Fascinating courtly intrigue and bloody power games set on a generation ship full of secrets―Medusa Uploaded is an imaginative, intense mystery about family dramas and ancient technologies whose influence reverberates across the stars. Disturbing, exciting, and frankly kind of mind-blowing.” ―Annalee Newitz, author of Autonomous

Sunday, September 22, 2013

In Search of the Roman Whammy

Michael Levy poses an interesting question in his new blog post – follow the link and let him know what you think!

Did the Romans Invent the "Whammy Bar"?

New blog just posted on my website, about a fascinating potential new musical discovery from a detailed painting of a Roman Kithara found in Herculaneum, which seems to amazingly show the 1st century CE equilvalent of a pitch-bending "whammy bar!"

Here is the link to this new blog:

Your thoughts and comments to this blog are most welcome!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Let's Just Suck That Pesky Carbon Out Of The Air With Our Giant Vacuum Thingee

There has been a lot of talk (and study) recently about the concept of carbon sequestration, the idea that CO2 gas could be pulled from the atmosphere and stored in sedimentary layers underground, or even under the seafloor. Some very smart geologists are working on this problem, and we may see an attempt to implement the idea within the next few decades. But I'm always curious when I hear about these sorts of projects, because I wonder just how much non-geologists understand about faults and fractures in the Earth's crust, even the non-geologists who have a financial stake in what their geology experts tell them.

Okay, maybe especially these guys, since money folk and bureaucrats tend to be people who think in terms of deadlines and progress reports: this phase of the project was completed on schedule, this other phase is over schedule, the cost breakdown is this, etc. They're thinking weeks ahead, sometimes decades ahead for some aspects of a project. But geology is often reckoned in millions, even billions of years. What's even trickier is that, despite this immense time scale, geology can also change suddenly and catastrophically, in a matter of seconds. Thirty feet of sediment can be deposited by a flash flood, tons of volcanic ash can hurtle toward a town at 100km an hour. And in the case of carbon sequestration, the problem is that faults move.

CO2 is heavier than the mix of gases that make up our atmosphere. If a large amount of it is suddenly released, it will flow and pool almost like water at ground level. It is invisible and odorless, so it overtakes unsuspecting people and animals and suffocates them before they realize that anything is wrong. Eventually it will mix with the other gases and be reabsorbed into the atmosphere, but not before killing every oxygen-breathing creature in its path. Villages next to lakes that have formed near the continental rift in Africa have suffered from accidents like this from gases generated by volcanic activity under the lakes, releasing the CO2. So when geologists are trying to advise people about where sequestered CO2 could safely be stored, they have this possibility in mind.

Yet the geologists can only advise, very few of them are in a position to make the final decisions about whether a project will go forward and where it will happen. And when it comes to faults, we're mostly engaged in guesswork. This became very plain to me when I recently toured Kartchner Caverns, in Southern Arizona, with the head geologist for the State Park Service. He said that they could see where a few of the faults in the landscape were by looking at the mountains and valleys on the surface. But once they went underground, they found many more faults and fractures that could never have been seen without the benefit of a cave system.

Improved seismic monitoring has proved that the Earth's crust is constantly moving, shrinking, expanding, fracturing, dissolving, collapsing, and getting pulverized, thanks to the titanic pressures of the surrounding rock and the heat generated in the mantle. What appears to be motionless to us on the surface is actually dynamic.

So theoretically, tons of CO2 could be stored somewhere, a fault could move, and gas could escape and suffocate people and animals. So they have to find a place that seems relatively stable, but they also have to find one that isn't too close to human habitation, because no place on the Earth's surface is 100% guaranteed to be stable. Storing the gas in the ocean floor, where the immense pressure of the ocean will keep it dissolved in those sediments, is a safer bet, but then you have the added cost and difficulty of getting it down there.

So where will the gas end up? If they get to be too good at pulling the CO2 out of the atmosphere, will people say, Whoopie! We can generate as much CO2 as we want! Will it trick us into keeping old technologies that are causing problems?

If the sequestration process works, it may have an interesting side effect – it may cause calcite to form when moisture enters the soil. In Arizona, moisture reacts with CO2 in the soil to form CaCO3. Who knows, maybe a whole new generation of caves will sport formations resulting from reactions with the CO2 we placed in overlying beds.

That alone might make it worthwhile . . .

Monday, September 16, 2013

Michael Levy in the American Harp Journal

More wonderful news from Michael Levy:

I have been featured in the American Harp Journal!

A quick bulletin to let you all know that I have finally been featured in a full length article in the American Harp Journal - a PDF of this fascnating article by Diana Rowan, entitled "The Universal Lyre: Three Perspectives", can be downloaded here - enjoy!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Another Live Gig, With Roman Cuisine

Check out Michael Levy's Calendar section on his blog for the date of his next live gig – I'm sure he's just kidding about the stuffed door mouse . . .

My next live lyre gig at the British Museum!

I have just this minute confirmed another last minute live lyre gig at the British Museum! I will be providing live lyre background music, to set the mood for the a three-course meal inspired by Roman cuisine from "The Classical Cookbook" by Andrew Dalby and Sally Grainger.

With its subtle mix of sweet and sour flavours, its fragrant herbs, cheesecakes and red wines, the cuisine of the ancient Mediterranean is sure to whet the appetite of every modern gourmet.

Sample authentic recipes, translated and adapted for modern dining. The authors will give a short introduction to the dishes, painting a vibrant picture of living, wining and dining in the ancient world.

