Back Up Your Work

So, a couple of weeks ago my laptop died. Sure, that happens, right?

Buuuut I didn’t back up a single thing. So when my laptop died it took all of my writing – all the poetry, all the chapters, all the bad fanfic that I loved anyway – screaming into the void with it.

So. Go back up your stuff. Back it up right now.

Seriously.

 

Iain Pears’ Arcadia

I recently read Arcadia, by Iain Pears. It’s a good book, a great book even, but I still have mixed feelings about it.

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Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

Three interlocking worlds. Four people looking for answers. But who controls the future—or the past?

In 1960s Oxford, Professor Henry Lytten is attempting to write a fantasy novel that forgoes the magic of his predecessors, J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. He finds an unlikely confidante in his quick-witted, inquisitive young neighbor Rosie. One day, while chasing Lytten’s cat, Rosie encounters a doorway in his cellar. She steps through and finds herself in an idyllic, pastoral land where Storytellers are revered above all others. There she meets a young man who is about to embark on a quest of his ownand may be the one chance Rosie has of returning home. These breathtaking adventures ultimately intertwine with the story of an eccentric psychomathematician whose breakthrough discovery will affect all of these different lives and worlds.

Dazzlingly inventive and deeply satisfying, Arcadia tests the boundaries of storytelling and asks: If the past can change the future, then might the future also indelibly alter the past?

It’s got a dystopic future, a Narnia-like pastoral land, and 1960’s England – all the best things – rolled into one story. The way you are introduced to the effect of a character’s choices before you see the action occur is clever. The way the narrative coils in upon itself as you read is brilliant.

But – but – I spent the whole time thinking, “I’m not smart enough to read this book,” and wishing I could read it in one go rather than in bits and parts in between all the other things I have to do. Arcadia is a book that demands things of you. Your time, your undivided attention. And that’s not bad, in case I’m making it sound bad. But, if you’re going to read it, do it when you have a solid block of time to devote to it. It’s not a book to pick up for 15 minutes on your break, or for half an hour before bed.

Interestingly, the book was written to be read as an app for iPhone and iPad. You can read the ten strands of the narrative separately and each is a complete story. You can read bits of each – whatever you like. I think this format would have better fit my needs and made the experience more enjoyable.

Should you read it? Absolutely. At first it sounds like a weird kitchen-sink mish-mash of sci-fi and fantasy, but it absolutely works in the end.

 

sousveillance

Sousveillance: We Watch the Watchmen

Everybody knows what surveillance is: it’s the closed circuit cameras in every store; it’s the security agencies archiving years’ worth of emails and web searches; it’s the Big Brother type of always-on recording of our daily lives by authorities from above. In fact, the term surveillance comes from a French term meaning “to watch from above.”

SousVeillance

The dangers and fears about surveillance are well known, so I am only going to cover them briefly. The technology that exists today allows governments to monitor the activities and behaviors of citizens in several ways: through the collection of personal information; intercepting postal and digital transactions; and the use video cameras.

When agents of the state can access the private interactions of citizens, so the theory goes, those citizens will start to police themselves; falling into line and being more obedient. Privacy is put at risk since no one can hide: Big Brother can see us wherever we are. The totalitarian state wins by seeing all dissent and being able to stamp it out in real time, before it becomes a problem.

But the same technology that allows the state and its authorities to watch its citizens, allows citizens to watch back. Smartphones capable of recording and uploading video are everywhere. This is a fact of life in 2014. Those cameras are only going to get more numerous as wearable computer becomes more common. It seems that we are creating a society of transparency, rather than a dystopian panopticon.

Sousveillance, then, is watching from below. When regular people observe and record the events of their lives and of their interactions with the state, the power dynamic of the interaction changes radically. The beauty of sousveillance is that it offers a credible threat of exposure to those misusing power.
If it is possible to film everyone all the time, chances are you are going to get caught in your wrongdoing, whether or not you have any power. The very possibility is going to be enough to dissuade some wrongdoers. So, instead of hiding from Big Brother, everyone gets to see everything: in a society of sousveillance no one hides.

