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Pre-Tour Procedural Bits

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 08/25/2014 - 09:05
A bit of housekeeping here for folks. First, as most of you know, tomorrow I will be starting a fairly long book tour, one that ends on September 20 (there are a couple of dates past that, but they don’t require me being out on the road on a more or less constant basis). Here’s […]

Citizen Power - Part I: using our cell cameras for safety and freedom

Contrary Brin - Sun, 08/24/2014 - 17:54
If you push long and hard enough for something that is logical and needed, a time may come when it finally happens! At which point – pretty often – you may have no idea whether your efforts made a difference. Perhaps other, influential people saw the same facts and drew similar, logical conclusions! Here is my own latest example:
“Qualcomm and other wireless companies have been working on a new cellular standard—a set of technical procedures that ensures devices can “talk” to one another—that will keep the lines open if the network fails. The Proximity Services, or so-called LTE Direct, standard will be approved by the end of the year.”
This technology, which would allow our pocket radios to pass along at-minimum basic text messages, on a peer-to-peer basis (P2P), even when the cell system is down, would seem to be the obvious backup mode that we all might rely upon, in emergencies. Indeed, failure of cell service badly exacerbated the tragedies of Hurricane Katrina and Tsunami Fukushima. I have been hectoring folks about this since 1995, when I started writing The Transparent Society, and in annual speeches/consultations with various agencies and companies, back east, ever since.
 Indeed, it was access to communications that enabled New Yorkers to show the incredible citizen resilience that Rebecca Solnit portrays so well in her book A Paradise Made in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster. Communications enabled the brave passengers of flight UA 93 to “win” the War on Terror, the very day that it began.
A few years after brainstorming with some engineers at Qualcomm, I learned that company was charging ahead with LTE direct, installing it in their chip sets, whether or not AT&T and Verizon decided to activate it. In emergencies, phones that use it will be able to connect directly with one another over the same frequency as 4G LTE transmissions. Users will be able to call other users or first responders within about 500 meters. If the target is not nearby, the system can relay a message through multiple phones until it reaches its destination.
When it is fully operational, the benefits will become apparent. A more robust, resilient and agile civilization will be more ready for anything that might come.
== Phones and Protest ==
Last year, largely unheralded by media, saw the most important civil liberties decision in thirty years, when the courts and the Obama Administration separately declared it to be “settled law” that citizens have a right to record their interactions with police, in public places. There will be tussles over the details for years, as discussed here. And here.
Those tussles could be hazardous! The Electronic Frontier Foundation has published a guide to using cell phones if you are going to a protest or other zone of potentially tense interaction with police.
Good, practical advice. I have long urge folks to join EFF as one of their dozen or so "proxy power associations." I do not always agree with them! But that doesn't matter as much as ensuring that they -- and the ACLU, etc -- remain out there and untrammeled.
For more on your right and duty to join orgs that give your voice see: Proxy Power...
== What worries me most? ==
There are moves afoot to require that cell phone manufacturers include "kill switches" so that phones can be remotely turned off. Ostensibly, this aims to enable you to render your stolen phone useless to any thieves, thus securing your private data and eliminating much of the incentive to steal phones, in the first place.  

Behind the scenes, however, are Security Concerns, e.g. that cell phones make excellent remote triggers for terror bombs.  Or that terrorists can use phones to coordinate an attack in real time. In both cases - and some other hypotheticals I am not at liberty to divulge - the State will be better able to serve and protect us, if it can shut down  service in an area....

...and if that does not give you a creepy feeling, there is something wrong with you.  As legitimate as that necessity might seem, it is countered by our own need and right to stay connected, during a crisis, and to use our tools to perform citizen-level accountability!

In fact, it is easy to imagine a negotiated solution... a win-win that could help the Protector Caste without leaving us citizens reduced to impotence, to the level of bleating sheep, bereft of tools exactly when we need them most. I have long pointed out that access to communications was the trait them empowered New Yorkers and the brave volunteers on flight UA93, in contrast to the disastrous consequences of communications breakdown, after Katrina and Fukushima.

 Certainly the cell-phone's camera functions... and the ability to upload images to safety at trusted cloud sites... should be safeguarded from any and all kill switches. (Indeed, these are things you don't mind a thief doing, with your stolen phone!  You might get it back!)

Or else (and I recommend this highly) you should go all retro.  Buy and maintain several cheap, old fashioned digital cameras.  Keep them around.  Just in case.


. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

A Moment Of Recognition

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 08/24/2014 - 12:06
It’s a beautiful, sunny August Sunday, I’m in my kitchen, listening to mellow music, just before heading off to do a bit of shopping for my book tour, at which I will get to see a bunch of friends and fans all over the country. My plans for the evening: Spend it with my wife […]

Some Lock In Reviews for Your Weekend Pleasure

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 08/23/2014 - 15:11
As we go into release week for Lock In, a quick look at some reviews of the book from the last several days, all positive (hooray!): The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:  “[T]here must be magic (defined here as a combination of skill, vision and intuition) behind Scalzi’s talent for turning out one compulsively readable book after […]

Henry Rollins Show His Ass, Gets Told, Owns It

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 08/23/2014 - 12:49
So, in the wake of Robin Williams’ suicide, Henry Rollins wrote a piece in LA Weekly called “Fuck Suicide,” in which he basically engages in a bit of “tough love” victim-blaming. This caused the world to drop on Henry Rollins’ head (here’s a fairly representative sample). Henry Rollins, to his credit, has offered up a reasonably decent apology, and […]

Next Technologies!

Contrary Brin - Fri, 08/22/2014 - 19:00
To conclude my recent spate of science and technology roundups, I'll do one a final sweep of S&T news...

Let's start with a fascinating rumination on future Infrastructure… major projects -- such as Tube Transportation networks and atmospheric water harvesters -- that might consume (and be well-worth) hundreds of billions of dollars of investment, and returning far, far more in benefits. Take a look at this article 2050 and the Future of Infrastructure by futurist Thomas Frey...though he left out half a dozen that I mention in EARTH, alone!  

An article - The Trouble with High-Speed Trains - covers the challenges facing high-velocity maglevs -- as well as Elon Musk's Hyperloop.
Looking ahead: Five “next” technologies. For example: DARPA researchers have fabricated a prototype with three gyroscopes, three accelerometers and a highly accurate master clock on a chip that fits easily on the face of a penny.
Now, a new catalytic system for converting carbon dioxide (CO2) to methanol — a key commodity used to create a wide range of industrial chemicals and fuels. You still need a source of hydrogen, so energy must be put in, upstream, by splitting water… another area of developing research. Along those same lines, researchers at Brown University use copper foam to turn CO2 into useful chemicals -- including chemicals currently made from fossil fuels.

A new transparent sheet can harvest solar energy -- mounted on windows -- without blocking the view.
Researchers at NASA‘s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), California Institute of Technology, and Pennsylvania State University have developed a 3D printing process that transitions from one metal or alloy to another in a single object.

Now here is a cool innovation… literally! A doorless refrigerator that saves energy and reduces food spoilage.

== Ah… more singularity stuff ==

An excellent background article on Programmable Matter, this piece nevertheless commits the typical flaw of ignoring the role that excellent hard science fiction has played in enhancing, exploring and drawing attention to a potentially groundbreaking field.

In this case, I highly recommend the works of my colleague Wil McCarthy, such as Hacking Matter: Levitating Chairs, Quantum Mirages and the Infinite Weightlessness of Programmable Atoms.

Google Glass hack allows brain wave control. An EEG headset can be used to measure when certain parts of the brain show a greater level of activity. Within Google Glass's "screen" - a small window that appears in the corner of the wearer's right eye - a white horizontal line is shown. As a user concentrates, the white line rises up the screen. Once it reaches the top, a picture is taken using Glass's inbuilt camera. So much for the claim that people will always be warned by: "OK Glass, take a picture" - or by seeing the user tapping and swiping on the side of the device. But seriously, you expected that to last? This is the future.

Can we create Dyson spheres?

A tech forecast of mine from 20 years ago is coming true today at MIT… a needle table that responds to the user’s motions and emulates him/her in moving objects around.  We aren’t yet at the exercise floor I portrayed in my short story, “NatuLife.” But clearly it is coming.

Smart roofs to help NYC Cops fight crime, via ShotSpotter sensors. Now keep the cops professional by watching them.

Microsoft Research introduced “Project Adam” AI machine-learning object recognition software at its 2014 Microsoft Research Faculty Summit. The goal of Project Adam is to enable software to visually recognize any object .

A California startup is developing flexible, rechargeable batteries that can be printed cheaply on commonly used industrial screen printers.

== Programming and SciFi ==

Regarding a longstanding complaint over a lack of reliable-easy access to entry-level (and universal) programming languages… from my famous “Why Can't Johnny Code?” essay… the makers of Scratch have now come up with Scratch Jr, aiming it squarely at kids in the 5-7 year old range. Interesting.
And finally… here are Ten Sci Fi Novels that will make you more passionate about science! Glad to be included -- with my novel, The Practice Effect.
Pessimists are fools.. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

New Books and ARCs, 8/22/14

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 08/22/2014 - 17:28
Got a fair amount stack of books and ARCs this week. What looks good to you? Let me know in the comments!

