Friday, August 30, 2013

World Con Day 2 - Hi-Diddly-Dee, a Geeky Life for Me

Ok...  My intention is to give everyone out there, particularly my fellow members of the tribe who couldn't make it to this conclave, a taste of what is happening in here at the San Antonio WorldCon.  So, here's what's happening.  
Lots and lots of geeky fun.  
You want details?  Oh, sure.  You could have just come down and joined in the fun, but Ok...  Here it is.  
Panels.  I went to three of them yesterday.  Here's the breakdown:
Space Medicine: This was a good one, well moderated and with people that knew what they were talking about.  I learned some stuff which I didn't know before, like that it takes each astronaut about 2 hours of exercise a day to maintain what muscle and bone mass they return to Earth with, and that some of the bone loss is not recovered.  And how big a habitat would have to be to generate an apparent 1 gee of gravity if spun (150 feet in diameter at a rate of 4 revolutions per minute).  It also gave me basic questions to ask myself when considering the position of a ship's doctor, assuming he didn't have things like tricorders, but did have 3D printing.  
Contaminating Other Worlds: A panel about what we should be doing to make sure that microbes from Earth do not contaminate probes sent to worlds like Mars and Europa.  This went beyond the scientific issue of not contaminating the research designed to determine if these worlds harbor life.  I discovered that there is a segment of the community that believes we should, for moral reasons, leave these worlds ecologically pristine if it is determined that such life exists.  They were opposed by the majority of those attending the panel who believed we should exploit these worlds for man's benefit by about 5 to 1.  The ration dropped, though, to about even when the question presupposed that the life discovered could be proven to be completely alien, without any connection to the DNA based life here on Earth.  My favorite turn of phrase was from one of the panelists who said, "We should back-up our biosphere in another location."  Never heard the case for terraforming Mars put that way before.  
Just a Minute: Not so much a panel, but a game show.  Four panelist, which included writers Connie Willis, Mur Lafferty, Emma Newman and Locus Editor Gary K. Wolfe are asked by moderator Paul Cornell to speak for a minute, "without hesitation, deviation or repetition," on topics "My tame unicorn is..." or "My newest Hugo Catagory would be..."  This was a hoot.  A whole lot of fun.  I think they're going to do it again later in the convention.  I'm going if they do.  An example of what happens was when Connie Willis hit her buzzer challenging Emma Newman after she was going on, quite well, about her proposed Hugo Category about One's Most Embarrassing moments at a convention.  When asked by Paul Cornell for the basis of her challenge, Connie replied, "Because Emma said before she started she wasn't any good at this!"  Connie lost her challenge and Emma gained the point.  
Beyond the panels, though, there is all sorts of interesting things happening.  
Like discovering with my friend Jo Rhett that our method of finding stories is similar.  His stories all come from his dreams, where mine come from little events in my life that glom on to other events to build and grow in my head.  
Or talking with a somewhat inebriated Japanese woman about the importance of Kaidan, ghost stories, to their culture because of a belief that the souls of the dead continue to live as long as they are remembered.  After that, I accidently walked into a memorial party for a married couple that had passed away within the last year.  
"I'm sorry..."  I tried to back out of the room.  "I didn't know them."  
"That's fine."  The woman, sister to the departed wife, took my arm and lead me inside.  "Come and remember them anyway."  The echo of those two moments is still sounding in my head.  
And there was the experience,  before the Just a Minute panel, when I passed Emma Newman walking toward me THREE TIMES in the halls of the convention center before I recognized who she was.  She made a striking appearance in her black dress and floor length scarlet coat.  The third time I felt like asking her if she were a time traveler stuck in my continuum.
We shared an elevator ride to one of the parties and I told her about my encounters with her.  She told me she was "desperately looking for a cup of tea," because she was so nervous about appearing on the Just a Minute panel, but that all the cafés at the center were properly closed up.  She asked a policeman on his beat outside the center if he knew of any place she could get a cup of tea. 
"Well," the policeman replied in his Texas drawl.  "You sound a long way from home, little lady."  
"And then I realized," Emma said covering her face with her hand.  "I'd just turned myself into the ultimate British cliché."  
And then there was getting my picture taken with George R.R. Martin.  
Yep.  It's good to be a geek.  Especially here are WorldCon.  