This change in the dynamic of power can be seen in a recent case of alleged police brutality in Denver. David Flores was beaten by police because they suspected him of hiding drugs in his mouth, inside a white sock. When his pregnant girlfriend screamed at them to stop she was beaten as well.
A bystander, Levi Frasier, filmed the interaction on his Samsung tablet until he was noticed by the police. One of the officers shouted, “Camera!” and came over to Frasier demanding the tablet. When he returned it, the video had been deleted. Luckily, the video was already saved to cloud storage and Frasier was able to retrieve it later.

The official police story of this interaction goes like this: Flores was assisted out of his car, but then fell. He was punched repeatedly in the face to keep him from choking on the sock, and he was later taken to hospital. His wife was tripped because she might have been about to kick the officers. The Denver police refuse to comment on the video unless Frasier files a formal complaint. If not for this footage, it would have been the police officers’ word against Frasier and Flores. Now it is easy to prove to a skeptical public when the police and any other state agents have overstepped their bounds.

People in Canada and the United States have the right to film the actions of the police. In 2013 the United States’ courts and the President of the United States each affirmed that American citizens have the right to film any interactions with the state. In Canada courts have held that citizens have the right to film police interactions. While there is no specific Canadian law enshrining this right, there is also no law prohibiting citizens from doing so.

For sousveillance to work as intended it is important for there to be some system set up to protect concerned citizens from the state and corporate interests. The American Civil Liberties Union in Oregon has recently taken a step in that direction, launching its Mobile Justice App at the beginning of November.

The Mobile Justice App is based on a similar one released by the New York Civil Liberties Union in 2012 – Stop and Frisk Watch. The new app is designed to record footage of police interactions and upload the data straight to the ACLU for review. Thus, there is no need to worry about seizure of recording devices by the police.
According to the ACLU website the app has four main features: record, witness, report, and know your rights. First, ‘Record’ allows you to record interactions with the police. ‘Witness’ alerts nearby mobile users that you have been stopped by the police and suggests they might want to record for you. ‘Report’ allows you to transmit a written account to the ACLU alongside your video. Finally, Know your Rights provides an overview of your rights when interacting with police officers.

The app is free, and an iPhone version is to be released in early 2015. As of yet there is not a Canadian equivalent to Mobile Justice, and since the app comes from the Oregon branch of the ACLU, the information is regarding rights in the state of Oregon. Yet, this type of application shows that omnipresent cameras need not lead to an Orwellian panopticon.

It is not surprising that police officers are opposed to citizens being armed with cameras. Or maybe it is: always-on recording helps the police as well. When officers are equipped with body cameras and dashboard cameras, complaints against them drop off precipitously. Police are less likely to engage in improper behaviour, but citizens are also less likely to make unfounded complaints against officers.

For the better part of a century, science fiction authors have warned us about a future where the government is always watching. But advances in video recording and wearable computing have made cameras cheap and widely available to regular people. We may not need to worry so much about Big Brother watching; if we are careful and vigilant, we can usher in an age of transparency where we watch back.

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Asteroids, Death From the Sky, and the B612 Foundation

So, while we are all waiting for Asteroid 2012 DA14 to zoom by, a smaller meteor exploded over Russia this morning. Thanks to that fact that so many Russian drivers have dash-cams, we have lots of most excellent footage of the fireball. I know you’ve all seen it by now, but let’s watch it one more time:

Crazy stuff. I like how, in all the videos I’ve seen, the Russian drivers are like, “meh.” I haven’t heard of any deaths so far, but injuries are mounting up over 1000.

