It's been a while since I have posted about which books I am reading.
Not much new, in fact, I haven't had the time to finish Dr Tatiana's (now a TV series!)yet, which is OK for casual reading since it's made of short letters. It usually makes my cess-pit-stops (can I say this on a blog?) more interesting.
And, to celebrate the start of my Mechelen-2-Turnhout daily commuting, I have started reading Stephen Baxter's Exultant. A book settled 28000 years in the future, in the Xeelee sequence as one of his fctitious universe is known. I previously read Timelike Infinity:
Set thousands of years in the future (5407AD), the human race has been conquered by the Qax, a truly alien turbulent-liquid form of life, who now rule over the few star systems of human space - adopting processes from human history to effectively oppress the resentful race. Humans have encountered a few other races, including the astoundingly advanced Xeelee, and been conquered once before - by the Squeem - but successfully recovered.
A human-built device, the Interface project, returns to the solar system after 1,500 years. The project, towed by the spaceship Cauchy, returns a wormhole gate, appearing to offer time travel due to the time 'difference' between the exits of the wormhole (relativistic time dilation), with one end having remained in the solar system and the other traveling at near lightspeed for a century. The Qax had destroyed the solar system gate, but a lashed-up human ship (a great chunk of soil including Stonehenge, crewed by a group called the Friends of Wigner) passes through the returning gate, traveling back to the unconquered humanity of 1,500 years ago.
I also read Ring, previously, where the Xeelee sequence kind of come to an end, at least in this universe. I did skip Flux, since, even if the premise of the book looks cool, with microscopic humans transcribed on a neutron star's surface used as weapon against the Xeelee Ring, it doesn't strike me as enough interesting to build a whole book out of it. May be I'll recover it later.
But let's get back to Exultant. Humankind has been at war with the all-powerful Xeelee, princes of the creation, for the past 25000 years, and the conquest of the galaxy has stalled all around the Galaxy core for some 3 thousand years or so. The part I've read until now is all about the struggle of few humans to find a new way to hit the Xeelee, exploiting a time-travel computing machine able to overcome the computing power which is apparently the Xeelee's single greatest advantage over humans. And here, in my humble opinion, start the problems. I can imagine a war lasting 28 thousand years. I can understand that the whole society gets restructured and forced by this prolonged state of war, as so many resources are devoted to destructive means and not to improving humankind's condition. Still, the world depicted by baxter seems to me grossly unrealistic - their technology seems to be pretty advanced, yet their fundamental science seems to be still stuck at our times. Also, I really can't believe that in 25 thousand years of FTL fighting, nobody else ever thought about the FTL-CPU. Mah... The lost technologies seems to be lost forever, as in the ability of humans of 20000 years before to create exotic matter and wormholes. It would be like us complaining that nobody today knows how to make a decent spearhead out of a piece of rock. For sure I don't right now, but if I needed one, I'd learn how to - in fact I know how hard is to get obsidian's arrowheads since I did try this when I was a teenager. The character in the book seems to be dumb, compared to today's humans.
Also, if the Xeelee are so powerful, how come that we managed to get hold of the whole galaxy, just with stolen technology? And how come that our competition hasn't spurred the Xeelee to improve their own technology? I really can't envisage a 3 thousand years long stalemate, not without at least an attempt to armistice. And if the xeelee really think of us as vermins, why on hell they didn't sterilise Earth before we took off to the stars? Mah...
Other than that, the book offer the usual assortment of nice characters, albeit stereotyped and not as well developed as those from, for example, Peter F Hamilton books, whos story doesn't push that far in the future, but certainly looks more realistic.
In general, I probably resent Baxter incredibly pessimistic view of aliens. I mean, I am no Star Trek fan, for sure, but really can't imagine that the Xeelee would not ask for other races help rather than trying to accomplish what they're up to on their own. And I really can't believe that an alien race would subjugate us just because they can, wiping out our ecosystem - I mean, one thing is to decimate human, this could also be OK. But if I were an alien, I would make sure that I kept as much as I can of Earth biology base intact, if nothing else 'cause some strange compound may turn out to be useful to me.
Even worst is the way humans treat their home planet. Ok that the Squeem, then the Qax made a mess out of it. Ok that most of their ancient knowledge has been lost, after thousand of years of occupation. But seriously, do you really think that we would drill down to the core of Earth to get Iron out of a deep gravity weel when so much of it is available for the grab in countless asteroids all around this system and other that we can easily accesswith our mighty spaceships? Please Stephen, be serious and check your economics.
All in all, I still like it enough to push until the end, hopefully it'll get better.
(edit: why is it so easy to review a book, and so hard to write my goddamn papers?)
Friday, June 08, 2007
It's been a while since I have posted about which books I am reading.
Chalk (imdb vote 7.4 right now) has just been reviewed by the NY Times.
It looks pretty realistic, exception made for when it becomes a half-hearted musical.
I'll keep an eye on it. For the moment, enjoy the trailer (I don't have the time to - too busy blogging)
seen the trailer. and read the review. kind of depressing really. More or less adherent to what I always thought being a teacher in high school must be. Once I came out of there, I swore I'd never go back to teach. whatever happens, anything is better than having to do with uninterested students.
Also, surf's up is reviewed, Sony's first digital feature (I blogged about it long ago).
here's the trailer:
I went back to youtube looking for answers to "The web is Us/ing us", and found instead this nice clip with voiceover from V 4 Vendetta and pictures courtesy of the George W Bush administration. - a.k.a miserable failure - a propos of that, Google says they haven't stopped it, yet now when you look up the term on google you only get news about it and not GWB's official biography - I guess China isn't too far away for all of us...
anyway, here's the video: enjoy.
Thursday, June 07, 2007
Time for boasting... See, my GF is a doctor, and she works with strongly immuno-depressed patients - actually, she does immuno-depresses them on purpose, by destroying their immune system in the attempt to treat them from Leukemia or other hematological disease.
So, these patients have to be kept in sterile room, where air is micro-(nano?)filtered and such - still some bacteria manage to evade the strict surveillance, then she has to wack them down with robust doses of antibiotics. I asked her how do they manage the emergence of resistant strains, and she answered "with great care" - for every infection, they use the narrowest possible antibiotics of proven efficacy, to avoid selection of other species concurring. They're helped by infectivists for this. It's a field of their own, a kind of weapon expert in a lethal war against an invisible and extremely adaptable enemy.
So, I boasted my knowledge of the subject, asking her about MRSA, which I discovered on the news when I was in the UK: and she totally blew me away, touting MRSA as a beginner, compared to Pseudomonas Aeruginosa.
The wikipedia talks about it eloquently:
P. aeruginosa is naturally resistant to a large range of antibiotics and may demonstrate additional resistance after unsuccessful treatment, particularly through modification of a porin. It should usually be possible to guide treatment according to laboratory sensitivities, rather than choosing an antibiotic empirically. If antibiotics are started empirically, then every effort should be made to obtain cultures and the choice of antibiotic used should be reviewed when the culture results are available.
So, this bacterium is incredibly quick to adapt, and in immuno-depressed patients is often fatal - so I was told.
Moreover, it can live in Diesel tanks, drinking it happily and corroding the engine (ok, not directly, but its waste do, when combusting).
I went to bed sure that I found the toughest, most dangerous little bugger around.
Nost so fast, 'cause today I visited Aetiology, and ta-dah! there's a tougher nut to crack in microbiology:
Deinococcus radiodurans, a fascinating organism that's able to withstand many different extremes: genotoxic chemicals, oxidative damage, high levels of ionizing and ultraviolet radiation, dehydration, and, as the name suggests, incredibly high doses of radiation. (We're talking high--up to 5,000 Gy without breaking a sweat, while it only takes about 10 Gy to kill a human). However, despite 50 years of study, no one's really figured out just how it does it, though some clues (such as higher levels of manganese and low levels of iron) have emerged that make D. radiodurans stand out). Over at Small Things Considered, a recent paper is highlighted suggesting that these minerals protect not the DNA from damage, but instead, the proteins:
The researchers postulated that manganese ions transform damaging superoxide radicals (which can't easily cross the cell membrane) into hydrogen peroxide, which can be excreted. Indeed, resistant cells excrete peroxide following radiation exposure.
The original site reports:
...what could eat radioactive waste? In 1956, researchers in Corvallis, Oregon were sterilizing canned meat with gamma radiation, when something unusual happened: the food spoiled. A.W. Anderson, leading the study at the Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station, was surprised. What sort of organism could survive high doses of radiation and keep on snacking? Upon closer inspection, he found a cluster of odd, thick-celled bacteria, which he called Micrococcus radiodurans. The name was later changed to Deinococcus radiodurans, but the organism had already earned a nickname: Conan the Bacterium.
