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Oh, the possibilities! Microbes, genomes, and editing life.

When we think of science fiction, we think of sleek ships with hyperdrives, aliens, high-tech devices and weapons, grand battles, and if we’re lucky, space pirates. The last things that ever pops into our reader/writer sci-fi brains are microbes or on a smaller scale, genes. And that’s too bad because microbes and genetics can be a goldmine for science fiction and fantasy. At the very least, the science-savvy author can use specific science topics to add color and depth to their story world. It’s a win for writers and a win for readers as well. And with NaNoWriMo 2018 just around the corner, I thought it timely to point out the story potential of microbes and genetics for writers of all genres.

SciFi-Facebook

Just imagine the possibilities!

We carry one-hundred-trillion bacteria around with us everywhere we go. They’re beneficial bacteria called our normal flora. Only about 1% of the known bacterial species are actually pathogens. Things like genetic transfer, mutation, and even microgravity can alter microbes to increase virulence, either naturally, by accident, or on purpose. That’s a lot of prospective plagues, right?

And genetics? The human genome itself has about 20,000 protein-coding genes. The control and expression of these genes are an intricate network of up-regulation and down-regulation, called homeostasis, that miraculously keeps us walking and talking and functioning. Nature is amazing!

See what I mean by possibilities? In the mind of a writer, microbes and genetics give us plausible tools to increase the tension and stakes of our stories to put our characters through the ringer. (Insert evil-author-laugh.)

Man vs. Nature.

This is one of my favorite types of science fiction. One of my favorite authors, Michael Crichton, used this man vs nature trope to near perfection in two of his books that touch all the buttons for my molecular microbiologist’s soul, The Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park. In one, a microbe plays front and center and despite all the safeguards man develops to contain nature—well, you know how that all turns out. In the other, man laughs in the face of nature by apparently mastering genetic manipulation in order to bring back the extinct. All the arrogance of man unravels into one mistake after another until—well, you know how that one turns out also.

See? Microbes and genetics…tailor-made for science fiction!

Story Prompt 1

A microbiome is the collection of microorganisms which exist in a particular environment. It is an intricate system where the microbes modulate the cells of the intestine to benefit both the host and the microorganisms of the gut biome. We are just beginning to scratch the surface on understanding microbiomes, specific populations of bacteria inhabiting a specific part of the body, and their effect on the function of the whole organism.

For example, the intestinal microbiota and the interactions these microbes have with the host gut in the prevention of infection with enteric pathogens. Microbiomes have been associated with immune response, disease, obesity, and even cognitive abilities. One of the coolest examples of a microbiome is the thanatomicrobiome, or the death microbiome. The research group who first described the thanatomicrobiome report a characteristic, time-dependent, post-mortem shift of the bacteria in human tissues from a predominantly aerobic (oxygen loving) bacterial population to an anaerobic population (oxygen hating).

In my Science in SciFi post, Writing Microbes in Outer Space, I highlight research showing bacteria can be affected by microgravity conditions. Bacterial pathogens exhibit structural changes, antibiotic resistance shifts, and shifts in molecular expression when grown in microgravity versus on Earth.

Your Story Prompt Mission #1 is to write a story in which an exposure to microgravity causes a shift in a character’s gut microbiome, like thanatomicrobiome, and results in a positive or negative behavior change that affects the entire well-being of Mars Colony X17984.

Story Prompt 2

The meteoric rise (in science terms) of CRISPR-based gene editing provides great promise for medicine and health. The CRISPR-based gene editing technology is a primitive bacterial immune system that recognizes foreign DNA inside the bacterium and destroys it. For all it’s promise, though, the technology also comes with potential pitfalls, like off-target editing, as well as the ethical and moral questions associated with tinkering with our DNA and genomes.

And then there’s the issue of gene editing in your own home. Yes, the CRISPR technology, with its simplicity, has become popular among citizen scientists. There are take-home kits and plans for setting up home labs available for anyone interested in upping their home hobbyist game. Got a free weekend? Let’s modify that Ficus elastica plant we got mom for Mother’s Day so it won’t be so easy for her to kill it over winter.

Your Story Prompt Mission #2 is to create a future-world assassin who uses CRISPR created, genetically modified bacteria as her weapon of choice.

Just for the fun of it, share your ideas or first few lines in the comments below. As a molecular microbiologist with an author mindset, I can’t wait to read your stories! Here’s the idea for Story Prompt #2 that popped into my head while thinking about this post. Feel free to use it as a jumping off point if you want to.

