Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tor Books

Tor Books

It’s been a news-heavy month. Here are a few more tidbits:

  • Yesterday, Tor/Forge announced that it will make all of its ebooks completely free of DRM by early July 2012. This is a momentous and welcome change. Tor/Forge is a genre imprint of Macmillan, one of the Big Six publishers. It’s the first of these publishers to cave to author and cusotmer pressure on DRM. It may have helped that Macmillan is not a publicly traded company. Cory Doctorow believes more Big Six publishers are sure to follow; he’s “had contact with very highly placed execs at two more of the big six publishers.”
  • Last month, James Cameron promoted private deep-sea exploration. He’s also partnered with Google’s Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, and Ross Perot Jr., to back private space company Planetary Resources. Immediate plans are to design and build low-cost robotic spacecraft for survey missions. The firm, founded and chaired by Peter Diamondis (creator of the X-Prize Foundation) and Eric Anderson, hopes to then build on this technology and begin mining Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs) within the next ten years. For an extended explanation of how and why Planetary Resources can succeed, read Phil Plait’s post on the Bad Astronomy blog. We live in exciting times for the exploration and exploitation of space.

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Human Brain in a Vat

Human Brain in a Vat

While Prince and the rest of the world anxiously counted down the final seconds of the millennium — when Y2K Godzilla would destroy Cobol and Fortran systems — Dallasite Mitch Maddox was about to take part in a bold experiment.  Beginning January 1, 2000 he would legally be known as DotComGuy.

This project — to the delight of geeks, nerds, and voyeurs alike — involved living and working exclusively from home.  No more traffic jam drudgery or cubicle farm shenanigans for Mitch.  No more TPS reports or water cooler gossip. And while telecommuting was hardly a new phenomenon, corporate sponsorship from the likes of 3Com, Travelocity, and UPS made him the envy of all those who had just read Cryptonomicon or LARPed as Neo.

After all, who would not want free money to goof around on the computer all day?  It was like taking candy from a baby.

This was also at the height of the dotcom bubble.  When ordering fresh food from Webvan was considered the New Normal and the DJIA was supposedly on its way up to 36,000.

However less than two years later, Mitch would legally be known as Mitch again and product placement gurus would have to find a new Ed Pekurny and Truman Burbank to spy on.

Small Steps Towards Cybernetic Fusion

A quadriplegic named S3 in medical literature (Simeral et al, 2011) was recently noted for having successfully been part of a medical project to test brain-computer interfaces (BCI).  For over 1,000 days, her brain has played host to a tiny set of electrodes that have enabled her to perform “point-and-click” tasks on the computer.

Granted, there is literally a world of difference and several orders of magnitude between moving a mouse as S3 has done and navigating and raiding in World of Warcraft but the precedent has been empirically shown.

And while it appears we are decades away from thawing and repairing cryonically suspended brains, let alone curing paralysis, S3′s seemingly marginal freedoms could quite possibly be a tour du force for a new spin on a Neuromancer-style world.

Peas in a Sci-Fi Pod

Lee Majors and Herb Wallerstein have more in common than the cult following of their respective television shows.  In the early-to-mid ’70s, Majors portrayed Steve Austin, a government pilot who is critically injured in a plane crash.  In a risky experiment, medical doctors implant six million dollars worth of bionic gadgetry that revive and enhance his life and various brain functions in particular.  His transformative operation also served as the inspiration for the show’s title, The Six Million Dollar Man.  Adjusted for inflation, this is equivalent to roughly $30 million today.

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