Tuesday, February 26, 2008

They're watching, Pt2

Another story idea I might as well throw away, having sat on it since 1990 (had it while reading T.Pratchett's Moving Pictures)...

(Bloody IE crashed and lost this, so this version is terse, sorry)

Postulate a benign galactic civilization. They watch but don't interfere with primitive civilizations. Prime directive, etc, etc.

They're ethical, for values of... never mind.

Postulate that the only basis of currency exchange for any large scale civilization is information.

Postulate that they've solved the digital rights issues for information, and because they're ethical they don't just steal cultural items from primitive cultures but let the credits gained from recordings, or whatever, be held in trust until such time as the civilization becomes sufficiently advanced to join the community.

So, what sort of information would they gather? Or value? The equivalent of popular entertainment? Cultural items? Great plays, works of fiction and the like may translate well and be popular in the rest of the universe. For all we know the whole multiverse is busy watching Neighbours... No, that's going too far. Back to reality...

Following on from that we have the story, a pair of Crysteel and Danstor types[1] arriving at Terry Pratchett's door one night to tell him that because of the popularity of The Diskworld books, translated into a few tens of thousand languages and distributed across the entire multiverse, he now owns roughly half the entire universe and if he doesn't come along quietly and spend some of it the galactic economy is going to crash... Sir.

[1] Characters from an amusing early Clark first contact from the aliens POV story.

They're Watching

Assume for a second there are alien technological civilizations and they're so bored that they watch us. Low probability but not quite zero.

How do you find them? Large radio telescope arrays? Nope - dustpan and brush... Find somewhere they'd be sure to be interested in, sweep the place and have a damned good look at the debris you find... If they're using nano-technology some of the dust will be, ah, 'interesting'... (Why assume nano? Because if it's larger we'd see it, and smaller probably wouldn't resolve wavelengths they'd be interested in. I suspect it'd be hard enough to pick up sounds with anything too small to see with the naked eye, let alone nanoscale, for example).

But there'd be a lot of dust to look at and a lot of false positives to eliminate, so ideally you'd want to know roughly where to look in order to concentrate the effort, so then I wondered if a world conspiracy of intelligent and enlightened governments[1] couldn't get together to create an international event of such magnitude that any thinking creature would be unable to resist monitoring it - and voila - as if by magic we arrive at the only plausible explanation for the Eurovision song contest.

Maybe not...

(I had the basic idea a while back as the first part of a spoof SF story where we start out looking for alien monitoring and wind up inventing very bad tempered and belligerent artificial intelligence as a result of the code that was written to perform the data analysis on the garbage collected getting smarter... Don't worry about it. It was going to be one of set of paradoxical solutions to the Fermi paradox, but I'll never get round to writing any of them... My favourite was health and safety (H&S) - and if you don't understand the connection between H&S organisations and the reason why there are no advanced civilizations out there count yourself lucky. While you're still allowed to do anything as dangerous as counting, that is...

I've been pondering some ideas for spoof stories about H&S bods coping with a multispecies future society, shades of James White's Sector General stuff... But they're something else the world will have to struggle to get along without, I suspect.)

[1] Spot where the surrealism takes over.

Cthulonic irrigation

My subconscious (which is often a lot less sub than I'd like it to be) just dumped the phrase "cthulonic irrigation" into the buffer and then retreated, giggling quietly sotto voce... If you don't who/what Cthulu was, or why you wouldn't invite it in the back door, count yourself lucky.

I have no context for this at all, and Google doesn't appear to recognise the phrase, though that could be the work of the old ones. Or my spelling.

I worry myself, sometimes...


Having just tried this 'ere winter vomiting disease out I can say without any doubt that it is not worth having - just say "NeuuurrrggGGggghh-h-h-h"

Busy as hell and two days down the drain feeling as bad as I ever have, urgh. Normal grumpyness will be resumed as soon as I can work up the energy...

Oh, speaking of energy we found out last week a certain Tokamak research reactor is currently off-line because some of our electronics failed[1], oops. And me a strong advocate of nuclear fusion. Bollocks... Not a good week, considering :(

[1] Not our fault, just a batch of shitty capacitors that fail when used well within spec. I suspect even Richard could manage to blow one of these useless bastards up.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Ah, the sweet innocence of newly stuffed boards...

... I love it. That happy and carefree feeling the first PCB's of a new project have when they arrive on the desk, populated and ready but so far unsullied by the ravages of software. I like to enjoy a moment of quiet contemplation with them, a brief interlude of peace and sanity before battle commences.

