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Category: science

Wasting Time on the Internet

One would think that with all these months trapped at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I would have had plenty of time to catch up on my reading, but strangely (or perhaps not strangely) enough, that wasn’t the case. I’m as busy as ever, but maybe that’s not surprising considering my field of work.

Recently I managed to finish one of those books in my gigantic to-be-read pile: Wasting Time on the Internet by Kenneth Goldsmith. This particular blog post isn’t going to be critiquing this particular book–although I will say that Goldsmith’s thesis, that the internet has changed how we live and think and spend our time, is an interesting one. Certainly, many things happening in the world now (for better or worse) wouldn’t have been possible without the internet.

This has mostly made me think of what I usually do to “waste time” on the internet. There are so many things. But perhaps I can narrow this down to just stuff I watch on YouTube and maybe I can provide kind of a hodge-podge list of what I do watch.

Cats: These are probably the most time wasting sort of videos I watch. Although–they can also be informative. I also have a cat, after all.


Kpop reactions: It’s not so much the kpop videos themselves that I find interesting, but the whole ecosystem of react channels that have sprung up around it. The more watchable ones, obviously, are the ones with actual commentary instead of incoherent fangirling/fanboying.


Book and writing commentary: Food for thought, basically. You might disagree with their picks, but it’ll get you thinking about your own literary tastes.


People eating weird stuff: Totally mindless but at the same time, completely entertaining.


Music: This is just a small selection of the type of stuff I listen to.


Horror/RPG: I find the storytelling and the intersection of that with this particular genre very interesting. This scratches a different itch than the book/writing commentary channels above.


Science: I’m a scientist. Of course I like watching science videos on YouTube. This is just a small selection. I’m sure there are some other very interesting channels I’ve missed.


Linguistics: These are the channels I find more engaging. I’ve tried some other linguistics/language channels which also are very popular, but I find myself wanting to fall asleep in the middle of them.


Culture: Just some really cool and random stuff all around.


License Plates Observed

Last year, I was pretty bored being stuck in rush hour traffic so I decided to make my commute a little more productive (or useless, depending on your point of view), by making a note of the location of different license plates. The following figure is a compilation of a year’s worth of data:


There are several caveats about this geographic heat map. Since the observations were done primarily in California, of course the top number of license plates will be California. I also recorded plates from Canada (a couple) and Mexico (mostly from Baja California and about as many as Arizona plates). I actually saw zero North Dakota plates during the observation period, but about one week after the observation period ended, I saw two separate vehicles with North Dakota plates.

I suspect the map would look vastly different if I lived in a different Californian city (particularly one where there is almost no tourism), let alone in a different state.

The most frustrating aspect about the data collection was that sometimes it was impossible to tell where the plate was from because of the way it was mounted on a vehicle. Sometimes the license plate holders would cover all of the license plate except for the alphanumeric code. Occasionally, I could guess fairly confidently what the plate was if the font/color/design matched the default plate of that state, but if someone had a vanity plate, I had no clue. In the cases where I was unsure, I did not record them.

Ultimate Dinosaurs!

Ultimate Dinosaurs – one of the current exhibits at the Museum of Natural History in San Diego. One thing I found particularly clever: some interactive/virtual reality displays. Short kids, though, may need a parent’s help with those. Accessibility: in English, French, and Braille. Unfortunately, this won’t help the significant Spanish speaking population here. (The rest of the exhibits in the museum are in English and Spanish.) This exhibit was created in Canada, though, so it’s kind of understandable that nothing is in Spanish.

TBR Pile #3 – Dreamland by David K. Randall

Note: The TBR Pile series of posts aren’t strictly book reviews. It’s my excuse for writing a rambling blog post. While it will contain some of my thoughts about the book, I’ll may digress into other topics.

I really enjoy reading popular science books, mostly because if anything I get to learn something from them. Especially if the book’s subject is outside of my expertise. And if I get entertained by the author’s anecdotes and storytelling ability, that’s a bonus. In David K. Randall’s Dreamland, I got to learn all about the science of sleep.

