Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A Data Dump of Interesting Stuff...

On occasion, I fall so far behind that I simply have to do a great big “dump” of cools stuff, knowing full well that folks will blink at the stack and click away. It’s an itch. So here’s one of those periodic piles of semi-random items.

First off, from internet chatter, it appears that Danny Boyle's new film Sunshine is one more case of creeping ripoff... er, I mean uncanny similarity to my stuff. A few years ago, The Core blatantly grabbed scenes from my own EARTH and Paul Preuss’s novel, Core. Now we have a “go to the Sun” sci fi epic.

All right, it’s actually part ripoff of my novel, SUNDIVER and part a remake of… the movie,“The Core.” Believe it or not. “'the Sun is going to die in 50 years, think of something, will you?'” says Cox. The “something” involves a "Q ball", the nucleus of a supersymmetric particle, getting itself lodged in the Sun. The hypothetical Q ball eats through normal matter, ripping apart the Sun's neutrons and protons and converting them into supersymmetric particles.” And let the arm-waving begin! Sunshine is released in the UK on April 5. The US release date is unknown at time of posting. Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery?

Speaking of which... but this time with a smile... it appears that Scott Adams has unscientifically arrived at an indignation-addiction theory like mine. Maybe now it will get some attention....

PODCASTS!! I was interviewed on the topic of “Messages to ET” on the radio show CULTURE SHOCK of the BBC World Service.

David S. Levine of the Stanford Law School interviewed me on the continuing importance and relevance of The Transparent Society as the book approaches its tenth anniversary. Indeed, it is one of the only public policy tomes of the nineties still in print and still widely discussed.

Watch for a featured interview with me in a coming issue of DISCOVER MAGAZINE (one of the best zines of all time) on the topic of “what science and humanity are now able to perceive.”

One of my favorite worldchanging groups, Project Witness, is currently interviewing for SEVEN new staff positions... some in the US and some others requiring some (ahem) courage in overseas postings. In case any of you know someone interested in a career pushing the frontiers of transparency.


As documentary filmmakers, Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine looked up to Michael Moore. Then they tried to do a documentary of their own about him — and ran into the same sort of resistance Moore himself famously faces in his own films. The result is "Manufacturing Dissent," which turns the camera on the confrontational documentarian and examines some of his methods. Among their revelations in the movie, which had its world premiere Saturday night at the South by Southwest film festival: That Moore actually did speak with then-General Motors chairman Roger Smith, the evasive subject of his 1989 debut "Roger & Me," but chose to withhold that footage from the final cut.

But some media improve. MIT’s TECHNOLOGY REVIEW magazine (online) is now publishing science fiction. The debut story “Osama Phone Home” by David Marusek is clever and diverting.

Here’s some Top-level reposting of some items that you folks sent in during comments:

Regarding the topic of hemming in Bush’s expected PARDON TSUNAMI - here are Dept. of Justice guidelines for presidential pardons. Only remember, these just apply to regular criminals. Politcal pardons can (and often do) bypass such procedures.

Stefan pointed out that Halliburton is moving its HQ to Dubai. One of those rare stories that needs no comment, only chills... plus a litlle DBrin “I told you who was in charge.”

Hawker pointed to a howler, the outrageous 9:1 ratio by which the Justice Department has investigated low level Democratic office holders, compared to low-level GOP officials. The Krugman piece asks why Atty Gen Gonzales would need to fire eight US Prosecutors, if they were delivering that level of partisanship, already. I have an answer.

Try translating this tabulation into actual numbers of convictions. I will wager that the ration is far more even, triggering Gonzales’s unhappiness. But what can you do? Investigations can easily be politically driven. But convictions ought (for now at least) to be based upon actual facts presented in court. It takes some subtlety of thinking to realize that Krugman should have shown this ratio of convictions and revealed how the LOWER ratio there actually helps to prove partisan bias.

On later pondering, I realize that this is the GHOST AT THE BANQUET. Instead of harping on the eight prosecutors who were fired, we should be asking about the other eighty five! In order to keep their jobs, by this administration's standards, what kind of people are they?

Some non-political, science and engineering items.

Under a plan being considered by the British government, babies could be vaccinated with brain-altering chemicals to stop them getting hooked on drugs and cigarettes in later life. Newborns would have jabs which could prevent addiction to cocaine, heroin or tobacco. See my own unusual take on “addiction” and ponder why these folks may not be as smart as they think they are!

