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Blast From the Past: Athena Scalzi, Age Seven, Addresses Scott Westerfeld on the Subject of Pluto

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 07/21/2015 - 16:13
Context: In 2006, Pluto was demoted from being a planet to being a dwarf planet, a move that many, including notable YA author (and personal friend) Scott Westerfeld, thought was a good move, because he and they are terrible people. When my daughter, then age seven, heard that Scott Westerfeld — her friend Scott! Who […]

Governor Kasich’s Chances to Win the 2016 GOP Nomination and Then the Presidency, Estimated By This Citizen of Ohio

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 07/21/2015 - 12:06
He has no chance. For either. None whatsoever. Which, you know, is too bad, at least the “winning the GOP nomination” part (I don’t want him to be president). As far as the current iteration of the GOP goes, he’s not bad — he’s pretty smart, he’s well-experienced both as a current governor and a past […]

The Big Idea: Ted Kosmatka

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 07/21/2015 - 08:42
  Hey, you know quantum physics? Ha! It’s a trick question, because no one truly knows quantum physics — at this point we know just enough to know how little we understand about what goes on down at that level. Which, as it happens, makes it fertile ground for fiction, as author Ted Kosmatka found […]

Sunset, With Riding Mower

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 07/20/2015 - 21:48
That’s Krissy out there on the riding mower, incidentally. I don’t mow the lawn because of grass allergies and also lack of competence; Krissy, on the other hand, can whip through the yard like nobody’s business. The riding mower here is actually a loaner, as our actual one is currently in the shop. The shop […]

I Have Nothing of Interest to Say Today, So Instead Here’s a Picture of the Dog in the Yard

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 07/20/2015 - 18:46
I believe we can all agree that this is a fair trade.

The crowning of Hillary? And the Pope Francis Effect

Contrary Brin - Mon, 07/20/2015 - 18:29
==  A premature coronation? ==
The pre-ordination or crowning of Hillary Clinton as the presumed Democratic Party nominee in 2016 was deeply premature.  Even if she winds up with the nomination, why would democrats forego the drama and press coverage of a contested series of primaries and debates? Hundreds of well-vamped and amped opportunities to put forward their shared -- or somewhat varying -- messages – what? Are they really so stupid they would bypass that? 
Even if Clinton were inevitable, the DP’s brightest should step up to tear some spotlight away from the GOP’s astonishing gremlin-frenzy, if only to contrast favorably against the giant rugby scrum of fifteen fanatics racing each other over right-wing cliffs of insanity.

 Hence I was interested to read this argument that the dems ought to take another look at Al Gore. Wow.
Oh, without any doubt, it would be a stronger America today, had cheating not robbed us of the legitimately-elected Gore Presidency, in 2000.  You cannot name a single metric of U.S. national health that did not plummet across the misbegotten reign of either/both Bushes -- one of them the worst president of the 20th Century and the other (I hope will turn out by 2100 to have been) the worst of the 21st. Even a tepid Gore span would have been brilliant, by comparison.  

(Please, please just accept the challenge and offer up one, even one, unambiguous statistical national health metric that attributably improved across either of the last two GOP-held presidencies. One. No? In which case, why should the Republican Party ever again be trusted with a burnt match?)
In fact, though, I do not yearn for Al.  He proved the adage that Democratic Presidents choose, as running mates, people who are qualified for the job, but uninspiring. From LBJ and Humphrey and Mondale to Gore and Lieberman and Biden, this trend is almost perfect. Of course, it is far better than the GOP's alternative fetish – wherein Republican nominees always appoint unqualified fools or horrors to be their Vice Presidential running mates. 

All right, there was one exception to that pattern – Ronald Reagan picked a VP who on-paper was eminently qualified, but who -- lest I reiterate -- ironically went on to become the worst president of the last 100 years. Even worse than his awful son. 

But no. A guy like Al Gore is not what we need right now.
What we do need is someone who can stand up next to Hillary, during debates, and rock the boat!  Alas, while Bernie Sanders sort of qualifies, the stuff he is saying is pretty standard on the left wing of the party. And no, I am not talking about Elizabeth Warren, though I would love to see her gain administrative experience for one term as Vice President or a cabinet secretary. No, neither she nor Bernie rock the boat the way I want -- by shattering the narrative.

