Saturday, April 04, 2020

Science Fiction updates!

I just sent out my annual newsletter… actually, the complaint I get is that they are too seldom! It’s actually been 3 years. You can view a web version of the newsletter… and go to the bottom to sign up to receive future missives!

Sundiver, my first novel, came back into our hands after 38 years. We made corrections, gave it a new cover and introduction. Shout if you might want that long-awaited, collectable hardcover!   (It’s one of my few books that never had one.)

All my story collections -  The River of TimeOtherness and Insistence of Vision - are back! (My best work.) But above all... 
 Need cheering up? See my new sci fi comedy novel “The Ancient Ones.” !!!

== A great reading list! ==

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA, Inc.) announced finalists for the 55th Annual Nebula Awards, that will be presented in Woodland Hills, CA at the Warner Center Marriott during a (now virtual) ceremony on the evening of May 30th. Here is the list, so you can hunt down some good reads by fine authors.

Novel
Marque of Caine, Charles E. Gannon (Baen)
The Ten Thousand Doors of January, Alix E. Harrow (Redhook; Orbit UK)
A Memory Called Empire, Arkady Martine (Tor)
Gods of Jade and Shadow, Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Del Rey; Jo Fletcher)
Gideon the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir (Tor.com Publishing)
A Song for a New Day, Sarah Pinsker (Berkley)

Novella
"Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom", Ted Chiang (from his anthology, Exhalation)
The Haunting of Tram Car 015, P. Djèlí Clark (Tor.com Publishing)
This Is How You Lose the Time War, Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone (Saga)
Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water, Vylar Kaftan (Tor.com Publishing)
The Deep, Rivers Solomon, with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson & Jonathan Snipes (Saga)
Catfish Lullaby, A.C. Wise (Broken Eye)

Novelette
"A Strange Uncertain Light", G.V. Anderson (F&SF 7-8/19)
"For He Can Creep", Siobhan Carroll (Tor.com 7/10/19)
"His Footsteps, Through Darkness and Light", Mimi Mondal (Tor.com 1/23/19)
"The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye", Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny 7-8/19)
Carpe Glitter, Cat Rambo (Meerkat)
"The Archronology of Love", Caroline M. Yoachim (Lightspeed 4/19)

Short Story
"Give the Family My Love", A.T. Greenblatt (Clarkesworld 2/19)
"The Dead, In Their Uncontrollable Power", Karen Osborne (Uncanny 3-4/19)
"And Now His Lordship Is Laughing", Shiv Ramdas (Strange Horizons 9/9/19)
"A Catalog of Storms", Fran Wilde (Uncanny 1-2/19)
"How the Trick Is Done", A.C. Wise (Uncanny 7-8/19)

The Andre Norton Award for Outstanding Young Adult Science Fiction or Fantasy Book
Sal and Gabi Break the Universe, Carlos Hernandez (Disney Hyperion)
Catfishing on CatNet, Naomi Kritzer (Tor Teen)
Dragon Pearl, Yoon Ha Lee (Disney Hyperion)
Peasprout Chen: Battle of Champions, Henry Lien (Holt)
Cog, Greg van Eekhout (Harper)
Riverland, Fran Wilde (Amulet)

Game Writing
Outer Wilds, Kelsey Beachum (Mobius Digital)
The Outer Worlds, Leonard Boyarsky, Megan Starks, Kate Dollarhyde, Chris L’Etoile (Obsidian Entertainment)
The Magician's Workshop, Kate Heartfield (Choice of Games)
Disco Elysium, Robert Kurvitz (ZA/UM)
Fate Accessibility Toolkit, Elsa Sjunneson-Henry (Evil Hat Productions)

The Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation
Avengers: Endgame, Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (Marvel Studios)
Captain Marvel, Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck & Geneva Robertson-Dworet (Marvel Studios)
Good Omens: "Hard Times", Neil Gaiman (Amazon Studios/BBC Studios)
The Mandalorian: "The Child", Jon Favreau (Disney+)
Russian Doll: "The Way Out", Allison Silverman and Leslye Headland (Netflix)
Watchmen: "A God Walks into Abar", Jeff Jensen & Damon Lindelof (HBO)

== More sci fi news! ==

The great and mighty SF writer Catherine Asaro has posted the first part from her upcoming book The Vanished Seas

Space Cowboy Books Presents: Simultaneous Times Episode #24 - Featuring short stories by David Brin and Jean-Paul L. Garnier. Travel through space and time with science fiction audio plays set to original music from our team of composers, RedBlueBlackSilver and Phog Masheeen. 

Then consider bringing that nerdiness power to bear on saving the world! At the TASAT project! 

