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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Harvesting the Sun

I just finished reading through an article about manure on NY times (see more here), and it got me thinking. With mankind's ability to streamline production of everything from Milk to Power, we have surpassed the stage of simply harvesting resources and building all we can with them. Yesteryear we afforded ourselves the luxury of not worrying about how our resources would renew themselves or how we would deal with the resulting garbage from our every day operations. Yet as we product and consume resources at an ever increasing rate, the question of what to do with all the leftovers from our operations becomes more pressing.

So far we have become very industrious at making the world into our image, a one way street where we find resources, build factories to harvest them, bring goods to market and move on to the next resource. This bold forward arrow to progress is being tempered by the realization that if we do not renew our resources and tie up all the loose ends of the production process, we are limiting our future growth. A fancy way to say we are degrading our environment, the very place we live and call home.

The cycle they described in the article above I found intriguing, if not practical. Manure from the dairy cows was used to fertilize the fields that grew their feed. They ate the feed to give them sustenance and produce milk, which we use. The sun makes it all work by growing the grass. And that is where I get to our title for this post.

The image I have in my head is of people who survive by harvesting the energy given off by the Sun. All our oil (old forests grown in sunlight millions of years ago), milk (cows <- grass <- sun), fresh water (evaporated by the sun) all work because of the feint wisps of power that make their journey from the Sun to our home impart to all the beings here an enormous amount of energy. As human beings we are seeking the best and most efficient way to harvest that energy, wether it be through vast tracts of grain and grazing land to feed cattle or thin film solar energy. I think in some way that makes us children of the Sun.

The children of the Sun Harvest the Sun to survive. How fitting.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Finding the New California

Recent surveys of the moon by the LCROSS revealed a good probability that ice does exist at the poles of the moon. Finding critical resources in space can propel our exploration visions forward, but have we really found White Gold?

When we first began cononizing the north american continent we had no idea what treasures and wonders could be found by traveling west. It was only after a long laborious trip west that we discovered california and the bounty that it could provide. We have a lucious firtile land here that provides fruits and food to feed the nation year round.

In the same grain I believe we need to find our california in space, which will allow us to extend our tenuous tendrils into the vacuum and build sustained outposts. Since space exploration is so difficult and expensive, we need to find an area rich with resources that we can exploit to really begin expanding our investments.

There are two ways that I see we can find resources close to home. Survey the moon till we find the best composition of resources for our needs or survey asteroids and then move them into an orbit that is close enough for us to reach atleast as easily as the moon.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Power Storage Technologies

Technology: Big spinning mass, high speed, low friction
In/Out Efficiency: possibly up to 90%
Pros: Stable throughout high temperature variations, excellent power delivery speed
Cons: vacuum required
Life Expectancy (Terrestrial): 20 years (Extraterrestrial): possibly 100 years
Hazards: broken equipment would release stored momentum catastrophically
Notes: rolling out across the North East and CA for power regulation
Applications: Power cycle Regulation,

Chemical (L-Cell)
Technology: This approach involves mixing reactive chemicals to provide higher charge efficiency than normal rechargeable batteries.
In/Out Efficiency: 60%
Pros: Stable throughout reasonable temperature variations. More can be explored by increasing hazardous nature of chemicals, 10,000+ cycle capable system.
Cons: Fluid may need to be replaced every 5 years, lifetime dependent on charge / discharge cycle, low power density (investigate)
Life Expectancy (Terra): 20 years (Extraterrestrial): possibly 27 years
Hazards: leaking chemicals may cause damage to living creatures
Notes: Several charge / discharge cycles per day terrestrial cycle, extraterrestrial 1 cycle per day
Applications: Remote cell phone towers, diesel generator support
Companies: Deeya Energy VC's - Ira Ehrenpreis [Video] Technology Partners & Ravi Viswanathan NEA 

Chemical (L-Ion)
Pros: Widely deployed and well understood technology
Cons: 455 cycles for Tesla roadster with maximum electronic optimization, 1000 cycles w/ 80% charge capacity for new MacBook Pros
Notes: Information from Apple information from Tesla
Companies: Most of em

Compressed Gas (Air)
Pros: Cycles last as long as storage tank maintains containment
Hazards: Compressed air at 4500 PSI would cause serious injury if the containment was breached 
Notes: MDI news article , read more about MDI Specs
Companies: MDI 

Interesting Government News Sources

Gov Energy News - current Government energy funding, policy changes and more

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Interesting Space Missions

Quick Links:

Interesting ongoing space missions.

Kepler - Launched 2009, is searching for earth like planets and can detect a wide range of data from any planets that pass in front of their sun (the "transit" method). It can detect atmosphere temperature based on it's observations. Updated News Source

GRACE -Launched 2002, The two satellite join USA / Germany expedition to detect minute gravity changes on the earth. Updated News Source

SeaWinds on Midori 2 - Launched 2002, was capable of measuring sea winds via radar pulse backscatter. Stopped functioning shortly after achieving orbit. It is like having a billion ships at sea all taking wind measurements.

