Saturday, December 27, 2014

It is the dawning of the age of….

A core lesson for our era. Don't give up on all privacy. Nevertheless -- live and work as if anybody might be watching now, or at a recording that's decrypted and published ten years from now. Always act as if there's a chance what you're doing will be revealed. That's the take-home lesson from...

Mr. Transparency on Life After the Sony Hacks: I was interviewed by David S. Cohen in VARIETY  — on the implications for a dawning Age of Transparency.

Follow that up with a thoughtful rumination -- On Fear of Surveillance Technology -- by Emrys Westacott, about three things we fear from the tsunami of cameras  -- a Frankenstein world, loss of privacy, and the likelihood that elites will use these new powers to dominate us.  Transparency can prevent all these bad things, but only if it is done right.

== Those cop-cams... ==

...that I forecast in EARTH (1989) and in The Transparent Society, are arriving in a tsunami. Resulting in...

An Israeli police officer was indicted because camera footage disproved his story about the teenager he shot. Yet another demonstration that cameras will be key to an evolving age of accountability.  

And researchers from the University of Cambridge's Institute of Criminology have published the first scientific report showing that police body-cameras can prevent unacceptable use-of-force. 

Smile, you're on video camera...Super-futurist Virginia Postrel offers an interesting thought experiment about the future spread of cameras and omni-veillance in our lives.  The upside potential is vast... providing we remain calmly reasonable about negotiating carve-outs and exceptions. And - above all - if we demand that the light spread "upward" - at least as much as downward.

On the other had... have you ever seen a techno trend that didn't have a deeply lowbrow-crummy side?  Creepy website streaming from thousands of private camerasInsecam has access to more than 73,000 cameras all around the globe which includes more than 11,000 cameras in the United States, 6500 in Republic of Korea and almost 5000 in China. By streaming the footage… without permission of the owners, Insecam claims it is teaching a simple lesson for folks to change their passwords and do minimal security.  Sure, good advice.  Meanwhile… um… you benefit from advertizing to the voyeurs who flood to your site because other fools tell the world about… oh… oops.  (Send me my cut, by the usual dropbox.)

== ... and speaking of creepy... ==

After six years and over one billion dollars in development, the FBI has just announced that its new biometric facial recognition software system is finally complete. Meaning that, starting soon, photos of tens of millions of U.S. citizen's faces will be captured by the national system on a daily basis.”  Sound terrifying?  Then chill.  Breathe.  Inhale and exhale. As usual I must point out that there is absolutely nothing you or anyone else will accomplish by whining and railing against this.  If we panic and ban the databases, they will simply go underground. As happened when TIA (Total Information Awareness) fled to the NSA.

 Elites will have them. Elites will see us. Name a counter example across all of the annals of time. But that does not automatically mean Big Brother.

The one and only way to keep this from becoming an Orwellian nightmare is to insist — with ferocious militancy — on our ability to look back at elites.  That is not only possible, it is exactly what gave us the freedom we already have.

A woman in Monterey Calif. is alleged to have intercepted communications, including sensitive law enforcement communications, by means that included “spy software” that the defendant secretly installed on the mobile phone of a police officer. The information also alleges that during the same period she illegally possessed interception devices, namely spy software including Mobistealth, StealthGenie, and mSpy, knowing that the design of those products renders them primarily useful for the purpose of the surreptitious interception of wire, oral, and electronic communications.  Clearly this is not the same thing as 2013’s milestone civil rights breakthrough declaring an absolute right of citizens to visually record their interactions with police.  I am one of the biggest and earliest proponents of “sousveillance” to look back at authority for purposes of accountability.  But do you think this is within the bounds of reasonable?  Perhaps in that cooked county of movie lore.

== On Anonymity, Trolls and Sock Puppets ==

Privacy/transparency issues involved in GamerGate? It is a horrid thing, with trolls and nasty-boys going after women gamers, protected by encrypted anonymity. 

