Tag Archives: books

New Year Surprises

You know the line “I Can’t Believe I Ate the Whole Thing“?

Well, I can’t believe how little I’ve been here. I am absolutely SHOCKED that I haven’t blogged in over a MONTH! Of course, this is because I’ve been so gosh all darned busy, both at work and at home. Just briefly, what all is keeping me away is probably of interest to folk.

* Opioid Overdose Summit
* Microbes and Mood
* Design Lab & Coloring
* PaGamO (Gaming)
* Graphic Medicine
* Librarians & Artists’ Books
* Sleep Trackers


First, a couple days after the last post, I was a keynote for the November meeting of MDMLG (Metropolitan Detroit Medical Library Group). It was a wonderful experience, a great group. I really enjoyed being with them, and by all reports, they enjoyed my talk. There are rumors that I might repeat it locally, and I’ve been pondering maybe repeating it in a Hangout or something for other folk. Maybe. In any case, here are the slides!

But is an Emerging Technologies Informationist a Librarian?


Dashed away to visit family for the November holiday, dashed back, and immediately was livetweeting the UofM sponsored Opioid Overdose Summit. Another fantastic event! I’ve been working on a big beautiful Storify of the event for the last month, but the Storify platform developed a glitch and ate the whole thing. Unfortunately, the only engineer who MIGHT be able to restore the file from backup is out on vacation for another week, so for now I can offer you links to the UM Injury Center’s agenda, slides in Slideshare, their videos, and the hashtag #uminjuryctr.


The same week, I also livetweeted the seminar, “Gut Feelings: Microbes, Mood, & Metabolism” from the Depression Center’s Colloquium Series. It was a wonderful triple of presenters on how emerging and historic research is revealing connections between our microbiome (the bacteria that live in and on us) impact our own emotions. Powerful and exciting stuff.

I was making a Storify of this, too, but the same glitch (which prevent some content from being inserted and erases other content) has made it impossible for me to finish, so I’m releasing it in the raw form.


The following week I worked on various Storify stories in progress and had a bunch of meetings. One of the meetings was with the new Design Lab that lives on the main floor of the Shapiro Library, where we started planning a workshop which will sneakily use the adult coloring craze as a way to teach things like internet search skills, internet security, paper/art/book preservation concepts, some online tools and toys, etc. The workshop is happening next week, and I think it is going to be super cool. Just to whet your appetite, here is an example.

Original image:
Fleming Building at Sunset

Coloring version of the same image:
UM: Fleming


PaGamO Screenshot

I didn’t livetweet this, but I felt very lucky that I was able to attend the small presentation by Dr. Benson Yeh on PaGamO for education. The lecture was FANTASTIC and was recorded, so I am hoping for a video to be available soon. In the meantime, here are a few links.

Why one professor created the first-ever social gaming platform for a MOOC http://blogs.coursera.org/post/64423209807/why-one-professor-created-the-first-ever-social

ReImagine Education 2015 Wharton Awards: PAGAMO, The World’s First Event Multi-Student Social Gaming, National Taiwan University; Winner: 1st Place E-Learning http://www.reimagine-education.com/the-winners-individual/8/PaGamO

PaGamO: First-ever Multi-student Social Gaming Platform for General Course (SLIDES) http://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/pedagogical/website/files/theme/awards/winners/slider/pag/Benson_Wharton%20Award_V2.pdf

PaGamO, the world’s first ever MOOC-based multi-student social game platform https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WKAWPqRtIe0


The next day, we had the first EVER meeting of the newly formed Graphic Medicine Interest Group for the University of Medicine. I took notes and lots of pictures, but the pictures did not end up in Flickr when I tried to put them there, so I have to hope they are in my hard drive backup for the phone. In the meantime, here is a picture of some of the graphic medicine titles I keep in my office when I have consults on the topic.

