Volcano in Slow Motion – a poem by Kate Rauner

The Goddess Pele by Arthur Johnsen for Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

The Goddess Pele by Arthur Johnsen for Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

Evacuate! Emergency!
But there’s no rush for those who flee
This lava flowing to the sea
Since nineteen hundred eighty three,
Its edge is marked by burning trees.
No one will die, thankfully.
Walk away from this calamity.
The Goddess Pele’s Hawaii’s
Built for herself, not you or me.

There seem to be a lot of volcano stories this year, including Kilauea’s Pu’O O’O crater venting lava towards homes – for example: LiveScience.com

Like Houdini, James Randi Entertains and Debunks Frauds

Randi is famous for debunking psychic frauds who bend flatware

Randi is famous for debunking psychic frauds who bend flatware

I love magic – real magic done by slight of hand and misdirection, not camera tricks. There have been several TV shows recently that revealed some of the tricks of the magic trade. Penn & Teller are well known for this, and for their dislike of bullshit.

Now there’s a documentary coming out about the Amazing (James) Randi, a venerable magician who, like the famous magician Houdini, has been debunking psychics and frauds for decades. There’s a challenge on his site randi.org offering a million dollars to anyone who can prove something paranormal. Randi’s team has evaluated claims of psychic powers, ESP, dowsing, magnetic humans, astrology, faith healing, and more. He says that scientists are ill-prepared to evaluate such claims – you need a magician to catch a magician; or a well-meaning person who has fooled themselves. As Richard Feynman said, “the first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.” So far no one has claimed the prize, but it will truly be amazing if someone does – a breath-taking surprise to science. I’d love to see that, but sadly, so far, the paranormal is home to superstition.


James Randi

It may be harmless entertainment to read your horoscope every day, but superstition can cause harm, can even kill. What intentional frauds do is immoral, sometimes illegal, so I applaud Randi. But I do disagree with him on one point. He says, people don’t really want to know how a magic trick is done, it bums them out. Not me – I am even more amazed when I see how I have been tricked (I’m always tricked – I can never figure out magic), and still enjoy seeing the trick again. I can love magic, science fiction, and fantasy, and yet live in the real world. Reality, after all, is pretty amazing. Besides, no matter how hard you believe, reality always wins.

I don’t see the release details yet, but watch for the documentary. StrictlyDocs.com

BTW – Penn and Teller have a new TV show on the SyFy channel: Wizard Wars which promises to take “viewers behind the scenes of magic by challenging a new team of magicians each week to create the most jaw-dropping illusions.” The episodes I’ve seen so far make me realize that magicians spend a lot of time perfecting their routines – and the show doesn’t allow them that time. But I’ll keep watching.

Penn & Teller

Penn & Teller


You Are a Zoo – a poem by Kate Rauner

You are home to millionsgerm-virus-md
More microbe cells than yours.
A human microbiome,
The normal flora forms.
You grow your unique garden
In skin and gut and hair.
The most obsessed collectorgerm-virus-md2
Simply can’t compare.
Ten thousand species strong,
Four pounds of life inside.
They crowd out nasty pathogens,
Even detoxify.

Fun microbe fact: the average healthy adult has 10 times as many microbial cells as human cells. There’s lots of information on harmless and symbiotic microbes that we humans are healthier for housing. Try LiveScience.com or blog.ted.com

Thanks to Clker.com for the illustrations.germ-virus-md4

Can Someone With Low EQ Write?

nerd-science-guy-mdEQ is Emotional Quotient, or Emotional Intelligence: “the ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.”

That’s a definition meant for me. Women are supposed to have lots of EQ – but not all of us do.

I like to think of myself as a goal oriented team player, but not everyone sees me that way. I can be startled when someone is upset with me – I wasn’t feeling upset or angry. My college room mate once didn’t speak to me for two weeks and I never did understand why.

Low EQ hasn’t stopped me from having a good life. I became an engineer and found friends just as pitiful in the EQ department as I am. I married an engineer. I was lured into writing fiction by a friend – I love to read, so it should be fun to write, right?

