Filed under: Astronomy, BoingBoing, Fermi's Paradox, NASA, Predictions, Publishing, Science, Science Fiction, SETI, Space, Survival, tech, Weather, Writing stuff | Tags: Aliens, BBC, BoingBoing, Communion of Dreams, direct publishing, Drake Equation, Isaac, jim downey, Kickstarter, NASA, predictions, science, Science Fiction, space, St. Cybi's Well, technology, Wired, writing
They say Isaac will be paying us a visit.
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From Chapter 4 of Communion of Dreams:
“But in any event, as Arthur Bailey said this morning ‘where are they?’ Where are the aliens? That’s what’s bothering me.”
* * * * * * *
They say Isaac will be paying us a visit.
I’m in a somewhat weird headspace right now. Maybe that’s the reason for it. We’re suffering such a drought that it seems almost surreal that there may be rain this weekend. And not just a little rain: current forecast models say between two and six inches, most of it in about a 24 hour period. That won’t break the drought, but it would cause flash floods.
Like I said, surreal.
Similarly, I’ve been thinking — and thinking hard — about the Kickstarter for St. Cybi’s Well. But all my thoughts seem to be random, chaotic. Nothing will quite ‘gel’, to use another reference from Communion of Dreams.
But when it does, I think there will be a flood.
Filed under: BoingBoing, Civil Rights, Constitution, Cory Doctorow, Emergency, Failure, Government, Marketing, NYT, Politics, Predictions, Press, Privacy, Science Fiction, Society, Survival, tech, Terrorism | Tags: blogging, free, jim downey, NPR, predictions, science, Science Fiction, technology
While I’m on a bit of vacation, I have decided to re-post some items from the first year of this blog (2007). This item first ran on November 12, 2007.
Over the weekend, news came out of yet another “Trust us, we’re the government” debacle, this time in the form of the principal deputy director of national intelligence saying that Americans have to give up on the idea that they have any expectation of privacy. Rather, he said, we should simply trust the government to properly safeguard the communications and financial information that they gather about us. No, I am not making this up. From the NYT:
“Our job now is to engage in a productive debate, which focuses on privacy as a component of appropriate levels of security and public safety,” Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence, told attendees of the Geospatial Intelligence Foundation’s symposium in Dallas.
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“Too often, privacy has been equated with anonymity,” he said, according to a transcript [pdf]. “But in our interconnected and wireless world, anonymity – or the appearance of anonymity – is quickly becoming a thing of the past.”
The future, Mr. Kerr says, is seen in MySpace and other online troves of volunteered information, and also in the the millions of commercial transactions made on the web or on the phone every day. If online merchants can be trusted, he asks, then why not federal employees, who face five years in jail and a $100,000 fine for misusing data from surveillance?
Or, from the Washington Post:
“Our job now is to engage in a productive debate, which focuses on privacy as a component of appropriate levels of security and public safety,” Kerr said. “I think all of us have to really take stock of what we already are willing to give up, in terms of anonymity, but (also) what safeguards we want in place to be sure that giving that doesn’t empty our bank account or do something equally bad elsewhere.”
This mindset, that allowing the government to just vacuum up all of our personal information, to monitor our email and phone communications, or whatever else they are doing but don’t want to tell is, is somehow equivalent to my posting information on this blog or giving some company my credit card number when I want to buy something, is fucking absurd. First off, there is a fundamental difference between what I willingly reveal to someone in either a personal or commercial exchange, and having my information taken without my knowledge or agreement. To say otherwise is to say that just because my phone number is listed in the phone directory, everyone who has the ability to do so is free to listen in on my phone conversations.
Even worse, it shows how we are viewed by this individual, and our government: as their subjects, without rights or expectations of being in control of our lives.
And the notion that we can just trust governmental employees with our private information is patently ridiculous. First off, saying that we should because we already trust commercial businesses with our private information is completely specious – how many times in the last year have you heard of this or that company’s database having been hacked and credit card, personal, and financial information having been stolen? This alone is a good reason to not allow further concentration of our private data to be gathered in one place. Secondly, think of the many instances when hard drives with delicate information have been lost by government employees in the State Department, at the Department of Veterans Affairs, or even at Los Alamos National Laboratory – and those are just the things which have actually made it into the news. Third, and last (for now), anyone who has had any experience with any government agency can attest to just how screwed up such a large bureaucracy can be, in dealing with even the simplest information.