Graphic Medicine & Comics

Books included in this image:

1) REAL, by Takehiko Inoue https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Real_(manga)
2) Graphic Medicine Manifesto, by by MK Czerwiec, Ian Williams, Susan Merrill Squier, Michael J. Green, Kimberly R. Myers, Scott T. Smith http://www.graphicmedicine.org/book-series/graphic-medicine-manifesto/
3) The Bad Doctor, by Ian Williams http://www.psupress.org/books/titles/978-0-271-06754-4.html
4) On Purpose, by Vic Strecher http://www.dungbeetle.org/
5) Neurocomic, by Hana Ros, Matteo Farinella http://www.neurocomic.org/
6) Epileptic, by David B. http://nymag.com/nymetro/arts/books/reviews/10851/
7) CancerVixen, by Marisa Acocella Marchetto http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/14/books/a-vixen-cartooning-in-the-face-of-cancer.html | http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/107478/cancer-vixen-by-marisa-acocella-marchetto/9780375714740/
8) Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant, by Roz Chast http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/01/books/review/roz-chasts-cant-we-talk-about-something-more-pleasant.html
9) Second Avenue Caper: When Goodfellas, Divas, and Dealers Plotted Against the Plague, by Joyce Brabner and Mark Zingarelli http://boingboing.net/2014/11/30/second-avenue-caper-when-good.html | http://www.cleveland.com/books/index.ssf/2014/11/joyce_brabner_creates_a_graphi.html
10) Diary of a Teenage Girl, by Phoebe Glockner http://stamps.umich.edu/creative-work/stories/phoebe | http://www.npr.org/2015/08/13/431997207/a-diary-unlocked-a-teenage-coming-of-age-story-put-on-film
11) The Spiral Cage, by Al Davison http://the-toast.net/2014/11/03/disability-and-the-work-of-al-davison/
12) Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud http://scottmccloud.com/2-print/1-uc/
13) Oh Joy, Sex Toy, by Erika Moen http://www.graphicmedicine.org/comic-reviews/oh-joy-sex-toy-2/ | http://www.ohjoysextoy.com/
14) Chop, Sizzle, Wow, by The Silver Spoon and Adriano Rampazzo. https://www.forewordreviews.com/reviews/chop-sizzle-wow/ | http://www.phaidon.com/store/food-cook/chop-sizzle-wow-the-silver-spoon-comic-book-9780714868202/


A few days later, in between my frantically working on the Storifys and an article deadline, I was doublebooked to livetweet two lectures, and had to pick one. So, I picked the one that was related to the library and was being presented by friends and colleagues. It was incredible, and again I took lots of pictures that are hopefully on that other hard drive. I had been hoping to enrich the Storify with those, but that isn’t going to happen until Storify fixes their bug with inserting links into story streams. So, here is another partially completed Storify, this one on the amazing artists working in the library making phenomenal art books. Beautiful.


Pebble Pals

Last but not least, we finished and submitted our article on sleep trackers for consumers and how they may or may not be useful in healthcare. It was an exciting and rewarding project, but I don’t want to say too much until we hear if the article is accepted. It was a LOT of work, and we compared many dozens of devices and tools. Learned a lot, and I hope the article is accepted. I must confess, I found it ironic that my own sleep tracker (Pebble + Misfit) quit working over the holiday. Color me perplexed.


So you can see why I was so busy I wasn’t getting blogging done? I’ll be a little absent for a while yet, still, since I have a few presentations next week, and piles of meetings coming up. But I’ll have to tell you all about what I’m doing with comics and hashtags and coloring in a future installment. And the weird Storify glitch that is supposedly only impacting me and one other person. Hope you all had a great holiday and end-of-the-year, with expectations of a Happy (and productive and fulfilling) New Year!


Emerging Tech, Healthcare & Comics for World Book Day #WorldBookDay

Bedroom Books, Unread, Part 1

One book, two books,
Red books, blue books,
Fat books, thin books,
Old books, new books.
This one has a gold leaf spine,
This one sings a little rhyme.
I could read books all the time!
(a Dr. Seuss parody by yours truly)

Let’s just say I sometimes WISH I could read books all the time. And a great deal of my house looks like the photo. For today, World Book Day, I want to just mention a few (a VERY few) books I’ve been reading lately which may be of interest to readers of this blog.

