Thursday, September 06, 2012

Let a Million Topics Bloom

Lots of cool items, in this miscellany-post.  But first a brief lament and a couple of media notes:

* Harry Harrison - Grand Master of science fiction - passed away this August in his nineties. He was one of my favorite authors during the 1960s and certainly one of the most rambunctious and unabashed individuals I ever met. We got to know each other well, when I lived in London, during the 1980s.  He was a good friend and generous to a fault. His passion for a better, more peaceful world was expressed in his fiction and the way he lived his memorable life. And he was a perfectly grand storyteller.

A fascinating 90 minutes: Science and technology are converging to change the global game; and nowhere is that change more clear than in the words of scientist and futurist David Brin and Paul Rosenbloom, a lead researcher on artificial intelligence. From Isaac Asimov to Brin's new novel, "Existence," science fiction has often looked at whether AI will outpace the human brain and lead us into a brave new world, or has it already?

So, intrigued yet? Have a look at the  premiere edition of a great podcast/broadcast series produced by KPCC radio (NPR), “NEXT: People | Science | Tomorrow.“ Brin and Rosenbloom join host Mat Kaplan in the Crawford Family Forum to talk about our cyber future. Will humanity survive and even thrive when the Singularity arrives?

And an example of tech teething pains, striking the Hugo Awards!  How copyright enforcement robots shut down the broadcast of the Hugo Awards ceremony from the World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago, despite having permissions from every studio and author and publisher.

== A Veritable Trove of Contrarian Insights! ==

I've been using ScoopIt to compile accumulations of my more popular articles, essays (and some outright rants!) under topic headings, where people might skim and pick from whatever interests them.

The latest?  A ScoopIt collection of articles and speculations by David Brin about Taxes, economics and markets... 

Here are some others.

An accumulation of interviews on many topics with David Brin

Articles and speculations by Brin about transparency, freedom and technology

... About Science: Better than Fiction!

... Forward-looking Technology

... the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI)

... Speculations about Science Fiction 

... Pop Culture: Star Wars to Tolkien to The Matrix 

... All about Existence

... Using Science Fiction to teach Science

... Teaching Science Fiction

... Politics for the 21st century

*  Oh, for you tech geniuses... here's a small web-brin side perplexity... Not sure why Bing's biography of David Brin comes up with a description of a band named "!!!"

== Misc cool items =

*  Dang crazy humans.  Here we dolphins come charging onto a beach in order to roll around in the sand for a bit, and all these tourists come hurrying down and dragging us back out to sea!  Well, in fact it probably is just what it looks like.  Satiated-generous humans becoming great pals of nature and improving our reputation with sea-folk.  Still, it might have another explanation.  Watch it and be (tentatively ) proud of us. We're getting better.  Truly.

* See the trailer for 2001 a space Odyssey... as it would be done garishly today...

*Naked woman sculpture legacy for coal mining tailings...

An epic black & white tale about a race that discovers the ability to question old ways and to invent progress.  I would have slightly altered three frames just before the very moving end.  Guess which changes?  How?

* The 2012 Bulwer-Lytton Awards for hilariously bad writing. There are some 'good' ones this year ...   Examples:

"Bishop threw back the shot of bourbon and reflected on his career as a private dick, a profession he always thought of as perfect for a man named Richard who kept to himself and was often unkind to others."

"Truly, twas Gimoneus the wise, grand sorcerer of Elantorfan, keeper of the ancient rune of Turgochit, came nearest to slaying the mighty dragon of Ralmorgantorg; for he was old and sinewy, and the wretched beast near choked to death on his femur."

"Primum non nocere, from the Latin for “first, do no harm,” one of the principal tenets of the Hippocratic oath taken by physicians, was far from David’s mind (as he strode, sling in hand, to face Goliath) in part because Hippocrates was born about 100 years after David, in part because David wasn’t even a physician, but mainly because David wanted to kill the sucker. "

And finally this one by Rebecca Oas which is actually rather good! "Ronald left this world as he entered it: on a frigid winter night, amid frantic screams and blood-soaked linens, while relatives stood nearby and muttered furious promises to find and punish the man responsible."

