Friday, February 25, 2011

Philanthropy, transparency, science, politics -- huzzah!

=== From a Scarcity Society to a Gift-based One? ===

Will we transform ourselves from an archaic Scarcity Economy to a "Gift Economy" - much as portrayed in Star Trek? Is philanthropy a crucial recycling direction for wealth to take? I participate in round tables on philanthropy theory. Here is an important one.

Philosopher Fed Turner has some interesting insights: ”There is a myth that we as a species have moved from having an edenic and arcadian gift exchange economy to a cold and corrupt market economy. As a myth it has its uses; as a fact it will not fly. Archaeologists and physical anthropologists now find trading practices among the earliest humans nearly 200,000 years ago; we were always buying, selling, hiring, trucking and bartering. And economists tell us that even in today’s advanced industrial economies the amount of value that is transferred by gift is greater than the amount transferred by market exchanges. This may sound counter-intuitive until we reflect that gift includes the free services rendered by parents to their children, husbands and wives to each other, friends to friends, hobbyists to their community, and the bequests of the dying to their heirs.

“We have plenty of theory about markets, since Locke and Smith and their ilk. There is some theory about gift exchange in traditional tribal societies (Marcel Mauss, for instance), but very little until now about the economic, moral, social, political, ecological, aesthetic, and spiritual implications of today’s gift economy in advanced societies like the United States.”


Finally, there's a fun item -- EON: the Eye of the Needle Foundation -- my own article that stimulated discussion in philanthropic circles, about an entirely new kind of charitable institution, one that might help dramatically enlarge the pot of modern generosity by offering the super-wealthy (and many of the rest of us, too) some unique incentives. Something for the man or woman who has everything.


=== Can We Learn Useful Things About Society/Security From Fiction and Magic? ===

Is fiction a security issue? DARPA wants to know how stories influence our thoughts and actions. And what form of literature can be more radical than science fiction – which teaches that the future can be different than the past – that humans might stop making the same mistakes over and over again.... and hence, that it will be our fault, if we choose not to stop.

Recording Police Abuse Could Get You ARRESTED! Magician, supertainer and paladin of freedom Penn Jillette recorded this episode of Penn Point back in June. I highly recommend Penn's rants; they are uniformly smart, vivid and informative. Even when I disagree, I feel glad he is out there, fighting for us, and proud to know him. (I have an ulterior motive in this case; Penn repeatedly touts my nonfiction book The Transparent Society.

I especially like one of Penn's aphorisms: "Always look for the solution that's for more freedom." I say something almost identical in The Transparent Society. Alas, in the info age, people point to problems and all-too often suggest solving them with LESS information flow.


Take recent arguments over renewing the Patriot Act. I despise the damned thing. See where I predicted it - as well as terror-doom for the WTC towers - in The Transparent Society on page 206 (shown above).

But I don't waste my time writhing over the parts of the Patriot Act that let government see more. That trend is inevitable and unstoppable and freedom knights who rail against those parts are just foolish. It is the OTHER portions of the Patriot Act that are demonic, hateful and downright dangerous... the sections that remove oversight and allow government to operate more in secret and less under our supervision. Those are the parts we should be fighting to eliminate. But political reflexes tend to be dumb, and liberals are no exception, even when they are on the right side of an issue.


=== Symptoms of Sickness... Signs of Health ===

Want to perk up? Here are 25 minutes worth watching: Kevin Kelly on the future of book publishing, speaking about how value will be generated in a free copy world: “The internet is the world’s largest copy machine.” We can’t stop books from being copied, so we need to make it easier to pay for immediate, interactive, personalized content. Kevin is very smart and always worth-heeding. It happens I think he's wrong here in several ways. But tune in!

Caltech basketball team just won its first victory since 1986! A 310 game losing streak... done!

The team controlling the Kepler planet-hunter telescope has released a small part of its 1st 4 months of data recently. It revealed more than 1200 potential extrasolar planets. If a reasonable percentage of these worlds turn out to be independently verified, this treasure trove will yield more results in 4 months (1200+) than astronomy had found in the past 15+ years (550+ objects). (Um, than astronomy had found in the last 5,000 years.)

Kepler uses the transit or partial eclipse method to identify new planets. It keeps a constant vigil on 156,000 stars that are up to 3000 light-years away in a region close to the star dense galactic plane in the constellations of Cygnus and Lyra.... Since other planetary systems can exist at all different angles, we would only expect that a small percentage of extrasolar systems (1-10%) would be edge on to us. That means that Kepler is really only sampling 1,500 to 15,000 systems. That makes the fact that they have found 1200 potential planets all the more impressive!

Findings. Neptune-type worlds seem dominant. The large number of Super Earths (23.3%) that may be determined to be rocky after further study, combined with the significant percentage of Earth sized bodies (5.5%) suggests that a sizable percentage of stars that could show evidence of Earths seem to have them.

But note, Kepler’s results are so-far weighted toward finding planets with quick orbital “years.” Later data must gather to find those orbiting farther out. “There were 54 planets detected in the water-possible zone. Five (5) of those were Earth sized or smaller. This is where things really get interesting. These are the gems in the group.”

Those who have read (and enjoyed) STAR WARS ON TRIAL... or the original Salon article that first accused the Lucasian universe of nostalgic-romantic hatred of the future... might enjoy an hour-long podcast discussion that assesses the article, from the perspective of several british and australian writer-fans. They try hard. They are very silly, but they do try hard. (Someone tell them about STAR WARS ON TRIAL, in which George Lucas’s defenders have their chance... and come up wanting.


=== Unabashedly Political -- Be Afraid! ===

“Spending cuts approved by the House would end America's reign as a scientific leader if they are enacted into law, a former Bush administration Energy Department official said yesterday. "Left intact, the massive cuts in research contained in the bill passed on 19 February would effectively end America's legendary status as the leader of the worldwide scientific community," Raymond Orbach wrote in an editorial published online by the journal Science.

I guess the Saudis haven't changed their plans for us, after all. Their lackeys are still trying to end Pax Americana from within. This is war.

Speaking of mouthpieces for the real, behind-the-scenes instigators of Culture War... try this Glenn Beck conspiracy generator.

See this.
Absorb it.
Spread it.


If you spread nothing else this year, spread that one link.

I consider myself a libertarian who believes in competition as THE great creative human force. Objecting to the rise of a dominant oligarchy is not a SOCIALIST issue! It is an issue to anyone who wants the enlightenment... including its competitive markets and small businesses... to survive.

I hated the soviets and commies as dangerous ignoramuses and threats to the enlightenment, markets and freedom.

I hate the new oligarchy for exactly the same reasons -- both bands of would be aristocratic lords think they can "allocate" wisely in secret cabals. Both communists and oligarchs believe that history and justice back up their monopoly of power. Both replicate EXACTLY the failure mode that ruined every other brief renaissance of openness and market freedom. The oligarchs try to hide this by relentlessly claiming to favor market competition -- without ever showing a single example of a competition-enhancing action on their parts.

I’ve said it again and again. The people who should be angriest at the neocons aren’t the liberals or even the pinko socialists (two very different things). The ones who should despise the neocons most of all - with red-hot livid hatred - should be the libertarians. And fools like the Pauls, who think that the GOP is a hold-your-nose choice that’s better than the democrats, are all profoundly stupid fools.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Some News is Pretty Good

* On his “Crooked Timbers” blog, John Quiggin offers a discussion of political shibboleths.  A shibboleth is "an affirmation that marks the speaker as a member of their community or tribe," a definition which seems almost perfectly made for the “birther” claim that President Obama was born in Kenya, is a Muslim and wants to impose Sharia law in the United States... a general belief set now held (according to recent polls) by a majority of likely Republican voters.

Quiggin’s essay is seriously thoughtful and filled with important insights. It is being widely circulated and deserves your attention, even (especially) if you are a conservative American who feels bewildered by the direction that your movement has lately veered. (Hint: what’s gone sour has nothing to do with any of the old-style, libertarian values espoused by Barry Goldwater. It is at right-angles to the so-called “left-right axis.”)

* Was it really only back in 1994 that major media figures were still saying “what’s an inter-net?” See this amazing Today Show clip.  And remember that five years earlier, in 1989, I portrayed what could only be web pages in my novel EARTH. (There was, as yet, no web!)

* Is the news all negative? In the category of: I have been telling you folks about this for years...

“A widely used index of civic scientific literacy, sufficient understanding of basic scientific ideas to be able to read the Tuesday Science section of The New York Times,  showed that 28% of American adults scored high enough to understand scientific ideas at that level.   In 1988, well before Science 2.0 and a time when only a few print magazines and expensive journals monopolized science, just 10 percent of U.S. adults had sufficient understanding of basic scientific ideas. ... In the wave of criticisms about America, one thing gets lost that explains American adult knowledge - America is the only major country that requires almost all its college and university students to complete a full year of science. So the scientific literacy of U.S. adults is higher than the general adult populations of other developed nations.”

* And in the category of “I’ll believe it when I see it...”  Apparently “hardcore Isaac Asimov purists who are already despondent at the idea of Roland Emmerich  on the Foundation Trilogy. It’s all in the headline, really: Emmerich’s adaptation of Asimov’s story won’t just be predictably big and explode-y; it will be 3D and made with motion-capture goodness.” 

* TED, an organization best known for its annual gathering of top thought leaders, launched a social discussion platform on its website today. The move is part of a larger effort to spread, as TED’s motto goes, “ideas worth spreading” beyond the 1,300-attendee, five-day conference.  --  Now, if only I had time to play this “quora” thing. 

=== SAVING THE FUTURE BY DISPERSING POWER? ===

Some folks are thinking about how to anchor-in the freedom enhancing effects of the internet, by fostering inherently cheap/free/distributed systems that cannot be centrally controlled.  (My own software invention may prove extremely useful in that effort. So has the general approach to openness pushed in The Transparent Society.)  Anyway, to get a good picture of how others view the need, read: “Decentralizing the Internet So Big Brother Can’t Find You,” in which reporter Jim Dwyer describes Professor Eben Moglen’s  efforts to develop a “freedom box.”
   
”If revolutions for freedom rest on the shoulders of Facebook, Mr. Moglen said, the revolutionaries will have to count on individuals who have huge stakes in keeping the powerful happy. “It is not hard, when everybody is just in one big database controlled by Mr. Zuckerberg, to decapitate a revolution by sending an order to Mr. Zuckerberg that he cannot afford to refuse,” Mr. Moglen said.

“By contrast, with tens of thousands of individual encrypted servers, there would be no one place where a repressive government could find out who was publishing or reading “subversive” material. In response to Mr. Moglen’s call for help, a group of developers working in a free operating system called Debian have started to organize Freedom Box software. Four students from New York University who heard a talk by Mr. Moglen last year have been building a decentralized social network called Diaspora.”
  A key set of ingredients. Not only for ensuring freedom, but allowing even the slim possibility of human survival.

=== WATSON, COMING NEAR ===

Anyone watch the jeopardy “Watson” event?  Fascinating! One more milestone down. A commentary I found illuminating is by Kent Pitman.

I believe the one unfair aspect of the show was the input-output discrepancy. Input is a very large part of the difficult task faced by human contestants and hence, Watson’s should have been speech recognition. As Kent Pitman points out:  "IBM actually sells speech recognition software. This should have been a chance to showcase it." Also, I believe Watson should hand to send signals to a "hand" to push the regular buzzer, same as the humans.

(BTW... I have a particular use for speech recognition.  I attend a lot of conferences at which attendees have their laptops open in front of them, fiddling away while the speaker speaks onstage. (Funny about that; it would be rude if they read a newspaper!)  Thing is, I hope to offer a service at one conference where the people with laptops could have a window open while a speech recognition program scrolls the speaker's words as they are being spoken onstage.  This would let people take notes by selecting and copying passages as they scroll by. Yes, I know it would have many errors! The notes aren't expected to be accurate or perfect, just a way to save talking points for later consideration. Does anyone have a notion how to proceed with something like this?)

=== TAKING FRESH LOOKS AT FANTASY TALES ===

Almost as if the author had read my classic essay on J.R.R. Tolkien (and perhaps he had) there has appeared a new English translation of a Russian novel that retells Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" from the perspective of the “bad guys.” 

From the Salon review: “That's the philosophy behind "The Last Ringbearer," a novel set during and after the end of the War of the Ring (the climactic battle at the end of "The Lord of the Rings") and told from the point of view of the losers. The novel was written by Kirill Yeskov, a Russian paleontologist, and published to acclaim in his homeland in 1999. Translations of the book have also appeared in other European nations, but fear of the vigilant and litigious Tolkien estate has heretofore prevented its publication in English.”

Now let me be clear that I do not insist that Tolkien’s epic be viewed as “history written by the lying winners.”  I have enjoyed it both ways. First taking JRRT’s word for it that the villains were utterly deliberately vile, with self aware desire for ruination... and again the other way, with a critical awareness that the “good” elves had a lot to answer for -- a position that was actually held (if you read his deeper works) by Tolkien himself!

(I have always consider JRRT to be a retro-nostalgist romantic, and hence and enemy of the progressive enlightenment. But he was an honest and smart retro-nostalgist, who came by it with sound - or at least understandable - grievances against modern technological society, acquired on the killing fields of Flanders. Tolkien is miles better than other future-hating romantics, like George Lucas, who spit on a modern, scientific society that has been very, very good to them.)

In my essay I pondered if the “villains” in Lord of the Rings might have been rebels against a reactionary order -- one that insisted - for example - that all the glass boxes capable of showing faraway lands (which we call TVs and computer monitors) be held only by top elites (he called them “palantirs”) and that racism, classism and sexism be rigidly enforced. To me, it was just a brief thought experiment. Apparently (though I have not yet read it), Yeskov’s work goes headlong down this path!

“In Yeskov's retelling, the wizard Gandalf is a war-monger intent on crushing the scientific and technological initiative of Mordor and its southern allies because science "destroys the harmony of the world and dries up the souls of men!" He's in cahoots with the elves, who aim to become "masters of the world," and turn Middle-earth into a "bad copy" of their magical homeland across the sea. Barad-dur, also known as the Dark Tower and Sauron's citadel, is, by contrast, described as "that amazing city of alchemists and poets, mechanics and astronomers, philosophers and physicians, the heart of the only civilization in Middle-earth to bet on rational knowledge and bravely pitch its barely adolescent technology against ancient magic."  (From Laura Miller‘s Salon Magazine review. Read this before downloading!)


People who find such re-imaginings interesting should not miss Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality by Eliezer Yudkowsky.  Now this one I have read and can totally vouch for! It is fascinating and vastly better-written than the original books.

Is this the future of fiction?  Online publishing has many advantages... and disadvantages. Evasion of copyright restrictions? Unleashed creativity? Freedom to perform variations on a theme?  Greg Bear and Neal Stephenson have their MONGOLIAD project and I have some thoughts in mind.  Maybe. If time allows.

=== MISCELLANY ===

Bizarre 'Alien' Tumor Found Inside California Man.

And now, by popular demand... The abstract is online!

Evolution of Cometary Nuclei as Influenced by a Dust Component
by G David Brin
Doctoral Dissertation for the University of California, San Diego March 1981

Monday, February 14, 2011

Progress marches on... and "if it ain't true..."

==INTERNET & COMPUTERS==

“We live naked on the internet…in a brave new world where our data  lives forever,” writes John Hendel in The Atlantic. Americans have come to accept this, but Europeans are trying to maintain a legal “right to be forgotten” -- even a “right to delete” one's data trail. The bizarre assumption that anything "erased" will stay erased is nonsense. The mighty will never let themselves be blinded. A so-called 'right to delete' only guarantees the elite castes a permanent advantage.

Can you turn off the internet for a day without suffering Information Withdrawal Syndome? Its effects are similar to those seen in drug addicts.

A map of the Twitterverse: an evolving ecosystem  by Brian Solis.

Facebook topped Google as the most visited website of the year, accounting for 8.9% of all visits in the U.S. for 2010. Google accounted for 7.2% of visits, and Youtube 3.3%     

Wired's Clive Thompson bucks current wisdom, suggesting that Tweets and Texts actually serve as catalysts for subsequent in-depth analysis: "We talk a lot, then we dive deep."  Oh, I am sure that's true for some.  Still....

How do we define wealth? More and more, in the modern world, reputation is wealth: The Whuffie Bank (a term coined by author Cory Doctorow) aims to build an economy based, not on productivity, but on reputation -- which could be redeemed for goods (real and virtual) and services.

Quora: a site dedicated to questions and answers created and answered by users. My page is: http://www.quora.com/David-Brin

A graphic comparison of Facebook (500 million users) vs. Twitter (106 million users)

Room for mistakes? There are applications where a margin of error is acceptable. The payoff for allowing imprecise calculations is that computer chips could operate thousands of times faster.

Time for a return to cursive? Less legible fonts promote better recall of information.

Is there an afterlife in cyberspace? What happens to one's digital identity after death? Increasingly, the record of our life is online: photos, videos, musical creations, posts, tweets, opinions, manuscripts, avatars -- an unsorted, chaotic mass of digital expression. This will become profound legal implications in the near-future. Businesses are attempting digital afterlife management.

==INFORMATION OVERLOAD==

Welcome to the Information Age  Each day we are bombarded with the equivalent of 174 newspapers a day. There was a time when most of the news you needed landed on your doorstep each day.

The Coming Data Deluge:  Petabytes, exabytes and more. Our vocabulary expands to keep up with data-intensive science, such as mapping the brain's neurons, and sensors scattered across the Earth, tracking climate, toxins and ocean currents. The Large Hadron Collider will generate about 15 petabytes of data per year.

How much data can the world store and compute? See an attempt to quantify the world's capacity to compute...

==HOLLYWOOD & THE DARK SIDE==

My latest Youtube video: A look at sci-fi movies. Who was the bad guy in the movie, E.T. The Extraterrestrial? How about District Nine? Sometimes, the villains are obvious, as in Independence Day or Lord of the Rings - in other flicks, the real bad guy may not be who you think it is.

Inspired by news of uprisings overseas?  How about 12 Revolutionary Uprisings from Sci-fi movies, TV shows and books:  From Star Wars to District 9, I, Robot to V for Vendetta.

Five scientific reasons the Dark Side Will Always Win, by Paul & Trevor Pickett on Cracked.com

5. The color black is scientifically proven to intimidate people
4. Thinking evil thoughts & clenching your fist makes you stronger
3. Arrogance inspires confidence
2. Doom & gloom makes you smarter
1. Speaking with a deep voice gives you power

To which I would add Five Reasons the Good side will win:
5. Evil guys get better clothes, but messed-up faces. Good is always pretty.
Pretty always equals good.
4. Red glowing eyes really sting after a while.
3. Your underlings (whom you've Force-strangled) will sabotage the targeting sites in your special TIE fighter.
2. Wimpy American audiences can't stand unhappy endings
1. Really easy to convert new converts from dark side. They're so dumb, they'll believe unlikely stories about being someone's father.

==SOCIETY==

Evolutionary anthropologist Robin Dunbar claimed the size  of the average human's social network is 148 - correlating the size of the average human neocortex vs that of a primate & the size of species' social groups. Dunbar also said that in order to maintain a cohesive group, 42% of the group's time would be devoted to social grooming. Does nit-picking count? Clearly I'm going to have to unfriend a lot of 'friends' on Facebook...

Nit-picking? Studies of lice DNA shows humans first wore clothes 170,000 years ago

Time declared that 2045 is The Year Man Becomes Immortal with an article on the Singularity and Ray Kurzweil's vision for "humanity's immortal future."  Hm... well... maybe that's the year a baby will be born who will be the first immortal.  I am a really far-out thinker. But these singularity guys are just too UTTERLY similar to the wild-eyed transcendentalists who were around in every era.

==MISCELLANEOUS==

What if the world's population was reshuffled so that citizens of the most populous country (China) would spread out across the country with the largest land area (Russia). Members of the world's 2nd largest population (India) would move to Canada. Third in population, Americans would stay in the United States! Fourth in population, Indonesians would move to China. Why should Australians get so much empty land? Now they would move to Spain, and poor, overcrowded Pakistanis would take over Australia. It's like a game of Risk gone wild.

63 million video game consoles in U.S. homes consume as much energy in a year as the city of San Diego. Can't we hook those thumbs up to a generator? Seriously, part of the problem is games left idling. Gamers lose their progress when they shut down. My son is always saying, I can't stop now Dad….

A wonderful resource: everything you ever wanted to know about primate skeletons (developed by the University of Texas at Austin). You can also look at specific bones: i.e. compare the scapula of a gibbon to that of an orangutan.

Oriental hornets harvest solar radiation for energy. Chitin structures in abdomen trap light, bouncing it between layers. A pigment, xanthopterin transforms light into electrical energy.

====    =====    ===


I plan to write about the New Arab Rising soon, including a suggestion that is both profoundly radical and and immensely, world-changeingly practical. (Some of you who have read EARTH might foresee what epochal event I may be talking about.)

Meanwhile though, time to spread some cheer about the onward march of technological progress... plus a few worrisome problems that need solving.

----------

The Danger of Cutting Federal Science Funding.

Ceres has something to say to Pluto.

Can Vacuum have friction?  Maybe in spinning metal systems.  A phenomenon related to the Casimir Effect. Calling to mind the “spindizzies” that propelled starships in James Blish’s CITIES IN FLIGHT.

Sometimes SNOPES is great simply as a primary source for stuff that “if it ain’t true, it oughta be!”


Lots of interesting stuff!  Stay tuned...

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Nobel for Wikileaks? Transparency and Society Stories... etc

First off... drop in at YouTube for my latest offering... reading aloud a popular passage from my novel Earth. “First came a supernova, dazzling the universe in brief, spendthrift glory, before ebbing into twisty, multi-spectral clouds of new-forged atoms. Swirling eddies spiraled until one of them ignited – a newborn star. The virgin sun wore whirling skirts of dust and electricity. Gas and rocks and bits of this and that fell iinto those pleats, gathering in dim lumps…planets…One tiny worldlet circled at a middle distance…”


A Nobel Prize for Wikileaks?

"WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange may soon have a new accolade to add to his resume -- "Nobel Prize winner." Reuters reports that a Norwegian parliamentarian has nominated WikiLeaks for what is arguably the world's most prestigious prize. "By disclosing information about corruption, human rights abuses and war crimes, WikiLeaks is a natural contender for the Nobel Peace Prize," said spokesman Snorre Valen."

Hm, well, for starters, it is Wikileaks and the principles of transparency that are actually nominated, not Assange. Heck, since the ideas were heavily promulgated by me in EARTH (1989) and in The Transparent Society (1997) ain't I just as responsible? ;-) Seriously, as you'll learn when I start posting my major analysis of the WikiLeaks Affair, I find Assange individually arrogant. His particular priorities and statements range from cogent to borderline crazy...

...but you cannot always choose your heroes or self-appointed paladins of transparency. Indeed, Assange has "done good" with his leaks in ways that no one would ever have imagined, certainly not him! Most surprisingly, his leaks have had the overall effect of vastly enhancing the credibility and reputation of the United States Government around the world, at a time when it was badly needed - a result that was almost-certainly diametrically opposite to his intent.