First off, some that connect directly to healthcare social media, emerging technologies, accessibility, disability, and health literacy — some of my favorite topics!

Digital Humanitarians
Digital Humanitarians, by Patrick Meier: http://www.digital-humanitarians.com/

I love the #SMEM community and #SMEMchat. SMEM stands for Social Media Emergency Management. Think of it as how we use social media for disaster and crisis response. I’ve touched on these topics here before, and will again. When I saw that a book had come out specifically on this, I was delighted. And it had even more — the roles of open data, open source software and tools, citizen science, and crowdsourcing. So HUGELY exciting. I couldn’t wait for the library to get a copy, I had to borrow it interlibrary loan. Then I listened to the webinar with Patrick, hosted by NNLM. Then I didn’t want to give back the copy I’d borrowed, so I had to buy a copy. And then I made SURE the library bought a copy. Well worth reading, in case you haven’t guessed.

Digital Outcasts
Digital Outcasts: Moving Technology Forward Without Leaving People Behind, by Kel Smith: http://digital-outcasts.com/

I’ve been raving about Kel Smith’s book, Digital Outcasts. Kel does a brilliant job of not just look backwards at the intersection of disability, accessibility, and technology, but looking forward. He forecasts new technologies arising and some of the new ways in which they will create barriers to access for people. This one the library has, and they have it electronically.

Conquering Concussion
Conquering Concussion: Healing TBI Symptoms With Neurofeedback and Without Drugs, by Mary Lee Esty & C. M. Shifflett: http://conqueringconcussion.net/

Another one I bought for my own collection is Conquering Concussion, which got a rave review from Kirkus and then was listed as one of the top indie published books of 2014. Let’s just say that I have had enough concussions of my own for this to be personally relevant. Then it turned out that the authors are friends of a friend. Small world. Good book.

The Guide to the Future of Medicine: Technology AND The Human Touch
The Guide to the Future of Medicine: Technology AND The Human Touch, by Bertalan Mesko: http://themedicalfuturist.com/

Berci and I have known each other through social media since he was a med student. And now he’s NOT a medical student anymore, is a world recognized expert on emerging technologies and social media use in healthcare, a highly sought after public speaker, and he writes books. This one I bought as an e-book, because I wanted to highlight like crazy, and be able to download all my highlights in a nice tidy lump (something made much easier by reading the book on a Kindle!).

Last but not least, I’m brainstorming how we might make a webcomic about health literacy skills. Sounds like a really boring topic, eh? But the books I’m reading to do research on the idea are anything but boring.

Wrinkle in Time, Graphic Novel
A Wrinkle in Time, a Graphic Novel, by Madeleine L’Engle and Hope Larson: http://www.hopelarson.com/portfolio-item/a-wrinkle-intime/

This one isn’t remotely medical. Instead, it’s a book I’ve read over and over throughout my life, for which I own multiple editions in various formats, and Hope Larson went and turned it into a graphic novel (ie. comic book). You would not believe how much trouble I’ve had wrapping my head around how to tell a story in a comic. It’s not like I don’t read comics. It’s more like, well, brain freeze. This book got me over the first hurdle. Because I know the book so well in other forms, I could more easily understand how the story changed and stayed the same as it morphed into a more visual format.

On Purpose
On Purpose, by Vic Strecher: http://www.dungbeetle.org/

I’ve known Vic Strecher professionally for many years, probably almost as long as I’ve been working here at the University of Michigan. When I heard that Vic’s daughter had died it was like a punch in the gut, even though I’d never met her. I couldn’t imagine. I’m a mom, and there is no more terrifying thought than that something like this might happen to one of my kids. When Vic wrote a comic book about his experience, and how this became, for him, an opportunity for personal growth, I had to get a copy. And this book is what helped me see how a personal story can become a universal story. Seeing how this transformed into a comic book / graphic novel helped me to see opportunities in my own life for stories that could possibly be transformed into comics.

Oh Joy, Sex Toy (review)
Comic Reviews: Oh Joy, Sex Toy (by PF Anderson) http://www.graphicmedicine.org/comic-reviews/oh-joy-sex-toy-2/

Last month I was asked to review a copy of Erika Moen’s new nicer-than-average comic book on sex toys and sex education. You know. Oh Joy, Sex Toy? Trust me, most of the college age folk already know about it.

