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The Wayfarers Series, by Becky Chambers January 13, 2020

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A series of three novels, the Wayfarers starts with Hugo-winning The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and extends to two equally charming sequels, A Close and Common Orbit and Record of a Space-born Few.  The first is the one I want to tell you about, because it is a rare gem that shows all the attributes of a space adventure novel (difficult journey, pirates, armies in tense standoff, difficult crewmates, culture clash, sapient AI, star-crossed lovers, etc.) but tells enough of each character’s thoughts and feelings to establish the why of every (often terrible) action. 

This already remarkable accomplishment is even more interesting when the tone of the whole novel is so warm and friendly (and the shipmates so careful with each other’s feelings) that I felt caught up in their drama myself. when they wander into danger (here and there), I felt concern for the outcome. Suspension of disbelief apparently applies to novels as well as performances.

The other two novels share these attributes, and I recommend them also. Available at Amazon (of course), and as audiobooks from sfpl.org.

Where I Work December 27, 2019

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we are a hard-workin’ bunch, let me tell you:

Nanowired Brain-like Functions December 25, 2019

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Nation Institute of Material Science geeks have created a complex metallic nanowire structure that mimics brain-like functions, such as memorization, learning, forgetting, becoming alert and returning to calm.

"figure: (a) Micrograph of the neuromorphic network fabricated by this research team. The network contains of numerous junctions between nanowires, which operate as synaptic elements. (b) A Human brain and one of its neuronal networks." Image

This indicates that self-organizing structures can be built from random arrangements of conducting fibers. This suggests that many different types of brain-like activity can be induced from stuff other than the kind of materials from which you and I are made.
Intelligent life on other worlds might be made of very different stuff indeed.

 

Homework: “Emergent dynamics of neuromorphic nanowire networks” by Adrian Diaz-Alvarez, Rintaro Higuchi, Paula Sanz-Leon, Ido Marcus, Yoshitaka Shingaya, Adam Z. Stieg, James K. Gimzewski, Zdenka Kuncic and Tomonobu Nakayama, 17 October 2019, Scientific Reports.
DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-51330-6

Multi-dimensional Blood Testing and A.I. December 23, 2019

Posted by stuffilikenet in Applications, Awesome, Brain, Brilliant words, Geek Stuff, Science, Star Trek Technology.
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I suggested long ago that sufficiently-comprehensive blood tests could effectively predict a person’s risk of developing a broad array of different diseases. We would use artificial intelligence to find patterns of varying concentrations of blood proteins to predict and/or diagnose disease. Someone much better funded than me has a newly developed platform called SomaScan which can scan five thousand individual proteins from a single blood sample.

In a new study testing the efficacy of predicting 11 different health indicators using these protein expression patterns some models were much more effective than others, such as the protein expression model predicting percentage body fat. The cardiovascular risk model was cited as only modestly predictive, however, the researchers do suggest the protein-pattern-based system is generally more convenient, and cheaper, than many traditional tests currently available for evaluating health conditions.

The study in Nature Medicine was funded by SomaLogic which owns SomaScan, so grain of salt, people. But it’s exciting to see that someone is actually looking into what I feel will be the method of the future for maximizing health…also, the study used ~85 million protein measurements in 16,894 participants, which is a pretty damn good sample size.  Plenty of data there for an A.I. to examine for hidden relationships.

Homework:

Plasma protein patterns as comprehensive indicators of health, Nature Medicine, Stephen A. Williams, Mika Kivimaki, Claudia Langenberg, Aroon D. Hingorani, J. P. Casas, Claude Bouchard, Christian Jonasson, Mark A. Sarzynski, Martin J. Shipley, Leigh Alexander, Jessica Ash, Tim Bauer, Jessica Chadwick, Gargi Datta, Robert Kirk DeLisle, Yolanda Hagar, Michael Hinterberg, Rachel Ostroff, Sophie Weiss, Peter Ganz & Nicholas J. Wareham

Two-headed Bearded Dragon December 23, 2019

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Enchanting Furby Toy Hack December 20, 2019

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I do wish I had thought of this.

Sacre Blue, by Christopher Moore December 19, 2019

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Sacré Bleu is the story of a muse, her enslaver, several Impressionist painters, multiple murders, syphilis, spelunkery, immortality, immolation and the possibly gratuitous use of the word “penis”. As with all Christopher Moore works, it has a hint of mythology which forms the center of the narrative but take off quickly from such staid constraints to a flighty soufflé featuring Henri Toulouse-Latrec as a detective hunting an impossibly ancient shaman (immolation comes into play here).

It’s hilarious. Amazon, or sfpl.org

Octobrella December 11, 2019

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Mutants, Octopus, Photography, Publishing Tools.
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Post image

Purloined from reddit.

