Saturday, December 09, 2023

Yet more science! A year-end update of amazements.

What drives leaps in technological innovation? Just posted on my secondary blog: I discuss how government-funded science plays a role in stimulating innovation. An ultimate refutation to the hypnotic incantation that all-government-is-useless-all-the-time.

And as a terrific example... The universe at your fingertips! This zoomable image from the James Webb Space Telescope lets you explore galaxies - and travel backward in time to see how these galaxies were long ago. 

== Marvels of our planet ==

In the secret world below Antarctic sea ice, salty frozen fingers descend. Called brinicles, they may be like hydrothermal vents. But creatures of the deep, beware: anything caught in the path of a brinicle will be frozen alive. So beware the Brinicles!

This drone video of whales is terrific!  As are the drone innovations by my friend Iain Kerr and Ocean Alliance, finding innovative ways to do non-invasive science on whales who might be key to reviving our oceans-in-peril. 

With only one-quarter of the sea floor mapped with sonar, it is impossible to know how many seamounts exist. But radar satellites that measure ocean height can also find them, by looking for subtle signs of seawater mounding above a hidden seamount, tugged by its gravity. A 2011 census using the method found more than 24,000. High-resolution radar data have now added more than 19,000 new ones.

== Environmental news ==

In my novel Existence I posited that we’ll face a severe crisis over Phosphorus. Illustrated by a plot point that men - yes, male human citizens - in 2040 will be called upon, by law, to pee in phos recovery urinals! Or else... onto the flower beds outside your house, in lieu of store-bought fertilizer – that’s okay too. 

Now a company (did they read the novel?) has pioneered a method to (perhaps) remove and recover phosphorus from solid municipal waste without adding chemicals, using ‘electromechanical devices.” And if we did this at high scale it would also help save small seas like the Med & Black and Caribbean from fertilizer death. 

This is the kind of thing that pops up almost monthly, where nerds may be saving the planet, and us all. Despite the mad cult-ingrates who have it in for ‘high IQ stoopidpeople.’

Only now this: Massive phosphate rock deposits discovered in NorwayWow, lucky Norway: First beautiful fjords, then vast oil reserves, and gorgeous people... and now - it seems - large amounts of the phosphate rock that I fretted about, in Existence. If true, then maybe (male) men won't have to all pee into phos-recovery urinals by 2035. And the King of Morocco won't own the world, after all. A case of I'd rather be wrong.

Seeking new strategies... testing is underway to determine if sprinkling volcanic rock dust on farmland can help remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  

== Earth History == 

Researchers have discovered that Earth’s tectonic plate movements cause sea levels to rise and fall in 36-million-year cycles, indirectly triggering biodiversity bursts, at least re: ocean life. These cycles, altering shallow sea and shelf habitats, are found to significantly shape marine life diversity over millions of years, challenging previous notions of species evolution.  “The cycles are 36 million years long because of regular patterns in how tectonic plates are recycled into the convecting mantle, the mobile part of the deep Earth, similar to hot, thick soup in a pot, that moves slowly.”

fossil discovery shakes our traditional view of the Cretaceous Era as being all dinosaur domination and cowering mammal submission. It suggests a more complex ancient food web in which certain dinosaurs were prey and some mammals were predators.  

Finally, while we fret over the Anthropocene and humanity making this planet much less habitable… possibly leading to our own extinction… a recurring side topic is “are we leaving any lasting traces, that might be noticed by later – presumably wiser – archaeologists or paleontologists – either successors or visitors?"  

It’s a topic I weighed-into, when I was lead pundit for a popular History Channel show called “Life After People,” contemplating what might remain of our vaunted civilization, one minute, or a day, a year, century, millennium and eon after we – for some reason – vanished from the scene.

This article from Nautilus - Could an industrial civilization have predated humans on Earth? - just the latest in a long series of such speculations… rightly concludes that our isotopic residue, if nothing else, would certainly blare that humans were here on Earth.  And thin but pronounced sedimentary layers of plastics. Our cities (covering just 1% of surface area) might be missed, but likely not the extensive network of roadways. But have fun speculating!

Saturday, December 02, 2023

The obsession with historical "cycles - and the coming 'hero generation!'

Again and again, I keep encountering time fetishes that correlate with political ones.

