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How I Spent My Afternoon

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 04/06/2018 - 21:25
Spoiler: I’m fine. For the last few days I’ve been having a bit of a low grade pain in my chest that wasn’t really going away. I mentioned it to Krissy last night, who informed me I’d be calling to schedule a doctor’s appointment this morning, and this morning, when I indeed called to schedule […]

The Big Idea: Leo Carew

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 04/06/2018 - 09:47
For his debut novel The Wolf, author Leo Carew considers what it might take to be more human than human — not superhuman, but differently human. And what does it take? Read on, humans! LEO CAREW: Our current age is unusual, in that we are the only species of human on earth. For most of […]

I Can Neither Confirm Nor Deny That I Am A Timeless Goofy Immortal

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 04/05/2018 - 18:16
So @laurenalexg and I both did a double take last night, thinking we saw a photo @scalzi hanging in a restaurant. This is some serious Altered Carbon shit. pic.twitter.com/hSIMwLwuFi — Peter V. Brett (@PVBrett) April 5, 2018 No comment. NO COMMENT I SAID.

The Big Idea: John Schwartz

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 04/05/2018 - 14:46
  Anyone who knows me knows that I spend I lot of time urging people — particularly writers — to get their financial houses in order. John Schwartz is a writer — a reporter in fact — and the way he got motivated to get his financial ducks in a row was to give himself […]

The Summer Kills: “Collide”

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 04/03/2018 - 17:33
My brain is a bit scrambled today, so in lieu of subjecting you to unintelligible babble, here, have this pretty nifty song by the new band The Summer Kills, which features my pal Matthew Ryan on vocals. It’s called “Collide,” and if you like Achtung Baby/Zooropa-era U2, this will be your new jam: If you […]

Transformations and light

Contrary Brin - Tue, 04/03/2018 - 17:30
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Have you missed your regular dose of ornery-brinnian contrariness? We've just returned from more than two weeks on the road… first in Finnish Lapland, north of the Arctic Circle, guiding an aurora expedition. Woof. Setting up telescopes in the night-wind can be, well, ‘bracing.’ (It helped to have a comfy glass "igloo" to return to, each night, plus some excellent winter gear.) Traveling by dog sled was an experience! 

In Red SquareThen on to St. Petersburg and Moscow for the Russian national science fiction convention. We learned a lot and made new friends, though our Moscow phase was too frenzied-busy with speeches and interviews to really feel we've seen the place. We made lively and fascinating new friends... saw the trailer for a terrific new SF film based on Sergei Lukyanenko’s novel “Chernovik” … and encountered the worst traffic I've seen. Folks were forgiving of - and far too easily impressed by - my fumbling efforts at their beautifully evocative language.

More on all of that, soon.

And yes, certain topics came up in conversation, bringing to mind the book I read on the plane  -- Vladimir Sorokin's Day of the Oprichnik (2006) -- which chillingly foretold a return of fierce Czarist-Orthodox autarchy, tech-amplified to a degree only dreamed of, in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

To be clear, the Russians I met - those expressing an opinion - seem to feel a bit less constrained and micromanaged than in Soviet times, and measurably more prosperous, but still highly cautious. While the State is somewhat less overbearing than before, skyrocketing inequality and the return of inherited social class throw shadows on the future. (Shadows now girdling the globe, making Sorokin seem prophetic.) For all of its countless, brutal hypocrisies, communism was idealistic, inviting citizens to squint toward some kind of aspirational goal . We saw the best of this at Moscow's fabulous Cosmonauts' Museum and soaring Monument to the Conquerors of Space (pictured). 

Even if based on magically-unrealistic models of human nature, that era at least envisioned a lofty future for all. Even if betrayed by a hypocritical nomenklatura, at least the touted aim was to end 60 centuries of overlordship by men who whose sole justification for absolute power derived solely from being someone's son and heir. There is a way to achieve that. It's just not the path prescribed by the sci-fi writer -- Karl Marx.

