Sunday, September 26, 2010

End Times? Glimpses from Jon Stewart to Limbaugh...

Every generation had legends of a coming downfall. Whether you call it The End Times, Armageddon, Apocalypse, Doomsday, Ragnorak, The Population Bomb or 2012....we've long been fascinated by prophecies of devastation and doom. What is fiction, and what is possible? And how can modern civilization can start limiting the risk?  I give ten thoughtful mintues of summary.

EndWorldNow, do you want a similar topic, presented at manic speed? Offering dozens of unusual perspectives and provocative ways of viewing the human predicament? And did I mention manic speed?  Fasten your belt and tune in to my talk at TEDxDelMar: The Big Question of Existence: Can technology empower freedom and human survival? Compressing all of that into just seventeen minutes!

And while we’re on the subject... What bullets have humans dodged…and which could explain the Great Silence in the cosmos? Cosmic Accidents: ten lucky breaks that may have enabled humans to exist


Oh now this burns!  I was fully supporting Jon Stewart’s “Rally for Sanity” and urging people to go attend and have fun while standing up for reason, moderation, negotiation, and vertical foreheads, on October 30 on the National Mall in Washington DC. 

...until I saw THIS BLATANT STEAL of the title - and presumably most of the contents -- of my award winning international best-seller EARTHIn fact, I am SO ANGRY that I am now urging people to attend instead Stephen Colbert’s Rally for Fear... on October 30 on the National Mall in Washington DC...

... Take THAT Stewart!  (Heh, I can just picture how he’s fuming in humiliation, right now.)


Ah, but some people are willing to grant this far-seeing visionary some cred!  ”What do scientists think about seeing their fields of research pulverized by science fiction? We asked researchers from diverse fields to tell us whether any science fiction gets it right.”  Lo and behold, a few high quality names get dropped.

Ah, but not everybody is so wise.  Take the Backfire Effect. When some individuals are confronted with evidence that contradicts their beliefs, they begin to hold even more strongly on to these beliefs. Both sides of the political spectrum have been guilty of this puzzling effect. I suspect it has something to do with ‘circling the wagons’ – going into defensive mode when faced with an onslaught, and preparing for an offensive attack.

And on the Transparency Front: here’s a cool article about the current state of portable video cameras that can record - and re-transmit for safety - video on the spot... whether you are snapping a fast breaking event, or a questionable arrest, or that special moment...

Think you know where the future is going? Make a prediction and register it on this site -- which predicts progress over the next hundred years in science, technology, transportation, population. They predict a United States of Africa in 2026... and...


Zoom from the edge of the universe to the quantum foam of spacetime and learn the scale of things along the way!  (This one is way better than some of the other "powers of ten" presentations out there.)

Researchers at Sun Yat-Sen University in China have demonstrated a way to record on ferromagnetic films using laser-assisted ultrafast magnetization reversal dynamics. The development will allow for practical use of new technology for recording more than 6,000 terabits (6 petabits) of data on a single 5-inch disc.

U.K.-based Reaction Engines’ Skylon plane is designed to take a 12-ton payload  of cargo and passengers into space from a conventional airport and return them back down to the same runway. The concept for the Skylon is based on a synergistic air-breathing rocket engine (SABRE) that uses jet propulsion to reach the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere.

See a study of more than 4000 British children to pinpoint the genes and genetic combinations that influence reasoning skills and general intelligence. The researchers believe their work could eventually lead to genetic tests to predict babies’ academic potential.

I just saw this weird film on TCM.  Note the main actor... and the language spoken by all the actors!

Any Book of Revelations fans, out there?  Have a look at this “beast.”

And now... while craziness is on my mind... let’s look at today's raving equivalent...


Good lord, it is now totally explicit:

“The four corners of deceit: government, academia, science and media. Those institutions are now corrupt and exist by virtue of deceit. That's how they promulgate themselves; it is how they prosper.”---Rush Limbaugh

A must-read appraises the ever-spiraling, skyrocketing War on Science.   Nature 467 , 133 (09 September 2010)
Anyone who thinks we are in anything less than phase three of the American Civil War is a complete ostrich.

I will never again let myself be lectured to, about patriotism, by men who fantasize about riding with Nathan Bedford Forest.  When the McVeighs start rampaging, I hope we'll recognize Fort Sumter and remember Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.  A noble man who served his country in all four corners of truth: government, academia, science and media, and who wore a color we are all going have to choose, if we want to save our country, again.


Herve Leger said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dwight Williams said...

As to Stewart and Colbert...they've engaged themselves in a comedians' version of a classic military tactic: the pincer movement. That should be entertaining for its participants!

JuhnDonn said...

David Brin said... I just saw this weird film on TCM. Note the main actor... and the language spoken by all the actors!

Didn't click the link but I'm guessing the actor's a dramatic Shakespearian with a... distinctive. Speech. Pattern. And a cool album.

LarryHart said...

From Asimov's "Second Foundation":

"It is the first lesson you must unlearn. The Seldon Plan is neither complete nor correct. Instead, it is merely the best that could be done at the time. Over a dozen generations of men have pored over these equations, worked at them, taken them apart to the last decimal place, and put them together again. They've done more than that. [Emphasis mine here] They've watched nearly four hundred years pass and against the predictions and equations, they've checked reality, and they have learned.

In a rational world, every governing theory from creation-science to supply-side-economics (and on the other side, from Marxism to global warming) would actually require "checking reality" as a stage in implementaion.

If only.

David Brin said...

Gilmoure... click the link. It's amazing.

Tara said...

For those of us who missed the showing on TCM, I just realized that the "weird film" can be rented on Netflix! I just put it in my queue.

Rob Perkins said...

This was Shatner's Esperanto movie, right? The one he did right before being cast in Star Trek?

Acacia H. said...

Here's a question for my Contrary-minded compatriots out there: What technological advancements and technological adoptions do you foresee in the next twenty years? I'm working on an e-novel set in the year 2030 and was curious as to what innovations you foresee in the next twenty years, and which ones you see being adopted.

