Tag Archives: Research

Vokhtan calendar – complete

This is the final version of the Vokhtan calendar. It shows the interactions between the two suns and the planet with respect to seasons [roughly] and the day/night cycle [also roughly].

For the days, I made an executive decision and decreed that the Vokhtan day would comprise 24 ‘turns’. I chose the number 24 because I needed to dissect a circle into ‘wedges’ of time. Now, a circle has 365 degrees and a ‘wedge’ of 15.2 degrees goes into 365 almost exactly 24 times. This is something Corel Draw does very easily:

Now, when I place these wedges of time over the visuals of the planet, I get a kind of clock that tells me how many turns of bright light, red light, orange light and dark there are in the day at different times of the year:

Bright light = yellow sun Takh alone in the sky.

Red light = red dwarf, Takhti, alone in the sky.

Orange light = both suns in the sky at the same time.

Dark = truedark, i.e. when neither sun is in the sky.

This is a representation of a day in the middle of Piihoh. The red dwarf is completely eclipsed, so Vokhtah has just a simple, day/night cycle:

This next graphic is from the middle of Tohoh:

The day begins with almost 2 turns of Takh [yellow star] alone in the sky [because the planet rotates to the east]. Then Takhti rises and creates an orangey kind of light. When Takh sets, Takhti is alone in the sky for a couple of turns and it’s like a red twilight. When Takhti finally sets, truedark begins.

This next graphic is what the Vokh see in the middle of Kohoh – half red twilight, half bright yellow day, no truedark:

And finally, the graphic from the middle of Tuhoh. This is a mirror image of the same time during Tohoh but…this time, it’s the red dwarf that ‘rises’ first [because the planet rotates to the east]. It’s alone in the sky for a couple of turns and the inhabitants experience a red, gloomy morning. Then Takh [yellow sun] rises to brighten the gloom. At the end of the day, Takh shines alone. When Takh sets, truedark begins:

So there you have it. Time on Vokhtah has been tamed. Most days start with firstlight, progress to secondlight, peak at midlight, dim with firstdark and end with truedark. Middark is the halfway point of any dark cycle, while deepdark is the ‘dead of night’ and corresponds to the time between middark and firstlight.

Was all this work worth it, given that it was all based on guesswork?

Yes, for me, because I’ve never been good at ‘fudging’ things, and I desperately needed to know what Takh and Takhti might feel like, to a creature living on the planet.

Why didn’t I just get an astronomer to help me?

Because I don’t know any, and none of the websites I visited had what I was looking for. So I made my own. 🙂

As this post is more for my benefit than yours, I’ve turned comments off. 🙂

cheers

Meeks


Sainte Anne, psychiatric hospital in Paris

I’ve been researching psychiatric conditions because the story of P7698 starts with two Innerscape Residents needing treatment. One of them is Keith Marsden, a minor but charming character who appeared in both ‘Miira’ and ‘Nabatea’.

Anyway, the Residents respond better to therapy when it occurs in a hospital setting so suddenly, I needed a mental hospital. As Keith Marsden lives in Paris, it seemed reasonable to start my search there. And boy did I hit pay dirt!

The link below leads to an article with lots of pictures of this amazing hospital, right in the heart of Paris. Not only is it an utterly beautiful place, it’s a good hospital too. If you read the history, you’ll realise that much of modern psychiatry originated at Sainte Anne:

https://www.cherrychapman.com/2014/05/05/sainte-anne-psychiatric-hospital-in-paris-a-hidden-sanctuary-of-nature-and-art/

For those who don’t want to read it all, here are some pictures. First up a map showing Paris:

By ThePromenader at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1753317

The thick brown line denotes the original arrondissements of Paris. Within that shape, the area shaded in dark orange is the 14th arrondissement where Sainte Anne is located.

The next picture is of one of the old buildings. The campus is huge.

This pic gives you some idea of the gardens too. Back when there were no treatments for psychiatric conditions, patients were encouraged to work in the gardens – fresh air, sunshine, purpose, exercise. These days we’d call it occupational therapy.

Anyway, the setting is superb and gives me a great location to work with.

