Liver flukes

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Looks pretty gross, huh? These things suck. If a person gets an infestation of these flukes, they can cause cholangiocarcinoma, a rare cancer. Even sweeter, a person can be infected for decades without knowing it, and the cancer develops from an inflammation of the bile ducts.

Nice. You want to know what else sucks besides the flukes? Some of the bureaucrats in Compensation and Pension at the VA. It seems that an unusually large amount of Vietnam veterans have came down with this rare cancer, and some of the C&P folks are hemming and hawing about guys getting these rare cancers from flukes found- you guessed it- in the rivers and streams of Vietnam.

You can read the AP press release here.

Typical. This seems to me to be a fairly clear-cut case of a service connection for an ailment directly caused by wartime conditions, and guys have to fight hard to get their claims verified. According to the press release, denials are common, and sometimes people have to fight for years for a resolution of their cases. Of course, victims of cholangiocarcinoma usually have a poor prognosis so I’d imagine a number of them die before anything comes of their claim. And who knows how many of them have died undiagnosed?

Hard to tell.

Full disclosure: I have an axe to grind with C&P. In combat, I was thrown over a wall by an RPG blast. I struck my head with some violence. Later on, I was in a building that was struck multiple times with recoilless rifle fire. Then I was gunning on a truck and we struck a building, then a tree. I was battered by bricks, branches, and the spade handles of my weapon. All in the same day. Now my neck and back hurt, a lot. I’ve been denied a “service connection” for my spinal stuff four times. The process has worn me down, put one in the WIN column for C&P.

So I get where these guys are coming from- being diagnosed with some weird cancer and then getting the runaround from the VA. Really makes me wonder about all of that oh-so-hygenic food I ate with my Afghans- those guys were all sick with something or the other, and I saw where the water came from that we made our tea out of- some mucky ditch with dead stuff floating in it. LOL, maybe me and the guys on my team all have flukes, too. God knows most of us had dysentery.

Good times.

Hey, I’d rather talk about that cool interstellar asteroid thing- what a weird story. Cool as hell, mysterious, and something that really makes you wonder.

But I saw the article about the flukes and decided to write about that, instead.

The VA accomplishes tremendous amounts of work for little thanks, and to the medical professionals there who care and do their jobs, my sincere thanks. Only a small minority give veterans a hard time, but unfortunately, those people draw a lot of notice and press.

I wish there was a mechanism whereby you could take an overzealous beancounter and magically teleport him or her into combat hell and let them see what it’s like. After their hair starts to gray, teleport them back into their cosy chair.

Maybe some things would change.

 

 

Sophia the android

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Whoa. I missed the boat on what is older news (April 2017)- Sophia the life-like robot, developed by Hanson Robotics.

I was kickin’ back at a buddy’s house and he handed me his phone and said “Check this out.” We always talk over a large variety of stuff, and I watched the video and we talked about Sophia, the world’s most lifelike and intelligent android.

This is crazy stuff, science fiction come true. A human-like robot mated with a supercomputer. I knew that advances in robotics and artificial intelligence have been accelerating, but somehow I missed Sophia- a real breakthrough.

Here is a machine that shows the potential of creating robots that look like us and learn- remarkable. Eerie.

I’m not sure what to make of this development. I know what Elon Musk thinks, and if you have a chance, read up on his work in Brain Machine Interfaces, it’ll take a while, but it’s worth checking out.

Artificial intelligence is a sword that cuts both ways, as with all technological advances. Personally, I think it would be best to give each human their own AI companion/internet link so that we can develop a partnership with the computers (like in my books), as opposed to an adversarial relationship (think Terminator.) Way too easy to think of all the ways this could go wrong. If handled properly, though, it could be great.

At a minimum, these life-like robots will be developed as servants, companions and sex toys. I’ll bet money on that. One can use one’s imagination to go on from there. Expert assassins, kindly teachers, the list goes on.

Sophia is just the start, people want this to happen. Whether it’s a good idea? Give it a decade or two and we’ll find out.

Surely coming to a Wal-Mart near you by 2040.

 

 

Chevy builds ’em tough

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Hey everybody. It’s been a rough week.