Admittedly, there would be some differences; my story's set in an alternative future where a bioterror attack late in 1996 killed 25% of the U.S. population (with a higher mortality rate for Caucasians), resulting in Whites becoming a minority among other things. (One of the biggest problems I foresee in a widescale bioterror attack is rioting and looting, especially if law enforcement and the fire department are also stricken by this attack; at some point some idiot will set a couple fires... and it'll be fire that kills the most people, rather than plague.)

Still, by the year 2030 much of the damage would be repaired. Any slowing of technological innovations would probably be fairly low-key as Europe and Asia were unaffected (the bioattack was waterborne). So technological advancements would likely continue at a good pace. And the reduction in manpower would likely encourage advances in robotics and other labor-saving efforts (I could envision "lifters" like in the movie Aliens existing within the next twenty years)

So. What do you think will be the major fields of new innovation over the next twenty years? And what effects do you think these technologies would have on society itself?

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

David Brin said...

See this:

She retracted it all... after careless words got her on the front pages.

She WAS going to be in London for my debate about SETI. Now I doubt she'll be allowed to go.

Anonymous said...

Do you think that Rush catches the irony of calling out "the media" as deceitful?

Tacitus2 said...

Aw, I was going to send you a link to that UN First Contact Lady and was indeed hoping you would get to meet her and give a few tips. But events overtook her.

I have always imagined that there is some secret list/organization that gets activated when the saucers appear in the skies. Kind of like the "Wild Fire" list from Andromeda Strain. I seem to recall your invoking a similar plot device once in a short story about people dropping out of chronological sync. Name escapes me.

Since we need to stick to fiction for now, who did the best job as First Contacter?

I figure Zephram Cochrane got likkered up and blew chunks on the Vulcan emissaries.

Dave, from 2001, kind of ended up in a zoo, which did not help anybody much.

Richard Dreyfuss seems like too much of a jerk to represent even our species.

I think Jodi Foster did a decent job, and the Men in Black appear pretty efficient. Other candidates?


David Brin said...

Tacitus... at various times I've heard hints I am on some lists. But it depends on the administration at the time.

There is one formal grouping that has a smidgen of cachet and I am a member:

See such a committee in action in FOOTFALL by niven & pournelle.

Alas, recently, Paul Davies has been making claims to be "the guy." If so, I wish he weren't so pre-assuming about the interstellar situation, so dismissive of ideas not his own, or so disdainful of science fiction. All told, three very bad traits for a guy in such a role.

I like Paul, but he needs to step back and realize that the role he wants is not one best served by premature opinion and dismissal of good sources of ideas.

David Brin said...

Admiral Mullen, keeping his and Gates's promise to "repair the Army."

rewinn said...

"...What technological advancements and technological adoptions do you foresee in the next twenty years?

Wearable medicators and mood enhancers. Gadgets that monitor and manipulate diabetics' blood sugar could lead to comparable functionality for a whole lot of conditions, and then it's just a short step to including nicotine, alcohol or THC into the mix ... for medical purposes only of course!

Naturally these would all be equipped with undefeatable failsafes and networked to monitoring systems for the patients' own good. Hilarity ensues!

Acacia H. said...

One thing I see as entirely feasible is something I saw in a computer game set a ways into the future: Mass Effect. The characters were able to "manipulate" holographic screens using gloves with tiny servos and the like built into them (memory materials, probably) that would "stiffen" and give a tactile sensation when the region with a holograph was "touched."

Another thing I see is an offshoot of Augmented Reality; wrap-around glasses that are LED screens with a microcomputer built into something the size of a cell phone. All you need is some form of keyboard (whether you use the laser-generated keyboard I believe they currently have or a fold-up pad depends on the tastes of the user) and WiFi, and you can have someone working on the computer anywhere there is space.

The only real problem with such a device would be battery power, but I suspect using nano-scale circuitry would probably lessen power requirements so that a cell phone battery could last for an hour or so powering both LED glasses and phone-CPU.

Rob H.

Ian said...

Tech in the next twenty years or so:

1. Sixthsense

2. Grid-scale electricity storage and large-scale production of zero-carbon energy at or below the current price of coal-derived electricity.

a lot of extremely clever people have been given extremely large amounts of money to solve these two related problems. I don;t know which of them will find a solution but I'm pretty sure one or more of them will.

3. Regeneration of limbs and of the central nervous sytem.

4. Average life expectancy pushed out to 100 or more.

5. natural speech interface with computers

Acacia H. said...

Here's a couple of articles that I thought might be of interest. First, a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found Athiests and Agnostics possess greater knowledge of religion than the followers of most major faiths. It mentions that the majority of Protestants were unable to identify Martin Luther as the driving force behind the Protestant Reformation, and that four in ten Catholics believe that the bread and wine in Holy Communion are supposed to symbolize the body and blood of Christ, instead of actually becoming them. (Catholics as vampires. Who knew? Heh... that sounds like the topic of an interesting short story)

The article also found that American agnostics and athiests often were better educated than believers, and that they outperformed believers with a similar level of education. I suspect it's because agnostics and athiests are less likely to accept fact on blind faith. Thus an agnostic will question political leaders, teachers, and companies and are able to alter their mindset if they learn their beliefs are wrong. It also may explain why the Republican base is so willing to just accept what the Republican leadership says despite a proven track record of screwing over their base. (Which may mean that blind religious faith is in fact a sign of Authoritarianism.)


Next, an article at Ars Technica suggests that Microsoft's dropping of its Live Spaces blogging service and replacing it with WordPress may be a sign of a change in Microsoft management practices in which non-Microsoft software is worth using. It mentions the Kin telephone as an example of how their previous tendency toward Not Invented Here syndrome proved to be their undoing, and also comments that Microsoft has stated that there doesn't need to be a second Facebook (or in other words, they're not going to try and create a competing social network in the same vein as Facebook).


