THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 97

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 97

While Gus is wondering what gift Francine has brought, the slightly elder brother is more interested in the bada-bing…

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Chocolate Birthday Cake abstract pastel painting by Carol Engles

“You have a Texas-sized thirst Miss Francine!”

“Thank you and I will be back later,” she draws a deep breath and heads toward the mountain of gifts.

Like fire ants in a rainstorm, the McKinney boys are getting closer to the nest. Gus has spotted the pile of presents and Francine to boot, “Hey Deke, look who’s here!”

She was the only person who could steal the spotlight from Uncle Roy.

“Holy cow Gus, did you invite her?” Deke looks for some glass reflection to finger-comb his hair . “You have guts Gus!. Boy, she is prettier in person than she is on TV.” bada-bing-001While Gus is wondering what gift she has bada-bingbrought, the slightly elder brother is more interested in the bada-bing.

Francine places her gift carefully to one side of the growing pile, trying to act naturally in spite of her nerves, anxiety caused at the sight of Uncle Roy.

Said Crippen is in the midst of a reenactment, perhaps the tackling form he used on Gherkin Dogman or whatever his name was. “Notice how square my shoulders are to the target, head up, all the time driving my legs.” He sounds like a football coach speaking to Pony League footballers, when in fact he was using the demonstration as a diversionary tool… after all Francine was here, what now?

He takes his Camelhair sport coat back from the woman who was holding it for him, thanking her over-politely to convey the fact that they were not indeed here together, should Francine even notice; who, having seen the exchange peripherally and pretending not to.

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This pointless posturing went on for 15 minutes as each waited for the other to crack. It is an unfortunate distance for them to be separated by, after all it’s not like they are ex’s of the other.

That they are not alone or free to interact in a more private setting isn’t helping. Not knowing what the other is thinking does factor in the standoff. Separately and together, she and he play it oh-so-kool, willing to allow randomness to take its course.

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THE RETURN TRIP

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Awkward Moment by Lucia Stewart

Episode 97


page 119

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Contents TRT

Video Games and You – WIF Pop Culture

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Video Games That Are

Part of Enormous

Pop Culture Franchises

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Though not all agree, video games can be considered as being a new art form. Moreover, video games are seen by many as a form of art with which one can actively interact. From the breathtaking landscapes, to the incredible soundtracks and general atmosphere, as well as the enticing plot, some video games can bring together much of what other mediums already have.

In fact, some video games out there were inspired by various bestselling novels, or in turn generated a whole book series with thousands of fans of their own. Some video games have even inspired movies. Be it a strategy game, a shooter, or a role-playing game, it doesn’t really matter as long as it has a good back story, a whole universe, and an extensive lore surrounding it. Here are 10 such video games, even though many others also deserve a spot in this list.

10. Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth

Developed by Headfirst Productions and published by Bethesda Softworks, Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth was released in 2005. First came the Xbox version, and then a PC version one year later. The game is an action-adventure/survival/horror genre that perfectly combines a first-person perspective with many stealth elements. The story is set mostly in 1922 and follows a mentally unstable private detective hired to investigate the fictional town of Innsmouth, Massachusetts. Unlike many other FPS games, Call of Cthulhu features no heads-up display, and everything from the player’s condition to his ammunition and other stats are represented as realistically as possible. A broken leg, for example, would be shown as the character limping, while a broken arm by a loss in accuracy. Each injury needs its own type of remedy and the player even needs to count the ammunition he’s got left.

All in all, the game received only positive reviews from critics and was considered by some to be among the best horror video games of all-time. However, the game itself was an economic failure, with the planned sequels being cancelled when Headfirst Productions went under. In recent years there has been a revival of the series, and in 2017 a new video game is expected to be released. Dark Corners of the Earth is inspired on H.P. Lovecraft‘s 1936 novella, The Shadow over Innsmouth. Lovecraft was also author of The Call of Cthulhu and several other related stories all within the Cthulhu Mythos.

 A recurring theme in Lovecraft’s works is the complete irrelevance of mankind in the face of the cosmic horrors that exist in the universe. Cthulhu himself and other cosmic deities exist, but have fallen into a deathlike sleep. After Lovecraft’s death in 1937, August Derleth took on the challenge to synthetize and expand the Cthulhu Mythos.

9. Mass Effect

Mass Effect is a sci-fi/action/role-playing/third person shooter first released in 2007. Two later installments came out in 2010 and 2012. A fourth game is expected to be released sometime in 2017. If you’re a fan of this style of video games, it’s almost an impossibility to have not already heard about or played Mass Effect. Developed by BioWare, the trilogy starts off in the year 2183 and revolves around Commander Shepard, who’s entrusted to save the entire Milky Way galaxy and all its inhabitants from a mysterious and overwhelmingly powerful race of machine beings known as the Reapers. And while the plot and story itself are quite complex and enticing, there is an extensive lore surrounding the game series.

