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Friday, November 12, 2010

Artificial Ovaries - Life Imitating Art?

In my novel, The Gender Divide, women live four times as long as men by shutting down menstruation. There are a number of ramifications of this but one of them is a dramatic decline in the birth rate, especially male birthrates. In order to compensate for this, I postulated an artificial embryogenesis machine that used artificial ova.

Now it appears that the first artificial ovary has been created.  The ova were created to

“…study how ovarian cells develop and interact… “

Now the method used isn’t exactly how I envisioned the process but then again, I had a different goal in mind when I ‘created’ artificial ova.

The hero of The Gender Divide, Ryan Peters, has been treated to have the same kind of extended life as women do but the formula for how to do this has been lost. Ryan poses as his own son in order to try and retrieve the formula and so one of the side effects of using artificial ova that I postulated was the lack of the nucleotides that determined hereditary characteristics. As a result, the men who use these artificial ova to have sons (they aren’t allowed to have daughters) that either closely resemble them or in some cases are even identical in appearance.

Of course this research is still in the early stages and relies on donated material as the starting point, something that wouldn’t be feasible in the world I envisioned. However it is exciting to see research in this area, particularly since

“…it could also be used clinically to bring immature eggs to term outside the bodies of women facing cancer treatments or other fertility-hindering treatments.”

posted by David at 1:32 pm  

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Rare Earth Minerals

The central storyline in my novella Venus Inferno is the search for a rare earth mineral called Tellurium.

The premise is that new thermoelectric materials and improvements in energy storage and transportation have eliminated the need for fossil fuels, only to replace it with a growing demand for rare earth minerals.

I took pride in the fact that all of the major technology and concepts in Venus Inferno are real.

Ion drives are real. They are slow compared to chemical rockets but they do exist.

Tellurium is real. It really is one of the nine rarest minerals on earth and it really does fall as snow on Venus.

Thermoelectric Materials are also real. And tellurium - in the form of bismuth telluride and lead telluride - really is a working element of thermoelectric devices.

And now it appears that the shift from the need for fossil fuels to rare earth minerals is also real.

I came across an article in the Globe & Mail in late September about the delay in Chinese shipments of rare earth minerals to Japan. Once thing that caught my eye was this notable quote:

“In 1992, Deng Xiaoping, the nominally retired but still paramount leader of China, said that rare earths would be to
China as oil is to the Middle East. Estimates of the proportion of the world supply currently coming from China -
especially from Inner Mongolia - range from 93 to 97 per cent. “

There area couple of reasons why rare earth minerals are rare but the main one hindering their extraction in North America is that the deposits are small and extracting the minerals can produce radioactive waste.

Now another article claims that Chinese exports of these rare earth minerals to the U.S. and Europe are being delayed.

“… the secret embargo has widened to include the U.S. and Europe.”

This has major economic implications at a time when we can least afford it.

“The seventeen rare earths – elements like neodymium, dysprosium, and cerium – are crucial for the manufacturing of just about everything a modern economy relies upon…”

U.S companies are starting to arrange their own supplies but this can only be a short term solution. After all, there is a reason they are called ‘rare’. So perhaps it’s time to start looking past the ‘rare’ part and start looking at the ‘earth’ part.

After all,  tellurium really does fall as snow on Venus.

posted by David at 12:30 pm  

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Kindle Takes Charge

Originally written for eBookGuru - The Digital Magazine Devoted to eBooks

Amazon recently announced two new Kindles slated for release at the end of August. While the Kindle seems to hold the edge in eReader sales it is definitely not standing still.

The new model comes in two flavors, which I’ve dubbed regular and lite. Both models are thinner and lighter than the Kindle 2, although still heavier than the Kobo. The devices have sharper contrast and faster page turns, making it easier to read on them. The device is also quieter, with the button clicks being tamped down.

The regular version comes with Wi-Fi and Amazon’s WhisperNet and the lite version forsakes WhisperNet as it only comes with Wi-Fi. The regular version is priced at $189 - the same price as the Kindle 2. The lite version is priced at $139, $10 lower than the Wi-Fi Nook, the Kobo or the Sony Pocket Edition. The makes the Kindle the lowest price eReader currently available.

