Sunday, April 20, 2014

Science Fiction II: the literary stuff - Hugos and China and a Latin Beat!

First, briefly, congratulations to this year's Hugo nominees
 -- Including -- amid a gallery of bright lights of SF -- Anne Leckie, Charles Stross, Mira Grant, Larry Correia and so many more you might survey (and buy opportunities to read!). 

== SF that's for reading and the mind ==

But onward to the next year.

ThreeBodyProblem1The Three-Body Problem is part one of an award-winning trilogy by Liu Cixin— and is arguably the best Chinese science fiction novel ever translated into English. Liu uses the “three-body problem” of classical mechanics to ask some terrifying questions about human nature and what lies at the core of civilization.

The series explores the world of the Trisolarans, a race that is forced to adapt to life in a triple star system, on a planet whose gravity, heat, and orbit are in constant flux. Facing extinction, the Trisolarans plan to evacuate and conquer the nearest habitable planet, and finally intercept a message—from Earth. The Three-Body Problem, due out in October 2014, has been translated into English by award winning writer, Ken Liu.
Special note… TTBP deals very closely with the issue of the Fermi Paradox and whether we should shout "yoo-hoo!" into the cosmos  -- a quandary about which I've also written, from time to time. (Now see Stephan Martiniere's way-cool cover for the coming Tor Boooks edition!)

I've long maintained that the health of an enlightened and progressive society is measured by how vibrant is its science fiction, since that is where true self-critique and appraisal and hope lie. If so, the good news stretches beyond China!

== Sci fi with a latin beat ==

Science-Fiction-genresHorizon-expansion has been the core cause of the liberal west, increasing the circle of tolerance, diversity and respect… and no literary genre has explored these issues more deeply or broadly than science fiction. Despite an absurd reputation for being "dominated by old white guys," SF has actually been pretty joyfully accepting and welcoming… though any field will exhibit noxious old habits that need cleansing or at least interrogation. For years the James Tiptree Award (named after the great SF author Alice Sheldon) encouraged exploration of gender issues in SF. The Carl Brandon Society provides a center for discussion of the future as it relates to ethnic issues, especially in science fiction.

In another welcome endeavor, there are moves to form a support group for latino sci-fi writers. We should all enthusiastically back any endeavors that will draw more bright writers from the cultural background of Cervantes and Marquez! Not only will we benefit from horizon-expanding insight and art (and social criticism!) But there are so many parts of the world that will reciprocally benefit from the greatest gift of all… more science fiction!

The posting at La Bloga is informative. Alas, it wrangled much to much about the politics of such a support org and speaks far too little about positive goals. Like how to get sci-fi excitement to latino youth and students. How to encourage the feed stock of sci fi thinking so that more young writers emerge, and how to spread the memes of future, change and exploration back into the grand Hispanic culture whose vibrancy is already a marvel to the world.

Although, the SF movement still has a center! And here's an interesting article about why the future seems so often to be set in California. Yes… so? Hey, Heinlein explained it. The continent is tipped and everything loose rolls down into this corner.

The-martianOf course, space is the frontier! An old-fashioned "can-do" sci fi novel, The Martian, by Andy Weir, updates Robinson Crusoe and Marooned with lots of fascinating, problem-solving verve. A best-seller that arose out of self-published versions, Weir's tale portrays an astronaut, abandoned for dead on the red planet, finding ways to survive until rescue can finally arrive… in 500 days.

== And a Saharan What-If tale! ==

Here's a fun what-if scenario. When the Americas began breaking off from Eurasia, two possible north-south rifts might have made the sea-spreading divide. What if the other one - the loser in our world, stretching from the Congo to Morocco -- had taken off? Arfrica's western bulge would have stayed linked to Brazil. The resulting globe map is… creepy!

This is a cute story. I love the assertive, can-do ghostbusters-style ethos. Also kind of reminiscent of Eric Flint's 1632 series. Southern Fried Cthulhu by Steve Poling.

