Friday, April 17, 2015

Growing Plastics?

We can come up with alternatives to fossil fuels.

Plastics are harder. But artificial photosynthesis might be the answer - anaerobic bacteria combined with nanotech. They aren't using it to make oxygen (this might seem handy for space travel, but it's better to grow plants as they also give you fresh food so you don't get scurvy) but polymers and the like. Complex molecules.

This might be a replacement system for converting oil into plastics - and also might be very useful on, say, Mars...if you only need sunlight and a few bacteria to make the plastic that you then feed to your 3D printer...

Thursday, April 16, 2015


The SpaceX Falcon 9 almost managed to land on its barge. Almost.

In fact, it did land, quite successfully. Then it fell over. It seems that if you're going to land a rocket, you do have to have it absolutely vertical on touchdown.

It's still an improvement on their last attempt - it looks like they're going to get this eventually. (With significant reduction in cost to orbit).

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Dinosaur Killer?

We make a lot of assumptions in science. Or rather hypotheses. (Non-scientists often confuse these with "facts").

But the evidence definitely points to an association between an asteroid hid at Chicxulub and the extinction of most of the larger land animals at the time.

So, what if we could prove it? Well, we can't, but we might soon have more information - scientists from the University of Texas at Austin have plans.

Expensive plans. It's called a core sample, and they plan on taking one of the Chicxulub impactor - which is buried 5,000 feet below the sea floor. They might be able to work out, for example, what it was made of.

This is going to be next year, so we'll have to wait a good while for the results, but they might have implications for asteroid defense. I, for one, am rather interested.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tea, Earl Grey, Hot?

Nope, but coffee - a company has invented an espresso machine that should work in microgravity. It was supposed to go to the ISS for testing today, but the launch has been delayed by the most common issue with getting to orbit - the weather.

I'm not a coffee drinker, but I hope it works for the sake of those that are (and also because it may make a good prototype for other microgravity appliances.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Review: The Free by Brian Ruckley

This is a decent epic fantasy on the darker side - more Game of Thrones like in genre.

The Free tells the stories of the fading days of the last mercenary company. Times are changing and there's no place for them any more (for reasons which are never quite clear in the book). Levyman Drann ends up accompanying them as contract holder - the representative of their employer who's duty it is to prove that they are acting under contract rather than being mere bandits.

Unfortunately, perhaps because I've been spoiled by Elizabeth Moon's brilliant military fantasy, the mercenary company comes over more as an adventuring party than anything with military discipline.

Despite that, this is a fun read. Ruckley's magic system is interesting - magic is based off of the four seasons in the way it is often based off of the elements. Mages have a season - how that's determined is also left out, but it doesn't seem to be something they choose. The world is made up of entelech, which comes in season flavors. So, everything's about seasons. And the use of magic steals a mage's vigor and permanently shortens their lives. Because of this, magic is used somewhat sparingly - although this is still a slightly higher magic world in terms of frequency than Game of Thrones. It's always nice to see a new and different magic system.

The characters are well-realized and the story itself interesting, although the ending - no spoilers - is rather a downer. It leaves one with the feeling that things are already bad and can only go downhill from here. If you like happy endings, you might want to skip this one.

If you like unashamedly violent, dark epic fantasy with good worldbuilding and an interesting magic system, then I recommend it.

(Copy received at World Fantasy Con).

Friday, April 10, 2015

A Problem With Self Driving Cars

I'm a huge fan of self driving cars. I think they will make our roads safer, be good for the environment and improve mobility for disabled and elderly people. Oh, and won't it be nice not to worry about designated drivers.

But one scientist pointed out an issue.

I can't read in a moving car. Why? I get horribly motion sick.

And most people will be wanting to do stuff in their self driving car other than stare out the window - that's a good part of the point.

Which means that quite a few people may discover they get car sick when they thought they didn't, or hadn't since they were little kids.

Experts are recommending that designers of self driving cars provide large windows (because looking out the window does help), keep the seats facing forward (some of us can even get queasy on trains if our seats face backwards) and possibly have the seats fully recline (supposedly that helps, although I've never tried it).

This will particularly affect, of course, the subset of people who don't get sick when driving but do as passengers.

It's a minor issue, but one worth thinking of. And one thing that might be helpful is to find other motion sickness drugs than dramamine, which a small but significant percentage of the population can't take (I know. I'm one of them. It makes me worse).

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Unwanted Goldfish?

...don't dump them in a nearby river. Or lake. Colorado is having to consider completely draining one lake as the only way to get rid of invasive goldfish. It's not cruel to the fish - just the native species they tend to outcompete.

(Basically? Don't ever release any pet into the wild. Either they won't survive, which is cruel to the animal, or they will with sometimes devastating results).