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: Augmented Reality, Brave New World, Connections, General Musings, Health, NPR, Preparedness, Science, Science Fiction, Scott Simon, tech, Writing stuff | Tags: apps, augmented reality, blogging, health, ideas, jim downey, NPR, Rupal Patel, science, Science Fiction, Scott Simon, speech, St. Cybi's Well, technology, VocalID, writing
A somewhat related item on NPR this morning reminded me of an idea I had a while back. The gist of it:
Come up with a simple computer/smartphone app which would contain a few hundred basic words which you just read aloud and record. Save the file, and later it could be used for basic communication should you not have direct use of your voice for whatever reason.
Speech scientists/therapists could compile the standard list of words (for whatever language), perhaps with “expansion packs” of additional words some people might want to also record. When you have a few free minutes, you just run down the list, say a few words and save it. Then later you could use something like a standard text-message app to compose the words into sentences for ease of communication, and the app would just plug your recorded words into place.
It wouldn’t have the normal sort of nuance of inflection that comes with natural speech (though there may be a simple way around that — I’m not knowledgeable enough to know), but at least it would be in your own voice.
Who would use such a thing? Well, all of us face temporary or permanent loss of our voice throughout our lives, for all kinds of reasons. So there’s that. But I could also see uses where the app could be mated with any email or texting use, so that the recipient could directly hear you “talking” to them with it. I would think that it would have all kinds of uses beyond that, as well.
Just a thought. If someone wants to come up with such a thing, cut me in for a percentage, will you?
PS: Hmm, I may have to incorporate this kind of tech into St Cybi’s Well. I can think of a few ways it could be useful …
PPS: Following posting this, I contacted one of the speech scientists mentioned in the NPR program this morning, Dr. Rupal Patel. And while it isn’t exactly the same sort of thing I envision, she did share with me the effort she is involved with, which has an app currently in beta testing: http://vocalid.org/ Looks like a very worthwhile endeavor, check it out and ‘donate’ your voice.
Filed under: Brave New World, Humor, movies, Paleo-Future, Predictions, Science, Science Fiction, Society | Tags: BiteLabs, blogging, Harry Harrison, humor, jim downey, movies, predictions, science, Science Fiction, Soylent Green, technology
Now comes the perfect commoditization of celebrity:
“BiteLabs grows meat from celebrity tissue samples and uses it to make artisanal salami.” So proclaims the copy on BiteLabs.org, right under an all-caps call to action: EAT CELEBRITY MEAT. The site proposes taking actual tissue samples of celebrities—specifically, James Franco, Kanye West, Jennifer Lawrence, and Ellen DeGeneres—and growing their cloned meat for use in a marketable salami blend.
* * *
“The product is indeed salami,” Kevin says. ”Each salami will have roughly 30% celebrity meat and 40% lab-grown animal meats (we’re currently looking into ostrich and venison but it pork and beef are more popular in our early research). The rest will consist of fats and spices. This break-down comes from consultation with expert food designers and chefs.”
Admittedly, I have an … odd … sense of humor, but for the life of me I can’t figure out whether this is funnier if it is satire or if it is real.
Welcome to the future, though it’s a bit different than what we expected.
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: Connections, Faith healing, Science Fiction, Wales, Writing stuff | Tags: Barclodiad y Gawres, Communion of Dreams, jim downey, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, Stonehenge, Wales, writing
… anyway, here’s an excerpt from the end of the latest chapter I thought might amuse:
“Yeah,” said Darnell, nodding. “There were a couple of places where some standing stones had been set back into the walls. These looked like they were the same sort of stone as up at Barclodiad y Gawres, and they actually had similar markings on them. But the most curious thing was a larger standing stone in the very center of the room. This was more than a meter tall, and had a sort of bulb or sphere at the top.”
“Phallic images were fairly common …” started Megan.
“Yeah, but this didn’t really come across like that. It was more like a globe on a stand, with a very distinct spiral carved into it that started at the very top and coiled down to about where the equator would be.”
“Yeah. it was a different kind of stone from everything else, too. I’m not sure, but it looked to me to be the same sort of bluestone used at Stonehenge.”
“Really? That’s wild,” said Megan.
“Yeah, but the wildest part was that it felt almost … warm … to the touch. And when I did touch it, for a moment I almost thought I could hear someone talking, whispering in the distance.”
Filed under: Amazon, Failure, Feedback, Kindle, Marketing, Music, Promotion, Publishing, Science Fiction, Writing stuff | Tags: Amazon, Communion of Dreams, direct publishing, feedback, free, Hugh Howey, Jefferson Starship, jim downey, Kickstarter, Kindle, music, promotion, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, Wool, writing
Last week Hugh Howey, the very successful author of the Wool series, published The Report on his AuthorEarnings site which generated more than a little attention across the publishing/self-publishing world.
I’m not going to get into a real discussion of The Report here. I’m in no way qualified to criticize the data or analysis contained in Howey’s post, and others have already done so with thoroughness. If you’re interested whether or not Howey’s post holds up to scrutiny, I’d recommend reading those.
Howey has had huge success, and seems to have managed that arc of success very well. By his own admission, he has been extremely fortunate with self-publishing, and his success is very much *not* what the vast majority of self-published authors will experience. But his success has made him something of an evangelist for self-publishing, and that is reflected in The Report. Hence the title of this blog post — Howey very much advocates self-publishing for authors at every level, and in using the power which self-publishing has to force changes in the traditional publishing industry to benefit authors.
While I actually largely agree with Howey about the benefits of self-publishing, I thought I would offer my own contrasting experience as a self-published genre author who has had only moderate success.
