Skip navigation.
Write - Share - Read - Respond

News aggregator

One For the Fan Club, Because It’s Been a While

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 11/10/2014 - 18:57
And yes, Ghlaghghlee is sticking her tongue out at you. She’s saucy that way.

How to Get Signed and Personalized Scalzi Books for the Holidays, 2014

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 11/10/2014 - 11:20
Once again the holiday season is approaching, and once again I am teaming up with Jay & Mary’s Book Center, my local independent bookseller, to offer signed and personalized books for gift-giving. It’s a great way to get a unique gift for someone you love (even yourself!) while at the same time supporting a great […]

Comets galore! And much more...

Contrary Brin - Sun, 11/09/2014 - 14:50
"Ridiculously difficult" -- describes the challenge of landing a probe on the surface of the comet, as summarized in this simulation: How to Land on a Comet

On November 12, the European Space Agency's Rosetta Spacecraft will drop the Philae Lander onto Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko -- in the first ever soft landing of a craft on a comet. The landing site, named Agilkia, is located on the head of the comet. Philae will drill into the surface to analyze the comet's composition. Meanwhile, Rosetta will continue to monitor changes on the comet through 2015.

The event will be covered live on the Science Channel. Am I excited?* 

== Space News ==

No roundup about space would be complete without first mentioning the tragic and disastrous crash of the Virgin Galactic Spaceship Two... whose problem we hope will soon be solved and resolved, so that Richard Branson and Burt Rutan will achieve their aim -- offering the uber-rich thrills that in-turn subsidize the development of space. (As portrayed in a recent novel.) 

... and the explosion of the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket. Such coincidences in timing aren't uncommon.  Hey, space is hard! Still, the sci fi nut inside asks: are we under attack by UFOs? (Yeah, silvery guys... I'm lookin' at you.) 

Seriously, our sympathy to both teams, with best wishes for recovery and future success.And we move on to ...

Is suspended animation possible? Can we 3D print whole structures on the moon? How about swimming the ocean of Europa?

Our leader at NASA NIAC - Jay Falker - explains the mission, to explore highly speculative ideas with small, seed grants. Watch this short video about NASA’s Innovative and Advanced Concepts group. I am proud to be on the council of external advisers. 

YOU should be proud to be a member of a civilization that does stuff like this.

Indeed, cheer up by reading a fascinating article about the British Skylon Program, which promises air-breathing engine technology that could make genuine space planes possible.  We appear to be entering the "barnstorming era" of space at last, when private risk-taking becomes possible and opens up many worlds of possibility. As the earlier (cheaper and easier) barnstorming era opened flight in the 1920s.
== More space! == Art often interfaces with science, but not quite like this. As reported by Adam Rogers (my former ArchiTECHS co-star) in WIRED -- The Warped Astrophysics of Interstellar -- it seems that the special effects team for Christopher Nolan’s upcoming (and much-awaited) film Interstellar consulted with another friend of mine — Caltech’s brilliant Kip Thorne, who supplied equations that Nolan’s team crunched and crunched… in order to show us what (according to Thorne) a Black Hole “will actually look like.”This isn’t the first time that art rendered a best-image for science!*But this is just plain terrific. If you are like me, you are bouncing against walls with eagerness to see Interstellar! Both as fans... and for what just the right piece of art may do to shatter the stunning cowardice toward new ideas that dominates today’s studio-Hollywood.== More Comet News == 

Last month Comet Siding Spring grazed right past Mars, endangering our many satellite probes there... clever maneuvers enabled all of them to survive.  More exciting, the comet, which passed within about 87,000 miles of Mars on October 19. NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), and the ESA's Mars Express spacecraft all detected a change in the level of ions in Mars's ionosphere. Comet induced meteor showers may be responsible.  Stay tuned for more cool science from this once-in many lifetimes event.
Eau de comet? The Rosetta Probe sniffs Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko -- and detects odors resembling "rotten eggs and horse pee" -- also known as hydrogen sulfide, ammonia and formaldehyde.And comets beyond comets! Thousands of them observed flickering in and out near the new solar system of Beta Pictoris.Bizarre Pyramid on Comet 67P? "It looks almost as if loose dust covering the surface of the comet has settled in the boulder's cracks. But, of course, it is much too early to be sure," comments researcher Holger Sierks."Yes, well, comet dust layers were predicted 30 years ago, in fact. *==Space Updates==NASA awarded contracts to Boeing and Elon Musk's SpaceX to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station, ending U.S. dependence on the Russian Soyuz for transportation of humans. It's about time! It also makes clear the advantages of competition, which Elon's company has restored.The Sentinel program - developing satellites that can warn in advance of medium/small asteroids on collision course - reveals in vivid detail what the U.S. Defense Department had heretofore (for unfathomable reasons) deemed secret — that from 2000 to 2013 there were twenty-six “nuke-level” incidents, when meteors of asteroidal scale exploded in the atmosphere, delivering from one to six-hundred kilotons of energy. A “city killer” strikes Earth once per century, though the greatest danger is if one of these events ever took place in a touchy region, possibly sending itchy trigger fingers racing for buttons.Watch the video visualization … then consider participating.Want another worry? Earth's magnetic north pole has been speeding up in its movement and this year passed its closest to true north. Interesting... and sci fi worrisome.How cool is this? “Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have located at least one and possibly three Kuiper Belt objects that NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft can reach after its flyby Pluto next year.”Meanwhile, I am helping my friend Jon Lomberg (creator of Hawaii's famous "Galaxy Garden" and co-creator of Carl Sagan's Voyager Record) in his effort to get a similar trove of human wisdom and art stored aboard the New Horizons probe after it finishes doing science, screaming past Pluto next year. 