What I found the most fascinating was that much of sleep is cultural. It’s not just about sleeping in separate beds because of middle-class morality or the lack of study in dreams because it’s considered woo. It’s also habit, too. Babies in different countries sleep in different ways. Type of mattress actually doesn’t make a lick of difference in sleep quality. What matters most is consistency, not the type of sleep habit one engages in.

But despite all the sleep labs and pharmaceutical companies touting their solutions for insomnia, there’s still a lot that we don’t know about sleep. I think this is just part of the bigger problem: that we still don’t know much about the brain.

One caveat, though. Randall is a reporter and not a doctor or scientist. He initially got into the topic because he had a problem with sleepwalking and much of the book, I feel, delved into the historical and societal implications of sleep. I would have liked a lot more science (especially since the book was billed as a discussion on the science of sleep)–particularly the neuroscience behind the phenomenon of sleep and the biochemistry used for the drugs that manipulate sleep. But then again, that may just be me. I’m not afraid of reading the technical details about this stuff. The general public, however, would probably be bored to sleep.

At the San Diego Zoo

The last time I went to a zoo was probably when I was between eleven and thirteen. It was the Nashville Zoo and I vaguely remember seeing the red pandas and some birds. This was also before the Nashville Zoo moved to its current location, so I have no idea how it looks now. And after that, going to a zoo had never been on the forefront of my mind for some reason.

I suppose one could argue that with my training as a microbiologist and molecular biologist, my view on biology had always been too small. With zoos, I would have to think bigger, way bigger. (Although my inner microbiologist was sometimes exasperated. On the bus tour, the guide mentioned that the koalas required bacteria to help them digest the poisonous eucalyptus leaves. And I thought, “You can’t leave it at that! What kind of bacteria is it?” The answer, after a brief search on Google Scholar, is that one of the bacterial species aiding in koala digestion is a special strain of Streptococcus bovis which the animal probably got after eating its mother’s feces*.)

Anyways, I would highly recommend coming to the San Diego Zoo if you have at least an entire day to spend there. Heck, I was there the entirety of its opening hours today and I still didn’t see everything. I guess it’s a good thing I got a membership so I could see the place whenever I want to for an entire year.

Besides the animals, which everyone already knows are awesome, the zoo is a great place to people watch and observe family and relationship dynamics. The month of October is also Free Kids Month which means kids get to go to the zoo for free in October. Of course, when I went there, the zoo was overrun with children, many of them seemingly even more wild than the wild animals and more devilish than the Tasmanian devils. (The animals seemed to have eaten their meals in the morning and then passed out or hid in their holes for the rest of the day.)

I’ve noticed, in general, that the younger kids tended to fall into two camps. One group still had energy in the afternoon to be excited about stuff. The other group got tired in the afternoon and either went to sleep (which was fortunate for their parents) or threw huge tantrums. Most zoos are large. The San Diego Zoo is especially large. There will be lots of walking unless you pay the $600 or so for the VIP treatment and get chauffeured around. I kind of wish that parents were more cognizant of whether their kids are the types who get tired fast and have the personality to scream in public without any qualms.

Anyways, my own annoyances are short-lived because I can always walk away from it. Parents, not so much. On the upside, the kids seem more enthusiastic. It’s the parents who keep tugging their fascinated offspring away from the exhibits claiming that there’s more to see up ahead. I guess they (the parents) feel that they should get their money’s worth by “seeing” as many things as possible.

Osawa, R. “Formation of a clear zone on tannin-treated brain heart infusion agar by a Streptococcus sp. isolated from feces of koalas.” Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 1990, 56: 829-831.

Osawa, R., Blanshard, W.H., Ocallaghan, P.G. “Microbiological Studies of the Intestinal Microflora of the Koala, Phascolarctos-Cinereus .2. Pap, a Special Maternal Feces Consumed by Juvenile Koalas.” Australian Journal of Zoology. 1993, 41: 611-620.

