You’re a Mutant and it Gets Worse Every Day – Here’s How #biology #gene #radioactive #DNA #Asimov

DNA structure

DNA, just peppered with carbon atoms

Does the thought of mutations in your DNA (and other bits of your body’s cells) scare you? Do you worry about toxins, or GMOs, or species-hopping viruses? Cancer, or growing a second head? Here’s something that may terrify you. Or, since it happens every day and you’re not dead yet, maybe comfort you.

Here’s how you mutate. Your body contains a lot of carbon. This is such a basic fact that to say a chemical is organic means it contains carbon atoms in its molecules. Your DNA, the genetic blueprint that pilots your cells through life, contains carbon atoms.

Not likely!

Carbon, like many elements, exists in different forms called isotopes. Mostly we have carbon-12, but a fraction of all carbon is carbon-14, which is radioactive. When it decays (that is, releases a sub-atomic particle or energy from its nucleus), it transmogrifies into a different element, nitrogen.

Isaac Asimov once estimated that this transmogrification happens roughly six times a second somewhere in the DNA in your body, every second of every day, throughout your life. I’m way too lazy to check his figures, but whatever the rate, it happens. Every one of these events mutates the DNA where it occurred. A lot of the mutations will be in body cells, and some will be in sperm or eggs (reproductive cells.) A mutation might kill the cell, cause cancer, get passed on to offspring, or do nothing discernable.

So, you are a mutant. So am I. And we’re still alive. Do you feel better? Or worse?

BTW: Carbon-14 is created in Earth’s atmosphere every day by a natural process. Cosmic radiation strikes our planet from every direction, and it includes sub-atomic particles known as neutrons. Occasionally a neutron strikes a nitrogen atom. Our atmosphere is roughly 75% nitrogen, so this is no surprise.

The neutron reshuffles nitrogen’s nucleus and transforms it to carbon-14, which is radioactive and so decays back to nitrogen. It takes 5,700 years for half of a given amount of C-14 to decay, but it happens at a steady rate. The entire process happens at a steady rate and the C-14 way up high mixes into the air down low that we breathe, so the amount of C-14 in the body of any living organism stays constant until it stops breathing (or otherwise respiring). Then radioactive decay depletes the body of C-14. This is the basis of carbon-14 dating, which you may have heard of.

BTW2: Asimov’s book is old – published in 1988 – but still worth reading. He covers a lot of history and basic science. New discoveries seldom change what we know about the basics, like radioactive decay.

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Scifi by Asimov and a Transgendered Search for Identify – Wait a Minute – Isaac Asimov? #scifi #sciencefiction #bookreview #genderequality

cover Robots of DawnIsaac Asimov, a giant of early 20th Century science fiction, is often criticized for awkward writing with flat characters. Could his book The Robots of Dawn, and in particular a sex scene in the story (Asimov? sex?) have helped a trans preteen find his way?

This is a great article and you should read it in its entirety. What riveted the author about Asimov’s character was:

Bailey’s desires and fantasies effortlessly become reality: Without his asking for it, sex came to him exactly as he imagined it because he was a smart masculine detective guy. I wanted that pleasure and ease and wordless understanding between the object of my desire and myself…
The phrase I now have for it is gender dysphoria—I shunned any experience that sought to tie me to my female body, and in turn escaped that body by mapping my sexual fantasies onto those of cisgender, heterosexual men, in scifi, in pornography, and beyond.

Asimov’s story focuses on a case of roboticide. There are, of course, robots with positronic brainpaths (Mr. Data, here’s your creator.) But he set his story on a planet where sex is casual and monogamy nonexistent. Well, Asimov is also known for writing for adolescent boys. And his story opened up new possibilities for at least one youngster.

I’ve never read the book and headed to Amazon to find over 200 reviews and a 4.5 star rating. Readers love the robot mystery, and also note some elements that didn’t age well over the decades.

