Category Archives: science

Playground of Lost Toys Interviews: Eikamp and Runté

Today, authors Rhonda Eikamp and Robert Runté. Their tales are both science fiction and involve games of strategy: chess. And while one deals with issues of ego and doing the right thing, the other examines more the consequences of doing the wrong thing, though you could say that in both cases ego blinds the characters.

Rhonda is an American living in Germany and her story was the only one we could accept from out of the country. That meant competition for the spot was very tough and we hung on to a few stories right until the end. Rhonda’s story “The Garden of Our Deceit” is one of the few we received that takes place off planet. It’s far future, as is Lisa Carreiro’s “Makour.”

  1. What was your main reason for submitting a story to Playground of Lost Toys?

I was inspired by the call for submissions and Jonathan Carroll’s wonderful quote. Stories of childhood and toys just strike me as the perfect juxtaposition of innocence and creepiness that you can do a lot with in genre (proven by the stories the editors have put together here!). I started out with something slightly steampunky-Victorian, with the idea of giant powered chess pieces, but the focus ended up on the alien corothai and issues of tyranny and freedom.

  1. Does your story relate at all to anything from your own childhood?

    chess, strategy, aliens, SF, short fiction

    Rhonda Eikamp’s story deals with games, betrayal, control and rebellion in Playground of Lost Toys.

I wasn’t exposed to chess until my 8th-grade math teacher taught us all and set up tournaments. I’d only played sporadically since, and so I played some online games to get the feel again while writing, which made me realize the corothai would want to hang from the ceiling to get a better view of their tournaments.

  1. What theme or idea were you exploring in your story?

I love exploring how alien intelligence and psyches might differ from our own, what the good and bad in being human is and why we will probably never overcome that (and shouldn’t). Would an alien race understand us, our love, relations, humor, the need to play? And I love a good rebellion. I’m interested in how we’re manipulated by those in power, the media, etc. Schools should be teaching kids how to assess what they’re told and how it’s being presented, and to get to the truth. The way news is channeled and selected now, at some point we’ll all be obliviots, knowing only what we want to know.

  1. Is there anything else to do with your story or the theme of the anthology you’d like to mention?

The takes on the theme here are amazing. Each story puts its own twist on playing or on that long-forgotten item from your childhood. Chris Kuriata’s “Fun Things For Ages 8 To 10” even captivated my refuses-to-read 14-year-old.

  1. What other projects do you have in the works, pieces people can buy, or places to find you in the coming year?

I have a story coming up in Pantheon (for which I had to dip into my childhood as well and my memories of tornadoes trying to pick up our Texas house) and a story in Midnight Circus: Age of Legends, which should be out January.

There’s a list of my stories that can be read online, at my (very neglected) blog https://writinginthestrangeloop.wordpress.com/.

toys, childhood, nostalgia, fantasy, SF, fiction, short stories

Playground of Lost Toys is available through Amazon published by Exile Writers

Robert Runté’s tale “Hacker Chess” has a lighter tone but examines well the obsessive nature of games, without always taking in a the bigger picture. It’s an amusing look at our current to near future, when all of our devices are automated, linked and “smart.” Robert chose to answer the questions in a block. Robert’s story is like Geoffery Cole’s where the characters get a little too caught up in their games.

  1. What was your main reason for submitting a story to Playground of Lost Toys?
  2.  Does your story relate at all to anything from your own childhood?
  3. What theme or idea were you exploring in your story?
  4. Is there anything else to do with your story or the theme of the anthology you’d like to mention?
  5. What other projects do you have in the works, pieces people can buy, or places to find you in the coming year.
chess, hackers, computers, smart technology, SF

Robert Runte’s “Hacker Chess” is a fun romp in Playground of Lost Toys.

When the call for submissions went out, I had no story, nor any idea for a story that would fit the theme. But I really respected both the editors, and the idea of writing to a specific target appealed to me, so I ended up submitting three stories: the first was too far off the theme; so I wrote the second directly on target, but the editors didn’t go for it; so I wrote the third at the 11th hour, and the editors took that one. That whole process was a lot of fun, actually. And I’ve already sold the first one elsewhere, and the second is off to a CanLit market, so we’ll see.

I would therefore recommend accepting the challenge implicit in writing to a specific theme, however unfamiliar, since that enables one to write several stories more quickly than starting from a blank page. But you have to trust the editors involved: it’s their job to tell you if you missed the target or if the story isn’t up to standard. I knew these two had high standards so that allowed me to play fast and loose, secure in the knowledge they wouldn’t let me embarrass myself.

The second story was right out of my childhood; the first was out of my friend’s childhood; and the third was based on an anecdote told me by another friend. The moral is, anything you tell a writer is likely to be taken down and saved against the day when they can turn it into a story.

