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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 »

Will we meet the Lords of Kobol

The colonies believe in gods known as the Lords of Lords of Kobol. Baltar says they don’t exist as preaches about the monotheistic Cylon God. Back on Caprica, monotheism was illegal, but Zoe Graystone who became the first Cylon, was a secret monotheist.

But are the Lords of Kobol myth or real? They’re not actual gods, of course, but they do seem to have a real presence. There is a real arrow of Apollo. There was a real Tomb of Athena with a 3-D representation of Earth. The exodus from Kobol is described as involving a battle among the Gods. The Final Five worshiped a “god whose name must not be spoken” and there was talk of a “jealous god who wanted to be raised above the others.” The Final Five and their temple are real, and the Cylon god is real (but not divine in the traditional sense) but what about the Lords?

The Oracles are real. They make real prophecies that come true, they are tied to something. Dedona Selloi is an interesting Oracle because she gives #3 a message from the Cylon god about Hera. She seems to be able to speak with the Cylon god, and knows the difference between that and communing with the Lords of Kobol.

Could the Lords of Kobol simply be a mythologized representation of the Final Five and the Cylon god? Possibly. But there are certainly more than 5 of them. Or might they have been contemporaries or rivals of the Final Five? I suspect they might also have been from Earth, and that the exodus from Kobol was a result of a battle between these forces.

But if so, where are they now? Are they dead or defeated? Are they back on Earth, not playing a role? Or might we see them again? Since the forces behind things are very powerful, it is necessary that they have equally powerful antagonists if the story is to be interesting. This might suggest we see them.

Some characters have also been tied to the Lords. Adama is called Zeus several times. Starbuck is connected to Aurora, goddess of the dawn. Lee is “Apollo” and Sharon is “Athena.” Or will the Lords simply never be addressed. If not, who will provide the counterpoint to the powerful beings who took Starbuck to Earth and have been manipulating so much of this — presumably the white-robed aware copies of the Final Five.

Moral choice on nuclear vs. coal

A subject of debate in environmental circles revolves around whether the successful 70s opposition to nuclear power was a wise idea. At the time, it was never thought of as a choice between nuclear and coal, it was thought of simply as fear of the dangers of nuclear. Unexpectedly, it ended up being a push for coal, which of course kills far more people and emits more radiation than U.S. nuclear plants ever have.

But today, the big question remains of what to do with the waste. As I wrote earlier, if you accept the most dire global warming predictions, the worst waste predictions are quite tame by comparison.

But here’s another way to examine the question, in terms of moral duty. Nuclear power has a serious waste concern, and it is as yet uncertain how best to deal with it. But now, fossil fuels also have a serious waste concern from both particulates and CO2, and it is also uncertain how to deal with it. However, in many circles, there is very high confidence that there are extreme dangers from CO2.

Here’s the difference: What is done by the CO2 we emit is done to the whole world. The problems caused by it will be borne by the whole world. In fact, there are good arguments that while the USA and developed world produce most of the CO2 emissions, they will suffer a minority of the damage. The problems of nuclear power, however, largely remain within the country. If there is a nuclear waste problem, it’s our problem. If there is a meltdown, it’s our land that is ruined, our people killed. (At least in places like the USA where there are not foreigners living near/downwind from most nuclear reactors.)

Both choices, nuclear and fossil have predicted risks. But very different sets of people who pay the price. This makes it hard to say that the moral choice is fossil fuel over nukes.

Well, of course, the even more moral choice is to cut back on energy use and develop cleaner power. And both of those tasks are being worked hard upon. But it would be foolish to just assume we will reach quick success on this, and not still have to make the nuclear vs. coal/fossil choice for a few decades. Perhaps we won’t, but can we bet on it?

As always, there are some complicating issues. Nuclear power sometimes begets nuclear weapons, so it can’t be used everywhere. And it can certainly be argued that the problems of nuclear waste are visited not upon foreigners, but upon our descendants. But again, they are our descendants, and will still have more right to foist problems on them than we do on remote peoples. This argument could also apply to environmentally destructive hydro power, which again destroys our river valleys and animals, not somebody else’s.

It is, of course, for this very reason that fossil fuels have had some advantages. Almost all pollution has been driven by the fact that you can foist your waste problems off on somebody else. If they lived in the same legal jurisdiction, they eventually got power to stop you, but it always took a while.

Incarnation to to retain humanity

A few things are confusing me about the plot right now. “Sine Qua Non” has some seemingly highly contrived and out of character scenes to bring about certain plot movements (Adama on own, Lee as President, Saul as Commander) so I hope the payoff is worth it.

But today I want to consider two bigger pictures. For some time I’ve been puzzling over why the final five are sleepers. Indeed, even though they are no longer fully sleepers, they don’t yet know anything more. I’m also wondering what the point of the quest plot has been.

Sleepers

I’m imagining that the Final Five are ancient cybernetic beings who once lived as humans on Earth, thousands of years ago. They are of beyond human intelligence, but they still value their human origins. In order to stay in touch with their humanity, they regularly do “incarnations.” They create a copy who is born and lives “fully” human. This copy is artificial, possibly born to an earlier copy or inserted into an unsuspecting womb (though not Virgin Mary style) and is designed to live a human life. No superior abilities, no knowledge of their origins.

Then, at or near the end of their lives, the lifetime experiences of this copy would be uploaded and merged into the higher mind. This cycle of human lifetimes would keep the higher being in touch with their humanity. The normal cycle might be to lead a full life, never knowing the truth. It might be that this time, it was interrupted by special events. Or it might be that every cycle includes an awakening before merging with the whole.

