Crouching Puppies, Hidden Dragon

Baen Books, one of the few traditional publishing companies that actually publishes decent old-school scifi, is under attack. The ostensible reason is that the forum (Baen’s Bar) might be a dangerous hub of insurrectionist incitement. Because nerds, knowing how to use protractors and speak Klingon are going to be that much more dangerous than ordinary people. 

David Weber comments: 

Baen Books is frequently characterized as a “right wing publisher.” That’s as stupid as the notion that the Barflies are plotting a violent coup. Baen Books doesn’t care what the political orientation of its writers — or their fiction — may be as long as the stories are good, as long as they engage and entertain the reader, and as long as there is a market for them. If Baen has a deep bench of conservative readers, that’s because so many other publishers are avoiding the kinds of stories they want to read and Baen is filling that void. Well, that of the fact that Baen Books tries really hard to publish GOOD stories that reasonably attract readers on their merits, as well. But Baen publishes conservatives, libertarians, socialists, and everything in between.

Why? Why pick on the nerds? Why try to take one source of joy or a simple place of relaxation away from people? 

Because they hate you. They hate themselves. They are in constant pain, constant fear, and they want power, not to escape it, not to free themselves, but to freely inflict this same fear and pain and hatred on others. I can know this, but I even so I don’t really understand it.

They’re coming for us. They really, truly are.

[Edited to add: the second link is to monsterhunternation’s discussion of the situation. Stay out of the comment section, because Puppy-style drama shows up very, very fast.]

Mighty One, We Have Lost Us Another

b9fc5c5c-charlesyeagerChuck Yeager has reached out and touched the face of God.

He was 97.

He was the first man to break the sound barrier, an ace pilot and a lifelong flier.

[…]He totaled 12.5 aerial victories and shot down 13 German planes on 64 missions during World War II, “including five Me109s on 12 October and four FW 190s on 27 November,” his website added. 

After World War II, he became a test pilot beginning at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

Yeager retired from the Air Force in 1975 and moved to a ranch in Cedar Ridge in Northern California where he continued working as a consultant to the Air Force and Northrop Corp. He flew for more than 60 years, including piloting an F-15 to near 1,000 mph at Edwards Air Force Base in October 2002 at the age of 79.

The legendary pilot and retired brigadier general became the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound on Oct. 14, 1947.

The giants are passing on, and the frontiers are growing ever smaller. We are lesser sons of greater sires.

They cloned a foal this time

In a world first, a Przewalski’s Horse was cloned from a stallion that died in 1998. His name’s Kurt!

mare-and-foal.v2

Also, it’s pronounced “shuh-VAL-skees”

The world’s first successfully cloned endangered Przewalski’s horse was born on August 6, 2020. Revive & Restore, San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG), and ViaGen Equine collaborated to clone from a cell line of a genetically important stallion that had been cryopreserved since 1980.

This is highly important to conservationists, because:

Today’s Przewalski’s horses, of which there are now approximately 2,000, are descendants of just 12 individuals saved from extinction in the early 1900s.

If you’re wondering how a clone from an inbred line can bring genetic diversity back into a population:

Genetic rescue is one strategy to reduce the negative impact of inbreeding by introducing individuals from unrelated populations. But for the Przewalski’s horse, there are no unrelated populations to draw from. However, forward-thinking conservationists saved living cells from over a dozen Przewalski’s horses and cryopreserved them at the SDZG Frozen Zoo. These cell lines contain genetic diversity that has been lost to recent generations.

The SB615 cell line was chosen for genetic rescue cloning because an analysis of the captive breeding pedigree revealed that the genome offers significantly more genetic variation than any living Przewalski’s horse. Now that the genetic variation from Kuporovic “lives” again in Kurt, Kurt may become the most important horse in the North American captive breeding population. He may also become the first cloned animal to restore lost genetic variation to its species.

And why Kurt, you may ask?

Kurt is named in honor of Dr. Kurt Benirshke, a geneticist at the San Diego Zoo who in 1975 had a prescient idea. Dr. Benirshke began what is now the Frozen Zoo, collecting and cryopreserving the cell lines of endangered species and safely storing away genetic diversity before it was lost. At the time the collection was a bet on cloning and reproductive technologies that did not yet exist. Nearly fifty years later, with the partnership of San Diego Zoo Global Frozen Zoo, Revive & Restore, and ViaGen Pets and Equine, Dr. Benirschke’s plans are quite literally coming to life.

Have we been keeping an eye on Elon Musk?

Because he’s at the “implanting computer chips in pigs” stage.

Neuralink has a medical focus to start, like helping people deal with brain and spinal cord injuries or congenital defects. The technology could, for example, help paraplegics who’ve lost the ability to move or sense because of spinal cord injury, and the first human uses will aim to improve conditions like paraplegia or tetraplegia.

But there are obvious future (and futuristic) implications as well.

But Musk’s vision is far more radical, including ideas like “conceptual telepathy,” where two people can communicate electronically by thinking at each other instead of writing or speaking. The long-term goal is to head off a future where artificial intelligence vastly smarter than humans exterminates us.

Musk envisions people using Neuralink to connect to their own digital AI incarnations so “the future is controlled by the combined will of the people of Earth,” Musk said. “It’s going to be important from an existential threat perspective to achieve a good AI symbiosis.”

And they’re also building robot doctors to do the implantation process itself.

Neuralink is building a robotic installer that ultimately is designed to handle the full surgical installation process. That includes opening up the scalp, removing a portion of the skull, inserting the hundreds of “thread” electrodes along with an accompanying computer chip, then closing the incision. The installer is designed to dodge blood vessels to avoid bleeding, Musk said.

I’m in favor of advanced technology, but let’s focus on getting a significant fraction of the population starborne before we try messing with AI, shall we?

