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Eifelheim, by Michael Flynn April 15, 2019

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Books, Brilliant words.
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Eifelheim, by  Michael Flynn, is a wonderful book full of historical accuracies, plausibly. Human characters, utterly fanciful science fiction and (in the audiobook version) droll and dry remarks from demons (in the 13th century) or aliens (in the 21st). In both eras, the story is fascinating as we see into the mind of a medieval village priest and two modern-day historians.  The story is told by both, without the usual historical whiplash which usually accompanies this sort of perspective switch.  The medieval setting lends a certain claustrophobic cloud of uncertainty to the actions of the parish priests, who succors aliens and finally allows them to live in his parish.  It is one of those rare books where Christian charity is given a fair shake, even while the foibles and failures of human beings undermine the whole religious structure.

A very good read and I recommend it most highly.  The audiobook is available at Amazon (of course), but also at sfpl.org.

Semiosis, by Sue Burke April 10, 2019

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Semiosis, by Sue Burke is a lovely tale of space colonists dedicated to living in harmony with Nature.

Nature has some ideas about that, however.

Specifically, the plants on the colonists’ new world are intelligent in varying degrees, depending on size, longevity and, uh, temperament (sort of like humans).  The interaction of humans with their new acquaintances forms the whole of the book, and especially the humans interacting with each other in response.  It’s a complex, multigenerational tale and has some wonderful and horrible things like dictatorship enforced by lies, murder and rape (fertile females being too valuable to a small colony to kill outright), war with another race of space colonists, psychopathy and madness and gratuitous democracy.  It’s well told and competently read by Caitlin Davies (the female narrator), Daniel Thomas May (male narrator) in about equal parts, as they tell the story from the point of view of several different characters, including a perspicacious bamboo plant.

The very best of this is, of course, the idea of a sentient plant (plants, really; there are several intelligent species in the story) and the thoughts and feelings they express…and do not express.

A must read for science fiction readers, I recommend this one highly. Available at Amazon and sfpl.org.

Pushing Ice, by Alastair Reynolds March 19, 2019

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Books, Brilliant words.
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Pushing Ice, by Alastair Reynolds is a heck of an audiobook. The story is of comet miners detoured to the outer reaches of the solar system to chase Janus, an ice moon of Saturn[0] that has suddenly accelerated away from orbit. They are the only ship within range, so not really a lot of choice…and there is teh rub.  Some choices get made, and some terrible things happen.

In Space!

Sorry.  Had to get that out.

This isn’t just a scantily-clad space opera; I genuinely felt for the characters as mountains of Bad Things happened to them over really long time spans…because they got a little tiny bit time-dilated[1]. Okay, more than a tiny bit. There are ultimately power grabs, friendships lost, horrible deaths, miraculous medicine, aliens[2], war, rebellion, intrigue, tropical fish, heroic rescues and weird science.

A yummy confection that took about twenty hours and I found it intense enough to turn off often, as I was feeling the characters fear and grief.  Nice work, that.

Available on Amazon (link above) and at sfpl.org.


[0] “Janis, Ice Maid of Saturn” would make a great movie serial.

[1] Not a science book at all, but simple discussion of physics here and there didn’t break narrative flow.

[2] It’s no fun without aliens.

Malaria Cure in the Offing March 11, 2019

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Science.
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Shamelessly stolen words:

“In 2016, 216 million people fell sick due to the Plasmodium falciparum parasite and 441,000 died of malaria, according to the report.

The study demonstrated that a single oral dose of 400 mg DSM265 — given seven days after blood stage infection was experimentally induced in healthy subjects who had not previously been exposed, is sufficient to clear low-level P. falciparum parasitemia.

The study confirmed multiple previous studies collectively comprising more than 100 subjects, which also found that DSM265 could clear the disease-causing, non-sexual stage parasites from infected humans.”

This is far too good a bit of news to not shout from rooftops. My uncle (sort of) suffered from malaria from Guadalcanal in 1945 until he passed away eight years ago. Millions of others are a few years from total cure, possibly in a single dose.


No Homework Tonight: Don’t have a cite for this yet; it’s supposed to be in today’s Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology, but I can’t find it.

EXCITING UPDATE: American Society for Microbiology. “Anti-malarial shows promise in human clinical study.”  –don’t ask me what page.

50% More Efficient Nanowire Solar Panels February 21, 2019

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Science.
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Gallium arsenide nanowires can convert up to 33% of incident light to electricity if arranged like a stand of trees.  A team at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EFPL, because my French is merde) has made a prototype of these light funnels and found that it may collect up to twelve times the light.  Where did I get that 50% figure in the headline?  That’s the “in practice” value (33% efficiency), compared to the conversion of silicon-based cells (currently[0] about 20% efficient).

