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Whole Earth, Summer 1999

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The trick to saving the Earth isn’t so much accuracy, but perception. Appearance trumps reality. If you want to save the planet, then you have to make it look like saving the planet is cool.

Incentives and rewards have to be recast, so says cyberpunk founder and technomage Bruce Sterling in the Summer edition of Whole Earth. His essay was the highlight of this issue, which sort of featured Earth’s left/idiosyncratic side this edition. Thus, I'm not sure how such topics as the valuable role of soybeans fits into my little tech review.

Sterling calls his imaginary movement the "Viradian Greens". He even supplies the "Viradian Manifesto Parameters". It includes three topics: today, what we want, and the trend. I suppose the reason he’s starting this movement—even though I sense that it’s as tongue in cheek as the RU Sirious Presidential Campaign-is that the trends just don’t correlate with what Bruce wants. For example, for the military he wants "a wider and deeper majority hegemony with a military that can deter adventurism, but specializes in meeting the immediate crises through civil engineering, public health, and disaster relief."

But he scarily counters his Viradian Green Dream with a dash of reality, for in the next section called The Trend he says": " nuclear and biological proliferation among minor powers.". Like I said: Scary.

Yet the central premise of our imaginary Viradian Green movement is to somehow create goals and expectations within the individual that also coincide with the common good.

Here’s how Bruce so eloquently puts it:

 

"Civil Society does not respond at all well to moralistic scolding…

"However, contemporary society can be led anywhere that looks attractive, glamorous, and seductive. The task at hand is therefore basically an act of social engineering. Society must become Green, and it must be a variety of Green that society will eagerly consume. What is required is not a natural Green, or a spiritual Green, or a primitivist Green, or a blood and soil romantic Green."

He uses the example of energy consumption to describe how this works.

 

"Solar and wind power should be sold as premiums available to particularly affluent and savvy customers. It should be considered the stigma of the crass proletarian to foul the air every time one turns on a light switch."

 

Two other stories stood out this issue. There was yet another story on the dangers of biotech enhanced food sources. This story, plus the story that I read in MIT Technology Review, plus the outcry of Monica-less Europe where the papers are real, is really starting to make me worry. It’s not quite as balanced as the MIT piece (Jeremy Rifkin gets better reviews here than in some other science journals.) but the person writing the main piece is a spokesman for the Union of Concerned Scientists. She sort of runs down the same arguments that were in the MIT piece: Caution should be stressed and the new plants could in fact strengthen and interbreed with wild weeds causing a new kind of unimagined bedlam.

The other wild story that was interesting and just a little bit frightening was the piece by Jaron Lanier, legendary dreadlocked VR Pioneer and artist, about the first site he’s found that’s dedicated to Biotech as a home hobby. In fact it’s at www.irrational.org/biotech/. The reason why this is significant is that this is essentially the way the computer revolution started: Home addicts who worked in their spare time to improve the tech.

Apparently, one of the first projects promised by the second issue is to learn how to make your skin cells glow by mixing them with octupus genes. As Jaron puts it "I’ve always wanted to be a cephalopod!"

 

 

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Maximum PC, July 1999

 

 

I believe it was William Gibson who postulated that soon we would record every moment of our lives and that would be available for downland and review.

I was thinking that day might come in 2074, but it looks like 2009 would be very realistic. In an extremely interesting interview in Maximum PC with Dr. Bob Scranton, who is the chief of staff at the IBM Almaden Research Center, I got a very interesting look at the near future. Scranton is in charge of testing the latest hard drive head technologies.

If you’ve been buying computers, even over the last several years, then you’ve noticed how cheap hard drive memory has become. I’ve personally gone from a 1.2 gig HD to an 8.4 with a 2.0 gig Orb backup drive with digital tapes. According to Bob, that’s just the beginning.

Here’s how he explains how you will soon be able to record every moment of your life just like in "Strange Days", although I would hope without the double looped feedback strangulation murders:

 

"In areal density increases at 60 percent per year, that means a factor of 10 in five years or 100 in ten years. In five years this could result in a 34 Gig Hard drive, in ten years a 2.5 TB (terabyte) hard drive! What could you do with a 34 GB hard drive or a 2.4 TB on your home desktop? Digital video. A DV camcorder stores 10, maybe 20 hours of video in 34 GB—that’s about 2 gbs per hour. Ok, so I take that home, download it into my desktop PC, which immediately starts doing image compression, analyzing every bit I saw, and stores it compressed at 100:1 onto your desktop. With that size hard drive, you could store something like 20 years of your life. Think about that—if you’re really old and dribbling, you could us the drive as a memory prothesis. You could record your day. You could record your life."

Wow.

That was definitely the mind blower for me, but the rest of the magazine was very good as well. It’s clearly written for fanatics and gamers, people who are very obsessive about their machines. Personally, I found it a lot more readable than say, PC Magazine. This issue offered a hard core review of some of the newest and fastest hard drives out there, and a ton of other product reviews as well. There was also a short review of Office 2000, where they stated that there were definite performance improvements, but that the upgrades were kind of pricey. Well, big surprise there.

 

 

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Discover, July 1999

 

 

You might be wondering whether I have time to read all this stuff. Well, usually I make the time. I practically live at the neighborhood Borders.

However, I really only focused on one major article in the July 1999 issue of Discover magazine and that was their 10th annual Discover science awards. These stories are also online by the way so you can probably find them.

Personally, I found most of the award winners fairly impressive. Frightening even.

Here are the ones that struck my eye:

Disposable plastic chips: Tired of those stiff and formal silicon chips that you have to nurse and coddle? How about a more flexible chip that bends a little, and that can take a slight beating or two? Or how about a chip that you can throw away? That's precisely what Dago de Leeuw (yet another strange scientist name) and his team at Philips Research Labs in the Netherlands. I suppose this great invention could make the world a better place or more than likely Dago and a few key investors very very rich.

Even the finalists in the computer category were pretty cool. IBM's quarter sized Microdrive was one finalist and electronic ink developed by MIT's Joseph Jacobson was the other.

Video on a Chip: If you've been reading all of the reviews so far, and who hasn't, you may have read about the IBM Tech's prediction that you'll soon be able to record the majority of your waking hours. But you don't want to carry around one of those heavy camcorders. What you would want is something that would on the bridge of your glasses or your wristwatch or maybe even your contacts.

Marc Loinaz, from Lucent, won the personal entertainment award. and his team won the award for his design of a video camara the size of a cigarette lighter. The article also suggests that such a chip would be a boon to home security.

I guess, and I suppose I'm going a bit off tangent here, you could also use this technology, combined with unlimited memory capacity (see that Max review above), to create some kind of wicked Orwellian state. Where somebody is watching you all the time and they know everything you did. And its all on tape somewheres. But that's so depressing. Here's how the Discover story ends: "Dick Tracy, eat your heart out."

Yep. I'm sure this technology translates exactly into a future full of frolic and cartoon character fun.

You can read about more of the winners and the Glorious Future (without even the hint of a police state) at the Discover site.