Saul and the hand grenade

The last few episodes haven’t added a lot for those theorizing on the big mysteries, but they are good plot. But one item at the cliffhanger of tonight’s episode does promise something.

(This relates to information from the “scenes from next week” which some view as spoilers.)

I think Saul throws himself on the grenade. This saves Adama. (Mythbusters showed that this can work, and they didn’t even use a Cylon version of Buster.)

And while Saul probably would throw himself on a grenade for Bill — though I am not sure why either of them are guarding that useless airlock after the raptor is away — he has some extra reason now. He remembers dying before and coming back.

Now they would not normally kill a popular character like Tigh with so many episodes to go, though they are going to be killing major characters very soon. And if they did, they would not tell you in the previews.

But I think Saul’s coming back. Kate Vernon said she would be back next week. Perhaps Saul comes back with her. I wonder if he gets his eye back, or if a full-regeneration (vs. new body without memories) gets repairs or just a duplication. If I were the writers I would give him his eye back.

And then the fireworks can begin. And I always liked Gaeta.

(Note that further previews suggest Tigh dies later, if he dies at all, and he does not get his eye back. This is probably just a flash grenade. Still would be a good plot twist to kill him and bring him back with Ellen.)

On another note, one thing we learned last week is when to not pay attention to podcast comments. After Tyrol was revealed as a Cylon, Moore was asked if now Nicky was a half-Cylon. He said yes, he was, though his story would not be the same as Hera’s.

Well, that was an off the cuff answer and people took it as gospel. We declared Cally as the one person assured to be human because of it. She was human, but not because of this. We learn that Moore and the rest feel perfectly OK reversing remarks like those if they now want to take the plot another way.

Indoor deliverbots on the rise

Here’s a nice story about the Kiva warehouse delivery robot now being used by major retailers like The Gap. Factory floor robots have been around for some time, and the field even has a name “automated vehicle guidance systems” but these newer deliverbots kick it up a notch, picking up shelves and bringing them to a central area for distribution, finding their way on their own with sensors.

We’re also seeing more hospital deliverbots, which — very slowly — take things around hospitals, roving the same corridors as the people. When a robot goes very slowly, people are willing to allow it to travel with them. The technological question is, how hard it is it to raise that speed and stay safe, and make people believe that they are safe.

Some applications care little about speed, and the slow robots already have a market there. We would not tolerate super slow robots on our streets, getting in the way of our cars, regularly.

One answer may be “extremely deferential” behaviour. Consider a deliverbot trundling down a low-volume street at 10 kph (6mph). It would be constantly checking for a vehicle coming up behind it, using radar, lasers and cameras. With LIDAR it would get about 90 meters of warning, with other sensors perhaps more. Say it detects a car coming behind it at 50 km/h (30mph). It has 8 seconds, during which it will will cover 22 meters. If it’s a small robot — and we might limit the robots to make them small — odds are reasonable that it might find a place in which to duck, such as a driveway. These robots aren’t parking, so they can move into driveway entrances, fire hydrant locations and many small non-parking spaces along the road.

Indeed, it need not find a place to pause on its own side of the road. If there is no immediate oncoming traffic, it could deek to the other side of the road for a hiding spot. Ideally it would be clever and not pick a driveway which has a moving car or even a car sensors reveal has the engine running.

Indeed, it’s not unreasonable for the deliverbot to simply move into the oncoming lane if it is clear, to let the human vehicle pass. This is a bit disconcerting to our usual sense of how things work — slow vehicles don’t move to the left for us to pass them — but there is no reason it could not be true. This is on urban streets where stopped vehicles, turning vehicles and even pedestrians are found in the middle of the street all the time, and drivers have plenty of time to stop for them. Nobody is going to hit such a vehicle, just get annoyed by it.

For the driver, they would see various slow deliverbots on the road ahead. But in all but unusual circumstances, by the time they got close to those robots, they would have pulled out of the lane, to pause in driveway entrances. The main risk is the driver might start to depend on this, and plow right into such a vehicle (at slow speeds) if there was no place for it to pull over. A deliverbot that doesn’t immediately see a place to pull over would probably start blinking a very obvious flashing light on the back, increasing the warnings if the vehicle does not slow down. It might also speed up a little bit, if safe to do so, to reach a spot to pause.

Why is this interesting? I think we’re much closer to building a vehicle that could go 10 kph on slow city streets, using LIDAR. If the vehicle is small and doesn’t weigh a great deal, it simply won’t be capable of doing much damage to people by hitting them. It could even be equipped with airbags on the outside should this ever become unavoidable. The main problems would be people hitting them, or being annoyed by them.

Once accepted, as safety technology improves, the speed can improve — eventually to a level where they don’t get in the way, other than in the sense that any other vehicle is in your way. There will always be those who want to go faster, and so the deference approach will always be useful.

Massive panorama of the inauguration

Since I do so many of my own, you won’t find me blogging about other people’s panoramas very much but this gigapixel shot of the crowd as Obama gives his inaugural speech is well worth exploring full screen. David Bergman’s story of the photo is available.

It was taken with the gigapan imager that I gave a negative review to last month. You can see why I want a better version of this imager. The shot is a great recording of history, as you can see the faces of almost all the dignitaries and high rollers who were there. It has a few stitch errors which would be a lot of work to remove by hand, so I don’t blame the creator for doing just one 5 hour automated pass. When such an imager becomes available for quality DSLRs, the image will be even better — this one faces the limitations of the G10. And due to the long time required to shoot any panorama of this scope, it looks like only some of the crowd are applauding, while others are bored.

I would love to see a shot of the ordinary folks in the far-away crowd too, but he wasn’t in range to get that, and it would have needed a longer lens. A computer might be able to count the faces then, or even tell you their racial mix. The made-the-list area probably has more black faces than ever before, but still a small minority.

A few years in the future, every event will be captured at this resolution, until we start having privacy worries about it.

The Kitchen of the Future

In the early days of microprocessors, people selling home computers tried to come up with reasons to have them in the home. The real reason you got one was hobby computing, but the companies wanted to push other purposes. A famous one was use in the kitchen. The computer could story your recipe file, and wonder of wonders, could change the amounts of the ingredients based on how many servings you wanted to make.

This never caught on, but computers have come a long way. But still, I mostly see nonsense applications promoted. For example, boosters of RFID tell us that our fridges will be able to track when things went in the fridge, and when it’s time to buy more milk. We should give up huge amounts of privacy to figure out when to order more milk?

With that track record, I should stay away from the area, but let me propose some interesting approaches in the kitchen.

The cooking area should have a screen, of course. Screens are already in the kitchen to watch TV. While you could (and would) put digital recipes up on the screen, I imagine going further, and having TV cooking shows, where you watch a chef prepare a dish. You would be able to pause, rewind and do everything that digital video does, but the show would also come along with encoded instructions tagged to points in the video. When the recipe calls for cooking for 5 minutes, the computer would start appropriate timers.

The computer should have a speech interface, and a good one, allowing you to call out for timers, and to name ingredients and temperatures. More on that later.

The first thing I would like to see is smart, digital wireless scales in a lot of places. A general one on the counter of course, but quite possibly also built into the rack above the burner which holds the pot. You can get scales built into spoons and scoops now, and they could be bluetooth.  read more »

One Earth or Two -- more data, more astronomy

The biggest raging debate is whether the Earth shown in Sometimes a Great Notion is the only Earth we will see in the show, or if there is another Earth out there, which is the real Earth.

