Monday, July 29, 2013

Why Does Grandma Smell Like Toast?

Another fun and weird science post! I first put this up on my blog back on August 30, 2005. It's pretty low brow, but damn fascinating. 

I am in Dallas for work, so I promise to catch up when I get back in town on Wednesday.


Warning: The following post is a little if you're faint of heart or you are eating, you might want to skip this. I know you sickos will keep reading, of course...
On July 2, 1951, Mary Reeser brought Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC) to the forefront of scientific investigation. Her death is so bizarre, it really defies logical explanation.

Ms. Reeser had said goodnight to her visiting son and was last seen sitting in her easy chair of her modest St. Petersburg, FL apartment. Her neighbor, Ms. Carpenter was awakened by smoke, and traced it to Mary Reeser's door - which was scolding hot.

What firefighters and police found was immensely gruesome and incomprehensible. Mary's 170 pound body was nothing more than 10 pounds of ashes, her skull that had shrunk to the size of an orange, and her left foot completely intact. The room showed signs of heat damage - plastic was melted on switches and outlet covers, melted wax from her candles, and her chair was severely damaged. But that was it no widespread fire damage at all.

Dr. Korgman of the University of Pennsylvania that performed the pathology exam was baffled. He said it would take temperatures of more than 3000 degrees to do destroy a body so...especially the bones. With that much heat generated, the entire apartment - the entire building - should've gone up in flames. It's a classic case of SHC.

So what happened? Is SHC real? There are several theories out there:

1)Alcoholism...probably perpetuated by Charles Dickens in one of his novels where a drunk spontaneously combusts. They did an experiment where they saturated human flesh and tried to light it. Sounds like a Beavis and Butthead episode to me. The flesh didn't burn much.

2)Divine intervention...this was popular in the 17th century, particularly in the less-education population. I guess the thinking was you look at your cousin in the wrong way and God will turn you into crispy toast for having such lewd thoughts.

3)Build up of static electricity...ok, I tried this in the 5th grade. The library had thick lush carpet. I dragged my feet on it for almost 20 minutes straight and shocked the hell out of Todd Weber. He screamed like a girl and told on me...but he didn't shoot up in flames.

4)The "Wick Effect"...this is the most widely accepted scientific explanation. In 1999, the BBC TV show QED showed how SHC was really not such a mystery. They believed that body fat could indeed burn for a long time. So they did what any British scientist would do - they burned a pig! They took a pig, wrapped it up in a blanket (ha), put some petrol on it, put the pig in a room, and lit 'er up! The result? Tasty bacon on English muffins with tea in the morning.

5)Build up of methane gas...this theory was made popular by the renowned investigative TV show South Park. Here's an excerpt from one of their episodes where Kenny apparently spontaneously combusts:

Mayor: All right, people. Scientist Marsh and I have been working very hard on the problem of spontaneous combustion, and we have finally come up with a solution. Mr. Marsh?

Randy: The little boy combusted because he had a new girlfriend. It wasn't the girl that caused him to combust, it was the fact that Kenny did not want to pass gas in front of her. The methane gathers here in the bowel area where it causes pressure. Normally a person would expel this byproduct in the form of a pleasant fart. Should the gas not be expelled, the methane can build up and then ignite, leading to... disaster. Kenny combusted because he held his farts in for too long.

Townsfolk: You mean, all we have to do is fart and we won't explode?

Randy: Exactly. [after a while, a fart is heard, then more farts follow as the townsfolk let it rip]

Mayor: So, from this day forward, everyone in South Park will be required to fart on a regular basis to insure that nobody else spontaneously explodes.

So please, take spontaneous combustion prevention measures at regular intervals and whenever you deem neccessary.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Uncertainty Looms, Part Deux

I hope you enjoyed the moth porn last week. Like I said, I'm going to sprinkle a little weird science posts here and there leading up to my blogiversary. I put a fun countdown over on my sidebar. Not sure what I'm going to do on that day, but it's a pretty cool milestone.

Remember my post in June titled Uncertainty Looms? I'm sad to report that my publisher is going to scale back significantly, leading to an eventual shutdown. What does this mean for me? They reached out to me and said that they still planned on publishing sequels to books already published, and some other titles, but the rest were going to get cut. In other words, the publisher was going to give the rights back to the authors.

