Monday, 1 October 2012

Floating Cities

The portrayal of floating and hanging cities has always held some majestic, captivating appeal, at least for me. The idea was recently made popular by Avatar but it is by no means new. It might have been mentioned as far back as Homer's Odyssey but our ancient greek translaters can't seem to agree on whether the island floated in the sea or in the sky. In any case Guillivered travelled to a land called Laputa that did float in the sky, we didn't need to translated that one!

Today the awe was rekindled by xkcd and the subsequent discovery of this Frederic Perrin guy who doesn't even have his own Wikipedia page, the poor soul.

He seems to be the man for floating cities:
Perrin's illustrations are quite cool, as well as various others I have seen. What bothers me though is how this thing would work.

I see three options:
1. Resting on long pillars that extrude high in the sky
2. Hanging from something up above
3. Floating in the absence of gravity

1. Resting on long pillars

This option gives us a plausible back story - the civilization has had to abandon the convenient, low-lying areas due to, for instance, pollution, and has built structures raised high in the sky. More importantly, this explains the vertical orientation of cities, with water falling down and trees growing in one direction - which would not be the case if we were in a situation without gravity.

With enough population, technology and raw material it's entirely feasible to build a suburb 1km high in the sky - it will definitely be easier than Burj Khalifa, that has to have inhabited floors and sophisticated elevators all the way through. Nowhere in the floating city fiction have I encountered a discussion on the technicalities of getting down to earth so I guess we're not dealing with a requirement for this to be efficient.

There's no way to have rocks floating rocks in this scenario though, so it's ruled out for all portrayals that clearly show unsuspended bodies floating around.

2. Hanging from above

With this scenario we're floating away from the realm of the realistic but it's still feasible in theory.
We might have a feasible designs of suspended superstructures - after all we have suspension bridges which have features raising higher than the suspended structure, with the bridge technically hanging from above.

But if we are looking at the suspended city scenario where the load-bearing structure reaches down to the ground I don't think that's fundamentally different than the 'resting on pillars' case - the more interesting thing here is to see what scenario would allow us to have a city ultimately supported from above. If we leave our imagination to run wild we can conceive some scenarios that can provide a setup for this configuration.

Large artificial satellite Future technology can allow us to produce energy in low earth orbit that's not available on earth - for instance, without the interference of the atmosphere solar panels are more efficient and we can conceivably have a arbitrarily large self-sustainable structure in orbit - provided that we have the power to put it there; after all the only energy expense is maintaining the orbit.
When in geostationary orbit this space station will hang over a specific spot on the earth surface, so some structure could hang from it, barely dipping into the atmosphere, just enough to be able to collect oxygen for breathing.

It can also work with other orbits but if it's moving too fast relative to earth (or whatever other planet it is implemented on) it won't be very practical and it will be windy all the time.

Natural satellite
In this line of thought, why not hang something from the moon, if we have enough material?
We are not quite lucky with the choice of celestial companions - we have only this moon, which is kind of a freak case in a universe where most planets either have lots of moons or are too small to have any. If we had one that's closer to earth it would be easier to achieve - but it also better be smaller because otherwise the tides are going to be massive. On such a satellite we can potentially hang something, and then we are faced with the same problem as with non-geostationary artificial satellite - it's moving too fast over the surface!

Solution - nukes! If nuclear disarmament goes ahead both sides will be left with stockpiles of tens of thousands of nuclear warheads to be destroyed. How? Well, if we had a smaller moon nearby the nukes could have been used to slow it down to a geostationary orbit.

3. Floating in the absence of gravity

This one seems to be the most popular scenario, probably because it allows for various expressions of artistic freedom without having to bow to the constraints of gravity. Also some representations clearly show rocks floating around, which can only happen with no gravity - even the microgravity of an asteroid will quickly pull these away.

Although it's the most popular scenario the logic and physics don't quite fit - no matter how liberal use of the lack of gravity has the artist harnessed it still looks very much like our gravity-based society, with structures protruding mainly in the up direction, with some exceptions added for futuristic, outer space effect and to highlight the fact that there is no gravity. But if there is no gravity - there is not such thing as up! Why are then tree roots dangling down the bottom when there is no such thing as down?
Structures should be built mainly in direction orthogonal to the surface on which they lie, with one axis being preferred in order to make navigation and transport more efficient - and other exceptions growing in random directions for esthetic or specific practical reasons.