“Hacker Chess” is about getting carried away when playing a game, rather than about a specific toy; though we often refer to computers as “toys” when guys get too fixated on having the latest and greatest tech. The main theme of “Hacker Chess,” to the extent that there is one, is recognizing childish behavior, and maybe, you know, to stop doing that. The characters and the world they inhabit are part of several other stories I have on the go, so hopefully I’ll be able to gather them together at some point to create.

The next story I have coming out is “Age of Miracles” in Strangers Among Us, but I am most excited about two books I’ve edited for Five Rivers: Den Valdron’s The Mermaid’s Tale and Dave Duncan’s Eocene Station. Den’s book is the best thing I’ve read in a decade and I consider my discovery of that manuscript the high point of my career so far: it’s going to win every award on the planet. Duncan’s book is SF, something we never see enough of, and the character of Tempest is just brilliant. So, pretty happy about how things are going!

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Tesseracts 17 Interview: Ben Godby

anthology, speculative fiction, SF, fantasy, Canadian authors

Tesseracts 17 is now out with tales from Canadian writers that span all times and places.

Ben Godby’s tale takes us to the farthest reaches of the universe and a man with a dark mission.

CA: “Star Severer” was one of the bleaker stories in Tesseracts 17. In one sense it signals the end of everything. Stories like this can be depressing, yet you presented more depth. What were the important elements you were exploring in this piece?

I think I’ve benefited from living in a peaceful time in a peaceful place. I can’t remember who wrote it, but a sentence which recently struck me with its veracity and import was, “Make no mistake, we are living in a golden age.” Not surprisingly, it’s always been hard for me to understand war—or, more generally, the very idea of having “enemies.” On the other hand, I’ve grown up with video games, board games, role-playing games, books, movies, and all other sorts of media that make me—on a visceral level—love war, and love killing, and love having some brute-obvious object of ethically appropriate hatred.

SF, speculative fiction, Tesseracts 17, science, deadly machines

Ben Godby loves games and fantasy, but Star Severer is science fiction with a dark vein.

This tension has caused me to write a lot of stories that explore violence and its necessary ambiguity. In “Star-Severer,” I needed that footchase scene, and I needed Odashi and his soldiers to violently board Mueller’s vessel, because in a lot of ways, violence is what makes stories worth telling and hearing for my narrative consciousness. But intellectually, I abhor violence and don’t understand it—which is why my protagonists are usually unwilling, unwitting, or unhappy soldiers.

CA: This story literally takes us to the far reaches of the universe. Do you write in this universe or these worlds often?

It’s hard for me to write anything that’s anything but fantastic. I have three distinct universes I like to write in, although two of them—one which is decidedly fantasy, and another which is a sort of fantasy-cyberpunk fusion—have begun a sort of mental meld over the last six months. I like reading contemporary, modern, and realistic fiction, but I get bored writing about the mundane world.

This universe, by the way, is the “Children of the Earth” universe, which is marked by conflict between the Children of the Earth, who believe in Terran orthodoxy (Earth’s universal primacy), and “Terretics,” usually colonists of far-flung worlds who have ceased to care for Earth and its imperial ways. “Children of the Earth,” published online in Kaleidotrope, also takes place in this universe. http://www.kaleidotrope.net/archives/summer-2012/children-of-the-earth-by-ben-godby/

CA: The story  harkens some to our human condition; that of being a violent species sometimes determined to commit genocide. Do you think we will every move beyond this flaw?

I think humanity is slowly become “gooder,” if I may be permitted such a silly word. At least, the developed nations of the world are becoming less and less willing to kill each other. But, there are still horrible wars committed across the globe every day, and whenever the nuclear stalemate is resolved, large, powerful countries will almost inevitably go to war once again. I hope we move beyond the need to fight each other, but I think this will require the elimination of acquisitive ideologies like capitalism, competitive ideologies like free market economics, and a lot of great science to solve the environmental problems that are creeping up on us and creating more cause for conflict.

CA: Science fiction isn’t as popular as fantasy fiction these days. Do you think it’s too realistic and we wish to escape any sense of reality?

I’ve heard this before, but I actually find that SF is really popular. What’s interesting to me is that SF has evolved a lot more than fantasy. There’s a lot of people who are upset that SF has become really dark and pessimistic, but at least it reflects evolving trends in the psychology of writers and readers. I can’t believe how many fantasy books are, for all intents and purposes, identical to each other minus a few special details: magic works this unique way in such-and-such a world, but it is still a romantic 13th century medieval world with kings and emperors, subjected women, racism, some kind of orc or goblin analogue (e.g. sranc [R. Scott Bakker’s fantasy series] or the shanka [Joe Abercrombie]), and a hero quest. I like fantasy, but I want to see it do more, and outside of China Miéville, Jeff VanderMeer, Steph Swainston, and a clutch of other New Weird writers, I don’t see much “evolved” fantasy getting very popular.