So, it does not really feast on radioactive waste, but it's pretty open to everyting else:
In most ways, D. radiodurans metabolizes in a similar manner to all bacteria. It is an obligatory heterotroph, taking sustenance from just about anything it can get. In this manner, D. radiodurans acts like well-known bacteria, such as Escherichia coli or Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
Now comes the best part: where does it come from?
Since the first experiments with nuclear fission in the 1930s, quite a bit of nuclear waste has accumulated. As a result, there are now many environments where D. radiodurans may thrive. Before this time, however, radioactive materials were relatively rare. So where was Conan hanging out in the meantime? A few Russian scientists suggested in 2002 that it may have evolved on Mars, where it would have faced higher levels of cosmic radiation (Clark, 1.) Even further out in the Solar System, potential signs of D. radiodurans have been found.
Galileo’s Near Infrared Mapping Spectrometer captured a false-color image of Jupiter’s moon, Europa, (figure 6) revealing an unusual spectrum. Some have speculated that the discoloration is caused by something like Conan the Bacterium. “Though speculative, it is conceivable that explosions of icy slush or melt-throughs ferried extremophile organisms to Europa’s surface, where they stained the ice,” wrote Kristin Leutwyler in her book, The Moons of Jupiter (Leutwyler 126.)
May be not that far. Radiation levels up there may be strong enough to kill even this tough SoB.
So, you'd think that one would refrain from modifying this little critter, for fear it escapes our control and eats us alive? After all, similar species are found in the feces of various animals, so may be it could get inside ours and turn us into puppets... scary!
No, 'cause Frankenstein is always busy, and some scientists actually managed to splice in Conan some new gene, making it resistant to high mercury levels too - courtesy of our dear intestinal friend E. Coli. The idea would be to use it to get rid of toxic waste.
By combining the radioactive resistance of D. radiodurans with the ability to process heavy metals, they created a powerful tool for the processing of toxic waste. Their goal was to create a strain of D. radiodurans that could both “confer resistance to the most common metallic waste constituents” and “transform those metals to less toxic and less soluble chemical forms.” (Brim, et al. 85.)
The experiment was quite successful, as the modified bacteria thrived in a radioactive, mercury-rich environment. Brim commented, “This remarkable genome plasticity shows that D. radiodurans is able to maintain, replicate, and express extremely large segments of foreign DNA, and that it will probably be able to accommodate the large number of gene cassettes required for bioremediation of complex waste mixtures.” In other words, if Conan the Bacterium is put to work, he does the job.
Where is Conan the Bacterium going from here? With nuclear power and weapons disposal, we are creating new habitats in which it can flourish. Is diversity in these habitats possible—or does the unique system of DNA repair indicate that it is unlikely to evolve? Perhaps, it was, until we came along to give it a job or two. We still have much to learn about the potentials and abilities of D. radiodurans. Whether it comes to the natural disposal of radioactive waste, or the simple adaptation to stress, Conan the Bacterium, is truly our ancient hero in microscopic form.
The conclusion, I have to admit, I thought of before reading it. After all, if life is that tough, there will surely be something left alive to restart even if we were to fuck up the ecosystem almost completely. Since this bacteria is so plastic, I'm betting on him as the next center of biological diversity, once we are done with the job of eliminating the present one. In Conan's view, we are just making him a favour.
The NY Times has an interesting piece on how the technology marketplace is coming of age for women too.
Not only pink GSM, but stylish-friendly LCD Tvs and stealth hi-fi speakers.
Some producers such as Energizer go as far as making separate models for men and women:
The Dock & Go, at $33, is aimed at men. Black and gray with shiny trim, the two pods hold up to four batteries each (AA or AAA). A light glows red when it is charging, yellow when it is charged.
The second device, the $20 Easy Charger, is aimed at women, who usually end up managing the household’s batteries. This charger is flat, round and sold with interchangeable faceplates in silver, black and eggshell that help it blend in with kitchen appliances. Large light-emitting-diode readouts spell out what the countertop charger is doing at every phase of the charging cycle. Focus-group testing indicated that men were turned off by the Easy Charger, especially in how its readouts appeared to tell them what they thought they already knew, said Mandy Iswarienko, the brand manger for rechargeable products.
“We found that how people use chargers is very different,” she said. “For her, she wants it to be instantly understandable.”
What can I say? I'm amazed, since some years ago I witnessed the opposite phenomenon, with washing machines finally built with dials and settings easily understandable by men.
