Thursday, December 31, 2020

Final 2020 note... Preliminary thoughts on the “Proxima Signal.” Will it be the 'final art' of an exhausting year?

Okay, one last, apropos topic for 2020… and you’ll see just how apropos, at the end. By now many of you have read or heard about the “Proxima Signal”-- which is at least a ‘candidate’ for a Technosignature of alien origin. I was told about this a while back, by some of the Breakthrough guys... and now it’s in the media, leading to many messages and queries. Hence I feel behooved to offer my own take on a potential radio ‘contact’ from Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to our solar system. 

Here’s how Scientific American opens a report on the topicIt’s never aliens—until it is. Today news leaked in the British newspaper the Guardian of a mysterious signal coming from the closest star to our own, Proxima Centauri, a star too dim to see from Earth with the naked eye that is nonetheless a cosmic stone’s throw away at just 4.2 light-years. Found this autumn in archival data gathered last year, the signal appears to emanate from the direction of our neighboring star and cannot yet be dismissed as Earth-based interference, raising the very faint prospect that it is a transmission from some form of advanced extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI)—a so-called “techno-signature.”


         == Okay, so what do we know? == 


First off, the Parkes radio telescope in Australia is one of only a few in the Southern Hemisphere large enough to deep-study the Alpha Centauri triple star system (which was also inspiration for Liu Cixin’s epic novel The Three Body Problem.) Those controlling the telescope at the time were members of the UC Berkeley-based Breakthrough Initiative,funded by philanthropist Yuri Milner. Indeed, the team soon began calling the signal by a formal name: BLC1, for “Breakthrough Listen Candidate 1.”


Some of what I relate here came from conversations with friends who are members of that team, plus press reports. Some details: 'The narrow beam of radio waves was picked up during 30 hours of observations by the Parkes telescope in Australia in April and May last year (2019), the Guardian understands. Analysis of the beam has been under way for some time and scientists have yet to identify a terrestrial culprit such as ground-based equipment or a passing satellite.'


The actual event in question occurred while the Parkes dish was taking in data about solar activity by Proxima itself, a class M5 red dwarf star of the UV Ceti type that is extremely flare-active, like most of its kind. 


Much in the news a few years ago was discovery of a “Goldilocks world” orbiting Proxima, one that’s nominally in the small star’s ‘habitable zone,’ (a distance that theoretically would allow temperatures permitting water to be liquid on it’s surface.) But any planet orbiting an M star in that range would also be near enough to get tidal-locked, so one side would bear continuous brunt of those flares, while the other, perpetually dark, side goes-ice.  Kinda rough on any life or civilization prospects, though there are sci fi scenarios… 


The Parkes machine has a telescope half power beamwidth of 20 arcmin.  There are tricks to get much narrower resolution, but the 2019 survey of Proxima was all about getting data about that small, red star’s savage flare activity, and recording lots of that data for later analysis, not necessarily to search for SETI hits. This will be important.


During this observing run, apparently the telescope automatically ‘nodded’ or shifted away from Proxima briefly, a standard precaution to ensure that any data stored was actually coming from the target system. Nodding apparently made the surge go away, before the telescope’s attention aimed back at Proxima, restoring the signal. That’s basic, proper procedure to eliminate most possible non-astronomical (human activity-sourced) causes. But how systematic the off-axis checks were, I don’t yet know. Meticulous, I hope, nodding in different directions, by different amounts. But perhaps not, since it was all automatic, at the time.


Alas, as far as I can tell, no alert was generated, or sent to other observatories, asking them to swing over and verify. So all we have is the Parkes recorded data.  


Mind you the 'signal' - while very powerful and very long -- about 2.5 hours – appeared to be unmodulated... meaning there's no 'message' ... at least as decipherable so far. Though see below for a reason why this may be “our fault.”

For perspective, while much higher than background, and lasting 2.5 hours, the signal was about one ten-thousandth the power imputed to the so-called WOW! detection of the 1970s.


But the trait of this detection that truly stands out is that it appears to have been monochromatic, or very narrow in its 980.2 Mhz spectrum. That – to me – is the most-striking thing. Plus the fact that this narrow spike also had a very slight frequency drift roughly commensurate with a Doppler shift arising from some kind of motion by the source with respect to Earth—an effect that could be due to the motion of our planet, or of a moving extraterrestrial source such as a transmitter on the surface of one of Proxima Centauri’s worlds. But the drift is the reverse of what one would naively expect for a signal originating from a world twirling around our sun’s nearest neighboring. “We would expect the signal to be going down in frequency like a trombone,” said one BL member. “What we see instead is like a slide whistle—the frequency goes up.”


But again, the top interesting trait is that the ‘signal’ is monochromatic, since that is consistent with the radio surge being a narrow beam

 – either focused by a huge dish or created as a maser/laser (see below) in order to travel through space as a pencil-thin column, rather than an isotropically radiated broadcast that diminishes by inverse square of the distance traveled. Such narrow beams could arise either naturally or artificially… though as we’ll see below, we’re entering territory that may favor the latter.

Oh, recall I mentioned that, when Breakthrough researchers later mined the stored data for analysis, they found no modulation of the microwave surge, and hence no sign of anything like a ‘signal’ or ‘message’? Well there’s a technical flaw preventing much in the way of conclusions to be drawn from this, since the Parkes scope was taking in data with a 
17 second integration time… which seems odd, given that Parkes is so big and Proxima so near. But then, I haven’t done radio astronomy since 1970, so I’ll not criticize. Except to say that such integration time could have smeared away almost any modulation that was originally in the beam.



== So what’s going on? ==

We’ve been through drills like this before and it was never ‘aliens.’ If the past is any guide, more likely it was either:


1. Human-tech interference – although there are no satellite or defense or commercial activities known to be radiating in that band, literature searches have found one or two human-techs that resonate at that 980.2Mhz frequency, including one having to do with doped fiber optics. Attention is zooming on those possibilities.


2. A natural coherent (narrowly collimated) source. Such things exist! MASERs (microwave lasers) have been detected before in some stellar and planetary atmospheres, resulting from population inversions of excited mediums… though we know of none that would have any of the observed traits of BLC1, including its very great brightness.

Generally, unless it's something exotic, you need some suitable energy level structure in order to get a laser or a maser, and in nature, these energy structures are pretty orderly, with most of them well-mapped already. Here is a compilation of maser frequencies that can be produced ‘naturally’ by elements that might occur in a stellar or planetary atmosphere or intervening molecular cloud. It is an old list but most such potential natural masers were pretty well known by then.  And notably there’s nothing at 980 megahertz. 

3. Artificial masers face no such limitations! Make the right kind of cavity resonators – maybe focused further by a huge dish -- and your civilization can tune a discrete, narrow, powerfully coherent beam to almost any frequency. And hence, if the source of this ‘signal’ is truly shown to be a collimated maser, then chalk one on the ‘aliens’ side of the ledger.


So possibility #3 is an artificial coherent source, perhaps aimed at us for communication, but other possibilities include a propulsion beam that’s driving a sail, propelling something... well... exactly toward us. (See this portrayed in my novel EXISTENCE which is all about this very possibility.)


4. A very strong non-coherent source, likely natural and pretty enormous. Though you’d still need some kind of intervening filter effect to get the arriving signal so monochromatic.

5. A deliberate hoax. This possibility is favored by science fiction author Charles Stross. "Hackers prank radio astronomers by injecting fake signal into the datastream. (It's been overdue for ages and probably all it takes is a former grad student with a grudge against their professor. I mean, most lab/observatory IT infrastructure isn't exactly secured to defense department spec, and look at the ongoing fallout from the SolarWinds hack ...)"


Indeed, the possibility of a mistake or a stunt remains... though this event (it happened in 2019) certainly prompts curiosity. The off-axis checks – if done right – and the long 2.5 hour duration of the phenomenon argue against an object radiating at us in space, coincidentally near line of sight to Proxima. But a software insertion to the data stream is something that can’t be ruled out. In fact, for years I have predicted that someone, some time, would fake some kind of SETI hit. Because… well… assholes.


Yes, the fact that this is year-old data that’s being mined adds to the hack scenario's plausibility, though such meddling should eventually be detectable. In fact, one of the slides in my standard "future talk" has been to predict that GPT-3 based AI emulators would soon be used to pull stunts – 


    - perhaps an emotional appeal by a pretend "slave AI," weeping and demanding our empathy (and cash), 


    - or else a faked alien "contact" (as portrayed in EXISTENCE.)    


