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Pre-Canada Day Bring your own Fireworks Party

On short notice, we’ll be having a pre-Canada Day “BYOF” (Bring your own Fireworks) party at our Pacifica place on Sunday, June 29.

Because Pacifica has so much fog to keep it moist, they allow “Safe and Sane” fireworks at private homes, and on the beach. On July 4, many hundreds will crowd the beaches, and it’s quite a sight, but we’re going to cheat and hold it on Sunday, 2 days before Canada Day (July 1.)

We’ll gather and socialize starting about 2:30pm, order in some Pizza or Chinese and other snacks around 6:30, watch the sun set over the ocean at 8:30 and set off the fireworks sometime after 9 pm.

Ok, I’ll admit it. “Safe and Sane” fireworks are sometimes a bit underwhelming. They don’t look like the picture. But it can still be fun. On the 4th, people try to set off bigger fireworks, and they run away and the police try to get them. Cops even set up a holding pen on the beach. We won’t get that, though.

About a BYOF: Key to a good BYOF is not having too many of those “combo boxes” which have a lot of little fireworks. There are only so many different ones and you end up with a lot of repeats. We don’t ask folks to spend much money, but it’s better to spend it all on one firework (or something that’s fun when repeating like sparklers) than on a combo.

There are fireworks vendors all over Pacifica, including 2 that have set up just a short walk from the house, near Manor and Highway 1.

If the crowd is small, we’ll set off at the house. If larger, we’ll do and expedition to the beach, which may involve carpools. (There is a walkable beach, but the cops want people to go to Rockway and Linda Mar, at least on July 4.)

Weather: Pleasant. The fog is just burning off now at 2:30! This webcam will show you. Also, after about 3:30pm try the partycam which is also capturing a time-lapse movie of the day.

Traffic: Do note that due to the Gay Pride parade in the morning, there will be extra traffic in downtown SF and heavier use of transit.

The party is at 231 Manor Dr. (& Perry), in Pacifica CA. Here are maps and directions. Street Parking is plentiful.

Note: This is a vacant home recently renovated by Kathryn’s mom for eventual sale. Treat it nice please! Not much furniture, which is good for a party.

Check this page before the party for any updates. Dress Canadian (ie. a cold day at the beach.) If we go to the beach, I’ll update here, and can you call my cell (408 313 BRAD) after 8:30 for details if you are not on the web.

RSVP

If you would like in on dinner food, RSVP is appreciated. It may be BYOF, but I will provide snacks and non-alcoholic drinks. You can BYOB for Alcohol. You can RSVP in one of the following ways, but please pick only one:

  • On Facebook, if you are a member at this event page
  • Via E-mail to party at mail.4brad.com
  • In the comments here, if you like

Is D'Anna lying about "4 in the fleet?"

A common question fans are asking is whether D’Anna Biers is lying when she says that there are four of the final five with the fleet, and one (the mystery Cylon) is not. They want her to be lying, because her statement rules out so many popular fan choices for final Cylon, such as Gaeta, Dualla, Cottle, Lampkin and Zarek. It also rules out choices for people who don’t buy the declaration that the final Cylon is not in the Last Supper photo, such as Apollo, Starbuck and possibly Adama, who is on Galactica when she again declares there are four.

D’Anna has her own agenda that we don’t yet know. So she certainly would have no problem lying if it suited her purposes.

But a harder question is, how would she know to tell this lie? She knows the identity of the final Cylon. But there is no reason she should know that the final Cylon is different from the other 4. The only people who know that are the 4 themselves, and perhaps the one. In fact, the four didn’t know anything back when she got her vision of them in the Temple of Five. (What the one knows, we don’t yet know, but it is strongly suggested they were also a sleeper, and may still be a sleeper, in that they are described as “still in shadow.”)

There seems no way that she could know that one is different, and thus to ask for four. Unless she knows the fifth is not with the fleet, which would mean:

  • The fifth is somebody she knows to be dead (like Elosha, Joseph Adama, Zak or some others.)
  • The fifth is somebody with her on the base star (like Helo, Adama, Roslin, Baltar or Seelix.)
  • The fifth has some other unknown attribute that lets her know where he/she is.

She knows the fifth person, since we in the audience have been assured we will know him/her.

