Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Can we “fix” social media without ruining them? One (of many) Practical Suggestions.

Twitter’s decision to slap warning labels on some Trumpian tweets – those seeming to incite violence - “was the culmination of months of debate inside the company over developing protocols to limit the impact of objectionable messages from world leaders — and what to do when Mr. Trump inevitably broke it.”

Meanwhile, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday told employees he was standing firm in the company’s decision not to moderate a post in which President Trump said “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” And with less than half a year to the U.S. election, that means the trolls - especially in those Kremlin basements - are looking at a welcome mat.

I am about to offer one small proposal - a potential partial solution - from among many that have never been tried. But first... perspective time.

The problem of toxicity in media is not a new one. Every new medium of communication was applied to nefarious ends, before it eventually lived up to its elevating promise. The printing press was first used to spread horrible hate tracts exacerbating Europe’s religious wars. Only across subsequent centuries did the spread of books truly uplift an increasingly literate population. 

Similar bad-beginnings were seen with the arrival of newspapers and newsreels. In the 1930s, loudspeakers and radio amplified gifted orators with godlike voices, sparking humanity’s worst era. It always starts by empowering predators. But over time, citizens became better at culling wheat from chaff from poison in each technology, and we all grew better for it.

Today (as some of us predicted in the 1980s) a similar transition is happening in digital media at 100x the speed and 10,000x the sheer volume of crap and lying misuse, leaving us with very little time to make the same transition. Meanwhile, evil or fanatical or insane manipulators twist the very concept of “fact” or “truth” out of all recognition. 

We need tools of maturity and we need them fast.

There are two general ways to achieve this. The first -- used in almost every society before ours -- was to set up a caste of censors, gatekeepers, priests or regulators of what the masses may see or know. Our entire Enlightenment Experiment has been a rejection of that approach, which stifled and brought nothing but calamitous error across history. All our values rail against it – e.g. in every Hollywood film. Indeed, so strong is this Suspicion of Authority (SoA) reflex -- especially in Americans -- that our enemies are using it against us, by attacking even the very idea of professional expertise.

The other approach is lateral criticism. Argument (ideally based at least somewhat on facts) can apply reciprocal accountability via markets, democracy and now the innovation of the web. It can work! We and all our vast array of modern miracles are proof. But the whole thing breaks down when we huddle in separated ghettoes of ignorance, reciting incantations and nostrums that are fed to us by evil men.

== Can we innovate ways to save innovative media? ==

In early 2017, I was invited to Facebook HQ, where executives and designers were wringing their hands. They fretted over how thoroughly their platform had been hijacked and abused -- much of it by hostile foreign powers – with clear intent to warp American democracy. And yes, for a brief time, folks at Facebook seemed serious about trying to find solutions, hoping to achieve a three-way win-win, starting (of course) with their top priority:

1 - Protect user growth and profitability.

But ideally these solutions would also...

2 - Maximize user freedom of self-expression.

3 - Reduce the amount and impact of deliberate or inadvertent campaigns of falsehood or incitement.

During my hour-long meeting with executives, I offered possible ways to achieve this trifecta. But I might as well have saved my breath. As the Trump Era became a new (if bizarre) normal, goal number three simply floated away.

So we now approach another U.S. Election. And seeing all their efforts to wreck the Western Enlightenment teetering in the balance, our enemies will redouble efforts to spread tsunamis of lies via social media. Moreover, while Facebook will remain obdurate until the end, Twitter and other platforms are beginning to take this seriously.

So, it is for them that I’ll trot out one – just one – of the proposals I offered Facebook on that futile day.

== The simplest method ==

Envision a pair of small symbols added next to the Thumbs-Up indicator, as in the example below.  Say an exclamation point and a question mark. Generally innocuous, these clickables allow the user to seek more informationor alternative points of view. Note in figure 1 below how they have minimal footprint on the user’s precious screen space.  


============


In Figure #1 (above) we see the two symbols are empty and easily ignored.  

Only now I lean on insights from Edward Tufte’s classic book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Because there are many dimensions of useful information that can be conveyed via a mere exclamation point!

In Figure 2 (below) we see how the exclamation point can convey several spectra of information, perhaps throbbing when the host company has detected a suspicious source or bad actors at work. Fullness – as in a thermometer – can show the host’s level of certainty that there’s a problem, while color or texture can bear upon the type of problem.


