Temporary Hiatus

Attention, my dear readers: Missing Brains, the nearly-award-winning blog, is going to be going on hiatus for the next month.  Fear not, we will return, but for the next month, this blog will lie still and (mostly) dormant.

“But why!?” you might ask.  “Why would you forsake us, and stop providing us with free and mildly entertaining stories?”

Well, it certainly isn’t because I’m going to stop writing!  On the contrary, in honor of NaNoWriMo, I’m going to be undertaking an entire novel.  In only thirty days!

I can just hear you all now.  “Nano-rhyme-o?  What the heck is that?”

Not quite, but good try on the pronunciation!  National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is every November, when thousands of budding novelists all around the world try to sit down and write a full-length novel in just November – in 30 days.

“That sounds next to impossible.  Writing a whole novel?  In just 30 days?  Isn’t that, like, 5,000 words a day?”

Actually, it’s just 1,667 words per day.  A novel can be as few as 30,000 words, or as many as 80,000.  Some novels are even longer, but those tend to drag on, and should either be pared down or should be split into two different stories.  50,000 words is usually a good standard to aim for.  And working with Times New Roman, 12 point font, double spaced, this works out to only about 4-5 pages per day.

Now that doesn’t seem too hard, does it?

Actually, as a former NaNoWriMo survivor veteran, I can attest to the fact that it is quite difficult.  Plotlines change and evolve, new characters appear, and sometimes edits are needed.  And edits don’t count towards length requirements.

Add in to this that I have plenty of other work that comes ahead of writing, and NaNoWriMo becomes quite the challenge.  But never let it be said that I will back away from a challenge, so I’m going to give it a shot.

Want to track my progress?  Check out my writer’s profile here.  And wish me luck!  If anything, maybe consider becoming a participant in NaNoWriMo yourself!

Talk to you all at the end of the November?

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How it works: Mendelian Inheritance!

Today in How It Works, we are going to take a step away from the molecular areas of genetics, and are going to instead talk about evolution!  More specifically, we are going to talk about this dude:

Look at those glasses.  Has to be a scientist.

This man, who lived back in the 19th century (1822-1884, to anyone who’s interested), is named Gregor Mendel.  Growing up in Austria, he worked on a farm as a child, and chose to join the Augustinian monks to help afford his studies, as the monks would pay for his education.

At the university where he studied, Mendel chose to focus on heredity – a hot topic at the time!  He started off breeding mice together to track their traits, but the monks weren’t comfortable with him observing animal sex (squeamish lot, those monks), so he switched over to plants.

What Mendel observed, as he bred together pea plants while looking at certain traits, is that it was possible to create what were known as inbred lines – that is, lines that always showed a certain trait!  Back then, there wasn’t a clear understanding of the existence of genes, so scientists could only observe the phenotype – that is, the physical appearance of the organism in respect to a specific trait.

Mendel, in true scientific fashion, tried to only focus on a single trait, figuring that the fewer variables he had to track, the better.  For this example, let’s take pea pod color (which comes in two flavors: green and yellow).  If Mendel bred some wild-type plants together, he would get a mix of greens and yellows.  But if he kept on breeding only green or yellow plants together, he eventually found that all the offspring would be 100% green or yellow, matching the color of the parent.

Now, that’s not too interesting.  If you keep on selecting for a trait, eventually you only see that trait.  Awesome.  But when things got really interesting was when Mendel decided that, after creating an inbred line of green peas and an inbred line of yellow peas, he was going to breed the two different inbred lines together.

The first generation of offspring from this cross (usually referred to as F1) was all green peas.  Pretty dull, although it’s interesting that green seemed to dominate over yellow.  But not yet willing to give up, Mendel decided to go ahead and cross this F1 generation to itself.  The results from this cross were surprising.

Mendel saw that in this next generation (the F2 generation), he would see three green pea pods for every yellow one.  And no matter how many times he tried this F2 cross, he still saw this remarkably stable ratio of three to one.

From this, Mendel deduced that there were two alleles that represented these two colors.  The green allele made pea pods green, while the yellow allele made them yellow.  Whenever a plant had one of each allele, it would show green; the green allele is dominant to the yellow allele!

The big conclusion that Mendel drew, along with the existence of these alleles, is that these alleles were given to offspring independently.  This is known as the Law of Independent Assortment.  Here’s a handy chart to show how it works:

In this case, the big G corresponds to the allele that makes the pea pods green, while the small g corresponds to the allele that makes them yellow.  As you can see, the F1 individuals each have one big G allele and one little g allele; because the big G is dominant, they are green.  When they are bred together, 3/4 of the resulting offspring will inherit at least one G allele, and will thus be green.  But the last 1/4 will inherit a little g from both parents, and thus will be yellow!