Hayabusa - Launched 2003, checked out the Itokawa asteroid and is on it's way back home, hopefully with samples. It should be back around June 2010. Updated News Source

Rosetta - Launched 2004, will check out the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014. Updated News Source

Epoxi - Launched 2005, will check out comet Hartley 2 in November of 2010. Updated News Source

Dawn - Launched 2007, will visit the asteroid Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres. It will arrive at Vesta in a little less than two years (August - sept 2011, (Updated News Source

Chandrayaan-1 & Moon Mineralogy Mapper - Launched 2008, Updated News Source

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter - Launched 2009, will measure surface and subsurface temperatures on the moon in prep for renewed moon missions. Updated News Source

Thursday, August 27, 2009

In Support of Space

I recently stumbled upon an IEEE Spectum magazine, (the issue from 6-09). I was surprised to find therein a number of pertinant concepts that I wanted to jot down. I will include the quote followed by my ideas on the concept.

"and a misguided belief that we must solve all our terrestrial problems before doing anything ambitious in space"
- I have friends that think like this, you know who you are. We will always have problems down here. That did not stop people from inventing the wheel.
"one thing that could redeem the moon as a steppingstone... Is if you could produce propellant on the moon to use in the rockets that went to mars"
- what part of rockets are a bad idea did you not understand? Neuks, do you speak!

"from their inception, US and Soviet apace agencies recognized the value in connecting with the public directly"
- an excellent idea. So let's stream all NASA video ops from space and inside the control rooms as well. I have an extra monitor. Work it out with stream cast or somesuch.

"in 2008 NASA authorization act ... Stipulates that the agency 'develope a technology plan to enable disemination of information to the public to allow the public to experience missions to the moon... By leveraging advanced exploration technologies"
- well said, so that stream cast network is up right?

Top answered to the survey of what would get you interested in and excites by Nasa: ... "having the ability to view what robots and astronauts are seeing in real time..."
- steamcast, do you speak it?!

"On short excursions, austronauts can loose up to 20% of their muscle mass; during multimonth missions, the figure can reach 50%."
- dammit, that is a large problem. Maybe it is time to start doing brain in the jar missions?

"chemical rockets are only marginally capable of getting people to Mara and back"
- neuclear propulsion, how I miss thee, by the time we realizes your potential, it had already been legislated away.

"researchers from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.. Built a magnetic shield in the lab that was able to block a beam of heavy ions and protons"
- why are we still talking about radiation problems? How long will it take for NASA to prove thus tech? Oh that's right, thus has been researched in reactor cores for tens of years.

"even the space shuttle isn't really reusable, in that it costs more per flight than it would to buy a new expendable launch vehical of greater cargo capacity"
- thanks for the hints elon. For the rest of you, rockets need to travel slower when leaving earth when that have people on board. Payload seperate from people is the way to go from a cash standpoint.

"the measurements also came from an additional array of 96 closely packed 3-micrometer microelectrodes that actually penetrated the skull"
- I have the sneaking suspicion that all branes really need to communicate from one brain to the other is a physical connection linking the. maybe this technology will be the start of that.

"[young people] go into engineering because they've had their imaginations fired by a grand, awe-inspiring challenge. A challenge like going to mars for example"
- I could not agree more. NASA's past triumphs inspired two generations of engineers that helped grow this country into the technical powerhouse it is today. awe-inspiring missions like actually trying to work a global space program can do this again. Or just capture an asteroid and put it in orbit. I think that would suffice as well.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Why For to Capture an Asteroid ?

Several good points may be realized through asteroid capture.

1: Man controlled robotics can be deployed to analyze the asteroid in real time.
2: Whichever nation does it first is going to experience a huge boost to moral.
3: Material sent from earth costs over $5,000 per lb (citation) to get to orbit whereas asteroids are already in orbit.
4: The right asteroid could provide a generations worth of scientific data which could establish how life begins in a new solar system.
5: The right asteroid could provide resources and materials which we could harvest to build in space.

Several Bad Points.

1: Catastrophic program failure may lead to the large scale destruction and significant loss of life
2: Budget cuts may destroy the program in its infancy before it has a chance to prove itself
3: Once countries realize how easy it is, foreign interests will look at these projects as a way to destroy enemies from afar while keeping their hands very clean.
4: Asteroids brought in by private companies may be commandeered by foreign governments if they have no way of protecting them.

There is no way but up, up into the sky, into the darkness of our imagination.

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Robotnik Question

A few choice quotes from 'Wired for War 'by P. W. Singer.

Pacbot on Patrol

On the killing of civilian Daraz Khan and his friends while they were on a hike in Afganistan:

"As best as could be determined from seven thousand miles away, these were the men whom the Predator was looking for. As Pentagon spokesoman Victoria Clarke explained, 'We're convinced that it was an appropriate target...[althought] we do not yet know exactly who it was.'" (pg 397)

"What happens when things don't work out as they are supposed to? The attitude seems to be to still then kill them and let their gods sourt them out" (pg 403)

"Almost no technical schools require any sort of ethics classes and the robotics field certainly has nothing equivalent to the medical professon's Hippocratic oath." (pg 422)

"One of the biggest data-mining efforts to date is actually at Wal-Mart, which has gathered some 460 terabytes of information from custeroms on its mainframe servers in its Bentonville, Arkansas, headquarters ... Wal-Mart uses the information to track its customers' buying habits and perferences, and then employs AI to anticipate their future wants and needs. Its data mining, for example, detected that consumers tend to stockpile strawberry Pop-Tarts whenever a severe weather warning is made in the media. So Wal-Mart's supply system automatically responds to any announcement of bad weather by sending additional truckloads of Pop-Tarts to stores in the expected pathway." (pg 275)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Understanding the Code

I was reminded today how little we know about DNA and how much that understanding will change our future. In the 1800s man embraced the world of steam power which freed him from backbreaking labor. This was the daw of the age of powered machinery. With the advent of the resistors and eventually computers starting around the 1940s, man was freed from complex calculations that would have taken lifetimes. With the birth of the internet in the late 1960s, man was now free to roam the world, gathering information from many places and not being forced to listen to just one source. I propose the understanding of DNA, how the code actually works, will effect every aspect of our lives.