CA: What else are you working on now?

An MBA and a rather successful Dwarf Fortress. http://www.bay12games.com/dwarves/ I hate to say it, but with my studies, work, and volunteerism as they’ve been the last year and a half, I’ve barely written anything. I’m hoping to start a new AD&D campaign (which I consider to be a sort of creative writing) in the new year, and once I graduate in August 2014, hopefully I’ll get back on the writing horse. The plan, though, is to write novels rather than short stories. Writing short fiction was always meant to be “practice” for writing novels, although I kind of fell into loving it.

Ben Godby writes mysteriously thrilling pseudo-scientific weird western adventure fantasy tales. He lives in Ottawa, Ontario with a girl, two dogs and a cat. Ben is part of the Codex Writers’ Group and his book reviews have been published in Strange Horizons. He is a business communications specialist, a videogame addict, and a heavy metal enthusiast. He holds a B.A. in Philosophy from McGill University and is a part-time student in the University of Ottawa’s French MBA program.

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Tesseracts 17 Interview: Megan Fennell

SF, tragedy, speculative fiction, Tesseracts 17, anthology

Megan Fennell’s story “Bird Bones” talks about the monsters that live among us.

Tesseracts 17 is now available. In continuing with the Tesseracts interviews, I have Megan Fennell, whose story “Bird Bones” is in the anthology.

CA: Family is at the core of this piece. Have you explored what family means in other aspects of your writing?

 Absolutely. In most of what I write there will be at least some screen time given to the concept of families, either family by blood or family by choice. People do truly incredible things and make enormous sacrifices for family that they wouldn’t dream of doing for anyone else. Upon reflection, my stories tend to include a lot of sibling characters, albeit with varying degrees of oddity and functionality. This is probably a side effect of having possibly the best kid sister in the world and thus being intrigued by the nature in which the sibling dynamic can turn bizarre.

 CA: Do you think humans run the risk of the god complex by too much scientific tinkering or do you think there are restraints that keep us in check?

There are absolutely restraints that keep us in check, which is why the first trick of writing a mad scientist character (at least in my experience) tends to be isolating them. You mentioned Dr. Frankenstein… Add to that list a few more of my favourite brilliant madmen: Dr. Moreau, Dr. Jekyll, Griffin from the Invisible Man, and you’ll notice that secrecy, isolation and working within limited means play a big part in what they were doing. None of these folks were exactly in line for a government grant. In ‘Bird Bones’, Feyton’s controversial experimentations in his day-job are plagued by protestors and review boards. It’s his secret side project where he can really go wild. I believe that the all-seeing public eye and our tendency to ask this very question will ensure that cutting-edge science never galavants too far ahead of morality.

CA: What else are you working on these days and will we see other tales of transformation or escape?

You’d better believe it! Along with shopping around my short stories and trying to find the illusive market interested in love stories about squid-like aliens, I’m presently in the honeymoon stage with a new YA novel. This typically consists of me wandering around in a smile-y daze like a lovestruck teenager, murmuring happily about these wonderful new people who’ve turned up in my head. I’ll get to the hard work soon enough and start grumbling about it as is good and proper, of course! But yes, the crux of that one will be the nature of being human and the relative weight of what you are versus who you are, so more variations on some of my favourite themes for sure.

anthology, speculative fiction, SF, fantasy, Canadian authors

Tesseracts 17 is now out with tales from Canadian writers that span all times and places.

Megan Fennell was born in Victoria, BC, but has spent the majority of her life in a variety of Albertan cities and considers herself a creature of the prairies. Having disqualified herself from the great Calgary versus Edmonton debate by obtaining degrees at both the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta, she now lives with her two cats in Lethbridge, Alberta, drawing inspiration from the more rugged beauty of the Badlands. She has previously been published in OnSpec Magazine and the charity anthology Help: Twelve Tales of Healing

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/megan.fennell

Twitter: @FennellFiction

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/MeganFennell

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Tesseracts 17 Interview: Tim Reynolds

anthology, speculative fiction, SF, fantasy, Canadian authors

Tesseracts 17  has tales from Canadian writers that span all times and places.

Tim Reynolds is one of the four Alberta authors to grace the pages of Tesseracts 17 (already available on Amazon).

CA: Tim, your story “Why Pete?” struck us right away as being true science fiction. It wasn’t a veneer and it had a ray of hope. A lot of space SF seems to be laden with gloom or madness, and yours could have been but you resisted. Was it pure coincidence or did you plan it?

