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Our best year in space yet!

Contrary Brin - Fri, 08/21/2015 - 19:03
This time we're looking outward... toward the vast, vast majority of all there is. And after decades of doldrums, it seems we truly are regaining some momentum in space exploration.  Have any of you been keeping track on a scorecard?

Hang on till the end, to read the news from NASA NIAC!

First... Citizen science. Nasa just launched a satellite to judge soil moisture. in order to calibrate it, Nasa needs lots of soil samples. So, they're inviting people to find out when the SMAP satellite is flying over their area, then collect a sample, weigh it, dry it, weigh it again, and report it.

Of course Pluto is still the biggest story. Data  and extraordinary images continue to stream in from the fabulously successful New Horizons mission. Of which we should all be very proud, a pinnacle in one of humanity's best years in space. 

(That is, unless you are one of these pathetic people who proclaim "it's all faked!"  In which case, why take on so many dazzlingly vivid accomplishments to fabricate? With that kind of special effects budget, you could, um, afford real space missions.)

But back to the show! Watch the video: Animated Flyover of Pluto. Then remind yourself that this is Pluto.  Say that to yourself while watching the video. It is freaking PLUTO!

And you did this. As a taxpayer and citizen. If you are not thrilled, then you badly need to next watch THIS video! Especially the end. 

And now this coda: "In a coincidence of astronomical proportions, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has conducted the first flyby of Pluto on the 50th anniversary of the first flyby of Mars. NASA’s Mariner 4 probe became the first spacecraft to capture up-close images of another planet when it flew past Mars on July 14, 1965."

Wow, has it been that long since my teenage brain had to adjust to there being no canals (or princesses) on the Red Planet?  I am mollified knowing that New Horizons still has fuel in its tanks and they hope to send her past another Kuiper Belt object, a billion miles further into deep, deep space.

== Had enough Pluto? == 

Nope, there's more. Another Plutonian mountain range!   And cool info on Pluto’s lesser moons.  The much-anticipated “eclipse” study of Pluto’s dark side shows the sun’s halo around the planet, revealing thick and high haze that may come from crystalized hydrocarbons. And closeups in Tombaugh Regio show “flow” shapes that suggest semi-liquid activity - possibly by partly melted Nitrogen ices (!) within the last few tens of millions of years! Signs of geologic activity recently? On Pluto? Oy.

And now what you’ve been waiting for… a tentative map of Pluto proposed place names! And for Charon, too. Pluto features many explorers and discoverers… plus some noted monsters. But Charon?  Charon’s craters and regions are tentatively named for… sci fi characters!  Kirk Crater… Sulu Crater… Ripley Crater … Skywalker Crater… Vader Crater plus some creators of sci fi like Kubrick, Clarke and Butler.  Zowee! 

(Notice the majority of Charon that’s still blurry?  Okay, there’s still time for me and my creations! Help make em classics so the next mission...)
== And Meanwhile... ==

The Philae lander on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko bobbled and skipped into a shadowed spot, falling out of contact... till it woke up in June as the comet moved closer to the sun. But latest data suggests something, possibly a gas emission, may have moved it again. Philae’s antenna may have been obstructed, and one of its transmitters seems to have stopped working. Well well, some of you recall I predicted this.  The violence of the comet's close passage to the sun will do this.  I hope they got some more good data.  More on 67/P in our next space update.

See this marvelous 3D topography model of the nucleus of 67P.

Had enough yet? We're just getting started. Now see exaggerated vertical relief fly over of Ceres. Ceres is apparently producing a periodic haze over the Mysterious White Spot, suggesting active venting. Looks like it is turning out to be an icy fumarole.

And our spectacularly successful Cassini mission in the Saturn system is still pouring out results.  One of my top ten favorite photos of all time was taken by Cassini's little Huygens Probe whil landing on Titan, clearly showing what Cassini confirmed to be lakes and seas of ethane and methane, fed by rain and by rivers flowing into waxy shorelines. But I want more! So just today, NASA released stunning Cassini closeups of the beautifully ravaged moon, Dione.

And none of this is to mention earlier -- within the last year -- news from Mercury and Venus... and recalibrated Earth-sensing that proves Ted Cruz to be a liar... and a comet sweeping past Mars, caught in the act by our orbiting probes!  And the science from that serendipity is (I hear) amazing.

More from Curiosity and Opportunity, our faithful emissaries to the planet solely occupied by robots. (Can you believe those spectacular successes are almost afterthoughts, in this list?)  And more insights into weird Titan! 

And news of a possible NASA Europa probe that might use methods pioneered at NASA NIAC (where I serve on the external advisory board.) More on NIAC below.
== Look Homeward Angel ==

Want to watch something even cooler than all that? How about a video of the Moon transiting in front of the Earth?  And this is the lunar backside we are looking at! Another gift of the Discovr (Deep Space Climate Observatory) probe, described giddily by Phil Plait, who is just having way too much fun during by far our best year in space since the 1970s and possibly ever.

Discovr sits at the Lagrange Point a million miles closer to the sun, warning us of solar storms (a vital service) but also fulfilling a proposal by Al Gore (one of the century's most-under-rated figures, whose Senate bill freed the Internet for all) that we needed a monitoring station to give humanity a round the clock daylight view of our planet as it turns. Can you believe we did not have this? Until now.

== Solar Sails to Space ==

I’ve served on the board of advisers of the Planetary Society and have long urged others to put them on your list of orgs to join, in making a better world. (Each of us, whatever our opinions, should have membership at least a dozen orgs who - via the miracle of Proxy Activism - then go forth and save the world for us. A modern convenience. Look up the concept here.)  
One favorite of mine? The Planetary Society’s ongoing efforts to accomplish what should have been done at the very dawn of the Space Era, almost a lifetime ago… developing useful, reliable, deployable light sails (or “solar sails”) to send small craft cheaply across the community of planets. Except for one small Japanese deployment, this whole realm has been almost utterly ignored by the major agencies and powers, a blatant case of neglecting-the-obvious that starts to look awfully suspicious. Moreover, the TPS efforts have been plagued by one episode of bad luck after another… like two successive blowups of Russian launch vehicles.  As one of the members of my blogmunity - Paul451 - put it: “Solar sails really are cursed. I call aliens. This is clearly the forbidden technology which violates the terms of our quarantine."
Though now there's tentative good news on this roller-coaster ride... the jinx appears to have struck again. But still, after a series of setbacks and silences, LightSail deployed!
Now that the first stage of this mission is complete, the Planetary Society is preparing their next phase of LightSail, scheduled for 2016.  Partially funded through Kickstarter, this solar sail will be launched into a higher orbit, 450 miles above the surface of the Earth. "There the solar sails will both deploy and catch the sun's photon breeze, sailing on the high seas of the interplanetary vacuum." Sign on to The Planetary Society's kickstarter!

And while you are at it please sign this easy Planetary Society petition online, asking Congress not to (again) slash planetary exploration funding -- and to support a new mission to Europa. 

== Not resting on our laurels ==

Let's hope this is just the beginning. That Elon Musk's SpaceX and Virgin Galactic and others get their legs back under them and get Earth to Orbit far more efficient and reliable... the core element in doing ever-more thing, ever-better.

