Archive for September, 2008

Eureka: The Death of Stars

By Stephen Cass | September 18, 2008 3:46 pm

Screen capture from Euraka Season Three, Episode SevenOn Tuesday’s nights Eureka, a miniature sun was accidently born in the skies above the town, wreaking destruction. The solution? To shoot iron into the sunlet’s core.

This is in fact not far off how some real stars die: iron poisoning. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Physics, Space, TV

Fringe: The Ultimate Test Tube Baby

By Stephen Cass | September 17, 2008 2:28 pm

Screen capture from Fringe, Season One, Episode TwoFringe, J.J. Abrams’ (of Lost and Alias fame) latest show, last night featured the unintended fall out from an attempt to grow humans in tanks. Since the goal of the original attempt was to produce fully grown soldiers, bypassing the normal wait time of 9 months plus 18 years, some liberties were taken with growth hormones in order to accelerate aging. Thus fall out, such as a baby that goes from conception to death of old age within a few hours.

Growing human beings outside the confines of a real uterus–ectogenesis–has been a staple of science-fiction since at least Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World: it was a critical element in The Matrix, and even featured in a recent Doctor Who episode. It’s also been a staple of real science for some time: in 1996, Japanese researchers were able to keep goat fetuses alive and developing for 3 weeks in their artificial womb. In 2002, researchers at Cornell were able to keep human embryos alive and developing for several days, after which the experiments were terminated to stay within embryonic research ethics rules.

This real research is driven by the desire to help childless people, or dangerously premature babies, and not, say, a hankering for a super-soldier production line. But if the day comes when we can produce a child with just a smear of genetic material and a machine, then we will have to do some deep thinking. On the one hand, this kind of technology could allow us to colonize distant star systems (instead of trying to keep humans alive for hundreds of years of interstellar travel, send a robot and some DNA), while on the other it could lead to the creation of an entirely new underclass of humanity, a la the “tanks” of Space: Above and Beyond.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Biology, Biotech, TV

Terminator: Better Pool Hustling Through Technology

By Stephen Cass | September 16, 2008 3:40 pm

Screen capture from Terminator, Season Two, Episode TwoIn last night’s episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Cameron accepts the invitation (and wager) of a couple of security guards to play a game of pool. Having gotten close enough to scan their security badges, Cameron then proceeds to smoke them at the game, thanks to a little known pool mode in her Point-Of-View display, which, thus far, has tended to show more in the way of helpful information about the caliber of weapon she is using or instructions like TERMINATE.

In the real world, enter Deep Green. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Robots, TV
MORE ABOUT: Deep Green, pool, Terminator

Stargate Atlantis: Gene Therapy

By Stephen Cass | September 15, 2008 4:19 pm

Screenshot from the Stargate Atlantis episode titled “The Queen”On Friday night’s episode of Stargate Atlantis, one of the characters had to go undercover in order to convince a faction of the show’s resident villians, the Wraith, to accept a gene therapy. The therapy would eliminate the Wraith’s need to feed on human beings, something which has become a bone of contention between the Wraith and other residents of their galaxy.

Gene therapy works by rewriting a patient’s genetic code, an impossibility with conventional medicines, and could be used to combat diseases such as hemophilia, Parkinsons, and cancer. It’s a beautifully simple idea in concept, but the real world scientists that are working to make it a common-place reality are finding the execution to be a tough problem.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Biotech, Genetics, TV

Anathem Review

By Stephen Cass | September 12, 2008 11:58 am

Cover of Neal Stephenson’s AnathemOkay, here’s the one thing that some fans of Neal Stephenson will want to know: yes, it has a ‘proper’ ending. (Although Stephenson defends his authorial choices vigorously, a criticism leveled at some of his books by some readers is that they don’t end, so much as just stop.) While there are still some interesting questions left by the end of Anathem, the characters do see resolution to their stories. (Also, the hockey jerseys now make perfect sense.)

