Category Archives: current events

Watching Sports – Not

Pan_American_Games_logo

Currently, near me, the 2015 Pan Am games are into their final weekend. I haven’t gone to any of the events and I haven’t watched any of the coverage. This isn’t a reflection on the quality of the events or the athletes. I don’t watch sports on television with a few rare exceptions. I will watch a game or two of the World Cup of hockey, the occasional game of the World Cup of soccer and the America’s Cup if it is broadcast.

I realize this makes me very different from the average North American who will watch up to forty hours of sports each week. I can’t. I don’t have the time, and frankly watching sports bores me to tears, especially golf. I liked to play sports when younger, but today I tend to concentrate on working out, rather than winning.

Not that I haven’t played sports in the past. Soccer, tennis, fencing, karate. I tend towards the individual ones rather than the team ones. It’s amazing how team sport brings out the worst in some people. They have to be captain and leading scorer at the same time. I’m not talking about the professionals, but the ones in the amateur leagues. You know the type. He was a hotshot in high school, but never played in college. That’s the sort you get in industrial leagues.

Anyway, the Pan Am games are in their final weekend. Competitors from North and South America are competing for medals and bragging rights, and possibly a shot at the next Olympics. I wish them all luck. Personally, I’d rather be doing than watching and I have quite enough to keep me busy these days. Having said that I better get back to the stuff I have to do.

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

 

 

Stratford in the Summer

Pericles

 

This summer I plan to see a couple of plays in Stratford Ontario. Every summer this small sleepy town, also known as the home of Justin Bieber, has a Shakespeare festival that involves three different theatres and close to a dozen different productions. Shakespeare shares the spotlight with Broadway musicals and Restoration plays.

My first play is The Adventures of Pericles by William Shakespeare. Stratford decided to change the name of the play from the original Pericles, Prince of Tyre. As with almost every Shakespearian play, Bill stole the plot from somewhere else. In this case he took it from Confessio Amantis (1393) by John Gower, an English poet and contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer.

The play is set in Classical Greece. However, when staged in 1607, I doubt the company wore costumes from Ancient times. Stratford decided the perfect costumes for the play should set the story in Victorian England. I’ve seen stranger things done to the works of the bard.

That is not the only question about this play. How much did Shakespeare actually write? The play wasn’t included in the first Portfolio. Some scholars in the past have denied the Bard of Avon had any hand in it. Today, the general consensus is that he wrote about half.

The play’s likely co-author was George Wilkins. Who was he? Wilkins was an inn-keeper in Cow-Cross, London, an area that was “notorious as a haunt of whores and thieves”. Most biographical information about him derives from his regular appearance in criminal court records for thievery and acts of violence. Many of the charges against him involved violence against women.

Strangely enough, this work proved to be one of Shakespeare’s most popular during his lifetime.

The other play I plan to see is a comedy, ‘She stoops to Conquer’ by Oliver Goldsmith. As in most restoration comedies it involves love, marriage, and class. In this case the heroine pretends to be a servant when meeting the man her father wants to betroth her too.

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

 

 

 

Exoplanets – the Fermi Paradox

Enrico_Fermi_1943-49

In November 2013 astronomers estimated that 22±8% of Sun-like stars have an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone. Assuming 200 billion stars in the Milky Way, that would be 11 billion potentially habitable Earths, rising to 40 billion if red dwarfs are included.

40 billion! Imagine that. That’s just in our galaxy. According to the best estimates of astronomers there are at least one hundred billion galaxies in the observable universe. That could be 4,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 Earth like planets I think. I might have missed an order of magnitude.

Our story begins during the summer of 1951. A nucleus of physicists (most veterans of the Manhattan Project) had reassembled at Los Alamos to create the hydrogen bomb– Bethe, Fermi, Gamow, Garwin, Teller. During lunches at the Fuller Lodge, Fermi loved to pose rhetorical questions, which he then proceeded to answer. They group had been joking about the recent UFO reports, when, out of the blue, Fermi asked “Don’t you ever wonder where everybody is?”

Fermi concluded, if interstellar travel is possible, it ought to be positively crowded out there.

However, the question had been asked and continued to beg for an answer. In 1961, Frank Drake, an American astronomer developed the Drake equation. This equation gave an estimate of the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which radio-communication might be possible. The equation itself isn’t particularly useful. Too many unknowns.

Back in 1961, there was no way to estimate the number of planets that could support life. Today from the exoplanet research we know that there could be 40 billion such planets. That still leaves the following variables to consider:

  • fl = the fraction of planets that could support life that actually develop life at some point
  • fi = the fraction of planets with life that develop intelligent life (civilizations)
  • fc = the fraction of civilizations that develop a radio communication
  • L = the length of time for which such civilizations release detectable signals into space.

In 1961, Drake made estimates for all the factors and concluded that there could be twenty such civilizations in our Galaxy. However, it all depends on what you guess. Even today, the equation can produce a result from a low of 2 to a high of 280,000,000. In other words, we don’t know.

Is the Earth such a rare combination of conditions that it is unique in the Universe?

Have other intelligences arisen, but found that space travel was too expensive, and didn’t bother to broadcast by radio?

Have other intelligences arisen, but the lifespan of technological civilizations is too short for communication? This resolution leads to the conclusion that technological civilizations doom themselves.

In other words, we don’t know.

 

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

Exoplanets – the Weird and the Wacky

exoplanets

Exoplanets. Science fiction writers have assumed that other stars had planet from almost the beginning. However, it wasn’t until 1988 that Canadian astronomers Bruce Campbell, G. A. H. Walker, and Stephenson Yang published a paper about their discovery. That was fifteen years after the first Star Wars movie.

Since then, the entire subject of exoplanets has exploded. There are 1931 planets in 1222 planetary systems including 484 multiple planetary systems as of 14 June 2015. And some of those exoplanets are far stranger that science fiction writers imagining.

Consider Kepler-16b. This planet with a mass of about 1/3 of Jupiter orbits a binary star system. From its surface you could see two suns in the sky.

Kepler-11 has six planets orbiting in circles smaller than Venus’ orbit. Furthermore five of those planets are even closer to their parent star than Mercury is to our sun. Crowded. This stellar system could force revisions to the current theories about planet creation.

The term Hot Jupiter refers to Jupiter sized planets so close to their star that their year can be measured in days or hours.

Some of the Jupiter sized planets are significantly larger than you would expect. The largest to date is twenty-nine times larger than Jupiter. Is that a planet or a brown dwarf star?