Sign the petition for the New Horizons Message Initiative -- to send a crowd-sourced message to the spacecraft's memory.== And yet more inspiring science! ==Scientific American asks“Conspiracy theorists may wonder, why does NASA’s next major telescope director need top secret clearance?” Interesting indeed. “The Webb telescope is being planned as a successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, and will peer at some of the farthest reaches of space and time. The $8.8-billion observatory is due to launch in 2018.” Past Space Telescope directors did not need clearance. But in fact, I believe that this event has little to do with the Webb Telescope. 

Remember that NASA just took delivery of two Hubble class Keyhole space telescopes, no longer needed by the National Reconnaissance Office or NRO. I guess they want to be sure that, in converting those scopes for scientific work, sensitive tech does not leak . On the other hand, what if the Webb is being used as a civilian cover operation for next generation spook craft, just as the Hubble had been? Maybe an even bigger reason.Gamma Ray Bursters as cullers of life? These bursters may wipe out those systems that orbit near Galactic Center. “Only at the outskirts of the Milky Way, at more than 10 kpc from the  center, this probability drops below 50%. When considering the Universe as a whole, the safest environments for life (similar to the one on Earth) are the lowest density regions in the outskirts of large galaxies and life can exist in only ~ 10% of galaxies." Interesting hypothesis. On the role of GRBs on life extinction in the Universe, by Tsvi Piran, Raul Jimenez.Tiny diamond nano threads could someday support a space elevator?  See my earlier ruminations about how a space elevator beanstalk on the far side of the moon might (across 100 million years) save our planet!Ten horrifying technologies that should never exist, by George Dvorsky, citing weaponized nanotechnology, brain hacking devices, weaponized pathogens...and more terrors.Will “torpor” let us put astronauts into suspension (as in 2001: A Space Odyssey), saving resources for deep space missions? As I mentioned earlier, this work is funded by us at NIAC... actually, one of the less plausible grants, in the next decade or two.  But good press!Heh cute visualization to put things in perspective; How close is our closest neighbor, our moon "It’s tempting to think it’s much closer to Earth than it really is. The Moon has an average distance from Earth of 384,399 kilometers (or 238,854 miles if you prefer)....It turns out it’s far enough to fit every other planet in the solar system with room to spare, " notes astronomer Christian Ready. Here's one rule of thumb.  The distance from Earth to moon is ten times Earth's circumference.  So wind a measuring tape ten times round the equator.  That should do it.   In fact... now that I put it that way, I am starting to suspect....

But never mind. Onward and let's foster a bold, ambitious, responsible but brave civilization! ====

*PS... am I excited about all this comet news?  Excuse the pump heck-yeah. But Way back then, for a while, I was a top comet-ologists. My doctoral dissertation created the present model of dust layers on an icy-rocky core. See it portrayed in Heart of the Comet.  So heck yeah indeed!  I am plenty jazzed.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

Taking the Weekend Off

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 11/08/2014 - 12:17
You kids have fun without me! See you on Monday.

This Year I’m Part of the JoCoCruise Experience

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 11/07/2014 - 19:18
It’s been announced on Twitter so now it can be told here: I’ll be a featured guest on this year’s JoCo Cruise, which means I’ll officially be part of the entertainment along with these fine folks. Specifically: John Scalzi will be coordinating a series of writing workshops, panels and Q&As onboard JCCC5. Details are still being finalized, and will be […]

New Books and ARCs, 11/7/14

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 11/07/2014 - 16:29
This week’s new books and ARCs, what have arrived at the Scalzi Compound. See anything that trips your trigger? Let me know in the comments.

A Quick Reminder About Sending Me Things

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 11/06/2014 - 18:31
If you want to send me something (usually books/magazines, but other things, too), you don’t have to send me an e-mail asking me. Just send them. Here’s how.

Let's Lift the Earth!

Contrary Brin - Thu, 11/06/2014 - 16:43
Think of our poor sister world Venus – almost the same size as Earth, it probably had oceans at the beginning. But Venus orbits closer to the sun -- and was never in the Continuously Habitable Goldilocks Zone, or CHZ.  Instead our poor sister world quickly spiraled into a greenhouse effect that erased its oceans and drove all the water away, leaving a desert planet, coated with dense clouds of sulfuric acid and carbon dioxide.

That kind of death spiral is what will happen to our Earth – either if we fill the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, or if we just wait one or two hundred million years,as the inner edge of our sun’s CHZ moves past where our planet orbits. 

Bummer! Anyone who saw Woody Allen’s movie Radio Days knows that we were promised five billion more years of having a habitable planet! But Woody lied to us.  Sure, it’s five billion till the sun, a G-type star, leaves the main sequence, expands prodigiously and eats the earth. But a long time before that , the sun’s gradual increase in temperature is going to make our planet uninhabitable, perhaps as soon as one hundred million years from now – about the same timescale it took for mammals to evolve into us, after that asteroid killed the dinosaurs. 

Life on Earth might have only one more chance if we blow it.
This world skates the very inner edge of the so-called Goldilocks zone  or CHZ. This is why only a little bit of carbon dioxide generated by human industry is causing problems. Because we need an atmosphere that’s almost completely transparent in order to lose heat fast enough. It’s a bit hard to explain here (some other time), but we believe every watery world exists in what’s called a Gaia Balance in which natural feedback loops adjust the amount of greenhouse gas, so that the seas stay liquid. This close to the CHZ’s inner edge, that balance must have very, very low greenhouse levels. 

