• Daily Life,  Family

    Man & Cyberman

    “You don’t point very well, do you, Grandpa?” said one of my father’s grandsons, critically, when that child was about aged five.

    It’s true, though. Grandpa didn’t point very well, because 15+ years ago my Dad developed what’s called an essential tremor, which is, as I understand it, basically a short in the electrical wiring of the brain that causes (usually) the sufferer’s dominant hand to shake uncontrollably, but which can also affect the other hand, the head, and the gait.

    Dad, never one to do things by half measures, got the whole lot. It’s gotten increasingly dramatic, and he hasn’t been able to write with a pen or pencil for well over a decade, or eat without holding nearly everything—cups, utensils, food that can be eaten by hand—in both hands, to render some degree of control over its motion. It’s not much control, though, and it’s exacerbated by the fact that repeating the action makes the shake worse, so it goes from not being able to pick something up steadily to his hand wobbling dramatically off toward the sky when he even tries to reach for something.

    It’s a fairly common disability, it turns out, affecting about 1 in 10 people over the age of 60. I didn’t even know it was that common until a few days ago.

    It’s also pretty damn debilitating, and for the past couple years Dad’s been in contact with a neurologist in Dublin who ran a bunch of tests, shouting with delight as Dad, attempting to touch his chin or pick up a cup, shook more and more extensively, until the gestures were wholly and completely out of control.

    This doesn’t sound like something that you’d be shouting with delight over, but to the neurologist, it was proof positive that Dad was probably a perfect candidate for something called Deep Brain Stimulation, which sounds pretty dramatic but is in fact even more dramatic than it sounds, because it MAKES YOU A CYBORG. Surgeons insert (very slender) wires deep into the brain, reconnecting the part that’s shorting out, then run the wires under the skin to behind the ear, then down behind the ear, along the neck, to a pacemaker inserted under the collarbone.

    Dad had DBS surgery Wednesday morning.

    The whole exciting story behind the cut!

  • Daily Life

    I saw the eclipse!

    It was significantly cloudy in Dublin at Solar Eclipse time and I had no real hope of seeing it. In fact, it was *raining* lightly, but I was still out and about and keeping an eye on the sky. Suddenly the clouds broke just enough to keep a haze over the sun, allowing me to look directly at the eclipse, which, at 9:23am, was close enough to the 90% totality seen today from Ireland to count.

    I am not lying, guys: it was fucking awesome. And that’s from somebody who knows what an eclipse is. It’s no wonder people who didn’t, back in the day, were utterly terrified and confused by them. I was genuinely filled with joy to see it, and enjoyed walking around in the strange light.

    That first image there looks *very* like what I saw today.

  • Climate Change

    He’s Gonna Send the Water From Zion

    Recent climate reports say the Western Antarctic Ice Shelf (WAIS) has reached a tipping point. Comparatively warm water is coming up and melting it from beneath where it’s attached to land, and all that’s keeping it from working its way into a lower-than-sea-level valley where it can loosen the entire WAIS is a granite bulge.

    There is no stopping it from cresting that bulge; the only question now is when. At the moment the predictions are that water will continue to rise on the order of millimeters per year for two centuries as six major, leading WAIS glaciers melt, putting about 1.2 meters (4 feet) of water into the oceans. Without those glaciers in place, the rest of the shelf becomes vulnerable, and its melting and/or displacement means an additional 2.4-3.6 meters (8-12 feet) of water in the oceans.

    For some visual reference here, check out an artist’s photorealistic renditions of US cities after 3.6m of water rise.

    In the meantime, Greenland is shedding water into the ocean at a rate of about .55 millimeters a year, with its ice loss being responsible for about 4% of the approximately 18cm (7 inches) of water rise over the past century. Scientists are looking at Greenland’s melt as the possible most worrisome problem of the 21st century, as, if all its ice should go, the sea level would rise by over 7 meters (23 feet).

