Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Review of Resistance

Resistance by David F. Weisman


I have read too many sci-fi novels since grade school, and I can't say that I remember any of them focusing on what Weisman has focused on in Resistance (formerly called Absoprtion). I cut my sci-fi teeth on Heinlein, Bova and Bradbury and found my "thrill" with Asimov, etc. But what Weisman has attempted with this novel is unique to say the least.

Resistance is a sci-fi "concept" novel that is set not too far into the future. Humans of Earth have figured out how to build massive space vehicles and have ventured light-years away into the galaxy. On one planet, named Oceania, settlers have learned to not only communicate with a being they refer to as the Overmind (which is also referred to as the super-mind, etc.) but to participate in a collective of shared neurons, so to speak. This collective consciousness allows even certain Oceania inhabitants to develop scientific advancements that far exceed those developed by non-Oceania humans. The novel's main character, Brett Johnson, early in his military medical career, is sent to a Federation colony called Roundhouse where he is to investigate and tend to the survivors of a massacre there that has been attributed to members of this collective consciousness or "hive mind." Ten years later, Brett is sent as part of a peace excursion to help convince Oceania to give up much of their hive-mind activities or suffer the catastrophic consequences.

The relationship that develops between Brett and Ariel, one of the ladies of Oceania, gives the novel a gritty and fairly-entertaining romantic feel; the only real "action" between at least two characters in Absorption occurs in their love scenes. Yes, that is how it is: this novel is definitely NOT a man vs. alien, man vs. cyborg, or even man vs. himself piece of fiction. Resistance is an analysis constructed through a copious amount of dialogue with a smattering of conceptual narration. The strongest (if that's the best word) narratiive sequences in the novel are located in its final third. As another reviewer mentioned, even though Resistance presents something akin to Star Trek's "the Borg", the novel only delivers an interesting perspective on the concept of a "collective consciousness" without any of the gory action/battle sequences.

Even though the storyline is presented via a third-person omniscent narrative style, it feels like the only "mind" the reader has has access to is Brett's. Brett Johnson, his thoughts, his actions, his faults/weaknesses, and even his lusts are on every page of the novel. If the reader does not become an expert in who Brett Johnson is by the end of Resistance, they have not been paying attention. To put if simply, Resistance is about Brett Johnson's coming to terms with not only his painful past but also with what could be his prosperous future.

I could go into how Brett chooses to learn more than he wants to learn about the "hive-mind," but this would be adding more spoilers than I should. By the way, a few other reviewers have already written about this :)

Friday, July 20, 2012

Adding Lasers to Predators? Oh My!

Another article directly related to UAVs appeared on my computer screen this afternoon. What's the gist of this article? The US Air Force will be attaching lasers to Predator drones, like the ones being used currently in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and will be  "testing" these laser-weapons over the skies of North Dakota. So what's the problem? Even though the flightpaths over the Dakotas is nothing like those over larger metropolitan areas, US airlines are concerned about the negative effects these "tests" might have on their pilots. Laser-equipped drones

So would this guy be even more-intimidating if it sported a nifty red laser?

Since I'm still quite interested in how UAVs are -- and more than likely will be -- utilized here in the US, last week I decided to focus my interest on how UAVs might be deployed here in MidMO. But who am I when it comes to writing about such things? The answer is "just another concerned US taxpayer," that's who! And so, I have exercised my "freedom" as a hard-working taxpayer to vie for the attention of a few of our public servants, specifically Col. Ron Replogle, head of Missouri's highway patrol, Cole County Sheriff Greg White, and Maries County Officer Mike Bonham who is also a candidate for Osage County sheriff.

As I communicated in my previous UAV posts, local law enforcement agencies should be closely-monitored as they begin, or continue, to use UAVs. All three of these men agreed with me on that point.

Officer Bonham specified that UAVs should be used for "rescue, (a) fleeing felon, drug eradication and (a) known armed suspect but not for day-to-day use of keeping tabs on suspects." He then added that the latter "would be unconstitutional." Sheriff White stressed that MidMO "is not a war zone" and therefore UAVs, at least the kinds that are being used in Afghanistan, should not be deployed here. But he did add that non-military UAVs could be used in the pursuit of an escaped prisoner, for search and rescue, and for fuel pipeline emergencies. Col. Replogle communicated that the MO Highway Patrol is fully-supplied with the more-traditional methods of aerial reconnissance, i.e. helicopters, and then said that he does not feel his agency would pursue acquiring UAVs in the immediate future.

