Dousing the Politics Lamp - a bit - here’s a survey of what progressive innovators, entrepeneurs etc are up to! Remember, leader-politicians are important, but they can only help a civilization and citizenry who are helping themselves!
But first, a challenge and a puff item:
Whatever your politics... sign a petition for the great big National Science Debate! Make the candidates tell us how they’d make the U.S. once again a leader in science & tech-innovation for improving the future.
Also see the winners the still-image part of the “Uplift” Computer Graphics Challenge. There’s a LOT of vivid, skilled and imaginative talent out there! Check Michael Dashow’s 2nd place winner. It’s not a scene from any book of mine, but it’s uplift! And way fun. And now I have an idea for this story....
Next to be judged - the "video trailers"... promos for science fiction films that have never been made... yet...
....and now more cool items... plus some "brinmaterials" at the very end.
IEEE Spectrum’s special issue on “The Singularity” is singularly worth a look. With deeply insightful articles by my friends Vernor Vinge, Robin Hanson and Ray Kurzweil... and an interactive article letting you add bionic components to a futuristic “shopping cart”... it is exceptionally useful & entertaining.
Dave McCabe writes in to say “There’s a group having a stab at doing something like your Disputation Arenas.” Another approach to improving online argument is this worthy effort. Of course this is the focus also of my Google Tech Talk. We can hope that projects like this get some leverage.
Meanwhile, GadgetTrack and other technologies that let your possessions communicate across the web are having the incidental effect of catching thieves. Ah transparency.
Brin heads into space! No... a different Brin. Google Cofounder Sergey Brin will also take a personal step into space as one of two space tourists on a 2011 private Soyuz flight. Brin has already put down a $5 million down payment towards his future flight as the first member of the newly established "Founding Explorer" group. "I am a big believer in the exploration and commercial development of the space frontier, and am looking forward to the possibility of going into space," Brin said in a press statement. (Huh! Well, maybe I can get him to take one of my books along. Grumble. “Brin in space.” Have fun Sergey! ;-)
Stefan reminds us... Sign the petition for the great big national Science Debate! Get the candidates to step forward and discuss how to make this country, once again, the leader in science and technology and innovating for the future.
Kevin Kelly’s latest article on the advantages of an era when information is infinitely copyable... and how to still make a proft.
Have a look at a summary of this year's Future in review Conference (FiRe), where Vinod Khosla was delightfully contrarian optimistic about our coming ability to develop cellulosic fuels and solar thermal energy.
"It is not every day that you get to hang out with Noble prize winners, top climatologists, renowned science fiction authors, CTOs of Fortune 100 companies, top researchers in medicine, broadband, environment, and fuels, #1 VC on the planet, friend of every Chinese leader since Mao, and more – and all within 48 hours. Well, Future in Review (FiRe) conference last week in San Diego provided such a thrill." Alas, the author of the writeup only mentions one "famous science fiction author" -- guest Bruce Sterling, who was entertainingly ornery, interviewed (by my arrangement) by the great tech artist Sheldon Brown. Um, the SF writer in residence at ALL of these conferences, organized the "Architechs CTO Innovation Challenge"!
Some fascinating companies touted or highlighted at the recent FiRe Conference? http://www.ecoverdance.com, http://www.tscombustion.com, http://www.uboost.com, http://gizmo.calit2.net To see these events as podcasts, from by the FiRe site, drop by over the course of the next few months. http://www.futureinreview.com/ And see the FiRe site for more...
But seriously, are we a community or not? If Khosla is right (and he often is) then we should be looking very closely at solar thermal companies and trying to figure out which ones are the winners. Because Khosla thinks this field will boom like crazy in just three years. Go research & report back! (Otoh, Elon Musk sees a coming surge in photovoltaics. Let’s hope this rivalry between optimists really goes!
