Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Untitled Gladiator Story Fragment

The darkness of the hypogeum is cool and quiet; restful. This is my time to relax before the show. Then the hot sunlight washes over me.

I step into the arena with my eyes closed, taking a moment to listen to the crowd, feel the hot sand between my toes, smell the leather and metal and sweat and blood and shit of the Colosseum. The building looks new; imperial masons keep it that way, replacing stone and concrete as centuries wear it away, but the structure of the thing is ancient. Three-thousand years of history holding up the sweating, farting asses of Rome.

"Ave, Imperator, morituri te salutant!" I salute to Caesar in unison with my opponent. Then we acknowledge the audience.

My opponent is Staberius; the dumb, grandstanding, glass-jawed bastard. He's been pissed at me lately and out for blood, gods know why. He raises his rocket-caestuum for all to see; titanium fists the size of his head, with armored forearms and spools of cable extending behind the elbows. Stupid crowd pleasing gimmick weapons, but who am I to judge? I ignite my plasma-siccae and hold them skyward. The short, curved plasma-blades are not very impressive in the noon day light, but the crowd responds nonetheless.

And now it's time.

If You Aren't Reading Goblins, It's A Lot Like This

Click for bigness.

Also, you should totally be reading Goblins

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Meet DARPA's 6'2" disaster-response robot

Because hey, we've got to start somewhere. And you've got to love the glowing Iron Man chest piece.

From CNN:
The ATLAS humanoid robot, which looks vaguely like something from the "Terminator" movies, was created by Boston Dynamics for DARPA, a research arm of the U.S. Department of Defense. It will compete in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC), a competition that invites engineers to create a remotely controlled robot that can respond to natural or man-made disasters.
The winning robot could be used in situations deemed too dangerous for humans, like the 2011 nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
The DRC is broken up into three challenges. The first was the Virtual Robotics Challenge, in which 26 teams controlled simulated, 3-D robots. Only seven of those teams - including participants from MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory – were chosen to go on to the next stage. They will each get their very own ATLAS for the Robotics Challenge Trials, a real-life obstacle course competition between robots that will take place this December in Florida.
As part of the challenge, the teams will program their humanoid robot to accomplish a range of tasks. ATLAS will need to drive a car, navigate complicated terrain on foot and move rubble in order to enter a building. It will also have to climb stairs and use various tools to do things like turn off valves or break through concrete walls.

Pacific Rim Movie Review

Recommendation: Simple story & grand spectacle. Go see it.

To say that Pacific Rim is about style over substance would grossly unfair to a great action movie. It would also be technically true, but that doesn't automatically make it bad. While the substance is light it is well used and well presented, and where that may fall short, the style more than makes up for it. This is a damn stylish movie. In short, Pacific Rim is a spectacle film in much the same vein as Independence Day, though in my opinion quite a bit better.

Friday, July 12, 2013

SpaceX Grasshopper Test Vehicle Vehicle Reaches 325 Meters, Then Lands Safely

Worms regrow their decapitated heads, along with the memories inside

From The Verge:

The researchers tested the memory of planarians by measuring how long it took for them to reach food in a controlled setting. The small worms dislike open spaces and bright lights — but they had been trained to ignore it so that they could find their meals. Even after decapitation, worms that had gone through training were able to overcome their fears and start eating much faster than worms that hadn't been trained. However, the memories didn't come back immediately. Each worm still had to be reminded of its earlier knowledge, though it only took a single lesson for it to all come back.

Why this happens is still unclear. Planarians' brains control their behavior, but the researchers suggest that some of their memories might be stored elsewhere in their body. Alternatively, they suggest that the worms' original brain may have modified their nervous systems, and their nervous systems may have then altered how the new brains formed during regrowth.

Monday, July 08, 2013

World War Z (movie) Review

Recommendation: Harmless Fun, But Nothing Special

As a fan of Max Brooks' novel World War Z, I’ve been keeping an eye on the production of this adaptation for some time. There was some initial excitement with news that J Michael Straczynski would be writing, and some good buzz surrounding early drafts of his script. Unfortunately that all died quickly with news of numerous rewrites by other authors, and more and more departures from the source material became apparent. The final result is a generic 28 days later knockoff who's only common feature with the novel is it's title.

Friday, July 05, 2013

New material holds big energy hope

To quote Neal Stephenson in Cryptonomicon: "As has always been the case, and as will continue to be the case for at least another half century, batteries suck."

Chemical batteries have always been a limiting factor in technological advancement. They are are heavy, expensive, slow to charge & discharge, sensitive to temperature, and have a very finite lifespan. This makes them impractical for storing excess power generated by our our infrastructure. This is why it's taken so long to develop commercially viable electrical cars. And it's why a modern mp3 player needs to be replaced on a regular basis, regardless of it's mechanical condition.