Most art in this sub-genre is however representing the 0-g world as pieces of civilization that was once subject to gravity which have for some reason been lifted way up in the skies, or somewhere else altogether - the place was literally torn out of somewhere, hence the dangling roots. I wonder what back stories do authors offer in such cases. The only remotely plausible explanations are:
a) That society has invented some anti-gravity mechanism, allowing them to lift chunks of a city (along with random rocks!) off the ground and release them from the burden of gravity, preserving their vertical orientation for the sake of nostalgic looks.
In Avatar they say it's unobtainium in the rocks that makes them float - sounds more plausible, although only slightly distinguishable from floating by magic.

b) This race has figured out how to transport these objects to another world, without gravity and presumably with enough breathable air so that they can float around without protective shields (or alternatively - without population, just floating about for the aesthetic effect) If we decide to speculate on a fictional universe, or if we are optimistic enough about the technological advances of human society we might as well allow for anti-gravity or teleportation of large objects, which would make both options possible. The only way I can think of for this to happen without relying on technology that has been specifically ruled out as impossible by present day scientists however is to have some gravitation cancelling arrangement in the vicinity of the home celestial body of the civilization in question. The easiest setup to utilize will be a big natural satellite in a geostationary (or planetostationary?) orbit nearby - it will have it's own gravity and there will be a region where the two forces will cancel out - the L1 Lagrangean point

Speaking about sacrificing aesthetics for practicality, a society can also drill a hole through a smaller body - a satellite or asteroid - and house a floating city at the center of masswhere gravity cancels out. A body so small to make this possible is not likely to cling to an atmosphere thick enough to allow unshielded intelligent life. And the view is going to be terrible - a city floating in a large cave instead of the open skies; kind of defeats the purpose. Who would express that on any medium?

Pierre Ferrin, apparently!

This reminds me, from today About Death, a Singularity or Nothing comes in HD!
I've always known that people are lazy and with short attention spans and are prone to freaking out when confronted with TL;DR. This made my writings in the tiny 400px columns of the old layout extremely scary.

At first I thought it's a force of good - I'm prone to delving into too much detail, so I had something to make me cut out every unnecessary word. It still looked scary though and I have enough to say to keep the scroller tiny even with a fat column like that

Friday, 1 June 2012

The Forwards and Backwards of Time Travel


Time travel is a topic that has fascinated both the lay folk and scientists, fringe and real alike. Apparently it has also engaged Randall Munroe from xkcd to the point that he has drawn his best comic in a while.

Time travel is generally believed to be impossible. Indeed, the hypothetical tachyons may well exist, allowing - in theory at least - information to be sent back in time - but that's nowhere near the plotlines that the concept has allowed Holywood to explore. The implications of time travel, if possible, are however so bizarre, such a rife source of paradoxes, that it has captivated science fiction writers, phylosophers and theoretical physicists to the point that the topic seems almost exhausted. Randall managed to squeeze some very fresh and witty humour out of it anyway and also the discussion that this sparked was another source of fresh insights.

In order to provide some context to the comic, and to facilitate the enlightenment that ponder over the subject may bring, it's a good idea to put together the general principles of time travel, that have been pretty much agreed by most people in the field in their right mind.

The obvious problem with time travel is that if you go back in time you can kill your father before he gets to screw your mother (sorry to remind about this, but your parents have fucked over a thousand times, no matter how hard it is for you to come to terms with the fact). If time travel is possible, then there are only a limited number of ways we can resolve this situation.

Timeline preservation
Everything you did to you parents has already happened by the time were born - so obviously you haven't managed to kill your father, even if you go back in time specifically to do that, if only to commit an extravagant suicide, flipping the bird on spacetime in the process. Maybe the doctors end up saving him but he's never told you the story? Maybe he had a twin? If this hypothesis is true, then maybe some sort of 'preemptive temporal natural selection' never lets people with such a tendency come about, as they have already killed themselves 'hyper-already', backwards in some higher dimension?