What we know about DNA is that it is a code made up out of alternating base pair sequences. Interestingly enough, instead of using just two sequences like some computer code (0 & 1), DNA uses four sequences ACGT (adenine,cytosine, guanine, thymine). There are several other differences between the two codes. Humans can interpret what computer code does. If there is a like 00001110101010 in a particular program we can say that unless something catastrophic happens, the computer will show a blue dot on the screen (or some such thing). With DNA we have only a basic understanding of the code. We can distinguish between different "genes" which give a rough estimation on the characteristics of a creature.

What we don't know about DNA is how each piece really fits together to make a whole creature. Humans cannot yet say, "Well if I switch this bond here will I get a whale or just primordial soup." Whereas with computers we can say definitively, "Blue screens will result if you change that bit because that bit allows one processor to correctly talk to another one which allows the system to function."

Understanding how each DNA piece fits together to make the whole creature has been slow due to intense computation requirements and ethical questions. DNA is not a linear problem like the "0"s and "1"s of a computer all lined up nicely in an array. DNA is a three dimensional problem where the folding of the molecule in three space changes the essence of the code. Within a cell, a line of DNA strung out and flat and the same DNA wrapped do not necessarily produce the same results when the cell uses them. (I read about how DNA in bacteria cells forms kinks which cause transcription of that piece to alter in the book "The Coming Plague.") The ethics behind this type of manipulation must be addressed. The United States holds human life to be of paramount importance. (For alternate perspectives on the value of life read "A Russian Diary" by Anna Politkovskaya.) If we are creating life in the laboratory by writing DNA code, where is the line where we say STOP! If we figure out how to duplicate a human brain, all on its own with no body attached, have we just created a living being? Can we stop feeding it? What should we do when it asks who am I and why am I here? These are big questions and ideally are questions we can address before the experimentation begins.

Many good things can come from understanding the DNA code:. Cows that can consume corn that does not kill them, (I recently watched King Corn.) New organs to replace worn out ones. New hands and legs for our stalwart soldiers, who are fighting every day to keep us safe. We could recreate the long lost mammoth. We could build animals that shared our abundant resources and added beauty into our lives. There are so many good possibilities that I believe we cannot forego this line of study.

Many bad things may arise purposely or inadvertently from understanding the DNA code: Vicious animals that kill for sport. Human augmentation that allows people to excrete poisons through their breath. Custom viruses tailor made to hurt the weakest and take advantage of those that cannot protect themselves. Because of these bad possibilities, some would argue certainties, we must be cautious and guarded studying in this field. We cannot act hastily and we must find ways to guard ourselves against the problems that may arise.

Understanding the DNA code is game changing knowledge. Knowledge itself is gray, neither good nor evil just like a weapon can be used for good or ill. It is the wielder that controls the outcome. So far America has been hesitant in it's pursuit of this knowledge. The bush administration and stem cell research being an example. But this hesitance must not last. If the United States understands this technology, we can protect those that do not. We can ensure that billions of people are not wiped out by engineered plagues. But if we do not harness this knowledge, lesser men with lesser scruples will be in the position to decide not just our fate, but the fate of the world.

If Russia had developed the nuke first, do you honestly think they would have stopped at East Berlin? I am glad that I will never know the answer. And that is why I love America, we stopped.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


About a year ago I talked with my roomate about setting up an MMORPG / FPS / RTS based around a few core concepts: Risk / Experience, Seamless interfaces between battlegrounds Under Water, Surface Water, Earth, Air, Space, Hyperspace, a storyline based on the fall of the world through nuclear war, a pip boy like device that would act as a guide to the new player, technology trees. Talking with a friend I thought of the concept again and I've decided to clear a few things up. I still have to incorporate our old ideas which are filed somewhere.

Risk / Experience:
This game concept should be based around the core ability of humans to stay alive. The more you stay alive the more experience you can acquire. If you are killed, you loose a significant portion of your experience. What we have currently in FPS games is a schematic that encourages "Rambos", that is for each player to go off by themselves and kill. But if we can encourage groups to form, then we can start forming relationships between players that can be rewarding rather than just looking for killing buddies. This will allow the game to develop a culture.

This mechanic can be assisted through a matrix like concept. Each player has one body but can connect themselves into drones. They can retain the experience they achieve as a drone if they upload back to their body which takes time. With a persistent internet connection they can achieve this anywhere on the battlefield. If they are running missions in a zone they do not control, they will have to run back to an upload point. Meanwhile their body has to sit in a building, exposed to assault, ideally well hidden and well guarded. This would allow characters to respawn by redownloading themselves into a drone.