Okay, since I started writing this missive there have been a couple more DP entries, Jim Webb from Virginia, for one, who represents the Blue Dog wing of the Party, a wing that should be nurtured! There are millions of Americans who are genuinely and sincerely somewhat-conservative by temperament, but who also know the Republican Party has gone  completely insane. They'll need reassurance that the other tent is big enough for them, and that it welcomes a diversity of (sane) views. Democrats who reject a sane Blue Dog out of hand are pure fools. Sane vs insane is vastly more important than "centrist versus slightly-left-of-centrist."

 One quirk that I might be the first to mention. A major NASA project might have to be re-named, if Jim Webb does become president.

Lincoln Chafee and Martin O'Malley have also declared in the Democratic race, and I am willing to look. Already the five DPs are more varied than the fifteen GOP fellahs, all of whom get 90% of their talking points from Roger Ailes.  (Though yes, Trump does entertain.)
Still, I am unsatisfied.  We need stronger drink. Maybe not for the nominee, but certainly earlier, during the debates and media discussions leading up to that decision!

No, I mean someone who would take the discussion off at vertical angles to the hoary, lobotomizing so-called “left right political axis!” Someone with solid administrative credentials and popularity and sanity and purpose – but who is bored with all the standard clichés, that are so expertly manipulated by Fox News.
I am talking about Jerry Brown.  
Okay, he’s old and would likely serve just one term. (Dig it, Warren fans?) But he is a masterful politician, hugely successful and popular in the U.S. state that outproduces all but maybe seven nations on the planet and is the source of half our world’s innovative drive. 

And he despises clichés! They bore him. He would take any and every Fox-Ailesheimers talking point and shred it, just for fun.  He would do what Hillary has proved incapable of ever doing –
-- he’d refuse to play Rupert Murdoch’s game. And hence, even if Hillary winds up being the nominee, she would sally forth from the convention across a landscape where every old-saw and hoary assumption has been up-ended. 

Will Jerry run? Alas, I doubt it. But oh, the fun we'd have! Heck he could even declare that he's doing it "for fun!"

... which brings up a weird hypothesis about Jon Stewart's suspicious timing. But save that for another (fun) occasion.

== Who would be the GOP’s “Jerry”? ==
Where to find one for the other side? A republican who hates clichés and gets bored by standard positions and who would laugh at attempts to discipline him to the Murdoch-Adelson-Ailes-Saudi-Koch party line?
Let’s see… is there one state in the U.S. that routinely produces such characters? Did I mention those mould-breakers Reagan and Brown? Well, sure.
Arnold Schwarznegger has uttered the words that so many of you ought to be saying, by now.
”As a Republican, I’m furious.”
The “Terminator” star and former California governor on April 3 blasted Indiana’s recently passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which many believe to be a thinly veiled attempt to excuse discrimination against gays and other minorities.  But our former “guvernator” went on to blast members of his party who “choose the politics of division.”
Oh, how I would love to see him take the stage, in coming GOP presidential nomination debates, and say that “emperor” Rupert Murdoch has no clothes! That the party of Goldwater and Buckley has been hijacked down paths of sheer insanity.  And that it is time for decent conservatives to saveAmerican conservatism, by getting mad at the hijackers.  

And no, I don't care whether he's "native-born." Remember, I am talking about the next 11 months of theater before the conventions.  That is when the actual national dialogue takes place. And boy do we need to shake up that dialogue!
Oh, but then there’s this... California trounces Texas, other states in job creation. And in almost every other category. Heck even if the official nominees are (sigh) "Bush versus Clinton,"*** we could still demand a special California debate.