Then there are characters who died while she was boxed, such as Cally, and there’s Starbuck who “died” while she was boxed. She would not know directly of this. For her to know, the Cylons on the base star would need to have found out about these deaths from the crew, and told her. This is possible, of course, but it seems unlikely with the distrust. Military crew should not be getting chatty and blabbing intel to the Cylons. But they might have.

But again, nothing we have seen gives her any ability to know that one is special. Which makes it very likely that she has found out through one of the reasons listed above. I don’t know what the unknown attribute could be, but of course the writers could make up something. Like her seeing the 5th in special robes, or them having a metal robot face, perhaps. Or the face of the Hybrid, though I don’t see that as likely.

I should point out that she doesn’t say that the fifth is not with the fleet. She justs states that four are with the fleet. She says nothing about the fifth. So the implication (5th not with the fleet) is strong but never exactly said. However, if the fifth is with the fleet, and she tells them she is going to collect four, it means she somehow knows the fifth is different, and won’t be coming when she goes to get the four. It’s hard to see who this fifth could be, with the fleet but not going to be coming in her view, or with her knowledge. For those of you sure it’s Gaeta, Dee or Cottle, how does she know they’re not going to be collected?

It’s really clear she plans to collect only four, no matter what she knows. She plays a deadly game of hostage-executing brinkmanship with Lee Adama, while demanding only four. In fact, she targets nukes at the Civilian fleet as part of this standoff. She tells Baltar if the 3 are executed “the whole human race dies with them” indicating she would also attack Galactica. If the fifth is in the fleet, it does not make sense for her to nuke it.

I do feel, though we as yet have no evidence for it, that it was the fifth to whom she apologized so profusely. It could have been any of them, but somehow I think it was the fifth.

A Week of Robocars

This special chapter in my series of essays on Robocars describes a fictional week in the Robocar world, with many created examples of how people might use Robocars and how their lives might change.

If you haven’t been following my essay on Robocars, this may be a good alternate entry to it. In a succinct way, it plays out many of the technologies I think are possible, more about the what than the how and why.

A Week of Robocar Stories

This ends this week-long series of postings on the Robocar essays. Though I have some new sidebars already written which I will introduce later. I realize this set of essays has been more longer than one typically sees in the short-attention-span blogosphere, but I think these ideas are among the more important and world-changing I’ve covered. I hope I’ll see more comments from the readers as you get more deeply into it.

Robocars: The end of Urban Transit

You may have seen in earlier blog posts my discussion of the energy efficiency of U.S. transit. I started that investigation because as I learned how inefficient most transit systems are (due to light loads outside of rush hour,) I realized that ultralight electric cars, enabled by Robocars, are more efficient than any transit system. Who would take transit if a fast, comfortable, efficient vehicle will take you directly from A to B? This drives chapter eight, about:

The end of urban mass transit

(This one gets the people who think they love transit, rather than loving efficient transportation, in a tizzy.)


Robocars: Deliverbots -- computer driven trucks

For part seven of my series on Robocars, I now consider the adjunct technology I am calling Deliverbots — namely robot driven trucks and delivery vehicles, with no people inside. These turn out to have special consequences of their own. Read:

Deliverbots


Robocars: When?

For part six of my series on Robocars, consider:

When can robocars happen?

I discuss what predictions we can make about how long the Robocar future will take. While there are many technological challenges, the biggest barriers may be political, and even harder to predict.

We don’t seem to have the Jetson’s flying cars yet. What goes wrong with these predictions, and can we figure it out?


Downsides to Robocars

For part five of my series on Robocars, it’s time to understand how this is not simply a utopian future. Consider now:

The Downsides of Robocars

Every good technology has unintended consequences and downsides. Here I outline a few, but there will be more than nobody sees today. I still judge the immense upsides to be worth it, but you can judge yourself.


Car design changes due to Robocars

Robocars will suggest a great number of possible changes in the way we design and market cars. I now encourage you to read:

Automobile design changes due to Robocars

The big green benefit of robocars comes in large part from the freedom they offer in redesigning the automobile, in particular the ability to specialize automobiles to specific tasks, because they can be so readily hired on demand. Or to specific fuels in certain areas, or for sleeping, and much more.


Robocars: Roadblocks on the way

For part three of my series of Robocars, now consider:

Roadblocks on the way to Robocars

A lot of obstacles must be overcome before Robocars can become reality. Some we can see solutions for, others are as yet unsolved. It’s not going to be easy, which is why I believe an Apollo style dedication is necessary.