Best Marriage Proposal EVER.

The essence of the X Files:  Monster of the Week comic

Tokyo's "levitating girl" is just plain cool.

== And finally... sci fi notes == 

StarShipSofa launched its very own genre fiction audio network called District of Wonders:  There are four podcasts that now come under the DoW banner all produced and edited by Tony C Smith. For horror fans there’s Tales to Terrify hosted by Larry Santoro, for your crime fan we have the excellent Crime City Central, hosted by Jack Calverley, and for anyone gripped by excitement and adventure there’s Protecting Project Pulp hosted by Dave Robison, as well as Science Fiction stories on StarShipSofa hosted by Tony C Smith.

* The hub of sci fi these days -- io9 -- lately speculated on what it would take to revive yet another terrific version of Star Trek for the new, episodic medium that television is rapidly becoming.   I especially like suggestion #6... more scripts by real life sci fi writers.

In fact I have written Trek... a graphic novel! See: Forgiveness (illustrated by the great Scott Hampton).

Cracked has started getting more interesting than when I was a kid. For example, take this essay suggesting that six classic SciFi notions, from spacesuits to ray guns to airlocks, were first portrayed not in a great classic -- like War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells, but in a rather schlocky "sequel" to the Wells masterpiece, a quickie ripoff called Edison's Conquest of Mars which, despite all that, seems to have been quite the font of SFnal ideas.

And moving on to the sublime... for tech esthetics junkies. Watch Professor Greg Parker perform an amazing calculation with two turns of the fabulous, and beautiful) Curta calculator.


David Brin said...

The comments section under each post at CONTRARY BRIN features one of the most interesting pack of amateur intellects around!

matthew said...

Bing must have their filters set for "awesome" when your name comes up. I saw !!! live a couple of years ago and really liked them.
The big question, of course, is what does bing link to when you look up !!!? I have hopes that there exists a long daisy chain of awesomesauce.

Ian Gould said...

I posted this soemwhere else and was surprised by the positive resposne: I think its relevant to topics discussed here:

Political debates serve little or no useful purpose so I propose an alternative:
make the candidates submit to a public,televised general knowledge test and complete, on air, a standardized IQ Test.

That way if people want to vote for an attractive moron who recites a bunch of empty talking points from memory, they can - but they'll have to admit to hemselves that that is what they're doing.

(While it'd be ideal to do this as a single event with candidates facing off on stage (in soundproof booths) you could also do it in a challenge format: one candidate agrees to do it and puts their results up on youtube and dares the other to do likewise. you'd
have to have a bunch of several thousand questions to draw from to avoid claims of bias
and rigging.)

I'm tempted to suggest that we also challenge them to take a drug test.

Tim H. said...

This gives a misleading equivalence to the candidates, but it's amusing:
BHO, because the few appointees that survive the congressional gauntlet will be more or less sane.

Acacia H. said...

While it's amusing to see that the Republican candidate is on the right shoulder while the Democratic candidate is on the left, I think it would have been more amusing and parodical if Obama was on the Right shoulder and Romney on the Left. ;) Hey, it's parody after all, so why not have fun poking fun at what these candidates really are like? (Though technically then Romney should be sitting on top of the person's head.)

Rob H.

sociotard said...

I'm finally getting into "Existence" (I had other books to attend to first). I have to ask, did parts of it get published earlier? I could have sworn I read the bit about the rocket jockey as a short story in a magazine once.

Oh, and we may be getting better, but dolphins are still the thrill-killing gang rapists of the deep. If we ever do uplift them, we may be unleashing a great evil upon the civilization of the five galaxies.

David Brin said...

Sociotard, yes, the first chs of the Hacker scenes were published as "Aficionado" And some of the Tor scenes as well.

In fact, I discuss uplift with open eyes to the awkwardly (ahem) "uncivilized" aspects that any young race will bring when it becomes sapient. Recall in STARTIDE and UPLIFT WAR I did this plenty with dolphins and chimps.

So? We gregarious apes with our unfinished conversion toward but not all the way to monogamy, look how difficult a time we're having adjusting. But go back to the main posting and watch the video of beach goers rescuing stranded dolphins. We are CAPABLE of satiation and emergent properties of kindness and other-empathy.

