Archive for category Kennedy Space Center

Two of Clubs: The Last Generation

Twos of clubs, one about a pirate whose flag was rumoured to signify that his victims' time of living was flying away, and one of a nebula which receives its energy from young, hot stars in its midst

Mildred Feldnether was on her way to take birth for the twenty-eighth time when she found the creature. She heard it first; a call that didn’t belong to any animal she’d heard in the forest before. The sound came from a bundle of clothes behind a tree just off the track. She squatted and gingerly pulled away some of the fabric to reveal a red, bloody thing. She didn’t immediately recognise it as a human baby; it had been more than a millennium since she’d seen one.

“Hello,” she said to it. “What’s your name?”

It wailed.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, first in the most popular local language and then in several others she knew.

The baby continued to wail. Mildred’s foetus kicked her from the inside.

“Where are you from? Where do you work? Are you lost?”

At the last question, Mildred noticed that the baby didn’t seem to have a navigator. She took out hers and showed it to the baby, who stopped wailing and gurgled at it.

Mildred sighed with relief. It was just lost. Soon it would get on its way. She said goodbye and continued walking to the extraction clinic.

It wailed again.

Mildred turned back towards it. “What do you want?” It seemed so upset. Most of it was still wrapped in a sweater, and Mildred suddenly wondered whether babies even had arms and legs like normal people.

Her sister had had a baby once. Or maybe her sister had been a baby. Or had she just heard a legend about a baby? It was so long ago.

She sat next to the baby and tried to remember other languages to speak to it in. She remembered how frustrating it had been when when she was just a few centuries old, and only knew a few languages. She could imagine wanting to wail when she couldn’t express herself. She was frustrated just trying to remember what the thing was called. Baby. Baby. Like in the old fairy tales. She looked it up in the encyclopaedia:

A baby is a juvenile form of human, commonly created in the pre-extraction era as a means to perpetuate the human species when it was possible that existing individuals may succumb to death (q.v.) In modern times, a baby may develop from a foetus whose life is not fully extracted after removal. This is effectively remedied by further extraction.

From a foetus? Mildred burst out laughing. Foetuses grew inside people. This thing was outside and it looked like a little human that could only speak wail. Somebody must have vandalised the entry. The baby ceased crying and seemed to look at Mildred. Mildred watched it, enchanted. It was hard to believe it really existed.

The forest they were in was even older than Mildred, and offered a secluded path to the clinic, where those unable to carry foetuses wouldn’t plead with the pregnant women for a share of the life within them. They weren’t needy, just lazy; less than a year’s work as a manservant protecting a pregnant woman and they’d have decades more life. Mildred had already made a contract with her friend and three-time manservant James, who had made sure she stayed safe and healthy and didn’t need any infusions of life which could delay or destroy the pregnancy. Four decades for her, four for him, and the rest to the clinic for miscellaneous healing. She always preferred to make the last walk to the clinic alone though, so that she wouldn’t have to explain the knot in her throat that she didn’t understand herself. Most women were excited at the prospect of becoming four decades younger. Mildred was nervous. With the crying baby tugging at it, the knot in her throat unraveled into tears.

Just then, James called her. “We’re waiting for you at the clinic. Are you on your way? Do you need me to help you with anything?”

“I’m fine, I just… I found something. But I’ll be right there.”

The baby started to wail again. “Right,” she said to it. “I don’t know what’s wrong with you, but if you’re sick maybe half a decade could fix you. Unless you’re already too young for that. Well, the clinicians should know the right dosage.” By this time she was almost certain the baby could not understand her, but it was hard to get used to.

The baby had freed a hand from its cocoon, so Mildred took it to lead it to the clinic. The baby gripped her finger, but didn’t get up. Mildred looked at its face for a second. So tiny. So new. Too new even to walk?

Mildred felt uncomfortable carrying someone she barely knew, but there didn’t seem to be much choice. She picked up the baby, finding the underside of its wrap to be soaked with dew, and tried to find a way to hold it that was comfortable for both of them. The baby did not stop crying for the rest of the way to the clinic.