============


============

Users do not have to memorize any of the meanings! But they’ll learn, over time, that a tiny, flashing red exclamation point means there’s another side to whatever meme they are relishing. Moreover it’s hard to accuse the host company of partisan bias when the same thing happens to every side.

Is an offer of rebuttal enough to cancel toxic memes? Well, it can’t hurt to lure a few of the curious to sample refutations. And that tiny nonpartisan nag could be enough to crack the wall of a Nuremberg rally.

The second kind of clickable Alert-o-meter – a Question Mark - links to sites that are less adversarial and more informative than linked by the exclamation point. Here user preferences play a role. The follow-up path may be encyclopedic or lighter or even entertaining. The aim is to encourage curiosity and depth to the topic.  


============
============

Again, the User is free to ignore the small alert-o-meter symbol. (An hence the host site doesn't drive away angry customers.) Still, it lurks there, serving as a reminder that there’s more to this!

Not only does this help at least a little to re-establish the notion of argument and verifiability … that some sources are more verified and trustworthy than others… but we are entering an era when society may decide to modify the blanket protections enjoyed by social media companies, from all responsibility for malicious content. Ohnly a fool would ignore that possibility. An approach like this one might be just enough to protect the site host from liability for helping to spread lies with dire consequences.

============

And there you have it. Just one of a dozen ideas I offered mavens at Facebook in their panic after the 2016 elections … before they realized that the winners of that stolen contest actually wanted no meaningful changes at all, and their best (commercial) interest lay in leaving things alone.

Think about that. And realize -- nothing is likely to happen via self-regulation, or reform, or tweaks like mine, no matter how logical and helpful. Of course they have all sold-out and I am wasting my time.

We all know this dire moment will be resolved massively, in one direction or another. And when it is, a mere couple of innocuously flashing symbols just won’t do. 

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Marvels of space, those "UFOs," Awesome Books/Images... and hopes for the future

Against a background of riots and abuses at every level of power... and rejoicing over the smooth competence of the Crew Dragon mission... we can clearly see that the road branches before us. And the kind of civilization we want and need is the one worth fighting for.

Do we allow monstrous evil to destroy us -- as in the brutal murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd... and the insane torching of Uncle Hugo's Bookstore in Minneapolis -- to send us down what Heinlein forecast as "The Crazy Years"? Or even the madness of Nehemia Scudder? Or will we learn to thwart the evil men who now cackle as they exploit our new, godlike powers of perception and communication, in oder to incite violence and division and treason?

Next time I hope to offer a proposal for how to solve some of our social media toxicity

But for now, let's turn to some lifting-of-spirits. With some good stuff, indeed.

== Better things! == 

Now Free! These are seriously great little volumes, each of  them about a different, way-cool NIAC project I consulted on. ... "Thanks to a partnership with World Book, Inc., NASA is offering free access to Out of This World, a kids STEM e-book series featuring NIAC Fellows’ concepts. World Book is offering virtual access to all eight e-books free of charge to support educators, parents and students during the coronavirus pandemic."

The series features stories about the lives and scientific work of NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) researchers. NIAC supports the next generation of space exploration by investing in visionary ideas that could transform future NASA missions with the creation of radically better or entirely new concepts, helping to turn science fiction into science fact. You can access the FREE e-book series on the World Book site here.

- A truly wonderful three minutes can be had here, taking a narrated video tour of the Curiosity Rover's latest 18.GB panorama from the slopes of Mount Sharp, in Gale Crater, on Mars. You are a member of a bold, scientific, maturing civilization that does stuff like this. Be proud. Defend it.

Alas, Curiosity is in mortal danger. The Trump Administration’s proposed budget cuts would debilitate several ongoing missions, Scientific American reports, and would even mean shutting down the iconic rover Curiosity, which has been exploring Mars since 2012.

-  Natural superconductors found in meteorites? UCSD prof. Mark Thiemens and colleagues have used sophisticated instruments – like  magnetic field modulated microwave spectroscopy (MFMMS). To find little inclusions that exhibit superconductivity from states imposed violently, early in the solar system’s evolution. “Naturally occurring superconductive materials are unusual, but they are particularly significant because these materials could be superconducting in extraterrestrial environments.” And yes, I depict natural superconductivity amid the perovskites of our planet’s mantle. In EARTH. Well, speculation is easy. What Mark & pals do is hard!

