The hit dog laughs his ass off

January 10, 2014 - 12:59 pm
Irradiated by Stingray

Currently in the fermenter, the resurrected Bearfucker ale is bubbling away like an irritated lesser deity. “Beer room” also doubling as “guest room,” the CO2 emissions were actually noisy enough to wake houseguest Indy at one point. Signs are good that once again the bottle label should read “Caution: May Be Whiskey”.

I say that only as pre-text to The Complete Guide To The Craft Beer At Your Local Bar. All three of us were laughing out loud and exclaiming “Oh, there’s what [Labrat/Stingray/Indy] always orders!”

Now if you’ll excuse me, Maverick just threw down. I’ve got these hops I found growing over by the Dog Park I’m going to try something with.

Basement Skates Continued

January 7, 2014 - 12:01 am
Irradiated by Stingray
1 Comment

So after a couple weeks worth of neatsfoot oil, Dr. Jackson’s Hide Rejuvenator, and Leather Honey, the leather in the boots has come quite a long ways towards viability. Work on the plates has been a little more challenging. A few shots of penetrating oil didn’t do much, but some small vice grips did the trick on getting the kingpins loose.

The toe-stop obviously didn’t fare so well. The kingpins remain the oddest bit, but more on those in a bit.


The pivot cups, being arguably the most wear-prone part, are in surprisingly good shape. Gonna replace them anyway since the age of the rubber has some cracks showing, but if the leather hadn’t been dessicated, you could mistake these for something that just sees regular use and hasn’t been replaced in a while.



Getting useful toestops in, as you can see by the post size, will be a bit of work. The fixed stops originally on were loc-tited in place, but came out clean. I should be able to bore out the holes and re-thread them without un-mounting the plate from the boots, but if there’s any hope of a derby life for these old war-horses, a transition to adjustable stops is pretty mandatory.


So the kingpins. They’re kind of bass-ackwards from most these days. Largely, with exceptions and hand waving and so forth, kingpins either drop through the top of the plate with the nut on the bottom for adjustment, or are more in this vein, screwed in from the under side of the plate, again with a nut on the bottom for action adjustment. Not quite sure what to do here, since these screw in from the bottom, but the nut is non-integral. Adjusting the nut to be able to screw the pin further into the plate to tighten up the trucks is… awkward at best. The bushings are toast, and rock hard, but at $15 for a full set for both skates, who cares? They’re wear parts again, it happens. The bushing cups could possibly stand replacing, but they’re not really something that wears out, and the metal is overall in good shape. The 7mm axles remain interesting. Bearings are plenty available in that size, or a ten dollar sleeve will let me use normal 8mm bearings.

Now the bad news. After loosening up the leather a good bit, the odds of these fitting my battleship-like feet are getting lower and lower. The width could probably be stretched, but the length… that’s a long way to go. Fortunately, there are still multiple good homes for these, and the restoration itself is actually a lot more fun than expected. The leather is just about to the point where it needs motion before it’s going to get any better. We’ve got a couple sets of wheels that can be Frankensteined in, and some old clean bearings (from before I discovered the ones that apparently never get dirty) so long as I put those sleeves on.

Thanks, FarmFam! These are awesome!

Trunk Monkey Gets Basement Skates

December 18, 2013 - 2:53 pm
Irradiated by Stingray

Farmgirl and FarmFam have been in the process of cleaning up and renovating the actual farm house this year. Part of this has been cleaning up the basement. In the process, they came up with a pair of ancient skates. Farmgirl made an offhand crack about them and my derby skating, and somewhere in the Good Idea* matrix of my brain, something said “No, don’t throw those out, let me take a look at them.”

Time passed, and I’d managed to forget they were in the for-Stingray pile at Blogorado. More time passed. Farmgirl got a case of the itchy-feet and came down to visit, and did in fact remember that there was a for-Stingray pile (mostly empty beer bottles that need refilling), and brought that, and the skates, along.

For once the Good Idea matrix of my brain was on to something. This is what showed up:

They’ve already had two coats of neatsfoot oil to start reversing the effects of, I’m told, 30 years minimum living in a basement without any attention aside from that of a packrat, but they look suspiciously similar to modern skate design.


On the right is one of my current workhorses, along with a spare truck and kingpin for reference. A brief aside into skate anatomy, the plate is… well, the plate. The metal bit to which all other bits are mounted. The truck is the bit that has the axles (detached with the black plastic caps protecting the threads below the two). Rotate the pictured spare so the lower cap is pointed up but otherwise in the same position and you can see how they fit, if you’re of the less spatially-thinking set. The forward tip is the pivot (mirrored on the rear but pointed the other way), and the kingpin goes through the bushings (black on the old skates, “orange” with a hefty dose of grime on mine) and the large hole in the truck to hold the whole assembly together. They’re both double-action trucks. I haven’t busted out the protractor yet, but they appear to fall in the more popular 10-15 degree range (45 being the other somewhat less popular but still common angle. If anybody is really that interested in this particular divergence, I can go into more detail later, but it’s sort of a hornet’s nest.) Also the axles are 7mm instead of the currently more popular 8mm (which is what LabRat and I roll).


Oriented to see the model, the make (inverted) is Sure-Grip. This is interesting because Sure-Grip is rivaled only by Riedell in terms of ubiquitousness in the modern derby world. The more things change, the more things stay the same, it seems. The plate is even today part of Sure-Grip’s lineup.

As it stands, they’re too narrow for my feet, but not outside the realm of stretchable. I think you all know where this is going.

The bushings are obviously shot. I could get some 7mm axle wheels, but in the interest of in-house sanity, I think the better bet will be to replace the trucks entirely (and the pivot cups, obviously) and go to 8. The kingpins will go as well, since the crank-it-down flathead screw model doesn’t leave a lot of room for adjustment, and the less said about the toestops the better. They have a similar flat-head crank-down mount leaving the stops very high, which is less than useful for tomahawk stops, which are a severely non-trivial part of a referee’s toolkit. Options there are to either go with a standard nut and washer setup, or drill and tap a couple holes for set screws. Having skated both ways, I’ll be adding the set screw. May also have to bore out the main hole itself, but we’ll see how things go.

All in all, thanks FarmFam! (Like I needed another time sink…bastards.)

(And to end-run the inevitable questions, yes the Trunk Monkey moniker is based on the commercial campaign. My general policy of making boy scouts look underprepared** has resulted in way more than a few “Does anybody have a [oddball thing nobody would ever think a derby practice would need]?” “Yeah, I do. Just a sec.” moments, ergo press the button, deploy the Trunk Monkey, fix any problem. My number, for those curious, is .30-06 because “a man with a .30-06 doesn’t panic.”)

*They’re not
**Which sadly is not foolproof, as I have found myself underprepared at times.

Ceci n’est pas une post title

December 12, 2013 - 11:54 pm
Irradiated by Stingray

Recently, LabRat’s mother paid us a visit. This is not a happy occasion to put it mildly, but detailing this is not the purpose for which I blow the dust out of the keyboard today.

As part of the appeasement package, some of the art museums available in Santa Fe were tapped for afternoon visits. The fact that most were located near the damnable plaza, the tourist-packed heart of the oldest part of Santa Fe, and thus not well configured for the high vehicular traffic that tourist attractions draw deterred none but me, the driver of the ginormous pick-up.

The New Mexico Museum of Art was eventually selected as the top candidate, and thus we hauled the ponderousness of the truck and LabRat’s mother directly to the plaza to see The Art.

This did not go well. Allow me to present, with minimal commentary (until later), some of the pieces of art we encountered in this fraud of an institution. File names contain additional commentary, and those that are not terribly well in focus, I’m torn between calling art and just noting that the pieces were bad enough that focus would not really help anything.


Yes, that’s construction paper on cardboard.