If Earth had been where Mars is – or if Mars had been larger – we would have a sister world out there with oceans, and a very dense CO2 atmosphere – reached by its Gaia balance. 

But we have no such wiggle room. We skate the very inner edge, recall. And that inner edge is creeping outward slowly. Don’t confuse this with human-generated climate change! This is much slower – but it’s too fast for comfort! In a hundred million years, deserts will spread and the oceans will start going away. We’ve got to get out of here!

Already there is discussion about what to do about this problem. Some say let's go to other places!  Becoming a spacefaring people, who occupy other worlds and habitats and fill the solar system with vibrant life. Europa, Mars, the asteroid colonies – but also, interstellar. As Elon Musk recommends, let's put our eggs in many baskets. That's certainly the best overall approach.  

Still, like me, you'd probably hanker to do something to help the old planet that's been so kind (and patient) with us. I have some emotional attachment to this place. I’d like it to survive longer. So, can’t we do something for our home?

So, let’s lift the Earth! 

Raise it up – the whole planet! Let's pull our Mother out of harms way.

(Note: If you'd rather watch -- than read -- tune in to Let's Lift the Earth on Youtube. This article has more details.)== Asteroid Fly-by ==
One method, if we were to get out into the solar system – would be to steer asteroids.  The Planetary Resources company and a couple of competitors are already eying the many trillions of dollars of resources that we might get ahold of, out there.  Once those capabilities are achieved, we'll be able to herd them where we like!
Suppose our vastly wise and mighty descendants were to use this capability to nudge something much bigger? Picture millions of asteroids, targeted to swing right past the Earth in near misses, transferring some of their forward momentum to the planet with each pass, and gradually pumping-up its orbit. Increasing its width and distance from the sun  -- staving off the heat by just enough.
My assessment of this proposal? I think it’s one of the stupidest ideas ever imagined! Sure, it might work, if you were to fly such near misses 10 million times, throwing away valuable asteroids that might have a myriad other uses. And in those ten million near brushes, what god-like level of competence would you require, in order to know for sure that none of those rocks would veer a little bit and strike the planet? We're talking about a process taking millions of years. Suppose societies and civilizations shift at some point and asteroids that have already been sent Earthward get forgotten or neglected.

No, this seems a really bad idea.

== A Gravitational Tug? == 
Another possibility is called the Gravitational Tug. There is already a clear concept how we might use this method to move asteroids that are heading toward the Earth, and shift them out of the way. Take a heavy spacecraft. Hover it near the asteroid and pump away with ion engines, just enough so that the asteroid’s gravity is not escaped. In that case the asteroid follows the spacecraft. And hence the idea -- we could set up an asteroid at the L1 or L2 or L5  Lagrangian points of Earth’s orbit and tug the earth away.
A simpler version of the same idea would be to use the Moon as a tug, by using mass-driver accelerators on its surface to fire lumps of matter away at the right angle and velocity to both propel the Moon a bit outward (dragging the Earth along) and send the projectiles into the Sun (no sense cluttering the Solar System! 
Sound plausible?  Well… maybe it’s time to take a closer look at what It takes to move a planet.== You’ll need time, a long lever… and lots of power ==

Let's look at those power requirements, very roughly. Assume that you want to enlarge or widen Earth’s orbit by about one tenth of an astronomical unit or  0.1 AU outward per hundred million (1E8) years. 
The planet’s mass is 6E24 kg or six trillion trillion kilograms.  It's orbit velocity around the sun is 29.5 km/s.  Keeping the orbit circular requires lifting both perihelion and aphelion 0.1AU outward. That will require adding more velocity… a “deltaV” of about 1.4 km/s. 
The work done is 2.4E32, or about a billion trillion trillion Joules.
Hold on to that number, which is simply and purely “astronomical!” Clearly, it ain’t happening by flinging asteroids by the Earth, or tugging with an ion drive on a nearby asteroid.  You can trade force for time.  But you are going to need a lot of both.
Let’s start with time. It’s going to take millions of years to lift something as heavy as the Earth with little nudges. Generations. Eons. The lifespan of whole civilizations. Perhaps the lifespan of species! 

Moreover your method is going to have to survive rises and falls of these cultures. Periods when a society decides againstinvesting in such projects, opting for short-term thinking.  “We don’t have the money right now, we’re passing through a depression.” Or perhaps civilization falls, and they have to recover, rediscover and read the old records and re-realize the imperative that they owe their planet. Whatever method you come up with is going to have to survive disruptions, pauses, even changes of species.
== Electodynamic Tethers ==Let’s pause and do an aside about Electrodynamic Tethers. I talk about them in my novel Existence, and in a short story, Tank Farm Dynamo. As the world expert on tethers, Joe Carroll has indicated, if you allow a conducting cable to settle into gravity as its orbiting around the earth, it will stable along a radius from the center of the earth. This is called Gravity Gradient Stabilization

Let’s say the tether is made of a conductive material. This orbit is cutting through Earth’s magnetic field. So an EMF or electromotive force, or voltage, becomes induced – just like the armature of a generator – along the length of the tether. If you were to spew electrons off one end of the cathode, you would then be able to suck energy out of the orbit. The tether would slowly go down, but you’d get all the power you need for your space station. I talk about this in Tank Farm Dynamo.But now let’s say you have lots of power (with a fusion planet or lots of solar cells) and decide to push electrons against the EMF, so that they spew out the other end. (And assume the circuit can reconnect via an ionosphere.) Now you no longer have the armature of a dynamo – but that of a motor! You’re cranking against Earth’s magnetic field, and the electrodynamic tether rises.