Hubble’s 30th Anniversary Image… absolutely stunning.  

- The Japanese space agency JAXA announced that their newly planned probe will land on the Martian moon Phobos – which I’ve long held to be potentially one of the most valuable sites in the Solar System - and snare at least 10 grams, or about a third of an ounce, of material from the moon’s surface using a coring collection system before taking off again. MMX will also release a German-French rover to explore the terrain and chemical composition of Phobos for roughly three months. The MMX spacecraft’s return to Earth in 2029 would complete the first round-trip voyage to Mars and back. The German and French space agencies agreed with JAXA to provide a small rover for the MMX mission based on the MASCOT robot deployed on the surface of asteroid Ryugu by Japan’s Hayabusa 2 spacecraft. 

The Haybusa mission was so spectacular… as was the U.S. asteroid mission at the same time… that it’s clear we are ready to start assaying some of the vast riches out there, making asteroids far more apropos for US-Japan-Europe, while all the Apollo-wannabe tourists go rushing to the sterile, useless, dusty lunar plains.  More on results from this marvelous mission here

Again. Humanity will return to the Moon as Chinese, Russian, Indian and other astronauts provide their nations with tourist rites of passage. And to be clear, the Chinese are doing fine things!  Their Chang’e-4 mission on the far side used ground penetrating radar to do cool science. And who knows? All those nations’ missions might find something (beyond proved polar water ice deposits) to prove me wrong about that resource poor wasteland. Mazel tov.

Meanwhile, the U.S. and Japan and Europe should do things those other nations can’t. Go where the real riches are.And yes, the Japanese will do asteroids without us, if we stupidly turn our backs on those riches out there, in order to inanely repeat an act of 90% symbolism. 

Grownup efforts haven't ALL been sabotaged, yet. “NASA’s historic uncrewed mission to the metallic asteroid Psyche is now, also, a SpaceX jam. Elon Musk’s rocket company will be responsible for getting the probe launched on board a Falcon Heavy. According to some estimates, the materials making up Psyche could be worth a staggering $10,000 quadrillion.” - from Futurism.

== More space! ==

- Physicist and Breakthrough maven James Benford and science popularize-philosopher/author Paul Davies gave a January talk on the possibility of “lurker” alien space probes in our solar system, and especially on very near-Earth asteroids. Especially a few that qualify as extra Earth moons. Plus a followup interview
Of course, this is a central topic to my novel Existence.

And now news of another “pseudo-moon” of Earth, this one no larger than a limo! Arrived ~ 3 years ago, may leave in 4 years. About the size of a limo. 

- The Sun appears to be far less active than other similar stars. This perspective on evolution of the Sun and could mean that our star is in a midlife lull at the moment. This data on luminosity variability – a side product of the Kepler planet-seeking mission – suggests our sun’s anomalous stability might be a major factor in the Fermi Paradox. 

“Researchers identified 369 stars with similar temperatures, masses, ages, chemical compositions, and rotational periods as the Sun. They found that despite these similarities, most of the stars displayed far higher levels of brightness variation that indicate average activity levels around five times higher than that of the Sun.”  Possibly one of the most important astronomical discoveries of the last few years.

== Finally... Those Navy-baiting UFOs? ==

See a cogent analysis of the “UFO” videos, leaked to the public in 2007 and 2017, that appear to show three unidentified flying objects moving in weird and unexpected ways. ‘The Navy had already acknowledged the videos were real, but pointedly did not say what they show.’ Watch the embedded technical appraisal, offering very simple and highly likely explanations that truly shoot down the ‘alien spacecraft’ category.

There were already many reasons to doubt the zealous UFOism of my neighbors at the “To the Stars Academy.” But the visual analysis seems also to (alas!) render unnecessary my own theory about WHO is doing this! (That it’s DARPA or USN Research.) And my speculation as to HOW it's being done. I’ll keep mum on the latter, for now, but my notion is entirely plausible and all that. It’s just not necessary to explain these images. Not any longer. Rats.

