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Someone to walk all over me

I wasn’t planning to post on this episode right away, but readers need a place to put comments, so I will start with some thoughts. The episode was a good one but wasn’t tremendously surprising to some. Many were of the opinion that Boomer was still working for Cavil and they were right. And we’ve always known that Starbuck was under the influence of the mysterious string-puller who showed her a vision of Leoben and gave her a destiny. Now that we know the Final Five wake-up wasn’t part of their own plan or Cavil’s, it has to have come from the string-puller, who likes All Along the Watchtower (whether Anders wrote it or not.) And Hera’s been involved in the visions of the Opera House, which are also clearly the work of the string-puller/One-true-god.

Still, the depth of the betrayal was good and shocking. The kidnapping in a box. The sex. The building of a complete fantasy world, complete with kid, to seduce Tyrol. When she leaves him, she tells him she truly felt all that.

Perhaps she did. This is the Boomer who, along with Caprica Six, seemingly saved the human race by convincing the Cylons not to kill them on New Caprica. She betrayed Adama and shot him, but due to programming. Now she’s ready to betray those she loved, as she betrayed her own model line.

Is it possible that she has been programmed by Cavil? This would disappoint me, I want my characters to be acting of their own will, make their own choices for their own reasons, but it is not out of the question here. The other, nice alternative is that she and Tyrol had a plan ready to betray Cavil (“I’m not sure I can do this on my own”) though it is clear that Tyrol didn’t realize a Hera kidnapping was part of what was going on. Where did he think he was sending her? To wander the stars in a Raptor until she runs out of air? Why did she ask him to come with her?

And I liked the stronger use of piano music. Though I kept expecting them to break out into “Someone to watch over me” at some point, not the All Along the Watchtower bass line.

A few other notes:

A Stream of Stars

Michael Hall, who has been diligent in finding Earth star patterns in recent episodes, has now found them in too many places, including the Ionian Nebula from the start of season 4 and after jumps from there. In spite of what seemed like a strong message with:

  • The most well known constellations being presented blatantly over the Cylon battle location and other locations
  • The use of random constellations over the 13th colony

May be just poor work on the part of the graphics dept. Clearly they have two modules for doing their backgrounds in post, one for the real solar system stars, another for random stars. They never used the real system stars until season 4, which seemed like a signal, but they’ve used them willy-nilly. While they would not expect most fans to have fancy star pattern matching software, the use of Orion and the Big Dipper did not require this to match.

So we have to seriously reduce the confidence we can make in predictions based on those star patterns.

Anders’ last words

Anders’ memories caused him to shout out “stay with the fleet. It’s coming. The miracle.” to the others. Doesn’t Ellen have these memories? It sure seems she would be asked about them, but we still learn no more.

That Seven

While we are told to not expect much more of Daniel in this show (though those saying he is Starbuck’s dad got a boost) we should pay attention to the exact wording of what they said about him. When Ellen talks of Daniel, Cavil says, “that seven was…” This suggests there were, at that time, multiple sevens. And Anders, though mumbling words, calls him “the Daniel.” So Daniel might not have been the original #7, though Cavil does seem to have shut down the further duplication of that line.

Poor Galactica

It will be sad when she breaks up. Just a few more jumps. We at least learn that jumping inside a ship is bad news. And it was so nice to see the cliche space opera scene of the ship racing for the closing doors of the launch bay — and this time actually hit the wall. Of course the bad guys always do hit the wall in that scene after the good guys sneak through, and Boomer is now fully bad guy. Curious that the Tylium ship was able to jump away while vipers were trying to land on it to board it, and they were not hurt.

Cavil as Bill Adama's Sister

Trust me, I know this one is far-fetched, but it’s amusing enough to write about. First of all, it involves the widely circulated spoilers about the pilot and background for the new series, Caprica, coming out on DVD in April. So don’t read this if you are staying away from those.  read more »

Stop burning coal

There are many ways to go green, though as I have identified, the vast bulk of the problem is in just a few areas — personal transportation, electrical generation, building design/heating/cooling and agriculture.

While those who focus on CO2 work from the fact that both Natural Gas and Coal, which produce 70% of the USA’s electricity, emit CO2, coal is a much bigger villain.

  • Coal is 50% of the US electricity supply, gas is only 20%.
  • Coal produces all sorts of nasty pollution in addition to CO2, including sulfur products for acid rain, radioactive elements and worst of all, fine particulates, which are major killers of the elderly.
  • Coal mining is highly destructive, and lives are regularly lost.
  • Coal power plants are not as efficient as gas ones. This is both due to the simplicity of gas plants, and the fact that many coal plants are older. The worst coal plants are almost twice as inefficient, and emit more than twice the greenhouse gasses, as gas plants. Some modern coal plants are a bit better, but the gap is still large.
  • Coal plants are slower to turn off and on than gas plants. They are better than nuclear plants.
  • There are lists of more at other web sites.

The problem is that coal is cheaper. Particularly once you have the coal plant. I’ve seen estimates all over the map but many suggest that the fuel cost of coal electricity is in the range of just 2-3 cents per kwh, and 1-2 cents more for gas fired. Hydro doesn’t really have a fuel cost, and while nuclear does, it’s a much harder cost to measure.

That cheaper price has given us a 50% coal electric infrastructure. With hydro, the amount of water that is going to flow through your plant is fixed by the weather. You want to use all of it (ideally at peak times) and keep your reservoirs at the same level each year. Nuclear is hard to start and stop, so you use it for base load. It’s expensive to build, but you want to use the plants you have to their capacity.

So my understanding is that if demand on the grid goes down (say, because somebody puts solar panels on their roof or conserves energy) the first reaction of the power companies is to burn less natural gas, because it’s a bit more expensive, and the easiest thing to cut back on. However, the power grids (there are 3 main ones in the USA and various sub-grids) are not superconductors, so due to line losses, it is cheaper to reduce output on the plants closest to the reduced demand. So the situation varies a lot.

All the power sources have their downsides. Nuclear’s are well known and controversial. Hyrdo is clean but destroys river systems and habitats. Gas emits CO2 but is clean as far as fossil fuels go. (Leaks of it also emit methane.) Oil is barely used. Coal’s only upside is its price, and the existing base of coal plants and mines.

So while it is good to look at reducing all energy production that has problems, right now if you want to do something green, it’s a fair, if broad statement to say that the best way to do it is to stop the burning of coal.

What that means for people who don’t run power companies is that reducing electrical demand in a sub-grid that is heavy with coal (such as Chicago or West Virginia) is a fair bit better than doing it in a coal-light sub-grid like California. And doing it in a place like China would be even better.

There is an irony here. Californians tend, on average, to be more eco-conscious than others. This is the birthplace of the Sierra Club after all. And because it is natural for people to focus on where they live, you see lots of effort to conserve energy or use alternative energy in California. But the same efforts would get 65% more bang for the buck if they took place in the midwest or southwest. This calculator claims to report the CO2 cost of electrical production in each zip code. It uses numbers from the North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) for different sub-grids:

NERC region acronym

NERC region name

Average emissions
CO2 (lb/MWh)

ASCC

Alaska Systems Coordinating Council

1,106

ERCOT

Electric Reliability Council of Texas

1,421

FRCC

Florida Reliability Coordinating Council

1,328

HICC

Hawaiian Islands Coordinating Council

1,655

MRO

Midwest Reliability Organization

1,820

NPCC

Northeast Power Coordinating Council

908

RFC

Reliability First Corporation

1,434

SERC

SERC Reliability Corporation

1,387

SPP

Southwest Power Pool

1,830

WECC

Western Electricity Coordinating Council

1,107

U.S.

Combined National Average

1,363

This conclusion will be disturbing for some. If you’re considering putting a solar panel on your roof in California, you would do 65% better at reducing pollution if you put the panel up on a roof in Arizona. (Actually a little better as Arizona has better sun.) If you are considering putting a solar panel up in Vermont, you would do almost 3 times better to put it in the southwest, since not only is their power twice as dirty, but they get a lot more sun.

What you would not get is the personal satisfaction of seeing panels on your roof and feeling that you personally are green. But there really is no such thing as solar electrons. Electricity is just electricity. There’s a big grid (and not being grid tied is really non-green) and the most you can do is improve how green the grid is. It doesn’t make a difference if you put the solar panels up on your house or a house across town. And it makes a positive difference if you put it up where it will have the best effect. It just doesn’t feel as good.

Now, can you go put panels on another roof? Not at present. But it certainly could be made to happen. In fact, oddly, the tax breaks are better for corporations who put up panels then they are for individuals, though this may change with new laws. Leaving out rebates and credits, a business could be set up to offer people in high-sun, high-coal areas subsidized solar power on their houses. The money they would have paid their power company could go instead to pay your power company as you continue to buy energy from your cleaner grid, having reduced demand in their dirtier grid. This works best when the power prices are similar — with PG&E’s “tiered” pricing in California this may not pan out.

It would also be possible to set up green power companies that put up green power plants in coal-heavy areas. They sell their power there, and the income would flow to investors on greener grids to pay for their grid power.

However, in a future blog post you’re going to learn something even more surprising, if you’ve been a booster of solar. It’s that it is a poor idea to put up solar panels at all, even in the coal-heavy, sunny southwest. In fact, it’s one of the worst ways you could use your money to green the planet. Stay tuned.

Surviving a robot uprising

There’s been a subtext this season about the Centurions. It makes me wonder if they are not going to play a more than background role in the ending.

  • The first Cylon war was in response to slavery.
  • The Centurions taught monotheism to the final five. (Though the Caprica story reveals they got it from a human priestess on Caprica.)
  • They cut a deal with the final five to make biological cylons, but later those made Cylons betrayed the five and enslaved and modified the Centurions.
  • Their slavery was perhaps even more extreme than that done by humans. They were aware but inhibited.
  • Cavil was really, really upset (“Say, what?!!!”) to learn that Natalie had removed the inhibitors from the centurions. He tells them twice they have “no idea” what they have unleashed. This sets off my dramatic foreshadowing alarm.
  • Indeed, they are quite happy to put bullets into Cavil, Simon and Doral once they are freed. And an Eight while she is disconnecting the hybrid.
  • Baltar has that little tête-à-tête with a freed Centurion on the base star just before he is injured. Not sure what it means, but it means something.
  • We have learned that the 13th colony was destroyed because, even though they were Cylons themselves, they built Centurions to be grunts and soldiers, and they rebelled.

The nature of the deal cut between the final five and the early Centurions remains a mystery (and in some ways does not make sense.) We don’t know if their memories were transferred into any of the 8 models or not, and if not, why they wanted to make such a deal. But we do know Cavil rails against “the humans who enslaved us” though he has enslaved the Centurions even more.

Since Cavil is responsible for so much — killing and boxing the five, killing Daniel, reprogramming the other 6 to forget their creators and of course being the prime mover in the genocide of humanity, there are lots of characters who are candidates to give him what for, if he gets given what for. (In a standard TV drama, this would be 100% certain, but this is not a standard drama and the ending is said to be darker than you would expect.)

But the irony level would be particularly high if the Centurions get to do the job. But it seems they may get to be more than background characters. The main counter argument is the fact there is a lot to resolve in just a few episodes. Will they regain the power to speak that their predecessors had? So they can give a sarcastic “by your command?”

Punishing those responsible through the bailout

There are many opinions about whether the bailout and stimulus package are a good idea or not. But one thing that I hope everybody agrees is bad is that it teaches the lesson that if you screw up so badly that you hurt the global economy, we’re not going to let you fall. Take huge risks because in the event of catastrophe, the government has no choice but to make it better.

Is there a way to do a bailout that doesn’t end up rewarding, or even saving, the people responsible?

Well, outside of the frauds like Madhoff, many of them did not break the law, or didn’t break it severely. Those who broke the law should get the punishment of the law. A lot of people just looked the other way has horribly bad loans were financed, resold and insured in strange ways. Some people had no idea what they were doing was so dangerous. Some didn’t know but should have known. Some suspected but ignored the evidence. And some knew, but where happy if they were getting their share.

I propose taking a small fraction of the bailout and stimulus and using it for “punishment.” It need not be much. With a possible 2 trillion dollars to spend, even 1% would be 20 billion dollars which surely buys a lot of enforcement, and of course stimulates the industries of enforcement. But we don’t need even 1%.

The first step is to define a set of good practices and ethics defining who did wrong. They would be fairly narrow. They would not catch the people who didn’t know they were doing something wrong and were not at the level that they should have known. This is not a simple task but I think it can be done.

The next step is to say “no bailout or stimulus money for any company which employs or significantly compensates, above minimum wage, a person responsible for the collapse.” They lose their jobs. If millions are to be out of work, start with the people responsible. The most adapatable of the laid off can take some of their jobs. If the government can fire all the air traffic controllers without catastrophe, I suspect a lot of bankers can be fired too. Only minimal dole for those fired too, enough to survive, but not well. They will be incented to find other jobs, in industries not getting bailout and stimulus money. Or they can work for minimum wage in their old jobs.

Culpability will run up, as well. While there will still be standards of proof, and a presumption of innocence, if a group of people all working for one person are guilty, that person is going to have to work hard to convince a jury they had no knowledge of what went on underneath and that this was as it should be.

So yes, this means the CEOs and other top executives of most of the banks and brokerages involved will be out of work. I think they can handle it. If they are really civic minded, they can keep their jobs for minimum wage, no options, no bonus.

Now this is not my favoured plan. I think people who screw up should, wherever possible, be allowed to fail, and they and the stockholders will pay the price. If executives mislead stockholders, they should be subject to the rules. But if we have to not do that, somehow a message must get out that if you do something like this, you’re going down.

Note that I also expect, and hope, that many of these people have been fired already. But some of them haven’t. Some got fat bonuses instead.

On high quality Science Fiction

(This post from my Battlestar Galactica Analysis Blog is cross-posted to my main blog too.)

There’s been some debate in the comments here about whether I and those like me are being far too picky about technical and plot elements in Battlestar Galactica. It got meaty enough that I wanted to summarize some thoughts about the nature of quality SF, and the reasons why it is important. BSG is quality SF, and it set out to be, so I hold it to a higher bar. When I criticise it for where it sometimes drops the ball, this is not the criticism of disdain, but of respect.

I wrote earlier about the nature of hard SF. It is traditionally hard to define, and people never fully agree about what it is, and what SF is in general. I don’t expect this essay to resolve that.

Broadly, SF is to me fiction which tries to explore the consequences of science, technology and the future. All fiction asks “what if?” but in SF, the “what if?” is often about the setting, and in particular the technology of the setting, and not simply about the characters. Hard SF makes a dedication to not break the laws of physics and other important principles of science while doing so. Fantasy, on the other hand, is free to set up any rules it likes, though all but the worst fantasy feels obligated to stick to those rules and remain consistent.

Hard SF, however, has another association in people’s minds. Many feel that hard SF has to focus on the science and technology. It is a common criticism of hard SF that it spends so much time on the setting that the characters and story suffer. In some cases they suffer completely; stories in Analog Science Fiction are notorious for this, and give hard SF a bad name.

Perhaps because of that name, Ron Moore declared that he would make BSG be Naturalistic Science Fiction. he declared that he wanted to follow the rules of science, as hard SF does, but as you would expect in a TV show, character and story were still of paramount importance. His credo also described many of the tropes of TV SF he would avoid, including time travel and aliens, and stock stereotyped characters.

I am all for this. While hard SF that puts its focus on the technology makes great sense in a Greg Egan novel, it doesn’t make sense in a drama. TV and movies don’t have the time to do it well, nor the audience that seeks this.

However, staying within the laws of physics has a lot of merit. I believe that it can be very good for a story if the writer is constrained, and can’t simply make up anything they desire. Mystery writers don’t feel limited that they can’t have their characters able to fly or read minds. In fact, it would ruin most of their mystery plots of they could. Staying within the rules — rules you didn’t set up — can be harder to do, but this often is good, not bad. This is particularly true for the laws of science, because they are real and logical. So often, writers who want to break the rules end up breaking the rules of logic. Their stories don’t make any sense, regardless of questions of science. When big enough, we call these logical flaws plot holes. Sticking to reality actually helps reduce them. It also keeps the audience happy. Only a small fraction of the audience may understand enough science to know that something is bogus, but you never know how many there are, and they are often the smarter and more influential members of the audience.

I lament at the poor quality of the realism in TV SF. Most shows do an absolutely dreadful job. I lament this because they are not doing that bad job deliberately. They are just careless. For fees that would be a pittance to any Hollywood budget, they could make good use of a science and SF advisor. (I recommend both. The SF advisor will know more about drama and fiction, and also will know what’s already been done, or done to death in other SF.) Good use doesn’t mean always doing what they say. While I do think it is good to be constrained, I recognize the right of creators to decide they do want to break the rules. I just want them to be aware that they are breaking the rules. I want them to have decided “I need to do this to tell the story I am telling” and not because they don’t care or don’t think the audience will care.

There does not have to be much of a trade-off between doing a good, realistic, consistent story and having good drama and characters. This is obviously true. Most non-genre fiction happily stays within the laws of reality. (Well, not action movies, but that’s another story.)

Why it’s important

My demand for realism is partly so I get a better, more consistent story without nagging errors distracting me from it. But there is a bigger concern.

TV and movie SF are important. They are the type of SF that most of the world will see. They are what will educate the public about many of the most important issues in science and technology, and these are some of the most important issues of the day. More people will watch even the cable-channel-rated Battlestar Galactica than read the most important novels in the field.

Because BSG is good, it will become a reference point for people’s debates about things like AI and robots, religion and spirituality in AIs and many other questions. This happens in two ways. First, popular SF allows you to explain a concept to an audience quickly. If I want to talk about a virtual reality where everybody is in a tank while they live in a synthetic world, I can mention The Matrix and the audience immediately has some sense of what I am talking about. Because of the flaws in The Matrix I may need to explain the differences between that and what I want to describe, but it’s still easier.

Secondly, people will have developed attitudes about what things mean from the movies. HAL-9000 from 2001 formed a lot of public opinion on AIs. Few get into a debate about robots without bringing up Asimov, or at worst case, Star Wars.

If the popular stories get it wrong, then the public starts with a wrong impression. Because so much TV SF is utter crap, a lot of the public has really crappy ideas about various issues in science and technology. The more we can correct this, the better. So much TV SF comes from people who don’t really even care that they are doing SF. They do it because they can have fancy special effects, or know it will reach a certain number of fans. They have no excuse, though, for not trying to make it better.

BSG excited me because it set a high bar, and promised realism. And in a lot of ways it has delivered. Because it has FTL drives, it would not meet the hard SF fan’s standard, but I understand how you are not going to do an interstellar chase show with sublight travel that would hold a TV audience. And I also know that Moore, the producer knows this and made a conscious decision to break the rules. There are several other places where he did this.

This was good because the original show, which I watched as an 18 year old, was dreadful. It had no concept of the geometry of space. TV shows and movies are notoriously terrible at this, but this was in the lower part of the spectrum. They just arrived at the planet of the week when the writers wanted them to. And it had this nonsense idea that the Earth could be a colony of ancient aliens. That pernicious idea, the “Ark” theory, is solidly debunked thanks to the fact that creationists keep bringing it up, but it does no good for SF to do anything to encourage it. BSG seemed to be ready to fix all these things. Yet since there are hints that the Ark question may not be addressed, I am disappointed on that count.

To some extent, the criticism that some readers have made — that too much attention to detail and demand for perfection — can ruin the story for you. You do have to employ some suspension of disbelief to enjoy most SF. Even rule-follow hard SF usually invents something new and magical that has yet to be invented. It might be possible, but the writer has no actual clue as to how. You just accept it and enjoy the story. Perhaps I do myself a disservice by getting bothered by minor nits. There are others who have it worse than I do, at least. But I’m not a professional TV science advisor. Perhaps I could be one, but for now, if I can see it, I think it means that they could have seen it. And I always enjoy a show more, when it’s clearly obvious how much they care about the details. And so does everybody else, even when they don’t know it. Attention to details creates a sense of depth which enhances a work even if you never explore the depth. You know it’s there. You feel it, and the work becomes stronger and more relevant.

Now some of the criticisms I am making here are not about science or niggling technical details. Some of the recent trends, I think, are errors of story and character. Of course, you’re never going to be in complete agreement with a writer about where a story or character should go. But if characters become inconsistent, it hurts the story as much or more as when the setting becomes inconsistent.

But still, after all this, let’s see far more shows like Battlestar Galactica 2003, and fewer like Battletar Galactica 1978, and I’ll still be happy.

What's love got to do with it?

