Saturday, March 28, 2020

Where might this all lead? Unexpected options and outcomes... and some solace.

I've been asked by so many in the press and media etc. to speculate on "what might be longer term effects of the COVID-19 crisis?" And so, for this weekend posting, let's ponder some of those answers.

Of course there are deeply sobering possibilities. Authors like Mary Shelley, Alice Sheldon, Margaret Atwood, Joanna Russ, Stephen King, Frank Herbert, John Christopher, Cormac McCarthy and even yours truly have cast their eyes to plagues far worse than this one.* Indeed, some of my own past sci fi has proved more pertinent than I’d want! My Hugo-nominated story “The Giving Plague” explores our complex relationships with viruses and such, including several paths a parasite can go down, in “negotiating” with us hosts. 

We'll return to that topic. But for a moment, let’s take a pragmatically optimistic turn. 

== Things we could do now, if we had leadership ==

Earlier I made a modest suggestion for what cities across America and the world might do, to maintain some employment and solve real problems, while our streets are mostly empty. The “Pothole Gambit” proposed that we send out scores of 2-person teams to fill potholes, repair empty schools, etc. Risk to the crews would be minimal, if they take basic precautions, and paychecks would flow. This could be done even before testing is widely available.

This kind of selective-contingent thinking leads further to an almost sci fi extension. Once the U.S. has rapid, effective and plentiful COVID-19 tests (as we should and could have had, two months ago) then why not let companies re-open some factories etc., putting back to work employees who have already gone through their exposure to the virus and the following latency period, whether symptomatic or not? 

Picture a scenario. Elon Musk rents the Pebble Beach Golf Club in order to test and ease-in staff for his Tesla factory... If that works, expand the experiment. Eventually, some restaurants might even bring in Covid-positive staff to serve an only-Covid-positive clientele. 

Sure, one should always look ahead to secondary consequences; would healthy folks in their 20s then deliberately hold COVID Parties, in order to get it over with? I don't recommend this, as it's dangerous for the rest of us... and for an unknown few of those youths(!)... that is unless resort hotels rented themselves out to let this happen while young "invulnerables" stay away from their older relatives? (Envision those 1980s “herpes dating clubs.”)

The same sort of thing could happen for Covid-negatives (though only with much better quick-testing.) Companies might wind up having pairs of offices or twin plants engaged in friendly rivalry, like those in that commercial, that produce the left vs. right halves of Twix bars.  

Or else trade-off and pick-a-side? Envision Disneyland open for positives and Universal for negatives? 

Extrapole some more! "Sectors" of cities divide-up just like in some sci fi flick! ("You're from ZONE TWO? Get away from me!")  Heck let's go beyond the obvious Romeo & Juliet riff. Maybe we'll speciate... ! no, forget that last part. Sorry. Professional habit. But the first part seems quite do-able in a gradual and incremental way. 

Note that these two factors are mutually dependent. The Separation Workforce gambit cannot possibly work without cheap, rapid and massively available and accurate testing. And massive testing can only happen if we augment our public services by puttin the immune or semi-immune to work.

Indeed, had Donald Trump pushed to deploy massive testing, instead of sabotaging it at every turn, we'd by now not only have the data we need to fight the pandemic better. We'd also possibly be positioned to implement this positive-negative plan and rescue "his economy." 

== Okay, Earth to Brin. Come back down now... ==

Let's get practical, then. I’m sure you’ve seen reports that an early harbinger of COVID illness is loss of the sense of smell

This suggests a mass experiment that would produce useful data while having zero possible deleterious side effects. If everyone simply scratches and sniffs a lemon, three times daily, the minimum outcome will be cheering up the nation a bit! (Try it now! Go on. I'll wait... And now, aren't your spirits lifted just a little?)

 And if thousands note the time span between not smelling anything and other symptoms, that could be significant data! Is a mass experiment with zero conceivable negative outcomes worth encouraging? (And  doubly necessary, since some doubt has been cast on this "smell test." after all. Can it hurt to check it out?)

== Longer term effects? ==

Technological changes: Assuming the grip of lunacy is pried off of federal government... or even if we have to rely on real leadership from California and New York... there will be a Manhattan Project level push to reduce the ramp-up time for testing kits and vaccines. (Side-bet: this may involve human-animal chimeras to shorten the pathway to antibody discovery and deployment.)

