Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 8 Jan 03 07:36
*Well, among the points I make in that article is that basic scientific research is not driven by immediate profit payoff. Basic science isn't the same as industrial research and development. Bell Labs used to come up with stuff that created entire new industries. Compare that to today's telephone companies, who can't decide if they are natural monopolies, profit-driven competitors or just plain Enrons. The military isn't in it for the money, and they are a huge source of innovation. Government is not-for-profit and even bureaucracies invent stuff sometimes. Academia has a number of different business models but if you are working in a university lab, lining your own pockets is not supposed to be your number-one consideration. Science fiction writers make stuff up and write entertainment about it. It's rare for us to stop typing and go get a patent.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 8 Jan 03 08:28
I enjoy a free-software flame as much as the next guy and more than most. After 17 years of GNU, though, we ought to well past the point of explaining to people that there are alternate methods of creating software. Free software is even older than commercial software, or else IBM would never have sort of shrugged and let Bill Gates "own" the operating system. Free software works sorta, and it works much better if you are the kind of guy who has it together to write some yourself. But it's not a panacea or a perfect solution any more than commercial software is. Apache works pretty well, and if Apache didn't work, then the industry would ignore free software the way Hollywood ignores that guy making the dancing singing cats on his website. It works well enough that it gets some attention. It isn't working well enough for 200 dollar Lindows machines from Walmart to take the planet by storm. Maybe someday. I'm rooting for it, actually. But I'm getting used to the idea that free software is going to remain clunky, ugly and unfriendly to Joe Sixpack and Jane Winecooler. There's nothing new about that, and there aren't really many motives for free software people to please anybody besides other free software people. The thing that is increasingly intriguing to me is that commercial software people have a crisis that's worse. They are forced to turn their programs and hardware into malignant, scarcely usable, Orwellian spy devices in order to save their weird business model. They are going into the same evil space that the airline industry is. "Where do you want to go today? Well, first let me smell the inside of your shoes. Are you a pirate, are you a terrorist kidporn mafioso? Prove it. Stand there, sign this. Okay, now give me money. You wan't pay? Okay, then maybe I'll get the government to bail me out so it comes out of your taxes." And the airports are emptying and bankruptcies are endemic. Boeing can't sell a faster airplane. We may get into a condition where people hate and fear commercial software, and free software is barely usable and semilegal or illegal. What happens in that scenario? I think the Information Age goes into the same historical dumpster as the glamorous dreams of the Space Age.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 8 Jan 03 08:30
*I've always been less interested in education than scholarship. Everybody is legally required to get educated, and for good reasons, most people loathe this painful thing and quit as soon as they can financially survive getting away with that, or sooner, if it hurts them enough. Scholarship, though, is acquiring and organizing knowledge with sufficient rigor that you actually understand what you are talking about and can communicate that in a cohesive, reproducible way to other people. I'm interested in that because I can't do it. I'm very curious, I'm a lifelong bookworm and my brain is littered with fantastic clutter, but I'm an entertainer, not a scholar. I'm popularizing concepts sometimes, but I'm not adding much of anything to humanity's general store of knowledge. A science fiction writer is like a guy bowling with cannonballs. Nowadays I learn a lot of stuff off the Internet; I'd never even think to stop and take a class in anything, or aim for another degree. Professors are increasingly upset at students Googling term papers or Blackberrying test answers to each other. An FAQ and a Google search will winkle out some of the most arcane stuff in the world with incredible rapidity. But it's also lacks certification and intellectual rigor, it is producing a kind of Golden Age of Charlatanry. My advice to kids in this book is to get into a line of work they enjoy learning about. You have to find a proclivity. Most societies don't treat education like this: there are thousands of Iranian doctors and almost no Iranian dentists; when the Chinese want rocket scientists, they don't wait for bright kids to get in the mood. But it's a great bliss in life to be sincerely interested in what you do to earn a living, and if school fails to teach you that, then it's failed you.
Life in the big (doctorow) Wed 8 Jan 03 08:44
Bruce, a data-point. You use free software all the time. OS X is built on it.
Reid Harward (reid) Wed 8 Jan 03 10:36
Doesn't http://www.viridiandesign.org use MySQl? Why are Joe and Jane such an appealing demographic besides the fact that they buy books? Do they buy books?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 8 Jan 03 12:20
> Doesn't http://www.viridiandesign.org use MySQl? Not yet!
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 8 Jan 03 12:26
If you were the honcho at the Ministry of Education, and your task was to make schools work as learning environments, what would you change?
