Germ Cultivation

I recently came upon an article in the New York Times about how people with skin disorders such as acne or eczema could be helped by a sort of topical probiotic treatment. In other words if we take bacteria from the skin of healthy people and spread them on the skin of diseased people, evidence suggests that the good bacteria will fight off the bad bacteria and the skin condition may go away.

This idea of probiotics, (using good bacteria to fight off bad bacteria) has been around for a while now, but it’s been steadily gaining popularity.

I find the whole thing fascinating for a number of reasons. I like the counter-intuitive aspect of it. I like how it looks at the problem of infection from more of a systems perspective, rather than seeing it as a single cause requiring a single remedy. And finally I like how it flies in the face of all the do-gooders who were telling us all how to live our lives in the 80’s and 90’s when I was growing up.


Bacteria husbandry?

It turns out (to a certain extent) it’s better to have children go out and be dirty for a bit. Visiting a farm and interacting with animals, for instance, reduces the risk of asthma. It turns out we shouldn’t take antibiotics every time we get a stomachache since it kills off our gut microbiota and could cause even nastier diseases to run rampant. And now it turns out that if you’re worried about getting a disgusting skin condition, perhaps what you should do is shake hands with as many (healthy) people as possible.

Of course it’s important not to get too carried away. A little dirt outside is okay, but living in filth is not. Just because antibiotics aren’t always the best choice doesn’t mean you should stop using them when you need them. And obviously you should wash your hands often and thoroughly to prevent the spread of diseases like MRSA and the flu.

What the researchers did in this study was put healthy bacteria into a lotion and put this on the forearms of people with eczema. There seemed to be a reduction in the disease, but there are still questions of whether the treatment will continue to work over time, or what might happen if there’s an open wound.

My personal prediction would be that a small open wound like a scratch or abrasion wouldn’t be much of a problem in this case. The bacteria used in the study (Staphylococcus hominis and Staphylococcus epidermidis) are so common that most people’s immune systems will quickly recognize the bacteria in the blood stream and destroy them before they can cause any harm. That “most people” would not include immunocompromised people like the elderly, people preparing for transplant surgery, or AIDS sufferers, however. And if someone has a skin condition, there’s a good chance that something might be off about their immune system.

Ultimately, like many science stories out there, this is cause for some cautious optimism. IF someone has a bacteria-related skin problem, and IF they don’t have some other complicating condition, then they MAY be helped by this therapy IN THE FUTURE (probably 5 years or so I would guess), ASSUMING there aren’t some unforeseen side effects.

As for most of us living outside of laboratories and going about our day to day existences, what I would say this means is that we shouldn’t worry so much about germs. Or more precisely, don’t worry so much about getting rid of them. It’s not good to douse our bodies with antibacterial soaps at every opportunity. It’s also still not a good idea to live in squalor either. Chances are, if you wash your hands regularly and don’t stink, you are clean enough.

Beyond that common sense assessment, if you want to improve your health, you might try finding someone who has healthier skin than you, and shake their hand. Or ask them to rub some lotion on you. Or maybe do none of these things. That way they won’t think you’re a creep and you may benefit from their simple proximity. Yes, it may be that if you want to be prettier, you need to hang around pretty people, which will be easier if you are already pretty. Perhaps yet another astounding example of the Matthew Effect.

‘Member Star Wars?

Writing this in December 2016 a couple days before Rogue One comes out in theaters. I’m excited about the movie because it’s Star Wars, it looks like it’s going in a new, mostly good direction, and Alan Tudyk is involved and many of the things he’s involved in are awesome (Firefly, Wreck-it Ralph, Baseketball). On the other hand, Tudyk has been involved in some stinkers (In my opinion: I, Robot; Death at a Funeral; and his webseries Conman). The robot he is giving his voice to also looks a bit like a hillbilly with his overalls hiked up too far. (Edit from 7/2/17 I’ve seen the movie now and, interestingly enough I liked that it was going in a new, mostly good direction, but was not as pleased with it as I hoped)

Also disturbing is that Forrest Whitaker is in the movie. I have yet to see Forrest Whitaker be in a movie that’s actually good. The closest is the Crying Game, which was memorable mostly because it was disturbing, not because it was particularly good. Somehow he has a reputation of being a good actor, and while I can’t say he’s a bad actor, I can’t really think of a time where I was struck by any of his performances. I think he’s one of these arthouse actors that get thrown into a movie to give it gravitas, only it often seems to backfire. (Edit: Did NOT like Forrest Whitaker in this movie either.)

