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The Big Idea: Christopher Barzak

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 09/23/2015 - 10:00
For today’s Big Idea, Christopher Barzak takes you to the family farm and explains how a little bit of his own personal history informs his latest novel, Wonders of the Invisible World. CHRISTOPHER BARZAK: Wonders of the Invisible World was an attempt to save my family. Which is a little ironic, because the protagonist of […]

Last Sunset of the Summer, 2015

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 09/22/2015 - 19:47
And with it begins Yom Kippur. Tomorrow is the autumnal equinox here in the northern hemisphere (at 4:21am my local time). Busy day. It’s been a good summer for me. Hope it was for you, too.

Nobody Likes An Asshole (Except Maybe Other Assholes)

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 09/22/2015 - 15:37
Adam-Troy Castro has a post up called “Writers: The Long-Term Benefits of Not Being An Ass,” which I encourage you to read, with the awareness that the advice has works equally as well when you substitute any other profession for “Writer” (or indeed, you can also substitute “human” and it works just as well). Also, […]

Duran Duran, Neil Gaiman, and Beginnings

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 09/22/2015 - 11:03
I’m both a friend and fan of Neil Gaiman, and a former music critic. So for years I’ve known about, but had never seen, Neil’s very first published book, the 1984 quickie biography of Duran Duran, arguably the biggest band to emerge from the first era of MTV (“You know! Back when they actually played music!” the 80s […]

The Big Idea: Kent Davis

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 09/22/2015 - 07:23
For his Big Idea piece today, Kent Davis explains how a mental image, and some experience writing role-playing games, ended up being the foundation for his novel A Riddle in Ruby. KENT DAVIS: I had this picture in my head. It clanked around, bumping into the furniture and leaving oil stains on all the brain-curtains. […]

Sunset Clouds

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 09/21/2015 - 17:56
The day got away from me, which is actually happening fairly frequently these days (today’s was for a good reason which I can’t tell you about yet but which will be squee-worthy if it comes to fruition, I assure you), so in lieu of actual words about things today, allow me to present you with […]

Pictures From Homecoming, 2015

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 09/20/2015 - 10:37
Athena’s school’s homecoming dance was last night, and of course she and her boyfriend Hunter got all dressed up for it. There was a bit of drama when the dress shop that Athena purchased her dress from hemmed it both poorly and ridiculously short, but through the kindness of friends, a last-minute substitute dress was […]

Can We Save Freedom by Hiding?

Contrary Brin - Sat, 09/19/2015 - 18:11
== False Trails are… a false trail ==
Across all my years as an impudent dissenter from mob-think regarding freedom and privacy, one fact has left me boggled, time and again. The way activists and academics and pundits – many of them clearly intelligent and sincere thinkers – leap to make the same mistake, over and over again.  The error of technological myopia.
Take this example: “…New York University professors Helen Nissenbaum and Finn Brunton have a proposal. In their new book, Obfuscation: A User’s Guide for Privacy and Protest, they advocate taking evasive action, or what they call obfuscation. They define obfuscation as “the deliberate addition of ambiguous, confusing, or misleading information to interfere with surveillance and data collection,” and they see its potential as a means of redress. For example, they discuss software that generates misleading Google queries (so the tech giant can’t get a read on you) to Tor relays, which hide IP addresses. Think of it as creating a diversion, or planting false footprints. Security expert Bruce Schneier has made similar suggestions—like searching for random people on Facebook, or using a friend’s frequent-shopper card at the grocery store. If you can distort the government’s or companies’ profiles of you, you’ve scored a small victory.”
Hmm… a very, very small and utterly meaningless victory.  Science Fiction author Vernor Vinge referred to this approach in a novel, portraying a group that filled the Internet with machine-generated garbage information in order to mask personal information beneath a deluge of misleading fabrications.  The “Friends of Privacy” thus enabled their own members to conceal their online activities – or so they thought – while making the Net and Web effectively useless at providing reliable information to anyone, anywhere. A classic case of spoiling the commons, in order to achieve a narrow, self-serving goal.  (I portray would-be terrorists doing the same thing, in Existence.)
 Over the long run, Vernor reveals the obvious – that the 'Friends of Privacy' are no more than a front for powerful interests, from oligarchs to criminal gangs, seeking to conceal their nefarious activities from any chance of discovery. Indeed, pick any method of concealment or obfuscation – won’t elites use it more effectively (by far) than commonfolk? In fact, won’t the very programs that you and I purchase, to muddy our footprints, actually report every datum to the original creators of the software?  And if you doubt that, oh, have I a bridge to sell you.
Technological myopia comes in where we see privacy mavens like Nissenbaum and Brunton and especially Security expert Bruce Schneier always talking as if this year’s technology is the ne plus ultra, the final act, the static object on the table for discussion.  Moore’s Law brought us here, but has no further relevance. Of course, this is plain lunacy!  Take the example of cameras.
Cameras are getting smaller, faster, better, cheaper and more mobile at a rate far faster than Moore's Law.  (Some call this "Brin'sCorollary.")  And yet, nearly every discussion of surveillance assumes that they will remain great big, visible boxes on lamp posts. They won’t. They will shrink and move and zoom and become more numerous than blades of grass. Shall we banish them? How, when they become smaller than mosquitos and more numerous?
(For a glimpse of what that near future may be like, hear me read Chapter 3 of Existence.  And lower down, see "The Smartest Mob" and "Shelter of Tradition."  All three sections show how inevitably the tsunami of cameras will change everything.)
Perhaps common citizens will obey such a ban, but elites?  Name for me one time in all of the history of our species, when top elites have allowed themselves to be blinded.
In fact, there is every sign that a proliferation of cameras may be exactly what’s needed, in order to preserve freedom.  For example, take events in just the last year. For the first time, in the U.S., all police forces, even corrupt ones, must be careful in the way they treat minority groups. Why?  Because of the very same technologies that hand-wringers loathe. Elitist snobs in academia may ignore the effects that cell-cams are having on the street-level.  But real-life minorities and poor folks cannot afford to ignore good news. 
Instead of tools for Orwellian oppression, cameras seem to increasingly be the new Great Equalizers. Would the privacy mavens backtrack this trend?  Confiscate and eliminate the cell phone cameras that are finally giving minorities and the poor a real chance at street justice?  I can just hear their reaction. "Oh, in THAT case, sure, I'll allow that.  But nothing more!"
Except that in a couple of years, the cell phone cam will be a jewel on your lapel.  Shall we ban that?  Then a tiny dot on the corner of your glasses, or a drone the size of a bug that follows you everywhere, telling you what lies around the next street corner, ensuring that no one can harm you unrecorded and telling you if you are being followed.  