Finally, we have an article on military exoskeleton technology; I must admit I rather like the description of the suit as more "Aliens" and less "Iron Man" as this is my view of how exoskeleton technology will advance. (In fact, in my own scifi stories, I had exoskeleton lifters developed for the civilian industry and then adapted for military use; it may be more accurate to have it start as a military application meant for non-combat uses that eventually was utilized for combat purposes; and the thought of powered armor or a combat "walker" (four-legged manned units that have improved stability) using an internal combustion engine to function somehow tickles my whimsy and does make a lot of sense.)

Rob H.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Re First Contact lists: I sure as hell hope Dr. Brin is on any such list, preferably near the top.

Re Near-future tech:

1. Fusion power (the long-term projects in Europe are finally starting to turn out results, and EMC2's 'wiffleball' polywell reactor has been on-track for a prototype commercial reactor going online in 2020 since the 90s, and their projected date hasn't been pushed back).

2. Cybernetic prosthetics. We already have successfully tested systems where monkeys with implanted sensors can control robot arms based on brainwave readings. The main obstacle at this point is the lifespan of the sensors, which degrade after only a few weeks, and we're taking early steps in creating nerve stimuli to simulate the different senses. By 2030 we could well have sensors that last years or decades, and provide at least a passable touch sensitivity.

3. Limited neural data interface. The same tech that allows cybernetic prosthesis control and sensory feedback would also allow an interface between our minds and electronics. Probably only a brain scanner, implanted or a wearable over-the-ear device that works similar to the prosthetic implants, taking commands from the user's thoughts, with very limited if any direct neural feedback.

4. Farming skyscrapers in cities. Not really a new tech, just an engineering challenge, but something we're likely to see before too long, especially if food supplies to the city become strained.

5. Cloning of replacement organs. This is probably something that we could do in a lab now, ethical scares aside, so cloning replacement organs or limbs would be an option.

6. Genetic manipulation of humans, particularly of developing babies to correct genetic disorders, could potentially be on the cusp of implementation and provide a talking-head recurring-controversy-of-the-week. I doubt we'll see any real implementation of this by 2030, due to ethical challenges as well as technical challenges, but I could see us being on the verge of it.

7. Early implementation of lifespan extension treatments slowing the decline of youth, mostly through supplements and hormonal replacement. Coupled with advancing medical science, it could add, say, 10-20 years to young-adult 'youth' and increase overall lifespans by 30-40 years? Average life expectancy would not go up quite that much, though, since various other causes of death are factored in, such as accidents, murder, poor lifestyle, availability of the treatments, etc.

Tony Fisk said...

Near-term predictions are often hopelessly optimistic, whereas long-term predictions are usually very conservative.

So, with tongue in cheek, my crystal ball shimmers with:
- a demonstrable theory of mind, personality, and a few of its disorders, based on neural mapping.
- an enhanced ion drive capable of moving substantial masses between planets in short timeframes.
- 'vubble' technology allowing airships to fly as Francesco Di Lana intended.
- new art forms inspired by 'tru-vu' viewing: eg 'space paintings'.
- ubiquitous (and trustworthy!) voting systems giving rise to quasi-political entities not bound by national borders.
- national blocs and communities at various stages of conversion to renewable energy sources.

LarryHart said...

and that four in ten Catholics believe that the bread and wine in Holy Communion are supposed to symbolize the body and blood of Christ, instead of actually becoming them. (Catholics as vampires. Who knew? Heh... that sounds like the topic of an interesting short story)

In Alan Moore's graphic novel "V for Vendetta", there's a scene where the V character revenge-kills a priest by forcing him to swallow a cyanide-drenched communion wafer.

The police investigating the murder scene explain the whole doctrine of transubstatiation--that the wafer is supposed to turn into the Body of Christ, no matter what it was made out of ahead of time, but "when it hit his stomach, it was still cyanide."

Rob Perkins said...

that four in ten Catholics believe that the bread and wine in Holy Communion are supposed to symbolize the body and blood of Christ, instead of actually becoming them.

...thus showcasing that the survey writers and the reporters are ignorant of the nuances of Catholic philosophy which let the bread and wine remain bread and wine while (substance) also becoming the Body and Blood of Christ (in essence.)

But you'd have to be a student of Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy to really grok it, since that's the context they use to explain the doctrine.

Unknown said...

I suspect it's because agnostics and athiests are less likely to accept fact on blind faith.

Alternate theory: As people learn more about the details of their religion, they are more likely to become agnostics and atheists. Most of the atheists I know were raised in a brand of fundamentalism that emphasizes Bible study.

rewinn said...

Rob got ahead of me on the whole transubstantiation thing.

A continuing problem with Catholicism in particular is that so many doctrines are tied into pre-scientific accretions. The entire doctrine against birth control and abortion depends on notions of ensoulement that completely lack any foundation except that it made they sense to Ancient Church Fathers who had never seen an ovum. And we're stuck with it because the filtering mechanism for advancing in the Catholic hierarchy is neither piety nor intellect, but adherence to dogma.

(Pardon the Catholic Inside Baseball. I'd be willing to bet similar problems arise in comparable hierarchies. Has anyone seen the USSR lately?)

John Kurman said...


Whoa! 25% of 1996 US population wiped? That's 66 million dead! If you thought the US went insanely apeshit over 9/11, can you imagine what reaction that would provoke? You've got a lot of rationalizing to do to avoid a nuclear response. Forget any predictions based upon current trending. (BTW, Raytheon just came out with the XOS2, making the Aliens "lifters" look rather quaint).

But OK, I'll play. Assuming the bioterror attack was waterborne, I'd say it was a decapitation strike... by whom? Why? Get back to that.

Urban areas affected more than rural. In fact, a waterborne strike means without vast coordination it is unlikely a nationwide strike occurs (I"m assuming no contagion). So, only one area is hit more than others. Let's pick the Great Lakes region and the Mississippi corridor. That oughta work. I'd prefer the Eastern seaboard and DC and entire government slate-wiped so we can avoid a Nixon Response ("Nuke'em!") to bioterror.

Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Memphis, all the way down to New Orleans. I'm not sure how that works demographic-wise, but let's assume Hispanics make up the majority of the pop now per your story choice.
You've got that to play with. And now an early Old-White-Fart-Tea-Party-fearful possible backlash, ten years early.

