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Full Review of the Pixel 2

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 11/10/2017 - 13:31
After a week and a trip to Minneapolis where I used a lot of its functions, I can now say that I like my new Pixel 2 a whole lot. Let me count some of the ways. 1. Ergonomically I think it’s a winner for me. My last few phones were on the larger size […]

The Difference a Day Makes

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 11/10/2017 - 09:23
Same tree, 24 hours difference: The season is called “Fall” for a reason.

The Big Idea: Fonda Lee

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 11/09/2017 - 12:15
Family: It’s a thing, for most of us, most of the time. And it certainly for Fonda Lee and her newest novel, Jade City, in which family issues aren’t just fodder for holiday get-togethers, but could determine the future of a nation. FONDA LEE: I had a strong vision for Jade City from the start. […]

Four Views of the Same Wife

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 11/09/2017 - 11:46
Playing with a new Prisma-like imaging app (called GoArt) and ran a picture of Krissy through a few different settings. I think they came out well. Of course, it helps to have a good subject. Incidentally, GoArt is a pretty decent little app, although you should be aware of the in-app purchase scheme of it, […]

Perspectives and politics

Contrary Brin - Wed, 11/08/2017 - 15:14
Today is a roundup of some wider perspectives that've piled up.  After a couple of news blips:

1-  Jared Kushner was in Riyadh, consulting for a whole day with the Crown Prince, just days before the latter staged a major putsch, toppling every power rival in Saudi Arabia. No one in media seems to consider this as a precursor to the long-planned war vs. Iran. See how many forces want this, from the Saudis and Trump/Breitbart to Putin and even the Iranian mullahs, themselves.

Still, the image of an orthodox Jew dickering with the Saudi leader... might a silver lining to this be an Arab-Israeil rapprochement? I'll discuss all this in a future missive.

2- The Democrats' sweeps in Virginia, New Jersey, Washington State and elsewhere  show not only Trump's unpopularity and liberal vigor, but the vital importance of down-ticket races.  Finding candidates to take on "safe-seat" incumbents has paid off. Hence leave no office - state assembly or even dog catcher - uncontested in 2018. In an earlier three-part series I described how to do this.

== Wider Perspectives ==

Steven Pinker - the rascal who uses facts to defeat defeatism - points out that 2016 was not as bad as it seemed:  
War deaths have risen since 2011 because of the Syrian civil war, but are a fraction of the levels of the 1950s through the early 1990s, when megadeath wars and genocides raged all over the world. Colombia’s peace deal marks the end of the last war in the Western Hemisphere, and the last remnant of the Cold War. Homicide rates in the world are falling, and the rate in United States is lower than at any time between 1966 and 2009. Outside of war zones, terrorist deaths are far lower than they were in the heyday of the Weathermen, IRA, and Red Brigades.”
He admits that: “Several awful things happened in the world’s democracies in 2016, and the election of a mercurial and ignorant president injects a troubling degree of uncertainty into international relations. 

"But it’s vital to keep cool and identify specific dangers rather than being overcome by a vague apocalyptic gloom.”
Pinker adds: “More generally, the worldwide, decades-long current toward racial tolerance is too strong to be undone by one man. Public opinion polls in almost every country show steady declines in racial and religious prejudice­ — and more importantly for the future, that younger cohorts are less prejudiced than older ones. As my own cohort of baby boomers (who helped elect Trump) dies off and is replaced by millennials (who rejected him in droves), the world will become more tolerant.”
Yesterday I spoke to several classes at a nearby high school, and was impressed with the eye-contact, strong voices, confident attitudes and diversity. Though propaganda - especially Hollywood - has convinced them that the world is going straight into the toilet, when that's just not true. But back to Pinker.

He reiterates a distinction: “between complacent optimism, the feeling of a child waiting for presents, and conditional optimism, the feeling of a child who wants a treehouse and realizes that if he gets some wood and nails and persuades other kids to help him, he can build one. I am not complacently optimistic about the future; I am conditionally optimistic.”
Finally... Echoes of 2014: Margaret McMillan writes that we should fear one thing… a pattern that centuries begin their themes a decade and a half in. 

“I wish I could stop, but I find myself thinking of 1914. The world then had seemed so stable, so manageable…. That confidence was dangerous because it meant that people didn't take the warning signs seriously enough.”

See where I wrote about how the pattern of each of the last several centuries seems to have begun about a decade and a half in...and the election of Donald Trump, along with meme-war depredations by our enemies, appears to bear this out.  But which theme will prevail until 2115? The Putin-Saudi-Trumpist re-ignition of our civil war?  Or our sound and decisive rejection of this putsch, reclaiming pragmatic confidence?
== Semper Ubi Sub-Ubi ==
Universal basic income (UBI) is a concept that was pushed by - among others - Robert Heinlein in several of his novels. A century ago, JM Keynes predicted we would see so much automated production that the average work week would fall to twenty hours. He was a hundred years premature, but many harbingers suggest we’re verging on that era, at last. UBI could be a way to ensure that it happens with decency, keeping the spirit of an egalitarian civilization.  The snarl by cynics is that this is “welfare” encouraging a generation of lazy, demanding lotus-eaters, is a cliché that’s been tested in the last decade, when some experiments in the developing world have shown that giving raw cash to poor families can be more effective than closely supervised-paternalistic versions of aid. And almost none of the cash is used on fripperies.
Now such experiments are arriving in the US. Y-combinator is pursuing a UBI project. In a new blog post published on the company’s website this week, they reveal their plans to pick 3,000 individuals from two states at random to receive a monthly cash handout. 1,000 participants will receive $1,000 per month for a period up to five years, while the other 2,000 will receive $50 per month, serving as the control group.
== Free Speech ==
Who favors free and open speech? Who fought against the Fairness Doctrine and all the rebuttal rules requiring broadcasters to offer a few minutes of rebuttal each night?  

Rupert Murdoch howled over letting on-air anyone who might refute his hired gas-bags. At his urging -- and the radio hypnotists at Clear Channel - the GOP rescinded it, and Fox hollers at any hint of its return, knowing just 5 minutes per day of factual rebuttal would tear them open like a dim-witted matador.
Funny: the "fake news" mainstream doesn't fear a rebuttal rule. The UK still has one. The Murdochs are lobbying like hell to get rid of it.
== You’re kidding me, right? ==
I'm not always a fan, but Thomas Friedman; in the New York Times is very smart and he can be pointed: "Having just traveled to New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, China, Taiwan and now Hong Kong, I can say without an ounce of exaggeration that more than a few Asia-Pacific business and political leaders have taken President Trump's measure and concluded that - far from being a savvy negotiator - he's a sucker who's shrinking US influence in this region and helping make China great again.
"These investors, trade experts and government officials are still stunned by a... Trump's decision to tear up the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade deal ... without having read it or understanding its vast geo-economic implications. (Trump was so ignorant about TPP that when he was asked about it in a campaign debate in November 2015 he suggested that China was part of it, which it very much is not.)"
== Miscellaneous! ==
The percentage of adolescents in the U.S. who have a driver's license, who have tried alcohol, who date, and who work for pay has plummeted since 1976, with the most precipitous decreases in the past decade. Teens have also reported a steady decline in sexual activity in recent decades, as the portion of high school students who have had sex fell from 54 percent in 1991 to 41 percent in 2015, according to Centers for Disease Control statistics.  “According to an evolutionary psychology theory that a person's "life strategy" slows down or speeds up depending on his or her surroundings, exposure to a "harsh and unpredictable" environment leads to faster development, while a more resource-rich and secure environment has the opposite effect, the study said."
Okay, put on your list of ways to help the Earth... limiting your subsidizing cow farts. One more reason to eat less beef. And to invest in these great new veggie-burgers they're developing. And vat-grown meat.
This fellow says we could cut methane from beef by 70% by adding 4% seaweed to their diet. He estimates that to farm enough seaweed to cover Australia's livestock, we'd need to establish roughly 6,000 hectares of seaweed farms, which isn't going to be easy to find. But let’s start a pilot study.
The good news? U.S. greenhouse gas production went down last year. Solar/wind have skyrocketed. And climate change is proved. And the denialist cult has been proved wrong about absolutely everything.
Oh. Peaktu San. The highest peak in Korea (and the alleged birthplace of Kim Jong Il in official state mythology) is also an active super-volcano, one which, if it erupted, would obliterate most of North Korea and China too. 
== Colorful Political Miscellany ==
Dang. Some of you thought I was a bit... fierce... in taking down that traitor-toady George F. Will. But I'm dry toast compared to Jim Wright. Go read his choice fury ... 
And yes, we will only end this phase of the American Civil War when several million residually sane American conservatives realize that enough is enough. That this is not the conservatism of Barry Goldwater – whose grave spinning now supplies most of the power to Arizona.  
So what will it take? Pence’s chief of staff floats ‘purge’ of anti-Trump Republicans to wealthy donors. Oh, please. Oh do this.  The moderate sane conservatives of America have been frozen in stunned disbelief and cowardly inaction for years, unable to do their duty – to America and to conservatism – and form a new party not defined by Rupert Murdoch. But this could do the trick.
Nothing signals Melania Trump’s effort at independence more than this
White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner has used both a private email account and an official email address to communicate with other government officials, his attorney says.  So… the very worst thing that Hillary Clinton was ever confirmed to have done wrong… is the very smallest piece of almost daily insane-malfeasance pouring from this White House. 
Disturbing insights into anomalous voting patterns.
Do you doubt there’s a lot going on that runs below what we see bandied about?  A third of rural whites, and 40 percent of rural white men, are resigned to believing that their children will grow up with a lower standard of living than they did, a far higher proportion than people who live in cities (23 percent) or suburbs (28 percent), a survey by the Pew Research Center found.   In addition to other problems, rural areas contend with drug and mental-health issues, poverty, and a lack of high-speed access to the internet. “This has become a cultural phenomenon. It’s not an educational phenomenon,” Fluharty said. Encouraging a rural student to go to college instead of doing the same work as the adults in a community, he said, is like “suggesting that that child should not do what I have done…” Among other insights: “Disdain toward rural people, which he called commonplace on campus, “is the last acceptable prejudice in America.” 
== Finally... ==

Conservatives continue push for probes of Clinton and her campaign. And it’s the theater that matters!  24 years and half a billion dollars spent seeking "smoking guns" on the Clintons, the most thoroughly probed humans in the history of our species. Every document scrutinized, every micro assistant grilled. The Kochs offered rewards for whistle blowers to rat out the "secret deals and travesties." And what did we wind up with? Nothing but 
(1) a husband fibbing about some 3rd base consensual-adult infidelity in a hallway, and 
(2) a cabinet secretary making the same mistake with emails as all of her predecessors and the Bushes all made.
Face it. Either the Clintons are decisively proved to be clean... or else the lynch mob that wasted all that time and money is beyond incompetent.

. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

The Big Idea: Hank Early

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 11/08/2017 - 13:11
Hello, folks. This fine day, author Hank Early would like to talk to about Hell. And the End Times. And Heaven’s Crooked Finger. The last of these being his new novel. But the other two of which had some influence on its writing. HANK EARLY: When I was eleven, I buried a large, club-like tree […]

The Big Idea: Tim Pratt

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 11/07/2017 - 13:11
When you get known for writing one thing, it can be a blessing and a curse — a blessing that you have an audience for your wares, but a curse in that you can sometimes feel like you’ve written yourself into a corner. Sometimes making a change in those cases requires a leap of faith. […]

Today’s New Toy: The Pixel 2

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 11/05/2017 - 23:10
My Samsung Galaxy S7 has been getting the crashies for the last couple of months, so that (and the persistent “new tech” itch I have) was a signal for me to move on to a new phone. I considered one of the Galaxy 8s, or the Note 8, but I’m not sold on the 18:9 […]

More cool science, especially space!

Contrary Brin - Sat, 11/04/2017 - 14:24
Before plunging into space... In an extensive interview, posted on Philstockworld and The Huffington Post, I am grilled on a wide variety of topics, from Artificial Intelligence to human history, from the secret magic of fair-competition to the honey-pot trap of symbolism, from our poisonous politics to the prospect of a 20 hour work week and the looming Age of Amateurs… all the way to our fast-changing notions of a “singularity.”

== Out There! ==

I was in Denver attending the annual symposium of NASA's Innovative and Advanced Concepts program. (I'm on NIAC's advisory council.) The talks were fascinating, re potential breakthrough projects that are just barely this side of plausible. The Symposium is available via Livestream.  
See a cool video about the Planetary Society's Project Lightsail, that will expand from a mere bread loaf cube-sat to 32 square meters and launch humanity (at last!) into the era of interplanetary sailing.
A trip down memory lane.  Back in the 1960s, some Brits perpetrated one of the best UFO hoaxes, ever.  The whole point of the hoax was for it to be taken seriously. "We thought the government should have some sort of plan if aliens did land. So we gave them a chance to try out whatever plan they had - but they didn't have one."
== Solar System Marvels! ==
Empty lava tubes on the moon are real, and could form a perfect place for early habitats… if anyone would want to stay for long on that sterile, resource-poor, dusty plain. Still, NASA’s NIAC program has funded interesting studies of how to get robots down there, exploring these tubes as potential habitats. Prove me wrong!
Breathtaking panoramas from Mars, taken by our loyal robot explorer as Curiosity rises ever higher along the flanks of Mount Sharp.

When the InSight lander launches to the Red Planet next year, it will contain the names of members of the public, and you can submit your name for it to be included. And I support this!  Still, read my story “Mars Opposition, - in my collection Insistence of Vision - to see a conceivable drawback!
I’ve long deemed Phobos, the largest moon of Mars, to be extremely valuable territory, an ideal staging and infrastructure base, even more-so if there are recoverable volatiles below the surface. Only now, news that its surface may carry intense static charge. Argh. Nothing is easy. 
Planetary Radio podcasts Science Fiction Greats at the Mars Society — Gregory Benford, David Brin, Geoffrey Landis and Larry Niven — about terraforming Mars, the origin of life, the drive to explore and more. The conference was held September 13, 2017 at UC Irvine.
What would happen if there were an accident on the moon? The Manfred Lachs Space Law Moot Court Competitions "… imagine realistic problems that could happen in the future, and how liability is apportioned and decided and who's responsible," explains Boggs. "Here on earth, obviously, different countries have different laws about what happens if I crash into your car or if I ruin your fence," she explains. "Well, what happens if I do that to you in space?"
This should not have been a partisan issue. Making a new space station in lunar orbit makes so much sense for the U.S.  And sure enough, because the Obama Administration (and nearly all space scientists) favored it, the Republican dogma became “to heck with lunar orbit!  Let’s do Apollo again!’ 

In fact, there are half a dozen great reasons to do a lunar orbit station; 

(1) test deep space expedition capabilities, 

(2) bring in asteroidal samples for examination, 

(3) lunar science from orbit… plus 

(4) a national defense use I won’t go into here. Plus 

(5) charge lots of $ for services to wannabe groups who are desperate to plant dusty footprints on a lunar surface that appears (at least for now) to be of no near term use to adults. (Which explains why Republicans want to join the silly rush to go back down there.) 

Now comes news that the Republican Trump Administration appears to have backed off its determination to cancel the cis-lunar station — because suddenly there’s an agreement with the Russians to share this station, like we share the ISS.  Sound good? Naw. It’s just more evidence of betrayal, because it will eradicate possibilities # 4 &5, while forcing us to share #2.  Let me reiterate: sharing the lunar orbit station is at-minimum stupid and possibly another sign of something much worse.  == And beyond… ==
Terrific discovery, sleuthing the missing baryonic matter (normal, not “dark”) and tracing much of it to hot, diffuse filaments between galaxies.
Voyage through the depths of the cosmos with the beautifully illustrated The Zoomable Universe: An Epic Tour Through Cosmic Scale from Almost Everything to Nearly Nothing, by astrobiologist Caleb Scharf, incorporating the latest scientific observations, theories and speculations.
Wow, ever-weirder planets. Astronomers report the discovery of a new ultra-short-period planet and summarize the properties of all such planets for which the mass and radius have been measured. The new planet, EPIC~228732031b, was discovered in K2 Campaign 10. It has a radius of1.81 +0.16/-0.12 R⊕ and orbits a G dwarf with a period of 8.9 hours.
So far, we have managed to spectrally measure the albedos of two super-Jupiter planets that orbit their stars incredibly close.  One appears to be deep blue in color while the other is blacker than asphalt.  Well, its sunward face is about 4700 degrees, tearing apart molecular hydrogen.  Wow.
Speaking of which, ah well. The secular and occasional dimming of Tabby’s Star appears to likely be due to a ring or rings of dust, not alien megastructures. Aw shucks. (Though part of me is glad.)
The U.S. Naval Academy has reinstated brief lessons in celestial navigation this year, nearly two decades after the full class was determined outdated and cut from the curriculum. “It's the escalating threat of cyber attacks that has led the Navy to dust off its tools to measure the angles of stars. After all, you can't hack a sextant.” 
Spectacular new parallax measurements are mapping the other side of the Milky Way Galaxy.
== Wow. You are a member of a civilization that does stuff like this! ==
Now, for the first time, scientists have detected gravitational waves from merging neutron stars, using LIGO and Virgo. All of the gravitational waves that LIGO and other detectors previously discovered were from the mergers of black holes. When a star goes supernova, its material collapses to form a dense core. If this core is massive enough, it may form a black hole, which has such a powerful gravitational pull that not even light can escape. A less massive core will form a neutron star.
Black holes are denser than neutron stars, so the signals from their mergers are relatively brief. "Previously detected black-hole mergers lasted for a second, maybe two seconds. This latest event lasted nearly a whole minute."
By working quickly, astronomers used both conventional and gravitational-wave observatories to watch the same event: the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational-wave source. In contrast, black-hole mergers are not expected to produce any light, which means conventional telescopes cannot detect them. Here's a fascinating description of the science learned so far - and in the near future - from the recent gravitational wave detections.

Now... something small, for the record. Next time I see Kip Thorne, I mean to ask him: does LIGO ever detect "events" that seem too narrow in frequency and too brief or lacking in lateral beadth to be noteworthy? Maybe strangely weaker at one LIGO station than the other? See my novel EARTH for a weird explanation!  Just sayin'...
== The METI cult keeps rearing its silly head ==
My friend Douglas Vakoch is a great guy… with an unfortunate obsession. Not his passion to search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) but his eagerness to beam “messages” (METI) without pausing to address the concerns of colleagues and the public.  Alas METI has taken on many of the traits of a cult, including utter dismissal of all criticism and contemptuous dismissal of smart colleagues, or any duty to the public. In this case, Doug shrugs off Stephen Hawking’s concerns with a blithe paragraph-incantation — one that has been refuted decisively over and over again.
“It’s the fact that every civilization that does have the ability to travel to Earth could already pick up I Love Lucy. So we have been sending our existence into space with radio signals for 78 years. Even before that, two and a half billion years, we have been telling the Universe that there is life on here because of the oxygen in our atmosphere. So if there’s any alien out there paranoid about competition, it could have already come and wipe us out. If they’re on their way, it’s a lot better strategy to say we’re interested in being conversational partners. Let’s strike up a new conversation.”
“Sometimes people talk about this interstellar communication as an effort to join the galactic club. What I find so strange is no one ever talks about paying our dues or even submitting an application. And that’s what METI does,” Vakoch said. “It’s actually contributing something to the galaxy instead of saying gimme gimme gimme me. What can we do for someone else.”

What malarkey! Many of us have discussed every single one of these issues. In EXISTENCE I cove... let's see... all of them. Indeed, Alan Tough's "Invitation to ETI" site did this long ago, as Dough well knows. As does my own contribution to that "invitation." The reason Doug and his colleagues so strenuously avoid thorough, open, public and collegial vetting of their cult project is simple: they know these rationalizations would not survive.
John Michael Godier’s well-researched YouTube channel podcasts about a wide range of science and science fictional concepts. For example, this two parter about the concept of “uplift” done in conjunction with Isaac Arthur.
-->. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

New Books and ARCs, 11/3/17

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 11/03/2017 - 16:24
Somehow, the books find me! (It’s actually because the publishers send them to me. It’s a pretty sweet deal.) Lots of good stuff in this stack; let us know in the comments which of these books seem especially interesting to you on this Friday afternoon (or, uh, later, if you see this later).

Rocket Man (Thumpy Asteroid Mix)

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 11/02/2017 - 23:04
I recently picked up Reason 10, which is a music creation software suite, mostly because I thought it would be fun, in my voluminous free time, to make some music. The software is pretty complex and almost certainly more than I can handle, particularly now when I’m actually finishing up a book; nevertheless I made […]

Weinstein, Ratner, Toback, Etc

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 11/01/2017 - 12:46
Another day and another dude in the entertainment industry accused of sexual assault and harassment: Today it’s Brett Ratner, who six women accused of impropriety in a Los Angeles Times article, including actress Natasha Henstridge, who recounts an encounter two decades ago that basically amounts to rape, and Olivia Munn, toward whom Ratner has been pretty […]

Doing My Part for ACA Open Enrollment Awareness

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 11/01/2017 - 09:18
Reposting here a tweet I just made: Hello. The current administration is trying really hard to make sure you don't know you have access to good, affordable health insurance. — John Scalzi (@scalzi) November 1, 2017 For those of you who can’t see the tweet for whatever reason: It’s ACA Open Enrollment time! The […]

Two Years of Scamperbeastery

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 11/01/2017 - 08:35
Two years ago on this date Krissy, Athena and I went over to a neighbor of my mother-in-law’s with the intent of getting a kitten from a litter his cat had birthed. We ended up getting two, since they were small and also the kittens had clear affection for each other. The kittens became the […]

Reviews: Wolfenstein II and Stranger Things 2

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 10/31/2017 - 13:41
Last week two bits of entertainment I’d been looking forward to finally unlocked for my enjoyment: the video game Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus and Stranger Things 2, the second season of the well-regarded Netflix series. What did I think of both? Well, let me tell you. Wolfenstein II: I enjoyed the heck out of […]
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