After the fallout from World Bio-War I and amidst international bans on genetically modified microbes, a former molecular biologist turned assassin creates unique and genetically untraceable bacteria from her underground home laboratory to eliminate the enemies of science currently in control of world politics. Write a story about the preparations for or the execution of her most difficult assignment yet—eliminate a dangerous rising star in the anti-science movement before he gains ultimate power.

I can hear NaNoWriMo calling my name to put this story on paper.

I’m excited for NaNoWriMo 2018. How about you?

Putting the Science in Fiction

Science and technology have starring roles in a wide range of genres–science fiction, fantasy, thriller, mystery, and more. Unfortunately, many depictions of technical subjects in literature, film, and television are pure fiction. A basic understanding of biology, physics, engineering, and medicine will help you create more realistic stories that satisfy discerning readers.

This book brings together scientists, physicians, engineers, and other experts to help you:

good news putting the science in fiction

  • Understand the basic principles of science, technology, and medicine that are frequently featured in fiction.
  • Avoid common pitfalls and misconceptions to ensure technical accuracy.
  • Write realistic and compelling scientific elements that will captivate readers.
  • Brainstorm and develop new science- and technology-based story ideas.
  • Whether writing about mutant monsters, rogue viruses, giant spaceships, or even murders and espionage, Putting the Science in Fiction will have something to help every writer craft better fiction.

Putting the Science in Fiction collects articles from “Science in Sci-fi, Fact in Fantasy” Dan Koboldt’s popular blog series for authors and fans of speculative fiction. Each article discusses an element of sci-fi or fantasy with an expert in that field. Scientists, engineers, medical professionals, and others share their insights in order to debunk the myths, correct the misconceptions, and offer advice on getting the details right.

Enter to Win!!!

Enter a chance to win 1 of 10 copies of Putting the Science in Fiction, a collection of essays from engineers and scientists. Enter below and share on social media for up to three entries.

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Football Kickoff 2018 Retro Post

The summer has flown by. They have a habit of doing that when one gets old. It’s football season already! I haven’t written any football posts in a long while. I’ve been a little busy AND I am a newly-minted grandpa. (Side note: This grandpa gig is pretty awesome!)

In lieu of a fresh new look on a fresh new high school football season, here’s a retro post about one of those awesome snapshots of memories from my football coaching days at Clay Center Community High School.

I wish a rewarding season for all the players and the coaches. Get better every day and HAVE FUN!

Go Tigers!

The Snap

The sound. The sharp snap of a chin strap being fastened. It is a beautiful sound; a quick click of metal fastening to metal, followed by the crisp echo as the sound waves move through the plastic shell of the football helmet. A beautiful sound.

We have a unique situation for football in our town. Our stadium, the historic Otto Unruh Stadium, built in the depression by local workers using local limestone, is across town from the high school. So, for the games, we had to ride buses from the school to the stadium. Some may look at this as an inconvenience, but I always thought it was pretty darn cool.

First, it gave the kids a game-mentality to associate with the stadium. We knew when we went to Otto Unruh Stadium, it was game time. We knew it was time to go to work and take care of business.

Second, the bus ride was kind of fun. After a home win, there was nothing better than to drive back across town with cars honking, people waving, and a bus full of singing, happy, sweaty, stinky, beat-up-but-not-feeling-a-lick-of-pain teenage boys. If we lost? Let’s just say the mood was a little more somber.

The most awesome thing, though, was the bus ride out to the Unruh Stadium. We made that ride in total silence. Yes, you read that correctly. 40 teenage boys fully dressed out to play a high school football game, riding in a school bus on a 10-minute drive across town in complete, utter silence. It was one of the many brilliant ideas of Coach Paul Lane.

The kids all knew the Coach Lane Silence Drill, especially on the second bus which carried most of the lineman and younger JV kids. Coach Lane and I were coach riders on that bus. Every once in a while, most often early in the year or riding out for a freshman or JV game, one of the younger kids, pumped up on nervous adrenaline, would say something. A simple hand up by me or a stern look from an upperclassman would silence the bus again.

photo (13)

The best part of the ride would happen after we crossed the bridge over Huntress Creek and prepare to turn left on “C” Street. As we came off the bridge, the sun would be falling over the limestone grandstands of the stadium a few blocks west of the bridge. You could feel the intake of breath throughout the bus. There was our house in all its glory, decked out with the orange and black flags, and the other various decorations associated with Friday Night in America. The scoreboard would be on and the lights may already be on, Otto Unruh Stadium was ready. Our stadium.