An article in Wired Magazine (Amazon Strikes Back at the iPad With New, $140 Kindle) talks about the strategy behind the $139 price point.

…Bezos anticipates millions of new customers who can live with waiting for a Wi-Fi hot spot to replenish their content. He says that the introduction of the Wi-Fi version is purely a price play, a way to sell Kindles to families and couples who already have one in the house.

“At $139, you’re going to have multiple Kindles, not just one,” Bezos says.

More interesting to note is a comment by James McQuivey, a Forrester Research analyst who

…expects the new low Kindle price will “shatter the bottom” of the e-reader market.

“Anything that doesn’t have any kind of connectivity, like the Sony Pocket Reader, has to drop to $99 by the end of the year,” he says. “Why would you buy that non-wireless device if you have the choice for the same or less money to buy a Wi-Fi-enabled Kindle?”

Why indeed? Even I’m tempted and as regular readers know I’m not a big fan of Amazon’s proprietary book format.

The loss of the Cool-er eReader was just the first of many casualties in the eReader wars. Foxit (the PDF company) recently announced that it was killing off it’s eSlick eReader, a device I’ve heard little about.

New entrants, like the iRiver Story and the Copia family of eReaders face an uphill battle and will either need to compete aggressively on pricing or introduce new features in order to succeed. The trick with new features is to keep the price point low enough to keep potential buyers from jumping to an iPad instead and it remains to be seen if anyone can pull it off.

As I stated in The $50 eReader, iPad competitors will force the price of the iPad down, as well as making tablets more affordable. This in turns puts pressure on eReaders and the only way to compete will be price. Amazon has an advantage in this type of market since only Amazon sells Kindle books. Therefore they can afford to discount the eReader, knowing that they will eventually make up the different in eBooks. Add in WhisperNet and Wi-Fi plus all the Kindle Books already available and this is a tough combination to beat.

At least the Nook is trying. In September Barnes and Noble will

…begin an aggressive promotion of its Nook e-readers by building 1,000-square-foot boutiques in all of its stores, with sample Nooks, demonstration tables, video screens and employees who will give customers advice and operating instructions.

Obviously B&N is hoping that the hands on approach will entice more readers to buy the Nook once they’ve tried it for themselves.

This is better than the approach taken by Sony, which

…refuses to get caught up in a price war with Kindle, intends to compete on quality.

It has also been remarkably quiet on the Kobo front and it will be interesting to see how the newest entrant to the eReader and eBook market reacts to the new Kindles and their aggressive pricing.

In the meantime I’m still holding out for that elusive $99 eReader.

posted by David at 1:01 am  

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Life Imitates Art

In my novel The Gender Divide the protagonist Ryan Peters is hired as the VP of Security for a biotech firm. One of the first things that he does is centralize security by combining a number of disparate systems into one.  There are a number of high tech twists involved in the process, given that The Gender Divide is a science fiction novel, but the overarching goal is to make the process of security simpler for both employees and those responsible for it.

The premise behind The Gender Divide is that women live four times as long as men and resultantly women dominate the executive ranks. The raison d’être for centralization of security in the novel is to legitimize Ryan as a viable choice for the position of VP of Security, a position previously held by a woman.

However as an author this was driven by my real life experiences at the time. The company I worked for had a security system using mag cards but the cards were generic cards embossed with the logo of the security company. The head office, on the other hand, used personalized badges with the employees picture on it. As a result I needed two sets of security badges, one for office where I worked and one for the head office. Admittedly this wasn’t very onerous as I didn’t travel to the head office that frequently but it was irritating.

Consequently I was both amused and delighted to come across this article about security:

It’s the crowning achievement in a security evolution for Telus, which has spent the past five years developing its key cards. They eliminate a gaggle of distinct security systems, inherited in a series of acquisitions, that required Telus employees who visited multiple locations across Canada to carry a stack of access cards.

In the novel Ryan’s transformation only took a month but such is the beauty of writing fiction. Of course the environment that Ryan was working under was different as the company had just experienced a rather costly security breach. It is always much easier to make modifications in a time of crisis, when objections to changes to the status quo are notably absent. Also the change was only made at the head office and not at other locations.

