(art by Daniel Martin Diaz)Earlier today, we published my story "By His Things Will You Know Him," which is from the forthcoming Institute for the Future anthology "An Aura of Familiarity: Visions from the Coming Age of Networked Matter." I've read the story aloud for my podcast, if that's how you prefer your fiction.
In a fascinating installment of the IEEE Techwise podcast [MP3], Rice University Computational Engineering prof Moshe Vardi discusses the possibility that robots will obviate human labor faster than new jobs are created, leaving us with no jobs. This needn't be a bad thing -- it might mean finally realizing the age of leisure we've been promised since the first glimmers of the industrial revolution -- but if market economies can't figure out how to equitably distribute the fruits of automation, it might end up with an even bigger, even more hopeless underclass.
I think the issue of machine intelligence and jobs deserves some serious discussion. I don’t know that we will reach a definite conclusion, and it’s not clear how easy it will be to agree on desired actions, but I think the topic is important enough that it deserves discussion. And right now I would say it’s mostly being discussed by economists, by labor economists. It has to also be discussed by the people that produce the technology, because one of the questions we could ask is, you know, there is a concept that, for example, that people have started talking about, which is that we are using, we are creating technology that has no friction, okay? Creating many things that are just too easy to do.
Many of these ideas came up in this Boing Boing post from January, which also touches on Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy, a book that Vardi mentions in his interview.
I had an enlightening conversation with Josh Gosfield and Camille Sweeney, authors of a great new book called The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do and How They Do It So Well. Josh and Camille interviewed 36 notable people -- artists, entrepreneurs, actors, athletes -- asking them their secrets of success. Joining me on the episode was Gweek's frequent co-host, Joshua Glenn, co-editor of Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun and HiLowBrow.
In this episode:
The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do and How They Do It So Well
Fathom Butterfly - the notorious beauty queen, showgirl, Hammer horror actress, porn star, felon and feminist filmmaker tweets her memoirs
Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun, by Elizabeth Foy Larsen and Joshua Glenn.
Katana, by Ann Nocenti and Alex Sanchez
Science-Fiction: The Early Years, by Everett Franklin Bleiler
In Praise of Messy Lives, by Katie Roiphe
Geek Battle: The Game of Extreme Geekdom
This was a fun episode! I spoke with John Glassie, author of A Man of Misconceptions, a non-fiction book about the unusual 17th-century polymath, Athanasius Kircher, and Joshua Foer, author of Moonwalking with Einstein, which recounts Joshua’s yearlong quest to improve his memory under the tutelage of top "mental athletes.”
In this episode:
"Utopian for Beginners: An amateur linguist loses control of the language he invented," a New Yorker article by Joshua Foer
"Want to Remember Everything You'll Ever Learn? Surrender to This Algorithm," a Wired article by Gary Wolf
Atlas Obscura is the definitive guide to the world's wondrous and curious places.
This morning David and I spoke with with Carrie Brownstein: musician, writer, actor. She's a founding member of the bands Sleater-Kinney and Wild Flag, and the co-creator, co-writer, and co-star of Portlandia, the hit sketch comedy series on IFC, currently in its 3rd season.
(Thanks, Rachel Maguire!)
I'm going nuts with podcasts. Here's the latest: Cool Tools' "Show and Tell" videocast and podcast. Last week, Kevin Kelly and I did a video hangout with Joshua Glenn and Michael Pusateri. We showed each other 18 different things we love, including books, kitchen tools, games, apps, and gadgets.
Here are the show notes.
In this special Superb Owl Sunday Family Channel podcast my daughters Jane (9), Sarina (15), and I shared a pan of Jiffy Pop and talked about books.
What we are reading now:
Mark: Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin
Sarina: The Postmortal, by Drew Magary
Jane: Frederick Douglass: Young Defender of Human Rights, by Elisabeth P. Myers
Mark: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, by B. Traven
Sarina: The Outsiders, be S. E. Hinton
Jane: By the Great Horn Spoon! by Sid Fleischman
"Punk Voyager" is this week's story on the Escape Pod podcast, and it is fucking amazing. It's Shaenon Garrity story about punks at the twilight of the 1970s who are drunkenly outraged to discover that the Voyager probe has been launched with classical music records for aliens. They build their own Voyager probe out of garbage, razor-blades, beer cans and a surfboard some douchebag left on the beach, filled with all the most important human artifacts that they can find in their van. They forget about it as the 80s roar in, and then the aliens come to Earth and cockpunch Ronald Reagan.