The circumstances the bring out these emergent properties I discuss in "The Dogma of Otherness"... the fact that some on the right despise this process of horizon broadening and some on the left are so indignantly addicted to it that they are unable to "get" the irony, that their passion for other empathy (and spite toward their own culture) is emblematic of that culture's commitment to otherness.

Ah, but as we have seen, the indignation junkies are incapable of such irony. Nor do their rantings accomplish a scintilla as much as the steady, incremental pressure for progress applied by pragmatic liberals...

... and their moderate conservative friends, when that species thrived, before it became as endangered as the Chinese Baidu.

David desJardins said...

I don't like the IQ test because I think the majority of voters will prefer the person who's not too smart.

Jonathan S. said...

Okay, then, instead of an IQ test, how about a couple rounds of Jeopardy!? That's a good test of both general knowledge and coolness under pressure...

Rebecca Oas' Bulwer-Lytton entry reminded me of the way I used to describe the demise of one of my favorite AD&D characters, the berserker Mordo the Spaz: "Mordo died as he lived - in a spasm of mindless violence, culminating in screaming and bloodshed."

sociotard said...

Jeapordy? Have our candidates compete in an event moderated by a Canadian?


Tacitus said...

I seem to slightly recall some political types being on the program in the last year. More aides and such. Maybe a former press sec?
Got smoked iirc.
Anybody got details?

Alfred Differ said...

Heh. I don't think the IQ test actually tests for what people would like to believe it does. Besides, a President is probably more an executive than a technical task worker. They have to know how to manage a team of ambitious people we did NOT elect. I don't know how one tests for that in a way people could watch on TV.

Stefan Jones said...

Warren Ellis is best known for scripting comics. Gruff and cynical, with a liking for the things that lurk in the dark unseemly corners of our culture.

But DAMN, this is one fine piece of meta-futurism:

How to See the Future

Use the rear view mirror for its true purpose. If I were sitting next to you twenty-five years ago, and you heard a phone ring, and I took out a bar of glass and said, sorry, my phone just told me it’s got new video of a solar flare, you’d have me sectioned in a flash. Use the rear view mirror to imagine telling someone just twenty five years ago about GPS. This is the last generation in the Western world that will ever be lost. LifeStraws. Synthetic biology. Genetic sequencing. SARS was genetically sequenced within 48 hours of its identification. I’m not even touching the web, wifi, mobile broadband, cloud computing, electronic cigarettes…

Understand that our present time is the furthest thing from banality. Reality as we know it is exploding with novelty every day. Not all of it’s good. It’s a strange and not entirely comfortable time to be alive. But I want you to feel the future as present in the room. I want you to understand, before you start the day here, that the invisible thing in the room is the felt presence of living in future time, not in the years behind us.

David Brin said...

I care about intellect up to a point. But personality is as important. Clinton, for all of his macho flourish and charm, was and remains a wonk. He wants a vast range of input and values competence. The generals and admirals I know started suspicious of him and he swiftly became their favorite president. Also the only one who won a JD powers award for increasing efficiency of the bureaucracy.

Obama is clearly cut from similar stuff. As was Carter. Just look at how they behave as EX prexies.... scurrying around trying to find some way to keep affecting the world. Gop prexies retire to the ranch, to reign and welcome the right people as house guest courtiers. Sorry but it's true.

Being a wonk doesn't automatically make you right or effective! Well, in Clinton's case it almost always did. Which was why the people deeply resented the venomous vendetta to use irrelevant side pecadilloes as an excuse to reverse his landslide re-election and deprive us of the skills that we had hired.

Frankly, I wish the gopper had succeeded in removing BC from office! An enraged public would have re-elected President Gore and the chastened Republicans would be back in the hands of men like Tacitus again, sitting at the negotiating table, instead of running berserk.

Stefan Jones said...

The general consensus of pundits I've listened to and read suggests that if the Republicans LOSE the presidential race, they'll move even FARTHER to the right.

They'll cast out anyone with even vaguely moderate leanings. Those running for the House and Senate in 2014 will have had to have passed stringent ideological litmus tests.

Is there any actual limit to have far the GOP can shift before the base gives up on them? Or is conservative media so effective at tugging on the Resentment Lobes on their audience that slip away into full fledged, society-destroying insanity?

Tacitus said...

I have posted previously that the best predictivevmeasure of admittedly subjective Presidental greatness is being a successful governor of a good sized state, or in earlier times, a successful general. There are many exceptions to this rule including the Greatest one, A. Lincoln.

And as far as men like me running the Republican party how do you really know that I do not? Or even that I am not the female mastermind of the the Right. Ok, you got me figured out

Laura Bush

OK, not really.


Ian Gould said...

Another perspective on living in the future; a friend and I were joking aroudn on Facebook and I said soemthign like "Shut up old man or I'll steal your false teeth.".

Then we had to explain to the younger people following the discussion that it used to be assumed that most people would lose their teeth by the age of 60 or so.

Alfred Differ said...

My experience with politicians suggests that the quality they have that gives them the best chance of success is one that can't come across the TV. When you are around someone who has it, you know it. Their charisma will tempt you to do anything they ask of you.

A charismatic person can still fail miserably, of course, but I've never met an elected official in a higher office that didn't have it.

Alfred Differ said...

hmm... Dental expeditures that preserve teeth instead of pulling them (crowns, root canals, and such) act as an indicator of how far-looking a community is. Interesting. Someone with the economic data should be able to draw a decent map with that.

I've lived in places here in the US where the expectation is as it was. Bad teeth get pulled because that is the cheapest thing to do. Access to a broad 'insurance' pool seems to be the determining measure. If that access helps people take the risk of changing their future view for the better, I won't mind paying more than I get back as much. 8)

David Brin said...

Tacitus. You are pleasant, logical, well-informed and ethical.

Your scenario is disproved thus.

LarryHart said...


And as far as men like me running the Republican party how do you really know that I do not? Or even that I am not the female mastermind of the the Right. Ok, you got me figured out

Laura Bush

So that's "The Librarian Next Door"?


LarryHart said...

Alfred Differ:

I've lived in places here in the US where the expectation is as it was. Bad teeth get pulled because that is the cheapest thing to do.

My in-laws often drive through Missouri, and they claim that everywhere you go, there's a billboard advertising a "full set" (of false teeth) for $99. Or maybe that's "from $99". But whatever...seems kinds weird to me.

duncan cairncross said...

Back in Scotland my fathers generation would have all of their teeth taken out at age 21 to be replaced with falsers.

My wife had problems with her teeth starting in 1997 when we lived in the USA - just this year she has had her upper teeth replaced with false teeth
What a difference!
- tens of thousands of dollars spent trying to keep "real" teeth and $2000 worth of false teeth are a great improvement

Hindsight is great!
We would have been much better off to have gone for false teeth in 1997

David desJardins said...

I don't think there's any limit to how far right the Republican Party can go. History shows that the response to difficult times is often extremism. There's a natural tendency for the public to oscillate between parties, so if the Republican Party gets more extreme, causing them to keep losing elections, that also creates more and more pent-up desire to vote against Democrats, the longer they are in office. So it's quite a viable strategy to keep getting more extreme, and if you only win once you can completely wreck things. Assuming, of course, that your goal is to wreck things.

sociotard said...

I'm still mad that the "grow teeth in a rat intestine" technology never took off. That was more than ten years ago. Give me that option, Science & Markets!

LarryHart said...

David desJardins:

don't think there's any limit to how far right the Republican Party can go. History shows that the response to difficult times is often extremism.

Totally agreed. I remember as far back as the 1980s noticing that their response to every electoral setback was "Move FURTHER to the right", wondering if they'd ever hit the point of "Ok, now we've gone TOO far right." It's never happened in 30 years.

David desJardins said...

Brin, removal from office was never realistic, but Clinton could and should have resigned, that would have worked out much better for the country, for the reasons you say.

Acacia H. said...

