Category Archives: Shiny Rocketship Future

Holding out for a citizen

Via Graham, this is a rather impressive collection of celebrities singing along to one of the most impressive speeches a politician has made in my lifetime.

I’m voting in the Democratic primary on Tuesday, which is the first election with national implications since 2001, when I moved up to Massachusetts, in which my vote might actually make a difference. I’m voting for Obama, but not because I think that we need some Great Leader to save us. I don’t think democracy works that way. Or at least, I don’t think democracy should work that way, if it’s working correctly. Democracy should depend on the rule of law, it should depend on institutions, and it should depend on frustrating, tortoise-slow bureaucracies that exhibit not a whit of common sense, but function in the aggregate to produce the most opportunity for the most people. Obama’s not going to deliver us. No one person, certainly not a politician, can make a country great, or save it from peril. Bonnie Tyler notwithstanding, heroes are for comic books and fascists.

The reason I’m voting for Obama is, quite simply, because I like what he’s telling the nation. I have problems with some of his policies, and I have no love whatsoever for his habit of adopting Republican tropes when trying to criticize Clinton on Social Security or health care. I’m wary of his economic team. But he’s running for President, not Personal Embodiment of the Legislative Majority, so I’m more concerned about foreign policy, and what he’ll do with the bully pulpit. As far as foreign policy goes, he seems just fine (and if I’m being completely truthful, I have to say that it would make me proud of my country’s place in the world again, after such a long, long time, to elect a black man President). As far as the bully pulpit goes, holy shit. I realistically don’t think I could ask for a better figurehead for my country, or for the political party that’s going to have to clean up the Republicans’ mess again. When I vote for Obama on Tuesday, it’s not going to be a vote for a savior. It’ll be a vote for a little of that hope he keeps talking about – not more, but pleasingly, surprisingly, not anything less, either.

UPDATE: Added some links for context.

Beyond (way beyond) lithium ion

Eric and I were discussing renewable energy at Christmas dinner, and how the challenge isn’t generation, it’s storage. I described hearing about pumped hydro storage, which was a new idea to the table (I’ve only run across it once myself, in, I think, a comment thread at Matt Yglesias‘ blog). So I googled it up, and found the above link, via this article about a proposed artificial island used for that purpose. So there you go.

What’s good for GM

All environmentalists are French hippie pussies:

Goodwin leads me over to a red 2005 H3 Hummer that’s up on jacks, its mechanicals removed. He aims to use the turbine to turn the Hummer into a tricked-out electric hybrid. Like most hybrids, it’ll have two engines, including an electric motor. But in this case, the second will be the turbine, Goodwin’s secret ingredient. Whenever the truck’s juice runs low, the turbine will roar into action for a few seconds, powering a generator with such gusto that it’ll recharge a set of “supercapacitor” batteries in seconds. This means the H3’s electric motor will be able to perform awesome feats of acceleration and power over and over again, like a Prius on steroids. What’s more, the turbine will burn biodiesel, a renewable fuel with much lower emissions than normal diesel; a hydrogen-injection system will then cut those low emissions in half. And when it’s time to fill the tank, he’ll be able to just pull up to the back of a diner and dump in its excess french-fry grease–as he does with his many other Hummers. Oh, yeah, he adds, the horsepower will double–from 300 to 600.

“Conservatively,” Goodwin muses, scratching his chin, “it’ll get 60 miles to the gallon. With 2,000 foot-pounds of torque. You’ll be able to smoke the tires. And it’s going to be superefficient.”

He laughs. “Think about it: a 5,000-pound vehicle that gets 60 miles to the gallon and does zero to 60 in five seconds!”

The whole article is nuts.  This guy is using mostly stock parts to make cars that are more powerful, more efficient, and more clean.  It is now my dream to get an old-school Land Cruiser converted into a hydrogen-injected, bio-diesel hybrid.  With or without a turbine.

(via Kos, via The Sideshow)

The Supreme Court can’t steal this one

BBC News:

Climate change campaigner Al Gore and the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have been jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
The committee cited “their efforts to build up and disseminate knowledge about man-made climate change”.

Mr Gore, US vice-president under Bill Clinton, said he was “deeply honoured”.

Mr Gore, 59, won an Oscar for his climate change film An Inconvenient Truth while the IPCC is the top authority on global warming.

He told a cheering crowd of colleagues and journalists outside his office in Delhi that he hoped the award would bring a “greater awareness and a sense of urgency” to the fight against global warming.

