Friday, September 30, 2016

Possibilities for Extra-Terrestrial Life In Our Solar System (Part 1)

I once asked a NASA scientist if he thought there was life on Mars. He said "Yes, but we put it there." (He was referring to the fact that we did not realize when we sent the first probes that some microbes can withstand hard vacuum for quite some time, so we didn't bother to decontaminate them and may well have introduced hardy microbes to the Martian environment).

Realistically, though, where are we most likely to find life? Or rather, life as we know it.

Venus - Venus could have supported life during the first 2 billion years or so of its life. Modern Venus, though? It's a hellworld. 870F surface temperature, 92 bars of atmospheric pressure, no seems highly unlikely that any of that early life survived. However, there are spots in Venus' atmosphere that are almost homelike, and there is a not completely infeasible possible colonization plan involving airships (Alastair Reynolds includes this in On The Steel Breeze). It's possible there may be our kind of life drifting in the atmosphere - likely nothing complex, but...

Mars - We've been looking for life on Mars for a long time. It's an easy place to look. But if there is life, it's likely to be microbes clinging on underground or in clefts. Some researchers are looking at life in a salt mine in North Yorkshire, which might closely resemble the Martian underground. Is there anything there? Nothing that could build canals. But maybe microbes. (And maybe that scientist was right and we already contaminated the place).

Mercury - The general consensus is nope, there's nothing on Mercury. It's just too inhospitable, especially with daily temperature swings from -280 to 800 degrees Fahrenheit. (Which makes exploring it a challenge).

So, that's the three terrestrial planets other than Earth out of the way. Maybe we need to be looking a little bit further out?

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Most murderous critter

When I was in school, a zoologist promised to show us the most dangerous animal on the planet and produced a mirror. (How many of you had this one as a kid? I'm sure I'm not alone).

Well, a case could be made, but how about the animal most likely to murder its own kind? It's not man after all.

Nor is it any of the candidates you might think of. Lions? Nope. Leopards? Nope. Any primate? Nope, although several species of monkey are near the top.

Nope, the critter most likely to die at the hands, uh, paws of its own kind is:

The meerkat.

...they're still cute, but dang.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

First Three Parent Baby Thrives

The first baby born using a technique that implants the nucleus of an egg from the mother into an egg cell from a donor is now five months old - and healthy.

The technique is not some kind of weird vanity thing - it's designed to allow women who have mitochondrial faults (in this case Leigh syndrome) to have children. Leigh syndrome is fatal - the mother involved had already lost two children.

I can't be opposed to something that allows somebody to have healthy children that do not suffer - although I agree that we should be cautious and make sure that the technique doesn't produce unhealthy children.

But hopefully there will be lots more families taking advantage of this. (Again, it's not a vanity thing - the only alternative for women with these problems until now was to use donor eggs).

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Let's Talk Proofreading

Okay, so I'm going to talk about proofreading - because it's something that a lot of independent authors and small publishers neglect.

There are two myths:

1. You don't need proofreaders any more because spellcheck catches everything. I can always tell when somebody thought spellcheck catches everything. The thing is - spellcheck will catch some things. It will catch typos, it will catch reversed letters, and it will catch doubled up words. It won't catch when you typed "there" instead of "they're". Oh, and grammar check tends to produce results that read awkwardly in fiction. I'm not saying spell checkers aren't useful - they are. But they should not be the only thing.

2. You can proofread your own work. I actually saw a job ad for writers where they said "Proofreading is 50 percent of a writer's job" - so clients often think this too. Fact is? You can't. Why? Because you know what you meant. With the best will in the world, you will never produce a hundred percent clean copy without somebody else proofreading it. (And to be honest, even multiple proofreaders don't always get things to a hundred percent).

So, what should you do?

You could hire a proofreader (Hi! I'm available). If you do, this person should be the last person who looks over your book other than you before it goes to print. I even recommend doing layout first. (And I also recommend, strongly, because it caught me out last time ordering print proofs and reviewing them before you post the ebook version). Any more substantive edits will introduce new errors. Trust me, they will.

Or if you can't find room in the budget, then find a writing buddy willing to trade with you.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Forgotten Gardens of Petra found

Petra is the world's oldest known town - and now we know a little bit more about it. It's best known for the sandstone canyon, but 2,000 years ago it was known as a famous water stop. Now they have found it had gorgeous irrigated gardens...and apparently a near (modern) Olympic size swimming pool. It was conspicuous consumption at its finest: We have so much water we can actually jump in it. This in a place which gets 10 to 15 centimeters of rain a year...

Friday, September 23, 2016

Gravitational Lensing Growing Up

Gravitational lensing can be used to detect planets by studying how the gravitational force of one object bends the light of an object behind it. Hubble has confirmed that one "unsure" system is, in fact, a gas giant orbiting a tight pair of red dwarf stars - considerably further out than previous planets found in binary systems by Kepler.

(There may, of course, be something else in the system. We don't know yet.)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Most Stable Culture In The World

People are saying "Oldest" but that makes no sense.

The "longest running" culture in the world? It's the Australian Aborigines. Nope, not something in Africa - Africa apparently changes too much to count for this.

Oh, and apparently they aren't pure homo sapiens either, but interbred they migrated through Asia.

We don't know what. (Maybe some relatives of the hobbits?)

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Thoughts on "Passengers"

Hrm. Passengers is relatively unusual - a true science fiction film that is not based on anything.

It stars Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence as two passengers on a colony ship who are woken prematurely from cryogenic suspension by a malfunction - ninety years from their destination and with no way to go back into stasis.