Also, since they are really skinny wires, there isn’t much mass which is good considering the cost of gallium arsenide.  When I say skinny here I mean tens of nanometers thick: “Arrays of nanowires would use at least 10 000 times less gallium arsenide, allowing for industrial use of this costly material. Translating this into dollars for gallium arsenide, the cost would only be $10 per square meter instead of $100 000.”

Right then, let’s review: cheaper, lighter and more efficient.  The team thinks they can mount them on flexible substrates, too, so there should be additional deployment modes.

Homework: Single-nanowire solar cells beyond the Shockley–Queisser limit, Peter Krogstrup, Henrik Ingerslev Jørgensen, Martin Heiss, Olivier Demichel, Jeppe V. Holm, Martin Aagesen, Jesper Nygard & Anna Fontcuberta i Morra


[0] See what I did there?

Fluorescent Pink Flying Squirrel February 8, 2019

Posted by stuffilikenet in Mutants, Photography, Science.
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Think Pink: Texas A&M student aids in discovery of fluorescent pink flying squirrel

Not a punk band name, the North American flying squirrel fluoresces pink at night under ultraviolet light. Not a mistake, either:

“I looked at a ton of different specimens that they had there,” Kohler said. “They were stuffed flying squirrels that they had collected over time, and every single one that I saw fluoresced hot pink in some intensity or another.”

In order to expand the search, the team at Northland College in Wisconsin went to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and gathered more specimens. In all, they researched over 100 specimens ranging across numerous states, all confirming the “pink theory.”

I mean it’s not hunter’s orange, but it’s a start.

Tentacle-nosed Catfish February 8, 2019

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This is one of six catfish species recently discovered in Amazonian basin rivers and streams.sixnewspecie1

Cute little creatures, aren’t they?

Where Have I Been (for the past 2 years)? January 30, 2019

Posted by stuffilikenet in Books, Brilliant words.
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Busy, that’s where. A huge list of Things I Did or Thangs Wot Happen’d would allow Google/Facebook/CIA/NSA/FBI/The Illuminati/Mom to know everything I’m up to, so that’s not happening. Instead, I want to talk about my audiobook adventures.

I had some; I’m going to add a few here in list form and expand them as Words Come To Mind, but don’t hold your breath. As always, this space is usually filled with musings which crystallize during my lunch hour and find their way to you by the miracle of a series of tubes, to almost quote an abysmally ignorant Senator[0]. Given that my lunch hour must also accommodate actual lunch and a walk, this may take a while.

The latest book in my head is the second in the Sleepless series by Nancy Kress. Beggars and Choosers is  better even than the first novel, Beggars in Spain, following the frightening changes to law, society and humanity after genetic engineering of humans  results in a two-class[1] society.  The first book is pretty good, too, but this one has better character development and an edge of terror the first book lacked. Available at Amazon and sfpl.org. I wonder if she has a third book in this series (the ending doesn’t seem to suggest that).

EXCITING UPDATE: there seems to be an additional book: Beggar’s Ride.  I must hunt it down and hear it.

Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman is another mythology-related audiobook, this one hewing more closely to the original stories than American Gods (I’ll review this another time; I’ve been busy, damn it). It’s his take on the various Norse myths and charmingly read by him in his wry sort of way. I admit I know nothing about my own heritage in this regard whatsoever, so it was a fun commute for a while.  I recommend this one highly.

I also listened to Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman, also read by him.[2] That one is even more strange, and wonderful in its complexity and texture. The estranged sons of Anansi (a trickster god) meet up when Anansi dies (?), and one ruins the life of the other hilariously and tragically. Also highly recommended.

More later. I did just lose my draft of this blog post, plus my notes on all the books I read in the last two years, so there will be a little bit of time before I can finish this up…if ever.

I am currently listening to The Themis Files (apparently also a trilogy) by Sylvain Neuval and enjoying them very much.  Told in the style of interview transcripts, it’s the story of alien robots left scattered around the world millennia ago, and the trials and tribulations of finding and using them..and, of course, what to use them for. The audiobooks are specially nice since the characters are pretty well drawn and their reactions to their parts in the story are largely, uh, memorable.  Yeah, memorable; I’m going with that.

There is some screaming as well. Well acted by a bunch of different voice actors, they seemed to have lost one between book two and book three (Puerto Rican girl replaced by New York Puerto Rican girl). The author is listed as one of the voices, and there is a suspiciously Quebecois guy who is trying really hard to pretend he isn’t the author, so that must be him.  Good books for all that.


