Mysterious Turbulence

I heard about Flight 190 on the drive home from work today. The first report was very odd. Something like:

“Flight 190 out of Victoria to Toronto was forced to make an emergency landing in Calgary after several passengers were critically injured on the flight.”

No explanation of what caused the injuries – mechanical, turbulence, crazy violence, space aliens, nothing. It was very odd. Almost immediately after they started filling in details: people were injured but nothing life threatening; it wasn’t mechanical, no it was, no it wasn’t; the plane was shaken by a jolt that threw some passengers into the ceiling…

“It happened really fast. One side of the plane went up sort of sideways and then came back down,” one passenger told CBC News.

She said she saw her friend, who was among those taken to the hospital, “fly up” and hit the ceiling.

“All of a sudden there were three big drops,” said passenger Andrew Evans. “I was in the very, very front seat of the plane and was watching dishes fly through the air.

…but in those first few moments it seemed like a tremendous thriller.

What if you started a story with:

  • a plane forced off its flight path,
  • landing in a foreign city,
  • radioing for emergency medical assistance,
  • a number of critical injured passengers and/or crew,

…and no one could tell you what the hell happened. Could lead somewhere interesting…

The 10 o’clock news tonight suggests it was likely nothing but turbulence. A type of violent high wind that only occurs in the upper atmosphere where jets cruise at their top altitudes, and that are very hard to detect. They had an image of a field of antennas, a type of “wind profile radar,” but it’s either one-of-a-kind or very rare. Interesting.

Posted in Current Events, Writing on January 10, 2008 by Jesse
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Corpse used to cash cheque


Great story from yesterday’s NY Times.

Corpse Wheeled to Check-Cashing Store Leads to 2 Arrests

Even for the once-notorious Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, it may have been a first: Two men were arrested on Tuesday after pushing a corpse, seated in an office chair, along the sidewalk to a check-cashing store to cash the dead man’s Social Security check, the police said.

When Virgilio Cintron, 66, died at his apartment at 436 West 52nd Street recently, his roommate and a friend saw an opportunity to cash his $355 check, the police said.

The roommate, James P. O’Hare, and his friend, David J. Dalaia, both 65 and unemployed, placed Mr. Cintron’s body in the chair and wheeled it around the corner, south along Ninth Avenue on Tuesday afternoon, the police said. The men parked the chair with the corpse in front of Pay-O-Matic at 763 Ninth Avenue, a check-cashing business that Mr. Cintron had patronized.

They went inside to present the check, but a clerk said Mr. Cintron would have to cash it himself, and asked where he was, the police said.

“He is outside,” Mr. O’Hare said, indicating the body in the chair, according to Mr. Browne.

The two men started to bring the chair inside, but it was too late.

The full article.

I really don’t have anything to add about it.

Posted in Current Events, Underbelly on by Jesse
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Lurching into 08

Evidently my super-secret plans to update this pseudo-blog over the holidays were far too secret, even for me. Plus ça change…

However, I came up with an idea for a short story that I need to flesh out. The “project title” is Groundhog Day, which isn’t a working title and has nothing to do with Bill Murray. But it’s a touchstone for me to remember my idea. Consider it a code-name.

This gives me a third or fourth story in queue. I did a very rough draft of a cute little modern fable last year during a long vacation, and also outlined two other stories of a similar nature. Not sure the outlines will hold up to scrutiny, but feels good to have a few ideas down. Of course, none of that has been fully developed since I’m still working on the second draft of the Western Horror Script (with Dev).

After the Western Horror I have a Modern Fable Script that needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. I think between them I may try to develop these short stories and see if I can do anything useful with ‘em.

In other news, work goes well. I’m in the middle of two giant projects, playing co-pilot on one and game designer on the other. Both should be interesting but face big challenges and are top-secret for now.

While I figure out if I can really get behind this blog thinger, if you haven’t, you should check out:

Gameplaywright by the awesome duo of Jeff Tidball and Will Hindmarch (and apparently guests. Wonder what I have to do to guest-blog for ‘em. Probably write more regularly than I currently do….)
• Robin Laws wrote an interesting essay on the role and function of denouements in RPGs.
• And apropos of nothing (except that I’m starting realize how much I want Guitar Hero 3 to tide me over until Rock Band comes out for the Wii), check out Best Buy Bodhisttva by Julian Murdoch. I don’t know this dude, but I may have to check out more of his writing.

Posted in Current Events, Writing on January 8, 2008 by Jesse
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Jellyfish Attack

No, even more seriously. (Day of the Atomic Sea Monsters, or what?)


Adam Jury sent me the link to this:

Jellyfish attack wipes out N. Ireland’s salmon farm

BELFAST (AFP) — Northern Ireland’s only salmon farm was completely wiped out by a freak jellyfish attack, the owners said Wednesday.