I recently went round and round with the IRS over some forms which they thought I had to file. I didn’t, and established that to the satisfaction of the office which contacted me. Yet for six months I was still being contacted by another office in charge with collecting the necessary fees and fines – three times I had to send a copy of the letter from the initial office which cleared me of the matter, before they finally, and almost grudgingly, admitted that I owed them no money (for not filing the documents I didn’t need to file). These are not the same people I want to trust to handle even *more* information about me.
Allowing the government to take this position – that the default should be that they can just take whatever information about us they want, so long as they promise not to misuse it – is to abandon any illusions that we are in any way, shape, or form a free people. It would turn the entire equation of the Constitution on its head, saying that the government is sovereign and we its subjects. That such a thing is even proposed by a government employee is extremely revealing, and should cause no little amount of concern.
Filed under: Art, BoingBoing, Book Conservation, Cory Doctorow, Humor, Kindle, Marketing, Predictions, Publishing, Science Fiction, tech, Writing stuff | Tags: art, blogging, direct publishing, humor, jim downey, Kindle, literature, predictions, science, Science Fiction, technology, writing
While I’m on a bit of vacation, I have decided to re-post some items from the first year of this blog (2007). This item first ran on March 29, 2007.
Some 14 years ago, a full five or six years before I even thought about writing Communion of Dreams, I made the following “artist’s book”. Full images are hosted on my website. The following essay was bound into the ‘book’, as well as on the floppy disk in the still-functional disk-drive.
A bit of whimsy.
I’ve always loved books, as far back as I can remember. Even though the shock of my parent’s death ended my childhood early, and left me with only fragments and dreams of my pre-teen years, I do remember reading, reading, reading. Books were part of my life, too much so for my parents, who were intelligent but uneducated, and who wondered about my fascination with almost anything written. Often I was told to put down the book and go outside to play, or turn out the light and go to sleep. Even the black & white television given to me at Christmas when I was 8 (the year my sister was born…I suspect my parents splurged to offset my disquiet at having a sibling at last) couldn’t take the place of the books I constantly checked out of the library.
I got lost in science fiction as a youth, first as a feast for my imagination, later as an escape from the harsh realities of my world. All through high school, where the demands my teachers made on my time and intellect were modest enough to be met with a few minutes study, and even through college, where I would reward myself with a new book by a favorite author after studying hours and hours of Russian history, economics, or German. Always I would turn to science fiction as a release, maybe even as a guide to how I could bring myself through my own rebirth. It took a very long time.
I even wrote a little, now and then. Starting with a junior high school fiction class, graduating to the novel I wrote while suffering in traction in the hospital in ‘78. After college I thought I would try and be a writer, with my old diesel-powered IBM Model C. But struggle though I did, I knew that I needed help with my writing that I couldn’t get from friends, or from the contradictory text I could find on the subject. A gentle man, an acquaintance I knew through work, was kind enough to read some of my stories and point to the University of Iowa. “The Writer’s Workshop,” he said, “an old friend of mine from grad school is the head of the program.”
I went to Iowa City, took a few courses. I was rejected for the Workshop by the ‘old friend’ because he didn’t like science fiction, but was stubborn enough to get into the English MA program, where I was allowed to take some Workshop classes on the same basis as those admitted to the program. I learned a lot, and the bitter taste of rejection was replaced by the realization that the Workshop thrived on angst, and that I had had enough of that to fill my life previously and didn’t need more.
I gathered together the credit hours needed to complete the degree, though I was in no particular rush to finish. And one day while looking for a signature for a change to my schedule I stumbled into the Windhover Press. Wonderful old presses and bank upon bank of lead type. I spent the next couple of semesters learning how to build a book, letter by letter, page by page, from those little bits of lead. I got a rudimentary course in sewing a book together, in pasting cloth, in terms like “text block” and “square”.
Then I met Bill. He led me through the different structures, and was tolerant of my large, clumsy hands. I spent hours just watching him work, watching how he moved with a grace that I could only dimly understand, as he slipped a needle onto thread, through paper, around cord. Trimming leather to fit a corner or a hinge. Working with the hot brass tools on a design that those magic hands formed seemingly without effort. But I didn’t spend all the time with him that I could, distracted by other things I thought needed doing. I squandered my time with him, not knowing what gifts I was passing up, what opportunity I allowed to slip from my hands.
