I read in an interview with Ursula K. Le Guin that science fiction has both feet planted solidly in the science of today, that the fictional parts are pushing beyond those roots in a way that is both logical and plausible.
So when I read a blurb for CREATION: How Science is Reinventing Life Itselfby Adam Rutherford, I immediately thought science fiction. According to Rutherford, we are radically exceeding the boundaries of evolution and engineering entirely novel creatures—from goats that produce spider silk in their milk to bacteria that excrete diesel to genetic circuits that identify and destroy cancer cells. Imagine what stories might be told in a world where such creatures are commonplace, where such engineering is taken for granted. Imagine the products, and the governmental involvement.
Fantasy, on the other hand, is making it up out of whole cloth. Even so, it could draw on science for an idea.
For example, another book I came across recently has such possibilities: TEMPERATURE-DEPENDENT SEX DETERMINATION IN VERTEBRATES edited by N. Valenzueta & B. Lance. It contains articles by leading scholars in the field and reveals how the sex of reptiles and many fish is determined not by the chromosomes they inherit but by the temperature at which incubation takes place.
Fantasy could be a story in which human sex is determined by ambient temperature. And perhaps it can vary as the temperature varies. And so forth.
Now, if you wrote a story about a world over-run by snakes and fish because of global warming, you would be back to science fiction. Ditto for a world in which the biological engineering described in CREATION results in changing many species to be temperature-reactive and put that in the context of global warming.
Bottom Line: Check out the latest in science and then let your imagination run wild!
“Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” has been around—and around and around. Assuming you’ve either answered it to your own satisfaction or relegated it to the realm of The Great Unknowable, surely you need different questions to ponder late at night in the year ahead. After browsing both online and print sources, I compiled this collection. Here you go!
’Tis the season: people travel, and houseguests—welcome, or not—can be annoying. Now, I recognize that some annoyances can be avoided if you have a big house and/or household help. But for the rest of us, an extended visit can be a trying time in ways big and small.
Your housepest leaves shoes or boots in public, trip-hazard places.
Outerwear overflows the closet.
Hats, gloves, scarves, keys, etc., are left on kitchen counters otherwise used for cooking.
Your favorite chair is otherwise occupied!
Shod feet end up on coffee tables, chairs, or sofas.
Your housepest insists on helping when it would be so much easier to just do it yourself!
Dirty dishes make it as far as the kitchen sink but never into the dishwasher.
A housepest sleeping on the sofa can effectively dictate when you’re allowed in your own living room.
You like a quiet house until time for a drink and the evening news. Your housepest turns on the TV for daytime game shows and soap operas.
You try to watch TV with a channel-surfer who tunes away for every commercial, only to encounter commercials on other channels, eventually switching back to the original program, often having stayed away too long.
You prefer PBS, news, and nature programs and your pest prefers sports, comedy, and reality TV—or vice versa!
Your housepest turns on the TV, radio, etc., and leaves the room to shower or whatever without turning it off.
Your housepest talks over whatever else is going on—e.g., while you are watching TV or carrying on a conversation.
You are spending time with a person who talks at great length and volume while saying little, especially annoying if the monologue is on repeat.
A pest arrives with too few clothes for the visit and presumes you can fill in any gaps for sweatshirts, socks, or pajamas.
And/or your housepest arrives with dirty laundry for you to handle—and this is not your own kid home from college!
After you mention what you are currently reading, your current read is confiscated for the entertainment/education of the pest.
Your housepest dons any jewelry or accessories not currently being worn and then says, “Is it all right if I wear this today?”
After arriving, your housepest announces that s/he is vegan, lactose intolerant, off all carbs, allergic to garlic, etc.
On the flip side, careless housepests could bring or make food that triggers your allergies or goes against your religious or moral convictions.
Every morning involves a food-run that results in muffins, donuts, bagels, or similar breakfast fare that everyone must share.
Some people won’t eat peas, cooked mushrooms, tomatoes (except in ketchup), onions, or any vegetable that isn’t cooked to mush.
Crumbs, candy wrappers, and drink containers left about could attract vermin that stick around long after the human housepest has gone.
Whenever alcohol is added to the situation, there are nearly infinite opportunities for disagreement:
Is red wine an absolute travesty with fish?
How many drinks are acceptable with dinner?
What if one party is an alcoholic or a recovering alcoholic?
You are a 1:00 a.m. to 10:00 sleeper while your housepest is an 8:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. sleeper.
You and your housepest know that you disagree on social, political, and/or religious issues but s/he keeps bringing it up.
Your housepest knows best: the right things to do and how to do them, what to eat, the best way to get anywhere, the proper way to celebrate any occasion…
Pests Who Come With Pests
They bring along their pets, complete with shed fur, messes on the floor, midnight barking/ chirping/ squeaking, stinky food, and the strange idea that they are welcome on the sofa.
Children who throw tantrums, draw on the walls, complain about anything and everything, cry all night, break Great Grandma’s antique china, or just sulk in a corner with headphones on because nothing is fair.
