Sunday, August 31, 2008

Housewarming party as soon as my house comes out of the printer

This is too cool. If Caterpillar gets its way, we will soon be able to print out an entire house.

It will probably be one of those loss-leader operations. The house-printer only costs 150 bucks. But it's half a million for the cartridge.

This is what a police state looks like

I had promised when I started this blog that I was not going to devote it to my politics. But I can't ignore this. No one can, whether you're conservative, liberal or moderate.

Police in Minneapolis raided the houses of groups of peaceful protest groups across the city, including Food Not Bombs and the "RNC Welcoming Committee." People were handcuffed and told to lie on the ground while their houses were searched.

Yes, I know in a real dictatorship the police probably would have just shot them or thrown them in a gulag. Yes, I know that any arrests will probably be dismissed down the road (as they were in New York four years ago) and maybe the protestors will even win a civil rights lawsuit.

That does not make this okay. The police here knew perfectly well that what they were doing was illegal intimidation and did it anyway. Unless the people responsible are actually punished for their behavior, we're saying it is permissible. And by that I mean not just the cops that did the raid, but the politicians who ordered them to do it.

Let me emphasize this is not just about left or right. If you think it is cute to watch this happen to a bunch of dirty fucking hippies, remember that President Obama could do the same thing in a couple of years to a group of Right to Lifers. If we ignore this, then in ten or twenty or thirty years this country will not be one we want to live in.

Artificial bones now

Wow. Via IO9, researchers at Georgia Tech have now made artificial bone that blends into tendons the way real bones do. Add that to the use of menstrual blood to regrow limbs in mice, one way or another the loss of a limb is likely to become a temporary condition even within my lifetime.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Vernor Vinge in science times

I almost missed it yesterday, but the New York Times' Tuesday science section had an article on Vernor Vinge. Mostly it's about Rainbow's End and the singularity, so it will be old news to most sf people. But this is probably the biggest mouthpiece the singularity has ever gotten (so far...).

Monday, August 25, 2008

Free hydrogen from bacteria?

You hear a lot of people - especially car manufacturers - talking about how ten years from now all the cars are going to be running on hydrogen fuel cells. Of course they've been giving us the "ten years in the future" line for the past thirty years, but still, it sounds nice.

But the issue has always been this: where do you get all that free hydrogen? Hydrogen is not rare, of course; it's by far the most common substance in the universe. But on Earth most hydrogen atoms are hooked up, mostly with a couple of oxygens, making water. That's basically what a fuel cell does, so to get the fuel for the cell you have to separate the hydrogen from the water too, leading to the whole second law of thermodynamics, leaving you inevitably behind in the exchange.

Now, however, scientists are working on getting nitrogen-fixing bacteria to do the work for us. If they succeed, it could be a potentially unlimited source of renewable fuel. Cross your fingers.

Uncanny valley finally bridged?

In movies like "The Incredibles" and other 3d cgi animated flicks, producers found they had to avoid making people too realistic, because the resulting image was creepy and corpse-like. But in The Emily Project Image Metrics seems to have created a portrayal of a human being that I certainly wouldn't kick out of the sheets. It's based on a real person, but it is not done using face-capture over a real acting scene like The Polar Express (a movie that's going to be the historical document scholars use to illustrate what people were talking about with the uncanny valley). Via BoingBoing

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Steampunk backlash is here

Via IO9, this one is for Shane Stone-Shaped Head. It's been a long time coming, and the steampunk backlash is here, in a post by Randy Nakamura on Design Observer.

Friday, August 22, 2008

CBLDF mashup - Cory Doctorow & DJ Spooky

Went to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund benefit last night featuring Cory Doctorow & DJ Spooky. Of course I wanted to say hi to Cory after CW, but I have also been a fan of Spooky for a very long time, thanks to Jen.

The two of them talked about nearly everything, from Spooky's brilliant 'remix' of D.W. Griffith's 'Birth of a Nation' to the state of the Internet in Africa. Summarizing the interplay between these two extroardinary minds would be like trying to trace the path of a butterfly.

But one of the things that Cory said that caught my attention was what he said about the relationship of kids today with information technology. Basically he said that for geeky GenXers of his and my age (roughly thirtysomethings), the computer world seemed like the potential for an amazing new world. But that teens today have more in common with the generation before us, who saw IT as the means of oppression and control. He pointed out that kids of today have had their rights trampled on from the day they first sat down at a keyboard, from being blocked arbitrarily from sites by 'filter' programs to big companies tracking their information to turn them into marketing tools.

A slightly older father in the audience commented that based on his experience with his son, the opposite was true. The son did not seem to care what people did with his information, and didn't mind being in a digital fishbowl. When the father tried to interest the kid in Cory's 'Little Brother' books, the kid had no interest whatsoever. Cory acknowledged that in fact, a lot of kids had not yet been burned by having their info hoarded & databased, and did not yet realize how bad it could be. He said that sites like myspace & so on were skinner boxes awarding people for giving up information about themselves.

That made me think of what Charlie Stross once said in his blog about how we seemed to be moving towards a culture in which people tracked their identities from birth to death on cameras, and that it was only a matter of time for such data storage to be available to any individual. This, of course, is the opposite of the kind of suspicion that people like Cory would probably like kids to have more of, probably justifiably.