Will Wheaton comments about the need for methods to strip anonymity from online trolls:  Anonymous trolls have made the gaming community toxic — especially for women — and upended the industry at a time when the games we play are finally being recognized as the incredible works of art that they can be. While I don’t believe bad actors represent gaming culture’s mainstream, I feel sure they wouldn’t issue rape and death threats, or harass other gamers, if they would be held accountable for their actions.”

Again, my point about The Transparent Society.  It is only pure-anonymity that lets bastards like this operate. (There are versions of pseudonymity that would be win-wins, letting us have all the good-liberating aspects of anonymity, while eliminating the worst; a huge business opportunity, for the right innovators.)

The imbalance of power between trolls/stalkers and their victims is increasingly a topic of concerned discussion.  Again and again, the talk turns to finding ways to shield the IDs of victims… which never works… rather than outing the harrassers, which will inherently work, but  is presently difficult to achieve. See: YouTube and Patreon have allowed harassers to turn their abuse into a paid profession.

Again.  Accountability is the light that sears most kinds of bad guys, whether they operate in criminality or in high places.

== Policy matters... and Misc Universe... ==

 This Tool Tells You When Governments Have Infected Your Computer…”  To be honest, I’d be more wary of clicking on some blogged app that offers to check your computer for government spies.  Anyone have some expertise on this to share in comments? 

An exceptionally cogent explanation and run-down on the vexing issue of "net neutrality"... and why you should care: Say Hello to the Ubernet in the Economist.

Startup website Cloverpop wants to help you make critical life decisions. 

An unusually thoughtful rumination on what the information age does for our abilities to think, to be aware, to engage in new literacies and to collaborate.  

Are evil corporations or already using “sock Puppets” to manipulate user feedback data and skew the Internet?  Making some interest groups or policies seem way-more popular than they really are? (Or less?)  Sock puppets also up viewership ratings and inflate the number of comments under a thread to give it buzz.

Reddit expects people to try and game the system, so has many defences in place. Still, Thinkst managed to breach those defences easily.” Also -- “…new technologies promise freedom, but then get subverted by the powers-that-be and actually end up working against you.

Can something be done?  In fact, yes. I have the outline of a business… a whole industry … in pseudonymous reputation conveyance/management… that would entirely change this entire landscape, allowing both more freedom and more accountability. Alas, VCs are only interested in clones of same-old ideas from the 1990s.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Cuba, the drug war, and sick addictions that never work

This week’s political riff is about letting go of really bad obsessions and habits. We are Homo sapiens -- the animal who rationalizes, insisting that our favorite dogmas are immune to evidence. Delusion is our greatest talent, which explains most of our gruesomely awful human history. 

Remember the popular definition of insanity?

    Doing the same thing over and over, while expecting different results.”

One choice example of repetitive-delusional craziness is the wretched-endless War on Drugs, a lunacy that should have been rejected by our parents and grandparents who recalled the great ‘success’ of Prohibition. Yet, for seventy years the U.S. – and every nation we could bully into going along – has spent trillions trying to cure chemical dependency and addiction with prisons.

This drives up the price and profitability of illicit substances, feeding vast, spectacularly-wealthy criminal cartels that enriched the very worst humans while spreading infection and violence, sucking life out of local economies.

Should we battle against addiction, a common human failure mode? Sure! I’d replace prohibition with strong diversion programs, with coerced-conservatorship rights for loving relatives. Ending one failed approach does not mean having to go full-monty libertarian. Some European nations have experimented with methods that work far better than our own absurd approach.

But what’s fascinating is how long it takes for millions of people to blink, stare at actual outcomes, and admit, at last: “Okay, that’s not working. Let’s stop listening to puritan demagogues. Does anyone have ideas to try next?” 

That's the pragmatic, problem solving attitude Americans were once famous-for. Alas.

Now, at long last, the Drug War’s spell is breaking. Marijuana is legal in Washington and Colorado. A dozen other states are liberal with medical-pot. All are wrestling with how to handle the inevitable problems, but with science, not a sledge hammer. Indeed, last week the Obama Administration pulled all federal enforcement dealing with small-time pot users, in states that request it. 

