Thursday, January 03, 2013

Science Fiction Day! Innovation and... Star Wars?

Celebrate National Science Fiction Day (January 2, also Isaac Asimov's birthday) by re-committing yourself to live in the future.  Start with this cool little spiel by Ed Finn on Slate.  Then help make it a real holiday -- by celebrating the future.

And in that spirit...

=== Onward to innovation! ==

Positive Trends! Spread the word Cynics or both right and left aren't just unhelpful, they are crazy.

Should DARPA be supporting the creation of "hacker-spaces" to replace old fashioned metal and wood shops in high schools?  I've been involved in the Maker Movement for some time, keynoting a couple of events and creating a maker-themed graphic novel TINKERERS.  And the burgeoning of creativity in high schools is well illustrated in Vernor Vinge's terrific novel of our near future - RAINBOW'S END. (And you'll glimpse it also in my latest novel, EXISTENCE.)

One can easily see why DARPA is investing in the hacker-maker development. The more young Americans who are skilled at turning ambitious innovative concepts into prototypes, the stronger the innovative culture and gusher of new inventions and capabilities will be. This is a matter of national security in too many ways to count. Here's just one.

Note this: every decade since 1900 -- except one -- has seen some fantastic U.S. originated technologies burst forth, creating so much new wealth and ability that American consumers could afford the prodigious trade deficits that have uplifted half of the world's population into the middle class. Jets, rockets, computers, pharmaceuticals, satellites, telecom, lasers, the Internet... only the first decade of the 21st century saw this fecund creative wave interrupted  - by grotesque interference at the top and a treasonous "war on science." (Sustainable energy might have been U.S. led, instead of by Germany and China.)  Regaining this fertility of creative energy should be a top national priority.

It it a movement best fostered by the U.S. Defense Department?  Of course not.  The maker culture is mainly pushed by open-source geekdom with an anarchist-individualist bass rhythm that I'd never quash if I could!  But when this wholesome thing also just happens to coincide with clear national interest?  Sorry guys.  Choke back the reflex. Accept that your government wants you to succeed.  Take the money. Use it to make wonders.  Help make a 
new world.

A collection of my articles about creating the future. 

=== some future-leaning miscellany ===

Bluetooth-enabled stickers help find lost keys and cats with your smartphone.

41UW92ZzH1L._SL500_AA300_3-D Printable guns? The maker movement  had to spread into this territory, as well.  A world like A.E. Van Vogt's "The Weapons Shops of Isher."  I am skeptical of John W. Campbell's nostrum "an armed society is a polite society" but we may have no choice.

I loved the old Ace of Aces Combat System which two people could play simulated aerial combat just by flipping pages and calling out numbers to each other, then flipping to the cleverly auto-calculated next page to see who swooped behind whom.  The best car-ride game ever!  And you will be pleased to know that they are all going to be reprinted, one at a time, via Kickstarter.

Big tax incentives for corporations; Small returns. How states and local governments fall into a trap of giving away everything in order to get or keep a factory, which often vanishes anyway. 

How much does your state spend on tax incentives for corporations? An interactive feature from the NY Times: Texas spends 51¢ per dollar of state budget on tax incentives for corporations. This doesn’t call for a federal law, but rather a negotiated treaty among the states.

The University of Chicago is mystified by an elaborate hoax... a package sent to Professor Henry "Indiana" Jones.

== Literary notes on Star Wars ==

Seven_Seasons_of_Buffy_(Buffyverse)First, a cool, modern mythology. Glad to see this old tribute of mine - "Buffy vs. The Old-Fashioned "Hero" - reposted by SmartPop Books. It was written a decade ago, when the "kick-ass" female warriors were Xena and Charlie's Angels and of course, the Buff-Maistress herself.  Today you have the ante upped by Kate Beckinsale in the Underworld series. Only to reinforce my point in this classic.  Be sure to look up the unique SmartPop series, which has the lovely market niche of swarming all over each new cultural phenomenon... with intellect! Try especially the book on King Kong!  And of course... Star Wars on Trial.

starwarsontrialAnd now back to a recurring theme... the mythology and methodology of Star Wars. Over ripe critic Camille Paglia considers George Lucas "the greatest artist of our time."  In fact, it may surprise you that, as one of Lucas's fiercest critics (e.g. Star Wars on Trial), I am actually quite okay with Ms. Paglia's assessment. Sure, her inner motive was probably the sheer joy of tweaking the arts establishment.

And I have not altered a scintilla my dour assessment of the moral lessons that are taught in the Lucasian universe - especially by the films made after The Empire Strikes Back. I've long made the same point that Paglia does -- that Lucas's chief effect upon the world came from hiring, subsidizing and sponsoring  finest artistic talents of our generation.  Like Cosimo de Medici in his palace, or Rodin in his atelier, he surrounded himself with -- and provided a coherent theme to -- hundreds of brilliant men and women who might otherwise have had to seek more mundane employment.

He served as the impresario and conduit for society's consensus choice to dream larger than before. And yes, to dream outward, skyward, and in ways that view the onrush of technological change with some degree of expectation and courage.

