Monday, April 17, 2017

Mystification 01

What would timeless beings look like to us? We are time-bound, our thoughts, our perceptions, even our biology seemingly linked to the arrow of time. But timelessness might be a real thing and transfinite beings might be all around us. We would see them through our time-bound eyes. They would age, they would die. Except they wouldn't. It would be a trick played on us because we are embedded in spacetime, we are linked to the sensation of time. We would be incapable of seeing the timeless as timeless.

What's more, time is variable. Our sense of it is affected by the physical properties of matter. Gravity can distort time because it distorts spacetime and time is fundamentally linked to space. What people don't realize about this weirdness, it's been proven. Einstein's theory of general relativity has passed every last test put to it. From distortions in astronomical observations due to the curvature of spacetime to the slower decay of atoms when accelerated to a percentage of the speed of light, general relativity has passed the test. It's real.

It's also essentially timeless, since time is bound up with spacetime and highly malleable. Time does not exist as a separate dimension or quantity. Yet we are time-bound.

Where does time come from? Or our sense of it. Quantum entanglement, that spooky action at a distance predicted, and once again, proved to exist. Time, or our experience of it, is an emergent phenomenon...

What is an emergent phenomenon? Generally speaking, an large-scale event or object or aspect of existence derived from small components or tiny events. Like the giant termite mounds in Africa are an emergent phenomenon from the simple behaviors of the termites themselves.

Oh, man, have I gone far afield from from a little fictional thought experiment...not my intention.

Just this: we could not see the true nature of transfinite beings because of our time-bound existence. We would perceive the transfinite or timeless as temporal creatures like ourselves. We would see them age and die, even though they do not age and die. Inside the spacetime bubble of our universe, we are time-bound. But this is not true of outside observers. A tiny bit of this has been experimentally proven in physics experiments involving entanglement.

What we perceive as reality might not be...real.

To go into more detail would require hours of study and even then I might get it wrong. I just don't have the math (manifolds and topological space for instance, that goes way, way beyond Calc 3 and differential equations, the level at which I stalled out way back in college) and the knowledge of quantum theory (I stalled out at Engineering Physics II) to deal with it. My brain hurts.


Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Fictional Waltz: Who Knew Software Had a Sense of Humor?

Darkness seems to wrap around us every day, in our jobs, in our culture...but there's still fun to be had.

One of my favorite films is After the Rain. It's the last script written by Akira Kurosawa. Great film. I watched a clip from the film on youtube...the only trouble, it had no subtitles. So I activated youtube's subtitle generator. The results were hilarious.

"About one o'clock in the menu have earned him great tours."
"Mike, he was missing."
"She's there."
"New York!"
"The Le Mons!"
"It's not the same good suit, against reason."
"Not his furrow."
"Moncton and tsunami!"
"First smiles and for the moment it's put back flat."
"As for the manga, Basque Barbara Median."
"For me it's not that, we still found a difference."
"Hired at the right time for the Lotois!"
"Cross on the canvas! Noblet! Noblet!"
"Two schoolboys!"
"No passengers."
"Although newspapers when it's a bit in the alcohol in the passion..."
"As for me, I'm a dead man insurer."
"That's how I sign me."
"Enable sampdoria allowing the canton of Vaud about Claud LeBlond!"
"The other side of the room for all other days!"
"If you think being adopted at baseball school such action to sign the text!"
"Volkswagon, 5,000,000."
"A spokesperson has a short memory."
"Other axis down but nothing is played!"
"They must be born in August!"

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Fictional Waltz: Prometheus Boot

If I wanted to waste my time, I could rewrite the plot of Prometheus into something interesting. I guess I'm wasting my time.

Here's the plot of Prometheus in a nutshell.
Ancient Engineers in a bizarre ritual sacrificed one of their own using nanomachine oil to deconstruct the victim's body into constituent DNA in order to seed the early Earth. Maybe they were hoping to re-create themselves in us. But we were a disappointment. They decided to eradicate their creation. Before they did so, these half-smart idiots managed to destroy their forward operating base in an accident involving their shaper nano oil. Some of them went into cryosleep to sleep through the event. Bad for them as a whole, since this biohazard spread throughout their civilization, maybe even to their home world, and destroyed most of them. Cut to Earth,the near future. Rich guy puts together the pieces of the puzzle of artifacts to discover the location of the Engineer's forward base. He secretly wishes to live forever, but his initial idea to create an artificial shell for his mind only led to the creation of androids, not a viable host body. So, as an old man, he hides away in cryosleep on the deep space exploration ship he sends out to investigate this mystery. He secretly hopes to discover immortality. Lots of nonsensical shit happens, including the nanomachine oil being unleashed as an uncontrolled experiment by the android - on orders from the old fuck. It doesn't work out like he planned. Most of the crew dies and he's killed by the Engineer he wakes up. Instead of immortality, he gets death. The Engineer wants to complete his mission to destroy humanity, so he tries to launch his strike craft, only to be taken out by the Earth ship, which is also destroyed. The human survivor decides to take the remaining Engineer ship to their home world. The End.