Punk Voyager was built by punks. They made it from beer cans, razors, safety pins, and a surfboard some D-bag had left on the beach. Also plutonium. Where did they get plutonium? Around. Fuck you.
The punks who built Punk Voyager were Johnny Bonesaw, Johnny Razor, Mexican Johnny D-bag, Red Viscera, and some other guys. No, asshole, nobody remembers what other guys. They were Fucking wasted, these punks. They’d been drinking on the San Diego beach all day and night, talking about making a run to Tijuana and then forgetting and punching each other. They’d built a fire on the beach, and all night the fire went up and went down while the punks threw beer cans at the seagulls.
Forget the shit I just said, it wasn’t the punks who did it. They were Fucking punks. The hell they know about astro-engineering? Truth is that Punk Voyager was the strung-out masterpiece of Mexican Johnny D-bag’s girlfriend, Lacuna, who had a doctorate in structural engineering. Before she burned out and ran for the coast, Lacuna was named Alice McGuire and built secret nuclear submarines for a government contractor in Ohio. It sucked. But that was where she got the skills to construct an unmanned deep-space probe. Same principle, right? Keep the radiation in and the water out. Or the vacuum of space, whatever, it’s all the same shit to an engineer.
Fuck that, it wasn’t really Lacuna’s baby. It wasn’t her idea. The idea was Red’s.
“Fucking space,” he said that fateful night. He was lying on his back looking up at space, is why he said it.
“Hell yeah,” said Johnny Bonesaw.
Rick Schertle is the creator of one of our most popular projects in MAKE: the compressed air rocket launcher, which uses PVC pipe and a sprinkler valve to blast a paper rocket high into the air. Rick is also the creator of the folding wing rocket glider, which takes the standard balsa wood glider and turns it into something that flies a lot higher and longer. And most recently, Rick wrote a project that shows you how to make a catapult launcher that sends the rocket glider even higher. I spoke to Rick about these projects and more.
The Parable of the Ox: podcast explains the disastrous separation of financial markets from the real economy
An excellent recent episode of the BBC Radio 4 math/current affairs show "More or Less" dramatized "The Parable of the Ox," a short article by John Kay originally published in the Financial Times (
paywalled, alas, or I'd link to it available from Kay's site). Fans of James Surowiecki's Wisdom of the Crowds will know the first part of this story -- wherein the average of several guesses about the weight of an ox was more accurate than the guesses of any of the experts in the crowd. What this podcast and the article adds is a coda about how the use of "guesses" (or stock trades) as a way of weighing the ox quickly departed from guesses about the weight of the ox (or the value of a firm) and turned into guesses about other peoples' guesses about other peoples' guesses -- a financialized system that soon has no connection to the real economy or the real ox. And it ends, predictably enough, when the ox dies.
The Parable of the Ox [More or Less]
The parable of the ox [John Kay]
Our maker this week is Matt Richardson. Matt's a video producer, a writer, a maker of things, a technology consultant, and a student at New York University's Interactive Telecommunications Program. Matt wrote two articles for MAKE volume 32. One of them is a BeagleBone tutorial and the other one shows how to make his awesome -- I mean -- wonderful Awesome Button. Matt also co-wrote (with Shawn Wallace) a new MAKE book called Getting Started with Raspberry Pi, an introduction to the business card sized $35 Linux computer.I spoke to Matt from his workshop in Brooklyn.
Tony Smith from the StarShipSofa science fiction podcast sez, "Spider Robinson will share the sofa for a confidential live online talk full of anecdotes and insights about science fiction, the publishing industry, and his lifelong journey as a reader, writer, and voice of the genre. Don't think of this as a lecture; think of it as a cosy chat with an old friend, one who just happens to be a shining star of contemporary science fiction and who knows all the juicy, meaningful stories you can't find in 'how to' books. See the genre as you've never seen it before, through the eyes of a gifted and generous storyteller and professional. There's room on the sofa for you. Join StarShipSofa as it welcomes Spider Robinson for this one-time-only live event!"
I did an interview with The Geek's Guide to the Galaxy, which they've published in both text and MP3 form. We talked about Pirate Cinema, Rapture of the Nerds, the Humble Ebook Bundle, the future of publishing, the Disney/Star Wars merger, and lots more:
Wired: Do you ever get letters from kids who have been inspired by your books to become hacker anarchists?
