NOTICE: Posting schedule is irregular. I hope to get back to a regular schedule as the day-job allows.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

LINK: More on Zombie Science (Baen Nonfiction) [Full link to blog for email clients.]

Here's one of the reasons I haven't posted much content lately, I recently wroite the following for Baen Books, and it was recently put up on their main webpage:

"A Terrible Thing to Lose" –
Zombie Science and Science Fiction in John Ringo's Under a Graveyard Sky

by Tedd Roberts
We've seen it on the screen or in our mind's eye – the ravening hordes, the animalistic sounds, the hunger that cannot be sated – zombies! I was recently on a panel at a science fiction convention that discussed the transition from prior popularity of vampire stories to the current fascination with zombies. The moderator put forth the premise that vampire novels and urban fantasy are products of affluent societies with strong economies, while zombie novels and apocalyptic fiction are more representative of economic downturn and uncertainty. It is an interesting premise, given that the "classical vampire" is hundreds of years old, has amassed wealth, power and prestige... while zombies represent death and destruction that cannot be stopped by conventional means.

If I were a psychologist, I might mention that zombies represent fear of "The Other" - the foreign, even alien, presence that steals away our home and family; or that zombies represent fear of death or ending. On the other hand, as a firearm collector, Eagle Scout and member of Zombie Squad, I would bring up the fact that preparation for The Zombie Apocalypse is preparation for any disaster: natural or man-made. It only makes sense that a story-line which involves preparing to defend against the loss of all we hold dear would be popular in uncertain times that threaten jobs, homes and our very lives.

Whatever the appeal, zombies and the zombie apocalypse are prevalent in modern fiction—from Max Brooks' World War Z (and the movie of the same name, but derivative story) to the popular TV show The Walking Dead. The modern zombie story/zombie movie genre owes a lot to George Romero's Night of the Living Dead—but it can easily be argued that Mary Shelley's Frankenstein founded the concept of the metaphysically reanimated corpse. In Baen's own fiction, Larry Corriea's Monster Hunter International novels invoke (and dispatch) zombies by the hundreds and thousands. In fact, the image of seasoned Monster Hunter Earl Harbinger chopping and puréeing zombies through use of industrial snow-clearing machinery has led to a popular convention panel "Messiest Ways to Kill Zombies." The launch of a new Baen series – and the motivation for this post – is John Ringo's upcoming Under a Graveyard Sky, which follows a family escaping a zombie apocalypse and dealing with the aftermath...

Monday, July 29, 2013

Weird Science Monday: The Steam/cyber/punk brain [Full link to blog for email clients.]

A friend wrote and asked my what I thought the timeline would be for cyberpunk-style brain-to-computer interfaces.

For some reason, I repeatedly read that as "steampunk" interfaces...  

So I told him that I have difficulty imagining steampunk, brain and computer in one sentence since the major premises of steampunk are:
  • The Industrial Revolution turned to minaturization, resulting in refinement of  manufacturing to make small clockwork, springs and valves.  
  • The internal combustion engine and transistor are never perfected.
  • Without transistors, there is no electronics.
  • Without internal combustion, all engines are powered by steam or clockwork. 
  • Everyone thinks Victorian-era fashion is cool.
In such a world, I just don't see brain (bioelectric) interfacing to computers (clockwork). 

But this is "what-if" - so I came up with the following timeline... (fictional elements in italics)

