25 May 2017

On Happiness

From this geneticist point of view, all human’s minds (and all living beings) have three layers, from bottom to top: Primal, Social and Learned; and each one is based on the one before.

The Primal layer is encoded in the genes (and thus, each one of us is different from all the others, Primal is stronger is some individuals and weaker in others when it comes to behaviour), and it represents the most basic instincts inherent to a species, like the survival instinct, the search for nourishment and the urge to mate and reproduce to inherit your genes. Primal has been selected over millions of years across millions of species, these instincts started to evolve from the LUCA, and are inherent to all living beings to a great extent and very difficult or almost impossible to override.

The Social layer is encoded through epigenetics, and is specific to species and even groups within the species when these are widely spread (like humans). These changes evolve much faster than hardcoded genetic mutations, and they are the basis for the adaptation to rapidly changing environments. Fear, love, hate, predominant aesthetic, and a wide range of what are considered mental disorders fall in this layer. These are more easily overridden than the Primal layer, which can be achieved in several ways, the most obvious, when they enter in conflict with a Primal, the Primal usually wins; but also they can be overridden by drugs or force of will for example.

The Learned layer is not encoded in the genome, neither in the genetics or the epigenetics of the individuals. What’s contained in this layer is passed from generation to generation through a combination of memes together with personal experience. Knowledge, science, religion, art, morals, fashion and many other human constructs fall in this layer. As you can imagine this layer is easily overridden and/or influenced by the Primal and Social layers.

These three layers are very abstract concepts, and, thus, very difficult to measure directly, hence, enter proxies. Proxies are widely used as easy measures of a thing that can tell us something about the measure of another thing which is much more difficult to measure. For example, when a human presents mongoloid factions, that is considered to be a proxy for a trisomy of chromosome 21, and, thus, Down syndrome. Not every human with mongoloid factions has a trisomy of chromosome 21, and more in general, no proxy correlates perfectly with its target trait, whether it is Primal, Social or Learned; but they work very nicely to predict things which would be very hard or impossible to predict otherwise if you find the right proxy.

It is also important to consider that this is not about how many things are contained in each layer (and that is also important, but a different discussion), but about how much of each layer is in each decision that we make in our life. There are very few things in the Primal layer, and tons and tons of them in the Learned layer (in humans, or some of them anyway), but in you, the Primal layer can be the one making the decisions over the others. If the hardcoded genetics variants you carry make you more Primal, and since Primal is most difficult layer to override by our conscious self, your decision making will be mostly Primal, and in which sense specifically will also be hardcoded in your genes. If the hardcoded genetic variants you carry makes you less Primal, but your epigenetics directs you to some aspects of Social more strongly, then the Social layer will be predominant on your decision making. If both your genetics and your epigenetics are not particularly strong towards one thing or another, then your decision making will be mostly influenced by your Learned layer, i.e. by the memes inherited from your parents, family and friends and by your personal experience; or the pool of all the knowledge your mind has acquired during your life up until the point you make that decision.

The brain is an architectural construct product of millions of years of evolution over the genetics and epigenetics of the species. The circuits of neurons within our brains encode all the information that is us, our mind; and these circuits belong into one or more areas of the brain that are in charge of different aspects of the mind, e.g. spacial perception, abstract thinking, self-awareness, memory, etc. How these circuits are and can be made and connected are first determined by our genetics, and most of it occurs during pregnancy (the foundation part if you will). What is not determined by genetics during pregnancy is determined by epigenetics (and this part can get really complicated, since we do not express our epigenetic alleles, but our parent’s). Then we are born, and the most basic things have been already set by our genetic variants (things can change during puberty, for although our genetic sequence does not change over life, the gene expression levels can, and some of these changes are genetically encoded, and puberty is a messy thing from a genetic and hormonal point of view), but epigenetics keep changing through our life depending on the environment, and also, we start learning things, and thus, building the Learned layer, which, usually, gets bigger and bigger as you live.