Both, actually. I already write a lot of gloom and madness with my horror (and a new fantasy novel I’m planning) so my science fiction tends to be a bit brighter and upbeat. Of course there will always be death and danger and heartbreak in my stories, but that’s the nature of life. With “Why Pete?”, the upbeat nature sort of came out of the situation. It may sound corny, but once I decided that the hero was female and the computer voice was male, the banter between the characters dictated the tone. It was supposed to be a bit dark and claustrophobic, but when I asked how a well-trained, professional commander would truly react, humour and hope shone through. The last thing I wanted was a screaming, crying cliche.  The ending was not planned in detail prior to the writing. I wrote the story and when I got to the part where it all needed to be tied up, gloom and despair just didn’t seem to fit as well as hope. To be honest, my stories ALL end with hope. It may not be the hope the reader or characters expect at the beginning of the story, but there is hope. I’m also known for killing all my characters, some with dignity and some without any grace or style whatsoever. Que sera sera.

CA: Too many SF movies deal with technology doing the characters in? Why do you suppose that is?

speculative writing, SF, Canadian writers, Tesseracts 17

Alberta author Tim Reynolds’ story “Why Pete” is in Tesseracts 17.

I believe that when technology is “doing the characters in” in a film, it’s not SF (or at least not sci fi), it’s horror, or maybe a thriller. If the technology can be replaced with a werewolf, a shark, a dream dude with razor-sharp gloves, or a former camper in a goalie mask, then it’s a horror story written in a science fiction/science environment. The technology can then be symbolic of whatever aspect of mankind (racism, corporations, dictators, religion, etc.) the filmmaker wants to take a shot at.  Now, in Alien (the perfect horror film set in space), the technology “doing man in” is actually the android, who sees the pursuit of knowledge as the purest of endeavours, and greater than the needs and wants of the individuals. I think we also use technology as the antagonist in order to avoid offending any particular group (ie., people not of the race, creed, colour, religion, political stance, height, weight, or dietary alignment of the author/filmmaker). Technology is simply a common threat outside mankind, like alien beings. Even slasher films portray their killers as something much less than human. It’s how we can tell such horrific stories and still have the readers come back for more. The sad thing is that worse horrors are perpetrated in reality by “the nice person next door” than any imagined monster or tech in film or literature.

CA: Do you think SF is getting a bad rep these days?

I think Science Fiction has always had a bad rep, because when it’s badly done it’s horrible; but when it’s well-executed, it asks questions and makes proposals and puts forth ideas that scare the hell out of the people whose jobs it is to maintain the order they’ve designed and must maintain. In my mind, good science fiction should shake up the status quo, at least a little bit. If you haven’t pissed off at least one or two people with your story’s ideas/concepts, then you haven’t done your job as a SF writer. I do this in my fantasy as well. I think that a story lacking a belief system (politics, religious, scientific) and something attacking it, is missing an entire layer that takes the story from an enjoyable read to  topic of discussion and argument. In my recently submitted novel, I have a character compare Jesus Christ to Adolf Hitler. That sounds incredibly daring out of context, but in fact it fits with the over-all conversation. Of course it’s also meant to infuriate people and have them screaming at me. Even if they’re discussing it negatively, they’re discussing it. “Why Pete?” is not particularly controversial, though, unless you count Lilly and Pete’s different points of view on marital fidelity.

CA: You mentioned that you were looking at a phobia. Do you have other stories where you explore phobias and ones process into or through them?

No, not really. I should clarify that the phobia of being buried alive which inspired “Why Pete?” is not meant to be the character’s phobia, but the reader’s. There’s no way Commander Rayn would have been sent into space if she were claustrophobic, at least in my story. Instead, I want the reader to be terrified and sweating and not coping well in the situation, while the character keeps a level head and solves the problem at hand. In part, the story is meant to say that logic, patience, and a few deep breaths are more effective than freaking out, so calm down and solve the problem.  I do enjoy using fear as a motivator, though. None of us know what is beyond death, so that’s always the first one I play with. I have an entire novel, though, where every one of the “team” of heroes is reincarnated whenever they die, so the fear they are working with is that their failure means the deaths of of tens of thousands of others who do NOT get reincarnated. Although I don’t treat it as a paralyzing phobia, I do cripple some of the characters with an overwhelming fear of failure, over and over again. And then I gave the hero MS, just to up the stakes a bit.

CA: In your ideal future of space travel, what would you hope to see and do (presuming that it could be there tomorrow)?

If I won the lottery tomorrow, I would reserve a seat on a shuttle into space, even for 30 seconds of weightlessness. On a bigger scale than my own self-satisfaction, though, I would love to see mankind find efficient and safe ways to colonize space before it’s too late and we’ve beaten ourselves down so far that there’s no money for space exploration any more. I would love to see us also take more risks and push the envelope like the early astronauts did for both Russia and the USA. We will not go as far as we need to by playing it too safe. My story, “Why Pete?”, actually describes where I want us to be going. Mankind should explore and populate the stars. That’s the ideal, what I hope for.