126 AD - birth of Claudius Galenus (Galen), founder of modern physiology.
1525 - French physician Jean Fernel introduces Catherine De'Medici, wife of King Henri II of France, to the term "physiology" to describe the study of the body's (and brain's) function.  Being educated in the classics, De'Medici prefers the term "Galenology."
1822 - Charles Babbage demonstrates a partial model of his Difference Engine for dinner party guests.
1831 - Difference Engine No. 1 is completed by Joseph Clement and Charles Babbage.
1832 - Babbage begins design work on Difference Engine No. 2 and Analytical Engine.
builds a portion of his original design 
1835 - American Joseph Henry is electrocuted and dies while attempting to build an electromechanical relay, use of electricity in computing engines is abandoned.
1840 - English mathematician Ada Lovelace (the only legitimate child of Lord Byron!) joins with Babbage to further designs for the Analytical Engine.
1842 - Babbage completes design of Difference Engine No. 2, but Ada Lovelace convinces him to complete designs for Analytical Engine, instead.
1848 - English mathematician George Boole is institutionalized in a mental hospital, raving about "binary algebra" and "computer design" (binary math and Boolean logic are never developed).
1855 - Swedish engineers Per Georg Scheutz and his son Edvard display an improved Difference Engine at the Paris World's Fair.  Since the purpose of the engine is to repeatedly print mathematical tables, the "Scheutzian Calculation Engine" is coupled to a steam engine to drive the calculation cogs.
1871 - Babbage reveals a prototype computing core and printer for the Analytical Engine just weeks before his death.  
1875 - Swedish engineer Martin Wiberg reveals the further improved (and compact!) Scheutzian Calculation Engine which incorporates elements of Babbage's Analytical Engine.  Not only did Wiberg reduce the size of the calculation component, all parts, including the steam engine, were reduced to the size of a desk.  
1884 - American Dorr Felt completes the develops the "Comptometer" - a version of the Wiberg calculator with keyed inputs instead of dials and cranks.  
1886 - American Herman Hollerith develops a system whereby small strips of metal are punched with holes aligning with steam valves and channels in the Wiberg Calculator, representing a single operation for the calculation engine.  
1898 - American Daniel David Palmer establishes the "Palmer School of Chiropractic." His controversial theories include the metaphysical concept of "innate intelligence" in which the body's muscles and joints alter function of the brain. 
1906 - Henry Babbage (Charles's son) works with Hollerith to complete Babbage's Analytical Engine, using Hollerith's "punched card" system as well as a "valve board" system for "programming" the Engine for different operations. Hollerith and the younger Babbage form the "Industrial Babbage Machine Company."
1906 - American Lee De Forest seriously injured in a laboratory accident when a prototype vacuum tube "thermionic valve" explodes. 
1906 - Bartlett Joshua Palmer (son of Daniel David Palmer) takes over the Palmer School of Chiropractic.  Rumors abound that he is trying to build "Intelligizer" skeletal support frames that will not only allow injured patients to walk, but will also improve intelligence and thinking ability.
1921 - German scientist Otto Loewi reveals that nerves in the body send their signals using chemicals. 
1930 - American Vannevar Bush builds a chemically activated difference engine capable of solving differential equations. 
1931 - Austrian Kurt Godel publishes a paper proposing a formal computation language based on Loewi's identification of different chemical signatures for various brain and nerve functions.
1931 - Welsh physicist Charles Wynn-Williams demonstrates the first digital counter tied to a chemical detector.
1936 - Alan Turing of Cambridge University publishes his notable work on "computable thoughts" which reformulates Godel.
1938 - Nazi scientist Konrad Zuse completes the "Z1"  - the first computation engine to be directly operated by chemical means.  
1939 - Zuse completes the "Z2" operated by detecting "cerebrochemicals" from the blood of human "volunteers."
1941 - Rumors surface that Zuse has completed a "Z3" computation device in which human POWs have been surgically integrated into the machine via catheters and cannulas to collect cerebrochemicals directly from the brain and peripheral nerves.  
1941 - Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor uses "walking machines." One such machine is captured whole after its "pilot" was killed by a direct hit.  The Walker design is found to derive from Bartlett Palmer's Intelligizers.
1942 (February) - United States Executive Order 9066 leads to supposed internment of Americans of Japanese Ancestry.  In reality, internment was used as cover to explain disappearance of the AJA into covert intelligence missions.  Doolittle's Raid on Tokyo staged as a cover for a covert insertion of  AJA counterintelligence agents tasked with spying on Walker manufacturing.
1942 (April) - American Major General Leslie Groves assumes command of the super-secret "Huntsville Project" to develop fighting machines to counter anticipated combination of Nazi Z3's with Japanese Walkers by the Axis Powers.  
1944 (December) - Germans assault Allied lines in the Ardennes Forest using "GetriebeSoldaten" - mechanical soldiers.  
1945 (January) - Ardennes Counteroffensive (Battle of the Bulge) ends with Allied victory.  British Field Marshall Montgomery claims that his conventional forces won the day, while others credit the contribution of American "SteelSuits" - a true mechanized infantry - under the command of General George S. Patton.  

