Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Decline -- and Future -- of Manufacturing

What if America lost its knack for making things?  A disturbing thought...

Or is there a "maker culture" revival starting? See for instance the rise of Hackerspaces around the world  -- machine shops where individuals can come together to build, share ideas and invent. Make Magazine offers resources for the DIY and maker movement -- which The Economist wrote could "change how science is taught and boost innovation. It may even herald a new industrial revolution."

Manufacturing is the root that all other projects sprout from... even the arts!  In a new graphic novel - TINKERERS - famed author David Brin combines art with a guided tour of history and tech, exploring how to win back the knack!

tinkerers_thumbI kid you not! I was asked by a major metals industry group to create a comic book set in 20 years, that discusses the many reasons for US industrial decline... and how it might come back.

A low-res preview edition is available online (if you'll spread the word!)

Set in the near future of 2024, Tinkerers portrays a small American town whose nearby river bridge -- its lifeline to the world -- collapses one day for lack of maintenance and care. Young Danny Nakamura becomes a hero, using his tinkering skills to save a busload of kids. He then goes on a quest, visiting some of the smartest people in town to ask them why and how this disaster could have happened. Did the bridge's decay and collapse illustrate a decline in citizens' ability to maintain their industry…and civilization?

Physical copies will be available soon from Amazon. Comments are welcome...

Tinkerers has its own Facebook page!

For a more academic analysis of the problem, see Producing Prosperity: Why America Needs a Manufacturing Renaissance, by Harvard Business School Professors Gary P. Pisano and Willy C. Shih.

And here’s a timely-related piece of news -- Manufacturing with every atom in its place: a scanning tunneling microscope can be used to remove surface atoms one at a time, and then add single atomic layers only to those cleaned areas.


That 90 minute audio interview I gave last month, for Jay Ackroyd’s BlogTalkRadio (in conjunction with an event on Second Life), is now available on podcast. 

More specifically about the topic of Extraterrestrial life - here's a podcast and interview I gave to Tom Fudge of KPBS radio.

See a fan’s way-cool visual bibliography of my works.

=== And Science! ===

Cancer is a modern, man-made disease (?) caused by environmental factors such as pollution and diet, a study by University of Manchester scientists has strongly suggested. A study of remains and literature from ancient Egypt and Greece and earlier periods — carried out at the University of Manchester’s KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology and published in Nature — includes the first histological diagnosis of cancer in an Egyptian mummy. Ummm....

Paul Davies argues for a one-way manned mission to Mars, where astronauts plan to stay for the rest of their life, setting up a permanent colony, representing a commitment to space and a return to the can-do spirit of exploration "To Boldly Go: A One-Way Human Mission to Mars" (Appears in the often-bizarre “Journal of Cosmology.”)

A terrific cartoon exploration (in a sci-fi'ish vein) of some fun philosophical quandaries.  Hilarious... and a bit of a take on the concepts in KILN PEOPLE.

James Cameron will take moviegoers back to Pandora in a pair of Avatar sequels (actually prequels) that he promises will deliver the same visual and emotional impact as the original sci-fi smash.”  Whine groan and gnashing of teeth!  Not because I begrudge Cameron... he gave the world a terrific romp and unleashed new technologies that will probably get talking dolphins onto your screens (or holo tanks) within the decade!

No, what upsets me is that I have a LOT to say about Avatar, both good and bad, that I’ve been putting off.  Thoughts that Mr. Cameron really ought to ponder... even if he chooses to reject my advice. (A fellow who has given us so much is entitled.)  I had hoped to put it off for a I dunno. The issues are pretty darn important. Cameron is trying to teach lessons that aren't getting through... and won't, so long as he makes some basic polemical mistakes.

Research at the University of Chicago indicates that a clenched fish can help deal with stress, anger -- and concentrates the mind away from negative actions.

what-technology-wantsWhat Kevin Kelly says about his wonderful new book, What Technology Wants”What I learned from writing this book is that I want to minimize the amount of technology in my own life while maximizing it for others. I want the largest pool of choices possible so that I can select a minimal set of  highly-evolved tools that will optimize my gifts. At the same time I have a moral obligation to maximize the amount of technologies in the world at large so that others may also select their minimal set from this ever growing pool of possibilities.”

