Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Harvest Feast

Thanksgiving Day in the US is traditionally a day of over-eating. Each family develops their own quirky traditions in what they eat and do on that day, but over-eating is generally common ground.
In the US, legend says early colonists did not bring enough supplies, so half of them (50) died in that first winter. But friendly natives helped the rest survive after that, teaching them to catch eels and grow corn. Before their second winter, they harvested plentiful crops, and hunted wild birds and deer, so they had full larders. And for 3 days, they over-ate in joyous thanksgiving.
Basically, they were celebrating a good harvest. And harvest feasts go back a long, long time, at least as far back as Ancient Egypt, possibly as far back as when man changed from hunter/gatherers to farmers.
It makes sense; after a good harvest of the main crop, food was abundant. There wasn’t as much work to do in the fields, so the workers had more leisure time. In some cases, the coming months would be cold and dreary. Keeping all that food in good condition might not be easy. So it was natural to celebrate in having plenty of food.
Over-eating in the fall could also give them extra fat, which could help protect them from the cold, and give them extra calories to burn, should things get lean before anything became available in the spring.
But what if future colonists landed on a planet with different seasons than Earth? For instance, the winters are so mild, this is when the crops grow. Harvest is held during increasingly hot days, as the climate turns into a blistering summer where Earth plants struggle to survive, and the colonists stay indoors to avoid heat stroke - or worse.
When would they celebrate? I am assuming storage of crops would not be a problem. Would they feast at the end of harvest? Gain a few pounds of fat to lug around through the sauna-like summer? I don’t think fat is a good insulator to keep a person cool.
Or would they wait until the temperature starts to dip, and they will soon need to prepare the fields and plant the crops? To do that, maybe they could use some extra calories to get all that hard work done. Plus, they would have an idea just how much food they could use for a feast.
That assumes the colonists are doing hard, menial labor themselves, not sending machines out to do it. Perhaps they are. Maybe there wasn’t room for farming machines, or the machines are broken.
Would they think things through and have a delayed feast? Would everybody agree to that, or would the question breed dissent, even anger?
Or would they just follow tradition and feast right after the harvest? Would they eventually learn to delay that feast?
I see story possibilities here.

Have a great Thanksgiving. Only our youngest son will be joining us this year, coming over early enough to help with the cooking. We won’t be watching football, so we’ll be debating which sf movie disc to put in the machine. That’s one of our traditions. A quiet Thanksgiving is still Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Mammals Living with Dinosaurs?

Quick, how long ago did mammals evolve?
Okay, not a fair question, because scientists have only recently discovered it was a lot further in the past than they had thought. How did they find out? Well, they found a ground hog in a 154-pound hunk of sandstone that had been hauled from Madagascar to New York in order to study the fish fossils it contained. Actually, they didn’t find the entire ground hog, only the fossilized skull. And even that didn’t have the lower jaw.
Okay, how much can they really figure out about a creature when all they have is a skull? Quite a lot, it turns out. Dubbed Vintana sertichi, the 5-inch skull indicated the live animal weighed about 20 pounds, which is about twice the size of a modern ground hog. To us humans, that doesn’t sound very big, but it’s heavier than our medium-small dog, and heavier than any house cat I’ve ever owned. In the world of the Mesozoic era mammals, that size makes it a super heavyweight. All the other mammals of the time were about the size of mice.
What else did this skull tell the scientists? Vintana had rodent-like incisors as well as molars that indicated a diet of roots, seeds and fruit. Large eyes meant it could see in low light, while the inner ear configuration indicated it could probably hear higher frequencies than humans can. Its large nasal cavity implied a keen sense of smell.
Keep in mind that in the Mesozoic era of 66 million years ago, the non-mammal neighborhood held dinosaurs (both meat- and plant-eaters), crocodiles, snakes, giant frogs, lizards, fish and a few bird species. It’s a wonder the big guys didn’t just step on the tiny mammals, probably without even realizing they’d done it. If they noticed mammals - even Vintana, at its ‘great’ size - they probably figured that tiny bite wasn’t worth the trouble of chomping on it.