But in spite of my best efforts to the contrary, he made an impression, and taught me a lot. Without quite realizing it, my hands became less clumsy, my understanding a bit brighter. I learned a few things, and came to appreciate much, much more. Somewhere in there my need for the refuge for science fiction diminished, though it was never completely left behind. Like a man who has long since recovered from an injury, but who still walks with a cane out of habit, science fiction stayed with me, occasionally coming to the fore in my interpretations of the world, in the ways that I moved from what I was to what I became.
Bill left us, in body at least. Part of his spirit I carry with me, and it surprises me sometimes, in a pleasant way. Now I am at home with paper, cloth, leather, and thread. I make and repair books for friends and clients.
The book is a mutable form, reflecting the needs, materials, and technology of the culture that produces it. Broadly speaking, a “book” is any self-contained information delivery system. And any number of ‘book artists’ have taken this broadly-defined term to extremes, some more interesting than others.
For me, the book is a codex, something that you can hold in your hand and read. From the earliest memories of my science fiction saturated youth, I remember books becoming obsolete in the future, replaced by one dream or another of “readers”, “scanners”, or even embedded text files linked directly to the brain. Some say ours is a post-literate culture, with all the books-on-tape, video, and interactive media technology. I think I read somewhere recently that Sony (or Toshiba or Panasonic or someone) had finally come up with a hand-held, book-sized computer screen that can accommodate a large number of books on CD ROM. Maybe the future is here.
Maybe. Lord knows that I would be lost without a computer for all my writing, revisions, and play. The floppy drive that is in this book was taken from my old computer (my first computer) when a friend installed a hard drive. It is, in many ways, part of my history, part of my time at Iowa, and all the changing that I did there.
So, in a bit of whimsy, I’ve decided to add my part to the extremes of “book art”. Consider this a transition artifact, a melding of two technologies, for fun. Black & white, yes and no, on and off. The stuff of dreams.
Filed under: Alzheimer's, BoingBoing, Connections, Failure, General Musings, Genetic Testing, Health, Hospice, Marketing, Music, Promotion, Publishing, Science, Science Fiction, Society, Survival, tech, Violence, Writing stuff, YouTube | Tags: Alzheimer's, Amazon, blogging, BoingBoing, care-giving, direct publishing, free, genetics, health, hospice, jim downey, John Bourke, Kindle, literature, memoir, music, predictions, Queen, science, Science Fiction, technology, writing, www youtube
From BoingBoing here’s an embedded video of a long (90 minutes) but *really* fascinating discussion on the topic of why homo sapiens is the sole surviving member of our genus, and what that might tell us about ourselves. What I very much enjoyed was the way the different disciplines brought their own perspective to the question, and how each different perspective tends to reinforce the science of the others.
Today, we’re the only living member of the genus Homo and the only living member of the subtribe Hominina. Along with chimpanzees and bonobos, we’re all that remains of the tribe Hominini.
But the fossil record tells us that wasn’t always the case. There were, for instance, at least eight other species of Homo running around this planet at one time. So what happened to them? What makes us so special that we’re still here?
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From Chapter 5:
Navarr turned and looked at Jon. “Any indication from the medical report what the genetic changes mean functionally?”
“No, not yet. The way that the genetic manipulation will play out is very difficult to predict, since that is a subtle and complex dance over time. They have simulations running now, and we may have an idea in a few days.”
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I don’t want to give away too much, but there are other intimations in Communion of Dreams on this topic, since it is one which has long intrigued me. And while I am nowhere near knowledgeable enough to get too far into the molecular genetics, the current state of the science is such that there is room for plausible speculation.
And again, without giving too much away, I can say that this is something which will be one of the themes in St. Cybi’s Well.
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Speaking of giving things away: next Saturday, June 9th, will be a Kindle promotional day for both Communion of Dreams and Her Final Year. As previously, the Kindle edition of each book will be available for free download all day, and you don’t even need to own a Kindle to get & read your free copy, as there is a free emulator app for just about every computer/tablet/mobile device out there.
