Writing Echoes

Delijah's Writing Blog

Category Archives: Research

Research book review: DEADLY DOSES: A writer’s guide to poisons

deadlydosesTitle: DEADLY DOSES: A writer’s guide to poisons (The Howdunit Series)
Author: Serita Deborah Stevens with Anne Klarner
Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books
Pages: 298
Year: 1990
ISBN: 0-89879-371-8

Contents:

  • Chapter one: A short history of the dreaded art
  • Chapter two: The classic poisons: arsenic, cyanide and strychnine
  • Chapter three: Household poisons
  • Chapter four: Poisonous plants
  • Chapter five: fragile fungi
  • Chapter six: Snakes, spiders and other living things
  • Chapter seven: medical poisons
  • Chapter eight: pesticides
  • Chapter nine: Industrial poisons
  • Chapter ten: Street drugs
  • Chapter eleven: create your own poison
  • Appendix A: Poisons by methods of administration
  • Appendix B: Poisons by form
  • Appendix C: Poisons by symptoms they cause
  • Appendix D: Poisons by the time in which they react
  • Appendix E: Poisons by toxicity rating
  • Glossary
  • Bibliography
  • Index

I’ve had this book for a few years, and I think I left the review for ‘when I had read it’ because I never got around to doing it. This book is a very useful resource for me, but it is not a book ‘for reading’. It is built as a ‘think of [symptom], [method of administration], [time], etc… and look for the right poison. It is fun, I had completely forgotten that I had not reviewed it until I recommended it to someone else. Funnily enough, I was planning on using a poison in Secrets, and now when I reached the scene related to it, I just grabbed the book and decided to just write the review.

As I said, it is not a’ readable’ book, since it is a compilation of poison information. Each substance has a header with the mainstream name, followed by a small introduction. Then a few epigraphs: name, level of toxicity, form, effects and symptoms, reaction time, antidotes and treatments and notes. For living things other data, like location or deadly parts are added. The appendixes make search very convenient and even for the Age of the Internet it is a very powerful research tool.

This book is recommended for anyone who wants to poison characters. It promises to cut the research time in half and does not exaggerate.

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The Megalodon Shark

Megalodon (from mega, big, and odon, teeth, which can be translated as ‘big teeth’) is an extinct species of shark which lived in the Cenozoic Era: 28 (late Oligocene) to 1.5 million years ago (early Plistocene).

Sharks are cartilaginous fish, which means that their skeleton is not made of bone, but cartilages. That is why we don’t have even remotely complete Megalodon fossils. Most that have been found are teeth and some vertebrae – as a matter of fact there is a partially recovered spine column that has around 150 vertebrae, the bigger ones having 11.5 cm in diameter. The total length that a Megalodon had has been calculated as something between 16 and 20 metres (that’s at least three times a Great White), with a mouth that was 3 metres tall and 2 metres wide.

Sharks have different (up to six) rows of teeth in their mouth, one behind the other. The gums ‘rotate’ to supply new teeth whenever the previous one falls – therefore they are always ‘changing’ their teeth. In numbers, that means that Megalodon had a total of about 275 teeth at any given time, 24 in the upper jaw and 22 in the lower jaw (Florida Museum of Natural History).

These teeth were triangular in shape with fine serrations alongside the borders and a visible v-shaped neck (the part which goes into the gum). Megalodon teeth can measure over 18 centimetres in diagonal.

