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Robot Snakes, Smart Farmers, Flying Ships and a Different Sort of Science Fiction
Alex Steffen, 8 Jul 08

Lots of stuff going on today (media interviews, writing to be done, etc.), but here are some tidbits to tide you over:

Scandinavian scientists designing robotic snakes:

The robot is designed to have a camera attached and move around the pipe following a pre-programmed map. Thielemann noted in the report that they are working on using the vision system to help the robot navigate itself through the maze of pipes.


The key aim is to facilitate interaction between remote environments, both physical and virtual. Apart from enabling direct connections between any two environments, it can also be used to facilitate many-to-many connections: just like a physical "patch bay" (or telephone switchboard) Pachube enables any participating project to "plug-in" to any other participating project in real time so that, for example, buildings, interactive installations or blogs can "talk" and "respond" to each other.

Pachube is a little like YouTube, except that, rather than sharing videos, Pachube enables people to monitor and share real time environmental data from sensors that are connected to the internet. Pachube acts between environments, able both to capture input data (from remote sensors) and serve output data (to remote actuators). Connections can be made between any two environments, facilitating even spontaneous or previously unplanned connections. Apart from being used in physical environments, it also enables people to embed this data in web-pages, in effect to "blog" sensor data.

A Different Kind of Science Fiction

What do science fiction writers think of global conflict? What happens when the world falls into chaos after environmental collapse? Where will the world be if we eradicate ourselves with biological warfare? There’s no grand technological breakthrough that lies at the heart of these types of stories. No, there stories that have been told many times, but they’re present, and they’re modern, and they’re pertinent: they are human, and that is what makes them so profound. Socially conscious writing is important, in my opinion, because it begins to bring back to science fiction what it began as: a way of questioning that which is potentially dangerous.

Slow Food Nation:

Paula: What would a different, better version of the Farm Bill look like?

Dan: First of all, farmers would have to be enrolled in some kind of stewardship program before they can get anything at all, and they should be rewarded for how well they farm, instead of how much in commodities that they are putting into the pipeline. And why direct giveaways [for things like waste mitigation]? I mean these are big corporations, why can’t they be loans, why don’t they have to be paid back? I mean they are just complying with the Clean Air and the Clean Water Act, these are things that, if they are treated as industries, which they really are, they would have to be doing with there own money. There has to be some kind of responsibility. Are you helping to preserve the land, maintain it so that we can pass it on to the next generation? Are we doing research, finding beneficial ways to grow crops, for when we are not going to be able to afford petroleum-based fertilizers? Are we starting to build the infrastructure for a regional food system we are going to desperately need when oil tops off at $500 per barrel? Are we rewarding farmers for growing a diversity of crops, actually contributing to producing healthier food that can be fed to the kids in our schools?

Why Fly When You Can Float?:

As the cost of fuel soars and the pressure mounts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, several schemes for a new generation of airship are being considered by governments and private companies. “It’s a romantic project,” said Mr. Massaud, 45, sitting amid furniture designs in his Paris studio, “but then look at Jules Verne.”

Creative Capitalism Blog:

To give an example: when the private sector thinks about climate change, this usually centers on a carbon footprint strategy, showing how emissions in headquarters and the field will be cut. But a true corporate philanthropist, having recognized that global warming threatens their business model just as it threatens progress in poor countries, would be looking at much more fundamental ways of engaging with the issue. They would join with climate change activists in lobbying Congress to grant more money for adaptation. They would invest more in their supply chain, so that cotton farmers in Africa would still be able to grow their crops even if weather patterns were to change significantly. And working with communities in poor countries, they would develop technologies such as cheap, solar-powered stoves, but which might also have applications in the rich world.

Milk jug gets a makeover for carbon savings

Wal-Mart and Costco have adopted a version of the one-gallon milk jug designed with efficiency in mind. The boxier containers stack better, eliminating the need for milk crates and conserving space in trucks and on refrigerated store shelves:

The company estimates this kind of shipping has cut labor by half and water use by 60 to 70 percent. More gallons fit on a truck and in Sam’s Club coolers, and no empty crates need to be picked up, reducing trips to each Sam’s Club store to two a week, from five — a big fuel savings. Also, Sam’s Club can now store 224 gallons of milk in its coolers, in the same space that used to hold 80.

The new jugs probably reduce the environmental impact of milk in other important ways. Greater efficiency means less spoilage, which will help to shave down the large carbon footprint associated with dairy farming. Further, the “cold supply chain” is notoriously responsible for leaked refrigerants, which are powerful global warming agents. In addition to reduced energy use, less refrigeration means fewer such pollutants.

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The Futurismic piece is interesting ... but why does the author equate socially-conscious sci-fi with a dystopian point of view?

Prompted me to write a response ...

Posted by: Megan Dietz on 10 Jul 08



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