Paglia describes how George Lucas grew up knowing where his passions lay -- in the visual aspects of storytelling.  Which might help explain why his best works were always in collaboration with others who appreciated his goals, but who could provide the augmentation that Lucas himself lacked -- a gift for plot, dialogue and logical meaning. Would it all have gone better if Lucas's emphasis on visual spectacle were accompanied by a willingness to hire good writers to do what they do well, which is write?  Of course it would.

DarkSideCoverNBut I take solace in this.  The "dark side" of the Lucasian Universe... its pitiless and relentless assault upon our confidence in a grownup, democratic, scientific, logical, open and fair civilization... simply glides on by most folks.  They never notice the sheer, unadulterated evil of "Yoda" because they shrug off everything the little monster says. We all ignore the preaching and faux-eastern claptrap "wisdom" and instead pay attention to the part that George Lucas is good at -- the glorious visuals. The comic book tension and release. The gorgeous textures of both raw and refined possibility.

-- David Brin
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Anonymous said...

But I take solace in this. The "dark side" of the Lucasian Universe...

Which is not available to customers from Canada. Gotta love how we've allowed private corporations to erect their own trade barriers even as they lobby for our governments to dismantle national ones…

Acacia H. said...

Dr. Brin said: Note this: every decade since 1900 -- except one -- has seen some fantastic U.S. originated technologies burst forth, creating so much new wealth and ability that American consumers could afford the prodigious trade deficits that have uplifted half of the world's population into the middle class.

I beg to differ. We did see a significant game-changing technological advancement in the Double-Aughts. And by that, I mean the smartphone as conceived by the Evil Empire known as Apple. This one device knocked the cellular phone industry on its side and shook up the wireless communication system. It allowed people to connect to the Internet with a simple hand-held device that was in fact not too expensive, especially when compared to older computers. And it swept across the globe.

While there were smartphones prior to the iPhone, they were limited. The easiest way to describe the iPhone and its clones is the merging of the World Wide Web with a hand-held touch monitor, with camera, speakers, and microphone added to increase functionality. And I say this as someone who used the Internet when it was Gopher.

Yes, it was a late-decade game-changer... but the iPhone still was a double-aught invention and has had an ongoing effect.

Rob H.

duncan cairncross said...

The Dark Side: Star Wars, Mythology and Ingratitude

Not available here either -

Tacitus said...

David I hate to go off topic, but when you are right you deserve to hear about it.

Your ongoing theory? You know, the one about a middle east monarchy and it's undue influence on an American political dynasty?

So, so very true.

Of course I am talking about Al-Jazera's purchase of the Al Gore cable network.....



David Brin said...

Robert you have very low standards for a "game changing technology". The smart phone is a variant on the cell phone that brings in capabilities of a laptop computer. It was moderately big as a money maker and transformed zero fundamentals of daily life, the way the original cell phone did... and keeps doing in the developing world. As an increment, you'd compare it to airplanes? satellites? The Internet? How our standards have sunk.

Tacitus, the failure of Current TV and the low pathetic status of MSNBC show that the left and liberals are simply not the same as the right. Those two networks desperately tried to imitate the Fox formula, even hiring former Murdoch business guys.

They flopped because only a few lefties want same incantations spouted at them as dittohead catechisms of hate, day and night.

Gore sold out because he had one asset left, Current's cable slots, and he made a good deal for it. Applaud that.

Anyway, Al Jazeera is from Qatar and often tweaks the Saudis.

Tacitus said...

And I am admittedly just teasing you.

althought the Quataris are not exactly disinterested paragons either...


Acacia H. said...

Dr. Brin, you don't consider a widely disseminated handheld technology that brings the Internet to the hands of everyone with a smartphone and a data plan to be a game-changer? Think of all the incidents that can be filmed with a smartphone of police brutality or the like... or of Mitt Romney going on about the 47 percent... or other such incidents, with a simple rectangle that isn't noticed because EVERYONE has a phone.

I compare it NOT to the Internet, by the way, but rather to the World Wide Web. The Graphic Representation of the Web. Similarly, the iPhone-style smartphone brings a new way of utilizing the Web that has forced websites to change and compensate. Prior to the WWW, the internet existed and was fantastic. I rather enjoyed belonging on Listservs and being in conversations. I remember participating in DargonZine, though I never did finish a story for publication. But by bringing images to the Internet... it changed the entire structure.

Likewise, bringing the Internet to the palm of our hands... giving us what is in essence a Star Trek communicator with elements of a tricorder to boot... this is a game changer. And maybe it's too new a technology for you to see how it is changing things... but it will have a big effect. (Mind you, I will never own an iPhone or any Apple Product, so long as I can get away with it. I do not like the business model for Apple. But I still respect what they created.)

Rob H.

Ian Gould said...

Not to mention that for around one billion people - those who don't have regular internet access but do own smartphones - the smartphone is the only form of internet access available.

Ian Gould said...

If we want to snark over the Current TV deal, a better basis is that Gore reportedly tried to finalize the deal before 31st December to minimize his tax liability.