Secondary pests might even be brought unknowingly, such as lice or bedbugs.
There’s always a chance that a visitor could transmit infections, anything from a cold to the Bubonic Plague.
Bottom line: Few people match perfectly on every dimension. Acknowledging that means you won’t set unrealistic expectations for a visit. And sometimes, forewarned is forearmed!
I don’t mean rules like fastening seatbelts, which are self-regulated laws. I mean personal rules of conduct.
Many “rules” somehow become engrained in one’s thinking/behavior, but are actually totally personal.
So where do self-imposed rules come from?
We notice what behaviors bring love and affection, and which result in punishment or rejection. Over time, we develop “rules” to maximize rewards and minimize punishments.
(For an extended example of this, visit bbekercoaching.com and learn about the personal rule “Don’t Be A Sourpuss.”)
Some self-imposed rules are consciously adopted.
No more than three pieces of chocolate at a time.
Walk 10,000 steps a day.
No alcohol before 5:00PM.
At least one page of writing a day.
Talk with family at least once a week.
Never let them see you cry.
Many of us have internalized rules that could be voiced but seldom are.
The first time I was alone with my future father-in-law (a retired English professor and college dean), he said, “Tell me, what were the guiding principles by which you were reared?”
First I gasped. Then I paused. Then I said, “Your word is your bond. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. Finish what you start. If you don’t try, you can’t succeed. If at first you don’t succeed, try again. If you don’t succeed, at least you’ll know you gave it your best shot. Don’t threaten if you won’t or can’t follow through. Always be there for family. And, of course, The Golden Rule.”
Upon reflection, I realize that I’ve lived my life by those rules, even when I didn’t consciously call them to mind.
Virtually everyone has comparable rules, developed through childhood, plus rules about bedtime rituals, morning routines, getting dressed, etc. These are rules we follow because we’ve decided they are good for us.
Please note: sometimes what we think is a good rule might not be.
For example, Don’t argue in front of the children lest they be warped.
But how will they learn to disagree productively? Will they be gobsmacked when their parents announce that they are getting a divorce?
Many such rules are about what not to do.
Many rules relate to clothes, where unwritten rules/expectations demand dressing a certain way for work, but on weekends are pretty much irrelevant. Even so, one usually stays within the bounds of what one should wear as a person of a given age and gender. Why not wear hats or jewelry around the house?
Similarly, certain hobbies or activities may be passed over because one is of a certain age, or not the right ‘type’ of person for that. Think paintball, rollerskating, singing while walking around outside, learning to play a harmonica…
And then there are things one does not do simply because, somehow, it isn’t “right.” Think running the dishwasher when it’s only half full. Or leaving dirty dishes overnight. Sleeping in the same clothes worn all day, no matter how comfortable.
Never telling a lie is a rule for some people—and not easy to abide by.
Many self-imposed rules compel us to do things for no objective reason.
For example, these rules might compel us to put up and take down holiday decorations at particular times, in a particular order. Many people have rules around pet care and household chores.
Always load the dishwasher or dish drainer the same way.
Always sort the laundry by color
Or wash temperature
Or not at all
Or depending on what one thinks works
And speaking of clothes: change socks and underwear every day. And clothes appropriate to the occasion: says who?
Even in this day and age, some people send only hand-written notes of thanks or condolence, and only send them by U.S. mail.
At this point, you might be thinking, “But there are reasons! That’s the best way!” By what standard? Much of this happens on a non-conscious level, until challenged—or until the pattern is disrupted.
What about making the bed every day?
Or changing the towels once a week?
Always making the toilet paper unroll over the top of the roll rather than from under?
Hold the door for others?
Say “please” and “thank-you.”
All of these and more are “rules” for some people. In other cultures or times, any one of these could be impractical, irrelevant, or downright offensive.
The upside of self-imposed rules: they simplify your life and increase productivity.
Living by the rules is efficient.
One doesn’t have spend time/energy making the same decision repeatedly.
Rules provide predictability.
Things done repeatedly require less effort.
Rules provide clarity about behavior.
Rules provide security, the knowledge that one is “doing it right.”
Rules reduce anxiety.
Rules help make sense of the world.
The down-side of self-imposed rules: breaking them has consequences.
Breaking rules is uncomfortable—and the extent of the discomfort reflects the importance of the rule.
Not keeping (or being able to keep) self-imposed rules can reflect on one’s feelings of self-worth and discipline.
On the other hand, sometimes keeping the rule(s) causes more trouble/damage than benefit. Sometimes keeping rules induces anxiety. Some researchers (e.g., see psych diary.com) suggest that perfectionists have more rules and adhere to them more closely. I’d suggest that the effort to comply with one’s rules can be stressful beyond the apparent importance of the behavior.
People differ in the number of self-imposed rules they have and their adherence to them. In the extreme, one might suffer from Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder. Think of Adrian Monk, “the defective detective” whose compulsions keep him from living anything like an ordinary life.
