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Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘writing

[BLOG] Some Saturday links

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  • Architectuul reports on the critical walking tours of Istanbul offered by Nazlı Tümerdem.
  • Centauri Dreams features a guest post from Alex Tolley considering the biotic potential of the subsurface ocean of Enceladus.
  • The Crux reports on how paleontologist Susie Maidment tries to precisely date dinosaur sediments.
  • D-Brief notes the success of a recent project aiming to map the far side of the Milky Way Galaxy.
  • Cody Delistraty considers the relationship between the One Percent and magicians.
  • Todd Schoepflin writes at the Everyday Sociology Blog about different sociological facts in time for the new school year.
  • Gizmodo shares a lovely extended cartoon imagining what life on Europa, and other worlds with subsurface worlds, might look like.
  • io9 features an interview with Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders on the intersection between science fiction writing and science writing.
  • JSTOR Daily briefly considers the pros and cons of seabed mining.
  • Marginal Revolution suggests that a stagnant economy could be seen as a sign of success, as the result of the exploitation of all potential for growth.
  • The NYR Daily reports on the photographs of John Edmonds, a photographer specializing in images of queer black men.
  • Frank Jacobs at Strange Maps shares a map of murders in Denmark, and an analysis of the facts behind this crime there.
  • Window on Eurasia reports on an anti-Putin shaman in Buryatia.
  • Arnold Zwicky reports on dreams of going back to school, NSFW and otherwise.

[NEWS] Five links: gay genes, stone walls, US wealth, beaches, media

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  • That, as a new study suggests, there is no single gay gene, but rather multiple different originals for non-heterosexual sexual orientations and behaviours, makes intuitive sense to me. The Washington Post has one take.
  • Atlas Obscura looks at the history behind the stone walls of New England.
  • Justin Fox at Bloomberg examines how the once-commanding lead in incomes of the middle class of the United States over the middle classes of other countries is starting to fade.
  • CityLab looks at how, too often by design, beaches in the United States are inaccessible to mass transit. (Toronto is lucky.)
  • La Presse shares a proposal by Radio-Canada to move away from a media model of competing with other outlets towards one based on collaboration.

[BLOG] Some Friday links

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  • Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait shares a video of the expansion of supernova remnant Cas A.
  • James Bow shares an alternate history Toronto transit map from his new novel The Night Girl.
  • Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber notes the Boris Johnson coup.
  • The Crux notes a flawed study claiming that some plants had a recognizable intelligence.
  • D-Brief notes the mysterious absorbers in the clouds of Venus. Are they life?
  • Dangerous Minds shares, apropos of nothing, the Jah Wabbles song “A Very British Coup.”
  • Cody Delistraty looks at bullfighting.
  • Dead Things notes the discovery of stone tools sixteen thousand years old in Idaho which are evidence of the first humans in the Americas.
  • io9 features an interview with authors Charlie Jane Anders and Annalee Newitz on worldbuilding.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that a bill in Thailand to establish civil unions is nearing approval.
  • JSTOR Daily looks at how using plastic in road construction can reduce pollution in oceans.
  • Language Log looks to see if some police in Hong Kong are speaking Cantonese or Putonghua.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the perplexing ramblings and–generously–inaccuracy of Joe Biden.
  • The LRB Blog asks why the United Kingdom is involved in the Yemen war, with Saudi Arabia.
  • The Map Room Blog looks at the different efforts aiming to map the fires of Amazonia.
  • Marginal Revolution reports on how some southern US communities, perhaps because they lack other sources of income, depend heavily on fines.
  • The NYR Daily looks at the complex literary career of Louisa May Alcott, writing for all sorts of markets.
  • Window on Eurasia reports on the apparently sincere belief of Stalin, based on new documents, that in 1934 he faced a threat from the Soviet army.
  • Arnold Zwicky takes a look at fixings, or fixins, as the case may be.

[BLOG] Some Monday links

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  • Bad Astronomer Phil Plait shares images of galaxy M61.
  • Centauri Dreams looks at a proposal for the Solar Cruiser probe, a NASA probe that would use a solar sail.
  • D-Brief notes the discovery of bacteria on coasts which manufacture dimethyl sulfide.
  • Bruce Dorminey writes about some facts about the NASA X-15 rocket plane.
  • The Dragon’s Tales reports on the strange nuclear accident in Nyonoksa, Russia.
  • JSTOR Daily reports on the recent uncovering of the ancient Egyptian city of Heracleion, under the Mediterranean.
  • Language Hat looks at 19th century standards on ancient Greek language.
  • Language Log notes an ironically swapped newspaper article subhead.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money looks at the role of Tom Cotton in the recent Greenland scandal.
  • Marginal Revolution glances at the relationship between China and Singapore.
  • The NYR Daily looks at how the car ride played a role in the writing of Jacques Lacan.
  • The Russian Demographics Blog shares an index on state fragility around the world.
  • Starts With A Bang’s Ethan Siegel explains why Jupiter suffers so many impacts from incoming bodies.
  • John Scalzi at Whatever reports on what seems to have been an enjoyable concert experience with Iron Maiden.
  • Window on Eurasia reports a claim that, with regards to a border dispute, Chechnya is much more unified than Dagestan.

[BLOG] Some Sunday links

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  • Bad Astronomer Phil Plait notes the Elon Musk proposal to terraform Mars by dropping nuclear weapons on the planet’s ice caps is a bad idea.
  • James Bow writes about how the introduction of faeries saved his novel The Night Girl.
  • Centauri Dreams looks at the storms of Jupiter.
  • The Crux explains the mystery of a village in Poland that has not seen the birth of a baby boy for nearly a decade.
  • D-Brief looks at the exoplanets of nearby red dwarf Gliese 1061.
  • Cody Delisraty talks of Renaissance painter Fra Angelico.
  • Drew Ex Machina commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Voyager 2 flyby of Neptune.
  • The Dragon’s Tales shares links to some papers about the Paleolithic.
  • JSTOR Daily hosts an essay by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger suggesting that Internet rot might be good since it could let people start to forget the past and so move on.
  • Language Hat questions whether the phrase “free to all” has really fallen out of use.
  • Language Log takes a look about immigration to the United States and Emma Lazarus’ famous poem.
  • Dan Nexon at Lawyers, Guns and Money takes issue with the suggestion of, among other, Henry Farrell, that we are headed away from globalization towards fortress economies. Redundancy, he suggests, will be more important.
  • Marginal Revolution links to a disturbing paper suggesting users of opioids use them in part for social reasons.
  • The NYR Daily features an exchange on a new law in Singapore seeking to govern fake news.
  • The Power and the Money features a guest post from Leticia Arroyo Abad looking at Argentina before the elections.
  • Drew Rowsome takes a look at a new play by Raymond Helkio examining the life of out boxer Mark Leduc.
  • Starts With A Bang’s Ethan Siegel considers if we can test gravitational waves for wave-particle duality.
  • Arnold Zwicky shares photos of the many flowers of Gamble Garden, in Palo Alto.

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait looks at the strange galaxy NGC 5866.
  • The Broadside Blog’s Caitlin Kelly looks at some of her prep work when she covers a news story.
  • Centauri Dreams considers the idea of using the Earth itself for gravitational lensing.
  • D-Brief notes a newly-discovered fossil parrot from New Zealand, a bird nearly one metre in size.
  • Far Outliers looks at the values of cowrie shells in 19th century central Africa. What could they buy?
  • Gizmodo notes the limited circumstances in which IMDb will allow transgender people to remove their birth names from their records.
  • JSTOR Daily looks at the abortive American state of Franklin.
  • Language Hat notes a 19th century Russian exile’s experience with the differences between Norwegian and Swedish.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes, after Epstein, the incompetence that too often characterizes American prisons.
  • Marginal Revolution notes the importance of slavery in the history of Venice.
  • The NYR Daily notes how W.H. Auden was decidedly unimpressed by the Apollo moon landing, and why.
  • Starts With A Bang’s Ethan Siegel notes the import of astronomers’ discovery of an ancient early black hole.
  • Strange Maps’ Frank Jacobs shares a vertical world map from China.
  • Understanding Society’s Daniel Little considers how competent the Nuclear Regulatory Commission actually is.
  • Window on Eurasia looks at the internal divides of Russia.

[REVIEW] Arthur. C. Clarke’s July 20, 2019: Life in the 21st Century

I had been passingly aware of Arthur C Clarke’s 1986 book Arthur. C. Clarke’s July 20, 2019: Life in the 21st Century for some time. This book was one of his many books in his later career where Clarke played the futurologist, pointing his audiences towards the possibilities of the future. It was only when I saw this winter a copy in near-mint condition in The Junction‘s Pandemonium that I took particular note: The date of the title was closing. Surely it merited some exploration. Sadly, when I popped into Pandemonium I was told that someone had bought that copy just a few minutes before my arrival. Off to Amazon I went.

Arthur C. Clarke's July 20, 2019: Life in the 21st Century #books #hardcover #arthurcclarke #sciencefiction #futurology #future #retrofuture

The significance of the title July 20, 2019 comes of course from this date being the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the Moon. It does indeed begin with an imagined address to the reader by the Arthur C. Clarke of 2019 himself, a resident of Clavius City, a base in the Moon’s Clavius Crater home to a only a thousand people. From that lofty perspective, Clarke sets out from this lofty perspective the framework for these great changes in humanity. The subsequent chapters, written with a wide variety of collaborators, go on to look at different areas of the human future: education, health, robotics, space and transportation, sex and work, crime and war, all get explored in turn.

The one overriding theme that July 20, 2019 gets perfectly right is the extent to which what we in actual 2019 would call Big Data is transformative. The new generation of computers and associated technologies that were only beginning to emerge in 1986, capable not only of collecting vast amounts of data but of drawing meaningful conclusions from these, would make many things possible. It would become possible, for instance, for modern medicine to provide finely tailored recommendations as to what patients should do to enjoy the best possible health, to finally make psychiatry a science wit effective interventions to deal with the ills of the human mind.

It would allow people to become life-long students, to continue to expand their skills and to learn more about the world.

It would allow people to enjoy all kinds of popular culture, for sports enhanced by bioengineering to new distribution methods for shows and for altogether new cultural forms scarcely imagined.

More, this Big Data would enable all sorts of innovations in the physical sciences, in the manufacture of all sorts of robots capable of acts of great precision and in the development of new swift vehicles to travel the skies and the oceans and in new sorts of pleasure.

All of the chapters are informative, but not that many were outstanding. I did particularly like one built around a criminal investigation looking at the relationship of a smart home with its owner. (I, for one, take care to always be polite to my Google Home Minis.) I was also caught up by the drama of an imagined Third World War, fought almost bloodlessly with precise smart weapons along the inner German frontier, ending mildly enough with a loss by East Germany of Schwerin as West Germany gave up the Fulda Gap.

It is not that there were many things that were outright wrong. (I remain convinced that we were biased by the geopolitics-driven space race of the 1960s towards thinking crewed space travel would be easier and would come about earlier than we should have expected in the technologically primitive and poor world of the mid-20th century; the 2020s might well be a good time for a durable resurgence.) The overall contours of the world depicted, generally speaking, are ones that people in actual 2019 would be able to recognize as something mostly like their own.

The big problem with July 20, 2019 is that it does not quite take account of people. Who was it who said that science fiction was a literature of ideas if not a literature of literature, of heady concepts but not so much about people or societies? The geopolitics of this imagined Third World War are uninspiring, reflecting Clarke’s 2001 or 2010, the colossi of the United States and the Soviet Union dominating to the exclusion of anyone else. We have fought multiple wars with smart weapons, and we know that even if these smart weapons actually are as good as we’d like them to be they are fired by governments acting with imperfect knowledge at targets in societies made up of innumerable human beings. This imagined near-total stability, in retrospect, is a failure.

Beyond this, I do not think that Clarke quite recognized how the impact of Big Data would change the quality of human lives. If people are to become life-long patients, life-long students, constantly being engaged in a stressful world full of challenges and stimuli barely imagined to the people of 1986, what would the impact of this be? Looking back, I think that we can see the people of Clarke’s imagined 2019 would be desperately grinding, perhaps just as we are in our post-Cold War globalized era. Clarke, though, did not seem to get this.

July 20, 2019 is a good book. I quite enjoyed going through it, taking a look at what one of the great science fiction writers imagined our world might come to be. I just think that the gaps and failed predictions are as interesting as the successes. These all are the sorts of factors that people aspiring to predict the future should look to learn from.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 20, 2019 at 11:58 pm