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Updated: 2 hours 38 min ago

How Tech Helps the Blind

Thu, 08/27/2015 - 19:34

Years ago, I remember when the Sault Public Library got a Kurzweil reading machine for use by the blind. It cost about $50,000. Now, your smartphone can do the same thing. Assistive tech for the blind and visually impaired is advancing rapidly and there are exciting new development. This CitiLab article is a good overview of the subject.

Many features of a standard iPhone become immediately accessible to visually impaired users who turn on the (more)

A True Visionary

Wed, 08/26/2015 - 05:21

Fifty years ago Ted Nelson coined the term “hypertext”. In the modern Internet era, that may not seem like much, but remember that when he wrote his seminal paper there was no Internaet, there were no personal computers or smartphones with touch screens, and computer terminals used 80 character wide green text displays. In many respects, his vision of 50 years ago is still to be realized.

Gigaom has a long interview with Nelson. It’s a must re (more)

200 Years Ago a Volcano Changed the World

Tue, 08/25/2015 - 05:43

Two hundred years ago, in April 2015, the Indonesian volcano Tambora erupted with a force 100 times greater than Mount St. Helens, ten times more than Pinatubo – the largest modern eruption. The eruption created a cloud of ash and volcanic aerosols that disrupted the world’s climate leading to famine and outbreaks of disease across Asia, Europe, and North America. All of this is documented in detail in Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World, by Gillen D’Arcy Wood, a book that I’ve just finished reading and can recommend highly. The (more)

27 Science Feeds to Follow

Mon, 08/24/2015 - 05:33

It’s hard keeping up with developments in science. Not only is there so much going on that no one person could possibly follow everything, but it’s hard to separate the wheat from the chaff – the Internet’s signal to noise ratio is pretty low.  The folks at Wired have helped by putting together a list of 27 feeds (web sites and blogs, podcasts, and Twitter) that covers wide areas of science. There are names you will recognize (Chris Hadfield, Neal DeGrasse Tyson) and many you probabl (more)

The 2015 Hugo Awards

Sun, 08/23/2015 - 09:41

The 2015 Hugo Awards were announced last night at Sasquan, the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention. As I expected, No Award featured prominently in this year’s awards. These are the fiction awards:

  • Best Novel: Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translation by Ken Liu (Tor Books).
  • Best Novella: No Award
  • Best Novellette: “The Day The World Turned Upside Down” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, translation by Lia Belt in Lightspeed Magazine, April 2014
  • Best Short St (more)

The Zine Artists

Sat, 08/22/2015 - 17:08

SF fanzines have been around for years, pretty much as long as SF magazines, going back to the 1930s. And art has been an important part of the fanzine experience. Now there’s a site that has galleries of many SF fanzine artists. From Taral Wayne’s introduction to The Zine Artists:

When I was asked to write an introduction for this site, I considered two important issues:  did I have anything of value to say about the subject, and what sort of nonsense would someone else have to say about it if I refused?  I’ll let the r (more)

Fall SF Movie Guide

Thu, 08/20/2015 - 18:47

io9 has published their guide to fall SF and fantasy films (with a few disaster and hard to classify flicks thrown in for good measure). The biggies will be The Martian, which based on the trailers looks like it could be great, and the n5ext Star Wars movie, w4hich probably won’t be but everyone will go to see it anyway because, well you know.

I am more interested in the TV series that are coming out – in particular The Expanse, Childhood’s End, and The Man in the High Cas (more)

Go to Your Last Editing Location in Word

Wed, 08/19/2015 - 18:35

Microsoft Word has a keyboard shortcut that returns you to the last point where you edited a document. This is handy when you’ve just opened a document and don’t remember exactly where you left off or are working on a large document that would take time to scroll or page through.

Just press SHIFT-F5.

If you use this keyboard shortcut while you are working on a document, it cycles through the last four places that you edited.

If you use this feature a lot, you can automate it so that it works when you open a document. Follow the instructions (more)

Farewell to the Bay Concourse

Mon, 08/17/2015 - 09:34

For the last 20 years, since we moved to Pickering, the Bay Concourse at Union Station has been a familiar destination as I made my way through it on the way to or from work or other Toronto destinations. It was a constant beehive of activity, even late a night. The new York Concourse is bigger but feels stark and soulless, and will probably remain that way for quite a while, at least until the new shops and restaurants open. Urban Toronto has published an article about the Bay Concourse(more)

A good article on the Hugo awards

Sat, 08/15/2015 - 13:25

The press coverage of the Hugo awards is beginning to pick up again with the awards being announced next weekend. This article by Miles Schneiderman is one of the better ones.

Orson Scott Card is one of my all-time favorite science fiction authors. As a kid, I was enthralled by the Alvin Maker series and devoured Ender’s Game in a single day. I still consider Speaker for the Dead to be one of the greatest stories ever written, and it’s a source of continual inspiration to me, both as a w (more)

A smaller fusion reactor design

Thu, 08/13/2015 - 05:10

Scientists have published a new design for a tokamak fusion reactor that would be half the size of current designs and could be produced in a decade. The new design takes advantage of advances in superconducting magnets and other materials.

Recent advances in magnet technology have brought fusion a little closer to the present. MIT researchers have just unveiled designs for a compact, tokamak (donut-shaped) fusion reactor that uses new, barium oxide-based superconductors to produce (more)

Some proposals for the Hugos

Wed, 08/12/2015 - 05:28

Every year the World Science Fiction Society, the fan-run body that administers the Hugo awards, holds a business meeting at the World Science Fiction Convention – this year, Sasquan, in Portland, OR. They’ve just posted a list of proposals, to be discussed at the business meeting, that affect the Hugo awards. It’s going to be a very interesting meeting.

Some of the proposals are minor and fairly technical; others will change the Hugos quite substantially. One, for example, reduces the number of nominations a (more)

Isaac Asimov’s Foundation as an radio drama

Tue, 08/11/2015 - 05:44

In 1973, the BBC produced an 8-hour radio version of Isaac Asimov’s classic Foundation series. I heard about it years ago but never was able to track down a copy. Now it’s on the Internet Archive site for streaming or download.

The Foundation Trilogy is an epic science fiction series written over a span of forty-four years by Isaac Asimov. It consists of seven volumes that are closely linked to each other, although they can be read separately. The series is highly acclaimed, winning the one-tim (more)

A couple of security fixes

Mon, 08/10/2015 - 05:43

Here are a couple of things to note about your online security.

First, if you use an Android phone, you may be affected by the Stagefright volnerabilty, which lets remote attackers take over your phone simply by sending a specially crafted MMS (multimedia text) message to your phone. The Stagefright Detector app will check your phone and tell you if you are vulnerable. Until your service provider issues a fix (which could be a while), turn off the auto open for MMS messages in your messaging (more)

BoingBoing reviews The Affinities

Thu, 08/06/2015 - 18:23

Robert Charles Wilson’s latest novel, The Affinities, has been getting many good reviews since it was released a couple of months ago, but this review by Cory Doctorow on BoingBoing stands out for its insight. The book is high on my To Be Read list. which means, realistically, I might get to it before Christmas.

The secret of Internet hype, since its earliest days, is the incredible, tribal rush of finding people who are weird like you to socialize with. There’s an inescapable joy, a deep b (more)

My 2015 Hugo Ballot

Sat, 08/01/2015 - 08:43

The deadline for voting on the 2015 Hugo Awards has just passed. The awards will be announced at Sasquan in Spokane, WA in three weeks. It has been an unusually controversial year because of the nomination slates created by the Sad/Rabid Puppies.

I ended up pretty much following the recommendations on The Puppy-Free Hugo Award Voter’s Guide site created by Deirdre Saoirse Moen. In other words, I voted No Award in a lot of catego (more)

SpaceShip Two was due to pilot error, but …

Thu, 07/30/2015 - 05:00

The National Transportation Safety Board has released its report on the crash of SpaceShip Two and determined the proximate cause was due to the co-pilot triggering to early the spaceship’s feathering system designed to slow it down during re-entry. But there were other issues revealed in the report.

The NTSB has published the full ruling, and says that there also wasn’t enough done to either preven (more)

Where Are All the Aliens?

Tue, 07/28/2015 - 05:24

Although Hollywood would like you to think otherwise, the universe doesn’t seem to be populated with Little Green Men, or any other sort of aliens. Despite more than 50 years of searching, we’ve failed to detect any conclusive evidence of extraterrestrial civilization. This article is one of the best overviews of the situation that I’ve come across in quite a while.

So there are 100 Earth-like planets for every grain of sand in the world. Think about that next time you’re on the beach.

Moving forw (more)

The Five Biggest Threats to Human Existence

Mon, 07/27/2015 - 05:10

I seem to be in an apocalyptic mood recently – maybe it’s because I’m about half way though Neal Stephenson’s excellent Seveneves.  Anyway, here’s another article describing different ways that the human race could be wiped out. Oddly, it doesn’t list climate change; although that might not be a threat to the human race per se, it certainly is a threat to civilization in the long term.

In the daily hubbub of current “crises” facing humanity, we forg (more)

Some common sense on the coming ice age

Sun, 07/26/2015 - 13:38

There’s been quite a  bit of press about a recent study that predicts a “decline in solar activity” starting around 2030. Unfortunately, most of what you’ve probably read about it is wrong, as this article points out. The decline is in the number of sunspots, not solar output, and the effect on climate is likely to be small. What we have here is a giant failure to communicate.

This month there’s been a hoopla about a mini ice age, and unfortunately i (more)