The Coach Hays part of the Coach Lane Bus Silence Rule was when we turned the corner on “C” street, everyone was to be strapped up and ready to step off the bus with fire in our eyes. The part which I hope stays fresh in my memory for the rest of my life would happen right there. The moment when the bus driver would turn the corner and behind me I would hear, no I would feel, the snap of 40 chin straps being fastened in almost perfect unison. It gives me chills just to think about it. That beautiful sound of the snap, 40 times within a second, and spread out just enough to where I could almost hear each individual snap.

The bus would continue, the silence would continue, and when Coach Lane stepped off the bus inside the stadium, Rocky, our radio announcer in the booth, would start “Welcome to the Jungle” at the second Coach Lane’s foot hit the ground. Friday Night in America, boys and girls.

I miss that ride. I miss that sound probably more than just about anything from the coaching days at CCCHS. In my head, the echo of those snaps lingers. I can only hope when I am on my deathbed after I see the faces of my family and after my life flashes before my eye, the very last sound I hear as I turn the corner toward my glorious stadium, will be the “SNAP!” of a chorus of football helmets.

 

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Building a Clay Center Public Recreation Plan

I believe in the power of community recreation. Recreation is one of the foundations of community wellness and an important piece of the economic development pie. The goal is singular—to provide the largest number of kids/adults/seniors with the most opportunities to learn and grow—for the least amount of money.

Last week, I attended the Public Recreation budget hearing with the Clay Center City Council. I thought the city made an excellent decision to increase accountability in the Public Recreation budget by combining all the accounts into one budget. My hope is this allows for money to be spent on expanding recreation opportunities in the future.

In the public comment session of the budget hearing, I asked the city council what the six-month plan was for recreation in Clay Center. In 1 year? In 5 years?

The reorganization of the department has been in place and active for over a year and has been in a planning stage for the past three years. Yet, there has been little change in operations. Hence, my question about a Clay Center Recreation Plan.

As things sometimes happen when one attends a meeting, one asks a question and when nobody has an answer, the question gets turned around. I asked the question about a vision and a plan and then the mayor asks if I had any suggestions for a short-term and long-term recreation plan. As a matter of fact, my cohorts and I have ten years of ideas!

But before I submit my thoughts on recreation, I want to see what ideas people in and around Clay Center have. I want to pick the brains of parents with kids of all ages. I want to hear ideas from adults of all ages of what they’d like to see offered as community recreation. I want to hear from current high school students and young adults who’ve recently left town for work, college, or just to escape…what do you wish you had while growing up in Clay Center?

Here are a few things to think about while you’re pondering ideas to pass along:

Opportunities

We have a great network of youth sports and youth activities offered through clubs and individuals. My ideal Public Recreation system is a hub to provide support, advice, promotion, and access to facilities for these existing organizations while providing new activities and services to fill the gaps. These new activities should not all be about sports. Hobbies, games, community reads, arts, etc. should all be included. An ideal Public Recreation is not just for young children and offers recreation opportunities to all citizens of all ages all year round.

Limits

As you think of things you wish to see in a Public Recreation Department, keep in mind there are fixed limitations.

  • Mill levy is controlled by law and generates around $27,000 per year. Any increase in funds will need to come from participation fees, sponsorships, etc.
  • The new departmental organization actually reduced manpower.
    • Old Parks Department
      • Director
      • 2 Employees
      • Part-time recreation director
    • New Parks & Recreation
      • Director
      • 2 Employees

If you have any ideas, I want to know what you’re thinking! Please leave a comment here or on the Facebook post or email me at: coachhays(at)gmail(dot)com.

And, as always, feel free to share this post with people you think might be interested in contributing a few good ideas.

Thank you, CC!

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MLB Unofficial Commissioner 2018

I’ve been lax in my role as MLB Unofficial Commissioner so far in the 2018 season. My Royals are a dumpster fire so I’ve spent too much brain power figuring out their problems. Royals 2018 = Historically bad. The Royals and the Baltimore Orioles did something that’s never been done in the entire history of Major League Baseball. It’s the first time two teams have been below .300 at the Fourth of July point of the season. 

But I still listen to almost every game. They’re my team…for better or worse. 

There are a couple of issues which have been causing a lot of fuss over the past two seasons. The time it takes to play an MLB game and the defensive shift.  There’s been so much fuss, I’ve decided it’s time to step into my Unofficial Comish role and suggest a few changes. 

First, I have to rant against the anti-shifting crowd. Hitters have to adjust. Pitchers have to adjust. Managers, GMs, owners, scouts, and umpires have to adjust. It’s part of the game. Always has been, always will be. Hitters and coaches quit whining and start adjusting.  Common sports sense states if the defense is giving you an open third of the field, take advantage of it. Burn their strategy. Do what it takes to succeed. Be a competitor instead of a whiner. 