Though my novel Existence explores DOZENS of vastly more-plausible scenarios for alien ‘lurkers’ in our solar system. Watch the vivid 3-minute video trailer.  (See also my story “Those Eyes.” Which shreds the ‘why’ of visiting Teaser Ships.) 

Seriously? There are now something like a BILLION times as many cameras on this planet as there were in the 1950s, many of them better, more mobile and all far more widely distributed. So how come all the UFO images remain almost exactly as blurry as they were then? 

Oh. Also sighted… China’s newly robo-tested capsule for crewed spaceflight looks amazingly (or not so amazingly) like the SpaceX Crew Dragon.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Seeking transparency in a threatening world... and answering Harari

First among links and midweek observations: 
Here’s a powerfully cogent interview with Yuval Noah Harari about our current crises. I have guardedly quibbled with some of his points in Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow and elsewhere. But he is still one of the smartest observers around, unafraid to offer risky extrapolations. Perhaps we'll meet, someday. Meanwhile, do add this to your podcast list… and note the many overlaps with my arguments about reciprocal accountability, from The Transparent Society.

- A friend reminded me of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “The Minister's Veil,” wherein a New England town is amazed when their preacher takes the pulpit wearing a black semi-transparent veil that obscures all of his face but his mouth and chin from view.  Naturally, I take it in some ways as an allegory for my work on transparency. And for today’s masked life? But in the story it’s not a covid-style face mask. Hawthorne had the veil across the TOP half of the minister's face, as I recall, making it more pertinent to this era of iris/retina/face recognition than pandemic aversion.

- There was no justice for Ahmaud Arbery, shot down during one of his regular jogs through his own neighborhood by father-and-son loonies who went uncharged by law enforcement… till an anonymous person posted video of the horrific event, putting the lie to the accused’s excuses. And I was told years ago that cell cams would make no difference. They are making a whale of difference!

(Late note, the "anonymous poster" was later arrested as an accomplice! Oh the trap of self-promotion!)

== Snowden says “no aliens or contrails…” but crypto’s not delusional?”

- Edward Snowden is an interesting case who few understand. Okay, I don’t either, though I have some insights. First, that he truly views himself as a decent, reasonable and even patriotic fellow, willing to pay a reasonable price for his acts of “civil disobedience,” possibly with his gaze set on the life arc of Daniel Ellsberg . (Prison in your forties and then a hero of campus coeds in your fifties.) Certainly any comparison to Julian Assange benefits Snowden, immeasurably. He’s in the news again:

"For the record, as far as I could tell, aliens have never contacted Earth, or at least they haven't contacted US intelligence," Snowden writes in his recent memoir, Permanent Record.  "Also — Yes, man really did land on the moon. Climate change is real. Chemtrails are not a thing.” He tells radio host Joe Rogan that he “had ridiculous access to the networks of the NSA, the CIA, the military, all these groups. I couldn't find anything," he continued. "So if it's hidden, and it could be hidden, it's hidden really damn well, even from people who are on the inside."

Of course it is conceited to think he actually was at the innermost layer of the onion. Still, it leads to an important point. Seldom parsed is what Snowden resents, what he recommends, what did change as a result of his actions, what he did not  find or reveal, and what he completely fails to understand. There definitely were changes in the aftermath of his revelations, e.g. in compartmentalization, so no single fellow would ever know as much, and in FISA procedures, making them slightly more accountable and court-like. But it is in the lattermost category that I come in, as author of The Transparent Society. For it’s here that Snowden seems utterly clueless.

He believes - along with millions - that our freedom and privacy might be safeguarded by hiding from elites of government, commerce, criminality or fascism. This stunningly stupid notion is backed up with talk of cyber-cypher miracles that would encrypt our lives outta sight… as if a flying gnat cam won’t just waft into your home and watch as you type, or make love. Crypto-faith is not just marlarkey, it has always been mysticism based upon zero possibility it would work. Ever.

How ironic that Snowden himself is an example of the thing that actually does work. Indeed, within weeks (I hope and predict) it will be a flood of revelation and transparency (e.g. the Deutsche Bank records) that applies the light of sousveillance where it’s needed most. And still, when that happens, our would-be paladins of freedom won’t get it — the lesson that light is the way.

