Life Imitates Art: Smart Goggles

Something akin to what we use in In the Shadow of Ares as part of the telepresence control system made its appearance at the Consumer Electronics Show this past week:

The Android-powered micro-LED screen in these goggles turns average skiers into cyborgs, displaying everything from GPS-enabled trail maps to your current speed and altitude. If that’s not cool enough, it can sync with Bluetooth compatible devices, creating an in-goggle viewfinder for a camera, or display songs or incoming calls.

No word yet on whether they’ll be useful in controlling swarms of semi-autonomous mining robots.

Life Imitates Art: Portable DNA Sequencers

FuturePundit points to a NYT article describing something very similar to a piece of technology readers might recognize from the Oasis scene of In the Shadow of AresTaking DNA Sequencing to the Masses:

Dr. Rothberg is the founder of Ion Torrent, which last month began selling a sequencer it calls the Personal Genome Machine. While most sequencers cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and are at least the size of small refrigerators, this machine sells for just under $50,000 and is the size of a largish desktop printer.

While not intended for the general public, the machine could expand the use of DNA sequencing from specialized centers to smaller university and industrial labs, and into hospitals and doctors’ offices, helping make DNA sequencing a standard part of medical practice…

Rather than culturing a bug to identify what is infecting a patient, for instance, a hospital might determine its DNA sequence. Massachusetts General Hospital is already sequencing 130 genes from patient tumor samples, looking for mutations that might predict which drugs will work best. It has won an Ion Torrent machine in a contest and hopes to put it to that use…

While most experts agree that sequencing will become commonplace in medicine, some say they think Dr. Rothberg is overselling his machine. Like the early Apple II of Mr. Jobs, it is too puny for many tasks, including sequencing the entire genome of a person…

Dr. Rothberg acknowledged that the existing model was good for sequencing a virus or bacterium or a handful of genes, and indicated that future models would be more powerful.

Indeed. Just imagine what forty more years of technological evolution might do to this device, in terms of cost, power, speed, and size.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

A driving force behind In the Shadow of Ares, going back to our 2001 decision to write the novel, was a desire for more optimism in science fiction.  We wanted to provide a vision of a hopeful future, as a counterbalance to all the negative, anti-human, post-apocalyptic stories that seem to dominate the genre today.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of outstanding stories that include some of those elements.  Still, a hallmark of the “Golden Age of Science Fiction” was certainly the bright, shiny future that was ours to grasp.  I for one miss that hopeful optimism.  Not only does the current wave of negativism drive away younger fans, but it’s unhealthy for society at large to fear technology and lack hope for the future.

There are a few others who see the same deficiency and are trying to fill it with the occasional positive novel or anthology.  I recently came across an interesting, if dated, discussion thread on Asimov’s Science Fiction, appropriately titled “Canon of Optimistic Science Fiction“.  One comment included the following observation:

A good deal of “Libertarian Science Fiction” is optimistic though and so is some Young-Adult SF.

Hey, we’re both!

Mining Mars

As we portray in “In the Shadow of Ares”, mining will certainly be a crucial part of the economic development of any off-Earth settlements.

“Hispanically Speaking News” ran this story yesterday:  Scientists Will Simulate a Space Colony in Chile to Study Life In Mars:

Chilean scientists along with scientists from several other countries will construct a base in the most-arid desert in the world, Chile’s Atacama (where the 33 miners got trapped) aiming to simulate life in a space colony on the planet Mars, which shares a lot of characteristics with Atacama.

While the tie-in to the Chilean mine rescue is interesting, it is not clear if mining will play a significant role in any simulations.  It would certainly seem to be relevant.  As we portray in “In the Shadow of Ares”, mining will certainly be a crucial part of the economic development of any off-Earth settlements. 

At least the Chinese seem to think so:

In March 2011, a delegation from the Chinese space agency will visit the Chilean desert project.  The Chinese are projecting that by 2020 they will have below-ground bases on the Moon to extract minerals and are eager to research and test their cutting edge space technology.

Where can we expect the United States to be in 2020?  Will the recent shift to private enterprise see the economic and regulatory incentives necessary for this fledgling industry to survive and thrive?

On the Radio

I’ll be on 850KNUS here in Denver on Sunday, talking about In the Shadow of Ares with my PPC co-blogger Ross “Rossputin” Kaminsky.

The show is on from 5 PM to 8 PM on 710 AM KNUS in Denver and 1460 AM KZNT in Colorado Springs. I will be on between 7:00 and 7:30PM. For those outside the Denver area, you can listen to the show online by clicking HERE.

