Can't come up for air just yet.

May 04, 2016

Hacking code and writing policy. I'll be able to come up for air soon.

Also, claims that they're migrating to their old URL and that everything is fine. Only everything's not fine, nobody's links load, their blog is now gone, and they're not responding to anybody trying to get in touch with them. I'm glad I was able to download my data (including all the stuff I want to write about when I get a chance) before their site started acting screwy again. I guess I'm going to need to set up my own online link manager...

Hacking DNA. No, really.

Apr 02, 2016

Last year a new genetic engineering technology called CRISPR - Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats - showed up on my radar at a local conference. Long story short, CRISPR is a highly precise technique for editing DNA in situ which follows from the discovery of short sequences of DNA which allow for precise location of individual genes. It's a fascinating technology; there are even tutorials (archived copy, just in case) online for developing your own guide RNA to implement CRISPR/Cas9. What you might not have known is that CRISPR/Cas9 is being actively studied as a theraputic technique in humans due to the amazing amount of success it's shown in modifying the genomes of other forms of life. At Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania earlier this year molecular biologists successfully used the technique to hack the DNA of cultured human T-cells in vitro that were infected with HIV and delete the HIV DNA entirely. Moreover, when re-exposed to HIV the hacked T-cells were observed to show immunity to the virus. Further observing the cells after they'd been modified showed that no adverse effects were introduced - the cells were healthy, happy, and just as effective post-CRISPR/Cas9 modification as pre-infection with HIV. The research team's peer-reviewed findings were published in the journal Nature in February of 2016, and the paper went open access online in March of this year.

3D printing of nanomaterials and implanted prosthetic limbs.

Apr 02, 2016

Long-time readers of my site no doubt know of my fascination with the field of 3D printing and tracking the advances that are made almost weekly to this technology. From simple plastic tchotchkes to replacement parts to materials that few ever dreamed would be used, 3D fabbers are fast becoming an integral part of manufacturing at all levels of complexity. A few months ago researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory published the results for a revolutionary 3D printer called the Optomec Aerosol Jet 500, a fabber which uses a range of nanomaterials as its feedstock. To cut to the chase they've been using it to construct electronic components and integrated circuits at the molecular level, laying down conductive pathways in three dimensions, constructing semiconductor units material by material, and linking everything together into working circuitry in situ. Current semiconductor prototyping fabs are huge, on the order of thousands of square feet in size but the Optomec is just slightly over 250 square feet in size, well within the working space of your average science lab (and doesn't use any of the incredibly dangerous chemicals ordinarily involved in semiconductor manufacture). The new generation fabber prints at a resolution of 10 microns, which is about the size of a large grain of pollen or silt but far to small for the human eye to discern unaided. I don't know when this technology will leave the lab but you can bet that the semiconductor giants are going to be keeping a close eye indeed on them, if only because eliminating many of the chemicals they use would raise their bottom line significantly (by not needing to worry about licensing and disposal costs).

North Korea: A Polite Rant

Apr 02, 2016

If you've been following the news for the past couple of weeks you've no doubt seen lots of hand wringing about North Korea's missile tests. To summarize, they've popped off a couple of missiles that seem to have intercontinental capability, i.e., they could, in theory travel from North Korea to the vicinity of the United States or Canada and deliver their payload. The missiles in question keep landing in the ocean, which strongly suggests deliberate targeting to prove launch and control capability as well as making it more difficult for other countries to get hold of the hardware for analysis. That payload, of course, is what has many worried. Additionally, it's been observed that the US military's anti-ballistic missile capability is less than stellar. Official word from the Pentagon is that they're confident that they could handle such a problem, some evidence backs that up, and other evidence casts doubt upon them, such as failing 75% of the time. Coupled with North Korea kicking up propwash in the international media about US and South Korean forces training together about cutting loose if the two countries don't knock it off (spoiler alert: they haven't and aren't).

On the other hand, earlier this year North Korea successfully put a satellite into orbit (even though it's tumbling, which makes it useless for anything other than a proof-of-concept) and detonated a bomb powerful enough to register as a seismic event several thousand miles away. Regardless of what one may think these are not events to dismiss lightly because they demonstrate dual-use technical capability; the rocket booster used to put the satellite into orbit could also be used to propel a military payload into the airspace of another country, and even if the bomb detonated on 6 January 2016 wasn't actually a hydrogen bomb, it was certainly powerful enough to level a city.

That said, here's my two cents: Sit down, have another cup of coffee, and find something interesting to do.

No, really. Don't worry about this.


Sonata Arctica, Delain, and Nightwish - 11 March 2016.

Mar 28, 2016

It is rare indeed when the Finnish operatic metal band Nightwish comes to the United States. Fans of symphonic metal (like most of us in this house), upon hearing that they would be within driving distance for the first time in many years sprinted, not ran to pick up tickets for this show the moment they went on sale. I can't really describe them to you so all I can really say is take two parts power metal, one part opera, and one part old-school swords and sorcery fantasy, throw into a blender, add a shot of sulfuric acid, and hit frappe'. If one is so inclined, one might say that it's a popular genre of metal in the game Shadowrun (I know that I'm going to be writing all of them into my next game...)


Anyway, opening for Nightwish that evening were Delain and Sonata Arctica. I'm sorry to say that we seem to have missed Delain opening for everyone due to travel time down to San Jose' in a downpour and we caught the last half to third of Sonata Arctica's show. Suffice it to say that, working backwards, we missed one hell of a first half of the night judging by the latter part of S-A-'s set and Nightwish bringing the house down that evening.

Anyway, I can't do the concert much more justice so here are the pictures I took from the back half of the concert hall.