What about a planet that is entirely made of water? It’s possible.

The impact of these discoveries to modern thought particularly touches on two viewpoints. One is the ‘rare earth theory’, which posits that the planet Earth is a unique combination of conditions. The other is Fermi’s Paradox. In 1950 Fermi commented on the size of the universe and exclaimed “Where are they?” Two different sides to the same question about the rest of the universe.

In November 2013 astronomers estimated that 22±8% of Sun-like stars have an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone. Assuming 200 billion stars in the Milky Way, that would be 11 billion potentially habitable Earths, rising to 40 billion if red dwarfs are included.

40 billion! Imagine that.

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

A Tribute to Christopher Lee

christopher_lee1

On June 7 of this year, at the age of 93, Christopher Lee died. If it feels like you just saw him in a movie recently, you probably did. He starred as Saruman in ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’ and four other productions in the last two years. He appeared in two-hundred and fifty movies during his career. That ignores the voice over work, the television series, and probably some other stuff. I’d like to be that productive when I reach my nineties.

It is his villains for which we will remember him. He played Saruman in ‘Lord or Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’. That’s six movies. He played Count Dooku in two Star Wars prequels. He also played the Frankenstein monster in ‘The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)’. Lee stood five inches over six feet, which helped for the role. That led to Dracula in ‘Dracula (1958)’ and the Mummy in ‘The Mummy (1959)’.

If you get a chance, watch ‘Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1965)’ where he again played the blood sucker, without a single line of dialogue. Lee said he refused to speak the poor dialogue he was given, but screenwriter Jimmy Sangster claimed that the script did not contain any lines for the character.

Lee himself was an interesting and erudite man. Besides English, he spoke Italian, French, Spanish and German, and was able to converse in Swedish, Russian and Greek. This led to one of his roles. The casting director needed an actor who could speak Spanish, and fence. Lee could do both, and got the part of the Spanish Captain in ‘Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. (1951)’. Lee played a leading role in the German film ‘The Puzzle of the Red Orchid (1962)’, speaking German.

During WWII, Lee served with the Royal Air Force. Lee was having his last training session before his first solo flight when he suffered from headaches and blurred vision. The medical officer diagnosed a failure of his optic nerve and Lee was told he would never be allowed to fly again. In an effort to be useful, he volunteered for RAF intelligence where he served until 1946. Lee mentioned that he was attached to the Special Operations Executive and the Long Range Desert Patrol, the precursor of the SAS, but always declined to go into details.

Fu Manchu, Comte de Rochefort, Francisco Scaramanga in ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ and Lucifer are other villainous roles he played in a number of pictures. However, he didn’t feel he was typecast. He liked to quote something Anthony Hopkins said, “I don’t play villains, I play people.” If you check his films you’ll also find him played Sherlock Holmes, Mycroft Holmes, Ramses and even the pope.

To add to his acting Lee had an operatic bass voice and sometime sang in his pictures including ‘The Wicker Man’. You might want to look up his metal Album ‘Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross’ which was released in 2010. Lee would have been in his late eighties then. Who says music is a young man’s game?

Let’s leave the last word to Lee. “I haven’t spent my entire career playing the guy in the bad hat, although I have to say that the bad guy is frequently much more interesting than the good guy.”

 

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

 

 

 

As we Age

Cell-Phone-Humor

In the spring of 1992, I went to a conference where a fellow with nerd glasses explained that ‘This is the last User Interface you will ever have to learn.’ That was Windows 3.1. Then came Windows 95, ME, XP, Vista, 7, 8.1. Every damn one of them has been different. Seven different ones in less than thirteen years.

For me this is a pain. Heck, I remember when programs were keypunched onto cards. For other people this is more than an annoyance. It limits their ability to use and enjoy technology.

Consider the typewriter. The user interface (i.e. the keyboard) has remained the same since 1873. This despite the fact it was originally designed to slow typists so that they didn’t jam the machine.

The telephone has gone through three user interfaces. Originally, the operator simply lifted the receiver and told the operator what number he/she wanted to call. That gave way to the rotary dialer, circa 1920, and then to the push button dialing which was first introduced in 1962.

In 1970 Alvin Toffler’s book ‘Future Shock’ was published. His shortest definition for the term was when a person decided there was too much change in too short a time.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I want a cell phone to work as a phone. A few years ago I upgraded from my flip phone to a smart phone. There are things about the flip phone that I miss, such as:

  • Charge it on Sunday and it lasts all week long.
  • No pocket dialing.
  • A Display I can read in direct sunlight.
  • A phone that fits in a small pocket.

It’s time for a new phone, and I’m thinking about going back a step. The Android OS for cell phones was introduced on Sept, 23, 2008. Version 5.1.1 of the operating system came out last April. Who really wants five revisions in seven years?

For seniors the ‘Future Shock’ is more intense. While seniors in Canada own cellphones (61%) only a few have a smart phone. “Too damn complicated” is what they say if you ask them.

The problem grows much worse when the senior’s faculties are dimmed with age. One company from Australia has completely redesigned the cell phone, with such people in mind. Some of the features include:

  • Personalised menu with pictures of contacts.
  • Long battery life.
  • Light enough to be worn with the provided lanyard so it is not misplaced.
  • A customized back with critical medical information and address details.
  • Built in protection to avoid bill shock if user forgets to hang up.

However, it’s more than just that the device is complicated. The response time for icons on an Apple screen is 0.7 seconds, but the over-65s have a response time of about one second. The computer demands more than the senior can deliver. The nerves in the finger become less sensitive with age, meaning older people may “touch” far more heavily, especially after years of pounding manual keyboards. Finally, tests suggest that if an older person has a slight tremor, it can be registered on a device as a swipe rather than a touch.

Small wonder seniors prefer real buttons to touch screens.

It is estimated that, by 2030, 19% of the US population will be over 65 – roughly the same proportion that currently own iPhones. That’s a pretty big chunk of the market.

Personally, I want the robot companion from the Movie, “Robot and Frank.” Then I’ll have the robot answer my calls on my cellphone.

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

 

Science Fiction and the Car

science ficion cars

I love writing and technology. Naturally, I’ve read a lot of science fiction over the years. Looking back, the technological hits and misses astound me. I’m talking about ‘Near Future Science Fiction.’