To date there are four novels centered on various protagonists other than the ones in the video game. But the plots take place around the time of the games themselves. These not only better explain ambiguous facts from the game, but also expand the history of the Mass Effect universe. A fifth novel, Mass Effect: Andromeda Initiation is set to be published sometime in 2016. Two more books are scheduled for 2017 and 2018. There is also a fan written, interactive novel circulating out there called Mass Effect: Pick Your Path, from 2012, as well as numerous other comics. Also in 2012, an anime film version was released, and there are even talks of a Hollywood production in the works.

8. Mortal Kombat

 This fighting game has been around for a very long time. Originally developed by Midway Games, Mortal Kombat hit the arcades back in 1991. Its idea was thought up even earlier, in 1989, along with its storyline and game content. Mortal Kombat is a fantasy/horror themed fighting game, renowned for its high levels of gore and bloody violence. One of its most notorious parts, the finishing moves, also known as Fatalities, are in part responsible for the founding of the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board). Modeled after movies like Bloodsport and Enter the Dragon,Mortal Kombat aimed to be a bit more realistic and serious than its cartoon fantasy-style counterpart, Street Fighter.

After Midway’s bankruptcy, Mortal Kombat was bought by Warner Bros. and rebooted in 2011. The game became highly popular among young people and is now one of the few successful fighting franchises in the history of video games. Since its inception it has spun off into a series of comic books, card games, a theatrical live tour, countless game sequels, two TV series, and two movies. These two major motion pictures, Mortal Kombat (1995), and Mortal Kombat: Annihilation(1997) grossed in $122 and $51 million, respectively. While not particularly good, the movies gathered a cult following; especially the first one. The second installment, however, was poorly received by both critics and fans alike, resulting in it bombing at the box-office. Though entirely unofficial, an 8-minute short film was released back in 2010, revealing that a new Mortal Kombat movie is being planned in Hollywood.

7. Warhammer 40K

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Without a doubt, the Warhammer 40K franchise has among the richest lore and backstory in video game history. That’s because the whole idea of this fictional universe first came into being way back in 1983. Back then, the game was known simply as Warhammer, and was created by Games Workshop as a tabletop war game. That game still exists, and continues to expand even to this day. Then in 1987, a futuristic version was developed, sharing many of the game mechanics. This is the 40K, which stands for the year in which the fictional action now takes place. We won’t bother going into detail with the original Warhammer games, since they deserve a top 10 list of their own, and instead try to focus on what’s at hand; namely their video game versions of the 40K universe.

The story takes place during the 41st millennium in a fictional, gothic-looking dystopian universe. The Imperium of Man, as it is called, is a galaxy-spanning human interstellar empire, dominating most of the Milky Way, though it’s not the only power out there. The most iconic and finest warriors of the Imperium are theSpace Marines, a combination between sci-fi super-soldiers and fantasy knights, who are sworn to defend their empire from all the other alien races in the galaxy. The Warhammer 40K universe has a total of 31 different style video games. The most notable of these are eight real-time strategy games and expansions, part of the Dawn of War series.

Four novels have been published alongside this series, somewhat following and better explaining the actions taking place in the games. But the entire list of novels, novellas and other short stories surrounding the 40K universe is humongous, enough to completely fill up a big personal library. And that’s without mentioning itscomic book series. In 2010 the CGI Ultramarines: A Warhammer 40,000 Movie was released to DVD. Terence Stamp, John Hurt, and Donald Sumpter, among others, voice some of the Space Marines.

6. Resident Evil

Making its debut in 1996, the Resident Evil series first appeared for the PlayStation. Initially called Biohazard in Japan, its country of origin, Capcom’s director decided to change its name since it was impossible to trademark it in the US. An internal contest was held within the company regarding the game’s name, finally settling on Resident Evil. Even though the director believed it to be “super-cheesy,” it makes reference to the original game, which took place in a mansion filled with evil monsters.

In its 20 years of existence the franchise has expanded into 11 main games and 22 other spin-offs. As of 2015, Resident Evil has sold over 61 million units worldwide. Originally, the game series was more of a survival horror genre, based mostly on horror film plotlines, exploration and puzzle solving. Since Resident Evil 4, however, the series took on a more third-person shooter approach, focusing on gunplay and weapon upgrades.

The plot revolves around the sinister Umbrella Corporation, a worldwide company with ties to every major industry, and which secretly makes extensive research into bio-engineering. More exactly, they are aiming to create an extremely potent virus that can transform any individual into a super-powerful, yet perfectly obedient being. However, most of these experiments were wildly unsuccessful and have backfired with some truly gruesome results. In their several attempts to create the perfect weapon, the Umbrella Corporation initiated a series of viral outbreaks and mass infection of the civilian population, transforming humans and animals into mindlessly aggressive zombies. Players take on the role of various characters trying to survive and unravel the Corporation’s many secrets.

 The Resident Evil movie series loosely follows the same plot, even though much of the original content is missing or has been changed. The main protagonist, Alice, played by Milla Jovovich, was a security operative working for Umbrella. But with the start of the first movie, she becomes an enemy of the Corporation. Though the movie received poor reviews from critics and fans alike, mostly because of the inconsistencies between it and the game series, the Resident Evil film tripled its budget, and got four more sequels over a span of 10 years. A last installment,Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, is set to premiere in 2017. A more faithful CGI animated movie series also exists, and another film, Resident Evil: Vendetta, will also be released next year. Moreover, the franchise also has its own seven book series.