Meanwhile, Planetary Resources and its competitors… and the B612 Foundation... are pushing forward their endeavors to either harvest asteroids for resources or at least detect and divert dangerous ones. (Seems worthwhile -- just don't touch my asteroid.

And there’s talk of making an inflatable space elevator! (Only 35 years after I broached the idea, in SUNDIVER.  Well better late than never.  Try harder to keep up, guys.)

And NASA's Innovative and Advanced Concepts group (NIAC) has just released its 2015 Solicitation For Proposals for small seed grants to enable brilliant, ambitious innovators to try out some bold idea.  NIAC is the tip, the entry wedge, and if your concept satisfies the requirements, you might win real money to transform how we live/work/explore outer space. NIAC is especially interested in beefing up its portfolio in Biology, by the way. And women researchers are encouraged to look into the possibilities.  And Yoiu know all this because I sit on the external board.

It all adds up to a great year in space.  Greater even than the glory days of Apollo? I deem that to be arguable!  We are accomplishing so much more, with such spectacular competence that it's happening with the tiny slivers of funding our society allocates to horizons.

Beyond interplanetary? Icarus Interstellar is one of several nascent groups aiming at taking look-ahead activism to the next level… pushing now for humanity to become an interstellar civilization. Join  their Kickstarter campaign and become a Charter Member of Starship Congress 2015! I did, as did Vint Cerf! Also don't forget also Centauri Dreams.

Finally... getting back to why so few of us are celebrating this greatest year of humanity in space... here again is a link to my TED talk about why we are letting anger rule our lives, when there are so many reasons instead to feel rising confidence. 

We are a people who are doing all these wondrous things, exploring our solar system with pennies out of each citizen's pocket... and so many other signs of progress down here on Earth... yet, we are letting dogmatists and indignation junkies of both the right and the left hijack the discussion, spreading fear and only fear of the future.

We are doing all this, and so much more!  We are a mighty folk. A folk of legend who will be subject of songs, in times to come. Call the doom merchants what they are -- ankle weights around the feet of a pragmatic, problem-solving people. Problem-solvers who will go ahead and save the world, despite them.  

And go on to the stars.

. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

Our best year in space ever!

Contrary Brin - Fri, 08/21/2015 - 19:03
This time we're looking outward... toward the vast, vast majority of all there is. And after decades of doldrums, it seems we truly are regaining some momentum in space exploration.  Have any of you been keeping track on a scorecard?

Hang on till the end, to read the news from NASA NIAC!

First... Citizen science. Nasa just launched a satellite to judge soil moisture. in order to calibrate it, Nasa needs lots of soil samples. So, they're inviting people to find out when the SMAP satellite is flying over their area, then collect a sample, weigh it, dry it, weigh it again, and report it.

Of course Pluto is still the biggest story. Data  and extraordinary images continue to stream in from the fabulously successful New Horizons mission. Of which we should all be very proud, a pinnacle in one of humanity's best years in space. 

(That is, unless you are one of these pathetic people who proclaim "it's all faked!"  In which case, why take on so many dazzlingly vivid accomplishments to fabricate? With that kind of special effects budget, you could, um, afford real space missions.)

But back to the show! Watch the video: Animated Flyover of Pluto. Then remind yourself that this is Pluto.  Say that to yourself while watching the video. It is freaking PLUTO!

And you did this. As a taxpayer and citizen. If you are not thrilled, then you badly need to next watch THIS video! Especially the end. 

And now this coda: "In a coincidence of astronomical proportions, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has conducted the first flyby of Pluto on the 50th anniversary of the first flyby of Mars. NASA’s Mariner 4 probe became the first spacecraft to capture up-close images of another planet when it flew past Mars on July 14, 1965."

Wow, has it been that long since my teenage brain had to adjust to there being no canals (or princesses) on the Red Planet?  I am mollified knowing that New Horizons still has fuel in its tanks and they hope to send her past another Kuiper Belt object, a billion miles further into deep, deep space.

== Had enough Pluto? == 

Nope, there's more. Another Plutonian mountain range!   And cool info on Pluto’s lesser moons.  The much-anticipated “eclipse” study of Pluto’s dark side shows the sun’s halo around the planet, revealing thick and high haze that may come from crystalized hydrocarbons. And closeups in Tombaugh Regio show “flow” shapes that suggest semi-liquid activity - possibly by partly melted Nitrogen ices (!) within the last few tens of millions of years! Signs of geologic activity recently? On Pluto? Oy.

And now what you’ve been waiting for… a tentative map of Pluto proposed place names! And for Charon, too. Pluto features many explorers and discoverers… plus some noted monsters. But Charon?  Charon’s craters and regions are tentatively named for… sci fi characters!  Kirk Crater… Sulu Crater… Ripley Crater … Skywalker Crater… Vader Crater plus some creators of sci fi like Kubrick, Clarke and Butler.  Zowee! 

(Notice the majority of Charon that’s still blurry?  Okay, there’s still time for me and my creations! Help make em classics so the next mission...)
== And Meanwhile... ==

The Philae lander on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko bobbled and skipped into a shadowed spot, falling out of contact... till it woke up in June as the comet moved closer to the sun. But latest data suggests something, possibly a gas emission, may have moved it again. Philae’s antenna may have been obstructed, and one of its transmitters seems to have stopped working. Well well, some of you recall I predicted this.  The violence of the comet's close passage to the sun will do this.  I hope they got some more good data.  More on 67/P in our next space update.

See this marvelous 3D topography model of the nucleus of 67P.

Had enough yet? We're just getting started. Now see exaggerated vertical relief fly over of Ceres. Ceres is apparently producing a periodic haze over the Mysterious White Spot, suggesting active venting. Looks like it is turning out to be an icy fumarole.

And our spectacularly successful Cassini mission in the Saturn system is still pouring out results.  One of my top ten favorite photos of all time was taken by Cassini's little Huygens Probe whil landing on Titan, clearly showing what Cassini confirmed to be lakes and seas of ethane and methane, fed by rain and by rivers flowing into waxy shorelines. But I want more! So just today, NASA released stunning Cassini closeups of the beautifully ravaged moon, Dione.

And none of this is to mention earlier -- within the last year -- news from Mercury and Venus... and recalibrated Earth-sensing that proves Ted Cruz to be a liar... and a comet sweeping past Mars, caught in the act by our orbiting probes!  And the science from that serendipity is (I hear) amazing.

More from Curiosity and Opportunity, our faithful emissaries to the planet solely occupied by robots. (Can you believe those spectacular successes are almost afterthoughts, in this list?)  And more insights into weird Titan! 

And news of a possible NASA Europa probe that might use methods pioneered at NASA NIAC (where I serve on the external advisory board.) More on NIAC below.
== Look Homeward Angel ==

Want to watch something even cooler than all that? How about a video of the Moon transiting in front of the Earth?  And this is the lunar backside we are looking at! Another gift of the Discovr (Deep Space Climate Observatory) probe, described giddily by Phil Plait, who is just having way too much fun during by far our best year in space since the 1970s and possibly ever.

Discovr sits at the Lagrange Point a million miles closer to the sun, warning us of solar storms (a vital service) but also fulfilling a proposal by Al Gore (one of the century's most-under-rated figures, whose Senate bill freed the Internet for all) that we needed a monitoring station to give humanity a round the clock daylight view of our planet as it turns. Can you believe we did not have this? Until now.

== Solar Sails to Space ==

I’ve served on the board of advisers of the Planetary Society and have long urged others to put them on your list of orgs to join, in making a better world. (Each of us, whatever our opinions, should have membership at least a dozen orgs who - via the miracle of Proxy Activism - then go forth and save the world for us. A modern convenience. Look up the concept here.)  
One favorite of mine? The Planetary Society’s ongoing efforts to accomplish what should have been done at the very dawn of the Space Era, almost a lifetime ago… developing useful, reliable, deployable light sails (or “solar sails”) to send small craft cheaply across the community of planets. Except for one small Japanese deployment, this whole realm has been almost utterly ignored by the major agencies and powers, a blatant case of neglecting-the-obvious that starts to look awfully suspicious. Moreover, the TPS efforts have been plagued by one episode of bad luck after another… like two successive blowups of Russian launch vehicles.  As one of the members of my blogmunity - Paul451 - put it: “Solar sails really are cursed. I call aliens. This is clearly the forbidden technology which violates the terms of our quarantine."
Though now there's tentative good news on this roller-coaster ride... the jinx appears to have struck again. But still, after a series of setbacks and silences, LightSail deployed!
Now that the first stage of this mission is complete, the Planetary Society is preparing their next phase of LightSail, scheduled for 2016.  Partially funded through Kickstarter, this solar sail will be launched into a higher orbit, 450 miles above the surface of the Earth. "There the solar sails will both deploy and catch the sun's photon breeze, sailing on the high seas of the interplanetary vacuum." Sign on to The Planetary Society's kickstarter!

And while you are at it please sign this easy Planetary Society petition online, asking Congress not to (again) slash planetary exploration funding -- and to support a new mission to Europa. 

== Not resting on our laurels ==

Let's hope this is just the beginning. That Elon Musk's SpaceX and Virgin Galactic and others get their legs back under them and get Earth to Orbit far more efficient and reliable... the core element in doing ever-more thing, ever-better.

Meanwhile, Planetary Resources and its competitors… and the B612 Foundation... are pushing forward their endeavors to either harvest asteroids for resources or at least detect and divert dangerous ones. (Seems worthwhile -- just don't touch my asteroid.

And there’s talk of making an inflatable space elevator! (Only 35 years after I broached the idea, in SUNDIVER.  Well better late than never.  Try harder to keep up, guys.)

And NASA's Innovative and Advanced Concepts group (NIAC) has just released its 2015 Solicitation For Proposals for small seed grants to enable brilliant, ambitious innovators to try out some bold idea.  NIAC is the tip, the entry wedge, and if your concept satisfies the requirements, you might win real money to transform how we live/work/explore outer space. NIAC is especially interested in beefing up its portfolio in Biology, by the way. And women researchers are encouraged to look into the possibilities.  And Yoiu know all this because I sit on the external board.

It all adds up to a great year in space.  Greater even than the glory days of Apollo? I deem that to be arguable!  We are accomplishing so much more, with such spectacular competence that it's happening with the tiny slivers of funding our society allocates to horizons.

Beyond interplanetary? Icarus Interstellar is one of several nascent groups aiming at taking look-ahead activism to the next level… pushing now for humanity to become an interstellar civilization. Read up on their Kickstarter campaign.  But don't forget also Centauri Dreams.

Finally... getting back to why so few of us are celebrating this greatest year of humanity in space... here again is a link to my TED talk about why we are letting anger rule our lives, when there are so many reasons instead to feel rising confidence. 

We are a people who are doing all these wondrous things, exploring our solar system with pennies out of each citizen's pocket... and so many other signs of progress down here on Earth... yet, we are letting dogmatists and indignation junkies of both the right and the left hijack the discussion, spreading fear and only fear of the future.

We are doing all this, and so much more!  We are a mighty folk. A folk of legend who will be subject of songs, in times to come. Call the doom merchants what they are -- ankle weights around the feet of a pragmatic, problem-solving people. Problem-solvers who will go ahead and save the world, despite them.  

And go on to the stars.

. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

View From a Hotel Window, 8/20/15: Boise

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 08/20/2015 - 16:49
Parking lot in the foreground, state capital in the background. Basically, this view has got it all. Tonight! I am at the Boise Downtown Library! (I understand it has an exclamation point in its name) at 7pm, with the event sponsored by The Rediscovered Bookstore. I’m very excited, because this is my first time in […]

The Big Idea: Aliette De Bodard

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 08/20/2015 - 10:30
Aliette De Bodard’s Big Idea piece for The House of Shattered Wings may have the best first line of any Big Idea piece yet. That’s all I’m going to say. Get to reading. ALIETTE DE BODARD: My novel didn’t come together until I nuked Paris. After I finished Obsidian and Blood, my trilogy of Aztec […]

Oddities and Items: From Biotech to LaserTech

Contrary Brin - Wed, 08/19/2015 - 19:00
Let's take a break from dour murmurs of geopolitical danger. How about the sort of breakthroughs that will save the day!

Like in what ways will technology shape the workplace of the future? Fast Company takes a look at: What Work Will Look Like in 2025
Tech advances will depend on our ability to mine efficiently... All right so the Chinese used clever market ploys and environmental-health carelessness to corner the market on rare earth elements, needed for high function magnets in a myriad modern devices.  Well, markets react...  “Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory have created a new magnetic alloy that is an alternative to traditional rare-earth permanent magnets.” See elsewhere my posting about how other companies are getting licenses to mine manganese nodules under the sea, for their own heaps of rare earth metals.

Of course, in the long run Planetary Resources and its ilk will transform it all, by giving us access to riches from space.
 == Updates in Physics ==
This is actually pretty … cool.  A graphene film with thermal conductivity capacity that is four times that of copper may help remove heat from electronics, easing a real problem.  
A cogent and clear run-down on the current industrial situation regarding graphene, the miraculous – and highly-hyped – wonder material.  And now...physicists announce graphene's cousin, stanene -- a 2D layer of Sn -- tin atoms. And "black phosphorus."

Amazing electrically conducting fibers that can be reversibly stretched to more than 14 times their initial length and whose electrical conductivity increases 200-fold when stretched.

Some excellent physics videos!  This one introduces Quantum Mechanics!
Cracking the Nutshell: This delightful site dissects some very, very deep concepts of free will and quantum mechanics.
In a new study, researchers demonstrated that they could slice up and entangle each photon pair into multiple dimensions using quantum properties such as the photons’ energy and spin. This method, called hyperentanglement, allows each photon pair to carry much more data than was possible with previous methods. Quantum entanglement could allow users to send data through a network and know immediately whether that data had made it to its destination without being intercepted or altered.

While we're all tangled -up in quantum knots.... See me discuss entanglement, multiverses and the Physics of Free Will with two other astrophysicists - Brian Keating (UCSD) and Andrew Friedman (MIT) - in this fun shared lecture a couple of weeks ago at UCSD's Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination.
== Transportation and Energy  ==
NASA has announced the successful completion of testing for its morphing airplane wing design. Known as Adaptive Compliant Trailing Edge (ACTE) flight control surfaces, they replace a plane's conventional, rigid flaps with a flexible composite material.  Watch it flex and lift heavy weights!  

Based on the X-51 Waverider prototype tested in 2013, the U.S. Air Force is planning to build an airplane that travels at five times the speed of sound (about 3800 miles per hour), or Mach 5, going from New York to Los Angeles in just 30 minutes.  A system for machines, not us. Sorry.

You’ve watched astronauts create balls of water that hold together with surface tension, till the astronaut gulps it down? Well you can do that on Earth!  It takes a little kitchen chemistry.  Edible water bottles and the strange chemistry of spherification!  
Lightweight composite metal foams are effective at blocking X-rays, gamma rays, and neutron radiation, and are capable of absorbing the energy of high-impact collisions. The finding holds promise for use in nuclear power plants and space exploration. 
Construction on the new lane of Egypt’s Suez Canal, which runs alongside part of the existing canal, started less than a year ago but is now complete.  Huh.  
A Japanese research laser is 100 meter long and it’s firing a beam as powerful as 2 petawatts. However, the powerful laser was only able to run for two seconds.  

Boeing's new Compact Laser Weapon System (LWS) is capable of generating an energy beam of up to 10 kilowatts that can, depending on the power level, be used to acquire, track, and identify a target -- or even destroy it -- at ranges of at least 22 miles. The weapon is designed specifically to track and attack moving aerial targets such as incoming artillery rounds, and low-flying aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles.  Combine this with the new radars’ ability to track-back shells to pinpoint their origin, and we may be witnessing the end of Napoleon’s dictum that artillery is Queen of the Battlefield.  Of course the ones paying closest attention to all this?  Not Boeing’s customers or potential adversaries…. But sci fi authors.  
== Updates in Biotech ==
Phototonic PCR: UC Berkeley bioengineers develop an ultra-fast method to copy DNA using LED light: this may enable on-site DNA testing of smaller samples, such as blood left at a crime scene.

Pocket sized spectrometer Scio can analyze chemical composition of anything.. with data sent to your smart phone.

Smartphones are so smart...they can now test your vision!
Sites illustrating coolness in Biology!  Explore OneZoom: Tree of Life Explorer: Starting with browsable phylogenetics portrayed as a kind of fractal-branching tree. Lots of surprises.
Chinese surgeon has carried out more than 1,000 head transplants on mice and is now looking to test out the procedure on monkeys. After receiving its new head in a ten hour procedure – or would it be more accurate to say “its new body? -- the mouse could open its eyes and move around – but it died shortly after. Meanwhile… Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero gears up to make an announcement on what he believes will be the world's first human head transplant. Eep. Makes the Chinese guy look responsible. 
Telemeres are the end caps on chromosomes that act as decay buffers, protecting the genes. Some believe they are timing-clocks that wear down then cause aging. “Earlier this year, scientists were able to successfully lengthen telomeres for the first time by using artificial RNA to encode a telomere-extending protein. This was celebrated as a revolutionary step in “turning back the internal clock” of human cells.”  But I said it was not going to be that simple. Sure enough. Scientists have linked long telomere length with lung cancer. Psigh.

Dentists will be able to use 3D printing to create anatomically correct teeth, crowns and veneers.  Oh, the aggravation our kids will never know.  The wonders they will take for granted.

== Computers and Gadgets ==

Intel and Micron have announced XPoint, a brand new memory technology that is up to 1000x faster and 1000x longer lasting than conventional flash memory.  This could change things.  

When Microsoft's new Internet Explorer replacement, officially dubbed Edge, arrives with Windows 10, it will offer users some new features, including the ability to annotate webpages and share notes. "Baked-in annotation features could be one area that sets Edge apart, considering most Web browsers can't handle them without third-party plug-ins or extensions. In fact, it's somewhat unbelievable that this hasn't become a standard feature in Web browsers yet." Windows 10 users can keep track of what is and isn’t useful within each webpage or document without extra steps. They can underline, place arrows and circle specific parts directly on webpages as they browse. 
iFixit has a lot of great videos and PDF guides for repairing many different kinds of electronic gadgets.
== Miscellaneous items of interest ==
Chinese billionaire Li Jinyuan decided to take 6,400 of his top distributors on an all-expenses-paid trip to France, hoping to  generate a wave of publicity to help offset the $14.5 million he shelled out for chartered jets, 30,000 hotel stays and a private tour of the Louvre. With the number of Chinese taking trips overseas exploding -- they made more than 107 million trips outside the mainland last year, up almost 20% over 2013-- and with more Chinese going abroad, their nation has become deeply self-conscious about the image its travelers leave behind. And this is where *I* cash in! Tony Fisk, does this count as a class A 100% spot on prediction from EARTH?  To the registry-wiki!
While in the Central Kingdom… a study of nearly 500,000 Chinese people over seven years found that those who ate spicy food three times a week cut their risk of dying by 14 per cent compared with people who abstained.

Richmond, California police have been inundated with calls for help from people who feel under attack from space-based weaponry because of a City Council resolution passed last month, in support of a 2001 bill introduced by then-U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, in an effort to ensure that Richmond residents would not be targets of space-based weaponry. Versions of it referred to alleged technologies including chemtrails, particle beams, electromagnetic radiation, plasmas, extremely low-frequency or ultra high-frequency energy radiation and mind control technology. 

My Virtual Dream: Collective Neuro-feedback in an Immersive Art Environment” – was part experiment and part demo-art in Toronto.  More than 500 adults aged 18 and older wore wireless electroencephalography (EEG) headbands and participate in a brief collective neurofeedback experience in groups of 20 inside a 60-foot geodesic dome, along with spontaneous musical interpretation by live musicians on stage.

== Was that cool enough for you? ==

Lots of amazing stuff happening.  And it's tip of the iceberg. And those of you still wallowing in gloom?  How about this hypothesis.  That it's more your personality than our prospects, that determines your mood.

We face immense challenges.  Now join the immensely talented men and women who have a very real chance of solving them.

. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

View from a Hotel Window, 8/19/15: Seattle

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 08/19/2015 - 18:54
There is no place where the parking lots cannot reach! Tonight: Seattle, at the Downtown Public Library, at 7pm. You know the downtown public library; it’s the one that looks all funky. Co-sponsored by the Elliot Bay Books. Come by, it’s going to be a lot of fun. Tomorrow: Boise! For the first time ever, […]

The Big Idea: Charlie Fletcher

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 08/19/2015 - 09:17
How to suss out the intricacies of a new idea, not just for a story, but for an entire world? For Charlie Fletcher, author of the Oversight series, of which The Paradox is the latest installment, the answer was simple: Go for a walk. CHARLIE FLETCHER: The setting for The Oversight and The Paradox began […]

View From a Hotel Window, 8/18/15: Portland

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 08/18/2015 - 16:57
If you look closely, you’ll see a parking lot in the picture. Tonight: Powell’s in Beaverton, OR, at 7pm. Be on time because the Doubleclicks are opening! Tomorrow: Seattle! I will be amongst you, for my event at the Seattle Public Library, co-hosted by Elliot Bay Books. 7pm!

