Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Hand Dryers are Unhealthy

I've always hated those hand dryers in some public restrooms. I can dry my hands with a towel in about 5 seconds. Those hand dryers, especially the older models that used to be ubiquitous, you had to "dry" your hands for what felt like five minutes to get them dry enough to finish drying your hands on your pants. I hated them.

The newer ones are better. The high speed ones only take about four minutes to get your hands dry enough to use your pants. And the Dyson AirBlade models actually work, but still take longer than using a paper towel.

I have been known to in fast food restaurants to walk out of the bathroom with wet hands, go to the napkin dispenser, and use a bunch of napkins to dry my hands.

Suffice it to say, I loath hand dryers.

And now I have another reason: they are unsanitary.

According to a Leeds University study, the hand dryer splatters bacteria around. The air around hand dryers has 27 times the bacteria than the air around towel dispensers. (And, towel dispensers don't blow that nasty air on your hands):
The study shows that both jet and warm air hand dryers spread bacteria into the air and onto users and those nearby. 
And now we have yet another reason to hate hand dryers. They are filthy.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Mystery of the Semicolon.

Once upon a time there was a poor, misunderstood punctuation mark: the semicolon. Not quite a colon, not quite a comma, the deprived little mark lived a life of obscurity and incorrect usage.

But it doesn't have to be that way; even you can learn to use the semicolon correctly. Because for about 99% of the time you'll use it, it's very easy.

A semicolon separates two complete sentences that are closely related. The key word there is "complete." If you can't put a period in place of the semicolon, you are using it incorrectly. For example:

"It look like it's going to snow; I think I'll put my snow tires on."

"It looks like it's going to snow; snow tire time."

(As you can see, "snow tire time" is not a complete sentence. In that case I would put either a colon (:) or an emdash.)

We could write the first sentence as two sentences: "It look like it's going to snow. I think I'll put my snow tires on." So that means using a semicolon is correct, assuming the sentences are related. For example:

"There's a great movie on TV tonight; it looks like a good night to stay home."

"There's a great movie on TV tonight; my house is blue."

In the second case, the sentences are not closely related so a semicolon would not be appropriate. Now there are no hard-and-fast rules on what is closely related so use your best judgement. Usually, if the second sentence completes the thought, that's the time to use the semicolon.

Also note, after the semicolon you do not capitalize the first word as you would if they were two separate sentences (unless you would capitalize it anyway as proper noun or pronoun).

There is one other use for the semicolon and it has to do with long lists in one sentence. But as a fiction writer you are unlikely to run across that need.

And with just a little care, you too can help the little semicolon out of obscurity and use it correctly.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Huskies Win to Secure Bowl Eligibility

Last night, late, the University of Washington Huskies played the Oregon State Beavers. Pretty much expected to be a lack-luster game between two middle-of-the-Pac teams, it was shunted off to the 7:30 time slot on the Pac-12 Network. But that didn't seem to diminish the enthusiasm of the Husky fans at this year's last home game.

The game started with a Husky sack of the Beaver's quarterback on the first play. The Beavers then went three-and out to give the Huskies the ball. The Huskies almost immediately capitalized on this, making a touchdown with 11:40 left in the first quarter.

While late in the second quarter the Beavers seemed to be gaining momentum (down 17-0) with a touchdown, an interception turned the game back the Huskies' way and from then on it was the Dawg's day. Or night. The final score was 37-13. The Beavers managed one more touchdown, went for the 2-point conversion, and missed it.

The Beavers needed to win this game to be bowl eligible so they had incentive to fight hard as it's very unlikely they'll manage to beat #3 Oregon next week.

The Huskies looked very good last night. This is a talented team that if it could overcome mistakes would have a much better record. Last week they had 13 penalties for over 100 yards. Last night they had a much improved 5. If they had played #14 Arizona last week as well as they played last night, they probably would have won.

This win makes the Huskies 7-5 for the season, but only 3-5 in the Pac-12. Still, now the Huskies will be playing in the post-season in a bowl game, probably an early one.

I think Coach Chris Petersen sort of had a rude awakening going from the Mountain West Conference where his Boise State Broncos dominated to the Pac-12. Quite often Boise was the only team in the Mountain West conference that was ranked. But that was playing those other second-tier Mountain West teams.

Now he's in the Pac-12. He's had to play 5 ranked teams (and have lost to them all). Right now, half of the Pac-12 teams are ranked and eight have been ranked at some point in the season.

Petersen needs to figure out his competition is much stronger than what's he's used to.

Next week is the Apple Cup, the annual cross-state rivalry game between Washington and Washington State. This year it's in Pulman. And with the Apple Cup, anything can happen.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Speculative Fiction Cantina with Steve Alten and Rachael L. McIntosh

Today on the Speculative Fiction Cantina we are proud to welcome Steve Alten and Rachael L. McIntosh

Steve Alten

Steve Alten
Steve Alten is the NY Times & International best-selling author of 14 published novels, two of which have been optioned as movies. He is also founder and director of Adopt-An-Author, a free secondary school reading program used by over ten thousand teachers.

Steve's books include:

MEG: Origins (ebook only)

The Omega Project


Steve's Links:


Rachael L. McIntosh

Rachael L. McIntosh books are inspired by her real life experiences working for a major US defense contractor, her dealings with national news outlets, and her involvement in a US Presidential campaign.

Rachael's novel:

Rachael's links:

From today's show:

Sunday, November 16, 2014

We Beat Ourselves . . .

I should be working on my NaNoWriMo novel, but I'm so traumatized by yesterday's University of Washington Huskies football loss I'm having trouble concentrating.

Yesterday, against #14 Arizona, the Huskies dominated from the start, their offense able to move the ball, their defense holding Arizona better then anyone expected.