Here’s an entertaining thought I had about Cylon love, though it turns out in advance that, based on comments by Jane Espenson, it is not likely to be true. Jane’s comments have been ruining my day of late…

I’ve always found it a bit strange that the Cylons decide they can only conceive if there is true love. With Ellen’s return, we see Ellen also believing that theory.

I thought it interesting to consider the “Earth” Cylons as a synthetic race. A race created to be an improved human, but not just in physical ways, but also in political ones. That presents a problem. If you have decided your creations will have strong minds and free will, you can’t tinker with their opinions. But you can change their biology. And one way that makes a lot of sense would be a system that stops them from conceiving unless both parents are in love, and even miscarries the baby if they fall out of love.

This would be a good form of birth control — no pregnancies from one night stands, or from rapes, or from any casual sex, and all children born in love. Love, after all, probably evolved as an inverse of this — parents fall in love because it is good for the baby.

This is particularly likely in a religious society. Some religions don’t like the obvious choice — give people complete on/off reproductive control. But they don’t like nature’s result which produces babies by accident without loving parents. (Their answer is sometimes to forbid sex outside of marriage, or birth control within it.)

Technologically, if you are designing a race and they have software minds that you are designing, it’s an “easy” thing to do. Even with our mushy natural brains we are starting to see patterns in brain scans and hormones that match when people say they are in love. For a synthetic brain, detecting it should be easy. In the male, this would release a phermone (or a digital signal if you prefer.) And in the female, the reproductive system would require both the detection of the male signal and the proper female state to conceive and maintain a fetus.

This is an interesting enough idea that one could imagine the designers of a new race wanting to try it. The final five, creating the 8 Cylons, would only need to tweak it a bit — the system would detect other colonial Cylon models and block conception there, but allow it for others. It seems as though it was easier with Saul, the Earth Cylon, so his phermone might still encourage it, better than Helo’s natural state would.

Now if this were true, Saul and Ellen’s infertility could be explained from either love or bad luck. Espenson says it’s just bad luck. I imagined it might instead be not because of Saul, but because Ellen had been incapable of loving him enough. She is certainly ready to play dangerous and manipulative games with him and her rival.

Espenson, however, says that Ellen simply is adopting the Cylon belief about the need for love. It suggests it isn’t real. It would not be real without being deliberately designed in. Which is a problem because if it were designed in, and in particular if it had been modified to make the colonial Cylons infertile with each other, you would think Ellen would know about it. But she doesn’t seem to. Espenson leaves more openings when it comes to the reason for the miscarriage — she dodges a question about it, but in a way that suggests this is not an issue resolved in the grand plan. It is possible that this modification could be the work of the OTG, and thus Ellen is not aware of it. Or perhaps even John made the Cylons self-infertile as a way to make them less human, but could not stop the curiosity about sexual breeding.

However, at this point they have cleared the way to make Hera unique and important again.

Galen

Most fans, like me, are amazed that Galen wants to abandon the fleet. For a while, I could see them thinking that they belong with the Cylons, that being what they are. However, now that they have learned that they are their creators, and that they created them in an attempt to bring peace and a union between them an humanity, this should be reversing any trends they have to drift to the Cylon side. Even for Tory. Both of them should be concerned about the fact that they will find themselves in love again if their memories return.

Anders has told them how important it is to stay, and it’s hard to figure why Ellen doesn’t know the same reason and share it. But most of all, Galen has far more in common now with the colonials than with the 3 Cylons he would live with. He has much to share with the other 4 but does not know it yet. So his decision to pull out (in the middle of repairs he promised Adama) is just plain strange, almost as strange as Adama arming the Baltarettes instead of just kicking the sons of Aires mob off the ship.

As to the slower, soap-opera feel of this episode: We did need to see Tigh and Ellen (and Six) have it out. In fact there’s a lot of huge stuff that has taken place that deserves some character reaction which they don’t have time for. The Final Five’s secrets, spilled out in an open medical bay with medical staff that were a little bit too professionally disinterested, should be causing major changes in everybody. (Could you sit by and at least not cock an ear as the very core secrets of the history of your society and the beings who killed all you love are spilled out?) They won’t have time for much more of this, so I guess it had to happen before the explosive episodes.

The Elephant in the room: The big secrets

The conversation that didn’t happen:

Adama: So, Ellen, you have all your memories and you’re on the side of humanity. Tell us all the secrets, please.

Ellen: I can’t do that Bill.

Adama: Well what about Saul, can you tell them to Saul?

Ellen: If I did the audience would hear.

Adama: Frak the audience. Tell him in an offscreen scene!

Ellen: I still can’t, because if you knew all the secrets, your actions coming up would not make any sense. You wouldn’t be shocked when they are revealed.

Saul: Ellen, when Anders had his memories, he said it was crucial we stay with the fleet. Why?

Ellen: I’m trying to trick you into thinking I want to leave the fleet, so I can’t tell you.

Saul: OK, so now that the trick is over and you want to stay, what was the important reason he remembered? What’s the miracle? What’s the Angels?

Ellen: The audience is listening.

Cottle: So you have worked on Cylon brains before?

Ellen: Of course. We had to reactivate our organic memory transfer systems. And I’ve built them from scratch.

Cottle: So can you help Anders?

Ellen: No.

Saul: What about figuring out how he got his memories back and seeing if we can find a safe way to do it on us?

Ellen: Not time yet.

Saul: Aren’t we going to learn anything in this episode?

Ellen: Well, we learn I’m still a manipulator. And a nasty one. And Sam will get his brain back. And Baltar’s messenger is back too. And Bill has gone crazy, arming Baltar’s sex-cult. What’s up with that?

Saul: You know all the secrets. Don’t ask me.

Well, we do learn a few other things. Starbuck and Pianos. Leobens don’t seem to vote in Cylon votes any more. Hera and Liam don’t get to start the new race. They don’t forgive you if your implanted programming makes you shoot Adama even if you got shot back. But on the whole I can’t say this episode will go down in the annals of great ones.

Contradictions on the Temple, Opera House, Raiders and the One True God

Our new knowledge of the backstory leaves me with some questions to ask as we await another episode in 4 hours.

The Temple of Five

The chronology on this temple now gets very confusing. We have learned it was built as a “Temple of Hopes” by the 13th tribe, who stopped and prayed (to the Lords of Kobol, not the One-True-God) for guidance on their journey to their new home. Ellen says that was “3,000 years ago” and Tyrol says the temple was built 4,000 years ago, matching the date of the exodus of the 13th tribe. This should not be Ellen losing 1,000 years of time dilation. She’s lost 2,000 years on her trip from “Earth” and the 13th tribe lost some number of centuries on their trip to “Earth.” Ellen is presumably just wrong, though as the more recent number, that’s odd.

We are told that the colonials have a legend of a Temple dedicated to the five priests of the god whose name cannot be (spoken). This legend, it appears dates to Kobolian times. Hard to see how it could have arisen on the colonies, but it obviously isn’t a legend of the 13th tribe either. As a Kobolian legend, it comes from before the final five were born.

We also learn that Ellen and the other 4 visited the Temple on their trip back, retracing the path. It’s a bit odd that her civilization fell so much that it didn’t just lose the downloading technology she rebuilt, it lost the very location of Kobol! I mean that’s a lot to lose, you have to lose all star maps, all records of astronomy and of course all plain old coordinates.

When they visit it, however, it’s long after their world has fallen, and thus long after the tribes left Kobol, which is about the same time. So at this point, the legend of the temple of the five priests has already left Kobol with the tribes. Ellen is not aware the temple has a new name or legend (if it does.) Cavil accuses her of having modified it to show the faces of the final five, and of arranging a star to go nova; the latter is an incredible power. She says she didn’t do it. We must presume that happened much later. She thinks the OTG must have done it.

Indeed it must happen later, as at this point, the final five aren’t anybody special. They are five refugees in a low-tech ship. The only thing special about them is that they got visitations from virtual beings, “messengers” in RDM-speak, back before their war. But at this point they have no significance to anybody. They are not even followers of the OTG. They are polytheists, like everybody else at this time. They don’t convert to monotheism until they learn that from the Centurions.

They become significant after they create the 7 (or 8) Cylons of the show. Only at that point does it make sense for somebody to have the temple show their faces.

So who are the five preists, who predate the final five? Who is their god? And why does Tyrol, whose childhood was a set of memories invented by John, remember his parents’ fascination with that temple, and his own sneaking in to learn about it? Why would John put a memory like that in his head?

One option: Perhaps the Temple of Hopes, on that Algae planet, is not the Temple of Five. Perhaps that’s just a mistake Tyrol makes. Though it does have the mandala.

The Opera House

The chronology here is rather odd, too. The Opera House is in total ruins when we see it. It seems that it fell with Kobol, around 2,000 years ago. A vision of the intact opera house is where we see the 5 white robed figures of the final five. We see them in D’Anna’s vision, and we see similar figures on a balcony in many other visions, including that of Roslin, Six, Eight and Hera. Baltar’s there too but he perhaps doesn’t see them.

Why are they shown in this opera house? They were born just before the fall of Kobol, and at sub-light speeds never get to Kobol except well after that fall. So they have never been in this opera house in their lives, except as ruins. Perhaps they saw old pictures on “Earth.”

The Raiders

The raiders have programming to recognize the final five, in particular they notice Anders and call off an attack on the fleet. Cavil is livid and starts lobotomizing them, leading to his civil war (and his eventual undoing, we suspect.)

But why do they recognize them? The 7 Cylons don’t — they had those memories removed. The Centurions don’t — they shoot at Anders and Tyrol on the Algae planet and on Caprica too.

What’s odd is that surely the final five, on a mission of peace, to convince the cylons not to kill humanity, would not have constructed semi-slave war machines like the raiders. They had to be built later, without their participation. So why the recognition? John certainly didn’t want it.

Leoben

Leoben has been all about Starbuck’s destiny from the start. He seems to know what will be in the crashed viper, that is not what surprises him. What surprises him is Starbuck repeating the Hybrid’s words that she is the harbinger of death. He flees in fear, says “I was wrong.” About what?

Anders

One quick thought before we watch tonight, on Anders going flatline. A Cylon mind would be designed to download if it detected so much damage that it was not worth repairing the current body, rather than waiting for total death. One wonders if this is what Anders has done. The next question, did he have somewhere to download to? (Update: Or does his return indicate what happens if download doesn’t work?)