Which brings us back to our recurring theme. Accountability. And why it can only happen where light flows. Only where it flows in all directions.

== Rivers of light ==

Street lamps are fast-becoming the central nervous system of either our new, smart cities or else an Orwellian nightmare.  Read about the experiment in San Diego’s East Village neighborhood, whose streetlights were looking—and listening—all around them, while also monitoring temperature, humidity, and other characteristics of the air. By sometime in May, about 3,200 of the sensing lights, will each monitor an oval area of roughly 36 by 54 meters (120 to 180 feet). They could easily be hooked into the city’s existing ShotSpotter network, which automatically locates the source of gunfire, increasing ShotSpotter coverage from just 10 square kilometers.
Along with the sensing streetlights, San Diego will be replacing an additional 14,000 of the city’s more than 40,000 streetlights with energy-efficient LED lamps that can communicate with one another and operators and allow brightness adjustments to save energy.”  And none of this should surprise anyone who read The Transparent Society … or even EARTH.
Those who fear that this could help lead to Big Brother have reason for their worries! Elites will be tempted to make all of this surveillance information go in one direction – either for nefarious reasons or else, initially, “for our own good.” Some champions of civil liberties think we can prevent harmful disparities of power by hiding from these elites. 

Alas… that… is… stupid. Because every year, the cameras get smaller, faster, cheaper, better more mobile and vastly more numerous, faster than Moore’s Law. There is no scenario - of any kind - under which hiding or shadows will even conceivably help the little guy or average citizen.
The answer is for us all to share in these information tsunamis. Sousveillance. It won’t prevent being looked at. That tidal wave is coming. But looking back at power could teach us all to surf.
== Visionaries ==
Here's an extraordinary work of intellectual honesty. Astrophysicist Brian Keating explores the fascinating history and mixed effects of the Nobel Prize, especially on the field of physics. For a few years, Keating felt these effects, as people chattered about his own possible candidacy, before the chances and mischances of science changed course. That experience informs Losing the Nobel Prize: A Story of Cosmology, Ambition and the Perils of Science's Highest Honor. An amazing journey.  Pre-order for April publication.
Oh, I'll be interviewing Brian on stage on April 25 at UCSD's Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, where the sciences and arts come together to explore humanity's most unique gift.  (Get on the mailing list for cool events.)

Meanwhile...

Increased demand from “coin miners” (e.g. BitCoin) has ramped up the prices for Nvidia and AMD processors called GPUs. Nvidia asked retailers to try and "put gamers first when they are conducting retail GPU sales. Even worse, as reported by the BBC, radio astronomers and scientists observing our galaxy are struggling to expand their work due to a lack of these key components.
“Berkeley-based Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), for example, wishes to expand their research at two observatories, but without the latest GPUs to process data and support the use of software applications, the scientists' options going forward are limited. "We'd like to use the latest GPUs [...] and we can't get 'em," Dr. Dan Werthimer. (My friend & colleague.)
Huh! So-o-o-o… Bitcoin etc is an alien plot to keep us in the dark?
Peter Diamandis - who founded the XPrize Foundation and who has famously become wealthy while partnering or stimulating dozens of new businesses and projects that spread abundance to all - says: “Having the right mindset is essential in preparing yourself for these new opportunities. And something I call a “Massively Transformative Purpose,” or MTP. I’ve put together free training to teach you exactly what an MTP is, how you can discover your own, and how this knowledge affects everything else you will do for the rest of your life. Watch the video.” 

Essentially, he’s offering tips how to evade the gloom trap spread by all media and all political factions, and activate your prefrontal lobes to see opportunities. “If you can anticipate what’s coming, you have a tremendous advantage in life.”
. . ...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)

Consuming Fire UK Cover Reveal + Head On Gender Thoughts

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 04/02/2018 - 12:10
First, hey, look: Here’s the UK cover to The Consuming Fire! Ooooh, pretty. Bella Pagan, my Tor UK editor, writes about it here, and specifically does a shoutout to cover designer Lisa Brewster for her work. Which pleases me: Always give credit where credit is due, I say. Also today, a piece I wrote on […]

What The Hell, April Fool’s Snow Storm: A Photo Essay

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 04/02/2018 - 09:59
It’s not like we needed more snow at the moment, it being April and all, harumph, harumph, but at least it’s pretty.

Thoughts On This Year’s Hugo Finalist Ballot

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 03/31/2018 - 19:03
In no particular order: 1. First, and obviously, I’m delighted that The Collapsing Empire has been nominated. I like that book a lot, and it has some of my favorite characters ever in it, so to see it on the Hugo ballot this year is real validation for me. To be honest I had no […]

2018 Hugo Award Finalists (Plus Campbell and YA Award Finalists)

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 03/31/2018 - 15:38
Here’s the ballot. I’m happy to say The Collapsing Empire is among them. Congratulations to all the finalists. It’s a heck of a good year. I’ll have more thoughts on Empire’s nomination in an upcoming post. 2018 Hugo Awards Finalists Best Novel The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi (Tor) New York 2140, by Kim Stanley […]

New Books and ARCs, 3/30/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 03/30/2018 - 14:11
On this Good Friday, here are some good books and ARCs for you to admire. What here would you like on your own shelves? Share in the comments!

In Which Amber Benson and Wil Wheaton Talk About Narrating Head On + Audio Excerpt Mashup

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 03/29/2018 - 12:45
Over on the Verge today, there’s a piece up about the audio version of Head On, which like its predecessor Lock In will have two narrators: Wil Wheaton and Amber Benson. Wil and Amber talk about narrating a book whose main character’s gender is unknown to them (because it’s also unknown to me, the author […]

Reminder: Signed/Personalized Copies of Head On Still Available Through Subterranean Press

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 03/28/2018 - 16:09
But you need to hurry as I am traveling up there in a week to do the signing/personalizing. And also, frankly, there are a limited number and that number is shrinking, so if you want one (or two! or five!) then you should really place an order very soon. Here’s the link to pre-order. Get […]

To The People Who Are Concerned That I’m Blogging a Bit Less Recently

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 03/28/2018 - 13:04
I have a book due soon, that’s why. Expect it to continue to be spottier in terms of frequency until I’m done. Otherwise, don’t panic, everything else is fine, and in fact, pretty darn good. Thanks.

Sunset, 3/25/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 03/25/2018 - 20:13
A reminder we do live in a beautiful world, although sometimes we need to look up to remember.

About That March

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 03/25/2018 - 13:14
A few thoughts on the March For Our Lives, in no particular order: 1. I personally didn’t expect it to be as large as it turned out to be, with 800,000 protesters in Washington DC and hundreds of thousand more (at least) across the country. There were even several hundred marchers in Dayton, the largest […]

New Books and ARCs, 3/23/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 03/23/2018 - 15:02
This week’s stack of new books and ARCs has some very choice titles in it, I have to say. What here is speaking to you? Tell us all in the comments!

Questioning assumptions, left and right

Contrary Brin - Wed, 03/21/2018 - 10:07
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We lead off with a pair of recent books, one striving desperately to undermine our confidence, and the other trying just as hard to snap us out of our funk.

