Blog Archives

Humans Now, Basically

2016 NOV Norfolk - old gum tree and electrical station - Victor and Cuinn.jpg

Children (my 2 youngest, 3 and 5) in the shadow of a gnarled ancient of a gum tree, with an electrical substation lurking behind.

Kind of a metaphor for our world, isn’t it?

As a bonus, the yellow vest is a Batman vest and the brown jacket is a print of Chewbacca’s torso. Geek life FTW.

Found A Bag Of Luddite Flatearther Head-In-Sand Today

parablesblog  The Spirit of Anti Christ Revealed in NASA --bag of luddite flatearther head-in-sand

Here you go. You can thank me after you stop sighing, laughing, eyerolling, puking, or whatever your reaction of choice is. I think I managed all but the last in the space of 3 seconds, which probably isn’t a new world record but has to be close.

I may have sprained an eye, in fact.

Eyeroll drag race

I get it. New stuff can be scary. There has been a TON of new stuff in the last couple of centuries. Internets, pocket computers, flying machines, devil carriages that move without horses, lights that mysteriously light up without a hint of whale oil in sight.

If some folks want to hole up in the past, well, that’s sort of their choice. The Amish and a few similar groups manage to do it pretty gracefully and even give their kids at least some degree of choice as to whether they’d like to stay in ignore-the-changes-land or come out and share the benefits and, yes, detriments of modernity.

And then there are people like Mr/Ms “NASA is a Satanic snake tongue”.

Asshole - spider-man

It takes a special kind of asshole to employ a computer to create a blog that can be viewed, potentially, by anyone in the world via a global communications net made possible by transatlantic fiberoptic cables and a network of satellites to urge others to reject space exploration as offensive because it doesn’t fit in with their particular (and particularly narrow and ugly) view of a ‘how to live’ manual composed roughly between 6000 and 1500 years ago depending on which bits you read and what you believe about how they came to be. Oh, and assume there’s somehow a giant secret conspiracy to lie about it spanning 70+ years and involving, by now, at least hundreds of thousands of people, becasue we all know how great several hundred thousand people are at keeping a secret over many decades, right?

If you want to see the WTFery for yourself, I’d rather not generate hits for them but here’s a Google Cache link.

A Couple Of Centuries Makes Aliens

I had some fun with this hashtag, but the underlying idea is pretty important: it wasn’t the case in the distant past so much, but these last couple of centuries our rate of technological advance has been so rapid that time makes aliens of the people of the past quickly. It’s hard to conceive that they’d be so different from us, that we’re so different from them, only two or three centuries separated in time. The language has changed, but not so much we couldn’t understand it. We still run the USA on the basis of the documents they wrote. But the worldviews of people now and then are so different, I wonder if they’d even grasp how we interpret them now, or if we even truly grasp what they meant when they wrote. Certainly we have some clue. Certainly our legal scholars do. But really, one would have to be a historian and a lawyer and an anthropologist and maybe a psychologist and a few other things to really get it.

We have a vague idea of who and what people from a past so far removed from our present in time and technology and ideas were. But it’s a shallow idea, like a US founder might have had of the culture of Beijing at the time. A tissue of stereotype and rumor.

They’re aliens in a very meaningful sense. Or we’ve become aliens to them. The people of the 2300s will be just as alien from our point of view, whether they’re more advanced or the survivors of a civilization-destroying apocalypse.

Even if we never meet extraterrestrials, we walk in the footsteps of aliens every day of our lives.

“One More For The Road” — Learning to drive in a future where nobody knows how to drive

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Yes, this one is about acquiring an archaic skill that nobody needs — driving an uncomputerized car in a time when cars not only drive themselves, but have no user-accessible steering wheel, accelerator, brake, not even a switch for the headlights. Where your car not only drives you, but it also comes to your side when you call — literally.

Stories that simple are never that simple, and there’s a lot more than that to this novelette — which, by the way, is available as preorder until its 27th July 2016 release, and of course as an instant purchase after that at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, and Google Play Books.

It’s about learning to see past the context of your time and place in history, learning to see what in your society helps and what holds you back, about a woman going hand-to-hand with caveman tech just to see if she can.

I posted more about it in an earlier post.