Now what? The world is intact, so we rule out nuke response. Let's blame bin Laden. (Or Cheney). But! Replay 9-11, but with the US unable to revenge out (I cant' see unwilling). Remember the good feelings and sympathy we garnered? We get to keep that. That's the good news. Maybe the EU and China kick some butt on our behalf, but the US, with 66 million dead, is pretty much out of the kickass game. I suspect Japan might just gear up and get super vengeful on our behalf in a way that only the Japanese can do it. bin Laden's (or Cheney's) head presented in a lovely decorated box to Clinton with a respectful bow. Might even result in some weird I-Heart-the-US obsessive compulsive fashions from them.

The bad news is there are no new toys coming out of the US defense bubble. All that stuff gets developed - if it does - in the EU.

What's left? Where does the US go? Two things. I think you would see a massive effort to rebuild our manufacturing base. And I suspect we devote our talents to bioweapons and synthetic biology. Both would be in keeping with the good old American game of play Underdog, play Catch Up, and seeing our greatest strength is innovation through cross-pollination and clever hacks, play Next Big Thing.

So, in 2014, the US has tailored/cultured synthetic biofactories making lots of cool tools using proven 4-billion-year-old nanotech. The US would also have bioweapons that would make the 80s Soviet experts poop their pants in awe. By 2020 the US is, in many ways, a different kind of hyperpower. No longer projecting strength, but more like projecting creepiness, like an old haunted mansion at the end of the road - seductive in a macabre way.

The EU, Japan, and the BRIC would be much more integrated, seeing as the US market had the rug cut out from under them. Most of the tech stuff is there, but it's like domestic IKEA kind of tech. Not the flashy meth--death-metal-head tech that can only come out of a US defense bubble.

And by 2030, post-scarcity? That would be the scariest scenario, wouldn't it? E-Drugs and I-kids. Electronic telepathy. Superconducting magnetic cortex caps that allow you to change your personality. Synthetic biology enhancements similar to Borg-like nanobots. Um, flying cars.

Acacia H. said...

Actually, one thing I did have happen was the invasion (under President Gore) of Iraq, as "evidence" pointed to the Iraqis as being responsible. The Iraqis protested and even offered to allow Weapon Inspectors in but the U.S. didn't care. (I actually figured that the majority of the U.S. military would remain unscathed as the navy would be out of reach, Army water supplies are likely watched carefully, and there would have been a decent number of troops overseas in 1996 in any event.)

Naturally, the Iraqi invasion suffered many of the problems of what we faced in Iraq under Bush. Even if Gore had embraced a more intelligent plan, I suspect vengeful American soldiers would have perpetuated a number of atrocities which would have turned the nation against us.

Urban water supplies were hit with the bioterror weapon (basically a bacteria that pumped either an enzyme-inhibitor or enzyme-destroying substance focusing on neural chemicals - I was thinking dopamine with the "disease" resembling Parkinson's Disease on steroids; there are several chemicals that does this already, such as MPTP); the attack also hit bottled water companies; I figure the contamination there was caught early on, resulting in a massive recall of bottled water right when it would have done the most harm.

The death of so many Americans would likely cause a global recession as many economies (even in 1996) were dependent on the United States. The U.S. likely would relax immigration laws and probably legalize the Mexicans who had already come here illegally as the workforce was seriously depleted.

And some states would have been untouched; I suspect midwestern states wouldn't have had much in the way of contamination of their water supply. Once a cure and vaccine were created, further spread of the bacterium into other water supplies wouldn't be as horrific.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

My son & I invented something MUCH better than a keyboard for portable use!

Never had time to even apply for a patent.

As for breakthrough tech... cheap and efficient/effctive and tasty tissue-culture meat. If it can be raised one kilo per 2 or 3 kilos of grain, it will transform the world. Morally too.

Ilithi. "Dr. Brn" sounds so formal. Now that I am about to be 60, I think "Doc Brin" has such a cozy tone to it, no? ;-)

Platonic logic? Ah, I figure this oxymoron deserves a place on the list of explanations for the Fermi Paradox. If other species have sophist, hypocritical, lying rationalizers who are as persuasive as Plato was.

David Brin said...

In the scenario where the US loses 66 million, you guys forget something. We can replace population easier than anybody.

Immigration. Everybody ALWAYS want to come to America. Now throw in free housing. Demand one rule. Ethnicities cannot concentrate. They must spread out and mingle, and thus be forced to learn English.

Do it right and we are back in no time.

Acacia H. said...

Which would also lead to Caucasians becoming a minority even quicker. It's something I contemplated in the story, and figure that much like Democrats couldn't say no to Bush after 9/11, Republicans would be unable to say no to Gore after the Christmas Plague. I do see reduced tax revenues making rapid repair of burned sections of cities improbable, which would allow squatters and the like to settle into there... resulting in a future conflict between urban elements and police... and then military.

Rob H.

rewinn said...

"...Immigration. Everybody ALWAYS want to come to America..."

Leading, perhaps, to a conspiracy theory: that it was all done by the Zoroastians to enable them to come to America.

C'mon, you know that someone would use this in a campaign for power. Of course, in true novelistic fashion, Our Hero Uncovers The Truth: but in a World Gone Mad, can he Do The Right Thing?

Acacia H. said...

The irony is... the plague was a conspiracy. But it wasn't about political power so much as corporate power... and the player behind this ended up on the short end of the stick due to some of the other issues that arose as a result of the Christmas Plague (the emergence of people with extrasensory abilities as a result of the cure, which a rival company put out right when the CEO behind the plague was assassinated by a time traveler).

Amusingly enough, this is just background material that doesn't make it into the e-novel I'm writing. Though I did consider it for prequel stories set during and right after the Plague....

Rob H.

John Kurman said...