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Writing, Reviewing, and Rambling about Women in Science

Yep, it’s the beginning of July and you all know what that means: Camp NaNoWriMo. I will be working on a novel project which I had already outlined in May. At the moment, I’m not particularly happy with the beginning. I want to keep the scene–it just needs to be rewritten. In any case, onwards. I’m still excited about the story, particularly with the puzzle-like nature of fitting the different time lines together. It’s been a while since a story idea has also engaged my more analytical side.

I’ve also been invited back to lead writing sprints over at NaNoWordSprints. I kicked it off with a handwritten tweet session which was partially inspired by the fact that I am currently conducting a week-long project on my personal Twitter account where I’m handwriting tweets for a week. Anyways, I don’t think I’ll be doing another handwritten tweet session for the sprints any time soon, especially since that kind of thing takes a while to set up. I will also be archiving all the prompts this month on this blog in case anyone has missed one of my sprint sessions.

And speaking of writing projects, I (possibly foolishly) made a bet to get a short story ready for submission in a month. Specifically for Fantasy & Science Fiction because they’re opening it up for electronic submissions. At the moment, though, I’m feeling pretty pessimistic. I’m still in that funk where I think all my ideas for short stories are crap. I don’t think my writing skills and craft and style are up to “professional” standards yet (where “professional” means “whatever the editors find awesome which could be anything”). It doesn’t mean that I won’t try, but I’ve had enough “close but no cigar” moments which have made me think that it’s pretty much a waste of time to hope for anything.

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I have a book review out over at Smart Bitches Trashy Books on the paranormal romance novel Diamond Dust by Vivian Arend. I’ve been a long time follower/lurker of SBTB. I really like the blog’s snarky style and its serious commentary on a much maligned genre (the podcasts are highly recommended), so I thought it would be very cool to volunteer to do a book review for them.

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Today, I found out the real reason why I had a really unpleasant episode many years ago which had royally screwed my career path for a while. At the time, I had thought the failure was my fault, but now I know it was probably something I couldn’t have done anything about.

It doesn’t make me feel any better about it, though. It just makes me feel sad. All I’m going to say is that even though there are constant cries for more women scientists, there are women scientists out there who do not like other women scientists because they think they are the only exception.

I personally think it’s better to nurture relationships with other female scientists (all scientists, actually) and to mentor students (of any gender) who have an interest in science. To do otherwise and burn bridges, well, it doesn’t take a genius to figure that it’s a bad idea.

Old Documentary Recommendations

Even as a kid, I really enjoyed watching documentaries. Especially science and culture documentaries. I’m not sure if my preference for documentaries grew out of my preferences for the topics or simple necessity. There was no cable and going to the movie theater was a rare thing. Most of the time, if I wanted to watch a film, I’d have to wait until the library got the VHS. (Even now, childhood habits die hard. I have no TV and I go to the theater maybe three or four times a year, tops.) I was always pretty excited when Nova, Nature, or National Geographic came on. While I loved reading stories, too, documentaries showed that the real world could be even more weird and wonderful.

Lately I’ve been watching Cosmos: A Personal Voyage and Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (one episode of the former each Sunday, the newest episode of the latter on Mondays). My view of them, admittedly, is influenced by the fact that this is also my first time watching the Carl Sagan series as well as the one hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson. I enjoy both series and I would be hard pressed to say which one is better. I think both are the product of their times.

Anyways, this has reminded me of some older documentaries that I think still hold up well:

Civilisation. (YT playlist) This series is a pretty thorough interpretation of Western Civilization by Kenneth Clark. It was a huge thing during its day and I think the modern viewer can still see why. (Apparently it also inspired the documentary series America, presented by Alistair Cooke. I haven’t watched it yet, but it’s on my to do list.)

