Other Cool Blogs: McSweeney’s Nov 20, 2017

Acquired from the internet hive mind: Map of Hell by Sandro Botticelli painted between 1480 and 1490.

As mentioned in my March 1st posting, I am about to enter the Dark Night of Soul portion of tax season where every day funnels me lower and lower through the crushing end on April 17th. A fitting time to revisit “Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell, Reimagined for Linguistic Transgressions” by John Rauschenberg.

I spend too much time in the Second Circle: The Serial Comma.


Geeking Science: Nori

Image courtesy of KEKO64 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My love of sushi and my budget are often at odds now my favorite sushi chef has retired from the local buffet. He was amazing, offering dozens of versions of fresh sushi, and snuck me sashimi on the side. Three plates of sushi for all-you-can-eat buffet prices. The new guy isn’t nearly as good; now the sushi is worth what I pay for it with no sashimi at all. The result is still better than pre-made grocery-store-bought crap so when I need a fix I return to the buffet.

(If you ever want to buy me food, fried chicken and good sushi – at different meals – are the way to my heart.)

Today’s geeking science is about how the sushi craze nearly didn’t happen, how science discoveries belong to the entire world, and how strange and wondrous life forms are.

The full article is available on Ars Technica: “How an unpaid UK researcher saved the Japanese seaweed industry” by Esther Inglis-Arkell, posted November 19, 2017.

Nori, wonderful, tasty seaweed – perfect straight or wrapped around vinegar-soaked rice with a bit of fish, was impossible to cultivate. Japanese farmers every year would put out bamboo and rope frames and wait for filaments to form and grow into large plants. No seeds, no flowers, no saplings, no transplants. Spontaneous generation, or so it seemed. Some years were better than others.

In 1951 production stopped. Spontaneous generation no longer occurred.

Americans didn’t feel the pinch since the Kawafuku Restaurant in Los Angeles, CA didn’t put sushi on the map until the 60’s, where it spread first throughout the urban centers by the 80’s, and finally to Chinese buffets in small Southern cities by the 90’s. But the Japanese lost a favorite food.

On the other side of the world, Kathleen Drew-Baker just completed a path to discover something wondrous. Fired from her teaching job because of the sin of marriage, she became a research assistant (in modern speak, unpaid intern). Common practice of the day required women to be released when they marry so they could pay proper attention to their husband’s careers instead of a day-job; more accurately women were expected to resign and then, if teachers, continue to work unpaid. But that is a different post not related to the scope of this blog.

Back to the amazing Kathleen Drew-Baker. She was poking around with a seaweed that grew in Wales used by locals for bread and soup. The seaweed grew during the winter months, seemingly by spontaneous generation. She looked for spores, thinking fungi. But the spores she found led to a pink sludge growing inside shells during the summer months.

The seaweed led a double-life, during the winter as a leafy green seaweed and the summer as a pink sludge hanging out inside a shell. Like a caterpillar and butterfly without cocoon stage to mark the difference.

Being a scientist she published the discovery in Nature on October 29, 1949 through a paper entitled “Conchocelis-Phase in the Life-History of Porphyra umbillcalis (L. Kutz)“. (Yes, she was allowed to publish under her own name. She wasn’t living in medieval times; she just wasn’t allowed to make a living at being a scientist or teacher.)

In Japan, a scientist ran across it and thought, maybe that applies to the Japanese seaweed too. He looked. It did.

No longer restricted by unpredictable spontaneous generation, the Japanese farmers have gone big business, industrialized farm on the seaweed. Temperature control, testing different shells, maximizing light. Each and every stage of the double-life growth cycle tested and maximized for production. Production on a scale large enough to feed not only a growing Japan, but the rest of the world’s love of sushi.

Cool side note: Every year Uto City holds a festival honor of Kathleen Drew-Baker.

To read the full article (explaining the controls used to maximize nori growth – because who wouldn’t want to know that?!?) go here: https://arstechnica.com/science/2017/11/how-an-unpaid-uk-researcher-saved-the-japanese-seaweed-industry/

Editing Rant: Redundant

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Redundant” is a word I use a lot while editing. I’m not talking duplicate words or phrases, go-to words, or echo words. I’m talking about repeat of presenting information.

For example, the point-of-view character describes the villain of the story to someone. Two chapters later the POV describes the villain (or love-interest) to someone else using nearly the same phrases.

Recaps are well-and-good, once or twice in a book, especially an epic fantasy tome. So long as the recaps present the information in a slightly different fashion. Change up the words. One way to do this is having the events be described by a different character, and interpreting them from their viewpoint or with additional information. Have the recap pull double duty, showing something new in the characters or situation.

Most of all, TRUST YOUR READERS. They do have working memories.

Book Review: A Sword Into Darkness

Book Cover from Amazon

A Sword Into Darkness by Thomas A. Mays



Aerospace tycoon Gordon Elliot Lee cannot stand idly by while a mysterious alien presence from Delta Pavonis bears down upon mankind’s only home. Shut out from NASA and military support, Gordon is forced to go it alone, to sow the seeds for an entirely new sort of planetary defense: a space-based naval force.

Joined by Nathan Kelley — a bloodied naval warrior, scarred by his own actions in the waters off North Korea — and Kris Munoz — an avant garde scientific genius with more ideas than sense — these three will scour the very edges of fringe science and engineering to attempt development of Earth’s first space navy in time to oppose the Deltan invasion.

Beset by ridicule, government obstruction, industrial espionage, and their own personal demons, it will take a miracle just to get off the ground. But the challenges on Earth are nothing compared to what awaits them in space. Against an unknown alien enemy with vastly superior technology, a handful of human scientists and warriors must become the sword that holds the darkness at bay.




Excellent Military Sci-Fi trip to the near future. This stuff feels like we may actually be able to do it, and the reason for the need of creating the first interplanetary warship is equally urgent as we realize just how many worlds upon worlds there are in the heavens.

Not everyone out there is going to be friendly, not everyone who drops by will want a cup-of-tea and biscuit, not everyone in the big black is on the side of life. The question raise by this story is what do we do when we see someone coming to visit? Do we roll out the red carpet or bar the door? Do we assume the best or plan for the worst?

And what do you do if you are the first one to see it and no one believes you? How do you make them believe before it is too late? Should you even try? Can loners save humanity or will you need a planetary navy? (The answer to the final question is yes.)

A mixture of tech, politics, and humans being human drive this story, in the tradition of David Weber.