One way to think about Mendelian inheritance as a set of rules:

  1. All genes have two forms: a dominant form, usually represented by a capital letter, and a recessive form, usually represented by a lower case letter.
  2. If a dominant allele for a gene is present, that is the phenotype that will be shown by the organism.
  3. The only time a recessive allele will create the phenotype is if there are no dominant alleles present for that trait!
  4. There is an equal chance for a parent to pass on any allele that it has.  In the above example, each parent in the F2 cross has a 50% chance of passing on a big G allele and a 50% chance of passing on a little g allele.
Makes sense so far?
Now, there are a ton of other factors that can influence inheritance, things like co-dominance, suppression, partial penetration, and haploinsufficiency.  But these will come into play later.  Mendel’s discoveries, although lost for many years, created a stir in the scientific community when they were rediscovered and shown to be correct.  

Ask Jackson Galaxy!

Do you recognize this man?  His name is Jackson Galaxy, and he is a part-time musician and full-time Cat Whisperer on the Animal Planet show, My Cat From Hell!  The editorial staff, here at Missing Brains, would love his input on several pressing topics of cat ownership that we have prepared here.

Yes, he IS the Cat Daddy.

  • Dear Cat Whisperer, my cat won’t eat his cheeseburger.  Are there certain toppings that he dislikes?
  • Dear Cat Whisperer, my cat insists on creeping into my room and whispering to me at night.  How do I make him stop?
  • Dear Cat Whisperer, I met an amazing guy on a date last night.  But when he came back to my house and saw my seven feline roommates, he turned tail and fled.  Should I call him right away or wait the customary day?

  • Cats.  Why?
  • Dear Cat Whisperer, my cat insists on bringing me dead animals – birds, mice, etc.  How do I get him to bring me my ex-wife?
  • For removing unwanted cat hair, should I use wax, Nair, or a razor?
  • Dear Cat Whisperer, my cat has the cutest little mask on his face like a bandit!  He also has lovely dark rings on his tail.  How do I discourage him from digging through my trash?
  • Dear Cat Whisperer, my boyfriend keeps texting me how he wants to “punish my kitty.”  Why does he want to hurt Snuggles?
  • Dear Cat Whisperer, I think I’m not going to wait to call him.  I’m sure he loves me!
  • Dear Cat Whisperer, I’ve heard stories of cats gnawing off people’s faces.  Is there a flavor they especially crave?  Can I get a new, better face afterward?
  • How do I improve my cat’s grammar?
On behalf of the editorial board here at Missing Brains, we look forward to Mr. Galaxy’s responses!

Out Beyond The Walls – writing short

No, this isn’t connected to any other story yet.  Just a bit of post-apocalyptic character building.

As I gazed around the interior of the ruined building, uneasily noticing how the other members of Terry’s crew seemed to occupy their spare time by using pointy objects to pick at their teeth or nails, or sharpen their blades, something nagged at the back of my mind.  Something about Terry’s description of his allies.

“Wait a minute,” I said, turning towards Terry.  He was still standing beside me, obviously enjoying my discomfort, thrust into this world with which I was totally unfamiliar.  “You said that you had four other people in your crew, right?”

“I did,” he agreed, grinning at me.  His hands hung free, but I knew that, if I made the slightest aggressive move, he would have the pistol at his waist free in a heartbeat.  Although I doubt he’d waste a bullet on me.  Not when a knife would work just as well, and be much cheaper.

I glanced around the dusty, shadowed interior.  “I only count three,” I said, my eyes roaming over each of them in turn.  Jhang was using a dagger to clean his nails, perched contentedly atop an overturned shelving unit.  Kali was using a whetstone to hone her many daggers; a small pile sat on the ground beside her, waiting to be sharpened before she would tuck them back up her sleeves.  And Wade, whom I had yet to hear utter a sentence more than three words long, was sitting cross-legged atop a small stool, his eyes closed in meditation and his long, straight-edged blade lying across his lap.

“We’re a tight-knit crew, sure, but there’s always more to be done around this place,” Terry commented, spreading his hands wide to take in the disarray.  “So sometimes, while most of us are out on missions, like retrieving you, I’ll send one or two of us off to get some real work done.”  His eyes flicked away from my face, over my shoulder.  “Ah, and here he is now!”

I turned, and was stunned as I took in the newcomer.  I couldn’t believe he had managed to get this close to me before I noticed him.

Approaching at a slow tread was the largest man that I had ever seen.  He stood well over seven feet in height, and had shoulders as wide as axe handles.  Each hand, hanging open loosely at his side, must have been as big as a dinner plate.  He was walking with his back slightly hunched, but I was still amazed that he was able to fit through a door frame.

“Our last member!” Terry declared loudly as the giant joined our rough, ragged circle.  “Meet Smasher.  Oh, it’s an obvious name, to be sure, but it just suits him so well!”

The giant gave a slight grumble, a low-pitched rumbling noise deep in his throat.  Terry crossed in front of me, reaching up to pat the massive man’s arm in a curiously dismissive manner.  “Smasher doesn’t do much talking,” Terry went on.  “Not really his thing.  But he’s our go-to for the heavy lifting, and he certainly pulls his load!”

I looked back up at Smasher.  Now that I looked closer, I could see that his wide face was curiously childlike.  He had a protruding brow which, coupled with his wide, flattened nose, made him appear slightly as though he had walked face-first into a wall.  His eyes, nestled deep into his face, looked calm, unworried.  That made one of us, I thought darkly to myself.

“Wonderful,” I said, directing my voice towards Terry as I surreptitiously took a step or two away from the group.  “So now you’ve brought me here, under the threat of violence-“

“Implied violence, mate!” Terry interrupted.

Behind us, Kali laughed, a sharp, harsh sound.  “As if there’s any real difference,” she spat out.  “No room for sneaky lies or fancy words in this world any more.”

Terry made a tutting sound, clicking his tongue at her.  “Oh, subtlety is alive and well!” he insisted.  “But yes, Ambassador, we have brought you here for a reason.  Oh, that is very certain.”

“And what reason is that, pray tell?”

The leader of this villainous gang swung his hand wide, arcing around to indicate the dark recesses of the large building that held us, pointing off down the dim corridors.  “We may be some of the best out here in this God-forsaken wasteland, but look at our digs!” he exclaimed.  “This place isn’t much more than a hovel.  No power, no light – basically every system that could break has done so.”

I nodded.  “Sure, but I don’t see what this has to do with me.”

Terry’s finger, previously taking in the decay, now swung around to point straight at my chest.  I noted uneasily out of the corner of my eye that Kali had stopped sharpening her blades, and that her and Jhang’s eyes were locked on mine.  “You, my dear boy,” Terry said, “are going to fix it.”

How to Talk to Professors

Now that I’ve started graduate school, I’ve had to go and talk with lots of professors.  Discussing class topics, planning presentations, setting up rotations, asking for letters of recommendation, getting advice on projects, etc., I decided that it’s time to share my thoughts on how to go about it, and what mistakes many people make.  So, without any further ado, let me present: How to Talk to Professors!

Before the meeting:

Get a notebook.  Even if you have an amazing memory, get a notebook.  And a pencil or pen.  Bring it with you.  Take notes in it.  It will keep you on track, help you remember anything interesting the professor mentions that you may want to look at later – and to the professor, it makes you look as though you really care about what they say.  Win/win.

Figure out what you’re after.  Why are you even bothering to talk to this professor?  This should be pretty obvious, but make sure that you’re aware of what you’re after.  If you want a letter of recommendation, this should be your primary goal.  Want a rotation slot?  That’s your goal.  Write this at the top of your notebook so you won’t forget, should you be distracted or the topic veer off topic.

Read up on the professor.  This depends a bit on the professor, but the best way to seem smart and knowledgeable is to be prepared.  (Also, the best way to seem undesirable is to go in with no background, should your goal be to bomb the meeting.)  And I mean more than knowing the professor’s name!

  • Website bio.  Everyone has a website with a bio on it these days.  Find it by Googling your professor’s name and give it a quick read.  Chances are good that it hasn’t been updated since 2010, but check it out nonetheless.
  • Their last 3-5 significant works.  Most professors write research papers, which are then published.  If they’re in biological sciences, put their name into NCBI’s database and see what comes up.  If they’re in a different discipline, you may need to find a different database.
    • Note: do not read the entire paper!  Do it if you’ve got time, but usually you don’t need to bother.  Read the abstract, introduction, and conclusions/discussion.  That usually gives you enough to follow along in their talking without having to memorize too much.
  • The syllabus.  Meeting with the professor for a class?  First, make sure your answer isn’t in the syllabus.  If you show up and ask about something clearly stated in the syllabus, the professor will irrationally hate you for the rest of the class. 
Location, location, location.  Do you know where your professor’s office is?  Are you sure?  Better double-check (good thing you found their website already!).  Figure out how to get there, and plan an extra 5-10 minutes to account for getting lost in the labyrinthine halls of these massive buildings.  Who decided that a Space Invader was the best floor plan layout anyway??
Was that a left or right at the antenna?