Life in the big (doctorow) Wed 8 Jan 03 14:23
To expand on that point. Your Mac is like a mile-high skyscraper of elegant and robust design, created by invisible, volunteer labor. You get a free penthouse in that skyscraper, but in order to appoint that swanky pad, you've got to pay a pricey designer -- Apple -- a hundred bucks or so to put in the sofas and the wet-bar. Because the penthouse was free, it's unobtrusive, and only the swell designer furniture catches your attention, so there's a sense that the skyscraper is irrelevant as compared to the labor of the designer.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 8 Jan 03 17:19
I don't use Mac OSX all the time, Cory. It doesn't have a word processor I like, which is a pretty serious drawback for a guy who types for a living. I also get it totally about cool, far-out metaphors about the grunt work of software. Mile high skyscrapers, cathedrals, bazaars, landslides in cyberspace, man you are talking to a connoisseur here. But it's talk. There comes a point when you don't want to talk. A bicycle is a marvelously elegant technology too, and I can buy the designer carbon and titanium one, or I can even get the free, politically correct, Yellow Bike anarchist one. But, you know, flat tire. Pump. Does it work? Stop explaining. I don't need more explaining.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Wed 8 Jan 03 17:22
If I were head honcho of the Ministry of Education, my job would not be to make schools work as learning environments. Basically, my job would be to make school-age children walk in straight lines and salute the flag as I freed up the productive capacity of their parents. If schools were learning environments, all the smart kids would clear out in half an hour. Then they'd go home and demand attention from Mom and Dad. That just can't be allowed.
Reid Harward (reid) Wed 8 Jan 03 17:48
How about Jane and Joe? How much of this responsibility falls on their shoulders? Shouldn't we be wondering why these bums can't get up off the couch and pitch in when it comes to creating open-source? With all of these cool digital tools at their disposal, shouldn't this slack couple be transforming themselves into super-creators as opposed to just vapid consumers of digital media? The amateur has a role in your future, I hope. What about blogs? Don't blogs show that there is at least a desire to create media?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 8 Jan 03 20:07
I finally saw Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine," which includes a couple of visits to schools and guns... lots of guns. Maybe that's what we should be talking about... GUNS. This should probably segue into a riff about 'The Soldier,' but I'm actually wondering about the future of guns in the hands of ordinary civilians with anxieties heightened by exposure to televised crime and war fantasies (I'm talking about the news, not the action-adventure jive).
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 9 Jan 03 05:49
I don't see why Joe Sixpack and Jane Winecooler are any more obliged to help out with free software than they are to help out with free bicycles. It's a little arrogant to assume that they are just inert. Maybe they've got their own problems. I'm all in favor of people being more creative but creativity because of a sense of guilt doesn't appeal to me much.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 9 Jan 03 05:53
I just saw a cable channel documentary on swords axes and knives. The last part was about Victorinox, maker of Swiss Army knives. A pretty good example of military-sponsored innovation. It pointed out that the worldwide vogue for them didn't start until GIs in World War II got their hands on some. Then, rather like jeeps, they civilianizes and became more luxurious. Nowadays there are over a hundred models of them. And, of course, I am no longer allowed to take mine on an aircraft because I might be a member of Al Qaeda, the Islamic Lafayette Escadrille, and I might destroy a skyscraper with my two-inch metal blade.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 9 Jan 03 06:06
There's a scene in Moore's film that was snipped from some source, like maybe a training film, that shows a middle-aged woman explaining why schools should have uniform dress codes. While she's talking we see a kid in baggy pants with his shirttail out, and he starts pulling guns out of his pants. He's got about a ton of concealed weaponry, including a rifle that was stuck down the leg of his pants.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 9 Jan 03 08:24
Yeah, and think how many pirated CDs he's got in there.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 9 Jan 03 09:23
While my blood was boiling over, I nearly skipped stage 3 - the lover. This is your chapter on design, where you talk about "organic behavior in a technological matrix." What does this mean?
off-well participation (tnf) Thu 9 Jan 03 10:15
This one is signed "Anon": Hello Mr. Sterling, I noticed from your post(#28) that you would like to see more scholarly research done. Also, from your post(#39) you saw a cable program about Swords, Axes and Knives. Is this the one on the History Channel? I did get good advice from one of my professors on how to look at these programs for some scholarship. He points out that the narration voice is almost always giving you incorrect knowledge. If you want to get anything scholarly out of the documentaries then pay close attention when they have someone actually speaking. If he's a Ph D at a University then chances are his information is scholarly. The history channel not to long ago had a good program about Sparta with well known scholars in that field. A good example of "How the Narrator Misinforms" is to look at various documentaries about the biblical flood. Almost always the narrator excludes that the same story was going around in other ancient civs. Personally, I missed this point and had the "oh-yeah, why didn't I think of that" line when my professor pointed it out. Thankyou for your time, Anon
Brian Dear (brian) Thu 9 Jan 03 12:37
<scribbled by brian Wed 20 Mar 13 18:15>
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 9 Jan 03 16:50
(bruces), why do so many of your posts in this topic have these asterisks at the beginning of each of your paragraphs? *You know, I'd like to pretend that it's just a nervous habit of mine, but it's a really old one. *I use those asterisks so that I can cut and paste stuff from other sources into my email. *Thanks to these asterisks, people know that it is Me speaking, the Narrator Who Misinforms. *You'll want to look carefully at that stuff without the asterisks as it may have been stolen from an actual scholar. *Thank you for your attention.
Gail Williams (gail) Thu 9 Jan 03 17:06
It's an interesting effect. All footnotes. Say, Bruce, I want to thank you for suggesting I actually read Salman Rushdie this year, rather than simply know his name as a literary light and enemy of fundamentalism. I read "Satanic Verses" and your own "Zeitgeist" almost as a set, and I liked that quite a bit. So, who are you reading now?
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 9 Jan 03 17:10
"Organic behavior in a technological matrix." What does this mean? *Another great question. I'm not quite sure what it means. I'm pretty sure it's really happening, though. *I think maybe this can be summed up in the native 21st century experience of pausing with a laden fork halfway to your mouth and wondering just how much technological ingenuity has been invested in that forkfull of foodstuff. There it is, you know... "caulobroccoflower" or whatever that is... dipped in that so-called "cheese sauce".... *You can put the fork down and go to the hippie grocery and get some organic substances that spend a lot of time and energy telling you how "natural" they are, and how jealously sheltered they are from an incoming tide of bovine hormones, copyrighted genetics, antibiotics, weedkillers and so forth... But how "natural" is that? *And besides, given that the air is full of CO2 from industrial fossil fuels, aren't the world's most "natural" plants, even in the remotest parts of the Amazon, substantially built of smokestack effluent? *So you eat the stuff on the fork. And now it's part of you. *That's not exactly what it means, but maybe that's a little bit of how it feels.
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 9 Jan 03 17:20
I read "Satanic Verses" and your own "Zeitgeist" almost as a set, and I liked that quite a bit. So, who are you reading now? *Well, I'd love to claim I am reading something really elegant and literary and wrily subversive, but in point of fact I'm reading a book called ANGLES OF ATTACK: AN A-6 INTRUDER PILOT'S WAR, and it's written by this hot-shot Navy aviator who blows up Iraqis in our most recent Gulf War but one. *It's an amazingly dull book, but it's dull in a kind of interesting way. It's dull like watching NASA cable access. I mean, here are these guys *in orbit,* doing something incredible and technically advanced, but it's all inventories and safety checks and acronyms. *This ANGLES OF ATTACK book has page after page of eye-burningly detailed, almost Ballardian narrative about exactly how one buckles in to the cockpit in one's crash helmet and inflatable nylon flight suit. It's really pretty far from conventional men's-adventure History Channel military-porn, but as a human witness it's really kind of compelling. It's like reading Pepys, almost. *And Samuel Pepys has his own 17th century daily weblog now, too. That kills me. I mean, not in the literal sense. That was the author's job in this ANGLES OF ATTACK thing. And there is no question he achieved considerable success at that, too.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 9 Jan 03 20:34
Going back to those red hot microbes for a minute, I just ran across this story at New Scientist: >>> Data stored in multiplying bacteria 11:02 08 January 03 NewScientist.com news service A message encoded as artificial DNA can be stored within the genomes of multiplying bacteria and then accurately retrieved, US scientists have shown. Their concern that all current ways of storing information, from paper to electronic memory, can easily be lost or destroyed prompted them to devise a new type of memory - within living organisms. (continued at http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99993243) <<<
Bruce Sterling (bruces) Thu 9 Jan 03 22:17
And you know, you can have another copy of that in 20 minutes. Copy a human being, man, you're looking at 20 years, and about year 5 that kid realizes what you have pulled on him and he becomes one of your deadliest enemies.
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