August 6, 1945 - "Little Boy" weapon designed by the Huntsville project released in Hiroshima, Japan.
August 9, 1945 -  "Fat Man" weapon developed by the Huntsville project released in Nagasaki, Japan.
The two weapons consisted of fully autonomous war-fighting mechanicals controlled by direct interface of a human brain to "Z3" type computational engines.  Little Boy was essentially an over-sized suit of heavy plate armor with the mechanical components integrated as artificial muscles and joints to allow a human controller to carry the increased weight of armor and weaponry.  Fat Man was designed such that the human controller sat completely within the large central "body" with legs, arms and weapons controlled remotely.  Surgical connection of the human "Combat Intelligence" with the "Combat Calculator" was always intended to be a one-way process.

Both of the devices were armed with conventional arms such as single shot and machine guns, as well as experimental lightning guns and heat rays.   The armor was a new form of superdense element to protect the human controller from return fire long enough for human and mechanical to inflict extensive damage on the enemy.  It was not after the War that the augmented explosions produced when the suits came under heavy defensive fire were fully understood to be a particular property of the uranium alloy armor.  


2010 - University Professor and Galenologist Tedd Roberts introduces a new teaching series entitled "Your Brain is Electropunk..."

Thursday, June 20, 2013

HUMOR: Credo of a Mad Scientist [Full link to blog for email clients.]

[Note:  My schedule is basically swamped with work-stuff and preparation for professional meetings, so I'm going to have to stay on an irregular schedule for now.  So here's a bit of fun in the meantime!]

Credo of a Mad Scientist:

1. First do no harm... unless you absolutely have to in order to advance your evil agenda!

2. No laughing, cackling or making the MWAhahahaha! sound... at least not for more than 15 seconds at a time. And frequency must be not more than once per hour.

3. Do not explain your evil plan to the plucky hero while you have him at your mercy. Kill first, explain later.

4. Do NOT, under any circumstances use Big Red Buttons ™ to operate the off switch or self-destruct for your evil end-of-world machine.

5. Do not secure your evil end-of-world machine with a laptop and 6-character password. 4096-bit encryption is so much more reliable.

6. Do not base your password on the names of your dog, cat or mad scientists from history. Avoid prime numbers, Fibonacci sequences or any other easy-to-crack sequence. You are evil – come up with an evil password!

7. Safety First! File down all of the sharp edges and projections on your lab equipment and evil weapons, keep all dangerous chemicals locked in appropriate safety cabinets.

8. Do not allow minions or Hero's to mix dangerous chemicals without reference to the appropriate Material Safety Data Sheets!

9. Make sure that all of your Hero traps have failsafes – so that you do not get trapped by them when the Hero escapes.

10. Ensure that the biometric remote control for the trap failsafes is carried somewhere that it will always be on your body – preferably implanted so that it cannot fall out of your pocket.

11. Beware of minions – if you let them learn too much, they may turn on you.

12. Do not recruit minions. Clone them.

13. Beware of clones.

14. Dormant volcanos do not make good hiding places for secret evil hideouts. Some do-good Hero is always managing to make them un-dormant.