(These experiments have been done. Joe Carroll’s TetherApplications has performed them in partnership with the U.S. Air Force. We’re about to use this method to send spacecraft navigating around Low Earth Orbit without expending any rocket fuel – just energy.)== Up with Space Elevators ==You can see that this is a relative of the space elevator. The space elevator is a tether that is anchored to the earth at the equator and has a counterweight beyond geosynchronous orbit – with a big space station at geosynchronous orbit. The new carbon fibers may make space elevators a reality. Kim Stanley Robinson envisioned them around Mars in his novel, Red Mars

Let’s combine these concepts. Imagine a space elevator that is electrically conducting – cutting through the earth’s magnetic field. This will tug on the earth – and maybe pull it upward. Alas, there’s a problem. The Earth is rotating so fast, with a 24 hour day, it would be very difficult to time the pumps in just the right way so that the effect is not on earth’s rotation but on its orbit.

In fact, remember, you have to add momentum to Earth’s orbit, so that it rises – so that it gets farther from the sun. But an Earth beanstalk will be leveraging against the Earth’s own magnetic field. Like trying to lift yourself by your own bootstraps.

Another thing. You cannot count on generation after generation maintaining a space elevator on the earth. And if it falls, it’s going to do some damage. == The lucky combo: tether-elevators… and the moon! ==

But, what if you put a space elevator on the other side of the moon? If it falls, not a lot of damage. If it breaks, the elevator just floats away into space. It would take commerce in, receiving resources from the asteroids. It would be sending out refined, developed materials, part of a lunar industry. People would be counting on this space elevator, without thinking about what it going on in the background.

Now let’s think this through.  If the cable were also electrically conducting, you now have an electrodynamic tether hanging outward from the moon at 60 Earth radii from our planet. That means it is now cutting through the sun’s magnetic field,not the Earth's (except when it passes through the "geo-tail" for part of one day each month). You canpush and pull against that and move the Earth relative to the sun. Moreover, it takes a month for the Moon to orbit Earth, so it’s much easier to time the pumping of the electrons. A rhythmic pumping that is continuously tugging on the moon.  Outward near full moon, when it is farthest from the sun and inward when the moon is between Earth and the star.

(Orbital dynamics note. The timing of our pumping is different than if you had wanted to take the Moon away from the Earth.)

As it tugs on the moon, the Moon tries to rise, but Earth resists – and Earth follows!
== Practical requirements ==
Okay that’s the theory. What do the numbers say? First off, we immediately run into a scale problem The Earth’s magnetic field is very strong -- 25,000 nanotesla in LEO, near the equator.  But we’ve already seen we cannot use that to move the Earth, only satellites near it. In contrast, the sun’smagnetic field at Earth's radius from sun (1 a.u.) is only ~1 nanotesla.
This is partly compensated for by the fact that Earth's velocity around the sun is four times higher than a satellite orbiting Earth in LEO.  Put it all together and you induce along the beanstalk’s length an EMF of  ~200V/km.  If our baseline tether, suspended outward from the far side of the moon, is say 50,000 kilometers long… a hefty engineering feat, but no obstacle to future folk… and if we also assume use of superconductors, then it should be possible to induce many kV -- and the associated force.
Another important factor: the EM tether trick requires having a cloud of electrons nearby that can complete the circuit.  In effect, to make this work, our descendants may need to generate sufficient electron densities near the Moon to provide it with an ionosphere. A challenge, as would be ohmic losses and the inefficiency of pumping during the whole orbit, rather than just at those peak, inner and outer sites.
All right, let’s assume a probably optimistic average efficiency of ~25%.  This gives an intentionally round number of order 1E33 joules, to be supplied in 1E8 (a hundred million) years.  That requires 3.2E17 watts average power during that time. Now let’s triple that, because there will likely be many times when the tether-elevator isn’t properly used, is ignored, or does not exist – till the next long-seeing generation or species comes along.  Call the requirement ten to the eighteen watts.  Or a billion gigawatts.
The current energy use of Earth civilization is about 20 terawatts or 20,000 gigawatts. So… it would seem that our Earth lifting system would need to apply only 50,000 times the total generating capacity of all artificial energy systems currently used by humankind.
Only 50,000 times our current energy use? A pittance!
Well, we can hope it would seem so, to those brainy and wise and powerful descendants of ours. When you put it in terms of the so-called “Kardashev scale,” it’s not too big a figure to ponder.
Putting it in perspective:  If we have 40% efficient multi-junction solar cells tracking the sun, with a solar intensity that remains roughly constant as we spiral out, we need 5.8E14 m2 of solar cells.  That is 1.1X the total surface area of the Earth. Daunting?  Maybe for us. But filmy, light and wide energy collecting systems ought to be pretty common in the solar system, even within just a century from now.
Picture a huge parasol that dangles from the far end of the moon-elevator’s counterweight. It could be that large, collecting maximum energy at the two points when it is most needed, when it is both farthest and closest to the sun… with a small problem of eclipses that may require some finessing.  This counter-weight suspension should be inherently stable, solving a problem that’s inherent in all other “geoengineering parasol” concepts, which must be maintained carefully and with dynamic adjustments.
== Comparison with parasol shades ==
Let’s take a look at a project that is of similar scale, easier (by far) for a primitive civilization like ours to implement, but with other disadvantages.  For our purposes, it will set things in perspective.
That major example would be a Shade Parasol, established a bit sunward of the L1 Lagrangian point, ~1.5E9 m sunward of Earth, with the purpose of countering global warming by slightly reducing the amount of sunlight hitting the planet.  Calculations by Oldson and Carroll suggest that such a parasol might cool the planet by the same amount as increasing the planet’s orbit by 10%, just by removing 17% or so of the sunlight.  This requires a parasol a bit more than half the Earth’s diameter or about 7000 kilometers.   

