Monday, January 31, 2005

Nuclear Power Debate

Posted by Trent Walters at 6:09 AM
The subject is up for debate, but a Wired article presents a few reasons for nuclear power.

[D]ams in the US are under attack from environmentalists trying to protect wild fish populations....

Solar power's number-one problem is cost....

[W]ind, like solar, is inherently fickle, hard to capture, and widely dispersed. And wind turbines take up a lot of space; Ausubel points out that the wind equivalent of a typical utility plant would require 300 square miles of turbines plus costly transmission lines from the wind-scoured fields of, say, North Dakota. Alternatively, there's California's Altamont Pass, where 5,400 windmills slice and dice some 1,300 birds of prey annually....

What about biomass? Ethanol is clean, but growing the amount of cellulose required to shift US electricity production to biomass would require farming... an area the size of 10 Iowas.

Living on Earth handed the debate over to Green Brits, but in this case the Nuclear Green wasn't quite effective as the Wired article in the debate (for nuclear written and audio, against nuclear written and audio).

NPR had a brief segment on some minor consequences of enough wind turbines to solve the Earth's energy problem.

Building a machine that reads

Posted by Trent Walters at 6:02 AM
Government officials have grants a year to a possibly three-year grant for a machine that can read and respond based on the knowledge it's gleaned.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Blind See (Sound); Fusion Cometh

Posted by Trent Walters at 11:08 AM
The brains of the young blind have enough plasticity to adapt the visual center for locating sound.

Fusion takes another step closer to possibility.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Engineering Comics

Posted by Trent Walters at 1:15 PM
Learn the history of mechanical engineering through comics. They will update it once a month.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

This Space for Rent

Posted by Trent Walters at 10:57 AM
Cory Doctorow points to a chair that you can rent seat time in. Absurdity of renting is well revealed by Doctorow: "the rentware world we're fast approaching, where individuals are stuck in a kind of feudal relationship with commercial entities."

A Transatlantic Tunnel--Hoax or Possibility?

Posted by Trent Walters at 6:08 AM
An SF writer pointed to a site promoting the Transatlantic Tunnel. It sounds like a hoax but the Discovery Channel makes a case for it under the heading: Extreme Engineering. The tunnel has been in the imagination for a time: in film and fiction. These data indicate that there is both desire and ability to construct one.

However, the BBC radio had experts discussing the possibility (the latter half of the program), and they make it sound like a somewhat plausible yet spectacular feat to accomplish. The site claims 2009 as a target date, and surely such a future is highly unlikely. They'd have to have been much farther along to reach that target, not to mention that news agencies haven't even blurbed such an event. So hoax? For the near term. Possibile future? If it's a matter of engineering, why not?


Aside: The same BBC program discusses the international fusion project, ITER, whose hope it is to create a sustainable fusion reaction, which with a bit of water and lithium is hoped to provide relatively cheap, plentiful and environmentally safe energy. There was some controversy over where the lab site would be, but it sounds like France as they were quite unmovable. Let's hope the rest of the project's future demonstrates great strides in future cooperation.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

It's a Gas, Gas, Gas

Posted by Trent Walters at 4:37 AM
Vermont cows power 330 homes for just four cents more per kilowatt hour.

I'd always thought you could harness this vast wealth of energy at the source by placing well-sealed baggies at the immediate dispensing receptacles.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Looking for Life on Mars

Posted by Trent Walters at 1:01 PM
Scientific American describes a vehicle to seek for signs of life on the red planet o' war. Also see the developers' own university news at Berkley, which includes an interview with the BBC.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Asimov's February 2005

Posted by frankh at 9:40 AM

This is based on the fictionwise etext, which I've been sitting on since late December.

1) Novelette: The 120 Hours of Sodom by Jim Grimsley -- future aliens and/or off-Earth action (but in the background) in an escapist literary story
2) Novelette: Angel Kills by William Sanders -- apparently near future aliens or supernatural
3) Novelette: Polyhedrons by Robert A. Metzger -- hard sf quantum virtual reality or something; I can't find any mundane molecules here but maybe someone else would be braver
4) Novelette: Oxygen Rising by R. Garcia y Robertson -- interstellar with aliens
5) Short Story: The Two Old Women by Kage Baker -- fantasy, supernatural, slipstream? seems like anything but sf
6) Short Story: Parachute Kid by Edd Vick -- time travel
7) Short Story: Dead Men on Vacation by Leslie What -- supernatural

I didn't read any of the stories this time--appears to be a weak issue for mundane sf.


Monday, January 10, 2005

Ryman is finalist for Philip K. Dick Award for AIR

Posted by Trent Walters at 10:57 PM
Geoff Ryman was just named finalist the Philip K. Dick Award for his latest novel, Air. Gwenda Bond reviewed it glowingly here as did Cheryl Morgan Nisi Shawl, Booklist and Publisher's Weekly, among other nearly glowing critiques by Niall Harrison and Claude Lalumière ("One of Air's great strengths is its refusal to either condemn or condone the changes brought about by technological innovation"--I agree). Morgan speculates, "If I were a judge I think I would want to give the award to Geoff Ryman, but I foresee some very robust discussion amongst the judging panel because these are all very deserving works."