Multiple/branching universes
There is also a solution to this conundrum that will allow you to kill your father. Maybe you just jumped into (or even created!) another spacetime when you pulled the trigger on your dad. It is conceivable that all possible universes exist, with your father dying in countless ways and you time machine just jumped into another one, where he happens to get killed by his time-travelling brat. You might as well stay and live in his time and have a fulfilling life there. You'll be an alian from another universe but no one will know it, and hey - this will be an universe where your parents have never fucked!
Hell, you can even date your own mother without the nasty age difference that bugged Oedipus and you are pretty much guaranteed to be able to get laid with her, no matter how hot she's been in her time.

Back to the comic
Looks like the multiverse where the comic is set obeys to the first rule. The way I interpret it, it's not like the Black Hat Guy was dumb enough to kill Hitler in 1949, just before he commits suicide. It's more like Hitler was killed by BHG in the first place but he was cunning enough to make it look like suicide.

Why Hitler?
Popular culture seems to associate time travel with killing Hitler quite often. A jewish conspiracy, some will be quick to exclaim, but Hitler is indeed easy to take for an epitome evil, having perpetrated the most meticulously organized mass murder. He can quickly be identified as the most easy target to make this a better universe in one go.
Or can he? What could Stalin have done if Hitler wasn't around to oppose him? The soviet crimes against humanity account for tens of millions of lives - but that's only in the soviet-dominated areas. What if they have managed to spread their rule of murder across a much bigger part of Europe?
Also, the wikipedia list of mass murders reveals some shocking facts. The observation that there are cities in China that you've never heard of with more than 10 million ihabitants is curious - but bloody conflicts that took the lives of more than 30 million people - that's mind-boggling. Why havent' we heard anything in school about this? I mean, WTF, the An Lushan rebellion wiped out something like 15% of the world population at the time! And what about the Taiping Rebellion, which was as recent as the 19th century and the upper estimate of the death toll goes to 100 fucking million! This simply boggles the mind.

And now on international summits them whiteys keep talking about this 'human rights' thing. At no time in Chinese history, it seems, were millions of lives too high a price to pay to stay in power - and now G8 are bitching about thousands being killed in Syria. Of course Beijing is not going to object - this would mean that they agree that such a thing is wrong, as if they won't kill thousands of theirs any time of the day. And Moscow seems to be on the same bandwagon.

The Friesian School on Facebook
Now, away from mass murder, back to time travel - this fertile ground for paradoxes (like pretty much anything else) has been eloquently addressed by my guru Ross Kelley. As you can see from the last link his website is pretty decrepit, although it contains priceless analysis and opinion on pretty much any issue imaginable. He's never published a book, he's seldom posted in journals - he's agregated his life's work in this dodgy website, which actually contains tons of pure gold! It is, indeed, poorly presented and poorly organized but in terms of content it offers a lifetime of occasional reading. As there's pretty much no straightforward way to approach it, I just created a facebook page to occasionally post the gems I've spotted there over the years. Like it, and you'll get regular pieces of enlightenment on this confusing and overly complex world.

If you're eager to start exploring, you might as well pick a topic of interest and delve into it right now! Some essays may be quite long and dry, with countless facts and graphs, but every once in a while you'll be struck by the sheer amount of sense this guy makes!


Political economy



Ethics, Philosophy and Epistemology

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Short Treatise on Speciesism

Stilgar from the sietch got me thinking about this one - how do we get to decide which animals we can kill, legally and uncontroversially. The Bulgarian Law for the Protection of Animals(in Bulgarian, translation) was soon posted, exposing flagrant speciesism deeply rooted into the bulgarian legal system.

Now it's clear that such legislation raises more questions than it answers and it's bound to have critics. Humanity should be allowed to kill certain animals e.g. ones transmit diseases but on the other hand some are creepily similar to us to be used for cruel entertainment. There has to be a line somewhere - but how do we define it?

The classical school of thought here, advocated by luminaries like Douglas Hostadter, dictates that we should rate animals by intelligence and the most intelligent should be deemed closer to us, and thus - not eaten. This has also a lot of anecdotal support - quite a few vegetarians eat fish for example, for plenty of reasons, with "because they don't think" being one of them. Indeed, the more sophisticated nervous system an animal has - the closer to our experience of pain and distress it should be able to experience. Some problems arise though with the lack of reliable measure of intelligence - no one has managed to have a chimp and a dolphin play a game of chess yet, so we get to choose from the different sets of superficial criteria that give us different results. And of course the line has to be arbitrary - there is no such thing as universal maximum edible intelligence (this would make old people legal).