Robocars: The Roadmap to getting there

In part two of my series on Robocars, let me introduce:

The Roadmap to Robocars

Here I outline a series of steps along the way to the full robocar world. We won’t switch all at once, and many more limited technologies can be marketed before the day when most cars on the road are computer driven. Here are some ideas of what those steps could be — or already are.


Robocars are the future

My most important essay to date

Today let me introduce a major new series of essays I have produced on “Robocars” — computer-driven automobiles that can drive people, cargo, and themselves, without aid (or central control) on today’s roads.

It began with the DARPA Grand Challenges convincing us that, if we truly want it, we can have robocars soon. And then they’ll change the world. I’ve been blogging on this topic for some time, and as a result have built up what I hope is a worthwhile work of futurism laying out the consequences of, and path to, a robocar world.

Those consequences, as I have considered them, are astounding.

  • It starts with saving a million young lives every year (45,000 in the USA) as well as untold injury in suffering.
  • It saves trillions of dollars wasted over congestion, accidents and time spent driving.
  • Robocars can solve the battery problem of the electric car, making the electric car attractive and inexpensive. They can do the same for many other alternate fuels, too.
  • Electric cars are cheap, simple and efficient once you solve the battery/range problems.
  • Switching most urban driving to electric cars, especially ultralight short-trip vehicles means a dramatic reduction in energy demand and pollution.
  • It could be enough to wean the USA off of foreign oil, with all the change that entails.
  • It means rethinking cities and manufacturing.
  • It means the death of old-style mass transit.

All thanks to a Moore’s law driven revolution in machine vision, simple A.I. and navigation sponsored by the desire for cargo transport in war zones. In the way stand engineering problems, liability issues, fear of computers and many other barriers.

At 33,000 words, these essays are approaching book length. You can read them all now, but I will also be introducing them one by one in blog posts for those who want to space them out and make comments. I’ve written so much because I believe that of all short term computer projects available to us, no modest-term project could bring more good to the world than robocars. While certain longer term projects like A.I. and Nanotech will have grander consequences, Robocars are the sweet spot today.

I have also created a new Robocars topic on the blog which collects my old posts, and will mark new ones. You can subscribe to that as a feed if you wish. (I will cease to use the self-driving cars blog tag I was previously using.)

If you like what I’ve said before, this is the big one. You can go to the:

Master Robocar Index (Which is also available via robocars.net.)

or jump to the first article:

The Case for Robot Cars

You may also find you prefer to be introduced to the concept through a series of stories I have developed depicting a week in the Robocar world. If so, start with the stories, and then proceed to the main essays.

A Week of Robocars

These are essays I want to spread. If you find their message compelling, please tell the world.

What minor character is the final Cylon

With the shocking confirmation that the final Cylon is not anybody in the Last Supper photo our choices are far more limited, short of this being an out and out lie. While I don’t put it past the producer of a show to lie (or certainly to equivocate) on a show’s central mystery when asked a direct question, this is fairly direct. It’s either a lie or a bizarre equivocation where “people” is taken to literally mean “non-Cylon” so that he’s saying “The final Cylon isn’t any of the non-Cylons in the picture” — a tautology.

Let’s examine the choices left to us. It’s made more narrow by the declaration by D’Anna that the Final Cylon is not with the fleet. But there are no minor characters of note that are not with the fleet when she says this, other than dead characters. Worse, there are some dead characters she should not yet know to be dead. The one exception is Seelix, who is only marginally a character of note.

I’ve said for some time that the unmasking of the final Cylon, as a major climax of the series, must be dramatic. It has to be shocking and unexpected to most. While Baltar, who was my choice up to this point, would not have been shocking, I expected the “why” to be the real source of surprise, rather than the person. This may have to go doubly for the dead character.

Popular minor character choices Gaeta, Dee, Zarkek, Lampkin and Cottle are clearly with the fleet. And they’re also quite uninteresting choices. Revealing it is one of them will elicit a “ho-hum” rather than a “Holy Shit” the way Tigh’s unmasking shocked most of the audience (though of course not yours truly.) So even though some feel that D’Anna could be playing tricks by saying there are only 4 with the fleet, I see no reason for her to know that one is special, unless that one is on the base ship or dead. In fact, nobody on the fleet except the 4 themselves knows that one is special. And indeed, no reason for it to be any minor character on the fleet.