Seamless Interfaces:
This was one of my big ideas and I really love it. Basically I was tired of constantly jumping between fighting in the air and on the ground. I want a seamless transition. Look at it this way. This game needs to be able to have troops that can insert from orbit, stream through the atmosphere causing fireballs that the people down below can see, land on the ground or in the ocean causing title waves, and finally stand up, brush themselves off, take off their reentry gear, and start shooting. All the while, for that 8 minutes or so of reentry, the player should be able to see everything.

I loved fallout, fallout 2, and the vast broken landscapes that they conjured. It speaks to me. Start off with building a world based on today and they drop some nukes into the physics engine and see where the bricks fall. Let some foliage grow on it and then bingo, the world is ready. People should be able to build buildings using raw materials or scrap. Those buildings will be the basis for the new world if the game is ever won. As technologies progresses, people could leave the solar system and conquer other worlds.

Pip Boy:
The pip boy would be worn by every player. It would have intro information and would stay with the player from the start of the game all the way through till the end. It would provide information and document the persons story. The more pip boys a group has, the more processing power, research can go faster initially.

Technology Trees:
Originally there would be no technology. As the first bands of people gather and retake some military bases from NPCs, they might find some rudimentary labs where they could start "researching". Research could be conducted in any number of fields. The goals of which would eventually lead to things like: weapons upgrades, vehicles, manufacturing technologies, blueprints, drone building, telecommunications systems, human cloning, satellite systems, space ships, propulsion systems, hyperdrives. This would allow for clans to specialize in research if they so choose.

The Total Vision:

Start / Newbie:
You start in an instance of the game (you can invite friends). You wake up in a relatively safe area (the remains of a high tech hospital) with a medic over you that said, wow I'm glad I found you two, are you alright? He's rescued you. He explains that everything has gone to hell but he managed to find you in a hospital bed and rescue you. He explains that you've been brain damaged so it's no wonder you don't remember anything. This medic will rescue you if you die in the instance, he's sneaky and he'll always find a way around the bad guys to revive you with the stash of nanites from the hospital basement. You walk up the stares from the basement (one room) and this is when you first glimpse the panorama of destruction (the city that was no more). There should be a staircase that you can climb up to look around. The medic will have a few missions to run and you'll have to get past enemies however you can. You'll get a general orientation and some background story. At the end of the scenario you fight a boss and he drops something useful, you plug in his pip boy into yours and you download some additional information on people and places. Then you're dropped outside the instance and you can travel the world.
Note: The starting area should be based by country, city, and region and also should have a difficulty rating with it in addition to the option of being able to skip the scenario and just jump into a world PVP environment that takes place in what would have been the scenario on easer levels.

You are in a small settlement with some other players and guards (to keep things safe). Every now and then an NPC kills another NPC and the guards blow the aggressor away. You can receive quests from the people here to go rescue friends or do other such things. There are evil quests and involve killing other NPCs or PCs and good quests that involve helping people. You do a few quests. Every few days a raiding group comes through this area and strips it down robbing everyone as well as players but not killing anyone but NPCs unless they fight back, the people flee and you have to go to a different camp. We have to train people that nothing here is static unless you make it so. You can meet up with other players and form groups for mutual benefit. Instances are readily available as well as open PVP areas. If you die, you respawn in the village where some medics have dragged you back. If you make them do this enough times they will start shaking you out and taking your stuff as payment (or you can just pay them in advance).

You've formed a band with 5 other friends and have found a deserted area or maybe burned out building with resources that you can use. You've setup a basic base of operations and you can start to do research. For now your pipboys do most of the research In your offline time, the supposidly use your brain as a boost to their computing power so you sleep a lot and it helps your teams research go faster. Once you wake up your pipboy no longer contributes as much to research unless you disable other capabilities. Your group gains experience from helping others, hunting, fighting. They gain usable resources from scavenging the local area. Generally Iron, Steels, chemicals, weapons on occasion, clothes, every now and then you find a person and you can heal them up or take all their stuff or both. You use the resources and skills you acquire to build a small cloning facility. Cloning was one of the essential technologies so the pip boy with limited assistance from other pipboys can reassemble the knowledge to manufacture them. You might need to do a few instances or RVR to get specific parts.

Your base camp gets raided occasionally by other scavengers like yourself. They take whatever they can carry and make off. Your group switches to research sentry guns and weapons so you can protect the fort while your away. You can also higher mercenaries (NPC and PC). You scout around and look for other places to move and resources to acquire.

Your band, larger now 10 - 20 + people has left the city behind. You've taken all you can carry and are moving towards areas that your scouts have reported are rich in resources and largely uninhabited. You setup camp high in the mountains, tunneling down into the earth to access it's resources and build fortifications. From this new base of operations (if you get there safely, NPCs and PCs roam the roads), provides you with a base of operations from which you can start doing serious research, raiding, building, recruiting, or whatever else will enlarge your power base. You can see in the far distance the cities that you left behind and their smoking buildings and the little cities with the campfires in barrels at night. You remember being there. You are sure there are others like you, going through what you went through down there in that place.