The One True God

As we get more references to the OTG, the secret string puller, and we learn what Cavil did and what the final five didn’t do, we now can make a list of things that may be the doing of the OTG, or other secret string pullers like the Lords of Kobol

  • Leading the 13th colony to their planet.
  • Sending “messengers” to the final five on the 13th colony, and assuring their ship’s escape.
  • Modifying the Temple of Hopes to show the faces of the final five.
  • The legend of the five priests.
  • Baltar’s Head Six, and many other head characters (Baltar, Leoben, Elosha and more.)
  • Shelley Godfrey, perhaps.
  • The secret messages to the Hybrid and the First Hybrid
  • Prophecies of the Oracles, and perhaps much of the sacred scrolls and book of Pythia
  • The strange power loss at the Ionian Nebula
  • The wakeup of the final five at the Ionian Nebula
  • Starbuck’s compulsions/destiny, and her events in the maelstrom.
  • Starbuck’s return, and visions and photos of Earth and things around it. Her compulsions to find it
  • Crashed viper with burned body near the death site of the Final Five. New viper with locater pointing to it. Final Five compulsion to go to viper.
  • Final Five memory restoration at their death site
  • Roslin’s visions,and her fainting spell during the Ionian Nebula power outage
  • The improbable meeting at the Algae Planet at just the right time.
  • The nova of the Algae Planet.
  • Hera. Which head-six insists is really the child of Baltar and her.
  • The angels and miracles Anders yells about before going under the knife.
  • The cycle of time.

That’s a lot, even for a god.

Cavil's Evil Plan rewrites the whole show

The newly revealed plot, with Cavil as the cause of so many of the events in the show, but some other hidden being (the sender of the Messengers) with a secret agenda, rewrites a lot of the show. In some cases it does so retroactively, as they had not written the Final Five plot until the end of season two. But let’s consider:

The Ancestry

One question needs a bigger answer. Do the new humanoid Cylons have the uploaded memories of Centurions? Clues are contradictory. We are told the Centurions negotiated peace in exchange for biotech. Surely they didn’t just want these new alien Cylons to create their own children and call them successors to the Centurions? Yet we see no sign of memory of metal form, other than Cavil’s claim that “the humans enslaved us.” In the other direction, we are told that Ellen raised John like a young boy, and so were all of them raised, though in a short period of time. So was he a baby or already a thinking mind?

John hates all things human. He hates it because he feels trapped in a human body, when he would prefer a metal one. He hates his creators for putting him in one. But if he was the first, and he was once metal, wasn’t he the one begging for the humanoid body? Is this all his regret over this?

The Centurions invented monotheism and a loving god, and converted Ellen. Why is the first new Cylon an atheist?

We need the answer to this question because it tells us a lot about motives, and John’s motives are now the driver of most of the story. His hatred for the human form that was forced upon him leads him to drive the genocide, it leads him to torture his creators.

The War

The Cylons wipe out humanity because they believe it is God’s will, and that they must kill their parents before they can thrive, and in retaliation for years of slavery. Or so they believe. But in fact, the humans are not their parents. Their memories of their parents have been wiped by John. Their views of god, presumably given them by the converted Final Five, are perverted. They don’t have any reason to wipe out humanity, John invents one for them. They do it with aplomb, so they are perhaps not entirely innocent, but it seems that there is now just one being to be blamed for the genocide.

The Escape

John wanted to give his creators “a front row seat to a holocaust.” But, in spite of many opportunities to kill them, he clearly doesn’t want to do that. He wants to show them how bad humanity is. He makes them bad humans, gives them flaws they may not had previously had.

This means the escape of Galactica, with Tigh and Tyrol on board, and Foster nearby in Colonial One, is Cavil’s plan. Further, he goes and picks up Ellen on the planet and dumps her with the fleet. Anders gets to run a resistance but later gets to the fleet in spite of impossible odds.

(According to the writers, this orchestrated escape scenario was not in their plans but makes sense in the current context.)

The Chase

There is no chase. Cavil always knows where the fleet is. His resurrection equipment is getting regular updates from the Final Five and others on board. The “find” the fleet when they feel like it, but in spite of overwhelming military superiority, never really hurt it. But they can find it when they need to. When D’Anna wants to deliver a documentary, a raider “finds” the fleet to pick up the transmission. When Bulldog needs to be chased to the fleet, he finds it. (Though there is an off-screen explanation for that.) When the fleet is going to the Ionian Nebula, they keep following it. Six suggests it’s a ship with a radiation leak, which they send out on a decoy mission, and they still find the fleet anyway. In 33, the first episode, they keep finding the fleet and stop when the Olympic Carrier is missing and then destroyed, but is this really how they did it?

They must always be close, so that Cylons on board can download, and so that the Final Five can download when they finally are killed Cavil won’t miss that, this is all about proving something to his creators.

Cavil seems to be the one gunning to destroy the fleet at times. But if he destroys humanity, he can’t show his creators how bad it is any more. His real agenda is not to do this.

The secret

Only one thing takes priority over teaching a lesson to his creators. His fellow Cylons must not discover what he has done. He has enslaved the Centurions, he has hidden the Final Five. The idea of #3 seeking the Final Five makes him take drastic steps. The freeing of the Centurions makes him kill half of his fellows.

Daniel

This is new, of course, but just what was it about Daniel that drove John to want to wipe him out? Can it simply be that as a “sensitive artist” he was too human, among the Cylons, and thus had to die? Or is it something more than that? For example, many peg Daniel as Starbuck’s father. If Daniel could easily breed, this might make Cavil fear him, because he has heard the story of his creator’s planet, where Cylons decided to live as breeders and even gave up their resurrection technology because of it. This would be a nightmare to him, worth stamping out. If that’s the case he should have been wanting rid of the Cylon breeding projects and Hera most of all.

The Evil

You may think I’m getting overly critical about scientific accuracy, but here I will criticise the basic story of good and evil inside this show. I think it’s wrong to concentrate all the evil in one character. I liked the idea that the Final Five had a hidden agenda, and some responsibility for things going wrong, resulting in genocide. I felt they had to at least know the war was coming, accepting it as part of the cycle. But no, they were just prisoners. Their only error was making John and not realizing how dangerous he was. The other Cylons had all the good upbringing they had from the well-intended Five removed, and became machines ready for genocide.

Evil isn’t that simple. Evil should not be concentrated into one super-evil character. I find that plot inferior to other stories of evil, that try to explain how people come to make evil decisions. “Not liking being stuck in a human body so destroying humanity” is not an evil plot I can identify with.

The Temple of Five, and other things

Ellen says they visited the Temple of Hopes but did not modify it to show their faces. Their visit would have been around 300 to 500 years prior to the show’s events, based on my guess as to the distance from Kobol to the colonies. At any point, it’s long after the 12 tribes fled Kobol.

But the 12 tribes have scrolls talking about a famous lost “Temple of the five priests who worshiped a God whose name cannot be…(spoken)” This legend comes from before the Final Five were even born. So they are not those five priests at all.

In fact, the Final Five were not special until 40 years ago, when they birthed the other 8. Their role in galactic history was minor. They were five survivors of a war on a slow boat to Caprica. The only thing special about them was that they had received “Messengers” (what RDM now calls virtual beings) to warn about the war. And they might be the last 5 Cylons at the time, though we can’t really be sure. Point is there is no reason to make an elaborate temple to show their faces until there are 8 Cylons who might find this important.

So it seems that the other string-puller, this god, modified the temple quite recently. And it may also be the case that the Tomb of Athena, while it exists in ancient legends (just like the Temple of Five) is also a recent modification. What else is a recent modification?

D’Anna

Why does he unbox D’Anna? He already knows what she knows. He tells her it is so that she can negotiate peace. But how can he do that? He can’t let her tell the others what she knows, have them find the Final Five, for then his game could be up and he will be destroyed. Since this unboxing was written after they had worked out the Cavil plot, this remains curious.

I've always taken it to be Kobol

With these seven words, Jane Esperson, executive producer of BSG and writer of “No Exit” dashes many of my hopes for a great (and hard SF) backstory for Galactica.

They come in this interview by Maureen Ryan where the dialog goes like this:

Mo: Was Kobol the original origin point for humanity, or was it Earth?

Jane: I’ve always taken it to be Kobol.

Looking deeper into these words, she isn’t saying that it is Kobol. She’s saying that this is not something that gets resolved in the show or in the writer’s room. She has a personal take on it, which means it is not something that was written into the show writers’ bible. This indicates we do not see a hidden “real Earth” in the show, because a real Earth would concretely answer this question the other way — the real Earth is the origin point for humanity, after all. So in her mind, it’s Kobol. Other writers may have different thoughts.

This leaves us with a show much more disconnected from our reality than many of us hoped. This is like Star Wars, in a galaxy, far, far away. It takes place neither in our future nor our past but in another reality. The regular references to Earth cultural elements are literary, not literal. The “Earth” we saw is a Cylon-founded colony of Kobol. It has no connection to our planet, it simply has that name because that was the name of the 13th colony in the original 1978 series from which this show is derived. In that 1978 series, the “Earth” was the real Earth, but in a bogus and non-scientific “ignore evolution” way. The bogus story is removed, and what’s left is a planet that is EINO — Earth in Name Only. I have written before on why having a real Earth is the only story that makes sense and why the Ark story is so bogus.

The disappointment comes in several forms.

Make it real

First, I wanted this show to have the relevance to our world that can come from hard SF. As a story about a possible future for humanity, it could speak better to real questions about our future. What happens when we do build AIs? Will there be battle? What will our relationship be like? I don’t want to be too critical here, because an allegorical story set in a Galaxy far, far away can still do that. But it missed the chance to do it really well.

And I won’t even say it can’t be done really well without involving our reality. For example, I vote Anathem (note: major spoilers in 2nd half of my review) to be the best SF book of 2008, and it is set on a planet that is not Earth but like it in many ways. On the other hand, it’s the exception. The vast majority of the great SF novels have taken place in a theoretical present or future of the real Earth.

What the hell was up with all those clues?