Business meetingware and work-from-home software has been predicted for decades and languished due to managerial reluctance. These will advance rapidly. But I predict also a real estate boomlet in small scale satellite offices, where employees will spend at least part of each day being personally supervised, so their work-at-home hours can be kept effective. This “sweet spot” might reduce rush hour traffic, but also strain middle management.

Expect a revival of Obama-era push for nationwide broadband, as has proved so useful in South Korea and Taiwan. There's a constituency now, for sure. 

Infrastructure. It goes far beyond potholes and school repairs. Democrats have demanded major programs to rebuild bridges etc while improving the quality (vs. quantity) of jobs and increasing money velocity. Republicans - while speaking the "I-Word" have blocked all such endeavors. All of this changes in a major recession, of course. Expect partisan gridlock to break in this one area.

Transportation. The shift to Uber/Lyft style ride services will boom, short term. But also mid-scale van/jitney services in big cities… followed by a big push for self-driving taxis. But underground metros may not be finished. Today’s filthy subway trains could be supplanted by smaller, more efficient cars that shunt between lines and report in regularly for disinfecting.

Social effects: It wall take more than COVID to end the personal handshake, but those pretentious European three-cheek air-kisses may be finished. Elbow greetings won’t last! But the fist-bump is likely the big winner, over time, as a compromise that's about 75% sanitary/safe and good enough for the new -- post-COVID -- normal. (My preference? I like the Roman style fore-arm clasp.)

Of course, many are already commenting and speculating on possible effects upon birth rates, divorce rates, domestic violence and so on. I guess we'll find out.

As usual, those suffering most are the poor and working stiffs. Even if they keep a job and can manage the financial strain, families are stressed out in cramped quarters with many ensuing problems. While supporting actions to help, somehow we must encourage such folks to do one thing to make a difference. Vote.

Epidemiology extends beyond just raging viruses. Will we discover that other chains of cause and effect were broken by cities and states and nations semi-shut down? Certainly not the "viral" effects of rumors and faux-news, which have electronic vectors. But the precipitate drop in traffic accidents may have side effects. Are there contagions of wide variety that we never noticed before, because they were part of the background noise of urban life?

And yes, some foresee all this accelerating the exodus of the uber-rich, abandoning us to simmer in festering cities and suburbs. Certainly there is a “prepper” wing of oligarchy that’s bought up whole mountain ranges in Patagonia, Siberia and under the sea. I portrayed that sick mind set in The Postman and in Earth and in Existence. And of course the smarter half of the zillionaire caste wants no part of such insanity. Nor will all their preparations avail the selfishness fetishists an iota, even if the fit truly hits the shan. There are five reasons why this masturbatory survivalist fantasy is utter proof of mental defectiveness.

Reason number six: we could sure use all hands on deck, right now. And we’ll remember which ones helped, or wallowed in apocalypse fantasies. Oh, however things go down, we will remember each and every one of you.

== Artistic Solace ==

Was that lemon sniff helpful? 

Well maybe I can add a little wry comfort. 

I last posted about this during the "bird flu" mini-crisis in May 2006. 
But it's never seemed more apropos.

In December 1979, NPR ran an evening show called "Unpacking the Eighties" which had some very clever riffs, including a song about the terrible flu we'd all get, around the far-future date of 1986... Alas, in this age when nothing is supposedly ever lost or un-findable, I can't sniff out any trace of this masterpiece!** Still, I'll manage to share something, with a nod to an unknown genius.

Here's a riff I remember by heart... except for parts I made up, in order to fill in gaps:


Back in the Pleistocene,
When we were still marine,
a virus launched a quest
to be the perfect guest
And re-arranged our genes.

So to this very day,
Whether you grok or pray,
all your inheritors
count on those visitors
And what they make you pay.


It’s a virus,
It inspired us,
to rise above the mud.
It’s a virus,
It’s desirous,
of your very flesh and blood.

Now I know your body’s burning,
But don’t give up the ghost.
Tiny viruses are turning you
Into the perfect host.


Though you may curse microbes
who make you blow your nose,
evolution bends
to what a virus sends,
making us recompose.

Though when you least expect
You may be struck down next,
thank the virus, he
put us in misery,
But then he gave us sex!