------- behave boys! A study shows that a big part of the flight of well-traiuned women from science and technology-related fields (where trained workers are desperately needed) is not just the old choice between career/family. No, around ages 30-40 much of it seems to revolve around workplace sexism, which may be worse among nerds than in the military! So watch the jokes and innuendos and ham-handed flirting, guys. Turns out it’s unpatriotic as well as uncool.
---- Other cool horizon techs.
- an aluminum-gallium alloy which, when combined with water, releases hydrogen for energy use. Basically you buy this compact energy source, then any supply of water can be poured in to become hydrogen fuel. Although the technology is still in its infancy, envision its use as a supplemental source of energy in hybrids and diesel-electric freight trains.
- using carbon credits to cut greenhouse gases through financing the installation of anaerobic digesters on dairy farms across the U.S. The digesters capture methane (currently 10% of all greenhouse gases) released by cattle and turn it into electricity for farm use.
- new computerized pen, which captures and digitizes written text with the option of translation into other languages. Go back and touch the pen to anything it wrote (even on a regular paper pad) and it will playback any sound recorder when that text was first scribbled. I kid you not.
- cell phones will soon use their cameras to scan barcodes , which will bring up information about a product via mobile Internet, along with the ability to wirelessly purchase and ship that product.
- an Intel team in Beijing that has developed a parallel app that watches television, for those who don’t have enough time to watch TV, saying that Tivo goes only so far. The computer can create a highlight reel...
- Sensors/implants, such as “smart wireless band-aids” – biosensors in a peel & stick package with a radio and processor – can be applied throughout the body and can then talk to another device, such as a mobile phone, another piece of medical equipment, or an access point on a wall in a hospital.
----------- Refreshing candor from a capital player Anyone who thinks all capitalists are dogmatic fools should have heard Bill Janeway of Warburg-Pincus: ”People who have been [complaining] about politics and politicians and the political process, and why don’t we just let the market solve it all, are again in the process of learning why we have politicians, why we have political processes, so that there are avenues of appeal from the market – not just for the losers, when the market works well, but for everyone, when the market ceases to work at all.”
Also sobering: “We do not know how deep and long the recession will be. We know that in Japan, it was 10 years, not two years – 10 years of slump, of rebuilding the financial health of the banking system, which is still somewhat problematic... with massive amounts of bail-out money for corporations.” The crux? Markets are marvels of the Enlightenment and the greatest generators of positive-sum wealth ever seen. But they not magical and they do not work well “blind.” FIBM (Faith in Blind Markets) is armwaving Juju, incanted by fools, or else by manipulators who really want less government-based accountability, but want plenty of government handouts and assumption of costs and risks.
Ricardo Salinas-Pliego reminded us to consider the “bottom of the pyramid” and the millions upon millions of people who inhabit it, especially in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. His suite of companies, Grupo Salinas, is focused on bringing this demographic into modern financial systems, beyond microcredit, including offering accessible payment and savings systems. This is a demographic that also needs broadband, Internet access, and social action.
There are about 300 billion square feet of buildings in the U.S., and at least another 150 billion are expected to be built in the next 30 years. Additional projections: 50 billion will be demolished and 150 billion renovated – meaning that 75% of our built environment will be new or renovated. Now consider that buildings today consume 50% of energy in the U.S. in construction, operations, and maintenance, so if we can reduce demand by 50%, it will be like removing the entire transportation industry (25%) from the equation. Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects, of which Mark Foster is a Partner, is working hard to push the concept of “net zero” energy use. The annual energy budget for your building or site will be the annual incidence of its solar radiation. “Live with that,” as Mark phrased it, with good cheer. Your annual water budget will be the precipitation that falls on your site.
From 60 year China hand Sidney Rittenberg: “In 1943 Mao had applied to come to Washington to meet with President Roosevelt to talk about postwar China. An intense nationalist, he had never previously left Chinese soil. And here he was, appealing to us, to invite him to go to Washington, during the war, in 1943. And to all of this, we turned a deaf ear. We rejected his request for an invitation; we wouldn’t talk with him about loans, or about anything else. I think that if we had not been so ideologically driven – so narrow – we would not have had to fight the war in Korea or the war in Vietnam.”