After years of ‘close calls’ in almost getting Communion of Dreams conventionally published (including what would have been a nightmare - losing the rights to the book when a small publisher went under), in January of 2012 I self-published it. Since then, some 27,000 copies of the book have been downloaded, and about 200 paperback copies have been sold.
Looks pretty good, right?
Well, 80% or more of those downloads were promotional. Which is to say, free. And in addition to the paperback copies sold, I gave away about as many.
No complaints from me — this is using the tools available through Amazon, and I knew what I was doing. But that necessarily means that I didn’t earn any money off those books directly.
So in all of 2012, actual sales generated decent, but modest, income. Not enough to buy even an economy car new, but easily 3 or 4 times the advance that the Publisher Who Shall Not Be Named was going to give me. Then last year residual sales were less than $1000. If you add in my successful Kickstarter (after deducting expenses associated with that), all told I was able to stop doing most freelance writing last year and get to work on the next novel. Of course, while still trying to do enough book conservation work to stay afloat, and almost managing.
I consider this success. It’s not Hugh Howey level success. It’s not even ‘mid-list authors a decade ago’ level sucess. It isn’t enough to live on.
But the first novel is out there, and has been well received. And I’m well on the way to having the next one out later this year.
Which is a hell of a lot better than banging my head against the gates of traditional publishing houses.
*Reference, for those who are wondering. I’ve been considering doing a series of blog posts getting into rock music with a SF theme, looking at the development of that sub-genre over time. I still have a lot on my plate with SCW, so it’ll probably be a while, but if anyone wants to comment with suggested songs/albums/performers, feel free.
Filed under: Brave New World, Connections, Mars, NPR, Predictions, Science, Science Fiction, tech | Tags: blogging, Communion of Dreams, Hod Lipson, jim downey, Justin Werfel, Mars, microbots, NPR, predictions, robotics, science, Science Fiction, space, technology, Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering
From page 4 of Communion of Dreams:
They were, in essence, enclosing the entire planet in a greenhouse of glass fabric and golden plasteel. It was going to take generations to finish, even using mass microbots and fabricating the construction materials from the Martian sands. Tens of thousands of the specially programmed microbots, a few centimeters long and a couple wide, would swarm an area, a carpet of shifting, building insects. As each cell was finished, it was sealed, joined to the adjacent cells, and then the microbots would move on.
Those microbots play a big role in the novel, being a factor in the plot. More importantly, they are a basic part of the tech I envision for the book, accelerating our technological recovery on Earth as well as our venture into space.
Well, guess what was on the news last night:
“We’ve created this system of multiple independent robots that build things we ask for,” says [Justin] Werfel, “and they do it more like the way insects act than the way that robots normally act.”
The robots don’t look like termites. Instead, they look more like black, mechanical beetles, about 8 inches long. They have just a few on-board sensors that let them navigate around a work site set up in a lab.
* * *
“They build things that are much larger than themselves,” says Werfel. “They climb on what they are … building to get to higher places, and they coordinate what they are doing using a tool that termites use.
“Rather than talk to one another directly, they coordinate indirectly by changing their shared environment,” he explains. “So one puts down some material, another one comes along and reacts to that material, and uses that to help it decide later whether to put more material down.”
* * *
The vision is that, someday, swarms of robots could stack up sandbags to protect against flooding, or go to Mars and build living quarters for astronauts. That’s still a long way off. But this is a proof of principle study that construction robots can work together like termites, says Hod Lipson, an engineer at Cornell University who specializes in robotics.
I love it when stuff like this happens.
Filed under: Writing stuff | Tags: Gravity's Rainbow, humor, jim downey, Science Fiction, St. Cybi's Well, Thomas Pynchon, writing
Huw reached down, picked up a glass, then held it up for Darnell to see. Then he turned to the sink in the counter behind him, turned a tap and filled the glass. Again he held it up for Darnell’s consideration. “If I tell you that only the water that comes out of this tap is safe to drink, and I control the tap, then you have to ask me for water – on my terms. Then I control you.”
“But what if you knew you could just step outside to the stream from the falls and drink that water?”
Darnell nodded. “Or if I had my own well.”
“Or even,” smiled Huw, “if you knew where there were other wells available for the free use of all.”
“Understood. But if I don’t know about the other wells or streams, or think that they’re not safe to drink from …”
“Correct,” said Huw. “I don’t have to control all the water in order to control you. I just need to distract you from noticing that there are other sources.”
The writing continues.
*A small homage to this: “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers.”
Filed under: Bipolar, Connections, Failure, Feedback, NPR, Science Fiction, Scott Simon, Writing stuff | Tags: bipolar, blogging, Communion of Dreams, feedback, jim downey, literature, Marcel Theroux, NPR, Paul Theroux, Science Fiction, Scott Simon, St. Cybi's Well, Weekend Edition, writing
A good segment on this morning’s Weekend Edition Saturday with writer Marcel Theroux (son of Paul Theroux). I recommend the whole thing, but two particular bits stood out for me. The first is included on the ‘highlights’ page for the show:
I was trying to be as free as possible. I don’t really think about genre … to be honest. I find it constraining. And I know there’s a certain embarrassment about talking about science fiction in polite company, so some people prefer to call it “speculative fiction” instead.
And the second is my transcription from the actual interview (at about the 5:00 mark):
Anyone who has written a long work of fiction just knows that your mood goes up and down and at times it seems baffling and you feel that you should be doing something that is of value to the human race, not sitting on your own in a room churning out words. Or not churning out words.
Boy, howdy. I am happily churning out words at present, but sometimes it just feels so … self indulgent. And that doesn’t include the moments of complete panic that everyone will be disappointed in the prequel to Communion of Dreams because it isn’t science-fictiony enough or the writing isn’t any good or something.
Back to work. It’s all I can do.