Who doesn’t love a baby elephant?

Elephants are great. They are wrinkly and sparsely, and therefore like us. They have wide, deep eyes that seem to leak out with very true emotions. Their babies are floppy, and playful, and rambunctious and a bit too clumsy, therefore reminding me of myself. If I had the opportunity, I would love to go to Africa and watch them in the wild, those big massive things on their spindly little legs.

Unfortunately, in recent times, elephant populations of southern Africa may have gotten too big for their britches.  The government of South Africa is now sanctioning culling of the herds in certain situations, and animal rights activists are in an uproar.  Part of this is due to the worldwide status of elephants as threatened species, despite the large numbers in South African countries.  Another part is due to their similarity to us, along with apes and dolphins.

While I completely understand the first point, there is some question as to how to remedy the situation.  Transportation to other countries would be difficult at best.  And the number of elephants is reaching a point where human populations and needs are threatened as well.  What do we do in this case?  Turn South Africa into a giant game park and move all the people elsewhere?  As for the second point, it’s true that even I feel a special affinity towards elephants.   But they aren’t people.  And if I have to choose between them and some other highly intelligent animal, I’m going to pick the one that doesn’t literally eat a ton of food every day.

Finally, there is some question as to whether or not culling will even work.  Critics state that nearby populations will simply produce more and fill the area left vacant by the other animals.  This may be true, and if so, there need to be serious looks taken into other containment methods.  If not, there’s only a few other possible results – herds of starving elephants, negative human-elephant interactions resulting in death and injury on both sides, and elephants becoming huge pests ot agriculture.  And none of these are situations i would like to contemplate.

A Story

So Mike gave me a story idea, and then I was thinking about interactivity and such, and treasure hunts. So I’m going to ‘have a go’ at linking them all together. I’ll bold the story parts below so you know what is story and what is instructions to the next part of the story.

I was born in the space between a white picket fence and a giant weedy tangle of evergreen bushes. After being run off by some angry suburbanites, my mother had really no where to go. Wherever she went, she was treated as a leper, as a thief, as something unclean. She was alone, and near to giving birth to me and my 3 siblings.

I don’t remember opening my eyes at first. I don’t remember the brightness of that first day. I don’t even remember the sense of loss I must have felt at being separated from my sister, my brothers, my mother. Perhaps the shock is lost somewhere in my memory, occasionally brought forward as nostalgia or melancholy, brought on by a familiar sound or smell.

My early life was hard – scavenging, moving all the time, living off the leavings of others. It wasn’t that bad though. I didn’t have time to be envious, to watch the twinkle and gleam of inside lives. I had my family. We kept each other warm, looked out for each other. But it was always a little different after the first time I heard my mom get really angry.

It was an odd sort of situation. My brothers, Cerne and Cassis, were trash diving at a local park for some useful odds and ends and maybe some food. The whole family was there. My mother and sister Cassy were washing up a bit after their own ‘dives’, and I was playing lookout. The park was mostly deserted at this time of day – late afternoon – except for a few bums lounging.

A woman trotted towards us with her dog. Seeing us, the dog went crazy – barking, tugging at the leash, and generally furious. I called to my brothers, and they quickly turned to face the danger. But still the woman approached. She tried to contain her dog, but he was a big dog. Despite our family outnumbering him, we were all small. And afraid.

But we were quick. Cassy darted around the dog and away, and Cassis quickly followed. Cerne jumped up on top of a garbage can and made to go up into the trees, but the branches were too small. One splintered beneath him, knocking him back onto the ground. The dog moved in to wring him by the neck, but my mother stopped him. She deliberately put herself in front of my brother and snarled.

I’ve never heard such an ugly sound. I couldn’t believe it, coming from my own mother. The hairs stood up all along my body. Even the big dog was a little afraid. He stepped back, and looked around for his master. She tried to quiet him, but I knew that his courage was coming back. While his attention was distracted, it was now or never.

The story continues with perspectives from a variety of sources on the events.

To complete this story as if the narrator runs away and escapes, click here.

To complete this story as if the narrator stays to help his family, click here.

To complete this story on your own or give opinion on the process thus far, please  comment below.

Surviving until the weekend.

It’s Friday, work is boring, and we could all use a little releif.  So, I’m giving you my top ten list for surviving the next 7.5 hours.

10.  The Zombie countdown.  Find out the best ways to tackle the Horde.

9. Armor games.  Fun, light, easy to play while you work.

8. Remember the G.I. Joe cartoons?  Remember the public service announcements that came after them, with the Joes helping kids be less dumb?  There are spoofs.  Here‘s a (possibly) complete list.  All I have to say is MIMIMIMIMI.

7. Free Rice.  Because it’s helpful.  And Educaty.  And, you could argue, increases your jobbing skills.

6. Anybody up for the evaluation of platforms for hypertext fiction?  I guess this one is only cool to a writer who is not used to thinking outside the box – it makes me think about multiple paths.  And who didn’t love choose your own adventure books?  So what if I had to go back after and read every possible ending?

5.  Again with the writing – this is really a list of markets for writers, mostly online publications.  But if you want a good read or a particular kind of read, almost every single one of the publications listed has some free online stories.

4. I’m a nerd.  And I like the Narnia books.  Well, some of them, anyway.  So there’s this.

3. Since all Fridays need to come with some levity and seriousness (and reality), here’s this.  It’s all real.  Real funny.  Looking.

2. Scrabulous.  Need I say more?

1. Ok, I’m out of ideas.  So maybe, in that little comments section so many of you use, you could share yours.

Discovery, Egyptology, and Television

One of the things I don’t like about the History Channel is the way in which they ham up ever historical figure.  They promise hidden secrets, sordid affairs, all the juicy, gossipy details that are supposed to make history more lively.  Of course, they are treading a thin line between entertainment and fact-giving, and I understand that’s a hard line to tread, especially if you want your show to be approachable by the average person.  Discovery does a better job.  Sure, they have their own hammy miniseries, complete with heavy-handed questioning (who were these elusive peoples?  and why did they vanish?). But they also have  great shows like Mythbusters,  in which urban myths are tested in a semi-scientific way, and Cash Cab, in which people on the streets of New York get a free cab ride and the chance to win money for answering trivia questions on the way to their destination.  I mean, I would love to ride in the cash cab – it looks so much fun?  And it’s far more likely than me ever getting onto Jeopardy.

But at the same time, there is a more questionable side to the nature of their activities.   Piggybacking on the ever-mysterious, ever-wondrous image of Egypt, Discovery made a deal with the Egyptian Museum.  For exclusive rights to follow the search for Hatshepsut’s tomb, they paid for a new DNA laboratory at the museum.  On one hand, this can be seen as a fair trade – both sides got something of value.  But on the other, I have serious misgivings about funding for scientific research from the media.  We all know scientific data gets manipulated – that’s what research articles about, interpreting and reinterpreting the data.  But I worry about labs such as this one catering to television’s penchant for the dramatic.

This article gives a little more detail and exemplifies what I mean.  If Discovery is already basically showing the mummy in question as Hatshepsut, what happens when the new DNA lab they paid for discovers it’s someone else?  Is the documentary remade?  Does the Museum owe something further to Discovery?  Does it discourage or encourage future investors from television, and how does this influence archaeological research?  Most research is undramatic and small – would TV be interested?  Does it end up poeticized, just as our current image of Egypt is?  I’m not sure, but it does give me pause.

Blogging and freedom.

It’s rare that I consider the privileges of my lifestyle.  Sure, I appreciate my boss, despite my job.  And I appreciate th epeople in my life fairly regularly.  But there are always things I don’t consider, things that may come into my awareness only with special reflection, perhaps sparked by the season of Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or Easter.  So perhaps it is appropriate that this news item about blogging elsewhere came to my attention in this season.

I rarely consider the internet as a place of freedom for myself.  Sure, it allows for some expression and some sharing of opinions. For the most part though, my sharing is very lighthearted and because of this, I tend to perceive the environment as lighthearted.  Sure, when I was in China I was much more aware of restrictions that could be made, but still it was more of a game.  I looked up different opinions about Tibet and amused myself with their monks-as-oppressors, Communism-as-the-liberator articles.  I didn’t get offended or hurt, perhaps because I knew my lack of access was only temporary.

What does it mean that a blogger – not even someone with the authority of print – would be arrested and held for the opinions that he posts?   What does it mean to consider your blog – this light, hopeful and happy thing that often contains subtle prods – as something of complete and ultimate seriousness?  How does it affect your writing?  How does it affect your life, to know that what you post on a simple blog – something most like a public forum for the world – could change your life forever?  Could get you killed?  Could put your family in danger?

The Banana Monkey.

Some people like bananas.  Some people like monkeys.  I personally happen to like cards and cheese, but that’s another story for another time.  Finally, Some monkeys like bananas.  It is this group that gives rise to the Holy Grail of monkeydom, the Banana Monkey. He’s a fearful creature, with cheeks poodged out in banana revelry, spending his days munch munching away and playing Scrabulous with me.

As some of you may know, I am a big fan of Scrabulous. A big, big fan. In fact, I’ve lost count of the number of times I have mentioned the game in this blog. Some enterprising young person could do a search and perhaps count them, but that will not be me.  I need to put away such youthful games in my struggle to be a crazy old lady.  I am moving every closer – not many days ago, in a stroke of rare senility, I lost a game to the Banana Monkey.

Now, some of you may say, ‘how can this be? You’re so much smarter than a monkey!’  I know, I know.  Yet while it is evidence of progress towards my only life goal, I myself was initially flabbergasted.  My intelligence, of course,  is superior to monkeys, even an imposing figure such as the Banana Monkey.  But then I remembered the monkeys, typewriters, and Shakespeare theories of randomness.  The answer was simple:  I’ve been playing too much Scrabulous.  With an infinite amount of time, eventually I must get such crap letters that the Banana Monkey must triumph.  Perhaps (gasp!) even more than once.  It’s a simple fact of the nature of chaos.

Don’t use your fingers.

All of you who are reading this have one unfortunate thing in common.  You have parents.  They may no longer be alive or just no longer part of your daily life, but you have them nonetheless.  At one time or another, they probably made your life completely unbearable – multiple times if you were highly unfortunate.  And some of the really mean ones might have told you not to use your fingers when eating.

In my family, that’s the way it was.  I loved food – I still do.  And no matter what I did, I could never get that last delicious morsel off of my plate – without using my fingers, of course.  Inevitably a parent would catch me doing it, and then I’d be made to wash my hands and then go back to my seat.  Because not only were my hands ‘dirty’ when I’d touched the food I was actually going to eat, contaminating it, but the act of actually touching food made them more dirty.

Looking back now, it makes less and less sense.  Sure, I get the basic ‘manners’  concept, that touching food is ‘rude’, but beyond that, there’s not much reason not to touch your food.  I can even understand that others might be grossed out by food touching, giving the possible reason behind that politeness.  But still, why did I have to wash my hands?  If they’re physically messy, isn’t a napkin enough?

For those of you who fear to become your parents, dictators of hand-washing and food manners, there is another option, which I discovered here.  Who knows what wonders of eating I could have accomplished with the bulldozer food ‘pusher’?

Gladiators online

I just changed the title here so more people will read this one instead of the old one.

Now that the final challenge has been met, and the ultimate gladiators (for this season, anyway) have been decided, I checked out some of the other features on NBC’s website related to the show. There are good parts, and bad parts. The overall layout was a bit overwhelming to take in. I get the chrome edging, the very bright red, white, and blue colors, the highlighted stars – it’s all tough, and very American. Still, legibility is something of a concern here. Also, there’s a section dedicated to defining the events. It’s not really necessary. If I’m already interested enough in the show to go to NBC and check it out, I’m not going to need to know what the events are. If I’m still checking out some descriptions of the show and possibly reviews, I’m not going to be looking at NBC.

Still, there is quite a bit of quality material on the website. It’s pretty standard stuff, but a step in the right direction as far as making shows more viewer participation oriented. There’s games that allow all of us couch potatoes to get in on the action of competition, even if they aren’t currently terribly dramatic games. There’s stats and details about both the contestants and the gladiators. There’s video clips detailing almost every aspect of the show. There’s a series of forums, downloads, and photos that allow a little bit of viewer participation.
1. More trash talking: One of the most fundamental aspects of the game on television is talking yourself up. If the website allows us to compete against each other in online games, it should definitely also give us the opportunity to exhibit our joaning prowess.

2. Bread: Obviously, a large part of Rome’s success in her expansion across the known world had to do with satisfying the ‘citizens’ back at home. Just as Decimus Junius Juvenalis said about the interests of those same citizens, they are really only interested in ‘bread and circuses’. I’ve already stated in an earlier post how American Gladiators serves to satisfy our bloodthirstiness – they are the entertainment, the ‘circus’. Now, to fill our bellies. I recommend that NBC start doing a little USA foodstuff distribution to promote the next season. I mean really, who wouldn’t want a tasty American Gladiators Snack Pack? I know I would.