(* For this and other parasol, sunshade concepts see: )

This advantages of somewhat smaller surface area, and not requiring a lunar beanstalk to work with, are countered by the fact that any shading system must be maintained, almost constantly. And the moment you lose the parasol, heating resumes, as before, but with many transients caused by any sudden change. These effects might be especially devastating if the parasol failed because of a civilization setback that prevented quick repairs. 

 In contrast, Earth-lifting (via a lunar beanstalk) can survive any such setbacks, which will not reset the planet back to an older orbit. All previous gains are retained. The cooling effects of each increment of orbital change are permanent.
This is how you raise the planet, without endangering the Earth with asteroid flybys. You pump it with an electrically conductive space elevator on the far side of the moon. The great advantage? Civilizations can rise and fall. Budgets can be cut. The tether can be cut; it just floats away. You replace it. Over the course of millions of years, all you need is for phases of the rich civilizations to do this – maybe half the time – and move the planet. As the sun’s heat moves the continuously habitable zone, or Goldilocks zone, further outward.

Of course, some combination of these methods might serve the purposes of our descendants and the skills required for one would help the other. Parasol shades might buy a civilization time to get on with the other, more ambitious and long-lasting solution.
== A side note: on geoengineering == 

The question is, could this solve our problems now, with global climate change? There’s a branch of science called geoengineering. Too many people are opposed to even thinking about it. There’s nothing wrong with doing preliminary experiments. Of course our number one job is to prevent things that we are doing that are harming the earth. Indeed, most of the actions required to prevent Global Climate Change are TWODA – Things We Ought To Do Anyway. Actions that would help us to become more energy-efficient, and save money, while alleviating the rise in earth’s greenhouse gases. We should be able to talk about options to find win-win engineering projects that could help us save the planet. Stirring bottom muck in the oceans could raise so much plankton that we stimulate new fish nurseries, like what happens off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, or in Chile. That might suck carbon out of the atmosphere. 

But… let's get back to thinking long term.

== Get on with it! ==
This is how you raise the planet, without endangering the earth with idiotic asteroid flybys. You pump it outward with an electrically conductive space elevator on the far side of the moon.
Again, the great advantage? Civilizations can rise and fall. Budgets can be cut. The tether can be cut; it just floats away. You replace it. Over the course of millions of years, all you need is for phases of rich civilizations to do this – maybe half the time – as the sun’s heat continuously our habitable or Goldilocks zone, further outward.  And move the planet.
Is it a little too ambitious? Maybe -- for now. But it’s not too soon to be thinking – even if just in science fictional terms – about the ambitions that our rich and fantastically capable descendants might undertake to save this planet that’s been very good to us.
Lift the Earth!

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

More Leaves

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 11/06/2014 - 10:45
From a couple of days ago, actually. Most of these are already gone. Hello, November.

Post-Election Notes, 2014

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 11/05/2014 - 10:29
And they are: 1. Well, that was disappointing, if not entirely unexpected. The smart money was for the Republicans taking the Senate, which is what they did; in 2015 they will have 54 seats, which is a comfortable majority, but not anywhere close to a veto-proof majority. So: Welcome the the Obama Veto Era, in […]

UK launch of In Real Life at Orbital Comics, London, Nov 12

Craphound (Cory Doctorow) - Wed, 11/05/2014 - 02:41

I've just come back to the UK from my US tour for In Real Life, the New York Times bestselling graphic novel Jen Wang and I made; I'll be launching it in London at the incomparable Orbital Comics, near Leicester Square, on the evening of Weds, 12 Nov.

The event is free, and I'll be giving a short talk on science fiction and its relationship to the future, the present, politics and society called "Predicting the present: Science Fiction as a lens for focusing on today."

I hope you'll come -- and even if you can't make it, you can get a special copy of the now-sold-out first printing of In Real Life from Orbital with a custom, numbered bookplate signed by both Jen and me.

Orbital Comics London | Predicting the present: Science Fiction as a lens for focusing on today – A talk by Cory Doctorow

US Folks: Remember to Vote

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 11/04/2014 - 09:21
And yes, I did. As usual for me, I did not vote a straight ticket; I voted for Democrats for some positions, Republicans in others, and even for the Green party (albeit largely as a protest vote) for another. Party, platform and person all were duly considered prior to vote. As it should be. Let me […]