I’m not positive these next two were actual exhibits, but given the rest of the museum I wanted to be sure to get a snapshot just in case I was standing in front of genius.

I don’t know, this one had a light shined specifically on it so I think it was an installation piece. *rimshot*

And finally, I present the best thing in the whole damn museum:

Now, to be fair there were two, maybe three pieces that were actually interesting and worth looking at. There was a decent Georgia O’Keefe repressionist piece. By contrast, there were roughly 15-20 of those bullshit “I sloshed my brush-water on loose-leaf” pretentious troll-pieces from Richard Tuttle. LabRat left insulted on behalf of the two good artists for having their actual work displayed next to such vapid drivel, while I was insulted the institution would willingly display so much that would be best used wadded up to light the fireplace and have the gall to charge money to look at it. Or go in the fireplace as actual fuel at Blogorado. I’m reasonably certain we destroyed thousands of dollars worth of art in the firepit there this year, but luckily it’s ok because my scrap pile must be worth millions. I’m sincerely tempted to select some random chunk of battered 2×4 with a nail sticking out of it, and attempt to deliver it as an addition the artist sent to the exhibit.

In fact, y’know what? Check this out:
I made that. Right now. Between typing the colon in “check this out:” and typing this line. I dare any one of you to find an expert who will say “Nope, that’s not part of this collection of pretentious bullshit.”

I’m not strictly sure photography was allowed. Frankly I don’t care. Being thrown out would very much have been an “Oh, don’t throw me in that briar patch!” situation. Forestalling my urge to redouble my efforts into researching a way to destroy all life on the planet from my back yard, most of the guest book broadly agreed that, in the words of art critic Hilton Kramer invoking the axiom “less is more,” “in Mr. Tuttle’s work, less is unmistakably less…One is tempted to say, where art is concerned, less has never been as less than this.” One can hope that the curator in Santa Fe is similarly fired as the curator responsible for the exhibit that prompted that critique.

Finally, on the long hike back to where I finally managed to find a spot near the plaza big enough to accommodate an extended-bed extended-cab pickup, something caught my eye:

I could swear I’ve seen that emu head somewhere….
(And paging the ministry of irony, the piece is titled “Money Is Too Important To Take Seriously” and they want $3,600 for it. I actually do like it, infinitely more than anything I saw in the actual museum, but…. seriously?)

Neo-Luddism Rides Again

November 13, 2013 - 4:56 pm
Irradiated by LabRat

So, across various sources that I read in the last few days there have come angry reactions to this piece of psuedo-intellectual reactionary bloviation. Which doesn’t usually come hipster-flavored, but hey, it’s the digital age and anything is possible. Except, according to the title and premise of the piece, getting lost. But swiping at low-hanging fruit is still totally possible in any age and with any technology, so let’s give it one more look than it really deserves.

We can’t jump off bridges anymore because our iPhones will get ruined. We can’t take skinny dips in the ocean, because there’s no service on the beach and adventures aren’t real unless they’re on Instagram. Technology has doomed the spontaneity of adventure and we’re helping destroy it every time we Google, check-in, and hashtag.

Actually I don’t jump off bridges anymore (never did, truth be told) because it’s fucking dangerous. Those aren’t high-dive boards, they’re walkways over an unknown depth of water with an unknown amount of places to haul out and an unknown amount of sharp fucking rocks. I’ve done lots of things in various wild waterways, some adventurous and some not, but jumping off a bridge into one was something I recognized as just plain stupid long before I started carrying any sort of personal electronics around with me.

I’ve also never gone skinny-dipping in the ocean, although I’ve likewise spent some time on beaches, both before and after having service there was something it would even have been possible to care about. Why? I don’t like getting arrested, and even if I had a nudist beach available to me I’m entirely too conscious of what lives in the ocean and how much of it actually spends time close to the shoreline to be all that psychologically comfortable naked to it.