15. South Sea islands with palm trees, fresh water and nice beaches will do nicely for a base of operations.

16. Be nice to the locals, otherwise they may turn on you.

17. Beware of clowns.

18. Piranhas and sharks are too messy. Shoot the Hero and then toss him in a room with some carrion beetles. Clean-up is much easier that way.

19. Chlorine Triflouride will do in a pinch.

20. Hyperintelligent mutant Lab Rats make good minions, but their paws have trouble with doors.

21. Avoid making Lab Rats too intelligent – they may decide to take over *your* job instead!

22. The only super power anyone has ever gained from the bite of a radioactive animal or insect is a nasty wound and a high fever.

23. Mutating the digestive tract of monkeys so that they can fling explosive poo is a BAD IDEA!

24. Capes are not a good fashion accessory, they may keep you warm in cold weather, but they tend to catch on objects when you are chasing (or running from) Hero's.

25. Invest in a good pair of running shoes.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The GUIDE: PTSD is an EFFECT, not a CAUSE [Full link to blog for email clients.]

On Facebook recently, I was tagged to comment on a thread in which someone remarked in passing that "PTSD caused [unnamed relative] to do [inappropriate act]."

Clearly I am highly abridging the text for the person's privacy, but I was tagged in to comment on the idea that PTSD caused the behavior.  This is a common tendency in popular culture – from the movie "Rambo" in which PTSD 'caused' the character John Rambo to commit violent acts, to the dangerous medical tendency to consider PTSD as a 'mental disorder' as an excuse to deny fundamental rights.  Given that PTSD is of considerable research interest to me, I have adapted my comments to the current blog and installment of The Lab Rats' Guide to the Brain:


PTSD is a disorder with strong physiological basis that result in effects generally revealed through personality.  It is characterized by memory disorder (flashbacks or triggered memory with a strong emotional content), generalized anxiety, hypersensitivity to certain audiovisual or sensory stimuli reminiscent of the traumatic stress event, depression (sometimes bipolar), attention deficit, etc.  Further, there is an alteration in how brain and body react (physiologically) to future stressful incidents. 
We now know that PTSD in particular, and stress in general, result in a change in the normal balance of neurotransmitter and receptor subtypes.  There are 7 primary neurotransmitters and about a dozen secondary neurotransmitters, and as many as 15 distinct receptor subtypes for each neurotransmitter - thus the balance of neurotransmitter synthesis and release, as well as the ratios of receptors and their regulation are important to brain function.

It is no more accurate to state that PTSD caused a person to commit rape than it is to say that depression caused a person to suicide or that schizophrenia caused a person to commit murder.  Rather, imbalances of mental state alter the "censor" that each of us has regarding actions that are or are not socially acceptable.  We all have random thoughts and urges that we (usually) immediately set aside because we know that such urges are inappropriate.  However, when the "censor" is affected, the urge is not immediately suppressed.

Virtually everyone has had the urge - when wronged by someone - to take revenge.  The schizophrenic, literally being of "split mind." does not apply the social norm and commits some act of violence.  We get temporarily depressed and think "What if I weren't here?  So-and-so would really regret it then!"  The normal person gets a cup of coffee or a cigarette and moves on to other things, but the depressed person acts on the impulse and commits suicide.  The PTSD reaction is much more likely to manifest in the realm of anxiety and stress (especially "over-reaction").  A sleeping person rolls over and touches his/her companion, startling them awake and triggering a violent PTSD-related response resulting in an ER visit for broken nose and concussion.  A non-sensitized person simply rolls over and goes back to sleep, but for the PTSD sufferer, the "filter" that says "home" & "safe" never really engages, and all sudden events are perceived as possible threats.