A World of Ruperts - back to the future

Contrary Brin - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 14:44
Just in time for the year that Robert Zemeckis — in BACK TO THE FUTURE - said we would have hoverboards… suddenly, it looks like a crude version of Marty MacFly’s little floating plank may be on the way!Indeed, I was interviewed about hoverboards just a month ago, on the great new show XPLORATION STATION!== The World of Ruperts ==Rupert Sheldrake is back, this time roiling waters on a TedX talk that TED then (controversially) banned. You can see the smooth-talking savanarola here: The Science Delusion - Banned TED Talk.Now please understand I am not bemoaning RS standing on a stage proclaiming "there's tentative evidence that there may be more to our universe than meets the eye." In fact, I have been known to use similar concepts in my novels! Some of my characters in the Uplift Books have basic psi powers, for example, enhanced by future tech.On the other hand, I have to be deeply loyal to the date who brought me to this party -- a party that gave me - and most of you - the first freedom from fear, want, oppression and grinding ignorance in the history of this (and possibly any) species. I deeply resent bombasts who milk and stir NOT skeptical inquiry but reflexive suspicion and hostility toward a "scientific establishment"... which, to the small extent that any such "establishment" even exists, is past-all-doubt and by orders of magnitude the wisest collection of genuine sages our world has ever seen.The ultimate irony? Were we forced to choose topmost elites to rule us, the 1930s technocrats were right and scientists would be by far best. (See the 1930s film Things To Come.) But scientists would refuse! They are the ones who understand the need for reciprocal accountability and the dangers of hypnotic delusion that corrupt the minds of anyone who is not subjected to relentless scrutiny and lateral criticism... the sort of lateral accountability that oligarchs suppressed in 99% of past cultures and that would-be lords like the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch and his Saudi partners seek to impose, today.Is Sheldrake applying lateral criticism? Or just more hypnotic delusions? Any scientifically trained person who watches him or reads his screeds can tell.If he were to say, "here are TEN EXPERIMENTS that I now challenge the world to perform. I do not proclaim any conspiracies to evade them. Moreover, I will modify them if scientific critics suggest ways for them to be better targeted and less vague or tendentious, and above-all well-falsifiable. Moreover, if these experiments are null-result, then verified, I will back off in that category and admit that science is not blind to alternative possibilities."He won't do that. He is part of the pan spectrum attempt to undermine science. And that I won't abide.   See my essay about psi that ran in SKEPTIC: Parapsychology and the Need to Believe.== The Weather – or more from Ruperts (this one a Murdoch) ==Here's another major IQ test for cable news watchers to utterly fail. Can warming of the Arctic cause major cold waves to devastate Eurasia (and sometimes North America)? The answer is way-yes. 

Warming has caused the sea ice pack in the Arctic to decline so steeply that the Russians are opening twelve new ports -- and military bases -- which the US and Canadian navies take very seriously. (There are no denialist-cultists in the senior officer corps.) But what about those frigid winters?It's called... science.   See this article: "When they ran the computer models under low sea ice scenarios and compared them to simulations using high sea ice cover, they found that low sea ice, which closely matches recent conditions, made the occurrence of an unusually cold winter over Eurasia twice as likely to occur." Because the weakened jet stream is more liable to twist and dip the Arctic's winter-chilled air further south.But the Koch machine will talk millions into muttering "if winter is cold, there can't be this global warming scam!"== Speaking of Ruperts ==An  important article about one of the great cop-outs of all time. "When politicians say - “I’m not a scientist,” it is an exasperating evasion. It’s a cowardly way to avoid answering basic and important policy questions. This response raises lots of other important questions about their decision-making processes. Do they have opinions on how to best maintain our nation’s highways, bridges, and tunnels—or do they not because they’re not civil engineers? Do they refuse to talk about agriculture policy on the grounds that they’re not farmers? How do they think we should be addressing the threat of ISIS? They wouldn’t know, of course; they’re not military generals," writes David Shiffman on Slate.To be clear, no one is asking them to stop taking advice from generals regarding war or engineers regarding infrastructure. (In fact, both are dissed and ignored almost as much as scientists are.) Rather, it is the mockery and abuse of science, followed by this cop-out whenever the dolts on the US House Science, Technology and Space Committee are cornered with specific questions.These are cowardly loonies, who continue in office only because of cable news moguls. Thanks Rupert. But this will not wind up going well for you.

== What Hath Rupert Wrought? ==

You have seen me inveigh about gerrymandering, a blatant cheat that some blue state citizenries have toppled... but that is an art form never challenged in red states.  How any honest decent person can look at this practice, knowing "this is how my side stays in power" and not feel shame... is proof that honesty and decency are on the wane, in many places.

I've offered some unique suggestions for how you can fight back against this crime!  Every democrat in a gerried Republican district (and vice versa!) should re-register in the party OF that district!  At minimum it will screw their calculations and models.  It will also give you a vote in the primary, the only election that matters anymore.  See it laid down here. And this time use the method, before 2016!  Get others to hold their noses and use it, too.

(Did you hear me, Austin Texas?  I'm talking to you.)

But a friend -- "Talin" -- wrote in with an even better suggestion.  'Pass a bill that all legislators get 1000 sq. ft. of office space... that must be shaped like their district." Indeed, I would apply that to living quarters, as well.

And yes, while gerrymandering was invented long ago... it was perfected by  the cabal that is controlled by Rupert. And by his partners and co-Fox-owners in Riyadh.