Okay, I feel better. Now on to my solution to those two current problems. 

  1. Put in a pitch clock similar to the shot clock in basketball. 30 seconds might be a good place to start and adjustments made until a comfortable length of time is determined.
  2. Each defender must start with both feet in their traditional defensive zone. The defenders can then shift when the windup starts. 

There you go. Simple solutions to complex problems. 

On a side note, with the limits on mound visits this year, why do managers still burn a mound visit to make run-of-the-mill pitching changes? Just stand up at the top of the dugout steps, call time, and point to the bullpen. Save the mound visits for strategy and technical visits. 

Enjoy the rest of the 2018 season! It’s shaping up to be a wild run to a World Series title.

Feel free to discuss or propose your own solution(s). My unofficial office door is always open to ideas.

Take care and “PLAY BALL!”

Unofficial MLB Commissioner is signing off.

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A Beautiful Day of Baseball

May 15, 2018.

Clay Center Community High School hosted a 4A baseball regional in Clay Center for the first time since 2002. That was a long time to wait.

But when I was sitting out there watching the four teams, it was like a slice of baseball heaven.  The crowds were great and supportive. The teams played their hearts out. Watching the three games on the renovated Campbell Field put a smile on this old coach’s face.

Thank you, Clay County for the donations of time, skill, funds, materials, prayers, and the new scoreboard to help make this renovation project possible. It truly is a field of dreams to us old baseball people and something we hope the young baseball people will be able to enjoy for years.

The power of a “for the community by the community” project.

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Graduation Speech 2018

Thank you, Clay Center Community High School Class of 2018 for the opportunity to be the guest speaker at your graduation ceremony. Here is the transcript of the speech if you or your people are interested. Hopefully, you can look back on it years from now and ask your classmates, “Do you remember that fool who gave our graduation speech? I wonder what he’s doing nowadays.”

I dedicate this speech to all the athletes I’ve had the honor of coaching, especially the ones who’ve struggled to find their place in the world.

Graduation Speech 2018
Otto Unruh Stadium
5-13-18
Mike Hays

Congratulations, Class of 2018! Thank you for this honor to speak today.
Congratulations to the parents and families! Happy Mother’s Day to all!

Today is special. This all around us is special.
This is a special place. It‘s a community where people have supported you through your games, performances, academics, and employment opportunities.

This place is part of who you are. It is part of what you will become.
No matter how far you travel or where your dreams take you, you will take a piece of Clay County with you.
And wherever you go after leaving these seats as graduates, Clay County will always be here for you.

Graduation Advice

Be yourself.
Be the best you that you can be.

Toy Story 2 illustrates a great example of staying true to who you are. Woody has been taken to Big Al’s and is waiting to be sold to a collector. He looks at the faded name of “ANDY” written on the bottom of his boot.
ANDY.
The name that represents belonging to and being a part of.
ANDY.
The name that gives Woody purpose.
What happens to Woody when the Cleaner shows up and wipes those four letters off his boot?
He loses himself. He gives up trying to get back to Andy and the others. Gives up and floats away from all that is important to him. He’s tempted by the TV star life after discovering Jessie, Bullseye, and Stinky Pete.
When the name disappears, so does the very core of who he is.
In the end, it takes a monumental effort by Buzz and all Woody’s friends to bring him back to himself.

What name is written on your foot?
Who or what do you choose to belong to?
What name gives you purpose?
Is it a name that’s written in permanent ink or in pencil?
Is it a name that provides solid footing or is it one that causes you to slip and slide away from who you really are?

Find out who you are and stand behind it.
Let your faith be your compass.
Let your conscience be your map.
Never forget the name you’ve written on your foot.

Graduation Challenge

My challenge to you is something you probably won’t find on any of your graduation cards.
Go out and fail.
Dream big, take calculated risks and fail.
Regroup, and get better. Then try again & again & again until you succeed.

I wish you a lifetime of successes forged in the fire of failures.
I want you to dream big and go make it happen.

As we dive headfirst into the digital age, I challenge you to do great things. And great things take effort.
Do not fail by lack of effort or by not daring to dream.
Believe in yourself.
Believe in your power.

I want you to discover new ways of farming and ranching.
I want you to discover new ways to teach kids.
I want you to bring new products to our everyday lives and new ways of creating art and stories.
I want you to teach us old folks how to use technology without allowing technology to use us.
We need you and we need your talents.