Taking all this together, each individual will be the mix of its three layers. One particularly impulsive individual in all matters maybe will be 60% Primal, 30% Social and 10% Learned for example (he or she could have tons of knowledge, but not used in decision making), while a person considered as very tempered could be 10% Primal, 30% Social and 60% Learned. How could we determine this? As we spoke before, proxies. So, which are good proxies for the strength of each layer? In my opinion there can be many, and a mean of plenty for each layer would be more adequate, but to keep things simple, and again, in my (educated) experience:

  • Number of wisdom teeth for the Primal layer. Most common number in humans is four, and in my opinion this is fairly primal (yes, most humans are reasonably primal, hence, the irrationality in the world). If you have six like me, you are totally screwed, but the good side of it is that people around you usually know how you feel, since you are very obvious and a fucking bad liar. One day, probably some 5,000 years from now, if we haven’t killed ourselves, hopefully the most common number of wisdom teeth in humans will be two, and the world will be a better place.
  • Number of people you consider your friends (they also need to consider you their friend) for the Social layer. No, Facebook friends do not count. Tweeter followers do not count. Only people that you would put your life in their hands.
  • Number of full (cover to cover) books you have read in your life for the Learned layer. In here there can be a lot of debate, as this is the most complex layer, but in my humble opinion things like twilight and fifty shades of grey do not count.
So now sum your wisdom teeth, your friends and the number of books divided by 12 (universal constant to normalize books that I just made up) and that’s your total (let’s call it N). Your Primal percentage is wisdom teeth/N, your Social percentage is your number of friends/N and your learned percentage is (number of books/12)/N. How are you? Do you agree? In my case it looks like….

Logically, you are born completely primal (no books, no friends, all teeth). According to this proposition, if you want to be less Primal, start reading more books and making more friends, motherfucker. On the other hand, if you want to be more primal, stop reading books and by all means tell everyone around you to go fuck themselves.

So, finally, happiness. What is happiness?. That elusive thing that all of us seek, none understand and few attain for more than some hours in a whole life. In my opinion, happiness is agreement, the agreement of the Primal, the Social and the Learned layer. Achieving this agreement in some banal decision like whether to cut your hair or leave it long will give you some 0.00000000000000000000000001 miliseconds of happiness (keep summing, champion!). Achieving this agreement when making the most important decision in your life could give you a whole year of happiness, but I don’t think that any human yet has been able to do this. Plus, if all the parts of your mind work at unison you become invincible, everyone knows that, while if they disagree, you, as a conscious being, is full of doubt, and doubt only leads to failure.

But then again, all is determined by the universe and written already in the universal equation, so why bother? Just do whatever it is you’re going to do.

19 May 2017

If I could save only ten movies

The other day a committee of aliens came to me (crazy, I know), and they explained to me that they have stellar nurseries in which they hatch their own, but for it to work they need tons of biomass. They explained how places like earth are just some wild farm from where to gather this biomass, and that we are about to be harvested. Even then, they feel bad about all the countless species to have extincted so far, so they have a tradition (just to make them feel better about the xenocides). When they are about to harvest a planet they ask their inhabitants for some token of their culture to be stored in their quantum crystal digital stores, so they will be preserved forever and seen in a billion worlds for a billion years. In our case they want movies, ten of them. As they understand society, any chain is as week as the weakest link, so all individuals have to be equally prepared for everything at all times in their species; hence, for anything they just choose someone at random, and that's what they apply to others also (rings a bell?). They have explained to me that I have been chosen at random from seven billion, and that I have to choose these ten movies as the only thing that will remain from us once we are harvested. This is just a farm, none will survive, it's the end of all days. We humans don't work like that, we specialize, but that's how it has to go down, so even I am no one to say, in my most humble opinion these would be my top ten, in no particular order, and the reasons why.

Blade Runner (1982, Ridley Scott)

IMDB 8.2, Rotten Tomatoes 89%

Where Science-Fiction, Philosophy and Noir meet at their best (AKA cyberpunk), if I could only pick one movie for the alien's repository of gems from every planet they've wiped out, chances are it would be Blade Runner. Only the question asked here... what happens when we have the tech to build synthetic humans, that feel and think as you or me do, that come with "best before" date for cheap and disposable work force? Based on the equally genius novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick.