Most TV SF gets this stuff terribly wrong. You don’t count on TV for good hard SF. I would not have come to expect it except there were all these clues:

  • The flags of the 12 tribes come from our sky, our Zodiac. Makes sense if their culture comes from here. Makes zero sense if it’s the Zodiac of a remote colony with which there was almost no contact and just sublight travel.
  • Starbuck says, “They looked up in the sky and saw their 12 brothers.” That line never made any sense, now it makes less.
  • Adama identifies the Lagoon Nebula as M8, its 18th century catalog number
  • All those references to Earth culture and style, from the cars and suits to “All along the Watchtower.” — just literary devices, now.
  • “Life here, began out there” is the first line of their sacred scrolls. Their sacred scrolls were written on Kobol. Now it seems their first line was written somewhere else. The first line? That’s like making the Book of Genesis a recent addition to the bible.
  • Those star patterns of the real Earth sky, obviously deliberate, showing up at the Cylon battle site but not at the show’s Earth.
  • The formerly-thought-ancient monotheist religion battling the polytheist one.
  • The view of the real Earth at the end of season three, coupled with no view of the continents of the 13th colony “Earth.”
  • The ancient legends of a Temple of Five which predate the 13th colony and even Kobol — now turned into a Temple of Five much later.
  • The statement by Ron Moore in his blog that he would not ignore the known fact that humanity evolved on Earth while trying to write a Galactica “life here, began out there” story. And the biggest clue, reality itself.

The missed chance at true brilliance

These clues were hinting at an ending that I thought would be one of the best ever done in TV SF. The ending would have been to shock (most) of the fans, by showing them the real Earth as the secret homeworld, showing them that this story was relevant to their own.

What would have been brilliant would be to shock people with something that they already knew was the truth. Of course humanity comes from Earth. Yet by putting people into the mindset of the old Galactica, fans have forgotten that core fact. To have something you already know be a shocking surprise would have been great TV and a great ending. The greatest endings in stories that have a mystery element, is to surprise you and have you go, “Oh yes, I see it, it was obvious, how did I miss that?”

Perhaps the best known ending of this sort was the original Planet of the Apes, as I detailed the first time I did this rant. We get so used to aliens speaking English, and perfect humanoids on other worlds in our SF movies, but in reality it requires the planet be Earth or derived from Earth. Yet the audiences were shocked.

This ending could have been done a number of ways. We might have the characters meet their doom elsewhere, and then pull back to show real Earth, also in ruins. We might have the characters sit next to Earth, unable to see it, while on Earth observers note “isn’t it odd, the Kobolians keep coming back, even though we programmed them not to return?” Or it could have been a more developed treatment of true Earth. It might have shown that the bodies of all 8 Cylons came from the DNA of the true Earthlings who fled to Kobol, showing the original DNA source for Six walking in New York City.

This is what BSG really looked like to me and others. Sic transit gloria galacticus.

The new logical problems

If it all comes from Kobol, many of those clues above now turn into logical flaws in the story. How do the 12 tribes get their flags and names from the sky of an obscure and forgotten colony? We know the 12 tribes were formed before the 13th tribe left, because Ellen said that they returned to warn the 12 tribes about the dangers of doing AI badly. The only remaining explanation is that there have been many cycles of time, and while humanity arose on Kobol by Jane’s statement, somehow Kobolian culture arose on Earth. Odd.

And that Temple of Five. Built by the 13th colony on their sublight journey and not named the Temple of Five. So how does there get to be a legend of a Temple of Five? It was modified to that by some external force, but how did word of that enter colonial legend?

What’s left unsaid

In just a few episodes, we can’t possibly explore the history of Kobol to a satisfactory degree. Hopefully we’ll get something, perhaps some hint about who the Lords of Kobol were, and why they cast out the 12 colonies, perhaps even why the 13th colony left.

But now the history of Kobol is the whole history. With Earth as homeworld, you don’t need to tell the story of the rise of humanity to a technological civilization ready to build AIs. We already know that story. A simple “and they we built AIs and they rebelled, and they/people fled the Earth for a colony called Kobol” would have been enough to lay it out.

This in turn makes me fear we may get some mysteries left as religious mysteries. That might satisfy some viewers, but it will leave me flat.

Plus, as I wrote earlier, the plotting of the Final Five as victims with implanted memories of invented lives diminishes them greatly as characters. I care much less about the former personalities and lives of Saul, Galen and Ellen, because they are just Cavil’s invention. (The audience never cared too much about the past of Tory and Sam.)

So is there any hope?

I don’t see much hope. Unless Esperson is simply lying. Admittedly if Earth is the homeworld and that is intended as a big surprise, she has little choice but to lie to a question like that. In her position she can’t easily claim ignorance. I would have hoped she could have said, “Why don’t we watch the new episodes and learn more?” and the fact that she didn’t suggests we don’t learn more about this question in the new episodes.

Other minor notes

We learn in this interview that monotheism was invented by the metal Cylons of Caprica. That’s quite a surprise to me. Ellen and the Final Five, we are told, convert to that religion. Yet Ellen also says that when the 13th tribe stopped and built the Temple of Hopes, they prayed for guidance to their home, and “god” showed them the way. But they were no monotheists so this has to just be her interpretation.

We also get a rather strange story of the fall of Earth. The people of Earth, though Cylons themselves (mostly fallen Cylons who had perhaps forgotten their nature) made metal robots to serve them, and they enslaved those robots and they rebelled.

In other words, the very story that is suggested when the skeletons are found, and supposedly shot down when it is learned the bones are Cylon. It is a bit odd, creating metal slaves if you are machines yourselves, but not impossible.

We also learn:

  • “The Colony” is not literally a colony, but perhaps a hideout somewhere.
  • Yes, it is Cavil who programmed the other Cylons not to think of the five.
  • It’s still unclear just what it meant for the metal Cylons to “evolve” into the biologicals, who otherwise seem to be wholly products of the five.
  • The idea that Cavil arranged for most of the Five to be with Galactica and for it to survived is described as a good idea, but not one the writers actually laid out.

I’ll go mope for a while. :-)

And before I get too negative, I should still say this show is doing a much better job that other TV SF shows at trying to keep its science right and blend it well with story and character. My sadness is that it seems it will miss out on the chance to be even more.

No Exit Notes

Time for a whole bunch of notes on No Exit, and the newly revealed “Cavil as Mastermind” backstory.

First I will be critical. I am not fond of it. Not simply because it was not my pet theory, and not for reasons of science of plot consistency, but for reasons of character. There were many who offered that the Final Five, like Boomer were planted in the colonies with fake memories. They argued that since the bio-Cylons were only created under 40 years ago, Tigh at least had to be that way. I argued that the Five were thousands of years old, so this was no issue. Turns out we were both wrong and both right. They are thousands of years old but also young with fake memories at the same time.

Why don’t I like this? Because we, as the audience, invested in these characters, especially Tigh and Tyrol. They are not like Boomer who we viewed as an artificial memory construct from the start. We got to know them on the human side. It was OK for them to have more history, and to learn new memories. It is not OK for their human lives to be partly fake. Based on what we have seen, Ellen gets her memory back and goes from being fleet skank and manipulator to genius scientist. From selfish trickster to a confident, dominant, caring and loving mother/creator. Some of her old whimsy is there but it is subsumed. That may be how it has to be, but it is as though our old characters are dead because they never were real. I am sure that many aspects of personality will remain as the characters change but it won’t be as good. And I am bothered because I didn’t feel there was a need to write the story in a way to make their early lives invented.

Cavil’s Master Plan

We now learn that rather than being the secret string pullers, the Five were Cavil’s victims, killed and reprogrammed from Cavil’s spite. There’s more to this story yet to see, some we may not see. It now seems likely that it was Cavil who programmed the others with their compulsion not to think of the final five. However, the programming of the raiders biological brains, including instructions not to attack the Final Five, didn’t come from Cavil. Cavil may have given the other 7 some more programing, however. In particular, possibly he gave them programming not to see real Earth. He knows where it is, but they keep not seeing it.

The Centurions made a deal with the Five to get biological bodies. What’s not clear is in what sense the Centurions moved their minds into such bodies. On the one hand, we hear that John was raised as a boy. On the other hand he refers to himself having been a slave of humans. How are the memories mixed? Surely the Centurions didn’t stop their war for a promise that new biological Cylons would be created completely independently — or that later those new Cylons would enslave the older ones. They must have expected that their own minds would move into biological bodies. (This is interesting since some of them have memories of being Tamara Adama.) So is John part Centurion, part new being? Why was that acceptable? John has decided it is not, of course, and wants a metal body. Does he want to return to a metal body?

There were more than 8 Centurions, of course, and so they would all want bodies, and would not want to become slaves. Did John abort a larger program after he killed the Five, and put the inhibitors onto the Centurions? He is the one who is most afraid of the inhibitors being removed, and without them, the Centurions are very happy to put bullets into him. The others don’t seem to know this early history, they may be less guilty. But Cavil says several times that removing the inhibitors will have tremendous consequences.

Cavil seemed much more rational before. He was ready to not worry about the search for Earth (a place he already knows about) and suggested they just try to be great machines. Now this appears to be manipulation. He’s a bit crazy, which annoys me. I don’t like crazy bad guys. I prefer my bad guys to be understandable.

One True God

Now that we learn that Ellen has been prisoner and Cavil has been pulling some strings, it is clear that Cavil is not pulling all of them. Another string puller is out there, behind the supernova at the Algae planet, the wakeup and battle at the Ionian Nebula, the Starbuck vanish/return and the Virtual Beings. Presumably this is the Cylon god.

Anders recounts that Ellen changed her mind about the Centurions when she learned they had developed monotheism. She is a monotheist herself, and I doubt she got that from the Centurions, but instead identified with them when she learned it.

We learn that the Five got virtual beings of their own which warned them about the upcoming war. This made them work to redevelop resurrection and put a ship in orbit. So this god goes back quite a ways, presumably back to Kobol too.

We now have a plot problem with the Temple of Five/Temple of Hopes, however. Ellen says they changed it to show their faces on their sublight trip back from the ruined 13th colony. But that took place well after the 12 tribes left Kobol. So why do the 12 tribes have legends of “the temple of the five priests of the one whose name cannot be (spoken)?” Those legends would have had to come later, and somehow faster than the Five themselves in their lightspeed ship.

Ellen says they had nothing to do with the nova, however. That must have been god, she says.

Daniel

We will certainly hear more of Daniel. When Anders says the name, Starbuck asks “are you sure you got the word right?” She is not trying to make sure he didn’t say Kara, which sounds nothing like Daniel. She wants to confirm he really said Daniel. It seems really strong that Daniel is a name she recognizes. Many speculate it’s her father. (Though there is still a case for her just trying to make extra sure 7’s name was not Kara.)