(N.B.: related to but different from phobias.)
Getting over self-imposed rules.
When rules become stressful, and/or interfere with living happily, something’s gotta give. Maybe someone people just realize they were unconsciously restricting themselves in certain ways, and choose to change the pattern.
Some of these rules are relatively easy to recognize and break, but others are much more elusive and potentially insidious.
Ultimately, the person must consciously break a rule and realize that no one exploded, small children did not die, and (probably) s/he didn’t even get negative feedback. Indeed, people close to/living with the rule keeper may express relief, approval, and/or appreciation!
BOTTOM LINE: Consider your own self-imposed rules and (if you’re a writer) those of your characters. Consider bringing the non-conscious to awareness.
October is a month flooded with ghost images and stories. You might even know that what we call Halloween is rooted in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in—go figure!). The Celts lived about 2,000 years ago in what is now Ireland and northern France. Samhain was a time when people felt especially close to dead relatives and loved ones whose friendly spirits were welcomed for dinner, given treats, and provided with lit candles to help them find their way back to the spirit world.
Shortly after Halloween is Dios de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. In Hispanic culture, November 2nd is the day when the spirits of loved ones can return to the living world to visit with family and friends.
In late August or early September (depending on the lunar calendar), many Asian cultures celebrate the Ghost Festival or the Hungry Ghost Festival. During this week or month, depending on the country, celebrants not only honor their dearly departed but attempt to appease the spirits of the vengeful dead.
On 11/27/21, People wrote that 63% of respondents “to a recent survey” said they believe in paranormal activity of some sort and 57% of Americans believe in ghosts specifically.
On 11/28/21, based on a different survey, USA Today said 40% of Americans believe in ghosts and 20% said they’ve seen one.
And according to an 11/28/21 article in The New York Times, a 1990 Gallup Poll reported 25% believed in ghosts.
In their 2005 poll, 32% of respondents said they believed in ghosts.
A 2019 IPSOS poll reported 46% of respondents were believers.
One might speculate about reasons for the apparent increase in the number of ghost believers over the decades.
Although these numbers are data, they are not proof!
But let’s back up a bit….
What Is a Ghost?
Oxford Language defines ghost (noun) as “an apparition of a dead person which is believed to appear or become manifest to the living, typically as a nebulous image.” But is that what all those survey respondents believe in? Not necessarily.
Some people believe there are categories of ghosts: poltergeists, residual hauntings, intelligent spirits, or shadow people.
What’s the Evidence?
Elva Zona Heaster Shue, the Greenbrier Ghost Elva Shue died in 1897, and the death was ruled to be of natural causes during childbirth. Mary Jane Heaster, Elva’s mother, later told a judge that the ghost of her daughter appeared before her to accuse her husband of murdering her. Elva’s body was exhumed, and signs of strangulation were found on the corpse. Erasmus Shue, Elva’s husband, was convicted of her murder
Actually, there is nothing that scientists agree is evidence in support of ghosts existence. Benjamin Radford, 6/19/21, posted “Are ghosts real?” on livescience.com, considering this question in depth that I have summarized here.
For one thing, there are no clear, definite, agreed upon criteria. The presence of a spirit might manifest as a vision, an unexplained sound or light, a dream appearance, even a change of temperature or a light breeze, a cold spot in a hallway, a door closing for no apparent reason, keys or other objects missing or moved—virtually any unexplained happening/perception.
Contrary evidence is often based on logic and the physical world as we know it. How can an ephemeral being pass through walls, for example, but also lift or move furniture? Why do ghosts appear clothed? If the spirits of the dead can communicate with the living, why don’t murder victims just tell someone who did it?
But perhaps the evidence just hasn’t been found yet.
Do People—Many People—Just Need to Believe in Ghosts?
The belief that the dead remain with us in spirit is an ancient one, documented everywhere from the Bible to “Macbeth.” Many people are comforted by the belief that the spirits of dead loved ones look out for us, or support us in our times of need.
Some people do not accept that life as we live it is all there is to human existence. Consider the various religions that postulate life-after-death possibilities, whether those be reward/heaven vs. punishment/hell, reincarnation/rebirth, or something else.
For some, believing that spirits linger is a way of not accepting that a loved one is truly gone. And for some, the need for closure/understanding might drive them to ghosts as an explanation of anything otherwise inexplicable.
BOTTOM LINE: The lack of scientific support for the reality of ghosts is unlikely to separate believers from their beliefs. The sheer variety of ways ghosts/spirits are thought to manifest themselves means one can always find experiential “evidence” that supports one’s belief.
I wrote about bones last week, but the spine deserves a starring role. For one thing, the spinal cord (along with the brain) control everything else in the body. The spine is the bony canal and transmission hub for the spinal cord. Scroll on through and find the parts most interesting to you!
The spine is extremely flexible, allowing people to move in so many ways.
It has more than 120 muscles attached.
