it's - sort of - alive!

Posted on: Fri, 01/23/2009 - 10:15 By: Tom Swiss

LiveScience reports that researchers at the Scripps Research Institute have created molecules that bump right up against the boundaries of what we consider "alive". They synthesized RNA enzymes that replicate, mutate, and evolve:

Lincoln's advisor, professor Gerald Joyce, reiterated that while the self-replicating RNA enzyme systems share certain characteristics of life, they are not life as we know it.

"What we've found could be relevant to how life begins, at that key moment when Darwinian evolution starts," Joyce said in a statement.

Joyce's restraint, clear also on an NPR report of the finding, has to be appreciated. He allows that some scientists familiar with the work have argued that this is life. Another scientist said that what the researchers did is equivalent to recreating a scenario that might have led to the origin of life.

Joyce insists he and Lincoln have not created life: "We're knocking on that door," he says, "but of course we haven't achieved that."

RIP Majel Barrett Rodenberry

Posted on: Fri, 12/19/2008 - 10:36 By: Tom Swiss

Majel Barrett Roddenberry has left us.

Majel played the Enterprise's first officer in the original pilot "The Cage" (later recut with a frame story as the TOS two-parter "The Menagerie"), then Nurse Christine Chapel in the original series. Then in TNG she played Councilor Troi's mother, Lwaxana, as well as providing the ubiquitous computer voice in TNG and later series. In fact, she has recenntly finished voice work on the forthcoming Trek movie.

She and Gene Roddenberry married two months after the final episode of Star Trek was aired. (According to Memory Alpha, they were in Japan and has a "Shinto-Buddhist" wedding!)

After Gene's death she did a lot to preserve the Star Trek legacy, and also worked as executive producer on two shows based on ideas from his archives, Earth: Final Conflict and Andromeda.

Powered exoskeleton helps man walk

Posted on: Tue, 09/02/2008 - 14:09 By: Tom Swiss


Sci-fi made real: a man who's been paralyzed for 20 years, walking thanks to a robotic exoskeleton. "The device, called ReWalk, is the brainchild of engineer Amit Goffer, founder of Argo Medical Technologies, a small Israeli high-tech company. Something of a mix between the exoskeleton of a crustacean and the suit worn by Robocop, ReWalk helps paraplegics - people paralysed below the waist - to stand, walk and climb stairs."

Olympic bits: Windows BSOD, TKD ref boot to the head

Posted on: Tue, 09/02/2008 - 12:45 By: Tom Swiss

I didn't watch much of the Olympics, partly because the events I want to see never get covered, partly because I'm still uneasy about the whole Beijing hosting thing. But two bits worth noting:

R.I.P. Arthur C. Clarke

Posted on: Wed, 03/19/2008 - 00:16 By: Tom Swiss

Arthur C. Clarke was the author of such science fiction classics as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Childhood's End, and was the first to proposed the idea of placing communications satellites in geosynchronous orbits (where they always appear in the same point in the sky). He passed away today at the age of 90. An amazing man, he will be missed.

In his honor I think I'm going to re-read my copy of The Lion of Comarre & Against the Fall of Night. (I like the original Against the Fall of Night a bit more than the expanded and revised The City and the Stars, but both are good. Beyond the Fall of Night, however, is a great disappointment, contradicting the original not just in theme but in plot, and Gregory Benford should be ashamed of the hack job he did on his half.)

flirting Buddhist monks; Zen is not Theravada

Posted on: Wed, 03/05/2008 - 21:54 By: Tom Swiss

An interesting story at "The Thai government said Tuesday it was investigating claims that supposedly celibate Buddhist monks have been using a U.S.-based social networking Web site to flirt with women."

However, the headline of the article is "Zen Flirting?" Which prompted me to send the following note:

While I'm sure the author of the "Zen Flirting?" headline ( meant no disrespect, the form of Buddhism practiced in Thailand is not Zen. Indeed, in some Zen schools it is not uncommon for monks to marry.

Mentioning Zen in a connection with the Theravada Buddhism found in Thailand would be rather like headlining a story about some scandal in the Catholic Church with a pun about Billy Graham.

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