Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Move 'em on. Head 'em out. Rawhide!

You got it: a round-up post. Three newsworthy (not to mention, eclectic) observations on matters of science and technology ...

Circuses (we're out of bread)
Last May I ranted about the slow, lingering death of any American space program (see "Crocodile cheers"). In particular, I admitted, "I've progressed from bemused to troubled to angry at the spate of breathless headlines heralding some 'final' activity of a space shuttle." Last week saw new breathless coverage about the Washington DC flyover bringing the shuttle Discovery to its final resting place at the Smithsonian.

Syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer gets it. From his essay last week, "Farewell, the New Frontier," here is the opening passage:
As the space shuttle Discovery flew three times around Washington, a final salute before landing at Dulles airport for retirement in a museum, thousands on the ground gazed upward with marvel and pride. Yet what they were witnessing, for all its elegance, was a funeral march.
The shuttle was being carried — its pallbearer, a 747 — because it cannot fly, nor will it ever again. It was being sent for interment. Above ground, to be sure. But just as surely embalmed as Lenin in Red Square.
Is there a better symbol of willed American decline? The pity is not Discovery’s retirement — beautiful as it was, the shuttle proved too expensive and risky to operate — but that it died without a successor ....
The full essay is spot-on, eloquent, and well worth the read. 

And now on to a completely different topic ...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Contrariwise

From Through the Looking Glass:
Alice meets the twins
"I know what you're thinking about," said Tweedledum; "but it isn't so, nohow."

"Contrariwise," continued Tweedledee, "if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic."
And so to publishing, economics (aka, "the dismal science"), public policy, and Through the Looking Glass (aka, world-class) examples of  (il)logic.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Post postscript

About a year ago (April 12, 2011, to be precise), I commented here on Google's first full year of statistics  regarding post popularity on SF and Nonsense.

Effectively a year later, Betrayer of Worlds (October 12, 2010) remains -- by better than three to one! -- my most visited post.  It's also, and by a similar margin, the post most often commented upon. (My Fate of Worlds post -- you know, surely, that one is coming -- has its work cut out for it.)

Number two in cumulative popularity remains Trope-ing the light fantastic (life-sign detectors) (February 25, 2009). Number 3, however, is new to the tabulation -- the self-referential Postscript (or is that post post?) in which I announced last year's SF and Nonsense post-popularity statistics. The way things are trending, in a few months Postscript will move up to second place.

With that much interest, I thought: this should be an annual feature. And so here we are.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Frontiers of Space, Time, and Thought -- an odyssey

Practically the first thing I did after declaring an end to day jobs -- apart from the occasional shout of joy -- was write "The Day of the RFIDs." That was in 2004.

An RFID chip
The next year, when I sold my first short-fiction collection, TDotR was its opening story. Most stories in Creative Destruction -- though not TDotR -- had first appeared in Analog Science Fiction and Fact, so I asked Stanley Schmidt, the editor, if he'd consider writing a guest introduction. He graciously agreed -- and then, to my surprise (and delight), also based an editorial on TDotR. Story and editorial alike addressed the threat to privacy implicit in the radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips more and more often finding their way into garments, shoes, and tires. (You did know -- didn't you? -- that your Nikes could be ratting you out.)

That editorial brought in readers' letters, on some of which Stan invited me to comment. I did, but a letters-to-the-editor column can hardly accommodate in-depth discussion. And so I offered Stan a science fact article. My first. "Beyond this Point Be RFIDs" ran in Analog in 2007.

(I'd researched RFIDs for TDotR, of course, but writing the article led me to do more digging. As a bonus, the musings stirred up by that the second round of research led to a second story, "The Night of the RFIDs.")

And by such circuitous means, I took my first step down the slippery slope of also writing science and technology nonfiction. Bringing me at last -- while segueing to a commercial announcement -- to this post's subject ...