I find a lot of entertainment to be overwrought, which probably is part of why science fiction attracts me. It tends to require that I “integrate emotion to facilitate thought” less.

Bernadette on "The Big Bang Theory." Somebody loves a nerd.

Bernadette on “The Big Bang Theory.” Somebody loves a nerd.


That doesn’t mean I’m a robot. I “feel” my characters, and I want to share that feeling. But the engineer in me believes in learning, in analysis. So I like this post at http://critters.org/rel/rel.ht:

“Better” SF stories pay more attention to characters’ inter-personal relationships [than ordinary science fiction].”

The post scores large numbers of books on the “interpersonal relationships” of the characters. Out of a possible 100 perfect score that makes Oprah fans cry:

  • Science fiction/fantasy overall scores an average of 22.5.
  • Award winning/famous science fiction scores 30
  • Ordinary science fiction scores 15
  • For comparison, non-genre mainstream fiction scores 55

The scoring is explained, there’s a link to all the book titles and scores, and even a discussion of statistics. Hot damn!

(I scored my first novel and it was a bit above average. But maybe scoring my own book is circular.)

What do you think? What’s a low EQ author to do?

Oh, wait – hang on – let me add…

smiley face





(That’s supposed to be ironic. Did I get it? Did I?)

PS from 9/7/2014: I’ve gotten a lot of “views” on this posting – but no comments. What do you think? Am I doomed?

Science Defeated – a poem by Kate Rauner

No experiment is a failurebiohazard_sign_jean-chri_01.svg.med
Unless the data’s lost.
But science fails daily
And we pay the cost.
Why should you share results
If you paid the bill?
Why publish any finding
That won’t help to sell your pills?
‘Cause when the field’s medicine
Withholding has a cost,
A price that every patient pays
In health or money lost.
You have an obligation,
To an ethic you are bound.
Science only prospers
When you publish what you’ve found.

I’m enough of a libertarian to believe my rights are equal to those of a corporation. Europe is ahead of America here. Below are three links to videos from AllTrials Campaign (alltrials@senseaboutscience.org or use #AllTrials) on why we urgently need all clinical trials registered and the results reported.

Withholding results costs lives – The results of a 1980s clinical trial on heart drug Lorcainide were never published. Doctors didn’t know that more people died in the trial who were given Lorcainide than who were taking the placebo. It has been estimated that over 100,000 people died avoidably because they were prescribed drugs in the same class.

Doctors are being misled – Dr Ben Goldacre prescribed the antidepressant Reboxetine for a patient but says he was “misled.” Results from trials which showed it was worse than other drugs were withheld, while the smaller number of trials which showed it worked better were published.

Medicine is broken – The UK Government has spent £424 million stockpiling Tamiflu, an anti-flu treatment, but we still don’t know if this treatment works any better than placebo. Regulators weren’t given information from all the clinical trials done on Tamiflu. The manufacturers of Tamiflu didn’t break any laws by withholding the information.

On Writing – A Memoir Of The Craft

On WritingI have tried my hand at writing fiction, so perhaps you’ll allow me a self-indulgent review: Stephen King’s book On Writing.

He defines stories as “vividly imagined waking dreams,” a form of telepathy between writer and reader over time and space. He also notes that “most books about writing [fiction] are filled with bullshit… shorter the book, the less the bullshit.”

The first seventy pages (of a two-hundred page book) talk about his life, mostly childhood and early influences. He started submitting short stories to magazines in his teens, when a few hand-written words on a form-letter rejection were cause for celebration. King thinks this is still the way to get started, especially to get an agent: get your stories published by little outlets (that may only pay in copies of their magazine); that’s how you build your credentials. (I should point out that the book has a copyright of 2000, so King’s advice pre-dates the recent boom in self-publishing, especially of ebooks.)

It’s a nice introduction to King’s style, but I must admit that, anxious to get to his writing advice, I skimmed much of it.

I’m going to include a lot of King’s specific advice; because I’m sure you’re more interested in his opinions than in mine. Continue reading