The reality I foresee is much darker and far less positive. I live like an optimist, but I have a great deal of faith in the self-righteous dregs of humanity finding a way to ruin our future. I don’t see a way to fix it and it’s a problem I’m currently wresting with in the sibling-novel (is that a term? I mean a novel set in the same universe with the same backstory, but in a different location and a different set of characters) of “Why Pete?”.

Tim Reynolds is a Canadian twistorian, bending and twisting history into fictional shapes for sheer entertainment. His published stories range from lighthearted urban fantasy to turn-on-the-damned-lights-now horror, and include the story of a bus driver who kills all his passengers, a tale of a dying folk singer’s moments teaching Death a love song, and a dark, depressing view of the near future of reality TV and child-rearing. His first love, though, is science fiction and is working diligently at his first science fiction novel, while marketing an urban fantasy and editing the first draft of a paranormal romance.

His 100-word story “Temper Temper” was a winner of Kobo Writing Life’s Jeffrey Archer Short Story Challenge. He can be found online at www.tgmreynolds.com & www.TheTaoOfTim.com (blog).

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Insta Fashion: Is it Art?

Fabrican, spray-on clothing, fashion, art, skin-tight clothing

Fabrican or fabric can't spray-on clothing

I recently came across a new form of art. Or is it a new fashion statement? In some cases it’s both or just one. NewScientist reports on a process of spray-on clothing. You’ll need to watch the video to get a good idea of the process. There is a second one of an artist working with cellulose as well. The problem with cellulose is that it swells or gets slimy once water is introduced.

The spray-on clothing is a mixture of cotton fibers, polymers and solvents. I can’t find what those polymers or solvents are made of and if this would even be a good thing to put on bare skin very often. While the experimentation is ongoing and researchers see the possibility of medical usages, such as spray-on bandages, the aspects of fashion are quite limited.

First, you would have to go into a shop or have a friend spray your clothing on. Otherwise, everything would be backless. I imagine that spraying this stuff on to any length of body hair could be problematic with removal. Considering that we’re living in a nearly hairless body era, that might not be an issue. The material can be washed and re-worn but it looks pretty fragile in maintaining its shape. I also noticed that the women were small breasted overall for the application. Does that mean that dealing with larger curves for breasts or buttocks could be an issue of tension for the fabric? Not to mention, if your breasts aren’t perky, your top will sag.

The models were all very slim and trim. I think that spraying on a T-shirt over a large beer gut might just be a bit more than anyone wants to see. And what about pants? This material gives a whole new meaning to skin-tight and indeed nothing would be left to the imagination. What I’ve seen of the styles so far are pretty basic and seems to be used in a very basic T-shirt or tank top style, so style still needs to develop.

While spray-on fabric might be useful for scientific applications or one of a kind art displays, I can’t see it catching on yet for fashion. Not until they solve the form-fitting aspect. But in the future, perhaps when we’ve deforested so much of the earth that the remaining stands of trees are protected as oxygen sources, maybe we’ll be recycling every fiber and spraying on our loincloths (what with global warming and all) and dissolving them when we need a new one. It might be the way of the future but I think we’re stuck for a while yet with clothes that cover us up. Which gives us time to all get in shape so we look good when the inevitable happens.

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I Have an Addiction

Corning Glass Tower (Corning Museum)

I never thought I would have an addiction to such a thing, but I do. How do I know it’s an addiction? Well, it is affecting my life, I need it every few days, I can’t get enough.

But this addiction isn’t what I’d call detrimental. At least I don’t think it is. It’s about glass, and that’s not a fancy name for a new designer drug. Corning Glass has done this amazing video of what the future can hold in the way of sensitive, touch enabled glass. I’m not going to explain it all here; just watch the video, A Day Made of Glass.

But why am I completely enthralled with this? I don’t know. I’m mesmerized through the full five minutes of the Utopian future depicted. What do I love about it? Let me count the ways.

  • It uses a multiracial family.
  • The music is so positive and uplifting and bright that I sometimes just play it in the background.
  • It presents ways of working with glass that defy the term glass and in fact I wonder if some would be plastic. It does so in so many ways, from darkening a bedroom window to bringing up news reports and messages on the bathroom mirror, to playing with photo images, cooking food, GPS, messaging, interactive meetings, getting bus maps, talking, video, you name it.

The masterminds of this piece have done an excellent job. And it’s all done with no words, just music and action. Obviously they have computer technology coupled with glass, but the possibilities are wonderful. I don’t just like this. I absolutely love it. Yes, truly. It makes me feel good to watch it, it buoys my spirit and gives a possibility of a future that can be bright, not one of war and oil crises, soaring prices and people unable to afford to live. And it’s all clean at least in the looks. How it will be made and what the circuitry will consist of, I don’t know but glass has been with us for thousands of years.