 - And while we’re on hackers etc.: The 15 Biggest Ever Cases of Bank Fraud. Wow, a fascinating recounting of thefts and such, showing how much is being stolen by hackers and insiders… and this is not a complete list, by far! And the only long term solution is not “security.” It is transparency.

== Vulnerabilities remain =

- This Los Angeles Times piece reveals how vulnerable our cell systems are to collapse when we need them most, when the towers go down, in a fire or quake. I’ve harped in this for two decades. See my interview in CACM about critical fragilities in infrastructure (reprinted in Polemical Judo.)

- I warned long ago (1997) in The Transparent Society  that ‘Deep fake’ videos could upend an election. This article suggests that Silicon Valley may have a way to combat them. It’s a critical problem, and tech will help, for a while. But over the long run, the answer to “lying witnesses” will be the same as it has been for 6000 years… more witnesses. This means we will likely have to maintain deniability by keeping our own diary-recording-logs of everything we do or say. It needn’t be the end of the world. 

- Meanwhile, a cogent Los Angeles Times op-ed talks about “Rules for a New Surveillance Reality,” and how some big thinkers aren’t giving in to the standard reflex among those fretting about Big Brother. Oh, it’s right to fret! We teeter on the edge of tumbling into the surveillance state that certain rising world powers are already building, at full speed. But it won’t be solved by whining “don’t look at me!” Or trying to pass useless laws limiting technology, ordering a halt to the tide. Or to a tsunami. What can work, because it has worked increasingly well for 200 years, is to insist that we have transparency and the power to supervise all elites who grasp these technologies.
  
== Again and again… blindness to what works ==

- Got me a message from Evan Selinger, co-author of Re-Engineering Humanity, who writes: “I've been arguing for a ban of facial recognition for some time. Do you really believe in a plausible future when overall the technology creates more accountability than harm? This is a genuine question, David! I'm admitting my bias in advance but am truly curious about your take. Thanks!”

My response:

Dear Evan, I appreciate that you are in our shared fight against looming Big Brothers and those who would draw curtains of darkness across our enlightenment experiment. I volubly and often urge folks to join ACLU and EFF and other shared efforts to preserve the experiment. Despite the tendency for activists like you to dismiss me as complacent about threats to freedom and privacy, I am in fact fare MORE sensitive to this historically-redolent issue, as I wrote in The Transparent Society.

Alas though. It truly is perplexing to me how sincere and intelligent folks imagine they can repress technologies that get smaller, faster, better, cheaper and vastly more numerous and mobile at rates faster than Moore's Law. Seriously, you are able to envision such a thing happening? Banning such exponential tech... with a LAW? One enforced by elites who will thenceforth be protected and shielded by such laws, from any effective supervision or accountability? Even if they start out sincere, such paternalists will always be propelled to use the techs "for our own good."

Banning face-recog is the latest utterly bizarre example of stunning myopia. Every year the programs get more efficient, smaller and spread more widely in dispersed – not centralized – databases and apps. Where you you think that leads? As Robert Heinlein wrote: “A privacy Law just makes the spy bugs smaller or more hidden.” Really, you can envision such a method working? I am a science fiction author, and I cannot imagine any conceivable way to do that. Unless...

...unless my method comes first. If all elites are stripped naked, then such a law might be enforceable, catching violators. Ironically, your approach can only work if I get mine first, and then your approach -- hiding and cringing from light -- becomes unnecessary.

As things are, with Face Recognition out in the open, flaws like racial or gender bias are being detected and pounced-upon, swiftly. That won’t happen if the systems get driven underground or kept by secret elites.

What is most bizarre about this is that the approach I recommend - reciprocal-lateral accountability - is exactly the core of the enlightenment experiment. It is the only thing that ever has worked, that does work, or that ever will constrain the human tendency toward cheating and power. It is the reason why Adam Smith and the American Founders prescribed methods for dividing power among mutually competing groups. And the downward-lateral spread of power and knowledge and sovereignty to ever-broader groups is precisely the only thing that has ever thwarted aristocratic cheating and other calamities. YOU are a product of 250 years of steadily increasing use of that method...

...which now seems to be totally invisible and counter-intuitive to all our brightest paladins of freedom. Like yourself. Alas.

But at least you are in the fight. Bless you for that. 