But it can't last, and - oh - how quickly they lose that innocence and acquire an air of malevolent cunning and sublime evilness when you start having to make the damned things work.

Cover me, I'm going in!

[Five processors to programme, the boards arrive after the deadline has already elapsed, estimated six weeks of software required, it's dark and I'm wearing sunglasses]

"Then take the fucking sunglasses off, crem"

"Oh. Sorry"

Monday, February 18, 2008

Neuron Free Zone

Came across a book today called "The case against nuclear power", or somesuch. "Hmmm" I thought, "I bet such a case could be reasonably made, but not as much as I'd bet this book doesn't and if I open this at random I'll find some fear-mongering total bollocks on the first page I read".

Tsk, Crem, very pessimistic - didn't need to read the whole page - the first line I read was "the noble gasses are dangerous gamma ray emitters"... Wrong.

I read the paragraph, and a few others, just to see if they understood about isotopes and were qualifying this absurd statement in some way, but no. Pig-fucking-ignorant...

Flicking through the book showed that the author was both functionally innumerate (no sign they had a clue what half-life even meant, or even that longer half-lives imply less intense radiation, not more) and ignorant of even very basic chemistry and physics, so why the hell they thought they were qualified to write on the subject escapes me... But isn't that always the way? I don't mind the fact that people can (if they so choose) remain ignorant of fundamental, trivial mathematics and physics. I do mind them casually turning their stupid prejudice into disinformation... The really annoying thing about all this is the way this sort of self-satisfied ignorance and stupidity is going to kill us all in the name of environmentalism. Gah...

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Dumb xians

Turn the news on - first mistake. Second mistake was watching; the god-botherers were out in force.

Started with a report on the 'miraculous' survival of an 11-month old baby caught in a tornado. "It was a miracle. God sure was looking after him" says some red-neck moron completely overlooking the fact that the very same god had just brutally murdered his mother and torn him from her arms... Ineffable? Very fucking effable if you ask me.

This was then followed by a report of the head of the Church of England advocating the adoption of sharia law in the UK. Well, not all of it, perhaps - we'll pick and choose and leave the stoning and beheading part out for now. Maybe keep the killing of princesses bits, I suppose, that seems to resonate with the national character.

Gah. I wondered dimly what the head of the C of E is doing advocating Islam, but I suppose it makes sense, after all they're really all on the same side - sky fairy worshipping nutters all.

Hmmm. So we should be allowed to choose which laws apply to us now, should we? Fine. I do that anyway, to be honest; it'd be nice to have it formalised... Programmers could choose a legal system that expresses everything in hexadecimal:

"Can't nick me for speeding, ossifer, I was only doing 5F and it's a 70 limit..."

Mind you, I think I'd rather be nicked than declare myself a programmer. No, it'll never work.

Turned the news off before I could get even more depressed...

Monday, February 04, 2008

Sexy xians

I've just half-convinced someone that "the sermon on the mount" is so-called not because it took place on high ground, but because the original (unexpurgated) text makes reference to the delights of the female form.

And that "doggy position" is nothing to do with dogs, but a corruption of "dodgy position" (I won't go into why)...

Bad Crem. Naughty...

Hacker foxes

Recently I've become involved with the design of the control electronics for a device that speeds up the process of turning food waste into compost - let it not be said that my life is entirely dull and uninteresting - but before I arrived on the scene a previous incarnation of this hardware managed to fail (a fuse blew and stopped a heater from working) and instead of turning garbage into compost, it then did a very good job of turning garbage into flies. Lots of flies. Lots and lots of flies...

Since this particular machine was sited in the grounds of a hospital this wasn't seen by everyone as an entirely good thing, and eventually the fact that the hospital was overrun with flies came to the attention of the health and safety people who then lept into action to find some way to assign the blame. Eventually a report emerged, which amongst other things suggested the cause of the failure could possibly be hackers. Or foxes. Or (presumably) hacker foxes.

Now, foxes aren't usually noted for their hacking skills, so it rather surprises me that they could manage to hack their way into the software on this machine, which doesn't have any connection to the outside world at all. There's very little software, and it's not changeable. There's no network interface. There's no serial port. There's no keyboard. There are a couple of buttons, but press them as much as you like and you won't find a way to blow the heater fuse... So beware the hacker fox, 'ees a clever bugger...