I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time... like tears in rain... Time to die.
Pulp Fiction (1994, Quentin Tarantino)

IMDB 8.9, Rotten Tomatoes 94%

The best portrayal in movies of how random, cruel, vicious, stupid and greedy humans can be. Not sure a good idea that the aliens see this one, but only the conversation about feet massage with Vincent and Jules backs on camera makes it worth it. A master piece of apparently absurd dialogue that hides profound knowledge and wisdom about human nature.

Ezekiel 25:17. The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children.
Inception (2010, Christopher Nolan)

IMDB 8.7, Rotten Tomatoes 86%

Christopher Nolan is one of the best directors of all time, and sure the best from his generation, and this is probably his best movie. A dream within a dream. A spinning top spinning on a table as the final scene presents you with at least seven possible endings. And the cast of the movie delivers some of the best acting ever seen in a movie.

What is the most resilient parasite? Bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm? An idea. Resilient... highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it's almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed - fully understood - that sticks; right in there somewhere.

Fight Club (1999, David Fincher)
IMDB 8.8, Rotten Tomatoes 79%

Every generation has their own big adversity, you name it: the black plague, the crusades, the inquisition, world wars, cold wars, great economic depressions; but not us, we are the sons of apathy with nothing to fight for but our hedonistic desires, and no greater enemy than ourselves. And this movie is the perfect reflection of that reality, plus the brilliant script and the stellar performance by Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. Based on the book of the same name by Chuck Palahniuk.

Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. 

Ghost in the Shell (1995, Mamoru Oshii)

IMDB 8.0,  Rotten Tomatoes 96%

Humans have replaced so many parts of them for machines that they are hardly human, and machines are so evolved that they have feelings more humane than humans. The story of a hybrid between human and machine discovering what she is and of an AI born in the vast information sea of what we know today as the internet. Based on the manga of the same name by Masamune Shirow published in 1989, when the internet as we know it today was but a dream.

If a technological feat is possible, man will do it. Almost as if it's wired into the core of our being.

The Godfather Part II (1974, Francis Ford Coppola)

IMDB 9.0, Rotten Tomatoes 97%

[This one is interchangeable with the first one, for me, part II is better since I am more a Robert de Niro person than a Marlon Brando person, but both are sublime].

The Godfather. shit. If this one (or the first one) is not on your top ten list you need to have an MRI done on your head to look for brain damage. I am not even going to argue why this movie is here.

My father taught me many things here - he taught me in this room. He taught me: keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.

The Matrix (1999,  Lana and Lilly Wachowski)
IMDB 8.7, Rotten Tomatoes 87%

The Wachowskis took East and West philosophy, computer programming, martial arts, Ghost in the Shell, Rene Descartes and Isaac Asimov to ensemble one of the most influential, imitated, mind blowing and aesthetically perfect movies ever made. And I love the sequels too, contrary to popular opinion. I know this is usually a trope, but in my case, I actually only say this of two movies (this one, and its sequels, and Inception): If you don't like them, it's because you don't understand them really. And the worst thing is believing you understand them when you don't, for you cannot learn a thing you think you know.
This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill - the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill - you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.
Contact (1997, Robert Zemeckis)

IMDB 7.4, Rotten Tomatoes 62%

The best of the very few movies that takes a serious and believable approach to the first contact with an alien civilization (hello Arrival). A beautiful story of hope for mankind amidst an age of technological and scientific advance and ideological and political stupidity. Based on the book of the same name by Carl Sagan, one of the best human beings ever born. We miss you Dr. Sagan.

You're an interesting species. An interesting mix. You're capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you're not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we've found that makes the emptiness bearable, is each other.
The Martian (2015, Ridley Scott)

IMDB 8.0, Rotten Tomatoes 92%

Ridley Scott has in this list Blade Runner, which is one the most dystopic, dark and depressing movies you can imagine, while he also directed The Martian, a movie about optimism, about never surrendering, about using our most powerful weapon to overcome any obstacle: our intellect and knowledge. Plus the power of science. And I never liked Matt Damon, that is, until I saw this movie, in which he proved to me what he can do. Based on the book of the same name by Andy Weir.

