Reading the “Alien” Trilogy (2014) and Reflecting on a Dystopian Science, Part 2

No science is immune to the infection of politics and the corruption of power. Jacob Bronowski

 

Book cover showing an alien xenomorph queen
The book “Alien: River of Pain” (2014).

In Part 1 the question was asked about how the system of Science could become dystopian? We looked at one way that that could occur through capture by corporations and interest groups. In Part 2, we examine how a corrupt system can infect the scientists and science that they carry out.


Dr. Batholomew Reese was in charge of the small scientific and medical team for Hadley’s Hope, a “shake-and-bake” terraforming colony on the planetoid Acheron – formerly known as LV-426. As he was enjoying some evening alone time in his quarters, a soft but persistent chime from the door interrupted him. It was his associate, Dr Mori, who was grinning ear-to-ear, which caused Bartholomew to exclaim: “you look a giddy and lovestruck teen.” Dr Mori excitedly replied: “it may be the answer to the Nostromo mystery.” What had excited Mori so much was that an executive from Weyland-Yutani company had just sent to the Colony Administrator, and to Drs Reese and Mori, a communication that included the grid coordinates for a site that should be investigated “immediately.”

Continue reading “Reading the “Alien” Trilogy (2014) and Reflecting on a Dystopian Science, Part 2″

Reading the “Alien” Trilogy (2014) and Reflecting on a Dystopian Science, Part 1

This is an example of a style of writing that I’ve been developing for communicating popular science at my blog,

Out-of-the-shadowsAllan Decker had a secret. His father had told him to: “hold it tight inside you.” You see, Decker and his father were empaths that could feel the emotions of others around them. He had hidden his talent over his career with the Interstellar Commerce Commission  (ICC), where he was a Deputy Commissioner. But on this day, in the latter part of 2496, on the newly terraformed planet New Galveston, formerly the desolate and barren LV-178, his anonymity would be uncovered and his secret revealed.

The paragraph above is my summary of how Alien: Sea of Sorrows begins. I’ll return to fill you in with rest once I’ve introduced the other novels in the trilogy. I will also attempt to answer the question of how it all relates to dystopian science.

The Alien Trilogy

Now that I’ve finished reading the Coyote trilogy, I’m eagerly awaiting the concluding novel in Cassandra Clare’s Dark Artifices series (Queen of Air and Darkness) and I’m awaiting the final instalment of James S. A. Corey’s The Expanse series (Tiamat’s Wrath), originally due December, now due March 2019.

Continue reading “Reading the “Alien” Trilogy (2014) and Reflecting on a Dystopian Science, Part 1″

Science Advisor to President Trump

Kelvin DrogemeierThe Man

I’ve been interested in who would fill the position of Science Advisor to Donald Trump since I posted this article (on LinkedIn) a year ago. Kelvin K. Droegemeier (pictured [1]) was confirmed by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee to be the Head of the OSTP. However, he still has one final hurdle of approval by the full Senate to overcome later in the year. I’ve been reading about him, his scientific background, his career, and religious convictions. He reminds me a lot of my late father-in-law, both in the resemblance of his photograph and in aspects of his character. I’m hopeful that he just might be the voice of reason in that America needs in the White House right now. I’ll tell you why later in this article. Continue reading “Science Advisor to President Trump”

Reading and Reflecting, Again

Back on Coyote

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Coyote Frontier by Allen Steele from Goodreads

I blogged, previously, about reading the Scifi novel Coyote by Allen Steele (2002). I’ve now finished reading the full trilogy: Coyote, Coyote Rising, and Coyote Frontier, of which I enjoyed Coyote Frontier the most, the characters came to life most in that volume, and it presents an intriguing dilemma which had me avidly reading to find out how it would be resolved.  The spacecraft EASS Columbus arrives at Coyote with stargate technology that allows traveling through a wormhole to a similar stargate at a Lagrange-point in the Luna orbit of the Earth. The colonists of Coyote now have access to Earth in the several hours that it takes to travel to and from the stargates, rather than several decades, at sublight speeds through normal space. Of course, Earthers have the same rapid access to Coyote.

Dilemma

The dilemma can be framed this way: if Earth had access to another unspoiled planet, that could sustain humans and had plentiful natural resources, what would we do? Would we allow all those that who could afford to migrate to do so? Potentially millions of people. Would we consume all the natural resources from the new planet and export our polluting industries away from earth to there? This dilemma reminded me of the parable of the bacteria in the test-tube that appears to have originated with David Suzuki in his Canadian TV shows in the 1970’s. It has become embodied in much of his life and work ever since (see the YouTube video next).
Continue reading “Reading and Reflecting, Again”

Reading and Reflecting

Reading the sci-fi novel Coyote by Allen Steele (2002), reflecting on the political turmoil in Australia, last week, and wishfully thinking about escaping it all to the Ursa Majoris star system.

Reading

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Coyote by Allen Steele from Goodreads

I’ve recently started reading the interstellar colonization novel Coyote by Allen Steele (2002). I found it a bit difficult to get into initially, given that my previous reading (also TV series watching) had been The Expanse series which is more action-packed from the very first pages of Leviathan Wakes  (book 1). But I’m now appreciating that the Coyote series is written as fictional history, starting from a beginning point and moving forward in a linear fashion from that. Actually, now that I’ve spent the effort to get into the Coyote universe it’s becoming a most enjoyable experience.

Coyote is the destination for interstellar settlement of the Ursae Majoris system, some 46 light years from Earth. Coyote is a moon of the gas-giant planet Bear. The planets and moons of the Ursae Majoris system are named after native-American mythological icons. Coyote is smaller than Earth, but larger than Mars and has a slightly lower gravity and surface air pressure. Being a moon of a gas giant, the seasons on Coyote is more complex than on Earth, so much so as to require that the colonists invent an entirely new calendar system. Coyote and The Expanse novels both have a similar approach to the way that scientific realism is built into their respective fictional universes.

Reflection

Many of the colonists to Coyote are escaping a highly-conservative and repressive regime on Earth, called the United States Republic (USR) after a second American revolution. I’m not suggesting that political revolution is likely in Australia (or America) anytime soon, But given the political events in Australia of the week starting 19th August, originating from conservative disquiet in the Australian Liberal party and leading to the downfall of a Prime Minister, I couldn’t help but reflect on the fictional events in Coyote and the actual events being played out in Canberra.

How could a modern liberal society, like Australia or the United States turn into a right-wing authoritarian regime, like that depicted in the Coyote novels, or like that seen in numerous other places on Earth, both currently and in the past?

Continue reading “Reading and Reflecting”

Job Loss and Sense of Purpose

Me-1I write this in response to an article in the Brisbane Times online today: “Losing my job helped me find a sense of purpose” by Jo Stanley. Having lost my job* in the last 18 months I can sympathize. Losing a long-term job or a breakup after a long-term relationship are two of the most dispiriting experiences that you are likely to go through. You lose an anchor in your life and the knock to your confidence can easily lead you into depression and a downward spiral – no matter how much you thought you were ready for it. Particularly, in my case where I had been working in the same university teaching-research position for 28 years. Loyalty is no longer an asset, indeed it can paint a target on your back, as many people will attest to. Universities are no longer an ivory tower (if they ever were) and are rapidly catching up to being as cutthroat a working environment as anywhere in the private sector.

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The Unfairness of Measuring Teaching Performance

I write this in response to an article in the Brisbane Times online today: “‘This woman is so old’: Insults hurled at academics spur survey rethink” by Henrietta Cook. This comment posted in anonymous student feedback to Sydney academic Dr. Teena Clerke. These surveys are used by universities to measure the quality of teaching in its programs.

There is no question that universities need to maintain quality teaching but there is a problem with teachers being subjected to abuse under any guise as pointed out in the cited article above. What’s more, such measures are increasingly being used to judge not only the quality of university teaching programs but also the performance of teachers and to help decide questions of whether a given academic should be re-hired, promoted or fired.

While most institutions try to take a balanced view of survey data, in regard to staff management, it potentially opens a pandora’s box of for abusive behavior, gender and racial discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment to be perpetrated by pernicious managers and supervisors (or even students against teachers). So we need assurances that the benefits of such schemes outweigh the potential risks for abuse, however isolated and infrequent such instances might be.

The recent book “The Tyranny of Metrics” by academic Jerry Muller (2018) handles these issues in a more comprehensive manner than I can do here. What I have seen over my 28 years in academia is that teaching evaluation started out as a survey consisting of 10, or so, questions plus room for comments. They were handled by teachers on a class-by-class basis and returned in a sealed envelope to the university by an appointed student.

Typically, the academic could select one or more of the survey questions from a suite of optional questions, in addition, to standardized questions. I illustrate this with my own SET (student evaluation of teaching) results from October 1998 and the Insight evaluation report from June 2015, from the same institution and from the same unit of teaching, Instrumental Analysis:

The evaluation instrument on the LHS above is for October 1998 and on the RHS for June 2015. Click on the thumbnail to enlarge the image.

Continue reading “The Unfairness of Measuring Teaching Performance”

An Epiphany, or Two, of Sorts

The conversion of St Paul, artwork by Luca Giordiano.
The Conversion of Saint Paul by Luca Giordano (1690), Museum of Fine Arts of Nancy.

Has anyone else noticed that nobody really has ideas anymore? It somehow seems too pedestrian to have a mere “idea” when you can have an “epiphany” instead. I heard this on Breakfast TV this last week: “you know I’ve had an epiphany, of sorts.”  Was that you Karl Stefanovic? But epiphany on its own seems too grandiose, so as if to compensate, you add the comma and “of sorts” as an afterthought. Curious! But I caught myself saying the same thing this morning.

You see I’ve had an “epiphany, of sorts” as well. My “new” Chromebook reminded me of an “epiphany, of sorts” that I had way back, in around 2006, about Personal Learning Environments (PLEs). I’ve just connected this epiphany with a new “epiphany, of sorts” that I had this morning, about how great Chromebooks would be for personalized education. OK, this is getting ridiculous, I’ll just go back to having ideas from this point. Certainly, there was no heavenly trumpet or the presence of angels associated with having the idea. But I did have that ah-ha! experience of connecting ideas over 12-years apart.

Continue reading “An Epiphany, or Two, of Sorts”

So now I have a Chromebook

Chromebook

So now I have a Chromebook clone from my revived Kogan Atlas X14FHD, what can I do with it? One reason for using CloudReady Chrome OS was that I was finding that my Ubuntu 18.04 notebook was not connecting at all to the wifi in a hotel I stayed at. Although based upon Gentoo Linux itself, my “new” Chromebook seems to be much more reliable with captive portal wifi connections than does native Linux: on about par with my ASUS Windows 10 notebook.

My main motivation in using a Chromebook was to find a less distracting, more mobile and productive environment, for writing and blogging. This proposition is, at least for me, confirmed: my 14-inch notebook Kogan is far easier to lug around with me than my 15.6-inch ASUS notebook, for writing and notetaking. there’s no loss of system responsivity.

As an extra bonus, I’m finding better battery life since switching to CloudReady Chrome OS Although the replacement of the HDD with an SSD would have helped a little too, my battery life with Chrome OS was about 2-3 hrs. With Windows 10 on the same system, the battery life was more like 1½ hours.

Chromebooks and Microsoft

Although Microsoft has improved things somewhat, Windows 10 systems are notorious for taking hogging your bandwidth to download 4 GB of updates and then taking over your entire system for hours on end while those files are installed. By way of contrast,  Chrome OS updates itself in minutes, the bandwidth footprint is tiny, the updates are installed as they are downloaded into a special account area. The next time you reboot, your updates are ready to go. This is as it should be: updates from Microsoft are no reason for you to lose productivity.

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The Chromium file manager showing how cloud-based files on Box can be managed similarly to that for Google Drive using the Box add-on (see discussion).

Continue reading “So now I have a Chromebook”

Back from the Dead (part 2)

This continues from my previous article about reviving my thought-to-be-dead Kogan laptop so I could take advantage of its FHD (1920×1080 px) display, have a less-distracting environment for getting writing done, and be able to try out a Chromebook-like notebook with CloudReady Chromium OS by Neverware.  One issue with a cheap Kogan notebook is the paper-thin stack of documentation supplied by the manufacturer, either in the box or online. Not surprisingly, I couldn’t locate anything remotely like a service manual: the logic, apparently, is: “why would you want to repair this?” Just junk it and buy another. As market logic: yes, it makes sense, I spent less than $400 AUD on it. As planet logic: a big fail for sustainability.

Continue reading “Back from the Dead (part 2)”