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Peace on Solstice

Peace on Solstice


Astronomically speaking, we have reached the longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere. I for one hail the return of the light as we pass around the sun. It means the pineal glands inside my animals’ heads will detect more light through the optic nerve, letting them know that Spring is 90 days away. It’s time to prepare for babies and shed their winter coats. It helps lift depression in humans as well; I know it does for me.

And from this basic celebration hundreds, maybe thousands of different rituals and ceremonies have arisen, from Saturnalia to Santa Claus. It happens every 365.25 days, without fail, since the Earth cooled and settled into orbit. It happens if no one cares, if every life form alive went extinct, or if we find life on Mars. It is such a such a steady, never changing phenomenon that we have based our lives around it – this thing we call time. stonehengesolstice

I just want to remind you all that our lives are short, most less than a single century. Go out of your way this solstice, and say “what can I do to make things better for ______” and that can be anything from your cat to the environment.

Here’s a really cool link if you want more information on the winter solstice. In the meantime, Captain Jackson’s dear wife, Rianya, has been living in artificial lighting for years now, and if you’ve been paying attention, you might be able to guess what happens when she finds herself back on Beta Hydri IV.

Artist's impression of the trio of super-Earths discovered by an European team using the HARPS spectrograph on ESO's 3.6-m telescope at La Silla, Chile, after 5 years of monitoring. The three planets, having 4.2, 6.7, and 9.4 times the mass of the Earth, orbit the star HD 40307 with periods of 4.3, 9.6, and 20.4 days, respectively.




Darker Days Ahead

Darker Days Ahead


Hang in there, the solstice is coming. You might not notice it at first, but around December 22 we have our shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, although not usually the coldest. Those come in January for most of us. And then the days mercifully begin to last a little longer and a little longer, lifting depression and signaling the coming of Spring.

If you’re a scientist like me, and I assume most of you are at least hobbyists, you want the truth, up front, bad news or good. You value that science and knowledge sets us apart from the ignorant, superstitious, unnatural world view for which we’ve lived with most of our evolutionary days, which, depending on when you decide to call our species ‘human’ is, somewhere between a million and a hundred thousand years ago.

We are forcing humans into unnatural selection these days. If you’d like to read about it in depth, I recommend a book by Juan Enriquez, “Evolving Ourselves”, available in the customary locations worldwide.

Available at Amazon

We have pigeonholed ourselves away from even the smallest resemblances of our original existence. Babies are born by C-section, antibiotics kill every microbe we want to destroy, and the toxins of pollution are starting to express their effects in the newest generations, such as autism, allergies, and shorter life spans. Our immune systems are coddled, our drudgery’s solved, artificial daylight rules, and our food is wrapped in plastic.

I am still hopeful in this new age of corporate control that science will last, because it doesn’t change except to uncover a deeper truth. If it’s found incorrect, its duty and obligation is to correct itself. Facts remain despite any objections, propaganda, denial, or wishful thinking. When you make decisions in your life, inform yourself from reliable sources, be skeptical of wild claims and extraordinary declarations. Look for the facts, the proof, the evidence. In this way, you promote the brain over the brawn, the science over fiction, the future over the past.

Wishing you peace and warmth as the sunlight returns to generate life on Earth. (For those of you on the other side of the equator, read this again in June when it applies on your half of the planet.)





laikaOn a lighter note, I thought maybe you’d like to know a few tidbits about dogs.  A dog was the first animal sent into space on behalf of humans, a Soviet dog named Laika, sent on Sputnik 2 in November of 1957. It may not be such a lighter note since Laika perished in orbit about four hours after launch, despite the initial reports from Moscow that reported she stayed alive several days. Her death was likely stress from the launch and the high heat of the space capsule that transferred into the cabin.

Not a large dog, she was a vagabond picked up off the street, not a pure bred dog. She and two others were prepared for the trip by spending time in a centrifuge, being kept in decreasingly smaller cages,  and dressed in vests covered in heavy sensors and transmitters. Yes, a dog was the first living thing to leave the planet Earth alive.

So if you’re considering bringing home a pet for the holidays, a rescue dog can be a legend, a ‘caninonaught’, or a great friend that will steal your heart. Before you bring a pet home, be sure all family members agree on the care and maintenance for the new member of the family. Learn about dog care, training, and health. Don’t skimp on veterinary visits, and consider a puppy or dog will be at least a ten year commitment. If you’re lucky, they will be a companion for much longer and a permanent piece of your life, heart, and memories.