 Jerry Brown vs Ah-nold in 2016!  
== Did Heinlein exaggerate with “Nehemia Scudder? ==
Via David Ronfeldt: It's evidently from an odd book by Norman Cohn, the expert on millenarianism famed for his book "The Pursuit of the Millennium". The quote may fit a discussion about some current U. S. political trends, though it was originally written for a different audience.
"It is a great mistake to suppose that the only writers who matter are those whom the educated in their saner moments can take seriously. There exists a subterranean world where pathological fantasies disguised as ideas are churned out by crooks and half-educated fanatics for the benefit of the ignorant and superstitious. There are times when this underworld emerges from the depths and suddenly fascinates, captures, and dominates multitudes of usually sane and responsible people, who thereupon take leave of sanity and responsibility. And it occasionally happens that this underworld becomes a political power and changes the course of history."   --From Norman Cohn, Warrant for Genocide: The Myth of the Jewish World Conspiracy and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (Oxford University Press, 1970, p.14). From the posting Fatal Attraction.
Radicals are starting to simmer, and the fellows who are pulling the latest oligarchic putsch need to understand where it might all lead.  Those of us pushing for a normal, rhythmic moderate-pragmatic “reset” of the flat-open-fair social contract envision something like what Americans have done in most generations, including the two Rooseveltean flattenings… preventing the routine efforts to rebuild feudal pyramids of privilege that ruined 99% of societies, and keeping our flattened-diamond experiment going for another generation.
But read here, how others have already given up. The putsch has already gone too far, they claim!  Elias Isquith interviews Chris Hedges: We have, to quote John Ralston Saul, “undergone a corporate coup d’état in slow motion” and it’s over. The normal mechanisms by which we carry out incremental and piecemeal reform through liberal institutions no longer function. They have been seized by corporate power — including the press. That sets the stage for inevitable blowback, because these corporations have no internal constraints, and now they have no external constraints. So they will exploit, because, as Marx understood, that’s their nature, until exhaustion or collapse.” 
Is this right?  No, not yet.  There are far too many positive trends, especially since 2013 was the best year for U.S. civil liberties in two decades or more. Something the far-left and the entire right – both of them allergic to optimism – will never admit.
Still, heed the sounds of pitchforks being sharpened and tumbrels being oiled. The Roosevelts were moderate–pragmatic alternatives to Trotsky, to Hitler, to Stalin, or Bakunin.  As I portray in Existence… any new feudal caste had better try lots harder to be actually smart, instead of delusional (like every other feudal caste, across all of time). Or else they should picture a Billion Bakunins, many millions of them armed not with pitchforks, but genetically engineered bugs. Then, envision them getting jobs serving drinks at high class resorts.
Negotiate with us. The enlightenment made you rich. Try showing it some loyalty.

 == The Pope Effect ==

Pope Francis declares evolution and Big Bang theory real..“When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything. But that is not so,” Francis said. 

Further -- in words likely to anger some of his conservative critics, the pope backs the science of climate change, saying "plenty of scientific studies point out that the last decades of global warming have been mostly caused by the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxide and others) especially generated by human action" 
Yep… one more gol-durned "elite" trying' to use reality to bully the plantation -- er oligarch -- er, Fox -- er, "job creator" (yeah, that's it) lords.  Down with every elite who's not a confederate plantation lord!  You listening, God?  
Okay, okay, this fellow seems to be on his way to becoming the most reasonable and insightful and most humane pope any of us have seen.  Still, and while the messages have mostly been positive, so far, I have my limits. For example, when Pope Francis denounced what he calls the “great powers” of the world for failing to act when there was intelligence indicating Jews, Christians,homosexuals and others were being transported to death camps in Europe during World War II.”  

While I agree with the actual statement, I find it hard to swallow coming from the Vatican, whose behavior during that same time was utterly accommodating to evil forces committing those crimes.
See this simple dissection of why certain religious dogmas are absolutely tantamount to treason.

Oh, but finally then there's this...

As we speak, Republicans are pushing hard to retract all accountability measures from their own No Child Left Behind reform of U.S. education. 

Now why would they do that? I thought the whole purpose of NCLB was to use testing and comparable metrics to find out where schools are failing so that attention can be focused on them... so that no child would be left behind! 

But oh... okay. It turns out the GOP is running as fast as they can to cancel all real measuring and accountability -- for one simple reason. The accountability testing under No Child Left Behind was blatantly showing that Red States are failing. They are falling more and more behind blue states and getting worse. 

So... shall we re-evaluate processes and try to do better? Um, did I mention these are republicans? Perception is all that matters! The solution is "don't you dare look at us!"

Oh, boy. The next year will be "fun."  Come on Jerry and Arnold ... and Jon... take off those quotation marks.

*** I am still looking for a bold urban guerrilla theater ensemble to look at my script for a very easy political video. One that would be hilarious, pointed and devastating... regarding the problem of political "dynasties." Hey, don't get me wrong. Given any choice between a Bush and a Clinton (and their respective armies of factotums), it's a no-brainer. Another Bush could kill us all. And I got no beef against Hill. Except that we would never know a moment without shrill (even if unearned) rancor. This nominee cannot sooth Phase Eight of our Civil War, no matter how hard she wants to, or tries.