And hell yes, I approve far more of a fellow like this who is in the fight, vigorously disagreeing and arguing with me about tactics and curious about possible ways that his own might need improving... than I do the arm-chair warriors and 'summer soldiers' who whine and grouse and use every excuse to stay lazy during "times that try men's souls."

And if you are ready to stand up and get involved in the fight for your posterity and civilization, I know a place where you can study either new and innovative tactics...

... or else get tips how to efficiently use your scant time and resources in more traditional ways. Either way, we need you. And the time is now.


Saturday, May 23, 2020

Five Covid items you don't (yet) know... plus Bat viruses and Wuhan collaborations and recent science updates

As the COVID-19 pandemic illustrates, infectious diseases can have profound influences on their host populations. Human evolution has unquestionably been shaped by past infections. However, humans have also shaped pathogen dynamics and virulence via a multitude of factors, like settlement, agriculture, technology, rapid long-distance travel, medicine, and global economic integration, continue to shape epidemics and the human host populations. The most recent CARTA virtual symposium explored how infectious agents and humans shape each other’s evolutionary trajectories. The IMPACT OF INFECTIOUS DISEASE ON HUMANS & OUR ORIGINS

== Covid (covfefe?) insights ==
(1) Word has been issued that we need worry less about "fomites" or physical objects and surfaces carrying infectious viruses. Many of you first saw the word "fomite" in my novel Existence which dealt with an unusual (speculative) kind of interstellar virus, and the unusual "surface" that carried it.   

(2) Also spreading is a fact we should have known months ago, had there been pervasive testing - that exposure in outdoor air, especially in sunshine, is much less dangerous than in enclosed spaces and over extended periods. Good to know, but still no guarantee. Keep washing.

(3) You'll hear that it takes a 'minimum dose" of virus to get infected - at least a thousand or so - and that one or two won't do it. I doubt this! We need to recall that the dosage minimum thing is statistical. There are undoubtedly cases in which a single inhaled virus has led to disease and death, because if that one virus got very, very lucky, it will have hundreds of immediate replicant offspring. All right, I am glad researchers estimate a rapid falloff below say 1000, but it's not to zero. Now, having said that, what might happen is that a single point infection could trigger sufficient immune response to deal with the isolated site. One hopes.  

(4) Talk of a widely distributed vaccine by October is misinformation and dangerous. Yes, there are groups with tentatively promising vaccines! And Biden is right that this is a time for lots of international conversation, sharing and cooperation, bringing forward for testing the best ten or so from wherever... exactly opposite to the Trumpist idiocy. And yes, Biden and Gates are right that we should invest now in the factories to mass produce vaccines, when ready. But there is still reason to do the full test program on 100,000 subjects, rather than immediately 100 million.

Remember the 1976 Swine Flu? Gerald Ford's only dynamic presidential action was to rush out an untested vaccine - (for this he gets an aircraft carrier named for him?) - one which triggered a flush of Guillain-Barré syndrome... which spurred the start of our modern, insane-ingrate festival of anti-vax lunacy. We cannot afford a repeat on any large scale. 

Now consider this added flaw in a rushed vaccine. There is something called  Antibody-Based Enhancement... where some viruses take advantage of earlier exposures to related strains, by hijacking the very antibodies your body employed against the earlier strain and then using your own antibodies as penetration aids into your cells! It's why Dengue can sometimes be far more lethal the second time you get it and why Dengue vaccines are used only sparingly. Hence it isn't just the virus that must be visualized. The antibodies we're counting on should be checked to make sure they can't be turned into trojan horses! (The Nanome company makes spectacular molecule visualizing products letting you AR-dive into complex proteins.) And hence, while we can speed up and support science, and enlarge the studies rapidly, there still must be studies.

Get ready for the Covfefe Administration to announce spectacular vaccines (and brag that Two Scoops invented them, himself) before the election, as Sinclair Radio jocks veer from "it's a hoax!" to "we're the scientists saving you!" To which the answer must be "You first!" No seriously. In front of cameras, roll up your sleeves. You first.

(5) Perspective on the project to collect bat samples and study hundreds of species of corona virus, in collaboration with the Wuhan Institute of Virology. While our present troubles may still turn out to have spilled from a careless lab release, it’s worth noting that there are very good reasons for these data collection projects and collaboration - in careful ways has always been and always will be desirable.