I am satisfied that these members of local law enforcement and I agree on this major point: UAVs should not be used here in MidMO in the ways they are being used in the Middle East. But since MidMO is currently plagued by a methamphetamine problem, "wouldn't it be nice" (to quote that wonderful Beach Boys song!) to see how a few small, quiet and nondescript remote-controlled flying vehicles could be used to help correct this problem? But the ramifications of deploying them currently outweigh any proposed benefits compared to the technologies already in place.

But what if someone were to offer a handful of "robocopters" that were effectively equipped with highly-sensitive cameras to the agencies these men work for? Even when none of these men would actively pursue acquiring the machines?

Officer Bonham said "I would not be interested because of the stings that would be attached. In past experiences, these types of tests come with hidden costs that are too high to pay. Nothing is for free." Col. Replogle would be concerned that agitators on the ground would try to "jam" the communications between the authorized operators of the vehicles and the UAVs in question and therefore these jammings would pose a threat to public safety. He feels that the MO Highway Patrol's current stable of aerial vehicles is more than sufficient for accomplishing what he wants them to accomplish. But Sheriff White said that if UAVs were offered to his departmnent, he would accept them as long as the funds for them were already allocated.

Another concern I have is how the Intrawebz are packed with information for constructing and operating UAVs. And one website that continues to raise my dander as it continues to receive a supertanker-ful of traffic is diydrones.com

Officer Bonham believes that "technology is a wonderful thing when used in a lawful way and for personal use. The problem comes in when technology is used to harm others.... The right to privacy is a right I'm not ready to give up."

The talk in MidMO, even in the MFA at Freeburg, is that drones should be used to track down meth labs that have been set up in hard-to-reach places. So, after talking with these long-standing members of Missouri's law enforcement agencies, the fine people of Missouri are very blessed: as long as people like Col. Replogle, Sheriff White and Officer Bonham are in charge, we should not concern ourselves with the flagrant misuse of unmanned aerial vehicles here in MidMO.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Little Rain... and a Teaser!

At 3PM today, thunder could easily be heard in the Jeff City area. And the temperature was 105. An hour later, nearly .1 inch of rain had fallen (a good start!) and the temperature had receeded to a mere 84.

More rain is predicted all day tomorrow! Woot!

And to celebrate the cooler temps and the RAIN! Here's another teaser from Lycentia: Harrak's Scrolls!

So, as Galena began to mix up the batter, Patrik thought of something to talk about to insure that she would not ask him about the dream.
“When your mother and I,,,” He paused to wait for her reaction. “ When we began to talk seriously about our relationship.” But she continued humming one of those childhood tunes as she stirred the batter, “Please feel free to stop me if you've heard this already. For the life of me, I cannot remember if I have ever told you about this before,” he added.
“Relationship? Between you and mother?” she asked.
“Yes, your mother and I... well... for the most part... even though she was just about the prettiest girl in Noran at the time... I can't say that I had much interest in her. That is...,” he paused again, anticipating that she would interrupt. “Until that day she came to the house delivering that wonderfully hot soup and freshly-baked black-bean bread. It was then that I realized I had some... feelings... for her. But I wasn't... I didn't know how... how to tell her I how I felt.” He stopped to watch as she tested the thickness of the batter and then sprinkled in a bit more flour. “A few days after I was feeling better, I even asked Pieter how I might tell her.”
“Uncle Pieter? What about Uncle Pieter?” she asked. It appeared that she was barely paying attention, so he determined to make the story more interesting.
“Yes, your Uncle Pieter,” he said. “He suggested – and you'll probably laugh when I tell you – that I sketch a portrait of her and then give it to her... what I had drawn... as a symbol of my affection.” Galena didn't laugh; she didn't even smile. But she did glance in his direction.
“So did you?” she asked.
“Did I what?”
“Father!” she exclaimed as she shook the batter-covered wooden spoon at him. “Did you give her what you had sketched?”
“No, I didn't. I drew nothing. At the time, I was very...” he struggled for the right words, “I was quite shy about my artwork and basically wasn't showing it to anyone except Mother... and whenever he pestered me about it... to Pieter. A few days after he shared his idea with me, he challenged me again to follow through with it. He was certain that once I showed her the evidence of my talent, she would fall in love with me.” He then scowled but only to emphasize the point of the story. “But I didn't do it.”
“Uncle Pieter wasn't serious,” Galena said with a smile. “He really didn't expect you to give her the portrait. He always was such a kidder, don't you know?”
“Yes, he surely was.” Patrik had to agree. “And then one day...  not too long after that... the two of us... Pieter and I... we went hunting.” The innkeeper didn't realize that this new topic was hardly related to the first, but that didn't hinder him from continuing. “We grabbed our bows and arrows and headed into the bean field east of town. We didn't have to wait long before a huge buck came within range. Oh, he was massive, I tell you! At least a 10-pointer, he was! I was certain that this was the beast that I had been scouting for more than a few years. Amazingly, he stopped not more than twenty yards from us. Oh yes, this was going to be the day! I quietly loaded the bow and pulled back on the string – ”
“And you shot him dead where he stood! Slam! Right into the heart!” she exclaimed. He was so startled by the excited interruption that he had to reconstruct his thoughts.
“No, not even close,” he mumbled. “Just as I was about to release, Pieter let loose with a scream that would rival the war-cry of a crazed Haarigoian axeman. And I never saw that buck again!”