Shall we ban that? Okay. Then exactly howwill you accomplish it?
== The online world ==
Oh but the next response is “I wasn’t talking about cameras but information! On my purchases and so on. Surely I can obfuscate all that!”
Um, wrong in a dozen ways.  First, if we enter an age of unreliable information online, that will extend to falsified images and cameras, too, will become useless.
Furthermore, elites will have all sorts of tools to defeat obfuscation.  Linguistic-semantic analysis will detect your statements and ID you, even hidden by a pseudonym. Comparison of multi-path inputs will parse truth from fabulation. Governments and criminals and aristocrats will have means to bypass the bits, eavesdropping on the sonic data as your voice vibrates your window, or they’ll tap and log the strokes you type on your keyboard, from the different sounds each letter emits. On the street, the very vibrations of your eardrum will denote you distinctly from the crowd surrounding you.
I do not say this out of despair!  Rather, in order to rouse you to fight for freedom the only way that has ever worked.  The only way that can possibly work.  And the way that the mavens absolutely refuse to consider.  In their relentless preaching for cowardice… that we all should protect ourselves by hiding… they perform the worst possible betrayal of everything that they claim to stand for.
Hiding will not work.  Sure, protect your passwords as a short term, practical matter.  But over the long term only one thing will keep you free.  Aggressively, militantly empowering yourself and your neighbors to see!
I tire of seemingly intelligent people who cannot lift their gaze to even notice what is happening right now, let alone look 5 years down the road.  We live in a narrow era of relative freedom and - yes - some desirable privacy.  We need to do what already works in order to maintain them.  
That means knowing that freedom comes first.  A free people can then demand some privacy, from elites and from each other.  
But freedom comes first.  And freedom can only be effective when most of the people know most of what's going on, most of the time.  
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

Last Night’s Twitter Rant Involving 20somethings and Finance

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 09/19/2015 - 10:58
A little late to this one, but the "advice" here is so appallingly fucking wrong it just blows my mind: — John Scalzi (@scalzi) September 18, 2015 Twentysomethings, pro tip: Look up the concept of "compound interest" and you'll understand why putting a little money away is a fine idea. — John Scalzi (@scalzi) […]

New Books and ARCs, 9/17/15

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 09/18/2015 - 15:05
As we head off into the weekend, here’s this week’s new books and ARCs that have arrived at the Scalzi Compound. Which speaking to you? Tantalizingly? Tell me in the comments.