The Tribal Eye. (YT playlist) It’s presented by David Attenborough, need I say more? Besides, has there really been such a keen series on African, Native American, and Polynesian culture since?

The Silk Road. (YT playlist) I first stumbled onto this by accident at the local library. And I just thought this was pure awesomeness packaged as a documentary series. I keep thinking that the film crew must have had some unforgettable adventures as they trekked across the sandy Asian interior.

Antonio Gaudi. (YT link) Simply feast your eyes on great weird art.

The Queen of Trees (YT link) and Deep Jungle: Monsters of the Forest. All right, so these are more recent ones, but I really like these two because they depict how interconnected nature is by using the tree as a central character.

Notes from MisCon 27, Part 3

(To see all my posts on MisCon, including last year’s notes, go here.)

In the panel transcriptions, I’m mostly paraphrasing what the panelists said. If there are any errors, they’re mine and mine alone. For any corrections, just drop me a note.

Panel title: The Werewolf Panel
Panel members: Larry Bonham, M.H. Bonham, Patricia Briggs, Rhiannon Held
Panel description: Werewolves supposedly have wolf traits, but how do popular ones actually compare to real wolf behavior? Are we still stuck on “big bad wolf” myths rather than science and biology?

PB: Are we paying too much attention to mythology than biology? I first paid attention to what they do in the book The Howling. As a mythical critter, what do you know about it?

RH: People have sent me history of werewolf links. In Europe, being called a werewolf was like begin called a witch. They did it to get rid of them. It served a purpose socially.

LB: Werewolves are archetypal across many cultures, from Native Americans, to Europe, and Japan. They’re like dragons, part of the collective cultural consciousness. Myths morph as culture morphs.

MB: It’s slippery depending on where you go. It’s the archetype of someone losing control. Deep down inside, we’re all beasts. It ranges from skin walkers who wear special pelts to getting bitten and turning into one.

PB: What comes to mind when wolves get mentioned? I think of “pack.” That came from biology and not myth.

RH: In stories, wolves are portrayed as bad. It’s different in science where it is wolf behavior.

LB: There’s the traditional lone wolf. But in wolf packs, it’s matriarchal, not patriarchal.

MB: There was a study in domestic dogs. The more wild breeds have wolf behavior. When an alpha wolf makes a submissive wolf turn over, it’s based on killing behavior. Sometimes the submissive wolf turn themselves over. This was misconstrued from what animal behaviorists saw.

RH: Wolves generally live in family groups where they are genetically related. Saying that the pack undergoes a bloody revolution all the time is wrong. It doesn’t make sense for the species. They keep ranking and a firm structure, it’s not endless fights like you see in captivity.

MB: It only happens when a new wolf comes in. Then there’s reshuffling and re-challenging, but it’s unusual. It happens more in domestic than wild.

PB: As a literary archetype, the werewolf is ultimately a tragic figure because he gets destroyed. But wolves themselves are not tragic, although they are scary instead. What kinds of things seen in movies and books annoy you?

RH: The alpha as a bully. It can be a great metaphor for a story. But as a romance trope, the alpha abuses the heroine. He never takes advice or confides in anyone. He “can’t help it” and uses it as an excuse.

LB: He can only change to a werewolf in the full moon. There’s zero control.

MB: The concept that the alpha female is subordinate to the alpha male. The female actually chooses the male. She’s the one who is leading and he will back down. In romances, the alpha doesn’t defer to her.

PB: It’s like a study on wild horses I read about. It’s instinctive behavior. The mares decide everything. Stallions only chase off other stallions and predators. Wolves do the same thing. The myth about the full moon is one of the first things that people throw out. You pick and choose what myths you use in your story as long as you acknowledge the traditions and stereotypes. I hate it when people turn werewolves and vampires into superpowers. It guts the power of it as a monster and the story. What kind of cool things can you do with werewolves using science?