(Libertarians take note: this has only happened in “blue states.”  Not one red or confederate state has even sniffed at the trend. Given that Republicans are not supporters of "economic freedom," will a day come when libertarians draw the correct conclusion? Nope, that is one addictive mistake they'll cling to, forever.)

== The Cuban Insanity ==

Likewise, President Obama’s recent decision to restore diplomatic relations with the last purely communist dictatorship on Earth – Cuba – while retracting some (not all) of the sanctions against trade and commerce and travel: what does it mean?  

Fifty years, and not once have the Castros or their partisans showed the slightest inclination to knuckle under. Indeed, the U.S. trade embargo gave them an excuse for their economic and political management. Depriving them of that scapegoat is one of many reasons why this move is overdue. Let Cubans aim resentment at their own inept rulers. Also, increased flow of human contact will only undermine the Castros’ grip.

(Both the Castros and the American right are completely loony to claim the U.S. embargo ever mattered much. Not while the entire rest of the world was trading openly with Cuba. Only broad embargoes work. Seriously Marco Rubio? How stupid do you think your supporters… oh, never mind.)

Back to the topic at-hand. Addictions that never worked. We’ve looked at seventy years of an insane, counter-productive Drug War… plus fifty years of a stupid foreign policy that did no good. Are there other examples?

== Supply Side ==

How about Supply Side (Voodoo) Economics or SSVE. For a decade I’ve demanded that its supporters trot out ONE example of this blatant idiocy ever having predicted actual outcomes.

The theory's simple: lavish tax gifts to the rich will be invested in industrial productive capital or R&D that would boost the supply of new goods and services. Cuts in tax rates would be more than compensated by vastly increased taxable incomes, erasing all government red ink. Reduce income in order to increase it! What could possibly go wrong?

This dogma, clutched by the American Right, does a logical flip on what we do know to be true, from Keynsian Economics, that money in the pockets of the middle class (especially the working poor) is immediately spent, making it “high velocity cash” which stimulates via “Demand Side Economics” or DSE. 

For example, had Congress passed the Infrastructure Bill, setting 100,000 workers fixing our decaying bridges, most of that money would have come back as taxes in a quick-stimulated economy, building recovery momentum much quicker while giving us safe bridges and roads. GOP congressmen have been quite open over their reasons for blocking the bill. Precisely because (they admit) it would have worked.

(Note, while not all Keynsian trips are valid (!) it works most of the time. Yet more proof is seen in this month's apparent economic takeoff into rapid U.S. economic growth, which was inarguably stimulated by the spending power of the middle class, including the sudden cash infusion from low gas prices, aided by rising auto fuel efficiency. Not a scintilla of it came from "supply side.")

That works, so why not Supply Side? Ah, but just because SSVE is a flip of the proved DSE, that does not mean the incantation works.  In science we learn a habit.  If predictions fail, the theory has been “falsified.” 

Maybe not completely, but it loses credibility and its proponents should back off. Go back to the drawing board. SSVE has failed even once to predict outcomes successfully. Let me reiterate the dare: find one example.

Moreover, most economists – even Adam Smith – would quickly tell you why.  

Because the rich mostly do not invest added wealth in R&D or risky productive capital.

Oh, some do. We have Angel investors and Venture Capitalists and Warren Buffett and tech geniuses like Gates and Bezos and Musk etc… a majority of whom (by my rough poll) appear to be democrats.  But Adam Smith wrote 250 years ago about how most aristocrats who gain a bit more wealth plonk it swiftly into passive “rent-seeking” properties.  Real estate or equities bubbles – exactly what we saw happen after those giant Bush Tax Cuts.  Bubbles that do nothing to increase productive capacity or introduce new goods or services.

And yet, these folks keep expecting different results! Just recently, radical Tea Party Governor Sam Brownback rammed through the biggest tax cut for the rich in Kansas history, confidently forecasting that his state would soon lead the nation in growth, putting the state budget soundly in the black and allowing more to be spent on education. Instead, Kansas has plunged into a sea of red ink. Brownback is “borrowing” from pensions and schools and highway maintenance to fill chasms, and the state lags behind the nation in jobs and economic recovery.

