Thursday, June 12, 2008


Saturday, June 07, 2008

Grist Life the universe and everything
Category: Life

I'm blown away by this

Every Single Day

Post 6011 by Warren Ellis on June 7th, 2008 in shivering sands

Today we learned that our universe may well have "bubbled off" from a previous one. That, in fact, our universe may well be nothing but one of a chain of entire serial realities. Or, perhaps, universes cluster like frogspawn in the pondwater of some unimaginable hyperreal superfluid:

Their model suggests that new universes could be created spontaneously from apparently empty space. From inside the parent universe, the event would be surprisingly unspectacular…"a universe could form inside this room and we'd never know".

This apparently has a further implication: that the Big Bang (from our end — obviously an inaudible farting sound on the other end) of bubbling off from a previous universe meant that our universe emerged in ordered condition, rather than accidental chaos. This preserves the Second Law Of Thermodynamics, which says that systems progress from order to disorder, which explains why time runs in one direction. Serial universes explain the arrow of time.

In my slightly whiskied state tonight, this also suggests to me that time never ends. There was time before the very beginnings of the universe, and there will be time after the end of our universe. All the time in the world. Also, check this out:

Detailed measurements made by the satellite have shown that the fluctuations in the microwave background are about 10% stronger on one side of the sky than those on the other. Sean Carroll conceded that this might just be a coincidence, but pointed out that a natural explanation for this discrepancy would be if it represented a structure inherited from our universe's parent.

Let me repeat that bit. The universe may have an inherited structure. Like a RepRap machine, a self-replicating object. Turn this one around in your head tonight: what if a universe is a thing that builds more universes? Or a postbiological animal that reproduces more universes in n-dimensional space?

We learn stuff like this every single day. Every single goddamned day a new idea just falls out of the sky.

Who'd want to live anywhere else?

GRIST Apophenia
Category: Psychology, Science

Apopheniais the experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data. The term was coined in 1958 by Klaus Conrad, who defined it as the "unmotivated seeing of connections" accompanied by a "specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness".

"While observations of relevant work environments and human behaviors in these environments is a very important first step in coming to understand any new domain, this activity is in and of its self not sufficient to constitute scientific research. It is fraught with problems of subjective bias in the observer. We (like the experts we study) often see what we expect to see, we interpret the world through our own personal lens. Thus we are extraordinarily open to the trap of apophenia."[1]

In statistics, apophenia would be classed as a Type I error (false positive, false alarm, caused by an excess in sensitivity). Apophenia is often used as an explanation of some paranormal and religious claims, and can also be used to explain the tendency of humans to believe pseudoscience such as Intelligent design[2]. Apophenia may be linked to psychosis and creativity.

Friday, June 06, 2008

’Grist, In a Nut shell,Teppes Machine: Time-travelling’ bugs resist antibiotics of the future,
Category: News Politics, Science

'Time-travelling' bugs resist antibiotics of the future

* 12:42 06 June 2008
* news service .. --> google_ad_section_end -->
* Ewen Callaway

Bacteria lurking in soil in the 1960s and 70s resist an antibiotic that didn't exist until decades later. Three strains of what amount to future-predicting bacteria showed extreme resistance to six common antibiotics, including ciprofloxacin, which was first sold in 1989.

"You can pretty safely say that there is no way these bacteria have seen them before," says Cristiane San Miguel, a microbiologist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, US. She presented the findings this week at the American Society for Microbiology's annual meeting in Boston, US.

One strain of soil bacteria was even able to fend off a dose of ciprofloxacin that would be lethal to humans.

Dirt seems to be a rich source of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which probably developed such defences as part of the evolutionary arms race that has been going on for billions of years between soil-dwelling microbes.

Many antibiotics drugs come from naturally occurring molecules produced by soil bacteria and fungi, though some drugs, such as Cipro (the brand name of ciprofloxacin), have been developed in the lab.
Bacteria to the future

To determine whether resistance to new drugs can be found in soil, San Miguel and her colleague Robert Tate turned to a company that stocks thousands of strains of frozen bacteria.

Her team revived three strains: two of them opportunistic pathogens called Klebsiella pneuomoniae that were isolated from dirt in 1973 and 1974, then frozen; the third, a bug called Alcaligenes, last tasted agar in 1963.

All the strains flourished when San Miguel exposed them to a range of antibiotics, many still used to battle infections.

Perplexingly, all the bacteria fended off a lethal dose of rifampicin, an antibiotic introduced in 1967, and Cipro, a 19-year-old drug that resembles nothing seen in nature. "I was certainly expecting the Cipro to have an impact and it did not," she says.
Ancient genes

Next San Miguel plans to determine the genes responsible for the resistance.

Gerry Wright, a microbiologist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, says soil bacteria are probably a trove of antibiotic resistance that finds its way to human pathogens.

"The origins of many of the antibiotic resistance genes that are floating around in the clinic are out in the environment and have probably been out there for thousands and millions of years," he says.

Bacteria needn't be exposed to a specific antibiotic to develop resistance, and he suggests that natural variation or prior exposure to undiscovered Cipro-like molecules could explain the bacteria's retroactive resistance.

GRIST, IN A NUTSHELL , TEPPES MACHINE WORK JOURNAL Zombie caterpillars controlled by voodoo wasp
Category: News and Politics

I am frightened by this, but also perversely fascinated. It reminds me of a George Romero movie. Also, the concept seems not too far from the concept of Stargates Symbiotic/Parasite the Goa'uld.
Zombie caterpillars controlled by voodoo wasps

* 00:01 04 June 2008
* news service

* Catherine Brahic

Parasitic wasp larvae control the behaviour of their caterpillar hosts, forcing them to watch over them like bodyguards

Watch the full-size video

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Forget needy teenagers – the pros of manipulative behaviour are parasitoid wasps.

Having partially developed inside caterpillars, the larvae of the wasps manipulate their hosts into watching over them as a mother or bodyguard might.

A team that has done extensive field studies with infected caterpillars say they have the first conclusive proof that the manipulative behaviour of some parasitoids increases their chance of survival.

The parasitoid wasp Glyptapanteles lays its eggs, about 80 at a time, in young geometrid caterpillars. The eggs hatch and the larvae feed on the caterpillar's body fluids. When they are fully developed, they eat through the caterpillar's skin, attach themselves to a nearby branch or leaf and wrap themselves up in a cocoon.
Sticking around

At this point, something remarkable and slightly eerie happens.

The caterpillar, still alive, behaves as though controlled by the cocooned larvae. Instead of going about its usual daily business, it stands arched over the cocoons without moving away or feeding.

The caterpillar – now effectively a zombie – stays alive until the adult wasps hatch.

"We don't know exactly what kills the caterpillars, but it is fascinating that the moment of death seems to be tuned to the duration of the wasp's pupal stage," says Arne Janssen of the University of Amsterdam.
Bodyguard slave

Janssen and colleagues at the Brazilian Federal University of Viçosa noticed that when they moved a paintbrush towards parasitised caterpillars, the insects would thrash about, apparently in an attempt to protect the cocoons.

It wasn't the first time that parasites have been seen to manipulate the behaviour of their hosts. One parasite, for instance, infects an ant and appears to "convince" it to climb to the tops of blades of grass where it is more likely to be eaten by grazing sheep – which the parasite needs to get into in order to complete its life cycle.

But no-one had yet been able to show that the manipulation was not random and did indeed serve the purpose of the parasite. It could be that, rather than changing their behaviour, the parasites simply choose hosts that have abnormal behaviour.
Laboratory parasites

To test the manipulation hypothesis, Janssen's team allowed wasps to infect caterpillars in a laboratory setting. Once the larvae emerged and formed their cocoons, the researchers separated half the cocoons and the caterpillars. The separated cocoons were attached to a leaf next to an unparasitised caterpillar, which was prevented from moving away by a ring of insect glue around the stem.