Without getting into a lot of detail, I can definitely recommend the Chevy Impala family of cars to anybody wanting to buy a new ride.

Why? My Impala saved my family’s bacon a couple of days ago when we were involved in a serious crash not too far from my house. We were going out for food, it was just another afternoon, nothing special. I was driving, my wife and two kids were in the car. The road I was driving on was rural, there was little traffic. Suddenly, I noticed a vehicle approaching in my lane at a high rate of speed.

Had about a second to react. I braked and dumped my car into the ditch. The other driver hit my door, the side airbags blew and we ground to a halt. I asked if everyone was alright, they were OK, we exited the vehicle on the passenger side quickly.

Couldn’t get out of the driver side for obvious reasons, things were twisted up and stuck fast. As you can see in the picture, however, the actual chassis was unbuckled and the safety features worked like a charm.

As it was two of us had to leave in an ambulance (I do love being strapped to a spine board for five hours), and we all got some quality time in the local hospital. Everyone was stiff and sore, but it could have been much worse. Pretty scary.

I was impressed by the Impala. The police said the other car was probably going about 50mph when they struck us, and we walked away from it, mostly. My car is shot, but I will remember it fondly.

I’ve already picked out its replacement- another Chevy sedan, a few years newer.

Why mess with a good thing?

John Birmingham’s sandbox

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So John Birmingham, the author of many cool books, has decided to create an apocalyptic universe. Writing about the apocalypse is not unique. There are many very good books that cover the subject, such as On The Beach, Alas, Babylon and The Stand. The approach that Birmingham has taken, though, is unique.

He has decided to make his book a shared experience with his readers through a pay-to-play format on Patreon. Here’s a thumbnail sketch of how it works. There are graduated paid tiers that allow readers more and more access to the inner workings of the writing- readers get to see the book as it is written, the raw manuscript. They get to comment on the plot and characters, become part of the process.

For an aspiring writer or avid fan of sci-fi, it really doesn’t get any better than this. JB is offering his acolytes a chance to become the beast at the very low price of two bucks a month for the starter tier. Let’s get real- you spend more than that on gas picking up junk food at the grocery store.

Click on this link and get started. There is nothing cooler than watching a book being born. And that is exactly what JB is giving people a chance to do.

BTW, I signed up (hell yes, of course) and contributed a short story to his universe based upon a tale I heard often while growing up- the death of my uncle in Korea, 1952.

Below is a teaser for the short I submitted to JB. It depicts heavy combat in Korea as the world comes apart at the seams.

The leaden sky promised more rain, but the thunder in Rick Johnson’s ears wasn’t a function of the weather. He walked northeast along Route Sword with his drenched companions; his heavy equipment weighed him down and choked him. An unidentifiable foul smell arose from the rice paddies on both sides of the road, and another smell wafted from the windows and wrecked chassis of smashed cars along the freeway.

In the short time that he had been in Korea, mortal corruption was the most common stink of all. Rick had smelled it when he stepped off the C-17 that landed at an improvised highway airfield, and it was so strong now that he felt his gorge rise. A half-burned corpse hung out of a small blue car’s window, liquids dripped onto the pavement below. He stepped on a Hello Kitty purse, he shrugged and pulled out some smokes. Artfully juggling his little machine gun so that it didn’t slip from its perch on his chest, he jammed a butt between his teeth and lit up. As he did so, the linked 5.56 in its plastic drum rattled like a snake.

More follows, but not on this page.

By all means, join JB’s site. It’s not every day that a bestselling author gives his readers a chance like this.

 

Moon Cave!

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Hey readers. As you all know, I try to keep up with what’s happening with scientific developments, sci-fi lit and movies, etc. So I was pretty excited when I came across a cool article about a Japanese scientific team who discovered a huge cave on the moon. By all means click on the article and read more.

This is a big deal. A large cave of this type could form as a habitat for a manned lunar base- a goal that people like Elon Musk are working on as we speak.

It looks as if the way forward in space will be blazed by private concerns, as opposed to the big government programs of the past. There are a lot of things happening in this regard right now, from Space X to SpaceShipOne.

Most excellent.

Maybe we will see significant advances in space exploration and technology within our lifetimes. Dreamers are dreaming, and putting their visions into reality. It’s what humans do.

