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

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Books, Brilliant words.
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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.

This Speaks to Me May 14, 2019

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Photography.
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freee-kitten

3D Printing Progress May 10, 2019

Posted by stuffilikenet in 3D Printing, Applications, Awesome, Geek Stuff.
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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.

At left is the brain of a mouse genetically programmed to develop Alzheimer’s disease. At right,...

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

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.

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.

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 the 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?

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

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

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Video.
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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

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Science, Toys, Video.
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WANT!

Sodom and Gomorrah: Boom Towns December 6, 2018

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Brilliant words, Science.
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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?

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.”

Homework:

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.

Wound-healing by Alternating Current November 30, 2018

Posted by stuffilikenet in Applications, Awesome, Science.
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Abstract Image

Scientists at University of Wisconsin have made bandages that can cut (see what I did there?) wound-healing time from two weeks to three days. By passing small alternating currents through the wound (see above) the bandage encourages the fibroblasts to line up in scaffold formation, speeding recovery. It is thought that “biochemical substances that promote tissue growth” are also encouraged by the current.

Interestingly, the current in this experiment was supplied by nanogenerators in a belt around the patients which uses breathing motions to generate the current.

Homework:Yin Long et al. Effective Wound Healing Enabled by Discrete Alternative Electric Fields from Wearable Nanogenerators, ACS Nano (2018). DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.8b07038 (Am. Chem Soc. journals are paywalled, usually, but this one is available now.  Hurry, hurry, hurry!)

Type II Diabetes Prediction by Skin Autofluorescence November 27, 2018

Posted by stuffilikenet in Awesome, Science, Star Trek Technology.
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Despite amazing improvements in understanding of diabetes, something like one in ten humans is Type II diabetic.  Take a minute to absorb that; about half a billion people. Very, very obviously better medical tools and interventions are needed, since we as a species seem incapable of eating right (there are other factors, too; I don’t blame anyone for enjoying food). Researchers in the Netherlands and Canada have published a study using skin autofluorescence to detect some markers which accurately predict onset of Type II diabetes in the short term of about four years…unless they die first.

It’s a good study; 72,000 patients. “After a median follow-up of 4 years (range 0.5–10 years), 1056 participants (1.4%) had developed type 2 diabetes, 1258 individuals (1.7%) were diagnosed with CVD, while 928 (1.3%) had died. Baseline skin autofluorescence was elevated in participants with incident type 2 diabetes and/or CVD [(myocardial infarction, coronary interventions, cerebrovascular accident, transient ischemic attack, intermittent claudication or vascular surgery)-ed.] and in those who had died (all p < 0.001), compared with individuals who survived and remained free of the two diseases. Skin autofluorescence predicted the development of type 2 diabetes, CVD and mortality, independent of several traditional risk factors, such as the metabolic syndrome, glucose and HbA1c.”.

In high-tech terms this isn’t tough; a one-inch square is illuminated with 300-420nm UV and the fluorescence at 420-600nm.  They took the ratio of the two.  They did chemical workups on fasting blood samples as well: “On the same day, HbA1c (EDTA-anticoagulated) was analyzed using an NGSP-certified turbidimetric inhibition immunoassay on a Cobas Integra 800 CTS analzser (Roche Diagnostics Nederland, Almere, the Netherlands). Serum creatinine was measured on a Roche Modular P chemistry analyzer (Roche, Basel, Switzerland) and renal function was calculated as estimated (e)GFR with the formula developed by the Chronic Kidney Disease Epidemiology Collaboration (CKD-EPI) [31]. Total cholesterol and HDL-cholesterol were measured using an enzymatic colorimetric method, triacylglycerol using a colorimetric UV method, and LDL-cholesterol using an enzymatic method, on a Roche Modular P chemistry analyzer (Roche). Fasting blood glucose was measured using a hexokinase method.”

Without doing the rather more expensive bloodwork, a skin fluorescence gizmo could be made cheaply available.  It’s an excellent first step.

Homework:

Manufactured Human Organs November 20, 2018

Posted by stuffilikenet in 3D Printing, Awesome, Brain, Science, Star Trek Technology.
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Scientists at Tel Aviv University have created human organs (little ones but, hey) from a bit of biopsied tissues.  They separated the cells from the rest, induced pluripotency and built up organs in differentiated cell layers on a gel scaffolding.  They were able to grow cardiac, spinal and cortical cells from the biopsy sample.

This is critical to success: the cells are the patient’s own cells, with little chance of immune system rejection.  These guys (Tal Dvir, Reuven Edri, NAdav Noor, Idan Gal, Dan Peer and Irit Gat Viks) are currently engaged in regenerating an injured spinal cord and an infarcted heart with spinal cord and cardiac implants. They have also begun to investigate the potential of human dopaminergic implants to treat Parkinson’s disease in animal models.

They have big plans for this technology: “We believe that the technology of engineering fully personalized tissue implants of any type will allow us to regenerate any organ with a minimal risk of immune response,” Prof. Dvir concludes.

Homework: Reuven Edri et al, Personalized Hydrogels for Engineering Diverse Fully Autologous Tissue Implants, Advanced Materials (2018). DOI: 10.1002/adma.201803895