-1993

And this is what so fascinates me and probably always will. That these creatures, these huge, powerful creatures who ruled this planet for more years than we can comprehend were, in a single calamitous event, exterminated. Eliminated from the earth leaving just their bones by which to remember them. And we think we are so all-powerful. I bet they thought so, too.

Death of the Dinosaurs: The Asteroid Didn’t Act Alone

See on Scoop.itTraveling Through Time

dino_decline_0502

There’s never a good time to get clobbered by an asteroid — something the dinosaurs discovered in the worst way possible. It was 65.5 million years ago when an asteroid measuring 6 miles (10 km) across slammed into the earth just off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, blasting out a 110-mile (180 km) crater and sending out a cloud of globe-girdling debris that cooled and darkened the world. That spelled doom for species that had come to like things bright and warm. Before long (in geological terms, at least) the dinos were gone and the mammals arose.

That’s how the story has long been told, and it’s still the most widely accepted theory. Now, however, a study led by scientists at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and published in Nature Communications suggests that the asteroid might not have affected all dinosaur species equally. Some, including the well-loved triceratops and duck-billed dinosaurs, might have been on their way out already and were simply hastened to the exit by the asteroid blast. The reason for their weakened state — and the way the investigators discovered it — provides both new insights into the fate of the dinosaurs and new methods with which to study their world.

The asteroid impact — known as the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) extinction — was always thought to have been an equal-opportunity annihilator, and there was good evidence to support that. Tracking the rise and fall of the dinosaurs was always done simply by counting how many species were around at any given moment in history. The more species there were, the better the overall clade was doing; the fewer there were — particularly after the K-T — the closer to extinction all dinosaurs came. But that method was never entirely reliable, mostly because paleontologists do their digging in so many different places.

“Results can be biased by uneven sampling of the fossil record,” says Steve Brusatte, a graduate student at Columbia University and one of the participants in the new study. “In places where more rock and fossils were formed, like in America’s Great Plains, you’ll find more species.” Similarly, in places that didn’t fossilize remains easily, you’d find far fewer — even if at one time there were just as many animals there.

Hadrosaurs by a lake.

Hadrosaurs by a lake. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Natural History team, led by paleontologist Mark Norell, thus decided to take a different approach — looking at the biodiversity within different groups of dinosaurs. If one group — the carnivores, say — was thriving, it ought to be producing more species than groups that were struggling just to hang on. When the investigators looked at things this way — sampling 150 species across seven major groups — they were able to paint a much different and much-less-uniform picture of how all the dinosaurs were faring before the asteroid arrived.

In general, the number of species in the small herbivore group (the ankylosaurs and pachycephalosaurs) was stable or even increasing. The same was true for the carnivores (the tyrannosaurs and coelurosaurs) as well as for the largest herbivores (the sauropods). Things were not so good for the slightly smaller herbivores known as bulk feeders because of the wide range of vegetation they ate (the hadrosaurs and ceratopsids). They appear to have been in decline for a good 12 million years before the K-T wipeout, with their species head count dwindling steadily over that time.

“People often think of the dinosaurs being monolithic,” says Richard Butler of Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, who also participated in the study. “We say, ‘The dinosaurs did this, the dinosaurs did that.’ But dinosaurs were hugely diverse. Different groups were probably evolving in different ways and the results of our study show that very clearly.”

So why were the hadrosaurs and ceratopsids having such a hard time? Geography may explain at least some of the problems. The bulk feeders were especially common in North America, a continent that was then bisected by the Western Interior Seaway, a wide and deep body of water that ran from what is now the Arctic Ocean to what is now the Gulf of Mexico. Changes in the depth, width and temperature of the sea might have reduced the food supply or altered the surrounding ecosystem in other ways that made it hard for the hadrosaurs and ceratopsids to survive. The tectonic collisions, which gave rise to what are now the Rockies and the other mountains of the west, might have had a similar effect.