As much as I personally dislike Clinton (and Dr. Brin worked long and hard to alleviate my knee-jerk movement to the Right when Clinton was invoked), I disagree. If Clinton had resigned, then Republicans would have trotted out Nixon and have turned Gore into the next Ford. Clinton needed to stay in office for two reasons.

First, he was able to start working with Republicans after they purged their initial bout of insanity (sort of like draining a wound of infection... sadly, they let a boil form once again and it's been festering horrifically). Second, it allowed him to start reducing the national debt. In doing so, it placed Democrats in a stronger position thanks to the Shrub's ineptitude. When Republicans start going on about Democrats being "tax and spend" Obama can inject that Clinton proved that to be a lie... and that Republicans are far worse because they are charge and spend while letting interest payments go through the roof.

Once he rattles off several things Republicans spent on while cutting taxes, such as two wars overseas, the Medicare Prescription Plan, and similar measures, you'll see Republicans changing the subject very quickly. Thus Republicans lose a major weapon, thanks to Clinton having stayed in office.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to wash my mouth out with hard liquor.

Rob H.

Tacitus said...

Ran across this:

Scientific American poses Science questions to Obama and Romney. Seems like the cuppa tea for this forum.



ps the attitude of most posters here regards Republicans can be summed up by a memorable exchange in Star Trek TNG. Q is trying to persuade folks that he has lost his Powers.

Q: "What do I have to do to prove to you that I am mortal?"

Worf: "Die".


David desJardins said...

There's a big difference between Republican voters and Republican leaders. The Republican voters could be very constructive if offered some better alternatives and if they are a little less eager to be pandered to. But the Republican leaders, it's hard to see any use for the ones we have now.

David desJardins said...

I don't think Clinton voluntarily resigning because of his personal indiscretions would have been much at all like Nixon resigning because of his criminal abuse of office. I think it easily could have been positioned as simply moving on. However, it obviously would go against his nature.

White Whale said...

I want my $100, or a substantive response, you pompous jackass. You obviously have plenty of time on your hands.

Rob said...


This point of view might help you not appear to be such an unpleasant guy: David Brin is not your bitch.

David Brin said...

What a maroon.....

Jumper said...

Funny, Rob!

Ian Gould said...

Good to see you back Mountain Goat, it's been some tiem but would you like to respond to my last post regarding the Clean Air Act?

You know, the one that demonstrated that your claims about the Supreme Court decision on Carbon dioxide were completely false?

White Whale said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rob said...

Guess he didn't click on my link.

David, may I call a point of order?

Tim H. said...

"Give him a sedative!"

Ian said...

22"You were correct both that the Supreme Court dictated in an utterly unconstitutional fashion that the EPA had to have CO2 emission standards and that it had to enforce them."

Prove your assertion that the decision was unconstitutional then I'll respond to the rest of your claims.

By the way, if you're going to call people "fucking pussies" you might want to admit that you made a series of demonstrably false statements about the Clean air Act.

David Brin said...

Guys. Normally, when a decent, courteous person says to me "you did not abide by an agreement" - be it a wager, a deal, a commitment or a promise to back up an assertion - my reflex response is to ask for a rewind and refreshing of memory, in order to earnestly investigate whether I might - indeed - have failed in some way.

That reflex however can be overcome by others, such as guffaws of laughter and contempt elicited by that dope who infested, a few comments above. In fact, I am grateful. I do not recall ever seeing "evidence" that any of my challenges had been met. But I would rather pay attention to one of my sputum discharges on the sidewalk, two blocks behind me, than give such a dismal creature another glance.

We'll experiment with ignoring. Erasure is another option. Gawd, two of them on one month. Normal in most busy sites. Abnormal for this elevated one.

Ian said...

Mountain goat's claims to be an experienced debater reminds me of a story from ancient Athens.

A famous lawyer gives hsi client a copy of the speech he palns to make in his defense the next day.

The client reads it and is very happy with it.

That night, at home, he re-reads it and notices numerous errors.

The next morning, deeply concerned, he points these errors out to his lawyer.

The lawyer's response: "Don't worry. The jury will only hear it once."

White Whale said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jumper said...

Meth head?

rewinn said...