It’s kind of a shame, because I get the impression that Whitaker has a good sense of humor and likes a lot of the same things I like. It’s just he always gets these overly serious roles. In most of his scenes he seems to be expressing dismay at having learned some unfortunate truth. At any rate, his being in the movie makes me think that we’re going to have a scene at some point where there is a field of dead soldiers and several lines bemoaning the horrors of war. I suppose that could be a good thing for the movie, I just hope it’s not what the movie is about.(Edit: I was a bit off. Instead of a field of dead soldiers there was a tremendous apocalyptic wave of earth and death)

On a somewhat related note, I just finished playing a Star Wars game from about 8 years ago called Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. This was a game released from LucasArts, before the rights to Star Wars were sold to Disney, but after the last of the three prequels came out. There is a funny moment in  the game where you’re fighting in a room of collectibles and on the wall is a gungan frozen in carbonite that looks an awful lot like Jar Jar Binks.

It’s a frustrating game to play, mainly because the targeting system is so buggy. You can move things with the force, shoot them with electricity, or throw a lightsaber at them, but only if they have a blue square around them, AND you have a clear line of sight, AND they aren’t something that’s immune to the attack you’re trying. Not to mention that if you move a little bit the blue square winks off, and sometimes you can attack somebody even though they don’t have a blue square.

This frustration aside though, it’s fun fighting with and against wookies, jawas, and Rancors; throwing spaceships around with the force; and seeing all the iconic robots and ships from the movies. Also you get to be Darth Vader for a bit, which is neat. The story line of the game isn’t too bad either. It at least has one or two interesting characters. Not the main character, Starkiller, who, while voiced excellently by Sam Witwer, has a strange arc that makes it hard to figure out his motivations. Rather it’s two side characters that I wanted to know more about.

Proxy is a droid that can use holographic projectors on its body to appear as any one he’s studied sufficiently. He repeatedly says that it is his mission to kill the main character, but he obviously cares about him too. Also he has strange insights into the people he pretends to be. There’s a line about midway through the game after Proxy becomes Darth Vader to deliver a message. Proxy says “I hate having to be him” and Starkiller says, “I think he does too.”  I would love to play a game where I could play as Proxy, or see a movie where he was around more. But I’m not even sure if he made it to the sequel of the game, and since the story is no longer canon, we might never see his like again.

The other character I wanted to know more about is Maris Brood, the apprentice of one of the Jedi Knights Shaak Ti. Shaak Ti herself is a canon character now, I think, but at least in the game Maris Brood was way more interesting. She was trained by someone who followed the light side, and yet she herself was dark side. She had an affinity for animals, notably a Megarancor that you have to fight when you battle her. She also could teleport and used lightsabers like tonfas. Shaak Ti’s fight by comparison was something of a letdown and I didn’t get anything of where she was coming from. Maris Brood seem to have a genuine beef that I would have liked to know more about.

Doing research for this post led me to a novelization of the game, which I might check out later, because overall the game was like a glimpse into a much larger story. I play games for three reasons, to pretend to be someone else, to challenge my brain with interesting puzzles, and to be entertained by an engaging, if often not particularly sophisticated, plot. The game had definite good points in all three categories, although it stopped frustratingly short of complete success in any one of them. The ending was a bit contrived and the one choice you could make to influence the plot was way too little, way too late. By the time it comes, you’re almost not even aware that it is a choice, since the rest of the game is so linear.

Now is a good time to pick it up if you’re looking for something to play that’s not too expensive, since it’s got a lot of good Star Wars references, but if you want a game from around the same time period that’s easier and more fun to play, Infamous is probably a better bet. You have many of the same powers, but without the clunky UI. Also Infamous has choices all the way through it that affect gameplay as well as the character’s appearance. Granted the affect on gameplay isn’t very drastic, there are mostly a few lines of dialogue that are different and a few missions that turn out differently. Still, it’s much more satisfying from a roleplaying perspective and it meshes with the storyline better too. I think a good takeaway might be that Force Unleashed tells a better story, but Infamous tells its story better.

Along the lines of remembering things from the past, I’ve run into a lot of stuff on Alzheimer’s research lately. First there was an episode of 60 minutes that aired recently about a group of people living in Colombia that have a rare genetic mutation, making it almost inevitable that they will develop Alzheimer’s. It’s a recessive mutation, so not all of the people get it, but by testing for it, researchers can know ahead of time who’s going to get the disease, and therefore they can know how well whatever therapy they come up with will work. Most of the therapies they currently have show little or no effect on the disease, but that might be because the patients who receive the therapies aren’t getting them early enough.