At the meeting:

Check yourself before you wreck yourself.  In terms of fashion, I mean.  Take a quick look down at what you’re wearing.  Does your shirt have a beer logo on it?  Is that clever saying on your hat offensive to women, minorities, gerbils, and anyone who knows the difference between ‘your’ and ‘you’re’?  If so, take it off or cover it up.  You don’t need to be wearing a suit and tie, but make sure you look presentable.  Button-up or polo shirt, no food stains, and comb your hair.
Don’t talk, listen.  I’ve found that, at most of my meetings with professors, I tend to do between 25-40% of the talking.  That’s right: I’m never talking even half the time.  People in general like to talk about things they know about, and the professor knows more about his topic than you.  Shut up and let him talk.  He feels good that you’re listening to what he has to say, and you’ll get to not have to worry about saying something really stupid.
Body language.  We’ve all seen that quote that says that 90% of communication is nonverbal.  Well, show it, you slacker.  Sit up, keep your eyes on the professor, write down little bits of what he says so that you can go back to it later, and give him/her an encouraging nod whenever he or she pauses.  Keep a smile on your face.
  • Don’t fidget.  I’m making a separate note here: if you’re nervous, lace your fingers together and twiddle your thumbs inside this little finger-igloo.  Even better, do it under the table.  This way, the professor can’t see that you’re nervous.  
Don’t fall asleep at the meeting.  Drink caffeine if necessary.

Rephrase.  Is the professor staring at you, waiting for you to say something?  Do you have no idea what answer he or she wants?  Instead of fumbling with lots of pauses and ums, simply say something like:
“Let me just make sure that this is clear: you’re saying that if a pig has a wingspan greater than three times its body length, it should be able to generate sufficient upward thrust to at least leave the ground?”
Obviously, don’t say that.  But take the last point the professor was stating, rephrase it slightly, and pose it as a question.  If you’re wrong, the professor will assume that he or she didn’t make the point clear enough and will repeat it.  If you’re right, the professor will usually leap off of where you ended with that upward lilt, continuing on towards the point he or she was trying to get you to guess previously.  
The professor runs the conversation; you steer.  This is a lesson I had to learn through experience.  If you’re sitting there doing the listening, the professor will be talking, and will be running the conversation.  But don’t forget, you’re there for a reason!  That reason should be written at the top of your notebook.  Glance down if you’ve forgotten it.  So just add a comment here or there, but keep on steering the conversation back towards your goal.  
  • Want a rotation slot?  Mention your current rotation and how it’s going, or ask about current lab research the professor is doing.
  • Want a letter of recommendation?  Mention the scholarship/job opportunity/fellowship and comment on how you’ve been working really hard on the application and/or essays.
  • Want a grade changed?  Well, good luck with that, but mention how you’ve been doing a lot of studying for their class, or how you felt that the recent test was very specific.
DO NOT disagree with the professor.  Or if you do, be extremely wary.  No one likes being told that they’re wrong.  And if you say that they are, they will almost always dig in their heels against you.  Research on cognitive dissonance say that, even if the professor is in the wrong, they won’t want to change their mind – they certainly don’t want to be corrected!  If the professor is really, obviously, definitely wrong, pose your correction as a suggestion or question to give them a better avenue to correct themselves and save face.
At the end of the conversation, if you don’t have your answer, ASK.  It is incredibly frustrating to walk away from a meeting with a professor without an answer.  If you go in to get a letter of recommendation, don’t leave until you’ve asked for one!  Better for them to say no so that you can move on, than for them to not answer and leave you stuck in the lurch.  If they’re wrapping up and you don’t have an answer, say something like:
“Professor Boltzmann, thank you for taking the time to talk to me.  I really liked hearing about your work, and I would greatly enjoy the opportunity to help contribute by rotating through your laboratory this fall.  Would there be an available spot for me?”
Easy as that.  You’ve got your answer.
After the meeting:

Follow up.  Promptly.  Did the professor request anything from you, such as a CV, resume, essays to read, test to review, etc.?  If so, send it to him as soon as you get to your computer.  Don’t delay.  If there are any materials they need, such as a link to click for submitting a letter of recommendation, make sure to send that to them as well.  Even if they don’t need any other materials…
Thank them.  Even if they said no.  All it takes is a quick one-line email that says, “Dear Professor Boltzmann, thank you for taking the time to meet with me today – I enjoyed hearing about your research.  Sincerely, me.”  Little details like thank-you emails can be the difference between a professor tackling your request right away, or tossing it on the bottom of their to-do pile.  It can also serve as a reminder about what you asked for, should it have slipped their mind already (which does happen).
Don’t write a thank you in crayon though.  Even if your handwriting’s this good.
Send reminders/thank you messages before the deadline.  Not after.  If there are five days until the letter of recommendation is due and the professor still hasn’t uploaded it, send them a quick email thanking them for agreeing to write their letter.  This will both remind them of the upcoming deadline, and make them feel guilty for not doing it yet.  
Reward yourself, and then jump back in.  Congratulations, you talked to another human being without hyperventilating too badly, passing out, or throwing up on them!  Give yourself a brownie as a reward.  Now, eat that brownie quickly, because now you need to move on to the next professor.  Start prepping for your next meeting!
Disclaimer: if any of these tips backfires on you, well, you probably did it wrong.  I take no responsibility.

Reboot, Part V

Continued from Part IV.  Start from Part I here.

I gingerly made my way out of the control room, winding my way through the maze of hallways as I took my roundabout approach towards the power core.  As with most ships, the power core was located towards the rear, where it would be close to the engines for easier conduit access, and further away from the living quarters in case of meltdown.  Unfortunately, as the control room was at the bow of the ship, this meant that I had plenty of distance to cover.

As I hurried along, keeping my eyes peeled for potential dangers, I made sure to glance into each room that I passed.  I was moving through the crew’s quarters, and normally these halls would be filled with bustling activity.  My men should be running about, each with his own task to accomplish.  Restocking, cleaning, checking levels for various internal systems within the ship – these were all vital jobs.  But the rooms were deserted.  I didn’t even see any bodies.  The rooms looked neat, undisturbed, and spookily vacant.

At the end of this corridor, I reached a set of blast doors, pausing and gathering my wits.  This was the access point to one of the larger cargo holds.  The doors had sealed, but instrument readings claimed that the other side hadn’t suffered a breach and was still accessible.  I had the override code.

I felt that nasty little sliver of doubt rearing its head inside my brain.  Were the sensors malfunctioning?  Was I going to open this door, only to be sucked out into the void of space?  Was that what had happened to my previous iterations, forcing repeated reboots?

As I stood there, my finger poised over the access terminal, I glanced down, and noticed that there was some dirt on the floor of the hallway.  For a moment I felt irritated, making a mental note to chastise whomever was on cleaning duty.  A moment later, however, the significance of this hit me.

Reaching down, I ran a finger through the dirt, noting how it loosely stuck to my finger.  There couldn’t be vacuum on the other side of this door, or the dirt would have been sucked away!  Feeling more confident, I straightened up and keyed in the code on the access panel.

The door slid open with the slight whoosh of compressed air, and there was no sucking void on the other side.  I let out the breath that I didn’t know I had been holding, and made my way inside.

There may still have been atmosphere inside the cargo hold, but the lights had gone out, and I carefully picked my way through the large stacks of crates in near-darkness.  I briefly considered turning around and looking for a handheld torch to light the way, but I had been through this cargo hold many times before, and was able to see just enough in the dim near-darkness to avoid any collisions.  In a few minutes, I had made it to the other side, poised to key in the code to open the blast door on the far side.

I raised my finger to the pad, feeling out the keys, but then paused.  As I had slid my hand over the frame of the blast door, searching for the keypad in the darkness, I had felt something else, slight grooves in the frame.  A moment later, my fingers found them again.  The grooves were very shallow, no more than scratches, but there were four of them, and I realized, with a thrill of horror, that they aligned perfectly with my fingers.

I pulled my hand away from the keypad as though it was burning hot.  In my head, I could see myself being sucked through the doorway as the blast doors slid aside, scrabbling uselessly at the side of the door to try and hold on as I was pulled out into the unforgiving void of space.