Now, it is possible for a person to have more than one disorder, such as anger disorder plus PTSD or schizophrenia plus PTSD.  With such combinations we do speak of the disorder 'causing' the behavior, but again, it is not the PTSD, but the underlying condition that 'allows' (not causes) the person to act on impulses that they would ordinarily ignore or suppress.  The terms "psychopath" and "sociopath" have fallen out of favor among psychologists and psychiatrists – favoring instead the catch-all term "personality disorder."  However, the older term both refer in common to individuals that do not understand or care about social norms – or at least care whether their actions violate those norms. 
The choice to commit an act of exhibitionism or violence was not itself caused by the PTSD.  Having PTSD may have allowed the person to act on the impulses.  Having another type of psychological or personality disorder would certainly compound the problem. 


The reason researchers and psych types stress these issues is that it is very important to understand all of the contributing effects (and consequences) of an action.  Successful treatment of a mental disorder requires that medical professionals accurately describe which symptoms and actions are due to which disease – that way, as treatment progresses, they know which effects and side effects are appropriate. 

On the other hand, a diagnosis of PTSD is often a stigma, often resulting in loss of respect, jobs, family and even certain rights as a citizen.  Partly this is because of misdiagnoses, and part due to the tendency to attribute any and all "bad" behavior to PTSD.  We owe it to our soldiers and fellows not to abuse the term!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Monday FUNNY [Full link to blog for email clients.]

During a dangerous factory explosion that occurred in China, a Monkey was recorded on the camera saving a puppy from the explosion site, He held the dog as he ran out of the factory. 

Pretty neat, huh?

So, one of my lab techs sent this to me and said:  'Hey Boss, maybe we should get a dog for work... of course it would have to be a 'Lab'."


On another day I got this:

Monkey orchids.  *Someone* has too much time on their hands, if they actually *bred* (or modified) orchids to get this effect.

A different tech sent me this:

and this:

Now mind you, these aren't exactly the studies I do - but the folks in my lab know I appreciate good LabRat humor. 

Finally, I got this, sent to me by several different members of my lab staff...


To which all I have to say is... Yes.

Happy Monday!  I'll be back later this week with more new content!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Civic Duty [Full link to blog for email clients.]

Sorry folks, I've been behind in getting material ready for the blog.  I was called to Jury Duty starting today, and was using the "surplus" time last week to prepare for the prospect of being away from work for several days.  I've been excused after one day, so I am getting back on schedule.

I'll try to catch up by Wednesday!

Friday, May 31, 2013

SCIENCE FRIDAY: The Future and You [Full link to blog for email clients.]

In a recent podcast of The Future and You, host Stephen Euin Cobb cited an outdated theory of memory formation and storage.  Rather than simply issue a correction, he sat down to talk with memory researcher Dr. Robert Hampson to discuss the current science of memory, as well as memory storage and structure.  This interview had enough material for three programs, so here is "Part One" of Memory, on The Future and You!

Stay tuned for more in June!

Monday, May 27, 2013

MONDAY FUNNY: A new comic [Full link to blog for email clients.]

I've just had my attention called to a new comic by Dante Sheppard.  The name is "PhD Unknown," ( and so far there's only one panel of content up so far - but Dante is promising "Fierce Creatures, Biology and Grad School."  Sounds like my kind of place.

I've been a fan of Dante Sheppard's "Surviving the World" ( for many years.  It's a simple daily comic with funny and pointed life lessons written on a blackboard.  The anachronism alone is worth it, but the observation about life, university, science and ... well, life, keeps bringing me back.

Happy Memorial Day to my U.S. friends and readers.  Lots of projects in the works.  Just this evening I recorded an interview with Stephen Euin Cobb for his "The Future and You" podcast (  We talked for nearly two hours, so it will probably be cut into a number of segments.  I'll post some links as those segments are aired. 

I'm also hard at work on my next nonfiction piece for Baen Books:  "A Terrible Thing to Lose" about science and a zombie apocalypse.  It's a companion piece for the release of John Ringo's Under a Graveyard Sky due for release in September 2013.  The article will likely run in August or September on the Baen Books website (

Enjoy the unofficial beginning of Summer, and stay tuned as I finish up the series on writing research grants and dig out more neat news from the world of brain science!

