Filed under: Babylon 5, Brave New World, Civil Rights, Failure, Gene Roddenberry, J. Michael Straczynski, JMS, Predictions, Science Fiction, Star Trek, tech | Tags: ars technica, Babylon 5, blogging, David Kravets, Delvon King, jim downey, predictions, Robert Nalley, Science Fiction, Star Trek, technology
One of the oldest Science Fiction tropes is the development of technology intended to enforce compliance through pain. Two notable examples: the ‘shock collars’ used on members of the Enterprise crew in The Gamesters of Triskelion and the ‘pain givers‘ first depicted in the Babylon 5 episode The Parliament of Dreams.
In both cases, and typically through most of the SF I can think of, this is meant to be a cautionary tale, to show how even a nominally benign or at least non-lethal technology can be perverted. The lesson is that the intentional infliction of pain is itself a bad thing, whether or not it actually causes real corporeal damage.
So, naturally, we have drawn exactly the wrong lesson:
A Maryland judge who ordered a deputy to remotely shock a defendant with a 50,000-volt charge pleaded guilty (PDF) to a misdemeanor civil rights violation in federal court Monday, and he faces a maximum of one year in prison when sentenced later this year.
* * *
The deputy sheriff walked over to where Victim I was standing and pulled a chair away to clear a place for Victim I to fall to the floor. At this point, Victim I stopped speaking. The deputy sheriff then activated the stun-cuff, which administered an electric shock to Victim I for approximately five seconds. The electric shock caused Victim I to fall to the ground and scream in pain. Nalley recessed the proceedings.
* * *
The authorities are increasingly using stun cuffs, which are about the size of a deck of cards, at detention centers and courthouses. They are made by various companies and cost around $1,900 for a device and transmitter. Some models can shock at 80,000 volts.
Filed under: Brave New World, Climate Change, Predictions, Science, Science Fiction, Star Trek, Survival, Weather | Tags: 2073, architecture, blogging, climate change, hurricane, jim downey, predictions, science, Science Fiction, short story, Star Trek, weather, Wikipedia
She stood there, looking out the thick transparent aluminum window, hands resting on the sill next to her favorite houseplant. Even though the house was relatively new, and built to the latest safety specs, she could still feel the slight vibration of the storm outside. In her mind was the howl of the wind, though she was fairly certain that she was imagining that. She turned and looked at her friend. “Remember when hurricane classifications only went up to category 5?”
Filed under: Brave New World, Civil Rights, Connections, Gene Roddenberry, General Musings, MIT, NASA, Science, Science Fiction, Society, Space, Star Trek, Writing stuff, YouTube | Tags: Challenger, inspiration, jim downey, NASA, Open Culture, Ronald McNair, science, Science Fiction, space, Space Shuttle, Star Trek, video, writing, www youtube
… how what you write, or say, or do, will inspire and encourage others:
Filed under: Connections, General Musings, NPR, Science, Science Fiction, Star Trek, tech, Writing stuff | Tags: augmented reality, blogging, Diane Rehm, jim downey, Morning Edition, NPR, predictions, Samsung, science, Science Fiction, smartphone, St. Cybi's Well, Star Trek, technology, tricorder, writing
Seriously. It’s a common thing for me. Usually I shower while listening to Morning Edition or The Diane Rehm show, picking up on the news or some interesting topic of conversation. The combination of engaging my brain while relaxing my body seems to prompt intuitive leaps and interesting insights. And I had an excellent one this morning.
From back in December:
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.
Compare it to this passage:
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. It was a model with a ‘super stylus’ – one end for working on the screen like any stylus, the other which had an integrated camera and microphone system wirelessly tethered to the phone. With the range of applications available, this damned near made the thing a proto-tricorder. He’d pick up a burner phone later, and swap the SIMM card into the hand-held.
No big deal, right? Just two additional sentences. What constitutes a minor tweak, right?
Actually, it’s the first major revision of St Cybi’s Well. Granted, I’m only about halfway done with the first draft, so calling it a revision might seem to be a bit much. But it’s not.
Consider what you could do with such a change to our current technology. My present smartphone is a Samsung Galaxy Note II. It’s a great phone, with an amazing range of applications available for it. If you added a resident decent camera and mic to the end of the stylus, combined with the right software, this thing really would be almost like a tricorder. Particularly if the quality of the camera were such that it could pick up a wider range of EMR than just normal visible light, and the mic(s) were sensitive to a wider range of sounds. You might need to add in something like an IR or UV “flash/laser” on the phone body, but doing so would allow you to do a wide range of diagnostics well outside the usual range of human vision and hearing. Just off the top of my head it would be capable of:
- Checking surface temperatures.