Still... do I have a bit of satire that could at-minimum make you all laugh and cry? Sigh. Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:14.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-font-family:Times; mso-fareast-language:JA;}
  . . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

Why I’m Disliked: A Ten Point List

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 07/19/2015 - 13:08
(WARNING: Neepery, not directly about Hugos, but somewhat related. Also it is about me observing other people observing me, so there’s a whole lot of me in this post. So: Ego alert. Also, it’s long, because I wanted to get out in one place. Skip it if you just don’t care. I don’t mind! Really!) […]

New Books and ARCs, 7/17/15

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 07/17/2015 - 17:11
Welcome to the weekend — and to get you started, here’s a nice stack of new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound. Tell me in the comments which ones excite your “gotta have it” neurons.

Today’s New Glasses

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 07/17/2015 - 16:17
My old glasses prescription was going out of date, so I went to get a new pair. I ended up getting three pairs instead. This is my new general set of glasses. It looks generally indistinguishable from my previous set of glasses, because I liked how they looked on me. They’re progressive lenses, which is […]

Exploring the Scale of the Universe: Our place in time and space

Contrary Brin - Fri, 07/17/2015 - 15:00
First, on the very near scale, this miracle year in space just keeps delivering, with amazing results from Mercury, Venus, Earth-climate sensing satellites, Mars, a Mars-grazing comet, landing on another comet, visiting Ceres, more news from Saturn and Titan, announcing plans for a Europa mission, deploying a solar sail, arriving at Pluto(!) and confirming hundreds of additional extrasolar planets.  Plus now...

The Planetary Resources Arkyd 3 Reflight (A3R) spacecraft deployed successfully from the International Space Station’s (ISS) Kibo airlock and has begun its 90-day mission!  Asteroids hold so much more potential for human development - in the near futurre - than returning to the sterile desert of the Moon.  Which is why, of course, the previous administration tried so hard to divert our attention away from them.

All right, it's been the best year for exploratory space missions since 1972... (though let's root for SpaceX to get smoothly across its current rough patch.) Teach this to your kids and neighbors! It's a civilization that - if flawed - is reason for great pride.

On the other hand, let's not get carried away.  We're just getting started and the universe is pretty darn big.  

How big?

== There's a whole lot of space in space! ==

How to envision the immensity of the universe? Almost beyond our comprehension... here is a list of just a few interactive sites that let you zoom or scroll through the vastness of the cosmos, scaling in from galaxies to planets to buildings to atoms and quarks -- or to explore the realm of Time... from the Big Bang through the evolution of life on Earth and the history of humanity. Many of these are wonderful resources for teachers... and for those who want to expand their horizons...

Magnifying the Universe1) Magnifying the Universe: I've always been a big fan of "powers of ten" style zoom-in and zoom-out graphics and films that bring home the incredible ranges of scale that we must deal with, in our puny, brittle minds.  Now see this supercool slide-able graphic that really brings it home. Dizzyingly fun: this interactive version of the universe (from Number Sleuth) takes you in scale from a hydrogen atom to a cell to a human to a star -- then on to our galaxy, local superclusters and beyond. Explore!

The Scale of the Universe2) The Scale of the Universe: This interactive site (from Cary Huang) expands in scale from the extremely small to the incredibly immense -- starting with quantum foam (at the Planck length of 10 -35 m) to neutrinos, quarks, atoms, and cells all the way up to humans, buildings, planets, stars, galaxies and superclusters (on the gigaparsec level). You'll encounter a wide range of lesser known units for measurement: yoctometer, heptameter, attometer, femtometer, picometer...

3) If the Moon Were Only One Pixel: This ginormously accurate scale model of our solar system (from Josh Worth) lets you scroll from the sun to Earth... and all the way out to Pluto (if you have the extraordinary patience to go that far). Read the comments along the way (Most of space is just space... and passing through the Asteroid Belt you will never actually see a single asteroid.) This truly lends some perspective on the vastness and emptiness of just our solar system... and perhaps our insignificance in the grand scale of things.

4) The Scale of Our Solar System: This infographic (from lets you scroll out from the sun to the outer reaches of the solar system, past the Kuiper Belt to the Oort Cloud, marking off the astronomical units in terms of the distance travelled by light from the sun, from 1 to 14 hours. It also shows the relative distances traveled by the New Horizons, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes.

The Known Universe5) The Known Universe: This gorgeous six minute film (from the American Museum of Natural History) zooms you from the Himalayan mountains, to the orb of planet Earth -- through the outer reaches of our solar system to the spiral of the Milky Way galaxy to distant quasars in the depths of space... then reverses course to plunge back toward home.

Noteworthy.  If you visit and use ALL of these sites, some of these scale notions might sink in better than with just one. Check in and let us know the psychological effects!