The Big Idea: Linda Nagata

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 08/18/2015 - 09:04
In today’s Big Idea, Linda Nagata explains how short stories were the gateway to her “Red” series of novels, of which The Trials is the second. Short stories! Gotta keep an eye on ’em! LINDA NAGATA: Stories can be dangerous, demanding things. The Trials is the middle book in a trilogy of military thrillers that took […]

International Tensions: Russia, China and Putin!

Contrary Brin - Mon, 08/17/2015 - 20:49
== Russia rattling sabers. ==
Talk of war? Major war in Europe? This long and very detailed article examines the ways that Russia’s contretemps with NATO and the US and the West could spiral out of control, via many of the same psychological  and strategic miscalculations that tumbled the planet – 100 years ago – into the first world war.  
Take some examples of alarming signs. In recent months, NATO reported unusually large movements of Russian fighter jets looping around Europe, including several airspace violations in the Baltics. This month, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that Russia planned to increase bomber flights in the Gulf of Mexico. And Sweden conducted an extensive search for a submarine in its waters that local media said was believed to be Russian. 
Another report: “Russia is provoking Finland, repeatedly guiding military planes into Finnish airspace and deploying submarines and helicopters to chase after Finnish research vessels in international waters. The incidents are part of a pattern of aggressive Russian behavior that has radiated across Europe but that has been especially unnerving for countries such as Finland that live outside the protective bubble of NATO.”
“In May, Finland's defense ministry sent letters to 900,000 citizens — one-sixth of the population — telling them to prepare for conscription in case of a "crisis situation." Lithuania has reinstituted military conscription. Poland, in June, appointed a general who would take over as military commander in case of war. Though Western publics remain blissfully unaware, and Western leaders divided, many of the people tasked with securing Europe are treating conflict as more likely. In late April, NATO and other Western officials gathered in Estonia, a former Soviet republic and NATO member on Russia's border that Western analysts most worry could become ground zero for a major war with Russia.”
And… Repeated Russian warnings that it would go to war to defend its perceived interests in Ukraine, potentially even nuclear war, are dismissed in most Western capitals as bluffing, mere rhetoric. Western leaders view these threats through Western eyes, in which impoverished Ukraine would never be worth risking a major war. In Russian eyes, Ukraine looks much more important: an extension of Russian heritage that is sacrosanct and, as the final remaining component of the empire, a strategic loss that would unacceptably weaken Russian strength and thus Russian security.’
== The Putin Fixation ==

And there you see the crux. While Fox News and the Murdochians engage in their cult of Putin adulation, calling the Russian President a strong alpha male and brilliant chess player, in fact, our worrisome possibility is the diametric opposite, the kind of miscalculation that comes from steep decline, as every aspect of Russian life, from the economy to birthrates to the ruble to lifespans to the braindrain, spirals ever-downward.

(Though as an aside, at these exchange rates, this might be a good time for that tourism jaunt to the Hermitage.)
One factor that the authors of this fascinating piece left out is China, which has begun to bankroll Moscow in order to gradually counter-balance western influence and power.  The creation of a Great Eurasia is now discussed widely, as Russian military technology combines with Chinese industrial and economic strength. On paper, this may seem a great deal for two powers who share an antipathy toward western notions of democratic pluralism and law, under a unipolar American Pax.  But there are aspects seldom mentioned –
-- such as the small matter of the largest territory on Earth, Siberia.  Claimed and owned by Russia, but resource rich and tantalizingly close to more than a billion cramped Han Chinese.  Who are already investing in that region, big time, and slipping tens of thousands of workers and businessmen and innocent professionals across the border, every year – whose presence someday might offer exactly the expatriate population “to be protected” that Putin now uses as an excuse to bully Estonia. 
To which one has to wonder.  Has Vladimir Putin already sold Siberia, either secretly or implicitly, to Beijing?  Or is he truly so focused westward that he has no thoughts of the east? 
But perspective is never seen on cable news… or any news, for that matter. What about Putin's "master chess player" moves in Crimea, the Donbas and Georgia? Please? These consist entirely of nibbles-back of crusts -- where Russian speakers predominate -- from the biggest geopolitical setback any Russian leader has overseen since the Mongol invasions ... the complete loss from the Russian sphere of influence of Ukraine.
He might have hoped that (perhaps with some subtle help) the Ukrainian economy would tank and Ukrainians might elect another Yanukovich.  Now? They would fight and shiver and freeze before they'll ever again kowtow to Moscow.  The breach is permanent… or will last generations. Ukrainians are guaranteed never, ever again to allow a Russian-loving Yanukovich back into power. So much for subtle chess.
== Then why does Fox News adore Putin? ==
Look, I will give Vladimir Putin his due.  He reduced the chaos of the Yeltsin years (though not street or organized crime.) I was impressed by his maneuver, a few years back, to have his protege, Medvedev, serve one term as president, in order that Putin could obey the constitutional ban on three consecutive terms… an obstacle that most strongmen would solve by simply command-amending the Constitution.  Indeed, that piece of political theater may have done the notion of Russian civil society some long-term symbolic (if potemkin) good.  Though the destruction of non-governmental media and conversion of provincial governorships from elected to appointed status showed Putin’s true intentions.
None of this matters to the Fox-Limbaugh-Beck spin machine over here, though. “Sure he’s a tyrant,” they all admit. “But if only our own leaders were as savvy, dynamic and strong!” The Russian president is portrayed as a latter-day Peter the Great, out-maneuvering our politicians with a brilliant combination of forceful determination, agility and macho ruthlessness. As with all-things-Fox, I have to scratch my head and ask — “are there viewers who actually nod their heads and swallow this stuff?”
That kind of admiration would be disturbing enough, on so many levels.  For one thing, it reflects the Confederacy’s 200 year love affair with authoritarian oligarchy, stretching back to when the British Crown got most of its tory support in the 1770s South. The same theme continued through the Gone-With-The-Wind era of slave lords like “Marse Robert” E. Lee, all the way to Citizens United and the way today’s right-wing spin machine pours adulation on the “job creator” caste — who create no jobs.
And the caudillo-yearning propaganda for Caesar figures, spun out in every single tale by Orson Scott Card. Adulation of feudalism just seems to be part of confederate DNA, helping to explain the endless recurrence of America’s ongoing Civil War. 
In fact, we do not need strongmen or lords.  We need the thing that’s ridiculed and downplayed every night by Fox (and also by some radicals on the very extreme left.)  We need calm-negotiation. We need politics. And respect for facts and science. We need citizenship.
== And yet, I suspect Putin may have depths… even a plan… after all ==
Oh, it’s not the "plan" that Fox-fools credit to him. The truth is exposed starkly via this article in MONEY. “Things in Russia are going from bad to worse.”
Across the last two decades, almost no effort has been made to reform the underlying Russian economy so that it might leverage high technology startups out of its highly educated populace. Putting aside the lucrative business of skuyllduggerous internet activity, that economy relies almost solely on an obsolescing fossil fuel industry. Capital flight has reached the level of an arterial gusher. Any trace of entrepreneurialism is pounced upon and gobbled up by oligarchs, backed by organized crime.
What the article in Money leaves out is far more disturbing. Russian men are drinking themselves to death and Russian women have stopped having babies with them. (Russia’s population has declined by almost 7 million in the last 19 years, to 142 million. UN estimates are that it may shrink by about a third in the next 40 years.) The brain drain is almost a tsunami as smart people are fleeing the country as fast as they can.  Russia had to buy its aircraft carriers from France. (A deal canceled after Crimea.) It has lost every spaceprobe it sent to Mars and has not innovated in space in decades.
And yet…
And yet I look at him. It’s blatant to everyone how fiercely intelligent the man is.

