Sunday, November 28

Alien Hippies

Where are all the aliens?

This is the fundamental question behind the Fermi paradox, which in essence states that we should see some evidence for extraterrestrial life, given the large number of stars in the observable universe (70 sextillion, woo!).

So I am going to flip the question around, and assume some possible scenario where an alien civilization might rise up out of the galactic muck and see our universe as its own plaything.
  • Assumption #1: There is or will be a supremely advanced species. This civilization should do any of the following: spontaneously generate matter and energy, is immortal, and can perceive and travel through space, across dimensions, and even between universes.
  • Assumption #2: Time travel is possible and has been mastered by the species in Assumption #1.
  • Assumption #3: The species in Assumption #1 is aggressive. Not necessarily in the sense of being destructive or bloodthirsty, but willing to expand to fill other niches, like every form of life on Earth.
So if all three of these assumptions are true, then one of two options opens up: either this advanced population is an alien race, or is us at some point in the future.

If it's the former, then why are we still here? If a hostile alien race that has existed for many lifetimes of other universes can time travel, then it can surely jump to when we were defenseless single-celled organisms and destroy all life on Earth for the entire existence of this universe. Or perhaps they can foresee that we are not and never will be a threat, either because we mushroom cloud ourselves, or some natural disaster like a comet destroys all life on Earth, or at least all sentient life.

Let's look at the other option: the most advanced species in the entire history of all universes is us (or at least, an evolved version of us.) I find that rather difficult to believe. Not only are there untold numbers of stars and planets in our observable universe that are older than our sun and Earth, but we are just scratching the surface with our predictions for other possible universes, which could be nearing an infinite number that may have existed for near an infinite amount of time. The likelihood that we are or will be the most advanced species ever is pretty slim.

For sake of optimism, let's reject that we (or some other species on our planet) will blow ourselves up, and that we will not be able to foresee and avert possible natural disasters. Let's also assume the anthropic bias that lets us be the center of the known universe is also incorrect.

So therefore, if both options are unlikely (either aggressive aliens or us), I think that at least one of my three assumptions is invalid. So either:
  • Counter-Assumption #1: There will never be a supremely advanced species.
  • Counter-Assumption #2: Time travel is never possible.
  • Counter-Assumption #3: The advanced species in Assumption #1 is not aggressive.
Of the above, I find that counter-assumption 1 and 2 are the most likely to be eliminated . If there are countless universes with countless galaxies with countless solar systems with countless ways to create sentient life in ways that we can only dream of, then the probability of at least one supremely advanced species that can master the laws of the universes becomes almost a certainty.

Also, the very idea that time travel is not possible is pretty silly, especially considering the idea that monkeys barely out of the jungle have theorized that space and time are perpendicular sides of the same coin.

So let's look at #3. Why are species on our planet aggressive? Why are they genetically programmed to reproduce, and fill an ecological niche at the expense of another species? Why do tigers have fangs and claws, rose bushes have thorns, and people kill each other in all sorts of creative ways?

Easy. Scarcity. Life on our planet evolved with limited resources. Every species on this rock fights tooth and nail for every scrap of food, which most likely is some other species that we happened to tooth and nail to death. We are bounded by our evolutionary heritage to kill or be killed, and either dominate our environment or have our environment dominate us.

However, what if the advanced civilization in Assumption #1 has already fixed their problem with limited resources? What if they have solved all hunger, have no need of land, can generate any sort of matter or energy at will, and have tinkered with their own genetic code to limit their own exponential population growth?

What if they are no longer aggressive, either because their evolutionary track was not as cutthroat as ours, or because their technology solved the problem of scarcity ages ago, and thus no longer need to dominate the universe, let alone us?

Notice, that I'm not saying that the species in Assumption #1 is benevolent. I don't imagine they would be particularly thrilled to have competition, at least not from us if we cannot conquer our version of scarcity. Though perhaps they would at least be interested to see our evolution from single celled organism to universe traveling civilization, if we can control our unchecked aggression first so we don't annihilate ourselves in the process.