Things To Do Before the Book Tour, for Both You and Me

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 08/22/2014 - 12:13
Things I need to do before I start my book tour next Tuesday (in no particular order): 1. Get a haircut 2. Finalize my reading selections (currently: A deleted chapter from Lock In, a sneak preview of the upcoming sequel to The Human Division, and… see, this is why I have to finalize selections). 3. Finish […]

The August 26 SF/F Line Up

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 08/22/2014 - 08:40
In case you’re wondering what other science fiction and fantasy books are coming out on the same day as Lock In, here’s a fair (but by no means complete) sampling of the day’s releases: Again, this is not a complete listing — there’s also a bunch of paranormal romance and urban fantasy that shares the […]

Two Truths and a Lie With John Scalzi

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 08/21/2014 - 14:48
First, yes, that’s supposed to be me with an old-timey mustache. That’s one hipster moment I’ll never have to have now! Second, over at Google Play, I’m playing Two Truths and a Lie, in which I, on video, tell two stories that are true and one that is a lie, and you have to decide […]

The Big Idea: Kat Richardson

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 08/21/2014 - 09:38
This is the end! Or at least, for Kat Richardson, her new novel Revenant represents the end of a certain part of her writing career. What is it, and how did she know it was time to turn off the light? She’s here to tell you. KAT RICHARDSON: Endings. Ah, now, that’s the tricky bit. […]

Posting For Posterity

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 08/20/2014 - 17:39
A mini rant on politics and assholes that I just put up on Twitter: A quick multi tweet bit is coming. You have ten seconds or so to prepare.— John Scalzi (@scalzi) August 20, 2014 Those who've seen me punt assholes here who happen to be conservative may be shocked to know there are conservatives […]

Asteroids, Super space drives, and Io volcanoes!

Contrary Brin - Wed, 08/20/2014 - 13:50
Here goes one of our occasional space and astronomy roundups!

First some personal science news. I will be speaking about the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) twice, early in 2015. (1) at the conference of the AAPT - the American Association of Physics Teachers, January 4-6, 2015, in San Diego...

... then (2) I'll be the "con" arguer in a debate over "messaging to aliens" at the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) Annual Meeting - the greatest scientific conclave on the planet, from 12-16 February 2015, in San Jose, CA.

And now... cool stuff!

== Are we a target? ==

... or rather... really hot stuff! Did you hear that a solar storm spewed forth a major spray of energetic, charged particles that passed very close to the Earth, a while back? Read up on the 1859 Carrington Event that fried telegraph systems -- if it struck today, our electronics-dependent civilization could suffer real damage. Contemplate that... then consider this. There may have been a truly monumental coronal mass ejection around the year 775 that hit the Earth with a strength that was about 20 times the 1859 Carrington Event.

And yes, the solution is to get out there!  Members of Congress introduced a bill to protect property rights for commercial exploitation of asteroids. The bipartisan legislation, introduced by Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) and Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), is called the American Space Technology for Exploring Resource Opportunities in Deep Space (ASTEROIDS) Act. Alas, during our current civil war, there is no chance of an actual political process in the USA.  But when this phase ends, as it must, the bill will be ready for action by a restored, scientific and forward-looking nation.

Have you heard stories about this supposed reactionless drive, “unveiled” at a NASA conference in Ohio? I've put in a query to Geoff Landis - NASA scientist and renowned SciFi author, who promised to watch developments and give us the straight dope... or poop.   To be clear, there are some places where we already can do a version of this -- turn solar energy directly into motion, without using reaction mass or rocketry -- e.g. by applying electrodynamic tethers to leverage against the Earth's magnetic field...
…but only where there is an electron rich zone like the Van Allen belts to close the circuit loop. Interestingly, electomagnetic tethers work in exactly the realm you must climb through before deploying a solar sail. (See this process illustrated in both my short story “Tank Farm Dyamo” and in the first chapter of EXISTENCE, which I read aloud for you, here.)
Meanwhile. NASA released high-quality footage of their experiment in near-space in June, deploying the agency’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) and experimental parachute systems that will be helpful in maneuvers and landings near planets, like Mars. Way cool footage!
Oh but we really need to get out there! Dig this — “Within a two-week period in August 2013, astronomers observed three massive volcanic eruptions on Jupiter’s moon Io. The grand finale was an eruption they say was one of the brightest volcanic eruptions ever observed in our solar system. These astronomers are speculating that these eruptions on Io – which can send material hundreds of miles above the little moon’s surface – might be much more common than they previously thought."
We should have a satellite observatory in-residence above Jupiter, permanently.
Meanwhile, researchers have found a microbial menagerie that thrives in tiny water worlds floating in oily tar pits ... perhaps a model for life on Titan?
== And yet more from space! ==

Cosmic grains returned by the Stardust mission predate the solar system -- may be our first samples of interstellar dust. This is amazing.  And crowd-sourced amateur science played a role!

