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Kate Rauner's short stories of scifi & fantasy

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Life in the Dark #sciku #haiku #ocean #deepsea

Infrared photons
Driving photosynthesis
In deep ocean vents

A black smoker, photographed with artificial light

Thanks to Brian Dunning for pointing out this study of bacteria that live in deep sea black smokers – cracks in the ocean floor where heat and chemicals boil up through the darkness. The pressure and temperature down there would seem to make life impossible, but surprise! Certain bacteria do what I think of as something only plants in sunlight can do: photosynthesis. But heat and light are both on the electromagnetism spectrum, so I should have guessed. I love the term for such bacteria: extremophiles.

Brian Dunning’s podcast Skeptoid (with transcripts available too) is one of my favorite sites.

A Living Mind #brain #neuroscience #sciku #haiku #poetry

Body acts in World
Your brain is not a machine
World acts on Body

Spirit infused into a person – as good a metaphor as any

Each of us is unique in a more profound way than I ever imaged. Billions of neurons with trillions of interconnections, built on unimaginable numbers of interactions with the environment that no two humans share. You and I may read these same words, but how our brains therefore change is different, and different from every other human being.

This is inspirational, I suppose, because it means that each of us is truly unique, not just in our genetic makeup, but even in the way our brains change over time. It is also depressing, because it makes the task of the neuroscientist daunting almost beyond imagination. For any given experience, orderly change could involve a thousand neurons, a million neurons or even the entire brain, with the pattern of change different in every brain. Aeon

This line isn’t original with me: The mind is what the brain does. As long as my brain is alive, I am. There are no files to duplicate or download, because no computer functions the way I do. Maybe, someday, machines will form their own type of awareness, but that won’t duplicate the human mind. Change is hard, but will abandoning the computer metaphor lead to a revolution in neuroscience?

8,000 tons of Space Debris Threaten Modern Life #space

Our daily lives on Earth depend on satellites in space. Weather forecasting, telecommunications, GPS, and increasingly the internet too. But defunct craft, discards from old launches, and smashed debris from collisions are filling the skies. Even astronauts on the International Space Station have to conduct special maneuvers to avoid larger chunks or hide out in their docked Soyuz spacecraft until junk passes by. The sky once seemed so vast, but today, we’ve cluttered it up with millions of pieces of trash.

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We may even be limiting our ability to travel into space.

Spacecraft to clean up the mess are being designed and tested. Here’s one international effort about to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Ultimately, such craft will attempt to attach to dead satellites and push them toward Earth to burn up in the atmosphere. Eek! I hope they take the size of whatever survives to crash on land into consideration. But first comes a test using two devices:

Using a magnetic docking technology, the servicer will release and try to “rendezvous” with the client, which will act as a mock piece of space junk [and] carry out this catch and release process repeatedly over the course of six months. NPR

What a great basis for science fiction, don’t you think? I’m currently writing a story that launches newly minted pilot Winnie Bravo to clean up space junk. She’s based on the Moon, and there’s more than orbiting debris to worry about. Her space adventure turns deadly. The book will be released later this year, but you don’t have to hold your breath waiting! Subscribe today to my newsletter and I’ll keep you posted, but I’ll never sell your address or pester you with spam (promise, I’m too busy writing.)

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What’s In a Font? That Which We Call a Letter… #authors #writingtips

Today I’m sharing a self-indulgent item. As a writer (I bet a lot of you know I write scifi,) I see posts that lead us to agonize over what font to use on book covers. For those of you lucky enough to not care, it may be news that:

I think of “fonts” as beginning with type-setting, but I suppose quality handwriting is an even older issue. Say, I wonder if there were different fonts in cuneiform?

A font is a collection of characters with a similar design. These characters include lowercase and uppercase letters, numbers, punctuation marks, and symbols. TechTerms

The word also has a second definition as a receptacle for baptismal water. That’s quite appropriate, because the wrong font will, the experts all agree, damn your book to oblivion. Without the right font, readers (a flighty, finicky group) will have no idea what genre your book belongs in, whether to be attracted or repelled, and will blithely click away into the quantum foam, leaving a despondent author behind.

Right behind cover fonts comes the agonizing over the font used in the interior of print books and PDF files. Ebook readers save us this worry by having control over the font their digital readers present (thank you, ebook readers.) But not every written work is so lucky, which brings me to this article. Fonts being a weighty matter, allow me to quote at length:

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, acting like a picky high school English teacher, announced an amendment to its handbook Tuesday: Briefs will only be accepted if they’re written in 14-point serifed fonts, such as Century or Times New Roman. The courts strictly ‘discourage the use of Garamond.’

People said the harder font took 50 percent longer to read. ‘And when something takes long, people assume it’s complicated, and they don’t want to do it.’

The Supreme Court asks that lawyers write in the “Century family.” The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit warns against Times New Roman. Slate

There are thousands, probably millions, of fonts available. You are not limited to whatever came with your favorite word processing software. You can buy more fonts. An endless number of fonts. You can spend so much time on fonts, you never write a single word. Eek.

The article I quoted ends with this:

Here’s to hoping the court’s next case takes on another source of impassioned legal argument: two spaces after a period.

Eeeeek. No, please. Not that!