Thursday, August 29, 2013

WorldCon Day 1 - Good Vibrations

I woke up this morning feeling good.  Like the Beach Boys song whose title I'm borrowing for this entry.  A good little emotional buzz.  
For me, it's a weird feeling.  One that needs to be examined.  
Obviously, I think it has something to do with being in San Antonio for WorldCon.  
Is it the accommodations?  The room is nice.  Clean.  It has plenty of plugs for all my electronics, which is something I look for in a motel room when attending a convention.  No refrigerator, though, which is a disappointment.  And the internet isn't free.  I paid extra for the REALLY high speed connection so I could play my online baseball without having to deal with latency in the connection.  It's a real pain to be down in the count, needing a run to tie the game in the ninth, and have the pitcher's four-seam fastball you've been looking for stop dead cold a foot off the plate.  
But I digress.  The accommodations get a C+ overall.  Not enough to account for the good vibes I'm feeling.  
My allergy symptoms are getting better.  A bit.  I still have the redness, but the bumpy hives seem to have disappeared.  I went to Urgent Care the night before my flight and got a steroid shot and pills and they seem to be doing the trick.  I still itch.  The ointment they prescribed for me helps with that, but it's a pain to rub on.  I did sleep nine hours straight through last night.  That was refreshing.
Still, it won't be the distraction to my vacation it could have been.  A plus.  Health is important.  But it doesn't cover the good vibe thing.  
I met some con-going friends of mine on the shuttle bus on the shuttle bus to the hotel.  That was a genuine pleasure and a relief.  Next year's WorldCon is going to be in London, England.  A number of the con-going crowd I hang out with decided to skip this year's convention to save money for that one.  It made me think that this year's convention may be like the one I attended in Australia, which a lot of people skipped as well.  Informative, but not a lot of fun.  
Like one of my friends said, "I go to WorldCon to see the people I see at WorldCon."  
That could be part of it, I think.  It definitely improves the experience to share it with like-minded people.  I'll say that it is assisting the good vibe feeling.  
It certainly isn't that I've accomplished anything.  This is the first bit of writing I've done in 48 hours, because of packing, going to the doctors' office, flying, getting my room and getting registered.  I've been fighting with myself and my words recently.  I've been hoping that the convention would do something to shake things loose in my head. 
And THAT might be it.  It is the POSSIBILITIES I look forward to in coming to WorldCon.  It's like baseball, in a way.  There's always a possibility to win each and every game, despite what the scoreboard says.  If you take your time a bat, you can at least extend the game until you can win.  
So here I am, stepping up to the plate.  Just be patient.  Don't be greedy, but don't be afraid to swing for the fences if they leave a curveball hanging over the plate. 
And most of all, have fun.  That's what I'm going to try to do.  

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Medical Advice, Stat!