6) How Big is Space? This interactive site (from the BBC) allows you to pilot your rocket ship up through the layers of the atmosphere through the planets, then out to the edge of the solar system, passing the New Horizons and Voyager probes along the way.The Interactive Universe7) The Interactive Universe: this site from the History Channel is less extensive than the others listed here, but it provides information as you click to zoom in on the sun, planets, asteroids, comets, nebulae, then on to the Andromeda Galaxy or black holes.

8) The original Powers of Ten clip: This 1977 film by Charles and Ray Eames begins at a lakeside picnic near Chicago. Starting at a scale of one meter, the film moves outward by a factor of ten every ten seconds, zooming out to Lake Michigan to the globe of the Earth, then on to the solar system, the galaxy, then out the Virgo Cluster of Galaxies... before diving back to our earthbound picnickers and closing in explore inside a single carbon atom. Narrated by the great Phil Morrison, of SETI fame.

Chronozoom9) Chronozoom: And now on to Time...This visual timeline of the cosmos, from the Big Bang to the birth of the Milky Way Galaxy to the formation of our planet, then on through Earth's geological eras to the prehistory and history of humanity. This open source project also has links to a wealth of teaching resources for the classroom.

10) Here is Today: By progressively clicking, this site takes you from "Here is Today" to the month, year, century, millennium, epoch, compressing the timeline to reach the geologic period, era....then "Here is this Eon" of Earth’s history, then expands to show the lifespan of the universe.

11) Evolution: What’s Next? This site (from John Kyrk and Uzay Sezen)) offers a slider to move through time: it shows the formation of various elements after the Big Bang, then moves through the accretion of the sun and planets... and on to the formation of the earth's atmosphere and evolution of life.

A few more amazing sites well worth your time... Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:10.0pt; font-family:Cambria; mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-language:JA;}

Historic Spacecraft website12) Historic Spacecraft: a comprehensive exploration of space history, with photos, drawings, updates and background information (accumulated by Richard Kruse) -- covering space probes, rockets, rovers, launch pads, space timelines, size comparisons, cut-away views, history, quotes and more. Truly a wealth of information!

Atomic Rockets website13) Atomic Rockets: "So You Wanna Build a Rocket?" is an incredibly detailed website devoted to rocket and spaceship design. The site (from Winchell Chung) offers equations, designs, illustrations, even parts lists, behind rocket drives, space stations, spaceships, spacesuits, weapons and so much more. It has entries on Space Law, world building -- and more far-out speculation on aliens and space colonization. A wonderful resource for authors seeking scientific accuracy -- and an aid to getting the science right in science fiction films or stories.

Science Fictional Spaceships by Dirk Loechel14) Size comparison of Science fictional spaceships by Dirk Loechel -- an epic-scale illustration that shows side-by-side images of spacecraft from Star Trek to Star Wars, Dr. Who to Stargate and Starship Troopers. Really fun to explore.

Though... ahem... you guys are missing some (* cough Streaker! *) classics that were included in a similar display at Seattle's (alas defunct) Science Fiction Museum.

15) A 360 degree view of the flight deck of the Discovery space shuttle: A dizzyingly detailed virtual tour of Discovery's deck during its last mission STS-133. It is now at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in DC.

16) Mars Trek: Explore Mars in 3D: Click and zoom, pan in and out to view the detailed surface geology of Mars. Almost like being there. You can also access data sets and overlay information from probes such as the Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Wind map of the U.S.17) Wind map of the U.S. Surface wind data and circulation patterns nicely visualized, updated hourly.

18) Explore Mars Now: Use this site to explore a simulated Mars base, and walk through the habitats, laboratories, rovers and greenhouses necessary for a manned mission to Mars.

19)  Beautiful weather maps. This one is just amazing. Scroll down a bit.

Left out?  The wonders of BIOLOGY!  Feel free to chime in with your favorite anatomical, functional, species and other depictions of that fascinating world.  We'll give that run-down another time. (And of course you'll see lots of political-social-economic maps, across the coming year!)

Explore...and be amazed!
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

Seriously, These Cookies Are Awesome

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 07/17/2015 - 13:21
I made some awesome cookies, and by “made” I mean “combined ingredients that other people have already made to make them even better in combination.” And you can too! Here’s what you do. Get with Trader Joe’s Ultimate Vanilla Wafers, Biscoff cookie spread, and Dandies vegan marshmallows. I suspect the recipe will work just fine with […]

The Big Idea: Stina Leicht

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 07/16/2015 - 08:14
For her new novel Cold Iron, author Stina Leicht took inspiration in one of the genre’s foremost practicioners — but then gave that influence just a little twist. What’s the twist? A change of location. STINA LEICHT: About eighteen years ago, I happened upon an essay about the evils of Fantasy. In it, the author […]

Seeing Further With Science!