Gregory Benford ruminates, entertainingly, about the prospects for extended life through cryonics.  He leaves out some factors, alas, like the odds that people in future generations would want to thaw you out and bring you back!  They’ll be the ones with the power, right?  In that case, your top priority should not be stashing “investments” to mature and make you rich in the 25th century.  It should be to make a better world that will be filled with future folk who are rich and wise and generous... and who might possibly recall - with some gratitude - the efforts that you contributed.  To solving problems in your own time, and making a civilization worthy of the name.

The founders of Recorded Future, a new Boston area start-up, believe there is value in applying Google-like search capabilities and a simple interface to a tightly constrained set of data: occurrences that are expected or predicted to happen tomorrow and beyond.  It looks fascinating and (at last!) a fresh break away from the over-hyped realm of Prediction Markets.

200px-Eaarth-coverSince he first heralded our era of environmental collapse in 1989's The End of Nature, Bill McKibben has raised a series of eloquent alarms. In Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, he leads readers to the devastatingly comprehensive conclusion that we no longer inhabit the world in which we've flourished for most of human history: we've passed the tipping point for dramatic climate change, and even if we could stop emissions yesterday, our world will keep warming, triggering more extreme storms, droughts, and other erratic catastrophes, for centuries to come. This is not just our grandchildren's problem, or our children's--we're living through the effects of climate change now, and it's time for us to get creative about our survival.

Bacteria R Us : Are we being manipulated by our bacteria? Ninety percent of the cells in your body are bacteria, not human cells. These bacteria appear to coordinate and even ‘communicate’ among themselves (termed quorum sensing), to manipulate the chemistry of their environment.

Half the world’s population burns biomass to cook food, contributing to deforestation & global warming. Solar cookers may be part of the solution: in Africa women & children spend 3-4 hrs gathering a day’s supply of firewood & often resort to animal dung (fumes cause respiratory problems). Solar cookers can be used to make water potable, reducing disease, improving life in refugee camps.

Dolphins uplifting themselves? In Australia, a group of river dolphins has learned to walk on water, by rapidly paddling their tail fluke. The first dolphin learned during an episode in captivity; she taught others, who passed on the technique –just for fun. An example of cultural transmission in the wild.

Why complex life probably evolved only once: the key step may be in forming complex eukaryotic cells – the more complex the cell, the more problems generating enough energy.  In fact, I consider these authors to be foolish. Cells have incorporated other cells many times, not just once.  

Just released: Alex Lightman’s new book, Reconciliation – offering 78 reasons why we should end the U.S. embargo of Cuba. After fifty years of a failed policy, it’s time for a fresh start. Mind you I think Fidel Castro needlessly jumbled needless autocracy with a socialist experiment that could have (alas) been tried in good faith, in the most favorable of all conditions. We (humanity) never got to see the experiment, because he gave in to human delusional temptations that any astute reader of history should have known, and avoided... but that very few powerful men ever do, on their own.  Having said that... it is simply time. Open it all up. FLood that island with tourists and good and light and returning-rich-emigres. Just do it.

Vote on Andrew Burt’s ad hoc “what’s the best idea” site... and maybe win $75!


A crew from the Colbert Report just spent 7 hours here in my home, asking about alien invaders!  I tried to stay "calm & mature" but I'm sure they'll edit-for-humor.  Heck, I love the show (and they gave me great schwag!) So I guess they can make me look dopey in a good cause.... ;-)


Tacitus2 said...

A clenched fish?

I was rather hoping to read about that but the link did not work.

One of my favorite relatives is a fisheries grad student at U. of IL. I suppose this could be a prank of his.....

or more likely a provocative typo.


David Brin said...

Argh! Fist!


Tony Fisk said...

Clenched fish is a wonderful egg-corn.
Sounds like the Swedish fish-slapping dance was going on in the background!

wrt Cameron. Let that be your next post (after all, an Amazonian elder has already prompted him to re-write his draft once!)

womines: Topics a male touches on at own risk!

Stefan Jones said...

DB, be sure to send a review copy to some of the MAKE folks. This seems like a natural for them to review.

rewinn said...

May I suggest linking the "Tinkers" image to the low-res web version?

As to the content - I understand and sympathize with the lesson. I'd like to see it done as a manga ;-) since, as noted, we tend to lean adolescent.

Ian said...

I'm only part way through Tinkerers and there are a great many things I'm inclined to take issue with.

In passing, I'll point out that America's "entitlement culture" hardly seems to be an issue when government welfare spending is amongst the lowest in the developed world.

