Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Cold Fusion: Not Going Away

Sometime during the first half of the 20the century a man called Louis Kervran wrote a book called Biological Transmutations. It was a study into the imbalance between what goes into the body and what comes out of it. Kervran was convinced that what went on inside the body wasn't just chemistry, but somehow went beyond that, into the realm of element-transmutation: a process that, as physics will tell you, will only happen if energies are involved that go far beyond the puny ones involved in biological chemistry.

I remember reading Biological Transmutations many years back, during my sometimes off-the-beaten-track investigations of all sorts of things, scientific and 'fringe'. By and large, Kervran's work is considered that of a crank of scientific ignoramus—and those by whom it isn't considered that way, usually are a bit off-the-beaten-track—and not necessrily in a good way—themselves. Weirdos tend to love everything that goes against 'science' in some way.

Meaning they also tend to love the notion of 'cold fusion'. You know, the kind of process that'll give us immense energy output for very little input and which will therefore solve all the world's energy problems. The movie The Saint with Val Kilmer picked up on that theme.

Science scoffs at cold fusion, and it's not considered socially respectable to conduct research into it. Indeed, ostracism is likely if anybody's caught out doing it.

But...

But the story doesn't end there, though many would prefer that it did. Cold fusion is back in the news and with a certain degree of respectability that must surely rile many of those who will frown on anything that fits into a very narrow range of concepts and beliefs.

Don't know where this will go. It could just be a brief revival that will be choked off quickly; either by the malevolent design of those who have their own agendas that do not allow such things to exist, or by research and/or analysis that either proves the newly presented results as erroneaous or misinterpreted in some critical way.

Watch this space. Personally, yes, I'd absolutely love it if Kervran, who to me came across as an earnest and meticulous investigator, turned out to be essentially correct.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Evolution of a Planet

Tethys, the watery world on which most of my novels so far have been set, grew from a single small facet of a small continent, with the creator (that would be me) not caring much—at this stage—about what lay beyond. It wasn't the time and the place yet. There was only Keaen and The Valley; with the map drawn in pencil by Paul Rhoads, friend and former Editor-in-Chief of the VIE, according to some crummy computer-drawn stuff of mine.



Then came Finister, and that changed things. Author and readers had to pull back a bit and see things in context.

So, first there was Finister itself, which was conceived almost independently and drawn that way.



But people had to get from The Valley to Finister, and they had to have a reason and the means to do so.

Hence...




And finally, a first draft of the world itself. Crummy sketch, but it was a start. Remember, if you build worlds you need maps, maps, maps!


This is what you'll find inside the books, because grey levels don't reproduce very well.

On the back covers of the books is a more colorful version. (This will disappear in the next rework of the covers, which is imminent.)




A version of this also ended up on my website, but then I thought about producing an animation in DAZ Studio, with a spaceship flying around the planet. And that meant that more was needed. So...



Nahh, still not good enough. Need some clouds and these landmasses definitely aren't green like that. EEEK!

So, next two iterations.



and...



Hiding the lack of physical-feature detail in the land-masses, which will come when I have some more free time, which is very sparse at the moment.

And this is the evolution of Tethys so far...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Space, the Final Frontier. These are the voyages of humankind into the hostile unknown.

Really, you couldn't have two more divergent points of view of humankind's future in 'space', or of whether the phrase "Space, the final frontier" makes any sense.

On one hand, here's an article critical of the whole notion and its sensibility.

On the other, here is the trailer to the next Star Trek movie.

Have a look at both (they each open in new tabs/windows), and then read on.

It so happens that I totally agree with a number of the criticisms advanced in the first-mentioned item. 'Space' isn't like any 'frontier' we've ever known, and to equate it with its obvious historical counterpart and close relative, the 'Wild West' frontier, is just plain silly. In a great number of ways, the writer of the article is so obviously correct, that only fools would even consider otherwise.

Yes. Indeed.

And then there's Star Trek—and any other number of written and filmed works of fiction that presume that such a comparison isn't all that silly at all. Of course, it's fiction, and I also happen to be in that business, at least in my spare time. And you got to know the difference bewteen fiction and reality.

Yes. Indeed.

Thing is, that I also happen to think, as longer-term readers of this blog will know, that we won't survive as a species unless we ignore 'reality' and aim to make real what currently just is fiction and dream-weaving. I'm saying 'species' survival, because that's indisputable; excepting, again, by fools. Maybe not tomorrow—though it might well be, or even sooner; maybe as you read this article—we could be wiped out of existence lock stock and barrel, by reason of our own stupidities, or else just plain cosmic contingency. I will not withhold from you the fact that this does scare the shits out of me every time I care to think about it; for not only do I have an abnormally heightened awareness of my own mortality—as you should have, too; and would have, if only you shed your inherent denialist tendencies!—but I also grew up in a period when annihilation, of the nuclear kind, was very close indeed; and never mind asteroids.

You know that song...



Yeah, I know, it's not really about all that, but I like the refrain, because that what's it all about. One day, no matter how much we love this planet of ours, it's going to become a death trap.

Yeah, yeah, gloom and doom and all that. For what else can there be, knowing what we know—which seems to be that there really is no way to get out this place in the Star Trek way. And there are no Stargates either; more's the pity. And wormholes in general will not be as nicely obliging as they are depicted in either Stargate or, say, Farscape.

It's one of my personal burdens that I happen to have had a scientific education and, at the same time, have been...ahh, let's call it 'marinated'...in science fiction and fantasy virtually all my reading and movie-watching life. Meaning that I know what things are supposed to be like and at the same time really wishing they weren't, because it kind of screws up our future that they are.

If they are. If.