We just gotta do better at foresight. At not letting dogma drive us. At believing we can make a more open and better world.
--- Ah, but in the short term?
A key hint to what’s going on is the disappearance of scores of oil tankers. Not in some thriller or sci fi plot. They are simply waiting, full, near ports. Speculators seemed to be storing oil in very large tankers and "slow steaming" them to port in a bet that prices would rise. When everyone is on the same side of the trade, the time is right for a reversal. This is especially true when there is a large potential supply sitting on the sidelines. It seems a good bet there’ll be an oil price plunge sometime soon, though a “dip” may be more like it. I wonder if it will be timed in oder to make it seem Bush or McCain were somehow responsible. Analyst John Mauldin also thinks that regulators may discourage some of the speculation that has driven up other commodity prices.
----- Critical Matters from the Transparency Front
A brilliant activist shared this confidentially: Researching chemical surveillance turned up a federal project called SensorNet. The following information was taken off the web and not yet otherwise verified, but the overall pattern is clear. The system is not merely proposed; it is being actively tested. SensorNet is planned to be the information infrastructure for a nationwide sensor web collecting of a wide variety of information with complete data integration and access by law enforcement and other government personnel at all levels: "a standards-based comprehensive incident management system available to Federal, state and local governments and the private sector for the real-time detection, identification, and assessment of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive (CBRNE) hazards." 
Purposes listed include terrorism detection, environmental monitoring, enhanced weather analysis and prediction, traffic control, aircraft surveillance, inventory tracking, earthquake monitoring, and the measurement of atmospheric gases in urban areas.  Locations planned include government buildings or bases, commercial facilities , and other "strategic sites" such as national parks and sports arenas . Some sensing would be limited in time; other locations would perform continual sensing. In the "near future", the mobile version of SensorNet will be made as small as a PDA or cell phone.
Initial testing has been carried out at "numerous" sites including Washington, DC; New York; Nashville; Knoxville; Oak Ridge; Chattanooga; Memphis; and Fort Bragg, NC. Similar tests have been done in Boston, San Francisco, and Miami. Sensor technologies are expected to include nanotechnology and MEMS; the chips to be used are planned to detect "thousands" of substances. Communication/software technologies and tools being used, or planned to be used, include Linux, XML, Java, digital certificates, peer-to-peer networking, SourceForge, Web 2.0, Second Life VR software, and wikis.
Deployment cost has been estimated at $2 billion over four years to deploy in 120 major U.S. cities. The cost is relatively low and the time relatively short because much of the proposed infrastructure is already in place (e.g., cellular towers and cellular basestations).Although the system is described as "open", this appears to refer to the architecture, not who has access to the data.
Now tell me this. If this frightens you, how do you plan to stop it? Ban or delay it, and it will only return again with sensors that are harder to detect. "Privacy laws simply make the bugs smaller." -- Robert Heinlein.
Anyway, each time something bad happens, the government will blame it on not having been able to see. These sensor nets WILL come. The only question is who will have access and who will be empowered. Again and again I explain -- the only way we'll keep a little privacy is (ironically) if we all can see. Oh, and that is how our protectors will be able to see enough to do their jobs, while remembering they are guard dogs, not wolves.
=== Misc stuff! ===
Doritos' 2008 contest winning space-ad entitled 'Tribe' was voted for by the British public The message is being pulsed out over a six-hour period from high-powered radars at the EISCAT European space station in the Arctic Circle, directed at a solar system just 42 light years away from Earth, in the 'Ursa Major' or Great Bear Constellation. The cleverly created advert features a tribe of Doritos escaping from the pack and sacrificing one of their own to the God of Salsa, as soon as there are no humans around. It can be viewed online from today at www.doritos.co.uk.
Oooog. What an image to represent us! Fortunately, to detect the signal, ET would need an antenna 25km across. Idiots.