Writers imagined the future through science fiction, and fans who also turned out to be engineers, aerospace techs, physicists, billionaires and the like are turning the works into reality.

Super cool stuff.

The Sea Peoples, review.

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I have been a fan of S.M. Stirling’s work for quite some time. I discovered his novels in a tent library in the Middle East somewhere around the start of our current wars- I would go there to relax between work and missions. The libraries were populated by donations from the USO and other organizations; there would always be the latest books on offer.

One day I found a hardcover first edition of “Dies the Fire,” I read the back cover, liked the premise, and was hooked thereafter. I still have that book; I brought it home in my duffel. It occupies a place of honor on my bookshelf to this day.

“Dies the Fire” was the first book in the Change series, and “The Sea Peoples” is the latest offering. For years Stirling has released a new book in the series at about this time every year, and I’ve looked forward to them each time. This year was no exception.

Let’s talk about “The Sea Peoples.” First, this book should not be read as a standalone. I think if you try that you’ll be lost as all the characters are grown through the preceding works. So by all means read the Change, or Emberverse, series from beginning to end. Stirling’s latest offering will make sense if you do so. In addition, I would recommend that you read the “Nantucket” series first, as they are linked on the flip side of the Change series. I know, it’s a lot of reading, but in my opinion it’s well worth it.

I will attempt to do this review without significant spoilers. First off, the book is a bit esoteric as it uses the switchback technique between events that happen in the “real” world, and events that happen in the dream sequence of Prince John and companions. Both are linked to each other in a way that makes sense, and the two halves come together at the conclusion. The finale is open-ended, of course, as befits a book that is meant as a bridge in a series.

The writing bears all of Stirling’s hallmarks. There is a lot of action, vividly described. There are feasts, recreated in loving detail. Then there are various stages and settings for the scenes, strikingly described. His universe, while wholly fictional, is immersive, detailed, and believable. The “good” guys are likable, and the “bad” guys are repulsive. I find myself cheering for the heroes, and wanting to run a sword through the villains. This is success on the part of the writer.

One needs an imagination to enjoy his latest work, and the ability to suspend disbelief. Of course, Stirling writes about a future where gods walk the earth once more and demons fill the black voids left behind by modern society’s death. If you can put yourself in a universe where cities are desolate, rotten deathtraps and sources of salvage and survivors attempt to recreate civilization in the ruins, then this series and his latest offering are for you.

The author casts us into a near-to-far future where danger is omnipresent, ghosts are real, and the stakes for humanity are high. Recommend this book as an installment on an excellent series.

Movie night, Blade Runner 2049

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I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of Blade Runner 2049 since I first heard of it. Last night, I went and saw it on opening night with my daughter.

Before we went, we both watched the original movie. Turns out that that’s really a requirement for seeing the new one, which may serve to hamper sales in this stunningly beautiful sequel.

What can I say? The film was faithful to the feel of the original, and like the original it examined what it means to be human through the eyes of our manufactured servants, “replicants.”

The bad guys were truly bad, the good guys were flawed, vulnerable. All struggled in a future Earth where everyone who could left to “off world,” humanity’s expanding interstellar diaspora.

I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. It was a thoughtful, intricate tale with stunning visuals and a well-constructed soundtrack. To the last moment, I was sucked up in the film and the ending made me want more. Ah, the ending. I won’t do spoilers, but the ending was no ending. It was another beginning.

Now, my daughter thought the original was better than 2049. She agreed that the visuals were excellent, and that the movie was well made. However, she was somewhat turned off by the length, and by the slow build-up of tension. Also, some of the plot twists left her scratching her head and served as a distractor.

Her opinion may be more typical of the average younger movie goer, and if so, then 2049 will have a rough road at the box office.

That would be a real shame, as this movie begs for another to follow on its heels.

Blade Runner 2049 is an excellent tale of a future where the line between man and machine is blurred, and our better natures might be expressed best through our creations.

Recommend. Do go see it.

 

Smart thinking

MissionReady_IrregularWarfareAs my long time readers know, I have been following developments on the Air Force choosing a possible replacement for the A-10. Well, they have really surprised me.