Moore’s Law, and Progress December 11, 2019

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An Accelerated Pace of Change

Moore’s Law has translated into a faster rate of change for society as a whole.

A new idea, like the smartphone, can get immediate traction because of instantaneous communication, increased global connectivity, and the ubiquity of information. New tech advancements can now change business or culture in a heartbeat:

The accelerating rate of technology adoption

Further, since software is a “layer” built upon the foundation of computing, it means that digital products can be replicated at almost no marginal cost. This is why a phenomenon like Pokémon Go was able to captivate 50 million users in just 19 days.

Imagine this kind of scalability, when applied to things like artificial intelligence or virtual reality.

–stolen freely from Visual Capitalist. I’m sure they’ll ask me to take it down soon. But look at the possibilities, people!

Moby Duck November 9, 2019

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Toys, Uncategorizable.
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IMG_20190630_161313250_HDR.jpg

That sucker is five feet long, children. Suitable for adults of all childish ages.

Capable Modular Robots November 9, 2019

Posted by stuffilikenet in Applications, Awesome, Geek Stuff, Science, Star Trek Technology, Toys, Video.
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 MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Laboratory’s M-Block robots can self-assemble into different structures. The little cubes (in development over the last six years) have gained the ability to jump, flip, spin, and recognize each other. A barcode-like system on each face of each cube, allowing them to identify the other cubes around them.

The engineers wanted to see if the M-Blocks could (for example) form a straight line or form a random structure using the new communication algorithms. They waited to see if the blocks could determine how they were connected, and then what direction they would need to move to create that line. They found that 90% of the block swarm knew which motion and guidance to move to accomplish the task. I’m curious to know what the other 10% did…

Engineers hope to create a more substantial swarm of blocks (>16) that can assemble to form more complex structures with new capabilities.

3D Scanning to Print (Photogrammetry) October 8, 2019

Posted by stuffilikenet in 3D Printing, Applications, Awesome, Geek Stuff, Photography, Publishing Tools, Star Trek Technology.
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Due to an unfortunate incident while moving from the ver parted lips of Hell (Greenville, CA) I have had to replace a few parts on my Casio CDP-120 piano keyboard. Basically, the highest key (C for those who need to know) was/is smashed and needs a replacement. Aha! I have this iPrusa printer and can whip up a new key post-haste using
Fusion360 to measure and design a new key.  Right?

No. It’s a part with surprisingly complex geometry, so I thought I would try photogrammetry to create a model and see how that works.  I never tried this before, so what could it hurt? Can’t be any harder than Fusion360 to master. Right?

No. There seems to be no (free as in beer) software which can do this which is simple enough for me to install (grumble, grumble) on this company Mac, and I’m not sure company policies built into the security suite on this company Mac would permit it (grumble, grumble) anyway. Since my replacement Windows box isn’t here yet (grumble, grumble) I have to pay for a cloud-based solution…Altizure.com.  So I took 56 pictures of the C key an octave down with my cellphone camera, submitted them to Altizure.com‘s loving embrace and was rewarded with a fairly competent render of my key:

Screen Shot 2019-10-08 at 11.06.36 AM.png

I say “fairly competent” because it has lots of hole in the sides.  No matter; I can probably fix it in software modify it in Fusion360 to fill in the holes.  I will likely need to use Fusion360 to get the dimensions useably correct in any case.

Now I have to steel myself to pay the subscription rate of something like $70 per project. It would be worth it if I was a company making a prototype with great prospects for the future…but I’m not (grumble, grumble).

The key costs about five bucks from Casio’s parts subcontractor, plus six or so to ship it. I know which I am going to choose.

It’s a shame, really; I was looking forward to monkeying around with it. Maybe next time.

However, I don’t give up easily; I got 3DF Zephyr and used the (limited to) 50 pictures in it at the highest defaults in the wizard to create this render:

c-key-3df zephyr

My army of loyal and discerning readers may notice a bit of degradation here and there…yeah.  I will try again, but this took an hour or so and was NOT automatically rendered, but went through stages. In all fairness it would have been shorter if my graphics card had CUDA…but I don’t have a graphics card, just whatever Lenovo thought was cheap but still enough to get by on. Still, it needs work, and it’s midnight.  Possibly updates to follow, if I get any sleep.

EXCITING UPDATE:

I got a better render with 50 pictures and the most extreme settings I could figure out:

c-3df-zephyr-2-extra tasty

It’s got the holes that Altizure’s render had, but 3DF Zephyr is free to use.  Now I have to figure out how to make the save-able form of this (an .obj file) into an .slt and thence to gcode. With luck, I will have a hideous key to use before my real one arrives.