I also wrote a short description that appears where it is sold: “Angela’s world is automated — the cars drive themselves. Houses and tablets and phones are always listening to tell you how to do things and warn you against things you’re not supposed to do. When she and her boyfriend inherit an old-style manual-drive car, it inspires her to try to master it — and to realize how little a person actually controls in a technological,automated world.”

And I think you should buy a copy because I enjoyed the hell out of finishing it and loved seeing how it ended — I think that enjoyment and love shines through in the finished product.

Thanks.

[Also, just so you know, over on Patreon my patrons got a free copy a few days ago (and you can still get one by becoming a patron and scrolling down to the post and downloading your preferred format) — not only did they not have to wait for the preorder to release, but they also didn’t have to pay. Good deal, no?]

SciFi News Network 2062: Self-Driving Vehicle Kills Three

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Posted: Monday, August 7th, 2062

WESTON, Mass.

Three pedestrians were killed Sunday when a self-driving car’s operating system was compromised outside a weekend farmers’ market in Weston, a wealthy suburb of Boston. Two local teens in the car were also treated and released with non-life-threatening injuries. Witnesses said the vehicle did not slow as it mounted the sidewalk and struck the victims, stopping only when it struck a line of heavy hedge at the end of the block. The names of the deceased are held pending notification of next of kin, and a Boston Metro press officer declined to identify the teens.

The officer did confirm that the teens were “on the younger side of teenage” and are the subjects of an investigation. No charges have been filed at the time of this report.

The teens’ attorney released a short press statement suggesting the car driving the teens had been hacked by an unknown party.

“It’s entirely possible the vehicle was hacked,” Boston Metro Chief of Police Esmerelda McLeod said in a press conference this afternoon. “On the other hand, there have been incidents of individuals deliberately using “spoofing” programs to subvert self-driving software and enable manual driving from a pocket tablet or phone. We have a very capable data forensics team working on the car’s systems to discover the truth.”

The three deaths bring the count of vehicle-related deaths in Massachusetts to 25, slightly above the generally accepted 1/8 standard as compared to vehicular deaths in the bloody pre-mandatory-autodrive era.

—–

The self-driving car is coming. As quickly as the automobile replaced the horse in busy city centers where a spooked horse would present a public danger, the self-driving car will replace the manually driven car in those same places and for the same reason.

It has already been discussed for some time that a computer-operated vehicle is vulnerable to hacking, malware, viruses, what have you in the realm of scary things that make your computer go AIIIIIIIEEEE and stop working the way it’s supposed to. Even now, with vehicles not driven by software but many of their systems controlled by it, it has already been demonstrated that a WiFi equipped vehicle is vulnerable to hacking.

And of course, like any computerized device, vehicles are already vulnerable to the knowledgeable subverting their programs.

People worry over this sort of stuff. And it’s worthwhile to worry about. A vehicle out of control, self-driving or not, is dangerous. Deadly.

And yet, over a million people yearly die in automobile accidents. Thirty thousand-ish of those are in the United States. Most of those deaths are caused by driver error or driver misuse. I went over the subject not too long ago in a post about a worker having to take a sick day because his/her car had come down with a virus.

So before I retread that same ground too heavily, I’ll just say that I bet self-driving cars will still kill people. I bet the first few times it happens there will be a public outcry and great consternation. And I bet that in the end, self-driving cars will still kill WAY FEWER PEOPLE. And once the last people who remember how often people died in manually-driven-car accidents, I bet there will be a cohort of “manual driving truthers” who will protest that history is misrepresented and lobby for “safer” human-controlled driving.

 

Stick around for a century or so, you’ll see.

 

(This post originally appeared on my Patreon page three days before it appeared here. Even one slender buck pledged per month gets you my fiction & writing posts 3 days early and ebooks 30 days before they’re released and FREE regardless of what I charge elsewhere. Woo-hoo!)

Thirteen Word Story — Continuity

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(This post appeared on my Patreon page 3 days before it appeared here — support me there, even for a buck a month, and you see all my posts first PLUS get a FREE copy of any ebook short story I publish THIRTY days before it goes live, even if I charge for it elsewhere!)