“Oh dear,” said the clinician. “A baby?” The other clinicians gathered around to look at the specimen. “Oh, that must have been a disturbing thing to find. Don’t worry, we’ll do the extraction for you. It doesn’t look like you need any decades yourself,” she looked down at Mildred’s pregnant belly, “but if you’d like to donate them to the sick or less fertile, we’ll make sure you get something nice as a thank-you.”

“I’ll take them if you like!” grinned James.

“But… isn’t it like a person? I mean… can you really extract… It’s crying. I think it needs to be healed.”

“We’ll take care of that. It’s just crying because it’s not supposed to be outside the womb.”

Mildred felt a bit like crying again herself. “But is a baby a person?”

“Oh, no. I’m not a specialist in antiquities, but from what I’ve heard it takes decades of round-the-clock treatment before a baby can turn into anything like a normal person, and even then it would be centuries behind in general knowledge; it would be a complete stranger in society.”


They were silent for a few seconds, then they both started talking at once.

“Let’s get that…” began the clinician.

“Did you have a baby? In the beginning… when you were new?”

“Yes I… think I did. This is my daughter,” she gestured to one of the other clinicians.

“What was it like?”

The clinician’s eyes glazed over for a second. “It was… centuries ago. I don’t know if the things I remember about it are even real. Now let’s get these extractions underway.”

“If you… this sounds ridiculous, I know, but if you… if you removed my foetus without extracting its life, would it be a baby?”

“Yes, but don’t worry, we won’t let that happen. We have strict quality standards here.”

“So babies do come from foetuses? And people come from babies?” Mildred felt a little lightheaded.

The clinician shook her head slowly, as if Mildred were a few decades too senile. “And people need life, and life comes from foetuses, and babies are just primitive remnants from a millennium ago. Don’t you worry about it, love. You’ve found yourself some free decades!”

The baby cried even louder, and Mildred almost wanted the clinician to make it quiet. It was driving her crazy. Crazy enough that in an instant she was running out of the clinic and screaming over the noise, “I found myself a free person!”

“You can’t make a new person!” the clinician shouted after her. “They’ll have no records! They won’t know anyone! There won’t be enough food for them! It probably doesn’t even speak!”

She ran without thinking, without being aware of anything except the wailing coming from the thing in her arms. She only realised what she had done when she found herself twisted on the ground, having turned to protect the baby and her belly when she tripped. Her back hurt and her eyes were wet and the baby’s wrap was still soaked and the baby was still screaming and her mind was a cacophony of new information clanging into memories. Twenty-seven extractions, more than two millennia for her and her manservants, not a year for twenty-seven potential people. But wasn’t it just like eating meat? Some creatures give life to others. Twenty-seven more people would mean less meat for others and less space for the forests and fauna that kept humanity and the rest of the biosphere alive and prosperous. Twenty-seven stunted proto-people who knew nothing and nobody, taking life when they should be giving it. As Mildred’s head started to clear, she began thinking about how to apologise when she went back to the clinic.

As Mildred’s eyes started to dry, she realised a woman was leaning over her. What was her name? Sandra? They’d been good friends a century or so ago, and lost touch. “Milly, are you okay?” Sandra asked.

“Sandy, what are you doing here?”

“Milly, are you okay?” panted James as he arrived. He was getting old, and could do with those decades she owed him. “Sandy?! What are you doing here?”

Just as Mildred realised the wailing had stopped, it started again.

“That’s my sweater! Is that…” Sandra went white. “Is that m…mm” she stopped speaking seemed to be concentrating on not crying. Mildred stroked the baby’s face, momentarily forgetting she was caressing a complete stranger.

“It’s okay, Sandy. Take your time. What happened?”

Sandra took her time. Finally, she managed to cry, “My foetus came out! It was horrible; it hurt so much! It came out by itself, out my vagina; there must be something wrong with me. It hurt so much. I never want to take birth again; I’ll just take a manservant contract whenever I need more life.”