Erika Moen
Erika Moen

You can read my review for the basics about the book (which is printed with nice ink on absolutely gorgeous paper, if you’re into that sort of thing). For me, the most exciting part of the book was in the appendix, where Erika did a funny little comic about one day in her life, sketching one panel for each hour. LIGHTBULB! Now, I can see how all the pieces fit together: comic formatting, personal experience, and story telling. Next, I’m hoping to find time to actually make one. I’m nervous. Wish me luck! And inspiration!

Tactile Graphics, An Introduction

Book Cover, Texture, Quackery All Bricked Up and Nowhere to Go ... Nailed Texture
Texture: Drain Cover Washington, DC: Donkeys: Black & Braille Rough
Montebello: Pottery Texture Woven Sculpture #4 Univ of Mich Binding Imprint

This week I attended a webinar on tactile graphics. Most people I know would say, “Tactile graphics? What does that mean?” So let’s start with that.

In a way, we’ve always had tactile graphics, in the broad sense of pieces designed for visual impact which carry tactile interest or information. Leatherworking often has designs punched into the leather; quipu knotwork carried mathematical data; old books had logos embossed into the covers; pottery might have painted ornaments layered onto the surface which can be felt and distinguished; sculptural shapes might be designed with textures that add layers of insight to the underlying meaning of the work; fabrics can have textures woven into them.

And of course, there’s always Braille, in which embossed or raised dots carry very specific kinds of meaning — words and numbers. In the center of the opening montage is an image of a sculpture of a donkey covered with Braille letters and words. This was a political statue in Washington DC. I don’t know what it says, but I imagine someone with blindness caressing the glossy blackness and curved shapes of the statue, reading the words of the Declaration of Independence, or the statements of the Bill of Rights. Such a powerful metaphor for the idea of tactile graphics. But in another sense, this explanation is a kind of digression, for in the actual world of artists creating art to be touched, the phrase they use is not “tactile graphics” but “tactile art” or “sensational art,” meaning art for senses beyond simply vision and art explicitly designed to be touched. If you are interested in this aspect of tactile artistry and graphics, you might want to be aware of the work of Ann Cunningham, who is a leader in this space.

Ann not only creates artwork that carries dual meaning through combined visual and tactile designs, but is also engaged in how this can carry over to shaping information and making “sensational books.” If you have ever tried to read a plain text (ASCII) version of a heavily illustrated book, in which the images have been redacted since they are not text, you may have some insight into the challenges of reading books while blind. You can read the text, but whenever you reach a place where an image is referenced, you read whatever description was given in the text, but that is usually minimal and refers to the image itself for further insight, and the image is not there. As a sighted person, I often go the the Internet Archive and download both the ASCII version of the book (for speed and portability) and a PDF version (which includes the graphics). I’ll read the ASCII text, and when I become sufficiently frustrated, I will open the PDF online version to see what image they are talking about.

Here is an example of what I mean, a work about Vincent Van Gogh. In the first screenshot, if you are sighted, you will see the title page and opening etching, entitled “Le Semeur.” The image shows a young man in peasant garb, grasping a large bag with his left hand, and making a gesture with his open palmed right hand. Even if you don’t read French, you may be able to guess at the meaning of “Le Semeur,” which is “The Sower.” In the second screenshot, if you are sighted, you will see the same area of the book in the raw text format. Where the image should be, there is nothing but a string of cryptic meaningless computer code, followed by the words, “LE SEMEUR.” There is no indication that you are even missing an image, no clue given as to what content it is that you are missing. Later on in the book, there will be a table listing images in the text, and that may give you a clue, but until you get to that point, you are pretty much lost.