Corning has me hooked. Maybe it’s because I’m an SF writer as well but I actually do watch this about every second day and will continue to do so until the wonder wears off. http://www.corning.com/index.aspx

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Smart Thoughts About Stupidity

We have a culture that looks down on or is bigoted about stupidity. Maybe it’s a natural thing, a survival of the fittest and most intelligent, or maybe it’s a way of feeling more superior, and therefore the fittest. We of course shake our heads at the stupid things people do. What an idiot, we think. How can people be so stupid? You dummy. He’s the village idiot. She’s as smart as a sack of potatoes. The names go on.

There is a natural derision for the stupidity that people exhibit. And yet we know we all have momentary lapses where we do or say stupid things. Perhaps it’s because of that human fallibility that we scoff so loudly at others, trying to cover up our own stupidity. At its worst stupidity will kill you; at the least it will embarrass you.

I remember back to years ago when in a group of friends we knew too many Daves. There was Dave the engineer, Dave the store owner, Dave the grunt, etc. Dave the grunt was in the army, a perennial private because he just wasn’t very bright. He wasn’t a bad looking guy but he was a few marbles short of a bag. People made fun of him all the time. It began to disturb me because we can learn some things but only if our brains have the capacity to do so. People are born with different levels of intelligence. There is nothing they can do about that and it’s not their fault. Making fun of a person’s stupidity is the same as making fun of them because of their height, or eye color, or skin color, or nose shape. They cannot help it. It’s what genetics tossed into the bag when they were being made.

It is wisdom that we learn and you can have a stupid but wise person, or an intelligent yet unwise person. As people continued to deride the grunt I observed the interactions. What I started to realize was that we didn’t make fun of him because he was stupid; we made fun of him because he wasn’t very nice and he was stupid. He was nasty to women and just very rude in general.

Years later I had another friend who is intelligent enough but not overly bright and given to some very wrong concepts about the world. Another person once said some very insulting words to her face, about, “well you’re just not very bright,” or, “you’re stupid. What do you know.” I thought this was terrible because the very witty and intelligent person making such comments was smart enough to not need to say this but she was just very mean. The person who was stupid in some senses was also a very nice person. In fact, she let the comment slide right off of her. She had tons of compassion, worked well, was diligent and talented in her own way. She had enough friends because she was nice.

So I learned stupidity doesn’t necessarily lose you friends, but nastiness does. The above example works for the intelligent but unwise (and spiteful person) and the stupid but wise person, who can not think beyond a certain level but learns from life’s lessons. Stupid people may not create the next world-saving device but it’s smart people who will be more likely to use it for destroying. I’m not saying that stupid people can’t do the same (George Bush is a good example of powerful stupidity) but stupidity alone does not make a person a failure.

We often laugh or shake our heads in wonderment at someone’s stupid actions, even our own. But sometimes that is a momentary thing. However, the next time you make fun of a person’s intelligence, think about why you’re doing so and if you’ve ever had a stupid moment. May we all use the smarts we have and use it well. Happy Friday.

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The Plastics Revolution

I got to thinking about plastic and  when it started to inundate the world, to the point that oceans and beaches are being clogged with bags and containers, our landfills are becoming toxic dumps and we’re looking at ways to get rid of these beasts that have a relatively long half-life.

Plastic is not found naturally in nature. Trees and even papery aspects of them in certain barks or wasp and hornet nests are. Glass in the form of a volcanic residue such as obsidian is found in nature. Sand, the basis for glass of course is. Gum and shellac were early natural plastics. Next came the chemically modified plastics starting with celluloid, developed in 1855 and was used as an ivory replacement and in photographic and movie film. But it was highly flammable. Collagen and rubber were a few of these. Later came the fully synthetic, not found anywhere in nature, plastics such as epoxy and bakelite.

I’m trying to remember the plastics of my childhood. I vaguely recall milk in glass bottles, and later waxed paper cartons. There were no plastic jugs for milk but there were for making Koolaid and other nutritious drinks like Tang. I think cottage cheese and the like might have come in waxed cardboard containers but I really don’t remember. There were the melamine dishes, often used for camping and very similar in denseness to the bakelite of old. I have one bakelite button that is put on like a buttoniere and has a screw back. I think it’s from the 30s.

There were of course plastic bags for things like bread but grocery bags were still paper. I can’t think of what we used for a garbage bag. I think it was paper and then tossed into the large green Glad bags. Saran wrap and other food wraps were around and even Ziploc bags but waxed paper and aluminum foil were just as likely.

Dolls were plastic, as were other cheap toys. But many toys were still metal. And things like shampoos, lotions, detergents seemed to always be in plastic containers of a type that could grow brittle if you had them for a couple of years. Pens and binders were always plastic too. But plastic wrapped things, shrink-wrapped items, equipment sold in blister packs or sealed in a stiff transparent plastic, those we did not have…much.

