Monday, June 04, 2012

News in the Science of "Looking"

Flash news: The U.S. government’s secret space program has decided to give NASA two new telescopes for orbital use, as big as, and even more powerful than, the Hubble Space Telescope. Designed for surveillance, the telescopes from the National Reconnaissance Office were no longer needed for spy missions and can now be sent with missions aimed outward, instead of inward, to study the heavens. They have 2.4-meter (7.9 feet) mirrors, just like the Hubble. They also have an additional feature that the civilian space telescopes lack: A maneuverable secondary mirror that makes it possible to obtain more focused images. These telescopes will have 100 times the field of view of the Hubble. The problem: NASA needs money to instrument, fly and operate these scopes. Sign the petition to fund the NRO telescopes.

I hope this doesn't increase the risk that Congress will kill the James Webb Space Telescope, though now an extensive re-design of that problem-plagued project can be undertaken without it being a calamity for humanity and science. One question that won't be answered: what does the secret space program now have to replace these now outdated telescopes?

When you are outside, look up... and smile for the cameras.

Speaking of surveillance tech... When the U.S. military leaves Afghanistan, will the West be blind to developments there? In addition to satellites, drones and human intelligence, there will be a fourth way to keep an eye on movements and activities in the region that once gave bin Laden his base to attack New York. The technological edge keeps shifting and - as I wrote in The Transparent Society (1997) the age of micro-cameras and nano-veillance is upon us.  Now the U.S. military seems about to embark on the biggest "bugging" operation of all time, planting all over Afghanistan small, almost undetectable devices that might pass along images, seismic, audio and even radar data for as long as twenty years, operating on solar power.

If my own forecasts were on-target about this, then the foresight of Patrick Farley's "Spiders" online graphic novel is downright creepy! I have long admired this underground work and often show portions when I consult about future trends in Washington.

Take a look at Farley's other work at electricsheepcomix... and the wonderful preview-trailer that he just made for my new novel (ready to pre-order) Existence.

And how good news brings bittersweet thoughts of might-have-beens...   Now that Elon Musk’s SpaceX has achieved a fabulous milestone and won a contract to supply the International Space Station (ISS), I am reminded of how that destination could have been far, far better... for much less money.  In 1983 I authored a California Space Institute study showing how with just FIVE shuttle launches we could have had a space station vastly larger than the present one and in many ways far more capable... and twenty years earlier... using Shuttle external tanks and something called the Aft Cargo Carrier.

Note  - that article doesn't even mention the best use, as an airlock into the hydrogen tank, so it might be used as 1500 cubic meters of laboratory/living space. Five missions, that's all, to exceed by far what we have now. Woulda been so cool. For another coulda-been, see also my novella: Tank Farm Dynamo.

And while we're discussing how openness - even aggressively applied - can help us all... here's another item forecast in The Transparent Society -- the rise of the whistle-blowers!  A former home appraiser will receive $14.5 million as part of a whistleblower lawsuit that accused subprime lender Countrywide Financial of inflating appraisals on government-insured loans. Kyle Lagow's lawsuit sparked an investigation that culminated in a $1 billion settlement ... The complaints were brought under a whistleblower provision in the U.S. False Claims Act, which allows private individuals with knowledge of wrongdoing to bring suits on behalf of the government and share in the proceeds of any settlement.  It is one of the best laws passed in 30 years and I know twelve ways to make this phenomenon even better.

=== “Generations” on many time scales ==

Have we entered the Anthropocene? The term was coined by ecologist Eugene F. Stoermer but has been widely popularized by the Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen, who pointed out that many of the past boundaries between geological eras were demarked by relatively sudden mass extinctions.  For example, at the end of the Permian, or the Cretaceous (the demise of the dinosaurs.)  Some extinction causes are known... like the asteroid that brought the dinosaurs' reign to an end.  Others are controversial.  Few knowledgeable people doubt any longer that humanity is wreaking great changes on this planet.  Even without a major extinction event (a medium scale one seems unavoidable) we are having "geological" effects that would be noted by scholars studying the planet a billion years from now.  With our mines and drained hydrocarbon zones and cities, we are laying down what will be traceable sudden (and vast) layers of anomalous composition that will scream out  - "an adolescent species went hog-wild here, for a very short while."

The question... will those scholars be descendants of ours, who return to study those layers, knowing that we grew up in time the beget a great posterity?  Or will they be others, who shake their heads (or tendrils) noting "well, here's another dumb bunch of punks that didn't make the transition. Who never matured in time to become confident starfarers and change the galaxy."

On a scale much close to home, but eerily similar in tone: An interesting commencement address by Neil Howe  author of The Fourth Turning, about how (especially in America) generations tend to run in cycles that compensate for or correct the excesses or mistakes of their parents. “The Millennial Generation is correcting for the excesses of Boomers and Gen Xers who today run America. I need not remind you what those excesses are: leadership gridlock, refusal to compromise, rampant individualism, the tearing down of traditions, scorched-earth culture wars, and a pathological distrust of all institutions.”

Hrm, well, amen to that.  It’s an inspiring speech, even with salt.

At one level, of course, this hypothesis is utter drivel.  Only a few “generations” have congealed with the pure, nameable traits and sense of separation that the author grew up used to, in the Boomer era.  All this “turning” stuff is just another example of the power of human pattern recognition.  And yet... and yet as a metaphor for some very real trends, there is a lot here to ponder and be hopeful about (with copious grains of salt.)  I personally observe in my own teenagers and their friends, many of the traits Howe discusses.  They appear to be better, wiser folk than we self righteous boomers, who did important work, a while ago, but whose passing will be a blessing to America.

Can we use insight to think rationally? The one area where Sigmund Freud offered breakthrough insights of profound and permanent value was by demonstrating conclusively that the unconscious mind exists, that it has agendas that often differ from our surface rationalizations, values and proclaimed beliefs, and that it can affect our decisions and biases before we even begin consciously weighing them. Alas, like so many other brilliant men, Freud went on to make unjustified leaps of elaboration that - ironically - erupted out of his own tortured unconscious. Still, science is continuing to verify the original insight.  See this rumination on how difficult it is to be sure we are being truly rational. Take it as a caution. And repeat the sacred statement of science. “I might be wrong.”

=== The Science Fiction Side of Progress ===

See a lovely review comparing Ridley Scott's long awaited sci fi film PROMETHEUS with my new novel EXISTENCE.  Both of them fresh, 2012 examinations of some disturbingly challenging questions.

Star Trek writer Marc Zicree teams with GALACTICA fx whiz Doug Drexler & Sci-Fi Legends to reinvent classic 50s show "Space Command" as feature films.  Marc Z brings substantial talent to this project, as well as the legacy of vivid, optimistic science fiction, offering hope instead of despair, that he and his colleagues will try to re-light.  I wish them luck and every success.

What five books do I wish I had written? Is self-publishing the new ‘slush pile’? What literary characters would I like to invite to dinner?  Michael Keyton puts me "On the Rack" with these and other tough questions…

=== And Science Potpourri ===

Neuroscience for Everyone! Backyard Brains offers the Spiker Box, which allows kids and amateur scientists to study the electrical impulses of neurons. Watch the video: Take one cockroach; dunk in icewater, then extract one leg (don’t worry: it will grow another), place needles in your leg specimen, then hook leg up to  your Spiker Box, to view neural activity on your iPhone.  Next target: Earthworms, and then…

San Antonio to track students via RFID in ID cards -- in an effort to increase revenue via higher attendance.

In a groundbreaking study, researchers from the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom have discovered a link between the déjà vu phenomenon and structures in the human brain, effectively confirming the neurological origin of this phenomenon. Despite past studies investigating this phenomenon in healthy individuals, no concrete evidence had ever emerged ... until now. The study is presented in the journal Cortex.  (Hm... as in my 250 word short story Toujours Voir? (Always to see) from The River of Time).

Scientists now believe it is possible to expand the DNA alphabet, substituting unnatural letters for the nucleotide bases, perhaps enabling the production of novel molecular probes, nanomachines, or ...even new synthetic life forms.

Wondrous stuff!

Remember folks, please do help the Existence trailer to go viral? tinyurl.com/exist-trailer  ;-) And I hope to see some of you on book tour. Thrive and persevere!

62 comments:

Tom Crowl said...

Loved the Existence vid! (and shared on facebook)

Stefan Jones said...

DB, your posts are so long and full of stuff it is difficult to know what to comment on!

If the anthropocene means Oregon keeps getting drenching rain in JUNE, when things should have decently dried out for the year, I could do without it.

Tacitus2 said...

From the last thread...hey, I don't control the news of the day!

ReWinn, I hope you detected tongue in cheek when I referred to Public Employees as a Squireocracy.

Although they have had some privileges not available to their private sector fellows, they have not gotten rich, other than a few egregious double and triple dipping pension scams, mostly from University administrator types.

Regards funding between the contending forces....partial mea culpa. There have been a couple of recent analyses that have come under fire, mostly for not tallying the issue ad spending sufficiently.

Of course, I regard just looking at spending for Barrett v Walker to be an insufficient measure. This is the culmination of a year long campaign, the Republican spending is mostly here at the end. As to Barrett's anemic fundraising, well, he's not a compelling candidate.

It almost does not matter anyway, the political world is supersaturated....more money just runs off.

I'll be back with some thoughts on the outcome tomorrow.

As we are in uncharted waters I don't think the polls can tell us what it will be.

Tacitus

Ian said...

"One question that won't be answered: what does the secret space program now have to replace these now outdated telescopes?"

I would venture to suggest that whatever it is, it fits into the cargo bay of the X-37B.

Robert said...

I actually had come up with the basic idea for a drone airship concept that could be used for spying and elimination of key terrorists while minimizing civilian casualties. The craft would have the lower "hull" with a "stealth" material that could alter its coloration to better match the background sky, some form of solar paneling on the top (preferably something non-reflective), and run off of batteries. The primary weapon system would be a sniper rifle that could be aimed precisely so that the terrorist is killed or wounded badly by a gunshot rather than a missile that can cause collateral damage.

Naturally the airship would also have an array of sensors, and would be able to stay aloft for several days (at least) to keep an eye on the region and wait for terrorists to try and sneak through. And if the caliber of weapons is chosen wisely, then it would be nearly impossible to track it to the U.S. as the weapon would be foreign-made (preferably Chinese, we want to keep up our trade with China after all).

The advantages of such a system is that you don't need as powerful of sensors as you would with a spy satellite, and it could just hover quietly in an area and not easily be seen by people watching the skies.

Sadly I lack the engineering skill to better develop such a system for sale to the U.S. military. Ah well...

Rob H.

Pat Mathews said...

Neil Howe posted on his blog that managing Millies was like training puppies. I added that managing Xers is like herding alley cats. So - what is managing Boomers like?

colinatl said...

Wish you'd comment on the Kindle phenomenon that is Wool. Top of the SF charts on Amazon. Self-published. Excellent story.

LarryHart said...

Tacitus2:

It almost does not matter anyway, the political world is supersaturated....more money just runs off.


Maybe, but it seems we're stuck in a dysfunctional system in which all of the players are rewarded for playing along. Without controls on campaign spending, candidates must compete in an arms-race for advertising dollars. The lobbyists who supply those dollars (in exchange for access and preference) get what they want. The news media certainly get what they want--a windfall of advertising cash. The losers are us poor citizens whose "petitions for redress of grievances" can't compete with lobbyist money for politicians' attention.

What may finally cause change is the politicians themselves, who I hear are sick of being in perpetual fundraising mode.

Robert said...

I just had an odd thought. Given how much the Republicans in the Supreme Court hate Democratic institutions that provide entitlements, and given how they took a massively broad view on Citizen's United, what would happen if they stated that Social Security was unconstitutional because it's a mandate and ordered all such entitlement programs dissolved?

To be honest, this is just a theoretical "what-if" scenario as I doubt the Supremes are so suicidal as to destroy their political party with such a ruling... but it would be fascinating to consider the fallout of such a ruling that dissolved Social Security, Medicaid/Medicare, and other entitlement programs... such as the societal implications, the effect it would have on nursing homes that no longer received payments for older people without families in their care, and so forth.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Robert,


I just had an odd thought. Given how much the Republicans in the Supreme Court hate Democratic institutions that provide entitlements, and given how they took a massively broad view on Citizen's United, what would happen if they stated that Social Security was unconstitutional because it's a mandate and ordered all such entitlement programs dissolved?


You kind of address this in your own post, but my thought was "It would mean an electoral landslide for Democrats in 2012."

Robert said...

It doesn't matter about the political implications. We would still have a Supreme Court that stated these mandates and policies are unconstitutional. We also would still have a sizable presence of Republicans in the Senate that would be able to block Constitutional Amendment attempts to allow these programs (and they may be afraid to step out of line because of an empowered Tea Party/Libertarian base insisting that government overstepped its bounds setting up these programs in the first place).

Thus for a number of years, there would be no Social Security, no Medicare/Medicaid, and no security net entitlement programs. Republicans would probably turn and blame it on Democrats stating "if Obama hadn't overreached with the Democrats to force Health Care Reform down everyone's throats we'd still have Social Security. He's to blame!" and there would be enough idiots out there who bought the message (especially with Fox News blaring about how Obama destroyed Social Security).

Undoubtedly charities would step forward... but they could easily use their position to try and force people to join their religions out of fear of not getting the charitable handouts (even by just letting the implication of this loom over them).

And some states would likely just dump old people onto the streets like they did the mentally disabled back a few decades back when government hospitals for the mentally disturbed were shut down.

Republicans would also try to force through massive tax cuts because those funds aren't needed any longer, and would constantly beat the drums of "look at how the Democrats refuse to give up your money" to try and paint them with a broad brush, even ignoring deficit reduction effects the freed up money would provide.

In short, it would be a massive upheaval of the nation and I'm curious more to the social implications than political.

Rob H.

Rob said...

The first instinctive response I'd have to a judicial cancellation of Social Security would be to want to demand my money back, all 10%-plus of income, including employer match, in a check right now today, that I'd deposit into my IRA account.

Fat chance.

The Senate and House would also have the option of impeaching those judges. I know; another fat chance.

Tom Crowl said...

I share a lot of the concern that's reflected here about how civilizations do (or do not) survive and thrive. While those generational cycles are interesting and may have value...

I've been considering how various 'dilemmas' inherent in our biology may affect our sociability with scale...

This one I call the Monsters-from-the-Id dilemma... and hoping it makes some sense (though I'm sure it could use refinement)

Issues in Scaling Civlization: The Monsters-from-the-Id Dilemma

Maestro Sidereus said...

db, regarding your book tour, we'll see you in Seattle.

Stefan: ditto on the June rain up here in Seattle (and no, it does not ALWAYS rain here :-))

Sidereus

Doug said...

Years ago, when I was in elementary school and the HST was being built, a group of us got to tour the Perkin Elmer facility where it was being built. By then, though, the mirror blank had already been ground, and wasn't available for viewing as it was off being silvered. A couple of other similar mirrors, though, were out and viewable. I asked what the other mirrors were for, since the HST would only need one. The tour guide, one of the engineers, stayed silent for a while, then asked us not to ask any more questions about those mirrors. In retrospect, of course, it's apparent these were mirrors for use on spy telescopes, and our guide was probably breaking some regulations just by showing them to us. Beautiful things, you could stand at the other end of the big room they were worked on in, and see yourself magnified perfectly, if you stood in the right spot.

rewinn said...

@Tacitus wrote:
"...I hope you detected tongue in cheek when I referred to Public Employees as a Squireocracy...."

Heh. Ya got me!

Sometimes my SOH goes offline, especially when reading text. I rather liked the neologism though.



"...It almost does not matter anyway, the political world is supersaturated....more money just runs off..."

That *might* be one solid conclusion to draw from today's vote; it *might* happen that there is a maximum amount of money that can be usefully spent on an advertizing campaign, after which consumers (....sorry, I meant "voters"...) simply ignore the message. Truly this would be an amusing coda to Citizens United!

--
As for @Robert's interesting thought-experiment of judicial cancellation of Social Security, I would guess that the current corporatist majority would take a step-by-step approach, so as to maintain the fiction of judicial impartiality. That fiction is their only power and their only protection against Congress using its Article 2 Section power of regulating the Court ... and of creating "exceptions" to Court jurisdiction. A sufficiently p.o.'d Congress could water down the Court with new appointments.

But this is just theoretical. IMO both Court and Congress are run by much the same playas whose first priority is not to knock over the gameboard.

Ian Gould said...

"It almost does not matter anyway, the political world is supersaturated....more money just runs off."

And yet the candidates keep chasing more and the Republicans despite their deep and sincere commitment to personal freedom haven't said Word Ine about scrapping limits on individual contributions so as to put biological people on the same footing as their corporate brethren.

Tacitus2 said...

It looks as if the attempt to recall Governor Walker and four Republican State Senators has been a fiasco. (Walker by 10 points with 75% returns right now)
There have been, and will be on the morrow, pundits decrying a "bought" election.
But honestly, the reality is that in this instance the Democratic Party of Wisconsin picked the wrong fight, on the wrong issue, and with the wrong candidates.
Unless you live here it is hard to see the extent to which the public employee unions have abused their powers. For years the number one entity for lobbying at the state level was the political arm of the teachers union...by a 2:1 margain over the next in line. Union dues were deducted by the state, whether you supported the union's stances or not. And upwards of 95%were converted to dontations to D politicians, especially at the exact levels of government where union contracts were negotiated.
It was a system that could not continue, and for all the talk of corruption regards Walker, the stench of it was thick around his D predecessor.
As much as folks here respect teachers and other government workers, when you see this nonsense going on, and see cuts in student programs to fund even more extravagent benefit packages, well, at some point folks just had enough.
It would have been better to, as David indicated, "take the public unions down a peg" by gentler means, but they were simply too deeply entrenched. Any one time curbs would just be erased at the next bargaining session between union officials and union elected public officials.
I don't think this means much for November, but I would say there are currents flowing these days that the legacy media will misread as badly as they misread Wisconsin.
There is a lot more, about ways in which the D forces have "gamed" the system, but there does not appear to be much need for me to say anything else.
The people have spoken.
Tacitus

Robert said...

The thing is, the same can be said for the Republican candidate for President, Romney. People don't want him for their candidate. There was a massive "Anyone But Romney" effort, and only a massive effort by the news media to make Ron Paul a non-entity politically kept him from becoming the frontrunner (he'd have had a far better chance of inspiring the Republican Base than Romney).

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Mitt Romney is the Republican John Kerry. There are a number of parallels. And don't forget: Kerry did get close. Just not close enough. Likewise, Romney will give a decent race. But Obama ultimately will beat Romney unless something really bad happens like the Eurozone collapsing or terrorists nuking a U.S. city. (Though even the latter might not sink Obama if he promptly found who did it and had them cut down like rabid dogs.)

What I'm curious about is, should Republicans retain the State Senate, what will the blowback be? Will we see another round of repression against the public sector unions? Will Walker go for blood against the organizations that tried to oust him? I'd be willing to bet he's not going to let bygones be bygones. And if he's got the State House and Senate in his pocket... then he may very well call them back into session and work to permanently disempower the unions.

Rob H.

TheMadLibrarian said...

Speaking of 'looking', how many of you were able to watch the Venus Transit today? We did, and were able to get some phenomenal photos.

TheMadLibrarian
9 surece: Home address of Inspector Clouseau

Tacitus2 said...

Robert
Early moves regards WI Senate are concilatory...technically they were still being fined for their skip to IL, but said fines were cancelled a few days ago.
We are sailing uncharted waters, but Walker does not strike me as vindictive.
It will be a sea change for WI democratic candidates here. Up until yesterday they would fear any hint of acting independently of the wishes of the PE unions. Said unions do not look as intimidating today. Independent thinking is a good thing.
Ironically, the recall provison was never intended to be used against a governor. At the time of its passage, the governor served a two year term.
No, it was intended for long serving officials such as judges who had fallen under the sway of powerful special interest groups. So the massive effort by a powerful special interest group here to use the recall was an ironic epic fail.
Tacitus
moving on, enough politics for a while.

Paul451 said...

Slate has an article about the maker culture vs the test culture in US education.

american_kids_should_be_building_rockets_and_robots_not_taking_standardized_tests_.html

(opersitt 8 - Kurt Vonnegut's first story, aged 6 3/4.)

LarryHart said...

Tacitus2:

...
There have been, and will be on the morrow, pundits decrying a "bought" election.
But honestly, the reality is that in this instance the Democratic Party of Wisconsin picked the wrong fight, on the wrong issue, and with the wrong candidates.
Unless you live here it is hard to see the extent to which the public employee unions have abused their powers...


I was going to be extremely depressed today about the apparent ability of the Koch brothers et al to buy elections.

Your honest reportage of the local perspective gives me some hope that the recall election really might have been decided on its merits. That's something, anyway.

But keep a close eye on the supposed lessons being spun by the corporate media. If it is as you say--a blow against institutional corrpution--then today's Chicago Tribune is pigheadedly wrong when it proudly proclaims that the vote in Wisconsin means the public stands behind the slashing of government spending.

Even more ironic, I guarantee you (based on past performance, see Dick Cheney) that should Romney be our next president, Republicans will suddenly "forget" how evil deficits are as they ring up even bigger ones than Obama did. The meme will switch to "Hey, as long as we don't raise taxes, who cares how much we borrow and spend?" just as quickly and smoothly as "We have always been at war with Eurasia."

Robert said...

The sky in New England was overcast... right up until sunset. I didn't bother trying to chase down the sun with a piece of cardboard with a pinhole in it.

Instead I joined millions of others on the Internet to find coverage. Sadly, what I really wanted wasn't easily found: video footage of it without people talking in the background, video clips intermingled with it, and history lessons of the last transit. What I wanted to do was what some amateur astronomers tend to do: quietly observe.

I did see one photo that was perfect. It was Venus as it was leaving the solar disc... half in, half out. I wish I'd captured that image. No doubt I can find similar.

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Paul Krugman blogging on Wisconsin:

http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/


The best lack all conviction, while the worst are filled with a passionate intensity. Obviously I’m not happy with the result; not just out of political sympathies, but because all the recent political trends have been rewarding the side that caused the very crisis from which it is now benefiting, not to mention politicians who have been wrong about everything since the crisis hit.

I’m even more unhappy with how it happened, with national Democrats basically sitting on their hands while conservatives poured resources into the race.

This combination of Democratic diffidence and confusion, on one side, with right-wing ferocity on the other, is the main subject of a long piece Robin and I just wrote for the NYRB; deadline pressure on that piece is why I blogged so little yesterday. So much more about it all in the near future.

Still, my rule for myself is, never give up. All seemed lost politically in 2004; it wasn’t. Then a lot of people, including, I’m sorry to say, Obama, slacked off after 2008, believing that the other side would have to compromise.

It’s never over, for good or bad. Keep on plugging.

Tacitus2 said...

LarryHart
I have been thinking on the impact of money, mostly as it changed my view of the race.
The turning point was about 4 months ago. At that point Walker had not even started running ads, although I suppose he may have had money in the bank by then. A candidate very popular with unions, a certain Ms.Falk, announced that she as guv. would refuse to sign any budget that did not recind the collective bargaining law. And at almost the same instant several of the PE unions endorsed her. Maybe 15 min apart!
A blatant quid pro quo that really clarified the extent to which maybe 10% of the residents of the state were willing to shut it down over their own self interests!
At that point their press coverage became a whole lot less favorable.
And when the primary election came along Ms.Falk was resoundingly defeated by the bland Mr.Barrett, who is at least a garden variety pol. Really a decent chap trying to run a dysfunctional city.
But the kicker is, on that same primary day, Gov. Walker in a meaningless R primary got MORE votes than his two prime D opponants COMBINED. I rarely go all cap, but this was an unexpected underground detonation.
After that more money came in, but the race was effectively over.
And as to the only impact of money on myself? Well, prior to that folks were reluctant to admit supporting Walker. You got a lot of crap for it. The exit polling last night was worthless because many of us continued to be reluctant to admit it. But lawn signs all over the place did make we quiet conservatives feel just a little braver.
I doubt the millions upon millions of dollar moved many undecided voters. Just runoff apart from cheering up a few folks who otherwise just went about their business.
Oh, look up Walker's speech from last night. Skip the first 7 min if you like, necessary thank yous. He says he talked with Barrett, and when a couple of folks booed he held up his finger and said "Stop". Tomorrow is the day after the election. We are going to work together. He invited all legislators over for brats burgers and maybe a little good Wisconsin beer.
This is not Dr. Evil folks.
Tacitus
David, your comments on referenda in San Jose and in your native San Diego? PE pensions seem the issue of the day.

LarryHart said...

Tacitus2:

And as to the only impact of money on myself? Well, prior to that folks were reluctant to admit supporting Walker. You got a lot of crap for it. The exit polling last night was worthless because many of us continued to be reluctant to admit it. But lawn signs all over the place did make we quiet conservatives feel just a little braver.


I actually called that one correctly with Obama in 2008. The pundits were trying to say that people were ashamed of looking racist, so they'd tell pollsters they'd be voting for the black guy, but on election day, they'd secretly vote for McCain. My sense was that the opposite was happening--that plenty of traditional conservatives didn't want to admit in front of their friends that they were going to vote for Obama.


Oh, look up Walker's speech from last night. Skip the first 7 min if you like, necessary thank yous. He says he talked with Barrett, and when a couple of folks booed he held up his finger and said "Stop". Tomorrow is the day after the election. We are going to work together. He invited all legislators over for brats burgers and maybe a little good Wisconsin beer.
This is not Dr. Evil folks.


Again, good to know. McCain did the same sort of thing in 2008, and I gave him all sorts of credit for that. It's the ones in the crowd who boo--and who feel that booing is the socially expected thing to do--who worry me. More Palin than McCain, in that sense.

Paul451 said...

The internet is saying Ray Bradbury is no longer.

Tom Crowl said...

Ray Bradbury:

"In my later years I have looked in the mirror each day and found a happy person staring back." he wrote in a book of essays published in 2005. "Occasionally I wonder why I can be so happy. The answer is that every day of my life I've worked only for myself and for the joy that comes from writing and creating. The image in my mirror is not optimistic, but the result of optimal behavior."

R.I.P.

I grew up on his works and I can't express my gratitude for his life and work!

TheMadLibrarian said...

A friend, John Hughes, and I spent most of the day yesterday watching the stately progress of Venus across the solar disc. He was using an inexpensive camera from Costco (I think it was a Pentax) and holding variously, over the lens, a #14 welder's glass, a #12 welder's glass, or a filter our local college astronomy department handed out, to take the following shots:
http://www.jediknight.com/gallery2/v/Hughes2/

He snapped a picture about every 5-10 minutes except at first contact and last contact, when it was one every few seconds to try and capture the 'oil drop' illusion. We also had some intermittent cloud cover, which caused some problems during parts of the transit, and once, the sprinklers went off on the lawn where we began our photography!

Now Ray Bradbury is gone. He, along with Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein, were the trifecta of my youth.

TheMadLibrarian
9b zesiga: Follow the dance steps on this diagram...

Tacitus2 said...

LarryHart
I agree, true class in American politics is so rare we need to salute it. Whenever, where ever, whoever.
The booing at the mention of Barrett sounded to me like about two people in an overflow crowd. It stopped with the raising of a single finger.
Compare this to the incident at the Barrett concession speech...a woman was so upset that Barrett had conceded that she came up to him and said "I just want to slap you". And she did!
But small spuds compared to the incident last fall where Walker was making a special presentation to some Special Olympians and a band of protestors with signs and slogans marched back and forth in front of his podium.
Ickypoo.

Onward.
or as the official motto of Badgerland goes: Forward
Tacitus

rewinn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rewinn said...

The unreported stories out of Wisconsin have nothing to do with the *merits* of either side's political arguments:

* The Wisconsin Senate may have (barely) flipped to the Democrats. The extraordinarily harsh treatment of the minority party by the majority, amply documented on YouTube and elsewhere, is not likely to be repeated, in my estimation, because Wisconsin Democrats simply don't have the bad manners of the Fitzwalker gang, and at any rate, the GOP has vowed to reverse the flip the next time there are elections (...rumor has it there's something going on in November.)

* Reportedly (...therefore take it with a grain of salt...) the Tea Party responded very effectively to the Democrat's ground game by hiring Hessians to do their GOTV. In retrospect this is extremely logical; once the airwaves have been saturated, what useful can you do with the money? The DP aspect of GOTV is so straightforward that I'm sure there's a dozen apps for it; the rest can be done with minimum-wage hired hands.

Whether the Democrats will respond to the latter effectively is an open question. Both parties look to be building insanely huge war chests. Paid GOTV efforts are not necessarily a bad thing; anything that boosts voter turnout is good for the Republic and if the two parties struggling against each other drives voter participation toward the theoretical limit of 100%, I see no problem with that. I just wish *my* side had thought of it first. But we must never be ashamed to learn a lesson from the other side!

* Walker's very handsome words of reconciliation are unlikely to be met with any sort of action on his part. I'm prepared to be proven wrong, and of course all Democrats should accept any hand extended them in friendship, but what would Walker's motivation be for screwing up his chances to be the GOP's leader in 2016? His top priority has to be not angering his base, that is to say, the Kochs. Every political candidate needs a billionaire patron Citizens United - we may at least be grateful it's not the PRC's Sovereign Wealth Fund.

rewinn said...

Although, on the lighter side, the Sci-Ence blog gives support for those who think Politics Is a Supermassive Black Hole

David Brin said...

I was asked to do an urgent quick eulogy for Ray on Salon... cover story!

See:
http://www.salon.com/2012/06/06/ray_bradbury_american_optimist/singleton/

Dashed it off in an hour this morning.  Was therapy-solace. The world is less colorful, less passion-filled today.

d
 
An added bit of color.  The one time all three of my kids (I jest) ever showed me perfect, unalloyed respect simultaneously, for more than an hour, was when I took them to Ray Bradbury's house and Ray got up from his walker, with open arms, calling out: "David!"  And I got respect for two hours.  Thanks for that added gift, Ray. ;-)
 

David Brin said...

Here’s a reminder to think about joining some of us for a luxurious (and surprisingly inexpensive) 7-day cruise -- or rather not-the-end-of-the-world-cruise -- in the Caribbean with astronaut Steve Hawley, Science Fiction novelists Rob Sawyer and David Brin, plus several esteemed scientists... all of it culminating on the steps of a Mayan Temple on the day the Earth’s supposed to end! Go browse the prospectus and mull over the possibilities. Either join us for fun and good laughs... or else be on ground zero when the feathered serpent god comes down! http://www.end-of-the-world-cruise.com/blog/

Jumper said...

Nice piece in Salon. Thanks.

Andrew S. Taylor said...

David,

Your piece in Salon reminded me that even Bradbury's darkest stories are oddly inspiring and hopeful. Even stories about disillusionment and apocalypse never gave way to despair. The world which his characters inhabited was always alive and pulsing and demanding attention, even if the characters were not paying attention to it (as in Fahrenheit 451, and some of the more dystopian stories). He showed how foolish people really were when they failed to notice the amazing things around them.

Even in his short story in which the mechanized house continues to operate after all the people have been vaporized ("And There Will Come Soft Rains"), there is no despair, even though it was sad and dark and chilling. Reading it made me hope all the harder, to do what I could to make sure humanity would survive and flourish to enjoy the world that would always be there regardless.

rewinn said...

Is this a new model for supporting the writing of fiction? Encounter with Mr. Aleph ( by the guy behind Saturday Morning Brekfast Cereal ) combines a teaser with Pay-What-You-Want.

Tony Fisk said...

So while everyone's musings leant toward the transit of Venus, the muse of Mars quietly transitted away..

Please prove you're not a robot
'rstdefor 7'
... and what happens if I *am* a robot, hmm?

LarryHart said...

Tony Fisk:

"Please prove you're not a robot"
'rstdefor 7'
... and what happens if I *am* a robot, hmm?


What would happen to an Asimovian robot given a direct instruction by a human being to "Please prove you're not a robot"?

Robert said...

Depends on the point in time. If the robot is a Zeroeth Law robot it could easily state "I am not a Robot" because robots are a potential threat to humanity's growth and expansion. If the robot is from prior to the Zeroeth Law (which means back when Robots were known), then all it has to say is "I cannot, because I am a robot."

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Robert:

If the robot is from prior to the Zeroeth Law (which means back when Robots were known), then all it has to say is "I cannot, because I am a robot."


Not to beat this horse into the ground, but strictly speaking, that doesn't conform to the Second Law as usually stated, which is that a robot must obey instructions from a human being (emphasis mine).

I agree that your reponse would be the most sensible reaction, but would the Second Law really allow it? I'd say that if it did, then the Second Law has to be "translated" into human speak with more nuance than it usually is in the stories--something about having to attempt in good faith to obey a command or some such.

Robert said...

The Zeroeth Law overrides all over laws. Thus a robot can kill a human despite the First Law should it be for the benefit of all humanity. If, for instance, the Emperor was going to order that all humans on every world be given sterilizing drugs and was able to overcome resistance to this idea then a Zeroeth Law Robot could easily go up to him and terminate his existence because of the threat to Humanity as a whole. Thus the Second Law is easily overcome due to the Zeroeth Law.

And I've just shown my geek credentials. ^^;; The truly sad thing is I've not read the Robot stories in a very long time (and may not have read them all, I don't recall); this is all based off of what I know from Asimov's last two Foundation novels and on the Foundation Prequels Dr. Brin and associates wrote.

Rob H.

Paul451 said...

Don't complex robots typically interpret lies as a First Law issue, only possible to prevent harm, otherwise it does harm?

So unless there's a First Law reason to pretend to not be a robot, First Law not-lying trumps the Second Law obedience.

However, although not stated in the stories, I would expect that any less advanced robot would have safe-guards that prevent the robot from trying and failing to interpret an self-contradictory order. "I cannot do that" would not be a violation of the Second Law, it would be a statement of fact. (Although USR did a crappy job of such safeguards. How the hell did they stay in business?)

But then there was a robot that was strongly ordered to "get lost" and hid amongst a batch of similar-but-different robots, it lied and deceived to obey the first order. Meaning that "Prove you're not a robot" would result in a robot doing its best to be a lamp.

But then that robot had half the First Law missing, so may not see lying-by-omission as harm, which perhaps reinforces my first point.

Stefan Jones said...

My crude capture of the Transit of Venus:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/stefan_e_jones/7343638342/in/photostream

Per Mr. Fisk's suggestion on Twitter, I used binoculars to project two sun images on a screen, then took a photo of that. I only managed to get one of the images focussed. You can clearly see the dot at about 3 O'Clock in the left disc.

Ian Gould said...

I forget the title but there's an Asimov robot story in which a robot passes for human and runs for politcal office because he beelives this is how he can best protect humans from harm.

He flat-out denies being a robot when asked.

"Prove you are not a robot or I'll shoot myself" would probabyl destroy any Asimovian robot prior to R Daneel Olivaw.

Tony Fisk said...

...since Stefan's put his transit shot up here's mine, from a very wobbly (music) stand. Added refinement; taping over the less focussed eyepiece.

Mind you, see Bad Astronomer here and here to find out how it's *really* done!!

(may require spare satellite, or o/s airline ticket...)

David Brin said...

Missing in Asimov stories but implicit in many is a hierarchy of 2nd law commands. Any human can order you but commands from your owner take precedence and those from top state institutions trump the owner. Whereupon there is now room for many complicated instructions about when to obey regular human on the street.

Tony Fisk said...

Oh wow... It seems 'Bad Astronomer' (aka Phil Plait) did a 'Science Fare' speech, and it just got the Zen pencils treatment. See the poster here.

Make good art, indeed!

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

Paul and Robert,

Sorry, but I don't think the First Law (or Zeroth) come into it.

And the point wasn't whether there's some reason to pretend to be human. My (admittedly frivolous) question was what the Second Law would do to a robot commanded to "Prove you're not a robot", since that would be impossible to do. I might just as well have asked what the Second Law would do to a robot if a human commanded him to leap to Jupiter under his own power.