And now... back to ... the future!== At the edge of Human == Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human by David Roden argues that the debate over human enhancement “projects a human face onto an empty screen.” This includes both optimists and pessimists like Francis Fukayama (author of “Our Posthuman Future.”) Says Roden — we actually do not know what will happen and, not being posthuman, cannot anticipate how posthumans will assess the world.As reviewed by Kurzweil News, Roden's book posits “speculative posthumanism” as distinguished from both "Critical Posthumanism” – a philosophical look at humanity in relation to  epistemology, ethics and politics; and  "Transhumanism" – which looks to enhancing the technical advancement of humans and their capacities. Roden's book discusses how post humanism can fully integrate with the future transformations of technology.== Re-evaluating our origins ==This is amazing! Recent genetic appraisal of native inhabitants of Easter Island - or Rapa Nui -suggests that their Polynesian ancestors interbred with South American tribes between 1300 and 1500 CE, just before the Spanish conquest. If verified, it would resurrect the theories of Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian explorer and author of Kon-Tiki, a book that enthralled my generation, back in the 1960s, proposing that Easter Island had been settled by raft-voyagers setting out from the region of Peru.Heyerdahl "proved" his case by constructing a raft in the fashion of pre-Incan Peruvians and arriving successfully at Rapa Nui. Only subsequent scholars determined for a fact that Rapa Nuians were descended (mostly) from Polynesians and had thoroughly Polynesian culture. Whereupon Heyerdahl -- whose feat set off the "recreation of ancient arts" trend that is so cool in our culture -- fell into obscurity. Now though? How cool to explore, recreate… and eventually be proven (partly) right.Of course there was some implicit racism in Heyerdahl's thesis… and it seems more likely that the far-voyaging Polynesians were the ones doing the traveling. Still... This article continues on to reveal some even bigger mysteries!== Science Snippets ==Elon Musk worries that Sci Fi scenarios about Artificial Intelligence could really happen.Scientists experiment with robotic bacteria. Earth's magnetic field could flip within a human lifetime!Kewl! A basket-star!3D gun makes - and shoots(!) paper planes. Okay, now I am just proud to be human.A eukaryote cell's mitochondria were once energy parasites?Fascinating look at medicine: The NNT index measures how many people need to take a drug for one person to benefit.  This one could be important to you!And finally... Australian researchers are attempting to use the highly sensitive antennae sensors of the common fruit fly (drosophila melanogasterto detect illegal drugs and explosives.If this works, you’ll have a chemical sniffer on your phone, in some years.== Today's stealth message ==

Don't just stand there. Vote. Get others out too.

 For the Enlightenment Experiment.

A future is at stake.  Let's get back to it.

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


Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 11/03/2014 - 11:27
From last night. #teamcreamypeanutbutter — Athena Scalzi (@AScalzi98) November 3, 2014 #teamnopulp — Athena Scalzi (@AScalzi98) November 3, 2014 @AScalzi98 #teamgotobed — John Scalzi (@scalzi) November 3, 2014 @scalzi #teamimtoobusywiththeinternettogotosleep — Athena Scalzi (@AScalzi98) November 3, 2014 @AScalzi98 #teamicouldalwaysdisablethewifi — John Scalzi (@scalzi) November 3, 2014 @scalzi #teamihaveaniphonewithLTE — Athena Scalzi (@AScalzi98) November 3, 2014 […]

Sunset, November 2, 2014

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 11/02/2014 - 18:29
First post-daylight savings time. And at 5:30ish. Pretty. But booooooo.

Autumn Leaves

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 11/02/2014 - 10:09
Because they’re pretty, that’s why. Hope you’re having a lovely Sunday.

London, Tue night: Biella Coleman and I talk about “Hackers and Hoaxers: Inside Anonymous”

Craphound (Cory Doctorow) - Sun, 11/02/2014 - 05:53

Anthropologist Gabriella Coleman (author of the brilliant Coding Freedom) spent years embedded with Anonymous and has written an indispensable account of the Anonymous phenomenon.

I'm going to join Biella for a live appearance at Foyles Books in central London on Tuesday night at 7PM, in an event moderated by James Bridle. Tickets are £5 , and there are still some left.

There is no better way to understand Anonymous than through an anthropological lens, because the most significant thing about them is not the politics and not the hacking, but the way they are (and are not) organized in their campaigns of "ultracoordinated motherfuckery." Coleman's book is a perfect mix of scholarly and narrative, with all the excitement of traitors and dawn police raids combined with a sensitive and nuanced understanding of the Anonymous phenomenon.

Hackers and Hoaxers: Inside Anonymous

What November Looks Like From Here

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 11/01/2014 - 17:07
So far, so good. We’ll see how goes from here.