Last Sunday, my right ear canal was completely swollen up and was painful to the touch.  This Sunday, my forearms, ankles, chest, back and I believe the top of my head where I can't see but feel them, are covered with tiny red welts that itch so bad I'm about to peel my skin from my muscles with a kitchen knife for some relief.  
You might say I'm having some medical issues this week.
Before I go further, I need to advise you that I am something of a hypochondriac.  I'm one of those people that go to WebMD when I get funny feeling and come away convinced that I have the early stages of dengue fever.  It is good that I'm aware of my hypochondriasis (the real term, I looked it up), and can often...  Sometimes...  Every so often use this knowledge to calm myself down.  
When the fact that something is going wrong becomes undeniable though, my thoughts can go off the deep end.  
It was clear Sunday morning that I had woken up with an ear infection.  When I touched the ear, there was pain and discomfort.  A cotton swab on a stick could barely be inserted into the opening before it was stopped by the swelling inside and the pain that accompanied it.  This wasn't normal.  
My first thought after reaching that conclusion was to worry if my head was about to explode.  This came from my recollection of the X-Files episode, "Drive," which aired in its sixth season.  It's the episode where a navy installation broadcasting ELF (Extremely Low Frequency) waves is causing pressure to build up in the inner ears of the people living nearby.  They only way they can get relief is to drive west as fast as they can.  The relief is temporary, though, and eventually their heads explode from the pressure building up inside their inner ear.  
This is where I started trying to use my iPhone to take a picture of the inside of my ear.  I never got a clear picture.  They should make an app for that.  Some sort of bluetooth mini-camera you can still in your ear and see what there is to see on your phone's screen.  
Write after writing that I checked online.  They have them.  Little bluetooth cameras that you can wear hooked to your ear and the picture will show up on your phone's screen.  For about $30 bucks I can have my own, ad hoc, otoscope.  
I didn't have one at the time, though, so, trying to forget the images of my head popping like a balloon, I swabbed the ear out with hydrogen peroxide and tried to wait until I could call the doctor the next day.  
I left work early after making an appointment.  My doctor shared my opinion that my ear ear was infected.  That is always a good feeling, you know?  When your doctor tells you that what you think is wrong is really wrong.  He prescribed two antibiotics for me.  One was a tablet, the other in ear drop form.  He said he couldn't tell if the infection was internal or topical, since my ear canal was so swollen he couldn't see eardrum, so he decided to cover both bases.  
It took him a bit of consideration to choose the antibiotic to prescribe to me.  I have had very strong reactions to both penicillin and erythromycin, which are, I understand, are the two largest and most often used families of antibiotics.  He finally decided to have me take something called sulfamethoxazole.  
I'm going to remember that name.  Sulfamethoxazole.  
For the next three days things seemed to go well.  The swelling in my ear went down.  The pain went away.  The medication seemed to be doing its job.  
Have you ever read the inserts that come with the drugs you get from the doctor?  I don't recommend it.  The ear drops, for instance, had a warning that it could cause "permanent deafness."  The antibiotic in those drops can kill the little hairs that grow in the cochlea of the ear, making it impossible for you to hear anything.  And this is what they decide to use for ear drops?  
Maybe it was reading that insert that made me a bit lax with the ear drops.  It was supposed to be used three times a day, but I would leave it at home or forget to take it and so I was only using it one or two times a day.  
The first clue I got that the medication was doing more than it should was Friday morning.  I woke up with this itchy feeling around my neck.  I kept scratching it and finally took a look in the mirror.  There was a red patch along the collar bone.  I thought I had done that from scratching too much.  I shrugged it off and got ready for work.  
It was in the afternoon, while scratching my wrist that I noticed I had these tiny welts on my skin.  They looked like blisters, only really, really small.  I went to the restroom and open my shirt and saw that the redness had spread from my collar bone to a patch about the same size as my open hand, fingers spread wide, would cover.  
