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Hard SF - "Predicting" the future? 
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PITA Bred
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Post Re: Hard SF - "Predicting" the future?
KJ8923 wrote:
What about "semi ballistic" travel?

I have questions about the initial impulse - can a reasonable balance be found between fuel efficiency and passenger g loading? The absolute lack of landing options is a bit frightening, too - Heinlein merely touches on that and professes his faith in the gods of engineering.

I'd put it in the same category as personal helicopters or flying cars. Possible - but not nearly as useful/efficient/safe as average users would like.

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Thu Oct 29, 2009 1:15 pm
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Post Re: Hard SF - "Predicting" the future?
JamesGifford wrote:
KJ8923 wrote:
What about "semi ballistic" travel?

I have questions about the initial impulse - can a reasonable balance be found between fuel efficiency and passenger g loading? The absolute lack of landing options is a bit frightening, too - Heinlein merely touches on that and professes his faith in the gods of engineering.


I think ya gotta run the numbers before concluding anything like that. I wouldn't be surprised if Heinlein did so.

I think the X-33 would have qualified as a Heinlein semi-ballistic, so I would take that as prima facie evidence that such a vehicle is feasible. (Don't bother me with details like the fact that it never got built; that was just contractor incompetency.)

Heinlein had a habit of designing machines that had catastrophic failure modes, which were frequently exploited in his stories. But I don't see anything too bad about a semi-ballistic. The Space Shuttle is a glider, and it's never pranged on landing.


Thu Oct 29, 2009 7:37 pm
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Post Re: Hard SF - "Predicting" the future?
OK, another "sort of" from me - what about shipstones? I know they arent quite hydrogen fuel cells, but surely pretty close? I am pretty sure they will be the energy source of the future.


Fri Oct 30, 2009 3:41 am
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Post Re: Hard SF - "Predicting" the future?
KJ8923 wrote:
OK, another "sort of" from me - what about shipstones? I know they arent quite hydrogen fuel cells, but surely pretty close? I am pretty sure they will be the energy source of the future.

My EE abilities run out before the math needed to determine a theoretical maximum energy storage in such a device, but I think that maximum is far less than Heinlein postulated. Short of of something using nuclear-level energy management, I think that the super-battery (shipstone, batacitor, name your favorite sf equivalent) is a fantasy. They've been trying to develop one suitable for vehicles for decades, intensely for perhaps a decade, and they still don't have more than fractional improvements in efficiency, power to weight ratio, etc.

Heinlein got it right that these are not an energy source in themselves - just as hydrogen is not an energy source now. Both are conduits between low-efficiency power production and high-demand point of use. Such a device, scalable as he postulated, would be a breakthrough of the first magnitude.

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Fri Oct 30, 2009 7:33 am
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Post Re: Hard SF - "Predicting" the future?
There is another area of technology affecting culture that I believe RAH predicted to a point.

When I was a child we lived in many communities in the US. In many of those places people considered the act of closing your living room curtains to be unacceptable – at least where I was, the rationale given was that there was nothing that went on in America’s living rooms that should not be something anyone could see.

Bedroom curtains and doors were of course sacrosanct. Privacy was treated as a “good thing” as long as it was not used to hide something nefarious. I suspect that RAH grew up in a similar culture, and he does hint at that sort of attitude when relating the childhood in the parlor of Lazarus Long.

In Friday, RAH talks about a version of the internet that is made up of reputable sources such as university libraries, etc. People were tracked by their use of terminals and credit cards, but not yet by chips. The idea of ANYONE being able to contribute to the data was not addressed.

In Moon is A Harsh Mistress, Mike needed to be specifically asked for the codeword to open a secret file – but could not volunteer it without being asked. This was used as a way to partially explain computer security – that a computer could be segmented into compartments that prevented the computer from accessing data.

Of course in Moon that was gotten around by asking Mike the special code.

Alexei Panshin wrote a letter about when Heinlein became upset with him and said he had violated his privacy. In that letter it was communicated very strongly that at least in Panshin’s opinion, Heinlein valued privacy very highly. He quotes a letter from Heinlein to a publishing company making it clear he (RAH) did not want “my professional methods, my evaluations, my religion, his ambitions, opinions, etc. and many facts of my personal life” released to Panshin or presumably the general public.

http://enter.net/~torve/critics/StoryHiD/HiDF.htm

John Varley is a writer who has been compared often to Heinlein, is writing a homage series, (and his Red Thunder series is considered very Heinleinian by many), and last month was awarded the Baltimore Science Fiction Society Heinlein award. This seems to have been an award given to authors that were authorized by Virginia Heinlein.

(Interestingly they made a point of noting that the award was not affiliated with the Heinlein Society, but I may be reading more into that than is warranted.)

In 1992’s Steel Beach, Varley postulates a central computer net that is installed in everyone via a microchip type of device. While I have not yet finished that novel it seems that the emotions of the people the sentient central computer monitors are now affecting the personality of the computer itself.