Far more exciting in my opinion, though, is the research coming from Li-Huei Tsai about using the light from flickering LEDs to lessen the beta-amyloid plaque in the neurons of rats with Alzheimer’s. Beta-amyloid plaque build up is though to be one of the major contributing factors in the development of the disease. It was theorized that causing neurons to fire at a certain rate, known as the gamma frequency, would encourage janitor cells in the brain (microglia) to clear up the plaque. Initially Tsai, used a rather invasive procedure (optogenetics) to cause the neurons to fire at the right frequency. She found that there was, in fact, up to a 50 percent reduction in plaque using this procedure. However, when she simply tried using LEDs with no further surgery she found it had almost the same effect!

Now here’s the clincher, and the thing that ties this whole blog post up. A human gamma wave is a neural oscillation of between 25 to 100 Hz, 40 Hz being the most typical. The unit Hz stands for “Hertz” and means “per second.” Most monitors and TV sets show images at around 60 frames per second. This equates to a light oscillation of around 60 Hz which is well within the gamma range. Furthermore, Gamma oscillations occur when the mind is in a state of extreme concentration, which can occur during meditation, during a difficult calculation, or…playing a particularly engaging video game.

Playing video games could possibly keep you from getting Alzheimer’s.

Dad&BradPod Episode 2

Part two of a conversation between me and my father in March of 2014 about Midsouthcon and other things.

This episode makes reference to the following things:

Police procedurals:
(although I should note that I was initially thinking of police reports, the things actual police write, but said “procedural” which caused some confusion.)


True crime

Tropic Thunder

The character Hannibal Lector from the movie “Silence of the Lambs” from the series of novels by Thomas Harris and the new (at the time) TV series Hannibal

A joke about monks and cannibalism.



Science Fiction art  and its similarities to surrealism

Kelly Armstrong and the TV series Bitten based off of her first book of the same name. Also the new (at the time) book she had at the con Omens


Frank Sinatra

What is the best way to focus, learn and understand any concept?

Here’s another answer to a Quora question, which you can find here as well as in this post.

string-theory-2First, you have to pick a concept. I’m not just being flip here. Picking a concept can be difficult, and it is the essence of focus. If you want to learn string theory, you can’t learn to program, study the economy of Tahiti, and grok the subtle nuances of a TV show about super heroes at the same time.

You have to budget your time. I like half hour segments, but you may find something else works better. For me I tell myself that for this particular half hour, all I’m going to do is study this concept I want to study. I have a plan for the day where each free half hour segment that I have is set up ahead of time. Of course making the plan is one thing; actually following it is another. That would be another Quora answer, and my solutions for that may not work for you.

The point is that you must devote yourself to the thing you want to learn for at least some span of time. The more time you devote the better, although you may find some diminishing returns if you get too obsessive. You may have heard how many of the best musicians played until their fingers bled; the best programmers spend all night on code surviving on cheesy poofs and energy drinks. These stories may be true, but sometimes passion doesn’t come as naturally. Sometimes you have to cultivate it. So for half an hour, or whatever you can manage, attack the concept with all the will you can muster. After the time is up, you have permission to stop.

Devoting yourself to learning the concept means, no internet beyond what you need, no texting, no talking to friends, no video or TV watching, and no distracting music. You may have a playlist of songs that help you concentrate. I like instrumental music with a dance or techno rhythm sometimes for that, but most of the time I find I’m so worried about whether or not I can work with a particular song, that I just learn to deal with silence. This can be difficult, even dangerous for some people. Your job may depend on you being available. But if you want to focus on something, you are going to have to let something go for a little while. If you can’t find some time to devote to this thing you want to learn, I’m afraid you aren’t going to be able to learn it.

Now, after you’ve picked a concept, and devoted yourself to it, the next thing you need to do is step away from it. Ask any writer who has managed to overcome writer’s block. Sometimes obsessing over something, especially something complicated and difficult to understand, just does not work. Sometimes you have to give the logical part of your mind a rest. Do something else for a while. You may need to schedule this you-time just as stringently as your concept-time, but it helps. Although it’s true that learning the concept will be it’s own reward, the human brain wants instant gratification. After the third time you read about some one arguing over whether there’s six dimensions or eleven, you are very likely going to want to say “screw string theory” and eat a hot dog.
(There’s nothing difficult to understand about a hot dog. You can ponder it’s origins and chemical make up if you want, but it will only last a second before you tell yourself “Dude, it’s a freaking hot dog!” Much like religion, hot dogs require faith, but with faith comes solace, and you can make yourself one with everything.)
Wait until your devotion time is up, but then go for it. Take it easy for a while. After you’ve worked on it for the duration you set for yourself it will feel like a reward, and you’ll be more likely to want to study again. Don’t forget you’re human. Don’t burn yourself out.