== Brin-stuff ==

Vint Cerf's recent hangout interview (TWiT Hangouts) was spectacular and wise. Classic Vint … sagacious and well-worth watching/listening. (And all right, I enjoyed late in the podcast when he gave me and my novel Kiln People a shout-out.)

Meanwhile the same novel is highlighted in a very interesting essay by Dean Burnett in the Guardian, about Mind-Swapping… whether or not this familiar sci fi and movie trope might ever actually come true.

Google-author-talk Talks at Google has uploaded my speech: David Brin, "Existence" - a one hour talk about pretty much everything (!) that I gave at Google HQ last winter.

Here's a lovely mention of The Postman in the Arkansas Times, in the context of "books that women recommend to men, when they become more-than-passing interested in them as potentially more than a friend." Pleasant and wise.

While we're at it. This page takes you on a tour of the weapons used in the movie The Postman.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Science Fiction Media and Films -- Some hidden gems

interstellar-movieWhile we're all holding our breath for the release of films Interstellar and Transcendence… let's skim a fewer lesser-known nuggets. But first a few announcements:

1) The Smithsonian Magazine in collaboration with the UC San Diego Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, Nerd Nite, Smithsonian Grand Challenges Consortia, and the Smithsonian Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation PRESENTS

THE FUTURE IS HERE: Science meets Science Fiction
Imagination, Inspiration and Invention
MAY 16-18, 2014 Washington DC

Presenters include: Patrick Stewart, David Brin, Kim Stanley Robinson, Brian Greene, Adam Steltzner, George Takei, Stewart Brand, Sara Seager, and The Mythbusters! For more information…. TICKETS ARE GOING FAST!

Smithsonian-future-is-here-2014

Culminating the first day, the mighty string theorist and science popularizer/author Brian Greene will interview me onstage.

2) Issues in Science and Technology --  a respected quarterly journal that explores the intersections of science, technology, society, and policy -- announces a science fiction contest! Winners will receive $1500. Throughout 2015, starting with the Winter volume, IST will publish one SF story per issue, on topics of broad societal interest. Published stories may be accompanied by a brief commentary or response written by a member of the National Academies. Co-sponsored by Arizona State University.

== Greene/(Green) Days ==

greene-hidden-realitySpeaking of the brilliant Brian Greene, author of The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos as well as The Elegant Universe… watch this trailer for a magnificent dramatization of his children's book "Icarus at the edge of Time," narrated by John Lithgow with music by Philip Glass.

Further… when does a story about science become science fiction? On this episode of ScienceFriday, Cosmologist Lawrence Krauss and theoretical physicist Brian Greene discuss how to spin a yarn about string theory or the Big Bang, without hyping or distorting the science. And novelist Ian McEwan, whose books touch on neurosurgery and quantum field theory, talks about what science offers to fiction.

Speaking of the verdant color, lately, at the LA Times Festival of Books, I was able to wrangle for Cheryl a seat to watch an interview with John Green. the effervescent impresario of Crash Course online tutorials, as well as a legendary series of entertaining pro-sense-and-science v-log rants, co-founder of Nerdfighters, and New York Times best-selling author of novels including The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska.

== Media and Movies! ==

UnknownKeep an eye open for John Harden's latest short film "NEW" which will soon be hitting the festival circuit, thanks to the generosity of online supporters like you. Moreover, get ready for a story that is poignant, stirring, but not stuck in the hackneyed rut of apocalyptic dystopias. "Cautionary tales have their place, of course, and I love those movies," says Harden, "but I think dystopian views of the future are just a trendy stock solution. It's not a good trend, because an unvaried diet of dystopias doesn't warn us, it just points us toward despair." Harden believes we need the utopias, too.

One review reads: "I think that's one reason that NEW got [an] endorsement from sci-fi author and futurist David Brin, back when we were launching our first online fundraiser," says Harden. "He and I are simpatico on that point—which is why my movie shows a lush green future of rolling hills and puffy white clouds." Plus some sadness… and some hope. Spread some yourselves.