- Night vision.
- Motion detection.
- Blood oxygenation & glucose monitoring.
- Pulse/heart monitor.
- The ability to look around corners or over walls, into small crevices/holes …
- The ability to listen to distant sounds and to estimate location of same.
You get the idea. And pretty much all that should be possible with our present level of technology (both hardware & software), just brought together in some slightly different ways.
So yeah, just two sentences dropped into the “Prelude” to the actual novel, but which sets the stage for me to allow my characters to know and do more throughout the whole book.
Filed under: Humor, Science Fiction, Star Trek | Tags: Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica, blogging, Farscape, Geek, humor, jim downey, language, Science Fiction, Star Trek
Final exam sample question:
Discuss the origin and differences in nuance of meaning/use of the following words:
Demonstrate each in an appropriate sentence.
For extra credit, give the approximate Klingon equivalent.
Filed under: Arthur C. Clarke, Augmented Reality, Brave New World, Connections, Emergency, General Musings, Health, Paleo-Future, Predictions, Science, Science Fiction, Star Trek, Survival, tech, Writing stuff | Tags: Arthur C. Clarke, augmented reality, blogging, cell phone, energy, fracking, hydraulic fracturing, jim downey, mundane science fiction, oil, predictions, Samuel Tisherman, science, Science Fiction, Star Trek, suspended animation, technology, writing
Suspended animation of one sort or another has been a staple of Science Fiction just about forever. Of course, as such it has often been dismissed as being little more than fantasy — just a magic trick that a lazy author will resort to in order to get around some technological barrier or another. Because, you know, it’s just completely unrealistic …
NEITHER dead or alive, knife-wound or gunshot victims will be cooled down and placed in suspended animation later this month, as a groundbreaking emergency technique is tested out for the first time.
Surgeons are now on call at the UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to perform the operation, which will buy doctors time to fix injuries that would otherwise be lethal.
“We are suspending life, but we don’t like to call it suspended animation because it sounds like science fiction,” says Samuel Tisherman, a surgeon at the hospital, who is leading the trial. “So we call it emergency preservation and resuscitation.”
Yeah, you certainly wouldn’t want it to sound like Science Fiction. ‘Cause that stuff’s just nuts.
I’ve written previously about ‘mundane science fiction‘, the idea being that we have to stick with what we know to be technologically realistic. The thing is, what we consider to be technologically “realistic” keeps changing, often in surprising ways. I remember the energy crisis of the mid-’70’s, and when US energy independence was considered to be little more than a fantasy talking-point of presidents. Well, the US currently produces more oil than we consume. Sure, it has come with real costs/problems, but it is nonetheless true. (And actually, I think that sort of trade-off makes for a more interesting Science Fiction story overall, exploring both the benefits and problems of new technologies.)
Clarke had it right: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. That doesn’t give a Science Fiction writer complete latitude to just make shit up. But it also cautions against dismissing any technology as “unrealistic” out-of-hand.
Just ask the first person who will be saved due to “emergency preservation and resuscitation.” Chances are, sometime later this year you’ll be able to do so on his/her cell phone.
Filed under: Astronomy, Bad Astronomy, Connections, Fireworks, Gene Roddenberry, Man Conquers Space, NASA, Phil Plait, Predictions, Science, Science Fiction, Society, Space, Star Trek, Survival, YouTube | Tags: Bad Astronomy, Bill Nye, blogging, jim downey, NASA, Neil deGrasse Tyson, predictions, science, Science Fiction, space, Star Trek, video, www youtube
Unsurprisingly, this has been making the rounds among my friends:
As noted in the various science stories, 2012 DA14 is about 150 feet in diameter, and would have about the same effect were it to hit the Earth as Meteor Crater, depending on the exact composition, speed and angle of approach of the meteor. If you want to play with the variables, here’s a simulator I’ve had fun playing with in the past Impact: Earth!
On one end of the range of effects would be just another bright light in the sky, as the thing exploded in the upper atmosphere. On the other end, another mile-wide crater where a city used to be. Fun, eh? And remember – 2012 DA14 was just discovered last year, and then by pure chance. There are any number of such potential threats out in space. As the Washington Post puts it:
For the foreseeable future, then, Earth will continue to reside in a cosmic shooting gallery with an enormous number of currently unknown objects, some of which may have a direct bead on us without our knowing. While it is probably much more unlikely than likely, a potentially disastrous collision with an asteroid of at least the dimensions comparable to DA14 could occur anytime possibly with little or no warning in our lifetimes.
Keep your fingers crossed that our luck — and our atmospheric ‘shields’ — continue to hold until we no longer have all of our eggs in this particular basket.