 Now add in the fact that he has stated openly that the collapse of the old Soviet Union – that gave him his big break and chance for power - was the “greatest tragedy” for Russians, for slavs… and possibly for humanity. The greatest tragedy ever.
Consider that he saw how George H.W. Bush (senior) – easily the worst U.S. president of the 20thCentury, connived with Boris Yeltsin to hand the entire Russian economy over to crooks and oligarchs, cheating the people of everything.  Ponder how this consolidated all economic power and all state enterprises into the hands of just a few.
Now (and here’s a test of your education) put all that into the context of Marxist theory … if any of you have ever read any, which I doubt. But it was what Putin suckled as a youth.
Now add one science fiction level theory.  No… hypothesis.  No, not even that. A what-if.
What if – I wonder – what-if Vladimir Putin is what he has always been? 
The same thing that he started out as? 
What if he is utterly… sincere?
I have laid the pieces to the puzzle before you.  They are there. All of them. Enough of them. Any of you could figure it out. You are smartenough.
Just very badly educated and ill-read.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

View From a Hotel Window 8/17/15: Madison

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 08/17/2015 - 16:23
No parking lot. I hardly know what to do with myself. Also, very modern. Feels like Piet Mondrian might have a pied a terre here. Tonight! 7pm! Madison Central Library, and sponsored by A Room of One’s Own. Very much looking forward to tonight’s event. Tomorrow! I leave the middle of the United States and […]

My Sasquan Schedule

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 08/17/2015 - 12:25
It’s here. I’m doing five events: A reading, a signing, two panels and a kaffeklatche. I’m only there on Friday and Saturday, however, so if you’re looking for me before or after then, I regret to say it will be in vain. I’ll be in Seattle on Wednesday, Boise on Thursday, and Fort Collins on […]

Notes For New (and Potential) Twitter Followers

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 08/17/2015 - 07:53
(To normal Whatever readers: This is a post I putting up for Twitter folks; I’ll be pinning a link to this on the top of my Twitter page.) Dear New (and Potential!) Twitter Followers: Hi there, I’m John Scalzi, and if you’re reading this, you may have just decided to follow me on Twitter, or […]

View From a Delta Sky Club, 8/16/15: Detroit

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 08/16/2015 - 11:40
It’s not a hotel window. It is, however, in a sense, a view of a parking lot. Today: I’ll be in Lansing, Michigan, at Schuler Books & Music, at 4pm. A good time will be had! By me, at least. And hopefully, you too. Tomorrow: I’ll be in lovely Madison, Wisconsin, for an event at […]

View From a Hotel Window, 8/15/15: Cleveland/Westlake

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 08/15/2015 - 12:27
Parking lot? But of course! (The room is lovely. I do not wish to imply complaint. It’s just that parking lots out my window really do seem to be a recurring theme this tour.) Today! The Barnes & Noble in Westlake, OH at 2pm (i.e., not long from when I am writing this). Hey, they […]

Lessig for President? Let's struggle free of cheating, dogmatism and bought elections.

Contrary Brin - Fri, 08/14/2015 - 16:36
First, I am proud to know Harvard Law professor Larry Lessig, who has been the most successful opponent of big money in politics, gaining a following and some real traction in his campaign to raise public awareness.  Now Lessig  says that if he can crowdsource $1 million by Labor Day, he'll leave Harvard and enter the Democratic primaries. "He'd be a single-issue candidate, campaigning for a legislative package that would undo restrictive voting laws, make Election Day a national holiday, bar the gerrymandering of congressional districts, and finance elections through public matching funds or vouchers for small donors." 

Lessig's running mate would in-effect be the Real Candidate, because Larry intends to resign office the day after signing such a bill into law. A law that would then free up the political process to deal with all our other major issues, on a basis of negotiation on their merits, and not who has purchased the most politicians.  Secretly, many Senators and Congressfolk want this too, as it would eliminate that endless tedium of fundraising that now takes more of their time than legislating.

(Note: I just signed up for one of Larry's crowdfunding donations. I hope some of you will, as well. You only pay if he reaches his million dollar threshold.  Say I sent you!) See his book: Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress -- and a Plan to Stop It.

Yes!  This is exactly the sort of role I envision also for two other admirables who don't really want to serve -- Jerry Brown and Jon Stewart. Dive in guys! And show us what an idea fest the demo-party debates could be, as opposed to the 16 dwarves and Trump on the other side, mostly parroting whatever Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes tell them to... or else making Fox the issue, without shedding any real light.

== Trumpapalooza ==

The staying power of Donald Trump will not last, but it remains transfixing, the way you cannot tear your eyes away from a catastrophe.  This Salon article -- Donald Trump is the last whimper of the angry white man: What's really behind his stubborn lead -- plumbs some fascinating explanations:  "Two facts about all this deserve special notice. The first is that the tenor of Trump’s rhetoric has been directly related to the trend in his poll numbers — the wilder and harsher the former, the higher he has climbed in the latter. The second is the desperate (and largely futile) struggle of our political media to make some sense of the first fact."

Some attribute the pyrotechnic rage of lower-middle-class white males to an inchoate sense that the nation's demographics are removing their sense of entitled paramountcy. Others ascribe it blatantly to Rupert Murdoch's relentless -- Saudi funded -- assault on trust in any and all American institutions or loci of expertise (hence the "War on Science" actually includes all Smartypants Elites, from teachers and civil servants to economists and law professionals).  Or is it exactly and precisely the same syndrome that plantation lords used, to get a million poor whites to fight and die for them in one of the earlier phases of our ongoing civil war?

Can this demographic really forget that their fathers -- the soldiers and workers of the Greatest Generation -- adored one living human above all others -- Franklin Delano Roosevelt? (Whom Rupert's shills portray as Satan Incarnate)? Maybe, at a deep level, they remember this, and perhaps the favorite thing Trump is doing is spurning all the GOP's bribing fat cats (he can afford to) and finally casting doubt on the Cult of Fox?

There you have my advice for Donald Trump. Make Rupert Murdoch a core issue! Divert from the Fox pretty faces. Congratulate Megyn Kelly for her well-earned bonus. But Rupert has no loyal following. He has painted himself into a corner.  He and Roger Ailes are sitting ducks for a hunter who does not need their network or their money.