A single Daniel copy lived, and made John jealous. When they were going to make his whole line, John “poisoned his fluids” and “corrupted his DNA” in a way that “can’t be undone, unlike boxing.” It is implied but not confirmed that the new copies are dead, but the original is not said to be dead.

No, he’s not the source of the virtual beings, as they show up 2,000 years ago. At least not the only source. But I am confident we’ll see more of this one. While he’s not old like the others, he might very well be one of the string pullers involved in some of the events that can’t be attributed to Cavil, including Starbuck’s destiny. It may have been him appearing as Leoben in Starbuck’s visions. He may be working to undo all of Cavil’s plans in some mysterious way. In fact, we could attribute much of the hidden events to him if we had not learned that the Final Five got visits from Virtual Beings on the 13th colony 2,000 years ago.

John’s body

We are told that Cavil/John’s body is a copy of Ellen’s father, also named John. So while the elder John was also a Cylon (of sorts) this goes against RDM’s early promises that the Cylon body forms are archetypes, not taken from humans. Well, John Sr. was not human, but I think we can now consider that the bodies of the 8 Cylons may come from other sources, including the 13th colony, Kobol, and real Earth too. This starts to explain a scene of Tricia Helfer in 21st century real Earth that’s been making the rounds. A 21st century woman could have been the model prototype for somebody on Kobol, and then later for Six.

Orion is back

This time, as Boomer and Ellen flee the base star, we see Orion, Sirius, Castor and Pollux very clearly and framed in a deliberate way between the arms of the base star. This can be no accident. Orion is the most recognizable of all the constellations, and they are putting it front and center. So Cavil’s base star is in the solar system. Is it possibly “The Colony” — the secret base known only to him and the final five where their equipment is stored? Perhaps the location of the beach he played on as a child?

More on sublight travel

Part of me is thrilled to see sublight travel in the show. Sublight travel doesn’t work for a space-opera where bad guys chase you across the galaxy, but it is a requirement for hard SF, and rarely seen outside it. It does mean the Ionian Nebula makes no sense any more, but we’ll get to that in the future.

Sublight travel is not impossible (unlike FTL) but it’s very hard. It requires immense amounts of energy. Especially if your payload is a whole colony. While we probably won’t see anything about this in the show, a likely scenario is that the 13th colony was colonized not by a colony ship, but by a tiny ship, containing the downloaded minds of the Cylons who founded it. Such a ship can be very tiny.

On board the ship would be the minds in storage, some very small robots, and the tools to create biological growth tanks. Some of the minds would inhabit the robots and build the tanks with local materials to grow biological bodies, which would then get inhabited to build the new civilization.

It would be cool if this was how the 13th colony was built, and also how Kobol was colonized as well. And it makes it easier to explain a disconnect with the mother worlds.

We now must ask who developed FTL travel? It could be the colonies, though they don’t seem up to it when more advanced planets like Kobol and either Earth did not. It could have happened on Kobol after the 13th tribe left.

This might suggest one plot: People on Kobol wanted revenge on the 13th tribe for something, but didn’t do it as a sublight revenge mission is not practical or pleasant. But when FTL came, they decided to pay a visit and destroy it. However, that doesn’t mesh with Anders’ story that after the war they felt it important to go spread the message of “love your AI children and keep them free” to the 12 colonies.

Sublight travel puts more constraints on a writer, which is good. But it does mean you run into problems you can’t fix by fiat. The naming of the Temple of Five above is an issue. (Possibly the date of the exodus from Kobol will be different than 2,000 years ago, but it’s hard to place it after Ellen’s arrival there.)

The perils of recalls of electronic products

Product recalls have been around for a while. You get a notice in the mail. You either go into a dealer at some point, any point, for service, or you swap the product via the mail. Nicer recalls mail you a new product first and then you send in the old one, or sign a form saying you destroyed it. All well and good. Some recalls are done as “hidden warranties.” They are never announced, but if you go into the dealer with a problem they just fix it for free, long after the regular warranty, or fix it while working on something else. These usually are for items that don’t involve safety or high liability.

Today I had my first run-in with a recall of a connected electronic product. I purchased an “EyeFi” card for my sweetie for valentines day. This is an SD memory card with an wifi transmitter in it. You take pictures, and it stores them until it encounters a wifi network it knows. It then uploads the photos to your computer or to photo sharing sites. All sounds very nice.

When she put in the card and tried to initialize it, up popped a screen. “This card has a defect. Please give us your address and we’ll mail you a new one, and you can mail back the old one, and we’ll give you a credit in our store for your trouble.” All fine, but the product refused to let her register and use the product. We can’t even use the product for a few days to try it out (knowing it may lose photos.) What if I wanted to try it out to see if I was going to return it to the store. No luck. I could return it to the store as-is, but that’s work and may just get another one on the recall list.

This shows us the new dimension of the electronic recall. The product was remotely disabled to avoid liability for the company. We had no option to say, “Let us use the card until the new one arrives, we agree that it might fail or lose pictures.” For people who already had the card, I don’t know if it shut them down (possibly leaving them with no card) or let them continue with it. You have to agree on the form that you will not use the card any more.

This can really put a damper on a gift, when it refuses to even let you do a test the day you get it.

With electronic recall, all instances of a product can be shut down. This is similar to problems that people have had with automatic “upgrades” that actually remove features (like adding more DRM) or which fix you jailbreaking your iPhone. You don’t own the product any more. Companies are very worried about liability. They will “do the safe thing” which is shut their product down rather than let you take a risk. With other recalls, things happened on your schedule. You were even able to just decide not to do the recall. The company showed it had tried its best to convince you to do it, and could feel satisfied for having tried.

This is one of the risks I list in my essays on robocars. If a software flaw is found in a robocar (or any other product with physical risk) there will be pressure to “recall” the software and shut down people’s cars. Perhaps in extreme cases while they are driving on the street! The liability of being able to shut down the cars and not doing so once you are aware of a risk could result in huge punitive damages under the current legal system. So you play it safe.

But if people find their car shutting down because of some very slight risk, they will start wondering if they even want a car that can do that. Or even a memory card. Only with public pressure will we get the right to say, “I will take my own responsibility. You’ve informed me, I will decide when to take the product offline to get it fixed.”

Galactic geometry and sublight travel

Lots to think about based on No Exit, but let’s start by looking at one of the minor, but scientifically important revelations. The Final Five went from the 13th colony to the 12 colonies in a sublight, relativistic (meaning near the speed of light) spacecraft, first retracing their steps to Kobol, and it took about 2,000 years.

This explains their absence from the scene for so long, but it raises a lot of questions.

Anders says the 13th colony never had FTL ships. These may have been invented on Kobol after losing contact with the 13th colony.

We now know that the path of 13th Colony -> Algae Planet -> Kobol -> Colonies is under 2,000 light years.

Since Starbuck was able to take a Cylon raider and jump Kobol -> Colonies in one jump, and this is 10 times the maximum 30 light year “red line” of the colonial FTL, this distance is in the range of 300 light years.

But we also know that there was a round trip from Kobol -> 13th Colony, since the story of the landing and early days of the 13th Colony made it into the sacred scrolls the tribes took with them from Kobol 2,000 years ago. And the 13th tribe left the Algae planet 3,000 years ago. That’s a problem as it states that Algae Planet -> 13th Colony -> Kobol, at sublight speed, is well under 1,000 years, making that at most a 500 light year trip. Probably much less.

So of course this doesn’t add up, unless the Final Five sublight ship is not very relativistic, and they just lived on it for many centuries. Which they can do, as they are machines. Or perhaps they just had really bad luck on the trip, and took a lot of wrong turns, so that a trip of a few hundred light years as the space crow flies took 2,000 years.

But then we add the Ionian Nebula. That’s 13,000 light years from the Algae Planet. Completely impossible to visit it with sublight ships. So very odd that it is the “signpost” on the way from the Algae Planet to the 13th colony, which are only a few hundred ly apart. Very odd as a choice for a location that the Final Five will wake up. Very odd place to do the strange fleet vs. Cylons confrontation including power loss, visions and return of Starbuck.

This now requires that this “signpost” is a 13,000 ly detour, both ways! It means the fleet spent 3 months trekking out to this nebula, and then another 2 months trekking back with the Demetrius on a parallel course, also trekking back 13,000 light years. Hard to imagine this is even in the range of the Demetrius without a fuel ship.

Worse, at the end of this 13,000 ly trek back, they set a rendezvous point that happens to be near real-Earth. That’s OK, Starbuck got compulsions and visions about that zone, they could pick it.

Yet they set this rendezvous point so precisely that after the 13,000 ly journey — 430 colonial jumps — the Demetrius and base star end up right in the middle of the fleet. That doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The lack of FTL does help explain how the 13th colony could have forgotten the way back to Kobol, and Kobol could have forgotten the way to the colony. It also explains how Kobol could have forgotten the location of real Earth.

If the 12 tribes didn’t have FTL, they would have taken a few hundred years for their trip. I guess that’s workable. We aren’t told what they know of this. If so, it makes the 12 tribes a lot smarter than we thought, developing FTL when the others could not do so.

One interesting thought: Perhaps Kobol developed FTL right around the time of the exodus and the war at the 13th colony. That could suggest the 13th colony was destroyed by an FTL fleet from Kobol with a grudge, who now had an easy way to get whatever revenge they wanted without needing to take a multi-century trip. (However in this case the Final Five would not want to rush off to Kobol to warn the 12 tribes of the dangers of keeping AIs as slaves. Since they lived on an all-Cylon planet, where does this lesson suddenly come from?)

Where is “The Colony”

Cavil refers to the fact that the others “don’t know about the colony” where Ellen has “all her equipment.” Where is that? We suspect it has this beach that young boy John played on, so that’s not the 13th colony, though this could refer to one of the 12 colonies. But they would not have left their equipment back on the 13th colony, they had to take it with them to cut their deal with the centurions.

Most likely it’s just a nearby planet.

Others suggest it’s the real Earth, now deserted, and this is how they will be led there. This makes sense, but since Cavil knows where this is he would not have risked using it as his ambush site. He doesn’t want to tell them about it. And that’s still pretty far away, about 6 Cylon jumps.