But Bandit reports: “..just for fun ... they even have pocket protectors!!“
---- The Lifeboat Foundation discusses ways to ensure survival of human civilization vs “existential threats.” Now they are looking for a safe, capacious and reliable server to host their increasing website traffic.
Speaking of which... energy fears looming, new survivalists prepare, a la The Postman?
Along ironically related lines... are there still uncontacted tribal peoples on Earth? I have to really doubt it. Still, have a look at this.
And here are some clues as to how we might fail with a whimper. Journals Find Fakery in Many Images Submitted to Support Research. Related, of course, to what I said in The Transparent Society about “the end of photograpohy as proof.”
But then, some things Can’t Be Copied... or so Says Kevin Kelly, who explains eight "generatives," things that can't be copied and so still hold value on the Internet: Immediacy, Personalization, Interpretation, Authenticity, Accessibility, Embodiment, Patronage, and Findability.
See a plan to create autonomous, extranational retreats for the rich, in the open ocean. And yes, this is reminiscent of the "Sea State" in Earth... and an item for the prediction wiki... though the version that I envisioned was propelled by the poor and disenfranchised, while this one is apparently an endeavor by some of the world's richest men to both continue to benefit from and (when convenient) abandon global civilization. (To see another (more interesting) attempt to begin deep oceanic fish farming in a big way... with giant, 200 meter buckeyball enclosed habitats. www.hioceanictech.com)
In my new novel-in-progress, "shoresteading" is a refuge for some of the poor... laying claim to abandoned beachfront mansions, lost to rising tides.
See the nightmare “author” who runs a small POD (publish on demand) empire produing “books” that compile public source documents into tomes on narrow subjects... 200,000 of them so far.
First time an orbiting spacecraft ever caught a snapshot of another one landing.
For the Predictions wiki... "A Japanese brewery Tuesday said it was planning the first "space beer," using offspring of barley once stored at the Space Station. Researchers said the project was part of efforts to prepare for a future in which humans spend extended periods of time in space -- and might like a cold beer after a space walk." Well, it’s not exactly the “Slingshot” brew I describe in “Tank Farm Dynamo,” but still....
---- Hugh Pickens writes "Researchers report that brain activity can be used to predict the likelihood of someone making an error about six seconds in advance, with gradual changes starting as much as 30 seconds ahead of time. The team used an imaging machine to scan the brains of a group of volunteers who performed a task in the presence of distracting information. When performing correctly the volunteers' brains showed increased levels of activity in those parts associated with cognitive effort, as would be expected. However, these areas gradually became less active before errors were made and at the same time another set of regions in the brain became more active. These regions are part of a so called "default mode network" and show increased use when people are resting or asleep[PDF]. While imaging machines are far too big and complex to be used in workplaces to monitor the brain activity of people engaged in important tasks, the team hopes to correlate errors to changes in electrical activity in the brain with electroencephalography (EEG), using electrodes placed on the scalp. If EEG features can be found that correspond to the change in brain activity, then a hat that gives warning of an imminent mistake might one day become reality. Could of used that hat while dating! Brrrrr!
------- If you aren’t an Ayn Rand fan, but have done the requisite reading (because she IS important enough to read), you will find this astonishingly consistent and cogent and biting and well worth the time. If you are a devotee... you may not be amused.
Blogunity member Tracy McSherry does motion-capture animation. See his latest - a funny satire of the Clinton-Obama debates.
And that will just have to do for now...
"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich." JFK - January 20, 1961
ADDENDUM of brin-focused matters:
While we're at it, like audio-told tales? A bright and fun site for science fiction audio podcasting is Tony Smith’s Starship Sofa where one of my shortest works (precisely 250 words long) has just been posted. To hear just the (very short, but complicated) story, click.
Meanwhile, one of my speeches has been podcast. In this one -- between allergy sniffles -- I talk about "Horizon Analysis" while dealing with a world of accelerating change.
Were any of you among those I sent copies of Colony High part one: Sky Horizon, (by email) to critique? We’re still interested and if you finish that one, a select few will get to read an early draft of New Mojave.