== How ideology shapes our views ==
“One of the key trends in public opinion over the past few decades has been a growing divide among Republicans and Democrats into ideologically uniform “silos.” A larger share of the American public expresses issue positions that are either consistently liberal or conservative today than did so two decades ago, and there is more alignment between ideological orientation and party leanings.” -- Americans, Politics, and Science Issues, from the Pew Research Center.
When it comes to science, the results are mixed:  “Americans’ political leanings are a strong factor in their views about issues such as climate change and energy policy and whether government should finance research, but much less of a factor when it comes to issues such as food safety, space travel and biomedicine. At the same time, there are factors other than political party and ideology that shape the public’s often-complex views on science matters. For instance there are notable issues on which racial and generational differences are pronounced, separate and apart from politics.”
Again and again, I point out that we are navigating between a political Scylla and polemical Charybdis. And while the current version of (hijacked) American conservatism has gone flat-out loco… there are also some loonies on the other extreme who do less harm, but only quantitatively. Qualitatively – crazy is still crazy.
This invariably leads to mail, decrying that my attempts at “balance” break up what must be a uniform dogma, to oppose the right’s current madness. That breaking ranks hurts the good “side.” How ironic!  Since I do believe there is a level where war is a correct metaphor. And in this phase of the recurring American Civil War, it is imperative that the re-igniting Confederacy not prevail.
And yet, I have seen the wretched effects of left-wing insipidities. If it were only by serving as examples of PC-police bullying, for Beck and Hannity to point at while rallying their troops, that would be plenty.  But that isn’t the worst crime that leftists regularly commit.  The most harmful one is preaching endless gloom and despair.
I urge you all to read this eloquent and heartfelt and passionately intelligent essay - A letter to my dismal allies on the U.S. left - by one of the finest journalists in the world, Rebecca Solnit, who is definitely to the left of me. And yet, who shares my belief that our lefty allies regularly seek the sanctimony high of righteous gloom, and thus help demolish the very pragmatic, incremental reforms that can save and improve the world.  That have done so much to make life better for millions and billions, across the last several generations.  
“O rancid sector of the far left, please stop your grousing! Compared to you, Eeyore sounds like a Teletubby. If I gave you a pony, you would not only be furious that not everyone has a pony, but you would pick on the pony for not being radical enough until it wept big, sad, hot pony tears. Because what we're talking about here is not an analysis, a strategy, or a cosmology, but an attitude, and one that is poisoning us. Not just me, but you, us, and our possibilities.”
She goes on: “An undocumented immigrant writes me: "The Democratic party is not our friend: it is the only party we can negotiate with." Or as a Nevada activist friend put it: "Oh my God, go be sanctimonious in California and don't vote or whatever, but those bitching radicals are basically suppressing the vote in states where it matters."  And:  “People who told me back in 2000 that there was no difference between Bush and Gore never got back to me afterward.”
Do read this essay!  Pass the link around and keep it in your pocket to read aloud to these flakes, in fall of 2016. 
Nevertheless, I have a way to say it all more fiercely and penetratingly, with just five words:  
“It’s the Supreme Court, stupid.”
Our entire civilization teeters around getting those reforms of Larry Lessig passed, and especially getting Citizens United reversed, so that we do not descend into some kind of cyberpunk version of feudalism.  One party wants that to happen.  The other does not. And you prima donnas out there who think there is any justification for “they’re all the same”?  You are stupid-crazy people.
== What would a sincere conservatism try to do? ==
Back when conservatism still contained some cogent-sane elements, Barry Goldwater asked a significant question.  (Paraphrasing.)
“Let’s assume that the liberals see some genuine problems – poverty, tainted food, bad drugs, false advertising, unsafe factories, inadequate access to education and health care – but we on the right disdain paternalistic “solutions” that come via government’s alphabet soup.  Welfare, the FDA, FTC, OSHA, Medicare, and so on.
“Instead of denying problems exist… or vaguely arm-waving faith that blind markets will solve all things… shall we examine HOW markets  actually solve some problems?  And look at ways to enhance that process?”
It struck Barry G like a blow. Insurance. For those who can afford it, insurance creates a betting market that causes people to seriously re-assess their risk factors. Making it marginally less necessary for paternalistic government to do the same thing for you.  

Goldwater looked around and found one area wherein insurance companies were truly doing their jobs, actively working with clients to reduce risk exposure, and thus eliminating much government oversight. Industrial fire prevention. Through a number of very involved institutes, like Underwiters’ Labs… and by requiring meddlesome company inspections… the insurance industry had reduced bureaucratic supervision from Washington. The theory actually worked! 
So why hadn’t the same effect happened in other realms of insurance?  Why didn’t companies demand to see their clients’ refrigerators and medicine cabinets?  Might that cause the FDA to “wither away,” the way OSHA stopped bothering much with industrial fire prevention?  It sounded good, in theory!  Goldwater proposed to fund studies of how the insurance biz might be encouraged to move in this direction…
… and he got no support at all.  Not from democrats, who like their alphabet soup solutions… and none at all from republican colleagues, who got money from insurance executives who like things just as they are, with civil servants doing all the hard, regulatory work. Most surprisingly, Barry got no backing from libertarians!  Why, after all, try to tweak capitalism’s rules so that markets solve problems, when the far more satisfying incantation is to just screech at evil government, 24-7, and never admit that there are bona fide problems that need solving, one way or another.
Goldwater gave up.  And late in life he denounced the hijacking of his beloved conservatism by genuine monsters.
But let’s get back to insurance.  Have a look at this item “Rarely does a document prepared by an insurance group read like an apocalyptic screenplay. But it does happen. In this case, Lloyds, a storied insurance market put out a report outlining the potential global meltdown that could occur if parts of the food supply chain failed.
“So why do insurance companies care? Because they're the ones that are betting against disaster. If something goes wrong, they're the ones that have to pay out claims.”
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

View From a Hotel Window, 8/14/15: Lexington

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 08/14/2015 - 12:01
Another very fine parking lot. Which, you know, is perfectly fine with me, actually. I don’t demand gracious views from my hotels. I want a nice bed, a distinct lack of bedbugs and/or soiled linens, and an Internet connection. Everything else is optional. Also this hotel has the distinct advantage of being a minute’s walk […]

View From a Hotel Window, 8/13/15: Atlanta

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 08/13/2015 - 14:21
Parking lots are beautiful, man. My event tonight is in Athens, GA, but my hotel room is in Atlanta, in part because it’ll be easier to get to the airport in the morning this way. Ah, tour logistics! As noted, my event tonight is in Athens, Georgia, and although it’s being hosted by the fabulous […]

The Big Idea: Stephen Moore

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 08/13/2015 - 09:45
  As a person with some infamous ancestors in his family tree (ever hear of John Wilkes Booth? Yeah, he’s an uncle), Stephen Moore’s Big Idea for Graynelore speaks to me in several ways. Read on to discover why. STEPHEN MOORE: When I talk about a big idea in relation to Graynelore I find myself […]

Transparency and Freedom

Contrary Brin - Wed, 08/12/2015 - 16:22
First a trio of announcements:

1) An expanded version of my essay "Black Lives Matter, So Demand Tech!" was featured in The Global Post and picked up widely by aggregators like Google News.  I suggest that cameras or all kinds -- copcams, dashcams, cellcams and so on -- are bringing real change on our streets, and in citizens' relationship with power.  "Give us more tech!" should be an additional rallying cry. (More on this, below.)

