Why I Write (Or How I Started Writing)

“Two hundred years of American technology has unwittingly created a massive cement playground of unlimited potential. But it was the minds of 11 year old that could see that potential.”
– C.R. Stecyk

My first stories were skateboarding stories inspired by C. R. Stecyk‘s Skateboarder Magazine articles, his fabrication and chronicling of the Dogtown’s Z-boys’ adventures. As a sheltered kid turned skateboard geek growing up 60 miles away from Santa Monica, I was blown away by the exploits of the Z-boys and the skaters that became my heros. But I also devoured and dissected the stories and began “borrowing” his openings (which I would later learn he’d borrowed from Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett or Hunter S. Thompson), then wrote my own skateboarding procedurals.

My main character was a teenage private eye, asked to solve some mystery or another, find a missing person. Criss-crossing Southern California in a hot-rodded Volkswagen Transporter, blasting Led Zepplin and Ted Nugent, and (later) punk rock along the way, the stories inevitably climaxed with the arrival at an empty backyard swimming pool or hidden ditch that begged to be ridden. After an epic skate session, he’d solve the mystery and arrive home in time for dinner.

20. How To Clone A Dragon 2 | Can We Bioengineer Dragons?

You have to bioengineer a dragon before you can clone a dragon.

[For Part 1 of this series on How to Clone* a Dragon, click here.]

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In the first of her two part post on How to Bioengineer a Dragon, Keira Havens, of Revolution Bioengineering, argues that there should be a compelling reason to modify a living organism to create a dragon. She points out that “it is unlikely that bioengineering will be the quick and inexpensive way of accomplishing your goal” of personal transportation. Which is true, if you’re looking to create a new form of transportation.

In the end of her post, she concludes the top reason to bioengineer a dragon is “because they’re cool.”

I respectfully disagree.

While I’m more in the school of possibility and am very closely watching George Church’s Wooly Mammoth revival, I think there is a more compelling reason to bioengineer a dragon.

In describing the reasons to bring back the Wooly Mammoth, Church’s team list three reasons they are pursuing their bioengineering experiement:

  1. As an ecosystems approach to confront climate change
  2. Because ancient DNA holds secrets that impact modern biology and medicine
  3. [Cloning a mammoth] is the future of large mammal conservation

In the past year, Church’s team has inserted mammoth DNA into the cells of living elephant cell cultures. But they are a long way off from cloning a mammoth, just as we are a long way off from cloning a dragon.

So, why clone a dragon?

Not because they’re cool.

Though I do believe the creation of a complex organism like a dragon – a flying lizard able to breath fire and is intelligent enough to understand and respond to commands – is extremely cool. However, I don’t think that’s enough of a reason.

Back in 2006, The Economist reported the efforts of GeneDupe, a company purported to be cloning dragons. While the GeneDupe story turned out to be an April Fool’s Day joke (that the Economist fell for 😉 ), the story hit upon the real reason to create a dragon: for business.

Biotech pets, new animals that never existed before will create new markets. And why not? Dragons will part of that market, as will revived and extinct animals and new chimeras.

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Here’s a conversation on GoogleGroups that Revolution Bioengineering lead scientist Nikolai Braun and Keira Havens participated in early in 2015. And here’s the best answer from a Yahoo! Answers on whether a dragon could be created using synthetic biology.

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*BTW, I know, “to clone” means to make an identical biological copy. To clone a dragon implies someone has already done the hard work of bioengineering this complex organism. In a future post, I’ll describe why I chose the word “clone” versus “bioengineer.”

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Why I Keep A Journal

Why I Keep A JournalI’ve been keeping a journal for more than 25 years. I should say “mostly keeping a journal” because there have been periods of time where I haven’t written in a journal regularly – though probably, I was writing just not in a journal.

At the pace of one page per day, that’d come to 9,132 pages or some 2,283,000 words. I’m sure I’ve written five times that.

My father suggested I keep a journal of a Eurail trip I was taking after college. Since I knew I’d be spending time alone on trains, in foreign cities, and since I wanted to write professionally, I started writing in a blue lab notebook back in mid-1980s and pretty much never stopped.

If you want to keep a journal, you need a notebook.Keeping a journal became a habit pretty quickly. It’s not something I think about, I just write. (Unlike blogging which I do in fits and starts and am much more self-conscious about.)

I wonder how much that particular point in my life – my early 20s – motivated the writing. I’d just finished my formal education, hadn’t written much more than school papers and a few stories, and knew the only way I was going to become an author was to write. How much was motivated by being in that funny place between graduation and still trying to figure out who I was and what I would do. And how much was motivated by my father’s suggestion that I keep a journal.

Over the years, the journal became my the place where I’ve documented my marriage, the birth and growth of my three sons, my life in Brooklyn, and the ebb and flow of my businesses. It’s where I’ve given thanks for the blessings that fill my life, admitted my jealousies, fears, and shortcomings, celebrated successes and worked out anger and conflicts. I’ve also explored ideas for businesses, stories, novels and articles, analyzed dreams, made predictions, lamented the loss of friends and money, mourned the death of ideas that I’d finally grown out of, confessed and complained complained complained all in the confines of the written page.

The journal has taken many forms. From the blue-covered lab notebook to soft-cover oversized lab notebook, spiral-bound and hard-bound blank-paged sketch books, and loose leaf sheets of paper from companies that changed names or went out of business, canary-colored legal pads, to black-, green-, mango-covered Moleskines decorated with skateboard brand, band and random decals, I’ve written everywhere I’ve lived my life: in dens, kitchens, bedrooms, dining rooms, offices, hotel rooms, on boats, in trains, on planes, in cars. In every city I’ve lived in and visited in North and Central America and brief visits to Europe. It would be rare to find me without some kind of journal to write with.