Contrary Brin - Wed, 07/15/2015 - 12:57
Congratulations New Horizons and Pluto!  But more on those results, later.  This posting is largely about... medicine and biology. Starting with...

An epidemic of short-sightedness. No, not the all-too rampant political kind. But actual myopia, which has seen a steep rise over the last few decades. In China, nearly 90% of teens are nearsighted, compared to 10 to 20% of youths sixty years ago. The same trend is seen in the U.S. and Europe, where nearly half of young adults are now myopic, twice as much as fifty years ago.

Clearly there is a genetic component to myopia, but this can't explain these rapid changes. Data does not back up a frequently-cited explanation due to reading or computer use. The strongest correlation is with hours spent outdoors. Myopia is virtually unknown among hunter-gatherer tribes -- though some suggest that diet may also play a role. One hypothesis, according to a report in Nature: "light stimulates the release of dopamine in the retina, and this neurotransmitter in turn blocks the elongation of the eye during development."  Animal studies support this idea: it is possible to induce myopia in chicks by controlling the level of natural light. One study showed a 23% decrease in myopia among Chinese children who spent an additional 40 minutes outdoors. Australian researchers estimate that children need to be exposed to about three hours a day of bright light (at least 10,000 lux) to be protected against myopia. 

A new study has shown that soft lenses, worn only at night, can prevent the progressive elongation of the eye in children.

== New in  Biosciences! ==
Envisioning disease...From just a single drop of blood, VirScan can detect the remains of more than 1,000 strains of 206 viruses that are infecting or have ever infected a patient. After screening blood from 569 people on four continents, experts found people were exposed to 10 viruses on average; two had antibodies for 84 different viruses. This is important.
First steps towards developing bio-artificial replacement limbs suitable for transplantation, using an experimental approach previously used to build bioartificial organs to engineer rat forelimbs with functioning vascular and muscle tissue. Some of you saw this in my story "Chysalis," in Analog Magazine a while back -- where I took it more than a bit farther.
U.S. and Chinese scientists have developed a method to inject microelectronic devices such as wires and transistors directly into the brain (or other body parts) to measure or stimulate neural activity. 
Scientists have for the first time documented the actual formation of newly learned concepts inside thebrain. Thanks to recent advances in brain imaging technology.  
Networked monkey brains: And now they are linking animals mentally! Via electrodes, rats and monkeys can coordinate their brains to carry out such tasks as moving a simulated arm or recognizing simple patterns. In many of the trials, the networked animals performed better than individuals.
George Dvorsky on iO9 presents a very interesting rundown of recent research and arguments regarding the reason life forms age and die. Alas, George does not pursue the elephant in the room… why are humans the methuselahs of mammals?  Of course, I have my own theory about that (See: Do We Really Want Immortality?)  
“For decades, autism has been viewed as a form of mental retardation, a brain disease that destroys children’s ability to learn, feel and empathize… A new open-access study shows that social and sensory overstimulation drives autistic behaviors and supports the unconventional view that the autistic brain is actually hyper-functional.”  This fits in with the fact that when two hyper-functional people breed together, the odds of autism in offspring go up. It suggests a drastic shift in approaching the suite of syndromes. Autistics in future may benefit from a wide range of tech-enhanced opportunities to engage with the world… as I portray in EXISTENCE.  

Oh, speaking of David Brinn books... and I spelled that correctly.  Jerusalem Post editor and journalist David Brinn has co-written a book with Alex Kerten on one of the modern trends in medicine -- using body movement to combat nerve degenerative ailments. Getting nerves and muscles practice firing together in organized ways. I cannot vouch directly for "Goodbye Parkinsons, Hello Life!" but Alex Kerten has shown results in patient trials. It it sounds worth trying. 

Researchers from The University of Texas at Austin have been able to successfully inhibit alcohol and drug addiction by using a drug that is already approved by the FDA.  The drug is able to erase the unconscious memories that underlie addiction.  

Researchers at Dundee University have discovered a new compound which could treat malaria while protecting people from the disease and preventing its spread, all in a single dose. 