5. Halo

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Halo is a sci-fi/first person shooter franchise set in the 26th century, in which humanity has achieved faster-than-light travel speed and colonized numerous other planets across the Milky Way. The series centers itself on an interstellar war between humans and an alliance of aliens known as the Covenant, also inhabiting the galaxy. The player takes on the role of Master Chief John-117, a member of a group of super-soldiers known as the Spartans.

Since its first release in 2001 with Halo: Combat Evolved, the franchise has been praised by many and is considered to be among the best FPS video games played on a console. Managed and developed by Microsoft Studios under one of its subsidiaries, 343 Industries, Halo benefited from a tremendous marketing campaign and four more original sequels and their respective DLCs. In total the franchise sold over 65 million copies and earned a record breaking $3.4 billion from the games alone.

These incredible sales and its increasing fandom have allowed Halo to expand into other media as well. Besides the various spin-offs of the game, including a real-time strategy installment entitled Halo Wars, the franchise boasts its own five-part TV mini-series, called Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn, released in 2012. Another miniseries was released in 2014, called Halo: Nightfall. A full length movie adaptation was set in motion back in 2005 by 20th Century Fox and Universal Studios, but due to financial reasons, the project was dropped two years later. However, a future TV show on Showtime is said to be in development, though the exact details of the production are still largely unknown. In any case, up until that moment arises, fans of the video game series can also expand their knowledge of the Halo universe by taking a look at its 13 novel canon.

4. The Witcher

The Witcher started off as a series of fantasy short stories written by Andrzej Sapkowski, which are now collected into two books. The first of these stories, entitled simply The Witcher, was written in 1986 as part of a contest held by a magazine, winning third place. The subsequent five novels, which became known asthe Witcher Saga were written and published throughout the 1990s in Poland, and later translated into English and other languages. Before gaining international notoriety with the release of the first video game in 2007, the saga was adapted into a movie and television series in 2001 and 2002, respectively, with both being called The Hexer. In fact, this was the preferred translation of the first story’s title by the author. But with the release of the first video game, however, the publishing company CD Projekt RED decided on the name Witcher instead.

With two more video games in the series, the story follows the Witcher, Geralt of Rivia, (a sort of travelling monster-hunter for hire) as he struggles to regain his memories and prevent the destruction of the world. Set in a medieval fantasy universe, The Witcher is an action/role-playing hack and slash video game. The use of Geralt’s amnesia in the game allows the player to make decisions that the character from the books would not have necessarily made. It also permitted the developers to introduce those who weren’t familiar with the backstory with certain aspects of the Witcher canon.

Sapkowski uses a tone that is slightly ironic and with subtle links to modern culture in the books, which are also apparent in the games. Unlike most other similar fantasy stories, The Witcher also emphasizes the duality of human nature, with nobody being 100% good or bad. These aspects have helped both the novels and the video games to be widely claimed by fans as the best of Polish fantasy. Back in 2011, President Obama received a copy of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings video game from the Polish prime minister in one of his visits to the country. Obama later confessed that he didn’t actually play it.

3. Assassin’s Creed

 Another video game series that’s made frequent headlines in recent years is theAssassin’s Creed franchise. With a movie set to be released in December, the series made its debut in 2007, and has since released another eight sequels, 17 spin-offs, several short films, as well as a number of other supporting materials. Developed predominantly by Ubisoft, the various games can be played on almost every platform conceivable, and its gameplay, varying only slightly from game to game, is set in the historic action-adventure genre, with a particular emphasis on combat, acrobatics, free-running, and stealth. The protagonist of each sequel changes, as the action takes place in different moments and locations throughout history: from the time of the Third Crusade, to the Renaissance period, the Colonial Era, the French Revolution, and the Victorian Era among others.

The overall plot of the series revolves around the centuries-old, fictional struggle between the historically-accurate Order of Assassins and the Knights Templar, who each desire world peace but through different means and ideologies. On the one hand, the Assassins believe in peace through free will, while the Templars consider it achievable only through world domination. Inspiration for the games came from a Slovenian novel, Alamut, written by Vladimir Bartol, as well as from concepts borrowed from the Prince of Persia series. In all, the Assassin’s Creed series has been very well received by critics and fans alike, and as of April 2014 over 73 million copies have been sold, making it Ubisoft’s bestselling franchise. Aside from the comics, Assassin’s Creed also has a book series. Each of the eight novels are tie-ins to their respective video games, following the various assassins throughout the centuries, in their ongoing war with the Templars.

2. Warcraft

No list like this is complete without mentioning the Warcraft universe. Developed byBlizzard Entertainment, the franchise is made up of five core games, the most notable of which are Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, a real-time strategy game, and its expansion pack The Frozen Throne, as well as the infamous World of Warcraft (WOW), a massive multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) and bestselling title here. At its peak in 2010, WOW had 12 million simultaneous subscribers worldwide, becoming the world’s largest subscription-based MMORPG.