The Telegraph has a cool infographic on the Chelyabinsk Meteor:

Russia meteorite impact graphic in Chelyabinsk

Thanks to Reddit’s coverage of the Chelyabinsk Meteor, I learned about the B612 Foundation. Named for the asteroid on which the Little Prince lives (in The Little Prince, obviously), this non-profit that exists to, “find threatening asteroids before they find us.”

From the B612 ‘About Us’ page:

Important Facts
  1. Our solar system is a busy place. Ninety-nine percent of Near-Earth Asteroids larger than 40 meters have not been mapped. We do not know if a collision with Earth is imminent.

  2. Deflecting asteroids is technologically feasible … but only IF we have lots of warning.

  3. Asteroids that cross Earth’s orbit are the ones that can hit us. Since they spend part of their orbit closer to the Sun than Earth, the best way to spot them is from a vantage point yet closer to the Sun (i.e., from an orbit around the Sun much like Venus).

Run by scientists and ex-NASA guys, B612’s goal is to launch  a satellite that will orbit the sun (the Sentinel Project) and catalogue Near Earth Asteroids; to find them before they find us.  Go check out their website, and donate if you have some spare cash. You may be saving the world.

Surrogates Needed to Carry Cloned Neanderthals

In his novel Frameshift, Robert J. Sawyer tells the story of a couple tricked into carrying a neanderthal child by a somewhat overly enthusiastic geneticist colleague. I loved this book when I read it, and never really thought about that particular issue again.

Until today.

Over at The Mary Sue they link to an interview in Der Spiegel with geneticist George Church, about the possibility of cloning Neanderthals. Church thinks that cloning Neanderthals will soon be possible and all we’ll need are some brave women to carry the little clones to term. No trickery necessary!

Awwww…cuuute.

The majority of the comments at The Mary Sue are negative. And yes, the ethics of something like this are pretty dicey. What does it say about me that my first thought was, “I’m in!” (although it was followed closely by the realisation that I’m waaaay too old for that sort of thing, and also in the wrong country)?

The Speigel article does make it sound all kind of evil-geniusy, and I get that. But Germany and eugenics have a history, so they get a bit funny about that sort of thing. In any case, there’s also an article in Business Week that takes a lighter approach and makes the whole scenario sound like the latest designer dog craze. Once one couple has a Neanderthal baby, everyone will want one! 

You know you want one.

They do have a point that once something is possible, we humans often do it just because it *is* possible, consequences be damned. So, little Neanderthals will be running around your neighbourhood. Sooner than you think.

I find myself saying this more often lately, but it bears repeating:

 

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Cyborg Hate Crime is the Worst Thing Ever

There’s a quote floating around the internet about the wonder of living in a William Gibsonesque future being eclipsed by the horror of living in a Gibsonesque future. I’m horrified that something like this actually happened, but there is something really trippy about this being a real headline from a real newspaper (the Star is sort of a real newspaper):

Toronto Cyborg, Steve Mann, says he was Assaulted in Paris McDonalds

First, I gotta say Mann is the most Canadian guy ever, right? He looks like the love child of Patrick McKenna and Locutus of Borg. I love him already.

Apparently Mann, who wears this Eye Glass as a vision correcting device, was visiting a McDonald’s in Paris when three employees tried to rip it off his face for no reason that Mann could fathom. Only it doesn’t come off. Here’s an excerpt from his own blog about the incident:

“He [the employee] angrily grabbed my eyeglass, and tried to pull it off my head. The eyeglass is permanently attached and does not come off my skull without special tools.

I tried to calm him down and I showed him the letter from my doctor and the documentation I had brought with me. He (who I will refer to as Perpetrator 1) then brought me to two other persons. He was standing in the middle, right in front of me, and there was another person to my left seated at a table (who I will refer to as Perpetrator 2), and a third person to my right. The third person (who I will refer to as Perpetrator 3) was holding a broom and dustpan, and wearing a shirt with a McDonald’s logo on it. The person in the center (Perpetrator 1) handed the materials I had given him to the person to my left (Perpetrator 2), while the three of them reviewed my doctor’s letter and the documentation.

