Filed under: Connections, Emergency, Failure, Flu, General Musings, Government, Health, Pandemic, Plague, Predictions, Preparedness, Science, Science Fiction, Society, Survival, Violence | Tags: blogging, Ebola, Elliot Hannon, fire-flu, Foreign Policy, health, influenza, jim downey, Laurie Garrett, pandemic, predictions, science, Science Fiction, Slate, society, St. Cybi's Well, writing
Sorry for my absence here — I’ve been very busy with a another big project, one which I can’t discuss publicly just yet. But soon.
Without wanting to buy-into the complete panic in some corners about Ebola, here are a couple of very sober articles to consider, which are less about the actual disease and more about what such a pandemic does to the society it hits:
Battling the deadly outbreak of Ebola in Liberia has been a mammoth task for the country’s government and international aid agencies. Over the weekend combating the virus’ spread got even harder when a quarantine center in Monrovia was attacked, and 17 patients being monitored for possible infection fled the medical facility. The Liberian government initially said all of the patients had been relocated to another facility after the West Point health center was looted on Saturday, but later admitted that 17 patients had gone “back into their communities,” the BBC reports.
And this one from last week:
Attention, World: You just don’t get it.
You think there are magic bullets in some rich country’s freezers that will instantly stop the relentless spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa? You think airport security guards in Los Angeles can look a traveler in the eyes and see infection, blocking that jet passenger’s entry into La-la-land? You believe novelist Dan Brown’s utterly absurd description of a World Health Organization that has a private C5-A military transport jet and disease SWAT team that can swoop into outbreaks, saving the world from contagion?
Wake up, fools. What’s going on in West Africa now isn’t Brown’s silly Inferno scenario — it’s Steven Soderbergh’s movie Contagion, though without a modicum of its high-tech capacity.
And from that second article, more to my point:
I myself have received emails from physicians in these countries, describing the complete collapse of all non-Ebola care, from unassisted deliveries to untended auto accident injuries. People aren’t just dying of the virus, but from every imaginable medical issue a system of care usually faces.
That’s the thing — a pandemic is bad enough in its own right, when a disease such as Ebola has a mortality of more than 50% under the best conditions. Consider how much worse the impact will be once the overall public health system collapses due to the death of doctors and nurses, when deliveries can’t be made to restock supplies, when whole cities are quarantined, when people begin to really panic.
That is the horror of a true global pandemic. Like the one in St Cybi’s Well.
Cheery thought, eh?
PS: Two other unrelated things I want to mention. The first is thanks to all who participated in Helping Cassandra – you made a real difference. And the second is just to link to a blog post about some black powder shooting I did this past weekend with some very fun historical guns.
Filed under: Amazon, Connections, Feedback, Fireworks, Government, Humor, Kindle, Marketing, Promotion, Science Fiction | Tags: America, blogging, Communion of Dreams, direct publishing, feedback, Fourth of July, free, humor, Independence Day, jim downey, July 4th, Kindle, promotion, Science Fiction
I bought you a book:
Digital List Price: $3.01 What’s this? Print List Price: $11.95 Kindle Price: $0.00 You Save: $11.95 (100%)
See? It’s free! Today through Sunday! Go get a copy! Tell your friends to go get a copy! Tell your dog to go get a copy! But not your cat. Cats prefer to read the wallpaper. You know how they are.
Seriously, Happy Fourth to one and all.
Filed under: Brave New World, Civil Rights, Connections, Government, Humor, Predictions, Privacy, Science Fiction, Society, tech | Tags: blogging, civil liberties, Constitution, Focus Life Gear, government, humor, jim downey, Kunihiko Morinaga, predictions, privacy, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, technology, tracking, writing
He turned the hand-held on, did a quick check to make sure it had the software and apps he’d asked for. Everything was there. He’d pick up a burner phone later, and swap the SIMM card into the hand-held. He turned off the hand-held, dropped it into a special pocket inside his vest – one which was RF-blocked. He had another such compartment in his satchel. These, like the wallet/holster, were prohibited items and grounds for arrest in the States, but while they would raise an eyebrow in the UK they weren’t technically illegal.
And even earlier did a blog post about a commercial product to isolate a phone that way when I first thought of it: Off the Grid Bag. (Which actually works quite well, as a matter of fact; I got one of those and have tested/used it exactly as intended.)
Well, now someone has come up with the idea of making actual articles of clothing using the same idea:
Sure, you could just turn off your phone. But that would be too easy. Now, thanks to Trident (yes, the chewing gum) and fashion designer Kunihiko Morinaga, you can repel all cellphone transmissions simply by wearing these hip threads called Focus Life Gear—made of radio frequency shielding fabric.
