Before moving on to science and technology, a quick popular-culture note:
I recently saw the Denzel Washington film “Deja Vu”. It really wasn’t bad, for a time travel story. Yes, some paradox matters were finessed or waved away, but the writers/director really tried hard and there was some good rationalization. What I especially appreciated, though, was how they avoided the “idiot plot” in most ways. That is the phenomenon where, in order to keep the hero in dramatic jeopardy, lazy storytellers usually posit or assume that all of society’s institutions are either incompetent or malignant, or both. And thus, talking to anybody in authority, especially the cops, would be a waste of time. Even Steven Spielberg falls for this trap, now and then, though he does, in general soften it with a deep current of gratitude for getting to live in this civilization. (Note, the extreme way that George Lucas dives into this addiction-reflex; it is one of my chief complaints about the Star Wars Universe.)
Of course, some stories are about malignant or incompetent officials or need them for logical plot development. That is a legitimate topic, and certainly seems relevant to today’s world. And then, some other films don’t need the crutch of incompetent/corrupt authority figures at all, such as when the outside threat is SO huge that jeopardy threatens to overwhelm even a good and smart society, e.g. INDEPENDENCE DAY and DEEP IMPACT and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. (Note, however, that ARMAGEDDON was steeped in this idiot plot mythos, despite not needing it at all! Simply wallowing in a filthy habit.) What is refreshing about DEJA VU is that Denzel’s character was kept in heart-thumping peril, and not a single moment was wasted in demonizing the skilled professionals who were smart enough to recruit him and decent enough to break rules when he asked them to. Refreshing.
When I was a kid, we still dreamed of oases on Mars and whole oceans! under the thick clouds of Venus. Soon, space probes showed us a stark barren planetary system, a daunting image... that seems to be changing rapidly the other way! First, we ruminated hopefully over the blatant likelihood of liquid seas, lurking under the surface of Jupiter’s moon, Europa, so likely that the recently lamented Arthur Clarke wrote about it in his book, 2010.
Recently, scientists began to suspect similar, if smaller, buried seas on Ganymede and Callisto. Recent observations of water geysers on Saturn’s moon, Enceledus, suggest the same thing is going on there. And now, strong evidence that the big smog-ball itself, Titan, may not only harbor surface oceans of wax and hydrocarbons, but also inner seas of water and ammonia.
Could this sort of thing be the norm, out there? Might roofed oceans be the most common abode of life, in the cosmos? I am only just beginning to be dazzled by the implications. Stay tuned. Keep watching this space.
...and see below for about forty cool items from a world the refuses to give up on adventures of science and progress!…
==On Complexity and the Future==
Scientists have revealed what may well be the first pervasive 'rule' of evolution. In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences researchers have found evidence which suggests that evolution drives animals to become increasingly more complex. This may at first seem obvious, but for decades, biologists have preached at us, on TV etc, to remember that the metazoan (plant & animal) branches of the tree of liufe are small offshoots, compared to the vastly larger number of species - and greater biomass - that remained unicellular.
An international team of researchers created an experiment in which a quantum bit of information was transported across a distance of seven meters and briefly stored in memory, the first time that both quantum memory and teleportation have been demonstrated in a single experiment.
The latest great essay on the Singularity, by Jamais Cascio.
The Wall Street Journal attempts (mildly) to do some Thinking About Tomorrow .
Set aside 18 minutes and prepare to be floored. Consensus among TED’sters is that this may be the most memorable and important TED Talk ever.
==== And now the latest misc-tery tech cornucopia! =====
Um who needs men? British scientists discover how to turn women's bone marrow into sperm. Oops, there goes Glory Season…
Freighters helped along by giant kites! (Actually, I mentioned this long ago, in EARTH! One more for the prediction wiki! In fact, I invested money in Walker Wingsail, which seemed to promise a good way to do this. (Lost it all when WW went belly up. Ah well.)
For the predictions registry. My “subvocal” input device - from Earth - is coming closer to reality.
A new sensor system that can detect dangerous airborne agents such as anthrax in as little as three minutes uses living immune-system cells genetically engineered to emit light when exposed to a particular contaminant.
Morphine’s serious side effect as a pain killer – its potential to create dependency – has been almost completely eliminated in research with mice by genetically modifying a single trait on the surface of neurons. The study scientists think a drug can be developed to similarly block dependency.
A seagoing glider that harvests heat from the ocean to propel itself is being used to explore the undersea environment off Puerto Rico. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Webb Corporation team predicts the glider could keep going on its own for another 6 months.
In honor of my late friend and colleague, the great visionary Arthur Clarke, see a series of riffs on Hal 9000.
==Transparency & Politics ==
And from the transparency front: Primary school children should be eligible for the DNA criminal record database if they exhibit behavior indicating they may become criminals in later life, according to Britain's most senior police forensics expert. Eeek. The trouble is, you won’t stop this half of it... authorities seeing better. What we still have time to do is strip authorities naked, so they’ll be careful about bothering us over what they see.
See a fascinating article about how the fall of the Soviet Union forced Cuba to do without imports of oil and pesticides/fertilizers, at first cutting the food supply. Till they adapted by privatizing state farms, investing heavily in organic, dry, no-till methods, and establishing urban plots. “Cuba stopped exporting sugar and began to grow its own food again. Within a decade, the Cuban diet rebounded to its former level without food imports or the use of agrochemicals. The Cuban experience shows that agroecology can form a viable basis for agriculture without industrial methods or biotechnology. Unintentionally, the U.S. trade embargo turned Cuba into a nation-scale experiment in alternative agriculture.” It’s not ideal by any means. Coercion is still a staple of Cuban life. Labor intensive aspects are disturbing. Meat and milk remain in short supply, though urban plots supply all of the capital’s vegetables. The solution involved partly a retreat from socialism and partly its veer into a different style.
You’d think the”Globalist” would be pro-Bush? Try this from another article. “When George W. Bush was inaugurated, the euro was trading at 94 cents, and gold cost $266 an ounce. Now they are trading at $1.52 and $985 an ounce. That is a plain vote of no confidence by global models in the Bush–Bernanke economic model.”
Outdoor pursuits, ranging from camping to hunting, have entered a persistent and growing decline since 1987. Their statistical analysis shows that the increase in video games, movie rentals and other indoor pursuits. (My boys are scouts!)
...Just a taste of things to lift your spirit in rough times, as we sit and wait for the enemies of modernity to pull their next stunt -- some new way to distract the masses and order out the tide.
StarShipSofa carries some nice readings of quality SF stories (like my own). They have posted one that’s up for a BSFA award. If you like audio tales for that commute, give a look.
For those of you who like Japanese-oriented sci fi... like monsters that stomp cities... or just cool mythology, have a look at a small webzine called Daikaijuzine.
A year ago, the Computer Graphics Society ran one of their "Grand Challenges" resulting in marvelous images, animations, and even movie trailers for Greg Bear's wonderful novel, EON.
Now, it's my turn to inspire the next of these challenges! Starting March 19, individual artists and teams have three months to illustrate moments or scenes or trailers based upon my Uplift Universe. Tell your artist friends! The results are likely to be stunning.
Speaking of animation.... See one of the coolest robots yet! And it isn’t even Japanese! RoboDog.
And that cool 360 of me in my office is back up, courtesy of the great Mark Burgess at Sandiego.com!