Robots that artificially evolve ways to communicate with one another have been demonstrated by Swiss researchers. The "genomes" of the bots that found food and avoided poison most efficiently were recombined, mimicking biological natural selection. "We saw colonies that used their lights to signal when they found food and others that used.

Called Superbots, these robots are made up of identical modular units that plug into one another to create robots that can stand, crawl, wiggle and roll. The robots are being developed mainly to carry out multiple complex tasks, such as assembly, inspection, maintenance, habitat construction, surface landing, and exploration in space and on planet surfaces. Perhaps their paramount feature is flexibility: The different modules can be connected to let a robot handle a variety of tasks, rather than have that robot dedicated to a single task.

Estonia plans to become the world's first country to allow voting in a national parliamentary election via the Internet.

You, or someone you love, may die because of a gene patent that should never have been granted in the first place. Sound far-fetched? Unfortunately, it's only too real. In the United States, gene patents are now used to halt research, prevent medical testing and keep vital information from you and your doctors. Gene patents slow the pace of medical advance on deadly diseases. And they raise costs exorbitantly: A test for breast cancer that could be done for $1,000 now costs $3,000.

A new, cheap pill to treat malaria has been introduced, the first product of an innovative partnership between an international drug company and a medical charity.

Regrowing Teeth?

Wow... GATTACA... The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), introduced into Congress on January 16, if passed, will become the first federal law to prevent employers from collecting genetic information on their employees. It would also outlaw genetic discrimination, preventing insurers from denying coverage or charging higher premiums based on a DNA test. Hint... this is NOT the solution. GATTACA shows that it will not work. The real solution is to ensure that insurance companies and CEOs are JUST as exposed, and thus have it in their interest to promote a tolerant society.

The world's smallest and thinnest RFID tags have been introduced by Hitachi, measuring just 0.05 x 0.05 millimeters. The new "powder type" chips have a 128- for storing a unique 38 digit and could be worked into any product to assure theft of consumer goods would be practically impossible. These devices could also be used to identify and track people. For example, suppose you participated in some sort of protest or other organized activity. If police agencies sprinkled these tags around, every could be tracked and later identified at leisure, with powerful enough tag scanners.

The energy consumed by data center servers and related infrastructure equipment in the U.S. and worldwide doubled between 2000 and 2005, according to a new study. A jump in the volume of servers in data centers is accountable for 90 percent of the growth in power consumption.

Researchers at Purdue University have led development of a portable "tactical" biorefinery for the U.S. Army that turns a variety of waste streams into a mixture of ethanol and methane gas, which are burned in a modified diesel engine to produce electricity.

Couple mounts a camera and radar to catch speeders. Catch a police officer speeding. He sends the authorities to tell them he intends to press stalking charges against them. This is precisely what happens as the Age of Amateurs confronts the guild protection rackets of the professional protector caste. see: MISC ITEM: Does anyone know a web site that will log REMINDERS possibly even years in advance and email you reliably when the time comes? e.g. re recurring events like renewing your URL every five years or so? A hazard of modern life.

The U.S. 'Commercial Services' Trade Surplus Reached $100 Billion Last Year

General: The United States is more a seller than a buyer of services. As of 2005, the United States supplied about $190 billion of the world's $1160 billion in commercial services exports. (The United Kingdom is second at $60 billion; fast-rising India is eighth at $44 billion.) American statistics, a bit more up-to-date than the WTO's, show exports and royalties rising by $84 billion between 2001 and 2006. (From $156 billion to $240 billion.) Meanwhile, commercial-services imports rose by $66 billion, from $74 billion to $140 billion. Thus a $76 billion commercial-services trade surplus in 2001 grew to $100 billion by 2006.

Finding the Future: A Science Fiction Conversation is an independent documentary feature about science fiction, fandom, and the future. Apparently (I haven’t seen it yet) I am featured. See:

Many of you will recall my article about how the events of 9/11 and Katrina illustrated the positive and negative possibilities of empowering (or hampering) citizen networked self-organization in a crisis. Now David Stephenson of Stephenson Strategies has encapsulated some of the same notions in an important paper about “Expecting the Unexpected: The Need for a Networked Terrorism and Disaster Response Strategy.”

I never thought anyone could make me feel sorry for one of those scammers, but I gotta tell you, it got pretty darn mean.