Also, please feel free to save the image above and share it anywhere you’d like! You’ll be helping me out if you do, and I will appreciate it, and I like to think it counts as a plus for you as far as karma goes.

————-

This story speaks to one of my most and least favorite things, tradition. Tradition perpetuates all sorts of things in societies, some as innocent as making snowmen, some nonsensical, some neutral, others negative or positive or even more likely all of the above wrapped up in a big Gordian knot built over centuries. Tradition can lift up or destroy, build community or disrupt it. Like it or not, it’s a product of human beings being social creatures — attempts to break the old patterns wholesale and build new ones anew have been disasters: think French Revolution, Soviet Union, Cultural Revolution, Khmer Rouge. Like bending wood or bamboo to fashion the crook of a walking cane, human society in the large traditions that govern and define us must be reshaped slowly and with care lest they crack and shatter.

 

Small traditions, like the snowman, can become security blankets when the pace of change becomes rapid, as it has been these last two or three centuries. I have a feeling that within my lifetime (if I should make it into my 80s or 90s, fingers crossed) elementary education will become something accessed online rather than by gathering together in a municipal building, and printing breakfast cereal in your kitchen is likely to become common. For oldsters as I would be when that time comes, watching children play in the snow will be a comforting traditional blanket to wrap around my shoulders as I watch from a padded chair in the comfort of a heated porch. And maybe, who knows, I’ll go out and help roll some snowman body segments, something I remember fondly from my early childhood. Maybe despite the availability of conveniently printed food I’ll break out some primitive chicken eggs and vanilla and condensed milk and make a bowl of snow cream. Or make hot chocolate on a pan on the stove. All minor, comforting traditions — no doubt with the advent of the convenient powdered hot chocolate packet making it from bars of real bar chocolate on the stove is a small way for those born before their debut to relive a piece of the old world, the world they were born in before all these changes like internets came to be.

 

More than tradition, “Continuity” also speaks to the basic human condition that technology cannot touch — at least, not yet and not without radically redefining the human condition.

 

Even if humanity were to become, say, a population of consciousnesses loaded into android brains, there would still be snow (assuming we don’t really overdo it with this climate change thing). And still the potential to play by creating snow…er…droids. And if there are no children in such a strange new world, perhaps still some oldsters who remember what it was like to be raised in a world of meat humans will still go out and build snowmen, if only to take comfort for a little while by indulging in a little of what the world was before it changed.

 

 

Thirteen Word Story: The Fullest Quiver

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The Fullest Quiver

Beneath the cult compound ten thousand artificial wombs labored constantly, preparing for judgment.

Ebook Single: “Only Thirty Cents A Day”: A Tale Of Mystery Cars And Charity

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Get your ebook single of this story at AmazonBarnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Google Play Books, or Smashwords.

Only Thirty Cents A Day is a little story inspired by the heartstring-jerker television ads pleading for help feeding and inoculating poverty-stricken populations in various poverty hotspots around the world. I got to thinking, what would it take for — someone — to consider us in the pretty-darn-well-off-on-average USA in need of similar missionary-style poverty relief efforts? Who would be moved to make such an effort? I spent quite a few idle minutes jotting down notes and then promptly crossing most of them out, until finally the solution hit me.

What’s the solution? It’s all revealed by the end. So of course, being a typical tease of the author, I’m going to show you a preview… of the beginning.

Here’s the first quarter of the story:

Only Thirty Cents A Day

S.A. Barton

     Frederick Bolling pulled his little hybrid car into his reserved parking space and unfolded himself from the driver’s seat. His lower back crackled like cereal when you pour the milk over. He was a tall man, not made for little environmentally friendly cars, and he was older than he had ever thought he’d get when he was an idealistic college student, or even after that, when he served in the Peace Corps. Bringing some of the benefits of the technological first world to folks who had no access to it themselves, and hopefully he hadn’t inflicted too much of the so-called civilized world’s downside on the people he’d tried to help all those decades ago.

     He shook off the moment of nostalgic fugue—they came more often, the farther past seventy he got—and stood, grumbling, then eyes flashing wide as he turned and found himself face to face with an unexpected man. Frederick reflexively took an awkward little hop-step back. The curve of the car’s open door frame dug into his back and he sucked in a deep breath, ready to shout if he had to.