After all three of them reviewed this material, and deliberated on it for some time, Perpetrator 2 angrily crumpled and ripped up the letter from my doctor. My other documentation was also destroyed by Perpetrator 1.

I noticed that Perpetrator 1 was wearing a name tag clipped to his belt. When I looked down at it, he quickly covered it up with his hand, and pulled it off and turned it around so that it was facing inwards, so that only the blank white backside of it was then facing outwards.

Perpetrator 1 pushed me out the door, onto the street.”

Read the rest here.

As far as I could find out, Mann never got any justice for this incident and McDonalds denied that he was assaulted even though the damaged Eye Glass recorded images of the McDonalds employees perpetrating the assault.

I’m not sure how I missed this story when it broke in the summer, but I’m sure I won’t be eating in McDonalds anytime soon.

Welcome to the future.

Flash Friday: Until Niagara Falls (Take 2)

I had several ideas for what to do with this story. Last week was one iteration, which I’d already like to change, and today is a second iteration. I hope it makes sense because I’m hopped up on cold meds. 😉

 

Something dark moved through Rover’s peripheral vision. He put his hand up to his face and squinted through his fingers at the empty gorge below. The sun was just coming out from behind a grey wall of cloud, and it shone blood red through Rover’s fingers and his spiky orange hair. Rover’s face was heavily mottled with freckles that matched his hair. Nearly everyone at the Falls looked like that, so it was not out of the ordinary. If Rover had ever seen a Giraffe he would have said that his face was giraffe-spotted, but he hadn’t seen one, and so he didn’t.

Nothing.

The sun shone whitely on the rocky tumble-fall of the Niagara Gorge. It had once been full of pounding water, Rover knew, before the weather patterns changed and the rain stopped. Rover had one clear memory looking up through mist and rainbows at a high thin waterfall, but he had never seen a proper waterfall, except in browning photographs in every rotten building around the Falls, and in the old tourist guidebooks that were so plentiful that Rover could have built a small house out of them. If he had dared stay out in the open for that long.

The limestone escarpment where Rover was perched was unstable and littered along the bottom with loose rock in chunky angular piles. Rover never felt safe at the bottom; he’d flinch as little pieces of limestone came skittering down the cliff face. But up here in the Lookout, Rover was as safe as he was likely to get. At the moment things were all quiet.

Behind him, under the jumbled limestone was the village of Under Falls where Rover had lived his entire life. When things had gotten serious and fallen apart, the people who were left had dug in and repurposed the tunnels and industrial spaces under the Falls: it seemed like a good place to hide from the roaming bands of looters who took over the countryside. With the thin veneer of civilisation gone an urban house became a liability: over-large, hard to keep warm, and fragile as an eggshell.

At the moment things were all quiet. Rover reached over and patted his dog, Angus.

“Who’s a good puppy boy?” he asked quietly.

Angus cocked his head to one side. He had long black fur and serious brown eyes. Angus could be a little squirrelly sometimes, but he understood that keeping watch was a serious business. When it was Rover’s watch Angus would climb and slink with him through the rubble to the lookout. It was good to have company.

Angus turned and stared intently down into the Gorge. Rover leaned out to look. There was something moving in the Gorge. No, two somethings, darting from rock to rock. Angus sprang up, barking and dancing around excitedly. Rover sounded the alarm.

Flash Friday (Now With 100% More Saturday): Until Niagara Falls

There’s something here, but I just can’t make it make fooking sense without a lot more research. I’m thinking also diagrams and maps. There are all kinds of tunnels and industrial spaces underneath Niagara Falls. People could live there, if they had to. Not well I think, but that would attest to the desperateness (is that a word?) of the situation. I have a scenario in mind but I need to hash it out fully, there are just too many parts that don’t make sense to me yet. Also, has every combination of sounds been used up for naming ‘alien’ invaders? Because the naming gave me trouble, and I don’t usually have problems naming things. :/ Maybe I’m just a bit writer’s-blocky? I’m not sure, but here it is…

Something dark moved through Rover’s peripheral vision. He put his hand up to his face and squinted through his fingers at the sky. The sun was just coming out from behind a grey wall of cloud, and it shone red through his fingers and his spiky orange hair.