And yipe... this trailer for Scarlet Johansson's coming film LUCY is amazing. How interesting that the human enhancement theme is on a roll. This one makes it a dive into psychic stuff, but I am willing to be entertained. Still, I enjoyed the intelligent film LIMITLESS (2011) as one of the few SF films "for grownups" ever made.

BBC-real-history-sfBBC America has just announced the 10 PM April 19th debut of a four-part mini-series titled The Real History of Science Fiction, which will feature films from Star Wars to 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Jurassic Park to Doctor Who, each program is packed with contributors behind these creations. There are even (gasp) a couple of authors.

Some details about Andy and Lana Wachowski's super secretive new Netflix series Sense8 have finally surfaced. And this new series, created in collaboration with Babylon 5's J. Michael Straczynski, sounds kind of incredible. It apparently concerns some topics that have been raised here before (and in certain novels): the cultural expansion of empathy horizons, from family to tribe to clan to nation to globe; as well as how technology is used to both unite us and divide us. Interesting themes, a promise of a show in conception already more sophisticated that most of the SF we get in media usually.

Black-MirrorAnyone know about BLACK MIRROR? It seems the top sci fi anthology show around and …well… my ulterior motive is to get them a copy of OTHERNESS. Lots of people think I have a dozen tales perfect for that kind of Twilight Zone treatment. Hint. Hint. (Some of my best haven't been collected yet!)

Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe is threatening to draw me in. Argh, like I needed more time sinks.


Terry Gilliam may be out of his mind -- and this trailer for his new quasi-sci-fi film, Zero Theorem, seems to indicate it's so -- but no one can deny he is the bravest film maker alive.

== Weird but a good effort ==

lem-futurological-congressIn his 1960s novel The Futurological Congress, the great science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem foresaw a worldwide chemical dictatorship run by the leading pharmaceutical companies, whose complete control of our emotions range from love to jealousy to fear. Director Ari Folman's new film adaptation of Lem's novel -- The Congress -- introduces the current cinematic technologies of 3-D and motion capture, which are then extrapolated to a future when actors -- in this case Robin Wright -- sell their personnas to become permanent studio franchises, completely created by AI.

The film, which won a number of festival awards, has no theatrical release scheduled in the U.S., alas.  My wife and I got to see it as guests of the San Diego Jewish Film Festival… for the price that I had to join a panel afterwards, with local luminaries (KPBS's Beth Accamondo) and animation experts, to discuss the movie. (I was the token sci fi author.)

congress-movie-folmanWe had mixed reactions.  I felt the middle third dragged and the animation was too repetitious -- too many lush, avatar-like flowering plants.  On the other hand, Robin Wright was terrific, playing an alternate version of herself.  And the poignant ending was very well-handled. I thought that Folman dealt with the "what is reality?" issues at least as well as any of the directors who have rendered Philip K. Dick tales.  All told, I recommend renting the DVD when you get a chance.

How to regain trust in the NSA era: The IGUS Gambit

How might the Obama Administration best respond to wave after wave of "NSA revelations" that roil and cloud the political waters?

NSA-Snowden-AssangeIronically, almost none of Edward Snowden's leaks -- or those of Julian Assange -- revealed anything that was illegal per se. What they have done is stir a too-long delayed argument over what should be legal!  Specifically, the Patriot Act and the ratchet effect on surveillance that always happens when a country enters a state of panic. The post-9/11 alarm is finally fading and -- (barring some new, panic-inducing event) -- elements of the Patriot Act and pervasive surveillance are now up for public debate.

See page 206* of The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force us to Choose between Privacy and Freedom? (1997) -- where this cycle of terrorism and increased government surveillance was predicted in precise -- and rather creepy -- detail.

NSA-WATCHING-WATCHERS Elsewhere, I recently dissected and appraised the forty-two suggested reforms that a commission presented to President Obama, many of which he has instituted or sent to Congress. Here I want to focus on one important, trust-building measure that would make a huge difference.