I honestly don't see such Robert's scenario taking shape in any peaceful manner, due to one thing that everyone has avoided. Xenophobia. We Americans have a long and storied tradition. Given the completely psychotic reaction Americans have demonstrated from attacks on our home soil, coupled with (in Robert's scenario) an intact military, I don't see any possibility of very big smoking holes appearing in the Earth's crust soon after 66 million American dead. Geez, people wanted to nuke Mecca for 3000 dead...

And, even if we somehow avoid that scenario, I really don't see us welcoming foreigners to our shores. More likely scenario over Comeback America is a permanently and seriously deranged 8 Million Pound Gorilla version of North Korea.

Rob Perkins said...

Didn't say platonic "logic", I said platonic "philosophy".

Acacia H. said...

Xenophobia would be a short-term problem. Given that war with Iraq happens soon after the bioattack and evidence that strongly suggests Iraq is the culprit, the transfer of aggressions to Iraq would be quickly and easily done. Given that Al Gore isn't exactly an idiot, I could see him pushing through immigration reform to "bring in needed workers to rebuild America" and then market it as such... but not to bring in a huge number of people initially.

There would also be several different sources of conflict for people to attach to. First, hatred of Iraq. Second, fear of the "paranormals" (which the government would try to lessen and their involvement in stopping two of the planes in the 9/11 attack (with the other two shot down) would turn from "Other" to "heroes"). Third, patriotism. And given there would be very little unemployment at this point seeing that anyone with the ability to work would be hired to fill the voids left by so many deaths, there would be less reason for xenophobia.

Rob H.

rewinn said...

If it's a water-bourne plague, would it not be especially damaging to runners and others who hydrate frequently, but less so to those who habitually boil their water before drinking - that is to say, would there be a resurgence of Tea Parties?

Acacia H. said...

I don't know. I'm not sure as to the effect boiling of water would have on solutions of MPTP or similar chemical molecules. It's secondary though; the actual plague killed fewer people than died in the fires that resulted from looting; or rather, it contributed as the people couldn't quickly escape burning buildings... and there were undoubtedly some people who thought they were going to die and killed themselves when they realized they were sick.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

All right, I gave in and got a twitter account.

Tony Fisk said...

I've been mulling over twitter for a while.

It seems like a bit of a gimmick (Must be gettin' old!)... except that people appear to vanish into it!

Tony Fisk said...

A neat gadget:

Low Pixel Qi screen is readable in broad daylight. Now with USB/wireless connection

sociotard said...

Could this be the template for all modern science journalism?

(It's funny)

Tony Fisk said...


Tim H. said...

This is worthy of your attention:
Not that I think the current generation of democrats offer much of a solution, too many possibilities have been forbidden by pressure groups, but they're quite a bit better than republicans.
"priess", affordable Chinese Toyo-copy.

Tim H. said...

And this is amusing:
A minecraft user building the Enterprise-D in the game.

Marino said...

mostly OT, but

Dr. Brin wrote

until I saw THIS BLATANT STEAL of the title - and presumably most of the contents -- of my award willing international best-seller EARTH.
did you read any of the Weber's Safehold series? A human colony world forced to stay low tech in order to avoid genocidal and powerful aliens, featuring an Alexandria Enclave quite similar to Biblos...somehow Jijo came to my mind...

David Brin said...

Nick B just wrote:

Just saw this webcomic regarding the controversy of the DADT policy of uplifted dolphins in the military. Thought you'd be interested though doubtlessly I'm not the first person to inform you.

Tim H. said...

Something interesting on polywell fusion:

The link at was labeled "Results and Final Conclusions" Sounds positive to this SF reader & shade tree mechanic.

Tim H. said...

Agghh..., apologies.

Ilithi Dragon said...

EMC2's Polywell reactor design just bumped up several notches in my already-high estimation of its likely success. Great news!

I can work with Doc Brin or Doc. I maintained the use of Dr. Brin because, frankly, it felt disrespectful not to. My only regret is that I could not work in a "Yes, sir." Don't call me 'sir.'" "Yes, sir." joke.
} ; = 8 P

David Brin said...

Sorry to bring the political lamp above a low simmer, but one of my facebook correspondents made a posting I thought I should also share here:

Chuck Gannon says: I am indebted to David for bringing up this issue, and I feel so strongly about it--and what it represents--that I'd like to pick out a couple of quotes from the larger citation.
---------------------citation begins---------------------

RUSH: You know, folks, the two universes here -- The Universe of Lies, The Universe of Reality -- they don't overlap anymore. And this is even bigger than global warming, which was my point yesterday. It's about everything that the left is involved in. What this fraud, what the uncovering of this hoax exposes, is the corruption that exists between government and academia and science and the media. Science has been corrupted. We know the media has been corrupted for a long time. Academia has been corrupted. None of what they do is real. It's all lies! It is all oriented toward a political outcome. It's bigger than global warming. And of course science has been corrupted here. Science is being used for political purposes.

It always has been, but this is a new low -- or a new high, depending on your perspective. But what they have done here is now make it reasonable to doubt everything some scientist says who gets government money from somewhere. And if you know what's good for you, if you know that they're leftists, you won't believe anything they say any time, anywhere, about anything. Their ideas are so hideous, are so insidious, so anti-free market, that they have to dress their ideas up in a phony cloak of compassion: Saving the planet, saving the polar bears, saving the water, saving the earth, saving whatever it is. "Saving the poor," while they destroy the poor. It just infuriating. So we have now the Four Corners of Deceit, and the two universes in which we live. The Universe of Lies, the Universe of Reality, and The Four Corners of Deceit: Government, academia, science, and media. Those institutions are now corrupt and exist by virtue of deceit. That's how they promulgate themselves; it is how they prosper.

------------citation ends----------------

David Brin said...

Chuck continues:
Unless my read of this is entirely wrong (and I have assiduously sought any logical semantic alternatives), it seems that Limbaugh is stating, repeated and explicitly, that his comments are now no longer merely about the climategate elements that were the subject of the initiating broadcast, or even specific professional entities which control this and related investigations: he is derogating every expression of these four ‘estates’ within the American culturescape. The one limiting clause he includes is “if you know that they're leftists,”—and how do we know that? Why, Rush Limbaugh not only creates the taxonomy, but provides the eye of discerning and final categorization. So if you get a safe pass on the Limbaughmeter political scale, you’re okay?

I confess that I had ceased to listen to the extreme voices a while ago—the extremes of both camps. But I cannot help see perilous parallels between Limbaugh’s exhortations and those of infamous autrocrats of the last century. This is what Hitler advances in the wake of Mein Kampf. The only good media, the only good science, the only good academics or intellectuals are the ones that serve the interests fo the Fatherland—and he indicates that he is the sole reliable arbiter of that criterion.

Note that I do not mind the part of Limbaugh’s rhetoric that is critique—whether validated or not.

HOWEVER, when he encourages people to believe (my caps) “NONE of what they do is real. It's ALL lies! It is ALL oriented toward a political outcome.”—I can only say that if he were in my classes, I’d have failed him—along with the wild leftist students whose zeal equally compels them to express themselves in absolutes such as “None. All. All.” Which is what Rush did: those three absolutes, successively, in each sentence.

Really, Rush? All? ALL?!!! Damn—when did I become part of the “leftist conspiracy?” Which is odd, because I am not a leftist.

But, since I suspect Rush would find me wanting in his own version of a political correctness test, I guess I AM one of these Leftists, then. Why? Well, because RUSH said so, of course. I’m too blind to know my own intents, opinions, and motivations, I guess. And I guess none of what I do is real, that it is all lies, and is all oriented toward a political outcome. Well, thank god Rush was there to awaken me from my brain-washed stupor!

I don’t care whether Limbaugh is on the left, right OR in the center: this kind of absolutist polarizing (“either you’re with me or agin’ me), should alert any reader that this discourse has moved from an attempt to identify the truth into the realm of the proselytization of a political dogma. A fine thing, isn’t it? A man who claims to be encouraging and protecting freedom and liberty is TELLING me who and what I am, and the only things that it is correct for me to believe . . .

But what I find most depressing is that this outrageous set of comments simply got lost in the news cycle. Neither those media outlets accused of being left, nor right, nor moderate, grabbed this and held it up for all to see.


Of course I am depressed that few people... even Jon Stewart... ever go to the absolute crux.

The BIG thing showing that Limbaugh and Beck have NO credibility and that Stewart has plenty, is not about style or factual backing or anything that can be argued. It is something absolutely inarguable.

Stewart has guests. Guests who challenge him. And he clearly enjoys it. And at least 20% of his guests are people he fervently disagrees with, brought on to plug their books. Just two nights ago it was Bill O'Reilly, for heaven's sake! Huckabee and McCain and even #$%#! Bill Kristol have been on, at least 3x each.

Whatever other faults he might have, that proves his honestly, sincerity and intellectual courage. In contrast, Beck/Limbaugh are caged parrots.

Use THAT fact. It is demolishing.

Tim H. said...

Matt Taibbi takes on the tea party in Rolling Stone:

I suspect they'll fee even more ill-used a year from now.

Acacia H. said...

Someone needs to get on the Rush Limbaugh show and challenge him. Remind him that he'd not be getting his word out except for the work of scientists who helped set the framework for which computers and radio were built from. And when he complains about how science was not corrupt then and is now, tell him that what he needs to do then is encourage his listeners to go to college and take courses in biology, physics, meteorology, and the like, and to become scientists themselves to restore integrity to the scientific field.

And best of all? This is for the good of America. Because we need more scientists and researchers if we are to retain our edge over the rest of the world. If we let the rest of the world do all the research, then we'll be left behind and become a has-been third-world nation, left behind by China and India and Brazil.


Naturally I have an ulterior motive to that challenge. These lies are bred through ignorance. If Limbaugh actually encouraged his listeners to go to college and study to be scientists, some of them are going to learn that their beliefs? Are wrong.

In short, I want to educate the dumb ignorant masses Limbaugh and the Republicans. It's a long-term plan, but I figure it has a shot at working... and it leaves Limbaugh in a tough place: encourage his dumb listeners to become educated? Or admit he wants the U.S. to diminish and be overtaken by China and India and the like.

Rob H.

Acacia H. said...

Oh, and perhaps one moment of brightness in the dark dark places of the deep... my heavily-Republican friend complained last night (after I was telling him I hope the Republican candidate for governor of Massachusetts defeats Patrick - because the Democrats are so heavily infesting the State House and Senate that it would provide a needed check-and-balance to Massachusetts politics) that he wants to see them ALL out.

He feels the current crop of Republicans are deplorable and need to be voted out. He still feels that about the Democrats. But still. Baby steps.

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

Has Stewart ever invited Limbaugh?

I must say that, from that sampling, L's rhetoric sounds like classic cultism: play to an increasingly smaller but fanatical gallery who believe in the one truth (thou shalt think as I).

To more interesting things:

Do you feel like designing a manned mission to a NEO asteroid?

Or maybe get gamefully employed?

Tony Fisk said...

Oh yes, and here's how to play the Gerrymander Game (with an always worthwhile commentary by Ethan Zuckerman.)

Acacia H. said...

Here's a question to ponder: what technologies will be required to actually MINE an asteroid? After all, we're talking about a probably-rotating body with minimal gravitation (thus meaning that "landing" on the asteroid would not be as easy as landing on the Moon, which is a nice stable locale with decent gravitation that rotates so slowly it doesn't matter) in an environment of extremes (but I'm going to bank on cold being the primary problem).

You have to find a way to differentiate materials harvested from the asteroid. You have to have something to STORE the materials mined. You have to have a means of transporting these materials back to Earth. This isn't something a simple space capsule could handle; a space mining vessel would likely be constructed in orbit in several pieces, much like the ISS.

The smart thing to do would be to create a replicating robot to do this. Have it make a dozen copies of itself and send it to several asteroids to return materials back to the Earth. The problem is we don't have much knowledge on zero-gravity (or micro-gravity) manufacturing, especially on a larger scale. Thus we would need to design a micro-gravity factory (which is where the ISS would come in handy as a source of power and something to attach it to) to experiment with micro-gravity manufacturing.

