Climate change threatens NASA

NASA’s decision to put its facilities on oceanfront property is proving foolhardy in this era of Climate Change.

Writing Fantasy—Where Those Ideas Come From

This blog is mainly for relating news of the fantastic and seemingly magical things that go on in our world and the universe. However, I’ve been asked to write about my own work with fantasy fiction, as well. So from time to time, I’ll write about how I go about writing fantasy, which I base in the current world. (I don’t do sword and sorcery writing.)

The thing most people ask me is where I get my ideas. I’m not sure why they ask this, because everyone comes up with ideas in unique ways. Some just have flashes of brilliance, others do research for years. I’m in between the researcher and flash-of-insight kind of writer. For my first book with the Story Plant, The God’s Wife, I had done years of reading on ancient Egyptian culture and religion. In the midst of all this reading (which was done for


my own enjoyment), I discovered that there was a type of ancient priestess in the early dynasties, the 18th Dynasty, and in New Kingdom,  called the God’s Wife of Amun. She was supposed to be the earthly wife of Amun or Amun-Re, who was the chief god of the leading triad of gods during the New Kingdom and then later in the waning years of the Egyptian civilization. (Egyptian religion is so complicated that books have been written trying to describe it, but just accept that Amun was the top dog.)

I also traveled to Egypt, when it was safe, with John Anthony West, who lead an extraordinary tour of the pyramids, Sphinx, and great temples. I did research over there too. Plus I learned what the land was like, how the Nile smelled (surprisingly sweet), and how ancient Egyptians depicted themselves in artwork.

Because the God’s Wife was married to the head god, she trumped all the male priests in the temple. Some Egyptologists contend that she was second in power to the Pharaoh, because religion and government were the same in that era. She often came from the Pharaoh’s family.

Also. earlier I had seen a Polish movie, “The Double Life of Veronique” by director Krzystof Kieslowski, translated into English. I was fascinated by this tale of two women who shared the same soul. I decided to make my fictional God’s Wife share a single soul with a contemporary-era Chicago dancer who is to dance the lead in a production of “Aida,” based in ancient Egypt. I leave it up to the reader to figure out how this can be (although I hint strongly a the parallel universe theory). Eventually, they have to merge.

In retrospect, I wish I had put the single soul concept in my promotional material, because many people didn’t understand the dual plot. I did change my Amazon description to make this clearer.

For “Dateline: Atlantis” I read so much about the fabled disappeared continent (or large series of islands) that I don’t know where to start. The idea just grew in my head about a reporter who discovers an underwater world and the romance, murder, detective work, and near deadly underwater encounter all grew out of that. Some plots just do themselves.

I must give special credit to Graham Hancock’s many books about the possibilities of pre-Ice Age civilization as my guiding lights. Hancock, a real reporter, stood out from some of the loonies who wrote strange. unbelievable books on Atlantis. For my next writing project, Hancock is an  influence again, and the story involves, somewhat, a killer comet heading towards earth.

My books are published by the Story Plant, a great, innovative, independent publishing company,

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DNA tests may answer Machu Picchu questions


Machu Picchu is a traveler’s dream destination. Standing 8,000 feet above sea level, the ancient Incan monument is one of Peru’s most beautiful locations. However, although archeologists estimate it was built in the 15th century, they have no idea what Machu Picchu was intended to be—palace, temple, settlement, resting plot for the dead?

The building, which goes up the side of a mountain, is a technical marvel because the huge stones used to build Machu Picchu are fitted together without mortar, yet you cannot fit a piece of paper between the blocks. There are also steeped terraces that not only provided spaces for planting but also guarded against flooding.

Using ancient DNA gathered from 170 individuals who are buried at the Peruvian site, Dr. Brenda Bradley, associate professor of anthropology at George Washington University, and a team of researchers have been analyzing the genomes of the skeletal remains to try to understand who the residents were and from where they came. Back in 1911, Hiram Bingham studied the “lost city of the Incas,” (so-called because the Incans abandoned the site in the 16th century). He dug up many bones and relics, which were housed at the Yale Peabody Museum in New Haven until 2012. They were then moved to the Peru-Yale University International Center for the Study of Machu Picchu and Inca Culture. Before the bones were transferred Dr. Bradley and her team got a chance to get DNA samples.

Dr. Bradley plans to use the latest methods to sequence the DNA samples.

Machu Picchu

“With ancient human DNA, you always have to worry about contamination,” Dr. Bradley said to  the website Phys.Org. “If you replicate the experiment in a different lab with different researchers, and you find the same results, that is the gold standard.”