Finally, for all the times when you aren’t intensely concentrating on some concept, you should remember to be open to serendipity. You may suddenly understand why there has to be six (or eleven) dimensions while you’re sitting in traffic on your way to work. It all has to do with rollerskates, you realize. Suddenly your boss calls. You pick up your phone. You could answer it right away, or you could text “rollerskates” to yourself while traffic is stopped. Text those rollerskates. As long as it’s not going to get you fired to let the phone ring a little longer, let your brain work in it’s weird and wonderful way. Remember that you care about string theory. It’s important to you. Later on, when you’re diving into it again and you’re lost you’ll remember you texted yourself something and then you’ll go “Oh yeah, it’s like rollerskates!” and you’ll be back on track.
So in review:

  • Pick your concept (don’t do everything at once)
  • Devote yourself to it (schedule it)
  • Step away from it (when you need to)
  • Be open to serendipity (when you can)

That’s my advice. Hope it helps


Image from

How to Achieve Your Dreams

sky-clouds-above-clouds-wallpaperThe following is a response to a question on Quora. I didn’t quite read the question correctly, but I like what I came up with as an answer. I have no definite expertise on any of this, but I have learned a few things that may be useful for somebody.

dmaicIf you’re serious about accomplishing your dreams, there are some tools that have been developed in the business world that can help. I’ve been involved with some Six Sigma projects, and I like the model of DMAIC for the most part. That is Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control. These sound boring, but they’re really not. Let’s go through them.

The first step of accomplishing your dreams is to have realistic dreams. This isn’t giving up, this is building up. If you want to fly, great. I’m not going to say you can’t fly. But what exactly do you mean by flying? Is flying an airplane going to work for you? No? How about skydiving, that’s kind of like flying, or hang gliding? Do you actually want to be like a bird, or do you want to be superman?

Already, while we started off with something that seems unattainable, we now have several options that are much more attainable. One of the things that keeps you back in this step is fear. Your dream of flight is nice, but what if you don’t like it? What if it’s dangerous? What if it seems less beautiful? These what-ifs can hold you back, but they shouldn’t be ignored either. Make a list of these fears along with any other risks, because its entirely possible that you actually don’t want to accomplish this particular dream. Next to these risks, you want to list the benefits of accomplishing your dream. What will you gain from it. Why do you want to accomplish it? It could be that while your dream involves flight, what you really want is a feeling of freedom, and there might be better ways of doing this. If you think of some, great, make another list of risks and benefits for this new dream. Does it look better than what you had before? You keep at this until you have something that matches your desires and yet still fits with what can occur in reality.

If, at this point, you still don’t see how you can accomplish your dream, then look for ways to get closer to accomplishing it. If you want to be Superman, maybe look into jet packs, physical fitness, rescue work, or space travel. Depending on what it is about Superman that you most want to be, learning about these subjects might not get you there, but it will get you closer. The idea here is to bring your dream closer to reality by bringing reality closer to your dream.

weight-scale-400x400-300x300How close are you to your dream today? The easiest example of this is weight loss. If you want to lose 30 pounds before next Thanksgiving, you need to monitor how you’re doing to know if the diet you are on is working or not. Even if it’s something you dread, you have to get on the scale and check, otherwise there is no point in dieting. You can get more sophisticated in this step for more benefit. You can make a graph of your progress for example and a list of all the foods you ate each day and any exercise you did. This way if there is a large dip or a peak, you can see what might have caused it. Weight loss is nicely quantitative, so measuring is easy to do.

The picture to the left links to a blog about not letting scales control your life. This is a common sentiment, and I can understand where it comes from. I think it’s a completely wrong way of thinking about things, but I understand it. If you aren’t having too much success accomplishing your dreams it can be disheartening to measure how far you’ve fallen. This is because humans aren’t robots. If you aren’t doing well in your progress, you need to either move on to the next steps (analyze and improve) or reconsider the previous step. Is loosing weight really what’s important to you? Could it be that you’re really worried about your fitness? Weight may not be the best way to measure that. If you stress eat, you might measure progress by recording times of stress and how you coped. Or maybe whatever is causing you stress is the problem. Putting serious effort into fixing that might be the best bet. You are never going to be able to levitate yourself. That’s depressing. But being able to do a pull up is close. Even Superman started with tall buildings. But whatever you’re goal you HAVE to measure your progress toward it somehow if you’re serious about accomplishing it.

For your more qualitative goals, like flying or perhaps owning your own business, you might need to make a journal dedicated to the goal. You can probably come up with many little goals and you can note your successes and your set backs in a journal as you experience them. The point is to have a record of what works and what doesn’t so you have some guidance in the next step.