For example, traditional Marxists tended toward teleology, belief that civilization has an inevitable course, propelledtoward inevitable outcomes by class war and by ever-increasing industrial production. Though today's 'leftists' wouldn't know anything about that - I have yet to meet one - even one - who could describe old Karl's historical patterns or future extrapolations. Or what he actually said about capitalism. Nor, indeed, do they ever put any of today's passions in a context of 6000 years. (A very badly needed context!)

On the other hand, they are positive geniuses compared to today's Mad Right. And I mean all of it, from the world oligarchy of casino mafiosi, hedge squires, oil sheiks, Kremlin "ex"-commissars, techie preppers, mandarins and inheritance brats, all the way down to your frenzied MAGA uncle, who dreams that wreaking McVeigh-ngeance on nerds will somehow make him superior to all those smartypants 'fact' users. Nearly all members of that reactionary cult wallow in the same macro-delusion...

...cyclical history.  WIthout actually knowing anything about those 6000+ years, they cling to fantasies that "We've all been here before. And this phase will bring my decadent foes crashing down, just like..."

... just like, what? Well, there's the rub.

== Let's get into those patterns and 'cycles' ==

 While there is zero evidence for  'cycles,' history does show some basic 'attractor states'... above all a tendency for human males to do many of the same tiresome things that almost ALL other males do, in nature...

... which is take advantage of any opportunity to monopolize reproductive success at the expense of other males. (Pick almost any animal type; that is the most visible and garish intra-species struggle, though taking a wide variety of competitive modes, from violence to 'gaudy plumage.')

 In humans, this Darwinian tendency manifested - with the arrival of agriculture and towns - in 8000 years of varied forms of feudalism, wherein gangs of bullies smashed all potential competitors, while taking other men's women and wheat. (8000 years ago especially, there was a huge event, a 'Y-chromosome bottleneck when - as told by DNA - for a few centuries only about 15% of male humans reproduced! Look it up.)

A strong argument can be made that feudalism - in the varied types that dominated 99% of those 80 centuries - is the most 'natural' human governance mode. Certainly every generation features SOBs trying hard to re-impose it! (Including each phase of the U.S. Civil War; we're now in phase #8.)

Alas, while it may be the 'natural attractor state' - (we're all descended from those cruel harems, folks) - it's also true that feudalism has proved always to be crappy at governance! 

Look at that awful litany of horrors called... history!  Even good kings - and there were some! - barely budged the needle, seldom encouraged real progress, and almost always left things to idiot sons or grandsons to f___ up.  This happened - always - because autocratic rule suppresses the one thing that allows discovery and correction of leader delusions and errors...

That one thing was - and remains - reciprocally accountable criticism. The ability of critics to point out leadership errors, before they become lethal, and then argue out alternative, based on facts.

That trait - suppression of error-discovery criticism -is why almost all feudal regimes governed terribly! Leading to that litany of horrors called history.

== Is there a way out? ==

Humans did find an alternative to this trap! A rare one! Indeed, one that was perhaps so unlikely that we may be the only ones in the galaxy to stumble into it! (One of my top five theories for the Fermi Paradox!)  

That alternative mode of governance - the Enlightenment Experiment - is very good at fostering corrective, fact-using criticism! And it works. Flattened societies that allow free-fair-open competition always do better - by orders of magnitude - discovering errors and exploiting opportunities. 

These 'enlightenment' departures from kingship/lordship were starkly rare!  One experiment in ancient times - Periclean Athens - stunned all the surrounding kingdoms and oligarchies... till those surrounding, macho-lordly realms swarmed in to crush it. 
- Renaissance Florence fell the same way, after its burst of glory drew savage response from terrified autarchies. 
- Amsterdam barely survived the same feudal attacks... but endured to spread seeds leading to 3 centuries of spectacular successes! 

Success that oligarchies have since tried to destroy every generation, including a major attempted putsch as we speak.

== Qualifying my praise of Enlightenment Society ==

I go into a lot of this - and especially the role played by modern mythic systems - in Vivid Tomorrows: Science Fiction and Hollywood

But still, for honesty's sake: let me stipulate two flaws to the prodigiously more fair, scientific, progressive, creative, free and fun enlightenment approach - flaws that we have yet to solve:

1. The criticism habit can metastasize! It can become cancerous to society - as it did in post Periclean Athens - when sanctimony becomes a drug abused by all sides, robbing criticism of its corrective value, devolving it into rituals of hate.

2. Much of that enlightenment progress - correcting countless past injustices, for example - came at an incremental pace we now view as appallingly, horrifically slow! 