So if there is an advanced civilization, and we want to meet them someday, then I suggest that the number one priority for our civilization--besides not blowing ourselves to smithereens--is to master our control of available resources without exceeding it, and figure out a way to transition ourselves from an aggressive dominating civilization to a non-aggressive, non-dominating one.

Thursday, November 25

200,000 Years in the Future

It all started with prosthetics.

Once a person could completely replace an arm or leg (and eventually any organ) with a cybernetic lookalike that was in all ways superior to their original body part, people clamored for new and better ways to replace themselves.

We aren't talking bulky metallic machinery, but sleek nanotechnology that can mimic flesh, while having the strength of a superhuman. That was just the start, of course, because as soon as you could replace one limb, why not add another? And another? Why not have three or four or ten arms?

Heck, why not have remote arms? It was one additional step to remote bodies, and one more step to the brains in vats stage, where everyone controlled bits of things removed from themselves, while encased in their life support system.

What was the point of even having biological arms and limbs and digestive tracks and lungs and eyes and skulls? After all, eating and moving around and breathing became expensive with 100 trillion people crammed onto planet Earth. It was much more cost effective for everyone to live as brain and spines encased in giant neural networks.

The virtual melded with the real, as awareness shifted to peripheral perception devices. A "person" could "see" with computer video cameras, hear with microphones, and touch with robotic arms that could be anywhere in the world. Not to be outdone by natural selection, humans could also sense every other frequency with additional nanocomputerized instruments.

Banks upon banks of humans, stacked a billion to a square mile, neatly organized in rows and tended by automatic drones, thought and thought and thought, a mind of minds.

When Earth became metasentient, it decided to procreate. It made Mars and Venus and everything in the nearby solar system in its image. Now the Earth was a metaspecies. Its cells were people, and it metathought with a metabrain of brain-neurons.

Not to be limited to one solar system, Earth learned space travel, and dominated nearby systems. Each planet became a new host, filled with trillions of brain vats, and each new Earth could metathink, and metafeel. They could go on metadates, buy each other metadrinks, and eventually, if they metaliked each other, they could have metasex and make little Earth babies.

Though it evolved to be something unlike the original Earth (just as simple cells evolved to complex cells over 1.8 billion years) the metaspecies prospered. Having spread to the farthest reaches of the Milky Way, Earth was not content, and so decided to dominate nearby galaxies, so that Earth might spread to everywhere in the known universe.

It was at that point that the metaalien known as Universe-348 went to the doctor and got a prescription for antibiotics specifically designed to fight off an Earth infection.

Wednesday, November 17

How to Detect Equilibrium

I've been thinking about water, and how it has no taste.

I mean that's weird right, something that covers about 70% of the surface of the Earth, that is absolutely inseparable from life as we know it, and we are even made of it, or at least 50-60% of us is made of it, and the sense capable of detecting things that we ingest is incapable of identifying it?

I mean, if something was so important, don't you think we would have evolved to notice it? Sure, we can distinguish other substances in the water, like sugar, salt, or alcohol, but the actual water flavor remains elusive.

On a similar note, what does air taste like? Sure, we can detect a lot of poisonous gases, mostly fumes we may have experienced in the wild, like smoke or methane, things that could have been dangerous had we stayed in them for too long, but the air we breathe, moment to moment, is an undetectable phantasm.

So water and air, two substances that we are 100% dependent on, we cannot sense. Isn't that completely counterintuitive? I would think that we would be able to detect both of those, in addition to everything else, not everything else minus those two things.

Granted, we can see and touch water. However, the simple explanation for that one is that we've evolved to fit in another environment, one that is surrounded by air. We can't see air, and we can't feel air unless we move or the air moves. If we were fish, I'd wager we couldn't see or feel water either.

So once we moved on land, and being surrounded by water became a hazard for us, we quickly evolved to sense water by sight and touch, but we remained blissfully ignorant to how water tastes.

