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A Nose by Any Other Name February 27, 2012

Posted by stuffilikenet in Mutants.
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lumpy-nosed bat

The leaf-nosed bat lives in Viet Nam.  It is not what I would call handsome.

The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson February 24, 2012

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Books, Brilliant words.
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The Diamond Age or A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer, by Neal Stephenson, is a delightfully intellectual romp (like all his books I have read so far) through ideas which may or may not populate a landscape recognizable to you or me.  In the case of The Diamond Age, we do not.  This terra incognita is a future world of a strange kind of plenty, wherein goods are relatively cheap due to nanotechnological assemblers but life is poorer than before, set in a mainland China where Confucian ideals once again hold sway and phyles (we would consider them either gangs or mutual benevolent associations) aid persons in dealing with life’s vicissitudes (and other phyles).  One of these is a pseudo-Victorian fanclub , New Atlantis, that copies Victorian manners, mores and discipline.  They are curiously successful, albeit very conformist.

One of the Vickies, Lord Alexander Chung-Sik Finkle-McGraw, fears stifling conformity and commissions John Percival Hackworth to create a book to teach subversion to his grand-daughter, so that she can adapt to any social order by not fully embracing it (I tried this with my kids, but they are pretty uncritical). There is supposed to be only one copy, but Hackworth makes another for his daughter which is promptly stolen from him and ends up in the hands of a very-lower-class child, Nell.  His mugging brings him to the attention of Judge Fang, a Confucian who begins to see something extraordinary going on.

The book remains with Nell, for whom it was certainly never intended.

I could tell you more, but you would miss the descriptions and setup which are the best parts of this kind of story.  I do heartily recommend the audiobook version, if only for Judge Fang’s New York accent and droll take on Confucian law enforcement:

This book touches on about a dozen major themes: individuality, obedience, organizational control, nanotechnology, gender, race, artificial intelligence, intellectual property vs. open-source creations and cultural association vs. racial association.  I could write a book about this book; in fact, the Wikipedia entry for this thing runs for ten pages on my big monitor.

Nothing to See Here, Move Along February 23, 2012

Posted by stuffilikenet in Mutants, Science.
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J. R. Simplot Company has released tons of selenium into the environment surrounding its mining operation in southern Idaho.  This may have produced  the fish, here:


I don’t think I have ever seen a two-headed fish before, let alone several.

A study funded by J. R. Simplot Company suggests that there’s plenty more selenium allowable in those waters.  For some reason, people seem to doubt its veracity.

Weekend Distraction February 22, 2012

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Brilliant words, Uncategorizable.
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I heard the kids practicing Monday while I painted the lobby with other parents at SF School of the Arts…I bought my tickets tonight.  Hurry, they are about 80% sold out, for Saturday Night, anyway.

My Wife’s New Car February 22, 2012

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Toys.
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She always wanted to get away.

nwe car

A galaxy far, far away.

Smart Drugs Attach to and Kill Just Cancer Cells February 18, 2012

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“The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”1


Latticework unfolds to release payload molecule.2

They’re specific to just certain types, since the lattice holding the cancer drugs only spring open when they encounter certain selected proteins that the cancer cells make.  This is part of a study by Ido Bachelet, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, who says “We call it a nanorobot because it is capable of some robotic tasks.”  Once this package recognizes the correct protein, it unwraps itself when the aptamers bind to the proteins to which they have specific affinity releasing the drugs which then attack the cancer.

So, less of a robot and more of a mousetrap.  Still, that’s some impressive nanomanufacturing.  They used CadNano3 to design it, building in a dozen molecules of cancer-busting drug and two positions on the outside for the aptamers—and they tested it on different cancer types.  Six different cancer-cell types were put together and six different aptamer locks were tested against them.  Each payload attached to the cancer type it was aimed at, and no other (antibodies as it turns out, which stopped the cells from growing).

More remarkably still, these “devices” are able to be destroyed by the usual liver cleanup methods.  This means these devices can be administered to a diseased organ, where they dump the toxic or drug payload there, become empty and then are harmlessly cleaned up by natural bodily methods.

1William Gibson, right as usual…at least then.

2Image stolen from Campbell Strong, Shawn Douglas, & Gaël McGill using Molecular Maya & Cadnano

3See The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson, which elaborates upon this technology somewhat.

Potamites montanicola, the David Bowie Lizard February 17, 2012

Posted by stuffilikenet in Mutants, Science.
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Germán Chávez and Diego Vásquez from the Centro de Ornitología y Biodiversidad in Peru have discovered a new colorful lizard which they named Potamites montanicola, or "mountain dweller".

Tornado on the Sun February 16, 2012

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Science.
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Words fail; that’s why we have video.

Now I Don’t Have to Program This Myself February 15, 2012

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I had thought improving After Dark’s flying toasters to be impossible, but here it is: Kinect-controlled flying toasters.  Good thing, too; Joan Blades and Wes Boyd, the founders of Berkeley Systems, went on to create MoveOn.org and are unlikely to make any future improvements.

Young Americans on Parade February 12, 2012

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Three high school kids built this.  Apparently, the same kids may have done this:

It’s a great day for DIYers.

Modern Art That Doesn’t Suck February 12, 2012

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Naturally, based upon the classics and interpreted in a fresh, new way that is a breath of fresh air.


No Day That Starts With Circus Animals is Bad February 11, 2012

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Toys, Uncategorizable.
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image image  

The Bella Cucina Circus Waffle Maker is cheap at Amazon.com, but is currently on sale at Macy’s where the missus spotted it.  My inner child wants it very badly.

Promising Alzheimer’s Treatment Under Study February 10, 2012

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Brain, Science.
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In astounding good news for seniors (and soon-to-be seniors, like me), neuroscientists at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine have published in the journal Science, a study that shows that use of a drug in mice appears to quickly reverse the pathological, cognitive and memory deficits caused by the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. The medication, bexarotene, could help the five million Americans suffering from the progressive brain disease and gods know how many others elsewhere.  The best part is that bexarotene is already approved for oncology, with a good safety and side-effect profile.
Bexarotene  clears amyloid plaques by removing soluble amyloid beta proteins,  which are (currently) thought to produce the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.  And this little study (in mice) backs up the hypothesis nicely; major hunks of cognitive function returned to Alzheimer’s-model mice in 72 hours.  Not just one, but three different mouse models. It appears that the bexarotene reprogrammed the brain’s immune cells to "eat" or phagocytose the amyloid deposits as well as the soluble forms. This observation demonstrated that the drug addresses the amount of both soluble and deposited forms of amyloid beta within the brain and reverses the pathological features of the disease in mice.
I’m impressed, and quite hopeful. Gary Landreth, PhD, of Case Western Reserve is the man to watch for future investigations, is the author of this study and the discoverer that apolipoprotein E is the mechanism by which the plaques are cleared (and bexarotene amps up production of this).

Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff February 9, 2012

Posted by stuffilikenet in Books, Brilliant words.
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A nifty little story of the nature of good and evil as told by a woman in the mental ward about a secret society  dedicated to improving the world by assassinating serial killers (among others), Bad Monkeys has all the elements I like in a longish short story: compelling narration, snappy dialogue, abundant plot twists and an edge of sheer madness (mmm…delicious madness).  Bad Monkeys’ protagonist labors under the delusion that her murdered brother has been reconciled to her and encourages her to become a good person.  When she has the chance to kill a serial killer she does, and is recruited into an army of murderous do-gooders.

Neat.  Doesn’t end anything like you might have expected, either.  Joe Bob says check it out.1

1 And Joe Bob is the man, isn’t he?  Does anyone remember him?


JAVA Development With Eclipse for Android February 6, 2012

Posted by stuffilikenet in Geek Stuff, Uncategorizable.
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I just want the world to know that installing Eclipse and ADT for Android is at least as nasty, brutish and long as installing any Microsoft product, and involves rebooting the application, if not the whole machine.

So there.

Dreadnought by Cherie Priest February 4, 2012

Posted by stuffilikenet in Books, Brilliant words.
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There are probably people in this world who cannot imagine a world wherein the American Civil War raged for twenty years of horror-filled attrition, culminating in the construction of huge war machines that walk upright, dirigibles that cross the continent, a truculent alliance between the Republic of Texas and the Confederation of American States and mad scientists bent on ending the war with a horrible kind of final solution.

I pity you.

For people who have trouble imagining this I present Dreadnought, by Cherie Priest, who can bring it to life for you without much trouble.  She can bring a lot more than this, but I like to leave out the really, really juicy bits for you to enjoy without spoilage (hint: the aforementioned “horrible kind of final solution”). I heard this audiobook and liked it so much I listened to it twice (partly because my ancient phone honked up). The narrator, Kate Reading, has a lengthy career breathing life into novels and does quite well with this one.

One thing I really, really liked about this book is the lack of romance anywhere within.  A woman travelling across a continent on a dirigible that’s been shot down in the middle of a battlefield, chased by giant war machines, beset by bushwhackers, pursued by Confederate troops, shot at by barking mad scientists and surrounded by evil (and low on gas) is not really in a mood to be enthralled by another.

Anathem by Neal Stephenson February 4, 2012

Posted by stuffilikenet in Books, Brilliant words.
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Anathem is one of the most interesting novels I have ever listened to, and that’s saying something. This tale of monks and nuns (sort of) dedicated to math, physics and  philosophy discovering something unusual happening to the sun and their deductions about what is happening in the world outside their cloister is actually quite enjoyable and inspiring.1  Neal Stephenson makes me want to believe in this three-thousand-year-old science-as-religion order, and wish we had one (Buddhists don’t count).

It is read by William Dufris, who also narrated the Audible version of Old Man’s War by John Scalzi, which I really should review since I listened to all three of them, and Dufris reads them like he wrote them, which is very enjoyable indeed.

Exciting update: I’m about three-quarters through and no zombies yet, although there has been attempted murder, actual murder, a riot, invasion of a kind, aerial bombardment, a volcano incident, dirty tricks in academic politics and gratuitous philosophy of the most platonic kind.


1 I had a bit of an epiphany during part of this book, wherein I realized that I enjoy a similar if less intense intellectual stimulation improving the world through the collaboration with my fellows designing laboratory equipment.