Megalodon, like the Dunkleosteus fish (note that they did not co-exist) was an apex predator, and fed on anything that roamed the ocean. Sharks are known for their feeding frenzies, where they bite on anything that moves. Furthermore they explore things with their mouths (think of a baby which puts everything in his or her mouth), and the Megalodon should have been no exception: they fed mostly on marine mammals such as whales. It was a fast swimmer and rammed their preys to break their bones and crush their organs before killing and eating them. It would probably attack from underneath – sharks are darker on the dorsal side so you don’t see them from above and lighter on the ventral part so you don’s see them from below.

meg-vsGWS
Comparison between a fossil Megalodon teeth and two Great White shark’s teeth, by Wikipedia Users Brocken Inaglory and Parzy

 
There is a bit of an Internet snoop going on about Megalodon surviving to today, and Discovery Channel sure as hell did not help with their docufucition in 2013, but such a creature roaming freely in the world’s ocean would not go unadverted, especially considering how Megalodon was widely spread when it was alive. It would have chewed on one too many boats by now for us not to have found out.

Which is a pity.

Then again. Are we sure the Titanic’s iceberg was such and iceberg?

[Base information: Wikipedia, Megalodon: Giant Shark]

The Dunkleosteus fish

Placoderms (Class Placodermi, which means “plate-skinned”) were prehistoric fish, which roamed the ocean from the Silurian to the end of the Devonian (Age of Fish) periods, approximately 443 to 359 million years ago. They went disappeared as the ecological communities suffered the changes due to the environmental changes between the Devonian / Carboniferous extinction event (EvolutionWiki).

Their main characteristic was that the head and thorax were covered by articulated armoured plates. Usually, the head shield articulated with the thoracic armour to allow jaw movement (Systematic Biology). The rest of the body was either naked or covered with scales. Placoderms were among the first jawed fish, thus being the precursor of all jawed vertebrates. Usually, the head shield articulated with the thoracic armor to allow for movement of the jaws. They are currently known by their fossils.

One of the most famous placoderms was the Dunkleosteus (after David Dunkle and ‘osteus’, meaning bone in Greek). Dunkleosteus lived about 380–360 million years ago, during the late Devonian. The largest species was D. terrelli (or D. terelli, depending on the page), which could measure up to 10 m and weight over 2 tonnes. The D. terrelli was a carnivorous apex predator (aka, it did not have predators itself). The average Dunkleosteus would have been 6 m long, with a 1.3-m wide skull. The armoured plates were as much as five centimetres thick.

Dunkleosteus did not have teeth, but the bony plates around the jaw were shaped in a razor-like structure which sharpened against the other half. According to the University of Berkeley a fossil was found in 1997 in Antarctica which had preserved some pigment cells: the fish had a red dorsal (back) side, and an iridiscent silver ventral side, making them the oldest vertebrate whose colours we know about.

As an apex predator, the D. Terrelli would have been feeding on everything it could find, even members of its own species. It would be classified as a pelagic marine predator, as it hunted in the open ocean. It is thought that it was not a fast swimmer, due to the heavy plates, but a very powerful one.

[Base information: Wikipedia: Dunkleosteus, Placoderms.]

Dunkleosteus

Dunkleosteus head fossil, National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo. Picture by yours truly

 
 
What do you think could happen if it were possible to bring these fishy back to life?

The Landed Sea Witch Scenery – Cutty Sark

I was in London this weekend, so I made a point to drop by the Cutty Sark, the inspiration for The Landed Sea Witch, which you can find at The Casket of Fictional Delights in written form and podcast as part of the Tube Flash Project. Last time I was in London it was not open to the public yet, but this weekend I was finally able to go in.

The main exhibition seemed to be about the tea that the ship had carried, and well, coffee drinker here, but the structure of the clipper ship, the hull and the restored boards are very beautiful. The ropework is very cool, too, and the glass frame on which the ship floats is not that bad after all.

tlsw_nw_2014
Whole view, artistic take

tlsw_nw_2014 (1)
Hull

tlsw_nw_2014 (2)
Bow

tlsw_nw_2014 (3)
Nannie Dee headpiece

I came through North Greenwich station, of course, so mission 100% accomplished:

tlsw_nw_2014 (4)

Hyakki Yagyō Scenery (2)

As I have recently come back from Japan, I’ve taken a few more pictures from the areas that appear in Hyakki Yagyō. As the post tries to be mostly visual, I’ll try not to get too much into descriptions and the importance of each place, just let you catch a glimpse of them. These are my photos, so they might be a little artistic (read: loopsided or overexposed).