But one thing stands out: "Science fiction was you cultures greatest gift to the world", a comment made in the context of discussing The hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

By Douglas Adams.

An Englishman.

Like HG Wells,Arthur Conan Doyle; Olaf Stapledon and John Whyndham,.

François Marcadé said...

I think you are much too pessimistic. For my daughters, I have chosen the American curriculum. The main reason was that it was 500 m from our door, but I was more than willing to give the American school a try as I had the chance to be a graduate student at OSU (I read the postman knowing that I would be studying in Corvallis the next year). I am more than satisfied, I am enthusiastic. Not only are my daughter happy to ge to school, they are really engaged by what they learn. Last month, my elder in grade three was doing a ‘Unit of Inquiry’ about the Inventions; she had to design one on her own. I might not be convince that there is market for a sort of rake to pick up the cloth fallen in the closet without bending, but it was her idea and she defended it (I just showed her how to draw it on AutoCad, she got extra-credit for the AutoCad drawing). In France we were doing science because it was the most selective path and our parents were pushing us, most of us did not show much enthusiast just a dull resignation that if you were good at math you would have more choice in the end. I much prefer the American Curriculum education my daughters are receiving and I think one of them (if not both) could choose a Science or Medicine path of her own will.

Tony Fisk said...

Hmmm! So how long as Tinkerers being brewing, then?

(Ian... when you've finished, check out the transegrity bridge... in Brisbane!)

Not to be snarky about it, but I've often noticed a certain (quite unintentional) insularity in the American outlook, even from people who really do know better. I think it's to be expected when you are a dominant culture exporting your ideas... others receive yours and (usually) retain their own (eg: while based in America, I noted that we Aussies were far more able to understand American colloquiallisms than Americans were able to understand ours, even when we didn't think we were talking colloguially!)

(Maybe that's it!? A proud imperium ceased to import ideas? Ask around! You'll get pieces of the answer! ;-)

tanista: a card game, played in the sun, whose object is to find out what wen wrong

Ian said...


It looks like crap and ignores fundamentals of human engineering like shade and water fountains for pedestrians.

It also connects the arse end of the CBD with the arse end of South Brisbane.

An upgrade to the Captain Cook Bridge's pedestrian walkways would have delivered the same benefits for a fraction of the cost.

Carl M. said...

Ahhh, Avatar...It always makes me groan when someone spends a gazillion dollars to make a terrible movie. Yes, first world resource companies do bad things in third world countries oftimes, but they don't speak in the cartoonish "I'm a bad guy" dialog used in Avatar or an old Saturday morning matinee serial. And usually, the real baddies are locals, use exploit their neighbors using/to get funds from the bad companies.

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes did a more realistic job of portraying the military. (At least the research base scenes.)

John Kurman said...

Avatar: haven't seen, probably won't. I'll wait for a good movie, with a good plot, and fleshed-out characters to come out using that tech.

The NYT has an interactive graphic for solving the budget crisis. It took me all of one minute to get a 200 billion surplus in 2015. Of course under my plan, rich elderly white voters would be constantly clenching fish, but what's a few unhappy fish?

FYI: My solutions are 39% taxes increases and 61% spending cuts. I raised eligibilty age to 70. I'd prefer to do it one year per year, but some would consider that draconian. I also gutted the military, but kept "other federal spending in place" (you know, R&D, science?) and kept aid to the states in place (because, you know, state's righters, the states are basket cases that make Fedgov look like a well-oiled incorruptible machine). I would like to eliminate federal jobs that "do not create wealth", but I think executing Congress en masse is unconstitutional.

Mitchell J. Freedman said...

How do you see Tinkerers as a continuation of the point raised in Player Piano by Vonnegut? I am very glad to get Tinkerers for a new generation to understand the implications of us not being able to buy what we build and build what we buy.

And do I further understand that you are now more sympathetic to economist Dean Baker's attack on trade agreements that beggar workers in the nations partaking in the agreements, while providing protectionist policies for the wealthier professional worker?

Patricia Mathews said...

"Gregory Benford ruminates, entertainingly, about the prospects for extended life through cryonics. He leaves out some factors, alas, like the odds that people in future generations would want to thaw you out and bring you back! They’ll be the ones with the power, right? In that case, your top priority should not be stashing “investments” to mature and make you rich in the 25th century. It should be to make a better world that will be filled with future folk who are rich and wise and generous... and who might possibly recall - with some gratitude - the efforts that you contributed. To solving problems in your own time, and making a civilization worthy of the name. "

Bujold just tackled that in her latest novel "Cryoburn". One memorable character is an old fart who was unfrozen at the end of his contract and grumbles incessantly about the non-utopian future that has less place for him than his own time did. It also postulates housing being built (due to customer demand) as generational cohort modules - for instance, a new development marketed to people being born between 130 and 150 years ago.

Of course, there's a murder mystery and a political corruption plot, with the point made repeatedly (by characters speculating on the latest possible dirty deeds) that cryonics offers a lot of opportunities for both!

Acacia H. said...

And given the more scientific-based nature of this post, I think I'll repeat my question from the previous post on speculation on the future: what do you think the face of journalism and mass media will be in 20 years? How will journalism evolve in the changing face of increased availability of cell phone cameras and the grown of amateur journalism encouraged by these hand-held cameras?

One thought that was put forward by a friend of mine is that we'll see two forms of journalism in twenty years. First, we'll see almost every "serious" journalism show vanish, to be replaced by a large number of "Good Morning America" shows. Television news will no longer be about events, but instead will be about celebrities, sports figures, weather, and traffic reports. It will have a strong tabloid format.

People who wish to peruse serious journalism will instead go online and read the blogs. Amateur reporters will likely form collectives that will organize their material, but paid professionals will be rare and far between. News will become strongly opinion-based as a result.

I still feel that we'll see a rise in non-profit news agencies. This will exist in two forms: first, we'll have partisan politic-driven non-profits. Second, we'll have government-assisted non-profits that work through organizations such as Public Broadcasting to present their views and give a more serious look at news events. (Interestingly, these non-profits may end up utilizing the amateur news groups to do the initial ground work, determine which stories are of the most interest, and follow up further on them.)


Looking at the eventual evolution of how media is presented, I believe that 3-D television is going to remain a niche product. The current spurt of 3-D movies is due to the movie industry being desperate to draw in new people with the latest tricks. The thing is, 3-D movies is a fad that appears every twenty years or so. It will vanish again.

Due to the smaller size of media hardware, be it the iPhone and related smart phones to the iPad and related tablet computers, I have to suspect that even if 3-D media were to remain around, media distributors would have to create a 2-D version as well. This would increase the cost of this media, and a lot of media distributors would have to take a look and decide which is a more economical plan that gets the most viewers?

Given that the smart phones and tablets will likely be as common if not more common as televisions at this point and that some version of Flash or related software will operate on these devices, it's logical that the majority of video will be done for a 2-D device. Expense will also likely drive other media distributors to encourage 2-D media; the quest for ever-increasing profit margins will likewise drive other companies from a 3-D venue. In all likelihood, movies would be the only media in which the added expense needed to create 3-D content is warranted, and I'm willing to bet that once the initial "coolness" factor wears off, we won't see nearly as many films created for a 3-D venue.

(to be continued)

Acacia H. said...


One possible alternative for media display would be something showcased on both the video game "The Longest Journey: Dreamfall" and "Iron Man" - that being LED displays built into windows, or built in place of windows .I'm not sure which system was in place in Iron Man - was it a transparent LED system? Given you could see through the window from the outside, that seems more likely than the entire wall being an LED that utilized exterior cameras to present a real-time picture of the outdoors.

To be honest, I'd think that the second system would be more likely for houses where some level of privacy and security is desired. If outsiders cannot look in, but someone inside wants to retain their view of the outdoors, then a massive wall LED would provide such a system. With heat dissipation systems within the wall and even a thin film of lead, most detection systems (IR and the like) would be foiled and people inside the house couldn't be tracked.

Of course, this does defeat the purpose of having a beach house, but for paranoid people safety might be more important than opening a sliding LED glass door to let in the sea breeze. ;)

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Tim H. said...

I like Tinkerers a lot, for a look at an earlier era of invention, try this:

Me, I'd nominate the folks who worry more about profit than product for blame. BTW, "Clenched fish"? Would that happen if Sam Kinisson had used a babel fish?

TheMadLibrarian said...

Robert, there was a sci-fi short story many years ago ("Light of Other Days")that featured an invention called 'slow glass'. It captured images of whatever was on the other side and stored them internally in some fashion, to release them months or years down the road. Panes of it would be set up facing some particularly attractive vista for several years, then sold for incorporation into buildings without views (I wonder if there was a market for recycling those windows once the pretty view ran out and they showed the trash-filled alley?) LED windows are a step down that road.

DH and I have speculated on using this effect in Vegas. The Hilton had a long running Star Trek attraction that closed after nearly a decade; unheard of in Vegas and a testimony to the dedication of its fans. You could retrofit some of the most unattractive rooms in the hotel to resemble those on board a space station or starship, and replace the windows with LED screens that showed a starfield in motion, rather than that same trash-strewn alley or parking lot.


brimpt: pixelation technology used for creating fake vistas

sociotard said...

Dr. Brin, before you go off on Avatar, you might go read a book called The Wayfinders. It talks a lot about how destruction of 'primative' cultures is not some past sin that that Neo-Western civilization needs to feel bad about, but an ongoing problem. Really, the modern problem is that those cultures face the same problems causing species loss: climate change and habitat loss.

He talks about how fast we are losing languages, and equates losing even one language to burning a work of priceless art.

He mentions the Penan of Borneo, and how even now they are being forceably relocated. They live in the forest, and government and industry want to set up timber operations on land that they've lived in for hundreds of years.

Consider the tribe that was recently found in Papua New Guinea. What do you think will happen to them. Do you think that the local government will redraw their borders so that this tribe can be recognized as its own nation? Or is it more likely that the tribe will be expected to live under Papua New Guinea law?

In the past, your comments have been that just showing movies about things like Avatar is evidence that the Neo West is better than that, and that we want to help people. I say it is evidence that we have become good at makeing ourselves feel better by talking about how sad it is that something bad happened. We're less like a fire truck fixing a problem and more like a crowd of onlookers passively watching the scene unfold.

gwern said...

> Gregory Benford ruminates, entertainingly, about the prospects for extended life through cryonics. He leaves out some factors, alas, like the odds that people in future generations would want to thaw you out and bring you back! They’ll be the ones with the power, right? In that case, your top priority should not be stashing “investments” to mature and make you rich in the 25th century. It should be to make a better world that will be filled with future folk who are rich and wise and generous... and who might possibly recall - with some gratitude - the efforts that you contributed. To solving problems in your own time, and making a civilization worthy of the name.

Ootzi the Ice-man contributed jack squat to the modern world. Yet 1000 academics would give their left nut to revive him.

> The founders of Recorded Future, a new Boston area start-up, believe there is value in applying Google-like search capabilities and a simple interface to a tightly constrained set of data: occurrences that are expected or predicted to happen tomorrow and beyond. It looks fascinating and (at last!) a fresh break away from the over-hyped realm of Prediction Markets.

Didn't watch the video, but read the article. It seems to basically be an indiscriminate grabbag of predictions made by any joeschmoe. With no track record, judging, or weighting on accuracy. THIS IS WORTHLESS.

People in general are hugely inaccurate and uncalibrated. Prediction markets work only because money talks and bullshit walks. Even large groups self-tracking their calibration are still inaccurate - notice how far's users diverge from the ideal:

Tony Fisk said...

Ian, thanks for the assessment of the 'man on the spot'.

I haven't delved into the bridge design in any detail (just noted that the end of Tinkerers refers to it as the largest example of its type)

wrt connecting arse ends. It's worthwhile noting that arse ends may be what they are *because* they lack connectivity.

I am aware of the criticisms that can be levelled at Avatar. I would dearly like to tinker with the developing storyline (and isn't 'don't bother fixing' part of a greater problem?)

Since we're talking science and films (and looking sideways at decline and religious fundamentalism), has anyone seen 'Agora'? Rachel Weisz is always cool, plus she gets to play an Egyptian librarian with *brains* this time round!

ferte: a smell that no one notices.

duncan cairncross said...

Hello Dr Brin
Loved the Tinkers

I would have put in a bit about the failure of the US constitution to evolve resulting in a system that became too easily "captured" by the big money interests and too difficult to reform

On the education facet I would have talked about the immense distraction caused by professional level sport in education
(At Glasgow University we had 10,000 Scots but no “Jocks”)
And also about something I saw when I lived in America –which is contrary to perceived wisdom but very visible in Hollywood portrayal of schools
There is an incredible pressure to conform in American schools, much much more than in the UK or NZ
I believe this peer pressure contributes a great deal to the lack of performance in international tests

Tacitus2 said...

I too liked Tinkerers. Never mind that the plausibility of modifying a jet pack to an oxyacet torch strains credibility...

Actually it should but does not. I start my annual middle school level robotics class next week. Lots of the kids literally do not know how to use a screwdriver.

The guy who got me started in robotics was very much a renaissance man. He told me:

"America was once a nation of tinkerers and inventors. Now we have become a nation of.....pyschology majors."

For the cause.
(clenched fish raised high)


David Brin said...

Ian, the entitlement culture riff was one character's view. I had them arguing!

"Your culture" was more than just America.

Francois, too few Americans relize that there is a Yang aspect to our educations system. It is not all Yin (bad).

Robert said...
And given the more scientific-based nature of this post, I think I'll repeat my question from the previous post on speculation on the future: what do you think the face of journalism and mass media will be in 20 years?

See my next novel! ;-)

Sociotard, my criticism of Avatar is not that the West has not done crimes, or even that it has stopped. It is that chiding a donkey with a stick and ONLY a stick (and a terribly cliched one, too) does not improve its morale or belief it can work to do things better.

Acacia H. said...

Need an extra proof reader? :P

Rob H.

rewinn said...

"...chiding a donkey with a stick and ONLY a stick (and a terribly cliched one, too) does not improve its morale or belief it can work to do things better."

Or, as they say, "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar ...
... and a little B.S. helps"


What I liked about Tinkerers was its Roshomon-esque multiple explainations.... although you did omit the all-important
FOtP factor.

Perhaps science fiction, such as Tinkerers, is not so valuable as a prediction of what will be (...I'm still waiting for my flying car!!!) as for a tool with which to discuss where we are and where we are going. It need not be true, so much as "truthy". If "Tinkerers" gets a few people talking about important things perhaps it will have accomplished its mission.

However, I'm not sure that the visual style was entirely successful. It was a talky, exposition-laden work. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the talky exposition, but the people who most need to be reached aren't wonky textreaders.

It needs more cowbell! That is to say: less talk more visualization. This may be a hard thing for a master of wordsmithing to read, but we have to reach our audience via the communication protocols for which they have open channels.

I say this in the full knowledge that I utterly lack the mad skilz to write, draw, video or in other ways craft such a message effectively. Have you considered Katya Foglio?

rewinn said...

One other thing, citizens: if you liked Tinkerers and think it raises important issues in a useful way, as I do, then take two minutes to recommend it to repeater nodes in your information net.

I've sent it to Thom Hartmann and and a couple of columnists at the Seattle Times. Now go thou do likewise!

Tony Fisk said...

I agree with Rewinn about the excessive talkiness of Tinkerers, and think it would have benefitted from laying out the backstory a little more.

eg: how did the various people that Danny goes to talk to get to be where they were? I know this is part of the quest, but I think a pragmatic layout could have been provided without giving away too much else.

As it is, the story comes across as a bit of a latter day 'Pilgrim's Progress', with a lot of people-shaped ethnic allegories to go see in a quest for enlightenment.

Tony Fisk said...

Another nitpick:
The bridge re-construction team turn up out of the woodwork with some pretty innovative high-tech solutions. Granted this is set in the near future but where did they come from in a nation that's 'forgotten how to make things'?

I'm sounding negative and gripy about this, I know (hey, it has airships!)

(Just remember to speak softly, and carry a big fish!)

Tacitus2 said...

I understand you did not do the artwork on Tinkerers, but perhaps had some input/insights. I have been speculating on the "templates" for a couple of characters. I think I see Morgan Freeman for instance.
And is the former Wall Street guy modeled on Peter Lorre? He seems to have come down in the world considerably, now an accountant living in a shabby walkup. Maybe in the finished version you could have the artist place a few cans of cat food on his counter the absence of real payback a little karmic jab here and there is all we are likely to get!


JuhnDonn said...

Robert said... Given that the smart phones and tablets will likely be as common if not more common as televisions at this point...

Daughter (10 years old) already watches movie and tv on her laptop and iPod, streaming wirelessly directly from our AV home server. We had picked up a second tv for upstairs (19" tv/monitor) but she doesn't use that as she likes to have something playing while she's doing something (crafts and playing outside) and not just sit in front of it. Portability for her trumps screen size. Also, she's has a year's experience tracking down her shows on various Disney/Nick/PBS websites or setting DVR and watching later. The idea of only watching a tv show when the broadcaster has it ready to go only applies to Doctor Who and new releases. Her movie/show paradigm is on-demand.