It’s a virus,
Its inspired us,
to rise above the mud.
It’s a virus,
It’s desirous,
of your very flesh and blood.

Now I know your body’s burning,
But don’t give up the ghost.
Tiny viruses are turning you
Into the perfect... 

Persevere. Endure...

*The Last Man, The Screwfly Solution, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Female Man, The Stand, The White Plague, No Blade of Grass, The Road, The Postman.... and so many others.

** I think the artist was named "Jesse" something, but can't be sure.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Urgent crowdourcing: DIY respirator projects… and one costing $100

These are fast-moving, “interesting times.” In ten days, parts of the U.S. and Canada may experience a dire medical emergency, akin to what we see today in Italy. Hundreds of thousands may need respiratory support while their immune systems fight off the COVID-19 virus. Without that support, thousands could die.

I spent last week working with Peter Diamandis’s XPRIZE group to outline a “DIY Ventilator Challenge” – but events surged past as teams around the world are already leaping ahead, conjuring ways to amplify the number of ventilators available, or hacking emergency alternatives. Below you’ll find links to some of these projects, starting with an excellent 5-part tutorial on ventilators. 

Here let me draw your attention to one project. While at the low end in sophistication and medical capability, it is peerless in aspects like low-cost and ease of construction. Steve Harrington and his Flometrics team built a prototype do-it-yourself respiration assistance device (DIYRAD) made entirely out of parts obtainable from Lowes or Home Depot. This very basic CPAP-like apparatus is not meant as a substitute for hospital care, but as a cheap, easy-to-make backup for use in a dire pinch by those with relatively stable, mild-to-moderate respiratory distress who cannot get such care, or who get turned away from over-burdened, overwhelmed ICUs.

Here’s a short introductory video:
… plus a 7 minute, detailed, how-to video:
… plus a detailed write-up:   (With an appendix linking to other projects around the world.) (Note the disclaimer!)

And yes, all such efforts merit urgent support during the next, critical week or two! 
There is a GoFundMe page… … 
…though any of you with greater resources might approach Steve directly, via his email address given in the videos.
… and anyone with relevant contacts in Italy is especially welcome to pass all this along!

Late News: It may be hard to find a $10 painter’s filter mask, so 3D printing plans should be available shortly.
(For further news, I’ve set aside the address though that'll be later.)

That’s enough to chew on. But I’ll append a few other items of interest - some of them cool - below the signature. 

Here’s wishing you all (and those you love) good health and good prospects for our world and civilization.

David Brin

1.  Among the resources listed for you in the appendix at is a fascinating and informative 5-part tutorial on ventilators:   plus links to other DIY ventilator projects at McGill University, at MunichRE and in Italy, as well as lists compiled by MAKE Magazine.

2. Discussion is welcome at the lively comment community right here, under my blog CONTRARY BRIN.

3. Some of my past sci fi has been more pertinent than I’d want! My Hugo-nominated story “The Giving Plague” deals with our complex relationships with viruses and such, including the several paths a parasite can go down, in “negotiating” with us hosts

4. Final COVID notes. The latest somewhat supported rumor mill items fall into the ‘Can’t hurt” category.

 (i) avoid ibuprofen/advil… for now, till we know more... and

 (ii) sniff a lemon (or anything strong) several times a day! At minimum a lemon-sniff will cheer you up a bit, I promise! But there are preliminary signs that the earliest-onset symptom is loss of smell. It’s not proved! But in this case we have one of those anecdotes that are absolutely harmless to try! (If you get sick, report how many days earlier you had smell failure. It's scientific data! But above all, get well soon.)

5. Remind me to talk later about the SOLUTION TO SAVE THE ECONOMY AND GET PEOPLE BACK TO WORK! Yes, I have one.

 Oh, need cheering up? See my new sci fi comedy novel “The Ancient Ones.”

Saturday, March 21, 2020

TRILLIONS! Bailouts for Airlines & Boeing and Banks? What, me worry?

== Wisdom about markets and all those concocted trillions ==

Where will we 'get' the trillions about to be thrown into the economy, to prevent a deflationary depression? Let's share some perspectives from one of the newsletters I get (and I have a column there, from time to time) - Phil’s Stock World. Phil is a master trader who grasps puts, call, hedges and all that. He has this to say about market panic right now: 

Let's say 80% of the people still get paid.  US payrolls are $6.5Tn or $500Bn a month and Bernie says give us $600Bn a month so - THANKS!  That's why Yang (and me!) is right that $1,000 a months for people over 18 (210M) would be a more realistic $210Bn a month or $2.5Tn a year, which is by no means a crazy number in a $20Tn GDP - a simple 10% VAT would take care of it and redistribute the wealth from the people who spend to the people who don't have any money." (DB note: it would have to be accompanied by increased taxes on the wealthy and yes, international wealth transparency.)  

“In any case, if we do hand out $210Bn/month for the duration (seems to be the current plan in Congress) and 80% of $500Bn a month continues to be paid out - that's $610Bn - more than people are getting paid now.  

“So there's no reason for the economy to collapse based on that though I imagine that each month 10% less people will get regular paychecks as more and more businesses begin to shut down.

“Then the real problem becomes spending.  $500Bn a month only becomes a $20Tn GDP (there's other income besides wages, of course) due to the money multiplier effect, which is roughly 3.5x.  In other words, you get paid $5 and you give it to SBUX who pays the barista who goes to the supermarket to buy a whole pound of coffee for $8 (because they are not a sucker like you!) and the Supermarket pays the cashier who combines it with food stamps (because those wages suck) and they get a turkey, etc..."

DB note: This multiplier effect is crucial. It leads to money velocity which is high when you spend billions on infrastructure jobs - long -thwarted by the GOP - and MV drops below zero for the billions handed over to the rich by Supply Side never-once-right voodoo. See below.

“So money moves through the economy and poor people spend whatever they get so they move money the best but, when you give money to rich people they put it in the bank (0x multiplier) or, even worse, they put it into an instrument that produces NOTHING and demands interest, which sucks even more money out of the economy (-0.1x).  Since the rich have 100x more than the poor - that's a lot of sucking!

Still, unless we are heading into a real Zombie Apocalypse, where humanity wiped out and replaced by a mindless hoard with no interest in food, fashion or fun - we will survive - even if surviving means locking ourselves in a bubble and shopping via Amazon drones with our Universal Basic Incomes.  

“Even THAT would still have our GDP around $12Tn, down 40% from where it was but certainly not $0 - that's why a sell-off past these levels is silly and can't last - and that's the worst possible case - the actual case is probably quite a bit better than that - we just have to get through the next few months."

DB followup points:

1) Since infrastructure jobs offer the best multiplier effect with well-paid jobs that ripple through the economy and that actually build stuff we’ll actually use for a century, can we do that EVEN DURING A PLAGUE? 

Elsewhere I offer the Pothole Gambit. Get thousands of workers busy doing a zillion repairs in our cities in small, carefully managed teams of just 2 or 3. Such jobs can be managed with a lot of “social distancing” among workers!  Hence, there is zero reason any city should have any remaining POTHOLES or bad sidewalks or ill-maintained schools after Covid 19, since small teams of 3 or so can handle such gigs. Especially if they are not only trained in sanitation but given priority testing.

Seriously, YOU should help spread this idea for how to make use of this urban down time, keep folks busy, employed and doing something useful, while staying safe.

2) We all need to realize that the Reagan and Bush and Trump Supply Side tax cut gifts to the rich were a scam robbing us and our economy of tens of trillions.  And not those fake-ghost trillions “created” by the Federal Reserve, but the real things, outright stolen from us all and plowed (as Adam Smith said the rich always do) into non-productive “rentier” investments that have zero money multipliers. Any remaining Supply Siders should be put in straitjackets and given 20 meter social distancing. Or a padded cell. Their meme plague has hurt us all.

== Bailouts? Demand equity! ==

Back in 2009, Republicans were furious when Obama and democrats ‘bailed out” US automakers to keep them out of bankruptcy and saving tens of thousands of jobs. Those “Obama bailouts” were in a few tens of billions and they were LOANS, with real ownership collateral. And all got paid back. 

Goppers had much less negative to say about the TARP programs of Obama era take-up of toxic banking assets… well, bankers and goppers overlap a lot. But even so, the US government made a lot of that money back from later sale of those assets. In other words, we had relatively sane leadership, then.