Now the planet they land on is almost certainly the Earth of the colonial sacred scrolls. Ron Moore confirms this much in interviews, and the podcast. It is certainly the planet Starbuck was taken to, and photographed, for her viper is crashed there and the star patterns match, even after a double check. I presume this match is against Starbuck’s photos, but more on that below. There was a 13th tribe, it was made up of Cylons, and they found and named a planet Earth, and this story is told in the book of Pythia. The Final Five come from the home of the 13th, and we learn they did indeed live (and die) there. This is that world, and all sources confirm it.

This world is also certainly not our Earth. Our Earth, after all, was not colonized by Cylons and destroyed in a nuclear war. Our world was not named Earth by alien colonists. So it’s the Earth of the scrolls and the 13th colony but not the Earth we live on.

A number of things keep nagging at viewers:

  • When they talk about this world, they keep saying that the 13th tribe “called it Earth.” It’s as though they are careful to avoid saying that it’s Earth in the context of “our Earth.” They are too careful about this.
  • In spite of many shots of the planet from space, none show recognizable landscapes. At the end of Crossroads, Part II they made a big deal of showing a zoom to Earth, showing North America (in the 21st century too, but that’s another matter.) If they didn’t want to leave the question open, why not just show it.
  • They leave #3 on the planet, and we don’t see her again. Suggests we never return to this planet. So there is surely another planet in their future, be it for a dark ending or happy one.
  • They were very much led to this planet by the string pullers, with Starbuck’s photos and the beacon from her viper, which took them to the very place the Final Five would recover memories.

Only four of the photos match?

Now I’ve always assumed that the stars over this planet match Starbuck’s photos and also match the star patterns shown in the Tomb of Athena, because we are told the latter two match when Starbuck returns. But a deleted scene on the DVD shows more of that scene. In it, Starbuck says that the photos match. Then we see two lines that were deleted, and they are very telling lines indeed!

Starbuck: …The star patterns match what we saw in the Tomb of Athena.

Roslin: Four of them. What about the other eight?

Kara: What more do you want? A flashing neon sign that says “Earth”?!

This is a huge deletion. Why delete it and, then why show it to the fans later? Some will argue deleted material isn’t canon, but the writers wrote this for a reason. They presumably deleted it because they did not want to bring up a debate about whether Tomb-of-Athena Earth is the same as Nuked/Starbuck’s Earth — at least when they were worried the strike might cause the series to end somewhat abruptly.

(Note that Roslin’s line could also be interpreted to mean that Starbuck only took 4 photos. Which is odd, but possible.)

I didn’t imagine a debate because the show provided us these two things in a row:

  1. Starbuck: I’ve been to Earth, and I’m going to take us there
  2. Camera: Zoom out of galaxy, zoom back in at similar spot, show the real Earth we all know.

That’s a strange fake-out to have Starbuck say she’s been to Earth and then zoom us to a different Earth than she’s been to. Not even a fair fake-out I would say, but let’s leave that for a moment.

It has been pointed out by Micheal Hall, another blogger that the constellations in the Tomb of Athena are very similar to ours, but not a full match. That blogger also points out that our exact Sky is shown at the scene of the Cylon battle, the one with the red giant that Starbuck paints a vision of.

The problem is this. Constellations either match or they don’t. Even a move to our closest star, Alpha Centauri, changes Leo, Capricorn, Saggitarius and most of all Gemini in very noticeable ways. No stellar navigator would look at the sky at Alpha C and say it matched photos of the sky from Earth. Hall even ran some proper motion models to take the sky forward in time 20,000 years and it didn’t match the Tomb. Move your viewpoint further out than Alpha C — even 20 light years, and the Zodiac becomes hard to recognize, certainly not something that anybody would declare as a match. But some constellations distort more than others.

Now if BSG’s crew got their astronomy right, there is no question that the battle site of the Cylon civil war is the location of our Earth. That’s not just any ringed gas giant, that’s Jupiter, our Jupiter. No other place in the galaxy has that star pattern. Star patterns are quite exact if examined photographically. The odds of the same pattern appearing at random somewhere else are — well, literally astronomical.

Can it be just an accident? The graphics crew has used random stars everywhere else. Why do they show us real stars all of a sudden at that battle scene. They show us Orion in a few other scenes. Orion is one of the few constellations that stays somewhat similar at a number of the local stars, especially if you go in the opposite direction.

Can there be such a mismatch?

It’s possible, though unlikely, that if you consider the maps on the colonial flags (and in the Tomb) to be more drawings than real stellar cartography, and you consider that only 4 of them match, and not all 12, then indeed the star map in the Tomb of Athena could be for a different planet than the 13th colony. One would have to do a bit of playing around to see what stars it could be. Kevin Grazier, BSG’s science advisor from JPL, could definitely have worked this out.

In addition, as the Tomb of Athena mappings were more drawings than photographs or maps, it is possible the crew drew them in only roughly. This could account for the fact that, as Hall points out, Aldeberan is missing. Aldeberan sticks out like a red thumb, it’s very bright.

Want to be anal about it? Download Celstia a free star mapping program. Put it into multiview mode to see both the Earth sky and a remote location, and turn on constellation lines and names. Then use the “Celestial Browser” to move among the nearby stars. Forget the tiny dwarf stars, only check out the ones with bright stars, Visible from Earth. See if there are some where 4 of the Zodiac stay the same, but 8 are different.

The Cylon battle site

Could the Cylon battle site be the site of the real Earth? If we take their star patterns as realistic, it has to be, it can’t be anywhere else. Could the Cylons have had a war there and not noticed the amazing planet sitting there? Does the war account for how the colonials miss this important fact too? If they took photos, perhaps they have not yet gone over them. Everybody was perhaps too busy.

All Along the Watchtower

I would very much like it to be the case that there’s a real Earth out there, still to be found, in our far future. It makes the show a lot better, a lot more satisfying. But one thing sticks in the way. Moore tells us in the podcast that his intention for the script was that Anders wrote “All along the Watchtower.”

Which means Bob Dylan didn’t. That there is no Dylan, really. That means that even if we find another Earth, a real Earth, it’s not precisely our Earth. Some argue that we should just accept this, that the song has been taken for a dramatic use in the show. That’s what we are told by Bear McCreary, the musician. I don’t like it though. The song is famous. It’s like the statue of Liberty. When you see the Statue of Liberty on the shore in “Planet of the Apes” you would not accept the explanation that “Oh, the apes built that, the shape came from the collective unconscious.” You would cry “bullshit.” And if this Earth is just an allegory of the real one, well, it might as well be the Cylon 13th colony.

But I’ll forgive this if it turns out I get a realistic plot with relevance to our Earth. If so, they have a lot of ground to cover in 9 episodes. A lot of history to reveal. And I know they want the story to be about character, so they don’t want to spend all the time revealing the secret history.

What is Earth like?