Wanda Kurtçu reports from the recent, Dublin World Science Fiction Convention on how she served on ten panels variously related to diversity! Also about a meeting of  MEGA (Melanin Enhanced Geek Alliance)! She also was the 2019 BayCon Fan Guest of Honor in May. I was writer GoH and we had a lot of fun bandying jokes and talking memes… an amazing person.

I have lectured for the Odyssey Science Fiction Workshop -- a fine (and in many ways far better) alternative to Clarion. Jeanne Cavelos will get you tuned up with all the writerly trick and skills! And donations to the fine cause of developing great science fiction authors should rank on the list for some of you!

Amid all these stories about a "2nd Mona Lisa painting by da Vinci" I am reminded of a wonderful short story -- Bob Shaw’s  “The Giaconda Caper” (1978) about a psychic detective who tracks down FIFTY different versions of that famous painting, most of them still sitting on an apparatus in a cave near Pisa. An apparatus with a strangely mundane yet marvelous purpose and a stunning plot twist. You can find it in his “Who Goes Here” book (which is a novel that also includes this one short story) available on Kindle.

== Good stuff by others ==

Astronomer Andrew Fraknoi published a very short and amusing “sci fi” story about a SETI scenario

This thoughtful end-of-year essay by Dan Wang begins with a riff that makes important points about the recent “trade war” with China, implicitly agreeing with my point that we (America and the West) will do better by stimulating our own innovation (and insisting on a full decade of benefit from each item of IP, than with all the world’s ultimately self-defeating tariffs: 

The US responded to the rise of the USSR and Japan by focusing on innovation; it’s early days, but so far the US is responding to the technological rise of China mostly by kneecapping its leading firms. So instead of realizing its own Sputnik moment, the US is triggering one in China. …  China finds it politically intolerable that the US has an at-will ability to cripple major firms like ZTE and Huawei. It’s now a matter of national security for China to strengthen every major technological capability.”

The author then goes on to a stimulating discussion of Philip K. Dick, Liu Cixin and Olaf Stapledon.

PDK’s novels feature smart—and often even brilliant—elites, who feel hemmed in by forces they cannot understand. PKD’s novels are good at depicting the frustrations of elites, whose only satisfaction comes from toying with the fates of smaller characters. They have good reactive instincts and can manage problems that flare up, but lack the confidence that they can affect larger outcomes, and thus have no real sense of initiative beyond petty matters. That’s the story of an elite in Hong Kong, and I worry that US elites are giving in to the same tendencies. They are well-meaning and well-educated, but also risk-averse and pessimistic: retail sanity and wholesale madness.”

Much more of interest. huh.

In the November 2019 issue of LOCUS there's an interview with L.X. Beckett - who has taken the lessons of "The Transparent Society" to heart (or reinvented them).  Beckett writes in her interview:  "An argument can be made that mostly it's not so much our privacy we care about, except in a few circumstances. It's unequal privacy. I'd be willing to let my life live under that microscope, and let anyone have my whole transcript - if I knew that I could call up any corporate transcript, or if I had those board meeting minutes, or if every time some guy ignored a person saying, 'no, stop!' it actually went into a record somewhere.

"In Gamechanger, the buzzword for that universal lack of privacy is 'mutually assured disclosure.' Everything goes into the Haystack and it's generally assumed that 99% of the information is boring. You still have a form of privacy, just because you're not interesting enough, usually, for anyone to bother reading - the data is going to get used when you and your sister have an argument and she needs to prove that she was right."

Interesting and more intimate than the way I reached the same conclusion, in Earth.

== Videos of brin-blather ==

(1) The “Neo” Project aims to create a vividly beautiful film, 
combining science and art with optimism. They feature my blather 
about peering into the future. Vivid imagery and remarkable sound editing. 

(2) The XPrize Foundation FB-posted a well-produced video 
of me explaining the concept of the self-preventing prophecy, 
and how we gird ourselves through science fiction to face tomorrow's perils. 

(3) Video of my talk on the future of A.I. to a packed house at IBM's World of Watson congress in Las Vegas, October 2016. A punchy tour of big perspectives on Intelligence, as well as both artificial and human augmentation.

There’s an audio version of Sundiver on Audible, which is distributed on Audible via Recorded books, and which you can find here. But again... you could use a laugh right about now!  Yes, you. I can tell, even from here. This might help!

Bee seeing you.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

More repercussions in a plague year... and some long term.