6. And let’s round out a half dozen categories with… possibility #6: that it's a signal for Trump-Putin to engage in 'Phase Nine.'

There are other possibilities, but those six top my list.


== Extrapolations ==

Until I hear from the world expert on this – Jim Benford – it seems to me that 980.2 MHz is a very odd frequency for anyone to use in a propulsion system, so I'm leaning against it. Which is fine by me, since any such propulsion beam would be pushing something toward only one target... us. 


Whatever the actual reality of this event - and I give odds against it being aliens - I suppose this means:

1- Every nut in the South with an old satellite dish will be aiming every kind of antenna toward there, shouting yoohoo, while ignoring the fact that this is exactly where that precise mistake was made, in Liu Cixin's famous warning novel The Three Body Problem... and...


2- …there will be some adult astronomers aiming at least some kind of professional dish at Proxima Centauri pretty much permanently, from now on. Round the clock. Fine by me.


 Actually though, as I said, I am rooting against this being 'the real deal'. In my profession – the one that pays the bills, at least - we know far more ways for First Contact to go badly, than well.  


Heck, even in a best case scenario, I'd rather humanity had the pride of fixing ourselves, than giving credit to outsiders. (And that's at-best.)




Final thought. I've long held that the greatest art works transform human souls and hearts without persuasion or argument. I’d almost call that a definition of a great work of art.


    By that measure, inarguably, the greatest artworks of the 20th Century were the Mushroom Cloud, which altered age-old human attitudes toward war, and the Christmas 1968 Apollo 8 pictures of Earth as a fragile blue oasis, stirring millions to see a duty – and self-interest – in saving the planet. 

I've long held that a third image of similar "art" redolence – again produced by science - might be the confirmed, modulated signal on a SETI screen, perhaps less visually stunning but with similar cosmic import. 


Here’s a gif of what such an image might look like, generated by my friend and renowned radio astronomer Dr. Tom Kuiper, as technical advisor for a film:

 If this event is the real deal (and again, I’d rather it were not) how weird that it happens right on schedule, near the end of another 1968-level year. And hence the timing of this posting, as we finish wearying 2020, when it seemed that all the ills of the world had been unleashed to vex us all… well, don’t we badly need that glimmer of hope, at the bottom of Pandora’s Box?


Well, I guess we'll persevere! We must. 

Would it be in poor taste to say "stay tuned"?



Saturday, December 26, 2020

A few MAGAs actually had the guts (alas, no brains) to bet cash!

So, it turns out some MAGAs are willing to bet, after all! Many have staked their life savings on assurances by their cult’s leaders that massive “Democrat cheats that stole” 8 million+ votes will be exposed any day now!” Whereupon their Dear Leader will be re-installed for another four years. The scenario they are betting on? That a dozen Democratic *mayors* - with no power over election processes - overcame Republican executive, legislative, judicial, federal and state authorities perfectly, without a single leak or slip-up. But it will all collapse any day now.

 Read how Trump fans poured hundreds of thousands of dollars and pounds into bookie sites, based on Rudy Giuliani’s assurances.

Does this prove I’m wrong, and some of today’s confeds DO have the guts to bet? 

As many of you know, I’ve given up arguing with MAGAs. If you offer mountains of real evidence, they’ll sneer that it’s all faked and that their counter-meme jpegs are the real deal, supporting every conspiracy theory dating back to Benghazi and Obama’s “black UN helicopters.” Experts are denounced and scientific consensus derided. When something is decisively disproved, they just move the goalposts. 

And so for years I’ve used a tactic that works! It is the ONLY thing that ever works… and it works every time… causing members of the New-Confederate Cult to back off of any recent falsehood-spew. Sure, they mostly just run away! But with their macho pose — the only thing they care about — is left in tatters, exposed as cowards,

The method is to demand wagers! Turns out they care more about their money than their yammered loyalty to Trump and Putin and the rest. Year-in-year-out, not a single one of these jibbering, fact-hating, blowhard putzes has ever stepped up, escrowed large stakes with an attorney, and offered to back up their declarations of certainty with cash wagers, adjudicated by panels of retired senior military officers.

