Award-winning author
Unusual times, remarkable places

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

24 February 2009

Rare lizards

The incredibly cute pygmy chameleon species at right was first discovered this past fall. Researchers credit its survival and that of other rare plants and animals that live with it in a forest in northern Mozambique to a long civil war, which has damaged roads and so made it difficult to reach the forest.

Brachylophus bulabula (left) is another newly discovered lizard. It lives in wet forests on a Fiji island. It is one of only three iguana species left in Fiji, and all are in danger. People have eaten some species to extinction and introduced cats (which eat iguanas) and goats (which compete with the iguanas for food).

Conolophus rosada (right) is found only on one volcano in the Galapagos Islands. Discovered in 1986 and thought to be a variant of another kind of iguana, it was last month announced to be a new species. Its tiny population may be in danger because of introduced cats and goats.

In the Komodo National Park in Indonesia, according to the Wall Street Journal, human interference has broken an ancient symbiosis between komodo dragons and humans. Until recently, people revered the dragons and left them offerings of goats and deer parts. Dragons left the people alone, both because the long-lived lizards recognized the people who fed them and because dogs kept the huge dragons from getting too close to homes.

Then park authorities—ironically, on advice from environmentalists— banned deer hunting and goat sacrifice and outlawed dogs. As a result, the komodo dragons now must hunt all their own food, and they go for the easy pickings in the villages, eating chickens, goats, and the occasional person. For the full story, see the article “When Good Lizards Go Bad.”

In addition to being beautiful and interesting creatures, lizards prey on species humans consider pests. Lizards are useful in other ways as well. The rare Gila monster (Heloderma suspectum, at right), which lives in the Southwest and in Mexico, has poisonous saliva. An analog of a chemical in the saliva is now an injectable type 2 diabetes drug called exenatide (Byetta). Exenatide boosts insulin secretion, but only when blood glucose levels are high, thus making hypoglycemia unlikely.

19 February 2009


Guys, it’s safe to play the cello again

“Cello scrotum,” irritation of the scrotum caused by playing the cello, has been revealed to be a spoof 34 years after the announcement of its “discovery.” In a letter in the 27 January issue of BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal), the perpetrators confess they made the condition up and submitted a letter about it after the then–British Medical Journal published a letter on “guitar nipple.”

Ironically, BMJ had just published in its 12 December 2008 issue an article about the many medical disorders of musicians that included not only the above-mentioned cello scrotum and guitar nipple but also Sachmo’s syndrome, pianist’s hand, fiddler’s neck, and flautist’s chin.

Free romance ebooks

To celebrate its 60th birthday, Harlequin has put up a site where people can download any or all of the proffered 16 ebooks. (Note: None of the download formats are compatible with the first Kindle model.) For the rest of 2009, you can go to and try out a book from each of Harlequin’s series. The featured authors include Merline Lovelace (Sphinx Ink, I hope you’re paying attention!), Brenda Jackson, and my fellow OCC-RWA member Maureen Child.

A raffle with books as prizes

Australian erotica writer Astrid Cooper is holding a raffle to benefit Wildlife Victoria and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. These organizations, along with others, are try to save animals injured in the recent Australian fires and reunite pets and owners separated by the fire. Among the prizes donated are books in various genres, tarot readings, greeting cards, and manuscript readings. Deadline for entering is 30 April 2009. Further info can be found at

If you prefer to help the wild and woolly closer to home, donations are still being accepted for fellow blogger Travis Erwin, whose New Year got off to a bad start when his house and all his possessions burned to a crisp. Go to to donate or find out other ways to help.

Upbeat literary fiction

If you’ve been reading this blog a while, you know that I read primarily genre fiction, in part because much literary fiction is unrealistically gloomy and has self-defeating characters who never evolve. Marianne Goss came across my blog and wrote to tell me about her Website, Positively Good Reads. She started the Website because she wanted to read books that were worth her time, but serious literature often left her depressed. She began searching for books that, in her words, “leave [her] feeling there’s reason to go on living.” Positively Good Reads lists a hundred books that won’t leave you in despair.

Blogging when you have no ideas

This post is what I came up with when my idea well was dry. Charles Gramlich recently did much better with his Razored Zen post “For Want of a Better Post” filled with great haiku about Conan the Cimmerian.

04 February 2009

More on dictionaries; some good news

I'm still chugging away on my first draft of Like Mayflies in a Stream, my novel about ancient Sumer. I had hoped to be done with the first draft by now, but some of the early chapters came hard. Now that I'm approaching the finish line, my fingers are typing faster and faster.

The Sumerian dictionary I mentioned having in last week's post is not just a novelty item. I find myself using it many times a day. Were there leopards in those days, or chairs, or mattresses? The quickest way to find out is to check the dictionary and see whether they had a word for it.

I've also found the dictionary a valuable glimpse into how the Sumerians categorized their world and what distinctions they found important to make.

•There were many words for beer and many for bread. Beer and bread were the staples of their diet, and they made many kinds of each.

•Some words mean "dung" in general, but "sheep dung" is a distinct word.

•I believe we have four words for sheep in English: sheep, ram, ewe, lamb. The Sumerians had at least eighteen, including words for a wild ram, a domesticated ram, a fattened sheep, a female lamb, a male lamb, a suckling lamb, a perfect sheep (which was the only kind suitable to feed to a god), and a slaughtered sheep. (Sumerian was a concatenating language like German, so although some of these were distinct, unique words, others were constructed by adding an adjective to the word "sheep.") The Sumerians also many words for shepherd, some of which identified what kind of sheep were cared for.


I had some great news yesterday. My story "The Hunt" (previously published in Continuum Science Fiction) has been picked up for republication by Jim Baen's Universe. It is currently slated for the April 2010 (yes, 2010) issue and should get much wider exposure than it did the first time around.