When they added a stinkbug, a voracious predator of wasp cocoons, the team found that 17 of the 19 parasitised caterpillars thrashed their heads around in the direction of the bug. More than half the time, this knocked the bug off the branch or made it retreat. Unparasitised caterpillars barely noticed the bug, even when it climbed on top of them.

To see if the behaviour affected the survival of wasp cocoons in the wild, the researchers placed over 400 parasitised caterpillars in guava fruit trees one day before the larvae were due to break through their skin.

Once the larvae had cocooned themselves on the nearby branches, the researchers removed half of their bodyguard caterpillars and watched what happened. The survival rate of "guarded" cocoons was twice as high as that of unguarded cocoons.
Wasps 1 caterpillars 0

"The study is absolutely fascinating," says Frédéric Thomas of the Institute for Research and Development in France. "It is the first documented case of manipulative parasites making the host behave as a true bodyguard to protect the parasite. And the experiments show the behavioural change is beneficial only for the wasp."

Although Janssen and his colleagues do not know how the parasites make the caterpillars change their behaviour, they think that a few larvae in each brood may sacrifice themselves to help their brothers and sisters.

"If we dissect the caterpillars, we find one or two parasitoid larvae have stayed behind, even after the rest of the brood has emerged and formed cocoons," says Janssen.

It could be that the larvae that remain in the host control its behavior in order to make it protect the rest of the brood.

Monday, May 19, 2008


Burmese Python
From Discover Channel magazine online
Burmese Python

May 16, 2008 -- Giant pythons capable of swallowing a dog and even an alligator are rapidly making south Florida their home, potentially threatening other southeastern states, a study said.

"Pythons are likely to colonize anywhere alligators live, including north Florida, Georgia and Louisiana," said Frank Mazzotti, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences professor, in his two-year study.

The pythons thriving in Florida are mostly Burmese pythons from Myanmar that were brought over as pets and then turned loose in the wild.

From 2002-2005, 201 of the beasts were caught by state authorities, but in the last two years the number has more than doubled to 418, Mazzotti said in his study published on the university Web site.

The largest python caught so far in Florida measured 16.4 feet and weighed 154 pounds.

Mazzotti said the serpents, despite their awesome size, are not poisonous, but are excellent swimmers and able to cover great distances in little time. Some, trapped and released with radio transmitters, swam 37 miles in a few hours.

Highly adaptable, pythons prey on cats, dogs, hares, foxes, squirrels, raccoons and even alligators, allowing them to thrive in a variety of environments.

After populating the Florida Everglades -- a vast marshland -- where it is estimated they number 30,000, the giant python is now spreading across the rest of the peninsula.

"Females may store sperm, so they can produce fertile clutches for years. And a 100-something pound snake can easily be producing 60, 80 eggs a year," said Mazzotti, adding that the reptile could eventually populate the entire southern United States.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

GRIST:Is there any body out there?

From (the Science Fiction writer Charlie Stross): Charlie's Dairies

The Fermi Paradox revisited; random despatches from the front line

"The Fermi Paradox probably doesn't need much introduction; first proposed by Enrico Fermi, it's one of the big puzzlers in astrobiology. We exist, therefore intelligent life in this universe is possible. The universe is big; even if life is rare, it's very unlikely that we're alone out here. So where is everybody? Why can't we hear their radio transmissions or see gross physical evidence of all the galactic empires out there?'

"If you aren't familiar with the Fermi Paradox, click that Wikipedia link above. Truly, it's a fascinating philosophical conundrum — and an important one: because it raises questions such as "how common are technological civilizations" and "how long do they survive", and that latter one strikes too close to home for comfort. (Hint: we live in a technological civilization, so its life expectancy is a matter that should be of pressing personal interest to us.)

Anyway, here are a couple of interesting papers on the subject, to whet your appetite for the 21st century rationalist version of those old-time mediaeval arguments about angels, pin-heads, and the fire limit for the dance hall built thereon:.."

Fissures Work Journal

Fissures is done!