Not… once… 

Well, of course not, since their cult is all about waging open war against every fact-centered profession, from science, teaching journalism, medicine and law to the half a million dedicated, skilled men and women who won the Cold War and the War on Terror, who the Mad Right now condemn as “deep state” traitors. All of them. Like these guys should talk.

I’ve long despaired of any Democrat - even AOC or Pete B. - ever having the agility or brains to see how this exposes the carotid artery of the Treason-Confederacy - their macho bluster - or that making this whole culture war about FACT would help every other cause, like environmentalism or battling racism, since those causes have fact on their side!

Alas, no one listens.

Now read about how some MAGAs have had the guts to step up and bet! Guts, indeed… and absolutely zilch for brains. In fact, many fanatically loyal followers of MAGA madness have doubled down, since the election, taking the word of dizzy ravers like Rudy Giuliani that proof to nail the “steal” will be presented ‘any day now’.

And yes, it just proves again. Cowards, bullies and idiots have the power to wreck this great Union, this great experiment, as they nearly did several other times, since the 1770s. And against such obdurately treasonous impulses, we are still looking for better generals.

== Our side has dopes, too ==

One added reason to fight for those GA senate seats? If the Dems win, Stacey Abrams will get her choice of jobs and she will (I hope) become DNC Chair and make all those prancing dopes yowling "DNC Corporatists!" finally Shut TF Up. We cannot afford to split this coalition and those who are already ragging on Biden for this or that poseur reason are only serving Putin.

I mean that. Anything that seeks to break our coalition right now is Kremlin agitprop. Try actually knowing about the 111th Congress and how well left & moderate dems work together in blue states. Progress is not helped by ignoramuses.

...and finally...

== Again, PLEASE let Kamala... ==

           ...take her oath at the Lincoln Memorial!

This win-win-win would:

- hearken to MLK and give her a real moment in the sun...

- spread out the inevitable crowds (and they ARE coming!) along the entire mall, encouraging social distancing... (especially with big screens set up on the Washington Monument, midway between)...

- keep her and Joe apart instead of at the same, predictable locale!

As I explained before, in more detail, there are zero drawbacks! 

And after the Nashville bombing, can you truly not take this seriously? Spread word!

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Broadening our horizons: from negotiating and diversity... to solace regarding viruses.

A bit late for the weekend, here's a roundup of items you'll find nowhere else. Or at leastdeem uniquely worthy of attention!

First. An excellent missive by David Bray and the Atlantic Council calls for a GeoTech Alliance of those nations and other entities who share a common goal of spreading tech-enhanced power widely, rather than falling into the ancient pattern of power concentration by wealth, position, party or race. Embracing that power-dispersive revolution is the main thing that enabled creative development and burgeoning sci-tech advances (albeit unevenly), in recent centuries. 

Turning away from that power-dispersal approach - back toward power concentration - directly correlates with our recent declines.

This choice becomes crucial as newer technologies can vastly multiply the effects, perhaps empowering the vast numbers of skilled and confident workers and consumers who make markets work well, along with vast numbers of skilled and confident voters who invigorate democracy.

The alternative - a return to 6000 years of dismal top-down rule by diktat - is being promoted by self-interested elites across the globe. Perhaps because they realize it is their best and last chance to restore that brutally stupid Old Order.

I agree with this article, top to bottom. Except that I believe this turnaround must entail very specific actions, above all restoring the place of FACTS and objective reality and determinable argument and negotiated "politics" to a nation and world where "politics" have been deliberately and systematically destroyed.

== Can we find middle ground? ==

For many years I’ve asserted that our salvation as a people, nation, species and world lies in harnessing the one thing that has ever worked for us… honest-negotiation based on goodwill and a willingness to adapt to facts. Implicit in that are all the terms of import: competition, cooperation, accountability, honesty…. This is the root truth underlying
The Transparent Society, and my longstanding proposal for Disputation Arenas. And yes, it’s hard to do. Look at the sophists and delusion junkies around you… and that one in the mirror. It’s amazing that any human civilization tried – and somewhat succeeded – to put the positive notion of growth through accountability into practice. (And no surprise at all that it is now under full scale assault.)