We are seeing the latest in a series of responses to Lurker Challenge Number Five.

This is clear both from the name (a clear reference to a rocky asteroid ["Tales of the Flying Mountains"] out near Capricorn [d'oh! too obvious!]) and also anagrams of the handle:

Automating: ON!
A Moaning Tout
Again - Moot Nut.


"Existence" is taking some time to read because it's just Too Full Of Ideas. This is not a complaint; some authors would have spread the ideas among three or five novels and perhaps made a little more cash. I particularly enjoyed the suggestion on page 464 that Buying More Books may advance SETI ("...especially hardcover..." LOL)

David desJardins said...

Are the comments always so wacky around here?

The Supreme Court didn't decide that the EPA was obligated to regulate carbon emissions, only that it had the power to do so. But this "debate" seems to be operating far, far below the level of facts.

Ian said...

"The Supreme Court didn't decide that the EPA was obligated to regulate carbon emissions, only that it had the power to do so."

sorry, David but that's incorrect.

As I explained a few threads back, the Clean Air Act allows for a petition to the EPA requesting that they add a substance to the schedule of regulated air pollutants.

When several states petitioned the Bush-era EPA to add Carbon dioxide they declined to consider the petition leading to a legal challenge which ended wit the Supreme court ruling that Carbon Dioxide was a pollutant for the purposes of the Act and that consequently the EPA was obligated to schedule and develop regulations to manage it unless they could provide a reasoned argument as to why they should not do so.

"Finally, the Court remanded the case to the EPA, requiring the agency to review its contention that it has discretion in regulating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. The Court found the current rationale for not regulating to be inadequate and required the agency to articulate a reasonable basis
in order to avoid regulation."

David desJardins said...

How is that different from what I said? The Supreme Court remanded the case to the EPA, requiring the agency for review. It gave the EPA an opportunity to set forth a further argument for nonregulation, which never happened, but that means the Court never decided whether such an argument could have prevailed. If I'm missing the point here, let me know.

sociotard said...

An interesting article about sexism at three different conventions, including Readercon (for scifi authors and publishers)

Ian said...

It went beyond saying "it had the power to do so" by requiring it to show cause why it was not required to exercise that power.

Rob said...

I think the record needs to show at least this before I go silent:

Mountain Goat: You're "all caps" shouting, you're expressing yourself in profane and vulgar terms. Both of those are evidence that you are enraged. Both are offensive to me, because the instinctive reaction to rage is fight-or-flight, which means I am inconvenienced through the consumption of time to control myself in the face of that primitive reaction.

But the most egregious is that you've now invoked the Nazis, which by Godwin's Rule (a thing my libertarian bent equates with common law, good sovereign) declares you the loser of any argument on the grounds of hyperbole. Even if you're right.

Control yourself. Don't inconvenience the rest of us. Or be ignored. Your choice.

David Brin said...

Okay, the troll is excised and I will put in the extra work, alas, in hopes that we can retain this community's unique features... including no moderation and no passkeys.

Frankly, given our society's descent into self-righteousness addiction and simplistic civil war, it surprises me we get these attacks so seldom. Indeed, it's a matter of pride (I guess) that we got one insipid flamer from the far-left and one from the drooling right, at pretty much the same time!

(We're a bit short on Republicans here, though several of you were formerly of that persuasion, and Tacitus has been reticent, of late. hence I did have hopes from MG's first couple of missives, that we had a lively mind coming in from that direction. Oops!)

Anyway, if he tries to wage a war of attrition with me, I'll not waste much time excising. Just ignore the yapping. Oh and let me know if you notice him or the lefty whom I suspect of being an old "chum" trying to sneak in "last shots" under older posts.

Gawd, what perfect examples.

David Brin said...


White Whale said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
David Brin said...

Imbecile was warned. Rude, illogical, obscene and vile trolls will be ejected. And if they come back to old posts, in order to screech, ponder the hilarious futility of that!

If one of the regular citizens of this high and diverse community had spoken up for the idiot... but not one did. All agreed. A troll. A cowardly anonymous one.

Censorship... I am one of the few who leaves the door wide open, no moderation before the fact. What a maroon.