It seems the AF is going to deploy two finalists in their competition to an actual combat theatre for a final test. An article here tells about their decision.

As I wrote in an earlier post, one of the aircraft that will be deployed is the Textron AT-6, a stout, deadly little turboprop. This is an aircraft tailor made for the CAS role- lots of loiter time, tons of munitions, and capable of taking some hits.

However, the Air Force will test the bird for real. In combat. And the winner will get the contract.

I have to hand it to the boys (and girls) in blue. This is a no-kidding common sense way to pick a combat aircraft. Put up or shut up, load it with munitions and send it into harm’s way.

It’s a genuine acid test that no amount of simulation can equal. I wouldn’t have believed the DOD was capable of common sense with weapons procurement, and then they go and do something like this.

Good luck, and may the best aircraft win.

No oxygen = no rust or rot

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Something I’ve been following a bit for a while is research being conducted in the Black Sea off of Bulgaria. Saw a new article about it today, check it out. It seems there is a bit of water there that is very deep with an “anoxic,” or oxygen depleted zone.

While that may be bad for fishers, it’s great for researchers. Turns out that stuff that falls into the anoxic zone stays there, and doesn’t rot. Within the zone are an unknown number of ships from the distant past with apparently perfectly preserved wooden structures and cargoes.

Wow. I’m a bit of a sucker for relics and exploration, and this really interests me. I’m sure there are any number of historians and nautical hobbyists who think this is cool as well. Imagine, a seabed strewn with wrecks from the past several thousand years.

All kinds of really cool stuff waiting to be found down there.

You know, we supposedly know so much about this wonderful planet of ours and stuff like this still pops up. I think we really don’t know half of the story.

Imagine what we’ll find if we ever manage to leave Earth and go out into space. It’ll be one crazy discovery after the next, and we’ll never more than scratch the surface for many thousands of years.

Be nice to see a real move in that direction within my lifetime. We’ll see.

A long walk

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I’d like you to think today about the longest walk you’ve ever made. Maybe some of you have never walked more than a few kilometers, maybe some of you are backpacking fanatics who have walked hundreds of klicks, camping and taking in the fresh air.

Well, I came across an article about a guy who puts us all to shame. It’s about a dude who goes by the nickname “string bean,” and he walked the entire Appalachian Trail (some 1700 miles) in forty-five days. Forty-five days. The forestry service recommends that you set aside four or five months of your life to walk that hike, and this guy did it in a fraction of the nominal time.

Amazing. In his final leg of the journey he walked for thirty-seven hours straight, some 117 miles non-stop.

Holy crap. His example goes to show you what humans are actually capable of- I think of twenty-five miles as a good day’s pace- and this guy walks over a hundred.

And he did it over broken, arduous terrain carrying all of his own equipment.

I bow before the master.

Yeah, I’ve done some long hikes loaded down like a mule, that’s why I included the pic above. Not to admire my ugly mug, but because this is the one photo I have of me that shows the bottoms of my feet clearly- the lugs are worn off of my desert boots, those things saw a lot of walking over there. (BTW, I still have those boots.)

So yeah, I have a little feel for where this guy is coming from. But I can’t fathom walking over a hundred miles without a pause. The article talks about his recovery from the hike, he talks about swollen joints, battered feet, and a ravenous appetite. No kidding.

Funny enough, but the worst walk I can remember was during training, not combat. I was at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and we had to make an assault at dawn. We started walking at sunset on a frigid evening and we moved all night long to our jump-off point, a nameless point on the map. We walked up and down hills, through streams and swamps, we thrashed through brush and generally humped our gear beneath the cruel stars. I was carrying the 240B, my arms went entirely numb. At some point a dude went crazy, he started screaming about his feet. My canteens froze shut, no hydration for me. It was a pretty miserable experience.

But like many Army experiences, I learned from it. The lesson was that no matter how heavy the load, no matter how far or pointless the walk, you can persevere.

Just keep setting one foot in front of the other.

It was an important life lesson.

I’d like to hear from you all about similar experiences, your own version of the long walk. It need not be a vignette that involves physical movement, but rather a journey either physical or mental that helped to build character.

We’ve all had those moments in our lives.