Same goes for information. She has Apple's dictionary tool always open on her laptop and it brings up results from wikipedial as well as dictionary entries.

Talk about mind blowing (to a 43 year old geek who made cardboard Star Trek terminals as a kid)! The world is at her fingertips and to her it's totally normal. I have no idea how this will shape her expectations as she grows.

Now, this is not to say that her entire generation is growing up like this. Most of her cousins (5 born within 2 weeks of her b-day; Y2K babies) have computer access at home or school and some have cell-phones but only a couple kids in her school robotics club (First Lego League), whose parents also work at Sandia Labs, are similarly wired in. So, there's gonna be a small cohort at first, who have grown up with full blown info/AV access and it's likely they'll be in position to shape the world in another 15-20 years.

Jonathan S. said...

The world is at her fingertips and to her it's totally normal. I have no idea how this will shape her expectations as she grows.

This puts me in mind of a scene in Niven and Pournelle's The Mote In God's Eye, in which Sally Fowler is trying to recall the exact wording of a conversation she had with her Motie aboard the embassy ship. She knows the data is filed somewhere in the Lenin's database, but can't recall the exact tags - so she scrawls a few things on the screen of her pocket computer, and it hunts down the data for her.

This doesn't really count as prophecy of smartphones or iPads, though, as the novel was set during the 31st Century...

Tim H. said...

I think Dr. Pournelle was pleasantly surprised by the iPhone showing up so early. And my daughter & stepson were exposed to computers early, but it was 8-bit Atari & PCs at first, younger children will be computer literate differently, and think anyone who used a command line did so while fending off mastodons... ;)

Nyctotherion said...

Agree with Tacitus on the 'templates'. I think the guy he tagged as Peter Lorre was actually Udo Kier, a favorite modern-day character actor of mine.

The arab prince was clearly Alexander Siddig from 'Deep Space 9', who should be EVERY arab prince, really. (He was great in 'Syriana').

TwinBeam said...

I liked Tinkerer, but the wordiness and pitch put me in mind of those little evangelical comic book tracts.

"Chick Tracts"

(Ergo, I liked those too...?)

Tony Fisk said...

You've heard of invisibility cloaks: metamaterials that bend light around an object, effectively hiding it in space?
Now they're looking to do the same trick, in time!

urelith: rocky formation made from frozen urea.

Tony Fisk said...

...and in news just to hand:

The falcon heeds the falconer!:

1500 grains retrieved from the Hayabusa return sample capsule 'are of extra-terrestrial origin'
- Link

TwinBeam said...

Space-Time invisibility, from the link: "A safecracker would be able, for a brief time, to enter a scene, open the safe, remove its contents, close the door and exit the scene, while the record of a surveillance camera apparently showed that the safe door was closed all the time," according to their paper.

Uh - this needed a scientific paper? I see this gimmick used all the time in "heist" movies!

They're just saying it could be done in a more elaborately convoluted way, without touching the camera.

Ilithi Dragon said...

I find the spacetime cloak to be a little fantastical...

That aside, though, it wouldn't work for thievery because the stretched pre-theft light would be red-shifted, while the accelerated post-theft light would be blue-shifted.

David Brin said...

Gonna cache this info here, in case I need it later. On another list, a fellow provided this background material:


I agree that some foreign billionaires in the middle east may want feudalism
and maybe the idiot Prince Charles and people like him.

http://www.zawya. com/story. cfm/sidGN_ 11032010_ 120349/The% 20Billionaires% 20Club

http://en.wikipedia .org/wiki/ List_of_Saudi_ billionaires

http://en.wikipedia .org/wiki/ List_of_the_ richest_royals

http://en.wikipedia .org/wiki/ List_of_Arabs_ by_net_worth

http://en.wikipedia .org/wiki/ List_of_richest_ American_ politicians

David Brin said...


Acacia H. said...

Killer whales were caught on camera surfing. The only thing I have to wonder is: did they learn to do this on their own? Or did they see humans do this, wonder what was up, and decide to emulate it and learn it was fun?

Damn spectacular pictures though.

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

Impressive. Most impressive.

When you weigh around 8 tonnes, the surf had *better* be up!

Ilithi Dragon said...

What do you guys make of this "classified" bill?

TwinBeam said...

India's micro-credit sector may collapse

Tony Fisk said...