A lot to sum up

Had to re-watch a bit, but here’s a summary of things we learn:

  • On Kobol, “organic memory transfer” (technobabble) is developed. They do not have FTL drives at this point.
  • A 13th tribe of artificial beings is developed, and leaves to form a colony.
  • 13th tribe builds “Temple of Hopes” on Algae planet. Dated 3,000 years ago by Ellen, 4,000 years ago by Tyrol’s carbon dating.
  • Book of Pythia must be written much later than 3,600 years ago. The “exile and rebirth of the human race” in it is harder to place.
  • 13th tribe heads on to its planet via slower-than-light, and calls it “Earth.” That planet must be quite close.
  • On the planet they breed and lose the “organic memory transfer.” (Doesn’t seem likely to me to lose something that valuable.)
  • The Five are born, presumably within one generation of 2,000 years ago. Ellen has a father named John.
  • The Five, working at a research lab, recreate the download tech, and prepare a ship to resurrect them.
  • They get warnings of impending battle. They get visions only they see of figures; Tory sees a woman, Anders a man — quite possibly “virtual beings” like head Six. Galen thinks he has a chip in his head. The rest is unclear. They prep their tech.
  • 2,000 years ago, their world is nuked, by who is not known. Around this time, the 12 tribes are fleeing Kobol. Unknown if 12 tribes have FTL yet.
  • When they wake up, they decide to travel to find the 12 tribes (whom they can’t know have left for 12 colonies) and warn them of the dangers
  • They travel to the Algae planet via STL (but at a good fraction of the speed of light,) and change the Temple of Hopes to show their faces.
  • They travel, presumably to Kobol, and find where the 12 tribes have gone.
  • They travel to the 12 colonies, and arrive during the first Cylon war.
  • Metal Cylons are experimenting with hybrids. They have also developed a monotheist religion.
  • They cut a deal with the metal Cylons, stop the war and we’ll give you biological bodies.
  • They agree. First they create John Cavil, #1. John is raised like a child, they play with him on a beach somewhere, but then he helps them create 7 others.
  • The five establish a place called “The Colony.” John knows of it, the others don’t. The Five’s equipment is there. (Possibly just reference to 13th colony?)
  • John doesn’t like his brother #7, Daniel. He interferes with his duplication process, killing him for good, it appears.
  • John kills the final five by suffocation. He interferes with their download, releasing copies of them in the colonies one by one, with memories blocked. Saul is first, about 30 years before the 2nd war. He hopes this will teach them how bad being human is.
  • John programs the other six Cylons to largely forget the Final Five and avoid thinking about them.
  • The 7 Cylons lead a war on humanity. John may have had a hand in assuring the Final Five live through it, giving them a “front row seat to a holocaust.”
  • John is fully aware of who they are. He takes out Saul’s eye, has sex with Ellen, aware of it all.
  • Boomer learns just after leaving New Caprica. Presumably helps her vote against her kind.
  • Boomer somehow knows where the fleet is, and flies Ellen to it.

Now some big questions and revelations this opens up…

  • Without FTL, all the systems have to be very close, but the Ionian Nebula is 13,000 ly away from all of them. So why is it the activation point for the memories of the Final Five? Is this Cavil’s doing?
  • What about other events there — fleet power loss, Starbuck’s return?
  • What is the point of a “signpost” that is 13,000 ly away from which you now return another 13,000 ly to get back where you came?
  • Cavil picked the location of the ambush at Jupiter. Does he know about real Earth? Even Ellen does not appear to know about it. Though at one point Anders calls the 13th colony “the planet” suggesting he knows more.
  • When did FTL get developed? On Kobol, or on the colonies?
  • Cavil said “Centaurians” while others said “Centurions.” Is this just a different pronunciation, or a suggestion a faction is from Alpha Centauri.
  • Is there another string puller besides Cavil? It does seem so, probably the “one true god” who has been talking in Baltar’s head.
  • One interesting suggestion that has been made — the hidden string puller and possibly one true god is somehow derived from Daniel, Ellen’s “favourite son.” Very Mormon, too. Is Daniel corporeal? Starbuck seemed to recognize the name.
  • Daniel, we are told, can’t come back, unlike #3 who is just boxed. But surely we see more of this.
  • How is it that Ellen and Saul can raise Cavil from a boy, play with him on the beach, and then just 40 years later he looks that old? Ok, he could alter his appearance but he seems to hate his body.
  • Also note that John, though just 10 years old, had by that time killed the five, and reintroduced Saul and Ellen into the colonies without memories.
  • Does Ellen have backup resurrection equipment? She doesn’t seem too worried for somebody who devoted a lot to bringing that stuff back.
  • Why don’t any of the 7 Cylons remember being metal? (Or the events of Caprica, in particular.)
  • I have to say I’m disappointed with the idea that the five were given invented lives by Cavil. I had hoped their incarnation was their own idea.
  • Speaking of this, why was Tyrol given memories of a fake childhood learning about the Temple of Five? Or did he somehow invent that?
  • How do the colonials (not just Tyrol) know about the “Temple of Five” when it wasn’t taken over by them until after the colonials left Kobol for the colonies?

What is Starbuck?

Update: Well, obviously Starbuck turned out to be something quite different, though many find her nature to be both disappointing and not fully resolved. Starbuck was an instrument of Gog (God of Galactica) presumably born human, but with a special destiny in mind. Her father taught her the magic song containing the coordinates that would jump Galactica from the Colony to the Earth’s moon if entered at the exact end of the battle. Oracles told her mother and her of a special fate.

Leoben also had a sense she was special, and knew her destiny was already written, yet when he saw her original body in the viper, he got scared and declared he was wrong. We don’t know what he thought or what he thought he was wrong about, because his statements about her were largely true.

Gog sent a head-angel to her in the form of Leoben to convince her to embrace death, suggesting she was originally human. What she became after that, in the new body and viper, was a being that Gog seemed to make vanish into thin air once her mission was complete. She was unaware of that but became aware of it at the very end. It is unknown if she just ceased to exist, or became an ethereal being like Head Six. To all appearances, unlike Head Six, she had a very physical body, with DNA that could be tested.

The best I can conclude is that Starbuck was a capriciously used instrument of Gog who was taken to oblivion when her task was done.


Time to look at all the mysteries surrounding Starbuck. Starbuck, we are told, has had a destiny since she was born. Her mother was told this by Oracles. As a child she painted the Eye of Jupiter mandala symbol, it is tied into her brain.

Leoben thinks that both he and she have had prior lives. He tells her that her destiny is already written, and that in a previous cycle, they may have met up with roles reversed — him as interrogator, her as prisoner.

And, of course, with the advice of a spirit guide who looks like Leoben but isn’t, she flies into a storm on a gas giant, we see a viper explosion, and she returns over two months later in a brand new viper with memories and photos of a trip to Earth, long hair and special compulsions in her brain. Her old exploded viper and a burned body with her hair and dog tags is found, emitting a locater signal on the 13th colony, in fact the locater is how they get to that site.

Somebody is manipulating Starbuck and bringing about events. Somebody put visions in her mind pushing her to embrace the maelstrom and to go to the place between life and death, appearing as Leoben. Somebody put her in a brand new viper. Somebody put her old viper and a body with her dog tags on the 13th colony. Somebody gave her the compulsions and visions and the locater beacon. Is this Ellen Tigh? Somebody on her side? Somebody on another side? Whoever it is wanted to guide the Final Five to the very spot on which they died on the 13th colony, where memories would return.

So let’s consider:

Everybody’s a Cylon

If everybody is artificial (but most are programmed to think they are human of course) then so is Starbuck, and this could have been a download, with transfer to a new, duplicated body. The 2 month gap could be a delay in growing a fresh body (they won’t have extra Starbuck bodies around) but the long hair is an interesting issue. In this case, it’s really her body in the wrecked viper.

Starbuck is a special kind of Cylon

Starbuck is marked as special, so possibly while everybody is artificial, Starbuck is one of the few who is set up for a download. This is, ironically, less likely than everybody being a Cylon since I think they want to stick to there being only 12 special Cylon models living on the colonies

Update: Daniel

Many now speculate that Starbuck may be the child of Daniel, the #7 Cylon. The timing works, and would be a reason why #1 would be jealous of or hate #7. Obviously the others could not know if it. Some even speculate that the changing of Daniel’s DNA means that Starbuck is a Daniel.

There is a teleporter

The FTL drives in the show are really teleporters. They seem to teleport only to the skin of the ship they are on, though how this boundary is defined is not set out. It’s not much of a leap to imagine an FTL drive/teleporter that teleports a region of open space around it. The FTL drives teleport the open launch bays, so the space does not need to be fully enclosed.

We need some sort of teleporter just to have the falling viper wreckage and body of Starbuck caught as they fall in the gas giant. I suppose one could imagine a very big collector, or a tractor beam to collect the falling wreckage, but a wide area FTL seems to make more sense.

The FTL drive, as we know, makes a bright flash of light when it acts. And Starbuck, just before she explodes, is bathed in a bright white light. Many think this is also similar to the teleporter used by the Ship of Lights from the 1978 TV series. I don’t expect Moore to do the exact ship of lights and the gods inside it, but he might plan a parallel to them.

Vipers, by the way, don’t have FTL, so a teleporter is needed to move that new viper around, too.

Once you accept a teleporter, then of course Starbuck’s living body could have been teleported out before the explosion. The body in the wreckage could be from anywhere. Duplicated dog tags are pretty easy to manage if you can duplicate a viper. We never get a good look at the blasted body, and Starbuck cremates it.

Note that Starbuck’s long hair, which suggests she’s been sitting around unconscious for 2-3 months, is too long for that amount of time. Human hair doesn’t grow quite that fast. At the same time, the longer hair is supposed to be very obvious to the audience, so we might accept that it’s overdone for that reason. The longer hair does seem to be telling us that they didn’t just duplicate her 6 hours ago, matching what she remembers.

The switcheroo

Some fans have noticed the potential for a switcheroo. When Starbuck is flying and gets hit at first, her power goes out and the light in her helmet goes out. (That helmet light would not be really there but is important for a TV show.) But for some reason, the in the viper that Lee Adama catches up with, and sees explode, the helmet light is on. Is this just a continuity error? Or a sign that there is, like the phantom heavy raider, a duplicate viper? That Starbuck’s viper is taken away, with her unharmed, and a ringer explodes in front of Lee?

This requires 3 vipers, by the way. Starbuck’s real viper, the brand new one, and the one that explodes. That may be a bit much. It is no longer needed to have something collect the wreckage, as Starbuck’s real viper can be used for that. So while it has too many vipers, this approach requires less “magic.”

The visit to Earth or Earth?

