Archive for October, 2008

NaNoWriMo Eve

Today is October 31. In addition to being All Hallows Eve, it’s also NaNoWriMo eve.

National Novel Writing Month is an annual mass hallucination, where hundreds of thousands of writers around the globe convince themselves that they should jump off a cliff can write a novel in a month.

The idea is to promote enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft. Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces me to lower my expectations, take risks and write on the fly.

I completed the challenge last year, and honestly had a total blast doing so. My novel was not so great, in fact, it had a couple of fatal flaws. I learned a lot about the writing process, and at approximately 56,000 words it was the longest work I’d ever actually finished.

I’m doing it again this year – unfortunately, with less advance research and planning than I’d prefer. I guess that means my work will be spontaneous and creative. Yeah, that’s the ticket. I do know that it will be about:

  • A really big volcano
  • Alternate history
  • Escape fantasy
  • Native American volcano legend
  • Ghosts
  • Geoarchaeology
  • And did I mention a volcano?

I’m really looking forward to diving in and writing. I may post one or two excerpts here if I like a piece really well.

This does mean that blogging will be light for the month of November, as I’ll be frantically writing my 1,667 words per day offline. Please be patient with me!

Posted on Friday, October 31st, 2008 by Jeri
Under: writing | 8 Comments »

Hacking the Body

Yesterday, author and prominent blogger John Scalzi posted a picture of himself with “noted body hacker Quinn Norton“.

OK, I’ll take the bait. I’m forty-something, I don’t really sit at the cool kids’ table, and I hadn’t a clue what body hacking is, so I looked it up. Norton, who has some pretty fascinating videos and slideshows online illuminating the subject, defines it as:

Acting on yourself, with or without assistance, to enhance the function of your body or your perceptions. Body hacking is, like all other forms of hacking, ultimately a form of violation: the freedom to enact your will upon a system.

Certainly, there are endless variations on visibly obvious body hacks, like piercing, tattooing, scarification and other more extreme physical modifications. While a few of these may serve a functional purpose, most are primarily cosmetic in nature.

I’m more interested in the concept of functional body hacking, primarily in the field of biomedicine, biotechnology, rather than pharmaceuticals which are an entirely different realm.

Remedial Care and Health Benefits
First, there are many biomedical changes that our current technology allows us to make to the human body that serve a remedial purpose. These are almost universally perceived to be beneficient. Advances like the pacemaker, the insulin pump, the cochlear implant for the hearing impaired, even laser eye surgery all provide improved longevity and quality of life for many patients.

There are also other biomedical advances that are not strictly remedial, but provide significant health benefits to those who can afford them. The IUD is an example of a physically implanted, long term birth control device. Weight loss surgery is another type of body modification, admittedly risky, that has improved health and quality of life for some patients.

A second class of body hack would include enhancements to look or physical function. This would include breast augmentation or reduction, hair implants or removal, bone lengthening or shaping, etc. Many legal and illegal pharmaceutical hacks fall into this category: ADHD medications for adult patients, steroids or HGH for muscle growth, etc.

Expanding the Frontier
The most intriguing area of body hacking, though, takes place in the new frontier, the blurry area between science fact and science fiction that has not been well mapped by humans. These frontiers are only intermittently being expanded because there are grave ethical issues surrounding experimentation on human subjects.

Quinn Norton, herself, set herself up as subject for one such hack. She had a rare earth magnet implanted in her fingertip. This seemed rather minor to me, but over time it gave her a sixth sense, a finger that felt electromagnetic fields along with the normal sense of touch, making her sensitive to electrical fields, computer hard drives, and other magnetic fields.

The Digital Tattoo Interface is a a subcutaneously implanted touch-screen, connected via bluetooth and powered by blood, that operates as a cell phone display. Can a working prototype of a dental implant cell phone, spoofed a few years ago as an April Fools’ joke, be far behind?

The FDA approved implantation of RFID chips in humans in 2004. RFID technology is amusing to write about, as it is fascinating bait for conspiracy theorists and privacy fanatics. These implants are currently being marketed as medical lifesaving devices, storing lifesaving emergency medical information, but the possibility for more widespread application is huge and more than a little scary.

What’s Next

Science fiction authors speculate about many near and far future possibilities, including but not limited to:

  • Complete body transformations, including the ability to survive hostile environments.
  • Removal of the need to sleep. Or eat.
  • Mechanical organ replacement with re-engineered organs designed for increased longevity. Or efficiency.
  • Ex utero fertilization and pregnancy. Parthenogenetic reproduction.
  • Direct brain data uplinks with augmented brain storage space and retrieval.
  • Data-link enabled telepathy.
  • Human consciousness upload – to a cyborg body, or to a network.

The body hacking movement has adopted MakeZine’s owner’s manifesto: if you can’t open it, you don’t own it. Are there any body hacks you’d consider, or is your body a temple, something you’re not interested in altering or enhancing?

Posted on Wednesday, October 29th, 2008 by Jeri
Under: technology | 15 Comments »

Ghosts & Ghouls!

If you aren’t playing Manic Monday over at Crystal’s Aff the Fang, you should be – she comes up with great ideas.

This week, her challenge was to come up with a creative representation of your own ghost.

My first thought was to screen print my computer’s routing table. That would be all too poetic – my daily existence as represented by IP addresses sent wirelessly through the ether. There are probably security issues there, plus it’s not a very visually compelling picture.

So I got out the Photoshop and played, and voila – my ghost, haunting Yellowstone.

Jeri Ghost

Image notes: I cut an image of myself out of a picture using the polygon select tool, feathered 5px. I inverted it, added a 30px outside glow, and reduced the layer to 60% opacity.

I then layered the waterfall image behind, selected solarize on that layer, set lighting to ‘difference’ for dark and contrasty but not too busy.

Happy Halloween!

Posted on Monday, October 27th, 2008 by Jeri
Under: Uncategorized | Comments Off

Airport X-Ray Scanners

Full body x-ray scanners are being installed and tested this fall at airports across the US, as well as London and Australia, raise privacy issues. A sample image is at right. Some privacy advocates say the technology amounts to a virtual strip search and object to the technology.

US airports installing the technology include:

Chicago O’Hare
Las Vegas
Los Angeles
New York Kennedy
New York LaGuardia
San Francisco
San Juan
Washington Reagan

TSA’s web site indicates that the technology will be used initially as a secondary screening measure, meaning that only those passengers who first fail the standard screening process will be directed to the X-ray area. Even then, passengers will have the option of choosing the backscatter or a traditional pat-down search.

The security agency says the machines will be effective in helping detect plastic or liquid explosives and other non-metallic weapons that can be missed by standard metal detectors.

The TSA indicates the X-ray scanning systems will be set up so that the image can be viewed only by a security officer in a remote location. Other passengers, and even the agent at the checkpoint, will not have access to the picture. TSA states that the agency will delete the raw images, but there is no law or regulation that prevents the agency from saving the original, detailed images.

Critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), say the machine constitutes an invasion of privacy as it can display graphic images of nude bodies and its use could pave the way to widespread abuse of the images taken.

In addition, enthusiasts for this technology are already talking about extending its use to other venues where screening might be desirable – subways, buses, federal/state buildings, even colleges and schools. The spread of this technology raises many additional concerns.

Personally, I dislike the technology and object to the invasion of my privacy. I feel that we’ve badly warped the “innocent until proven guilty” premise of our investigative and legal system and we treat everyone, equally, as criminals and terrorists.

I fly frequently, but I do not want to volunteer for an x-ray scan any more than I want my underwires groped or a latex-snapping strip search.

If we allow our fear to turn our airports and cities and into an armed police zone without privacy or freedom, then the terrorists have won and Big Brother is here.

Posted on Saturday, October 25th, 2008 by Jeri
Under: travel | 14 Comments »

Interesting Platform

It’s too bad I no longer live in Alaska, because I’d really enjoy the opportunity to vote in this particular State House race.

I’m not sure AIP candidate DeNardo, running on an anti-communist platform, lives in the same Alaska that my friends & colleagues do. I think it’s some sort of alternate history version of the state.

Posted on Friday, October 24th, 2008 by Jeri
Under: Politics | 16 Comments »