My book, Dragonfly Warrior, was picked to be published. Isn't that awesome? That means they have faith in me and of my work! But guess what...

I told them NO.

This is my second publisher to close down while just on the precipice of being published. Like I said back in June, I am Type-A and a control freak. But being in the publishing industry and getting kicked around has really taught me that I don't have as much control as I want.

Why would I have my book published, only for the publisher to close down? I have a second book under contract with them too. So I asked them to give me my rights back. I said that I'd even pay for the cover that was already done. Their reply: crickets chirping.

So we will see. I was hoping to do a big cover reveal and ask you all to sign up. But it looks like all of that is on hold. My publishing date was in October. That's pretty much dead in the water.

If I get my rights back, what's next? I'm thinking of just going full indie. It's terrifying just thinking about that. I know nothing about that whole process. I've just picked up bits and pieces along the way, but I'm not even able to put that all together. I'm a sales guy, so striking out on my own isn't the scary part. It's all the unknowns.

I've been fortunate to have some great friends in the blogosphere who have already given me lots of advice and resources. If I decide to go indie, I hope I'm able to use all the great information they've given me and bumble my way through the process.

So thank you M. Pax, Jenn Guerillawordfare, Riann Colton, Tony Acree, Eve Gaal, Miranda HardyMichael Ignacio, and Cambria Hebert for their encouragement and for sharing their wisdom with me as I go down this terrifying, exciting, and unknown road. And also, muchas gracias to all of you who have thrown positive vibes my way during this tough time.

Monday, July 15, 2013

I Don't Want... Anybody Else. To Ward of Bats, I Touch Myself

From 2005 - 2010, I blogged about the strange and funny side of science. Since I will celebrate my 8th Blogiversary next month, I've decided to post some new science stories in the next few weeks.

For 65 million years, bats and moths have been engaged in a battle for survival. Okay, maybe that's a gross exaggeration since moths can't harm bats at all. Or can they???

Jesse Barber and Akito Kawahara of Boise State University have found that moths do have a form of defense against hungry bats: they rub their genitals.

Male hawkmoths are able to rub themselves much like how crickets produce their mating calls. But instead of rubbing their wings, the months rub their scales against their private parts. In addition to probably producing lots and lots of pleasure, scientists believe this ultrasonic rubbing somehow jams a bat's sonar system.

Female hawkmoths also produced this ultrasonic sound by pulling their genitals inward and rub them together against their scales.

Further tests are needed to confirm their findings, which were published in the July 3rd edition of the journal Biology Letters.

I guess the old wive's tale that touching yourself can lead to blindness does have a spark of truth, eh?

I dare you to watch the video of these hawkmoths rubbing themselves!

* * * *

Love speculative fiction? Love FREE books? Hydra Publications is hosting it's SUMMER BASH this week, July 16th and 17th. For two days only, 30 titles will be FREE!!!! Go to their website for details. 


Monday, July 8, 2013

"As You Know, Bob..." And Other Names for the Information Dump

When I work with young, emerging writers, probably the #1 issue I run into is the dreaded information dump. However, when most of us think of the term information dump, we assume it refers to just dropping tons of backstory information in one place. That's only one form of it. Information dump doesn't always refer to the amount of crap we're dumping (Ew!). It can be just one line of dialog that makes your characters look pretty stupid.

There are many names for the Cardinal Sin known as the information dump within dialog:

1) Tell me again, professor...
2) Idiot Lecture
3) As You Know, Bob...

Tell me again, professor
This is a classic information dump. Here, you have a characters asking the "professor" something he should ALREADY know. But the reader needs to know, right? But here's it pretty obvious that this piece of dialog doesn't fit, and a reader will be jolted right out of your story.
"Tell me again, professor, what does this gadget do exactly?"
If the assistant works with the professor everyday in the lab, either he has amnesia or is the dumbest person ever.

It's cousin is the equally bad: "Tell me again why we're here?"

As you know, Bob
This is my favorite term for the information dump.
"As you know, Bob, Jane is our sister."
Um, yeah. Duh. Again, unless Bob has amnesia, this really rubs the reader the wrong way.

I watched a little bit of Return of the Jedi on Saturday, and I laughed out loud when The Emperor said something that was a great example of the Idiot Lecture. It's the scene where Darth Vader presents Luke to the Emperor, and Vader hands him Luke's lightsaber.