The proliferation in the last decade or so of massive communication via text, twitter, videos posted on you-tube (especially those from the ubiquitous cell phones) and of course email has filled massive amounts of computer storage. Cyber-space has become something we cannot function without. Job applicants are routinely googled and old transgressions posted on blogs or news sites can cost that person the chance of a job. Information posted on the web never really dies. The only privacy one has is to hide in the sheer volume of data – but if someone is looking for you anything posted by or about you is generally relatively easy to find.

That only applies to the data posted deliberately by people or about people. Another issue is the data swirling around the net that is supposedly secure.

When you relay a credit card number (complete with your “security code”) to an operator to place an order over the net, a human being of unknown character takes that order. When you enter your credit card number into the data directly a human being somewhere will access that. All they have to do is look up your order number. There is nothing entered over the net that cannot be found if someone tries hard enough.

In August 2008 the FDA appeared the use of tracking microchips (the kind commonly found in household pets) for children.

What happens to those chips when the children grow up? I suspect the vast majority of those kids will simply forget about them, unconcerned that it is way they can be tracked if someone wants to go to enough effort.

Is a sea change in the culture coming? Is privacy something that has become quaint – has “letting it all hang out” as a virtue reached a point where letting it all hang out is now an unavoidable fact of life? Our bank records, stock purchases, emails, monthly bills, taxes, the payroll checks our company pays, (and the taxes the employees have deducted from their checks) and of course anything we deliberately post, all move via the net. In fact it is now required that we submit our payroll and tax data electronically. It has been disconcerting to me more than once to find my name in a document I knew nothing about that has been posted on the net, especially regarding legal proceedings. That information cannot be destroyed. If someone slanders a person on the net, that slander will live forever.

And the younger generation may be fine with that. They are after all posting their endless u-tube videos and stories about their drinking binges and romances with abandon – in fact they call it social networking.

I do not think Heinlein saw that coming, or even Varley. But RAH definitely saw the beginning.

Just a line of thought that kind of crystallized today.

Audrey


Fri Oct 30, 2009 6:16 pm
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Post Re: Hard SF - "Predicting" the future?
audrey wrote:
In August 2008 the FDA appeared the use of tracking microchips (the kind commonly found in household pets) for children.

What happens to those chips when the children grow up? I suspect the vast majority of those kids will simply forget about them, unconcerned that it is way they can be tracked if someone wants to go to enough effort.



I agree with you completely; it is why I have always been opposed to using your SSAN (or any other universal number) for everything. I hear the U.S. Government wants to centralize all medical records under your SSAN – like that is not a recipe for disaster.
I just wanted to clear up one point: The very best RF ID made to date (could change everything does) has a max range of about 15 feet. The chips you put in your pets do not track them down, but if a stray is found then they can be scanned to establish the owner. I guess you could say the same thing about kids.
Using current technology I guess big brother could put up sensors close enough like a cell network and track you.
The hardest part is what scares us becomes normal for the next generation.

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Mon Nov 02, 2009 8:12 am
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Post Re: Hard SF - "Predicting" the future?
A University professor in Birminham (England) inserted a chip into himself and spent several months, having wired up the university, being tracked around campus. Every thing he did and everywhere he went was monitored by computer. He even had credit facilitieds on campus shops and restaurants, so when he had a meal all hed had to do was walk past the sensor on the checkout to register against kis account. He even had certain secure parts of the university (the mainframe etc) digitally coded to his chip so that door would open automatically to his presence.

He seemed to think that this was one potential way for the future. I think that it is terrifying!

Also an interesting link re child chipping in UK

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/3307471.stm


Mon Nov 02, 2009 11:57 am
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Post Re: Hard SF - "Predicting" the future?
This is the website link for Prof Warwick - one of the world's leading human/cyborg microchip experts. He's the one who wired up the university.

A very clever man, visionary? Well who knows?

http://www.kevinwarwick.com/


Mon Nov 02, 2009 12:08 pm
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Post Re: Hard SF - "Predicting" the future?
EdHEdH wrote:
I have always been opposed to using your SSAN (or any other universal number) for everything.

I think the distinction is meaningless. You could be assigned a randomly-generated 100-digit ID number for every transaction in your life and a computer could still track you and correlate your activities with the same amount of effort.

Fear of a national ID system is groundless in that everything feared already exists.

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In the end, I found Heinlein is finite. Thus, finite analysis is needed.


Mon Nov 02, 2009 12:40 pm
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Post Re: Hard SF - "Predicting" the future?
Except perhaps the evil people to use such knowledge?

I don't have any confidence in government to be smart enough to connect all the dots. I do hope they're able to hide the dots from the "Mrs. Keithly"s of the world.

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Mon Nov 02, 2009 5:23 pm
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