Nick Cook – A Ramble Through an Oxford Author's Imagination and Inspiration

Nick Cook – A Ramble Through an Oxford Author's Imagination and Inspiration

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The Evolution of the Human Species
07:20

The Evolution of the Human Species



The tricky thing about biological evolution is that happens over prolonged periods making it difficult to monitor actual progress. Some experts even argue that the evolutionary period for homo sapiens has effectively ceased and has shifted from a biological to a technological basis.

Some even suggest that partly due to our increasingly sophisticated lifestyle we may see a deterioration in human intelligence and evolution will go into reverse. The Morlocks from H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine, anyone?

But then, of course, we come to directed evolution. Why should we wait for centuries of natural evolution to change us when we can directly tinker with our own bodies? Screening various conditions has already become increasingly effective, as has our ability to use early drug treatments as a result.

And then we have the rapid growth in understanding about human DNA from gene therapy to target relevant organs for treatment, or even altering the genome of an individual to deal with an underlying condition (germ-line therapy). Beyond this, we start to head into areas where ethical questions start to be raised: children with genetically enhanced intelligence, beauty, or increased sporting ability, or even just being designed to be a nice person.

And what happens if we discover a way to turn off the ageing process? Where are the resources of an already strained Earth if people start living to 130 years, or even longer?

Then we have the exponential march of computing and the direct interfacing of this technology into our bodies.  You could argue the smartphone in your pocket is just the current step of this on going process. There have been some remarkable developments in the area of robotic prosthetics, with sensors to convert nerve impulses into commands to control the robotic limbs movements. But what lies beyond this? A direct computer interface to our brains. Maybe such systems will even directly augment our ability to recall facts and process information. Will future human beings increasingly look like cyborgs?

And what about a Matrix type future where our consciousness is uploaded into the computing cloud and we reach an immortality of sorts, for human consciousness. Nightmare or dream scenario?

Of course, out there are planets to be explored, the most immediate being the colonisation of Mars. Will future humans be engineered to cope better with that environment?

All of these questions have provided rich pickings for science fiction. And that is exactly as it should be – for us to gaze into our potential futures and explore the benefit and threats of these developments. Certainly, in our rapidly evolving technological times, we increasingly need to ask ourselves what it means to be human and what destination we want to evolve towards as a species?



Photo credit: NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC
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Voice from the Clouds – Episode 4 – An Interview with Niel Bushnell
09:24

Voice from the Clouds – Episode 4 – An Interview with Niel Bushnell

Grab a cup of your favourite beverage and watch my latest Voice from the Clouds vlog, where I interviewed Niel Bushnell about his fantastic new book, Arkship Obsidian. Niel is a very successful traditionally published author who has decided to make the leap across to indie publishing. I really enjoyed this interview and and I think it reveals some real insights into Niel's writing process and the inspiration behind his work. We even briefly discuss the new Star Trek. What’s not to love.

For more info about Niel, his website is here: http://www.nielbushnell.com

Arkship Osidian can be found here: On Amazon



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Voice from the Clouds - Episode 3 – The New Adventure of Indie Publishing
08:27

Voice from the Clouds - Episode 3 – The New Adventure of Indie Publishing


New horizons beckon for me with my latest vlog with a bit of a major announcement about the future publication of my books. I have decided, for so many excellent reasons, and inspired by other authors who have already made the leap from traditional publishing very successfully, to launch myself into the world of self publishing.

This is a steep learning curve, but I'm having the time of my life. Watch my latest blog episode for more about this decision and part of my reason why.



All images copyright Nick Cook.
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Voice from the Clouds - Episode 1 - The Launch of My Vlog
09:53

Voice from the Clouds - Episode 1 - The Launch of My Vlog


I'm please to announce the launch of my own vlogging channel, that will, like this blog, cover my inspiration and journey as a writer.

In this first episode I announce the final book in the Cloud Riders trilogy. I also do a name reveal on the new trilogy I'm working on and that follows on from the Cloud Riders series.

If you have any questions you'd like to ask, please post in the comments section below and I'll endeavour to do my best to answer them, either here or pin my blog. 

I hope you enjoy this pilot episode.



