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Durability September 30, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in death, e-books, End of the World, fantasy, gummint, history, ideas, movies, sci-fi, writing.
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Everything gets creakier as time passes. Maybe even time does. Is there an entropy affecting time as well as entropic time? Questions best left for the theorists. What is in the balliwick of writers, though, is the longevity of our work.

Fantasy is perhaps easiest since the world is entirely made up, with rules and laws and elements unique to that world. Passage of time in “our” world, developments of science and technology and geography and nations means nothing. Middle Earth has a permanence simply because it has no foot in the door of our world.

Science fiction is different. A hard science book is likely to be obsolete, outpaced by actual scientific discovery, before it is published. And the question arises whether a sf story (or a story that was sf) in earlier times but which has been outstripped by the surge of reality, is still sf. Is a story about the first man into space still sf since that event has happened in reality and it wasn’t done as in the story?

In a way, sweeping space opera stands a better chance of avoiding this issue. Smash galaxies together rather than be the first man to reach the moon. Even items that might have seemed laughable in early space opera, if the idea is audacious enough, can prove enduring. Doc Smith’s intertialess drive wasn’t about the Higgs boson. Maybe it was the Higgs anti-boson. But avoiding being too specific keeps the notion in play. Sorta.

Near future sf is hardest of all to write. I did a novel a few years back about RFID chips in clothing monitoring what everyone did (because lawsuits prevented the gummint from implanting the chips in the humans themselves). Now there are 69 companies manufacturing spy drones–for use by civilian police forces. RFIDs are already obsolete for this purpose. Cameras most places become cameras everywhere in the sky 24/7. The FBI is putting together a facial recognition database and the reason you aren’t allowed to smile on passport photos or drivers’ licenses is that smiling makes for harder recognition. Thank about that and try not to show fear.

The 1984 scenario is not being forced on us–half the US population wants it. To stay safe. I highly recommend the movie, The Lives of Others. And I want to see Barbara The days of the Stasi in East Germany are becoming the present in America. So we can stay safe.

But put fancy spy stuff into an sf book and it is likely to be laughably obsolete in a very short time. Concentrate on the characters, and durability might come your way.

I leave you with this from the ’60s.

The Death Calculus March 25, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in death, gummint, ideas, writing.
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Pay no attention to gummint projections. Check what is being done by people with money on the line. I came across an interesting article that is just filled with stfnal ideas, yet was about the life insurance business.

Life insurance has always been a curious proposition to me. You buy the policy, betting you are going to die. The company takes the bet that you’re not going to die. In a crazy way, this seems backwards to me, but that’s the way it works (and is why Social Security is doomed–it is set up the way I’d do it–giving benefits until death rather than paying on death). Insurance companies make a lot of money if they don’t have to pay off, so their actuaries are state-of-the-art down with determining life expectancies. If we were immortal, the only death insurance would be for accidental death (sort of like insuring a 20 yr old). How much money could an insurance company make off a vampire? Over centuries?

But the older you get the less likely an insurance company ought to want to issue a life policy. Makes sense. They are more likely to pay out on an 80 yr old, hence lose money. But the business is changing to reflect increased life spans. And this isn’t chump change on the line. It is a $27 trillion business.

There are 53,000 Americans age 100 (or older!) compared with only 2,300 in 1950. That’s a 2200% increase vs only a doubling of the general population. This is why companies are willing to give a 78-yr-old woman a $20million life insurance policy (The Hartford, 2010–premium $1m a year). They figure she will live another 14.5 years because she has already outlived the “danger marker” of heart disease.

Even with stuff like coronary disease, it’s possible to get life insurance. In 1995 no company would touch you. Now they figure such things are repairable. In a way this is comforting to know that insurance companies are willing to bet you’re going to live even with serious health problems (so they can take your premium). These are better numbers than the gummint issues–those are for political consumption, not hard cash decisions but ones based on fairy gold and garnering votes.

