December 2010

Another political-bureaucratic boondoggle at NASA. Just abolish the agency already and get out of the way of private space enterprises.

The future of computing is near:

  • 1,000-Core Chip Could Make PCs 20 Times Faster: The fastest consumer processors such as Intel’s Core i7 are limited to 6 cores, but “Scottish scientists have built a 1,000-core processor, claiming it will run 20 times faster than today’s chips while using less power. Dr. Wim Vanderbauwhede led a research team at the University of Glasgow to create the futuristic processor using a programmable chip called a field programmable gate array (FPGA).”
  • Super Memory Breakthrough: Store Every Movie Made This Year on Your Phone (With Room to Spare): “IBM says they have made a significant leap forward in the viability of “Racetrack memory,” a new technology design which has the potential to exponentially increase computing power. This new tech could give devices the ability to store as much as 100 times more information than they do now, which would be accessed at far greater speeds while utilizing “much less” energy than today’s designs. In the future, a single portable device might be able to hold as much memory as today’s business-class servers and run on a single battery charge for weeks at a time.”

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“We live as though the world were as it should be, to show it what it can be.” Thumbnail

Great quote from Angel to his son Connor (Angel, Season 4, Episode 1, “Deep Down“):

Nothing in the world is the way it oughta be. It’s harsh…and cruel…but that’s why there’s us…champions. It doesn’t matter where we come from, what we’ve done, or suffered. Or even if we make a difference. We live as though the world were as it should be, to show it what it can be. You’re not a part of that yet. I hope you will be.

Reminds me of Ayn Rand’s “Anyone who fights for the future, lives it in today”1 and her conception of Romantic Realism in fiction as a portrayal of life “as it could be and should be.”2 See, also, my Journal of Libertarian Studies article, “Atlas Shrugged and the Importance of Dramatizing Our Values (pdf).”


  1. The Romantic Manifesto, 1975, p. viii 

  2. Letters of Ayn Rand, 1995, p. 243 

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MOVIE REVIEW | Tron: Legacy Thumbnail

It’s not often a science fiction storyteller creates a new world for his story.  Most tales in the genre, like Neuromancer or 2001, are set in our world a few years or decades in the future.  Some, like Terminator II, don’t even bother moving the clock ahead.  Movies like Star Wars and Avatar are relatively uncommon (while others like The Matrix are difficult to categorize).  Tron: Legacy is one of those infrequent works set almost entirely in a fictional world.

Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), founder of a tech company and world-recognized innovator, disappeared in 1989, apparently on the verge of some life-altering discovery.  Two decades later, Kevin’s  assistant tells his son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) he has received a page – as in pager, not book – from his late father.  When Sam investigates, he is sucked into a digital world, presumably the one his father disappeared to, and finds himself in a fight for his life.

[Keep reading…]

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Locus Magazine is starting to take its first steps into the digital age.

For those not in the know, Locus Magazine is, as its subtitle suggests, The Magazine of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Field. It is the pre-eminent magazine covering the genre publishing industry, prose fiction, and conventions, featuring reviews, news, interviews, publishing data, and more.

With the January 2011 issue, which will focus on SF in the digital age, the magazine will publish its first digital edition. The digital editions will be available in pdf format at first. Epub and Kindle editions might come in the future. This is good news to be sure.

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MOVIE REVIEW | Avatar Thumbnail

Storyworld Creation, Justice, and Environmentalism on Pandora and Earth

It may seem that watching Avatar is akin to taking a libertarian pill. True, the libertarian nutrients are rich and of universal appeal. Unfortunately, the pill is also laced with the same bad old drug: anti-technology, anti-business, and pro-primitivism.

(Estimated spoiler risk: Moderate)

Avatar is a beautiful piece of modern visual artistry and it deals reasonably well for a film with several classic science fiction themes (see the postscript for recommended novels). It portrays legitimate defense against military aggression, making a much-needed popular statement of anti-militarism.

The story of a soldier looking for “a single thing worth fighting for” is poignant. How often throughout history has the impulse to defend been manipulated and twisted for unsavory political aims?

Roderick Long said in his review that, “The movie’s most important message may be this: soldiers are responsible, as individuals, for the actions they carry out, and when they’re ordered to do something immoral they have an obligation to disobey.”

Despite the film’s thematic positives, it also encourages some dangerous misconceptions. It identifies as a “corporation” an entity that carries out actions that only states on Earth are known to perform. It also mixes a clear and principled justice issue with a primitivist, anti-technology motif in a bait-and-switch rhetorical move.

We will tease apart these and a few other confusions, clearing a path through the film’s Rousseauian intellectual thicket wide enough to enable us to enjoy the show without compromising our minds. In examining these confusions, it is instructive to reflect on the role of storyworld creators, both those who create science fiction and those who create “message,” news, spin, and sometimes even “science.”

In enjoying science fiction, we happily hand over to storyworld creators the power to temporarily redefine reality. We must take extra care to take back that ability at the theater exit or upon closing the novel. Other kinds of storytellers await us in the non-fictional world, and their motives do not include providing entertainment.

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Atlas_Santiago_Toural_GFDL

Atlas_Santiago_Toural_GFDL

I’ve got some ideas about what would happen after the end of Atlas Shrugged. I could just describe the basic plot here for you. I could say, “I think that after the world economy crashes and the governments collapse, the heroes emerge and help to rebuild. Dagny and Galt have a child, who ends up being a Randian Kwisatz Haderach, named Sarah. Then they get divorced when Dagny cheats on Galt with Eddie Willers. Sarah ends up running for President of a scaled back federal government. And there are lots of interesting sub-plots, such as [x, y, z].”

I could use this technique to highlight how some of Rand’s ideas were flawed, in my view, or builds on or extends them into other areas.

But I thought actually writing it up in novel-form might be a different way to present these ideas. So I spent the last four years on this. The novel is a doozy — 450 pages of great literature. My friends who’ve seen it think it’s amazing.

But I could not publish it. Rand’s estate would surely sue me for copyright infringement.

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MOVIE PREVIEW | Sucker Punch Thumbnail

Zack Snyder, director of 300 and Watchmen, has a new film project coming out in 2011 that may be of interest to genre-loving libertarians: the upcoming movie Sucker Punch. It may not have an overtly libertarian theme or plot, but it does appear to center around an issue that is relevant to libertarians, particularly women and libertarians interested in the time period in the US in which this film is set, the 1950s.

The premise and setting of Sucker Punch remind me of Angelina Jolie’s film Changeling, directed by Clint Eastwood, written by J. Michael Straczynski of Babylon 5 fame, and set in 1928. Both films depict periods in the United States in which it was all too easy to commit someone, particularly a woman, to a mental institution against her will. In Changeling, Jolie’s character is involuntarily committed to the local hospital’s psychopathic ward by a corrupt cop for political/job preservation reasons. In Sucker Punch, the main character, Baby-Doll (what’s with the name?), is involuntarily committed to a mental institution and scheduled for a barbaric lobotomy. I suppose we’ll have to wait to find out why and by whom she was committed.

So, in Sucker Punch, as in Changeling, it appears we will be presented with a story illustrating (wrongful) involuntary commitment, the unequal status of women in recent US history, a struggle for freedom and to maintain one’s sanity in an oppressive medical institution where the authorities insist you are insane. Unlike Changeling, which was a historical film, Sucker Punch will be an action fantasy.

[Keep reading…]

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