That would be nice. I’m pretty sure that this award will come to seem more and more deserved as time goes on. My hope is that it’ll never come to seem prescient, that it will spur that greater awareness and a sense of urgency before Florida, say, is scoured flat by hurricanes, or Oklahoma by tornadoes. Or, say, before half the elderly in France die in a heat wave. Fingers crossed!

I rip shit and backflip like a Jedi

Jennifer, friend of Per Aspera, sent me a link to a trailer for documentary a friend of hers has done. It looks friggin’ great:

And today, it totally got BoingBoinged. Which is kind of unsurprising, actually, because this is straight up their alley.

Nearly concurrently, Eric, who is like a brother to Per Aspera, sent a link to some YouTube clips of the Minibosses, an NES cover band. Here they are doing Ninja Gaiden:

There is nothing that is not awesome about that. They do Metroid, too.

I’ma go off on a tangent for a moment: You may or may not be aware that SF, as a literary genre, is declining in market share these days. I’m not really plugged into any of the various fandoms, but I read around on the intertubes, and have seen more than one person worrying that SF is going to go the way of the Western and Men’s Adventure genres, which pretty much don’t exist anymore. What’s to be done? Why’s it happening? Charlie Stross thinks it’s happening because, basically, we’re living the speculative fiction these days, with technological change itself shifting genres from industrial to information, making what used to be a respectably Newtonian chain of progressive innovation poof out and get all cloudy.

SF as a genre evolved during a period of industrialization and standardization and rapid linear progress. It was both an escapist literature and a didactic form that lent its readers some exposure to new ideas about how they might live in future. But things have gone non-linear, and a lot of the future has arrived today, albeit in bastardized form. Want to go live on Mars? Tough, you can’t — but you can download travel albums from the red planet til you’re blue in the face. Want to go live on an alien world? Go visit Japan — it’s not that expensive — or explore the Goth night club scene in Ulan Bator (I’m informed it has one). We don’t need SF for pre-adaptation to the future: the future is now.

And now is Nerdcore For Life. Now, the final frontier is social, cultural, sociological, political.

We’ve arrived in a different future, and central planning doesn’t work. Things are fast, chaotic, cheap, and out of control. Ad hoc is the new plan. There’s a new cultural strange attractor at work, sucking in the young, smart, deracinated mechanistically-minded readers who used to be the natural prey of the SF movement. It’s geek culture. You can find it in the pages of Wired (although it’s a pale shadow of what it used to be) and on Boing!Boing! and Slashdot. You can find them playing MMORPGs and hacking their game consoles. These people have different interests from the old generation of SF readers. And unfortunately they don’t buy many [fiction] books, because we aren’t, for the most part, writing for them.

This isn’t to say that they don’t read. There is a literary culture that switches on the geeks: it started out as a branch of SF. Yes, I’m talking about cyberpunk. But while cyberpunk was a seven day wonder within the SF field, which subsequently lost interest, the geeks recognized themselves in its magic mirror and made it their own. This is the future they live in, not the future of Star Wars and its imitators, of the futures of Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein. And in addition to cyberpunk — the golden age SF taproots of their field — some of us are beginning to address their concerns. Among the quintessentially geek authors, the brightest names are Neal Stephenson and Cory Doctorow and Douglas Coupland and (in his latest incarnation) Bruce Sterling. (I’d like to append my own name to that list, if only to bask in their reflected glory.)

The authors I listed above are not writing SF for your traditional SF readers. They are writing something quite different, even if the forms are similar, because the underlying assumptions about the way the universe works are different. There’s no need for the readers to internalize a bizarrely rehashed bundle of strange ideological preconceptions about the role of science and technology in society, which have accreted remorselessly since the 1930s until much modern science fiction is incomprehensible and alienating to the outside world; that’s because they are writing fiction that is based in the world-view of the present day. You don’t need to study golden age SF and its literary conventions to get Neal Stephenson, because rather than constantly referring back to it, he references (a) the science fictional zeitgeist in popular culture, and (b) the cultural milieu and outlook of WIRED’s readership. Which is why he managed to write a 1100 page novel about cryptography with a plot that didn’t quite join up in the middle, and it still outsold everything else on the map. He’s got your audience, right here, buddy, right here in the palm of his hand. Thanks to generation slashdot.