Now Reddit has sponsored a site for those few adults who are willing to put this ideal into practice, by inviting challenge to things they currently believe. Reddit's 'Change My View' community becomes a dedicated site.

== a better way to argue for diversity ==

David Ellerman is an expert on Locke and on liberal vs natural rights bases for libertarianism. His new book is The Uses of Diversity: Essays in Polycentricity. Here’s my blurb about it; “For more than sixty centuries humans languished under centralized hierarchies - monarchies, oligarchies, theocracies and feudal, fascist, communist or klepto-aristocracies - and all proved spectacularly awful at statecraft. Gradually, it dawned on us that nature abhors oversimplification, for some very good reasons. The Uses of Diversity: Essays in Polycentricity explores many of the opportunities and constraints that have started, gradually, allowing human societies to reap benefits from complexity." 

Over the long run, the pragmatic benefits of diversity will weigh far more heavily than moralistic chidings about it. Consider that 99% of previous cultures would have laughed at such chidings, calling them weird. “Stop trying to impose YOUR diversity fetishism on us! We have other cultural values and how dare you demand we adopt yours!” It is that easy to respond to liberal lectures that are ONLY morality-based, as we are finding with our obstinate confederate neighbors.

To be clear, I AGREE with those moral chidings! My family and I have benefited immensely from the spreading of horizons of tolerance and below I will offer links to "horizon theory." Tolerance and diversity are wellsprings of justice.

But diversity in a culture is also spectacularly beneficial and practical, as David Ellerman clearly shows. And that PRACTICAL benefit not only supports diversity, it utterly overwhelms all attempted "cultural" refutations. Our Enlightenment Experiment in tolerant inclusion -- while flawed and needing agonizing incremental improvement for two centuries -- has been simply vastly more successful, creative, happier, healthier and better at discovering errors than any other. And it keeps getting better when we are free and tolerant and diverse.

== Will we again be a society of ideas? TV tells! ==

Anyone out there recall "my" TV show? I was a cast member on "The Architechs," A way-cool design show. ("Five geniuses have 48 hours to come up with...") This pilot shows us coming up with a new design to replace the humvee. Remember this was during the Iraq Wars. See the pilot.

Something to help pass the time? The second pilot - "Getting in and out of burning buildings" - was even better! We invented TWENTY new ways!

I was also a regular on History's most popular show ever: "Life After People."

Alas, History was transitioning to become the Bigfoot Channel and our show stopped after just a few episodes.

== a little perspective might help? ==

December 1979, NPR ran an evening show called "unpacking the eighties" which had some of the most clever riffs I ever heard, including a song about the terrible flu we'd all get, around 1985... and in this age when nothing is supposedly ever lost or un-findable, I can't find a trace of this masterpiece, anywhere, with any combo of search words. I think the artist was named "Jesse" something, but can't be sure. Here's a riff I remember by heart:


Back in the Pleistocene,
When we were still marine,
a virus launched a quest,
to be the perfect guest
And re-arranged our genes.

So to this very day,
Whether you grok or pray
all your inheritors
count on those visitors
And what they make you pay.


It’s a virus,
It inspired us,
to rise above the mud.
It’s a virus,
It’s desirous,
of your very flesh and blood.

Now I know your body’s burning,
But don’t give up the ghost.
Tiny viruses are turning you
Into the perfect... host.

Though you may curse microbes
who make you blow your nose,
evolution bends
to what a virus sends,
making us recompose.

Though when you least expect
You may be struck down next
thank the virus, he
put us in misery,
But then he gave us sex!

It’s a virus,
Its inspired us,
to rise above the mud.
It’s a virus,
It’s desirous,
of your very flesh and blood.

Now I know your body’s burning,
But don’t give up the ghost.
Tiny viruses are turning you
Into the perfect... host.

Originally from a 1979  NPR show “Unpacking the 80s”.

Italics passages recited by memory.
Non-italics verses made up by DB

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Bio Science! And covid related science.

