Sunday, July 24, 2011

"Dedicated to the Idea"

If you listen to public broadcasting long enough you'll hear:

...brought to you by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, dedicated to the idea that all people deserve the chance to live a healthy and productive life.

I bet Bill and Melinda paid a pretty penny for that phrase. Maybe even two. Did they get good value?

Let's assume that the B&M Foundation is, truly, as claimed, dedicated. Dedicated to an idea that -- well, let's just take as given that this idea is good, and good for people, and set aside the specifics.

Sounds good, right? I mean, they're dedicated.


To an idea about something that's good for people.

So -- dedicated to something that's good for people?

No, not to the something. To the idea about the something.

Not even to the people?

Nope. The dedication is to the idea.

Chew on that for a moment and contrast this tagline with what is probably the most powerful opening to a position statement I've read this lifetime:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that...

Yes, that one.

...that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

A bit stronger, eh?

What if Bill and Melinda had, instead of being all measly mouthed about this idea they're dedicated to, put it as directly and powerfully as that? Let's try it:

We hold as true and self-evident that all people deserve the chance to live healthy and productive lives.

Not bad.  Almost sounds like the real thing. We could even weave in "dedicated", which Bill and Melinda seem to like so much, and tighten it up a bit, and get:

Dedicated to giving all people the chance to live healthy and productive lives.

Clean, clear, and direct.

Dedicated to action, not ideas about action. Dedicated to people, not ideas about people.

Doesn't that sound better? Indeed, doesn't that sound like something you could actually support?

For that matter, doesn't it sound like what they probably actually meant?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Your Brain in the Future

Thoughts inside
One of the cool(est) things about having a brain is being able to think what you like in the privacy of your own head. Whatever you want, any time.

Can you tell what I'm thinking right now? Can you? No! Cool, huh?

But technology and computers are making interesting headway (hee hee) in this arena and -- without jest -- I advise you to enjoy your brain's privacy while you still can.

To illustrate, I (im)modestly recommend my recently accepted story "Mirror Test" for The Tomorrow Project anthology, Tomorrow Project: Seattle available later this year, details of  which I will have announced on my publications announcement mailing list.

What, you may well ask, is The Tomorrow Project? It is, to quote their web site:  "an anthology of science fiction based on science fact, featuring an original story from Cory Doctorow." The antho will include "short fiction, comics and short screenplays based upon current scientific research and technology development... currently being conducted by the University of Washington and Intel in the fields of synthetic biology, computer security, robotics, DNA sequencing and bio/chemical sensing, minute architecture, ray tracing/virtual reality and computer vision."

Fiction sponsored by futurists. Not a half-bad idea, if you ask me.

In my story I postulate that facial recognition technology and machine learning computers will pretty much take away your privacy of thought. Ah, the future! Isn't it just...glorious?

Here's your brain now, mentations all cozy and hidden. And there's your brain in the future, where the rest of us know what you're thinking.

Privacy of thought? Cool. Enjoy it while you can.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Mountainous Crush

Since way back when I was a young snap of a critter I would roll my eyes at adults who fell all over themselves admiring flowers and views. Surely, I reasoned, in my very mature child's mind, there must be more important things to do in life than stare at mountain ranges and coo over wildflowers.

Recently had occasion to drop by the Olympic mountain range. Just kind of, you know, in the neighborhood. With much tromping I ended up at an elevation near 6,000 feet and turned my gaze upon the world and there did my eyeballs feast themselves on these stunning rocks of upthrust (yes, that's what they call it).

Oh my.

Suddenly I had a bit of a crush.

Maybe, being used to sea-level air, my good sense was addled by lack of oxygen. Or maybe the mountains aren't really static bits of rock at all, but magic beasties, and they got to into me fair and square.

And so, maybe, this is kind of a love letter. Crush letter.

Hey, ahh, Mountains. Busy? Hope you don't mind -- I looked up your number on the net. Nice having coffee with you the other day. Pretty weather, wasn't it? Enjoyed getting to know you.  Uhm. Yeah. Uhm. Busy Friday?

And there were wildflowers. And yeah, I hung out with them, too. Could smell 'em on the clear alpine snow-spiced air.

I got a crush on a mountain range.  Cause he's so cute!

My younger self would cringe to hear me say such things. Mountains?  Flowers?  C'mon! But hey, I also played in the snow, scrabbled up rocky inclines, ran down steep mountain paths, talked to strangers and bothered the rangers. So none of that mature stuff, k?

It was something.  I am not going to use that word.  But, mountains. Yeah.

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Compass, a Magnifying Glass, and a Lawyer

Want to park in Seattle?  Bring a compass, a magnifying glass for small print, and a lawyer to resolve multiple and often conflicting directives.

I got my first parking ticket in this city shortly after arriving, courtesy of a set of signs very much like this one.

Legal parking in Seattle requires not only exceptional eyesight and an unerring sense of direction (even when the streets aren't on a grid), but also the ability to resolve confusing and unclear language.

Let's think about this for a moment. If the city really cared about making parking effective rather than skimming dollars off people who aren't clever enough or lack sufficient time to decipher these various signage clues, these signs would be clear and unambiguous.  It's not that difficult to make clear signs.

I don't have anything against parking limitations. What I object to is revenue enhancement apathetically (and pathetically) disguised as civic infrastructure.

This is just one more way that Seattle shows it doesn't care about its citizens' welfare anywhere near as much as it cares about their dollars.