Monday, May 28, 2012

Bones, Joints, Bionics, and More

Science continues to struggle against the frailties of the human condition. Damaged limbs are a reality for many people, from kids on the playground to soldiers at war. There have been quite a few stories in the news over the past couple months looking at the new technologies on the horizon aiming to aid damage to the body.

Researchers at the University of Georgia are aiming to reduce the recovery period associated with broken bones from months to days. They are using adult stem cells that produce proteins involved in bone growth to stimulate the body to rapidly generate bone tissue.

For sufferers of arthritis, the Tampere University of Technology is working on replacements for the cushioning between the joints that could allow the joints themselves to remain intact in conditions that would usually require replacement with artificial ones. The implants are biodegradable and stimulate the body to produce material that eventually replaces the implant, essentially growing a new joint.

Rock climber and double-amputee Hugh Herr believes that even the total loss of limbs will not be a problem for much longer. It helps that he is also a bio-mechanical pioneer at MIT.

Over at Sandia National Labs, they are working on a technology that may help Mr. Herr reach his goals, a microscopic dimethicone structure that might be usable as a physical scaffold for interfacing mechanical devices with nerves in the body.

If all this limb fixing wasn't enough to give you encouragement for the future, how about news of a single drug that appears to hold promise in treating a wide variety of cancers? What about finding the mechanism by which Alzheimer's spreads within the brain?

If any one of these possibilities come to fruition, countless lives will be improved, and it's hard not to get a little hope from that.

Bookworming: 2001 A Space Odyssey

2001 A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke, *
2001 is an adaptation of the famous screenplay by the same name. While being fleshed out as a novel allows more detail to be added to the story, especially the beginning and end, it suffers from the same problems the movie does. It is boring. Attempts to increase the tension by foreshadowing fall flat. The most interesting character, the HAL 9000 AI, gets essentially the same treatment the alien monolith does: it's an unknowable alien thing, but the implications and parallels between the alien artifact and the human one are not explored. That said, the book also shares the strengths of the movie: a hard science fiction look at space travel using nearly real-world technology, a sense of awe over the vastness of creation, and the potential to stimulate thoughts along a host of rather deep philosophical subjects.

So yeah, not one of my favorites from Clarke. It does have one of the more interesting coincidences in sci-fi. If you advance each of the letters in the acronym for the HAL computers one step, you get IBM. The book states that HAL is short for "Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer." Clark himself is reported to have stated in his book The Lost Worlds of 2001 that he and Kubrick would have changed the name had they noticed the parallel.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Bookworming: Dead Beat

Dead Beat, Jim Butcher, ****
The seventh book in The Dresden Files series continues the pattern of the previous books. It feels even more like a transitional book than its predecessor. It is still a fast paced, fun read like the rest of the series, but there are enough threads from the previous books referred to but left dangling to detract a bit from it. One plot line in particular overshadows the primary plot for large sections of the book. So, a weaker four stars, but still enjoyable for those into the series.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Bookworming: Blood Rites

Blood Rites, Jim Butcher, ****
As the sixth book in the Dresden Files series, Blood Rites is not a good starting point for people unfamiliar with the preceding novels. Fans already know what they are in for, as this follows the Dresden formula nicely. It is a fast paced and entertaining read, but while the main thrust of the story is completed with aplomb, there are several threads that remain unresolved. This is not surprising for a long-running series, and serves to pull you on to the next volume.