So, that settled, what’s the beginning and middle of the book like? Awesome. Despite its length at 960 pages, the fast pacing of the book is reminiscent of Stephenson’s earlier, shorter, Snow Crash and The Diamond Age. However, he also takes the time and room to delve into subjects ranging from orbital mechanics to Plato’s Theory of Forms. The book revolves around the adventures of a young scholar called Erasmas, who has lived most of his life within the confines of a millennia-old order mostly devoted to theoretical research. When an enigmatic and unexpected arrival settles into orbit around his world, Erasmas’ life is turned upside down.

The book’s release is well timed, coinciding with the activation of the big daddy of particle accelerators, the Large Hadron Collider. The Large Hadron Collider is part of a quest to understand just how arbitrary are the laws of physics–a question that becomes significant within Anathem.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Books, Physics

Stargate: Moving on From Atlantis

By Stephen Cass | September 11, 2008 5:21 pm

Stargate: Atlantis promotional artStargate Solutions interviewed Joe Mallozzi, showrunner for the recently cancelled Stargate Atlantis, where he talks about the reaction of the cast to the news and his thoughts on the plans to continue the Stargate franchise.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: TV

Eureka: The Fine Art of Dumpster Diving

By Stephen Cass | September 10, 2008 5:52 pm

Screen capture from Euraka Season Three, Episode SixLast night on Eureka, Sherriff Carter was faced with a bumbling superhero who had constructed his gear from discarded pieces of technology thrown out by the town’s scientists. In this, our wannabe superhero was participating in the ultimate expression of the fine old art of dumpster diving.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Security, TV

Terminator: DIY Tech Support

By Stephen Cass | September 9, 2008 1:15 pm

bios_summer.pngThe new season of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles kicked off into high gear last night, promising some great TV to come. The episode picked up seconds after the last season left off, when Cameron–a terminator reprogrammed and sent back from the future to protect John Connor, leader-of-the-human-race-in-waiting–became the victim of a car bomb.

A damaged Cameron finds herself in need of some significant hardware and software repairs: unfortunately, it’ll be years before any terminator technical support facilities are built. Cameron must fix herself. In the real world, it’s exactly this problem that researchers are actively struggling with–how to create computers that can realize they’re malfunctioning and restore themselves to working order.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Robots, TV

Dear Russell Davies: Our Plan to Fix Torchwood

By Sam Lowry | September 8, 2008 5:33 pm

torchwood1.jpgThe release of the Torchwood Series 2 DVD gave us the opportunity to watch (in some cases watch for the first time) every episode of the second season.

And the verdict?  In the immortal words of Ed Grimley, “totally decent, I must say.”  John Barrowman still rocks.

With that out of the way, I’ll add that the show is also showing troubling signs of flaming out after the upcoming mini-series. Series Two had at least one genuinely terrible episode (“From Out of the Rain”) and a few marginal ones (“Something Borrowed,” “To The Last Man”).

Unlike Doctor Who, Torchwood doesn’t have a multi-decade reserve of goodwill and nostalgia to fall back on.  Unlike Buffy, Captain Jack isn’t a teenager whose adolescent angst can be mined for a season’s worth of new story arcs.

Here are five things we’d like to see more (and less) of in the Series 3 mini-series that would improve the prospects for the show to live on.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: TV
MORE ABOUT: Torchwood

Spore: A Galaxy of Fun

By Stephen Cass | September 5, 2008 12:19 pm

Spore video game box artIt’s been a long time in the making, but Spore has finally been released today for Windows and Macs. The brainchild of Will Wright, (best known as the creator of The Sims) this video game allows the player to go from controlling a protoplasmic blob in a tide pool to commanding a galactic empire. DISCOVER interviewed Will Wright about the Big Thoughts behind Spore in 2006, but what’s it like as a game?

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Aliens, Biology, Space Flight, Video Games
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