Now compare that to the screeching hypocrisy of Republicans - who are never, ever more fiscally responsible than Democrats, (and that’s never) - rushing to support TRILLIONS in wholly created “funds” to firehose at both citizens and (much more) to bail out corporate friends. 

See 'No, the airlines do not need a bailout.' Airlines who wasted almost all their profits and the 2017 tax gusher on stock buy backs that only wound up benefitting the CEO caste. Boeing wasted 43 BILLION dollars this way, that could have cushioned their current problems. (The Greatest Generation under FDR banned such buybacks, for excellent reasons that the Reaganites and worse Bushites and even worse MConnell-Putinites railed against and “reformed” away.)

In fact, okay, we must for the sake of jobs. But use the Obama pattern. Demand collateral! If they fail to pay it all back, then shareholders take the fall -- which they deserve for voting in CEOs who did those massive buybacks. If we bail out these companies to save the workers and engineers, we owe nothing to the CEO castes and greedy corporate raider types who squandered these corporate crown jewels to enrich themselves. If we must wind up co-owning Boeing and Delta, as citizens, is that such a bad thing?

See how now they are promising to stop doing the evil-stupid things, in exchange for billions of bailout… but no mention of equity shares.

Aaaaand… Nikki Haley quits Boeing board, citing disagreement with company’s bailout request. Positioning herself to say “that train-plane wreck? No, I had nothing to do with that! Make me veep!

... and finally...

== Ways to pass the time ==

Virtual Tour of Ten Museums:

and many more museums

But there's no better way than this.  ;-)

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The 'Pothole Solution' to work and money flow while cities are still.

Fast breaking developments and some possibly-useful insights:

1. Peter Diamandis’s team is working on a super-rapid "Ventilator XPrize" to produce open source designs for a DIY medical device  that almost any practical/skilled person might assemble from Home Depot parts, to help patients with trouble breathing. Those numbers might peak hundreds of thousands higher than hospitals’ ability to cope. Stay tuned for an announcement.

2. As for saving the economy, everyone is talking about pumping liquidity at a scale never before seen, as both Congress and the Fed wave their hands and invent trillions of dollars that did not exist before! Prop up banks and airlines and banks and hotels and banks and hedge funds… oh and $2000 for all Americans. And while the latter might help with the human misery index, none of this is actual economic stimulus because:

 (a) the rich don’t spend OR produce, and Supply Side has proved to be utter voodoo.

 (b) such fixes do not invent money velocity when no money is moving.

== Call it the Pothole Solution! ==

There is a kind of stimulus that could actually help. It’s the same stimulus I and others have been urging for 10+ years and Republicans have blocked, at every turn, This would seem a perfect time for investment in ... INFRASTRUCTURE, the kind of actual productive work that has the very best economic multiplier effect with well-paid jobs that ripple through the economy and that actually build stuff we’ll actually use for a century.

What? you don’t think infrastructure work can go on while the nation hunkers down to avoid germ spreading? Oh for Pete’s sake, I’m not envisioning massive bridge or dam projects. But even during a plague, plenty of jobs can be managed with a lot of “social distancing” among workers!  For example, small teams of 2 or 3 workers can get plenty done with very little human contact.

The crux: there is zero reason any city should have any remaining potholes or bad sidewalks after Covid 19, since very small teams can head out to handle such gigs while streets are relatively empty. Likewise, empty schools can be repaired and fixed up by teensy teams, spreading out in vast numbers. 

A much better use of government subsidy money than just fire-hosing cash in all directions. 

3. Blatantly, this semi-crisis -- (a disease with very high infectiousness but moderate to low death rate (so long as hospitals and ventilator supplies hold out)) - is going to leave us better prepared for the next - possibly much worse - nasty thing to hit. (Especially if we euthanize (figuratively) the treasonous and insane-stupid political party whose pathological fact-hating and lying got us into all this.)

One industry to dramatically change will be meeting-ware and systems for work-from-home, including ways to manage such workers. We are nowhere near the capabilities that were predicted for 2020, largely because managerial castes were unwilling to put in the effort. That will change. As will Augmented Reality… (in part by using my patents).

So will the movement toward local-sourcing. Expect a push for highly automated factories near major U.S. cities using cheap natural gas to transition toward self-sustainable production chains. If handled well, we'll see globalization end gracefully, with autonomous production and even food-growing in urban centers and massively reduced shipping costs. 

