Thursday, September 30, 2010

I tweet? More Science! And a Rally for Adulthood.

All right, I gave in and got a twitter account. You can find me at: https://twitter.com/DavidBrin

And with that announcement... oh there's more. First some news and science(!) and then my unusual perspectives on the Rallies in October(!)

==Transparency News==

On the Transparency front: a Maryland judge has thrown out the wiretapping charges brought against a motorcyclist who recorded a plainclothes Maryland State Trooper pulling a gun on him during a traffic stop and later uploaded the footage to Youtube. "A Harford County Circuit Court judge ruled this afternoon that a motorcyclist who was arrested for videotaping his traffic stop by a Maryland State Trooper was within his rights to record the confrontation."

Comments Josh D: “I think it's obvious that this kid broke the law and was certainly endangering the public, however, the DA who brought the wiretapping charges clearly did so in retaliation for the video of the stop being posted on the Internet.  I hope the DA faces some serious questions about his conduct in this matter.”

I care less about the DA than about general precedent.  This story was publicized by me on July 26. It is a crucial phase in the battle to retain the citizenry’s right to watch the watchmen.  I am police-friendly!  But this cannot be allowed to stand.

Faced with overwhelmingly powerful (and armed) authority that is capable of lying, the average citizen has only one recourse, the same one upon which he bases ALL of his defense against capricious power. The underlying recourse that is implicit in every corner of the Constitution...

     Accountability.

     Light.


=== Science Tidbits ===

Have they discovered a “Goldilocks Planet” orbiting its star at the right distance to have liquid water?  This article would seem to be historic... if it weren’t so atrociously written as to be almost worthless as cience journalism.  Still, you may want to remember where you were, when you read it.  Oh, here is the scientific abstract.

(In fact, this "goldilocks" planet would be a hell, one side locked toward its red dwarf sun and the other frozen solid. A few watery trickles along the Twilight Zone boundary do not an Eden make.  Let's keep trying.

 When the first alien from space lands on Earth and says “Take me to your leader,” Mazlan Othman head of the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs will get the call...”  So went the panting report on the London Telegraph, followed by an international news cycle frenzy...

...followed by an embarassed retraction.  (Kind of sad, actually,  One can imagine some mildly speculative thing she might have said - in her bemused cups - getting all blown up out of proportion.  She was to attend my gathering about SETI, next week near London.  Now maybe she’ll stay home.)

In a similar vein... as I prepare to fly off to Britain to debate issues regarding the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, one mustn’t forget a bit of humor, from time to time.

== A DENSE (BUT REWARDING) SLIDE SHOW ==

Sometimes one of my older items erupts, suddenly, back into currency.  There’s been a lot more attention to my slideshow about potential dangers that might lurk from many different directions, and not just the fashionable flavor-of-the-decade (presently militant Islamists).  This presentation --A Broad Perspective Search of Unusual Failure Modes and Under-developed Strategies -- created for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency is very dense and requires earnest and soberly curious reading.  Don’t bother, if you plan to skim!

And finally... before lighting the political lamp...

A new survey of Americans' knowledge of religion found that atheists, agnostics, Jews and Mormons outperformed Protestants and Roman Catholics in answering questions about major religions, while many respondents could not correctly give the most basic tenets of their own faiths.

Kinda irksome to some folks I imagine.  Like the fact that kids who get "liberal" sex education actually have lower rates of STDs, abortion and even sex, than those given Abstinence classes.  Ooh.

==== AND NOW TO THE "RALLY to RESTORE SANITY" ===

You'll be hearing that the events being held on the Washington mall, in a few weeks -- hosted by news-comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert will be partisan affairs.  And, well, I concede that a majority of those attending are likely to be democrats.  http://www.rallytorestoresanity.com/

Still I think it worth pondering that the "Rally for Sanity" on 10-30-10 may be motivated much less by left-vs-right dogma than the very things that Stewart claims it will be about -- which is moderation vs the tone of petty, sanctimonious brattiness that has taken over American politics.  And yes, humorists are precisely the kinds of guys who can cut through the orgy of petty indignation that the aging baby boomers are imposing on this great country.

Look. We have two great countervailing forces in the American psyche. The first is a tendency toward self-righteous utopianism. This trait has a positive side. It can fuel and supercharge our greatest self-reform drives, propelling us to march and sacrifice until we have (for example) destroyed slavery, or racial injustice. On the other hand, the same propensity for frantic idealistism can enflame us into spirals of cultural or civil war, screeching at our neighbors and demeaning anyone we disagree with as simultaneously stupid, insane and evil.

The other American tendency is toward a marvelous pragmatism, a modernist eagerness to SOLVE PROBLEMS, using every available tool - including whatever mix of state and corporate and individual action will get the job done... so we can move on to dealing with the next problem.  This grown-up, pragmatic trait brought us far.  It underlies our greatest successes...

...and it has always been based upon a good-natured willingness to negotiate with each other.  To evade the sweet-addictive trap of ideological grand-standing and the drug of dogma, in favor of treating disagreement as grounds for discussion.  Moderated by the phrase all scientists are trained to utter aloud -- "I might be (just a little bit) wrong."

Of course, this same trait od pragmatism can show its own dark and ugly side, when it becomes cynical and focused solely on personal gain or victories over others, predatory and shortsighted, in a narrowminded and constricted zero-sum game.

Now, you might judge, after those paragraphs, that I respect our pragmatic streak more than the idealistic one, and that is true to an extent... though you can see my idealism drenching most of my novels. In any event, what really matters - in both idealism and pragmatism - is whether you envision the world as filled with problems that can be solved. 

That is why Martin Luther King - were he to magically reappear today - would slap the faces of those left-wingers who cannot ever bring themselves to admit that his dream has largely come true!  And, therefore, our continuing campaigns of self-improvement should move on, filled with confidence in past accomplishments, to take on new and brighter goals.

And that is why Adam Smith - were he to magically reappear today - would eviscerate right-wingers, who have never actuall read Wealth of Nations, and who cannot ever bring themselves to admit that the true enemy of freedom and markets has always been oligarchy. (Across 6,000 years, name any foe that ever oppressed more people, quashed competition and opportunity, or did more to hold humanity back.  You can't.)

The lesson?  That the real enemy is cynicism.

Which brings us to our chance to fight back.

=== Find a way to support the "Rally for Sanity" ===

Think what you will of Jon Stewart's purported ant-right bias.  Fact is that all he is saying - in reference to the rally -- is for moderates to come out and resume negotiating in calm voices. And he has been relentless in seeking moderate conservatives, to come as well.

Oh, sure, the undertone is anti-tea-party-sanctimony/rage.  Anyone can see that.  The satirical mocking of the Murdochians (a name that seems redolent of H.G. Wells dystopic fears) is clearly intentional. Still, the official line of the rally merits some sober consideration.

Moreover, let me point out this set of fundamental differences between Jon Stewart and the shills on Fox.

1- He skewers the left frequently and sincerely.

2- He has guests. Unlike Beck and Limbaugh he regularly has on his show the best and brightest from the "other side."  More than 20% of his guests are neocons or conservatives. Huckabee, Romney, McCain, William Kristol have all been on the show more than 3 times each!  These guests get to both joke around and challenge Stewart, while pushing their books! (Oh, and the audience always treats them politely.)  Bill O'Reilly was on, just two nights ago.

This is something Beck/Limbaugh/Hannity NEVER do.  Because they are liars and cowards.  There is no other possible interpretation. And that is without any consideration of their policy positions.  Worse, it displays a smug lack of curiosity that is positively and horrifically un-American.

3- Stewart's other guests include a sampling of America's best minds.  Sure, there's jocularity. But that is part of the POINT!  A light, 10 minute gloss-exposure to big ideas... laced with humor and repeated references to a real, honest to gosh book, that Stewart obviously read.  And your complaint is.....?

By the way, if Glenn Beck can "define honor" then let's hear Stewart out when it comes to "sanity."

Go if you can. Even better, help get out the vote.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

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

EndWorldEvery 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.

Now, 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


=== OOOH, THAT JON STEWART! ===

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.)


=== WELL, IN COMPENSATION... ===

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...


=== COOLSTUFF ===

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...


=== BRIEFLY RE-LIGHTING THE POLITICAL LAMP ===

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.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Brin-terviewed on "Virtually Speaking" Thurs 6pm... plus SciFi'ists "come out!"

Come online to participate or listen to Jay Ackroyd interview me in his VIRTUALLY SPEAKING webcast... plus avataring the event on Second Life... This Thursday 9/23 at 6pm Pacific time... 9pm Eastern. The blogtalkradio simulcast  will also be archived at iTunes.

=== A Famous Columnist "Comes Out" as a Sci Fi Fan! ===

SFGenreRenowned Columnist Walter Russel Read has “confessed a guilty pleasure” -- a lifetime love of science fiction literature.  In a column fo the American Interest, he comes-out and proclaims that Science Fiction is a Genre That Everyone Should Read.

”Taken as a whole, the field of science fiction today is where most of the most interesting thought about human society can be found.  At a time when many academics have become almost willfully obscure, political science is increasingly dominated by arcane and uninspiring theories and in which a fog of political correctness makes some forms of (badly needed) debate and exploration off limits, science fiction has stepped forward to fill the gap.”

I confess to especially approving of this line: ”In the work of writers like David Brin and Neal Stephenson there is more interesting reflection on America’s place in the world than you will find, I fear, in a whole year’s worth of reading in foreign policy magazines.”

GreatestSFReadingLIstMead also recommends Vernor Vinge, C.J. Cherryh, Benford, Willis, Niven and so on. (See my own list of favorites at Greatest Science Fiction & Fantasy Tales). And he concludes:

”The biggest single task facing the United States today is the unleashing of our social imagination.  We are locked into twentieth century institutions and twentieth century habits of mind.  Science fiction is the literary genre (OK, true, sometimes a subliterary genre) where the social imagination is being cultivated and developed.  Young people should read this genre to help open their minds to the extraordinary possibilities that lie before us; we geezers should read it for the same reason.  The job of our times is to build a radically new world; speculative fiction helps point the way.”

Now to find out if he likes autographed books...  (I tried sending my Asimov book to Paul Krugman, but could not get through the shell of his assistants/handlers.)

Alas, not all famous, professed sci fi fans are on the side of the modernist enlightenment.  Fresh off his latest Hugo win, Frederik Pohl blogs this:
 
" . . .there was a time when I really thought that if politicians would get in the habit of reading science fiction for fun instead of sticking to, say, the shoot-’em-up Westerns preferred by Dwight Eisenhower, we’d have better government. But then along came Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and shot that speculation down in flames."


(Oh, am I nostalgic for Eisenhower!  Heck, even Tricky Dick would compromise with reality, now and then. Whatever his faults, he at least believed in negotiating, even with his enemies.)

=== And finally... ===

Author Mark A. Raynor runs a contest to create vintage ads based around fictional works of the future. Take a look at his United Postal Service ad for stamps based upon my post-apocalyptic novel, The Postman. The other ad pictured is a vintage baby food ad for “The Road” – Now with more baby….ugh

And a bit of fear mongering: This list of 15 ways science will kill us all includes the Large Hadron Collider, a time machine, self-replicating printers, the singularity, grey goo (nanorobots), cyborg robots, genetically-engineered life, dark matter…
 

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Changing worlds... and how I helped change this one...

Folks near San Diego can hear me see me introduce a screening of DISTRICT 9 on September 22, at UCSD, with vignettes from ALIEN NATION and E.T. for comparison.

While I loved District 9, it wasn't for the usual reasons.  I found the encounter-of-civilizations aspect illogical in many ways, along with the science. There'd be humans crawling all over the ship, for example. Also, frankly, I find unrelenting and unmoderated guilt trips (e.g. “Avatar”) overbearing and unhelpful.  That is why I will be comparing D9 with the 1980s sci fi movie ALIEN NATION... of which D9 is an homage and variation-riff.

Sure, the situations are as different as they are similar. Take the settings - Southern California vs a clearly still apartheid South Africa - which correlate with two very different tales of contact and tension.  ALIEN NATION, depicts yet another immigrant community assimilating, with unusual difficulties, but amid general good intention... helped by the moderate humanoid attractiveness of the aliens.

 In D9 we see full tilt intolerance by humans, not at all palliated by the fact that the arrivals are so alien, unlovable (from a human perspective) and  reproducing with daunting rapidity.  It's a terrific variation!  Very thought provoking, especially since the D9 aliens are clearly made up of castes, with 99.99% of them portrayed as inherently dull or mentally deficient.  The uppermost caste, secretive and refusing to contact or negotiate or explain anything to human civilization, are as much at fault for the situation as the Afrikaans bigots!

There's a definite parallel with Steven Spielberg’s “E.T. The Extraterrestrial” in which the only truly villainous individual is the captain of E.T.’s own ship.

But the director of District 9 does not make any of this plain to the audience. It’s all there, but these facts are overwhelmed by the cartoonish apartheid aspects. And so it becomes a standard guilt trip, after all, with interesting details.

No, what I admire most about DISTRICT 9 is its wonderful portrayal of a solitary human -- not an admirable or genial or respect-worthy individual, in any way -- who embarks on a quest for personal survival that is both frenzied and overwhelmingly determined.  A determination that overwhelms all other loyalties or concerns. A fascinating character study and a deeply creepy look into the mirror for any thoughtful person.

NameThatVillainWho are the ''bad guys'? It's not always clear. See my video exploration of this topic: Name That Villain: Bad Guys and Aliens in Science Fiction Movies.

== LOOKING BACK: HOW I HELPED CHANGE THE WORLD a bit ==

Way back in 1970, I was part of the organizing committee for the Clean Air Car Race, from MIT to Caltech (where I was an undergraduate).  The race - actually a point-scored road rally - had divisions for all-electric vehicles (including the first ever to cross the continent), propane and natural gas vehicles, one with a Lear Jet engine (leaving a trail of shattered toll booths and seared underpasses, from New England to California...

... plus the world’s first hybrid car, built by the University of Toronto, with almost all of the features now seen in hybrids, from regenerative braking to multi-cycle drive trains.  Lacking computers, the car needed a co-pilot who was busy all the time, plus a back seat filled with batteries.  But it worked, and set the stage for all future hybrids. (Quite an important outcome for the race, all by itself.)
CleanAirCarRaceDouble

But history can be strange. It turns out that the division that seemed the least interesting would actually change the world the most.  For, taking part in the rally, were several cars tuned to use only unleaded gasoline... at the time a relatively new fuel that was much maligned by entrenched corporate powers.  The Ethyl Corporation, clawing to prevent any removal of its poisonous product, contended that fuels without lead-based additives would ruin auto engines.  But then came the Clean Air Car Race, in which all of the cars using unleaded gas cruised smoothly into Pasadena...

...and in (relatively) short order Congress acted, getting the lead out.  Which just goes to teach  a valuable lesson. Progress does not always consist of giant leaps forward.  Sometimes the less romantic or seemingly less ambitious, of your efforts may turn out to be the one the makes the greatest long-term difference.  Incrementalism may not seem romantic or grandiose... but maybe that’s exactly why it works.

I’m proud to have participated in the CACR... thirty years ago, almost exactly.  It helped make the world a little better..

PS...see me in photo number two!

AND THE DESCENDANT OF CACR IS... Forty years later, here is the heir of the Clean Air Car Race... still changing the world through science, technology, pragmatism and goodwill, instead of the sick arrogance of dogma.

===  MORE SCIENCE! ===

Under the “I predicted this” department... with clear implications for The Transparent Society ... meet Looxcie.

A cool survey of nifty science tidbits.

Some concepts for VASIMR-powered  (ion propulsion) missions, using 200 megawatts of power, allow transit times from Earth to Mars in as little as 39 days, nearly five times faster than a conventionally-powered mission. Others are skeptical. 

100,000 houses damaged by New Zealand earthquake as repair bill tops £1.8bn. 

Hundreds of enterprising New Zealanders  have turned to Facebook to organize themselves into relief squads helping residents in the earthquake-hit city of Christchurch.

See a super-cool view of a bird flock in sanfran bay, shot from an airship by a guy I respect.
Suggestions for alternative music?

“On the cusp of curing ageing?” I really, really doubt it will prove to be this simple. 

 "We want to encourage filmmakers to produce and share their cinematic  visions of a present or future society shaped by synthetic biology. What is your view on a world living with synthetic life forms?"

=== THE MUSE’S CORNER ===

1. A site that compares human heartbeats over a lifespan with animals, demonstrating some good news/bad news for humans.  The GOOD NEWS? we get roughly 2.5 billion heartbeats... roughly THREE TIMES as many as most mammals and even a lot more than our fellow primates.  The BAD NEWS?  We probably have already flicked all the readily available chemical switches to eke out this longer span.  To get more will require herculean measures, much more than simple caloric restriction (which seems to flick a few of those switches in short-lived species.)

2.  Scientists caught stealing from themselves…it’s all too easy to reuse text, particularly in the introduction & method sections, but journals have retracted papers with text repeated verbatim from previous works. Scientific publishers subscribe to software programs that scan databases, searching for duplication or plagiarism. I hope they don’t start checking my speeches; my wife says she’s heard it all before….

3. Ten accounts of shifts in the scientific paradigm of the day.

Panspermia4. A biological big bang? This paper by Gibson, Wickramasinghe and Schild suggests that life developed within a few million years after the big bang – in a cosmological primordial soup. Complex organic compounds are then spread through the universe by comets and meteors to otherwise sterile planets, like earth.  (Warning... these guys are not widely considered to be “all-there” on the grounded science-o-meter. I’ve had run-ins with the zealous Gibson, and Wickramasinghe - while certainly very smart and a colleague of the late great SF author Fred Hoyle - has mono theory-itis. Panspermia Fervor.)

== MORE ITEMS ==

Patterns in the data...  A Beijing suburb will soon begin testing a new futuristic bus that would be built on tall legs - allowing bus passengers to drive above the cars on the highway.

New software seems to predict which individuals on probation or parole are most likely to murder and to be murdered.

Later this month, the Opera of the Future Group at the MIT Media Lab will premiere Death and the Powers, an opera more than 10 years in the making. Featuring life-sized singing robots and a musical chandelier, the opera could redefine how technology can enhance live performance and help reestablish opera’s spirit of innovation.

Northwestern University researchers have discovered that broadband Internet prices have remained nearly stagnant since 2004, despite the explosive pace of adoption since then, from approximately 20 percent of U.S. households in 2004 to more than 65 percent today.

NASA is considering a revolutionary new horizontal rail launcher concept.  (Yeah, but if Marshall SFC is involved...)

Federal Communication Commission’s move to release “white spaces,” or unused television channels, later this month will unleash another boom of mobile innovation.

And finally this, offered by John Petersen.

"The future belongs to those who give the next generation reason for hope." - Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Events, brinterviews, progress... and more science...


Folks near San Diego can come see me introduce a screening of DISTRICT 9 on September 22... with vignettes from ALIEN NATION and E.T. for comparison.

In one of my better television interviews - on France24's international English language service - "Eve Jackson speaks to the sci- fi author David Brin about the future, privacy, freedom, technology... and science fiction."

That wildly popular “GeeksOn interview of David Brin” had a bad link, last time. It’s corrected this time.  If you care to risk “Brin overdose!”

Or listen as Mari Frank interviews me on  KUCI about transparency and privacy.  Not a great phone link, I’m afraid but a survey of strong/unusual views about how openness can help us preserve both freedom and privacy.

And here’s an article about my talented young cousin, a speechwriter for President Obama.

I came across a story on wired.com about an opera performed in Klingonese, they sent an invitation via radio telescope to where they guess Klingons live.  Ah, romantics! No attention paid to the hundreds of races inside the Klingon empire that were effectively slaves. So, this is like shouting “Yoohoo, beasties!  Come and eat us!” Sigh. ;-)

=== For the Predictions Registry! ===

Both of these are from SUNDIVER. (Someone log them in the registry!)

NASA is sending a probe to dive into the sun.  Several of the investigators consulter (mildly) with me.

And “tracking technology will enable us to empty over-crowded prisons of the least dangerous criminals – allowing them to live productive lives, while being monitored for drugs and alcohol, their location checked to ensure they stay away from schools or playgrounds. Our current prison system is an overwhelming failure: expensive, disgraceful and ineffective.’

A perfect Mocumentary.

=== The Special Muse Corner ===

1. The Hugos were announced. There was a tie for Best Novel between China Mieville (The City and the City) and Paolo Bacigalupi (The Windup Girl). Charles Stross won for Best Novella.

2. ChronoZoom, a visual history of life, the universe & everything. Developed by Walter Alvarez at UC Berkeley -- an attempt to portray a timescale of the cosmos, earth and human history, encompassing data from space science, geology, biology, anthropology and human history. Note: this is a first generation design; you need to download a Microsoft application to allow it to function effectively.   

3. News from the Helvetian front? International pressure on the Swiss to change their banking practices.

4. Gray instead of black and white: A computer chip based on probability not binary. (Trinary?)

5. Thirty statistics that prove the elite are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer and the middle class is being destroyed.