Every Graduation Needs a Mascot

My proposal for your graduation mascot is Tigger from Winnie the Pooh.
Do you remember what Tigger is known for?
Bouncing.
As you turn the tassels today, take a lesson from Tigger and be bouncy!

You were bounced on someone’s knee as a baby.
You bounced off almost everything when you learned to walk and run.
You bounced around on the playground during recess.
You’ve been bounced on your rear end by schoolwork, sports, jobs, relationships, and personal trials.
But, you kept bouncing back and here you sit. Graduates.

Your bouncing days are not over. They’re just beginning.
Life will knock you for a loop over and over again.
Every time you get knocked down, bounce back up.
Sometimes our biggest victories in life are simply getting back up after a fall.
Keep bouncing!
Just like Tigger.

A Graduate Game Plan

Hard work is the magic.
It’s a simple truth.
Everything worth having is worth working for.
Family, career, hobbies—even that truck you can’t peel your eyes away from on the dealership lot—are all worth working for.
Put your signature on your every action.
Show up each and every day ready to do the work.
Attack life with purpose, pride, passion, and persistence.
Hard work is the magic.

Congratulations, Class of 2018!
Take advantage of “today” every day.
Live life to its fullest.
It’s the only one you’re given.

While bouncing along the Hundred Acre Wood, Tigger’s been known to sing,
“The wonderful thing about tiggers is tiggers are wonderful things.”
I say,
“The wonderful thing about Clay Center Tigers is Clay Center Tigers are wonderful things.”

Remember who you are.
Remember where you come from.
Remember where you’re going.
Never forget,
The most wonderful thing about YOU is that YOU are a wonderful thing.

Thank you and good luck!

Bonus! Every good story has a good story. This is what happened (well mostly what happened) the night I told my family at dinner about the invitation to be CCCHS’ graduation speaker.

Me: Mr. Young called today and said the senior class invited me to be their graduation speaker.
(Long dramatic pause while family rolls on the floor in fits of laughter.)
Kid 1: What would you wear?
Me: What?
Kid 2: You know you can’t yell, right?
Me: I don’t yell. I get excited.
(Long dramatic pause #2 while family rolls on the floor in fits of laughter.)
Kid 3: You can’t cuss, either.
Me: @#$%! I know that.
Wife: Are you going to do it?
Me: (Long dramatic pause while I roll on the floor in a fit of hysterical laughter.)
Whole Family: You mean to tell us you can look in those seniors’ eyes and tell them “no”.
Me: But there will be SO MANY people there. And it will be hot. And… And… And…
Wife: Well, are you going to do it?
Me: I told Mr. Young I’d think about it.
(Long dramatic pause #3 while family rolls on the floor in fits of laughter.)

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THANK YOU!

Wow, people! You did it, again! Thanks to the generosity of many individuals and businesses, we were able to wire the down payment and start the manufacturing of this:

OUR NEW SCOREBOARD!

It should take about three weeks to manufacture and another week to be shipped. The Clay Center Public Utilities has offered to help with the installation.

After looking at many scoreboards of all shapes and sizes, we decided to stick with the basic 12′ x 8′ footprint of the current scoreboard. We went in this direction because it allows us to save money by using the existing support beams and posts and because this scoreboard was the best value of all the options we quoted.

I’m sure we will run into a few hurdles installing the scoreboard and learning to use the remote control systems but thanks to this incredible community, we have climbed the highest mountain. We’ve bought a brand new scoreboard.

When we started this project in September of 2013, we wanted to establish a spirit of for the community and by the community’ with Campbell Field and other facilities. Thanks to you, I think this is truly coming to fruition.

We invite you to visit Campbell Field to watch a game this spring or summer. Come out, watch some baseball, eat a hot dog, spit some sunflower seeds, and visit with other fans in a facility we hope is getting closer to being a baseball facility we can all be proud of.

THANK YOU!

I’d also like to give a special thanks to the Clay Center Community Improvement Foundation. As someone who has researched non-profit tools for baseball field fundraising since 2000 and always ended up overwhelmed at the legalities and paperwork, I can’t tell you how awesome it is to have this organization working on behalf of our community. The CCCIF allows a bunch of rockhead baseball guys to do rockhead baseball stuff while providing the infrastructure and the mechanics on the financial side of things. More importantly, they allow an organization like ours to raise money in a transparent and trustworthy manner.

Thank you, CCCIF Board of Directors!

Chairperson – Morree Floersch
Vice-Chairperson – Brad Dieckmann
Secretary – Karen Bryan
Treasurer – Robin Thurlow
Board Member – Jayson Hood
Board Member – Jill Mugler

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