You have a cloning facility all set up. When someone dies in combat, they will eventually be resurrected at the base. Still the only way to retain experience is to walk your clone back to the base and upload your new information. A healer in your group has setup his pipboy to upload a single consciousness if he gets to you fast enough. That way you can retain your experience if only one of your band is killed on a raiding party. Still it's a dangerous problem. Occasionally your ambushed by other PCs and NPCs. The (NPCs should have their own camps just like yours or perhaps be roving bands of heavily armored troops). You've developed area warning systems that allow you to see if someone or something enters your territory of if new resources are found. A controller can now sit in your command room and monitor these events, giving their team early warning and direction via pipboy. Anything other than voice / text comunication and maps with enemy location circles cannot be sent from the command center.

As primarily a research organization you've concentrated on acquiring resources and redeveloping technology. Your distant neighbors have taken notice and show up to abscond with some of your goods. Everything from resources, weapons, cars (if you have them), and technology can be stolen or destroyed. But in order for that to happen they have to breach your perimeter defenses. You have auto turrets guarding your base, your online companions and additionally NPCs for each person in your group that is not online (the strength and ability of this PCs NPC is based on how the character has developed). The controller can control the NPCs and direct them (like starcraft). You repel the first attack but a few hours later they come back with another band they recently joined forces with. Your forces are overrun! Your blueprints are encrypted so they cannot use them right away. But your weapons and vehicles they take and they make off, (or they take over the entire complex and kick you out).

You respawn in a camp with nothing on and no weapons. But your pipboy and those of your group have been much upgraded and remember much of what they previously researched. You can now use basic materials to rebuild your new fortress much faster and stronger (but probably in a safer place). You now keep a close eye on more of your surrounding area and the people that move in next to you. You make sure to scout them out, determining what type of people they are. There are NPCs that move in as well, some are good, some are evil. If you gain enough faction with them, they will join your band. Now you have 20-30 PCs and 20-30 NPCs. These NPCs can be controlled by the controller and will do work like gathering resources (under guidance from the controller) and defending the base, scouting around and research. If your goals and theirs fall too far apart they will leave (and maybe try to take things with them).

You control a vast territory with many resources. You have several smaller outlying settlements and they are all connected via fiber links in addition to microwave. Players can now upload remotely and take over NPCs at will. Groups can take NPCs to fight with them. Several controllers manage operations in your territories. They ensure that your land is kept safe. They can send NPCs into small towns and villages to recruit people. Occasionally smaller bands attack outlying fortresses but it is nothing that a little work can't put back together. Your research operations are now secreted away deep inside your central complex. You recruit mercenary PC groups to scout areas for you and bring back information and goods.

You turn on your microwave transmitters and you hear chatter. Not chatter from you but from other sources. Some of it is encrypted, some of it is open to listen to. Other groups your size (that do not have encryption) broadcast tidbits of information about themselves over the air. (In game voice chat may be clipped up for this). After listening long enough you can learn more about them and watch how they command their troops and units (you can see them move around units on the overhead map). You higher a band of mercs to erect a listening post closer to their base so you can gather information on them faster. It seems like they are deploying many troops in engagements all over against a myriad of other groups . Background radiation means that you cannot make out all of what another group is saying (depending on the radiation map). Eventually you've listened enough to another group and you know they are like you, scientists laboring to do research and gather information on the world and what happened. You call them up and schedule a meeting.

For this first meeting you and your troops come out to the desert, some ways away from your controlled territory. The other group can be seen in the distance, kicking up smoke as they drive towards you. When meeting other groups en mass, you can gain a lot of experience, but you have to be careful that they don't gun you down. You and your lieutenants wait in a car behind the main line of your troops. The controllers are running overwatch with the new flying drones you've manufactured. The other group drives up and gets out of their vehicles, nerves are tense. The leaders get out of their cars and meet in the center of the group. A deal is struck to share research but not other resources. The other group will be allowed to use your facilities to respawn but will not be allowed within a vital perimeter. You both research faster and your scientists can see further ahead to realize what the research will grant them.

You and your new allies have successfully grown closer and closer. Your goals are similar and a common enemy forged the bond closer. You launched a joint operation against a nearby group that was raiding both of your territories. When you arrived at the command center you realized that the reason it was so easy was that a third heretofore unknown ally was waging a war on their western front while you two were coming in from the east. A battle hardened group, they focus mostly on fighting and killing and are happy to join you as long as they receive access to the newest and best weapons.

You came across an old army base. It was a very tough battle with the old sentry drones but you made it through. To your happy surprise you found a missile silo attached to the base. Your scientists have discovered the technologies to build rockets and you've put a satellite in orbit. You can now look down at the world and zoom in on all the areas of interest (as long as it is not cloudy). You can see other large and small groups. You keep track of their movements. You are evaluating new allies and threats and making plans. You identify your largest competitor, he is very far away. You'll have to develop some better transportation technology before you get over to him.

You extend your operations to a the sea by building a shipping yard where the old one stood. As you build things the old buildings are torn down. Your controllers dispatch dredge boats to clear out the wreckage of old ships in the harbor. Then you set about to build your fleet. You'll need many resources but by the time your done you have large navy.