= Meeting the needs of the Public and the PPC =

As expected, most of the current argument is about the wrong side of the issue -- mewling plaints calling to prevent society's elites (like the NSA or Google) from seeing -- an effort that is fated to be futile, condemned to absurdity by Moore's Law.

But at last there is talk also of doing what will work -- improving the degree to which the citizenry can supervise and have confidence that government remains essentially a servant of the people.

The main sticking point is over the need that members of the Professional Protector Caste (PPC) have for tactical secrecy, or the ability to conceal their operations from villains and adversaries.   This need is very strong, but so is that of citizens to feel assured that secrecy remains only tactical, short-term and pragmatic, never an excuse for permanent avoidance of accountability.

INSPECTOR-GENERAL-UNITED-STATESI have over the years offered several innovations that might achieve a win-win -- securing both tactical shadows for the PPC to be effective, while ensuring accountability that at least partially reassures the public. Foremost among these proposals would be to create the Office of Inspector General of the United States (IGUS).

IGUS could be established with a one-page law that simply transfers all of the inspectors general in every agency and department to an independent service under a figure of noted rectitude, whose staff might then perform their functions without the inherent conflict of interest that stymies so many IGs. IGUS members would be trained in both confidentiality and prim skepticism on the taxpayers' behalf, allowing PPC agencies to continue tactically secret investigations, but always with the peoples' delegated gaze over their shoulders.

NSA-Citizen-OversightA POLITICAL WIN-WIN: 
Without question, proposing and establishing IGUS would be an agile jiu-jitsu move on the part of the Obama Administration. It would simultaneously say:

"We understand that public confidence is shaken and this move should help to restore it while preventing the worst and most perniciously chronic abuses… while at the same time allowing our skilled public protectors to continue doing their important jobs. It is also the quickest way to do this, requiring the fewest changes in law."

Will this satisfy everybody? Of course not… nor should it! Indeed, I do not consider IGUS to be enough. I have several more proposals that would work in parallel with IGUS, so that in-sum we all can truly be sure that our watch dogs remain loyal (if fierce) dogs, and never wolves.

inspectors-GeneralNevertheless, establishing an Office of the Inspector General of the United States would be a good start. And it would allow the Administration to be seen acting vigorously, in a forward, pro-active direction that BOTH enhances public trust and allows our agencies to do their jobs.

My IGUS proposal was written in greater detail as one of two dozen "Suggestions for the Incoming Obama Administration" way back in 2008. Alas, not one of them got to anyone's ear. C'est la vie.

Still, you can read about it here: Free the Inspectors General!


== Political Miscellany ==

Lying with Data: Fox viewers in the family? Show them this chart that appeared on their news” network and ask if they can explain why almost no American scientists are republican, anymore.  See this appraisal, also: The Statisticians at Fox News use classic and novel graphical techniques to lead with data. 


Transparent-Society-206*Page 206 of The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force us to choose between Privacy and Freedom?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Money flows that might prevent new World Wars

Syria-Russia-Iran-IraqVeteran U.S. diplomat and Middle East expert Dennis Ross made some interesting points about President Obama's trip to Saudi Arabia in an L.A. Times editorial: "Next Test for Obama: Soothing the Saudis." He referred to the Saudis biggest concern, the rise of militant Shiite Islam and an axis of Iran-Iraq-Syria that now includes an aggressively revanchist Russia. A problem that some have referred to as "World War Four".

Alas, Mr Ross ignores the elephant in the room. That the Saudis are not the victims in any of this. Their relentless push to establish fiercely conservative Wahhabi madrassas all over the Sunni Muslim world helped to create Al Qaeda and most of the 9/11 attackers. Their own textbooks declare the west to be an evil place, to be tolerated only while necessary. Above all, they have striven, since 1948, to stymie peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. By pushing to keep Palestine as an open wound, they ensured only that the Levant region would remain embroiled and steeped in pain, never achieving what the Saudis' Hashemite rivals once dreamed-of -- an alliance between Arabs and Jews that could strengthen all concerned.

