Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Privacy? We don't need no stinkin' privacy

The tug of war continues between privacy and network-enabled conveniences.  To support that thesis, herewith some clippings from my comment-sometime-on-this-stuff file.

Your cell phone (unless it's a many-years-old relic) reveals your location. That is: most cells contain GPS locators or accomplish the slightly less accurate equivalent by triangulating your position from nearby cell-phone towers. So, naturally, many online services want to track you. Think the only downside is too many discounts sent to your cell as you walk by stores? Read this PC World essay by security consultant Dan Tynan.

Love your smartphone? No doubt, but how secure is the data you store on it? Sure, there's sensitive data on your PC, too -- but it, hopefully, is behind a firewall. Mobileburn reports a major breach in the security of the new, popular Android OS for cell phones. So how sure are you about storing your credit-card info on your cell for shopping convenience?

My stories "The Day of the RFIDs" and "The Night of the RFIDs" looked ahead to the privacy risks inherent in smart wireless tags in, for example, clothing. (Ditto my nonfiction article, "Beyond This Point be RFIDs.") Far fetched? Actually, the future is here.  Last month Wal-Mart announced its plans to put RFID tags in individual garments.

One reason to worry about someone reading RFID tags is that neither privacy-centric public policy (should one ever emerge) nor the good intentions of data collectors assures data will be used only appropriately -- even assuming we could agree on uses that are appropriate. How secure are big data repositories? The National Security Agency's 'Perfect Citizen' program primarily worries about mayhem made possible by networked access to infrastructure (as did, in part, my 2008 novel Fools' Experiments), but it also begs the question of organized crime finding some data repositories too tempting to leave alone.

Yet to come on any large scale -- but eminently doable -- is RFID chips implanted in people. Some pets are already chipped, allowing them to be IDed if they roam. Chipping people offers some real advantages, such as a repository for medical records instantly available for patients who are unable to speak for, even to identify, themselves. But how secure will the data be on your chip? And will the chips all of us may someday carry become vectors for spreading malware to computers? The latter has already been done, at least as a stunt.

"Privacy is dead," we were told by Bill Joy, the Chief Technical Officer of (defunct) Sun Microsystems. Now Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook tells us the same thing. Having helped to kill it, so he should know.

We live in interesting times ...

Monday, August 23, 2010

Wanted: quantum scientist

We have quantum mechanics -- lots of them -- and they are extremely good at what they do. A bazillion transistors, lasers, and solar cells leave no room for doubt.

(Warning: I haven't cluttered this post with links, because practically every phrase in it could be a link to an article defining some esoterica. Wikipedia is your friend. The eye-crossing graphic nearby is from the double-slit-experiment article at Wikipedia.)  

And Roman engineers built extremely good roads, bridges, and aqueducts without any clue about material science.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


I spent the weekend before last (i.e., August 5-8) in Raleigh, NC at ReConStruction / NASFiC (aka the Tenth Occasional North American Science Fiction Convention). NASFiCs are held in the years, like this year, that Worldcon is outside North America.

The con had a lot to offer, and I thank the organizers for their hard work and for including me in the program. I took part in four panels, did an autograph session (and thanks to all of you who came), and held a kaffee klatch. I synched up with friends usually scattered around the country, especially from among the MAFIA. (Acronym.com does not yet know it, but that's writers  Making Appearances Frequently In Analog.) I saw a bit of downtown Raleigh, which seems quite nice. All good fun. 

And yet ...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Clawing one's way to literary success

Today's post will be something of a change.

I met Stacey Cochran last summer at Launch Pad, the NASA-funded astronomy program for writers. Stacey has been charting his own course, through self-publishing and ebooks. It's an interesting story -- and the stories Stacey has to tell are interesting, too -- so I invited him to SF and Nonsense to explain.

Without further ado, heeeeeere's Stacey.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Real nanotech. Real medicine. And zombies.

Small Miracles is my near-future medical nanotechnology thriller -- and as of today, it's been reissued in mass-market paperback.

For the paperback edition, the cover background has been made lighter and brighter. That's a welcome change: you no longer have to take my word for it that those nanobots are swimming in blood :-)

Curious? Here's my October 2009 announcement of the hardback edition. For a sample from the novel, click through to Amazon. And here are a few recent reviews: