Thursday, October 30, 2008

New Human Extinction Mystery ?

Recent studies of mitochondrial DNA (genetic material passed on solely through the mother) from the Tyrolean Iceman, a 5,000-year-old mummy found in an Alpine glacier, revealed something astonishing about this recent human ancestor. He is from a distinct genetic group that mysteriously disappeared. It is likely that no modern humans shares his genetic lineage. The scientists that are sequencing the iceman's dna say that there are significant genetic differences. Apparently, this genetic group is no longer present. We don't know whether it is extinct or it has become extremely rare.

Mars Phoenix Lander nears end of mission

Nasa's Mars Phoenix lander has been sending back data for five months – far longer than the original three months it was supposed to last. However as the Martian fall begins the lander is slowly loosing power due to shorter days and fewer hours of sunlight reaching its solar panels.

Phoenix has run up an impressive list of discoveries. The lander has recorded snowfall, scraped up ice and found that the dust on the surface of Mars chemically resembles seawater, adding to evidence that liquid water – that may have supported life – once flowed on the planet's surface.

But now to conserve the remaining power, engineers will begin turning off Phoenix's internal heaters, one at a time. If this step is not taken, the electrical needs of the craft would soon surpass the minuscule amount that the solar cells now are generating. By turning off the heaters in a controlled fashion, Phoenix can continue doing science for several more weeks. The remaining experiments that do not require heating can operate for several weeks, but ultimately the cold will shut the lander down, ending the mission.

<- NewScientist via Dvice ->

PREDATAXIS: Rippling to victory.

Like something from a horror movie, the Swarm ripples purposefully toward its prey, devours it and moves on.

Researcher John Kirby, an associate professor at the University of Iowa ,has coined the term PREDATAXIS to describe the modus operandi of colonial predator Myxococcus xanthus when its/their prey is detected.
The following is a attempt to summarize and simultaneously speculate upon Kirby's findings published online Oct. 24 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, And to do it in a way suitable for speculative fictionists to contemplate and, one hopes, speculate on. So forgive my trespasses, JK.
BattleField Xanth.
When a M. Xanthus aggregate of thousands of individuals begins attacking an unsuspecting prey colony, it creates a rippling pattern in its own ranks.
As the Swarm moves into the colony and through the prey, this rippling pattern - the organized behavior of thousands of Xanthics working in concert - lets them kill and engulf the hapless colonials with ease.
Individual Xanthics move and attack by shooting rope-like projections called pili from both ends. These pili attach to prey or other surfaces, letting them pull themselves forward and backward in a "spiderman" type motion.
This motion of millions of individual predators at once results in an alternating pattern of high and low Xanthic densities, like crests and troughs of waves.
The overall motion of the wave across millions of Xanthics is directed implacably toward the prey.
At high prey density, M. xanthus forms ripples with shorter wavelengths. As prey are slain, the ripple wavelength gets longer.
Eventually, there is no more prey. The rippling behavior dissipates for lack of targets. The Xanthics separate, going each their own way, until the next Call.
Likely a sophisticated quorum sensing process is involved in coordinating all those predators in their deadly line dances. Like bioBorgs.

First fully self contained artificial heart to be ready in 2.5 years

Developers are approximately two and a half years away from human trials of the first truly artificial human heart. The heart is made from chemically treated animal tissues, which allows the body to accept it rather than rejecting it as has been an issue with past artificial hearts. Another advantage is that the new heart will be fully implantable. The artificial heart is even shaped like a real heart, with the same blood flow inside and outside the heart. What is truly remarkable about this heart is that unlike most devices installed to day which are meant as a "bridge" until a donor heart is available, this unit is meant to be the a totally artificial permanent heart replacement.

<- MailOnline via Dvice ->

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

NASA's Ares 1 Rocket Could Crash Into Launch Tower floored me with this one! It would appear that the Ares 1 Luna lift assembly is ntly in danger of banging into its own launch tower if there is any cross wind . And it need not be a gale force either, the wind needs only be a gentle 12.7 mph from the south-east to cause problems. Again the problem stems with how the SRB motors causes it to "hop" on ignition. This is not the first time manned Moon landing program has run into difficulties. The "tuning fork" problem (excessive vibration of the manned launch vehicle that could cause the launch to abort) is still a problem looking for a permanent solution and many people asking for a complete redesign of the system. "It's time for a rethink," said Jeff Finckenor, an award-winning NASA engineer who last month quit the Ares program in frustration over the way the program is being managed.

<- Gizmodo -> <- OlandoSentinel article ->

Sperm powered Robots!

I can not resist an article that starts of with" Think we make this stuff up? No chance!" From MSNBC via Suicide Robots is an article describing how the whip-like tail of sperm could be harnessed to send nanobots throughout the human body. Up to this point it has proven very difficult to develop enough power to get a nanobot to move. Present day engineering would have motive engines formed from tiny springs and nuts and bolts. However at the nano scale, biology provides the best functional motors. One very efficient engine takes the form of the tail, or flagellum, that propels human sperm at a rate of about 7 inches per hour. (by comparison in human scale, the distance would be equivalent to swimming almost 4 miles in an hour. ) To supply the energy for its locomotion, a sperm cell’s tail is essentially studded with tiny assembly lines that produce a high-energy compound called ATP. Research is now going on on how to best attatch and control the tail to move the nanobot medical devices around the body. Read the complete article on MSNBC.

<- MSNBC article ->

Monday, October 27, 2008

Phobos' days may be numbered

According to an article in IO9 Mars' two moons once had company. Astronomers studying two oddly elliptical craters on Mars' surface just north of Olympus Mons have theorized that Mars once had a third moon. This moon would have been small by any standards at 1.5 kilometers. The impact zone is two oval craters that lie 7.8 miles apart and they are almost exactly aligned from east to west. Most impact craters are round, so the oval craters indicate that 1 or 2 objects struck Mars at a very oblique angle. The double impact could indicate that the impactor broke up under gravitational shear or stresses encountered when striking the atmosphere. Of course it could also have been a binary asteroid which has president in other impacts on other moons in the solar system. Which brings us to diminutive Phobos. The moon is slowly dropping in altitude due to tidal forces. In about 11 million years it will either crash into Mars or be ripped apart through gravitational shear.

<- IO9 article -> <- Universe Today odd Martian crater article ->

Scientists working on a drug to selectively erase memories

One of the more popular themes in science fiction are those that deal with human memory. Whether it's copying memory from one place to another, building completely new memory sets, modifying existing memory such as adding new memories or taking away the bad, this has been a theme that has been revisited many times in many stories. Now Shaun Saunders sends in a article from NewScientist that has scientists moving a step closer to wiping away a month-old memory in genetically engineered laboratory mice, while leaving other memories unchanged. The research involved boosts levels of a protein involved in memory storage and retrieval, which has the effect of dispelling memory. Now this is short term memory. Other researchers have shown that it is possible to block the retrieval of long term memories by raising the levels of yet another protein. And yet another protein that erases long term memories completely, even without recalling them. Many neuroscientists do not think it's possible to use these methods in humans, now or in the future, but many agree that with research, future applications are a very real possibility.

<- newscientist article ->

Sunday, October 26, 2008

review: The Ant King and other Stories by Benjamin Rosenbaum

The Ant King and other stories
Benjamin Rosenbaum
224 p.p.
Small Beer Press

Benjamin Rosenbaum is certainly no stranger to Beam Me Up. I have featured several of his truly entertaining short fiction in earlier programs. Thought provoking stories like "Start the Clock" and "The House Beyond Your Sky" have entertained me as well as Beam Me Up's listeners. With both of these excellent pieces of fiction included in the publication, sandwiched in between wildly funny urban fantasy "The Ant King" and the introspective science fiction offering "A Siege of Cranes" and you can see that Rosenbaum has pulled out the stops and plans to give you a tour de force look into how his fiction operates. It is clear that there were no thematic rules set. Where Start the Clock is a disturbing science fiction piece, stories like Red Leather Tassels is a technicolor dream sequence that defies classification. Many of the stories stand well on their own, however some are tied together is a type of centralized thread. Some stories are larger than life, yet others illuminate a single moment. The Ant King and other stories could be described as a resume of Rosenbaum's talents - however for me it was like the desert cart, each amazing bite building on what came before and promising so much more in the future.

If your Science Fiction tastes lean a bit toward the Speculative, I can promise you will not be disapointed with The Ant King and other Stories.

<- to purchase this book -> - <- purchase the ebook and save a tree ->

<- free download pdf -> (other formats are available)

<- Benjamin Rosembaum's web page ->

Friday, October 24, 2008

Buzz Aldrin off his meds again!

The noted NASA Apollo astronaut is not happy to bash on science fiction now but has aimed higher or hitting below the belt depending on your point of view. I want to say again that Mr. Aldrin is not only a national hero but a personal one of mine, so you can stop writing that hate mail now. But as of late his comments have had the hallmark of a patient at the home with one too many pain pills in his system. First was the comment that science fiction is ruining real space exploration and now he is suggesting that the first people to go to Mars - should stay there. Yep, one way ticket. Here is a partial quote: "If we are going to put a few people down there and ensure their appropriate safety, would you then go through all that trouble and then bring them back immediately, after a year, a year and a half?" wait there's more: "They need to go there more with the psychology of knowing that you are a pioneering settler and you don't look forward to go back home again after a couple a years," aaaaaaaaah oooooook. Want more? "At age 30, they are given an opportunity. If they accept, then we train them, at age 35, we send them. At age 65, .... they can retire there, or maybe we can bring them back."

You know, if the shoe had been on the other foot. By that I mean, in the initial race to the moon it was suggested that we send a man with enough supplies to keep him going for about 5 years, no return ticket. Just get there first ahead of the Russians. Maybe in 5 we could get him back. I am serious, it was on the table, but the then astronauts said, no way. And quite honestly I know it isn't going to happen this time. Mr. Aldrin knows that as well. So why bother to say something that ludicrous? Just to get in the press? I hardly think so, He has been the epitome of science and industry and received accolades accordingly. So what makes someone put forth something so patently ridiculous? I hate the think it, but it almost seems the lithium is a bit low.

click article title for comple text at IO9

1000+ MPH car goes for worlds record

Guess I am on a weird car thing this week, but you have to admit that anything that looks like this and goes this fast is as science fiction as it comes!

Aptly name the Bloodhound, the British born jet/rocket hybrid "car" will go after the world record sometime in 2011. The $16.2 million carbon fiber and titanium vehicle will reach an estimated top speed of Mach 1.4 with the aid of both a Eurojet EJ200 jet engine and a Falcon hybrid rocket engine producing a combined thrust of 47,000 pounds. The top speed of 1050 mph will be attained in a mere 40 seconds, making for an extremely uncomfortable ride for the volunteer driver, who has had experience with high speed craft as a fighter pilot.

<- bloodhound images ->

<- Bloodhound page ->

Copenhagen Suborbitals Heat - Cheap space ride?

Got the need to be suborbital? Not sure you can raise the 200 large for the ride? Well according to a recent article in Dvice: Copenhagen Suborbitals has a crazy plan to cram you into the nosecone of this minuscule missile, blasting you into space and returning you safely to Earth. (hey, we have heard that line before huh? ) The craft is named HEAT or Hybrid Exo Atmospheric Transporter, and it'll propel a human into space at a relatively gentle 3g force. The quarters will be cramped, with the astronaut strapped into the pressurized compartment so tightly, in a modified standing position, only limited arm movement will be possible. At present on the 1/3 scale sounding rocket has been built to test the engine. Check out the engine test on a static stand.

XLR-2 hybrid rocket motor test from Sonny W. on Vimeo.

Audi Calamaro totally wild concept auto

I think the engineers at Audi have overdone it a bit with the recreational drugs, but I do have to give em a "hell yeah" with this totally off the wall bit of designer concept engineering. Most concept cars that I have seen has at least some grounding in conventional transport but not the effort that brought forth the Calamaro. This one goes so fast standing still that it doesn't even have wheels! Yep, a flying car. Well can you call it a car? I mean IT HAS NO FREAKIN WHEELS! But I would be so into calling shotgun in this ride.

<- Dvice ->

Thursday, October 23, 2008

India's first space mission beyond Earth orbit launched successfully

India has now succesfully joined the all too small group of countries who have sent scientific missions beyond low Earth orbit. Launched at 0052 GMT, Oct. 22, Chandrayaan-1 carries with it 11 scientific experiments including three from the European Space Agency, two from NASA, and one from Bulgaria.

Chandrayaan-1 will map the surface of the Moon, determine its mineralogy content, and land a small impact probe which will "give ISRO [Indian Space Research Organization] scientists experience to be used in subsequent lunar landing missions."

The mission cost a relatively minuscule $86m for a mission that is a small step forward in humanity's eventual colonization of the Moon and is a well-deserved source of pride for an important, developing country.

< Article>

<Moon Daily Article>

<Variety SF Article>

World's first wave farm now generating power

From Dvice I see where Portugal built the world's first wave farm consisting of three Wave Energy Converters generating a total of 2.25MW. A WEC is a series of water tight "barrels" that float anchored in position on the surface of the ocean. The barrels bob up and down with the waves, while internal pistons, remain stationary and pump hydraulic fluid. This drives electric generators, whose power is brought ashore by underwater electrical cables. The wave farm is now tapping into enough constant, renewable energy to power 1500 homes.

Check out the article in Dvice for a series of really cool pics of this ground breaking installation in operation

<-

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Is the Earth losing is protection for intergalactic radiation?

I think nothing is cooler than when science catches up with science fiction. Such as it is with a story that Shaun Saunders sends in from the Telegraph. - New data has revealed that the heliosphere, the protective shield of energy that surrounds our solar system, has weakened by 25 per cent over the past decade and is now at it lowest level since the space race began 50 years ago. The Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or IBEX, which was launched Sunday October 19th will "listen" for the shock wave that forms as our solar system meets the interstellar radiation. This will give us a relative idea of the strength of the heliosphere which protects the Earth from about 90 per cent of the galactic cosmic radiation. The heliosphere is created by the solar wind, a combination of electrically charged particles and magnetic fields that meet the intergalactic gas at the boundary of our solar system. Without the heliosphere the harmful intergalactic cosmic radiation would make life on Earth almost impossible by destroying DNA and making the climate uninhabitable. As Shaun puts it, "Last Light" coming true!

My reading of Last Light can be found in the story archives and it appears in Shaun's story collection "Navigating the New World"

<- More ->

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Dune's sandworms. Startling new evidence about their behaviour

Readers of Frank Herbert's Dune novels are familiar with the notion of using 'thumpers' to draw the giant sandworms to the surface - usually to then use them as giant sand-taxis, sort ofthe ultimate off road vehicles.

People said Frank got his inspiration from earthworm collectors, some of whom pound the ground, some a stake driven thereto, resulting in the worms surfacing for easy exploitatino.

Vanderbilt University biologist Ken Catania's reserches however, reveal that the reason that earthworms head for the surface when their ground is thumped is that they percieve the noise as the sound of a giant worm-eating mole digging its terrible way worard the,m.

To surface is to flee, then: According to Professor Catania, moles don't hunt prey on the surface. See his report here

So one fears to ask (because it could incite young Herbert into yet another Dune sequel or prequel!) Dares one ask, what dread beast do the arrakis sandworms believe they are fleeing, when they respond to a Fremen thumper????

Friday, October 17, 2008

Intergrated chip that builds itself!

Today - computer chips are made by etching patterns onto semiconducting wafers using a combination of light and photosensitive chemicals. A team of European physicists has developed an integrated circuit that can build itself, an important step towards its ultimate goal — a self-assembling computer. (see where this is going? Skynet is in the wind....can the T100s be far behind? huh?)

Shaun Saunders has really sent in an interesting and in depth article concerning the techniques used to get components to self assemble.

Click here for the Nature News complete article

AntipodeanSF 125 is now online

Nuke, editor of the Aussie online flash fiction magazine write and says that AntipodeanSF issue 125 is ready for you to peruse and enjoy on the web - at the same address:

You'll find ten fantastic pieces of flash fiction chosen from submissions originating in the antipodes and podes, and you're bound to find a gem amongst them:

"Tall Poppies" by Simon Petrie

"Please Register" by Shaune Lafferty Webb

"Bummed" by Rick Kennett

"Togetherness" by Greg Austin

"Hunky Dory" by Shaun A. Saunders

"It's Not Everywhere" by Francis Conaty

"Red" by Chris Broadribb

"An Evening's Work" by Andrew Leadbeatter

"Efficiency Gains" by Tom Sullivan

"Let Us Pray" by Lee Giminez

This month's issue also features three fifty-worders, and Jan Napier once again goes critical and finds eldritch in the company of Others in "The Night Watch". Meanwhile, Nuke, in his review column "Vide", is embroiled in a "Heart Shaped Box" and discovers the "Principles of Angels".

Thursday, October 16, 2008

ESA & Mars Express closer to decerning origin of Phobos

European space scientists are getting closer to unravelling the origin of Mars’ larger moon, Phobos. Thanks to a series of close encounters by ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft, the moon looks almost certain to be a ‘rubble pile’, rather than a single solid object. Mars' largest moon is an irregularly sized lump of space rock measuring just 27 km x 22 km x 19 km. Recent passes by Mars Express have allowed teams of European scientists to determine both the mass and volume of Phobos. Putting this data together, the teams will be able to calculate the moon's density. Eventually, this will be a new important clue to how the moon formed. Preliminary density calculations suggest that it is just 1.85 grams per cubic centimetre. This is lower than the density of the martian surface rocks, which are 2.7-3.3 grams per cubic centimetre, but very similar to that of some asteroids. The particular class of asteroids that share Phobos’ density are known as D-class. They are believed to be highly fractured bodies containing giant caverns because they are not solid. Instead, they are a collection of pieces, held together by gravity. Scientists call them rubble piles. This suggests that Phobos, and probably its smaller sibling Deimos, are captured asteroids. The only problem with this scenario is that captured asteroids have erratic obits, but Phobos and Demos have equatorial orbits that seem to contradict the asteroid conclusion. To clear up the question of where the moons came from would require samples of the moon's surface. This possibility might soon become reality because the Russians will attempt to do this with the Phobos-Grunt mission, (I couldn't make this up if I tried!) to be launched next year.

Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine's server failed

SFScope reports that Editor Gordon Van Gelder of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction announces that they had server difficulty last week. Specifically, their secure serve failed, meaning that subscription orders, address changes, and "contact us" messages sent between 12N EDT on 9 October and 12N on 12 October have been lost. He asks that people who contacted them during that period who have not received a confirmation please contact them again.

<- F&SF via SFScope ->

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Is there a gama-ray deathstar taking aim at us?

A rotating binary star system is a ticking time bomb, ready to throw out a beam of high-energy gamma rays – and Earth may be right in the line of fire. Known as Wolf-Rayet WR 104 - astronomers say that it is actually a bloated red central star with a binary companion consisting of a small blue star. What makes this pair dangerous is that the red star is highly unstable and may collapse at any moment. When it does, it will pull in the blue companion and emit powerful gamma ray bursts from both poles. When these bursts occur they will fry everything in their path. Making it the universe's largest microwave. What is even more un-nerving is the Solar system is staring right down the north pole of WR 104. Since gamma ray burst travel at the speed of light, the Earth will literally never know what hit it.

What makes this extraordinarily interesting is writer Shaun Saunders nailed this home with his story Last Light which we read on Beam Me Up some months ago. His story is available in his newest book "Navigating the New World"and is also available in the show's story archives

Cassini spots north pole cyclone on Saturn

Everyone is facinated by NASA's first string of robots and rovers on Mars... However my favorite is the oft unsung workhorse Cassini. Shaun Saunders sends in a story from about a recent discovery that Cassini just observed on Saturn. The spacecraft has discovered a giant cyclone swirling on Saturn's north pole equaling a similar storm observed earlier on the planet's south pole. Scientists report that either one of these storms is easily 100 times stronger than any cyclone on Earth. Conjecture has it that water vapor consencing lower in the atmosphere is forming huge thunderstorms and thus spinning up the gigantic circular storms. But the simularity to Earth based storms breaks down quickly thereafter. Unlike Earth's hurricanes, which stem from the ocean's heat and water, Saturn's cyclones have no body of water at their bases. The storms on that planet are locked to Saturn's poles, whereas terrestrial hurricanes drift across the ocean.

<- more ->

Army working on "synthetic telepathy"

According to MSNBC: A new Army grant aims to create email or voice mail and send it by thought alone. No need to type an e-mail, dial a phone or even speak a word. Known as synthetic telepathy, the technology is based on reading electrical activity in the brain using an electroencephalograph, or EEG. The Army grant to researchers at University of California, Irvine, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Maryland has two objectives. The first is to compose a message using sub-vocalization or as researchers put it "that little voice in your head." The second part is to send that message to a particular individual or object (like a radio), also just with the power of thought. Once the message reaches the recipient, it could be read as text or as a voice mail. A medical use for such a system is for patients with Lou Gehrig's disease, or ALS. As the disease progresses, patients have fully functional brains but slowly lose control over their muscles. Synthetic telepathy could be a way for these patients to communicate.

<- MSNBC via Boing Boing ->

Monday, October 13, 2008

Scott to do "Forever War"

Variety reports that Ridley Scott is planning to make "The Forever War," into his first science fiction film since he delivered back-to-back classics with "Blade Runner" and "Alien." Scott attained the rights to the Joe Haldeman classic, after working to obtain them for 25 years, from Richard Edlund, who spent $400,000 of his own money and intended to make the book his directorial debut, but the project foundered. After a Sci Fi Channel miniseries stalled, Scott became interested again and Edlund was ready to make a deal. It took six months to secure all the rights.

The Forever War revolves around a soldier who battles an enemy in deep space for only a few months, only to return home to a planet that has moved many years into the future. Due to time dialation he has remained young but his home planet has continued to change. Now he doesn’t recognize his home and no one remembers him.

<- Variety via IO9 ->

AI wins bronze Turing Award

British mathematician Alan Turing, if not the father of artificial intelligence, can at the very least be considered the father of methods of understanding and discerning if a machine is in fact capable of artificial intelligence. Turing came up with a subjective but simple rule for determining whether machines were capable of thought. Writing in 1950, Turing argued that conversation was proof of intelligence. If a computer talked like a human, then for all practical purposes it thought like a human too. His tests, and by extension, the yearly competitions that have been ongoing since 1991, consists of a subjective but simple rule for determining whether machines were capable of thought. Turing's test consists of a human judge who would swap messages simultaneously with a computer and another human, without being told which was which. If the judge had trouble telling his correspondents apart, Turing said, then the computer met the human standard of intelligence. This year's Bronze award (no software has yet won the silver or gold awards) handed out by organizer American scientist and philanthropist Hugh Loebner goes to the piece of software that best mimics human conversation in text form. That software was a "chatbot" called Elbot designed by Fred Roberts a Hamburg, Germany-based consultant. Elbot duping three out of 12 judges assigned to evaluate it.

<- read more in the Associated Press article ->

Gecko glue?

Consider the lowly gecko (no, not the little green dude with an accent selling insurance). Each one of it's toes are covered in microscopic hairs, known as setae, with even smaller branches at the tips, called spatulae. This gives the gecko's foot an amazing amount of surface cross section allowing it to climb vertical surfaces and even hang by one toe on these surfaces. Now US chemists claim to have created an adhesive based on nanotubes that it is 10 times stickier than some gecko feet. Even more impressively, like a real gecko foot, it can also be easily unstuck with a tug in the right direction.

Thanks to Shaun Saunders for the post

<- New Sciencetist article ->

(Image: Science)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

US tourist launches toward ISS

In light of some of the bad press that Space Adventures has garnered over the past few weeks, I though an article showing the successful side of a launch.

Shaun Saunders sends in an article from BBC News about space tourist Richard Garriot who was part of the crew of the Russian Soyuz that launched towards the ISS recently. Mr Garriott. a software design millionaire, has paid about $30m for his 10-day trip to the International Space Station. Richard's father, Owen Garriott, spent 60 days on the US space station Skylab in 1973. Owen, now 77, will support his son from mission control in Moscow. Richard plans to carry out experiments during his voyage, including one involving protein crystal growth, on behalf of companies that he says have footed a "meaningful percentage" of the ticket price. He will also follow in his father's footsteps and take photos to record how the Earth's surface has changed in the 35 years since his father's voyage.

Friday, October 10, 2008

ABC to do V

It seems that the blogosphere is dead on with all the rumors that ABC will take on the second coming of the 80s miniseries V. Without it would seem the services of the original creator, Kenneth Johnson. Reporters over at TV Squad write that things look a bit bleak for the remake. They are saying that the writer isn't sticking to the original story line to much. As he puts it - "... will pretty much revamp the human story to something completely different. The theme of the new version will more be about having blind faith in leadership rather than being an allegory of the Nazi occupation of Germany. "

Not sounding good to me.. considering how the other revamps of tv shows have worked out. Knight Rider anyone?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

World's first flying car, to ship late next year

A true staple of golden age science fiction was the flying car. Many options were offered over the early years of flight and auto technology, from pusher, screw prop, helicopter and gyro-copter variations. In most cases they were unwieldy amalgams of both techs and as such did neither really well. In most cases they were mostly planes that given enough time could be reconfigured to drive on the open road. None were truly successful. But now light weight composites and technology have been joined in what could be the first truly functional plane and car. Here is the Terrafugia Transition - a 1300-pound blending of the two modes of travel, if not beautiful at least a true contender. Available for $194,000 sometime by the end of next year - the unit clearly uses some very innovative tech to switch between the two modes of travel. This video shows a representation of how the craft might look in flight and in transition from plane to car. I just can't get over the fact that it looks like an leCar with wings. Judge for yourself.

