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NaNoWriMo 2013

November 29, 2013 Leave a comment

I’ve finally crossed the finish line for National Novel Writing Month and it feels good.  Well, emotionally I feel excellent, but my body is protesting. My knees hurt and my legs ache and I think my eyes are bleeding (not really, artistic license).

The novel I’ve been working on, which I titled “The Rebel Thief” in a fit of dramatic flair, isn’t complete yet. I think I have about 50,000 more words to go before it’s finished and I’ve already planned out two more books to really take advantage of all of the energies I’ve put into worldbuilding (which have been considering since I’ve made five distinct political systems and civilizations that span the known galaxy).

I looked back at the original synopsis I wrote for the story when I began writing, and it still amazes me what the story has grown into. Here it is:

In a galaxy teeming with guilds of professional hit men, thieves, and mercenaries, Clark stands alone. Known as The Rebel Thief, he scratches out a living stealing identities, running cons, and simple fast-finger work. Clark has been running from a dark past while dodging authorities from the ever-warring Five Great Civilizations.

His past eventually catches up with him in the form of Alex Lumens, his former subordinate and lover. When she barges into his life carrying a shocking secret, Clark realizes that his activities have drawn the ire of one of the biggest guilds of thieves, Temorous Guild.

To save his own skin and, perhaps, Alex, Clark has to get to the bottom of a conspiracy that could alter the balance of power in the galaxy.

The story only resembles this in basic plot facts: the guilds are there, as well as Alex and her back story. I completely eliminated the last bit about a conspiracy and expanded it into something that’s less like a conspiracy theory but just as mysterious. Temorous Guild is now Temerous Guild because of a typo, but I’m okay with that.

Suffice it to say, however, that this synopsis no longer fits what the story has become and I’m very proud of that. There’s something majestic when you can feel creative energy flowing through you, feeding on the original spark of creation and growing into something much more meaningful than you could have imagined. I just love it when a character starts as a mere sketch on paper and becomes a living being with a psychology that responds naturally to any situation. It got to the point where I could write Clark’s dialogue without thinking.

This is really what I love about writing, apart from the process. The story is alive, in a sense, and the writer is the conduit for that.

Anyway, I’ve got some other things to write for this blog and I’m sure you’ve had enough of my tired philosophical waxing (and waning). I’ll try to participate next year, and who knows? Maybe I’ll write something that isn’t science fiction.

2013-Winner

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Vaccinate!

November 28, 2013 Leave a comment

A recent story in the Lansing State Journal reports that vaccination of children in mid-Michigan is down, but that overall more teenagers are getting vaccinated (“Vaccinations down in mid-Michigan, but trends are improving“).

I’ve done a lot of research on vaccination because of the rise of the anti-science anti-vaccination movement, which was led for a time by former Playboy Bunny Jenny McCarthy. The website Anti-Vaccine Body Count may sound a little crass, but it has up-to-date and reliable numbers on the toll that the movement has taken so far. If you’re shocked by the number of preventable illnesses (124757) as a result of people not vaccinating their children, you haven’t been paying attention.

The CDC monitored the trends in the pertussis outbreaks in 2012 (it’s declined this year) and found that the number of cases increased in forty-nine states. In Dallas, 329 cases had been reported as of November 14 (that’s 329 more cases than should be reported if people vaccinated as they should). The pertussis vaccine can wane over time, and with a breakdown of herd immunity as a result of the anti-vaccination movement giving people misinformation about how vaccinations work and bad information about their side effects outbreaks like is are all but inevitable.

Here’s the information you need to know: the MMR vaccine, or any other vaccine for that matter, has never been tied to autism.  The papers published by Andrew Wakefield in the medical journal The Lancet that first reported the link between MMR and autism were completely retracted, as reported by the Guardian.

Sarah Boseley writes:

The medical journal’s editor, Richard Horton, told the Guardian today that he realised as soon as he read the GMC findings that the paper, published in February 1998, had to be retracted. “It was utterly clear, without any ambiguity at all, that the statements in the paper were utterly false,” he said. “I feel I was deceived.”

