Aug 072012
 

In 1987, a bunch of sci-fi authors were polled for their views on who the world of 2012 would look. How does the “time capsule” of these projections match up? Not bad, with some unsurprising inaccuracies. Go have a look–the second link has all of the predictions in full, while the first link looks at pieces of a few and analyzes their accuracy.


It should come as no secret or surprise that I love Cracked’s lists that focus on correcting cultural misperceptions or raising awareness of things most people don’t know. 5 ways you odn’t realize movies are controlling your brain is of particular interest to me as a writer, because it deals with how fiction alters our perceptions in subtle ways. Here’s the bullet-point rundown, but you should read the article to get the full explanation.

  1. No, you can’t separate fact from fiction.
  2. Stories were invented to control you.
  3. The writer of a story always has an agenda.
  4. You were raised–and educated–by pop culture.
  5. Everything in your brain is a story.

Saw a link on Facebook to “the most terrifying video you’ll ever see”, which dealt with explaining why inaction on global warming is very bad thing to do in a way meant to be inarguable. Rather than examining the question “is global warming occurring?”, he instead looks at the consequences of action or inaction in the extreme cases of “global warming definitely isn’t occurring at all” and “global warming is occurring and will result in catastrophe.”

In two of the four cases, nothing happens and everyone is fine. In one of four (acting to combat global warming, it’s for nothing), we’re a worse off due to mass expenditure for no apparent gain.1 And in the final scenario, humanity suffers a complete and total global catastrophe. His conclusion is that the consequences of the catastrophe being more dire than the consequences of acting in error, it only makes sense to act, even if it’s in error.

While I applaud the guy for presenting the argument in a way most people don’t generally think about it, and agree with his ultimate conclusions, I have some misgivings about the method in general. It’s basically using the same ploy that Pascal’s Wager uses to justify religious belief.

That said, he is correct to point out that we don’t get to choose whether or not global warming is happening; it either is or is not. We do get to choose how to act.


Seven-foot long minifig-scale Serenity model is a Lego masterpiece.


The Best Of The Internet’s Reaction To The Mars Rover Landing has a bunch of fun meme images around Curiosity’s successful landing.

It seems inescapable, though, that scientific accomplishment will be met with asshattery. I saw an image meme going around on Facebook with the text “Congratulations on wasting $100 billion dollars landing a remote controlled buggy on Mars. Not sure how this is supposed to help us poor people here on Earth but great job.”

The amount of wrong in that statement borders on physical pain. First, NASA’s entire annual budget is ~$18 billion, which represents less than 0.5% of the annual federal budget. What’s more, Curiosity’s total project cost is estimated at ~$2.5 billion, which spans its entire construction history and launch. Not only is that less than 15% of NASA’s annual budget, it’s less than 3% of the quoted number in the meme!

Second, I posted a Cracked article few days back about the “god(damned) particle” and ridiculous things people believe about it. I highlighted a particular passage from point #6, and I’m going to re-post it for emphasis.

When people ask, “What’s the point in understanding everything?” they’ve just disqualified themselves from using questions and should disappear in a puff of paradox. But they don’t understand and just continue existing, which are also their only two strategies for life. These are the apes who sat in the back of the cave, scratching themselves while ooking about how bashing rocks together was a total waste of time. Except back then they had a better excuse for their sloping foreheads and scratching themselves in public.

So outraged was I by seeing this2, I immediately posted a distilled version of this section of the post, with an ultimatum that demanded anyone who agreed with the sentiment unfriend me. As I said there, I do not have time for people that small-minded.

  1. Though I would argue that any efforts we would make toward combating global warming, even if the worst doesn’t befall us, would be smart actions in general. []
  2. The person who prompted it to come up in my feed was actually just commenting on it, not sharing it or agreeing with it. []
Jul 302012
 

I turned 28 on Saturday.

This is a curious occasion for me for a number of reasons. The first is numerological: this is the only time my age and the date of my birth will ever coincide, unless I live until I’m 728. We celebrated in proper style, with somewhere around 25 people attending a party that lasted until 6:30 the next morning. I am a little disappointed with myself for not drinking more than I did, actually, but we had great fun. My sister in law baked some amazing peanut butter cupcakes, and there were pies to be had as well. One of the more notable activities of the evening was the game Psychiatrist, which proved to be a lot of fun. I think we’ll be revisiting that one. Disney Action Princesses were also a thing.

28 is also “the year,” as far as “the plan” goes. It’s the year most novelists get their first publication out, and the book is on track to fit that mold. It’s also the threshold beyond which certain…expansionary discussions could reasonably start happening. I’m not saying those discussions are happening; just that this is when I feel like they could potentially start.