 

 

 

Potential MRSA Treatment August 15, 2019

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Science.
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Scientists from UNC (North Carolina, not Northern Colorado) School of Medicine, in a study published in Cell Chemical Biology, found just adding molecules called rhamnolipids to aminoglycoside antibiotics, such as tobramycin,

Tobramycin.svg

makes them hundreds of times more potent against Staphylococcus aureus, including the strains that are otherwise very hard to kill.

We’re talking about MRSA here, folks.  This is a big damned deal. CDC says there were 119,000 cases of serious bloodstream Staph infections in the United States in the last year for which data is available (2017), of which more than 20,000 were fatal.

Take time to process that.

These rhamnolipids effectively loosen up the outer membranes of S. aureus cells so that aminoglycoside molecules can get into them more easily. In a new study, Conlon, Radlinski and colleagues tested rhamnolipid-tobramycin combinations against S. aureuspopulations that are particularly hard to kill in ordinary clinical practice. The researchers found that rhamnolipids boost tobramycin’s potency against:

  • S. aureus growing in low-oxygen niches;
  • MRSA (methicillin-resistant S. aureus), which are a family of dangerous S. aureus variants with genetically-acquired treatment resistance;
  • tobramycin-resistant S. aureus strains isolated from cystic fibrosis patients;
  • and “persister” forms of S. aureus that normally have reduced susceptibility to antibiotics because they grow so slowly.

They found this effect works in related families of antibiotics including gentamicin, amikacin, neomycin, and kanamycin, for the same reason and on Clostridioides difficile, which is a bit of a killer in its own right.

 

Homework:

Chemical Induction of Aminoglycoside Uptake Overcomes Antibiotic Tolerance and Resistance in Staphylococcus aureus; 

Giggling Maniac with Gatling Gun July 16, 2019

Posted by stuffilikenet in 3D Printing, Awesome, Geek Stuff, Toys, Uncategorizable, Uncategorized.
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It’s lovely what you can do with 3D printers. It is, of course, best illustrated by a cackling madman with a Gatling Gun.

 

EXCITING UPDATE: I tend to forget the excellent work done in a related space by Jeorg Sprave, a happy German fellow who specializes in rubber-driven devices for impelling various projectiles:

As the video shows, he is also a giggling maniac, just this time with an electric fully-automatic crossbow.

The Borgias, by G. J. Meyer May 28, 2019

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I have intended to read this book since I became aware of it several years ago. I am delighted to report it was worth the wait.  It’s history in its finest form; well-documented, with useful background explanations of the context of events which also elucidates their broader meaning and consequences.  And it’s pretty digestible, dramatic and sympathetic to the subjects (except Cesare; he was a right bastard).

Beginning with the elevation of the first Borgia pope and continuing until the death of Lucretia, we are treated to a careful dissection of the historical record (the Vatican kept detailed records) in order to understand the Borgia family’s actions  and the consequences of said actions. We are also treated to a thoughtful debunking of the myths surrounding Innocent VIII (first Borgia pope, who was elected pope just before his death) and Alexander VI (the long-reigning Borgia pope), Cesare and Lucretia and a bunch of lesser Borgias who got a job in Uncle Rodrigo’s business (that would be Alexander VI putting various relatives to work in the Vatican. Nepotism was pretty well accepted, and Alexander didn’t go overboard there, except in the case of Cesare).

I just noticed I’m starting to tell the whole story, which is not my intention[1]. The book does the subject justice, but it covers more than half a century in pretty fair detail, so I’m not going to recap that successfully on my lunch hour.[2] Read the book, it’s available at  Amazon (naturally) and at sfpl.org, where the booknoscenti get their audiobooks.

[1] But damn, it’s tempting.

[2] I’m just not that speedy a typist.

Frankenprinters May 14, 2019

Posted by stuffilikenet in 3D Printing, Awesome, Science, Toys.
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My army of loyal readers (hi, Mom!) will recall my fondness for and fascination with the promise of 3D printers, and similar robotic manufacturing techniques. I should have acquired several by now, but I am famously cheap thrifty and so never indulged this particular whim..until just a bit ago when I acquired three not-working printers from a cosplay parts dealer named Alder (last name redacted, because I never learned it) for a bargain price of a hundred bucks apiece.

image

They each had at least one major thing wrong, and all had some disconnected wiring. The middle one had a missing limit switch on the y-axis and a missing adjustment for the z-axis (it’s still missing; I am going to try and fix that this evening–look for exciting updates) limit switch.  I can’t tell what else is wrong with it until I stop threatening my build plate.