And now here’s your cute puppy stamp.   beagle

Homochirality – the foundation of life

Homochirality – the foundation of life

This is interesting as hell if you are a geek. If you’re too busy ranting about the election, sitting in front of a game console, or watching soaps, go ahead and skip this post. For those of you still with me, we’re talking about the subject of my first novel, PARADOX. We’re talking about chemicals, DNA, atoms, and the forces that make the world go round.


The image above is the molecule LIMONENE. A molecule is a compound of atoms, remember, which are the smallest units of a single element. A center has the neutrons and protons, and in shells around the nucleus zing the electrons. Molecules, like atoms, are three dimensional things. Think of them as Tinkertoys, it helps.

Water is a molecule, made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. It is always the same no matter how it combines because the two hydrogen atoms always sit in the outermost shell of the oxygen atom. That will never change.

Most molecules are chiral. They can exist only if the atoms hook up together in the correct order at the correct electron. DNA is one of those molecules. You’ve all seen an illustration showing the twisting molecule, sometimes two meters long, all scrunched up into a microscopic package – it’s truly amazing. All biological DNA but for a few archaic bacteria twist to the right.

Huh? Thglow-dnae only way I can explain it is this: The strips of DNA in the foreground are spiraling down FROM the right in the picture. If you see a drawing of the strips in the foreground going left, it is drawn incorrectly. But that’s not what the post is about. What I want to explain is how it got like this and why it’s important. The geeky part is coming, hang in there.

IT MATTERS which way the thing goes, because if you take a look at the LIMONE molecule above, if it chirals to the left, (L or S) it smells and tastes like lemons. If it spirals to the right (R or D) it smells and tastes like oranges. The molecule cannot match up with it’s own mirror image in 3D. Your hands are like that. The palms can meet, but that is not because they are symmetric. If they were symmetric they would look the same from your viewpoint. Place one over the other in front of you (not palm to palm).They are not mirror images of each other.

Where am I going with this? Remember, salts, minerals, chemicals can and mostly are asymmetrical. All over the world with few exceptions (which I’ll theorize about shortly) amino acids spiral to the right and sugars spiral to the left. In a lab environment, we’ve created compounds that still spiral, but in both directions. Why in nature are these compounds homochiral, but heterochiral in the lab?

soupWhat mechanism drives the biological compounds to homochirality back in the prebiotic world? If you think back to our atoms and their electrons, could it be that a tiny (really tiny) bit of energy happened to pull the molecule a little one way or the other? It could have just as easily been to the left as to the right. This small imbalance in the two different enantiomers is real and in my humble opinion could have been the result of the direction of planetary motion. Earth revolves counterclockwise around the sun and its own axis. By considering the earlier Earth and its molten core, a bit of centrifugal motion may have been the magic ingredient to push biology one direction or another.

I’m at the really geeky part now. If this might be true, then it might be true that on Venus, which spins clockwise on its axis, lifeforms would have the opposite chirality. And here is something we don’t know. How long ago did Venus flip? Most likely, it was early on when the solar system was forming, and models suggest that it was hit by some planetessimal, possibly the fragment of which became Mercury. Another time for that avenue.

So, if Venus were not such a hot and hostile place, would we be able to eat vegetation that arose there or only if it formed before the planet was kicked over? Are the theoretical life forms on Venus opposite from Earthlings and does their DNA spiral left? Are there both biological creatures – those that developed before the collision and after? Wouldn’t it be a fantastic mission, to land on Venus, pick up some creatures, and find out which way they tick?darwin-soup-252x300

More fodder for my science fiction novels, Paradox is exactly this scenario. The planet around Beta Hydri suffered a collision with a space body and was turned upside down so that the sun rises in the west and sets in the east. And the first life forms to develop were similar to Earth – right enantiomer DNA until the planet changed, and then new life forms developed with left enantiomer DNA.

In the last 20 years or so, the classification of biological life forms has itself evolved, and now we have Daredevil Kooky Prince Charles On Friday Goes Surfing. Daredevil stands for DOMAIN, and further divides the kingdoms into Archaea, Bacteria, and Eukarya (this last one holds fungi, plants, and animal kingdoms).  Should we find such life forms, on Mars or one of Jupiter’s moons how will we classify them? Do they get their own Domain or Kingdom,  will they exhibit the D enantiomer or the L, and why? Finding life on another world is more than exciting, it’s an entirely new science to explore. A hundred years ago there was no job for the pizza delivery man. A hundred years from now, I guarantee we will have exobiologists answering these very questions.