     “That’s a hydrocarbon burner, right?” the unexpected man asked, like you’d ask the time on the street, casual. He held up his hands, palms out: I mean you no harm. His features were odd and Frederick stared. The man’s skin was darker than Frederick’s, sub-Saharan Africa dark, but his eyes were faded blue, almost white, and were partially hidden by strong epicanthic folds.  His nose was bulbous and his ears were distinctly pointed, holding back straight black hair that was so fine it stirred restlessly with the faint breeze that penetrated the enclosed garage from outside. His brow had a heavy ridge, almost a shelf you could set tiny knicknacks on. Something about his posture was odd, too. Something indefinable.

     Frederick blinked, trapped between looking away to avoid being caught staring and too obviously looking away as if the stranger was too strange to look at. It was rude to stare at someone with… whatever genetic abnormality had caused the odd features.

     “I’m sorry,” Frederick said, meaningless politeness-words as he stepped smoothly to the side, face shutting down in the New York brushoff.

     “Your car burns petroleum, sir?” the man asked again, moving just slightly into Frederick’s path. Frederick stopped, wondering if his initial alarm had been the right reaction after all.  The other man was smaller than he was, but much younger. His features made it hard to judge, but he looked like he might be just out of college. He was dressed like an artist or street performer, or maybe a celebrity trying too hard to be outrageous, with a wide-lapel aquamarine shirt and bolo tie under a pinstriped jacket with long tails and matching pinstriped slacks. Even his dark shoes had pinstripes. Some kind of weird activist? The city had them like it had rats and cockroaches, underfoot in the most unexpected places.

     “It’s a hybrid. I’m environmentally conscious. Try the twelfth level, it’s mostly sportscars,” Frederick said, avoiding eye contact, foot sliding to the side to take off on a new vector.

     “How would you like a solar car?” the weirdo asked as Frederick began to walk again.  “No gas to buy. Not even a need to plug it in.”

     “I’m not buying,” Frederick said without turning, walking away toward the elevator, free.

     “I’m not selling,” the voice came from behind him as Frederick boarded the elevator.  “You’ll see.”

     Frederick left work an hour earlier than the bulk of the office, to beat the worst of rush hour traffic. He keyed the door PIN and got into his car, the stranger from the morning forgotten, and tried to start his car.

     His key didn’t fit. It slid off plastic behind the steering wheel, and he looked closer. There was no receptacle there to receive it. Frederick blinked at the featureless plastic. In a life that included a new car every other year, it wasn’t too unusual to forget the quirks of the new car and remember the quirks of a past car instead.

     But the ignition wasn’t placed differently than he remembered.  He even checked the center console next to the automatic shift, remembering an old Saab he had had in college that had started that way. The ignition wasn’t there, either. There simply wasn’t any.

     “How the hell… where’s the ignition?” he said aloud to himself. Had he somehow gotten into the wrong car? The door PIN was only four numbers, maybe by some odd coincidence…

     “Ignition?” the car said, voice soft, echoing him.

     “Um. Yes,” Frederick said. His car definitely did not talk.

     The car hummed to life smoothly, dash lights glowing cool green…

…and that’s the end of the preview. Hope you’ll check out how it ends; the links to find it are right under the picture at the top of this post in case you’ve forgotten.  🙂

Pluto, 1930 Yearbook Photo — Plus Space Program Grumbles

Pluto 1930 Tombaugh

This is how Pluto looked when Clyde Tombaugh discovered it in 1930. A bright mote, an apparent star that moved in a way that betrayed its planetary nature — for someone who was looking carefully enough.

Things have gotten a bit better with New Horizons; you can see the latest images on NASA’s NH page. Here’s one that’s new as of this post date:

pluto-annotated-JUL2015

Edit: new image below, 14 JUL:

Pluto Icecap

Quite the improvement, no?

Well, yes. But it has been a long wait, hasn’t it? 85 years. Granted, we could hardly have dispatched an airplane to take a closer look in 1930. Modern rocketry as in its infancy, as was broadcasting. Even if a 1930s era rocket could have been launched at Pluto, we’d hardly have gotten word back of success reaching it, much less a picture.

I do worry that these are the best images I’ll see in my lifetime, and I’m only 45. But NASA’s funding has been either waning or just holding on against inflation these last three decades, not growing, and the bulk of the current crop of Presidential candidates seem to be mostly unenthused by NASA. ‘What’s the point of spending a whole penny on the federal budget dollar on all this sciency stuff? We’ve got people to feed, bomb, feed bombs to, bomb with food, and so forth, right here on Earth.’

Hostility to and/or disinterest in space, NASA, science, and scholarly investigation in general is nothing new. In the 1970s and 80s, Senator William Proxmire (D) of Wisconsin is a ‘fine’ recent example, with his ‘Golden Fleece’ awards that, as often as not, lambasted space and science funding as wasted effort and wasted money. Plenty of commentators, regular folks, and politicians jump on that anti-intellectual, short-view bandwagon from time to time.

Frankly, it’s a nasty and dangerous habit, this idea that exploring the cosmos around us, exploring our own planet further, and learning in general is a waste of money and effort. There’s a lot to be gained by exploration, here and up there. Aren’t you reading this on a computer? Possibly a computer that also telephones people and locates itself by GPS? Thank scientists, scholars, inquisitive types, the space program, all those ‘wastes of money’ that pay off in knowledge and in the things that knowledge makes possible, if you spend the money learning now and have the patience to wait a decade or two for the payoff.

I know, we’re not that great at long-term thinking, most of us. But seriously. Yes, we’re just looking at Pluto, which is hardly going to be useful real estate or mining grounds next week, year, or decade. But every time we do something like this, we don’t just learn more about how our planetary neighbors work. We learn more about communications, propulsion, efficient generation and use of power sources, miniaturization, navigation, and so on, and so forth, and likely things that you and I haven’t thought of yet that will pay off come 2045.

Not to mention, as big as this earth is, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the rest of the solar system. Planets and asteroids and comets, oh my, swimming in a constant rain of free-to-gather energy that is sunlight (or maybe magnetic if you want to venture to the moons of Saturn and Jupiter and do some tinkering). Sometimes people talk about this ‘high frontier’ as if it could be a relief valve for overpopulation, but no, it’s not that. No more than opening California to colonization relieved crowding in New York City. But a wide frontier is a relief valve for people who are gravely dissatisfied with current affairs at home, and we as a planetary society haven’t really had one of those in quite a few decades now. Yes, there’s a certain lack of open air and flowing water up there among the various possible destinations. So what?

The big ‘so what’ is that we’re doing little practicing of how to keep people alive in places like that. There’s a space station, and 40+ years after people walked on the moon it’s still an itty-bitty one with a few people, entirely supplied from earth. It’s useful, and we learn from it, and we’ve no apparent interest in pushing the boundaries meaningfully as a species. Well, China has done a little talking in that direction, Maybe in response to US talk about sending people to Mars, maybe, one day, well maybe not, or maybe we’ll just push back the ‘maybe’ date… you get the idea. We like talking about it a bit, but few are serious about it, especially among those who would have to speak the loudest to fund such a nutty idea as putting a bunch of people on the moon or Mars to live long term, the politicians. They’re not that interested, and the public isn’t that interested. And that’s a shame. We won’t spread off this rock unless there’s an interest in doing so. Maybe the interest will come too late, after climate change gets nasty enough to cause even middle-class folks serious problems at home. Such a wait-till-the-crisis scenario would be a shame, too. Because, like in the ‘reduce population pressure’ scenario, colonizing the moon or Mars of anything else out there would not be a way to evacuate millions or billions of people in troubles.

But it would be a great way to spread the human race out a bit so that it’s not in danger of croaking en masse if a massive disaster of some sort were to loom. And it would, if no disaster comes to call, be a great way to expand the knowledge, both practical and abstract, of the human race as a whole — and that expansion would all be fuel for the next round of life-improving gadgets just as food preservation, improved transportation, construction and maintenance of internets, and so forth have been for us.

Don’t be selfish. Help the people of 2100 surpass us as much as we’ve surpassed the people of 1930.

What Is This Fascinating Little Origami Robot Good For?

I’m envisioning a light sail scout that folds itself into an airfoil to land and then into something like in the video to explore an alien continent…