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Overclocked, Hacker Heroines, the Wild Yak Brigade and Other Stories You May Have Missed
Alex Steffen, 9 Feb 07
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Title: Overclocked.

What it is: Cory Doctorow's latest short story collection.

Why it's important: First, because there are some excellent stories here, such as Anda’s Game, After the Siege and When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth. Second, because it's all available for free. Citing Tim O’Reilly's quote that "Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy", Cory has released the entire collection under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 license.

Telling quote: "The next day, they started to rebuild. And months later, they started over again, when disagreements drove apart the fragile little group they'd pulled together. And a year after that, they started over again. And five years later, they started again. Felix dug ditches and salvaged cans and buried the dead. He planted and harvested. He fixed some cars and learned to make biodiesel. Finally he fetched up in a data-center for a little government -- little governments came and went, but this one was smart enough to want to keep records and needed someone to keep everything running..."

Title: Bio-hacker heroine

What it is: The story of how 17 year-old Madhavi Gavini has made a breakthrough discovery: a way to kill the antibiotic-resistant Pseudomonas bacteria -- which causes fatal infections in people with compromised immune systems -- with compounds derived from traditional medicinal plants.

Why it's important: First, because it will save lives. Second, because it's a cool use of traditional and historical medical knowledge. Third, because Gavini has refused to profit off her discovery, instead insisting it be openly available (which illustrates the vitality of non-profit pharmaceutical models).

Telling quote: "If I were going to patent this, the rights would have to be sold to a pharmaceutical company, and that would greatly increase the cost of the drug once it's developed. So to prevent that from happening, by publishing it, the information becomes readily available and any company that wants to manufacture it, would be able to. So the price would be much lower due to competition and the people who need it most will have access to it."

Title: EU Wants Calif. to Join EU Emission Plan (disable sound before hitting this link: there's an annoying audio ad)

What it is: A plan to integrate California, one of the world's largest economies, into the EU carbon trading regime.

Why it's important: Because it illustrates how quickly the politics of climate change response are shifting, and how superfluous the Bush administration has made itself.

Telling quote: "I would have expected him to create a cap-and-trade system at the national level," Dimas said. "I really don't understand why the president didn't do something that in all probability will be done by his successor."


What it is: An open, collaborative online encyclopedia of African American history.

Why it's important: Because it illustrates how networks of people who care about ideas or causes largely ignored by the majority can use new tools to connect with one another to further their work in new ways.

Telling quote: "The history of African Americans in the United States has been a paradox of incredible triumph in the face of tremendous human tragedy. This site serves as a portal to the vast and growing array of information on the Web and in other sources on the thirty seven million African Americans in the nation."

Title: Must-know terms for the 21st Century intellectual.

What it is: A collection of ideas currently in vogue among futurists.

Why it's important: It's fun to read, and some of these ideas will no doubt prove useful over time.

Telling quote: "Remedial Ecology: Humans have really messed up this planet, but that doesn't mean we can't fix what we've broke. Remedial ecology is the notion that with the right tools and knowhow we can repair the damage that's been done. By using bioremediative processes, for example, we can use genetically engineered microorganisms to remove toxic or unwanted chemicals from the environment, or break down hazardous substances into less toxic or nontoxic substances in soil, groundwater, sludge and sediment. And looking further into the future there's the added potential for not just repair but also redesign. Bruce Sterling's Viridian movement is a step in this direction."

Title: Kekexili: Mountain Patrol

What it is: A brilliant Chinese film about a team of brave Tibetan volunteer park rangers who are fighting to save the endangered Tibetan antelope from brutal poachers.

Why it's important: It's a great flick: reports also indicate that it has been the first breakthrough environmental film in China, where environmentalism is still just emerging. It's also based on a true story, that of the Tibetan Wild Yak Brigade reminding us that on much of the planet, standing up for the natural world is still dangerous, needed work. (Finally, it's worth reading the production notes on the film's English-language site.)

Telling quote: "Then there's the race against time to catch fast-driving poachers, some armed to the teeth. The Yemaoniu Dui have their five guns and five rickety vehicles. Their prized stallion is a 10-year-old Toyota Land Cruiser that has already clocked more than 150,000 miles. A rich brotherhood bonds the men and keeps their spirits surprisingly high. No one thinks twice about sharing, even if it's just a chipped cup of Tibetan butter tea or a few cheap Chinese cigarettes."

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I can certainly recommend 'Overclocked'. I listened to the free MP3's of all the stories, mostly read-aloud by Cory, and was impressed enough to buy the book just last night, to support his decision to give the stories away for free.

To me the most 'significant' of the stories is Anda's Game, based in part on real-world examples of low-paid workers creating objects 'in-game' to be sold for profit. The MP3s of the story, told from a girl's point of view, are wonderful because they are read by Alice Taylor who was a pro Quake player. ( She also has a wonderful British accent. ) Part 1 is at then parts two and three at 569 and 570

Posted by: David S. on 9 Feb 07



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