Quakes in Oklahoma?

Quakes in Oklahoma?

Damage to home in Pawnee Oklahoma, 9/2016

California is the land of quakes in North America. San Francisco gets an extra shout out for being at one end of a fault line known as San Andreas which runs vaguely northwest to southeast to Los Angeles, at the other end. When you grow up there, you know what to do when the ground begins to shake and the rumble of sound waves try to warn you out of bed or away from a window. You sleep with hard soled slippers next to your bed and keep trash cans full of survival supplies in your garage near the door, so if the building begins to crunch you can walk without stepping on glass and get to your container.

Don’t forget water. You need to keep a lot of water on hand because the old pipes will break and you will be SOL if that happens. Besides thinking about water, I’d get one of those portable device chargers and keep it in the emergency can as well, so you can text to your friends if you’re safe or not.  When the thing hits, if you’re a native Californian, you wait before you act. It might just be a 4 or 5, and the epicenter might be anywhere. But sometimes it keeps going, and you realize it’s either closer or more powerful than you first hoped. It could be a 6, and that means you need to get up and stand in the doorway away from windows. Stuff will fall off shelves, roads will crack, a few landslides and lots of broken windows. But still not time to panic.

Then it could become a 7. Now it’s time for those slippers and to head outside if the walls might come down. Don’t forget, it’s time to curse the fact that you didn’t stock up on batteries or take my advice to keep a portable charger in your emergency can. A 7 can be  downright exciting as long as you’re not on top of it. Lots of shaking, a few random broken water lines, the gas lines not so exciting, and when roads buckle, not so exciting either.

Yeah, I’m an old hat at riding out quakes. If I was transplanted to Oklahoma, I’d be significantly more terrified of tornadoes. Now those people have to worry about both quakes and tornadoes. Why?

There’s no tectonic plate under Oklahoma like the North American and Pacific plates that bump up against each other underneath California. It’s our need for those portable rechargers. It’s our addiction to electricity. America has worked hard to become energy independent, and hydraulic fracturing is a technology that supports the generation of electricity. It releases natural gas which is used to run turbines that create electricity for the grid. Also called fracking, for short, since 2008 when fracking began to seriously ramp up in Oklahoma, the number of earthquakes over a magnitude 3.0 has risen from 2 to almost 900. Half of all earthquakes over 5.0 have occurred in 2016, which isn’t over yet, in the last 135 years! Think that’s suspicious? The total number of earthquakes over 5.0 in Oklahoma in those 135 years has been 6. So, 3 happened in 134 years, and 3 happened in the last 10 months.

Fracking involves drilling into rock and injecting the hole with water and sand, the sand holding open tiny fissures to let the natural gas escape. That waste water allows the fractures to slip, causing the quakes. So far in 2016, Oklahoma has had 572 – about 2 per day. Coincidence? From 2 in 2008 to 889 in 2015. In fact the largest quake ever recorded in Oklahoma was a 5.8, which occurred just last September.

Las Vegas

Humans are changing the face of the planet, even the dermis of the planet, for the sake of electricity. I don’t suggest it’s possible for Americans to make a significant lifestyle change in a short enough period of time to make a difference, but we can certainly see where this voracious appetite for energy is taking us. If we don’t abandon our need for non-renewable sources, (coal and natural gas), and exchange them for clean renewable sources (solar and wind, geothermal and hydro electric), we will find ourselves in dire straights when the planet is severely damaged and the black gold is gone.

Our planet will survive. It’s downright ridiculous for humans to think we can destroy the planet. We can destroy the climate that we love, we can destroy our ecosystem, force thousands of species into extinction, and find ourselves warring over resources, but Earth doesn’t care if we’re here or not. When the dinosaurs ended their 200 million year reign, the Earth didn’t care, and here we are. If they could have made changes to save themselves, would they have let their thirst for power and control shadow the possibilities of extinction? Can we evaluate ourselves and conclude that we have more intelligence than the dinosaurs, and make those changes before it’s too late?



Move Over, Hubble

Move Over, Hubble

james-webb-space-telescopeA golden telescope is ready to be tested after twenty years under construction. It will be the largest space telescope humans have ever deployed, and it’s scheduled to assume its final position about a million miles away from Earth in 2018. This magnificent feat of engineering will have seven times the light collecting surface of Hubble in addition to having the ability to collect infrared light.