Sucking in a deep breath, I took a step back, away from the door and the void that must have waited on the other side.  This must have gotten at least a couple of those reboots; those grooves were too deep to have been left by only a single person.  I shuddered as I thought about that last minute of realization when, as they were being pulled out, the previous copies of myself must have felt the grooves and realized that this had happened to them before.

As my heart rate returned to some semblance of normal, however, I began taking stock of the situation once again.  The power core was still severely damaged on the ship, and this meant that there was no way to access it for repairs.

I was, well and truly, stranded.

Continued in Part VI.

How it works: miRNA!

So previously, I was talking about the DNA to protein pathway.  But in real life, things aren’t nearly as simple as this; there are many different mechanisms for feedback, for controlling how, when, and how many proteins are made from DNA synthesis.  Keep in mind that the raw genetic code in all of your cells, from skin to muscle to bone to organs to brain, is the same!  And yet somehow, these cells are able to differentiate, taking on many different shapes and roles.  How do they do it?

One way is through micro RNA, or miRNA!

Previously, I talked about messenger RNA, or mRNA, which is the intermediate stage between DNA and proteins.  DNA is transcribed into mRNA, which is then translated into protein.  A fairly simple two-step pathway.

But there are other types of RNA!  At least three other types that are well known, at least.  The first type is known as rRNA, and forms a specialized structure called a ribosome, which turns mRNA into protein.  The second type is known as tRNA, and is the structure that carries individual amino acids to the protein as it is being built by the ribosome.  And the third type is called miRNA, and suppresses the formation of proteins, preventing them from being translated at all!

So how’s it work?  It’s simple!

miRNA starts off just like any other RNA – it’s transcribed from DNA.  But remember how RNA is single-stranded, while DNA is double-stranded?  And the bases in DNA match up with each other, leading to complementary binding that holds the two strands together?

Well, miRNA starts off as a single strand of RNA, about 70-90 bases in length.  The bases at either end of the strand match up with each other, however, which causes the strand to fold in half and form a loop, similar to a hairpin!  (In fact, these loops are known as hairpins in scientific terminology.)  This hairpin structure can also be known as a stem-loop.

Once a stem-loop has formed, an enzyme called Dicer approaches, and slices off the “loop” part of the stem-loop.  After this piece has been sliced off, the miRNA appears as a short little sequence, about 20-22 bases, and is double-stranded.

The next step after this is the formation of the RISC (pronounced like “risk”) complex, a group of proteins that latch on to the double-stranded little miRNA.  At this point, one of the two strands is discarded, so the RISC complex contains a single piece of RNA, about 20 nucleotides long, sticking out from the big mass of proteins like a comb.

Now, that little miRNA contains a specific set of bases, and 20 bases means that this miRNA will only bind to sequences that are complementary matches – balanced opposites.  And it just so happens that certain, specific mRNAs have that exact complementary sequence!  The RISC complex uses its miRNA as a key to find matching mRNAs, and then binds to them and prevents them from being translated.  Instead, they are degraded, and that protein is not produced by the cell!

And thus, miRNA is able to lower the amount of, or down-regulate, the amount of a very specific protein in a cell, by preventing it from being made in the first place by destroying the mRNA.  Seems easy enough, doesn’t it?

Reboot, Part IV

Continued from Part III.  Start from Part I here.

I stumbled along as I ran for the bridge, climbing up the half-flights of stairs to access the upper deck of the ship.  On this higher level, I could see definite signs of damage.  Some of the lights, normally providing a pleasant underglow, had been knocked out and left dark areas in the corridor.  I guessed that they had been overloaded by a power surge.

As I hurried along, I suddenly was brought to a stop by another sight, something that sent a tremor of fear running down my spine.  The upper levels of my ship had been equipped with small portholes, granting the crew a limited view of what lay beyond, in the reaches of space.  Most of the time, I ignored them completely, as there was nothing to see outside.

But now, as I gazed at the small, thick window that offered a slightly smudged view of the starry expanse, I could see a faint white line, creeping up from the bottom of the window.  I reached out and tapped on the glass with a finger, only to watch as, with a screech at the far edge of hearing, the crack expanded another inch up the glass.

This was serious.  If that glass gave, we would all be dead, and no number of reboots would fix that.  I had to hurry.

Not bothering to exercise caution any more, I sprinted down the rest of the hallway until I reached the large door at the far end.  Unfortunately, I saw as I skidded to a stop, the door was closed, sealed shut and inaccessible without using the wall-mounted access panel.