If it’s handled badly? Massive unemployment and then revolution. 

As for freedom, I do not expect any of these emergency measures to affect our root instincts of individual eccentricity that have been drilled into us by 70 years of TV and films.  What might do that is if the traitors regain all power and finally eviscerate the one branch of government they couldn't control under Trump - the Civil Service.

Next time, I’ll share with you some wisdom about markets and all those concocted trillions

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Fast-changing times! Whose economy is it? And taxes that could save us.

Fast-changing times! Much of this posting was written way back in the seemingly stable and predictable era of February 2020. It's all still pertinent! But I'll remark here and there from the sci fi lurid movie that is mid-March.

First though... a profane, sarcastic and accurate video on COVID-19 offered as a PSA from "The Government." And yes, we're still free enough to do satire. For now. 

Stay safe out there. 

== Boy, stuff can happen fast ==

The business site Phil’s Stock World carries an excerpt from my book Polemical Judo as a guest editorial. “The War on All Fact People.” For those willing to navigate visitor privilege. And yes, this should be the core topic hammered by every pundit or politician who is not a blackmailed or suborned Moscow shill.

Remember when your RASR friends used to (one month ago) admit every foul stench of Trump and his minions, but then they'd answer with three things that made up for it all: taxes, judges and the Trump economy? (And in a few cases abortion.) Elsewhere we talk about each of these rationalizations and why every one bites the RASRs hard in the nards.

But from February's perspective, wasn't the economy a plus, at least? Braggable numbers in employment, for example?

 Wrong. Here are charts showing that both total and manufacturing employment improved at rates established across 7 years of the Obama Administration, with GOP actions changing those rates not an iota . 

Their giant tax cuts for the rich and for corporate stock buy-backs did accelerate wealth disparity, as has slashed corruption enforcement. But actual take-home pay increases have only happened in blue states that increased the minimum wage. Above all, those tax cuts accelerated skyrocketing debt without ever, even slightly, stimulating R&D and product development or production, as "Supply Side" has always promised to do. It... is... a... proved... cult.

Show these charts especially to any minority folks who are tempted to credit that pack of racist traitors with improved black employment. It was Obama etc. (Chart source: Slate: State of the Economy)

Also from February... at the Evonomics site: “Saving Capitalism from Inequality: Robust middle incomes deliver the demand that businesses need to produce.”

Only now, in mid-March 2020, the "Trump Economy" excuse seems to be collapsing along with the Dow.  And (alas) this will likely affect employment, but without any doubt will reduce tax revenues while sending expenses skyrocketing.

Blue states have mostly done what governments should do, in good times, socked away rainy-day funds. Watch, oh you supposed "deficit hawks" (actually stunning hypocrites), as for the upteenth time Democrats prove to be the fiscally responsible ones.

== How a particular, very small tax might save us all from Skynet ==

Years ago, I joined the very few out there demanding the “Tobin Tax” or a very small tax on every financial transaction (outside personal banking). It’s gaining traction, as we speak. In fact, see the chart below, how all the major Democratic candidates are now for something like a 0.01% tax that no private person would notice at all, but would draw large revenues from the cheating Wall Street firms whose computers perform millions of trades per day, or even minute.

While others promote this method for both revenue and fairness reasons, I am alone in calling it desperately needed, in order to save us all from Terminator! A few of you remember this riff. The rest of you should find it both entertaining and scary! Here’s the nutshell version:

The sanity and friendliness of AI will depend - as it does in animals - upon "what it eats." Fully half of all the money spent on AI research today is spent by Wall Street firms like Goldman-Sachs, creating smart systems whose ethos is predatory, parasitical, insatiable, rapacious and utterly amoral. The transaction tax would end those incentives instantly. Most of the Wall Street “quants” or super-trade programmers would have to get honest work or help make AI at institutions that are comparatively harmless and vastly more inherently moral than Wall Street. Like universities. Or Facebook. Or the Military.

Oh, here are those capsule summary Democratic candidate tax plans.

== Will the Dems use modern tactics? ==

Preliminary signs indicate that the two remaining candidates for the Democratic Party's nom are scheming NOT to harm each other. If so... and if they pick up some fresh tactics and the VP choice is excellent (I pick Liz)... we may see some intelligence among our generals, at last.  (It only took Lincoln four years.)

