Archive for the 'Speculative' Category

Jul 20 2011

The Reason Why?

Published by under General,Speculative

Is this why your skin ceases to fit as you age:

The amount of water in the body declines with aging, from about 80 percent in young adulthood to about 55 to 60 percent for people in their 80s, ..

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Jul 05 2011

Ebocloud, A Novel About The Social Singularity

Published by under Books,Speculative

by Rick Moss

This little ebook was originally published on smashbooks.com in electronic form which is how I read it. Subsequently, it was taken up and published as a paper back. A new publishing model.
The story is about people involved with a “Facebook on a lot of steroids” social network which is called the ebocloud. Affinity groups derived from the ebocloud come to replace the groups that members formerly related to in the ‘real world’. The cyber world (ebocloud) takes over which is the ‘social singularity’ of the subtitle! Before the book ends, the ebocloud’s capabilities are taken much beyond what I perceive as ever possible. Somewhat interesting speculation, but too unrealistic and superficial for my taste.
Overlaid on the description of ebocloud’s world and speculation about social networks is an apparent murder attempt ultimately resolved by identifying a mad genius behind ebocloud who is running amok. That genius is conveniently killed to allow the different good genius to continue his wonderful social network.
I was curious to see what this book was about and now I know; a simple sketchy story with a little interesting speculation. Not much atmosphere or depth.

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Jun 04 2011

Sum – Forty Tales from the After Life

Published by under Books,Speculative

by David Eagleman
This is a very short book of about 40 pages but since I read an electronic version it consisted of 107 screens. The subtitle is a exactly what you get: forty short imaginings of what comes after death. Mostly imaginative and clever ideas sketched out quickly. The author is a neuroscientist and that shows through in a few of the scenarios. The book can easily be read in an hour or two, but probably better to read it one scenario at a time (which I didn’t do).
This was the first digital book that I ‘checked out’ of our library, and reading it was hindered by “Digital Rights Management” controls (AKA DRM). DRM required using a particular application from Adobe to read the book and that application was ‘stale’ and old looking with clunky page transitions and without the ability to scroll even scroll through a whole scenario (about a page if on paper). The DRM paranoia prevents copying any text anywhere

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Nov 05 2010

Breakpoint

Published by under Books,Speculative

by Arthur A. Clarke

This book gets a mixed reaction from me. Clarke is an acknowledged government security expert with a lot of experience and knowledge who has written a story about his area of expertise. But, in many ways he tells a very simple and not very subtle story. Much of the time it reads like a listing of bad thing that could be done to a country by manipulating computers and the networks that connect them. Overall, it is clear cut bad vs. good with little to no gray aspects and cardboard cut out characters.
But, it is not a lousy book which should just be ignored. While it is very optimistic on technological progress it does introduce some of the issues related to advanced technology. Especially, “nano” technology and biological enhancement. It even touches lightly on the idea of the “trans-human” aspects of what those technologies might lead to. Issues raised include what improvements are acceptable and what’s the importance of the distinction between repairing and enhancing? Overall, Clarke seems to say that fixing is okay, but enhancing is not. Another issue is who will benefit: just those with money? In that case, the result is a likely increase in inequality as the rich get the enhanced capabilities (first) and then gaps only widen.
Worth reading. Especially if you are on a long airplane flight.

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May 02 2010

Staring at the Sun

Published by under Books,Speculative

by Julian Barnes

A “novel” that provides a story mainly as a basis for a ‘meditation’ on life and death. The main character is a British woman, Jean, born around 1920 who lives to be one hundred. Her life story is only sketched in as a basis for comments and observations about life and death and some mundane things along the way. Lots of it is about courage, fear, and about death and dying, but it is not at all a morbid book. A book of thoughts and explorations of ideas. Not an essay that argues for a position; it Just “talks” about things.
In addition to Jean, an uncle, a husband, an aviator who boarded with the family in WW II, and a son play roles in providing opportunities for observations. Events in the lives come in and out of the narrative in a way that seems very natural and smooth. Nicely written and interesting. As a bonus, if you choose to believe “Jean” at age 100, you’ll get definite answers to three BIG questions (No, not the meaning of life).
As an aside, the book was written in the early 1980’s and near the end it includes a dialog with a smart machine (TAT – for “The Absolute Truth”) that supposed to know everything, but doesn’t. No definite date associated but it would be somewhere about now. The characterization of the machine and interactions with it are very off: a green screen character based terminal. Missed widely on that one, but then the book is not at all about technology or prediction. Just about the human condition.

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Apr 17 2010

More on iPad Badness

Published by under General,Speculative

There is another very interesting analysis or better a critique of the iPad’s role on one of the technical book publisher O’Reilly’s blogs. It explains how the iPad can be, and seems intended to be, used to constrain and charge for materials presently available for ‘free’. An attractively packaged content distribution channel rather than a device that opens new opportunities or delivers new capabilities.
Inadvertently, a recent NPR show “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” had a funny bit that emphasized this point. They called a person with some joke questions about the iPad but the person they happened to call owned and “loved” an iPad. When asked what she could do with it that she couldn’t do before, the answer was … “Nothing”! But, she loved it.
I think I’ll skip the iPad. It would probably be useful, even nice, for very old people who don’t want to deal with the complexity of a more flexible device (computer), but just read email and maybe a few web site; an up-to-date webTV. I’ll get to that point soon enough, but I’ll pass for now!

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Jul 14 2009

Machine vs. Machine

Published by under General,Speculative

A small financial trading firm, Themis Trading LLC, has published an interesting paper on how various firms use extremely fast short term trading program to make/scam/steal profits from the various electronic exchanges and ultimately from everyone else who is dependent on efficient markets (i.e. almost everybody via mutual funds, pensions, etc.). The process involves using programs running on machines with extremely fast access to the exchanges’ machines to place transactions based on what other machines are doing (e.g. breading up and trading blocks of shares). This paper was published about six months ago and other press articles has described aspects of it. It seems that a lot of people know about this game, but it was new to me.
Recently, a former Goldman Sachs programmer was accused of stealing their program trading code which may have been used in implementing such a scheme. In that case, the U.S. Attorney said in court “..this program could use it to manipulate markets in unfair ways..”. Fair when G-S uses it, unfair when someone else does? That seems a little odd.
What intrigues me is the battle of machines involved in this game. From the descriptions, the ‘intelligence’ is programmed in by their owners and the machines just implement the strategies very, very quickly (microsecond?) before other participants can trade. It feels like ‘front running’ and old game in which a trader hears of a coming trade and buys/sells in front of it (which in turn sounds a lot like insider trading).
The machines do not represent “smart machines” which figure out strategies or tactics. Or, maybe they do……

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Jul 11 2009

Dry Storeroom No. 1

Published by under Books,Speculative

by Richard Fortey
“The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum”

This is not an official history of the museum, but a tale written by one man who worked there for many years. His view of the place and its contents. The contents he describes cover all the possibilities; the buildings, the staff, the specimens, and some visitors and events. Organized by museum department, etymology, geology, etc., it describes the science and the people liberally laced with gossip and anecdotes.
Systematic classification is what natural history is all about and it seems to require obsessive, dedicated people to grasp and document all the details and differences of hoards of specimens. I could never do it, but it makes interesting reading.
This is a good book to leave laying around and to read a few pages at a time. Otherwise you can drown in or become bored by the sequence of short tales and classification details that make up the bulk of the book.

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Mar 14 2009

“Congestion Charges”

Published by under General,Speculative

“Congestion charges” have been used for decades in Singapore and more recently in London. A simple concept: if you want to drive into congested zones, you pay more. Makes sense to me and we should try it (along with taxing gasoline) here in SF.

I don’t know of any systematic study of the results of using Congestion Charges, but this post reminded me of them and provides a positive anecdote.

The congestion charge has reduced traffic in London enormously and made it much more livable. It has also made the bus system usable again.

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Aug 09 2008

Future of Buildings?

Published by under Books,Speculative

One of the interesting ideas in “Rainbows End” was buildings that were computerized (computer controlled?) and could reconfigure themselves. Now I see in this post that this concept is being worked on actively by NASA and others. If one could marry these malleable buildings with a machine that could make the components on demand from available resources it would be a very interesting “thing”.

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