Monday, June 20, 2011


I'm on a long scientific visit at a scientific institute, I'm accomodated at a student guesthouse that's on the institute's scientific network and am not allowed to use the Internet for anything other than scientific purposes. I'm also not allowed to transfer more than 420MB/day or thereabout. Their leaflet says they'd let me but they can't because their traffic is metered and they're paying by amount of data transferred. I'm not a furious downloader, especially when I know I'm on a limited network. I just want to relax, read Slashdot and stream a news channel at some few 100 kb/s. But I can't because the institute's traffic is metered.

P.S. Oh shit this post is not scientific enough I'll be punished! [hides]

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


There's a growing trend around here for newspapers to offer various book collections, probably to try to counteract their plummeting sales or something. Under slogans having to do with investing in one's culture and stuff, they're offering a new book each week for a relatively small price, and you're encouraged to buy them all to own the complete collection. While not bad in itself, this affair gets funny when the competition gets tough and the companies start getting really creative with their advertising. For instance, one collection is currently advertised along these lines: [display frog] For those who read, this is a future prince. For the others, it's just a frog. Yeah, pretty original, until they get to this week's book: The Marquis de Sade. WTF.
On a totally different thread, I've been wanting for a very long time to comment on dr. Michio Kaku's pet show Sci-Fi Science, which I also find very unfortunate. His take on the possible real-world implementation of various sci-fi memes is sometimes plausible, at few times interesting, at many times outrageous, and the show itself is worth watching if you're otherwise terribly bored. I personally liked him much more when he was making brief appearences in various science shows than as the star in his own project. On to the point:
1. About one in three 'problems' has negative matter as a solution. Enough with the negative matter that falls upwards, it's purely theoretical, there are some clues as to its possible existance, but for now it's pure speculation.
2. Let's make a sci-fi-style force field/shield, only it's not a force field it's a matter+laser shield. Reasonable, until the enemy spaceship attacks you with lasers, which your carbon-nanotube-or-whatever-future-material shield can't supposedly withstand. His idea - coat it with "photocromatic materials", which change color in response to light exposure, just like those adaptive sunglasses. Those are supposed to absorb the laser. Why on Earth would he use photocromatic materials instead of a mirror or nothing is beyond me. The energy absorbed by the shield with or without said materials is basically the same. It either melts or it doesn't. Maybe it absorbs more so that the laser doesn't pass through the shield and on to the ship? Who knows. That doesn't solve the shield melting problem though. It just looks like a half-baked hack with a lot of buzztech.
3. He suggests that teleportation might work by digitising a human, memories included, sending the data along a series of laser beams (x-ray laser beams IIRC, for the added coolness and information density) and reconstructing the human at the destination. He openly admits to this resulting in two identical humans, memories and personality included, but states that we've got enough time to work the kinks out of this problem. I find this "brute force" approach questionable and I've got a big problem with it. Would you like to be killed at point A after being copied to point B? There's got to be a more elegant solution. Even if it were possible to clone me with little error and come up with an identical self-aware being, the two of us would be disconnected. The new mind would be a different mind. Sure, to my friends I might look the same and they might never notice, but I sincerely doubt that what I call "me" would be the same. Kill the first body and the second would surely function OK as a new person with my exact same traits, but I strongly doubt that I'll awake inside it as if nothing happened.
And the list goes on.
There are of course the cool solutions such as the self-reconfigurable robot, but many of them are, as I said, unfortunate.
Some might label me pathetic for picking on a low-budget pop-sci entertainment show, but there's a deeper thought here. Some time ago being a geek was something to be proud of, as geeks could display high levels of skill and competence, and in a larger sense, a greater understanding of the world. Now there's a new breed of geek, the sci-fi/fantasy game geek, who also takes great pride in their passion but often times lacks the high levels of practical skills and only displays a great understanding of some fantasy world. It can of course be argued that this projects positively into the real world, but generally the fiction geek combines all the disadvantages of being a geek with none of the advanges of being a geek. Everyone who watched Sci-Fi Science would agree with me.
After all, some people watch a movie or read a book and enjoy it as such, some find parallels with human society, some dream of being princesses and frog-princes, and some dream of being Jedi wielding extendable porous ceramic lightsabres with nuclear batteries, adamantium cooling fans and superconducting plasma confinement magnets. Or something like that. There's nothing wrong with either case, and of course there's always money to be made.