Starbuck’s memories, and the camera of her viper, reveal a visit to an “Earth” where she takes photos of the moon and Zodiac, and they match the Tomb of Athena. In a deleted scene, we are told that only 4 of the constellations match, but we don’t learn if that means that 8 mismatch or 8 were not photographed. Leaving aside the issue that the Tomb constellations are not quite right for our sky, which Earth was she above? The real one or the 13th colony?

There is confusion because she is given pointers to both. Her new viper has a locater pointing at her old viper, which is on the 13th colony. So the powers that sent her do seem to want to guide her there, so the Final Five can revisit the site of their death 2,000 years ago.

But she also is given a vision of the Cylon battle scene (not yet happened) at the real Jupiter, which is not the same system as the 13th colony. She also gets the “triple star” vision which is highly confusing, and while I have seen some theories, it’s not really clear what that’s about. (Alpha Centauri is technically a triple star, but the 3rd star is very hard to see, even from the main stars of Alpha Centauri. And nothing we have seen takes place there. Michael Hall thinks she confused the sight of the sun, a jovian moon and Earth for 3 stars.)

She also gets compulsions in her brain. They tell her the fleet is going the wrong way when it continues on from the Ionian Nebula. They tell her that real hard. And they seem to lead her to the real Jupiter system, as the Demetrius is within a sublight trip of that battle, and the rendezvous point is only one jump away.

So she gets pointers to both systems? Is her pointer to the Cylon battle site just to get her there to talk to a Hybrid? If the Cylon battle site is really Jupiter, that’s too much of a coincidence.

(Note: If you conclude that they are just using the star patterns capriciously, throwing in real ones sometimes and random ones other times, you could conclude that even though they showed the Earth stars at the Cylon battle site and random stars at the 13th colony, that these were in fact the same system.)

Once again, why?

While all this is difficult to pin down, we have very little information on the “why?” of all this. Guiding them to the 13th colony, or Earth, for that matter using a bizarre switcheroo of Starbuck and compulsions in her brain seems like a very strange way to do things. We don’t know a lot about the motives of the string-pullers, but some possible motives include:

  • Trying to bring the humans and Cylons together
  • Trying to make the cycle of time repeat, carrying out prophecies
  • Trying to break the cycle of time

I can sort of squeeze these events into the first motive, but it’s not an easy fit. There seem to be better ways to do it.

Unconference notes

Just returned from BIL, an unconference which has, for the last two years, taken place opposite TED, the very expensive, very exclusive conference that you probably read a lot about this week. BIL, like many unconferences is free, and self-organized. Speakers volunteer, often proposing talks right at the conference. Everybody is expected to pitch in.

I’ve been very excited with this movement since I attended the first open unconference, known as barCamp. The first barcamp in Palo Alto was a reaction to an invite-only free unconference known as FooCamp, which I had also attended but was not attending that year. That first camp was a great success, with a fun conference coming together in days, with sponsors buying food and offering space. The second barcamp, in DC, was a complete failure, but the movement caught on and it seems there is a barcamp somewhere in the world every week.

This year BIL was bigger, and tried some new approaches. In particular, a social networking site was used to sign up, where people could propose talks and then vote for the ones they liked. While it is not as ad-hoc as the originals, with the board created at the start of the conference, I like this method a lot. The array of sessions at a completely ad-hoc conference can be very uneven in quality, and assignment to rooms is up to a chaotic procedure that may put an unpopular talk in a big room while a small room is packed to the gills. (This even happens at fully curated conferences.)

Pre-voting allowed better allocation of rooms, and in theory better scheduling to avoid conflicts (ie. noting that people want to go to two talks and not setting them against one another.) BIL also had some spare slots for people who just showed up with a talk, to keep that original flavour.  read more »

What is the moment of sin in drunk driving?

Recently, some prosecutors, in efforts to crack down on drunk driving, are pushing for murder convictions. This is happening in the case of really blatant disregard on the part of the drunk drivers — people with multiple DUIs getting smashed, going out, and killing.

In watching coverage of this trend, over and over again I heard it said that the killer’s sin was “getting behind the wheel when drunk.” And that is in fact what we punish with DUI laws. Because so many people have done it (without killing anybody) there is surprising sympathy for the drunk drivers — there but for the grace of god go I.

But is that the right sin? That decision is always made once the person has impaired judgement. Something to me seems wrong about punishing a decision made when one has lost the ability to make good decisions. While I don’t drink, and have no sympathy for the actions of drunks, I think the real transgression comes much earlier.

The real transgression is allowing yourself to get impaired in circumstances where you would then be sufficiently likely to make deadly wrong decisions. A simple example of this would be having enough alcohol to move from sober to drunk when you have your car with you and plan to drive home. Of course, many people in that situation will do the right thing, and still be clear enough to know they should get a cab home, and then come back to pick up their car later. But of course, many don’t. And worse, there is often an incentive not to — such as paying for two taxi fares, and dealing with the car’s location becoming a no-parking zone in the morning.

I believe people should be punished for risky decisions they make while sober, more so than ones they make while drunk. It should be expected that people will make poor decisions and take unacceptable risks when drunk. That is what impairment means. It is the decisions they make when sober, when they know right from wrong, that the law should punish.

Now let me describe how this might work in theory, and then discuss the harder question of making it work in practice.

The simplest way to behave well is to never take your car to go drinking. That car parked outside is too much temptation once you are drunk. And this is what the designated driver concept is about. To get more specific, you must not take the drinks that make you impaired without first, while still not so impaired, making plans to get home so you have no temptation to drive your car. This can include arranging a ride with a sober person, pre-contracting with a taxi company for later pickup, or putting your car keys into escrow.

Car key escrow, for example, would involve giving the keys to a friend or the bartender, who will not return them to you until you are sober. A high-tech version might be a simple lockbox. You can put your keys in the lockbox (provided by a responsible bar) and can only get them out by blowing into the box with alcohol below the limit. The act of escrow, taken while sober, makes you legal. The act of drinking beyond your limit without making alternate plans is the immoral act. Having any recorded plan for getting home — cab, designated driver, transit ticket, keys in escrow — is enough to be acting morally.

Now how to enforce this? Well, we can’t really have police coming into bars, and asking all patrons who are beyond the limit to prove they made alternate plans. Police could check inebriated people leaving bars, but don’t typically have the time for this. If this sort of rule is to be enforced, it would have to be through legal liability on those who serve alcohol (bars, party hosts) to assure none of their guests go beyond the limit without plans, or at least the easy ability to make plans. (Cheap key lockboxes might help in this area.)

And of course, anybody who did drive drunk would be guilty since they obviously didn’t make adequate plans. This approach would simply expand the culpable act to the broader situation of having deliberately (while sober) put yourself in a situation where this has a real chance of taking place.

There are problems of course. Often “guests” come to parties uninvited and get drunk. We’ve all had a fairly drunk person at a party we barely know. Or we may not know the drinking habits of the friends we do invite. Bartenders deal with people arriving who already got sauced at another bar and just have the last few drinks before they drive in the 2nd bar. We want people to act responsibly, not have to go overboard and be paranoid about each guest. Ideally we want the full weight of the law to fall on the sober person who got drunk while his or her car was outside.

One unconnected option might make sense. Parking laws might be changed to let you get out of certain kinds of parking tickets if you can show proof you took an alternate way home because you are drunk. Taxi drivers who take drunks home could issue such a dated receipt. Friends could testify under oath that they drove you home because you were drunk. This might make people more willing to leave cars behind in certain areas. It would have to be clear what those areas were (for example, parking that was free at night but becomes metered or prohibited at 7am) so that the parking does not become a problem. Still the extra parked cars are a better thing to have than cars with drunks behind the wheel.

Blood on the Scales

The last two episodes have offered very little on key show mysteries. This doesn’t mean they were not good episodes. The Oath was one of the best of the series for drama. Blood on the Scales was good, but suffered because there was not so much suspense over the outcome. It’s still too far from the end to be rid of Adama. I thought the death (and return) of Tigh would have had some interesting consequences but it’s not too bad to see him make it through it. The only question was how Gaeta and Zarek would fall. For a while, I was expecting we would see a firing squad scene with Adama, and Gaeta would have instructed his men (in advance) to execute Zarek instead, Zarek being there to witness it. But I’m glad they didn’t go this over the top.

In particular I was glad that they also did a more realistic sabotage of the FTL drive. In so many shows, the character would have found his access codes still working, even though he’s effectively left the fleet. And in so many SF shows, his simple sabotage of the FTL engine would have had explosive results and spectacular special effects. Instead, the FTL did what any complex computerized machine would do if a part was damaged or removed — report the fault and shut down. Nicely done.

The sabotage of the FTL turned out to be not needed. Moments later Adama retook the control room, and had the ship jumped he could have jumped it back. Presumably this scene leads us to something else because of the stranding of the Galactica, and the apparent structure damage to the hull in the jump room.

These ships, meant for basic jumping around a close group of colonies, should never have been made so well as to travel 15,000 light years. Perhaps a military-spec ship would be, but it would have been a good touch if the trip to Earth had involved several ships breaking down, forcing the fleet to go back and redistribute their populations into more crowded remaining ships. Simple civilian ships should never have been able to go this far, for this long. The Galactica, while old (and not having jumped in 20 years) would not be the first to fail.

We see Caprica Six, hearing of Saul’s death, not taking long to get back in with Baltar, presuming that’s her. It does need to be her, as with Ellen’s upcoming return, something has to break in that relationship. (Update: Whoops, this is in error. Though we are going to see something about that love triangle, I am sure.)

And of course, the previews for next week show…  read more »

Robocars bringing you flying cars

Here’s a short new robocar essay, on Robocars helping bring about flying cars.

The thesis of the essay is simple. The quest for flying cars has always had to deal with the very difficult compromise between a vehicle that flies and one that drives. It’s just really hard to make one vehicle to do both.

The robocar (or rather robotaxi) solution is to not try to do both in one vehicle, but adapt to the idea you can hire a robotaxi to zip you right to your plane, and another one will be waiting on the taxiway when you land for a quick transition. It’s not the “take off from your house” vision, though. Of course, independently, the planes themselves could become computer-flown, as is almost the case today. If this happened, and the planes were able to do short takeoff and landing, and do it quietly (perhaps hybrid engines which use battery just for takeoff and landing) the world might accomodate airstrips in much more convenient places, even old stretches of road that don’t have overhead wires.

And don’t forget, I’ll be giving a robocar talk at BIL in Long Beach this weekend.