Visit to Glasgow

I took a little trip to Glasgow last weekend or, as my phrase book would have it ‘Glesca’. I thought to myself that well, I’ve got the low fuel consumption diesel Hyundai, so I’ll drive. The car chugged along nicely, but bloody hell, I really ought to take more rest breaks next time! I am also now awaiting the arrival of speeding tickets because it seemed there was no point around the M25 and little way up where the beady eyes of speed cams weren’t observing me. Arriving in Glasgow I stopped in a Premier Inn. Pretty good room, comfortable and spacious, but not exactly cheap.

It was cold and wet up there, but let’s not make this a Scottish weather thing because it wasn’t exactly beaming sun and T-shirt weather in Essex. From the Inn I got a pretty good view of some recognizable structures.

One nearby building was the Science Centre (no picture). The friend I went to see thought this would be ideal for me to visit and quite right too because I like all that stuff, but the place was a laughable disappointment. We got inside and it was like what is this shit? Well, it was all interactive toys for children. And it cost £21 for two people to find that out. We got out of there pretty sharpish and next headed to Glasgow city centre. It was  of course crowded with Christmas shoppers…  

I got a slight nostalgia jolt seeing Glasgow Central Station since that was where I went many years ago to an Eastercon SF convention – held in one of the big hotels. I remembered the authors trooping after their editor like lost ducklings, remembered drinking too much, a painfully stilted authorial lunch and the overpowering urge to stub a cigarette out on the head of some pretentious berk, and escaping into the city for a look around.

One highlight of last weekend’s trip was going to a Angus and Julia Stone gig. I’d never heard of them before a few weeks back, but now they’re growing on me. This is good because even though I’m not heavily into music I do like to listen on occasion. Unfortunately, all the music I have liked over the years has its Caroline connection, and it just makes me miserable to listen to it.

The next highlight was a breakfast at The Rio Cafe, which I couldn’t finish. Included in this (buried under the rest) was my first try of Stornoway black pudding (I’m looking at you Shona McTavish), which was delicious, and I ate the lot of that.

The final highlight was a visit to the Kelvingrove Museum. Free entry and a sight more interesting than that Science Centre.

I particularly liked these heads – appealed to my inner weirdo.  


When the hot dry wind hits here is fries vegetation and heaps the detritus here and there around my garden. The leaves, flower petals and bougainvillea bracts haven’t had a chance to turn brown. It’s like someone has tipped out a few sack loads of potpourri. While clearing these up recently, ever wary of the odd concealed scorpion (though they’re not often about when it’s hot and dry) I found numerous crisp-dried sections of shed snakeskin. Judging by the size of these pieces the snake was three of four feet long. I wish I’d saved them for a photograph but they went in my composter with the potpourri. Only a few weeks after that wind did I pick up one small piece…

…and think ‘USB microscope’!

I don’t know whether this will be interesting – let’s find out.

Snakeskin x20

Snakeskin x80

Snakskin x350

Okay, I did find these interesting, but then I have a confession to make: I’m a nerd. Also, coincidentally, when going back to editing these are the first words I read: He gazed at the snake drone locked in its clamps, and at the spine driven in through its mouth and deep into its body.

Fun with a Scorpion

Yesterday when I took my walk to Handras I set out in shorts and t-shirt because the sun was shining and I expected the temperature to just climb, but cloud steadily thickened. As I approached that village I was pretty sure I was going to get rained on and it occurred to me that while I didn’t mind getting a bit wet since it was still warm, the Greek/English lexicon, sheet of paper with Anna’s latest lesson on it, wallet and notebook in my man-bag might not appreciate it. I started looking for a plastic bag, damning myself for not sticking to my idea of always carrying a spare because wherever you go here Greeks will give you gifts of fruit and veg. (I digress: on one of my first walks here a pickup stopped beside me and the old guy behind the wheel waved to the back and held up three fingers. I took three mandarins out of the back, thanked him, and enjoyed them on the way home.)

The first plastic bag I found had fur and other icky substance stuck inside so had probably contained a dead cat. I passed on that one. The next I picked up was clean so I put the vulnerable items in that then back in my man-bag. Rubbish in general, including plastic bags, is never in short supply here and is strangely lacking in the tourist photos. On many occasions I’ve had my Jaws moment while swimming only to see a carrier bag sliding by under water.

Rumbles of thunder ensued and I did get rained on but not enough to bother me much. Back home, with the weather clearing a little, I set about varnishing woodwork then tidying the garden and other areas surrounding the house. This done I read Greek for an hour before deciding that maybe it was time to fire up that USB microscope that has been sitting on my shelf for 2 or 3 years. I connected it to my laptop, opened camera app, then looked around for the slides. I couldn’t find them anywhere so had to pack the microscope away again and instead watched the Sopranos.