You know what has changed about my behavior on shorelines since I started carrying personal electronics any of the time (I do have a smartphone now, which I resisted for years, but I still turn off the ringer and stow it most of the time I leave the house unless I’m waiting for something alone.)? There is now one additional thing I leave wherever I put my wallet and keys. That’s it. That’s all. If you find the beach boring compared to your smartphone, you have other problems that have nothing whatsoever to do with Google or Instagram.

After this bit of inanity follows a bunch of stories about getting lost, some of them adventurous and exciting, and some of them experiences no one should miss unless they’ve suffered a traumatic brain injury. (Like losing his little brother in a busy city- something no parent or guardian would sign up to go through ever again.)

I’ve got a bunch of stories about getting lost, too. I’m one of those unfortunate individuals with no sense of direction whatsoever, a trait I inherited from both my parents, who also had no sense of direction. I don’t find being lost the least little bit romantic, mostly because it was a normal experience to me growing up and not in any way associated with young adult adventure. I’ve been lost in the woods on foot and in a car, stuck in a vehicle in deep mud or snow a couple of times because of a wrong turn taken trying to leave said woods, lost in a strange city on the wrong side of midnight and in the wrong damn neighborhood to be lost in while a young woman, lost in the empty gaps between cities in the West, lost when the weather presented some real dangers of exposure, lost without food, without water, and lost in more entertaining and hilarious settings. Occasionally it ended in a funny story or some bit of unexpected adventure, but mostly it ended with a lot of stress and cold and sometimes that delightful experience when you’re a small child of seeing real fear on your parents’ faces because they know your situation might not have a happy ending. I’ve had a lot of adventures I remember fondly, but pretty much all of them involved knowing at least roughly where I was fucking going and how to leave again.

I’ve also spent a lot of time eating on the road and in strange places. I’ve got stories about terrifying meals, having to pull over to the side of the road during a road trip so someone could puke after eating somewhere no one should, and a much more prosaic story about spending a number of years only eating in recognizable chain restaurants while traveling after hard lessons learned from those earlier experiences, unless I had a reliable voucher from someone local about where to eat.

I had a lot of fantastic experiences eating in small towns and on the road in the gulf coast south during college, because the biology and environmental sciences department, having to go on a lot of road trips for field trip and collection purposes, had an effective word-of-mouth network going for where to find the best hidden gems to eat. I still have memories of some of the best meals of my life from those times. It reawakened my sense of culinary adventure and made eating at chains somewhere new feel like a personal defeat.

Know what having small portable computers around me has allowed me to do? Repeat that experience everywhere. I can go anywhere there’s good food to be had with a pocketful of recommendations from chow hounds and road food enthusiasts across the nation, and I’m still having some of the best meals of my life that way, or at least something much better than chains and eons and light years better than food poisoning far from home.

I remember the time I picked up my girlfriend from her friend’s house in Massachusetts. She was going to school down in Georgia and this was the first time I’d seen her in months. “We’re back together…finally.” I tweeted, tagging both of our Twitter handles in the status. The flash on my iPhone annoys her and she asks me to put my phone away. I begrudgingly agree and I start to drive. I put my home address into the GPS and follow the voice. She asks me if I want to get lost with her. I ask her what she means and she tells me that she wants to get lost. I ask her where she wants to go and she shrugs. I tell her that there is an interesting looking coffee shop only 2.3 miles away and she sighs. I turn off the GPS and drive. A few minutes go by and I get antsy. I turn the GPS back on and follow the voice, she crosses her arms and is silent all the way back to my house.

Dude. Here is some free advice for you, since you apparently need it. She was not pissed that you didn’t get genuinely, running-out-of-gas, freezing-in-the-dark, scary-goddamn-neighborhood lost. She was pissed you wouldn’t put down your fucking phone and put your full attention on her, and more pissed that you couldn’t do that for even ten minutes without buckling.

You know what’s nice about putting down the damn phone and going somewhere that’s actually new? Being able to, if you need to, pick it back up again when you’re done and find your way back home. If you can’t take step one of that combination, the problem is not the alienating march of technology, it’s your complete and total inability to leave your comfort zone without being forced to by circumstances beyond your control.