Why Is This Woman Smiling

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 09/18/2015 - 13:27
Possibly because she’s holding the last mortgage check she’ll ever write. And no, I’m not taking over the mortgage-check-writing responsibilities. It’s the last mortgage check. Wheee! When people ask me what inspires me to write, I frequently say “my mortgage.” I’ll have to think of some new smart-ass response. In any event, if you’ve ever […]

Where I Will Be in October

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 09/18/2015 - 12:08
October is a busy month for me! Here are the places you can see me then. Oct 2-3: Iowa City Book Festival, Iowa City. I arrive on Friday and will be loitering about, but my events will be on Saturday. I’m doing a reading and (I think!) a signing. More details soon. Nevertheless — I’ll […]

The Big Idea: Seth Dickinson

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 09/18/2015 - 09:20
In this Big Idea for The Traitor Baru Cormorant, author Seth Dickinson wants you to give up a cheer for the villain. Will you? I’ll let him try to convince you. SETH DICKINSON: My master plan would’ve changed the course of history! I put my life into this — I leveraged politicians, I conjured up shell corporations, I […]

When I Became a Fan

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 09/17/2015 - 20:44
Over in the comments section of this entry at File770, there is a minor discussion of when it was I considered myself a “fan,” and whether it was before I made my formal entry into the world of science fiction fandom (at Torcon 3, the 2003 Worldcon in Toronto) or not. Well, I know the answer […]

How Many Books You Should Write In a Year

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 09/17/2015 - 16:04
Folks have pointed me toward this Huffington Post piece, begging self-published authors not to write four books a year, because the author (Lorraine Devon Wilke) maintains that no mere human can write four books a year and have them be any good. This has apparently earned her the wrath of a number of people, including writer Larry […]

The Big Idea: Pamela Sargent

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 09/17/2015 - 10:25
It’s no surprise that writers live in their own worlds, and occasionally let you see those worlds in our books. But as Pamela Sargent explains, with regard to her novel Season of the Cats, sometimes before we can let you visit our worlds, we have to… tidy up a bit. PAMELA SARGENT: By the time […]

Looking ahead...Signs of change

Contrary Brin - Wed, 09/16/2015 - 21:49
The Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination at UCSD held "The Physics of Free Will" a panel discussion on August 6th. Astrophysicists Brian Keating, Andrew Friedman and David Brin discussed what modern physics – including “entanglement” and the time-history of inflation and the Big Bang -- has to say about the concept of free will, including perspectives from the foundations of quantum mechanics, cosmology, and speculations about the role of of conscious observers in the cosmos.  Now the whole event is available on YouTube!
Stay tuned for a smorgasbord of cool items. But first...

= Is Science Broken? No. But some science journalists a deeply dishonest =
Is Science Broken?” Certainly there are those who proclaim that from the rooftops, seizing on every anecdote of misbehavior by individual researchers as evidence that science itself cannot be trusted to keep its own house. Elsewhere, we discuss the varied reasons for a “war on science.” But certainly some problems originate within. Over at Five-Thirty-eight, a recent article by Christie Aschwanden describes why some of the very same statistical methods that were developed to separate cause-effect from mere coincidence make it very hard to prove particular conclusions – especially in social science. The essay is worthwhile and offers up some cool interactive demos of statistical tradeoffs… 
… and yet, the author unwittingly exemplifies her own complaint, to a stunning degree, in her very first example, an interactive that purportedly shows how the same data can be manipulated to show either democrats or republicans are better for the economy. Either or neither.  How interesting that she would have chosen that as her first case.  And how convenient, since that lesson is the one readers will take away.
In this case, the tendentious effect is easily exposed, as the “party effects on the conomy” graphic only lets you compare raw, yearly figures for GDP or employment or inflation, when these all react sluggishly to changes in policy, especially if it takes six years to drag the nation out of a pit the previous administration created. It is the direction and rate of change of those metrics that actually reflect outcomes from policy moves. For example, if one party takes inherited surpluses and leaves the nation diving into steepening deficits, and the next one starts to pull us out of the dive, it is idiotic or else deeply dishonest to make Total Current Debt the metric.
Even more telling is the second derivative of economic factors like public debt. The rate of rate of change has much more immediate effects, far more blatantly attributable to a party’s policies during its span in power… as I show here. And when you use such metrics all ambiguity vanishes. One party is responsible and effective while the other is absolutely and always devastatingly harmful.  
Let’s give the author the benefit of the doubt.  Perhaps she is simply finger-wagging scientists, while falling for mistakes they’d catch as freshmen.  
== Looking ahead -- signs of change ==