“That’s your baby?” said James. Sandra didn’t hear.

“I wasn’t due for extraction yet but I was feeling sore and my manservant’s run off to do some kind of crazy botanical research so I started going to the clinic but then…” She broke into sobs as the baby screamed. “Is it… is it the foetus? How come it’s alive? It wasn’t… I mean I don’t think it… It didn’t move. I thought it was just a foetus. It was horrible and bloody and blue and it had almost like a face on it. I covered it up so nobody would find it.”

“It’s a baby,” sniffed Mildred. “A… a juvenile form of human, often created in pre-extraction times as a means to perpetuate the human species… at the clinic they said it can turn into a person with a few decades of round-the-clock treatment. But it’s a foetus. They can still extract. They want to and it’s kind of… kind of like eating meat…” In the face of Sandra’s tears, Mildred’s own conclusion seemed silly again. How could they extract life from a thing that could become a person?

They were silent for a while. Even the baby quieted down. James leaned against a tree for support and flexed his creaking knees.

“Can I hold it? Does it mind?”

“I don’t know. It seems to mind everything.” Mildred passed the baby to Sandra.

“Milly, I think I’m really sick,” she confided. “First my foetus came out and now there’s yellow stuff coming out of my nipples. Can you take me to the clinic? I know they expect me to give them some life rather than take it, but maybe I could use some from your foetus.”

“Hey, you know half of that foetus is for me, right?” said James. “Nah, you can have a some of my share. Anything to help a fetching fertile lady.”

The foetus kicked, and she realised that the word was not metaphorical; it was kicking with actual legs. “I don’t know if I want it to be extracted today.” Mildred said quietly.

Sandra reached out and held her hand. They were silent, except for the baby.

Suddenly, Mildred thought of something. “What if it’s hungry?”

“I have some bacon sushi,” said James. The soon learnt that the baby could not use chopsticks.

Once again, Mildred checked the encyclopedia for information on babies. “You’re not going to believe what it says about feeding them…”


Over the next week, while Sandra and James tried to figure out how and whether to keep the baby alive, and how to keep it quiet, Mildred researched the early history of extraction. Of course there was the ugly time they all commemorated each decade on Death Day, the time when people would kidnap and extract the remaining life out of strangers. It must have been horrible to live in fear of dying. Nine out of ten of them did die. Nine out of ten adults died so that the rest could live longer.

Then perinatal extraction, called today simply extraction, solved everything. More life with no killing, and no fear of accidental breeding creating an infinite number of hungry immortals. The inventor shared the technique with the oldest and newest people he knew, the ones who hadn’t stolen anyone else’s life. They won round extractors with their ethically-sourced life, and soon nobody would extract from an adult, and nobody would give life to those known to have done so. Over the next century, the life thieves died of old age and the rest bred up to the capacity they knew they could sustain without competition for resources, and then ceased with the bother of people-making. Most of this was familiar to Mildred; the well-known story told each decade on Life Day. She’d even seen the inventor of perinatal extraction telling the story in person. Though she’d all but forgotten the meaning of the archaic words such as ‘perinatal’ and ‘breeding’.

It wasn’t quite so pretty, though. As she read older and older memoirs, Mildred discovered that many people had actually protested, saying foetuses were people; some even thought that embryos were people. And some even thought that animals should not be eaten; not just because of the unsustainable farming practices back then, but because animals were also a sort of people. Mildred wondered why nobody thought of things like that any more.

Further into her research, she came across an old journal entry which struck her:

I took my first birth today. I know it isn’t right, but I was getting old, almost too old to be coaxed into fertility, and if I die the foetuses will have nobody to fight for them. Thirty more years should give me the time to fix things. I need to find a way to prevent both death and overpopulation without sacrificing living humans.

That’s what happened to people who thought foetuses were people. They either took life anyway, or they died. She checked the author to see which group this one had ended up in.

Mildred Feldnether

Mildred felt lightheaded at the sight of her own name, and saw the edges of her vision prickle black. Her foetus turned, and so did her stomach. She fought to stay conscious for fear of what people might do to help her.