(6) Oh, read about the incredible wave of GOP suck-ups ingratiating themselves with Trump by loudly declaring they are taking and touting hydroxy-Q… declaring “If it was bad, Democrats would WANT him to take it!” No, that’s your desperately hate-drenched psychology. It’s not how our - sane - minds work.

== Health: public and personal ==

How to quarantine in ways that will effectively limit transmission while helping the quarantined to experience comfort, not fear - so others will cooperate if their turn comes? And so the un-infected can be released quickly and so that economic disruption is minimized? See “Quarantine Methods Across the Ages.” The case of the cruise ship in Japan is horrific, maximizing both torment and chances of cross infection among the tightly packed passengers. Maybe, in addition to rush-building new hospitals, China should have erected quarantine centers that have the look and feel of resorts? Without expensive surfaces but with basic amenities - including hiking & frisbee golf (much easier to set up than regular golf), and easily divided into secure zones, as each quarantined person processes along one track or another.

Certainly the Japanese should have done this for those poor cruise ship passengers. Business travelers and vital industrial workers could be processed efficiently and with good optics.

And more...   Autism appears to be at least somewhat associated with alterations in the cells that provide the myelin coatings for nerve cells.

We all know we should exercise more. But this article lays out what science knows, as of this year... and it's pretty darn overwhelming. I used to joke that if exercise extends your life by exactly the amount of time you spend exercising, then isn't it a wash? (A joke I usually told in the locker room, while finally catching my breath.) But apparently you make a big profit on the deal, so that's one joke to retire.

America's most widely consumed oil causes genetic changes in the brain: Soybean oil linked to metabolic and neurological changes in mice. Soybean oil. Wean the fried foods habit. Sorry.

== That Can-Do Spirit... ==

A colleague called followers to write me “suggesting David Brin write a graphic novel, about responding to a crisis by folks working together to overcome problems, not sitting around and giving up because we don't make things in the USA any more.” 


In fact, I did that! TINKERERS, explored a wide range of reasons people offer for US industrial decline... 


…then how we'll fix it the old-fashioned way, recovering our talent for poking any problem — as individuals and small groups — innovating with ingenuity, agility and élan.  

It's available online! Not the best art. (Many images were  web downloads. Including Morgan Freeman? Peter Lorre? Seriously?) 

Still, I think you’ll have fun. And it’s cheap! (Free!) And the message is even more fitting for these times, as I and many others try to help "tinkerers" solve our currently critical medical supply shortages.

And did I mention the whole thing is FREE at:

And there’s a curriculum STUDY GUIDE, taking students through the historical and other references. Maybe ideal for a home schooling session?

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Science Fictional News

The Hugo Award nominees for 2020 have been announced. For best novel, the entries include: The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders, The Ten Thousand Doors of January, by Alix E. Harrow,  The Light Brigade, by Kameron Hurley, A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine,  Middlegame by Seanan McGuire, and Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. 
Fun stuff. And meanwhile...

Who said the 21st Century isn't different? During the 20th, about every five years, either Atlantic or Harpers or New Yorker would publish a savage slag hit against science fiction. It was a nasty, New York liter-artsy tradition to sneer, smugly, at SF's "febrile fantasies" and rationalize how lions like Atwood, Vonnegut and LeGuin had no relation to such nonsense. How times have changed...

. . . because now almost annually there are features in the top intelligentsia journals extolling the vivid wonders of sci fi -- as in this week's New Yorker collection of essays "The Allure of Science Fiction," though yes, with a twist that now we are being told by some who formerly spurned us that they will now be our spirit guides into this realm that they always knew and loved so. Yeah, okay. Progress is progress and not always - well - without bittersweet irony.  

== A pause to remind you... ==

... that truly historic matters are afoot. First, an alert: Basic Books offers my nonfiction classic on the information age and freedom and privacy - The Transparent Society - for a limited time at $3.49!

And if anyone knows a Congressional staffer or anyone connected to this year's high-level political struggles, I truly believe they would find fresh tactics of real value in my new book Polemical Judo. I'd wager money on that. Seriously, would it hurt to think - just once - outside the usual box? Outside the regular trap of Sumo-grunting and trench warfare?