In the face of overwhelming odds, I'm left with only one option, I'm gonna have to science the shit out of this.
Dracula (1992, Francis Ford Coppola)

IMDB 7.5, Rotten Tomatoes 78%

Many books have been adapted to movies, and almost always the book is better than the movie (especially in the case of the Lord of the Rings). Not this once, this Coppola adaptation of one of the most (in)famous books in human history beats the novel by Bram Stoker, and that's a lot to say from me, since the book is also one of my favorite ones. Contrary to the appearances, a story about what happens when we find ourselves out of our place and out of our time. We would all be monsters if suddenly we are placed in a different country 500 years from now. And it also happens to be one of the most beautiful love stories ever made.

I have crossed oceans of time to find you.

On a side note(s)

there are several things that appear more than once in this ten movies: both Ridley Scott and Francis Ford Coppola directed two of them. Coincidentally, Keanu Reeves is in two of them (The Matrix and Dracula) although he only has a lead role in one of them. Two of them were made the same year, 1999 (The Matrix and Fight Club). Six of the ten are Science-Fiction. Eight of them are based on books (where most good stories come from). And all but one (Ghost in the Shell) are from the States, which makes me think, we can say tons of shit about the people from the stars and stripes country, but they do know their shit when making movies (to be fair the have probably also done 9 of the 10 worst movies ever done, but who cares?).

I feel sad there is no more space in the alien's quantum crystal digital stores for some James Cameron and Martin Scorsese movies, which are obviously the honorable mentions for this list.

And finally, no, Citizen Kane could not be here. That is one of the shitiest movies I have ever suffered. I would prefer to take out my nails using my teeth rather than to have to watch it again. Fuck Citizen Kane.

20 January 2017

Earth, 2223

[Space-time rift opens]
Alien Leader: Salutations, citizens of Earth.
Human Leader: Sup.
AL: We have been observing you for more than 2,000 of your years, and looking at the advances you have made, we are considering finally inviting you into the Coalition of Advanced Civilizations (CAC).
HL: Sounds amazing.
AL: But first we would like to ask you some questions, as there are some aspects of your culture we do not fully understand.
HL: Shoot.
AL: What is lying?
HL: Not telling the truth.
AL: What is the truth?
HL: Emm... something you know for a fact. For example, two plus two equals four is true, and two plus two equals five is false, or a lie.
AL: Why would you do something like that?
HL: Because when your competitors are better than you, you can only best them by using deception.
AL: But, you are a cooperative species, are you not?
HL: Yes.
AL: Are you lying now?
HL: No.
AL: How a species that is using a concept as counterproductive an infuriating as lying have attained terraformation? We do not understand.
HL: Terraformation?
AL: Yes, the technology to change a planet according to the needs of their people. You used CO2 to increase the temperature in the polar caps to raise sea level so you could reduce the land mass by a 97.6% and raised the temperature by 12C in 100 years, removing 80% of the species in the planet, we presumed, in order to reduce competition for resources and gain more habitable space for your aquatic species.
HL: Ha! we have done no such thing. And we are not aquatic. We just screwed our planet because we did not care or we were blind.
AL: Impossible. We have never made a misjudgment of this magnitude. You must be lying now, are you not?
HL: No.
AL: It is impossible to know when you do. This concept makes no sense whatsoever, how do you tell the truth from the lies when you interact with your own?
HL: We really don't. That's why we screwed in the first place.
AL: I think we have made a mistake.
HL: You bet.
AL: Farewell.
[Space-time rift closes]

17 January 2017

Random Genome Facts

So, the human genome. Property of our species as a whole and each one his or her own individually. twenty-three pairs of macromolecules (chromosomes) made of smaller covalently attached molecules (nucleotides) in the nucleus of most of your cells; that, when unraveled (it is very well packed) is about three meters long. In an average human body there are almost 4 trillion cells, and a very conservative reasoning would be that around 3/4 of them have nuclei (and thus, DNA), so in your body you are carrying some twelve billion kilometers of DNA (among other things), which is enough to go to the sun and back. EIGHTY times.

Nucleotides, as I said, are the basic building block of DNA, or letters, and our genome is a three billion letters long book that tell our biological story at many levels (and you have around six trillion almost prefect copies of that in you). But books need structure, don't they? well, sort of. these letters make sentences (or genes, counting some 20,000 of those), which are (obviously) made of words and spaces (exons and introns). An average sentence (gene) has eight words (exons), and that makes your book around 160,000 words long (Tolkien's Silmarillion is 130,000 words strong for comparison).

You think those are not too many words? think of this. In an actual book, words are in an specific order forming sentences, paragraphs and chapters which would not make any sense of you scramble the order of the words. In the genome this happens all the time though, there are words (exons) that can be removed or added and modify the meaning of the sentence while making sense in the context of the story. Also, the sentences (genes) are not arranged linearly, but are scattered throughout the book, and you have to know in which order you can read them to make chapters (biological pathways) for the story to make sense. Plenty of those sentences (genes) can be found in different chapters, making perfect sense as they are in two or more places, or maybe just removing or adding a word. FYI, each variation of a sentence (gene) caused by the removal or addition of one word (exon) is called isoform (no equivalency here with literature, that I know of).

So we all have all these three billion nucleotides (or letters) in our genome, then what makes each of us a special snowflake? Genetic variation, as a very simplified explanation, the letter in each of those position (and there are four possible letters: A, T, C and G) can change for different reasons, and that is called a mutation. even though all of the three billion letters can change, only some of them (80 million) have been described to actually change in human beings.

And this takes us to the last curiosity about the genome, or how many different possible people there can be due to genetic variability (or in other words, due to the specific set of mutations that we carry in our genomes; and, yes, we are all mutants, no matter what the x-men comics would have us believe, the thing is each of us are mutants for a different set of changes, which is unique to us). Some big numbers first: there are 10 to the 120 (or 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) possible ways in which a chess match can go down; there are 7.5 multiplied by ten to the 18 grains of sand on planet earth  (or 7,500,000,000,000,000,000); there are 100 billion galaxies and 300 billion stars on average on each one of those (not that much of a deal) and around 10 to the 90 atoms in the universe.

Prepare for this.

The combinatory of 80,000,000 (the total number of potential letters that can change, mutate, in our genome) is 2 to the 80,000,000, which is far FAR greater than 10 to the 1,000 (remember there are 10 to the 90 atoms in the universe). 2 to the 80,000,000 possible humans thanks to our genetic code. And that is not taking into account other sources of variation, like CNVs (copy number variation) or structural variation (like the loss of a whole part of a chromosome of the very famous trisomy  of chromosome 21). Think of how unique you are.

Or as Richard Dawkins puts it:

“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?”

Have a nice day snowflake.

30 November 2016

Solar System

I saw some art on the solar system a while ago (I don't quite remember where), and I have been wanting to make a solar system wallpaper for myself. Unlike the one I saw, this one is not artwork, but actual photographs mostly from NASA probes. I hope you like it.

3 June 2016

Warcraft: The Beginning

I have played a lot of World of Warcraft in the past. From vanilla up until Wrath you could say I was almost hardcore. Not anymore anyway: I played most of Pandaria things, but didn't complete any raids and I haven't touched Warlords (even tough I bought it). I love the stories that Chris Metzen and company are telling through the popular MMORPG.

Fast forward to 2016 and we finally get a movie about all these stories. I love the other two movies Duncan Jones directed (Moon and Source Code), and I love Travis Fimmel as Ragnar in Vikings, so I got pretty excited about this one. All the fuzz and news surrounding the premier got me excited. All the trailers got me excited. I effectively was on the hype train. And then the critics came along. 30 and something in meta-critic, less than 30% in rotten tomatoes and countless reviews of hatred and disdain towards Warcraft.

