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The Magicians and The Magician King by Lev Grossman January 30, 2013

Posted by stuffilikenet in Books.
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A lovely two-book (so far) series of books about teenagers becoming magicians both Lev Grossman’s The Magicians and The Magician King are more coming-of-age novels than a simple Harry Potter ripoff.  It scarcely gives a nod to Rowling’s work, being a more sober and less gee-whizzish set of tales.  There is both a magician’s college and a magician’s school of hard knocks, both attended by believable characters compounded of human decency and piss and vinegar who learn hard truths about life and harder truths (yes, I know, but it sounds good) about magic, and the kind of gods who underpin a world with magic in it.

Despite the coming-of-age description, it’s fairly adult in terms of sex, drinkin’ and cussin’, so uptight folks should shield their children’s eyes, wrinkle their noses in disgust and smugly assure themselves that their morals are somehow superior.  Remember, virtue is its own reward–and so is vice.

For once, the Audible versions are cheaper than the CDs, and of course all are available at my local library (sfpl.org), which has a nice lending arrangement (mp3s on my phone—woo-hoo!).

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A Cover of Duke Nukem 3D Theme Song January 30, 2013

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Science, Toys, Video.
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Properly performed, as you can see.  Although to be fair, there should be flamethrowers and explosions for the percussion section.  I’m just sayin’.

Another Shirt I Can’t Wear to Work January 30, 2013

Posted by stuffilikenet in Uncategorizable.
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This one is wearing out; does anyone know where I can get another?

This post had editorial assistance:

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Engineering Prototype January 30, 2013

Posted by stuffilikenet in Geek Stuff.
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After finding this item in a cow-orker’s [hyphenation intentional] cubicle, I asked the lead mechanical engineer “Engineering prototype?”.

“Ship it.” he replied, straight-faced.

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Looks kind of like a wind tunnel from this end.

The Kingdom of Gods, by N.K. Jemisin January 20, 2013

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Books, Brilliant words.
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The end of the trilogy begun with The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Kingdom of Gods is a worthy conclusion of this tale of gods made flesh and how they adapt, change and grow (or die.  Yes, this book is a tragedy as well as a fantasy, just like her previous books).

The whole of this trilogy is the best thing I have read from a new novelist, maybe ever.  I have opined previously that it’s a lie that THTK was her first novel.  She’s ‘way too good for that; she was a best-selling novelist in her previous three lives.

Like my other reviews, I won’t tell you a damned thing about this novel that will eat into any surprise.  I will tell you it’s Sieh, the child-trickster-cat god of the previous books, who is the narrator of this tale, and he does have a unique take on being human, and being divine.

Very worth diving into, and do read the previous novels first if you haven’t.  I can recommend the audiobook of the first one very highly.

Dubstep January 15, 2013

Posted by stuffilikenet in Video.
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My kids passed through a dubstep phase.  The older one is out of it, but the younger one needs to see this. 

This Case Is Gonna Kill Me by Phillipa Bornikova January 14, 2013

Posted by stuffilikenet in Books.
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This Case Is Gonna Kill Me by Phillipa Bornikova is a pleasant enough little read for a bad case of the flu, otherwise I would probably not have picked it up.  A world where vampires, werewolves and elves (really?) take over most of the upper functions of finance, government and the military (largely due to being nearly immortal unless killed outright) doesn’t seem to have much room for the movement of our protagonist Linnet Ellery.  Linnet is a horsey lawyer admitted to a vampire-dominated law firm.  Getting made partner means becoming a vampire, and it’s a men-only option (I see a pattern here).

Well, spunky girl heroine doesn’t take that lying down, no sir.  Her first case is a lost cause, so she loses it, but in the best fashion for her client, and after a modest bloodbath by a werewolf of her co-worker who formerly ran this case, she finds that the inheritance of the multimillion-dollar defense contractor firm may not be all that simple.

I really liked the weird politics of long-game-playing vampires and the creepy vibe Bornikova gives them, so that was great.  What is odd is that the horsey lawyer manages to escape from werewolf assassins (plural) and even kill several of them without weapons.  Still, she’s a nice girl so I don’t want her throat torn out.

A pretty good first book;  I will read a sequel, if only to find out what happened to her love life.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore January 13, 2013

Posted by stuffilikenet in Books, Geek Stuff.
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Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan is a happy little read full of the sneaky nerd joy of discovering hidden knowledge, arcane lore, and doing it with modern tools, techniques and technology.  In few words, geek heaven.  the narrator/protagonist, Clay Jannon, has taken a job as a night clerk at the aforementioned bookstore, only to notice the patrons at the late hours rarely buy books, but rather take them on loan from the Waybacklist.  Clay is encouraged to carefully describe each patron as he logs the borrowing and returning.  curious, Clay looks into the books as borrowed and finds then all encrypted.

If you are anything like a serious geek this will send a naughty thrill down your spine.  Clay begins to pull at this bit of twine…and thus begins the story, full of modern tools and ancient tales, Silicon Valley whiz kids and dowdy librarians and a secret cult at the heart of it all.