In some ways, 27 was a great year. In other ways, it was rough as hell. But I think all of the rough spots in 27 are ultimately going to have been worthwhile experiences that pay off in 28.

Here’s to the future.


It’s no secret that Tony Stark is a bit of a hero of mine. I am not the child prodigy offspring of a billionaire industrialist, though, so the odds of my ever achieving Tony Stark success is…even smaller than if he weren’t a fictional character. That aside, I apparently now have a target dollar value to aim at: $1,612,717,000.

Aside: I received this as a “silly” birthday present, which I of course immediately assembled and placed on my desk because awesome.


In news that shocks no one, the money won in the Pirate Bay lawsuit/trial is going go to…not the artists.

Hey, RIAA, there was this little movie a while back called Gladiator. You might’ve missed it; it wasn’t big or anything. There was a line in it that you might do well to consider: “win the crowd.” If you win the crowd, even a lowly slave-cum-gladiator can wield enough power to challenge a king (or, y’know, Caesar). You are not winning the crowd by being money-grubbing jerks that don’t compensate the people that make you rich.


There was a piece in HuffPo linked on Slashdot that caught my eye. Much as the Olympics (are meant to) represent the peak of human athleticism, there are yet greater achievements going on that we as a global society aren’t paying any attention to, and that’s sad. Especially when it involves sending an incredible piece of technology to another world to look for other life.

Next week, while we’re all watching NBC, a nuclear-powered, MINI-Cooper-sized super rover will land on Mars. We accurately guided this monster from 200 million miles away (that’s 7.6 million marathons). It requires better accuracy than an Olympic golfer teeing off in London and hitting a hole-in-one in Auckland, New Zealand. It will use a laser to blast rocks, a chemical nose to sniff out the potential for life, and hundreds of other feats of near-magic. Will these discoveries lead us down a path to confirming life on other planets? Wouldn’t that be a good story that might make people care about science?


Remember Richard Muller, the guy who stood up and told the vast, overwhelming majority of the scientific commnuity that it was wrong about climate change and that anything we were seeing was just circumstantial and definitely not human-made?

Yeah, he’s changed his tune. Completely.

Most people don’t understand just how catastrophic this is going to be–at this point, we’re not going to avoid it–because on the surface, it’s not obvious. People in this country, to steal the phrasing a friend of mine used, aren’t going to notice until “growing corn in Iowa becomes impossible, but suddenly Alberta[, Canada] is a fantastic place to do it.” I said to him:

Heh. At that point, famine and drought will have killed quite a few people in Africa, South America, India, and China.

But that’s okay, because those places are full of spics, chinks, and brown people.1


The NSA is spying on everyone, all the time, always.

I find this deeply bothersome in many ways, but in some respects I don’t care. Privacy is a big, big deal to some people. Certain things about privacy are a big deal to me. I don’t want my credit card or social security number spread across the internet for all to steal my identity with, for example. I’d rather not have someone take pictures of me siting on the toilet through my bathroom window, either. In the former case, it’s less because I care that someone has that information, and more because I care about the damage they could do with it. There’s nothing intrinsically problematic with me telling a friend what those two numbers are, because I trust that the friend–even with that power–isn’t going to do something dastardly with it. I don’t trust the rest of the world, thus I want to keep it “private.”

Some people have massive trust issues when it comes to the government. I…don’t really think about the government very often, except when something happens in the news, when it comes time to vote, and when it comes time to pay taxes.2 So, the NSA spying on the conversations I have with my wife, or my friends, or any of that…I just sort of shrug my shoulders. I’m not worried about what the NSA will do to me with that information.

But I am worried about what the NSA might do with that information on everyone. Expand the scope, and it becomes a lot scarier.


In something that will come as no shock to all you Nickelback naysayers out there, we now have scientific evidence that corroborates the general meme that pop music is more homogenous now than it was back in the ’50s.

That said, might one simply interpret this as the gradual honing of our understanding creating music that is pleasing to the largest number of people? While I’m sure a lot of people will balk at the finding on a knee-jerk level, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing.


One of the author blogs I follow is that of Rachel Aaron. She posted this, which gave me some heart.

Here’s a secret, though. When I was starting out, I didn’t write every day. There were times when I quit writing for months at a time, or days when I got up to write and ended up wasting my entire two hours reading web comic archives. It took me a year and a half to finish my first book, and another year to finish my second. But there, friends, is the kicker. Though there were days I didn’t write, days I flubbed, sometimes even months when I walked away from the computer, I never stayed away. I always came back.

The difference between the writers who make it and those who don’t is that the writers who win are the writers who never quit. This is the secret to all writing: You only fail when you stop. So long as you are writing, even if you’re not writing as much or as fast or as well as you’d like to be, so long as you do not quit, you have not failed.