This morning I was determined to make a concerted search for those slides after a walk to Lithines. However, it was grey and pouring with rain and has only eased off now at 9.30. Foregoing my walk I began rummaging through drawers – always traumatic because every item has a memory attached. I threw stuff away and relocated it, then finally found the box of slides in a cobwebby mess behind my desk. Time to set up the microscope again…

Here’s Mr Scorpion in place:

And here are some shots of him, respectively the sting, part of the main body and one claw.

This is my first effort. I would have liked a lower magnification so as to get a detailed picture of the whole thing but at x20 this is the lowest of the main settings which then go up to x80 and x350. Here’s x80 on the sting, while x350 is just a difficult blurry mess I won’t bother with.

Maybe if I take a series of shots at different points along its body I can paste together a whole picture in one of the other programs I have available? That’s a project for another time. I also need to get hold of the kind of slides I remember from my childhood (when my parents bought me a very good microscope for maybe my 10th birthday). These slides have dished recesses in them so you can put in a droplet of filthy water and watch fascinating diatoms zipping about, and the app will allow me to take video clips of them.

There you go: it is now confirmed that I am a weirdo.

SF Prediction

Here’s a bit I wrote for a BBC article by Peter Ray Allison:
Science fiction hits some predictive targets in science but rather in the way that a clip fired from an assault rifle will hit some of the enemy hidden in the jungle, but mostly hit trees and leaves.
One of the past criticisms of SF has been that it’s all ‘zap-guns and rocket ships’ whereupon the SF writer can smugly point out the LaWs US navy laser system knocking down drones and then perhaps wax lyrical about the X Prize, Virgin Galactic and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
Yet, prior to Sputnik and the space race we had SF about space ships with the navigator aboard calculating the ship’s course with a slide rule. Today many people use a communication device much like those used in Star Trek, but the Roddenbury communicator was distinctly lacking in apps, games, camera and video recorder. It’s a simple fact that SF completely missed the computer revolution we have seen, yet, three-D printers we are now seeing have been there in the books for some while, though admittedly running on hand-wavium.
But in the end SF is not there to make accurate predictions about the future. It’s there to entertain and stimulate the imagination. And there is absolutely no doubt that many of the imaginations it stimulates belong to scientists and that to some extent it drives and directs science. I can think of many examples, but offer this one: the X-Prize now being offered for aStar Trek tricorder.

Anti-Ageing Breakthrough

Well, I didn’t see this is one coming, and really should have. I’ve always felt that life-extension would go in a series of small steps, just as it has been going. There is no cure for cancer as a whole because there are thousands of different varieties of cancer. If a cure or some kind of delaying treatment is found for one kind then that pushes overall life-expectancy up, just a little. Just as if a better way of treating dementia or diabetes is found. Statisticians have a lot of fun with these figures because, with life presently being 100% fatal, if you cure one thing then more people die of another. Next time you hear ‘dementia on the rise’ just remember that is probably because less people are keeling over from heart attacks.

Since 1970 life expectancy in Western European countries has typically risen by six to eight years, and the rate of increase has been 2% a decade. Of course these figures vary hugely across the world and are dependent on numerous factors, but the trend is ever upwards. There are many coffin dodgers would like to try and stay within that slow rise and, unless our civilization collapses, there will be people born in the next 100 years who are just going to keep on living, with no end in sight.
However, even though most of the low-hanging fruit have been picked – consider how much life expectancy must have leapt up when penicillin was discovered – but the possibility of big jumps in life expectancy should not be discounted. And this looks like it might be one of them. Here is a link at Extreme Longevity, and another at Science Daily and lots more can be found if you just google ‘Anti-aging drug breakthrough’.
Publishing his work in the prestigious journal Science, David Sinclair of Harvard reports a breakthrough in the development of drugs that can block the aging process.
The article is entitled Evidence for a Common Mechanism of SIRT1 Regulation by Allosteric Activators, and reveals how interaction with a single amino acid in the SIRT1 enzyme is crucial for the ability of drugs that can activate the enzyme.
SIRT1 is an enzyme in the class of molecules called Sirtuins. Significant research shows that activation of sirtuins  reduces cellular aging through its interaction with other cellular master switches such as FOXO3a and PGC-1a
“At the cellular level,” explain the authors. “SIRT1 controls DNA repair and apoptosis, circadian clocks, inflammatory pathways, insulin secretion, and mitochondrial biogenesis”
The increase in centenarians is well known, but this particular comment caught my attention:
 “Now we are looking at whether there are benefits for those who are already healthy. Things there are also looking promising,” he says. ”We’re finding that ageing isn’t the irreversible affliction that we thought it was,”
“Some of us could live to 150, but we won’t get there without more research,” he adds.