First off, I want to discuss a couple of generalities. Let’s start with a fellow by name of Hyman Minsky, whose insights into the nature of stability in human systems have been getting a lot of attention. Basically, during times of great stability, many people - taking continuity for granted - pile up ever greater amounts of risk without hedging against a reversal... till reversal happens -- a "Minsky Moment" when instability suddenly returns, at which point things shake out amid lots of pain. Perhaps everyone adjusts together, weaning themselves of bad habits and making things work better, with more wisdom. Alternately, things may go as Karl Marx, described, viewing such shakeouts as inevitably both culling the capitalist class and impoverishing workers, leading to revolution. 

Take the example of Japan, which had fine-tuned their economy according to the teachings of American quality and efficiency guru W. Edwards Demming. Taking Demming to an extreme, Toyota led at innovating ultra slim, just-in-time supply chains that squeeze every possible drop of margin from goods and services. Like an athlete who tunes her body to perfectly perform a particular movement, companies following Demming principles aimed for zero on-site storage or stockpiling - equivalent to the athlete’s nonexistent fat reserves. And just like such an athlete, stuck on a life-raft for a week without supplies, Japanese companies learned the “Minsky folly” of their mistake, when an exogenous shock - the Fukushima disaster - shattered supply chains and Japan virtually shut down.

As futurist Jamais Cascio  put it: "The villainization of over-capacity has been a hallmark of the current post-industrial capitalism environment. What we have seen over the past couple of months is the value of slack in a world that’s gone unstable." (Personal correspondence.) Certainly the short-sighted selling off of federal U.S. medical stockpiles, not long ago, is a rabid chicken now coming home to roost. One might wonder if this correlates with the rise of MBAs and decline of engineers in corporate boardrooms.

But back to Minsky’s core lesson. Periods of stability lead to unstable ones and vice versa. That is, if we learn lessons and avoid mistakes of the past. (We will find new mistakes to make.) 

My own take on all of this has been to rail for 20 years, all over DC and media, about our need for Resilient Systems that are robust enough to take shocks and ride them out. See this interview in ACM listing a dozen major ways that we have avoided simple preparations for the next Minsky Moment.


== So what do I predict as outcomes from COVID 19? ==

Sone of the following expands on ideas from an earlier posting, but taken logically farther. Other concepts are new. 

I foresee national and international changes falling into several categories.

Short term tactics:
- A friend reports how they’re doing in Hong Kong - "the city is is still pretty well rocking on per normal… we wear masks… time to amplify that message. Masks work! If everyone wears them. And if that works, it helps the doctors and nurses too." Though yes, we should have surged mask and test production months ago.

Impudent experiments:
- Cities and counties may both spur the economy and take advantage of deserted roads, by sending out many teams of two to four workers - trained in hygiene and safety - to fix potholes and repair empty schools. See this pothole option happening at one iconic London site.

It will occur to someone - likely already Elon Musk - to staff a factory or office entirely with COVID-19 positives who are proved to be symptom free. Hospitals may be forced to do this, sooner than anyone. It is already locally possible, even with the outrageously hampered and uneven US testing system. But later, when testing is more reliable and routine, one might envision opening pairs of facilities for positives and negatives. Even restaurants and resorts.  

{Late note before posting: the same idea seems to have occurred elsewhere (duh?) "German researchers are suggesting that “immunity passports” could be given out to workers who have already caught the coronavirus — meaning they’re now immune — in a bid to get them back to work and help speed up the return to normal society." While there is some question about re-exposure to variant strains, what seems clear is that secondary infections of healthy 'survivors' are almost never lethal. We'll see if the idea 'catches.' Of course it will. Though it depends on testing.}

Technological changes: 
- There will be a Manhattan Project scale push to reduce the ramp-up time for testing kits and vaccines for all future disease threats. Abbott Labs now has a 5-13 minute test. They plan to scale up to 5 million/month, based on apparent need. What they need is 5 million/hour, for the US, and far more for the world. Likewise the 18 month predicted path for a vaccine must and will prove much shorter. 

{Late note: Jacob Glanville's lab aims to bypass a vaccine, which demands the body's own immune system gear up to produce stimulated antibodies, and instead mass produce antibodies industrially for injection into infected people, an approach similar to old-fashioned 'serums' based on the blood of immune persons. As in those lurid sci fi flicks OMEGA MAN and OUTBREAK.}


- Local sourcing has long been predicted, ranging from new-techs in additive (3D) manufacturing (now getting a boost making emergency ventilator parts) to farm-to-table food supply chains. Urban farming will range from home gardens to new tall buildings utilizing the sunshine on their southern faces to both treat their own wastewater and grow organics. Seaborne supply chains will be seen as a negative, as managers seek nearer sources, less prone to disruption. Of course there will be climate benefits.