I suppose that since I haven’t actually published St Cybi’s Well yet I can’t claim to have predicted this tech, but no matter — it’s an obvious application of existing technology and desire for privacy. But still, kinda fun.
Tip of the radio-wave-blocking hat to Tim for the news item! Thanks!
Filed under: Brave New World, Connections, DARPA, Emergency, Government, movies, Paleo-Future, Predictions, Science Fiction, Society, Survival, tech, Violence | Tags: blogging, DARPA, drones, government, jim downey, movies, Pentagon, predictions, robotics, Science Fiction, technology, Terminator
Well, anyone paying attention should have known this was coming:
Washington (AFP) – US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel got a first-hand look at a life-size robot that resembles Hollywood’s “Terminator,” the latest experiment by the Pentagon’s hi-tech researchers.
But unlike the cinematic version, the hulking Atlas robot is designed not as a warrior but as a humanitarian machine that would rescue victims in the rubble of a natural disaster, officials said on Tuesday.
The 6-foot-2-inch (187 centimeters) Atlas is one of the entrants in a contest designed to produce a man-like life-saver machine, the brainchild of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
Right. Because the Pentagon would never *dream* of putting weapons on any new piece of technology…
Filed under: Artificial Intelligence, Bad Astronomy, Expert systems, Government, Man Conquers Space, NASA, Phil Plait, Predictions, Science, Science Fiction, Space, tech, YouTube | Tags: artificial intelligence, Bad Astronomy, jim downey, Morpheus, NASA, Phil Plait, predictions, science, Science Fiction, space, technology, video, www youtube
OK, this project from NASA is pretty damned cool:
This is not a special effects scene from a science fiction movie: This is real. It’s a video showing the Morpheus Project prototype vertical takeoff and lander doing its thing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Mar. 5, 2014 (and you absolutely want to make it full screen and turn the sound up to get the full effect).
Furthermore, it’s a completely autonomous system — onboard software — doing the take-off and landing.
Filed under: Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, Brave New World, Civil Rights, Connections, Constitution, Expert systems, General Musings, Government, movies, Music, Philip K. Dick, Predictions, Privacy, Science Fiction, tech, Violence, YouTube | Tags: augmented reality, Buffalo Springfield, civil liberties, Constitution, jim downey, movies, music, Philip K. Dick, predictions, Science Fiction, technology, The Minority Report, The Verge, video, www youtube
There’s something happening here
But what it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware*
When the Chicago Police Department sent one of its commanders to Robert McDaniel’s home last summer, the 22-year-old high school dropout was surprised. Though he lived in a neighborhood well-known for bloodshed on its streets, he hadn’t committed a crime or interacted with a police officer recently. And he didn’t have a violent criminal record, nor any gun violations. In August, he incredulously told the Chicago Tribune, “I haven’t done nothing that the next kid growing up hadn’t done.” Yet, there stood the female police commander at his front door with a stern message: if you commit any crimes, there will be major consequences. We’re watching you.
What McDaniel didn’t know was that he had been placed on the city’s “heat list” — an index of the roughly 400 people in the city of Chicago supposedly most likely to be involved in violent crime. Inspired by a Yale sociologist’s studies and compiled using an algorithm created by an engineer at the Illinois Institute of Technology, the heat list is just one example of the experiments the CPD is conducting as it attempts to push policing into the 21st century.
Filed under: Civil Rights, Connections, Constitution, Failure, Government, Privacy, Society, Terrorism, Wired | Tags: blogging, civil liberties, Constitution, FBI, freedom, government, jim downey, privacy, Rahinah Ibrahim, security, terrorism, TSA, Wired
I know sometimes people think that I am anti-government or anti-authority because I rant about infringements of our civil rights and personal liberties. I’ll cop to some of that, since I do believe that trading freedom (or even privacy) for a false security is foolish.
But more importantly, I think that the whole notion of secret courts or secret laws or secret lists are dangerous because they can be abused not due to an over-enthusiastic effort to protect the country, but because of personal grudges or to cover up incompetence. Without the ability to challenge these secret acts/actions, those abuses and incompetence cannot be brought to light and corrected. This is the perfect example of that:
The government contested a former Stanford University student’s assertion that she was wrongly placed on a no-fly list for seven years in court despite knowing an FBI official put her on the list by mistake because he checked the “wrong boxes” on a form, a federal judge wrote today.
The agent, Michael Kelly, based in San Jose, misunderstood the directions on the form and “erroneously nominated” Rahinah Ibrahim to the list in 2004, the judge wrote.
“He checked the wrong boxes, filling out the form exactly the opposite way from the instructions on the form,” U.S. District Judge William Alsup wrote (.pdf) today.