Though far faster than any other, recalcitrant human society.

== Can we get back to those cycles of history? ==

Why did I just go into that? Because all of it is ignored by the simplistic political cults out there... 'Marxists' who know nothing about Marx... the non-Marxist left, who believe their (mostly laudable!) liberal reformist demands somehow erupted from their own brows, instead of from hard increments, won by ten preceding generations... 

...and especially today's flaming-rightists whose uber-favorite book, nowadays, is called The Fourth Turning, by Strauss & Howe -- an exercise in mesmerizing pareidolia that's especially alluring for folks on that side of the aisle. 

And yes, 4T is a pile of historical/teleological nonsense, utter hogwqash that caters - like porn - to the desperate need of conservatives for 'cycles'. (Confederates, Nazis, you name the fascist cult; they all throw themselves at cycle-fetishism in one form or another.)

It's always lurked there on the right.  But The Fourth Turning cult is part of a final phase, toxic frenzy. It has so many former Goldwater conservatives - now fervent or uncomfortable Trumpists - salivating for a coming Grand Crisis.  Worse, many are eagerly helping to bring one about!

Carumba, I don't have time to describe this quasi-religious tract that uses Bible-style incantations plus pseudo-sci mumbo jumbo to cram American history - somehow in isolation from the world(!) - into a perfect 80 year pattern of four generational personalities: each cycle or 'turning' concluding with an admirable 'hero generation' of the US Revolution, the Civil War, WWII... 

...and now the millennials + Gen-Z'ers are gonna have to step up to fulfill that ordained heroic role!

I know more history than most folks - (it's typical of sci fi authors, actually) - and I fail to see any correlation between The Fourth Turning (4T) BS and any aspect of American life!  Howe's fabulations are based upon stories about vast and varied, borderless populations of individuals, stereotyping them as monotone 'generations.'  Even the Boomers - who might be said to have some recognizable 'generational' demographics - overlap with these traits of Howe's only if you squint hard, after pouring lemon juice in your eyes.

Take young people, in their twenties. The ones I've met certainly do seem generally nicer than most boomers were, I'll avow. Much less sex-frantic and more diversity comfortable... 

...but so now are half of those same boomers! Half of the Boomers you know, in fact, are nicer than they used to be! Those millions laid the groundwork for every 'heroic' thing the the 4T cultists expect from my poor kids. So... maybe we grew up a bit together?

== Okay, let me conclude by giving into grouchy temptation! ==

In fact, if I may be indulged a brief, old-fart-grumble? The one trait that I see -- pan-spectrum -- among young people -- a quality that does seem somewhat 'generational' -- is a wee bit of a cult belief in fragility. That mere words might wound someone so deeply that there's no recovery, no walking it off, no chance of toughing out the 'verbal trauma' and moving on.

 Hey, this trend is rooted in a good impulse!  Because it can happen! People are vulnerable and resilient across a vast range. I'd say 10% of folks were never able to 'tough it out and move on' after mere verbal triggers - not in olden times and not now.  We should change our ways, every year, to be more kind! 

We should move toward a diversity that includes allowances that some folks don't benefit from 'walking it off'!  

But a majority? Of... the toughest species the world ever saw?

 No, no, girls and boys and others. That person you see in the mirror is likely a whole LOT more resilient than this generational fragility-incantation encourages you to believe! (And yes, and it correlates with video-playing physical passivity.)

Kids, you are descended from all those heroes of history who had things far worse than you do. Every generation overflowed with 'heroes' who picked themselves up, brushed themselves off and then strove to make the world better. 

Not perfect! But better-enough for you to now improve it, further-still!

Especially if... according to all that Fourth Turning cycles blather... YOU are gonna have to be the scheduled Hero Generation!  

If that is your destiny - because idiots deliberately incite a 'crisis' to fit their cult incantations - then sure. You be heroes! 

I know you've got it in you.

So do I.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Space resources and advances... plus aliens & ufos, oh my!

Okay SPAAAACE-time. To the chagrin of those trying to destroy our confidence, we keep doing fine and wonderful things! 

Let's begin with my own milestone... after 12 years in the funnest gig ever, I just attended (in Houston) my last Symposium for NASA's Innovative & Advanced Concepts program - (NIAC) - as a member of the External Council watching (and critiquing!) presentations about some of the coolest (and often weird) just-barely-plausible projects that NASA has deemed worthy of small-scale seed grant support.