Atropa Belladonna, is featured once again on the Botany Photo of the Day.
The epithet belladonna translates to “beautiful lady”. The reason commonly cited for the name is the attractiveness caused by the pupil dilation that accompanies an application of atropine to the eye (this technique was used centuries ago as part of make-up preparations). I'm not entirely convinced, though, as I have a suspicion that the name predates that practice. Perhaps it has more to do with the legend of the plant metamorphosizing into a woman on Walpurgis Night.
May be it doesn't work, but... trying can't hurt.
I like Men's Health, never buyed it myself, but enjoyed reading it whenever my brother brought it home. The articles inside are always the same - "how to make her crazy in bed" - "Pump up your Abs" - "Dress to Impress" or some thing like this, every single number. Yet they are readable and funny most of the time. once every two or three months can't hurt.
They do have a website too, whioch I just discovered (honest, I swear) thanks to digg.
The exercise shown above should apparently take the stress out of sitting on a keyboard all day long. I'll try it out...
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
They said that Miserable Faulure will continue to lead to President Bush's official website and they will not do anything to change that. I guess they might even support that, but who knows....We are the machine, and they have to acknowledge the will of the many.
read more | digg story
Just subscribed to digg. Found this news, and wanted to try to post it directly on my own blog. I looks like it's working.
During a recent interview by AllThingsDigital, Bill Gates hints at his hopes of a near-future “natural input” control scheme for gaming. He stated that it will be better than the Wii’s technology, because Gates’ contraption would revolve around an “all seeing eye,” a camera, which would know what was going on...
I agree with the poster. Also, I believe that swinging a racket or a baseball bat is going to hurt people around you more than the Wii Controller.
Does he wants us to play SSX on a balanced Snowboard too?
read more | digg story
I have been pondering about presenting some of my work on this blog, or arguments related which I get to study. Of course, i can't present results, nor formulas, since those are proprietary. On the other hand, I am admittedly and shamelessly very sloppy when it comes to doing literature research, so my knowledge of the fields I've been working on is (much) less than perfect.
Still, I'd like to give it a shot. May be one day... or as soon as some of the work's or PhD's papers are written and published. Then I can go into more details about them. Can't I?
Spiderman 3 Sucks. I am not the only one who thinks so.
here's the reasons why:
Peter & Mary spent time in the park.
Meteor w/ the black symbiote crashes nearby.
Harry prepares to be "New Goblin".
Flint escapes jail, becomes Sandman.
Peter finds out Flint killed Ben.
Symbiote attaches to Spider-Man.
Spider-Man almost kills Sandman.
Peter becomes emo.
Eddie hates Peter and Spider-Man.
Peter starts up with Gwen.
Harry tries to trap Peter.
Peter burns Harry (who had amnesia).
After Mary incident, Peter plans to get rid of symbiote.
Eddie becomes Venom.
Venom sort of looks like Carnage and Spider-Man
Venom teams with the NOT-dead Sandman.
They kidnap Mary.
Spider-Man & "New Goblin" team up.
Venom kills Harry.
Spider-Man throws a pumpkin bomb.
Sandman blows away (maybe dead, maybe not).
Peter and Mary go to Harry's funeral.
They re-establish their relationship.
The movie ends.
People go home and punch things in frustration.
yes I am a counter whore... just posting about spiderman 'cause makes the counter tick...
more meaningful posts later on, now I've got to rush to my second dutch lesson. (plin!)
Monday, June 04, 2007
We are the web, says WiReD. Who am I to contradict such an authoritative voice? Especially since I fully agree. The power is in our hands, whatever government, majors and other established powers would like us to think.
Like C|Net aptly put it, There's a blog born every half second. How can you control, let alone stop such information landslide?
Thanks to "The Machine is Us/ing US" for making me discover these two articles.
Sunday, June 03, 2007
Just a quick post to updqate you on the state of my life.
I've spent the last week dsmantling our two apartments, and merging them together in Mechelen/Malines. Nice living together, although we need to adjust to each other willl now, much more than before.
Hopefully, in the next few days I'll also find the time to post pictures of yesterday's trip to Amsterdam with my colleagues. No pictures of the red light district, though, which I found quite disturbing.
More to follow.
Today is too nice to be spent in front of a pc. I'm grabbing the bike and cycling round my new city, hunting for swimming pools and gyms to subscribe to.