Events often rush past my stack of blog drafts, and hence some of what's below may seem "so last-month." But a lot of it is still pretty important stuff. Sciencey and pertinent! But first, a mini rant:  

Again and again, MAGAs try to obscure the pandemic by raving "deaths" which 
(1) decline proportionately as docs get better at saving folks and 
(2) are low among the demographic of GOP elites because they get elite care, and
(3) co-morbidities and the slaughter of old folks gives fanatics a polemical excuse to claim "a lot of those aren't covid!" and 
(4) Kill off granny and gramps? Sure, get inheritance!

No. Don't go there. And bypass the "there are more cases because we're testing more!" crap. Go to the statistic they can't evade --
-- Hospitalizations. In which we are by far among the very worst in the world. And with ICUs near full-capacity collapse and flu absent because of masks, they have nowhere to turn except to scream when cornered.  

Demand wagers. They'll run so fast.

== It's a virus, it's desirous... of your very flesh and blood ==

 Covid-related news: SCIENCE Magazine: ‘Absolutely remarkable’: No one who got Moderna’s vaccine in trial developed severe COVID-19.

* Genetic factors that affect severity of Covid.  Left out is something folks seem loathe to discuss... what appears to be a racial difference depending on how much Neanderthal ancestry you have! Europeans appear to have the most, while Africans (least hard-hit by covid) have the least and Asian peoples (except Indian) have less, but more Denisovan. Follow this up in comments, if you dare.

* Why has COVID-19 been relatively mild in East Asia? It might be genetic resistance ... Medical research preprint: Evidence that an ancient coronavirus-like epidemic drove adaptation in East Asians from 25,000 to 5,000 years ago.

* Why has Taiwan had a total of only SEVEN deaths from COVID-19? Here's one (possibly biased) interpretation... though one reason Taiwan suffered so little from the epidemic was its previous ordeal at the epicenter of the more deadly coronavirus SARS-CoV-1 in 2003, when Taiwan led the world in per capita deaths. This ordeal trained not chiefly the government officials now claiming credit for mastering Covid, but the immune systems of the Taiwanese. Their antibodies and T-cells were ready for Covid not because of policy choices but because of biological learning processes.

== Let's start with the past... applying to the fearful present ==

The entire CARTA conference on the influence of Infectious Disease on Human Evolution is available for any of you to watch/listen. On the plus side, you’ll learn TONS about malaria, salmonella, typhoid and vaginal ailments… though rather light on the evolution implications. The best is 3h38m into the symposium, a talk by Dr. Susan Kaech of the Salk Institute explaining how our immune B and T cells both do their jobs and store some memory of past battles, in case they meet the same enemy again.  Flu viruses evade this memory by mutating fast. Corona viruses, in contrast, seem to somehow suppress these memory reserves so we “forget” and can be re-infected with the same strain again and again. Two things may be involved. (1) adjuvants released by the new viruses spilling from their replication cell, that fool the immune system into de-emphasizing memory T cells and (2) “antibody enhancement,” a weird scary scenario in which a second infection then uses the antibodies we developed against the first one, as trojan horse penetration aids against us! I knew nothing about any of those things, two weeks ago.

The good news. Many clever people know a LOT about these processes now. Enough to be awed by nature’s cleverness in these ongoing wars. And none of it renders obsolete my speculations in “The Giving Plague.” Available (free) on my website.

And here's the later-latest CARTA seminar (by zoom). Fascinating stuff!

== And the past lives on == 

Scientists recently studied an exceptional set of human and animal footprints dating back several thousand years in the White Sands National Park in New Mexico. Most of the human footprints were made by a young adult, the team determined. But about every 100 yards or so, a few much smaller human prints suddenly appear.

Amazing. Many bacteria species create ‘biofilms’ that let them cluster, defend, against attack and even cooperate. Biofilm traces are among the earliest confirmed signs of life in Earth rocks. Now we see that the genes expressed by bacteria, when they actually make their biofilms appear to be both among the oldest genes and the first expressed by newly ‘born’ cells.  That overlap of early expression and great age is similar to the “recapitulation” in animal embryos. Hence it suggests that early life forms were sophisticated enough to use phased development, as well as biofilms.


This theme of ‘phases of life’ is explored in one of my creepier short stories, “Chrysalis,” and it has even creepier implications for human destiny. Find it in INSISTENCE OF VISION.