It’s called the James Webb Space Telescope. If the moon was only the size of a jellybean, this telescope could see it, and any heat that it might emit. From its orbit ‘behind’ the earth at a place in space officially called Lagrange Point 2 (see the info graphic), and by maintaining a temperature near absolute zero, the telescope will, among other tasks, be able to penetrate clouds of dust and analyze the atmospheres of exoplanets that have been discovered around nearby stars.

The cost? Almost 9 billion bucks. That’s a lot of money, but it didn’t simply go up in smoke. The money supported high tech and manufacturing jobs for the betterment of man as opposed to more nuclear weapons, wars for oil, and the interest on the national debt, which by itself is over 230 billion dollars annually. Over the course of 20 years, this single project cost less than a third of a single year’s American science budget. When you look at it that way, it’s downright reasonable given its projected lifespan, the information we will gain, and again, the high tech jobs that go with. We spend that money and we have something to show for it.

NASA leads the project, but has considerable support by the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.  The 21 foot mirror  has to be launched folded and will unfurl once it has endured the launch itself which will take about two weeks! It will be told to open its solar shield, then it must cool down. The last thing ground engineers will do is focus the instrument, and it should begin functioning by Spring of 2019. It carries enough fuel to sustain it for ten years but with typical spacecraft, it will probably function much longer than anyone expects.

I borrowed (stole) this info-graphic from Space dot com that broke the story, and hope if you are interested in more details you’ll go visit them. I’m all about giving credit where it is due, and simply want to bring a little good news to you in light of all the ugly news on the television these recent days. Enjoy, share, and dream.




23 Skiidoo

23 Skiidoo

Just what are chromosomes? You hear about them all the time these days, in the media and the internet. Are those 23 wiggly strips of DNA that cursed you through high school biology class exams even worth your time when groceries, soccer, kids, work, traffic, and family all take a piece of you already?

glow-dnaGenetic engineering is arguably the most significant single tool humans possess to change their future. It affects everything you can think of. Eradicating viruses, eliminating bacterial resistance, stopping birth defects, cleaning up polluted water, increasing crop yields, all on the radar in the genomic future of humans. I’d like to elaborate on each of those, but suffice to say the essay would become a text book.

I’m only thinking of the human condition for this little blog. Let’s take a look at just a couple chromosomes so the task is manageable. By the way, I want to plant an image in your mind of the correct direction of a helix. As you look at the right side of the drawing, the bands in the fore of the diagram should be as this diagram displays, from the right downward. Why? Because a molecule of DNA is a chiral molecule, and on Earth at least, amino acids twist to the right (most sugars, however, twist to the left, chirally speaking. This is an entirely separate subject). Take my word for it or you can go see a detailed explanation here.

So back to chromosomes. Note that the letter N is not part of the word chromosome, I just want to draw your attention to that if you need to write the word and your spell checker is asleep. A chromosome, of which we have 23 pairs, is a really, really, long, long, long, complex molecule of nucleic acids, perhaps two meters long in some cases, all curled up tight and folded over itself countless times. Some of these chromosomes have as many as 5000 base pairs, those little bars that cross from one side to the other. So let that sink in. A two meter strand of microscopic nucleic acids, thousands of them, all compressed so small that 46 of them fit inside the nucleus of a single cell. Tiny is an understatement. I’m not sure I can think of an appropriate word other than microscopic or quantum to impress upon the eency weenciness and complexity of such structures. Suffice to say, they’re really small.

what-is-down-syndrome1Genetic engineers have found a way to reduce the severity of mental retardation in children with an extra chromosome 21 (Down’s syndrome) if they are aware of the mutation and can intervene before 10 weeks when the neural pathways begin to develop. New technology allows doctors to use fragments of fetal DNA found in the mother’s blood to diagnose the condition so an amniocentesis or CVS doesn’t have to be performed (increasing chance of miscarriage), which by the way is performed too late to correct the issue. Although heart development and characteristic features are already set, the mental retardation that accompanies Down’s Syndrome can be significantly reduced offering these children a more traditional future of independence and community acceptance.

We should respect nature, but not fear our ability to reduce suffering and lifelong disabilities if the technology supports intervention. We also will find that we must define what is a disability and to what degree. Is total blindness a given fix but nearsightedness on the fence? How much of a disability is really a disability? Will gene manipulation one day be used in the everyday care of pregnancy that an engineer can fix incurable disorders or will the simply undesirable disorders also be up for grabs? As we wade into the shallow waters of the primordial gene pool, we should be excited, responsible, and consider as many angles as possible before we go over The Cliff of No Return.