For example, Heinlein wrote a number of stories about the world less than a hundred years in the future. In 1940 he wrote a short story called ‘Let there be light’ in which the hero had invented a 99% efficient solar panel. Still waiting on that one, aren’t we?

Transportation seems one area science fiction writers have neglected. You can find lots of stories with spaceships, but very few with commuters. About the only form of transportation that seems to inspire stories is teleportation. I’m thinking about ‘Granny won’t knit’ by Theodore Sturgeon, ‘The Stars My Destination’ by Alfred Bester and the Known Space universe of Larry Niven.

For some reason Science Fiction writers were convinced that personal helicopters would replace cars. I agree that would solve the highway problem, but the potential for fender benders makes me shudder. Others posited antigravity sleds, helicopters without the revolving blades in effect.

However, the automobile has been pretty much ignored. Automated taxis have popped up as a sideline. The one in the original ‘Total Recall’ was amusing. The only story that I can remember that focused on future cars is ‘Code Three’ by Rick Raphael. It revolved around the lives of a couple of highway patrol men in a future where automobiles travelled on roads at speeds up to 400 MPH.

I think that the reason automobiles have been ignored, is that nobody has found anything that could be done to create an interesting story with them. Roads are another matter. Whether we are talking about ‘The Roads must Roll’ by Heinlein, or ‘Roadmarks’ by Roger Zelazny, the appeal of the road is about the journey. Since all stories are journeys of one form or another, this makes sense.

How about a story with an automated taxi cab? I can think of a great opening. The taxi pulls up to the police station, but no one gets out. A cop looks inside the cab and sees a dead man.

If I write it now, would it be science fiction or a modern mystery?

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

 

 

85 Percent Longer Battery Life

zincairbutton

This story astounds me. An eighth grade student was given the U.S. Naval Science award for discovering how to extend the life of hearing aid batteries by 85%. I’m not kidding. How you can do this will shock you.

Ethan Manuell studied hearing aid batteries. He found that waiting five minutes to install them after removing the protective tape, increased the battery life by 85 percent.  How can you get the improvement? After you take the strip off the battery, wait five minutes before you install it in your hearing aid. That’s it!

So for those of you without hearing aids, here are some facts about their batteries. These tiny batteries are made with zinc. To start them you take off a tape or strip that keeps the air out. The battery then works on the oxidation of the zinc when it is exposed to the oxygen in the air.

Just tearing the strip off starts the battery, but it takes some time to get up to it full voltage. That may be behind the benefit of waiting five minutes before installing it.

The batteries come in several sizes, the smallest is size 10 and the largest is size 675. The smaller the hearing aid, the smaller the battery. Now for the shocker. Here are the life expectancies for these batteries.

Size 10: 3-5 days
Size 312: 7-10 days
Size 13: 10-14 days
Size 675: 14-17 days.

That translates into a cost as follows:

Size 10: an average of $150/year
Size 312: an average of $80/year
Size 13: an average of $50/year
Size 675: an average of $30/year.

Manuell wears a hearing aid himself, so he knew these facts. He knew that any increase in battery life could shave this cost down considerably.

Officially known as ‘The Effect of Wait Time on the Lifespan of Hearing Aid Batteries,’ the study was reviewed by the Olmsted Medical Center. Spread the word. This will help the roughly seven million people who wear hearing aids in the United States.

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

 

The PEN controversy

charlie

PEN American has decided to give the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo its annual Freedom of Expression Courage Award. This decision has met with some blow back. Six authors have decided to protest the award by withdrawing from the PEN American Center’s annual gala on May 5.

While I knew of the horrific events of January 7 of this year, I didn’t really know the publication. After all it’s in French, a language I have ignored for the most part since I left high school. The protest caught my attention and I did a little digging.

From what I can determine, Charlie Hebdo, isn’t fearlessly uncovering plots, conspiracies, and corruption. Imagine Mad Magazine satire targeting politicians, and religions. In 1982 one of it cartoonists admitted on radio that he was anti-Semitic. He continued to work for the magazine until 2008 when some of his work drew a complaint. The magazine’s editor noted that the publication had been sued thirteen times by Catholic organizations, and seemed proud of it. One Cartoon depicted the ‘Father’, ‘Son’, and ‘Holy Spirit’ engaged in sodomy.

Charlie Hebdo isn’t the only magazine the goes for shock. In 1991, in Canada, the Frank magazine ran a satirical advertisement for a contest which invited young Tories to “Deflower Caroline Mulroney.” Her father, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, threatened physical harm to those responsible. Later he joined with several women’s groups in denouncing the ad as an incitement to rape.

In every democracy there are limits to Free Speech. “You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater.” That’s the gist of a 1919 U.S. Supreme Court written by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. In 2007 the European Union approved legislation that would make denying the Holocaust punishable by jail sentences. Canada and other nations have laws against hate speech.

I’m not certain we need laws against blasphemy to keep people from printing a cartoon featuring rolls of toilet paper labeled “Bible,” “Koran,” and “Torah.” with the headline “In the shitter, all the religions”. However, the world has enough angry people striving for attention of any sort.

I condemn the murder of those people, but I wouldn’t chant ‘Je suis Charlie.’ I certainly wouldn’t buy the paper.

 

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

 

 

Why read fiction?

books

It’s a valid question. Are there any benefits to reading fiction?

It turns out that reading fiction does have benefits. A study in the Journal ‘Science’ found that people, after reading fiction, scored better on tests measuring empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence. These are human interaction skills used when you try to read someone’s body language or guess what is on their mind.

In other words, reading fiction should be part of your preparation for the Friday night poker game.

Another study discovered that reading fiction makes you more empathetic with people. Reading nonfiction makes you less so.

Consider another study. You take one hundred university students. Sophomores are the preferred test subject. The University of Toronto has some many of them to experiment with. You give half of them eight short stories and the other half eight essays. Do you think there will be a difference when they were tested?

Those who read the fiction stories expressed greater comfort with uncertainty and chaos, a key to greater creativity. It would also help with that poker game again.

In 2007, The Chinese government held the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention. Why? They wanted to foster and improve innovation and inventiveness in its society.

The U.S. prison industry has a pretty simple algorithm that can predict the need for incarceration in fifteen years. It’s based what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds can’t read. If there was ever a case for improved reading education in grade school, this is it.

Why does reading fiction change the way people think and perceive each other? I have my theory, and I’ll bore you with it. The Cherokee tribe of Native Americans had a proverb that said “Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes”. When you read a novel, you don’t walk a mile; you walk a thousand miles in the character’s shoes.