Now they’re everywhere. Plastic bags ooze out of ever garbage can. Clothing is made of recycled plastic and we worry about birds and other animals eating discarded bits of plastic or getting entangled. Vancouver is thinking of banning plastic bags. Stores would have to resort to paper or you bring your own cloth bag. The problem with banning all plastic bags is what do you use for your garbage can? Then you’d have to buy bags as opposed to re-using them. But then Vancouver is about to start curbside composting so garbage cans won’t have to be lined. But what do you pick dog poop up with?

And speaking of poop, what would happen if everyone went back to cloth diapers. Disposable (a misnomer if there ever was one) diapers cause huge strains on landfills. I remember my mother holding my little brother’s cloth diaper over the toilet and flushing the chunky bits down before tossing them in the washing machine. Many of my friends have used diaper services where you just toss soiled diapers, chunks and all, into a pail and the service deals with it all. It turns out to not be any more expensive than buying the disposables and probably better for baby’s bum too.

Look around and you’ll see how much plastic is on you or surrounding you. Plastic shoes, soles, purses, wallets, buttons, nylons, phones, furniture, etc. All of it. And most of it will take a very very long time to break down and will not add anything beneficial to the environment. Plastic like air pollution, has increased exponentially in the last century and it’s a huge problem. There are countries were you can walk the beaches for the plastics and animals are dying, at the rate of extinction for some. Next time you buy those prepackaged handy lunch packs in a plastic container and then shrink wrapped, ask if there would be a better way to do this, such as buying or making something in bulk and having reusable containers that you can use over and over. I think it’s more pervasive than we realize and is a large contributor to what’s causing our overflowing and toxic landfills.

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Mutants Are Among Us

If you never read the X-Men comics (I grew up on them), then you might at least have seen or heard of the X-Men with one of the recent movies that have come out, the last one being Wolverine (and why they had to make him choose to be Canadian, from the US, as opposed to being Canadian as in the original comics, I’ll never know). In those comics, most of the mutants’ mutations give them a power, to destroy or create, or hold forces at bay.

Sure there are a few unfortunate mutants whose power drives them mad or makes them unsightly and this was portrayed in the X-Men most commonly with the Morlocks who lived underground in the sewer systems. They weren’t pretty and their mutations weren’t always useful. And of course there were those evil mutants and the government mutant hunters, out to get both sides.

Well, it may come as a surprise to many people but there are more mutants among us than we know. A mutation is a deviation from the norm. In biology it means an organism that has characteristics resulting from chromosomal alteration. In genetics it refers to any event that changes genetic structure.

So, in essence, a genetic defect is a mutation. As I learned years ago in anthropology, it is rare for a mutation to be beneficial. Eventually, if enough of a population mutates, the change becomes part of the normal physiology. And usually it’s an adaptation that increases the chances of survival (such as camouflage coloring). That’s as far as I’m going to wander into the world of genetics.

But as for mutants, not only do I know a few but I too am a mutant. Yes, I’m waiting for my spandex outfit to come from Charles Xavier, leader of the X-Men, though I fear I might be more likely to join the ranks of the Morlocks.

I actually have several mutations. The major one, that we found out about when I was in the hospital at age 9 with a kidney infection, was that I have four normal, perfectly formed kidneys. They call it a duplex system.  The benefits: well obviously if one goes down I have others to spare, and I can filter more impurities. I think I can filter booze more but I have still managed to get drunk. And for anyone saying, why don’t you donate a kidney, I have a few reasons. I do not handle anesthetic well and every time I’ve had to go under it gets worse. As well a kidney operation is a pretty major surgery and with the rate that Canadian hospitals are infecting people with residual germs and bacteria, I am truly afraid to go into a hospital.

I also have an extra rib, which is quite useless and in fact can cause me pain. If I’m driving for three hours or more the rib will tend to push against my soft tissue and make it sore. It can even happen if I’m sitting in bed and have not positioned myself right. My last mutation is that I have an extra ankle bone in each foot. My podiatrist says that really it’s bones that didn’t fuse when I was a child. They have no benefit or detriment that I can determine.

So, those ares my mutations but I’m not the only one. My sister was thought to have three kidneys but it’s three ureters that she has. I have another friend with five kidneys and I work with someone who has an extra bone in her foot. My landlady has extra muscles in her foot and she was once a dancer. The thing is, we often don’t find out about our mutations unless we injure ourselves or are sick and tests are done. So who knows, you could be a mutant too.

Tom Cruise is a mutant. Yes, we all knew that but he has a physical deformity that in worst cases cause the brain, during development, to not separate into two lobes. Cruise’s is fairly mnor but if you look at his smile you’ll notice he has only one front tooth. It’s called holoprosencephaly if you want to look it up.

