I noticed something odd at Gen-Con Indy. My come-on line to lure customers into the booth for demo games was "Do you know anyone interested in dinosaurs?" It worked on some, while others ignored it or shook their heads.
And then there was the third response: "Not anymore."
The first couple of times I took it as a variant "not interested," but the unusual phrasing finally got me to stop someone and ask what they meant. Why "not anymore?"
The answer was (to paraphrase) "Well, my kid used to love dinosaurs but then he grew up."
This got me to wondering: why is an interest in science seen as somehow "kid stuff?" Dinosaurs are for kids, space exploration is for kids -- any sort of learning about the natural world is acceptable for children, but adults must put that sort of thing aside and devote their attention to serious matters like watching grown men play ball games, or keeping up on which celebrities are having sex.
While I'm no Rousseauian and certainly don't believe humans are innately wise and good, I have noticed that children are innately curious. But somehow as they grow older, most of them have that curiousity squeezed out of them. How does that happen?
It's easy to blame society, except that our society is one of the most science-friendly in history. Even small cities have science museums, our universities produce thousands of science graduates each year, being a scientist is a high-status occupation, and even advocates of Biblical creation have to borrow the authority of science to promote their ideas.
So why do people "outgrow dinosaurs" and how can we stop it?
There's been a lot of bellyaching about this. A mysteriously large number of people (people with Web logs, anyway) apparently have a sentimental attachment to a large ball of ice three billion miles away. They're sad that it's been voted off the island, so to speak.
Well, I'm not. I'm glad the IAU has decided to uphold some standards, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. Pluto was always a lousy excuse for a planet. It's ridiculously small: not only is it smaller in diameter than the Earth's Moon, it's only a sixth of the Moon's mass. That's not a planet. And, just to rub it in, astronomers have discovered several Kuiper Belt objects which are actually bigger than Pluto.
So the IAU had the choice: kick a ridiculously substandard planet out of the club or open it to literally dozens of other obscure balls of ice with names like "Xena" or "Quaoar." They chose the path of sanity. Planets -- real planets -- are substantial bodies orbiting the Sun in regular orbits. Pluto is now just one of a whole passel of trans-Neptunian icy objects. Good riddance.
If Pluto wants to be accepted as a real planet, it can come back when it's gained about 50,000,000,000,000 megatons of mass. Maybe put on some rock or iron. Work up some surface gravity. Then we'll talk.
Researchers at Intralytix have developed a spray to kill
harmful bacteria that can contaminate processed lunchmeat. This isn’t just your average poisonous antiseptic solution. It’s a cocktail of bacteriophages – viruses that attack and kill bacterial cells. It’s a neat idea – biological control on a microscopic scale, very much like farmers releasing parasitoid wasps to control the crop-eating caterpillars in their fields. Just much, much smaller. Why does it work? Viruses are essentially cellular parasites. They can’t reproduce on their own because they don’t contain any of the structures that let cells build new proteins. So they make cells do the reproducing for them. When a virus infects a cell it hijacks its metabolic pathways, forcing it to make more viruses instead of cell-stuff. Eventually, the host cell gets so filled with new viruses that it explodes. The newly-freed viruses can move on and infect other cells. (1)
Gary Curtis maintains a fascinating and useful Web site (and Web log) called The Fallacy Files. The centerpiece is a wonderful alphabetical dictionary of logical fallacies and bogus arguments. You can find out the difference between Begging the Question, Loaded Questions, and Questionable Analogies.
A good understanding of logic and how to use it is critical -- not just for scientific thinking but for making decisions in daily life. Yet most people have only the most cursory exposure to formal logic. It's nice to see someone like Mr. Curtis trying to educate everyone on thinking.
Unlike just about every other ancient extinct species, mammoths are not preserved in rock or just as bones. Sometimes entire whole frozen mammoth carcasses are discovered in Siberian permafrost. (I'm a little unclear how, if the climate now is warmer than when the mammoths were alive, they nevertheless found places which weren't frozen then but are now. Any geologists care to comment? Anybody?)
So instead of lithified bones or impressions in sandstone, we've got mammoth meat. There's even a possibly-apocryphal story that back in the 19th century the Russian Academy of Sciences had a banquet featuring mammoth as the main course. Given that other accounts of finding frozen mammoth carcasses prominently mention the awful smell, this seems unlikely, but I'm sure that with enough vodka on board, the Russian Academy of Sciences probably could have been persuaded to try it anyway.
