How Facebook Protects Us From the Common Cold

This is how my mind works. I see a bit of science and then my brain starts making connections, not all of them logical, mind you. (I am a writer of fiction). What comes out the other end is a pseudo-rational idea that can create a wonderful seed for a novel, or just a conversation piece.

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The Ceti eel was a burrowing desert animal native to the planet Ceti Alpha V (from the Wrath of Khan Star Trek movie).

I recently watched a TED talk by British science writer Ed Young (you can watch it here). In it, he postulated that parasitic behavior is very common and it causes larger organisms to change their behavior. One example that grabbed my attention was a tapeworm that infects tiny shrimp (commonly called sea monkeys). The parasite changes the pigmentation of the shrimp, coloring them red. It also causes them to group together. All of this makes them easier to eat by a flamingo. It just so happens that the flamingo is the exact place the tapeworm needs to be to reproduce.

The fact that such a small organism like a tapeworm can orchestrate such a devious plan for reproduction is mind boggling. What’s more intriguing is that is happens in mammals too.

Mr. Young mentioned a single cell parasite called Toxo (Toxoplasma gondii) that infects mice and releases dopamine into their brains. Bascially, the parasite rewards the mouse for running toward a cat, rather than away. The cat gets a meal and the Toxo parasite gets a host where it can reproduce.

Mr. Young emphasized that this is a single cell organism. No brain. No long term planning. Yet it can force a mammal to do it’s bidding in much the same way we control our cars or smartphones.

Mr. Young also states that nearly 1 in 3 people have Toxo lurking inside our brains (dormant, mind you, because we’re not a cat). Yet there is speculation (and tiny bits of evidence) that Toxo affects human behavior. People with Toxo score differently on tests. There’s a slightly higher chance of accidents with Toxo infected people. Also there’s a link between schizophrenia and Toxo infestation (a small one, mind you). But that’s enough to get you thinking, isn’t it?

What if there were some sorts of parasites, as yet undetected, that do control our behavior? Think of the common cold. It only thrives because we humans like to socialize in groups. This makes it easier for the cold to propagate. If we lived isolated lives, the cold would hardly be an illness.

Now the cold isn’t a parasite. Yet it makes me wonder if there were biological forces controlling us. If so, social media sites, like Facebook, would be the panacea. They allow us humans to socialize without physical contact. Imagine if the whole world operated this way—with the only socialization through the internet. Besides the frightening and dystopian overtones, it would have the effect of almost eliminating most diseases. Without new hosts to spread to, many would die off.

Yet humans are capable to creating new parasitic threats. Simple advertising is a “crude and blundering” attempt to control our brains (according to Mr. Young). Facebook itself has apps, like Farmville, that take over your brain and not only compel you to play, but to reach out to others and lure them in. How is this different from a parasite?

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Vera is pulled into the computer and forcibly transformed into a cyborg (from Superman III)

Again, I’m taking huge leaps of logic. The result isn’t intended to hold up to scientific scrutiny. Rather I want to give you something to think about. Maybe the next time you open up that addicting app, you might think: Am I controlling the app, or is the app controlling me?

Tim Kane

Luke Rykell and the Cursed Tarot Deck

How can you trace the origin of evil? Sometimes it begins with good intentions or a desire to staunch a great sorrow. The Rykell Tarot cards began this way: with actions of love, death, and betrayal. The full story of how this single deck of Tarot cards managed to survive more than 600 years is mystery. Only islands of certainty exist.

The earliest photo of the Rykell Tarot taken circa 1860.

The earliest photo of the Rykell Tarot taken circa 1860.

We know that Luke John Rykell was born in England around 1400. He went on to become a tregetour, or a juggler and magician, for the royal court in London. John Lydgate, a monk and poet, wrote about Luke Rykell performing for Henry V. Lydgate spoke of Rykell’s keen ability at sleight of hand, earning him the honor of an audience with the king.

Maister John Rykell, sometime tregitour
Of noble Henry kinge of Englonde,
And of France the mighty conqueror;
For all the sleightes, and turnyng of thyne honde,
Thou must come nere this dance, I understonde;
Nought may avail all thy conclusions,
For Dethe shortly, nother on see nor land,
Is not desceyved by no illusions.To this summons the sorrowful juggler replies:–

Death was not deceived by Luke’s parlor tricks and made itself known through the Black plague. The disease whipped through Luke’s troop of performers, killing everyone except Luke and his brother. In the wake of this disaster, the cursed Tarot cards were born.

It is rumored that Luke Rykell, distraught over the death of his only love (an unnamed girl performer in his troop), struck a deal with the Devil.

Luke travelled to Scotland to a plot of land called Clootie’s Croft. This land was left untilled as a gift to the devil. There he agreed to create the Tarot cards with a spirit known as Donald Cloots. The spirit is trapped in the cards and feeds on the souls of the people who use the deck.

The first documented appearance of the cards doesn’t happen again until over 400 years later. Eleanore Bishop came across the cards while traveling in Europe. She brought the deck back to the Philadelphia.

The only photo that survives is one showing her standing next to a chair. The empty seat represents her husband, who vanished mysteriously.