Screenshots illustrating how images "translate" to text in OCR.
Screenshots illustrating how images "translate" to text in OCR.
Van Gogh, par Théodore Duret. Full: https://archive.org/details/vangoghvincent00dureuoft Text only:

So, very broadly then, tactile graphics are graphics which carry meaning through elements that can be touched. More narrowly, the phrase “tactile graphics” has become meaningful as an explicit technique in the creation of accessible information for persons with visual impairment. This is actually closely related to the work being done by Ann Cunningham, since the technologies used function in a similar way, often creating a kind of bas-relief version of an image so that it can be perceived and interpreted by persons who are blind. It is also work that is closely related, conceptually, to Braille, in that it explicitly tries to convert information into a format that can be deciphered by persons with blindness, in this case, visual information.

This can be done with making lines on paper that will puff up so people can feel them. This can be done with special paper, special printers, or special pens. This works fine when the images are linear, but less effective when they are more complex. It can also be done through the techniques mentioned earlier, embossing, embedding, interweaving, etcetera. There are kits, special hardware, a whole variety of technologies being developed around ways to make tactile graphics. All of those approaches tend to be very time-consuming. New technologies being used to create accessible tactile graphics include 3D printing, in which image characteristics are converted to a three-dimensional form and literally converted into a kind of flattened sculptural form of the image. There are some concerns that all the hype around 3D printing will lead to people focusing on that as the ONLY kind of tactile graphic option, which is far from the case, or that people will mistake the conversion of images to 3d format for actually making the images accessible, which may or may not be the case. A particularly eloquent description of this dilemma was posted to Facebook by a teacher of young children with special needs, Yue-Ting Siu.

3D printing and Misappropriation for Tactile Graphics https://www.facebook.com/notes/yue-ting-siu/3d-printing-and-misappropriation-for-tactile-graphics/333500170166311

This was in response to a long conversation around this topic, one for which the entire conversation is well worth digging into.

That’s a very brief introduction into the concept of tactile graphics. I’ll include a few more links at the end if you want to explore more. The webinar from the Diagram Center was very interesting. The webinar, presented by Richard Ladner of the University of Washington, included a solid background in how tactile graphics for accessibility are being created now, some of the technologies, challenges, and solutions. Some of the problems are the time needed to create the tactile graphics, the low resolution of the information, the loss of complexity in the information content, and that certain types of information don’t translate well into current tactile graphic modalities. Then Dr. Ladner described the special problems associated with complex mathematical images and equations, especially those in advance mathematics, physics, and engineering texts. Without access to those images and that content, persons with blindness can be, in essence, excluded from those professions no matter what their actual talents might be. His team has been working on some new approaches to the idea of tactile graphics, creating images that can be read with a smartphone. Wow. Now, this is still fairly early in the development life cycle, but the potential for this new approach is phenomenal.

The Storify (below) includes my notes and links from livetweeting the webinar. The webinar itself, Tactile Graphics with a Voice, will soon be posted on the DIAGRAM site.

Storify: Tactile Graphics With a Voice: https://storify.com/pfanderson/tactile-graphics-with-a-voice


Tactile Graphics: http://www.tactilegraphics.org/
– Producing Tactile Graphics: http://www.tactilegraphics.org/computerassistedtactiles.html

3D Tactile Graphics: http://3dtactilegraphics.com/

American Foundation for the Blind:
– Basic Principles for Preparing Tactile Graphics http://www.afb.org/info/programs-and-services/professional-development/teachers/tactile-graphics/1235
– Braille Writing Tools and Tools for Tactile Graphics http://www.afb.org/info/living-with-vision-loss/using-technology/reading-and-writing/braille-writing-tools-and-tools-for-tactile-graphics/1235
– Deciding Whether to Create a Tactile Graphic http://www.afb.org/info/programs-and-services/professional-development/solutions-forum/electronic-files-and-research-work-group/deciding-whether-to-create-a-tactile-graphic/12345
– Resources for Preparing Quality Tactile Graphics http://www.afb.org/info/resources-for-preparing-quality-tactile-graphics/5
– Tactile Graphics Course: http://www.afb.org/info/programs-and-services/professional-development/solutions-forum/interested-in-becoming-a-braille-transcriber/tactile-graphics-3016/12345
– Types and Producers of Tactile Graphics http://www.afb.org/info/programs-and-services/professional-development/solutions-forum/training-and-other-needs-work-group/types-and-producers-of-tactile-graphics/12345

American Printing House for the Blind:
– Tactile Graphics Image Library: http://www.aph.org/tgil/
– Tactile Graphics & Manipulatives Available from APH (Missouri School for the Blind: Outreach Services) http://msb.dese.mo.gov/outreach-services/documents/Tactile-Graphics-Products.pdf


The DIAGRAM Center: http://diagramcenter.org/
– The Accessible Image Sample Book: http://diagramcenter.org/standards-and-practices/accessible-image-sample-book.html
– Poet Image Description Tool: http://diagramcenter.org/development/poet.html
– Research Reports from DIAGRAM: http://diagramcenter.org/research.html
– Tools from DIAGRAM: http://diagramcenter.org/development.html
– Webinars: http://diagramcenter.org/webinars.html

Dementia Books (#DemBk) — Hashtags of the Week (HOTW): (Week of May 19, 2014)

Strange Relation, by Rachel Hada, pg. 100
Rachel Hadas. Strange Relation: a memoir of marriage, dementia, and poetry. Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 2011. [Author’s Site | Goodreads | Mirlyn | NPR]

I was introduced to a really clever idea recently. You know how we are always looking for stories to help us or others understand conditions and diagnoses? It’s a fairly common question at all libraries, but especially public libraries (“Can you help me find a book on XXX?”). Librarians have all kinds of tips and tricks for finding recommended and high quality books on both common and obscure topics. Reading lists for patients are created by libraries and healthcare facilities, as well as both professional and advocacy organizations. The twist that made this especially intriguing was a patient advocacy organization using social media to crowdsource the development of a booklist on their condition of interest, in this case, dementia and Alzheimer’s. The main hashtag used is #dembk, but there also exists a bookclub tag for the same community (#DemBkClub) as well as folk who simply use the combination of #dementia #books.

This is how it started.

This was when I realized this was “a thing,” and started looking for more. He’s the list they came up with for Dementia Awareness Week, and some other outcomes from the Twitter conversations around this topic.

Books About Dementia for All Ages to Read: http://www.dementiachallengers.com/books-about-dementia.html

Here are some of the conversations and range of tweets I found sharing books on dementia.

First posted at THL Blog: http://thlibrary.wordpress.com/2014/05/27/dementia-books-dembk-hashtags-of-the-week-hotw-week-of-may-19-2014/

Emerging Technologies in Fiction

I haven’t talked here about books much, but, well, I am a librarian, after all. It should be no surprise to anyone that I love books, have a lot of books, and learn a lot from books. Much of what I learn is related to my job, one way or another. I’ve talked with a few other emerging technologies librarians about this because, for myself, I cannot imagine doing my job without reading science fiction or speculative fiction. Others can, and do, but I just look at them blankly, with a sense of utter bafflement. I truly cannot imagine being an emerging technologies librarian and not reading science fiction. I’m not the only one who thinks so, of course. Yesterday I stumbled across this workshop from Rosenfeld Media on using science fiction to spark innovation.

Rosenfeld Media: Make It So: Using Science Fiction to Uncover New Interface Opportunities: A full-day workshop with Nathan Shedroff: http://rosenfeldmedia.com/workshops/make-it-so/

A big part of the reason is that this approach works for me is that fiction (of any sort) is storytelling, and storytelling is sensemaking. I’ve written here before, many times, about the importance of storytelling. Most recently, my focus on storytelling has been influenced strongly by the Digital Storytelling Workshop I participated in a year ago. That has influenced my approach to how I want to communicate information to others, and also how I want people to communicate information to me. There are concepts I’ve wanted to put into blogposts, and then I get frustrated and dream up a story. So far, you haven’t seen the stories, but I am really thinking hard about this as a viable way to communicate emerging technologies and science concepts.

Today, I wanted to just toss out a few titles that have particularly inspired me recently.