Here, at least, we can see a reason for the persistence of an insane dogma. There are powerful people who benefited from SSVE. Yes, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are saying “raise our taxes!  But many in the aristocracy want a return to feudal pyramids of privilege. They will pay apologists to keep pushing catechisms and incantations, knowing that – in some regions of the nation and the world – there are people who will believe anything, if you just repeat it enough times.

== Is the Left any better? ==

Does it seem I am picking on just one “side?” Dogmatism is a disease of the mind. It can take root wherever brains are fertile with passion, while low in logic. 

Take Marxism. Let me be clear that Old Karl was a pretty bright fellow, an incisive critic of his times and a generator of very interesting hypotheses about the processes of capital formation, some of which are proved standards in economics, today.  But his passion took charge at some point and he became… instead… a science fiction author, writing just-so stories about possible futures.  Even that would have been okay… if he had done what good SF authors do – admit that “it’s just a plausibility, not a prediction.”

Alas, he began taking his stories seriously, as forecasts and not warnings. And he became... a guru.

Across a hundred years, many of those Marxian auguries were tested. Time and again, they proved mistaken or off-target. But Lenin and Mao and others kept finding excuses! For example, it was not in the most developed proletariats (in England and Germany) but among the least developed (Russia and China) that socialist revolutions burgeoned.  And Marx never imagined that the west might reform itself to include and share power with a vast and empowered middle. He certainly never envisioned Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

We who recall the obstinate insanity of the Soviet Union can tell you, this syndrome – in science it is called confirmation bias, or else hallucinatory delusion -- exists in all directions, including the so-called “left.” Indeed, that side of the insipid spectrum contains some cargo cults, to this day. For example romantic-nostalgic attitudes of suspicion toward science and technology, which have been the average person’s greatest-ever friend. Certainly the hostility we see toward science fiction in almost every university literature department, the boldest and most useful form of narrative, is evidence of some kind of mental derangement.

As I’ve long held, it is not that one side has a monopoly on political craziness. All zealotries are infested with this sickness. It’s that one end of the American political spectrum is currently owned and operated by its lunatics. That is our current crisis, in this phase of the re-ignited American Civil War. The resurgent Confederacy’s insanity must be faced down, yet again…

… but never assume there is zero danger from other directions. Be capable of turning your head.

== Where the delusions truly fester ==

Alas, there is no comparison.  The Neo-Confederacy is where incantation after utterly disproved incantation still throttle minds into endless repetition of mistakes. 

Want one more? John Mauldin takes on the Mighty SVM. That’s Shareholder Value Maximization, for you newbies. “The world’s dumbest idea” Mauldin calls it, in which Milton Friedman — Saint Milton to the right — in 1970,wrote, “There is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits...”

Ah, but then John M asks the question: “How to get corporate executives to focus on maximizing the wealth of shareholders? The solution: pay them a s***load of money (but not just cash – stock and options now constitute about two-thirds of total CEO compensation).”

Now note this. John Mauldin is an economist with very conservative political leanings though sane, which causes him real dissonance on that Fox-lobotomized part of the spectrum. We argue over some of the rationalizations that he comes up with, for the way the right has veered into worship of oligarchy. Which is why this most recent missive of his — assailing one of the central premises of republican economics — left me gasping.

“But, alas, there is pretty good research to suggest that larger incentives actually translate to lower performance. To make matters worse, both the average tenure of a corporate CEO and the average lifetime of an S&P 500 company have plummeted since the 1970s. Bottom line: SVM has pretty well laid the kingdom to waste. Our newsletter focuses on three areas of damage: (1) declining and low rates of business investment, (2) rising inequality, and (3) a low labor share of GDP.”

One more theory that "ought to work!" And indeed, I do not blame Milton Friedman for posing it. It might even have been worth trying! The culpable idiots are those who can ignore 40 years of 100% negative outcomes and persist in what has become solely a method for vampires to suck the rest of us dry, and to demolish real, flat-fair-open market competition.  They are the parasites described by Adam Smith.  The truest enemies of enterprise capitalism.

But ignoring outcomes has become the utter reflex of members of the outright cult that has hijacked the once-intellectual movement of William F. Buckley and Barry Goldwater.

== The insipid axis ==
Do you doubt that I could go on and on, listing relentless, reflexive obstinacies? I go into a number of them here, where I show that a disparity of OUTCOMES -- with 100% negative results from the last two Republican administrations (find one counter-example, I dare you)  would make any thinking conservative wonder if - perhaps - he or she should be fighting to save the movement from monsters. Except for misplaced loyalty.  And habit.

But it goes far beyond that. Beyond mere politics.

You’ve heard me say it before.  Some of our vilest habits and addictions are the simplest. Metaphors like the hoary and lobotomizing so-called left-right political axis. Admit it. You could not give a simple and clear definition of that awful thing, if your life depended on it!  Certainly if you did, it would have little in common with the definition offered by the next person you meet, or the next.

Even worse than metaphorical addictions are those based on mental states, like the recurring allure of outrage. Sanctimony and self-righteous indignation are unbeatable, luscious highs that cannot be matched by any drug.  And they are catered to by pushers in mass media, who pound incessant drum-beats of cynicism, anger and fear.

So many actual metrics of national and world health getting better every year (with notable and worrisome exceptions), that humanity ought to feel confident in our ability to solve more problems, and yet more! 

Hence, what can we make of this plague of incited rage and despair? It deeply undermines our can-do conviction that we can take on challenges, overcome obstacles, and make continued progress.

In that respect, there is only one word for the merchants of anger and doom, whose incantatory sermons keep enticing us into simplistic insanities.  

They are traitors.

The real world is complicated. Yes, there are some elegant, underlying laws of physics and nature.  But we learned those – and how to grasp complexity – by paying attention to experimental results. By willingly letting go of beautiful theories that have proved –just-plain-wrong. 

Not by frantically clinging to comforting tenets and mantras fed to us by biased media and “think tanks” that answer to puppet-master elites.

Stop preaching to others about their addictions, when you haven’t looked in a mirror to deal with your own.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Resilience and Reliability - keys to tomorrow

Whenever I go talk to corporations, agencies or public groups about the future, one word I emphasize is "resilience." Try as you might, to predict the future and anticipate threats -- neutralizing enemies and preparing your professional responders -- sooner or later some surprise is going to hit, hard.  And when anticipation fails, resilience is our 'other thing.'  Our ability as individuals, families, communities to pull together and maintain islands of civilization -- till the islands can swiftly knit back together again.

That's the theme underlying The Postman, which was my answer to all the gleeful, Mad Max type celebrations of apocalypse. It's why I have pushed peer-to-peer text passing for our cell phones, and other simple reforms that could make a vast difference in our empowerment as citizens, to hang on, till help arrives.  Or to be the help for those across the valley, or the nation, or world.

 ==  Resilience on our rooftops and in our pockets ==

Why Elon Musk's Batteries Scare the Hell out of the Electric Company: “(Elon) Musk’s giant battery factory may soon become an existential threat to the 100-year-old utility business model. Beyond electric cars, the facility will also churn out stationary battery packs that can be paired with rooftop solar panels to store power." writes Mark Chediak in Bloomberg Business.

Musk's SolarCity Corp is already delivering solar panels and batteries to power California homes, schools, government agencies and companies including Wal-Mart, eBay and HP. Tesla plans to allow owners to swap old battery packs for new, with the old ones then being ideal to place in solar powered homes, helping them to get off the grid.

One thing I mentioned to Elon… and to sober-minded worriers in Washington: Currently a million homes in the U.S. with solar on their roofs will shut down if there is a power blackout. Instead of being islands of power for their neighborhoods, they are just another problem in an emergency.  

This is intolerable! Picture the increased resilience that we might gain, as a civilization, if those million homes could power just one plug in the kitchen, even during outages.  Enough to preserve much of the neighborhood’s perishable food and medicines like insulin, and to run re-chargers by-day, even if it shuts down at night.

This is a problem that’s a matter of national security… like making sure our cell phones have a backup, peer-to-peer text passing capability, if the networks go down.  I have only been preaching about this resilience issue for 30 years.  Maybe Elon will solve it because no one in D.C. seems to have a clue what really matters.