Cool stuff! Look up the wide range of bold concepts, from several revolutionary kinds of space telescope to Venus gliders that move through the thick haze like manta rays. Or propelling spacecraft by firing fuel pellets at em, from behind! Or several kinds of stimulated isotope nuclear rockets, safer and cheaper than other nukes, but also much faster than chemical ones. From Mars habitats built of algae to a portable pharmacy that might make any drug on demand.

 You can either read up on past projects or catch the Symposium recorded free, at the NIAC site.  

== How asteroids may offer wealth - or threats.... ==

NASA just launched the Psyche spacecraft aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket - on its journey to the unique metal-rich asteroid, Psyche. Data from this mission could advance plans for future asteroid mining. Headlines that Psyche is worth "quadrillions of dollars" of course neglect the fact that - after a few measly thousands of tons of gold and platinum harvested to Earth - prices would collapse and you'd be using gold foil to wrap sandwiches. (Now, I wonder which parties here on Earth would not like their mines to go obsolete? And hence pushed for the silly-useless"Artemis" distraction-"race" to re-do Apollo footprint stunts on a vast plain of useless, poison lunar dust?)

The first asteroid sample has been returned to Earth; the sample capsule from the OSIRIS-REx mission to asteroid Bennu was retrieved after landing in the Utah desert. Samples are being analyzed at the Johnson Space Center.

Meanwhile, the asteroid-defense foundation, B612 – helping track potentially devastating rocks out there - has launched the Schweickart Prize - honoring Apollo 9 & Skylab astronaut Rusty Schweickart’s contributions to space exploration and planetary defense across a 60-year career. The $10,000 award aims to stimulate graduate student contributions to planetary defense and advancement of humanity's cosmic journey, safeguarding our transition into the wider cosmos. Awardees will also receive a museum-quality meteorite. Not just technical advances qualify! Also in fields of policy and education about this existential purpose.

 And if that weren't enough... almost daily we get incredible wonders from the utterly intricate James Webb and its partner telescopes, in space and on Earth, some of them mentioned in my last posting about space.

And meanwhile, recovery (with stunning pinpoint accuracy) of perfect asteroid samples, brought back across (literally) a billion miles? The Curiosity and Perseverance rovers doing dazzling Mars science accompanied by a spectacular little helicopter? And that's just marvels we've accomplished in Space!

There's far, far more down here on Earth. Making pessimism kinda... well... one of the dumber attitudes even remotely possible.

== Fermi Redux. I stand by prevalence of Life! Just not folks with starships ==

First. Way fun stuff by John Michael Godier about the most isolated human tribe on Earth… the Sentinelese… and whether they exist in a version of the “Zoo Hypothesis” for the Fermi Paradox. Of course, Isaac Arthur has probaly 30+ videos dissecting the same topic in great detail... that I don't always agree-with!  But certainly fascinating riffs!

An interesting and cogent video about the Fermi Paradox by charismatic astrophysicist David Kipping is informative and entertaining. Alas, it is also… ultimately… deeply wrongheaded.

Oh, surely something is depressing the observability of interstellar (IS) civilizations… and as I stated in my 1983 paper – the first that really tried to appraise the range of ‘fermi proposals’ to explain the Great Silence – there are dozens of possibilities, ranging to “They are out there, just hard to notice.”

This fellow’s argument is that LIFE may be the key factor and that the existence of living material on Earth might be the statistical fluke. He goes on, claiming we have no idea what f(L) in the Drake equation must be. And he does poke at some logical fallacies that eager folks often lean upon, to support their faith in Otherness.

Still, while that his claim of “we don’t know F(L)” is true, his ‘hence life on Earth is likely a fluke’ is unsupportable.

In fact, ever since the Miller-Orgel-Urey or MOU experiments of the 60s, each successive stage of self-assembly of organic molecules toward life-like complexity has fallen in the laboratory with rapidity, each being lab-emulated within the next five years or so. Step by step by step, we have not found a next-level of complexity or pre-life that would be statistically hard for a planet-ocean-organic-soup to achieve. Oh, sure, that proves nothing. The next one beyond our horizon might turn out to be the truly hard and rare one! The one that leaves Earth to be uniquely and lucky!

(For appraisal of every variety of "Gaia Hypothesis -- weak, medium, strong and hyper-strong(!) see my novel EARTH, which should have a new edition out, in January!)

Still, the steady series of easy steps beyond MOU cannot be ignored. It has meaning in arranging a general sense of how the universe is trending, in her revelations, via science.