RH: Look at werewolves on an evolutionary level. As a species, it’s subject to the same rules. For example, an involuntary werewolf (one that is forced to change every full moon), would more likely get killed. The voluntary werewolf (one who can change at will) is more likely to survive.

LB: Wolf behavior includes violent conflict. There is a gender conflict. If male dogs come into conflict, there’s posturing and fighting. One dog gives up to concede dominance. If a male and female come into conflict, they just stop. If two females come into conflict, it gets extremely violent, fast. For wolves, they don’t go too far because they depend on each other.

MB: Considering advances in DNA, you could have someone create a werewolf. There’s conflict between a created werewolf and a natural werewolf. There are differences in culture and behavior. A created werewolf doesn’t have history, and it would cause a schism between the two. The new group of creatures could be playing by human rules rather than wolf rules.

PB: In urban fantasy, you can do the same thing. You can take things from the real world and put it in the story. The difference between urban fantasy and fantasy is that in urban fantasy, you can make it so real that it could be.

Q: How did the myth of werewolves changing only during the full moon come about?

RH: The origins go way back to the “lunatics” and craziness. It’s a false statistical correlation. But there are not always reasons for things. People just link things up to symbols.

PB: The full moon goes back to the goddess Diana, pagan ceremonies, and magic. The Christian church said it was an evil thing so it got tied in.

MB: It was back when people were hunter gatherers and used to hunt in the full moon. Wolves were out at that time.

Q: Historically, did the werewolf change into an actual wolf or were they just people with fur?

LB: There are cultural differences. Skin walkers went upright and were humans with skins. It’s also easier to film.

PB: Traditional werewolves were bipedal and upright. You couldn’t tell if they were a werewolf until they attacked. People also mistook diseases for being werewolf. In the first werewolf story, The Beast of Gévaudan, it was actually a wolf.

RH: It’s seen both ways. Some werewolves just had the fur on the inside. There are variations on the story archetype.

Q: What’s the basis of the omega werewolf?

PB: My omega wolf is based on people rather than wolves. I get my werewolf dynamics from my husband’s family. They can’t work together. In scientific studies, they’ve labeled the omega wolf.

RH: I don’t have omega wolves in my story because I don’t use wolves as a basis. I use people.

MB: The omega wolf is thought of as the least dominant wolf. He’s non-threatening, he doesn’t go far, he’s picked on. Other wolves play with him because he’s not threatening and dominance isn’t an issue.

Q: I heard about Celtic werewolves that protected a king and got time off.

PB: It may be from King Arthur’s legends. There’s a knight called Melion. His wife stole his clothes and he stayed a wolf. When he got his clothes back, he turned back into a human.

Q: In stories, why do people turn into wolves rather than other animals?

MB: It’s because of a shift in people’s opinions on wolves. People romanticize things they don’t have to deal with. For example, the Scots are romanticized when historically they were downtrodden. People have dogs and think they see wolf-like behavior in their pets. There’s also fear of the wild.

RH: It was what people were seeing in the shadows. It depends on culture. In India, it was the tiger. In Europe it was the wolf. It puts a face on that fear.

PB: The top predator in Europe was the wolf. During the plague, they preyed on people. There’s something primal when they look at you.

Mid-Month Meanderings

Update on Camp NaNoWriMo progress: I am behind. Extremely behind. By 20,000 words. So I’m going to have to really kick it up a notch for this second half of the month. As to whether or not I’ll be able to reach the 50k goal–maybe. But I have other things that have more priority at the moment, like preparing for the ASM general meeting next month.

And speaking of ASM, sure it’s kind of stressful if you’re going to be presenting anything there, but it’s fun, too. If you’re a microbiologist or want to become one, I highly recommend attending the conference at least once. And even if you’re not, there are plenty of interesting talks. (I saw that they had a cool workshop for do-it-yourself whole genome analysis, but it’s already sold out.) Most of the talks can get pretty technical, though, so you might get lost if you’ve never taken any biology courses in college.