- Business meetingware and work-from-home software - predicted for decades - languished due to managerial reluctance. These will now advance rapidly. But also expect a real estate boomlet in small scale satellite offices, where employees will spend at least part of each day being personally supervised, so their work-at-home hours can be kept effective. Education will go through similar changes. But what's to be done about those mass-tribal gatherings for sports, concerts and socializing>  Interesting times. 

- Expect a revival of the Obama-era push for nationwide broadband, as proved so useful in South Korea and Taiwan. 

Infrastructure. It goes far beyond potholes and school repairs. Democrats have demanded major programs to rebuild bridges etc while improving the quality (vs. quantity) of jobs and increasing money velocity. Republicans - while speaking the "I-Word" have blocked all such endeavors. All of this changes in a major recession, of course. Expect partisan gridlock to break in this one area. {And as we speak, suddenly Donald Trump is talking infrastructure, yet again.}

Transportation. The shift to Uber/Lyft style ride services will boom, short term. But also mid-scale van/jitney services in big cities… followed by a big push for self-driving taxis. But underground metros may not be finished. Today’s filthy subway trains could be supplanted by smaller, more efficient cars that shunt between lines and report in regularly for disinfecting.

Social effects: It will take more than COVID to end the personal handshake, but those European three-cheek air-kisses may be finished. Elbow greetings won’t last - but the fist-bump is likely the big winner, over time, as a compromise that's about 75% sanitary/safe and good enough for the new -- post-COVID -- normal. (My preference? I like the Roman style fore-arm clasp.)

More impudent measures:
- Elsewhere I spoke of several endeavors that make some logical sense to at least try, on a prototype-test basis, but that were politically too fraught. One of these would be to buy up a few of the countless moribund small towns in rural America, giving the few remaining residents a prosperous new start revitalizing another one. Then the evacuated hamlet might become experiments in - say - offering a voluntary place of space and fresh air refuge to some urban homeless. Or temporary homes for refugee families to work through their paperwork while gardening and farming outside of festering (and expensive) lockup cages. There are plenty of other potential sweet-spot uses, and more come to mind, in the era of pandemic.

Stepping back, remember who is hurting: As usual, those suffering most are the poor and working stiffs. Even if they keep a job and can manage the financial strain, families are stressed out in cramped quarters with many ensuing problems, from divorces and domestic violence to unexpected pregnancies. Others may take this as an opportunity to reconnect, with dads - especially - learning more about the difficult job of raising kids. While supporting actions to help, somehow we must also encourage such folks to do one thing to make a difference. Vote.

And yes, some foresee all this accelerating the exodus of the uber-rich, abandoning us to simmer in festering cities and suburbs. Connecticut, Wyoming and New Zealand have seen such influx. Certainly there is a “prepper” wing of oligarchy that’s bought up whole mountain ranges in Patagonia, Siberia and under the sea. I portrayed that mind set in The Postman and in Earth and in Existence. Of course the smarter half of the zillionaire caste wants no part of such insanity. Nor will such preparations avail the selfishness-fetishists an iota, even if the fit truly hits the shan. There are five reasons why this masturbatory survivalist fantasy is utter proof of mental defectiveness.

Finally Smart Sovereignty:
- Whether this Minsky Moment triggers revitalization and waves of new-creative solutions by an empowered citizenry... or one of Marx's purportedly "inevitable" stages of spiral into revolution... may depend on to what extent we revive civic goodwill and use new technologies to enhance logical, fact-centered. pragmatic civil discourse. Recall that earlier communication techs -- e.g. the printing press, radio and loudspeakers -- all led first to polemical horror shows that made things much worse... before folks sussed the new media and learned to parse truth from populist lies, making things much, much better.

That natural progression took decades, though. Time we simply do not have. 

== The jury is still out ==

I left aside possible outcomes that seem more “science fictional”… 

…e.g. what-if there is more to this virus than meets the eye? We already know that corona viruses are not like the flu. Flu stays in business by mutating rapidly, every year, forcing new kinds of vaccines to be developed. (Again, see my predictive short story “The Giving Plague,” which dives into the many ways that viruses and parasites "negotiate" with their hosts.)

Coronas — like SARS and MERS and the common cold — have a different approach. Somehow they convince human immune systems to “forget” them, so they can re-infect at a later date. Generally with milder symptoms, and some think COVID19 will settle down to be more cold-like, with time. But either way, we may need to add coronavirus immunizations to every new flu shot, in coming years.

But you know I meant more than that, by “science fictional” repercussions. And so… I’ll leave those for another time.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Where might this all lead? Unexpected options and outcomes... and some solace.

I've been asked by so many in the press and media etc. to speculate on "what might be longer term effects of the COVID-19 crisis?" And so, for this weekend posting, let's ponder some of those answers.