Nonfiction books hold facts and arguments. Fiction holds experiences and emotions. By reading fiction, we can pilot a space ship, or travel through the jungle. We can defeat the pirates and save the princess, or solve the crime and capture the killer. We can learn how the coward flees the battle and regrets it until he wins the ‘Red Badge of Courage’.

Small wonder fiction readers are more emphatic and more adventurous.

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

Hugo Wars

hugo

In a world of crowd funding, flash mobs, and internet anarchy, it feels that the current Hugo awards controversy was inevitable.

What are the Hugo Awards? Since 1953, these awards for the best Science Fiction and Fantasy published in English have been given out at the annual World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon). Hugo Award nominees and winners are chosen by supporting or attending members of Worldcon. The rules about nomination are critical to the rest of this story.

To become a supporting member requires buying a membership for forty dollars. A group known as the Sad Puppies took advantage of rules, and the low participation of readers to mount a campaign that nominated their slate of stories for the 2015.

Who are the Sad Puppies? This is a group organized by sci-fi writers Larry Correia and Brad R. Torgersen. Is it really a group? From what I’ve read this year was not the first time these two have tried to influence the nomination process. In 2014, they had some success with about seventy supporters.

What happened this year? On February 1st, 2015, Torgersen published the Sad Puppies 3 slate for this year’s Hugo Awards. On February 5th, the conservative news site Breitbart published an article about Sad Puppies. On April 4th, the Hugo Awards announced the 2015 finalists, featuring many authors and works listed on the Sad Puppies slate.

Now we get to the name calling. The Sad puppies say they wanted to draw attention to authors and creators who were suffering from an undeserved lack of attention due to the political climate in sci-fi. That’s right. This is about politics in Science Fiction.

Not the Science Fiction has been immune to politics. H.G. Wells’ novel ‘The Time Machine’ has a distinctly socialist message. Jack London’s novel ‘The Iron Heel’ chronicles the rise of an oligarchic tyranny in the United States. Who could forget ‘Animal Farm’ or ‘1984’?

Politics, race, roles of women have all been addressed in Science Fiction for decades. Not just in books either. Rod Serling often used aliens to raise an issues related to race in ‘The Twilight Zone’, and the first interracial kiss on American television was shown on an episode of Star Trek.

I remember how the war in Vietnam divided the SF community as it did the world: Heinlein supporting, and Asimov protesting. Both groups ran advertisements in the SF magazines of the time.

Personally, I don’t care if the author is black or white, man or woman. I’m interested in the fun the story gives me. I read Samuel R. Delany long before I knew he was black. And Leigh Brackett long before I knew she was a woman.

However, the issues of race and gender in Science Fiction have come out of the fiction and into our reality. As for the Hugos, it seems that the awards have entered the world of party politics, with the battle lines drawn between the left and the right, the liberals and the conservatives.

I wonder what next year will bring. Attack ads on the internet? Conventions? Will the community divide along political lines? Maybe the Hugos will implode, leaving the Nebula awards as the only ones for SF writers.

Welcome to ‘The Brave New World’.

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

Blame it on the Pizza

pizza

I blame the pizza.

Now that’s not to say that the pizza was bad. I found it very tasty, with peperoni, sausage, and bacon on it. I can’t blame anyone but myself for eating it. Tony and Guido didn’t come to my house with a pizza and a pistol to force me.

Let me go back to the beginning. My new year’s resolution was to lose thirty-one pounds by sensible dieting and exercise. Until this week I was working on this goal by losing five to six pounds a month. Each week I’d usually lose a little more than a pound. I have the records to prove it.

During my trip to Cuba, I managed to keep this up. Walking through Havana, the heat and the lack of chocolate helped. During my cold when I couldn’t workout, I managed it because I wasn’t hungry. Have you noticed that when you have a cold and a stuffed nose, you can’t taste anything?

Then I ate the pizza. Actually I didn’t eat the entire pizza, only a third of it. Three slices from a large one. (There are two and a half pieces still in the freezer, calling to me, waiting for me.) Now that’s a bit piggy, but not that bad. I looked it up. It’s about 300 calories per slice so that was 900 calories in total.

The next morning I weighed myself. Overnight I had gained 2.5 pounds. Overnight! That’s more than the pizza weighed. Oh well, water retention. I’ll lose it again.

It’s a week later, and I haven’t lost those 2.5 pounds. My entire diet is in ruins. Three weeks of dieting all lost for one night’s indulgence.

But it was good pizza.

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

Watch the Price of Almonds

almonds

The connections throughout the world have never been greater. What happens half a world away has an impact on your life.

The April snow pack in the mountains of California is only five percent of the average, and this is the fourth year of below average snow pack. California is in the midst of one of its worst droughts in its history.

How bad is it? The governor has ordered California’s first-ever mandatory water cutback, imposing a 25 percent reduction to force residents and businesses to significantly tighten up water use. This will affect golf courses and cities in a substantial way if this goal is to be achieved. Those green lawns might be a thing of the past.

California gets half of its fresh water from the melting snow pack in the mountains. No snowpack, no water. So how does this affect you? California produces roughly half of all the fruits, nuts, and vegetables consumed in the United States while exporting vast amounts to China and other overseas customers.

This agriculture consumes a staggering 80 percent of California’s developed water, even as it accounts for only 2 percent of the state’s gross domestic product. Most crops and livestock are produced in the Central Valley, which is, geologically speaking, a desert. The soil is very fertile but crops there can thrive only if massive amounts of irrigation water are applied.

Take almonds. The United States produces 80% of the world’s production, all in California. Last year’s drought decreased production from 1.41 million tonnes to .73 million tonnes. That was a 50% decline. That’s why the price of almonds is at a nine year high, with the sky as the limit. Last year, California had five times more snowpack.

Other crops might be affected, like rice and pistachios. The United States is the world’s second largest producer of pistachios, after Iran.

Some rice farmers in Northern California are skipping planting their crop this year and choosing instead to sell their water rights to Southern California.

All of this is spurring a drilling frenzy, not for fracking but for water. They drill deep for water today, between one and two thousand feet. Such a well can cost $300,000.

Pumping this additional water out of the ground comes with its own problems. Normally groundwater accounts for 40% of the water supply, and 60% during a drought. However the dropping water table indicates they can’t pump forever. As the water is pumped out, the ground settles. In some places in the Central Valley, land has dropped by a foot. This has damaged roads, pipes, and other infrastructure and has caused some canals to stop working.