Example: Bernie and Biden seem to be stipulating things they share in common or are willing to concede to each other. If they do this well, perhaps it indicates some folks on their staffs finally read Polemical Judo!

But they are not our salvation. WE are! The lesson I preached in The Postman. No one will save us if we leave it up to "leaders."

Above all, we need not only to strive for Big Turnout (which worked in 92 and 2008 but utterly failed in 94 and 2010, and failed Bernie two weeks ago). We also need to keep poking and prying at the Confederate coalition! For example getting Utah folks to realize they have nothing in common with states that are steeped in moral turpitude. And getting Republican engineers to see that they should not support science haters.

Yes, RASRs are obstinate!  So? Each one peeled away weakens the Confederate-Putinist-Foxite putsch more than you can know.

The one thing that works: "Let's escrow real money for wager stakes. And choose eminent retired military officers and other conservative types who worked in fact professions to serve as judges. Then I will bet your imbecile ass over any of the rants spewed by Rush Limbaugh, on ANY random day!"

Or else. "Pick at random any 20 of the 18000 registered Trump lies. RANDOM! If 10+ prove to be true, you get my house. 
"If 10+ are proved as outright lies by the President of the U.S., I get yours. Deal?"

Watch them run! Their macho pose fallen around their ankles. Do it in front of witnesses.

And more on how to do this at

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

New in Science & Tech

Before diving in to a science roundup...

Hear (or see) me on BBC!  And yes, I've pundited on this and other topics: BBC World Service uses me pretty often, most recently on a program about moving the Earth.   A light take on a very – um – heavy topic that I explicate further here.

Here are a few more of my posted BBC interviews:

A 2017 post about the future in general but especially transparency’s role in keeping it free.  

And a bunch of other topics! 

== Prophecy! Well, sorta... ==

First a prediction coming true. In my story “NatuLife” ( from my collection Otherness) a character and his wife each have special suits that can stimulate nerve endings and resist pressure in ways that mimic the touch and feel of objects, even the wind. Combine this with futuristic VR and a floor consisting of a million needles that can mimic almost any terrain, and you get an ability to roam ersatz worlds, even run and “throw a spear,” in an Exercise Room the size of a walk-in closet.  Now comes another step toward realization: “Through a fast, programmable array of miniature vibrating disks embedded in a soft, flexible material, this smart skin can contour to the body and deliver sensory input -- what you'd feel when using it.”

Not all of my predictions come true. One fellow commented at Contrary Brin that he had been re-reading Kiln People. “Here's one Brin forecast that fails to make it into the predictions registry:

“It's one thing to see death coming at the hands of your own creation. That's part of the human epic tradition, after all. Oedipus and his father. Baron Frankenstein and his monster. William Henry Gates and Windows '09.”

Okay I was off by a few years. Should have made it Windows ’29…

An important discovery shows that there truly are boundary conditions to the presence of life… of our kind, at least. We have found bacteria in extremely harsh, caustic pools, boiling subsea vents and crevices of rock deep underground – wherever there’s water and an energy source of any kind. But scientists have found hyper-acid, hyper-saline pools in Ethiopia where absolutely nothing lives. The study ”proves that there are several places on earth's surface which are sterile even though they contain liquid water. Researchers also noted that the mere presence of liquid water cannot be considered a habitability criterion, as there are several other factors required for life to evolve and thrive.”

Home Foods (I know the CEO, a sci fi fan) already donates to food banks but a lot of waste is unsuitable, so the company is equipping many stores with grinders that pulp it all into a slurry that’s trucked to dairy farms that have new tanks that feed waste slurry into anaerobic digesters, cooking the organics to capture the methane emissions and make renewable energy. What remains is crop fertilizer. This is one of my top four dozen techs that might help us save the world.

== Space & Tech ==

The system aiming to provide electricity to remote outposts, removing the need for dangerous convoys, would be powered by a satellite with solar panels twice as big as a football field. The satellite would then electronically steer the radio signal, via antennas, to any point on the ground. The effort long a topic in sci fi and among space enthusiasts, is still in the exploratory phase.

Here's a pretty good CBS special report about how accurate the AT&T "You Will" campaign was, 25 years ago... followed up with some fairly tepid/boring (alas) predictions from their new (amateur!) "futurists" for what will change in the next 25!