Of course there are deeply sobering possibilities. Authors like Mary Shelley, Alice Sheldon, Margaret Atwood, Joanna Russ, Stephen King, Frank Herbert, John Christopher, Cormac McCarthy and even yours truly have cast their eyes to plagues far worse than this one.* Indeed, some of my own past sci fi has proved more pertinent than I’d want! My Hugo-nominated story “The Giving Plague” explores our complex relationships with viruses and such, including several paths a parasite can go down, in “negotiating” with us hosts. 

We'll return to that topic. But for a moment, let’s take a pragmatically optimistic turn. 

== Things we could do now, if we had leadership ==

Earlier I made a modest suggestion for what cities across America and the world might do, to maintain some employment and solve real problems, while our streets are mostly empty. The “Pothole Gambit” proposed that we send out scores of 2-person teams to fill potholes, repair empty schools, etc. Risk to the crews would be minimal, if they take basic precautions, and paychecks would flow. This could be done even before testing is widely available.

This kind of selective-contingent thinking leads further to an almost sci fi extension. Once the U.S. has rapid, effective and plentiful COVID-19 tests (as we should and could have had, two months ago) then why not let companies re-open some factories etc., putting back to work employees who have already gone through their exposure to the virus and the following latency period, whether symptomatic or not? 

Picture a scenario. Elon Musk rents the Pebble Beach Golf Club in order to test and ease-in staff for his Tesla factory... If that works, expand the experiment. Eventually, some restaurants might even bring in Covid-positive staff to serve an only-Covid-positive clientele. 

Sure, one should always look ahead to secondary consequences; would healthy folks in their 20s then deliberately hold COVID Parties, in order to get it over with? I don't recommend this, as it's dangerous for the rest of us... and for an unknown few of those youths(!)... that is unless resort hotels rented themselves out to let this happen while young "invulnerables" stay away from their older relatives? (Envision those 1980s “herpes dating clubs.”)

The same sort of thing could happen for Covid-negatives (though only with much better quick-testing.) Companies might wind up having pairs of offices or twin plants engaged in friendly rivalry, like those in that commercial, that produce the left vs. right halves of Twix bars.  

Or else trade-off and pick-a-side? Envision Disneyland open for positives and Universal for negatives? 

Extrapole some more! "Sectors" of cities divide-up just like in some sci fi flick! ("You're from ZONE TWO? Get away from me!")  Heck let's go beyond the obvious Romeo & Juliet riff. Maybe we'll speciate... !

...no no, forget that last part. Sorry. Professional habit. But the first part seems quite do-able in a gradual and incremental way. 

Note that these two factors are mutually dependent. The Separation Workforce gambit cannot possibly work without cheap, rapid and massively available and accurate testing. And massive testing can only happen if we augment our public services by puttin the immune or semi-immune to work.

Indeed, had Donald Trump pushed to deploy massive testing, instead of sabotaging it at every turn, we'd by now not only have the data we need to fight the pandemic better. We'd also possibly be positioned to implement this positive-negative plan and rescue "his economy." 

== Okay, Earth to Brin. Come back down now... ==

Let's get practical, then. I’m sure you’ve seen reports that an early harbinger of COVID illness is loss of the sense of smell

This suggests a mass experiment that would produce useful data while having zero possible deleterious side effects. If everyone simply scratches and sniffs a lemon, three times daily, the minimum outcome will be cheering up the nation a bit! (Try it now! Go on. I'll wait... And now, aren't your spirits lifted just a little?)

 And if thousands note the time span between not smelling anything and other symptoms, that could be significant data! Is a mass experiment with zero conceivable negative outcomes worth encouraging? (And  doubly necessary, since some doubt has been cast on this "smell test." after all. Can it hurt to check it out?)

== Longer term effects? ==

Technological changes: Assuming the grip of lunacy is pried off of federal government... or even if we have to rely on real leadership from California and New York... there will be a Manhattan Project level push to reduce the ramp-up time for testing kits and vaccines. (Side-bet: this may involve human-animal chimeras to shorten the pathway to antibody discovery and deployment.)

Business meetingware and work-from-home software has been predicted for decades and languished due to managerial reluctance. These will advance rapidly. But I predict also a real estate boomlet in small scale satellite offices, where employees will spend at least part of each day being personally supervised, so their work-at-home hours can be kept effective. This “sweet spot” might reduce rush hour traffic, but also strain middle management.

Expect a revival of Obama-era push for nationwide broadband, as has proved so useful in South Korea and Taiwan. There's a constituency now, for sure. 

