Sunday, June 11, 2006

Interplanetary travel far from us

In the last March 2006 issue of Scientific American appeared published a devastating article on cosmic rays and their implications for interplanetary space travel. Here over the earth surface we are shielded from extremely energetic particles. Our thick atmosfere and the Van Allen belts protect us from the damaging effects of fast charged particles that cross the vacuum that lies among the planets.

Any spaceship aimed to bring humans to other planets requires some sort of shielding to protect the astronauts. The problem is that all the current shield proposals seem to be unfeasible. A simple shield of matter would be too heavy for current propulsion systems, a magnetic shield would be dangerous for the passengers, and an electrostatic shield would be energetically prohibitive and ludicrous, at would attract and accelerate surrounding negative particles, giving rise to an equally dangerous bombardment, although of the opposite polarity to cosmic rays.
The author put some hope in the idea of using a still to be developed anti-radiation pill. I may know almost nothing about Physics, but I do know some Biology. Take my word that that pill is at least decades ahead of us, if it is to be attained at all.

To me, this means that human space travel will be impractical for us until we find a better propulsion system. I don't feel any regret for dropping the idea of going to Mars. I regard Mars as no more than a clump of rusty rocks deep down in a profound gravity well. However, there are many interesting places in the solar system. If we can't travel through the space we won't be able to live in it and exploit its resources.

There are some alternative ideas that may work, as the Marshall Brain's discard your body concept. That idea may do, and it will be possible to implement it sooner than the anti-radiation pill. In any case, this option is decades far from us too, and for now I find it a bit disgusting.

I will stick to my body for as long as I can.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Lamin A and aging

Some time ago, I posted a comment about a possible new therapy for Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria (HGPS). In a later post, I also pointed out that the study of HGPS and other progeroid syndromes has probably taught us all that they could. I didn't put it in words, but it was clear that I didn't expect any clues about anti-aging treatments coming from the study of these syndromes.

Now I am happy to say that I may be wrong.

Today I found at the Science magazine website a news link titled "Lamin A and aging" that leads to an extremely short abstract. I don't have access to the whole article, but it seems that it is about parallel molecular processes going on in cells of old subjects and in cells of people suffering a progeroid syndrome. For what it says, it is something about truncated messenger RNAs. The abstract doesn't say anything about HGPS, but the link that points to it suggests that the paper is about this specific ailment.
If it gets confirmed, it may be a very promising finding.

We are living in exciting times!

A link to the abstract is here.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Whuffie: XXI century money?

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, is a 2003 Sci-Fi novel by Cory Doctorow that can be downloaded and read for free, has an interesting economic concept: whuffie.

What is whuffie?

Whuffie is reputation. Anyone can express his/her opinion about you, and that influences your whuffie count. The more whuffie you have, the more respected you are, and the more VIP treatment you will enjoy. Anyone can give or take whuffie to/from someone, no matter how high or low is the voter's whuffie level.

In the original novel, the world has reached a post-scarcity scenario (the so called Bitchun society). Whuffie is not used to decide if you have access to the basics, as food or housing. Whuffie is used to have access to extra resources and/or insider circles.

Whuffie works in the novel through wireless voting together with digital management, so the voting and book keeping system is totally transparent to any member of the Bitchun society.

I regard the whuffie concept very appealing. It may need some fixes to avoid demagogy and other possible abuses/deviations, but the concept is sound, an it could be the basis for a reasonable alternative to our current economic system.

An embryo of what could become a whuffie economy is already developing in Internet: Karma in slashdot, or diggs in Digg. It may not seem much right now, but I wonder how revolutionary and strange money seemed when barter was the norm.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Vitamin E at megadoses is hepatotoxic

Some days ago I had the opportunity to talk to a top level expert in drug hepatotoxicity. He was invited by my company to take part in a scientific advisory board. I am not authorised to talk about what was discussed in those meetings, and I won't do it here. Apart from the professional discussions, I could chat with him about issues not related to my job. I knew from him that high doses of vitamin E can act as oxidant for the liver, instead of working as antioxidant. He strongly advised against taking megadoses of Vitamin E. He also said that one of the main champions of vitamin E died of what could be considered a consecuence of high vitamin E intake. I don't know who was him. I don't know either how high were the doses.
I wonder if high doses of vitamin E are bad only if they are not combined with high doses of other antioxidants. At this moment, I don't know if there is some research on this issue. If someone knows anything relevant, please tell me by email. I will try to keep you informed of any new finding.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

DIY nanotech

Let's suppose that you are enthusiastic about nanotechnology, but you are not rich.

Let's suppose that you don't know much about molecular devices. Let's suppose that you are not already working in the field, but you have some time to spend in it, an a burning desire to see things moving. What can you do?

  • Well, you can stay sat doing nothing and waiting for the future to happen. That's the easiest path. Stop reading.

  • Too active for just waiting? Great. Perhaps you can burn that energy writing advocacy. Then you can happily sit and do nothing more. Stop reading.

  • Advocacy is not enough for you? Oh, boy, you are really serious. Thus, you may have enough willpower to spare a coke or a chocolate bar to help others make the hard work for you. Well done!. Stop reading.

  • So you are one of those who don't anesthetise your mind by losing a couple of dollars. You want to be at the eye of the hurricane. You are a hard core (wo)man. Edison would admire you!. What can you do? Well, it depends on how much time you have, and how good is your education.

If you have the right match of education and freedom, get a Ph.D. on nanotech, and become part of the tidal wave. You can have your own start-up very soon. In some years from now, you can be an influential leader in the field.

If you have education, and not much time, I am sorry to say that you won't be able to do much more than intelligent(?) investing or "advanced" advocacy(?). Bad luck.

If you have time (at least twenty hours a week), independently of your education, you can start learning the fundamentals. Once you have learnt, you can play freelance or join other people. Don't believe in people who say that only big teams with big money can make the difference. YOU can make the difference. To start with, you can play with any of the free molecular modelling packages that are out there. Computing power is so cheap these days that you can have a decent workstation for very low money, or even a home made beowulf. Looking for good examples of software packages? Here you have two excelent free packages: NAMD and GROMACS

And now, stop reading. I have nothing more to say!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Better health through better lifestyle

Bandolier gives sound advice to improve health through simple life style changes. Do not miss the 10 point plan pdf. By following them you will be well at the tail of the distribution!

Friday, March 24, 2006

What are YOU doing to get there?

During these last days I have been browsing across a number of transhumanist blogs and websites. The funny thing is that most of what can be found is just hype and unrealistic babble. Most of the people are just supporters. Transhumanism seems to be a heavily backed ideology, at least in verbal terms. However, there doesn't seem to be much real activity, at least from these enthusiastic supporters that seem to abound. It's okay not to be able to help. It's okay even to only do advocacy. But it would be much more useful and satisfying to contribute in more substantial ways to make true one's beliefs. Some substantial contributions can be:

  • Economical (money donations, if you have no ideas you can try the Methuselah Mouse Prize)
  • Intellectual (sound ideas for feasible developments)
  • Service (direct work on scientific or technologic advances)
So, if you say that you are a transhumanist, which kind of transhumanist are you? And, if you are the kind of transhumanist that is less effective, which can you do to change this situation?

YOU can make the difference, but only if you go and do what has to be done. Don't wait for someone else to do it.

If you believe that something needs to be done, go and do it.

And, if you are one of those most effective transhumanists, be sure that you are not alone, and that you count with my sincere respect.