Though as an appetizer… here’s probably the most cogent observation about our current political climate.  And this.
 == Decline of the Western Experiment ==
Much touted in conservative media is a new book by Notre Dame Professor Patrick Deneen - “Why Liberalism Failed” that starts with the cleverly implied assumption that it has failed. In supplying “why” incantations, Deneen joins a genre of gloom that includes Allan Bloom’s (1980s) “The Closing of the American Mind” and David Gelernter’s imitative article “The Closing of the Scientific Mind,” stretching all the way back to Oswald Spengler’s “Decline of the West” and even “Das Kapital.”  
To be clear, I’ll avow that liberalism has many flaws in its specifics and execution. Our civilization — vastly more successful than any combination of others, across all of time — suffers from mistakes, inconsistencies, contradictions and obstinacies that we’re behooved to re-examine, on a regular basis. Indeed, that ability and habit of openness to reciprocal criticism — (discussed extensively in “The Transparent Society”) — is a core hallmark of most branches of liberalism. It’s a trait that enemies pounce upon, calling it weakness.
Take the descriptive paragraph issued by Deneen’s publisher, presumably the author’s chosen pitch to all readers:
Of the three dominant ideologies of the twentieth century—fascism, communism, and liberalism—only the last remains. This has created a peculiar situation in which liberalism’s proponents tend to forget that it is an ideology and not the natural end-state of human political evolution. As Patrick Deneen argues in this provocative book, liberalism is built on a foundation of contradictions: it trumpets equal rights while fostering incomparable material inequality; its legitimacy rests on consent, yet it discourages civic commitments in favor of privatism; and in its pursuit of individual autonomy, it has given rise to the most far-reaching, comprehensive state system in human history. Here, Deneen offers an astringent warning that the centripetal forces now at work on our political culture are not superficial flaws but inherent features of a system whose success is generating its own failure.”
Sentence by sentence, alas, this diatribe is (let’s be plain) utter bullshit in every single detail. Professor Deneen deliberately excludes the fourth and by-far largest creature in our political bestiary —  the elephant in the room — feudalism. In its various forms, aristocratic hierarchism dominated almost all societies for 6000 years.
Inheritance lordship by owner-caste oligarchy is arguably the most natural form of governance, having dominated nearly all societies that had agriculture. It never went away, and indeed is roaring back. Its omission from Deneen’s list of “dominant ideologies of the twentieth century” is glaring, that is, unless he implicitly folded it into “fascism.” Either way, the first sentence of this summarizing paragraph is an outright, knowing and spectacular lie.
== Two kinds of liberalism ==
But pray continue with Prof. Deneen’s summary: “liberalism’s proponents tend to forget that it is an ideology and not the natural end-state of human political evolution.”
While some shallow people presume this, very few serious thinkers do. Most know that liberalism is an exception to historical patterns, that always had the decks stacked against it. Indeed, Liberalism has two major branches, that agree on overall policy, but not the reasons.
First is a large minority who know about liberalism’s founder - Adam Smith – who taught about both harnessing and liberating the most creative force in the universe: flat-fair-open competition.
Lords, kings and priests always crushed fair competition. Cheating by the mighty always led to feudal cancer that killed competitive vigor, far more thoroughly and often than socialism ever did. Even the doyen of conservative economics, Friedrich Hayek, proclaimed that markets, democracy and our other arenas do best when there’s maximum participation.  Smith’s teachings, to keep the playing field flat and fair, form the deep root of “liberal” politics and economics.
All liberals push for rights, tolerance, diversity, science and compassionate uplift of the poor. But the Smithian branch does so for practical reasons. Maximizing the number of empowered and knowing participants almost always maximizes competition’s pragmatic benefits.
== The touchy-feely branch of liberalism ==
A much larger population wants those same policies — rights, tolerance, diversity, compassion, science etc. — for somewhat different reasons. They view these things as absolute moral virtues needing no practical justification. Ironically, that weakens their case! Since anyone else can answer: “my absolute virtues differ! And dismissing them makes you intolerant!”
Those in this passionate second category are more numerous, as you’d expect in any movement, and sure, their simplistic dedication to generosity and individualism might be dismissed as just another religion.  Certainly forces of feudalism/fascism - like Professor Deneen - try desperately to argue this point.