One wonders, as the generations pass along, if the admittedly brilliant grandsons of Abdulaziz ibn Saud might be flexible enough to envision how that long-deferred option is worth trying, at long last. That Israel and the Levant and Egypt and Arabia have potential far beyond mere oil, especially if all parties were to help foster synergies, instead of trumped-up enmities.


Saudi-aid-PalestinianThe Saudis, especially, have the wherewithal to offer aid and investment – a deal that would be impossible for the Palestinian side to refuse. And such an offer would corner Israel with an economic carrot that transcends any and all sticks.

Above all, such a jiu jitsu move by the Saudis would render the Russo-Shiite axis futile… almost cute in its impotence, next to the scientific/technological/economic superpower that would blossom in the Sunni-Israeli zone.

(Don't bring us the purported Saudi "peace offer" from a few years ago.  It was tepid, amounting merely to an acceptance of the world consensus that Israel in here to stay. It took none of the expensive and memically painful steps necessary in order to boost the moderates on both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli gulf.)

 All of these benefits await, but are only perceived by those of flexible mind.

Alas, Mr. Ross shows us no hint of any of that.

== A “Helvetian” scenario? ==

SMUGGLE-DEVELOP-COUNTRIESIt's hard to build your country when the money keeps slipping away. Foreign capital flight has been a problem for developing countries this year, but a bigger problem might be the funds smuggled out by tax evaders, corrupt officials and criminals — $946.7 billion in 2011. Nearly a trillion dollars, according to the latest estimates released today by a team of economists at the non-profit Global Financial Integrity, an increase of more than 10% over the previous year. For comparison, total foreign aid to developing nations in 2011 was just $141 billion.

"The nations most hamstrung by illicit flows are in Africa, where illicit flows are the equivalent of 5.7% of GDP; the average developing country lost 3.7% of GDP in 2011. That's a huge amount of money to lose that could otherwise be invested in private or public enterprise that might improve the lives of people living there. Instead, it winds up in tax havens—including the United States and the United Kingdom. "This isn't really just a developing world problem it's facilitated by developed country banks and tax havens," Brian Leblanc, one of the economists behind the study, told Quartz."

"Indeed, with six times more money leaving developing countries illicitly than entering them as aid, advocates for these nations might do well to back policies to block these flows. Promoting tax-haven crackdowns and convincing powerful multinationals to submit their transactions to more scrutiny is hard to do, but it could pay dividends for development down the line."

MIDDLE-CLASS-RISEIn EARTH I portray a dozen developing nations having suddenly realized that several trillion dollars -- ripped off from poor countries by former kleptocratic lords -- sits in Swiss and other bank haven accounts.  When all else failed, they declared war on Switzerland -- in the 2020s -- in order to use the rights of belligerent powers to seize assets all over the world and to coerce return of enough money to save millions of children.

Things needn’t come to that! In fact, a deal might be worked out in which developing nations agree to keep the restored funds deposited in Swiss banks! Only with interest and collateral value now going to the nation’s children, not former klepto-presidents. Such a deal would, in a shot, restore hope and trust… and guarantee the bankers against the kind of comeuppance they think (right now) can never come.

History disagrees. It can come. Cut the deal.

==Creditors or Debtors?==

Treasure-Islands-Shaxson-bookIn this recent report -- The Missing Wealth of Nations: Are Europe and The U.S. Net Debtors or Net Creditors? -- analyst Gabriel Zuchman shows evidence that around 8% of the global financial wealth of households is held in tax havens, three-quarters of which goes unrecorded. Meaning that this is about much, much more than just the developing world. "On the basis of plausible assumptions, accounting for unrecorded assets turns the eurozone, officially the world’s second largest net debtor, into a net creditor. It also reduces the U.S. net debt significantly."  

