Wednesday, August 31, 2016

So... much of what you say to Rover does he understand?

More than we thought. A study done in Hungary indicates that the left part of the brain lights up for familiar words...and the right part for the "good boy" tone.

They probably don't understand exactly what you're saying to them - but they do develop sound associations.

Next step: Test cats...

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

RIP Gene Wilder

Not perhaps directly speculative fiction, but he was the one true Willy Wonka.

The comic actor who also played roles in Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles died due to complications from Alzheimer's disease - an illness he asked not be disclosed.

His career was almost entirely in comedy, and he was apparently great to work with. And he will always be Willy Wonka (Sorry Johnny Depp, but it didn't work).

Monday, August 29, 2016

4D Printing?

Objects that remember their shape at a specific temperature - useful for space travel, medicine (imagine a drug capsule that opens when the patient starts to develop a fever), and all kinds of things.

MIT has now developed such "memory-shape" objects with a response time measured in seconds - much faster than earlier experiments. I can think of a few uses. Can you?

Friday, August 26, 2016

Saturday Planet-Gazing

If you happen to have an uninterrupted view to the west on Saturday at dusk, look out for a close passage of Venus and Jupiter - they're going to look almost like they're touching.

Also, if you haven't backed it yet, go here: We're heading rapidly for our Mystery Stretch Goal and I already know it's something awesome.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Happy Birthday...Parks

Although Yellowstone, the archetype, is older, the US National Park Service celebrates its 100th birthday today. The modern Park Service was created by legislation signed in 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson.

May the Park Service continue to protect our national treasures.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Studying Proxima b.

It's about 1.3 times the size of Earth, it's smack in the middle of it's stars habitable zone, and it's only four light years away.

All of which makes Proxima b the best target to study terrestrial planets. Does it have life? We don't know yet...but it might be possible for new propulsion technology to get a probe there to take a peek in only 20 years (we've had probes out that long to reach the outer system).

Meanwhile, large telescopes under construction might be able to directly observe this world and at least establish if it has an atmosphere. It's likely tidally locked, but...we know that isn't a dealkiller for life.

So...let's take a peek.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

David Attenborough...

...recently got a ship. Now he's also got...a cat.

Scientists have named a newly discovered extinct species of marsupial lion Microleo attenboroughi after the British naturalist and broadcaster (who in addition to being absolutely fantastic at explaining biology to non-scientists also commissioned a certain comedy show when he was in charge at BBC2 - yes, we can thank Attenborough for the Flying Circus).

Microleo? Yup. The kitty - an example of parallel evolution - was about the size of a ringtail possum. It probably thought it was very fierce indeed...

Monday, August 22, 2016

Potential research black hole...

...NASA is releasing all of the research they've funded to the public. Somebody restrain me so I don't spend a month exploring?

Seriously, this is absolutely awesome, especially as a lot of science research is hidden behind pretty high paywalls.

Friday, August 19, 2016

More on 3D printed prosthetics...

...because they're for the birds.

There's now a group called Animal Avengers who make 3D printed prosthetics for animals. Including replacement beaks. They've even been able to release birds into the wild with their prosthetics, made of biodegradable plastic.

3-D printing has also now been used to make custom horseshoes for injured/foundered horses, tortoise shells, replacement joints for dogs and cats and, of course, straight up prosthetics. Because 3D printing is so much cheaper, it's worth doing it for critters.

The racing industry is now looking into 3D printing horseshoes as a routine thing, at least at the higher end, as the 3D printed titanium shoes are even lighter than aluminum racing plates.

But a goose with a new beak getting to fly free? That's awesome.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Prehistoric fashion

DNA analysis has traced the origins of the Iceman's wardrobe - and they're pretty varied. His hat was bearskin, his quiver was roe deer leather. His pants, however, were goatskin - from goats not dissimilar to modern breeds found in that area.

Because, yes, even people back then knew to use the right material for the right purpose.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Fifth Force of Nature?

Maybe. Or at least another "god" particle that might explain something about that crazy non-reacting stuff we call dark matter.

If there are five fundamental forces (the four we know are gravitation, electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces) then it could solve the dark matter/missing mass problem.

In other words, we may know even less about the universe than we thought - and that's always cool.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Self-Healing Clothing one of those tropes of certain kinds of science fiction that come out of cyberpunk.

Except it might be with us soon. It's a coating, based off of squid DNA (biotech, again), that you dip natural fiber in. It can be programmed to self-heal when put in water at a particular temperature. You know, like, a washing machine.

Of course, the fashion industry won't embrace it, because, well, our current society is based off of making people buy things they don't actually need.

But in the future, who knows?

Monday, August 15, 2016

R.I.P. Kenny Baker

R2-D2 was not a puppet. He was operated from the inside by Kenny Baker - a highly talented actor who stood all of 3 feet, 8 inches tall.

Best known for bring R2-D2 to amazing life, Kenny was also one of the Ewoks. He was Dufflepud in the Prince Caspian TV series, was one of the little people in Willow (like, I suspect, every size challenged actor in Hollywood), and appeared in a lot of places. He was supposed to play R2-D2 in The Force Awakens, but the 81 year old actor was credited only as a consultant - perhaps because of his failing health. (R2-D2 appeared only briefly in The Force Awakens and will be played in Episode VIII by Jimmy Vee, who Baker trained to take over from him). Oh, and he did, surprise surprise, briefly run away to join the circus and also appeared in ice shows - which might explain some of the ways R2-D2 moved.

