Archive for the 'Science' Category
May 24th, 2012 by jdsawyer
In history classes, we pay a lot of attention to Columbus–in 1492, after all, he set out to discover a route to the Americas. Love his accomplishments or hate his humanitarian record (and I see no contradiction in doing both), he inaugurated the Age of Discovery (TM) which changed the world. Right?
Well, kind of. Continue reading ‘A Dragon Bigger than the Moon’
February 2nd, 2012 by jdsawyer
I spend my life cultivating and exploring questions at all levels from the inane to the putatively profound. Part of my job is asking questions–in fact, if you squint hard enough and look through enough lenses, you will be able to find a question or cluster of them behind every story I write.
As I prep to tackle the next round of The Antithesis Progression and another pair of SF novels later this year, I’m having fun wrestling with some biggies. Long story short, I thought it would be fun to share some of them with you guys, partly for the fun of the conversation, and partly to give you a peek behind the curtain for those of you who are interested in seeing the process that begins with a question and ends with a story or a novel.
So, to kick it off, here’s my nomination for one of the biggest questions anyone has ever asked.
“Where is everybody?”
Biggest question…seems kind of a grand claim, but I’m going to go a step further: I think it might be the single most terrifying, and the single most exciting, question anyone has ever thought to ask.
To illustrate why, I’ll give you a little context. This is the question that a man named Enrico Fermi asked when he turned his radio telescope at the heavens to listen in on television and radio broadcasts from alien civilisations, and found only static.
The universe is a big place. If carbon chemistry is common (as it seems to be), and if life bootstraps really easily, (which is now virtually certain), then in a big universe there should be at least some other folks out there who are building civilizations, and since all civilization is defined by energy use, they should be making some noise.
So…where is everybody?
It only took humans one generation between the invention of the radio (the ability to make cosmic noise) and the nuclear bomb (the ability to silence that noise forever, without reprieve). What if everybody eventually, inevitably, succumbs to self-destruction? Terrifying, isn’t it?
On the other hand, what if we’re the first? What if we are truly alone? This one’s terrifying too, but it sure is exciting–there’s a lot of universe out there that’s not being used, and oh, the places we’ll go!
But there are other answers, and some of them are very intriguing. Certainly, we haven’t figured out all the potential answers yet. I’ve got some ideas that I’m exploring in projects I’m currently working on, I’ve even got a few opinions.
It is a big question, though, maybe one of the biggest. Because whatever the answer is, it will forever define our relationship with the universe around us, and will profoundly affect the way our civilization unfolds as it winds out into the solar system and beyond.
Read more about this question here, then tell me…What do you think about this question?
September 30th, 2011 by jdsawyer
In the great search for other earth-like planets, things have oscillated between encouraging and downright weird. So few of them seem rocky at all–mostly just gas-giants–but we’ve assumed that it’s just because the detection methods we’ve been using (gravitational wobble) are biased toward finding gas giants in close orbit.
That seems to be true. But it’s not the whole truth.
Continue reading ‘Interstellar Synthesis’
July 7th, 2011 by jdsawyer
I saw Star Wars for the first time when I was four year’s old. I’d been a fan long before, thanks to the read-along books and the action figures, but actually seeing the film mad equite an impression on me. One of the things that bugged me, though, were the references to the off-screen “Clone Wars.”
I did not, after all, have the faintest clue what a “clone” was.
Eventually, after struggling mightily with the word to see if I could wrest meaning from it, I asked my Dad what clones were.
He said “It’s a process where you can make a copy of someone by taking a piece of their skin and turning it into a baby twin.”
I said “Wow, you can make a copy of me, just with a piece of skin?”
“Not really,” he said, “it’s just a cool idea for a story.”
Already having some idea of how science fiction worked, I asked the next logical question: “So…is it possible some day? Or is it just pretend?”
“It’s just pretend,” he said. “Some people think it might be possible in a hundred years, but that’s a long time–longer than you’ll be alive.”
In the intervening decades, cellular biologists have discovered a whole class of cells called “pluripotent stem cells.” These are cells that are created in the first generation of pregnancy–a zygote is a pluripotent stem cell at fertilization, and the first few generations of replication produce more pluripotent stem cells until the cells start differentiating.
Funny thing, though. In the last couple years induced pluripotent stem cells have been discovered, refined, and perfected–in Argentina they’re now using them to clone cows from the ear tissue of a parent cow. If that weren’t wild enough, how would you feel about turning your skin into brain tissue to cure you of Parkinson’s or other neurodegenerative diseases?
I love living in the future–it’s been a quick hundred years!
January 10th, 2011 by jdsawyer
It’s mid January, and time for your vegetables. This year’s first link salad is here–I hope you enjoy this sampling of my weidrness and wanderings from around the web!
Continue reading ‘Link Salad, Jan 10, 2011′
December 27th, 2010 by jdsawyer
Time for your vegetables again — these are some of the highlights of my research journeys hither and yon in the great wasteland of cyberspace. Hope you enjoy!
Continue reading ‘Link Salad 12/27/10′
December 3rd, 2010 by jdsawyer
Time for your vegetables again. Here’s some of the fun stuff that’s flitted across my desk in the last few weeks.
Crazy Silly Creative Things
To start off with our garnish, you could do no better than watching this 3 minute video about what Welshmen really do with sheep. Don’t worry, it’s work safe–but you won’t be while watchign it. This is seriously, amazingly cool.
Johnny Carson presents The Great Flydini, an utterly silly and borderline obscene magic act that will leave you in stitches. Don’t let obscene put you off — it’s work safe.
While you’re at it, put down your drink before reading this story about the trials of moving house with a pair of neurotic dogs.
Continue reading ‘Link Salad, Dec. 3, 2010′
November 18th, 2010 by jdsawyer
I’m on the road, writing short stories and a little on the novels, and exploring the murky rainy depths of the Pacific Northwest. But it’s hard to get the hang of Thursdays, which is why they’re salad days. Neither fabulous restaurants, nor rain nor bad traffic nor dark of overcast day shall keep me from my appointed task of preparing your Link Salad.
Continue reading ‘Link Salad 11/18/10′
October 22nd, 2010 by jdsawyer
And, from the kitchen this weekend we have for you a lovely Link Salad, with leaves of history and science, garnished with a healthy dose of whimsy.
But first, I begin with a special treat for my free-wheeling brewer friends. Beer has always been a problem in space — not because of drunk piloting, but because weightlessness does weird things to the sense of taste. There’s also the question of what the bubbles will do to the body, and how drinkable beer will be in zero G anyway. Fortunately, someone is officially working on these problems so that we can take into space with us the drink that made civilization possible in the first place: Click here for Space Beer!
Now, on to the main courses:
Continue reading ‘Link Salad, Oct 22 2010′
October 13th, 2010 by jdsawyer
In the “should have done this a long time ago” department, I’m going to start offering up a semi-regular link salad digest. These are links to articles, books, lectures, and other cool stuff that I’ve run across in the course of my ill-fated attempt to grok the universe. They also tend to feed my creative churn, both in fine details (i.e. research) and in gross grist (i.e. ideas). Whether for that reason or because of the “cool stuff” factor, I hope you’ll find things you enjoy here.
This week’s Link Salad contains elements of science, sex, publishing market reports, book reviews, and is garnished with interesting cultural tidbits. Here you go:
Continue reading ‘Link Salad, Oct 13 2010′