Unfortunately, there's never been much of an alternative available. But that may soon change.
From Phys Org
The new dielectric material outperforms current capacitors in many aspects, storing large amounts of energy and working reliably from -190°C to 180°C, and is cheaper to manufacture than current components.
"Our material performs significantly better than existing high dielectric constant materials so it has huge potential. With further development, the material could be used in '' which store enormous amounts of energy, removing current energy storage limitations and throwing the door wide open for innovation in the areas of renewable energy, , even space and defence technologies," said Associate Professor Liu.
The material could be particularly transformative for wind and solar power, which can cause problems when fed into the at low demand times.

Rant: The Case of Kara Neumann, Killed by Faith

We Live in a time of ever expanding medical knowledge and Technology. That knowledge has improved and extended our lives to an extent that cannot be denied. And yet, there are Homo-Sapiens in this world who do deny that knowledge and all the benefit it brings us. People who ignore Evidence in favor of 'faith', and insist that that mythology and magic are more powerful than Intellect and Technology.

When religion and tradition are debated, the final refrain of those who defend the indefensible is often "What's the harm?" If it brings them comfort and happiness, why does it matter what people believe in? How does it hurt anybody else?

On March 23rd of 2008, an eleven year old girl died for her parent's beliefs. Two Humans ignored the Science of Biology, and when their magics failed them it was an innocent little girl who paid the price. She will never run or laugh or breathe or move again.

from NBC News
According to the case records, Kara had been showing symptoms of exhaustion and dehydration for more than a week, but her parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann, refused to take her to a pediatrician, and decided to respond to her illness with prayer, not medicine.
A pediatrician testified that Kara's disease was highly treatable and that her chances of survival were high until "well into the day of her death."
The Neumanns don't belong to any particular church, but they identify as Pentecostals, according to factual findings in the court record, none of which the Neumanns disputed. Some Pentecostals — but by no means all — believe that prayer and strong religious belief can cure all illnesses, a tradition that helped give rise to famous "faith healers" like Oral Roberts and Benny Hinn.

Make no mistake, faith-healing is not a rare and fringe behavior. It's a scam that's run in countries all across the globe, victimizing the vulnerable. Faith-healing kills people and takes their money.

And while it's arguably the most vile, this is far from the only scam that the charlatans are running as they take advantage of people's hopes and fears. Most only consume their prey's time and money and trust, but they are no less insidious in their methods.

As Kara weakened, the Neumanns asked family and friends to pray for her, too. The day before his daughter died, Dale Neumann posted a message on a Christian listserv with the subject line "Help our daughter needs emergency prayer!!!"
"We need agreement in prayer over our youngest daughter, who is very weak and pale at the moment with hardly any strength," the message said.
The next day, Easter Sunday, at least two family friends called 911 on Kara's behalf. Paramedics found no pulse, and attempts to revive Kara at the hospital failed.
Dale Neumann testified that he knew Kara was sick but never thought she might die. In fact, he testified that he thought that Jesus would bring her back from the dead, as he did with Lazarus in the Gospel of John.

And yet, despite this we persist in protecting these behaviors; socially it's considered rude to criticize these ideas, and legally it's sometimes impossible. 'Faith' (the insistent belief in an idea against all evidence and logic) is considered a virtue. 'Tradition' (ritualization of the dead past) is considered sacred. Believers wear these illusions like armor, and no one is allowed to tell them how vulnerable they really are.

The idea that 'beliefs' must be treated with difference and superficial respect simply because they are believed in is harmful to our species. The idea that we must not expect people to defend their indefensible claims restrains our ability to progress. By not questioning or criticizing or pressing for evidence, we allow these weak and toxic ideas to live on indefinitely.

In no other intellectual endeavor are the words "Well, that's just what I believe" granted any authority. Tell a mathematician that you deeply believe 2+2=5, or tell a geologist that you reject plate tectonics, or tell a physicist that gravity is 'just a theory'. Each will tell you exactly why and how you are wrong and stupid; it is their duty to do so. Yet biologists expected to pull their punches when explaining evolution.

Not all ideas are equally valid.

Wisconsin is among 17 states that allow religious defenses against felony charges of crimes against children, according to records compiled by Children's Healthcare Is a Legal Duty, a nonprofit activist group that opposes religious exceptions to child health and safety laws.
The Neumanns contended that their convictions were unconstitutional because of the state's law that allows residents to pursue "treatment through prayer." They said the law clashed with the state's reckless homicide law, which calls for intervention when someone is at a point of "substantial risk of death.
Because Kara's symptoms were hard to identify, they argued, they had no way to know when their prayer decision crossed the line into crime.
But the Supreme Court disagreed in a 6-1 ruling, upholding the Neumanns' sentences, which call for each of them to serve a month in jail every year for six years and 10 years' probation.

Things are changing though. Evolution describes more than just the biological process of adaptation, it applies to social adaptation as well. It's a process that can't truly be stopped or controlled. Those who refuse to adapt inevitably perish, and slowly but surely obsolete ideas must die.

Let them.

Stay Alive