He had a good life and he did some amazing work. (I don't envy Vee having to replace him).

Friday, August 12, 2016

Habitable Venus?

Once, probably. A long time ago, Venus apparently was...colder than Earth. Not by a lot. By a few degrees.

With days and nights of two months each it would have been a very different world from ours. It would have had shallow oceans...but it would likely have had life.

At this time the sun was about 30 percent dimmer than it is today. About 715 million years ago, the brightening sun would have sent too much energy to Venus, causing the runaway greenhouse effect that produced the hellish planet we know today. It was simply too close to the sun to last. (And one day, in a few billion years, as the sun expands, the same thing will happen to Earth, unless we learn planetary engineering and move the entire planet. Most likely by then we'll be extinct or have evolved into something else).

Thursday, August 11, 2016


At 3pm I will be featured in the Broad Universe Facebook party. Head over to ask questions and for a chance to win a free copy of Falling Dusk.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Nuclear Near Miss

We all think about the Cuban Missile Crisis as the time we came the closest to nuclear war during the cold war.

On May 23rd, 1967, the US radar system designed to detect incoming Soviet missiles went dark. They thought they were being jammed - and prepared to launch a nuclear strike.

They were told to stand down just in time.

The cause? A massive solar flare. Thankfully it happened just after our first space weather monitoring systems were put in place.

And while this was kept quiet - no doubt to avert panic - it resulted in an increased investment in monitoring the sun, which has helped protect communications satellites and the like from more recent solar flares.

But we came a lot closer than I like to think about.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Facebook Party

I'm going to be a guest author at the Broad Universe Facebook party on Thursday - I'll be available live between 3:00 and 3:30pm with a chance to win a free ebook copy of Falling Dusk.

There will be a bunch more great woman authors and I'll stay available until some time between 5:30 and 6 (with the post staying up as long as the event does).

Monday, August 8, 2016

Star Trek Beyond

Finally saw it.

No offense, Mr. J.J. Abrams, but you can keep your paws off my Star Trek in future.

Beyond watched like a long TOS episode with a more significant bad guy (ably played by Idris Elba). The easter eggs were awesome.

And nothing was twenty minutes away at maximum warp. (Sorry, Abrams, you're not living that down).


They defeated the bad guys with the power of...

...okay, it wasn't technically rock and roll, but...dang. (I'm assuming most people who intend to have seen it by now. But they defeated the bad guys with the power of rock and roll. And technobabbled it into making sense. I loved it).

Friday, August 5, 2016

Oh, hey, Olympics

The Rio Olympics start tonight. The modern games are quite different from their ancient counterpart - although I wonder if we would avoid having already had an athlete disqualified for doping if the penalty for cheating was still flogging.

(No, I'm not supporting flogging, just making a wry comment about cheating).

But the ancient games were much closer to their military roots (if you think about it, we have Olympic events that involve hitting each other, shooting guns, throwing spears. Even the equestrian three day event started as a way cavalry officers tested their horses) than ours. I mean, one of their events involved sprinting in full armor.

And while I wouldn't bring back flogging, I do rather love the idea of making the athletes walk past the inscribed names of past cheaters to remind them that it's a bad thing.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Oh, hey...

...quantum computing at the University of Maryland. I was just there. (And we talked about stuff related to this).

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

I wish...

...people would stop saying the evidence indicates we're alone in the universe.

It quite simply doesn't.

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Our exoplanet hunting techniques are only now starting to see planets small enough to support our kind of life. They are biased towards large planets and ones that are too close to their primary to be habitable.

Our chances of picking up radio signals from another star are slim. SETI is based off of assumptions and one of them is that a signal will be produced that's strong enough. Based off of our own technology, most of our radio signals are not strong enough to be heard over the noise made by the Earth, the Sun, Jupiter, etc. There's evidence that radio is not actually the best way to communicate with a spaceship - light may be better, and a laser communication would, again, likely be drowned out by the local primary.

It's possible that the answer to Fermi's Paradox is "It's just dang hard to find each other in all of this space."

Now, it's intriguing to explore the idea that we may actually be one of the first intelligent civilizations to arise, and there's some evidence that supports it.

But we need to stop saying we're alone. We just don't have enough evidence to say that yet.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Mars gullies not river valleys...

...but Mars was still wet before. Okay, how? It looks like the gullies were formed by freeze-thaw cycles of carbon dioxide.

As they form, they reveal rocks that had water in them from earlier strata of Mars' surface.

Straightforward, right? Mars keeps proving to be a more complex world than we thought.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Shroedinger II

I'd like to post a public thank you to everyone involved with the Schroedinger II Sessions.

Especially to Chad Orzel for having the idea in the first place, Emily Edwards for organizing. And the American Physics Society for paying for stuff.

And everyone who spoke as well as fellow participants. It was a blast. My brain is broken, but it was a blast.