Other limiting clues include the following:

  • A report that the final Cylon was chosen during the first season. Other reports suggest it was a person from the miniseries but this is less confirmed.
  • Confirmed reports that there are clues in the show about this person
  • The prophecy of the first Hybrid about final Cylon: “And the fifth, still in shadow, will claw toward the light, hungering for redemption that will only come in the howl of terrible suffering.”
  • The famous line that “Adama is a Cylon” given by Leoben, while in captivity.
  • While far from certain, there are a lot of dramatic reasons to suggest D’Anna’s “You, forgive me, I had no idea” is to the final Cylon, somebody singled out for special recognition in the circle.

While it’s not confirmed, it is my belief that the “Final Five” plot, with a whole new class of ancient Cylons, was not fully fleshed out until the 3rd season. However, many of these choices require this plot to have been worked out in the first season when the Cylon was picked. My intuition could be wrong here.

It should be noted, that by and large there are no actual clues that point towards any of these characters (or any other characters not eliminated by the photo.) In fact, truth be known only a few of the eliminated characters (Baltar, Roslin, Starbuck and perhaps the Adamas) had actual clues, clues on the order of Tyrol’s compulsion to find the Temple or his superior response to vacuum.

Joseph Adama

My former favourite was recently eliminated by a declaration by Moore that it will not be somebody the audience has not seen, not a guest star.

Note that Lampkin tells Lee Adama that he looks just like his grandfather. It would be an interesting twist if Lee were a new incarnation of Joseph, however since Lee is in the last supper photo, that doesn’t work out.  read more »

Ron Moore confirms final Cylon not in Last Supper photo

I’ve received word, via E-mail, from Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune regarding the famous Last Supper promotion photo. As you may know, in the interview surrounding that photo, the Entertainment Weekly reporter asked if the Final Cylon was not in the photo. Moore responded:

You ferreted that out pretty slyly. I didn’t really want to give that away.

This equivocal answer (he doesn’t say the Cylon is not present, the reporter does) had many people wondering. Ryan did an interview with Moore in which she asked him about it, and that contained a confirmation with some reporter-added text in brackets:

MR: Just so I understand what I think you told EW for the story that went with the photo, none of the people in that photo is the final Cylon, right?

RDM: Yeah. I said that. I probably shouldn’t have said that [laughs] but I have said that. So, yeah [that is the case, the final Cylon is not any of the people in the photo].

I wrote to Ryan, and she confirmed that Moore had just said what was attributed to him, and the text in brackets was her elaboration on the meaning of his “So, yeah.” However, she wrote to Moore, and he responded to her. She reports to me by E-mail that Moore has OK’ed the following quote:

“Ron Moore confirmed to me that the final Cylon is not any of the people in the Last Supper photo.”

So, short of a tricky interpretation of “people” (which I pointed out to Ryan before she asked Moore, so it seems unlikely) this seems pretty definite.

I must admit this surprises me for several reasons. First of all, I would not expect Moore to give away such information conclusively regarding the central mystery of the season and show, cited every time in the opening titles. I would expect him to equivocate, and now he has said he did not.

The other reason it surprises me is I don’t really like the choices this lays down upon us. My current pick had been Baltar, the Chosen One but his story will obviously be different. Most of the minor characters did not provide a dramatic enough story to be the climax of the season. And now, almost all the minor characters have been eliminated by the proclamation by D’Anna Biers that the final cylon is not with the fleet. This leaves mostly dead characters, for whom my top pick is Joseph Adama, with Elosha more distant. I am not sure the audience would be satisfied by these.

I’ll have written some more analysis of the minor and dead characters.

How to be green -- cars, electricity, farms

In light of my recent studies into transportation energy efficiency I’ve learned a lot more about the energy budget of the USA and the world.

One conclusion from those investigations is that if you are serious about greening the world, there are really only a few areas worthy of serious effort. Yes, you can make a difference anywhere, and if all you’re going to make is a personal difference there are scores of things you can change in your life to reduce your own footprint. But if you want to make a real difference, by affecting groups of people and whole sectors, the choices are few and clear.

