Monthly Archives: November 2012

Hard to Keep Up With The Technology

It’s stuff like this that makes it hard to write science fiction set very far into the future – Gesture control is wave of the future:

Touchless computers are coming to a store near you, likely sometime next year. These are computers that operate with simple hand gestures — either through the use of sensitive sound-wave recognition or via cameras, similar to Microsoft’s Kinect. And they are being developed and tested right now…

Because its technology depends on sound waves, the user can gesture beyond the edges of the computer screen. For instance, swiping toward the screen could reveal a set of icons, and swiping your hand away from the computer could close an application.

“It’s much more comfortable,” Kjolerbakken said. “You can sit back and don’t have to be in physical contact with the device. You don’t get fingerprints on the screen.”

So, we imagined smart phones and multiplatform integration with roaming displays and such before they became reality, but we still have physical interfaces when it comes to screens and even telepresence (the latter in the form of gloves or rings, depending on the vintage of the equipment). One could imagine Amber using something like this (in a more explicit form than what we describe) in the scenes where she is assembling survey data on the wallscreen using her MA, or the famous scene in Minority Report in which Tom Cruise sorts through data on a large screen being “upgraded” to eliminate his gesture-sensing gloves.

I’m not persuaded yet, though, that this new technology will be all that revolutionary in real life. Given the way I use a computer, it won’t offer me any useful new capability (at least none that I can think of without having actually tried it out). I use a keyboard for text input and editing, a trackball for video and photo editing, and a mouse and spaceball for CAD work, all of which involve fine-detail control that a finger-sized object poked into a vague spot in space can’t provide. This latter method is perhaps compatible with or an improvement in some way over how people use touchscreens on app-based devices (the implementation on which the article focuses), but having used a tablet over the weekend, I can’t say I much like the currently available version anyway…sloppy, laggy, inaccurate, and slow.

I’ll gladly accept a seamless voice interface, though.

Nano Muscles

Hmm –  Wax-filled nanotech yarn behaves like powerful, super-strong muscle:

The combination of yarn volume increase with yarn length decrease results from the produced by twisting the yarn. A child’s finger cuff toy, which is designed to trap a person’s fingers in both ends of a helically woven cylinder, has an analogous action. To escape, one must push the fingers together, which contracts the tube’s length and expands its volume and diameter…

Muscle contraction – also called actuation – can be ultrafast, occurring in 25-thousandths of a second. Including times for both actuation and reversal of actuation, the researchers demonstrated a contractile power density of 4.2 kW/kg, which is four times the power-to-weight ratio of common internal combustion engines.

To achieve these results, the guest-filled muscles were highly twisted to produce coiling, as with the coiling seen of a rubber band of a rubber-band-powered model airplane.

When free to rotate, a wax-filled yarn untwists as it is heated electrically or by a pulse of light. This rotation reverses when heating is stopped and the yarn cools. Such torsional action of the yarn can rotate an attached paddle to an average speed of 11,500 revolutions per minute for more than 2 million reversible cycles. Pound-per-pound, the generated torque is slightly higher than obtained for large electric motors, Baughman said.

It’s fun to ponder the potential applications of this sort of technology to the space environment.

One application in particular jumps out at me: surface suits. Part of the problem with mechanical counterpressure suits (what the skinsuits in In the Shadow of Ares are) is getting a good fit with sufficient pressure over the whole of the body and maintaining it as the wearer moves about. In most areas of the body, particularly convex and shallow-concave areas, this can be accomplished with the correct choice of weave and orientation of fibers and seams along the body’s extension lines, etc. In concave areas, “packing material” is required to fill in the spaces and transmit mechanical pressure from the textile to the body surface. As this might suggest, MCP suits as conventionally conceived are still bound to require substantial tailoring to the individual wearer and substantial time to don.

What if, instead, you had a textile that could contract or relax, locally, on demand, on the fly?