As to mutations that give us special abilities, I’d gladly trade in the rib for levitation or controlling the elements. Even if my rib was Adam’s Rib, maybe I could detect all liars and then get a job in the courts. But nah, I’m stuck with the super filtering system of the kidneys and just a pain in my rib from time to time. Maybe in the future, as we mutate to adapt to our polluted, additive laden environment, we’ll get real powers, but I’m not holding my breath.

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From Kyoto to Copenhagen: Will it Make a Difference?

In 1998 when I was researching fuel-efficient cars for Technocopia.com I came across the Kyoto Protocol. Already in place it was an agreement between developed countries to try and lower emissions to 20% less of 1990 standards by 2005. This amount varied depending on the country.

Each industrialized country that was initially included in the discussions was to ratify the agreement. Ratification means that they confirm their committment to or give official sanction to something. In 1997  it was adopted, and ratified in various countries over the next eight years. During that time Bush came into power and based on the advice of his Exxon comrades (that the US State Department thanked for their input into  climate change policy) did not ratify the Protocol. Uh, right. Neither did the previous Clinton government, nor Obama to date.

Once ratified the member countries would be responsible to uphold their commitment for lowering emissions and I suppose, be fined if they didn’t meet them; but by which regulating body, I’m not sure. After all, the US has gone many years without paying its United Nations dues so if there are no teeth, how do countries live up to the Protocol’s agreement? You would think because it is the right thing to do, that it could save the planet and the future health of millions.

Canada took a long time to ratify the Protocol and it took effect in February 2005. Most countries have agreed to lower their emissions by a certain percentage to below what they were in 1990. For Canada, that would be 6%. However, in the US and Canada, emissions have risen between 21-28% in recent years. That’s a whole lot more of a concern on the health of people and the continuation of many species that we depend on for nutrition and are becoming toxic to us and themselves. And that means decreasing emissions by some 30-odd percent to pre-1990 standards.

If all these countries were already aware of emission issues, then how could they let emissions rise? Because there is money in it. It is shown today that most emissions are coming from factories and agriculture. Cars actually trail behind that but they are a huge contributing factor to the overall air quality. In the past ten years we saw the advent of bigger SUVs, Hummers and trucks, which were exempt from the same emission standards as cars, because those big vehicles are farm vehicles? Right, all these people in the cities probably haven’t even seen a farm but this was a loophole for vehicle manufactures and if you buy that monster, macho status symbol, you’ll get a break in climate taxes and the manufacturers make more money. Europe’s has had tiny cars (like the Smart Car) for a very long time but the big car and oil companies were happy to have us squander money and resources.

The US being one of the most significant countries to not sign and ratify the Kyoto Protocol said it was because developing countries were not being held to the same standards as the industrialized countries. So instead of making some in-roads and setting a good impression by example, they decided to play the “it’s not fair” game. They whined that China did not even have to control their emissions although China has now become the biggest greenhouse gas emitter. However, it’s not that simple. Per capita, the US still emits more per person than China. Yet China and India, which between them hold a third of the world’s population must also take some responsibility.

It’s not a matter of you go first in this though. If every country doesn’t pitch in, the world is going to go down hard and we’ll all be eating soy to the end of our days, if we’re lucky. The highest emission continent is that of North America, with Canada also showing shameful controls on emissions. The Harper government started out with a plan, when they needed the votes. That’s when they admitted the environment was in trouble. But since then a minister of the environment announced that Canada had no hope of meeting its Kyoto Protocol committment and Harper has cut the funding towards such work.

In the meantime, other governments within Canada continue to look at ways to tax the individuals when it’s the corporations (including vehicle manufacturers) who are most responsible. Individuals may need to pay a bit of tax but not the continual onslaught. The government needs to bring out other ways of helping and healing the environment and that’s lacking a great deal. Raising the climate taxes on gas guzzling vehicles more would help. Yes tax money could go towards programs but I’d like to hear more about the programs and innovations such as hybrid buses and Smart cars for government employees who use a car on the job.

And Copenhagen? Well I predict that Harper will stall and refuse to change; that the US, despite Obama’s promise of change, will continue to stall on getting involved, just as they did in WWII. But they’ll still want everyone to play by their game. Will it help? Only if the countries truly commit. This should have been started fifty years ago, let alone twenty. And here we are taking ten years to ratify an agreement and maybe get around to it in another fifteen years.

I’d like to believe we’ll see change and that we can all pull together but I have seen too much obfuscation and political maneuvering of the things that matter by various governments to believe that anyone will take it to where it needs to go. And as our children’s lifespans shorten and more people get allergies, asthma and other conditions, and as many species die or contain toxins so virulent they’ll kill us, we’ll start to live in the cautionary tale of our science fiction writers. I really hope it won’t be a reality but I’m still waiting to see real change.

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