Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Of products, people, and particulars

About the recently concluded annual Consumer Electronics Show, you can find viewpoints for and against most any product -- or soon-to-be product, or wannabe product -- that was on exhibit. I read several such articles; I'd bet you did, too. But the report I was most taken with? From PC World: "Why Windows RT is hurtling toward disaster." Here's the takeaway: "Microsoft and ARM rolled snake eyes at CES 2013. Windows RT was not out in full force at the show, and for all intents and purposes, Windows RT died in the desert last week."

I had to smile at a piece in the Onion: "Internet Users Demand Less Interactivity: 'We Just Want To Visit Websites And Look At Them,' Users Say." What a concept.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Techie tesserae

The crafting of believable futures -- a big chunk of my job description -- entails considering the many ways in which a society can change. Any science or technology experiencing a major advance -- and when is just one so fortunate? -- generally has many consequences. Consider the myriad myriads of impacts of ever faster, ever cheaper, ever more efficient electronic chips.

The better to imagine fictional futures, part of my routine involves keeping my finger on the pulse of science and tech (and other changes!) in the real world. Alas, another part of my routine is tearing myself away from all the fascinating stuff and getting back to writing. Not everything interesting can make it into a story. That doesn't mean I can't share.

Let's start with the endlessly proliferating cameras in public spaces. If those cameras are used to identify terrorists, bank robbers, and red-light runners, that's keen. But will cameras in public be used only for such purposes? (Note the wording: cameras in public, not public cameras. In Baltimore alone, one repo company captures 10 million license-plate photos per year.)

And will license-plate snapshots be combined with other databases, such as GPS-tagged cell-phone records? Is the mere fact of driving down a public street sufficient reason to make a permanent record of your travels? From IEEE Spectrum, see, "License Plates, Cameras, and Our Vanishing Privacy."

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


A fun aspect of writing technothrillers is seeing how close reality comes to my imagined (possible) futures.

Such as with augmented-reality glasses, tech that played an important role in 2009's Small Miracles (otherwise a nanotech novel). Google goggles, aka Project Glass, were a step toward what I'd envisioned, but not quite there. Their user interface relies on spoken commands and speech recognition, and often we would wish to do our networked tasks with a bit of privacy. So I was delighted to see, much as I'd imagined it, that "Your Eyes Can Control Augmented Reality Glasses."

In 2008's Fools' Experiments (largely about artificial intelligence and artificial life), I'd envisioned thought-controlled prostheses. And, indeed, we're close. As in:  "Paralysed woman's thoughts control robotic arm" (that's a Brit spelling courtesy of BBC News, not a typo). The feat requires brain surgery and implanted electrodes, and so the tech isn't yet what I'd envisioned: electronics within the prosthetic device sensitive enough to interact directly with the nervous system. I'm confident that we'll get there.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Out with the odd (er, old)

The end of one year and the start of the next is always a time for ... journalistic excess. And so the past few weeks have offered more than their share of interesting (or mockable) articles.

How mockable? Well, Space.com reports an "Exclusive: Mars Rover Curiosity Featured in MAD Magazine."

Not mockable, per se, but entirely random: how about this archival image of the SR-71 Blackbird? I can't begin to guess why, on New Year's Eve, Space.com dredged up this photo. (The SR-71 fleet was retired in 1998.) No matter why ... that image is seriously cool.

(The National Air and Space Museum (Udvar-Hazy Center) has an SR-71 among its many fine exhibits. In a word, "wow." The SR-71 is so streamlined, it appears to zoom even while standing still. IMO, it's the best exhibit in the museum -- which also has the space shuttle Discovery, a Concorde, and the Enola Gay. Quite by coincidence, I was in a plane, taxiing to my gate at Washington-Dulles Airport, at just the right time and place to see the SR-71 taxiing on its way to the museum.)

Beginning the year-end list category, we have Wired's "And the Winner Is… Reader’s Choice for Top 10 Fantasy and Sci-Fi Movie Quotes." Some great quotes, to be sure, and a trip down memory lane. You may also enjoy comparing your favorite movies with Wired's "Reader’s Choice Top 10 Sci-Fi Movies."

And we wouldn't want to miss the Onion's take on "2012 In Technology."

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

SFnal New Year wishes

May the new year bring you new perspectives, exciting discoveries, and bold inspirations.

May this year see you safe from Armageddon, apocalypse, and disaster of all kinds, most especially vampires, zombies, and dreary dystopias.

May dark energy and dark matter finally be brought into the light.

May the qualifier be removed from the label of the newly discovered "Higgs-like boson."

Happy New Year!