And then came the fans: when the movie finally premiered on the 27th of may in several countries (not including USA, China or UK) first in line fans voted for it on the likes of IMDB for an astounding average of 9. Agreed those were mostly fanboys, but on the other hand, in rotten tomatoes it is only David Lynch and the likes fanboys. As of the writing of this, Warcraft: The Beginning has a 8 of public score and a 3.6 of meta-critic which is the biggest gap to my knowledge on a movie with a score of 8 and up (around 1,000 of those on IMDB). I do not know what happened or what explains this. Maybe this gap will reduce or disappear over time. Or maybe it will increase (who knows).

On my side of things, I saw the movie yesterday with four friends, one of them a WoW player, while the other three have never played any Warcraft games. The thing is we all liked it, scoring it between 7 and 9 over 10 I would say. It could have been better, mostly due to the short duration and some really silly lines in the script. Oh, the script. That scene in which Anduin is in a lot of pain, and he's with Garona. Both Fimmel and Patton are acting it well here. and then Anduin says something like "Right now I am feeling more pain than ever in my life". What the fuck? What the fuck was that? from the events happening and the acting you could already tell that, so why that sentence. WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY? dialogue is only for when it is needed, not for exposition of obvious things in this ridiculous manner. For some reason the Orc lines where much less silly across the movie, and Durotan and Gul'dan where awesome.

But it is a highly enjoyable movie, it's fun, it's intense, some of the characters are highly likable and/or memorable, and it has at least two of those moments for which we go to see this kind of epic movies, the kind of 'freeeeeedooooooom' moment from Braveheart that makes your guts twist and turn in a mixed bag of feelings, between anger and exaltation, visceral epicness in its purest form.

I can only hope that it performs well in the box office (specially in USA), so we get more of these. Duncan Jones and Blizzard have already expressed their intention to do at least three of them. And there are three Warcraft games (old RTS, not WoW). And that could mean that the end of the third movie is Mount Hyjal. The freaking battle for mount Hyjal. Fuck me hard, and then let me see that before I die. HYJAL. Oh, and I propose Caity Lozt for Tyrande Whisperwind.

And by the way, for me it was a 9/10. Not the prince that was promised, but definitely the best video game movie so far, and a good epic fantasy movie overall (way better than The Two Towers for sure).

30 April 2015

The LilBubome

Disclaimer: I am more in the side of dogs than cats, for one simple reason: if you throw a dog a stick or ball he'll go and fetch it, and he'll play with you, filled with happiness; if you throw a stick or a ball to a cat, most likely he will look at you like saying 'Do you think I am a stupid dog? you go fetch the ball yourself'.

That said, cats are sure a big thing in our lives and our culture. IBM decided to start building an AI some time ago, and while they could try to emulate in silico the computational power and prowess of any animal, they went for a cat brain. Even Google's AI, when it (he, she?) came to life, it decided that of all the things it could possibly want to know, of ALL of them, it wanted to know what the fuck was a cat. And it started watching YouTube cat videos. There have been a number of reasons why cats maybe so dominant in our culture

Nevertheless, there are some of our felid companions that stand out above all their fellows for different reasons. And one of them is Lil Bub, of whom you can learn by yourself if you did not know him already. At a medical level, Lil Bub has several abnormalities that give him his unique looks. And because of this, a group of researchers in the Max Plank Institute in Berlin (among who I count one of my very best friends) are crowdfunding for sequencing the genome of this prominent feline, in hopes not only to learn more of his unique phenotype, but also about the genetics of how limbs develop in general.

If you are a fan of Lil Bub, Science or both, just head to experiment (a crowdfunding for science) and support the LilBubome.

23 April 2015


And I say GATTACA, not Gattaca, for when writing a DNA sequence you do not capitalize as if it was the name of someone, all letters go either upper or lower case. Or maybe TGTAATC in the complementary strand of DNA. Who knows, since this sequence happens hundreds of thousands of times in a single human genome. And to be clear, it does not have a specific function that we know of.

But speaking about the movie GATTACA, we are one step closer to stop being just random humans (meaning genetically random humans whose genetics have been selected across countless rounds of random mutation and natural selection, from long before we were humans, to a time were our many-great grandfathers were tiny bacteria). Some Chinese scientists have made the first modification using the CRISPR/cas9 method in (non-viable polyploid) human embryos.