Thing is—and this, is admit, comes from the 'fiction' part of my psyche—that, even in a sci-fi context, it's just possible that we simply haven't asked the right questions of the cosmos. We have asked a lot of questions that led to very fruitful answers, I admit; but is it possible that maybe, just maybe, that, like the antioxidant thing I wrote about in the previous blog, things aren't as obvious one following another as we think they do? I can't help but think that...

Truth is, it's not that "I can't help but think", but that I really would like to think that...

Enough.

And now, for a total, complete non sequitur to anything that went before—excepting maybe the clip above—here's another classic and never-die Eric Burdon & The Animals song.



And, just to prove that old rockers never die either—or at least try, and good on them!—here's the same again (kind of) from a number of years later.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

To Antioxidant or not to Antioxidant

About a year or so back—might be longer—I read an article that argued that maybe we shouldn't stake our lives on nuking as amany as possible of those nasty, damaging free radicals in our bodies, because, being 'natural'—always a dangerous term!—they might just be there for a good reason.

Well, there's no 'reason' in nature and biology or evolution. Period. But there's adaptation and the fact is that if an organism survives for long enough to reproduce and reproduce successfully—meaning that it's offspring also lives long enough to reproduce, and so on—then there's no mechanism, short of random mutation, to weed out some organismic property that might kill said organism a suitable time after it has reproduced.

Simple enough. Applied to free radicals, that would simply lead us to conclude that they're there because the organisms that produced them never became mis-adapted in terms of survival for long enough to reproduce. They might kill us afterwards, but so what?

Meaning, of course, that to those of us, who care about survival, and never mind how old we are, free radicals are evil and antioxidants are the good guys. There's no reason to suggest that the bad guys have any function at all, but to be 'there': nasty little critters that evolution never took care of, because it had no survival value to take care of them.

Well, while that kind of reasoning—one which I still hold to be valid as a general principle—applies to many other things, it just might not hold true for the free radical issue. The evil guys might just be much more ambiguous than we assumed, and the good guys might be doing too much good. Doesn't that remind of life in general and the damage that do-gooders have done over the ages? Damn, damn! I should have known!

The operative term is 'might', of course. It might also be that the current, widely-accepted paradigm ('free radicals do damage; antioxidants mop of free radicals and reduce damage; antioxidants are good and free radicals bad') still applies. But possibly just not the way we were thinking, and with effects more devious and labyrinthine than we had naively concluded.

Biological logic, especially in complex organisms, isn't always 'logical'—or, maybe it would be more correct to say that it is perfectly logical if only we had all the facts. Meaning that theorizing about how things work is very different in biology than it is in, say, physics. We need research, research, research, because we need facts. Whatever theories there are, they must always be considered tentative.

It seems perfectly sensible to conclude—and why should one not?—that eliminating something that does damage or harm to a component important to an organism, should benefit the organism. Yet biology provides myriad examples of how feedback loops and causal pathways can defy simple rules of reasoning, simply because we don't know about the feedback loops or hidden effects.

Just like life? You betcha!

I advise those interested in reading the article and following up the debate. It provides not just a valuable lesson for thinking about biology, but also 'life'—because biology in its complexity is, not unsurprisingly, the closest thing to a 'science of life'. It also provides a stark lesson, for those willing to take these thoughts further, of just how the universe really and truly doesn't 'care' about anything; and how, at the purely physical level, there is no 'good' or 'bad', but only a devastatingly complex network of causal interactions and feedback loops that we'll never fully, or even 'approximately fully' understand; no matter how long we continue to investigate things.

From a purely human-longevity perspective, Resveratrol may therefore not be interesting and beneficial because of its antioxidant properties, though this has been touted by those promoting its use—no doubt because 'antioxidant' is a magic promotional term—but others that aren't of as obvious and apparent benefit and which work in devious ways.

Anyway, that biology and its ways are seldom as we expect them to be; and those dosing themselves to the eyeballs with apparently 'beneficial' agents, may be doing themselves an actual disservice. An interetsing consideration may well be that what is apparently good for your health may do diddly-squat to keep you alive significantly longer. Truly, a thought to give life-extensionists pause for thought, or so one would think.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Deurbanization and the Arrow of Time

I've been remiss with my blogging, mainly because I'm so busy that I don't even get time for reading these days, let along writing—and blogging is somewhere down the line in my hierarchy of priorities.

Reason for all this is that it looks like we're trying to make our move to deurbanize ourselves sooner than originally anticipated. It was to be a few years down the track, but what the heck? Circumstances, too complicated or not for publication, have contrived to make us consider the issue now. So we're eyeing a 5-acre place north-west of Brisbane, but need to sell our own house first.

Way I see it, if it works out, it works out; if it doesn't, it doesn't. It would be nice if it did, and it would suck if it didn't.

Bottom line though is that it takes up one's time, the one common irreplaceable 'commodity' in all our lives. Someone once tried to argue with me that it made no sense calling it a 'commodity', but potaito-potahto. Philosophical nitpicking aside, I know what I mean, and so, I suspect do most people.

I'm kind of hoping—actually, not 'kind of' at all, but 'definitely'—that this will be our last move for quite a while, since I really need to get my ass into gear and do some putting stuff down on paper. The unfinished Bodies is sitting like a monkey on my shoulder, and Aslam is pushing and pushing harder and harder to come out from the shadows of my imagination.

Like most of us, I suppose, I could do with a crapload of spare cash to make it possible for me to stop 'working' and servicing the mortgage, which isn't getting any smaller.

When I think such things though, I'm invariably reminded of people whose situation makes our little plaints not just appear, but truly be, utterly insignificant. There's a difference between 'inconvenience' and 'misery'—or worse. And every day we wake up and appear to be healthy and functioning adequately is a day not just to be appreciated, but to be cherished and not to be complained about.