[0] Christ, where do they find these guys?

[1] Well three, but one of them seems pretty much outside of society for reasons which should be very clear at the end of the book [edit: series].

[2] I do feel that an author ought to be able to read the books they write with the delivery they intend in the writing, but I understand that not every writer is a good reader…mores the pity.

3D-Printed Flexible Piezoelectric Element January 24, 2019

Posted by stuffilikenet in 3D Printing, Awesome, Science, Video.
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Mechanical engineers develop process to 3D print piezoelectric materials

New methods to 3D print piezoelectric materials that can be custom-designed to convert movement, impact and stress from any directions to electrical energy have been published in Nature Materials.  The materials can also be activated — providing the next generation of intelligent infrastructures and smart materials for tactile sensing, impact and vibration monitoring, energy harvesting, and other applications. Unlike conventional piezoelectrics, where electric charge movements are prescribed by the intrinsic crystals, the new method allows users to prescribe and program voltage responses to be magnified, reversed or suppressed in any direction.

A factor in current piezoelectric fabrication is the natural crystal used. At the atomic level, the orientation of atoms are fixed. The researchers produced a substitute that mimics the crystal but allows the lattice orientation to be altered by design.

“We have synthesized a class of highly sensitive piezoelectric inks that can be sculpted into complex three-dimensional features with ultraviolet light. The inks contain highly concentrated piezoelectric nanocrystals bonded with UV-sensitive gels, which form a solution — a milky mixture like melted crystal — that we print with a high-resolution digital light 3D printer”.

The material has sensitivities 5-fold higher than flexible piezoelectric polymers. The stiffness and shape of the material can be tuned and produced as a thin sheet resembling a strip of gauze, or as a stiff block. “We have a team making them into wearable devices, like rings, insoles, and fitting them into a boxing glove where we will be able to record impact forces and monitor the health of the user,” said the chief investigator Zheng.

The team has printed and demonstrated smart materials wrapped around curved surfaces, worn on hands and fingers to convert motion, and harvest the mechanical energy, but the applications go well beyond wearables and consumer electronics.

“Traditionally, if you wanted to monitor the internal strength of a structure, you would need to have a lot of individual sensors placed all over the structure, each with a number of leads and connectors,” said Huachen Cui, a doctoral student of Zheng’s and the first author of the Nature Materials paper. “Here, the structure itself is the sensor — it can monitor itself.”

Homework: Huachen Cui, Ryan Hensleigh, Desheng Yao, Deepam Maurya, Prashant Kumar, Min Gyu Kang, Shashank Priya, Xiaoyu Zheng. Three-dimensional printing of piezoelectric materials with designed anisotropy and directional responseNature Materials, 2019; DOI: 10.1038/s41563-018-0268-1

AI Detects Rare Syndromes From Images January 9, 2019

Posted by stuffilikenet in Applications, Photography, Science, Star Trek Technology.
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Rare disorders often present with patterned discoloration of the epidermis, distortion of features and other visibly-detectable aberrations in appearance. Marfan’s syndrome presents with long, flexible body type. Noonan syndrome may present wide-set eyes, and Down’s syndrome is well-known to nearly everyone. Now, researchers have developed a facial analysis framework, DeepGestalt, using computer vision and deep learning algorithms, that quantifies similarities to hundreds of genetic syndromes based on unconstrained 2D images. DeepGestalt is currently trained with over 26,000 patient cases from a rapidly growing phenotype-genotype database, consisting of tens of thousands of validated clinical cases, curated through a community-driven platform. DeepGestalt currently achieves 91% top-10-accuracy in identifying over 215 different genetic syndromes and has outperformed clinical experts in three separate experiments.

In results published in Nature Medicine, DeepGestalt  outperformed doctors in diagnosing patients with Angelman syndrome and Cornelia de Lange syndrome versus other disorders, and in separating patients with different genetic subtypes of Noonan syndrome.

It’s a neat study in that it controls for a bunch of conditions including ethnicity and gender, so it’s a bit more robust than previous studies.


Homework: [PDF] https://arxiv.org/abs/1801.07637

3D Models Through Multiple Primitives January 7, 2019

Posted by stuffilikenet in 3D Printing, Applications, Toys.
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Sometime the 3D scanner can’t model complex interiors. Geeks to the rescue:
The authors of a nifty paper describe how their software creates solid models based on a kind of successive approximation using a library of primitive shapes.  They claim success in over one hundred complex models (see video, above).