Now that I mentioned environment, let's move on to something that isn't a substance. Let's talk about temperature. Can you feel heat and cold? Certainly. Can you feel what a comfortable temperature is? No way. In fact, we don't even have a word for what that would be. Is it warm? Cool? Lukewarm? Nope. All of those indicate some amount of either positive or negative from your base temperature.

So we can't taste water or air, we can't feel motionless air or an ideal temperature, and we can't see air. What does this tell us about ourselves? When we can't physically notice the things that are most essential to us, when the fundamental structure of our perception excludes perceiving the very nature of our existence?

What ramifications does this have? I mean, we can only experience gravity if we jump. So what about space? What about time? Can we ever see, taste, or touch either of those? Would we have to be a fish out of water, or rather a person out of space and time in order to sense those? These yardsticks that we consider intrinsic to our nature, can we only ever truly sense them if we transcend those dimensions?

Leaping from philosophy to psychology, can we ever genuinely experience contentment? Notice, I'm not talking happiness here, but the type of personal equilibrium that is the equivalent of not tasting water. Is that state of being the enlightenment that many have searched for, but few have ever found? Is this what the Buddha meant when he talked about the void?

Does the path to true enlightenment (or contentment, or fulfillment, or whatever word you want to call it) require realizing that everything tastes like water?

Tuesday, November 16

Why Star Wars Sucks as an MMO

Star Wars is a great space opera. The original movies, regardless of whether they ripped off Akira Kurosawa or Battlestar Galactica, are as fresh today as the day they came out. The extended world works for people, as do the prequels to a certain extent. Single player video games have the potential to be awesome when set in the Star Wars universe, as evidenced by Knights of the Old Republic. They can also be pretty bad, as Force Unleashed 2 proved.

However, there are two major hurdles that any Star Wars MMO must overcome in order to be a successful when multiple people are involved, and both of these obstacles are inherent to the game world itself. I first experienced these when playing the old tabletop d6 RPG, and they will continue to be true even as Bioware releases a shinier version of the same concept.

1) Star Wars is a Dead World.

This means that anything that happened in the movies, books, or the extended storylines is unchangeable. If you decide you want to kill Darth Vader, or go out with Princess Leia, you are on your own. Anything set around the same time period as the movies must somehow adapt to that history, or it "doesn't count." This means that your character is bound by the vision of the developers, and the developers are bound by the vision of George Lucas, and even Lucas is bound by the layers and layers of history that have already been told about the Star Wars universe.

Anything not set around the time period of the original movies is fair game, however, which is why an MMO set either way before or after the movies could possibly work. However, this too is a gamble, as a developer has nothing in the game world to work with, since Luke, Leia, Darth Vader, etc...are either not born yet, or dead.

The Bioware MMO is taking that bet, by releasing a game set in the far past of the Star Wars universe, where they can make up whatever they want, with the downside that none of it has any relevance to the content we are used to. (For example, we can't go hang out with Han Solo.)

2) The Force Sucks

I'm sorry to say, it does. It's great for movies. It is absolutely horrible in a game.

Oh, they've been trying to spruce it up, make it flashy for the kiddies. They've been upping the ante on the Force, where at first it was really hard to chuck some rocks, while now Force users can jump around like rabbits or make people explode.

However, you've got this science fiction world, you don't have magic, or psionics, or mutations, or any cool alien races. Instead, you have two factions: dudes with lightsabers that are OMFGWTFBBQultrapowerful, and wimpy dudes with blasters. Like when Darth Vader pwns Han Solo without even trying.

Now that said, in a game they can easily tweak it so that lightsaber characters are as strong as blaster characters, but that is not entirely the point. Force users get all sorts of neat abilities that non-Force users don't get. What do the normal people of the world gain in exchange? Yay, they can repair a droid, use a jetpack, or ride a tauntaun. Woo.

The Force is further limited by #1 above, because the game developers can't let it do anything. They can't let you shoot fireballs, summon monsters, teleport, time travel, go invisible, or one of the many, many things that you haven't seen in the movies that don't fit the "vision" of the world.

Not to mention that any discussion of the Force is inherently linked to the morality of the Force, because that's the way the game world is set up. Like you can't use Force lightning without being a bad guy, because that is a bad guy power. Even though hacking people in half with a laser sword is just fine. I mean, you've got a bunch of so-called good people that can't be emotional at all, can't have sex, can't have relationships, and there are plenty of those dudes running around. Then you have the evil dudes, who constantly let their desires run rampant, and none of them got it on with a hot Twi'lek? Right.


In short, everyone wants to play a kickass Jedi/Sith with awesome powers and a lightsaber, and nobody wants to play a second-class normal person. You've got a crappy source of "magic" with crappy rules attached to it, in a dead world where everything neat has already happened, and your character plays second fiddle to the NPCs, and you play third fiddle to other players if you happen to play a non-Force character.

One Sentence Movie Reviews #2

Barton Fink
When they say you should only write about what you know, that doesn't mean that writers should write movies about writers that write movies about writers.

La Dolce Vita
Some Italian dude does a bunch of stuff for three hours, and if you can survive the boredom, you might decide this is one of the greatest movies ever, and decide to write a college thesis on it.

Son of Rambow
Societies are comprised of tenuous relationships between individuals in order to protect those people from other societies, at the cost of their individual freedoms...also: French people are cooler than the British people.

Let the Right One In
Vampires have feelings too...or, she's going to train him to be a serial killer and eventually eat him later: your call.

La Jetee
The catalyst for the development of time travel is some horndog's desire to hit it with a chick in the past.

The Good, the Bad, the Weird
Only one man can kill this many Japanese.

One of the best action movies ever, and the action sequences suck.

Bubba Ho-Tep
Elvis doesn't know what a safe deposit box is.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
If you are about to marry a hot blonde, never blow up your future brother-in-law with an air strike.

The Color of Magic, p 1&2
Terry Pratchett's books are a guilty pleasure of mine, so when I say that this movie is crap, I mean it with the best possible intentions.

Sunday, November 14

One Sentence Movie Reviews #1

I have streaming Netflix now, which means I am stuffing my brain with the culture of the past 50 years or so. I've decided to condense these films into as tiny of a space as possible, because after all, Brevity is the Soul of the Internet.

(Warning, I use spoilers regularly, because only innocents are regularly surprised by anything, and if you are using the world wide web, I highly doubt you are innocent.)


A monopoly uses clones for forced labor, and the clones are sad.

Who is Harry Nilsson?
Some dude gets famous, has a neat singing voice that lots of people dig, then drinks himself to death in front of his wife and five kids.

God is ticked off at us because we are supposed to be nice to each other, even though He sends lots of zombies and an asshole with razor wings to come slaughter us, and when we win, we have learned our lesson, so we carry around lots of guns and ammo in the back of our station wagon.

Year One
Even douchebags could score in the Old Testament.

Walmart employees can stop time and take off your underwear, but it's okay because they're artsy.

Alice in Wonderland
If you are imagining shit, and you just dumped my rich son in front of all of our family and friends, you aren't crazy, and we'll let you sail our boat to China.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Terry Gilliam is a fucking genius.

If you let Dexter replace your brain with nanites, you might be an idiot.

Annie Hall
Awkward smart people can talk a lot about nothing in particular, eventually have sex, and Woody Allen thinks it's probably worth it.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
A dead mad scientist can make giant robots, dinosaurs, and a hot android chick, but two jocks and a blonde can't figure out how to bomb a nuclear missile with their airplanes.

Eden Log
A European security guard goes spelunking, is brainwashed into an environmentalist by plants, then has sex with a tree and cries about it.


Friday, November 12

Fight Fire With Ice

I wrote this after I was called out for using the word "irregardless" in a forum post:

Some people might be interested in this link. Or this one. Or this one.

Then again they might not. They might believe it is their duty to point out any flaw in any person at every opportunity, irregardless of the circumstances, especially in a thread devoted to an entirely unrelated issue, in the hopes that their efforts will exasperate the discussion, and bring the entire enterprise crashing down in flames.