Want a hint of who has been blocking all this?  “The mortal threat to entrenched interests that ever cheaper on-site renewables pose” comes from systems that include storage, said Amory Lovins, co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, a Snowmass, Colorado-based energy consultant. “That is an unregulated product you can buy at Home Depot that leaves the old business model with no place to hide.” And “In Germany, the rapid rise of tax-subsidized clean energy has undermined wholesale prices and decimated the profitability of coal and natural gas plants.”

Ah... yes,  I know some of you (dinosaurs) keep claiming nothing will change! Coal is forever! Fortunately, world changers like Elon are more important than cultish dinosaurs.

Are there other resilience techs that can make a huge difference? Tons!  And some have been reported here, like new systems for water desalination or purification. And local, self-made internet systems.  And the Maker movement, which is restoring can-do competence to new generations.  This should be a priority for our concerned leaders...

... and we citizens should insist.

==  Problems in our roots ==

Very interesting: Sex, Status, and Reproductive Success in the Contemporary United States. Contrary to the anthropological mythology that’s widely spread around, it appears that: 

(1) hunter gatherer (hg) and other low-technology societies have had inter-personal violence rates easily as great as contemporary city populations.  

(2) Those hg and low-tech societies had social stratification, hierarchy and dominance interactions that were statistically similar to modern societies, only without those modern societies’ accountability amelioration systems.  And (3) across the spectrum – even leading to today - high status males appear to both get more sex and reproduce more.

The last seems surprising, in the context of modern, urban society. But we should not be shocked.  This study teases apart high status from high education levels, in which there does seem to be a penalty, the higher you go! What is sad is that the sharpest effect appears to be on women with graduate degrees, whose repro success is severely diminished below less educated women.

 “…for men, intelligence works at cross purposes with income. For men, income increases both potential and achieved fertility, while intelligence decreases potential and achieved fertility for both men and women.”

We cannot get better if we romanticize olden times, or refuse to take into account our biological background.  We can and must choose to be better than our past, baseline modus operandi!  We can transcend best and improve if we admit the baseline was… and remains lurking… and deal with it.

==  Science Miscellany! ==

A clever notion for cooling our cities while side-stepping the greenhouse effect: “There's a kind of heat window in the atmosphere that no naturally occurring substance, trace gas or otherwise, can block.” So?  Use radiative rooftop cooling that emits in these wavelengths that bypass those absorbed by Methane and other greenhouse gases.  I am dubious in the short term.  Still, a “cool” concept!

A startup with $143 million in funding aims to create “a sentient distributed artificial intelligence that sounds like a nice-guy version of Skynet from the cinema flick Terminator.”  One step beyond neural networks? I have my own opinions on what might bring AI of various kinds and threat/opportunity levels.

What are the “Seven Wonders of the Modern World” - to hold up against the Pyramids and Great Lighthouse, of old?  Slate’s compilation ignores feats of architecture in favor of unseen miracles that allow people more leverage and power in life… like the vast network of undersea fiber-optic cables that give us instant connection across the globe, and the air traffic control systems that have quietly allowed us to stack incoming and outgoing flights at busy airports, like boxes on a conveyor belt. Drinking water systems… you get the idea… the things we take for granted.

Catch this: a new gear transmission mechanism with no touching parts, based on magnetic forces that prevent friction and wear and make lubrication unnecessary.  “The design uses a magnetic gear reducer, that is, a mechanism that transforms speed from an input axle to another in an output axle (as in a bicycle chain mechanism or the gearbox of an automobile). But unlike a conventional gear reducer, this transmission is produced without contact between the pieces thanks to the use of magnetism.”

Cool and beautiful art forms take shape when top quality single malt whiskey dries in the bottom of a shot glass.  See it scientifically explained.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

News from/about space

What's happening?  Suddenly, there’s been a wave of … inspiration! 

As if in tempo with Christopher Nolan’s INTERSTELLAR, several short movies aggressively confront the cynical theme that’s dominated this dismal century, so far. (The way so many of you have given in to the seductive propaganda of limitations and despair.) These gorgeous pieces fight back by offering us visions of wondrous possibility.