2) WIll you be in or near the Hudson River valley this October? I'll be speaking at a Conference on Privacy at Bard College, October 15-16. It is said that Edward Snowden will be skyping in. (I'll be lingering a while at Bard, and possibly also speaking at West point.)
3) Meanwhile -- August 16 will be Worldwide Wave Back at Surveillance Day. An ad-hoc and as-yet wannabe “event.” But hey, keeping with my ethos in The Transparent Society, let them (the elites who watch) know that we know they are watching. That we are unafraid. It's a step. “Waving” is just the beginning of our determination to look back via “sousveillance.” And if they are nice, innocent little elites? Why then, they have nothing to hide from us!

Wave back at the cameras! Let them know we know what they know... and we intend to know even better.
As usual, Tom Tomorrow is spot on.  If privacy truly is zero-sum, then we are bound for revolution and it won't be pretty.  On the other hand, it can be positive sum.  But it requires that light flow in all directions.

And now... our status report on Transparency and Freedom.
== Will Tyrannies take our Liberty? ==
Eye in the Skynet: How Regimes Can Quell Social Movements Before they Begin: In Foreign Affairs, Gregory Maus describes a series of algorithmic systems that empower states to data-mine the location, statements and activities of citizens.  In the hands of an authoritarian regime… or indeed, if skullduggerously used by giga-corporations… these methods, some of them verging on AI, could lead to cyberpunk futures or even Big Brother.
An important article, well worth reading… though alas, typical of most modern jeremiads, this one is devoid of anything even remotely like a suggestion as to what can be done about it.  On the rare occasion when a pundit – e.g. Bruce Schneier – does make a recommendation, it almost always boils down to “everybody hide!”
It is apparently beyond psychological reach to imagine that the same processes that gave us the wild and woolly freedom of the Internet might be applied yet again, to keep the renaissance going. Those processes were bold, but effective, stymieing tyrants for three decades. All right, so now they think they have sussed ways around to turn our info-meshes into systems of control. Might we then learn from freedom’s past tool kit?
1) The early nineties saw state actions that showed politicians aren’t always the enemy, e.g. Al Gore’s far-seeing bill that unleashed an unregulated Internet upon the world. New laws might make it incumbent upon our trading partners to loosen their grip, or face market disincentives.
2) Providing multiple paths of access. Modems gave way to ISPs, but when those came under state control, it became incumbent upon us to widen the field again. New satellite systems may give people all over the world access points their own governments cannot control.  We need to make this a matter of top concern, right now, and not let that opportunity be squelched.
3) Reciprocal accountability can only be applied through sousveillance, using light.  Cowering and hiding from elites has never worked and cannot work. As shown in The Transparent Society, light can be used even in despotisms, if clever combinations of courage and technology expose corrupt officials, for example.
These are the methods that gave us our renaissance.  So tyrants are adapting?  That is only to be expected, and not an occasion for hand-wringing or chicken-little cries.
An Example: Ian Bremmer, author of the book Superpower: Three Choices for America's Role in the World, said in a recent newsletter: “I’d be remiss not to mention the Chinese government conducting research into implementing a single nationwide identification system that would tie the online/virtual identity of citizens to their physical identity. it's a serious effort, being driven by the ministry of science and technology, the national development and reform commission and the ministry of public security. Chinese media is reporting that the legislature will pass a new national security law, a draft form of which called for "cyberspace sovereignty:
“Ultimately a free and open internet is incompatible with authoritarianism and state capitalism. there’s every sense the Chinese government understands this and wants to build the technology to create an alternative system. problematic for western multinationals hoping to operate in the chinese space? I’d say so.”
== Secretive Stingray Systems ==
Secretive use of “stingray” systems – fake cell phone towers, set up by authorities to tap or track calls made by suspects, and others loosely related to a case – have begun to backfire on law enforcement, “with states beginning to pass laws that require police to obtain a warrant before they can set up a fake cell phone tower for surveillance. Virginia, Minnesota, Utah and Washington Statenow have laws regulating stingray use, with California and Texasconsidering similar measures. Proposed federal legislation to prevent the government from tracking people’s cell phone or GPS location without a warrant could also include stingray technology.”
One document recently revealed that the Baltimore Police Department has used a cell site simulator 4,300 times since 2007 and signed a nondisclosure agreement with the FBI that instructed prosecutors to drop cases rather than reveal the department’s use of the stingray.
The key point here is not the one pushed by law enforcement or by its civil libertarian opponents, both of whom suffer from technological myopia and “tradeoff disease”– a mental ailment that causes sincere people to make statements like “we must sacrifice a little privacy for public safety” or – alternatively – “we must be brave enough to endure some danger in order to preserve freedom.”  

Let us be clear that such people -- even "pundits" with large followings -- are in fact mentally ill. I mean that, with no exaggeration.  They spread the noxious notion of the zero-sum game. That we must choose betweenfreedom and safety for our children.  A choice that I absolutely refuse to make - and neither should you - between two absolutely necessary things that make life worth living. It is a dichotomy and "choice" put forward by simplistic morons.
Proof:No people in all of human history have ever been safer than we are right now… and no people have ever been as free. The two rise and fall together. And if you are not demanding ways to get both, you are more the fool.
The tech-myopia part comes in when federal agents act as if methods like Stingray can be kept secret over an extended period.  My Gosh, what kind of society do they think they are living in?  All they accomplish with blanket and frantic gag orders is to increase the frisson of suspicion aimed toward them by citizens who know that we must be aware of what civil servants are doing, lest freedom vanish.
Temporary and tactical secrecy are useful tools for the Professional Protector Caste (PPC).  But technology and society keep moving forward and gag orders will not prevent it. 
== The Big Corollary ==

Steve Mann called it “Brin’s Corrollary to Moore’s Law”… that cameraswill keep getting smaller, cheaper, faster, better and more mobile faster than Moore’s Law.  And hence, our only option for preventing Big Brother is to use them (to look back at power), not to hide from them. 
Now comes Go-Pro , the sports camera maker, with its smallest unit yet.40% lighter than last year’s best model, easier to use and less expensive. And waterproof. 

And please, all you Jeremiahs preaching safety-by-obscurity? We’re still waiting to see your plan – other than holding out your arms toward a tsunami inevitable light, screaming “stop!”
And finally, getting back to cop-cams...


The official government data on killings by police is so bad that it's all but useless: The last official estimate from the FBI was that 400 people per year are killed by police. The Guardian maintains its own count of people killed by the police in the US -- which has reached 711 so far this year. Again, sure, be activist and march and chant. But the thing making a real difference is tech.  Demand more. 
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)
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