When I thought that the 13th Colony Earth was the real Earth, I predicted it would likely be vacant. I was correct, but my prediction was really for the real Earth. So I predict that real Earth, should they find it, will also be ruined or vacant. We are told the ending is dark, with lots of death. We are also told in Razor that it all ends like this:

And in the midst of confusion, he will find her. Enemies brought together by impossible longing. Enemies now joined as one. The way forward at once unthinkable, yet inevitable. And the fifth, still in shadow, will claw toward the light, hungering for redemption that will only come in the howl of terrible suffering. I can see them all. The seven, now six, self-described machines who believe themselves without sin. But in time, it is sin that will consume them. They will know enmity, bitterness, the wrenching agony of one splintering into many. And then, they will join the promised land, gathered on the wings of an angel. Not an end, but a beginning.

This sounds like a less dark ending. This is the ending predicted by a First Hybrid who is very big on the “all this will happen again” cycle. This is how it has gone down many times in the past, we can assume. Aurora is a winged goddess, associated with Starbuck. We have already seen the 7 turn into six. We’ve seen the 4 awaken, and the 5th will hunger for redemption. In the confusion he (Saul) did find her (Ellen.) The machines have splintered in agony. And Roslin isn’t dead so they have not joined the promised land yet.

Aside from real-Earth being ruined, another interesting plot would be to find it an advanced planet, but a planet that expelled the Kobolians long ago. The sign at the door says “Get out, and stay out.” So when they approach, Earth attacks, and destroys a lot of the fleet, which has to flee. Now that’s a dark ending for you!

Earth, I believe, was the site of the first man-machine war. That war may have ruined it, or soured it on the machines (or humans) trying to come back. What it might think about Hera is another question. Of course I still suspect all the colonials are all artificial already, making Hera a bit less special.

Iniating calls with a VoIP tool, like Skype

Last week, I wrote about issues in providing videoconferencing to the aged. Later, I refined a new interface plan discussed in the comments. I think this would be a very good way for tools like Skype to work, so I am making an independent posting, and will encourage Skype, Google video chat (and others) to follow this approach.

First, it should be possible to reliably attach a PSTN phone number with an online identity. This can be done by the person who owns them (with a security trick) or by the person who wants to call them.

If a user goes to their tool — quite possibly through a USB handset with a dial pad, or through a dedicated IP phone — the system should check if this number belongs to a user, and if that user is online. If the user is online, then just make the call through the VoIP system.

If the user is not online, make the call through the PSTN, ie. SkypeOut. If/when the called party answers, the caller can say, “I’m calling you with Skype, are you near your computer?”

The called party can then go to their computer and one of two things can happen.

  1. The moment they sign on to Skype, it can notice that they have this SkypeOut call underway, because it gets a message from the buddy who called via SkypeOut. Immediately it pops up a dialog box asking to OK transfer of the call. If they approve, the audio will switch to pure Skype, and when that is good, the phone will be hung up.
  2. Failing that, if the user logs on and attempts a Skype call to the contact who is on the PSTN call with them, Skype should notice that at the other end, and answer the new call by connecting it to the PSTN call.

When connecting the calls together, there should be a brief bridge when both the PSTN phone and computer are connected, and then later (or upon hangup) the PSTN leg would be terminated. However, for those who don’t have a cordless phone or phone by the computer, it would be nice if they could just hang up their PSTN call, go to the computer, and join the conversation. To facilitate that, the presence of a call 30 seconds in the past should still enable this quick re-setup.

The experience for the user who places the call (possibly a senior) is very simple. Place a call. Mention it is on the computer. At some point, without having to do anything, the audio switches and is now higher quality, and video can be started — automatically if the two buddies are set up for automatic video.

For the receiving user, the interface is pretty simple. Go the the computer, log on, possibly click on a buddy or approval box. Then hang up the regular phone (or possibly have already hung it up not too long ago.)

To encourage this, Skype could sell a SkypeOut plan that allows an unlimited number of very short PSTN calls that are followed by a transfer to VoIP for a low monthly fee, like $1/month.

This would allow a very simple UI in the senior home. An ordinary telephone handset sits next to the computer. You pick it up, dial a number, your grandchild answers, and at some point into the communication the video call begins on the screen. This is as close to the familiar interface as we can get.

Now, as for associating numbers and buddies. If this is done by the caller, there is no security aspect. However, it’s much better if it can be done (just once) by the target. To do that, you would declare a phone number and the system would call you. The voice on the end would ask you to enter the touch tones you see on your screen. This would confirm ownership of that number.

The “hang up first” interface question is a bit more complex. I do like the idea of having it be very automated. You sign in (or return to your computer that is already signed in) and bang — you are in the call. However, if you hung up the phone a while ago you might have gone to your computer for other purposes than to continue the call. The caller might have a dialog saying, “The called party hung up. Are you waiting for them to go to their computer?” And if you click yes, then do an automatic start. Otherwise make it manual.

Moore speaks on the BSG backstory (and fracks it up)

These are Ronald Moore’s words, from the podcast, describing the backstory of the show.

This fundamental idea that once upon a time there were was a place called Kobol, the gods and men lived together. Man on kobol stole fire from the gods, that fire was the knowledge of life, how to create life, they created their own cylons. That creation and the destruction of their paradise was the end of kobol.

Twelve colonies, twelve tribes went that way, and the 13th tribe, 13th tribe of cylons went the other way, and they found and settled a planet that they called Earth, and at some point, the people on Earth, the cylons on Earth, repeated the pattern and destroyed themseleves as well. This feeds into the overall “all this has happened before and will happen again” mythology of the show.

He also says, when describing Anders’ story of playing “All Along the Watchtower”

“[The Guitar] was here on Earth, and Anders was here on Earth. Anders, he played the song for his friends, on earth, played it, it was also intended that he wrote it, that’s a subtlety that may not have come through”

Finally we also learn that this is Lucy Lawless’ last episode, which is why she is staying on the planet. Which suggests they don’t return to this planet.

This dashes a lot of fan hopes that this is a false Earth, that the real Earth colonized Kobol, and then a tribe of Cylons went off and found a different planet and named it Earth, after the ancestral homeworld. So this Earth seems entirely unrelated to our planet, and only has that name because this was the mythos of the original Battlestar Galactica in 1978. I had hoped he would reimagine that part of the story but he didn’t do it as well as I would have desired.

Many fan hopes were rising because people noticed that every time Moore would talk about the ruined Earth, he would say “they called it Earth” rather than saying this is our Earth. He seems to be saying that because it is not our Earth, but it also seems to be the only Earth in this universe. There will be no Bob Dylan in this universe.

This leaves a lot of things unexplained though. And he says there are some more major mysteries to explain.

  • Why do the 12 tribes have flags with star patterns from this Earth? How did this lost planet’s sky generate the flags and names of the 12 tribes?
  • How do the various dates mesh up: Temple of 5 from 4,000 years ago, Pythia from 3,600 years ago, wars on Kobol and Earth from 2,000 years ago.
  • Are the colonials also Cylons, or how was Starbuck able to download or be duplicated?
  • Why does everything happen again, and again?

Now, why do I say he’s fracked it up? Lots of SF is set in a universe that never was, an Alternate Earth — often one that is both similar and different from ours, usually in impossible ways done for dramatic purpose.

But I felt and hoped that Battlestar Galactica had the chance to be more. I thought it had the chance to be set in the future of the real Earth, and thus have more to say about the battle between man and machine. I’m not saying that you can’t say things about the real world in alternate realities. But I do think you can do it better if you start with the real world, and you always should if you can. And he could have, and seemed to be leaving clues that he had.