First… try on this spectacular ode to courage – and our outward spirit – Cinema Space Tribute by Max Shishkin, using the Interstellar score as background, taking us on a tour of vivid SF cinema images of space.  

Even better is one off the finest things I have ever watched, period. Invest four minutes in Wanderers by Eric Wernquist! These amazing scenes all taken (or extrapolated) from reality*, not sci fi!  This is what being human must be about... or else, why bother?

(* Almost all of the places depicted here are real. Many of them extrapolated from photos taken already by our robot emissaries. “We” have already been to these wondrous spots. We are already titans!  On our way to unimaginable greatness. (Though I will keep trying to imagine.))

And see this: From Rosetta to Curiosity and Orion: Highlights from an amazing -- and inspiring -- year in space -- summarized in 60 seconds

Coda: I’ve oft said that centuries tend to change direction dramatically, in their fourteenth year.  Could this wave of "confidence porn" be indicative of our next sudden veer?  Backing away from the cliffs of cynical despair and getting back on trajectory toward ambition, daring and wonder?

Make it so.

== Comets and more comets! ==

Hot on the heels of the European Rosetta Mission’s success at landing on Comet 67P – (incidentally proving my doctoral thesis) -- the Japanese Space Agency announced plans to do a second endeavor to collect samples from an asteroid. The original Hayabusa mission, intended as a technology demonstration, returned samples from a rock-rich S-type asteroid called Itokawa in 2010. 

The new Hayabusa would aim at an accessible – Earth-orbit crossing – asteroid of the carbonaceous chondrite variety, very black and filled with water and organics. “It’s trying to understand the relationship of these (different types of) asteroids, how that fits into the formation of the solar system and how it may have influenced life on our planet.”

The spacecraft carries four rovers that will be deployed to the surface, plus a small impactor probe that will smash into the surface to excavate a fresh crater.  If all goes well, Hayabusa 2’s sample return capsule should land in Australia in December 2020.  Very exciting… and necessary steps toward the goal of getting out there and mining millions of floating rocks, creating so much wealth that Earth can be a park.

More on comets!  This attempt to give Comet 67P’s true color -- and it's not gray!

And... First samples of comet dust found in Antarctica. Much more promising than the old way: “-Until recently, the only way scientists could collect “chondritic porous interplanetary dust particles,” or comet dust, without going to space has been by flying research planes high in the stratosphere. It’s painstaking work: Several hours of flying time typically yield one particle of dust.” 

Oh, yes.  Did I mention results pour in, verifying my doctoral dissertation... on comets? ;-) 

== More space! ==

After a nine year voyage, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has awakened, and is ready to collect data on its approach to Pluto. 

See the One Earth Message -- beamed to the New Horizons probe. Jon Lomberg has partnered with the Arthur C. Clarke Center  on a project to upload messages to the future, doing in software, (once the mission is mostly completed) what the Voyager disk did in hardware.  Sign up to participate at One Earth: New Horizons Message.

28 Months on Mars: See these incredible time-lapse images from Curiosity. 

Watch 3D Printer-bots build the lunar colony of 2050 -- in this ESA video. Actually, we seed funded much of this at NASA-NIAC.  In fact, while 3-D building may be a useful technique, astronauts staying for extended periods may use the cavities we’ve discovered, that appear to lead into underground ancient lava tubes.

The ESA and Russia may partner for joint robotic missions to the moon.

NASA engineers propose combining a rail gun and a scram jet to fire spacecraft into orbit!

The fastest stars in universe may approach light speed.

Some astronomers suggest that dark matter,’ the cosmic scaffolding on which our Universe is built,’ is being slowly erased, swallowed up by dark energy. This conversion could explain why the universal expansion seems to have been slowed down by gravity, some billions of years ago, but now appears to be speeding up… toward eventual dispersal in a vast Big Chill.
Which leads us to... A breakthrough in the detection of dark matter?

And finally, from Kepler to Cassini: Fifteen ongoing space missions you should know about.