World and Spaces:
I think that a Eve Online system for the world and territories make the best sense. At lower levels there are guards that will kill lawbreakers. As you move further out there are fewer guards to the point that it is a no mans land. It's worked well for them.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Bacteria Survival Skills

I recently learned a whole lot more about Bacteria and how they adapt to survive against human antibiotics and other bacteria alike. I learned this from a book I recently finished titled "The Coming Plague:Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance" by Laurie Garrett. Garret. She attended graduate school in the Department of Bacteriology and Immunology at UC Berkeley. She worked for KPFA and then NPR as a science corespondent. As a medical and science writer for Newsday, in New York City, Laurie Garrett became the only writer ever to have been awarded all three of the Big "Ps" of journalism: The Peabody, The Polk (twice), and The Pulitzer.

Bacteria have several means at their disposal for adapting and changing. These include turning on and off DNA gene expressions, trading plasmids, DNA scavanging and mutations. Lets review DNA scavenging first because it's fascinating.

DNA scavenging sounds just like it means, the bacteria wait for something interesting to pass by it and it snatches it up. Like a voracious lion, it surrounds the new DNA and encapsulates it. But this is not a blind effort by the bacteria. The bacteria has checking mechanisms to examine if the DNA makes something useful . In this manner, bacteria can acquire the plans to make membrane pumps from the DNA segments or genes called mdr or pgp. These pumps can be used by everything from cancer cells to yeast. Cancer cells use them to expel chemotherapy drugs. Once the drug breaches the cell wall, the pumps activate and throw it out.

Plasmids are little extra bits of DNA that are encapsulated in their own cell. They can be turned on and off independently of the other DNA in the cell. Think of them like special abilities from the characters in 'Heroes'. Each plasmid gives the bacteria a different ability. One plasmid may give the bacteria a resistance to a particular strain of anti-bacterial. Plasmids can be transferred from one bacteria to the next by conjugation, one cell wall touches another. Staphylococcus acquired penicillin resistance by absorbing the beta-lactamase plasmid in the 1960s. Bacteria can transfer immunities by passing plasmids to their neighbors.

Turning on and off DNA expressions, 'genes', is like the bacteria's way of shuffling through it's library of information and picking the right tool for the task. An example of this was demonstrated by John Cairns in 1988 when he created a specific set of E. coli that had the genes to survive in an altered chemical environment but those genes were turned off. He then altered the environment so the bacteria could survive only if it turned those genes on. the bacteria would specifically turn those two genes on, and do it in far less time than it would have taken with random mutation.

Mutations in bacteria DNA while overall can be catastrophic, when it works correctly it can change things like the characteristics of the cell wall, making it harder for the immune system to recognize the invader. But mutations were not desired by the bacteria in all places along their DNA chain. In some places they have 'enhancers' which command the copying molecule, polymerase, to act with greater care, making accurate and multiple copies of a stretch of genes. Key characteristics that these thorough copy mechanisms protected was the information on how to invade range of cells. In other places copying was completely haphazard, especially in places that coded for the characteristics of the ever changing cell wall.

Sporulation can be activated by a set of genes in a cell and it causes the bacteria to become dormant. Instead of trying to find resources to consume and avoid the human immune system, they construct a fortress with reinforced cell walls and slow down their internal processes. The bacteria then can survive conditions that otherwise would kill them. After the danger is passed, they can reemerge.

How are bacteria able to accomplish feats like going through a library of DNA and picking out the right portion that will save them, I do not know. By 1993 most every common pathological bacteria we had been fighting successfully had developed resistances to one or more treatments. I think with all these tools at their disposal, and our minimal understanding of DNA manipulation, we are in for a long fight yet.

The information I've included herein is taken from the 11th Printing for the Coming Plague, pages: 411, 414, 415, 432, 433, 450, 451, 580, 582, 583.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Fedora Core 10

I just installed Fedora today, it's a free version of Linux that was my alternate to purchasing RedHat. Coming back to Linux after being out of it for a while was a challenge. I could not even get the wireless card to install. (Apparently this is a typical problem).

A few things that I did learn today:

How to Share and Internet connection with a Mac. Go to System Preferences, click on the Sharing icon, then click on the Internet Sharing Box. Select where you want to share internet from / to. I had internet through the WiFi and needed to share to a Laptop connected via Ethernet. I did not even have to change the CAT5 cable from a regular to a crossover. It was wonderful. A few seconds later, I opened up fedora and told it to connect to the network it found and BING! I'm in business.

Logging in as root in a terminal and other useful setup tools can be found at the Fedora FAQ page. I just had the largest sense of deja vu I've had in a while. I guess we were supposed to move to this new house afterall!

Wireless drivers for Linux products are few and far between. Apparently part of the reason they are not developed by the community is because card manufacturers will not release their source code to consumers. Therefore open source groups cannot create drives. In addition, card manufacturers are not creating their own drivers. This leaves a bit of a gap in the system which requires one to first install a windows emulator and then install the drivers for the card. The first part of this process is achieve by downloading and installing NDISwrapper. However installing it using the make command was not working so I had to get the developer tools for fedora first using the command: yum groupinstall "Development Tools" . This uses the internet to download updates and tools. Which I could not do until I installed the internet share (see above).

Thursday, January 29, 2009


How people deal with risk in their life, what type of risk they are willing to expose themselves to, all these things are very interesting.

Myself, working for a startup I've taken on quite a bit of risk. While I could have chosen to work for an established company, kept my head down, earned a living. But I wanted something more. To me, life isn't about keeping in line and doing the same thing as everyone else. I can see why they don't want to risk doing a startup. They don't always work. You could loose all the time and effort you put into it.