More than 100,000 fish worth more than one million pounds (2.1 million dollars, 1.4 million euros) were killed in the invasion at Glenarm Bay and Red Bay, on the County Antrim north-east coast.

“…The sea was red with these jellyfish and there was nothing we could do about it, absolutely nothing.”

The seven-hour attack over Tuesday and Wednesday last week saw the jellyfish covering a sea area of up to 10 square miles (26 square kilometres) and 35 feet (11 metres) deep.

Somehow I don’t think Webkinz is quite ready for giant (cannibal sea) scorpions or attack jellyfish. Wonder if I can convince GRRM to let Green Ronin put them in the new SIF game. 🙂

Posted in Current Events, Nature Attack on November 21, 2007 by Jesse
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Giant Cannibal Sea Scorpions

No, seriously.

Paleontologists dug up the fossilized claw of a giant sea scorpion. They reckon the thing may have been 8 feet (!) long. It’s called
Jaekelopterus rhenania, and is apparently 400 million years old.

I came across the article on Boing Boing, and delved into a few of the other articles. A few random, key quotes.

“Braddy said the sea scorpions also were cannibals that fought and ate one other, so it helped to be as big as they could be.

“The competition between this scorpion and its prey was probably like a nuclear standoff, an effort to have the biggest weapon,” he said. “Hundreds of millions of years ago, these sea scorpions had the upper hand over vertebrates — backboned animals like ourselves.”


Posted in Current Events, Nature Attack on by Jesse

California Fires

Brutal stuff. What jumped out here was the description of the fire as a Hydra – perfectly apt, though I’ve never heard it used that way before. Is this a common term in firefighter-lingo?


LOS ANGELES, Oct. 23 — More than a quarter of a million people were urged to flee their homes on Monday as wildfires ravaged Southern California for a second day, destroying hundreds of homes and businesses and charring swaths of scrub and forestland.

The fires, a Hydra with at least 15 separate burns in seven counties fed by gale-force winds, burned some 267,000 acres from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border. Engines and firefighters from as far as Nevada and Arizona were summoned as resources were stretched to the limit.

Houses burned with no firefighters in sight as emergency crews on the ground and in the air struggled to keep up with shifting wind that fanned new fires and made others recede and reignite.

Posted in Current Events on October 23, 2007 by Jesse
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Blackwater out of Iraq

Lots of people were reporting yesterday that Blackwater’s license was being revoked in Iraq.

Blackwater is a para-military / mercenary / security group, run by a former US Navy Seal, and based in Blackwater, North Carolina (from which it draws it’s name – the ominous ring is purely coincidental).

From the AP article:

BAGHDAD – The Iraqi government said Monday that it was revoking the license of an American security firm accused of involvement in the deaths of eight civilians in a firefight that followed a car bomb explosion near a State Department motorcade.

Tens of thousands of foreign private security contractors work in Iraq — some with automatic weapons, body armor, helicopters and bulletproof vehicles — to provide protection for Westerners and dignitaries in Iraq as the country has plummeted toward anarchy and civil war.

Many of the contractors have been accused of indiscriminately firing at American and Iraqi troops, and of shooting to death an unknown number of Iraqi citizens who got too close to their heavily armed convoys, but none has faced charges or prosecution.

I did a bit of research on mercenary groups when I was writing Silver Age Sentinels, and have come back to that research when working on a few of the villain groups for City of Heroes. At that time I was primarily reading about Sandline International and Executive Outcomes (which is basically defunct, and/or morphed into a new beast).

They are fascinating and scary, and stories of paramilitary groups now hit closer to home as they are so heavily integrated into US activities. We’re no longer talking about Latin American dirty wars or “protecting” diamond mines in Sierra Leone…Blackwater guys were prominent in Katrina’s flooding of New Orleans, fer chrissakes.

Blackwater (and similar groups) have taken up a lot of the responsibilities normally thought of as for the US army.

The wartime numbers of private guards are unprecedented — as are their duties, many of which have traditionally been done by soldiers. They protect U.S. military operations and diplomats and have guarded high-ranking officials including Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Baghdad.

They also protect journalists, visiting foreign officials and thousands of construction projects.

Blackwater has an estimated 1,000 employees in Iraq, and at least $800 million in government contracts. It is one of the most high-profile security firms in Iraq, with its fleet of “Little Bird” helicopters and armed door gunners swarming Baghdad and beyond.

It amazes me that high ranking army officers – like Gen. Petraeus – are bodyguarded by an independent firm (!!!). I mean, I’d guess that most of the Blackwater guys (at least those involved in a mission like this) are former US military, but c’mon, why can’t the US army protect its own guys, exactly?

Will Blackwater be thrown out of Iraq? Not really my focus, but a lot of people don’t think so. Pundits suggest they are too essential to the US mission, and thus either nothing will actually happen or perhaps a light slap on the wrist. We’ll see.

In the meantime, one of these days I need to pick up Jeremy Scahill’s book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.

