April 9th, 2009


Writing Exercise: Smart Animals

I saw this fascinating article about 10 smart animals. (That creepy genius spider is lookin' at me...) Nature is endlessly inventive.

The most important question in speculative fiction isn't "What if...?" but rather "... and then what?" So, here is your writing exercise:

  1. Get out a 10-sided die (or in some other fashion generate a random number from 1-10).

  2. That number is your first alien or fantasy species. It is about one step smarter than humans; that is, as much smarter as we are compared to pre-Homo sapiens hominids ... or maybe the distance between Stephen Hawking and an ordinary guy. Use the real animal's features to suggest what kind of culture and abilities the imaginary characters would have.

  3. Write at least one page describing an encounter between this species and humanity.

  4. Roll your d10 again.

  5. This number is your second alien/fantasy species. It is one or two steps smarter than the species you created previously. Again, extrapolate your characters beginning with the real critter.

  6. To spice things up, visit a random web page. (BlogExplosion has a random surf function for members and thumbnails of randomly selected blogs visible to everyone. So do some other sites.) Pick a topic from that page. Species #2 is obsessed about it.

  7. Species #2 arrives to find Species #1 interacting with humans. The two species totally hate each other.

  8. ... and then what happens?

If anyone posts the results of this exercise online, please reply with a link so we can go peek.

Reorganizing Military Budgets

Wow ... another politician is actually keeping promises. Obama got stamp.

Gates Follows Through:
The Pentagon is finally cutting expensive weapons programs it doesn't need.

This is remarkable: In his budget address today, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates actually did what he has said he'd do for some time now—killed or slashed a bunch of weapons programs that don't fill the needs of modern warfare, vastly boosted spending for weapons that do, and took the first steps toward truly reforming the way the Pentagon does business.

Also worth noting is that he's beefing up plans to take care of military personnel and their families, a serious "support the troops" move. I'm pleased to see someone working to make sure that our troops get the stuff they really need in terms of equipment and backup ... not just gewgaws.

Don't Drink the Water

This really, really creeps me out. The point of the post was to make people shower before swimming in a public pool. But what it does for me is reinforce my distrust of municipal "drinking water" supplies. I buy distilled water.

A Really Good Reason to Shower Before Hopping in the Pool

Chemicals used to treat both drinking water and swimming pool water reacts with organic material to form disinfection by-products (DBPs). Ho-hum... why should we care, right?

We should care because when you add swimmers to a pool you have just added lots of organic material. A new study by the University of Illinois shows that of the hundreds of compounds created, some are toxic, some cause birth defects, some cause cancer and others are genotoxic, which means that they damage DNA.

I don't care if the government thinks that the original chemicals or their byproducts are "safe" in drinking water in certain amounts. The byproducts are particularly alarming: after all, when you swallow drinking water, it contacts the "organic material" of your body. I look around at the skyrocketing rates of cancer, infertility, birth defects, and other health problems and generally conclude that the government is doing a downright pathetic job of protecting people from contaminants. I want drinking water that is actually clean and pure, containing neither pathogens nor chemicals.

Planning Ahead for Blog Reader Appreciation Day

April 16 will be Blog Reader Appreciation Day. The event page on Bloggers Unite says in part, "Bloggers thank and celebrate readers with special tributes, posts, contests, and give-aways."

I've been writing this blog for almost two years now. Some of you have been with me from the beginning. Others have joined in progress, and a few are new. I really appreciate your enthusiasm, your inspiration, your moral support, your networking and promotional help, the links and other useful material you share with me, and your friendship. I am especially grateful to those of you who sponsor the Poetry Fishbowls, whether a lot or a little. You help put the beans on the table.

So ... what kind of things would you like to do on Blog Reader Appreciation Day?

Join "The Big Howl" to Save Wolves

I received this call to action from the Natural Resources Defense Council. It's a last-ditch attempt to save wolves from large-scale slaughter. Many people who live near the few remaining wolves just hate them and want them all to die out. But when wolves were reintroduced to their native habitat in Yellowstone, park rangers observed many improvements in the health and balance of both plants and animals in the ecosystem. The wolves just managed to claw their way back from near extinction -- let's not knock them back down.

In just a few weeks, the mass killing of wolves could begin in Idaho and Montana -- and not even newborn wolf pups and their nursing mothers will be spared.

We cannot stand by while this slaughter unfolds. On May 4, the wolf's federal protection will be lifted, and government agents will be free to open fire. After that, the states will launch public hunts, targeting wolves.

We must act now to call off the guns!

That's why NRDC is launching The Big Howl campaign to mobilize Americans everywhere to protect wolves in the Northern Rockies from the crossfire.

Add your voice now to our campaign:

Tell Interior Secretary Salazar to reverse his decision to kick wolves off the endangered species list.

This is absolutely the wrong time to rip away federal protections from these struggling wolves. Over the past year, the wolf population in Yellowstone National Park has declined by 27 percent, with more than 70 percent of wolf pups succumbing to disease.

One pack alone lost all 24 of its pups!

If the federal protections are lifted on May 4 as planned, newborn wolf pups and their nursing mothers traveling outside national parks will be in the line of fire.

That's why NRDC and our partners are filing suit in federal court to block this disastrous policy. But we must do more: we must raise a nationwide outcry that the Obama Administration cannot ignore.

And so we're calling on everyone who cares about wolves to take part in The Big Howl campaign:

Please call on the Interior Department to go back to the drawing board and submit this cruel plan to the kind of rigorous scientific review the Obama Administration has promised.

Because you have always stood up for wildlife, I'm contacting you first to take part in The Big Howl campaign.

After you send your own message, I will let you know about an easy way to spread the word to your friends and family. We need at least one million messages to save the wolves -- so get ready to rally your friends and family to add their own voices to The Big Howl.


Frances Beinecke
Natural Resources Defense Council

P.S. Hearing the wolf howl after you take action is a poignant reminder of why we must act swiftly to save these treasured icons of the American West -- before their federal protections are lifted on May 4:

So please speak out today, and then tell everyone you know to take part in The Big Howl.

Check Out the 80 Acres Wildlife Project

I'm intrigued by this website documenting wildlife sanctuary efforts on a parcel of 80 acres.

You can manage any size space for wildlife, though. Our yard here is a bit over 2 acres. Much of it is planted with things that wildlife enjoys. One section, which is not that big in comparison to the yard here but bigger than many city yards, is left mostly unmowed as a meadow/butterfly garden. And there are all kinds of things living here. Heck, there are all kinds of things living in the mulch pile alone.