3. Viewer participation, viewer participation, viewer participation: There’s so much that could be done here in an expansive way. More games. Online viewer challenges. There should be voting online for your favorite contender, and more than just voting, there should be NCA-type brackets that can be filled out. Possibly there should be gladiator-to-gladiator online competitions that are simulated due to different skills, the outcomes of which you can guess. Simulated betting might be another option. Viewer comment should be more integrated into the overall layout of the site – if I’m going to leave a comment about Wolf, it should be accessible from his description. Also, it’s a little tedious to deal with all the different types of postings relating to a single gladiator or competitor. Viewer comments should be more browsable.

So, there’s still alot to be done, and I’m sure people who are younger and more web-savvy than me will have more to say. American Gladiators, you put up a good fight. But I wonder if, without the writer’s strike to boost your viewing numbers, you’ll be able to keep your numbers up and keep your stamina for future seasons.

Under the Sea.

Ariel’s voice from the Little Mermaid was always too high pitched for me.  I’m just not a soprano – I wasn’t even as a child.  Sebastian’s range fit me better, which is probably why my younger sisters ended up enjoying the movie (and its music) more than I did.  I think another part of it has to do with the happy ending of all Disney movies – even as a child, I appreciated the melancholy of the original Hans Christian Anderson tale.  Still, I did find a certain joy in the Caribbean beats of some of the songs.

The sea always has a certain draw, whether from the energy and sound of the waves, or the simple experience of a world different than our own.  There is a certain romance about sailors and the maritime tradition, perhaps now in part due to the nostalgia of a time before our own – modern fisherman often fail to evoke the same feeling.  It is this sense, perhaps, that has drawn frequent visitors to recent unearthings along the Northwest Coast.   Due to intense storms and unusually drastic shifts in the coastline, many of the markers of our former history have been revealed – shipwrecks and associated  goods, the stumps of old coastal forests, and even iron formations that are not quite understood.  Though some of them have even now been reconsumed by the sands and beaches, what is most interesting to me is the large numbers of visitors to these sites.  Despite bad weather and the speed of coastal change, one wreck has already boasted at least 3,000 visitors.

Further off this same coast lie many of the mysteries of North America’s human past.  In those coastal waters lie the best bet for discoveries concerning the migration of peoples from Asia to North America.  It is in these areas, with the help of underwater archeology, that theories regarding coastal migrations, either by land or by boat or some combination of the two, might one day be confirmed.   It is here, that we might learn who we are first, and perhaps better understand who we have become.

What I couldn’t do with $30,000

Inventiveness should be cherished.  It’s something that I’ve always felt was true, even though I’m likely to not ever make a better widget-maker.  I value creativity, in the areas of art where I have some potential for benefiting the world, but also in areas of science and most importantly, humaneness.  While the last is obviously the hardest to acheive, I still have utter respect for those who excel at the first two.

The Lemelson prize is a recognition of the second, a recognition of strides made in science inventiveness.  This year’s prize winner is all about bacteriophages, little viruses that infect bacteria.  By redesigning these, the winner was able to use them to target the DNA of bacteria and manipulate its ability to resist antibiotics as well as to produce enzymes that break down the biofilms that bacteria can build up as slimy layers of defense against antiseptics and cleaners.  What’s next?  Proteins for the destruction of viruses?  The manipulation of DNA on a molecular level?  I certainly don’t know.

There was also some discussion of the development of new antibiotics, and how expensive it was.  Evidently the reason most companies don’t take it on is due to the high cost of the process and the low returns due to a decreased use of antibiotics.  There are two contradictory self-defeating propositions there, I suppose counterbalancing each other.  The first is the reduced use of antibiotics due to increased resistance to them, which new developments might be able to overcome, increasing the use of that particular antibiotic.  The second is the increased resistance of bacteria to antibiotics due to the development of new ones that allow bacteria to grow more defensive.

Finally, I would like to discuss the prize of $30,000.  Now, I can understand the recognition we want to give to our inventors, and the bacteriophage work is something I never could have done.  But still, $30,000?  What is the money really for?  Do we think this winner is going to be more inspired to invent more due to his prize, or is this considered just as seed money for potential future developments?  Obviously the addition of funds helps research, but how much is a prize like this really going to fuel that research?  Would the money be better spent on programs that allow for development, rather than an individual?  Conversely, would we have peanut butter diesel fuel if George Washington Carver had won the Lemelson prize?

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