"Ah, yes. A Jedi's weapon, much like your fathers."

REALLY? Isn't this line of dialog so out of place with what's going on in the scene? It is obviously for the viewer's benefit just in case they haven't been paying attention. It is information dump, despite it being just one line of dialog. The Emperor isn't really talking to Luke, he's talking to THE AUDIENCE.

It's almost like a Shakespearean "aside," isn't it?

There are many ways to make sure the reader is armed with the backstory information they need:

1) Prologue. Mixed feelings on this one. It makes sense if you need to show something that happened long before the time period of your story. And make sure it's not too long. I hate long prologues.

2) Flashbacks and dreams. I'm personally not a fan. Flashbacks work better for TV and movies. For books, it's trickier. Dreams are so overused, they've become cliche.

3) Something in the plot makes the character get a little nostalgic. This can work if done well. Maybe your main character is nearly hit by a car while walking across the street. That could trigger a time when he was a kid and was hit by the ice cream truck.

4) Give your character amnesia. Not joking. That way, you can information dump your ass off all day long. And it's okay! Soap operas are notorious for this. That's why viewers can skip watching for a couple years and pick up the storylines very quickly. The characters are constantly idiot lecturing AND somebody's always got amnesia.

5) Weave in specific details into the story. This is my favorite way. There's no need to drop a gazillion details in one chapter. Let the reader pick up on stuff as they read. If backstory is woven in, the reader will remain engaged. Picking up a tidbit or two of backstory stuff feels more natural this way.

So don't make your characters look really stupid by talking about the obvious (to them) just for the reader's sake.

Because as you know, Bob, a disengaged reader is an unhappy reader.

Monday, July 1, 2013

About My Work

I am continuing to move forward on my projects, unless someone tells me differently.

Business as usual...for the time being.

I did learn that my first book, Dragonfly Warrior, is now scheduled for publication in October of this year. Hopefully there will be no more delays, and things work out for the best. For now, my publisher is moving full steam ahead.

This blog is a funny place, as there's really no central theme to it. I blogged about funny science stories for nearly six years. Oh, and August 3rd will be my EIGHTH YEAR BLOGIVERSARY. Crazy, huh? Anyhoo, these days, all kinds of stuff turn up on here.

I've blogged about the paranormal, writing, movies, music, and other weird stuff. Out of all the things I blog about, I really don't talk much about my own writing. So I just wanted to share that with you on this post.

My debut novel is titled, Dragonfly Warrior. It's the first book in my Mechanica Wars series. If I had to describe the genre, I'd call it in science-fantasy. It's Asian-inspired steampunk with some fantasy elements hovering in the background. Many of you know that I'm a big steampunk fan. But I started working on this book long before I knew there was even such a term. I grew up reading HG Wells and Jules Verne, so naturally I'm inspired by those kinds of stories in my own writing.

So in my series, you will find:

1) Lots of fun steampunk-goodness. Flying machines, steam cars, trains, tanks, and mechas.
2) Samurai warriors
3) Ninjas
4) Pirates (at sea, on land, and even in the air)
5) Gunslingers and pistoleers, mercenaries and privateers (yes, I did make that sing-songy on purpose)
6) Alternative history
7) Tons of action, interwoven subplots, and a bunch of literary elements (it's my English degree coming to the surface)
8) Influences from: Asian, Greek, and Arthurian mythology, some Shakespeare, Star Wars, Full Metal Alchemist, Seven Samurai, and of course, tons of Verne and Wells

I've always believed in the mantra that you should write what you love. And that's what I did. For better or for worse.

An amazing artist by the name of Enggar Adirasa is illustrating a few scenes from Dragonfly Warrior to be used in a book trailer and other promotional materials, so I wanted to share the sketches with you. Eventually (hopefully soon), they will be finalized and in color. Mr. Adirasa also did my cover, which is done except for the typesetting. Can't wait to do a cover reveal in the Fall!

Steam powered airships baby!
Cheng, a pirate leaping into the air, versus my protagonist, Zenjiro
Airship Captain Enapay. His tribe is located in what we'd call  "America" today. Isn't alternative history fun?
I hope you enjoyed a little sneak peak on what I'm working on. I've got a couple other projects in the works, and I look forward to sharing those with you too.