The west was founded by people that took risks. They crossed the ocean in sailing ships braving disease to land in a land with no infrastructure, no roads or houses to buy. Everything was new to them. There were no guarantees in their life.

And today America is the last true super power. Built on ideas and ideals that the rest of the world can only hope to imitate.

None of that could have happened if people refused to take the risks that were inherent in crossing an ocean and founding a country in a new and strange land. And today we are all the better for it. So now while I'm still young and healthy, I will also take risks. Because I want to build a better future.

Standing on the Earth looking Towards the Sky

I believe for years people have looked out at space and dreamed about sailing away in large ships, leaving earth behind and setting up Utopias at distant stars. These types of irrational expectations have caused the entire industry harm because people have never been given the chance to evaluate a serious, for profit, space program. While an individual may desire that humans go into space to explore, the fact of the matter is that the instruments of labor dictate that there must a strong financial reason to explore these possibilities. I want humans to go into space in a big way. Asking myself where this feeling originated, I am not sure. However, I can conjecture.

I read many science fiction books as a child and throughout my short life. Joules Vern, HG Wells. But I did not spend inordinate amount of time with them. In fact through puberty till I was 19 or so I tended more towards the realm of fantasy with authors like Piers Anthony, Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman, R.A. Salvatore. But then I drifted back to Science Fiction. I read books by Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein and Alistair Reynolds. These books helped me understand a small fraction of what could be. Of course their ideas were far fetched. But there were still some reasonable notes to take. For example the construction of a linear accelerator on the moon. No atmospheric resistance means that this could be used effectively as a Single Stage to Orbit (SSO).

I studied Aerospace Engineering in college at WPI. The most interesting classes I remember were Astronautics, the movement of bodies in space, and Spacecraft and Mission Design. In the latter I learned about project optimization. The summary of the class was to build the mission profile of a spacecraft that flew as close to the earth as possible, for as long as possible, with the least weight. Astronautics opened up the majestic realm of space travel to my phsyci. It was like a terrific ball with dancers going this way an that, and the goal was to find your way through them to the beautiful girl on the other side of the room, all the while, keeping time.

Other reasons have come up more recently. Through my US history research, reading books and talking with people, I've come to realize the importance of colonizing the west and the vast opportunities that it offered to all those that were willing to take the risks of coming here. And I've also witnessed a generation of uninspired young men and women plodding through the best education system known to man with no hope of applying the knowledge they worked so hard to attain. California is one of the richest and vibrant places in the whole world with innovation centers like Silicon Valley that are the envy of major governments. Those that came west, and then traveled even further it seems created the best atmosphere of innovation because they created a culture that accepted and grew off risk.

What I see today is that the US does not have the Vision, the Knowledge and Expertise, the Financial Backing, and the Willingness to Take Risks that could culminate in an expert space program. What I want to see is resources being taking from outside of the earth, not from the depths of the earth or her surface, but from other places like the moon or asteroids, that are then put to work to improve the conditions of the people on the ground in ways that we begin to understand today.

Why take materials from outside earth? I believe that we are currently exploring every which way we can exploit the material resources we have today on the surface of the planet. But what we have not done is conducted a thorough analysis of what materials we have in space floating around us. For all we know, we have the most precious and abundant materials just outside our earth-moon system, and we'll never get to them because we haven't even explored the possibilities that they could be useful.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Zombie Girl Song

A short song I've thought up in the shower over the last few months. It should be sung to the general tune of I'm a barbi girl in a barbi world for full effect:

She's a Zombie Girl
In a Zombie World
She's Contagious
Totally Salacious

Buggies in Her Hair
She's Bleeding Everywhere
Don't go Near Her
They Think We should Fear Her

Zombie Girl is Here
And She Does Not Appear
To Be Evil
She Just Eats People

I Took Her On a Date
And Now It's Getting Very Late
She's Fantastic
Overly Sarcastic

We Went to My Place
And Now She's Kissing Face
Her Eyes Revealing
Her True Feelin's

Now Everything Has Changed
And When I Try to Explain
What Just Happened
People Just Laugh and

I'm a Zombie Boy
With a Zombie Girl Toy
We're Contagious
Totally Salacious

Buggies in Our Hair
We're Bleeding Everywhere
Don't Get Near Us
They Should Really Fear Us

I hope you now have learned
The knowledge that I spurned
Zombies are People
And They are Still Eeviiiil!

-Revised December 12, 2009

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Lassa Virus

I am reading a very interesting book titled: The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett. In it she details the history of the Lassa Fever and the researchers who combated it's spread and documented it's effects. The virus was noted to kill 9:10 people who were infected in non-immune populations. For immune populations the death rate is still around 1-2:10. Most people cannot even muster a strong enough immune response to fight off repeated infection.

It is easy to think that we are insulated from the plague and viruses that prey on our bodies. Growing up in the United States I always figured that nothing like that could ever happen here. A plague in the US? That was the sort of thing you read about when studying the middle ages. And you pointed at all the people in the picture books doing strange things, drinking snake oil, burning bodies in piles, locking up their doors.

