M Thomas Apple Author Page

Science fiction, actual science, history, and personal ranting about life, the universe, and everything

The University of Tokyo just covered a robot finger with real skin. The jokes write themselves…

June 20, 2022
MThomas

Skin is also just the first step in combining organic matter with machines, and opens the door for incorporating nerves and sensory organs such as olfactory receptors which can detect scents.

https://soranews24.com/2022/06/16/robot-finger-covered-in-living-skin-developed-by-university-of-tokyo/

The original report was published online by the U of Tokyo before it was covered last week by several online sources, including WebMD, the Independent, France 24, and ABC7, but the Sora News is the only one to post Japanese reader comments about, well, what fingers can do. Ahem.

The final quote of the researchers was posted on WebMD as:

“We believe this is a great step toward a new biohybrid robot with the superior functions of living organisms.”

https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/news/20220616/robot-finger-with-living-skin-points-to-a-new-future

Eek. Maybe might wanna rethink this…

Plants can grow in lunar soil (barely)

May 16, 2022
MThomas

Doesn’t look too terribly attractive…

The samples were extremely hydrophobic, and repelled water as if it were the most disgusting thing ever invented. Researchers labored to get the lunar soil to gradually soak up water. They also added a nutrient solution.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/science/2022/05/12/plants-grow-in-lunar-soil/

Turns out that it is possible to grow plants on the Moon…

…although you might want to wear gloves while farming, since the “soil” contains tiny pieces of glass from constant bombardment.

Continue Reading

Let’s make rocket fuel with E. Coli!

April 12, 2022
MThomas

In short, the algae will use sunlight to transform CO2 into sugars that are then enhanced by bio-engineered E.coli into 2,3-butanediol. Interestingly, 2,3-BDO is not entirely conceptual as it currently exists and is mainly used to produce rubber components. It has just never been thought of as fuel before.

https://www.universal-sci.com/article/producing-rocket-fuel-on-mars-using-microbes?utm_campaign=Universal-Sci%20Weekly&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Revue%20newsletter

Neat. So all the astronauts have to do is bring, uh, how much algae we talking here?

The article doesn’t say, but it does mention a by-product of the process: Oxygen!

That would seem rather helpful. Mars or bust?

Meet the man who was Shatner’s eye

March 28, 2022
MThomas

www.washingtonpost.com/magazine/2022/03/22/star-trek-movie-shatners-eyeball/

The iconic “retina scan” scene in Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan was not Shatner’s own eye.

It was an “eye double” software engineer.

(As the man himself says, your iPhone can take a more detailed picture these days, but it was high tech for 1982…)

Robot performs surgery — on pig intestines

January 27, 2022
MThomas

They slice. They dice. They perform complicated microsurgery without the aid of doctors…

US researchers say a robot has successfully performed keyhole surgery on pigs all on its own – without the guiding hand of a human. Furthermore, they add, the robot surgeon produced “significantly better” results than humans.

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2022/jan/26/robot-successfully-performs-keyhole-surgery-on-pigs-without-human-help

OK, that’s neat. But.

Hands up, who wants to have their intestines spliced together by the Terminator v. 1.0?

World’s largest space telescope has liftoff

December 26, 2021
MThomas

The James Webb Space Telescope – Hubble’s successor – has successfully lifted off.

Now starts the “two weeks of terror” as it gets into position and unfolds. Fingers crossed! 🤞

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-59782057

Water Bears in Space! Uh. Again.

November 12, 2021
MThomas

Hang on, I think I’ve seen this before…

Oh.

Not such a great idea, then, to send them on an interstellar cruise

AstroCrete…a “blood-curdling” building technique for Mars

September 18, 2021
MThomas

The blood, sweat, and tears of pioneering astronauts could literally turn Mars regolith into building materials.