Posted in Current Events, Underbelly on September 18, 2007 by Jesse

Chinese (Pet) Food Scandal

As a long-time pet-owner (of an aged Malamute), I found this whole scandal disturbing. I also found the references to other food safety scandals pretty incredulous. Not sure how to work that into a story, but damn….


ZHANGQIU, China, April 28 — As American food safety regulators head to China to investigate how a chemical made from coal found its way into pet food that killed dogs and cats in the United States, workers in this heavily polluted northern city openly admit that the substance is routinely added to animal feed as a fake protein.
In recent years, for instance, China’s food safety scandals have involved everything from fake baby milk formulas and soy sauce made from human hair to instances where cuttlefish were soaked in calligraphy ink to improve their color and eels were fed contraceptive pills to make them grow long and slim.
Yet what is clear from visiting this region of northeast China is that for years melamine has been quietly mixed into Chinese animal feed and then sold to unsuspecting farmers as protein-rich pig, poultry and fish feed.

Many animal feed operators here advertise on the Internet, seeking to purchase melamine scrap. The Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Company, one of the companies that American regulators named as having shipped melamine-tainted wheat gluten to the United States, had posted such a notice on the Internet last March.

Here at the Shandong Mingshui Great Chemical Group factory, huge boiler vats are turning coal into melamine, which is then used to create plastics and fertilizer.

But the leftover melamine scrap, golf ball-size chunks of white rock, is sometimes being sold to local agricultural entrepreneurs, who say they mix a powdered form of the scrap into animal feed to deceive those who raise animals into thinking they are buying feed that is high in protein.

“It just saves money if you add melamine scrap,” said the manager of an animal feed factory here.

Last Friday here in Zhangqiu, a fast-growing industrial city southeast of Beijing, two animal feed producers explained in great detail how they purchase low-grade wheat, corn, soybean or other proteins and then mix in small portions of nitrogen-rich melamine scrap, whose chemical properties help the feed register an inflated protein level.

Melamine is the new scam of choice, they say, because urea — another nitrogen-rich chemical — is illegal for use in pig and poultry feed and can be easily detected in China as well as in the United States.

“People use melamine scrap to boost nitrogen levels for the tests,” said the manager of the animal feed factory. “If you add it in small quantities, it won’t hurt the animals.”

The manager, who works at a small animal feed operation here that consists of a handful of storage and mixing areas, said he has mixed melamine scrap into animal feed for years.

He said he was not currently using melamine. But he then pulled out a plastic bag containing what he said was melamine powder and said he could dye it any color to match the right feed stock.

He said that melamine used in pet food would probably not be harmful. “Pets are not like pigs or chickens,” he said casually, explaining that they can afford to eat less protein. “They don’t need to grow fast.”

The resulting melamine-tainted feed would be weak in protein, he acknowledged, which means the feed is less nutritious.

But, by using the melamine additive, the feed seller makes a heftier profit because melamine scrap is much cheaper than soy, wheat or corn protein.

“It’s true you can make a lot more profit by putting melamine in,” said another animal feed seller here in Zhangqiu. “Melamine will cost you about $1.20 for each protein count per ton whereas real protein costs you about $6, so you can see the difference.”

Posted in Current Events, Underbelly on April 30, 2007 by Jesse
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Sheep v. Poodle

I had a gut sense this was a hoax when it first came out, but damn it felt like it should be true…

Japanese fooled in poodle scam
Thursday Apr 26 20:55 AEST

Thousands of Japanese have been swindled in a scam in which they were sold Australian and British sheep and told they were poodles.

Flocks of sheep were imported to Japan and then sold by a company called Poodles as Pets, marketed as fashionable accessories, available at $1,600 each.

That is a snip compared to a real poodle which retails for twice that much in Japan.

The scam was uncovered when Japanese moviestar Maiko Kawamaki went on a talk-show and wondered why her new pet would not bark or eat dog food.

She was crestfallen when told it was a sheep.

Then hundreds of other women got in touch with police to say they feared their new “poodle” was also a sheep.

One couple said they became suspicious when they took their “dog” to have its claws trimmed and were told it had hooves.

Japanese police believe there could be 2,000 people affected by the scam, which operated in Sapporo and capitalised on the fact that sheep are rare in Japan, so many do not know what they look like.

Posted in Current Events, Underbelly on April 26, 2007 by Jesse
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Knut is bottle-fed, washed and cuddled by his adoptive father, who moved in to the zoo to sleep in a bed by the bear’s crate. Newspapers report that zookeepers also play him Elvis songs on the guitar and gave him Christmas presents. More here.

Posted in Current Events on March 26, 2007 by Jesse
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Jesse Scoble

Jesse Scoble is a writer, story editor, and game designer in no particular order.

He has won awards, written a Western Horror script, worked on computer games & pen&paper games, contributed to more than 30 titles, and makes a mean mojito.

Currently he is a freelance writer in Montreal, QC.