So. How much would something like this cost? Is this something that only a large nation could handle? Or could a large multinational corporation foot the bill? If you think of it, the amount of minerals that could be harvested from even a relatively small asteroid could easily become a jackpot providing massive profits once the materials are returned to Earth. If Boeing (for instance) managed to harvest an asteroid, then it could sell a good portion of the materials and use the rest for its own manufacturing purposes and not need to buy most minerals for years.

The problem being convincing your shareholders to take the long-term risk, because mining an asteroid won't be something done in a month. It'll take several months to reach the asteroid, several months to mine it, and then a significant amount of time to RETURN the larger quantity of materials to Earth (unless you built a mass driver into the mining ship and "shot" harvested metals back at the Earth; it doesn't even have to be tremendously fast, just fast enough to overcome gravitational factors and reach the Earth's atmosphere... or even (if the computations are good enough) just high Earth orbit.

This is where a skyhook would be a useful device; if you had a platform hanging in the sky allowing transport from the upper atmosphere into space or back again... then you could lower the minerals and then drop them the rest of the way.

And best of all? The skyhook could probably be built using materials harvested from the asteroids! But that would be a huge investment and it's unlikely shareholders would agree to that.

So. What level of cost do you think we're looking at here? What technologies will we need? And how long would it take?

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

I think the aim is to get there first.

Small steps, Ellie...

tingstie: a sound giving a level of authenticity.

Tony Fisk said...

If you were mining an asteroid, would you be *wanting* to return the ore to Earth?

noosine: a wave of human thought eg: Mexican (see also 'noosphere')

Acacia H. said...

It depends.

If the vast majority of humans are still on Earth, then you won't make as much profit keeping those resources in space. This is especially true if you happen to find a decent amount of precious metals such as gold, silver, or platinum. While it might be useful to build a manufacturing infrastructure in orbit, after the first few orbital solar panel facilities are constructed there is little else that can be done for profit. Thus returning that metal to Earth for use here is a useful thing.

If you're able to create a self-replicating vessel (and remember to put in limits to how many craft it makes) you may very well have a small fleet of ships sending metals and other resources back to Earth orbit. At that point you can pick-and-choose what you do.

This would also be the death-knell to the majority of conflicts in Africa - African "rebels" often will mine or steal resources and sell them to companies in exchange for weapons or supplies. If that market is undercut by orbital supplies... then you'll see the African culture of violence lose a significant source of income. Within fifty years you could see violence naturally subside to a manageable level (compared to what it is now).

Oh. There is one last thing that space mining could be useful for: geoengineering. Create small discs and send them to the Lagrange points to reduce how much sunlight we receive; if we are able to block even just enough sunlight to drop temperatures one degree Celsius... that would likely lessen the effects of global warming; at least, enough so that we'd have a chance to wean ourselves off oil.

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

Playing along, it seems to me that processing the ore should be done on site for two reasons:
1. less mass to lug around the solar system
2. extracting and refining the ore would be messy, and would likely create lots of debris, which is becoming a real concern in LEO.

Your reference to African/ME rebels makes me wonder whether they'd feel inclined to take a pop at orbiting factories/power stations to protect their 'livelihood'.

Anyway, this is all daydream. Why not try your hand at the real competition I linked to above.

dions: the residents of Gliese 581g

Tony Fisk said...

BTW. for some background information, Marc Rayman gives a detailed (if rather whimsical and waffling) discussion of how Dawn is being set up to approach Vesta next year.

Tony Fisk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Acacia H. said...

When you consider you need what would basically be an intercontinental ballistic missile to get into space and an effective targeting system, there's little chance of these rebels managing to attack orbital facilities. And I doubt unless they joined together and pooled their resources that they could buy such a rocket from, say, Iran or North Korea.

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

What about ground based lasers? I think they'd be fairly mainstream on the timescale (a few decades) we're discussing here.

Acacia H. said...

You'd need a damn good power source, and the equipment to store and then quickly release that power as needed for laser shots. And how would they get a ground-to-orbit laser cannon in any event? The ability to build one isn't exactly commonplace, and we're talking thugs who kidnap children, arm them, brainwash them, and use them to continue fighting their wars.

No. If I were to have anti-orbit actions, it would be through a rival corporation or a jealous nation-state with enough governmental and military power to allow them to build such a weapon.

Rob H.

Ian said...

Have you guys seen this:

We have the first candidate for a habitable (to use the word loosely) exoplanet.

Ian said...

This would also be the death-knell to the majority of conflicts in Africa - African ""rebels" often will mine or steal resources and sell them to companies in exchange for weapons or supplies. If that market is undercut by orbital supplies... then you'll see the African culture of violence lose a significant source of income. Within fifty years you could see violence naturally subside to a manageable level (compared to what it is now)."

violence is already reducing rapidly across Africa and economic growth there averages something like 6% a year.

This is largely due to the amssive demand for African resoruces from china and the rising commodity prices.

Space-based mining would potentially undo all that.

Ian said...

The most practicable way to attack an space facility, assuming it's in Earth orbit would be to create a cloud of space junk on an intersecting orbit.

You could do that by targeting other satellites with kinetic impactors (AKA ball bearings).

A quite small rocket could deliver them if you had sufficient precision in where they were delivered.

Or seeing as satellites now require regular course adjustments to avoid collisions you could try hacking the control systems of several com-sats and sending them on a collision course designed to put a ton of space junk in the same orbit as your target.

Burn off their whole remaining supply of manouevring fuel in the process and it'd be next to impossible to prevent the collision.

Acacia H. said...

And in some space-based news, Congress has approved a budget for NASA that kills the Constellation Moon project and tentatively sends us to the asteroids in 2025. The bill passed is the House bill which cut commercial space funding by half, but adds one last Space Shuttle mission and the design of a heavy lift rocket. (I have to wonder if SpaceX manages to get its own heavy lift design up and running before NASA does if we'll hear cries of how government programs are inefficient and that we need to privatize space and let commercial companies handle things. Basically everything the Republican Party is denying at the moment to save jobs at their home states.)