She’d been one of the people who’d fought to stop perinatal extraction. She’d been one of the people who’d let her survival instinct change her mind. On the backs of those she’d claimed to want to save, she’d lived long enough to forget they existed. And she would forget again.

Unless she fixed things soon.

Mildred switched her attention to learning all she could about the science of life extraction. It came to her easily at first, as if she’d learnt it all before, which she probably had. She felt less familiar with the breakthroughs that led to increased efficiency in more recent centuries. She enrolled in some classes and followed the century-old standard practical experiments involving extraction and infusion in small plants.

One night she was idly dissecting a piece of sushi, picking out the individual grains of rice and twirling the meat between her chopsticks. That meat had been in a pig once. Pigs were probably smarter than babies. She put it aside and ate the rice and seaweed thoughtfully. Just like eating meat…

She jumped up and ran to the bedroom. “Sandy!” she called out loudly before realising that it was past midnight. “Sandy, come here,” she whispered, but the baby was already gearing up to surpass her careless loudness.

“What is it?” Sandra asked groggily, before gasping in horror, “is yours coming out too?”

“No, no, it’s not that! What did you say your manservant went to do?”

“Botany. Some nutso alternative healing thing.”

“Listen, I think he might be onto something. I was thinking, we can live without meat, right? So we can live without foetuses! It’s so obvious!”

“Hey, you didn’t get me out of bed to tell me you’ve gone as crazy as Jezdimir, did you?”

James wandered in holding the screaming baby.

“Look, there are trees out there that’ve lived longer than us, right? What if we could extract life from them? I mean their seedlings? There’d be millennia! They’ve made a lot of improvements in extraction lately. Did you know that even plant extraction was not possible a few centuries ago, and now they teach it in introductory classes? All we’d need to do is figure out how to convert their life to ours, and no more foetus-killing!”

James squinted his reddened eyes and looked down at the noise-maker in his arms. “Are you sure you want more of these around?”

“No, you see that’s the other thing. If anyone gets pregnant by mistake, which, let’s face it, hardly ever happens, they can take enough life, plant life, to make the embryo regress back into nothing. Or wait, maybe that’s bad too, I don’t know. But some of them could make babies. Did you know that fish are edible; they were just banned back when there weren’t enough of them? And that there’s way more of everything now than back at the beginning of extraction? And that you can feed way more people with plants than with meat? The population limits they set back then are way lower than they need to be now. We could have new people!”

“Hey hold on there… is that even possible? What about the new people? They’re not going to know anything,” said James.

“But even at our ages, everyone knows different things,” answered Sandra before Mildred could think of an answer. She pointed at the baby. “He’s the only one who knows what it is to be new in an old world. That’s worth knowing.”

“So we need to contact this, what was his name? Jezdimir? Your manservant, and see if they can help us. I reckon we’re only a few decades away from converting plant life into…”

Mildred stopped and winced as a pain surged through her belly. Sandra stared at her with a terrified look in her eyes. Mildred regained her composure in order not to upset Sandra. “…converting plant life into human. I’ll never have to have another extraction.”

Then she collapsed in agony. James and Sandra practically carried her to the clinic, Sandra holding the baby in her free arm, and James clutching at trees with his.

“Are you back for your extraction, finally? It’s about time,” said the clinician.

“Noo…” moaned Mildred. The clinician laid her on the bed.

“What do you mean no? You clearly need the life,” said James. “I hate to see you like this.”

“No,” said Sandra. “She doesn’t want any more extractions. You’re going to take this foetus out of her and let it become a baby.”

“But she said she didn’t want another extraction. She meant after this one. I’m sure!”

Mildred filled her lungs to protest but the breath hurt so much that she let it out in a moan. Her head felt as bad as the rest of her. For a moment she thought she remembered being a child, watching her mother cry over her brother. But she had no brother.

“No, no, she doesn’t want to take any life! Haven’t you seen her? She’s been obsessed with this idea of foetuses being people.” The baby screamed louder as if to affirm its personhood.