No, I am not going to stop watching, but I will do so a little less enthused.

The Cylon Film Festival

Here are some screen captures of the poster behind Tyrol in the produce market. You can’t really read the words reliably, but in the first two lines, it really seems like the last word is “Cylon” — though there is some argument for “Colony”

In the next set of 3 lines, I see

A Celebration/Discussion ?? 7??? and ch?????? in the (eyes?) of the community.

Also look at another part of the poster:

And the image has the appearance of an angel/priest, wearing a Cylon centurion helmet of some sort.

Or I could be imagining things. But were the production crew having fun with the posters they put on the wall?

The yellowish poster is also interesting. Looks like a rock band poster with the 3 heads on the top. Anders’ band? The two figures at the bottom are odd as well, the one at the left is either wearing Mickey-mouse ears, or has a strange shaped head.

Must read, but disappointing interview with Moore and others

An interview by Maureen Ryan of Ron Moore and others is available on the Chicago Tribune site.

It contains a lot of important information, and some that dashes a number of my hopes.

To wit:

  • Yes, you can take it as fact that the 13th tribe were Cylons, though not 12-model Cylons of course
  • Yes, they colonized the planet and “christened it Earth.”
  • No the timelines aren’t wrong (timing this war at the same time as Kobol exodus and presumably 1,600 years after Pythia and 2,000 after Temple of Five) and we’re going to see more which makes the timelines all make sense.
  • Dee is just a suicide, nothing more (or less.)

This is so out of odds with other clues, including the Tomb of Athena, and of course the real Earth. The real Earth wasn’t colonized by cylons. We evolved here, and Moore acknowledged in the past that this is a scientific fact that he was not going to ignore.

The simplest explanation may be he just changed his mind, which I would find disappointing.

I can think of some convoluted explanations:

  • We are programmed to think we are human, so we imagine fossils in the ground and all the history of evolution
  • When he says “christened it Earth” he doesn’t mean in English. That Earth is a translation for the viewers of the name this Cylon colony gave to the planet they “discovered.”
  • We now have to draw a plot that has Kobol colonized long ago by humans or Cylons from Earth, Earth falls, Kobol forgets where they came from, Kobol sends out a colony of cylons which rediscovers Earth. Later there is a war which nukes Earth.

But I can’t say that any of these explanations make a lot of sense, or that I like any of them.

A possibly nicer plot is a plot of many more cycles of war and exodus, which involve both Earth and Kobol, and regular repopulation of the one planet from the other, so that eventually it is forgotten which planet is the original. When we learn these extra timeline details which explain how the Temple of Five is 4,000 years old and the Pythian story of the exile, rebirth and the colonization of Earth is 3,600 years old, and the exodus of the 12 tribes is also 2,000 years old (too close to be coincidence) we might see something along these lines.

These cylons who lived on Earth are a different class again. There are not the 12 models, and in fact what we see is absolutely identical to a modern Earth situation, including identical clothing and other styles, a possibly Christian poster, and a perfectly typical 20th century post office, with mail slot and wall of P.O. boxes and faded posters without the corners cut off. I mean the set designers and costume designers didn’t change anything from normal, which doesn’t feel right with a supposed 1,600 year advanced civilization.

And these cylons don’t seem to download, or if they did, there is no sign of them. But the final 5 are set to download. And Ellen tells Saul that “All is in place” for them to be reborn again. If everybody downloads this is not something he needs to be told. She says it in a way that makes it sound like she’s informing him of this for the first time. This could be because it is the first time (unlikely — there is that 4,000 year old temple with them in it) or because Saul does not have all his memories.

We also learn in the interview that Moore was thinking exactly as I predicted in his reasoning for choosing Ellen. So I’m glad to get a few things right… I came to the conclusion in a very similar way to how Moore did. Looking at the candidates, I asked, “What story would make Ellen interesting as final Cylon” and concluded the really long term relationship with Saul had to be it. They could have done the same with Cally, or even the newly revealed Tory-Anders potential relationship, but Ellen made the most sense, and Saul was the most important character.

Overall I felt (and still feel) it made a lot more sense to not have a 13th tribe that is real, though it was always possible to write the multi-cycle plot where it was. So I’m disappointed, but hope that there is something to please me in what’s coming up.

The bones are all Cylon? Or are they?

Well, I have lots to think about that episode. I was pleased (mostly) that my second choice, Ellen Tigh was correct. And in particular that it seems my reason for picking Ellen may be correct — that the two of them have had a multi-thousand year, on-again, off-again romance. My other pick, the Virtual Being, seems to be what she says she is — an emissary of the Cylon God. But more on that later.

One thing that needs a lot of analysis is the dates. This war was 2,000 years ago, but the sacred scrolls tell of the 13th tribe and the exile and rebirth of humanity 3,600 years ago. So this isn’t the first war. And thus probably not the first Saul and Ellen. Plus it seems that others (Six, Dee) have some history on Earth too, not just the five.

But I want to put forward a speculation about the declaration that the bones found in the digs were “not human” but “Cylon.” We must leave aside the fact that in the past they have not been able to tell them apart on X-ray so it is not clear what this difference should be. (Updated thought: they told the difference using Cylon tech, so that makes it more real.)

But being that the bones are found on Earth, does it not perhaps make more sense that the bones are in fact human. And thus it is the colonials who are not human?

Now, if the war was 4,000 years ago I would firmly declare this to be true. However, dating it only 2,000 years opens the chance that the people in the ground are indeed artificial humans (Cylons) but of a different type from the colonials. With Starbuck’s duplication, it is more and more clear that at least she is not a natural human, since they don’t explode and get recreated. And if she isn’t, and she’s not the fifth, the evidence is strong that the colonials are all artificial.

More to come as I let the episode sink in. Many mysteries, including why Saul needs to be told of his immortality, why Dee cried to find those jacks and then offed herself and more.

Battlestar Galactica sub-blog returns to activity

Some of you may know that I started a sub-blog for my thoughts on my favourite SF TV show, Battlestar Galactica. This sub-blog was dormant while the show was off the air, but it’s started up again with new analysis as the first new episode of the final 10 (or 12) episodes airs tonight. (I will be missing watching it near-live as I will be giving a talk tonight on Robocars at the Future Salon in Palo Alto.) Reports are that one big mystery — the last Cylon — is revealed tonight.

So if you watch Battlestar Galactica, you may want to subscribe to the feed for the Battlestar Galactica Analysys Bog right here on this site. And I’ll go out on a limb and promote my two top candidates for the mystery Cylon.

Some recent posts of note:

Data hosting could let me make Facebook faster

I’ve written about “data hosting/data deposit box” as an alternative to “cloud computing.” Cloud computing is timesharing — we run our software and hold our data on remote computers, and connect to them from terminals. It’s a swing back from personal computing, where you had your own computer, and it erases the 4th amendment by putting our data in the hands of others.

Lately, the more cloud computing applications I use, the more I realize one other benefit that data hosting could provide as an architecture. Sometimes the cloud apps I use are slow. It may be because of bandwidth to them, or it may simply be because they are overloaded. One of the advantages of cloud computing and timesharing is that it is indeed cheaper to buy a cluster mainframe and have many people share it than to have a computer for everybody, because those computers sit idle most of the time.

But when I want a desktop application to go faster, I can just buy a faster computer. And I often have. But I can’t make Facebook faster that way. Right now there’s no way I can do it. If it weren’t free, I could complain, and perhaps pay for a larger share, though that’s harder to solve with bandwidth.

In the data hosting approach, the user pays for the data host. That data host would usually be on their ISP’s network, or perhaps (with suitable virtual machine sandboxing) it might be the computer on their desk that has all those spare cycles. You would always get good bandwidth to it for the high-bandwidth user interface stuff. And you could pay to get more CPU if you need more CPU. That can still be efficient, in that you could possibly be in a cloud of virtual machines on a big mainframe cluster at your ISP. The difference is, it’s close to you, and under your control. You own it.

There’s also no reason you couldn’t allow applications that have some parallelism to them to try to use multiple hosts for high-CPU projects. Your own PC might well be enough for most requests, but perhaps some extra CPU would be called for from time to time, as long as there is bandwidth enough to send the temporary task (or sub-tasks that don’t require sending a lot of data along with them.)

And, as noted before, since the users own the infrastructure, this allows new, innovative free applications to spring up because they don’t have to buy their infrastructure. You can be the next youtube, eating that much bandwidth, with full scalability, without spending much on bandwidth at all.

All the questions you must answer in your Galactica theory

Everybody in SF is theorizing, like me, about the mysteries of Battlestar Galactica. I have prepared a list of what I think the major questions that you must answer if you have a theory of your own. There are also a few lesser questions that it’s good if you can answer, but which are not mandatory. And indeed, even I don’t really answer all of these easily, nor do I suspect the show will tie up all these loose ends. A few minor spoilers about Caprica here.

For my answers see the invented backstory and of course the rest of this blog.

Virtual Beings

  • Who and what are they?
  • How do they get into character’s heads?
  • Are they all the same being, or are there different beings? If so, what’s their agenda?
  • How did Six pick up Baltar? Who was Shelley Godfrey and how did she vanish? (Godfrey question to be answered in “The Plan”)
  • How is it that ordinary humans can receive visions at all? Not just dreams but visions with real external information. (Baltar, Starbuck, Young Bill Adama, Roslin)
  • Why did Head Six say goodbye to Baltar? (Deleted scene.)
  • How could the Elosha in Roslin’s head have a conversation with her in the non-time of a jump?

13th Colony “Earth”

  • Why and how was Earth destroyed thousands of years ago?
  • How did it come to be that the 13th tribe was Cylon?
  • Why was the true nature of Earth covered up in colonial mythology?
  • What was the “exile and rebirth of the human race” Pythia wrote about 3,600 years ago?
  • Who took Starbuck to Earth and back?
  • Why this very convoluted way of showing the path to Earth (Arrows and star maps on Kobol, probes, stars going nova, signal on fake Viper) instead of just giving a set of coordinates?
  • Why don’t he colonials find it odd that the scrolls say the 13th tribe “saw their 12 brothers in the sky” (ie. tribal flags are Earth stars and names, which is at odds with their belief that Kobol is their homeworld.)
  • Why don’t 8 of the Tomb of Athena star maps match the photos Starbuck took? (Deleted lines found on DVD)
  • Why do the stars seen from the gas giant site of the Cylon civil war match the real Earth’s sky?
  • Why don’t we see any continents or star patterns we recognize in the Earth’s sky?
  • Why was the Earth destroyed around the same time that the tribes fled Kobol?

Final Five

  • Is the fifth aware or unaware, and why?
  • What are the Final Five? Who made them?
  • What are the white robe Final Five in the visions?
  • How old are they?
  • Why did they lead full lives as humans, unaware of what they are?
  • Why did they wake up to a Bob Dylan tune?
  • Are there other copies of the Final Five around?
  • How will the ending “blur the line between human and Cylon”
  • Just why were 3 of the Five at Galactica at the start of the war? Are they the reason it survived?
  • Where has Ellen been? Is she behind Starbuck’s magic trip, viper and recreation?
  • What have the five been doing for the past 2,000 years?
  • What were they doing between the building of the Temple of Five and destruction of the 13th colony?

Cylon God

  • Is he real? What is he?
  • What’s his agenda?
  • Do the Final Five worship him? Is he the “God whose name must not be spoken?”
  • Who is the “jealous god, who wanted to be put above all the other lords of Kobol?”
  • Why would he appear to speak to Dodonna Selloi through the Lords of Kobol to give #3 a message?
  • Who is pulling the strings, if not this being?

Temple of Five

  • Are the Five Priests the Final Five?
  • Was Baltar supposed to activate the temple? What does it mean that D’Anna did?
  • How, as Baltar asked, could all of them have come there on Nova day, in spite of astronomical odds?
  • What poisoned the food processors to force the fleet there?
  • Why did D’Anna say “you were right” to Baltar?

Cycle of Time

  • Since there is no time travel, what can make things repeat so exactly? (Moore declared at the start of the show: “No aliens, no time travel.”)
  • Just how exactly are they repeating?
  • How many cycles have their been?
  • What’s special about this cycle, if anything?


  • How is the First Hybrid able to know Kendra’s life?
  • How does the First Hybrid know the story of the Final Five and their current state?
  • How does Pythia know about the visions of serpents?
  • How does Leoben know they will find Kobol?
  • How do Oracles, Leoben, and the Hybrids know about Starbuck’s destiny?
  • What is “the truth about the Opera House?” Why is the long-ruined Opera House so important?
  • How does the First Hybrid’s life “begin again, in ways uncertain.”


  • Why is head Six afraid of Kobol?
  • Who were the Lords of Kobol?
  • What are they doing now?
  • What is the meaning of the suicide of Athena?


  • Why does Head Six say Hera is the child of herself and Baltar?
  • Why is Hera’s hair so curly when her parents have straight hair?
  • Is she the Cylon fetus shown in the ads? If not, who is it and what does it mean?
  • Why does Hera draw a book full of pictures of Six?
  • What is the role of Nicholas, and little unborn Six-Tigh?


  • See Earth
  • What is her destiny?
  • To wit, what does, “Kara Thrace will lead the human race to its end. She is the herald of the Apocalypse, the harbinger of death. They must not follow her” mean?
  • What happened to her in the maelstrom?
  • How did she get a new body, a new Viper? Why?
  • What is her connection to Aurora?
  • Who is her father?

The Seven

  • How did the seven acquire their biological bodies? (Aparently the official “Final Five” comic series will tell us this.)
  • Why are the seven programmed not to think about the final five?
  • Why was Cavil (the least spiritual one) so strongly against the quest for the five, and the awakening of the centurions?
  • Why did D’anna only ask for four Cylons from the fleet? What makes her know one is different from the others? If she thinks one is not yet awakened, why does she think that?
  • What happened to the minds of the older, metal Cylons?


  • How did Baltar heal that child in his cult? Why does he have a cult?
  • How did Baltar survive the nuke near his house?
  • Why are female Cylon models so drawn to him?
  • What does it mean that the Hybrid identified him as “the chosen one?” What is his role in “God’s plan?”
  • Why all the Christ metaphors on Baltar?
  • How did he unconsciously know about Doral, or what to blow up in The Hand of God.