I’d love to meet you!

I’d love to meet you!

marriottCome out this Saturday to the beautiful J W Marriott resort in Summerlin and head to the 221 Tapas Restaurant and Lounge after your morning round of golf, an hour at the spa, or a game of cards in the casino. I’ll be out front from 1 pm to 4 pm selling and signing my new release “Paradox: The Alien Genome”,  a story of courage in the face of adversity and tenacity when all hope is lost.  Shipwrecked on a planet where the sun rises in the west and the chemicals of life make little sense, an unexpected love manifests an incomprehensible science that clashes with old superstitions, promises deliverance from genetic engineering folly, and brings out the worst, and best, of human nature.paradoxTAG

Meet new characters that will be back time and again with adventures in both outer and inner space, looking for solutions to the conundrums humans seem to create toward their own demise. I use my background in
veterinary medicine and my education in creative writing to create stories of adventure dependent on the heart and brain of characters you can relate to. You’ll see a little of yourself in each of them and maybe even wish you could live their lives despite the surprisingly human mishaps and startlingly clever aliens they encounter in their journeys.

Comshipcrashe meet me, say hello, and enjoy the tapas lounge and other entertainment on a lazy Saturday afternoon. I’m giving away my free e-book Gamma Ray Games with every purchase of Paradox, on the spot; enjoy two adventures of Captain Thomas Jackson and his intrepid crew of the Science Ship Linus Pauling.



221 N. Rampart Blvd., Summerlin Marriott Resort & Casino

1-4 pm, Saturday November 5

Reasons to Read

Reasons to Read

If Carl Sagan doesn’t convince you, I’m not sure I can. But from the shelves of Dr. Seuss to Dr. Hawking, books, paper or electronic, expand your mind, your experience, your heart. School teachers claim that the most important thing a parent can do to help their kids learn easier is read to them as children.bookcarlsagan

Relaxation is another top notch reason to read. Isn’t the best time to read in bed when you’re on your way to Nod? Books aren’t so boring that they put you to sleep – they are so relaxing that you can go to sleep.

Stimulation of your brain is another great reason to pick up a book. Non-fiction such as biographies, self help, and even about a hobby will give you tools and resources, insight into others’ methods and thoughts. Every book’s author can be a friend.

Reading makes your memory more efficient. Reading boosts your analytical skills. Reading alleviates boredom.

Your vocabulary will improve, and your writing skills will leap. Have you ever needed to write an essay, a business letter, a note to your boss? When you read, well edited books that is, not the comics and sadly not the newspaper, you absorb proper skills without even trying.

Television is passive and boring. More books exist than television programs ever have and many are serialized, offering a chance to participate in the characters’ lives over several years.

Knowledge. Yes, even fiction can bring you information you didn’t know about – everything from how a rocket to arsenic works!

I think we all know how many worlds you can visit and people you can know by reading. Even if you just read the side of a cereal box, you’re going to learn something. So read. Go read a book. Find your favorite subject (mine is science fiction), narrow it down (space travel) and look for reviews that are comprehensive, not so much what are best sellers and have lots of numbers. And while you’re out there, spread the word! Be prepared the next time someone asks you “Have you read any good books lately?”


When October Goes

When October Goes


All roads point to home in old October. I find this one of my favorite blurbs as October seems to call people home. In the Northern Hemisphere, the summer heat is over, the world gets ready to fold up for the winter and pumpkin spice everything appears on menus all across America.

Books are coming out – Mike Massimino’s new book entitled #Spaceman is out and would be a great holiday gift for any one who likes space travel, courage, and all things NASA. Clayton C. Anderson, another average Joe who went to space, also has a good book out that was published in 2015, The Ordinary Spaceman: From Boyhood Dreams to Astronaut. And of course, the Star Trek Encyclopedia by the Michael and Denise Okuda, released for the 50th anniversary this year.529

And Autumn is the time of year to trade in your swim suits for a good book and travel to another world. If you’re looking for a good fiction read, of course, you can also check out my own books, Paradox: The Alien Genome ($3.99 and $9.99 paperback), and Dangerous: Gamma Ray Games ($0.99 e-book only).

Put away the grill, the flip-flops, and beach towels, and pick up a Kindle, a paperback, or your favorite Go-To book on the shelf, and reacquaint yourself with words and worlds. You won’t be disappointed.