Interesting: mining with plants

Spotted at bayourenaissanceman’s blog: some plants accumulate nickel to the point where it can be commercially viable to harvest them.

p08pl69k

The University of Queensland’s van der Ent has calculated that a hyper-accumulator like Phyllantus balgoyii can produce an estimated 120kg of nickel per hectare every year. That translates to a market value of around $1,754 (£1,300) per hectare. Extracting the nickel involves pruning the shoots – which hold the highest concentrations of the metal – and burning them, after which the nickel can be separated from the ash.

$1,754 isn’t a whole lot of money, but if we’re talking about, perhaps, rehabilitating an area which has been damaged–say by wholesale nickel strip-mining–or an area on which it isn’t possible to grow other crops, might work. At least, it ought to allow the grow op to pay for itself.

There are also a few species that hyperaccumulate iron, or so the article seems to imply.

It does seem like a very elfish, in tune with nature-way to extract resources from the Earth, doesn’t it? (Curufinwe Feanaro could not be reached for comment.)

Making Space Great Again (needs moar dakka, or something)

The United States Space Force has just revealed its new logo (distinctly underwhelming) and its new motto (bland, veering on the PC).

spaceforcesymbol

Yeah, how big was the committee that had to approve of that one?

Always Above, Always Faster, Always (to) the Stars
Semper Supra, Semper Citius, Semper Ad Astra

There, I fixed it for you.

OK, maybe that’s too long. How about just:

Supra, Citius, Ad Astra

But, y’know, they didn’t ask me.

Females are choosy…even at the molecular level

1bef6bc833So: this is interesting. Human eggs appear to be choosy about the sperm they attract to themselves.

Human eggs release compounds called chemoattractants into this fluid, which chemically communicates with sperm. While the exact chemicals are yet to be identified (some researchers suspect progesterone is involved), whatever it is can trigger sperm to change swimming directions.

“Follicular fluid from different females consistently and differentially attracts sperm from specific males,” the team wrote in their paper, finding that eggs attracted between 18 to 40 percent more sperm from their preferred males.

(Not, note, specifically the egg owner’s preferred male, but a preferred male.)

Scientists have also found that mouse IVF eggs prefer sperm from less related males. But this is the first example of human egg preferences, so the reasons and mechanisms behind it are still up for discovery.

Mind, there’s the very large caveat that the study’s methods might have–AKA, almost certainly will have–influenced the results.

For example, the IVF eggs they used had been through treatments that may have changed some biological processes.

Also, the concentrations of sperm were much higher than natural (20,000 sperm per egg instead of the average of around 250) and they were placed quite close to the egg – which may minimise differences in the effects of chemoattractants.

Interesting!

Here There Be Dragons – the deepest manned dive yet…

Via bayourenaissanceman, the New Yorker has an article covering Victor Vescovo’s dream come true–to be an explorer going where no man had gone before: seven miles below the surface of the sea.

Let me repeat that: HE WENT SEVEN MILES UNDERWATER. As you might imagine, it wasn’t easy.

When Alan Jamieson, the expedition’s chief scientist, contacted Heather Stewart, a marine geologist with the British Geological Survey, and told her that Vescovo wanted to dive to the deepest point of each ocean, she replied that there was a problem: nobody knew where those points were.

Most maps showing the ocean floor in detail are commissioned by people looking to exploit it. The oil-and-gas and deep-sea-mining industries require extensive knowledge, and they pay for it. But, with a few exceptions, the characteristics of the deepest trenches are largely unknown. As recently as the nineteen-sixties, ocean depths were often estimated by throwing explosives over the side of a ship and measuring the time it took for the boom to echo back from the bottom.

It may appear as if the trenches are mapped—you can see them on Google Earth. But these images weren’t generated by scanning the bottom of the ocean; they come from satellites scanning the top. The surface of the ocean is not even—it is shaped by the features beneath it. Trenches create mild surface depressions, while underwater mountain ranges raise the surface. The result is a vaguely correct reading—here is a trench!—with a ludicrous margin of error. Every pixel is about five hundred metres wide, and what lies below may be thousands of feet deeper or shallower than the satellite projects, and miles away from where it appears on the map.

Vescovo would have to buy a multibeam echo sounder, an advanced sonar mapping system, to determine precise depths and dive locations. He chose the Kongsberg EM-124, which would be housed in a massive gondola underneath the ship. No other system could so precisely map hadal depths. Vescovo’s purchase was the very first—serial number 001.

It was operated by a grad student. During one of the early dives:

Jamieson discovered a new species of snailfish, a long, gelatinous creature with soft fins, by looking through a viewport. The pressure eliminates the possibility of a swim bladder; the lack of food precludes the ossification of bones. Some snailfish have antifreeze proteins, to keep them running in the cold. “Biology is just smelly engineering,” Jamieson said. “When you reverse-engineer a fish from the most extreme environments, and compare it to its shallow-water counterparts, you can see the trade-offs it has made.”

Why does man(kind) instinctively hunger to be the First of everything? The article also offers a hint about that, as there was a follow-up dive to retrieve a stuck lander:

The control room was mostly empty. “When Victor first went down, everyone was there, high-fiving and whooping and hollering,” Buckle said. “And the next day, around lunchtime, everyone went ‘Fuck this, I’ll go for lunch.’ Patrick retrieves a piece of equipment from the deepest point on earth, and it’s just me, going, ‘Yay, congratulations, Patrick.’ No one seemed to notice how big a deal it is that they had already made this normal—even though it’s not. It’s the equivalent of having a daily flight to the moon.” McCallum, in his pre-dive briefings, started listing “complacency” as a hazard.

It is a hard road, and twisted, that leads man to the stars.