There is also the competing measure - cuteness. Kids nowadays grow up with children's books and films with super cool talking farm animals that don't stink even the slightest bit; kids can more easily imagine them being friends rather than source of food and stench. And with the rise of the internet with its feline obsession and vigilantism, cats became a no-no (sorry Alf). So, by natural selection optimizing for the cuteness factor some animals have found a new evolutional niche. This makes good sense - they live off the human society, which is profoundly stratified by physical appearance in many ways - better looking people of all sexes get a disproportionate amount of all the benefits, why should we then not discriminate against animals in the same way?

What we are seeing now is actually an evolutionary arms race for a part of humanity's waste resources between stray dogs and our anti-cuteness defence mechanism - the cutest of dogs have better chances to survive and produce progeny, thus cutifying their kind. If they do well maybe one day they'll achieve the level of protection that cats now enjoy and survive.

Friday, 4 May 2012

How not to love your children

This BBC story about the Interpol child porn caches reminded me about the sympathy I hold for paedophiles, but let's explore some of the implications of this article before delving into that.

First of all, the Interpol unit that combats child abuse must be the dream workplace for, well, paedophiles. Can you imagine, the collection of all CP seized anywhere in the world, ever - something so illegal that the mere sight of the CP image I accidentally landed upon on /b/ once made me consider throwing my laptop in the nearest river before the feds1 come - constantly at your disposal. And not only that, but your job involves sifting through millions of depictions of children being abused. I won't be the least bit surprised if they actually hire paedophiles on purpose - think about it, will anyone who's not a sick pervert agree to work such a job? We're talking about someone who has to not only view all those pics and films but recognize the children in them and given a new image - to determine if he's seen this child somewhere in the pile or it's fresh material. I can't see a more efficient way to do this apart from having a devoted person go over2 the images time and time again until he knows their faces (and bodies) as if they were his own children (which he has probably also screwed). But yeah, that's of course necessary as child abusers need to be caught before they get a chance to father 7 children with their own daughter.

Which brings me to my next point - shouldn't, then, child porn be legal to posses and share, in order to generate more exposure and improve the chances of those degenerates being caught? Why do we have to rely on just the perverts that Interpol has hired to catch fellow perverts? The argument against this is that it would maybe encourage more people to produce child porn as, with the urge to throw laptops in rivers taken out of the equation, there will be much more demand? I don't think that's bad - I don't believe that CP producers are just attention whores who normally don't abuse children, but "hey, I can get millions of views on, why not rape some minors." I'm convinced that CP is made by people who like screwing children in the first place and this just gets compounded by the natural urge to do home porn that every sexually healthy individual experiences. So if they want to film themselves committing crime and let it circulate online - well let them do it and have the hordes of semi-perverted online vigilantes and super-advanced dick-recognizing software catch them - there are so many subtle accidental tell-tale that might reveal the victim or abuser's identities or at least the location.

Now what do I mean by sympathy - don't get me wrong, I certainly don't approve child abuse! I agree that it's a deplorable crime and perpetrators should be put behind bars in order to discourage other enthusiasts. They are, however, sick people with a psychological disorder that has directed their natural sexual desire towards a target on which society won't let them act. Indeed, traditional morals in most cultures teach us that sexual desires are not such a big deal and individuals are expected to single-handedly resist these temptations. I, on the other hand, am willing to stick my prick in the traditional morals' bigoted, hypocrite mouth as my sexual desires are extremely hard to resist (especially when there is no good reason to do so). If I lived in a universe where no woman is willing to have sex with me and no prostitution exists, I would either be a rapist or an extremely sad and troubled person - and this is pretty much the choice that paedophiles face. The ones that have either low libido or strong moral code somehow manage to abstain and desperately try to persuade themselves that chicks with tits are actually better - the rest end up abusing children. It might be brutal and repulsive but at least it's understandable.

Now back to my previous point - better availability of child porn will give these people a way to relieve themselves of these desires without hurting anyone. Studies have shown that there is an inverse correlation between incidence of rape and availability of pornography, so there is no reason why this shouldn't be the case with child porn. Now I'm not saying that we should legalize screwing children for the production of CP (as is the case in many countries - paying for sex is only legal if there is a camera filming the process) - but tons of material already exist, why not let perverts jerk off to it rather than rape your children? Also, what about digitally produced child porn that doesn't involve any real children? Technologies need to improve just a tiny bit more in order to allow life-like films to be produced digitally for low cost - I can't wait to see what possibilities will these open up for the porn industry! But apart from proliferation of kinky practices, this will also make the streets safer for our children!