“Well no, I haven’t seen her, because I’ve been trying to keep this thing alive! She doesn’t want one of these!”

“She does. She does. She wants the baby to live.”

“It’s not a baby! Look, she owes me four decades. She owes herself four decades. How could she just let herself die in this day and age? I’d miss her! We all would! And she needs time to finish that plant thing.”

“Sure, but the baby…”


“…doesn’t owe anyone anything.”

“But you can’t privilege this useless little thing that can’t even eat or speak over someone with a millennium of knowledge and skills and hundreds of people who love her! I know your baby is cute and it brings a fresh perspective and blah blah blah but you can’t have both, and I’m choosing Milly.”

“I love her too! But she doesn’t want to kill babies any more and we have to respect…”

“For goodness’ sake, you’re not killing anything! You’re just extracting the life out of something that isn’t alive yet to begin with!”

“Extracting the what? If it’s not alive, then…”

“Look, your friend’s not doing well. I’m going to need a decision,” urged the clinician, as Mildred slipped into unconsciousness.

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Ace of Clubs: The Bravest

Aces of clubs showing the Matterhorn in Switzerland, the Donauturm in Vienna, and Earthrise over the Moon, with the caption 'Earth is the third planet from the sun and its rotation period around the sun is 365 earth days. It is the only planet known to support life.'Whenever, on my personal adventure quest
I come across two paths, I know that I’ll
Inevitably find the biggest treasure chest
along the road that’s scares me wordless, worldless and worthwhile.

Now sometimes I can feel which one’s the bravest way,
like: do I vaunt my head or write my heart?
Outcome, I’m gearing up to tell you this today:
I don’t know which is bravest: leave home, leave job, or restart?

Continue as things are, I’ll have to transfer, flee
the only home I’ve made; time, brain, backbone
gone into now-familiar things that anchor me
weigh anchor, sail away to sunsets, fun fêtes and unknown.

Or change things, follow heroes who have dared to quit,
start new in the surroundings I’ve enjoyed,
arrange things so this country lets me stay a bit
for study? One more contract, endless? Centless? Self-employed?

I’ve hemmed and hawed and ranked and scored and felt and thought and swung my sword, delayed, ignored, gone back and forward, and this is all it’s led me toward:
Whichever path is scary (therefore good)
The bravest cut their own paths through the wood.

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Eight of Diamonds: ISS vs. LHC (a comparison)

Here is a handy, sometimes whimsical (but always as accurate as I could manage) comparison between two of my favourite scientific endeavours (now version 1.1, with changes detailed in a new post, along with a HTML table version with all the notes visible.) It is too cluttered with information to be a good infographic, so I’m calling it a TMIGraphic. Click on the image for a higher-resolution pdf with links and copious notes. It’s best if you save it and open it in a pdf reader rather than viewing it in your web browser, as the notes didn’t show up in the browser I tried. Click on each information box for the primary or most readable reference, and click the note icons for more explanations, references and interesting links. If you can’t see the note icons in the pdf, or if clicking on them doesn’t do anything, let me know and I’ll try to figure something out; the notes are important.

I’ve wanted to do this for at least three yearsLed by the U.S, the International Space Station will be the largest, most complex international cooperative science and engineering program ever attempted.; I think it started with wondering which was cooler, and immediately answering myself with the relevant temperatures. When I started this round of Writing Cards (and not so much Letters) I thought I’d work on it slowly throughout the year, then finish it when the appropriate cards came up in one of the NASA decks and the CERN deck in the same week. This didn’t work for two reasons: every time I started to work on it slowly (and also, when I first came up with the idea of doing it as an infographic a year or so ago) I got stuck on the vacuum pressure outside the ISS. And even though the week’s CERN card is about LINAC-1, the NASA card seemed like a challenge that I couldn’t resist. Is the International Space Station really the largest, most complex international cooperative science and engineering program ever attempted? Well, I don’t want to choose a favourite. Let’s just say the Large Hadron Collider is the largest, most complex international cooperative science and engineering program on Earth, and the ISS is the largest, most complex international cooperative science and engineering program in space.