As California farms and cities drill deeper for groundwater, they no longer are tapping reserves that percolated into the soil over recent centuries. They are pumping water that fell to Earth during a much wetter climatic regime—the ice age.

So, if you like Californian wines, almonds, tomatoes, and other food, you might consider praying for an end to the drought. Me? I’m going to buy a few bags of almonds and stick them in the freezer.

 

 

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

 

 

Fragments

I have an entire folder on my computer filled with story fragments. Every time I start a story and can’t finish it, that folder gets another entry. I’m certain all writers have something like that. With today’s technology it’s easy to keep all those stillborn literary children, hoping that someday in the future they can be brought to life.

Today, I reviewed the pile. Oh, I corrected some typing errors. I added a sentence or two. I thought about how to use the words. The end result was zip, de nada, nothing.

Here’s an example:

“So you want him to confess. What do you want him to confess to?”   

Yep that’s it. I like it. There’s tension in that single line and a hook. Who is talking? What is the answer to the question? What will the outcome be? Yet it remains just a single line.

I’ve had this single line for a decade now, without ever turning it into a story. Part of the reason is that I write other stories. Right now I have three short stories on the go, as well as a novel. I’ll finish those short stories although one keeps trying to turn into a novella.

What’s the difference? It lies in how my mind makes stories. Now some fly by the seat of the pants and some plot out their story. I used to fly until my story ended up with the hero, alone, broke, without any memory, stuck in a park while the police and the bad guys hunted him down. Thirty thousand words and my only solution was to have him fall out of bed and wake up. (No. I didn’t.)

A successful story needs a plot from opening to final conclusion. It also needs an emotional flow to carry the reader along. When I can see the plot and the emotional element then writing the story is a blissful experience. When I can punch out a plot and define the emotional flow, I can hammer out the story. Otherwise I just look at the words and say ‘What’s next?’

Some of these fragments are ideas. Some are descriptions. Some are character sketches. At times I consider pulling a couple of fragments, chop them up and put them in the blender to create a new mash up. That doesn’t solve the problem of the missing components.

So, don’t tell me your great idea for a story, play, screen play, novel or picture book. I have my own idea pile waiting for me to strike the right spark to set one on fire.

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

 

 

Cars in Havana

Emgrand

Havana makes watching cars to by an enjoyable diversion again. Yes, there are a host of American cars from the 50’s on the road. You can see a 57 Cadillac convertible. I admit to a bit of nostalgia as a Studebaker drove by.

However, despite what you might have read, these cars are not the only ones on the road. There are only 60,000 of the máquina still on the road in a country eleven million people. The Ladas continue to reign as the most populace vehicle on the island.

What else can you see? I saw Hundai and Kia, Toyota and Mistubishi. Peugots are popular. Then there are Fiat, Citroen, Volkswagon, Renault and others. Frankly, I didn’t recognize some of the manufacturers they have there.

One that I had to track down when I returned is the Geely, which is a Chinese automotive manufacturing company headquartered in Hangzhou, China. The Emgrand is another car from the same maker.

Cuba doesn’t manufacture its own cars. However, I did see a number of Geely with that maker’s emblem replaced with one that was a stylized Cuban Flag. I don’t know. Nationalism? Government contract?

I did ask about the old American cars. I wanted to know what they did for gasoline, since the vehicles of the 50’s used leaded gas. Really. At one point they put lead in gasoline as an anti-knock additive.

I was told that many of the old American cars have had their engines replaced with diesels. The price of diesel is much lower than gasoline, and the new diesel engines are much more efficient. Those old cars used to get ten miles to the gallon, or less.

The máquina will continue on the roads of Cuba, especially Havana for a few reasons. To begin with any automobile is expensive in Cuba, in part because of the import duty on new cars which runs close to 100%. A car costs almost as much as a house. Therefore having a working car is a perfect example of conspicuous consumption. On Sundays, taking a spin in the family car is a favorite afternoon recreation. The roads are just as crowded on Sunday as they are during the week in Havana.

Finally, those brightly painted and polished old American cars are used for taxis and tours. The Cubans know that tourists are fascinated by the old cars, and the Cubans know how to turn a pretty car into a tourist trimmer.

Still Cubans hope that the American embargo is rescinded. They would like to be able to order parts for these old cars from Miami. Today, they need a relative, who will carry the part. Even direct flights would be an improvement.

So why do travel writers always remark on the máquina? Well like all writers, they try to identify the unique element of the environment to catch the readers’ attention. Nowhere else in the world do people drive American cars made in the 1950’s.

 

 

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

Back from Cuba

havana

I took a week’s holidays in Havana, Cuba recently. That’s perfectly legal for a Canadian citizen. So I thought I would share some of my impressions.

Havana remains a work in progress, a beautiful lady in rags. As the hop-on/hop-off bus rode through the streets I was once more shocked by the number of buildings in dire need of repairs. However, on the second day I was struck by the number of buildings that were being repaired.

The most obvious was the work on el Capitolio, or National Capitol Building. This was the seat of government from 1929 until 1959. If it looks familiar it was modeled on the U.S. Capital building. The outside of one wing has been completely restored, and the work proceeds on the other wing and cupola. However, everywhere you turn you’ll see construction.

Traditionally construction in Cuba has been limited by materials. Maybe that has changed. I know that I saw skids of concrete and cement mix arriving at one site. I wandered into a ferreteria (hardware store) to see stacks of paint cans for sale. A few years ago the only ones who could get paint were government projects.

Why is cement and paint so important? Most buildings in Cuba are built with concrete and cement. The results don’t rot, don’t get moldy and don’t blow apart in a hurricane. In a high humidity, warm climate, such buildings will discolor over time. However, with cement to make repairs and a coat of paint the building can suddenly look new.

A lot do look refreshed. Part of this is the relentless drive to start a business. All the young people, at least the ones I met, want to start their own business. Right now the craze is to open a paladar which is a restaurant run by ‘self-employers’. They have popped up in any doorway, in houses, and in garages.

The word paladar came from a Brazilian soap opera ‘Vale Tudo’, shown in Cuba in the early 1990s. Paladar (Portuguese and Spanish for “palate”) was the name of the chain of restaurants run by the protagonist in the show.