Over 100 joints allow for the spine’s extreme flexibility and range of movement.
It can bend far enough back to make ⅔ of a circle.
The spinal column includes approximately 220 individual ligaments.
These ligaments keep the vertebrae interconnected, which is paramount to keeping the spine (as well as the nerves it’s protecting within the spinal cord) stable.
Cartilage in the spine can expand and contract.
Over one fourth of the spine’s total length is created from cartilage, the sponge-like substance that separates one vertebral disc from the next.
Gravity can cause the cartilage to expand and contract. Sometimes when people go into space they come back taller!
People are also taller in the morning than at night, because at night gravity has been pushing down on the spine all day.
Exercise programs that emphasize good posture and strong torso muscles can reduce pressure on individual vertebral discs, increasing height.
It is also why people “shrink” with age: the permanent compression of cartilage can shorten one’s height by two inches or more.
The spine has an exceptional memory.
The spine remembers one’s usual posture.
A habit of bad posture is difficult to change.
But a spine will remember good posture, too, once it’s established.
Approximately 80% of Americans will suffer back pain in their lifetimes.
Back pain is the number one reason that people miss work in the U.S.
Back pain in also a leading cause behind disability claims in the United States.
Most back pain, approximately 80%, doesn’t require medical treatment and typically subsides in one to two months.
The most common cause of spinal cord trauma and resulting back pain in America is car accidents.
Most back pain is experienced in the lower back.
This is because the lower back is constantly twisting and stretching.
Some scientists believe that back pain is due to evolution, and in many ways is not preventable.
Homo sapiens never fully evolved to walk upright, but reproductive drive shifted away from species survival.
Babies’ spines begin developing just two months after conception.
The spine is the first bone to start to grow in utero.
When we’re born, our spines consist of 33 individual vertebrae. As we age, some of these vertebrae fuse together.
The five vertebrae composing our sacrum become one bone and the coccygeal vertebrae – which can vary from three to five bones – fuse together as one.
Thus, the tailbone is formed.
The spine is incredibly strong.
It can hold hundreds of pounds / kilograms of weight.
And Some Surprising Effects on Our Daily Functioning
Cervical Spine = 7 vertebrae. (FYI, humans and giraffes have the same number of vertebrae in their necks.)
C1, is sometimes called Atlas. This is a reference to the Greek mythological Atlas who was burdened with carrying the world on top of his shoulders (much like the neck supports and carries the weight of the head). C1 is involved in blood supply to the head, pituitary gland, scalp, bones of the face, brain, inner and middle ear, and sympathetic nervous system. Possible symptoms of problems:
Headaches and migraines
High blood pressure
C2: also called the Axis, involved with eyes, optic nerves, auditory nerves, sinuses, mastoid bones, tongue, and forehead. Possible symptoms of dysfunction:
Pain around eyes
Certain cases of blindness
C3: cheeks, outer ear, face bones, teeth, trifocal nerve
C4: cheeks, outer ear, face bones, teeth, trifacial nerve
C5: vocal cords, neck glands, pharynx
Throat conditions such as sore throat or quinsy
C6: neck muscles, shoulders, tonsils
Stiff neck (of course)
Pain in upper arm
Chronic cough or croup
C7: thyroid gland, bursae in the shoulders, elbows
Thyroid conditions, which can relate to weight, fatigue, hair loss, cold hands and feet
Thoracic Spine = 12 vertebrae– the middle portion of the back
T1: arms from the elbows down, including hands, wrists and fingers, esophagus and trachea
Shortness of breath
Pain in lower arms and hands
T2: heart, including its valves and covering, coronary arteries
Functional heart conditions
Certain chest conditions
T3: lungs, bronchial tubes, pleura, chest, breast tissue
T4: gallbladder, common duct
Gallbladder conditions (of course)
T5: liver, solar plexus, circulation (general)
Blood pressure problems
Other stomach troubles
T7: pancreas, duodenum
T9: adrenal and suprarenal glands
Hardening of the arteries
Other kidney problems
T11: kidneys, ureters
Other skin conditions
T12: small intestines, lymph circulation
Certain types of sterility
Lumbar Spine = 5 vertebrae – the lower back.
L1: large intestines, inguinal rings
Some ruptures or hernias
L2: appendix, abdomen, upper leg
Minor varicose veins
L3: sex organs, uterus, bladder, knees
Menstrual troubles/ pain/ irregularity
“Change of life” symptoms
Many knee pains
L4: prostate gland, muscles of the lower back, sciatic nerve
Painful or too frequent urination
L5: lower legs, ankles, feet
Poor circulation in the legs
Weak ankles and arches
Weakness in the legs
Sacrum: hip bones, buttocks
Coccyx: rectum, anus
Pain at end of spine on sitting
The spine is truly fascinating! While its complexity interests us, that complexity is one reason so many different spinal conditions exist. If you’re suffering from back pain beyond occasional stiffness and muscle stress, it’s recommended you consult your physician to see if a visit to a spinal specialist or chiropractor is warranted.