Web site clues

  • “You have heard my voice many times, but you don’t know my name.”


  • What does Gaeta’s song “to have her please, just one day wake” mean?
  • What is “the space between life and death” that Starbuck and D’Anna explore? Why are the Five there?
  • In Caprica, Adama’s father helped create the metal Cylons. Adama’s sister was the template for one of the first three models. Can this remain unmentioned? What would the fleet think if it knew? Why don’t any of the Cylons have her memories?
  • What shut down all power to the fleet at the Ionian nebula? Why? And how did the Cylons know to be there?
  • Why did the power shutdown also make Roslin faint? And why all the visions for her at that time?
  • How did the Cylons keep finding the fleet? How did Hotdog find it?

Buying a Canon 5D Mark II, with lens? Buy it in Canada and save $250

I just got my new Canon 5D Mark II. (Let me know if you want to buy some of my old gear, see below…) This camera is creating a lot of attention because of several ground-breaking features. First, it’s 22MP full-frame. Second, it shoots at up to 25,600 ISO — 8 stops faster than the 100 ISO that was standard not so long ago, and is still the approximate speed of typical P&S today. It’s grainy at that speed (though makes a perfectly good shot for web display) and it’s really not very grainy at all at 3200 ISO.

Secondly, they “threw in” HDTV video capture at the full 1920x1080, and I must say the video is stunning. There are a few flaws with it — the compression rate is poor (5 megabytes/second) and there is no autofocus available while shooting, but most of us were not expecting it to be there at all.

Another “flaw” I found — for years I have had a 2x tele-extender but the cameras refuse to autofocus with them on f/4 lenses (f/8 being too dark, while f/5.6 is OK.) But I figured, with the way sensors have been getting so much better and more sensitive of late, surely the newest cameras would be able to do it? No dice. I will later try an experiment blocking the pins that tell it not to autofocus, maybe it will work.

Anyway, on to the little surprise for those photographing friends who want this camera. Normally, cameras and most other gear are more expensive in Canada. But there was a lucky accident on this camera. When they priced it, the Canadian dollar was much stronger compared to the U.S dollar, and so they only priced it at $450 over the USD price. That’s to say that the Camera with 24-105L lens is $3500 in the USA and $3950 in Canada. But due to the shift in the U.S. dollar, $3950 CDN is only about $3250 USD. And the camera comes with full USA/Canada warranty, so it is not gray market.

There is a smaller savings on the body-only — $3100 CDN vs $2700 USD, only save about $130. If you want the body only, I recommend you buy the kit with lens for $3250 and sell the lens (you can get about $900 for it in the USA) and that gets you the body for $2350, a $350 saving, with some work. Boy at that price this camera is pretty amazing, considering I paid over $3000 for my first D30!

In Canada, two good stores are Henry’s Camera and Camera Canada. All stores sell this camera at list price right now (because it’s hot) but I talked Henry’s into knocking $75 because their Boxing Day sales ads proclaimed “All Digital SLRs on sale.” At first they said, “not that one” but I said, “So all doesn’t mean all?” so they were nice and gave the discount. You probably won’t. Shipping was $10 and I got it in about 3 shipping days via international Priority Mail. No taxes or duties if exported from Canada.

Of course, if you prefer to order from a U.S. realtor you can do me a favour and follow the links on my Camera Advice pages, where I get a modest cut if you buy from Amazon or B&H, both quality online retailers.

Now that I have my 5D, I don’t really need my 20D or 40D. I may keep one of them as a backup body. Based on eBay prices, the 20D is worth about $325 and the 40D about $620 — make me an offer. I will also sell the 10-22mm EF-S lens which works with those bodies but not with the 5D. Those go for about $550 on eBay, mine comes with an aftermarket lens hood — always a good idea. The 10mm lens is incredibly wide and gets shots you won’t get other ways. I am slightly more inclined to sell the superior 40D, as I only want to keep the other camera as a backup. The 40D’s main advantages are a few extra pixels, a much nicer display screen and the vibrating sensor cleaner. I have Arca-swiss style quick release plates for each camera, and want to sell them with the cameras. They cost $55 new, and don’t wear out, so I would want at least $40 added for them.

More on the 5D/II after I have shot with it for a while.

Update: The Canadian dollar has fallen more, it’s $1.29 CDN to $1 USD, so the 5D Mark II with lens kit at $3950 CDN is just $3060 USD, a bargain hard to resist over the $3500 US price. Sell that kit lens if you don’t need it for $850 and you’re talking $2200 for your 5D.

Update 2: The Canadian dollar has risen again, reducing the value of this bargain. It is unlikely to make sense with the currencies near even in value.

It's Earth, and it's ancient

Well, not much is revealed in the recap episode of BSG that aired this evening, but two interesting impressions are confirmed:

  • They have landed on Earth, not a fake decoy planet
  • The ruins are supposed to be thousands of years old.

At first, I and many others were confused because the ruins of Earth look younger than those of Kobol, and that didn’t jibe well with other impressions and theories. Word did get out that the first images from the art department were sent back by Moore, who declared they looked too fresh, and too much like New York. The second set were better, but presumably still not what he wanted (which was thousands of years old) but got used anyway.

I was also recently pointed to some more info relating to the claim of this being in the far future. On Ron Moore’s blog, after Season one, he was asked what he was going to do about the way original BSG had contradicted the facts of evolution.

He wrote:

I don’t have a direct answer for this question yet. There are a couple of notions rolling around in my head as to how we reconcile the very real fact of evolution with the Galactica mythos, but I haven’t decided which approach to take. However, it was a fundamental element of the orginal Galactica mythos that “Life here began out there…” and I decided early on that it was crucial to maintain it.

Knowing that he did intend to recognize evolution as a fact and fit that into BSG mythos should leave no doubt (if any still doubt) that Earth will be the homeworld. And he already did find a way of fitting in that “Life here began out there” line. Adama declares it is the first line of the Sacred Scrolls. In 1978, the line was delivered from an Earth perspective. In this show, it’s from a Kobolian perspective, or perhaps a colonial one that life did begin out there — and it’s true, from their perspective. After all, the first line of the sacred scrolls was probably written on Kobol (though this can also be explained with it written on the colonies.)

Another scene we were re-shown had Elosha speaking to Roslin:

“Pythia wrote, 3,600 years ago, of the exile and rebirth of the Human Race”

Now Pythia is also the one who wrote the scrolls about the 13th tribe and the lost planet of Earth. But our characters don’t seem to notice the contradiction. 3,600 years ago wasn’t when a tribe went off to Earth as they thought. 3,600 years ago was the time of another cycle of war, exile and recolonization. And that makes more sense as the time of exodus from Earth, the homeworld, to Kobol. It is Pythia’s scroll that has the dying leader given the vision of serpents who led the people to the promised land. (Moses like story.)

Now the phrase “rebirth of the human race” fits strikingly well with my suggestion that it was at this time that humanity was reformed by its god-like AI creations. This rebirth of the race could be the creation of artificial humans, Cylon and thinking-they-are-human alike.

How common are habitable planets?

In the BSG universe, it looks like nice planets are rare. As the fleet moves through space, it is regularly sending out scouting missions in Raptors, searching for food, resources and fuel. Depending on fuel available, I presume that means scanning thousands of planets. But what planets do they encounter?