The obvious improvement would be that the suit could (with embedded/integrated sensors) continually adjust over its entire area to maintain a constant mechanical counterpressure in all areas (perhaps more or less pressure in certain areas as research might demonstrate to be desirable), even as the wearer moves. This might, among other things, reduce suit-imposed limitations on range of motion while eliminating bunching and pinching at the wearer’s joints. A self-adjusting textile with enough range would reduce the need to specifically tailor suit components to a specific wearer, allowing the wearer to choose components or whole suits from a range of standard sizes and then “shrink fitting” them after donning.

Naturally, if such materials were used in this way there would have to be some built-in safety features – perhaps in its passive/non-energized state the textile would still place enough pressure on the wearer in enough areas to avoid physical damage. Or, akin to what we describe in a few places in the book , the main benefit of the muscle textile might simply be as an aid to donning and doffing the suit (apply a current, the suit relaxes, and normal zippers can then be closed or opened more readily and rapidly than otherwise).

The material’s ability to rapidly stiffen with much more force and speed than human muscle reminded me of the impact armor from Ringworld. If a suit were engineered with this muscle material oriented such that it could actually move the wearer (think of powered armor that works both ways), not only might such a suit be able to directly protect the wearer from impacts (up to a point), it could simply avoid the impact by moving the wearer out of the way.  A sufficiently intelligent system might “control” their limbs in (say) a fall,  moving them against instinct or with more strength than they can normally muster so as to assume postures that will slow them down, protect the head, etc. or even grab something to stop the fall.

Beyond such contingencies, just imagine what a powered suit like this, coupled with sensor and processor technology capable of reading and amplifying one’s movements in real-time, could do in everyday use for someone with reduced mobility…an application which, it happens, ties in nicely with a short story idea Carl and I have been knocking around.

No More Bushels

Sarah Hoyt discourses on  on the politics of SF writers, and outs herself along the way (heh, like we didn’t already know someone who won the Prometheus Award and writes for Instapundit and Pajamas Media was not a leftie):

And so, whatever it costs my career, it’s time to come out.  I think it’s time for all of you to come out too, wherever you are, though honestly, I wouldn’t presume to judge your circumstances better than you.  Like my gay friends who never judge someone who chooses to continue closeted, I don’t presume to know what’s best for you.

However, everyone sending me “kind” missives on how they’re going to never read me again, because they always suspected I’m racist/sexist/homophobic but now that I’ve said it I’m despicable, and I’ve hurt them, can stop.  What you’re experiencing is neither hurt nor my despicableness.  It’s the cognitive dissonance of KNOWING I’m neither racist/sexist/homophobic nor – amazingly – a Marxist.  You can’t reconcile those two, and so you want me to make it go away and shut up.  That’s understandable, but no.  As a country we have (economically) come to the end of cake and as a person I have come to the end of patience with those who would enslave others and ruin the last, best thing on Earth to make themselves feel good.

If that means I lose readers, so be it.  And you can’t cow me into shutting up by telling me I’m losing readers – guys, we’ve gone well beyond that point.  When a mad woman is running around soaking the bridges with gasoline before setting them on fire, she’s just going to laugh at you when you tell her she’ll now have to swim across.  She knows.  She thinks it’s more important to keep the armies of ruin, starvation and statism from marching  in and despoiling her home.

And this is me laughing at you.  And your pious little missives (only one of you, btw, is a recognized reader/fan) only make me angrier, and you won’t like me when I’m angry.  Chiding me on not understanding the current trend won’t save you either – I’ve seen this before.  THESE EXACT POLICIES.

Hate mail? I’d love some hate mail! But then, I don’t think that anyone could ever seriously claim to be butthurt when confronted with our political leanings – we’ve never had to make a secret of them and have always billed In the Shadow of Ares as being pro-liberty and pro-capitalism. This latter point may have contributed to our troubles trying to find an agent in 2008-2009, since despite noticing the misanthropic, anti-West, anti-capitalism, eco-mystic, dismal, and intolerant Progressive contamination of science fiction we were unaware at that time that this phenomenon had its roots in the genre’s publishing gatekeepers.

Larry Correia rants on a similar theme.