Quotes about spines (literal, metaphorical, and figurative).
If you would seek health, look first to the spine. — Socrates
You only really discover the strength of your spine when your back is against the wall. — James Geary
We’ve all got bones. The average adult has 206 of them. Babies are born with 300 bones, but with age, tiny bones fuse together to form the larger bones of the skeletal system. So, when we think bones, we often think skeletons.
But Wait! There’s More!
Humans have had multiple uses for skeletal remains since prehistoric times.
Imagine sitting down to a meal of ground-up bone, served on a plate made of burned bones, while two musicians—one rattling two sawed-off ribs together and the other ominously shaking part of a horse’s skull—provide grim ambience in the dim candlelight. Off in the corner, an oracle shoves some bones into a fire in an effort to predict whether the crops you just fertilized with shattered bones will yield a hearty harvest.
Here, in one handy list, are several uses for bones besides propping up a body (not always human).
(“Bones” themselves [pairs of rib bones] but also parts of guitars, whistles, drums, harps, pianos, etc.)
As an instrument, the bones have their roots in traditional Irish and Scottish music, and immigrants from those countries brought them to America, where they found a home in bluegrass and other folk genres. They’re similar to other clacking percussion instruments like the spoons, the Chinese paiban, and castanets.
The jawbone, meanwhile, is originally an African instrument that made its way to the Americas as a result of the slave trade. It’s usually the jawbone of a horse or another equine (like a donkey or zebra), that’s been stripped of all flesh and dried. Once it’s dry, the teeth become so loose they rattle around in their sockets.
Sensing the Supernatural
But it’s more than a simple rattle—fortune telling: scapulimancy and plastromancy. Relatives of augery, these involve writing questions on bones, heating them up until they crack, and then interpreting the cracks.
This form of divination was called scapulimancy when it was performed with the shoulder bone of an ox (the scapula). When the practitioner sought divine inspiration on the inside of a turtle shell (a plastron), it was called plastromancy.
Most commonly, inhabitants of Europe, western Asia, and North Africa most commonly inspected the bone after all flesh was scraped away – apyromantic. Practitioners who lived in North America and other parts of Asia more often used fire – pyromantic.
Unlike true porcelain, which contains only minerals, the ceramic material known as bone china includes bone ash. It originated in England in the 1700s and for a long time, most, if not all, bone china was made there. The addition of bone ash makes the finished product stronger.
Bone meal, as ground-up bones are called, has found its calling as plant fertilizer. It contains phosphorous and calcium, nutrients often leeched from the soil by common crops.
Gelatin and Glue
Most gelatin is made from the byproducts of the meat and leather industries, usually bones and skin. In its purest form, it’s 98 to 99 percent protein and is nearly tasteless and odorless. Its use dates back to the medieval era.
Gelatin ends up in obvious foods like gummies, but can also be used in a wide variety of ways to stabilize, thicken, and add texture to the things we eat. It’s also used to make modern film. Gelatin and animal glue are closely related, though use of the latter has largely disappeared, essentially eliminated by the invention of synthetic adhesives.
Types of Bones
The dense, hard bone is called cortical bone. Cortical bones are primarily the “structure” bones.
The second type, trabecular bone, is soft and spongy. It’s often found inside large bones and in the pelvis, ribs, and skull. Though less dense than cortical bone, it’s quite hard and protective.
Inside the Bones
Bone marrow is a spongy substance found inside large bones like hips, pelvis, and femur. Bone marrow houses stem cells. Stem cells produce many of the body’s most important cells, including blood, brain, heart, and bone cells.
There are 26 bones in the human foot.
The human hand, including the wrist, contains 54 bones.
The femur, or thighbone, is the longest and strongest bone of the human skeleton.
The stapes, in the middle ear, is the smallest and lightest bone of the human skeleton.
The collarbone is the most commonly broken bone among children.
Bones heal themselves. When you fracture a bone, your body will go to work producing new bone cells and helping heal the break. A cast or brace just ensures the bone heals straight so you don’t have more problems in the future.
Bones are made up of calcium, phosphorus, sodium, and other minerals, as well as the protein collagen.
Bones stop growing in length during puberty.
Bone density and strength will change over the course of life, however.
The only bone in the human body not connected to another is the hyoid, a V-shaped bone located at the base of the tongue.
Bones are strong but teeth are stronger. The enamel on your teeth, which are considered part of your skeletal system, is actually stronger than bones. Enamel protects the delicate nerves and tissue inside your teeth. Inch for inch, your teeth can take more wear and tear than any of your other bones.
Some people have 13 ribs. A 13th rib is rare — only 1 percent of people are born with it. In most people, this extra rib, called a cervical rib, can cause medical issues like neck pain. For that reason, people born with this extra rib often have it removed.
Humans are part of a group of creatures called vertebrates. That means our bones are covered by a system of tissue and skin. Only 10 percent of the world’s animals (humans included) are vertebrates.