Meat and other soft tissue means DNA, and scientists have already done studies comparing mammoth DNA to that of living elephant species, getting a better picture of how they are related. It also means that the reproductive cells are there -- eggs and sperm thousands of years old, still frozen. Preserving livestock eggs and sperm by freezing is routine nowadays; periodically on the roads in Western Massachusetts I am bemused by seeing a truck proudly bearing the sign "FROZEN BULL SPERM." One can only imagine the ribbing that guy takes when he stops at the diner for lunch.
Anyway, so the idea of breeding a creature from frozen gametes isn't especially strange. Chances are the dairy cow that provided your last glass of milk was conceived that way. But of course her daddy-bull's sperm was collected under controlled conditions and frozen in liquid nitrogen right away. It wasn't sitting in a slowly-cooling mammoth carcass in some ancient Siberian pond. Nor is it tens of thousands of years old.
So, like some of the researchers quoted in the article, color me skeptical. I do expect that someday humans will be able to recreate extinct species, but it will probably be done by tweaking the DNA of related species until it matches the extinct ones -- turning elephant genes into mammoth genes, in other words. And if we can do that, we can "recreate" species which never existed in the first place.
All of which means that if we live long enough, we probably will see mammoths walk the Earth again -- along with unicorns, griffins, sphinxes, and whatever genetic designers can imagine.
A crack team of Zygote Games operatives (well, as it turned out, one operative) set out on August 8 for Indianapolis and the 2006 Gen-Con Indy. After a long drive (including a dinner stop in not-really-very-scenic Cleveland and an overnight motel stay somewhere in central Ohio) the tired and sweaty crack operative pulled into Indianapolis and the welcoming arms of the Hampton Inn Downtown on Wednesday the 9th.
The first order of business was to go sit in a waiting room at the Indiana Department of Revenue office to get a permit to do business in the state. There were several other game company reps in the office, which made us feel better about forgetting to file the paperwork in advance. The second task was to set up the booth at the convention center. This took about half an hour -- hang up the signs, inflate the dinosaur, and it's done. As at previous shows, our dinosaur was a big draw.
With the booth set up, our crack operative had dinner and then attended the supersecret, ultra-hip Diana Jones award party. After which the operative got to bed early in preparation for the opening day of the convention.
On Thursday the exhibit hall opened promptly at 10 a.m. and was soon thronged with gamers. Sales were light on Thursday, as the crowd were mostly hard-core four-day attendees who were just scouting out the lay of the land, so to speak.
Our "Name the Dinosaur" contest attracted lots of entries. When we get the results tabulated, the winner will be immortalized on this Web site and get a copy of PARASITES UNLEASHED! when that game is printed. Watch this space for more information.
Eight hours later our crack operative stumbled out of the exhibit hall desperate for food and a shower. Downtown Indianapolis doesn't offer a lot of options if you don't like pub food, steak houses, or shopping mall food-court cuisine. After some searching our operative did find a decent Mexican restaurant and rehydrated with some tortilla soup.
Friday saw slightly brisker sales, but was still slow. Our operative did discover a Cuban jazz concert at the old city market after the exhibit hall closed, dined on a reasonable facsimile of Texas-style barbecue, and attended the ENworld awards at the Westin hotel.
Saturday saw a tremendous increase in traffic at the convention hall as all the weekend and single-day attendees showed up. Sales were better, and lots of people wanted to look at the dinosaur. Our operative was busy all day running demo games. Dinner that night was an all-you-can-eat Indian food buffet.
Sunday was the shortest day, yet saw the most sales. All the experienced attendees were holding out until the last day in the hope of getting some bargains. We did offer a 10 percent discount for cash purchases in the hope of lightening the load to carry back to the car.
The exhibit hall closed down promptly at 4 p.m. and our operative got the booth dismantled and got out of there with ninja-like stealth. By 5 p.m. everything was loaded in the car, and the Zygote Games operative was soon hurtling eastward across the prairie at 80 miles per hour.
Lessons Learned: Next time, we're going to share a booth with another publisher to cut costs (and make it possible for our operative to eat and go to the bathroom during exhibit hall hours). We're also going to have more than one product to sell, which should jack up sales a bit. Stop by next year!
Zygote Games is driving west to dazzling Indianapolis for a four-day stint at this year's GenCon Indy! Convention guests can participate in the fabulous "Name the Dinosaur" contest, pick up a free transfer tattoo, and get a glimpse at the playtest version of Parasites Unleashed!
So if you're going to GenCon, stop by booth 1140 for a demo game, a chat, or a copy of one of our games.