Wednesday, April 23, 2014


Minor health issues run in my family.

Myopia. Allergies. Joint dysfunction. Hearing loss. Sleep apnea. GERD. High blood pressure. Chronic buffoonery. If it's painful or annoying, but not debilitating, then we have it.

In a more sensible age, we might have been left out in the wilderness to die, but the modern world has decided that we're worth keeping around—for at least as long as our health insurance holds out. But I've often wondered how our family line survived the rigors of the prehistoric world, where any one of our many issues would spell death at an early age.

My working hypothesis is that the tribe tolerated us and even let us breed with the other misfits, because they needed someone to go into caves and check for saber tooth cats. They would send us in and then listen from a safe distance. If all they heard was a lot of complaining about how much our knees and back hurt, or how little sleep we got the night before, they’d know it was okay to enter.

But at the first sound of an allergic sneeze, they’d all slink away quietly, plugging their ears against the screams and crunching sounds that would inevitably follow. Thus, our allergy to smilodon dander became the tribe's early warning system. Back at the settlement, the more popular Cro-Magnons would return from the expedition wearing carefully rehearsed, downtrodden expressions. They’d tell the others about the “horrible accident,” and all the cool cavemen and women would stare at their feet and try really hard not to smile.

I think that’s why cats like me so much. Ages ago, their feline ancestors got a taste for my family and it’s never quite been bred out of them. Never mind that I’m allergic as hell. All that sneezing just excites the little bastards. It’s the Pleistocene equivalent of running an electric can opener.

As recently as the middle ages, my own 20/800 uncorrected vision would make me functionally blind—a liability not just to myself but to everyone around me. Based on some genealogical research, I think my family line only survived because the villagers used us as a sort of spousal dumping ground. Other villagers would marry off their ugliest children to us, safe in the knowledge that we would never know any better.

But with modern medicine, a quick visit the optometrist is all we need to see clearly. All we we have to do is suffer through the indignity of having our optometrist shout, “Denise! Come in here and check out how blind this chick is!” If we can only weather that, we earn a prescription for glasses with a diopter more commonly found in orbital telescopes.

You laugh, but my glasses bend light so sharply that people in front of me can see the back of my head. A friend with 20/20 vision once tried my glasses on and saw several minutes into the future.

I tried contact lenses for a while, but I got tired of not being able to shut my eyes around them. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but my contacts were literally so thick that ordinary blinking dislodged them about twenty times per day. I once lost both in a mall and—I am not making this up—I had to keep one hand firmly on a friend’s shoulder, like a seeing eye dog, to keep from getting lost.

Of course, she got tired of this after a while and shrugged my hand off. Without a guide, I became hopelessly separated from my friends. So I wandered around for an hour, approaching groups of people whose blurry outlines looked familiar, lurching toward them and squinting at their faces from two inches away. “Oh, sorry,” I’d say, when I saw that I was invading the personal space of a total stranger. “I’ve just lost some nose hairs and I thought I recognized yours.”

"Stacy? Is that you?"

A security guard finally came over to me (“Such good fortune,” I thought to myself. “What are the odds of that?”) After convincing him that I was not, in fact, a deranged fetishist, he led me to an information desk and paged my friends. And then I stood there, like a lost child waiting for her parents.

My friends finally meandered over to the information desk but, instead of a joyous reunion, they approached to just within earshot, lingered outside the range of my vision, and finally said to the security guard, “Nah, that’s not our friend." And then they walked right the fuck away.

But they made the critical mistake of walking in a straight line, so I was able to figure their position with inertial navigation. I mean, seriously people, this wasn't my first rodeo. Here’s a pro tip for you: when fleeing from Robyn, run in a zig-zag.

And that's pretty much how all my health issues go. None of them are debilitating. With treatment, they’re only a minor inconvenience, but they make me even more irritating to be around. I have to explain to lunch dates that, no, we can’t eat lunch outside, unless you want your food seasoned with sneezes. “But the pollen count isn’t bad today,” they’ll say. Maybe not, but I still have to deal with photoptarmosis and some other shit that probably doesn't even have a name, the upshot of which is that I turn into a stuffed-up, delirious shamble in sunlight. Seriously, only mole rats and vampires appreciate sunlight less than I do.