<- DeVice article ->

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Japan wants to build the first Space Elevator

Author Arthur C. Clarke envisioned a very special elevator in his book The Fountains of Paradise. His elevator would stretch from the Earth's surface all the way into Earth geo-synchronous orbit. This elevator would allow you to visit a space station without getting on a rocket or launch payloads of any type without burning any fuel directly. The elevator would need cables 22,000 mile-long just to reach geo-stationary orbit. (in truth the cables would have to be almost twice as long because a counter weight must be attached further out to "hold up" the cables) An they must be manufactured of materials that have unimaginable strength. Estimates are that the material would have to be 4 times stronger than the strongest carbon nano-tubes now available which would mean a substance 180 times stronger than steel.

Now Japan has made the development of space elevator technology a priority as part of the country's long-term space development plans. The Japan Space Elevator Association was created to promote and educate the public on the creation of a space elevator. The JSEA believes that the entire space elevator could eventually be constructed for as little as $10 billion dollars, more or less.

<- Times online article via IO9 ->

Kirk McCain & Spock Obama

artist Drew Friedman painted this piece for the New York Observer

<- complete Boing boing article ->

Science Fiction "Jumping the Shark"

Sometimes I am so far behind on pop culture that I feel like I am doing constant catch up just to understand what is going on and or oblique references that leave me in the dark. One such term that I am hearing more and more these days is "Jumping the Shark". According to the Wiki it's origins are from an episode of Happy Days in which Henry "The fonz" Winkler performs a stunt where on water skis he jumps over a caged shark. Pop culture critics have taken this and turned the act and thus the description into describing a certain event in a shows "life". The act of the Fonz jumping the shark was views as watershed turning point in the program Happy Days. It has since come to mean when a show incorporates as the Wiki puts it:
  • denote(s) that point in a TV show or movie series' history where the plot veers off into absurd story lines or out-of-the-ordinary characterizations, undergoing too many changes to retain the original appeal of the series. Shows that have "jumped the shark" are typically deemed to have passed their peak as after this point critical fans can point to a noticeable decline in the show's overall quality.
In Happy Days it was litterally Jumping The Shark which is odd because the premise was the Fonz was facinated with his hero Evel Knievel and far from being a turning point, the show continued to do very well for the next few seasons.

So what am I babbling about? Maybe I never fully realized a "shark" moment due mostly to the fact that with the majority of the shows I watch in the science fiction realm often use odd plot devices, strange plot twists and so on. I don't consider these as harbringers of the programs ultimate demise...just a fact of life in Science Fiction. That being said, I can think of a couple of shark jumping moments in science fiction or science fictionish shows.

  • Mork & Mindy: The big egg. and the addition of Johnathan Winters.
  • SG-1: The depature of Don Davis, addition of Claudia Black who get pregnant & Ben Bower
I am sure there are a huge amount of examples. Either moments that are clearly jumping the shark for the show or maybe tongue in cheek references in the story line. What have you got?

<- Wiki Jumping the Shark ->

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Review: Time Machines Repaired While U Wait by K.A. Bedford

Time Machines Repaired While U Wait
324 pp pb

I think I can safely say that this novel may hold the record for the worst title. Here is a title that screams low comedy perhaps, or at best a simplistic plot - And that dear reader would be a shame to pass this gem up. In the end the title may be marketing genius.. lol who knows! Anway:

Aloysius "Spider" Webb is a walking cliche. A down and out x-cop, released from the force for being in the end, too honest. Out of options Spider jumps at a chance to make a living wage. But the catch is, he will be fixing malfunctioning time machines. Thinking that glamour awaits, the reality of his situation is that he is trapped in a no where job, barely making ends meet working for a pig of a boss. All this would have been tolerable until a time machine blows up and leaves behind something nightmares are made of, strangers seem to be spying on him and weirdest of all he finds himself murdered in his own bed.

This list of weirdness doesn't even come close to describing the mind bending twists and turns that take place in Bedford's Time Machines Repaired While U Wait. If you are a fan of the Time Travel science fiction sub-genre you will get enough of what makes this book tick to fill four novels. At the end you will question EVERY character in the book. There are enough twists and turns, to hold the attention of even the most jaded science fiction fan. Some of the places and concepts are truly mind bending. The scope literally takes you to one of the strangest places ever. And in true potboiler cop drama, the ending is scary, disturbing and twisted in so many ways.

I didn't have much of a problem with Time Machines.... other than putting it down.

<- Edge publishing newsletter website ->

McCaffrey not attending Albacon due to health

Author Anne McCaffrey's health continues to decline. Recent reports including this one in SF Scope has her missing the upcoming Northeast US science fiction convention Albacon. Cited reasons are as suspected - she is staying home to protect her health. The good news is that Son Todd is making appearances in her stead.

I for one hope that this health problem is a transient thing and Mz. McCaffrey will be well enough to venture out in the near future.

<- SF Scope article ->

RIP: Author James Killus

SF Scope blog reports: Writer James Killus died 23 September 2008. Born in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1950, Killus was an sf author, as well as a chemist who specialized in the field of smog analysis and research. He earned a BS in Engineering and an MS in Science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, then moved to the San Francisco Bay area in the mid-1970s.

Killus was the author of two sf novels: Book of Shadows (Ace, 1983) and SunSmoke (Ace, 1985), the latter of which was reissued in 2003. He also had nearly two dozen stories published between 1981 and 2007, including "Flower in the Void", published in the Summer 2002 issue of Artemis Magazine. His scientific papers are more numerous, and his web site has many of them available as pdfs.

He is survived by his wife, Amelia "Amy" Sefton.

AMC to do Red Mars

According to SF Signal 's blog: It seems that AMC is doing the job that the Sci Fi Channel doesn't want to do. Namely, producing more honest to goodness TV shows. Case in point: AMC is working on an adaptation of Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars. I know many people love this book, but I found it to be slow, tedious, with too much politics. Still, it's real SF and it's good to see someone trying to bring SF to TV.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Sharpest image of Jupiter ever taken from Earth

Not science fiction but just pure science that make you go wow! Boing Boing reports of an effort to take the highest resolution photo of the planet Jupiter. It was snapped with a telescope using special adaptive optics to reduce fuzz. From National Geographic: [the image was] captured using a new computer-assisted process and a 27-foot (8.2-meter) telescope in Chile, the result is sharp enough to show features as small as 180 miles (300 kilometers) across... ESO comments on how the image was obtained: This false colour photo is the combination of a series of images taken over a time span of about 20 minutes, through three different filters.

Click the link below or the photo of Jupiter to see the full
hi rez photo of Jupiter

Darpa seeks an underwater plane

Remember the Bond car that was also a sub? How about Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea's flying subs? Well Darpa have put on their wild idea caps and have asked for a feasibility study on guess what...yep a flying sub. If your in doubt, here is the government site that is asking for proposals for just such a device.

From the Darpa site: DARPA is interested in a feasibility study and experiments to prove out the possibility of making an aircraft that can maneuver underwater.

From Network World: The agency's Submersible Aircraft research project is exploring the possibility of making an aircraft that can maneuver underwater with the goal of revolutionizing the US Department of Defense's ability to, for example, bring warfighters and equipment to coastal locations or enhance rescue operations. DARPA said that the concept being evaluated here is for a submersible aircraft, not a flying submarine.

Darpa has gone so far as to set up preliminary specs for said Uplane: here is a partial list.

  • Flight: The minimal required airborne tactical radius of the sub-plane is 1000 nautical miles.
  • Loiter: The platform should be capable of loitering i for up to 3 days .
  • Payload: The platform should be capable of transporting 8 operators, as well as all of their equipment, with a total cargo weight of 2000 pounds.
<- more on the DARPA proposal ->

Sunday, October 05, 2008

HiPER Laser Fusion Project Starts

We have all heard the siren's call of Fusion Power. "Unlimited, Clean electrical energy". The problem with fusion is not that it can not be reached, because anyone with a little knowledge of history knows that fusion reaction has been achieved with spectacular effect. But controllable, clean fusion has a major drawback. It takes more energy to start and maintain than you can get out of the reaction. But that may be about to change. enter the $1.7-billion HiPER facility—High Power laser Energy Research. This facility's aim is to construct a fusion reactor that will utilize high powered lasers firing on a small sphere of deuterium and tritium with enough force to fuse the deuterium and tritium atoms together, producing harmless helium and vast amounts of energy. The method isn't new. However up to this point the major item lacking was a powerful enough laser that had a high enough firing rate to maintain the reaction. The National Ignition Facility in Livermore, California has a similar project due to start in 2009 but the lasers in use there use far more power than they can reap from the reaction. A separate approach at the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor in Cadarache, France, is aiming to use powerful magnetic fields to spark the reaction but this is again not thought to be terribly efficient. Researchers at the HiPER facility look to the NIF's efforts to be a jumping off point for their work. The NIF plant will be a proof of concept. But the major difference between the NIF's plant and HiPER is the NIF uses a single laser to do all the work. HiPER will use use 2 lasers in a two step process where they hope to break the efficiency boundry.

<- via Gizmodo ->

Immune System For Electronics?

The most undesirable facet of our complex technological society is not "if" something will fail but "when". As devices become more and more complex and we depend on the services that technology brings us, it's no wonder the amount of havoc that is created when parts of the system fail. Having the highly computerized watch on your wrist fail is an inconvenience, but have the same highly computerized system on a plane fail....

As a recent article in Science Daily stated: Electronic hardware designers have achieved fantastic levels of reliability so far but, as such devices become more and more complex, such instances can only become more common. Under fault conditions it would, therefore, be highly desirable for the system to be able to cope with faults, and continue to operate effectively even if one or more components have failed; but this is not the way electronic systems are currently designed.

Researchers at the University of the West of England are to carry out ground breaking research with collaborators from the University of York into creating electronic systems that can diagnose and heal their own faults in ways similar to the human immune system.

Drawing on inspiration from nature, the researchers at York and Bristol will look for ways to create electronic systems based on a structure of ‘cells’ which have the ability to work together to defend system integrity, diagnose faults, and heal themselves. The researchers will be looking at the way complex biological systems, such as the defense mechanism of the human body, are able to deal with faults and still keep functioning.

(The science fiction tie in? This is how I envision a true android. A cyborg is a mixture of man and machine, a robot is pure machine. But a self healing machine ? That starting to sound like a biological android.)

<- more -> from Science Daily online

Friday, October 03, 2008

Does the US have what it takes to put a man on Mars?

Carl Sagan once said "All civilizations become either spacefaring or extinct." a truly pesimestic or hopeful opinion depending on your point of view. It only took eight years for JFK’s dream to land a man on the moon to be fulfilled, but plans to to land a man on is going to take just that little bit longer -24 years to be exact. writing in The Daily Galaxy blog puts down this caustic but fair "glove" asking in a recent post does the Us have "the right stuff" to get a human footprint on the surface of Mars.