Cars

The footprint of cars and light trucks is so large — 63% of transportation energy — that I am tempted to say that if you’re not working on cars, you’re not working on being green. Freight trucks are another 17% of transportation energy. Transit is in the noise — it only has bearing in that it can, in the rare cases it is done well, take people out of cars to make their travel greener. These numbers are huge, so of course differences can be made in the other transportation areas, but if the question of cars and trucks is not fixed, the rest of transportation barely matters in comparison. The one exception is jet airliners, which at 9% take the next largest shot of the energy budget.

However, transportation is “only” 28.5% of the total U.S. energy budget, so it’s not quite the only place to go. However, adding the energy cost of manufacturing cars bumps them up to around a third.

Electricity Generation

The rest of the energy budget is split 32% industrial (including making cars,) 18% commercial and 21% residential. But 70% of residential energy, 78% of commercial energy and 34% of industrial energy comes from electricity. (Just .3% of transportation energy does, but that will change if we move to electric cars.)

All these energy uses are quite diverse. There are many targets to attack, all worthy within their own scope but there’s only one truly big target, and that’s electricity generation. In the USA that’s currently 50% coal and 20% natural gas. So if you’re working to fix this — with renewable energy or nuclear — then you’re working on one of the big problems. Right now hydro and nuclear are the largest non-fossil power generators. All the other renewables are currently in the noise.

Agriculture

One of the biggest commercial users of energy is agriculture. It’s estimated that the equivalent of 400 gallons of gasoline per person in the USA is used to grow our food. Part of that is that 5% of all natural gas goes into making fertilizer. This makes this a particularly large non-electrical target. In addition, most of the methane we emit comes from livestock. I need to do more research but currently agriculture looks like another big target.

So it’s not quite true that if you’re not working on cars, you’re not working on being green, but it does suggest that projects like the Automotive X-Prize and DARPA Grand Challenge are among the most important projects in the world for going green.

Congress about to grant immunity to phone companies for no-warrant wiretaps

Sadly, I must report that after our initial success in getting the members of the House to not grant immunity to telcos who participated in the illegal warrentless wiretap program which we at the EFF are suing over, the attempt to join the Senate bill (which grants immunity) to the House bill has, by reports, resulted in a so-called compromise that effectively grants the immunity.

I have written earlier about this issue and asked you to contact your members of congress, particularly the House and the House leadership about this issue, so now I must do it one last time.

It disturbs me that house members got the issue the first time, but that conservative “blue dog” democrats are bolting and going to President Bush’s side. The White House arguments make no sense — if the programs were not illegal, no immunity is needed, and since the new bills make the programs legal, the companies will have no fear of complying with new orders under the new law. The only activity these lawsuits should chill would be illegal activity. It’s like the White House is saying, “If they don’t get immunity, they will be scared to break the law when we ask them to again.”

Sigh.

The solution is simple. When the White House comes calling and asks you to break the law, once it’s not an emergency, you should say, “Why don’t we clear this up before a judge?” That’s what EFF is doing now, 7 years later. Asking a judge to look it over, and see if it’s legal. Should have been done long ago, but certainly shouldn’t be stopped now.

Call your members of congress. Tell them you care about the rule of law and the constitution, and not to grant immunity, in particular this so-called compromise which still grants immunity as long as the White House promised it was all legal.

You can get the contact information for your member at the EFF Action Center

Update: Damn. Even Obama came out and endorsed the “compromise.” The supposed “compromise” says that as long as the administration swears that they told the phone companies that it’s legal, it’s legal. Gee, what are the odds that’s going to happen? How can Obama and the rest of the Democratic leadership side with the President like this? Where are their spines? Obama says he wants to fight in the Senate to remove the immunity, but it’s sadly too late there, and he has to know that, unless he goes all out with his leadership power. He could have done much more earlier in the week by telling Democrats to not support immunity, but he didn’t.

Revalations and the fate of Earth

I’m proud to say my prediction from last week about a ruined Earth was largely spot on. The one unresolved part was the question of whether this planet is inhabitable (and inhabited) or not. The scene with the Geiger counter suggested they wanted to tell us it has too much radiation for humans at least, but it could have several meanings.

Our current weapons could not make the whole planet radioactive, but future weapons could. There are plants (and air) and casting calls for extras suggest they may even find tribes of people on Earth.