Are many asteroids “rubble piles” held together by molecular forces, in addition to very weak gravity?  It seems that is the case for near Earth crosser 1950 DA… and the implications — for resource-mining as well as countering potentially dangerous ones — are very complicated.  It is a good thing we are forging forward to find out.  Alas, the reporter might need to get straight the meanings of “centripetal” vs “centrifugal.”

Under ideal conditions, the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) should be able to detect two kinds of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in the atmospheres of alien worlds, if atmospheric levels were 10 times those on Earth. In other words, if aliens are self-destructive fools, we might catch them during the brief window of time. But only if it is orbiting a very dim star.

 Is the Universe a Bubble? If two pocket “universes” make physical contact, there are several possibilities. M-brane theorists think the collision would release so much energy that the resulting bang would wipe out any galaxy-style realms that existed before. On the other hand, researchers at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, think the interaction could be mild and show up in the maps we are now making of the microwave background. “We start with a multiverse that has two bubbles in it, we collide the bubbles on a computer to figure out what happens, and then we stick a virtual observer in various places and ask what that observer would see from there.”

Want more about the multiverse? See Exploring the Multiverse -- a talk given by astrophysicists Brian Keating (UCSD) and Andrew Friedman (MIT)... and me....  We covered the ELEVEN different ways (that we have thought-of, so far) that this cosmos we observe may be just one of many! The event took place at the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination at UCSD on July 29. 

Here's a photo from our panel discussion: Brian Keating on the left, Andrew Friedman in the middle, me on the right:

== Space is also for dreams ==

Finally... do you miss the "final frontier"? The notion of a hopeful future of unbounded possibilities? Do you like well done sci fi and drama and neat effects... in a terrific Kickstarter-level production? Have a look at the 20 minute "Prelude to Axanar" at:  All of it aimed at a high quality, semi-pro indie Star Trek film.

You have to hand it to Paramount Pictures.  They figured out that you don't have to be jerks about policing a copyrighted franchise. Start Trek has always had a close and friendly relationship with its fans and Paramount has kept a very loose and tolerant attitude toward "unofficial" productions, many of which have been well-written and entertaining... and which ultimately kept Paramount's valued core healthy.  A true win-win.

But Axanar looks likely to be something special. This is Star Trek at its best. The danger and tension and action... mixed with joy and optimism that you get nowhere else, these days. This is worth your support.. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

My Social Media Center of Gravity

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 08/20/2014 - 13:47
I’ve discovering, particularly in this last year, that the center of gravity of my online presence has shifted away from Whatever entirely and has moved more than a bit toward Twitter. The graph above offers some evidence of that — in the last 28 days, the things I’ve said or retweeted on Twitter have gotten eight […]

The Big Idea: Mary Weber

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 08/20/2014 - 08:18
Authors go into their books with what they intend to put on the page. But there are also the things that they put in there that take them by surprise — and sometimes those things add a new level to the work. Mary Weber talks about one of these things in Storm Siren — and […]

Two Things I Would Like to Tell You About Today, Relating to Me

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 08/19/2014 - 16:20
Here they are! 1. Next Tuesday, which is the release date of Lock In and also the start of my book tour (I’ll be in Houston that night), I’ll also be doing a Twitter chat with the folks at Apple’s iBook store. You’ll be able to ask questions (indeed, we’ll even be taking some questions […]

Neal Stephenson and Cory speaking at Seattle’s Town Hall, Oct 26

Craphound (Cory Doctorow) - Tue, 08/19/2014 - 10:09

We're getting together to talk about Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future , a project that Stephenson kicked off -- I've got a story in it called "The Man Who Sold the Moon."

The project's mission is to promote "Asimovian robots, Heinleinian rocket ships, Gibsonian cyberspace… plausible, thought-out pictures of alternate realities in which... compelling innovation has taken place." Tickets are $5.

Neal Stephenson and Cory Doctorow: Reigniting Society’s Ambition with Science Fiction

“Lock In” by William Beckett: The Theme Song to the Novel

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 08/19/2014 - 08:40
It’s been my thing over the last few novel releases to commission a song from musicians I admire to accompany the book release. For Lock In, I asked William Beckett if he’d be willing to do the honors, and I was absolutely delighted when he said yes — I’ve been a huge fan of William’s, both for […]

Get a Sneak Preview of the Lock In Audiobook by Amber Benson and Wil Wheaton

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 08/18/2014 - 12:09
Where? At! The audio clips are taken from the first chapter — Amber’s first, then Wil’s (they’re reading sequential bits, not the same bit). I’ve listened to them. I am sooooo happy with these audio versions, I can’t even tell you. Except, uh, I just did, I guess. Anyway. Also, remember that for the […]

Midnight Star Article On GamesIndustry.Biz

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 08/18/2014 - 11:32
In which the game and the graphic novel are discussed. Both are coming. Soon. Also, I just wanted to show off that particular piece of art above, because it has a clever dialogue ballon by me. Me!
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