Things start getting more interesting when Kipping finally gets to an actual issue with “life started quickly” on this planet. That would certainly seem to imply it happened easily! He wriggles kinda cleverly, to anthropically dismiss that argument, in a way that’s both cute and…

…and also BS, since there are many other stars that have longer lifespans than ours while still not too dissimilar to Sol.  A G5 star will last twice as long without differing in any (likely to be) crucial ways.

And this leaves out the real reason why life pretty much has to be all over the place. The fact that almost every star you see in the sky – even binaries or multiples or unstable flare stars – whatever - likely has planets, including several Europa-type bodies nearby with liquid water oceans covered by ice roofs. 

Moreover, each new solar system apparently begins with trillions of icy comets, which start off (likely) with molten, salty, electrified interiors. That is a lot of test tubes for biogenesis!

And let’s not even get started on panspermia.

Sound like I disagree with Dr. Kipping? In fact, I’m not disagreeing with his overall notion that Interstellar civilizations may be rare! What’s very hard to support is his focus on F(L) as the likeliest culprit.

In fact, let me flip and say I do believe that it is very plausibly arguable that the number of extant high tech civilizations is low! Because, while F(L) seems (tentatively) likely to be high - F(I) and F(c) very likely are low!  In fact, my top-ranked “fermi” is that human level sapience has evolved in this galaxy only occasionally, tech civ even more rarely...

... and tech civilizations that escape the lobotomizing trap of feudalism - (the ubiquitous historical failure mode that is rearing up - yet again as we speak - to destroy us) - are probably nearly nonexistent.

That is where we are very likely a fluke. At least it ranks way up there on my list.

== As for those freaking UFOs? ==

Yeah yeah. Twice every decade since I was a child, these manias have recurred, always the same insipid nonsense and the same absolute paucvity of anything remotely plausible. Well... see my posting:

What's really up with UAPs/UFOs?

Grrr. even if they were 'real', we still oughta snub the nasty things!

Monday, November 20, 2023

What JoeB oughta do right now... and your annual appeal to use your PROXY POWER!

This posting got delayed for many reasons. But the first of several topics won't wait. Because next week is Giving Tuesday! 

So first off...

Each year I talk about proxy activism. The best way you can, with minimal fuss or even attention, help to save the world (or do good things) by helping others to save the world for you!

Here is an excerpt from a web page where you can learn much more:

Proxy Power is the uniquely convenient — but seldom discussed — ability of a modern person to participate in activism... helping to change or improve the world... by the simple expedience of joining some group that is already vigorously pursuing that part of your personal agenda.  

It's simple: you add both your membership dues and the political impact of your membership, in order to get behind people who are striving to save the world for you.

There is a wide and eclectic variety of such organizations to choose from. The groups that you select will, presumably, contain passionate and well-informed people who agitate — or act — in ways that are explicitly laid out in the group's magazine or web site. Hence, you can know in advance how well their program matches your own hopes and goals for the world.

Of course, millions of people already do this. (I deem these NGOs one of the greatest inventions of the 20th Century - and Vlad Putin hates em!) 

In fact, the expansive range of activist organizations can be looked upon as a vast market place, selling options on a better world. Every person's own list of memberships will be different, reflecting a particular — or peculiar — set of values and concerns. A set that can adjust yearly, depending on the individual's passion...(environment? space? poor kids? civil liberties?) ...and available cash. 

Millions of dollars in membership dues pour through organizations that range from The Sierra Club and Habitat for Humanity to The Planetary Society to the ACLU and Electronic Frontier, from Donors Choose to Doctors without Borders, empowering and encouraging these groups to keep fighting or doing good works... (continues)

Seriously, you can design your list of proxy NGOs to suit all your notions of a better world, efforts that are world, national, or local! (Example: here's one helping expand a crowded elementary school in Tijuana and adding adult education.)

Again, if you have priorities, then someone is working on exactly that. Scan the Proxy Power site for suggestions. But I have confidence you can find more. Ask yourself: "What is a better world worth to me?"

And speaking of saving the world...

== Back to political perspectives, starting with what Biden should do NOW! ==

President Biden turns 81 today. And okay, his age is all folks talk about, trying to divide the only coalition that stands any chance of saving our nation and world. Only dig it: I don't care if he naps! He appointed 10,000 skilled, smart and honest folks to replace 10,000 shills and crooks and Kremlin-agent Trumpists. 