The latest title in the series, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, is a digital collectible card game. Another notable game in the franchise, though only a mod for Warcraft III, is Defense of the Ancients (DotA), a multiplayer online battle arena. In this game, two teams of players are pitted against each other in an attempt to destroy the enemy’s heavily guarded structures at opposing corners of the map.

All of the games in the series are set in or around the high fantasy world of Azeroth. The story begins by focusing on the human nations that make up the Eastern Kingdoms and the Orcish Horde that arrived to Azeroth through a dark portal, igniting the great wars between the two. Over the years, and with the subsequent game releases, the developers have expanded the planet by creating new continents. With them, there’s been the emergence of other new playable races.

 Unsurprisingly, the series has since spawned its own sizable collection of novels, covering a broad range of characters in various timelines, vastly expanding the lore and backstory of the Warcraft universe. Many comics have also been published alongside these books, delving even further into the canon. In June 2016, its first Hollywood movie was released by Universal Pictures. With only 5.5 million subscribers to WOW as of 2015, the film arrived a little too late, and bombed in the US. However, it did manage to gross over $422 million worldwide, making it the highest grossing game adaptation of all time.

1. Neverwinter Nights

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Neverwinter Nights is a third-person role-playing video game developed by BioWare, and was released in 2002. In the following years the game got several expansions and premium packs, and due to its growing popularity, a sequel was released in 2006. It, too, had its own series of expansions. The story follows the player’s character as he tries to stop a plague from sweeping over the city of Neverwinter. The city is located along the Sword Coast of Faerûn, in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting of Dungeons & Dragons. As it is in the original tabletop D&D games, players of Neverwinter Nights are able to create their own character from scratch at the very beginning of the game. Everything from gender, race, character class, alignment, abilities, and name can be customized to suit the preferences of each individual player. Overall, the video game was met with positive reviews and universal acclaim.

GameSpot referred to it as “one of those exceedingly rare games that has a lot to offer virtually everyone, even if they aren’t already into RPGs,” while PC Gamer called it “a total package—a PC gaming classic for the ages,” and said that its “storyline [is] as persuasive as any I’ve encountered in a fantasy roleplaying game.”  It has its own collection of books entitled the Neverwinter Saga, written by R.A. Salvatore, which is made up of four novels. However, these are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of literature surrounding the Forgotten Realms universe, since the saga itself is just part of an even larger, Legend of Drizzt series. And for those who really want to immerse themselves into the canon of “The Realms” and probably never emerge out again, the entire book series is a whopping 302 novels.

 


Video Games and You

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– WIF Pop Culture

Controlling the Weather – WIF Mad Science

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People Who Tried

to Control

the Weather

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We have to realize that weather, in all its forms, has influenced and shaped humanity in every conceivable way. The weather and the surrounding environment (which is also shaped by weather) has influenced language in every part of the world, how people built the houses and shaped their societies, what they ate, and the way that they dressed for centuries. Whole religions were formed as a sort of answer to the meteorological events happening all around. And it’s not inconceivable that people throughout history have tried, or at least thought about, controlling the weather.

 Only with the technological advancements brought on in recent decades did we actually begin to tap into this Bond villain-like superpower. However, we are still at the beginning of this journey and we have still more to discover. We still don’t know all the ins and outs of weather, let alone enough to control it. We can at best influence it. But regardless of this, people have tried on many occasions to do it to the best of their abilities. Here are ten such cases.

10. Fog Dispersal

With the advent of flight over the past century, fog began to be a serious problem for aircraft trying to take off or land safely. And in WWII, pilots no longer had the luxury to sit around and wait for the fog to lift on its own before taking off. That’s why in 1942 the Prime Minister of Britain, Winston Churchill, ordered the Petroleum Warfare Department to come up with an idea to solve this problem. The result was FIDO, or Fog Investigation and Dispersal Operation.

By burning petrol around the airfield at a rate of 100,000 gallons per hour, engineers were able to produce enough heat as to temporarily lift the fog, thus allowing the pilots to safely take off or land at a moment’s notice. According to the British RAF(Royal Air Force), 15 airfields were fitted with this capability in England, as well as a few others in the US and the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. Between 1943 and 1945, some 2,500 aircraft landed safely in otherwise dangerous conditions, thus ensuring the survival of over 10,000 soldiers. In 1959 the last FIDO installation at RAF Manston was dismantled.

Even today fog dispersal is done regularly at many airports around the world, but the technology has improved a bit since WWII. If temperatures are below freezing, CO2 or propane gas is released from the ground in order to lift the fog. If temperatures are higher, however, airports make use of helicopters or even burners to help with the problem.