It was a rash.  I was having an allergic reaction to the antibiotic.  Sulfamethoxazole was going to join penicillin and erythromycin on my list of medications I wasn't going to take.  
I needed to be sure.  I wasn't going to keep taking it, but I wanted to know what else I could do?  The last dosage was taken before I left home,  hours ago.  Inducing vomiting wouldn't help.  I called my doctor.  He was seeing patients.  I left a message.  I didn't want to go to WebMD.  I might start bleeding myself and without the right implements that could end up bad.  
I remembered one of my co-workers was studying to be a nurse.  I went to speak to her.  Yes, she was studying to be a nurse, but she was still working on her "pre-reqs" and hadn't gotten into the medical stuff.  
"Oh.  Ok."  I started to turn away. 
"But I do know some stuff...!"  
I turned back.  "How?"  
"Just from knowing.  Tell me what's up."  
I did.  I opened the collar of my shirt to show her the rash, along with my wrists.  
"Yeah.  It's a reaction, all right."  She was nodding sagely.  "First thing, stop taking it."  
"Yeah, Ok."  That was easy.  I'd figured out that part on my own.  
"And take some benadryl."  
"Benadryl?"  Was that stuff for hayfever?  
"Yeah, for the symptoms.  You don't have to go anywhere if your throat isn't closing up.  Your throat' doesn't feel like it's closing up?"  
"It does now."  
I thanked her and went back to my desk.  I called my doctor twice more.  He was still unavailable.  I wondered if he was trying to reach me at home, since that was the number in my file.  I left another message, insisting that they give him my cell phone or office number.  Finally, I asked for the doctor on call.  
When she answered the phone, I went over everything.  The hypochondriac in me added the fact that my throat was scratchy and I had a congested feeling.  The rational part of me added that the throat thing could be from talking on the phone all day, but...  The doctor listened.  She "uh-huh'd" where appropriate.  When I got done with my explanation, this is what she told me.  
"Ok.  I don't know which antibiotic you are reacting to, so stop taking both of them..." 
"Got it.  And?"  
"And take some benadryl for the symptoms."  
There's a small movement of people out there that are using their smart phones to diagnosis themselves.  It's part of a growing group of people involved in a "DIY" movement, where "DIY" stands for Do It Yourself.  
I am a prime candidate for that movement, particularly when it comes to medical issues.  I'm going to buy the toilets that will run tests on what you deposit there (the ones with urinals built into them to save water).  I'll get the app to listen to my heartbeat and run and EKG on me.  When someone builds an affordable tricoder, I'll buy that, too.  There's an X-Prize being offered to do so.  A company called "Scandau" has announced they have a prototype in the works.  Hold the monitor to your forehead and all your vital signs will be projected to your smartphone.  
I want one.  If it makes the same noise Bones' did when he used his, I'll buy one right when they come on the market.  
The worst thing about medical issues is the not knowing for sure.  That's my opinion.  Not having someone you trust to answer your questions.  
My Mom, being in her 70's, has her share of issues.  The most recent one was with her right knee, which she had replaced in January.  She had the left one replaced a couple of years ago and was delighted with the results.  Walking around with no pain was wonderful.  
The second one hasn't gone so well.  It was bigger, she insisted, than the first one.  It was still stiff and painful.  She couldn't participate in her bowling league, where most of her friends were.  She was talking about suing the doctor, who she used because the doctor that did the first procedure retired.
This week, at her check-up, the doctor that had performed the second transplant agreed that her recovery wasn't going as well as plan.  He admitted that he used a larger implant than the first one because the bones on her right leg were bigger than those of her left.  He didn't want to cut away that much more bone to make a device as big as the first one fit, so he choose a larger device.  If she wanted, the doctor offered to introduce her to some other knee specialists to have them redo the job he'd done.  
After this conversation, my mom decided that the doctor had done his best.  She decided to stop talking about suing him.  She was going to work the knee and see if she could get it to work better for her, work the stiffness out.  This week, she went bowling again for the first time.  
But those physical therapists they sent her during rehab...?  Yeah, they're the ones that didn't do their job.  