Kazan isn't putting any new information on the table and even less speculation. What he is doing is putting all the most important interest points together and the general opinions help by the general populace. All the major mission facets from returning to the moon to stepping off on Mars with comment on what equipment and other problems have to be overcome to get this mission "off the ground and flying" Nothing new, except maybe a clear set of eyes and for that reason, I would give the article a read to get a well rounded look at the problems facing NASA as it pushes for a Mars landing

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Swift discovers a Magnetar?!

Shaun loves to find the strange when it comes to astronomy. As we have seen with some of his earlier stories on BMU (*Last Light, Hubble, Curtain Call) and this discovery is no exception.

On June 10, 2007, a spike of gamma-rays lasting less than five seconds was detected by NASA's Swift satellite. But this high-energy flash wasn't a gamma-ray burst - which would herald the formation of a black hole. During the next three days, the object brightened and faded in visible light 40 times! Eleven days later, it flashed again, this time at infrared wavelengths. Then, it disappeared from view.

Astronomers think the object was a neutron star -- the crushed core of a massive star that long ago exploded as a supernova. A team of 42 scientists have concludes that the object is a special type of neutron star called a magnetar, of which only a dozen have been discovered so far.

Although measuring only about 12 miles across -- neutron stars have the strongest magnetic fields in the cosmos. magnetars may have magnetic fields more than 100 times the strength of typical neutron stars.

So what caused this particular magnetar to put on such a dazzling show? Neutron stars have massive gravities as well as incredible fast rotation. Mix that with the ultra strong magnetic field and you have the makings of what is called a star quake. These quakes are so strong that they fracture the surface of the magnetar and eject huge amounts of energy which is spun up by the magnetic fields.

> NASA's Swift Web site

*these stories and many others by Shaun Saunders can be found in his book Navigating the New World are available from Anti Sf

Is the Planet Trapped in a Space-Time Bubble?

Here is a story that has science fiction written all over it. The question: Is the Planet Trapped in a Space-Time Bubble? Now how, are you asking, did we arrive at THAT bizarre conclusion? Let me explain. In a recent article published in the Daily Galaxy the argument was made for some of the odd actions that far off galaxies and other object exhibit. Really far off object seem to be expanding away from Earth. Every far off object, no matter what direction you look in is moving away. Forever expanding. Weider still they ALL are accelerating. Now most astronomers almost to a person will put forth that there is an unseen force and "dark matter" that is between every galaxy and there for producing a force that is pushing these objects away. Some recent discoveries have even shown, if not directly, made a very convincing argument for the existence of dark matter. Now comes the weird twist. It's well known that our region of space is remarkably devoid of matter. Yes, there are stars and planets where ever we look. But outside our local area there is a veritable vacuum containing almost no matter. Some scientists have put forth that this lack of matter can "warp" our perception of the space around us. If this is the case then light coming through this void would be distorted in such a manner as to make it appear as though far reaching objects were moving away from us in an ever accelerating manner. One experiment that can help clear up this inconsistency is the upcoming Joint Dark Energy Mission, planned by Mission and the US Department of Energy, and set to launch in 2014 or 2015, hopes to measure the expansion of the universe precisely by observing a large number of supernovae.

<- more ->

Fox buys a whole season of Fringe

Just about everyone from TV Squad on down is plastering the blogosphere with the news that Fox Tv has made the move and has bought the remaining episodes for the first season if its' hit series Fringe. After just four episodes the show continues to gain an audience share making it the number one new show. For those of you that have not caught the program yet, its about an
BI Special Agent who during an investigation is asked to be part of an inter-agency task force. With the help of an Einstein class genius who just happened to be in a mental hospital for 17 years, his estranged son whom he hasn't talked to for an equal amount of time, a Homeland Security Agent who seems to be part of a much larger secret agency and a multi billion dollar corporate executive that may be aiding but more likely is part of a huge conspiracy. The conspiracy? Think X Files only with weird science, corporate intrigue, time travel? and aliens (well maybe aliens...not sure what is going on yet)

I just couldn't get into XFiles but Fringe yanked me in and held my interest. Maybe it the strange quasi sceince that is uncovered from week to week. Big corporations fighting over scientific resources is nothing new, but a female corporate shark seems to spice things up. I am glad that Fox gave this strange/quirky new show an extention. It's worth the attention.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Terminator Sarah Connor Chronicles still on chopping block?

From TV Squad comes the persistent rumor that SCC may still be meeting an untimely end at the hands of Fox tv schedulers. There are reports that the network is going to cancel the Monday night show because of bad ratings worse than FOX expected. The show is down 34% from last year. Even the 18-49 demo loved by networks and advertisers aren't watching the show.

Reviews and fans seemed to have drifted away from the show. I for one look for it. If I miss it on TV then I hit it on the Fox site. Maybe that is where Fox might be dropping the ball. There are no ads on any of the SCC shows, which I find it hard to believe that no one can be found to throw money at the show? Are the watchers of the online version even counted? Besides that, I think Allison from Palmdale was a great show. I was never quite sure who the off camera interrogator was until the very end of the program. There is still some indication that John's "repair" boardered on a reset instead of fix. The head on a pike line was chilling. I hope they don't axe the show too quickly. I'm really getting into it.