Doctorow: Yeah, all the time — at least to become hackers, and political activists. My first young-adult novel Little Brother had an afterword with a bibliography for kids who want to get involved in learning how security works, learning how computers work, learning how to program them, learning how to take them apart, learning how to solve their problems with technology as well as with politics. And the number of kids who have written to me and said that they became programmers after reading that, I couldn’t even count them. I’ve had similar responses to my second young-adult novel, For the Win, and I’ve also heard from kids who’ve read Pirate Cinema. In fact, we published an editorial by one of them on Boing Boing — an anonymous reader who makes her own movies out of Japanese anime, and who talked about what drives her and how the book resonated with her.
In this episode of the Make: Talk podcast I interviewed Joel Murphy. He's an artist living in Brooklyn and owns a business designing and fabricating electro-mechanical projects for artists and designers. He teaches Physical Computing at Parsons the New School for Design, and he owns Rachel’s Electronics, an online store for electronics kits and breakout boards. He's the co-creator of the Pulse Sensor, an Arduino compatible sensor that measures heart rate beats per minute. (Here's a how-to article about making a headband with the Pulse Sensor in MAKE, Volume 29).
Rick Kleffel sez,
Tim Powers is one the founding fathers of steampunk, and a writer whose every book is superb. I drove down to San Bernardino City College to talk to him about his latest work, Hide Me Among the Graves, a secret supernatural history of the Pre-Raphaelite poets and painters.
He has a rather unique perspective on writing, history and fantasy that involves identifying events that seem as if they might have some supernatural aspect and then creating a backstory that ties them together. The Rossettis; Dante Gabriel Rossetti (poet and painter), Christina (poet), William and Maria are a perfect set of subjects.
We had a great time talking about how he put it all together.
The latest episode of the always-excellent Agony Column podcast features an interview with one of science fiction's greatest living writers, Kim Stanley Robinson, discussing his latest novel 2312, a mammoth, epic story of a future built upon realistic and attainable space exploration -- a kind of meditation on life within lightspeed, which is nevertheless extremely personal and close-felt and on human scale.
"...it's a somewhat Utopian situation in space, and still a somewhat grim and screwed up situation on Earth..."
—Kim Stanley Robinson
In the statement above, is Kim Stanley Robinson describing the present or the future? That's not an easy call until you hear it in context. In this case, the future as written in his latest novel '2312' is certainly an outgrowth of the present, and there is more than enough "funhouse mirror" material in the novel to let you know Robinson has a lot to say about how things are here in the present.
It has been almost a year since I last spoke with Robinson and it was ever so kind of him to battle apocalyptic traffic to make it to the Capitola Book Café for a live conversation about his latest novel, '2312.' For a book that is chock-a-block with ambition, it is a really a racing, bracing read; I read most of it in a single day. That should signal readers that Robinson is hitting the sweet spot with both content and pacing. This is big-idea science fiction that doubles as pacey thriller.
A new, two-week long daily podcast called Journey to Planet JoCo consists of a series of dialogues between John Scalzi and Jonathan Coulton -- like my two favorite flavors of ice-cream in one delicious cone!
Welcome to Journey to Planet JoCo, an interview series where science fiction and sometimes fantasy author John Scalzi talks to musician Jonathan Coulton about science fiction and science fiction songs.
Every morning at 9 AM, for the next two weeks, John will talk to Jonathan about one of JoCo’s songs, getting in-depth — and possibly out of his depth — about the inspiration and construction behind them. Which ones? You’ll have to come back every morning to see!
There’s more, but we’ll let John and Jonathan themselves further introduce the concept, the details, and the sparkly prize at the bottom of this particular cereal box.
Matt sez, "Hey, it's Matt at the Disinformation Company, and I thought that you'd enjoy the lengthy interview I did with Warren Ellis for the DisinfoCast. We talk about aliens, space travel, the singularity and more. We even squeeze in a second or two for talk about comic books."
Starship Sofa has just podcasted Neil Gaiman's novelette "The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains," which won this year's Locus Poll Award for Best Novelette. Here's the text of the story, and above is a video of Neil reading from it.
You ask me if I can forgive myself? I can forgive myself for many things. For where I left him. For what I did. But I will not forgive myself for the year that I hated my daughter, when I believed her to have run away, perhaps to the city. During that year I forbade her name to be mentioned, and if her name entered my prayers when I prayed, it was to ask that she would one day learn the meaning of what she had done, of the dishonour that she had brought to my family, of the red that ringed her mother’s eyes.
I hate myself for that, and nothing will ease that, not even what happened that night, on the side of the mountain.
I had searched for nearly ten years, although the trail was cold. I would say that I found him by accident, but I do not believe in accidents. If you walk the path, eventually you must arrive at the cave.