Saturday, August 17, 2013

People's Republic of Hokkaido

Hey, here's another idea for a story.  An alternate history story.  Have a listen...
The anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima (8/6) and Nagasaki (8/9) were last week.  It was the Sixty-Eighth year since those two events.  Anyone who was 20 at the time of the bombings would be in their late 80's now.  
Also last week, I learned about a man named Fritz Haber.  He was a German chemist at the turn of the twentieth century.  Because of him, you are alive today.  More specifically, because of his work, half of the nitrogen in your body, forming the cell wall and stringing together your amino acids to make the proteins that are the machines of life, are there for you.  
I also had an insight as to why our memories are so malleable and faulty.  It's because they're being made on machinery made for something else to help us survive.  
Before I go further, a bit of trivia...
Did you know that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not the original targets of their respective bombs?  I might have mentioned this before, since it is a fascinating bit of historical fact.  
Historical fact.  Maybe I should have said, "Historical Memory."  Anyway...
The target for the first bomb, the gun-type uranium bomb known as "Little Boy," was supposed to be the city of Kyoto.  Kyoto had been untouched by the American bombing attacks over Japan up until that time.  It's the reason why the city today has so many historical shrines that are hundreds of years old.  Since it had been unscathed by the fire bombings that had scorched so many other Japanese cities, the military planners thought looking at "before" and "after" reconnaissance photos would be a good way to measure the atomic bomb's effectiveness.  
What they didn't count on was a honeymoon years before.  
Henry Stimson was the Secretary of War, as the Secretary of Defense was previously known, during World War Two.  He was the person in overall charge of the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb and he gave himself the personal responsibility to approve the final target list.  When he received the list for Little Boy he saw that Kyoto was listed as No. 1.  
He knew Kyoto well, Henry Stimson did.  He and his wife had spent their honeymoon there.  It was, apparently, a very fond memory for the two of them.  He and his wife developed a fondness for the city because of their time there together.  
Secretary Stimson crossed Kyoto off the list, not wanting to see the city destroyed.  The second city on the list became the primary target, Hiroshima.  
Oh, oh...  Before I get too far.  Fritz Haber, the German chemist, he invented the means by which nitrogen, the most abundant element in our atmosphere, could be pulled directly from the air.  This process was used to create the first artificial fertilizer.  At the time of his invention Germany, which had a population of about 30 million people, was facing a food shortage.  One so great that some estimates were that about two thirds of the population, twenty million or so people, would eventually starve to death.  Haber's process not only kept those people from starving, but it is the single greatest reason we have over 7 billion people on the planet today.  
Historians have commented that Fritz Haber was certain that creating this process was the right thing to do.  
Some historians have said, and most Americans believe, that dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the right thing to do.  It ended what had turned into a long and frightfully bloody war during which horrific atrocities were being committed.  One often cited figure to support this belief is 1,200,000.  This is the estimate the War Department came up with for the number of casualties Allied forces would see at around 90 days during Operation Downfall, the planned invasion of Japan.  By dropping the bombs when we did, those soldiers, and the lives of the Japanese civilians in whose towns and fields they would have fought, were sparred.  
I've been told this many times.  It's part of my historical memory.  
Trivia break: Did you know the word, "Kamikaze," the Japanese pilots that drove their planes into allied ships during the war, is a mispronunciation?  When American translators came across the Kanji characters, 神風, which mean "Divine Wind," describing these pilots, they mistakenly used the "Kunyomi" or Japanese pronunciation for the characters.  When two kanji are combined directly, like these, you're supposed to use the "Onyomi" or Chinese pronunciation.  The correct pronunciation of these characters should have been "Shinfu."  During the American occupation of Japan, the Japanese adopted our "mispronunciation" of the word, and now use "kamikaze" for this word themselves.  
Another thing about the Kamikaze is that they were created in response to American newsreel footage.  
The Island of Saipan was the first island invaded by allied forces during the war that was part of the nation of Japan.  One of the most famous incidents that took place during the war was Japanese civilians killing themselves by throwing themselves off the cliffs, sometimes with their children in their arms, when American troops approached their city. 
The newsmen accompanying the troops shot film of this happening.  Some footage was in a transport plane that was shot down on its way back to American.  The Japanese High Command had the news footage translated.  When they realized how much this shocked the American reporters, they decided to make use of it.  