9. Hail Cannons

In existence since the late 1890s, hail cannons came about after an Austrian wine grower named M. Albert Stiger conducted some experiments in his backyard. The result was an oversized, megaphone-shaped cannon that fired rings of smoke about 985 feet into the air. It was made out of a sheet of metal, mounted on a wooden frame. The concept was that a strong whirlwind of air and smoke, blasted into the sky by one such cannon, will disrupt the normal formation of hail in the overhead clouds. Hail was, and still is, a major issue and a serious threat to all crops, making the hail cannon a true scientific blessing for farmers. After a few seemingly successful tries, the number of hail cannons in the Italian province near Venice alone had skyrocketed from 466 to 1,630 in less than one year.

But as these cannons became more and more common throughout other parts of Europe, reports of inconsistencies began to surface. These were initially disregarded on the grounds of improper firing, shooting delays, or poor positioning. Then, in 1903 the Italian government arranged a two-year-long experiment involving 222 cannons. The regions involved in the experiment still experienced hail, the cannons were deemed a failure, and the whole concept was soon abandoned.

Perhaps surprisingly, these cannons are still in use today. One company that makes them says that their cannons work by creating a shockwave traveling at the speed of sound, disrupting the creation of hail and turning it into slush or rain. When a storm is close by, it begins firing every four seconds, tracking the storm via radar. In 2005 a car manufacturer in the US deployed such cannons, disturbing an entire community with its incredibly loud noise. At some point, even the guys at Mythbusters considered testing these hail cannons, but after some deliberation, they agreed against it, saying that “the methodology makes the machine completely un-testable.”

8. Cloud Seeding

Besides hail, one other meteorological element that can considerably shrink any crop yield is drought. In 1946, a meteorologist by the name of Vincent Schaefer, together with a Nobel Prize laureate Irving Langmuir, discovered cloud seeding. This is a form of weather modification which supposedly increases the amount of rainfall. Rain is created when supercooled droplets of water come together and form ice crystals in a process known as nucleation. No longer able to stay suspended in the air, these ice crystals start falling to the ground and in the process begin to melt and turn back into rain drops.

The logic behind cloud seeding is that some particles like silver iodine or dry ice can kick start this process and enhance the raining capabilities in clouds. These particles can either be delivered by plane or sprayed from the ground. But like the hail cannons mentioned above, it is particularly difficult to prove their effectiveness. Even to this day, there is no sure way of knowing if any given cloud will actually produce rain or not. Nevertheless, cloud seeding has been reported as being a success in initial trials in countries like Australia, France, Spain, the US, the UAE, and China.

However, cloud-seeding expert Arlen Huggins, a research scientist at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada, said in an interview that nobody can attribute any given storm solely to cloud seeding. In fact, the process works best not in periods of drought, but when there are normal or above normal periods of precipitation. At best, cloud seeding should increase the amount of rain or snow by up to 10%, and this excess water can be stored for later use.

7. Project Cirrus

As early as 1946, the US Armed Forces began testing cloud seeding, trying to discover its true potential and what other uses it might have to benefit the country. They made a total of 37 test flights in the first year and a half, flying over thunderstorms, line squalls, and even tornadoes. One big threat, as many of us know, are the annual tropical hurricanes coming in from the Atlantic Ocean. So, in October 1947, Project Cirrus expanded to test cloud seeding on a hurricane traveling east bound, 350 miles off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida. They dropped 80 lbs. of dry ice into the raging storm, only to realize that the hurricane suddenly changed direction and began traveling back towards the United States.

Savannah, Georgia was hit by record-breaking winds of up to 85 MPH, more than 1,400 people were left homeless, and at least two people died. The total damage was reported into the millions of dollars, and the project and its participants were blamed for what happened. Project Cirrus then relocated to New Mexico and the research continued. However, not long after their arrival to the area, local tourist attractions began blaming the team for the unusually wet weather they began experiencing soon after. Despite the seemingly positive results, by 1952 the project ran out of funding and was cancelled soon after.

6. Project Stormfury

Not wanting the research made in the previous decade to go to waste, another ambitious experimental program was launched in 1962, in order to see if it’s possible to use cloud seeding to lessen a hurricane’s destructive potential. Scientists were wishing to decrease the wind speeds of any hurricane by making use of silver iodine. Rocket canisters filled with the stuff were dropped into the storm’s eye from an airplane flying overhead, as well as making use of gun-like devices mounted on the wings, spraying silver iodine over the storm.

The hope was that these particles would counterbalance the normal convection within the eye of the storm, thus giving it a larger radius and in turn, reducing the overall wind speeds generated. The tests were carried out in four hurricanes over a period of eight days. Half the time wind speeds decreased by 10-to-30%, while the other half experienced no change. The lack of any response to these tests was initially attributed mostly to faulty execution and deployment.

However, later studies have indicated that hurricanes don’t contain nearly as much supercooled water for cloud seeding to be effective. Moreover, researchers discovered that some such storms can undergo similar processes naturally, just like seeded hurricanes would. It was then concluded that the initial successful tries were actually naturally occurring events, backed only by the very little knowledge in the behavior of hurricanes at the time. The last test fight took place in 1971, and in 1983 Project Stormfury was officially canceled. These experiments weren’t without merit, however, since they helped meteorologists better understand and forecast the movements and intensities of future hurricanes.