“Nonsense,” my friends will say, “fresh air is good for you!”

“Uh huh,” I reply, as I struggle to breathe.

And therein lies the great irony of my family’s relationship with modern civilization. Medical advancements have made our conditions into mere annoyances, but they’ve also robbed us of our utility. There are just no more saber tigers to scout out. And while there are still plenty of ugly people around, now we can see them, and in all those generations of marrying medieval ugly dudes, we tragically never learned to lower our standards.

Consequently, our family line slowly withers away. My grandparents had four children, but each of them only reproduced once. From that generation—now in prime breeding age—there are only two offspring, with no more on the horizon. At this rate, our genetic legacy will die out within three generations.

As the world stares at its feet, and tries not to smile.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

When You Have Vampires, Part 1

Vampires: the princes of darkness, the scourge of innocence, and the sexiest goddamn dead people you’ll ever meet. Think you can survive? You’ve survived a zombie apocalypse, after all. You’ve avoided the pitfalls of being a superhero’s girlfriend. So you’re ready for vampires, right?

No, you’re not.

Unlike those shambling hordes of half-rotten zombies, and unlike those cretinous superheroes, vampires have a way of sneaking into your life before you even know they’re there. But there’s hope. If you follow these handy tips, you too can uncover, survive, and even slay the most seductive and cunning tribe of the undead.

Read on, mortal chattel.

Actually, I Look Damn Good in Black

Let’s kick this off by addressing the entrancing elephant in the room: do you secretly want to be a vampire?

Don’t be embarrassed to answer honestly, because you can save yourself a lot of trouble in the long run. While a career in the vampiric arts isn’t for everyone, it’s worth weighing the pros and cons before you go stake-crazy and burn all your bridges (or all your future family, for that matter.)

Ask yourself, what are my favorite things? If you answered nightlife, looking effortlessly fantastic, or hunting people for sport, then vampirism might be just perfect for you. Now, that doesn’t mean you should go running to the spooky castle, bang on the door, and shout, “Hey in there! Make me a vampire!” This is a major unlife decision, so you should sleep on it first. If you’re still happy with your choice when you wake up, invite your friends into your room and let them know your decision. Then lock them in and bolt the door. Go to the vampires and offer the blood of your friends as an unholy gift. Consider it a sort of dowry.

I mean, you weren’t going to keep those friends anyway, you know. You’re going to be a fucking vampire soon. And if you thought your circle of friends grew apart after college, you have no idea what distance will come when you die and are reborn as a demonic bloodsucker.

Trish Never Used to Be So Pale and Hitting on Me
"You look different. Did you cut your hair?"

But let's say you decide not to join the other team. How are you going to defend yourself? The first step is to stop the enemy from infiltrating your ranks.

Remember that your friends may become vampires without your knowledge. Unlike zombies, who have no impulse control and will immediately go after any living flesh like it’s a Black Friday deal at the Sarasota Wal-Mart, vampires play it cool. So if and when your friends turn into vampires, it's not going to be obvious.

Yet even vampires can only do so much to suppress their urges. You can tell when your friends have become vampires, if you only look for the following warning signs:
  • Be on the lookout for what we in the vampire-hunting business call neosexual tendencies. If your exclusively heterosexual friends suddenly become aggressively bisexual? Then they’ve definitely been turned into vampires. A note of caution: while all modern vampires are bisexual, it hasn’t yet been confirmed that all modern bisexuals are vampires. They probably are, but we can’t be sure.
  • Always remember that it is never normal or socially acceptable for a person to stare hypnotically at your neck. I hate to break it to you, but your neck is not that great. I mean, it’s a nice enough neck, but it’s not entrancing, dummy.
  • Even night people come out during the day. Normal people do not sleep straight through 12 hours of daylight, or have to rush home at sunrise, no matter how weird their work schedule is.
  • Porphyria, Anemia, Hemophilia. Sufferers of these diseases absolutely do not have an urge to drink human blood, and they sure as hell don't have centimeter-long fangs. If a friend tries to excuse their behavior by mentioning any of these conditions? Stake them through the heart immediately.
  • Your living friends don’t need an explicit invitation into your home, and they will never stand at the threshold, trying to bait you into offering one. They just walk right in and drink all your beer. If a close friend lingers outside, asking for permission to enter? It ain’t your beer he wants to drink.
  • Atheists are not physically repelled by crucifixes, no matter what Pat Robertson says. I can assure you that your friend isn’t recoiling from that cross because she just read The God Delusion. She’s recoiling because she’s a freaking nosferatu.