In addition, I will be offering a signed paperback copy of each book as a prize — details to be announced in a couple of days!
Filed under: BoingBoing, Bruce Schneier, Civil Rights, Constitution, Cory Doctorow, Government, Society, Terrorism, Travel | Tags: BoingBoing, bruce schneier, jim downey, kip hawley, travel, TSA, Xeni Jardin
Man, sometimes I think the TSA exists solely to provide me something to write about when other news is slow. To a certain extent, it’s just too easy to rant about the ongoing farce. And constantly harping on the idiocy does nothing for my blood pressure.
But sometimes there’s a run of things which just require you to at least point to it and laugh. First, some items from Xeni Jardin over on BoingBoing (all links have a lot more content):
After picking on the elderly, today the TSA is bullying children. A 4-year-old girl who was upset during a TSA screening at the Wichita, KS airport was forced to undergo a manual pat-down after hugging her grandmother. Agents yelled at the child, and called her an uncooperative suspect.
Four present and past security screeners at LAX took 22 payments of up to $2400 each to let large shipments of coke, meth, and pot slip through baggage X-ray machines. Oh, we are so very, very shocked.
The Transportation Security Administration launched the “TSA Cares” program to assist disabled fliers just four months ago, but a story making the rounds today proves that the TSA definitely does not. The Frank family was traveling from New York City’s JFK airport to Florida, and were abruptly pulled aside after a dispute over how their 7-year-old daughter Dina was screened. The child is developmentally disabled and has cerebral palsy. She walks with crutches and leg braces.
You can guess what happened next, of course.
Then there was this item from Cory Doctorow earlier this week:
Omer Petti is a 95-year-old USAF veteran with artificial knees and a heart condition. Madge Woodward, his partner, has an artificial hip. They recently flew home to Detroit from San Diego, and were humiliated and robbed at the San Diego airport TSA checkpoint. The metal in their bodies set off the TSA magnetometer, and Petti was instructed to put his $300 in cash in a bin. Then he was further detained when a swab detected the nitroglycerin residue from his heart pills. He and Woodward were subjected to humiliating patdowns, and then discovered that their $300 had gone missing. When Petti asked where his money had gone, the TSA agent required he and Woodward to remove their shoes again and empty out their pockets, and asked if they were “refusing his request” when they objected. The TSA manager checked the security footage, but reported that it was “too blurry” to see what had happened to the money. The two elderly people were loaded into their wheelchairs and taken to their plane at full tilt, barely making it. They never got their money back.
In each case the response from the TSA is some variation on the theme of “TSA has reviewed the incident and determined that our officers followed proper screening procedures…”
No surprise there.
And lest you think this is just BoingBoing’s obsession, how about this article from Kip Hawley, former head of the TSA, who has decidedly changed his tune:
Why Airport Security Is Broken—And How To Fix It
You know the TSA. We’re the ones who make you take off your shoes before padding through a metal detector in your socks (hopefully without holes in them). We’re the ones who make you throw out your water bottles. We’re the ones who end up on the evening news when someone’s grandma gets patted down or a child’s toy gets confiscated as a security risk. If you’re a frequent traveler, you probably hate us.
More than a decade after 9/11, it is a national embarrassment that our airport security system remains so hopelessly bureaucratic and disconnected from the people whom it is meant to protect. Preventing terrorist attacks on air travel demands flexibility and the constant reassessment of threats. It also demands strong public support, which the current system has plainly failed to achieve.
The crux of the problem, as I learned in my years at the helm, is our wrongheaded approach to risk. In attempting to eliminate all risk from flying, we have made air travel an unending nightmare for U.S. passengers and visitors from overseas, while at the same time creating a security system that is brittle where it needs to be supple.
Any bets on whether or not this will change anything in the slightest?
“Welcome to the TSA checkpoint. Hand over your valuables and grab your ankles, please.”
Filed under: BoingBoing, DARPA, Government, Humor, Predictions, Science Fiction, Society, Survival, tech, YouTube
Ah, looking around, seeing the different components of the rise of the machines. Here’s a nice bit from BoingBoing:
And then this news item: Police Drone Crashes into Police
Make that “tired and embarrassed.”