Happy Weekend!

Meeks

 


New tech…rebuilding teeth

As someone who has had more root canal treatments than she cares to remember, this new tech is very close to my heart gum indeed. 😉

Okay, jokes aside, researchers have come up with a way of doing root canal treatments that may allow the dental pulp inside the tooth to re-grow. If the dental pulp does regrow, it radically cuts down the likelihood of re-infection later on.

Watch this video for an overview:

If you want to know more, you can read the entire article on New Atlas

As an ageing sci-fi tragic with temperamental teeth and a phobia about dentists, I can see this treatment totally revolutionising dentistry. Instead of a mouthful of fillings, or those awful, fake choppers, maybe we’ll all have a mouthful of bio-identical teeth.

Bring it on, I say!

Meeks

 


Autism – nature PLUS nurture?

‘A new study is offering a clue into the origins of the disorder by finding a single dysfunctional protein may be responsible for coordinating expression in all the genes that result in autism susceptibility.’

I took that quote from an article on autism research published by New Atlas. I strongly recommend reading the entire article but the gist is that:

  1. Researchers have found hundreds of genes implicated in the Autism Disorder spectrum, not just one ‘master’ gene.
  2. These genes are like switches that can be turned on or off.
  3. While these genes are ‘off’, the person may have a tendency towards autism, but they will not be autistic – i.e. there will be no symptoms of autism.
  4. There is a protein called CPEB4 which ‘…is vital in embryonic development, assisting with neuroplasticity and helping regulate the expression of certain genes during fetal brain development.’ In other words, this is a good protein.
  5. In mouse models, not enough of this protein leads to brain structures and behaviours that are characteristic of autism. In other words, the lack of this protein causes those autism-related genes to be switched on and the result is Autism-like behaviour.

Now, mouse models are just an approximation of the human condition, but they do lend support to the idea that autism is not just a genetic condition/disorder. Instead, it may well be a case of environment acting on an underlying pre-disposition. And if that is the case, then maybe one day we’ll be able to keep those Autism related genes switched off.

Have a great weekend,

Meeks

 


Intergenerational care – the way of the future, I hope

At 65, I have no intention of shuffling off to an aged-care facility any time soon, but the mere threat of ending my days in one makes me shiver. You see, I’ve visited a few, and even the best are waiting rooms for the last train.

Here in Australia, in-home care is becoming a buzz word, but even if the idea gets the funding it needs and actually takes off, it won’t solve the problem of loneliness. And it won’t solve the problem of the frail, not-so-very-old who need the kind of care that only a nursing home can provide.

I was chatting with online friend, Sue Vincent, about the prospect of robots being used in aged care when Sue pointed me to this link:

http://theconversation.com/combining-daycare-for-children-and-elderly-people-benefits-all-generations-70724

The article opened my eyes to research that’s being done into how best to combine care for the bookend generations – i.e. the very young and the very old.

This is the bit that did it for me:

‘After we filmed our documentary, one lady who attended the care facility told me that you don’t think about your age when you are in the company of young children. The little ones brought a new sense of vibrancy and fun to the centre, and the focus was no longer on watching time pass but on living in the moment.’ [emphasis is mine].

Not every older person is going to want to have direct contact with young children – all mothers know how tiring toddlers can be – but there are so many other things an older person could do behind the scenes to make together-time fun.

I know because I do some of this behind the scenes stuff at one of the community houses at which I volunteer. They have a small day care centre run by dedicated staff who never have enough hours in the day to prepare all the little things needed for the childrens’ activities. I’ve made countless lumps of playdoh, cut out pictures, squeezed easter eggs into tiny knitted ‘chickens’ [created by yet more volunteers], wrapped Christmas presents, helped with fund-raising raffles…the list goes on and on.

My point is that helping behind the scenes, at one’s own pace, can be just as satisfying as doing one-on-one with the kids themselves. Why? Because it gives older people a sense of purpose, a reason to ‘get up in the morning’.

In my humble opinion, having a sense of purpose is what we all need to ‘live in the moment’.

-hugs-

Meeks


Sometimes I surprise even myself…

Apologies if I’ve been less visible of late, but I’ve started writing again, and that tends to give me tunnel vision. The story I’m writing is the long delayed, next chapter of the Vokhtah saga.

The story of my psychopathic hermaphrodites languished for four years while I wrote Innerscape, but now they’re back, and I’ve had to re-acquaint myself with their world all over again. Part of that process was to do a backwards outline of the original story, and that’s where this post comes in. I’d actually forgotten that I wrote this preface to the Vokhtan to English dictionary:

Due to the radical differences between Vokh and human physiology, this sound guide is an approximation only. Where humans speak by forcing air past their vocal chords and then shape the resultant sound in the mouth, the Vokh and iVokh use their mouths for eating only. Their lungs are located in their wings, and they inhale and exhale through hundreds of small cilia on the leading edges of their wings, by-passing the mouth entirely. Thus the sounds they produce are akin to the multiple sounds produced by a pipe organ. Even pure sounds have a resonance human speakers cannot match.

Adding to the difficulty of accurately representing the Vokhtan language is the native speakers’ habit of deliberately distorting their speech with ‘chords’, in order to convey tone and inflection. Harmonious ‘chords’ – like the major 5th in human music – denote agreement, pleasure, delight etc. Discords, on the other hand, can imply a range of emotions from disbelief to contempt. Yet despite the musical quality of Vokhtan, neither the Vokh nor the iVokh have ever developed the concept of music.

Vokhtan for human speakers is further complicated by the fact that the spoken language also includes an array of scent cues produced in glands at the base of each cilia. These scent cues are aspirated with certain audible sounds to form a combined sound/scent amalgam. For example, in the word ‘Vokh’ the ‘h’ at the end represents both the sound of the aspiration, and the scent denoting respect or admiration, something humans are incapable of reproducing.

Please keep these difficulties in mind when attempting to speak Vokhtan.

lol – I really did spend a lot of time thinking about the Vokh and the iVokh. From 2004 to 2012 to be exact. There was so much to discover about them. I mean, they all have sharp claws, right, even the much smaller, less aggressive iVokh. But sharp, pointed claws tend to get in the way when you’re not killing something, so how were the iVokh supposed to craft anything?

The ladies reading this post will immediately recognize the problem of nails that stick out half an inch past the end of your fingers. So how did the iVokh manage? By doing what we do, of course. They squared off the tips of their claws. But wait…how would they have cut their claws? Clearly they would need tools of some kind. Not scissors, no, but something like a small nail file perhaps. Except that nail files don’t grow on bushes. The iVokh would need Smiths to make the nail files, and the Smiths would need metal of some sort…

And so it went. Every idea came with its own baggage of pre-requisites, and each day of writing revealed some new discovery. It was an exciting time, but that was then. Now, I have to relearn all these tiny, yet important details so I don’t make any horrible mistakes, like saying that one iVokh punched another.

The iVokh certainly fight, but not with a clenched fist. Why? Two physiological reasons:

  1. Even with their claws blunted, striking with a clenched fist would drive the claws into their own palms, and
  2. Both iVokh and Vokh hands are quite weak in comparison to the rest of their bodies. They do have opposable thumbs, but they only have two fingers, and those fingers are long and spindly. A punch would probably break the whole hand.

And these are the little things that I have to learn all over again. If anyone’s interested, I’ve been trying to do a graphic of the hand. Still very much a work-in-progress, but here it is:

cheers

Meeks

 


#science – the best discoveries are often accidental

The modern world is built from materials our cavewoman ancestors could never have imagined – just think silicon and plastics. But now, thanks to 3D printing, and research into graphene, MIT scientists have discovered a powerful new geometry that will change our world yet again. You see, the geometry that can turn 2D graphene into a usable 3D form works just as well on other materials such as steel and concrete:

To me, however, the most fascinating part of this discovery is that it came about as the by-product of research into something else. Like Marie Curie, who discovered polonium and radium while researching uranium, the MIT scientists did not realise all the other uses for the geometry until after they had created it for graphene.

3D Graphene may or may not become the next you-beaut material, but the geometry used to create it will become the next ‘great thing’. Why? Because it will reduce the cost of manufacturing common materials while simultaneously increasing their strength. Imagine a single span of concrete ‘foam’ that’s capable of bridging an entire river, or cars that can protect their occupants from even the worst of crashes. Or, my personal favourite, how about a dome capable of covering an entire city?

Domes have been a favourite device of science fiction writers for a very long time. We’ve imagined them on distant planets, protecting human colonists from all sorts of dangers. Planet X has a toxic atmosphere? No problem. Just pop up a dome and away you go. Planet Y is an ocean world? Still no problem as domes can be built on the sea bed.

But why travel to distant star systems when domes could be used right here on Earth, to protect us from runaway pollution and climate change?

Unfortunately, the technology to actually build such huge, unsupported domes simply has not existed…until now [maybe].All that’s needed for this next ‘great leap forward’ is the development of manufacturing grade 3D printers capable of producing such materials in quantity.

Given how quickly 3D printers have gone from cutting-edge curiosities to mass produced, ‘domestic’ products, I don’t think we’ll have long to wait.

So excited!

Meeks


When science meets fiction, and they have a love-child

Vuk picMy thanks to the Passive Guy for highlighting the following article in the Guardian.

http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2015/jan/21/real-science-science-fiction-sf-scholar

The article talks about the symbiosis that exists between hard science, and the speculative, highly imaginative and sometimes unlikely stories we weave from it.

I count myself as one of the ‘we’ even though most of my formal education was in the humanities – philosophy and languages to be precise. But before I began my arts course, my favourite subject at school was biology. Sadly I was not so fond of math, and no one told me you needed both to take biology past year one level at uni. so… -sigh-

Just because I could no longer study biology did not mean I stopped being interested in it. I continued to read layman’s articles in the area for years [thank you New Scientist!]. And that interest manifested itself in every weird and wonderful creature in Vokhtah, including the Vokh themselves.

Did you know that there is a species of worm that is essentially an hermaphrodite? When these worms mate, they literally duel with their penises to determine which becomes the sperm donor, and which the donee [?].

I swear, I did not make that up! It was one of the many, many things I researched before I created the Vokh. In fact research is the core link between scientists and writers because a world, no matter how imaginative, has to follow rules, plausible rules, otherwise it becomes fantasy not science fiction.

For example, although there are some elements of Vokhtah that are more ‘fantasy’ than anything else, [the power to heal, for example] I did spend months researching what my creatures would see when day changed to night, and one sun followed the other across the sky. I knew very little about binary star systems, and even the scientists could not tell me precisely how two suns would affect things like weather, and the day/night cycle, so the Vokh calendar is very speculative indeed. But I did try.

Other, ‘softer’ areas of knowledge informed my writing as well. Hungarian is my so-called mother tongue, and I studied French and Japanese at uni, along with a smattering of Mandarin and Spanish, so it was almost inevitable that I would get carried away with the Vokh language.

At first, I only wanted a few alien sounding names so I drew on Hungarian for the name ‘Vokh’. The word was based on ‘Vuk’, the name of a popular child’s toy in Hungary. That’s what the cute picture up the top is all about. You were wondering, weren’t you? -smirk-

Once started, however, I could not seem to stop and ended up with a Vokh to English dictionary-slash-encyclopedia.

Yet more research went into cross-over technologies such as blacksmithing and hunting. [Some of you may remember my post about the Poacher’s Knot in which I talked about hunting methods and very simple snares.]

But I digress, badly. My point in all this is that you don’t have to be a scientist to write science fiction, [although many, like Isaac Asimov were]. I believe the only necessary qualification for a science fiction writer is the need to know how things, and people tick.

-cough- Or in my case, how sociopathic, flying hermaphrodites tick. -cough-

Happy Australia Day!

Meeks

P.S.!!!! I just found my 13th review of Vokhtah on Amazon. -dance-


Real stats about online harassment

We all know that statistics can be twisted to prove just about anything, so the first thing I do when I stumble across any research is to check its provenance [as much as possible]. In this case, the stats relating to online harassment come from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. They claim that they take “…no positions on policy issues related to the internet”. I’m not sure I’d accept that statement at face value from any organisation, but in this instance, I can’t see the point of any bias.

