Diamond Seas?

January 27, 2010

How awesome would that be?  Whole seas of diamonds swirling and flashing in the light…I can picture it and it is beautiful.  So what gave me this idea, you ask?

Well, my son is doing a research project on a space topic and he picked Uranus.  My husband jumped on the bandwagon and looked around on the web to help him find some interesting articles, and he found this one on Discovery News.

Apparently, both Uranus and Neptune have a magnetic north that is significantly off geographic north.  The theory is that, due to the high temperatures and pressures and the abundance of carbon on both planets, there may be seas of liquid diamond on the planets.  Scientists recently created conditions similar to what they believe exist on these planets in a lab and found that they could in fact liquify diamond, and surprisingly enough, when they did so the liquid diamond had similar properties to water.  Water is one of the few substances that is more dense in its liquid form than its solid form, which is why ice floats.  According to these experiments, diamond is the same way – as the scientists reduced the pressure on the liquid diamond and solids started to form, they floated.  So in the diamond seas that are becoming more and more plausible on Neptune and Uranus, there could even be diamond icebergs!

Now we just need to send spaceships to Neptune and Uranus to see if we’re right.  If so, I want a diamond iceberg!

Don’t Panic – Neil Gaiman

October 25, 2009

So I got another book review request, this time by an actual well known author!  Go me!  And on top of that, it is a book about another really great author.

Don’t Panic is the story of how The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams came about.  It is very funny, filled with personal anecdotes from the man himself as well as many others who were involved with the series in some way – whether the radio version, TV, movie, books, records, merchandise, computer game, or just by virtue of being near Adams at some point during the process.  It is also written in a style that borrows from the tone of Hitchhiker and apparently from Adams - always slightly bemused, as if it can’t believe this ever actually happened. 

As a poor, uneducated American, I had no idea how many versions and spinoffs there were of the original radio series.  I mean, there’s a Hitchhiker’s computer game?  Who knew?!  I also had no idea how many popular British actors, comedians, TV and radio people were associated with Adams or Hitchhiker’s.  Some of the people mentioned I had not even heard of, though apparently they are quite famous across the pond. 

I am normally not a fan of ‘the making of” type books, but Don’t Panic is done in such a way that, rather than destroying the mystery of Hitchhiker’s, it adds to it, giving the impression that Adams’ life (lived entirely on Earth as far as I know) followed the same haphazard pattern of the series.  If you are an Adams fan, this book is a great addition to your collection.  My next task in the sci fi world will be to reread the entire series with a new eye for detail and an increased appreciation for the randomness that went into its making.  Maybe the Dirk Gently books too, just for the heck of it.

A New Link in the Evolution Chain

October 1, 2009

Once again it has been too long since I last posted.  This real life stuff just takes so much time!  But I saw this articleon MSN.com (so probably everyone who looks at real news outlets has already seen it) about the fossil of the human ancestor believed to be 1 million years older than Lucy – she was previously the oldest human-linked fossil ever found.  The new guy is nicknamed Ardi, short for Ardipithecus ramidus, and is dated at 4.4 million years old.  He is not a human fossil of course, but he is believed to be another link in the chain back to a common ancestor of humans and apes.  He has some human type characteristics, some ape/chimp type characteristics, and some that are neither but could be from a common starting point before both human and ape/chimp characteristics evolved fully.  This explanation makes sense to me, since I never got how apes could have essentially stopped evolving when humans branched off – it seems much more logical to think that there was a common starting point but that both branches have continued growing and changing since then, than it does to think humans evolved from apes and apes haven’t changed since then.  Maybe that’s how evolutionary scientists have seen it for years, but it isn’t how it was taught in schools as recently as 15 years ago (yes, I’m dating myself here).

Necrolysis – Crispy Sea

August 16, 2009

This is another book I found on Authonomy, although I believe it has since been removed.  The author was kind enough to let me read the whole book, since I got hooked on it while it was available on Authonomy.  Although it could still use a little polish – there were a few spots that were overdescribed and the occasional misplaced punctuation mark on my last reading – the story is great.