The cautionary tale in their publication is that we still have to overcome many technical difficulties, but it will be doable in the near future. Applications besides Hollywood making movies? editing the genome of an embryo so it will not have some (or all) genetic diseases, and making kids look more like Scarlett or Brad according to the parents wishes (and budget).

Ethical implications? you name them. There is a current of scientists that pose we should not go down that path (and for several good reasons, as detailed in the article), but still we will do it. Why? Because when we CAN do something, we do it. It is that simple for humans. For anything imaginable (and I mean anything), if (or when) it becomes doable, you'll always find some human clever/stupid/brave/committed/maniac enough to do it. There's is no stopping this kind of things.

So people better stop saying "do not do it" and start regulating it, and preparing for the outcomes. After all, every single new discovery in the history of humanity can be used for good or for bad. Hence, just enforce the proper environment (laws, conscience, education) to avoid as largely as possible the bad outcome of it.

But then again, what is good and what is bad?

31 March 2015

The Coming Kickstarter

A friend of mine has been writing a novel for a while now, a sci-fi story about some endings and some other beginnings, about the story of the red-eyed Io. From the synopsis of his book in Wattpad:

The world had changed since The Coming. It is now an arid desolate place where technology and society failed. A world where each rain drop and even each breath taken could kill, slowly. Each day is a struggle for survival against the Aspects roaming the barren lands feeding on themselves and on people. Mankind has been evicted from the top of the food chain for centuries and is constantly on the brink of extinction. For Io, this world is all she had ever known. For the red-eyed hunter the survival of the Den is all that matters. However; when she abandons the Den pursued by her legacy, the Den’s power-hungry elder and her own mind, she takes the path to exile and to the truth. But when she finally faces her fate she may have to realise that the Aspects are not her only worries. There are events in motion that she can’t possibly know. If she manages to stay alive for a while, she may find an ally and get the chance to learn that The Coming was only the beginning...

He has already written a good deal, and I am still going through it, but liking it a lot so far. So if you want to give it a try, and you want to help him finish his first book, just pop in his kickstarter project and support him

25 March 2015

The One That Was Lost

The fifth chapter of The Void Between Minds, The One That Was Lost, is up for reading in Wattpad. It goes on with what's happening within the Labyrinth to Skar and his new mysterious friend. And below my second character banner from the second story arc: Skar (It is gimped from some drawing I found in the internets, but no longer I remember who was the author, so if you recognise it, please let me know).


11 March 2015

Darkest Despair

The 4th chapter of my book The Void Between Minds, Darkest Despair, is up for reading on Wattpad. It resumes with the events after Qitzocatl's visit to the All-Father. From the chapter:

“There is the brightest hope, but it can only be felt when inside the heart of the blackest despair”

And the first character banner I have made, of course, for Qitzocatl

10 March 2015

InfoLibre Interview

Last week we (my partner and I) were interviewed by Carmen Valenzuela from infoLibre, one of the few newspapers back in Spain which does not take money from any of the political parties, thus making it a little bit more free on how they do journalism. Since the newspaper is in Spanish and reading the article requires a subscription, I am leaving some of the headlines below in Spanish and in English. Long story short, it just a rage ranting about Spain's scientific policies making all young scientists leave the country.

"En España te tienes que marchar para tener la opción de volver algún día"
"You have to leave Spain now, in order to be able to be back some day"

"Aquí [en UK] tu proyección va en aumento, en España es ninguna"
"Here [in UK] to your professional projection increases with time, in Spain it is none"

"Volveremos si nos hacemos magnates del ladrillo, pero nos quedaremos mientras queramos seguir trabajando en ciencia"
"We will go back if we become brick magnates, but we will stay while we want to work on science"

19 February 2015

The Void Between Minds

Qitzocatl began to nervously groom the coal black feathers on the back of his head when he left behind the great corridor leading to the All-Father chambers. His left wing was stiff and aching, and that could only mean a storm was coming. Few Korakoi knew what was atop the highest nest in Corvus, Vortex Summus. Thinking of it, it was no wonder anybody in Corvus, or the entirety of Korakoa for that matter, knew of Vortex Summus since it was always shrouded in clouds and mist and thunder and only the tall and slender column that supported the metallic cone shaped nest could be seen by the citizens of Corvus. Thousands of such columns rose from the snowy stones, through the redpine forest, towards the clouds, but only Vortex Summus was ever in disguise. It was only appropriate that the house of the All-Father, a figure cloaked in legend and mist, creator of all life, had such setting atop the ceiling of the world. But Qitzocatl knew better.