Filed under: BoingBoing, Civil Rights, Failure, Government, Science, Science Fiction, Society, Steampunk, Terrorism, Travel, Wired
TSA is trying to get away from its stigma of being the guys who grope and photograph you. It’s taking the porno out of the scanners by getting rid of the “nude” imaging displays. Its director, John Pistole, talks about becoming an “intelligence driven” agency that compiles behavioral profiles of potential terrorists and — someday — targeting its toughest screening on only those who fit the profile. Kids no longer have to take their shoes off before boarding a plane.
Just one problem, according to Brandt: The behavioral science is no panacea. “The scientific community is divided as to whether behavioral detection of terrorists is viable,” he writes. According to the Government Accountability Office, TSA put together a behavioral profiling program “without first validating the scientific basis for identifying suspicious passengers in an airport environment.” Even if the science was sound, the office found last year, TSA officers “lack a mechanism to input data on suspicious passengers into a database used by TSA analysts and also lack a means to obtain information from the Transportation System Operations Center on a timely basis.”
It’s like the government awarded military contracts during the Civil War for the development of æther craft in order to defeat the South – makes for a good story, perhaps, but has little or nothing to do with reality.
Filed under: BoingBoing, Civil Rights, George Orwell, Government, movies, Predictions, Privacy, Science Fiction, Society, tech, The Prisoner
I’m beginning to think that Orwell was an optimist:
By April 2015 it will be mandatory for all of the city’s 600 plus cabs to have cameras fitted to record passengers.
The council said the cameras would run continuously, but only view footage relating to police matters would be reviewed.
Big Brother Watch said it was “a total disregard for civil liberties”.
When I first saw this on BoingBoing, I thought “oh, another DailyMail exaggeration piece, blowing something relatively innocuous all out of proportion.” Then I saw it was from the BBC. Reading the full article makes it quite clear that this is not exaggerated in the slightest.
How long before you think someplace in the US follows suit? I give it five years.
Filed under: BoingBoing, Civil Rights, Constitution, Failure, Government, Society, Star Wars
Via BB, an interesting news item:
ROSWELL, N.M. (KRQE) – A massive drug raid in Roswell last week targeted dozens of people at homes across the city.
But one of those homes didn’t have what police were looking for, and their unexpected visit left the people inside shaken and upset.
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She said her husband opened the door to multiple officers in raid gear with guns drawn.
“We were completely shocked, upset,” she continued. “I was panicked because I’ve never had anything like this happen to us before, never.”
She said the officers demanded to come inside her home.
“And my husband asked, ‘Do you have a warrant? Who are you looking for?’ and they said, ‘Gerald Sentell,’” Parker said. “We don’t even know this person.”
OK, at this point, what usually happens in these situations is the DEA or other law enforcement agency comes in, ‘secures’ the house (including putting occupants on the ground, perhaps with handcuffs or suchlike, and if there are any dogs…), does their search and any apologies or reparations for damage to the house comes later after a big public outcry.
What happened this time?
Parker said she and her husband were wary of cooperating because they weren’t sure what was going on.
When asked if she thought the officers could have been imposters, Parker replied, “Yes. That’s very much what we thought, and that’s why my husband said no, you’re not coming in this house without a warrant.”
The DEA spokesperson said the agents left when they were denied entry by the couple.
* * *
The DEA said all of the officers involved in the raid were following procedure and did nothing wrong.
This both delights me, and outrages/frightens me.
I mean, I’m glad that Mr. Parker seems to have Jedi mind-control powers (not to mention the presence of mind to ask for a warrant under these circumstances) and so avoided going through the additional trauma usually inflicted on citizens in this situation. Seriously – that’s great. His door is still on the hinges, no shots were fired, the DEA actually respected his constitutional rights. Wonderful!
But the “following procedure” statement outrages me. So the DEA procedure is to conduct these raids without a warrant?
Think about that.
Then think about the fact that this probably comes as a surprise. I know it did to me. No, not that the DEA raid was conducted without a warrant (I call that stupid, but not terribly surprising). What’s surprising is that they didn’t just go ahead and conduct the raid, anyway, once they were there, under the pretense that one of the agents “smelled something” or “thought he saw drug paraphernalia” or some other excuse. Because that’s the usual script in these cases.
Yeah, it’s surprising that the DEA actually respected the 4th Amendment.
That should scare the hell out of you.