Analyze and Improve
If your diet isn’t working out, change it. If you feel like you’re not getting anywhere, move. You do NOT want to be consistent if you are unhappy. A foolish consistency, as Emerson said, is the hobgoblin of little minds. Although you want to make changes that are likely to work and that aren’t too dangerous, remember it’s okay to make mistakes. You are, in fact, required to make mistakes in order to know what does not work for you. There are different kinds of writers, different kinds of digestive systems, you may, in fact, be from the planet Krypton. You can’t just follow someone else’s plan.

It is very important, however, to continue to measure your progress. You might think it’s a good idea to eat nothing but soy products in your diet, but you might find out that you actually gain weight (because, surprise, soy can be fattening!) Give it some time so you can be sure of how things changed, but if things are going worse, change your system back to how it was before if possible, or make another adjustment if its not.

houseflyI’m going to digress here for a moment to talk about house flies. If you watch a fly fly, you might notice how randomly it moves. It buzzes around your sandwich quite a bit yes, but then it takes a trip to the window and the to the lamp shade and back to your sandwich again. The actual motivations and causes for the complicated behavior of a fly is complicated, but one possible way of explaining it is as a modified random walk. A random (or drunkard’s) walk is one in which a moving object moves in a random direction for a random amount of time. The fly does just about the same thing, except it has memory, sight and smell, signals that make it prefer certain directions over others. As long as the good signals are getting stronger, the fly will keep going in the same direction, pretty much, but if there’s a bad signal that’s getting stronger or the good signals are getting weaker, it sort of tumbles in the air and flies in a new, but still mostly random direction. This is rather inefficient, but it works. If you are near a sandwich, and you get further away from it, the signal goes down. You then go in a different direction and maybe this is also leading away from the sandwich so you change directions again, and now you are going toward the sandwich again so you keep going. I should say that the fly is a bit (a LOT) more sophisticated than I’ve described here, and, while a fly does act this way somewhat, this behavior is more like how bacteria move (Howard C. Berg has written a lot of interesting work in “random walks”). The point is, that it doesn’t matter so much what you adjust, or in what way you adjust it; what does matter is how often you adjust it and how closely you monitor your situation.

If things are progressing well, don’t mess with them! But if things aren’t going anywhere, some kind of change is in order. If things are getting worse, than a change is not only a good idea, but an urgent one. Don’t let fear keep you from a better life. You might be in a situation where you don’t have a lot of options, but even if you only have two paths you can go on as Led Zeppelin says, “in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on.”

ControlThis step has two phases. While you’re still attaining your dream and making adjustments, you will probably find it helpful to establish some rules and guidelines. For example, jumping off a building is not an acceptable means of learning to fly. In weight loss, you might find that day to day, your weight varies by about a pound or so there’s no reason to stress about an increase unless its more than that (stress->despair->ice cream so limiting stress is also important). You may also have some go-to adjustments for when things go wrong, such as doing more exercise or taking a quiet moment to watch the birds when you’re feeling down. These guidelines that you develop on your way to your goal are the first phase of control.

The second phase of control occurs after you’ve attained your dream. So you’re successful. Now what? Well, the answer to that question is usually that you want to make sure you stay successful. A lot of the guidelines you came up with in the first phase will work in this second phase, but there may be a few things you need to do differently. If you get a job as a pilot, for example, you need to review all the safety procedures even though day-to-day you may not need to know them. You also need to keep an eye out for new technologies and if necessary train yourself on them so you don’t become obsolete. Once you lose the weight, you have to stay vigilant to keep it off, and you may have to employ different strategies as you age or go through other life changes.

As you may have noticed, all these “steps” overlap, and turn back on themselves like eddies in a river. You could in fact just as easily start with Control, and then notice somethings out of whack and move to Analyze and Improve and then Measure, and then find out what exactly the problem was at the end of the whole process (Define). That’s more or less what happens when police make an arrest. Perhaps it would be better to call these phases or even aspects of goal setting, but I think if you’re looking for a way to start accomplishing your dream, defining your dream is a good place to start. If you’ve got your dream well-defined, measuring your progress is the next thing to try. Then adjusting things as needed, and finally controlling them once you have things pretty well established. They build on each other nicely that way, and besides, that’s how the business world groups them.

Note: This post used pictures from the following websites. Please visit them and consider purchasing any products they’re selling.

Brad&DadPod001: Midsouthcon, Steampunk, and Lycanthropy


This is the first part of an interview with my father where he asks me about what I did at Midsouthcon, a science fiction convention held in Memphis, Tennessee. This is from March 2014 so the information isn’t entirely current, but the talk could just as easily be about any science fiction convention. We also talk about the phenomenon of steampunk in literature. Finally we discuss werewolves and related lycanthropic characters in fiction, partly due to the short story I recently had published. Dad has a way of asking questions that start out seeming basic, but end up being rather deep. It makes for some interesting conversations, and I think this one qualifies. Hope you enjoy.


New Story published in Luna’s Children!

doubleThe anthology Luna’s Children is now out in kindle and a print version is coming out soon. This is an anthology of werewolf stories edited by D. Alan Lewis. There are actually two volumes: Stranger Worlds and Full Moon Mayhem. My short story, “Always Hungry” is in Stranger Worlds.

So what’s in my short story? The story bends several of the rules of the anthology. For one thing it’s not really about a werewolf per se. The main character is a coyote who is altered by the tears of a young woman into…something else. Something not quite human, but not of nature either. It’s an intense horror story, though there are some lighter moments in it. Like many horror stories it deals with humanity coming into conflict with darker natures and the supernatural.

Read it and tell me what you think!

Switchblade Pisces Pt. 17


Chapter links:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

<<First <Previous

Chapter 17


On one side of the large parking lot outside the main entrance of the clinic Delacroix, two FBI agents, four local police cars, and a SWAT van sit there looking mean. On the other side there’s Eklund, Janis, Jazz, a few doctors in lab coats carrying tasers and me. Things don’t look that good. I’m betting on a number of things that might not be true, but at this point my plan is the only thing that makes sense. A hail mary pass, that just might get us all killed. Fun.

Eklund walks across the no-man’s land of the parking lot. Janis follows him. Delacroix joins him in the center of the space with the two agents to back him up.

“What’s it going to be, doc? The hard way, or the really hard way?”

Eklund looks older than I’ve ever seen him. He wipes sweat off of his brow and glances at me. I nod at him, even though I’m not sure about this either. Then he clears his throat and speaks. “What is will power, Agent Delacroix?” he asks.

“That sounds like a question, doc. I’m looking for an answer.”

“True, but you see, your reasons for attacking us seem to be contingent on whether or not the agent we took from the hospital wanted to be saved or not. But he was unconscious, how can we know what he wanted?”

“Your Pisces there put him in the hospital, I don’t think he’d be running to join her again.” Delacroix walks closer to Eklund using his height to intimidate the smaller, older man.

“You don’t think, but you don’t know,” Eklund points out.

“Sure, fine. Why don’t we wake him up and ask him? Oh, that’s right, we can’t, because he’s in a fucking coma.”

“Janis?” Eklund turned toward Janis, who’s rubbing her wrists in discomfort.

Delacroix and the two agents tense up, expecting an attack.

“Go to Delacroix. Do whatever he asks.”

Janis’s eyes go wide, but she follows the order, walking over to Delacroix.

“Go ahead. Give her an order,” Eklund prods.

“Stand on one foot,” Delacroix asks, and Janis does so. “Jump up and down.” Janis still follows the order. Delacroix’s face hardens into a scowl. “Kill yourself.”

The blade snaps out of Janis’s wrist, but she doesn’t raise it to her neck or any other part of her body. She wavers still on one foot. Then, slowly, her raised foot comes down.

“Kill yourself!” Delacroix yells, but now Janis’s blade retracts back into her wrist. She walks, slowly at first and then with more determination, back to Eklund’s side.

Eklund smiles. “She has a computer in her brain. It has a very simple program. Follow every order. A couple of days ago, she would have followed your order. But she has gained a will of her own. She has learned how to ignore her programming.”

“Am I supposed to be impressed? One of your robots is malfunctioning, how does that change anything?”

“Janis, if you could go back, would you rather I hadn’t helped you out? Would you rather I had left you in a coma?”

Janis swallows and shifts her weight. “Sometimes…sometimes I think I feel that way. But not right now. I don’t want to die, and I don’t want to be in a coma again either. I’m sorry if I’m not supposed to say that!”

“It’s okay, Janis. You’re a human being, now, not a robot at all. You’ve made me very proud.” Eklund pats Janis on the shoulder and turns to Delacroix. “You say Agent Fox wouldn’t want to be here. I say at the moment he has no will of his own. I say that anyone with an ounce of willpower would rather they have a will than not, and the only way we can give Agent Fox any semblance of will, would be to let us help him. Afterwards, he can decide if it’s worth it or not, but until then, let us do what we can.”

“How do I know you didn’t just program her to act this way? She’s your robot, you could tell her whatever you wanted.”

“I’m not a robot!” Janis says suddenly, her blades out of her wrists. She seems a little startled by her own outburst, but then she slowly smiles. “I’m not a robot,” she says again. “I have a will of my own.”

“Oh yeah? How do you know that? How can you be sure?”

Janis steps in front of Eklund, powerfully, resolutely. She is her own woman. “I know I’ve got it,” she says, “Because it makes me feel good.”


