[Plura-list] Turning plastics into carbon nanotubes; Kids reason, adults rationalize; Someone Comes to Town Part 19

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Mon Oct 19 11:33:44 EDT 2020


Today's Attack Surface Lecture: Cyberpunk and Post-Cyberpunk with Bruce
Sterling and Christopher Brown

Full schedule: https://attacksurface.com


Today's links

* Turning plastics into carbon nanotubes: Promising new research!

* Kids reason, adults rationalize: Thoughts on YA literature and books
for adults.

* Someone Comes to Town Part 19: This week on the podcast.

* This day in history: 2005, 2010, 2015, 2019	

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming appearances, current writing
projects, current reading


🥘 Turning plastics into carbon nanotubes

Between research about microplastics in the environment, China ceasing
plastic recycling, and revelations about Big Oil's decades of
disinformation about the recyclability of plastic overall, I've been
feeling a sense of impending, plasticky doom.


But every now and again, I'll get a little cause for hope, some news
story about an enzyme or catalytic process that can turn waste plastic
into something useful without creating untold environmental wreckage.

Scientific papers like "Microwave-initiated catalytic deconstruction of
plastic waste into hydrogen and high-value carbons" in @nature are
incredibly promising!


I parsed it with the help of John Timmer's layperson-friendly breakdown
for Ars Technica.

The researchers mixed grocery-store waste-plastic with iron, then hit it
with microwaves.


The resulting reaction liberated vast amounts of hydrogen from the
plastic, leaving behind carbon nanotubes. The majority of the iron was
left unchanged, and they were able to mix fresh plastic in with it ten
more times, leaving behind a 92% nanotube output.

Timmer points to a US synthetic biology group that has an idea for
processing the hydrogen released in the process: an enzyme that, when
mixed with porous silicon oxide, turns out lubricant, fuel, or other
hydrocarbons based on tweaks to the process.

If you lack access to the paywalled version of the article and want to
read it yourself, here's a Sci-Hub mirror:


(The research was done at public universities, but a condition of
publishing in Nature is signing over the rights, denying public access.
Researchers are not paid by Nature for these rights, and their own
institutions then have to pay to access their work)


🥘 Kids reason, adults rationalize

This is the second and final week of "The Attack Surface lectures," a
series of 8 bookstore hosted virtual events exploring themes in the
third Little Brother book, Attack Surface.


On Weds, Oct 21, the theme is "Little Revolutions," AKA writing radical
fiction for kids, with guests Tochi Onyebuchi and Bethany C Morrow; you
see, Little Brother and its sequel, Homeland, were young adult novels,
while Attack Surface is a novel for adults.

That fact, and the upcoming event, have me thinking about the difference
between fiction for teens and for adults. Litquake were kind enough to
publish my working-through of this thinking in  a new essay called "Kids
Use Reason, Adults Rationalize."


I can pinpoint the exact moment I decided to write for teens: it was
when Kathe Koja - herself an accomplished writer in multiple genres -
guest-lectured at a Clarion writing workshop I was teaching.

Koja described how, on school visits, kids would argue passionately with
her about her books, and how this wasn't rudeness - it was respect. The
kids weren't reading her books as mere distractions; they were treating
them as possible roadmaps to a complex and difficult world.

Before then, I was with Steven Brust: "Telling someone they wrote a bad
book is like telling them they've got an ugly kid. Even if it's true,
it's too late to do anything about it now, and anyway, they did
everything they could to prevent it."

But Koja convinced me that when it came to teens, an exception was
warranted. Little Brother and Homeland were, in effect, bets on that
proposition. The bets paid off: countless now-adult readers have
approached me to tell me how those books shaped their worldview.

Some became activists or cryptographers or hackers or tech workers, but
even the readers who DIDN'T go into tech tell me that the books made
them aware of both the liberatory power of technology, and its power to
oppress, and the importance of taking a side in that fight.

Spending a decade+ in contact with young readers has changed my
worldview, too. It's made me realize that while the power to reason is
often present in very young people, the context - the stuff to reason
*about* - takes time to accumulate.

There are some disciplines that lean heavily on reasoning and have
relatively little context: math, computer science, chess. Learn some
basic principles, apply your reasoning, and you can build up towering
edifaces of work and expertise.

Other disciplines - law, medicine, history - simply require so much
*knowledge* as well as reason that just packing in the reading takes
years and years, no matter how good you are at reasoning. That's why
there are child chess prodigies but not child history prodigies.

Fiction is part of that context-acquisition process.