I have a lot more to say on the effect of sexual attraction on society so I'll be posting more on the topic in the future - hopefully taking equally controversial stance. I had other things in mind for this article but I might as well do some useful work instead - but if you have any comments and ideas about related topics that needs discussion make sure to drop a comment here or speak up in some other way. Wish you all a nice weekend with sex so kinky that will put the digital porn of the future to shame!

1 - even though I actually live in Europe (as can be deducted by the spelling of paedophile I've used)
2 - or more suitably - come over

Sunday, 26 February 2012

I don't always write film reviews, but when I do...

... it's on the day of the Oscars and about a film that deals with the early history of Cinema. And is not The Artist. And just by coincidence - it was the only film I could see in original language yesterday night in Cologne (WTF Ze Germans - most of you speak perfect English?).

First about this film review business - I was hesitating at first because I watch an awful lot of films, I get impressed by many of them and if I start writing review I'll swamp the little meaningful[citation needed] content that I've managed to generate. But then the first article I posted here, about nuclear warfare, was largely inspired by a film, and given that today is the night of the Oscars I was bound to make an exception. I settled on posting only about films I rate with 10 on IMDB, and only if I manage to squeeze some stuff from my agenda along them ;-)

And I had absolutely no idea that it's about Georges Méliès and didn't realize the proportions of the cinephilic handjob I was about to receive. At first I was like, yeah, starts cool, Sacha Baron Cohen is hilarious (I didn't like him in an 'evil' character but at least he got laid in the end), Ben Kingsley is quite believable as usual, portraying his character at different ages in the flashbacks, and just loved the way they've superimposed his face on historic pictures :-D
But what really got me excited was getting most of the references to cinema pioneers and obscure old films I've recently seen.


E.g. this handsome lad was shown for just a split second but Cesare - Dr. Caligari's Somnambulist is easily recognizable (especially if you've seen the film just three days ago)

(image: little-miss-nothing)

Then it got even deeper than that! The super-realistic recreation of the 1910s studio with all its workings is guaranteed to cause mental arousal and send shivers down the spine of every old film buff, leading to the ultimate culmination - the 3Dfied versions of the classics, on which I can only say:


Take that, flat moon

(image: wikipedia)

I wish the people that made these film were alive today to see what has become of film making - with voice, with colour, with 3D. And while on the topic - I have a word for the 3D critics that of headaches or whatever other excuses to accept the fact that films are changing. I guess some people complained of headaches when the character started talking. I think most 3D hating stems from some misconceptions. The most common one is failing to distinguish between the concept and current technology, which indeed is imperfect. Indeed, on 3D, at least the ones I've seen - some fast movement gets blurred and the whole experience requires more effort to consume, leading to feeling of tiredness. But that's just present-day technology, it's going to get way better.
Further, 3D doesn't have to be about whooshing past buildings, soaring for the sky, plunging to abysmal depths or whatever - very subtle scenes with little to no falling can be much more visually expressive in 3D.

And yeah, I cried. I had to remove my 3D glasses to wipe my face three times. To my masculinity's defence I must say that it's quite a different situation when you lack the social inhibition involved with presence of other people (the other visitors in the theatre don't count, they are far enough and don't notice you at all, unless you masturbating loudly or something)

I haven't yet seen The Artist, so I'm not in a good position to comment on Hugo in light of the Oscars ceremony that will start in several hours. The Artist is expected to grab more statues and it probably deserves them - I can't wait to see it and I'm sure I'll love it. And yet, I'm Expect Hugo to remain closer to my heart as The Artist deals with the early years of Holywood - which I see as a commercial enterprise that has creates countless good films but not so many great ones, and for me Europe is the cradle of cinema. I'm giving it 10 stars on IMDB.

By the way, I was thinking about an IMDB sync application, that posts updates on social networks when you rate or comment on a film. There is no official one and I haven't stumbled upon a 3rd party app. If there isn't one I might as well write it. Drop me a line if you know of such an app or if you also think it's a good idea to have it and let me know you'd expect of such an app.