Anonymous said...

The real innovation of the iPhone was the AppStore and Apps - which of course was a clever variation on the iTunes store. The raw idea was floating around before that, but Apple made it happen.

Cellphones have made a small dent in African poverty.

Smartphones (+ cheap WiFi access from local entrepreneurs) will blow a hole in it.

Get a smartphone, and for around $50 (probably less, plus a few dollars for services) you get phone service, email, a high quality video and still camera, a music player, a movie player, a game player, access to world and local news and opinion and much of the world's knowledge and ideas and "how-to" instructions, a language translator, GPS and maps, and on and on.

Lots of stuff that we didn't commonly have in the West just 10 years ago.

In effect, a big slice of Developed Nation quality of life has been miniaturized and is getting cheap enough (used at first, later target-marketed) for the least developed nations.

The impact of cheap smartphones on sub-saharan politics alone qualifies the smartphone as a huge game-changer.

David Brin said...

"Dr. Brin, you don't consider a widely disseminated handheld technology that brings the Internet to the hands of everyone with a smartphone and a data plan to be a game-changer?"

No I do not. Separately, people all over the world could access all the world's knowledge via the internet and actively seach for real time information. THAT was game changing. So was cell phone service in developing countries, bypassing the need for vast expensive land line infrastructure. THOSE were world changing. Smart phones combining the two? A convenience.

Yes, as Mr. Transparency, I approve of cameras on phones... which appeared before smart phones. But folks could have cameras if they wanted them. That was the vital thing.

All you say is nice. But it simply was none of it in the league with jet aircraft and satellites and weather forecasting and the end of global war through deterrence. Not even by an order of magnitude. Maybe when you have a full suite of sensors in a tricorder... a tech WE could be the leaders of...

Till then?


Daniel Copeland said...

Regarding Star Wars, in your original Salon article, though I agree with the main thrust of it and I'm sure plenty of others have pointed it out in the last 15 years...

To put it in perspective, let's imagine that the United States and its allies managed to capture Adolf Hitler at the end of the Second World War, putting him on trial for war crimes. The prosecution spends months listing all the horrors done at his behest. Then it is the turn of Hitler's defense attorney, who rises and utters just one sentence:
"But, your honors... Adolf did save the life of his own son!"
Gasp! The prosecutors blanch in chagrin. "We didn't know that! Of course all charges should be dismissed at once!"
The allies then throw a big parade for Hitler, down the avenues of Nuremberg.
It may sound silly, but that's exactly the lesson taught by Return of the Jedi, wherein Darth Vader is forgiven all his sins, because he saved the life of his own son.

I don't think this is a fair comparison. Remember just how Vader saves Luke's life: by killing the Emperor. A fairer comparison would be if Heinrich Himmler, say, had saved his son's life by killing Hitler.

Paul451 said...

Rob H,
"I beg to differ. We did see a significant game-changing technological advancement in the Double-Aughts. And by that, I mean the smartphone as conceived by the Evil Empire known as Apple."

Weird how memory distorts. As a smartphone, the first 2G iPhone was actually under-featured and under-powered. Just as their first iPod was under-featured and under-capacity compared to then existing MP3 players.

Apple did two noteworthy things, they made the touch-screen work, no keys no stylus, elegant and intuitive. And they created the Appstore (a commercial reimagining of Linux repositories.)

(The cellphone itself was more important, IMO. Particularly in the developing world. Smartphones are a good evolution of that, but only an evolution. Like open to closed cockpits, much better, but not revolutionary.)

Paul451 said...

Re: Daniel Copeland's comment on Vader vs Hitler.

How much of a war criminal, in WWII, wouldn't have been forgiven and even celebrated had he struck down Hitler at a key moment? (Particularly if he gave his own life doing so.)

Paul451 said...

Oregon legislature wants to tax highly fuel efficient vehicles to offset the loss of revenue from fuel-taxes.

David Brin said...

Like in Inglorious Basterds?

Look, I am willing to give Vader a little redemption. I just don't think that one act:

1) raises him all the way back to Jedi Valhalla

2) merits making him the centerpiece of a whole goddam science fiction prequel trilogy!

locumranch said...

Glad to hear Dr. Brin admit that the smartphone has "transformed zero fundamentals of daily life, the way the original cell phone did", confirming once and for all that certain aspects of cynicism are both social and rational.

Undoubtedly, the Internet has changed the world -- not by technological fiat as many suppose -- but by virtue of bringing the Dewey Decimal Library Classification system to the world and allowing 20th Century Library access to an under-informed human majority.

But with improved information and education comes the curse of divergent expectations. These informed humans refuse to settle for subsistence morality. They challenge the established and/or accepted order: Gender roles vanish; employment becomes uncertain; and the Social Compact crumbles.

It now appears that everything is permitted.

Enlightened anarchy, as proposed by AEVV's 'Weapon Shops', Camus, Delany, Dick, Gandhi, Heinlein, Russell & Skinner, may represent our last best hope to transcend this existential crisis. This is the Scientific course.