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The Instant Gratification Monkey Staring into the Funhouse Mirror of a Mobile Phone
10:20

The Instant Gratification Monkey Staring into the Funhouse Mirror of a Mobile Phone

Have you ever found yourself almost colliding on a pavement with someone walking straight towards you set on a collision course, gaze downturned. It is easy to recognise these victims of the zombie plague that has ravished our planet, because they are the ones with their whole attention locked onto the mobile phone clasped in their hands. If you are lucky, they spot your feet and veer to the side at the last moment, their eyes never leaving their mobile phones during the entire manoeuvre. If you’re really lucky you may get a mumbled apology, before they drop back into the compelling world conjured up within the silicon of their mobile device.


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Solar Sail Craft to be the First to Reach Alpha Centauri
07:23

Solar Sail Craft to be the First to Reach Alpha Centauri

Solar sails used for propelling space ships across the vast distances of space, have always been a firm favourite of science fiction stories. I first heard of the concept back in the 1970’s in Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s book, The Mote in God's Eye. Also, concept images frequently adorned the pages of the science and science fiction magazines back then, such as in the wonderful OMNI (sadly no longer in print).

In September 2016, this technology will take a significant step forward, when a tiny spacecraft, Prox-1, will hitch a ride onboard the new SpaceX orbital lifter, the Falcon Heavy. And this will be a very important moment for the future of space exploration.

Once Prox-1 has achieved orbit, it will eject a rather special CubeSat spacecraft, LightSail2, a little larger than a loaf of bread, into space. From this tiny ship, once the instruction to deploy has been received, a solar sail, 4.5 microns thick (far thinner than a rubbish bag), will start to unfurl. Once it has been fully extended to its full 32 square metres size, it will start to capture packets of photons from the sun on its reflective surface, converting their momentum to thrust and pushing LightSail2 gently forward.

Image credit:  NASA
The LightSail 2 is the work of The Planetary Society, a non profit group raising funding through Kickstarter campaigns. The group's stated aim is to engage and empower people around the world, in the advancement of space science and exploration. In 2015 they deployed LightSail 1 which hitched a ride onboard an Atlas V rocket. Although the craft didn’t reach a high enough altitude for solar sailing, its deployment sequence was successfully tested. LightSail 2, picks up where its predecessor left off, and once sailing with the power of the sun's captured photons, ground-based lasers will measure the effect of sunlight on the sails. Its solar sail should also be highly visible from Earth and The Planetary Society intend to organise public viewings.

Compared to chemical rockets, solar sails enjoy a distinct advantage. Unlike the short burst of thrust of a rocket, solar sails deliver continual thrust, ultimately achieving a far higher speed than their chemical rocket cousins. And without the need to carry huge amounts of fuel, this makes them a particularly interesting propulsion system for interstellar travel.

Image credit:  NASA
NASA isn’t being left out either and is experimenting with a variant of solar sail technology. They have started testing the Heliopause Electrostatic Rapid Transit System, or HERTS for short. This is an E-Sail that uses charged wires covering an area of 219 football pitches, to electrostatically push the protons in the sun’s solar winds to created propulsion. The intention is to use this craft for travel across the solar system. By comparison, Voyager 1, launched in 1977, took 35 years to reach interstellar space. If the tests all proceed to plan, a HERTS based craft should be able to do the same journey in around twelve years, a third of the time.

Image credit: Breakthrough Starshot Initiative
Solar sails also hit the news again this week with the announcement that Stephen Hawkin has signed his name to the Breakthrough Starshot Initiative. This project has announced a significant $100 million research fund to investigate the creation of a fleet of tiny nanocraft, the size of postage stamps, and packing the sort of processing power that we find in the average smart phone today. These craft, being propelled by lasers, will head out of our solar system towards our neighbouring star, Alpha Centauri, at up to the 20 percent of the speed of light. Travelling at this velocity they should make the 4 light year journey to Alpha Centauri in about twenty years, taking snapshots all the way during their long voyage and beaming their images back home. Can you begin to imagine the excitement when that fleet of tiny nanocraft finally arrive in our nearest neighbour's system?

Although there is on-going research into esoteric drive systems like the EmDrive, the technology for solar sails exists today. The Breakthrough Starshot Initiative has a very real chance of sending a probe using this technology, out across the vast distances of space to visit our interstellar neighbours. And with that, and the other current space developments, including in reusable rocketry, it really does feel like we are entering a new era in space exploration. And that can only be a wonderful thing for our future as a species.





Article header image credit: The Planetary Society

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