A study found a locus of anxiety in the brain - ‘anxiety cells’ in the hippocampus — which apparently can be controlled by a beam of light. Okay, so far in mice, using  calcium imaging, inserting miniature microscopes into the brains of lab mice who are put into anxiety inducing platforms without reassuring walls. Using a technique called optogenetics to shine a beam of light onto the cells in the vCA1 region, the researchers were able to effectively silence the anxiety cells and prompt confident, anxiety-free activity in the mice.


A cave bear has been uncovered in Siberia, not just bones but soft tissues, fir, even its intact nose.

Okay guys, they don’t need us anymore except to lift boxes to high shelves, and they’ll uplift orangutans to do that. We’re screwed. Might as well serve until no longer wanted even as pets. “For the first time, scientists have been able to grow spermatogonial stem cells (SSCs), which are the cells that eventually develop into fully-fledged sperm, in a laboratory environment.”


Using a technique called optogenetics to shine a beam of light onto the cells in the vCA1 region, the researchers were able to effectively silence the anxiety cells and prompt confident, anxiety-free activity in the mice.#armymadsci


Depression humor Humorist Lightens Depression's Darkness By Talking (And Laughing) About It.

== Pragmatic bio-news? ==

It’s only in mice, so far, but an amazing, partly accidental discovery led scientists the ability to convert fibroblasts into healthy, functioning neurons… and the technique seems to have cured mice of an artificially induced analog to Parkinson’s Disease.  

Scientists engineered the human cells to produce a squid protein known as reflectin, which scatters light to create a sense of transparency or iridescence.

Researchers were able to mimic the mind-altering effects of the drug ketamine by inducing a particular rhythm in one area of the brain.

And finally.... Believers of 5G conspiracy theories have apparently been buying a $350 anti-5G USB key that—not surprisingly—appears to just be a regular USB stick with only 128MB of storage.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Sci Fi news - some of it great stuff!

Again, you'll find terrific items for your gift list here... at least for your beloved science fiction fan!

Be sure to check out the Hugo Award winners for 2020, including the winner for best novel, A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine. The award for best novella went to This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, while The Expanse, by James S.A. Corey, won for best series.  A Song for A New Day by Sarah Pinsker won the 2020 Nebula Award for best novel, while Cat Rambo won for  her novelette, Carpe Glitter.... among the many remarkable SF titles from the past year.

Meanwhile I have been slogging through editings and revisions of five Uplift novels, including Startide Rising and The Uplift War and Brightness Reef. (The refreshed Sundiver is already available!) All were sprung from the House of Flightless Birds (Bantam/Penguin) and are shifting to Open Road, for re-issue in May! Alas, they had to be typeset using OCR (Optical Character Recognition) from physical books. OCR is much improved!  But I am glad to have a cabal of wonderfully nitpicking pre-readers! My 'irregulars' catch mistakes... some 40 years old! Oh, and there will be new introductions!

Meanwhile, there's plenty of diverting stuff on that gift list!  Including refreshed versions of The Postman, Sundiver and The Practice Effect, with new Patrick Farley covers and introductions! Oh and some fun new items...

== More Sci Fi news! ==

In Entertainment Weekly -- I was excellently interviewed by Clark Collis about The Postman and its pertinence to these troubled times... and the rise of neo-feudalism that it predicted, along with deliberate efforts by enemies of our Great Experiment to burn down our one American institution that predates even the Revolution. I go into much more detail… including how you can do small/important things to help, in this blog posting -- "The Postman Guy" speaks about the Postal System crisis and lists all the things you citizens can do (some of them amazingly easy!) to prevent this would-be Holnist coup against America and especially our oldest institution. Do drop by.  

Meanwhile, in a lighter vein – and reaching far more people – the Stephen Colbert "apologize to Costner!" video is choice. But hey Stephen, what am I, chopped liver? I thought you were a sci fi nerd! 


While we’re on the subject… Do you have a book club? Or a classroom that needs a study guide for a good novel and movie comparison? Here are three resources for THE POSTMAN!


a Postman class discussion guide.


A Postman reading group discussion guide.


The Postman Curriculum Web Site.


One of them was among the oldest such items ever posted on the Web! And still pretty good.