How many ways will this inching toward immortality affect our society? Therein lies a lot of sf stories.

We’re From the Gummint, and We Want To Protect You March 17, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in gummint, inventions, web & computers.
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So many new items, but the use of drones keeps cropping up. Yet, according to this article, there’s no real need for gummint drones to spy on you. All the CIA needs is for you to connect to the internet through some of the nifty TV gadgets that stream video or otherwise connect that big screen with the virtual world. So, be warned. Don’t sit and watch TV in your underwear. You might be violating public indecency statutes. (Don’t think the gummint snoops would put this on YouTube? )

But there is yet more proof the HSA folks are on top of that terrorism thing. I am very lucky all I got was x-rayed and groped by the TSA during my recent trip (and all this for the price of an airplane ticket! On the free market, it might have cost far more–easily that much, considering what a full body x-ray costs these days. I don’t even know what the grope would cost down on East Central). Proof positive you might possibly be a terrorist? Behavior! If you yawn, stare fixedly or, worst of all, stand rigidly or have goose bumps, then you gotta be a terrorist. That’s what it said in the DHS official guide “Terror Awareness and Prevention.”

This after the FBI deciding that paying cash for a cup of coffee was suspect. Definitely suspect, and CAT (Communities Against Terrorism) says so, so it must be true. So if that cute barista asks for you name, phone number and address, fingerprints and DNA sample, she might not be hitting on you–she might be ratting you out to the feds.

And if you think using a credit card gets you away from surveillance, nope. The NSA is going to collect everything: “pocket litter” as they say. Everything from that evil pink slime burger you bought to where you park and how much gasoline you buy. Everything. And I thought Carnivore was pushing the envelope.

There is an upside to all this. You won’t need to use any of those cloud storage companies–all data from your computer will be kept for you by the gummint.

Where your tax dollars (and private information) are going.

NSA Data Center

R46.1, That’s My Code February 22, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in gummint, history.
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Lunch with a variety of folks always gives me the “You gotta be kidding” when they come up with things so strange not even a lawyer could imagine it. One of the top doctors in town made the claim that under new federal bureaucracy there are 140,000 possible claims that can be made for insurance compensation.

I didn’t think there were 140,000 ways to injure yourself, but the one he was sure would be used frequently was “Code V91 07XA burn due to water-skis on fire.” Except he was unsure which of the *3* code variants might be most useful. Three? You have to wonder about spontaneous combustion codes and even what the codes might be for alien abduction and subsequent anal damage.

How many bureaucrats does it take to screw in a light bulb? Oh, wait, we can’t own 100 watters any more. Never mind.

One of those story ideas that never seemed the least bit plausible (and certainly qualifies as uber sf) was Frank Herbert’s Bureau of Sabotage stories-–the Bureau of Sabotage was required to keep things from working too well. And of course there is Clarke’s Against the Fall of Night/City and the Stars where a wild card is introduced every few generations to keep decay from setting in. That is almost reasonable since it assumes things are tending to entropy rather than working perfectly and entropy must be introduced.

And one of those stories that might well be our future is Keith Laumer’s “In the Queue.” We spend our time waiting, filling out forms and then…

Otherwise, today was a fine day. Went geocaching and found a cache in an alligator/dragon’s belly. Seems appropriate, from the belly of the beast.

BTW, the code in the title is for “bizarre personal appearance.”

If Nature Abhors a Vacuum Why is It So Hard to Send Manned Ships Into Space? February 12, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in death, gummint, New Mexico, science, sense of wonder, space.
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It was with real sorrow I saw that NASA is forsaking the Mars exploration. In the words of this article, Mars lost.

No, we lost. If the race is to the stars, that is. If it is to become a third-world, second-rate country then we are certainly crossing the finish line.

The conjecture is that NASA figures Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and other private companies will do it. Fine, I’d say, but there is an incredible impediment skyward for that, at least in New Mexico. The trial lawyers have spent a reported $200k lobbying to kill a bill limiting liability at Spaceport America. IOW, they want to sue the place into oblivion at the first accident.

If you are smart enough to accumulate $200,000 for the ride and smart enough to go through the release form where it states in *three* places “you may die if…” and the form must be signed at least 24 hours prior to launch to give time to think it over, then I’d say you are well on your way to understanding the danger. Everyone dies. I’d love to go up in the Virgin Galactic launch vehicle to space, and if I had to die, there’s no way I’d prefer more. But that’s just me. If I had $200k, I’d pay for the privilege of maybe dying on my way to space. Color me DD Harriman. And if I didn’t augur in, then I’d have one hell of a story to tell for the rest of my life.

Word is that Virgin Galactic is pulling back a bit because of the lawyers. VG has sunk more money into offices and the like in Las Cruces but they haven’t yet ponied up a dime to the state for use of the spaceport. It might well be they pull out and go to the Mojave site or Wisconsin or wherever. The loss to them would be negligible at this point. To space tourism in NM, it would be a crushing blow if not a fatal one.

This isn’t to say Spaceport America would close. 90% of the facility schedule would still be A-OK to go as unmanned launches are lined up and waiting to blast off. But space tourism is, excuse the expression, the boost NM needs. Thanks for trying to kill it, ambulance chasers. And thanks, NASA, for killing our entire space program.

Eating iPads February 5, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, education, food, gummint, ideas, inventions, iPad, iPhone, VIPub, web & computers, writing.
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The restaurant business operates on razor-thin profits. I ran a big restaurant for a while and we sported the best profit in the chain at a bit over 1%. That took constant vigilance and attention to who was hired, especially at waiter and waitress (this was back in the day when they were called that and not some PC variant like server, which can apply to a computer as easily.)

The paper today told of a NC restaurant equipping its servers with iPads. If the customer can’t decide, a picture of the food comes up (something that I have always felt is counter productive. There’s a reason food ads on TV use Elmer’s glue for milk, varnish on meat and other ugly things to mimic food–real food looks terrible photographed). I suppose this is a way to get past a language barrier, but the idea was to broaden the menu and give the potential feaster a hint as to which wine went best with that hot dog. (Hint:1787 Lafite claret is always a good choice.) The server touch screens the boxes, then submits the order via the iPad. No messy written checks.

It wasn’t stated but there might be another benefit other than using the iPad as a POS device. Put the order into a computer and have that decide how to optimally prepare the meal. Might be possible to fix 2 or 3 other customers’ same order together, cutting down on waste food and improving response/cooking/order time. Churn that computer a bit more and you can inventory the same way that bars inventory using a liquor gun. Every shot is monitored and matched with income. Every shallot can be similarly tracked. And it would be even easier if you could put in an edible RFID.

Why not couple the iPad to a webcam in the kitchen so you can watch the cook spitting in your food?

But my stfnal mind jumped a bit beyond simple profits on this. Paper checks are discarded. Once the meal is paid for now, all the tracking you get is the purchase price. (My son took me to a place in LA where they use Scantron sheets to order on–but below is an article on a restaurant near where he lives in Torrance using iPads) Using an iPad can record what every diner ate, or at least ordered. This can be pumped into a gummint database, let’s call it Michelle’s List, and the FDA can order out the TSA to arrest you if you are not eating properly. Or maybe the FDA will have its own SWAT team like the Dept of Education.

Fertile ground for stories. Of course, since this interests me, I’ve already done one novel with background like this. You can read it for free here, if you like.

Or maybe you can use a restaurant app like Fandango. Set up a reservation, order food and expect it to be ready when you arrive. The restaurant can monitor your approach using GPS to make sure you’re not one of those who orders a mushroom/onion/pineapple pizza and sends it to another house as a prank. With so many fast-casual (this term is being applied to places like Chipotle and, maybe a favorite of mine, Souper Salad) restaurants putting in wifi to keep the patrons there a bit longer, all kinds of other innovations might crop up.

Rollerball December 30, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in business, End of the World, gummint, movies, sci-fi, science fiction.
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When I first saw the movie (the original) I didn’t much like it. A second viewing proved better. I’ve seen the movie a half dozen times and continue to find new things there I’d missed with earlier viewings. It’s borderline great solid science fiction social commentary. The basic idea is Roman bread and circuses, but with the corporations running everything because the nations have gone bankrupt. Seems to me in the real world the government and the big corporations have merged. It is a virtual revolving door between high government posts and Goldman-Sachs.

Part of Rollerball was the dumb game (ok, I admit it, I thought quiddiych was a dumb game, too–those movies increasingly relegated it to the dust bin which was a good move on their part). But James Caan and John Beck as Moonpie and the others got to wear nifty uniforms. This has come to pass in real life. Check out the Oregon Ducks uniforms for the Rose Bowl.

Inspired by the Illuminati

Click the link and scope out all the uniform pictures. The Illuminati vibe is blatant. Were these designed by the Trilateral Commission or the Bilderbergers–certainly it sounds as if Nike developed them for the military. Chaine Maille?

I have often wondered what would happen if an NFL player was killed during a game. What would happen? The cries for banning football drowning out those for more rollerball? I doubt that. We are in a society that wants no risk whatsoever and so need our outlet via football (or rollerball).

New Mexico? Where is that? December 17, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in business, conventions, ghost towns, gummint, history, ideas, movies, music, New Mexico, Wild West, writing.
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Back in the day I used to sell as a sideline gag “visas” to New Mexico and touristy junk like that. I vaguely remember a booklet telling tourists US postage stamps were good here, passports weren’t needed and other obvious things that the rest of the USA simply didn’t know. Jan 6 the state is 100 years in the union. Most citizens of these great states still have no idea. It wasn’t until the most recent set of license plates that USA was dropped to keep cops in other states from thinking New Mexico meant “Frontera.” (The ultimate tourist story is the one where a woman asked at the Balloon Fiesta is she had to be a Catholic to go to the mass acension.)

The state image is in the pits. Nobody wants to vacation here because they don’t think there’s anything here. Fair enough. Tourism Dept has a lot of work to do with not much money. But I recently received a link to another blog that got me thinking. The idea of sf writers portrayed on the Simpsons is cute, but the blog itself is for an online college.

NM needs name recognition as a state with things to see and do. What are our resources? A lot of scenery. A lot of world class writers and artists and, I suspect, film makers.

But….but…but playing on the idea that people want to learn, especially to write (disclaimer: I am an instructor for Long Ridge and have been for four years), why not have a series of seminars, lectures, writing clinics at appropriate places with big name instructors? SF would obviously tie into Los Alamos or, shudder, Roswell. What’s the most romantic spot in the state–for a romance writing conference? Westerns? Lincoln County to tie in with Billy the Kid and the LC War. But there are buffalo soldiers and Indian War and even that most maligned, the Trans-Mississippi Civil War. Spanish exploration? Pueblo revolt? Spots all over the state would be fine for such writing classes. We’ve got top of the line western authorities here. Paul Hutton, Don Bullis (the official NM Centennial historian), Johnny Boggs, Melody Groves–I could go on but the list is long. The WWA 2012 conference is in Albuquerque but this is limited to WWA members who go to lots of places for the convention, not necessarily for the place itself..

Mysteries? We’ve got mystery writers galore here. Thrillers? David Morrel and others.

If the Lincoln County Cowboy Symposium draws 30k or so, finding 50 people interested in Billy the Kid (who aren’t from either NM or Texas) shouldn’t be impossible.

The biggest problem is transport since Abq is the only air terminus for the rest of the US to get here. State tourism would do well to promote genre writing clinics in various parts of the state–writers tend to write. A lot. But movie making clinics would draw bigtime from California. Maybe the state tourism dept could subsidize the transportation (an obvious gimmick is to “charge” $1000 for the actual seminar but discount it for people from, pick your target region, to only $250. And that $250 covers the actual costs so the state money would only go for transportation–what kind of a deal can the state make with airlines?)