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Rumors swirled around his disappearance. Some say he travelled south to fight in the Civil War and was killed in battle. However her husband, Eugene Bishop, was not a fighting man. At the age of sixty-two, the most he could offer the war effort was his bankroll.

Most people assumed that Eleanore disposed of her husband in order to gain access to his fortune. Although this seems plausible, it doesn’t explain why she gave nearly all her time and resources into a church run charity. Was it guilt over possible involvement in her husband’s death?

One detail that evades us is the photo itself. The fingerprints on the front show that someone held the picture a short time after it was taken. (The tintype photos used the wet process of collodion emulsion, which was sensitive to the touch.) Therefore, it must have been held by someone who witnessed the sitting for the photograph. These prints match those found at a crime scene in 1942, eighty years after the photo was taken.

Moreover, several other fingerprints, from the 1960s and 1980s, both match the original prints on the photograph. Could these all belong to the same person? Perhaps Luke Rykell has kept himself alive through the cursed tarot cards.

We do know that shortly after Eugene Bishop’s death, there is no further mention of the Tarot cards. On her death bed, in 1888, a witness remembered and wrote down Eleanore Bishop’s final words.

“My only crime came not from my soul, but the luck of the draw.”

Tim Kane

Tarot: The Magician Cover Reveal Giveaway

Love. Death. Betrayal.

It’s All in the Cards.

Tarot Cover Art 72

 

Available May 27

When Kassandra Troy discovers an ancient tarot deck, her life takes a thrilling and frightening turn. She triggers The Magician card, and releases the mysterious and captivating Luke Rykell. He lifts Kassandra out of despair, dispelling the devastation she feels after her father’s death. But Luke has a dark secret. He wants the magical deck for himself. The only way Kassandra can save herself is to journey into the Tarot cards. But once inside, can she ever escape?

Irresistibly compelling and heart-wrenching, Tarot: The Magician is a superb fantasy tale that will haunt you long after you’ve read the last page.

Tarot Cover Art Teaser

I love making book trailers. So much so, I made one just for the cover reveal of the book. Check it out.

Giveaway Details

Okay folks. This is it. By helping me promote Tarot: The Magician, you can win a tarot decl of your own.

Tarot prize 2

Click anywhere on the image below to take you to enter the giveaway.

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Hero of Alexandria was the Tony Stark of His Day

If the ancient world has taught me anything it’s this: Everything was invented thousands of years ago. Only we’ve forgotten nearly all of it.

Hero Iron Man

One such uber-inventer was Hero of Alexandria (also called Heron). He lived and studied in the city of Alexandria in Egypt (between 60 and 70 AD). This city had become a center for learning, drawing scholars from all over the ancient world to exchange ideas and, in Hero’s case, build some pretty cool machines.

Hero was responsible for the first steam engine, wind-powered machines, robots, and the railroad. After that, he built some more crazy contraptions. Enough to make Wile E Coyote look like a layabout.

Hero had the disadvantage of being born two centuries before the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution. Thus, most of his inventions were millennia before their time. Even his own life is a mystery. He most likely taught at the Musaeum at Alexandria, the gathering place for scholars. It was there that he thought up his Iron Man inventions.

The Steam Engine

Okay, so this wasn’t the type of steam engine that could power a locomotive across the Wild West. But it could have, if Hero had spent more time on perfecting it. Basically he used steam to cause a ball to spin around, thus converting heat into mechanical energy. Hero called this an aeolipile.

Aeolipile

 

Hero’s Aeolipile was a fascinating curio and nothing more because although it could create mechanical energy, there were no gears or cars or other machines that could use that energy. This was the ancient world after all. However, there is no other mention of such a device until we get to the Ottoman inventor Taqi al-Din in 1577, who was hailed as the greatest scientist on Earth. If he was the greatest for copying Hero’s steam engine, what does that make Hero?

Railroad

Instead of iron tracks, the ancient world’s version of a rail road consisted of grooved paths pulled by people or horses. The most famous was the Diolkos, cutting across the narrow isthmus of Corinth. It allowed ships to be hauled overland (sort of like a land version of the Panama Canal).

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Hero didn’t invent the railroad. It dated back to 600 BCE. However, if Hero had combined it with his steam engine, we’d have the industrial revolution back in ancient Greece. Imagine steampunks in togas.

Robots

Although he might not have created the railroad, Hero was very much into automating tasks. He created all sorts of devices that were “programmed” to do certain functions and the left alone (with no human input) to complete those functions.

He constructed an automaton called “”Hercules and the Dragon”, powered by water. As water pours into the container Hercules hits the dragon’s head. This causes the dragon to shoot water into Hercules’ face.

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He used wind to power a pipe organ (making him the first to use wind to power a machine). As the arm turned from the wind, it transferred the motion to an air compressor. Then the organ was activated, the air was released to create a flute sound.

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He even created a vending machine that served up holy water.

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Drop a coin into the slot and a balance beam moves, drawing out a plug from a jar of holy water. As the balance beam reverts to equilibrium, the jug of holy water is sealed and your purchase ends. If only Hero had invented the candy bar.