This took longer than my usual deadline of a week, but not through procrastination. Also not so that it would be released four years and two days after the first beam went through the LHC, though I’ll use that as an excuse if it helps. Almost every one of those numbers took quite a bit of effort to get right, and you’ll see in the notes in the pdf (that’s the old pdf, corresponding to the TMIGraphic pictured; here‘s the most recent one) that most of them come with various caveats and explanations, because nothing is simple. I’ll have to update some pages in wikipedia after this. I’m certain I still have some things wrong; maybe some obvious things. Please point them out, and I’ll fix them in the next version. Also, feel free to tell me how bad my layout is, iff you have a better suggestion. I know this is not perfect yet and I intend to keep working on it. If you have ideas of information to add, I’d like to hear that too; especially if you have leads on where to get that information. I can provide the original OmniGraffle document if you want to make your own changes, but I’d have to clean it up a bit first; there are a few things that I just made invisible rather than deleting.

The vacuum pressure outside the station gave me the most trouble; I’d hoped it would be a simple equation, or a statistic NASA would publish on their general ISS fact pages, but mainly I just found statements that the pressure inside the LHC beam pipe was the same as at 1000km altitude. For ISS orbit I found values or equations around the place suggesting values that differed by a factor of a billion, and nothing that seemed convincingly more authoritative than the others. Finally, via the Wikipedia page on orders of magnitude of pressure, I found a NASA document with the numbers for 500km, so I used those. It actually varies by a factor of 20. This is still at least 70km higher than the station, so outside the station it’s more likely to be toward the higher end of that range; that is, a less perfect vacuum than inside the LHC beam pipe.

I also had some technical difficulties with the presentation (apart from the clutter and my lack of graphical talent or training.) Firstly, I’m sorry if colour-blind people have trouble distinguishing anything. I wanted to use a colour-blind safe palette, but the paler colours wouldn’t have had enough contrast with white to work with the style I’d chosen. The colours of the information boxes are not essential anyway; they just group them into broad categories and might make it a bit easier for people to find the corresponding information about the ISS or the LHC.

As for finding the corresponding information boxes about the ISS and LHC, it’s really not optimal. There’s a tangled mess of dashed lines connecting them which is really no more functional than background decoration. I thought of making each info box link to the corresponding one on the other diagram, but although that worked in OmniGraffle, in a pdf viewer it did not zoom in enough on the linked box to make it sufficiently obvious which one you’d just jumped to. I also would have liked to make the links in the notes clickable, and add images to some of them. Again, this was possible in OmniGraffle but not in pdf. I’m not sure if there’s a common format that allows all these things.

So, after all that, the important question: Which one would win in a fight?

Of course it depends what the fight is, and here’s where you can get creative. In a weight-loss competition such as The Biggest Loser, I think the ISS would win, having lost about an eighth of its weight by going up to 426km altitude. Though the LHC did lose a fair bit of helium at one point. Meanwhile, the ISS literally runs rings around the LHC, and would certainly win the high jump. If you have an idea, feel free to comment here or, as the TMIgraphic says, tweet it with the #ISSvsLHC hashtag. Maybe it’ll catch on.

As for the ultimate winner, I’ll let Wil Wheaton have the last word. Science. SCIENCE!

Update: I heard back from my friend who had information on the LHC tunnel temperature (actually the temperature of the LHCb cavern, but it should be about the same), and updated that. I also added information in the notes about the exhibition on the AMS detector which you can come see at CERN Microcosm at the moment, and nudged a few things inwards so the preview is a little narrower. If you’ve gone through all the notes in the old pdf you might already have seen this talk given at CERN by the astronauts who installed the AMS on the International Space Station. I was there, and I wanted to ask (for the purposes of this comparison) which they thought was the most awesome out of the LHC and the ISS, but I was in one of the few spots without a microphone.

