Friday, August 06, 2010

Things I've learned

As an academic scholar in the social sciences, curiosity is usually a liability. It gets you off-topic, it makes you think and then write about things your colleagues in the field don't care about or understand. It gets you a lot of "interesting, but not right for this journal" responses from editors. Curiosity leaves you standing alone at the bar at conventions in your field, it leads to a sampling of disciplines rather than a focus on a problem recognized as relevant by the "community" (of which one is not typically a member). In the world of the 9,000 word article, the fruits of curiosity are cut from the final text, where one is required to repeat a great deal of what others have already said as part of what goes by the name of "conceptual framework." Needless to say, it is a tremendous bore and there are very few who actually read what other scholars write, and if they do, it's for the purpose of one-upping them. Since progress not appreciation is the object of science.

I'm finding in these first phases of writing a novel that curiosity runs wild, though time will tell if it any more useful than it was when I was writing articles about minority education. Today I learned more about humanure toilets and energy production, about other low-voltage, low-wattage devices like LCD lightbulbs, and about the body as a generator of re-usable energy. I figured that since we are stuck at 98.7,  a good deal warmer than the outside air most of the time, that there must be ways in which this heat could be recycled, such as in powering an LCD bulb on your forehead or someplace else more practical. And since we do move on our own, both the energy that is used efficiently and that which is wasted might be recycled. Hence my idea that a downhill skating track could generate energy, through the wheels of the board going down, little turbines, and through the energy expended by the young people getting back up to the top of the track. Now maybe it would be easier to just extract this energy directly from whatever they were eating, but they like to eat and skate down and run back up. In my post-petroleum world, folks are not lying around grieving the demise of Chrysler and waiting to die. There's an ethic and an economy in which energy has value, the value we ought to promulgate now ... which of course would be one goal of literature, to promote a moral. Anyway, I also learned a good deal about the use of salt in the Roman world, learned that the word "salary" comes from salt (sal) because sometime soldiers were paid in salt. In fact, the word soldier originate in salt. And in the spirit of learning to make things, or learning about making things whether I personally make them or not, I learned about fish sauce (made by the way, by Romans, not just SE Asians), one of the preferred ways of putting salt into action. And then I read the Roman recipe for producing a ham, taken from a Celtic source. Meaning that the prosciutto derives probably from the original ham-sters, those handy Celts who the Romans wiped out. In my story, some of that ham-making salt came from Galicia (where Gal is related to the Celtic word for salt) in Poland. The premise of the book is then similar to that which motivated the Romans, get some salt and make a pig last longer and taste better.

Some of the technological magic kit I intend to feature in my novel is a body suit that generates heat from body heat. We already have such things: "Disclosed is a heat-retaining, moisture-permeable, waterproof fabric having a highly moisture-absorbing and releasing organic fine particles immobilized on at least one surface of an unprocessed fabric (base fabric) with a moisture-permeable waterproof resin. The fabric is capable of generating heat by the absorption of moisture." That's patent number 6046119 issued in 2000. I figure a little bit of electricity from the body would make this work even better, and keep one quite warm in Karpatia. Naturally such things would be either heirlooms and very rare, or scarce and expensive, or make one place and not another. And I want a wagon, pulled and directed by a horse or something and a human that is able to use the kinetic energy of going downhill to move it back up the hill without needing extra calories. Could you put it on a railroad track? Then there are the single-use flyers which can use the smallest air current to rise up into the air -- something like paragliding. And one of my MCs who has some extra-special trick can make such a vehicle go faster and farther and higher, and is able to drop like a feather. Then there is the self-sustaining pig farm that I must create, replete with the ancient zabijacka, because still the pig must die for us to have prosciutto. I'm thinking that as in the old days, salted meat and salted fish could serve as a sort of money. I had originally thought, then rejected the idea, of fish, but perhaps I should not be hasty. What about all those new catfish now spawning in the new tributaries in the delta where the hron meets the Danube. I think in this area it might be time to re-invent Cajun cooking, some rice growing ....

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