It's flagrant! "... (worldwide) more investment income is paid than received each year…" and "...many European securities, in particular, have no identifiable owner…"  

Clearly this relates to my longstanding proposal -- for worldwide transparency of ownership.  It is completely non-socialistic and would probably result in taxes upon honest families going down.  All it would do is ensure that those yelling the loudest in defense of open capitalism actually live by it. 

== Grabbing, hand over fist ==

And finally -- related news that just hints at the scale of the oligarchic putsch…

Rupert Murdoch’s media group received a $882 million tax rebate from Australia last year in a revelation that is likely to reignite the debate over how much tax is paid by international corporations. Again, this generation is the savviest and most knowledgeable in history.  Do you guys honestly think that -- when it becomes radicalized -- there won't be repercussions?

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

It’s not the “One Percent”

First, before getting into the “one percent” matter…

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I have heard few interviews on NPR that were more cogent, intelligent or rich in wisdom and knowledge than this one, with Bruce Levine, a professor of history at the University of Illinois, who is author of The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution that Transformed the South and Confederate Emancipation, Professor Levine deals handily with the edifice of completely made-up rationalizations we hear fermenting these days: e.g. that slavery was declining in the South during the lead-up to the U.S. Civil War (phase 1).

Not one of the excuses offered by apologists -- like Judge Andrew Napolitano -- stand upon anything more substantial than wish-fantasies and fairy dust.

Listen to the audio interview. This is a wise and knowledgeable fellow. An example of why those waging war on science had to expand their campaign to encompass and reject history, economics, journalism and every other clade of knowledge in American life.

== It’s not the “One Percent” ==

Okay, I have a bone to pick with you “progressives” out there. Sometimes you can be as lazy and simple-minded as your opponents.

99-percentStop referring to "the one percent!" It is a trap. Indeed, it may be a polemical trick, foisted on us all by a conniving oligarchy that does not want to face the ire of a united citizenry.

Those chanting “we’re the ninety-nine percent” only thus empower Fox-pundits to respond that "most of the one-percenters are small business owners, or hard-working doctors and dentists who are demonized by the left for their well-earned success, stigmatized for providing valued goods and services."

And that's completely true!

Look, you polemical liberals out there, do you really want three MILLION of America's most productive, innovative and hard-working people to be driven into the arms of the real oligarchs, by tarring them with the same, simplistic brush? Guilt-by-association?

There's a word for that. It is "stupid."

one-percentIn fact, according to this article in the Atlantic it is the top 0.01 percent—that's the uppermost one percent of the top 1 percent—that's leaving the rest of the top percentile behind, in the dust along with the rest of us. “While nine-tenths of the top percentile hasn't seen much change at all since 1960, the 0.01 percent has essentially quadrupled its share of the country's wealth in half a century.”

Alas, what this article leaves out is discussing the one-percent of THAT clade… or the 0.0001%ers. Those are the folks always to scrutinize. Even the father of modern market enterprise capitalism (Adam Smith) said so!

They aren't all bad, just because they are rich! Indeed, the Silicon Valley billionaires and other entrepreneurs who developed goods and services by working closely with thousands of skilled and free-thinking engineers – these men and women know that it is a relatively flat, well-educated and open “diamond-shaped” society – dominated by a vibrant and empowered and knowing middle class – that creates the kind of opportunities that let them succeed in a positive-sum way. Getting rich while making us all richer. Guys and gals like that are sensitive to how it all would get ruined – will get ruined – if we follow the age-old human pattern. Into feudal-inherited-oligarchy.

Interestingly, those open-market-friendly rich men and women are mostly democrats.

ClassWarLessonsHistorySo. Shall we get mad? Chant and wave torches and polish our tumbrels? No, we must recall enough history to remember this is an old, old problem. Those who are meddling in our politics and hiring propagandists to restart the American Civil War, they are acting entirely according to human nature, spanning thousands of years. It is not morally culpable that they are too stupid to rise above basic, pre-sapient instinct. Alas though, it does mean that those obeying ancient-harem-seeking instincts are not as smart as they think.