Demonization and the deliberate destruction of U.S. politics

Contrary Brin - Sat, 11/01/2014 - 12:09
Let's start with Survival of the Richest: How the recovery left the middle class behind: All right, this is Mother Jones. Still, any conservative American who actually has the guts to look at these graphics will come away realizing that we truly are at 1933 again. And that we must do something about the skyrocketing wealth disparities that threatened every past generation of the American Experiment. And that Supply Side Voodoo Economics assurances have by now proved 100% lies.Past generations found reasonable, compromise solutions and negotiated pragmatically to both keep a vibrant flat-open-fair-competitive capitalism and maintain social mobility.Indeed, it is to prevent such negotiations that today’s oligarchs have financed the destruction of politics in the U.S. (e.g. the “Hastert Rule” that no republican may ever negotiate with democrats, over anything, ever. It is an explicit and openly stated rule within the party and the chief reason that Newt Gingrich was fired as a leader of the party, for negotiating with Bill Clinton both the Budget Act and Welfare Reform.)It is for that reason the right spares no effort to call Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) the same thing as Satan Incarnate… even though our parents in the Greatest Generation adored him more than any other human.Fact, is, FDR effectively SAVED capitalism and the wealthy, in America. The aristo fools who demonize him and seek to restore feudalism seem too stupid to realize the alternative to a middle class America — such as FDR built — is not feudalism… but tumbrels. They should be the ones seeking a new Roosevelt.== Can science overcome demonization? ==I oft point out the top feature of the re-ignited U.S. Civil War - that normal politics of deliberation/negotiation is dead in America, killed by reciprocal demonization that’s funded by — well — traitors.But science offers hope! Yes, we tend to think the “other side” is motivated principally by hatred. See my earlier posting: Who Benefits from the Politics of Outrage?“But according to a new study being released by PNAS, it's possible to get people to think more positively about their opponents. All it takes is a small cash payment to get people to step back and think. And with a more positive understanding of the opposition, people become willing to think that compromise is possible.”Be afraid Rupert! All it will take is $12 per US citizen to get them back into a mood for negotiating with their neighbors! Now, get me the ear of Warren Buffett…== Selling Cynicism ==In sharp contrast to that positive news… now dive into this paean to cynicism in the Boston Globe by Jordan Michael Smith, “Vote all you want. The secret government won’t change.” While surficially satisfying, the essay in fact is flat out dopey food-for-lazy-cynics, pushing the pablum sneer that voting does not matter, because Obama is just the same as Bush.Alas, all Mr. Smith proves is that there are lefty-fools, as well as righty ones. Want just one devastating example?In 2013 the Obama Administration supported what the Bushites opposed, the most important civil liberties action in 30 years. A declaration backing court decisions that citizens have an absolute right to record their interactions with police. Had Republicans been in the White House, the cases might have been appealed to the Supreme Court and possibly reversed.And this is likely to be extensible to other authorities. This precedent empowers citizens to make the inevitable top-down glare at least somewhat two-way. No Republican supported this move, which arms us with a core entitlement to use fast-improving technology to balance power, at least somewhat. At least in principle it does! At the level where it matters most -- on the streeets. It will be up to us to keep extending it, indefinitely. Mr. Smith’s whines about NSA spying are the sign of a dismally unimaginative reflex. Nothing will stop surveillance. Drive it out of the NSA and it will dive somewhere else, even harder to supervise, like a game of whack-a-mole. But it can be rendered harmless with sufficient sousveillance!That is where the fight should be radical, militant and fierce. But we are undermined by fools who sit and cynically glower that "there's no difference." (That is, if Mr. Smith is not already in the pay of Rupert Murdoch.)No difference? Here's another huge, huge area of dem-gop divergence that would matter, if our punditocracy were 1/10th as smart as they think they are: The diametrically opposite doctrines under which liberals and conservatives wage war.We are seeing this difference play out, yet again, before our very eyes.But the final dismissal of such monstrous cynical sneers is simple enough to repeat to yourself, over and over again: "It's the Supreme Court, stupid. It's the Supreme Court, stupid. It's the Supreme Court, stupid. It's the Supreme Court, stupid. It's the Supreme Court, stupid. It's the Supreme Court, stupid. It's the Supreme Court, stupid. It's the Supreme Court, stupid. It's the Supreme Court, stupid. It's the Supreme Court, stupid. It's the Supreme Court, stupid. It's the Supreme Court, stupid. It's the Supreme Court, stupid. It's the Supreme Court, stupid. And... oh yes. It's the Supreme Court, stupid."== You would actually re-hire these guys? ==  Name one unambiguous statistical metric of US national economic, social, scientific, fiscal or middle class health that improved across the span of any recent GOP tenure in power.   (In any way that can be reasonably attributed to their governance.) You cannot name more than a couple that did not plummet.  Let's state that clearly. Outcomes from both Bush administrations were almost universally disastrous.  And those include conservative metrics such as near total destruction of US military readiness.One measure of the delusion dominating America's gone-around-the-bend right wing is the matter of military readiness. At the end of the Clinton Administration, 100% of major US military units were rated fully combat ready. By the time GW Bush left office, not a single major army or marine unit was so rated... half have now regained that status. See: How Republicans and Democrats Wage War.Do outcomes matter at all to you?  Or only Fox-assertions and anecdotes and incantations to feel good.Fact, more than half of those statistical metrics improved markedly under Clinton and Obama.  Nothing I said here has anything at all to do with left or right.  It is simple outcomes appraisal.Adults do it.  Fox-watchers do not. 

In fact, such a perfect record of doing damage to America almost beggars explanation. (And make no mistake, the "brain trusts" of both Romney and McCain were filled almost entirely by Bush appointees.)  

Elsewhere I’ve offered 20% odds… or 1:4… that the almost perfect tally of unalloyedly harmful outcomes from both Bush presidencies might… just might … have been deliberate:  "Indeed, it does parsimoniously fit all Bush Administration outcomes, far better than the standard theories: dogmatism, venality and stupidity. But the truly curious thing is that absolutely no one will discuss a lesser-odds option -- the “manchurian” one -- even just to have it on a corner of the table.

Well, well. I stand corrected. The “Manchurian scenario actually has been broached in a few places. Once by Robert Buzzanco, Professor of History, University of Houston. But even more bitingly by the brilliant cartoonist Tom Tomorrow. Come on.  Do what you can, before the mid-terms. And vote.  . . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

A Quick Note on NaNoWriMo

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 11/01/2014 - 11:41
Today is November 1st, which means the beginning of National Novel Writing Month, in which newer writers are encouraged to write a novel in the space of the month. To my mind the challenge is not to write a good novel, or even a salable novel, but just a novel — a story of sufficient […]
Syndicate content