Feeding them ammo are performances like the weepy “response to the State of the Union” given recently by Rep. Joe Kennedy. It perfectly played into the right-wing narrative that liberals are impractical moralists, and not creators of the most successful, pragmatic, and dynamic problem-solving civilization of all time.
But the first category of liberals cannot be so easily dismissed.  Rights and compassionate uplift and science have had pragmatic effects, profound and even spectacular, leading to a society that out-performed all others - *combined* - by every conceivable metric of success, like exponentiating knowledge and wealth and health and freedom and happiness. There are also under-appreciated outcomes. Only liberal society created a vast and unhindered literature of error-prevention and opportunity-targeting called science fiction. And only this society managed to maximize opportunity-reification to such a degree that we may soon - very plausibly - become an interstellar species.
Liberal virtues achieved this in part by opening the flow of criticism and reciprocal accountability that comes from free speech by educated and calmly competitive masses. It also reduced the waste of human talent by orders of magnitude, by eliminating so many stupidly unjustifiable prejudices.
Reiterating: Liberals such as Adam Smith and Friedrich Hayek (yes “liberals” in the classic sense of opposing market cheating) emphasized that entrepreneurial competition and market wisdom cannot occur until the number of skilled, competent participants is maximized, something that feudal regimes try desperately to prevent! Maximizing the diversity and number of skilled, competent participants cannot happen without rights and compassionate uplift and science.
== The insidious message ==
Let’s get back to the Deneen book writeup:
Of the three dominant ideologies of the twentieth century—fascism, communism, and liberalism—only the last remains. This has created a peculiar situation in which liberalism’s proponents tend to forget that it is an ideology and not the natural end-state of human political evolution. As Patrick Deneen argues in this provocative book, liberalism is built on a foundation of contradictions: it trumpets equal rights while fostering incomparable material inequality; its legitimacy rests on consent, yet it discourages civic commitments in favor of privatism; and in its pursuit of individual autonomy, it has given rise to the most far-reaching, comprehensive state system in human history. Here, Deneen offers an astringent warning that the centripetal forces now at work on our political culture are not superficial flaws but inherent features of a system whose success is generating its own failure.”
Every sentence fizzes with dizzying silliness, as Deneen denounces liberalism because: “it trumpets equal rights while fostering incomparable material inequality; its legitimacy rests on consent, yet it discourages civic commitments in favor of privatism…” 
Malarkey! Never before have the descendants of peasants, slaves and serfs been more participatory on civic life. Moreover, every single feudal society was more unequal than ours, in terms that matter most, the ability to raise comfortable, healthy and educated children who might plausibly compete with even the children of elites. (Witness today’s tech billionaires.) Almost never was this allowed in earlier aristocracies. And it will not be allowed again, if feudalists are allowed to control things, again.
Moreover, it was liberal policies enacted by the Greatest Generation - whose most-adored figure was FDR - that reduced inequality to its lowest levels! And it was GOP politicians - tools of resurgent feudalism - who dismantled most of those reforms, leading - directly and causally - to skyrocketing inequality.
This is very old stuff. Many of the same “contradictions of liberalism” were hollered by the Marxists for 150 years and by Oswald Spengler - then the Nazis - a century ago. And yet, this unusual experiment perseveres, dazzling future historians, who will call this an age above all others.
After all that, is the author wrong to say liberalism faces danger of failure?
His reasons and reasonings may be calamitously stupid. But, in fact, the decks have always been stacked against this bold and rare departure from the feudalist attractor state. As happened to the brief Periclean and Florentine experiments, many powerful forces are trying desperately to crush our renaissance. To stave off and prevent an onrushing Star Trek future, that could lock in liberal civilization — the way that Francis Fukayama thought it was already locked in, when he wrote about “The End Of History.”
The feudalist attractor state of brutally enforced inheritance-lordship by owner castes is very strong, deeply-embedded and driven by male reproductive urges. It overwhelmed 99+% of our ancestors, smashing all hope and any chance of advancement. It has tried to do the same to us, across the last 240 years. They are verging on success right now. And Professor Deneen is what he appears to be. Their shill and lackey propagandist.
== In contrast. We are truly a diverse species. ==
I’ve long touted the works of Harvard Professor Steven Pinker, whose book “The Better Angels of Our Nature” make clear that the modern era is one of unprecedented peace. All of Pinker’s careful statistics notwithstanding, you have only to know that a majority of our ancestors who ever lived near a city must have watched it burn, at least once in their lives. It’s no longer true for the vast majority.
Here, Bill Gates reviews Pinker’s latest tome “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress,” a vigorous defense of our stunningly successful civilization, against the gloom merchants seeking to wreck citizen confidence.
Enlightenment Now takes the approach he uses in Better Angels to track violence throughout history and applies it to 15 different measures of progress (like quality of life, knowledge, and safety). The result is a holistic picture of how and why the world is getting better. It’s like Better Angels on steroids.”
Now, Pinker has drawn bilious ire not only from the mad-right, but also from a large component of today’s left. Their reasoning – a stunning example of insane illogic – is that any acknowledgement of actual progress will undermine the urgency we must feel, in order to attack all the problems before us. Of course this plays into the hands of rightists, who can then proclaim: “See? Liberalism never worked, and liberal activists are the first to admit it!”
Nonsense. Countless past “liberal” endeavors were fantastically successful, from reducing war to lowering the arms spending of most nations to unprecedented low fractions of their national income and wealth. (What? You never heard that one?) From saving the ozone layer to increasing the populations of every species of whale. From ending the pandemic of southern lynchings to supplying every ghetto youth with a cell phone camera. From black and woman presidential nominees and #MeToo exposure of sexual predators to rising IQ scores wherever children got better nutrition. And none of that led to complacency! In fact, bragging is great salesmanship! It leads to a can-do spirit.
Gates continues: “People all over the world are living longer, healthier, and happier lives, so why do so many think things are getting worse? Why do we gloss over positive news stories and fixate on the negative ones? He does a good job explaining why we’re drawn to pessimism and how that instinct influences our approach to the world, although I wish he went more in depth about the psychology (especially since he’s a psychologist by training).”
He adds: “I agree with Pinker on most areas, but I think he’s a bit too optimistic about artificial intelligence. He’s quick to dismiss the idea of robots overthrowing their human creators. While I don’t think we’re in danger of a Terminator-style scenario, the question underlying that fear—who exactly controls the robots?—is a valid one. We’re not there yet, but at some point, who has AI and who controls it will be an important issue for global institutions to address.”
(Want my own take on a possible AI Apocalypse?  I've been speaking and writing about Artificial Intelligence a lot.  Here’s video of my talk on the future of A.I. to a packed house at IBM's World of Watson Congress - offering big perspectives on both artificial and human augmentation.)          
Still, Gates adds: “ Enlightenment Now is not only the best book Pinker’s ever written. It’s my new favorite book of all time.”
---
Books along similar lines:
Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think” by Peter Diamandis.“Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future,” an optimistic science fiction anthology edited by Ed Finn and Kathryn Cramer.
Try optimism and confidence on, for size. If you want to change the world, it helps to note that some of your predecessors thought they could. And they did.      
. . ...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)

Okay, But, Seriously, Spring, What the Actual Hell

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 03/21/2018 - 08:35
Our backyard here on the second day of spring. To be clear, as late as 12 hours ago it was entirely snow free. Now look at this. It’s probably the most snow we’ve had fall in a single day the entire year to date. Get it together, spring! You’re better than this! So, you piled […]

Hey, I Feel Like Giving Away This ARC of Head On, If You Want It Let Me Know

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 03/20/2018 - 16:19
Yes, you could win this specific ARC of Head On! And I will sign and personalize it for you! (Cat not included) All you have to do to enter is leave a comment, and leave an actual email address where you receive mail in the part of the comment form where it says “Email” (the […]
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