Sunday, September 23, 2012

Science and SF Tidbits: September 23, 2012


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• Questions for Bio Sci Fi » Ultraphyte

Author and biology professor Joan Slonczewski teaches a Biology in Science Fiction class and she's shared some of the questions her students are working on. Those of you who have studied biology will recognize some basic genetics questions with a SF frame. But she also asks students to think a bit more broadly and science fictionally too: how do you think photosynthetic humans might evolve?

• Retro Futurism | Ubersuper »

What does "science" say intelligent beings on other planets in our solar system would look like? Check out these pulp magazine illustrations by Frank R. Paul from the 1930s and early 1940s. The text descriptions are great:
"Mercury, being dangerously near the sun, is a planet of terrific heat. Life, says science, logically can exist only in insect form."
Of course Mercury must be host to giant intelligent insects!

• Physics Buzz: I For One Welcome Our New Slime Mold Civil Engineers »

Slime molds try to find the most economical path to a food source. When food is placed on major cities on a map, the routes slime molds take are quite similar to ancient trade routes and cross-country railways. That probably says more about how such routes are developed than about slime molds: people like to travel the easiest path as well.

• NOVA | Are Neanderthals Human? »

Were Neanderthals human? It may depend on how you define Human. Carl Zimmer takes a look at the history of scientific thinking about Neanderthals for NOVA

• Storyteller’s Rulebook #144: Women Shouldn’t Have To Have It All » Cockeyed Caravan

Screenwriter Matt Bird touches on why women who can "do it all" in the movies can be be so frustrating to watch. It's not because it's not awesome for a woman to be a scientist or a warrior or a girlfriend. It's because it seems like the writers are giving all those traits to a single female character to avoid having to write multiple women characters into the movie. I agree with Bird's conclusion:
If you want to say that “women can be anything”, that’s great, but the way to show that is to have multiple women doing multiple things, not to have one woman do everything.
(Thanks to Brian @ Atomic Bear Press for the link)

• Should we upgrade the intelligence of animals? » io9

Should non-human animals like chimpanzees be "uplifted" - engineered to have higher intelligence? At io9 George Dvorsky takes a look at the bioethical implications. Science fiction often depicts such "meddling" as having terrible consequences. But SF author David Brin doesn't think it has to be that way, that the greater challenge is writing a story of enhancing intelligence where humans do it right (sort of like his Uplift universe novels). Read more of Brin's take on this at his blog:  Intelligence, Uplift, and Our Place in a Big Cosmos

• Terraforming the easy and fun way with desert plants | Pharyngula »

Chris Clarke explains why terraformed worlds might end up looking like California's Mojave desert, with Joshua trees and creosote bushes. The fact that most science fiction TV shows are filmed in Southern California has nothing to do with that, I'm sure.

• The Deep Sea Mystery Circle - a love story | Spoon & Tamago »
Mysterious deep-sea circular designs. Created by aliens? Antlanteans? or love-sick fish? Nature can be as weird as fiction.

Image: Frank Paul's depiction of Life on Mercury circa 1940. Originally posted at Ubersuper.

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