Thursday, August 19, 2010

Science fictional stalkers, urgent transparency... & science!

David Brin is a Sentient Developments guest blogger.

=== First, items related to sci fi! ===

See a vivid and clever animated tale about superstition and its consequences. Note the copy of The Postman (in yellow) in the stack in front of the library near the beginning!

Just to show you how dangerous it is to be a World Famous author, first have another look at JK Rowling’s very best literary “stalker”... (brilliant stuff!)...

...and then (if you have a thick skin for bawdiness) gander at this video of appreciation dedicated to my pal Ray Bradbury.
And yes, that is what the typical sci fi fan is like.
Especially my fans.
Right! ;-)

=== News From the transparency front ===

1) Read this. Show it to friends. It is not about left or right... nor are the police being particularly vile. Only human. Nevertheless, this must nor be allowed to stand.

3) "Over-the-counter markets for derivatives have been a subject of blame for the global crisis. This column argues that the rising opacity and barriers to entry in these markets have been sorely overlooked leading to dark pools, flash trading, and front-running. These unfair practices can – at any time – cripple markets. They undermine the premise of free markets and should be stopped......Dark pools are a private or alternative trading system that allows participants to transact without displaying quotes publicly. Orders are anonymously matched and not reported to any entity, even the regulators (Younglai and Spicer 2009). Thus, the mainstream exchange-traded market does not have any clue about the volume of transactions happening in this parallel market or the prices at which they are being executed.

“Obviously, price discovery on the mainstream market, without dark pools information, becomes inefficient. Moreover, transactions carried out in dark pools effectively become over-the-counter in nature as the prices are not reported and financial risks not effectively managed. More critically, these risks can spread like wild fire as we saw in collateralised debt obligations and credit default swaps markets."

3) Falling Whistles is an organization is committed to raising awareness to the civil war underway in the Congo. In this conflict, boys too small to carry a gun are forced to become “whistle blowers” and sent to the front lines of the war. Facing death they are sent running toward the army as the first wave of attackers – armed with only their whistle. (Shudder!)

=== More Science! ===

See the editorial introducing Scientific American’s September issue about the many varied types of “doomsday” people are bruiting about. Of course, this relates to my novel-in-progress - EXISTENCE.

Are you an electronics wiz who wants a really far-out cool project? According to a recent, important paper by Benford, Benford and Benford, the SETI Institute’s Allen Array - a lavishly funded radio telescope dedicated to sifting the cosmos for signs of intelligent life - is designed EXACTLY WRONG! What is needed instead is a vast dispersal of 5,000 less sensitive backyard receivers, linked in a network that will look at all the sky, all the time... exactly as conceived in Project Argus!

And then... hydrogen gas flowing down through Titan's atmosphere disappears at the surface, suggesting it could be being breathed by alien bugs. Also lack of acetylene on the surface, leading scientists to believe it may be being consumed by life. Scientists had expected sunlight interacting with chemicals in the atmosphere to produce acetylene that falls down to coat Titan's surface. But Cassini detected no acetylene there.

And a book that seems whimsically interesting. “In Packing for Mars, Roach tackles the strange science of space travel, and the psychology, technology, and politics that go into sending a crew into orbit. Roach is unfailingly inquisitive (Why is it impolite for astronauts to float upside down during conversations? Just how smelly does a spacecraft get after a two week mission?)”


Compare this exciting scientific news story - about the careful, layer-by-layer analysis of 650 million year old fossils - with my portrayal of a very similar process, in my story "Genji" which appeared in the collaborative science fiction collection MURASAKI, way back in 1992.

"The laser played across the cliff face in double waves. First a gentle scan lit every millimeter of the sheer sedimentary surface, while widely spaced recording devices read its reflections, noting every microscopic contour and color variation. Then, when that first scan was finished, the machine sent forth a much more powerful second beam, which seared away a thin layer wherever it touched. Monitors now recorded glowing spectra from these vapors, taking down elemental compositions in minute detail.

"... What grew in the computer display was a slice by thin slice representation of the cliff. Each horizontal lamina layer had been laid down along this ancient coast long ago, when the vagaries of this slowly shifting archipelago pushed lapping tidal waters over the place where he now stood. Amid the slowly growing image in his holo screen lay speckles of bright color where the semi intelligent device discovered the outlines of fossils... the remains of dead Genjian creatures which had settled into the mud long ago, only to have their hard tissues replaced gradually by a process of mineralization and preservation quite similar to what occurred on Earth."

My friend, the late American space pioneer, Dr Robert L Forward, proposed that the orbit of a geostationary satellite could be pushed above -- or below -- the usual geostationary ring around the Earth, which follows the line of the equator, by using a large solar sail propelled by the pressure of sunlight. However, critics later claimed that such 'displaced orbits' were impossible due to the unusual dynamics of the problem. Now his idea has been proved.

...and finally...

=== Okay I was wrong ===

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was forced to retire in July after an embarrassing Rolling Stone article quoted him and his staff making disparaging remarks about top White House Officials , is taking a job at Yale. All right then, his lapse in judgement wasn’t deliberate - to win a retirement gig on Fox. Instead, maybe it was simply human. Ah well. At least we do not make such men throw themselves on their swords. Benefit of the doubt. It seems he was and is ... a useful person.


PS... just returned (exhausted) from shepherding three teens through Paris and ... Rome in August. No wonder those guys ventured forth to conquer Gaul! (See details on my facebook page!)

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