The point is that Asimov didn't write the Second Law as "A robot must try as best he can to...". The Second Law is states as "A robot must obey commands given to it by a human being" or something close to that. If we take Asimov at his word that that's an accurate translation of the processes controling a robot's brain, then I wonder what the effect of ANY impossible-to-obey command would be.

(And the First/Zeroth laws are not relevant. Unless you're going to argue that ANY IMAGINABLE impossible directive can be ignored on account of causing harm. I don't buy that.)

LarryHart said...

Ian Gould:

I forget the title but there's an Asimov robot story in which a robot passes for human and runs for politcal office because he beelives this is how he can best protect humans from harm.


I don't remember the title either, but the character you are thinking of was named Steven Byerley. And the same character re-appeared in a later story called "The Evitable Conflict"


He flat-out denies being a robot when asked.


Well, I think you're slightly misremembering the story. The way I recall it, even though it is strongly hinted that Byerley is a robot, the author is careful not to actually commit to that interpretation.

LarryHart said...

What I should have said:


I forget the title but there's an Asimov robot story in which a robot passes for human and runs for politcal office because he beelives this is how he can best protect humans from harm.


Was it Mitt Romney?

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

Missing in Asimov stories but implicit in many is a hierarchy of 2nd law commands. Any human can order you but commands from your owner take precedence and those from top state institutions trump the owner. Whereupon there is now room for many complicated instructions about when to obey regular human on the street.


In real life, the laws governing a robot would have to account for ownership, both private and governmental. A robot would have to "know" whose orders take precedence and what degree of effort the robot is required to commit to the orders of different individuals. When Captain Jelico took over the Enterprise from Captain Picard, there was a whole ritual ceremony which transferred command control to the new captain, and the ship's computers then "knew" whose orders to follow.

But the Second Law, whenever spelled out in the stories, makes no such distinction.

Jumper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rewinn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rewinn said...

As to the Zeroeth Law, it always struck me as vaguely creepy in a Jack Williamson, "The Humanoids" sort of way. In the extended series (which I have yet to complete) does it address the need for a Negative Oneth law, permitting humanity the freedom to be screwups ... because otherwise humanity itself would be destroyed?


As to "Prove you're not a robot" IIRC Fred Saberhagen took a run at this in one of his Berserker shorts, in which humanity's Great General is saved by pointing at The Most Beautiful Thing In The Universe; only true humans would look at it and go "Wow!".

Also, as to using captchas to prove you're not a robot, surely someone has done the obligatory "No robot would be so frustrated by a captcha that they would give up trying to post; I have given up; therefore I'm not a robot!"

Robert said...

Implied in "Foundation and Earth" and more strongly mentioned in the Foundation Prequels is the concept that robots are in fact not good for humanity. They ultimately eliminate a human's ability to choose for themselves because in order to accept the Three Laws of Robotics, ultimately a human must be babied and have every care catered to... which destroys their ability to grow and thus damages humanity itself.

As such, admitting that someone is a robot would thus be damaging to humanity and possibly to the human itself... which means then the First and Zeroeth Laws of Robotics would prevent revelation of the Robot's existence except in those cases where it is for the Greater Good (as with Hari Sheldon) or already known (the noble whose name evades me from Brin's Foundation novel).

Rob H.

Tony Fisk said...

Also, as to using captchas to prove you're not a robot, surely someone has done the obligatory "No robot would be so frustrated by a captcha that they would give up trying to post; I have given up; therefore I'm not a robot!"

See also Clarke's veiled references to Armageddon level memetic viruses like 'The Mandelbrodt Maze' in 3001

David Brin said...

Rewinn said : "As to the Zeroeth Law, it always struck me as vaguely creepy in a Jack Williamson, "The Humanoids" sort of way. In the extended series (which I have yet to complete) does it address the need for a Negative Oneth law, permitting humanity the freedom to be screwups ... because otherwise humanity itself would be destroyed?"

In fact, the Negative Oneth Law is discussed extensively in Foundation's Triumph, as an extension that demanded dedication to all intelligent life (including robots) and its extension cosmically. Daneel denounces it as "abomination"... just as the Calvinians denounce his Zeroth Law.

Robot... er, I mean ROBERT said: "Implied in "Foundation and Earth" and more strongly mentioned in the Foundation Prequels is the concept that robots are in fact not good for humanity. They ultimately eliminate a human's ability to choose for themselves because in order to accept the Three Laws of Robotics, ultimately a human must be babied and have every care catered to... which destroys their ability to grow and thus damages humanity itself."

In fact, the only way that Daneel isn't the worst criminal of all time is that there has to be a HUGE reason for keeping humanity's capability for singularity (soft or hard) squelched. To keep us so stupid we never re-invent robots! The Killer Bees pondered this and realized, it must be the same reason that Earthlings went agoraphobic in CAVES AND STEEL and the Spacers became such assholes. Or that made humans mathematically predictable.

A disease. In effect, the humanity that Seldon can mathematically model so well is NOT the same humanity that made positronic robots. Something hit us, really hard, down to our genes. We call it Chaos. It was the ingredient that made most of Isaac's inconsistencies go away. Daneel HAD to do it, you see!

Tony alludes to this exactly with "Armageddon level memetic viruses"

David Brin said...

onward...