    But I’m pretty sure that what most people see is “.5m” (.01 inches) and what most people think is “Pffft.” I mean, come on: continents are vastly more dramatic than that. Given average continental drift speeds, the continents have moved 2 meters (6.6 feet) in my lifetime. SIX AND A HALF FEET. ENTIRE LAND MASSES have moved SIX AND A HALF FEET in the past 40 years, and scientists want people to get excited about 7 inches of water rise in a hundred years?

    Well, personally, I sure as hell want people to get excited about that. Not because 18cm is all that much rise (except it is if you live somewhere low-lying: do not imagine that that gradual creep of water did not affect what happened in New Orleans with Katrina), but because time and again we are seeing that climatologists, even when they’re getting bolder, keep underestimating how fast things can change. A few years ago an ice shelf came off Greenland–an event ice-chasers thought would take decades–in a couple of hours. That’s a blink in the terms of a human lifespan, nevermind geologic time; geologic time can’t even account for something that fast. And that’s not the only example; the WAIS data mentioned above is exactly the same kind of surprise to the scientists studying it. It’s proving to be far more sensitive to temperature changes than previously expected. The list goes on, too.

    So when I read these articles citing a century or two centuries, and when I look at the drastic changes being seen in my home state, I can’t help revising the numbers downward by orders of magnitude. If two hundred years becomes two decades, or a century becomes ten years, those microcosmic increases that most people can’t be bothered to worry about are suddenly going to be forgotten in the deluge.

    The world is changing, goddamn it, and humanity, with its astonishing ability to adapt, is still for the most part enjoying its bread and circuses. We can do better than that. We should do better than that, because it doesn’t matter if it falls down or rises up: the water is coming from Zion.

  • Recent Reads

    Recent Reads: Science in the Capital Trilogy

    I’ve just finished reading (for the 3rd time, according to my fairly exhaustive reading list) Kim Stanley Robinson’s Science in the Capital trilogy.

    I love this series; I loved it the first time I read it and I think it’s improved with the re-reads. It’d been about five years since I read them last, and I’d forgotten huge swaths of storyline and mentally revised at least one into something that totally didn’t happen. I had not forgotten, and was struck again, by the strength of the nature writing; reading this series has always reminded me of Whitman’s Song of Myself in both its strengths and weaknesses. It’s musical, lyrical, mystical, occasionally droning, repetitive and pedantic. It is not–still–an easy read, although it was much easier the third time than the first time, or even the first two times.

    Its dis-ease is still the major thing that breaks my heart about this series, because I think this is an incredibly important, optimistic, intelligent, brave and insightful series that basically everyone in the world should read, but I think it’s too hard for your average casual reader to connect with. It takes work, and that’s not a bad thing, but neither–if you’re trying to change the world–is it a good one.

    As always, inevitably, it makes me want to tackle my own climate change series. In, you know, my copious free time.

    That, however, is beside the point. What I particularly want to discuss is how in this re-read I was especially struck by the powerful, and I mean that both literally and figuratively, female characters in these books.

    This may get long, so I’m going to put it behind a cut.

  • Uncategorized


    Apparently breast milk contains pluripotent stem cells–those are the ones that can turn into any cell in the body. That has got to be one of the most awesome discoveries of the century, and will be at the end of the century, too. As my cousin said, “That explains a lot about why breast milk seems to have such great healing properties.” Wow. Just wow.

    An astronaut’s Tumblr. Seriously, the photos here. Just wow.

    How zinc works on the immune system–and why less is more with it. That’s kinda cool. I need to go take some, as I’m developing a cold.

    I bet there are other good Science! things I’ve got bookmarked but can’t find right now. I’ll post them later. (It suddenly occurs to me that Science! Politics! Fandom! and other things might be a nice thematic content thing to pursue. I’ll have to think about that. Though already I’m thinking, well, Science! and Climate! would be separate-yet-equal categories. Perhaps this is already too complicated… :))

%d bloggers like this: