Monday, June 30, 2014

Recharge On The Go

So, how often does your phone or other device run out of charge?

These days, charging stations are showing up at airports, in convention centers and in many malls. Now Boston has introduced them in public parks...and in a very environmentally-friendly way. The "Soofa" park benches will provide solar charging for your phone and limited-access wifi to allow you to check the weather and air quality. The idea will, no doubt, spread.

There are all sorts of other ways to recharge your phone if away from mains (or car) power.

Some of my friends, for example, now carry extended battery packs that can double, triple, or quadruple the battery life of a phone. Solar chargers are also common, and I've considered getting a hand crank one myself. You can also get wind chargers, although they look a bit goofy. If there's not enough wind, just hook them to your bike handlebars.

For campers, you can now get a camp stove that charges your phone. Put wood in it, start the fire, and some of the heat gets turned into electricity.

So...yeah. And in the future, maybe those charging stations will charge your phone wirelessly. Maybe you won't even need to do anything other than be within range and you'll get a top up...

Then again, maybe having your phone run out of juice every so often isn't such a bad thing in an over-connected world.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Friday Updates

I've had a very news-free week (except for new cousins!), so nothing to report here. I'm still working on Making Fate, which will be going for a while.

Hopefully I'll have more to report soon.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Stepping Into The Past Or The Future...

In an underground basement mall near us there used to be a Safeway. A small one. It catered to the residents of the large apartment buildings above it.

Then somebody opened a huge Harris Teeter five blocks away. The Safeway went out of business. This was years ago, and since then its space has stood vacant. The landlords have simply not been able to lease it.

Today I had to go to the doctor's (don't worry, it's nothing serious, just annoying...I managed to get bitten by a horse fly and it now seems to be infected. Sigh). I cut through that mall from the Metro station to the pharmacist to pick up pills...and the space was leased. Which registered as I was walking past.

"Wait a minute, why are there computer desks in the old Safeway."

Stop. Look.

"What's that in, it can't be."

I backtracked rapidly to the entrance, which proudly displayed several copies of The Maker Movement Manifesto.

"It is!"

A full featured, commercial grade makerspace. Right in the middle of a mall, under an apartment building (well, where better to put it than a place with a lot of people who don't have garages). But right there where people who have never heard of the maker movement - which is most people - will stumble across it.

I had missed the developments leading up to this - the company started on the west coast (surprise, surprise) and now has public makerspace locations in multiple cities. In the true spirit, it's members only (and membership is pricy, although really quite reasonable for what you get - between $1500 and $1600 a year including classes and stuff).

But this sort of thing may lead to the tipping point. Because when people see these things, right there, where they can get to them, they start trying them.

And if enough people try it, you start to get deindustrialization and major changes in the balance of power. Karl Marx said that the means of production needed to be in the hands of the people - the vision that was twisted into Communism because what people saw was the people controlling the factory, the state representing the people...and led to the state controlling the people.

But this is about the means of production in the hands, garage, and storefront of the people. And I find this both exciting and terrifying.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

How Close Are We To C/Fe?

Asimov fans will, of course, recognize the abbreviation in the title.

For the rest of us, C/Fe is a society in which robots are integrated into the lives of humans fully. Asimovian robots are humanoid to some degree or other (R. Daneel Olivaw is so hyperrealistic he, and others like him, can pass as human).

Setting aside the Three Laws, how close are we to robots being integrated into society. Closer all the time.

Here are a few recent steps:

1. Robot Ray. The robot valet entered service yesterday. For $39 a day, business travelers can leave their car in a designated spot and the robot will put it in a safe parking place. Ray is, of course, not a humanoid robot - he's a specially designed forklift. He can be summoned using your phone. (I fail to see in what way this is better than a human valet, but...)

2. The Tokyo Science Museum has introduced two "science communicators" - lifelike automatons that are easily mistaken for humans. However, these androids are a long way from R. Daneel - they are remote controlled and their speech is entered by human museum guides. However, they might be a step towards getting people used to the uncanny valley effect of truly humanoid robots.

3. Most significant of all, but likely missed by many, is Pepper. Pepper is roughly humanoid - he moves on wheels instead of walking, but has hands, etc. The manufacturers, Aldebaran, claim that Pepper can analyze expression and voice tones and actually recognize his owners' emotions, react pro-actively and communicate in a surprisingly humanoid manner. The robot is designed to be a companion for the elderly but could also be used to do various household chores. The planned release is January 2015 - with the SDK for making apps released much sooner, because there has to be a SDK for making apps. And Pepper will retail for...about $2k - the price of a good PC.

That puts us a big step closer to a robot in every natural as having a computer is now. (In fact, personal robots like Pepper may replace many of the things we currently use our PC for. "Hey, Pepper, what's the weather?" or "Pepper, could you please email so-and-so and tell them we'll be late for the party.")

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

So, Should We Exist?

The latest cosmology indicates - uh, no. We actually shouldn't exist.

Fortunately, there's an easy explanation - experimental error. The B-mode polarisation that supposedly proves the Big Bang isn't actually that strong as proof. It could also be caused by, well, intergalactic dust.

Either that, or we're barking up a very wrong tree (I am tempted to insert Yggdrassil jokes here). Most likely? Most likely this is another case of "the more we know, the more remains to discover."

Or there's some other explanation for why the math says the universe should have been destroyed almost immediately.

Cosmology. I love it, but sometimes it gives me a headache. Read why we shouldn't exist here.

Monday, June 23, 2014

On A Personal Note

I'm going to shamelessly interrupt this blog. You can skip this post if you want.

At 1am GMT this morning, my cousin Kevin and his wife Kim welcomed Lily-Jayne Rose Torrington to the world. So, hey, I have a new cousin.

There are pictures on my Facebook - she looks healthy and a good size, which is about all you can tell at this point. I hope she can handle being born into the insanity that is our family. (Yes, both parents are gamers).

Friday, June 20, 2014

Friday Updates

Not much going on that I can talk about right now. (Don't forget to check out Making Fate!)

I can say that I got the proofs for my latest sale to Big Pulp this week. They're splitting the magazine by genre - so they can buy even more good stories.

I assumed my story would be in fantasy. Wrong. They're putting it in "Thirst: Romance & Passion."

The teasing may commence now. (As the story is definitely not a "romance" in the traditional sense...but it is about relationships, so it fits).

Go ahead, +Nobilis Reed - you know you want to say it.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Divergent Trilogy

I'm halfway through book three right now. You may have heard a rumor that book three is not up to the standard of the other two.

Well, I hate at some levels to call a fellow author out in public, but in this case it feels warranted.

Books one and two are written in first person, present tense, from the viewpoint of the main character (much like Hunger Games, but Suzanne Collins did it a bit better - then again, I'm personally twitchy about first person present).

In book three, Roth switches between the viewpoint of the main character and the viewpoint of the love interest - still in first person present.

I've done switching viewpoints. Some stories need it. The problem here is that although Tris and Four are quite different characters, in the book they sound exactly the same. Exactly the same. I (and my husband has the same problem) have to keep checking who's chapter I'm in.

So, the lesson to other writers - if you're going to switch viewpoints in first person, be very careful to make the characters sound and feel different. Otherwise you're just going to confuse your reader.

Sorry, Ms. Roth.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Spider Alert

(Arachnophobes may not want to read on).

A species of spider, Anelosimus studiosus, is highly social. Instead of each female building her own nest and defending it (or not) as in most spiders, Anelosimus studiosus breeds in colonies.

But here's the interesting thing. You can split these spiders into two broad personality types - aggressive and docile. Colonies made of all aggressive spiders or all docile spiders don't raise nearly as many young as those with both.

Essentially, instead of specializing by physical caste like most insects, they specialize by personality - and in an interesting way. The aggressive spiders defend the nest, attack intruders and do most of the hunting. The docile spiders raise the babies.

Docile spiders don't have the aggression to hunt successfully and catch only half the number of prey. Aggressive spiders, on the other hand, tend to forget that the babies are theirs and...yeah. Dinner time.

So, what does all of this imply? It implies first that variation in personality occurs in some quite simple animals.

It also implies that a mix of aggressive and docile personalities may be desirable in other animals. Especially ones that form larger groups.

Like, you know, humans. There's a Brave New World style idea in there somewhere.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Important Space Breakthrough...

...well, not so much to me.

Apparently, somebody has invented an espresso machine that doesn't require gravity to work. (It will also be used to make other hot beverages).

Science-wise, the coffee machine will help us learn more about fluid dynamics in space.

It is, of course, made by Italians. And if all goes well, an Italian will be the first to test it in space - Samantha Cristoforetti is scheduled to go up in November.

Monday, June 16, 2014

I'm Back...

...from a quite fun Origins.

I just spotted this droolworthy beauty.

Check it out. Its an artists' impression of what an alcubierre warpship would actually look like if they turned out to work. I'm drooling already.

Back to the con - all I can really say is I played games, had fun, didn't get quite enough sleep, and broke down and bought a Cards Against Humanity deck.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

And Off Again...

...this time to Origins Game Expo to hang out and deal with a little thing called the Smithee Awards.

I'll be back on Monday. In the mean time, how about "Eugene," who apparently passes the Turing Test? (I say apparently because now he's passed it everyone wants to talk to him and he is, of course, down - so I haven't had the chance to try him out personally).

One of the interesting things - when people know he's a bot, they treat him horribly. Does that say something for humanity's desire to be above somebody? Probably, sadly. Will a society with actual intelligent robots in it (Eugene is a sophisticated AI, but nobody's claiming he's sentient) be a society in which they are abused?

There's an entire anthology in there...

Monday, June 9, 2014

X-Men: Days Of Future Past

Finally saw it this weekend.

So, how did they manage to go to an alternate reality and convince Bishop to come play himself? (That guy was just so perfect and I've never heard of him before).

I'm going to say: This was the best of the X-Men movies so far. I would have liked an explanation for how Xavier was alive and himself after being last seen at the end of the trilogy in somebody else's body, but it's a comic book, all kinds of things could have happened. So I'm giving that a pass.

(Young Xavier having bad hair was a bit of a cognitive disconnect...)

I know some people were disappointed that Kitty didn't go back in time with Logan like in the comics, but I could live with that - although I'm not sure the actress didn't get slightly screwed. The role they gave her was hardly exciting.

I want to see more, somehow, of Bishop and Blink both.

It was a smooth way to write themselves out of the hole they'd written themselves into with the first trilogy and I'm looking forward to what's next - which appears to involve a certain very, very old mutant.

It was a lot of fun - and definitely better than ASM2.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Friday Updates

Strange Voyages - we're working on the tie-in anthology (as a note, we need a couple more writers for this - contact me if you're interested).

The Death God's Chosen anthology, containing "Maiden, Tower, Catacomb" is now available wherever ebooks are sold. Get your own copy now - it contains some great stories that focus on necromancy and other dealings with death.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

How About Getting Grandma A...


Pepper (presumably no relation to Tony Stark's secretary) will retail for a very reasonable price - a bit under $2,000. They're going to be demonstrating it (her?) in stores and it will go on sale in February.

The robots are humanoid and learning-capable, although not the size of a human (yet). The plan is that the robots will be marketed as elder care assistants, companions for the lonely (I think I'd rather have a dog) and babysitters.

We'll have to see how well it works. Robotics is turning into an exciting field now, with the EU making a $3.8 billion joint investment with the robotics industry into robot research.

(The question is, can we make the adjustment to a society in which robots are common and are in stores, restaurants, and homes? What do we do about the displaced human labor?)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Europe and People of Color

I keep coming across a particular kind of ignorance lately.

It can be summed up as "Before slavery, everyone in Europe was white."

There are two problems with this statement:

1. We don't know the origins of slavery, but what we do know is that humans have been claiming ownership over other humans for a very long time. Many Americans, however, use the term "slavery" solely to mean southern chattel slavery - a very specific thing. Southern chattel slavery was skin color based (skin color based oppression exists all over the place, but to my knowledge this is the only period in history where skin color marked a person as a slave) and had many aspects of serfdom as well as cash slavery. But it is not the only kind of slavery that exists - present tense, because there are an estimated 30 million slaves alive today.

2. Everyone in Europe being white is simply not true. Most scholars believe that the Huns were an Asiatic race, and the Monguls, who made it far enough into Europe to produce offspring, certainly count. During the Roman period, enough black people made it to Europe to produce a noticeable uptick in the amount of African DNA in the European genome - yes, we can track those markers and we can make a decent estimate as to when they entered a population. (These blacks were probably a mix of slaves, traders, and voluntary migrants, and the markers show up all over Europe).

3. Latest research (subject to change as latest research always is) indicates that the white skin mutation itself is only five to seven thousand years old. So, go back before "anyone else" was in Europe...and, uh, yeah, everyone was black. (Neanderthals do appear to have been white and with the interbreeding there may have been some fairly light-skinned people around, but this would have been noticeable).

So, please, people, stop telling me there were no people of color in pre-Renaissance Europe. I'm starting to get snarly about it.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A Planet That Can't Exist

So, astronomers calculated that a planet twice the size of Earth would simply start to accumulate gas and eventually turn into a small gas giant.

Enter Kepler-10c, which is 2.3 times the size of Earth and is emphatically not a gas giant. (And yes, they've also eliminated it being the core of a dead gas giant that somehow lost its astmosphere).

So, it shouldn't exist. And it even more shouldn't exist because it is 10 billion years old and formed before we believe there to have been enough rock to make any kind of earth-like planet.

Now I want to go poke around and see what's with this planet. It's a bit too big to be a Death Star...

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Red Spot Is Shrinking

...more than ever, it seems.

To put it in perspective, when the spot was first properly observed in the late 1800s, it was estimated as 25,500 miles wide - large enough to fit three earths.

The Voyager flybys in 1979 gave a figure of 14,500. Maybe some of that was experimental error, but when Hubble was launched in 1990, the storm was measured again. At 13,020 miles. In 2009, it was 11,130. In the last two years, the great red spot has lost over 1000 miles of width.

It's becoming more circular, too. It used to be oval. The colors are changing. There's a more defined dark circle in the center than there was in 1995.

We don't really understand the Great Red Spot. But we've spent a lot of time studying something very similar on a much smaller scale in both time and space.


Now, the Great Red Spot lacks the spiral arms of an Earth hurricane, but it does have a darker vortex in the center about where a terrestrial hurricane would have an eye. A hurricane is, though, the only thing we can compare it to.

We don't know why it's shrinking. Could it be dissipating? Could it maybe disappear in a few decades?

But here's something else to think about:

This is a NASA video of the formation of a hurricane. You will note there's a point in its formation where it's messy, oval-shaped, with an ill-defined eye. Then as it becomes more powerful, it becomes more circular and the eye becomes clearly visible.

So, I'm going to stick my neck out in a moment of armchair scientist craziness and suggest that far from dissipating, the Red Spot just went up a category and the shrinkage is actually it pulling in on itself as the wind speeds increases.

I'm not a meteorologist, but is that a plausible scenario? (Please, go ahead, prove me wrong - debate is fun!).