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Talk about lateness. Did you hear that Frederik Pohl, the classic science fiction author, just got his high school diploma? Oh yeah, and he’s 89. Apparently, he never graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School, so now he’s been given “this bit of closure.” Pohl, who stands in the same league as Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, wrote his most recent novel — The Last Theorem — with Clarke himself.

I’ve been meaning to read the Grand Master Fred Pohl for quite some time, especially his most famous novel, Gateway, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. However, I have tasted bits and pieces of his short story collection Platinum Pohl when I find the time — and when I’m in the mood — to get into some quality short stories. I think the collection is just fantastic, ranging from the harsh and brutally realistic landscape of Venus for which he is most famous for in his “Heechee” stories to a society ruined by extreme class division to a socially responsible environment project in a near-future New York City.

It’s kind of funny to see a literary genius like Pohl get his high school diploma now, so late in his life, but I have to say — good for him.

 

The New York Times — August 22, 2009

“A Trip Through Time to Collect a Cherished Technite Document”

by Susan Dominus

Generally native to New York City, the Technites sound, from their name, as if they could be distant cousins of the Heechees, the star-traveling creatures that populate Frederik Pohl’s science fiction classic “Gateway,” as well as many of his other works.

Mr. Pohl, who is now 89, has never had personal contact with the Heechees outside the realm of his imagination, but for three years, some 75 years ago, he was briefly a full-blooded Technite: a student at Brooklyn Technical High School.

Mr. Pohl tested easily into Brooklyn Tech back when it was new. Then, sometime around his junior year, he hit a wall. “I largely stopped paying attention,” Mr. Pohl recalled by phone from his home outside Chicago. He failed two drawing classes, one of them twice, and a math class. His father and mother were divorcing at the time, which he thinks probably explains his troubles at school. “I can scarcely believe I was so dumb as that,” Mr. Pohl said.

He loved Brooklyn Tech — even now, he remembers fondly the name of the author of his industrial processes textbook, and the day that Alex Raymond, the creator of Flash Gordon, spoke to students. But he was discouraged …

article continued here.

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Check this out. It’s about the future of human-computer communication, and how the study of human neuroscience can help out. Plenty of science fiction stories about robots and artificial intelligence (AI) use neuroscience and biology as the basis for creating life-like (or actually sentient, AI) machines.

 

Scientific Blogging — August 14, 2009

“How Computers Will Learn to Listen”

A new mathematical model  could significantly improve the automatic recognition and processing of spoken language, meaning algorithms which imitate brain mechanisms could help machines to perceive the world around them.

Many people will have personal experience at how difficult it is for computers to deal with spoken language – people who “communicate” with automated telephone systems need a great deal of patience because if they speak just a little too quickly or slowly, or pronunciation isn’t clear, the system often fails to work properly.

The reason is that the computer programs that have been used rely on processes that are particularly sensitive to perturbations. When computers process language, they primarily attempt to recognise characteristic features in the frequencies of the voice in order to recognise words.

“It is likely that the brain uses a different process,” says Stefan Kiebel from the Leipzig Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences. The researcher presumes that the analysis of temporal sequences plays an important role in this. “Many perceptual stimuli in our environment could be described as temporal sequences.”

Music and spoken language, for example, are comprised of sequences of different length which are hierarchically ordered. According to the scientist’s hypothesis …

article continued here.

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Here’s a neat article about Internet freedom, its ability to foster political activism, and the governments who try to hold it down. It reminds me of Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother — how the protagonist uses the Internet as a tool to fight an Orwellian government which attempts to control the technology. In fact, the article even mentions the Tor software created by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (Doctorow’s main character used Tor in Little Brother, and Doctorow himself a former European director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation).

 

NewScientist — August 21, 2009

“Worldwide Battle for Control of the Internet: As dissidents exploit social networking sites to organise protests and get their messag eout, governments are searching for ways to clamp down”

by Jim Giles

WHEN thousands of protestors took to the streets in Iran following this year’s disputed presidential election, Twitter messages sent by activists let the world know about the brutal policing that followed. A few months earlier, campaigners in Moldova used Facebook to organise protests against the country’s communist government, and elsewhere too the internet is playing an increasing role in political dissent.

Now governments are trying to regain control. By reinforcing their efforts to monitor activity online, they hope to deprive dissenters of information and the ability to communicate.

The latest evidence of these clampdowns comes in a report on the Middle East and north Africa by the OpenNet Initiative (ONI), a collaboration of researchers based in the UK and North America. Among the restrictions it reports are clampdowns on Facebook in Syria and the use of hidden cameras in Saudi Arabia’s internet cafes.

Most of these actions are aimed at stifling political debate. “Political filtering is the common denominator,” says Helmi Noman of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society in Boston, who compiled the report. “It’s the main target.”

Noman asked volunteers to check whether roughly 2000 sites covering a range of subjects, including gambling, political news and humour …

article continued here.

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In my previous post, I emphasized a funny quote from Cory Doctorow’s short story “The Right Book”: “No one could have predicted how well books and halal fried chicken went together.” So I think this is a good opportunity for me to talk about halal fried chicken — or halal in general, at least.

Curiously enough, last night hosted multiple coincidences. Not only did I discover that Cory Doctorow also wrote a story about the future of literature (as I’d done with “After the Age of Giant Sundials”), but his story mentioned — briefly, of course — halal. As it happens, I watched the reading of “The Right Book” just after hearing my dad deliver a speech about halal foods and socially conscious business.

He talked about a bunch of stuff — how he used “guerilla tactics” to start up a business from almost nothing, how to give back to the community, how to make sure your employees get paid right, how religious Sharia business rules stick so well with the socially conscious model. Most importantly, he talked about the halal/organic food business. There’s a strong demand for organic, quality halal food among American Muslims.

But the biggest idea is that even non-Muslims will go for halal. My dad assured his audience — the Muslim Business Alliance of Connecticut — that halal is a huge opportunity for anyone going into business, not just in financial terms but also in moral and spiritual terms. He and many others who are involved with halal business see that non-Muslims will jump for ethnic halal foods and will be attracted to the fact that halal regulations demand the humane treatment of animals.

This also opens the doors to interfaith work and eliminates Islamophobia. In other words, when people find plenty of halal food — good halal food —  in their grocery stores, then they connect it to Muslims. Opinions just might change. My dad is also helping start “Profits for Peace,” meant to establish relations between people of different religions.

A lot of times people — including myself — tend to complain about the serious issues we might see around us, but we never talk about the solutions because either it’s too hard to think about solving problems or we don’t even think about thinking about solving problems. Sometimes I try to excuse myself by saying that if I write about a problem, then other people are the ones who should figure out how to do the mending. But that’s not the case. As a writer, if you reveal an unsettling conflict, then you better think about how to fix it up. In my post “Why Cory Doctorow is ‘The Man'” I mentioned the elimination of the mental divide between East and West via “a wrinkle in time” — the web. Halal business is just as valid a method — it reaches out not only to Muslims, but to everyone else as well. Food, as a representation of culture, is a great way to unify people of different races, ethnicities, religions, and nationalities.

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At the WorldCon science fiction/fantasy convention in Montréal, Quebec, the Hugo Awards for best sf/f novel, short story, novella, etc, have been announced. I’m really bummed right now, because I was hoping that Cory Doctorow–one of my favorite SF authors–would win a Hugo after he was nominated twice — for Best Novel for Little Brother and for Best Short Story for “True Names” with Benjamin Rosenbaum. I’ll admit I haven’t gotten a chance to read “True Names” yet (although I’ve been planning to for a while), but I think Doctorow is just the man, so I would root for him regardless…. Unfortunately, my hopes have died.

Here are the 2009 Hugo Award Winners:

  • Best Novel: The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins; Bloomsbury UK)
  • Best Novella: “The Erdmann Nexus”, Nancy Kress (Asimov’s Oct/Nov 2008)
  • Best Novelette: “Shoggoths in Bloom”, Elizabeth Bear (Asimov’s Mar 2008)
  • Best Short Story: “Exhalation”, Ted Chiang (Eclipse Two)
  • Best Related Book: Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: A Decade of Whatever, 1998-2008, John Scalzi (Subterranean Press)
  • Best Graphic Story: Girl Genius, Volume 8: Agatha Heterodyne and the Chapel of Bones, Written by Kaja & Phil Foglio, art by Phil Foglio, colors by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
  • Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: WALL-E Andrew Stanton & Pete Docter, story; Andrew Stanton & Jim Reardon, screenplay; Andrew Stanton, director (Pixar/Walt Disney)
  • Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Joss Whedon, & Zack Whedon, & Jed Whedon, & Maurissa Tancharoen, writers; Joss Whedon, director (Mutant Enemy)
  • Best Editor Short Form: Ellen Datlow
  • Best Editor Long Form: David G. Hartwell
  • Best Professional Artist: Donato Giancola
  • Best Semiprozine: Weird Tales, edited by Ann VanderMeer & Stephen H. Segal
  • Best Fan Writer: Cheryl Morgan
  • Best Fanzine: Electric Velocipede edited by John Klima
  • Best Fan Artist: Frank Wu

And the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (presented by Dell Magazines): David Anthony Durham

Check out the link for the 2009 Hugo Award Winners, or you can look at the 2009 Hugo Award nominees.

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Taking a Break

This past week I have been in South Carolina at Myrtle Beach, recouping from a crazy summer filled with college mania. The beach was very relaxing and it was relatively empty, which was great. We went on this amazing boat ride called Hurricane Fleet. It was a scene straight from Finding Nemo: as the shrimp boat in front of us pulled up the net, about 200 seagulls swarmed the boat along with dolphins and a lot of other ocean wildlife. It was a very unique experience and one I highly recommend. You should be warned that the boat can get some rough waves, so if you get sea sick easily you may want to consider other forms of entertainment such as a show. We went to the Palace Theater on Broadway on the Beach and saw Le Grande Cirque show. The show was not too expensive and was very well done, although it was not an original Cirque Du Soleil show. The acrobats were astounding. Not only did South Carolina have a great scene off the beach, but the beaches themselves were very nice too. It was clean and my sisters felt okay walking around by themselves. All in all the trip was very relaxing and I highly recommend travelling to Myrtle Beach to unwind before school starts!

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