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If you’ve followed me on Twitter, you’ll know that my website,, got wiped out last month when the hosting server suffered a catastrophic hardware failure. I wasn’t too worried about this since I had my website backed up elsewhere and otherwise, I’ve never had many problems with the hosting company for the approximate decade I’ve been with them. However, I did take it as an opportunity to streamline the site as it had grown rather labyrinthine.

Among one of the semi-hidden corners of the old site, I had a section titled “Linkrot” where I had stashed a bunch of links that I thought were interesting but not interesting enough to be taking up permanent residence in my browser’s bookmark folder. It was all hand-coded which after a while, got rather tedious.

So, what to do now? Well, I’ve decided to stick all those extra links on Tumblr. Technically, I’ve created two Tumblrs. Textual Curiosities contains cool stuff I’ve found on Its sister site, Strange Interlinks, contains everything else. The thing about Tumblr is its simplicity. I can just dump a link into it and tag it to help categorize it rather than spending too much of my time manually adding to my old page. And since it’s now on Tumblr, other people can follow and/or share these links if they wish. Of course, if no one else does, I don’t mind. This is more for my own edification and organization than anything else.

After reading some opinions on Tumblr, I was thinking about how my own views about the blogging platform has changed over time. When I first encountered it, I couldn’t really understand why anyone would have one in addition to a weblog on, say, Blogger or WordPress or LiveJournal. But I think, in some ways, simplicity is a good thing. And it also depends on what sort of project you’re working on and what sort of platform is best suited for it.

When I first started blogging, I had also included random links I’ve discovered on the internet in my posts. Sort of like or Rebecca’s Pocket. But eventually, I ditched that format and concentrated on writing posts that were a little more focused and coherent. So that’s sort of how I view this blog today: a journal-like site containing long content or commentary (in text or in pictures) generated by me. And while Twitter and Tumblr can in some sense also be blogging platforms, they’re both more ephemeral in my mind. I like using Twitter because it’s quite amendable to quick observations (which can be extremely cumbersome on a traditional blog) and it has an instant messaging-like capability that doesn’t quite have as much stress as an actual instant messaging program*. And as for Tumblr, you have the ease of chucking things in there without the worry of moderating comments. And these days, I find that ease has a lot to recommend it.

*Aside: One thing I hate about the electronic age is the expectation of immediacy. Some forms of electronic communication, however, have greater expectations of immediacy than others. Like instant messaging, for instance. I once had instant messaging eons ago, but I am prone to multitasking and getting distracted by more important things than random chitchat. This, of course, pissed off people I was IMing with so I ended up not doing any sort of instant messaging at all. E-mail, on the other hand, is more flexible. I respond fairly quickly if it’s from family or work, but otherwise I can put it off for a couple of days. Or respond not at all. (Or pretend that it got lost in the aether if it’s from someone I don’t really want to talk to.) Twitter is a mix between the two. While I like the IMing aspect of interacting with other people online in a semi-immediate way, I don’t think many people would get really angry with me if I get distracted and respond two hours later.

A Peek into MisCon 26, Part 9

In the panel transcriptions, I’m mostly paraphrasing what the panelists said. If there are any errors, they’re mine and mine alone. For any corrections, just drop me a note.

Previous posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8

Since I’ve been planning to do a sci-fi story for June’s Camp Nanowrimo, I thought the next panel would be particularly informative. “Psychological Issues in Deep Space” was presented by Joyce Reynolds-Ward and James Glass. (AQ is an audience question.)

(Joyce Reynolds-Ward [left] and James Glass [right])

JG: I had worked in the space industry but mostly on ion engines and the physical end. But what happens on longer space missions? It would take at least a year to get to Mars. You have to consider weightlessness, muscle deterioration, and being in close quarters with other guys.

