Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Shakes his head ...

Do the folks organizing the Year of Science not know what a science is?  Or do they just not care?

Physics is the study of matter and energy and their interactions.  Chemistry is the study of the composition and properties of substances.  Biology is the study of living organisms. (Don't ask me to draw precise boundaries between physics, physical chemistry, and molecular biology.) Ecology is the study of the interrelations between living organisms and their environment.

What you don't see in any of those definitions is a value judgment.

This month's YoS theme is Biodiversity and Conservation.  Is anything wrong with preservation and efficiency? No (at least within limits). But this month's theme is about what to DO with nature, not how stuff in nature WORKS.

What goes beyond a reasonable limit? One extreme approach toward maintaining biodiversity (NOT suggested by the YoS folks) is the voluntary human extinction movement. That values conservation of every species but one: us.

My other gripe with this month's theme is that "conservation" sometimes masks a retreat from the notion of progress. Take eliminating the smogs that once blighted London and Los Angeles. Progress -- better ways of generating power; catalytic converters; more efficient auto engines -- had at least as much to do with that happy outcome as conservation -- driving fewer miles.

A note to YoS organizers: if it's not too late, let's talk about ... science.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Trope-ing the light fantastic (nanotech & replicators, part II)

As I obviously believe nanotech is for real, why am I using the trope subject line?

In that recent post, I cited the industry's road map, from nanomaterials to nanocomponents to functional nanosystems, all the way to scaled, atomically precise, productive nanosystem array systems. The trope possibility comes from the word you did not see: replicator.

Replicator, of course, is the SFnal term for things that copy themselves -- for plot purposes, generally without limit. They come from an idea in K. Eric Drexler's Engines of Creation, which popularized the notion of nanotech. Drexler discussed nanomachines called assemblers that would (duh!) assemble other machines, including -- and here is where the madness begins -- machines like themselves.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Trope-ing the light fantastic (nanotech & replicators, part I)

Nanotech a trope? Say it ain't so!

In fact, I'm not saying that. Nanotech is quite real, an up-and-coming revolution in how we will build most everything. Last year I said that in a lot more detail in two science articles, "Follow the Nanobrick Road" in Analog and "The Old Gray Goo, It Aint't What It Used to Be" in the The Bulletin of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

Both articles resulted from my attendance at a 2007 conference, Productive Nanosystems: Launching the Technology Roadmap. I was at the conference merely as a journalist (and multitasking by gathering research for a future book). If you want to know much more, here's a link to the 200-page overview pdf.

The interesting attendees were nanotech luminaries across government, academia, and industry. They were there to publically release their vision of where nanotech is going -- or perhaps more precisely, where they are taking it. One highly visible organizer and speaker was K. Eric Drexler, whose 1986 science popularization The Engines of Creation brought nanotech into the popular culture. (The 1987 paperback edition still does respectable business on Amazon.)

We already have materials with nanotech aspects, even if sometimes used in comparatively trivial applications like sunscreens (exploiting really tiny particles of zinc oxide) and golf clubs (made lighter and more flexible by the use of carbon nanotubes in the shaft's composite material). The steady march of Moore's Law means electronics will be nanoscaled any day now. And over the next few decades, expect to see commercial nanotech steadily progressing from nanomaterials to:
  • nanocomponents (like motors, pumps, and bearings), to
  • functional nanosystems (combinations of nanocomponents), to
  • atomically precise productive nanosystems (nanoscale systems able to produce other nanoscale systems), to
  • (not my term -- it's way too clunky) scaled, atomically precise, productive nanosystem array systems (swarms of nanoscale manufacturing devices that cooperate to build macroscale objects).
And here is where we segue from tech to trope. Stay tuned for our next exciting installment ...

(And that neat image? It's a simulated nanogear, each dot being an atom, from the online gallery of Nanorex.)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

State of the art

A few days after the fact, I have copies of Fools' Experiments -- the mass-market paperback re-release -- in hand.

Liking what Tor Books did with the new cover, I'll let it speak for itself.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Reason (or lack thereof)

Happy Labor Day weekend, all.

As I'll be laboring -- too many plot threads coming together -- must continue into alien warfare and other assorted mayhem -- I'm limiting this weekend's update to a favorite quotation:

It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a theory he never reasoned into.

- Jonathan Swift

Apply that observation to the close-minded whomever of your choice :-)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Fools' Experiments redux

We are not alone, and it's our own damn fault.

This is a commercial announcement ...

Fools' Experiments -- my 2008 novel of artificial life, artificial intelligence, and unintended consequences -- was re-released today as a mass-market paperback. This latest format joins CD and tape options from Recorded Books, an audio download from, a book-club edition, and an ebook from Amazon Kindle.

I posted about Fools' Experiments when it was newly released last fall, and my website has a sampling of the rave reviews. Here's one I quite like:

"Lerner’s physics and computer science background serve him well for this pulse-pounding yarn about the creation of the first artificial life form inside cyberspace."

— BookPage Notable Title
But the proof of the book is in the reading, so here, courtesy of the publisher, is an excerpt.

And this being an admittedly commercial announcement, here's the Amazon link for Fools' Experiments.