In any event, a Nobel for this KIND of activity would be a very important statement of support for the general movement toward world transparency. If the symbol for this movement must be Julian Assange, then so be it.

(Stay tuned, I will soon offer a suggestion that combines an old sci fi idea from Earth with WikiLeaks transparency and events in Egypt, offering a way to both benefit the people of that country and start the whole world down a road that is radically better and more hopeful than ever.)


=== TERRORISM

The Physics of Terror : Mathematicians and physics look for patterns in terrorist campaigns and frequency that might allow prediction of future threats. Terror events follow a power law, similar to earthquakes: more frequent attacks result in fewer deaths, while infrequent, large events kill the most people.

Debunking Theories of a Terrorist Power Grab. A power-system expert at Penn State recently refuted theories that our power infrastructure is highly vulnerable to terrorist attack.


=== PRIVACY & SECURITY

Are your apps spying on you? Your smartphone contains a wealth of personal data about you: your current location, contacts, phone numbers, age, gender, buying habits.  A survey by the WSJ found that 56 out of 101 popular smartphone apps regularly transmitted such personal info without the user’s knowledge or consent, often to tracking companies. As "Mr. Transparency" do I shrug this off? Not! Privacy must change. Not vanish!

Here are some privacy icons that tell you how sites use your personal data -- designed by Aza Rashkin for Mozilla.

Five Cyberthreats to watch for in 2011.

In Wired Magazine: 2010: The year the internet went to war.

President Obama is calling for an online privacy bill of rights -- to protect consumers and shield personal data from tracking. At this point, it would be voluntary, with sanctions from the FTC. Under discussion: a 'do-not-track' option, similar to the do-not-call list to block telemarketers.

Computers that See You and Keep Watch over You describes how facial recognition software is being used in prisons, hospitals, law enforcement, and the workplace. It is also used to sample audience reactions, as well in the front against terrorism.

Ten Ways a digital Big Brother can be good for you, by John D. Sutter, CNN. "These days, Big Brother doesn't need to do much snooping. We just tell him what we're up to." Yet, there are ways that this omniscience has improved our lives: health monitors, disaster response, traffic maps, smart city grids, environmental sensors, monitoring earthquakes...


=== SOCIETY

Facing a crisis in drug abuse, Portugal decriminalized possession of all illicit drugs in 2000, focusing on treating instead of punishing drug addicts. The results: an increase in the number of people who tried drugs -- but drug abuse declined, especially among youth. More drug addicts are in treatment. Police now focus on high-level drug traffickers; there’s been an increase in drugs seized. Read the experiment.

This issue shows that different regions have different blind manias. Europeans seem far more ready than Americans to accept calm, modernist, rationalist revisions of old ways. Revising stupid-awful drug prohibition is one of these. If Portugal gains a good track record with this, and other Eurostates follow, the statistics might get so overwhelming that California can follow. (Europeans have their own manias - e.g. that the universe owes them half a lifespan of pure leisure, and that honorable work - potentially one of the greatest parts of human existence - is an inherently evil thing.)

Do artificial beings deserve human rights? by Mike Treder, director of IEET To what degree will we anthropomorphize orbits and artificial intelligence?

Do you distinguish pronunciations for pin vs. pen, cot vs. caught, father vs. bother? How about Bach’s, box & balks? Even after the homogenizing influences of radio, TV, the internet, and the increased mobility of the last few decades, regional distinctions persist across America. This site has a fascinating wealth of information on American dialects, with maps and audio samples of regional speech patterns.

To aid the cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service, an adviser to the Postal Regulatory Commission has proposed adding sensor arrays to postal trucks, to turn the fleet into a widespread data collecting operation -- collecting real-time data on weather, pollutants, gaps in internet coverage, poor road conditions, as well as detecting chemical or biological threats.


Tidying my pile of miscellaneous items to share:

I gave an interview to "The Eerie Times" - a sci fi fan site - mostly about my career as a science fiction author.

Renowned author Robert Sawyer offers an interesting essay about how scientists and Sci Fi witers take both similar and very different approaches to dealing with a future that contains plenty of opportunities and dangers.

Telomerase-based rejuvenation? Or a great way to ignite a storm of tumors?

Did I show you this one yet? More than half of the predictions are right on!

Recently leaked: the original draft of the script for _The Empire Strikes Back_ by Leigh Brackett ... Quite different from what finally made it to the screen. It seems the credit for this being by far the best SW film falls unto Kasden, not Brackett, after all. In any event, this shows one of my pet peeves. There must be (literally) more than 10,000 scripts kept locked up by various producers and studios, some of them no-doubt trash... but others which may be genuine gems of writing. Why can we not at least read them as literature?

When you cut past all the excuses and rationalizations, it really boils down to “embarrassment insurance”... Suppose one in a hundred revealed but never filmed scripts gain a following and praise from critics, perhaps even letters urging that the screenplay be released for somebody to film. How does the studio benefit? Well, sure, in one percent of THOSE cases, they might get spurred into actually resurrecting a once-dead jewel and benefit enormously! But meanwhile, the ghosts of many past mistakes would be let loose, and even a glorious resurrection would result in recriminations. “What idiot squelched this in the first place!”

No, it is beyond unjustifiable - and a travesty-betrayal of the purpose of "intellectual property" - for them to be locked away forever. But what do you expect, given that Hollywood had become so cowardly that the rare non-sequel is trumpeted automatically as “brave,” what would you expect?

Gates, on the seductive lure of idiotic cynicism (a disease that infests both the left and the right). As John Stuart Mill said in 1828, in a quote from the book that I especially enjoyed: "I have observed that not the man who hopes when others despair, but the man who despairs when others hope, is admired by a large class of persons as a sage."

The most concise scientific paper ever.

Have a look at my friend Lou Aronica’s new crossover fantasy novel BLUE.

I was badgered recently to offer up my forecast for December 21, 2012! All right, here goes! On THAT VERY DAY the sun will appear to undergo REVERSAL in its path across the sky! Not the east-west rising-setting, but in its north-south travels! On that particular day - as foretold by ancient astronomers and many of today's top scientists (though they aren't talking about it!), the sun will (to the astonishment of many!) stop appearing to move ever farther south, each day at noon.

From that day forward, and for a period that I predict will last six whole months, each noon will see the sun passing through a point farther north than on the previous day! Arcing ever-higher in the sky of the northern hemisphere, this change of course will bring with it massive waves of weather change all across that hemisphere, causing ice and snow fields to melt and water to come flooding down mountains and valleys to the sea! Moreover, sometimes unbidden or unwanted by man, green growths will start infesting almost every outdoor surface! Insects will appear, individually and even in swarms, accompanied by flocks of noisy birds! In some locales, there will be frogs, or beasts, intermittent periods of darkness, and even outbreaks of vermin! Politicians and cable news folk will proclaim reasons to panic!

And thus winter will finish turning into spring... and spring into.... SUMMER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Whereupon, on June 21, 2013... just in the nick of time... I predict the Earth will be saved when (to the surprise of many) the Sun's ever-rising noontime passage will reverse. And yes I am daring to be specific and exact in my prophecy! And from that day forth - for a time I am willing to calculate for you - its lifegiving force will seem to ebb away toward the very bottom of the world.


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Cool! the Bureau of labor statistics lets you calculate in a shot what an amount was worth at any point in the period since 1913.

Tyler Cowan’s new book: The Great Stagnation seems to cover some of the same territory (much more deeply!) as my graphic novel about industrial decline:TINKERERS

See a thought provoking parallel between Egypt in 2011 and tragic Turkey in 1911.

Variant movie listings in TV Guide: It's a Wonderful Life: "An accused criminal's descent into madness is interrupted by a visitor from a distant star, who brings about an episode of mass hysteria after a visit to a hellish parallel universe."