Archive for January, 2005

Yahoo! News – Call for New ‘Manhattan Project’ to Fight Bioterror

January 28, 2005

Yahoo! News – Call for New ‘Manhattan Project’ to Fight Bioterror: “By Ben Hirschler

DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) – The world needs an effort similar to that behind the creation of the atomic bomb to tackle the multi-faceted threat of biowarfare, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Thursday.

‘We need to do something that even dwarfs the Manhattan project,’ Frist told the World Economic Forum (news – web sites) in Davos. The Manhattan project was the codename for the United States’s World War II effort to devise an atomic weapon.

‘The greatest existential threat we have in the world today is biological. Why? Because unlike any other threat it has the power of panic and paralysis to be global.'”


Oh man, if we can’t make an exciting story out of that…


AARON: A Product of Kurzweil CyberArt Technologies

January 27, 2005

AARON: A Product of Kurzweil CyberArt Technologies: “AARON is not your ordinary screensaver. Developed by Harold Cohen over a period of nearly thirty years, and productized by Kurzweil CyberArt Technologies, Inc., AARON is the first fine art screensaver to utilize artificial intelligence to continuously create original paintings on your PC.”


Art (and poetry) created by a computer? That brings up the question, does something become art by being created or by being interpreted?

Heart Auscultation and Sound Processing

January 26, 2005

Heart Auscultation and Sound Processing: “Our Mission

To become the leading provider of non-invasive sound-based software diagnosis tools for the early detection of heart diseases. Our company’s philosophy is that early detection requires instant availability of testing tools, intrinsic ability to detect weak signs of silent diseases, safety and simplicity of interpretations.”


Non-invasive medical testing is totally science fiction. Of course, like all new technology, it could also be used for evil. I’m thinking as a novelist of course, so having these ideas don’t make me distubed. The voices in my head do that (just kidding…they’re completely harmless).

Imagine a world (fictional) where Big Brother remotely monitors your heart rate to spot when you lie. Or maybe samething nicer-a gym with an AI trainer that monitors your heart rate and automatically adjusts your workout as you exercise?

PhysOrg: Petrified Wood in Days

January 25, 2005

PhysOrg: Petrified Wood in Days: “California has Silicon Valley. Could a Silicon Forest in Washington be next? A team of materials scientists from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is on it.

Yongsoon Shin and colleagues at the Department of Energy lab have converted wood to mineral, achieving in days what it takes nature millions of years to do in such places as the Gingko Petrified Forest, an hour up the Columbia River. There, trees likely felled in a cataclysmic eruption and, buried without oxygen beneath lava, leached out their woody compounds and sponged up the soil’s minerals over the eons. ”


Pretty wild. I can see artists one day making wood carvings, then petrifying them. Or take your favorite bonsai and preserve it.

Yahoo! News – UN Storm Brews Over Hurricane-Global Warming Link

January 21, 2005

Yahoo! News – UN Storm Brews Over Hurricane-Global Warming Link: “NEW YORK (Reuters) – A U.S. government hurricane scientist has resigned from the United Nations (news – web sites)’ science panel on climate change because, he said, a lead author in the group had too strongly linked global warming to hurricanes.

The issue of whether climate change is leading to increased severity of hurricanes came to a head late last year at a conference at Harvard University where researchers, including the school’s Dr. Paul Epstein, said recent storms, droughts and heat waves are probably being caused by global warming.

The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which evaluates the state of climate science as a basis for informed policy action concluded in its most recent report that greenhouse gases from autos and industry contribute to global warming.”


And thus in our hypothetical thriller, political strife ensues after a bad hurricane season, where heavy hit nations blame greenhouse gas producing nations for the damage to thier country and people.

Yahoo! News – Global Warming May Have Caused Extinction -Study

January 21, 2005

Yahoo! News – Global Warming May Have Caused Extinction -Study: “WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Global warming (news – web sites) and not a giant asteroid may have nearly wiped out life on Earth some 250 million years ago, an international team of scientists said on Thursday.

The mass extinction, known as the ‘Great Dying,’ extinguished 90 percent of sea life and nearly three-quarters of land-based plants and animals.

There has been recent evidence that a big asteroid or meteor hit the Earth and triggered the catastrophe, but researchers say they now have evidence that something much more long-term — global warming — was the culprit.

Kliti Grice of Curtin University of Technology in Perth, Australia, and colleagues studied sediment cores drilled off the coasts of Australia and China and found evidence the ocean was lacking oxygen and full of sulfur-loving bacteria at that time.

This finding would be consistent with an atmosphere low in oxygen and poisoned by hot, sulfurous, volcanic emissions, they wrote in a report published in the journal Science.

A second team led by Peter Ward at the University of Washington looked at fossil evidence in South Africa and found little evidence of a catastrophe and instead signs of a gradual die-off.

They examined 126 reptile and amphibian skulls from the Karoo Basin in South Africa, where there is an exposed piece of dried sediment from the end of the Permian Era and the beginning of the Triassic, 250 million years ago.”


There’s a good plot, world slowly dying due to environmental degredation, but the general population won’t do anything to stop it. Then a world devestating catastrophy looms and forces people into action. It has Jerry Bruckheimer written all over it.

Northern California Science Writers Association (NCSWA)

January 20, 2005

Northern California Science Writers Association (NCSWA): “Reporters, freelancers, university science writers, students and others interested in science — together, we make up the Northern California Science Writers Association with some 250 members. Our web site includes information about NCSWA (pronounced NICK SWA), our activities, our officers, and how to become a member. Welcome, please indulge your curiosity, and we appreciate your feedback.”


Hmmm, I may have to join these guys. I do some “science writing” after all. Maybe I’ll be a little hush hush about the biotech thriller I’m writing until after they accept me as one of thier own.

GeneOhm Technology Platform

January 19, 2005

GeneOhm has some interesting technology…

GeneOhm || Technology Platform: “GeneOhm Sciences has developed a proprietary platform for multiplexed molecular diagnostics. GeneOhm leverages the unique electrical properties of nucleic acids to identify genetic mutations that cause disease and to detect the RNA or DNA of pathogenic organisms. Using DNA-modified microelectrode arrays, our platform provides a robust, cost-effective solution for rapidly addressing multiple analytes in molecular diagnostic assays.”


It looks like they can detect mutations by measuring electrical properties instead of sequencing. Hmm, interesting…

The Environmental Movement

January 19, 2005

I had a good discussion the other day that stemmed from a comment about hybrid and fuel cell car technology. My point was that, for good or ill, change will pretty much have to come from economic forces. In a world where so much is dictated by economics, capitalism is a strong evolutionary driver. Certainly it isn’t always true, but let’s face it, if recycled printer paper costs twice as much as regular paper, which are most people going to buy? And if a third world country can get more money and food by fishing with gill nets or hunting whales, are they going to opt for starvation?

Another driving factor is that people seem to generally be short sighted. Hey, they say, we can make lots of money by chopping down these trees and selling them! But they don’t think about what happens when the trees are all gone. Or maybe they do and plan to farm cattle? Why worry about alternate fuel sources or increased gas milage when we can drill oil here at home?

Ok, enough ranting. I’m just trying to say thats how people will behave unless there is some outside influence (e.g. oil embargo forcing folks to get more efficient cars). I’m not trying to say whats good or evil. Well, ok, maybe a little. But the point is that to help preserve the environment, maybe our efforts are better spent by making the more environmentally safe alternative also the more economic choice. Education is important and helps a lot, at least here in the States (I’m sure some will argue one way or the other), but how much does that affect the rest of the world? Me not buying shark fin soup in California won’t ever stop fisherman from other countries from shark finning. No matter how many friends I get to stop eating it.

But what does this all have to do with science and writing. Well, it makes a great setting for a techno-thriller.

  • Maybe genetically modified foods provide a better source of income for farmers in Columbia, so they stop growing drug percursor plants. It could be a secret CIA funded plan.
  • Or a high tech “organ farm” is used to grow shark fins and bear testicles or whatever other weird thing people like to eat or do whatever with for “non-traditional” medicine.
  • Perhaps a natural (or terrorist driven) disaster forces us off of oil as a fuel source, and an alternative has to be found quickly before the world society degenerates to a pre-industrial era.

I think there are lots of ideas here, beyond Tom Clancy’s take on it in Rainbow Six (enviromentalists are evil).

New keyboard

January 15, 2005

I just fired up my FingerWorks Dvorak keyboard, which measures capacitance to recognize keystrokes. Very science fictiony, but making the switch to Dvorak is painful. I’m told it will all be worth it.