== Physics & Light ==
The science of light: Scientists have now captured an image of a photon as both a wave and a particle for the first time. Moreover, this experiment shows that the future talks to the past! That later events influence earlier ones.  “Time went backwards. Cause and effect appear to be reversed. The future caused the past. The arrow of time seemed to work in reverse.”We live in boggling times. 
There is also good evidence that quantum processes take place inside our brains and within our body cells, as reported by the Guardian last year. 

== And only somewhat less "biological"

Frequency combs on fiber optic cables could remove distortions, giving us faster, more efficient internet signals. 

These students built a (very tiny) working hyper loop. 
Researchers from MIT have developed a new algorithm that lets autonomous robots divvy upassembly tasks on the fly, an important step forward in multirobot cooperation.  

Another way of looking further: Augmented Reality: I spoke at AWE 2015 the Augmented Reality Conference, in Santa Clara, in June (My interview on has been posted online). There I saw how very many companies are suddenly diving into augmented reality. Take a look at Epson’s “Moverio” system.
The U.S. Air Force – according to unverified reports - has developed an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) device that is analogous to the EMP version of a sniper rifle, rather than a bomb. In a single test mission in Utah, CHAMP successfully blacked out all seven of its targets in a single flight. 
The Batterizer, a new $2.50 gadget promises to bring your AA and C batteries back from the dead, by maintaining voltage levels instead of letting them decline as the battery's chemical supply depletes.  

Why so many science-based blog postings from me, lately?

Because we live in amazing times. And we should all be paying attention. Anyway, you'll be fed up with me and politics, by the time 2016 is over!  Hang in there. Keep up!   . . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:


Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 07/15/2015 - 12:17
Like every other astronomy nerd, I’m super-geeked about all the pictures and data we’re getting from the planet. The only thing I have to add to the conversation that hasn’t already been said that for some reason the photos we’re getting back from New Horizons feel drawn or painted to me, rather than being entirely […]

The Movie Review That Made Me a Movie Reviewer

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 07/14/2015 - 20:41
Here’s something fun: As many of you know, I wasn’t always a novelist — my very first job out of college was as a film critic for the Fresno Bee newspaper in central California. I had spent most of my senior year of college doing freelance music writing for the Chicago Sun Times and New […]

The Things I Find in My Yard After a Heavy Rain

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 07/14/2015 - 09:31
Here you go. Close up of the crawdad, say? Very well, here you are: Also, I found this, too: I don’t know what kind of fish it is. I call it a “yard trout.” Both of these things were perfectly alive, incidentally. The yard trout was slightly beached on the grass, however; I gently pushed […]

Just a Little Rainy Right Now

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 07/13/2015 - 23:59
This is my backyard at the moment, illuminated by lightning courtesy of the ridiculous thunderstorms coming through the area, and long exposure times. The big muddy river-looking thing is in fact a small river of water coursing through my yard, put there by a massive downpour that’s overwhelmed the yard drainage system. Don’t worry, we’re fine; […]

Galaxies, Black Holes, Supernova... PLUTO... and More Space!

Contrary Brin - Mon, 07/13/2015 - 16:00
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Okay here's your Pluto reminder. Tomorrow is the AWESOME encounter day, when our little robot emissary -- New Horizons -- flashes past the Ninth Planet (of our youth).  Here's my recent posting about that -- and here's a graphical guide to the Pluto Flyby. Celebrate. Talk to kids about it. See if you can rouse your neighbors and co-workers to feel a flicker of pride and curiosity.