There was a flurry of decisions that had to be made, most of which I couldn’t quite follow. Eklund and his clinic were allowed to continue under stringent government surveillance. He was no longer classed as a terrorist threat, but was required to pay a fine and work a few hundred hours of community service for the injuries the two agents sustained.

As for me, I have a job now, working for Eklund. As to what that job actually is, that’s difficult to say. I can usually pick things up pretty quick and passing the tests for certification in different areas hasn’t been a problem. Sometimes I work in the operating room, assisting one of the doctors, sometimes I’m fixing some electrical problem. Eklund understands how bored I get doing the same thing and lets me work on whatever needs doing. It’s perfect for me and I get paid more than I would ever make doing something else.

Janis visited her mother again recently. I think they bonded a little. There was mutual crying. I asked her out on an official date, and we’ve gone on a few of them since. That’s going pretty well. Janis still can be a little too accommodating at times. I don’t think we’re going to stay together. I think she’s still learning who she is, and at some point she’s going to have to see other people just to make sure I haven’t influenced her too much.

I think I’m okay with that. I think I love her, and I think I’ll be a little jealous of whomever she’s with, but I think I’ll be able to deal with it. I’m still learning who I am too after all. Maybe we’ll find each other again. Maybe we’ll drift apart, but whatever happens, it will be because of our own decisions. Our own will.

When Agent Fox wakes up the first time, I’m there in the room with Dr. Eklund and Dr. Gardener. He opens his eyes and blinks a few times. “Don’t worry, Fox” I tell him, “We aren’t going to hurt you.” The fans on his prosthetic cortex whir. “I’m Ethan Yates. I’m a friend. These two helped you out of your coma, their names are Dr. Eklund and Dr. Gardener. For a while, you’re going to have to do whatever we say, but eventually, you’ll be able to make your own decisions. Nod if you understand.” Fox nods slowly, and I know he’s going to be okay.

I love my job.



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How to Study Using PowerPoint

If you’re studying biology, chemistry, art, a pictographic language or any visual subject, you may have to memorize not only words and definitions but also pictures, diagrams, and symbols. Depending on how good you are at drawing, you may be able to use index cards here, but this is time consuming and can be frustrating. We live in a modern age though, and there is a better way.

Everyone has different backgrounds. I was amazed to discover that many  university students I’ve run into haven’t learned how to do this stuff, but isn’t always taught as early as it should be, possibly never in some schools, and besides I’m not sure where exactly I picked it up.  So I’ll start with a very basic introduction to PowerPoint for those who haven’t  used it before.  Then I’ll explain how you can use the program to study complex pictures  in the second section. This might be too complicated for some, too simple for others, but I’m hoping this helps somebody.

Disclaimers: I should note that I use the 2007  version of Microsoft PowerPoint, but I learned these techniques on earlier versions of the software and so you should be able to find the same options on whatever version you have if you hunt for them. There are other presentation software programs out there, but Powerpoint is the one I'm most familiar with and probably the most popular. I'm not going to use the little copyright symbols next to every instance of the word Powerpoint, because that would be annoying, but PowerPoint is the copyright of Microsoft Corporation and that should be understood throughout this post. I believe I am operating under fair use here, but I will take down the page if I get any official looking cease and desist letter. 


On most modern PC and mac computers, there is a program called PowerPoint. If you’ve taken a class anywhere in the last decade, you’re probably encountered it . You might even hate it. It certainly has its critics, but you don’t need to worry about any of that. Basically PowerPoint makes slide shows. The reason why it’s useful is that it combines word processing, image editing, and even a little movie making into one lovable Frankenstein program.

Basically you start out with a screen like this:



You can type in words or copy pictures into the slide and view your finished product by clicking the slideshow symbol (on the bottom to the left of the 52% in the picture). Once you’ve made one slide you can create new ones until you have an entire sequence of slides that you can use for a presentation at a meeting, or for your own benefit. Even if all you do is type text into the various slides, Powerpoint is helpful in a meeting to keep you on track, or as a way of outlining a narrative for a story or talk.

Studying with PowerPoint

You might already see one way to use PowerPoint to study. In the first slide, you might type a word, say, and then in the second slide you can have both the word and the definition. Instant flash card! And its not as difficult to keep from cheating. You could also use a word that describes a diagram that you have to learn to draw, and in the next slide you could have the diagram, which lets you check yourself against somethings that’s probably a little larger, more accurate, and more readable than what you can hurriedly scratch out on an index card.

This does the job in some cases, but in many cases what you have to study is just too complicated for a single slide. Take this picture for example:



If you had to memorize the names and locations of all those organs, it would take a whole stack of index cards . But there’s a trick you can do in Powerpoint that makes studying this stuff a hundred times easier.