Monday, July 2, 2012

Aerial Drones, Part II


Can you believe it?

 The FAA now claims frustration with the plethora 
of "unauthorized" drones available for purchase via the Intrawebz? 

A few weeks ago, I posted via the Betrovia blog my comments about law enforcement agencies here in the US using aerial drones, like the Predator that has been used in Iraq and Afghanistan for many years. When I posted those comments, I felt that law enforcement agencies should be severely restricted in their use of aerial drones. Basically, a sheriff's department should be required to procure a judge's warrant before being allowed to deploy a drone to "spy" on, for example, a suspected meth lab manager.

Since posting those comments, I have to say that I am even more opposed to law enforcement deploying drones even if a warrant has been given.

In 1997, Half-Life, the computer game, sucked away many precious hours of my free time (and even some hours that weren't actually "free"). And in 2004, Half-Life 2, its long-awaited sequel, was released. Much of that following summer and fall was devoted to sinking more time into the dystopic, alien-infested universe of Half-Life.

One of the more-interesting aspects of Half-Life 2 was the inclusion of aerial drones. Basically, there were two kinds/types of these flying robots in the game:

1. Flashers: annoying little machines that sported an extremely-bright strobe light with which to attempt to blind the player
2. Man Hacks - a more-insidious version of the flashers armed with a small blade which spun as the drone attempted to attack or "hack" the player

In every chapter of Half-Life 2, the player was forced to learn how to maneuver around flashers and man hacks. Successful progression through the game required mastering this skill.

Within the Half-Life universe, it is understood that the technology required for designing and building these drones came from an alien world. But because the technology is not that far from what is currently available to our military, someone playing Half-Life today would not have to suspend much -- if any -- disbelief to get sucked into that mesmerizing but highly-dangerous world.

So what do flashers and man hacks have to do with the aerial drones of 2012?

A quick Google search of the Intrawebz reveals that the technology behind the inner workings of aerial drones is not restricted to the militaries of the superpowers -- not in the least!

One website, diydrones.com, contains a wealth of information on how to design an aerial drone, how to acquire the hardware, and software, to build one, and even how to circumvent, legally or otherwise, law enforcement's attempts to curtail the utilization of such contraptions.

Today, July 2, the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International  published their "code of conduct" for the use of aerial drones. Here are a few highlights from that publication:

"We will not operate UAS in a manner that presents undue risk to persons or property on the surface or in the air.”
“We will establish contingency plans for all anticipated off‐nominal events and share them openly with all appropriate authorities.”
“We will establish contingency plans for all anticipated off‐nominal events and share them openly with all appropriate authorities.”

I enthusiastically applaud the AUVSI for their noble response to the unveiled threat to a free people's way of life.

But at the same time, I shudder to think of how closely current technology resembles what was only a computer game less than a decade ago.