"When the metaphysicians try to convince the Scientist that the mental and moral life of man develops in accordance with certain "Immanent (in-dwelling) Laws of the Spirit," the latter shrugs his shoulders and continues his physiological study of the mental and moral phenomena of life, with a view to showing that they can all be resolved into chemical and physical phenomena. He endeavors to discover the natural laws on which they are based".


Ian said...

you know, Star Wars makes a lot more sense if you simply assume Yoda was in league with the Emperor from the start.

His refusal to train Anakin, then his foisting him off on the youngest and least-experienced Jedi Master then bringing Anakin and Padme back together.

This all makes sense if he and the Emperor were plotting to recruit Anakin as a new Sith (grooming him if you will).

Then at the end of the third movie rather than him and Obi-Wan simply going back and kicking the emperor's arse he says "No, I have a better idea. Let's go and hid for 20 years while the emperor regains his strength and consolidates his grip on the galaxy."

For that matter, ho do we know he didn't spend that interval partying on Coruscant and then get dropped off by a Star Destroyer five minutes before Luke got there?

Paul451 said...

The culmination of his 900 year plan to cause the extinction of the Jedi/Sith gene and the cycle of Sith conquest or Jedi decadence.

Paul451 said...

End of the last thread, Ian asked:
"can anyone point me to anything on the logistics of turning an Earthgrazer like Cruithne into a permanent manned base and using this as a Mars cycler?"

No links, but a big problem is the energy required to change the asteroid's orbit. (Presumably you'd need to use chaotic orbital mechanics to keep the delta-v reasonable. It means a 20 year lead time, but what else are you going to do?)

And it depends whether you are using the asteroid as a resource to build the Mars-cycler, or as the Mars-cycler itself. I prefer the latter, but it means a bigger asteroid, hence more mass, hence harder to put into the desired orbit.

Jumper said...

The $100 laptop has been trumped by the new phones and that is nothing to sneeze at.

On the Mars cycler, all I can see is its use as a radiation shield in transit; nothing else is gained. Delta v for additional mass is not free, including supplies and passengers.

Acacia H. said...

In some ways, Harry Potter did it better. Think of it: What if Darth Vader had been a deep-cover agent of the Jedi... with Yoda and a few Jedi without political power realizing the Sith philosophies had infiltrated the Council. Annie is approached by Sideous and warns Yoda... and is then asked to do the most horrific of things: join the Dark Side. The reason? To start a chain of events by which Sideous (who represents the Rule of Two philosophy of the Sith and would not want the multiple Sith of the Council) eliminates 99% of the Jedi. And then for fifteen years Annie remains in deep cover while killing all remaining Sith that he can.

Finally when Luke arises, Vader waits to see if Luke will succumb to the Dark Side or not. When he does not? He turns on the Emperor and eliminates the last of the Sith.

Or in other words, having Vader/Annie be more in the role of Severus Snape, remaining "loyal" to the enemy and acting as a triple agent to ultimately ensure the Big Bad is struck down with no one else in a position to replace him.

Rob H.

Acacia H. said...

As for the underpoweredness of the first iPhone... I remember reading somewhere about how in Japan, smartphones were quite versatile and had a lot of functions... and that the telecoms in the U.S. refused to let the technology come over here. In this, Apple managed to break down a barrier to entry among the oligarchy of U.S. telecoms with its deal with AT&T (which makes me think AT&T saw the writing on the wall and decided to take the plunge... and didn't realize just how inadequate its infrastructure was to deal with the data usage from iPhone users).

Sadly, I don't know if Japanese smartphones were as versatile as the iPhone, but Jobs did make some good business choices in pushing it, even if the first gen wasn't quite the handheld computer that current smartphones are. And this is why I consider the technology to be a game-changer. It has brought the Internet to the palm of your hand, and integrated features such as cameras, digital displays, and computing power in a package that is frankly quite handy.

You could even see it as the ultimate evolution of the computer. The first computers were huge affairs that took up entire rooms. Then they took up walls... and then desks. Then they became briefcase-sized objects and even textbook-sized (with Microsoft's initial tablets which predated the iPad being closer to book-sized). And now? They're the size of a wallet. And yet that wallet-sized computer (even the first gen iPhone!) is more powerful than the computer I was using just a little over a year ago (which admittedly was five years old and built from used parts).

And yes, I can see Dr. Brin's reasoning why it's not a game-changer in that it's technological evolution instead of a brand-new concept. But really, when you get down to it... how long did it take before the airplane changed things? Early airplanes were oversized toys. It took a decade before the first passenger aircraft came about, and widescale use of passenger aircraft took longer. Really, it was World War 1 that helped airplanes truly take off. Thus airplanes were an evolution of technology before it had a real effect on society as a whole. So by Dr. Brin's reasoning... airplanes aren't a game-changer. It took over a decade for the technology to evolve. And as for jet aircraft... isn't that just an evolution of aircraft technology? So how again is it different than the smartphone evolution of computing? ;)

Rob H.

Tim H. said...

Perhaps no more of a game-changer than the advent of GUI interfaces in the eighties, Mostly, smartphones aren't accomplishing very many things that couldn't be done with feature phones, but it's at least as big a usability jump as going from 8080s or 6502s to Intel core.

atomsmith said...