== Other (great) creators! ==

Here’s an interesting interview with my colleague and SF hero, Kim Stanley Robinson. We agree about almost everything except vocabulary. Whottaguy. 

Mike Resnick passed away in January. One of the greats of Science Fiction – the most-nominated author of all time -- he explored many bold topics like multi-ethnicity and the price of human arrogance, in new and amazing ways, often challenging stereotypes long before that was fashionable. As Roger Zelazny did for Hindu and Buddhist cultures, Resnick exposed many previously insular western readers to legends and beliefs of a wide variety of African peoples, sometimes stirring controversy but always empathy.  He was also unlimited in his range, serving up irony, tragedy or comedy, almost on-demand. 

Mike even contributed a weird-gonzo chapter to my own new SF comedy novel  “The Ancient Ones”  winning him a place in the dedication! A peerless bon vivant at conventions, he would occasionally mis-speak with the over-eager carelessness that sometimes merits correction in us well-meaning boomer males, a trait that’s far less morally fraught and more readily corrected than (for example) backstabbing gossip. As publisher of many anthologies and ultimately the ongoing magazine Galaxy's Edge, he fostered countless new talents. A true prodigy-polymath and friend, Mike Resnick showed us how to grab and shake tomorrow with gusto.

How better to celebrate the wonderful film Galaxy Quest than with a documentary feature? Never Surrender is an entertaining, heartfelt tribute that comes to us (believe it or not) from the same folks behind the wildly popular online Honest Trailers series.  It was - before covid/covfefe - coming to a theater near you. I have my special enthusiasms for the flick. While the entire cast was wonderful, I especially liked Alan Rickman’s role, but above all Tony Shaloub’s wonderful Tech Sgt. Chen.  

Best news of the week, so far. One of the best science fiction (and mystery) bookstores on the planet - Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego - has found the new owners it needed in order to survive into a new decade. You can help by doing some of your shopping at their online site! Much thanks to Matt Berger and Jenni Marchisotto for stepping up and expressing joy at their venture… and to Terry Gilman and her crew, including founder Maryelizabeth Yturralde for keeping the flag flying for so long, in challenging times. Mysterious Galaxy's new home is: 3555 Rosecrans St. Suite #107 San Diego, CA 92110 Subscribe to the newsletter for events!  

== Miscellaneous sci fi related weirdness! ==

Here's the Abbey Road meme that was used to combat Brexit ("Br-stay-in") ... only now we can adopt it to promote sci fi, I think? ;-) "We are Brin???"

Sci fi legend John Varley weighs in – scarily and vividly – about the morons who follow velvet ropes shuffling along in a crowd to the top of Mt. Everest.  He makes great points and is largely correct. On the other hand, what small patch of Earth funnels so much disposable wealth directly from rich idiots to developing nations?

Wanna be creeped out? I’ve recommended before the novel Invasive Species by Joseph Wallace, which gets deserved attention from Hollywood. Murder Hornets, eat your hearts out!  (And stay away from my bees!)

An excellent profile of my colleague Ken Liu, who has been foremost in translating and discovering and bringing western awareness to the wave of fantastic Chinese science fiction authors who a boldly taking the genre in new directions.

One of the most creative and unconventional writers I know is Matt Pallamary who routinely bridges sci fi and Castaneda like adventures in Amazonian or Native American mysticism. See his latest novel – Death: A Love Story.

Ombak is a biannual weird fiction journal, aiming to supply the greatest, strangest fiction Southeast Asia can provide to the rest of the world. The first issue had writers from Singapore, India, Philippines, and Vietnam. The second (launching soon) will have writers from Singapore, Malaysia, India, and the Philippines

Israeli-American science fiction author Ilana Masad reviews Robert Harris’s new post-apocalyptic novel The Second Sleep, set in an England that may be across between A Canticle for Liebowitz, Pavane and  Riddley Walker.

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA, Inc.) is pleased to announce that Lois McMaster Bujold has been named the 36th Damon Knight Grand Master for her contributions to the literature of Science Fiction and Fantasy. And yes, very well-deserved.


...and finally...

I have a billion Zimbabwean dollar banknote. But will someone collect a few trillion and quadrillion notes for me?