Check for Holes in that Plot Armor
The odds of making this exclusively-white vampire family by chance alone are 1 in 10.
To put it another way, there's a 90% probability the Cullens are racist.

Even if you’re the only chaste white girl in your circle of friends—which under normal circumstances is like winning the monster-victim lottery—don’t expect your racial and sexual immunities to hold up against vampires.

You see, for the purposes of death-order dynamics, being bitten by a vampire is tantamount to wild monkey sex. So, no matter how much sex you haven’t had in your life, the moment that vampire pricks his teeth into you, you instantly become a viable target. Furthermore, vampire victim selection, unlike that of other monsters, is based not on resentment but on desire—and most vampires are white racists. I mean, it's not like they’re attending Klan rallies or anything, but they sure do have a curious aversion to biting people of color, don’t they? It’s the soft bigotry of low exsanguinations.

None of which, mind you, means that you’re safe just because you’re not white. In a reversal of historical segregation, in which white racists didn’t want to sit at an integrated lunch counter but would happily eat food prepared by a black cook, the typical white vampire will refuse to eat you, but will have no qualms about snapping your neck.

It’s sad on a lot of levels.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Proterozoic, Part 1

Imagine yourself on a barren world. The atmospheric pressure is high enough to walk around without a space suit, but there are only trace amounts of oxygen, so you'll have to wear a respirator. Oh and, I’d wear a hat too, since the UV radiation is high enough to kill you within hours. Sorry, I should have told you that before you got here. My bad. You might want to put some aloe on that sunburn.

The landscape is bleak, nothing but desert sands and bedrock scoured clean by unrelenting erosion. You see, there are no plants here to firm up the soil. There isn’t any proper soil, for that matter, because there’s nothing alive to make soil. Soil—the kind of soil we’re familiar with—is bound together with organic matter that doesn't exist here.

Yeah, this place is so barren, it doesn’t even have dirt.

There’s plenty of sand, though. Or, more properly, regolith—the same material that covers the Moon. It sticks to everything, including you. Be careful when you get home and take off your respirator. The fine particles, ground to tiny specks by wind and rain, can damage your lungs if you breath them in.

But one thing this place does have is rain. It must have great torrential downpours, to carve the gullies and channels we'll find in just a few minutes of walking.

So, have you guessed where we are yet?

If you said Mars, you’re close, but actually we’re in Canada. Toronto, to be specific, but you could go anywhere in Canada and it would look pretty much the same. On the plus side, healthcare is free, but you’ll have to wait a long time to see a specialist. About two and a half billion years, actually, because you're going to have to wait for them to evolve. You see, this is the Toronto of the Proterozoic eon.

There’s no CN tower here, no Hockey Hall of Fame, and certainly no milk in bags. Those things are all in the distant future. There is a waterfront, though, so let’s follow this riverbed and hope it leads us there.

In the riverbed, unlike the open desert we walked through earlier, you might notice some crusty, funny-looking regolith. Check it out:

What the hell is that stuff? Is it alive?

Why yes, in fact, it is. I mean, it’s not exactly alive at this precise moment, but it was alive at one time, and it’ll be alive again just as soon as it rains. What we’re looking at is a terrestrial bacteria mat, and it’s the only living thing on dry land. Really, though, it only comes to life when that dry land is wet. Between rains, it dries out and forms these “desert crusts”1. They resemble lichens, but lichens won’t evolve for another two billion years. Lichens would consider these crusts quite primitive.