JR: What are the psychological effects when suddenly you find yourself floating and there’s no one to catch you? What about generational ships? Educating the young? How will the kids’ minds change? And if they’ve lived their whole lives on those ships, what do they take for granted? There’s research that says that maintaining a healthy mind requires access to natural settings. There were studies in which subjects looked at scenes through either a window or a camera. Subjects looking through windows were more relaxed. Would being in space without these natural settings change the human organism or can we replicate these settings indoors?

JG: I can get natural light from a lamp even when it’s gloomy outside. So what’s the lighting in the ship? Lighting can have an effect. On a generational ship, maybe the kids are used to the artificial lighting.

JR: To what degree is this a hardwired need or a psychological need?

JG: Before you’re born on earth, for nine months you live in an environment that has no gravity. And then, when you come out, you’re suddenly in gravity and bombarded by light. So when does the hard-wiring start? Is it learned? If you disrupt a cycle, there are psychological issues. There will be issues if you transplant people to a planet with seven hours in a day from one with twenty-four hours. Even when people go to Alaska from the south, people can’t get used to the change in daylight.

AQ: Does anyone do research on psychology on different geological locations?

JG: People have done studies on psychology at the south pole, especially on sleep deprivation. Apparently at the south pole, people can’t go to sleep.

AQ: There have been experiments done underground on circadian rhythms. People underground adjust to their own cycle and turn on their lights whenever they want.

JG: It would be the same in an undersea colony.

JR: The environment is cut off.

JG: Space is also a zero-g environment. Artificial gravity may also come with problems. Like the Coriolis effect.

JR: What kind of personality is recruited to go to space? In skiing, people practice falling.

JG: It’s the rush.

JR: You might need to recruit that same personality.

JG: Similar to recruiting for submarines.

AQ: Project Mercury called for extreme sports people.

JG: Or test pilots. But in space, there is no ejection seat.

AQ: They say that you need a slightly aberrant personality–unstable, loner, antisocial, wild, not gregarious.

JG: But in a cabin with other sweaty guys?

JR: You need someone with boundaries.

AQ: In 2001: A Space Odyssey, David Bowman was very calm and unflappable. He was flat, like a dead fish. Clarke and Kubrick thought that this was the sort of personality needed for space.

JG: On the other hand, you have Chuck Yeager. He was quick in extreme senses. But he was also a party animal and hot shot.

JR: Like extreme sports kids. How athletes prepare and analyze sports is like how astronauts prepare for their missions.

JG: You have to know where you’re going to the foot because you don’t want to go off the cliff.

JR: They’re wired for sound.

JG: You need to distinguish the psychological issues between a normal person and an adventurous person. Those guys are unflappable, fearless, well prepared, and love risk.

JR: But there’s also a lot of inaction on a trip to Mars.

JG: You’re sitting for a year without doing anything because the ship is on automatic.

JR: They might need to play World of Warcraft or some kind of deep immersion training for physical and mental preparation.

JG: There’s boredom.

JR: Adventurous people have little tolerance for boredom.

JG: You should stick to the psychology of people who are being recruited to these missions.

AQ: What about cryogenics?

JG: That’s not looking good. We don’t have the chemicals for that like insects. We have to do it artificially. Best is the quick freeze because otherwise the cells would rupture. But the problem is the thawing. Freezing is not done well except in insects and some small animals.

AQ: Could you bring plants and animals with you?

JR: But how can you get the payload up? You could do cloning, but right now it’s only for breeding purposes. And there are some problems. Cloned sheep age more than cloned horses. And there are issues with pigs.

JG: We don’t know the long term effects on the brain from weightlessness, even with exercise. There are no studies on the long term. But there is forgetfulness from being up in space. The brain needs a certain amount of stimulation. And in space, it’s a static environment.

JR: The psychological and the physical are intertwined.

JG: You can eliminate muscle deterioration with exercise. But you can’t prevent bone loss because that needs weight. You can’t with zero-g.

JR: Maybe you can walk around with shackles to replicate gravity.

JG: Or spin the spacecraft to produce gravity.