Infrastructure. It goes far beyond potholes and school repairs. Democrats have demanded major programs to rebuild bridges etc while improving the quality (vs. quantity) of jobs and increasing money velocity. Republicans - while speaking the "I-Word" have blocked all such endeavors. All of this changes in a major recession, of course. Expect partisan gridlock to break in this one area.

Transportation. The shift to Uber/Lyft style ride services will boom, short term. But also mid-scale van/jitney services in big cities… followed by a big push for self-driving taxis. But underground metros may not be finished. Today’s filthy subway trains could be supplanted by smaller, more efficient cars that shunt between lines and report in regularly for disinfecting.

Social effects: It wall take more than COVID to end the personal handshake, but those pretentious European three-cheek air-kisses may be finished. Elbow greetings won’t last! But the fist-bump is likely the big winner, over time, as a compromise that's about 75% sanitary/safe and good enough for the new -- post-COVID -- normal. (My preference? I like the Roman style fore-arm clasp.)

Of course, many are already commenting and speculating on possible effects upon birth rates, divorce rates, domestic violence and so on. I guess we'll find out.

As usual, those suffering most are the poor and working stiffs. Even if they keep a job and can manage the financial strain, families are stressed out in cramped quarters with many ensuing problems. While supporting actions to help, somehow we must encourage such folks to do one thing to make a difference. Vote.

Epidemiology extends beyond just raging viruses. Will we discover that other chains of cause and effect were broken by cities and states and nations semi-shut down? Certainly not the "viral" effects of rumors and faux-news, which have electronic vectors. But the precipitate drop in traffic accidents may have side effects. Are there contagions of wide variety that we never noticed before, because they were part of the background noise of urban life?

And yes, some foresee all this accelerating the exodus of the uber-rich, abandoning us to simmer in festering cities and suburbs. Certainly there is a “prepper” wing of oligarchy that’s bought up whole mountain ranges in Patagonia, Siberia and under the sea. I portrayed that sick mind set in The Postman and in Earth and in Existence. And of course the smarter half of the zillionaire caste wants no part of such insanity. Nor will all their preparations avail the selfishness fetishists an iota, even if the fit truly hits the shan. There are five reasons why this masturbatory survivalist fantasy is utter proof of mental defectiveness.

Reason number six: we could sure use all hands on deck, right now. And we’ll remember which ones helped, or wallowed in apocalypse fantasies. Oh, however things go down, we will remember each and every one of you.

== Artistic Solace ==

Was that lemon sniff helpful? 

Well maybe I can add a little wry comfort. 

I last posted about this during the "bird flu" mini-crisis in May 2006. 
But it's never seemed more apropos.

In December 1979, NPR ran an evening show called "Unpacking the Eighties" which had some very clever riffs, including a song about the terrible flu we'd all get, around the far-future date of 1986... Alas, in this age when nothing is supposedly ever lost or un-findable, I can't sniff out any trace of this masterpiece!** Still, I'll manage to share something, with a nod to an unknown genius.

Here's a riff I remember by heart... except for parts I made up, in order to fill in gaps:

IT’S A VIRUS

Back in the Pleistocene,
When we were still marine,
a virus launched a quest
to be the perfect guest
And re-arranged our genes.

So to this very day,
Whether you grok or pray,
all your inheritors
count on those visitors
And what they make you pay.

REFRAIN

It’s a virus,
It inspired us,
to rise above the mud.
It’s a virus,
It’s desirous,
of your very flesh and blood.

Now I know your body’s burning,
But don’t give up the ghost.
Tiny viruses are turning you
Into the perfect host.

... 


Though you may curse microbes
who make you blow your nose,
evolution bends
to what a virus sends,
making us recompose.

Though when you least expect
You may be struck down next,
thank the virus, he
put us in misery,
But then he gave us sex!

.

It’s a virus,
Its inspired us,
to rise above the mud.
It’s a virus,
It’s desirous,
of your very flesh and blood.

Now I know your body’s burning,
But don’t give up the ghost.
Tiny viruses are turning you
Into the perfect... 
                        ...host.


Persevere. Endure...



================
*The Last Man, The Screwfly Solution, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Female Man, The Stand, The White Plague, No Blade of Grass, The Road, The Postman.... and so many others.

** I think the artist was named "Jesse" something, but can't be sure.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Urgent crowdourcing: DIY respirator projects… and one costing $100

These are fast-moving, “interesting times.” In ten days, parts of the U.S. and Canada may experience a dire medical emergency, akin to what we see today in Italy. Hundreds of thousands may need respiratory support while their immune systems fight off the COVID-19 virus. Without that support, thousands could die.