Bacterial mats such as these—composed of single-celled blue-green algae—represent the only foothold that Proterozoic life has on land. These pathetic crusts are the pioneers. They’re pushing into harsh, alien terrain, and it's fighting them every step of the way. Bombarded by radiation, starved for water when it’s dry, and poisoned by toxic concentrations of minerals when it’s wet, the odds are stacked against these brave little photosynthesizers.

So for heaven’s sake, don't step on them. Did you never hear of the butterfly effect, asshole?

Yet, despite the unforgiving environment, these bacteria are holding their own. If you look closely, you’ll find evidence of them all around these riverbeds, on the surface of the regolith and even covering exposed rock faces. Worldwide, they’re prevalent enough that the oxygen they produce is oxidizing minerals right out of the rocks, and those minerals are being washed downstream and altering the chemical make-up of the oceans2. Life on land may not be very impressive in these times, but it’s already changing the face of the planet.

But how did these bacterial mats get here? To answer that question, take off your respirator for a moment and take a whiff. The air is pretty rank, isn’t it? Kind of a mix of fart and rotten egg, eh? I guess I should have warned you about that. You might want to put some aloe up your nose.

That horrible smell is coming from the sea. The bacterial mat stuck to the bottom of your shoe grew from colonizers that blew inland, on the very same winds that carry that awful stench. Most of the bacteria that blow inland will dry up before they even hit the ground, but they remain there in desiccated hibernation until the rains come and wake them up.

But let’s keep moving. As we crest a ridge, we can finally see the beach. It's a colorful sight.

 Adapted from an image CC Steve Fareham

This is nothing like the pathetic, barely-there life we met on land. This beach teems with life. These shallow-water bacterial mats constitute the most complex and vibrant ecosystem on Earth right now. The folks in the topmost, green layer, are single-celled cyanobacteria. They have the honor of being the pinnacle of evolution—the most advanced life on the planet.

Yeah, in this eon, the pinnacle of evolution is pond scum. Makes you wonder what they'll think of people in 2.5 Billion A.D. Assuming we don't, you know, destroy the planet and forestall all further advancement of life.

We'll study these funny little organisms (I mean cyanobacteria, not people) in more detail next time. For now, look at the water.

That ain't Lake Ontario out there. If you're thinking it might be the Atlantic, you're wrong again. The Atlantic Ocean doesn’t exist yet, and the great lakes are further still in the future. In fact, the North American continental plate hasn’t even formed. In this time, what will become North America is nothing but a scattered group of archipelagoes in a shallow sea—a sea so ancient, it doesn’t even have a name. But we’re here now, so let’s go ahead and give it one.

We’ll call it Mare Eggfart.

Here in the early Proterozoic Eon, the archipelagos of Mare Eggfart are slowly spreading away from each other, following the breakup of the supercontinent Kenorland. In a few hundred million years, Mare Eggfart will become a proper ocean. But after that, in about seven-hundred million years, the archipelagos will come crashing back in on each other, permanently fusing together to make Laurentia, a continent which will eventually form most of modern North America.

If you want to fast forward a little and watch the continental plates form, you can check that out here. But that's all in the future, which we'll get to in the next installments.


If you just can't wait for next time, check out some other science articles in our handy-dandy Archives.

Citations and References
  1. J. William Schopf and Cornelis Klein. The Proterozoic Biosphere: A Multidisciplinary Study. Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge. 1992. pg 324
  2. Struken, et al. Contributions to Late Archaean sulphur cycling by life on land. Nature Geoscience 5, 722-725 (2012)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane - Showcase #9

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m coming at this one blind. This is my first time reading Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane, so I’m as disgustingly ignorant as you are.

For example, I have no idea why “Girl Friend” is two words. According to Wikipedia, which I’ve had to resort to using because of my disgusting ignorance, “girlfriend” was one word as early as 1863. So did the writers of Lois Lane not know that, or are we meant to find significance in the ambiguity implied by splitting it into two?