I believe in the multi-mind model of human beings. The part of obo who was tormented wasn't exactly homogolous with the scammer. The vengeance was only partial. Ah well. Still fascinating.

FINALLY: What, nobody has an informed opinion about when Apple OS Leopard will ship? Any other BATTERY experts out there who might want to read/critique a book on the suject? (Lots of history of cool stuff on science/engineering.)


Naum said...

Just DL'ed your interview w/Levine and perhaps this question is answered there, but do you have plans to revisit TTS as 2nd edition, 2007-2008 state -- readdressing the state of affairs now, and polishing up existing words…?

…TTS is how I came to know of your writing (sorry, I had not read your Sci-Fi…) and TTS spelled out lucidly a lot of stuff that was swirling in my mind on the matter… …and it's a important meme that needs to sink in with folks…

Naum said...

Oh, AFA Mac OS X Leopard, the date I've been seeing is May 11… …can't remember last place I saw it, and it's probably just a wild as a clueless guess can be…

sociotard said...

Danny Boyle's new film Sunshine is one more case of creeping ripoff... er, I mean uncanny similarity to my stuff. . . . Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery?

Well, let us look at this a bit closer. Sundiver was a murder/sabotage mystery with a lot of political intrigue, all set on a ship on a mission to look at the sun and some unusual aliens that live on it (I always thought it was amusing that two things that odd - a sentient species without a patron and a form of life unknown to the galactic library - just happened to evolve in the same solar system, but oh well).

We don't know much about Sunshine, but yes, there are similarities.
1)take place on ships going to the sun.
2)crewmembers die.

and yet the differences are stark
1)Sunshine has the crew off to save the sun, not study it's fauna.
2)this movie seems to be more about psycholgical strain than political intrigue.

So, is it based, even a little, on your novel? probably not. The setting is the main similarity, and you were not the first scifi author to come up with wild stories about a trip to the sun. A quick google search yielded Les Estats et Empires de la Lune et du Soleil by Cyrano de Bergerac in 1657. according to this synopsis, it involves a man who goes to the sun (or at least some small satelites very close to the surface) but does not die, and talks to the beings he finds there.

1657. And you wrote Sundiver in 1980.

Now, bear in mind, what I'm about to write I write as a fan:
Sometimes you're ego is just a little too big, Dr. Brin.
Just because a movie has a similar setting to one you used does not mean the writers used bits from your book, or even that they know your book exists.

Steve Gilham said...

For your years-in-advance reminder, have you considered Google Calendar? Anything like this is a bet that the outfit in question will be around in n years time; but this would be one of the safer ones.

Personally, I've synched my domain renewals to years when by age will be a multiple of 5, which is as good an aide memoire as any.

sociotard said...

Does anyone know a web site that will log REMINDERS possibly even years in advance

God was in a good mood when he inspired the creation of Google.

rE-minders! Exists to send these kinds of reminders. However, it seems to have a three year cap.

Memo to Me is another possibility. I didn't see if they had a time limit.

Anonymous said...

That scammer is the funniest thing I have read in ages. It was worth reading the data dump to get to that.

Blake Stacey said...

No no no! It's not supersymmetric matter. They would have done much better to have chosen for their buzzword strange matter, and to call the "Q ball" a strangelet.

Blake Stacey said...

In the Miscellaneous CITOKATE department is this item, topping the ScienceBlogs home page, a post from SciBling Jason Rosenhouse:

Speaking of cranks, all of the recent fuss over Al Gore's testimony to Congress on the subject of global warming has seen the revival of statistician Bjorn Lomborg. You might remember him as the author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, the book that was going to set us all straight on the subject of environmentalism. According to Lomborg, everything is much better than we've been led to believe.

I only made it through about half of Lomborg's book before conking out. I was not really in a position to assess a lot of his claims. There were some crank warning signs, like the conversion story about how he used to be an environmentalist until he took a sober look at the evidence, and the sweeping commentaries contradicting the conventional wisdom in scientific disciplines different from his own. But these were inconclusive.

I read many of the hostile reviews of the book. Some of them were incisive and compelling, but others were far longer on invective than they were on substance. So I left it as an open question whether or not Lomborg was a crank.

Now we have The Daily Howler to resolve the question [...]

Read the rest to see some shockingly deceptive number-mongering exposed.