See this: 13 ways that Science Fiction's Vision of the Future is Closer than You Think -- with innovations in space habitation, teleportation, touch screens, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, autonomous cars... and more!
The next candidate for “flying car”? The Terrafugia TF-X is – or maybe will be -- capable of vertical take-off, thus negating the need for a runway. Wings furled, it’ll squeeze into a standard single garage, thus negating the need for a hanger. Riiiiight. 
While the Tricorder X Prize tools along toward creating an inexpensive – Doctor (McCoy) in a Box… the Chinese firm Baidu hopes to provide a service letting folks anywhere interact with AI and assess 520 different diseases, representing upwards of 90 percent of the most common medical problems nationwide. 
Take a look at: Twenty-five fascinating mega projects taking place across the globe, including the Panama Canal expansion, the Three Gorges Dam, the underwater Marmaray Tunnel in Turkey, Jubail Industrial City in Saudi Arabia, Liuchonghe Bridge in China and other bold projects!
Six people shut themselves inside a dome in Hawaii and plan to stay for a year. It's a mission funded by NASA to explore what it's like to send manned missions into deep space.
Artificial photosynthesis could power homes in a few years, mimicking plant-based photosynthesis by using solar energy to convert water into hydrogen. If cheap nickel catalysts can be used… and 22% efficiency holds up… then toss it onto the pile of potential game-changers. Ah, but that pile had better be producing, big-time, soon. 
Because. The latest report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has determined that globally, July was the hottest month since record keeping beganin 1880. And ocean acidity -- which CAN only have one cause -- is rising.  See the shrinking of Arctic ice through years of National Geographic maps. The Himalayan glaciers that slake the thirst of a third of the world’s population are rapidly retreating. And the denialist cult keeps getting more frantic.
Just a few years ago, one of the cult incantations was that solar and sustainables were “pipe dreams.” Now? The world now gets over 1% of its electricity from solar power! Currently, global solar capacity is 178 gigawatts Crossing the Threshold The world now gets over 1% of its electricity from solar power. Currently, global solar capacity is 178 gigawatts. The U.S. now ranks second worldwide in wind power…

One of the major talking points of opponents of sustainable energy is that if you include fixed manufacturing costs, solar and wind are not competitive with fossil fuels. These opponents used this rhetoric to stymie investments in sustainables R&D during the first decade of this century.  But rates of efficiency have been skyrocketing and costs plummeting.  One of the big solar module manufacturers, Trina Solar, said costs had fallen 19 per cent in the past year alone(!), and would continue to fall by at least 5 per cent to 6 per cent a year in coming years as efficiencies were improved.  This study shows that renewables turn out already to be cheaper than fossil fuels.
== and... ==

Researchers from MIT revealed they've produced a "better, cheaper, more user-friendly" printer that can print using 10 different materials at the same time. "Multifab" self corrects by watching its own actions. They claim it can scan case around an iPhone you place in the printer

Building materials from CO2? We keep reporting “possible game changing” technological breakthroughs. This one sounds a bit less plausible than some.  Yet potentially cool. Imagine that the trend toward using carbon fiber as a construction material – from planes and ships to cars and even buildings – creating a huge demand for the stuff.  Now envision that we get the carbon feedstock from Carbon Dioxide taken out of the air.  Hmm, well breaking oxygen bonds takes real energy. And a team at MIT thinks they have the problem licked, using lithium. Their novel electrochemical process sequesters carbon in the form of a versatile building material. 
Alas, even if this works, it would only put a dent in atmospheric CO2, as shown in this appraisal, which shows “that capping global warming at 2 degrees Celsius requires removing 1.8 billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere yearly from now until 2100—a tall order that exceeds the capabilities of current technology.”   Boston Dynamics is at it again, creating robots that walk with creepy-amazing skill through natural obstacle courses… only this time it’s a biped!  
Batteries for a new age? MIT and Samsung researchers have developed a new approach to achieving long life and a 20 to 30 percent improvement in power density (the amount of power stored in a given space) in rechargeable batteries — using a solid electrolyte, rather than the liquid used in today’s most common rechargeables. The new materials could also greatly improve safety and last through “hundreds of thousands of cycles.”  
Researchers at CERN find that within about one part per million, antimatter and matter behave in the same way with respect to gravity. And have the same charge-to-mass ratios. Okay, check that off my list of worries.

Finally...a recent typhoon hit Taiwan with winds that lifted a 747 off the ground
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

In Which We Achieve Maximum Giving Tree

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 09/16/2015 - 14:14
At the front of our property stood four ash trees, which were lovely but over the last few years became diseased, in no small part because of emerald ash borers, which landed in Ohio in 2003, apparently, and have taken out a substantial number of trees. Including ours; three of the four were basically dead […]

The Big Idea: Greg Van Eekhout

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 09/16/2015 - 09:23
Oh look, Here’s Greg Van Eekhout, wrapping up his terrific Daniel Blackland trilogy with Dragon Coast. Perhaps it will have dragons in it? And possibly a coast? Seems likely on both counts. Let’s have Greg give you a couple more specifics on it. GREG VAN EEKHOUT: Look, the title is Dragon Coast, there’s a dragon […]

Here’s a Quarter

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 09/15/2015 - 15:49
Many years ago — actually about a quarter of a century ago — I had applied for the job of Student Ombudsperson at the University of Chicago. The job of the Ombudsperson was to help students navigate the bureaucracy of the university, and to help them get their concerns heard when the usual channels weren’t […]
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