Zozo-ji (San’en-zan Zōjō-ji (三縁山増上寺 San’en-zan Zōjō-ji) area (Minato, Tokyo), with the main temple and Tokyo Tower behind it. The area where Ko is planted is between the graveyard behind the temple and Tokyo Tower.

tokyo_zozoji2

tokyo_zozoji1

Gotoku-ji (豪徳寺; Setagaya, Tokyo), the temple of the good-luck cat (which I never managed to find open):

gotokuji

Sensō-ji (金龍山浅草寺 Kinryū-zan Sensō-ji; Asakusa, Tokyo), with the great paper lanterns:

tokyo_asakusa

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, where Satoshi works, and the Shinjuku skyscraper district where it it is located:

tokyo_tmpb

shinjuku

Nikko (日光市 Nikkō-shi) area:

Nikko 1

nikko 2

Yokohama Chinatown (横浜中華街, Yokohama Chūkagai):

yokohama_chinatown

Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺, “Temple of the Golden Pavilion”), in Kyoto:

kyoto_kinkakuji

Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社), in Kyoto:

kyoto_inari

Kamakura (鎌倉市 Kamakura-shi) and the komainu (lion dogs):

kamakura

Related: Hyakki Yagyō Scenery (1): Shiba Kōen [link], Hyakki Yagyō Research [link],

Osaka Shikigami Scenery

The Osaka Shikigami world is rooted in, quite obviously, Osaka. When I was there I took quite a few pictures of the area, and while a lot of them were recognisable landmarks, other were chosen specifically for writing reference. Here are a few of both. If some of the descriptions may look vague, it’s because saying more would end up in a spoiler:

First, this is how non-descript Osaka looks like. These are photographs of random suburbs taken from train stations, away from the touristic places:

This is the harbour area. I did write a yakuza fight in the docks’ warehouses, thus the first pic. The second… well, when I was there I knew that something had happened there but I still don’t know what (though I have my suspicions). It will have to do with Book 6 or with the revised Book 4 version:

The entertainment districts: Namba (難波) / Dōtonbori (道頓堀) on the first picture, and Shin Sekai (新世界) on second picture, showing the Tsūtenkaku Tower (通天閣) and Billy Ken, “The God of Things as They Should Be). If there is something that caught my attention about Osaka is the huge amount of wiring that goes over it, no matter where:

In the traditional Osaka side we have The Temple of the Four Heavenly Kings (Shitennō-ji, 四天王寺), which is a Buddhist temple with an attached graveyard, and many smaller shrines around. It is some sort of spiritual compound:

Finally, this is Osaka Castle, which has not really been featured, but shall be. Cause I’m the author and I say so XD Furthermore, the Las Vegas Samurai Casino featured in The Shikigami of Chance was remodelled to look like the main tower.

Research Book Review: Shinto: The Kami Way

Title: Shinto: The Kami Way
Author: Sokyo Ono
Publisher: Charles E. Tuttle Company
Pages: 116
Year: 1962
ISBN: 0-8048-0525-3

Contents

  1. The Kami Way: Introduction, mythology, Kami, Scriptures, Types of Shinto, Organisation
  2. Shrines: Shrines and Shrine Paraphernalia , Precincts, Architecture, Priests and Shrine Functionaries, Parishes and Parishioners
  3. Worship and festivals: Worship, Four elements of worrship, Worship in the home, Shrine Worship, Festivals
  4. Political and Social characteristics: Government Policy, the Arts, Economic Life, Relation with other Religions, Everyday Customs
  5. Some spiritual characteristics: Transmission of the Faith, Shrines and nature; World, Man, Salvation and Death, Universality of Shinto

 

I stumbled upon this book quite on accident, and it was not what I was expecting, then again, I am not sure what I was expecting anyway. For the first four chapters of the book Dr. Ono sounds like an anthropologist, describing aseptically, maybe even a bit sarcastically the beliefs of Shinto, while on the last part, he sounds like a fanboy. Neither of them seems very appropriate as he belongs to the Association of Shinto Shrines.