The realization that adults don't have a monopoly on reason has a
corollary: kids don't have a monopoly on failures of reason.

Indeed, there is a distinctive form of failure-to-reason endemic to
adulthood: long-term rationalization, the process by which one makes a
series of small compromises, one at a time, that add up to a
catastrophic moral failure.

That's the crux of ATTACK SURFACE, whose protagonist, Masha, is having a
moral reckoning with a career spent in mass surveillance technology - a
career she has managed to square with her  moral sensibilities through
careful rationalization and compartmentalization.

My bet in this book is that adults who feel hopeless and nihilistic
about the future will find a new kind of story: one in which the unitary
hero whose personal actions save the world is replaced with a narrative
of mass movements, political will, and collective action.

Rebuilding our digital infrastructure for human liberation  is a vast
task, but it's only a step on the road to a far larger and more urgent
task: rebuilding our physical world and its energy and infrastructure to
survive and address the climate emergency.

"The climate emergency demands a moonshot, but the moonshot wasn’t
undertaken by science heroes working in their solitary labs: Neil
Armstrong walked on the moon because of the collective, state-sponsored
efforts of millions of people. If we hadn’t gotten to the Moon, the
fault would have been with the system, not with Armstrong’s failure to
build a rocket ship."


🥘 Someone Comes to Town Part 19

Today on my podcast, part 19 of my serial reading of my 2006 novel
glorious book unlike any book you’ve ever read."


Here's where to get the other parts in the series:


And here's a feed link for the whole podcast:


If you need a direct MP3 link, I've got you covered (hosting courtesy of
the Internet Archive, they'll host your stuff for free forever!):


Next weekend, I'm Guest of Honor at Milehicon, so I may not be able to
record, but you can catch me (and other guests, like Connie Willis,
Barbara Hambly, Catherynne Valente, Ian Tregillis, Walter Jon Williams,
and Wil McCarthy) at the con!



🥘 This day in history

#15yrsago Fox shuts down Buffy Hallowe’en musical despite Whedon’s

#10yrsago English Heritage claims it owns every single image of
Stonehenge, ever

#10yrsago HOWTO make edible Hallowe’en eyeballs

#10yrago HOWTO Make Mummy Meatloaf

#10yrsago HOWTO make a prop jetpack out of soda bottles

#5yrsago White supremacists call for Star Wars boycott because imaginary
brown people

#5yrsago Some suggestions for sad, rich people

#5yrsago Survivor-count for the Chicago PD’s black-site/torture camp
climbs to 7,000+

#5yrsago In upsidedownland, Verizon upheld its fiber broadband promises
to 14 cities

#1yrago AOC to endorse Bernie Sanders today

#1yrago Catalan independence movement declares a general strike in
Barcelona https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-50098268


🥘 Colophon

Today's top sources:

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel
about truth and reconciliation. Friday's progress: 519 words (73931 total).

Currently reading: Harrow the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 17)

Upcoming appearances:

* The Attack Surface Lectures: 8 nights of bookstore-hosted events in
which I and a massive group of entertaining and knowledgeable experts
discourse on my latest novel's themes, Oct 13-22

* Milehicon (Guest of Honor!), Oct 23-5, https://milehicon.org/

* Coding Democracy/Toronto International Festival of Authors, Oct 24

Recent appearances:

* Writing Excuses: Researching the FCK out of Things

* SRSLY WRONG: Stop Techno Dystopia!

* Judge John Hodgman: "The Doctorow Doctrine"

Latest book:

* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet
analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a

* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new
introduction by Edward Snowden:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime,
gender, and kicking ass. Order here:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed
copy here:

Upcoming books:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020.

This work licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.
That means you can use it any way you like, including commercially,
provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link
to pluralistic.net.


Quotations and images are not included in this license; they are
included either under a limitation or exception to copyright, or on the
basis of a separate license. Please exercise caution.


🥘 How to get Pluralistic:

Blog (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):


Newsletter (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):


Mastodon (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):


Twitter (mass-scale, unrestricted, third-party surveillance and


Tumblr (mass-scale, unrestricted, third-party surveillance and advertising):


*When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla* -Joey "Accordion Guy"

-------------- next part --------------
A non-text attachment was scrubbed...
Name: signature.asc
Type: application/pgp-signature
Size: 195 bytes
Desc: OpenPGP digital signature
URL: <http://mail.flarn.com/pipermail/plura-list/attachments/20201019/68d26194/attachment-0001.sig>

More information about the Plura-list mailing list