It is possible for your muscles to contract so hard that they break your own bones. Tetanus cramps can cause the bone to snap under the pressure. More common are avulsion fractures, in which the muscle contracts so hard and so quickly that the tendon rips away and takes a chunk of bone with it.
We’ve all seen movies or TV shows in which a skeleton is used to tell whether the dead person was male or female. Here’s how.
A female’s skeleton is usually much smoother and less knobby than a male’s. A male’s skeleton is usually thicker, rougher, and appears more bumpy. This is simply because males have larger muscles and therefore their skeletons require stronger attachment sites.
Differences in bone mass and geometry give males greater skeletal integrity, which may contribute to the lower incidence of stress and thin-bone (osteoporotic) fractures in males. A male’s skull is usually bigger and bumpier than a female’s. There are specific anatomical differences in frontal brow, eye orbits, lower jaw, and shape of chin.
Examination of the pelvis is the easiest method to determine the sex of a skeleton. The female pelvis has a wider subpubic angle by 8-40 degrees, is rectangular (vs. triangular), and oval (vs. heart-shaped). The sacrum for females is shorter, broader and curved outward (vs. inward). All of this is to make childbirth easier. Women who have borne children have scars on the surface of their pelvis.
Bending the Bones
Don’t forget the joints! What would bones do without them? Not much.
Joints are the place where two bones meet or connect.
Ligaments are short bands of tough fibrous connective tissue that function to connect one bone to another, forming the joint.
Tendons are made of elastic tissue and also play a key role in the functioning of joints. They connect muscle to bone.
A coating of another fibrous tissue called cartilage covers the bone surface and keeps the bones from rubbing directly against each other.
Some joints move and some don’t. Joints in the skull don’t move. Synovial joints are movable joints. They make up most of the joints in the body and are located mostly in the limbs, where mobility is critical. They contain synovial fluid, which helps them to move freely.
Ball and socket joints, such as hip and shoulder joints, are the most mobile type of joint. They allow you to move your arms and legs in many different directions.
Ellipsoidal joints, such as the one at the base of the index finger, allow bending and extending.
Gliding joints are found between flat bones that are held together by ligaments. Some bones in the wrists and ankles move by gliding against each other.
Hinge joints are those in the knee and elbow. They enable movement similar to the way a hinged door moves.
Bones provide the structure for our bodies. Each bone plays a role in the mechanics of body function, so if a bone is broken, none of the bones around it can function properly. Bones get little attention unless injured or diseased.
Bone diseases can make bones easy to break. Different kinds of bone problems:
Everything from scintillating cocktail conversation to realistic writing to acing tests depends on it!
Quartz can scratch glass—easily. It’s one of the few minerals that can. But gem stones topaz and corundum (mainly ruby and sapphire) can mark glass, too, being between the hardness of quartz (7) and diamond (10, the hardest of all).
Of course, diamonds can cut glass, and can scratch virtually anything. Is there anyone out there who didn’t know that? I’ve often heard that in years gone by, women would authenticate their engagement ring stone by scratching a name or other inscription into window glass. Little did they know it might be quartz! Or zircon!
Zircon is the oldest mineral found on earth, and it’s the only natural gemstone that can imitate diamond (hardness up to 7.5). It can mark glass, too.
Out of Breath
The human body can function without air longer than you think. The current record for voluntarily going without oxygen is 11 minutes, 35 seconds for men and 8 minutes, 23 seconds for women.
As a point of comparison, the average person can hold his/her breath for 30-90 seconds. FYI, Japanese pearl divers don’t have super lungs; they hold their breath for about two minutes per dive. And, yes, people can train themselves for longer breathlessness.
Weather: It’s Everywhere!
Chicago has more sports events cancelled because of weather than any other U.S. city—but I couldn’t confirm that just now.
Consider how weather could add tension to any sport that is played outdoors. Communities in regions prone to rain, snow, etc., residents tend to be more willing to play soccer in the rain or huddle around fire pits to watch an outdoor hockey game. Don’t forget heat and drought. And consider the implications of climate change.
Similar considerations apply for outdoor concerts, plays, and lectures. Some instruments (brass, certain woodwinds, a few percussion types, and [shockingly] harps) can be played in the rain or cold if they are properly prepared and cared for after. The heavy stage makeup actors wear to withstand sweat and theatrical weeping will also stand up to rain.
Death Valley is the hottest location in the U.S. (Marathoners have to bring extra shoes to replace all the pairs that will melt on the asphalt during the course of the race!)
Phoenix, AZ, is the hottest city in the U.S.
Fairbanks, Alaska is the coldest city in the whole country, but Grand Forks, ND, is the coldest in the continental U.S.
The Yukon is the coldest region in the U.S. (Most items have to be shipped in refrigerated trucks to prevent them freezing in transit!)
Mount Rainier has the most snowfall.
Syracuse, NY is the snowiest city in the continental U.S.
Mobile, AL, is the rainiest city in the continental U.S.
All 10 of the rainiest cities are along the southernmost border.
For all that Chicago is known as “The Windy City,” the windiest is actually Dodge City, Kansas. Indeed, Chicago doesn’t even make the top 10!
The difference between a hurricane and a typhoon is a matter of geography.
In the North Atlantic, central North Pacific, and eastern North Pacific, it’s a hurricane.
In the Northwest Pacific, it’s a typhoon.
In the South Pacific, it’s called a tropical cyclone. In fact, all are tropical cyclones.
The weakest of these are tropical depressions; the next level up are tropical storms.
$ and € and £ and ¥
The Value of a Dollar is actually the name of a great reference book.
It gives the cost of goods and services as well as typical salaries/wages by year, starting in 1860 and still updated.
Gas in Bath County, Virginia, cost ten cents per gallon in 1935. Ham was ten cents a pound as well.
Over the last 20 years, U.S. annual inflation rate has varied between 0.1% (2015) and 3.8% (2008). The highest inflation rates, some in the thousands of percent, occur in third world and developing countries, including Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Lebanon, and Argentina. Those who know these things blame the lack of a central bank, which allows for easier currency manipulation.
In 2020, Wichita Falls, TX was the city with the lowest cost of living. The four lowest cost-of-living cities were all in Texas. However, the lowest cost of living state is Mississippi.
Gender and Orientation
120 males are conceived for every 100 females, but only 105 males are born for every 100 females. Sometimes called “male fragility”, the fact is that at every age and stage, males are more likely to die than females, as well as having more behavioral and developmental disorders.
Physiologically, a newborn girl is 6 weeks ahead of a newborn boy. Females tolerate heat, cold, famine, and disease better than males. Speed and strength favor men, but endurance favors women.
In 1/1500 to 1/2000 births, the newborn’s genitalia are so noticeably atypical that a sexual differentiation expert must be called in. What used to be called hermaphroditic is now part of a larger category termed intersex: 1 in 100 newborns have bodies that are not standard male or female.
In the U.S., 58% of reported COVID deaths are male (per the CDC as of May 6). In England, Wales, and France, that figure is 60%. In Malaysia, it’s 78%.
Research lags sexual identification, but I was able to find that similar numbers of men and women in the U.S. identify as LGB (3.5%). (8.2% report having actually engaged in same-sex sexual behavior.)
Among LGB identifiers, a slight majority identify as bisexual, and the majority of those are women.
0.3% identify as transgender. Research in these areas is fraught with hurdles and problems.
Love and/or Marriage
Predictions are that 40-50% of all marriages end in divorce. That number goes up to 60% of second marriages and 65% of third and fourth marriages.
About 6% of couples who married and divorced later remarried each other. 72% of those remarried couples stayed together.
Glynn Wolfe (1908-1997) was a Baptist minister who seems to hold the record for the most monogamous marriages (29). The shortest lasted 19 days, the longest 11 years.
Britney Spears and Jason A. Alexander were married 55 hours. Long-time friends, they married on the spur of the moment in Las Vegas and agreed to an annulment just over two days later.
But wait! That’s still 1100 times longer than the record (which still holds, as best I could determine). In 2019, a couple in Kuwait probably set the bar for the shortest marriage on record: 3 minutes. Leaving the courthouse, the bride tripped and fell. Her new husband called her ‘stupid.” She returned to the judge who had just married them and demanded a divorce.
A bigamist marries a second (third, etc.) spouse while still married to someone else.
Polygamy is the culturally/legally accepted practice of one man having several wives.
Polyandry is the same, only it’s one woman with multiple husbands.
The human skeleton renews approximately every 3 months.
Human infants are born with 6 cranial bones and 2 holes in their heads (called fontanelles). The fontanelles usually close up within the first two months.
In total, human infants are born with more than 300 bones. They fuse with age, resulting in adult bodies with only 206.
The hardest bone in the body is the mandible/jawbone.
Children develop both sets of teeth at the same time. Their baby teeth fall out as their permanent teeth grow downward.
The hands and feet have over half of all the bones in the human body: 27 per hand and 26 per foot.
The hyoid bone is the only bone in the human body not connected to another bone.
Ancient Egyptians (about 3000 years ago) developed the first functional prosthetic bone, a big toe.
Humans and other animals with internal bony skeletons are in the minority—only about 2% of animal species are endoskeletal.
The average number of skeletons in the human body is technically more than one. (Pregnant women skew the numbers ever so slightly.)
The femur is the longest bone in the human body, and one of the most researched in both human anatomy and forensic medicine.
Bottom Line: One of my greatest rewards for writing is learning new things. I want my facts to be right. Therefore, I do a lot of research—and therein lies the joy of coming across the unexpected. I recommend it!
Very Important Note: Be mindful of what you’re researching, where you’re researching, and what that research might look like to a stranger. Some topics will throw up a red flag in search engines or on monitorwd networks. You don’t want the FBI knocking on your door just because the explosion scene in your novel is chemically accurate!