As an aside, I do think it might be in America's best interest to mothball one of the Space Shuttles and keep it on hand, along with launch materials, in case we have a sudden need for it. Designing a new shuttle would take too long, compared to pulling the craft out of mothball and sending it back to space. But there's undoubtedly problems with such a plan and storing the shuttle alone would take up a significant amount of area that could be used for other launch systems I suppose.


Also, Russian private companies are planning on launching and building a Commercial Space Station (CSS). The intent is for the CSS to be a hub for commercial activity, scientific research and development in low Earth orbit. Considering we already have Bigelow Aerospace with their inflatable space stations, we may actually see the commercialization of LEO in the next decade.

Hopefully we'll have someone come up with an effective method of clearing the clutter out of LEO first; maybe an addendum to space laws prohibiting ground-based weapon-grade lasers from being used on satellites could be passed, allowing us to start "sweeping" the region of smaller debris?

Rob H.

rewinn said...

"...: geoengineering. Create small discs and send them to the Lagrange points to reduce how much sunlight we receive..."

I don't have the awesome math skilz to figure this out, but whittling a rotating asteroid sounds interesting. Pick an asteroid or other body with a suitable orbit and rotation such that when you slice off a tiny bit, it is flung toward our earth, converting a tiny bit of the rotation into the fleck's straight-line motion.

The flecks must be small enough that the many who fall into our atmosphere just burn up. The majority would orbit ... and oops, mess up our satellites. Never mind. The asteroid shavings need to be big enough that we can attach a communications device and limited maneuvering capability, and those latter features get expensive. Maybe it'd be better just to rocket some mylar balloons from earth to LaGrange?

Tim H. said...

Shades of Niven & Cooper's Ice and Mirrors. Make 'em so they can also augment sunlight in the event of an ice age, which may be in the realm of possibilities.

Acacia H. said...

Eventually, assuming humanity survives the next hundred thousand years without self-destructing, rendering the planet uninhabitable, or leaving entirely (galactic colonization), we're going to need to develop a solar shield to reduce radiation input from the sun. Either that, or we'll need to pull a decent-sized asteroid from the asteroid belt, use gravitational slingshots to send it around Jupiter and then toward Earth... and aim it just right so it doesn't smack the planet but does pass real close and impart momentum onto our wee little world to push its orbit slowly away from the Sun.

Of the two, I suspect creating a solar shield would be safer. But the asteroid method would be useful to save our planet from the eventual red giant stage of the Sun in several billion years. (And then, once the sun's shed much of its atmosphere and started to shrink into white dwarf stage, we could always use the same method in reverse to push our orbit closer to our dead star and huddle around its cooling corpse.)

Rob H.

rxights - the rights of prescription medications to not be abused

Unknown said...

For less effort than putting a solar shield in orbit, we could cover part of the Earth's surface with mylar sheets, or just dye it white.

Unknown said...

^^ Sorry, I'm on autopilot. You're talking long-term. :)

d123daddy said...

Origins of the hookah come from India along the border of around 1500 Years ago. These hookahs were simple, primitive, and rugged in design, usually made from a coconut shell base and tube with a head attached. hookah

Ian said...

Are there practical advantages to mining a singe large asteroid as opposed to harvesting sub-metre bodies or even suing some sort of magnetic or electrostatic system to attract dust?

I think the size distribution for meteors follows a power law meaning the sub-metre and sub-centimetre objects are vastly more common.

For that matter, in the short term, wouldn't it make sense to harvest and re-use defunct satellites?

You eliminate the space junk problem and you get a supply of semi-refined material with a relatively low Delta V relative to a base in Earth orbit.

Acacia H. said...

How do we get those satellites out of orbit? If you're talking about orbital manufacturing, then yes, those satellites might be of use... but there's legal issues such as ownership. And when you add up all of the material we've put in orbit combined, one small asteroid would give us more material than tracking down and harvesting the materials in LEO.

Though I must admit some amusement to the thought of creating a tethered electromagnet attached to a decent-sized solar array and have it orbit the Earth constantly on... and pulling small debris toward it. The problem being, of course, that the stronger the current the faster it'll accelerate objects toward it... if the objects miss then they may be slung into an erratic orbit that could damage other satellites and increase the debris field, the electromagnetic field could disrupt local satellites, and once enough damage has happened to the solar array, the magnetism fades and all that debris floats free and becomes a shotgun cloud of debris.

It would be more logical to have a decent-powered laser in orbit powered by solar panels and join it to a radar array so it can effectively target small debris, calculate trajectories that heating and vaping bits of it will cause, and then hitting the debris just right to knock out of orbit. The problem being that this is against international space law.

Rob H.

rewinn said...

How about wrapping a mostly-ice-but-some-rock comet in plastic (transparent to visible light, opaque to heat), with radio-controlled valves here-and-there. As the sun heats the comet as usual, the valves control the direction of outgassing, yielding a steam-powered comet to steer into earth orbit for mining (...or, in the made-for-TV-movie, the Ultimate Weapon...).

Tony Fisk said...

Heh! The steampunk crowd are going to love that concept!

Either that, or we'll need to pull a decent-sized asteroid from the asteroid belt, use gravitational slingshots to ... impart momentum onto our wee little world to push its orbit slowly away from the Sun.

My take on what to do.

matthew said...

@ian and robert

I get simply great mental pictures of giant magnetized tethers sweeping through space like a giant swiffer mop, collecting valuable metals in orbit and clearing LEO. Thanks for the mental movie.

Virtual JMills said...

You mentioned your wonderful novel "Earth"... perhaps you can save us Kindle-format readers from your publisher? :-)

We're in typo purgatory here.

Anonymous said...

The link from "Cosmic Accidents: ten lucky breaks that may have enabled humans to exist…" goes to a page with links to ten subsidiary pages.

None of the subsidiary pages can be read properly without a login.

Do not link to members-only content. If there is another link at which any random Joe can view the full text of this article, please provide it. If not, please do not tease everyone with a link that will act as a bait and switch and then demand money from people.