6. Micro-altruism? It appears that a few mutant, antibiotic-resistant bacteria are sufficient to allow a whole colony of bacteria to survive a dose of antiobiotics. The drug-resistant bacteria produce compounds, indoles, which strengthen the rest of the colony, even though this production takes a toll on the individuals who produce it. Such antibiotic resistant bacteria are a major health concern.

7. A new trend in Science Fiction? Writer Jason Sandford cites hard SF authors breaking the rules, and gives it a name: "SciFi Strange also flirts with the boundaries of what is scientifically - and therefore realistically--possible, without being bounded by the rigid frames of the world as we know it today. but don't call SciFi Strange fantasy. This is pure science fiction. It's merely an updated version of the literature of ideas. A science fiction for a world where the frontiers of scientific possibility are almost philosophical in nature."

8. In his new book, The Grand Design, Stephen Hawking says there no theory of everything ....
Stephen Hawking: Why God did not create the universe.

9. We are seeing the return of the Commons, as we share ever more information: files, thoughts, photos, videos... Car, bike and book sharing, as well as peer-to-peer lending sites are booming. Termed Collaborative Consumption, it’s about access instead of ownership.

11. Nanotechnology news: Tiny solar cells fix themselves -- using plant proteins, carbon nanotubes and lipids.

12. Octopuses carry coconut shells across the sea floor, then hide underneath. Are they anticipating the need for a hiding place? They have also been observed building rock walls, unscrewing jar lids...

13. Dolphins have been observed carrying heavy conch shells above the water surface -- using the shells to trap fish, then tipping them into their mouths, shaking out a meal

===  ALSO.... ===

A fun map... based on the classic map of the London Underground... showing highlights in the development of science.

Check out SideWiseThinker, blog of Michael Dobson.
He has a wonderful list on how to know if you're being reasonable: Here are a few:
-- You're not being reasonable if you don't acknowledge your own biases and blind spots.
-- You're not being reasonable if you don't take the time to find out what the other person really means.
-- You're not being reasonable if you don't separate emotional outbursts from logical reasoning.
-- You're not being reasonable if you only expose yourself to one type of information.

Yipe!  If he continues in that vein, Rupert Murdoch may have to order a hit on the fellow!

He also has a series of blogs on cognitive biases.

More soon....

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Brin's Corollary to Moore's Law


The cameras will get smaller, cheaper, more numerous and more mobile every year.

We are in for a time of major decision as the Moore's Law of Cameras -- sometimes called “Brin’s Corollary to Moore’s Law -- takes hold and elites of all kinds are tempted to utilize surveillance in Orwellian/controlling ways ...often with rationalized good intentions.


Alas, many "champions of privacy and freedom" push the nebulous notion that dark outcomes can be prevented by passing laws against this or that elite looking at this or that kind of information. In other words, by restricting information flows.

For a decade, I have challenged such folks to name a time, in the history of humanity, when that general approach has ever worked for long, at keeping elites blind, let alone in a world where cameras and databases proliferate like crocuses after a rainstorm.  No one has ever come up with a single major example, of any kind, ever.  Yet, they would bet our future freedom on that nebulous approach.


As Papa Heinlein said: The chief thing accomplished by Privacy Laws is to make the (spy) bugs smaller: "A law guaranteeing privacy simply insures that bugs -- microphones and lenses and so forth -- are that much harder to spot."

The alternative concept -- to look back and watch the watchers via sousveillance -- or counter- surveillance is a hard sell, because it is counter-intuitive and easy for elites to propagandize against.  And yet, it is the essence of what the Western Enlightenment has used, as its tool set for achieving the miracles of the last three hundred years.

I explain issues of transparency and sousveillance in more detail in my nonfiction book -- The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force us to choose between Privacy and Freedom? ... and illustrate it in my novel, Earth.

Looking back... or upward or sideways ... is what John Locke and Adam Smith and James Madison et al recommended in order to create the reciprocal accountability that keeps abuse of power in check.

All of the main enlightenment systems - democracy, markets, science and justice courts - rely upon transparency-enabled reciprocal accountability to operate.  To achieve their positive sum games.  Games that benefit us all far better than the older (and more naturally human) zero sum games that emerge out of simplistic human nature.

For more on the balance between these four enlightenment systems, see my article: Disputation Arenas: Harnessing Conflict and Competitiveness for Society's Benefit.

==The Options We Face==

As the tools for either surveillance or sousveillance proliferate, we are entering a time of choice between two potential equilibrium states:

Option 1: a perfect Orwellian (or more-likely Huxleyan) hegemony, empowered by universal elite omniscience…

or

Option 2: a wide open citizen-driven society, empowered by sousveillance and universal omniscience.

Don't get me wrong, I'm no pollyanna.  I know that the latter might go sour, as portrayed in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, and I explore possible drawbacks in some chapters of The Transparent Society!  There are many potential failure modes inherent in mass citizen empowerment and ubiquitous accountability.

But one thing we know from 5,000 years of recorded history... and evidence that goes back farther still.. is that Option 1 is guaranteed to be calamitously wrong. (Indeed, an oligarchic attempted putsch is currently underway.)

Moreover, as I point out in The Transparent Society, general omniscience does not automatically mean an end to privacy!  In fact, it is logically the only way we can preserve some.

The real question is; can enough of the world's citizenry be radicalized for transparency-based accountability to ensure an end to corruption and to make our growing institutions work well, world wide?  I depict such a radicalization in EARTH.  But mass populism appears to be deliberately steered in other directions, right now.

sousveillance-quote-david-brinFor updates on this issue, see the links posted at: Transparency: Privacy and Accountability in an Age of Increasing Surveillance.


=== And some Misc  Science! ===

Anyone interested in improving science education for kids should have a look at LabRats! I know "Dr. Shawn"... who is Dr. Shawn Carlson, MacArthur grant winner and former Scientific American columnist and founder of the Society for Amateur Scientists.  Useful fellow and cool-looking program.  

The era of personalized energy systems — in which individual homes and small businesses produce their own energy for heating, cooling and powering cars — took another step toward reality today as scientists reported discovery of a powerful new catalyst, nickel borate, that would be a key element in such a system. They described the advance, which could help free homes and businesses from dependence on the electric company and the corner gasoline station, at a meeting of the American Chemical Society. 

While antibiotics officially date to the discovery of penicillin in 1928, a chemical analysis of the bones of ancient Nubians (today's Sudan) shows that they were regularly consuming tetracycline, most likely in their beer, 1,700 years ago.

How Charles Darwin began the Ascension Island “terraforming project”... pointing the way to Mars?

Anybody seen this book? Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. If so, can you recommend it?

More than one "What the heck is THAT?!" photo. (Thanks Mike Gannis.)

Crispian Jago has developed a draft timeline (based on an original London underground map) showing the last 500 years of science, reason and critical thinking “to celebrate the achievements of the scientific method through the age of reason, the enlightenment and modernity.”

For years, claims have circulated that red rain which fell in India in 2001, contained cells unlike any found on Earth. Now new evidence that these cells can reproduce is about to set the debate alive.

==Brin Updates==

I’m off to London in a few weeks, for a gathering of the Royal Society, where I’ll debate the question of METI... whether a few individual have a right to gamble humanity’s future by beaming “yoohoo!” messages into interstellar space, under the blithe assumption that all advanced races will automatically be altruistic.  For background see my introductory essays on SETI & METI.  Or else, see a lurid encapsulization of the stakes in this trailer for the movie SKYLINE. (Appearing in November.)

PRIVACY PIRACY host, Mari Frank, interviews scientist, inventor and ny times bestselling author, David Brin, about privacy, transparency, surveillance and other crucial issues, on monday, september 6, 8-9am pacific time, kuci 88.9 fm in irvine, ca and audio streaming on KUCI. You can find updates of my audio/video interviews on ScoopIt.

Last time I plugged a much longer, wilder and more diverse podcast on the GEEKS ON show. They call it their most successful episode ever.  Here’s what one fan wrote in: ”Your last episode with david brin was by far the best episode ever. That man should be president. Please drag him back kicking and screaming if u have to. it's a shame he doesn't have his own podcast, should encourage him to do so!” Um... well... glad you liked it.  But I still think it is possible to have WAY too much brin!

Here is the listing for the e-book version of Star Wars on Trial. (Come on, you’ve been hankering to dive into the debate, admit it!) A luscious self-indulgence.

Keep looking ahead...