Friday, May 24, 2013

SCIENCE FRIDAY: Not the Walking Dead [Full link to blog for email clients.]

 After a wonderfully relaxing and much-needed vacation break, I've been trying to figure out which topic to tackle next in the blog.  I have a couple of installments left on the writing of research grants and plenty of science news articles that caught my eye... many weeks ago.  Thus I am afraid I am not quite current and up to date.

Then New Scientist came to the rescue.

New Scientist is a science news magazine based in the UK, and they have a great daily news feed with many interesting articles.  They are a high-quality magazine (and I'm not saying that just because they've interviewed me) because they have scientists with real communications skills writing about science.

Just a few minutes ago I received the following on my RSS news feed:   "Mindscapes: First interview with a dead man" (  To say that I was merely curious would be to deny the excitement and trepidation I felt - was this about near-death experience?  pharmacological states of "zombie-like" mindlessness?  Some other metaphysical mumbo-jumbo?

Of course not.  This is New Scientist.  Instead, I found a fascinating article about "Cotard's Syndrome" an extremely rare psychological disorder in which patients are convinced (despite evidence to the contrary) that portions of their body are dead or missing.   

I have mentioned in prior posts on amnesia and brain damage that there are syndromes of "Neglect" in which damage to sensory areas of brain lead a patient to "neglect" or ignore a body part and act as if it is not there.  Visual neglect causes a patient to ignore part of their visual field - to the point of not consciously being aware of objects in that portion of their field of view, even though they can still have emotional or reflex reactions to those objects.  Somatic neglect (i.e. applied to the body) can cause a person to "forget" that they have arms, legs, fingers, toes - until they become rather surprised to actually see them, or touch them with the limbs from the opposite side of the body.

"Neglect" typically results from stroke or head injury, and results from real damage to the portions of the brain that receive sensory feedback from the neglected body part.  Not so Cotard's syndrome, which is not associated with obvious injury.

The most profound and puzzling example of Cotard's Syndrome is detailed in the New Scientist article - "Graham" is a man who was convinced that his brain was dead, and he was merely an empty shell that was walking around.  Neurologists and psychologists believed that Cotard's was simply a manifestation of depression, and there may be some common origins.  However, Graham not only told told doctors that his brain had died after a failed suicide attempt, his body eventually started to show signs of decay:  He lost sense of taste and smell, his hair fell out, his gums blackened, and felt like he was simply going through empty motions.

Brain scans provided the first clue to what was really going on.  Positron emission tomography (PET) scans of the metabolic activity of the brain showed that the activity in the Frontal and Parietal Lobes were suppressed well below normal activity.  Within the brain, particularly the deep areas of the Frontal Lobe is what is termed by neurologists the "Default Mode Network" which is always active when an individual is conscious. The network is central to memory of self, personal history and awareness of surroundings.  Yet in Graham, those brain areas were more typical of a person in a coma or vegetative state - so yes, as far as activity was concerned, his brain was "dead." 

Eight years of psychotherapy and medication have returned Graham to the land of the living - and his brain scans show a return to more normal patterns - but this case, and others with Cotard's syndrome point out a fascinating linkage between the brain, the mind and the body.  Without a certain minimal activity of the Default Mode Network, Graham had no sense of self - exaggerated to a sense that that self was in fact dead.  With no psychological investment in life, his body started to show signs of death as well, manifesting the lack of involvement in the physical world.

We often joke about "Zombies" as brainless individuals (as opposed to mystical walking dead) but could a complete suppression of Frontal Lobe function really produce the Walking Dead of story and myth?  I'll be exploring these themes this summer in an article I am writing for Baen Books, and I'll link it here when published.

Until then - enjoy your weekend and don't let your brain wander needlessly!