== Other News from Space! ==

Astronomers may have seriously over-estimated the number of smaller-fainter galaxies there were in the early days of the universe. The universe may be less crowded than we thought...
...but black holes more abundant: By detecting the highest-energy X-rays, which can penetrate through enshrouding gas and dust, the NuSTAR satellite has been able to detect super-massive (and very active) black holes in half a dozen galaxies, invisible to other wavelengths.  This suggests that such super-busy gobblers may be more common in the modern era than previously thought.  
What would happen if you met a black hole? “According to Samir Mathur. professor of physics at The Ohio State University, the recently proposed idea that black holes have “firewalls” that destroy all they touch is wrong. He believes that a black hole converts anything that touches it into a hologram — a near-perfect copy of itself that continues to exist just as before.  Mathur says if our world could be captured by a black hole, we wouldn’t even notice.”
Okaaay!  Very interesting.  Though of course the thing to be recorded would be your bloody mess, after being tidally squished, on your way to the holographic absorption layer.  Still, this is weirdly and wonderfully reminiscent of a scene from volume three of Liu Cixin’s The Three Body Problem.  Volume one is up for a Hugo Award, with my blurb on the cover; get it! Volume II, The Dark Forest will be out in August. But you won’t get to see vol.III – terrifically translated by Ken Liu – till late 2016.  I have, though!  Nyah nyah.
Now...this massive black hole has awakened after 26 years of dormancy!Zowee.  Type 1a supernovas are special.  They occur when a neutron star or white dwarf or giant star hauls enough mass from a neighbor to just barely hit the Chandrasekhar Limit where an in-collapse triggers the Big Kablooie (A technical term for use only by we licensed astrophysicists.)  This threshold effect meant that type 1a supernovae are all the same… and hence perfect “standard candles” for measuring distance… the Nobel winning work that refined not only the age of the universe, but the big news of accelerating expansion. (The reason we now believe in ‘dark energy.”)  
Only now… might type 1a supernovae NOT be all the same?  Might some of them be yanked over the Chandrasekhar Limit by an excess of Dark Matter? Yipe!  This could change a number of things. Oh, such times to live in.
Gobbling galaxies! Elliptical galaxy M87 may have swallowed an entire medium -sized galaxy over the last billion years.

==What's next for NASA? ==

A submarine to explore the seas of Titan -- Kraken Mare? NASA has selected seven technology proposals for continued study under Phase II of the agency’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program. The selections are based on the potential to transform future aerospace missions, introduce new capabilities or significantly improve current approaches to building and operating aerospace systems. The selected proposals address a range of visionary concepts, including metallic lithium combustion for long-term robotics operations, submarines that explore the oceans of icy moons of the outer planets, and a swarm of tiny satellites that map gravity fields and characterize the properties of small moons and asteroids.

“This is an excellent group of NIAC studies,” said Jason Derleth, NIAC Program executive at NASA Headquarters. “From seeing into cave formations on the moon to a radically new kind of solar sail that uses solar wind instead of light, NIAC continues to push the bounds of current technology.” (I am proud to serve on NIAC's External Council of advisers.)
== Looking ahead ==
Details of the still-tentative plans for a Europa-Clipper mission to visit and study that fascinating Jovian moon.  I wish one of these articles would expand upon such a mission’s obvious secondary purpose, to be a general probe continuing our surveys of both the biggest planet and its other moons. Speak up, if you find information about those aspects and report it here, under comments!

Is Venus geologically active? Analyses of Venus Express observations have detected multiple hot spots on the planet. 
Here's a lovely infographic of our solar system's extraterrestrial oceans -- now believed to exist on Europa, Ganymede, Callisto, Enceladus, Titan, Mimas, Triton...
DARPA is already engineering the organisms that could terraform Mars -- genetically engineered extremophiles capable of surviving in the red planet's arid terrain. Will we see the onset of Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars/Green Mars scenario? 
In 2019, Russia intends to land a spacecraft, Luna-25, on the moon's polar region, rather than near the equator where all other landings have occurred.

Meanwhile... The Russian government doubts the U.S. moon landings? Actually, it’s not as lurid as that: “We are not contending that they did not fly [to the moon], and simply made a film about it. But all of these scientific — or perhaps cultural — artifacts are part of the legacy of humanity, and their disappearance without a trace is our common loss. An investigation will reveal what happened,” said the official demanding investigation of disappearance of some of the original 1969 footage.   Still, notice how this works at multiple levels.  As with Fox News in the US, all you have to do is imply in an arched way, and let your … “challenged”… viewers bay after rumors, all by themselves.   

Again, celebrate Bastille Day with New Horizons!  Say hello to Pluto!

Oppose the cynics!  Burnish your hopefulness and pride at being a member of a civilization that does cool stuff!
Then turn and be determined to used the same can-do spirit to solve problems down here too, and make a better world.

. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

Today’s Adventure in Rural Living

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 07/13/2015 - 09:21
We re-graveled the driveway.  For those of you who don’t live in rural parts, when you have a long dirt-based driveway (as we do), in time that dirt can develop ruts and potholes and otherwise become difficult to drive on. To avoid that, and to give the driveway an overall consistent driving experience, we pay a […]

And Now, For No Reason Other Than It’s a Lazy Sunday, a Ranking of My Creative/Artistic Abilities

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 07/12/2015 - 17:40
Also because I figure it might be fun and interesting to list them. So here they are, in order of my own personal opinion of my competency with them. 1. Writing. I mean, duh. You don’t do something professionally and profitably for a quarter of a century without being rather proficient at it. I think it can […]
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