And yes, he also made the very first robot. Sources suggest that Heron created a cart programmed to move along different directions. Around 60 CE, he built a cart with a rope wrapped around two independent axles. A falling weight provided the power. Pegs projected from the axle (sort of like cogs) and Heron used these to change how the rope was wound around the axel. This let the cart change direction and move the way Hero wanted to.

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The cart was controlled with knots tied to ropes. When Hero pulled a rope, the knot moved a lever which caused certain actions to happen. He used the same process to create a mechanical play almost 10 minutes long, including dropping metal balls onto a sheet of metal to resemble thunder.

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Genius at Math

If you any doubts that Hero was a genius way before his time, take a look at his mathematical accomplishments. He came up with the basics for Fermat’s principle. Hero stated that a light ray would always take the shortest route between two points. This is the basis for optics and fiber optics.

In his spare time, he discovered a quick way to find the square root of a number. He also created a formula (called Hero’s formula) to calculate the area of any triangle using only the lengths of its sides. Finally he discovered imaginary numbers. No, they’re not made up. When you square a number, say 4, the result is 16. When you square a negative number, like -4, the result it also 16. (The negatives cancel out). But, what happens when you take the square root of a negative number, like -16. The answer isn’t 4 or -4. It’s imaginary 4 (can you tell I was a math geek in school?).

Enough. Let it be known that Hero of Alexandria was the most amazing inventor of the ancient world, and perhaps all time.

Tim Kane

Tarot Cover Art

The new cover art for Tarot: The Magician is coming on April 12th. I have to say, I’m very excited about this. First book. First cover. This project (the novel, I mean) has been five years in the making.

Tarot Cover Giveaway

I’m also hosting a giveaway for a tarot deck starting on the 12th. Come on back and check it out.

Love. Death. Betrayal.

It’s All in the Cards.

Tarot Cover Art 72 question

Coming in May 27

Blurb for Tarot: The Magician

When Kassandra Troy discovers an ancient tarot deck, her life takes a thrilling and frightening turn. She triggers The Magician card, and releases the mysterious and captivating Luke Rykell. He lifts Kassandra out of despair, dispelling the devastation she feels after her father’s death. But Luke has a dark secret. He wants the magical deck for himself. The only way Kassandra can save herself is to journey into the Tarot cards. But once inside, can she ever escape?

Irresistibly compelling and heart-wrenching, Tarot: The Magician is a superb fantasy tale that will haunt you long after you’ve read the last page.

Tim Kane

The Surreal Terror of Sleep Paralysis

Sleep paralysis has a logical and scientific explanation. It’s a phenomenon where you partially wake up from sleep, but your muscles still remain frozen. A biological glitch in our bodies causing one part of us to wake from the dream, while the rest of the body is on lockdown. Perfectly explainable. Yet try telling that to someone who’s lived through it.

The experience can be terrible. You’re still dreaming and the things you see appear real. But you cannot move or speak or scream.

You are frozen in terror, staring up at the monstrous creations of your subconscious.

Sleep paralysis is actually a protection mechanism designed to keep you safe while dreaming. The images and scenarios in your dream are vivid and seem real. If a tiger leaps out, you scream and run. Your muscles are locked down to prevent you from flailing about or making a large racket (that would have attracted predators back in the day).

Even as we understand more about this phenomenon, there’s no denying the surreal quality it evokes—to see your dreams as real, right there before you. Photographer Nicolas Bruno has captured some of these images. He is a victim of sleep paralysis and his photos are a window into his subconscious mind.

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Bruno began to jot down notes about his dreams. He wanted to recreate them using recurring imagery (like gas masks, bowler hats, or lanterns) and compose them the way a painter would. His photos show a haunting world that Bruno describes as  “a bittersweet homage” to his dream-world life.

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Often times, dreams serve as a way to work through the events of a day. But dreams aren’t logical. They are an emotional outlet. You typically see your fears come alive, such as being buried alive. The fears don’t make sense. It’s your minds way of dealing with them.

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Because dreams mash up images, the result can seem surreal and downright strange. We move from place to place instantly.

The glitch of sleep paralysis has haunted humanity for thousands of years. Over that time, cultures created creatures that stalk us in the night as a way to explain the frightening sessions of paralysis. They myths center around nocturnal monsters or demons.

In the Amazon, we have the Boto, a river dolphin that transforms at night into a vaguely human creature. It wears a hat to cover it’s blowhole. In Africa, the night prowler takes the form of a bear. Known as the Tokoloshe, it slinks in at night and bites the toes off children as they sleep.

A carving of a Tokoloshe.

A carving of a Tokoloshe.

The folks at the Sleep Paralysis Project, along with director Carla MacKinnon, have created a documentary about sleep paralysis. This both serves as an explanation and a terrifying vision of the phenomenon. Be warned, if you don’t suffer from bad dreams, you will after watching this.

The film Devil in the Room depicts the grotesque creatures alongside the scientific explanation. It was meant to evoke the feeling of sleep paralysis and I say it does a damn good job.

Tim Kane