I guess, for the first time since I started school, I’ll have to resort to thinking for myself. This is going to be a disaster, isn’t it?

Well then, we might as well get it started.

The inaugural adventure of Lois Lane comes from issue number 9 of Showcase. Showcase is the laudable anthology series that, only five issues earlier, introduced Barry Allen’s Flash and kickstarted the Silver Age of Comics, so they have a lot to live up to.

Lois Lane brings in the big guns right out of the gate, tapping Lana Lang from Superboy. Yeah, I know that was a three-way mixed metaphor, and I don’t care. But speaking of three-ways, check out Lana’s introduction: “when she and Lois meet, strange and exciting things happen.” So… we’re talking about a Superman sandwich here, right? I mean, what else could it mean?

While we’re waiting for that to happen, the story opens with Lana surprising Clark at work. Clark makes sure to compare Lana negatively to Lois, because even when appearing in Lois', he’s still a total dick. Only after dissing both of them does he make introductions and HOLY CATS WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO CLARK’S HEAD?

Why is his head so tiny? His body is normal size. His shoulder is normal sized. Even his neck is normal sized. And then there’s just this teeny tiny head. Based on the perspective in this panel, I would estimate that Clark’s left shoulder is in the foreground in front of Lois and Lana, and his head is somewhere on the outskirts of Metropolis.

Must be one of Superman’s lesser-known powers.

Frightened by this display of way-too-forced perspective, Lois and Lana decide to go out to lunch and talk about how duped they are.

Jesus, what does it take for you guys to put two and two together? I mean, come on, you’ve seen Superman and you've seen Clark Kent. This isn’t a vague sketch of Heisenberg that looks kind of like Walter White. Clark and Supes are virtually identical. How the hell do you look at them and say, “I know there’s a pattern here, but I just can’t tell what it is.”

Anyway, Lana doesn’t have an apartment in Metropolis, so Lois invites her to crash at her place and “see how things work out,” as this comic veers ever-closer to porn territory.

At Lois’ apartment, Lana sees pictures of Superman plastered all over the walls, and she doesn’t find this the least bit peculiar. So yeah, these two are going to get along great. They begin exchanging stories about Superman kissing them (that’s how it always starts,) but they get sidetracked by the question of who Superman loves best.

Lana intends to settle the argument by proving that he prefers her. She'll do this by inviting him to lunch and seeing if he accepts. Umm… okay. Lois counters with her own plan, as yet unstated, but hopefully less prone to false positives.

So Supes goes to lunch with Lana, and is apparently eating the flower arrangement, when suddenly…

Lois appears and causes Superman’s head shrink down to about the size of his fist. Now, that alone should be proof that Clark and Supes are the same guy. I mean, who else in Metropolis can shrink their head that much?

But that’s not the point. The point is, Lois pretends to have an appointment in five minutes. So this is her brilliant experiment. If Superman takes two seconds out of his lunch date to fly Lois to her appointment, it means he loves Lois more than Lana.

Sounds reasonable.

But! Superman somehow finds a way to muddy the results of this otherwise unimpeachable experiment. He talks to the junk dealer who’s set up shop right outside this posh restaurant and borrows some scrap metal from him. Then he… Listen, you're not going to believe this if I tell you, so just read for yourself.

There are so many levels of what the fuck in these two little panels, I don’t even know where to begin.

Okay, for one thing, don’t you think there are easier ways to acquire nails? Two, why is everyone in this comic book drawn like they’re eighty years old? Three, why is Lois’ hat/yarmulke embedded three inches deep in her skull? I mean, don’t get me wrong, it explains a lot, but how did it happen? Then there’s question four: how the hell do you build a kite out of nails? Where did you get the paper? The wood? The yarn? And what the hell did you even need the nails for?


And why do you need a kite anyway? Of all these questions, only the last is actually answered when, on the next page, we find out what Superman’s plan for Lois is.

I just… I have no words.

All my words are gone.

They left.

On that kite.