The left one needed a bit of wiring (fairly easy to find wiring diagrams for the boards attached, with a bit of intuition) and an adjustment to the z-axis limit switch and a new motherboard. The right one needed (may still need) a new heated build plate (I am currently using it as a PLA printer, so a hot plate is not so critical), wiring, z-axis adjustment and some patience, as I was a little too stupid to fix it myself when I bought these guys a while back.  I had to grow in confidence before I could troubleshoot. In fairness, the exhausting regimen of commuting between my work and home on weekends (six hours one way) really dampened my spirits.  I’m not usually such a coward.

I forget how many of them needed new hot ends or thermistors (two, I think) and rewiring to accomodate them.

Lastly, all needed new blue tape (very important; no adhesion without fresh tape!)

adhesion fixed.jpeg

and one needed new glass.  The first print (with new tape) did not photograph well:

sdhc swiss army knife.jpeg

I attribute poor image quality to beer; cameras should never drink.

 

This Speaks to Me May 14, 2019

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freee-kitten

3D Printing Progress May 10, 2019

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There’s going to be a lot of that, now that critical mass of commercial systems are available. new materials are being used in additive manufacturing and new devices have considerably expanded the capabilities of systems in terms of speed, build volume and finish. It’s an interesting moment in engineering history, and nobody knows where it will lead.

Printing with [anything besides plastics] is fraught with difficulty, so interesting methods have been tried for substances like metals, clay, frosting(!) with varying success. Two methods have lately shown promise in metal and glass(amazingly enough).

First, metals. The most common method of depositing metals has been to embed the metal in something a bit more fluid, like in an ink suspension. This has the usual effect of having poor mechanical adhesion, because after the fluid dries the metal may adhere to itself poorly (likely) and there may be fluid contamination trapped in the metal layers (very likely).  Researchers got around this with an entirely new method, using a sacrificial electrode to generate ions of the metal and spraying those ions electrostatically. You can get insanely small resolution using this technique:

…and you can print with more than one metal by building both into the tip and just switching voltage from one electrode to the other:

Elegant as hell, isn’t it?

Then, glass: a team in France using chalcogenide glass (which softens at a relatively low temperature compared to other glass) produced chalcogenide glass filaments with dimensions similar to the commercial plastic filaments normally used with the 3-D printer. The research team then increased the maximum extruding temperature of a commercial 3-D printer from around 260 °C to 330 °C.  The result is pretty interesting:

An interesting proof-of-concept piece, this points to novel uses for chalcogenide glass commonly used to make optical components that operate at mid-infrared wavelengths. It’s not likely to be used elsewhere, as it’s a “soft” glass, but the feat is going to be useful in optics fabrication. Also, there are some low-temperature metal alloys that could probably benefit from this technique.

 

Homework: Alain Reiser et al. Multi-metal electrohydrodynamic redox 3D printing at the submicron scale, Nature Communications (2019). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-09827-1

E. Baudet et al, 3D-printing of arsenic sulfide chalcogenide glasses, Optical Materials Express (2019). DOI: 10.1364/OME.9.002307

40Hz Light Pulses Stop Alzheimer’s May 10, 2019

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Brain, Geek Stuff, Science, Star Trek Technology.
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Neuroscientists at MIT have published a paper which demonstrates that 40Hz pulses of light can somehow inhibit the progress of neurodegeneration in mouse model. This study is designed to figure out how a flickering light could stifle cognitive decline, using two unique mouse models engineered to overproduced the toxic proteins that contribute to neurodegeneration. The animals were exposed to light flickering at 40 Hz for one hour every day for between three and six weeks. It worked a treat;  mice engineered to overproduce tau proteins (that usually cause neurodegeneration) displayed no neuronal degeneration after three weeks of treatment compared to a control group that displayed nearly 20 percent total neuronal loss. The other mouse model, engineered to produce a neurodegenerative protein called p25, displayed no neurodegeneration whatsoever during the entire six weeks of treatment.

 

mousebrains.jpeg

The researchers then zoomed in on the light-treated animal’s neurons and microglia to study whether the treatment induced any unusual changes in gene expression. The light-treated mice revealed increased neuronal expression of genes associated with synaptic function and DNA repair. In microglia, the brain’s immune cells, there was a decrease in genes associated with inflammation.

Nobody understands how a 40 Hz flickering light can trigger these specific changes to gene expression deep in the brain, but human trials testing the sound and light treatment in Alzheimer’s patients have already begun.

Note: Adding a 40 Hz auditory tone to the process improved the efficacy of this treatment.  Your elderly parents can benefit from this by using gnuaural, an open-source generator of binaural beats for meditation and other psychological effects.

Homework: https://www.cell.com/neuron/fulltext/S0896-6273(19)30346-0

Eifelheim, by Michael Flynn April 15, 2019

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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.

EXCITING UPDATE: I liked Flynn’s writing so well I started January Dancer, which I also recommend for wordplay alone. Possible review coming up, but I’m pretty sure it will be flattering.