First copy-paste or insert the picture into the Powerpoint file (right-click on picture->copy->right click on powerpoint-> paste or Insert->picture symbol-> browse-> enter filename)  Once you do this you can move the picture around if you click on the center of the picture and drag, and you can resize the picture by clicking on one of the dots in the corner and dragging out or in.

So far so boring. Okay, now on the top of the screen there’s the word “home”. If you click on this, it should look something like this:appres2

There should be an area that says “Shapes.” If you click on this button, you’ll get a selection of various shapes you can use. It’s easiest just to use rectangles so just click on the rectangle shape, which should be near the top of the popup menu.appres3


Once you click on the rectangle you can click anywhere on the slide and drag out to create a box however big you want it, and move it over one of the terms you need to know.



Okay. Now you can’t see the word. That doesn’t do you much good on its own. You want to be able to remove the block on command. Go to “Animations” and click on “custom animation.” This will create a panel on the right side of the screen which will let you assign animations to the rectangle.



You want to have the box disappear when you left click. To do this, in the custom animation pane, click on “Add Effect,” then select “exit.” You are given a list of options, but it doesn’t really matter which one you select, they will all cause the box to disappear when you left-click your mouse or hit a cursor key in slide show mode.



Once you select one of the options, powerpoint will show you what the animation will look like. and then an entry will show up in the box toward the center of the pane. This box lists all the different things that have animations in your slide, as well as some options for the animations. You don’t have to worry about those now, but you can play with them to create different effects.

What we’ve done so far is create a box that goes away when you click a button. You can go into slide show mode and confirm that this works. But we could do this by making a new slide without a box in it. So what’s the point? Well, remember copying and pasting? You can do that to the rectangle you’ve just made, duplicating it as many times as you want. And each time you duplicate it, you duplicate the animation as well.



Now, when you go into slide show mode, each time you click your mouse, a block will disappear, allowing you to study not only the names of the organs, but also their locations.

This is incredibly useful for subjects like anatomy and physiology, but it works for anything large and complicated that you need to learn all the elements to. And of course you can use simpler methods for the simpler things you need to know, making powerpoint an excellent tool for review.

Switchblade Pisces: Pt 16

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Chapter 16


Sleep comes like a ninja from behind, and I fall, vanquished like a random lackey from a rival clan, into the bed.

In my dreams I’m running through stacks of old computer towers, their fans whirring searing hot air onto my calves and shins. I am naked and I can’t figure out where I’m supposed to go. And then I find a surge protector with many cords plugged in. I start to follow the cord for that and I start running following it because somehow I know that getting to the source is important. I run and I run, servers and computer towers spitting hot air at me as they rise higher and higher around me. Finally I come to a circular clearing and I see Janis on the ground at its center. The cord runs into her chest, between her breasts into her heart.

For some reason, in the dream, I pull the cord.

Janis screams.

I wake up.


I can sense the urgency as soon as I open my eyes. Outside my room, I can hear quick footsteps going back and forth. I slept in my clothes so after checking myself for any embarrassments, I open the door to see what’s going on. No one is paying me much attention, just rushing toward some area of the building. I decide to follow the general flow and find myself in the back of a small crowd of people both in and out of lab coats gathered around the doorway of a large office. A man with an impeccable hair cut and a laid back charisma is talking in the lazy drawl of a southern gentleman to Dr. Ecklund through a large flat screen display.

“…Oh I’m well aware of the work you’re doing, Dr. Eklund. I know all about your little mad science projects, and while I’ve wanted to take you down for years, the government—” The man says the word “government” with the same palpable contempt with which he said Dr. Eklund’s name “—felt a wait-and-see approach was more ‘prudent.’”

“My research could be of great benefit to the American people and the military I assure you, Mr. Delacroix.” Eklund speaks in a somewhat flabbergasted tone, as if someone suggested borrowing his underwear without warning.

“We can take your research, Dr. Eklund, and we will. You see you have kidnapped a federal agent, and that is a big no no.”

“We’re saving his life!” Eklund protests.

“It doesn’t matter what you’re doing to him, doctor, it ain’t done with his permission, and it ain’t done with the the permission of the American government. Now I’ve got this friend, Sal. He’s in charge of the local SWAT division? Way I see it you got two choices. You can either come peacefully and let us ransack your little establishment and take what we find useful. Or you can get your switchblade pisces, I’ll get my guns from Sal, and we can have ourselves an altercation.”

“I have rights! My patients have rights!”

Delacroix gives Eklund a condescending look. “Dr. Eklund, that was before you committed a federal crime! You came into this yard looking for a cock fight. Don’t you stop struttin’ now.”

The display goes dark. Everyone is silent for a moment. One of men next to asks, “What are we going to do?”

Strangely enough, I think I have an answer.

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