That's issue #1 for me. With Austin, Blinken etc on the job, and the intel/FBI/military officer corps now back to doing their jobs, I can sleep nights. And yeah, Kamala too. 

But sure, let's confront the age issue head on. HERE'S WHAT JOBEE SHOULD SAY: 

"Okay it's totally legit to question whether age affects my sharpness. And so, especially after watching the GOP clown-car 'debates', I want to show that not all politicians are raving ninnies. So let's have Democratic party primary debates! 

"For one thing, the contrast will be stunning. It will show how deep our bench is, stuffed with cogent adults from many generations and regions, arguing policy with courtesy and wisdom. 

"Sure I plan to be the nominee! But should we turn down free air time and a great platform to show how we Democrats overflow with vigorous, smart NON-clowns? And how we talk real issues, like saving the planet and repairing infrastructure and respecting science and advancing justice and bringing manufacturing back to America, amid the best economy in 40 years? 

"So, bring it, kids! Let's have fun showing the nation how grownups argue and learn from each other, with courtesy, mutual respect, humor and wisdom!"

What an opportunity that would be, for a win-win-win. If only.

== The totally intentional mess in the U.S. Congress ==

Oh, but what a clown car the party of Lincoln, Ike and Goldwater* has become!!

As I write this, the insane cluster-f**** in the House of Representatives continues, as the slim Republican majority - achieved through cheats like gerrymandering - continues to obey their fundamental dictum -- "Never negotiate, never govern, never legislate, never lead" vow that has been the core of the GOP ever since 1996, when Dennis "friend to boys" Hastert (Jim Jordan's mentor) ruled that no Republican may ever again do those things. 

IDEALLY the way out would be to end gerrymandering so primaries, dominated by partisan radicals, would no longer empower radical cultists to bully representatives into mania. 
IDEALLY light would drive the blackmailed out of politics. 
IDEALLY a large segment of 'decent' Republicans would split off from the madness, the way Liz Cheney did, and save something of American conservatism, before it is too late.
Won't happen? I know. But there IS a maneuver that might at least help bandaid the current mess!
Put up to a vote a temporary house rule allowing motions & votes to - for just two months - be done by SECRET BALLOT! 

For just those two months, the decent 20% of GOP lawmakers... plus maybe another 50% who at least aren't utterly crazy or Putin-blackmailed... would be free to negotiate and pass essential bills with Democrats, while retaining a way to tell their radicals: "Who... ME?"
It's a simple, procedural workaround... and the rule change would require only some guts and patriotism from just a dozen or so 'decent republicans'... allowing the rest of 2023 to see stuff actually done, on our behalf.

There are SO many other tactics that might shift the current chest-to-chest thumping and preening that has replaced actual, negotiated politics in the USA.

If anyone out there is interested in trying some agile toctics, my book remains (alas!) just as relevant as when I wrote it.

See Polemical Judo, by David Brin, if you are among those who still reads.


* Did you know that the State of Arizona draws 17.3% of its electrical power from the spinning in Barry Goldwater's grave?  

(Yeah, I made that one up! Colbert call me! ;-)

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

More 'prophetic'(?) extracts from Earth...

 I just finished re-editing (and hence re-reading) EARTH for the first time in 20 years. (Dang that young feller could write...)  I did tidy up errors in the not-so-great file sent to me by Penguin, when I got the rights back, under the 1976 Copyright Act.... but I resisted any temptation to alter my 50 year projections to the year 2038. 

Why? Because EARTH is almost always on every list of Top Ten Novels That Predicted the Future. (It had web pages before there was a Web, or browsers, that I had to mock up myself in 1988. Other themes included: generational conflict over privacy. Floods of climate refugees. Melting glaciers and rising seas. Plus heat waves... and a mother planet that (some characters believe) is finally getting fed up. Plus many other predictive 'hits.'

Anyway, I decided that inserting updates that conform closer to the world of 2023 would be cheating. Hence, my big predictive mistakes are also there! You'll find several.

Anyway, while Open Road prepares for the novel's re-release - with a gorgeous new cover! -- in December or January -- I'll be posting some of those 'predictive hits' here... or just passages that I think you might enjoy. So, let's get started!

The first excerpt from Earth is copied in below... one of the semi-poetical extracts or views into the world of 2038. Much as John Brunner did in his wonderful, still totally relevant classic Stand on Zanzibar. 

This passage also has a video reading I posted to Youtube. In fact, you could read along as I recite it!