The audience I’m talking about is today’s successor to the traditional SF readers of yore. They’re smart, not brilliantly well socialized because their energies have been going elsewhere, and they increasingly self-identify as geeks. We are competing for their attention time with computer games, video, the internet, and fuck-knows-what new bleeding edge media that haven’t made it our event horizon of self-absorption yet: anime, manga, machinima, your guess is as good as mine. They don’t, yet, have a separate section in the bookstore, but they know what they like to read and they get it from the fringes of the mainstream and the edges of the genre and the core of the slipstream. And their time is coming. If you’re a writer and you still want to be in business in something vaguely resembling SF in thirty years time, study them.

People don’t just write books about spaceships, they post about documentaries about MC’s rapping about books about spaceships.

UPDATE: Y’all have been quoted.

Danish open-sourcers kill metaphor

There’s this comparative distinction that open-source proponents like to make, when describing free software:

“Free software” is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of “free” as in “free speech,” not as in “free beer.”

It means, basically, that when folks who care about such things speak of “free software,” they’re talking about what you can do with the software, not whether you have to pay for it.  And when folks who care about such things have to illustrate this distinction, very often they use the free speech/free beer metaphor.

It was probably inevitable, then, that someone would publish an open-source beer recipe and call it Free Beer, creating beer that’s free as in speech, not free as in beer.  Magnificent.

(via Boing Boing)

A headline from the sort of world I want to live in

Boing Boing: Bacteria eats chocolate and shits electricity

I imagine vats of these little bastards, metabolizing away underneath the local Shell station:

Microbiologist Lynne Mackaskie and her colleagues at the University of Birmingham in the UK have powered a fuel cell by feeding sugar-loving bacteria chocolate-factory waste. “We wanted to see if we tipped chocolate into one end, could we get electricity out at the other?” she says.

The team fed Escherichia coli bacteria diluted caramel and nougat waste. The bacteria consumed the sugar and produced hydrogen, which they make with the enzyme hydrogenase, and organic acids. The researchers then used this hydrogen to power a fuel cell, which generated enough electricity to drive a small fan (Biochemical Society Transactions, vol 33, p 76).

I raise my glass, to my surprise, to Tex Sensenbrenner

Hot damn: 

WASHINGTON, May 18 /U.S. Newswire/ — House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-Wis.), along with Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) and others, today introduced bipartisan legislation to preserve Internet freedom and competition. Over the last decade, the Internet has revolutionized the manner in which Americans access and transmit a broad range of information and consume goods. The advent of high speed (broadband) Internet access has dramatically enhanced the ability of Americans to access this medium and has been a catalyst for innovation and competition. H.R. 5417, the “Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act of 2006,” would ensure competitive and nondiscriminatory access to the Internet.

Chairman Sensenbrenner remarked, “This legislation is a necessary step to protect consumers and other Internet users from possible anti-competitive and discriminatory conduct by broadband providers. The FCC recently reported that 98 percent of American consumers get their high speed broadband from either a cable company or a DSL provider. This virtual duopoly creates an environment that is ripe for anti-competitive abuses, and for which a clear antitrust remedy is urgently needed.”

“This legislation will provide an insurance policy for Internet users against being harmed by broadband network operators abusing their market power to discriminate against content and service providers. While I am not opposed to providers responsibly managing their networks and providing increased bandwidth to those consumers who wish to pay for it, I am opposed to providers giving faster, more efficient access to certain service providers at the expense of others. This legislation will ensure that this type of discriminatory behavior will not take place, and will help to continue the tradition of innovation and competition that has defined the Internet,” continued Chairman Sensenbrenner.

(via Atrios)

“The enemy is so close I can taste him!”

Via Majikthise:

Researchers at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition envision their work giving Army Rangers 360-degree unobstructed vision at night and allowing Navy SEALs to sense sonar in their heads while maintaining normal vision underwater — turning sci-fi into reality.

The device, known as “Brain Port,” was pioneered more than 30 years ago by Dr. Paul Bach-y-Rita, a University of Wisconsin neuroscientist. Bach-y-Rita began routing images from a camera through electrodes taped to people’s backs and later discovered the tongue was a superior transmitter.

A narrow strip of red plastic connects the Brain Port to the tongue where 144 microelectrodes transmit information through nerve fibers to the brain. Instead of holding and looking at compasses and bluky-hand-held sonar devices, the divers can processes the information through their tongues, said Dr. Anil Raj, the project’s lead scientist.

In testing, blind people found doorways, noticed people walking in front of them and caught balls. A version of the device, expected to be commercially marketed soon, has restored balance to those whose vestibular systems in the inner ear were destroyed by antibiotics.

Talk about routing around damage. It lets blind people catch a ball? That sounds like proof-of-concept right there.

Also, if they make it wireless, the potential for visual puns on the word “bluetooth” is obvious.