£35, includes glass of Prosecco on arrival, booking essential

Full details about this event can be found here and also in the "Calendar" section of my website. 

Hope to see you all there...I hope someone saves me a suitably stuffed door mouse! 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Politics – I'm Gonna Have To Put You Down

I have a confession to make. For the last ten months, since the 2012 presidential election, I have been relentlessly searching the web for articles using some particular keywords: polls were right, Republicans were wrong in 2012 election and Mitt Romney lost.

I'm a Democrat, so you may think I've been doing this surfing because I want to revel in the defeat of my enemies. But ten months of gloating would not be reveling, it would be crazy. And the “enemy” in this case is a group that includes many people I care about, both friends and family. So Mitt Romney's gut-punched expression as he conceded the election did not give me the satisfaction you might think it would. It puzzled me.

The puzzlement only grew as the days went by. I could understand why voters were fooled before the election – I was confused by the conflicting polls until my brother turned me onto Nate Silver (I eventually discovered Sam Wang at Princeton, too). Silver averaged polls together, so his numbers were more likely to be close to how people were really planning to vote. I also felt very suspicious of Rasmussen and the “Unskewed Polls” guy, because their weighting seemed more like wishful thinking to me. I had engaged in just that sort of wishful thinking myself, back in 2004, so I could spot it a mile off. What I couldn't fathom was why Romney had been fooled.

A lot of people are blaming the conservative media for his inability to see the numbers, as well as the people in his campaign who should have used the scientific method to see where the numbers really stood so they could plan their campaign accordingly. But Romney was a man who presumably had experience running big companies, and a state, and the Olympics. His shtick was that he knew how to delegate and he knew how to keep an eye on things to make sure they were really going the way they were supposed to.

Then – BOOM.

So I started searching the web. I wanted to hear what he had to say about it, what his campaign guys had to say, what columnists were writing about it. I found a lot of spin, a lot of anger, a lot of gloating. I also found a lot of doom predictions, Republicans saying that the country is going to descend into anarchy and destruction, and Democrats saying it's the Republican Party that is actually suffering that fate. Several articles were about how the Republican Party will have to change to be relevant in the 21st Century. Many of them were thoughtful and smart, written by Democrats, Moderates, and Republicans. Ten months ago, I thought I might actually witness the transformation of a party.

Ten months later, I know that's probably not going to happen. Congress is shaped in a different way from the Presidency. Those folks aren't going to stop their destructive behavior until we vote them out. In fact, even that won't help until we outlaw campaign contributions and gifts to members of congress. I don't know if that's ever going to happen, so after ten months of looking for answers, I realize I am now starting to chase my tail.

Don't get me wrong – it was fascinating to dig up stories from different viewpoints. I feel like I learned something. And I enjoyed the hunt. But the razzle-dazzle of the election has worn off, people are no longer talking about trying to evolve, politicians from gerrymandered districts are openly talking about destruction and obstruction as if they were legitimate tools for governing, and I'm starting to lose sleep over the whole mess.

The bottom line is this: though I was fascinated by the articles I read about those misunderstood poll numbers and the guy who thought he was going to be President, after ten months of reading them, I'm still puzzled. I now have a pretty good idea why the Republican Party has taken its current shape. I think Fox news and the Republican Pundits have a lot to apologize for, though to them all this anger is pure gold. The angrier their audience is, the more money they make. But I still don't know why Romney was surprised by his loss, why he actually seemed to believe that he was a shoe-in. So I finally had to cobble together the best answer I can.

My answer is based largely on my experience. I'm a low-income, working-class woman with a science background, slowly pursuing a degree in Geology with very little money to spend and even less time. I'm also a science fiction author, and inclined to see things from odd angles. Though nine of my books were published by NAL/ROC, I never earned enough income as a writer to quit my day job – and I have worked for guys like Mitt Romney. They are smart, they are educated, they have power and influence in their communities, and they often see themselves as hard-working nice guys. They think they see the world as it really is. They don't realize that they're from another galaxy. Their experiences are so different from mine (and probably yours) that they are blinded by them. A man so blinded will write an acceptance speech for an election even when the numbers should have warned him that he is losing.

So – no more Mitt Romney lost and Republicans were wrong in my searches. Six months from the 2014 elections, I'll see what Sam and Nate have to say about the polls. I'll be inclined to believe their calculations, even if they aren't going the way I want them to. I'll put my politics down and work at my job, study my geology, do my hiking, tend my garden, and live my life. I hope you will too, even if we're on the opposite side of the argument. Short of voting and spending our money where we think it ought to go, that's most constructive thing we can do as American citizens.

Wherever you are Mitt Romney – that goes for you, too.

UPDATE, OCT 2013: my plan to get on with my life was blown to smithereens by the Shutdown.  Now my search keywords are polls who do Americans blame for shutdown (though technically that should be whom do Americans blame, but apparently most of us don't know that).  Fox pundits are wearing sh*t-eating grins and referring to the Shutdown as "the Slimdown," which is my clue that Boehner and his allies do not plan to end it -- ever.  As for the default that's looming, I see it this way: the guys who don't get to drive the bus have decided to wrench the wheel away from the driver and crash the bus.  

The unreality bubble in which the GOP existed prior to the 2012 election is still there, stronger than ever.  So politics, when I put you down I didn't expect you to turn around and pick me up by the scruff of my neck.  But you did, and now you're shaking me like a rag doll.


Once again, I stole a bunch of art from Ernest Hogan. Don't rat me out.