A dust wafts through the hills and valleys of Iceland.

The people of the island nation sweep it from their porches. They wipe it from their windows. And they try not to scowl when tourists exclaim, pointing in delight at the red and orange twilight glow cast by suspended topsoil, scattering the setting sun. Stalwart Northmen originally settled the land, whose rough democracy lasted longer than any other. For most of twelve centuries their descendants disproved the lie that says liberty must always be lost to aristocrats or demagogues.

It was a noble and distinguished heritage. And yet, the founders’ principal legacy to their descendants was not that freedom, but the dust.

Whose fault was it? Would it be fair to blame ninth century settlers, who knew nothing of science or ecological management? In the press of daily life, with a family to feed, what man of such times could have foreseen that his beloved sheep were gradually destroying the very land he planned leaving to his children? Deterioration was so gradual that it went unnoticed, except in the inevitable tales of oldsters, who could be counted on to claim the hillsides had been much greener in their day.

Was there ever a time when grandparents didn’t speak so?

It took a breakthrough ... a new way of thinking ... for a much later generation to step back at last and see what had happened year after year, century after century, to the denuded land ... a slow but steady rape by degrees.

But by then it appeared already too late.

Dust over Iceland (SeaWiFS Project)
A dust drifts through the hills and valleys of Iceland. The people of the island nation do more than simply sweep it from their porches. They show it to their children and tell them it is life floating in ghost- like hazes down the mountain slopes. It is their land.

Families adopt an acre here, a hectare there. Some have been tending the same patch since early in the twentieth century, devoting weekends to watering and shoring up some stretch of heath or gorse or scrub pine.

Pilots on commuter flights routinely open their windows and toss grass seeds over the rocky landscape, in hopes a few will find purchase.

Towns and cities reclaim the produce of their toilets, collecting sewage as if it were a precious resource. As it is. For after treatment, the soil of the night goes straight to the barren slopes, to succor surviving trees against the bitter wind.

A dust colors the clouds above the seas of Iceland.

At the island’s southern fringe, a cluster of new volcanoes spills fresh lava into the sea, sending steam spirals curling upward. Tourists gawp at the spectacle and speak in envy of the Icelanders’ “growing” land. But when natives look to the sky, they see a haze of diminishment that could not be replaced by anything as simple or vulgar as mere magma.

A dusty wind blows away the hills of Iceland. At sea, a few plankton benefit, temporarily, from the unexpected nurturance. Then, as they are wont to do, they die and their carcasses rain as sediment upon the patient ocean bottom. In time the layers will creep underground, to melt and glow and eventually burst forth again, to bring another island to life.

Short-term calamities are nothing to the master recycling system. In the end, it reuses even dust.


Oh heck, here's another... a snippet extract by one of the characters - in New Zealand - when he learns that a micro black hole might swallow the planet in a couple of years...


"You know,” George Hutton said slowly, still contemplating the peaceful view outside, “back when the American and Russian empires used to face each other at the brink of nuclear war, this was where people in the Northern Hemisphere dreamed about fleeing to. Were you aware of that, Lustig? Every time there was a crisis, airlines suddenly overbooked with “vacation” trips to New Zealand. People must have thought this the ideal spot to ride out a holocaust. 

“And that didn’t change with the Rio Treaties, did it? Big War went away, but then came the cancer plague, greenhouse heat, spreading deserts ... and lots of little wars of course, over an oasis here, a river there. 

“All the time though, we Kiwis still felt lucky. Our rains didn’t abandon us. Our fisheries didn’t die. 

"Only now..."


I set aside a bunch of these to share with you all, across the next few weeks.

Here's hoping the best of the predictions will still come true... and not the worst ones.

Saturday, November 04, 2023

Updates in bioscience & biotech

So, Pres. Biden and the U.N. and every futurist NGO are all setting up AI Advisory Councils and such, while the functional branch of Congress - the Senate (barely functional, a little) - holds hearings... and sage  conferences feature hand-wringing jeremiads by many of the very same geniuses who seem so surprised that their cyber-invented entities are behaving so cantankerously! I posted about many aspects of this 'crisis' in my previous posting here.  Let me now add a writeup on my 2017 speech that accurately (to the month) predicted (almost to the very month) when we'd face our "First AI Empathy Crisis." And many other aspects of the AI worry-fest that now surges all over.

