Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Science fiction’ Category

It sounds like Big Brother’s wet dream

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Vizio Smart TVs spy on their owners and sell what they learned. How far away is blackmail?

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2015 at 12:09 pm

Man, today is nothing but sf novels come to life: DARPA Is About to Start Testing an Autonomous, Submarine-Hunting Ocean Drone

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In fact, I think I’ve read this one. Doesn’t it sound familiar?

And this is a vignette from a Philip K. Dick novel, a chapter called “Deputy Florida Man.”

And if you give the religions exotic names, this clear conflict is seen in many a novel placed in other worlds.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2015 at 10:58 am

Cyberwars of the future, described in science-fiction, are here today

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Unfortunately, the science-fiction novel in question would be a dystopia, in which the government is so at war with its own citizens that it wants to have access to whatever they are doing in cyberspace: all emails, all phone calls, encryption discouraged and strong encryption targeted for destruction/undermining. That sort of dystopia.

This is the one where a secure private messaging service with good encryption is crippled by a DDoS attack of government-sized power.

UPDATE: Admit it: Doesn’t this incident read exactly as if it came from one of many sf dystopias (a strangely popular theme)? In fact, isn’t this quite reminiscent of scenes in the movie Brazil?

UPDATE again: US Supreme Court provides additional immunity to police who shoot people.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 November 2015 at 10:19 am

The best science-fiction military novel of all time: Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War

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It truly is an impressive novel—a great military novel, pure and simple, which also happens to be science-fiction. Brian Merchant discusses it in an article in Motherboard that includes an interview with Haldeman:

For my money, the best novel to read about the future of war today, in 2015, was published in 1974. Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War is an all-time science fiction classic, but it hasn’t quite enjoyed the same degree of mass cultural saturation as other war-themed SF staples like Ender’s Game or Starship Troopers—maybe because it hasn’t been made into a film or TV show, maybe because its politics are too thorny and complex.

Either way, it’s too bad. As William Gibson notes in the blurb on the front of mypaperback copy, “To say that The Forever War is the best science fiction war novel ever written is to damn it with faint praise.” It’s one of the best books about war, period, and it’s telling that the other accolades listed come from literary lights like Jonathan Lethem and Junot Diaz, who calls it “perhaps the most important war novel written since Vietnam.”

Haldeman was a veteran of that conflict—“I was drafted against my will, and went off to fight somebody else’s war,” as he put it—and the book projects the contours of his duty and subsequent return to civilian life into a future marked by what is almost literally forever war. Its power lies in the expert co-mingling of hyperbolic allegory with gritty speculation. It’s about a war that literally damn near never ends, one that spans the furthest reaches of space and time; the fighting can happen anywhere and is potentially everywhere. The protagonist, an almost-anagrammed stand-in for Haldeman named Mandella, is hurled across far reaches of the galaxy to fight a poorly understood, apparently undefeatable foe.

Since the powers commanding Earth’s army send him to the front lines of interstellar war at warp speeds, it’s not long before he becomes disconnected from the slice of reality he grew up in—once he goes back to Earth, the place has evolved without him; new customs, new social order, new governance, new technologies, new decline. It is mostly unrecognizable, and Mandella is totally unable to fit in. The book does what good science fiction does best: offers the audience a brand new mode through which to process universal truth; in this case, the uniquely extreme alienating power of war.

It’s about as pitch-perfect metaphor for what it’s like to go to war a civilian can ever hope to absorb—not only is the organized violence of the battlefield interminable, but the dislocation brought about to those subjected to it is total and unrelenting, too.

About now, we’re in need of more such metaphors. The Vietnam War may have ended decades ago, but our military adventuring hasn’t. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 September 2015 at 4:03 pm

No one can read this (fascinating) article and deny evolution—and a swarm as the entity

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Really worth reading in its entirety, and just the right level (at least for me) of technical detail: enough so you can understand how/why it works, but not so much that you get lost in the trees. Carrie Arnold writes in Quanta about how the virus isn’t the living, evolving entity; it’s the swarm, instead. Very science-fictiony, eh?

Sometime in late 2013, a mosquito-borne virus called chikungunya appeared for the first time in the Western Hemisphere. Chikungunya, or “chik,” as it’s called, rarely kills its human hosts. But it can cause fever, rash and debilitating joint pain. In the two years since it first arrived in the Caribbean, chik has spread wildly across the Americas. It is now suspected of having infected over 1 million people in 44 countries and territories, creating a hemisphere-wide horde of mosquito-borne suffering.

