Monday, August 4, 2014

Protopia - Envisioning an Improving Future

As part of the movement to return to optimistic science fiction, Kevin Kelly proposed a writing project on the web magazine The prompt was to write in 100 words or less, a description of a compelling future 100 years hence that is neither horrible dystopia (machines harvesting our energy, vast squatter cities picking through the garbage of the rich) or boring utopia (free food, no work, sybaritic decadence).

By promoting optimistic and appealing future scenarios, we may be able to inspire young people to become technologists and scientists that work to create such a future. (More on the Optimistic SciFi movement at Neal Stephenson's Project Hieroglyph page

Below is my humble submission:

Small scale fusion and distributed solar cells make energy cheap enough to ignore.

Radical transparency reduces inequality to tolerable background levels. Prediction markets and algorithms inform policy making.

New perennial food crops, restore tilth and sequester carbon in healthy, biodiverse soils. Small scale attempts at deextinction lead to increasingly ambitious rewilding projects.

Human population voluntarily split between dense cities and distributed villages. All are connected by high speed networks. There are no hinterlands.

Automation renders most human work unnecessary, liberating people to engage in creative and analytic pursuits. Code and algorithm auditing are major sources of employment.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Lenovo Yoga 2 11

A customer has asked me to prepare some Windows 7 machines to go to South America for some fieldwork. Because of the scope of the project (and some time constraints) we didn't use an institutional vendor through the University, but went to Best Buy instead. We settled on Lenovo's nice, compact, light weight Yoga 2 11. It comes with Windows 8.1, but we intended to 'downgrade' to Windows 7. The Yoga 2 11 doesn't come with a CD drive, but that wasn't a problem - I just grabbed a USB CD drive and prepared to install Windows 7 from a CD. It turns out that the Yoga 2 11 comes with an unadvertised 'feature' - you cannot boot it from an external source.

I assumed that this was merely some BIOS security getting in the way. In BIOS, I disabled Secure Boot, disabled Fast Boot, and enabled USB Boot.

Going the traditional route, I rebooted and hit F12 at the splash screen to select an alternate boot source. Nothing. My only option was Windows Boot Manager. I selected that and Windows 8.1 launched.

Accepting that I'd have to interact with the 8.1 OS, I went into Advanced Startup Options. Under Advanced startup, I selected 'Restart now'. I then selected 'Use a device'. I first tried 'EFI USB Device' (the CD drive is connected via USB, right?) and received the following error: 'System doesn't have any USB boot option. Please select other boot option in Boot Manager Menu'. Next I tried 'EFI DVD/CDROM' and received 'System doesn't have any CD/DVD boot option. Please select other boot option in Boot Manager Menu.'

After spending several hours on the phone with Lenovo tech support (3.5 hours, 4 representatives) I eventually got through to a supervisor. The representatives had variations on 'If you want to restore your OS, press the 'novo' button and boot from the recovery partition.', 'We can sell you the recover disk that you need.', and (my favorite) 'Yes, you can do that, but you'll have to talk to a different department so they can tell you how. Here, I am transferring you to the department that transferred you to me.' The supervisor quite definitively told me that boot from an alternate source is simply not an option for this machine.

This was very frustrating. I've had many frustrating afternoons with computers in the past, but I've always managed to get a resolution. This is the first time that I've had a computer say 'I can't let you do that Dave.' I really expect my machines to say 'Yes master!'.

So here's what I think about the Lenovo Yoga 2 11: It's a remarkably small, light, and sleek laptop. It seems quite responsive with a gorgeous monitor. If you're looking for a Windows 8.1 machine and know that you will never need to change the OS, this is a great buy. It is smaller than a legal pad and weighs barely anything at all. However, if you're a power user and expect to be able to change your OS, boot to Spinrite, want to play with Linux, etc. I'd strongly recommend against buying this machine.