  • Fascinating take on culture clashes and assumptions made–even while it remains blind to some of the assumptions of the time period in which it was written.
  • The sex scenes were written in an odd way, I thought, showing that the character (as well as the author perhaps?) was not comfortable
  • There doesn’t seem to be any ethnic diversity
  • This book dragged on and on. I bought it for my 14 year old and found it was really inappropriate.

Even the writer who found the book transformative as a preteen says, “When I re-read The Robots of Dawn now, passages that I absorbed uncritically at the time are transformed into stumbling blocks… a fantasy world that had no place for me or anyone like me.”

I’ve found some of Asimov’s other work to be dated. I have fond memories of some of his books and have avoided re-reading them exactly because I don’t want to spoil the memories.

I’m intrigued. The book resonated for a particular person at a particular point in his young life. What do you think? Should I read Robots of Dawn? Will you read it?

Best-selling Required Reading for Scifi Fans May Not Be What You Expect #review #bookreview #scifi #sciencefiction #space #classic

Ultimate Classic Scifi

Does this say “scifi” to you? Classics covers often strike me as odd.

You can’t claim to be well-rounded in science fiction if you haven’t read Foundation – a collection of stories written between 1941 and 1949, and assembled into a book in 1951. The second and third volumes followed quickly. This was the Golden Age, and the trilogy’s been called the beginning of modern science fiction, and the greatest scifi series ever. I’m sure this second accolade will be debated until the sun burns out.

In the first book, Foundation, don’t expect a lot of action. Each story is primarily conversations among the characters. The style is almost Socratic in its questions, answers, and explanations. It makes sense that Amazon ranks the book under Political and Literary Fiction as well as Science Fiction Anthologies.

Warning: I read the hardcover edition, and some reviewers claim the Kindle version has been re-edited and “butchered.”

Asimov used elements of science fiction that are still with us today: force fields, hyperspace, and holograms. Nuclear power was the epitome of high-tech and fills the books. Everything is nuclear from refrigerators to spaceships, run with nuclear generators the size of your thumb. But there’s also microfilm and – gasp – paper. The combination makes for an interesting setting.

Stories mean different things to readers in different times and places. Given America’s current billionaire occupation of the government and explosion of fake news’ influence on the public, I found Asimov’s vision depressing and cynical.

All his governments are dictatorships – usually kingdoms and empires – sometimes with worthless bureaucracies. There are trillions of humans (nothing but humans, everywhere in the galaxy) but they appear only in negative terms as mobs and oblivious fools. Even the heroes manipulate populations on a planetary scale without remorse, and religion is a cynical tool of “conquest by missionary.” The Foundation pushes its agenda by making technologies appear magical to the mobs, using priests who (mostly) embrace supernatural explanations. The Foundation gains control because “the chief characteristic of the religion of science is that it works.”

Regarding another modern concern, if you follow the War on Women in America, you’ll notice that Foundation heroes are all men. Few women appear in the stories, not even as decoration. It makes me wonder where the galaxy’s population comes from 😀 because the stories span centuries, jumping from one historic crisis to the next. This narrow social vision isn’t universal in Asimov’s works, by the way. One of my favorite Asimov novels, The Gods Themselves, could reasonably be listed under LGBTQ (though all alien.)

I recommend the book more for its historical context than for fun. But many people love it. With over 2,000 reviews on Amazon (yes – over two thousand!) Foundation rates 4.4 stars.

BREAKING NEWS: Skydance Television production company is bringing the Foundation trilogy to the small screen: “‘The Foundation Trilogy’ is a set of short stories which have been tried both cinematically and as a series for HBO but just hasn’t been able to get off the ground.” I bet I know why – the stories aren’t very photogentic, especially in the beginning.

Lots of Amazon reviewers mention they read the trilogy long ago and enjoyed finding the books again. Not everyone, however, recaptured their earlier enthusiasm.