And yet, despite cyber advances, it is way premature to write off the bio-organic world! Especially as it manifests in human brains... and minds. So let's dive into another bioscience roundup! 

Starting with those vaunted neural networks made of squishy wet stuff.

== Brain & neuroscience ==

Can we begin with one more prediction cred? Even back in Earth (1991) I said that neurons alone could not be doing all the processing in the brain. First off, glial and astrocyte cells had to be doing more than just ‘support.” 

Now comes news… “Previously, glial cells, especially astrocytes, were believed to merely support neuron functions. However, recent research highlights the ability of these cells to release neurotransmitters and directly influence neural circuits.” And probably much more!

An amazingly cool article about brain loci of memory and imagination! Where does imagination live in your brain?

Oxford researchers are developing a 3D printing method that could engineer cerebral cortex tissue to repair brain injuries.

And here's fascinating article about the brain-roots of both memory and imagination. Starting with the hippocampus and rats, we arrive at: “It’s amazing that we’re not all psychotic all the time, that we’re not all delusional, because our brains are clearly making stuff up a lot of the time about things that could be.”  Clearly this researcher needs to get out and see the level of delusion in politics 

Researchers have identified about 200 patients with hidden autoimmune diseases that had profound psychological effects, some institutionalized for years, A woman who has been comatose for two decades was awakened when her Lupus was discovered and treated. Fascinating tale and yes, a strong parallel with Oliver Sacks and Awakenings.

A common genus of microbe found in wet, boggy environments could play a key role in the development of Parkinson's disease.  

== Biotech updates ==

The completed human genome lacked one piece, the Y chromosome. That’s finally done, with some surprises. For one, Y chromosomes were vastly different sizes, ranging from 45.2 million to 84.9 million base pairs in length. A year or two ago we also improved knowledge of past “Y bottlenecks,’ when apparently only small numbers of males got to reproduce. (That event becomes even more striking, the closer we look! It apparently happened across a very wide area, and during a particular era of transition to intense agriculture, but before large towns. And this has many implications that we might discuss in comments.)

Want more? Well, some of the genes that enable the naked mole rat to get exceptional longevity (for a rodent) have been transferred to mice with positive results on lifespan "and there are hopes to apply these results to humans." Yeah, well don’t get excited. Longevity results in mice hardly ever translate into human span-extensions, for a simple reason that I describe here. 

For the first time, researchers have observed the beginnings of photosynthesis, starting with a single photon

A Chinese team’s extreme animal gene experiment may lead to super soldiers who survive nuclear fallout, they assert. Modified human embryonic stem cells showed high resistance against radiation, according to paper by the Beijing Academy of Military Sciences.

Unlike many other speciesgorillas seem to be remarkably resilient to early-life adversity or even trauma. Researchers examined whether each animal experienced any of six types of early-life adversity before age six, including losing their mom or dad, living through group instability or witnessing the infanticide of a fellow young animal. If the gorilla lived past six, its life prospects were no worse than any other.

== Tech & physics updates ==

Brian Keating's latest "Into the Impossible" episode offers terrific perspectives on J Robert Oppenheimer, in light of the recent film. My own comments on the flick were posted here, a week or so ago.

Albert Einstein in his General theory of Relativity more than a hundred years ago, said that antimatter should behave just like matter in a gravitational field, and fall downwards. Researchers at Cern have now confirmed that Einstein was right; by carefully constructing thousands of atoms of anti-hydrogen and then letting them fall. Cool stuff? Well…  

DARPA is funding another look at MHD propulsion for submarines - as in The Hunt For Red October. 

Wind Wings sails are made from the same materials as windmill blades, but operate as rigid sails on a few freighters. They are designed to cut fuel consumption and therefore shipping's carbon footprint. I was an investor in an earlier (now alas defunct) avatar of this company. I hope this version does good for the world. 

And finally...

 For those of you near retirement or looking for a side bennie-gig, there is of course the Peace Corps and similar entities. Take  "Engineers Without Borders" modeled on the more famous Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières. One member of this community worked from them years ago, and designed a sewer line for a village in Rwanda, from the comfort of his home.

And yes, I'll soon be nagging you about "proxy activism" or how you can live up to your beliefs and wishes for the world, at minimal cost and discomfort, by joining NGOs who will save the world for you!

Proxy Activism, the power of joining! It's getting to that time of year. I hope when I issue the annual nag, many of you will go to comments and chime in: "Already done, David! Here are MY five proxy groups using my dues to help make things better!"