One thing I’d been meaning to mention is that the path to ‘orbit’ of both things starts with a proton and continues with a booster. The first module of the ISS was put into orbit using a Proton rocket, and many of the rest were taken to orbit on the space shuttle, with its solid rocket boosters. In the LHC, it’s the particle called a proton and the Proton Synchrotron Booster which accelerates it as part of the journey to the LHC.

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King of Spades (Moxy Früvous parody)

This is a parody of King of Spain by Moxy Früvous, written by me and sung by my not-so-top-secret collaborator, whom some of you recognised as Hello, The Future! She was sick for a while, which is why this is a week later than promised. There’s an mp3, but it probably makes more sense with the video.

Here are the lyrics (forgive the spacing; if I could have a superpower, it would be to always be able to make WordPress space lines the way I want):

Once I was the King of Spades              now I’m just a playing card

Oh, how I planted that naked lady          now I’m just a playing card

I’m telling you I was the King of Spades   now I’m just a playing card

And now it takes lady luck to play me

Wan, 2 3 4!

Chicks dug me, spades really suited me

digging up bones from the late Cretaceous or planting downy birch trees

Now I eat humble pie whenever the ace is high

Caught in a flush for a poker cheater, plotting to crush the other guy

Once I was the King of Spades             now I’m just a playing card

A pirate’s deckhand, burying lucre        now I’m just a playing card

I’m telling you I was the King of Spades  now I’m just a playing card

And now my hand sweeps the deck at Euchre

Once this was the King of Spades

Folks would rave, they’d die so I’d dig their grave, the people said:

“King, how are you such a genius?”

“Your mounds are convex”

“and holes are concave!”

Kill chafer grubs so I would have safer shrubs

I’d do yardwork all through the weekend

and dig diamonds to give the lonely hearts clubs

Once I was the King of Spades                             now I’m just a playing card

Old tree falls, new sea walls, you sat back, I’d hack that.   now I’m just a playing card

I’m telling you I was the King of Spades                     now I’m just a playing card

Now the Ace hits me up to save you at blackjack.

Once this was the King of Spades

Ladies and Gentlemen, make your bids for the instrumental bridge!

Now some of you might be wondering how I came to be a playing card

after being a real life king of spades. Should I lay my cards on the table?


Deal me in!

You see late one day, I’d just dug a wishing well

Clearly I had to test it, I’ve pride in the service I sell.

And I thought, well this number’s fun, but I should be in the pictures

Next thing my heads are pounding, I’m upside down,

and I’m too legless for britches.

Ship and flatfish, banquet and cat dish

How I wish I’d never made that wish.

Counter to all intentions, I only have two dimensions.

If you’ve felt you’re bored with the cards life dealt

Remember, real life beats royal flushes

so dig your way to gold rushes!

Once I was the King of Spades                      now I’m just a playing card

I was dealing out gem stones from pyroclastic      now I’m just a playing card

I’m telling you I was the King of Spades           now I’m just a playing card

And now my dealer is Angelastic.

Once this was the King of Spades

It was obvious I should parody this song for the King of Spades. I assumed I’d end up writing a nonsense song describing all the Kings of Spades I have in rhyme, and that it wouldn’t make any sense at all without a video showing the cards. Sort of like Jonathan Coulton’s Flickr. But to make a video, I’d need someone to sing it. Naturally, I thought of Hello, The Future! since she has already written one King of Spain parody, and when I first met her she was wearing a ‘Hello, The Future! is the name of my Moxy Früvous cover band’ T-shirt. Also, I knew she had a fez and had experience wearing a fake moustache. I commissioned her to do it even before I’d written anything. Once the lyrics were written, I sent her my shouting parts, some noises I made with my rainstick (which I am determined to use in everything now) and a plastic box full of kings of spades, and the one line which I realised, to my horror, would only make sense if I sang it myself, and she mixed it all in. It ended up being some kind of story about a real-life spade maven who turns into a playing card, and it might make some kind of sense without the video, but it’s still more fun with it.