I have tried keeping a journal on a computer, used Penzu for a couple of years, even have a secret email account that I will on occasion send notes to, but I prefer writing on paper, mostly with a fountain pen (a Lamy 2000).

Keeping a Journal with a Lamy 2000 fountain pen

The poet, Allen Ginsberg, founder and frequent lecturer at The Naropa Institute, warned me that the wrong ink, particularly ballpoint pen ink would destroy the paper. He also warned me that my journal would accumulate and that at some point, if I was diligent with my writing, I’d have to contend with quantity. It’s true, I have several plastic containers in my basement, a suitcase in an attic, and a shelf of my most recent scribblings in my bedroom.

(I’ll continue this post later.)

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Book Review: The Dog Stars

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

I’m not a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction though I’ve read more than a lifetime’s worth and I get why it is popular: We live in a world of uncertainty and great post-apocalyptic stories give us the hope that we can survive the worse of times.

Peter Heller’s brilliant The Dog Stars gives us the story of loss, survival, and love in a United States decimated by a pandemic flu. The main character, Hig, shares his life with his dog Jasper, and Bangley, his gun-loving misanthropic neighbor. Hig spends days flying above their little outpost in Northern Colorado in a Cessna, patrolling their small expanse of land. He hikes into the Rockies to hunt and fish. While Hig and Bangley kill intruders with ease, their losses are significant because their world is empty and silent, and survival forces them to keep their guard up.

Heller’s writing is a treat and he has real talent for describing nature, ratcheting up the tension, and delivering a very satisfying story.

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Regret? Is It Even Worth It? | Observation

Is it productive to regret the hours, days, months, even years you spent stressed out of your mind? The days you were worried about world events that you had no influence on? That you could never even hope to influence? The days when you were anxious over your career’s trajectory? Nervous about your finances and the debt you got yourself into? Or the relationships that you let get the best of you?

You made the choice to stay stressed out, to worrym and regret. You knew it was time wasted but you could say you couldn’t stop yourself.

Remind yourself: That is time you will never ever get back.

And remind yourself the next time you start regretting your past:  You make the choice to learn the lesson or not.

Move on.

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Minecraft for Teaching Biotech | Minecraft Biotech

Teaching Biotech With Minecraft Is Easy

Minecraft could be the ultimate biotech learning tool.

Kids that play the game are already used to crafting – taking blocks of stone, wood, ore and creating novel tools and materials on a crafting table – and brewing – creating potions by adding ingredients to water bottles in a brewing stand.

Using Minecraft to Teach Biotech is Only a Mod Away

It would only take a mod to make it easy to extracting DNA from every living organism in the game, then mixing/remixing those genomes. TeamDNA’s Advanced Genetics was one of the first mods to add genetic science to Minecraft.

TeamDNA dropped the project (because they had other projects to work on) but it’s just a matter of time before sheep get the Creeper hiss, Skeleton Archer’s DNA makes cows, pigs and sheep shed their skin and entire biomes are transformed through the simple addition of glow stone-mutated zombie DNA.

 

 

How To Clone a Dragon 1 | Can We Ever Bioengineer Dragons?

Game of Thrones Doesn't Show How to Clone Dragons. They Just Are.
The Great Game of Thrones Dragons. There are no clones in fantasy stories.

So you want to clone a dragon?

Before you can clone anything you have to have a copy to work from and because dragons do not yet exist, you’re going to have to bio-engineer one first.

But before you start the biological design process that will result in your dragon, you need to remember this complex living organism does not exist in nature. And we’re just at the very beginning of accurately engineering microorganisms. We’re not yet experienced enough to engineer a reptile though I suspect the genome editing tool CRISPR will get us closer, UBER for cross-species genetic engineering even closer.

You’ll need to decide what traits you want: big or small? Wild or docile? Winged? Then there’s the whole fire-breathing thing.

Nothing in nature breathes fire and fire destroys. Your Dragon Clone will need to be fire resistant.

Living organisms that are fire-resistant don’t exist. The most extreme extremophiles, half-millimeter-long nematodes that live beneath the mines of South Africa, are only heat and pressure tolerant.  The most heat-tolerant complex animal known to man, the four-inch long Pompeii worm clings around the smokers of the hydrothermal vents of the Pacific Ocean mountain ranges. It can tolerate hot waters at a temperature of 80°C.

To create a creature that not only breathes fire without damaging itself will take some substantial-bioengineering. Surprisingly though, DNA itself is a natural flame retardant and suppressant. Maybe there are lessons from the Pompeii worm and DNA’s flame retardant abilities that you can use to line the throat and nostrils, coat the tongue of your little bio-engineered dragon.

What about creating a flame? Again, nothing in nature breathes fire.

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Head-Mounted Display DNA Synthesis

How will virtual reality change our view into DNA synthesis?

DNA Synthesis through a head mounted displayWith a head-mounted display interface to mixed reality, you will not only hold DNA in your hand, you will watch the way your modifications are translated into proteins. As amino acids are added to your protein, separate algorithms will tell you whether your product folds correctly and interacts with your receptor target.

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Afraid of the Future?

Afraid of the future? Wonder why? Probably because you don’t know what’s ahead and you can’t control what you don’t know. That lack of knowledge fuels your fear and anxiety. The antidote? Focus on the present and embrace the unknown. What makes you uncomfortable makes you stronger.

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