5. Project Skyfire

At every moment of the day, there are around 1,800 thunderstorms in progress all over the globe. And every 20 minutes, these storms produce somewhere around 60,000 lightning strikes. Unsurprisingly, some of these lightning strikes start fires. Every summer, 9,000 forest or grassland fires in the US are started this way, causing extensive loss of timber, wildlife, watersheds and recreation areas. Project Skyfire was initiated in 1955 by the US Forest Service in the hopes of better understanding the natural processes that initiate thunderstorms, and maybe decrease the frequency of lightning as much as possible.

For the first several years of the project, scientists gathered information and began using silver iodine in high concentrations, in the hopes of overseeding clouds and thus reduce the number of lightning strikes. Their results are hard to quantify, due to the lack of any controlled experiments, but it would seem that initial tests were somewhat successful. In any case, in 1960 and 1961, the US Army, under name Project Skyfire, attempted lightning suppression by using millions of tiny metallic pins in order to seed the clouds, instead of dry ice or silver iodine. These were actually small pieces of foil oppositely charged at each end. This material is used today as a form of countermeasure for aircraft trying to evade enemy missiles or radar.

4. Operation Popeye – Vietnam War

With the previous projects above, it’s no wonder that cloud seeding was intended for military purposes at some point or another. Operation Popeye, or Operation Compatriot, was a top secret military campaign waged in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. The goal of the operation was to flood the routes between North and South Vietnam during the monsoon season with as much rain as possible, in order to make roads inaccessible. The Ho Chí Minh trail was especially targeted due to its logistical importance for the Viet Cong. The whole operation lasted from 1966 up until 1972 and consisted of over 2,600 flights over the regions of Cambodia, Laos, South Vietnam and the previously mentioned trail. In total, some 47,000 units of cloud seeding material was dropped during this time, at a cost of over $21.6 million. If it actually worked or not is still a matter of debate, but it is believe that they were able to extend the monsoon season by 30 to 45 days.

Also part of the operation were regular flights over the dense jungles, spraying them with various herbicides in order to provide less material and cover for the North Vietnamese. Operation Popeye reached the public consciousness when a columnist by the name of Jack Anderson revealed it in the Washington Post in March, 1971. The US Defense Secretary, Melvin Laird testified under oath in 1972 in front of the US Senate that they never actually used any weather modification techniques in Southeast Asia. Only two years later, one of Laird’s private letters was leaked where he admitted that he did lie in front of the Senate. This inevitably lead to the “Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques,” or ENMOD to be signed in 1976 by members of the UN.

3. Black Rain in Belarus

In April 1986, one of the biggest man-made disasters took place in the former Soviet Union, present-day Ukraine. Due to a faulty reactor design and inadequately trained personnel, one of the reactors at Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded, killing many and resulting in the complete evacuation of the nearby town of Pripyat. However, this was just the beginning and the worst of the disaster was still to come. The radioactive cloud that ensued was threatening many large cities in the Soviet Union like Moscow, Voronezh, Nizhny Novgorod and Yaroslavl.

In order to prevent such a catastrophe, the Soviet government quickly dispatched aircraft to fly over the radioactive cloud and spray it with cloud seeding material, in an area of about 60 miles surrounding Chernobyl. In the wake of the explosion, people in present-day South Belarus reported heavy, black-colored rain falling in and around the town of Gomel. And just before the hellish rain began, several aircraft had been spotted circling the city and surrounding area, ejecting some colored material. Moscow has never admitted to using cloud seeding in the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster, but two Soviet pilots later admitted to it.

Alan Flowers, a British scientist and the first Westerner to examine the extent of the levels of radioactivity and fallout around Chernobyl, discovered that Byelorussians were exposed to levels 20 to 30 times higher than normal as a result of the nuclear rain, causing intense radiation poisoning in children. In 2004, he was expelled from the country for claiming that the Soviet Union used cloud seeding in 1986. He said, “The local population says there was no warning before these heavy rains and the radioactive fallout arrived.”

2. The Beijing Weather Modification Office

Today, 52 countries are involved in weather modification in one form or another, either to enhance precipitation or to suppress hail. But none are more involved in the process than the Chinese. The Weather Modification Office came into being sometime in the 1980s and has since grown to around 37,000 people strong; the largest in the world. These people operate throughout the entire country, but mostly in its northern and northeastern regions, which are more predisposed to droughts. They also try to counteract hail, or severe sandstorms.

The Weather office makes use of 4,000 rocket launchers, 7,000 anti-aircraft guns, and about 30 airplanes to achieve its goals. But besides working on increasing the amount of precipitation, or suppress the fall of hail, the Bureau also makes sure that national holidays or special events get the weather they deserve. In 1997, the technology was used on New Year’s Day to make it snow. Another of its high-profile operations was during the 2008 Summer Olympics held in Beijing. During the opening ceremony, some 1,100 rockets were fired into the clouds outside the city, ensuring a precipitation free evening by making it rain away from the event. Prior to every October 1, China’s National Day, the government uses cloud seeding over Beijing in order to make it rain, dissipating pollution and clearing the skies. Another future prospect for the Beijing Weather Modification Office is to lower summer temperatures, thus lowering the annual consumption of electricity.