One thing I hoped I could make clear in the video was that the ‘naked lady’ line was referring to amaryllis bulbs; I’m not sure how widespread that name is. But alas, amaryllis is out of season here.

One of these days, I should put this and several other things on my podcast. Unfortunately, I chose a podcast hosting platform which is a real hassle to use, so I’ve been lax in adding things to it.

I used cards from several new decks of cards this week. Obi-Wan Kenobi from a Star Wars Heroes & Villains deck I got in Sweden made an appearance (he’s a King of Spades, but was the ‘Wan’ as I shouted ‘1 2 3 4’), as did a Queen of Hearts (in the lonely hearts club) from the Vasa Museum in Stockholm. Also in the lonely hearts club is a King of Spades from a Kama Sutra deck I found while searching for panties to throw at Paul and Storm. Underneath the ship card, you can see some information from a Golden Gate Bridge deck I was given on JoCo Cruise Crazy 2, and somewhere in there is a King of Spades from a pirate deck I bought in Aruba (the same place I got the rainstick) during that cruise.

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Five of Spades: Options

Note: This is a song-like thing. Here is an mp3 of my Mac singing it to approximately the right tune, just so you can get the same tune in your head that I had in mine when I wrote it.

Feel free to make your own recording of it with human vocals and actual music if you wish. I make no claim of being musical, and I probably accidentally copied the tune from something. Sosumi.

If I can’t have this, then I’ll have that
If I can’t have a dog, I’ll have a cat
If I don’t like today there’s always tomorrow
If I can’t be Superman, I’m Bizarro
If I can’t have coffee I’ll have tea
If I can’t have a pool I’ll have the sea
If I can’t have chocolate, I’ll have cakes
If I can’t have cities, I’ll have lakes
But if I can’t have you there are no good fakes
So I’ll be very sad.

Well you can’t always get what you think that you want
But you can get something that’s just as nice
It is not very likely the thing that you crave
Will be the only thing that will suffice

If I can’t have Mars I’ll take the moon
If I can’t be first I’ll be there soon
If I can’t have shuttles, I’ll have Soyuz
If I can’t fly from you I’ll fly for youse
If I can’t have Skylab I’ll have Mir
If I can’t leave Earth then I’ll stay here
If there’s no zigazig I want all your base
If there’s no E.T. I’ll take the human race
But if I can’t have you there’s an empty space
And I’ll be very sad.

Well you can’t always get what you think that you want
But you can always want what you’ve got
It is not very likely the thing that you crave
Will be the only thing to hit the spot

If I can’t have ATLAS there’s CMS
If I can’t find the Higgs I’ll make another guess
If I can’t prove that, I’ll become a believer
If I can’t go to PAX I won’t be a reaver
If I can’t write songs then I’ll still write Things
and if my voice sounds bad my computer sings
If I can’t have Hexley, I’ll have Tux
If I can’t have a princess, I’ll have ducks
But if I can’t have you then that just sucks
And I’ll be very sad

Well you can’t always get what you think that you want
But you can always rehypothesise
It is not very likely the answer you seek
Is the only one that satisfies

If I can’t have some things I’ll have others
If I can’t have sisters I’ll have brothers
If I can’t have rhythm I’ll have rhyme
If I can’t have space then I’ll have time
If I can’t have proof then I’ll have trust
If I can’t make love then I’ll take lust
If I can’t have lovers, I’ll have nudes
And if I can’t have ladies, I’ll have dudes
But I can’t have you so we’ll have feuds
’cause I am very sad

Well you can’t always get with the person you like
but you can always find someone new
It is not very likely the one that you want
Will be the only one that’s meant for you

Well, they say there are plenty more fish in the sea
Though I don’t think they mean that literally
And while I can’t seem to stop the overfishing
I always can be careful what I’m wishing

‘Cause if I can’t be linked then I’ll be free
If I can’t have you there’s another three
And if I can’t have them then I’ll have me
And you’ll be very sad.
But you can deal with that:
Just find another lad.

Read the rest of this entry »

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