I like being part of the most connected generation of all time BECAUSE it allows me to have adventures without major disaster or anxiety attack on the part of my loved ones. (Who tend to, as loved ones do, worry more about me than I do about myself, after experiences of me vanishing from the face of the earth for hours or a day after I said I’d be home.) I love being able to Wikipedia the old building I’m in and find out what makes it special, that I’d never have known otherwise. I love being able to eat truly new things I’d never have tried otherwise- because I’ve had turn-you-inside-out food poisoning while in the middle of a car trip before and IT FUCKING SUCKS.

I suspect what the author really misses isn’t being lost, it’s being young and having a sense of adventure about the world because all of it really is new and having the freedom to explore it at will is too. But I’m me and he’s him, and I can’t speak for him. I can, however, speak for my portion of the same generation, that hasn’t experienced any alienation whatsoever- and is still entirely capable of engaging with non-digital experiences without a competition.

Pupdate: Major Has A Home

November 9, 2013 - 11:56 am
Irradiated by LabRat

And that’s official, records and contracts exchanged, signed, and collated, and Major has a new owner. I’ll be part of the transport chain to get her to her new home in about two weeks.

Thanks especially to Farmgirl, who raised money to help her and make it easier for whoever has her (her, me, any new owner) to cover her inevitable vet bills. All money raised will go by check or money order along with her health certificate during the transport- the hat was passed for her, and with her it will stay.

Special Needs Puppy: Make Me A Match

October 22, 2013 - 9:26 pm
Irradiated by LabRat


This is Major. Today she’s about nine and a half weeks old, and she’s the remaining puppy from Kang’s last (most recent and really last, I plan to spay her as soon as her milk finishes drying up) litter.

The reason Major is still here, and why she’s getting a post here as opposed to having been the first or second puppy sold, is that she has a congenital heart condition. If it had been something straightforward like a PDA, I would have ponied up for the corrective surgery and sold her once she had recovered; unfortunately, the consultation I had with a veterinary cardiologist revealed what she’s actually got is pulmonic stenosis, a different and much less common (the cardiologist commented she’d simply never seen it in an Akita before now) issue. We do not yet know how severe the stenosis is- she was too young at the time to get a good picture- but the cardiologist suggested it wasn’t likely to be mild. We’ll know when she is old enough to have another, clearer ultrasound done in another month or two. She also has a defect in the wall between her ventricles, which the cardiologist said may either be making things worse or actually helping; apparently they often occur together and the treatment for THAT defect on its own is giving the patient an artificial case of stenosis. Apparently Major is very medically interesting! I could have done with boring, personally.

Major has no clinical signs that there is anything wrong with her heart. She was diagnosed as young as she was (around five weeks) because she had a loud heart murmur (stenosis apparently produces very dramatic murmurs) and I wanted to know what was going on. Depending on how severe it is she is increasingly likely to show such signs the bigger she gets. Right now she is a very active and exploratory puppy who appears normal in all respects unless you have a stethoscope.

Depending on how severe the stenosis turns out to be and what the topography of her heart is, there are options for treatment and prognosis. At the least she is very likely to need beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, and yearly cardiac ultrasounds for the rest of her life. Depending on how things shake out she may be a good candidate for surgery. The surgery only helps, it does not cure; it has a success rate, with success being defined as “successfully turned a severe or moderate stenosis into a moderate or mild one”, of about 75%. (Apparently some patients simply heal back the way they were.) Like pretty much all cardiac surgeries for dogs, it would require a veterinary cardiologist with some specialized equipment and cost somewhere in the range of 3-5k. The outcomes for severe stenosis vary all over the map; anywhere from death at around a year of age to living into their teens and dying of something completely unrelated to their heart. Prognosis and outcomes get significantly better with treatment and surgery, but a dog diagnosed as such will always have a risk of early death, the more severe the stenosis the bigger the risk.