Barbie pagoda fungus (Podoserpula miranda) January 3, 2019

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Mushrooms, Photography.
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Image shamefully stolen from Reddit.com

My New Neighborhood December 29, 2018

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My neighborhood is gentrified as heck.

Just Watch December 27, 2018

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Mutants, Video.
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Modest Plasma Globe Hack December 12, 2018

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Science, Star Trek Technology, Toys, Video.
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Desktop Van De Graaf Generator December 11, 2018

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Sodom and Gomorrah: Boom Towns December 6, 2018

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This delicious rumor just in from archaeologist Phillip Silvia of Trinity Southwest University and published in a paper by Silvia and co-author (and archaeologist) Steven Collins called “The Civilization-Ending 3.7KYrBP Event: Archaeological Data, Sample Analyses, and Biblical Implications”: the Twin Sin Cities were wiped out 3700 years ago by a meteor burst.[1]

The paper has a lot of juicy facts to corroborate Silva and Colins’ version of events: little glassy bits on surfaces that were exposed at the time (too hot to have been made by fires, but not long lasting enough to melt more than the top layers of things); “large-scale absence of tumbled mudbrick that would be typical of earthquake damage. The mudbrick super-structures of buildings at Tall elHammam and its neighbors are totally “missing” as if they were blown entirely off of their foundations.”[2]; “signature markers of an airburst event include high levels of platinum, typically 600%above normal background levels, and a high platinumpalladium ratio. (Both of these occur in asteroids and meteors, but are not common on Earth.) Signature markers also include a high incidence of scorialike objects (SLOs), frequently in pelletized, spherule forms or agglomerations of melted materials, and a high incidence of magnet-ic spherules.”[3]

There is also a delicious discussion of the effects of such an airburst on the nearby Dead Sea the shock wave would have deposited a layer of salts onto the top soil, destroying it and making it unable to support agriculture for hundreds of years. It only takes a salt content of 13,000 ppm to prevent wheat from germinating, and a salt content of 18,000 ppm to prevent barley from growing. Those thresholds were easily exceeded (60,000 ppm): enough to wipe out an entire civilization’s food supply.

What I personally find so interesting in this business is the ancient city itself, not the colorful destruction thereof and subsequent taking of credit by Jehovah’s nutbags; this was 3700 years ago, and the city was already 2500 years old.  The city itself was the administrative center of the kingdom of Middle Ghor[4], and was protected by a perimeter wall up to 30m (100 ft) thick and up to 15m (50 ft.) high, for a linear distance of over 2.5km. That’s not cheap; must have been quite a sight but I can’t find any population figures for 3700 years ago.

Homework: The CivilizationEnding 3.7KYrBP Event: Archaeological Data, Sample Analyses, Southwest University, 7600 Jefferson NE, Suite 28, Albuquerque, NM 87109

  1. The Tunguska thing is apparently not all that rare.
  2. Boom, baby!
  3. Present in Tunguska, too.
  4. Was there an Inner Ghor and an Outer Ghor?  Or a Left and a Right Ghor?

Breakfast at Kitten-ese December 3, 2018

Posted by stuffilikenet in Photography, Uncategorizable.
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We cleared the table and seats for breakfast, but before we could sit…

Wrinkled Vein Grafts Don’t Clot November 30, 2018

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Usually the veins  in bypass surgery come from the patient’s own leg veins, but sometimes that’s not an option. Synthetic vein grafts can be used but tend to develop clots more than do natural (donor) veins.  University of Pittsburgh researchers have hit upon an interesting strategy for reducing clot formation by wrinkling the vein and then straightening it out again.  Check out the bottom picture, there; it looks like an air-brushed playmate.

Top: A smooth surface after exposure to blood get fouled with platelets. Bottom: A surface that wrinkles while exposed to blood resists fouling.

Not bad. “Our arteries expand and contract naturally, partially driven by normal fluctuations in blood pressure during the cardiac cycle. Our hypothesis is that this drives the transition between smooth and wrinkled luminal surfaces in arteries, and this dynamic topography may be an important anti-thrombotic mechanism in arteries. Our goal is to use this novel concept of a purely mechanical approach to prevent vascular graft fouling by using the heartbeat as a driving mechanism.”


Active wrinkles to drive self-cleaning: A strategy for anti-thrombotic surfaces for vascular grafts, LukaPocivavsek, Sang-HoYe,JosephPugar,  EdithTzeng, EnriqueCerda,   SachinVelankar,   William R.Wagner

ISS Timelapse November 30, 2018

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Music, Science, Video.
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If you haven’t seen this, I recommend viewing full-sized, with the ambient music provided…or Pink Floyd.

You know you want to.