Of course, they have to save the ship...and of course there's romance. (Possibly too much for my personal taste - but original science fiction movies are so rare I will probably give it a chance anyway).

The trailer hints at a character-focused feel, but also gives some spectacular visuals. I'm not sure about the design of the colony ship: Also, if everyone is asleep, why is there gravity? (And the plot might hint at why you wouldn't want everyone to be asleep...or at least if you did you might just want a really good AI to run the ship in your absence).

But it's definitely intriguing. It's described as "romantic" so I trust in a happy ending. But it also seems to have some drama to it.

Release date: December 21.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Quantum Teleportation...

...over the actual internet.

Two teams have independently (one in China and one in Canada) sent quantum entangled information over commercial fiber optic networks. This is an important step to being able to use quantum teleportation to transmit real information.

Quantum teleportation does not allow the passage of information faster than light because decoding the entanglement requires a key, which must be sent independently by conventional means. It does, however, allow for the transmission of information by extremely secure methods, as you need both the information and the key to get the message. It may also be possible to do it wirelessly using laser communication techniques - and that, my friends, is how spaceships will send truly secure messages...

Monday, September 19, 2016

First Gaia Map Released

I talked about Gaia some - well, they just released their first detailed map, giving the "vital statistics" of no less than two million stars (think about that number for a moment. Then think about how this is a tiny preview).

Follow the link for gorgeous pictures and an explanation of just what ESA is up to with this particular telescope.

Friday, September 16, 2016


...people like to say that the indigenous peoples of the Americas were primitive.

Well, apparently they were dyeing cloth before...well, as far as we can tell, anyone. The indigo-dyed fragments, 6,200 years old, were found in Peru. They predate anything found in Egypt by at least 1500 years.

This is, so far, the oldest dyed cloth we have found.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Dino Colors

So, apparently, if a dinosaur fossil is particularly well preserved preservation can include the melanocytes - the cells which produce pigmentation.

Scientists have now reproduced the color of this little guy:

He's about the size of a turkey and that shading is forest camouflage. (So, no, not a bright colored dinosaur, but definitely not quite the grey they tend to be shown as).

Also, he's cute.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Want to... with some science?

The scientists operating the Gaia space telescope are asking for observation help from the general public - anyone with a decent small telescope.

It's UK focused, but the "Gaia alerts" page shows the phenomenon they want observation and measurement of. If you, unlike me, live somewhere where you can actually see the stars and have the right equipment, go join in and do some science.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Dolphin Conversations

We now know that dolphins sentences. Oh, and they don't interrupt each other, so they're more polite than I am.

Just how smart are they? And do they have anything to say to us other than "Thanks for all the fish."

Monday, September 12, 2016

Just sharing...

...some awesome pictures of Mars.

Getting ready to attend Small Press Expo this coming weekend. Always a great place for creative recharging.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Space X refueling accident - what happened?

...we don't know.

In fact, Space X are so stumped they're asking not only NASA and other organizations for help but the general public - they're asking anyone with video or audio recordings of the incident to send them copies.

The rocket was being fueled at the time and the company has said there was no heat source that could possibly have started the fire.

What they do know was that there was a bang and then the "explosion" happened a few seconds later.

Most likely there was some structural failure - but nobody can rule out something hitting the rocket.

It probably wasn't aliens, but it's not impossible that it was a UFO.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Hello, Nessie?

A fossil found 50 years ago has now been unveiled - and they're calling it the Storr Lochs Monster. It's a 165 million year old ichthyosaur - a kind of dolphin-like dinosaur.

Of course the classic image of Nessie is either a serpent or a long-necked dinosaur, not a dolphin-like anything...but there definitely were monsters in the lochs once. Long before man, of course.

...of course.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Doctor Who fan squee!

Specifically, they've done an animation patch up of "The Power of the Daleks" - which happens to be Troughton's first outing as the Doctor, and the test of the experiment of regeneration - a concept that was not in the original plan for the show. (In fact, the Doctor was originally written as a highly eccentric mad scientist from the future).

It will air on BBC America on Saturday, November 12 - I don't have a time yet.

I have not seen this one at all, so looking forward to it, even in a rather awkward form.

Give it a few years and it may well be possible to use the same techniques now being used to re-animate dead actors from stock footage to restore every lost episode that has a surviving sound track and script to something resembling the original...imagine that.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016


I can now confirm that I will be a guest at RavenCon next year in Williamsburg. (I had to skip this con last year for various reasons, mostly moving, and am quite looking forward to being back and checking out the new hotel).

Monday, September 5, 2016


They have definitively confirmed that the "alien signal" supposedly detected (which I didn't talk about because I was sure it wasn't real) originated close to home. The likely culprit - a Russian military satellite - specifically a Soviet era satellite that never got entered into the database. (They're not saying it was a spy sat, but...)

Ah well.

It was too good to be true.

Friday, September 2, 2016


Call To Arms: Horses And Mules is in final layout.

I will be hanging out at Baltimore Comic Con tomorrow (not in costume, sadly, but I'll be properly labeled with a shirt with my name on it this time). Maybe I'll get some cool writing tips again (the panel on writing better characters last year was a lot of fun).

Thursday, September 1, 2016


Space X had another rocket accident today. A Falcon 9 being refueled for a test burn exploded on the pad, damaging the pad and destroying a communications satellite destined for use over an underserved part of Africa.

Nobody was injured.

The cause is still unknown, but the explosion appeared to happen near the oxygen tank for the upper stage and during refueling - so a fuel leak would seem the likely culprit.