But eventually, like the dinosaurs, all the Vintana sertichi died out and were gone. So it’s a good thing we aren’t descended from them, because we never would have come into being.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

BIG Snake

I freely admit I am afraid of snakes. So, having recently read an article about a prehistoric snake, I am sooooo glad I did not live in Greece 4 million years ago.
In today’s world, the longest venomous snake is the King Cobra, which can reach 18 feet in length and weigh 15 to 20 pounds. But 4 million years ago, the Laophis crotaloides weighed as much as 57 pounds, with a length of 13 to 14 feet. Not quite as long as a King Cobra, but a lot bigger around. I keep trying to imagine what they must have looked like, and keep coming up with a slender Jabba the Hutt (Star Wars). But remember, these snakes could not only eat you, they were also venomous.
Scientists have found pieces of a Laophis fossil skeleton, so they can figure out its size, but it is that size that confuses them. Laophis did not live in the tropics, where one would expect to find a giant creature; it lived in the grasslands of what is now Greece, where winters were definitely cool.
This snake was not the only resident in this area at the time. Neighbors included giant Tortoises that could get as big as a modern car, deer, horses and rodent-sized mammals. I’m not sure why the scientists believe this ancient snake dined on the rodent-sized mammals. At its size, I’d think it would be more inclined to lunch on the deer, horses and even some of the smaller tortoises.
In any case, I would not want to meet one, in the grasslands or anywhere else.
It does raise possibilities for stories, though.
Can you imagine someone taking shelter from a raging winter storm in a cave, only to find one of these Hutts snakes already there, hibernating?
If one was stranded on an unknown planet, and came across one of these snakes that was injured and possibly dying, could they make friends with it by treating its wound? Or would it turn and eat them as soon as it started to feel better?
Or what if colonists are trying their best to eradicate these snakes, who keep approaching their camp in an attempt to make contact, since these snakes are the most intelligent creatures on this ‘uninhabited’ world?

There’s got to be other possibilities. If you think of any, let me know. Unless you want to keep the idea for your own stories. I’m cool with that.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Monopoly Money

Once upon a time, there was a young man who wanted to sell books. He created a website and negotiated deals with the big publishers to put their books in his warehouse. It took him a few years, but he built up his business to the point where he was the first place people thought of going when they wanted a book.
Meanwhile, more than one national chain of book stores went out of business.
At some point, this young man realized changes had occurred in the book market. People also bought electronic books. The big publishers were resisting going electronic, considering it a fad, but lots of small publishing companies had sprung up. Some authors were their own publishers. These small companies and individuals not only embraced e-publishing, they were also able to create paper books by using POD printing.
The young man thought, “People are spending money on e-books and POD books. If individual authors can set these things up, then I can, too.” So he became not only a book seller, but a not-so-small publisher of e-books and POD books. His company grew even bigger.
The big publishers finally, reluctantly produced e-books, but they charged virtually the same amount for the ebook version as they did for the paper version, despite the much lower cost of production. When the young man saw that, he demanded that they lower their e-book prices. Or else! Some did, but one did not, and he punished them terribly, by not selling pre-orders for them, and by letting their orders languish for weeks before they were sent out to the customers.
Some authors and small presses thought, “I’m all for lower prices on e-books, but this guy is throwing his weight around.”
One day, the young man thought; Since he had the capabilities to POD print, a warehouse, and people to mail books to customers, it only made sense that he do all the POD printing. He ‘negotiated’ with the various POD companies, making arrangements for them to ship their printing jobs to him (and pay him) to print.
Upon hearing of this, some who had been ready to use his POD/e-book services thought, “Whoa! Now he’s trying to put POD companies out of business? He wants exclusive rights to sell your e-book for at least 3 months? This guy is not only a bully, he wants a monopoly!”
In a round-about way, I’m trying to explain the reason why I (and MoonPhaze Publishing) will not be working with Amazon. Even though not being listed on their site is likely to make it harder to sell our own books, we cannot condone their practices.
Since we don’t know which POD publishers are still independent, or how long they can hold out, we’ll have to have a number of books printed and store those we haven’t yet sold. And we need to get a move on, because we have a book due out in January.
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