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.