Another sign of changes are the explosion in rooms/apartments/houses for rent by private persons. These ‘’ are guesthouses where Cubans can rent out a few of their rooms to guests. I wouldn’t be surprised if bed and breakfast accommodations appear next.

One fellow insisted that the future opportunity lay in creating and joining co-operatives, especially ones related to electronics and communications.

Still, elements of the old Cuba remain. Doctors still drive cabs in the evening for extra money. One of our waitresses had a master’s degree in economics. Her mother was a doctor, working in Brazil. Another couple we met was taking free evening courses to learn more English.

Lost in Havana, I stopped a total stranger in the street and, using my fractured Spanish, asked for directions. She didn’t just explain. She went out of her way to lead us to our destination. Another time a Cuban gentleman stopped and asked me if I was lost. I wasn’t but he just wanted to be certain.

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

 

 

Turning The Moon is a Harsh Mistress into Uprising

They plan to make Robert A. Heinlein’s Book, ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’ into a movie. They have a producer (Bryan Singer) and a screen writer (Marc Guggenheim) in place as of a few days ago. This isn’t the first attempt. In 2004 a screenwriter Tim Minear started a screenplay based on the novel. It was shopped around but never got off the ground.

If you haven’t read the novel, I would recommend it. It’s written in an easy style. It has enough action to keep a reader interested. The characters, while one dimensional, are interesting. It also has just a touch of sin, and paints an interesting picture of lunar colonies.

Heinlein wrote the novel in 1965, and it was first serialized in the ‘Worlds of If’ science fiction magazine. That’s where I first read it. It has a computer (not a robot) that talked, and became sentient. It had revolutionaries, and a completely new culture set on Luna.

I’ve written several stories about the moon, in part inspired by Heinlein’s attention to detail; ‘Crash’, ‘Nothing but Vacuum’, ‘No place for a Cripple’, and a few that have not yet sold.

To libertarians this book is one of the ten best in the twentieth century. Milton Friedman praised the novel as a “wonderful” book. Another element of the novel is the line marriage structure Heinlein describes in the novel. In 1966 we hadn’t heard of polyamory. There’s also the key issue that is driving the revolution, and his stark position that you can’t cheat natural laws, just because you want to. That makes Heinlein an early conservationist.

So there’s a lot in the book. Well it’s 115,000 words. So how do they plan to turn that into a 2 hour screen play of 120 pages? Obviously, they plan to cut something, but what?

Here are some hints. They plan to title the movie ‘Uprising’. Marc Guggenheim’s previous screen plays were ‘Green Lantern’ and ‘Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters’. (Before that he wrote comics – ‘Spiderman’ and ‘The Flash’. ) Bryan Singer has some excellent credits. He directed ‘The Usual Suspects’ as well the ‘X-men’ movies. So from this meager information I will predict that movie will concentrate on the revolution, and probably drop all stuff that made the book so controversial.

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

 

 

Leonard Nimoy and me

I just learned that Leonard Nimoy has died. I only met him for a day but I remember it, even though it was almost thirty years ago. Let me tell you about it.

I was doing some movie extra work at the time Now a movie extra is a human being who is part of a movie or television show but has no lines. They are a human set prop and so insignificant they don’t even get named in the credits. Think about that for a second.

The placement and control of movie extras is the domain of the second or third assistant director. They tell you where to stand, how to look. They might send you to costume to become a person at the party, an office worker, or a camel driver, depending on the needs of the day. When they don’t want you on set they put you in the bullpen so you don’t wander off.

On the set of Three Men and a Baby, everybody knew the names of the stars. Tom Selleck, Ted Danson and Steve Guttenberg had created quite a buzz in Toronto, and every starlet in the city wanted on that set. Coline Serreau, who wrote and directed the original French version, was set to direct this remake but dropped out after casting the three male leads.

Leonard Nimoy took over. Now he’d done a few TV shows and a couple of Star Trek Movies, but a screwball comedy with a baby, a girl, and three guys?

I remember we filmed at least three different scenes that day, which is productive for a movie. The first one included a live camel. After that, we broke for lunch. The production company fed us onsite; talent, grips, and the rest of the crew. We extras were lined up waiting to be fed, last. Leonard walked to the end of the line and stood behind the extras. Imagine the President of the U.S. standing in line with the waiters to get into a white house dinner.

The manager of the craft services found Nimoy, explained they had a special table for him, and started to lead him past us. Leonard went, but he apologized to us as he passed and shook hands with us. That’s how I shook Leonard Nimoy’s hand.

After lunch we were filming a scene that later ended on the cutting room floor. The ‘Third’ showed me my where to stand, handed me some papers and told me to point things out from them to another extra. Steve Gutenberg came on set and shook all the women’s hands. Ted Danson arrived a bit later and, as I remember it, he kept to himself.

Thirty extras, two principles, grips moved lights as the camera man kept making adjustments. The sound editor complained and adjusted the microphones. An electrician lay extension cords. Absolute chaos. In the midst of all of this Leonard Nimoy sat on a canvas seated chair, his legs crossed and his hands in front of him making a steeple. His eyes were closed, as if meditating. Every so often, he would ask, “Are you ready?” and then return to his meditation.

When the chaos cleared, he gave his instructions to Gutenberg and Danson in a voice so low I couldn’t hear him and I wasn’t that far away. He resumed his seat and called out “Action” in a voice barely louder than conversational, as calm as Spock.

I’ve been on other sets where the director roared his instructions. I’ve heard one curse out a sound technician in language that would make a sailor blush. I’ve seen them react with anger or annoyance when a shot was ruined by some gaff. Not Leonard Nimoy.

Not having read his biography, I didn’t know at that time how Spock had affected Nimoy. I only knew I saw a director who had that calmness in the midst of chaos. I saw him work with Danson, and they shot a three second snippet about fifty different ways in a couple of minutes. I saw a gentleman in the finest sense of the word, who taught me more about managing a team in that afternoon that all the books on motivating people I had read.

Leonard, the world is a poorer place without you.

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

Biking in Fort Lauderdale

Riverwalk

I’m not crazy about Fort Lauderdale, but I find it fine for riding around on a bicycle. To begin with it is as flat as a pancake, no, flatter. The closest things to a hill are the bridges that cross the New River. The Interstate highways don’t cut the city into pieces. US. 1 is tame within the city.