AQ: Is it possible to make a spinning space station?

JG: Wernher von Braun had such an idea, but it never came to fruition because of economics.

JR: How far have we got on that technology?

JG: Well, the space program is dead, but there is the private sector. There’s no money for a Mars mission.

JR: Neil Armstrong mentioned that we need to be prepared for a congruence of factors in order to get to Mars: economy, people in the right place, inspiration.

JG: But the space program came out of a fear of the USSR and the atom bomb. When the danger was over, the public lost interest. There have been psychological studies on satellites but no studies on going to Mars where no one will come out to get you. So how do you prepare? Out of fear?

JR: What kind of mentality do you need if there are outside threats?

JG: On a ship, one danger is a solar flare. If one comes up, you only have twelve minutes. The hull is thin. If there isn’t anything else, you will die. A meteor the size of a marble can destroy your ship. So what’s the psychological effect of that?

JR: One analogy is that of the explorers in the 15th and 16th centuries. How many ships and fleets got lost?

JG: You think and dream about all the things that could go wrong. I dreamed about all the possible mishaps when I was going mountain climbing.

AQ: What about the opposite effect? Kids don’t think about the atom bomb or they’d go bonkers.

JG: Maybe that’s true for children. But I remember during the Bay of Pigs, the adults were certainly thinking about it.

JR: I remember in the late 50s, we were thinking about Nixon and Kissinger.

AQ: What’s the minimum crew needed? Is it for a stable social group?

JR: Yes. They’re doing studies on these things now with climbing groups, the Antarctic station, and the space station.

JG: You need four or five people. Three’s a crowd.

JR: You need an odd number.

JG: For a colony, maybe around three hundred?

JR: It’s a one way stop, so plan for genetic drift.

JG: And inbreeding.

JR: Any genetic conditions could cripple a colony.

JG: But one bad apple can screw everything up.

JR: Consciously culturate each generation. Allow for wild cards. And how will they function off the ship?

JG: Gene Wolfe in The Book of the New Sun, theorizes that on a multigenerational ship, eventually there will be no memory of the home world. In Elizabeth Bear’s Jacob’s Ladder trilogy, the AI systems on the ship are considered gods because people can adapt so well within two or three generations.

JR: Soon there’s no one in living memory who’s been off the ship.

AQ: Other examples of authors who have written about it are Harlan Ellison, Poul Anderson, and Heinlein’s Methuselah’s Children.

JG: The psychology moves towards normal when there’s no one who’s been off the ship.

JR: There’s also physiological change.

JG: The type of fear changes. The fear of a meteor going through a ship may become less, like a meteor coming through the atmosphere.

AQ: Some say that as technology becomes more advanced, society will become more tribal.

JG: Yes. Wolfe does that.

AQ: On a colony ship, jobs may become inherited positions.

JR: That can be dangerous. What if a war breaks out between factions? The more time you spend on the ship, you will change in ways that are more congruent to a generational ship. It’s like now how kids get used to new technology.

AQ: So how long will take to get to Mars?

JG: One year to go to Mars. And two years to get back.

AQ: The Russians have an experiment where people are sealed in for 500 days. Seven men only, ground based.

JG: But you need the real test up in space with all the dangers and no gravity.

AQ: on NPR, I heard it was a one way trip.

JG: Some claim you need to find water and make your own fuel, but they’re not taking this seriously. It takes longer to get back because there are orbital problems. You also need to take into account staying on Mars for some time. Because what are you going to do once you get there? And there’s another batch of problems you’ll encounter on Mars, like UV. So in summary, you need to recruit people who are like astronauts or submarine operators. These people have separate psychological problems from normal people. They should have no fears for risk or falling, but they should also be cautious. They might even have less psychological problems. And are these fatal issues? Probably not.

JR: I would be interested in what the generational issues are for people living in space. I would definitely like to explore this.

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Stay tuned for Part 10 which will be about pitching the story.