The Japanese command staff knew, in 1944 when the Battle of Saipan took place, it was only a matter of time before the war ended with them on the losing side.  The Japanese government was secretly sending messages to the Soviet Union, with whom they had a non-aggression treaty, to find some way for them to mediate a conditional surrender that kept them in power and prevented foreign occupation of their country.  A plan was drawn up, called the White Chrysanthemum Paper, to make the allies believe that an invasion of the Japanese main islands would be more bloody than they possibly could imagine.  News about "Voluntary Fighting Corp," were teenagers were given hand tools to fight with, was leaked.  Japanese garrisons were told to fight to the last man when attacked.  And the "Special Fighting Units," which included the kamikaze air forces, were created.  
The Japanese High Command believed that sacrificing these soldiers to insure that their country was not occupied was the right thing to do.  
Nagasaki...  Almost forgot.  On August 9th a plane nicknamed "Bockscar" carrying the second atomic bomb, code named "Fat Man," took off from its base.  The target was the city of Kokura, on the northern coast of Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan's six main islands.  
One of the rules given to the pilots flying these missions was that they were only to deploy the bomb in clear weather.  Any cloud cover, they were to abort the mission.  I think this order was for observational purposes.  
When the trio of plans, Bockscar and two reconnaissance planes, approached Kokura, clouds and smoke from a burning factory combined to obscure the target point.  The planes circled around three times to see if conditions would clear.  After the third circuit, the commander of the flight, Major Charles Sweeney, aborted the attack and flew on to the second city on the target list: Nagasaki.  
For years after the war, there was a saying in Japan to have "Kokura's luck."  This was to have some disaster heading toward you to fall on your neighbor instead.  This saying is largely forgotten now, faded from historical memory.  
Oh, yeah...  Memory...  I was listening to a science podcast, the last one from PRI's the World, that featured an interview with Charles Fernyhough, who has written a book called "Pieces of Light" about how the mind creates memories.  His most fascinating contention is that there is no evolutionary reason for humans to need to have the rich and vibrant memories we do.  What is more important from an evolutionary standpoint is to finding a way to predict the future.  Predicting the future has value helping a species survive and thrive by telling its members things like, what that saber-toothed tiger in the field ahead might do.  Our memories persist by using the same parts of the brain designed to predict what will happen next, by running simulations based on past experience.  
This is the reason why memories can change so much over time.  They are not recordings of what has happened to us before, as most people might think.  They are simulations of the past, often including input that has been received AFTER the memory was originally created.  
I told you I had a story idea at the top of this blog.  Here it is.  What if...  The atomic bombs were NOT dropped on Japan.  On that day the list came to Secretary Stimson's office, his memories of Kyoto somehow get extended to Japan as a whole.  Or the plane carrying the newsreel footage of the people jumping off Saipan never gets shot down, and the Japanese military never gets the idea of fooling the American forces that an invasion would cost them so dearly.  Or possibly even Little Boy, which had a design so temperamental its shipping box was marked "Do Not Get Wet" for fear an electrical short might set it off, was a dud.  Or worse, went off prematurely during shipment.  For some reason, the bombs are kept in storage and Operation Downfall is given a green light...
It's 1986.  An American diplomat is sent to Tokyo to speak to members of the Japanese military.  Tensions are running high on the archipelago.  The People's Republic of Hokkaido, the puppet state created by Soviet Union after its invasion of the island in September 1945 (Actually planned but never executed) has gone through its third violent change of government in as many years.  The Imperial Japanese Military, strengthened by MacArthur after the war to counter the communist threat, sees it as an opportunity to reclaim their northern island.  "Meitoku," an allusion to the era when Japan was reunified in the 1300's, is on every Japanese commander's lips.  
The diplomat's job is to talk them out of it.  Yes, the Japanese are staunch allies.  Yes, their participation helped wrest the southern half of the Chousen Peninsula back from the communists, the only successful anti-communist insurgence during the Cold War, and was instrumental in the American victory in Vietnam, but such military intervention could result in atomic weapons being used for the first time.  They've kept the genii in the bottle for forty years.  What could happen if they let it out now...?  
The Japanese response is to respectfully tell their American allies that they appreciate the concern being expressed, but that their country must be reunified.  The force of history is behind them.  They know what is the right thing to do.  
One last thing about Fritz Haber.  He invented the means to create artificial fertilizer, which keeps billions of people alive today.  He also invented chemical weapons, which are made using the same process.  He was made a captain in the German Imperial Army during World War One and directed the first wide scale use of chemical weapons against an opponent.  He was certain that his work in making these weapons and deploying them for the benefit of his nation was the right thing to do.  His wife, horrified at what he had done, and more horrified at his attitude, killed herself in the garden of their home the night before he returned to the front.  Years after Fritz Haber's death, another of his inventions would be modified into the agent that killed the people at Auschwitz.  
People who don't recognize history as a simulation are doomed to create with certainty futures that are less so. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Extra Innings on Tau Ceti