Many local businesses and facilities have bike racks. This includes the Main Library, Publix, MacDonald’s Hardware, the Bally Matrix Health Club, and even the local Sunrise Cinema. Strangely the U.S. Post office didn’t. When I mentioned this absence to the employees, they gave me that look normally reserved for the pitifully stupid.

With a bike, I could explore the RiverWalk that runs through the center of Fort Lauderdale. The RiverWalk is an area along the New River that has been set aside for parks and historical buildings. It begins at the historic Stranahan House and winds along the river to the Broward Center for the Performing arts. In between you can find restaurants, museums, and cultural events. This can include Jazz on a Sunday afternoon, movies in the park after dark.

When on my bike, I could stop to admire a building or investigate and event without blocking traffic. I never had to search for parking even on the trendiest parts of East Las Olas Blvd. Even the beach was in reach by bike.

There are a number of bike lanes in Fort Lauderdale’s center core where I was riding. At other times I found the sidewalks more convenient. Fortunately in most places the sidewalk is modified for bikes and wheelchairs at most intersections. Since almost no one walks in this city, you can ride the sidewalk without a care.

That doesn’t mean the sidewalks are ideal for riding. The city officials have decided that the sidewalks are the ideal place for posts, fire hydrants, and other obstacles. Along U.S. 1, you will find posts to support the traffic lights. These posts are about eighteen inches in diameter and smack in the middle of the sidewalk giving you about a foot on either side. It must be a fearful city for the blind to walk.

On the whole, despite the warnings from the natives, I have found the drivers patient and forgiving. None have intentionally tried to run me off the road, or else they were extremely inept at it. The traffic in the downtown core isn’t bad, except for the peak of rush hour, which lasts less than an hour.

Public transit in Fort Lauderdale is also bike friendly. All the city buses are fitted with a bike carrier in the front. With the cost of a bus ride only one dollar, you can use them to stretch your travel distance.

If you consider a thirty-minute bike ride acceptable, most of the city is within your reach. You can ride from downtown Fort Lauderdale to the beach in about that time.

For a bicyclist, Fort Lauderdale is surprisingly accessible for an American city.

 

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

As Movies Fade to Black

I watched the Academy Awards on Sunday evening for the first time in about fifteen years. It’s not that I didn’t want to see the Oscars, but that time and circumstance defeated me. In the world of cable I remain during my sailing time, a solitary standout. No television. Strangely, while Americans have parties for the Super bowl, they don’t even turn the television to the Oscars.

So I watched the entire thing from the red carpet to the last gasp thirty minutes later than predicted. Sad in some ways to see the faces on the red carpet. There’s no special lenses to hide the passage of time (Except for Nicole Kidman who appears to have gotten younger.) Then the ‘In Memoriam’. I knew more of the people in that segment than among the announcers. See what happens when you don’t pay attention for a decade.

The musical numbers have always been a big part of the show. It’s some real entertainment. However, none of the numbers moved me, with one exception. Lady Gaga nailed those songs from ‘The Sound of Music’, and demonstrated a well-trained, strong voice. In an age of lip-syncing, and pitch corrected recordings, this amazed me. Lady Gaga, who has been known for her shock tactics took the high road.

The dresses were lovely; the red carpet statements were banal. The speeches were a little better, but had nothing that will be played again and again. Remember Jack Palance and his one armed pushups at the age of seventy-three? No? Look it up on YouTube.

Overall, it struck me as nostalgic, old fashioned, and bit sad. While they celebrate, their ship has sailed and the future is pushing them onto the slag heap of history.

International video game revenue is estimated to be $81.5B in 2014. This is more than double the revenue of the international film industry in 2013. Video game growth in some segments is running 20% per annum.

No, movies won’t disappear in the next year. Movies are passive. Go to the theatre and sit. They are great for a date. However, ticket sales (not dollar sales) for 2014 were 1.27 billion, down from a high 1.58 billion in 2002. All the increase in dollars came from increased ticket prices. IMAX and 3D pictures have driven this trend.

Personally, and this is from a man whose favorite movie is in black-and-white with mono sound, I’m not sold on the new technology. I’m still adjusting to HD television and not always happy with the result. How many explosions can a single movie contain before it becomes boring?

Oh heck. I’m sounding like an old fart. It must be time for me to buy a new console and hook it to the television; maybe one of those body motion detectors. Then I could consider video games as a cardio workout. Maybe next year I’ll watch the Video Game Awards Show.

And Nobody Noticed

US Poet Laureate Philip Levine

This is an angry blog today. Why am I angry? I’m angry at the strange silly balance in our modern culture that raises some to exalted levels who have no talent and commits to obscurity the great voices of our age.

What if I told you that on February 14th of this year a man died? This man had been appointed Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. His awards include the following:

  • Academy of American Poets Wallace Stevens Award,
  • Pulitzer Prize for Poetry,
  • National Book Award for Poetry,
  • Los Angeles Times Book Prize,
  • Levinson Prize from Poetry magazine,
  • Guggenheim Foundation fellowship,
  • National Book Award for Poetry,
  • National Book Critics Circle Award,
  • Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize from Poetry,
  • Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets,
  • American Academy of Arts and Letters Award,
  • Frank O’Hara Prize.

However, his passing was too insignificant for the likes of Fox News, and CNN.

Philip Levine started working in the Detroit car factories at the age of fourteen. He didn’t stay there. He finished high school and went to University for a Bachelor of Arts which he completed in 1950. Then back to the ‘Stupid’ jobs for Chevrolet and Cadillac.

He wrote poetry about working in a Detroit auto factory.

Maybe in a century or two, when the world has forgotten Leslie Gore, and E.L. James, it will remember Philip Levine, and his portraits of working class Americans will be enjoyed.

Library of Congress

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

 

 

The Day of the Jellyfish

jellyfish

Let’s be honest. We all like a good story about the destruction of the world. Now some are too silly. I’m thinking of ‘The Attack of the Killer Tomatoes’ and some are too depressing, like ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy, but there are loads of ones in between that are in the Goldilocks zone.

Remember John Wyndham? He hit the ball out of the park with ‘The Day of the Triffids’, ‘The Kraken Wakes’ (published in the US as ‘Out of the Deeps’) and ‘The Midwich Cuckoos’. If you read any of his stuff in school, they probably foisted one of his weaker books on you which was called ‘The Chrysalids’ (published in the US as Re-Birth).

G. Ballard destroyed the world in countless ways. So did John Christopher. For some reason the British Science Fiction authors of the fifties and sixties loved to destroy the world, with special attention to England. I guess it must have appealed to their readers.