In terms of accuracy, I’d be more inclined to question the survey technique itself as it relies on ‘self assessment’ rather than some kind of objective observation. Nonetheless, with a large enough sample size, statistical trends about what we think we feel/know/experience tend to be more accurate.

Gah, enough caveats; on to the data itself. You can find the full report on the Pew Research Centre website :

http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/10/22/online-harassment/

For me, the points that made little bells go off in my head were these :

“Fully 92% of internet users agreed that the online environment allows people to be more critical of one another, compared with their offline experiences. But a substantial majority, 68%, also agreed that online environments allow them to be more supportive of one another. Some 63% thought online environments allow for more anonymity than in their offline lives.”

The researchers do not connect the dots, but I find it hard not to do so. Anonymity is the digital equivalent of wearing a mask, or a balaclava; it allows us to indulge the parts of ourselves we usually hide.

In the real world, we have to be diplomatic in order to get on with others in our families, friendship groups, work groups etc. Online, however, anonymity allows us to vent the thoughts and feelings we usually censor. Why? Because we can get away with it.

By the same token, people who do not hide behind anonymous identities online may feel the need to be ‘nicer’ than they might be in real life. Why? Because their online reputation filters back to real life, and no one wants to be seen as ‘nasty’ or ‘selfish’.

[Does that mean I’m nastier in real life than online? Gawd, I hope not, but I probably wouldn’t admit to it even if it were true…]

Whether your views on human nature are as cynical as mine, one thing does stand out from the data – there is an awful lot of nastiness going on. Have a look at this graph:

anonymity stats 2

 

Now I don’t want to flog a dead horse, but the scale of the problems caused by anonymity really is huge. And we have to do something about it.

Given how inventive we humans can be, I hope that we can bring civilisation to the internet whilst still protecting those who genuinely do need to remain anonymous, but long term, our behaviour must have consequences or we’ll destroy the very thing that makes the internet so wonderful.

My thanks to the Passive Guy for spreading the word about this research.

cheers

Meeks

 

 

 

 

 


Eltham Gateway Deathtrap – important bushfire information.

I don’t think it will surprise any of you to know I’m paranoid about bushfire. What you may not know is that even I can be surprised. In a bad way.

The link below will take you to a very well thought out, well researched document about the extreme bushfire danger threatening not just the Warrandyte area, but also the far more built up suburbs to the west and north of Warrandyte. I’m talking Eltham, Research, Diamond Creek etc.

http://www.elthamsdeathtrap.com/

The reason these areas are in such danger was illustrated not long ago when an out of control grass fire threatened new housing estates in Epping, a northern suburb of Melbourne.  Epping and surrounding areas are poorly serviced by through roads. When the bushfire alerts went out, the roads leading away from the path of the fire became gridlocked. Not only could residents not evacuate safely, the fire services were having trouble getting to the fire. It was a disaster waiting to happen.

In my area, the danger is complicated by the fact that the Yarra River literally cuts us off from the suburbs to the south, and there are just two narrow bridges crossing the river. One bridge chokes the north-south exit from Eltham,  while the other is 13 kms to the east at Warrandyte. My bridge chokes the east-west exit.

As I live in Warrandyte, I have known about the danger posed by that east-west bridge for years, but it was not until I read the Eltham Gateway document that I realised we were pincered between two bridges and the river. Have a close look at the CFA map if you don’t believe me.

The worst fires always come from the northwest. That means people have to evacuate to the south. But the river is in the way. Can you imagine the chaos, and loss of life, if a bushfire like Black Saturday forced us to flee across either of those bridges?

I can, and the image of mangled, burnt out cars lining the roads to these bridges scares me to death.

Even if you think you know all about the possible dangers, please, PLEASE read this document. It is quite long but worth reading, especially for those who plan to evacuate in case of danger. Leaving at the last minute may not be possible, and even leaving early-ish may be more dangerous than you know.

Stay safe

Meeks

 

 


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