I have an idea for a story.  I'm going to share it with you.  
It's a baseball story.  Not surprising in a way, that.  I'm a big baseball fan, as you might tell if you read last week's blog.  My teams are doing well.  The real life Dodgers are 6 1/2 games ahead of the Diamondbacks, having gone from 12 games under .500 in June, to 16 over .500 today.  My computer team is 15-0 in Season play and 20-2 in Rival play (although I've been moved into a much, much tougher Rival group this week, so my record may go down, we'll see).  
I've read other science fiction sports stories and I think I want to try one of my own.  This morning I came up with one.  
What if human explorers went to another planet and discovered a race that was clearly intelligent, but which they had no basis of communication except one: This alien race played baseball.  
I don't think this is as farfetched as it might sound.  First off, I've already used baseball as a sort of Rosetta stone to understand another culture I wanted to learn more about.  In 2007, when I went to the World Science Fiction Convention in Yokohama, Japan, I took in a baseball game between the Yokohama Bay Stars and the Tokyo Giants.  It was a fascinating experience which highlighted a number of differences between how the game is played and watched here in the United States and there in Japan.  Some of them include: 
They reverse the order of balls and strikes (a full count in Japan is 2-3, not 3-2).
They post the players' position number on the score board, not their uniform number. 
The fans are segregated; home team fans sit along the First Base line, visiting team fans along the Third Base line.  
Fans only cheer when their team is up, and the chants are organized.  When the opposing team is up, they sit patiently and quietly, nothing more than polite applause, like a golf audience, when their team makes a good defensive play.  
They have cheerleaders. 
They have no 7th inning stretch.  
And, in addition to the vendors hawking beer and food (no hot dogs, noodles instead), they have what I call the "Trash Girl," a young lady that comes every third inning to collect the empty cups and food containers from food and drink consumed.  At the end of the game, the stadium was as clean as when we entered.  
These differences highlight differences between our two cultures, but the game is the same.  I didn't need to be able to read the scoreboard to follow it.  Bases loaded, with two outs and a full count, whether that count is 2-3 or 3-2, has the same level of tension in Yokohama as it does in "the Ravine." 

But I also think that the way baseball works represents how nature works to a degree.  
First off, there's the diamond.  My recent return as a baseball fan was sparked by comparisons between baseball and properties of physics a few years back.  
The first was the discovery that, according to the original rules of baseball, the foul lines running through first and third base extend forever.  There is no termination.  A "home run" was literally a ball hit so far away from the bases that the hitter had the time to run from home plate, tag all the bases in order and return before the thrown from the outfield reached the catcher.  And the modifications of the rules to fit the current playing field construction, with a fence behind which fans can sit, is to treat a ball hit over the fence "as if" it were a home run.  
This makes a baseball diamond similar to a Minkowski Diagram (using only the positive Y axis plus both the positive and negative X axes), which is used to represent space-time in the universe born of Einstein's special relativity.  All action takes place within the light-cone and are "time-like."  "Space-like action," outside the foul lines as it were, are "undefined" and not allowed.  Something "intercepts" them, like a catcher grabbing a pop-up, to prevent them from influencing the game.  
Time in baseball is an emergent property.  The game progresses not by some artificial imposing of time divisions.  It stems from the activity of the game.  Three outs ends a side.  Two such side-outs ends an inning.  
Neither is the length of the game preset.  It can end at six innings, or extend as long as 25 innings (the longest game in MLB history, the White Sox over the Brewers, 7-6, on 5/8/1984).  The outcome of the game is never foregone, either.  You can be down by a dozen runs, bottom of the 9th, with two outs, no one on, with two strikes against you and the mechanics of the game will STILL allow you to win.  You may have to be perfect in execution and lucky to a degree you haven't been thus far, but it CAN happen.  There is no taking a knee to run out the clock in baseball.  
The last two qualities are what most directly make baseball seem like life on the human scale.  We don't know how long we have to play.  But whether the game is cut off by rain, or runs longer than any other game in history, what matters most is that we're taking our turn at bat, and keeping our eye on the ball.  
My Idea Thus Far
OK...  Here's what I got.  
What came to me first was the game itself.  The alien playing field restores the original rules of the game.  There is no fence to hit the wall over.  Left, right and center fields extend for acres and acres.  
The aliens themselves are huge, hulking creatures.  They have hardened appendages, which grow like horns or antlers, from their bodies.  These are what they use for bats.  The balls are hardened pellets of their excrement or dung.  
Though they are very, very slow, moving like snails along the base paths, they are overwhelmingly powerful.  Their fastballs come at the plate at a hundred and twenty miles per hour.  When they make contact, the ball files for over a thousand yards.  
So, the game would pit the not so strong, but much faster humans against the ponderously slow, but enormously powerful aliens.  The humans would have trouble making contact, but if they did, even a short blooper past the shortstop would result in a human run given the speed advantage.  The aliens would drive our best pitches deep each and every time, but the humans would have the time (as long as they could keep their endurance) to run to the ball and throw it in in a series of relays to keep them from scoring.  
Then another idea came to me.  What if the aliens played in the past as well?  
I mentioned that the baseball diamond looks like a Minkowski diagram, using only the positive Y axis, representing time going forward from zero into the future.  But a complete Minkowski diagram has a negative Y access as well, representing the past.  It came to me that the baseball diamonds of these aliens might have the negative Y axis included.  Imagine a home plate in the center of two attached fields, each with its own first, second and third base paths.  One, the more recognizable one to our perspective, would go forward from first through second to third and home again  The other would go backwards from our perspective, from home, back through third, second and first, to home again.  
I imagined the human manager, ahead by two runs in the ninth, seeing the aliens traverse a path on "the other field."  Suddenly the score board shows that the aliens scored two more runs in the third inning, and the game is actually tied.  The exhausted humans, running marathons in the outfield to catch and throw these alien line drives, have to play extra innings AND figure out what this other field represents.  
The story would have to be about communication, I'm thinking.  Trying to find something that these strange, intelligent beings look at in the same way.  They need to find out because the aliens have something they need to return to Earth, and playing the game the way the do is the key toward that vital goal.  
In other words, and here the baseball theme comes back, the humans want to go home.  And how can you not love a game where the goal is to find a way home.  