Now a story, a real news story caught my eye, and I can’t decide if it would make a good ‘end of the world story’ or just a silly one. Jellyfish are taking over the oceans and it may be too late to stop them. Yes, jellyfish, which have no brain and are 95% water, are the next great crisis.

It turns out this isn’t a laughing matter. (Stop giggling.) The little buggers aren’t all that small. For example the Nomura jellyfish can grow to be the size of large refrigerator. In 2009 a Japanese fishing trawler capsized. Too many jelly fish in its net.

An explosive breeding of jellyfish is called a bloom. In 2000, a bloom of sea tomato jellyfish in Australia was so enormous — it stretched for more than 1,000 miles from north to south — that it was even visible from space. Let me repeat that – visible from space.

The pesky problems have clogged the water intake on Nuclear reactors on four different continents. In Northern Ireland they killed a hundred thousand farmed salmon. In the Black Sea they wiped out the fishing.

It might not be as scary as a Great White Shark, but I’ve been stung by a jelly fish and it hurts. At least it wasn’t a boxy jellyfish. This charming species which is also known at the sea wasp is widely regarded as one of the most deadly creatures on earth. They have been responsible for at least 5,568 deaths recorded since 1954.

Who feels like writing the novel? (All I want is acknowledgment for suggesting the idea.)

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

The Valentine’s Day Conspiracy

Chaucer

As a child at Our Lady of Lourdes, the nuns taught us that St. Valentine was a martyr during the early days of the church. The emperor, Claudius the Cruel had forbidden marriages, believing that single men made better soldiers, but Valentinus, a priest, continued to secretly perform marriages. After he was jailed, Valentinus he restored sight to the blind daughter of his jailer, who wrote him a letter of thanks that became the first Valentine.

It was a great story, but a complete crock of doo doo.

To begin, there were three different martyrs name Valentinus in the early days of the church. We know little about any of them, and they had nothing to do with the exchange of love letters.

So how and when did this expensive annual habit actually begin? Blame Chaucer. He wrote a  poem in 1382 to honor the first anniversary of King Richard II of England and Anne of Bohemia’s engagement. In the poem he mentions that birds mated on St. Valentine’s feast day which was February 14. Did Chaucer make this up? We can’t tell for certain.

The poem that started it all.

In fourteenth century in France, during the age of courtly love, this caught on like wild fire. Three other notable authors (Otton de Grandson, John Gower, and Pardo from Valencia) made similar references and it took off faster than Fifty Shades of Gray. Letters and confections became the rage on this day. Wooers gave a charm in the shape of a key as a romantic symbol and an invitation to unlock the giver’s heart. Such charms were also given to children to ward off St Valentine’s Malady. He’s the patron saint of epilepsy. (He is also the patron of beekeepers (along with St. Ambrose) although I’m not sure if that is connected.)

The connection between love letters and February 14th continued in France and England through to the present. In Hamlet you’ll find a mention of the feast so it was familiar to Shakespeare and his audience in Elizabethan England. With the creation of a postal system and the printing of mass produced cards in the 1840’s in the United States, the day became part of our modern celebrations.

Alas, February 14th is no longer the feast day of St. Valentine. In 1969 the Catholic Church revised its Calendar of Saints. Saints Cyril and Methodius now claim that day.

 

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net

 

 

Hope for Lost Works of Greek and Roman Times

When Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD79, The scrolls of Herculaneum were blasted by volcanic gas hotter than 300C. The scrolls still exist today, but are essentially ashes that haven’t fallen apart. How Many? The best count that I have found is 1,785. However, there are still 2,800 m² left to be excavated, so there could be more scrolls, many more.

Since their discovery this scrolls have been a source temptation and a source of anguish. What do they contain? We don’t know. To unroll the scroll is to destroy it. The riches trapped in the scrolls have been locked in their condition until most recently.

Using a 3D X-ray imaging technique Scientists this they may be able to read the scrolls without rolling them. Dr Vito Mocella from the National Research Council’s Institute for Microelectronics and Microsystems (CNR-IMM) in Naples, Italy, has identified a handful of Greek letters within a rolled-up scroll for the very first time.

The technique doesn’t actually read the scroll it reads the difference in thickness caused by the dried ink on the papyrus. It reads the thickness of the ink, not the ink itself. It’s difficult because the Papyrus isn’t perfectly flat. Imperfections can disguise vertical and horizontal strokes, so letter with curved lines are easiest to detect.

With over seventeen hundred scrolls it is possible that some lost works of literature may be recovered. There is some speculation that the villa that housed the scrolls was owned by Father-in-law of Julies Caesar. It is believed that the library might have been collected and selected by Piso’s family friend and client, the Epicurean Philodemus of Gadara.

I can speculate. Actually, anyone can. If this was Julius Caesar’s Father-in-law, we can hope to find the following works by the famous Roman:

  • Anticatonis Libri II (only fragments survived)
  • Carmina et prolusiones (only fragments survived)
  • De analogia libri II ad M. Tullium Ciceronem
  • De astris liber
  • Dicta collectanea (“collected sayings”, also known by the Greek title άποφθέγματα)
  • Letters (only fragments survived)
  • Iter (only one fragment survived)
  • Laudes Herculis
  • Libri auspiciorum (“books of auspices”, also known as Auguralia)
  • Oedipus
  • possibly some early love poems

By Cicero:

  • Four tragedies in the Greek style: Tiroas, Erigones, Electra, and one other.
  • Hortensius, a dialogue also known as “On Philosophy”.
  • Consolatio, written to soothe his own sadness at the death of his daughter Tullia Ciceronis

By Homer:

  • The Odyssey mentions the blind singer Demodocus performing a poem recounting the otherwise unknown “Quarrel of Odysseus and Achilles”, which might have been an actual work that did not survive.
  • The sequel to the Odyssey?

By Livy:

  • 107 of the 142 books of Ab Urbe Condita, a history of Rome

By Ovid:

  • Medea, of which only two fragments survive.

Then there are the lost works that might, just might show up, but really don’t fit with a Roman library. The lost books of the bible for example, or the lost epistle of Paul.

We just don’t know what the library contains. However, today we have more hope of its recovery than before.

Yes, works can be lost and recovered. The most famous case is the Epic of Gilgamesh, dating from the Third Dynasty of Ur (circa 2100 BC).

 

To see some of my short stories go to www.edwardmcdermott.net