But they kept making mistakes. Bad snaps leading to fumbles (and in one case, a missed PAT; who the hell misses a PAT?). A fumble in the last few minutes of the game giving the ball to the Wildcats which they then were able to turn into a game-winning field goal. Arizona won by one point (the one point of that missed PAT).

In addition to those miscues, the Huskies kept getting penalties including one that cost them a touchdown.

In other words, we beat ourselves with mistakes and penalties. The final score was 27-26.

We have two games left and we have to win one of them to be bowl eligible. Next week we play Oregon State at home. OSU is 5-5. But they'll be coming off an upset victory over #6 Arizona State late yesterday. The Huskies are 6-5 after yesterday's loss.

Then the last game of the year is the Apple Cup against Washington State University Cougars.  Ironically, they beat Oregon State last week after losing their star quarterback to a career-ending broken fibia. They had a bye this week and next week fast Arizona State. I expect Arizona State to drop a bit in the polls with that lost to Oregon State.

So far this has been a frustrating season, the first one for new head coach Chris Petersen. But it takes time to get a new program going and next year he'll have had almost two years to change the culture at Washington and get the program under his control. He'll also have players he recruited. I hate to say it (I've been saying it for over 10 years, now) but next year should be better.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Speculative Fiction Cantina with Special Guest Stephanie Osborn

Today on a special edition of the Speculative Fiction Cantina we welcome scientist and writer Stephanie Osborn 

Stephanie Osborn 

Interstellar Woman of Mystery

Stephanie Osborn
Few can claim the varied background of Stephanie Osborn, the Interstellar Woman of Mystery.

Veteran of more than 20 years in the civilian space program, as well as various military space defense programs, she worked on numerous space shuttle flights and the International Space Station, and counts the training of astronauts on her resumé. Her space experience also includes Spacelab and ISS operations, variable star astrophysics, Martian aeolian geophysics, radiation physics, and nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons effects.

Stephanie holds graduate and undergraduate degrees in four sciences: astronomy, physics, chemistry and mathematics, and she is “fluent” in several more, including geology and anatomy. 

In addition she possesses a license of ministry, has been a duly sworn, certified police officer, and is a National Weather Service certified storm spotter. 

Her travels have taken her to the top of Pikes Peak, across the world’s highest suspension bridge, down gold mines, in the footsteps of dinosaurs, through groves of giant Sequoias, and even to the volcanoes of the Cascade Range in the Pacific Northwest, where she was present for several phreatic eruptions of Mount St. Helens. 

Now retired from space work, Stephanie has trained her sights on writing. She has authored, co-authored, or contributed to more than 20 books, including the celebrated science-fiction mystery, Burnout: The Mystery of Space Shuttle STS-281. She is the co-author of the “Cresperian Saga,” book series, and currently writes the critically acclaimed “Displaced Detective” series, described as “Sherlock Holmes meets The X-Files.” She recently released the paranormal/horror novella El Vengador, based on a true story, as an ebook.

In addition to her writing work, the Interstellar Woman of Mystery now happily “pays it forward,” teaching math and science through numerous media including radio, podcasting and public speaking, as well as working with SIGMA, the science-fiction think tank.

The Mystery continues.

Stephanie's books include:

The Case of the Displaced Detective Omnibus (DD#1-4, ebook only) (SF/Mystery) 

A Case of Spontaneous Combustion (DD#5) (SF/Mystery) 

El Vengador (Paranormal horror) 

Stephanie's Links:

Blog ("Comet Tales")

Movie Review: Snowpiercer

One of the great things about science fiction (and fantasy to an extent) is you can put humans in some unique circumstance and see how they react. The good science fiction has the the humans reacting as real life people would.

 The movie Snowpiercer is such an experiment. You sort of have to forget the ridiculous circumstances which would be destroyed in a with a moment's thought (see spoilers below) and look at the basic humanity of the characters. And this is where Snowpiercer succeeds as some science fiction doesn't. In the movie (based on a graphic novel, I believe), an macroengineering project to "solve" global warming goes horribly wrong and the entire planet is plunged into a super ice age. The only surviving humans are on a train (!) that circles the globe once per year. Depending on your "ticket" where you are on the train determines how well you live. The people on the back of the train, who apparently didn't have tickets, live very poorly and eat "protein bars." The story of the movie is a revolt by these people against the upper classes in the forward cars of the very long train.

At times brutal, other times funny, the movie moves forward and forward, contrasting the squalled existence of the people in the last car with the luxury of the forward cars. The goal of the rebels is to reach the engine and take over the train.

My biggest problem with this movie is the economic system. The people in the last car don't work in order to provide luxuries for the forward cars. They don't do anything but bitch. The forward cars have lots of luxuries, but where do they come from? This, to me, made the movie even less realistic than the problems discussed below (see spoilers).

So while there are implausibilities, the reason for the movie isn't any science, it's to explore the human condition under these circumstances. But we don't learn much other than people without much will rebel if they can. It was an interesting movie but not very enjoyable. And I found the ending implausible.

Now, I shall list all the other problems I had that are SPOILERS:

1) The train is supposed to circle the Earth once per year. The Earth is about 25,000 miles in circumference.  Let's say for some reason the train travels twice that, 50,000 miles per year. That would mean it would have to travel at a speed of 5.7 miles per hour. Yet in the movie it is shown speeding along as if it's going around 100 mph.

2) The forward cars have luxuries but there doesn't seem to be anyway for them to get them. At one point the characters walk through a freezer with sides of beef hanging. But they never walk through a car with cattle.

3) The protein bars are made out of insects that are mashed up in a large vat. But where do the insects come from?

4) And, at the end: the polar bear will most likely eat them.