I spent last week working with Peter Diamandis’s XPRIZE group to outline a “DIY Ventilator Challenge” – but events surged past as teams around the world are already leaping ahead, conjuring ways to amplify the number of ventilators available, or hacking emergency alternatives. Below you’ll find links to some of these projects, starting with an excellent 5-part tutorial on ventilators. 

Here let me draw your attention to one project. While at the low end in sophistication and medical capability, it is peerless in aspects like low-cost and ease of construction. Steve Harrington and his Flometrics team built a prototype do-it-yourself respiration assistance device (DIYRAD) made entirely out of parts obtainable from Lowes or Home Depot. This very basic CPAP-like apparatus is not meant as a substitute for hospital care, but as a cheap, easy-to-make backup for use in a dire pinch by those with relatively stable, mild-to-moderate respiratory distress who cannot get such care, or who get turned away from over-burdened, overwhelmed ICUs.

Here’s a short introductory video: https://tinyurl.com/breathassist1
… plus a 7 minute, detailed, how-to video: https://tinyurl.com/breathassist2
… plus a detailed write-up:  https://tinyurl.com/breathassist4   (With an appendix linking to other projects around the world.) (Note the disclaimer!)


And yes, all such efforts merit urgent support during the next, critical week or two! 
There is a GoFundMe page… https://www.gofundme.com/f/diy-ventilator … 
…though any of you with greater resources might approach Steve directly, via his email address given in the videos.
… and anyone with relevant contacts in Italy is especially welcome to pass all this along!

Late News: It may be hard to find a $10 painter’s filter mask, so 3D printing plans should be available shortly.
(For further news, I’ve set aside the address http://www.tinyurl.com/breathassistNEWS though that'll be later.)

That’s enough to chew on. But I’ll append a few other items of interest - some of them cool - below the signature. 

Here’s wishing you all (and those you love) good health and good prospects for our world and civilization.

David Brin


Addenda:
1.  Among the resources listed for you in the appendix at https://tinyurl.com/breathassist4 is a fascinating and informative 5-part tutorial on ventilators:   plus links to other DIY ventilator projects at McGill University, at MunichRE and in Italy, as well as lists compiled by MAKE Magazine.

2. Discussion is welcome at the lively comment community right here, under my blog CONTRARY BRIN. http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/

3. Some of my past sci fi has been more pertinent than I’d want! My Hugo-nominated story “The Giving Plague” deals with our complex relationships with viruses and such, including the several paths a parasite can go down, in “negotiating” with us hosts

4. Final COVID notes. The latest somewhat supported rumor mill items fall into the ‘Can’t hurt” category.

 (i) avoid ibuprofen/advil… for now, till we know more... and

 (ii) sniff a lemon (or anything strong) several times a day! At minimum a lemon-sniff will cheer you up a bit, I promise! But there are preliminary signs that the earliest-onset symptom is loss of smell. It’s not proved! But in this case we have one of those anecdotes that are absolutely harmless to try! (If you get sick, report how many days earlier you had smell failure. It's scientific data! But above all, get well soon.)

5. Remind me to talk later about the SOLUTION TO SAVE THE ECONOMY AND GET PEOPLE BACK TO WORK! Yes, I have one.

 Oh, need cheering up? See my new sci fi comedy novel “The Ancient Ones.”

Saturday, March 21, 2020

TRILLIONS! Bailouts for Airlines & Boeing and Banks? What, me worry?

== Wisdom about markets and all those concocted trillions ==

Where will we 'get' the trillions about to be thrown into the economy, to prevent a deflationary depression? Let's share some perspectives from one of the newsletters I get (and I have a column there, from time to time) - Phil’s Stock World. Phil is a master trader who grasps puts, call, hedges and all that. He has this to say about market panic right now: 

Let's say 80% of the people still get paid.  US payrolls are $6.5Tn or $500Bn a month and Bernie says give us $600Bn a month so - THANKS!  That's why Yang (and me!) is right that $1,000 a months for people over 18 (210M) would be a more realistic $210Bn a month or $2.5Tn a year, which is by no means a crazy number in a $20Tn GDP - a simple 10% VAT would take care of it and redistribute the wealth from the people who spend to the people who don't have any money." (DB note: it would have to be accompanied by increased taxes on the wealthy and yes, international wealth transparency.)  

“In any case, if we do hand out $210Bn/month for the duration (seems to be the current plan in Congress) and 80% of $500Bn a month continues to be paid out - that's $610Bn - more than people are getting paid now.  

“So there's no reason for the economy to collapse based on that though I imagine that each month 10% less people will get regular paychecks as more and more businesses begin to shut down.

