(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:
The Dragon Awards eliminated the Best Apocalyptic Novel category! I guess now that their regime is in place, those novels are considered realistic fiction. https://t.co/lbCzxTSFdE
— Michael Damian Thomas (@michaeldthomas) November 17, 2017
(7) SECOND NATURE. Has this ever been seen in the wild?
WHAT IS A SWORD? pic.twitter.com/vn5Aexnh0U
— Pablo Hidalgo (@pablohidalgo) November 16, 2017
(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.]