I stared at the keypad on the wall, my mind going blank.  I knew the combination, I was sure of it – but I couldn’t remember what it was!  I reached out, flipping down the cover on the panel.  After a moment, I peered closer – something seemed to be scratched on the inside.

2875
     -CR

It looked as though the numbers had been scratched down with the tip of a knife.  I wondered why a previous version of myself had known the code, when I didn’t remember it now.  Maybe, I briefly considered, this had been carved by the original version of myself, before I had first been hit by something enough to trigger a reboot, which would then wipe the information from my memory.

There wasn’t much point in thinking about it too much now.  I reached up and punched in the letter sequence.  For what felt like an eternity, the screen continued to glow baleful red at me, and then finally:

Code Approved; Access Granted

With a hiss, the door began to slowly slide open.  At first, I was about to rush forward and try and slip inside, but then I remembered those fourteen slash marks on the paper in the mess hall.  I restrained myself instead, keeping one hand on the access panel, my finger poised over the close button should I be greeted by a dangerous sight.

As the door opened, however, I saw no immediate danger.  What I did see, however, was the glowing, blinking, furious red of a control panel where many, many things were going wrong.  As soon as I was sure that there was no other danger, I hurried in, staring down in dismay at the confusion before me.

“Computer, run diagnostics!” I commanded, my fingers flying over the keys.

After a moment, one of the few remaining undamaged screens flickered to life:

Voiceprint accepted.  Welcome back, Captain Reynolds.
Running diagnostic scan…



Warning: scan reveals multiple issues at code three or higher:
 -Extensive damage detected to Reboot system.  RealScan system software is unable to function; hardware damage is critical.  
 -Ship’s power core is offline.  Connection to power core has been severed.  Unable to reactivate.
 -Multiple hull breaches detected.  No repair process is possible at this time due to lack of power.

I groaned, running a hand through my hair.  I was definitely in trouble.

I keyed in a few more lines of code, pulling up the few security cameras that were still functioning.  The bottom deck, down by the cargo hold, looked as though it had been breached in multiple locations.  Fortunately, it looked as though the blast doors leading up to the main and upper levels had successfully sealed, their automatic circuits detecting the loss of atmosphere and closing to protect the rest of the vessel.  But this meant that I had very few options for accessing the power core.

Nonetheless, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to get anything else done, be able to escape to safety, without the ship functioning, without the ship having power.  There looked like there was still one route open.  I didn’t doubt that in my previous visits, before being rebooted, I would have seen this option.  But I had no other choice – I had to take it.

Continued in Part V…

Missing Brains’ One Liners – the master list!

Ever noticed that there are incredibly witty one-liners at the top of this blog, just under the title, and they change every time you refresh the page?  “How does he do that?” you ask.  “Does he put a new one up there every time, just for me?”

Yes.  Yes, it’s just for you.  Because you’re special.

But if you’re curious and don’t want to refresh the page a million times, here is the full list so far:
0.  Probably not the worst blog you’ve seen
1.  Before publishing: insert meaningful statement here
2.  Sometimes when I close my eyes, I can’t see
3.  A duck’s opinion of me is influenced largely by whether I have bread
4.  Luckiness: being run over by an ambulance.
5.  Intelligence is chasing me, but I’m beating it so far
6.  Careful where you point that
7.  If you don’t succeed at first, hide all evidence you tried
8.  To make time fly, throw your watch out the window
9.  Wear short sleeves support your right to bare arms!
10.  What’s the speed of dark?
11.  I like big butts and I lie all the time
12.  I like my women how I like my coffee: hot and bitter
13.  Lick your computer right now. Do it
14.  A runway model for sweatpants
15.  Better than unlimited juice, if only slightly
16.  Yay, beers! Taste like tears!
17.  Why settle for Mr. Right, when you could have Mr. Restraining Order?
18.  Your hair smells like roses. Dirty, dirty roses
19.  Imagine if there were no hypothetical situations
20.  Those who live by the sword get shot by those who don’t
21.  Internet: all of the piracy, none of the scurvy
22.  Santa knows where all the bad girls live
23.  Every zoo’s a petting zoo if you’re man enough
24.  If the world didn’t suck, we’d all fall off
25.  I put the sexy in dyslexic
26.  Putting laughter back into manslaughter
27.  Atheism’s a non-prophet organization
28.  Life is like an analogy
29.  Tornado rips through cemetery, hundreds dead
30.  Coffee just isn’t my cup of tea
31.  I used to think I was indecisive but now I’m not so sure
32.  I miss your absence
33.  I broke up with my gym. We just weren’t working out
34.  I overthink underthinking
35.  Every warning label has an awesome backstory
36.  So far out of your league I’m playing for the other team
37.  In a battle with words, I’m ready to mumble
38.  My wife and I laugh at how competitive we are, but I laugh more
39.  The best thing about telepathy is . . . I know, right?
40.  I’m counting on you, fingers.
41.  How dare you incinerate that I don’t know big words
42.  Measure once, panic twice
43.  It’s all shits and giggles until someone shits and giggles
44.  If I agreed with you, we’d both be wrong
45.  I played sports until I realized you could buy trophies. Now I’m good at everything.
46.  These are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.
47.  I was born at a very young age
48.  Either this man is dead or my watch has stopped
49.  Whiteboards are remarkable
50.  Camping is intense
51.  Procrastination – working tomorrow for a better today
52.  Nobody drives in New York. Too much traffic.
53.  I’m against picketing, but I don’t know how to show it
54.  I’m good friends with 25 letters of the alphabet, I don’t know Y
55.  You can’t trust atoms, they make up everything
56.  I have an inferiority complex, but it’s not a very good one
57.  I love the word frequently, and try to use it as much as possible
58.  It’s been swell, but the swelling’s gone down
59.  Like a midget at a urinal, I needed to stay on my toes
60.  What’s the hardest thing about a joke? timing
61.  Dead batteries for sale, free of charge!
62.  Have any naked pictures of your wife? Want some?
63.  I wish I shared your point of view, but my head doesn’t fit up there
64.  Eating a clock is time consuming
65.  I was shocked to find out my toaster isn’t waterproof
66.  A plateau is the highest form of flattery