I am aware that a few of my readers are deeply vested in this movie, in the Alien franchise. I'm not. If you have been entertained by Prometheus or the Alien series, good. I'm glad you got your money's worth out of it. Many of us have not had any benefit from exposure to these films. For me, Prometheus is a roasted piece of fecal matter. With just about any seasoned professional SF writer, or shit, for that matter, just about any well-read fan of science fiction, you could have had a coherent, compelling story. Like this one.

For those who complain about my little sketch below, I will explain. Every story must have an end. This is part one of an extended end to the Alien/Engineer story. I would take them out with a bang. It would never be made, the film industry is ruled by corporations. Little things like entertainment and good stories mean nothing to them. $$$ does. It is their sole concern. Why are all the new Star Wars movies orbiting around the original from 1977? $$$. Why is the Alien franchise an open one, with no ending or conclusion to the cycle? $$$. Here's what might be if money didn't rule the known universe.

Now, I like the parts of the story about egotistical rich men who want to live forever. Kinda reminds me of a recent president of the United States. Let's keep that, only, this time, the evidence doesn't consist of stone carvings on Earth. Please, this is science fiction. Let's borrow a few ideas from Arthur C. Clarke and Mass Effect. An artifact is found buried on the Moon. It beams a message into deep space, to Mars. We find a collapsed, abandoned base on Mars with fossilized Alien hunters and Engineer corpses. No threats. The transmission from the Moon was recorded by the still-functioning computer system, but the transluminal comm system was destroyed in the ancient catastrophe. The old guy funds a deep-space cryosleep mission to the Engineers' forward base.

We keep the mission part, how the old guy is hidden away on the ship, his motivations for doing so, and his spy/agent, the android.

Then it gets weird. I have learned one thing from the many tragedies I have endured in my life: Nothing turns out the way you think it will.

After they went into cryosleep, there was a revolution. The ship was never launched on its mission. It has instead been in a distant orbit around the sun. Meanwhile, peace was restored and humanity forgot about the mission. The ship is found and stashed in an orbit with other space junk. Three thousand years pass. The original AI, the one the genius old monomaniac created, is still ticking and has lots of money. An inventory of the trash orbit has been done and the ship discovered. The cryosleep containers are all still intact, still functional. The AI hires a massive starship to transport the ship to the Engineer forward base. A number of major catches to the old guy's plan ensue.

They are awakened by humans from the future. They are transhuman, with internal cybernetic enhancements. There are also true AI bots on the ship. Here's a great line one of them speaks to the android: "Shit, you are so Version 1.0." Their immense ship is transluminal, they are in orbit over the Engineer forward base. The only trouble is, they will release the ship from one of their holding bays, but if they land, they can't come back up. The world has been banned from contact for about five hundred years. Anyone going to the surface has to stay there. "You can orbit for a while, take what readings you want, send down remotes. After you're done, we'll load you up in the bay and take you back to Sol system. The old man's AI wants to see him again."

The old man is secretly awakened by the android. He takes control of the ship and lands it on the planet. The transhumans on the big starship warn them that they are armed with directed energy weapons and hypervelocity rail guns. They will be destroyed if they try to make orbit.

Idiocy ensues. They beg for help from the surface, the transhumans send down remotes to help. The old man wakes one of the cyropreserved Engineers, against the advice from the starship. The remotes talk to the Engineer with a translation program, interrogate him. The old man and the others realize that there's more going on here than they knew. It's like the people on the ship know more about the Engineers than they do. It is revealed that the Engineers are religious bigots. He hunts and kills most of the crew before he tries to take off. As good as their word, the immense human starship blows the shit out of the Engineer's ship. It seems that 3000 years is enough time for humanity to surpass the technology of the Engineers. The surviving humans on the planet take the last Engineer ship and, in a very risky maneuver, use transluminal near the planet's surface to jump into hyperspace.

Did I mention that the transhumans don't speak? They communicate via internal comm systems. Occasionally they will sing. Very weird people, not any identifiable race, like they are a mixture of all races. Very family atmosphere, little children. Two of the scientists on the old man's ship like these new humans so much, they pack up and leave. The CO of the old man's ship demands their return. "They've joined the crew, they're us now. You can be, too." The CO is repulsed by the offer, but this starts a conflict on the old man's ship, where many of the crew want to join the transhumans. The android kills a man who tries to leave. About this time, the old man and the android take control of the ship and land.

The last scenes of the movie, which is, of course, part one of a series, reveals something that we've known intuitively from about halfway through the movie: the real protagonists of the film are the transhumans. Especially the captain of the immense ship, who is a female always with small children around her. It is revealed that this is not just any freelance cargo ship. It's a warship full of mercenaries. They were hired by the AI to destroy the Alien/Engineer menace once and for all. The original plan, to fulfill the old man's dream of seeing the Engineer forward base, put them back into cryosleep, use what their remotes could learn from the surface to find the Engineer home world, then bombard the forward base into radioactive slag. They know where the survivors are headed, to the Engineer home world. We see a vast array of fighting machines and soldiers come awake in a storage area. Time to finish the fight.


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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Riot is Now in Progress: Progressives as Pirates

The child in me never died when I grew up. So when I heard the phrase "...we'll board their ship..." in this Young Turks video, the image of progressives as pirates immediately leapt into my thoughts.

This isn't mockery, it's praise.

On my list of things to do:

Buy a parrot and teach it to say "We want universal health care now!" It'll sit on my shoulder.

Get a tattoo that reads "$15 or death!"

Make plans to march establishment Dems off a plank, preferably in the deep ocean.

Buy cutlasses at discount.

Start wearing an eye patch...oh, wait, I did that when the cancer was behind my left eye. Stopped it when the tumor was killed. I'll go back to that look.

The pirate nation is born!! Dear corporations, remember this line from The Black Pearl? "Take it all and give none of it back!"

Progressives as pirates. Works for me.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Myths of the Oligarchs: Charity is Bad

I can only counter that with a subjective story of what I did yesterday. I gave all my cash away. I had a twenty stashed in my billfold for weeks. I broke it the other day at the copy store, paying for a few copies of forms I had to send in. I was out running yet more small errands - when you're poor, all your errands are small - when I began to meet homeless people. A lot of them. I gave each a dollar. I wish I made enough to give each a twenty, but that's not possible. These are mostly old people out begging on the streets. Old people begging in the USA. Also several vets, two with missing limbs. Disabled vets begging.

Long story short: I ended up with five dollars in cash at the end of the day. I stopped off at Dollar General to pick up a few canned goods. Some sweet little girls were in line in front of me, buying Elmer's Glue, construction paper, and snacks. School project, most likely. Their little minds hadn't quite grasped math yet, they were three dollars short. Their little faces were saddened and embarrassed. They asked if they could put some stuff back. I pulled out the five and gave it to the clerk. The little ones thanked me on the way out. The oldest one, the one in charge, came up to me, very solemn, and gave me their change. So I guess I have two dollars left. Their sweet, stunned little faces, surprised that a stranger would help them, it would have made me smile...but the left side of my face was aching as usual. The lymphedema acting up again. I couldn't smile, on the outside at least.

I'm happy that I did it. Overjoyed. Charity, good works, helping others, they bind the community together. The oligarchs will put you in jail for feeding the poor, helping strangers. For real. All over the USA, cities are passing ordinances banning charitable works. Why? To fragment us, to keep us fragmented. If people give to me, I am obligated to give to others. By my actions, in a very small way, I unite the community.

Go give. It feels so damned good. Give it all away and it will come back to you in unexpected and joyous ways.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Bad Writing 101 - Episode 1

Here's an article from the LA Times...

Thanks to hundreds of records of lunar and solar eclipses carved in clay tablets and written into dynastic histories, modern scientists have determined that the amount of time it takes for Earth to complete a single rotation on its axis has slowed by 1.8 milliseconds per century, according to a report published Wednesday in Proceedings of the Royal Society A....It may not sound significant, but over the course of 2½ millenniums, that time discrepancy adds up to about 7 hours.

Except, no, it doesn't. The writer confused two different things, real increase and "cumulative error" (aka propagation of uncertainty). In other words, the error that a hypothetical clock running for the last 2500 years would show between terrestrial time (based on atomic clocks) and universal time (the rotation of the Earth) is pretty large, but it isn't a measure of the actual increase in the length of the day. The author did make a rather stumbling attempt at explaining the two different types of timekeeping, but never realized her fundamental mistake.

To reassure you, it will take around 140 million years before we have to add another hour to the day.