That is how the story I want to tell begins. That is my first paragraph of an epic and personal science fiction. And I invite you all in. They are all free on Wattpad. In case you do not know it, Wattpad is a free web with android and iOS apps in which to publish and read stories of any kind, for free, you only need to set up account and you are good to go. The first three chapters of my first fiction book, The Void Between Minds, are already in there, and I am hoping to upload one chapter per week or so (although it will probably be slower than that due to the real world scenario unpredictability). 

And if you happen to be a publisher or an editor and you like it, just let me know!


16 February 2015

The Red Mirror

This is going to be my first review about something on the internet, ever. And it is going to be about Blind Guardian's new album Beyond the Red Mirror. And I'm going to keep it simple:

9/10 (Fucking Awesome)

Here ends my review and begins some random words. I mean, if you have listened to it you know what I'm talking about. It is not Nightfall on the Middle-Earth or Imaginations from the Other Side (which, by the way would be on my top 20 of best albums ever, maybe even top 10). But still is Blind Guardian at its best, and like in the last album, with orchestra, which some people may not like, but for me is the logical evolution for the band.

As I see it, classical music (which has some of the best music that humanity has produced) is a closed period, there is no more classical music coming out, Mozart, Vivaldi and Beethoven are dead. But the closest we get these days to those classics is metal (or some of it) and soundtracks (some of them). The instruments used or the tempo are not the same in some cases, but indeed in terms of the melodic richness and variety and process of composition. You have that in the fact that everyday more and more metal bands are jumping in using orchestras in their albums and concerts. And no smaller bands for that matter, with the likes of Metallica, Rage, Epica, Nightwish and of course Blind Guardian to name a few.

And Beyond the Red Mirror gets all that right. And is pure Blind Guardian. And Hansi has gone back to some more hoarse voices. It may be too Baroque for some, but I see it the other way around: Pop and Rock are too simplistic nowadays.

27 January 2015

All Chaos

And the last and most dangerous of the monster factions from the classic Heroquest: Chaos (sorry no ogres or weirder things yet).

26 January 2015

All Undead

Now the turn to show all the different undead minions in my approach to Heroquest. Braaaaaaaaaaains!

23 January 2015

All Greenskins

In the coming days I will be posting photos of the three major factions of foes in my Heroquest. Enter the Whaaaaaaaaaaaag. Enjoy.

From left to right: in the upper panel, a snotling, a goblin, an orc and a black orc; and in the lower panel, a goblin boss, an orc boss, a black orc boss and a mighty fimir.

22 January 2015

More Heroquest

And some scenes from my own take on the classic board game.

 Who is stronger?!

Bring it on!

21 January 2015

Long Live Crowd Funding

I think that we are living one of the best times to be a tabletop/RPG fan thanks to crowd funding. Have you seen the new Conan game? did you have the chance to have a look at the Twisting Catacombs a couple of months ago? (there was some serious Heroquest shit in there) And have you noticed that this year is the Heroquest 25th Anniversary (depending on which country you live...). There are some even for the Chibi fans!

And one thing my money would be flying to if someone did a serious crowd funding (for my taste, a much better board game than Space Hulk...):

20 January 2015

Hero Quest in Action

I have been somewhat absent from here in the last months since I've doing a thing I wanted to do for years, of which I will speak at some other time. Now, some Hero Questing from my custom project to leave the rust behind!

The Highborn taking on the legions of the dead

The Elf and the Wizard cornered by a zombie mob

And my own personal version of the four classic Heroquest heroes