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Science & Technology

I really enjoyed Andrew’s book. I thought I knew about the structure (and structures) of the Internet, but this is is a detailed, critical and fun illumination which quickly proved me mistaken. It’s also a travel book, about an unreal place that spans/permeates real places, lives, spaces. And a wonderful one at that. Highly recommended.

(My emboldening below)

Everything you do online travels through a tube. Inside those tubes (by and large) are glass fibers. Inside those fibers is light. Encoded in that light is, increasingly, us. [Location 94]

The Internet is everywhere; the Internet is nowhere. But indubitably, as invisible as the logical might seem, its physical counterpart is always there. [Location 276]

TeleGeography in Washington was asking a computer science department in Denmark to show how it was connected to a university in Poland. It was like a spotlight in Scandinavia shining on twenty-five hundred different places around the world, and reporting back on the unique reflections. [Location 418]

You can demarcate a place on a map, pinpoint its latitude and longitude with global positioning satellites, and kick the very real dirt of its very real ground. But that’s inevitably going to be only half its story. The other half of the story comes from us, from the stories we tell about a place and our experience of it. [Location 485]

“If you brought a sophisticated customer into the data center and they saw how clean and pretty the place looked—and slick and cyberrific and awesome—it closed deals,” said Adelson. [Location 1211]

But it wasn’t the machine’s mystery or power that terrified Adams most. It was how clearly it signified a “break of continuity,” as he puts it. The dynamo declared that his life had now been lived in two different ages, the ancient and the modern. It made the world new. [Location 1826]

He counted off the zeros on the screen. “This point is the millisecond … this point is the microsecond … and this one is usually expressed as nanoseconds, or billionths of a second.” I mulled all the zeros on the screen for a moment. And when I looked up, everything was different. The cars rushing by outside on Highway 87 seemed filled with millions of computational processes per second—their radios, cell phones, watches, and GPSs buzzing inside of them. Everything around me looked alive in a new way: the desktop PCs, the LCD projector, the door locks, the fire alarms, and the desk lamps. [Location 2045]

Nearly universally, they wore black T-shirts and zip-up hooded sweatshirts, handy for spending long hours on the hard floor of the server rooms, facing the dry exhaust blast of an enormous router.[ocation 2378]

The Internet “cloud,” and even each piece of the cloud, was a real, specific place—an obvious reality that was only strange because of the instantaneity with which we constantly communicate with these places. [Location 3159]

The Internet had no master plan, and—aesthetically speaking—no master hand. There wasn’t an Isambard Kingdom Brunel—the Victorian engineer of Paddington Station and the Great Eastern cable ship—thinking grandly about the way all the pieces fit together, and celebrating their technological accomplishment at every opportunity. On the Internet there were only the places in between, places like this, trying to disappear [location 3183]

The emphasis wasn’t on the journey; the journey pretended not to exist. But obviously it did. [location 3186]

“Want to see how this shit really works?” he asked. “This has nothing to do with clouds. If you blew the ‘cloud’ away, you know what would be there?” Patchett asked. “This. This is the cloud. All of those buildings like this around the planet create the cloud. The cloud is a building. It works like a factory. Bits come in, they get massaged and put together in the right way, then packaged up and sent out. But everybody you see on this site has one job, that’s to keep these servers right here alive at all times.” [location 3268]

“If you lose rural America, you lose your infrastructure and your food. It’s incumbent for us to wire everybody, not just urban America. The 20 percent of the people living on 80 percent of the land will be left behind. Without what rural America provides to urban America, urban America couldn’t exist. And vice versa. We have this partnership.” [location 3299]

Science & Science Fiction at the Royal Institution

A funny, interesting but sometimes scatter-gun talk at the Royal Institution by two engaging academics in the field of science communication.

My favourite quote is above in the title of this post, which they take from Prof Mark Rose: “Science Fiction is the fantastic that denies it’s fantastic”.

Rough notes follow.

Science & science-ficiton / RI
7.4.09
——
Introduced: Jenny rowan , lablit magazine
Prof Mark Brake / Rev Neil Hook (uni of glamorgan)
Their book: “Difference engines: how science drives fiction and fiction drives science”

“I like to think of the earth as an alien planet” (this reminds me of BLDGBLOG/Geoff Manuagh’s contention that “the earth is becoming unearthly“)

copernican revolution made it that way

infinite, inhuman universe as opposed to earth-centric Aristotelean cosmos (earth myths populated heaven)

“if copernicus wasn’t enough, then came Darwinism”

“a series of demotions”

“SF is a response to the cultural shock of discovering our marginal place in an alien universe”

“an attempt put the stamp of humanity back on the universe”

we can identify 4 themes (based on prof mark rose)

1. space
2. time
3. machine
4. monster

SPACE

something to be conquered, part of dominion over nature

TIME

flux, change, process, revealed over time
contradiction, paradoxes

MACHINE
computers atom bombs, robots, but also 1984, Brave New World: social machines

MONSTER
about us, the monster within.
remaking of human.
super heroes = upbeat monsters

SPACE

copernican rev:
if the earth is a planet, then the planets can be earths
Galileo gave this evidence: mountains, craters, features on moons
sudden decentralisation, diversity, possibility
Kepler: 1st book of sci-fi 1630s “Somnium”
Bishop Godwin: 1st alien contact story

new discoveries, mediated by SF: the play between: alienation / sensawunda

kepler to gallileo: “there will certainly be no lack of human pioneers when we have mastered flight…” look up

Bishop Godwin of Llandaff: “man in the moon” – kept it secret, published posthumously
shipwrecked Spanish buccaneer trains flock of 40 geese in an apparatus, geese fly to the moon in winter, moon white because covered in geese, so travels to the moon.
meets king of moon
moon = utopia, earth is the dumping ground for the moon’s rejects.

robert goddard wrote to h.g. wells to tell him how he was inspired by ‘wotw’

rocket launch countdown was invented by fritz lang as a cinematic shortcut, and then adopted by science.

TIME

industrial revolution, earth working, fossil record: the long now evident, species that walked the earth

time was something to be mastered (baconian/enlightment science: nature to be mastered)

mechanised time travel = industrialised britain

kronos/ charios – Greek words for time

kronos – more concerned with measurement and mastery of time
industrialised time

HGWells: 4th dimension, to be measured, managed and mastered

1894 The Time Machine / 1905 special relativity

space-time is born. a revolution in time.

the time machine – double meaning to the title.
time traveller sets out to master time, but finds time is the master.
we are all trapped in the time machine.

Ballard, Drowned World: (not mentioning his fixation race-memory, mitochondrial time?)

MACHINE

Carel Kapek Rossums Universal Robots
Asimov’s 3 laws (+ zeroth law) – based on Hippocratic oath
now enshrined in s. Korean laws!
machine takes human form (stamping humanity on the unknown)
martin rees – industrialisation might be a mass-extinction event (a 400 year ELE)

atom bomb imagined by hg wells in ;the world set free 1914 (cf. de groot)
influenced leo szilard, initiated/lobbied roosevelt to create manhattan project

red alert peter george 1956, adapted by kubrick to strangelove

MONSTERS & ALIENS

Godzilla: a proxy for dealing with the consequences of the WW2 atomic warfare
took a machine and turned it into a monster (with two legs and two arms – again the stamp of the human on the new)

Most monsters and aliens are proxies or cyphers for ourselves
(only unknowable alien in SF is Lem’s Solaris)

Giger’s Alien and Hannibal Lecter are the same? Monsters and aliens – we are in the middle, examining ourselves through these characters.

closing remarks from prof. brake.
we’re the first generation living in a science-ficitonal world, sf is hardcore reality, not escapism…

——
q&a:

aldiss: SF is ‘hubris clobbered by nemesis’
prof mark rose: SF is: ‘the fantastic that denies it’s fantastic’

questioner mentions: greg egan short story (wang’s carpets? may have misheard) sea of carbohydrates performing computation.

question (from a biologist): the attitude to progress and evolution in much of SF
is not very sophisticated in it’s understanding of biology. eg. 2001.

Brake: much of SF is very physically determinist, hierarchical in its view and many of the 20th’s spokespersons about biology thought there was not life other than on earth. interesting to see what astrobiology brings to it.

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