Dr. Brin, just put your cards on the table!

I'll get you started by guessing..

1900s: Model T?

1910s: Airplanes?




1950s: Satellites

1960s: Computers?


1980s: PCs

1990s: WWW

Alfred Differ said...

David: We are still a little too close to the aughts to have a good perspective on 'game changing' innovations. Jets are obvious to us now, but might have looked like mere extensions of propellor driven airplanes up close. You know how this works. 8)

I STRONGLY suspect the smartphones are a game changer not so much for their technological capabilities but for the fact that they broke a price point. I work in IT and I'm seeing a huge upheaval between them and their tablet siblings. I'm also seeing a big upheaval in my extended family and circle of friends. This is big AND fast and reminds me of wildfires.

Anonymous said...

"If you want true magic in your world I suggest you turn off your propaganda screen (the TV) and your computer and gaze into the fire or at the starlit sky. Turn off the electric light and light a candle. Park your car and take a hike in the oldest forest you have access to. Leave the iPod or MP3 player at home and listen to the birds singing, the wind blowing and the rain falling. Close your eyes and dream; visit the world of your happy and prosperous forebears, and understand why they changed nothing in their culture over the course of 500.000 years." -Varg Vikernes

rewinn said...

Back one posting Tacitus2 said on student debt ...
"... house and a college education are both fine things in their own rights, and they lead to better still. But it is as silly to encourage running up unfettered debt for dubiously productive educations as it was to buy a sprawling McMansion on a McDonald's salary...."

Good points. I would bet cash money that much of my law school were simply living on student loans to avoid entering the workforce. How about an experiment: declare that our USA has so critical a shortage in engineering, medicine and math professionals (...or pick whatever disciplines you prefer...) that the top 250,000 applicants get that degree free, as an investment in our intellectual infrastructure. If the program works, expand it to other fields as needed.
And I don't exclude carpentry, plumbing and other things that we couldn't go a day without. Plenty of kids wasting away earning a liberal arts degree could be perfectly happy putting in 20 years doing craftwork and then, when the body gets tired, go back for classroom work to become a managering cadre informed by experience.


@Anon 12:06 PM - I love nature as much or more than most, but the quote is nonsense. Any parent of any age who could have saved their child from an infection would have burned down a forest to do so. They didn't not because they didn't want to but because they didn't know how.
Rather than romanticize our forebears, let's learn from them. And, yes, nature is basically beautiful so let's use our advanced culture to manage it better than our mammoth-extincting forebears.

matthew said...

I'll add to the chorus about smartphones, but with this small addition. With the introduction of the world wide web a small minority of the people in the technologically advanced wealthy world used a computer to communicate each day. With smartphones we are seeing a much higher percentage of the world population communicating daily.

Tribesmen in New Guinea have facebook pages and join online dating sites. With solar charging reducing the local infrastructure needed and overall energy requirements we are seeing the next huge step forward to a global middle class. It is the ubiquity of the access that is the game changer.

The next step on the path to complete democratization of informational communication is a work around the telco / governmental monopolies on cell networks, either by peer to peer relaying or by private ownership of communication satellite like those folks in san fran that are trying to kickstart a pirate satellite. When there is a smartphone (not really cell phone anymore, is it?) capable of peer to peer data transmission across the great firewall, then we will see the movement really take off.

Jumper said...

It's too bad Zenna Henderson is not here to see so many of the world's kids with access to Project Gutenberg's library just for starters. It wasn't so long ago that some schools in the U.S. had no money for any but ancient schoolbooks.

David Brin said...

Dr. Brin, just put your cards on the table!

I'll get you started by guessing..

1900s: public health, refrigeration

1910s: autos

1920s: Airplanes

1930s: commercial radio

1940s: Pax Americana and an end to global war

1950s: jets, container ships, television

1960s: satellites, weather. 8-track

1970s: Computers, xerography, 

1980s: PCs

1990s: WWW


The Varg Vikernes quotation is both true and nasty. Yes, magic is cool and wonderful... at night. It does not belong in our daytime practical efforts to improve our lives and those of others and to make a better world. Only when we had options OTHER than the firelight and staring at the stars did we start to leave feudal barbarism.

Jumper said...

And we haven't finished starting to leave yet.

Acacia H. said...

Is it, Dr. Brin? Or is magic at night something full of fear, uncertainty, and superstition? Is not fear of the dark a leading reason for the creation of religion and magical thinking? After all, the human imagination fills the dark full of monsters, and then creates gods to fight these monsters. Besides. I have looked at the cellular structure of a leaf and found it magical. I have looked at blood flowing through the veins of a fish's tail and seen wonders. I have looked through the light of day and seen some truly magical moments... and this is a magic that can be verified and quantified. It is a magic that is real and explainable.

It is life and reality itself.

I may be one who may at times believe in metaphysical phenomena and the ability of mass or focused human belief to alter reality itself on some level... but I also admit this is likely fantasy. No, magical thinking is a path to failure, be it in the dark or in the light of day. It is science in which we ultimately place our trust. And I count even the deniers in this as they use the products of science (through its children technology and innovation).