The micro-credit concept was a good way out of the poverty trap, but it seems to be turning into a micro-sub-prime.

One begins to see why Shakespeare was so down on money-lenders. (if you must have your pound of flesh, then spill not a drop of blood)

Tony Fisk said...

...The moral being to adopt haemophobic lending practices.

pardse: an fictional paradise, modelled on Madagascar without the ai-ai. (Speaking of which, there's movement in the north: does the ice girl cometh?)

Acacia H. said...

I always felt that he got the bum's rush there. And he should have tried for his pound of flesh without a drop of blood. If you're very careful you can pull the epidermis off of someone without causing bleeding. Depending on whether you go for merely dead skin or for living tissue as well, it can be just mildly irritating to actually rather painful.

Stripping him of his religion was adding insult to injury.

Rob H.

Ian said...


Considering your recent comment that you think endosymbionts evolving into organelles has happened repeatedly, you might be interested in a possible example of this process happening today.

Acacia H. said...

Scientists have successfully captured for a short period of time anti-atoms. I must admit a little bit of curiosity: how do we know that the galaxy is composed of matter? Would the light from an anti-matter galaxy be different somehow from that of a matter galaxy? It's believed they possess the same mass as regular matter... so how do we know what is matter in the universe... and what is not?

Rob H., just a tiny bit curious

Tim H. said...

The fun part of science is we have probabilities, many approaching certainty, but still probability. An antimatter star anywhere near us seems unlikely, but in another galaxy, who knows?

rewinn said...

What can be said about the attempt to block renewal of
Ronald Reagan's plan to inspect Russia's nukes?

rewinn said...

Or ... turning down the political lamp and turning up the geeky science lamp ... this amused me, but is the math right?

" a Newtonian world where there is no speed limit.... take four particles of equal mass and arrange them in two binary pairs orbiting within two planes that are parallel and with zero total angular momentum. Now introduce a fifth much lighter particle that oscillates back and forth along the perpendicular through the mass centres of the two binary pairs. The particles will expand to infinite size in a finite time..."

Full Article Here

TwinBeam said...

What if money lending for interest were banned entirely?

This is not a new idea - many religious traditions declare it to be evil, and their respective theocracies banned it. Could it be those old guys knew what they were talking about?

Lending with sharing of risks and rewards is generally allowed/encouraged in those religious traditions. I suspect that leads to lending only within a network of strong trust. You trust persons A, B and C and they tell you that they trust D, so you are willing to take a share of the risk of investing with D. And of course, you could lend to a trusted person, knowing that he will in turn lend to others he trusts.

But I haven't seen much about the social/economic consequences. E.g., what does that do to those on the outside of those trust networks?

Wouldn't it limit opportunity to the "trusted" rich and powerful, with at best trickle-down lending to those at the bottom? And of course, those at the bottom are better left there, as a useful pool of labor - trust them enough to employ them, but not enough to lend them money to become independent?

Or does the system simply recognize that the poor are generally much less skilled in handling and investing for profit, and their reduced opportunity under that system reflects that truth? As soon as they learn to handle money better, they can get in on the network of trust too. (Catch 22...)

So - is lending for interest truly bad for a society - or is that an idea inspired by the self-interest of those with money who are smart enough to set rules to help them avoid getting TOO greedy.

Are the poor who borrow money and can't pay it back (such as those who got to live in nice houses they couldn't really afford) worse off for taking advantage of greedy lenders' loans?

Either way - it would seem like it'd be better if our educational system concentrated less on getting (most) kids ready to be intellectuals, and more on preparing them to get into business for themselves.

Ilithi Dragon said...

So scientists have managed to capture an antimatter particle. One step closer to M/AM reactors and warp drive...

That, or a Vatican take-over plot...

Tony Fisk said...

how do we know that the galaxy is composed of matter?

Off-hand, I don't know the definitive answer (or even if there is one). However, a substantial region of anti-matter would be continually encountering matter at some sort of boundary, and the characteristic annihilation energies would be a dead giveaway. (M31 shows a spike at 0.511MeV? Hmmm!)
One of Niven's 'Known Space' stories involves an anti-matter star system passing through the galaxy: the Outsiders had pointed it out as the most interesting system *without* saying why. The intrepid explorers had to figure it out for themselves!

Closer to home, check out the 3-D snow storm around comet Hartley-2.

(Certain authorities may address the dungeon dimensions on achieving their daily word target. ;-)