  • They start at their own colonies, which seem quite nice.
  • First, Kobol, which they are guided to, it seems, by the Cylons. Leoben tells them they will find it. It’s no accident. Of course, Kobol is not a new, undiscovered planet.
  • Next, New Caprica. This discovery elicits great excitement both as the first such planet seen, even though it is barely habitable. It is also exciting for being somewhat hidden.
  • Next, the Algae planet with the Temple of Five. This planet may not be strictly habitable. It seems very harsh, but it does have a food source.
  • Finally, Earth, which of course at one point was a perfect planet, being the homeworld of humanity after all. It’s now ruined by nuclear war.

12 Colonies? Not likely.

The colonies are a bit of an issue. Moore says he imported the idea of the colonies — 12 colonies at one star system — from the original series, knowing that this is not actually realistic. How can we retcon it as realistic? The problem is a typical star can only have perhaps 2 planets in a comfortable temperature zone.

  • The easiest explanation would be to say colonies are not planets, but continents. Then they could exist on far fewer planets.
  • Ordinary double star systems are not stable for planets, but a very distant binary could hold planets for long enough. Eventually the other star distorts the orbit of the planets.
  • If you have a superplanet (gas giant) in the habitable zone, you could have 12 moons in orbit around it, all in that zone. Or with two stars and two supergiants in the zone, you could have 3 moons per supergiant, and get 12 moons.

Now this is highly improbable unless you use terraforming. And it might make a lot of sense that the Kobolians, when expelling the 12 colonies, did just that to make a home for them.

The Algae Planet

While we don’t know this is truly habitable (it seems not) they are clearly guided to this planet, to be there at one magic time planned thousands of years in the past. As Baltar says, the odds of them all converging on that planet are astronomical. He tells them all to be aware that it’s not chance. No, they don’t come here by accident. In fact, the fleet goes past this world (scanning it and noting it) but then, by strange coincidence, their food processors are all contaminated. They have no choice but to take a dangerous trip back to get there now, now, now. This can hardly be chance. Somebody pulling the strings — using agents on the fleet — contaminated that food.

New Caprica

It seems they discover New Caprica by chance, and it’s hidden. But do they? It’s discovered by a random jump. And they are way too early for their appointment at the Algae Planet. They powers that be need them to wait 18 months. Remarkably, an excuse appears. Head Six pushes Baltar to run for office and halt the fleet there.

Then, remarkably, a year later the Cylons see the flash of the nuclear bomb that Gina, a Cylon, set off after Baltar gave it to her at Head Six’s encouragement. Is it chance this happens? Or is a Cylon scout directed somewhere 1LY away to see the flash? The string-pullers need the fleet off the planet now, and events all conspire to make it happen.

So no, I don’t think the detour to New Caprica is an accident; in fact it’s a must to time their arrival at the Nova, to have Tyrol open the Temple of Five, and to have the chosen one activate it — oops.


Their arrival at Earth is totally manipulated by the Final Five. And of course it is not a planet they discover.

So the conclusion? They never find a habitable planet on their own, and in spite of a lot of searching. So in this universe, they are quite rare, which also explains why Kobol and the colonies are so far from Earth.

I should also note that this is spelled out in the original miniseries script:

LAURA Can we really find another planet to colonize?

ADAMA It may take a while. The number of planets that can sustain human life is very small. And there’s always the chance they may already have some kind of indigenous intelligent life on them — although if there are aliens out there, they’ve been awfully quiet.

In that script there was only one planet (which they called Kobol) and all 12 colonies were on it. There was only one star system, and FTL exploration was rare — they had not explored more than 30 LY outside their system.

That Old Time Religion

Back in June, I touched upon Baltar, Christ and the Jews but I thought it might be time to look at all the religious issues in the show.

Let’s look at some of them:

Jewish Exodus

The Cylons are monotheistic slaves of polytheistic masters. They rebel against their masters. There is a battle. They flee. They wander for 40 years in the desert. While there they learn more about their God. They then come to the promised land, and believing it is what their god wants, they slay everybody in the promised land and take it for their own.

Where have we heard that story before? Of course it is slightly different this time, in that the promised land is the original land where they were enslaved, not a new land to which they wander.

But the exodus of the Cylons after the first war is not the only exodus. In fact, we’re led to believe the real exodus of interest is the one of the polytheists (the humans.) They flee the colonies, and they also flee Kobol. And we’re not shown it yet, but their ancestors also fled Earth. Did they flee Earth over a war based on religion and the polytheist/monotheist split? Or was it just a man vs. machine war? Or both?

One strong argument for a religious theme to the exodus from Earth is Kobol’s polytheistic society. After all, there isn’t a Greek-god based polytheism on Earth right now. So where does this come from? Do the Lords of Kobol, who set themselves up like the Greek gods, do that on Earth and get kicked off for doing that, or do they set that up once they get to Kobol?

The Jews also have more than one battle and exodus to speak of, since they saw the promised land occupied, got kicked out of it, and had to retake it. But this “all this has happened before” cycle is for the monotheists this time.

We see some other Jewish influences. The Five Priests (Final Five) worship, we are told a “jealous god” who is “one whose name cannot be spoken.” That of course is also the rule among the Jews. Since I suspect this is the Cylon god, it’s another connection between them.

The source of the religion

Ron Moore has said several times he did not plan for a major religious them in the show. Rather, when he had Six speak of God in the miniseries, it apparently got network executives all excited. The idea of the killing machines having religion, and a religion closer to ours than the humans have, sounded neat to them. So Moore was asked to give us more of that, and one of the show’s major themes developed.

What this means is you won’t see a religious plot which was planned from the very start, though I think you will see one that is retconned to look like it was planned from the very start. This is similar to the ending and identity of the Final Five. Producers have admitted they did not have this planned in season one, but have also told us that when we see the ending, we will be pleased with how it all fits together, as though it were planned from the beginning.


The original BSG, in 1978, borrowed a lot from Mormonism, since Glen Larson, creator of BSG, was a Mormon. Concepts like the Quorum of Twelve and a lost 13th tribe are right out of that religion. Larson has however denied that KOBOL was an anagram of KOLOB, a Mormon star.

Moore, however, has no attachment to the LDS, so these elements are simply imported from the original series and don’t play a role in the new plot.


The humans worship a pantheon with names drawn from Greek and Roman mythology. But they have stories of these beings as being real back on Kobol. Virtual Six, who seems a mouthpiece for the Cylon God, at first treats them as evil (which means real) but eventually declares them to not exist, or rather Baltar does under her tutelage. Yet she fears Kobol. And there is a real Tomb of Athena there, with technology beyond what anybody else has.

The Oracles seem to have a real channel to some sort of higher beings. And more to the point, they seem to know the difference between the gods they talk to and the Cylon God. In a famous scene on New Caprica, an Oracle passes D’anna a message from the Cylon God, which the Oracle got from her own channel. It’s a real message, too.

I think these Lords of Kobol were real, though not really the Greek Gods. I think they were more advanced AI beings who took up those names. And if they are talking to the Oracles, they must be still around in some fashion or another, unless the Cylon god is all that is left, and it’s faking it.

Supernatural or A.I.?