The reason that I thought that nothing like a horrible disease could happen to me or could happen in the US I connected with the book. The first page of the preface for the book reads like this:

We always want to believe that history happened only to "them," "in the past," and that somehow we are outside history, rather than enmeshed within it. Many aspects of history are unanticipated and unforeseen, predictable only in retrospect: the fall of the Berlin Wall is a single recent example. et in one vital area, the emergence and spread of new infectious diseases, we can already predict the future - and it is threatening and dangerous to us all. -Source

After reading this I was confounded by the fact that I had spent all of my life in denial about a critical problem that has struck at the heart of humanity and civilization time and time again. The black plague in 1300-1400's, the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918. These pandemics killed millions of people. By not being concerned with the spread of diseases, I in fact was contributing to a false sense of security that we have built up around ourselves in the civilized world.

We must understand that diseases, plagues, viruses and bacteria are very small and very real killers. The Lassa Virus and others can have devastating consequences of we ignore it's threat.

Continuous Contraception

I'm not a woman but I find myself with a bit of knowledge that most women don't have. For some context I was raised with two sisters and as such I was exposed to a few things that I would not have been otherwise.

Birth Control for women, specifically the Pill is what I am going to write about today. I recently had a chat with a friend online about an NPR article. I listened to this article on the radio when it first came out and it reminded me of a discussion I had with a good lady friend of mine at college in which she outlined the same information as the article. Mainly that when your taking the pill, periods are needlessly engineered because there was no other way to sell the product.

This is called Continuous Contraception and this is how it works:

Continuous contraception works the same way as the 21 days on/seven days off cycle. It stops the body's monthly preparation for pregnancy by lowering the production of hormones that make pregnancy possible.

When women are on traditional 21 days on/seven days off birth control, monthly periods are artificial anyway, says reproductive endocrinologist Sheldon Segal, a longtime contraceptive researcher at New York's Population Council and an adjunct professor of pharmacology at Cornell Medical School.

These periods are considered artificial because they're not shedding an unfertilized egg along with the uterine lining. And monthly bleeding, says Segal, "was actually a marketing decision made decades ago when the pill was developed.

"Marketers at the manufacturing company which developed the pill," says Segal, "felt at the time that an oral contraceptive might or might not be accepted by the public. These were very different times. Not only was this the first oral contraceptive but it was the first medication given to healthy women for any purpose at all." -Source
Now, after talking with my friend online, she mentioned that the problem with methods like this is that:
  • most women do use a period as a pregnancy indicator
  • you totally get to eat what you want for a week, you can do it and you don't really gain weight
That being said, I think there are plenty of other indicators that a woman is pregnant rather than just having a once a month spot check so to say. Infact, if not having to survive through seven days of random pain and exchanging that for one of those $20 pregnancy tests every month seems reasonable to me. I mean it's better than spending $20 / month on asperin right?

I conjecture that once women get over their initial reaction of not having their periods, they will realize continuous contraception is preferable. In the end, it's not my decision. But I think with enough information, those that are risk taking will find better alternatives to the current practice.

I'm still looking forward to whats developed for a male hormone contraceptive treatment. And despite what you may read, we're not all against it.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Ride

Note: This is part of the 2nd Earth story that I work on occasionally.

Strapped into a little padded cylinder with no room to move was not the idealistic form of fun. Still, the short trip to freedom was the best bet for a new life. The only alternative was a hard cold floor and crumbling cement walls. The only thing to look back on was the rain, drop by drop coming in through the ceiling. The only thing the broke the monotony was the rain. Memories of the past were rancid, foul, dead, useless now that they were gone. So long away it seemed, they existed outside of the small being that was encapsulated in a soft blue padding waiting on a final ride to freedom.

The rain was washing the launch site, like a flood of a thousand little rocks it came down pelting the figures below. Two figures paced some ways away from the launch area. The vehicle itself was seated upright like an elongated egg, tall and slender, it sat against the wind, not moving an inch. The humans however were much less stationary. They tried shrugging off the droplets by shaking their shoulders in their big green coats but to no avail, there was more wet where that came from. Their large weapons hung heavy on their shoulders. They were there only till the package got off the ground. Sooner rather than later was best.

Sooner rather than later was best. And the rain kept coming down in a tap tap tap. And that was slowly drowned out by the ignition switches. And the roar of the engine soon drowned out any point the rain was trying to make. And then they were on their way. All twenty of them, strapped in their little padded cells, headed to freedom.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

2nd Earth

Note: This is part of the 2nd Earth story that I work on occasionally.

The sun shown down through the bright green leaves of the tick jungle canopy. Thick vines and branches clung to anything that moved. The hunter's movement was followed by a shower of sticky dew onto the undergrowth. The sinuous form wove it's way through the verdant growth driven by a desire to feed. Some ways distant, a green form stumbled through the undergrowth. It clung close to the ground, leathery skin efficiently brushing aside branches. But its wounds hindered it from masking it's scent, and the hunter followed.

The shadow moved across the sun seemingly slowly at first, and then with a great rush it was covered completely. The breath of the forest hushed. Not knowing what to make of this new mystery, the hunter slowed. Two eyes stared up at the dark form that covered the suns' radiance. It's prey, forgotten, slithered away, happy to be free of the threat.

It would take centuries to realize the event again, but by then, they would be ready to understand some of its significance. For now, it was enough to watch and wait, two eyes up, wondering of the possibilities. A weathered hand rested on a nearby tree. It's five fingers gripped the bark absently, it's attention focused on the sky and the future.