A Word of Advice

Psst!  Hey you!  Yes, you, right there, looking at the screen.  Come in close, would ya?  I’ve got something to tell you.

Look, I know you.  No, don’t try and shake your head at me.  I know you.  You seem pretty well put together at first glance, make a pretty decent first impression.  Or at least a second impression.  You’re not a bad person, you’ve got some natural talents, some gifts, you’re not the dullest tool in the shed.  And hey, you know this.  So then, why are you so… what’s the word…

Ordinary?

Yeah, that’s it.  And I know that, deep down inside, you don’t want to be ordinary.  You want to excel, be unique, stand out from the crowd, have something about you that no one else has.  Because hey, don’t we all.  Look around.  Everyone wanted to be normal as a kid, and now they want to be unique as an adult.  Paradoxical, ain’t it?

But no, you want to excel.  At something.  And hey, don’t we all.  But we’ve tried, and I can certainly attest to it, it’s damn hard.  Trying to be good at something takes work.  And to be great?  Good luck, there’s always someone out there who’s further ahead, further down the line.  And at some point, you stop and say to yourself, might as well give up now, huh?  Call it, not waste any more effort?

So here, I’ll help you out.  Lay a little truth on you.  You see everyone else around you, all those people who are better than you, who can somehow always have the right thing to say, to do, for whom everything always seems so damn easy?  See them?  The people who somehow seem to have it all figured out?  See them?  Know them?

It’s a lie.

Everyone, every single person around you, is scared, paralyzed, in mortal fear that you can see through the chinks in their armor.  They’re all projecting out shells of knowledge, of confidence, trying to seem impenetrable, while inside they cry and mewl in helpless despair.

That speaker, confidently giving his presentation?  He’s spent months slaving over this topic, and is scared to death that someone will ask him a question he doesn’t know, or he’ll blank on the answer and be booed off stage.  That guy effortlessly chatting up the babes at the bar?  He’s been rejected so many times, and he remembers every one of them, each with its own unique, exquisite sting of failure.  That girl strutting down the street, dressed in high fashion and making every man’s head twist to follow her figure?  Just this morning, she stood in the mirror, observing every minuscule flaw and hating herself for them.  They all seem so sure of themselves, but inside, they’re just as fragile as you or me.

So, what’s the difference?  If we’re all the same inside, why are they able to pull it off?  How can they step forward when everyone else hesitates or steps back?  What do they have, that you and I lack?

Really, it’s rather a chilling answer.  They know that they will fail.  They have failed before, have taken those wounds, sustained those scars.  And they kept on going.  It’s not natural talent, or trained skill, or confidence, or poise, or ability, luck, happenstance, or fortune.

No, it’s raw, bloody, dogged determination.  They refuse to hide away, to stay safe from rejection, failure, disappointment and sadness.

It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. 
Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.

-Sophie Scholl