Would budding artists pay to do landscapes in a weeklong seminar with masters? They’d be using NM’s actual scenery for subject matter. They go home, they display their work or do more…of NM. Photography, the same thing. Music? The idea is to get small groups coming here that will leave and carry with them pictures/words/movies of New Mexico that might slowly educate the geographically ignorant in the rest of the country that we have immense beauty and talent here.

Two obvious resources NM has are scenic beauty and a pool of artistic talent. None of this will happen (listen to indie film makers about how the NM Film Commission works sometime) but it is an interesting gedanken experiment. For me, at least.

Single Action Shooters Society End of Trail June 2010

A Brand New Ghost Town December 16, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in business, ghost towns, gummint, history, New Mexico, writing.
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Yes, bids have gone out to build a brand spanking new ghost town in New Mexico.

The idea is pretty innovative. Build an entire town that would normally house 35,000 residents but use it as a test bed for all kinds of 21st century technology. Intelligent traffic systems (a stunningly new idea for NMexico drivers), smart grid uses (for security–gotta wonder if they will also build in electronic glide paths for the police Predator drones) and one that ought to be there and probably won’t, modular reactors.

Bill Gates can go to China to pitch travelling wave reactors but can’t seem to do that inside the US. A pity. The NM newly built ghost town can be a wonderful place to test out such technology. After all, the town is likely to be built within an hour’s drive of the Stallion Gate and Trinity Site. (I suspect optimal location is near Socorro and NM Tech–Tech already runs a ghost town of its own down in the Bootheel used for blowing up things and training urban assault SWAT teams).

Other possibles for reactor testing, though ones like the CANDU hardly require it, are certainly out there. What better place to test EMP reactions than an entire test city?

Maybe this is the reason behind China’s Ordos? Naw, that was a failure of central planning.

There is so much NM can do to bring in the bucks using what resources we are allowed to develop. More on some random ideas about using writers in the same way Walter Jon Williams runs his Taos writers’ workshop.

I leave you with this tidbit. The name they have chosen for the town? The Center. I’d rather they had gone with The Village, but that’s just me.

The not-quite Green Dome

Not Just (Billy the) Kid(ding) December 4, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in awards, contest, death, ghost towns, gummint, ideas, New Mexico, westerns, Wild West.
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A few months back I mentioned New Mexico’s Billy the Kid hunt. Items or clues placed at historic spots around the state–sort of a collect the entire set kind of quest. NM Tourism spent about $600k on the project and says it has netted over $2m. I assume this means that $2m was spent that wouldn’t otherwise as a result of the promotion. That’s fine and dandy, and I’m happy to see someone in Santa Fe doing something other than ignoring their jobs.

Since the state is stymied in developing its extraction industries and more than 70% of the land is owned by the feds (and therefore off the tax roles) NM scrapes the bottom of the barrel when it comes to generating revenue. “Catch the Kid” resulted in a $10k reward being split between two teams, one of which notably called itself “The Regulators.” Other prizes were significant.

Our history is about all we can use to generate new money. Spaceport America is a good start on continuing revenue coming in from outside the state (and US) and now is the time to push tourism since Jan 6, 2012 marks NM’s 100th anniversary as a state.

Why not a tour of outlaw hot spots? Blackjack Ketchum is a gruesome ending to a New Mexico outlaw is notable. (pictures at the link might be sorta, well, gruesome for you) Elfego Baca is on the other side of the badge–he wore one. His shootout is nothing less than astounding.

Shakespeare, NM is a veritable time capsule of outlawry. You might want to check my fictionalized version of deadly happenings there in the story “Silver Noose.”

So much history. I’m glad “Catch the Kid” was successful. May the tourism dept think of something even more successful for NM’s centennial year.