Rob H.

Tacitus said...

Educational "Manhattan Projects" have been done in the past, usually with at least decent results. My father went through Med School on an accelerated wartime program to turn out Army physicians.
And I think the former Soviet Union with its rather muscular science programs did turn out some pretty good, er, chess players and theoretical mathemeticians? I wonder how their hard science achievements will look through the retrospectoscope...

You would have to be disciplined and focused. You would have to define goals we could all be on board with. I could see Women's Studies Departments and Pacific Islander Affirmative Action Programs trying to dilute the effort.

In fact, the most plausible scenario here is the darkest one. A planet-smacker asteroid is 30 years out. Now you would see some serious math/science/physics focus. If only from folks who hoped to have a berth on the USS Tacitus...


Ian said...

"... visit the world of your happy and prosperous forebears..."

Sacrifice a goat to the Gods so the crops don;t fail and no more of your children die of measles.

Paul451 said...

Re: Mars Cycler
If you pick the right asteroid, it is also a source of fuel and oxygen, not just radiation shielding (itself not to be sneezed at.)

While I don't support manned Mars missions (I consider Mars a distraction that harms human expansion into the solar system), if you are doing a Mars mission without a major Mars Cycler, then you are telling the universe that you're only interested in doing flags'n'footprints, no matter what you otherwise claim in your pretty PR.

[David has suggested launching regular stockpiles to Mars for any future manned mission to use. Parts, water, etc. Nudging an asteroid into a cycler orbit is the same kind of thing.]

Rob H,
I meant the iPhone was under-featured/under-powered/over-priced by the standards of other smart-phones already on the US market before it. It was a solid year behind, an underpowered 2G device in a market full of fast 3G smartphones. All iPhone added was the elegance. (Another thing not to be sneezed at. But it's the difference between "the invention of the steam train" and Raymond Loewy designed streamliners.) It turned an awkward business device into the public standard.

If you want iPhone on the list of revolutionary inventions, then you need to include Google (as opposed to "the web" or even "search engines".) And you need to add about a thousand other variants of things David has listed. Not just "Aircraft" and "Jets", but retractable landing gear, pressurised cabins, super-chargers, radio-direction beacons, etc etc freakin' etc. Which still puts us well behind the curve.

(etyyri: Magical fairy pixels.)

Ian said...

A 500 metre in diameter minor planet (much less a 5 kilomtre rock like Cruithne)has a mass somewhere in excess of 500 million tonnes.

If we're going to get serious about in-situ resource extraction, why not do it somewhere where in time we can also develop the capacity to move people regularly between the plants cheaply and safely?

Actually this brings me to another possible explanation for the Fermi Paradox. If technologically advanced civilizations move off planet to space habitats, maybe the bulk of the Galaxy's population is located in cometary haloes and we're simply looking in the wrong places by focusing on planets.

Ian said...

If we want to get all Rabbinical about the smartphone, you could arue that the first commercially successful smartphone was the Nokia 9000.

Which was released in 1996 from a non-UScompany.

Point - Brin.

Paul451 said...

Speaking of being behind the curve: Burt Rutan recently gave a talk where he contrasted the early development of rocket technology with the lack of progress in the last 30 or so years. (Although it feels like it's picking up a bit more in the last 5 years, at least on the private side. The NASA side still feels... painfully familiar.)

A 500m rock in a cycler orbit is large enough to tunnel out a pair of rings internally, fit them with habitat modules and counter-spin them on simple tracks for artificial gravity. A 300m diameter ring, at 2 RPM would generate nearly 1g across nearly 1km of habitation in each ring. Plenty of room to work with. While leaving 50m of rock/regolith around the ring-tunnels for radiation shielding, as well as thermal mass. With light pipes for an equally shielded greenhouse. Only the dock, solar panels and radiators would be exposed. Add ISRU fuel, water and air, and you've got the perfect base. Gravity, shielding, air/water/fuel, basic bulk fresh food. People could live comfortably for years.

And doing the first one teaches you how to make a similar fuel-station on Phobos. Travel from LEO to Cycler in a small short duration capsule, Cycler to Phobos in a simple shuttle, Phobos to Mars surface in a lander. Meanwhile, permanent duty crews maintain the Cycler and the Phobos base.

The same technology/techniques makes even manned Jupiter trips possible. Both in terms of artificial gravity, and for radiation shielding (Jupiter is even worse than interplanetary space). And at Jupiter, you can use the same tunnelling tech to remotely drill into one of the Galilean moons, to eventually build the same kind of underground base/settlement. Then your crew/settlers just need a short (but heavily shielded) hop from the Jupiter Cycler to the Callisto, Ganymede or Europa bases.

IMO, it's a technology that can be incrementally developed, and over the next century opens up the entire solar system.

[A 5km rock is enough internal volume for an entire community, hundreds of "rings", thousands of people. The question remains, how to get such a large mass into a useful orbit.]

Paul451 said...