Nothing.

Rover’s face was heavily mottled with freckles that matched his hair. If he had ever seen a Giraffe he would have said that his face was giraffe spotted, but he hadn’t seen one, and so he didn’t. Nearly everyone at the Falls looked like that, so his appearance.

The limestone cliff under the Falls was unstable and littered with loose rock in chunky angular piles. Rover never felt safe at the bottom; he would flinch when a little piece of limestone came skittering down the cliff face. He knew that one false step on the slick rocks would land him in the swirling water. Rover would be carried away, down the river and out into the wasteland beyond. If the river didn’t kill him, the Skreel were waiting out there somewhere and Rover did not want to meet them in person: he had seen what their ships could do, seen the burned out ruins of the nearby city, seen the empty pitted streets and that was enough.

But up here in the lookout by the Surge Tank, Rover was as safe as he was likely to get. He wasn’t small for his age but he wasn’t big either. He was still small enough to be able to worm his way down through the rubble of the collapsed tunnels down to the old Toronto Power Station building beside the river, and fast enough to get from there up to the Surge Tank on the Old Niagara Parkway without being seen.

At the moment things were all quiet. He reached over and patted the dog, Angus.

“Who’s a good puppy boy?” he asked quietly.

Angus cocked his head to one side. He had long black fur and serious brown eyes. Angus could be a little squirrelly sometimes, but he understood that keeping watch was a serious business. When it was Rover’s watch Angus would climb and slink through the rubble to the lookout. It was good to have company, and Angus could always hear the Skreel ships long before Rover could. Named for the high pitched shriek they made as they flew, Skreel ships could always be heard before seen.

But today Angus was calm. Rover and Angus shared a sandwich and quietly waited out their turn at the Tank.

Flash Friday Green Revolution

Picture by Matthewthecoolguy via http://www.flickr.com/photos/matthewthecoolguy/6967985462/

My Grandmother saved the world. She always seemed more like the super villain type to me. She was tall and wiry and had that stereotypical shock of fluffy white hair that cartoon evil geniuses always have. I guess she wasn’t evil though, she simply saw a problem, and found a solution.

Gran didn’t realise how much the teetering stability of events depended on a huge mas of starving, desperate people. That while they were underfed the violence stayed small and in its place, but well fed, they weren’t so easy to control. The violence could move and grow. Maybe she did realise, she was a smart old bird.

Old Gran was their hero of course; there’s a statue of her in more than one square. She even has a parade (three of them actually) where the kids get the day off school, and thousands of bare-backed men women and children dance in the street – a carnival and a feast at the same time. People talked about the green revolution for decades, but only my Gran made it happen. Not quite the way the thinkers intended.  But Gran was a doer, always in motion. I inherited that kinetic energy, but not the drive to change things.

Never will another mother have to boil newspaper into porridge to fill the stomach of her starving child. Militia thugs will never again be able to hold entire populations in thrall by hoardin food aid (clever opportunists now have their money in water). That’s because she invented a technique, relatively simple and less painful than starving. It looked like a massive green tattoo. She called them solar panels, and they made her smile, but they didn’t have the angular geometry of a proper solar panel. The chlorophyll ‘tattoos’ were amorphous and organic, and terribly ugly.

But because of my grandmother, we can eat the sun.

Dear old Gran got herself half a dozen bullets to the head, by her own bodyguard, for her trouble. That’s why I’m here in the Buddhist monastery on Mount Hiei quietly letting the afternoon sun fall on my back and thinking about the way things turn out.