1. Desert Rain

The weather is created and influenced by our own planet’s rotation, the sun’s rays, and the moisture coming in from the oceans. The most we can do, when compared to these natural forces, is minimal at best, and things should probably remain like that. But anyway, as the world’s population has increased to numbers never before seen, humans have moved in larger numbers to regions less hospitable for comfort. We are, of course, talking about the desert. Over the past several decades more and more people have begun inhabiting places like the United Arab Emirates in the Arabian Peninsula, one of the driest places on Earth. And it’s no surprise that people living there would want a rainfall now and again.

Thus, a Swiss company took advantage of the situation and began building 33-foot-high towers that produce negatively charged ions. These supposedly generate the formation of storm clouds. The theory of ionization has been around since the 1890, being first mentioned by Nikola Tesla. However, there was no evidence of it actually producing any rain in the various experiments conducted since. Moreover, the Swiss company is unwilling to share any proof or information regarding its technology and how it actually works, keeping it a closely guarded secret. There were a few rain storms since the installation was put in place, but scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology have said that these were part of an unusual weather pattern the Middle East was experiencing at the time.


Controlling the Weather

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– WIF Mad Science

THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 75

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 75

CHAPTER FIVE

Change-up

“Queen Francine” – the egotistical, self-serving, superficial diva, has been bent on clawing to the top of the competitive field of broadcast journalism…

queen-of-hearts-carved-artwork

The Queen of Hearts Red Artwork carved from Mangowood

 Personality (noun)  per’son’al’i’ty

  1. somebody’s set of characteristics
  2. characteristics making someone appealing
  3. somebody regarded as epitomizing traits
  4. famous person
  5. unusual person
  6. quality of being person
  7. personal comment
  8. distinguishing characteristics 

ediitors-noteDefinition provided by Dictionary.com,

 

It would seem that the Francine Bouchette, before Roy Crippen met her, has these
traits……

  1. best friend is a mirror
  2. has a phantom fiancee
  3. co-anchors avoid if they can
  4. treats interns like indentured servants
  5. gives scriptwriters fits

……is not one and the same. Roy Crippen has yet to meet that woman, though he wonders about her obsession with “exclusives”.

Indeed, there is no reconciling the definition with the facts, though there is plenty Francine in the first. The dedicated, concerned, sacrificial person, currently operating in the name of humanitarian justice, now working with NASA, is dichotomous when placed side-by-side with the egotistical, self-serving, superficial diva, bent on clawing to the top of the competitive field of broadcast journalism.

Francine Bouchette is truly a personality in every sense of the word. But as she prepares to continue the fresh quest to aid in the rescue of Sampson & Celeste McKinney, mercilessly stranded on Mars, the least desirable aspects of “Queen Francine” have been tabled; at least for now {and longer if the rest of Houston gets a vote}.

***Contrast this with the following glimpse of what is going on inside, the otherwise thinkeroccupied, Roy Crippen’s analytical mind:

‘She is quite a lady. With her knack for getting to the heart of a story, I am surprised she’s not working for network news. She is ten times better than that Elle Fanning on Sixty Minutes. Boy, she tried do a piece on the Colony and by the time she was through asking dumb nonsensical questions or sticking her nose where it didn’t belong, I had had enough. The damnedest thing is that her misrepresentation of the project almost did as much damage as the accident that destroyed it… I wonder why she never married? She is as gutsy as they come, pretty as a picture and probably financially secure, what could be her downside?’

***The following is what Francine is thinking, during her time of frank introspection:

 ‘I’m not the person that I was yesterday, this whole experience with Roy has made me think, what kind of person is he looking to share the rest of his life with?… All the years I’ve wasted, mistreating everyone from United States Senators down to kids that may be looking up at her as role model…What has changed all of a sudden? Is it just because I am falling for some good looking science guy, probably goes to Star Trek Conventions and is what, 12 maybe 15 years older than me? What would people think? And how many people must I trample to get where I want?’

Enough of these long winded thoughts; it is time to focus on the successful launch of the new/improved deep-space New Mayflower!


THE RETURN TRIP

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Star Trek – The Next Generation

Episode 75


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Partisan Puns #33

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Partisan Puns #33

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Paula thinks she knows a lot about government, but she doesn’t. Politics me off.

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Politics only serve to make the future moron-certain.

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The newspaper doesn’t put in Politics what is Classified.

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When you can’t decide with your friends whose place to have a party at it’s known as party politics.

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Two dogs had a bone of contention.

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The two congressmen disagreed about what sort of pan should be used to cook pancakes. Another example of griddlelock.

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Two cooks disagreed but decided to hash it over.

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‘I agree with you wholeheartedly,’ said the artichoke grower.

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My pet is very agreeable. He’s a seeing-eye-to-eye dog.

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Harry and Clem the carpenters, argued mightily on how best to complete the dinette set they were working on. They finally agreed to table the discussion.

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People can’t seem to agree on Global Warming because it’s a polar icing.

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Two ladies were discussing the planetarium show they had just seen. One said the show was fantastic. The other agreed but added ‘Most of it was over my head.


Partisan Puns

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 71

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 71

…There is no reason to panic yet, but Miss Bouchette is here to help me put some pieces together, she being the only person who spoke with either a genuine informant… or a really good guesser…

Image result for informant painting

Informant from the 1980s by Mohammad Omran

As they dash inside Roy explains, “If I did not think this was of the utmost importance, I would not have asked you here. But I need to confirm the source of a smell in my control room, before I can act on any hunches.”

The freshly minted investigative duo and one armed {with two arms} escort enter Colony Mission Control, heading straight for Braden King, who will have the latest of the late news.

“The New Mayflower has been reprogrammed to liftoff at 11:57 to dodge a meteor… oh and and the downrange tracking is ready. That puts us on t-minus 1:49.55.” Braden has really pushed the whole ground crew in Roy’s short absence.

There is no reason to panic yet, but Miss Bouchette is here to help me put some pieces together, she being the only person who spoke with either a genuine informant… or a really good guesser. And we’re not talking about an old-fashioned-Chinese-like-cyber-attack.”

“Thank you for the professional manner in which you included us in your story. Those folks on Mars are dear to us and had you just blurted the news out, we would have lost control of things.” Braden doesn’t bother her with the wrenching details of Deke and Gus’ reaction to her report.

“We will be in the briefing room Braden, not to be disturbed.”

“If there is a hitch in the countdown, I’ll let you know, t-minus 1:42 and counting.”

He nods, checks his PDA and opens the door to the classified room by placing his palm on the encoder on its right side. It is not as neat or pristine as she would have guessed one long littered table that is used for confidential meetings, taco parties and card games. Roy enters a ten character code into the comprehensive NASA database, brightening the 75” monitor on the wall to display personnel files that may hold the clue to an inside traitor.

But it is Francine who holds the key that unlocks the dark secret. She tells him every detail she could recall from that very hectic and eventful 10 minutes, which seemed much longer than 9 1/2 hours ago.

“Are you sure he had a Pakistani accent, I know that country became part of Talibanistan ten years ago,” asks Roy who knows just about everyone who has not bought into Space Colony 1.

“He said the words ‘assalamu alaikum’, I looked that up; ‘may Allah’s peace be with you’ in the Arab culture. And he referred to Korean, Nepal and Taliban joy about the accident… and we are imperialistic infidels.”

The Nepal reference strikes a nerve.

“I wasn’t aware that Nepal had an axe to grind about the Mars project. But there is somebody in this complex from Nepal, that strange little tech named Gherkin who replaced Phil Jansky. I wonder if there is a connection.”


THE RETURN TRIP

Episode 71


 

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 69

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 69

…All of a sudden she is losing the “pretty face” tag and buying into real journalism, irrespective of cashing in on Space Colony or not…

pretty-face-001

Francine’s shiny sports car sits conspicuously close to the entrance of the station, where lighting is brighter and security tighter, for her new four-wheeled two-seater. For the first time in the Chevy’s 550 mile life, its 2031 Model Corvette rear tires lay down matching black stripes on a paved surface, through gears 1 & 2. She uses every side-street-shortcut available, ignoring some red lights and praising the cooperating green ones. Her biggest roadblock is the exit/entrance ramp from the South Sam Houston Tollway, those damned tolls are always backed up on the weekends.

Related imageAs expected the lanes are stuffed with Houstonian peons, but the far right lane is closed for maintenance. Risking scratches to the Honeysuckle Red Fiberglass frontend, she plows through the gate, leaving the metal breakaway logjam in her wake.

The dusty display of driving catches the eye of a Tollway officer, who stands pointing an accusing finger at the violator whose picture has been taken and there will be a price to pay. The scornful look on his face produces momentary guilt from Francine, for 2 meaningless seconds, and then she is back laying rubber as she jumps on the 45, watching the speedometer leap past 100 in two-shakes of an angry man’s finger

Once on the Interstate she finds it free of southbound traffic, free to focus her memory on the mysterious Arabic caller that started these present events in motion. This went down in such rapid succession that she was afraid that some important detail would fall through the cracks of awareness.

The most amazing thing about this whole ordeal, now an international big deal, was the wide exposure she had fallen into. Her name is on more tongues tonight than in any single Texan year in the last 10 and her agent is probably on the phone with news directors in the #2 & #1 markets, if not network television.

Related imageAll of a sudden she is losing the “pretty face” tag and buying into real journalism, irrespective of cashing in or not. For the second time today, Francine steps back to examine her soul, wondering just what has come over her. The “values” transformation is in direct opposition of everything she had become up to January day into night.

Pre-disaster Francine was a bitter person, so caught up in vanity that she never learned how to relate with all people, not just the important ones. Her idea of intimacy was to string along a poor sucker local TV broadcast exec, allowing him to think he had a future with a “trophy” catch.


THE RETURN TRIP

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Visual Journalism

Episode 69


 

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