Re: Fermi.
Even if the civilisations were limited to living amongst the Oort Clouds, it wouldn't explain the Great Silence.

Unless some new physics kicks in once you get far enough away from a gravity well. FTL, instant comms, etc. Once you finish the agonising climb out of the gravity well, you aren't going to want to return. Get too close to a star and your entire technology base stops working. So over mere millennia, people might simply forget about rockets'n'radio. (Except for a few traditionalists (and reenactors) back at their various home systems.)

Acacia H. said...

One thing to consider about interstellar communications is that radio is an ineffectual method of talking once you've got some decent distances involved. Curiosity is one such example. Landing Curiosity was Seven Minutes of Terror... but we were behind the curve. There was no way for us to communicate with Curiosity during the descent. Mars is too far away.

One such example can be found with the science fiction webcomic "Quantum Vibe" with three separate people communicating and negotiating a trade pact. One of the parties was on Saturn and the opposite side of the sun from Mars, resulting in each communication with a two-hour delay.

If quantum entanglement can be utilized for communication and it works over a large distance, then interstellar communication could very well use this type of technology. And we're in the dark, literally, because we don't have a receiver. Assuming of course that there ARE other sentients out there that escaped their planet. There are plenty of factors which could keep a species planetbound and silent.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Robert, just because I must oppose magic and romanticism for their malignant effects whenever they are allowed to infest "daytime" pursuits -- like policy and ethics and science and truly adult wisdom...

...that does NOT mean that I will oppose all magic and all romanticism in principle! Both are glorious things that make us far more than we are and I absolutely depend on them as a storyteller. They pay my rent!

My campaign is for us to recognize what they are good for... filling the night with vividness and lovely terrors that we can walk away from any time we choose. With adventure and chills and drama and an illusion of being vaster than we are! If ever it seems to me that we are becoming part of some Gernsback Contiuum without such things, I will join the romantics in rebellion!

But I know what the battle is right now. To liberate the daylight... our working lives, parenting, politics and pragmatic running of the world of the poisons of delusion. Delusion is cured of its poisonous qualities by moon or firelight.

Ian I have long posited that many ET races live in their comet clouds, invisible to see.

The secret bad day? January 13, 2014 could be viewed as the 13th day of the 13th month of the 13th year

Ian said...

Actually David here's a technology that emerged in America in the 2000's that had a massive economic impact: fracking.

Jonathan Roth said...

Let's not forget the philosophy and history behind the quote people have been discussing here:

That is definitely a path we don't want to follow.

Ian said...

I wonder if this means the self-proclaimed National Socialist hiding behind the "anonymous"tag is back?

Tony Fisk said...

Interesting facts about 2013:
- first year with four distinct digits since 1987
- first since 1432 with four consecutive digits!

Talk of asteroid habitats reminds me of the dwarves in the Hobbit* (who,naturally, view their dark gold hoards in the soft glow of potassium-40!)

*Saw the 2D version yesterday and thought it great! I suspect that some people not familiar with backstory would have been confused by the Radagast/White council thread. Azog is a construction, of course, but he is used to tie the plot together, and acts as a focus as to why we'll be seeing more of orcs later. Smaug is being revealed in bits, like the original Alien (and he's clearly a self-servative!) Oh yes! The goblin king (voiced by Barry Humphries) should have had a gladiolus stem about him!

Doris said...

I saw David's memorial article on Ride and Armstrong and the Era of Grown-ups in Discover magazine.

The romanticism of the cowboys sells the program; the grown-ups save the day.

SteveO said...

On the Star Wars vs. Star Trek front and which one benefits society...

There are massive debates about whether Star Wars is fantasy dressed as science fiction or is genuinely science fiction.

I haven't seen this mentioned, but I can tell you I have often heard engineers and scientists say that they went into science because of Star Trek.

Interestingly, it would be bizarre to me to hear someone say that Star Wars influenced them to go into a science field.

First, if others agree, I think that definitively answers the fantasy vs. science fiction question.

And second, while Star Wars might be art, it sure isn't doing anything to help the future of the world. Not that it has to, but in terms of value to society, it would seem to me that Star Trek is measurably better.

SteveO said...


Fracking is not new the last decade, but it certainly has changed the energy game recently.

LarryHart said...

What fracking received last decade was absolution from liability for the harm it causes. That thanks to Dick Cheney.

LarryHart said...

I must agree with SteveO on Star Wars not being science.

Star Wars blew me away when I saw it in 1977, but it was the visual spectacle that did so, not any thought of the "science" behind it.

Star Trek contained cool things that were possible to imagine being real in the future (some already are real now). Star Wars contained visually cool things that the viewer had to turn off the part of the brain that asked "How does gravity work on their ships?" or "What function do the X-Wings provide in space?" to enjoy.

And then there's The Force, which (in the original film) might as well have been a myth except for the single scene where Darth Vader strangles a man from a distance.

Don't get me wrong--I was the biggest fan of the 1977 Star Wars back in a short period of time where most people I knew had no idea what Star Wars was!, but that enjoyment was not of the type that prompted wondering about how the stuff worked. As I belive our host would put it, Star Wars does not provoke curiosity. Star Trek does little BUT provoke curiosity.

David Brin said...

Fracking may be a temporary boon to the US economy, but it's not a fundamental elevating of human life.

Yipe! That Varg guy was a mess. The association of romanticism with Nazism could not be clearer.

SteveO... you zoomed into several points I raise in STAR WARS ON TRIAL. In particular, the Metaphor of the Ship... how the Trek naval cruiser propels an entirely different view of civilization's role in the universe than the little fighter planes (knightly chargers) in SW.

sociotard said...

I think some here might enjoy these confessions of and Anti-GM-Food Turncoat

Acacia H. said...

What will be interesting is when the first large earthquakes happen in formerly earthquake-safe zones, how will the gas companies keep from getting their asses sued into oblivion? Or do you think we'll see a flood of instant bankruptcies and the oligarchs responsible will just move on?

Rob H.

Jumper said...

The former-ant-GM foods guy seems to square with my perceptions: he seemed to think the foods were bad for his health (nonsense) and is reformed of this, and then gives short shrift to their place in a systemic destruction of species. Indeed he mentions getting stuck at the level of the Amish as if it was a bad thing, when in reality their yields are reputed to be quite large. (Is this an urban legend or is it true? I would like to know.)

But I should finish reading the article before I go any further.

Nyctotherion said...

One of the more salient facts behind the Varg quote is that he spent the last fifteen years in the clink. Now, I'm no fan of nature. It's filthy, I can slip and fall and cripple myself with nobody to find my dying corpse, bugs are nasty, etc. But if I had just spent over a decade in the joint maybe I would wax rhapsodical about the joys of nature too.

Although everything I've read regarding Varg and Anders Brevik makes me think Norway jail is better than most midrange American hotels.

Ian said...

"Although everything I've read regarding Varg and Anders Brevik makes me think Norway jail is better than most midrange American hotels."

I actually spent some time looking around on Varg's website - nasty, nasty stuff - and he devotes one article to debunking that belief.

Ian said...

For starters, those "cushy" prisons you see are one extreme end of a spectrum.

For all but the most minor offenders, it takes years of time spent in other prisons to get transferred to one of them - and even minor infractions of prison discipline can scupper your chances.

Ian said...

Brievik is being held in a former Nazi Concentration camp.

Because of the risk to his life from other prisoners, he has access to three cells to make up for not being allowed to use the exercise yard, library or other common areas.

Each cell is 8 square metres and besides the corridors between them and maybe the prison hospital that's probably his world for the rest of his life.

Paul451 said...

A neo-Nazi mass murderer held in a Nazi concentration camp. And they say the Germans don't have a sense of humour.

sociotard said...

I found some numbers for Amish farms vs. Conventional

Ian said...

This is promising:most of the staff of Nanfeng, the publisher of a popular Guandong paper have gone on strike to protest censorship at the paper.

The article that sparked the protest was urging China's rulers to actually apply the provisions of china's constitution (which supposedly guarantees freedom of speech, freed om association, an independent judiciary and free elections)

Ian said...

If Amish farms are anything like organic farms, their output is similar to conventional farms.

But essentially they do it by inputting large amounts of labor in place of artificial fertilizer and mechanization.

That's more expensive and is also a lot harder to scale.

Ian said...

Well that's interesting, China Daily, a leading Chinese paper ran an article on the Nanfeng strike which has now apparently been deleted.

Here's the opening sentence

"A clash between China's censors and two of the country's respected media outlets has cast doubts on the new central leadership's promise of greater openness".

Even more remarkably, for the moment at least, Global times , a party-owned paper hasn't had their article on the striek removed:

"China media regulation saw a rare conflict at the new year when Southern Weekly's New Year Message was reportedly altered by publicity department of the Guangdong Provincial Committee of the CPC, which provoked much discussion online. The original article recounted the difficulties of implementing constitutional governance in China for more than a century. In the altered version, the tone was changed to claim that China is closer to that goal than ever before. Many Internet opinion leaders support the editorial department of Southern Weekly. There are even some hard-line statements on behalf of the editorial department of Southern Weekly that have appeared on Weibo.

Whether this incident was a collective decision by the editorial department or caused by several editors' personal behavior is still unknown.

Realistically speaking, many Chinese media outlets have experiences of major reports being altered by officials. This incident involving Southern Weekly is a prominent example of how this mode of media management is faced by significant challenges, which have built up over time. For a long time, many media outlets have played touch ball with administrative departments' instructions.

China's social reality and the environment of media governance are rapidly changing. Western values have influenced many Chinese intellectuals.

It is less attractive for many media people to make explorations and innovations under the current management system. It is easier for them to maximize "universal values" in China and realize the interest of media in this process.

The reality is that old media regulatory policies cannot go on as they are now. The society is progressing, and the management should evolve. Traditional media is integrating intimately with new media in China, resulting in frequent migration of professionals and different ways for them to pursue their personal interests. All these means the traditional regulation mechanisms no longer fit the new environment."

David Brin said...