By doing all of this, they in fact prove a fundamental of nature. That all good things are toxic, when too concentrated. Water, food, oxygen… wealth. It is one thing about which Adam Smith and Karl Marx absolutely agreed.

In order to save and preserve a system in which each of us can get rich -- by providing competitive-creative goods and services – even very, very rich (so long as it is fair) – then we may have to put some kind of limit upon the number of "verys."

== Obscure… but related ==

Speaking of very… this is very interesting, if too radical for our present world to experiment with… except maybe in a sci fi novel… Geo-libertarians hold that all natural resources – most importantly land – are common assets to which all individuals have an equal right to access; therefore, individuals must pay rent to the community if they claim land as their private property. They simultaneously agree with the libertarian position that each individual has an exclusive right to the fruits of his or her labor as their private property, as opposed to this product being owned collectively by society or the community, and that "one's labor, wages, and the products of labor" should not be taxed.

This is one example of the many alternatives that used to be discussed by the Greatest Generation… before we Boomers took over and made everything simplistic, reflexive, emotional… and admit it… not one of you has ever actually read Adam Smith or Karl Marx. If your life depended on it, could you describe accurately what they said? Or even define what “left” and “right” mean?

Really?  Well… this blog does attract the erudite.  But those few of you are very very rare.

== And re transparency ==

With rising public interest in what developers refer to as the “privacy economy,” researchers from the MobiSocial Lab at the Stanford School of Engineering have announced at SXSW a new type of social network, called Omlet that allows users to control their own personal data. Omlet “shields users from the monetization of their personal lives.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Science! From TWODA to "P.U." to RNA

Smithsonian-future-is-here-2014This will be a science potpourri.  But first… an announcement for you Mid-Atlantic residents! I will be among the headliners -- along with Patrick Stewart, Brian Greene, George Takei, Kim Stanley Robinson, Stewart Brand, Michio Kaku and some MythBusters -- at the Smithsonian's epic-scale "The Future is Here!" event, in Washington D.C. May 16-17.  Look it up and come if you can!  Brought to you by Smithsonian Magazine (subscribe) and the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination (join!)

== Save the world from dopes? ==

Scientists have known for decades that Greenland’s ice sheet is melting, but they may have underestimated just how much water the second-largest ice sheet on the planet is shedding. New research indicates that a key section of northeast Greenland thought to be stable is actually dumping billions of tons of water into the ocean annually after a barrier of ice debris that had blocked its flow finally gave way. "We're seeing an acceleration of ice loss."

melting-ice"The Greenland ice sheet has contributed more than any other ice mass to sea-level rise over the last two decades and has the potential, if it were completely melted to raise global sea level by more than seven meters,” explains one expert. Between 1990 and 2011, climate change caused ocean surface temperatures around Greenland to rise 1.8 to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

An interactive map shows that melting glaciers won't give us "waterworld"… but you might not want to own land where (ironically) most of the folks in the climate denialist cult live.

A side benefit of TWODA* innovation?  Computer simulations have shown that offshore wind farms with thousands of wind turbines could have sapped the power of three real-life hurricanes.

Given current trends, then, we're gonna need innovation even more than ever.

== biology "comes alive!" ==

DNA-RNA Watch this clip from the PBS series DNA. It's four minutes of amazing images, visualizing how DNA gets unzipped, read, re-zipped and turned into something like hemoglobin, all in real-time. This process of information coding, retrieval and manipulation by molecular machines of stunning specificity is going on right now inside every cell in your body.

Then go on to another great biology video of "The Central Dogma" of protein synthesis. In which RNA polymerase and other active elements are represented as spaceship-like nanomachines. A fantastic instructional video that will leave you entertained and informed… with a cool-oh sound track.

And dig it: single-celled microbes that grow in biofilms have come up with a way to electrically reach out and pull electrons from minerals in the soil so they can stay in the sun.

Ah but science calls for judgment! After years of predicting it would happen -- and after years of having their suggestions largely ignored by companies, farmers and regulators -- scientists have documented the rapid evolution of corn rootworms that are resistant to Bt corn.  Read about how proper procedures were mismanaged and ignoring the scientists is leading to an agricultural problem of real substance.

