From Towel Day To SpaceX And Transparency Grenades
    By David Brin | May 25th 2012 08:36 AM | 5 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    David Brin is a scientist, public speaker, technical consultant and author of books including The Postman, Startide Rising, The Uplift War and Existence...

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    For Douglas’s sake, don’t forget your towel on Friday! 5/25/12 is not just the annual Towel Day to honor the genius of Douglas Adams, but Super Towel Day (5 + 25 + 12 = 42!!!!) A day that won’t recur for another … century, when the cosmic solution to life, the universe, and everything just may be revealed.

    Why a towel?  It is, after all …. “the massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value – you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindbogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you – daft as a bush, but very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough. Most importantly, a towel has immense psychological value…”

    So long Douglas, and thanks for all the fish…

     ==And on to science...==

    Huzzah for Elon and his team at SpaceX for a successful liftoff with their Falcon 9 rocket, followed by the Dragon capsule docking with the International Space Station --the first hook-up with a commercial spacecraft. It's a new era with state and enterprise, both being intelligent and forward-looking on this venture.

    Last month, I was privileged to visit the magnificent SpaceX facility near Los Angeles, where Elon showed me the Dragon capsule.  Next step: reliably delivering vital cargo to the ISS. SpaceX has long-range plans to use Dragon as the basis for a crewed capsule to take astronauts to the space station, and eventually to Mars. Onward and upward...

    And now we know something about BlueOrigin, a private entrepreneurial project by Amazon's Jeff Bezos, which appears to be a capsule whose lifting body shape will allow a great deal of cross-range maneuvering while hurtling at hypersonic speeds.  Also, ATK Inc of Utah has a candidate system for lifting capsules to Low Earth Orbit, and there are others, as well!  Privatizing this stuff was way overdue.  

    ==Trending toward the Future==

    I'm currently at the Annual Future in Review... or FiRe ... conference in Laguna Beach, California, a gathering of tech entrepreneurs and venture folk and such, where I am the regular/resident futurist scifi-guy. I'll be helping run the "CTO Challenge." This year's topic - developing a plan to help all consumers use tech to better know what they are eating -- part of the 'quantified self movement.'  Also I will interview famed and sagacious author Kim Stanley Robinson, whose novel, 2312, has just been released.

    How to identify the trends and ideas that will endure, leading to radical change, re-defining the world of tomorrow? WIRED offers valid pointers: look for cross-pollinating ideas that span disciplines; surf the exponentials; look for virtuous cycles; and plan on increasing levels of openness and transparency.  Okay, I'll steer you to these tricks, since WIRED blabbed about them.  But still, they barely scratched my own, personal top ten Secrets of Master Prognosticators!

    Here's one forward-looking concept... developing space-age travel here on Earth. ET3 -- Evacuated Tube Transport Technologies -- plans to go with an idea many of us discussed in the 1980s... riding maglev capsules in airless, friction free tubes at high speed (and low energy cost) at very high speed... say New York to Beijing in 2 hours.  Worth a web visit just to see the cool illustrations. And someday....

    A $1 billion ultra high-tech city is about to be built – for a population of zero! CITE, the Center for Innovation, Testing and Evaluation will be a testing ground for intelligent traffic systems, self driving vehicles, green energy, resource recycling, smart grid networks, etc – a laboratory for emerging technologies from both public and private sectors. (No one to complain when electricity or water is shut off.)  The project will mimic a mid-sized city of 35,000, and will cover about 15 square miles. Location in southeast New Mexico. They’ll need security to keep the people out…

    Honda has revealed plans for a rolling stool it now calls the Uni-Cub which users steer by the seat of their pants. Roll-over Segway!

    Was Steve Jobs planning to build an “iCar”?  Huh!  In TINKERERS I showed a billboard: NEW FOR 2024, THE HONDA/APPLE iCAR!

    And now for something completely different... algae farming! It’s a big deal (and I portray it in my new novel.) At long last, the glimmers and tentative hopes are apparently scaling up, led by members of the Mars family (yes, the candy makers) who have developed processes to take sewage from farms and cities, combine it from CO2 from factories, mix it under copious free sunlight, and put out oxygen and “green gold.” I’ll be meeting Heliae's CEO at this week’s “Future in Review" conference.

    ==The Technology of Looking downward==

    Some call me a "transparency radical" because I push the notion that increased levels of light are generally likely to benefit us all, rather than harm us.  At least, light nourishes our science, democracy, markets and individual ability to hold the mighty accountable.  But I am no radical.  The Transparent Society discusses legitimate boundaries and exceptions.  Want to see radicals?  Have a glimpse at the "Transparency Grenade!" Toss it into a space and it collects and re-transmits detected network traffic and audio.  Deliberately provocatively made to resemble a Soviet grenade.  As art?  cool!  As a practical suggestion? Not so much...

    I recently participated with many scholars in Phase 2 of the Drones At Home project -- a 2-day conference organized by the gallery@calit2 and the Center for Research in Computing and the Arts, under Professor Sheldon Brown. There were panels, screenings, and art openings, including presentations by Alex Rivera, the creator of the wonderful little sci fi film SLEEP DEALER and a brilliant one-hour, one-man performance play, Unmanned, about the rise of drones and cyborgism in modern life, by Jordan Crandall.

    And while we're on the subject, see this: How killer drones are changing the way we conduct war.The Pentagon maintains a fleet of 19,000 drones, for aerial surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as targeted strikes, killing at least 3000 individuals classified as terrorists -- as well as 800 civilians, according to human rights groups.

    NASA's Dawn mission scientists have released a  video depicting the satellite's fly-over of the distant asteroid, Vesta, a "proto-planet" in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

    ==Cool Stuff==

    Always been a big fan of "powers of ten" style zoom-in and zoom-out graphics and films that bring home the incredible ranges of scale that we must deal with, in our puny, brittle minds.  Now see the latest, a super-cool slide-able illustration that really brings it home. Dizzyingly fun: An interactive scale of the universe that takes youfrom a hydrogen atom to a cell to a human to a star to our galaxy, local super-clusters and beyond. Explore!

    Also, take a look at the terrific Preview-Trailer created by Patrick Farley for Existence.  


    increasing levels of openness and transparency.  Okay, I'll steer you to these tricks, since WIRED blabbed about them.  But still, they barely scratched my own, personal top ten Secrets of Master Prognosticators!
    LOL - "master prognosticators" seems to be about spewing uncritical boyish techno fetishist over optimism. So guys like you now voluntarily help to blunt increased transparency by taking the transparency movement hostage without giving credit to those who seriously started it [or at least those who now continue it, like for example the occupy movement (e.g. Free the Network)]? This can only mean a certain kind of "transparency".
    Let me tell you what a master prognosticator needs: She needs to understand that systems generally evolve toward internal integration and "transparency" along with co-evolving the system's capability to ensure that the effectively available information is system conform anyway (to do with perception/rationalization in systems generally).

    BTW: Don't forget to bring your towly, because


    Went to pee after putting the comment above and thought to myself “Well, that comment is going to go over their heads again and they will only take home that I don’t like David”. In a good mood today, so let me clarify more patiently:

    Transparency/free communication has two sides, namely directly increasing transparency (1) and preventing the potentially emancipating effects of that transparency by working hard to ensure that *effectively* only the 'right' information will be available anyway (2).

    Now guess on which side, (1) or (2), David is working on by writing these 100% one sided, never critical articles?

    I am sure you believe, sincerely, that you expressed cogent and clever and rational thoughts in the two messages above.  With all due courtesy let me inform you that you did not.  I was able to follow the train... it just looped and whirled and went nowhere. -- DB
    I do not believe you are not able to understand something as simple as this:
    Transparency/free communication has two sides,

    namely directly increasing transparency (1)

    and preventing the potentially emancipating effects of that transparency by working hard to ensure that *effectively* only the 'right' information will be available anyway (2).

    I guess it is either that you do not 'want' to understand or pretend to not understand.
    Dear Sascha,

    Getting rid of unnecessary verbiage, what you are saying boils down to:

    "Transparency can increase transparency or diminish transparency".

    This is indeed simple, as you claim. It is also insane gibberish.

    I remain, mit den besten Empfehlungen,

    Your humble servant