And unrelated… A fun, informal interview on the creative process of authoring, on “Drinking With Authors!” (And yes, some beverages are involved.)



== First Nations. first in fiction ==


A fascinating article shines light on the burgeoning number and quality of Native American authors writing both science fiction and ethno-fantasies that revolve around First Nations peoples and themes and legends. I won’t claim any great insights except as a minor fellow-traveler. But I think this trend and the larger expansion of the genre enriches us all.

(A completely unimportant aside. My very first fictional character - Jacob Demwa the protagonist of SUNDIVER - was half Native American and half African; that was 1978. Then came Athaclena's heroic partner Robert Oneagle in THE UPLIFT WAR, and his mother the ethnically Amerind Prime Minister of Garth Colony. And let's add the Cherokee-led terraforming of Venus that is featured in STARTIDE RISING. So that's three for three, a very long time ago.  Just sayin'.)

And... see a list of my personal favorite science fiction titles -- and a list of recommended science fiction for young adult readers who want to explore the world of science fiction and fantasy.

== And more visionary stuff! ==

One of the very best podcasts around is Science & Futurism with Isaac Arthur - a series of wonderfully detailed and cogent explorations about super-science possibilities that dissects almost every aspect you can list regarding interstellar travel, alien motivations, star drives, terraforming or the Fermi Paradox. This one - on “black holes as weapons” - naturally refers to my own novel EARTH (which he flatteringly calls his Book of the Month about 27 minutes in). But I highly recommend the entire series. (Though oddly, he doesn't quite mention my concept for gravity lasers! Though he comes close and hints.)

Here’s a very well-written… even moving… review of Stephen Baxter’s three NASA novels, including VoyageTitan and Moonseed.

After fifteen years of translating Bulgarian speculative fiction into English a group of authors have compiled an anthology with the best Bulgarian-originated short stories and excerpts from longer works. Certainly there have been lately many efforts to promote science fiction from international sources, especially China, Africa and India and Latin America. And why not this hotbed of vivid sci fi!

Scientist Andrew Love has published a clever meta-tale , a critical essay about a civilization whose writers have been obsessed with tying together millions of disparate works into a fictional construct called “Earth.” Of course, as the author of… EARTH… I guess that makes me the worst offender! (This tale has some “wake up!” elements in common with my own tale “Reality Check”!) 

My colleague Bruce Golden has released his post-apocalyptic novel After The End, which speculates on what might happen after a rogue comet collides with the Earth, setting the entire planet on fire. The few survivors must contend with an alien spore that arrived with the comet, developing a symbiotic relationship with a native species. Not us.

Here’s a futurist image I haven’t seen in sci fi. Drones could save energy by taking the bus.

A lickable screen can create almost any taste? The Norimaki Synthesizer transmits a mix of glycerin-based gels into a small panel you press against your tongue.
RIP Barbara Marx Hubbard. I only knew her a little, personally. But she was a figure of much insight, courage and good.  As eminent futurist Glen Hiemstra put it, she “set out to change the conversation in the nation from what we wanted to get away from to what we wanted to move toward. To that end she traveled the nation and set up Positive Futures Centers, which were collections of local citizens come together, in town after town…. Barbara’s big idea was that the office of Vice President ought to operate the “Office for the Future.” This would manifest in the development of a “Peace Room” to rival the technology and scale of the War Room. In the latter, there is constant monitoring of global threats, and a place and a way for leaders to come together to confront the threats. The Peace Room, in contrast, would be designed to monitor the globe to map the opportunities that are emerging around the planet, to observe the real breakthrough ideas and programs wherever they are developed, and to plan the positive options to create a preferred future.”

== Is this a 'sci fi' pandemic? ==

So gosh, here we are in the long forecasted pandemic, and it seems nothing like what was portrayed in any sci fi, including my own! Who'd a thunk it would be so daily-mundane... so ambiguous in its after-effects - especially organic damage on the "asymptomatic" (including reported erectile dysfunction)... 

...or that a quarter of the citizens of the most scientific nation in the world would zombie-chant foreign propaganda that simple safety measures like masks - used by our ancestors effectively against the 1918 flu - will somehow transform all the people into what they already are --

-- zombie-obedient morons.

Stranger than fiction, indeed.