Luckily, I am made of ice, and do not care one whit how I spell things, or what people think about how I spell things. I realize that you are trying to help me learn how to spell, because it is obvious I am in dire need of such services, however, I am perfectly capable of finding an online dictionary myself. So thank you for your trouble, and let's endeavor to keep this discourse on track.

Thursday, November 11

Hey Woody, You Sound Sick

My kids have both Buzz Lightyear and Woody at my parent's house. I think my mom got them at garage sales after Toy Story 1&2, because that's generally how she gets all my kids' toys. These are the foot tall, talking ones, and when you press the buttons on Buzz, Tim Allen's voice says things like, "I'm awake from hypersleep, and ready for action!"

So my four year old pulls the string and Woody says, "Reach for the sky!" Only it's not Woody, it's some other guy. Not to knock the voice actor, but no one can replicate Hanks' southwestern drawl, or his characteristic twang. He has a one-in-a-million sound to his voice, and I'm sorry, but this Woody is not Tom Hanks.

My son says, "Hey, that's not Woody."

I think for a second, and I do what every parent should do in this situation: I lie. "Yeah, it's Woody, he's just sick," I say.

My two year old says, "Woody's sick!"

I say, "That's right. Woody's sick."

She nods sagely and says, "He gotta feel better."

Now I understand that Tom Hanks' time is pretty valuable. Obviously, spending 15 minutes saying 5 lines for a toy is tough when you are a big time movie star. I can see that.

I can also see that whoever made the toy probably didn't have the profit margin to pay Tom Hanks for his valuable time, and so in order to lower the price of the toy, they used some schmuck off the street. Perhaps there was hand wrangling going on, with people in suits haggling over how much that 15 minutes would cost, and buckets of lawyers writing contracts and managers disapproving them. Perhaps there were meetings upon meetings, taking up countless hours of time, with backroom negotiations that fell apart at the last moment, while a guy with a leather chair and an important looking phone screams at an intern to bring him some coffee.

That's all well and good. I'm not really trying to blame anyone. It's not Tom Hanks' fault. It's not the fault of any one business. It's not even the fault of the lady who bought the cheaper toy in the first place, and then resold it to my mom for a fraction of the cost. (It's not her fault either, by the way.)

However, something broke along the way. Somewhere along the line, the system failed, and Woody wasn't Woody for my kids. He was some other dude, some other cowboy that my kids didn't know.

So when my kids left my parents house, my son dragged Buzz Lightyear into the car, and we were off to defeat Emperor Zurg, while Woody was left behind in the big green toy bucket. Neither of my kids wanted to bring him along.

After all, Woody was sick.

Tuesday, November 9

What I Was Going to Post

So I was writing on the Dungeons and Dragons forums, and a troll appeared. He said this:

"but by that you do admit that knights ARE indeed optimizable, therefore the basis of your argument is false and as my esteemed colleague states"

My first instinct was to write this, which I think might have been against their code of conduct, so instead of replying with it, I'll instead post it here:

Your esteemed colleague failed at reading comprehension, and now you are implying that knights are only optimizable with builds that contain one race and/or one feat?

Okay, great! Good answer! Of course, I already knew that, and nowhere in my post is the assertion that knights are not optimizable with a half-elf or mark of storm, but of course, that would require reading, which I realize is an ambitious request in this day and age. Perhaps I could flash a lot of bright lights, maybe bang some drums, and then it will be easier for the inattentive among us.

Or perhaps you aren't saying that, and are instead jumping to conclusions, because you would rather see the simple answer rather than anything complex. Which I understand might be taxing on a brain's mental processes. Whew! Let's not think too hard! This is exhausting!

Or maybe you are trying to start an argument, which won't work either, because I'm not particularly prone to caring about what other people on the internet think about me or what I think, though of course, the more you can show me that you can spend more than 5 seconds considering something I've said, then I might be willing to entertain the notion of exchanging information with you.

Of course, I did not follow your youtube link, just as I didn't follow your colleague's link, because I lack a sense of humor, and because one day, in the distant future, all communication might one day be like this.

Though I'm sure your link is humorous!