Monday, May 20, 2013

FICTION: Past Midnight, The Thrilling Conclusion! [Full link to blog for email clients.]

[In our last episode, Sarah had finally had enough...]


The Diner went silent.

Sarah was standing in the middle of the dining room.  All patrons had stopped eating, drinking and talking.

"There's only one explanation for this.  MASON?"  she shouted.  But there was no answer.

"May'yam?"  A small voice asked.

Sarah looked down at the short, wizened man holding a *large* key ring.  She barely controlled her temper.  "Yesssss" she hissed.

"Ah've got th' Men's Room unlocked."  There was no answer.  Sarah continued to stare at him.  "Ah'm the *locksmith*" he pronounced it 'lahk-smee-ith'.  Still no response.  "Baen sent me?"

Sarah took a deep breath.  There was no sense in getting mad at *this* fellow. "I'm sorry.  Yes, you unlocked it.  What was the problem?"

"Well…" he paled, "Ah cain't rightfully say. Ah've seen some strange contraptions in mah lahf, but Ah hain't nevah seen one lahk this!"

"Oh. No."

With mutters of 'Rex' and 'Mason' and 'lunatic' the entire Diner tried to crowd into the hallway leading back to the restrooms.  There was only room for a few.  Speaker was closest, quickly followed by Sarah and Laura.  Being the *smallest* in the Diner, the locksmith, LabRats™ and The Drool also managed to squeeze in. 

It was a Plumber's Nightmare.  Pipes led everywhere.  Many of the configurations were simply impossible – that one just *couldn't* turn inside out and still keep the water inside.  The pipes were of many types: lead, copper, PVC, glass, plastic.  Where the liquid was visible it glowed in eye-hurting colors: bright purple-green, deep indigo-yellow, intense cyan-red.  Water dripped, pooled and ran all over the fixtures and floor. 

No one dared approach any closer, either.  Off to one side stood a Jacob's ladder, bright blue sparks climbing up the wires, then jumping into the air, only to ground out on the wet piping and run blue-white and crackling down to the floor.

There was a faint breeze blowing out from the apparatus.  There was a clear area in the center surrounding one of the stalls, and on the closed door of the stall was the diner clock that had once hung on the wall over the kitchen window.  The rapidly spinning hands were the source of the moving air.

The sparks stopped.  The water slowed to a trickle.  The colors faded.  The stall door opened and out stepped Rex Mason leading a man with white hair and long flowing white beard.  Normal for Rex, he didn't notice the audience and continued talking to the man as fast as possible:
"…and you should see the tanks – I just love the tanks – although yours needed more guns – you should definitely have more guns – did you know that if you have enough guns and you fire three adjacent guns you don't even need a motor? –  It's just like a rocket drive – fire the guns and the tank moves in the opposite direction – Newton's third law – did you know Newton?  – helicopters – I just *love* helicopters – although they need to go faster – you didn't need that corkscrew thingy – but it needed to go faster – you could have put guns on the ends of the blades! –fire the guns and it's just like rockets – rocket assisted helicopters – that's a great idea – and if we use just the *right* rockets I'll bet we could get the blades to go faster-than-light – FTL helicopters – and since the blades are going around in circles the vectors will all cancel out and there'll be no problems with causality – speaking of vectors I was looking at the Vitruvian Man and you definitely needed to draw more arms and legs – I mean you were on the right track, but if you want to make him faster and stronger he needs more arms and legs…"

Rex finally looked up and noticed the crowd. 
            "Hi Sarah! – look who I found – I told everyone I needed to find someone who appreciated my genius – I just needed another genius! – master da Vinci, this is Sarah – Sarah, this is Leonardo da Vinci – I'm sorry, I don't speak Italian, but isn't that a little bit like Portuguese? – Say hi to him in Portuguese, Sarah – I don't want him to think we're *strange* or something!"

Back in the crowd someone muttered "That boat has already sailed."

