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Programming, speculative fiction, science, technology
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Brian Greene in Austin, March 2005

P640 Brian Greene in Austin in March of 2005, promoting his book "The Fabric of The Cosmos".

On March 7, 2005 Brian Greene, a string theorist and author of "The Elegant Universe" and "The Fabric of The Cosmos", gave an interview at a Barnes & Noble in Austin. He was interviewed by Jeff Salomon from Austin-American Statesman and took questions from the audience.

The topics involved: What kind of experiments can possibly verify string theory? How and why would you look for astronomical evidence of strings? Would it make sense to look for confirmation of string theory in the possible violations of the Second Law of Thermodynamics? What is Brian Greene's own interpretation of quantum entanglement? What does it mean that space and time are not fundamental? In what sense is space-time analogous to temperature? What's next for physics after TOE? Will there be anything left to do, or will science come to an end? And, umm... does Brian Greene feel a need to reconcile psychic phenomena with the unified physical theory?

The talk also revealed some things you would not immediately think of Brian Greene. By his own admission, he finds physics hard and visualisation helps him enormously to understand physics concepts. That's one reason why he never condescends to his audience. (Another may be that he is simply a nice person.) Also, did you know that Brian Greene's books can cause people to quit drinking and start reading?

Note: I could not hear everything that was said or write it down verbatim, so I paraphrased some places the best I could. Most of them are in angle brackets.

Wil McCarthy on his programmable matter career -- an ApolloCon 2009 Guest of Honor speech

P1050961 Wil McCarthy at ApolloCon 2009 demonstrates a programmable glass that grows reflective under heat

Wil McCarthy, a scientist and science fiction author, was the Guest of Honor at ApolloCon 2009. He gave a talk on the work he's been doing in programmable matter. He started off by showing the audience a piece of clear glass. Then he heated the glass with a hair dryer. An irregularly shaped reflective blob grew on the glass -- the heat turned the glass reflective. This was McCarthy's demonstration of materials he's working on in his startup.

Definitions and discussion of programmable matter can be found elsewhere on the web, and McCarthy did not dwell on the theory, but talked about his work in this area. His practical work in programmable matter developed from his nonfiction book "Hacking Matter", which it turn was born from his fiction. He talked about the events that lead to writing of "Hacking Matter", and how it attracted investors' interest, leading to creation of programmable matter startup. McCarthy talked about his company's journey to discovery of viable commercial applications for these materials, and why he avoids the word "nanotechnology" for marketing this technology to investors. He briefly discussed weapon potential and security issues of programmable matter with the audience. Finally, he talked about balancing his science and writing careers, or rather, impossibility thereof.

Pictures from ApolloCon 2009 are available in my photo gallery.

Read more about ApolloCon 2009 in my blog


Gregory Benford at Fencon 2008

P1020518 Gregory Benford Keynote at Fencon 2008

Science fiction writer and physics professor Gregory Benford was the Guest of Honor at Fencon 2008. On several occasions during convention he shared his thoughts on topics such as American dominance in the world and its role to play in the technological future. Having been in science fiction fandom for four decades, Benford is proud of American science fiction and fandom influence on the world, which he puts in such blunt terms as "We own the future". At the same time he acknowledges that the future is not all rosy, and that science fiction may be the proverbial canary in the coal mine, signaling of darker times to come. Benford's keynote speech on Saturday was the problems facing the world and what can be done about them. Of those, global climate change was the most significant issue. He assured us that whatever is being done to counter it isn't working, because global warming is typically viewed as a moral problem (excessive consumption), when it needs to be seen as an engineering problem. To that end he proposed an unconventional -- or perhaps little known -- approach. At the end of his speech he spent some time on space travel and overpopulation.

Gregory Benford also appeared in the "Science -- fact or crap?" game at Fencon, where two teams of players competed regarding their knowledge of science facts. Read more about it in my blog.