September 28th is National Coffee Day! It may be a fairly new holiday (started in 2015), but it’s becoming one of favorites.
Whenever I find a big hole in my knowledge stash, I immediately try to fill it. Thus, when my husband and I were lingering over our breakfast coffee—Kenyan, one of our favorites—and, for no identifiable reason, I said, “Does coffee grow in the United States?”
Bingo! Something to find out about!
Being my husband of many years, he immediately knew that I meant the continental U.S., not Puerto Rico or Hawaii, but he didn’t know. The answer is “yes.” Coffee is grown in California now, though it is a newcomer to coffee production.
As it turns out, I found researching coffee fascinating. Although coffee is now grown worldwide, its roots trace back centuries to ancient coffee forests on the Ethiopian plateau.
According to legend, the goat herder Kaldi first discovered the potential of these beloved beans when he noticed that after eating them, his goats became energized and didn’t want to sleep. (I don’t know how anyone could tell the difference.) He took the beans to a monastery where the head monk made a drink from them, felt the energizing effects, and shared the drink with other monks. And then the word began to spread.
By the 15th century, coffee was being grown in the Yemeni district of Arabia.
By the 16th century it was known in Persia, Egypt, Syria, and Turkey.
By the 17th century, coffee had made its way to Europe and was becoming popular across the continent—which raises the question of how the British came to be/stay tea drinkers, but that’s another story.
The common breakfast drinks of the time—beer and wine—quickly lost ground. Though people probably didn’t realize it, boiling the water in coffee generally made it much safer to drink than water. Coffee-drinking workers were alert and energized, and the quality of their work was greatly improved. (The National Coffee Association suggests that this was a precursor to the modern office coffee service.)
Coffee was brought to New Amsterdam, later called New York, by the mid-1600s. However, the American preference for coffee didn’t come until after the famous/infamous Boston Tea Party, when the colonists revolted against the high tax imposed on tea by George III. A fuller history of coffee and lots more coffee info can be had at ncausa.com.
Suffice it to say, lots of wise and not-so-wise people have commented on coffee.
Louisa May Alcott, Little Women: “I’d rather take coffee than compliments just now.”
Thomas Jefferson: “Coffee – the favorite drink of the civilized world.”
Ronald Reagan: “I never drink coffee at lunch. I find it keeps me awake for the afternoon.”
T.S. Eliot: “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”
Anthony Trollope, The Warden: “What on earth could be more luxurious than a sofa, a book, and a cup of coffee?”
Vincent Van Gogh: “To do good work one must eat well, be well housed, have one’s fling from time to time, smoke one’s pipe, and drink one’s coffee in peace.”
Abraham Lincoln: “If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee.”
Johann Sebastian Bach: “Without my morning coffee, I’m just like a dried-up piece of goat.” (FYI, he wrote a coffee cantata.)
Clark Gable: “I never laugh until I’ve had my coffee.”
Dave Barry: “It is inhumane, in my opinion, to force people who have a genuine medical need for coffee to wait in line behind people who apparently view it as some kind of recreational activity.”
One measure of coffee’s ubiquity is the sheer number of quotes available! If you search coffee quotes on line, you will find lists ranging from 30 to 117. Even discounting repetitions, that’s saying a lot about coffee.
I’m not a coffee addict, though there are such—people who get headaches if they don’t have their caffeine fix. In truth, other sources of caffeine can be just as addictive (think soda, tea, or chocolate) but coffee is the one most often acknowledged/recognized.
I typically drink only one cup of coffee a day, which some consider heretical, but even so, I have my preferences: start with roasted beans, grind, brew using a drip coffee maker. I drink it black, and prefer Kenyan or Tanzanian, sometimes Mocha or a darker roast.
In the U.S., coffee drinking is practically a cultural requirement, and as such, it’s everywhere, in many forms. Black, cream, sugar, foam, no foam, full caf, half-caf, decaf, soy latte, instant (ugh!)—people love their coffee a certain way and often will not budge on change it. I, on the other hand, like to change it up.
Coffee and coffee shops are a huge part of our social culture. Teenagers often start drinking it to keep up with late night homework and early morning bus schedules. Many people hang out in coffee shops to use the wifi or meet friends. Sending coworkers to fetch coffee or jumping the line at a kiosk is frequently a method of establishing or reinforcing workplace hierarchy. I know several parents who have special “coffee time” with their young children. (In every case I’ve heard of, the child drinks milk with maybe a teaspoon of coffee added.)
Believe it or not, some people are allergic to coffee or just really dislike it. In a country with (seemingly) coffee shops on every corner, what social implications might this have?
And what about equipment? Grinder for freshly ground beans? Keurig for easy portioning? Where/when is it drunk? Made at home or purchased in a cafe? Milk or whipped cream or fancy syrup? SO many opportunities!
What’s your coffee habit? And how about your characters?