It occurred to me, however, that there is a continuum of risk and benefits here. On the one hand, the more info there is about you online, the more people can market to, prosecute, manipulate & harrass you. On the other hand, if you are trying to get a job, find a mate, sell a service, publish a novel etc., it benefits you to be as visible as possible. After all, Cory frequently says that the main purpose of the Net is to minimize transaction costs, or more simply to help people do things together. But for that to work, people have to find you.

So if there are a lot of kids who don't fear having their peckers in the air online, so to speak, that says something good about the net. That means more and more people will get in touch and make something happen. On the other hand if more and more people are getting sued by the RIAA, or stalked by the FBI for 'suspicious' language in their posts or e-mails or whatever, the garden of creativity will dry up as people are afraid to take the risk of interacting.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I want a micro-spacecraft for my birthday

Well, my birthday is coming up (sept 3rd). No particular need to get me anything. But if you have millions of dollars at your disposal & would really like to make my day you could get me one of the 10-50 lb. spacecraft that this technology apparently makes available.

I think that this might turn out to be one of the most underrated scientific stories of the year. Imagine the possibility if anyone could launch a tiny little 50 lb. spaceship full of whatever. On the bad side, you could have countless more unnecessary litter & crap in space. But on the good side, this could be a huge step towards privatization of space travel.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Army, DIA says "Wouldn't psychic powers be cool?"

Lots of papers recently put out by the big gun-boys about mind control and telepathy. First the DIA puts out a paper suggesting that they could maybe control enemies' minds using the latest in neuroscience. But from what I can tell that just means make the enemy less motivated to fight. Umm... okay, I guess you could hit them with a massive THC bomb, and then parachute a million lava lamps in there and let them freak.

Now the army has a paper about telepathic soldiers. They call this "synthetic" telepathy, as opposed to, um, you know, the real kind. I guess this would be technically possible, though whether you could do it without a room-sized piece of equipment is another issue.

All of this stuff would be pretty terrifying, but right now these papers seem to be on the level of "wouldn't it be cool if we could do x?" Maybe their next paper will be about flying soldiers that are bulletproof & have x-ray vision.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Take THAT moon - NASA spacecraft will slam into moon

Wow, I really thought our foreign policy was aggressive before.

But this is really going too far.

Evil Editor contemplates alien invasion

For those aspiring authors willing to have the fruit of their painful aspirations and hours of worked generally mocked and trashed, Evil Editor has always been willing to oblige. But today he's let his readers turn their laser beams on him, as long as they're coming from outer space and willing to destroy the rest of the world. Here is my favorite we're doomed story, and I'm sure all my CW friends will appreciate it.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Venture Bros. online (via IO9)

One of my wonderful CW TV discoveries, aside from Flight of the Conchords, was The Venture Brothers. This is a hysterical knockoff on Johnny Quest with a bit of The Hardy Boys thrown in.

Since I don't have cable, now I can see a pre-release streaming version of the show at the Adult Swim site

True, I probably won't. I'd like to get some writing done tonight. But it's nice to know it's out there.

YA or nay?

So IO9 has a point/counterpoint about the YA scifi market. This is a huge issue to me, because I am an author who is trying to break in & sell some books. So all other things being equal, if I have the choice of trying to publish something that could sell 3,000 copies and something that could sell 10,000, that's something I'm going to take into account.

From the point of view of a reader, the YA/adult distinction tends to be stupid. Both Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy and Connie Willis' DA are considered YA. DA is a fun little 20k-word novella with accessible language about a teen girl who gets sent on a space mission that she didn't even want to go on. HDM is a long, philosophically complex epic with sophisticated language about a girl who is chased across dimensions by an evil priest, ends up killing God & has sex with a boy from another universe. The only two things the books have in common is that the protagonists are kids.

From a writer's point of view, it's necessary to deal with the publishing market as it is. It's equally stupid that Delaney's Dhalgren is scifi and McCarthy's The Road is literary fiction. But even if trying to sell a book as YA increases the sales, could it cut an author off from adult readers? This is important to me, because when I was a young adult, I read scifi that was marketed for adults.

From a purist point of view, you should write what you need to write then figure out how to sell it later. But that's an easy thing to say to someone who hasn't sold a novel yet and is not assured of getting a first book, or a second or third which apparently is even harder than the first.

Back from Clarion West & blogging again

Well, it's been awhile. Just got back from CW, & I am firing up the blog again. I'm going to do a few things different.

Primarily, most of the posts will be much shorter. We got a lot of interesting little lessons at Clarion West, and one of the more interesting ones was Cory Doctorow talking about how to use a blog effectively. For those who've been under a rock, Cory & several friend's blog Boing Boing is one of the most popular blogs out there.

Cory essentially said Boing Boing is his way of keeping track of things that might be interesting to him in his writing (or otherwise). In other words, everything Cory posts on Boing Boing is Cory's "note to self."

What I really like is that he said that one of the best ways to understand something is to explain it to other people succinctly. As a teacher, this is consistent with my experience.

I've also started using Google Reader to keep track of RSS feeds, which speeds things up a lot. So I'm going to figure out how to have an RSS feed going for this one too.