Cellweld TM

Being back in the Polity now, while reading lots of science articles on the internet, I’m finding that the Polity needs updating in detail. All here have doubtless read stuff about 3D printing of inert matter and even of cells, and this morning my first science article of the day was this over at Singularity Hub:

3D printing technology is hot and getting hotter. Whereas once 3D printers were limited to a few select materials, these days inputs include metal, plastic, glass, wood, and—human cells? Bet you didn’t see that coming. (Actually, if you’re a regular here, you probably did.) Bioprinting firm, Organovo, isn’t anywhere near 3D printing a hand or heart. But a recently announced partnership with 3D modeling software giant Autodesk (maker of AutoCAD) might speed things up a bit.
We first encountered Organovo in 2009. The firm introduced the NovoGen bioprinter in 2010—the first of its kind—and has since built ten more. At a cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and as yet only rudimentary capability, bioprinting technology is firmly in the developmental stages.

So, of course 3D printing was invented long before the Quiet War. It’s so common in the time of the Polity that it is hardly worth mentioning that it is precisely the 3D printing above that is used by cell-welders and bone-welders or, rather, I neglected to mention it in the previous books… And, of course, many maintenance robots use 3D printing to repair damaged ships but foolishly, being a 21st century viewer of these activities, I took what they were doing to be welding or some other similar activity, so am now working to correct that:
Here a tic-shaped printer-bot was slowly and meticulously blocking off the tunnel, the numerous jointed printing heads sprouting from its foreparts steadily depositing layers of some white crystalline substance round and round its interior. Trent was reminded of a paper wasp building its nest, and as he eyed those busy printing heads he wondered if they were capable of doing any damage. Perhaps it would be better just hit the thing now… He raised his particle cannon, at which point the robot abruptly retreated out of sight.
‘I’ll go first,’ he said.
Nothing dates quite so fast as science fiction…

Fountain of Youth?

Gob hanging open…

Researchers were able to turn back the molecular clock by infusing the blood stem cells of old mice with a longevity gene and rejuvenating the aged stem cells’ regenerative potential. The findings will be published online Thursday, Jan. 31, in the journal Cell Reports.
The biologists found that SIRT3, one among a class of proteins known as sirtuins, plays an important role in helping aged blood stem cells cope with stress. When they infused the blood stem cells of old mice with SIRT3, the treatment boosted the formation of new blood cells, evidence of a reversal in the age-related decline in the old stem cells’ function.
 “We already know that sirtuins regulate aging, but our study is really the first one demonstrating that sirtuins can reverse aging-associated degeneration, and I think that’s very exciting,” said study principal investigator Danica Chen, UC Berkeley assistant professor of nutritional science and toxicology. “This opens the door to potential treatments for age-related degenerative diseases.”

Super Super-Capacitor

I just picked up on this on Singularity Hub. Game Changer?

The Super Supercapacitor | Brian Golden Davis from Focus Forward Films on Vimeo.

What if you could charge your phone, tablet, or laptop in 30 seconds and have it work all day long? That’s the promise presented in a short film titled The Super Supercapacitor that profiles the work of UCLA inorganic chemistry professor Ric Kaner, whose research focused on conductive polymers and next generation materials.

Zero Point USA

It seems they’re using a slightly different cover for the US version of Zero Point, but it’s still a Jon Sullivan picture so good stuff as ever. However, they seemed to have screwed up: it’s ‘Owner’ singular…

Jeremy Lassen informs me: That was an early version of the cover that made it into the wild before we fixed the plural thing. The actual books are right, and the incorrect version currently at amazon is hopefully being overwritten this week.

Night Shade Books are publishing The Owner Trilogy in the US and have scheduled The Departure for publication Feb 5, 2013 with Zero Point following May 7, 2013 and Jupiter War  September 3, 2013 (catching up with publication of that last book in Britain). Nicely keying into that my short story The Other Gun will be appearing in Asimov’s April/May issue that year with, of course, mention of these books in attached biog. It should be an interesting year with those three books slamming into the American market in rapid succession. In essence this should work as quite a profile-raising exercise.

Meanwhile here’s a Walker of Worlds review of the book:

Asher doesn’t fail in making this second volume of the Owner trilogy a step up from The Departure, adding in plenty to keep the pages turning. For those familiar with his Owner short stories there are some nice treats in store, and for those that haven’t…. well, what are you waiting for? In short, Zero Point is well worth reading, and I will be very much looking forward to Jupiter War!

Hair Cell Regeneration

Well, after years of working with noisy machinery – up until 2001 I had operated milling machines and lathes for many years then, when I went self-employed, I used mowers, chainsaws, hedge cutters and strimmers – I’m often finding myself mentally replaying stuff that people have said because I didn’t hear it properly. At some point, probably in the next ten years, I’m going to need a hearing aid, but damn I would much prefer the damage repaired at its root:

In the Jan. 10 issue of Neuron, Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Harvard Medical School researchers demonstrate for the first time that hair cells can be regenerated in an adult mammalian ear by using a drug to stimulate resident cells to become new hair cells, resulting in partial recovery of hearing in mouse ears damaged by noise trauma. This finding holds great potential for future therapeutic application that may someday reverse deafness in humans.

This is the kind of article that undermines my usual pessimism.