Most researchers believe the giant building was a royal retreat, a Camp David of sorts for visiting dignitaries and guests. This is where Emperor Pachacuti would have held court for meetings. Archeologists say the building shows that people were often crafts specialists brought in from other areas of the empire.

The genetic analysis will look at what the relationship were between the people there, and whether they were of the same ancestral lineal

“One thing that makes Machu Picchu so interesting is the idea that actually the population buried there doesn’t reflect just a local population,” Dr. Lars Fehren-Schmitz of the University of California, Santa Cruz, told

Machu Picchu was a pre-Spanish conquest building and shows the amazing abilities of the Incans, who did not rely on European methods of building.

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Three…two…one…blub, blub….

Climate  changes challenges us in plenty of ways. There are droughts all over the earth, flooding in others, the polar ice is melting endangering polar bears and other Arctic animals. But who’d think that NASA would be up against problems from a warming planet?

Rising seas are the problem and it just so happens that NASA’s prime launch centers are based right on the water. The most famous site is the Kennedy Space Center (Cape Canaveral, Fla.), which is threatened by shrinking dunes and a damaged shoreline, according to

Apparently, NASA made the decision many years ago to launch its spacecraft over water because any falling debris or crashes of spacecraft would not harm people. (I guess harming whales and dolphins is okay.) However, the problem now is that climate change is causing these launch areas to become unstable—not now, but surely in coming years.

The other NASA facilities are close to rising water, including the Langley Research Center and the Wallops Flight Facility, both in Virginia. And don’t forget that the Johnson Space Center center is perilously close in Houston to the Gulf of Mexico. Plus, the Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana is below the water level of Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River near New Orleans.

“The nation’s problem is also NASA’s problem,” said Micheal J. Carlowicz, the chief technical writer at the agency’s sciences ad exploration division. He told that “Sea level rise hits especially close to home because half to two-thirds of NASA’s infrastructure and assets stand within sixteen feet of sea level.”

Researchers have concluded that the NASA coastal centers almost are certain to become vulnerable in the future.

So before any proposed manned Martian flight, we may be seeing a launch center moved far inland.

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Nature’s Sex Change

Fantastic World

It’s taken as a given that by the time you’ve reached 12 years old, you know if you’re a male or female. However, scientists have discovered that, due to a quirky gene dysfunction, some young girls in a small town in Indonesia are finding out—surprise!—that they are really boys.

The sudden sex change is the result of a rare genetic disorder that occurs because of a missing enzyme which prevents the production of a specific form of the male sex hormone – dihydro-testosterone – in the womb. When the child is born, it appears to have female genitalia, and the parents go about raising their baby as a girl.

The Telegraph of London interviewed, Johnny,  a young man of 24 from the Indonesian town who remembers wearing a red dress to school, where he rarely played with the girls. He was named Felicita and first started showing signs of maleness when he was nine. For this person, the sex change was not stressful or traumatic, because he already felt like a boy.

“When I changed I was happy with my life,” Johnny told the newspaper.

The number of girl-turned-boys is so large that the local town has a name for them: “guevedoces,” which literally means “penis at 12.”

Strangely, some of the guevedoces decide not to change their female names and go on as “Maria” or “Catherine.”

These unusual children were first discovered by Cornell University endocrinologist Dr. Julianne Imperato in the 1970s.  But now more cases are being reported in the Sambian villages of Papua New Guinea.

“By a quirk of chance Dr Imperato’s research was picked up by the American pharmaceutical giant, Merck. They used her discovery to create a drug called finasteride, which blocks the action of 5-α-reductase. It is now widely used to treat benign enlargement of the prostate and male pattern baldness. For which, I’m sure, many men are truly grateful,” according to Dr. Michael Mosely of the BBC, who is presenting a British special on how the human body develops.

So far, the condition is extremely rare in the world, and seems to have developed in these small towns because the villagers were so isolated. But because the disorder is well-known and accepted in the Dominican Republic, the country now has three sexual categories: male, female and pseudohermaphrodite.

Imagine how we would deal with this issue if it popped up in the U.S. And we thought transgender folks have it tough.

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Of parallel universes and two possible futures

When fantasy and science-fiction readers ponder the possibility of alternate time zones, they are doing more than exercising wishful thinking. They might be considering a concept that some physicist think could be a real phenomenon.