Reading Foundation now, I was shocked at the novel’s simplicity… In fact, in comparing Foundation with [Dune, Reality Dysfunction, and Dark Forest], you would almost have to term it as a YA title… I would not recommend this series to anyone who has already read many of the other science fiction classics. I would however, strongly urge anyone with a teenager to purchase it as an introduction to science fiction. Steven M. Anthony

One more quibble: why do publishers put such awful covers on classics?

Looking ahead, I see more action and a female character in Book 2 – Foundation and Empire. I plan to push on to the end, when I have the time and motivation.

Join the first colonists https://books2read.com/u/bQZp1e

There’s a new cover! Click here to see the latest version. Better?

All my books, including the On Mars series, are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and other major online retailers, including Smashwords and Create Space for paperbacks. Four of my On Mars books are available now. I can’t claim to be a classic! but read one today.

You’re not stuck with Amazon. Also available at other favorite stores. Try the value-priced Box Set to read all five.

Scientific Discovery in Bathtub #science #beetle #bugs #nature

If you’d love to make a scientific discovery, it pays to keep your eyes open.

In 1984, a couple outside of Salem, Oregon, discovered tiny beetles floating in the [bathtub]

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Great Diving Beetle, free-swimming and a giant by comparison

water… a species completely new to science. nationalgeographic.com

It also pays to remember Isaac Asimov’s words that “the most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not, ‘Eureka! I’ve found it,’ but, ‘That’s funny!'”

After sending a sample to Oregon State University the couple cleaned the beetles out of their well with chlorine, and I can’t blame them. But Oregon State entomologist Richard Van Driesche read about the beetles and wanted to find more. His parents’ farm is near Salem and when he checked their well water filter, he found several deceased beetles that yielded usable DNA. Oddly enough, the closest relatives to Oregon’s beetles live in a Texas aquifer – a long way for a tiny diving beetle that spends its entire life underground. I’ve seen no word on what they eat down there.

Citizen Scientists Study Mars #science #tech #space

NASA's spacecraft may learn more

NASA’s spacecraft may learn more

Not everyone can be a professional scientist, but citizen scientists continue to contribute.

An international network of amateur astronomers has spotted what looks like two plumes, or slender, cloudy projections, extending from the surface of Mars, and their professional counterparts have no clear idea of what they might be.” NatGeo

A lawyer in Pennsylvania first spotted the odd plume in 2012. As a member of the ALPO astronomy group, he alerted others who confirmed his sighting. Amateurs in Australia and France spotted the plume, too.

Professional astronomers appreciate the help. “Skilled amateurs often pick up celestial phenomena the pros might miss. Amateurs have been the first to see some supernovae and comets.”

The mysterious plume rose 200 km, well over 100 miles, above the Martian surface. Orbiting spacecraft may have recorded the phenomenon – it will take time to look through all the data. Comments on the article show a lot of interest, with suggested causes from asteroid impacts to static electricity in storms. Amateurs will keep their telescopes on the planet and I expect we’ll learn more.

We welcome and provide services for all individuals interested in lunar and planetary astronomy. For the novice observer, the ALPO is a place to learn and to enhance observational techniques. For the advanced amateur astronomer, it is a place where one’s work will count. For the professional astronomer, it is a resource where group studies or systematic observing patrols add to the advancement of astronomy.” ALPO astronomy group

Whether you prefer the cosmos or a local beetle, remember, as Isaac Asimov said,
The most exciting phrase in science isn’t “eureka,” but “that’s funny…”

Reality is No #FlatEarth #science #poetry #poem

Thanks to Isaac Asimov’s inspiration.
Reality’s a Messlight-prism
A sphere is the most perfect shape
But Earth’s an oblate pear.
Beautiful orbits are circular but ellipses are what’s there.
A species should be distinct,
Breed true, you must concur.
But as lineages move through time distinctions start to blur.
The speed of light is constant,
As every student knows,
But that’s only in a vacuum or we wouldn’t have rainbows.
Nuclear forces strong and weak
With charged particles unite.
By when will gravity join in and stop the physics fight?
Perfection is what’s beautiful
But reality stands the test.
Reality will always win,
And reality’s a mess.