Because of all this I’m looking to place little Major without taking money for her, unless said money is for transport expenses. If treated as I believe appropriate she will be far from a “free” dog, though exactly what the costs will be is pretty variable and hard to predict now. I am not willing to euthanize a pup with a perfectly lovely temperament who is as likely to life a full life as an abbreviated one; she will stay here as long as it takes for us to find the right home for her. While she is here she will receive whatever treatment is appropriate for her at the time and be raised and trained as a normal puppy. We do not want to keep her; three Akitas is more than enough Akita, and four would be doing a disservice to her, us, and the other dogs, but I’m aware it may take me awhile to find that home.

If it were not for her heart condition she would have been the first puppy placed; she was first pick by temperament for more than one person or family waiting for a pup out of this litter. She is confident, friendly and social even when stressed (she has been very sweet with all the veterinary personnel she has met so far), fearless, and very bright. She is easy to handle, talkative (she has some sort of comment about nearly everything, though she is not barky), and was the big explorer of the litter- she was always the first to dive into anything new and was the first to escape the whelping box as well. She is as well on her way to housebroken (she is a house puppy, just like every other pup raised here) as it’s possible for a nine week old pup to be, and while she is here she will learn everything I consider mandatory for a civilized housedog to learn- come, sit, down, leave it, mine (the response to back away from anything on the floor that a human moves purposefully toward). She will also be crate trained and will be some degree into learning to walk nicely on a leash, depending on how old she is when she is placed.

Heart condition or no, she is an Akita, and will come with every plus and minus that breed normally has. She was the smallest pup in the litter and while she did do some catching up in size to her siblings once transitioned to solid food, that was only up to a point and I now suspect she will always be a smaller bitch- in which “smaller” means likely to finish up at 70-80 pounds instead of 90-100 like her mother is and her sisters are likely to be. Still most people’s definition of a Big Damn Dog. Her mother, brother, and a distant cousin all coexist happily in a mixed group that includes one intact female and one mature intact male (i.e. our little pack here), so she comes from a line that is really quite good with other dogs by Akita standards- but she is still an Akita, which means she’s likely to be relatively dominant with other dogs even when well socialized. (Her mother is THE alpha bitch- I worry less about the young intact male when it comes to strange dogs.) She is also likely to come with prey drive- and the longer she stays here, the more likely it is that Kang will teach her to be a ruthless hunter, which is either a plus or a minus depending on your point of view. (Minus if your neighbor has cats that roam; plus if you want every varmint that comes within your property lines eliminated, which is what Kang does.) She is pretty biddable- again by Akita standards. If you want a dog that lives to please you, this is not the breed for you.

She will grow up to be a guard dog. She is social enough she won’t eat strangers on sight, but as she matures she will start to be suspicious of them and she will need socialization and guidance to channel those instincts productively and install good Identify Friend/Foe software. If she is like her mother in some other respects she will also be a pretty decent ad-hoc therapy dog, seeking out the sick and hurting- but THAT won’t be apparent until she is fully mature. She has had lots of early socialization and exposure to new people and new kinds of sights and noises and other novelties, but like any pup she will continue to need it as she grows to develop into a stable adult. Her parents both like children, but lacking any of my own and any belonging to close friends and relations, she has not met any yet.

So far several people have been interested, but everyone interested so far has either lacked the financial resources or the emotional resources to deal with the potential realities and costs of her heart condition, or else with the part where she’s an Akita and even a healthy Akita is still a pretty big undertaking. (It has been a pretty even split which was the deal-breaker.) Thus I am widening the net. If you are interested in little Major please contact us at the blog e-mail (nerdsatomic at gmail dot com), which I promise will actually be checked; I am happy to chat more about the breed, her parents, her condition, or her.