Science fiction fans might want to tune in a little earlier, as one of Ross’ other guests this weekend is SF author and Tea Party figure Andrew Ian Dodge.

McDonald’s on Mars

One theme running through In the Shadow of Ares is the economics of early human settlements on Mars, and one way in which we explore this theme is through the contrast between the entrepreneurial independent settlements and those subject to the meddling of the Mars Development Authority.

Readers of MarsBlog may find familiar the following passage, which sets up the first major illustration of this theme and is based on a blog post from almost exactly five years ago:

Aaron halted the rover near the base of the huge sculpture.

“Why are we stopping?” Lindsay asked.

He leaned forward, looking at the nearly complete monument rising before them.  “Look.  Can you see it?”  From this angle the third arch was hidden behind the central axis, so that the Gate appeared to be only a pair of arches.

“See what?”  Amber asked.  She and her mother both craned their necks, trying to see what it was that Aaron was seeing, besides the obvious.

Aaron traced an “M” across the rover’s window with his index finger.  “McGate,” he grinned.

Lindsay chuckled.  “Ha…you’re right!”

“Mick what?” Amber asked.  She had heard the project referred to as “Gate-gate”, by critics of the MDA’s waste of funds and materials.  The controversy had been surprisingly short-lived in the Martian media, with Quipu and the smaller news aggregators alike quickly losing interest in it and not following up on the occasional revelations of mismanagement and overspending.  The rumor among the independents was that MDA pressure squelched the reporting of any controversy.  It was easy to believe such a rumor — the Gate was, after all, Administrator Poissant’s pet project.

“McGate,” he repeated.  “You know, like McDonalds.”

“The Earth restaurant?  Are we getting one?”

“No, no, no,” he shook his head.  “But isn’t it ironic that the new ‘signature’ of Port Lowell should look so much like an ‘evil corporate logo’?”

“Evil?” Lindsay frowned.  “McDonalds isn’t evil.”

“No, of course not,” Aaron laughed.  “It’s just that the MDA resents successful private enterprise.  Look at the independent settlements — the better they do, the less power the MDA has over them.  A Martian McDonalds would be MDA’s worst nightmare:  it would mean Mars had reached a high level of economic development.  Private development, exactly the kind they don’t like.”

“What do you mean?” Amber asked, confused.

“Well, shipping all the ingredients in from Earth would be prohibitively expensive, so they would have to be produced right here.”

“So?  How hard can it be to make a hamburger?  I mean, aside from the fact we don’t have cattle on Mars.”

“Yet…” Lindsay amended.

“Yet.  Well, it’s not just about burgers.  The meat, cheese, pickles, onions, buns, and other things have to come from somewhere.  That means a whole range of other complex economic activities.  Things like meat synthesis facilities that go way beyond what we have on Mars today, bakeries for the buns, and plants making soft-drink concentrate and condiments.  Not to mention all the necessary transportation and construction elements, or a manufacturing industry able to produce the specialized machinery needed to turn all the raw materials into the final product and deliver them to customers — freezers, refrigerators, fry vats, grills, microwave ovens, cooker ‘bots, soft-drink dispensers, and more.”

“And don’t forget customers,” Lindsay added.  “You need enough customers to keep the restaurant profitable.”

“Certainly.  They’d also need unskilled and surly teenagers to staff the counter.”  He winked at Amber.  “And all these industrial capabilities — machine fabrication, transportation, specialty materials — would support many other industries, besides food production.  All of that together implies economic self-sufficiency.”

“Which means the MDA is no longer needed,” Amber said.  “We could petition for full sovereignty.”

“Exactly.”

Kindle and Nook

The Kindle version of In the Shadow of Ares is now available at Amazon.com. Thank you to everyone who has already purchased the book — plus the helpful feedback from  sharp-eyed Ari, who discovered an editorial comment left behind like a bad surgeon’s forgotten scalpel. The mistake has been corrected and the text republished, but it may take 24 hours to propagate to the product page.

We’ve had multiple requests to publish to the Nook platform, which I just so happen to be doing. It is a little bit more involved than publishing to Kindle — Kindle merely involved entering payment information, a cover image and description, and uploading the .doc file. Smashwords (the site used for Nook and many other e-reader platforms) is a little more particular about formatting and metadata, but in return it includes assignment of an ISBN number and listing in major book catalogs. This means publishing through Smashwords will not only get us onto multiple additional readers but into libraries and other outlets.