One could argue that Ryan’s accomplishment in the novel was also his crowning achievement - at least in terms of his role as VP of Security - but the real crowning achievement was the change in culture at the company. This change enabled Ryan to position himself as a credible male in a female dominated world and like any change at the top it had a trickle down effect. It also cemented his role as a leader and his ability to rally the beleaguered and disillusioned security staff. As Olivia, one of the other main characters in the novel, says:

Ryan hadn’t just built up the security infrastructure in the last month—he had built himself a team, too.

As interesting as this is, it is just the tip of the iceberg. Exploring the premise of The Gender Divide is even more interesting. I just checked out Amazon.com and noticed a new 5 star reader review which sums it up nicely - Scary Wow!. There is an Excerpt of Chapter 1 available and for those of you interested in more here are places to buy.

posted by David at 2:18 pm  

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Price drop fuels Kindle sales

Originally written for eBookGuru - The Digital Magazine Devoted to eBooks

Amazon.com issued a press release on Monday (July 19th) stating that they have

“… reached a tipping point with the new price of Kindle–the growth rate of Kindle device unit sales has tripled since we lowered the price from $259 to $189″

Regardless of whether it was the introduction of the iPad (which as I asserted in a previous post [The $50 eReader] hasn’t - and won’t - hurt Kindle sales) or the lower price point on the Kobo, both Amazon and Barnes & Noble have recently reduced their eReader prices.

So what’s next?

The Kobo, while still a viable alternative, needs to lower it’s price point in order to make up for the lack of wireless connectivity. It recently received a favorable review from Engadget

“…its thinness, lightness, and comfort in the hand is far and away its strongest feature, and one that it beats a lot of its more robust competition prettily handily.”

“The rubbery “quilted” back is tacky enough that you can hold the 6-incher comfortably with just one hand, a move we’ve never perfected with the Nook, Kindle 2, or iPad.”

“Kobo’s device is, in practice, pretty awesome feeling”

but Engadget also mentions the lack of wireless access, calling it a

“huge drawback..”

It will be interesting to see who makes the next move, especially now that Sony has reduced the price of the Pocket Edition of their eReader to $149 as well. Of the 3 eReaders priced at $149 - the Kobo, the Sony Pocket Edition, and the Nook, only the Nook has wireless access in the form of Wi-Fi. Despite it’s bare bones approach, the Kobo clearly has an edge in usability. Combine this with a price drop and some firmware tweaks and the Kobo has the potential to become the eReader of choice for the budget conscious reader.

Also of interest in the press release is the increase in sales of Kindle eBooks.

Over the past month, for every 100 hardcover books Amazon.com has sold, it has sold 180 Kindle books.This is across Amazon.com’s entire U.S. book business and includes sales of hardcover books where there is no Kindle edition. Free Kindle books are excluded and if included would make the number even higher.

Due to it’s proprietary format the Kindle is the only reader capable of reading Kindle eBooks which makes it easier to track usage of the Kindle. As I stated in the previous post (RIP Cool-er?) the AAP reports growing sales of eBooks in 2010 vs. 2009. The Amazon press release makes reference to this, stating that

“Kindle book sales in May and year-to-date through May exceeded those growth rates.”

Other interesting stats provided in the press release:

On July 6, Hachette announced that James Patterson had sold 1.14 million e-books to date. Of those, 867,881 were Kindle books. [76%]

Five authors–Charlaine Harris, Stieg Larsson, Stephenie Meyer, James Patterson, and Nora Roberts–have each sold more than 500,000 Kindle books.

Clearly other eReaders have their work cut out for them if these stats are any indication of overall eBooks sales. All the other eReaders together, all of which support the more open ePub format, appear to account for fewer eBook sales than the Kindle alone. Of course the Kindle has the dual advantage of Amazon marketplace and easy, instant access to that marketplace via Whispernet.

I envision even more changes in the eReader market in the near term, especially given that 2 major sales opportunities remain for 2010 - back to school and Christmas.