Many believe the scene is intended to show Manhattan from the ruined Brooklyn Bridge. It does look a bit like it, but there are issues. First of all, the Brooklyn Bridge was built before rebar was used, so it would not have rebar sticking out. The Manhattan bridge was built in the post-rebar era. However, exposed steel rods in a wet area like this would have rusted away in a relatively short period of time, and concrete would have crumbled to wind and rain. So these ruins are not 4,000 years old as we might expect them to be, or even 2,000 years old. (This may also simply be an technical error, so we can’t be sure how old the writers intend them to be.)

At the start, we see a drawing of a domed Temple of Aurora on Earth. We don’t even have a serious pagan religion at this point, so this may be another lie in Pythia, or a sign that there’s still lots of time to go before the war.

It’s the Earth, of course. The constellations match, Orion has been seen for weeks and we saw a scene of the real Earth at the end of season three. And it’s pretty clearly in the far future, as I have always stated it must be. But it’s not their final destination, since we have 10 (now 12) episodes to go. Besides, the dying leader is not supposed to actually reach the promised land, and if it’s Roslin, she made it here.

The big detail (shown in previews) is D’Anna saying that only the 4 we have seen are with the fleet. That rules out all sorts of candidates like Apollo, Starbuck, Dee, Gaeta, Cottle and many others. It points instead to Baltar, Roslin, Helo and Bill Adama (maybe) or somebody who is dead. Baltar continues to have the most clues. Adama is not with the fleet when D’Anna first says there are 4 Cylons with the fleet, but he is with the fleet the 2nd time she says it. Helo, as father of a Cylon-human hybrid, has been ruled out in the past — not because F5 can’t breed with Cylons, but because we were told Hera was a hybrid.

We note that D’Anna has not identified the fifth if they are on the base ship. If it’s Baltar, she knows he is unaware of his state. If it’s Roslin, she tested whether she was aware. As such she may just not want to reveal things to an unaware member.

However, today I received more confirmation from this Chicago Trib Article’s author. She tells me her sense was that Moore really said the final Cylon was not in the Last Supper picture, though he did not say anything like the words in brackets. If this is true, it seems only a dead character can now fit all the clues.

Of the dead characters, Joseph Adama remains my favourite pick, though he would confuse the audience. A new popular choice is Elosha the priestess who returned as Roslin’s spirit guide. The arguments on her go as follows:

  • As disclosed, she was in the miniseries.
  • She does a lot of the work guiding Roslin to look for Earth, to fetch the artifacts, and to get to the Tomb of Athena
  • As a character killed by Cylons, D’Anna’s “Forgive me, I had no idea” could certainly apply to her.
  • Her reappearance as spirit guide suggests something more
  • It’s kinda boring having it be somebody who has spent most of the series dead
  • It’s hard to see how she is in shadow, clawing for the light, and seeking redemption that will only come in the howl of terrible suffering.

Now truth is it’s hard for that redemption prediction to apply to most of the characters. Of the dead ones, only Cain and Kendra might seek this redemption, and Joseph Adama for helping create the Cylons.

But still, in spite of the press claims, I have to say that I still don’t buy it being somebody not in the picture, except through a clever trick — ie. there are multiple copies, and the final Cylon is a different copy from the one in the picture somehow.

The Yellow Moon

One curious line from Starbuck returns to me now. She said that Earth had a “yellow moon and star as described in Pythia.” Her picture does show a slightly yellowish, partially eclipsed moon.

Could the yellow moon be a terraformed moon with an atmosphere? We may see. And if Pythia also wrote about it, it suggests it was already transformed when Earth colonized Kobol.

More plot problems

I also feel these last few episodes have been rushed, plot-wise. We got more things I could not believe, such as the threat to space Tigh and the others, and the sudden agreement to take the Cylons to Earth. The fleet should have been ready to jump from the moment of the base ship’s return as a hostile, and thus not at risk from the cylon nuclear weapons. Tigh should have negotiated, either with Lee or on his own — he can find a radio.

D’Anna’s actions seemed strange. She’s the one who has been shown the truth. She knows that the Final Five have lived among the humans for decades, and that the human fleet is important to Cylon future. She should not want to destroy it at all.

We’re in for a long drought on the show, so this sub-blog will probably get a few more posts and then go dormant until something new comes out.

Is Earth a vacant planet?

