Pixel Scroll 11/16/17 Pixel My Blue Suede Scrolls!

(1) SERFS ERRANT. Gizmodo covers “Amazon’s Last Mile”, about the people who actually bring you the stuff.

Near the very bottom of Amazon’s complicated machinery is a nearly invisible workforce over two years in the making tasked with getting those orders to your doorstep. It’s a network of supposedly self-employed, utterly expendable couriers enrolled in an app-based program which some believe may violate labor laws. That program is called Amazon Flex, and it accomplishes Amazon’s “last-mile” deliveries—the final journey from a local facility to the customer.

While investigating the nature of the program, we spoke to 15 current or former independent drivers across nine states and two countries whose enrollment spanned between a few weeks and two years, as well as three individuals attached to local courier companies delivering for Amazon. Their identities have all been obscured for fear of retribution.

(2) PERITEXTUAL. Peter Watts, in “After Party”, tells about his experience at the “Space Vampires and the Future of ‘I’” symposium about his fiction.

I knew it was bound to fail— but when people are flying in from Michigan and Chicago and fucking Australia to attend, what kind of a dick would I be if I said Nah, I can’t be bothered to take a twenty-minute subway ride…? So I gritted my teeth, and made the journey. Scheduled a haircut just an hour before, so at least I’d look a little less like Rick Sanchez.

And the lady cutting my hair told me about her parents, left homeless when Hurricane Maria crawled overtop Dominica and just sat there, sandblasting that island down to the bedrock, for four days. Told me that at least now she knew her family wasn’t dead (she’d had a month to wonder about that) but that cell and internet were still out so she still hadn’t had a chance to talk to them directly.

Coming out of that haircut, the number of people who might or might not show up in Room 100 of the Jackman Building suddenly seemed a lot less important than it had been. I showed up at “Space Vampires and the Future of ‘I’” reality-checked, and significantly less self-absorbed. And you know what?

It was a pretty great time.

(3) MORE BOOK RECS. And in the wake of Andrew Weir releasing his list of six SF books, Elon Musk has listed eight books that he says made him who he is.  They include Lord of the Flies and the Foundation series: “Billionaire Elon Musk says he was ‘raised by books’ and credits his success to these 8”.

Up until Musk was 8, he lived with both of his parents Maye and Errol Musk in South Africa, Strauss reported. But he did not see them much and mostly lived under the watch of a housekeeper, who Musk said was mainly there to make sure he didn’t break anything.

“She wasn’t, like, watching me. I was off making explosives and reading books and building rockets and doing things that could have gotten me killed,” Musk told the magazine. “I’m shocked that I have all my fingers.”

(4) WHAT GOES UP. CNN profiles the symbolic first step as “Asgardia, the world’s first ‘space nation’, takes flight”.

On November 12, Asgardia cemented its presence in outer space by launching the Asgardia-1 satellite.

The “nanosat” — it is roughly the size of a loaf of bread — undertook a two-day journey from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, the United States, to the International Space Station (ISS).

It contains 0.5 TB of data belonging to 18,000 of Asgardia’s citizens, such as family photographs, as well as digital representations of the space nation’s flag, coat of arms and constitution.

… The nanosat will then be detached from the NASA vehicle and begin its own orbital journey around the earth. Citizens’ data will remain in orbit for between five and 18 months, the typical lifespan of this type of satellite. It will then burn out and disappear.

For Ashurbeyli, the launch fulfills a pledge he made when establishing the “space nation” to take its citizens to space via their data.

“I promised there would be a launch,” he says. “We selected NASA as a reliable partner … because we have to meet the commitments that I made 13 months ago.”

Getting it off the ground

Within 40 hours of the project being announced in 2016, over 100,000 people had applied for citizenship on Asgardia’s website. After three weeks, Asgardia had 500,000 applicants.

Anyone over 18 years old, with an email address, regardless of gender, nationality, race, religion, and financial standing can apply for citizenship — including ex-convicts, provided they are clear of charges at the time of application.

… Going forward, the Asgardia team hopes to create habitable platforms in low-earth orbits — the first one located 100 to 200 miles (161 to 321 kilometers) from space, which is also where the ISS is located.

The first human flight to this location is projected to take place in eight years’ time.

(5) IT COMES IN THE MAIL, TOO. Craig Engler from Z Nation (currently in its 4th season on Syfy) has launched a crowdfunding appeal on the new Drip platform for The Last Days of Earth, a new kind of serialized SF novel that “blurs the line between fiction and reality.” It’s a story about the end of the world where readers receive mysterious objects and clues in the mail timed to coincide with the release of new story installments.

The Last Days of Earth is one of the hand-picked projects chosen by Kickstarter to launch its new Drip platform, which debuted yesterday. While Kickstarter is designed for one-time funding, Drip was created as a venue for ongoing funding such as recurring subscriptions. Kickstarter members can use their existing logins to seamlessly access Drip.

The Last Days of Earth started out as a TV pilot, but I realized the themes and concepts I wanted to explore would work better as a novel,” Engler said. “But not just any novel. To tell the story right, it needed to be a serialized online book that unfolded in ‘seasons’ like a TV show and included real-world objects that would show up in readers’ mailboxes.

“The mystery objects stem from a concept in narrative theory called paratext. The idea of paratext is that things outside the text of a book — the cover art, reviews, blurbs, etc. — influence how readers experience the book. I wanted to take that idea further and create a story where physical objects were integral to the experience.”

The Last Days of Earth starts when everyone on the planet learns the world will end in six months. It follows the lives of six characters, each uniquely impacted by the news, who will find their lives intertwined in unexpected ways. The main protagonist is Anna, a pregnant women who learns her due date is the day the world will end and is determined to find a way to save her unborn child.

(6) REALITY SHOW. Michael Damian Thomas had this response to the Dragon Awards category realignments:

(7) SECOND NATURE. Has this ever been seen in the wild?

(8) WHITEOUT. NPR’s Jason Sheehan rates the start of a new Richard Baker series: “The Troublesome Universe Of ‘Valiant Dust'”.

I’m giving Baker some credit here. The man has written a bunch of books. He’s a solid voice in the military sci-fi genre and served as a United States naval officer himself, giving an earned weight to his voice when it comes to describing the minutiae of naval matters. Valiant Dust is the foundation of a new series (called Breaker of Empires) which, presumably, will follow the characters introduced here through the universe he has built.

But that universe? It’s troublesome. Set centuries in the future (following the discovery of faster-than-light technology, a diaspora from earth as it falls to a barely mentioned global Caliphate, and the always convenient misplacing of several entire planets full of mono-ethnic peoples who then slip into a kind of futuristic techno-feudalism before being miraculously re-discovered hundreds of years later), Valiant Dust drops in at a point where the major “cosmopolitan” powers — the Euro-centric Aquilans, the Germanic Dremark Empire, and the Canadians, for some reason — have become a sort of First World commonwealth. In a peaceful state of détente, they are either nobly aiding the backwards human colonies recover from their isolation, or ruthlessly divvying up this galactic Third World as nouvelle colonial masters.

(9) CHATTING WITH CHATTERLY. A modern Eliza: “Tinder bot quotes Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

Lady Chatterley’s presence on Tinder has come courtesy of Libby Heaney, who has created a profile for the character and programmed a bot to chat with real men, using only lines from the book.

She also created profiles for Clifford and Mellors.

After around 800 conversations with real romance-seekers, the exchanges are part of an artwork called Lady Chatterley’s Tinderbot, which will be exhibited for the first time in the UK at the Lowry arts centre in Salford from Saturday.

(10) UP IN THE AIR. Weather geekery: “The Hurricane Season, As Shown By Salt, Smoke And Dust” (text and video)

Hurricane Harvey as a ball of swirling sea salt. Hurricane Irma scooping up the sands of the Sahara. Hurricane Ophelia, bizarrely, taking smoke from Portugal and pulling it up to the coast of Ireland.

A new visualization from NASA shows the hurricanes from 2017 season from a new perspective — that is, their impact on particles carried in the wind.

The video pulls from satellite imagery and computer models to track how aerosols are affected by hurricanes.

(11) THROWING THE FIRST STONE. Action teaching: “Castle Gardens Primary School ‘hit by meteorite'”.

A tarmac company provided and transported the “meteorite” and altered the school playground.

The PSNI also went to the school to respond to the “emergency”.

Mr Gray said that staging the strike would have a number of benefits for the pupils.

“It gives the children the chance to experience and imagine an event they’d otherwise only see on video clips or photographs,” he said.

“We deliberately timed it to be the first Monday after the first AQE transfer paper so that pupils could take their minds off the test for a few hours.

Chip Hitchcock sent the link with a comment, “This is a step up from the why-witnesses-are-unreliable demo (a staple of journalism schools) that I got in junior high.”

(12) SLICE OF LIFE. The BBC reports: “First gene-editing in human body attempt”.

Gene-editing has been attempted on cells inside a patient, in a world first by doctors in California.

Brian Madeux, 44 from Arizona, was given the experimental treatment to try to correct a defect in his DNA that causes Hunter’s syndrome.

Mr Madeux says he was prepared to take part in the trial as he is “in pain every second of the day”.

It is too soon to know whether or not the gene-editing has worked in Mr Madeux’s case.

(13) RAMPAGE. There’s a new trailer out for a giant animal movie with Dwayne Johnson that’s coming out in April.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, Steven H Silver, Martin Morse Wooster, JJ, Cat Eldridge, Chip Hitchcock, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes  to  File 770 contributing editor of the day Hampus Eckerman.]

57 thoughts on “Pixel Scroll 11/16/17 Pixel My Blue Suede Scrolls!

  1. No, I’m never gonna tick a box
    Guilty scrolls have got no pixels
    Oh, I’m never gonna stalk a god
    The way I stalked at you…

  2. 8) “And that’s probably true, if only because no science fiction writer (with the arguable exceptions of William Gibson and Philip K. Dick) can really see into the future. ”

    :cough: John Brunner :cough: Two panels, one at Lexicon and one at Continuum this past year that I attended on my DUFF trip invoked this (once by me myself, once by someone else)…

  3. (13) Actually, it is a video game movie. I spent far too many quarters playing Rampage at the arcade.

    Now I just need a Joust movie before I die.

  4. @Paul: I’ve cited Brunner numerous times over the past…30 years?

    I wish I had the time to go through The Sheep Look Up, Stand on Zanzibar and The Jagged Orbit to catalog all of the “predictions” and make up a “success” index. I think it would be quite impressive. (Some include The Shockwave Rider in this future prediction series.

    Lacking the time I hope some graduate student does it some day.

    There have been times since the 70s when I’ve heard a news item…about an invasive species for example…and thought “well, I knew that was coming…”, all because Brunner has prepared me.

  5. 11: After going through all that effort, you would think that they would attempt to make something that in some way looked remotely similar to a meteorite. Given what they put there, they might as well have used a hoop of cheese.

  6. That feeling when you go to your goodreads profile and realize you’ve added maybe 5 of the last 100 or so books you’ve read.

  7. @steve davidson I wish I had the time to go through The Sheep Look Up, Stand on Zanzibar and The Jagged Orbit to catalog all of the “predictions” and make up a “success” index.

    It’s tricky though. I can point to quite a few details in all three of those books that could count as “successful predictions”, but the world we’re living in isn’t very much like any of them. That, of course, is because they’re extrapolated from bits of popular sociology that reflected specific anxieties of the times. They’re better read as satire than prediction, insofar as the two are distinguishable.

  8. I thought Brunner’s most unexpected accurate prediction was that the Republic of Dahomey would change its name to Benin. (Technically, he had “Beninia,” but that’s close enough.)

    Other things, not so much. Legal limits on reproduction? Two popes? Legal drugs (advertised even)? Puerto Rico as a state? (The Philippines as a state!) Homosexuality as a choice? (I’m pretty sure the man was bi.) A dome over New York? The US almost unable to feed itself with 300 million people. Etc.

    Christ, what an imagination he had! His stories are still great reads. But the only accurate predictions were just luck.

  9. @NickPheas

    Ditto Borne by Jeff Vandermeer. I didn’t really get into Borne, but really liked Empire Games – it’s a soft reset of the series and probably a good entry point.

  10. Greg, my take is a bit different: 45 million + people in the US live in poverty; his “muckers” accurately capture the mass killers, his presentation of the water filter problem evokes Flint, MI, and, while his exemplar invasive species was a worm and the one we’re really worrying about now is (take your pick) an ant, a fish or a plant; kids living with parents is accurately displayed, drugs are being sold legally and advertised….

    Admittedly it has been a while since I’ve read any of them, but, my feeling is, that at least in “flavor”, he accurately predicted the 2000s, or at least a large portion of it.

  11. @1 is unsurprising — Amazon has found playing the 500-pound gorilla to be a winning strategy — but depressing: another step toward the U.S. of Make Room! Make Room!. It will be interesting to see whether Liss-Riordan gets any traction against them; she’s had some notable successes, but IIRC hasn’t taken on anything the size of Amazon.

    @3: does this seem to anyone else like an after-the-fact list?

    @Paul Weimer: I suspect there are other authors who would qualify but have pretty much disappeared from view after dying. Is any of Brunner still in print? I’m imagining Stand on Zanzibar with all the dates bumped half a century (or maybe less, but something to get some of the distance from us that the book had from its first readers) and thinking too many other good works have a mix of hits and misses that make them hard to sell. And on second thought I wonder about his touting Gibson as a prophet; Neuromancer et al have that problem, and more recent work is explicitly proximate thriller.

    @Greg Hullender: (I’m pretty sure [Brunner] was bi.) Evidence other than that throwaway line? I’ve heard he had a reputation for hitting on fans — but AFAIK solely females.

  12. I’ve guessed that Amazon delivery people were unscreened, overworked, and underpaid because I’ve had Amazon packages dropped off literally in the middle of the parking lot of my workplace. (The UPS driver, who arrived some time later, saw it there and brought it in with his deliveries.) It was a miracle that nobody ran over it or ran off with it…

    And Amazon is the company that wants us to literally give their drivers keys to our front door….?

  13. WHOA! I’m getting notifications now. I went to WordPress and looked through menus, and there was one that basically said, “Shut off notifications,” and it was checked. So I unchecked it.

    I’d been getting ‘new post’ notifies all along, but now I’m getting told about comments. All comments? Doesn’t seem like it. Watch this space!

    And now my sad story is ended.
    Pleasing you all was my goal.
    If any of you feel offended
    Stick your head in a barrel of P-P-
    Pixel Scroll!
    Don’t be a troll!
    Tick every box and you’ll get a good lol.

  14. We do have two living popes (Ok one resigned…)

    Pixelled my blue suede shoes
    And I clickboxed a plane
    Scrolled down in the land of mounttsundokus
    In the middle of the pournelle rain
    JRR Tolien won’t you look down on me
    Yeah, I got a fifth class ticket
    But I’m as blue as a Filer can be
    Then I’m scrolling in Comments
    Keeping at least ten feet off of the Beale
    Scrolling in Comments
    But do I really file the way I file?

    Read the ghost in the shell
    Or Atomic Avenue
    Followed up with the water knife
    Then I waded right through Borne
    Now Mord, they did not see him
    And he just hovered ’round his town
    But there’s a pretty little shell
    Waiting for the hell
    Down in the Broken Earth
    When I was Scrolling the comments
    I was clicking with The box right of the left
    Scrolling the comments
    But do I really file the way I file?

  15. Seeing how the 1% are able to lead all the GOP members in Congress around by the wallet, I keep being reminded of Brunner’s short story “The Totally Rich”.

    I’m back at File 770 after a busy week. Hilde and I went to TusCon last Friday, Hilde passed out in our hotel room Saturday morning and spent the next four days in Tucson Medical Center for treatment, tests and rest. Came back to the Phoenix Metro area Tuesday night. Went to the Mayo Hospital ER the next evening, when it looked like Hilde might be developing a skin infection; on antibiotics now. Today we went to the Mayo Family Practice Clinic in Scottsdale for follow-up with Hilde’s own medical providers, with other appointments to come. Tonight I go back to work.

    TMC is a huge, sprawling medical facility, and every time I navigated the corridors to get to Hilde’s room, I kept expecting to be rewarded with a piece of cheese at the end. TMC’s literally across the street from the hotel where TusCon was being held, so between times spent with Hilde, I was still able to catch a few bits and pieces of the convention and have a few conversations with old friends.

  16. Bruce, how awful and upsetting! I hope everything will go better for you both from now on.

  17. Bruce, please convey my warm wishes and fond memories to Hilde, and my hope that her recovery will be expedient and not too boring, but definitely not too exciting.

  18. @Rob Barrett: That’s a fascinating assortment (excluding the apparent glitch that included a Call of Cthulhu novel); I wonder who picked them?

  19. Thanks, everyone. Hilde’s pretty tough.

    (Back in 2001, her cervical vertebrae were beginning to crumble from years of rheumatoid arthritis. Without surgery her life expectancy was about two weeks, and with surgery she still had a 1-in-7 chance of dying on the operating table. The surgery went well. But about ten years later, during a follow-up visit with her neurosurgeon, the doctor told us that about half the people who had that procedure done still passed away within six months, and almost all the rest only lived about two years longer. She’s at sixteen years post-surgery now. So, yeah, tough.)

  20. @Chip Hitchcock — I don’t think that’s a glitch — the link is to a Chaosium anthology that I believe included a Brunner story. (That’s the paperback version, at least — the eBook, although it has the same title, is a solo Lovecraft collection.)

  21. Did I just slide by what happened to Hilde? I’m sorry. I hope she recovers quickly.

    Currently listening to Artemis. Review will be coming in due time.

  22. I’ve guessed that Amazon delivery people were unscreened, overworked, and underpaid because I’ve had Amazon packages dropped off literally in the middle of the parking lot of my workplace. (The UPS driver, who arrived some time later, saw it there and brought it in with his deliveries.) It was a miracle that nobody ran over it or ran off with it…

    I don’t get this. It must be a flyover country thing or something. In NE, I’ve never, ever received anything from Amazon that wasn’t delivered by either UPS, Fed Ex or the USPS.

  23. @rochrist

    I’m not sure what you are saying about ‘flyover country thing’. I’m in Nebraska (NE to the post office) and my Amazon packages always come by UPS/FedEx/USPS. These days they most often come via USPS, but I like the USPS so I’m good with that.

  24. So at the same time that Amazon is pushing the idea of their delivery people having access to your house via smart locks, they’re also pushing delivery out to random unscreened people. Yeah, Consumerist (RIP) had far too many delivery/Uber horror stories for me to like either of these scenarios, let alone the combo.

  25. @Nancy I just wondered if the ‘using random people to deliver’ thing was something that was happening more in away from the coast. Maybe it’s more that it’s in specifically targeted areas. I’m happy with USPS too, although my dog prefers the UPS guy who brings treats.

  26. @rochrist, Amazon delivery is a regular shipper here in northeast New Jersey, so it’s definitely not just a non-coastal thing. I get Amazon packages from UPS, USPS, and its own shipping service all the time, though UPS predominates.

  27. Like Lenore Jones, I get Amazon shipments via UPS, USPS, and random-joe-or-jane.

    Mostly the first two, but the package “delivered” by being thrown out of a truck was the third. (USPS had come earlier; UPS came sometime later and found it in the parking lot.)

  28. rochrist on November 17, 2017 at 9:43 pm said:
    I think it depends on your account – it may require Prime. (I get mine at a mailbox place, where, if I can’t get in immediately, I don’t have to worry about it walking away.)
    I have seen Amazon van deliveries in my area of L.A.

  29. @rochrist: it’s certainly not limited to “flyover country”; if you read the story far enough you’ll see In major cities like New York and San Francisco—coincidentally located in the states that employ the largest numbers of couriers. As I read “last mile”, this is about the delivery of goods to people from Amazon satellite warehouses — which are being dropped into places where there are enough nearby customers to make building and supporting such a facility worthwhile, i.e. big cities. (This could include some of the middle of the US — I don’t know how much or little business Amazon does in (picking three cities at random) KC, Omaha, Denver, etc. etc.) It’s notable that the quick delivery itself has caused at least one uproar; when it was announced for the Boston area, the coverage map left out a poor part of the city so central in the covered area that there was no way it could not have been served as economically as all of the areas around it. That was blatant cream-skimming — I’d say unusually blatant but I haven’t been watching Amazon enough to say whether it was unusual or just ordinary stupidity. (At least it wasn’t outright fraud, like the company that claimed it could improve the Boston Globe‘s delivery routes and instead made them so much worse that office staff ended up helping delivery.)

  30. (1) SERFS ERRANT. Bleah. Is there anything Amazon doesn’t do in an evil fashion?

    (8) WHITEOUT. I was intrigued by Baker’s Valiant Dust, but now, I’m a little less so. Anyone here read it?

    (12) SLICE OF LIFE. Woah, how science fictional!

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