 Necrolysis is set in the relatively near future, in a world struggling to deal with serious environmental problems which have made the survival of the human race questionable at best.  However, many of the worst problems are being dealt with by a company headed by a genius named Martha English.  With Martha in the lead, the company has made great headway in reducing pollution and improving medicine and longevity.  They have developed a number of new technologies including nanobots that virtually stop aging and ‘trees’ that eat contaminants in the water and air.  Things seem to be moving along swimmingly, until Martha’s second in command, Emerald McKenzie, discovers that some of the company’s facilities are secretly being used to murder citizens and harvest their parts.  Emerald uncovers a conspiracy to replace these citizens with brainwashed clones – a conspiracy led by Martha herself.  Emerald and her boyfriend go on the run and start a group called SurvivorS to try to fight back against Martha’s conspiracy.

 This is definitely not a PG book (there is a lot of violence, cursing, and a fair bit of sex), but for us grown ups it is a fast paced sci fi thriller with lots of interesting gadgets thrown in.  I definitely recommend it, and I hope it is available in bookstores soon.

Bimbos of the Death Sun – Sharyn McCrumb

August 9, 2009

Yes, really.  That is the actual title of the book, and I read it anyway (on the recommendation of a friend and after hubby read it first and verified it was worthwhile).  It is quite good, title not withstanding.

So, there are no actual bimbos or death suns in the book.  In fact, I can’t really say it is a science fiction novel at all.  It is a murder mystery set at a science fiction convention (a con).  The victim is a famous science fiction author, Appin Dungannon, known for his terrible temper and for his hatred of any fan who doesn’t look like the stereotypical bimbo of a death sun.  The hero of the story is an engineering professor who wrote a fictional story about a theoretical engineering problem, which was turned into a little known sci fi paperback titled – you guessed it – Bimbos of the Death Sun.  Our hero, Dr. Jay Mega, gets suckered into being a featured guest at the con as 2nd string to the famous author Dungannon, by his girlfriend, Dr. Marion Farley.  She is an English professor at the same college, and a recovering fan herself.  The bad guy – well, that you have to find out for yourself.

The novel exploits the quirks of fandom, and gives spot-on descriptions of your typical uberfans found at any con.  It is also clever, and at times even witty, and the mockery is done with love, in true fan style.  (Anyone who has been to more than one con knows the fans mock each other mercilessly, though not for things mundanes would consider mockable.  Or even comprehensible, most of the time.)  I highly recommend it as a quick, enjoyable read, good for a little variety when you are overloaded with science fiction.  And I’m currently reading the sequel – Zombies of the Gene Pool.

Mars Update

July 5, 2009

Mars has been in the news lately – and the news has been pretty darn interesting.  First, on July 2nd there was an articleabout NASA’s idea of terraforming Mars using nanobots.  Well, technically I suppose the plan is to use nanobots to first survey Mars so that the ‘unique Martian biosphere’ can be preserved when Mars is terraformed.  But it is only natural to think we would then use those same nanobots already present to do the grunt work of terraforming – you know, producing oxygen from the carbon dioxide present so that the atmosphere could be altered to support humans and all our accompanying stuff.  Also, the nanobots would likely need to be self replicating, so it would be a good opportunity to practice that technology (and see if the dreaded ‘grey goo’ develops) without risking Earth.  Actually, that doesn’t sound great for the Martian biosphere.  Maybe we should set up a preserve….

Second, on July 3rd NASA announced more Martian news of note:  NASA Mars lander Phoenix discovered snow on the north pole of Mars.  This is the first confirmation we have had of an actice water cycle on Mars.  Aside from the general excitement of the scientific community at a new discovery, NASA is super excited about their theory being confirmed – based on what the lander had seen so far they were pretty sure there was a water cycle.  There is also, of course, excitement over what this means for the future of humans on Mars.  An active water cycle could mean a lot less work making the planet habitable.  Cool, huh?

Does anyone else find this as scary as I do?

June 25, 2009

According to Slashdot, a researcher at Stanford has successfully spliced light sensitive algae genes into human brain cells.  The cells can then be activated by laser light.  This is pretty scary on its own.  But here’s the money quote:  ‘Once the researcher attaches the other end of the cable to a laser, he or she has absolute and flawless control over that group of neurons.’

Holy #$%#!!!  Absolute control over someones neurons?!  What are they planning to use this for?  And even if there is some benign use in mind, how long will it take for some very malignant uses to be devised?  Sure, right now it requires being hooked up to a cable, which limits the potential for malicious use – at least they can only control a person’s mind in a lab.  But what happens when some other helpful scientist figures out how to control those neurons from a distance, or by remote control?

At least we don’t currently have a fascist president.  Silver lining, right?


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