One of the big questions for viewers of BSG is “what will they find on Earth?” I’ve written before about how we can be pretty sure this is an Earth of the far future but this doesn’t tell us what sort of future Earth it is. Advanced? All-Cylon? Post-singularity? Or, quite possibly, deserted or ruined.

Some signs are pointing to the latter choice. A lot of hints tell us the ending of the show will be dark. That seems to rule out an inhabited Earth that welcomes the fleet. It might suggest an inhabited Earth that puts up a “No trespassing” sign and tells them to go away — because the colonials are really Cylons, and were booted off Earth long ago. (That doesn’t mesh with somebody taking Starbuck too Earth to show here where it was, though.)

It’s very clear that they are quite close to Earth. Recent episodes have routinely shown the unmistakable constellation of Orion in starfields. This is no accident, and puts them very close. (Orion is one of the few constellations that could be recognized at some distance from Earth along the line between Earth and Orion. But “some distance” is still not very far.) In fact, there is a technical flaw here. From such a close distance — a few hundred LY or so — their computers could readily find the place where the Zodiac is visible. You can download software for your own computer, like the free Celestia, that would let you see what the stars look like from all the nearby stars.

And the previews for next week —- mild spoilers again — show them over a blue-white planet, and then standing on a deserted planet. Previews are usually fake-outs, of course. Last week’s preview had a great fake-out because it was the character (D’Anna) doing the fake-out, not the preview editors. It seems too early for them to show us Earth, even deserted Earth, but it’s not out of the question since there are other big mysteries to deal with after that, such as why it’s deserted, and what the backstory of the Cylons and Final 5 (Original 5, really) is.

However, without making much of a prediction there, a dead Earth seems like the best match for a dark ending. Though presumably a still-habitable Earth, since otherwise would be really dark. But to live on it they must reconcile with the Cylons, half of which have switched back to “kill all humans” mode. Earth isn’t actually necessary once they reconcile with the Cylons, since if they did that, they know of a very pleasant planet (Kobol) where they could settle. Right now they seek a habitable planet where the Cylons won’t be trying to wipe them out.

The difference with Earth is that, as home of humanity and the Original/Final Five, it may offer the means to that reconciliation, though presumably after a bit of space battle and a lot of death. The Hybrids, and the Final Five, who have lived as humans, are pointed as as likely paths to the “two becoming one” the Hybrid predicted.

A populated and powerful Earth that can say “welcome home, we’ll kick Cylon butt for you” just isn’t in the cards. But they’re so close to Earth now that an advanced Earth would probably have left signs in the area. So a vacant Earth seems more and more likely.

(One theory has suggested that Earth is vacant because the “13th tribe” was an expeditionary force that went back to wipe out the homeworld that had ejected them. This is somewhat interesting but I can see many other reasons for Earth to be vacant. While this 13th tribe is dated 2,000 years before the exodus from Kobol, it would be interesting to imagine the effort to wipe out Earth as part of the schism on Kobol.)

Baltar, Christ and the Jews

Recent previews for this week’s episode — some minor spoilers for early in the episode here — reveal D’Anna going to the fleet to tell them she wants the four Cylons, whom she says she has been in contact with. She says that because the revealed 4 are in the room, listening to her.

But it’s odd that she says there are only four. This seems to say she knows the final Cylon is not with the fleet at that point, since she should not know if the final Cylon is aware or not. With Bill and Lee Adama present, along with Starbuck, they get ruled out, and the missing characters are Roslin, Baltar and Helo. Helo’s the father of a hybrid, so it’s not him. And once again Baltar rises to the top of the pack.

There’s more evidence building for the theory I spoke about elsewhere about Baltar as a Cylon Christ. In particular, an incarnation of the Cylon god. His recent near-fatal wound was very suggestive of Christ. His following and miracle keep adding to the suggestions.

We can’t predict a lot because our religious metaphors are mixed up. I mean we’ve all heard a story about a race of monotheists held as slaves by polytheists, who rebel and leave with great wrath to spend 40 years wandering. Then, when they get to the promised land they slay everybody in it. But in this story the promised land is the old land, and the monotheists were created by the polytheists, or think they were. Now we seem to be throwing in a Christ. Who knew?

