Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Wazzup in SF

Exciting news from the wide world(s) of SF ...

The Museum of Science Fiction recently staged a successful Escape Velocity event, featuring folks from NASA, academia, Hollywood, and -- not exclusive of the foregoing -- many fans. Check out "Scenes from Escape Velocity 2016."

A few evenings ago, I rewatched the James Cameron flick Aliens (1986). Great movie! I also loved the original, Ridley Scott franchise starter: Alien (1979). As it happens, Aliens just had its 30th anniversary, a milestone widely covered in the entertainment media. My favorite article on the subject is " 'Aliens' turns 30: Why It's the Best Sci-Fi Sequel Ever."

IMO, the subsequent sequels, Aliens 3 (David Fincher, 1992) and Alien: Resurrection (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 1997), weren't nearly as good as Aliens. I'm looking forward -- amid experience-born trepidation -- to the 2017 release of Alien: Covenant. Ridley Scott is in the director's chair again.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

That does not compute (or does it?)

A brief round-up culled from recent computer-centric items ...

Tesla Model S
Of late, self-driving vehicles are all over the net (not yet, so much, actual roads). Even before a fatal crash in a Tesla car using the spectacularly misnamed "Autopilot" feature (it's more like advanced cruise control), "U.S. consumers buck investors' rush to self-driving cars." A key quote:

The latest University of Michigan survey found 46 percent of respondents preferred no self-driving, followed by partial self-driving (39 percent) and complete self-driving (15 percent).

Nearly 95 percent of respondents said they wanted to have a steering wheel plus gas and brake pedals so they could take control of a self-driving vehicle when desired, the study found.

The Google approach
For a look at the broader implications of that accident, consider, "Tesla Autopilot Crash Exposes Industry Divide." And what is that divide? On the one hand are those, like Tesla, favoring an incremental approach to developing and deploying features that will ultimately aggregate to self-driving capability. On the other side are those, like Google, favoring a direct jump to fully autonomous vehicles.

Many concepts for fully autonomous vehicles anticipate intervehicular and vehicle/roadway communications and coordination. Such concepts immediately bring to mind (or should, anyway), the need for robust anti-malware provisions. And so, while not a vehicle-specific article, this is nonetheless cautionary: "Symantec – the popular computer protector – may actually help hackers, feds warn." (Tooting my own horn [heh] for a moment, malware commandeering a computerized car was a minor but critical plot point in my first/1991 novel, Probe.)

And in yet more computer-related items ...

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Recursive ... foiled again!

Two months back, in "Committing SF with my peeps," I announced the forthcoming anthology: Science Fiction by Scientists. Beyond those bare facts and my participation therein -- and my own (dare I say) amusing mock cover -- there was little I could say. 

(Well, I could say my contribution is called "Turing de Force." You're welcome to speculate about that story's underpinning science.)

Today, I'm happy to have an update. Amazon now shows the anthology as scheduled for release on November 7. That's getting close :-) As I type, Amazon remains light on information, but that will doubtless change as release day approaches. The product page already reveals this much:

This anthology contains fourteen intriguing short stories by active research scientists and other writers trained in science. 

Science is at the heart of real science fiction, which is more than just westerns with ray guns or fantasy with spaceships. The people who do science and love science best are scientists. Scientists like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Fred Hoyle wrote some of the legendary tales of golden age science fiction.  Today there is a new generation of scientists writing science fiction informed with the expertise of their fields, from astrophysics to computer science, biochemistry to rocket science, quantum physics to genetics, speculating about what is possible in our universe. Here lies the sense of wonder only science can deliver. All the stories in this volume are supplemented by afterwords commenting on the science underlying each story.

Meanwhile, courtesy of friend, astronomer, author, and editor Michael Brotherton, I can preview the official cover. Woohoo!

Mike, it turns out, isn't the first editor to come up with this idea. Way back in 1962, legendary non-scientist anthologist Groff Conklin put together a similar antho (long out of print, but here's a Goodreads link): Great Science Fiction by Scientists. That book had a tremendous cast of scientist/author contributors, including Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Willy Ley, Leo Silzard, and Norbert Weiner. In a word: wow.

Here's hoping that, a few decades hence, Mike's collection elicits the same reaction. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Food for thought, or empty mental calories?

In the quest for eyeballs -- aka, monetizing one's website -- journalistic integrity often suffers. Too often, even legitimate/serious reports online have click-bait titles.

Consider the following recent articles. Which of these quoted headlines are fair? Which are inappropriately sensationalized? (Inquiring minds, as they say, want to know.)

From The Washington Post, we have "This scientist nearly went to jail for making up data." The issue: how egregious and/or self-serving can the fudging of grant applications and research data be before such behavior becomes garden-variety fraud? 

Data, data everywhere (but how much can we trust?)

Next, Yahoo News offers us "Wireless mice leave billions at risk of computer hack: cyber security firm." The cited study claims an ability to inexpensively hack into unencrypted mouse/computer links (some mice use encrypted links) from a distance of up to 180 meters.