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Current mood: determined
Category: Writing and Poetry

Where to begin?

1. Eric Brown, Sci-Fi book reviewer for the Guardian UK and science fiction author sent me a signed and inscribed copy of his sci-fi novel, Kethani that I reviewed for Foreword Magazine. He said he liked my review and wished me the best. My editor told me that my review was the front and center showpiece review for his novel at The American book Exposition in LA.

2. I completed my play Fissures. Yay! It will probably be included in a show that my theater company, Get Off The Bus Inc will be performing at the Ridge Street Coffee Café In Glens Falls New York (The launch of my coffee house theater circuit) August 29-30, in a show called "Man and Woman", an anthology of one acts I wrote with an ongoing theme about the dynamics between men and women through all sorts of interactions. The running time is approx 1 hour and 50 minutes with a 15-20 minute intermission. I will be directing and most likely perform in some supportive roles. I will post the specifics as time goes by.

3. ForeWord Magazine has given me carte blanche to pick the Sci-Fi, Horror and Fantasy books I want to review from independent publishers of sci-fi and fantasy books. I'm already scheduled to review some books by some well known authors from Solaris Press, including, Eric Brown's new novel and Brian Lumley's works of Lovecraft fiction, as well as many others. So, all you sci-fi, fantasy and horror authors with independent pubs drop me an email and maybe we can figure something out.

4. About two years ago I reviewed a philosophy/ethics book for ForeWord Magazine/Clarion Reviews, called Instilling Values in Transcending Generations: Bringing Harmony to Cultures Through the Power of Conscience, part of Tieman H. Dippel Jr.'s Language of Conscience Series, which includes the book mentioned above and the books, The New Legacy and The Language of Conscience. 2-3 weeks ago I received a request from Mr. Dippel and his publishers relayed to me through the editors of Clarion/ForeWord Magazine to review Dippel's new introductory material to his Language of Conscience Series. (Okay, bear with me for a little bit, because I'm about to do some shameless plugging and tooting of my own horn.)
In a personal letter Mr. Dippel and his publishers said, "…it was one of the best reviews she had seen for a very complicated book aimed at a certain purpose…What simply triggered this interest (review of the new introductory material in each volume) is the quality of the last review (mine). Whoever you had write it (Me) did as good a job of grasping a very complicated set of issues as some of the most significant philosophers in the world…I do feel my editors are correct in that if we could get a review as thoughtful and as enlightened as the last it could be of great help to us in helping define what is in the four (was three) books of the series."

5. Back to the real world, as always I am behind on some reviews…My editor wanted them Monday. Once I shape these two reviews the way I want them, I will read Joe Hill's novel, Heart Shaped Box for shits and giggles, finish off my Avatar Comics proposal, a twelve page sample script of a StarGate Stargate Atlantis crossover (been working on that a long time), start rehearsals for Man and Woman (gotta write a short play that bridges two other short plays, I know the whole thing in my head, only need the time to write it. I need to work on my novel, The Uncertainty of Knowing, start writing the new 3 act play I've been planning, When the Angels Fall. APT will be approaching me soon to write and possibly direct something for the new season. Gotta graphic novel, the First Stone (based on my play of the same name) I've been tooling around with and a few other odds and ends that amuse me. I have been working diligently in my new office except for the last couple of nights because of the heat. For Father's day, the wife, my mom and the girls and I will do our normal annual picnic, squirt gun, soccer ball kicking frisbee tossing, book buying spree( and I think they will buy me a foldable Bluetooth keyboard for my AT&T 8525, which has been indispensable to me. In one corner of my office I have a giant tower of books that almost looks like a Mayan temple, books that need to be catalogued, organized and shelved. My friend J and I plan on attacking that mess soon, I have maybe ten more boxes of books I need to bring over to the office and I will be completely moved in. Whipppe! I hope to heck I can live up to Mr. Dippel's expectations. Yes, he swelled my head, but he also raised the bar. Let's see if I have the mettle to meet it.

6. And now back to work.