Back in twenty-aught-two, Time's Andrew Goldstein said the following about Lomborg's famous contrarian book:

The problem is, Lomborg gets many of his facts right—and provides 2,930 footnotes to make them easy to check. Some scientists and environmental advocates have made exaggerated claims about environmental doom, and it's not surprising that they have finally been catalogued. Yet Lomborg is as guilty of exaggeration and selective use of data as those he criticizes. He is right that air and water quality and agricultural productivity have improved in much of the world. But to look at the data on global warming, biological diversity, marine depletion and deforestation and still say things are generally getting better takes a willful blindness.

Regrettably, it looks like this game is still being played.

Anonymous said...

I used to collect Nigerian letters. They contain a level of creativity far in excess of the tripe coming out of Hollywood. Secret bank account, princesses in distress, magic ink to remove black marks from money, it shows imagination on the level of our esteemed host!

Anonymous said...

These two short documentaries by Encyclopaedia Britannica Films are stunning in their simplicity, insight, and straight-forward approach:



And on the subject of unaccountable scoundrels who'd rather democracy perish than have the truth be known, here's a PETITION to demand that Karl Rove give sworn testimony to congress:

Sign the Petition

sociotard said...

Tech bit here:

Malaria is spread by mosquitos. Usually, that means mosquito genocide is a good way to fight malaria.

Some scientists are going the other way entirely: they're building a better mosquito. It resists malaria and survives better than other mosquitos (as long as both types feed on malaria-infected subjects). As such, it doesn't transmit malaria, and since it thrives better than non-transgenic mosquitos, it crowds them out of their niche.

Thorne said...

I have long been an admirer of your work and was so pleased to find your BLOG. Your novel, Earth, impressed me beyond measure. (I wanna be Jen Wolling when I grow up...LOL).
Okay, fan stuff accomplished.
I wanted to let you and your readers know about a BLOGSWARM planned against Theocracy. It is scheduled for April 6-8, and invites BLOGGERS to write anything regarding the separation between church and state on those 3 days.
The whole scoop can be found here:
The Neural Gourmet I'd love to see you participate.

Anonymous said...


Mouse Uplift, Phase I

"Science Daily — Although mice, like most mammals, typically view the world with a limited color palette—similar to what some people with red-green color blindness see—scientists have now transformed their vision by introducing a single human gene into a mouse chromosome. The human gene codes for a light sensor that mice do not normally possess, and its insertion allowed the mice to distinguish colors as never before."

"The new abilities of the genetically engineered mice indicate that the mammalian brain possesses a flexibility that permits a nearly instantaneous upgrade in the complexity of color vision, say the study's senior authors, Gerald Jacobs and Jeremy Nathans."

Floyd Gilmore said...

Being an owner of both Intel and PowerPC based Macs, I'm not in a hurry to want OS 10.5 to ship any sooner than it needs to.

The bells and whistles of the new OS I've seen so far are not important for my day to day computing needs.

I still have bad memories of lost months of productivity when I moved from OS 10.2.9 to OS 10.3, which was useless until about 10.3.5 or so (along with five major third party software updates). Thankfully OS 10.4 has been a much better experience.

While I may buy a copy of OS 10.5 the day it comes out, I won't jeopardize my productivity. I'll wait until the 10.5.2 Combo updater is released and then install the new OS.

And a rumor going around the Macintosh websites points to a longshot delay until the version of BootCamp shipping in 10.5 will work seamlessly with Windows Vista.

A fool's errand, to be sure. And a problem that would be better served by a update rather than holding the whole OS back.

My money for a release day is sometime in May. Perhaps the 11th as naum pointed out in his post.

David Brin said...

Thorne, thanks for the nice words. I hope I can find the time to contribute on April 6-8. But in capsule form:

1) My essay on “Intelligent Design” might be helpful to that movement.

2) Someone ought to mention Robert Heinlein’s prediction that the 2012 election would be like the 1979 Iranian revolution, with fundamentalists instead of Shiite mullahs. It’s an important meme from an important American mind.

Naum, if I had dittos, I would revise TTS for its 10th anniversary. As-is, you’ll just have to wait for that issue of DISCOVER to come out. (I am always nervous between interviews and publication. Sometimes, selections from my blather can sound, well, awful.)

Sociotard I accept citocate over my possible over-reaction to “Sunshine”. Nevertheless, the effect is to diminish that a much better movie of Sundiver will be made. Just as “The Core” probably hurt EARTH. In that case, the stealing was blatant, so don’t assume yet you won’t find “familiar” stuff in Sunshine.