This is all heartening to hear. The book has great imagination and emotional connection to its characters, which is not often present even in the most touted novels. I see no obvious markings that the publisher used to label it, which might interest the casual literary reader who sometimes dabbles in SF. The first chapter, which was a short story "Have Not Have," alone should convert any open-minded literary type. If you're a die-hard SF fan worried that such a recommend is the kiss of death for you, fear not. There's speculative wonder here too.



These many months ago, someone got upset with me for reviewing a friend despite some veiled critique meant only to deter those who might have such a problem. Unfortunately, unless the writer insists on being difficult, there are no writers that I personally dislike. Even those I like--say, Matt Cheney--I give hell. So I cannot fathom why someone would worry. But here it is in the open. I like Geoff as a person. I admire Geoff as a writer immensely (although the narrator in "Birth Days" seemed a tad whiny--which is uncharacteristic of Ryman--drat, there I go being a critic despite good relations with the author). He was my instructor at Clarion and did not approve of my draft and a half story during his week. Yet somehow--as a reverse principle of hating those who give bad reviews might imply--I didn't hate him. We talked out a better solution. We lived happily ever after.

Now that you are aware of a potential bias, if unnecessary to indicate for most, I shall proceed with the review.


Everyone's already quoted the opening chapter as an exemplar of the genre, so I'll pass on an in-depth look at it, except to add that the character-vs.-technology tension, surrounding a new technology that pipes wifi internet directly into the heads of a rural village that hasn't even experienced the internet yet, builds up to a resonant moment at the end--the kind of resonance that every reader of life, of character "rightness" or tell-it-like-is-ness is reading for. It introduces the struggle between past, present and future in this tiny realm of the the technological "have-nots".

The second chapter delivers the gosh-wow wonderment when the wifi-head goods, called "Air," are dumped upon the villagers. The close moved me although some might feel it sudden.

The third chapter I want to dwell on to highlight Ryman's strength. The main character, the village's fashion expert Mae Chung, has just experienced AIR, vicariously gaining aspects of a person who has moved on. The other person has now become her.
And Mae was left alone, and she wept; she wept for the village that had already died, the old Kizuldah.

You should be able to turn a corner and find home again, with its undrained marshes in the valley floor. The valley was left unplowed for the waterfowl, the foxes, the stars, and young lovers.

Resonance may require the reader to have also pondered life, for whom this moment hits a chord that reminds you of the time you, too, thought about your parents and why they had to grow old. Why shouldn't they who have done so well in life continue to live sprightly in the world that they grew accustomed to?
Oh, Mrs. Tung, [Mae thought] I was a friend of yours, and still I did not know you. I never came close.

Again, you have to put down the book and wonder at all the people you've loved and wished you'd known better. There's also a new tension introduced: If you knew and loved these people as children, wouldn't your heart yearn to encompass them? Great writers turn their observation on life, so that mirror casts back an image the reader must reconsider his own life in new light. What an impressive achievement this book is.

The third chapter closes with a number of powerful if inevitable, revelatory twists (there is no better twist) that transform our character once again.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Genetic Mutation Protects against HIV Infection

Posted by Trent Walters at 5:02 AM
Researchers theorize that the gene for the CCR5 receptor arose to protect against another, earlier plague or disease. Another, less effective gene, CCL3L1, offers some protection by pumping out enough cytokines to block the virus from infecting.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Shared Data, and Literacy Plan: No Taxes on Books

Posted by Trent Walters at 10:06 AM
Organizations [librarians, natural history museums, and environmentalists, thus far] are experimenting with a new web system for sharing data.


Tobias S. Buckell points to an article explaining how Brazil will exempt taxes on books to "encourag[e] reading in the country."

Monday, January 03, 2005

January Wired

Posted by Trent Walters at 1:04 PM
Financial advisors are listening to the sound of money moving, monitoring fifteen+ markets, where before watching six approached an information overload.

Ira Longini: Stop the flu by hitting it where it starts and developing vaccines.

Las Vegas trees that don't grow but produce 20,000 megawatt-hours of energy (check out the funky design).

Jared Diamond has done a new book which may also have the makings of instant science classic as his Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. His latest, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (reviewed here) chronicles how societies have collapsed or survived under environmental or self-inflicted pressures.

If you wondered how entertainment pirating really works, here's a good primer.

Wild and crazy NASA schemes of the future.

Larry Sanger on Wikipedia's reliability

Posted by Trent Walters at 7:01 AM
Wikipedia's co-founder, Larry Sanger, writes very Mundanely:
"Wikipedia should not be used as a single source of information for anything. Defenders sometimes add that this is true of all sources of information.... Wikipedia badly needs a review process which the general public can regard as reliable."

To have a reliable review process requires a donation of time and time to search for reliable reviewers for each new entry. Will people willingly give up their time for the common good?

UPDATE: What motivates people to donate their time and effort? Online entertainment pirates don't get paid in dollars but in films and games. What might entice the knowledgable into contributing?

Goatchurch asked for a review of the immunology entry. My skimming turned up no noticeable mistakes. Moreover, they do provide a reference for more information.