I loved it.  I especially liked how Clay’s romance of a sort with the Google girl (name already forgotten, since I think of her that way) reflects life’s vicissitudes.  Also liked the realistic way the technophiles go at their enthusiasms with hammer and tongs—very lifelike. 

Because this is a relatively new title, the Kindle version is only four bucks cheaper (but no waiting!) at US$11.99.  There is an audiobook, but this reads really well when you have the flu.

Cheap And Easy Gene Therapy January 8, 2013

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Geek Stuff, Science.
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A precise and elegant technique for cutting and pasting DNA to insert genes into human cells would radically transform medicine, making routine what now are expensive, complicated and rare procedures for replacing defective genes in order to fix genetic diseases was discovered last year by Jennifer Doudna and Martin Jinek of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and University of California, Berkeley (and the LBL, too), and Emmanuelle Charpentier of the Laboratory for Molecular Infection Medicine-Sweden. In the team’s June 28, 2012, Science paper the researchers described a new method of precisely targeting and cutting DNA in bacteria.

This paper caused a little stir, and other scientists began to use the method; two new papers published last week in the journal Science Express demonstrate that the technique also works in human cells. A paper by Doudna and her team reporting similarly successful results in human cells has been accepted for publication by the new open-access journal eLife (don’t be like that.  Times change, man.  Journals are for getting the information out, and e-journals are faster.  So there).

People are already comparing the technique to PCR, the DNA-replicating technique which scored a Nobel for Cary Mullis, in terms of impact on the genetics field.

"I think this is going to be a real hit," said George Church, Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and principal author of one of the Science Express papers. "There are going to be a lot of people practicing this method because it is easier and about 100 times more compact than other techniques."

How does it work? The new technique uses a single protein that requires only a short RNA molecule to program it for site-specific DNA recognition, an enzyme called Cas9, and the replacement DNA.  The nice part is that these molecules are all smaller than the kind of stuff you would have to sneak into a cell to achieve the cut-and-paste effect using the current techniques. "It (the Cas9-RNA complex) is easier to make than TALEN proteins, and it’s smaller," The complex also has lower toxicity in mammalian cells than other techniques, he added. "It’s too early to declare total victory" over TALENs and zinc-fingers (the two competing techniques—bulky and complex—don’t ask), Church said, "but it looks promising."

"The beauty of this compared to any of the other systems that have come along over the past few decades for doing genome engineering is that it uses a single enzyme," Doudna said. "The enzyme doesn’t have to change for every site that you want to target – you simply have to reprogram it with a different RNA transcript, which is easy to design and implement."

The delicious and not at all surprising part of this exciting new technique is that it’s the result of some rather more pure science; Doudna was looking at the unique immune system of a bacteria that cuts the DNA of attacking viruses, incorporates it into its own DNA and uses it to make RNA to intercept the viral DNA, rendering it useless.  Nature is stranger than we imagine, and stranger than we can imagine.

 

Homework:

RNA-programmed genome editing in human cells (accepted for publication in eLife) RNA-Guided Human Genome Engineering via Cas9 (Church article, Jan. 3 Science Express)

Multiplex Genome Engineering Using CRISPR/Cas Systems (Wang article, Jan. 3 Science Express)

CAD-assisted Drug Design Using DNA Strands January 1, 2013

Posted by stuffilikenet in 3D Printing, Applications, Awesome, Geek Stuff, Science.
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Scientists have developed a CAD drug development system that uses  synthetic DNA as a programmable molecular substrate. These strands of synthetic DNA can be constructed to have any sequence of bases. And, because complementary sequences of DNA are mutually attractive, synthetic strands can be created with sequences that cause them to align with one another and bind to form nanostructures of virtually any shape. If the DNA strands are bound to other molecular species (say, tumor-killing molecules) before self-assembly is induced, the tumor killers can be pulled into desired locations by the DNA strands during self-assembly.

In other words, LEGO for molecules.*

This is paid for partly by NSF funding, but curiously enough a private company seems to have a lock on it.  Parabon Nanolabs™ has simplified this concept down to CAD-based software for the budding mad scientist.  The Parabon inSēquio™ Sequence Design Studio graphically enters designs and then determines the DNA sequences that will self-assemble into that design.

The graphic editor lays out a nanostructure visually. Users can rotate and bend strands, define bindings between base pairs, and copy and paste sequences and structures between design documents. The cloud-based number-crunching uses a bunch of known wet-chemistry values for the binding energies and calculates the complex molecular interactions required to make the molecule desired. 

Neat, huh? This would be entirely impossible for a human to do, ever; it’s billions of calculations that need to be made and complex rules to be followed.**

Still, how they will mock up the synthesized molecules themselves should be an interesting technical feat;  I would really like to see the execution of this, rather than a neat CAD program for molecules.***

Announcement here. Parabon Nanolabs here.

 

* Some assembly required.

** Another reason not to be a chemist.

*** It’s not impossible; use synthesizers to make the short pieces, PCR copy them, keep them salty enough that they can’t self-assemble before all the other pieces are made, mix together and pray.  The devil is in these details.  Maybe we can get Rob Park to do it.