Blake, I have spoken of Lomberg. Some people, even when they say a lot of true things, are still obviously shills. What I hate is the attitude of, well, HATING guys like this. We, as a civilization, could be using them right, as sources of citokate, helping make the arguments for environmentalism stronger and more on-target. Tragically, NEITHER side wants them filling that role. Instead, we see more zero-sum games.

Stefan, that mouse -human chimera. Must be giving Crichton fits!

Floyd, I am pretty much trapped into having to leap on Leopard. It’s not for my main productivity machine. I need a new laptop for travel and it will be my daughter’s machine the rest of the time. Her Birthday event is late May. I am hoping to be able to get her a power book and settle several things at once.

Might as well have a machine with 10.5 features. Frankly, I don’t need Vista in any way shape or form.

Floyd Gilmore said...


I strongly suggest the 15" MacBook Pro with the glossy screen. It isn't that much heavier than the iBook G3 I just retired.

It has been almost perfect. One OS related issue came up and was swiftly resolved.

The only real issue you may face is the battery life. I'm averaging about two and a half hours of real world work on a charge. Something to consider if you plan to do a lot of work away from an outlet.

Here's hoping your timing works out and your purchase includes Leopard.

Naum said...

I am hoping to be able to get her a power book and settle several things at once.…Might as well have a machine with 10.5 features. Frankly, I don’t need Vista in any way shape or form.

I second the recommendation on 15" MacBookPro. I just recently updated from an old Titanium PB, buying 2, one for work on employer dime, one for home business… …on the work MBP I do also run Vista and Windows XP via this wonderous virtualization software Parallels. Runs as fast as the XP desktop I just unhooked and they recently patched in "coherence mode" where I can have a dock icon that encapsulates a Win app and just click on it as if it were a Mac app. Though, if I had my druthers, I wouldn't bother with Windows at all, except that as a web developer it is a necessary evil for testing cross platform/cross browser AND the fact that 98% of the rest of the office is in a Win networked world and sometimes I have to go slumming with them ;(

Re: battery life - if you adjust screen brightness down, turn off bluetooth, turn off wireless (that is if you're not connected via Airport) and run in battery conservation mode, you can get 3+ hours on a battery. That said, when I did find myself in airports and and airplanes a couple of times per week, an extra battery in the laptop bag was a useful thing to have at times.

Very pleased with Mac platform - it was 4 years ago I made switch - before, I was Linux/*nix user for a couple of years so I been Windows free (at home and my own business work) for 7+ years now… …only major gripe is the the infrequent spinning beachball that happens with network disk mounts… …in fact, with the MBP dual core duo, no way should I be seeing a spinning beachball ever, and most of the time it runs like a charm… …to the point now where I feel filthy if I have to work on a Windows box…

Looks like Leopard is going to bring some cool features, the ones that interest me are spaces (builtin virtual desktops) and Time Machine for automated backups…

sociotard said...

Did anybody else read the New Scientist article about Retrocausality? San Franscisco Chronicler reprints it here.

Woozle said...

I saw this text on The Boston Globe web site and immediately thought Our Esteemed Host might find it of interest:

I once interviewed a homeland security consulant who claimed that ordinary citizens armed with wi-fi laptops, smart cellphones, and the like would be far more effective at responding to terrorist attacks than any governmental organization. Tonight I have seen the proof of that argument.

the interview in question

the article in which the above text appears (actually less relevant than it sounds, but amusing nonetheless)

Anonymous said...

Very interesting thing about retrocausality... Unluckily New Scientist from time to time tend to fall a bit in the sensationalist side with some of his news, without investigating too much. If it was true however we would open the road to a lot of SF marvels, and by the way science qwould have given a lot of important data to a lot of very old philosophical questions traditionally considered almost unanswerable...

Rob Perkins said...

I have an iBook G4, the last of the G4 models Apple released before announcing the MacBook Pro.

If I turn off bluetooth and WiFi and set the system into "Better Energy Savings", I get five hours out of the battery.

No doubt the Macs are superior in that regard.

ThatTallGuy said...

Regarding the tiny RFID tags -- are you familiar with the RFID firewall work that's been developed here at Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam? Basically it listens for unauthorized scan requests and then broadcasts a jamming signal during the timeslice of the RFID tag's response. This lets you (selectively or wholesale) "mute" tags within the range of the firewall.

Possibly a soon-to-be-required accessory for the well-dressed activist?