Who knows? Perhaps we see a $99 eReader before the end of the year.

posted by David at 12:01 am  

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

RIP Cool-er?

Originally written for eBookGuru - The Digital Magazine Devoted to eBooks

I first wrote about the Cool-er eReader (Price Matters) about a year ago but even then the prognosis didn’t sound good, especially after Wired Magazine paned the reader.

“Cool-er E-Book Reader Leaves Us Feeling So Very Cold”

The one thing that the Cool-er did have going for it was price but with the recent proliferation of eReaders that apparently wasn’t enough, especially with the way the increased competition has resulted in a price war of sorts.

There’s hasn’t been much press on the Cool-er since it’s release - the release of the iPad from Apple, not to mention the Nook and the Kobo eReader - seemed to have dominated the news. However a quick search seems to indicate that the problems that plagued the Cool-er weren’t fixed.

As a result, while it is disappointing to learn that Interead, the company behind Cool-er, has been ordered to to wind-up it’s business, it is not all that surprising. eReaders and eBooks are a tough sell and a substandard product just won’t cut it - not unless the price differential is substantial.

The AAP - Association of American Publishers - reports in their May Statistics Press Release

“Year-To-Date E-book sales of the 13 submitting publishers to that category currently comprise 8.48 % of the total trade books market, compared to 2.89% percent for the same period last year”

Clearly eBooks are becoming more popular, helped in large part by the publicity surrounding the iPad and Apple’s foray into the eBook market with iBooks. With almost 300% growth year over year, there is obviously room for more than many players in the eBook market.

Unfortunately it appears that Cool-er will not be one of them.

posted by David at 1:01 am  

Monday, July 19, 2010

Venus Inferno

Originally posted on Champagne Books Blog

Click cover for an Excerpt from Chapter One

Venus Inferno comes out very shortly and I’m very excited by it. It represents a couple of firsts for me and one second.

It is my very first - but probably not my last - novella. I rather enjoyed this shorter format, although at times it was difficult to restrain myself from dropping an element into the story that would come up later. There wasn’t going to be a later so if I wanted to say something, I had to say it now. I also didn’t get the chance to interweave very much social commentary into the story, which I missed more than the chance to expand on the storyline.

It is also the very first story I wrote in the first person, which was very usual. I’m used to the third person and being able to provide different vantage points to allow the reader insight into what is happening. It is also odd using the personal pronoun ‘I’ all the time. One can’t help but to identify with the main character. Admittedly this is an occupational hazard for writers but even more so in this case.

Venus Inferno represents my second published work with Champagne books. Hopefully there will be many more but having a second story accepted and published make it seem all the more real.

One of the things that I really enjoyed about Venus Inferno was that all of the main technology there is real.

Ion drives are real. They are slow compared to chemical rockets but they do exist.

Tellurium is real. It really is one of the nine rarest minerals on earth and it really does fall as snow on Venus.

Thermoelectric Materials are also real. And tellurium - in the form of bismuth telluride and lead telluride - really is a working element of thermoelectric devices.

Who knows? Maybe one day in the future they will be as commonplace as they are in Venus Inferno.

Let’s hope so.

posted by David at 11:59 pm  

Monday, July 19, 2010

New Review for The Gender Divide

Just got a new review for The Gender Divide from The Scattering.

Review is in 3 parts - Now Reading, Meet the New Boss (hysterical - made me laugh out loud when I read it), and Verdict.

Now Reading - http://thescattering.wordpress.com/2010/07/16/now-reading-the-gender-divide-by-david-boultbee/

Meet the New Boss - http://thescattering.wordpress.com/2010/07/18/meet-the-new-boss-review-the-gender-divide/

Verdict - http://thescattering.wordpress.com/2010/07/18/verdict-the-gender-divide-by-david-boultbee/

Some quotable lines

In the tradition of other socially-conscious science fiction, Boultbee’s novel incorporates contemporary issues of gender disparities into a future world, without (thank god) getting too preachy.

