Bagging a Story

The comic strip Non Sequitur has again generously provided a juicy writing prompt to get the wheels turning. This one finds two children poking into a bulging sack toted by a mysterious old man. The strip asks, “Who are the kids?  Who is the man? What’s in the sack?”

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Little Ship Lost

NASA recently announced the re-discovery of a spacecraft that disappeared 8 years ago hiding in plain sight in orbit around the moon. Questions abound and they seem like they could lead down some interesting paths. In these conspiracy-theory-rich times, one can even speculate about devious plots to force attention away from dastardly doings on Earth or hide data, objects, or persons in the most unlikely place. Have at it.

Counting On a Crow

My local paper recently published this account of a popular local character who happened to be a crow. Smokey the crow was, by this account, bright and mischievous, as well as friendly and talkative. Among other exploits, he was known for stealing parking tickets from cars and trinkets from stores. One of his human friends taught him to say “Hello.” He was so devoted as a companion that he followed his friend along on his paper route. The crow was so well-known as a beloved scamp that his death rated a front-page obituary in the paper.

Of Two Minds

As if my brain didn’t hurt enough from spending hours at work learning about how medical claims get paid and then recorded in the accounting system, I learned this morning that Schrodinger’s Cat is (was? will be?) more complex than we all thought. I keep a copy of a Dilbert cartoon about this on on my fridge as an homage to my physics loving progeny. In the strip, the evil HR director, Catbert, introduces the new staff member, a cat that used to work for a Dr. Schrodinger who let him go before an experiment was done, thus leaving him both dead and alive. Dilbert asks if that means he’s a zombie, to which the cat replies, “I have half a mind to be offended.”

In the new twist to the cat’s story, it has been determined that the cat can be dead and alive in two different places and that acting on one of the cats will cause the same outcome or reaction for the other. For example, tickle the cat…well, first you put on gloves, I guess…and it laughs or bites someone in both places…heavy gloves are needed. This concept was taken a step further by physicists applying it to photons in the lab.  I can see where if I went beyond writing space operas and actually wanted to put the effort into writing actual science fiction or more robust fantasy, this could be a very useful concept. With it, I could feed both my cats at once remotely. Everybody wins.

P.S. I re-released and rededicated the most recent volume of my “Startrail” space opera in honor of Prince, who inspired one of the characters back when I wrote the first story that would eventually become the first book.

 

Just Another Martian Monday

In my local paper this morning, the regular naturalist writer, who covers everything from snails to supernovas, posted a piece on how time works on Mars.  According to this article, there are authors who (unlike me) have written about Mars without glossing over the issue of how one manages the disjoint between Mission Control time on Earth and another planet with different lengths of day, month, and year (as well as two moons). In particular, he cites a thoughtful time-keeping tweak proposed by Kim Stanley Robinson in Red Mars to help Mars-base staff stay in sync.

When NASA finally does get us onto Mars, they may well look to fiction as their model, in the same way Star Trek probably paved the way for Siri (though I am very disappointed with our web-conferencing tools at work for not looking anywhere near as cool or working as well as the ones on a show from over 40 years ago).

I am daily reminded of how disorienting time can get when reaching across time zones to meet with colleagues. One poor fellow staggered out of bed this morning for a meeting with us chipper East-coasters and at points seemed unable to remember what we were talking about. “Needs a gallon of coffee,” I texted a colleague just as our comrade muttered (unnecessarily), “Man, am I tired!”

Then there’s the clock in the common hall of our office complex. For a time it was stopped altogether but then began to run several hours off (ahead? behind?). Lately, it has been 55 minutes behind (I think) on average but sometimes less. I distract myself all the way to the door every morning wondering why no one can seem to get it running on regular Eastern Standard Earth time but I am no longer able to trust it if it does. Of course, I can just ask Siri, I suppose (thanks, again, to fiction writers).

The Passing of a Prince

The Economist posted a piece about an elderly gentleman in India who died a modest and obscure death but had once been a tiger-hunting prince and a palace-dwelling king. Now the palace is a school and the former sovereign lived in a mud hut at the end of his life. Villagers would come to pay their respects.

It was the independence of the new country that helped turn the tide (along with a flashy lifestyle that could not be sustained). The old king signed papers to merge his realm into the new India and received a payment in return. When well-meaning friends cajoled him to go into politics, he replied that “kings do not beg for votes.”

 

Ghosts in the Machine

Perhaps not surprisingly, it turns out London’s Tube system is haunted by dozens of ghosts at various stations. This story at the Telegraph site includes a helpful map that can assist the rider in making appropriate decisions, whatever they are (i.e. hunt for the ghost or stay away). The story also provides a wealth of material for supernatural tales, from the spectral caretaker who comforted a stricken electrical worker to the spirit of a young girl killed by her employer.

I was reminded by this story that a friend lived in England for a time in a haunted residence, an old mansion that was pitched to her family proudly as a haven for ghosts. When house hunting myself several years ago, I was given an earnest speech by my buyer’s agent on the subject of a rather ordinary looking dormered cape on a dead end about the reported haunting of the house by a suicide victim. I asked if having a ghost helps sell a house. He replied that he hadn’t tried to sell enough haunted houses to know but it seemed to cut both ways. Sometimes buyers love the idea of a ghost and other times it’s a deal killer (which is why he was so serious with us when he shared that detail). We passed on the house ourselves, although it stayed in the top five on our list. The ghost played no part in the decision and I don’t think ghosts would convince me not to take the shortest route on the Tube.