Ok, don’t get excited yet

October 22, 2013 - 4:19 pm
Irradiated by Stingray

…but I think I found the lost recipe for Original Bear Fucker. On a shopping list tucked in a drawer I was cleaning out of all places. Those of you who know what that means, cross your fingers. I’ll brew it shortly and confirm. Those of you who don’t… well, just take my word for it that the world got a little brighter (and possibly blurrier, later on) today.

Oh John Ringo… Honey… No.

October 17, 2013 - 3:03 pm
Irradiated by LabRat

Via Tam, an essay by John Ringo (of modern-day pulp science fiction fame) on, apparently, the coming zombie apocalypse and how it’s apparently going to be precipitated by bitter geeky men with kitchen-table biochemistry kits engineering homemade viruses to turn women (specifically blonde women with big tits) into their sex slaves. If you wish to read for context you should probably read the whole thing. As Ringo tends to be, it’s pretty highly readable.

When I read it initially I was pretty sure this was a troll, and an entertaining one, but I am assured by others he is either serious or may as well be as the distinction is without meaningful difference. The basic premise is pretty sound- the idea that biochemistry and nanotechnology are advancing to the point where homemade and tailor-designed superbugs may well represent a serious threat, one that is more likely to come from the bored, antisocial, and too intelligent for everyone else’s good individual rather than from state-sponsored or radical religious or political entities.

The problem with the article is where he goes with it next. Excerpted, at some length:

The general trend will go like this. Professor Doktor Herr Apocalyptica will invent a virus that can do something to humans. (Well, in fact, it does it to rats. But humans just happen to have the same brain chemistry.) Not just kill them, do something to them. It may, for example, combining the fields of neurology, psychology and virology, cure depression. No more need for Aderol or NoDepressol or whatever. Your neurology is now reset to perfect normal. There will be others that can do other things. Make you smarter, more socially able, less nervous, shy, crowd phobic, what have you. Make you need almost no sleep. (I’d love that one.)

Then some grad student trying to get their masters or doctorate will create a new virus (as many will be created because when you have a breakthrough like that it creates all sorts of easy, for values of easy, graduate projects) that, just for a laugh, makes any girl who is infected fall in love (or at least lust although love is possible as well.) with him. If you DON’T think a biology geek won’t write that one, you don’t understand male bio geeks.

How does that work? you ask, sceptically.

One proven aspect of male/female sexual interaction, especially (at least so far) for women, is pheromones. All people emit them and they have various effects most of which researchers are still trying to sort out. The geek identifies his specific suite of ‘love’ (lust because they are alot more about reproduction than permanence) pheromones. Then writes a virus that does a series of actions. First it only affects women. (He can, of course, narrow this down if he’s good enough. Only ‘hot’ babes for values of ‘hot.’ And I’m assuming, possibly a bad assumption, that the grad student is a he.) Second it does a series of things. It rewrites them to ‘like’ his pheromones. When sensing his pheromones their libido is enhanced. If he’s smart, their capacity for long-term critical decisionmaking is degraded (as it is in males by sexual cues.) If he really wants to fuck with them (not just…) it triggers massive release of oxytocin and vassopressin (look them up.)

So when a woman gets a whiff of the guy, they can’t get enough. They act like twilight fans seeing a sparkly vampire. Sex must occur and they must have him FOR ALL TIME.

OK. There’s more explanation of how this scenario is meant to work, with a lot more background detail of genetics research*, but given that arguing with a science fiction author about the plausibility and accuracy of future technology is like arguing with an impressionist painter about color fidelity, it’s not really worth picking at. The big, glaring, plaid elephant in the living room here is pheromones, whose use in this piece really demand a Morbo.


The only aspect of human pheromone research that is “proven” is that they have been proven to affect the vomeronasal organ in humans (but not the olfactory tissues- we really are relatively smell-blind, at least to effects that subtle), and some of them have been proven to have gender-specific effects. (My personal favorite one is the male pheromone that gets other men, but not women who remain oblivious, to avoid particular restroom stalls.) There’s a pretty good, and pretty exhaustive, review of the literature on human pheromones and sexual attraction here; if you are interested in the subject I highly recommend it, as it’s a good primer on what’s been done so far and what the strengths and weaknesses of the obtained results are. The upshot is that some strong evidence of pheromone effect on menstrual regulation has been found, but the sexual attraction results are either negative, inconclusive, or positive but riddled with methodological issues. If one were to apply the same tactics to researching the arousal potential of Nora Ephron movies, one would likely find a similar or stronger correlation.