That kite Lois is tied to.

My words left on it.

Now that Superman has done a pointlessly dangerous and convoluted favor for Lois while having lunch with Lana, he has to do the same for Lana while having lunch with Lois. The next day, Lana asks Supes to lend her some moral support at her television audition, which is the same time as his date with Lois. It's basically just Lois' plan in reverse.

So naturally, Superman cuts down the rainforest.

I mean, what else could he do, right? He had no other option.

With the lumber he’s harvested, he builds a platform outside the window of the TV studio where Lana is auditioning.

 “They laughed at me when I put a big fucking window in my television studio. But who’s laughing now, huh? Who’s laughing now?”

You know, Kal-El, some people manage to multitask without even having superpowers.
So, Lana and Lois decide that their seemingly rock-solid scientific experiment has proved inconclusive. They come up with a brand new plan—a plan that can’t possibly go wrong.
 In 50 years, this guy’s going to be selling Predator drones to the CIA.

I love how the salesman casually adds, “they’re perfectly safe” to the end of his comment. Because, seriously, when I think of safety, the first thing that pops into my head is a remote-controlled steamroller. I mean, what could possibly go wrong with that?
Also, is there a big market for remote-controlled steamrollers? In what situation would that be useful? I mean, it’s not like it controls itself (which, I’m sure, would be even safer,) so it doesn’t actually save on manpower. I’m not sure how this company attracted investors.

So Lois and Lana put their plan into action, which involves putting both their lives in danger at the same time, and…  Umm… hey, comic artists? Can we maybe draw Superman’s face the same way in two contiguous panels? No? Okay, fine.

I’m starting to see why everyone’s so confused about Superman’s identity, though. The guy’s a fucking chimera.
So Superman, who has basically taken over the comic at this point, decides to teach them a lesson by ignoring both of them and letting them die. Which, in fairness, is probably what I would do if I was him.
But all is not as it seems! In reality, Superman carefully managed the situation so they would both be saved by apparent happenstance, and it would only look like he was going to let them die.

And that’s where it ends, with Lois and Lana definitely not getting their deposit back on that steamroller. And now, instead of wondering which one Superman loves best, they only have to wonder whether he wants them both dead. That’s fantastic. Lois is going to be looking over her shoulder all the way home, wondering whether each moment might be her last—whether she’ll see a blue and red streak behind her, and then oblivion.

Though, really, could the first Lois Lane comic have ended any other way?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

More Letters

I've been writing letters again. Text versions are below the cut.

And more letters...

But in the end, all things must be balanced.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Group Project

To this day, I shiver whenever I hear the words, “Group Project.” A chill runs down my spine. I begin to sweat. The world around me darkens, and the camera of life pulls out in an unsettling, Hitchcockian dolly zoom.

I see that some of you are nodding your heads. You remember school, and you understand the dread terror of the group project. You know exactly what I’m talking about.

But if you don’t know what I’m talking about? If, in fact, you’re thinking, “Hold on, I loved group projects”?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Perspectives Differ: Death Star Technicians

Here follows the final text message exchange between Death Star engineers Alysha Serasai, 1st Technician, Reactor Core Sector, and Rax Nooram, 2nd Technician, Outer Sprawls Sector 12.

Alysha: Up for dinner tonight?  :)

Rax: Sorry, can’t. I had to work late installing a homing beacon in an old Corellian freighter they tractored in and I missed the last express elevator. I’d take the regular elevator, but I wouldn’t get there until late. Why the hell does this space station have to be so damn big?

Alysha: It really doesn’t. They have a prototype version of the Death Star orbiting a black hole in The Maw. It’s a quarter the mass of this one and requires less than one tenth the crew, and it works just fine. I saw them test it. But now it’s just sitting out there, gathering accretion dust.

Rax: So why the hell did they build this one?

Alysha: You know how the Empire is. Why make something normal sized, when you can make it impractically large? All those subcontractors need to wet their beaks, and no Moff wants to command a battlestation that has less than a million people on it. Not enough prestige.

Rax: Ugh. Government.