Oh, and it's "millennia" not "millenniums." Not that I'm a grammar nazi, normally I don't care, but SHE WORKS FOR A MAJOR NEWSPAPER.


Saturday, June 18, 2016

Something other than Cancer: Half Life 3?

Some days I'm tired of talking about my cancer and all the myriad problems that come with it. Like Christmas in hell every damn day. So I will talk about something almost as depressing: why Half Life 3 will never be made.

The Half Life franchise from Valve is the most beloved in all of gaming. Half Life 2 holds up even years after its release. The memorable characters and their relationships with the protagonist Gordon Freeman - one hell of a bad ass post-doc in physics - really take the game to another level. Half Life 2 Episode 2 ended on a compelling cliffhanger. It was so integral to the plot, almost an insult to call it a "cliffhanger." So what's the deal? This should be a no-brainer, Half Life 3 writes itself.

From an author's point of view, the ideas and characters would drive Half Life 3 into creation. They are just too compelling to resist for any creator. But for a company, a collective, there are only down sides to this project. It is the difference between the individual artist and the committee.

"What down sides?" you might ask.

So, so many of them. I'll only list a few.

First, the Half Life franchise is the foundational first person action shooter. Just about every FPS made since its release is a homage to Half Life. There is nothing new in the FPS for Valve to play with. The genre is all used up. Remember, gimmicks did not put Half Life into our hearts.

Second. The enduring power of Half Life is in the characters. That means story. Valve pushed story as far into the FPS as it will go. This is no typical FPS storyline, levels of subtlety are in the game, from the backstory told through newspaper clippings to the constant subliminal appearances of the G-Man. Let us not forget Alyx. Her backbone is a specially constructed AI over which the developers fussed for countless hours. All that effort to put a story into a place where stories don't usually appear. This should tell you that there is only one place this can now travel, a place full of fear for Valve. Half Life defined the FPS. To carry the franchise forward to the end requires that they abandon the FPS. For the same reason that Disney required Han Solo to abandon his maturity to remain the same, Valve will not do what is necessary. They can't figure out how to squeeze Half Life 3 into a FPS. They can't go back, they can't go forward. They are stuck.

What am I on about? I hate to denigrate fans, but man, you guys don't like change much, do you? Fuss over changes made to a beloved comic book hero, even down to the color of a uniform. Or Han Solo. He's the one easiest to talk about. In the original trilogy, we see him change from a drug smuggler low-life into a responsible leader, a general. Just what happens to people like that after the battle's won? They sure as hell don't go back to being drug smugglers. Most of them remain generals. Some become presidents. What happened when Disney took over? They put Han back into his smuggler outfit and stuck him in the Falcon again. "We're home, Chewie."

Valve is afraid of us. If they do what is necessary to take the story forward, a backlash from hardcore gamers might ensue. "Might"? I'm giving you too much credit. You WILL lash out. Serious money is involved. I imagine Gabe Newell has nightmares about a horde of outraged fans abandoning the Steam game portal out of spite, breaking Valve's cash cow.

Three. Mass Effect. This is a very innovative, character driven, powerful game trilogy. Bioware created a fusion of the role-playing-game and the action shooter, the RPG shooter. Not only that, they managed to stuff a great story into that innovation. Bioware was on track for gaming heaven until they botched the ending to Mass Effect 3. A storm of complaints, controversy - everything a company hates. This was largely brought by the leaders of the development team, who made several very, very serious storytelling mistakes...but companies don't notice things like that. Valve, as a corporate entity, only noticed the shit storm of disapproval and thought: "That could be us! Don't make Half Life 3!"

Too bad. Because Mass Effect, right up until the last moments of the last game, was the role model for how to pull off Half Life 3. It's not very technically innovative, but it does bring story and character to the front. CD Projekt has put together a wonderful franchise with the Witcher. Except for the graphics, the gameplay is hardly more sophisticated than the original KOTOR. Doesn't seem to matter. Valve should use the RPG-shooter fusion format. Don't make another tired FPS game. Give Gordon a way to interact with the other characters. Fill up every moment with story content. Expand on the squad play in Half Life 2, give him a team to control. Answer all the questions. Sure, fight the Combine, shoot monsters, hit people with a crowbar. More interaction with the environment. Maybe go third person.

They won't do it. All the hardcore fans expect a FPS. They expect no change in Gordon or the other characters. There would be controversy, risk in this approach. Valve is risk-adverse. Money makes them that way. Half Life 3 cannot go forward as an FPS. It cannot go forward as a fusion game. So it will never go forward.

It's done.

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