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Inaugural Season of the Pasadena Blue Crew

It was the bottom of the eighth.  The game tied, 2 - 2.  The pitcher threw around the strike zone with our home-run hitter at the plate to walk him and load the bases.  

Chisato Horikawa stepped to the plate.  She was patient, ready to simply make contact with the ball to drive home the runner on third.  She had a good eye, too.  She took the first two pitches for balls, fouled off the third that would have hit the lower, outside corner, and took the fourth.  Count is 3 and 1.  

The pitcher always threw a change-up to the outside part of the plate when behind on the count.  The decision was made to hit for power.  Harder to hit the ball that way.  Bigger bang for the buck if you do.  

The wind-up...  The pitch...  A change-up, to the outside, just above the knees.  The ball seemed to hang there as Chisato swung through the sweat-spot and drove the ball over the fat part of the field.  Grand Slam Home Run!  
Two more runs would be added before the inning was out, but that was the hit that broke it open.  The 9 - 2 win gave the team a five game winning streak and sole possession of second place.  
I sent Chisato a message telling her she had a good eye, and showed surprisingly power despite her stature (not even five foot, if I'm guessing right).  She hasn't responded to the message yet.  She probably wondering what I'm talking about.  In the real world, she's a tiny Japanese woman living in New York, doing social work, that probably has never played a game of baseball in her life.
ね、ちさとちゃん、野球を遣ったことがある? Hey, Chisato...  You ever play baseball?
But in the world of WGT Baseball, she's hitting .579, with 8 HRs and 4 RBIs in the last ten games, playing First Base for the Pasadena Blue Crew.  
You see them all the time if you use Facebook to any degree.  Those invitations to play all these different games.  I've successfully ignored them up till now.  Castleville.  Farmville.  Tank.  Getting Tanked.  Lust for Dragons.  I'd check them out and see that all they wanted was you to register a user name, allow them access to your personal information, and let them send invitations to buy toenail insurance to everyone on your Friends List.  I'd say, "no, thank you," and cancel the invitation.  Sometimes, for the more interesting ones, with a fantasy or science fiction element, I'd dig a little deeper and see that you could play "free" as advertised, but if you wanted that Ultra Hyperdrive for your space cruiser, or the Sword of Dragon Slaying +2, you could use your credit card to purchase--
Un-uh.  No, Thank You.  Bye!
Then, a couple of days ago they sent me an invitation to play WGT Baseball.  And now I'm contemplating how I can limit some of my extraneous activities, such as bathing, eating or socializing with real human beings, in order to build my team, extend the contracts of my important players and play the games I need to earn enough money to buy a new stadium.  
They got me with baseball.  With all the demographic information they have been collecting on me, it sure took them long enough.  
WGT Baseball is really cool.  And it has an interesting twist that I appreciate from a science fiction writer's standpoint.  
First, to answer a question I've already been asked a few times to friends I've talked to about the game, "WGT" stands for World Golf Tour.  That was, apparently, the first extremely popular game the programers put out.  They probably sent me an invitation for it, which I ignored like the others.  
The first cute thing the game does is search your Friends List.  It doesn't send out invitations to them, though.  They leave that up to me.  What it does do is use the names from your friends list to name the players.  This creates an immediate attachment to the team, I found.  Instead of some made-up name like, "Johnny Slugger," or the name of some well known professional, like "Adrian Gonzalez," my first baseman is Chisato Horikawa, a friend I met years ago in my Japanese Language group.  This gave me an immediate sense of who the first baseman of my team was.  Undersized, but plucky, a ready smile, with a whole lot of determination concentrated in a small body.  
My favorite player on my team, the one I pull for the most, is my niece, Melissa Campbell, who plays shortstop.  She's the fastest person on my team, with great defensive skills.  She's hitting .417 with two homers and six "ribbies" in the last ten games.  Unfortunately she's 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position.  I sent her a message that she'll have to do better than that, or I might have to trade her.  
I love my niece, but hey...  This is baseball.  
As a game, WGT Baseball is fun to play.  It automates the stuff that ought to be automated, the defense, and let's you play the part that's most fun, the hitting.  And it's not just swing and hit.  You have three hitting tactics, for contact, normal, or for power, and you get advantages if you guess the pitch coming at you.  Plus, it has a Manager mode that let's you do things like trying to steal bases or set up hit and runs.  
It really worked.  Guy at the plate hitting .778 with a runner on first, up in the count by 3-0.  I sent the runner stealing and swung at a pitch high and outside.  It shot through the gap where they 2nd baseman was and the runner made it to third.  He scored when the next batter hit a grounder out into right, winning the game.  I couldn't stop chortling after that happened.  
The game-play allows two people to play at different times.  I play my at-bats against another player's team run by the computer, and he plays his at bats with the computer running my team.  The two halves are combined to form a complete game.  Perfect in a world where I might be playing before going to bed and my opponent is playing right after getting up.  
What I'm also noticing though, beside the time I "wasting" on this game, AND my team budget as I try to get them ready for the season opener tomorrow, is what the game is making me consider doing.  Like joining AARP or sending a donation to the ASPCA. 
You can also "earn" chips, which you do by engaging sponsors of the game in some way.  A survey site that wants you to answer some questions?  That'll net you 50 to 150 chips.  Downloading a free app for your phone to try out will get you 80 to 100 chips.  Playing another online game will get you the same amount.  
The really big numbers come when you pay some money.  Make a donation to the American Diabetes Association?  You'll get 4,000 chips for that.  An $18.00 monthly donation to the ASPCA will get you 3,500.   
I'm cheap.  I shy away from things like that.  
You can also "earn" chips, which you do by engaging sponsors of the game in some way.  A survey site that wants you to answer some questions?  That'll net you 50 to 150 chips.  Make a donation to the American Diabetes Association?  You'll get 4,000 chips for that.  An $18.00 monthly donation to the ASPCA will get you that.  
It was when I found myself thinking, "you know...  The ASPCA IS a good cause..." that I realized the power of this offer.  I DO support the work of the ASPCA, morally at least.  I'm planning on adopting my next cat from the local ASPCA shelter a couple of blocks from my apartment.  But I don't remember thinking about donating anything to them until I saw that offer of 4,000 chips.  It'd be like killing two birds with one...  Or...  Uh...  RESCUING two birds...  Yeah...  With,  uh...  One Cage!  Yeah, That's what I meant.
I wrote a story once about a future where people are scored through social media, just as POV characters are in computer games.  Actions of great civic value, such as volunteering at the local library or cleaning the trash from the streets, got you points.  Points which could be redeemed for discounts on your municipal trash or electric bill, or discounts at local businesses.  I had thought at the time that such an inducement might be used on a populace to encourage good behavior.  I had seen a similar impact when I was enrolled in my insurance company's wellness program.  For losing eight pounds, and ending up in first place for the month for my group, I got a $50.00 gift certificate.   Feeling the tug to donate reinforced my belief that something like this, where our fantasy lives and real lives intersect, could be in society's future.  
My future though, is pretty clear.  I've got about twenty hours until my season opener against Gary's Beer League unlocks, and I want to be in first place of my pre-season Rival league before it starts. 
Even if I have to join the Disney Movie Club (2,500 chips) to do it.
P.S.: If you decide to join in and play WGT Baseball with me, you'll find my name listed as "Erick's Team."  When I joined, I didn't know how much fun it was going to be and just selected that as my name.  I later discovered that you have to pay something called "Facebook Credits," which cost real money, to change it to something else.  
So, when you see, "Erick's Team" just think, "Pasadena Blue Crew," Ok?
Like I said, I'm cheap.