Despite repeated attempts to find a connection by people who support Wakefield or are generally paranoid about the pharmaceutical industry (and trust me when I say I have my own problems with them), no connection has been found in legitimate peer-reviewed studies. In fact, there has recently been some rumbling about a series of court cases that have “proven” that there is a link, but for some reason it’s being kept quiet. It’s all very hush-hush, you see, but the link is there.

Except it isn’t. Steven Novella at Science-Based Medicine (a blog I very highly recommend for any news on the latest medical research and knowledge) notes that:

They did not even rule that the MMR causes Ryan’s injury, only that compensation is appropriate under their rules. Further, Ryan did not have autism. He had encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) which caused brain injury. This can cause symptoms which superficially might resemble autism (to a non-expert), but it’s not autism.

Natural News is further reporting this as a vindication of Andrew Wakefield, when it is nothing of the sort. Wakefield’s faked science remains utterly discredited.

After addressing the facts of childhood encephalitis, Novella further states:

There is no clear evidence that vaccines increase the risk of encephalitis. In fact, they clearly decrease the risk of encephalitis caused by the infections they prevent. There is a net and very large advantage to being vaccinated in terms of encephalitis risk, even if we assume that cases of encephalitis occurring after vaccination were caused by the vaccination. We know statistically this cannot be true in all cases, and it is possible that it is true in no cases.

There is also sufficient evidence to show that vaccines do not cause autism. Further, encephalitis, while possibly causing brain injury, does not cause autism.

So, the question naturally arises: with all of this conflicting information, who can you trust? My advice would be to trust medical professionals and trained individuals. What’s a medical professional or trained individual? A doctor is a good start (and your best source), and anyone with an advanced degree in microbiology or immunology. This sounds like an appeal to authority, but based on my own scientific background and knowledge, I can say that this is a highly specialized topic that requires years of training to fully understand.

(Here’s another article from Forbes about the court rulings.)

Getting back to the article from the Lansing State Journal, under Michigan State Law it is required for children to be immunized before attending public or private schools. This is an extremely good policy as it maintains herd immunity and keeps children relatively safe from most of the worst kinds of infectious diseases.

I think the best thing we can do is to correct the misinformation about vaccines and push to make the public aware of the kinds of diseases that vaccines prevent. I’ll do my part:

Clinical Examples of Pertussis (warning: the video shows very young children suffering from whooping cough)

Rotavirus: A Family’s Story

Short story: get your children vaccinated and keep up with your own! It saves lives.

Simple as that.

A Cultural Critic

November 27, 2013 Leave a comment

My very good friend Nidhi Shrivastava, who I met at the University of Michigan, has her own blog called Cultural Critic in the Making.

Nidhi is pursuing a PhD in English at The University of Western Ontario. Of her studies, she writes:

I am interested in the representations of rape and sexual violence in India from the Partition to the contemporary times, especially in lieu of the recent polemic cases that have taken place in India. Specifically, I want to address the themes of silence and honour and the ways in which these elements shape a middle class Indian woman’s subjectivity through a close analysis of novels, films, and online media.

Cultural Critic in the Making showcases her thoughts relating to her chosen field of study in a way that isn’t as impenetrable as esoteric fields can be. Of particular interest is a post entitled “Domestic Violence In India : Critical Analysis of A Forgotten Film – Ashok Gaikwad’s Raja Ki Aayegi Baraat (1997)“, which presents a Bollywood movie and analyzes with particular attention on domestic violence in India.

Nidhi first introduced me to Bollywood movies a few years ago with the movie “3 Idiots.” Anyone who appreciates Bollywood movies and the cultural and social commentaries that they can contain will probably appreciate her blog. I encourage anyone interested in current events in India, as well as ago-old issues of sex, race, gender, and otherness, to read Cultural Critic in the Making.

Broken Hearts and Classic Consoles

November 27, 2013 2 comments

Whenever I flip the hard plastic switch of my Sega Genesis, I know that I’m taking a gamble. It’s not that I’m afraid it’s going to break or that I’m going to get some kind of science fiction-like electric shock that arcs out and zaps me. It’s a gamble because the game I have selected will work, or it won’t work.

There isn’t anything wrong with the cartridges. I’ve checked them all out on a Nomad and they worked fine. I fear that my console just doesn’t make good connections to the chips. So it was for a long time that I played my Genesis sparsely to relive the glory years of my gaming days; true enough, games were simple, extremely difficult, and incredibly addictive. They were, essentially, arcade games that you could play at home, and there was something attractive about that.

Well, I finally decided that I needed to have a third-party console that could play the games reliably. AtGames, a Chinese company I had not previously known, released one recently. Boasting 80 built-in games and a plug-and-play setup, the AtGames Sega Genesis Classic Game Console is a poor imitation of the classic majesty of the original console.

With Cyborg Justice

The ATGames Classic Game Console

This, however, does not diminish the actual quality of the system. It comes with two wireless controllers that connect via infrared, and has two ports that are compatible with the original controllers if you have them. What really attracted me to the system was that it could also play the original cartridges as well as the emulated built-in games.

The original Genesis controller fits neatly into the port.

The original Genesis controller fits neatly into the port.

The infrared wireless controller.

The infrared wireless controller.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are some drawbacks, however. The wireless controllers, by their nature as infrared-based electronics, have an extremely limit range. The biggest problem with the controllers is that you have to have them pointed directly at the console for them to work. If you’re not really antsy and can stay still for long stretches of time, this shouldn’t pose much of a problem. The lack of cord makes them a reasonable alternative to the original controllers.

I’d also like to nitpick the claim of 80 built-in games. It’s true that it comes loaded with 40 original Sega Genesis games, including perennial favorite Sonic the Hedgehog (and personal favorite Sonic Spinball). I was surprised when it included other favorites such as Vectorman and Kid Chameleon. The other 40 games are, however, in house creations of low quality. A few of them are fun and kind of tricky, but they’re nothing special. I think that memory could have been better used holding a few other Genesis games, like Battletoads, for instance (I lost that cartridge a long time ago and haven’t been able to find one at a reasonable price since). Related to that is the fact that there are some minor sound issues with Sonic the Hedgehog and a few other games that distort some of the sound effects and play the music off-key, but that’s minor.

Other than those two quibbles, the console is a fairly remarkable update. I won’t ever get rid of my original console, but it I want to serious Sonic marathon without the worry of the game freezing if I think bad thoughts at it, the AtGames console is a decent alternative. If you’re into classic gaming and don’t have a good console, it’s a good way to go for the money you spend.

A size comparison between the original console and the AtGames version.

A size comparison between the original console and the AtGames version.

NaNoWriMo and other miscellany

November 26, 2013 Leave a comment

Well, my birthday came and went. I’m another year older as far as my physical body goes (my mind is still the young, chaotic thing it always was). I’ve come to realize that what I find most appealing about my birthdays is the camaraderie, which stands in stark contrast to what I liked as a child, which was presents and ice cream. It goes without saying that as much as I don’t want to really admit it, I have grown up.

I don’t know how other people feel when NaNoWriMo comes around, but I notice that the one thing that’s a pain in my ass is literally the pain in my ass. Sitting and writing and sitting and writing and taking a break by watching Stargate Atlantis and writing and more sitting.

But the end result is very satisfying.

The time for taking my Certified Nurse Aide test is coming up as well. I’m nervous about that because it feels like an extreme monolithic task. I really enjoyed the clinicals–it was a a vastly rewarding experience. The job is tough, and at times, extremely frustrating, but I like caring for people. Hopefully I’m still on track to get into a physician’s assistant program, but I’ve been a bit listless lately.

I can’t help but wonder if part of that isn’t because I’ve grown disenchanted with certain things lately. Politics, the news, certain branches of philosophy, the list goes on. Maybe it’s a natural consequence of critical thought and introspection. Maybe I feel restless and caged, and these old ideas are no longer appealing. What I can say is that I don’t find metaphysics too terribly interesting in anything outside of fiction, and only find epistemology a satisfying subject in the wide world of philosophy  (outside of science, that is).

I hope that I’ll be taking up blogging more regularly, but I’ve said that many times in the past. I’ll try to stick with it this time, though. I’m serious.