* * *
Much of the federal court trial, in which the woman sought only to clear her name, was conducted in secret after U.S. officials repeatedly invoked the state secrets privilege and sought to have the case dismissed.
Doctor Ibrahim is the first person to successfully challenge in court being put on a government watch list in the US. It’s highly doubtful that she is the only one to be placed on such a list incorrectly.
National security may benefit from secret lists and hidden actions. But so does bureaucratic incompetence and hidden agendas.
Filed under: Amazon, Astronomy, Bad Astronomy, Connections, Emergency, Failure, General Musings, Government, Humor, Kindle, Marketing, movies, NASA, Nuclear weapons, Phil Plait, Predictions, Preparedness, Promotion, Publishing, Science, Science Fiction, Society, Space, tech, YouTube | Tags: Amazon, asteroid, Bad Astronomy, blogging, Chelyabinsk, Command and Control, Communion of Dreams, direct publishing, Dr. Strangelove, Eric Schlosser, free, Herman Kahn., humor, jim downey, Kindle, movies, NASA, nuclear weapons, Phil Plait, predictions, promotion, science, Science Fiction, space, technology, The New Yorker, USSR, video, www youtube
Next Wednesday is the 50th anniversary of the release of the classic film “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” It’s long been one of my favorite movies, even as a kid. Yeah, I was a strange kid. Don’t act like you’re surprised.
A decade after the release of “Strangelove,” the Soviet Union began work on the Perimeter system—-a network of sensors and computers that could allow junior military officials to launch missiles without oversight from the Soviet leadership. Perhaps nobody at the Kremlin had seen the film. Completed in 1985, the system was known as the Dead Hand. Once it was activated, Perimeter would order the launch of long-range missiles at the United States if it detected nuclear detonations on Soviet soil and Soviet leaders couldn’t be reached. Like the Doomsday Machine in “Strangelove,” Perimeter was kept secret from the United States; its existence was not revealed until years after the Cold War ended.
“Detecting nuclear detonations” … hmm, where have I heard that phrase recently? Oh, yeah:
On the second day of 2014, a small asteroid blew up high in Earth’s atmosphere. It was relatively harmless—the rock was only a couple of meters across, far too small to hit the ground or do any real damage—and it disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean anyway.
What’s cool is that now we know for sure this is the case: Infrasound detectors designed to listen for nuclear bomb detonations actually heard the explosion from the impact and were able to pinpoint the location of the event to a few hundred kilometers east off the coast of Venezuela.
NASA put together a nice informative video explaining it:
Gee, it sure is a good thing nothing like that has ever hit the territory of the old USSR … er, oops.
And now that I’ve given you a nice dose of fright, let me make it up to you with a reminder that you can download Communion of Dreams (which has it all … game theory, nuclear exchanges, and more than a little of my old strangeness) for free today and tomorrow!
*The title of one of Herman Kahn‘s books about nuclear war/deterrence, and where I think I was first exposed to the concepts behind game theory. I’ve got Schlosser’s book Command and Control on my to-read list when the Kindle price comes down a bit.
Filed under: DARPA, Government, Science, Science Fiction, tech, YouTube | Tags: blogging, DARPA, jim downey, JPL, RoboSimian, robotics, science, Science Fiction, technology, www youtube
… well, you know the rest. Granted, the RoboSimian is still tethered, and moves fairly slowly, but it certainly is another glimpse into how quickly robotics are progressing. See for yourself:
Filed under: Book Conservation, Connections, General Musings, Government, Science Fiction, The Prisoner, Wales, Writing stuff | Tags: book conservation, craftsmanship, jim downey, Open Culture, Patrick McGoohan, Portmeirion, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, The Prisoner, The Village, video, Wales, writing
A small excerpt from the current chapter I’m writing:
“Explain,” said Darnell.
“Simple: however hostile you are to the government, you still love your country and don’t want to see it harmed,” said Smith.
“We’re not asking you to do anything in support of the government,” added Jones. “However, if you hear of something which might be a threat to the people of America, please let us know.”
Darnell sipped his wine, looked out over the estuary below the terrace. The image of Patrick McGoohan racing across the sand flats, trying to get away, came to him. He looked up. “Hear something? Why should I hear something?”
Why yes, that scene is set in Portmeirion. :)
The writing continues to go well, though I occasionally have small crises of confidence, panic attacks over the thought that I have anything to say. Ah, well, it’s part of the process, and you just have to set those fears aside and get on with the story as best you can. I think that this is where my training and work as a book conservator comes in handy — I understand tackling jobs which at first seem to be too much, to be beyond my skill level. Because when you break them down into small steps, they’re manageable. I don’t have to write the whole novel; I just have to write the next scene.
PS: Completely unrelated, but do yourself a favor — go read this, and watch the embedded video. Trust me.