Sarah was visibly trying to calm herself.  Speaker offered a small silver flask and whispered, "it's the Oban 21." 

Sarah took a sip.  Then swallowed.  Then drained the flask.  In a tight, controlled voice she said, "Rex.  What. Have. You. Done?"

Rex beamed with pride.
"It's a Time Machine – I didn't have all of the parts I needed after Chris took off with my FTL ship, so I thought 'Time only flows in one direction, and water only flows in one direction!' –  If I could get the water to flow in several directions then I might get time to flow in several directions, too! – I worked all night on it – sorry about the Men's Room, but I needed lots of water and I knew Laura would never let me build it in the kitchen – so I thought 'Where can I find plenty of water and pipes – and I was just sitting here in this stall and it came to me – so I made all of this and then I installed the clock and made it go backwards but I needed electricity and I thought we had this old spark machine and it's kind of like lightning so I put it in here but it makes all of the pipes  act funny and you feel all tingly when the water runs backwards so I closed the door to keep the LabRats™ out and I …"

"Stop. Rex, you have to send him back."

"But Sarah!  He just got here!  It isn't Fair!  I just wanted someone who would understand my genius!"

"Rex!  He doesn't understand you.  He doesn't understand what you're saying.  He Doesn't. Speak. English!"

   "Oh, that's okay! – that's why I worked at night – Speaker's here – Speaker's here every night past midnight – I figure if he can talk to the LabRats™, he can talk to Master da Vinci!"
"Rex!  He has to go back!  Your machine has had too many side effects – I've got Musketeers and poets and English Royalty and even Vlad the Bloody Impaler running around the Diner.  It *has* to be put back!"

Rex's expression fell.  It was a terrible thing to see.  One minute, manic and with the brightest expression a human face cold hold, the next, it was lower than The Drool.  It was a shameful, wasteful thing to do, but it had to be done.

In a quiet voice Rex answered " 'kay."

"Rex.  All the way back – do you understand?"

" 's."

"No little windows in time, no cell phones to the future."

" 'kay."


" 's ma'am."

"Good.  Fortunately I *do* speak Italian." Sarah turned to da Vinci and spoke with him briefly, then Rex led him back into the stall, closed the door, and every stood back as the pipes gurgled, sparks jumped, and the clock began to wind backward.

"So what did you tell him?" Laura asked Sarah.

"She told him it was all a bad dream and that he should lay off of the pepperoncini and no more than one limoncello before bedtime!" Speaker answered with a wide grin.


It was past midnight.  Once Rex had returned and dismantled the machine, things had returned to normal.  Laura had cleaned up the kitchen, Dick and Eeyore returned to the Tavern for a nightcap, but not before sending over an unopened bottle of twenty-one year old Balvenie Portwood for Sarah.  The other patrons had gone home, leaving s2la at his laptop and a dejected looking Wolfie.

"Lifted it again?" asked Speaker.

"Damn right" said Sean. "and thanks again for the ride."

The rats had finished cleaning and were playing with the new floor.  They'd set the friction coefficient all the way down and were playing their own version of air hockey.  "Set it back, guys, time to pack up" called Speaker.

"Sure, Boss!" replied Ratley.

Once it was safe to walk on the floor the rats hopped back to s2la and found their places in the pockets of his vest and coat as he put on his calfskin gloves and top hat then picked up his walking stick. 

After locking the door, Speaker turned to Sean and said "One thing I've wondered, though…"

"What's that?"  Wolfie asked, donning a set of gleaming brass and glass goggles.  He settled into the plush passenger seat of Speaker's conveyance as the steam release valve hissed.

"Why did Rex think he needed *electricity*?"


[This concludes our "filler" entertainment.  Speaker and the Lab Rats' Guide to the Brain should be back later this week with the final 3 segments of  How to Write a Research Grant Proposal, More MONDAY FUNNY, and the newly renamed SCIENCE FRIDAY news and comment feature.  Thanks for your attention!]