David Brin’s Existence: http://www.davidbrin.com/existence.html

Please note this book. Since 1998 I’ve been pushing David’s TRANSPARENT SOCIETY as his most important book, and one of the most important reads for anyone in our culture. Period. This is because of its exploration of the tense dynamic between transparency and privacy at levels from personal to national to global. Existence is a fictionalized exploration of the same concepts combined with emerging tech. Many say it is David’s masterpiece, his most important work. This is a must read, but … read it slowly, and really think about it.

Daniel Suarez’s technothriller The Daemon: http://thedaemon.com

I was given a copy of this by fellow librarian Grace York, who thought it would be of interest to me. She commented, “Daniel says that all the technology to do this is available right now!” Daniel is right. The Daemon is a cautionary tale looking at the intersection of gaming, artificial intelligence, and social engineering. That drastically oversimplifies, so let me add that if you have any remote interest in privacy or security, whether online or in person, this is a book I think you should read. Remember, it is all possible NOW. This is not about ten years from now or when your kids grow up.

Tony Ballantyne’s Recursion Trilogy (comprised of Recursion, Capacity, and Divergence): http://blog.worldswithoutend.com/2011/06/the-recursion-trilogy-tony-ballantyne/

You may have seen the phrase “The Singularity is coming!” or the related humorous twist, “I welcome our robot overlords.” Many folk may not even realize these two are related. The idea behind both phrases is that artificial intelligence is making phenomenal progress. Really! When I was in grad school one of the areas in which I was reading was about artificial transcription, having a computer that is able to listen to human speech and turn it into written (typed) words. I never believed this would happen in my life, but about 5 or 6 years ago Bolt Beranek & Newman (BBN) came up with a public search engine for podcasts that did this. Then that tech was incorporated into Youtube. It isn’t perfect, but it is still incredible.

So, artificial intelligence. So what happens when the computers get smarter than the people? That is what folk are calling The Singularity. The Recursion Trilogy explores the Singularity from the point of view of humans involved, although some of them become less or more human as the story progresses. This is a relatively gentle variant of the story, which allows the author to explore quite a variety of tech related to simulations, holograms, augmented reality, and much more. All I have to say is I hope that when this really happens, they find humans as amusing as is the case in this book. Does that offend you? Well, read it, and think about what it means to be human, really.

Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy (comprised of Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars):
– Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_trilogy
– Mangalawiki http://kimstanleyrobinson.info/w/index.php5?title=Mars_trilogy

These books give me goosebumps. Goosebumps like watching the first Moon Landing, the sense of doors not just opening, but dissolving into something previously unimaginable. I’ve been buying multiple copies, giving them away, insisting people read this.

I love NASA and remember fondly when I was a child, sitting on the floor as close to the television as my parents would allow, with the whole family watching the rockets blast off from Cape Canaveral. These days, the closest I get to that experience is when I log into Second Life to watch the NASA TV with friends there. One day, we were watching the last launch of the shuttle or something like that, and I was raving about Robinson’s Mars Trilogy, saying it was very possibly the most important trilogy I’ve read in my life. All of a sudden, Paradox Olbers chimed in, agreeing with me, that this IS the best trilogy ever. Paradox is a grand old man of the NASA and astronomy community in Second Life, so when folks heard him say this, everyone paid attention.

So, what is it that excites me so much about these? They are incredibly well crafted, and examine the possible story of humans settling on Mars through a surprisingly large cast of well-developed characters, each of which comes with his or her own bias and slant. Some characters become a lens into understanding the tech, but others reveal thoughts on the psychological complications or historical context and significance. Where the book does talk about tech, I have the sense that angels were whispering in Robinson’s ear. The only thing that is off is the timeline. Robinson forecasts the development of an enormous range of new technologies. For the earlier ones, he forecast they’d emerge around 2040 or so, but the timeline is off — they are happening now. Now! When I read these books, I don’t feel so much of a willing suspension of disbelief as a sense of a tiny peephole into the future, that this happened already, and I just have to live long enough to confirm it. I could go on at length about specifics into ideas in the book that excited me, or the remarkable craft of the actual storytelling, but this is only one blogpost, so instead, perhaps you should just read these. Warning, to read them closely, plan on spending a few months at it. This is dense reading.