First, however, they’d need to get the 3D printers there…

https://www.republicworld.com/technology-news/science/astronaut-biocomposite-materials-could-grow-successful-settlements-on-mars-study.html

mRNA and nanotech? Stay skeptical and use the Baloney Detection Kit!

June 25, 2021
MThomas

It’s becoming increasingly common to see social media posts claiming that the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, which include those made by Pfizer and Moderna, could alter a person’s DNA. Some posts even suggest that nano-machines are being injected into the body.

https://cosmosmagazine.com/health/covid/technically-no-longer-human-can-mrna-covid-19-vaccines-meld-with-your-dna/

Yeah, I’ve seen some of these posts. Talked to a neighbor who was convinced Bill Gates was trying to inject us all with a chip to control our minds.

Is there any truth to these rumours? Could an mRNA vaccine be modifying your DNA?

No.

(Read the linked Cosmos article for more details!)

Actually, all you need to do is use logic and reasoning, apply some critical thinking, and demand lots of science-based evidence.

It’s called the Baloney Detection Kit and was introduced in a Cornell University undergraduate course about critical thinking and the scientific method by astrophysicist Carl Sagan.

In his book The Demon-haunted World, he lays out nine steps to bust BS and call out unscientific baloney. I use it with my second year undergrad students in a current news and global issues course.

The link above to the kit also outlines some of the most important logical fallacies to avoid, with number 8 and 9 being the most difficult to explain and convince people about (because they involve education about basic statistics).

So will this convince anti-vaxxers who make outlandish claims online?

Probably not. Unless it goes viral 😉.

Bringer of Light, Chapter 21: Transit to Ceres

June 19, 2021
MThomas

Just before leaving Luna, Weng stumbled upon evidence of a conspiracy. But just who is behind it and for what purpose, he doesn’t know. Yet.

“Sam, I’m not entirely sure what you are talking about.”

Weng tapped a finger against his chair. In the other hand, he held a microchip.

“If my suspicions are correct,” he said, “this holds an encoded message from somebody on the Ceres Mining Council to a certain Captain on Luna Base.”

After a moment, Gen took the chip. He examined it.

“What makes you say so?” he asked, expressionless. “More importantly, what does this have to do with us?”

Weng gestured at the shuttle’s command console. “Just read it. I’m sure with your expertise you’ll have no problems breaking the code.”

Gen nodded. He gently inserted the chip into the side of his pad, then soundlessly tapped at the screen. His eyes scanned the text. “Sergey,” he said finally.

“Sergey,” Weng agreed. “What does the message read?”

“As you suspected, it is a request for support.”

“What kind of support?”

Gen scanned the message. “Odd. There are few details.”

“Few?”

“None,” Gen admitted.

He passed the pad to Weng, who swiped down a page.

“Few?” he repeated, cocking his head. “This seems pretty obvious to me. ‘The Council will reward you for your service once the new administration is in securely place.’”

“As I said, there are few details. We do not know when, who, or how this will occur.”

Weng tapped the pad. “That hardly matters. This is damning evidence of an attempted coup.”

“Perhaps. Yet there is no way to prove who sent it”

“I can make a couple of guesses.”

He felt silent. He would hate for one of his guesses to prove accurate. But a nagging thought remained. How much did Riss know, if anything?

“Sam,” Gen said. “We must not delay. This message is at least three days old. Luna must be warned.”

“It’s not Luna I’m that worried about,” Weng replied with a smile. “It’s Ceres.”

“Oh?”

“Look at the relay information. There, just below the coded text. You’ll find that it was bounced off Ceres, and before that Zedra.”

“How would you know that?”

“Logic,” Weng said. He scratched the harness keeping him secure in the shuttle seat. At times like this, he would have preferred the ability to pace. No room in such a small ship. Also, no gravity.

He grimaced briefly, then smiled again.

“Weng, there is no need to—”

“Mind-reading still has its limits, I see,” Weng said without a trace of irritation. “And yet it is still irritating.”