One minor note I picked up of late. I’ve talked several times about the statements of the First Hybrid in the Razor movie. One of those statements was this:

Soon there will be four, glorious in their awakening, struggling with the knowledge of their true selves. Repaying the revelation, bringing new clarity and in the midst of confusion you will find her, enemies brought together by impossible longing, enemies now joined as one. A way forward and once unthinkable yet inevitable, and the fifth still in the shadows will claw towards the light, hungry for redemption, that will only come out on how of a terrible suffering. I can see them all, the seven, now six, self described machines that believe themselves without sin, but in time it is sin that consumes them. They will know imity, bitterness, the renching agony of the one splintering into many and then they will join in the promised land gathering on the wings of an angel, not an end but a beginning…..”

Generally I’ve taken the prophesies we see in the show not as mystical foreknowledge, but rather knowledge of a plan, based on a repeating cycle of time. They aren’t predicting what will happen but saying what they plan to make happen. The Cylon God knows who the final 5 are, and when they are set to awaken, so all these things can be predicted. He probably planned for a Cylon civil war as well, so it’s OK to predict that.

But more confusing is the prediction if the “seven, now six” Cylons. This implies a prediction that D’Anna will be boxed. The Cylon god might know of or be causing her quest for the five, but it seems as though D’Anna’s use of the Temple of Five was not planned. The other Hybrid said that was for the Chosen One, and that the Chosen One was Baltar. But this means that the whole thing, even the boxing was planned, and that’s a bit too precise bit of planning for my taste. This prediction takes place almost 2 years before D’Anna goes her quest to see the Five.

Or it could mean that there is some mystical ability to predict the future, and that bothers me even more. That the future is being guided by unseen forces can be cool. That it is cast in stone and can be foreseen by divine beings I don’t like.

A final note: There are some interesting foreshadowings about the metal Cylons also getting ready for a rebellion. They had inhibitors planted in them, which they don’t like, and they exact revenge. #1 states that the consequences of removing them will be truly dire. And now we have Baltar preaching to one of them, even if that one dies shortly thereafter. Something’s up here. We’ll see some “Revelations” on Friday night. (Or rather, you will, I will be watching it several days later on a recording because I’ll be busy.) About time that the secret Cylons were revealed. We have known their secret for too long, it’s time to get onto the bigger secrets that will be revealed in the closing half of the season.

Is Green U.S. Transit a whopping myth?

As part of my research into robotic cars, I’ve been studying the energy efficiency of transit. What I found shocked me, because it turns out that in the USA, our transit systems aren’t green at all. Several of the modes, such as buses, as well as the light rail and subway systems of most towns, consume more energy per passenger-mile than cars do, when averaged out. The better cities and the better modes do beat the cars, but only by a little bit. And new generation efficient cars beat the transit almost every time, and electric scooters beat everything hands down.

I encourage you to read the more detailed essay I have prepared on whether green U.S. transit is a myth. I’ve been very surprised by what I’ve found. It includes links to the sources. To tease you, here’s the chart I have calculated on the energy efficiency of the various modes. Read on, and show me how these numbers are wrong if you can!

I have added a follow-up post on the comparison between lots of small personal ultralight vehicles and larger shared transit vehicles.

Note: If you want to comment on the cyclist figure, there is different thread on the fossil fuel consumption in human food which details these numbers and invites comments.

Scatter bluetooth keyboards everywhere

I want to expand on my proposal to standardize connectivity for devices in hotels. Let’s add to that and develop a regimen of having bluetooth keyboards everywhere. Every hotel room should have one (or the hotel should at least have one to loan you at the desk.) They should be in every cafe, on the train and every company meeting room and lobby.

They should be on the street, in kiosks. They should be at the train station. Everybody should have one at their house, for guests. And many other places.

We’re moving to smaller and smaller portable devices. Not just keyboard-less iPhones and PDAs — the new rage is ultra-mobile laptops with reduced size keyboards. We want our devices to be smaller, but there’s one thing you can’t shrink and keep fully usable, and that’s the keyboard. Yes, people get fast on their tiny blackberry keyboards, and yes there have been clever inventions like laser projected keyboards, inflatable keyboards and the much-missed butterfly keyboard, but the small ones just can’t cut it.

The small screen we seem to deal with. And via goggles or projection, there are ways to make a large screen on a tiny device if we try hard enough. But solving the typing problem requires some grander change, like perfect speech recognition, or alternate ways of typing.  read more »