Karl Schroeder on likely surprises for 2009

Tom James @ 21-03-2009

Someone who may or may not be SF writer Karl Schoeder is Twittering on likely surprises for 2009:

karlschroeder

All fairly uncontentious, no?


New-found native life in the stratosphere

Paul Raven @ 21-03-2009

skyWhile the needle-in-a-haystack search for life on other planets continues, we still consistently find new lifeforms on Earth when we look in the right places. Our oceans are still a source of biological mystery, but that’s not the only place that extremophile life can be found: the Indian Space Research Organisation recently announced the discovery of new bacterial species in the stratosphere:

Three bacterial colonies, namely, PVAS-1, B3 W22 and B8 W22 were, however, totally new species. All the three newly identified species had significantly higher UV resistance compared to their nearest phylogenetic neighbours.

“So what,” you may be thinking. Well:

The precautionary measures and controls operating in this experiment inspire confidence that these species were picked up in the stratosphere. While the present study does not conclusively establish the extra-terrestrial origin of microorganisms, it does provide positive encouragement to continue the work in our quest to explore the origin of life.

Another potential prop for panspermia? [via SlashDot; image by country_boy_shane]


‘A world avoided’: Banning CFCs 22 years ago paid off

Tom Marcinko @ 20-03-2009

not-spray-can“It is a real horrible place.” That’s how NASA atmospheric scientist Paul Newman describes an alternative world:

A NASA study about ozone-munching chemicals from aerosol sprays and refrigeration used a computer model to play a game of what-if. What if the world 22 years ago didn’t agree to cut back on chlorofluorocarbons which cause a seasonal ozone hole to form near the South Pole?

…In mid-latitudes like Washington, DNA-damaging ultraviolet radiation would have increased more than sixfold. Just 5 minutes in the summer sunshine would have caused a sunburn, instead of 15. Typical midsummer UV levels, now around 10 or 11, would have soared to 30. Summer thunderstorms in the Northern Hemisphere would have been much stronger.

Nice to know that a little foresight can pay off. There must be a lesson. What could it be? Oh:

Newman, the co-chair of the protocol’s scientific panel, said the study provides hope that the world can do the same thing on another looming but even harder to solve environmental problem: Global warming.

[Image: This is not a spray can by badjonni]


Friday Free Fiction for 20th March

Paul Raven @ 20-03-2009

Five days of clear blue skies and fresh breezes have led me to suspect I’ve been displaced into a parallel dimension or simulated universe by some capricious deity or artificial intelligence… but hey, even a False Spring is better than no Spring at all, as far as I’m concerned.

And whatever reality I happen to be perceiving right now, it doesn’t seem to have any shortage of free fiction floating around in it…

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A lone classic novel at ManyBooks: Deathworld by Harry Harrison

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COSMOS Magazine presents “The Broken Hourglass” by Andy Heizler

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HUB Magazine presents “SBIR Proposal by Richard K Lyon

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Strange Horizons presents “Nira and I” by Shweta Narayan

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Tor.com presents “We Haven’t Got There Yet” by Harry Turtledove

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Jason Stoddard delivers chapter 3.1 of Eternal Franchise

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Jayme Lynn Blaschke is up to the 34th installment of Memory

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Chris Howard is giving away his novel Seaborn in digital form

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Jeffrey A Carver is giving away copies of his novel Sunborn in multiple DRM-free formats

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Subterranean Online presents “The Dry Spell” by James P Blaylock

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Weird Tales presents “All In” by Peter Atwood

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And as always our thanks to the tireless crew of the USS SF Signal, who boldly go further in search of free fiction online than almost anyone else:

  • Chris Dolley is making his book Resonance available as a free download [and an intriguing brain-bender of a story it is, too]
  • The latest issue of Concatenation has been posted and includes the story “The Invisible Hand” by Allan M Rees
  • Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist presents “The Best Monkey” by Daniel Abraham
  • The new issue of Ray Gun Revival features fiction by Adrian Simmons, Paula R Stiles, O Charles Swallows, Jr., Steven Gerard, Chip Meador, M Keaton, Keanan Brand, L S King, and Paul Christian Glenn
  • Book View Cafe presents chapter 1 of The Betrayal by Pati Nagle

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Once again my schedule means I’ll miss the bulk of this week’s Friday Flash, but as ever it’ll be collected up in next week’s post. Meanwhile, Sumit Dam came in early enough to make the cut with “The Black Dog“.

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And that’s it for another week, it seems. Don’t forget to let us know of anything you think merits inclusion in Friday Free Fiction; in the meantime, have a good weekend!


Backyard biotech

Paul Raven @ 20-03-2009

Lego DNAWe’ve mentioned garage-sized biotech start-ups before, but not everyone’s in it for the money. As the price barrier to genetic engineering falls, some folk are hacking genes in an attempt to make the world a better place – like Meredith Patterson, for example:

The 31-year-old ex-computer programmer and now biohacker is working on modifying jellyfish genes and adding them to yoghurt to detect the toxic chemical melamine, which was found in baby milk in China last year after causing a number of deaths, and kidney damage to thousands of infants. Her idea is to engineer yoghurt so that in the presence of the toxin it turns fluorescent green, warning the producer that the food is contaminated. If her experiment is successful, she will release the design into the public domain.

Great stuff… but as the article at The Guardian points out, easy-entry biohacking presents as many risks as it offers fixes:

… Helen Wallace of GeneWatch in the UK thinks biohacking could be dangerous. “It is increasingly easy to order genes by mail,” she says. “Something like smallpox is hard to get, but there are other organisms that could become harmful. If you change a living organism’s properties, you could also change its interactions with the environment or the human body.” She adds: “Scientists are notorious for not seeing the unintended consequences.”

“Where is the oversight?” asks another interviewee, and it’s a good point. Will a self-policing global community of genetic scientists emerge, keeping an eye on one another and sharing data in the hopes of collaborating their way to success? The tools are there to enable it, at least.

Of course, it would be easy for individuals to slip through the cracks if they really wanted to… but the same is true of the old system as well. Maybe the best way to make sure we don’t get wiped out by a rogue scientist is to do the best we can to avoid making them feel disenfranchised and unappreciated. [image by mknowles]


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