January 24, 2018

Charles Stross on Heinlein’s “Crazy Years” notion

Filed under: Books, Media, Randomness — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Heinlein called it, back in the 1940s, and Charles Stross provides a few more data points to prove he was quite right:

Many, many years ago, in the introduction to my first short story collection, I kvetched about how science fictional futures obsolesce, and the futures we expect look quaint and dated by the time the reality rolls round.

Around the time I published “Toast” (the title an ironic reference to the way near-future SF gets burned by reality) I was writing the stories that later became Accelerando. I hadn’t really mastered the full repertoire of fiction techniques at that point (arguably, I still haven’t: I’ll stop learning when I die), but I played to my strengths — and one technique that suited me well back then was to take a fire-hose of ideas and spray them at the reader until they drowned. Nothing gives you a sense of an immersive future like having the entire world dumped on your head simultaneously, after all.

Now we are living in 2018, round the time I envisaged “Lobsters” taking place when I was writing that novelette, and the joke’s on me: reality is outstripping my own ability to keep coming up with insane shit to provide texture to my fiction.

Just in the past 24 hours, the breaking news from Saudi Arabia is that twelve camels have been disqualified from a beauty pageant because their handlers used Botox to make them more handsome. (The street finds its uses for tech, including medicine, but come on, camel beauty pageant botox should not be a viable Google search term in any plausible time line.) Meanwhile, home in Edinburgh, eight vehicles have been discovered trapped in an abandoned robot car park during demolition work. This is pure J. G. Ballard/William Gibson mashup territory, and it’s about half a kilometre from my front door. The world’s top 1% earned 82% of all wealth generated in 2017 — I’m fairly sure this wasn’t what Adam Smith had in mind — and South Korea has such a high suicide rate that the government intends to make organising a suicide pact a criminal offence.

Go home, 2018, you’re drunk. (Or, as Robert Heinlein might have put it: these are the crazy years, and they’re not over yet.)

Day 9 Cuban Missile Crisis – Blockade starts and low altitude flybys over Cuba

Filed under: Americas, History, Military, Russia, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 23 Nov 2017

On October 24, 1962 the US led blockade on Cuba goes into effect, but it’s not the be the showdown that it looks like! In the same time the US Navy starts flying RF8 Crusader reconnaissance jets 400 feet over the missile sites on Cuba, to see what’s really going on. As the jets roar over the heads of the Cuban and Soviet soldiers, the crisis deepens.

Peter Jackson to bring modern digital technology to bear on IWM film footage of the Great War

Filed under: Britain, History, Media, Military, WW1 — Tags: — Nicholas @ 03:00

Elizabeth sent me a link to this Daily Mail article on Peter Jackson’s new project:

When you think of First World War footage, chances are you conjure up grainy images of soldiers and jumpy footage of the trenches.

But a new 3D film by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson is set to bring the conflict to life in a way never seen before.

The Oscar-winner has restored and colourised 100-year-old footage from the Imperial War Museum’s vast archive, and early photos suggest the results will be remarkable.

One comparison shot shows the dramatic transformation from poor quality black-and-white scenes to clear colour images, while another shows the radically sharpened faces of our troops.

Jackson said he hoped the film, which will premiere at the BFI London Film Festival before airing on BBC1 later this year, will help audiences better connect ‘with the events on screen’.

Explaining the painstaking process of restoring the footage, he said: ‘We started to do some experiments and I was honestly stunned by the results we were getting. We all know what First World War footage looks like.

‘It’s sped up, it’s fast, like Charlie Chaplin, grainy, jumpy, scratchy, and it immediately blocks you from actually connecting with the events on screen.

Will the REAL Damascus Steel Please Stand Up?

Filed under: History, India, Technology — Tags: — Nicholas @ 02:00

Walter Sorrells
Published on 2 Oct 2015

There’s a lot of debate about what is really Damascus steel and what isn’t. Some say it’s ancient crucible steel from Central and South Asia. Some say it’s modern pattern welded steel. In this video, knife maker Walter Sorrells separates fact from fiction.

QotD: What is a human life worth?

Filed under: Economics, Government, Quotations, USA — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

Government itself has this problem too in fact and the method generally used to deal with it is price mechanism. We generally try to work out what is the statistical value of a life by looking around at what people do and how much they charge for the risk. Some people work in more dangerous jobs (trawlerman, lumberjack), so what’s the difference in wages between a more dangerous and less dangerous job (trying, of course, to keep other things like effort, training and so on constant)? People smoke and are willing to pay some sum for a safer car but not an unlimited amount. This process is more of an art than a science, but the U.S. government comes up with numbers in the $4 million to $10 million range for the value of a statistical life.

This is not what a life should be worth. This is what, from observation of what people do, modern Americans think a life actually is worth. Now we can use it to decide on our safety regulations. And it doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about corporations eyeing their profits or government aiding the EPA in setting rules about what corporations may do. We still end up with the same economic point.

If the statistical value of a life is $10 million then a rule, a regulation, a new way of doing something, which costs more than $10 million per life saved is a waste of resources. It’s not just something we might have to think about doing: it’s something that we positively should not do. Equally, something that costs less than $10 million per life saved is something we should do. Either way, we are trying to make sure that we expend our limited and scarce resources in order to produce the greatest human value we can. Spending $20 million on saving one life is a waste of those resources: not spending $500,000 on saving one is a waste of that life which we value more.

Tim Worstall, “Sorry, Salon: The Koch Brothers Are Actually Right”, Forbes, 2016-05-17.

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