Along the same lines, here are two letters Patton Oswalt presented to Just For Laughs in Montreal during his keynote address. They resonate with the indie groundswell going on across all forms of popular media.

  1. And in case it’s not completely obvious, I was satirizing the typical close-minded–dare I say conservative?–view of the rest of the world that a fair block of this country seems to have. []
  2. And even then, I’m less thinking about the government and more thinking about making sure I have all my documents in order for my accountant. []

Welcome to December

 Posted by at 13:06  No Responses »
Dec 022010
 

November has come and gone, and with it so has another NaNo. This year, I didn’t “win.” In point of fact, I chose not to win after a pile-up of circumstances. I started the month without a clear idea of what I wanted to write. Then, I started writing about a half-formed idea that intrigued me. About 10,000 words in, I realized that the idea wasn’t sufficiently thought-out in its current form to sustain a novel, so I tabled it. Instead, I decided to try and write what amounted to fan fic in a genre wherein I would have no trouble at all going on for 50,000 or more words. I reached 10,000 words yet again, and then it was time to drive out of state for Thanksgiving. That’s when I forgot my laptop bag in the house. At that point, I decided that spending the holiday churning through 40,000 words that I would never actually try to publish wasn’t worth it and abandoned it.

I’m okay with that decision. The first NaNo novel I wrote is unpublishable (probably ever), but it proved to me that I could write that much of a single story in a short timeframe. I had the second NaNo novel’s concept in mind well before starting, and was excited about writing it. I’ve only just started the massive editing work required to make it something I feel is agent-worthy, but I continue to be excited about it. In other words, my second NaNo novel proved to me that I could write something I was proud of and thought worth publishing. That set a new bar for novel #3, and when it became clear that the things I was writing weren’t going to be at that level, it lost its worth. Besides, there’s always next year. There’s also every other month in the year.

So, there’s that.

In other news, the guild has been tackling ICC of late and we’ve been running smoothly until we hit Sindragosa, who we’ve been stuck on now for three weeks! However, we got very close the last time we attacked her1, so I’m confident that we’ll down her next time. Then it’s on to Arthas. We’re all hoping that we can take down both Sindragosa and Arthas this time2, because that’d mean we achieved the entire point of Wrath of the Lich King just before Cataclysm comes out this coming Tuesday.

NASA is set to announce something in a few hours that a lot of people are speculating is the discovery of bacteria here on Earth with DNA that differs from every other known lifeform on the planet. Namely, this bacteria has arsenic in its DNA rather than phosphorous. If this is true, it fundamentally changes our concept of DNA and means the possibilities for life are much broader than we’ve known until now. It also means that at least two distinct types of life evolved on this planet alone, which in turn dramatically increases the chances of it happening elsewhere. My favorite quote from the article is this:

To my mind, this is the one of the major differences between science and religion: scientists get wildly excited and happy when someone proves our basic dogma wrong.

To round out, I want to share this blog post. I haven’t mentioned it here before, but the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were completely successful. I don’t mean in the sense of toppling the WTC towers, which were also obviously successful; I mean in the sense of defeating us. On 9/11, we were attacked by terrorists. We had, essentially, two paths to take on that day: we come together and continue living life as Americans, or we cave to the fear of another attack and throw away our way of life. The recent, absurd “security measures” implemented by the TSA are just another nail in the coffin that prove we caved. We lost. They won.

  1. Only 2% health remaining! []
  2. That’s a tall order. As hard a fight as Sindragosa is, Arthas is even worse. []

Moonshot Insanity

 Posted by at 16:57  No Responses »
Oct 092009
 

I’m upset.

This happens when people exhibit kneejerk reactions without first trying to understand the details. In this case, I’m referring to LCROSS and the moon impactor study.

I value science and the pursuit of knowledge. As such, I’m going to make a point-by-point rebuttal of one of the more egregious reactionary articles I’ve read concerning this topic. That article may be found here*.

On Friday, NASA is planning to crash into the moon. I’m just wondering: who gave them permission to crash into the moon? Not once, but twice.

The USA is a democratic republic. The people elect representative officials to legislate, execute, and adjudicate. NASA, a government agency, owes its budget to the whims of congress (legislative) and answers to the president (executive). The people working at NASA do so because the representatives we’ve elected have chosen them as the best candidates for the job. This trickles down from the guy in charge to the lowest intern, with all the intermediary managers having delegate responsibility.

So, in short, we gave NASA permission to pursue scientific endeavors as they best see fit by electing our current representatives.

Further, the people at NASA are qualified. Very qualified. They know what they’re talking about and they’ve gone through a lot of schooling. I’m going to quote the excellent Atomic Rocket.

So you know, university Physics is essentially three years of this discussion among like-minded enthusiasts.

Done with supercomputers, access to the textbook collections of five continents and thirty languages.

On four hours sleep a night.

With no sex.

You’re not going to find the loophole these guys missed.

Continuing on with the absurdity…

The rocket and satellite will smash into the moon at 5600 mph (more than seven times the speed of sound). The size of the explosion will be equal to that of 1.5 tons of TNT and will release 772,000 pounds of lunar dirt into a 6.2 mile high spray of debris, NASA’S own version of shock and awe, in a purported experiment to see if any ice or water is released.

I’m just wondering, who signed the paper? Who did the risk assessment? I mean, what if something goes wrong?

Remember that first paragraph? These guys are experts. They did the risk assessment. Trust them; they don’t have their job “just because.” We often refer to less-than-complex matters by saying, “it’s not rocket science.” Well, guess what: this is rocket science, and these are rocket scientists.

It’s a big explosion. Suffice it to say that any amateur astronomer west of the Mississippi with a home telescope will be able to view it from their backyard.

I could say something scientifically lame and ask, “What if it gets thrown off its axis?” or something funny and suggest something (that I actually sort of believe), like, “What if it somehow throws off the astrology?” Or that we’re not risking — as we have the earth with continued experiments of this kind — sending the solar system out of balance.

This is a failure to understand scale.

The moon orbits the Earth once every 27.3 days at a distance of 384,399 km. This works out to an orbital velocity of about 3,700 km/hour. The moon has a mass of 73.5 billion billion metric tons. Thus, the moon has a total kinetic energy (relative to the Earth) of 7.76 x 1028 Joules, or the equivalent of about 18,500 billion megatons of TNT.

And you’re worried about an impactor with 8.09 x 10-18% (that’s 8.09 billion billion billionths of a percent!) the kinetic energy?

Why?

The moon is under constant meteor bombardment, as well. You need only look at its pockmarked surface for confirmation. A common 5-meter ferrous (i.e. iron) asteroid crashing into the moon at the same speed as the impactor is going to have 250 times the kinetic energy.

The irony is that one of the purposes of the experiment is to assess whether there is any water on the moon and is it worthwhile to send another manned mission to the moon. If we’d just send up two guys with a bucket and shovels, we wouldn’t have to bomb the moon at all.

The amount of money and planning that goes into every manned mission is enormous compared to unmanned missions. Getting people into space, along with all the required support equipment (atmosphere, water, food, etc.) is hard and requires a great deal of fuel. Keeping people alive in space is harder. Sending up unmanned probes is comparably easy.

I’m not a big fan of explosions, anyway. In Iraq or Afghanistan or the South Pole of the Moon. But who does have a territorial prerogative there?

The explosions in Iraq and Afghanistan are chemical explosions meant to kill people. The “explosion” on the moon is an impact-derived plume of dust meant to learn something and potentially help people. Big difference.

Who has jurisdiction?

By international decree, no one has jurisdiction over space territory. Yet, anyway.

Who has the right to say that it’s okay to blow up a crater on the moon? Or Jupiter? Or Saturn, for that matter?

See above about experts.

If we think there is water there, how do we know we’re not affecting some life form, as well?

Do you worry about wiping down your counter tops with a disinfecting wipe? You are, after all, deliberately killing off microbial lifeforms when you do so. Any form of life on the moon is going to be extremely simplistic and if it exists in one location, will likely exist in many.

It sort of reminds me of two kids in a backyard with a firecracker that they don’t really know how to set off.

This comparison implies that NASA scientists don’t know what they’re doing. Frankly, it’s just insulting.

It’s causing great excitement in the astronomy sector. NASA is running a live broadcast on its website (wonder if they’re selling ads). A NASA spokesman announced, “It’s going to be pretty cool.” The Fiske Planetarium in Boulder is serving free coffee and bagels. “People like explosions,” the Planetarium director is quoted as saying, “and this is going to excite them.”

There’s a good reason for this: it’s an interesting, visible experiment that may lead to revolutionary results.

Well, I for one, don’t like explosions. Call me a pacifist, call me cautious, call me an environmentalist, or call me something worse, I don’t really care.

This is a non-destructive explosion in the pursuit of better understanding of the world. Better understanding is at the heart of pacifism and environmentalism.

The only thing you can be called is reactionary and ignorant.

ADDENDUM: Here’s a YouTube clip showing the impact.


* This article may or may not be a humor post, but if it is, it accurately illustrates widespread sentiment I’ve seen expressed on numerous websites.