== Technology, save us, oh deus ex machina… ==

P-PeeScientists have discovered a way to take the phosphorus out of our pee (and that’s a lot — we piss out 3 million tons of it each year). In my novel EXISTENCE is where most of you first heard about the coming Phosphorus Crisis. Well now one forecast is coming true. The P.U. or Phos-Urinal (not 'pee-yew') is coming!  (Is it too soon for the predictions registry?)

And more news: U.S. scientists say that emerging photovoltaic technologies will enable the production of solar shingles made from abundantly available elements rather than rare-earth metals, an innovation that would make solar energy cheaper and more sustainable. I spoke of solar shingles even back in EARTH. But the overall lesson is what's important --

-- that there are ways out of our messes, if obstructionists and denialists would stop hating on science and decide to help, instead.  Keep saying one word to them, a word for which they have no reply. TWODA.

Want more wonders? Before teenager Anne Makosinski, apparently, no one on record has thought to use thermoelectric technology to power a flashlight. Peltier tiles produce an electrical current when opposite sides are heated and cooled at the same time, so why not make a hollow flashlight that uses heat from the hand that's holding it?

Google has released a concise list of "Ten Myths About Google Glass." Mostly on target and calming stuff… though very conservative, down-pedaling what everyone can tell is coming… and a whole lot more than just a few sci fi authors will tell you about.

So cool! See an animation of the "Council of Giants" -- a dozen big galaxies that surround our Local Group (which is mostly the Milky Way and Andromeda) in a very thin sheet, constraining our two spirals and having guided their evolution.

Physicists are exploring possible "hidden variables" loopholes in quantum mechanics that might involve elements of the universe holding quasi-conversations - or conspiring to exchange decisions - with each other, in an interchange that scientists are (mostly-whimsically) calling "free will." Few consider this loophole to be likely. But now there appears to be a way to test it, using light from the oldest quasars in the cosmos.

And this eclectic museum is located in Baltimore, Maryland. “The American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) looks worth a visit.

== Finding the black boxes from MH 370? ==

How much quicker would we have found the fading pings from MH 370's black boxes, if sea planes or flying boats were still prominent in the world?  Planes had to buzz over the potential debris fields, but for a closer look, or to lower soon-sensors, had to wait till ships with special equipment could arrive.  (Yes, there are military sonobuoys. I'd wager some have already been dropped in secret.)

Most of the time with a "sea plane" they land in a protected harbor, river, or inland waterway. Open ocean landings are quite hazardous, mostly done to rescue personnel, sometimes the sea plane crew then requires rescue. The Japanese may be employing the ShinMaywa US-2 flying boat on this operation, a model also used by India, but lacking the range to be much use in far-distant operations.

There is a new Chinese sea-plane, approved for construction by AVIC General Aircraft Company. The Dragon 600, expanded from the earlier SH-5 sea-plane would be as large as an Airbus 320, could be used for tasks such as emergency rescue, fighting forest fires and sea patrols. .

A pit of aeronautical pedantry, a seaplane has pontoons, a flying boat has a hull that floats on the water. Confusion is understandable when both terms are nearly obsolete. The Spruce Goose, the Catalina, and the Albatross would be flying boats.

Just a thought.  Here is hoping they find the things.  If so, what a validation of dispersed transparency!  The one company whose satellite nailed the travel arc of the plane from just a single radio query ping… they deserve some kind of prize… and we all deserve to have all commercial airliners far better tracked.

twoda-brin
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*TWODA: Things We Ought to Do Anyway…to alleviate climate change… but that will help us economically, politically, internationally even if 99% of scientists prove wrong about climate warnings!  Increasing research and developing methods of energy efficiency should be on the table, even if you are a climate skeptic! The fact that you are NOT eagerly negotiating TWODA measures proves one thing.  You are no "skeptic" but a member of the denialist cult.