We need something like this because right now we are faced with two choices:

  1. The Final Cylon is a major character like Adama, Roslin, Baltar, Lee or Starbuck, with Baltar having the most clues. But this takes away from the character’s human story and puts the “hand of god” too much into the story. If the big events have been driven so directly, especially by a character like Adama, Roslin or Baltar, it undoes much of what we have seen.
  2. The Final Cylon is, as the Last Supper interview says, a minor character. Boooooring. How can Gaeta or Cottle or the rest give us the shocking end of series surprise we know we’re in for?

If we can find a way to make a major character like Baltar be Cylon, but still be human and not be acting as/for the higher beings, perhaps it can work. Now one problem is that the 4 current members of the Final Five did do a few special things. Somebody sabotaged the food, and Tyrol found the Temple.

Now there is a good literary reason for this approach. Vernor Vinge correctly writes that humans can’t write workable fiction about superminds, any more than 8 year olds could write workable stories about adults. Yet if you have had AI for thousands of years, you’ve got superminds. So how do you manage that in a story?

What you do is you create human slices of the superminds, that we can understand and relate to as characters, and whose actions make sense. They are different but not incomprehensible. If they ever do get their full super-cylon knowledge, they become part of the setting, and not characters any more. And we want them to be characters.

What’s the point of the quest?

We’ve seen this long quest with little clues and hints:

  • War
  • Arrow of Apollo
  • Hologram of Zodiac in Tomb of Athena
  • Earth probe drifting in space
  • Redirection to Temple of Five
  • Trip to Ionian Nebula
  • Starbuck taken to Earth, given vision of Cylon civil war aftermath so she’ll talk to the Hybrid
  • Hybrid tells her that 3 can point out the Five to her, and they know about Earth

Now while the Five don’t consciously know about Earth, I suspect the information is somewhere in them.

But why? Why this contrived and roundabout quest and series of clues, just to end up with “Go ask your buddy there, he’s been with you all along and one of us all along.”

I understand the drama, but why would we have such a strange quest with the answer with them all along? I know we’ve seen that in other stories but I don’t find it satisfying. I hope the writing crew figures a way to make it so.

Reminder, get your credit card foreign exchange settlement tonight

Just a reminder, if you purchased things outside the USA with credit cards or used foreign ATMs the companies gouged you on exchange rates, and lost a class action case. You can go to the CCF Settlement page to fill out the form tonight, just a few hours left. Your options are:

  • Just get a plain $25
  • Report how many days you were outside the USA from 1996 to 2006 (that’s 216 days for me.) I’m guessing you might get back $2/day or so, but nobody knows.
  • Actually calculate all your foreign transactions — only easy if you have an accounting system which would make that easy to do. Get 1% to 3% of them back.

Most people are going with #2 because of how much work #3 will be. This is typical in class actions. Clearly the credit card companies know exactly how many transactions they charged you foreign exchange on, and could calculate this for you, but they arranged a settlement that worked the other way. The lawyers get their fees, though.

(I should note that the EFF has done one class action and is doing another, and learned how hard it is to get something that’s really good for the plaintiffs. However, as a civil rights foundation, we really are highly interested in the punitive nature of these cases, and any fees we get are plowed right back into more civil rights work.)

You probably got a settlement form in the mail. If you kept it, it has a number that you can key in to make this very easy. If you didn’t, you may have to disclose some info and might decide not to do so. For me, they already had most of my info from the CC databases, I just entered my refund ID #, my days outside the USA, and some questions the typical purposes of my trips. Much easier than is typical.

Guarantee CPM if you want me to join your ad network

If you run a web site of reasonable popularity, you probably get invitations to sign up for ad networks from time to time. They want you to try them out, and will sometimes talk a great talk about how well they will do.

I always tell them “put your money where your mouth is — guarantee at least some basic minimum during the trial.”

Most of them shut up when I ask for that, indicating they don’t really believe their own message. I get enough that I wrote a page outlining what I want, and why I want it — and why everybody should want it.

If you have a web site with ads, and definitely if you have an ad network, consider reading what I want before I’ll try your ad network.

Making RAID easier

Hard disks fail. If you prepared properly, you have a backup, or you swap out disks when they first start reporting problems. If you prepare really well you have offsite backup (which is getting easier and easier to do over the internet.)

One way to protect yourself from disk failures is RAID, especially RAID-5. With RAID, several disks act together as one. The simplest protecting RAID, RAID-1, just has 2 disks which work in parallel, known as mirroring. Everything you write is copied to both. If one fails, you still have the other, with all your data. It’s good, but twice as expensive.

RAID-5 is cleverer. It uses 3 or more disks, and uses error correction techniques so that you can store, for example, 2 disks worth of data on 3 disks. So it’s only 50% more expensive. RAID-5 can be done with many more disks — for example with 5 disks you get 4 disks worth of data, and it’s only 25% more expensive. However, having 5 disks is beyond most systems and has its own secret risk — if 2 of the 5 disks fail at once — and this does happen — you lose all 4 disks worth of data, not just 2 disks worth. (RAID-6 for really large arrays of disks, survives 2 failures but not 3.)

Now most people who put in RAID do it for more than data protection. After all, good sysadmins are doing regular backups. They do it because with RAID, the computer doesn’t even stop when a disk fails. You connect up a new disk live to the computer (which you can do with some systems) and it is recreated from the working disks, and you never miss a beat. This is pretty important with a major server.

But RAID has value to those who are not in the 99.99% uptime community. Those who are not good at doing manual backups, but who want to be protected from the inevitable disk failures. Today it is hard to set up, or expensive, or both. There are some external boxes like the “readynas” that make it reasonably easy for external disks, but they don’t have the bandwidth to be your full time disks.

RAID-5 on old IDE systems was hard, they usually could truly talk to only 2 disks at a time. The new SATA bus is much better, as many motherboards have 4 connectors, though soon one will be required by blu-ray drives.  read more »