The conclusion one draws from the book is “I was supposed to explain Shinto but as nobody can understand Shinto, I’m going to skip that and describe what you can see of it.” At some points the book is a bit contradictory, classifying Shinto first as a religion, then not, then yes again. Towards the end, Dr. Ono states that Westerners can’t understand Shinto anyway, but it is a universal faith.

Now, I understand that this book was written in the 60s by someone whose first language was not English, so some expressions may be a bit phased out, but I did find some typos that made me chuckle. While interesting, it is a bit of a slow read, that touches many topics but does not delve into any.

All in all, it’s not a must-read, but a nice-to-have-read if you’re a little bit of a geek, I guess.

Hyakki Yagyō Scenery (1): Shiba Kōen

I’ve noticed that I have not made any scenery posts for long, probably since I I talked about Yokosuka power plant, featured in Lifequake. However, considering how many of them I made of Victim #14 I thought it might be a good idea to start again, and since I am biased I will start with Shibakoen, where Ko, the tree yōkai of HyakkiYagyō is rooted.

I won’t deny that I am very biased, so this gets its own post and there will be a later one with further scenery.

Shiba Kōen (芝公園, Shiba Park) is located in the Minato Ward in Tokyo, just at the feet of Tokyo Tower. It was built around the built around the temple of Zōjō-ji Temple, which is the chief temple of the Jodo-Buddhist sect (that’s what reads in the sign, at least).

Here you can see the location on a map, with the area where the tree is planted marked… well, with a tree:

And here are some pictures. The first one was taken by the ever awesome Denise and edited by yours truly, the rest are by me.

Yo! I heard you don’t like physics

Tough luck, I do. It has caused me some trouble in recent times, but there is something that I can’t stand and it’s people making up laws of physics – and I’m not even talking about sci-fi, I’m talking in real life, in an actual classroom. An elegant “I don’t know” is much better than bluffing your way out… especially if you have someone who can call your bluff.

So you will have to excuse me, but I like physics, and I know a thing or two about the dynamics of fluids, and how a wave works- that includes both tsunami and wind-waves. I’m not the hugest expert ever, of course not, but I know a few things.

\frac{\partial\rho}{\partial t} + \frac{\partial(\rho u_x)}{\partial x} + \frac{\partial(\rho u_y)}{\partial y} +\frac{\partial(\rho u_z)}{\partial z} = 0

I have been surprised about the amount of misconceptions and problems that I’ve heard about physics in general and fluid dynamics in particular. Of course not everybody goes around talking about Navier Stokes equation XD

I’m going to try a little experiment though, and write about what I know. A town I know, about a topic I know. Might come up as a novel, might end up as a short story, but there will be science, and waves and physics. It will probably come up boring as hell, but hey, maybe not.

Kumo is a computer expert hired to investigate the archaeological and geological records of the tsunami caused by the 1755 Great Lisbon Earthquake in southwest Spain as part of a bigger crew. Their clients believe that some kind of barrier or gate, built by the ancient Phoenicians that inhabited the area centuries before that, could have stopped the tsunami – a system of catacombs may exist under the Cádiz Bay, and it might just be hiding a treasure or two…

Otoroshi

Otoroshi (おとろし) are also called Odoro-odoro (おどろ〱) or Ke-ippai (毛一杯). Otoroshi vaguely means ‘frightening’ or ‘creepy’. They are described as hairy creature that perches on the torii that lead to shrines and temples. They pounce on the evil or impious humans when they walk underneath to scare them away or eat them, depending on the story. Not much is known about it except for the hairiness. Sometimes it is shown with a bird in its paw.

References: [link] [link] [link]