“Sam…”

Weng ticked off his fingers. “First, who has the means to start a coup against a well-fortified base such as Luna? The UA, which occasionally includes China and occasionally does not, and the Slavic Confederacy are too invested in their Earthside territorial conflict to waste resources on an assault.”

“You seem sure of that.”

“As long as the UN controls the Mars Colonies, the Lunar Base is needed to keep the Colonies supplied,” Weng reasoned. “Depriving the Colonies of food and materials would endanger settlers from all Earthside city-states, not just an opponents. Too risky.”

“Well,” Gen said. “The Greater Indian Empire, then.”

“No. They have never shown any interest in conquest. They might, of course, try to render Luna inoperable as a supply relay center, so as to force a return to the use of the ISS for such purposes. But if so, why would they refuse to allow settlers to resupply at ISS? That makes no sense.”

“Hmm. So, that leaves only one option.”

“Yes,” Weng agreed, with a heavy voice.

“The Ceres Mining Council.”

“Maybe. To what degree the Council is implicated remains to be seen. The message could have originated with a Hunter. Or a Miner. Or even from someone on Mars.”

Gen fell silent.

“Which do you think it was, Gen?” Weng asked. His companion’s sudden quiet manner disturbed him. He vainly struggled to keep his thoughts buried, his emotions flat. Gen turned as if to speak, and suddenly Weng realized from this angle that Gen resembled Martin Velasquez very, very closely.

His father? Or…?

Gen frowned as a message scrolled down the console screen. He gestured. “Sam.”

Weng leaned over. He read the text, then sat back.

“It appears that at least one of your suppositions has already been proven incorrect,” Gen said. “The UA is on the way to Luna. In force.”

“Well,” Weng said. “What’s that famous phrase?”

“‘The die has been cast’, I believe.”

Three days to Mars, Weng thought. He hoped there was still a colony left standing when they arrived.

“Gen,” he said. “How far to Ceres?”

“At our current rate, we will barely arrive at Mars in time.”

“Mars can manage for another day or two. If we swing past Ceres, we may be able to stop a war.”

Gen paused, then stabbed at the console for a few moments. “There. I have input a new path for Ceres. But it will be futile in the end, Sam.”

“Why? Isn’t it worth it if we can prevent lives from being lost?”

“No,” Gen said, sadly shaking his head. “It wasn’t supposed to be this way. This wasn’t our agreement.”

“Our?” said Weng. He suddenly caught his breath. Gen.

“Yes,” Gen said. “We caused this. But we only wanted a place for our own. Luna was not meant to be affected. One of the hunters must bear a grudge.”

“So,” said Weng softly. “I was correct about you, from the beginning.”

“Yes,” Gen nodded. “I am, indeed, a clone. Martin Velasquez is, indeed, my father.”

“Then you are also Martin.”

“In a sense. But enhanced with additional DNA from other sources.”

“And who is ‘we’? With whom did you make an agreement?”

“That,” Gen said, returning his attention to the console, “is something you will find out soon enough.”

Weng sat back, thoroughly demoralized. Ah, Riss, he thought wistfully. I should have pinged you when I had the chance.

“Don’t worry, Sam,” Gen said, hands dancing over the console. “Riss will no doubt be here soon.”

Weng opened his mouth, then closed it. There was little point in asking how Gen knew that. He obviously was being used by all the players in this game. He, himself, lacked the knowledge to be a full-fledged player.

All he wanted now was to be with Riss. As he had planned. On Mars.

“Ironic, in a way,” Gen commented. “My name in Japanese means ‘original’ although I am but a copy. And yet thanks to my father’s careful engineering — and expense — I likely feel much greater sympathy than he ever will.”

He turned to Weng with a serious expression on his face. “Sam. Here’s what I want you to do.”


Next: Bringer of Light, Chapter 22: The Artemis – Riss and her crew conduct an experiment, with explosive results…

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