The thing of it is, though, that if human pheromones really worked like Ringo seems to think they do, it would not be an even slightly mysterious phenomenon or a recent discovery. This would be a gross, obvious effect that everyone had known about since the beginning of recorded history. The only animals that pheromones actually work this way on- provoking strong, reliable sexual attraction that produces an immediate behavioral effect- are, for the most part, insects. If humans worked like butterflies and flies do Ringo’s scenario would be tantalizingly plausible; but they simply don’t, and we know this not because of the research that’s been done on pheromones so far, but because no known humans actually act like this, nor have they ever that anyone’s ever reliably witnessed. Even mammals for whom definite and strong pheromonal signaling effects are known don’t work like this; for mammals, pheromones seem to play a strong role in estrous and menstrual cycles (and indeed, that’s the only effect in humans that convincing and reliably reproducible evidence seems to come for), but not so much in direct sexual attraction and mating.

Boringly, it just doesn’t make any evolutionary sense for a mammal to work like this, especially not a mammal like humans that lives with lots of other members of the same species and has a wide pool of mates to choose from at any given time, and whose true reproductive bottleneck isn’t mate availability or quality but the sheer amount of resources that must go into raising each and every offspring. When your reproductively mature life stage lasts only days or even hours, it makes sense for mating to be a powerful overriding drive that completely hijacks all of your behavior and is controlled primarily by chemical signaling; the life history of insects that work like this is driven by very brief periods of frantic activity with the nearest available mates that result in big population booms of which only a few will survive, by good luck, to reproduce themselves. If you invest years of your own life and massive amounts of energy and nutrition merely to raise a single offspring to reproductive maturity, it makes no sense at all to be chemically compelled to fling yourself at the nearest correctly-smelling mate- especially if you are surrounded at nearly all times with a wide variety of perfectly workable options. This isn’t a barrier that Moore’s law can overcome; in order for increasingly precise and powerful technology to be viable, the underlying structure that it works on has to exist in the first place. Ringo’s scenario is no more plausible than the idea that it’s possible to engineer lobsters into an army of coordinated stealth underwater computer hackers.

What’s worse, the only thing individual about pheromones that we’ve really found is the major histocompatibility complex; even if one were to target that in their “love virus”, the only thing it would actually accomplish is making the targets particularly interested OR particularly DISinterested in you depending on their current phase in menstrual cycle and whether or not they were on hormonal birth control at the time.

It’s a fun scenario. Given that Ringo tends to be infectiously readable, and he’s right enough about the nature of male biogeeks (which is why there’s two to three times as much research on the response of women to male pheromones as the other way round, even though the research on men that’s been done has shown as much measurable effect), I’d probably read it, though maybe not pay money for it. But as a “I’m totally not kidding, this is how the zombie apocalypse will happen” scenario… sorry John, blonde cheerleader sex zombies are no more plausible now than they were in seventies exploitation drive-ins.

*Although the one human genetics researcher of my actual “I can just ring you up and explain my latest wild hair” acquaintance ranted for several minutes on the subject of RACIAL GROUP GENETICS DO NOT WORK THAT WAY! as well how pretty much everything Ringo’s describing as target traits are massively polygenic affairs that simply can’t be targeted that way or any other remotely plausible virus-engineering way. So, you know. Take with an entire pillar of salt.

Your Daily Heebie-Jeebies

October 15, 2013 - 11:45 am
Irradiated by Stingray

Spider lives inside woman’s ear for five days.

I would name mine Carl and take him to stare at the light above the sign at Arby’s, and howl at the sky in terror and awe.