“Then the real problem becomes spending.  $500Bn a month only becomes a $20Tn GDP (there's other income besides wages, of course) due to the money multiplier effect, which is roughly 3.5x.  In other words, you get paid $5 and you give it to SBUX who pays the barista who goes to the supermarket to buy a whole pound of coffee for $8 (because they are not a sucker like you!) and the Supermarket pays the cashier who combines it with food stamps (because those wages suck) and they get a turkey, etc..."

DB note: This multiplier effect is crucial. It leads to money velocity which is high when you spend billions on infrastructure jobs - long -thwarted by the GOP - and MV drops below zero for the billions handed over to the rich by Supply Side never-once-right voodoo. See below.

“So money moves through the economy and poor people spend whatever they get so they move money the best but, when you give money to rich people they put it in the bank (0x multiplier) or, even worse, they put it into an instrument that produces NOTHING and demands interest, which sucks even more money out of the economy (-0.1x).  Since the rich have 100x more than the poor - that's a lot of sucking!

Still, unless we are heading into a real Zombie Apocalypse, where humanity wiped out and replaced by a mindless hoard with no interest in food, fashion or fun - we will survive - even if surviving means locking ourselves in a bubble and shopping via Amazon drones with our Universal Basic Incomes.  

“Even THAT would still have our GDP around $12Tn, down 40% from where it was but certainly not $0 - that's why a sell-off past these levels is silly and can't last - and that's the worst possible case - the actual case is probably quite a bit better than that - we just have to get through the next few months."

DB followup points:

1) Since infrastructure jobs offer the best multiplier effect with well-paid jobs that ripple through the economy and that actually build stuff we’ll actually use for a century, can we do that EVEN DURING A PLAGUE? 

Elsewhere I offer the Pothole Gambit. Get thousands of workers busy doing a zillion repairs in our cities in small, carefully managed teams of just 2 or 3. Such jobs can be managed with a lot of “social distancing” among workers!  Hence, there is zero reason any city should have any remaining POTHOLES or bad sidewalks or ill-maintained schools after Covid 19, since small teams of 3 or so can handle such gigs. Especially if they are not only trained in sanitation but given priority testing.

Seriously, YOU should help spread this idea for how to make use of this urban down time, keep folks busy, employed and doing something useful, while staying safe.

2) We all need to realize that the Reagan and Bush and Trump Supply Side tax cut gifts to the rich were a scam robbing us and our economy of tens of trillions.  And not those fake-ghost trillions “created” by the Federal Reserve, but the real things, outright stolen from us all and plowed (as Adam Smith said the rich always do) into non-productive “rentier” investments that have zero money multipliers. Any remaining Supply Siders should be put in straitjackets and given 20 meter social distancing. Or a padded cell. Their meme plague has hurt us all.

== Bailouts? Demand equity! ==

Back in 2009, Republicans were furious when Obama and democrats ‘bailed out” US automakers to keep them out of bankruptcy and saving tens of thousands of jobs. Those “Obama bailouts” were in a few tens of billions and they were LOANS, with real ownership collateral. And all got paid back. 

Goppers had much less negative to say about the TARP programs of Obama era take-up of toxic banking assets… well, bankers and goppers overlap a lot. But even so, the US government made a lot of that money back from later sale of those assets. In other words, we had relatively sane leadership, then.

Now compare that to the screeching hypocrisy of Republicans - who are never, ever more fiscally responsible than Democrats, (and that’s never) - rushing to support TRILLIONS in wholly created “funds” to firehose at both citizens and (much more) to bail out corporate friends. 

See 'No, the airlines do not need a bailout.' Airlines who wasted almost all their profits and the 2017 tax gusher on stock buy backs that only wound up benefitting the CEO caste. Boeing wasted 43 BILLION dollars this way, that could have cushioned their current problems. (The Greatest Generation under FDR banned such buybacks, for excellent reasons that the Reaganites and worse Bushites and even worse MConnell-Putinites railed against and “reformed” away.)

In fact, okay, we must for the sake of jobs. But use the Obama pattern. Demand collateral! If they fail to pay it all back, then shareholders take the fall -- which they deserve for voting in CEOs who did those massive buybacks. If we bail out these companies to save the workers and engineers, we owe nothing to the CEO castes and greedy corporate raider types who squandered these corporate crown jewels to enrich themselves. If we must wind up co-owning Boeing and Delta, as citizens, is that such a bad thing?

See how now they are promising to stop doing the evil-stupid things, in exchange for billions of bailout… but no mention of equity shares.

Aaaaand… Nikki Haley quits Boeing board, citing disagreement with company’s bailout request. Positioning herself to say “that train-plane wreck? No, I had nothing to do with that! Make me veep!


... and finally...

== Ways to pass the time ==

Virtual Tour of Ten Museums:

and many more museums

But there's no better way than this.  ;-)