Tyrannosaurus rex, a theropod from the Late Cr...

Tyrannosaurus rex, a theropod from the Late Cretaceous of North America, pencil drawing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whatever the cause of the two groups’ decline, it’s not certain that their condition was terminal — that they would not have somehow stabilized themselves if the asteroid hadn’t come along and rendered the whole question academic. Indeed, throughout the whole of the Mesozoic Era — from 250 million to 65 million years ago — diversity within dinosaur species was known to fluctuate quite a bit. “Small increases or decreases between two or three time intervals may not be noteworthy within the context of the … history of the [groups],” says Norell.

Of course, the asteroid did come along and did render everything academic. But if all of the dinosaurs left history’s stage at more or less the same time and for more or less the same reason, they now appear to have strutted their hour in ways that were more varied — and in some cases more fraught — than we ever appreciated before.

See on www.time.com

Mobile Phones: Remember when we used them to make phone calls …

Kindle Fire HD 7 inch

You could call me old-fashioned, but I’m not. I’m also not stupid, out of touch, nor a technophobe. I love technology. If I had more money, I’d have even more computers than I do and arguably, I already have too many.

It’s just that I think we’ve lost track of why we have telephones.

I have 3 personal computers: a desktop with a big HD monitor, a 15″ laptop more powerful than my desktop, and a notebook mini that I use in the bedroom and lives on my night table. I also have 2 Kindles, including the new Fire which is a media center, though some consider it a computer (I don’t). For mobile communications, I have a Blackberry Torch .

Blackberry Torch

It’s very good at 3 things — all of which scream “communications” to me: Email, telephone calls, and maintaining a shared calendar with my husband so we don’t double schedule stuff. It would text just fine, but as it happens, I hate texting. My 10-inch notebook has as small a keyboard as I’m willing to use for typing anything beyond a couple of words. I type with 10 fingers. My thumb, opposable and all, is excellent for picking things up and holding a pen, even for playing the piano. They are not designed for typing. That must be a genetic adaptation that occurred in the last 30 years. My thumbs are not pointy or fast-moving. They are thumbs that perform thumb-appropriate tasks.

In a never-ending attempt to make a single device that can do everything, mobile phones now do just about everything except make quality phone calls. Most of them have terrible audio quality on the phone. They may have decent reproduction for music and games, but you can’t hear a voice on the other end of a call. Crackle, white noise and low amplitude makes real phone calls torture. My husband and I each bought a Blackberry because we wanted to be able to make phone calls and hear each other and sometime, other people, on the telephone. Shocking concept? Are you appalled that we use our phones primarily as portable communications devices?

iPhone 5

While we were in the phone store, we tried out all the different phones including the iPhone and the only one that had good quality voice reproduction on telephone calls was Blackberry. The others are all trying to be a cross between an MP player, mini computer, and game boy. The voice quality on phone calls was awful, but apparently no one actually uses that function anymore.

I have computers to compute. I have an MP player and I have the Kindle Fire for media. I use my telephone for communication. Oh, and I carry a small, good quality camera for taking pictures on the fly.

I strongly believe and no one has ever shown me any good reason to change my mind that anything that is trying to do everything isn’t doing anything really well … or it’s doing one thing well and twenty other things badly.

My son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter have telephones that are now close to half the size of my Kindle. Soon, they will be as big or bigger. Does anyone remember how we all wanted smaller phones so we didn’t have to carry a great big “thing” with us?

For a while, they got a little too small for my taste, but then they got back to a size that is definitely telephony.

Dell XPS 15

Now, with each added function they put on the phone, the more apps, widgets, peripherals, gadgets, functions, styli, wires, earphones, docks and doodads you need to do accomplish these different things on what originated as a telephone, the less I want to do with them. It’s not that I don’t understand them. I understand just fine

I don’t LIKE them.

Honk if you think a phone should be first and foremost, a device that is very good for making and receiving telephone calls!