Descriptions of biological enhancements and Ryan Peters’s weaponized “nanites” are detailed and believable, but just as believable are the portrayals of social and psychological changes in a radically different world.

and my favorite

The result is a novel with the appeal of both a unique concept and a cast of characters embroiled in the classic drama of a love triangle.  David Boultbee’s The Gender Divide is, first and foremost, an engaging story, but does an excellent job as well in following in the tradition of science fiction as a mirror—not for the future—but for the present.

As a reminder, an excerpt of Chapter 1 is available on the website for The Gender Divide at http://www.thegenderdivide.com/?excerpt . Chapter 2 is also available for those interested - just email me and I’ll sent you the ’secret’ link ;)

posted by David at 10:26 am  

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Male Birth Control Pill

When I first came across this article on the male birth control pill I wasn’t sure what to think of it.

Birth control is a tricky subject, even leaving aside any ethical or religious issues. Regardless of who is responsible for birth control, it is the woman who is the most impacted by a pregnancy.

She is the one who has to suffer the slings and arrows of the outrageous fortunes known as pregnancy and childbirth. Oft times she is accompanied and supported by a partner but in many cases she is all alone. Sometimes she is the one who is left to make that most difficult of all decisions regarding whether to allow the pregnancy to continue or not.

So it is hard to argue for a male birth control pill when it is the woman who is affected. Harder still to imagine a woman relinquishing control of her body to someone else. A condom is a tangible form of birth control, something that a woman will know if a man is using or not. A pill? Not so much.

Admittedly men are put in this position every day but the impact of a mistake or worse, a calculated deception, isn’t the same. Don’t get me wrong, there are some very real consequences for men in situations like this but nothing like those faced by women.

So I can’t see this becoming casually common, not like the female birth control pill is. The consequences of a mistake, not the mention the risk of unprotected sex, are too great.

However there is a place for the male birth control for couples in a committed relationship.

The article states that during animal test (mice),

“…all their sex behavior was retained, which is a very important consideration for human men. A man who takes this pill could also be sexually active later on and have children.”

“Rather than undergo an irreversible vasectomy, a man could sterilize himself for short periods…

It also provides another option for Jewish couples.

“…it should be well received by religiously observant Jews. According to Jewish law, castration of any animal - human or non-human - is forbidden; not to mention that ’spilling seed’ or ejaculating outside the female body is not permitted. “

Despite it’s inherent limitations, it will be interesting to see what role this pill plays and how it affects the dynamics of a relationship.

posted by David at 12:01 am  

Monday, June 28, 2010

Something Stinks

Originally posted on The Writers Vineyard


Last month I mentioned how much I enjoy spending time on my deck writing and enjoying the view.

Well there is a downside to all that nature and I discovered it a few weeks ago. I came downstairs one morning to take the dog for a walk and noticed that the new sod I had laid under the deck had been rolled up. From the lingering odor I guessed that a skunk had been our nocturnal visitor. It was probably looking for food and rolling up our sod to eat the grubs underneath seemed like easy pickings - pun intended.

Over the next few nights I tried numerous tactics that I found while searching on the internet. Unlike the time when we lost my son’s hamster, these didn’t work. Every night I tried something new - cayenne pepper, hot chili pepper flakes, and finally moth balls. Needless to say my wife was not impressed by the resultant mess. Our lawn was a mishmash of red, green and white. And the shunk was still enjoying eating at Chez Boultbee.

Finally I went ‘high tech’. I headed to Canadian Tire and picked up ‘The Scarecrow’. No, this is not an actual scarecrow but a motion activated sprinkler. You hook it up to the hose, add a 9-volt battery, set the sensitivity and stand back. Literally. If you don’t stay out of sensor range, you are liable to get soaked, as has happened to me numerous times, including last night.

The end result? Success. Now when I go down in the morning the lawn is wet but intact. Occasionally we’ll still smell that distinct scent so the skunk is still around but as long as it stays off my lawn I’m a happy man.

This little ‘war’ and a busy month slowed down my writing a little but I still made some progress. Here is my last stat.

62000 / 80000

Next month I’ll probably be posting about my new release, a novella called Venus Inferno. It should be released mid-July and I’m expecting edits and cover art any day now.

Until then.

David

Posted by David Boultbee

posted by David at 12:01 am  
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