== Evolution mysteries ==

Why did populations of Neanderthals and modern humans stay separated for so long, then only overlap a short time till Neanderthals went extinct? A group proposes that complex disease transmission patterns can explain both the transition, in just a few thousand years but also, perhaps more puzzling, why the end didn't come sooner. 

Archeological evidence suggests that the initial encounter between Eurasian Neanderthals and an upstart new human species that recently strayed out of Africa—our ancestors—occurred more than 130,000 years ago in the Eastern Mediterranean in a region known as the Levant. Yet tens of thousands of years would pass before Neanderthals began disappearing and modern humans expanded beyond the Levant. But the unique diseases harbored by Neanderthals and modern humans could have created an invisible disease barrier that discouraged forays into enemy territory.”  Hybrids from interbreeding might have let enough mingling to happen that one of the two populations could get heavily infected and culled. And humans had more diseases, coming from the tropics."

In fact, there's huge news about this I'll relate in a later posting!

Well, well. By then humans also had somewhat better tools… and dogs.

And just 5000 years after Neanderthals faded away, humans suddenly  experienced a software revolution of stunning magnitude.

Fascinating: “Scientists in Denmark have squeaked out an entire human genome from a prehistoric piece of “chewing gum.” Made from birch tar, the 5,700-year-old gum also contained evidence of diet and disease and is providing a remarkable snapshot of life during the early Neolithic.” Not only did this chewed piece of birch bark give us a complete DNA view of a young woman of that era but much about her diet – samples of duck and nuts -- and bacteria in her microbiome and even viruses (she’d had mono.) Moreover, it’s not the usual peer into the end of a life. Presumably she spat out her wad and went on (I hope) to being a grandma, perhaps of millions. And more such chew-wads await. This is the best time-viewer sci-fi since Utzi the Iceman!

In  Why Trust Science? Harvard Prof. Naomi Oreskes (co-author of Merchants of Doubt) explains that, “contrary to popular belief, there is no single scientific method. Rather, the trustworthiness of scientific claims derives from the social process by which they are rigorously vetted. This process is not perfect—nothing ever is when humans are involved—but she draws vital lessons from cases where scientists got it wrong. Oreskes shows how consensus is a crucial indicator of when a scientific matter has been settled, and when the knowledge produced is likely to be trustworthy.”

== Technology! ==

My old Caltech housemate, the brilliant physicist Steve Koonin, calculated that solar thermal systems should outpace photovoltaic cells over the long run, as a way to tap the abundant energy of sunlight. Now a Bill Gates-backed venture aimed to bring solar heating to bear in major, polluting industries like cement-making.

Meanwhile, read about 5 Emerging Energy Technologiest to Watch Out For in 2020. Several of them rather amazing. (Via Peter Diamandis’s Abundance site. Get his book ABUNDANCE for your dour, hypocritically cynical doom-gloom cousin, who assumes we’re headed for the apocalypse world portrayed in The Postman/Death-Stranding (same story.)

A fun article on the several major efforts to bring back the era of airships! Of course I've been there. See a complete novella, "The Smartest Mob," that offers a full adventure-in--an excerpt from Existence. A news reporter finds herself aboard a passenger Zeppelin that might — perhaps — have been turned into a weapon of terror. No one will listen — not the government or the Zep company. No one, that is, except a semi-random band of amateurs, scattered around the globe.

Apple plans stand-alone AR and VR gaming headset by 2022 and glasses later.

The Shine Scanner has a patented 'Curve-flatten' Technology that let’s you “Scan A Book In 10 Minutes.” So maybe we won’t have to shred-whirl-scan libraries of books the way Vernor Vinge does in his novel RAINBOW’S END.

While rooftop panels get attention, much of the installed solar energy comes from large collector farms that either gain/lose efficiency across the day or else use expensive machinery to turn, facing the sun’s traverse across the sky. 

== Misc Cool stuff! ==

I’ve noticed some of our bees (we keep hives and I know mine) cluster at a rough patch at the side of the spa to get a drink, teaching the trick to younger bees, so fewer of them have to be fished out, later, with my net. (The number drowned really has gone down, since they found that patch of rough plaster.) Now see some research done by a couple of profs at my alma mater about how bees propel themselves across water. Kinda intriguing.