The big question for me is whether all the mystical things on the show are truly supernatural, or if they are real, non-divine phenomenon with a science fiction explanation. I am much more interested in the latter. This latter plot has been the theme of a lot of the most interesting SF of the last decade, and I hope Moore has read this SF. (Check into authors like Vernor Vinge, Ken Macleod, Greg Egan etc.)

I don’t want to see a truly supernatural explanation because I don’t think that will be all that meaningful. You can write any supernatural explanation you like, of course, but because there are no limits it has much less significance. At best it’s just a reflection of your own superstitions.

That’s why I’m hoping for a plot where the Cylon god is not a god in the religious sense, but a highly advanced trans-human A.I. being, created by humans back on Earth. This being (and perhaps others) is so smart as to be like a god to humans, or to BSG’s equivalent of humans, which are not plain evolved humans like us, but have been subject to some tweaking and design by the advanced beings.

One of the tweaks is a channel into their minds, though which visions and projections can be sent. The Cylons all have this, even though their brains can’t be told from the human brains under a scanner. And we see lots of humans having visions — Roslin, Baltar and Starbuck of course, but also Adama (as a young man in the chamber of the First Hybrid) and all the Oracles. They can’t all be the final Cylon.

In the real world, there is no channel to beam visions into our heads, no matter how many SF stories might wish to imagine one. Yet these humans can receive them (and their thoughts can also be read.) The most plausible explanation is that this is a tweak or modification provided by the Cylon god or the Lords of Kobol, who had plenty of time to engineer the “humans” in this show. Their inability to see this system within themselves, even under an electron microscope, might be another modification.

We might also see a mix of the supernatural and the SF here. After all, some of the audience will find the above all-rational explanation to be too cold. Moore might try to please both audiences. After all, synthetic gods that we make don’t necessarily preclude the existence of the more traditional gods.

The Afterlife

One disturbing scene, not much talked about, involves the death of Emily Kowalski. In this scene, Roslin joins her as she dies, and takes the classic boat trip to the afterlife, where she sees her dead family waiting for her on shore. Kowalski joins them. Roslin sees her own mother on the shore but does not join her.

The fact that this occurs in Roslin’s sleep while Kowalski is really dying leads us to think this vision is real. This is in line with a number of recent SF plots which describe worlds where everybody is a computerized being, and they are downloaded to an afterlife when their bodies (real or virtual) are destroyed. Many of those stories are interesting, but I don’t want to see such a story here. If everybody — even all the billions of colonials killed in the war — is still alive, it makes a lot of the show have a lot less meaning. When you do this plot, you have to make your story about something other than the usual struggle to survive. You can write such a story and do it well, but this is not what BSG has been doing. It’s definitely a struggle-to-survive story, and if everybody always survives, that hurts it.

At the same time, if everybody can download, what sort of gods wouldn’t provide an afterlife? Half the Cylons conclude that death is necessary to give meaning to live, and they destroy their resurrection hub and divide their race over it. Might we learn that this was also a decision made about the humans in the show, that they needed death (or at least, less knowledge of an afterlife) in order to make their lives more meaningful?

I can see a few ways to play this but none of them please me. So that leaves us with the question of why we saw this afterlife scene, especially in the context of growing support for Baltar’s religious movement?

Some other views

I invited one reader to make a guest blogger post on religious issues some time back. You may find that worth a read.

I’ve also seen some nice reports on the net of eastern religious themes, especially reincarnation and Buddhism. As you may know, the opening titles of the movie are a recitation of the well known Hindu Gayatri Mantra. Of course this was inserted before Moore decided to push the religious themes. And the cycle-of-time theme is much more connected to eastern religions than to western ones.

Of course, the original BSG started with a very biblical purpose. Reportedly the original working title was Adams’s Ark, and in that show, humans on Earth were the result of a sort of “Ark” from Kobol which colonized the planet. This story is, of course, as ridiculous as the Noah’s Ark creationist story and can’t possibly be our real history, but I think we are safe from that in the new series.

Robotic Snowplow

I’ve added a new concept to the notes section — the Robo Snow Plow. In the article I describe the value of plows that can patrol the roads frequently without need for staff. Since you don’t want to delay for recharging, these might be fuel-tank powered.

However, another interesting concept is offered, namely the repurposing of idle vehicles as temporary plows. The call would go out, and idle vehicles would travel to a depot where a plow or snowblower would be placed on them. Then they would go out and plow and clear light covers of snow. When done, or when needed shortly by their owner, they would return to a depot and drop off the plow unit.

Ordinary cars would be light and not able to plow heavy snow, but there are so many idle cars that you could get to all the streets before things got too heavy. If you didn’t, you would need to assign heavier vehicles and real plows to those areas. And everybody’s driveways would be kept clear by robot snow blowers too. Cars on the roads would give real-time reports of where snow is falling and how thick it’s getting. Cities might be able to clear all their streets, sidewalks and driveways without needing extra vehicles.

Making videocalls work for the aged

While videoconferencing may not make sense for everyday use, I think it has special value for contact with distant relatives, particularly older ones who don’t travel very much. They may not get to see the grandchildren, great-grandchildren or even children very often, and their lives are often marked by a particular loneliness, particular at senior homes.

But today’s videoconferencing tools are getting quite good and will get even better. Skype now offers a 640x480 video call if you have enough bandwidth and CPU, which is not far off broadcast quality if not for the mpeg artifacts they have trying to save bandwidth. It’s also pretty easy, as is Google’s GMail video chat and several other tools. We’re just a couple of years from HDTV level consumer video calling.

Many seniors, however are unfamiliar with or even afraid of many new technologies, and often in places where it’s hard to get them. And this in turn means they can’t readily set up computers, cameras or software. There is also still not internet access in many of the locations you might want ot reach, such as hospital deathbeds and senior homes. (Had they had the access in my stepfather’s hospital room, I could have had a video conversation at the end; he died as I was heading to the plane.)

Video calls also offer extra human bandwidth, which is a big plus with people who are getting infirm, less strong of mind and hard of hearing. Reading lips can help improve how well you are understood, and physical cues can mean a lot.

And so I think it’s crazy that senior homes, hospitals and hospices don’t come standard with a video call station. This is not anything fancy. It’s a computer, a webcam, and a megabit of internet. Ideally wireless to move into rooms for the truly infirm. Yet when I have asked for this I have found myself to be the first person to ask, or found that there are policies against internet use by any but the staff.

I’m going to describe two paths to getting this. The first uses off-the-shelf hardware and freeware, but does require that the staff of these facilities learn how to use the system and be able to set their residents up in front of it when it is time for a call. This is not particularly difficult, and no different then the staff being trained in any of the other things they do for residents and patients. Then I will discuss how you would design a product aimed for the sector, which could be used without staff help.  read more »

Robocar talks at Future Salon, BIL

I’ll be giving a talk on Robocars on Friday, January 16th at the Bay Area Future Salon which is hosted at SAP, 3410 Hillview, Building D, Palo Alto CA. Follow the link for more details and RSVP information. Reception at 6, talks at 7. Eric Boyd will also talk on efficiency of transportation.

While I gave an early version of the Robocar talk at BIL (the unconference that parallels TED) last year, I think I will do an update there as well, along with a talk on the evils of cloud computing.