According to Scientific American, not every physicist believes that time moves the way we perceive it in daily life. To us, time moves forward (sometimes blindingly so). Stars emit light, the universe expands, and we grow older each day. However, if a fascinating theory of the workings of gravity is true, the big bang is not the beginning and “we may live in a past of a parallel universe.”

The physics is extremely complicated and much too dense for the lay person to understand, but the gist of what Julian Barbour of the University of Oxford, Tim Koslowski of the University of New Brunswick, and Flavio Marcati of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics are saying is that all matter starts in a low-complexity state and then expands outward in both temporal directions. That means there would be two symmetrical and opposite flows of time. Gravity then pulls matter together into ordered structures.

At that point time can go on two divergent paths. As Scientific American puts it, “the model has one past but two futures.” However, the observer will be able only to see one of the two.

“It is the nature of gravity to pull the universe out of its primordial chaos and create structure, order, and complexity,” Mercati said in Scientific American. “All the solutions break into two epochs, which go on forever in the two time directions, divided by this central state, which haas very characteristic properties.”

If you are scratching your head about now, realize that many other physicists are doing the same thing, for this theory is far from universally popular The model is considered crude and doesn’t address quantum physics or general relativity. Still, the meaning of the two futures theory is mind-blowing. It would suggest there was no cosmic beginning, but a timeless and eternal universe.

“This two-futures solution would exhibit a single, chaotic past in both directions, meaning there would be essentially two universes on either side of this central state,” Barbour said. “If they were complicated enough, both sides could sustain observers who would perceive time going in opposite directions. Any intelligent beings there would define their arrow of time as moving away from this central state. They would think we now live in their deepest past.” And to that, I can only add a big wow!

Some physicists disagree saying that increasing entropy in the future is causing time to flow forward. One researcher, Sean Carroll of the California Institute of Technology says, “Everything that happens in the universe to distinguish the past from the future is ultimately because the entropy is lower in one direction and higher in the other.”

Carroll praises the work of Barbour, Koslowski, and Mercati and asks, “Is our universe like that? That’s the hard part.”

Fortunately for readers of fantasy literature, imagining two futures is the easy part.

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A Little Birdie Told Me

You say you have a song in your heart? Well, it seems that’s natural, because it’s in your DNA.
Scientific American reports that scientists have discovered by sequencing 48 genomes of different bird species that birdsong is related to human speech. Only a few animals have the ability to sustain and modulate vocal signals.Birds and humans—along with dolphins, whales and elephants—are in that elite group.

The ramifications are not obvious at first, but those who work with genetics were quick to pick up on the finding’s implications.

By learning how birds learned to sing, researchers can discover the secrets to humans’ mastery of vocal chords. In the case of vocal disorders, if affected genes are similar to those in birds, one can study song birds and test their function, according  to Erich Jarvis, one of the leaders of the birdsong effort and an associate professor of neurobiology at Duke University.

Biologists have long looked to birds, particularly zebra finches, to understand how language is learned. That because not many other animals use vocal calls to truly communicate. Of the primates, only homo sapiens is able to speak. All the other apes and chimpanzees can only hoot, shriek, and make a sort of barking sound. Those noises don’t gain in complexity with age, going from a baby talk to adult language. Yet, among songbirds, the songs do gain in complexity, The also are learned from elders, can be modulated in pitch, and in some cases, birds can be “bilingual,” singing songs of its own species and a related or helper species.

Gene researchers found that humans and birds share 55 genes in regions of the brain. So when a bird sings, it sets off cascades of neurons firing in that part of their brain. The same thing happens when a human makes a phone call.

Scientists say that the findings aren’t too surprising, because avian species and humans both evolved from the same part of the “tree of life.” Some species specialized in distnguishing fine scents or developing laser-like vision to help in their environment; humans and birds chose vocalization as a way to stay close to others.

The Scientific American article doesn’t offer any more guesses on the usefulness of this research, but I’m willing to bet it will help us decode or at least become familiar with the language of dolphins and perhaps whales. For decades, biologists studying the cetacean world have known that dolphins call to each other in distinctive blips or whistles of sounds.Some of it can’t be detected by the human ear, but experiments have proved the language is there. The fact that dolphins are self-aware and smart as a whip, has made them the darlings of the sea long before “Flipper” went off television. And now we know they can do a lot more than tricks on water.

It would be fascinating to find out what the dolphins think about and if they truly do save humans   in peril at see. Maybe we could even sing with one—and throw in a few song birds for accompaniment.

The more you look, the more the spiritual dictum “We are all one” proves to be true.

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