The same biological quirks that have contributed to chik’s success are showing researchers how to fight it — and other viruses like it. Chik is an RNA virus, just like influenza, West Nile virus, hepatitis and Ebola, among others. Unlike DNA viruses, which contain two copies of their genetic information, RNA viruses are single-stranded. When they replicate, any errors in the single strand get passed on. As a result, copying is sloppy, and so each new generation of RNA viruses tends to have lots of errors. In only a few generations, a single virus can become a mutant swarm of closely related viruses.

This viral genetic jumble has given Marco Vignuzzi, a virologist at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, a way to predict the future evolution of RNA viruses like chik. Vignuzzi has re-created a single mutation in chik that occurred early in the virus’s around-the-world adventure, work that illuminated how the virus was able to spread so widely in such a short amount of time. Now Vignuzzi is trying to predict chik’s future. This past June, at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in New Orleans, Vignuzzi showcased the two mutations in chik that are most likely to develop next.

Viruses are tricky and complex beasts; no one can predict exactly what they will do. But if researchers are ever to get a step ahead of the rapidly shifting world of viruses around us, they will need to deconstruct the viral swarm.

A Viral Potluck

For almost 40 years, scientists have worked to understand how RNA viruses can have so many mutations and still be so successful.

In the late 1970s, the virologist Esteban Domingo of the Autonomous University of Madrid was trying to measure the sloppiness of replication using an RNA virus that infects bacteria. He found that one mutation occurred every time the virus copied its genome, on average. As a result, a single virus produces an array of daughter viruses that are almost, but not quite, identical. Every generation spawns another array of viruses, leading to what Domingo called a “mutant cloud” of viruses.

However, most of the mutations in viral clouds create problems for the virus. Researchers assumed that any single mutated version of a healthy virus was likely destined for extinction. But then in 2006, scientists published an account of a thriving dengue virus in Myanmar with what should have been a catastrophic error in the middle of a vital gene. . .

Continue reading. He explains how it works and discovers the true entity, as alien as anything in a science-fiction story—and I think I’ve read a number of stories in which the alien was along these lines: the individual animals/plants/people were not the entity with which you had to deal, it was the total group: the swarm.

Read the whole thing. It’s fascinating.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 August 2015 at 2:28 pm

Life is getting extremely weird: Real Life Katamari Ball Tests the Limits of 3D Printing

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I think we have seriously underestimated how weird daily life is becoming—though “we” clearly does not include William Gibson. Check out this article in Motherboard by Emanuel Maiberg:

Katamari Damacy took the gaming world by storm in 2004 with a simple concept. You roll a ball into objects that stick to it and make the ball bigger, which then allows you to roll into and gather bigger objects, making the ball even bigger, and so on. You start by rolling up loose change on the floor and before you know you’re rolling into trucks and buildings. The challenge was to see how big of a Katamari ball you could make before the timer runs out.

Kata​mari Roll, a new project by Arian Croft, uses the same idea to hopefully test the limits of 3D printing.

Croft, who’s known for his 3D-printed board game Pock​et-Tactics, got the idea for the project when he spotted a 3D model of a Katam​ari Ball on Th​ingiverse, 3D printer manufacturer Makerbot’s repository of models that users can share and print. “I noticed that it both hadn’t been printed yet, and that, though left in a repository full of random objects, it had yet to be used to gather a mound of objects,” he said.

Like the game that inspired it, Katamari Roll has a simple concept. Take the Katamari Ball, add a random 3D model to it, print it out, and pass it along. With 12 iterations so far, it’s off to a good start.

“It took off on the first day, and the clump has gotten bigger and bigger since,” Croft said. “It’s slowed down a bit, though as I document and more people catch on, it’ll grow, until, I guess, it can’t be printed anymore?”

Croft said that there are definitely limitations to how big the ball can get—Makerbot’s . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 March 2015 at 7:53 pm

Businesses taking powers that properly belong only to government: Uber, for example

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Read this article by T.C. Sottek at The Verge: “Uber has an army of at least 161 lobbyists and they’re crushing regulators.” And from the outset Uber has ignored the restrictions of the law, often in letter as well as in spirit, as though the rules did not apply to them—because Uber was making its own rules. That’s the mindset of the company. “We’re going to disrupt things and break shit.” Well, shit is well and truly being broken. If people do not wake up a little, we’re in for some tough sledding. John Twelve Hawks doesn’t touch it, though he certainly points the direction in his trilogy that beings with The Traveler. Highly readable.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 December 2014 at 1:55 pm


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